Published on June 12th, 2020 📆 | 4078 Views ⚑0
Where is Silicon Valley on social justice?
With help from Leah Nylen
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— MT scoop: As Silicon Valley CEOs face pressure to walk back parts of their businesses and policies in response to racial unrest and the polarized political climate, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to be confronting the most demands of all — today, from eighteen House lawmakers.
— Reading the facial recognition tea leaves: Tech critics say Amazon and Microsoft’s temporary time-outs from facial surveillance have ulterior motives. Where do industry giants and Congress go from here?
— Ireland vs. Twitter: A decision due out of Ireland in July on a Twitter data breach case could be the first to slap a fine on a Silicon Valley company since Europe adopted its General Data Protection Regulation two years ago.
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ON HEELS OF PROTESTS, SILICON VALLEY BEGINS TO ACT — The heads of Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech companies have faced incredible pressure over the last week — from internal and external forces — to enact major, immediate changes to their businesses as the country reels over racial injustice and violence against the black community. For Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, there was pressure to act on facial recognition (more below). For Apple’s Tim Cook, there was pressure to invest more in black talent (he announced a new entrepreneurship camp for black developers and committed to spending more with black-owned partners across Apple’s supply chain). And for Zuckerberg, there was pressure to act on speech and content questions — and there still is.
— MT exclusive: Eighteen House Dems are now pressing Zuck to overhaul Facebook’s policies on content inciting violence and on paid political disinformation and micro-targeting (an acknowledgment that yes, the election is coming). In a letter led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.) and co-signed by House Judiciary antitrust Chairman David Cicilline (R.I.), Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and others, the lawmakers expressed solidarity with the Facebook employees who’ve been protesting recent decisions by their CEO, chastising Zuckerberg’s “pattern of practice in failing to appropriately balance free speech against public safety” and Facebook’s “failure to adhere to its own rules in removing content.” As Facebook, in response to pressure, now revisits some of its content policies, the lawmakers demand Zuck commit to protecting employees who spoke out against him and ask that any forthcoming updates include a revision of Facebook’s micro-targeting of political ads.
— Speaking of election issues: The Biden campaign launched a petition Thursday calling on Facebook to eliminate misinformation and tamp down voter suppression ahead of the election, Steven reports for POLITICO, “putting the social media behemoth squarely in the cross hairs of both presidential candidates.”
MORE PRESSURE: THE WEEK IN FACIAL RECOGNITION — The countrywide protests against police brutality forced Congress to speed up on facial recognition — and tech companies to slow down. The beginning of the week brought renewed calls, and new legislation, from Democratic lawmakers to ban some federal law enforcement use of the surveillance. From there, the dominos began to fall, as three of the most prominent tech giants operating in the facial recognition space one-by-one announced permanent or temporary time-outs on the tech. IBM said Monday it would stop offering it altogether; Amazon then said it would pause police use of Rekognition for one year; and Microsoft came out Thursday to say it would not sell the software to U.S. law enforcement until Congress sets federal guardrails.
— But context is everything, as Fight for the Future, the digital rights group campaigning for a complete ban on facial recognition, has noted. “These moves, while significant, are consistent with Amazon and Microsoft’s strategy: They want Congress to pass a federal law and they want to make sure their lawyers help write it to ensure it’s friendly to their biz model,” deputy director Evan Greer said Thursday. “It’s the exact same playbook that Silicon Valley has used on federal data privacy legislation.” She warned that regulation is “a trap” that could speed up adoption of the technology and in an email called Amazon and Microsoft’s moratoria PR stunts.
— Where do industry giants like Microsoft and Congress go from here? A question to which my fellow tech reporter Cristiano Lima may find the answer. He’ll be interviewing Microsoft President Brad Smith next Thursday about how the industry is grappling with the recent mass protests for racial justice, and more. Mark your calendar to tune in on June 18 at 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT. RSVP here for all the details.
SMART SPEAKER WARS — Google filed a patent infringement suit against Sonos on Thursday, escalating a battle between the two companies over smart speakers. Sonos sued Google in January, alleging the search giant copied its technology. Sonos’ suits remain pending in federal court and at the U.S. International Trade Commission, which has set a trial for next year. Sonos CEO Patrick Spence testified on his experience with Google before Congress in February, saying the tech behemoth uses its dominance to disadvantage rivals and potential competitors.
IRELAND VS. TWITTER — A forthcoming decision on whether Twitter complied with Europe’s strict privacy rules will be “very important” in outlining what companies must do after a data breach, Ireland’s privacy commissioner said Thursday. The decision, expected in July, may be the first to impose a fine on a Silicon Valley company after Europe adopted its General Data Protection Regulation two years ago.
— Data breaches: Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon declined to say whether Ireland recommended a fine for the social networking company. “It’s a very important case,” said Dixon, noting that 13,000 data breaches have been reported to her agency in the past two years. “It’s an issue that affects every company. It’s important to establish a legally certain interpretation of what [GDPR] actually requires companies to do” in data breach cases.
— Antitrust and privacy: Dixon, who spoke at a virtual event hosted by Bloomberg Law, also said her agency would like to be more involved in discussions about cases where competition and privacy intersect. EU competition authorities put no data-related conditions on Facebook when it acquired WhatsApp, and that later allowed the companies to combine their data after promising not to, she said. “Now there’s a realization that data protection considerations and data protection norms do need to be considered when mergers are being looked at,” Dixon said.
Bryce Harlow, a longtime Republican in-house lobbyist for CBS, will in mid-July join Subject Matter’s government relations team. … Facebook’s former chief product officer Chris Cox is returning to the company, and Facebook’s chief diversity officer Maxine Williams will now report directly to COO Sheryl Sandberg. … Danielle Gray, senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Sarah Smith, partner at Bain Capital and a former Facebook employee, were appointed to Lime’s board of directors.
Jean-Robert Mamin, longtime former directeur général of Axel Springer Media France, is now chief revenue officer of the European search engine Qwant. … Niki Christoff, senior vice president of strategy and government relations at Salesforce, has joined the board of MedMen. … The Internet Accountability Project hired Will Chamberlain, editor-in-chief and publisher of Human Events magazine, as senior counsel.
Sentropy, a machine learning platform aimed at detecting online abuse and fighting malicious content (and staffed with former Apple, Microsoft and Palantir employees), launched Thursday with the backing of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. … BSA | The Software Alliance has joined the National Governors Association as a partner. … The Center for a New American Security added five new members to its Digital Freedom Forum, including Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy, Kevin Martin, and Google’s vice president of government affairs and public policy, Markham Erickson.
And via POLITICO Influence: “Ligado Networks — which won a lobbying victory in April — has added still more Washington lobbyists, hiring former Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and three others at Squire Patton Boggs, according to disclosure filings. Shuster is the third former Republican congressman the company has hired in the past two months, along with former Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) of the McKeon Group and former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who’s working as a subcontractor to the McKeon Group. The company also recently hired Polaris Government Relations and the Point52 Group and retains more than a dozen Washington lobbying firms in total.”
More inside-Facebook dissent: Facebook employees are encouraging their co-workers to stop conducting interviews of potential hires in protest of Zuckerberg and other decision makers’ handling of inflammatory content posted by Trump, Mother Jones reports.
Zoom in the censorship crosshairs: “U.S. lawmakers wary of Beijing’s rising influence over the internet expressed renewed concern Thursday about Zoom’s links to China after the videoconferencing company temporarily suspended an account belonging to a Chinese activist based in the United States,” Steven reports for Pros.
ICYMI: “The EU is planning formal antitrust charges against Amazon over its treatment of third-party sellers,” WSJ reports, “expanding the bloc’s efforts to rein in the alleged abuses of power by a handful of large U.S. technology companies.”
More on Beijing: “Beijing plans to spend $1.4 trillion in the next five years in sectors including 5G, artificial intelligence and data centers,” WSJ reports — kicking its tech race with the U.S. into high gear.
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