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— Facebook news blockage down under: Facebook is resuming talks on the matter with the Australian government, and U.S. lawmakers are watching closely as the House prepares to launch its antitrust agenda to rein in Big Tech.
— One-on-one with DelBene: Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), whose home state is working to advance privacy legislation of its own, spoke with MT about how state efforts are intensifying the need for a federal privacy standard.
— Letter of endorsement: Dozens of Democratic female lawmakers are calling today for Jessica Rosenworcel to be made the permanent chair of the FCC.
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FACEBOOK’S NEWS BLOCK IN AUSTRALIA: IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER — Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced over the weekend that Facebook is returning to the negotiating table with the Australian government in the wake of global upset over the platform’s sudden blocking of news content there. The high-stakes talks could raise fresh concerns in Congress, where House lawmakers — many of whom have long worried about the relationship between Big Tech and publishers — are kicking off their competition agenda on Thursday.
— ICYMI: Facebook announced last week it would restrict local and international news content in Australia in response to an upcoming media law there effectively requiring the company to pay publishers for their articles appearing on the site. Facebook criticized the law, saying it “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.” Almost immediately after the change took effect, web traffic to Australian news sites began to plummet.
And then, on Saturday, Morrison said “Facebook has decided, it would seem, to tentatively friend us again” by reengaging. The Australian government is pushing ahead with the proposal, so it’s unclear where those conversations will lead.
— But the issue will continue to be a top-talker in Washington’s antitrust arena.
Listen for it to come up this Thursday at the first in a series of House Judiciary antitrust hearings on legislative reforms to address the growing power of tech platforms. The string of hearings kicks off the antitrust subcommittee’s competition agenda this Congress, after the panel’s bipartisan probe last session culminated in a blockbuster hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, as well as lengthy reports from majority staff and minority members.
House antitrust chief Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who led the panel’s 16-month investigation, has already called Facebook’s action in Australia “the ultimate admission of monopoly power.”
PRIVACY Q&A WITH REP. SUZAN DELBENE — Virginia’s Senate on Friday passed the state’s privacy bill, now landing on the governor’s desk — the latest of several state privacy measures that seem to be advancing faster than Congress can move. We checked in last week with DelBene, whose home state of Washington recently resumed talks on its own privacy bill, to see how she’s thinking about the state-level action and what it means for the path forward on federal legislation. “I feel a great sense of urgency,” said DelBene, chair of the New Democrat Coalition.
— The privacy activity in her home state and beyond has underscored the need for Congress to mobilize and move ahead on a national standard, DelBene said.
DelBene plans to reintroduce her own consumer data privacy legislation in the coming weeks. “States are going to continue to move forward in the absence of federal legislation… we want to get it out soon,” she said, adding that she plans to reintroduce the bill whether or not it has bipartisan backing.
DelBene has also personally raised and discussed the issue with senior Biden transition and now administration staff, along with House leadership.
— Plus, the state issue is really an international one, she said: A “patchwork of standards” across the U.S. can have global ramifications.
With the Privacy Shield decision at the European Court of Justice, for example, there’s “a sense of urgency internationally, as we look at things like digital trade and cross-border data flows, to make sure that we have a federal privacy standard,” DelBene said. “It’s hard to talk about being engaged in global standards when we don’t have a domestic standard.”
And within the U.S., “if we have a patchwork, it’s going to be very difficult for consumers to know what their rights are [and] for small businesses to know the work that they need to do and to keep up with the differences in those changes.”
— So what’s the best path forward: Should Congress keep pushing for a comprehensive package, or try instead for protections on specific issues — like Covid privacy or children’s privacy?
The better approach is passing broad, foundational privacy legislation first — and then building on specific areas (like facial recognition or AI), DelBene said.
“We’ve tried to take a more specific stance on consumer data privacy opt-in, audits [and] enforcement, because I feel like one, that’s foundational, and then we can work on those other things going forward,” she said. There may, of course, be other work on AI, facial recognition or children’s privacy happening in conjunction, she said — and some broader privacy policies already begin to address those topics — but “in the absence of a federal policy on data privacy, I think it makes it harder to see other pieces move.”
WOMEN IN CONGRESS BACK ROSENWORCEL FOR PERMANENT FCC CHAIR — Thirty-three Democratic female members of Congress are throwing their weight behind Rosenworcel to go from the telecom agency’s acting head to its permanent one — an appointment that would make her the first woman to permanently hold the FCC’s top slot. The lawmakers describe this track record as embarrassing and “an unacceptable reality for an agency that oversees one-sixth of our nation’s economy and makes consequential decisions that impact all Americans.”
“Our needs have been ignored across every sector of society,” the lawmakers write today in a letter to White House chief of staff Ron Klain. “In her eight years as a Commissioner of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel has elevated the voices and needs of women. … As women lawmakers, we understand the critical importance that women’s voices bring to policymaking, and we cheer what Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel has long brought to the FCC’s work.”
The lawmakers, led by Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier of California, commend Rosenworcel’s work highlighting how net neutrality policy has affected female entrepreneurs; how the Lifeline program has been a true lifeline for domestic violence survivors; how the so-called homework gap has disproportionately hit American mothers; and how telehealth services can do more to help pregnant women.
(MORE) TECH MIGHT TO SUPPORT COVID RECOVERY — As several tech giants race to offer their resources and services to support the rollout of Covid vaccines, Apple is focusing on addressing the testing issues that have lingered since the early days of the pandemic. Testing remains in high demand as millions of Americans stare down many months before they’ll be eligible to get vaccinated and as variants of the virus become increasingly problematic.
— Apple to the nasopharyngeal rescue: The iPhone maker announced this morning that Copan Diagnostics, a top producer of the highly specialized swabs needed to test for Covid-19, has shipped 15 million test kits to hospitals and medical centers across the country. That’s thanks to a $10 million boost from an Apple fund aimed at nurturing high-skill jobs and innovation in American manufacturing, Apple said, noting the contributions helped Copan multiply its production in California by some 4,000 percent since last April.
Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) will chair the Senate Commerce Communications, Media and Broadband Subcommittee, John reports for Pros. … Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will chair the Senate Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee after serving previously as its ranking member.
Anne Wall, a former partner at the Duberstein Group who served previously as assistant secretary for legislative affairs at Treasury and deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs at the Obama White House, is joining Google’s government affairs and public policy team as head of strategy and external affairs, based in D.C.
Steve Kidera, former senior director of communications and public affairs for the Computing Technology Industry Association, was named the new director of communications at TechNet; Evan Gillissie, who most recently worked at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, has also joined the organization as government relations and communications coordinator. … The Science Coalition named these six members of Congress as “Champions of Science.”
Facebook ad fumble: The social network’s ban on political ads has led inadvertently to the blocking of messages from cities, health care providers and community groups promoting Covid vaccines, POLITICO reports.
Do as I say: BuzzFeed News reports that “the whims and political considerations” of Mark Zuckerberg and his policy team leader, Joel Kaplan, have heavily influenced the company’s content calls and led to “intervening on behalf of popular conservative figures who have violated Facebook’s rules.”
Opinion: The Biden administration can use an obscure, Trump-era Commerce Department rulemaking process to chart a new path for U.S.-China tech policy, Duke’s Center on Science & Technology Policy Director Matt Perault and New America’s cyber policy fellow Samm Sacks write in Foreign Affairs.
Podcast OTD: The Information Technology Industry Council’s “Download on Tech” podcast on the importance of Black representation in STEM and tech. This episode features a conversation with Gianna Williams, a computer science student at American University, and James Hayes of cybersecurity firm Tenable. You can listen here or via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify, and you can read more on ITI’s TechWonk blog.
Consequences of losing the tech arms race: What’s at stake for American national security if the U.S. relinquishes its role as a global leader in tech? The American Edge Project takes a look.
Question for the Kremlin: “China censors the internet. So why doesn’t Russia?” via NYT.
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