Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for $2.1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law

Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for $2.1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law
© Greg Nash

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GOOGLE BUYS FITBIT: Google announced Friday that it has reached a deal to acquire fitness tracking device company Fitbit for approximately $2.1 billion.

Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of devices and services, said in a press release the purchase is "an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market.”

News of an offer for Fitbit from Alphabet, Google's parent company, was first reported by Reuters earlier this week.

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The deal is expected to be completed in 2020, according to a separate press release from Fitbit. The sale will require approval from Fitbit's stockholders and regulators.

Google's acquisition of the popular wearables company comes as the tech giant has struggled to break into the market with its Wear OS platform. With Fitbit, Google will now more directly compete with Apple, which has seen sustained success from its watches and Health app. 

This is not the first fitness wearable company that Google has picked up recently. In January, the search giant bought smartwatch technology from Fossil for $40 million.

Read more here. 

 

TWITTER JUMPS INTO THE POLITICAL AD FRAY: Twitter's surprising decision to ban all political advertisements is shaking up the debate over how online platforms moderate political speech from public officials and candidates.

The company earned a wave of praise from Democrats over its move, announced Wednesday, but faced harsh criticism from many on the right, who questioned if it amounted to censorship.

The reactions only underscored the contentious nature of the debate. Far from resolving the matter, Twitter's decision will likely subject the company to more scrutiny as it finalizes its rules and walks a tightrope between cracking down on misinformation and protecting speech. And it will increase pressure on other platforms to reexamine their own policies.

Twitter's political ad ban capitalized on the whirlwind of controversy surrounding larger rival Facebook, which has spent weeks defending its policy to not fact-check or block advertisements from politicians with false or misleading claims.

In an era of a broad Washington skepticism and scrutiny of Big Tech, Twitter received praise from Democratic lawmakers, many of whom said Facebook should follow suit.

“Twitter is fulfilling its responsibility to avoid becoming a cesspool of falsehood,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the top tech critics in the Senate, told reporters on Thursday. “My hope is that Facebook and Google will follow their example.” 

But critics on the right — including President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE's campaign — strongly pushed back at the ban, accusing the platform of caving to Democrats and stifling free expression.

Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE blasted the ban as a "dumb" decision in a statement on Thursday night, claiming “biased liberal media outlets … will now run unchecked as they buy obvious political content meant to attack Republicans.” 

Read more here. 

 

TROUBLE FOR TIKTOK: A U.S. government committee has launched a national security probe into TikTok, a massively popular video-sharing platform under scrutiny over its ties to China. 

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body that deals with national security concerns stemming from transactions involving overseas companies, is reviewing Chinese firm Bytedance’s acquisition of U.S. app Musical.ly, Reuters reported.

Two sources familiar with the investigation told the news outlet that the body has the scope to investigate the acquisition because TikTok did not initially seek clearance from CFIUS.

The Hill has reached out to CFIUS for comment.

News of the review comes after several top senators raised sharp concerns over a Chinese-owned company amassing a broad swath of U.S. user data.  

Read more here. 

 

BOOKER BAN: Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Black caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two MORE (D-N.J.) on Friday introduced a bill banning the use of facial recognition technology in public housing, mirroring legislation proposed in the House in July.

The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act would block the technology from being installed in housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Using facial recognition technology in public housing without fully understanding its flaws and privacy implications seriously harms our most vulnerable communities,” Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, said in a statement.

“Facial recognition technology has been repeatedly shown to be incomplete and inaccurate, regularly targeting and misidentifying women and people of color. We need better safeguards and more research before we test this emerging technology on those who live in public housing and risk their privacy, safety, and peace of mind.”

The House version of the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act, introduced by Reps. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Hillicon Valley: FBI to now notify state officials of cyber breaches | Pelosi rips 'shameful' Facebook | 5G group beefs up lobby team | Spotify unveils playlists for pets Jewish advocates pressure social media platforms, Congress to regulate online anti-Semitic speech MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants MORE (D-Mich.), has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee.

Read more on the bill here. 

 

DEMS PUSH FOR 'REVENGE PORN' LAW: A group of 35 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Friday to leading members of the House Judiciary Committee urging them to move forward with legislation on "revenge porn" following Rep. Katie HillKatherine (Katie) Lauren HillVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address California Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Cenk Uygur updates on Congressional campaign, how I will call out corporate politicians in Washington MORE's resignation.

The California Democrat left Congress this week after nude photos and allegations that she had inappropriate sexual relationships with congressional and campaign staffers surfaced online.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation banning the publishing of intimate or explicit image of persons without their consent, called revenge porn or nonconsensual pornography (NCP), but it is not explicitly covered by a federal statute.

The group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements NJ lawmaker flips endorsement to Biden after Booker drops out House votes to temporarily repeal Trump SALT deduction cap MORE (D-N.J.), on Friday called on House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi says House will vote on bill to repeal travel ban Nadler to miss a day of impeachment trial due to wife's cancer treatment Impeachment manager dismisses concerns Schiff alienated key Republican votes: 'This isn't about any one person' MORE (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOmar calls on US to investigate Turkey over possible war crimes in Syria McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment Sunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial MORE (D-Calif.) to advance legislation to address that gap.

The Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act, introduced this May, would establish federal criminal liability for individuals who share private, sexually explicit or nude images without the consent of those photographed. It has yet to advance out of the subcommittee that Bass oversees.

Read more here.

 

LEAVE MY PHONE ALONE: A group of twenty Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for an end to the government's mass phone data collection, staking out their position in an upcoming fight around the bill that could reauthorize the controversial program.

In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsCollins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid Meadows: Republicans who break with Trump could face political repercussions GOP senator: Romney trying to 'appease the left' with impeachment witnesses MORE (R-Ga.), the progressive lawmakers argued they will not support any legislation without significant reforms and protections for vulnerable populations.

They called for a total repeal of the National Security Agency's (NSA) call records program, which gathers information on incoming and outgoing domestic text messages and phone calls, and increased civil liberties protections around other elements of the law, which is set to expire later this year.

"Any meaningful reform must repeal the [call detail records] program, which is an unnecessary violation of the rights of people in the United States and a threat to our democracy," the lawmakers, led by Reps. Rashida Talib (D-Mich.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLobbying world Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension MORE (D-Ore.), wrote. "We will oppose a bill that does not do so." 

The letter includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez rips 'public charge' decision: 'The American Dream isn't a private club with a cover charge' Democrat questions new border chief's involvement in Facebook group with racist, sexist posts The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo MORE (D-N.Y.), Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoVA leader must demonstrate commitment to ending harassment GOP claims vindication, but Van Drew decision doesn't spark defections Mark Takano keeps using partisan tactics when legislating veterans issues MORE (D-Calif.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive MORE (D-Minn.) and other progressives across a range of committees.

Read more.

 

WHATSAPP GETS HACKED: Officials in several countries have reportedly been targeted in a hack affecting the messaging app WhatsApp. 

Reuters reported Friday, citing people familiar with an investigation into the matter, that senior officials were targeted through WhatsApp by a hacking software that took over peoples' phones. 

The sources reportedly said that a “significant” portion of people known to be victims are high-profile government and military personnel in at least 20 countries on five continents. They reportedly said that many of the countries are allied with the U.S.

The sources told Reuters that those who have been affected by the hack are from the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India. The news outlet reported that it is not clear whether the government officials were from those countries. 

The news comes as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, on Tuesday sued an Israeli cyber surveillance firm over allegations that it hacked approximately 1,400 WhatsApp users. 

Read more here. 

 

MORE ELECTION SECURITY MONEY: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Thursday signed into law a proposal that provides $90 million for replacing outdated and non-secure voting machines, along with making reforms to ways Pennsylvanians can vote.

The new law marks a major change for Pennsylvania’s voting system, allowing mail-in voting, a 50-day period for voters to mail in ballots ahead of the election, and moves the deadline to register to vote from 30 days prior to the election to 15 days prior.

The law also provides $90 million to assist counties in purchasing new election machines with paper trails to help increase the security of voting.

These funds will serve to reimburse counties for 60 percent of what they have spent on replacing older voting equipment with machines that have paper records of votes, something Pennsylvania’s Department of State ordered them to do last year.

Forty-six Pennsylvania counties, or around 68 percent, have the new systems in place as of this month.

Wolf said in a statement that the new law marks “the biggest change to our elections in generations."

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK DISCRIMINATION CASE: Facebook was sued Thursday by a Washington, D.C., woman who argued that the company did not display ads to her pertaining to financial services on the basis of her age and gender.

Reuters reported that the suit, filed in California, argues that 54-year-old Neutah Opiotennione was deprived of information about financial services because of Facebook's ad targeting policy.

The suit argues that the ad targeting policies continue to allow financial services companies to restrict ads to such demographics as “people ages 24 to 40” and “men ages 20 and older,” according to Reuters.

A Facebook spokeswoman told The Hill that the company's "policies have long prohibited discrimination and we’re proud of the strides we’re making in this area."

Read more here. 

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Well, the final season was trash

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Bitcoin’s past accomplishments and future challenges 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Revealed: how one company surveils everything kids do and say in school (BuzzFeed News)

Google walkouts one year later (Vox/Recode)

Behind the supply-chain of one of Amazon’s most popular products (OneZero)

Twitter has been flooded with ISIS propaganda since al Baghdadi’s death (Motherboard)