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Hillicon Valley: Robinhood restricts trading of companies targeted by Reddit users | Facebook reverses some decisions on removed posts | Lawmakers introduce bill to massively increase mail-in voting

Hillicon Valley: Robinhood restricts trading of companies targeted by Reddit users | Facebook reverses some decisions on removed posts | Lawmakers introduce bill to massively increase mail-in voting
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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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

REDDIT USERS WREAK WALL STREET HAVOC: Amatuer online traders fueled by online discussions on Reddit sent shares of Gamestop skyrocketing on Wednesday, setting off a series of critical reactions from Washington and a legal challenge for a popular stock trading app. 

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GameStop, a video game retailer struggling to keep up with direct downloads even before the coronavirus pandemic, saw its share price jump to $347 per share on Wednesday. Overall, its share price has risen more than 1,800 percent in January.

Read more about the Gamestop havoc here

By Thursday, the stock trading app Robinhood blocked users from buying or trading stocks popular on the Reddit subforum, including Gamestop, AMC and BlackBerry. 

Under the new limits, users will be allowed to close out existing trades, but won’t be able to acquire new shares.

“We continuously monitor the markets and make changes where necessary,” the day-trading app wrote in a blog post. “In light of recent volatility, we are restricting transactions for certain securities to position closing only.”

Read more about Robinhood’s decision here

Robinhood was hit with a class-action lawsuit almost immediately after restricting the trading of the stocks popular on the Reddit forum. 

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The suit, filed in the Southern District of New York, claims that the day-trading app “purposefully, willfully, and knowingly removing the stock ‘GME’ [GameStop] from its trading platform in the midst of an unprecedented stock rise thereby deprived retail investors of the ability to invest in the open-market and manipulating the open-market.” 

Read more about the lawsuit here

Robinhood’s decision also prompted swift backlash from Washington — drawing together a unified stance from an unlikely group of bipartisan lawmakers including Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBoehner: 'There's a lot of leaders in the Republican Party' Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMichigan Democrat says he sought treatment for PTSD after Jan. 6 riot Pelosi's advice for the 'Squad': 'You're not a one-person show' It's time to declare a national climate emergency MORE (D-N.Y.). 

Incoming chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Former Ohio health director won't run for Senate MORE (D-Ohio) said a hearing would be held on the state of the stock market amid the concern on how trading platforms have responded to viral rallies in certain stocks. 

Read more about the bipartisan backlash and Brown’s call for a hearing.

OVERSIGHT BOARD ISSUES FIRST VERDICTS: Facebook’s independent review body announced its first decisions Thursday, overturning four of Facebook’s decisions on content removal. 

The Oversight Board’s decision on its first five cases covered cases across Asia, Europe, North America and South America, and spanned Facebook’s policies over hate speech, misinformation and nudity. 

A spokesperson for Facebook said the company restored the posts in line with the board’s decisions on the same day they were announced. 

Read more here

NEXT UP — TRUMP:  The Oversight Board is currently weighing one of its most consequential cases — whether to keep former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE permanently banned from the platform. 

The board said it will start accepting public comments on the decision about Trump’s ban starting Friday, when it will also announce its next round of cases. 

Read more here

MAIL-IN VOTING GETS A BOOST: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDemocrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Democrats have a growing tax problem with SALT Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver MORE (D-Ore.) led their colleagues in the House and Senate on Thursday in introducing legislation that would ensure all registered U.S. voters are sent mail-in ballots in the weeks ahead of Election Day.

The legislation, originally introduced in 2017, was reintroduced after an unprecedented use of mail-in ballots during the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with just under half of voters making their choices remotely.

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“Our democracy is stronger when every American can vote, without standing in ridiculous lines or having to take time off work or school to exercise their Constitutional rights,” Wyden, who led over a dozen other Democratic senators in introducing the bill, said in a statement Thursday.

Read more about the legislation here. 

PANDEMIC PRIVACY PROTECTIONS: A group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate moved Thursday to protect sensitive health data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would ensure that health data collected during the pandemic could not be used for anything other than public health efforts, along with addressing a slew of potentially discriminatory practices.

These include banning the use of personal health data from contact tracing apps to prohibit voting or to limit housing, education, and employment opportunities. 

Read more about the bill here.

COMING SOON TO AN IPHONE NEAR YOU: Apple said Thursday it will roll out its anticipated App Tracking Transparency feature in “early Spring,” but did not further detail a timeline. 

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The feature was first unveiled over the summer but the rollout was delayed amid pushback from Facebook. The feature will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps and websites owned by other companies, limiting the reach of targeted ads. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook touted the impending privacy tool update Thursday at the Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection conference. He did not specifically identify Facebook in his speech, but seemingly referenced the public feud between the companies over the feature. 

“The fact is that the debate over ATT (App Tracking Transparency) is a microcosm of a debate we have been having for a long time — one where our point of view is very clear. Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook said.

Read more about Apple’s plan to launch the update here

But that wasn’t the only attack Cook leveled at social media giants during his speech. Again, without naming names, the Apple CEO knocked social media giants over business models that have used algorithms that he says allowed disinformation narratives and conspiracy theories to flourish online. 

“Too many are still asking the question, ‘How much can we get away with?’ when they need to be asking, ‘What are the consequences?' ” he said. 

Read more about Cook’s comments here

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DIALING DOWN THE POLITICS: Amid the increased scrutiny over social media giants handling of content moderation and disinformation after the riot at the Capitol, 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 said the company is looking to lessen the amount of political content users see on their platform. 

“[O]ne of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community right now is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. 

For example, Zuckerberg said the company will keep in place pre-election action to stop recommending political groups to users. The efficacy of Facebook’s pledge to do so in the past though, has come under question

Read more here

Lighter click: Polishing those acting chops

An op-ed to chew on: Are you part of the digital divide? 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Nextdoor Is Quietly Replacing the Small-Town Paper (OneZero / Will Oremus)

Facebook Ad Services Let Anyone Target US Military Personnel (Wired / Lily Hay Newman)

The Facebook Oversight Board’s First Decisions: Ambitious, and Perhaps Impractical (Lawfare / Evelyn Douek)

With Parler down, QAnon moves onto a ‘free speech’ TikTok clone (The Verge / Makena Kelly)

We Spoke to a Guy Who Got His Dick Locked in a Cage by a Hacker (Motherboard / Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai)