Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website

Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website
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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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.



ONE-STOP SHOP: Facebook is placing a center for information about the coronavirus on top of users' news feeds to centralize vetted information and health tips as the pandemic spreads.

The feature will be available in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom in the next 24 hours, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergMarkey questions Facebook on 'failed commitment' to stop recommending political groups Hillicon Valley: Biden names acting chairs to lead FCC, FTC | Facebook to extend Trump ban pending review | Judge denies request for Amazon to immediately restore Parler Facebook to extend Trump ban pending review MORE announced Wednesday in a call with reporters.

It will contain information from sources such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the platform had already been promoting within the news feed itself.

"The top priority and focus for us has been making sure people can get access to good authoritative information from trusted health sources," Zuckerberg said.

In the U.S., users will also have access to features aimed at connecting them with help or ways to offer it in their communities.

Read more here.



UPTICK IN RUSSIAN MISINFO: Russia is deploying a misinformation campaign in Western countries designed to sow discord and concern around the spread of coronavirus, according to the European Union (EU). 

An internal document from the EU's External Action Service (EEAS), first reported on by Reuters, warned that Russia was using the coronavirus pandemic to spread chaos through misinformation.

"With the spread of COVID-19 we have seen a flurry of info, myths and disinformation about it – they are coming from various sources, not only from one, although disinformation efforts coming from Russia, linked to Russia or to clearly pro-Kremlin outlets have noticeably picked up," Peter Stano, the spokesperson for the EEAS, said during a press conference on Wednesday about the document's findings. 

Stano told The Hill in an emailed statement that while the document cannot be shared, the European Commission is aware of an increase in "false information about the COVID-19 outbreak appearing in public discourse. We are concerned that some of them can lead to public harm (e.g. false claims that drinking bleach cures the virus) or abuse the situation for material gain (e.g. elevated prices for soap that kills coronavirus germs)."

The new concerns around Russian misinformation comes after European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová met with top representatives of tech groups including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter on March 3 to discuss the spread of coronavirus disinformation.

According to Stano, Jourová will meet with the tech company representatives in early April to receive updates on fighting misinformation. 

Read more here.


WHOOPS: A bug in Facebook's anti-spam system caused the platform to mistakenly mark some posts from individuals and publishers about the novel coronavirus as spam, a top Facebook official said Tuesday.

Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said in a tweet that the errors were caused by "an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too."

"We've restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics - not just those related to COVID-19," he said.

He denied that the problem stemmed from Facebook's decision to send home contract workers who review content on the site in response to the outbreak of the virus.

He made the denial in direct response to a tweet from the company's former security chief, Alex Stamos, who was speculating that the contract workers going home had caused the issue. It remains unclear how many posts were impacted by the bug. 

The statement from Facebook came after several people posted about experiences in which content they shared about the novel coronavirus was flagged as spam. 


Read more here.


3D PRINTERS!: A group of volunteers in Italy 3D printed 100 expensive valves used for life-saving coronavirus treatments in a day after a hospital ran out of them, BBC News reports.

The hospital in Brescia, Italy, a city in the Lombardy region, which is a coronavirus hotspot, had 250 patients in intensive care in need of assistance from breathing machines. The valves connect the patients with the breathing machines and can be used for eight hours each. 

3D printing business Isinnova reportedly lent a hand when the original supplier could not produce the valves quickly enough and managed to develop a prototype in three hours.

"They tested it on a patient and they told us that it worked well and so we ran again back to our office and we started to print new valves," mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli told BBC News.

Isinnova has linked up with Lonati, another local 3D-printer company, to meet the demand for the valves.


According to Business Insider Italia, the original manufacturer sold the valve for over $10,000. 

The 3D-printed version costs about a dollar to produce, according to BBC.

Story here.


VOTE FROM HOME: A group of Democratic senators led by Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Klobuchar says Senate impeachment trial of former official is constitutional: 'We have precedent' MORE (D-Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWhat the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Hawley files ethics counter-complaint against seven Democratic senators Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution MORE (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Wednesday to promote mail-in and early voting to decrease the spread of coronavirus. 

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) would ensure voters have 20 days of early voting in all states, require that all mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days leading to an election be counted, and ensure that all voters have the option to request absentee ballots. 

The legislation would also provide $3 million to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to begin implementing some of the bill's requirements, along with reimbursing states for doing the same. 


Both Klobuchar and Wyden pointed to recently delayed primaries in Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland because of coronavirus fears in emphasizing the need to utilize mail-in ballots.

In-person voting dropped in Florida, Arizona and Illinois on Tuesday when the states held their primaries.

Klobuchar, who serves as the top Democrat on the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement that Americans are facing "unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives," and pushed for providing them voting options during national emergencies.  

"As Congress prepares to provide states with medical and economic relief, we should also act swiftly to pass my legislation to ensure that every American has a safe way to participate in our democracy during a national emergency," Klobuchar said. 

Wyden said in a separate statement that "if Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky had vote by mail on the books years ago, they wouldn't have had to postpone their elections. This bill will give our country the highest chance of avoiding delayed elections and ensure Americans can exercise their Constitutional rights. No one should have to put their health at risk to vote."

Read more here.


DEM CALLS FOR CYBER REVIEW: Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command Colorado delegation wants Biden to stop Space Command move to Alabama The Economist hires former NYT editor who resigned following Cotton editorial MORE (D-Colo.) is calling on the three top federal health agencies to allow for an investigation into their cybersecurity defenses following an attempted hack of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

In a letter to the leaders of HHS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, Bennet "strongly urged" the agencies to allow the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to review the security of their systems.

"I urge CISA to perform a comprehensive review of all computer-based IT and network systems at HHS, CDC, and NIH to identify and address any vulnerabilities now to limit exposure to future cyber incidents," wrote Bennet, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Bennet emphasized the importance of shoring up cybersecurity for the three key agencies in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

"As this public health crisis continues, perhaps for several months, the security of these vital systems is critical to ensuring that our federal agencies responsible for public health can effectively support our response to the pandemic and continue to provide trusted and timely information to the American people," Bennet wrote. 

The letter came on the heels of a cyberattack that targeted HHS earlier this week. According to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, hackers were not able to access any data and agency operations were not impacted. 

More details here.


CONCERNS ABOUT COVID-19 SITE: Five Democratic senators sent letters Wednesday pressing Google and the White House over the security of the coronavirus information website that the search giant is developing.

The website was touted by President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE during an address last week as a screening program – such a site was launched by Verily, another company that is part of Google parent Alphabet, for the Bay Area on Monday – but now seems likely to be more of an information center.

Google has said the national site will be rolled out later this week.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate confirms Antony Blinken as Biden's secretary of State Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick Senate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen MORE (D-N.J.), are raising concerns over whether patient data entered into whatever system is finally launched will be adequately protected.

"We are concerned that neither the Administration nor Google has fully contemplated the range of threats to Americans' personally identifiable information," the senators wrote to Vice President Pence, who heads the White House's coronavirus task force, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The letters asked Pence and Pichai questions largely focused on what privacy protections are in place and how Google's effort would be monitored going forward.

Read more on the letter here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Pour one out


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Could fighting coronavirus compromise cybersecurity?



Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhat the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Business groups prepare for lobbying push against minimum wage Schumer: Senate could pave way for reconciliation on COVID relief next week MORE is pioneering the virtual campaign rally (Verge / Makena Kelly)

A surveillance campaign against Libyans used a fake Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracking map (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)

Here's What Facebook's Internal Facial Recognition App Looked Like (Motherboard / Joseph Cox)

Pandemic Erodes Gig Economy Work (New York Times / Kate Conger, Adam Satariano and Mike Isaac)