Hillicon Valley: Trump, Dem talk of 'smart wall' thrills tech firms | Stone acknowledges possibility of gag order | Facebook, Twitter purge fake Iranian accounts | Net neutrality fight returns to court | Lyft sues over NYC driver pay law

Hillicon Valley: Trump, Dem talk of 'smart wall' thrills tech firms | Stone acknowledges possibility of gag order | Facebook, Twitter purge fake Iranian accounts | Net neutrality fight returns to court | Lyft sues over NYC driver pay law

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) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

TECH BULLISH ON SMART WALL: Tech companies are increasingly bullish on building a "smart wall," which would incorporate new technologies to beef up security on the southern border.

Many firms see a potential windfall with both Democrats and Republicans floating the idea of tech improvements as an alternative to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhat the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel Anti-US trade war song going viral in China MORE's call for a steel barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats have said they would back as much as $5.7 billion for a smart wall. Trump himself discussed the idea when announcing the deal to end the recent government shutdown.

The tech and defense industries have long pushed for technology to be a centerpiece of efforts to secure the border. Now they see new momentum for the idea as a bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers seek to hash out a border deal to avoid a second shutdown.

What technology? Some of the technologies floated include drones to surveil areas border agents cannot easily see, biometrics to check people entering the U.S. with their IDs, and sensors that detect people moving across the border. 

But hold on: Despite the new momentum there are potential roadblocks ahead. Republicans and Democrats are still divided on the need for including new physical barriers on the border, a key demand of Trump. Tech companies are also already facing criticism from their workers and from privacy and civil rights groups over their sale of products to law enforcement, in particular surveillance or facial recognition products.

We've got more here.

 

A SILENT STONE?: Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Feds claim 'continued need' for Stone associate's grand jury testimony A reality-based game for Trump watchers: 'Name that Fallacy' MORE, a longtime associate of President Trump, acknowledged on Thursday the possibility that the federal judge overseeing his criminal case could issue a gag order as soon as Friday limiting his public comments.

"That's certainly a possibility," Stone said when asked about a potential gag order at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C. "We'll deal with that when it comes. I would point out that I make a leaving writing and speaking about politics. I would hope that the court would take that into consideration."

Stone also suggested he would fight the order if Judge Amy Berman Jackson issues one.

"Obviously, I will adhere to any ruling of the court, if they should do that," Stone told reporters. "On the other hand, I would also have the right, as I understand it, to appeal."

"So, let's see what happens," Stone added.

Stone was indicted last week on seven charges in connection with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian election interference.

He faces five charges of lying to Congress about his interactions regarding WikiLeaks, the organization that leaked troves of hacked Democratic emails before the election; one charge of witness tampering; and one charge of obstructing an official proceeding, specifically the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation. Stone pleaded not guilty to the charges in an initial court appearance on Tuesday.

Stone staged the press conference at the JW Marriott in downtown Washington Thursday afternoon, one day before a scheduled court appearance before Judge Jackson, an Obama appointee who is also overseeing former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortUkrainian who meddled against Trump in 2016 is now under Russia-corruption cloud Feds ask judge to postpone ex-Trump campaign aide's sentencing Giuliani cancels trip to Ukraine to press Biden investigation MORE's criminal case in D.C.

Stone has embarked on a media tour since the FBI raided his Florida home and arrested him early Friday morning, appearing on major networks to declare his innocence and accuse federal officials of employing "gestapo tactics" in arresting him. The special counsel had asked that his indictment remain sealed until his apprehension, citing the possibility Stone could flee the scene or destroy evidence.

Read more here.

 

YIKES ALERT @ THIS ACLU HEADLINE: "Spies Want to Make the FaceTime Eavesdropping Bug Into a Feature," reads the headline of a blogpost on the ACLU's website by Daniel Kahn Gillmor, senior staff technologist for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. The post highlights a proposal from British intelligence officials to allow eavesdropping on messaging programs.

"It's relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call. The service provider usually controls the identity system and so really decides who's who and which devices are involved -- they're usually involved in introducing the parties to a chat or call... In a solution like this, we're normally talking about suppressing a notification on a target's device... and possibly those they communicate with," Ian Levy and Crispin Robinson at Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), wrote.

"In short, Apple — or any other company that allows people to privately chat — would be forced to allow the government to join those chats as a silent, invisible eavesdropper," Gillmor explains.

Read more here.

 

TECH GIANTS FIGHT IRANIAN MISINFORMATION: Facebook and Twitter on Thursday announced that they have removed thousands of accounts associated with an Iranian disinformation campaign across their platforms.

Facebook said it has removed 262 Iranian-linked pages, 356 accounts and three groups from Facebook and 162 accounts from Instagram, which it owns. And Twitter announced a takedown of 2,617 accounts it believed to have originated in Iran, along with thousands more from Russia and Venezuela.

In a blog post, Facebook said that it discovered activity on both Facebook and Instagram and that the accounts had spent around $30,000 on advertising. The activity on those platforms dated back as early as 2010.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said on a call with reporters that the discovery was made due to the help of partnerships with other companies like Twitter.

Twitter said it had found almost 1,200 Venezuela-linked accounts that appeared to be part of a "state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences," and another 764 accounts that appear to be part of an influence campaign similar to the one conducted by a Russian troll farm.

Both companies said they had shared the information with law enforcement and with Congress.

Gleicher told reporters that Twitter and Facebook shared information with one another while seeking to identify malicious actors on their own platforms. He said this "coordination means we're better able to find [misinformation] more quickly and remove it more quickly."

Twitter's announcement on Thursday also marks one of the first times that a social media company has identified significant disinformation emanating from Venezuela. The news comes amid an escalating conflict in Venezuela, where U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó has declared himself the country's interim president in an effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

More on the latest crackdown here.

 

NET NEUTRALITY SUPPORTERS GET THEIR DAY IN COURT: Net neutrality supporters will get their day in court this week as they challenge the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) repeal of the popular Obama-era internet rules.

A panel of federal appeals court judges will hear oral arguments Friday in a lawsuit challenging the FCC's deregulation of the broadband industry. The court date comes more than a year after the agency voted to roll back the rules requiring internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.

Approved by the FCC under the Obama administration in 2015, net neutrality regulations prohibited companies like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or throttling content and from charging websites for faster speeds.

Shortly after the commission voted to roll back the rules in December 2017, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, internet companies and Democratic state attorneys general sued the agency, asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the repeal and reinstate the 2015 rules.

They argued that the rules ensured a free and open internet and prevented broadband companies from discriminating against certain content or giving certain websites preferential treatment.

Read more on the court fight here.

 

HOUSE DEMS TARGET NET NEUTRALITY REPEAL: A House panel will hold a hearing next week on the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) repeal of 2015 net neutrality rules, top Democrats announced Thursday.

The Feb. 7 hearing will be the first for the House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel on technology under its new Democratic leadership.

"An open internet has been vital to the growth of the internet, especially for consumers, entrepreneurs and free speech," Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneMcConnell, Kaine introduce bill to raise tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Work on surprise medical bills goes into overdrive MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Phone carriers tell feds they have mostly stopped sharing location data Reps. Pascrell and Doyle win annual bocce tournament MORE (D-Pa.), the respective chairs of the committee and subcommittee, said in a joint statement.

"The FCC's repeal of these essential protections-known as net neutrality-has been a disaster for consumers," the Democrats said. "This hearing will be an important opportunity to hear what the repeal of net neutrality means for the American people, and what has happened since the FCC's repeal went into effect."

More on the hearing here.

 

INFLUENCERS BEWARE: The New York state attorney general's office on Wednesday announced a $50,000 settlement with a company that made millions of dollars selling fake followers and engagement to social media users seeking to boost their online profiles.

The settlement between New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) and now-defunct social media company Devumi is one of the first legal actions in the U.S. cracking down on the practice of selling bot followers and fake "likes."

It is the first finding by a law enforcement agency that it is illegal to sell fake social media engagement, the New York attorney general's office said in a statement.

"Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people's identities to carry out fraud," James said in a statement. "As people and companies like Devumi continue to make a quick buck by lying to honest Americans, my office will continue to find and stop anyone who sells online deception.

Devumi, which operated from 2015 to 2017, sold fake followers, "likes," views and influencer endorsements to customers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud and more. The company's customers, numbering roughly in the hundreds of thousands, included actors, academics, professional athletes, adult-film stars, models and media figures, according to the settlement.

Devumi earned revenues of around $15 million during its short-lived existence, the settlement says.

The attorney general's office did not address whether it was legal for customers to buy the fake followers and engagement. 

Read more here.


U.S., CHINA LEAD THE PACK ON AI: 
A United Nations panel said in a report published Thursday that the U.S. and China are out in front of global competitors in the study and development of artificial intelligence.

Reuters reported that the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) report found U.S. firms IBM and Microsoft had the highest number of patents related to artificial intelligence, with 8,920 and 5,930, respectively.

China is home to 17 of the top 20 academic institutions involving patenting artificial intelligence, Reuters reported.

"The U.S. and China obviously have stolen a lead. They're out in front in this area, in terms of numbers of applications, and in scientific publications," WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry told reporters, according to Reuters.

The world's two largest economies have been locked in an escalating trade battle in recent months, triggered by the Trump administration imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Beijing responded with duties on U.S. goods, and the two sides have engaged in tit-for-tat actions ever since.

The Trump administration has additionally accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, further complicating the dispute.

The president is set to meet Thursday with the vice premier of China, though Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that a final trade deal can only be reached after he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

More on the report here.

 

UBER SAYS 'BYE' TO BARCELONA: Uber and fellow ride-hailing company Cabify are set to stop their services in Barcelona on Friday in response to the city tightening its regulations to appease protesting taxi drivers.

A new law requires ride-hailing app users to contract services 15 minutes in advance of trips. It also bans drivers from circulating the city between rides, having to be parked somewhere while waiting for their next pick up.

The city in Spain adopted the new restrictions after days of protests by taxi drivers that included blocking major roads and trashing cars that worked for the apps.

"The new restrictions approved by the Catalan government leave us with no choice but to suspend UberX as we assess our future in Barcelona," a spokesperson for Uber told The Hill on Thursday. "We are committed to being a long term partner to Spanish cities and hope to work with the Catalan government and the city council on fair regulation for all."

The company said that UberEats will continue to operate in the city.

Momentum to restrict ride-sharing apps in Europe has been building since the European Court of Justice ruled in 2017 that the services should be regulated like taxi services rather than technology companies.

More on the decision here.

 

MORE RIDE-HAILING NEWS... LYFT SUES OVER MINIMUM WAGE LAW: Ride-hailing service Lyft is suing the city of New York to block its new driver minimum wage law, saying the rule will punish Lyft for being a smaller company than its main competitor Uber.

Lyft, in a petition filed with the New York County Supreme Court, is asking the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to "vacate" its driver minimum wage law, which is set to go into effect on Friday.

The new law, which passed in December, will require ride-hailing app drivers to make at least $17.22 per hour after expenses. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission stated goal was to increase average pay for the tens of thousands of drivers by about $9,600 per year without disrupting passengers' experiences.

The commission was seeking to protect drivers from being underpaid by their companies after reports indicated ride-hailing app drivers were being paid significantly less than minimum wage.

The new law is based on a formula that takes into account the amount drivers are paid per mile and per minute, also known as a "utilization rate." Lyft said in a blog post that it is that rule, which rewards drivers for taking more customers, that will leave Lyft at a disadvantage compared to the significantly larger Uber.

The smaller ride-hailing app Juno also filed its own lawsuit contesting the new law on Thursday, making a similar argument, according to multiple reports.

Ride-hailing app drivers union the Independent Drivers Guild in a statement called the lawsuit's claims "laughable." 

More on the lawsuit here.

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Taming the fake web starts in 2019.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Oh hey big brother...

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Hackers are sharing stolen data like usernames and passwords around the internet. (Wired)

Intel names new CEO. (CNBC)

Uber is expanding further into public transit in Denver. (The Verge)

Amazon reports third record profit in a row. (The Wall Street Journal)