Today is Thursday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — States probe the tech giants Executives personally signed off on Facebook-Google ad collusion plot, states claim States push forward with Facebook antitrust case, reportedly probe VR unit MORE on Thursday announced a major overhaul of Facebook, rebranding with a new name amid ongoing congressional oversight and scrutiny in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, two top Biden administration cybersecurity officials on Thursday outlined plans to strengthen federal cybersecurity after a tumultuous year, and a key Justice Department antitrust official saw his nomination advanced in the Senate.
Let’s jump in.
Into the 'Metaverse'
Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday that the company he founded is rebranding as Meta.
“Facebook is one of the most used products in the history of the world ... but increasingly it just doesn’t encompass everything we do,” Zuckerberg said during a livestreamed event.
The announcement came during an address by Zuckerberg about the company’s ambitions in what they are calling the "metaverse," which is being pitched as an immersive virtual online experience.
Difficult times: The name change comes as Facebook continues to face intense scrutiny. Dozens of news stories have been released this week based on internal documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen painting a company that prioritizes profit over user safety.
Lawmakers have taken notice, pledging to move forward with regulations on the back of Haugen’s testimony earlier this month.
The new model, of which details are scant, appears to be one where the company's collection of apps, including Facebook proper, Instagram and WhatsApp, will all be under the umbrella of Meta. That reorganization is similar to what Google did in 2015 when it formed Alphabet.
Cyber plans in the making
Top Biden administration officials on Thursday outlined steps taken to confront the increase in cyber threats against the nation, including through strengthening key critical infrastructure groups.
National Cyber Director Chris Inglis detailed these steps in both a strategic intent document issued by the White House and an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, prioritizing issues including enhancing federal cybersecurity efforts, improving public-private coordination and shoring up resources and resilience to face cyber threats.
“It’s really a statement of what we intend to be held accountable for, contributions we intend to make that complement what the National Security Council does, what the Office of Management and Budget does, the sector risk management agencies, and so on and so forth,” Inglis said Thursday while speaking about the intent document at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
New job: As part of efforts to strengthen federal cybersecurity, Inglis announced Thursday that Federal Chief Information Security Officer (CSIO) Chris DeRusha would also take on the role of deputy national cyber director for federal cybersecurity.
Inglis spoke alongside Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, who teased the administration’s upcoming national cyber strategy, which Neuberger said will include “three lines of effort.”
Water security: She stressed Thursday the need to secure the water sector against attacks, and said the administration was pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have more authorities in this space.
Jonathan Kanter, President BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice's (DOJ) antitrust division, advanced with broad bipartisan support at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday.
The panel advanced Kanter through a voice vote, though Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster MORE (R-Texas) asked to be recorded as a vote against Kanter’s nomination.
If approved by a final Senate vote, Kanter will lead the DOJ division at a time when the federal government is cracking down on the market power of tech giants, including suing Google over allegations of illegally maintaining a monopoly over online searches.
Cornyn said he shares some of the concerns Kanter has raised about the tech industry, but he is concerned with what he described as Kanter’s approach to “use antitrust tools as a hammer to achieve political or social ends.”
SENATE TAKES ACTION
The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation to take steps to further crack down on the use of telecommunications products from companies deemed to be a national security threat, such as those based in China.
The Secure Equipment Act would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from considering or issuing authorization of products from companies on the agency’s “covered list.”
Companies on this list include Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, which both Congress and the Trump administration took steps to block from the U.S. due to national security and espionage concerns. The FCC last year formally designated both Huawei and ZTE as national security threats.
Time to face the music
An alleged Russian hacker appeared in court for the first time Thursday to face allegations that he played a role in a transnational cybercrime organization after being extradited to the United States from South Korea.
Vladimir Dunaev is alleged to have been a member of a group that used “Trickbot” malware to carry out cyberattacks worldwide between 2015 and 2020, including stealing personal information and damaging computer networks of groups such as schools, government entities, and financial institutions. These incidents involved ransomware attacks.
Dunaev is alleged to have worked as a malware developer for the Trickbot group, and has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud and aggravated identity theft, along with charges of money laundering, wire fraud, and bank fraud, among others. He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
A TIMELY UPDATE
Google on Wednesday announced it will let minors request to remove images from the company’s search feature.
Anyone under the age of 18, or their guardians, can request the images on search results be removed by filling out a form to report the image, Google said in a blog post.
Google’s team will review the request and reach out for any additional information the company may need to verify that it meets the requirements for removal. Users will be notified once the image is taken down if it meets the requirement.
The update comes after Congress increased scrutiny over tech company’s policies regarding children’s safety and privacy online.
Good day for community colleges
Microsoft on Thursday announced a new campaign to invest millions of dollars and resources in community colleges in an effort to address the massive shortage of American workers to fill cybersecurity positions.
Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith detailed the campaign in a blog post published Thursday, with the effort aimed at recruiting 250,000 individuals to join the cybersecurity field by 2025 primarily through bolstering support for community colleges.
“As we look to the future, we need to recognize as a nation that we face a cybersecurity skills crisis in the country,” Smith told reporters at a virtual event to announce the campaign Thursday. “We cannot protect the country unless we fill the open cybersecurity jobs that exist today, and the single best way we can do that is to mobilize the nation’s community colleges.”
TAKING A STAND
Rep. C.A. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerMaryland Democrat announces positive COVID-19 test The Hill's Morning Report - For Biden, it goes from bad to worse Maryland Democrat experiencing mild symptoms after positive COVID-19 test MORE (D-Md.) announced on Wednesday that he plans to deactivate his Facebook and Instagram accounts until Facebook, which owns both social media platforms, and Congress "make substantial reforms that protect our children, health and democratic values."
Ruppersberger cited the recent "disturbing whistleblower reports" that show that Facebook's own internal research indicates that it is harming democracy by amplifying misinformation and hate speech, as well as negatively affecting the mental health of teenagers.
“Facebook’s basic business model sows division and disinformation and I can no longer use it — and promote it from my official mediums — in good conscience for the time being,” Ruppersberger said. “While Facebook must do better to police themselves, Congress must also act and pass reasonable social media reforms. I look forward to learning more about what we can do to promote change and supporting legislation to that effect.”
BITS AND PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: Cyber terrorism: Sci-Fi fantasy or legitimate threat?
Lighter click: All answers are correct
Notable links from around the web:
How Do People Join Militias? A Leaked Oath Keepers Roster Has Answers. (Mother Jones / Ali Breland)
The sexfluencers (Vox / Rebecca Jennings)
Tech company diversity reports are more important than ever (Protocol / Biz Carson)
Machine learning and AI may help 5G cloud providers detect sophisticated attacks–NSA (FedScoop / John Hewitt Jones)
One last thing: Tech billionaires on guard
America’s richest tech executives and their companies are in the crosshairs of a new effort by Democrats to pay for the party’s ambitious social spending plans.
While the new billionaires tax and corporate tax minimum proposals are not specifically targeted toward tech, the industry would be among the hardest hit.
Big Tech celebrities like Amazon’s Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosFree speech, Whole Foods, and the endangered apolitical workplace Space: One important thing that might retain bipartisan focus Virtual realities may solve Fermi's paradox about extraterrestrials MORE, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley — States probe the tech giants Equilibrium/Sustainability — Bald eagle comeback impacted by lead poison Tesla puts Cybertruck production on hold until early 2023: report MORE — as well as the companies they own — would see their tax bills skyrocket if the new tax comes to fruition.
It is unclear if the billionaires tax will become a reality, especially after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Democrats eye talking filibuster NAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Schumer tees up showdown on voting rights, filibuster MORE (D-W.Va.) expressed discomfort with the proposal Wednesday.
However, just getting a proposal targeting billionaires on the table is a clear sign that Washington is zeroing in on them as a way to fill the government’s coffers — and could be getting serious about making the tax system more equal.