Hillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police

Hillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police
© 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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

BIDEN V FACEBOOK: Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech Kemp: Pulling All-Star game out of Atlanta will hurt business owners of color MORE's presidential campaign on Thursday called for Facebook to change its rules about posts from politicians and to strengthen its policies against election-related misinformation.


In an open letter from the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee's campaign to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergAdvocacy group accuses Facebook of fueling anti-Muslim hate Texas GOP move to overhaul voting laws: What you need to know Congress must come together and protect our children on social media MORE, the campaign urged Facebook to make changes to the platform's hands-off approach to political speech.

The letter calls on Facebook to "proactively stem the tide of false information" by fact-checking election-related material that goes viral.

It also urges the social media platform to fact-check political ads two weeks before elections. Facebook has faced intense criticism for not subjecting ads from political candidates to fact-checking.

Finally, the letter asks Facebook to apply clear rules prohibiting threatening behavior or lies and how to participate in an election.

The campaign is asking supporters to sign a petition backing the same changes.

"With fewer than five months until the 2020 election, real changes to Facebook's policies for their platform and how they enforce them are necessary to protect against a repeat of the role that disinformation played in the 2016 election and that continues to threaten our democracy today," campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement to The Hill. "We are urging our supporters to make their voices heard in this call for change."

Facebook responded to the letter and petition in a blog post, saying it is up to lawmakers to make rules surrounding political speech.


"Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians’ campaign ads — the people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them," the company wrote.

"There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."

Read more here.


DEMS DEMAND HEARINGS ON GEORGIA ELECTION: The top Democrats on three Senate committees on Thursday demanded their Republican counterparts hold hearings examining the impact of COVID-19 on elections following chaos at the polls in Georgia this week.

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying world New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy Bottom line MORE (D-Minn.), Gary PetersGary PetersThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes Hillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure Senators call for update on investigations into SolarWinds, Microsoft hacks MORE (D-Mich.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCaitlyn Jenner exploring bid for California governor: report WokeWorld comes for 'oppressor' Obama: Activists rip school being named after 'deporter in chief' Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge DC delegate pushes for removing Capitol fence despite car attack Coons says bipartisan infrastructure package 'likely' to be smaller, not fully financed MORE (R-Mo.), Homeland Security Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Trump endorses Rand Paul for reelection MORE (R-Wis.) and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-S.C.) asking that they examine election vulnerabilities after several coronavirus-related challenges.

“Nobody should have to choose between their health and their right to vote, and Americans deserve accurate information about our democracy," the Senate Democrats wrote. "Primary voters across Georgia and Wisconsin can attest to the fact that failure to enact reforms and provide assistance to states will result in widespread chaos, the disenfranchisement of voters, and even voters and election workers becoming sick."

Voting reform advocates and congressional Democrats called on Congress to step in to make election reforms and send funding to states to address new election challenges following confusion at polling precincts in Atlanta during the primary elections in Georgia this week.

The issues occurred two months after a Supreme Court ruling forced many Wisconsin voters to cast their ballots in person, with dozens of COVID-19 cases subsequently traced to the election. 

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to address election concerns as part of the stimulus bill signed into law by President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE in March, but experts estimate a total of $4 billion is needed to ensure elections can move forward this year. 

Read more.


MICROSOFT JOINS IBM, AMAZON: Microsoft said Thursday it will not sell facial recognition tools to police departments until there is a federal law governing the technology.

The company's president, Brad Smith, made the announcement during a Washington Post Live event, noting that it's in keeping with past Microsoft policy.


“We will not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights that will govern this technology,” Smith said.

“The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed,” he added.  

Several federal bills governing the use of facial recognition by different groups, including the police, have been introduced, but as of now there are no laws on the books regulating the controversial technology.

Microsoft's commitment comes amid concern from activists and civil rights groups that law enforcement may be using facial recognition tech to identify individuals participating in the anti-police brutality demonstrations that have erupted across the nation since the killing of George Floyd.

IBM on Monday announced it will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software.

Amazon made a smaller move on Wednesday, placing a one-year moratorium on the sale of its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to police.

Read more.


TWITTER TAKEDOWN: Twitter announced Thursday that it had deleted more than 170,000 accounts tied to a Chinese state-linked operation, saying the accounts were spreading deceptive information around the COVID-19 virus, political dynamics in Hong Kong, and other issues. 

Almost 25,000 of the deleted accounts formed what Twitter described as the “core network,” while around 150,000 were amplifying messages from the core groups. 

“In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities,” the company wrote in a blog post. “They were Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.” 

Twitter noted that the accounts taken down this week were tied to a Chinese state-backed operation last year that attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong. Those accounts were also taken down. 

According to an analysis of the accounts by the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), many of the accounts shut down were tweeting about the COVID-19 pandemic, with activity around this issue beginning in late January and reaching its peak in late March. 

The accounts primarily praised China’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. While most of the accounts had less than 10 followers and no bios, the SIO found that they had tweeted almost 350,000 times before being shut down. 


Read more about Twitter’s actions now.

DEMS PRESS DNI ON FOREIGN MEDDLING: Reps. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsTrump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Democrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms Vanita Gupta will fight for all as associate attorney general MORE (D-Fla.) and Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure House panel investigating YouTube for advertising practices on kids' platform From one 'big house' to another: DOJ must hold the leaders of Purdue Pharma accountable MORE (D-Ill.) pressed Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member MORE for answers Thursday on whether any hostile foreign actors were attempting to take advantage of recent U.S. protests to spread misinformation.

In a letter to Ratcliffe, the two House Democrats pointed to specific concerns that foreign actors would seek to exploit increased racial tensions in the U.S. following protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. 

“I am writing you today to request information regarding your plans to ensure that foreign actors do not exploit the current heightened tensions in America by spreading misinformation, inciting violence, or utilize any other means to support a foreign agenda not in the best interests of American national security, public health, and safety,” Demings and Krishnamoorthi wrote.

The lawmakers, who both serve on the House Intelligence Committee, asked Ratcliffe for details on whether the intelligence community had a plan in place to respond to any foreign efforts to exploit racial tensions and whether there was evidence that foreign adversaries were already doing so.

“The underlying issues that led to these continued protests are based on years of systemic racism and concerns that originated from American policies and American actors,” the lawmakers wrote. “But we do not want foreign state actors to exploit the injustice in America as we try to heal these wounds and rebuild a more equitable and just society for all.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. 

Read more.

YOUTUBE STEPS UP: YouTube will create a $100 million fund “dedicated to amplifying and developing the voices of Black creators and artists and their stories,” the CEO announced Thursday.

CEO Susan Wojcicki committed to the multi-year fund in her mid-year update to “center and amplify Black voices and perspectives” on the video platform. 

“We have always been proud that we are a platform that celebrates a broad and diverse set of voices,” she wrote. “And we have implemented many policies and product features to protect our communities.

“But we recognize we need to do more, in particular with the Black community, and that is why we are committing to following actions,” she added.

Wojcicki cited the upcoming live stream fundraising event “Bear Witness, Take Action” as an example of content YouTube wishes to further promote. The event produced by YouTube Originals will feature creators, artists, public figures and activists for discussions and musical performances on Saturday, with the donations going to the Equal Justice Initiative.

The platform’s Spotlight channel will focus on racial justice issues through the rest of the month, including perspectives from black community members, historical content, educational videos and protest coverage, she said.

The CEO also vowed to do more to protect diverse communities from hate and harassment, saying the company will review how its policies work for everyone but especially the black community and “close any gaps.”

Read more about the YouTube fund here.


EU TO TARGET AMAZON’S THIRD-PARTY TREATMENT: European Union officials plan to file antitrust charges against Amazon over the company's treatment of third-party sellers on the e-commerce platform, according to multiple reports.

The case would be one of the most aggressive attempts by any government entity to regulate Amazon.

Antitrust regulators at the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, have determined that the e-commerce giant is stifling competition by using third-party seller data to boost its own line of products, sources with knowledge of the case told the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 

The timing of the charges remains unclear.

Spokespeople for the European Commission and Amazon declined to comment on the reports.

Antitrust concerns about Amazon operating the retail platform and selling products on it have been raised before.

The European Commission formally opened its antitrust investigation into Amazon in July 2019.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner leading antitrust enforcement, said at the time that her team was probing whether Amazon was gaining an advantage from its dual role as a marketplace operator and seller of its own products.

Read more.


ICYMI – MORE ELECTION CONCERNS: Voting reform advocates are warning the chaos seen during Georgia's primary elections on Tuesday portends widespread problems in November if measures are not taken to expand mail-in voting and address other election challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday's elections saw voters in some areas of Atlanta waiting hours to cast their vote due to a combination of malfunctioning voting equipment, the consolidation of in-person polling places due to the COVID-19 crisis and confusion over voting absentee. 

The voting precincts hit hardest were those with heavily minority populations, reinforcing concern about voter disenfranchisement as protests continued across the country over the police killing of George Floyd. 

Nse Ufot, the executive director of the voting rights group New Georgia Project, told reporters Wednesday that she was “equal parts determined and pissed off,” describing the election confusion as “completely avoidable.”

“We witnessed a direct attack on our democracy and a trial run of what we are going to see,” Ufot said. “We saw people frustrated who literally quit on the spot, we saw polling locations close before voting was done and open late, hours late ... we need to make sure things are fixed on the march to November." 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) voiced her own frustrations late Tuesday night.

“Let’s all work, hope and pray that this is not a preview of November,” she tweeted.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) announced Tuesday that he was launching an investigation to understand what steps Georgia counties need to take to ensure November elections can move forward smoothly.

Georgia’s statewide voting implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling, directed blame at county election officials for the chaos at the polls, saying in a statement on Tuesday that the “breakdown occurred at the county level.”

But county officials and some reform advocates have cast their blame on Georgia elections officials for not adequately preparing the state for the voting changes implemented on Tuesday.

Read more about election concerns in Georgia here.


Lighter click: USPS workers <3

An op-ed to chew on: Private lawsuits are a necessary expedient in privacy legislation



Motherboard asked 43 facial recognition companies if they will refuse to work with cops (Vice Motherboard / Kevin Truong) 

The ‘new normal’ as cyber-spies navigate pandemic (BBC News / Gordon Corera) 

Here’s what that Capital One court decision means for corporate cybersecurity (CyberScoop / Jeff Stone) 

Tech’s big five lost nearly $270 billion in value in Thursday’s market plunge (CNBC / Jessica Bursztynsky) 

COVID-19 could push us to cut the cord faster than ever (Protocol / Kevin McAllister)