Hillicon Valley: Harris presses Facebook over census misinformation | Austin cancels SXSW over coronavirus fears | Surveillance deal elusive as deadline nears | FTC sends warnings to Cardi B, other influencers

Hillicon Valley: Harris presses Facebook over census misinformation | Austin cancels SXSW over coronavirus fears | Surveillance deal elusive as deadline nears | FTC sends warnings to Cardi B, other influencers
© Greg Nash

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HARRIS GOES AFTER FACEBOOK: Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety, efficacy in SC event to kick off tour Kamala Harris is still not ready for primetime (much less 2024) Lara Trump calls on Americans at border to 'arm up and get guns and be ready' MORE (D-Calif.) is pressing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over how the social media giant intends to handle census-related misinformation after Facebook allowed President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE's reelection campaign to run misleading advertisements about the important demographics survey this week. 

In a letter to Zuckerberg on Thursday, Harris criticized Facebook for "failing" to enforce its own policies barring misinformation about the U.S. census. Harris, who recently dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, posed a series of questions around how Facebook plans to combat census misinformation in the future.

"I hope you recognize that Facebook's ability to effectively combat misinformation during the 2020 census will presage your ability to combat similar misinformation during the upcoming elections," Harris wrote.

Harris is only the latest Democrat to slam Facebook for running the misleading Trump ads, which redirected users searching for the "Official 2020 Congressional District Census" to the Trump campaign website. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNew Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat Greene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust Overnight Health Care: Biden pleads for more people to get vaccinated | Harris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety | Novavax COVID-19 vaccine shown highly effective in trial MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday slammed the social media giant over the ads, which were first reported by political newsletter Popular Information. 

"This is, on the part of Facebook, a robust unacceptable interference in the census," Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday. 

Read more here.



PROTECT THE VETS: A group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAdams, Garcia lead in NYC mayor's race: poll Exclusive: Democrat exploring 'patriot tax' on multimillionaires' wealth McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) has sharply criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for not making clear how it is protecting veterans from foreign misinformation.

Their concerns stem from a two-year investigation by the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which found evidence last year of foreign actors targeting veterans and their families with misinformation in order to "disrupt American democracy."

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert WilkieRobert WilkieBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency Two headstones with swastikas removed from Texas veterans cemetery MORE on Thursday, Warren and 18 other Democrats pointed to a recent separate letter from the VA explaining the agency's stance on defending veterans from misinformation as being "deficient."

Wilkie wrote in the short letter sent to Warren and the other Democrats in February that the VA has zeroed in on "educating Veterans, VA employees, and beneficiaries of threats from foreign influence operations."

"VA partners with a variety of agencies regarding national security matters and will continue to work on behalf of Veterans, VA employees, and beneficiaries to counter the full spectrum of threats to national security," Wilkie noted at the time.

But Warren and the other Senate Democrats on Thursday sharply criticized Wilkie for his "wholly inadequate response" due to a lack of detail in exactly how the agency is educating veterans on foreign interference. 

"With less than eight months until the next federal election, VA's vague and wholly inadequate response regarding its efforts to educate veterans about malign influence operations is deeply disturbing, and provides no indication that the Department is taking all reasonable steps to protect veteran communities from this threat," the senators wrote. 

Read more here.


AUSTIN CANCELS SXSW: Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler announced Friday that South By Southwest (SXSW) would be canceled amid the coronavirus outbreak and declared a "local disaster." "I've gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city, and associated with that have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest this year," Adler told reporters.

Austin health officials cited the large numbers of people that would be visiting Austin from locations where coronavirus is present for the decision to cancel. Austin does not currently have any confirmed cases of the virus.

Pressure: Officials were already facing pressure to cancel the annual conference that highlights the tech industry, film and music, with one petition to scrap the event garnering more than 17,000 signatures. 

Dozens of brands, including Facebook, Twitter and Apple, had already pulled out of the festival as many fear large gatherings pose a major health risk as the viral illness rapidly spreads. 

The conference was scheduled to run March 13-22. Organizers say 73,716 people attended SXSW last year and the estimated economic impact on the Austin economy was $355.9 million.


CONGRESS WEIGHS SURVEILLANCE BILL: Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a deal to extend expiring intelligence programs.

With Congress out of session until Monday, lawmakers now have just four working days to get legislation through both chambers and to President Trump's desk by the March 15 deadline.

How that gets done, or what a final bill would like, remains unclear as the surveillance fight has sparked deep political and policy divisions on both sides of the aisle and in the House and Senate.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right McConnell warns he's willing to intervene in 2022 GOP primaries MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, acknowledged that debate over expiring provisions in the USA Freedom Act, as well as whether to tackle broader surveillance reforms, was an open question this late in the game.

"I think, as you know, we're not all in the same place," Thune said. "I would say the consensus position in the conference is that everybody wants to explore reforms ... the question is what's the best way to get that done."

In the House, leadership is trying to quietly negotiate a larger deal that they believe could get through their chamber before they leave town on Thursday.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she is pushing for a reauthorization, not just an extension, of the three expiring provisions that deal with roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial records program that allows the government to request phone metadata.

"We have to have a reauthorization," Pelosi told reporters. "We're having our own negotiations within our own group, but also among the Democrats and vis a vis the Republicans."

Read more here.


REJECTED: Apple is gatekeeping apps related to the coronavirus outbreak that are not from official institutions, according to iOS developers.

Several independent app developers said that Apple rejected their submissions for apps allowing people to see stats concerning the number of cases different countries are experiencing from the coronavirus outbreak, according to CNBC.

The data used by some unnamed developers included official records from the World Health Organization (WHO) to create interactive maps displaying locations of the virus outbreaks.


However, one developer said Apple's policy would allow only official health organizations or governments to release apps with this type of content, the report said.

A second developer received a written response from an Apple employee, saying, "Apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution."

Read more here.


'SENATOR FRIENDS': A group of House and Senate Democrats on Friday reprimanded the Department of Justice's (DOJ) top antitrust enforcer for giving "lobbying advice" to a private company ahead of the controversial T-Mobile-Sprint merger.

In a letter led by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants On the Money: Tech giants face rising pressure from shareholder activists | House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure | Sen. Warren, Jamie Dimon spar over overdraft fees at Senate hearing MORE (D-R.I.), the lawmakers asked Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to answer a series of questions about whether he improperly intervened in the controversial $26 billion deal.

A recent court case unearthed eyebrow-raising texts between Delrahim and Dish CEO Charlie Ergen, eliciting fresh criticism from Democrats who have long opposed the T-Mobile-Sprint deal, which they say could result in higher prices for telecom customers across the country.

In the texts, which were dated before the DOJ had even officially approved the deal, Delrahim encouraged Ergen -- who stood to benefit from the T-Mobile-Sprint merger -- to tap his "senator friends" to push the deal through. 

"We write to express serious concerns about reports that you encouraged Dish Network Corporation's (Dish) Chairman to urge members of the Senate to contact the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its review of the proposed merger," wrote the lawmakers, who all serve on either the Senate or House Judiciary committees. 

Delrahim apparently told Ergen to ask senators to press Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai over the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, according to evidence introduced in court by the state attorneys general seeking to block the deal over the summer. Ultimately, both the FCC and DOJ approved the deal.

"Law enforcement and regulatory decisions must be based on an objective assessment of the law and the facts, not on political pressure applied by one federal agency against another by way of private sector proxies," they concluded. "The Antitrust Division should focus on vigorous antitrust enforcement, not providing lobbying advice to private parties to influence the regulatory processes of other federal agencies."

Read more here.


BAD DAY FOR CARDI: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week took action against a skincare and tea company, and sent warning notices to almost a dozen Instagram influencers including singer Cardi B for not making clear when they posted paid ads for the group. 

In a formal complaint filed on Thursday, the FTC alleged that Teami and its owners Adi Halevy and Yogev Malul claimed without scientific proof that their products could help with weight loss, fight cancer, treat colds and lead to other positive health benefits. 

The FTC also took action against the company due to its failure to disclose that it was paying certain influencers to post ads on social media.

The FTC sent warnings to 10 of these influencers – including Cardi B, actress Adrienne Bailon and singer Jordin Sparks – alleging that their paid posts for Teami were "deceptive."

"Social media is full of people peddling so-called detox teas, promising weight loss," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Companies need to back up health claims with credible science and ensure influencers prominently disclose that they're getting paid to promote a product."

While the agency did not bring formal charges against Cardi B and other influencers, the FTC requested they provide the agency with a list by March 30 of actions they intend to take to ensure paid ads are obvious to social media followers. The agency threatened "legal enforcement action" in the future if their behavior did not change.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: A very good boy


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Building trust in a time of COVID-19



Bloomberg's out of the race, but his memes may still help Democrats (The Verge / Makena Kelly)

Ex-DHS inspector general indicted for allegedly stealing government software (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas) 

How Joe Biden's campaign is protecting itself from cyber attacks (CNN / Brain Fung)

FCC to require anti-robocall tech after "voluntary" plan didn't work out (Ars Technica / Jon Brodkin)