With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel and Bjarke Smith-Meyer
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— Wyden on 117: Sen. Ron Wyden is gearing up to introduce a new privacy bill that could pick up support across both parties and chambers. What else does he have planned for early this Congress?
— Privacy in the Covid era: As vaccinations slowly ramp up across the U.S., Democratic lawmakers today reintroduced Covid-related privacy legislation focused on protecting Americans’ health data.
— Facebook addresses a polarized country: Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday that Facebook would stop recommending political groups to its users, a move likely to change how candidates and others rally support online.
HAPPY THURSDAY AND INTERNATIONAL DATA PRIVACY DAY. 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.
Q&A: WYDEN ON HIS NEW PRIVACY BILL AND SECTION 230 LITMUS TEST — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is poised to play a major role in debates over privacy and content moderation in the 117th Congress, and he’s got big plans. Cristiano caught up with Wyden to find out about his tech policy agenda for this Congress. Here are some highlights:
— He’s readying a new privacy bill: Wyden said he’s planning to introduce a so-called “not for sale” privacy proposal. An aide said the legislation, set to be introduced in the coming weeks, would prevent law enforcement agencies from running around the Fourth Amendment by obtaining consumers’ personal data from brokers without a warrant or court order.
— He has a two-step test for any Section 230 bill: The Oregon Democrat, who co-authored the 1996 law, said any proposal to change it must pass a simple test. “Any changes [to Section 230] shouldn’t target constitutionally protected speech, and they shouldn’t discourage moderation,” he said. “The bills I’ve seen so far violate one or both of those things.”
— A broadband bombardment: Wyden, who is expected to chair the Senate Finance Committee, said he’ll be pressing hard to expand internet access. “Congress has basically got to set out a lodestar that broadband on our watch is going to come to be like electrification was decades ago,” he said. “Every single infrastructure bill should have a significant broadband component.” Pros can read the full interview here.
REVISITING PRIVACY IN THE COVID ERA — New Congress, same bill: A group of Democratic lawmakers this morning reintroduced closely watched Covid-related privacy legislation. The bicameral Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, first introduced last spring, aims to protect Americans’ privacy and health data and tighten controls around information collected through virus testing, contact tracing and remote patient monitoring. One difference, almost nine months later, is that vaccines have been introduced into the mix — and sign-ups for the shots are already demanding a large amount of personal information.
— Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said the legislation could revitalize the digital contact tracing effort. “Based on how poorly the Trump administration’s contact tracing scheme went, we all know this legislation would go a long way towards establishing the trust American consumers need,” she said. Schakowsky introduced the bill with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Mark Warner (Va.), and Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Suzan DelBene (Wash.).
AND AN(OTHER) ATTEMPT TO ALTER SECTION 230 — Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday released a new discussion draft that seeks to amend the tech industry’s liability shield in order to crack down on civil rights abuses committed through targeted online advertising. It’s one of the first Section 230 bills floated by lawmakers that looks to address concerns about discrimination online. (Remember, though: Some civil rights groups have said changing the law could have dangerous consequences for social and racial justice efforts, as we reported in Wednesday’s MT.)
— To be continued?: Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chair of the House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on communications and tech, praised Clarke’s draft in a statement and said he plans to work with committee colleagues on additional proposals for platform accountability. Watch for more as E&C lawmakers convene this afternoon.
HOW FACEBOOK WILL ‘TURN DOWN THE TEMPERATURE’ ON AND OFFLINE — The social network will stop recommending political groups to people on the platform, and it’s working to tone down political content that appears in users’ feeds, Mark Zuckerberg revealed during the company’s Wednesday earnings call. The moves are part of an effort “to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations,” the CEO said.
— It’s the latest example of Zuck walking back or significantly changing his approach to content policies on the platform — in recent years, he has advocated aggressively for free speech and taken a more hands-off approach to political material — and it comes weeks after the Capitol riot illustrated how divisive rhetoric online can spill over into real-life, deadly violence.
— What’s next: The changes are likely to affect politicians’ digital strategies as early planning for the next set of elections begins — particularly in the midst of a pandemic, when political organizing has been largely forced online.
A TRUMP-ERA LEGACY LIVES ON IN BIDEN’S FCC — At least one regular FCC governance practice instituted by former GOP Chair Ajit Pai will continue under Democratic leadership. Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel on Wednesday posted the draft texts of two telecom proposals up for votes at the commission’s Feb. 17 meeting — the first she’ll lead.
— It was Pai who first changed FCC protocol in 2017 to allow for these drafts to be released three weeks before the meetings where commissioners vote on them. Many Democrats had previously opposed efforts to publicize the language early, including chair Tom Wheeler, who in 2015 warned that doing so would prompt “a legion of lawyers to pore over the text of an order” and file comments that he feared would mean court battles and “a never-ending story that prevents the Commission from acting.” After Pai instituted the practice, though, those problems never seemed to materialize, and Rosenworcel will now continue the custom.
BIDEN PLEDGES AN ‘EVIDENCE-BASED’ APPROACH — In a memo Wednesday outlining the responsibilities of leaders of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Task Force on Scientific Integrity and various federal agencies, Biden pledged that their policies would hinge on science and data, rather than political ambitions.
“Scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations,” the memo said. “Improper political interference in the work of federal scientists… and in the communication of scientific facts undermines the welfare of the nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the trust that the public places in government.”
CLARITY COMING ON DIGITAL TAX DISCUSSIONS? — Tax enthusiasts should get a sense today for whether global policymakers will deliver an international method for taxing digital businesses by this summer. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is hosting a star-studded panel debate on the topic that includes the finance ministers of Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Expect plenty of optimism on their part now that Biden’s in the White House and Janet Yellen has taken the helm of the U.S. Treasury.
— On Yellen: She won’t be attending the OECD debate, but she did speak to Germany’s Olaf Scholz and the U.K.’s Rishi Sunak on Wednesday about digital taxation and other topics. Yellen told Scholz she’s “committed to active U.S. participation in the ongoing OECD discussions on international taxation to forge a timely international accord.”
— Read our breakdown of what’s at stake — a whole lot more than money — here.
The Center for Democracy & Technology is adding 17 new members to its advisory council. They include Wilmer Hale’s Debo Adegbile, who sits on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Georgetown Law’s Laura Moy |, who recently served on Biden’s FTC transition team; Graphika’s Camille Francois, a disinformation expert who helped lead the Election Integrity Partnership; and Twitter’s Lauren Culbertson, head of U.S. public policy for the platform. Check out the full list here.
Notarize, a company that helps people sign and notarize documents online, has joined the Internet Association. … BSA | The Software Alliance, CableLabs, GSMA, Open RAN Policy Coalition and Telecom Infra Project are forming a “coalition of coalitions” to work together on global open RAN issues.
Never underestimate the power of some chatter on social media: The GameStop-Reddit saga explained, via Protocol. How Discord then had to respond, via The Verge. And the SEC’s concerns, via POLITICO.
The wrong kind of influencer: “A Florida man with a big social media following was arrested on federal charges Wednesday on accusations that he used platforms such as Twitter to conduct a targeted voter suppression campaign in 2016,” Cristiano reports.
ICYM the Silicon Valley earnings: What you need to know about the numbers, via WSJ, and what you need to know about the Facebook-Apple rivalry, via WaPo.
Opinion: “Big tech facilitated QAnon and the Capitol attack. It’s time to hold them accountable,” Joan Donovan, a disinformation expert with the Harvard Kennedy School, and Amed Khan, a former staffer on the Biden-Harris campaign, write in The Guardian.
Restaurant relief: DoorDash is increasing its Covid relief program for restaurants to $10 million — providing eateries with grants to offset some of the losses and costs they’ve endured during the pandemic.
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).