Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval

Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval
© Getty Images

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. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig).

 

HOUSE REPUBLICANS DEMAND ANSWERS FROM WIRELESS INDUSTRY: Top House Republicans are pressing the telecommunications industry about its handling of customer data following a report earlier this month that detailed how companies sell user location data to third parties.

The top GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint on Wednesday asking for details about the companies' data-sharing agreements.

ADVERTISEMENT

"This practice of selling and sharing of location information through multiple entities potentially impacts hundreds of millions of American customers," the letters read. "We are deeply troubled because it is not the first time we have received reports and information about the sharing of mobile users' location information involving a number of parties who may have misused personally identifiable information."

Motherboard, a tech news site, published a story earlier this month revealing how easy it is for certain professions, like bounty hunters, to obtain precise location information on mobile users with just a phone number, using data sold to third parties.

The Republicans -- Reps. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenLawmakers call on Trump to keep tech legal shield out of trade talks House passes anti-robocall bill Lawmakers deride FTC settlement as weak on Facebook MORE (Ore.), Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersLawmakers deride FTC settlement as weak on Facebook Overnight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress EPA head clashes with California over how car emissions negotiations broke down MORE (Wash.), Bob Latta (Ohio) and Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieOvernight Health Care — Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Poll finds Trump vulnerable on health care in battleground states | HHS must respond to petition on abortion referral ban by Thursday | Wyden presses health officials about CBD regulations Lawmakers map out path forward on Medicare Part D The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations MORE (Ky.) -- also sent letters to MicroBilt and Zumigo, two data aggregators named in the story. Read more here. 

All of the major carriers have now promised to stop selling location data: Sprint is the latest mobile carrier to promise to stop selling its customers' location information to third parties following a report this month that exposed how the industry is trafficking in data.

The company said in a statement that it would end all sales to data aggregators. Sprint said the recent outcry over those practices changed its thinking.

"Last year we decided to end our arrangements with data aggregators, but assessed that the negative impacts to customers for services like roadside assistance and bank fraud alerts/protection that would result required a different approach," Sprint said in the statement. "We implemented new, more stringent safeguards to help protect customer location data, but as a result of recent events, we have decided to end our arrangements with data aggregators." Read more here.

 

DOJ PROBING HUAWEI: Federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The probe, reportedly built out of civil lawsuits against the firm, is examining whether the company allegedly stole trade secrets from U.S. companies.

People familiar with the probe told the Journal that it is at an advanced stage and that an indictment could soon be coming.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment to The Hill. A Huawei spokesperson declined to comment to the Journal.

Huawei has long faced scrutiny from both lawmakers and national security officials, who have labeled the firm as a national security threat over its ties to the Chinese government.

The company has denied that characterization, and China this week called for other countries to end "the groundless fabrications and unreasonable restrictions" on Huawei and other firms. Read more here.

 

BE LESS INTERESTED: Most Facebook users are unaware that the social media giant compiles lists of their interests to help advertisers target them more efficiently, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Seventy-four percent of users said they were unaware that Facebook was keeping a list of their interests until Pew directed them toward the page.

Facebook users can find the list of their interests on the platform's "ad preferences" page, which uses individuals' activities on the platform to compile a list of categories meant to represent what they care about.

A majority of users said their Facebook-proscribed "interests" accurately reflect their real-life interests, while 27 percent said the list is not representative of what matters to them.

"Interest" categories are broken down into groups including "news and entertainment," "business and industry," "travel," "people," and "hobbies." Read more here.

 

THEY'RE PROBABLY ONLY THERE FOR THE ROOM SERVICE: Nine top executives from T-Mobile booked reservations at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. one day after it was announced that T-Mobile's merger with Sprint would require the administration's approval.

T-Mobile executives stayed at the hotel for at least 38 nights during 2018, according to lists obtained by The Washington Post.

The first hotel visit, including nine of T-Mobile's top executives, was scheduled in April after the $26 billion merger deal with rival Sprint was announced.

The merger requires several federal agencies, including the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, to sign off on the deal. 

T-Mobile pushes back: "The T-Mobile senior leadership team stays at a variety of hotels in DC and across the country - and they are chosen primarily based on proximity to the meetings being conducted," a T-Mobile spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.

"We have complete confidence that regulators will assess our merger through an objective and fact-based process and ultimately see how beneficial it will be to consumers in the United States." Read more here.

 

GIMME SHELTER: The travel app Airbnb is rolling out a new program to help federal workers impacted by the ongoing government shutdown by offering a "night on us."

The program announced Wednesday will give all executive branch employees who use their home to host an Airbnb user for at least three nights anytime between Dec. 18 and March 18 an extra night of income.

Airbnb said the extra night of income is worth up to $110, which is the average per night made by U.S. hosts.

"This past Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without a paycheck, even as they continue to face daily expenses and other financial obligations," the company wrote in a press release. "Americans with all perspectives have expressed sympathy for those who have been impacted, and like others, we are called to action to help the many members of our host community who are included in that group." Read more here.

 

ANTI-TERROR PROGRAM TO BE EXTENDED: Senators on Wednesday struck a last-minute deal to extend a program regulating how manufacturers must guard against potential terror attacks, calming fears from business groups about a lapse.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program was set to officially sunset Thursday, a scenario that worried industry groups who warned that not having the regulations in place could pose a national security risk.

But Congress will now take up a bill that will reauthorize CFATS for 15 months, Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersFBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime Senators renew request for domestic threats documents from FBI, DOJ after shootings Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Wednesday.

"Hopefully we'll get it passed and can continue the program and it'll go for 15 months," Peters said, adding that senators are prioritizing the measure.

"That certainly gives us time to take another look at the legislation and make additional reforms and changes, but it gives us enough time to do that in a thoughtful way," he said.

The House earlier this month overwhelmingly voted in favor of a two-year extension of the program, without making any reforms.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation FBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime MORE (R-Wis.), who has authored legislation that would make changes to the program, initially called that measure "unacceptable."

Peters, the new ranking member on the committee, said Johnson has now agreed to the 15-month extension. Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: 116th Congress: Please develop balanced digital privacy policy.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Charlie Kelly definitely lived in this house.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

'They own the system': Amazon rewrites book industry by marching into publishing. (The Wall Street Journal)

The attention economy is a Malthusian trap. (The Atlantic)

Uber has bigger problems to worry about than the shutdown. (Bloomberg)

Fortnite bug gave hackers access to millions of player accounts, researchers say (The Washington Post)

Massive Oklahoma government data leak exposes 7 years of FBI investigations (Forbes)