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Hillicon Valley: DC attorney general files antitrust lawsuit against Amazon | DHS to require pipeline companies to report cyberattacks | Activists, parents urge Facebook to drop Instagram for kids plan

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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.

Amazon found itself in hot water on Tuesday, with the Washington, D.C. attorney general filing an antitrust lawsuit against it, and over 600 Amazon tech workers separately calling on the company to address pollution levels concentrated in communities of color. Meanwhile, two branches of the Department of Homeland will soon issue guidance requiring pipeline companies to report cybersecurity incidents to federal authorities following the Colonial Pipeline hack, and thousands of activists and parents are calling on Facebook to drop its plans for an Instagram for kids. 

ANTITRUST NEWS: Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine (D) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon Tuesday, alleging that the e-commerce giant has unfairly raised prices and hurt innovation.

The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court claims that Amazon has engaged in anti-competitive business practices including not allowing third-party sellers to offer their products at lower prices elsewhere and imposing excessive fees.

The suit alleges that those practices pass on fees to consumers in the form of higher prices, prevent other platforms from competing and take away choices from consumers.

“Amazon has used its dominant position in the online retail market to win at all costs,” Racine said in a statement. “It maximizes its profits at the expense of third-party sellers and consumers, while harming competition, stifling innovation, and illegally tilting the playing field in its favor.”

Amazon claimed in 2019 to end the pricing policy that barred retailers from selling their products at a lower price or on better terms. However, according to the lawsuit, the company quickly replaced it with another policy that allows the platform to sanction or remove sellers that partake in this activity. 

Read more here.


DHS TAKES ACTION: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will issue a directive later this week requiring all pipeline companies to report cyber incidents to federal authorities after a devastating ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline forced a shutdown of operations.

The Washington Post first reported that DHS’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is responsible for securing critical pipelines, will issue the directive this week following concerns that pipeline operators are not required to report cyber incidents, unlike other critical infrastructure sectors.

A spokesperson for DHS told The Hill in an emailed statement Tuesday that “the Biden administration is taking further action to better secure our nation’s critical infrastructure,” with TSA and the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) working together on the issue.

“TSA, in close collaboration with CISA, is coordinating with companies in the pipeline sector to ensure they are taking all necessary steps to increase their resilience to cyber threats and secure their systems. We will release additional details in the days ahead,” the spokesperson said.

Read more about the upcoming directive here.


A GREEN PUSH: More than 600 Amazon tech workers have signed onto a statement calling for the e-commerce giant to address pollution that is disproportionately concentrated in communities of color, an employee-organized climate group said Tuesday. 

The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice statement calls for the company to commit to zero emissions by 2030 and deploy zero-emission technologies in communities most impacted by its pollution first. 

“We want to be proud of where we work. A company that lives up to its statements about racial equity and closes the racial equity gaps in its operations is a critical part of that,” the statement reads

The push comes a day ahead of Amazon’s annual shareholders meeting, where a number of proposals will get votes.

Read more about the effort.


PARENTS JOIN IN: More than 150,000 activists and parents have signed a series of petitions urging Facebook to drop its plans to create an Instagram platform for children, the organizations behind the petitions said Tuesday. 

The signatories join a growing chorus of advocates and bipartisan lawmakers who have criticized Facebook’s plans, which would create an Instagram platform for kids under 13. 

The three petitions, launched by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), SumOfUs and the Juggernaut Project, slam the plan over concerns about skewing children’s self image, harvesting their data and feeding the addictive nature of social media apps. 

Read more about the petitions


GERMAN PRESSURE: Germany’s antitrust watchdog announced Tuesday that it has launched two investigations into Google’s market power and handling of user data.

The agency will analyze whether Google and its parent company, Alphabet, have dominance in multiple markets.

“An ecosystem which extends across various markets may be an indication that a company holds such a market position,” Andreas Mundt, president of the Federal Cartel Office, said in a statement. 

“Due to the large number of digital services offered by Google, such as the Google search engine, YouTube, Google Maps, the Android operating system or the Chrome browser, the company could be considered to be of paramount significance for competition across markets,” Mundt continued. 

The second investigation will focus on Google’s data processing terms and whether users have “sufficient choice” over how their information is managed. The Federal Cartel Office launched a similar investigation into Facebook in 2019 that is pending in court. 

Google spokesperson Ralf Bremer told The Hill the company will “cooperate fully” with the investigations.

Read more.


LAWMAKERS GOING POSTAL: The bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday requested an investigation into a branch of the U.S. Postal Service in the wake of reports that it carried out online surveillance of Americans’ social media posts. 

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb urging her to open an investigation in the Postal Services’ Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). 

The request comes a month after Yahoo News reported on a March bulletin sent out by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). The bulletin cited iCOP concerns about potential protests planned for March 20 based on “online inflammatory material” and posts on social media platforms Parler and Telegram, and noted that iCOP was “currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats.”

Maloney and Comer on Tuesday expressed “concern” that iCOP was being used to “perform intelligence operations on First Amendment activity.”

“These activities raise serious questions about the scope of the program, the extent of sharing of information among law enforcement agencies, and whether USPIS has the authority to conduct such an operation,” the committee leaders wrote. 

Read more here.


RUSSIAN ROULETTE: A Russian court on Tuesday issued a fine to Google and threatened to slow down its traffic for not removing what it referred to as illegal content.

Google received a fine of 6 million rubles, or approximately $81,600, for administrative offenses, Reuters reports. This fine comes after Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor said it gave Google 24 hours to remove videos containing drugs, violence and extremism.

According to Reuters, Russia could place a slowdown of internet traffic in Russia, noting that the country has previously placed a slowdown on Twitter for refusing to take down content. Last month, Twitter was also issued three separate fines totaling around $121,000.

Read more here.

Lighter click: That chair is way too small!

An op-ed to chew on: Media safe harbor bill won’t actually help local news 


Amazon’s relentless pace is injuring warehouse workers and violating the law, Washington state regulator says (Seattle Times and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting / Katherine Anne Long and Will Evans)

The FCC has money for broadband. The hard part? Spreading the word. (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky)

Heat Listed (The Verge / Matt Stroud)

Tech giants’ foes open up their wallets to the House’s top antitrust Republican (Politico / Emily Birnbaum)

Suspected Iranian hackers pose as ransomware operators to target Israeli organizations (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)

Tags Carolyn Maloney Hillicon Valley James Comer

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