June 19, 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Microsoft Innovation Stories Growing Azure’s capacity to help customers, Microsoft during the COVID-19 pandemic
Microsoft prioritized capacity for existing customers while also reserving capacity for first responders who needed to quickly scale life and safety services. It also expanded cloud support for non-profits working to protect people’s health during the pandemic. Microsoft’s Azure and product teams worked around the clock to ensure that services like Teams, Office and Xbox could meet rapidly exploding demand from customers.

Tech Crunch Microsoft employs experimental undersea data center in search for COVID-19 vaccine
Microsoft is testing pre-packed, shipping container-sized data centers that can be spun up on demand and run deep under the ocean’s surface for sustainable, high-efficiency and cool operation to contribute to such efforts in a big way, and it’s now using one in Scotland to model viral proteins that lead to COVID-19.


CNN Facebook and Instagram will allow US users to block political ads
Ahead of what’s certain to be a contentious US presidential election, Facebook and Instagram said they will let US users turn off political ads in their feeds. The block feature will roll out to US users in the next few weeks. It will include ads from political action committees (PACs), according to a Facebook news release. It’s not expected that Facebook (FB), one of the largest advertising platforms in the world, will lose ad revenue from the decision.

Politico Biden campaign goes after Facebook over online speech
The campaign for former Vice President Joe Biden has launched a petition calling on Facebook to eliminate misinformation and tamp down voter suppression ahead of the election — putting the social media behemoth squarely in the cross hairs of both presidential candidates. “Folks, we saw in 2016 what can happen when social media platforms are left unchecked and allow disinformation to run rampant. It puts the very integrity of our elections at risk,” Biden tweeted Thursday. “We simply cannot let it happen again in 2020.”

Recode Facebook still won’t take down politicians’ misleading posts, but it’s trying to register 4 million new voters
After deflecting criticism that it is not doing enough to stop the spread of political misinformation, Facebook says it’s expanding its efforts to get people to vote in the 2020 US presidential elections. Starting in July and running through November, the company will begin reminding US users to register to vote with a message at the top of their Facebook and Instagram feeds. It will also point users to a new Voting Information Center that will tell people where and how they can vote in their geographic area, and it will surface verified posts from state election officials and local election authorities.


Politico Josh Hawley readying broadside against big tech’s ad business, legal shield
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley is preparing legislation that could require major online platforms like Google and Facebook to stop selling certain targeted ads to keep key legal protections, according to an individual familiar with the plan that would strike the heart of industry giants’ business. The individual told POLITICO the proposal would make industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a 1996 law that shields online businesses from lawsuits over user content — contingent for some platforms on not allowing advertisers to target users based on behavioral data, which includes information such as web-browsing history and online activity.

The Hill Bipartisan senators call for making telehealth expansion permanent post-coronavirus
A group of 30 senators from both sides of the aisle on Monday urged leadership to make permanent the expansion of telehealth services that has been undertaken during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) calls for provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act included in previous COVID-19 legislation be extended after the public health emergency is over.

Wall Street Journal Coronavirus Privacy Bills Hit Roadblocks in Congress
As authorities and companies explore surveillance tools to fight the coronavirus and reopen the U.S. economy, many federal lawmakers agree that privacy protections are key. But proposals for safeguards unveiled in recent weeks have crashed into two familiar roadblocks in the U.S. Senate. Many Republicans want federal law to override state-level rules for privacy, while Democrats have argued stronger state statutes should hold sway and want individuals to be able to sue companies for privacy violations.

Politico Bill Responds to Chinese Cyber Espionage
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) introduced legislation late last week that would direct the State Department not to issue visas to Chinese nationals for studying or working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics unless the president certifies to Congress that China hasn’t engaged in cyber espionage in the preceding year.

New York Times Trump Administration to Push for ‘Reset’ of Global Tariffs
The Trump administration plans to continue its aggressive trade tactics this year by pushing for a “broader reset” of the tariffs set at the World Trade Organization, a top trade official plans to tell Congress in testimony on Wednesday. Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, will tell the House Ways and Means Committee that the tariffs set for various countries are “outdated” and far above the levels charged by the United States, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. The United States “must ensure that tariffs reflect current economic realities to protect our exporters and workers,” Mr. Lighthizer’s prepared testimony says.

Nextgov Energy Explores the Potential of an Artificial Intelligence Grand Challenge
The Energy Department’s nascent Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office—or AITO—on Wednesday invited experts from national laboratories, academia, industry and beyond to weigh in on sector-specific grand challenges and partnerships worth pursuing to pioneer radical breakthroughs in AI and bolster U.S. leadership in the tech’s realm. In the office’s first request for information, AITO officials asked outside organizations to share insights on how to best approach the production of AI-focused grand challenges, and details on the AI capabilities that hold the most potential to disrupt the landscape and power new—and needed—discoveries down the line. The move was at least partially prompted by a relatively recent direction from the Trump administration.


Multichannel News FCC Approves $7.4 Million More in Rural Broadband Subsidies
The FCC has authorized $7.4 million in funding over 10 years for rural broadband buildouts in Oklahoma and Oregon. Viasat will get $2,708,529.40 to serve 3,811 rural locations in Oregon and tribal provider Redwire will get $4,766,845.60 for fixed broadband “of at least 25/3 Mbps” for 8,041 rural homes and businesses in Oklahoma, including tribal areas. The providers must build out to 40% of those homes and businesses within three years and add another 20% yearly until all are served by year six.

Wall Street Journal Apple Faces Two EU Antitrust Probes Over Apps
European Union antitrust authorities launched two formal probes into whether Apple Inc. violated competition laws through its Apple Pay service and App Store, escalating the bloc’s broader campaign to curb Silicon Valley giants’ alleged attempts to corner markets and squash rivals. The EU’s new investigations join other formal and informal probes into companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., which is set to face EU antitrust charges in coming weeks. If found guilty, Apple could face a fine of up to 10% of its annual revenue and be forced to adjust its business practices.

Reuters Europe threatens digital taxes without global deal, after U.S. quits talks
The European Union said on Thursday it could impose taxes on digital giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook even without a global agreement by the year-end, after Washington quit talks and stoked fears of a new trade war. The latest transatlantic row was ignited when the United States said on Wednesday it was withdrawing from negotiations with European countries over new international tax rules on digital firms, saying talks had made no progress.


Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

The Brookings Institute

  • Blog on tech industry solutions to pandemic response.
    Contact tracing done wrong threatens privacy and invites mission creep into adjacent fields, including policing. Government actors might (and do) distort and corrupt public-health messaging to serve their own interests. Automated policing and content control raise the prospect of a slide into authoritarianism. (Tech Stream – The dangers of tech-driven solutions to COVID-19, June 17, 2020)

American Enterprise Institute

  • Blog on political and commercial bias in tech.
    The accusers are partially right. Big tech is biased. It has to be. Big Tech is in the information industry, where value is created by processing data in meaningful ways. This isn’t to say that all of the accusations are accurate, nor that all biases are valuable. Rather, bias naturally emerges from human biology. The only question is what types of biases are valuable, which are bad, and under what circumstances. (Blog – Big Tech is biased… and that’s a good thing, June 16, 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.