Overnight Tech: Senate holds classified ads website in contempt

LEDE: The Senate held Backpage.com and its chief executive in civil contempt on Thursday afternoon, the first such resolution in more than two decades.

It's a victory for Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Senators call for passage of bill to cement alcohol excise tax relief The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (R-Ohio) -- facing a tough reelection battle -- and Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Democrats must turn around Utah police arrest man driving 130 mph claiming he was going to kill former Missouri senator MORE (D-Mo.), who have been investigating the website as part of a larger probe into underage sex trafficking. Portman contends that the site's anti-trafficking screening process does little to stop the practice, and in fact only makes it harder to spot nefarious advertisements.

Backpage has refused to provide the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations with documents related to its classified ad screening procedures, and CEO Carl Ferrer refused to appear at a hearing last year because his lawyers said he was out of the country. Backpage insisted Thursday, as it has in the past, that it would prevail in court. Click here for more.

BACKPAGE CITES FIRST AMENDMENT: "With today's Senate vote, this issue will now be submitted to the courts. This is precisely the course of action the company has been urging for nine months," said Steve Ross, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump who is representing the company. "Backpage.com looks forward to a proper consideration of the important First Amendment constitutional issues by the judiciary--the branch of government charged with protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans."

FCC DEFENDS DECISION TO PREEMPT STATE LAWS: Oral arguments were held Thursday in a lawsuit challenging the Federal Communications Commission's vote last year to preempt a pair of state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. A few cities in those states run their own broadband Internet services, but state laws restricted them from expanding them further. The FCC preempted those laws in the name of increasing Internet service throughout the country. Audio from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is here.

FUNDING QUESTIONS FOR INTERNET TRANSITION: For the past few years, Congress has blocked government funding from being used to finish the U.S. handoff of oversight over some of the technical functions of the Internet. But as the plan inches closer to an end, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) signaled that blocking that funding again would not be wise.

"They are warning shots. It's important to send a message across the bow," she said. "But If that were to continue given where we are now, another rider -- What does that do? What message does that send?"

FTC SENDS WARNING TO APP MAKERS: The FTC sent warning letters to a dozen smartphone app makers that use software that gives them the ability to monitor the television content that a person watches. The FTC warned that if the app makers are misleading their customers about the software capabilities, they could be violating the law. However, the collection itself is not out of the question. The software, Silverpush, uses a smartphone's microphone. It can listen for audio signals in TV ads that are undetectable to the human ear. So far, the software company said its service is not in use in the United States.

IMMIGRANTS DOMINATE AT STARTUPS: A new study found that 51 percent of startups currently valued at more than $1 billion were founded by immigrants, The Wall Street Journal reported. That included 44 of the 81 companies studied. It also estimated that immigrants make up about 70 percent of key management or product development positions at those companies.


Chinese web giant Baidu is getting ready to test its self-driving cars on American roads, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday afternoon to hold classified ads site Backpage.com and its chief executive in contempt for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into sex trafficking.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP chairman: Defense bill to include renaming Confederate bases, but not Section 230 repeal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs MORE (R-Ark.) is pushing back on Apple's claims that helping the FBI unlock one of the San Bernardino shooter's iPhones would hurt Americans' privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he's not sure what the rationale is behind Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE's call for a boycott of Apple.

T-Mobile's new online video program won a major victory Thursday when one of its biggest critics, YouTube, agreed to join following some key changes.


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