Hillicon Valley: Feds expected to reveal new strategy in Facebook antitrust fight

Hillicon Valley: Feds expected to reveal new strategy in Facebook antitrust fight
© Greg Nash

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

The Federal Trade Commission is running up on its deadline to file an amended complaint in its antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, and whatever choice the commission makes could offer some insight into how Chair Lina KhanLina KhanHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Democrats press FTC to resolve data privacy 'crisis' Democrats ask FTC to fix data privacy 'crisis' Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE will push forward in cracking down on other tech giants. 

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Speaking of Facebook, the social media giant is also pushing back on narratives that right-wing news outlets are behind some of the most popular content on the site through a new report that details the most “widely viewed” content, rather than measuring engagement. 

 

THE NEXT STEPS: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week is expected to lay out its new legal strategy in an ongoing antitrust battle with Facebook that will also reveal how FTC chief Lina Khan plans to take on the market power of U.S. tech giants.

The FTC has until Thursday to disclose whether it plans to proceed with the case after a major courtroom setback earlier this year. The agency is largely expected to move forward, and is likely to do so by filing an amended complaint.

The stakes are high not just for the FTC but also for its new chair, a critic of big tech who is facing calls from Silicon Valley to recuse herself from this case and others.

“One of the most important things for the commission is, and I suspect they understand this, is to realize even before you do more things this is the most important case you have. Succeeding in this case is, I think, vital to carving out a broader path of enforcement in the future,” said William Kovacic, who served as FTC chairman from 2008-2009.

The commission’s case against Facebook centers on the company’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and the FTC seeks to restructure the company.

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The FTC voted to file the lawsuit against Facebook during the Trump administration, with then-Chairman Joseph Simons, a Republican, joining Democrats in support of pursuing an antitrust case. GOP commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips and Christine S. Wilson, who remain at the agency, voted against proceeding.

A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment on the agency’s plans and said officials will make a public announcement about the case “at the appropriate time.”

It will be Khan’s first major action as President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE’s FTC chair.

“If you fail here, that does not bode well for the rest of your programs. So in some sense, her program depends a lot on making this existing case a success,” said Kovacic, who’s now a professor at George Washington University Law School.

Read more here.

 

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE LIKES: Facebook will be sharing quarterly reports with data on the most “widely viewed” content on the platform’s News Feed feature as part of a push the tech giant said will increase transparency. 

The reports, the first of which was released Wednesday along with the announcement, measure public content based on views as opposed to Facebook’s Crowdtangle tool that measures engagement on posts. 

Reports based on Crowdtangle data have shown in the past that pages for right-leaning outlets and public figures have had the highest levels of engagement.

“There's a few gaps in the data that's used. The narrative that has emerged is simply wrong,” Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen said on a call with reporters. “Crowdtangle is focused on interaction, Crowdtangle only has a limited set of certain pages and accounts.We are creating a report that provides a broad and represents ... an accurate representation of what people's experiences actually are on our platform.”

Read more about the new report

 

WELL THIS ISN’T GREAT: T-Mobile said Wednesday that data from 40 million former and prospective customers was compromised by hackers as part of a recent breach of the telecom giant.

The company noted that records of 7.8 million current customers were included in the stolen data, including customer names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and driver’s license information.

T-Mobile stressed that no financial information, such as account numbers and PINs, were compromised.

The confirmation of the cyberattack came days after Motherboard reported that T-Mobile was investigating an online forum post that claimed records of up to 100 million people had been stolen as a result of an attack on the company's servers.

Read more about the breach here. 

 

CUBA’S CRACKDOWN: The Cuban government on Tuesday published a series of telecommunications regulations targeting social media users in the wake of a wave of protests against the island's communist dictatorship. 

The regulations, published in the government's gazette, ban usage of any telecommunications to "attack the security or internal order of the country [or] transmit fake news or information." 

July's demonstrations were the largest since at least 1994, and the country's government was caught off guard by their geographical extent, as protesters took to the streets in several cities at once.

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Read more about the regulations

 

TWITTER TEST: Twitter began testing a feature Tuesday that allows users to report misinformation on the platform.

It will first be available to users in the U.S., Australia and South Korea. 

Users will have the option of saying a post is “misleading” when reporting a tweet. However, doing so may not lead the platform to take any action.  

“We may not take action on and cannot respond to each report in the experiment, but your input will help us identify trends so that we can improve the speed and scale of our broader misinformation work,” Twitter said. 

Read more here.

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TESLA TOIL TWO: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyWarren, Bush offer bill to give HHS power to impose eviction moratorium Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Six Democrats blast Energy Department's uranium reserve pitch MORE (D-Mass.) are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Tesla’s marketing of a partially assisted driving feature known as Autopilot.

“Tesla’s marketing has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its vehicles, and these statements increasingly pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road,” the senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan.

“Accordingly, we urge you to open an investigation into potentially deceptive and unfair practices in Tesla’s advertising and marketing of its driving automation systems and take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.”

A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment further.

The Hill has reached out to Tesla for comment.

Tesla’s Autopilot technology has come under increased scrutiny from regulators after a series of accidents and misuses.

At least 11 people have died in crashes with Autopilot activated since the feature was released in 2015.

Read more.



An op-ed to chew on: How licensing reform lost its way 

Lighter click: Watch yourself Bart

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:  

Today’s Taliban uses sophisticated social media practices that rarely violate the rules (Washington Post / Craig Timberg and Cristiano Lima) 

Hackers breached US Census Bureau in January 2020 via Citrix vulnerability (The Record / Catalin Cimpanu) 

A Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee DHS chief 'horrified' by images at border MORE lawyer began clerking for Justice Thomas. Then Thomas came out swinging for Big Tech. (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky) 

Apple’s Double Agent (Motherboard / Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai)

I read Facebook’s Widely Viewed Content Report. It’s really strange. (Ethan Zuckerman)