Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills

Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills
© Getty Images

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

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

 

ADVERTISEMENT

GOOGLE UNVEILS NEW POLITICAL ADS POLICY: Google on Wednesday announced it will no longer allow advertisers to micro-target their political messaging, though the tech giant will still allow some misinformation in political ads amid rising scrutiny how online platforms mediate political discourse.

The context: In a new blog post, Google said it is tweaking its political ad policies in response to "recent concerns and debates about political advertising." Over the past month, Facebook drew fury over its policy allowing politicians to make false or misleading statements in ads, and Twitter angered a broad swath of advocacy and conservative groups by declaring it will no longer run political ads at all. 

"We want to improve voters' confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms," Scott Spencer, Google's vice president of product management at Google Ads, said Wednesday. 

Limiting micro-targeting: Google said it will limit the factors that political advertisers can target with to age, gender, and location to the zip code level. The new changes will go into effect globally at the beginning of 2020. 

The company had come under heat from critics and competitors, like Mozilla, for allowing micro-targeting of political ads. Google's ad platform, which minted $116.3 billion last year alone, is a top destination for advertisers due to its ability to reach audiences with unprecedented specificity. 

But micro-targeting, which uses consumer data and demographics to narrowly segment audiences, has been criticized for letting campaigns spread misinformation to susceptible populations in political ads that are not seen by the general public, avoiding accountability. 

The shift from Google follows reports earlier this month that Facebook is considering a similar change.

ADVERTISEMENT

Taking action on misinformation: While most inaccurate political messaging will remain unaffected, Google clarified its policies to say it will remove advertisements that include doctored content, mislead viewers about the census process or could "significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process."

"We expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited--but we will continue to do so for clear violations," Spencer wrote.

Read more on Google here.

 

HITTING THE ROAD: Senators on Wednesday grilled the nation's top transportation safety regulators over their efforts to approve rules for the growing self-driving car industry.

Despite the immense promise of automated vehicles (AVs), which the lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee acknowledged, the technology has been plagued by accidents during testing.

Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (R-Miss.) praised the new technology, which he said "has the ability to save thousands of lives" that would be lost in traffic accidents and provide "new found independence" for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersComey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe GOP chairman to seek subpoena power in investigation of Russia probe, 'unmasking' requests Michigan GOP candidate's Senate petition deemed 'insufficient' over signatures MORE (D-Mich.), who has introduced federal legislation on self-driving car safety, pressed regulators to show urgency over the issue.

A "public safety risk, in the absence of clear federal rules, or a federal statutory framework, to guide safe deployment and testing exists now and we need to close that gap as quickly as possible," Peters said.

Much of the hearing also highlighted divisions between regulators and the watchdog tasked with investigating transportation accidents.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt cited a report from his agency calling for a tougher review process before companies are allowed to test self-driving vehicles on the road.

Sumwalt said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which approved self-driving tests, was too lax and needed to force autonomous vehicle developers to prepare and submit a safety review.

Read more here. 

 

MOBILIZING AGAINST SURVEILLANCE: Dozens of progressive and libertarian-leaning lawmakers on Wednesday threw their support behind significantly revising a set of government surveillance authorities that are set to expire within months. 

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and conservative House Freedom Caucus signed onto a letter calling for "meaningful, bipartisan surveillance reform" just as Congress voted to extend those controversial provisions for another three months.

Why now: At the last minute, lawmakers tucked the 90-day surveillance authority extension into the temporary government funding measure, which passed the House 231-192 on Tuesday. The continuing resolution (CR), which allowed Congress to avoid an immediate government shutdown, gave key committees three more months to debate what they want to do about the set of controversial surveillance authorities.  

The House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee have jurisdiction over the USA Freedom Act, the bill that is set to expire, which allows the government to comb through phone records on millions of Americans and track targets during terrorism investigations. 

Defending the CR vote: "It's unfortunate that we still have no agreement on critical privacy and civil liberties provisions that must be included in any final reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act," Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Jayapal said the short-term extension was necessary because without it, the Senate might have pushed a "full reauthorization through with no changes" ahead of the original Dec. 15 expiration date. Now, the provisions likely won't expire until March 15. 

The asks: In the letter sent to the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Tuesday, the group of 49 lawmakers called for significant reforms. They asked for a total repeal of the call detail records program, which allows the government to access phone records on millions of Americans every year during terrorism investigations, and strict restrictions on surveillance "that threatens First Amendment protected activities." 

ADVERTISEMENT

Read more on the letter here. 

 

TIM + TRUMP TAKE A TRIP: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE on Wednesday toured an Apple manufacturing plant in Texas with company CEO Tim Cook, where he demurred on the possibility of exempting the tech giant from tariffs, pointing to the need to sustain a balanced playing field.

"We're looking at that, and the problem we have is you have Samsung -- it's a great company but it's a competitor of Apple. And It's not fair because we have a trade deal with Korea," Trump told reporters from the factory floor in Austin, flanked by Cook, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Schumer slams Trump's Rose Garden briefing on China as 'pathetic' MORE and senior White House adviser Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTrump: food chain 'almost working perfectly again' Lilly Wachowski claps back at Ivanka Trump and Elon Musk's 'red pill' exchange Trump says he gave officials 'option' to wear masks at Rose Garden event MORE.

"But we have to treat Apple on a somewhat similar basis as we treat Samsung," the president added. "Now with all of that being said, we're doing very nicely with China, but I like the way it is now."

The president toured the Austin factory with Cook and his top aides, viewing the production process and touting it as a win that the company was basing more of its manufacturing in the U.S. At one point, Trump held up a component that had the words "Designed by Apple in California; Assembled in the USA" engraved on it.

Read more here.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

CALLING SUNDAR: The leaders of the House caucuses representing Hispanic, black and Asian Pacific American members are calling on Google chief executive Sundar Pichai to review the hiring of a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official who allegedly played a part in the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroCHC says George Floyd death shows 'tiny fraction' of what people of color confront in their daily lives Julián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic MORE (D-Texas), Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassHouse Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' MORE (D-Calif.) and Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy ChuJudy May ChuHouse Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic MORE (D-Calif.) wrote Pichai on Tuesday, asking for clarification on the hiring of former DHS chief of staff Miles Taylor.

"We are deeply troubled with Google's decision to hire someone from the Trump Administration that has defended the very same cruel DHS policies Google senior leadership has previously denounced," wrote the lawmakers.

"During his time with DHS, Miles Taylor undoubtedly demonstrated his support for the Trump Administration's immigration policies. Alongside Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE, Mr. Taylor oversaw the implementation of the Muslim Ban, family-separations at our southern border, and the new public charge rule. There is evidence that Miles Taylor called for a more 'tough' and 'tailored' version of the Muslim Ban," they added.

Taylor was hired in September as a manager for Google's public policy team. The company's officials in October tried to assuage concerns of employees who complained about working with someone who had a hand in the zero-tolerance policy, according to a report on BuzzFeed News.

Read more here.

 

E&C ADVANCES TELECOM BILLS: A key House committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would ensure the government is adequately tracking which Americans have access to the Internet, a fix with billions of dollars at stake. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband policy, on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, which would require the government to collect granular information about which areas in the U.S. have access to high-speed Internet and which do not. 

The Senate Commerce Committee advanced its own version of the Broadband DATA Act earlier this year, meaning there's significant momentum to move the bill onto President Trump's desk.

The bipartisan Broadband DATA Act would help improve the FCC's current broadband maps, which have been widely panned as inaccurate and unhelpful, as they often overstate which areas have adequate coverage. Because the FCC uses the maps to determine where to devote billions of dollars in broadband investment, the issue has drawn intense scrutiny from people who say they are being overlooked -- particularly lawmakers from rural areas, where critics say the maps tend to be particularly inaccurate.

The Broadband DATA Act would allow individuals, states, localities and tribal governments to challenge the FCC's maps with their own data.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also unanimously advanced a bill on Wednesday that would make it illegal for people to submit inaccurate broadband access data to the FCC. 

Read more on the broadband bills here.

 

...AND A SUPPLY CHAIN BILL: A key House committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would ban the government from buying telecommunications equipment from companies deemed to be national security threats, such as Chinese telecom giant Huawei. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously in favor of the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which would prohibit the government from purchasing equipment or services from companies that could pose a "national security risk." 

It would also require the Federal Communications Commission to establish a $1 billion program to help small and rural communications providers remove and replace risky equipment from their networks. 

"Going forward, people need to be paying attention to the security of their networks and we're going to help by giving them the tools they need," Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company MORE (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the committee, said at the markup on Wednesday. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday also unanimously advanced the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which would require the administration to create an "unclassified national strategy" to protect the U.S. consumers and allies from threats to next-generation wireless – or 5G – systems.

Read more here.

 

ROSY OUTLOOK: Rep. Max RoseMax RoseGun control group rolls out House endorsements Max Rose calls on Trump to use Defense Production Act to ensure small businesses have PPE 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that could help reduce the amount of terrorist content circulating across the country's top social media platforms.

The Raising the Bar Act would create a government-backed program to help tech companies eliminate the scourge of posts, images and videos from terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda on their social networks. 

"The social media companies have established standards for themselves that everybody agrees on for terrorist content ... it should have no place on their platforms," Rose told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday. "This bill is about establishing a public-private partnership that holds the social media companies to their own standards." 

The legislation would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate a lead institution -- such as a research center or think tank -- to administer a voluntary exercise program that would score how well tech companies handle terrorist content. The program, run by a team of terrorism and social media experts, would assess how well companies including Facebook and Twitter are adhering to their own anti-terrorism policies.   

During each exercise, which would happen several times per year, the team of experts would identify and report terrorist content to the companies. They would then work up a report assessing how long it took for the tech platforms to take down those flagged posts. The institution designated to run the exercise would then rate the companies' performances and offer them insight into how they can improve. 

Read more on the bill here.

 

IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN: The Trump administration has begun issuing licenses for U.S. companies to do business with the Chinese company Huawei, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOn The Money: US tops 100,000 coronavirus deaths with no end in sight | How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response | Tenants fear mass evictions Ross: Trump considering 'whole menu' of options against China on Hong Kong law OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government predicts busy hurricane season | Report: BLM says oil and gas operators should set their own royalty rates for public lands drilling | Michigan flooding risks damage to hazardous waste sites: report MORE said Tuesday.

Ross told Fox Business Network in an interview Tuesday night that the department is beginning to issue licenses to some of the about 290 applicants, who requested "special licenses" to conduct business with Huawei after the company was blacklisted in May.

"We now have been starting to send out the 20-day intent to deny letters and some approvals," he said in the interview.

The Commerce Department announced Monday that the temporary license permitting some companies to work with Huawei has been extended 90 days, in the third deadline extension since the company was blacklisted. 

"These are not extensions that make life pleasant for them," Ross said. "These are general license extensions that give them a very limited ability to serve as existing activities that were in place before May 13 when we put them on the list."

The Trump administration halted sales from U.S. businesses to Huawei in May, citing national security concerns. All companies that conduct business with Huawei now require a license.

Huawei has previously denied the claims that the company poses a cybersecurity threat to the U.S.

Read more here.

 

BRRRING IT ON: A group of Senate Democrats raised concerns on Wednesday around the data security practices of Amazon's home security company, Ring.

In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon SpaceX launches first manned space flight from US in nearly a decade Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE, Democratic Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 MORE (Ore.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Democratic senators urge regulators to investigate Instacart over 'tip baiting' Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsVoting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor MORE (Del.), Gary Peters (Mich.), and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies OVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (Mass.) questioned Amazon having access to the personal data of millions of Americans who use the Ring system in their homes.

"Ring devices routinely upload data, including video recordings, to Amazon's servers," the senators wrote. "Amazon therefore holds a vast amount of deeply sensitive data and video footage detailing the lives of millions of Americans in and near their homes."

The senators noted that "if hackers or foreign actors were to gain access to this data, it would not only threaten the privacy and safety of the impacted Americans; it could also threaten U.S. national security."

The Ring system includes internet-connected doorbells that also serve as cameras, home monitoring systems and other safety systems.

The senators sent the letter in response to reports last week that the Ring doorbell system had a vulnerability that left Wi-Fi networks of users exposed to hackers, a vulnerability that has since been patched.

The Senate Democrats asked that Bezos respond to a series of questions, including whether Ring deletes uploaded video footage generated from its devices, what security measures are in place to protect sensitive customer data, and Ring's involvement in facial recognition technologies. 

"Our team is currently reviewing the letter from the senator, but I don't have information to share at this time," an Amazon official told The Hill.

Read more here. 

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Much to think about

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How online privacy notices can achieve informed user consent

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Facebook says anonymous pages posting coordinated pro-Trump content do not break its rules (Buzzfeed News)

A deep dive into the accident that set self-driving cars back (Verge)

Google admits major underreporting of election ad spend (The Guardian) 

Food delivery apps skipping some tax collection could have serious impacts (Vox)