With help from John Hendel, Cristiano Lima and Leah Nylen
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— Jassy takes Washington: Andy Jassy will take the helm of Amazon at a time when antitrust scrutiny and momentum for federal privacy legislation are building. Where might his reign collide with Congress?
— On the Hill: Today’s tense Senate vote on Commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo will crystallize whether she has successfully dispelled GOP lawmakers’ concerns about her approach to Huawei.
— MT exclusive: The American Economic Liberties Project is calling for a ban on targeting advertising on tech platforms to rein in the kind of content that helped set the stage for last month’s Capitol riot.
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NEW(ISH) FACE ON THE SCENE: BEZOS OUT, JASSY IN — Jassy, chief of Amazon Web Services, will later this year take the reins from Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon, making for a new face in the cast of characters that could get hauled before the 117th Congress. No, there’s no CEO hearing on the books just yet. But if 2020 — when Bezos testified before Congress for the first time, alongside the leaders of Apple, Facebook and Google — was any indication of what’s to come, Jassy, too, could find himself in the Hill hot seat down the line.
— Jassy who? Jassy, who helped launch Amazon’s cloud computing arm, AWS, in 2003 before taking over as the division’s CEO in 2016, has already been in the thick of some of Amazon’s highest-profile battles. “[He] will take the mantle atop the tech giant as it faces unprecedented levels of scrutiny from policymakers and regulators around the world, including over allegations it has used its monopoly power to unfairly squelch competitors and mistreat its workforce,” my colleague Cristiano Lima reports. Even so — and in the face of growing demands from some lawmakers and tech critics to break up the company — Jassy has denied that Amazon stifles rivals and gone so far as to say, “we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it.”
But news of the Bezos-Jassy shuffling was met with even more calls for action against the e-commerce behemoth. Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said the changes “should be an inflection point for the U.S. government” and that “we can’t rely on Amazon to reform itself. Amazon should be broken up and its business model refashioned.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also already watching closely.
— What else we’re watching: What happens with Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, under Jassy. Remember that last summer, as protests over racial injustice and police brutality surged across the country, Amazon announced it would stop selling Rekognition to police for one year. We’re about four months out from that deadline, and talks over federal privacy legislation are likely to pick up again before then. Jassy has said in the past that he’d welcome government regulation of the surveillance technology. (More here in a 2019 interview with tech journalist Kara Swisher.)
TODAY: BIDEN’S COMMERCE PICK FACES COMMITTEE HURDLE — This morning’s Senate Commerce vote on Raimondo’s nomination will gauge whether she’s dispatched GOP fears about how she views Huawei. As John reported Tuesday, the Rhode Island governor told senators she does indeed view the Chinese telecom giant as a threat and sees no reason to take any companies off the trade blacklist, answers that went beyond her recent noncommittal responses that had stoked GOP anxieties.
— Other tech nuggets: In written answers released Tuesday, Raimondo told Democrats that she would work with Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to stand up an Office of Connectivity and Growth “to amplify the work of NTIA’s BroadbandUSA” activities. And not only is she a no on nationalizing 5G but she is “unaware of any present intention” to build such a government network. And she’d “expand upon” the ongoing National Institutes of Standards and Technology efforts to create a trustworthy framework for AI and ensure a U.S.-EU transatlantic data flow deal that “fully addresses” the European court’s concerns.
— And how to solve government in-fighting on 5G? In fielding questions about how the Biden administration would handle juggling airwave disputes with the FCC (a source of Trump-era dysfunction), Raimondo told lawmakers she wants such disputes “resolved prior to the issuance of any FCC Decision.” NTIA judgments “should be given extraordinary weight,” she added.
MT SCOOP: COULD BANNING TARGETED ONLINE ADS CURB VIOLENT EXTREMISM? — Targeted advertising on social media contributed to the January violence in Washington, and banning it could help prevent similar danger in the future, the American Economic Liberties Project argues in a new brief shared exclusively with Morning Tech. The anti-monopoly group warns that companies’ suspensions of certain groups and individuals in the wake of the riot — and even their pulling the plug on entire platforms — will do little to fix the root of the online problems that helped set the stage for the storming of the Capitol. That, according to the group, is a business model that relies on targeted ads and favors misinformation and inciting extremist content.
— On ads: Several of the tech platforms that rioters used to find inspiration and organize — including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — “made money by selling ads as the riot occurred,” the organization says. “They also made money selling ads against election conspiracies and organizing efforts that pre-dated and influenced the riot.” The project recommends banning targeted ads via FTC rulemaking or legislation. The FTC in December opened a probe, a so-called 6(b) study, into how nine companies including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube use consumers’ data to serve up ads and content.
— The view from Silicon Valley: Some tech companies have taken steps to limit their targeting of ads, including around political messaging, but it is unlikely that the biggest players would give up the functionality altogether.
SPEAKING OF: ADL’S GAMEPLAN FOR CURBING ONLINE EXTREMISM — The Anti-Defamation League is today releasing a roadmap for policymakers and social media companies to combat online extremism. The group’s “PROTECT Plan to Fight Domestic Terrorism” arrives a day before ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is slated to testify on the topic before the House Homeland Security Committee.
— Its recommendations to Capitol Hill: ADL is calling on Congress to “investigate any complicity between social media companies and extremists” and press the platforms to be more transparent and proactive in addressing hate content and mis- and disinformation. And it’s urging lawmakers to consider “careful reform” of Section 230, the tech industry’s liability shield, as well as measures to quantify the extent of online extremism, and the effectiveness of countermeasures.
— Its call to action for President Joe Biden: The group also wants the administration to work with Congress to establish a nonprofit organization modeled after the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children “to help streamline national security tips and resources while preserving civil liberties.” Greenblatt previously told Cristiano that the Biden White House on Day One needed to “launch a process that examines the rise of extremism and the role of the social media companies in contributing to that.”
DOJ ANTITRUST ECONOMICS DRAMA — As MT noted last week, Pepperdine’s Babette Boliek joined the Justice Department as the top antitrust economist last month — an oddity since she’s a Republican and it happened right before Biden’s administration took over. Unlike the rest of former President Donald Trump’s DOJ political appointees, Boliek wasn’t asked to resign on Jan. 20. Some Democrats are pushing her to step down anyway.
— Why now? The economics chief is usually an economist from a university who takes a leave of absence for one or two years for the DOJ role. Before Boliek, the Trump Justice Department had just one deputy assistant attorney general for economics: Vanderbilt’s Luke Froeb, who left in 2018. Boliek, former chief economist at the FCC, had been in talks to take up the post earlier in the Trump administration but the arrangement didn’t work out. While the Biden team hasn’t asked her to leave, the antitrust division is currently reviewing her contract, which is set to expire in June but can be canceled at any time.
Cinnamon Rogers, former executive vice president for public advocacy at CompTIA, was hired as DocuSign’s first in-house head of global government affairs. … Laura Deaner, the former chief information security officer for S&P Global, was named the new CISO at Northwestern Mutual, the first woman to hold this role at the firm.
Eyeballs watching emoji: Apple is looking to hire a senior manager for strategic alliances in Washington.
ICYMI: The FTC announced Tuesday that Amazon will pay $61.7 million to reimburse customer tips it withheld from delivery drivers, Leah reports.
Wikipedia tightens its rules: Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, has unveiled an official code of conduct that bans harassment on and off the site and prohibits the “deliberate introduction of false or inaccurate content” onto the platform.
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