Hillicon Valley: Report accuses tech giants of hindering Russia probe | NAACP leads protest against Facebook | Trump, Congress head for clash on Huawei | Security panel clears T-Mobile, Sprint deal | Google plans $1B NYC expansion

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).

 

REPORT POINTS FINGERS AT TECH GIANTS: A report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe into Russian online disinformation campaigns aimed at U.S. voters accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of impeding the investigation.

The analysis, prepared by researchers with the firm New Knowledge, said the internet giants submitted incomplete datasets to the panel and may have misled lawmakers about the efforts of the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

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"Regrettably, it appears that the platforms may have misrepresented or evaded in some of their statements to Congress; one platform claimed that no specific groups were targeted (this is only true if speaking strictly of ads), while another dissembled about whether or not the Internet Research Agency created content to discourage voting (it did)," the report said. "It is unclear whether these answers were the result of faulty or lacking analysis, or a more deliberate evasion."

The Washington Post was first to report on the document, which was one of two third-party analyses submitted to the panel on the Internet Research Agency's efforts to sow discord among U.S. voters during and after the 2016 campaign. The other was conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and the digital analytics firm Graphika.

Both reports concluded that the Internet Research Agency sought to promote President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE and the Republican Party.

"What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party -- and specifically, Donald Trump," the Oxford report said. 

We've got more on the report here.

 

TECH GIANTS PUSH BACK: A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that the company has been fully cooperative with the Russia probe.

"We've provided thousands of ads and pieces of content to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for review and shared information with the public about what we found," the spokesperson said.

"Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform, and protecting the integrity of elections is an important aspect of that mission," a spokesperson for Twitter said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Google, meanwhile, declined to comment but pointed to the company's efforts to cooperate with the Senate probe and improve transparency for its political ads.

 

FAST BACKLASH: The NAACP said Monday that it is returning a donation from Facebook and encouraging users to log out of the platform in protest after one of the Senate reports found that Russians exploited social media to suppress African-American turnout in the 2016 election.

"Facebook's engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

The civil rights organization said it has given back a donation to Facebook, though it did not specify the amount.

The NAACP said it would lead a protest starting Tuesday that encouraged individuals to log out of Facebook and Instagram for one week as "a way to signify to Facebook that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests."

The NAACP called on Congress to conduct further investigations into Facebook's behavior following the release of a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee that found Russia used Instagram posts as part of a voter suppression drive targeting African-Americans. 

Read more on the protest call here.

 

SO LONG, FACEBOOK: A former tech columnist for The Wall Street Journal announced Monday that he will be deactivating his Facebook account, saying he is "no longer comfortable there."

Walt Mossberg, who was also a top editor at The Verge and Recode, said he will deactivate his Facebook and Facebook Messenger accounts.

"Some personal news: I've decided to quit Facebook around the end of the year. I am doing this -- after being on Facebook for nearly 12 years -- because my own values and the policies and actions of Facebook have diverged to the point where I'm no longer comfortable there," he tweeted.

"I am also quitting Facebook-owned Instagram and Messenger. I will remain on Twitter, and will continue to communicate via iMessage, email and SMS text with those who have my email address and/or phone number. Obviously, people who follow me here can also reach me via DM," Mossberg added. 

Read more here.

 

ZTE 2.0? President Trump's threat to intervene in the arrest of a Chinese tech executive is setting the stage for a fight between the White House and Republican lawmakers.

The arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada earlier this month was largely met with praise in Washington, D.C., including from top Republicans like Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke raised .1 million from over 128,000 donors on campaign's first day O'Rourke on Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 'We don't have the best negotiating partners on either side' O'Rourke: 'I think we can win Texas' in 2020 MORE (R-Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave MORE (R-Fla.). Meng is facing extradition to the U.S. for allegedly violating trade sanctions against Iran.

Trump though rattled lawmakers and aides when he offered to help resolve the case if it gets him a trade deal with China.

Trump told Reuters last week that Meng could be released if it was "good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made."

The remarks shocked Capitol Hill and brought criticism from both parties.

A spokesperson for Rubio said in an email that the senator "believes the case is unrelated to trade policy, and that it would be a mistake for President Trump to intervene."

Even before Trump's remarks, Rubio had tweeted that Meng's arrest "has nothing to do with a trade war with #China."

"It's an action by federal prosecutors for alleged violations of law, not leverage in a trade dispute," Rubio wrote in response to a New York Times report tying the arrest to the trade dispute. "And unlike China, she will have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise." 

More on how Trump could be headed for a clash with Congress.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF GOOGLE HOME: Google announced Monday that it plans to invest more than $1 billion to establish a new campus in New York City.

The company said in a news release that it has leased two buildings and signed a letter of intent for a third to form Google Hudson Square. The campus will include properties on Hudson Street and Washington Street in Manhattan.

The company plans to begin to move into the campus by 2022.

"Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs," Google Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said in a statement. "In fact, we're growing faster outside the Bay Area than within it, and this year opened new offices and data centers in locations like Detroit, Boulder, Los Angeles, Tennessee and Alabama. And as we continue to grow across the country, we look forward to calling New York City home for many years to come." 

Read more here.

 

PANEL CLEARS T-MOBILE-SPRINT: A national security panel has approved the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

The move helps push the deal closer to final approval, though the companies still need a sign-off from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice.

According to the Journal, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) approved the merger on Monday.

Last week, Reuters reported that the interagency panel led by the Treasury Department was ready to give its approval after the two telecoms' parent companies agreed to make concessions over their relationships with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which the U.S. intelligence committee has deemed a national security threat. 

The latest on the deal here.

 

TOPPING THE CHARTS: Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was the top trending politician in searches in 2018, Google announced.

Google's "Year in Search" results showed that Abrams beat out a host of other politicians who burst onto the national scene in 2018. She finished ahead of Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeRepublican strategist predicts his 2020 Dem primary final four The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Kamala Harris: Voters want president who can prosecute 'the case' against Trump MORE (D-Texas), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez fires back at Jamie Dimon after CEO dismisses Green New Deal Inslee: We want world to know 'there is still intelligent life in the US' The importance of moderate voters MORE (D-N.Y.), in that order.

Search results for Abrams spiked from mid-October through mid-November as her race against Gov.-elect Brian Kemp (R) gained national prominence. Kemp, then the secretary of state in Georgia, was accused by Democrats of voter suppression. Kemp, who rebuffed calls for his resignation ahead of the election, narrowly defeated Abrams. 

Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: "Dr. Google is a liar."

 

ICYMI FROM THE WEKEND:

Bill Gates says privacy regulation for tech companies 'makes a lot of sense.'

California commission pulls plan to tax text messages after FCC ruling.

Colin Kroll, co-founder of HQ Trivia and Vine, dies at 34.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: So are we.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

The future of the deepfake -- and what it means for fact-checkers. (Poynter)

Hackers deface Wall Street Journal with pro-PewDiePie message. (Motherboard)

Google's secret China project 'effectively ended' after internal confrontation. (The Intercept)

In a dead heat with Stacey Abrams, Brian Kemp created a diversion from a computer security breakdown. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)