With help from Rebecca Kern and Steven Overly
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— Tech talks: Global leaders are wrapping up President Joe Biden’s big democracy summit, and today they’ll be focusing on what tech can do.
— Tackling algorithms: There’s a new piece of legislation focused on algorithmic accountability. This time, it’s coming from the city of Washington, D.C.
— Transatlantic ties: The EU is keeping a close eye on proposed tech-related subsidies coming out of Washington.
IT’S FRIDAY, DEC. 10. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Benjamin Din.
SOME PERSONAL NEWS: After 121 Morning Tech bylines, today’s newsletter is my last. I’ve had a wonderful experience helming MT, and that’s in large part because of you all. Thank you for reading this newsletter every morning, sending in your tips and taking the time to respond to my (fun, silly, annoying?) questions. It’s truly been a privilege to be a part of the MT family.
Do you know someone who should be the next MT author? We’re hiring. But for now, I’m leaving you in the capable hands of my favorite tech, telecom and antitrust gurus — Alex, Emily, John, Leah and Rebecca.
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SUMMIT TURNS ITS FOCUS TO TECH — This morning, attendees at the Summit for Democracy will hear from Microsoft President Brad Smith, who will speak about the importance of technology to the health of democracies and the need for more collaboration between the tech industry and governments around the world. Those remarks will be followed by a panel discussion on how to counter digital authoritarianism and affirm democratic values, which will include Taiwan Digital Minister Audrey Tang and Latvia President Egils Levits.
— What’s happened so far: Biden announced Thursday the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, aimed at fostering and protecting democracy around the world. As part of the initiative, the White House said the government will provide funding to advance technology meant to bolster democracy. That would include promoting an open, reliable and secure internet, as well as defending against digital authoritarianism through efforts to help web users avoid government-imposed internet censorship. The White House also announced a series of international challenges meant to help spur the development of “democracy-affirming” technologies.
Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the Biden administration will form a global coalition to mitigate gender-based harassment online. That effort will be co-led with Denmark, whose prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, will also speak about technology for democracy at today’s event.
— What hasn’t happened: The Biden administration had to delay its plans to launch the proposed Alliance for the Future of the Internet. In a panel this week, White House tech adviser Tim Wu, one of the idea’s architects, reiterated the administration’s interest in pursuing the alliance and underscored that it should not just be an “American project.” (The EU has previously said it would want to be on equal footing with the U.S. if it were to join the alliance.)
LOCAL LEADERS TAKE ON ALGORITHMIC BIAS — D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine introduced a bill Thursday aimed at stopping algorithmic discrimination in the District, especially when it comes to economic opportunities. Lawmakers in Congress have proposed similar efforts but have not made significant progress in recent months.
— What the bill does: The legislation seeks to hold companies accountable for preventing biases in their decision-making algorithms. The use of discriminatory algorithms would be banned particularly in the areas of education, employment, housing and public accommodations and services. (Think algorithms used to automate decisions on whether to approve applications for mortgages, student loans or credit cards.) Under the bill, companies would be required to report and correct any detected biases, as well as disclose to users what personal data they collect and how that information is used in their algorithms to make decisions.
“Our legislation would end the myth of the intrinsic egalitarian nature of AI,” Racine said in a statement.
— Thumbs up: The bill has the backing of various groups, including Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, Color of Change, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “I am thrilled to see legislation in the works that specifically addresses algorithmic accountability,” said Timnit Gebru, a former co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team.
Some states are also looking at ways to combat digital discrimination, but Racine’s office described the legislation as the first comprehensive bill of its kind. Congress has increased its scrutiny on algorithms in the wake of revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, but the focus has largely been on algorithms used to shape users’ online experiences, as opposed to those used to make decisions about their prospects.
But that doesn’t mean lawmakers aren’t trying. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that she plans to reintroduce the Algorithmic Accountability Act in the coming weeks alongside Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.Y.) The bill, introduced last Congress, would authorize the FTC to issue regulations requiring companies to assess and fix algorithms that result in unfair, biased or discriminatory decisons.
A PRIVACY BREAKTHROUGH? — After little movement this Congress, there are signs that work on a federal privacy bill could be picking back up. House Energy and Commerce Democrats shared a draft version of a federal privacy bill with Republicans last week, consumer protection Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said during a Wednesday hearing on tech accountability.
Schakowsky told MT afterward she wants to hold a privacy hearing early next year. “I certainly got a sense of urgency from them, and we feel the same, and I know with my ranking member Gus Bilirakis, we’ve been really successful at coming to agreements,” she said. “So I am hopeful that we’re going to be able to move quickly. Not only members of Congress, but consumers are really anxious.”
During the hearing, Republicans expressed frustration over the delays this Congress. “Despite our interest in continuing our work from the last Congress on bipartisan privacy discussions, we have yet to have a hearing, let alone a markup this year on something the American people desperately need and deserve,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top Republican on the full committee, said.
— Major snags remain: The parties continue to negotiate two key issues that have plagued privacy talks in the past: whether to allow consumers to sue over privacy violations and whether to preempt existing state privacy laws.
THE EU’S WATCHFUL EYE — The EU is cheering the Biden administration’s push to produce more microchips and promote electric vehicles. But the bloc is also wary of government subsidies that could disadvantage EU-based companies, European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager told reporters on Thursday.
— All about chips: Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s push to funnel $52 billion into semiconductor manufacturing comes as Europe is looking to burnish its own microchip industry. But the EU hopes to avoid sliding into another subsidy dispute with the U.S., like their 17-year rift over money for the aircraft industry.
Vestager said the U.S. and EU should invest in their strengths and avoid making redundant investments — the EU, for instance, has experience producing the equipment needed to make semiconductors and conducting research on cutting-edge technology, she said.
The U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council that was formed earlier this year offers the two governments a forum to align their investment strategies and discuss how to spur manufacturing “while preventing a subsidy race,” Vestager said. That’s “still a work in progress,” she noted.
Meanwhile, the EU has already come out against a proposal included in Democrats’ social spending package that would provide tax credits to Americans who buy electric vehicles assembled in the U.S. with unionized labor — part of a package of climate change initiatives that the tech industry has praised. But those conditions would shut out cars produced by a number of foreign automakers from those tax credits — an issue that’s also been raised by Canada, Mexico and Japan.
Vestager expressed her concern in meetings this week with administration and congressional officials, but said she’s not yet considering possible retaliatory action the EU could pursue. “We’d rather solve problems before they grow up and become really, really big, so that’s our main focus,” she told reporters.
Christian Trubey is now chief people officer at Mozilla. She is a Netflix alum.
The FCC announced the members of its Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force, including Teddy Bekele as chair and Michael Adelaine as vice chair. Its first meeting will be Jan. 13. … Ericsson pledged to support 1 million children and young people by 2025 through its Connect to Learn program, which provides access to digital tools, educational content and skills development programs.
Slipping through: “YouTube banned ‘ghost gun’ videos. They’re still up.” More from NBC.
The truth unmasked: “Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory,” via NYT.
Moving over: “Meta’s AI Team, Which Tackles Harmful Facebook Posts, Moves to AR/VR Unit,” The Information reports.
Police pushback: FCC nominee Gigi Sohn has another opponent: the National Fraternal Order of Police. In a Thursday letter to Senate Commerce leaders, the group’s president, Patrick Yoes, took issue with Sohn’s role as a board member for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that supports the use of end-to-end encryption, which he said has hindered law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs.
Under scrutiny: Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) urged FTC Chair Lina Khan to investigate whether Meta misled customers about its advertising business, particularly related to brand safety and its advertising reach. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants the DOJ and SEC to open criminal and civil investigations into whether Facebook violated U.S. wire fraud and securities laws, also related to its claims about ad reach.
Reversal: “Meta Oversight board overturns Instagram ban on posts featuring hallucinogen used in spiritual ceremonies,” via The Hill.
Tips and tricks: The National League of Cities released a digital equity playbook on how city leaders can bridge the digital divide.
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 ([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.
UNTIL I SEE YOU AGAIN!