Overnight Technology

Overnight Tech: EU investigates Apple’s Shazam buy | FCC defends GOP commissioners CPAC visit | Groups sue FTC for Facebook privacy records | A big quarter for Google

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THE EU’S NEW TARGET: They’re back! European regulators are again taking on an American tech company.

{mosads}On Tuesday, the European Commission, the enforcement arm of the European Union, announced that it’s investigating Apple’s purchase of the music-identification service Shazam.

The regulators are concerned Apple could use new data obtained by customers of Shazam to try and encourage users to switch to its music streaming service, Apple Music.

“As a result, competing for music streaming services could be put at a competitive disadvantage,” the European Commission said in a written statement.

The regulators also noted concern over the potential for Apple to remove referral links to other music streaming services in its app.

“Our investigation aims to ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won’t face less choice as a result of this proposed merger,” European Commission antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said of the probe.


Miss me? It’s only been two short years since the European Union handed it’s record-breaking $14.5 billion fine to Apple over its tax arrangements with Ireland. Apple and Ireland tried to appeal the decision but will pay most of the money.

Last month, they chose Goldman Sachs, Amundi and BlackRock to manage the multi-billion dollar sum Apple will have to pay in back taxes.


A brief, recent history of some of the EU’s biggest investigations and actions against U.S. tech:

2017: $2.7 billion fine for Google over antitrust concerns.

2017: $294 million bill for Amazon over unfair tax arrangements.

2017: $122 million fine for Facebook over antitrust concerns.

2016: $14.5 billion fine for Apple over unfair tax arrangements.

2013: $732 million fine for Microsoft over antitrust concerns.

2009: $1.45 billion fine for Intel over antitrust concerns.


Looking for allies: One thing is different this time: Washington is sitting back.

Under the Obama administration, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew went at European regulators with knives out. He directly accused the EU of unfairly targeting American technology companies with their investigations. Lew was also joined by U.S. lawmakers who pushed back on European regulators. The Obama administration was also much cozier with technology companies

But now, tech and web companies find themselves on the hot seat over a host of issues form privacy, allegations of censoring conservative content, their business practices and even their size.

One thing to watch will be how strongly the administration and lawmakers come to Silicon Valley’s defenses if the Apple probe marks a new wave of European enforcement actions.


Welcome to Overnight Tech! Please send your tips, comments and favorite Kanye tweets to (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.


DEMS NOT HAPPY WITH FCC OVER CPAC: Last week, the FCC’s general counsel defended GOP commissioners’ attendance at CPAC earlier this year in a letter to a pair of Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who had said that the appearance raised ethical concerns for the leaders of an independent agency.

FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson Jr. said that the three GOP commissioners did not violate any ethics rules in appearing at the conservative summit because CPAC is not a partisan event. He also argued that their appearance was keeping in line with past commissioners’ attendance at ideological events hosted by organizations on the left and right.

“The Commissioners’ ability to accept prominent speaking engagements like this one helps promote transparency and accountability and encourages public participation and interest in Commission rulemakings, without contravening applicable ethics obligations,” Johnson wrote.


One important Democrat isn’t buying that explanation. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Dem on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill in a statement that he’s not happy with the answer.

“We asked the Commissioners legitimate questions and expected them to respond, not to hide behind their lawyer,” Pallone said. “The general counsel did not provide any legal reason why the Commissioners could not respond, and we still expect the Commissioners to answer our questions.”


-Here’s our story on Pallone’s original letter to the FCC commissioners.

–Also, recall that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai declined an award that was presented to him at CPAC on the advice of ethics officials.


ONE EPIC LAWSUIT: The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Friday against the Federal Trade Commission to obtain records on Facebook’s privacy program.

The FTC had released some redacted versions of privacy audits that Facebook is required to submit to under a 2011 consent agreement the social media giant reached to settle charges that it had made deceptive privacy claims.

EPIC argued that in the wake of revelations about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there is a “clear public interest” in the full disclosure of the audits.

“The release of the full audits is crucial for Congress, the States Attorneys General, and the public to evaluate how the Cambridge Analytica breach occurred and the FTC, Facebook, and the selected independent third-party auditor fulfilled their obligation under the 2012 FTC Consent Order,” the lawsuit reads.


Here’s the 2017 audit that the FTC released last week. In it, the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers signed off on Facebook’s privacy program.


PRIVACY ADVOCATES AREN’T IMPRESSED WITH FACEBOOK’S RESPONSE TO DATA SCANDAL: In the month since the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had improperly obtained data on 87 million Facebook users, the social network has announced a series of changes that it says will better protect user data and increase transparency around their practices. But critics who have been speaking out about internet giants’ data collection for years are dubious about the announcements.


Harper talked to a few privacy advocates and here’s some of what they had to say:

–John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog: “I’m not particularly impressed yet about their so-called commitment to privacy.”

–Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy: “It’s a disgrace that Facebook has not confronted the challenge of GDPR to change its overall business model. What we’re getting from Facebook are just more controls for people to opt out instead of a reduction in the collection and use of our data.”

–Allie Bohm, Public Knowledge: “We need to be looking at comprehensive privacy legislation that covers everyone who has our private information, not simply concerned with whether Facebook is coming up with good policies today,” Bohm said. “There’s nothing that Facebook can do that’s going to make me say, ‘Oh, they solved the problem, now we don’t need legislation.'”


GOOGLE DOES BIG NUMBERS: Google’s parent company Alphabet on Monday reported strong first-quarter profit growth despite increasing concerns over data collection, which drives a significant amount of the company’s business model.

Over the last quarter, Google’s profits increased by 84 percent. The $9.6 billion it netted in profit is much higher than the roughly $6.5 billion some analysts predicted it would bring in.

The company was able to generate much of its money through ads Google sold on its search engine, on YouTube and on its bevy of partner websites. 


LONGREAD OF THE DAY: Ben Wofford profiles Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for the Washingtonian. The profile focuses on Bezos’S surprisingly interesting relationship with Washington, D.C., which is very different than in Seattle, as he prepares to move to Kalorama. (Ahem, before the location of Amazon HQ2 is announced.)  

Sources Wofford spoke with say that while Bezos keeps a low profile in Seattle, he is a “society man” in D.C., rolling with the towns’ wheelers and dealers.



The Heritage Foundation will host a discussion with Facebook on privacy at 11:00 a.m.

The New America Foundation will host a luncheon on spectrum as infrastructure at noon.



Kanye West loves Tesla

San Francisco Chronicle: An op-ed on the Uberization of e-scooters

BuzzFeed: An interview with Aleksandr Kogan, the man behind Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook data

The Washington Post: How people use Facebook to flood Amazon reviews

A look at Oath’s new bug bounty program

The New York Times: How some people around the world are using Facebook to incite violence

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