With help from Cristiano Lima, Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Scoop: A $10 million campaign launching today will try to better protect veterans from being prime targets of disinformation, after many in the community joined the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.
— Illinois’ race against the clock: Time is running out for the Illinois Legislature to advance a bill affecting developers’ choices in the Apple and Google app stores — and progressive groups are pressuring the state Senate to get it done.
— Stats du jour: YouTube publicly released stats on the percent of views violative videos rack up — an apparent response to Washington’s growing calls for transparency. It’s a small percentage with big implications.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
SOME PERSONAL (AND PERSONNEL) NEWS — Two years and 500 Morning Techs later, I’m excited to share that I’ll be passing on the newsletter torch — and to some pretty fabulous new authors over the coming weeks. Starting Thursday, you’ll notice another name in your inbox each morning, Emily Birnbaum, a phenomenal policy reporter who just joined POLITICO’s technology team from Protocol.
Emily will be covering tech lobbying and influence — everything from how tech companies are trying to shape the conversation in Washington, to the Washington-Silicon Valley revolving door, to the money backing influence efforts. For the next few weeks she’ll also be taking the helm of Morning Tech while she gets the lay of the land. You can reach her at [email protected] and @Birnbaum_e on Twitter. (Stay tuned for who will follow Emily in authoring MT.)
— As for me? I’m thrilled to be moving into a new role as POLITICO’s privacy and data protection reporter.
I’ll be covering the push for rules governing the use of Americans’ data, and tensions between what’s going on at the state, federal and international levels. I’ll be tracking policy debates around protections for children online, AI tools like facial recognition and efforts to safeguard sensitive personal information from foreign adversaries. And I’ll be following the fights between Silicon Valley and the government over companies’ collecting, sharing and monetizing of data. Got tips, thoughts or story ideas? I want to hear from you! You can reach me at [email protected] on email, @Ali_Lev on Twitter, and @alexandra.levine on Instagram.
— That’s not all. Cristiano Lima is taking on a new(ish) beat as POLITICO’s reporter covering content moderation, online speech and new rules for social media.
That’ll include the tug-of-war around Section 230 and wrangling over platforms’ handling of hateful content, misinformation, extremism and other dangerous material, as well as the political debates about algorithms and digital advertising. He’ll continue covering Congress, while also taking on broader battles over content and online speech at the federal and state level.
— John Hendel will remain our star telecom reporter, POLITICO’s go-to guy on all things 5G, broadband, net neutrality and tech infrastructure security, particularly as it pertains to China.
— And Leah “antitrust-but-verify” Nylen continues as POLITICO’s competition guru, leading our coverage of the antitrust investigations, trials and legislation trying to rein in corporate power in the tech world and beyond.
SCOOP: VETS ARE GETTING RADICALIZED ONLINE. THIS PAC PLANS TO STOP IT — Liberal advocacy group VoteVets is launching a $10 million campaign today to combat disinformation targeting and radicalizing veterans online. As part of the push, VoteVets — a PAC that helps Democratic vets get elected — is starting a three-month study to identify which groups of veterans are most susceptible to disinformation on topics like Covid-19 vaccines and political conspiracy theories. The group will also launch a hub to track and respond to disinformation in real-time.
— Two crucial battlefronts: The group’s chair told Cristiano that the radicalization issue has only gained urgency since the Jan. 6 riots, because many military veterans were among those who stormed the Capitol. “A large percentage of the folks there [on Jan. 6] were veterans who had been sent poor information,” said Jon Soltz, an Army veteran himself. And the group is wary that disinformation targeting veterans could also make it harder to get the community more fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Soltz said.
— Nipping it in the bud: Part of their aim, group leaders said, is to identify at-risk veterans before they have been exposed to disinformation and to provide them with relevant facts, media literacy training and other tools to help ward off viral falsehoods. “We’ll have some rapid response staff [and] are hoping to hire two to three new members dedicated to researching current conspiracy theories in the veteran space and providing real-time fact checking,” said senior adviser Kate Hoit.
— Entering the tech policy fray on Capitol Hill: As part of the campaign, the group also plans to get active in calling for social media companies to take greater accountability for disinformation on their platforms and for Congress to consider legislative remedies, including potentially revamping Section 230. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have sounded the alarm about disinformation targeting vets in recent years, but much of the focus has been on foreign campaigns. Soltz said both domestic and foreign attempts to mislead vets must be addressed.
FIRST IN MT: GROUPS BACK ILLINOIS APP STORE BILL — Progressives are pushing the state Senate in Illinois to take up a bill requiring Apple and Google to let developers use alternate payment methods within their app stores. Illinois, like several other states, is considering app store legislation (SB 2311), and in a letter Wednesday, seven national and local groups urged the Senate to move it forward.
“This bill is about fairness and competition in markets, not ‘price fixing’ or any of the other scare terms tech lobbyists have been throwing around to sow fear and confusion,” said the groups, which include the American Economic Liberties Project and Illinois PIRG.
— Time is of the essence: The Legislature adjourns for the year at the end of May. For the bill to be considered this year, the state’s Senate Judiciary panel would need to take action to move it out of committee by April 16.
TECH STAT DU JOUR: 0.16-0.18 — That’s the percentage of total views that content violating YouTube’s policies gets on the platform. In other words, “out of every 10,000 views on YouTube, 16-18 come from violative content,” the Google-owned company said in a blog post Tuesday, disclosing the stat for the first time. The data point adds a new wrinkle to the information YouTube is making publicly available about how it enforces its rules, amid calls for greater transparency.
— But there are plenty of caveats: While the percentage appears to be extremely small, and smaller than in years past, it takes on new meaning when multiplied by the billions of total views on the platform. Plus, while the views on popular videos like the children’s song “Baby Shark” (currently more than 8 billion) obviously dwarf those on violating content, critics have argued that allowing misleading and harmful videos (think: pre- and even post-election #StopTheSteal clips) to rack up even a tiny fraction of that figure is problematic enough, especially in waves. And as The Verge put it, the stat ultimately hinges on what YouTube decides is “violative.”
— Doo doo, doo-doo-da-doo: Yes, it’s now stuck in my head, too.
SENATORS TO BIDEN: DON’T FORGET 5G SECURITY IN BUDGET REQUEST — Senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) led a bipartisan group (including 14 of his colleagues on the panel) in writing to President Joe Biden on Tuesday with a 5G security recommendation: The administration should include at least $3 billion to help fund the development of software-based alternatives to the 5G hardware sold by China’s Huawei and ZTE. Congress last year created such funds aimed at boosting this technology, known as open RAN, both domestically and abroad among America’s global allies, but its backers say more robust funding is needed.
— The White House, the senators say, should include this cash in its fiscal 2022 budget request (a slimmed-down version is due out soon). “As wireless networks adapt to the growing demands for 5G connectivity, a new Open RAN architecture will allow telecommunications providers to migrate from the current hardware-centric approach into a software-centric model that relies heavily on cloud-based services,” they write. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg swept the top five slots on the latest Forbes billionaires list.
Nearly two dozen independent business organizations from the American Booksellers Association to the National Grocers Association have banded together to launch Small Business Rising, a group “urging elected leaders to break the power of monopolies and safeguard our right to compete.” Its top target? Amazon.
“Google research manager Samy Bengio, who oversaw the company’s AI ethics group until a controversy led to the ouster of two female leaders, resigned on Tuesday,” per Bloomberg. … Nick Pearson was promoted to Google’s global head of energy policy.
“Former Sen. Gordon Smith will soon announce plans to step down as CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters,” John reports.
Former FCC General Counsel Thomas M. Johnson Jr. has joined Wiley Rein as a partner, serving as co-chair of the law firm’s appellate practice. … Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector and industries for Amazon Web Services, will later this month become president and chief growth officer of Splunk. … Juho Sarvikas is next week joining Qualcomm as VP and president for North America. … Paul Scharre, who has been director of the Center for a New American Security’s tech and nat-sec program since 2017, was named the center’s new vice president and director of studies.
Adam Candeub, Trump’s acting NTIA administrator, is joining the Center for American Restoration as a senior fellow focused on Big Tech reform. … Marta Belcher, who worked previously as an attorney in Ropes & Gray’s intellectual property litigation and data practice groups, has joined Protocol Labs as general counsel and head of policy.
Amazon backs corporate tax hike: “Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that [Amazon] supports a rise in corporate tax rates to pay for infrastructure investments sought by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, offering a concession on an issue his company has faced steady criticism over,” Cristiano reports.
On the facial recognition front: “The NYPD has misled the public about its use of facial recognition tool Clearview AI,” BuzzFeed News reports.
ICYMI: “A recruiter joined Facebook to help it meet its diversity targets. He says its hiring practices hurt people of color,” via WaPo.
Opinion: “Relax, Hollywood: Google’s win over Oracle is a good thing,” via the LA Times.
To .gov, and beyond: Local cybersecurity is a national issue, the Alliance for Digital Innovation and National Association of State Chief Information Officers write in a GovTech editorial. “As the federal .gov program moves under CISA’s jurisdiction, the time is right to ensure more cities and counties transition to a .gov domain and take advantage of the law’s robust cyber protections.”
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen), and Emily Birnbaum ([email protected], @birnbaum_e). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.