Hillicon Valley: Groups protest 'invasive' smart wall technologies | Officials find foreign meddling had no impact on midterms | Tech giants pull big profits despite controversy | Dems press Apple over FaceTime bug | Facebook bans insurgents in Myanmar

Hillicon Valley: Groups protest 'invasive' smart wall technologies | Officials find foreign meddling had no impact on midterms | Tech giants pull big profits despite controversy | Dems press Apple over FaceTime bug | Facebook bans insurgents in Myanmar
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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


WE WANT A NOT-SO-'SMART' WALL: A coalition of civil liberties and immigration groups are calling on Congress to refuse funding for "invasive" border technology in any deal negotiated to avoid a second government shutdown. 

Democrats have floated using technology to create a "smart" border wall instead of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE's preferred physical barriers.


But the coalition of 25 groups, including human rights and libertarian organizations, sent a letter addressed to congressional leaders raising concerns about each of the technologies proposed by House Democrats tasked with finding a border deal.  

"The [proposal from House Democrats on the panel] calls for funding various invasive surveillance technologies that would intrude on the liberties of travelers, immigrants, and people who live near the border," the groups wrote in the open letter, released Tuesday.
"Given that funding of border enforcement is already at a historic high, we do not believe that additional funding is needed to further fund border technology," the groups added.

"There are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that have expressed concerns about how invasive these programs already are," Evan Greer, a lead organizer with Fight for the Future's campaign, told The Hill. "My hope is that this wouldn't just play out as a partisan debate, that [lawmakers] recognize the need to act with caution and not expand surveillance programs that undermine peoples' civil liberties and constitutional rights." 

Which technologies? The letter raises concerns about several of the technologies the Democrats' first proposal, released last week, could entail: drones, facial recognition technology, DNA collection, license plate readers, and more. 

The groups are sounding alarms over the ways "risk-based targeting" and biometrics could result in racial profiling and harm vulnerable communities, while surveillance drones, license plate readers and DNA testing could raise serious privacy concerns for those crossing the border and living in border cities.

What's next? Fight for the Future and other civil liberties groups will likely next focus their attention on putting pressure on tech companies making border technologies, Greer told The Hill.


A SUCCESS? The Trump administration on Tuesday announced that it has found no evidence that any foreign entity had a "material impact" on election systems during the 2018 midterms.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDOJ to Supreme Court: Trump decision to end DACA was lawful Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role MORE reached that conclusion in a joint classified report submitted to President Trump on Monday, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a joint statement.

"Although the specific conclusions within the joint report must remain classified, the Departments have concluded there is no evidence to date that any identified activities of a foreign government or foreign agent had a material impact on the integrity or security of election infrastructure or political/campaign infrastructure used in the 2018 midterm elections for the United States Congress," the statement read.

The joint report examined any potential foreign interference with election systems, as well as with candidates and campaigns.

The statement said the classified report was based off an earlier assessment on potential election interference from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

And the departments said efforts to secure the 2020 elections "are already underway." Read more here.


THEIR BOTTOM LINES: Facebook, Amazon and Google are racking up record profits following a year marked by public controversies over their privacy and business practices.

The strong bottom lines have sparked frustration among lawmakers and tech industry critics, who say the numbers drive home the need for tougher federal regulation to rein in web giants. They worry the companies have little incentive to change their business models or policies on their own.

Lina Khan, a senior fellow with anti-monopoly think tank Open Markets Institute, told The Hill that the record profits show "bad publicity is not turning consumers away."

"They're not the kinds of services where you can expect individuals to boycott or to take their consumer business elsewhere," she said.

Facebook last week announced $16.9 billion in revenue for the final quarter of 2018 and $55.8 billion for the year, a 37 percent increase from 2017.

Amazon also reported record profits for a third consecutive quarter, generating $3 billion in net income. Amazon's income is up 66 percent from 2017.

And Alphabet, Google's parent company, reported $39.3 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2018, marking a 15 percent jump from the previous quarter and 22 percent from the same quarter in 2017. Alphabet's net income for the final quarter of 2018 was $8.9 billion. 

The profitable numbers pose a challenge for consumer advocates and lawmakers, who have watched the companies, in particular Facebook, weather storm after storm.

We break it down here.


DEMS WANT FACETIME WITH COOK: Top House Democrats are demanding answers from Apple CEO Tim Cook after a bug in the company's FaceTime program allowed users to listen in on other devices even if their call hadn't been accepted.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost House Democratic chairman launches probe of e-cigarette makers Lawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyLawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps On The Money: House to vote on budget deal Thursday | US, China resuming trade talks next week | Mnuchin backs DOJ tech antitrust probe MORE (D-Ill.), who leads the panel's consumer protection subcommittee, wrote to Cook on Tuesday expressing concern about the vulnerability that Apple says it fixed last week.

"As such, we are writing to better understand when Apple first learned of this security flaw, the extent to which the flaw has compromised consumers' privacy, and whether there are other undisclosed bugs that currently exist and have not been addressed," the two Democrats wrote.

The flaw was discovered by a 14-year-old in Arizona on January 19, according to reports. More than a week later, Apple disabled the FaceTime Group feature where the bug was present and announced a fix on February 1.

Apple did not immediately respond when contacted by The Hill for comment.

Read more here.


MOVEMENT IN MYANMAR: Facebook announced Tuesday that it has banned four armed insurgent groups in Myanmar, the country where the United Nations (UN) says Facebook played a "determining role" in inciting the genocide of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.  

The social media giant has sought to remove violent actors and identify incendiary content for months, after reports indicated Myanmar's military officials stoked hatred and fear on the platform as the military engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the persecuted Muslim minority.  

Facebook announced that it was removing four "dangerous" organizations – Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Kachin Independence Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army – in its latest effort to weed out those that seek to use the platform to "spread hate, incite violence or fuel tension on the ground," the company wrote in a blog post.

The groups are four of the many ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, and together, they have been blamed for dozens of deaths and the displacement of thousands.

An independent report commissioned by Facebook found that hateful posts on Facebook, often based on misinformation, led directly to stoking violence on the ground. The report, from Business for Social Responsibility, found that Facebook was "a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm."

"Over the past year, we have repeatedly taken action against violent actors and bad content on Facebook in Myanmar," Facebook wrote on Tuesday. "The ethnic violence happening in Myanmar is horrific and we don't want our services to be used to spread hate, incite violence or fuel tension on the ground." 

Its strategy includes removing fake accounts, banning violent actors, building more effective tools to weed out dangerous posts before users see them, and increasing its team of Burmese language content translators.

More on Facebook's action here.


WHAT IF: A report published by a think tank Tuesday is urging private companies and the U.S. government to work closer together to help prevent the potential fallout from a major cyberattack.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies and consultant firm The Chertoff Group hosted a table-top exercise in October to walk through what may happen in the event of a major cyberattack that hit several critical U.S. functions like the power grid at once.

"The most important finding from the discussion is that unless government and private sector decision makers begin developing [cyber-enabled economic warfare] specific procedures and trust now, the United States will find itself flat-footed during a major cyber event," the report states.

Among those who attended the exercise were former government officials and leaders from private companies that could be impacted in the case of such an attack, like utilities.

The report said some of the issues that could arise in the case of a major cyberattack include how much information that the private companies can share with the U.S. government without putting their clients or trade secrets at risk, and individuals in the private sector being unable to access classified information necessary to resolving the scenario.

And it noted that while the U.S. has resources on hand for other emergency situations like natural disasters, it's unclear if they would be accessible during a major cyber incident. 

Read more here.


PAYBACK TIME: Tech giant Apple has reportedly reached a deal with French authorities to pay back about $571 million the country said it owed in undeclared back taxes.

Reuters reports that Apple France confirmed the agreement struck with French officials on Tuesday, while not confirming the final price tag. French media, Reuters reports, estimated the fine to be around 500 million euros.

"As a multinational company, Apple is regularly audited by fiscal authorities around the world," Apple France said, according to Reuters. "The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company's French accounts, and those details will be published in our public accounts."

TechCrunch reported last month that France plans to begin taxing tech companies that report profits in foreign countries based off of revenue generated in France. Other European countries are reportedly expected to follow suit.

More on Apple's tax bill here.


NO LONGER "FACE" BOOK: Facebook apologized to a Geneva, Switzerland, museum after a post featuring nude statues in an exhibit was censored.

"We recently created space in our advertising policies to allow museums to more easily promote their exhibits and continue to improve on how we enforce this policy," a spokesperson from Facebook told The Hill Tuesday.

"The ad was inadvertently rejected, has since been overturned, and we have apologized to the museum," Facebook said.


The Museum of Art and History tweeted Friday that it had tried to post pictures of two statues from its "Caesar and the Rhone" exhibit as an ad, but that Facebook had "prevented us from it, because of their nudity."

"Maybe it's time that this platform changes its policy for museums and cultural institutions?" it added.

On the social media giant's community standards the company says it also allows "photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures."

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How technology could help combat climate change.


A LIGHTER CLICK: NYT opinion holds no punches in this savage "birthday video" for Facebook.



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The rise of the robot reporter. (The New York Times)

Google's new Chrome Extension automatically checks your passwords are still secure. (The Verge)

230 new emojis in final list for 2019. (Emojipedia)

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Your February horoscope is here––we built an AI astrologer to predict your future. (Gizmodo)