Overnight Tech: AT&T chief takes the stand to defend merger | Facebook keeps most users out of EU data law's reach | HUD reopens probe into Facebook housing ads | Venture capital firms go to bat for cryptocurrencies

Overnight Tech: AT&T chief takes the stand to defend merger | Facebook keeps most users out of EU data law's reach | HUD reopens probe into Facebook housing ads | Venture capital firms go to bat for cryptocurrencies
© Getty

AT&T CEO TAKES THE STAND: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson testified Thursday in the landmark trial over his company's $85 billion merger with Time Warner.


He echoed his lawyers' arguments that the deal is needed to keep up with a changing media landscape driven by new competitors from Silicon Valley.

"We would like to compete for their advertising dollars," Stephenson said of Facebook and Google.

But prosecutor Craig Conrath pointed out differences in AT&T's model and those of tech giants. For one, he noted that streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon still rely on internet service providers like AT&T to reach their customers.

The government has argued that combining the reach of the largest pay-TV distributor with Time Warner's popular entertainment offerings hurts competitors and consumers.

Stephenson dismissed the prosecution's theory that the combined company would try to use Time Warner programming as leverage to hurt competitors.

"The more people that watch your content, the more your content is worth," Stephenson said.


Takeaway: Stephenson largely echoed the arguments made by Jeff Bewkes, his counterpart at Time Warner, in court on Wednesday. The two executives insist the merger is necessary to keep them competitive. CNN Media reported that Stephenson often seemed to speak "directly" to the judge in his testimony. The trial could come down to how well they made their argument for the merger.


--Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, gave a speech on Thursday in which he suggested that tech platforms should be scrutinized for their use of consumer data.

"As public attention has been drawn to the practice of collecting data, there is a heightened concern about the value of privacy and the value of consumer data," Delrahim said at University of Chicago conference. "This concern is no longer limited to privacy advocates and policymakers who have sounded the alarm for years, only for their concerns to fall on deaf ears."


Welcome to Overnight Tech! Please send your tips, comments and analysis on who would win a Mike D'Antoni vs. Steve Kerr boxing match to Ali Breland (abreland@thehill.com) and Harper Neidig (hneidig@thehill.com) and follow us on Twitter: @alibreland and @hneidig. We're also on Signal and WhatsApp. Email or DM us for our numbers.


FACEBOOK WILL LEAVE MOST USERS OUT OF NEW PRIVACY LAW: Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Facebook users are mostly governed by the terms of service that they agreed to with the company's Ireland headquarters. But the social media giant is making changes so that only European users fall under that umbrella, according to a new Reuters report.

The move is significant because it comes ahead of a sweeping new EU privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that will impose strict new consumer protections and subject companies to massive fines for violations.


ICYMIhere's Harper's story on how tech companies are preparing for the GDPR.


--The company is already facing heat in Europe. A top Facebook executive will reportedly meet with German regulators on Friday over concerns about its data practices.

"Facebook needs to show more openness and transparency when dealing with user data," Nadine Schoen, deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in the lower house, told Reuters.


HUD REOPENS PROBE INTO FACEBOOK HOUSING ADS: Facebook is facing problems on another front as Housing Secretary Ben Carson told Congress on Wednesday that his department is re-opening an investigation into whether the social media giant violated fair housing laws with its advertising practices.

"We were very concerned when we began to uncover the facts," Carson told a Senate panel after Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOvernight Defense: Esper, Milley part of 'command center' for response to protests over George Floyd killing | Several West Point cadets test positive for coronavirus ahead of Trump commencement speech | UN report says Taliban, al Qaeda not breaking ties Schumer calls on McConnell to schedule vote on law enforcement reform bill before July 4 Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police MORE (D-Hawaii) pressed him on the issue.

A HUD spokesperson told The Hill that the agency has found new info about Facebook's practices "that warrant a deeper level of scrutiny."

According to The New York Times, HUD first closed its investigation in November.


This has been going for a long time: Facebook said it took action not long after ProPublica first discovered that advertisers could exclude black, Hispanic and Asian-Americans from seeing their ads. Facebook claimed they stopped allowing advertisers to do so, but ProPublica later found that Facebook had not deactivated this function.


Capitol Hill connection: This matter has been a key concern for the Congressional Black Caucus which has long said that Facebook needs to step up on the issue.


From Facebook: A company spokesperson insisted Facebook is trying to fix the issue. It's introduced new detection tools and asks more information from advertisers to prevent discrimination.



RESEARCHERS SAY THOUSANDS OF FACEBOOK USERS AFFECTED BY MALWARE: Cybersecurity researchers believe that hackers have compromised tens of thousands of Facebook accounts by creating a fake painting app on the platform.

According to data security firm Radware, hackers are using the malware to harvest user credentials, payment methods and other information stored on Facebook accounts across the world.

"We are investigating these malware findings and we are taking steps to help protect and notify those who are impacted," Facebook spokesman Pete Voss told The Hill.


VENTURE CAPITAL GOES TO BAT FOR CRYPTO: Top venture capital firms reportedly asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to exempt cryptocurrency-based tokens from their regulations.

Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures met with SEC officials on March 28, reports The Wall Street Journal.

They argued that government regulation could stifle innovation in cryptocurrency and blockchain.


Takeaway: SEC officials are reportedly skeptical about granting the exemptions. But it remains to be seen how far the agency goes in cracking down on crypto. Chairman Jay Clayton has repeatedly said regulators will go after scams and bad actors using cryptocurrencies.


LONG READ OF THE DAY: Some landlords are offering housing in exchange for sex from young men. And in some cases it's being facilitated through Facebook, a BuzzFeed News investigation found. Patrick Strudwick details the often predatory and harrowing situations for the young men involved.



The American Bar Association will continue its intellectual property law conference at 6:30 a.m.



Financial Times: An interview with Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin

Bloomberg Businessweek: A deep dive in the secretive Peter Thiel-founded data analysis company, Palantir

New York Magazine: "I Fundamentally Believe That My Time at Reddit Made the World a Worse Place"

WSJ: Why tech titans are betting on India, in 14 charts

The Baffler: An aggressive take on how tech companies merge with the nation-state