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).



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.


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 WickerHillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Tech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing Ensuring more Americans have access to 5G technology 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 PetersBiden leads Trump by 7 in Michigan: poll The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid 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 JayapalHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair 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." 


Read more on the letter here. 


TIM + TRUMP TAKE A TRIP: President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline 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 MnuchinMcConnell and Schumer's relationship shredded after court brawl On The Money: Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election | Holiday spending estimates lowest in four years | Domestic workers saw jobs, hours plummet due to COVID Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election MORE and senior White House adviser Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpLincoln Project warns of third Trump term in new ad Obama to campaign for Biden in Orlando on Tuesday Lincoln Project attorney on billboards lawsuit threat: 'Please peddle your scare tactics elsewhere' 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.



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 CastroFormer DNC finance chairman Henry Muñoz: Latinos 'need to lead ourselves' Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches MORE (D-Texas), Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassPorter raises .2 million in third quarter Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police MORE (D-Calif.) and Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy ChuJudy May ChuDHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility Hispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Lawmakers of color blast Trump administration for reportedly instructing agencies to end anti-bias training 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 NielsenTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' McEnany tears into Miles Taylor after he's revealed as 'Anonymous' NYT author Ex-DHS official reveals himself as 'Anonymous' 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 WaldenEnsuring more Americans have access to 5G technology Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight 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 RoseDemocrats seek wave to bolster House majority Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal 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 RossIt's time to reckon with space junk Census Bureau to hold count through end of October Judge begins contempt proceedings for Wilbur Ross over allegedly defying census order 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 BezosBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE, Democratic Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Dow falls more than 900 points amid fears of new COVID-19 restrictions | Democrats press Trump Org. about president's Chinese bank account | Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts Democrats press Trump Organization about president's Chinese bank account Plaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation MORE (Ore.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsWhat a Biden administration should look like Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans don't believe Democrats 'have the stones to play hardball' MORE (Del.), Gary Peters (Mich.), and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyTech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging | Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say | Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks 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



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)