Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration

Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration
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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 and Happy Tuesday! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage. 

Under intense Congressional and regulatory scrutiny, Facebook tightened protections for teens across its platform Tuesday by limiting ad targeting. In the cyber world, the FBI cautioned against banning ransomware payments in a hearing after a spate of attacks.

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TIGHTENING TEEN RESTRICTIONS: Facebook will stop allowing advertisers to target ads to teenage users across its platforms, including Instagram and Facebook Messenger, based on the users’ activity on other apps and websites, the social media giant said Tuesday. 

Advertisers will only be able to target ads to users under 18 based on their age, gender and location. The new policy limits them from using previously available information, such as what a user is searching or shopping for through a different website or app, to target specific ads. 

It follows pressure from advocacy groups that have warned against the dangers of targeted advertising, especially for young users. 

But as Facebook pledges to rein in targeted advertising for young users, it is also pushing forward with a controversial plan to create an Instagram for kids that has drawn criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers. 

Read more here

RANSOM BAN NIXED: A senior FBI official advised members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday against the idea of banning companies from paying hackers behind ransomware attacks, which have become a national security concern in recent months.

“It’s our opinion that banning ransomware payments is not the road to go down,” Bryan Vorndran, the assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, responded to a question by Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Hawaii). 

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Vorndran stressed that this was due to the increasing sophistication of ransomware attacks, as many cyber criminals not only encrypt a company’s network and demand payment, but stealing data from companies to use for additional blackmail if the attack is reported. 

“It would be our opinion that if we ban ransom payments, now you are putting U.S. companies in a position to face yet another extortion, which is being blackmailed for paying the ransom and not sharing that with authorities,” Vorndran testified. “It is a really complicated conversation, but it is our position that banning ransom payments is not the road to go down.”

Vorndran noted that the FBI estimates that between “25 and 35 percent” of cyber incidents are currently not reported to federal law enforcement, making it difficult for the FBI and other agencies to fully assess the scope of the ransomware attack problem and respond accordingly.

Read more here

WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL MEDIA SKEPTICISM: A group of nine Senate Republicans is demanding the White House clarify recent comments about flagging coronavirus misinformation to social media platforms.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiReporters lodge complaint with White House over Biden-Johnson meeting access White House faces increased cries from allies on Haitian migrants Harris 'deeply troubled' by treatment of Haitian migrants MORE said at a briefing earlier this month that the administration has been alerting platforms about “problematic posts” related to COVID-19, a remark that immediately drew First Amendment concerns.

“Psaki’s vague description of the Administration’s endeavor to ‘flag’ posts on social media lacks a clear explanation regarding how the Administration will work with social media platforms to police speech on the Internet,” the GOP senators wrote in their letter to President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE on Monday.

“With this history, big tech, the corporate media, and the Administration have no credibility in determining what is and isn’t ‘misinformation,’ ” they added.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter, which was publicly released Tuesday.

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A VACCINE CHIT-CHAT: Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Pfizer results offer hope amid worsening pandemic for children The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration MORE, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, kicked off a new informational YouTube series Tuesday about COVID-19 vaccines that aims to reach Black and brown communities. 

Fauci participated in a question-and-answer interview with two doctors, Jamie Rutland and Italo Brown, in the first video of a planned “Barbershop Medicine” series from YouTube Originals. 

In the approximately nine-minute long video, posted to the American Public Health Association's YouTube channel, the doctors and Fauci discuss the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and address vaccine hesitancy in Black and brown communities. 

Read more here

HALE SENTENCED: A former Air Force intelligence officer was sentenced to 45 months in prison Tuesday for sharing top-secret information about the U.S.’s drone program to the press.

Daniel Hale was sentenced by Judge Liam O’Grady in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., for violating the Espionage Act.

Prosecutors had called for a harsher punishment, suggesting in a filing Monday that nine years would be appropriate for leaking to the media.

“For those like Hale, who unilaterally decide to disclose classified information, the existence of criminal penalties that are theoretically harsh but practically lenient is not sufficient,” prosecutors wrote. “A substantial sentence is needed also to account for Hale’s blatant disregard for the consequences of his conduct.”

Hale pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act in March, saying that he gave more than 150 pages of records classified at the top-secret or secret level to a journalist.

The plea did not specify what reporter, but details in the public court filings and records around the time make it clear that Hale shared the documents with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept.

Some documents provided by Hale featured in the outlet’s investigative series “The Drone Papers” from 2015, which detailed former President Obama's embrace of drone warfare and revealed the degree to which strikes hit unintended targets.

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Hale wrote in a handwritten note from jail last week that during his time with the Air Force in Afghanistan he “came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keep [sic] us safe.”

“By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissable [sic] for me to have helped to kill those men — whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify — in the gruesome manner that I did watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me,” he continued.

Read more on the ruling

What we’re watching this week:

- The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will consider over a dozen bills involving the Federal Trade Commission and consumer protection during a markup July 28. 

- A House Homeland Security Committee subcommittee will hold a hearing July 29 on educating the workforce to understand cybersecurity threats. 

An op-ed to chew on:  It’s time for US to get serious about cleaning up space junk

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Lighter click: Whirlwind of a news day

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Where Is Biden's Permanent FCC Boss? (Motherboard / Karl Bode) 

Video game developers at Activision Blizzard say they'll walk out Wednesday (Axios / Megan Farokhmanesh)  

BuzzFeed Is Going Public. What Now for Vice and Vox? (New York Times / Edmund Lee and Lauren Hirsch)