With help from Eric Geller, Leah Nylen, Melissa Heikkilä and John Hendel
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— MT scoop: The FTC denied almost all the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s public records requests. Now, the United States’ largest business lobby is considering suing.
— Seeking feedback: Facebook’s Oversight Board wants the public to weigh in on the platform’s content moderation system that has given special treatment to its high-profile users.
— Upping the ante: Facebook is the latest major tech platform to ramp up its two-factor authentication requirements.
IT’S FRIDAY, DEC. 3. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Benjamin Din. I can’t believe we’ve almost made it to the weekend. What a long, wild and crazy week it has been.
Got a news tip? Email [email protected] and find me on Twitter @benjamindin. Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
MT EXCLUSIVE: CHAMBER OF CONFLICT — The FTC has hit back against the U.S. Chamber, denying 35 of the 37 public records requests filed by the lobbying group about the FTC’s voting rules, policy statements and plans to fine businesses who break the law. The Chamber had come out swinging before Thanksgiving, accusing the agency of “going rogue” with its actions.
— The rationale: The FTC argued in its previously unreported denial that the volume of requests creates an “unreasonable hardship for the agency to process.” For two other requests — including on the FTC voting procedures — the agency said documents are already public.
That last part is true. At 10 p.m. on the day the Chamber filed its requests, the FTC released two documents related to its voting rules: 12 pages of an internal procedures manual that spell out how commission voting works and a 1984 policy on votes by departed commissioners. (Leah had a lengthy tweet thread on how that policy came to be.)
The Chamber is still deciding how to respond to the FTC’s denial, spokesperson Tim Doyle told MT. “The agency’s denial of our [requests]in less than 48 hours calls into question whether the FTC ever actually reviewed each submission,” he said. Under the law, the group has 90 days to either file an appeal with the agency or sue. The National Archives also has a program to help mediate disputes related to the requests.
In the meantime, the Chamber submitted three new records requests Thursday night seeking the FTC’s full internal procedures manual and records related to former FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra’s votes.
— In related news: A group of GOP senators, led by Jerry Moran of Kansas, are proposing to ban votes by departed FTC commissioners, Leah scooped Thursday. The bill would be retroactive to the beginning of 2021, nullifying any remaining Chopra votes. (For more on the backlash against those “zombie” votes, read Leah’s story that launched this whole saga.) More than two dozen leaders of conservative-leaning groups wrote Thursday to lawmakers and the FTC’s inspector general, calling for “an investigation into both this practice and the Commission’s lack of transparency.”
THE OVERSIGHT BOARD WANTS YOU — The Oversight Board, which oversees content decisions and policies on Facebook and Instagram, has opened up a public comment period as part of its review of Facebook’s “cross-check” system.
— What it’s looking for: The board said it wanted to hear the public’s thoughts on topics including whether such a system is needed and how it impacts the protection of free speech and other human rights, as well as what Meta could do to improve the system, especially for those not posting in English. The deadline for comments is Jan. 14.
— Flashback: The board announced in October that it had accepted a request from Meta, which owns the two platforms, to issue a policy advisory opinion on the cross-check system and how it could be improved. The system came under fire earlier this year, when The Wall Street Journal published a story about it based on leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
In its October statement, the board condemned Facebook for not being “fully forthcoming on cross-check.” The board also faulted the company for not mentioning the system when it initially referred the decision to the board on whether to uphold former President Donald Trump’s ban from the platform. “On some occasions, Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the Board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete,” the board wrote.
“We know the system isn’t perfect,” Meta vice president for global affairs Nick Clegg wrote in a September blog post. “We have new teams and resources in place, and we are continuing to make improvements. But more are needed. The Oversight Board’s recommendations will be a big part of this continued work.”
IT’S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD — Tech companies are getting more aggressive about protecting their users — even when those users may not want to protect themselves. Meta on Thursday became the latest example of this trend when it announced that it would require high-risk Facebook accounts to use two-factor authentication, which security professionals hail as the single best way to protect oneself from hackers.
Facebook is building out its Protect program, which offers enhanced security support to users who are likely to be targeted by nation-state hackers, such as journalists and government officials. Starting soon, Facebook will require more users to enable two-factor authentication. “We believe this is an important step forward for these highly targeted communities,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, wrote in a blog post.
Facebook’s move could significantly cut down on the effectiveness of cyber espionage campaigns targeting dissidents, reporters and other figures who provoke the ire of repressive regimes. In the past year, Facebook has disclosed and disrupted many such campaigns, which it has linked to government-backed hackers. Social networks are a magnet for cyberattacks because they allow hackers to cultivate relationships with their victims through trustworthy-seeming profiles and then trick them into downloading malware.
— Not the only one: Google, too, recently announced that it would start automatically enabling two-factor authentication for its users. “By the end of 2021,” Google security employees wrote in October, “we plan to auto-enroll an additional 150 million Google users in [two-factor authentication] and require 2 million YouTube creators to turn it on.”
So far, Facebook’s two-factor push appears to be working. “In early testing,” Gleicher wrote, “simplifying our enrollments flows, improving customer support, and mandating Facebook Protect brought adoption rates to over 90 percent in one month for these” heavily targeted users.
TIMNIT GEBRU’S NEW GIG — The former Google AI ethics chief has launched her own independent research institute, called the Distributed AI Research Institute. The institute will research the often disproportionately harmful effects of technology on marginalized groups. At Thursday’s 100 Women in AI Ethics event, Gebru said the institute is called “distributed” because it will not require researchers to leave their communities to work there, giving people from the global south an opportunity to participate.
— Power to the people: Gebru told the European Parliament earlier this week that the way to curb harmful AI was to boost worker power and change the incentive structure of AI research. With DAIR, “we’re going to move a lot more slowly,” Gebru said. “We’re going to put out a lot less work … and it’s going to take us more resources to do each one.”
TODAY: COURT TO HEAR FIGHT OVER SPACEX BROADBAND PLANS — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will today hear oral arguments over the FCC’s April decision to let SpaceX adjust its satellite broadband plans. That’s part of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Starlink initiative, aimed at expanding internet connectivity using thousands of low-earth orbit satellites. (The FCC order allows these satellites to operate lower than originally envisioned.)
— The detractors: Satellite companies DISH Network and Viasat sued the FCC to try to stop the agency’s decision, over worries about potential interference with other space-based operations and insufficient environmental review. The FCC countered these critics in a lengthy September filing, calling the decision “reasonable” and saying it “would serve the public interest by improving broadband access in underserved areas and reducing the potential to generate orbital debris.” DISH, meanwhile, said it has “demonstrative exhibits” ready to unveil today when making its case.
The court had denied the challengers’ request to stay the decision back in August.
HEADED TO THE FLOOR — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed cloture Thursday evening on FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s renomination to another term. A preliminary procedural vote is scheduled for Monday, and a final vote could come as soon as Tuesday. The vote on her nomination at Wednesday’s Senate Commerce hearing was widely bipartisan, which bodes well for her support on the floor.
Rep. Mike Carey (R-Ohio) is joining the House Science Committee. The former coal lobbyist was elected to Congress last month in a special election.
‘Magic dirt’: “How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest company,” via NBC.
Watch what you say: An Amazon antitrust training warns staff to not call the company a “platform.” More from Insider.
ICYMI: President Joe Biden will push for trade restrictions on cutting-edge technologies used by authoritarian governments to commit human rights abuses, POLITICO’s Steven Overly reports.
Building a fix: Meta has worked with a U.K. nonprofit to build a tool to stem the spread of “revenge porn.” NBC has more.
Update: “Disclosing state-linked information operations we’ve removed,” via the Twitter Safety team. (More on those efforts in this tweet thread.)
Weighing in: The Information Technology Industry Council offered recommendations to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on how to implement the broadband funds included in the infrastructure law, including giving states flexibility on which technologies to use the money for.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum (ebirnb[email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!