Hillicon Valley: Regulators press Congress on privacy bill | Americans mimic Russian disinformation tactics ahead of 2020 | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders back Uber strike | GOP senator targets 'manipulative' video games

Hillicon Valley: Regulators press Congress on privacy bill | Americans mimic Russian disinformation tactics ahead of 2020 | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders back Uber strike | GOP senator targets 'manipulative' video games
© Greg Nash

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MORE MONEY PLZ: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urged Congress on Wednesday to pass data privacy legislation and beef up the agency's authority to police large tech companies.

At a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, the five commissioners stressed that gaps in the FTC's oversight and a lack of resources puts the agency at a disadvantage when going after privacy violations in Silicon Valley.

"These limitations have a critical effect on our ability to protect consumers," said FTC Chairman Joseph Simons.


What they want: The FTC commissioners asked Congress to update the agency's statutory authority to give it the power to make rules and to assess fines against companies that break the law. In most cases, the agency currently only has the power to fine repeat offenders, and even then can only level those fines if the company agrees to a settlement or if the FTC wins in court.

House getting to work: There have been growing bipartisan calls over the past year for Congress to pass the nation's first comprehensive consumer privacy law. A bipartisan Senate working group has been trying to hammer out a draft compromise bill since last summer, but so far lawmakers have produced little in public.

On Wednesday, members of the House subcommittee said that they would work on their own legislation.

"Energy and Commerce Democrats feel like we have an obligation to provide a solid piece of legislation that protects consumer privacy," said Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Lawmaker calls for hearing into MLB cheating scandal Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat MORE (D-Ill.), who chairs the subcommittee.

"We've begun conversations now with the Republicans as well," she continued. "I am very hopeful that the legislation would be bipartisan and I am looking forward to working with all of you on the Federal Trade Commission in designing this legislation."

"I believe it is important that we work together toward a bipartisan federal privacy bill," added Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan MORE (Ore.), the top Republican on the full Energy and Commerce Committee. "And we are ready and willing to tackle crafting such a bill."

Read more on the oversight hearing here.


WANNA BE LIKE YOU: Individuals and groups in the U.S. are taking a page out of Russia's 2016 playbook, as both right-wing and liberal trolls engage in disinformation campaigns designed to undermine 2020 presidential candidates.

The increased efforts to spread conspiracy theories and misleading content, as well as sowing discord over topics that already divide voters, are raising alarm among analysts and lawmakers, who are considering how best to address the issue.

But taking congressional action of any kind would require a delicate balancing act, as lawmakers worry about running afoul of the First Amendment.

Experts say they have noticed a spike in disinformation as each Democratic hopeful has entered the 2020 race, with significant increases after former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report Biden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll Warren calls for Brazil to drop charges against Glenn Greenwald MORE (I-Vt.) announced their candidacies.

"I think it's almost certain that as we get closer to the 2020 election, you'll see an intensification of this kind of activity," Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University's Center for Business and Human Rights, told The Hill.

The similarities: The escalating disinformation campaigns bear striking resemblances to Russian campaigns, according to analysts. Though much of the activity in the U.S. appears to be coming from individuals rather than coordinated groups, the barrage of inflammatory posts, memes and misleading articles from fringe sites shared across social media is targeting the most sensitive issues at play in 2020, much like they did in 2016.

Who they're targeting: Fringe right-wing sites and trolls have spread false information about Warren's Native American heritage and amplified misinformation about allegations of inappropriate touching by Biden, according to Padraic Ryan, head of news intelligence at Storyful, a firm that tracks social media disinformation.

"Elizabeth Warren has been the target of a great many of smears and hoaxes and so on, many relating to her claim of Native American ancestry," Ryan told The Hill, noting that trolls seeking to inflame tensions have also targeted Sanders.

What's next: The next phase of disinformation for the 2020 campaign, experts say, will likely focus on voting registration and efforts to turn citizens away from the polls.

"That kind of deliberate effort to manipulate voters, send them in the wrong direction and so forth, is what could be most disturbing," Barrett said.

Read more here.


BULLSEYE ON ZUCKERBERG: Pressure is growing for federal regulators to hold Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi Trump says Zuckerberg presidential run 'wouldn't be too frightening' Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' MORE personally accountable for his company's string of privacy scandals.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is wrapping up a long-running investigation into Facebook over its data practices and is expected to levy a multibillion-dollar fine. But a report from The New York Times said that a rift has opened at the agency over whether to also hold executives like Zuckerberg liable in any enforcement action.

Last month, Facebook told investors that it's expecting to pay a fine as high as $5 billion to settle the FTC's investigation into its privacy practices. That sort of sum would be the largest fine ever leveled against a tech company in the U.S. -- more than 200 times the record $22.5 million penalty Google received in 2012 for allegedly deceiving users about its privacy practices.

Still, the fine itself would be minuscule for a behemoth like Facebook, which last year made $55 billion in revenue. Investors largely shrugged off the expected fine, sending Facebook's stock up 10 percent the day after the announcement.

Facebook's critics say that the fine would amount to a slap on the wrist and that in order to hold the company accountable after a string of privacy incidents, the FTC needs to impose restrictions on its handling of user data and make executives individually liable.

That approach also has supporters in both parties.

"As important as remedies on Facebook as a company are, the FTC should impose tough accountability measures and penalties for individual executives and management responsible for violations of the consent order and for privacy failures," Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE (R-Mo.) wrote in a letter to the FTC on Monday.

Carl Szabo, the vice president of the trade group NetChoice, which represents Facebook, said that such a move would be extreme and that "anti-tech activists" will not be satisfied no matter how far the FTC goes.

"I think the multibillion-dollar fine that we've been hearing about for some time is more than appropriate," Szabo told The Hill. "Holding business leadership liable risks undermining innovation and leaves America open to foreign technological dominance."

More on Zuckerberg in the bull's-eye here.


REGULATING FORTNITE?: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday announced that he will introduce legislation banning "manipulative" online game features he says can push children to become addicted to technology.

Hawley's Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would prohibit games geared toward children from implementing features that prompt users to pay real-world money to advance in the game, called "pay-to-win," or receive rewards at random for a fee, called "loot boxes."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be tasked with enforcing the ban, and state attorneys general would also be empowered to file lawsuits against companies who violated the rules.

"Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids' attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits," Hawley, a former GOP attorney general and one of the most outspoken tech critics in his party, said in a statement.

"No matter this business model's advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices," he added.

The bill would specifically target games geared towards children, as determined by their "subject matter, visual content, and other indicators."

The senator is expected to introduce the bill sometime in the next few days.

Industry pushes back: The Entertainment Software Association on Wednesday put out a statement rejecting Hawley's proposal. The acting president and CEO of the video game industry trade group, Stanley Pierre-Louis, pointed out that "numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling."

Read more here.


LAWMAKERS SUPPORT UBER STRIKE: Lawmakers, including multiple 2020 candidates, on Wednesday threw their weight behind the Wednesday strike from Uber and Lyft Drivers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBiden to go on Iowa tour with swing district lawmakers CNN cancels next week's Iowa town halls Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez hit back at JPMorgan CEO over comments on socialism: 'That's funny' MORE (D-N.Y.): The New York progressive tweeted support for the strike to her more than 4 million followers, writing, "Your Direct Action for today: Don't take an Uber or Lyft just for the day. (Just today! Cabs are fine! You can do it!)"

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): "I stand with striking Uber and Lyft drivers today. The greed has got to end," Sanders tweeted, noting that Uber paid its top five executives a total of $143 million in compensation, including $45 million to its CEO last year."  

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report California Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Steyer spokesperson: 'I don't think necessarily that Tom has bought anything' MORE (D-Calif.): "All workers deserve a living wage, protections, benefits, and the right to join a union. Standing with the thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers across the country striking today."

Drivers from big ride-hailing firms such as Lyft and Uber, as well as smaller companies like Juno, are striking on Wednesday over what they say are unfair working conditions and a lack of transparency from their employers over how much they're paid.

The drivers are calling for better wages, more benefits and clarity about how apps calculate their wages.

Drivers in 10 cities across the country are participating in the strike by turning off the app and encouraging riders to use public transportation instead.

Those participating in the strike on Wednesday are appealing directly to legislators across the country, including at the federal level, asking them to extend fair labor protections to gig economy workers.  

Read more here and here.


BIPARTISAN EFFORT TO SECURE CYBERSPACE: Sen. Angus KingAngus KingCollins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Congress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran MORE (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGOP lawmaker: New sanctions provide 'offramp' from rising US-Iran tensions GOP Congressman reacts to Trump's address Hillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) announced Wednesday that they will lead the newly established Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), a group of government and industry officials working to create a report on how to defend the U.S. in cyberspace.

The CSC, established by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), will hold "regular information-gathering hearings" to review cyber threats, with the goal of creating a report that includes "strategic recommendations" to prevent cyberattacks in a changing global landscape, according to the lawmakers.

As stated in the 2019 NDAA, the CSC has until Sept. 1 to send its report to Congress and multiple federal agencies. King and Gallagher said the rollout of the report will also include hearings to discuss the report's findings involving congressional committees on defense, intelligence and homeland security.

Read more here.


NEW PUSH ON AD TRANSPARENCY: A bipartisan group of three senators reintroduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at increasing the transparency of election advertisements on social media platforms, with the goal of preventing foreign actors from influencing U.S. elections.

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll CNN cancels next week's Iowa town halls MORE (D-Minn.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Bezos phone breach escalates fears over Saudi hacking MSNBC's Chris Hayes knocks senators for ducking out of impeachment trial: 'You can resign' MORE (D-Va.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocrats hammer abuse of power charge, allege Trump put self over country Video becomes vital part of Democrats' case against Trump Nadler plays 1999 clip of Graham defining high crimes: 'It doesn't even have to be a crime' MORE (R-S.C.) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require online platforms to make "all reasonable efforts" to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political ads.

It would also require all digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all election-related communication purchased by an entity or group that spends over $500 on their platform.

The public file would need to include the contact information of the purchaser, a description of the targeted audience, the rates charged and the dates and times the ads were published.

The bill would also expand the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's definition of "electioneering communication" to include paid internet and digital advertisements.

Read more here.


FBI WEIGHS IN ON EXTREMIST CONTENT: A top FBI counterterrorism official said Wednesday that he has seen a major change in social media companies' willingness to address extremist content on their platforms.

"We are seeing a tide change in social media companies being more proactive policing their own," Michael McGarrity, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, said at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

"And when they see something that is noteworthy and alarming beyond First Amendment, they will give us leads," McGarrity added.

The FBI official asserted that social media companies were not "self-identifying content" to the same degree a few years ago, and they are currently facing a "learning curve" in how best to handle it.

His remarks came as the House panel, which has been led by Democrats since January, held its first hearing on domestic terrorism in years. The hearing focused heavily on the role of social media companies in dealing with incendiary and hateful content, with lawmakers signaling a desire to hold the companies "accountable" when they do not address domestic terrorists on their platforms.

McGarrity testified alongside Brian Murphy, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) principal deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, and Brad Wiegmann, the deputy assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) national security division.

Each of the witnesses emphasized that government's limited power to address content from Americans, even when it is extreme or hateful. They said that tech companies have more room to deal with the issue because social media giants like Facebook and Twitter are not held to the First Amendment and police their platforms according to community guidelines.

"When you're talking about extremist content online, the First Amendment does impose some significant constraints," Wiegmann from the DOJ told the committee.  

"We are prohibited from reviewing, looking at First Amendment activity," McGarrity added.

But the government can partner with social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google in a limited capacity, the witnesses told lawmakers.

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Label the filth and violence: FCC must fix TV content ratings fraud.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Aye aye, Captain!



Google's Sundar Pichai: Privacy should not be a luxury good. (The New York Times)

Google's new privacy features put the responsibility on users. (Wired)

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Bezos phone breach escalates fears over Saudi hacking Top intel office fails to meet deadline to give Khashoggi report to Congress: report MORE demands answers from DHS and private intel firm over spying on anti-trump immigration protests. (The Intercept)  

UK says 5G roll out could be delayed by security concerns. (Reuters)