Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction

Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction

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).


TRYING TO WIPE OUT THE ANTI-VAXXER EFFORTS: The largest association of doctors in the U.S. on Wednesday pressed the country's leading tech companies to crack down on anti-vaccine misinformation spread on their platforms.

The American Medical Association (AMA) in letters to Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube wrote that social media companies have the responsibility to provide users with "scientifically valid information on vaccinations."


AMA's executive vice president, James Madara, wrote in the letters that medical professionals are "troubled" by reports indicating that users are being inundated with anti-vaccine messages when they search for vaccine-related content.

"At a time when vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly measles, are reemerging in the United States and threatening communities and public health, physicians across the country are troubled by reports of anti-vaccine related messages and advertisements targeting parents searching for vaccine information on your platforms," Madara wrote.

"With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families' health," Madara added.

The big picture: The letter comes as many of the tech giants grapple with anti-vaccine content on their platforms, an issue that has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and leading health organizations.

Many public health advocates say the spread of anti-vaccine social media content contributed to the recent measles outbreak, which comes two decades after the U.S. was declared to have eliminated measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday confirmed 228 cases of measles in 12 states so far this year.

What tech is doing: Facebook last week announced that it is taking steps to limit the circulation of anti-vaccine content on its platform. The company says it will no longer promote anti-vaccine groups and pages in search results and will not surface them in users' newsfeeds. Facebook-owned Instagram's search and "explore" features will also no longer promote posts that spread anti-vaccine content.

The company said it is now exploring options to share more medically sound information about vaccines with its users.

Meanwhile, Amazon has been quietly taking down anti-vaccine documentaries and books, though it has not announced a larger plan to address the issue.

YouTube has been unrolling a plan to discourage users from falling down conspiracy theory "rabbit holes" on the platform, announcing that it will no longer recommend or highlight videos that promote misinformation on topics including vaccines. The video-sharing platform said earlier this month that it will no longer allow channels that promote anti-vaccine misinformation to run advertisements.

Read more here.


LIGHTS OUT: Facebook and Instagram outages were reported around the world on Wednesday, with the social media giant saying it was working to resolve the issue.

"We're aware that some people are currently having trouble accessing the Facebook family of apps," a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill. "We're working to resolve the issue as soon as possible."

The company did not immediately comment on why users were experiencing the issues.

Outages affecting Instagram and its parent company Facebook were first reported on outage tracking website Down Detector.

According to the U.K.'s Independent, some users were shown a message suggesting the outages were planned.

"Facebook will be back soon," the message reportedly reads.

"Facebook is down for required maintenance right now, but you should be able to get back on within a few minutes. In the meantime, read more about why you're seeing this message. Thanks for your patience as we improve the site."

Read more here.


SPOTIFY GOES AFTER APPLE: Spotify has filed a formal antitrust complaint against Apple with European Union competition regulators, alleging that the iPhone maker is unfairly trying to stifle the competing streaming service.

"Apple operates a platform that, for over a billion people around the world, is the gateway to the internet," Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "Apple is both the owner of the iOS platform and the App Store -- and a competitor to services like Spotify. In theory, this is fine. But in Apple's case, they continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn."

One of Spotify's complaints is that it must choose between paying the 30 percent fee that Apple imposes on purchases made through its app store -- which Ek says would "artificially inflate" the price of Spotify's premium service so that it costs more than Apple Music -- or accept technical limitations imposed by Apple restricting how it can improve its app or interact with customers.

Apple did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Read more here.


DID WE JUST GET HACKED: A bipartisan pair of senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee is requesting that the Senate sergeant at arms quickly inform Senate leadership of any cyber breaches of Senate computers.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (D-Ore.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Compromise defense bill excludes competing nuclear testing language Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home MORE (R-Ark.) noted in a letter sent Wednesday to Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger that Congress currently has no requirement to reveal any cyber breaches to its own systems.

"We believe that the lack of data regarding successful cyber attacks against the Congress has contributed to the absence of debate regarding congressional cybersecurity -- this must change," the letter reads.

"Each U.S. Senator deserves to know, and has a responsibility to know, if and how many times Senate computers have been hacked, and whether the Senate's existing cybersecurity measures are sufficient to protect both the integrity of this institution and the sensitive data with which it has been entrusted."

Cotton and Wyden requested that the office start issuing an annual report to senators about the number of Senate computers that have been compromised and when hackers have obtained "sensitive Senate data."

And they asked the office to adopt a policy of informing Senate leadership and the Senate Intelligence Committee about any breach of a Senate computer within 5 days of the breach's discovery.

Read more here.


HOLD IT! The House technology committee on Wednesday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to postpone a 5G spectrum auction scheduled for Thursday.

Reps. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonThe US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll MORE (D-Texas) and Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasThe US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it Trump administration signs AI research and development agreement with the UK OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver MORE (R-Okla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, in letters to the five FCC commissioners, raised concerns that the spectrum for sale could interfere with technology that enables weather and climate forecasting.

The lawmakers called the spectrum auction a potential threat to "public safety," noting that the sensors help scientists track hurricanes and predict weather patterns with greater precision.

Three federal bodies -- NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Pentagon -- deploy sensors that use water vapor data to analyze weather and climate patterns. Johnson and Lucas wrote that the radio frequency spectrum up for auction could interfere with signals for those sensors.

"The water vapor channel is critical to weather sensing, monitoring, forecasting and warning, and understanding climate patterns," they wrote. "Any interferences with this channel would therefore seriously impact public safety."

The FCC in a statement pushed back on their concerns, saying the agency's rule for the band in question "went through the standard interagency coordination process."

"Tomorrow's ... auction is an important step towards securing American leadership in 5G," Brian Hart, the head of FCC media relations said in a statement to The Hill.

"It is, therefore, perplexing to be asked to postpone this auction the day before it is going to start," Hart added. "The FCC will move forward as planned so that our nation can win the race to 5G and the American people can quickly enjoy the benefits of the next generation of wireless connectivity."

Read more here.


NASA SAYS NOT SO FAST: A new rocket design under production by NASA won't be ready for a scheduled June 2020 launch, the agency's administrator told Congress on Wednesday.

Jim Bridenstine told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that a mission to send an unmanned capsule around the moon next year, a three-week test flight for a manned mission planned for 2023, may need to be delayed unless the agency decides to go with privately owned rockets for the launch.

The NASA chief said the agency will decide over the next few weeks whether to delay the planned 2020 test flight and use a NASA rocket or whether to continue with the scheduled launch date but switch to commercially produced rockets.

The mission would require two rockets -- one for the initial launch, and one to launch a second stage which the Orion spacecraft would dock with upon reaching Earth's orbit.

What's the hold up? At issue is the Orion crew capsule's capabilities. The capsule is reportedly not currently capable of docking with a second stage in orbit and would require outfitting to do so in order to continue with a 2020 launch. Bridenstine told the Senate panel that doing so would likely require more congressional funding.

The 2020 mission plans to send an unmanned crew capsule, the Orion, around the Moon before returning to Earth. If successful, a second mission set for 2023 would perform the same flight with a small crew.

Lawmakers expect more: The committee's chairman indicated to Bridenstine that he wants to keep NASA on schedule, a notion Bridenstine agreed with.

"This is 2019," Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Miss.) told Bridenstine.  "I want to be clear: NASA has a history of not meeting launch dates, and I'm trying to change that."

Read more here.


@PUBLIC U.S. COMPANIES: A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee introduced a bill on Wednesday that would require publicly traded companies to disclose to investors whether any members of their board of directors have cybersecurity expertise amid growing cyberattacks targeting U.S. companies.

Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy MORE (D-Conn.) introduced the Cybersecurity Disclosure Act of 2019, a companion bill introduced in the upper chamber, that would make the Securities and Exchange Commission issue a new set of rules requiring U.S. companies to tell their investors whether they have someone who has cyber expertise on their board. If they don't, they must explain to their investors why this is the case.

The bill comes at a time when "cyberattacks and data breaches against U.S. companies are becoming more frequent and sophisticated," according to a press release accompanying the rollout of the bill.

The press release cited a study from Identity Theft Resource Center that found there was a 126 percent rise of data breaches that exposed records containing personally identifiable information. This rise took place across all industries, from 2017 to 2018.

"It's not only the shareholders of companies who are at risk," Himes said in a statement. "Americans' private and identifying information is in the hands of corporations who may not be prepared to protect it. The Cybersecurity Disclosure Act will give the public information about which companies are likely to have better protections and cyberdefense strategies."

"Publicly traded companies should have an obligation to let their shareholders know how they are addressing these serious threats or explain why they are not taking measures to counter attacks. Billions of dollars of American wealth are at risk, and I am tired of seeing American companies play catchup against our geopolitical rivals or lone-wolf threats," he continued.

Read more here.


DETAILS EMERGE ON ICE LOCATION TRACKING: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the past year has been using a vast license plate database to identify the location of vehicles associated with immigrants who do not have legal status, according to documents released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

More than 9,000 ICE agents have been given access to the controversial database, which contains hundreds of millions of license plate scans from across the U.S., according to the documents obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request. ICE employees are able to use the database to obtain information on where individuals have been and when they were there, with data going back as far as five years.

"With access to this database, ICE can pinpoint the exact location of drivers going about their daily lives," Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU, told The Hill. Cagle pointed out that ICE can use the database to identify detailed information on anyone -- not just individuals wanted for deportation.

"ICE is not prohibited under this program from tracking the locations of citizens," he said.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

ICE entered into a contract with Thomson Reuters at the end of 2017 for access to the license-plate reader database, which is run by a company called Vigilant Solutions. The documents released by the ACLU reveal details about how the agency has used the database since entering into that contract.

According to the ACLU, over 80 law enforcement agencies in more than a dozen states have agreed to share license plate location information with ICE.

"The ACLU's grave concerns about the civil liberties risks of license plate readers take on greater urgency as this surveillance information fuels ICE's deportation machine," Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, wrote in a blog post.

The database gives ICE access to detailed information on drivers in the 50 largest metropolitan areas, accounting for almost 60 percent of the country's population, the documents show.

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: We need a national privacy law that respects the First Amendment.


A LIGHTER CLICK: A blueprint for the next James Bond movie.


AND: Catering to millenials...



Google's Larry Page leveled 'veiled threat' over control of company. (Bloomberg)

A first look at Twitter's new prototype app, twttr. (TechCrunch)

T-Mobile reveals more location data abuse. (Motherboard)

Where did Boeing go wrong? (Slate)