With help from Cristiano Lima and Leah Nylen
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– Tech’s Persona Non Grata: Democrats and progressive advocates are swearing off working with Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz on tech issues, breaking unlikely alliances that brought industry critics hope for bipartisan action to rein in Silicon Valley.
— Content wars: Congressional conversation around social media’s role in domestic extremism is far from over.
— Rumor has it: After salient details of the Google-Texas antitrust case were leaked to the press, the search giant is urging a federal judge there to order stricter confidentiality protections before hearing arguments.
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TOP GOP TECH CRITICS IN THE ‘UNTOUCHABLE ZONE’ — Two of the tech industry’s most outspoken critics on the right are about to find it a lot harder to cut deals with Democrats looking to rein in Silicon Valley, my colleague Cristiano reports. Hawley (Mo.) and Cruz (Texas) forged unlikely alliances with progressive lawmakers last Congress as they jointly targeted industry giants, with Hawley in particular co-authoring a flurry of bipartisan letters and bills. But after the GOP senators led the push to challenge Joe Biden’s presidential win, those partnerships are falling apart.
— Allies no more: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) “has no immediate plans” to collaborate with either Cruz or Hawley, a spokesperson said, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) does not plan to team up with Hawley on tech going forward either, an aide said. The Republican lawmakers are firing back: Hawley accused the Democrats of putting “politics ahead of protecting children online,” and a spokesperson for Cruz called it “unfortunate so many Democrats have abandoned President Biden’s calls for unity.”
— Outside pressure is building for Democrats to distance themselves: Jeffrey Chester, a longtime Markey ally and the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said Hawley and Cruz’s election challenge has placed them in an “untouchable zone” politically. “It’s no longer possible to consider Hawley and Cruz to be in the mainstream of policymaking … they’re extremists.” And he said he’s made clear he won’t back legislation led by either — even proposals his group has long advocated for, like updating children’s privacy laws.
PILE ON: THE LATEST PANEL EXAMINING SOCIAL MEDIA’S ROLE IN EXTREMISM — House Homeland Security Committee leaders had a clear message for social media companies at a hearing Thursday: The industry was far too slow to wake up to the threat of extremism and domestic terror online, and the panel wants more answers from them on the matter. “Frankly, they could not get their act together,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), the new chair of the panel’s counterterrorism subcommittee.
— More oversight on the way: “I don’t think there’s any question about us looking at social media companies and whether or not they have been as forthright in managing those platforms as they should be,” said full committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). Democratic congressional leaders across both chambers, including on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, have said they plan to probe how social media firms’ handling of extremist and violent content could have contributed to the January siege on the Capitol.
— As for legislation? Thompson wrapped the session with a warning to social media platforms that there’s bipartisan interest in looking at Section 230; earlier in the hearing, he told Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) that his panel and others with jurisdiction would specifically discuss legislation targeting the statute and content amplification.
GOOGLE SLAMS TEXAS OVER LEAKS IN ANTITRUST CASE — The search giant asked a Texas federal judge to order additional confidentiality protections in a pending antitrust case by Texas and other state attorneys general in the wake of leaks to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. When Texas sued Google in December, the complaint was redacted before being released publicly, but both outlets got an unredacted copy and published details about a secret 2018 deal between Google and Facebook. “Information was provided confidentially. It shouldn’t be disclosed to the media,” Google lawyer Paul Yetter said at a Thursday hearing in Plano. Google wants anyone Texas hires or consults with on the case to publicly sign a protective order.
— Whodunnit? Texas’ attorney Mark Lanier said none of the states that sued Google were involved in the leak, and he accused the search giant of using the incident to seek strategic information about Texas’ case. “This is clear overreaching by Google,” Lanier told reporters after the hearing. Lanier said Texas shared its draft complaint with 35 states, but that only 10 have signed on so far; he suggested one of the other 25 might be the leaker. “It’s possible one of them leaked it. I don’t know. It wasn’t Texas,” he said.
— Timing: Lanier told reporters the states hope to move to trial quickly. “We are hoping to try this case in January or February 2022,” he said. “Google is hoping to never try this case.”
LEE TO KLO: NOT SO FAST ON THAT ANTITRUST OVERHAUL — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced her sweeping antitrust overhaul on Thursday with hopes of gaining some Republican backing — but persuading her counterpart on the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel may be tough.
— Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is open to working on improving antitrust, a spokesperson told MT. But he plans to do so by reintroducing legislation to “streamline” antitrust enforcement by removing the FTC’s authority and leaving the Justice Department as the sole enforcer. Lee is adamant about making sure current antitrust laws “are being adequately and appropriately enforced before we make sweeping substantive revisions to legal standards,” the spokesperson, Michael Connolly, said.
UPDATE: NO MORE QUICK MERGER REVIEWS — The FTC and DOJ said Thursday they will no longer quickly approve non-problematic mergers, making all corporate deals wait out a 30-day review window. (All deals valued at $92 million or more must be reported to the FTC and DOJ, which then review them for competition concerns.) Acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said the step was temporary but necessary because of the pandemic and the number of merger filings. She didn’t indicate how long the agencies might suspend the so-called early termination process.
— Pushback: Republican FTC Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson blasted the move as “unwarranted.” In an interview with Leah, Phillips said the FTC hasn’t offered a reasonable justification for shutting down early terminations. “These are the transactions that present no issue whatsoever,” he said. “To me, it seems like gratuitous interference in the operation of the market for very little benefit.”
US-EU-CHINA TRIANGLE – “Officials in Europe would mostly like to forget the Donald Trump era, but one holdover from the former U.S. administration is likely to stick around: an anti-Chinese 5G policy,” my colleague Mark Scott reports.
— But be careful who you gang up on: French President Emmanuel Macron warned Thursday that the EU shouldn’t lock elbows with the U.S. to gang up on China, my colleague Rym Momtaz reports. “A situation to join all together against China, this is a scenario of the highest possible conflictuality,” Macron — who does not share the Trump administration’s hostile approach to China — said during an Atlantic Council discussion. “This one, for me, is counterproductive.”
LISTEN UP: ‘THE FUTURE THIS WEEK’ BY POLITICO’S NANCY SCOLA — Want an easy way to catch up on tech news via your smart speaker? Join Nancy as she gives you three- to five-minute recaps of this week’s tech news, plus fresh insights. This week: a line about “scale and scope” in Jeff Bezos’ exit letter that’s alarming some of Amazon’s Washington critics.
The White House withdrew the Trump-era nomination of trial lawyer John Chase Johnson for FCC inspector general. … Lora Ries, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, was named the new director of the organization’s Center for Technology Policy. … Sean Litton, former president of International Justice Mission, was named executive director of the Technology Coalition fighting child sexual abuse.
Eyeballs watching emoji: Facebook is looking to hire a vice president of U.S. public policy in Washington.
All-things Amazon: “Why Amazon’s $62 million FTC labor settlement is a bigger deal than the Bezos news,” via TIME.
Amazon to use AI-powered cameras in delivery vans: “Amazon says the cameras will help it improve safety in its delivery network,” CNBC reports, “but drivers and experts have raised concerns about the potential for heightened employee surveillance and a lack of privacy.”
‘The Trace’: The name of a publication reporting on guns, gun violence in America and gun communities across the internet. Here’s a deep-dive from The Trace on how 3D-printed guns work, their legality and the ideology behind them.
Building the Biden administration: After a group of House Republicans asked the Senate to hold off on confirming Commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo over concerns about her approach to Huawei (and until the Biden administration commits to keeping the Chinese company on the Commerce Department’s entity list), Cruz agreed and reportedly placed a hold on the Rhode Island governor’s confirmation.
Vestager commends social media: Europe’s digital czar Margrethe Vestager told POLITICO that Facebook and Twitter were right to block former President Donald Trump following the Capitol riots.
Data dive: “Banning Trump didn’t change how much people use Twitter,” Alex Kantrowitz writes on Substack.
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).