With help from Emily Birnbaum, John Hendel and Rebecca Kern
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— Not kidding around: More than a dozen lawmakers with oversight of the tech industry have children who work at the largest firms — a setup progressives argue is a potential conflict of interest.
— An alarming sunset: AT&T’s 3G network is shutting down after 20 years of service this morning — and despite a desperate, last-minute plea by the security-alarm industry to delay the move.
— You are fake reviews! Amazon files lawsuits against two companies for allegedly orchestrating a nearly 1 million-person network that exchanged fake product reviews for freebies or cash payments.
IT’S TUESDAY, FEB. 22. Welcome to Morning Tech! I hope everybody had a great long weekend and stocked up on good vibes. We may need them, given the geopolitical situation …
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LAWMAKERS WITH KIDS IN TECH FACE CONFLICT OF INTEREST CONCERNS: At least 17 members of Congress, including both Republicans and Democrats, have children who work or have recently worked for Google, Amazon, Meta or Apple, according to an analysis by Emily. It’s a number that could grow as the biggest tech companies become ever-larger employers, and as Congress inches closer to regulating tech.
Where it all began: Progressives mobilized against California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) last December, after a report by the New York Post revealed her daughter works on Google’s legal team. (Lofgren’s daughter works on contract law at Google, not antitrust.) But Lofgren is just one of several members of Congress in key positions overseeing the tech industry whose children work for big tech companies.
— Both of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s daughters work for the tech giants: Alison Schumer works as a privacy and politics product marketing manager at Facebook parent company Meta, while Jessica Schumer is a registered lobbyist for Amazon in New York state. The fate of the Senate’s antitrust bills targeting the tech industry comes down to Schumer, who will ultimately decide whether or not to bring them to the floor.
A spokesperson for Schumer said the senator is working with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on robust antitrust legislation that will hold tech companies accountable, but declined to comment on his daughters’ employment.
— The son of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, worked as a Facebook “extern” for several months focused on antitrust and data privacy in 2019. Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
— Its. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) daughter works as a director of global policy at Meta. Van Hollen sits on several committees that regulate the tech industry, including Banking, Appropriations and Foreign Relations. Van Hollen’s office said the senator is ”committed to holding big corporations accountable and ensuring strong consumer protections in all areas, including the tech sector,” but declined to comment specifically on his daughter’s position at Meta.
– Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) son worked on mergers and acquisitions at Google between 2014 and 2016. That was two years before Portman shepherded through H.R. 1865also known as SESTA-FOSTA, which targeted a portion of the industry’s Section 230 liability shield and represents the most serious reform passed by Congress since the start of the “techlash.” Portman’s office said his son never lobbied the senator, and did not work in public policy or lobbying of any kind during his time at Google.
— The daughter of Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) worked between 2016 and 2020 as Google’s global head of inclusion. During that time, Butterfield, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has scolded Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s struggles with diversity and has spoken out about the lack of diversity in tech. Butterfield’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
— Taking a step back: Jeff Hauser, founder and director of the Revolving Door Project — an offshoot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank — said concerns about conflicts of interest only get more serious “the more congruent a member of Congress’ agenda is with the interests of their child’s employer.”
“There should be serious policing of the possibility that people are behaving in a biased manner,” Hauser said.
AT&T’S LOOMING 3G SUNSET ALARMS INDUSTRY USERS: This morning AT&T will officially shut down its 3G wireless service — the first of the major carriers to do so since that service first came online 20 years ago.
The company says the move is needed in order to free up more spectrum for the transition to 5G wireless. But shutting down 3G will immediately deactivate several older smartphone models and other devices — including some security alarms, which caused the alarm industry to file an emergency petition with the Federal Communications Commission late last week.
—Blinking red light: The petition filed Thursday by the Alarm Industry Communications Committee warned FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel that allowing AT&T to move forward with the shutdown without giving alarm companies time to manufacture and install replacements “will threaten irreparable harm to tens of millions of U.S. citizens.”
— FCC sanguine: Rosenworcel sought to downplay concerns around the 3G shutdown in a Friday call with John and other reporters. She said the agency has worked with AT&T specifically to make sure that alternative roaming service will remain available for some Internet of Things devices that use 3G, including alarms.
Alex Byers, a spokesperson at AT&T, said any move to force a delay of today’s 3G shutdown “would needlessly waste valuable spectrum resources and degrade network performance for millions of our customers.”
— First shoe to drop: Today it’s just AT&T. But the other major carriers will soon be dropping their 3G services as part of the broader transition to 5G. T-Mobile plans to shut down the 3G network it acquired through Sprint on March 1 — one week from today — and will follow suit on its own 3G network July 1. And Verizon has committed to shutting down its 3G service by the end of 2022.
AMAZON SUES ALLEGED FAKE REVIEW BROKERS: Amazon is suing AppSally and Rebatest — two companies it calls “fake review brokers” — for allegedly posting misleading product reviews in exchange for profit, according to excerpts of the lawsuits shared with Rebecca.
Amazon, which prohibits fake reviews on its site, filed the two lawsuits in Washington state’s Superior Court. The e-commerce giant claims the two review sites support millions of inauthentic reviews on Amazon, as well as on other online marketplaces such as eBay, Walmart and Etsy.
— Paid to play: Amazon says the legal action comes after a monthslong investigation found the two brokers built a network of more than 900,000 individuals who write fake reviews of products sold on Amazon and other digital marketplaces, typically in exchange for free products or payment.
— More to come: “I see us, over this year, ramping up our efforts to hold these bad actors accountable, whether it is through lawsuits or criminal referrals,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of Amazon’s worldwide customer trust and partner support.
Mehta said the lawsuits have several goals, such as shutting down dishonest review brokers at the source, deterring other bad actors and gathering more information on the issue. Neither target of Amazon’s suits responded immediately to questions regarding fake reviews on their sites.
LAUNCH OF TRUMP’S NEW SOCIAL MEDIA SITE PLAGUED BY GLITCHES: Just in time for President’s Day, former President Donald Trump officially launched his Truth Social app on Apple’s app store. But the new app, which bills itself as a “‘Big Tent’ social media platform” ostensibly free of the censorship Trump and his fans claim is rampant on larger social media sites like Twitter, appeared to immediately clog with requests to sign up.
— Shaky debut: Potential users — including some journalists — struggled throughout Monday to actually access the app. The company said Monday morning it was limiting the rate at which it would onboard users “due to the overwhelming demand at launch.” A spokesperson for Truth Social did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We love you, and you’re not just another number to us,” said a message that greeted users before assigning them a number in a queue to access the app (Rebecca’s is #232,934, if you were wondering).
— Trademark violation? The new Truth Social logo may run afoul of international trademark rules. Twitter users quickly noticed the logo bears an uncanny resemblance to a logo currently used by British green-energy company TRAILAR. The company even poked a bit of fun at the similarity — while at the same time implicitly threatening a lawsuit.
Brian Weiss joins the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators) as vice president of communications. He previously served as vice president of communications and media affairs at USTelecom – The Broadband Association.
First in MT: The Revolving Door Project is out today with a new report examining staffing and funding levels at the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
You’ve been Clegged: The Daily Mail reports a molehunt is underway in the British government after evidence emerged that someone might’ve leaked details about the UK’s Online Safety Act to Nick Clegg, the former British pol turned top Meta executive.
You WILL consume content: Wired reports TikTok is working to expand allowed video lengths to as long as 10 minutes — even as users say they don’t like the idea.
Chump change: Dutch antitrust regulators fined Apple $5.7 million on Monday — their fifth consecutive fine levied against Apple — as the company continues to ignore a mandate that it allow access to non-Apple payment methods for dating apps, Reuters reports.
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