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During a blustery snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, the senator from Minnesota told supporters at a rally announcing her candidacy that it’s time for tougher Internet privacy laws -- and slammed Big Tech for being too lax with its data practices.
“We need to put some digital rules of the road into law when it comes to privacy,” she said. “For too long the big tech companies have been telling you: ‘Don’t worry! We’ve got your back!’ while your identities in fact are being stolen and your data is mined.”
Klobuchar also pledged to guarantee net neutrality-- rules that say Internet providers can't block or slow down websites -- and promised to connect every American household to the Internet by 2022.
Klobuchar’s decision to make privacy and Internet connectivity a central focus of her campaign could elevate tech policy issues during the Democratic primary. By touting these issues during her first major speech as a 2020 contender, Klobuchar is making a big bet that privacy and other digital concerns are increasingly important to American voters.
It's especially striking since tech policy is not generally an issue that drives voters’ feet to the polls. In a survey about voter priorities ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Gallup listed health care, the economy and immigration as the top concerns among voters. Technology wasn’t even included in the 12 issues on the list. Yet if Klobuchar shows Democratic voters — especially key demographics like millennials — are paying attention, other politicians may start to prioritize issues like privacy and net neutrality in campaigns.
“Way too many politicians have their heads stuck in the sand when it comes to the digital revolution,” she said. “Hey guys, it’s not just coming, it’s here. And if you don’t know the difference between a hack and Slack, it’s time to pull off the digital highway.”
Advocates for consumer privacy welcomed Klobuchar's remarks, saying they're a preview of what's to come this election cycle.
“Privacy, and more generally regulation of online services, will be top issues in the 2020 election,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director and president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told me.
Klobuchar's decision to focus on tech issues also caught the attention of many closely following the 2020 race on Twitter. Rolling Stone Washington bureau chief Andy Kroll said:
4) Klobuchar's one of the very few senators to ask consistently tough & educated questions of the tech goliaths.— Andy Kroll (@AndyKroll) February 10, 2019
Putting them in her rollout speech is a heartening sign that maybe we'll get a real debate in 2020 about monopolies and tech's takeover of our data and our lives.
Los Angeles Times White House reporter Eli Stokols weighed in:
Smart. She’s actually worked on the issue, and there seems to be a market for it among young voters and those eager to see someone rein in big tech. https://t.co/1Nh8i4cxHN— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) February 10, 2019
Americans are eager for change in Silicon Valley-- even if that's not the top issue driving their votes. About half of Americans think technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, according to a study from the Pew Research Center published last year. Focusing on tech in in a campaign could be a strategy that particularly appeals to Democrats: 57 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaners told Pew that major tech companies should be regulated more.
One way Klobuchar could drive her tech-focused pitch with voters is by connecting it to her broader economic message. In doing so, she would create a stark contrast from President Trump, whose economic pitch has focused largely on reviving jobs from legacy industries such as manufacturing. And in another example, Trump never said the word "technology" in his State of the Union address last week.
In her speech, Klobuchar criticized Washington leaders for sitting on the sidelines as the economy changed and Americans confronted the "disruptive nature of new technologies."
"For a moment, let's stop seeing those obstacles as obstacles on our path," Klobuchar said. "Let's see those obstacles as our path."
Klobuchar's focus on technology issues could be a strategic decision to highlight the tech-focused legislation she drafted as a senator -- and distinguish herself from other candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Klobuchar has been able to draft legislation on tech issues with Republicans. As she makes the case that she’s a Midwestern centrist amid a field of progressives, her tech record shows she can work across the aisle.
This year, she reintroduced a Internet privacy bill called the Social Media Privacy and Consumer Rights Act. Amid a broader push in Congress to pass privacy legislation by the end of this year, it’s one of the few bipartisan proposals that has been introduced.
She also worked with then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to create legislation would force technology companies to be more transparent about who is buying political ads on their platforms. The bill, which was introduced in 2017, stalled in the Senate, but some technology companies like Facebook said they would support it under intense political pressure , and the social network introduced new labels for political ads so users could see ad disclosures.
She also was a key sponsor of the bipartisan Secure Elections Act, which aimed to secure the U.S. election system from cyber attacks. The bill gained steam this summer and appeared likely to pass, but it later stalled as negotiations broke down with the White House.
She's not the only one bringing tech policy chops to the race, though other Democratic candidates have so far not drilled in on tech policy the same way as Klobuchar in announcing their bids. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was known for her record on "revenge porn" as a California attorney general and a career prosecutor. As a senator, she co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would make extortion with threats to publish explicit images online illegal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) record of targeting powerful corporations could position her as a strong voice on tech policy in the 2020 race. She's said the country needs tougher rules to respond to the massive scale of technology companies like Amazon.
Lesser-known candidates such as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., former Maryland congressman John Delaney and business executive Andrew Yang also have tech experience. Buttigieg led his city through a major tech transformation since taking over in 2011, bringing startup opportunities to a town known for manufacturing. Delaney co-founded the House Artificial Intelligence Caucus and has made the future of work key to his campaign. Yang is a former entrepreneur, and he’s campaigning on issues related to artificial intelligence.
These candidates know it’s no easy task to appeal to voters on tech issues. Buttigieg says it’s all about making it personal and relatable to voters.
“We need to make sure that these don’t sound like abstract conversations,” Buttigieg told me at a Technology 202 live event. “People want to know about what’s going to happen to me.”
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BITS: Federal prosecutors are reviewing Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos's accusations against the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc., The Washington Post's Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reported. Prosecutors are seeking to determine whether AMI may have run afoul of a non-prosecution agreement signed in September as part of an investigation into campaign finance violations by Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for President Trump. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.
Bezos has accused the Enquirer and AMI of seeking to extort and blackmail him. He said they threatened to publish explicit photos of him unless he issued a statement saying that the tabloid's coverage of his relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez was not politically motivated. But an attorney for AMI chief executive David J. Pecker said the National Enquirer didn't extort or blackmail Bezos, the Associated Press's Michael Balsamo reported.
“I think both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their interests,” Elkan Abramowitz, an attorney for Pecker, said on ABC’s “This Week,” according to the AP. “It’s absolutely not a crime to ask somebody to simply tell the truth. Tell the truth that this was not politically motivated, and we will print no more stories.”
Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, provided the intimate exchanges to the Enquirer, the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay reported. “No one who spoke to The Daily Beast implied that Michael Sanchez in any way hacked his sister’s phone, and he has not been charged with any crime,” Markay wrote. “In fact, three people familiar with the Bezos-funded probe told The Daily Beast in late January that it had found no evidence of a hack.”
— More news about the feud between Bezos and the Enquirer:
NIBBLES: Trump plans to sign an executive order today that would launch a U.S. national strategy on artificial intelligence. The American AI Inititiative aims to accelerate U.S. leadership in developing artificial intelligence, largely through encouraging AI research and development within the government. Other countries, such as China, have coordinated national strategies on emerging technology, and the Trump administration is rolling out this executive order amid growing concerns about the threat China's increased investment in AI poses to the U.S. economy.
"The U.S. is the world leader in artificial intelligence," an administration official told reporters on a call Sunday. "It is not surprising to us that the Chinese are interested in this particular domain and are spending and investing heavily."
But as the U.S. confronts that heavy spending on AI in China, the order does not introduce any new funding for AI research. An administration official told reporters that's because it's the responsibility of Congress to appropriate funds. The order does direct federal agencies to prioritize AI research in their budgeting and also better track their spending on AI, which is not a category that is typically earmarked today.
The order will also direct agencies to make data that could enable AI more available to researchers, and it aims to set AI governance standards within federal agencies to mainatain a "safe and trustworthy" introduction of new AI technologies, especially as there are privacy concerns about government using AI tools.
BYTES: Amazon is reconsidering whether to open part of its second headquarters in New York City amid mounting opposition from activists and several politicians including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), The Post's Robert McCartney, Jonathan O'Connell and Patricia Sullivan reported, citing two people familiar with Amazon's thinking. Although Amazon executives have explored possible alternatives, the company hasn't drawn any specific plan to abandon the New York project that is set to bring 25,000 jobs on a new campus in Long Island City, which is part of Queens.
The New York state Senate has nominated an opponent of the project, Sen. Michael N. Gianaris (D-Queens), to a state board where he could potentially veto the deal for Amazon's New York campus — the state's final approval is not excepted before next year. “The question is whether it’s worth it if the politicians in New York don’t want the project, especially with how people in Virginia and Nashville have been so welcoming,” a person familiar with Amazon’s thinking told my colleagues. Amazon plans to open the other half of its second headquarters in Crystal City in Virginia and a smaller operation in Nashville.
— Sprint filed a lawsuit that accuses AT&T of misleading consumers by using the label “5G E,” which stands for “5G Evolution,” even though consumers are still using AT&T's 4G LTE Advanced network, The Post's Brian Fung reported. “The company has said the label reflects the fact that AT&T is on the pathway to rolling out a mainstream 5G network, which could eventually support download speeds up to 100 times faster than the current standard,” Brian wrote. “But AT&T has yet to switch on such a network for smartphones, prompting Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint to pile on with tweets, full-page ads in print media and other statements condemning the rhetoric.”
— Liberal activists are urging tech companies such as Facebook and Google not to provide technical or financial assistance to Trump's 2020 reelection efforts and the Republican Party out of disagreement with the president's positions, Politico's Nancy Scola reported. Yet such a move could help renew criticism from conservatives that Silicon Valley is biased against them and limit tech giants' ability to influence policymaking.
“It's no longer acceptable for these companies to play both sides like they're equal,” Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, told Politico. “If they want to invest resources and money into a candidate who believes that there were good people on both sides of what happened in Charlottesville, they're going to have to be held accountable for it.”
— More technology news from the private sector:
— Privacy advocates and policymakers in California worry that lobbying groups for tech giants may seek to weaken a landmark state online privacy law that is set to take effect next year, The Post's Tony Romm reported. The California Consumer Privacy Act, which could help set data privacy standards across the country, would limit the data-collection practices of major tech companies. But the law was adopted hurriedly in June and has left several unresolved issues. Now, privacy advocates are “seeking tougher protections before the law comes into effect,” Tony reported.
The tech sector has denied that it is trying to water down the legislation. “We support the California Consumer Privacy Act and are looking forward to the law going into effect next year,” Will Castleberry, who is in charge of state and local policy at Facebook, told my colleague. Yet Facebook and other firms including Google also want Congress to pass federal privacy legislation that would preempt California's privacy measures and other state laws.
— Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the French capital is suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 illegal rental advertisements, Reuters reported. The lawsuit could cost Airbnb more than $14 million. “Under French law, home owners in Paris can rent out their places on short-term rental platforms for up to 120 days in a year,” Reuters reported. “Advertisements must include a registration number to help ensure properties are not rented out for longer.” An Airbnb spokeswoman told the news agency that the rules in Paris are “inefficient, disproportionate and in contravention of European rules.”
— More technology news from the public sector:
— News about tech workforce and culture:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Today in funding news:
- The Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion titled “Smart cities and artificial intelligence.”
- Startup Grind Global Conference in Redwood City, Calif., tomorrow through Wednesday.
- House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology hearing on the T-Mobile and Sprint merger on Wednesday.
- House Judiciary Committee hearing on the T-Mobile and Sprint merger on Thursday.
- Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “policy principles for a federal data privacy framework” on Feb. 27.
Don't Marie Kondo your papers and photos into the trash. Save them in the cloud.
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