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Hillicon Valley: DHS chief lays out actions to boost cybersecurity after major hacks | Facebook removes video of Trump citing suspension from platform | Battle rages over vaccine passports

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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday laid out a roadmap for federal cybersecurity while teasing an upcoming cyber executive order. Facebook enforced its indefinite suspension on former President Trump by removing a video posted by Lara Trump of a sit down interview with the former president. President Biden proposed billions in funding to boost research and development of emerging technologies, and Republicans pushed back on the idea of so-called vaccine passports.

DHS DRILLS DOWN ON CYBER: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday issued a “call for action” to confront mounting cybersecurity threats to the federal government, laying out a plan to combat hacking efforts following two major foreign cyberattacks. 

Mayorkas warned during a virtual speech hosted by the RSA Conference that “cyber threats are coming dangerously close to threatening our lives” and detailed plans for focusing on issues including debilitating ransomware attacks, bolstering the cyber workforce and securing critical infrastructure against attacks. 

“The government does not have the capacity to achieve our nation’s cyber resilience alone,” Mayorkas said. “So much of our critical infrastructure is in the private sector’s hands. We need to work with the private sector to protect the interests of the American people and the services on which we rely.”

Mayorkas’s comments come as the federal government continues to respond to two major cyber espionage incidents carried out by foreign entities that were discovered over the past three months, and as the Biden administration works to roll out an executive order to strengthen federal cybersecurity after both incidents. 

The secretary said Wednesday that the order would include “nearly a dozen actions” and that “more details would be shared soon.”

Read more about Mayorkas’s remarks here. 

REMOVING TRUMP: Facebook removed a video of an interview between former President Trump and his daughter-in-law Lara Trump based on the platform’s indefinite suspension of the former president, a company spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. 

Lara Trump Tuesday night posted a screenshot of an email that appears to notify her that the video had been removed in line with the platform’s current suspension of the former president. Her post also included a screenshot of an email with an earlier time stamp that seemingly warned her that video of the interview would be removed if posted. 

A Facebook source verified the email posted by Lara Trump was authentic.

The email also warns Lara Trump that posting similar content could lead to more limitations on the account. 

“In line with the block we placed on Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, further content posted in the voice of Donald Trump will be removed and result in additional limitations on the accounts,” the email said. 

Facebook suspended the former president shortly after the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The decision on whether to permanently ban or reinstate him is in the hands of Facebook’s Oversight Board which has yet to make a final decision. 

Read more about the removal 

PASSPORT PUSHBACK: Republicans are up in arms over the possibility that businesses and local governments may require vaccine passports for people to get access to certain activities, buildings or events.

The pushback comes after New York last week launched its virtual Excelsior Pass, created in partnership with IBM, that allows people to show if they have been vaccinated by flashing a QR code to get into events where proof is required. 

Other governors, including Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), signaled they may launch similar programs soon, and IBM said it is in talks with federal officials and just about every state. 

But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has urged his state’s GOP-controlled legislature to pass a law forbidding passes showing proof of coronavirus vaccination, while vowing to take executive action. Congressional Republicans have similarly slammed the passports, framing them as invasive.

The Biden administration has said it will provide guidance on the matter, but signaled the decisions will largely be left up to local governments and business owners.

“We’re going to provide guidance, just as we have through the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “There’s currently an interagency process that is looking at many of the questions around vaccine verification.”

Read more here.

BIDEN EYES R&D: President Biden’s newly unveiled infrastructure proposal includes billions of dollars in proposed funding to invest in “technologies of the future,” with a particular focus on ensuring the U.S. can compete on the global stage against countries such as China. 

The proposed investment package, which totals around $2.25 trillion, proposes that over $180 billion be set aside for enhancing research and development of new and emerging technologies, along with addressing racial and gender inequalities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. 

“President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage,” the plan released by the White House reads. 

Read more about the funds here. 

GOOGLE UNION’S FIRST SETTLEMENT: Google and its contractor Modis must post notices about worker rights at a data center in South Carolina as part of a settlement reached with the Alphabet Workers Union on Wednesday. 

The settlement follows an unfair labor practice charge the union filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in February alleging the company prohibited employees from discussing pay with coworkers and suspended a data center technician, Shannon Wait, for supporting the union. 

The official notices Google and Modis, part of the Adecco Group, must put up strongly state worker’s rights including that they have the right to join a union and discuss their wage rates.

The notice also states that the company will not discipline workers for discussing wages or for exercising their right to join a union and that all references to Wait’s suspension will be removed from Google’s files.

This is the first NLRB settlement involving the Alphabet Workers Union. 

Read more here 

URGING AN INVESTIGATION: Two tech advocacy groups, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD,) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday alleging Google is certifying apps for children as safe and appropriate violate a children’s privacy law by collecting personal data without parental consent. 

“We urge the FTC to investigate Google’s practices and the truthfulness of its representations and act to protect parents from being misled and children from playing apps that are not appropriate and violate their privacy,” the groups wrote in the complaint. 

A Google spokesperson defended the company’s handling of apps directed to children in response to the complaint. 

“Google Play is committed to providing a positive and safe environment for children and families,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the company has taken steps to update the app store in recent years. 

The groups acknowledged that Google has changed how it treats apps intended for children since they filed a complaint in 2018 over similar concerns. But they said the company has not fixed the alleged violations of COPPA. 

“The FTC failed to act when this problem was brought to its attention over two years ago. Because children today are spending even more time using mobile apps, the FTC must hold Google accountable for violating children’s privacy,” Angela Campbell, chair of the board of directors of CCFC, said in a statement. 

Read more about the complaint

IN OTHER GOOGLE NEWS: Google told its staff in a Wednesday email that offices will begin to open in April after being closed for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Conditions vary significantly from state to state, so you’ll hear directly from your local leaders when your office is eligible to reopen,” top Google personnel executive Fiona Cicconi said in the email, which was seen by The Wall Street Journal.

Returning to in-office work won’t become mandatory until September, a Google spokesperson said. Although offices will reopen next month, they will be at limited capacity. 

Read more here. 

MORE CONTROL: Facebook is launching features to give users more control over the content that appears in their newsfeed, the company announced Wednesday

Facebook’s new Feed Filter Bar, a menu that will appear at the top of the News Feed, will allow users to more easily access a tool to rank content chronologically as opposed to algorithmically.

By choosing the “most recent” filter, users can see the newest posts appear first. The new tool offers a more accessible way for users to switch to a chronologically sorted News Feed.

Facebook also said it is expanding its “Why am I seeing this?” page that aims to give users more information as to why content was suggested in their News Feed. 

Read more here

TIME OFF FOR APPLE EMPLOYEES: Apple is offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg also reported that Apple is offering paid sick leave for those who experience side effects from the vaccinations. However, the company has told staff that it does not have access to vaccines and is not itself providing vaccines to workers.

The announcement comes as Apple plans to have more staff return to corporate offices as early as June. Apple CEO Tim Cook first disclosed the timeline to employees at the end of December, Bloomberg reported.

Read more here

Lighter click: 14 month’s a charm?

An op-ed to chew on: Vaccine passports will be convenient, but we should keep our privacy top of mind


Remote Work Is Leading To More Gender And Racial Harassment, Say Tech Workers (NPR/ Shannon Bond)

Tech workers want vaccine mandates. Will their bosses bite? (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky) 

A comedian says he created ‘Darla,’ the anti-union Amazon workers, as a joke (The Verge / Makena Kelly)

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Donald Trump Hillicon Valley Jen Psaki Joe Biden Lara Trump Ron DeSantis

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