Hillicon Valley: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security

Hillicon Valley: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security
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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, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

8CHAN ON THE HILL: The owner of the anonymous messaging board tied to a string of mass shootings this year testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday, offering an adamant defense of his website to House staffers behind closed doors.

Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan, participated in a congressional deposition after the House Homeland Security Committee subpoenaed him last month.

The deposition, which apparently lasted between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., was attended by committee staffers, Watkins and his lawyer.

What Watkins said: Watkins was accompanied by his attorney Benjamin Barr -- who has counted controversial right-wing group Project Veritas among his former clients -- according to 8chan's official Twitter account.

The night before the deposition, Watkins tweeted a link to his prepared testimony, in which he framed 8chan as "the only platform featuring a full commitment to free speech." He continually claimed his website adheres to the First Amendment, though internet platforms are not bound by the constitution.

"My company has no intention of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech," Watkins wrote. "I feel the remedy for this type of speech is counter speech, and I'm certain that this is the view of the American justice system."

What committee leaders had to say: "We want to thank Mr. Watkins for his cooperation today," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Homeland Security chairman calls on new Trump aide to reestablish cyber coordinator House Democrat urges Trump to address online extremism at UN MORE (D-Miss.) and ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security 8chan owner defends platform in testimony before Congress Conservatives lash out at CNN for hiring Andrew McCabe MORE (R-Ala.) said in a statement later in the afternoon. "He provided vast and helpful information to the Committee about the structure, operation, and policies of 8Chan and his other companies."

"We look forward to his continued cooperation with the Committee as he indicated his desire to do so during today's deposition," the committee leaders added.

Most members were not on Capitol Hill at the time of the deposition, which was held at an undisclosed location at the end of the summer recess. It is typical for depositions, which amount to congressional "fact-finding" missions under oath, to be held in private.

8chan -- which has been tied to three mass shootings by alleged white supremacists this year alone -- is currently offline after several of its web infrastructure services cut ties with the forum weeks ago.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks online extremism, applauded the committee for holding a deposition.

"This deposition is an opportunity to hold to account Jim Watkins, who has shown little interest in stopping white supremacists from using 8chan as a location for 24-7 hate rallies," the ADL's CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.

Read more on the event here.

 

FACIAL RECOGNITION TROUBLES: People of color are less likely than white people to trust law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

Around 60 percent of white adults in the U.S. surveyed by Pew said they trust law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition tools appropriately, compared to 43 percent of black adults and 56 percent of Hispanic adults who expressed such support.

Overall, Pew found that 56 percent of American adults said they trust law enforcement to use the sensitive technology, which has been the subject of enormous controversy over allegations that it misidentifies people of color and women at higher rates.

The poll found that Democrats were more likely to express skepticism of the technology, while Republicans were more likely to be on board. It also found broader support among older respondents.

Forty-two percent of young adults -- between 18 and 29 -- said they support law enforcement's use of facial recognition, compared to 67 percent of adults older than 65, indicating some generational differences in how adults view the surveillance tech.

The survey emerges as police departments across the country and a number of federal agencies are increasingly adopting the technology into their surveillance programs, raising red flags for privacy advocates.

"Several groups express relatively low levels of trust in law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition responsibly – most notably black adults, younger people and those who identify as Democrats," the pollsters wrote.

Respondents were less likely to support the use of facial recognition technology by tech companies and advertisers, with 54 percent of those surveyed saying it is "not acceptable" for advertisers to use the tools to see "how people respond to public display ads."

Pew found higher levels of support for using facial recognition technology for reasons such as "law enforcement assessing security threats in public spaces," which received 59 percent support.

Read more here. 

 

COMMITTING TO THE BIT: Facebook is putting $10 million into a new industry and academic effort to develop technology aimed at detecting "deepfakes," the company announced Thursday.

The social media platform is teaming up with Microsoft and a handful of research institutions to launch the Deepfake Detection Challenge, with the goal of "detecting and preventing media manipulated via AI from being used to mislead others."

"'Deepfake' techniques, which present realistic AI-generated videos of real people doing and saying fictional things, have significant implications for determining the legitimacy of information presented online," Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technology officer, wrote in a blog post. "Yet the industry doesn't have a great data set or benchmark for detecting them. We want to catalyze more research and development in this area and ensure that there are better open source tools to detect deepfakes."

The coalition will also include researchers from Cornell Tech; MIT; University of Oxford; UC Berkeley; University of Maryland, College Park and University at Albany-SUNY

Facebook will help build a dataset on deepfakes by hiring actors to appear in videos and have their appearances manipulated. The company said that no Facebook user data will be employed for the research.

Facebook is inviting researchers to use its dataset to build their own deepfake software to submit for the challenge on its website.

It's unclear how much Microsoft is committing to the project. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Read more here.

 

NEW YORK SUES T-MOBILE: New York City is suing T-Mobile over its "abusive" sales tactics, accusing the telecom giant of taking advantage of its millions of low-income and immigrant customers.

The city -- led by a top consumer affairs official -- said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that it has evidence that T-Mobile's prepaid wireless brand, Metro, has been selling cheaply made phones to customers and enrolling them in expensive plans without their consent.

The city is suing T-Mobile and dozens of Metro stores in New York City, alleging that the phone company and its prepaid subsidiary have violated the city's "consumer protection law thousands of times."

"Companies that blatantly scam New Yorkers must be held accountable," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who is running for president, said in a statement.

"We are doing everything in our power to make sure that T-Mobile ends these deceptive practices and that customers who were taken advantage of get the restitution they are owed," he added.

The lawsuit, filed in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleges that T-Mobile's Metro brand "deceives customers about its stingy return policy."

And the city is accusing the Metro stores of selling used phones to customers while claiming they were new, charging "fake taxes" and pushing customers to enroll in plans.

The lawsuit, which follows a yearlong investigation by the city, alleges it has identified more than 2,200 consumer protection violations across 56 Metro stores.

T-Mobile in a statement said it is "continuing to investigate so we can respond to the city."

"Though we can't comment on the specific claims at this early stage, what we are seeing alleged here is completely at odds with the integrity of our team and the commitment they have to taking care of our customers every day," the company said in a statement.

Read more on the lawsuit here.

 

MIMIC THIS: Voice mimicking software imitated a company executive's speech and tricked an employee into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secret account, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The managing director of a British energy company, believing that his boss was on the phone, wired more than $240,000 to an account in Hungary this March, French insurance company Euler Hermes told the outlet.

The insurer declined to name the company.

The managing director told the Post in an email that the request was "rather strange," but the voice was lifelike to the point that he felt he had no choice but to fulfill the request.

Voice synthesis software is an increasing threat to anything that relies on traditional communication, from business deals to discussions between lawmakers.

Together with videos created by artificial intelligence, the potential of "deepfakes" to erode trust in public institutions has triggered alarms for many.

They can also be used for crime, like in this case.

Read more here. 

 

PART INNOVATIVE, PART CRINGEWORTHY: Facebook is launching a matchmaking feature aimed at helping users "find love" through the social media site.

The company announced Thursday that users who are 18 years or older will have the opportunity to opt into the service to design a dating profile based on Facebook's suggestions. Profiles are passed to other users based on interests, preferences and other info.

"It takes the work out of creating a dating profile and gives you a more authentic look at who someone is," Facebook said in its announcement.

Users will not receive suggested dating profiles from their Facebook friends unless they use a feature called "Secret Crush." Through Secret Crush, people can put users that they already know from Facebook or Instagram on a list. If both users add each other to the list, they receive a match, according to Facebook.

Facebook is allowing Instagram photos to be transferred to dating profiles and pledged to do the same for Instagram and Facebook Stories by the end of the year. 

The company acknowledged safety concerns and said it worked with experts to develop protections for users, including options to block and report others on the platform.

"Finding a romantic partner is deeply personal, which is why we built Dating to be safe, inclusive and opt-in," Facebook said in its announcement. "Safety, security and privacy are at the forefront of this product."

Read more here. 

 

BLUE DOGS TAKE ON ELECTION SECURITY: The leaders of the House Blue Dog Coalition and the House Blue Dog Task Force on National Security on Thursday sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for action to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections and to secure election systems.

The House Blue Dog Coalition, a grouping of 26 moderate Democrats, urged congressional leaders to "put politics aside and pursue bipartisan solutions" to bolster election security ahead of 2020. 

"We are calling on Congress to take further action to secure our elections, punish Russia for its attempts to meddle in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and deter our adversaries from meddling in future U.S. elections," the leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition and the Task Force wrote. "The threat to our national security could not be more clear."

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan MORE (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrat accuses GOP of opposing DC statehood because of 'race and partisanship' News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE (D-Md.), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices Modernize Congress to make it work for the people MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes On The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.).

The House has passed two major election security bills earlier this year, both along party lines. 

The SAFE Act, passed in June, would provide states with $600 million for election security efforts, and would also ban voting machines from being connected to the internet and from being manufactured outside the U.S. The House also approved the For the People Act, which includes sweeping language on election security and voting reform.

Both bills have been blocked from a vote in the Senate by Republicans, who cite concerns around federalizing elections.

Read more here. 

 

MORE THREATS TO ELECTIONS: Anne Neuberger, director of the newly formed Cybersecurity Directorate at the National Security Agency (NSA), on Wednesday pointed to ransomware attacks as a key danger to the 2020 elections.

"Ransomware is really interesting -- 4,000 attacks a day over the last number of years. ... That is certainly something that would be a key concern for the elections," Neuberger said at Billington CyberSecurity's 10th annual summit.

Neuberger noted that ransomware attacks in general would be a "focus" of the NSA's Cybersecurity Directorate, which was announced in July and will be formally set up on Oct. 1. 

Ransomware attacks have become a key issue over the past few months as various entities such as cities and school districts have been hit by the attacks, in which the attacker encrypts an IT system and demands payment before allowing the user access again. 

Beyond ransomware, Neuberger also emphasized that the Cybersecurity Directorate will zero in on cyber and national security threats from countries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. 

"In the intelligence community, we put a tremendous focus on countries, what their plans are and how they use cyber to achieve their strategic agendas, and each one does things a bit different because their strategic objectives are a bit different," Neuberger said. 

Read more here. 

 

LIGHTER CLICK: Maggie loves the royal family and wants everyone to know it. 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: 'Honest' political ads: Watch out, Drudge, you're next.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Google is promoting climate change denialism on its apps and its mobile homepage. (Buzzfeed News)

YouTubers say kids' content changes could ruin careers. (The Verge)

Palantir to seek funding on private market, delay IPO. (Bloomberg News)

Activists demand facial recognition ban for law enforcement in major new push. (Fox News)