With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel, Leah Nylen and Steven Overly
Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Tech is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Technology subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services, at politicopro.com.
— Feds, Facebook set to file on FTC deal: Today’s the day by which parties in the landmark $5 billion settlement over Cambridge Analytica have to respond to a privacy group’s legal challenge to the proposed agreement.
— Groups mark up House privacy proposal: With the deadline for commenting on a key draft privacy bill upon us, we break down the early returns.
— Pai’s copper-retirement plan moves forward: A federal judge denied objections to an FCC plan aimed at pushing the country onto fiber networks.
GREETINGS AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH, where your guest host, Nancy Scola, is making the most of D.C.’s brrrrrrrr-y weather to make some progress on all the great streaming programming available right now. (Please, no “You” spoilers. I’m only on episode three. But dude gets caught, right?) Got a news tip? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @nancyscola. An event for our calendar? Send details to email@example.com. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
FEDS, FACEBOOK DEFEND THE $5B FTC SETTLEMENT — Given all the attention paid six months ago to the FTC’s landmark agreement with Facebook over Cambridge Analytica-triggered privacy complaints, even dedicated MT readers are forgiven for thinking that’s a done deal. Nope. A federal judge has to approve it, and he hasn’t yet. One reason? Back in July, the Electronic Privacy Information Center almost immediately lodged a legal challenge — one that takes a step forward today.
— This is the deadline set by a D.C. district judge for the government and Facebook to respond to EPIC’s amicus brief (along with others filed in the case), in which the group argues that the settlement is “not fair and not adequate,” and to EPIC’s motion to intervene in the matter at all.
— As EPIC sees it, getting this far is already a win. “The fact that the judge is ordering Facebook and the United States to respond to EPIC’s intervention is indicative of how seriously the court is considering whether the proposed settlement is in the public interest,” EPIC general counsel Alan Butler told MT. The FTC deferred to the Justice Department, which is litigating the case on its behalf; the DOJ declined to comment, as did Facebook. Both the FTC and Facebook have celebrated the settlement as an appropriate resolution to the case.
THE REVIEWS ARE IN ON HOUSE E&C’S PRIVACY DRAFT — Today also marks the deadline for interested parties to submit feedback on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s bipartisan staff-level privacy draft bill, which the panel circulated in late December. Ahead of that, we touched base with an array of industry groups and consumer advocates that are submitting comments to take their temperature on the proposal:
— Privacy hawks say it lacks teeth: Dylan Gilbert, policy counsel at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said certain provisions within the bill “afford companies too much latitude to dishonor consumers’ and users’ fundamental right to privacy online and take the teeth out of the law’s enforcement and accountability mechanisms.” And in a letter to the committee, EPIC re-upped its call for the creation of a new data protection agency: “Current law and regulatory oversight in the United States is woefully inadequate to meet the challenges and creating a new Bureau of Privacy at the FTC will not solve this.”
— Industry groups find the disclosure requirements onerous: While consumer advocates want strengthened transparency provisions on things like algorithmic decision making, trade groups are calling for narrower requirements. “Several provisions in the bill call for detailed descriptions and disclosures of data practices, algorithms, decision-making, inferences, and pricing strategies. Many of these decisions and practices are proprietary,” said Jamie Boone, vice president of government affairs at the Consumer Technology Association. “It is essential the text be updated to provide protection for confidential business information.”
— The two elephants in the room: Groups remain endlessly divided over whether a federal bill should fully override state laws or allow consumers to sue for privacy violations, two disputes that House E&C staffers tabled in their draft. But there’s seemingly universal agreement on one thing: The committee needs to overcome those issues to advance a bill — and fast. “We hope the committee will be in a position to quickly move a bill forward,” said Craig Albright, VP of legislative strategy at BSA | The Software Alliance.
COURT DISMISSES CHALLENGE OF FCC PHONE DEREGULATION — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied a legal challenge from Public Knowledge, The Greenlining Institute and other groups to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s 2017 rollback of certain Obama-era requirements for phone companies angling to transition off of legacy copper networks.
— “This is a victory for American consumers, who will benefit from faster fiber deployment and the increased availability of next-generation services,” Pai said in a statement. He has touted the deregulation as critical for allowing the transition to more advanced, IP-based networks.
— The court ruled that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge Pai’s actions, prompting disappointment from these advocates. “As the California wildfires demonstrated, the deregulation of our telephone network can have devastating consequences,” said Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld. “We will confer with our co-petitioners and consider what other avenues to pursue to ensure that all Americans have affordable, reliable access to critical communications infrastructure.”
SOROS: FACEBOOK’S IN THE BAG FOR TRUMP: George Soros lit into Facebook in Davos, with our EU colleagues reporting that the financier and philanthropist laid out an alleged protectionist quid pro quo between the social-media company and the president of the United States. “Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will protect Facebook,” Soros said in Switzerland.
— Facebook’s response? “This is just plain wrong,” a spokesperson told MT.
— Soros isn’t new to blistering critiques of Facebook. It was a 2018 speech in Davos in which Soros called both it and Google a “menace” that triggered COO Sheryl Sandberg to look into whether he had a financial incentive to tear down the company. That ultimately led to Facebook’s controversial contract with Definers, a public affairs firm that sought to link anti-Facebook advocacy groups to Soros and his funding. And that, in turn, spurred accusations — strongly rejected by Sandberg and others — that Facebook was fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
— But Soros’ criticism this time around highlights a 2020 political vulnerability for the company. To be sure, conservatives in the U.S. have (with little evidence) long accused Facebook of being biased against Trump and others on the right. But there’s arguably an increasingly primed base on the left ready to blame Facebook if Trump wins reelection.
TRAVEL CASE COULD HAMPER FUTURE TECH DEALS — “Travel booking giant Sabre heads to court Monday to persuade a federal judge that its $360 million acquisition of Farelogix won’t harm competition — in a case that could create hurdles for other tech companies seeking to buy innovative start-ups,” Leah reports in a new story out this morning.
— Twitter’s D.C. office has added two former Capitol Hill aides: Reggie McCrimmon (CBC) has joined the public policy team and Trenton Kennedy (Sen. Jerry Moran) has joined the policy communications team. … Former FCC deputy general counsel David Gossett is now a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, focused on helping tech companies that are launching new products figure out the regulatory landscape.
— The ‘techlash’ hits home?: The houses of tech execs are becoming targets for swatting, per the New York Times.
— ‘The worst movies on Amazon Prime right now’: Amazon Prime Video “carries thousands of conspiracy-theory videos” and other questionable content, finds The Wall Street Journal, which highlights the service’s little-known self-upload feature.
— DNA-testing company dismissals: 23andMe is laying off staff amid falling sales — and CEO Anne Wojcicki speculates, as CNBC puts it, “privacy could be a factor.”
— #uhuh, congresswoman: Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard asked campaign donor and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to host a fundraiser, but he declined, notes Recode.
— Focus on the Senate floor: With senators deprived of their electronic devices during the duration of the impeachment trial, Sen. Richard Burr is doing them a solid by handing out fidget spinners, Roll Call reports.
— Facing the facts: The facial recognition company Clearview’s claims of aiding in the identification of a terrorism suspect don’t stand up to scrutiny, finds BuzzFeed.
— Geo-locating while dating: Tinder says it will begin offering users a panic button and other safety features — but won’t use the relevant place-based data for “marketing or anything else,” via The Wall Street Journal.
— The servers serving those who serve: The Army’s CIO says the branch’s new “enterprise cloud management office” will be fully up and running in March, notes Federal Computer Week.
— An intermission of sorts: An Amazon Web Services spokesperson says the company’s request to hit pause on the DoD’s contested multibillion-dollar JEDI contract is “common practice,” per FedScoop.
— ‘What’s my motivation here?’: Supposed protesters agitating outside a Canadian courtroom for the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou thought they were there to be extras in a movie, per The Guardian.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King (firstname.lastname@example.org, @bkingdc), Mike Farrell (email@example.com, @mikebfarrell), Nancy Scola (firstname.lastname@example.org, @nancyscola), Steven Overly (email@example.com, @stevenoverly), John Hendel (firstname.lastname@example.org, @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima (email@example.com, @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org, @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen (email@example.com, @leah_nylen).