Cambridge Analytica whistleblower warns of ‘new Cold War’ online

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie warned senators Wednesday that the data privacy controversy surrounding his former employer, Cambridge Analytica, is the “canary in the coal mine to a new Cold War emerging online,” as he detailed a series of alleged activities by the now-defunct company.

Wylie, a source for news reports indicating that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in written testimony that the data firm and its parent, SCL, had the ability to perform “black ops,” including breaking into computer systems to acquire kompromat — the Russian word for "compromising material."

He also said two senior staffers for Cambridge Analytica had connections to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, having served as aides to former Assange lawyer John Jones in London. And he laid out Cambridge Analytica’s alleged links to Russia, saying the company used Russian researchers, shared information with Russian Continue reading “Cambridge Analytica whistleblower warns of ‘new Cold War’ online”

AT&T seeks to explain Cohen deal as Washington scrutiny builds

AT&T on Wednesday scrambled to address revelations about a secret financial relationship between the company and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, as Democratic lawmakers pressed for details on the payments.

AT&T on Wednesday told employees in a message obtained by POLITICO that it hired Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to provide insight on Trump’s thinking about net neutrality, antitrust enforcement and tax reform.

“Companies often hire consultants for these purposes, especially at the beginning of a new presidential administration, and we have done so in previous administrations, as well,” the message states.

The company explained its contract with Cohen expired in December 2017. The following month, “the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen,” according to the message.

Many companies clamored for information about Trump and his policy positions after his surprise victory in November 2016. As a Washington outsider, he lacked the Continue reading “AT&T seeks to explain Cohen deal as Washington scrutiny builds”

Facebook rolls out issue ad rules in new move to combat Russian meddling

Facebook will require the buyers of ads on issues like race, immigration and guns to verify their identity and location and who is paying for them — the latest effort by the social networking giant to combat Russian methods of election interference.

During the 2016 campaign, the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency published thousands of Facebook ads, many of them not explicitly election-related but still aimed at inflaming divisions in U.S. society and sowing racial discord. Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators have paid particular attention to such issue-oriented ads as they look into Russian election meddling.

Facebook in October 2017 announced it would require more documentation from advertisers seeking to run federal election ads. The new policy extends that requirement to issue ads, including those related to abortion, crime, the environment, foreign policy, guns, immigration, the military, taxes and terrorism. Other topics may be added to the list Continue reading “Facebook rolls out issue ad rules in new move to combat Russian meddling”

Zuckerberg back in the hot seat

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off his second day of testimony in Congress on Wednesday by apologizing to House members about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in the same words he had used in the Senate the day before.

"We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he said. "It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here."

Zuckerberg stuck to that message during nearly five hours of testimony Tuesday at a marathon Senate hearing, in which he took questions about data privacy, Russian election interference and conservative allegations of Facebook political bias, among other topics.

House Energy & Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) opened the hearing by saying he’s concerned about the company’s business model.

"While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it Continue reading “Zuckerberg back in the hot seat”

Zuckerberg: Facebook contacted by Mueller probe

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed Tuesday that his company has been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Media reports earlier this year disclosed that Mueller’s team had interviewed at least one Facebook employee, and Mueller subsequently secured an indictment of alleged Russian trolls in part based on their activity on the social media network. But Zuckerberg’s testimony in today’s Senate hearing was the first time Facebook has confirmed the information.

Zuckerberg at first said "yes" when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked if Mueller’s office had served subpoenas on the company. But then the CEO added: "I want to clarify that I actually am not aware of a subpoena. I think there may be, but I know we’re working with them."

Asked if he himself had spoken to Mueller’s team, Zuckerberg said: "I have not."

He went on: "I Continue reading “Zuckerberg: Facebook contacted by Mueller probe”

Zuckerberg to testify before Senate Judiciary, Commerce committees

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify at a Tuesday hearing held jointly by the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, the panels announced Wednesday night.

It will be a busy week on the Hill for Zuckerberg, who’s also scheduled to appear the next day before the House Energy and Commerce Committee amid revelations that the social network allowed Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica to improperly obtain data on up to 87 million Facebook users.

Senate Judiciary had also invited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, but they were not on the list of witnesses.

Facebook removes dozens of Russia-linked accounts

Facebook announced Tuesday it has removed from multiple platforms accounts and pages controlled by Russia’s Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.

The social media giant removed 70 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts and 65 Instagram accounts, as well as 138 Facebook pages, which individual users can "like" or follow. Most of the pages ran advertisements and were targeted at Russian speakers. Uncovering these accounts took "months of work," Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said in a blog post.

"The IRA has repeatedly used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections," Stamos wrote. Facebook removed the accounts strictly because they were controlled by the IRA and not because of their content, he added.

Facebook will allow people to check if they liked or followed one of the banned pages in the coming weeks, Stamos wrote. The company expects Continue reading “Facebook removes dozens of Russia-linked accounts”

Active shooter at YouTube offices

Police are responding to an active shooter at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California.

A spokesperson for the San Bruno Police confirmed to POLITICO that police officers are on the scene at the Google subsidiary’s offices. The police department is posting live updates on police activity on its Twitter account.

YouTube employees with verified Twitter accounts are tweeting about hearing shots and fleeing the building with coworkers or barricading themselves in rooms.

Senate Judiciary Committee summons Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to a hearing on data privacy on April 10.

Zuckerberg will be asked about "Facebook’s past and future policies regarding the protection and monitoring of consumer data," according to a statement from the committee.

The social network faces a growing controversy over reports that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with links to the Trump campaign, secretly accessed and exploited data from 50 million Facebook users.

Zuckerberg has also been invited to testify before the House and Senate Commerce committees.

Senate panel calls on Zuckerberg to testify

The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee Froday called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before their panel amid the controversy over reports that Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data on 50 million Facebook users.

Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said many questions have been raised over Facebook’s responsibilities and obligations and it’s time to hear from the Facebook CEO.

"We believe Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony is necessary to gain a better understanding of how the company plans to restore lost trust, safeguard users’ data, and end a troubling series of belated responses to serious problems," the two senators said in the statement. "We appreciate the efforts Facebook and its employees have already made to assist our committee and will work with them to find a suitable date for Mr. Zuckerberg to testify in the coming weeks."

The House Energy and Continue reading “Senate panel calls on Zuckerberg to testify”

Senate passes sex trafficking bill in defeat for weakened tech industry

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to combat online sex trafficking that faced opposition from major parts of the tech industry, marking a rare policy defeat for an increasingly embattled Silicon Valley in Washington.

The bill passed by a vote of 97-2. It now goes to President Donald Trump, who’s expected to sign the measure. The House passed the bill in February.

The legislation would hold websites liable for "knowingly" enabling sex trafficking. It’s targeted at sites like Backpage.com, the subject of a long-running Senate investigation, which was accused of hosting ads that promoted the trafficking of minors — but its passage comes as divisions within the tech industry and rising frustration with companies like Facebook have weakened the sector’s power in the Capitol.

The effort has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, but it was the subject of fierce lobbying by the tech industry. Tech groups warned Continue reading “Senate passes sex trafficking bill in defeat for weakened tech industry”

Whose boats is tech really lifting?

In October 2017, Reps. Barbara Lee and G.K. Butterfield traveled to Silicon Valley to deliver a message to the executives of major tech companies: They need to get serious about diversifying their workforces and adding black members to their boards.

The tech executives weren’t exactly blindsided. The visit was part of a five-year-long campaign by the Congressional Black Caucus to change the composition of one of America’s most lucrative industries. Members of the caucus had previously flown out in 2015, and Lee (D-Calif.) and Butterfield (D-N.C.) considered their fall visit something of a checkup. They met with Uber, Airbnb, Intel and Facebook, along with black venture capitalists and nonprofit organizations.

Lee described the tech meetings to POLITICO as "forthright and candid." What she did not see, she said, was any progress on the diversity front, particularly in adding black board members. Intel, one of Silicon Continue reading “Whose boats is tech really lifting?”

Good news for Trump — Twitter won’t block world leaders’ tweets

Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, Twitter on Friday said it won’t block or remove tweets from "world leaders." The social media company posted a blog following pressure it’s received to remove incendiary tweets from Trump.

"Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate," the company wrote in the post. "It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.

Twitter didn’t define which world leaders’ tweets would be protected, though elsewhere in the statement, the company referred to "elected" world leaders.

"We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly," the company wrote. "No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in Continue reading “Good news for Trump — Twitter won’t block world leaders’ tweets”

Kalanick’s departure gives Uber a chance for a reset

The resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick offers the embattled ride-hailing giant a chance to reset its often-poisonous relationship with regulators across the country and the world — and make a fresh start with Washington as it considers rules for Uber’s next big thing: self-driving cars.

Kalanick’s decision to step down under pressure from Uber’s shareholders marks a turning point for the company after months of turbulence under the brash CEO. His aggressive tactics upended local transportation markets and won early praise as an example of the so-called emerging economy. But the tenor changed around Uber as complaints piled up over everything from the company’s treatment of its drivers to sexual harassment within the company.

Despite Uber’s efforts to smooth out its political troubles — by temporarily hiring Obama 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe, for example — the toxic culture embodied by Kalanick proved hard to erase. And now Continue reading “Kalanick’s departure gives Uber a chance for a reset”

How Uber lost its way in the Steel City

PITTSBURGH — This city was supposed to be a bright spot for Uber — a tech-friendly oasis from its snowballing worldwide travails over taxi rules, labor relations, sexual harassment and an exodus of executives.

Instead, the ride-hailing company’s sharp-elbowed tactics have alienated political leaders in Pittsburgh too, less than eight months after Uber launched a pilot project that uses self-driving Volvos to ferry passengers through the Steel City’s hilly streets.

One of the company’s most vocal critics, Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, says he originally envisioned Uber’s much-lauded Advanced Technologies Center as a partnership that would bolster the city’s high-tech evolution. Instead, he’s grown frustrated as the company declined to help Pittsburgh obtain a $50 million federal “Smart Cities” grant, rebuffed his suggestions for providing senior citizens with free rides to doctors’ appointments, and lobbied state lawmakers to alter his vision for how self-driving vehicles should be rolled out to the Continue reading “How Uber lost its way in the Steel City”

How Uber lost its way in the Steel City

PITTSBURGH — This city was supposed to be a bright spot for Uber — a tech-friendly oasis from its snowballing worldwide travails over taxi rules, labor relations, sexual harassment and an exodus of executives.

Instead, the ride-hailing company’s sharp-elbowed tactics have alienated political leaders in Pittsburgh too, less than eight months after Uber launched a pilot project that uses self-driving Volvos to ferry passengers through the Steel City’s hilly streets.

One of the company’s most vocal critics, Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, says he originally envisioned Uber’s much-lauded Advanced Technologies Center as a partnership that would bolster the city’s high-tech evolution. Instead, he’s grown frustrated as the company declined to help Pittsburgh obtain a $50 million federal “Smart Cities” grant, rebuffed his suggestions for providing senior citizens with free rides to doctors’ appointments, and lobbied state lawmakers to alter his vision for how self-driving vehicles should be rolled out to the Continue reading “How Uber lost its way in the Steel City”

Blumenthal ‘may well agree’ with Trump on AT&T-Time Warner merger

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal Wednesday sided with President-elect Donald Trump in his skepticism about the $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger.

Trump — who pledged during the campaign that his administration would not approve the mega-deal because it concentrates too much power in one company — offered a "classic antitrust analysis," Blumenthal said at a Senate Judiciary hearing examining the merger.

"I may well agree with Donald Trump," the senator said.

But Blumenthal said Trump’s position is partly based on his dislike of coverage by CNN — which is part of Time Warner — and warned about the dangers of government officials dictating news coverage.

"For a public official to use the blunt, heavy instrument of law enforcement to try to silence or change coverage in the news department of any company is for me, absolutely abhorrent — would you agree?" he asked the CEOs of AT&T and Time Warner.

Continue reading “Blumenthal ‘may well agree’ with Trump on AT&T-Time Warner merger”

Cruz blasts Obama appointee over internet ‘handover’

Sen. Ted Cruz tangled with a top Commerce Department official Wednesday over the Obama administration’s plan to give up authority over the internet’s domain name system, with Cruz warning it could allow countries to punish people for "political dissent" and "blasphemy."

"Imagine an internet run like many Middle Eastern countries that punish what they deem to be blasphemy," Cruz said in opening remarks. "Or imagine an internet run like China or Russia that punish and incarcerate those who engage in political dissent."

In a sometimes heated exchange with Cruz, Larry Strickling, an assistant Commerce secretary overseeing the transition, said the Texas senator’s claim that First Amendment rights are risked “doesn’t comport with the facts.”

“When you posit that there is some First Amendment protection that exists today, when you talk about website owners, we’re not involved in that," Strickling said.

Cruz said it was “remarkable and distressing” Continue reading “Cruz blasts Obama appointee over internet ‘handover’”

Accompanying Apple Watch, a medical surprise

ResearchKit is designed to change medical research.

Despite FDA moves, push continues for Congress to act on mobile health

Tech companies want laws that assure the industry can innovate and sell its products without federal meddling.