Hillicon Valley: FCC Republicans backing T-Mobile, Sprint merger | Tech giants to testify on election security | GOP senator offers 'Do Not Track' bill | Researchers find coordinated anti-Trump campaign on Instagram

Hillicon Valley: FCC Republicans backing T-Mobile, Sprint merger | Tech giants to testify on election security | GOP senator offers 'Do Not Track' bill | Researchers find coordinated anti-Trump campaign on Instagram
© Greg Nash

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

GIVE ME THE GREEN LIGHT: The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is recommending that the agency approve the T-Mobile–Sprint merger after the two companies agreed to spin off Boost Mobile and submit to other conditions for the $26 billion deal.

FCC chief Ajit Pai (R) said in a statement Monday morning that he was encouraged by the companies' commitments to expand rural connectivity and to build out a large next-generation 5G wireless network as conditions for approving the merger.

"In light of the significant commitments made by T-Mobile and Sprint as well as the facts in the record to date, I believe that this transaction is in the public interest and intend to recommend to my colleagues that the FCC approve it," Pai said.

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The concessions: In a filing submitted Monday morning, T-Mobile and Sprint pledged to build out a 5G wireless network that would cover 97 percent of Americans within three years and 99 percent within six years.

The combined company also committed to selling off Boost Mobile, Sprint's prepaid wireless brand and a competitor to T-Mobile's Metro PCS.

"This is a unique opportunity to speed up the deployment of 5G throughout the United States and bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans. We should seize this opportunity."

GOP commissioners on board: His two Republican colleagues on the commission also announced their support for the deal, giving it the majority it needs to gain approval.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, though, said she has "serious doubts" about Pai's proposal to approve the transaction.

What's next: The deal will still need to get the Department of Justice's blessing, and media reports over the last several months indicate that the antitrust division has expressed concerns about combining two of the only four national phone carriers. It could also face opposition from state attorneys general, many of whom are reportedly concerned about the merger.

The pushback: The proposed deal has generated significant opposition, mainly from Democrats and advocacy groups who worry about further concentration in the industry and the potential for higher prices for consumers.

The deal's biggest critics are unlikely to be won over by the commitments the companies are making to the FCC nor by the agency's apparent willingness to abdicate its ability to issue fines if the combined company breaks those promises.

"The supposed three-year price freeze is meaningless in a wireless market where prices are falling and likely would continue to drop in the absence of this merger," Matt Wood, general counsel for the consumer group Free Press, said in a statement. "The little bit of price competition people have enjoyed thanks to the rivalry between Sprint and T-Mobile could keep sending prices lower.

"A meaningless and unenforceable promise to just tread water where we are now is a sad joke, and nothing more," Wood added.

Trump officials divided? Gigi Sohn, who served as an adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, pointed out that Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division who will have final say over the deal, has spoken out against the type of behavioral merger conditions that the FCC is embracing.

"It seems that the real question is whether the DOJ is on the same page," she said.

Read more on the deal's future here.

 

TECH INDUSTRY TO TESTIFY ON ELECTION SECURITY: Google, Facebook and Twitter will send representatives to testify at an upcoming hearing on election security, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Monday.

The officials will likely field questions about their companies' efforts to stave off disinformation and manipulation ahead of the 2020 presidential election after facing enormous scrutiny for allowing bad actors to take advantage of their platforms in 2016.

The hearing, held by the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, will examine the "security of the nation's election systems, including the government's response to ongoing attempts by malicious actors to interfere in our elections, influence public opinion, and undermine U.S. electoral processes," according to the committee.

"The hearing will also examine the important role of state and local governments, as well as private sector partners, to protect U.S. election security systems, infrastructure, and technology platforms," the hearing announcement reads.

The witnesses will include Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security; Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy; and Kevin Kane, the public policy manager at Twitter.

The tech representatives will testify alongside Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, Election Assistance Commission Chairwoman Christy McCormick and others.

Read more here.

 

GOOGLE DEALS BLOW TO HUAWEI: Google has reportedly halted some of its business with Huawei as the U.S. government blacklists the Chinese tech company.

Google is suspending some dealings with Huawei that require transferring hardware and software between the companies, Reuters reported Sunday, citing a source close to the matter.

Huawei will reportedly no longer be able to access Android updates, the Gmail app, the Google Play store and new versions of Google phones outside of China.

Huawei responds: In a statement to The Verge, Huawei said it has made "substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world."

"As one of Android's key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry," the statement to The Verge reads. "Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally."

Google says: "We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications," a Google spokesperson told The Hill in a statement on Sunday.

The decision from Google comes just days after the U.S. government added Huawei to a list of companies on a trade blacklist, making it more difficult for companies to work with the Chinese tech giant.

Read more here and here.

 

'DO NOT TRACK' BACK IN SPOTLIGHT: Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHong Kong dismisses concessions as protests escalate The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (R-Mo.) on Monday announced he will introduce legislation that would block internet companies from tracking users' activity online by creating a so-called Do Not Track list.

The bill would create a Do Not Track database for users to opt into if they no longer want companies to collect their data beyond what is "necessary" for those services to run. It would be modeled after the federal "Do Not Call" registry, which allows users to say they no longer want to receive telemarketing calls -- though that list has been panned for failing to stave off the deluge of telemarketing calls Americans receive every day.

Hawley, a freshman senator who has sought to make a name for himself as a prominent critic of tech giants, said in a statement released Monday morning that the Do Not Track database would give users more "control" over their information online.

"Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent," Hawley said. "They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet."

"The American people didn't sign up for this, so I'm introducing this legislation to finally give them control over their personal information online," he added.

The details: The legislation would force companies to stop tracking the activity of users who sign up for the Do Not Track list beyond what is "indispensable" or else face significant fines. The companies would face fines of up to $1,000 per day per person for "willful or reckless violation" and up to $50 per day for "negligence."

The bill would also prohibit companies from profiling or discriminating against users who register for the list.

Read more on the proposal here.

 

ACTING FAKE: Researchers have identified what they are calling a coordinated campaign to undermine President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE on Instagram, an effort that bears hallmarks of the disinformation campaigns that proliferated on the platform in 2016.

A recently published study by Italian analytics firm Ghost Data identified a network of 350 anti-Trump accounts coordinating efforts to promote messages deriding the president, sometimes with graphic or violent language. The researchers found 19 suspicious Instagram accounts that took the lead in promoting anti-Trump content.

In total, the posts from the accounts generated have more than 35.2 million interactions, with 3.9 million of those interactions occurring in the last two months. The study concluded that the anti-Trump Instagram campaign has ramped up over the past several months, with the network's activities swelling "dramatically" since April.

"Most content shared by these users is identical, while other images are slightly altered in size, colors, filter, partial or missing text," the researchers wrote.

"Many identical or similar posts are published a few minutes apart from each other, while some are even weeks apart," they added, explaining how they decided the campaign is coordinated rather than the result of organic political discourse.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said in a statement that it is "investigating the accounts in question and have already removed those that we've found to violate our policies."

"Accounts used to manipulate or mislead the public are not allowed on Instagram and we will take action if we find additional violations," a company spokesperson said.

The company has so far removed accounts that violate its "misrepresentation policies," which bar users from impersonating or deceiving others.

The network of 350 accounts has published 121,051 posts since 2016.

Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Congress can bring the government into the age of artificial intelligence.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Simple advice that will take you far.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Thanks to Facebook, your cell phone company is watching you closer than ever. (The Intercept)

DHS warns of 'strong concerns' that Chinese-made drones are stealing data. (CNN)

Uber, Lyft drivers manipulate fares at Reagan National causing artificial price surges. (WJLA)

DOJ leans against approving T-Mobile's takeover of Sprint. (Bloomberg)