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Hillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit

Hillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit
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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 by clicking HERE.

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

Parler said it will be back in the Apple App Store this week with approved changes, but those updates may come with the risk of losing the platform’s base users over accusations of selling out to Big Tech and losing its pro-free speech model. Speaking of free speech, a high schooler’s Snapchat about failing to make the varsity cheerleading team is at the center of a crucial First Amendment Supreme Court case. And pressure is mounting for Google to take action in line with its public statements on race, with a civil rights organization calling on the company to conduct a racial equity audit. 

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PARLER’S UNCERTAIN PATH FORWARD: Parler is returning to Apple’s App Store after making some changes demanded by the company, but the social media platform popular with conservatives is facing accusations of selling out to Big Tech and risks losing some of its key user base.

Parler rose in popularity after the 2020 election, boosted by high-profile conservative figures who railed against mainstream platforms’ content moderation policies. After a nearly four-month ban, prompted by Parler posts surrounding the deadly riot at the Capitol, the app is set to relaunch in the App Store this week.

“It will be interesting to see whether or not ... there will be the same drive for people to join Parler this time around,” said Bret Schafer, Alliance for Securing Democracy’s media and digital disinformation fellow.

Apple’s confirmation last week to top Republicans on the House and Senate antitrust subcommittees that it will let Parler back in the App Store with approved content moderation changes was cheered by the lawmakers. 

But Andrew Torba, CEO and founder of fringe social media platform Gab — billed as “The Free Speech Social Network” — wrote a blog post blasting the return. And users on Gab criticized Parler for what they said was selling out, pledging not to come back.

Read more about Parler’s impending app store return

TEEN’S SNAPCHAT AT CENTER OF SUPREME COURT CASE: The Supreme Court on Wednesday explored the extent of protections for student speech that occurs off campus, in a case that could break new First Amendment ground in the social media age.

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Hearing arguments by phone, the court grappled with a dispute pitting a teen cheerleader against her Pennsylvania high school district, which imposed a yearlong suspension from the squad after she made a profane Snapchat post off campus and outside of school hours.

The justices struggled to apply decades-old precedents on the regulation of student speech amid a social media era that has increasingly blurred the line between campus life and private expression.

“That sharp line I think you’re trying to draw between on campus and off campus, how does that fit with modern technology?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked an attorney representing the cheerleader. “I mean, it's a text or a snap that you send from the park, and it's read in the cafeteria. Is that off campus, or on campus?”

Read more here

GOOGLE URGED TO AUDIT: Civil rights organization Color of Change is urging Google to conduct a racial equity audit, spurred both by the Silicon Valley giant’s business model and its treatment of employees. 

The petition launched Tuesday calls for Google to take action in line with the public statements the company has put out after the nationwide racial justice protests last year sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“Google has made public statements about racial equity, about Black lives, and given us commercials and other online content to make us believe that they're sort of working towards a better world — all while their product, and their practices have incentivized a lot of harm to our community,” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson told The Hill on Wednesday. 

The petition is part of a mounting effort to hold the tech giant more accountable for its practices.

Read more about the push.  

CYBER CORPS: A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate on Wednesday rolled out legislation that would create a National Guard-style program to help defend critical systems against increasing cyberattacks from nation states and criminals. 

The Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Act would establish a civilian reserve program to provide cybersecurity training for individuals who have previously worked for either the U.S. federal government or armed services. They would then be available as resources for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to boost federal cybersecurity protections. 

The bill has bipartisan support, and is sponsored by Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit Lawmakers introduce legislation to create civilian reserve program to fight hackers Bipartisan Senate proposal would grant million to minority businesses MORE (D-Nev.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (R-Tenn.) in the Senate, alongside Reps. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaHillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit Lawmakers introduce legislation to create civilian reserve program to fight hackers To encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision MORE (D-Calif.) and Ken CalvertKenneth (Ken) Stanton CalvertMORE (R-Calif.) in the House. 

It was introduced as both the Biden administration and Congress have been forced to concentrate on enhancing the cybersecurity of critical systems in the wake of multiple major hacking incidents. 

Read more about the bill here.

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OFF TO A STRONG START: Apple and Facebook reported strong starts to 2021 on Wednesday.

Apple revenue was up 54 percent in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same time period last year, according to the earnings report the Silicon Valley giant released Wednesday.

Apple’s $89.8 billion revenue was boosted by the company’s product line-up, as work and school largely remained remote due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Facebook beat Wall Street revenue expectations in the first quarter of the year, when it brought in $26.2 billion amid increased regulatory scrutiny from Washington.

The social media giant on Wednesday reported sales were up 48 percent compared to the same three-month period last year, driven by strong advertising demand. Analysts had expected revenue of $23.7 billion.

Facebook said in its earnings report that it's preparing for “ad targeting headwinds” as a result of regulatory and platform challenges. The company highlighted as a specific threat recent privacy changes in Apple’s iOS 14 update that could make tracking users more difficult.

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted the new App Tracking Transparency feature as giving users a choice over how their data is used. 

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Read more about Apple and Facebook’s earning reports. 

ROGAN & SPOTIFY: Spotify is refusing to comment on remarks from its most popular podcast host Joe Rogan casting doubt on the need for some people to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek declined to answer a question Wednesday about Rogan’s recent suggestion that healthy young people should not get the vaccine.

“I don’t have any specific comments on that,” Ek told Bloomberg in an interview. “What I will say is we have 8 million creators, and hundreds of millions of pieces of content. We have a content policy and we do remove pieces that violate it."

Later, during Spotify’s regular earning call, the company singled out Rogan’s contribution to their podcast user growth in the first quarter.

“December had a very strong month, particularly with Joe Rogan going exclusive,” chief financial officer Paul Vogel said Wednesday.

Read more.

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TESLA UNDER FIRE: Tesla defended itself in a Wednesday filing against U.S. and German complaints. American regulators said the automaker has not proved its compliance with environmental regulations and German officials accused it of not taking back customer batteries.

In the filing, the company said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is demanding further details about operations at its Fremont, Calif., plant’s paint facility. The agency said Tesla had not properly documented that its surface coating process for vehicles complies with federal standards governing hazardous air pollutants.

In the filing, the company said it “has responded to all information requests from the EPA and refutes the allegations. While the outcome of this matter cannot be determined at this time, it is not currently expected to have a material adverse impact on our business.”

Read more here

Lighter click: The classics

An op-ed to chew on: Congress needs to help modernize our digital infrastructure

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Schools Use Software That Blocks LGBTQ+ Content, But Not White Supremacists (Motherboard / Todd Feathers)

A missed opportunity in India (The New York Times / Shira Ovide) 

‘Ghostwriter’ campaign rages on as Biden prepares for NATO trip (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas) 

Amazon fired him. Now he’s helping Staten Island workers unionize (Protocol / Megan Rose Dickey)