September 24 2021

This Week in Washington

Washington Post Biden wants to make it harder to pay ransomware hackers
The Biden administration is making swift progress on its master strategy to combat ransomware. But any reduction in attacks may still be far off. The administration plans to move as early as this week to place sanctions on financial exchanges that facilitate ransomware payments.

The Verge Senate Democrats call on FTC to fix data privacy ‘crisis’

Senate Democrats are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to write new rules to protect consumer data privacy in a new letter to the agency authored on Monday. The letter, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and signed by eight other Democratic senators, was sent to FTC Chair Lina Khan Monday, calling on the agency to “begin a rulemaking process” on privacy. Specifically, the senators are requesting that the FTC pen new rules addressing privacy, civil rights, and the collection of consumer data.

Washington Post Tech giants quietly buy up dozens of companies a year. The Biden administration is finally noticing.

A soaring number of mergers and acquisitions, many of them never publicly announced, is overwhelming antitrust regulators, a major problem for the Biden administration’s hopes of intensifying scrutiny of corporate power centers like Silicon Valley. Already this year, companies across all industries have sought to buy or merge with others worth at least $92 million almost 3,000 times — roughly 40 percent more than before the pandemic in 2019 — according to federal data.

CNBC The FCC is trying to stop robocalls, but the scammers won’t disappear

From fake social security calls to scammers impersonating Apple or Amazon, anyone with a cellphone or landline is no stranger to robocalls. For decades, robocall scammers have graced phones and voicemails across the nation. Between June 2020 and 2021 these scams affected more than 59 million people who lost a combined $29.8 billion, according to phone number identification app Truecaller. Some robocallers look to sell legal products like a car warranty or new roof through illegal means, while others will steal your social security number or credit card.

The Hill Democratic senator requests tech company policies on extremist content

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is demanding that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube provide information regarding their policies surrounding mitigating extremist content on their platforms. Peters in a release on Monday said he wrote letters to each platform’s CEO in an effort to combat domestic terrorism and investigate the events of Jan. 6, when rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Washington Post Why Democrats are rallying around creating a new FTC privacy bureau to police Big Tech

Who in the federal government should police data abuses by tech companies — and how do you make sure they aren’t hopelessly outgunned against the vast resources of Silicon Valley? Those questions have puzzled lawmakers on Capitol Hill for years. A bipartisan cast of lawmakers have long called on Congress to supercharge existing agencies with an influx of cash, while some Democrats have pushed for the creation of a new digitally focused regulator altogether.

Article Summary

Bloomberg Businessweek Microsoft and an Army of Tiny Telecoms Are Part of a Plan to Wire Rural America
Elizabeth Bowles, President and Chair of Aristotle Unified Communications, is showing off her whatever-it-takes strategy for narrowing the digital divide between people with reasonably speedy internet access and those without. This gap has remained stubbornly persistent for decades, even as the internet has become steadily more inextricable from daily life, business, health care, and education. Research group BroadbandNow estimates that 42 million Americans have no broadband access, while a depressing 120 million people in the U.S. are without any connection fast enough to even call the internet, according to an October 2020 study by Microsoft Corp.

Tech Crunch Microsoft wants cloud computing to reshape natural disaster modeling, but challenges remain
Weather forecasting is a notoriously challenging field, but it’s an endeavor that is becoming ever more vital to the daily functioning of our planet. Climate change is intensifying the scale and devastation of natural disasters, from wildfires and typhoons to floods and cyclones. Knowing precisely when and where a disaster strikes (or, even, just getting a few hours advanced notice) can drastically change the outcome for the populations affected.

Bloomberg Republicans Press Pentagon on Amazon Bid for Canceled Cloud Deal
The top Republicans on congressional antitrust subcommittees are demanding documents from the Defense Department to investigate what they say is potential anticompetitive conduct related to a now-canceled $10 billion cloud-computing contract.

WIRED AI Can Write Code Like Humans—Bugs and All
Some software developers are now letting artificial intelligence help write their code. They’re finding that AI is just as flawed as humans. Last June, GitHub, a subsidiary of Microsoft that provides tools for hosting and collaborating on code, released a beta version of a program that uses AI to assist programmers. Start typing a command, a database query, or a request to an API, and the program, called Copilot, will guess your intent and write the rest.

Reuters States rally around proposed U.S. laws to rein in Big Tech
A bipartisan group of U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to lawmakers on Monday urging them to pass a series of bills that tighten antitrust laws aimed at Big Tech companies like Facebook (FB.O) and Alphabet’s Google.

Reuters Big Tech targeted by U.S. and EU in draft memo ahead of tech and trade meeting
The United States and European Union plan to take a more unified approach to limit the growing market power of Big Tech companies, according to a draft memo seen by Reuters. The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a U.S.-EU Trade & Technology Council meeting on Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh.

Protocol Tech trade groups sue to block Texas’s social media law
Two tech trade groups, NetChoice and CCIA, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block a Texas law governing social media platforms’ ability to moderate content. The law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed earlier this month, forces tech platforms to carry certain types of speech that they would otherwise prohibit — a violation of the First Amendment, the groups argue. In a statement, NetChoice CEO Steve DelBianco said the law, called HB 20, “threaten[s] the safety of users, creators, and businesses.”

Tech Crunch Web host Epik was warned of a critical security flaw weeks before it was hacked
In a statement attached to a torrent file of the dumped data this week, the group said the 180 gigabytes amounts to a “decade’s worth” of company data, including “all that’s needed to trace actual ownership and management” of the company. The group claimed to have customer payment histories, domain purchases and transfers, and passwords, credentials and employee mailboxes. The cache of stolen data also contains files from the company’s internal web servers, and databases that contain customer records for domains that are registered with Epik.

Washington Post Tech’s allies say antitrust reform would help China. Critics say it’s a cheap ploy.

The tech industry and its allies in Washington this week issued a pair of documents reviving concerns that antitrust reform could harm U.S. national security and hinder competition with China — a tactic critics are calling a thinly veiled effort to dodge regulation and ward off would-be backers. The flurry of activity arrives during a critical stretch: proponents and opponents of antitrust reform are racing to win the support of lawmakers who may be on the fence — a number of whom are outspoken China and national security hawks.

New York Times The Spying That Changed Big Tech

In 2013, reporting by The Washington Post — based on documents from the former U.S. government contractor Edward J. Snowden — revealed that the National Security Agency and its British counterpart had essentially hacked reams of information from customers of Google, Yahoo and other American internet companies without those companies’ knowledge. The spy agencies did this by intercepting internet traffic from undersea internet cables or other access points between corporate computer centers outside the United States.

State Scoop Why aren’t schools required to report ransomware?

According to Emsisoft, 58 schools and school districts have publicly reported ransomware attacks in 2021, but we know this is only a fraction of the actual figure. Public officials and industry experts acknowledge that the rise in attacks is a national crisis, yet most schools are still not required to report ransomware.

Tech Podcast of the Week

#ShiftHappens Podcast

  • Podcast on Hybrid Work
    More companies are deploying hybrid models for employees as COVID-19 cases decline. Tune in to hear Microsoft CVP Jared Spataro discuss extensive Microsoft research on the issue — and get advice to successfully implement a hybrid workplace. (S7 E1: Forecasting the Future of Hybrid Work with Jared Spataro – September 21, 2021)