With help from Cristiano Lima and John Hendel
Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
— Tech CEO answers to Wall Street mess: Reddit CEO Steve Huffman faces a House grilling today over the GameStop trading frenzy, a hearing that could veer into broader tech grievances and add momentum to calls to regulate social media.
— Journalism in free-fall: Facebook’s rivalry with Google is becoming as closely watched as its rivalry with Apple, as the social network and search giant take drastically different approaches to news content in Australia and beyond.
— Elsewhere, they’re on the same team: Amid bipartisan criticism from Congress, Facebook, Google, Reddit and other tech companies are banding together to create safety standards to better protect users from harmful content.
GREETINGS, TECHLINGS: IT’S THURSDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
Got a news tip? Write me at [email protected], and follow @Ali_Lev on Twitter and @alexandra.levine on Instagram. 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.
REDDIT CEO TESTIFIES ON GAMESTOP FRENZY — Huffman joins the CEOs of Robinhood, Citadel and Melvin Capital today for a House Financial Services grilling on the GameStop mania that wreaked havoc on markets in recent weeks. Yes, it will be the most high-profile hearing on Wall Street trading in years — but it will also be a big moment for Silicon Valley. Because the GameStop saga perfectly encapsulates a growing fear (or dreaded realization) in Washington: that what happens on the internet can incite real-life action, as the world saw just weeks earlier with the Capitol riot.
— How much tech talk can we really expect? Don’t forget that when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the same committee in 2019 — at a hearing that was supposed to focus on its Libra cryptocurrency — the session spiraled into an airing of grievances on myriad issues across the tech policy spectrum, from bias and privacy to Big Tech break-ups. (And we’ve seen that happen since, when tech CEOs have appeared before Congress.) The GameStop episode also raises content moderation and self-regulation questions.
“The January short squeeze… raises important questions about the efficacy of anti-market manipulation laws and whether technology and social media have outpaced regulation in a manner that leaves investors and the markets exposed to unnecessary risks,” the panel’s Democratic staff said this week in a memo.
— What to expect from Huffman: The Reddit CEO and co-founder plans to focus today on how Reddit moderates content and will defend the WallStreetBets community, according to remarks shared in advance with MT. Reddit has recently “analyzed the activity in WallStreetBets to determine whether bots, foreign agents, or other bad actors played a significant role,” Huffman plans to say. “They have not. In every metric that we checked, the activity in WallStreetBets was well within normal parameters, and its moderation tools were working as expected.”
Huffman’s first-ever congressional testimony was before House Energy and Commerce lawmakers at a 2019 hearing on Section 230 and content concerns. Tune in here at noon to watch today’s hearing.
— Further reading: Here’s what to expect from Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev, via POLITICO’s Victoria Guida.
FACEBOOK AUSTRALIA RESTRICTS NEWS CONTENT — Facebook “with a heavy heart” has put the kibosh on news content in Australia in response to an upcoming media law there that would effectively obligate the company to pay local publishers when their articles appear on the social platform. This means that users in the country will no longer be able to view or share news stories from Australian and international outlets. The move came in the wake of Facebook’s decision to tone down political content in users’ feeds and the day after the hedge fund Alden Global Capital struck a deal to buy Tribune Publishing — all signs of the increasingly turbulent media landscape in the U.S. and around the world.
— Facebook-Google boils over: Google took the opposite approach to the same issue on Wednesday (by agreeing to pay publishers), illustrating the growing rivalry between two of the most powerful companies on the planet.
— House antitrust chief weighs in: “Threatening to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate admission of monopoly power,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Wednesday on Twitter.
TECH COMPANIES JOIN FORCES TO CRAFT SAFETY ‘BEST PRACTICES’ — A group of top tech companies including Facebook, Google and Reddit is launching a new coalition today to create a set of “best practices” for user safety across their services. The move comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum sound the alarm about the prevalence of harmful content on major tech platforms, including child exploitative material, terrorist propaganda and hate speech. A bipartisan cast of lawmakers have also criticized top tech companies for not making their policies and enforcement actions more transparent.
— The group’s first pledges: The newly formed Digital Trust & Safety Partnership is unveiling an initial set of commitments from its member companies to mitigate risks, including building risk assessment into their product development and governance processes, and making their trust and safety policies available to the public to boost transparency. The group will look to build on those initial pledges in coming months.
— What’s next: Members will also review their own safety practices and jointly issue a “state of the industry report” evaluating their efforts later this year, according to a release. The group plans to hire an executive director “in the coming months” to oversee its efforts, spokesperson Gretchen Andersen told MT. The partnership also includes Microsoft, Twitter, Discord, Pinterest, Shopify and Vimeo.
HEAD-TURNER AT THE FCC MEETING: ETA FOR NEW BROADBAND MAPS — One tidbit that emerged from Wednesday’s FCC meeting: The commission may not have more accurate broadband mapping in place until 2022, which by law means the agency can’t move forward with bigger telecom subsidy efforts like its proposed $9 billion 5G Fund or the second phase of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (to help build out broadband infrastructure to unserved areas).
— “We’re talking probably next year,” Jean Kiddoo, who will helm the FCC’s new broadband mapping task force, told GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr on Wednesday. Kiddoo cited uncertainties involving ongoing talks with contractors but said they’ll attempt to fast-track as best they can.
Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has long talked about the need to obtain more accurate data. During Wednesday’s meeting, she said it’ll “require an all-hands effort at the agency, with expertise from multiple bureaus and offices” and “not just data from carriers but input from consumers and state, local, and tribal governments who know what is happening on the ground.”
— Another Rosenworcel priority? Rethinking national security decision-making: The acting chair added she’s already talked to Biden administration cybersecurity leaders and has directed the FCC’s public safety bureau to review how the FCC makes its national security decisions. These agency calls currently happen within silos, she said, contending that the FCC needs “a dedicated interagency and cross-bureau team of experts advancing a comprehensive approach to securing our nation’s communications.”
— One issue that’s notably not a priority? Section 230. Rosenworcel told reporters she has no intention of moving forward with the petition from former President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department for a rulemaking to narrow the online liability protections.
TELECOM STAT OF THE DAY: 279,585 – That’s the number of wireless users affected as part of the 140 communications outages in Texas caused by winter storm Uri. The FCC, which unveiled the numbers on Wednesday, began coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security agencies on Monday and is talking to local telecom providers. Four 911 call centers in Texas and Oklahoma are affected, per the FCC.
Rosenworcel is establishing a Broadband Data Task Force focused on improving broadband mapping and is directing the agency’s public safety bureau to establish an interagency 911 fee diversion strike force to “study and report on what can be done to end this practice.” … Joseph Calascione, who previously advised Carr on wireline issues, is now on detail with the Senate Commerce Committee, Carr announced during Wednesday’s FCC meeting.
Autonomous vehicle companies Cruise and Zoox have joined TechNet as members. … Intel announced a partnership with North Carolina Central University, where it’s contributing $5 million for the creation of a new tech policy and law center. … T-Mobile launched a new 5G Connected Future incubator program for developers and entrepreneurs, in partnership with Georgia Tech and Curiosity Lab.
Washington’s tech policy world has a long way to go: “Tech policy has a diversity problem,” Morning Consult’s Sam Sabin reports. “Public Knowledge asked 31 tech policy partners for diversity makeups of their early-career staff and got 8 responses.”
Name to know: Truveta CEO Terry Myerson. “Backed by big hospitals, a former Microsoft executive wades into the messy business of selling patient data,” STAT reports.
New life for the facial recognition fight: “Civil rights groups are pushing the Biden administration to take a stand against facial recognition technology,” WaPo reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).