Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts

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(ANTI)TRUST: Key Democratic and Republican lawmakers left their meetings with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday expressing confidence that he will cooperate with their ongoing antitrust investigation and that he understands the "gravity" of the issues facing his company.

Zuckerberg, clad in a dark suit and tie, met privately with the bipartisan House lawmakers leading an antitrust probe into Big Tech, as well as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which has been focusing on issues around social media and election interference.

The lawmakers' satisfaction marked a notable turnaround since the last time Zuckerberg embarked on a major visit to Washington in April 2018, when congressional leaders publicly lambasted him during two days of fiery hearings on Capitol Hill.

Zuck's meeting with Dems: On Friday, Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, told reporters that Zuckerberg "made a commitment to cooperate with the investigation" during their sit-down, which included Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and staffers.

"I look forward to his cooperation," Cicilline said, noting the investigation will include "document requests, requests for information, participation in a number of different ways."

"I take him at his word," added the Rhode Island Democrat, who has largely led the efforts into investigating the digital marketplace.

And with Republicans: Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg met with three powerful lawmakers, including the top Republican involved in the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust investigation, in a separate closed-door meeting.

Zuckerberg sat down with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) behind closed doors, sources confirmed.

McCarthy told reporters the meeting was "great" but declined to elaborate.

Walden, who is helping guide the efforts to draw up federal privacy legislation in the House, said the conversation was "positive and robust."

Collins said he discussed the antitrust investigation with Zuckerberg, emphasizing the tech CEO seemed "appreciative" that Collins and other members of the committee are working to get "information" rather than "coming at it from an angle of, 'Here's what we have to solve.'"

"He wants have his company be in business and do the things that they want to do, but he's also very sensitive to the notions of privacy and bias and other things that people have concerns about," Collins told reporters. "They're open to that because they're in the marketplace and they see those pressures." 

Collins said Facebook has "always been very cooperative in questions we've had before."

Schiff's thoughts: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, met with Zuckerberg in the Capitol on Friday to discuss election interference on Facebook.

After their meeting, Schiff said he believes Zuckerberg "appreciates the gravity" of the concerns around deepfakes - manipulated video footage that can make it appear as though people said or did things they did not.

Schiff and other intelligence lawmakers have been pushing Facebook and other social media companies to do more on deepfakes, which can be used to spread disinformation around certain political candidates.

"I wanted to raise my profound concern about the issue of deepfake technology and how it might be used to disrupt our election," Schiff told reporters. "They are very aware of the threat that it poses. They are in the process of developing what I hope will be very strong policies on this."

Read more on Zuckerberg's Friday here.


ICYMI: President Trump met with Mark Zuckerberg at the White House on Thursday after the Facebook CEO and founder spent the afternoon talking with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"Mark is in Washington, D.C., meeting with policymakers to hear their concerns and talk about future internet regulation. He also had a good, constructive meeting with President Trump at the White House today," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

Trump later acknowledged the "nice" meeting on Twitter, including a photo of the pair shaking hands.

Trump has routinely criticized Facebook and other social media platforms, accusing them without evidence of harboring political biases against him.

"We should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, which perhaps we will," Trump said during a Fox Business interview in June.

Trump tweeted in March that Facebook, Google and Twitter are "sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats."

And the president in July criticized the tech giant for its plan to launch a payments system next year, in which users exchange money through a proprietary cryptocurrency called Libra.

Read more here.


MCCONNELL BACKS ELECTION SECURITY FUNDS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (Ky.) decision to back giving $250 million to states for election security constituted a major turnaround for the GOP leader.

McConnell, who had been derided as "Moscow Mitch" by Democrats over his refusal to give election security legislation a vote, in a surprise move Thursday said he would back an amendment providing funds to help states shore up their voting systems.

He took credit for helping to develop the amendment and touted that its inclusion in a government funding bill brings spending on election security to $600 million since fiscal 2018.

McConnell's staff pushed back Friday on the idea that he had flip-flopped, blasting out an email to reporters titled "Setting the record straight on election security" that detailed previous steps taken by the Senate and federal agencies to secure elections since 2016.

But Democrats cast McConnell as having done a turnaround on the issue, and they made it clear they were surprised even as they continued to poke him with Russia references.

"Did he? Is that right?" a visibly surprised Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said when told about the GOP leader's decision.

"No more invitations to the Kremlin for him," Durbin quipped.

More on the politics here.


More on the reaction in Congress...


HOORAY FOR SECURING ELECTIONS: Members of Congress and key federal and state officials on Thursday praised the $250 million approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for election security efforts across the country but noted that the funding does not do enough to address the overall threats.  

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) applauded the Senate Appropriations Committee's successful vote on Thursday to include the election security funding in the Senate version of the annual 2020 Financial Services and General Government funding bill.

"Maybe, just maybe, Republicans are starting to come around to our view that election security is necessary, that if the Americans don't believe their elections are on the up and up, woe is us as a country, as a democracy," Schumer said on the Senate floor on Thursday. 

Schumer, however, noted that the job of securing American elections remains "incomplete" as long as legislation to mitigate various threats to elections is not addressed. 

"While this funding is important, it's not the only thing we need to do to secure our elections from Russia, Chinese, Iranian, or any other foreign country interfering," Schumer said. "We're getting the money in appropriations, but we need more legislation to refine where the dollars go."

The $250 million included by the Senate Appropriations Committee comes months after the House passed its version of the Financial Services and General Government funding bill with $600 million included for election security.

What's next: The House and Senate versions of the annual funding bill will eventually be conferenced between the two chambers of Congress, with the ultimate amount designated for states through the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) unclear as of Thursday.

Secretaries of state celebrate: Bipartisan U.S. secretaries of state from around the nation have led the call over the past year for Congress to appropriate further funding to states to address election security threats.

Two of these secretaries spoke on a panel at the cybersecurity summit hosted by the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Thursday, with both applauding the Senate for taking the step.  

"We are always operating in a world of scarce resources. I'm glad that there has now been some level of bipartisan agreement that this is a priority that we need to fund, I think that nearly universally the secretaries of state across the country want to see more resources made available," Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) told The Hill. "We need more resources, it's a good thing."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) told reporters that while the additional election security funding is "encouraging," she would prefer not to be given a "blank check" by Congress that puts no requirements on how states use the funds, advocating for more oversight.

"I think it's not enough ... it will help us, but what we also need is not just one-time funds but a consistent partnership that gives us the ability to plan out as well when we can expect funding so we're not attached to the political whims from year to year," Benson said.

Read more on the funding surprise here.


THAT'S A RELIEF: Microsoft announced Friday that it will provide free security updates for federally certified voting systems that run Windows 7 through the 2020 elections, delaying the threat that voting could take place on unsecured equipment. 

Microsoft launched Windows 7 in 2009 and committed to providing security updates to all systems running Windows 7 for ten years. The updates were due to cease as of January for voting equipment running Windows 7, which makes it easier for malicious actors to find cyber vulnerabilities in the machines and interfere in elections.

Prior to Friday's announcement, Microsoft was planning to provide "extended security updates"  for Windows 7 systems through January 2023, but customers would have to pay a fee for each device that required the updates. 

Tom Burt, the corporate vice president of Customer Security and Trust at Microsoft, announced in a post about the free security updates that Microsoft made this decision in part due to the short amount of time left to update voting systems prior to the 2020 elections.

"As we head into the 2020 elections, we know there is a relatively small but still significant number of certified voting machines in operation running on Windows 7," Burt wrote. "We also know that transitioning to machines running newer operating systems in time for the 2020 election may not be possible for a number of reasons, including the lengthy voting machine certification process - a process we are working with government officials to update and make more agile."

The decision by Microsoft came two months after the Associated Press reported that the vast majority of the country's 10,000 election jurisdictions are running Windows 7 or even older operating systems to "create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes, and report counts."

Read more here. 


MEANWHILE ON TWITTER: Twitter announced Friday that it had suspended a small number of accounts for spreading pro-Saudi messaging disguised as news content amid efforts to battle spam accounts on the platform.

In a lengthy blog post, the company announced the results of investigations into various countries' efforts to spread information on the platform, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The investigation into Saudi-linked accounts resulted in the suspension of Saud al-Qahtani, a former media consultant to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as six other accounts linked to "coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government."

Al-Qahtani, who also previously served as an adviser to Saudi King Salman, was dismissed last year over claims of his involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist.

"While active, the accounts in this set presented themselves as independent journalistic outlets while tweeting narratives favorable to the Saudi government," Twitter's statement read.

The site also claimed that a number of spam accounts linked to Saudi Arabia were suspended, though no data on how many were affected was immediately available.

"We continue to suspend a range of accounts for other types of political spam violations in Saudi Arabia. As ever, we will disclose any attribution we can reliably make to state actors if and when we learn them," the blog post continued.

The company regularly posts updates on accounts suspended for violating the platform's terms of service, and in May announced that more than 160,000 accounts were suspended in the second half of 2018 for promoting terrorist content on the platform.

Read more on Twitter's purge here.


KA-CHING: More than $2 billion has been raised over Facebook for various charitable causes since the platform launched its fundraising tools in 2015, the company said Thursday.

In a blog post, Facebook executives said that the rate of fundraising on the platform was increasing, with the number of fundraisers on the platform doubling since November of last year.

"Thank you to everyone who supported these causes, and so many others. We know that $2 billion is just the start to the amount of impact our community will have," Facebook wrote in its blog post.

The site's new birthday fundraiser tool alone saw $1 billion raised, by allowing users to notify those on their friends lists about a charity fundraiser on their birthdays.

"By dedicating their special day to a nonprofit organization, people rally their friends and family to support important causes. From birthdays and Giving Tuesday to anytime throughout the year, over 45 million people have donated to or created a fundraiser on Facebook -- which has more than doubled since last November," the blog post read.

Nancy Frates, a board member of the ALS Association credited with coming up with the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," called the announcement a "win-win-win" in an interview with USA Today.

"It's a win for the donor who can give within the platform. It's a win for the nonprofit because the amount raised can be quite substantial, and it's a win for the people being served," Frates said. "A dollar raised on Facebook is a dollar that can be used in the service because there are no fees associated with it."

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Here's a video of reporters following around Zuckerberg this week.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first. 



The feds need to 'grow a set and do their jobs.' (Wired)

A 'grass-roots' campaign to take down Amazon is funded by Amazon's biggest rivals. (The Wall Street Journal) 

Secret FBI subpoenas scoop up personal data from scores of companies. (The New York Times)

Facebook suspends 'tens of thousands' of apps from 400 developers over improper data use. (The Verge)