July 31 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Associated Press US officials: Russia behind spread of virus disinformation
Russian intelligence services are using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain ahead of the presidential election in November, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences, U.S. government officials said.

The Verge Facebook says removing viral COVID-19 misinformation video ‘took longer than it should have’
Facebook has prided itself on thorough moderation and removal of COVID-19 misinformation posted to its social network since March, but the company is now under fire for having failed to take action for several hours against a fast-moving viral Breitbart News video promoting dangerous coronavirus conspiracy theories and treatments over the weekend.


Washington Post The Cybersecurity 202: The Trump administration’s battle over mail-in voting heads to Congress
Attorney General William P. Barr held fast to claims that a drastic expansion of mail voting in November could undermine the election amid an often combative hearing with House lawmakers. But he provided no concrete evidence for his assertions there’s a “high risk” mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud, which have been roundly dismissed by election security experts.

The Verge Biden’s staff must delete TikTok from their personal and work phones
Staffers from Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign must remove TikTok from personal and work phones, a campaign official told The Verge. That’s because of security concerns around the popular app. TikTok can access users’ clipboard content on iOS — potentially a problem for anyone using a password manager to log into secure accounts. Some politicians are particularly wary of TikTok because the video-sharing app is owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance.


The New York Times Lawmakers, United in Their Ire, Lash Out at Big Tech’s Leaders
The chiefs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook faced withering questions from Democrats about anti-competitive practices and from Republicans about anti-conservative bias.

National Public Radio 4 Key Takeaways From Washington’s Big Tech Hearing On ‘Monopoly Power’
Four key points: Bezos “can’t guarantee” Amazon never used seller data to make its own products; Hurting the competition emerges as Democrats’ primary charge against Big Tech; Republicans sidetrack hearing to air complaints over anti-conservative bias; Missing from view? Zuckerberg’s reaction.

Wired The Big Tech Hearing Proved Congress Isn’t Messing Around
The House antitrust subcommittee just concluded the highest-profile hearing into antitrust and competition since the 1970s. I wrote on Tuesday that the long-awaited hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google was more a test of Congress than of the tech leaders. So, how’d they do? Now that the hearing is over—it lasted some five and a half hours—I’m inclined to give the lawmakers something like a B-minus.

Bloomberg Trump to Order China’s ByteDance to Sell TikTok in U.S.
President Donald Trump plans to announce a decision ordering China’s ByteDance Ltd. to divest its ownership of the music-video app TikTok, which is popular with U.S. teens, according to people familiar with the matter. The U.S. has been investigating potential national security risks due to the company’s control of the app, and Trump’s decision could be announced as soon as Friday, the people said. “We are looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday. “We are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.”

CNET Lawmakers want privacy protections included in coronavirus stimulus package
The erosion of digital privacy over the last two decades has caused a healthy sense of skepticism toward data collection — but with the coronavirus pandemic, health officials need people to trust tech companies more than ever. Some lawmakers are arguing that a bill regulating COVID-19 health data can help with that, and want it included in a second stimulus package.

Politico Administration asks FCC to carry out Trump’s tech crackdown
The Commerce Department petitioned the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to narrow the liability protections of online companies, as President Donald Trump directed in May in what he pitched as a crackdown on anti-conservative bias. Monday’s petition includes a request that the FCC impose a regulatory requirement on social media companies, even though the agency doesn’t regulate them. The FCC is an independent agency outside Trump’s direct control, although he has nominated its five members.

The Hill Hawley introduces bill targeting behavioral advertising
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would condition legal protections for online platforms that utilize behavioral advertising, the use of browsing habits to serve tailored ads to users. The Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services, or BAD ADS, Act would take Section 230 protections away from the biggest tech companies that use the advertising method.


Microsoft on the Issues New differential privacy platform co-developed with Harvard’s OpenDP unlocks data while safeguarding privacy
Data not only drives our modern world; it also bears enormous potential. Data is necessary to shape creative solutions to critical challenges including climate change, terrorism, income and racial inequality, and COVID-19. The concern is that the deeper you dig into the data, the more likely that sensitive personal information will be revealed.

Microsoft Innovation Stories Microsoft tests hydrogen fuel cells for backup power at datacenters
In a worldwide first that could jumpstart a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen fuel cells have powered a row of datacenter servers for 48 consecutive hours, Microsoft announced Monday. The feat is the latest milestone in the company’s commitment to be carbon negative by 2030.

Morning Consult With Privacy Shield Data Pact Nullified, Ex-Commerce Officials Suggest Ways U.S. and E.U. Can Craft a New Deal
While it’s unclear where the two regions are with negotiations, three former Commerce Department officials who have worked with Privacy Shield in various roles told Morning Consult that there are two options the United States could pursue to make a deal more likely: create stronger rights for E.U. citizens to submit complaints about how their data is used in the United States or move the Privacy Shield’s ombudsman position from its current home at the State Department to an autonomous agency to increase its independence. The Court of Justice of the European Union named both issues as its top reasons for striking down the transatlantic agreement.

Axios Exclusive: Texas AG probing Facebook over biometric data
Texas is investigating Facebook for possibly running afoul of state laws on the collection of biometric data, according to June documents uncovered by a tech watchdog group. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has emerged as a key tech investigator, and going after Facebook for illegally harvesting biometric data may be a fruitful line of inquiry. Facebook users in Illinois secured a major settlement over the issue.

Business Insider Google is laying a giant new undersea internet cable stretching from New York to the UK and Spain
Google is planning to lay more than 3,000 miles of transatlantic undersea cable by 2022. The tech giant announced its new Grace Hopper undersea cable project on Tuesday. The Grace Hopper cable, named after the famous US computer scientist, will connect New York to Bude in the UK and Bilbao, Spain.

The Texas Tribune Analysis: Funding for rural broadband in Texas is in trouble. The pandemic might save it.
A state fund used to buttress rural telecommunications and internet services could run out of money before the end of the year, even as Texans’ reliance on those services for medicine, education and commerce balloons. Phone companies and a pack of rural state legislators are asking utility regulators to increase the tax on interstate telecommunications services that fills the Texas Universal Service Fund; a decision could come as early as Thursday. But action has been delayed a couple of times this summer.

StateTech Magazine Tennessee to Deploy New Smart Highway System
For several years, city and state governments have been deploying a variety of smart roadway technologies to improve safety and ease traffic congestion, as well as to build a foundation for connected vehicle technology, including vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity. In Tennessee, the state is aiming to do all of that. In June, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced it had been awarded a $11.2 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant.

TechCrunch Nebraska and Iowa win advanced wireless testbed grants for rural broadband
Everyone wants more bandwidth from the skies, but it takes a lot of testing to turn laboratory research projects into real-world performant infrastructure. A number of new technologies, sometimes placed under the banner of “5G” and sometimes not, is embarking on that transition and being deployed in real-world scenarios. Those research trials are crucial for productizing these technologies, and ultimately, delivering consumers better wireless broadband options.


American Enterprise Institute 

  • Blog on intellectual property protections proposed in COVID-19 response
    Amid the ongoing debate over the $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act proposed by Senate Republicans, aspects of China policy, intellectual property, and the coronavirus have begun to intersect. Aiming to “bring back the medical supply chain into the United States,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) earlier this week introduced his Restoring Critical Supply Chains and Intellectual Property Act as a component of HEALS … In addition, under the Graham bill, “qualified intangible property” such as patents, trade secrets, formulas, or other know-how related to the production of PPE will be eligible for tax-free treatment. “This tax credit,” Graham said, “will help revitalize an industry and bring it back to the United States. No longer will we be beholden to China.” In addition, the measure seeks to “safeguard American innovation” by establishing a Federal Research Security Council within the Office of Management and Budget. This new council would be charged with securing and standardizing the grant-awarding process throughout the federal government. (AEIdeas – Supply chain measure in HEALS Act casts light on China and intellectual property, July 31, 2020)

The Brookings Institution 

  • Blog on addressing social media and online harm
    As public pressure has increased for social media platforms to take action against online harassment and abuse, most of the policy debate has centered around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter from being sued over most content users publish on their sites. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, is ready to revoke it because of platforms’ tolerance of hate speech. President Donald Trump appears to agree but for different reasons: because of what he claims is the platforms’ anti-conservative bias. Whether Section 230 is tweaked, repealed, or unchanged, platforms will likely respond to online harm in fundamentally the same way they are now. Echoing the American criminal justice system, the main strategy that platforms use is to remove offensive material—and sometimes the users who post it—from communities. (TechStream – The promise of restorative justice in addressing online harm, July 27, 2020)

Center for American Progress 

  • Blog on corporate monopolies and antitrust laws
    The data show that the United States has a competition problem. In many industries throughout the country, there is increased concentration, rising profit margins, declining entry, and low investment relative to profits. Moreover, stock market participants have been signaling the problem by assigning very high equity values to a relatively small subset of public firms earning monopoly profits. It is possible to take issue with any one of these measures and to argue that some of these trends actually reflect superstar levels of efficiency and returns to scale. But these alternative explanations are becoming harder to sustain as empirical research accumulates. Although the competition problem pervades the economy, there has been intense focus on the market power of large U.S. digital service companies. Even though detailed information about business practices and competitive conditions can be hard to find, there is enough publicly available information to suggest that close antitrust scrutiny is in order for some of these firms. (Using Antitrust Law To Address the Market Power of Platform Monopolies, July 28, 2020)

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 to endorse specific platforms or bills.