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Hillicon Valley: Senate Republicans call for hearing on FTC’s Obama-era Google decision | US grid at rising risk to cyberattack, says GAO | YouTube rolls out TikTok rival in the US

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Several Senate Republicans pushed for a Judiciary Committee hearing into the Federal Trade Commission’s decision nearly a decade ago not to sue Google, as lawmakers take a closer look at the tech giant’s market power. A government watchdog released a report stating distribution systems within the U.S. electrical grid are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack. And YouTube’s short-form video service will be launching in the U.S. 

HOLD A HEARING: Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Thursday wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) calling for a hearing on the Obama-era Federal Trade Commission’s decision not to sue Google after a 19-month investigation. 

The push, nearly a decade after the agency’s decision, comes on the heels of a Politico report on 312 pages of internal memos about the investigation that revealed the agency underestimated Google’s market share and rejected antitrust lawyers’ recommendation to sue Google. 

“The reporting confirms what has become increasingly apparent in recent years: confronted with the most consequential antitrust case in a generation, and ample evidence of market dominance and misconduct, the nation’s antitrust enforcers failed to act,” the GOP senators wrote. 

FTC reaction: The Republicans sent a separate letter to acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter urging the agency to cooperate with congressional efforts. 

The letter was sent the same day Slaughter made her congressional debut as acting FTC chair during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on antitrust. 

Asked about the report during the hearing, Slaughter said, “I wish a complaint had been filed at the time.” 

Read more here


GRID AT RISK: Distribution systems within the U.S. electrical grid are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack, a government watchdog said in a report released Thursday.

In the report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the Department of Energy’s cybersecurity strategy has predominantly focused on generation and transmission systems. The watchdog recommended further attention to risks facing distribution systems, those parts of the grid that actually carry power directly to customers.

Those aspects of the grid, the report states, “are becoming more vulnerable to cyberattacks, in part due to the introduction of and reliance on monitoring and control technologies.”

Read more about the report here.


TICK-TOCK, TIKTOK: YouTube announced Thursday that it is bringing its short-form video service to the U.S.

The service, Shorts, was launched in India in September after TikTok was banned from the country.

Shorts now draws in 6.5 billion views a day globally, YouTube said in a blog post.

“Starting today and over the next several weeks, we’ll gradually expand our Shorts beta to the U.S.,” the company said.

Shorts allows creators to make videos splicing together footage, adding audio and captioning, just like they would on TikTok, the wildly popular social media platform.

Read more.


EVERYONE GETS A 230 BILL: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced legislation Thursday targeting a decades-old law that gives internet platforms legal liability protection from content posted by third parties.

The bill — the Stop Shielding Culpable Platforms Act — would yank those protections from companies that “knowingly peddle unlawful material” such as child pornography on their sites.

Sounds familiar: The proposal would overhaul a portion of the 1996 Communications Decency Act known as Section 230 that has drawn the ire of Republicans, including former President Trump.

“It’s past time for Congress to roll back Section 230’s most egregious and expansive special legal protections,” Banks, head of the influential Republican Study Committee, said in a statement Thursday.

The legislation is co-sponsored by eight other Republicans.

Read more.


SHOW THEM THE MONEY: Three House Republican leaders on Thursday raised questions about oversight of federal election funds awarded by California to a firm linked to now-President Biden in the months ahead of the election.

House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.), House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s government affairs panel, sent a letter to Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Chairman Donald Palmer questioning EAC’s oversight of the funds, as part of a larger House investigation into the funding decision.

The California Secretary of State’s Office awarded $35 million to SKDK (formerly SKD Knickerbocker) for a voter education campaign last year. These funds were a portion of the $825 million in federal grant funds distributed by the EAC to states in the lead up to the 2020 elections. 

According to The Associated Press, SKDK at one point included a note on its website stating it was “proud to be a part of Team Biden,” and its managing director is a former senior strategist on the Biden campaign. 

Read more about their concerns here.


A RECORD FOR ROBOCALLS: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a record-setting fine to two men accused of making robocalls to sell fraudulent insurance plans this week.

The agency said in a statement on Wednesday that the two men, John Spiller and Jakob Mears, were allegedly operating companies in Texas that used the business names “Rising Eagle” and “JSquared Telecom” to send millions of robocalls per month with the intent of selling short-term health insurance plans that they fraudulently claimed were backed by insurance giants Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The men face a record-high $225 million fine, the largest of its type in FCC history.

Read more about the fine


BILLIONS ARE BINGING: Subscriptions to online video services reached over 1 billion for the first time ever during the coronavirus pandemic, an industry trade group found. 

The Motion Picture Association reported that there are 1.1 billion subscriptions globally, marking a 26 percent year-over-year growth. The home and mobile entertainment market globally reached $68.8 billion in revenue, which was a 32 percent increase in growth from 2019.

Subscriptions reached over 308 million in the U.S. alone, which was a 32 percent increase from 2019, and the overall home and mobile entertainment market in the U.S. grew by 21 percent to $30 billion in revenue.

Read more here


PLUG-IN SECURITY: Facebook on Thursday announced that iOS and Android mobile device users can now utilize physical security keys to verify their accounts and guard against hackers.

The new product is meant to add an extra layer of protection against malicious hacking efforts, particularly those focused on the accounts of high profile people or groups, such as politicians, journalists and human rights defenders.

The keys, which can clip on to a keychain and plug into a mobile device, are intended to serve as part of a two-factor authentication that would make it much more difficult for hackers to gain access to accounts. Users will be asked for a password and then a second form of verification, such as a texted code or the physical key, when logging into their accounts.

Read more about the security updates here.


Lighter click: Proudly paywall free

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The Tech Industry Is Abuzz About the PRO Act. What Is It? (The Markup / Dara Kerr)

The Unionizing Workers Who Became Amazon’s Biggest Threat (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

The detente between Microsoft and Google is over. Here’s why Microsoft is fighting again. (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum)

Tags Dick Durbin Donald Trump FTC Google James Comer Jody Hice Joe Biden Josh Hawley Marsha Blackburn Mike Lee Robocall Rodney Davis TikTok YouTube

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