Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces ‘fleets’

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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

TECH HEARING TAKE 10,000: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey returned virtually to Capitol Hill Tuesday for another round of questioning that did more to highlight the gulf between Republicans and Democrats on proper content moderation than reveal any new information.

Lawmakers asked the tech CEOs about moderation, transparency, antitrust issues and what would happen to President Trump’s accounts after his term in office draws to a close.

Republicans spent the bulk of the hearing raising concerns about anti-conservative bias by tech platforms, an oft-repeated allegation that has not been substantiated. 

In one instance, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that Twitter’s temporary suspension of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan over a tweet about the U.S.-Mexico border wall was an example of social media platforms “taking a very distinctively partisan approach and not a neutral one to election-related content moderation.”

“What we’re going to see today is that mistakes happen a whole lot more, almost entirely, on one side of the political aisle rather than the other,” Lee said.

Democrats went the other direction, suggesting that Facebook and Twitter have not gone far enough in regulating misinformation and hate speech.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) used the example of former White House strategist Stephen Bannon to call out Facebook’s seemingly inconsistent policies. Bannon was banned from Twitter last week after calling of the beheading of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray in a video; Facebook simply took the video down.

“How many times is Steve Bannon allowed to call for the murder of public officials before Facebook suspends his account?” Blumenthal asked.

Zuckerberg defended Bannon being allowed on the platform, stressing that an account holder would have to commit “multiple offenses like that” before receiving a ban.

The hearing was the first featuring the tech executives following the general election, for which both platforms took unprecedented steps to control the spread of misinformation.

Despite both CEOs using much of their opening remarks to talk about their work during the election, lawmakers asked very little about those efforts.

Read more.


NEW HOUSE CYBER AGENDA: Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) said Tuesday that she plans to focus on election security and combating ongoing ransomware attacks on critical sectors in her new role as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee. 

“The 2020 election may be over, but the need for resources remains,” Underwood said during the virtual CyberNextDC conference on Tuesday. “I am committed to working with my colleagues in the next Congress to make sure that our elections are even more secure in 2022 and 2024.” 

Underwood — who took over as chair of the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation in September after Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) stepped down from the position — stressed that in order to shore up election security, consistent federal funding would be needed. 

“We have got to be at a place where election security is not received or viewed in a partisan lens,” Underwood said. “Our state and local officials are trying to stretch every dollar, and they can’t do it.”

The issue of election security funding has been a major area of debate between Republicans and Democrats over the past four years, with Congress appropriating more than $800 million for election security to state and local officials since 2018, an amount election experts have said is far short of what is needed. 

Underwood noted that while upgrading cybersecurity of election equipment, including replacing outdated and vulnerable machines, was key to ensuring the security of elections moving forward, officials could not accomplish this without further federal funds.

Read more here


STANDING UP FOR GIG WORKERS: Shipt, the grocery delivery service owned by Target, had the reputation of being a more ethical alternative to the dominant Instacart, compensating staffers well and maintaining a healthy workplace culture.

At least that’s what Willy Solis thought when he started shopping for the app last November after working in construction for nearly 15 years.

In the year since, Solis, 42, has become the leading voice within Shipt calling out its opaque pay changes and demanding better treatment for his fellow workers.

Despite those changes, criticism from shoppers at the time was relatively muted compared to those from workers at other major gig companies such as Uber, Lyft and Instacart, all of which have had well-organized labor representation and plenty of media attention for years.

The rapid growth at Shipt led to Solis’s first worries about his new job.

In the busy Thanksgiving season, shoppers reported Shipt’s helplines being overwhelmed.

“Shipt took a long time to answer the phones — we’re talking 30 minutes to an hour, sometimes even more, standing inside stores,” Solis, who lives and works in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, told The Hill in a recent interview. “And then we’re marked late on top of that, so that’s where I started questioning some things.”

Read more here


OBAMA WEIGHS IN: Former President Obama took aim at the threat of online misinformation in a recent interview, but he stopped short of casting blame entirely on the heads of tech companies for the rising threats. 

Obama’s administration had a much friendlier relationship with Silicon Valley than President Trump’s. But the former president pointed to a shifting online landscape, telling The Atlantic in an interview published Monday that misinformation “is the single biggest threat to our democracy.”

“I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible, because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it,” Obama said. 

He did voice support for some form of increased regulation and further accountability for tech companies, though he did not detail what that reform should look like. 

“The degree to which these companies are insisting that they are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic, I do not think is tenable. They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not. The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there,” Obama said. 

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse,” he added. 

Read more here.


5G MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: The House on Tuesday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation appropriating $750 million towards building out U.S. fifth generation, or 5G, network technology as a way to combat potential threats from foreign-made equipment. 

The USA Telecommunications Act, introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this year, would set aside the funds as part of a grant program overseen by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The funds would be used to support the deployment and use of 5G networks in the United States. 

The bill would establish an advisory committee that would include the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies as well as representatives from the public and private sectors to advise on the grant funding. A report on the current state of the 5G supply chain would also be required to be submitted within 180 days of the bill becoming law.  

The bill’s primary sponsors in the House are Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). 

Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), and multiple other senators from each party introduced a Senate version in January. 

Pallone said on the House floor Tuesday that the bill was essential for “spurring a domestic market for network equipment, and that is something we desperately need.”

Read more here.


A FLEETING FEATURE: Twitter on Tuesday rolled out a new feature dubbed “fleets,” allowing users to post tweets or videos that will disappear after 24 hours.

“Here’s what you can do. You can write some text. Share a tweet. Record a video. Or post a photo. They’re live for 24 hours,” the social media site explained in a video on Tuesday.

The posts, named after their “fleeting” nature, cannot be retweeted, liked or replied to publicly. 

Twitter’s official communications profile said it knows some users “feel tweets are too permanent” and that the new feature will allow users “to join the public conversation with your fleeting thoughts.” 

Read more here.


AMAZON’S ONLINE PHARMACY: Amazon on Tuesday unveiled an online pharmacy allowing customers to have prescriptions and refills delivered to their homes. 

The company said Amazon Pharmacy customers will be able to purchase prescription drugs on its website or its app, compare prices between multiple drug companies and make purchases using insurance co-pays or without insurance.

Customers will be able to fill their prescriptions with the online retail giant by setting up a profile and having doctors send their prescriptions to Amazon. Pills, creams and refrigerated prescriptions such as insulin will all be available, The Associated Press noted.

Amazon Prime members who do not have insurance will have the option to purchase generic prescription drugs at a discounted price of up to 80 percent off while brand-name drugs will be discounted up to 40 percent, according to the company, which added that two-day shipping will be available.

Read more here.


ORGS PUSH CONGRESS TO PRIORITIZE ANTITRUST REPORT: A wide-ranging group of national organizations is urging congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to embrace and prioritize recommendations to overhaul big tech companies as laid out in a House Judiciary Committee report last month. 

Fifty groups signed onto a letter sent to top House and Senate leaders on Tuesday calling for them to “quickly act to enshrine the recommendations included in the report into law,” according to a copy shared with The Hill. 

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to other industries that Congress can and will hold them, and agencies responsible for overseeing them, accountable. Congress must act on its duty to protect small business, workers, our democracy, and our economy from a few giant companies rigging the rules for themselves,” the groups wrote. 

“We encourage you to place the recommendations in this report on your respective legislative agendas early in the next session. Your support of these needed changes will protect consumers, workers, and our democracy from Big Tech monopolies, which are not above the law and must no longer be permitted to act as if they are,” they added. 

Read more here.


UPPING PARENTAL CONTROLS: TikTok is increasing its parental control options, allowing for more content oversight and giving parents the option to limit who their children can interact with on the hugely popular short-video social media app.

The update centers around privacy and content restrictions, giving parents the option to restrict who can comment on or view their children’s TikTok accounts, according to a press release.

TikTok already offers parental controls that limit or turn off direct messaging.

The addition of restrictive content features will allow guardians to filter out precisely what content their child can see or disallow certain content from appearing in search results.

Parents can tailor their preferences to disallow specific search terms, users and hashtags.

Read more here.


DON’T STRESS: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted Tuesday that she is stressed out about the new Twitter “fleets” feature that allows users to post tweets or videos that will disappear after 24 hours, adding to the wave of criticism from users that the feature too closely mimics similar ones on other platforms. 

“Does the fleets thing stress anyone else out?” the congresswoman wrote. “Like I use Twitter to get away from IG stories, not have it follow me around on every platform reminding me that I don’t have makeup on.”

“Can we put the bar of circles at the bottom at least? (I’m at the bargaining phase of this clearly),” she added. 

The new feature, launched on Twitter Tuesday, now creates a bar at the top of Twitter users’ feed where they can see other people’s temporary tweets and videos. 

Read more here.


Lighter click: A family reunion 

An op-ed to chew on: House must take first steps to modernize how Congress works


‘Their loads are garbage’: Drivers say Uber’s trucking business is making a tough job worse (OneZero / Amy Martyn)

Dropbox’s Drew Houston is betting everything on a new future for work (Protocol / David Pierce) 

Uber and Lyft used sneaky tactics to avoid making drivers employees in California, voters say. Now, they’re going national (The Washington Post / Faiz Siddiqui and Nitasha Tiku) 

Blue-collar unions fear widespread layoffs in Silicon Valley (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley) 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Anthony Fauci Brett Guthrie Cedric Richmond Christopher Wray Donald Trump Doris Matsui Greg Walden Lauren Underwood Marco Rubio Mark Warner Mark Zuckerberg Mike Lee Steve Bannon

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