Meet the strangest alliance in tech policy
The push to rein in the tech giants is no stranger to strange bedfellows.
Progressive Democrats have repeatedly partnered with populist Republicans in recent years to target the likes of Google and Facebook through hearings and legislation, with team-ups featuring managers of former president Donald Trump’s impeachment and his ardent backers.
But a renewed campaign to let news publishers band together to negotiate better terms with digital platforms may mark the most unusual of those partnerships.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Thursday on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, S.673, a bipartisan bill that would create a temporary carve out in antitrust law enabling publishers and broadcasters to bargain collectively with tech companies. The bill was first introduced in 2018 but has gained new momentum in recent months.
Led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), the measure is supported by libertarian-leaning Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), progressive Democrats including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and party leaders on both sides of the aisle, such as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
Last Congress, top Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) became a co-sponsor of the bill, an almost unheard of step by him on bipartisan legislation directed at the tech giants.
It’s also been endorsed by a slew of media organizations, including trade groups like the News Media Alliance, major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, broadcast giants including the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp. and conservative digital outlets like the Daily Caller.
The Washington Post is a member of the News Media Alliance (NMA). Shani George, a spokesperson for The Post, said in an email that The Post is “aware of [NMA’s] efforts around this legislation and we have not taken a public stance.”
Asked whether The Post has received payments from Google and Facebook related to the distribution of its content, George said, “We typically do not discuss the terms of any business deals.” According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook “has paid average annual fees of more than $15 million to the Washington Post” as part of its news partnerships.
The alliance of groups joining forces against the bill is just as unlikely, if not more.
While prominent Republicans in the House and Senate have backed the bill, it’s been opposed by an unusual assortment of other GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
While Hawley and Blackburn have frequently teamed up with Democrats on antitrust and children’s online safety legislation taking aim at the tech giants, McCarthy and Jordan have often been on the opposing side, pushing back on bipartisan calls for more stringent regulation.
And though the leaders of prominent conservative outlets including Townhall, Newsmax and the Daily Caller have voiced support for the measure, it’s been opposed by Breitbart. The publication has met privately with lawmakers to urge them to oppose the legislation, according to a Politico report, and featured a wave of articles bashing it as a “media cartel bill.”
The atypical alignment appears to reflect a complex mix of competing political interests.
Supporters of the legislation say the aim is to help rescue flailing news publications, from local newspapers to politically slanted digital outfits, get more digital advertising revenue from tech giants like Google and Facebook, whose staggering growth has squeezed the news industry.
“We must pass my bipartisan legislation to ensure that news organizations can negotiate on a level playing field with the Big Tech companies that profit from their news content,” Klobuchar said in a statement to The Technology 202.
But the two giants, whose lobbying in Washington has soared in recent years, have strongly pushed back on efforts by policymakers globally to give publishers more bargaining power. That includes a contentious clash with policymakers in Australia over a similar measure. That means lawmakers pushing for the bill in Congress could face strong head winds from Silicon Valley.
McCarthy and other Republicans critical of the legislation have suggested it would enable mainstream news outlets to “collude” with the tech giants to silence conservatives, a charge evoking culture-war themes.
Blackburn’s campaign account on Tuesday:
Biden said that Trump supporters are extremists.
Then more evidence exposed the WH worked with Facebook to censor conservatives.
We can’t allow the Dems to pass the Journalism Competition and Protection Act, which allows the liberal media and Big Tech to silence conservatives.
— Marsha Blackburn (@VoteMarsha) September 6, 2022
However, a coalition of advocacy groups and industry-backed think tanks argued the opposite in a recent letter to lawmakers: that the bill would make content moderation harder for platforms.
The groups said the legislation would effectively require platforms to host and pay for the content of some publications, tying their hands when policing harmful content and “increasing the amount of networked disinformation, hate speech, and harassment found there.”
While eclectic, it remains to be seen whether the tent backing the bill will be big enough to pass it.
While the proposal is set to be marked up and voted on Thursday, a sign lawmakers likely have the votes to advance it out of committee, Senate lawmakers will need to try to find 60 votes in the broader chamber without the backing of usual allies, like Hawley and Blackburn. In the House, meanwhile, the bill has yet to receive a committee markup, and it would face long odds if Republicans retake the chamber given the opposition from McCarthy and Jordan.
Delaware judge lets Musk add whistleblower claims to Twitter case
Elon Musk can amend his lawsuit against Twitter to include claims by former Twitter security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko’s allegations, Rachel Lerman and Faiz Siddiqui report. But Delaware Chancery Court Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick declined to delay the trial, saying a delay “would risk further harm to Twitter too great to justify.” Musk will be allowed to seek “only incremental” information from Twitter on Zatko’s claims, McCormick said.
In a whistleblower complaint, Zatko alleged “extreme, egregious deficiencies” in Twitter’s security practices. He also said Twitter hid information about bots and spam. Twitter has pushed back against Zatko’s allegations, saying that they’re “riddled with inaccuracies.”
Twitter welcomed McCormick’s decision. “We look forward to presenting our case in Court beginning on Oct. 17 and intend to close the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr. Musk,” Twitter spokesman Brenden Lee said.
“We are hopeful that winning the motion to amend takes us one step closer to the truth coming out in that courtroom,” Musk attorney Alex Spiro said in a statement.
Spotify’s chief executive tells E.U. competition chief to speed up case against Apple
Spotify founder and chief executive Daniel Ek said he urged European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager to speed up a probe into Apple. Vestager told him she was frustrated by its pace, the Financial Times’s Javier Espinoza reports. Ek also met with European Commission vice president Vera Jourova, as well as Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton’s Cabinet, Espinoza reports.
European authorities have targeted Apple over its practices in the music, app store and mobile payments ecosystems. Apple has criticized the commission’s competition allegations over music streaming, saying that “the Commission’s argument on Spotify’s behalf is the opposite of fair competition.” Apple says that its mobile payments system isn’t anticompetitive and has defended its App Store.
Former Uber security chief’s lawyers say the company unfairly blamed him
Lawyers for former Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan said at the first day of trial that the ride-share giant scapegoated him because it was trying to clean up its reputation, the New York Times’s Cade Metz reports. Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, is accused of obstruction of justice and concealing a felony by not disclosing a 2016 security breach to the Federal Trade Commission.
“You won’t hear a single witness take that stand and say that Joe Sullivan told them to lie to the FTC or destroy documents or hide what had happened from Uber’s senior management or the Uber legal team,” Sullivan’s attorney David Angeli said.
Prosecutor Andrew Dawson, on the other hand, said it’s a “case about a coverup, about payoffs and about lies.” Evidence in the case “will show that Mr. Sullivan paid for the hackers’ silence” because the FTC was investigating Uber, he said. He said Sullivan lied to Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi by implying that hackers didn’t download Uber data.
Uber declined to comment to the New York Times.
Tech journalists and observers felt deja vu — and cracked jokes — when it came to Apple’s new product announcements. Our colleague, Heather Kelly:
Executive producer Alex Dobie shared a rendering of what a SIM card dongle — for a new, SIM cardless iPhone — would look like:
Others joked about Apple’s focus on dangerous conditions. The Verge executive editor TC Sottek:
the Apple Watch can now detect if your high school soccer team is involved in a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and will automatically alert authorities regarding the possibility of cannibalism
— tc (@chillmage) September 7, 2022
- Meghan Dorn, who was most recently a public policy manager at Argo AI and worked for Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), has joined TechNet as a federal policy manager. Emily Hickman has joined TechNet as a federal policy and government relations staff assistant.
- Christel Schaldemose, a member of the European Parliament who is rapporteur for the Digital Services Act, discusses the DSA at an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund and Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs on Monday at noon.
- Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks speaks at a Consumer Technology Association event Tuesday at 4 p.m.
- A Senate Judiciary Committee panel holds a hearing on protecting Americans’ personal information from hostile foreign actors on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
- FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Aerospace Summit on Wednesday.
- The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the XR Association host the Augmented and Virtual Reality Policy Conference on Wednesday.