Overnight Tech: Senators demand tech firms do more on Russian meddling | House Intel releases Russian-promoted ads | Apple CEO says 'fake news' bigger threat than ads | Ex-Yahoo CEO, Equifax execs to testify on breaches

Overnight Tech: Senators demand tech firms do more on Russian meddling | House Intel releases Russian-promoted ads | Apple CEO says 'fake news' bigger threat than ads | Ex-Yahoo CEO, Equifax execs to testify on breaches
© Camille Fine

SENATE INTEL TURNS UP THE HEAT: Members from both sides of the aisle in the Senate Intelligence Committee took turns Wednesday ripping top lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google over how their firms have responded to Russian actors using their platform to attempt to influence the 2016 presidential race.

During a hearing probing Russian election meddling, Republicans and Democrats spared the firms' general counsels much of the praise that the Senate Judiciary Committee gave them during a hearing the previous day.

Senate Intelligence Committee members instead interrogated the companies over their past and current efforts to curb Russian manipulation of their platforms, frequently expressing displeasure with the answers they received.

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"I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions and I got vague answers," said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration MORE (D-Calif.), who sits on both the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

The Silicon Valley firms frustrated lawmakers further by making few concrete promises beyond what they've already publicly committed to doing, with additional unspecified commitments to do better.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate Intel chairman: No need for committee to interview Bannon McConnell: Russia probe must stay bipartisan to be credible MORE (R-N.C.) expressed his disappointment with the tech firms' answers as well, but he also targeted media coverage of how Russian actors attempted to sway Americans, pushing back on any narrative that the social media campaign led to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE's election.

"A lot of folks, including many in the media, have tried to reduce this entire conversation down to one premise: Foreign actors conducted a surgically executed covert operation to help elect a United States president," Burr said. "I'm here to tell you this story does not simplify that easily."

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Dem lawmaker wants briefing on major chip vulnerabilities Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content MORE (Va.), also said that he was irritated by how tech firms had responded to the committee's concerns.

Read more here.

 

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MORE FROM WARNER: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that he was not impressed with social media companies' testimony this week on Russia's alleged use of their platforms to influence the presidential election.

"Considering how long this hearing was in the making, I was pretty disappointed that -- for example, in the case of Facebook, they seemed to not have identified much beyond their initial search," Warner told reporters after the hearing.

"I've got more questions," he added.

Read more here.

 

RUSSIAN ACCOUNTS ORGANIZED OPPOSING RALLIES: Two Russian-linked Facebook accounts -- one anti-immigrant and the other pro-Muslim -- pitted Houston-area residents against each other prior to the 2016 election, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Wednesday.

One group, titled "The Heart of Texas," promoted pro-Texas and anti-immigration messages with a tagline "Texas: Homeland of Guns, BBQ and ur heart!"

The other, titled "United Muslims of America," claimed to be pro-Islam, and had a tagline "I'm a Muslim and I'm proud."

The two groups placed advertisements on Facebook promoting events at the same time on May 21, 2016, near an Islamic Community Center. The ads were viewed by nearly 15,000 people combined, Burr said.

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK: 146M SAW RUSSIA CONTENT: Content linked to Russia may have reached as many as 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram before the 2016 presidential election, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch testified Wednesday.

The figure is an increase of 20 million over the company's previous estimate.

The new number reflects the approximately 20 million people who may have seen Russia-linked content on Instagram, Stretch said. The company's data on Instagram posts "is not as complete" as its analysis of Facebook posts, he added.

Facebook previously said that as many as 126 million people may have seen content posted by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.

Read more here.

 

HOUSE INTEL RELEASES ADS: The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday released a batch of ads that demonstrate how Russia attempted to sow discord in the U.S. during the 2016 election. Some of the social media posts aimed to exploit and further inflame religious and racial tensions in the country surrounding groups such as Black Lives Matter and Muslim-Americans.

Facebook revealed this month that Russian actors potentially linked to the Kremlin spent $100,000 on political advertisements on the site during last year's presidential campaign. The social media company has handed over information about the ads to Congress and to Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Justice Department's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

To view some of the Russian-promoted ads, click here.

 

CLINTON, TRUMP CAMPS BOUGHT COMBINED $81 MILLION OF FACEBOOK ADS: Facebook revealed on Wednesday that the campaigns of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE and Donald Trump spent a combined $81 million on election ads during last year's presidential race.

The news came during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing focused on Russia's use of social media platforms to try to sway the outcome of the election.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (R-Mo.) asked Facebook's general counsel, Colin Stretch, about the campaigns' spending figures to contrast them with the amount spent on political ads by a Russian "troll farm."

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK'S PROFITS SOAR: Facebook's third quarter profits jumped 79 percent this year, according to its earnings report, released the same day that lawmakers grilled the company's top lawyer on Russia's election interference.

Facebook clocked $10.14 billion in digital ad revenue, which accounted for about 98 percent of the platform's total revenue and represents a 49 percent increase from last year.

The strong numbers come as the internet giant is being scrutinized for selling some $100,000 in political ads to Russian actors attempting to influence U.S. voters.

Read more here.

 

APPLE CEO TAKES A SHOT AT SOCIAL MEDIA: Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday said the use of social media platforms to spread "fake news" is a bigger threat to the U.S. than foreign governments buying online advertisements.

The tech executive told NBC's Lester Holt in an interview that social media is particularly dangerous because it allows false information to spread rapidly, potentially influencing millions of users and inflaming political divisions.

"I don't believe that the big issue are ads from foreign governments. I believe that's like 0.1 percent of the issue," Cook said. "The bigger issue is that some of these tools are used to divide people, to manipulate people, to get fake news to people in broad numbers, and so to influence their thinking."

Read more here.

 

EX-YAHOO CHIEF, EQUIFAX EXECS TO TESTIFY BEFORE SENATE: Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is slated to join current and former CEOs of Equifax in testifying before a key Senate panel later this month on cybersecurity breaches.

The individuals will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about massive data breaches that hit both firms, the committee revealed Wednesday.

"Massive data breaches have touched the vast majority of American consumers," Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement. "When such breaches occur, urgent action is necessary to protect sensitive personal information."

"This hearing will give the public the opportunity to hear from those in charge, at the time major breaches occurred and during the subsequent response efforts, at two large companies who lost personal consumer data to nefarious actors," Thune said.

Mayer, who stepped down as CEO of Yahoo when Verizon acquired the company's core internet assets earlier this year, will face questions about a 2013 data breach that Yahoo revealed in early October had affected all of its 3 billion accounts.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP:

Mobility Unmanned conference begins at 7:30 a.m.

Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference starts at 8 a.m.

New America hosts an event on encryption at noon.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The Hill Opinion: Self-regulation, not government regulation, should keep Russian ads off Facebook

The Hill Opinion: A new way to safeguard America against threats to our elections

Axios: Amazon sets its sights on logistics

Thousands attended protest organized by Russians on Facebook

IBM, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and other firms filed an amicus brief challenging the revocation of the DACA