Tech

Senators vs. Facebook, Round 2

With help from Alexandra S. Levine and John Hendel

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— Prepare for a grilling: Facebook’s head of safety will be in the hot seat today, as lawmakers explore how its platforms harm young users and ways to protect them online.

— Today’s agenda: FCC commissioners will consider how they can boost network resilience to natural disasters.

— Catch up with Congress: Two key deadlines are looming on the Hill today, as lawmakers race to finish an emergency government funding bill and the House (maybe) takes up the bipartisan infrastructure package.

IT’S THURSDAY, SEPT. 30. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Did you catch the Congressional Baseball Game last night? How did Team House E&C do?

Got a news tip? Email me at [email protected] and find me on Twitter @benjamindin. Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

TODAY: FACEBOOK TESTIMONY CONTINUES — All eyes will be on Antigone Davis, the second Facebook executive in two weeks to face tough questions from Congress. Today’s hearing, convened by Senate Commerce consumer protection Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and ranking member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), will examine the effects of Facebook and Instagram on the mental health of children and teens, our privacy reporter Alex writes.

— What got us here: The subcommittee recently opened an investigation into what it says is Facebook’s alleged “cover-up” of the platform’s potential harms on young users’ safety and psychological health. That probe was prompted by a whistleblower from Facebook who leaked internal records to lawmakers and The Wall Street Journal, leading Instagram on Monday to pause plans to develop a kid-friendly version of its app. (On Wednesday night, Facebook publicly released two annotated research decks that were key to the Journal story, one of several the paper has published in recent days.)

— What to watch for this morning: Expect lawmakers to argue that a pause on kid-friendly Instagram is not enough and that the project should be scrapped altogether. But Facebook is unlikely to go that far. Davis will explain why the company believes kids under 13 will benefit from using an age-appropriate version of Instagram and discuss the company’s efforts to keep children under 13 off Instagram proper in the first place.

— #Instagate: Yes, that’s the hashtag that children’s privacy and safety advocates like Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy and Common Sense will be using to live tweet their hot takes as the hearing unfolds. Facebook’s critics have been looking forward to this, with Accountable Tech launching a six-figure national TV ad buy this morning and planning a post-hearing rally with other groups, including Fairplay and the so-called Real Facebook Oversight Board.

— Coming up: The Facebook whistleblower will testify Tuesday morning before the same panel. Little is known yet about her, but she sat down with CBS News’ Scott Pelley for an interview airing Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

PLUS: PRIVACY TABLES TURNING? — One debate where there is no clear consensus among members of Congress (or even among privacy advocates) is which type of bill lawmakers should enact first: comprehensive privacy legislation or an update specifically targeting children’s privacy. The recent focus on platforms’ effects on children, reignited by the Journal’s reporting, could tip the scales in favor of the latter.

“If we can’t pass a bill which protects adults’ privacy, should we ensure that we pass a bill that protects children’s privacy in this Congress?” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has led the charge to revamp dated online privacy rules for kids, asked witnesses at Wednesday’s Senate privacy hearing. Across the board, the witnesses said yes. Watch to see how today’s hearing, and the whistleblower testimony next week, may add steam to those efforts.

TODAY: FCC TACKLES TELECOM NETWORK RESILIENCY — The star item of FCC commissioners’ September open meeting today is likely to be acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s proposal to start a rulemaking on potential changes the FCC could make to help networks stay up during natural disasters like hurricanes. That could include tweaks to the ways companies report outages to the government and efforts to maintain communications when the power goes out, for example.

— Why now? Rosenworcel and GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr trekked together to Louisiana this week to survey damage from Hurricane Ida, and that recent disaster will likely dominate discussion around the item. Broadband providers generally like what Rosenworcel has proposed.

— Consensus rules: That display of bipartisan comity is a necessity for Rosenworcel, absent a Democratic majority. (This is the eighth Biden-era FCC meeting of the year without one, with no nominees poised to change things.) Rosenworcel’s packed agenda also includes votes on safeguarding 911 call centers from robocalls and efforts to free up airwaves.

— Speaking of: Earlier this year, Rosenworcel halted a Trump-era effort to free some of the 4.9 GHz airwaves for commercial use. Commissioners will today vote on her proposed alternative framework to free this spectrum while maximizing public safety-related uses of the airwaves. At a recent American Enterprise Institute event, Carr described himself as “open to the ideas that the chair’s put forward” despite his support for the Trump-era order and commended her quick move toward getting “4.9 on the board again.”

CONGRESSIONAL CLIFFHANGERS — Today’s a big day on the Hill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces her deadline for bringing the bipartisan infrastructure deal to a floor vote and lawmakers race to avert a government shutdown that could disrupt major broadband programs.

— Infrastructure push: Pelosi said she would bring the $1 trillion infrastructure package for a vote today, but she’s also said that she would never bring something for a vote if it didn’t have the support to pass. That’s the big question: If Pelosi doesn’t think she has the votes, will she punt it to a later date? Moderates have insisted that the vote be held today, but progressives have said they’re willing to tank the bill if a separate Democratic social spending package is not ready at the same time (and some have said they want to vote on that social spending package first).

— Emergency funding: Lawmakers are trying to pass a stopgap funding bill before federal appropriations run out and the government shuts down at the end of the day. It seems lawmakers have reached a deal, but here’s what you need to know if that falls through:

During a shutdown, the FCC typically retreats to very limited operations, shedding more than four-fifths of its staff. Spectrum auction activities would continue, but other activities, such as merger reviews for the likes of the Verizon-Tracfone and Zoom-Five9 deals, would be put on hold.

According to the Commerce Department’s shutdown plan, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration would “not engage in activities that further the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in America” if the government runs out of money. The agency is in charge of disbursing more than $1 billion for programs aimed at boosting wireless connectivity. Spectrum management and policy development would continue in a limited capacity.

At the FTC and the DOJ antitrust division, staff working on litigation are usually designated as essential, but other work has to stop. That would affect non-merger investigations at the FTC, such as its general probe into Amazon. The DOJ said that if it were to furlough all but the most critical employees, 42 percent of the antitrust division would still keep working.

MT EXCLUSIVE: PROGRESSIVES DEMAND ‘INDEPENDENCE’ FOR KANTER — A coalition of 11 progressive groups, including the Center for Popular Democracy and the Revolving Door Project, are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to give Jonathan Kanter, the nominee for DOJ antitrust chief, “sufficient independence and discretion” in the role.

“Independence includes making decisions on who to sue, when and how to settle, and who to hire. And, in particular, that means limiting interference from officials at DOJ who have histories representing Big Tech companies,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday, citing Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s past work for Apple as an example.

— Mark your calendars: The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on Kanter’s nomination for Wednesday.

Amanda Lewis, an FTC detailee to the House Judiciary antitrust panel, is returning to the agency after nearly three years with the subcommittee, where she worked on the probe into the big tech companies and the resulting antitrust package. Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) gave her a send-off at Wednesday’s House Judiciary markup. Read the note Cicilline shared.

Eric Morrissette is the new head of legislative affairs at the Commerce Department. He was most recently deputy chief of staff for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) after two years as senior adviser to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). … Mike Gallagher, CEO of Intrepidity, has been appointed senior adviser for global interactive entertainment at Access Partnership. He previously led the NTIA and the Entertainment Software Association.

Gary Wipfler has stepped down as Apple’s corporate treasurer after about 35 years, Bloomberg reports. … Janice “Jan” Hamby is joining the board of Ligado Networks. She is a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who focused on telecoms, space and computer systems during her time in the military. … Michelle De Mooy has joined MPA — the Association of Magazine Media as senior director of policy. She has held senior policy positions at the Center for Democracy and Technology and at Consumer Action.

Tech industry vet Niki Christoff is launching a new podcast, “Tech’ed Up,” this morning. The show will explore what’s happening with emerging trends in tech — from the “C-Suite and Capitol Hill, to crypto and Gen Z TikTok.” Confirmed guests for her first season include SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, former Republican Texas Rep. Will Hurd, NYT reporter Cecilia Kang and former Obama White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith.

First in MT: The CAR Coalition is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to support the right-to-repair movement.

Alethea Group is hiring for a director of analysis and senior analysts. … The FCC has approved an additional $41.1 million in funding for the second round of its Covid-19 telehealth program for health care providers. … Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Urban Tech Hub, Google for Startups and Tech:NYC are launching the NYC Recovery Challenge, where startup entrepreneurs will pitch tech ideas to boost New York’s recovery efforts.

SPOTTED at Sandlot Southeast: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), Jeremy Marcus, Hans Goff, Jeff Shapiro, CR Wooters, Brian Barnard, Zoraida Rodriguez and Julius West at Uber’s pre-Congressional Baseball Game reception.

New strategy: The Biden White House is turning to some interesting characters to get out its pro-vaccine message, Washingtonian reports.

Retrospective: “How IBM lost the cloud,” via Protocol.

Agency moves: The FTC is weighing new online privacy rules, WSJ reports.

Wait a minute: “FTC must leave privacy legislating to Congress,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and GOP FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips argue in a Washington Examiner op-ed.

Weighing in: FTC Chair Lina Khan offered her thoughts to the House Judiciary antitrust panel on how to spur competition in labor markets.

Help wanted: The American Economic Liberties Project, an anti-monopoly group, is calling on the FTC to investigate the use of non-disclosure agreements in economic development deals with state and local governments, a tactic big tech companies have employed.

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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