Hillicon Valley — FCC nominee faces divided Senate panel
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President Biden’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee faced a Senate panel deeply divided along party lines at a hearing Wednesday, and tech advocates are growing increasingly frustrated by delays in the confirmation process.
In other news, ID.me will be offering a facial recognition-less verification system amid backlash from activists and lawmakers to now-canceled plans for the IRS to use the service.
Let’s jump into the news.
Sohn hearing, take two
President Biden’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee Gigi Sohn faced questions from a Senate panel for the second time on Wednesday amid ongoing delays to her confirmation.
Addressing the critics: Sohn directly addressed concerns raised by Republicans about her ties to Locast, a discontinued nonprofit streaming service that let users view livestreams of television, and a recent confidential settlement involving the nonprofit and broadcasters.
“I’ve been subject to unrelenting, unfair and outright false criticism and scrutiny,” she said.
Sohn said she has “no financial liability stemming from the lawsuit” and she had not negotiated the settlement.
She also told the panel she did not mention the $700,000 settlement agreement when questioned in writing by senators because she was barred from doing so under the terms of the confidential settlement.
“This was a fact that whoever leaked the agreement to the press conveniently omitted,” she said.
It was Sohn’s second hearing before the committee, after Democrats failed to push her through at the end of last year.
Delay frustrations: Progressive tech advocates are growing increasingly frustrated by the delays, casting blame on the White House and Senate Democratic leadership for stalling and catering to Republicans who they say are raising disingenuous concerns.
As the Senate continues to fight along party lines over Sohn, the FCC hangs in a 2-2 deadlock that limits Democrats’ ability to push forward their agenda, including reinstating net neutrality laws undone during the Trump administration.
The private contractor ID.me is dropping the facial recognition requirement from its identity verification software that is widely used by state and federal agencies.
The decision comes after a mounting backlash from activists and lawmakers to plans for the IRS to use ID.me because of privacy and accuracy concerns.
“We have listened to the feedback about facial recognition and are making this important change, adding an option for users to verify directly with a human agent to ensure consumers have even more choice and control over their personal data,” ID.me CEO Blake Hall said in a statement Tuesday evening
The IRS announced Monday that it would be dropping plans to require Americans to upload a video selfie to access basic tax information.
At least 30 states and 10 federal agencies including Social Security, Labor and Veterans Affairs also use ID.me for verification to access unemployment assistance and a variety of grants.
MICROSOFT’S NEW APP STORE RULES
Microsoft announced new rules for its app stores on Wednesday, as regulators consider the company’s plans to acquire gaming company Activision Blizzard.
Microsoft’s new Open App Store principles mirror guidelines that Congress is looking to pass to regulate Apple and Google’s dominant app stores and will be applied across the Microsoft Store on Windows and to the “next-generation marketplaces we will build for games,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post.
The new rules are part of the company’s pitch to regulators weighing the company’s roughly $70 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard.
“We have developed these principles in part to address Microsoft’s growing role and responsibility as we start the process of seeking regulatory approval in capitals around the world for our acquisition of Activision Blizzard,” Smith said.
“This regulatory process begins while many governments are also moving forward with new laws to promote competition in app markets and beyond,” he added. “We want regulators and the public to know that as a company, Microsoft is committed to adapting to these new laws, and with these principles, we’re moving to do so.”
PARLER’S ‘SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT’ WITH MELANIA TRUMP
Parler announced on Wednesday that it is engaging in a social media “special arrangement” with former first lady Melania Trump where she will share “exclusive communications” on the social media network.
Parler noted it is already powering her blockchain technology and nonfungible token platform, MelaniaTrump.com.
In a statement, Trump lauded the social network, which she said “empowers its users to foster productive discourse.”
“I am excited and inspired by free speech platforms that give direct communication to people worldwide. Parler has been on the forefront of utilizing Web3 technology and empowers its users to foster productive discourse,” the former first lady said.
The announcement by Parler comes close to a year since the social media platform relaunched its service after web services and app stores de-platformed it following Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Nationals ink deal with crypto community
The Washington Nationals baseball team on Wednesday announced a partnership with a cryptocurrency community that could allow fans to pay for tickets and concessions with digital tokens as soon as next year.
The D.C.-based MLB team struck a wide-ranging sponsorship deal with Terra, a network of individuals who run a blockchain behind several prominent cryptocurrencies.
The Terra network controls a pool of more than $2.7 billion through a decentralized autonomous organization, a structure popular among cryptocurrency communities that allows members to govern the operations of the entire community. The network runs on technology created by Singapore-based Terraform Labs.
Terra branding will appear behind home plate at Nationals Park, giving the network prime real estate for television coverage, as well as throughout the stadium’s displays. The Nationals will also rename an elite club of indoor suites behind home plate after Terra, release a five-part video series explaining the Terra network and could accept payments in the network’s “UST”— a cryptocurrency tied to the value of the U.S. dollar — as soon as 2023.
BITS AND PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: How space is changing the nature of war
Lighter click: I like it, Picasso
Notable links from around the web:
The hacked account and suspicious donations behind the Canadian trucker protests (Grid News / Anya van Wagtendonk, Benjamin Powers, and Steve Reilly)
Reselling Gig Work Is Tiktok’s Newest Side Hustle (The Verge / Mia Sato)
Slack or bust: How workplace tools are becoming job deal-breakers (Protocol / Lizzy Lawrence)
One last thing: Amazon’s new telehealth service
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is rolling out its telehealth service nationwide.
The company said the virtual service, known as Amazon Care, would now be available across the nation, with in-person services available in 20 cities later this year.
Amazon Care, which was first launched in 2019 and grew amid the demand for virtual services brought on by COVID-19, provides on-demand access to various urgent and primary care services.
“Patients are tired of a health care system that doesn’t put them first. Our patient-centric service is changing that, one visit at a time,” Kristen Helton, director of Amazon Care, said in the company’s announcement.
“We’ve brought our on-demand urgent and primary care services to patients nationwide. As we grow the service, we’ll continue to work with our customers to address their needs.”