Hillicon Valley: Twitter bans Alex Jones | Feds charge North Korean programmer with Sony hack | New push for paper ballots | ManTech wins massive DHS cyber contract | Chamber calls for federal privacy standard | EU signs off on Apple-Shazam deal

Hillicon Valley: Twitter bans Alex Jones | Feds charge North Korean programmer with Sony hack | New push for paper ballots | ManTech wins massive DHS cyber contract | Chamber calls for federal privacy standard | EU signs off on Apple-Shazam deal
© Greg Nash

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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TWITTER BANS ALEX JONES: Twitter announced Thursday that it has permanently suspended accounts for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website InfoWars, citing abusive behavior.

The company had previously issued a seven-day suspension for Jones last month.


"As we continue to increase transparency around our rules and enforcement actions, we wanted to be open about this action given the broad interest in this case," Twitter said, noting that it does not typically comment on enforcement against individuals.

"We will continue to evaluate reports we receive regarding other accounts potentially associated with @realalexjones or @infowars and will take action if content that violates our rules is reported or if other accounts are utilized in an attempt to circumvent their ban."

The company noted that it would "take action" if Jones attempted to circumvent the ban.

Jones and Infowars's accounts had a combined 1.5 million followers.

Jones's offense: A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that Jones was suspended for a Periscope video he posted in which he berates CNN reporter Oliver Darcy.

"Those are the eyes of a rat," Jones told Darcy in the video. Jones also called the CNN reporter "the equivalent of like the Hitler Youth" and said that he smiles "like a possum that crawled out of the rear end of a dead cow."

The confrontation happened on Capitol Hill yesterday where Jones made a surprise appearance as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was testifying before Congress.

Twitter's tough spot: Twitter has been under fire for its handling of Jones who has spread conspiracy theories including the claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.

Liberal groups have long pushed Twitter to block Jones. But Twitter was reluctant to enforce an outright ban even as other major companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Apple banned Jones from their platforms last month, citing harassment and hate speech violations.

On the other side, Twitter is facing pressure from conservatives over what they see as anti-conservative bias on the platform and at other social media companies. They can expect more scrutiny on that front.

Read the full story here.


REMEMBER 'THE INTERVIEW'? DOJ DOES: The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it was charging a North Korean programmer in the 2014 Sony hack, last year's "WannaCry" malware attack and a 2016 theft from the Bangladesh Bank.

The lengthy 177 page-long complaint, detailed to reporters on Thursday, alleges that the individual, Park Jin Hyok, was working on behalf of the North Korean government in carrying out the attacks.

Park is also linked to the Lazarus Group, which was tied to the Bangladesh Bank and WannaCry actions. Park is charged with several crimes, including hacking charges, conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers described the probe as one of the lengthiest and thorough cyber investigations in the division's history.

"These activities run afoul of norms of acceptable safe behavior in cyber space and the international community must address them when we can," Demers said, adding that the charges "reflect the department's determination and ability to follow the facts and the law and to hold individuals and nations accountable for their crimes."

A senior DOJ official said that while no other individuals are named in the complaint, Park allegedly worked with others in carrying out the attacks.

Officials state in the complaint that Park was working for a front company named the Korean Expo Joint Venture, which worked on behalf of North Korean intelligence and was charged with generating revenue for the military branch.

Big picture: The charges were brought against Park as the Trump administration seeks to improve relations with North Korea. Trump met with leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year and has sought to secure a full commitment from the country to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Read more here.


PAPER BALLOTS ARE THE LATEST FALL TREND: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a new report on election security Thursday, calling for each state to use paper ballots by 2020 and for states to require "risk-limiting" audits before election results are certified.

The report also calls for election systems to be labeled critical infrastructure within the Department of Homeland Security, and for lawmakers to authorize a research initiative on elections.  

The report, the result of a two year-long study on election systems, is sure to be a blow to election voting machine vendors and state election officials, who have resisted attempts to dictate how elections should be administered.

"As a nation, we need to take collective action to strengthen our voting systems and safeguard our democracy," Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who co-chaired the committee behind the report, said in a statement. "In addition, the nation's leaders need to speak candidly and apolitically about threats to election systems. The American people must have confidence that their leaders place the larger interests of democracy above all else." 

Read the report here.


MANTECH IS THE MAN: DHS has awarded another massive contract to carry out and support a key cybersecurity program.

ManTech announced Wednesday that it had been awarded the $668 million contract, one day after the House passed a bill to codify the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program. The program aims to protect federal government networks from cyberattacks.

The firm will provide support to several government agencies on the CDM program as part of the contract, including the departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development as well the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Read more here.


SAY BYE TO FACEBOOK: Almost half of the young adults in the U.S. who use Facebook deleted the app on their phones over the past year, according to a new study examining Americans' changing relationship with Facebook.

The Pew Research Center study, published on Wednesday, found that 44 percent of adults between ages 18 and 29, which is composed of Gen Z and millennials, had deleted the app from their phones.

The study is only the latest to find that Facebook is losing its grip on younger users, who are increasingly turning to other platforms including YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram, the latter of which Facebook also owns.

Overall, 26 percent of Americans polled have deleted the app in the past year. 

Read more here.


THIS CHAMBER LIKES SECRETS: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on Congress to come up with a federal privacy standard in order to preempt states from passing their own laws governing data collection.

The business group released a set of privacy principles on Thursday to guide lawmakers in an effort to avoid a patchwork of state laws.

"Advances in technology have empowered businesses and consumers alike, and policies to address these changes should reflect both the significant impact of the tech ecosystem on the economy and the importance of the responsible use of consumer data," Tim Day, the vice president of the Chamber's Technology Engagement Center, said in a statement.

"The principles released today are at the intersection of these priorities, and are an effort to ensure businesses and consumers can make the most of the modern economy knowing regulatory certainty and privacy protections are a priority."

The principles come in the wake of California's decision earlier this summer to pass the toughest privacy laws in the country, a move that has business interests scrambling to water them down before they go into effect in 2020. 

Read more here.


APPLE GETS THE OK FROM THE EU: The European Union has signed off on Apple's proposal to buy Shazam, effectively clearing the way for the deal to close.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission's competition chief, had launched a full investigation of the proposed merger after it was announced late last year. In a statement Thursday, she said regulators had not found any antitrust concerns.

"Data is key in the digital economy," Vestager said in a statement. "We must therefore carefully review transactions which lead to the acquisition of important sets of data, including potentially commercially sensitive ones, to ensure they do not restrict competition. After thoroughly analysing Shazam's user and music data, we found that their acquisition by Apple would not reduce competition in the digital music streaming market."

Apple announced the deal in December of last year but did not disclose the purchase price. 

Read more here.


GOOGLE WON'T LIKE THESE SEARCH RESULTS: Two-thirds of Republicans think search engines are biased toward the left, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll published Thursday.

The poll found that 67 percent of Republicans surveyed believed search engines like Google are biased to favor liberals, while 22 percent believe they are not biased, and only 9 percent believed there is a bias towards conservatives.

Among independents in the sample, 54 percent saw no bias, while 29 percent saw bias towards the left and 13 percent towards conservatives.

Among Democrats polled, 66 percent saw no bias, 13 percent saw bias towards the left and 15 percent towards conservatives.

The poll comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE last month accused Google of suppressing conservative voices and rigging its algorithm to favor liberals.

"Google search results for 'Trump News' shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media," Trump wrote. "In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out." 

Read more here.


WHAT'S SWEDISH FOR 'JUNK NEWS?': Right-wing websites are reportedly flooding the internet with news stories containing deliberately misleading information about Sweden's upcoming elections, particularly concerning refugees and immigration, researchers say.

Reuters reports that Oxford University researchers found that one in three news articles published online about the upcoming Swedish elections came from right-wing sites labeled "junk news" by the study, based on a range of "detailed criteria."

Researchers told Reuters that they studied 275,000 tweets related to Sweden's election over a 10-day period in August. According to the study, researchers said, "for every two professional content articles shared, one junk news article was shared. Junk news therefore constituted a significant part of the conversation around the Swedish general election."

"Junk news" refers to deliberately published items the study deemed "misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news." 

Read more here.



This would be quite a matchup.



Regulating tech companies is the right conversation, Trump is the wrong messenger.

U.S. must respond to increasing 5G global competition.



Aramco weighs $1 billion venture capital fund for tech. (The Wall Street Journal)

Silicon Valley jumps into the fitness business, and it will cost you. (The New York Times)

What tech companies have to fear from antitrust law. (The Verge)

Racism and anti-Semitism surged in corners of the Web after Trump's election, analysis shows. (The Washington Post)

Lawsuit alleges Tesla, Musk sought to 'burn' Citron, other short-sellers. (Reuters)