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Hillicon Valley: Activists tackle shareholder meetings | Amazon to acquire MGM | EU updates disinformation rules

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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.

Happy Wednesday! Shareholder meetings are providing activists an opportunity to push tech giants on issues including civil rights violations, hate speech and whistleblower protections. In other news, Amazon announced its intention to acquire MGM Studios in a move sure to heighten already elevated antitrust scrutiny against the e-commerce giant.


PROXY BALLOT BATTLES: Tech giants are facing increasing pressure from activists to adopt proposals aimed at expanding whistleblower protections, investigating potential civil rights violations and curbing hate speech online.

Activist shareholders are pushing for the proposals to be adopted during this week’s annual meetings, the first to be held after a year that’s included nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, a deadly riot at the Capitol and challenging working conditions for many on-site workers in the tech industry.

Amazon workers are targeting the company’s largest investors to vote for proposals intended to make it more accountable for how its policies affect employees and communities ahead of the e-commerce giant’s shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Activists are similarly pressuring Facebook, Twitter and Google parent company Alphabet to adopt a series of proposals at their shareholder meetings this week and next that address concerns about content moderation and workplace conditions.

Read more here


AGENT 8.45: Amazon will acquire MGM Studios for $8.45 billion, the e-commerce giant announced Wednesday.

The deal for the entertainment studio is the second largest in Amazon’s history, behind its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017.

It is a sign of Amazon’s ambitions in the streaming market and will boost its Prime Video offerings.

“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling.”

The acquisition could heighten existing antitrust scrutiny on Amazon. 

Senate antitrust subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday called on regulators to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the proposed acquisition “to ensure that this deal won’t risk harming competition.”

Read more.


EU UPDATES: The European Commission is pushing for stronger rules around online disinformation, according to guidance released Wednesday

The guidance calls for reinforcing the European Union’s Code of Practice on Disinformation with stronger commitments from the tech companies that have signed onto the code that was launched in 2018.

It notably urges the code to be updated to call for tech companies to demonetize content with disinformation. 

“Threats posed by disinformation online are fast evolving and we need to step up our collective action to empower citizens and protect the democratic information space,” Věra Jourová, vice president for values and transparency, said in a statement. 

Read more about the guidance


USUAL SUSPECTS: Russia and Iran are the biggest sources of fake Facebook accounts and pages used to mislead users, the company said in a report released Wednesday.

A third of the 150 networks that the company shut down between 2017 and 2020 for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” came from Iran or Russia. Inauthentic networks involve accounts, pages and groups that use fake accounts to mislead users. 

The United States was the most popular target of networks removed during the period. Ukraine was the second most targeted country, with 11 networks targeting it as opposed to 28 aimed at the U.S.

“Influence operations are not new, but over the past several years they have burst into global public consciousness,” the report reads.

“These campaigns attempt to undermine trust in civic institutions and corrupt public debate by exploiting the same digital tools that have diversified the online public square and empowered critical discussions from Me Too to the Black Lives Matter movements.”

Wednesday’s report summarized and analyzed previously public disclosures from Facebook, which started sharing info about takedowns after the 2016 election.

Read more.

NEW ZEALAND IN THE CROSSHAIRS: Hackers sent patient data stolen during an attack on New Zealand’s Waikato District health system to local media outlets on Wednesday, with the outlets declining to publish the sensitive information. 

The Waikato District Health Board (DHB) confirmed the attack in a statement Wednesday, saying that it is “aware that the media have received what appears to be personal and patient information from Waikato DHB information systems.”

“Media outlets have confirmed they will not make this information public and have referred it to the Police,” the statement read. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation and Waikato DHB are working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), The Privacy Commission and NZ Police to respond, remediate and recover from this incident.”

Kevin Snee, the chief executive of the Waikato DHB, said in a statement Wednesday that authorities are working to address the hack, not commenting on who may be behind it. 

“This is a criminal investigation and we have every confidence that it is being dealt with by NZ Police and cyber security experts,” Snee said. “Care and safety of patients remains our highest priority, and we must concentrate on health services and supporting our staff to do their job.”

Read more about the attack here.

HIDE YA LIKES: Facebook will roll out the option to hide “like” counts on posts across Facebook and Instagram for all users this week, the company announced Wednesday.

Users will be able to hide like counts on all posts on their feeds and on their own posts.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that the new feature is geared toward decreasing stress from social media.

“The idea was to try to depressurize Instagram a little bit, to allow people to be able to focus more on the people that they care about and being inspired and worry a little bit less about how many likes they or other people are getting,” he said. 

Read more.

Lighter click: Rejoice!

An op-ed to chew on: Helping US small businesses survive the COVID-driven shift online


QAnon’s hallmark catchphrases evaporating from the mainstream internet (DFRLab / Jared Holt and Max Rizutto)

‘Prime for abuse’: Lack of oversight lets Phoenix police add protesters to gang database (ABC 15 Arizona / Dave Biscobing)

NYC’s School Algorithms Cement Segregation. This Data Shows How (The Markup and The  City / Colin Lechler and Maddy Varner)

Tags Amy Klobuchar

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