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On Tuesday, Arizona’s governor appointed former Republican senator Jon Kyl to fill the US Senate seat vacated by the late John McCain. The appointment could spell even more government scrutiny for tech giants like Facebook and Google—even though Kyl has only committed to serving until the start of the next Congressional session in January, though he may stay through 2020.
While McCain, who passed away on August 25, never focused his energies on the practices of technology platforms, Kyl has taken up the cause in his private endeavors, particularly as the head of an internal probe at Facebook into whether the platform is biased against conservatives, which was announced in May.
The results of that investigation have not been made public, and it is still ongoing. A Facebook spokesperson said that Kyl would leave the audit, but that it would continue with the team from law firm Covington and Burlington that he had led. Kyl did not immediately return a request for comment. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, also held meetings with Facebook executives about the question of liberal bias as part of the inquiry.
Kyl’s appointment comes just one day before representatives from Twitter, Google, and Facebook are set to testify again before the Senate over concerns about privacy, political bias, and anti-competitive practices. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will also tomorrow appear separately before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to address similar concerns.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing is slated to focus on “foreign influence operations use of social media platforms,” but tech executives will likely also face questions about whether their platforms are biased against certain political viewpoints.
Over the next several months, Jon Kyl will arguably be the senator best-equipped to ask such questions, having ostensibly spent the summer examining Facebook’s treatment of conservative viewpoints, both internally and on its platform. In late August, The New York Times reported that an extremely small group of Facebook employees have internally argued that the company isn’t welcoming to conservative viewpoints.
In recent months, a number of conservative lawmakers, including President Trump, have also accused tech companies like Google and Facebook of suppressing right-wing content, and have questioned whether they should be regulated as a result.
In April, for example, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, half a dozen Republican lawmakers questioned whether the social network had suppressed content produced by conservative commentators Diamond and Silk. Just last week, President Trump accused Google of purposely favoring negative coverage about his administration in its news product.
The belief that tech companies intentionally censor certain political beliefs is also increasingly held by voters, especially Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in June.
For years, conservatives on Capitol Hill have alleged that prominent tech companies are biased against their beliefs. They often cite a 2016 Gizmodo article as evidence, which reported that Facebook employees suppressed the reach of conservative outlets in its trending product. But while Silicon Valley is notoriously a hub for liberal tech workers, many lawmakers’ specific accusations have largely been unfounded. Still, their complaints highlight the amount of power over Americans’ speech and access to information that a handful of California companies have consolidated.
Kyl appears well-poised to ramp up the questioning over whether Google and Facebook can keep that power while avoiding more government oversight. Aside from his experience with Facebook, the senator also has a history of pushing for the regulation of some internet activities. In the early aughts, he was one of the first lawmakers to advocate for the criminalization of some categories of online gambling and he ultimately helped to pass the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Act.
As a lobbyist at Covington and Burlington, where Kyl has worked since declining to seek reelection in 2013, he has represented clients like Walmart, Georgetown University, and the conservative political organization Judicial Crisis Network. His clients have also included some technology companies, like San Diego-based Qualcomm.
Kyl has also busied himself with more than just auditing Facebook this summer. In a sign of his deep commitment to conservative interests, Kyl has also been guiding Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, through his Senate confirmation hearings.
As Kyl’s fellow senators mull over proposed legislation like a national privacy law, that commitment may also increasingly mean towing the Republican line on regulating big tech. No one is poised better to lead the effort than Kyl.
UPDATED: 9/4/2018, 4:52 PM EST: This story has been updated with comment from Facebook
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate Commerce Committee panel plans to call a former Cambridge Analytica contractor at the center of a scandal involving the use of data from millions of Facebook users, a committee source told Reuters on Thursday.
The panel’s subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security will hold a hearing next Tuesday on data privacy risks focusing on Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy, and other Facebook Inc (FB.O) partners, the committee announced Wednesday.
The session follows hearings in April with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and will focus “on the collection and use of social media data, the privacy concerns raised in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, and potential steps to protect consumers,” the committee said.
The committee will call Aleksandr Kogan, a contractor for Cambridge Analytica, to testify, a source briefed on the matter said. A lawyer for Kogan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook said in April that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. The London-based consultancy’s clients included President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Facebook says Kogan harvested the data by creating an app on the social media network that was downloaded by 270,000 people, providing access not only to their own personal data but also data from their friends. Facebook said Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica disputed Facebook’s estimate of how many users were affected.
Cambridge Analytica and its British parent, SCL Elections Ltd, said in May that they would shut down immediately and begin bankruptcy proceedings in both the United Kingdom and the United States after suffering a sharp drop in business. Cambridge Analytica filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York last month.
In April, Kogan, who worked for the University of Cambridge, told British lawmakers that all the data he collected had, to the best of his knowledge, been deleted. He said he would double-check that none remained.
“This has been a very painful experience, because, when I entered into all of this, Facebook was a close ally,” Kogan said. “I was thinking this would be helpful to my academic career and my relationship with Facebook. It has very clearly done the complete opposite.”
Also expected to appear at next week’s hearing are John Battelle, who helped found Wired Magazine and is a board member of database marketing company Acxiom Corp (ACXM.O), and Ashkan Soltani, who was former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission during the administration of President Barack Obama.
Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis
You will soon be able to ride home from your local car dealership in a car that finds its way there unassisted while you nap or read. That reality came a whole lot closer this week, with bipartisan agreement in the Senate on legislation allowing self-driving cars to take the the roads. The law is expected to come up for vote in the near future, and pass.
The House passed similar legislation, also with bipartisan support, several weeks ago. That legislation allows car manufacturers to sell up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles the first year they offer them. That will go up to 100,000 cars a year if the self-driving cars prove as safe as human-driven ones. And that’s not all. The Trump administration also helped out recently by issuing voluntary safety guidelines for autonomous cars and at the same time requesting that states avoid writing laws or regulations governing self-driving cars and possibly hampering their introduction.
The senators who arrived at the self-driving deal note that autonomous cars appear to be safer than human-driven ones. “Ultimately, we expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs,” said Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) in a joint statement. They may be right: When a Tesla owner died while his car was in Autopilot mode last summer, company founder Elon Musk pointed out that it was the first known Autopilot fatality in 130 million miles of driving, whereas there’s a human fatality for every 89 million miles of traditional driving.
But if cars with no one at the wheel will soon become a common sight, the same won’t be true of semi trucks. The Teamsters successfully lobbied for the House version of the bill to limit self-driving vehicles to 10,000 pounds or less. That could be a problem for the U.S. trucking industry, which was short an estimated 48,000 drivers at the end of 2015, a shortage that’s expected to grow to 175,000 over the next seven years. That will create enormous pressure to replace hard-to-find long-haul truck drivers with no-muss, no-fuss AI.
Senate staffers are now allowed to send texts via Signal, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app favored by privacy advocates.
The Signal announcement wasn’t so much an announcement as it was slipped into a letter about a different type of digital security.
Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a note to Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin, dated May 9, congratulating Larkin on the Senate’s transition to “HTTPS encryption for all Member and Committee websites.” The note goes on to talk about how Wyden was the first senator to switch his site from the less secure HTTP, before concluding with a bit about Signal. Read more…
Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, …
Apple and the FBI both started to veer toward the same stance in the San Bernardino iPhone case: we need better policy. It’s on its way, but if passed, it’s certainly not the policy Apple had hoped for. The latest version of the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 requires companies provide government with “intelligible data” or “technical assistance” to access encrypted data when presented a court order. In a joint statement, senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein noted: “The underlying goal is simple: When there’s a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that…
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