Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

REMOTE WORK WORKIN’: Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that half of Facebook employees could be working remotely in the next five to 10 years.

The social media giant sent the vast majority of its employees home in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Roughly 95 percent of Facebook employees are still working from home, Zuckerberg said during an internal employee town hall livestreamed Thursday.

The company will now allow current employees with positive performance reviews to apply to work remotely permanently.

Experienced workers will have a better chance of being approved, Zuckerberg said, noting that new hires early in their careers will still need to work from offices once they reopen.

The Facebook CEO said the company is going to aggressively scale up remote hiring, prioritizing workers within a few hours of existing offices.

The company will also start hiring hubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

Zuckerberg noted that compensation for remote work could be dependent on location.

Read more.


STOPPED AT A RED LIGHT: Progress on federal legislation to regulate self-driving cars has hit a speed bump during the COVID-19 pandemic as Congress shifts its focus to other issues. 

For companies that continue to move forward with plans to build and test autonomous vehicles, the lack of federal action opens the door to complicated state-by-state regulations and raises the prospect that the United States will lose the international race to launch self-driving cars. 

Demand increases: It’s a particularly inconvenient situation during a crisis that is sparking demand for human-free transportation and delivery, as autonomous vehicles are slowly starting to be used for activities such as food delivery and medical supply shipments. 

“Congress is rightfully and must be focused on the human impact of COVID-19, and I think that must be on the top of their mind, but the second should be realizing the human benefits that autonomous vehicles can bring,” Greg Rogers, the director of Government Affairs and Mobility Innovation at Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), told The Hill on Wednesday. 

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, prospects were bright around the rollout of legislation on self-driving cars. 

Bipartisan support: The House Energy and Commerce and the Senate Commerce Committees have been working since last year to draft and distribute bill texts to stakeholders for feedback. The bill, which is based on previous measures introduced during the last Congress, is extensive, covering everything from shoring up vehicle cybersecurity to regulating testing. 

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said at a hearing in December that his panel had “restarted its efforts” to regulate self-driving cars, and that more than 100 stakeholders had contacted the committee asking it to take action.

In February, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, told reporters that draft sections of a bill would be released “very soon.”

But the global spread of COVID-19 and the corresponding impact on Congress’s ability to conduct business have put the brakes on legislation.

Read more about the legislative efforts here.


TIKTOK UNDER PRESSURE: Two key Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday grilled TikTok’s parent company over data privacy concerns and its ties to China.

In the letter to ByteDance, ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the panel’s consumer protection subcommittee, pressed the Chinese-based company about potential violations of federal law governing safeguards for children online and data sharing with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

ByteDance and TikTok agreed to settle charges that one of its predecessors, Musical.ly, violated the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Developers of apps geared toward children cannot collect personally identifiable information on users under the age of 13 without consent from parents or legal guardians.

As part of that settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, ByteDance paid a $5.7 million fee and agreed to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information on TikTok and to delete any information about users identified as under 13 on the short-form video platform.

ByteDance purchased Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, which it already owned.

However, concerns remain about data privacy for children.

Previous concerns: Walden and McMorris Rodgers pointed to a complaint by 20 children’s and consumer advocacy groups filed with the FTC alleging that TikTok violated the privacy commitments made in the settlement.

The lawmaker’s letter also brings up concerns that TikTok user data could be obtained by the CCP.

Much of that concern is tied to a 2017 Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to comply with data requests for state intelligence work. 

While ByteDance is headquartered and operates out of Beijing, the company claims it is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

“While we think the concerns are unfounded, we understand them and are continuing to further strengthen our safeguards while increasing our dialogue with lawmakers to help explain our policies,” TikTok said in a statement to The Hill.

Read more.


KEEPING SENIORS SAFE: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) on Thursday introduced legislation to protect senior citizens from coronavirus-related scams.

The Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to submit a report to Congress compiling scams directed at seniors during the pandemic, along with suggestions on how to stop the scams.

The FTC would also be required to update its website with more information around how seniors can protect themselves and how to contact law enforcement if the scams are successful.

The bill was introduced following a spike in malicious activity aimed at senior citizens, who are often seen as easy targets for hackers or for scammers using emails, phone calls, or texts.

“We must ensure that seniors are not being taken advantage of during the coronavirus pandemic,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “All Americans deserve safety and dignity in their senior years, yet new fraudulent schemes designed to target seniors appear almost daily.”

Moran condemned the scammers for “using fear and uncertainty to take advantage of our vulnerable populations.”

“We must ensure our seniors are protected, and this bipartisan legislation will help seniors and their caregivers become more informed about financial scams,” he added. 

Read more about the new bill here.


COVID BOTS GALORE: Almost half of Twitter accounts sharing coronavirus tweets are likely bots, according to Carnegie Mellon University research released Wednesday. 

The university’s researchers scoured through more than 200 million tweets talking about coronavirus or COVID-19 since January and concluded nearly 45 percent of the accounts behaved like robots instead of humans, NPR reported. The study found that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82 percent are likely bots, and of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62 percent are likely bots. 

“We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections,” Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, said in a statement.

The team utilized a bot-hunter tool to find accounts that show signs of being run by a computer by tweeting more than humanly possible or being in multiple countries in a few hours. They also analyzed the account’s followers, frequency of tweeting and how often the user is mentioned on the platform. 

More than 100 inaccurate COVID-19 narratives were found, including those about potential cures. Some of the accounts tweet about conspiracy theories, like hospitals being filled with mannequins or the coronavirus spreading through 5G wireless towers, which are both untrue.

But researchers said it was too early to determine what individuals and groups were behind the likely bots, but the tweets seem to instigate division in the U.S.  

A Monday blog post from Twitter’s Nick Pickles, Twitter’s global policy strategy and development director, and Yoel Roth, head of site integrity, said users should focus on the “holistic behavior” of an account and “not just whether it’s automated or not.”

Read more.


BILLIONAIRES BENEFIT: A handful of American billionaires have reportedly seen notable increases to their net worth during the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused over 38.6 million people in the country to lose their jobs.

The new finding comes from a report published on Thursday by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program for Inequality.

The two groups examined the financial data that Forbes keeps on the country’s billionaires, specifically looking at information collected from March 18 to May 19.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos — already comfortably the richest man in the world before the pandemic — has seen his net worth grow 30.6 percent in the past two months, boosting it to $147.6 billion.

According to the analysis, which was first reported by CNBC, both Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk saw their net worths increase by nearly half. Zuckerberg’s rose 46.2 percent to $80 billion, while Musk’s jumped 48 percent to $36.4 billion.

Bezos, Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison — the five richest Americans — saw a combined wealth increase of $76 billion dollars.

America’s billionaires have allegedly seen their collective net worth increase 15 percent during the pandemic, going from $2.948 trillion to $3.382 trillion.


BILLIONAIRES GIVE BACK: A $5 million donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will go toward thousands of “micro-grants” distributed by a COVID-19 relief program launched by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s nonprofit Humanity Forward.

Dorsey announced his donation on an episode of Yang’s podcast, “Yang Speaks,” that launched Thursday. 

Dorsey’s donation will go toward Humanity Forward’s direct cash assistance program, providing $250 micro-grants to nearly 20,000 people amid the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit announced Thursday. 

The billionaire CEO also announced his donation in a tweet Thursday. 

“$5mm to @HumanityForward to immediately distribute small cash grants of $250 to nearly 20,000 people who’ve lost their jobs or taken an economic hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you @AndrewYang!” he tweeted. 

Read more about the donation here.


Lighter click: Tough way to go

An op-ed to chew on: How Congress should grade the Space Force doctrine


TikTok took India by storm. Now it’s using the same playbook in the U.S. (Protocol / Chris Stokel-Walker) 

Congress has no idea how much web browsing data the FBI collects (Motherboard / Janus Rose) 

One of the first contact-tracing apps violates its own privacy policy (The Washington Post / Geoffrey Fowler) 

A case for cooperation between machines and humans (The New York Times / John Markoff)

Tags Amy Klobuchar Andrew Yang Cathy McMorris Rodgers Elon Musk Greg Walden Jan Schakowsky Jeff Bezos Jerry Moran Mark Zuckerberg Roger Wicker

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

See all Hill.TV See all Video

main area bottom custom html

MAIN Area bottom

Main area bottom

Top Stories

See All