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Hillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Senate grills Instagram chief

Today is Wednesday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: digital-stage.thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Follow The Hill’s cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri made his congressional debut on Wednesday at a Senate Commerce hearing about the impact of the social media platform on kids and teens, following months of building bipartisan pressure. 

Meanwhile, a group of utility companies have agreed to stop allowing sensitive information collected from cable, phone and power bills to be shared with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a union coalition filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging Amazon is deceiving users by failing to distinguish through ad and organic search results. 

Let’s jump into the news.

 

Mosseri meets Congress 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle grilled Instagram chief Adam Mosseri Wednesday over steps his platform has taken to protect young users.

Mosseri’s debut: The hearing, in front of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, was Mosseri’s first before Congress and showed rare bipartisan agreement on the harms being caused by social media.

“Our nation is in the midst of a teen mental health crisis,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chair of the panel, said during opening remarks. “Social media didn’t create it, but it certainly fanned the flames.”

The effect of Instagram use on the mental health of adolescents has been a major focus of lawmakers since leaked slides released earlier this year showed internal research suggesting the platform worsened body image issues for one in three teen girl users.

Mosseri’s defense: Mosseri defended the platform against those allegations during his testimony, arguing that the platform can be a “positive force” for teens and touting updates aimed at protecting young users. He also called for the creation of an industry body to create standards, a proposal that drew negative reactions from lawmakers that stressed the need for independent oversight.

“I recognize that many in this room have deep reservations about our company,” he told lawmakers. “But I want to assure you that we do have the same goal — we all want teens to be safe online.”

Instagram announced a suite of new features earlier this week to give parents more control of their children’s use of the platform and to more accurately verify the age of users.

Read more about the hearing

A MESSAGE FROM CONNECTED COMMERCE COUNCIL

Congress is considering sweeping antitrust legislation that could hurt the digital economy – and put small businesses at risk. Learn more at connectedcouncil.org

 

Utilities take a stand 

A national group of utility companies has stopped allowing data it collects on millions of Americans to be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange has previously given sensitive information from cable, phone and power bills to the credit bureau Equifax, which packaged that and sold it to databases used by government agencies, including ICE.

That chain of private data, including names, addresses and social security numbers, from utilities to the government and law enforcement was outlined in reporting by The Washington Post earlier this year.

Since then, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has pushed the exchange to end the sale of the data.

The Oregon lawmaker revealed that the NCTUE had instructed Equifax in October to stop selling its credit header data in a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wednesday.

Data received before October is still being sold, Wyden noted in the letter.

Read more here. 

ALLEGATIONS AGAINST AMAZON

A union coalition alleges Amazon is deceiving consumers by flouting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advertising guidelines and is calling for the regulatory agency to probe the e-commerce giant’s practices. 

The Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions, filed a complaint with the FTC Wednesday alleging Amazon doesn’t distinguish clearly enough paid ads from organic search results.

Strategic Organizing Center researchers conducted an analysis of more than 130,000 Amazon product search results on both desktop and mobile devices between Aug. 30 and Nov. 11. The analysis found that 28 percent of all search results examined were actually third-party advertisements, according to the complaint. 

The complaint alleges the ads “massively and categorically” violated the FTC’s digital ads guidelines, and argues that none of the results comply with all of the FTC’s requirements.

An Amazon spokesperson pushed back on the allegations.

“We design our store to help customers discover products we think may best meet their needs – sponsored ads is one of the ways to help them find products they may be interested in. This report is incorrect and misstates FTC guidance – ads in Amazon’s store always include a clear and prominent ‘sponsored’ label, implemented in accordance with FTC guidelines,” the spokesperson said in a statement.  

Read more here

HACKERS TARGET SOUTHEAST ASIA

A cybersecurity company based in the U.S. alleged on Wednesday that Chinese hackers have been targeting both government and private sector entities in Southeast Asia. 

The Insikt Group said in a report that the hackers are thought to be potentially state-sponsored, as the attacks “almost certainly support key strategic aims of the Chinese government.”

It said that Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam were the top targets of the attacks, though other countries were impacted as well. 

The company’s report added that prime minister’s offices, navies, ministries of defense, and other military and government groups within the targeted countries have been targets of attacks.

“We believe this activity is highly likely to be a state actor as the observed long term targeted intrusions into high value government and political targets is consistent with cyberespionage activity, coupled with identified technical links to known Chinese state-sponsored activity,” the group told The Associated Press.

Read more here.

MOST SEARCHED

“NBA” ranked No. 1 on Google’s list of trending searches in the United States for 2021, according to the trends lists published on Wednesday by the search engine.

The NBA took the top spot as the league’s stars often comment on current events. 

Rapper DMX, who died in April, ranked second on Google’s U.S. trending searches list followed by Gabby Petito, who was found dead earlier this year after going on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend. Ranked fourth was Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen acquitted last month of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third during protests last year.

Read more here. 

A MESSAGE FROM CONNECTED COMMERCE COUNCIL

Congress is considering sweeping antitrust legislation that could hurt the digital economy – and put small businesses at risk. Learn more at connectedcouncil.org

 

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Can GM increase electric vehicle production 2800 percent in four years?

Lighter click: No thanks

Notable links from around the web:

This small tech company may actually be a ransomware front group (The Daily Beast / Shannon Vavra)

AI needs massive data sets to work. Meta is testing a way to do more with less. (Protocol / Kate Kaye)

Getting married in the Metaverse (The New York Times / Steven Kurutz)

 

One last thing: Facebook expands ban 

Soldiers are transported in a truck in Myanmar

Meta, the parent company for Facebook, announced on Wednesday that it would be expanding its ban on the Myanmar military to include accounts, pages and groups with ties to military-controlled businesses.

“We’re taking this latest action based on extensive documentation by the international community of these businesses’ direct role in funding the Tatmadaw’s ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Myanmar,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for APAC emerging countries at Meta, said in an update.

“This has formed the basis for escalating sanctions imposed by the US, EU, and other governments, and has been chronicled in painstaking reporting by civil society and human rights organizations,” he continued.

Noting that the military’s commercial efforts are far-reaching and “not always possible to definitively determine,” he noted that the organization was using a United Nations report from 2019 to assist in their efforts.

The news comes only two days after a lawsuit filed against Facebook by Rohingya refugees from Myanmar alleges that the social media platform did not do an adequate enough job to tackle hate speech against the ethnic minority.

Read more here.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you Thursday.
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