Hillicon Valley: Massive hack at Marriott | New York AG opens probe | Facebook's Sandberg sought research into Soros | Court upholds ban on Kaspersky software | EU could open new Google antitrust probe

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 Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig).

 

MASSIVE HACK AT MARRIOTT: Marriott International announced Friday that is investigating a hack to its Starwood Hotels reservation database that potentially allowed access to personal information on about 500 million guests.

Marriott said that they were alerted about the breach by an internal security tool on Sept. 8 2018, which revealed there had been unauthorized access to the Starwood network since 2014, according to a statement on their website.

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The hack could have exposed "information on up to approximately 500 million guests who made a reservation at a Starwood property," Marriott said.

Compromised information for 327 million Starwood guests could include passport details, phone numbers and email addresses. For an undisclosed amount of guests, it could also include credit card information, Marriott said.

Marriott, which acquired Starwood in 2016, said it has reported the hack to law enforcement and is supporting their investigation.

The hotel chain will also email the affected guests on Friday.

A representative from Marriott declined The Hill's request to comment beyond the statement.

New York state Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) said her office is opening an investigation into the breach. 

Read more here.

 

SANDBERG ASKED STAFF TO PROBE SOROS FINANCES: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg asked the company's communications staff to research Democratic mega-donor George Soros in January, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Sandberg in an email requested Facebook's policy and communications executives probe Soros' financial interests after the billionaire called tech giants a "menace" to society during a World Economic Forum speech.

The revelation about Sandberg's request comes a week after Facebook admitted that it hired consulting firm Definers to investigate Soros's criticisms of the tech behemoth.

Sandberg and Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook hosts 'pop up' privacy tutorial in New York City Merkel named Harvard commencement speaker The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown MORE have come under heavy fire following a Times report that found Definers sought to delegitimize group of anti-Facebook activists by linking them to Soros.

Soros has long been a central figure in right-wing conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic attacks, with extremists claiming that Soros manipulates the media and the world economy. Sandberg originally claimed that she was not aware of any of the work that Definers did for Facebook, but last week back-tracked, saying that some Definers-related papers had come across her desk.

Sandberg's email requesting information on Soros came before Facebook hired Definers, the Times reported.

Facebook in a statement to Buzzfeed News said that Facebook had already been investigating Soros when Sandberg requested that some communications staff look into his background. 

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK AGREES TO RELEASE REPORT ON CIVIL RIGHTS AUDIT: Facebook has committed to releasing an internal progress report on a civil rights audit before the end of the year, according to a group that says it met with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday.

Color of Change, a civil rights group that has been critical of Facebook, said Sandberg made the promise in a meeting with them on Thursday.

"Facebook, like much of Silicon Valley, desperately needs a cultural transformation," said Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, in a statement. "Leaders must see that addressing the needs of Black users and employees, collaborating with civil rights groups to correct existing issues, and rooting out the internal forces hostile to civil rights are essential for the company's future success." 

Read more here.

 

KASPERSKY'S LAST STAND: A federal appeals court in D.C. ruled Friday to uphold the federal government's ban on software from Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab.

The Russian company had fought the ban in court, claiming that it was unconstitutional and that Kaspersky has been unfairly singled out by the government.

However, a district court had ruled against Kaspersky's claims, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday agreed with that previous ruling.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last year issued a directive ordering government agencies to stop using and remove Kaspersky Lab software over concerns on the firm's ties to the Russian government. And Congress last year included a mandate for agencies to remove Kaspersky software from their systems in its annual defense bill. Read more here.

 

IS THERE ANOTHER EU INVESTIGATION ON THE HORIZON FOR GOOGLE? The European Union may be pursuing another antitrust investigation into Google, this time over its search practices.

Reuters on Friday reported that the EU has been asking the internet giant's rivals if its search engine suppresses competition in local searches. The outlet viewed one of the questionnaires sent to Google's competitors.

Reuters reports that regulators asked in the questionnaire if rivals had felt any impact following major search algorithm changes by Google, including the 2014 introduction of its Panda 4.0 algorithm that determines what appears in search results.

In the past two years, the EU has hit Google with back-to-back record-breaking antitrust fines totaling nearly $8 billion.

The first, in 2017, was in response to Google's practice of elevating its own comparison shopping service over those of rivals. A subsequent $5 billion fine issued this past summer penalized Google for the way it bundled its mobile services.

EU antitrust officials are also investigating Google's advertising units. 

Read more here.

 

GOOGLE EMPLOYEES GET A RAINY DAY FUND FOR POSSIBLE STRIKE: Google employees have pledged $200,000 to the company's engineers if they go on strike to protest its decision to release a censored search engine for China.

Liz Fong-Jones, a Google Cloud Platform engineer, told The Hill that a strike fund to support Google employees who choose to strike over the development of the search engine, dubbed "Dragonfly," has raised more than $125,000.

Fong-Jones, who created the fund, said the $125,000 came from a pool of 21 current and two former Google employees. She said in a message that she would also donate $100,000 to the effort.

Some programmers and other staffers at Google are said to be opposed to the company's work with the Chinese government to develop Dragonfly, which critics say is designed to operate with China's internet censorship laws. 

Read more here.

 

HOUSE VOTES TO ELEVATE FEDERAL CIO: The House on Friday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to elevate the role of the federal government's chief information officer.

The measure would establish a new line for reporting about information technology within the federal government, now instructing the federal chief information officer (CIO) -- who oversees information technology throughout the administration -- to report to the director of the Office of Management and Budget instead of the office's deputy director.

The bill also designates the federal chief information security officer (CISO) as a presidential appointee, and orders the person in that role to report directly to the federal CIO. 

Read more here.

 

COURT BACKS SPRINT IN FIGHT WITH TIME WARNER: A U.S. appeals court Friday upheld a lower court's decision granting Sprint $140 million in its lawsuit against Time Warner Cable over patent infringement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed with the lower court's ruling that there was sufficient evidence to support Sprint's claim that Time Warner Cable violated five of its patents by using them without proper authorization. 

Read more here.

 

NEVER POST: The president of Grindr, the world's largest gay dating app, is facing backlash after he suggested that "holy matrimony" is between a man and a woman.

President Scott Chen made the comment in a post on his personal Facebook page, Into reported Thursday. Into is a digital magazine owned by Grindr.

Chen shared an article on Monday and called for the boycott of Chinese tech company HTC after it reportedly backed U.S. groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

"Some people think marriage is a holy matrimony between a man and a woman. And I think so too. But that's your own business," he wrote below the post, translated by Into from Chinese. 

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: The Hill's finest.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

How to survive the next era of tech. (New York Times)

New York City Council to host hearings on Amazon's headquarters deal. (Wall Street Journal)

Someone hacked printers worldwide, urging people to subscribe to PewDiePie. (The Verge)

How to protect yourself from the giant Marriott hack. (Wired)