Hillicon Valley: Huawei official asks US to ease restrictions | Facebook loses top execs | Defense officials hit Google over China | Pro-Trump 'safe space' app pulled over security flaw | Senators offer bill on facial recognition technology

Hillicon Valley: Huawei official asks US to ease restrictions | Facebook loses top execs | Defense officials hit Google over China | Pro-Trump 'safe space' app pulled over security flaw | Senators offer bill on facial recognition technology
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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).

 

HUAWEI ASKS FOR LENIENCY: A top executive for Huawei's U.S. branch on Thursday defended the Chinese company against allegations that it poses a national security risk, saying it wants to work with the U.S. to address those concerns.

Andy Purdy, the chief security officer for Huawei USA, told The Hill in an interview that U.S. officials have not indicated a willingness to engage in conversations with the company to discuss cyber concerns.

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"At this point, they're not even willing to talk with us about the recognized mechanisms recognized by the U.S. government to address cybersecurity risk," Purdy told The Hill.

He said he would like the U.S. to implement procedures that would effectively weigh the risks of using Huawei technology, instead of imposing harsh restrictions.

"The more we get to have the kind of requirements that are necessary to address the risks from all vendors," Purdy, a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cyber official, said. "Once that happens, there's going to be a greater chance that Huawei can participate."

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Huawei is suing the U.S. government over a provision in last year's National Defense Authorization Act that blocks federal agencies and contractors from using the company's equipment.

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK HIT BY HIGH-LEVEL DEPARTURES: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet On The Money: Fed delivers second rate cut to fend off global risks | Trump says Fed has 'no guts' | House gets deal on continuing resolution | GM faces bipartisan backlash amid strike Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' MORE on Thursday announced that two top executives are leaving the company.

Chris Cox, Facebook's top executive in charge of products, and Chris Daniels, the head of  messaging service WhatsApp, will be departing for unspecified reasons, according to a blog post from Zuckerberg.

Cox, a Facebook veteran who has been a close adviser to Zuckerberg for years, decided to leave his role months after he was promoted to oversee all of the company's apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

"It is with great sadness I share with you that after thirteen years, I've decided to leave the company," Cox wrote in a Facebook post.

Zuckerberg did not say why Daniels is leaving, but noted that he will be replaced by Will Cathcart, a vice president of product management who has been running the Facebook app. 

The high-level departures come shortly after Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will be reorienting itself to become a more privacy-minded platform.

Cox wrote that Facebook will "need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through."

The company's proposed "privacy-first" approach marks a radical shift in Facebook's mission, reorienting from a focus on the platform's public-facing News Feed feature – which Cox helped create – to its private messaging services. 

The plan involves integrating Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, allowing users to communicate across the different platforms. 

Read more here.

 

ENEMIES WITH BENEFITS: Top defense officials on Thursday blasted Google for its work in China, saying that the company's efforts are serving the interests of the U.S. adversary.

"The work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military," Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing.

"We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing there is that indirect benefit," Dunford added. "And frankly, 'indirect' may not be a full characterization of the way it really is, it's more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military."

Dunford and acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE both criticized Google during the hearing for pulling out of its U.S. defense contracts while also doing work in China. The internet search giant decided not to move forward with Pentagon work after facing internal pressure from employees who were concerned about the prospect that their technology was being used for lethal purposes.

And last summer, The Intercept reported that Google had been working on a project to develop a search engine that would comply with China's censorship laws. After an outcry from lawmakers and activists, Google said it had shelved the product.

But the company still has a subsidiary in mainland China and offers some services that haven't been blocked by Beijing's firewall.

Shanahan said that the Chinese military benefits from the work being done in the country's private sector.

"The fusion of commercial business with military is significant," he said. "Five trillion dollars of their economy is state-owned enterprises, so the technology that is developed in the civil world is transferred to the military world -- it's a direct pipeline."

Read more here.

 

BACK FROM OUTAGE SPACE: Facebook announced Thursday that its services – including Instagram and WhatsApp – have been restored after the most severe outage in the social media giant's history.

The company blamed server issues for the outage, which took about one day to resolve and affected a significant number of Facebook's 2.3 billion monthly users around the world.

"Yesterday, as a result of a server configuration change, many people had trouble accessing our apps and services," Facebook tweeted on Thursday. "We've now resolved the issues and our systems are recovering."

Instagram on Wednesday evening tweeted "we're back" after an earlier post acknowledged it was aware of an "issue impacting people's access to Instagram."

Facebook in 2008 experienced a day-long outage due to a "bug," affecting its 80 million users. This time around, Facebook's reach is much broader, with the tech behemoth having acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

Users of all three services reported a variety of difficulties throughout the day on Wednesday, with some unable to access services completely while others could not access particular services.

Facebook confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the outage was not due to a "denial-of-service" cyber-attack.

Read more here.

 

SO MUCH FOR A SAFE SPACE...: An app launched to help supporters of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE find restaurants where they will be "safe" from confrontations with staff or other customers over their political views was taken down from Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store on Wednesday.

The 63red Safe app, dubbed the "Yelp for conservatives," sought to identify restaurants and other locations where Trump supporters could openly support the president without fear of backlash from his detractors or protests.

Instead, the app was pulled Wednesday after it was revealed to contain a security flaw that allowed any user to access usernames, email addresses and other personal information of users without their knowledge or consent.

SFGate.com reports that the app was removed from Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store on Wednesday following news of the breach.

The Twitter account @fs0c131y, which claims to be a French security researcher and goes by the name Elliot Alderson, likely a reference to the main character of the television show "Mr. Robot," demonstrated in a pair of tweets how the app could be used to access the personal information of users, and tweeted a screenshot from the app that appeared to show app founder Scott Wallace's email address, username and password, though the latter was blacked out by the account.

Read more here.

 

SENATE BILL WOULD REGULATE FACIAL RECOGNITION TECH: A bipartisan pair of senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would regulate the commercial use of facial recognition technology, an issue that has gained steam as critics have raised civil rights concerns over the relatively unregulated technology.

Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' State probes of Google, Facebook to test century-old antitrust laws MORE (D-Hawaii) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? MORE (R-Mo.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced the first-of-its-kind legislation along with an endorsement from Microsoft and digital rights group the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their data is being collected and used, including data collected through facial recognition technology," Blunt said in a statement. “That’s why we need guardrails to ensure that, as this technology continues to develop, it is implemented responsibly."

Under Schatz and Blunt's bill, the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act, companies would be required to gain peoples' consent before using facial recognition technology in public places and before sharing any of their data with third parties.

It would also require human reviewers to test any products before they are implemented, an effort to weed out issues with algorithmic bias and accuracy before the technologies become available to the public.

Read more here.

 

WE MADE IT TO THREE DIGITS, SHE MADE IT TO 31.4 TRILLION: A Japanese employee at Google broke the world record on Thursday for calculating pi to the furthest decimal, announcing that she had calculated the value to its 31.4 trillionth digit.

Emma Haruka Iwao used her company's cloud computing service to undertake the calculation, according to a blog post on the site, which required 25 virtual machines to calculate 170 terabytes of data over 121 days to finish the task. Google's blog post notes that the amount of data analyzed was similar to the size of the entire digitized print collection of the Library of Congress.

"I feel very surprised," Iwao told the BBC in an interview. "I am still trying to adjust to the reality. The world record has been really hard."

"There is no end with pi, I would love to try with more digits," she reportedly added.

The completion of Iwao's calculation coincided with World Pi Day, the global unofficial recognition of pi, the numerical value found when dividing the circumference of a circle by its diameter. The value is thought to be infinitely long.

Iwao's record Thursday broke the previous record of 22 trillion, set by Peter Trueb in 2017.

The BBC reports that it would take an average human more than 32,000 years to say the 31.4 trillion digits of pi calculated by Iwao.

Read more here.

 

NOT CUTTING THEM SLACK: Slack on Thursday announced it had removed almost 30 accounts with ties to "known hate groups," days after leaked messages revealed neo-Nazis were using the messaging platform to coordinate and organize events.

The company, whose platform is geared mainly toward business communications, said use of its service by hate groups "runs counter to everything we believe in."

"Slack is designed to help businesses communicate better and more collaboratively so people can do their best work," the company said in a statement. "Using Slack to encourage or incite hatred and violence against groups or individuals because of who they are is antithetical to our values and the very purpose of Slack."

Alternative media group Unicorn Riot last week published a trove of messages showing neo-Nazi group Identity Evropa using Slack to coordinate media strategy and organize across the country.

Talking Points Memo first reported on Unicorn Riot's findings.

According to the messages, Identity Evropa maintained as many as eight Slack workspaces online that they used to recruit and organize members.

Most of the country's leading tech companies have taken steps to remove hate speech and hate groups from their platforms, an endeavor that moved into the spotlight after a 2017 white supremacist rally Charlottesville, Va. led to the death of one counter-protester. Many of the supremacist groups in attendance used online forums and messaging services to organize the rally that turned violent.

Slack in a statement to The Hill clarified that it did not discover the hate groups by looking through users' groups or messages.

"We want to be clear that the privacy of our customer data is sacrosanct," a Slack spokesperson said. "In this case, we were informed of the possible use of Slack by hate groups and we were able to determine their affiliation on an organizational level."

"When we are made aware of an organization using Slack for illegal, harmful, or other prohibited purposes, we will investigate and take appropriate action and we are updating our terms of service to make that more explicit," Slack said in its statement.

Read more here.

 

PILING ON: Apple is launching a major advertising campaign highlighting its handling of user privacy as the company hopes to set itself apart from other tech giants who face increasing scrutinize from lawmakers around the world.

The iPhone maker released an ad Thursday that it plans to air on primetime Thursday night and throughout the NCAA March Madness tournament.

"If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on," on-screen text reads in the ad.

The new campaign comes as Congress is exploring ways to regulate the mass collection of user data for targeted advertising that many tech platforms have built their businesses on.

Apple has made an effort to distance itself from the controversies surrounding Google and Facebook's business model. The company has argued that it minimizes the amount of data it collects from users and offers them control and transparency on those practices.

Read more here.

 

MINIMUM WAGE TAKES CENTER STAGE: Uber's competitors Juno and Lyft in court filings this week said fewer riders are using their services since New York City began implementing its new minimum wage law for drivers, the first of its kind in the country.

Juno said it has seen a 30 percent decline in ride requests since the rules were implemented at the beginning of February, resulting in a 17 percent decrease in driver earnings per hour.

Lyft reported a similar struggle, saying in a filing that it has seen a "significant decrease in the frequency with which passengers requested rides [and] the total number of rides in the market," which has created fewer "earning opportunities" for drivers. The company did not provide specific numbers.

"Lyft is committed to increasing driver earnings, which is why we're concerned with what we're seeing in New York City," a Lyft spokesperson told The Hill. "Riders are requesting fewer rides, which means there are fewer earning opportunities for drivers. We remain committed to trying to find a better solution."

The two Uber competitors are suing the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) over its implementation of the new pay rules, saying they foresee significant losses under the current terms -- for drivers as well as for the businesses.

But Lyft and Juno argue the rules will allow Uber to solidify and expand its already dominant position in the market, and could ultimately result in lower wages for drivers.

Right now, the rules take into account the amount drivers are paid per mile and per minute, also known as a "utilization rate." The calculation rewards drivers for taking more customers, leaving Uber's smaller competitors at a disadvantage, Lyft and Juno say.

More on what's next here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why states should push forward with cyber laws.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Two prime snapshots of life on Capitol Hill: Leisure and friendship.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Amazon beefs up workforce with PhD economists. (CNN)

Twitter's efforts to diversify its workforce. (Tech Crunch)

Facebook, Axios and NBC paid this guy to whitewash Wikipedia pages. (Huffington Post)

Reddit has become a battleground of alleged Chinese trolls. (Reddit)