Hillicon Valley: House committee calls on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify | Trump issues executive order to protect power grid against attacks | Department of Education investigates ties between University of Texas and China

Hillicon Valley: House committee calls on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify | Trump issues executive order to protect power grid against attacks | Department of Education investigates ties between University of Texas and China
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BEZOS CALL OUT: Members of the House Judiciary Committee are calling on Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosJeff Bezos's wealth hits record high 1B How competition will make the new space race flourish Just because Democrats are paranoid about the election doesn't mean there aren't problems MORE to testify before the panel over concerns his deputies may have misled Congress in their own testimony about the use of data from third-party sellers. 

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In a letter sent to Bezos on Friday, the bipartisan group of lawmakers cited a Wall Street Journal report that said the company had used sensitive business data from third-party sellers on the website to create competing products.

“If these allegations are true, then Amazon exploited its role as the largest online marketplace in the U.S. to appropriate the sensitive commercial data of individual marketplace sellers and then used that data to compete directly with those sellers,” they wrote to Bezos, who has never testified before Congress.   

“Amazon has responded to this report by describing the Amazon employees’ conduct as a violation of its formal policy against the use of non-public, individual seller data. The report, however, details that Amazon employees described pulling competitors’ data as ‘standard operating procedure’ when making products such as electronics, suitcases, sporting goods or other lines.”

The lawmakers are reserving the right to issue a subpoena if Bezos does not voluntarily testify.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment on the committee's request.

Allegations: The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing interviews with 20 former employees of Amazon's private-label business and a review of documents, that the online retail giant used the information from other sellers to price items, determine which features to copy or whether to enter a product segment based on its earning potential.

The reporting seems to directly contradict testimony by Amazon associated general counsel Nate Sutton, who when asked by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE (D-Wash.) about practices like those detailed in the Journal’s story said that “we do not use any seller data to compete with them.”

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In response to a follow-up question from Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change DOJ whistleblower: California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' MORE (D-R.I.), Sutton testified that “we do not use their individual data when we’re making decisions to launch private brands.”

A spokesperson for Amazon told The Hill that the company "strictly prohibit[s] employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch."

"While we don’t believe these claims made by the Wall Street Journal are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation." 

Read more here.

PROTECT THE POWER: President TrumpDonald John TrumpWayfair refutes QAnon-like conspiracy theory that it's trafficking children Stone rails against US justice system in first TV interview since Trump commuted his sentence Federal appeals court rules Trump admin can't withhold federal grants from California sanctuary cities MORE on Friday issued an executive order declaring a national emergency over threats to the U.S. power system, taking steps to defend the grid against cyberattacks and foreign interference. 

The executive order bans the use of equipment for the power grid that was manufactured by a company under the control of a foreign adversary, or the buying of any equipment that poses a national security threat. 

“Additional steps are required to protect the security, integrity, and reliability of bulk-power system electric equipment used in the United States,” Trump wrote. “In light of these findings, I hereby declare a national emergency with respect to the threat to the United States bulk-power system.”

The order also established a task force to protect the power grid from attacks and share risk management information to prevent interference. Members of the task force will include the secretaries of Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the Director of National Intelligence.  

Cyber threats to the grid: Trump noted in the order that the power system is a target for those “seeking to commit malicious acts” against the U.S., pointing to concerns around cyberattacks in particular. 

“A successful attack on our bulk-power system would present significant risks to our economy, human health and safety, and would render the United States less capable of acting in defense of itself and its allies,” Trump wrote.

Department of Energy involved: Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette applauded the executive order, saying in a statement that it would “greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.”

“Today, President Trump demonstrated bold leadership to protect America’s bulk-power system and ensure the safety and prosperity of all Americans,” Brouillette said. “It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats.”

Read more about the executive order here.

UT UNDER PRESSURE: The Department of Education has launched an investigation into links between the University of Texas and a Chinese laboratory that has been scrutinized over the coronavirus pandemic.

The Education Department's Office of General Counsel sent a letter to Chancellor James Milliken last week asking about the university's ties to the lab and other Chinese entities such as telecom giant Huawei.

The agency requested information on any interactions between the Galveston National Laboratory, which falls under the University of Texas (UT) Medical Branch, and the maximum biocontainment lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Chinese laboratory has come under scrutiny by the U.S. intelligence community in recent weeks, including a probe into whether the deadly virus that causes COVID-19 originated in that lab. Intelligence officials said Wednesday that they agreed with the “widespread scientific consensus" that the virus was "not manmade or genetically modified.”

A day later, President Trump appeared to contradict that finding, saying he had seen evidence the lab was involved in the spread of the virus. Trump did not provide any details.

In its letter to UT, the Education Department also asked about the school's connections with Huawei, the 5G equipment-maker that has been effectively blacklisted by the Department of Commerce and is classified by the Federal Communications Commission as a national security threat due to espionage concerns.

Read more.

NASA CHIPS IN: Engineers at NASA have designed a new high-pressure ventilator for use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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The space agency announced Thursday that the new ventilators, researched and designed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. The design phase took 37 days to complete.

The ventilators are designed for COVID-19 patients with the most severe symptoms.

NASA said the devices are faster to construct, using fewer parts than traditional ventilators, and are easier to maintain.

Fred Farina, head of innovation and corporate partnerships at Caltech, which manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, said the manufacturing process would begin as quickly as possible.

"Now that we have a design, we're working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible," Farina said in a statement. "To that end, we are offering the designs for licensing on a royalty-free basis during the time of the pandemic."

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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Can coronavirus—and a new lobbyist—help TikTok repair its reputation in Washington? (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum) 

Trump touted Google as a solution to coronavirus testing. A month later, Verily has barely made a dent (The Washington Post / Rachel Lerman) 

Amazon, Instacart, Target, and FedEx workers explain why they’re striking (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley) 

Trump’s disinfectant talk trips up sites’ vows against misinformation (The New York Times / Sheera Frenkel and Davey Alba)