January 24, 2021

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The Technology 202: Trump’s rhetoric is the only weapon he has left in war on Big Tech

6 min read

He also said the companies had made a “catastrophic mistake” and acted in a politically “divisive” manner when they moved to muzzle his digital megaphone, after determining Trump violated their rules on inciting violence. Trump also defended his speech to his supporters ahead of last week’s mob, saying even its controversial parts were “totally acceptable,” my colleague Tony Romm reports. 

Political operatives from both parties noted there were few official actions that Trump would be able to take to crack down on Silicon Valley. Executive orders are essentially the only tool at the president’s disposal that could be enacted in a matter of days. But even if Trump were to again use a presidential action to crack down on the industry, it’s unclear whether he has the personnel in place within government agencies to carry it out. And President-elect Joe Biden could always reverse such a move within a matter of days of taking office. 

“Who’s left to write it up, put it in action?” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. “The practical starts to be part of the equation.” 

Trump’s dilemma speaks to the extraordinary power Silicon Valley companies hold. 

Social media companies can effectively can deplatform the most powerful man in the world — and the sitting president can do nothing but complain about it. They have forced his return to traditional media channels rather than sounding off directly to his supporters in 280 characters or less. 

Trump received another blow from the tech industry last night as YouTube announced that it suspended the president from uploading new videos to his account for at least the next seven days. The company said it it removed new content uploaded to the president’s account for violating its policies and “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence.”

That level of influence is contributing to global skepticism of large tech companies. 

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back on Twitter’s decision as “problematic” earlier this week. 

“The fundamental right [of freedom of expression] can be interfered with, but along the lines of the law and within the framework defined by the lawmakers. Not according to the decision of the management of social media platforms,” government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said.

At this point, one of Trump’s best options would be to make a public relations push. 

The president continues to wield an enormous amount of influence over his supporters, as more than 70 million people voted for him in the presidential election. It’s possible he could encourage them to boycott the major tech companies that have cracked down on him and his allies. 

“He’d be more effective at asking all of his followers and supporters to delete their Twitter account, delete Facebook, not buy Apple products, not use Amazon, etc.,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist who previously led Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign. “If he instituted a boycott, it may not be big enough for companies that size to really feel it but if 74 million people voted for him, some will also join the boycott.”

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House Democrats want more data about home Internet shutoffs. 

Democratic lawmakers want top telecom companies to share more information about Americans who are falling behind on their Internet bills, Tony reports. That could foreshadow congressional action to expand broadband stimulus aid as part of the next coronavirus relief package.

Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.) said that AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other carriers need to be more upfront about their customers’ financial situations and the steps they are taking to ensure people do not lose Internet access, as families across the country are connecting to work and school online. 

The lawmakers have seen local reports of constituents being disconnected in recent months, as well as growing concerns that Internet providers might cap or raise prices on home Internet use. The Federal Communications Commission created a voluntary agreement with telecom companies to ensure Americans could stay online even if they couldn’t pay their bills early in the pandemic. But the agreement expired over the summer, and it’s unclear how effective it was. 

“We hear reports from the district that people are losing their Internet service, kids are lacking education as a result, businesses are suffering,” McNerney said in an interview with Tony. “The companies made a pledge. We know it expired, but we don’t see [if] that pledge has been honored — we don’t know.”

Congressional lawmakers recently approved $7 billion in new federal broadband aid, which it has largely allocated as part of an emergency rebate program that will provide discounts to low-income Americans. But the program may not be ready until February at the earliest, leading Democrats to seek data now from Internet service providers to determine how quickly they need to move to bring more relief. 

A group of hackers worked to archive Parler posts so incriminating comments would not be lost.

A researcher who said she was in the process of archiving nearly all public posts on Parler dealt a parting blow to users who had flocked to the site on the promise of free speech, my colleagues Rachel Lerman and Nitasha Tiku report. The scraping would not have been as easy for a bigger website with more security measures in place. 

The researchers’ moves stand in sharp contrast with Parler executives’ rhetoric, who said one of the service’s key selling points was privacy. 

“It’s one thing to have the intention of privacy, and it’s another to be able to deliver it in a meaningful way,” security researcher Troy Hunt said Monday. Hunt, who was not involved in the data leak, pointed out that although the data may have been legally obtained, Facebook and Twitter have controls in place to prevent such scraping.

Parler was taken offline after Amazon Web Services suspended service, and Apple and Google blocked it from their app stores. But smaller players, such as security firm Okta, also dropped it as a customer. 

The Post has not been able to independently verify the archive of scraped Parler posts, but Internet sleuths have said they’ve started using the information.

A labor union and ride-hailing drivers are suing to overturn Prop 22. 

The group alleges that the ballot measure – which cemented Uber and Lyft drivers’ status as independent contractors – violates the state constitution, my colleague Faiz Siddiqui reports. They say Prop 22 could limit the power of sate legislators to enact certain worker protections. 

The Service Employees International Union and drivers asked the California Supreme Court to invalidate the measure, which passed in November with the support of 58 percent of voters. The suit also alleges the initiative violated a rule that limits ballot measures to a single subject to prevent confusion among voters. 

The Protect App-Based Drivers and Services coalition, which represents gig companies including Uber, pushed back on the lawsuit through a statement attributed to Uber driver Jim Pyatt. Pyatt has worked in favor of Prop 22. 

“Nearly 10 million California voters — including the vast majority of app-based drivers — passed Prop 22 to protect driver independence, while providing historic new protections,” said Pyatt, of Modesto, who is retired and drives for Uber. “Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop 22 in a landslide. Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”

Rant and rave

Journalists, researchers and activists argued there needs to be greater scrutiny of YouTube after it waited days after Twitter and Facebook to suspend the president’s account. From Venture Beat executive editor Emil Protalinski:

Inside the industry

Google is making a $250,000 donation to cover application fees for more than 500 Dreamers. 

The grant to the non-profit United We Dream builds on Google’s continued support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the company said in a blog post. Tech companies have long supported the Obama-era initiative that grants work permits to “Dreamers,” thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children. 

Kent Walker, Google senior vice president of global affairs, also called for greater immigration reform in a company blog post. 

“We know this is only a temporary solution,” he wrote. “We need legislation that not only protects Dreamers, but also delivers other much-needed reforms. We will support efforts by the new Congress and incoming Administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform that improves employment-based visa programs that enhance American competitiveness, gives greater assurance to immigrant workers and employers, and promotes better and more humane immigration processing and border security practices.” 

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Cat Zakrzewski


2021-01-13 09:05:32


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