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Hillicon Valley: Foreign spying comes under new scrutiny | How Yelp became a political weapon | NYC weighs minimum wage for Uber, Lyft drivers | Facebook apologizes for privacy bug

Hillicon Valley: Foreign spying comes under new scrutiny | How Yelp became a political weapon | NYC weighs minimum wage for Uber, Lyft drivers | Facebook apologizes for privacy bug
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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).

 

NEW WORRIES OVER FOREIGN SPYING: Washington policymakers are growing increasingly worried about the threat of high-tech foreign surveillance, a development complicated by U.S. spy agencies' use of similar technologies.

Lawmakers are stepping up their demands for more information from the Trump administration about foreign efforts to spy on Americans' cellphones.

How? The Senate last week passed a spending bill with a measure directing the Pentagon to disclose mobile device spying near U.S. military facilities.

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And an annual intelligence community authorization bill moving through the upper chamber would force intelligence officials to report on whether vulnerabilities in the global telecommunications system enable foreign surveillance.

Background: The developments reflect growing concern about the use of International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers, commonly known as "Stingrays." The spying devices mimic real cell towers, tricking mobile devices into sharing location data and in some cases communications.

The issue is clouded in sensitivity, given that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies themselves use the technology.

Police have used Stingrays to track suspects and privacy advocates have long argued there should be more restrictions on their use.

But concerns about the threat to national security have heightened since April, when the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged possible unauthorized Stingray activity in Washington, D.C., last year, including around sensitive facilities like the White House.

Read more on the controversy here.

 

YELP AS ONLINE WEAPON: Yelp is becoming a surprising weapon in the online war between liberal activists and those on the right.

Both sides are increasingly using the website to score points in a number of political and cultural controversies.

The most recent incident came after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at The Red Hen, a restaurant in Lexington, Va., because of the Trump administration's immigration policies.

Appalled conservatives quickly flocked to Yelp, a website that allows the public to comment and rate businesses, and overwhelmed the restaurant's page with negative reviews. Some online trolls even posted swastikas and pornography to deface the page.

The restaurant's rating took a serious hit, dropping from just under five stars all the way down to its current one-star rating.

Conservative personality Charlie Kirk also seized on the controversy, urging his over 600,000 Twitter followers to leave "another 100,000 [negative] reviews" on The Red Hen's page.

Earlier this month, right-wing activists took similar action against MXDC, a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Protesters opposing the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their families caught illegally crossing the border confronted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenMcConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant Bolton heads to Moscow for high-stakes meeting with Russians Tucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him MORE, who was dining at the restaurant.

The protesters chanted slogans until Nielsen eventually left. The confrontation was caught on camera and quickly went viral.

The online anger spilled over from Yelp to similar sites, such as TripAdvisor, which froze its reviews of the restaurant. Google's own restaurant review page also appeared to temporarily block users from leaving reviews.

While other websites have experienced this problem, Yelp has been the focal point in many of the controversies. In both cases, Yelp began stepping up its monitoring of The Red Hen and MXDC's pages and actively moderating posts and reviews.

Yelp's surprisingly zen answer about this: "Some people are going to make a decision about where they will patronize based on a number of factors," Yelp's SVP of communications said. "Including the business's beliefs and politics."

Things might get rough, though: "I don't know the numbers on Yelp, but if they're having engagement issues, and if this becomes a way that people can engage that isn't provided by other platforms then it could enrich the experience of Yelp," Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said.

"But if it's too polarizing and political for an audience that's looking for restaurant rankings then it may detract from the user experience."

Read the full story here.

 

FACEBOOK DETAILS USER DATA SHARING: Facebook revealed to Congress late Friday that it shared user data with 52 hardware and software-making companies, including some Chinese firms.

The new acknowledgement came as part of a more than 700-page document dump to the House Energy and Commerce Committee late Friday evening. The committee released the information publicly on Saturday.

Some companies on the list of 52 firms had previously been reported by The New York Times, including device-makers, telecommunications companies and software firms.

The list featured major tech companies like Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry and Samsung. Other firms featured on the list include Alibaba, Qualcomm and Pantech.

But the list also includes four Chinese firms that U.S. intelligence has flagged as national security threats -- Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL.

Facebook's explanation: Facebook said it shared data with the companies in an effort to improve its integrations and user experience across platforms and devices, noting that its partnerships were established before smartphones running on Apple's and Google's high-powered operating systems were as ubiquitous as they are now.  

More on Facebook's disclosures here.

 

UBER, LYFT DRIVERS IN NYC MAY BE SEEING A RAISE SOON: New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will be considering a minimum wage for drivers for companies like Lyft and Uber after a new study recommended that they be paid at least $17.22 an hour.

For independent contractors, which is how app economy drivers are classified, the recommendation amounts to a $15 minimum wage plus paid time off.

"The standard would ensure that drivers' overall pay provides for all vehicle expenses as well as a fair amount for the drivers' time and also some paid time off," wrote economists James Parrott of The New School and Michael Reich of the University of California, Berkeley.

Some key findings in the study: Two-thirds of the drivers in the city for the ride-hailing apps rely exclusively on driving for their income, and 85 percent make less than the recommended minimum.

Those in the 85 percent, an estimated 50,000 drivers, would see a 22.5 percent annual net pay increase, an average of $6,345 a year.

Parrott and Reich also found that 90 percent of app drivers are immigrants. According to the economists, 40 percent of drivers have incomes low enough to qualify them for Medicare.

Read more on the study here.

 

TRUMP SAYS HE'LL BROACH ELECTION INTERFERENCE IN PUTIN MEET: Trump plans to bring up Russia's efforts to meddle in U.S. elections when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday, Trump said that Russia's interference in Ukraine and its role in Syria will be on the agenda when he meets with Putin on July 16 and that Moscow's interference in U.S. elections will be a key topic.

"We don't want anyone tampering with elections," he told reporters en route to Bedminster, N.J., for the weekend.

The president's remarks came a day after he once again cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Moscow sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, noting in a tweet that Russia still insists that it did no such thing. Read more here.

Remember ... The topic previously came up between the two leaders at a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam last November.

Trump weathered criticism after he indicated that he believed Putin when he said Russia didn't meddle in the election. Trump later clarified his remarks, saying he believes "in our intel agencies" who assessed that Moscow interfered in the election.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was subsequently asked on Monday whether Trump would raise the issue of potential Russian interference in the midterm elections. Sanders said at the afternoon briefing that she wouldn't "get ahead of the president's conversations," but added that she would keep reporters updated on the issue. Sanders also would not say whether Trump and Putin would discuss sanctions in response to Moscow's election meddling.

 

THE MUELLER FILES: WILL COHEN FLIP? NEW INTERVIEW RAISES THE BIG QUESTION: Michael Cohen has legal tongues wagging in a new interview in which he appears to give the signal that he could flip on President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE and cooperate with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation.

Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer and "fixer" to Trump, once professed that he would "take a bullet for the president." But in an interview released Monday by ABC News, he appeared to be singing a different tune.

"My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Cohen told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

More significant, legal analysts say, is the revelation that Cohen has withdrawn from a joint defense agreement with the president. This suggests that his new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, believes that Cohen's and Trump's interests are no longer aligned.

Ending the agreement doesn't mean Cohen has "flipped," but his withdrawal is perhaps the most concrete symbol that he is weighing either pleading guilty or cooperating with prosecutors, say legal experts.  

"Short of a posting on Ebay, Cohen could not be more clear in his pitch to Mueller," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and contributor to The Hill. "It was abundantly clear that he used this interview to remove any doubts as to his willingness to cooperate with Mueller."

We've got the latest on Cohen here.

 

PUSH TO MODERNIZE GOVERNMENT WEBSITES: A pair of bipartisan lawmakers is pushing for Congress to take action to modernize federal government websites.

"While this problem isn't new, it's been far exasperated by emerging technologies like mobile payment apps and digital appointment booking services that people now use every day to pay their bills or make dinner reservations," Reps. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHouse Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS Hillicon Valley: Trump stuns with election interference claim against China | FCC limits fees for 5G | Uber reaches 8M settlement over breach | Fox sells Sky stake to Comcast | House passes bills to fix cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Texas) and Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaTech giant faces crucial decision over Saudi ties GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Silicon Valley tested by Saudi crisis MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in an op-ed for Wired published over the weekend.

"For years, the federal government has been playing catch-up with the private sector to adopt online services that become quickly outdated, leading to failures like the IRS' website crash on Tax Day this year," they wrote.

 

NEW FIGHT OVER CALIFORNIA PRIVACY BILL: The tech industry is mobilizing against a new California privacy law, likely the toughest in the country.

The California Consumer Privacy Act was rushed through the state legislature, where it was approved unanimously, and quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The new law requires websites to show users what data is collected on them, what the data will be used for and to identify third parties who have been given access to the data. Internet users will also have the right to opt out of having their data collected and sold and to request that their information be deleted.

It is one of the most comprehensive privacy laws passed in the U.S. and comes after the European Union implemented a set of data privacy regulations that cracked down on data collection practices.

But the law, which doesn't take effect until 2020, is now the center of a new fight as the tech industry pushes for changes.

We have more on the fight here.

 

FACEBOOK REVEALS BUG THAT UNBLOCKED USERS: A bug affecting 800,000 Facebook users briefly unblocked people they had barred from contacting them, the company revealed Monday.

Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, wrote in a blog post that the social network would start notifying the affected users.

"We know that the ability to block someone is important -- and we'd like to apologize and explain what happened," Egan wrote.

 

TECH WORKERS PUT PRESSURE ON CEOS TO DROP CONTRACTS: Technology companies are facing a new crisis as their employees press executives to rethink their work with the Trump administration and in many cases drop lucrative federal contracts.

The controversy comes amid heated national debates on immigration, law enforcement and surveillance -- issues on which Silicon Valley's workforce wants the industry to take a stand.

In the past month, workers at Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Salesforce have organized and written letters calling on CEOs to cancel or review contracts with government agencies whose work the employees say raises ethical questions.

The groundswell of opposition to many industry practices and projects is forcing executives to revisit their work, a marked shift in how they operate.

There were rumblings before: IBM workers organized against their CEO Ginni Rometty being a member of Trump's advisory board. Recent actions are among the most serious though. Workers are demanding that corporations drop lucrative government contracts that could lead to even more lucrative contracts, and in the case of Google's Project Maven contract with the Pentagon, they're winning.

More here.

 

MAN CHARGED WITH THREATENING FCC CHAIR: A California man was arrested by FBI agents on Friday on charges of threatening to kill Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai's family.

The man, according to a release from the Justice Department (DOJ), made the threats because of Pai's role in repealing net neutrality protections.

Markara Man, 33, of Norwalk, Calif., allegedly sent three threatening emails to accounts operated by Pai last December, around the time the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesJuan Williams: Trump, the Great Destroyer The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients MORE (R-Calif.) hates taxes more than he likes good basketball.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How ransomware democratized cyber weapons, warfare.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Home Depot is trying to stiff-arm Amazon's plays at dominating online home improvement shopping. (WSJ)

In Seattle, people hate Jeff Bezos but not Bill Gates. (AP)

Want peace of mind? Bring back away messages. (WSJ)

Tech elites are bringing Burning Man to their living rooms.  (NYT)

The Guardian does some fun visuals showing just how much tech companies upcharge cities in forgone taxes in exchange for jobs. (The Guardian)

Best Buy says goodbye to CD sales. (CBS)

Cybersecurity company Tenable files to become a publicly traded company. (CyberScoop)

Trump is considering an executive order to prevent U.S., foreign telecom deals. (The Washington Post)

The military has submitted a formal proposal for a cyber weapons platform. (Fifth Domain)

Amazon workers are afraid to take bathroom breaks. (Seattle Times)