With help from Alexandra S. Levine
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— Long time coming: The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled its first general consumer privacy hearing of this Congress for next week.
— Let’s get legislating: The Senate Judiciary Committee today will mark up a bill that allows state attorneys general to decide where their antitrust cases are heard.
— Lawsuit filed: Texas’ new social media law could soon be a thing of the past after two tech trade groups filed a lawsuit to block it.
IT’S THURSDAY, SEPT. 23. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Are you joining the White House semiconductor chip shortage meeting today? If so, let me know what you all talk about!
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FINALLY: FIRST PRIVACY HEARING ON THE BOOKS — Nine months into the 117th Congress, lawmakers on the Senate committee with primary jurisdiction over privacy have set a date for the first sweeping consumer privacy hearing this session, Alex, POLITICO’s privacy reporter, writes in. Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) will convene the first of a series next Wednesday at 10 a.m.
— It’s about time: Despite momentum to pick up privacy negotiations at the outset of the Biden administration, Congress has stalled on the issue, preoccupied with the political transition and the ongoing pandemic response. In the meantime, massive data breaches have kept occurring, tech giants like Apple and Facebook have continued setting their own privacy rules, states have been forging ahead with their own regimes, and even China has passed its own privacy law.
— The catch: The hearing, titled “Protecting Consumer Privacy,” will not be about specific privacy legislation, according to a committee aide. But Cantwell will express her support for standing up a privacy and data security bureau at the FTC — a billion-dollar idea that House Democrats recently proposed as part of their $3.5 trillion social spending package. The aide said Cantwell is responsible for that provision’s inclusion in the House bill, having called for a dedicated bureau as part of the privacy legislation she introduced in 2019. (That FTC push is also being backed today by 26 consumer and privacy-focused organizations, who are sending a letter in support to House and Senate leadership.)
PLUS: FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER TO TESTIFY BEFORE SENATE — The Facebook whistleblower whose revelations prompted the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee to open an investigation into the social network’s effects on teens will testify before the panel, its top Republican, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, told Alex. The whistleblower has turned over “reams of data and documents,” Blackburn said, “and at some point we will have [them] come before us.” That appearance is expected before the end of the year, according to a Blackburn aide.
SENATE JUDICIARY MARKS UP ANTITRUST VENUE BILL — After postponing twice, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet this morning to mark up a bipartisan bill that allows state attorneys general to decide where they want their antitrust cases to be heard — something that tech companies oppose, preferring those cases to play out on Silicon Valley’s home turf.
This is “one of the top priorities for state attorneys general, so the cases can stay where they bring them,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a bill cosponsor, told MT earlier this week.
— Fighting for states’ rights: In June, the National Association of Attorneys General urged Congress to pass the bill, arguing that states should “be on equal footing with federal enforcers in deciding where, when, and how to prosecute cases.” A coalition of 32 attorneys general echoed that call this week in a letter supporting the push to update antitrust laws as a whole.
Under the current system, defendants can petition a legal body called the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate certain cases into one court, so similar lawsuits aren’t brought before multiple judges. DOJ suits aren’t eligible for transfer, but suits by state attorneys general are.
— Put into context: The state antitrust venue enforcement bill was first introduced in the House by Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the top lawmakers on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, after a federal judge in Texas denied Google’s request to transfer an antitrust suit over its ad tech to California. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Klobuchar, the top lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel, introduced an equivalent in the Senate a few days later.
In August, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group, wrote a letter to the Senate committee’s leaders, asking them to hold a hearing on the bill before marking it up in order to address “the complexity of the issues presented,” such as “unintended consequences” outside of the tech sector. But there wasn’t a hearing, and now markup day has arrived.
— Antitrust update: The bill, S. 1787 (117), is, for now, one of only two pieces of companion legislation to the six antitrust bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee. The other bill, also introduced by Klobuchar, would increase merger filing fees to boost antitrust enforcement funds and passed the Senate as part of a larger package to promote U.S. competitiveness against China. Klobuchar added that she was “working to get out very soon” a companion bill that would prohibit companies from giving their own products an advantage over others.
CHANGE OF PLANS — The House Judiciary antitrust panel’s hearing on reviving competition (mentioned in Monday’s MT) has been postponed to next Tuesday.
TEXAS SOCIAL MEDIA LAW FACES FIRST AMENDMENT CHALLENGE — If tech trade groups CCIA and NetChoice get their way, Texas’ latest social media law could be struck down before it has the chance to go into effect — a potential warning sign for other states looking to implement similar measures.
The law prohibits online platforms with at least 50 million monthly active users in the U.S. from removing users or user content based on viewpoint and requires those platforms to implement an appeals process for users to challenge content removal decisions. Both individual users and the state’s attorney general could sue over alleged censorship under the law.
— The argument: In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the industry associations said the Texas law violates the First Amendment by restricting online platforms’ ability to enforce their content moderation policies. (The tech industry argues that such a law would lead to a proliferation of unsavory content, such as Nazi propaganda, that most users want to avoid.) They also claimed the law was preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online platforms from being held liable for users’ posts.
The groups cited a federal judge’s decision earlier this year to temporarily block a social media law in Florida from going into effect. CCIA and NetChoice were also behind that complaint and used many of the same arguments.
“Texas’ law was never intended to survive critical scrutiny,” Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University who has panned both states’ laws, wrote in a blog post. “It is purely performative.”
— Abbott’s defense: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the law is needed because of how powerful “Big Tech” companies have become. Examples like Facebook’s policy of exempting some high-profile users from its rules “show how a handful of individuals, operating without transparency or public accountability, can sway sentiment based on their preferred viewpoints,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer is stepping down next year and will become the company’s first senior fellow. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth will replace him. … Payton Iheme is joining Bumble as head of public policy for North America and Latin America. She was a public policy manager at Facebook and an Obama-era senior policy adviser for communication technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
David Strickland is leaving the Senate Commerce Committee as staff director to be VP of global regulatory affairs at General Motors. … Jeremy Pederson has joined AT&T as AVP for federal relations. He was previously VP for government affairs and legislative counsel at USTelecom and is a Gus Bilirakis alum. … Kelly Mahon Tullier has been promoted to vice chair, chief people and administrative officer at Visa. Julie Rottenberg is now EVP, general counsel. … Kristin White is joining the Intelligent Transportation Society of America as COO. She is currently the executive director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s connected and automated vehicle office.
President Joe Biden named 30 people to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, including former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Nvidia chief scientist and SVP for research William Dally, former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann, wireless communications pioneer Andrea Goldsmith, Microsoft chief scientific officer Eric Horvitz, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, AMD CEO Lisa Su and Google Cloud chief information security officer Phil Venables.
Facebook is publishing content distribution guidelines this morning that detail how the platform approaches reducing distribution for “problematic or low-quality content” on the News Feed.
LinkedIn has released its list of this year’s top 50 startups. … Dell Technologies has been selected by the National Nuclear Security Administration to provide expanded computing capacity for computational scientists.
Broadband taps tech: “Microsoft, Google Part of Plan to Get Rural America High-Speed Internet,” Bloomberg reports.
What are you wearing? “Inside Amazon’s Department Store Plans: High-Tech Dressing Rooms,” via WSJ.
Headline OTD: “Tim Cook says employees who leak memos do not belong at Apple, according to leaked memo,” via The Verge.
More than just a fortnight: Fortnite’s ban from the Apple App Store will remain in place until the appeals process is exhausted in the Epic Games’ antitrust suit against Apple, WaPo reports.
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SEE YOU TOMORROW!