Tech

Haugen’s message for the world’s lawmakers

With help from John Hendel, Alexandra S. Levine and Mark Scott

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— On the record: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen sat down with POLITICO to talk about her global tour and what she thinks lawmakers should be doing.

— Split decision: The Senate Commerce Committee is weighing holding separate hearings for President Joe Biden’s two FCC nominees, a development that could complicate Democrats’ quest for a quick majority at the agency.

— An inside look: A European Council document obtained by POLITICO reveals more details about the mysterious global tech alliance that the Biden administration is proposing.

IT’S WEDNESDAY, NOV. 10. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Are you happy now that it gets brighter earlier in the morning or bummed that it gets darker earlier in the evening?

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IT’S NOT JUST FACEBOOK, HAUGEN SAYS — Haugen, who has spent weeks talking about her former employer and its supposed ills, wants policymakers to think bigger.

“These problems are across the industry, like algorithms aren’t actually intelligent,” she told POLITICO’s Mark Scott during her recent stop in Brussels. “They’re only as intelligent as we can make them. And so all these companies need more transparency, and they need to be able to have public risk assessments just like Facebook.”

— On topic: Risk assessment and external audits have been Haugen’s two main messages during her trip across Europe, where she has met with senior officials in Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and, today, France. Those concepts are baked into the Digital Services Act — the EU’s proposed content moderation legislation — and Haugen argued that forcing greater transparency into the social media ecosystem would at least let people know what’s going on within those walled digital gardens.

— Around the world: Since coming forward in October to testify before the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, Haugen has spent time in a few other capitals. “Part of the reason we prioritized the countries that we have is they have pending legislation, so we felt that this was a critical time to support them,” she said about her itinerary.

Still, she could not help but take a dig at Meta, the rebranded Facebook parent organization whose new concept — the so-called Metaverse — would see people spend more time in virtual reality.

“The reality is they’ve made very grandiose promises about their safety-by-design in the metaverse. But if they don’t commit to transparency and access and other accountability measures, I can imagine just seeing a repeat of all the harms you currently see on Facebook,” she said. (Facebook denies it has put its profits ahead of people’s safety and has said it will partner with government, industry and academic experts to build the metaverse responsibly.)

For more from Mark’s interview with Haugen, check out his story and this morning’s episode of POLITICO Dispatch.

FACEBOOK GRADES ITSELF, FOR NOW — The company on Tuesday published its latest report on how it has dealt with content that violates its rules. Facebook said its third-quarter review was the “first time” it was sharing certain metrics on incidents of bullying and harassment, hate speech and violence or incitement to violence.

The report paints a picture of Facebook as a company making progress on the problems across its platforms. The volume of hate speech that Facebook users saw on the site, for example, “continued to decrease for the fourth quarter in a row,” the report said.

But that optimistic note is contrasted by reporting in POLITICO and elsewhere detailing the company’s broader struggles with hate speech. The report also omits some data, obscuring the full scale of violence, incitement, bullying and harassment across Facebook and Instagram.

— Something to look forward to: The company has tapped the firm Ernst & Young to do an independent audit of the next installment of this report and has committed to sharing the results next spring. “No company should grade its own homework,” the company said in a blog post, “and the credibility of our systems should be earned, not assumed.”

FIRST IN MT: COALITIONS BACK ANTI-COUNTERFEIT BILL ‘AS DRAFTED’ — The retail-focused Buy Safe America Coalition and the PASS Coalition, which represents online marketplaces eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, Mercari and OfferUp, are urging lawmakers to pass the House version of the INFORM Consumers Act, H.R. 5502 (117), as it stands.

“It is time to take action and stop counterfeiters and organized retail criminals from duping American consumers with their dangerous, harmful and stolen goods,” the two anti-counterfeit coalitions wrote in their letter this morning to Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection panel.

Amazon also supports the bill, although the e-commerce giant has said there are “a few areas in the bill that could be refined.” The House version of the bill has been filed as an amendment to the Senate’s annual defense bill.

WILL SENATE SPLIT CONSIDERATION OF BIDEN’S FCC PICKS? — That’s looking like a possibility, according to people following the confirmation process for Biden’s telecom picks. Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told John earlier this month she wanted a single confirmation hearing for both FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and fellow nominee Gigi Sohn, and that hearing could include other nominees like Alan Davidson, whom Biden picked to helm the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Although Rosenworcel appears on track to testify before the committee next week, people familiar with the discussions told John that the timing for Sohn and Davidson could still be in flux, and a delay could allow for further vetting by Senate offices. (These people requested anonymity to speak candidly about the decision-making process.)

Senate Commerce isn’t saying one way or another, and it hasn’t officially announced the hearing yet. But fast-tracking Rosenworcel while postponing Sohn could spell trouble for those hoping for the quick installation of a Democratic majority at the FCC — and could mean delays for progressive telecom priorities.

— Opposition lining up: Top panel Republicans, including Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and John Thune of South Dakota, have already raised concerns about Sohn and her past support for government regulation of broadband. The Wall Street Journal’s right-learning editorial board also targeted her record this week.

“I will do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted Tuesday, calling Sohn “a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives.”

RAIMONDO: COMMERCE TO ‘RAMP UP’ BROADBAND OUTREACH — Now that the bipartisan infrastructure deal has passed both chambers of Congress, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is focusing on implementation. She’s also looking to staff up NTIA, which has been tasked with parceling out more than $42 billion in broadband funding.

“I’ve been speaking with governors, with mayors, with tribal leaders,” Raimondo, a former governor herself who was extensively involved in the Senate negotiations around broadband this summer, told reporters at Tuesday’s White House news briefing. “Now that this is official, we’re going to significantly ramp up that engagement.”

— Reassuring industry: Raimondo struck a conciliatory note about working with private internet service providers, in line with what passed Congress and in contrast to Biden’s original vision of leaning on nonprofits and local governments to build the networks. She emphasized a desire to avoid “overbuilding,” or spending government subsidies to build internet infrastructure in areas where private companies already have customers. And she said the Biden administration, despite its urgency to close the digital divide, will take its time and be precise about how it uses those funds.

NOT SO FAST — EU leaders want to make sure that joining a global tech alliance — an idea proposed by the U.S. that would focus on promoting internet freedom — wouldn’t limit the EU’s ability to regulate tech platforms, according to an EU Council document dated Tuesday and obtained by POLITICO. The EU would also want to have “equal footing” with the U.S., which is behind the proposal for the alliance.

Still, the European Commission intends to offer “conditional support” to the alliance, our Laura Kayali reports.

“The overall success of the initiative would be facilitated by setting high-level principles that would allow to draw a line with respect to authoritarian regimes, but not commit to detailed actions, which could lead to controversies and risk lowering the EU ambitions,” the document said. “Such principles should respect the regulatory autonomy of participants.”

Plans for this “Alliance for the Future of the Internet,” first reported by POLITICO, are preliminary, although the EU document said the U.S. “appears realistic” about making an announcement timed with Biden’s much-anticipated virtual Summit for Democracy, which will be held next month.

— Also on the guest list: The document said other countries that had been invited to join the alliance at its inception include Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia and the U.K.

Jack Evans has joined Roku as senior director of policy communications. He was most recently senior public relations manager for policy programs at Amazon and was a comms director for public affairs at Microsoft. … Jennifer Hindin has been promoted to co-chair of Wiley Rein’s telecom, media and technology practice, starting in January. She will succeed David A. Gross. … Eric Muhlheim has joined Mozilla as CFO. He was most recently chief financial and administrative officer at BuzzFeed and is a Walt Disney alum.

Medium is acquiring Projector, the web-based graphic design platform. Projector co-founders Trevor O’Brien and Luke Millar will join Medium as chief product officer and VP of engineering, respectively.

The Facebook Logout coalition — a group of more than 30 organizations led by Kairos — is beginning its three-day user strike of Facebook and Instagram today. The campaign is calling on the platforms to meet their demands. … The Internet of Things Consortium is becoming the Emerging Tech Exchange.

Tidbits from POLITICO Influence: Netflix has hired Ed McClellan of Covington & Burling to lobby on tax issues in Democrats’ social spending package, according to a disclosure filing.

The National Association of Broadcasters has retained an eighth outside lobbying firm. The trade group hired Mike Mullen of Empire Consulting Group to lobby on a bill that would promote diversity in ownership, a resolution opposing forcing broadcast radio stations to pay artists royalties, and the advertising tax deduction.

Now hiring: “The CIA Is Trying to Recruit Gen Z — and Doesn’t Care If They’re All Over Social Media,” via Washingtonian.

Uh oh: The Senate is facing a year-end “train wreck” as it tries to push through must-pass legislation, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report.

Slow down: “Facebook says it can’t keep pace with its own Oversight Board,” Protocol reports.

Bill alert: House lawmakers have introduced a companion bill that takes aim at personal data-driven algorithms, via Axios.

ICYMI: “Apple must change App Store rules by December, judge orders.” More from Leah and Julia Arciga.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

SEE YOU TOMORROW!



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