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Hillicon Valley: Senators highlight security threats from China during rare public hearing | Facebook suspends accounts of NYU researchers who’ve criticized platform

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The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee and other officials warned Wednesday of increasing threats from China on a number of fronts, including the stealing of intellectual property, malign influence and cyberattacks. 

Meanwhile, Facebook suspended accounts of researchers who had been critical of the social media giant, hurting research into issues such as misinformation, while a group of Democratic lawmakers urged tech giants to drop request for the leader of the Federal Trade Commission to recuse herself from certain cases. 

SOUNDING THE ALARM: The Senate Intelligence Committee held a rare public hearing Wednesday afternoon to stress increasing threats posed by China to U.S. national security, with one top senator describing the situation as a “horror-show.”

The threats, according to the officials, include Chinese counterintelligence activities such as cyberattacks against U.S. companies and critical organizations, malign influence, and stealing billions of dollars in U.S. intellectual property.

“The Intelligence Committee…doesn’t normally hold open hearings, but Vice Chairman [Marco] Rubio [R-Fla.] and I believe this story needs to get out to the American public,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) testified at a hearing on Chinese threats Wednesday. 

Rubio also strongly stressed the need to confront China on its efforts to undermine the U.S., particularly on technological issues. 

“The members of this committee on a regular basis review some of the most sensitive intelligence, both intelligence and the products that come from them, that this government has available to it,” Rubio testified. “So I think it should send a powerful message when you see that on issue after issue relating to China…that it is members of this committee that you see in the lead.”

Read more about the hearing here.


CUT OFF: Facebook has suspended the accounts of New York University researchers who had been critical of the tech giant, effectively cutting off their research into the political ads and the spread of misinformation on the platform.

Facebook said the decision was made because of issues the researchers posed over privacy protection — but the researchers, Laura Edelson and Damon McCoy, slammed the social media platform and said the move is an attempt to silence them and other researchers who use the tool they developed to assess the spread of disinformation. 

“The work our team does to make data about disinformation on Facebook transparent is vital to a healthy internet and a healthy democracy. Facebook is silencing us because our work often calls attention to problems on its platform,” Edelson said in a statement. “Worst of all, Facebook is using user privacy, a core belief that we have always put first in our work, as a pretext for doing this. If this episode demonstrates anything it’s that Facebook should not have veto power over who is allowed to study them.”

The suspension followed months of battling between the tech giant and the researchers over the Ad Observer tool the researchers developed. The tool allows Facebook users to voluntarily share limited anonymous information about the political ads shown to them by the platform and allows researchers and journalists to follow trends in Facebook political advertising. 

Read more here


JUST DROP IT: A coalition of Democrats is urging Facebook and Amazon to drop their requests for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina Khan to recuse herself from matters related to the companies. 

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), along with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), slammed the tech giants’ requests for Khan’s recusal as an attempt to “bully” regulators and “avoid accountability.” 

“The real basis of your concerns appears to be that you fear Chair Khan’s expertise and interpretation of federal antitrust law. To argue that federal ethics laws preclude Chair Khan from exercising her expertise is illogical and inconsistent with the plain language of the relevant statutes and with FTC ethics officials’ interpretations of recusal requirements,” they wrote in a letter sent Wednesday. 

Read more about the letter


SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER?: Top lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection panel are pressing Facebook to release internal research on the impact of its products on youth mental health as the company presses ahead with plans for a platform geared toward children.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a letter Wednesday to share any internal research on the topic, as well as commit to send a senior executive to testify before the lawmakers at a hearing on the topic in September. 

The letter is the latest effort from lawmakers to pressure Facebook over its impact on kids and teens as the company pushes forward with plans to launch an “Instagram for kids” platform for users under the age of 13.

“As one of the largest platforms for young audiences, Facebook has a profound obligation to ensure its products do not contribute to this crisis,” the senators wrote. 

Read more here


VAXX UP: Microsoft is joining the list of corporations that are requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. 

The company sent an email to employees Tuesday announcing the requirement, which also applies to guests who come to the offices.

Employees will be going back to the office Oct. 4, with some employees who have children or a person in their household who is immunocompromised allowed to stay home until the beginning of next year.

The announcement follows several other major companies such as Google and Walmart who announced a vaccine requirement for employees last week. 

Read more about the announcement

What we’re watching this week: CISA Director Jen Easterly will give a keynote address at the Black Hat conference on Thursday, while DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will speak at the conference later the same day. 

An op-ed to chew on: The Pentagon needs tech that protects the US and preserves the environment 

Lighter click: Best job ever



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A U.S. official explains why the White House decided not to ban ransomware payments (CyberScoop / Tonya Riley)

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Hillicon Valley Lina Khan Mark Warner Mark Zuckerberg Marsha Blackburn Pramila Jayapal
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