Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time

Google employees demand climate action

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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.


JUSTICE DEPT. GOES AFTER GOOGLE: The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday charged Google with illegally maintaining a monopoly on search and search advertising, teeing off a legal battle likely to take years and send shockwaves across Silicon Valley.

The lawsuit, filed in District of Columbia federal court, is the first to result from a yearlong investigation into concentrations of economic power in the online economy.

The DOJ argues that Google has entered into exclusionary contracts with phone makers to preload its search engine onto devices using Alphabet’s Android operating system.

Those contracts have allowed Google to maintain a monopoly while stifling competition and innovation, the suit contends. It also accuses Google of using profits from that monopoly to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on web browsers, including Safari.

Estimates of Google’s control of the market for online searches range from 80 percent to 90 percent, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The parallels between this case and the one brought against Microsoft in 1998 are clear: Both challenge the use of pre-installations and exclusive contracts to boost a product.

“It is almost to a T, a mirror of the case against Microsoft,” Sarah Miller, co-director of the American Economic Liberties Project, told The Hill. In that case, a court ordered Microsoft be broken up into two separate companies, but the tech giant avoided that fate after a successful appeal.

The Federal Trade Commission investigated whether Google had abused its search market power nearly a decade ago, but the five-person commission voted not to bring a case in 2013.

Read more here.


ANOTHER TECH CEO HEARING?: Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are urging the panel’s Democratic chairman to hold a hearing with the CEOs of big tech companies regarding censorship and a law that grants the firms a liability shield.

The Republicans in a letter to Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) called for a hearing with Twitter, Google and Facebook CEOs regarding censorship and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 shields tech companies from being legally held accountable for content posted on their platforms by third parties. 

The GOP members’ push for a hearing comes after Republican outrage over Twitter and Facebook limiting the spread of a New York Post report last week that included allegations about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. The Post’s report drew scrutiny over its sourcing and key portions have been refuted by Joe Biden’s campaign. 

“These actions taken by Twitter, Facebook, and Google suggest that these companies do not enforce their policies consistently,” Republicans wrote to Pallone. 

Twitter initially blocked users from posting the Post’s article, citing its hacked policy materials policy. The company later altered its policy and allowed the report to be posted on its platform. 

Facebook also took action last week to limit the spread of the article, drawing scrutiny from President Trump and many of his GOP allies that used the social media platform’s action to renew allegations of an anti-conservative bias. 

Read more here.


TRENDING ON TWITTER: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden started drawing more engagement on his Twitter posts than President Trump for the first time this year, according to data reported Tuesday. 

Data from media intelligence company Conviva found the former vice president inched above Trump in engagement per post on Twitter this past month, Axios reported

Biden has steadily been increasing in the monthly averages of engagements per post, average engagements per video and follower adds since the beginning of the year, according to Axios. This past month the Democrat passed the president in all three metrics. 

Conviva’s data on engagement only includes retweets and likes, not quote tweets, according to Axios.

The president’s following on Twitter is still far larger than Biden’s, at 87.3 million compared to Biden’s 11.2 million. 

Biden also drew a larger audience than Trump during last week’s dueling town halls. Biden’s 90-minute event on ABC News garnered 14.1 million viewers, compared with 13.5 million for Trump’s 60-minute town hall which aired on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC. 

Read more here.


VA BREACH FALLOUT CONTINUES: Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for answers about a recent data breach that exposed personal details of at least 46,000 veterans. 

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the committee’s subcommittee on government operations, led more than a dozen of the committee’s Republican members, including House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.), in sending a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday expressing concerns around the security incident. 

“Data breaches of any kind are concerning, but particularly so when the targeted data is held in trust by the U.S. Government and where it affects veterans,” the members wrote. 

The letter was sent over a month after the VA disclosed that its Financial Services Center had discovered that an unauthorized user had accessed an application used to help veterans pay for medical care and diverted funds meant for community health providers, with Social Security numbers among the data compromised.  

The VA noted in September that the compromised system had been disabled while the VA’s Office of Information Technology conducted a review of the incident. The VA said notifications were sent out to veterans and next-of-kin of deceased veterans whose data had potentially been compromised, and that the agency would provide free credit monitoring. 

“Although we commend the VA for its apparent quick response in taking the application offline and investigating the breach, as well as its efforts to notify affected individuals, we are concerned about veterans’ personal information being vulnerable and the potential consequences data breaches such as this have on affected veterans,” the Republican House Oversight and Reform Committee members wrote Tuesday. 

Read more here.


SWEDEN TAKES A STAND: The Swedish government on Tuesday announced that telecommunications equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE would not be allowed to be used in the building of new fifth generation, or 5G, networks due to national security concerns. 

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said Tuesday that Huawei and ZTE equipment could not be used in building out new networks, with a spectrum auction due to be held next month for approved companies. 

The PTS further announced that existing infrastructure that currently uses Huawei and ZTE equipment for “central functions” in relation to the new networks must strip out all the equipment from the Chinese groups by Jan. 1, 2025. 

PTS noted that it was following advice from the Swedish Armed Forces and Security Services, with these organizations carrying out studies to ensure that the use of radio equipment in the spectrum bands being auctioned in November “does not cause harm to Sweden’s security.”

ABC News reported that Klas Friberg, the head of the Swedish Security Service, described China as “one of the biggest threats to Sweden.”

“The Chinese state is conducting cyber espionage to promote its own economic development and develop its military capabilities,” Friberg said according to ABC. “This is done through extensive intelligence gathering and theft of technology, research and development. This is what we must consider when building the 5G network of the future.”

A spokesperson for Huawei told The Hill that the company was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision in Sweden. 

Read more here.

Lighter click: Here’s your daily dunkaccino!

An op-ed to chew on: Is social media your chosen physician? 


A shadowy AI service has transformed thousands of women’s photos into fake nudes: “Make fantasy a reality” (Washington Post / Drew Harwell)

The Right’s Disinformation Machine Is Getting Ready for Trump to Lose (The Atlantic / Renee DiResta)

Snap Sales Beat Estimates on Rebound in Digital Ad Spending (Bloomberg / Sarah Frier)

Uber CEO: We’re looking at all our options if Prop 22 doesn’t pass (CNET / Dara Kerr)

Tags Donald Trump James Comer Jody Hice Joe Biden Robert Wilkie

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