With help from Emily Birnbaum and Steven Overly
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— Homing in: As the Senate gears up for antitrust legislation, tech giants are targeting key senators with donations.
— Fighting fakers: Lawmakers are urging Amazon to do more to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods, but the e-commerce giant says the problem lies with underfunded federal agencies.
— Postcard from London: Just two weeks after Frances Haugen spoke to Congress, a different Facebook whistleblower will testify before U.K. lawmakers today.
IT’S MONDAY, OCT. 18. WELCOME BACK TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. A friendly PSA from your California-based host: The Metro is only operating about 40 trains today, so if you’re commuting to the office, make sure you plan accordingly! (You’re welcome.)
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TECH DOLLARS POUR INTO THE SENATE — Google, Amazon and Microsoft have donated tens of thousands of dollars to key members of the Senate over the past three months, according to an MT analysis of third-quarter campaign finance filings released Friday.
Some of the most significant conversations about the future of tech regulation are moving to the upper chamber, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) negotiating with bipartisan lawmakers over tech antitrust legislation and senators considering how to respond to the Senate Commerce Committee’s explosive hearing with Haugen earlier this month.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Klobuchar’s major GOP partner in taking on “Big Tech,” received $4,000 from Amazon and $1,000 from Google this past quarter. (Klobuchar and Grassley unveiled a bipartisan bill aimed at stopping Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon from favoring their own products just last week.) That marked Amazon’s largest-ever donation to Grassley during a single quarter.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate who recently expressed new openness to breaking up the major social media companies, received $5,000 from Google. But he also received $5,000 from Microsoft — one of the top corporate rivals to the “Big Four” tech companies — which has been agitating behind the scenes against its competitors.
Microsoft was particularly busy this quarter. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chair of the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, also received a $5,000 donation from Microsoft — as did Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), both of whom have been outspoken against Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google.
Blumenthal also raked in donations from all sides of the antitrust debate, including $1,000 from BSA, a trade group that counts Amazon Web Services and Microsoft as members; lobbying group Finsbury Glover Hering, which represents Apple, among other clients; and lobbying firm K&L Gates, which counts tech trade group Consumer Technology Association as a client.
— What’s next: Lobbying disclosures expected later this week will offer a look at the companies’ topline numbers during Q3.
AMAZON WANTS FEDS TO CRACK DOWN ON COUNTERFEITERS — Federal agencies don’t have sufficient resources to prosecute counterfeiters, Amazon wrote in a policy paper published today that calls on the government to pour more money into seizing knockoff products and prosecuting the people who peddle them.
— Flipping the script: Amazon has received intense scrutiny from lawmakers and companies alike for failing to stop counterfeits from being sold on its massive marketplace, with bills like the SHOP SAFE Act and the INFORM Consumers Act making their way through Congress. In recent years, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has also listed Amazon’s websites in countries like Germany, Italy and the U.K. among markets where counterfeit merchandise is prevalent.
— Amazon’s argument: The e-commerce giant set up its own anti-counterfeit unit last year, staffed with former investigators and attorneys from DHS, DOJ and the FBI. The unit tracks down the identities of counterfeiters on Amazon and collects evidence about their activities, which the company then turns over to federal authorities in hopes of giving investigators a head start, said Kebharu Smith, the unit’s director.
In the unit’s first year, Amazon made more than 250 referrals to law enforcement agencies around the world and pursued 64 civil cases against counterfeiters, Smith, a former DOJ attorney, said. “In the past year we’ve … made significant referrals to law enforcement, and we look to do more in the future,” he said. “But we need to have partners who can accept these cases and pursue them until they are held accountable.”
In the paper, Amazon argued that better communication between the government and e-commerce businesses — about shipment seizures and criminal counterfeit networks, for example — will be needed to effectively disrupt the supply of fake goods. The company also wants more grants made available to state and local law enforcement to pursue counterfeiters.
MT EXCLUSIVE: GROUPS URGE SWIFT CONFIRMATION FOR BEDOYA — More than three dozen progressive organizations, including Demand Progress, the Center for Popular Democracy, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge and Public Citizen, are today urging the Senate to swiftly confirm Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC seat vacated by Democrat Rohit Chopra.
The confirmation of Bedoya, who founded the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, will be key to FTC Chair Lina Khan’s ability to enact her desired progressive reforms. Presently, without Bedoya or Chopra, GOP commissioners have enough power to stall those policies.
“A prolonged deadlock on the FTC only stands to create further obstacles for the agency as it works to hold Big Tech giants accountable,” the groups wrote in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
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FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWERS HEAD ACROSS THE POND — Former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang is scheduled to testify before a U.K. Parliament committee today, as lawmakers there consider a bill to protect users online.
— Not the only one: Zhang’s testimony comes two weeks after Haugen, who leaked thousands of pages of internal documents to both Congress and The Wall Street Journal, spoke to lawmakers about the company. Haugen is scheduled to testify before the U.K. Parliament next week, as well, and EU officials have also extended an invitation to Haugen to testify before European lawmakers on Nov. 8.
— Who is Zhang? She worked at Facebook for nearly three years and was fired by the company last year. When she left, she wrote a blistering memo that criticized Facebook for ignoring global political manipulation on its platform, especially in smaller developing countries like Azerbaijan and Honduras. “I have blood on my hands,” she said in her farewell note. (Facebook has said it “fundamentally disagree[s] with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform.”)
“Dictators should not be allowed to break the rules on social media to repress their own citizenry,” Zhang wrote on Twitter. “This fact transcends national and partisan boundaries.”
— What the bill would do: The U.K.’s Online Safety Bill, as it is known, focuses on tackling harmful content online. It asks tech platforms to stop the spread of illegal content, make sure children are protected from inappropriate materials and restrict legal but harmful content — a proposal that has drawn free speech concerns. Failing to do so could subject them to steep fines.
“Combating inauthentic accounts spreading disinformation is an important challenge in making social media safer and we want to understand what the companies are doing now, and what more should be done,” Damian Collins, the member of Parliament who chairs the committee in charge of the draft legislation, said on Twitter about the hearing.
Pam Walker has joined VMware as the lead for public sector and procurement policies before Congress, the administration and other government stakeholders. She previously led policy analysis at Splunk and public sector and procurement policy at the Information Technology Industry Council. … Zuzana (Fedorkova) Love is now digital services expert for product strategy at the U.S. Digital Service. She most recently was project lead (a voluntary position) at the U.S. Digital Response and worked for six years as head of product management for digital at peach, inc.
Emily Baker-White is joining BuzzFeed News as a senior reporter in San Francisco covering tech. She was a senior policy manager at Spotify and has worked on Facebook’s content distribution and algorithmic ranking policy team. She was also executive director of the Plain View project that examined abusive social media activity by police. … Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) is joining the House Science Committee’s energy panel.
Suzanne Beall is joining Amazon as senior manager of public policy. She was most recently VP of government relations and public policy and counsel at the International Franchise Association and is an alum of the National Association of Home Builders and former Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). … Jennifer Holtz is joining JSI as a VP of regulatory affairs. She previously was special counsel for cyber and critical infrastructure security, public safety and the homeland security bureau at the FCC.
Jared Sher is joining Roku as senior policy counsel. He was most recently deputy general counsel for NCTA and is a 21st Century Fox alum. The television streaming player is also hiring for a government affairs head, a sign that it is expanding its footprint in Washington amid recent policy battles with companies like Charter Communications and Google, John reports for Pros.
The Center for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue has opened an office in Washington. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Robert Hormats, a former undersecretary of State, are joining its advisory board. IBM’s Edward Barth, Google’s Alexis Bonnell, Kaush Arha of the Atlantic Council, Simone Ledeen and Nazak Nikakhtar are joining as senior fellows.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association is launching Don’t Break Our Tech, a project aimed at raising awareness around how some of the House antitrust bills might affect the way consumers use certain tech products.
From our good friends at POLITICO Influence: Tech companies have added to their extensive lobbying rosters, according to recent disclosures. Oracle hired three veterans of the Trump administration’s National Space Council to lobby on procurement and IT modernization: Daris Meeks, former Vice President Mike Pence’s top domestic policy adviser, who helped manage the revival of the space council; Jared Stout, the council’s deputy executive secretary and chief of staff; and Katie Wall, the council’s chief of staff. They make up the team from Meeks, Butera & Israel that will represent the software giant as it pursues the DoD contract meant to take the place of the winner-take-all JEDI program. Oracle also hired Capitol Consulting Group’s Stephen Replogle as a subcontractor to Cove Strategies, the lobbying firm run by Matt Schlapp where Replogle previously worked.
Facebook also added a new outside firm: James “J.D.” Derderian and Valerie Henry, former top staffers for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and for its previous chair respectively, as well as Joe Rachinsky and Bryan Wells of Stanton Park Group.
Boom or bust: “Facebook Says AI Will Clean Up the Platform. Its Own Engineers Have Doubts,” via WSJ.
Pivot to teens: Instagram feared other social media platforms attractive to teenage users could be an “existential threat,” NYT reports.
TicTok? “Teen Girls Are Developing Tics. Doctors
Say TikTok Could Be a Factor.” WSJ has more.
The other TikTok effect: YouTube is taking a page out of the TikTok playbook, The Information reports.
Looking at China: The country will keep up its scrutiny of the internet sector, via Reuters, following the outlet’s report last week that China was considering elevating the status of its Antimonopoly Bureau.
Workplace shakeup: “Apple fires #AppleToo leader Janneke Parrish,” WaPo reports.
Money moves: “Today’s Tech Founders Don’t Just Own the Company. They’re Also Getting Huge Pay Packages,” WSJ reports.
By the wayside: Why hasn’t the Biden administration prioritized FCC staffing picks? Some say it’s because acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel isn’t liberal enough, via Washington Examiner.
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