Hillicon Valley: Colonial Pipeline attack underscores US energy's vulnerabilities | Biden leading 'whole-of-government' response to hack | Attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids
Hillicon Valley: Apple approves Parler's return to App Store | White House scales back response to SolarWinds, Microsoft incidents | Pressure mounts on DHS over relationship with Clearview AI
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 already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter by clicking HERE.
Apple told Republicans it will welcome an updated version of Parler back into its App Store with approved content moderation changes. Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced it is scaling back its initial response to both the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange Server hacking incidents, and the Department of Homeland Security is coming under pressure to discontinue its relationship with Clearview AI.
APPLE APPROVES PARLER'S RETURN: Apple will allow Parler to return to its App Store with approved content moderation updates made since the social media platform was removed in January after the insurrection at the Capitol.
Apple wrote in a letter sent to top Republicans on the House and Senate antitrust subcommittees on Monday that its review team told Parler its proposed changes were sufficient on April 14, and the updated Parler app may return to the app store.
"Apple anticipates that the updated Parler app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it," Apple's senior director for government affairs, Timothy Powderly, said in the letter addressed to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo).
The letter follows one Lee and Buck sent to Apple pressing the company over its removal of Parler from the app store, and comes just days ahead of a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee on app store fairness.
SCALING BACK RESPONSE: The Biden administration is "standing down" coordinated efforts by several key agencies to respond to recent major cybersecurity incidents including the SolarWinds hack, a senior administration official announced Monday.
Anne Neuberger, President Biden's deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said the two unified coordination groups (UCGs) that were convened to respond to both the SolarWinds hack and recently discovered vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Exchange Server would be scaled back.
"Due to the vastly increased patching and reduction in victims, we are standing down the current UCG surge efforts and will be handling further responses through standard incident management procedures," Neuberger said in a statement.
The UCGs for both incidents are made up of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
DHS'S CLEARVIEW PROBLEM: Pressure is mounting on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discontinue - or at least clarify - its relationship with Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company best known for scraping billions of images of people from social media sites.
A coalition of nearly 70 immigrant rights, civil liberties and privacy groups called on the agency to "immediately stop" using the company's technology in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday that was first shared with The Hill.
Clearview AI provides software that can identify and provide information about individuals using images of their faces. The technology is marketed to law enforcement but has also been used by private organizations like the NBA
The company - which has received widespread criticism and cease-and-desist letters from most major social media platforms - does not disclose what entities it provides services to, but federal contracts and reporting shows that DHS, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have all paid for access.
The groups are concerned that immigration authorities could be abusing the facial recognition technology to locate, arrest and even deport individuals using data that they did not consent to share.
"Having Clearview technology puts so much power into the hands of ICE agents that have demonstrated time and time again how often they go rogue and how hard it is to keep them accountable," Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente's field director, told The Hill.
UNION VOTE CHALLENGED: The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has formally filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over Amazon's conduct during the union drive at its Bessemer, Ala., facility.
The union, which would have represented the warehouse employees, alleged in a filing late Friday night that Amazon illegally interfered in the workers' right to vote in a "fair and free election."
Workers ended up rejecting the unionization by 1,798 to 738, according to a tally that has yet to be certified. A successful challenge could ultimately invalidate that result and trigger a second election.
"Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign," RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement Monday. "We won't rest until workers' voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States."
HAWLEY TAKES AIM AT AMAZON, GOOGLE: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Monday introduced legislation that targets Big Tech groups including Amazon and Google by making it more difficult to market and use certain online services.
The Bust Up Big Tech Act would ban tech companies that market search engines, marketplaces and exchanges from advertising or selling their own goods and services on their websites in a way that competes with third-party groups.
It would also ban these same companies from providing internet infrastructure and online hosting for other companies, including banning Amazon from providing cloud computing services through Amazon Web Services.
"Woke Big Tech companies like Google and Amazon have been coddled by Washington politicians for years," Hawley said in a statement Monday. "This treatment has allowed them to amass colossal amounts of power that they use to censor political opinions they don't agree with and shut out competitors who offer consumers an alternative to the status quo."
CLUBHOUSE CLONES: Facebook rolled out a new set of audio features and tools Monday that will allow users to communicate verbally in real time.
The Live Audio Rooms feature, which appears to be very similar to the audio features offered by the social media platform Clubhouse, will be tested within groups on Facebook to start. The company expects the new feature will be available to everyone on the Facebook app and Messenger this summer.
"We believe that audio is a perfect way for communities to engage around topics they care about," Fidji Simo, head of Facebook App, said in a blog post Monday.
Facebook is also building a tool to help users record voice messages and then post them on their news feeds.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Monday interview with reporter Casey Newton on Sidechannel, a Discord server, that Facebook is working on podcast features.
FACEBOOK PREPS FOR VERDICT: Facebook is putting additional content moderation protocols in place ahead of the impending verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering George Floyd.
Facebook said Monday, shortly before the start of closing arguments in the trial, that it will identify and remove calls to bring arms to areas in Minneapolis, which it has temporarily deemed a "high-risk location."
The tech giant said it will continue to monitor events to determine if additional locations will also be deemed temporary, high-risk locations.
The platform will also remove content that "praises, celebrates or mocks Floyd's death."
DEMOCRATS PUSH BACK ON 'DISINFORMATION DOZEN': Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) are asking Facebook and Twitter to take action against a dozen accounts identified in a recent report as spreading the majority of anti-vaccine content on their platforms.
Klobuchar and Luján wrote a letter to the two company CEOs urging them to address the "Disinformation Dozen" named in a recent report published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).
"For too long, social media platforms have failed to adequately protect Americans by not taking sufficient action to prevent the spread of vaccine disinformation online," they wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill on Monday.
The Democrats asked for responses to questions about vaccine disinformation policies, as well as specifically about the 12 identified accounts, by April 29.
FOREIGN QANON FANS: Nearly 20 percent of all Facebook posts between January 2020 and February 2021 related to QAnon originated outside the U.S., with China and Russia playing large roles in spreading the conspiracy theory.
Data unveiled by the New York-based Soufan Center on Monday indicated that the number of QAnon-related posts originating from foreign countries remained around 19 percent for most of 2020 but spiked above that level several times.
Those spikes from accounts posting from outside of the U.S. correlated with real-world events in the U.S., according to the study, including "the domestic outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wayfair Conspiracy, and the Presidential Election."
Lighter click: The sandwich that launched a thousand tweets
An op-ed to chew on: Is the antidote to bad speech more speech or more regulation?
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Forced unemployment and second-class status: The life of Google's data center contractors (Protocol / Anna Kramer)
Is Facebook Buying Off The New York Times? (Washington Monthly / Dan Froomkin)
'Gamaredon' hackers target Ukrainian officials amid rising Russian tensions (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)
During the pandemic, viewers have turned to content creators for mental health support (The Washington Post / Abby Lee Hood)