Overnight Tech: Senators want probe of company selling fake Twitter followers | Google parent made over $100B in 2017 | House chair threatens to subpoena DHS over Kaspersky

Overnight Tech: Senators want probe of company selling fake Twitter followers | Google parent made over $100B in 2017 | House chair threatens to subpoena DHS over Kaspersky
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SENATORS WANT FTC PROBE INTO FAKE TWITTER FOLLOWER SALES: Two senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate a company that sells fake Twitter followers in the wake of a New York Times report that revealed that dozens of public figures purchased social media followings to inflate their prominence.


Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of a Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, argue in a letter to acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen on Wednesday that Devumi, the company at the center of the Times report, has been deceiving consumers and stealing identities.

"This company seems engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, and we urge you to use all the tools at your disposal to take immediate action to investigate this company, along with any other similar services, and shut down any fraudulent practices they are engaged in," the senators wrote.

According to the Times report, Devumi has sold legions of fake followers that in some cases are similar to the accounts of real people. The company also sells Soundcloud listeners, LinkedIn connections and YouTube shares and likes.

"We take requests from Congress seriously, and we are reviewing this specific request but we have no other comment at this time," an FTC spokeswoman said in a statement to The Hill.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) has promised an investigation into Devumi, accusing the company of engaging in illegal "impersonation and deception."

Officials argue that purchasing fake followers can be a deceptive business practice for social media personalities who often derive their income from branded sponsors. Those sponsors often weigh an established following in making endorsements.

Read more here.


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ALPHABET RAKED IN MORE THAN $100B IN 2017: Google parent Alphabet had a record year in 2017, raking in more than $100 billion for the first time.

Alphabet brought in $32.3 billion in revenue in the last three months of 2017, pushing its total for the year to $110 billion. Google accounted for the lion's share of its parent company's earnings.

But the company also suffered some losses in the last quarter. Alphabet announced on Thursday that the company paid $9.9 billion as a result of last year's tax-reform package, largely due to a one-time payment for shifting overseas assets to the U.S.

Last year, Google was also hit with a record $3 billion antitrust fine from the European Union for favoring its own services in its search results.

Read more here.


ALPHABET SAID TO BE EXPLORING TECH HUB IN SAUDI ARABIA: Google parent company Alphabet is in talks with Aramco, the Saudi-owned oil company, to build a tech hub in Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The two companies are exploring building data centers around the kingdom, according to the report, which cites people familiar with the talks. The Journal said it is unclear who would operate the centers or what data would be stored there.

Alphabet CEO Larry Page has been involved in the talks, which have been going on for months and are being pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Read more here.


ZUCKERBERG SAYS USERS SPENDING LESS TIME ON FACEBOOK: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook executive hosted Kavanaugh confirmation celebration Hillicon Valley: Facebook rift over exec's support for Kavanaugh | Dem worried about Russian trolls jumping into Kavanaugh debate | China pushes back on Pence House Democrat questions big tech on possible foreign influence in Kavanaugh debate MORE said the company's shift to showing fewer videos has led to users spending 50 million fewer hours a day on the website.

"Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people's time is well spent," Zuckerberg said Wednesday as part of Facebook's quarterly earnings report.

"In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day," he said. "By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term."

Read more here.


HOUSE CHAIR THREATENS TO SUBPOENA DHS FOR KASPERSKY DOCS: House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithOvernight Energy: Watchdog to investigate EPA over Hurricane Harvey | Panel asks GAO to expand probe into sexual harassment in science | States sue over methane rules rollback Report on new threats targeting our elections should serve as a wake-up call to public, policymakers Overnight Energy: Watchdog faults EPA over Pruitt security costs | Court walks back order on enforcing chemical plant rule | IG office to probe truck pollution study MORE (R-Texas) is threatening to take action to force the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to turn over documents on Kaspersky Lab that his committee has requested.

Smith sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTop Judiciary Dems call for unredacted 'zero tolerance' memo The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows Hillicon Valley: Officials warn of Chinese influence efforts | Dow drops over 800 points | Tech stocks hit hard | Google appeals B EU fine | James Murdoch may be heading for Tesla | Most Americans worried about election security MORE on Thursday accusing the department of failing to properly respond to an outstanding document request related to the committee's ongoing probe into the Russia-based cybersecurity firm.

Smith said the committee would consider using "compulsory process" against Homeland Security if it continues to buck the request, which would amount to subpoenaing the department for the documents.

Kaspersky, which produces lauded anti-virus software and has operations across the globe, has been mired in controversy as a result of alleged ties to Russian intelligence, which the company has long denied.

Read more here.



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