With help from Rebecca Kern and John Hendel
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— Patent chief pushback: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office nominee Kathi Vidal is under fire for her connections to Silicon Valley ahead of a planned committee vote this week.
— Raking in cash: Apple’s market share hit $3 trillion Monday, making it the largest publicly traded company in history — and prompting more calls to rein it in.
— Prodding lawmakers on privacy: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and civil rights groups are using the anniversary of Jan. 6 to push Congress to pass a federal privacy law protecting consumer data.
HAPPY TUESDAY! I’m Leah Nylen, POLITICO’s boss of all things antitrust, filling in on MT this week.
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PTO PICK FACES RESISTANCE — The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Vidal, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the PTO, at a markup Thursday. But some tech critics, including a nonprofit focused on small inventors, are urging senators to oppose her nomination because of her past work for Apple and Microsoft and her support for a board to contest established patents.
Tech ties: Vidal joined the Silicon Valley office of law firm Winston & Strawn in 2017 after two decades at Fish & Richardson, a top patent litigation firm. During her four years at Winston, Vidal told senators in written responses, she hasn’t represented any of the tech giants. But before then, Apple and Microsoft were among her biggest clients, according to the patent focused magazine IAM. Patent rights advocacy group US Inventor also accused Vidal of “being embedded in big tech culture,” noting that she was previously married to the chief patent counsel for Apple, who then went on to become top lawyer at Google’s Nest. Vidal had also endorsed Obama PTO director (and Google alum) Michelle Lee.
In her written responses to senators, Vidal denied that she is beholden to tech interests. “Though I have certainly represented Fortune 100 companies and companies in Silicon Valley, I have given just as much focus and attention to the needs of my smaller clients,” she said, noting that her most active client is a family-owned garage door company in Illinois that owns 350 patents.
— Battle of the board: Vidal’s support for the Patent Trial and Appeal Board — created by the 2011 America Invents Act to contest the validity of already-granted patents before a panel of specialized judges within the PTO — also troubled some lawmakers. Republican Sens. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee both raised concerns about whether the patent office and PTAB are too stacked in favor of large companies over small inventors. Vidal pledged to continue support for PTO programs aimed at helping “level the playing field” for small companies.
3 (TRILLION) IS A MAGIC NUMBER — It wasn’t all that long ago — August of 2020, in the first summer of the pandemic — that the iPhone-maker’s valuation hit $2 trillion. But as The New York Times noted, Apple’s new $3 trillion valuation is equal to those of Walmart, Disney, Netflix, Nike, Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Morgan Stanley, McDonald’s, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, IBM and Ford — combined.
That’s too big, tech critics say. “Apple’s historic market cap is just another indicator of the firm’s overwhelming market dominance. With 11 reported acquisitions in the past two years and a long track record of abusive and illegal conduct, Apple’s market power is continuing to grow,” Krista Brown of the anti-monopoly group American Economic Liberties Project said. She urged Congress to pass legislation to fix antitrust laws and “stop pro-monopoly judges from sheltering Apple from accountability.”
Can the government keep up? The tech giant has been under antitrust scrutiny by the Justice Department for some time. But as we reported before the holidays, the cash-strapped agency is pondering whether it has the funds needed to take on both Apple and Google — particularly after the $500 million cash infusion it would’ve received via the Democrats’ social spending package failed to materialize.
Speaking Monday at the White House, Attorney General Merrick Garland implored Congress to better fund antitrust enforcement. “Our antitrust efforts cannot and will not slow down,” Garland said at an event focused on competition in the meatpacking industry. “But it is a fact that our Antitrust Division has been underfunded for too long, and has fewer staff today than it had in the 1970s.”
Your money, your problems: This weekend, India became the latest country to open an antitrust probe into Apple over its control of its App Store. The company has also come under scrutiny in Europe, Australia, the U.K. and South Korea.
WYDEN JOINS PRIVACY PUSH — The noted privacy hawk is joining with privacy, civil and human rights groups to urge Congress to pass a federal data privacy law. In a petition sent to lawmakers, signed by more than 24,000 people, they also called on Congress to investigate Facebook and other social media companies’ roles in using personal data to feed algorithms that have led to body image problems among teenagers, as first revealed by documents leaked by Facebook whistleblower Fraces Haugen.
— Wyden’s words: “Congress has the opportunity to act now by passing a comprehensive privacy law that can cut off the flow of data to Facebook’s outrage machine by setting strong new rules for how companies can collect, share and use Americans’ personal information,” Wyden said in a statement.
Facebook has said that it supports additional privacy regulations, and has downplayed alleged harms of its social media products like Instagram by emphasizing the mental health benefits of connecting people.
The petition, sent just days before the anniversary of the Jan. 6 riots, says a data privacy law should limit how much data Facebook and other platforms can collect and amplify. It asserts that algorithms from social media companies like Facebook spread election-related misinformation that contributed to the attack on the Capitol.
— Progressive privacy advocacy group Fight for the Future is hosting an online event today as part of the petition rollout with appearances from Wyden, Access Now, Public Citizen and Open Media.
FCC ALUMS BACK SOHN — Three former FCC public safety chiefs endorsed Gigi Sohn for the open Democratic commissioner slot. In a pair of letters to the Senate Commerce Committee Monday, Jamie Barnett, David Simpson and David S. Turetsky — who all worked at the agency during the Obama administration — said Sohn has strongly supported law enforcement and first responders. These endorsements could provide a counterweight to temper concerns voiced by the Fraternal Order of Police over Sohn’s ties to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its support for encrypted communication, which the organization considers a safety risk. Encryption policy, Sohn defenders note, is typically beyond the FCC purview.
CES IS STILL ON — And so are our coverage plans! POLITICO’s Alexandra Levine and John Hendel will be dropping the most important details of CES 2022 in a special edition newsletter focusing on the event’s policy-related aspects. Sign up today to get all the tea.
Daniel Kahn, former associate chief in the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, has joined the law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer … Nicholas Alexander has joined NTIA’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth … Mark Meador is now deputy chief counsel for antitrust and competition policy to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) … Curtis LeGeyt is now president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, replacing Gordon Smith, who is taking an advisory role. Michelle Lehman, NAB’s executive vice president for public affairs, will retain her role and become chief of staff, while Lesley Pena is being promoted to deputy chief of staff … Colin Rhinesmith has joined the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society as senior director of research and fellowships … Alex Byers, formerly of Finsbury Glover Hering (and former POLITICO tech reporter), is now director of communications and PR at AT&T … Rene Villegas, formerly of Amazon, is now chief marketing officer at Starry Internet.
— Via POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman: Ajwang Rading, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, is launching his campaign for California’s 16th Congressional District, which includes much of Silicon Valley. Wilson Sonsini, Google’s longtime law firm, is the same firm Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna worked at before his election to California’s 17th Congressional District in 2017. The new district, redrawn as a result of the 2020 census, includes Google headquarters in Mountain View and Facebook’s in Menlo Park.
I CAN quit you: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) breaks up with YouTube.
Faking it: TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t know the “real you,” Wired argues.
Now that’s love: An engineer made his partner a word-guessing game, which now has a devoted online following, the NYT reports.
Hold, please: AT&T and Verizon have struck a deal with the airline industry to pause a 5G rollout planned for later this week, our Oriana Pawlyk writes.
Go stand in the corner and think about what you did: Facebook suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for 24 hours after Twitter kicked her off its platform, Politico’s Nick Niedzwiadek reports.
Oops: Airbnb will pay the Treasury Department for violating U.S. sanctions on Cuba, Reuters reports.
Website not found: Leave.eu and thousands of other U.K. websites disappeared from the internet after the agency in charge of .eu registrations revoked them post-Brexit, POLITICO’s Samuel Stolten reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine (al[email protected]) and Leah Nylen ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.