Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Twitter, Facebook execs to face grilling | How hackers are targeting reputations on review sites | Agency to create privacy framework | Amazon hits $1T in market value | Twitter says Trump not exempt from being banned

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.

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DORSEY AND SANDBERG'S BIG DAY ON THE HILL: Top executives from Facebook and Twitter are expected to face a grilling from Capitol Hill lawmakers in two separate hearings on Wednesday covering alleged anti-conservative tech bias and foreign governments manipulating social media platforms to influence U.S. politics.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg are set to undergo the biggest political tests of their careers as they face lawmakers for the first time in a public congressional hearing.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are likely to come at Dorsey with knives out over how conservatives have allegedly been suppressed on Twitter.

At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will demand answers on how Facebook and Twitter are making their platforms safer from foreign interference as the November midterms approach.

The stakes will be particularly high for Dorsey, who will testify alone at the House Energy and Commerce hearing on anti-conservative bias following morning testimony alongside Sandberg on the Senate side of the Capitol. Without any tech allies by his side, Dorsey runs the risk of becoming a punching bag for House GOP lawmakers have a long list of grievances against Silicon Valley in general.

House Republicans plan on asking about Twitter's past snafus, which they believe indicate a clear pattern of conservative bias, such as not displaying some conservatives in the platform's drop-down search results and Twitter downranking a hashtag disparaging Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

GOP members of the House panel, led by Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), also want to highlight high-profile anecdotes that suggest Twitter temporarily silences more Republicans than Democrats, despite any data supporting accusations of systematic bias against conservatives.

"The bottom line is there are more censorship errors with high-profile Republicans to point to than with anyone on the left," a congressional staffer told The Hill. "Twitter has chalked that up to mistakes. Whether bias is intentional or not, even a well-intentioned algorithm can have consequences."


What Sandberg needs to do: Sandberg's job is easier than Dorsey's. Facebook has made a show of working to curb foreign misinformation efforts and lawmakers have responded more favorably than negatively. All she has to do is keep that up and Facebook is likely to walk away unscathed, and unlike Google, have possible earned some goodwill for showing up.


What Dorsey needs to do: Even if the Twitter CEO can walk out of the Senate Intel hearing in the morning unscathed, he's certain to be put through the wringer by the Energy and Commerce Republicans in the afternoon. Republicans have indicated they are not pleased with how Twitter is handling their concerns on the bias front. They've been blasting Dorsey, including on Twitter, and will air those concerns directly.

Watch closely for Rep. Marsha Blackburn's (R-Tenn.) line of questioning. She's had a beef with Twitter ever since they temporarily banned one of her campaign videos from being promoted.  


Snippet from Sandberg's prepared remarks: "This is an arms race, and that means we need to be ever more vigilant," she says in her prepared remarks, provided to The Hill, about foreign interference. "As Chairman Burr has noted, 'Nothing less than the integrity of our democratic institutions, processes and ideals is at stake.' We agree, and we are determined to meet this challenge."


GOOGLE SUBMITS SENATE INTEL TESTIMONY: Google executive Kent Walker has submitted testimony on the company's ongoing efforts to combat foreign influence operations ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the subject.

In a written statement, Walker emphasized that the company has taken action to reduce the threat of foreign influence operations beyond the Russian campaign that sought to meddle in the 2016 election and is committed to working with members of Congress and others in the private sector "to address abuses that undercut the integrity of elections."

The Senate committee will publicly grill executives from Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday as part of its broader inquiry into Russian election interference.

Read more here.


And if you missed them, here are two more stories about the growing tech vs. GOP fight.


TRUMP ATTACKS RATTLE TECH: President Trump's attacks on the tech industry are putting Silicon Valley on the defensive.

Trump and congressional Republicans are hammering web and social media companies for what they see as bias against conservatives. But that push is opening the door to scrutiny over other issues as well and emboldening those who have sought tighter regulations on the industry.

Trump last week blasted Google, accusing the search giant of censoring right-wing media outlets and promoting news sites critical of his administration. The president posted a video that purported to show Google's homepage linked to former President Obama's State of the Union addresses, but not his.

The clip was quickly and widely debunked and Google issued a statement denying that it skewed its search results in support of "any political ideology."

But Trump broadened his attack, warning Facebook and Twitter, that like Google, they were "treading on very, very troubled territory."

Republicans and tech have long sparred over allegations of bias. But Trump's remarks mark a new escalation and are ramping up the pressure the industry is facing.

Read more here.


MCCARTHY VS. SILICON VALLEY: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is leading the charge against President Trump's new favorite punching bag: big tech.

The California Republican, who hopes to replace Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) next year, has been aggressively promoting a campaign to "stop the bias," referring to what critics say is a pattern of discrimination against conservative voices on social media.

"I've had many conversations with the president about how we have to stop this bias," McCarthy, one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill, told Fox News on Thursday.

"I've spoken to Jack Dorsey throughout the month," McCarthy added. "He and I philosophically disagree, but we do agree on one thing: We believe in the First Amendment. But we also believe in transparency and accountability."

The majority leader's recent crusade against social media comes at a time when Trump has ramped up his own rhetoric against the tech industry. His eagerness to champion the cause could endear him to both the White House and conservative lawmakers -- two constituencies that could be crucial to securing the Speakership. 

Read more here.


BEWARE THAT YELP REVIEW: Hackers are increasingly attempting to extort companies and individuals by threatening severe reputational harm through online reviews sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, security experts tell The Hill.

While internet extortion schemes are not new, their perpetrators now appear to be spamming sites where enough negative reviews can scare away firms' customers.

"It is definitely an increase that we see -- that more and more hackers are misusing the whole brand reputation and any type of review process to blackmail and extort companies," Candid Wueest, a Symantec threat researcher based in Europe, told The Hill. "Of course the same would be harmful for anyone who has an online profile such as hotels -- we've seen it with restaurants as well, like TripAdvisor or Yelp."

On Sunday, a group of hackers emailed CheapAir, an online travel agency, threatening to "destroy personal or company reputation online" if the company did not pay 1.5 bitcoins, roughly the equivalent of $10,000, by Wednesday.

The hackers, who claimed they worked for the "STD Company," said they are "experts in destroying personal and company reputation online," according to screenshots of the emails provided to The Hill.

They threatened to harm the business by posting thousands of negative reviews, replies and fraud reports on sites such as TrustPilot and Ripoff Report, as well as on social media.

"If not, we will proceed with our work and you should understand that damage once made can't be undone, not even by us," they wrote. 

Read more here.


HEY, THAT'S PRIVATE!: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced Tuesday that it will begin to create a framework to guide organizations on how they can protect the information of individuals using their products or services.

The non-regulatory agency, responsible for setting scientific standards and housed in the Commerce Department, said in a release that the privacy framework would be based off the framework it previously established for cybersecurity issues.

"Consumers' privacy expectations are evolving at the same time that there are multiplying visions inside and outside the U.S. about how to address privacy challenges," Naomi Lefkovitz, NIST senior privacy policy advisor and lead for the project, said in the release.

"NIST's goal is to develop a framework that will bridge the gaps between privacy professionals and senior executives so that organizations can respond effectively to these challenges without stifling innovation." 

Read more here.


TRUMP REVIVES ATTACK ON NBC 'LICENSE:' President Trump is reviving his threat to see NBC's broadcasting "license" challenged, attacking the network's "journalistic standards" following reports that it had passed on a damning expos√© about Harvey Weinstein.

"NBC FAKE NEWS, which is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story, is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct," the president tweeted on Tuesday.

"I have long criticized NBC and their journalistic standards-worse than even CNN. Look at their license?" he added.

Trump has directed similar attacks at NBC and other outlets last year over critical coverage. But in reality, there is little that he or his administration could do to carry out the threat.


Why? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in charge of issuing broadcasting licenses, which are granted to individual stations instead of networks like NBC. Moreover, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai repeatedly said last year that the agency would not revoke those licenses on the basis of a station's content. A spokeswoman for Pai did not immediately respond when asked for comment on Tuesday.

Read more here.


AMAZON HITS $1 TRILLION: Amazon briefly exceeded $1 trillion in value Tuesday amid growing criticism from President Trump, becoming the second U.S. corporation to reach that threshold.

The online retail giant eclipsed the $1 trillion mark Tuesday morning when the price of one of its 487,741,189 shares rose to $2,050.27, according to CNBC. The stock value slipped to close at $2,039.51, but was still up 1.33 percent for the day.

Apple was the first U.S. corporation to exceed $1 trillion in value when it crossed the threshold on Aug. 2. The combined value of both companies is equal to roughly 10 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Amazon has dominated U.S. retail as more consumers shift away from brick-and-mortar stores toward online retailers. The company accounts for 49 cents of every e-commerce dollar spent in the U.S., contributing to its $178 billion in annual revenue, and it employs more than 550,000 workers, according to The New York Times.

Amazon has expanded into web hosting services, advertising, consumer technology, entertainment and e-books since launching as an online bookstore in July 1995.

But its also been under Trump's fire for a host of reasons.

Read more here.


FACEBOOK WILL PRESS ON WITH BIAS REVIEW: Facebook will continue with its internal audit of alleged anti-conservative bias even though Jon Kyl, the GOP lobbyist leading the effort, has been tapped to replace the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a company source confirmed with The Hill on Tuesday.

Facebook had tapped Kyl, a former Senate minority whip, back in May to investigate concerns of left-leaning bias on the platform.

It's unclear who will head up the effort now that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has appointed him to return to the Senate. Axios reported the news earlier on Tuesday.

Kyl left the Senate in 2013 and has since been working as a lobbyist with the law firm Covington & Burling.

Read more here.


TWITTER SAYS TRUMP ISN'T SAFE FROM ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS: A Twitter official said Tuesday that President Trump does not have a "blanket exception" from a possible ban by the social media platform.

The company's legal and policy chief, Vijaya Gadde, told Politico that while the company has often given Trump an exception for possible policy violations because of the newsworthiness of his tweets, there is "not a blanket exception for the president or anyone else."

The company has come under fire from Trump critics for not punishing the president for specific use of the platform. Trump often uses his account to launch personal attacks on political opponents, criticize the media and, on occasion, announce major policy or personnel decisions.

Read more here.


ICYMI: State Department unit created to fight foreign election interference still waiting on funding: report

California lawmakers pass strictest net neutrality law in US


A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: A powerful protest.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: TV owners need new rules to keep pace



Millions could lose cheap phone service under FCC's overhaul of Lifeline. (Ars Technica)

Trump to name climate change skeptic as adviser on emerging technologies. (CNN)

Private sector isn't sharing data with DHS's threat portal. (CyberScoop)

Can you spot the deceptive Facebook post? (The New York Times)

Samsung plans to show off phone with foldable screen this year. (The Washington Post)

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