Hillicon Valley — Presented by NCTA — Trump meets with Google CEO | Facebook bans white nationalist posts | Microsoft takes down websites used by Iranian hackers | Dems press voting vendors over security

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).

 

TRUMP CAUGHT GOOGLING HIMSELF: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE on Wednesday revealed he had met with Google CEO Sundar Pichai to discuss the company's work in China and allegations of anti-conservative bias.

The president said on Twitter that the unscheduled meeting went "very well" following months of Republican attacks against Silicon Valley over how social media companies handle conservative speech.

"Just met with @SundarPichai, President of @Google, who is obviously doing quite well. He stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military," Trump wrote. "Also discussed political fairness and various things that @Google can do for our Country. Meeting ended very well!"

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Google sent The Hill a statement that called the meeting "productive," but made no mention of any discussions about political speech that the president alluded to in his tweet.

"We were pleased to have productive conversations with the President about investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the U.S. government," the statement read.

The spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked if online political speech had been discussed in the meeting.

Like his repeated attacks on mainstream media outlets, Trump has painted Silicon Valley companies as biased against his administration and conservative voices more broadly.

Read more here.

 

 

FACEBOOK CRACK DOWN: Facebook will begin banning white nationalist or white separatist content on its platform starting next week, the social media giant announced on Wednesday.

Facebook officials formally decided to ban "white nationalism" and "white separatism" on the platform at a content moderation meeting on Tuesday, a move first reported by Motherboard.

The significant policy shift comes a year after Motherboard, a tech news outlet, reported that Facebook's content moderation had allowed "white nationalism and separatism" on the platform, though it barred explicit "white supremacy."

Facebook, in training documents for moderators last year, wrote that white nationalism "doesn't seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly)," incurring immediate backlash from civil rights groups and experts.

Brian Fishman, Facebook's policy director of counterterrorism, told Motherboard this week that after speaking to a range of experts Facebook has concluded "the overlap between white nationalism, [white] separatism, and white supremacy is so extensive we really can't make a meaningful distinction between them."

"Our own review of hate figures and organizations – as defined by our Dangerous Individuals & Organizations policy – further revealed the overlap between white nationalism and separatism and white supremacy," Facebook said in a blog post announcing the change. "Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism."

Experts told the social media giant that white nationalism and white separatism are linked to violence, Facebook said.

Read more here.

 

 

I-RAN AWAY: Microsoft said Wednesday that it obtained a court order last week to seize and shut down websites used by Iranian hackers.

Tom Burt, Microsoft's vice president for customer security and trust, said in a blog post that the company had sued the hacking group -- which goes by Phosphorus, APT 35 and Charming Kitten -- over its targeting of Microsoft users.

The hackers have been known to target businesses, government agencies, activists and journalists "especially those involved in advocacy and reporting on issues related to the Middle East," Burt wrote.

He added that the group uses spear-phishing attacks on its targets, tricking users into clicking a link that then distributes malware and gives hackers access to the user's systems and networks.

The same technique was used in the 2016 hack of John Podesta, then the chairman of Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE's presidential campaign.

The Iranian hackers also created fake websites that appear to belong to brands like Microsoft to trick users into providing their login information, according to Burt.

"While we've used daily security analytics tracking to stop individual Phosphorus attacks and notify impacted customers, the action we executed last week enabled us to take control of websites that are core to its operations," he wrote. "Our work to track Phosphorus over multiple years and observe its activity enabled us to build a decisive legal case and execute last week's action with confidence we could have significant impact on the group's infrastructure."

Read more here.

 

NO ONE LIKES ROBOCALLS: A group unaffiliated with President Trump's reelection campaign raised over $100,000 in January after placing more than 200,000 robocalls, according to CNN's KFile.

The Support American Leaders PAC, which KFile revealed is headed by 32-year-old Matthew Tunstall, has not spent any money on any campaign in the 2018 or 2020 cycle.

Tunstall reportedly has a history of crafting shadowy groups that fundraise off partisan ads, while seemingly doing little or nothing to put the funds to use for a political purpose, according to CNN's KFile.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show Tunstall made over $300,000 through similar groups in 2016, according to the media site.

The PAC may be in violation of violation of FEC, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission rules on impersonation and ad disclosure after it used publicly available audio of Trump or mirrored Trump campaign pitches in its robocalls and failed to notify recipients of the source of the calls.

Tunstall told CNN all of the calls were legal and that any that began with "I'm Donald Trump" were the products of technical errors.

"This was a technical error if you heard this, there were many different variants that have been recently tested for different political ads regarding support for President Trump," Tunstall wrote CNN in an email.

Tunstall added that he had been "instructed by multiple legal sources that using voice clips from politicians is acceptable and not considered 'impersonating' because politicians are public officials.

Read more here.

 

FIX THOSE VOTES: Democratic senators sent a letter to three of the country's top election system vendors on Tuesday, pressing them on what they will do to help secure the 2020 election from foreign attacks.

The letter, sent to the heads of voting vendors Election Systems & Software LLC, Hart InterCivic Inc. and Dominion Voting Systems, requested that the companies inform Democratic leaders of efforts to improve their systems to guard against cyber vulnerabilities.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden struggles to reverse fall Krystal Ball rips media for going 'all-in' on Buttigieg's debate performance The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges MORE (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, was joined on the letter by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (D-Va.), Senate Homeland Security Committee ranking member Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Poll shows Sen. Gary Peters with slim lead over GOP rival in Michigan From foster care to forever home MORE (D-Mich.) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington Fury over Trump Syria decision grows MORE (D-R.I.).

"Despite the progress that has been made, election security experts and federal and state government officials continue to warn that more must be done to fortify our election systems," the senators wrote. "Of particular concern is the fact that many of the machines that Americans use to vote have not been meaningfully updated in nearly two decades.

"Although each of your companies has a combination of older, legacy machines and newer systems, vulnerabilities in each present a problem for the security of our democracy and they must be addressed."

Read more here.

 

AN UNLIKELY DUO: The U.S. Census Bureau is enlisting the help of Silicon Valley to help detect and fight disinformation campaigns aimed at discouraging minorities from participating in the 2020 census, according to a Reuters report.

According to the report, which cites Census officials and other unnamed sources, Google, Twitter and Facebook have all agreed to help the bureau, though the details of the partnership are unclear.

Experts are worried that right-wing groups will employ an online disinformation campaign to scare immigrants and other minorities away from participating in the census, which could undermine the crucial government data that are used to draw congressional districts and allocate federal funding.

The Census Bureau is staying tight-lipped about the steps it has taken to combat the potential efforts to skew the data, but Reuters reported that the agency is trying to buy up domain names with the word "census" in order to make sure it cuts down on potential imitators.

Read more here.

 

MAKE TECH DIVERSE... AGAIN?: House lawmakers pushed for ways to increase diversity among tech innovators during a hearing Wednesday.

At the hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, lawmakers and experts highlighted the importance of ensuring equal opportunities for innovation and access to the patent system, particularly for women, minorities and other underrepresented groups.

"There is bipartisan agreement on the need to protect American intellectual property and to foster innovation," Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday MORE (D-N.Y.) said in opening remarks. "Clearly, whatever progress is being made is happening far too slowly and much needs to be done to promote greater gender diversity among inventors."

"When women and minorities are not in the innovation pipeline, or if they leave because they don't feel welcome, we are losing sources for increased innovation," subcommittee Chairman Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonMaloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Hillary Clinton backs impeachment inquiry into Trump MORE (D-Ga.) added. "We are leaving talent on the table, and frankly, we are leaving talent behind."

Last year, President Trump signed into law legislation that directs the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to report to Congress on the demographic makeup of patent applicants, including information on gender, minority status and veteran status.

But lawmakers said action was needed even as the patent office studied the issue.

The witnesses before the committee said many factors prevent women and minorities from filing and obtaining patents, including a lack of education about patent information and financial barriers.

Read more here.

 

SALESFORCE SUED: Fifty women have accused tech giant Salesforce of helping the now-shuttered website Backpage facilitate sex trafficking, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The plaintiffs, who filed anonymously as "Jane Does," are described as women who were "sexually exploited and trafficked through Backpage." The women are from major cities across the country, including New Orleans, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and Phoenix, among others.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court accuses Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff of overseeing a strategy where the company claimed to be fighting trafficking but "Behind the scenes ... kept taking Backpage's money and supporting it with the CRM [customer relations management] database of pimps, johns, and traffickers that Backpage needed to operate."

Salesforce, the lawsuit claims, provided Backpage with operational support to "maximize not only customer acquisition and retention, but marketing strategies to those customers as well."

"Behind closed doors, Salesforce's data tools were actually providing the backbone of Backpage's exponential growth," the complaint states. "With Salesforce's guidance, Backpage was able to use Salesforce's tools to market to new 'users'--that is, pimps, johns, and traffickers--on three continents."

Salesforce told The Hill on Wednesday that it takes the allegations seriously but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

"We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products," a Salesforce spokesperson said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How do we prevent viral live streaming of New Zealand-style violence?

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Having flashbacks.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Senators want help securing the personal phones of members and staff. (RollCall)

Turing award won by three pioneers in artificial intelligence. (The New York Times)

Silicon Valley venture capitalist out after hiring disgraced college 'coach.' (Axios)

U.S. penalty tips ZTE to $1 billion loss. (The Wall Street Journal)