SPONSORED:

Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference

Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference
© Aaron Schwartz

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 haven't done so 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.

SUBPOENA THREAT ACTIVATED: The Senate Commerce Committee voted Thursday to subpoena the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet, Google's parent company.

ADVERTISEMENT

Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Miss.) had threatened to subpoena Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Facebook's Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergAttorneys general plan to sue Facebook over antitrust violations next week: report Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra changes names Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE and Alphabet's Sundar Pichai last week but was required to hold a vote after ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE (D-Wash.) opposed the plan.

The unanimous vote will compel the CEOs to appear for a hearing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is considered the bedrock of the modern internet.

The 1996 law, which has come under increased scrutiny since President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE targeted it in an executive order in May, gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make "good faith" efforts to moderate content.

Wicker made it clear during Thursday’s executive business meeting that the hearing is required because of allegations of anti-conservative bias on their platforms.

Conservative voices actually dominate many platforms on social media including Facebook, the most powerful of them all.

Read more here.

AMAZON WORKERS HIT HARD BY COVID: More than 19,000 Amazon workers contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, the company revealed in an update on testing released Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is the first time Amazon has publicly shared case numbers among its more than 1.3 million Amazon and Whole Foods Market front-line employees across the U.S.

The company said in a press release that the 19,816 positive tests means the rate of infection among employees was 42 percent lower than expected, compared to the “general population rate” in the U.S.

Amazon also offered updates on its testing capacity, sharing a goal of 50,000 tests per day across 650 facilities by November.

The release of the data comes a day after an NBC News report detailed a lack of transparency in Amazon's coronavirus response and after employees criticized the company's handling of the virus.

Warehouse workers have gone on strike at multiple facilities to protest implementation of safety measures. The company has fired several of those employees, as well as ones on the technology side of the operation who have spoken up.

Read more here.

DEMOCRATS DEMAND MORE PUBLIC TRANSPARENCY: A group of key Senate Democrats on Thursday demanded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publicly release a bulletin that said a foreign actor is working to undermine faith in voting by mail this fall.

The senators, who included Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.), said acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA, accept new applicants Former cyber official condemns Trump attorney for threats against Krebs, details ouster MORE should release the "widely distributed" Sept. 3 analysis compiled by the agency’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A).

“This document demonstrates that a foreign actor is attempting to undermine faith in the US electoral system, particularly vote-by-mail systems, in a manner that is consistent with the rhetoric being used by President Trump, Attorney General [William] Barr, and others,” the senators wrote in a letter to Wolf.

“The document has been marked ‘Unclassified/For Official Use Only,’ meaning that its release would not pose a risk to sources and methods and that it has already been widely distributed around the country through unclassified channels,” the senators added. “It is now critical and urgent that the American people have access to this document so that they can understand the context of Trump’s statements and actions.”

Other lawmakers who signed the letter include Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position MORE (Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate committee advances bill for national Latino museum Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Scammers step up efforts to target older Americans during pandemic MORE (Minn.); and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

DHS did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter.

The document the senators were referring to was likely the assessment, first reported by ABC News last month, where I&A determined that Russian media and other groups were intentionally “amplifying” concerns around mail-in voting to undermine U.S. elections.

Read more here.

ADVERTISEMENT

LAWMAKERS TARGET DISINFO: Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' Divided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground MORE (D-Va.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' Katko announces bid to serve as top Republican on Homeland Security panel Katko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race MORE (R-N.Y.) on Thursday introduced legislation intended to cut down on foreign disinformation on social media ahead of the election.

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act targets influence campaigns by requiring political content on social media to include a disclaimer if it is produced or sponsored by foreign groups, with the disclaimers remaining if the post is shared. 

The legislation would also expand language in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to clarify that political ads and other content funded by a foreign source posted to social media that is meant to influence U.S. citizens must also be reported to the Department of Justice. FARA currently generally does not extend to social media posts. 

The Department of Justice would also be required to notify social media platforms if posts that fall under the bill do not have disclaimers, with the agency then directing the social media groups to remove the posts. 

Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said Thursday that “our nation is always under siege from foreign adversaries who seek to sow division and spread false information. However, social media networks remain especially vulnerable to foreign campaigns.” 

“Disclaimers on social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked,” Spanberger said in a statement. “This means that social media can serve as an ideal rumor mill for disinformation, as nefarious actors are able to leverage the rapid transfer of information from person to person.” 

Read more here.

ADVERTISEMENT

DON’T PAY UP: The Treasury Department on Thursday issued two advisories highlighting the dangers of ransomware cyberattacks and warning against paying ransoms demanded by hackers. 

Both the agency’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCIN) issued alerts around ransomware attacks, which have been increasingly widespread over the past two years and have ramped up during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Cybercriminals have deployed ransomware attacks against our schools, hospitals, and businesses of all sizes,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement. “Treasury will continue to use its powerful tools to counter these malicious cyber actors and their facilitators.”

OFAC warned that paying a ransom demanded by hackers in order to gain back access to encrypted systems could lead to federal repercussions. 

“Demand for ransomware payments has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as cyber actors target online systems that U.S. persons rely on to continue conducting business,” OFAC wrote in its advisory. “Companies that facilitate ransomware payments to cyber actors on behalf of victims, including financial institutions, cyber insurance firms, and companies involved in digital forensics and incident response, not only encourage future ransomware payment demands but also may risk violating OFAC regulations.”

FinCEN issued a second advisory to provide information on various types of ransomware attacks, red flag indicators of attack, and how to report and share information if attacked. 

Read more here.

ADVERTISEMENT

TWITTER TAKEDOWN: Twitter removed approximately 130 accounts linked to Iran that were attempting to disrupt the public conversation during the first presidential debate, the company said Wednesday. 

The social media network said it removed the accounts “based on intel” provided by The FBI. 

“We identified these accounts quickly, removed them from Twitter, and shared full details with our peers, as standard,” the company tweeted. 

Twitter said the posts from the removed accounts had “very low engagement and did not make an impact on the public conversation.” 

Read more here.

FACEBOOK CRACKS DOWN ON QANON: Facebook is taking steps to hide content from groups affiliated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory that revolves around President Trump fighting a group of highly connected public figures including a secret global cabal of child traffickers.

The company announced in a blog post on Thursday that it will ban all advertising that expresses "praise, support or represent militarized social movements and QAnon."

It also announced that users who follow groups restricted under the company's past policies aimed at tamping down on conspiracy groups will see posts from restricted pages far lower down their news feed than before.

"On September 16, we started down-ranking content in the Pages and Groups that have been restricted but not removed. Now, people who are members of Groups that have been restricted and follow Pages that have been restricted, will see content from these Groups and Pages further down in their News Feed," said Facebook.

"We are taking steps to address evidence that QAnon adherents are increasingly using the issue of child safety and hashtags like #savethechildren to recruit and organize. Starting today, we will direct people to credible child safety resources when they search for certain child safety hashtags," the company continued.

Read more here.

FACEBOOK CHANGES AD POLICY, TOO: A Facebook official on Wednesday announced changes to the platform's ad policy, pledging that the site would remove political ads that baselessly link certain kinds of voting to allegations of widespread voting fraud, such as false claims about mail-in voting.

The move comes as President Trump has regularly made claims without evidence that the practice of mail-in voting leads to widespread election fraud, and goes into effect immediately, according to the company's director of project management, Rob Leathern.

"As we get closer to Election Day we want to provide further clarity on policies we recently announced. Last week we said we’d prohibit ads that make premature declarations of victory. We also won’t allow ads with content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of an election," he tweeted.

"For example, this would include calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election," Leathern added.

Read more here.

DIFFERENCE OF OPINION ON 5G: A group of 19 senators is calling on President Trump to bolster private-sector deployment of 5G, expressing concerns about a request for information from the administration that they felt contradicted a free-market strategy.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback Congress faces late-year logjam Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, led a letter to Trump on Wednesday following a recent request for information (RFI) released by the Pentagon regarding 5G. 

“Rather than rely on private industry and market forces to foster multiple, facilities-based 5G networks, the RFI seeks information on a government-managed process for 5G networks,” the senators wrote. “Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race.”

GOP Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (Wyo.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return Graham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration 'if' Biden wins MORE (W.Va.), John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee MORE (Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWatch live: Senate panel holds Russia investigation hearing Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (Wis.), and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' MORE (Fla.), among others, also signed the letter.

The Defense Department issued the RFI on Sept. 18 from industry, seeking insight into accelerating spectrum sharing and 5G deployment.

Read more here.

GOOD NEWS FOR TIKTOK (FOR ONCE): TikTok was again the highest earning social media app in the last three months, despite uncertainty over the fate of the popular video sharing platform in the U.S. due to challenges posed by the Trump administration. 

It was the second consecutive quarter TikTok ranked above other non-game apps, according to data released by marketing intelligence group Sensor Tower on Thursday.

YouTube, Tinder, Tencent Video and Disney+ round out the top five grossing non-game apps in the last three months, according to the data, which does not include revenue from in-app advertising. 

TikTok was also the most downloaded nongame app in the third quarter, followed by Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp and Instagram. 

President Trump has pushed to overhaul how the Chinese-owned platform operates in the U.S., due to potential national security concerns. The administration's concerns around TikTok are related to the Trump administration’s larger efforts to clamp down on Chinese tech companies amid increasing tensions between China and the U.S.

Read more here.

SNAPCHAT GETS OUT THE VOTE: More than 1 million people have registered to vote this year through the Snapchat app, the company said Thursday. 

The number of voters who registered through Snapchat’s in-app tool, in partnership with TurboVote, is already more than double the approximately 450,000 voters that registered through the app during the 2018 midterm elections. 

More than half of the 1 million people who registered to vote on Snapchat did so in less than a month. The company said 400,000 had registered to vote as of mid-September. 

Fifty-six percent of people who registered to vote through Snapchat this year are first-time voters, and about 65 percent are aged 18 to 24, a Snapchat spokesperson estimated according to data from TurboVote. 

Read more here.

AMAZON PULLS 'STAND BY' MERCHANDISE: Amazon and other online stores on Wednesday reportedly stopped the sale of shirts and other products displaying “stand back” and “stand by,” as well as the logo for the far-right extremist group Proud Boys. 

Groups started selling the products after President Trump said the two phrases during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

Trump's comments came after moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE asked if Trump would be willing to condemn white supremacists.

The president responded, “sure,” although he never explicitly condemned the group after this. 

“Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Trump responded. 

Trump asked Fox News’s Wallace to “give me a name,” then Biden chimed in and noted the Proud Boys, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group.

“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” Trump said.

Following the debate, T-shirts, tank tops and other products with the verbiage and the Proud Boys insignia appeared on Amazon and Teespring, a website that allows users to create and sell their own merchandise.

Read more here. 

Lighter click: Choosing to believe this is true :)

An op-ed to chew on: How to fight the onslaught of election disinformation

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

At White House’s urging, Republicans launch anti-tech blitz ahead of election (Politico / Cristiano Lima and John Hendel)

Bird Is Quietly Luring Contract Workers Into Debt Through a New Scooter Scheme (OneZero / Amy Martyn)

Democratic Party leaders are “banging their head against the wall” after private meetings with Facebook on election misinformation (Recode / Shirin Ghaffary)

As QAnon grew, Facebook and Twitter missed years of warning signs about the conspiracy’s violent nature (Washington Post / Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin)