With help from Tim Starks
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— Hill preview: Congress is gearing up for hearings this week on some of the most pressing tech policy issues driving tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley: antitrust and the internet’s role in extremist violence.
— Tech and the e-cig epidemic: Alibaba, eBay and Craigslist are under fresh scrutiny from a group of Democratic senators calling out the online platforms for purportedly selling tobacco and vaping products to minors.
— Libra (again) faces the gauntlet: Global regulators are grilling Facebook in Basel, Switzerland, over its proposed digital currency Libra.
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THIS WEEK ON THE HILL — Congress this week delves into some of the biggest policy issues facing the tech world, including antitrust and online extremism. The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee on Tuesday will hear from Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim and FTC Chairman Joe Simons on federal oversight of antitrust enforcement. The officials are each overseeing separate probes into the largest tech firms in the country. We’ll be watching the hearing closely for any hints as to where those investigations may be headed; panel members are likely to raise the prospect of breaking up Silicon Valley giants. The session comes just a week after state attorneys general from both parties and almost every state in the country launched their own antitrust investigation into Google, which itself came fresh on the heels of a smaller multistate probe of Facebook.
— Both chambers of Congress, meanwhile, are intensifying scrutiny of how tech companies may be contributing to radicalization and domestic terrorism, after a string of mass shootings over the summer turned lawmakers’ attention to the internet’s role in the gun crisis. Facebook, Twitter and Google will be on the hook at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday on the link between online extremism and real-life violence. We’ll hear from Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert; Twitter’s public policy director, Nick Pickles; and Google’s global director of information policy, Derek Slater, on how the companies work with law enforcement when they find threatening material and, more broadly, how effective they are at rooting out violent and extreme content. (Remember: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckeberg declined Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker’s plea to testify at the hearing.) The session could very well feature lawmaker threats to tinker with or even gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — tech’s legal liability shield, which the industry relentlessly guards.
— That same afternoon, the House Homeland Security Committee will hear from leaders from the Anti-Defamation League, Free Radicals Project and American University’s International Training and Education Program on the threat of white nationalism in the U.S. and abroad. Social media giants have found themselves at the center of that issue as well. Unmoderated fringe platforms like 8chan are increasingly viewed as breeding grounds for domestic terrorism, while critics — including Facebook’s former chief security officer Alex Stamos — charge mainstream sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with helping to spread and amplify extremist content.
TECH COS SELLING E-CIGS FACE SENATE SCRUTINY — Amid a string of vaping-related deaths and as the Trump administration finalizes its ban on flavored e-cigarettes, Senate Democrats including 2020 hopeful Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are demanding answers from online retailers eBay, Alibaba and Craigslist about their sales of e-cigs and vaping products to minors, which reports have found are pervasive on the platforms. In a letter being sent to the companies’ CEOs today, lawmakers led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) contend the websites sell these items to children and teens without making any genuine effort to verify their ages. They also say the sites have failed to adequately address FDA concerns about their sales, promotion and advertising of JUUL products.
— Joining Blumenthal on the letter are Warren, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “More must be done to ensure that tobacco products, some of which could be adulterated, do not secure a foothold on your marketplace,” the senators write. “You must also ensure that your marketplace does not contribute to the addiction of a new generation of tobacco users and the ongoing outbreak of vaping-related illnesses.” The lawmakers want each firm’s CEO (or, barring that, a company representative) to respond by Oct. 1 to questions about their e-cigarette and tobacco policies; any plans to overhaul their systems to better monitor the sale of those products; and any work they’ve been doing with the government on the issue.
LIBRA LATEST — Global regulators will question Facebook today in Switzerland over the company’s proposed digital currency Libra, which has faced mounting backlash on both sides of the Atlantic (including from President Trump) since the company unveiled its crypto plans in June. That pushback came as recently as Friday, as France and Germany released a joint statement signaling their intent to fight Facebook’s attempt to “claim monetary power.”
— Representatives of the Libra project “will meet officials from 26 central banks, including the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, in Basel,” the Financial Times reported on Sunday. Benoît Cœuré of the European Central Bank “will chair the meeting between Libra and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructure, a forum that is part of the Bank of International Settlements … with the findings feeding into a report for G7 finance ministers in October,” according to the report.
THEY STILL HAVE CHATTANOOGA — A U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit last week brought by Tennessee activists who contended that the state’s widespread paperless voting machines render them vulnerable to hacking or other kinds of manipulation. Only one major city, Chattanooga, uses a system that produces a voter-verified paper audit trail. The court granted the motion to dismiss, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Parker wrote, because none of the plaintiffs had demonstrably suffered actual harm, or the significant potential for future harm; thus, he said, the court doesn’t have the authority to hear the case.
— On a related note: The Federal Election Commission is on Tuesday hosting a symposium on digital manipulation and disinformation threats to the 2020 election. Expected to attend are representatives of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, as well as academics, lawmakers and leaders from Democratic and Republican political organizations. (Further reading, via WSJ: “Washington, Silicon Valley Struggle to Unify on Protecting Elections.”)
Disney CEO Bob Iger resigned from Apple’s board of directors. … Jim Cicconi is today returning to AT&T on an interim basis, as senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, reporting to chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson.
ICYMI: Twitter took down a tweet from a Republican state lawmaker in Texas who wrote that his “AR is ready” for Beto O’Rourke after the Democratic presidential candidate (and former congressman from Texas) went hard on gun reform at the debate last week, POLITICO reports.
Robotic threat: Former top Google software engineer Laura Nolan warns that “a new generation of autonomous weapons or ‘killer robots’ could accidentally start a war or cause mass atrocities” and is calling for the machines to be banned, The Guardian reports.
Across the pond: Facial recognition technology is drawing scrutiny in Britain — “a country more accustomed to surveillance than any other Western democracy,” The New York Times reports.
Happening today: “The Senate’s top Democrat plans on Monday to ask the Federal Communications Commission to consider whether two major Chinese telecommunications companies should be barred from operating in the United States,” The New York Times reports.
CCPA latest: “California lawmakers [on Friday] gave final approval to two proposals that would make final tweaks to the state’s landmark Privacy Act before it takes effect in January,” Katy Murphy reports for Pros.
Farewell, MoviePass: After an unsuccessful attempt to relaunch, MoviePass shut down on Saturday as its parent company, Helios and Matheson, explores the possibility of selling the struggling ticketing service, WSJ reports.
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