Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations

Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations
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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.

A REAL BATTLE ROYALE: Epic Games filed a lawsuit against Apple Thursday after its wildly popular video game "Fortnite" was removed from the App Store.


The suit, filed in a Northern California federal court, argues that Fortnite's removal constitutes “anti competitive conduct.” 

Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store after Epic Games released a feature allowing iOS users to pick whether to make in-app purchases through the App Store or from Epic directly, which would save them 20 percent.

Apple requires developers that use its platform to also use Apple's payment methods, which give the tech giant a 30 percent cut of all in-app revenue, which is the only way Epic makes money. In some rare cases, the fee is 15 percent.

That policy has come under increased scrutiny recently, with developers, European antitrust regulators and members of Congress raising concerns about Apple's monopoly power.

"Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market,” Epic's complaint reads.

Epic is seeking injunctive relief to "allow fair competition" in the iOS distribution and iOS in-app payment markets. It is not seeking monetary compensation.

Apple had made some exceptions in the past to its strict in-app payment policies. It also allows some developers, such as Spotify and Amazon, to collect subscription fees outside of the app.


Read more.

TERRORISTS GROUPS TAKE A HIT: The Justice Department on Thursday announced that the federal government had seized and dismantled the cyber-enabled cryptocurrency efforts of three major terrorist groups, describing the process as the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency with ties to terrorist activities. 

U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars, more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook accounts associated with the cryptocurrency schemes run by al Qaeda, ISIS and the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

The cryptocurrency schemes relied on social media posts and were intended to help raise money and awareness for the terrorist groups. 

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPoll finds 1 in 3 believe false claims voter fraud led to Biden win Trump pressed DOJ to go to Supreme Court in bid to overturn election: report Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated MORE said in a statement Thursday that “it should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas.”

“The Department of Justice will employ all available resources to protect the lives and safety of the American public from terrorist groups,” he added. “We will prosecute their money laundering, terrorist financing and violent illegal activities wherever we find them. And, as announced today, we will seize the funds and the instrumentalities that provide a lifeline for their operations whenever possible.”

As part of the actions, the al-Qassam Brigades campaign is alleged to have begun posting on social media in early 2019 asking for bitcoin donations to fund its operations, while also requesting bitcoin funds on its official websites. The group allegedly told individuals sending bitcoin that the funds would not be used for violent causes and that the donations would be anonymous. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia brought criminal charges against two Turkish individuals, Mehmet Akti and Hüsamettin Karataş, for allegedly laundering funds as part of an unlicensed monetary business in connection with the al-Qassam Brigades Campaign, or Hamas. 

Read more here.

ELECTION SECURITY ADVOCATES TAKE HEART: With Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSen. Patrick Leahy returns home after being hospitalized What the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Vice President Harris receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine MORE (D-Calif.) on the presumptive presidential ticket, Democrats are elevating one of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of foreign election interference.

Her selection by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Should deficits matter any more? Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE comes shortly after the intelligence community went public about new Russian, Chinese and Iranian efforts to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.

Election security proponents say Harris's track record in Congress shows her commitment to the issue since the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“She has been a leader on the issue, and a forceful advocate of greater federal support to states,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerModerates vow to 'be a force' under Biden The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill in a statement on Wednesday.

Harris sits on the Intelligence Committee with Warner.


Warner noted that “she’s been one of a number of members who have constantly pushed the intelligence community, the FBI, and the Administration to do more to stop foreign interference.”

The Intelligence Committee conducted a multiyear bipartisan investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections. The panel has issued several reports detailing Moscow’s efforts targeting election infrastructure in all 50 states, hacking the Democratic National Committee and launching a disinformation campaign aimed at helping 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.

Harris has sponsored numerous bills aimed at securing elections and boosting resources for election officials.

The Secure Elections Act, introduced in 2017 alongside Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordHawley files ethics counter-complaint against seven Democratic senators Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to expect for inauguration MORE (R-Okla.), was a major effort aimed at modernizing election cybersecurity issues and preventing foreign interference. It ultimately failed to move forward in the GOP-controlled Senate, with Republicans saying they were concerned about federalizing elections.

More recently, Harris was one of more than a dozen senators who co-sponsored the PAVE Act, which would mandate the use of paper ballots and take further steps to secure elections. The bill has not seen action in the Senate.

Read more here.

POTENTIAL NEW CYBER FUNDS: A coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate on Thursday introduced legislation to funnel federal funds into strengthening state and local information technology systems, following increased stress on these systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


The State and Local IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Act — sponsored in the House by Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and in the Senate by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) — would provide $28 billion in federal aid to state and local governments to help shore up older systems in the midst of the pandemic. 

These funds would be funneled through a “Public Health Emergency Information Technology Grant Program” that would address immediate challenges to IT systems during the coronavirus pandemic, and a “Modernizing Information Technology Program” to purchase new and more secure platforms. 

The bill was introduced after recommendations by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), a bipartisan group established by Congress, that released a report in March detailing ways to secure the U.S. against debilitating cyberattacks. 

Langevin, a member of the CSC and the co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic had made clear the negative impact of legacy IT systems on state and local governments. 

“We need immediate investments to ensure state and local employees can safely work remotely, and we need IT modernization strategies to ensure that essential services, like unemployment insurance, can be provided to Americans in need,” Langevin said. 

King and Gallagher, the co-chairs of the CSC, also cited the legislation as essential for state and local governments during the pandemic. 

“This legislation will help our states and localities update their systems, which will improve their security and provide the added benefit of helping state and local governments operate more efficiently in the digital age,” King said in a statement. “It’s necessary for our security, and it will strengthen online services for the American people — a win-win, and one I’m proud to introduce with Representatives Langevin and Gallagher.”


"Outdated legacy systems not only threaten state and local governments' ability to deliver critical services, but can also expose sensitive data to cyber threats," Gallagher said in a separate statement. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and modernizing IT infrastructure is an important step towards ensuring our country is well-defended in cyberspace across all levels of government.”

Other House co-sponsors of the legislation include Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security’s cybersecurity subcommittee, and Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), and Don Bacon (R-Neb.). 

Read more here.

QANON + 9/11 = CONGRESS? Marjorie Taylor Greene, who became the Republican nominee in a deep-red Georgia congressional district after a Tuesday primary, expressed support for conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks during an interview unearthed by Media Matters for America on Thursday.

In the interview uploaded by the American Priority Conference in 2018, Greene referenced “the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon."

"It's odd there's never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon," she said.

The argument that a plane did not actually hit the Pentagon, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, is a common one for 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

"But anyways, I won't — I'm not going to dive into the 9/11 conspiracy. But 9/11 had happened," Greene said.

In the same interview, Greene falsely claimed that former President Obama "is a Muslim."

“Obama opened up our borders to an invasion by Muslims," she said.

Greene addressed the report in a series of tweets on Thursday, saying "some people claimed a missile hit the Pentagon. I now know that is not correct."

"I'm being attacked for my opposition to open borders and globalist neocon nation building wars," she said.

Greene, who is considered likely to win the race to represent Georgia's 14th District, has attracted national attention for her history of offensive remarks and embrace of conspiracy theories.

She has compared Democratic donor George Soros to a Nazi, said the 2018 midterms were like an “Islamic invasion of our government” and asserted that African Americans “are held slaves to the Democratic Party."  

She is also one of the dozens of Republican candidates who have expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that President Trump and his allies are working together to expose a shadowy cabal of figures in media, entertainment and politics who run an internal child trafficking ring.

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MORE TIKTOK CONCERNS: Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranModerates vow to 'be a force' under Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement MORE (R-Kan.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Senate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE (R-S.D.) on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into the social media platform TikTok, citing concerns over alleged data collection practices by the company. 

Their concerns come on the heels of intense scrutiny of TikTok by the Trump administration over allegations that the popular video sharing app, which is owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, poses a national security threat due to potential ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The senators, who chair subcommittees within the Senate Commerce Committee, pointed to specific concerns stemming from a Wall Street Journal story published Wednesday that reported that TikTok sidestepped a privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system and was able to collect data from millions of devices that enabled TikTok to track users online. 

According the paper, TikTok ended the data collection late last year, but the report noted that the data collection tactic had used an “unusual” layer of encryption to conceal the collection of media access control (MAC) addresses, which are often used for advertising purposes. 

“We urge the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company’s consumer data collection and processing practices as they relate to these accusations and other possible harmful activities posed to consumers,” Moran and Thune wrote in their letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. 

The senators asked that Simons and the FTC investigate the encryption layer used to conceal the data collection, whether TikTok told users it was collecting the data, if users were able to give consent to this practice, and whether the MAC address collection had actually ended last year. 

“As members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, with oversight responsibility for the FTC and consumer data privacy, we respectfully request that the agency investigate these allegations and provide answers,” the senators wrote. 

A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed to The Hill that the agency had received the letter, but declined to comment further. 

A spokesperson for TikTok strongly disputed the Journal’s findings, and the senators’ concerns. 

Read more here.

FACEBOOK LAUNCHES NEW VOTING TOOLS: Facebook on Thursday introduced a slate of new tools and policies surrounding the upcoming 2020 election, including an election center that the company is describing as a "one-stop-shop" for information about voting. 

The new policies include an expansion of one rolled out last month that attached labels to posts from politicians about voting. For example, a post from President Trump in late July about mail-in voting featured a label directing people to usa.gov/voting, which contained basic information about elections. 

The label will be featured more broadly starting Thursday, with an addendum expected to appear on U.S. Instagram and Facebook users' posts about voting, the company said in a blog post.

The labels are a supplement to the Voting Information Center on Facebook, a new section on Facebook and Instagram with the stated goal of helping users register to vote. Facebook earlier this year announced an initiative to help at least 4 million voters register this year. The information center will assist this effort by directing users to state websites offering registration, the company said. 

It will also include information from state election officials and other nonpartisan civic organizations about developments on matters such as mail-in voting, which is expected to play a much greater role this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In wake of concerns about the number of available poll workers this year, the platform is also including a "call" for signups in the center.

The efforts come as Facebook and other social media platforms come under increasing scrutiny about how they're handling misinformation surrounding this year's elections.

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ALEXA SECURITY FLAW: Researchers at cybersecurity provider Check Point uncovered a flaw in Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant that left owner's personal information vulnerable before it was patched in June.

The researchers detailed the vulnerability in a report released Thursday, saying potential hackers could have hijacked the voice assistant devices using malicious Amazon links.

Once those links were clicked, hackers would be able to install or remove "Skills" — essentially apps — from Alexa devices.

They would also be able to access the user’s voice history with their device as well as personal information as sensitive as banking data and home addresses.

Check Point presented the flaw to Amazon this past June, and the company subsequently fixed the security issues.

"The security of our devices is a top priority, and we appreciate the work of independent researchers like Check Point who bring potential issues to us," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. "We fixed this issue soon after it was brought to our attention, and we continue to further strengthen our systems. We are not aware of any cases of this vulnerability being used against our customers or of any customer information being exposed.”

Experts have long warned about security vulnerabilities present in the internet-enabled devices that are now commonplace in many American homes.

Read more.

Lighter click: Powerful thread on the downsides of AI

An op-ed to chew on: It's time to rethink children's privacy protection


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 says Facebook doesn’t want to be the “arbiter of truth.” Its fact-checkers and employees say it already is. (BuzzFeed News / Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac)

Labor Dept. lawyer says Trump appointee intervened in Oracle case (New York Times / Noam Scheiber, David McCabe and Maggie HabermanMaggie Lindsy HabermanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats formally introduce impeachment article The Hill's Morning Report - Trump finally concedes; 25th Amendment pressure grows The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from chaotic downtown DC MORE)

The Post Office is deactivating mail sorting machines ahead of the elections (Motherboard / Aaron Gordon) 

Dark clouds envelop feel-good Pinterest (Axios / Ashley Gold)

The secret SIMs used by criminals to spoof any number (Motherboard / Joseph Cox)