As we enter into the first week of April, it’s hard to believe that the first quarter of 2019 is already over. And, with it, we enter another busy week in the world of tech policy. Be it government employees using WhatsApp, Zuckerberg’s plan to regulate the internet, Huawei fighting back, big tech, white supremacy and social media, immigration and Grindr as a national security risk, all in this week’s Protego Press Round Up.
In Case You Missed It: In “The Accountability Hole in Public Records”, Alex Howard argues it is time to update the Presidential Records Act to reflect the current world. Specifically, Howard writes how the usage of ephemeral and encrypted apps, such as WhatsApp, by senior advisors in the Trump White House accelerates the need for our laws need to catch up.
Zuckeberg’s Manifesto: After years of having what can some may describe an antagonistic relationship with regulators around the globe, Mark Zuckerberg published an oped in the Washington Post calling for greater regulation and standard systems across the internet. Zuckerberg said governments and regulators rather than private companies like Facebook should be more active in policing the Internet. “By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms,” Zuckerberg writes, while then asking for new regulation addressing four topics: “harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.” Not everyone is convinced.
Huawei Lashes Back Out: After months of escalating rhetoric, including the detaining of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer in Canada, for allegations of violating trade sanctions with Iran, Chinese tech giant Huawei fired back on Friday. Specifically, they took aim at the Trump administration on Friday, accusing the federal government of having a “loser’s attitude” and dismissing claims that its technology could be accessed by Chinese intelligence services. “The U.S. government has a loser’s attitude. It wants to smear Huawei because it cannot compete against Huawei,” Guo Ping, rotating chairman of the world’s top producer of telecoms equipment and No.3 maker of smartphones. And, while the US government is urging global caution about working with Huawei, it hasn’t stopped Googled from partnering with the Chinese company on a new health care AI Initiative.
Breaking Up Big Tech: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) has recently called for breaking up tech giants. Now, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a group backed by GOP mega-donor Charles Koch, is launching an ad blitz pushing lawmakers to reject this line of thinking. With ads running in Washington, D.C., and in the home states of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee. One thing is certain, however; Warren’s proposal is definitely causing people to think about the implications of using antitrust to regulate big tech.
White Supremacy and Social Media Platforms: Facebook has banned all “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and separatism” on Facebook and Instagram weeks after the deadly attack by a white supremacist in New Zealand that killed 50 people in a mosque that was broadcast on Facebook Live. While some question whether the ban can work, the step is a positive one even if it comes years after experts have warned about the dangers of toxic content on social platforms including YouTube. The question now is whether the companies are willing to treat white extremism the same way they handle Islamic extremism- which is rather effective. Facebook’s counterterrorism chief explained how most effectively to address such questions to tech companies. And, Lawmakers said Wednesday that they continue to have questions after Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft briefed a House panel on their efforts to take down extremist content online.
Immigration and Tech: Tech companies and foreign talent alike are nervous about changes to to the H1-B visa system. Some argue the Trump administration is hurting America by restricting immigration amongst high-value groups such as engineers. More changes are set to roll out next year. In the meantime, Canada has been using friendly immigration policies as one of its key tools to aggressively attract tech companies. In fact, in 2017 Toronto added more tech jobs than the Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. together.
Grindr and National Security Issues: Last week, an entity called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) informed Kunlun, a Chinese company, that its ownership of California-based LGTB dating app Grindr constitutes a national security risk. Now, the company is up for sale. Vox points out “Grindr owns some of the most sensitive data about its users that a social network ever could: the filthiest chats they’ve ever sent, nude photos and videos, and also their real-time location, measured within yards. That’s all connected to a user’s email address, from which a user’s true identity might be easily learned.” The fear is that all of this could be used to blackmail dissidents or other targets, or for other purposes to subvert people.