Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills)

 

ZUCKERBERG PUSHES BACK: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended his company's controversial decision of allowing politicians to post political ads with misleading or false claims on its platform, saying it's "something we have to live with."

"People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth," Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech at Georgetown University. "At the same time, I don't think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.

"In general, in a democracy, I think that people should be able to hear for themselves what politicians are saying," Zuckerberg continued. "Often, the people who call the most for us to remove content are often the first to complain when its their content that falls on the wrong side of a policy."

In the 35-minute speech at Georgetown Thursday afternoon, Zuckerberg elaborated on that defense, saying that having tech company's moderate content could be dangerous.

"Political ads on Facebook are more transparent than anywhere else," Zuckerberg said. "We don't factcheck political ads... because we believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.

"I know many people disagree, but in general I don't think it's right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy. And we are not an outlier here."

Read more here.

 

& ON THAT CHINA BUSINESS...: Mark Zuckerberg hit China's model for the internet in a speech Thursday, saying that Facebook could not operate there without compromising its values.

"I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world, and I thought maybe we could help creating a more open society," Zuckerberg during a speech at Georgetown University.

"I worked hard on this for a long time, but we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there and they never let us in."

Zuckerberg spent a large portion of Thursday's appearance defending Facebook as a vehicle for freedom of expression and expanding free speech.

He contrasted that view with China's model, which he said has been stifling mentions of protests on Chinese apps. 

He specifically mentioned TikTok, a video sharing platform whose parent company ByteDance reportedly released guidelines recently effectively banning criticism of the Chinese government.

"Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values," he said. "But there's no guarantee that these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese."

Read more here.

 

BIDEN GOES AFTER ZUCK: Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign on Thursday hit Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over a speech where the executive defended his company's decision not to take down political advertisements with inaccuracies.

"Facebook has chosen to sell Americans' personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans," Bill Russo, the Biden campaign's deputy communications director, said in a statement.

"Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company's bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook's policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years."

Biden's campaign lashed out after Zuckerberg delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he argued that it is not Facebook's role to moderate political content.

Read more here.

 

LOCK 'EM UP: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the toughest tech critics in Congress, on Thursday introduced his long-awaited bill that would jail tech executives for lying to the government about privacy violations. 

Wyden's bill, the Mind Your Own Business Act, would also offer users unprecedented control over how their data is used and shared, enabling them to tell websites when they don't want their online activity to be tracked across the internet. 

And the legislation, which Wyden started floating with a discussion draft last year, threatens steep fines and prison terms of up to 20 years for executives at companies that "misuse" data.

The statement about the bill mentioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an example of a tech executive who could face jail time if found to be lying to the government.

"Mark Zuckerberg won't take Americans' privacy seriously unless he feels personal consequences," Wyden said in a statement. "Under my bill, he'd face jail time for lying to the government." 

Multiple lawmakers have raised concerns that Zuckerberg misled Congress during last year's series of contentious hearings in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, though Facebook has disputed that. 

Read more here.

 

IT WAS AN ACCIDENT: The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday issued a report that found the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) failed to properly handle the data of thousands of consumers, leading to an accidental data breach earlier this year. 

The report recommended that the CPSC, which is in charge of ensuring that consumer products do not harm Americans, take steps to improve its handling of personal data after the CPSC clearinghouse made "improper disclosures" between December 2017 and March 2019 to 29 entities. 

These disclosures contained the personal data of around 30,000 consumers, including street addresses, age and gender, along with information on 10,900 manufacturers. 

Most of the disclosed data was sent to Consumer Reports and to a researcher at Texas A&M University as part of a response to information requests from these entities. The personal information included was not redacted as required by Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. 

The committee, led by Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), was informed of the disclosures in April and subsequently sent letters to the agency and interviewed employees about the breach, concluding that "the series of improper disclosures is likely attributable to incompetence and mismanagement rather than deliberate, bad-faith efforts by senior managers or commissioners."

The committee recommended that the CPSC implement formal training for all new employees on how to handle personal consumer data, review information technology used to process data requests and implement policies to ensure that CPSC management reviews all sensitive data requests. 

Wicker wrote in a letter to acting CPSC Director Robert Adler on Wednesday that while the data disclosures were "concerning," the committee concluded they did not occur due to deliberate steps, but were entirely accidental. 

Read more here. 

 

SMALL BIZ HEARING AHEAD: The House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) on Thursday formally invited some of the largest tech companies in the country to testify at an upcoming hearing about whether their practices harm small businesses. 

Velázquez invited Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to testify at a hearing in November, underlining that the committee is looking for a response by Oct. 31.

"It is no secret that big tech platforms have grown exponentially in the digital era, altering the ways American consumers buy products and shifting many traditional business models," Velázquez said in a statement.

"Given this, I believe it is appropriate and necessary to bring big tech companies and small businesses to the table to discuss how the rise in online retail and digital platforms is shaping the playing field for America's small firms," she said. "I look forward to the hearing and hope to confirm the presence of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple in the coming weeks."

Amazon and Facebook both confirmed they have received the invitation. Google and Apple did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. 

Read more on the hearing here.

 

DIVIDED WE STAND: Democratic divisions over how to tackle Big Tech were on display at the latest primary debate as presidential contenders sparred over whether to break up Silicon Valley's giants, how social media should handle President Trump's tweets and whether the government is doing enough to prevent interference in U.S. elections using social media.

While Democrats uniformly vowed to challenge the tech industry and its practices, the debate highlighted candidates' differences on the issue, as each of the hopefuls offered distinct proposals for reining in companies' market power, protecting privacy and safeguarding elections.

The roughly 10 minutes likely marked the longest-ever discussion about tech's market power and privacy practices during a presidential debate, experts told The Hill, signaling the importance of the issue in 2020.

The candidates seemed to agree only that the government should somehow confront the world's largest tech companies, but they were divided on how.

"I think that conversation has transformed," Tim Wu, a leading tech antitrust expert and professor at Columbia University Law School, told The Hill. "[The American electorate] has always turned on our biggest companies and begun to question if they become too powerful. It's natural, it's healthy, to start to ask those questions of the former darlings of the Democratic Party."

The tech conversation kicked off with a question from the moderators about whether the candidates supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) proposal to "break up Big Tech" -- one of the first plans she offered after launching her bid this year.

Warren has set the tone for the Democratic debate on technology issues since she announced her proposal back in March, a plan that sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley and put the industry on high alert. But for months, candidates have hedged and side-stepped about where they come down on the issue, sporadically offering smaller-scale proposals to rein in Big Tech. 

None of the other candidates explicitly endorsed Warren's approach, which would impose tougher antitrust rules and require companies including Google and Facebook to spin off elements of their businesses. 

Read more here. 

  

A LIGHTER CLICK: Comments that are very real and not fake

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Social media shouldn't be a 'sanctuary city' for child pornographers

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:  

Cyber group that hacked DNC in 2016 is back in action targeting European foreign ministries (ZDNet)

How a massive Facebook scam siphoned millions of dollars from unsuspecting boomers (Buzzfeed) 

Video giant Twitch pushes Trump rallies and mass violence into the live-stream age. (The Washington Post) 

Across platforms, politicians face scrutiny about everything but their speech. (Adweek)

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