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Hillicon Valley — IRS scrapping facial recognition software

Today is Monday. 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 tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage. 

The Treasury Department will back off use of a verification software that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about. 

Meanwhile, Meta said Peter Thiel, one of Facebook’s earliest board members, will be departing from the company’s board. And Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan got an offer from alternative platform Rumble to switch to their site.  

Let’s jump into the news. 

 

Treasury drops controversial ID tech

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.The Treasury Department is moving away from the controversial verification software ID.me amid concern over the company’s use of facial recognition technology. 

The IRS had announced last year that it would start requiring people who file taxes online to register with ID.me, which would verify the identity of filers with a video selfie. 

The program was supposed to be rolled out this summer for all IRS services, including making online payments and accessing tax credits. 

Critics’ concerns: Critics have been sounding the alarm over ID.me’s use, warning that giving a private company access to that much biometric information is inherently risky and pointing out that many facial recognition systems have deep racial and gender biases. 

The latter concern has been amplified since CEO Blake Hall admitted the company uses technology that matches faces against a larger database rather than just other images of the same face. 

Several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have spoken out about the issue, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who revealed the Treasury Department’s plans to drop ID.me. 

“The Treasury Department has made the smart decision to direct the IRS to transition away from using the controversial ID.me verification service, as I requested earlier today,” Wyden said in a statement Monday. “I understand the transition process may take time, but I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services.” 

Read more here.  

Thiel to part with Meta

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Peter Thiel, one of Facebook’s earliest board members, is stepping down from his board position at the platform’s parent company Meta.  

Meta announced Monday that Thiel, who was a member of the board of directors since 2005, would be stepping down.  

Thiel’s move comes as he turns his focus to influencing November’s midterm elections, a person familiar with his thinking told The New York Times. 

Thiel has been a significant donor to Republican candidates. He’s put millions into the campaigns of two Republicans running in battleground states — Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio.  

“It has been a privilege to work with one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. Mark Zuckerberg‘s intelligence, energy, and conscientiousness are tremendous. His talents will serve Meta well as he leads the company into a new era,” Thiel said in a statement shared by the company.  

Zuckerberg called Thiel a “valuable member” of the board and said he is “deeply grateful for everything he has done for our company.” 

Read more here.  

 

RUMBLING FOR ROGAN

Social media platform Rumble has offered Joe Rogan $100 million to bring his popular podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” to its video platform amid controversy surrounding his show on Spotify.  

Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski wrote in an open letter on Monday that he stands with Rogan, who is facing blowback for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on his show and his past use of racial slurs. 

“We stand with you, your guests, and your legion of fans in desire for real conversation,” Pavlovski said in his letter. 

“So we’d like to offer you 100 million reasons to make the world a better place. How about you bring all your shows to Rumble, both old and new, with no censorship, for 100 million bucks over four years?” he added. 

“This is our chance to save the world. And yes, this is totally legit,” Pavlovski said. 

Read more here.  

ICYMI: Rumble’s offer to Rogan comes after dozens of episodes of his podcast were pulled from Spotify amid controversy over COVID-19 misinformation and past racial slurs used by the podcaster. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in a Sunday email to staff said that while racial slurs used by Joe Rogan on previous episodes of his podcast were “incredibly hurtful,” he doesn’t believe censoring Rogan is the solution. 

 

GOOGLE’S LATEST LEGAL BATTLE

The Swedish price comparison site PriceRunner on Monday filed a lawsuit accusing Google of manipulating search results to favor its own shopping service.  

The firm is seeking roughly $2.4 billion in compensation for damage to its business. 

“We are of course seeking compensation for the damage Google has caused us during many years, but are also seeing this lawsuit as a fight for consumers who have suffered tremendously from Google’s infringement of the competition law for the past fourteen years and still today,” Mikael Lindahl, CEO of PriceRunner, said in a statement.  

The lawsuit follows a seven-year investigation into Google’s search practices by European regulators. 

Read more here.  

 

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Zucker’s ouster from CNN looks shabby at best 

Lighter click: Superbowl Sunday 

Notable links from around the web: 

Kids are flocking to Facebook’s ‘metaverse.’ Experts worry predators will follow. (The Washington Post / Will Oremus)  

A year after Trump purse, ‘alt-tech’ offers far-right refuge (The Associated Press / David Kleeper and Barbara Ortutay) 

 

One last thing: SEC subpoenas Telsa

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued Tesla a subpoena in November, 10 days after CEO Elon Musk published a tweet asking his followers if he should sell billions of dollars in the company’s stock. 

Tesla revealed in a financial filing on Monday that the SEC subpoenaed the company asking for information on its “governance processes around compliance” with a settlement that had previously been reached with the agency. 

A federal judge approved a settlement between the SEC and Musk in October 2018, which required Musk to step down as chairman of the company and pay a $20 million civil penalty. It also required that Tesla pay a separate $20 million fee. 

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 Tuesday.

Tags Elon Musk Mark Zuckerberg Ron Wyden

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