Welcome to The Technology 202. I want to start by sending my condolences to the family and friends of Blake Hounshell, the curious and insightful late New York Times editor and Politico alum who years ago helped this reporter find her footing in political journalism and newsletter writing. Thanks Blake. You will be missed. Read about his legacy here.
Below: A House committee is asking former Twitter executives to testify at a hearing, and Apple plans to reveal more information about requests to remove apps. First:
Biden’s plea to Congress to ‘unite’ against Big Tech, explained
President Biden issued a rare call to action Wednesday for Congress to “unite” on legislation to “hold Big Tech accountable,” and provided his most detailed roadmap yet for what legislation he thinks lawmakers should move forward to rein in Silicon The Valley Giants.
“It’s time to walk the walk and get something done,” Biden wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, outlining several areas for potential bipartisan action.
Here’s an overview of his proposals and where this legislative effort stands:
Privacy for all consumers, especially children
What Biden called for: Congress should set “clear limits on how companies can collect, use and share highly personal data” with “even stronger” protections for “young people,” including by limiting targeted advertising to all consumers and banning it to children.
What’s on the table: House lawmakers last year advanced a bipartisan measure that would largely bar companies from collecting data not necessary to provide specific services, give users the right to opt out of targeted advertising and ban such ads to minors. Democratic leaders in the Senate have introduced legislation that would similarly minimize how much data companies collect, and introduced a separate bipartisan bill to ban targeted ads to children.
The status: Leaders in both chambers would like to pass both broader privacy guardrails and tougher standards for children, but they can’t agree on what to prioritize. House leaders say their legislation achieves bothwhile Senate Democratic leaders say it is not strong enough, and that disagreements over a broader bill should not delay updating children’s privacy laws.
Revamping tech’s liability shield
What Biden called for: The technology giants must “take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use,” and therefore Congress should “fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” the law that protects digital services from lawsuits for hosting and moderating user content.
What’s on the table: Lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills that attempt to reduce Section 230 protections. Both House Democratic leaders and Senate Republicans have introduced bills that seek to repeal protections when platforms algorithmically amplify content, but the former targets cases when it leads to harm, while the latter seeks to address allegations of “censorship.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle proposed narrower bills that deal with specific types of content, including illegal drugs, counterfeits and child abuse material.
The status: While there is widespread concern on Capitol Hill that Section 230 has shielded technology companies, particularly large online platforms, from accountability, consensus on the way forward is more limited. Democrats and Republicans have joined forces on proposals targeting certain content, particularly around harm to children, but neither committee with primary jurisdiction has advanced any bills in recent years. Partisan disagreements over whether platforms moderate too much or too little political content have also stalled talks.
What Biden called for: “We also need much more transparency about the algorithms Big Tech uses to stop them from discriminating, keeping opportunities away from equally qualified women and minorities, or sending content to children that threatens their mental health and safety.”
What’s on the table: The privacy bill introduced by House lawmakers includes provisions that would require companies to examine whether their algorithms could cause harm or lead to discrimination, and to disclose those assessments to regulators. Senate lawmakers are separately pushing legislation that could force companies to cough up more data about their algorithms to outside researchers and regulators, a concept endorsed by former President Barack Obama. A bill on online safety for children would also allow for more research into how algorithms affect children.
The status: There is bipartisan agreement on the need for greater transparency around how companies implement their algorithms, but congressional leaders have shown little appetite to date to pass stand-alone bills on these issues. Their fate may rest on how successful advocates are in either enshrining their proposals in legislation that must be passed, such as the annual spending bills, or in agreeing on a broader technology package.
Increases online competition
What Biden called for: While not explicitly citing any proposals, Biden took aim at when big tech companies “find ways to market their own products while excluding or unchallenging competitors — or charging competitors a fortune to sell on their platform.”
What’s on the table: A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced proposals last Congress to prevent companies from boosting their products over their competitors, a practice known as self-preference, as well as legislation to limit app store restrictions on developers.
The status: While lawmakers succeeded in passing legislation to increase funding for federal antitrust enforcers, none of their major technical proposals setting limits on self-preference practices received a vote in either chamber. House Republican leaders, especially the Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), has sharply criticized the bills, and some of its supporters have cast doubt on their prospects this Congress.
The House Oversight Committee is asking former Twitter executives to testify at the hearing in February
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, asked three former Twitter executives to testify at the hearing about the social media company’s decision to restrict sharing of an article about President Bidenhis son, Hunter Bidenduring the election campaign in 2020. The requests were made to the former chief attorney Vijaya Gaddeformer deputy deputy James Baker and former head of trust and security Joel Rothsaid the committee.
Twitter independently decided to limit sharing of the article, with workers at the company discussing the decision at the time, according to internal Twitter communications posted by Substack writer Matt Taibbi. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress in 2020 that the company made a mistake by restricting the article from being shared under its hacked material policy. He said the company was reviewing the criticism of the decision and changing its policy on hacked material.
Apple will reveal more information about app removal
Apple will provide more information about government requests for the company to remove apps from the App Store, but it still won’t say why individual apps were removed, according to the Financial Times Kenza Bryan and Patrick McGee report. Apple, which has long been under scrutiny for restricting access to certain apps in countries around the world, declined to comment to the outlet.
“It will now provide investors with more details about apps removed in its transparency report, including how many apps each country has requested to be removed, whether the request is based on a violation of the law, and whether Apple complied,” write Bryan and McGee, with referral to people familiar with an agreement.
“Apple has agreed to publish the legal basis for takedown requests from each government in its next report, according to Tulipshare, along with a breakdown by country and app category,” they write. The company has also “committed to beginning to disclose how many apps it is removing for violating App Store guidelines or developer license agreements by country,” Bryan and McGee write.
An unredacted court filing laid out Google’s antitrust arguments
Google argued for a judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit over Google’s search and advertising dominance, Reuters Diane Bartz reports. The arguments were revealed in an unredacted court filing, which was filed in redacted form last month.
“In its 51-page filing, Google argued that [U.S. District Judge Amit] Mehta should throw out the Justice Department case in part because the company’s agreements with Apple and others allow them to promote rivals, such as Microsoft’s Bing search engine,” Bartz writes. “The company also argued that its search engine was popular with browsers and consumers solely because of its quality, and that it was inappropriate for the government to require Google to refrain from competing to be the standard on smartphones.”
Twitter Says ‘No Evidence’ That User Data Sold Online Came From Hack (Variation)
Chinese social media app Kwai played a role in the Brazil uprising (Semafor)
Microsoft says it will give US workers unlimited time off (Bloomberg News)
Meta confirms it has rescinded some full-time job offers (The Verge)
Twitter is said to be considering selling usernames to boost revenue (New York Times)
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