Jack Dorsey and Sheryl Sandberg relentlessly practiced before taking hot seats on Capitol Hill, engaging in role play and panels of questioning with colleagues and consultants. But the tech executives weren’t the only ones who came prepared for class on Wednesday. Senators on the Intelligence Committee clearly did their homework on a wide range of technical topics, and they peppered the executives with questions on issues ranging from doctored videos known as “deepfakes” to encryption.
Lawmakers raised the prospect of greater scrutiny of social media companies, ushering in a new era of accountability for the nation’s powerful internet platforms. During hearings on Capitol Hill, Senate and House Republicans and Democrats applauded efforts by Facebook and Twitter to root out foreign election meddling. But they warned that regulation may loom for social media companies, which are largely unfettered by the kinds of rules that govern other large consumer companies.
Once the fresh-faced darlings of D.C., Big Tech executives now receive a decidedly cooler reception on Capitol Hill. On Sept. 5, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and Facebook second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg got a tongue lashing in Senate hearings. “You’re going to have to do something,” warned Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho, or risk facing a crackdown from lawmakers and regulators. Google, whose co-founder Larry Page refused to show up at the hearings at all, drew even more vitriol. “Maybe it’s because they are arrogant,” said Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio.
There are plenty of lawmakers who know next to nothing about technology. Senator Mark Warner isn’t one of them. Long before the Virginia Democrat was sworn into the Senate in 2009, Warner built a career in the venture capital and telecom industries. That background has served the senator well since news broke that Facebook, Google, and Twitter all enabled foreign influence campaigns during the 2016 election.
A combination of rough terrain and a relatively small population has made West Virginia a less-than-attractive market for companies to build broadband networks, and a prime example of the digital divide. But some recent developments suggest that the state’s relative lack of access to broadband internet service may make a turn for the better. Houston-based Skylark Wireless announced that it will receive a 2018 Microsoft Airband Initiative Grant to provide “affordable” broadband service to underserved communities in rural West Virginia. The CEO of Skylark told the Gazette-Mail that the company’s ultimate goal is to provide broadband to 10,000 homes and businesses in the Mingo County area through TV white spaces, in which unused broadcast channels between active ones are accessed for internet service. The improved service also could reach into other areas, such as Logan County, in years to come.
Wallowa County Chieftain Guest Column: Telehealth needs broadband to be effective
In a time of increasing healthcare uncertainty telehealth tools offer smarter ways for clinicians to provide good healthcare to their patients at affordable prices. Telehealth tools such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring, and direct-to-patient virtual care allow patients to access their care teams without the barriers of time and distance. Telehealth Alliance of Oregon is a nonprofit resource center working to advance telehealth policy and practice in Oregon. Finding ways to expand broadband access has been one of its ongoing efforts. To that end, the alliance is advocating to help close the digital divide using TV white spaces.
Standard Digital Kenyan solar start-up gets Microsoft financing
Agsol, which makes solar-powered processing machines for farming communities that aren’t connected to the national electricity grid, has been selected for Microsoft’s third annual Airband Grant Fund. The award is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative launched last year to extend Internet connectivity across the world. Agsol is among three other early-stage companies selected from Africa, with the others being Mesh Power and ColdHubs from Rwanda and Nigeria, respectively. The grant will provide financing, technology, mentorship, networking opportunities and other support to help scale these businesses’ technologies, services and business models.
Policymakers at all levels of government are struggling to thoughtfully harness data in the service of public values. Many public servants grew up in an era of firmly separate disciplines: You were either an engineer or an economist, either a programmer or a social worker, but never both. In an era in which data is everything, the risks to core democratic principles—equity, fairness, support for the most vulnerable, delivery of effective government services—caused by technological illiteracy in policymakers, and policy illiteracy in computer scientists, are staggering. This has happened because traditional academic disciplines, as they currently operate, often aren’t designed to help students study and apply technical expertise to advance the public interest (as distinct from advancing commercial interests).
The Nation EU news agencies blast tech giants
Europe’s biggest news agencies accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” news for free on Tuesday in a joint statement that called on the internet giants to share more of their revenues with the media. In a column signed by the CEOs of around 20 agencies including France’s Agence France-Presse, Britain’s Press Association and Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur they called on the European Parliament to update copyright law in the EU to help address a “grotesque imbalance”.
The New York Times Tech Giants Now Share Details on Political Ads. What Does That Mean For You?
Thousands of dark ads ran on Facebook around the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the British referendum on leaving the European Union. Some ads delivered divisive messages aimed at specific audiences. Some ads circulated misinformation — or told people not to vote. But in recent months, in response to criticism from the public and lawmakers, Facebook, Google and Twitter have tried to shed more light on political ads. Each company began requiring political campaigns to label their ads more clearly.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, during his second day of Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday, defended his dissent in a federal court decision that upheld the controversial Obama-era net neutrality rules. When pressed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, to explain why he disagreed with the rest of his colleagues on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that the Federal Communications Commission was within its authority to create the rules, Kavanaugh said he was simply following legal precedent and wasn’t looking to strip the agency of its power.
At least 1 out of 4 state or local police departments has the option to run face recognition through their or another agency’s system. At least 26 states allow law enforcement to run or request searches against their databases of driver’s license and ID photos, according to a 2016 report by the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.
THINK TANK/TECH TRADE ASSOCIATION HIGHLIGHTS
- Blog on digital privacy and cybersecurity: Many policymakers are taking a policy-centric approach to privacy and data security. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act are the two most prominent recent examples of enacted legislation. Here, Bret Swanson argues that the best fix for problems borne of technology is more sophisticated technology. (AEIdeas BLOG — The business of digital privacy and security will be huge, September 4, 2018).
- Blog on net neutrality: In the courts and in Congress, the commotion around the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) decision to roll back net neutrality regulations is kicking into gear once again: The parties challenging this outcome their opening briefs on Aug. 20 in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This piece argues that net neutrality is a bipartisan issue that deserves support from Republicans and Democrats alike. (Open Technology Institute Blog — Net Neutrality Has Always Been a Bipartisan Issue, September 6, 2018).
- Statement on NAFTA: Linda Moore, President and CEO of TechNet, released the following statement on NAFTA: “Since last year, we have viewed the NAFTA negotiations as an opportunity to modernize the deal with strong digital trade and pro-innovation rules, and have repeatedly cautioned against the devastating economic impact abandoning it would have on the U.S. Ending the negotiating stalemate with Mexico is a step forward, and we will be reviewing the details of this pact closely in the coming days. More work remains to be done, and we urge both nations and Canada to keep working on a final NAFTA deal.” (TECHNET STATEMENT — TechNet Comments on U.S-Mexico NAFTA Announcement, August 27, 2018)
Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not endorse specific platforms or bills.