With help from Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Costly tweets: Republicans senators opposed to President Joe Biden’s picks for the FTC and FCC are putting the nominees’ past social media posts under scrutiny.
— Busy schedule: Amid December’s congressional frenzy, lawmakers are continuing to put pressure on the tech industry. This week, they’ll cover topics including antitrust, privacy and digital safety.
— Merger worries: A group of lawmakers say the proposed Discovery-WarnerMedia deal could have negative consequences for Latinos, already an underrepresented group in the media industry.
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PLAYING THE TWEET CARD — Republican senators are alleging that the Twitter histories of FCC nominee Gigi Sohn and FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya, which include jabs at Fox News and ICE, show they are too biased to lead the independent agencies that oversee important tech and telecom issues.
“There’s plenty of qualified Americans who are Democrats who don’t have that kind of baggage,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told John in a story for Pros out this morning.
Unified GOP opposition to these two nominees would have a big impact, because both are needed to cement Democratic majorities at their respective agencies, now deadlocked along partisan lines. Without them, progressives cannot move ahead with priorities on issues such as net neutrality, competition and privacy. And while Democrats could still push the nominations through, that would require their entire caucus to stick together. But with other legislative priorities in the Senate, the opposition could delay Sohn’s and Bedoya’s confirmations until 2022.
The timing matters because it took Biden so many months to name nominees to key tech positions. “Most of the big-ticket items” the FCC would act on “take about a year to process through,” said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a tech civil liberties group that supports the nominees. (Sohn is an EFF board member.)
— About-face: The GOP discontent over the nominees’ tweets follows four years in which Republican lawmakers commonly refused to answer questions about former President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter to launch tirades against his foes. Republicans successfully used this playbook earlier this year to tank Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters last week she still hopes to move both nominees in the coming weeks.
The nominees tried to assure Republicans that their past tweets would not affect how they carry out their jobs, to no avail. Republican senators told John last week that they would place holds on Sohn’s nomination if it moves to the floor. Meanwhile, all Senate Commerce Republicans voted against advancing Bedoya’s confirmation, stalling it in a 14-14 deadlock.
CONGRESS GEARS UP FOR TECH-FILLED WEEK — Lawmakers are returning to Washington for another packed week of tech hearings. Topics on the agenda: competition in tech, questions for Instagram’s leader and legislation to rein in social media platforms and their algorithms.
— Tuesday: The Senate Finance Committee’s fiscal responsibility panel will hold a hearing on “promoting competition, growth and privacy protection in the technology sector.” Expect Amazon to be a major topic: The witness list includes Courtenay Brown, a worker at a fulfillment center in New Jersey who has appeared in recent news coverage about Amazon’s working conditions, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the e-commerce giant this year. Subcommittee Chair Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called for a breakup of the company and told CNN in October that Amazon is “like a monster that has to be fed every minute.”
— Wednesday: The Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee will hear from Instagram head Adam Mosseri — his first appearance before Congress. Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he hopes to secure support from Mosseri on legislation to help protect children’s safety online, especially related to the company’s algorithms, which he said can “push poisonous content to children driving them down rabbit holes to dark places.” The social media platform has come under intense scrutiny since The Wall Street Journal reported on Instagram’s own internal research, which suggested young people can face serious harm when using the app.
— Thursday: Both the Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce committees are convening hearings. On the House side, lawmakers are holding their second session on holding “Big Tech” accountable, following last week’s hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. This time, consumer protection Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) will lead a hearing focusing on seven bills, including H.R. 6093 (117), her newly introduced proposal to protect whistleblowers who come forward to the FTC. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce communications panel will hold a hearing on “disrupting dangerous algorithms” that online platforms use to influence user experiences.
Also worth watching: The House Science Committee on Thursday will mark up H.R. 847 (117), a bill from Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) that would require the National Science Foundation to support research into privacy-enhancing technologies.
MT EXCLUSIVE: LAWMAKERS CALL FOR ACTION ON LOCATION DATA PRIVACY — Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) will urge the FCC and FTC to develop rules that would prevent companies from collecting and selling their users’ location data, according to a letter that will be sent later today. “We are concerned that the continued, unregulated commercialization of private geolocation data compromises the safety and privacy of consumers,” the lawmakers write in the letter.
The lawmakers will ask the FTC to label the sale, use, purchase and transfer of precise location data unrelated to the essential functioning of an app as an “unfair act or practice,” as well as to identify the practice of labeling location data as anonymous when it can be de-anonymized through other means as deceptive. They will also call on the FCC to issue a rule that reaffirms prohibitions on the surveillance of location data.
DISCOVERY-WARNERMEDIA DEAL WOULD LIMIT LATINOS — Lawmakers are urging the Justice Department to take a hard look at how the $43 billion bid by AT&T’s WarnerMedia to buy Discovery would affect the inclusivity of the media and entertainment industry.
In a letter to top DOJ officials led by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), 33 members of Congress said a combined WarnerMedia-Discovery would have greater bargaining leverage over its workers and limit options for diverse programming. Warren, House Judiciary antitrust Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) were among the signatories.
Hispanic workers are already underrepresented in the media industry, making up about 12 percent of its workforce despite representing 18 percent of the workforce in all other industries, according to a recent government study. They also constitute about 5.5 percent of TV speaking roles, a 2020 Nielsen report found, far below other demographic groups. “A more consolidated, less competitive marketplace may only reduce the competitive pressure on media companies to provide consumers with more diverse and inclusive programming,” the lawmakers said.
WarnerMedia owns HBO and the HBO Max streaming service, with nearly 70 million subscribers. Discovery, owner of HGTV and the Food Network, among other channels, launched its Discovery Plus streaming service in January and has about 18 million subscribers. The companies plan to combine the streaming services post-merger, and Discovery said in October it was canceling $35 million in programming.
— Labor focus: Meanwhile, the DOJ antitrust division and its sister antitrust agency, the FTC, are increasing their focus on how mergers affect labor and underrepresented groups. Today, the agencies will launch a two-day workshop focused on competition in labor markets that will cover issues including labor monopsony and the gig economy. (In a monopsony, one buyer has power over multiple sellers — the opposite of a monopoly, in which one supplier reigns.)
Antitrust prosecutors recently sued to block Simon & Schuster’s merger with Penguin Random House over concerns the new publisher would have too much control over authors, or (you guessed it!) monopsony power.
ICYMI: NOMINATION WATCH — The Senate is scheduled to hold a preliminary procedural vote at 5:30 p.m. on FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination to another term at the agency. If today’s vote succeeds (which seems likely, based on the bipartisan support she received from Senate Commerce lawmakers), a final vote on her nomination could be held as soon as Tuesday.
Aimee Meacham is leaving the National Telecommunications and Information Administration after nearly 12 years. She was most recently deputy associate administrator for international affairs and was external affairs chief for NTIA’s BroadbandUSA. … Brianna Herlihy is now deputy comms director for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). She previously was director of press advance and spokesperson for DOJ’s antitrust division in the Trump administration.
Twitter announced changes to its leadership team: Head of engineering Michael Montano and chief design officer Dantley Davis are stepping down at the end of the year. Kayvon Beykpour, Bruce Falck and Nick Caldwell will become general managers for consumer, revenue and core tech, respectively. Lindsey Iannucci is joining the leadership team as chief of staff and VP of operations. … Alex Spinelli, a former Amazon executive who worked on Alexa and Amazon Search, has joined Google as a VP of product for core machine learning. He was most recently CTO of LivePerson.
MT exclusive: Advocacy group Engine is launching the Digital Entrepreneur Project to tell the stories of people who are making a living online in various ways, such as content creators and online sellers. The stories of these digital entrepreneurs “should be front of mind if Congress wants to change the way the Internet works,” the group’s executive director, Kate Tummarello, wrote in a blog post, in reference to Section 230, the tech industry’s liability shield law.
Rocky road: “Elon Musk Needs China. China Needs Him. The Relationship Is Complicated.” WSJ has more.
Behind the scenes: “The Inside Story of a Scorched-Earth Breakup Between Two Founder Friends,” The Information reports.
What’s in a name? People named Alexa are frustrated about Amazon’s use of their name for its voice assistant. Some have even changed their names. WaPo dives in.
Seeking answers: “What Happened to Amazon’s Bookstore?” NYT explores.
MT exclusive: Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Spectrum Caucus, is calling on Biden “to adopt a unified approach to spectrum and a clearly articulated process for resolving interagency disputes.” The letter is a follow-up to one she sent to the then-president-elect in January, when she highlighted concerns about government infighting over the 5G airwaves during the Trump era.
Game plan: The decision of who would replace Jack Dorsey at Twitter was finalized a year ago, via Insider.
ICYMI: “Clearview AI on track to win U.S. patent for facial recognition technology,” Alex reports.
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