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Hillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges $2.5B to affordable housing

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HOLD YOUR HORSES: Advocacy groups plan to call on the federal government to block Google’s recent acquisition of fitness tracking device company Fitbit.

The groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said Monday they will send a letter urging government regulators to nix the deal. Public Citizen and the Center for Digital Democracy are among the groups that will call for blocking the purchase, according to EPIC.

“There are several important reasons [to block the acquisition] … This is obviously sensitive data,” Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s president, told The Hill.

{mosads}”The second is that Google’s previous representations about safeguarding user data after acquisitions are commitments they don’t keep. The third is that both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, one of which will certainly review the deal, have indicated that it’s important to closely scrutinize mergers in the tech industry,” Rotenberg said. “We think they will move to block the deal and we want to encourage them to take that step.”

Google’s side: A spokesperson for Google told The Hill that the company is committed to honoring previous data privacy agreements from Fitbit and will be transparent about what data is collected with the devices.

Data collected by the apps will not be used for ad targeting, and users will be able to review and delete their data, according to Google.

The company on Friday announced the $2.1 billion deal to acquire Fitbit. The sale will require approval from Fitbit’s stockholders and federal regulators.

Read more here.


APPLE’S $2.5 BILLION FOR HOUSING: Apple announced on Monday that is pledging $2.5 billion for an affordable housing initiative in the company’s home state of California.

The plan includes funds for statewide initiatives as well as some funds set aside specifically for projects in the Bay Area region where Apple and many other Silicon Valley tech giants are based. 

“Before the world knew the name Silicon Valley, and long before we carried technology in our pockets, Apple called this region home, and we feel a profound civic responsibility to ensure it remains a vibrant place where people can live, have a family and contribute to the community,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in the housing announcement.

The details: The funds Apple is pledging include $1 billion toward an affordable housing investment fund, $1 billion toward a first-time homebuyer mortgage assistance fund, $150 million for a Bay Area housing fund, and $50 million to support vulnerable populations, according to the company announcement. 

The company is also planning to make $300 million of Apple-owned land in San Jose available for affordable housing. 

Read more on Apple’s pledge here.


TIKTOK LOOKS TO JOIN ANTI-TERROR FORUM: TikTok, the massively popular Chinese-owned social media app that has recently attracted national security concerns from top lawmakers, is seeking to join the consortium of U.S. tech companies tasked with countering online terrorism and extremism. 

A source familiar with the effort told The Hill that TikTok is working to become an official member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) alongside top tech firms including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

But TikTok’s efforts have largely been rebuked so far, and the GIFCT has not granted TikTok — one of the largest and fastest-growing social media platforms in the world — a formal membership amid concerns about its data collection and censorship practices.

A GIFCT official told The Hill that the forum does not comment on whether particular companies have sought membership, but they pointed out that as of right now, only Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Dropbox, Amazon, LinkedIn and WhatsApp are formal members of the consortium.

The source familiar with TikTok’s efforts said it is working towards full membership in order gain “access to all of [the GIFCT’s] tools” for fighting online terrorism and is “making progress” with the consortium.

Over the past several weeks, TikTok has drawn enormous scrutiny from policymakers and government officials over its ties to the Chinese government. The video-sharing app, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, is one of the first major social media platforms with a foothold in the U.S. to emerge from China over the past several years. Facebook has named it as a major competitor during congressional testimony. 

Read more on TikTok’s GIFCT bid here.


TWITTER REMOVES ACCOUNTS LINKED TO HAMAS, HEZBOLLAH: Twitter has taken down several accounts affiliated with Hamas and Hezbollah after facing public pressure from a group of bipartisan lawmakers who accused the platform of flouting U.S. law. 

Twitter’s decision to begin purging accounts associated with “foreign terrorist organizations” is a pivot from its earlier stance of keeping some Hamas and Hezbollah-affiliated accounts online. 

Over the weekend, Twitter removed several English-language and Arabic accounts associated with Hamas and Hezbollah’s news and political arms after vowing to “review” accounts highlighted by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) last month.

Twitter has also blocked a news account associated with the Houthi movement in Yemen, called “The Central Warfare Channel,” according to an Iranian news outlet

The lawmakers first raised their concerns about the Hamas and Hezbollah accounts in a letter to Twitter in September, and then held a public press conference decrying Twitter’s stance last month when the platform declined to take down the accounts.

“My colleagues and I were outraged when [Twitter] first responded to us — contrary to Facebook and Google, [Twitter] insisted that they were going to keep up the content of … Hezbollah and Hamas,” Gottheimer told The Hill in a phone interview from his district on Monday.

“To me, it’s essential that they’ve taken these steps to scrape the content and the handles of foreign terrorist organizations off their site,” Gottheimer said. 

But, he added, the lawmakers are remaining “vigilant” as they seek to ensure “this is not a one-off but actually a change in policy.” 

Read more here.


BRACING FOR THE AD BAN: Advocacy groups and trade associations are worried that Twitter’s decision to ban all political advertisements could hurt their efforts to use digital marketing to promote their issues.

One source told The Hill the Twitter announcement sent “shock waves” through public affairs professionals in Washington.

What the ban entails: Twitter last week said that it would begin banning ads that “advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance,” as well as references to an election or candidate.

What it means for advocacy groups: In Washington, trade associations and coalitions use Twitter to get eyes on their campaigns. While Twitter is still working to finalize its rules, the changes are likely to force those groups to rework how they speak to elected officials, stakeholders and the public through social media.

“The advocacy organizations can no longer run ads around the issues that matter to them. If I am AARP and I need to reach key people across the country to have them advocate for legislation so we can protect seniors and their healthcare, they can’t do that anymore,” consultant Jenna Golden told The Hill. 

Golden ran political advertising sales for Twitter during the 2012 and 2016 elections and left the company in July 2017 to start her own sales consulting firm.


Read more on the reaction here.


CENSUS INTERVENTION: A group of 58 Democratic lawmakers on Monday pressed Twitter to publicly release its strategy for staving off online misinformation around the 2020 census, citing Facebook as an example to follow. 

The lawmakers, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), wrote they have “concerns about Twitter being used to spread disinformation related to the upcoming 2020 census.”

They also want “information” about how Twitter plans to ensure its platform is not manipulated by actors hoping to dissuade minorities from filling out the U.S. population survey. 

The letter comes a few months after Facebook announced it is planning to ban users from spreading disinformation around the census. Facebook is also planning dedicate a team entirely to stop bad actors from interfering in the demographics survey, an effort that the social media platform is set to formalize later this year.

“Facebook has promised to ban misinformation campaigns surrounding the census,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was also sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We will follow the enactment of these promised census interference efforts by Facebook carefully.”

A Twitter spokesperson told The Hill that the company has “joined Census Bureau representatives in workshops and meetings to discuss the best ways to support a successful 2020 Census.” 

The platform bars users from sharing false or misleading information around how to participate in civic events like the census or elections.

Read more here.




AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why fear should not blind us to the promise of AI: A healthy dose of optimism



The state of California could have stopped 8chan: it didn’t (Bellingcat)

Fortnite banning Jarvis shows dangers of streaming ‘just for content,’ and power of platforms (The Washington Post) 

ISPs lied to Congress to spread confusion about encrypted DNS, Mozilla says (Ars Tecnica) 

I got access to my secret consumer score. Now you can get yours, too (The New York Times) 

Tags Bill Pascrell Brian Fitzpatrick Google Josh Gottheimer Mark Zuckerberg Max Rose Tom Reed

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