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 TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary 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 BookerUSAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill 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 ClarkeThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Top tech executives testify in blockbuster antitrust hearing Hillicon Valley: Tech CEOs brace for House grilling | Senate GOP faces backlash over election funds | Twitter limits Trump Jr.'s account The Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility Tlaib opens up about why she hasn't endorsed Biden yet MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Five primary races to watch on Tuesday 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 HillObama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House The Hill's Campaign Report: Cook shifts 20 House races toward Democrats 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) MalinowskiNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski House fires back at Trump by passing ObamaCare expansion MORE (D-N.J.), on Friday called on House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBass honored US Communist Party leader in unsurfaced remarks Susan Rice says she could handle pandemic response: 'I understand what disease can do' Biden leads Trump by nearly 40 points in California: poll 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 CollinsLoeffler knocks WNBA players for wearing shirts backing Democratic challenger WNBA players wear 'Vote Warnock' shirts in support of Loeffler Democratic challenger Sunday shows preview: White House, Democratic leaders struggle for deal on coronavirus bill 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 BlumenauerTrump threatens to double down on Portland in other major cities Federal agents deployed to Portland did not have training in riot control: NYT US attorney calls for investigation into unmarked federal agents arresting protesters in Oregon MORE (D-Ore.), wrote. "We will oppose a bill that does not do so." 

The letter includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' MORE (D-N.Y.), Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Police committed 125 human rights violations during Floyd protests: Amnesty Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause 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)