Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks

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).

 

SECRET SURVEILLANCE: Federal prosecutors investigating Chinese tech giant Huawei engaged in covert surveillance of the controversial company that they plan to use as evidence in upcoming criminal proceedings.

Reuters reported Thursday that U.S. Attorney Alex Solomon told a judge Thursday in New York that the evidence against Huawei would require classified handling as it was obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

According to Solomon, the evidence was "obtained or derived from electronic surveillance and physical search," but he reportedly gave no other details.

Under investigation is Huawei's relationship with Skycom Tech Co Ltd, a company suspected by U.S. authorities to be a front for Huawei's efforts to obtain embargoed U.S. goods for sale in Iran, thereby violating U.S. sanctions put in place following the collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement.

The company also pleaded not guilty last month to the attempted theft of U.S. trade secrets.

The Trump administration has banned Huawei technology from use by the U.S. government over accusations that its phones and other devices can be accessed by Chinese intelligence services, which Huawei has denied.

Read more here.

 

 

 

MORE CHINA NEWS: German chemicals company Bayer said Thursday that it was the target of a cyberattack that has been traced to a hacking group in China.

In a statement to The Hill, Bayer said its in-house cybersecurity team found malicious software related to the Winnti hacking group in the company's system in early 2018.

"Our Cyber Defense Center detected indications of Winnti infections at the beginning of 2018 and initiated comprehensive analyses," the chemical manufacturer explained.

Bayer said that it was able to avert the attack and that there are "no signs of data outflow."

"Our experts at the Cyber Defense Center have identified, analyzed and cleaned up the affected systems, working in close collaboration with the German Cyber Security Organization (DCSO) and the State Criminal Police Office of North Rhine-Westphalia," Bayer said.

Read more here.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE DIGITAL AGE: Facebook's algorithms may deliver advertisements to users based on gender and race stereotypes, according to a new study published Wednesday night.

The study, produced by researchers at Northeastern University, the University of Southern California and digital rights nonprofit group, Upturn, suggests that Facebook targets ads in ways that can be discriminatory even when the advertisers do not intend to target or exclude certain groups.

"Our results demonstrate previously unknown mechanisms that can lead to potentially discriminatory ad delivery, even when advertisers set their targeting parameters to be highly inclusive," the researchers wrote.

The study, which has not yet been submitted for peer review, comes a week after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook with "enabling" and encouraging housing discrimination through its ad-targeting practices.

Upturn's study, titled "Discrimination through optimization: How Facebook's ad delivery can lead to skewed outcomes," seems to support some of HUD's claims.

The methodology: The researchers spent more than $8,500 placing ads over the course of their research. They did not specify demographic groups that they hoped to target, allowing Facebook's algorithms to decide which users would see the ads.

The results: They found that Facebook's algorithms delivered lumber job ads mostly to white men, while it mainly delivered secretary jobs to black women.

Ads for jobs with taxi companies went to a 75 percent black audience, while ads for supermarket cashier positions went to an audience of 85 percent women, without any demographic specification from the researchers who placed the ads.

When it came to housing, the researchers found ads promoting houses for sale went to mostly white users, while ads promoting rental homes went to largely black audiences.

"We observe significant ad delivery skew along racial lines in the delivery of our ads, with certain ads delivering to an audience of over 85% white users while others delivering to an audience of as little as 35% white users," the researchers wrote.

Read more on the study's findings here.

 

NEW FIGHT FOR GOOGLE: Google is being drawn into a new fight with conservatives -- this time by its own workforce.

More than 1,720 Google employees have signed a petition asking the company to remove Kay Cole James, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, from a new Google panel.

The petition says that James's positions on transgender and immigrant rights should disqualify her from sitting on Google's new artificial intelligence (AI) ethics board, which was announced last week.

The controversy poses a fresh challenge for Google, which is already facing criticism over a host of issues, including allegations of anti-conservative bias.

So far, the company has been publicly silent about the petition even as pressure builds from workers who want James gone and conservatives demanding Google's leadership stand their ground.

Lawmakers and industry watchers told The Hill that James's inclusion on the AI ethics council was likely an attempt to allay conservative concerns over alleged bias by Google and other online platforms.

Conservatives are telling Google's leadership to stand their ground.

"I think what Google's trying to do is diversify the input because in the eyes of most conservatives, Google is biased against conservatives," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Hill about the selection of James for the ethics panel.

Graham added that it was "good for Google to understand they've got a problem."

Read more here.

 

KUDLOW REASSURES WIRELESS INDUSTRY: National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow on Thursday said the Trump administration opposes government intervention in the deployment of next-generation wireless networks known as 5G.

Kudlow, speaking at a wireless trade group event, promoted the administration's position that the private sector should drive 5G deployment.

"I don't want the government to run this," Kudlow said at an event hosted by CTIA in Washington, D.C.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE's 2020 campaign, led by campaign manager Brad Parscale, previously raised eyebrows by promoting a nationalized 5G deployment plan, which would put the government in charge of making 5G widely available in the U.S.

Kudlow and members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) quickly opposed that plan, saying wireless companies should take the lead.

"We should stay on the free-market track," Kudlow said. "We want as much entrepreneurship as possible. We want to make sure the door is open for American companies and related suppliers."

"There will be a national security piece, without question, but it seems to me the way we're doing things is the right way and we'll continue that," Kudlow said. "The private sector will figure things out far better than the government sector. You're far ahead of us, you always are."

Read more on the Trump World divide here.

 

CAN I SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received 26,000 complaints about potential Facebook privacy violations over the past eight years, according to records made public by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The FTC has seen a significant increase in the number of consumer complaints about Facebook since 2012, according to an email the EPIC received through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The agency, which oversees data privacy issues, received 8,391 consumer complaints about Facebook last year, a far cry from the 138 it received in 2012.

It began seeing a significant spike in 2016, the year that Facebook grabbed national attention over criticism that it was allowing disinformation to spread on its platform during a pivotal election year.  

In 2015, the FTC received 1,755 consumer complaints about Facebook; in 2016, it received 4,612, according to the email.

The 26,000 complaints against Facebook since 2012 are still pending.

"In the eight years since the FTC entered the consent order barring Facebook from making any misrepresentation about user privacy, the FTC has not taken a single enforcement action against the company," EPIC said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

A GREAT DIVIDE: MacKenzie Bezos said Thursday that she and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have finished dissolving their marriage and that she has given him full voting control over their shares in the company.

In her first tweet from a newly-created account, MacKenzie Bezos said her former husband would retain ownership of the Washington Post and Blue Origin, the space company he founded. Jeff Bezos will also get 75 percent of their stock in Amazon while exercising voting control over the remaining shares.

"Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out to us in kindness," Bezos wrote. "Excited about my own plans. Grateful for the past as I look forward to what comes next."

Jeff Bezos also tweeted a statement thanking his ex-wife.

"In all our work together, MacKenzie's abilities have been on full display. She has been an extraordinary partner, ally, and mother. She is resourceful and brilliant and loving, and as our futures unroll, I know I'll always be learning from her."

The high-profile breakup has been fraught with political intrigue and had raised some speculation that it would lead to a struggle over control of the fortune of the wealthiest man in the world.

Read more here.

 

SEXISM IN STEM: A group of Democratic senators, including 2020 contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE (D-Calif.), on Thursday introduced a bill aimed at combating sexual harassment within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The bill, called the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019, comes in response to a study published last year that found 58 percent of women in STEM fields say they have been sexually harassed. It is the companion measure to a House bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Overnight Energy: Historic heat wave is double whammy for climate change | Trump sees 'bigger problems' than plastic straws | House Science chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers Science committee chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers to lawmakers MORE (D-Texas).

The legislation would authorize $17.4 million annually to fund federal research about sexism and discrimination in STEM while directing the National Science Foundation to update its professional standards.

Harris in a statement said the bill is close to her heart as the "daughter of a barrier-breaking woman in STEM research." Her mother was a breast cancer researcher.

"As the daughter of a barrier breaking woman in STEM research, I know the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field," Harris said. "As more women enter STEM fields, we must do more to ensure appropriate steps are taken to change the workplace climate and prevent sexual harassment."

Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Nev.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are also co-sponsors of the bill.

"Sexual harassment is an issue that affects every type of workplace – and it's especially pervasive in academia and among those working in the sciences, a field that's been traditionally male-dominated," Rosen said in a statement.

The bill aims to study "the factors contributing to, and consequences of, sexual harassment" in STEM through research grants, a federal interagency working group and national data collection.

Read more here on the bill and its House companion here.

 

SPONSORED CONTENT — CTIA and AMERICA'S WIRELESS INDUSTRY

Learn how a National Spectrum Strategy will create millions of jobs, add billions to our economy and ensure U.S. 5G leadership.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: New European copyright rules: 'Best efforts' may render them inconsequential.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Amid employee uproar, Microsoft is investigating sexual harassment claims overlooked by HR. (Quartz)

How the U.S. could get a national privacy law. (Axios)

Elon Musk safe for now as U.S. judge urges Tesla CEO, SEC to resolve tweet dispute. (Reuters)

Amazon has to let shareholders vote on government Rekognition ban, SEC says. (The Verge)