with Tonya Riley
The Technology 202 will not be publishing tomorrow. We will be back to our regular schedule next week. Enjoy your weekend.
President Trump is preparing to unleash his most significant broadside against Silicon Valley after years of threatening a regulatory crackdown.
Trump is expected to sign an executive order today targeting major social media companies over his repeated allegations of political bias. The order could empower federal regulators to reexamine a legal provision known as Section 230, which shields tech platforms from legal liability for the comments and other content users post on their services, my colleagues Tony Romm and Josh Dawsey report.
The document may still evolve, but here’s how my colleagues report it could impact the tech industry:
- Direct the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission to open a proceeding to reconsider the scope of Section 230
- Channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission and encourage the agency to investigate whether tech companies’ content-moderation policies are in keeping with their promises of neutrality
- Require federal agencies to review their spending on social media advertising
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” according to an undated draft version of the executive order obtained by my colleagues late Wednesday.
Trump signaled this morning that a big day is ahead:
This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
Any changes to Section 230 could have major implications for companies that do business online.
The president’s order will likely set the stage for a new battle between the White House and Silicon Valley after Twitter took the unprecedented step of labeling two factually inaccurate Trump tweets that painted mail voting procedures as fraudulent. Social media companies have been loathe to police statements from world leaders like Trump, who frequently uses the platform to air controversial views, precisely because of the backlash it might prompt.
The tech industry has aggressively defended Section 230 against previous calls from Washington to change it — and this time will likely be no different.
Tech companies have a lot at stake. They’ve previously hailed Section 230 as allowing the Internet to flourish without the threat of onerous litigation, and they’ve warned the provision allows them to police their websites for harmful content such as terrorism without fear of lawsuits.
NetChoice, a trade association representing tech companies including Facebook and Google, released a statement on Thursday morning condemning the president’s order.
“The president is trampling the first amendment by threatening the fundamental free speech rights of social media platforms,” said Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, in a statement. “Conservatives should be very afraid of future administrations following President Trump’s example to bully social media platforms into suppressing political speech.”
Section 230 is very controversial — and it’s come under fire from leaders from both political parties for shielding tech companies from responsibility for harmful content, such as election misinformation and child exploitation. Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, has also criticized the provision, telling the New York Times it should be revoked. He raised concerns that it allows Facebook to propagate falsehoods the company knows to be incorrect.
Major tech companies have yet to individually weigh in on Trump’s expected order. But Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg pushed back on Trump’s general threats to regulate social media companies in an interview with Fox News, which is scheduled to air today.
“I have to understand what they actually would intend to do,” Zuckerberg said in response to Trump’s threat to “strongly regulate” or shut down the companies. “But in general, I think a government choosing to censor a platform because they’re worried about censorship doesn’t exactly strike me as the right reflex there.”
President Trump has significantly escalated his attacks on the tech industry since Twitter labeled his tweets.
The president is ratcheting up his criticism of Silicon Valley in an election year in which he faces sharp criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 100,000 Americans and left tens of millions unemployed.
Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen! They tried hard in 2016, and lost. Now they are going absolutely CRAZY. Stay Tuned!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
Tech companies have faced increasing pressure to be more aggressive in moderating the president’s social media accounts, which have frequently pushed disinformation to his more than 80 million Twitter followers and millions of Facebook followers. Despite their largely hands-off approach, Trump has long argued without evidence the liberal executives running the tech companies are discriminating against Republicans. The tech companies have repeatedly denied such allegations.
Tech companies have long feared Trump’s allegations of conservative bias could result in an executive order.
There have been multiple reports over the past two years that the White House was mulling executive orders to address anti-conservative bias. Until now, no such order has been signed — even though reports have surfaced about drafts. Tony and Josh report this executive order has gone through multiple iterations in recent years, and it may still change.
It also could raise new legal questions. “It also may raise fresh, thorny questions about the First Amendment, the future of expression online and the extent to which the White House can properly — and legally — influence the decisions that private companies make about their apps, sites and services,” my colleagues write.
Once Trump signs it, it would be up to the FCC and the FTC, two independent agencies operating outside the president’s Cabinet, to determine exact plans of action.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are also escalating their attacks on Section 230.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, pressing him on the company’s decision to fact-check the president’s tweets, and threatening legislation to change Section 230. Hawley has previously proposed legislationto overhaul Section 230 due to his concerns about anti-conservative bias. The tech industry has previously warned that bill could lead to a torrent of harmful content.
I will introduce legislation to end these special government giveaways. If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status under federal law (Section 230) & forced to play by same rules as all other publishers. Fair is fair
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) May 27, 2020
But efforts such as Hawley’s would likely be dead on arrival in a divided Congress that has not been able to reach consensus on far less controversial tech policy issues, such as privacy. Congressional Democrats were deeply critical of the president’s attacks on Twitter.
Hey @realDonaldTrump, anti-conservative bias in Big Tech is a figment of your imagination. If you don’t want Twitter to flag your tweets for fact check, maybe you shouldn’t lie in the first place.
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) May 27, 2020
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Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Zuckerberg are publicly battling over censoring content.
Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s decision not to label the same false comments from President Trump about mail-in voting during an interview on Fox News. He said he didn’t believe digital platforms should act as the “arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”
But Dorsey clapped back at Zuckerberg in a series of tweets, saying Twitter would continue would to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections.
Per our Civic Integrity policy (https://t.co/uQ0AoPtoCm), the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
In the same Twitter thread, Dorsey also said he takes ultimate responsibility for the company’s content moderation decisions. Right-wing media figure, the president’s sons and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway targeted another Twitter executive after a New York Post reporter uncovered his anti-Trump tweets from three years ago. The Trump supporters claimed the executive, Yoel Roth, was responsible for the decision to label Trump’s misleading tweets, unleashing a torrent of personal attacks.
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
The company defended Roth earlier in the day. “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions,” Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said.
Roth is on the team that made the decision, my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin reported, which has also worked on broader efforts around integrity on Twitter.
Arizona is suing Google for allegedly violating users’ privacy by collecting their location data even after they turned off tracking features.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s lawsuit argues that Google deceived users about its data protections in a manner that violated state consumer protection laws, Tony reports.
Google’s Android operating system allows users to disable location settings. But the state alleges the devices still kept location records for some apps, even after people took this step. Google maintains that it offers clear instructions to turn off the additional tracking, but privacy experts and lawmakers have criticized the setup as deceptive.
“When consumers try to opt out of Google’s collection of location data, the company is continuing to find misleading ways to obtain information and use it for profit,” Brnovich told Tony.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages, but violations of the Arizona law could cost the company $10,000 per violation and possibly millions in ill-gotten profits owed to the state.
The lawsuit reflects a growing push by state and federal regulators to rein in Google, Tony notes. Arizona alongside other state attorneys general have been investigating Google for potentially anticompetitive behavior and are expected to file antitrust complaints this summer.
Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google, defended the company’s privacy practices in a statement.
“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight,” he said.
Silicon Valley billionaires are spending tens of millions of dollars to help Joe Biden catch up to Trump online.
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt have all thrown their money behind reinvigorating Joe Biden’s digital campaign, Recode’s Theodore Schleifer reports.
But their efforts, which are often shrouded in secrecy, have put them at odds with party officials.
“My problem is when Silicon Valley folks think that they know how to do our jobs better. I would never walk into Google or anywhere else and say, ‘Your model sucks,’ ” Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, told Recode. “I don’t second-guess them, and I’m asking them not to second-guess us.”
That’s especially true of efforts to revise the party’s voter data files. Hoffman has invested $18 million in Alloy, a start-up that wants to be a central hub of progressive voter data. Some senior digital operatives for the party criticized the project’s lack of results.
In contrast, party officials praised Schmidt’s work to train state party officials on smarter data use. Investments by Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Moskovitz in aggressive efforts to increase voter turnout have also had a warmer reception.
Clashes over authority aside, interviews with more than 20 operatives and donors showed consensus Biden needs the tech elites’ help.
“Because the Biden campaign is the Biden campaign,” said one Democratic operative involved in these efforts, “what we are doing on the independent side matters a hell of a lot more than it would previously.”
U.S. officials will announce participation in a global organization that will help shape principles guiding companies and governments on the development of artificial intelligence.
The United States is the last of the Group of Seven countries to join, Max Chafkin at Bloomberg News reports.
The groups’ science and technology ministers will gather for a meeting today, where U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios will outline the country’s involvement. The partnership, called the Global Partnership on AI, signals growing U.S. concern with China’s influence over the future of artificial intelligence and other evolving technologies. China “has twisted AI in ways that are in direct conflict with the values of the U.S. and its allies,” Kratsios said.
The U.S. has engaged in similar partnerships to help set cybersecurity standards for 5G wireless technology, another area where the United States has slammed Chinese influence. The United States has accused Chinese telecommunications companies of being a national security risk and serving as a potential backdoor to spying from Beijing.
Progressives are refusing to vote for a House reauthorization of wide-reaching spying powers without changes to warrantless online surveillance.
The pushback comes after House leadership dropped plans to vote on an amendment that would stop the warrantless search of Internet search and browsing history. The backlash could hold up efforts to reauthorize surveillance authorities introduced in Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to obtain secret court orders to obtain records related to terrorism.
“For months, we’ve worked to overhaul the expansive surveillance powers authorized in Section 215,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.) wrote in a statement. “There’s no reason to rush through a multiyear authorization that fails to make critical reforms needed to protect the civil liberties of the American public.”
A similar amendment in the Senate fell short by just one vote and privacy advocates have been pushing House lawmakers to pick up the language before finalizing reauthorization of the spying powers.
Republican Warren Davidson Davidson (Ohio), who co-sponsored the scrapped House amendment, also withdrew his support for reauthorization. It has been nearly four months since the wide-reaching spying powers expired.
The president, who has railed against the use of the spying powers on an associate of his campaign, has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Inside the industry
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos dismissed allegations of worker retaliation at the company’s shareholder meeting yesterday.
“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employers working conditions, but that also doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to not follow internal policies,” he told investors, according to the Seattle Times. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Amazon fired two warehouse workers and two corporate employees last month who had spoken out about the company’s policies. Amazon has said the firings were because the employees had broken other corporate policies.
Bezos also rebuffed concerns from investors about the company’s handling of worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reports.
“We’ve taken this seriously from the very beginning,” he said. But investors have criticized the company for refusing to share more information on how many workers have been infected and died of the coronavirus.
All shareholder resolutions brought for a vote failed to pass.
More industry news:
U.S. immigration authorities used cellphone snooping technology nearly 500 times in a three-year period.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement used “stingray” technology at least 466 times between 2017 and 2019, TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker reports. The use of the technology contributed to dozens of arrests and apprehensions, according to documents obtained through a public records lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
ICE did not employ the technology for civil immigration investigations, such as removals or deportations, the documents said.
Stingray technology imitates cell towers, collecting messages, calls and phone location data from cellphones that connect with it — often sweeping up the private information of bystanders in the process. It’s unclear how often ICE’s use of stingrays ensnared the communications of Americans not targeted by the agency.
“We are all harmed by government practices that violate the Constitution and undermine civil liberties,” said Alexia Ramirez, a fellow with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
The group also sued Customs and Border Protection for documents on its use of the technology. The agency spent more than $2 million on the technology but maintains it doesn’t have public records responsive to the ACLU’s request.
Rant and rave
The SpaceX launch was delayed until Saturday because of bad weather. But at least we got some memes out of it:
- New America will host an event on algorithms and their harms to privacy and civil rights featuring Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) on June 3
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