Hillicon Valley: Facebook to still allow misinformation in ads under new rules | New child privacy bill in House | Election vendors support more federal oversight

Hillicon Valley: Facebook to still allow misinformation in ads under new rules | New child privacy bill in House | Election vendors support more federal oversight
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).



FACEBOOK STANDS ITS GROUND: Facebook on Thursday said that it does not plan to make any sweeping changes to its controversial political advertising policy ahead of the 2020 elections, maintaining that it will continue to allow misinformation in political ads and allow campaigns to microtarget those ads to small segments of the population. 

The social media giant instead opted to make smaller tweaks to its political ads policy following months of scrutiny and pressure from Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups who have criticized Facebook for allowing politicians to make false statements in advertisements.  

Facebook has spent months defending its current policy as an effort to promote free speech on its enormous platform, which is seen as the go-to destination for political campaigns trying to get through to key voters. But critics have responded that Facebook is setting up a dangerous precedent as politicians target potentially false information at small, specific populations using the company's sophisticated targeting tools.

Facebook now says it will soon unveil a feature that allows users to see fewer political ads, and it will offer users more details about the political advertisements they see.

Rob Leathern, the company's director of product management, wrote that Facebook is not "deaf" to the "criticism of Facebook's position." He said that Facebook will "continue to work with regulators and policy makers in our ongoing efforts to help protect elections."

The announcement puts the embattled social media company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, at odds with rivals Google and Twitter.

Read more here. 



ELECTION VENDORS WANT REGULATION: The CEOs of the three largest U.S. voting equipment companies on Thursday supported more disclosure requirements, marking a major step for an industry that has come under close scrutiny in recent years due to election security concerns. 

The leaders of Election Systems and Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart InterCivic testified before the House Administration Committee during a House hearing, marking the first time leaders from the three major voting equipment manufacturers testified together before Congress. 

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLawmakers briefed on 'horrifying,' 'chilling' security threats ahead of inauguration Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress Capitol Police chief announces resignation after pro-Trump riots MORE (D-Calif.) kicked off the hearing by asking whether the CEOs of these companies, which are estimated to control at least 80 percent of the market for voting equipment in the U.S., would support legislation mandating more disclosures. 

Specifically, Lofgren asked if they would support requirements to disclose company cybersecurity practices, cyberattacks experienced by the companies, background checks done on employees, foreign investments in the companies, as well as information on the supply chain involved in building the voting equipment.

Tom Burt, the president and CEO of ES&S, which has the largest individual share of the voting equipment market, answered that he "would support a requirement for all five of those requirements."

Julie Mathis, the CEO and president of Hart InterCivic, and John Poulos, the CEO and president of Dominion, both also agreed with Lofgren's listed disclosure requirements.

Read more here.


…AND A DEEPER DIVE INTO THE HEARING: Thursday's hearing with the CEOs of the three biggest U.S. voting equipment manufacturers marked the first election security hearing of 2020, and the first time that top executives from the three companies testified together before Congress.

The presidents and CEOs of Dominion Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software (ES&S) all appeared. 

These three companies are estimated to control more than 90 percent of the voting equipment market in the U.S., according to a report put out by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Public Policy Initiative. All three have come under scrutiny from Washington in the wake of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential race.

The Senate Intelligence Committee in volume one of its investigation into Russia's actions expressed concerns for the security of voting machines. It voiced particular concerns with "direct-recording electronic" machines, which do not print out a paper copy of a voter's vote.

A 2019 report on findings from the annual DEF CON Voting Village, where hackers attempt to break into voting machines, found new vulnerabilities. The report said participants "were able to find new ways" to compromise "every one of the devices in the room in ways that could alter stored vote tallies, change ballots displayed to voters, or alter the internal software that controls the machines."


Read more here on the state of the industry.


NEW CHILD PRIVACY BILL: A pair of bipartisan lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill to protect children's privacy online, responding to growing concern that minors are being manipulated and exploited on the internet without any recourse in existing law.

The Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today (PROTECT) Kids Act, introduced by Reps. Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE (R-Mich.) and Bobby RushBobby Lee RushCongress: Support the ARC Act to prevent amputations Hillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks MORE (D-Ill.), would strengthen a decades-old children's online privacy law to account for new innovations in technology and close loopholes that leave teenagers exposed. 

"Children today are more connected online and face dangers that we could not have imagined years ago," Walberg said in a statement. "While advancements in technology allows for many benefits, it also poses a risk for our kids." 

The bill would update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 statute that provides safeguards around how and when websites are allowed to collect personal information about children under the age of 13. While COPPA was originally hailed as an unprecedented win for children's privacy advocates, lawmakers over the past year have started to seriously consider whether it needs to be updated, and the agency in charge of implementing it -- the Federal Trade Commission -- has initiated a review into whether it needs to be modernized. 

"In the past, predators and perpetrators sought to harm our children by lurking near schoolyards and playgrounds, but now -- due to incredible advancements in technology -- they are able to stalk our children through their mobile devices and in video game lobbies," Rush said in a statement. 


Read more here.


SEATTLE TAKES AIM AT AMAZON: The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on new campaign finance restrictions that would prevent companies like Amazon from spending money on city elections.

The move comes just months after the tech giant, which is headquartered in Seattle, spent millions trying to oust incumbents who wanted to increase its taxes. 

A City Council committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates or political action committees spending on local elections if foreign investors own a substantial stake in those companies.

The legislation passed on a 6-0 vote, making it all but certain that the measure would pass through the full nine-member council. 

"What we are doing here is addressing corruption and the appearance and perception of corruption in our elections, and that is a worthy challenge to take up as a City Council," said Lorena Gonzalez (D), the City Council president and the bill's lead author.


The bill is a direct response to the 2019 elections, in which Amazon and several other large corporations dumped more than $4 million into independent expenditure groups led by the local Chamber of Commerce, an unheard of sum in usually low-budget city elections. Amazon alone was responsible for $1.5 million in spending.

Read more here.


ZUCKERBERG REFLECTS: In a Facebook post Thursday, CEO and founder Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOcasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection 'Nationalize' Facebook and Twitter as public goods Amazon cites death threats in push to keep Parler offline MORE reflected on the past decade as well as discussing new features that the tech giant plans to roll out in 2020.

Zuckerberg wrote that he set new goals at the beginning of each year of the 2010s, though he admits that his life "was almost all about building the Facebook website." Now a husband and a father, Zuckerberg, 35, asserts that for the 2020s he wants to have "a longer term focus."

"Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I've tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I'm focusing on those things," the billionaire noted.

The remainder of the post is broken down into several sections that address some of the hot-button topics that have swirled around the company in recent years, including user privacy and content regulation.

Adding a component to Facebook that creates a more private platform for users is something that Zuckerberg has talked about before, and he reiterates it again in his post.

"This is one of the areas of innovation I'm most excited about," he said. "Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives."

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: all alone :(


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The 5G fight of the decade



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Grubhub sale rumors highlight the state of the struggling food-delivery industry (Recode / Rani Molla)

The mystery of Teen Vogue's disappearing Facebook article (The New York Times / Rachel Abrams and Cecilia Kang)

Amazon's efforts to silence climate whistleblowers are backfiring (OneZero / Brian Merchant)