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Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is still the new guy on Capitol Hill. But the freshman senator is swiftly emerging as one of the Republican Party’s toughest critics of Big Tech.
Hawley’s rigorous grilling of Google executive Will DeVries was the most heated exchange during yesterday’s privacy hearing:
He slammed Google for collecting people's location data on Android phones — even after they try to disable the tracking function. He compared the practice to an Eagles song — saying, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
“To see the Google witness push back on me and attempt to say consumers should anticipate this would be the case, are you kidding me?” Hawley told me in an interview after the hearing. “That’s just insane. It’s not just insane, it’s insulting.”
As Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) come out swinging against Big Tech, Hawley could prove to be an ally across the aisle. While Republicans have historically been wary of government intervention in private industry, Hawley has made it clear it's time for the government to do more to rein in Silicon Valley.
As he uses his new position in Congress to press the Federal Trade Commission to step up its investigations of competition and privacy issues, he is welcoming the stepped-up attention from Democrats campaigning for 2020.
Warren’s proposal to break up Amazon, Google and Facebook will lend a spotlight to these issues, he says. “It’s going to help make sure there’s a conversation on the national level."
Hawley isn't the only Republican complimenting Warren. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), another strong critic of the technology industry in the Republican party, said yesterday:
First time I’ve ever retweeted @ewarren But she’s right—Big Tech has way too much power to silence Free Speech. They shouldn’t be censoring Warren, or anybody else. A serious threat to our democracy. https://t.co/VoesOKSqhA— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 12, 2019
At 39, Hawley brings a fresh perspective to the technology debate in Congress as the country’s youngest senator. While many of his more senior peers have been criticized for their gaffes during technology hearings, Hawley's line of questioning showed that he has a deep understanding of how Google’s products work.
Hawley wants Google to give consumers a clear way to opt out of invasive location tracking. He says many members of the committee — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Caif.) — told him they were not aware that Google tracks people at this level.
Hawley's questions even drew praise from the the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
“Senator Hawley, I thought your questions were very well placed and really very good," Feinstein said during the hearing. “For someone — and I'm not all that computer sophisticated — it was revolutionary because I really see the breadth and depth of what we're dealing with, and the unknowns of what the future brings."
Hawley has already shown he’s able to work with the Democrats. His top tech priority right now is passing an amended version of the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act that he introduced with Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) yesterday.
“As someone who has two young children at home, this is not a theoretical issue for me,” he said.
The legislation would update a more than 20-year-old children’s privacy law and would require companies to provide parents with an eraser button to delete data that companies collected about their children.
“In order to enact the strong privacy protections that Americans deserve, it is going to take dedication and collaboration from members of Congress from both sides of the aisle,” Markey told me in an email. “Senator Hawley has proven himself to be a tenacious privacy advocate, and it has been a pleasure working with him to update the rules for children’s privacy online.”
Markey has been trying for years to update the children’s privacy law, but his efforts have not gained traction in the Republican-controlled Senate. Hawley said the urgency on privacy issues is accelerating, and he can say for certain that there is broad bipartisan interest. He’s calling on his Republican colleagues to ensure that children’s privacy restructuring passes quickly.
“We know that COPPA worked in the past, and we know it needs to be updated,” Hawley told me. “Let’s proceed with deliberate speed.”
BITS: One of the most prominent proponents of ethical investing in Silicon Valley was charged in yesterday's bombshell college admissions scandal, according to Recode's Teddy Schleifer.
Bill McGlashan, a founder and managing partner at Uber and Airbnb investor TPG growth, was charged on fraud charges after he allegedly bribed intermediaries to “facilitate” his child's entry to University of Southern California. McGlashan allegedly agreed to make a $50,000 payment to fudge his son's ACT results.
“What is particularly damaging for TPG is that McGlashan has positioned himself as a leading voice in Silicon Valley for social responsibility,” Schleifer wrote. “In addition to overseeing TPG’s late-stage growth investing arm, McGlashan has partnered with other conscious leaders like Bono and Laurene Powell Jobs at The Rise Fund, a TPG investing arm that tries to make the world a better place through investments in things like dairy farms in India.”
TPG said Tuesday that it placed McGlashan on “indefinite administrative leave effective immediately.”
NIBBLES: Democratic lawmakers grilled a “visibly uncomfortable” T-Mobile chief executive John Legere over his decision to stay at President Trump's Washington hotel as his company awaits approval for a merger with Sprint, The Washington Post's Brian Fung reported.
“T-Mobile spent nearly $200,000 at the Trump hotel in the months following the announcement of the deal, Legere acknowledged at a hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee,” my colleague wrote. “But he defended the practice by pointing out that T-Mobile had spent roughly $1.7 million on hotel stays across the nation’s capital during that entire period.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) challenged the chief executive on the hotel stay, saying it appeared the company was currying favor with the White House. Legere responded he's "100 percent sure” the merger will be judged on its merits.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test with the American public,” Johnson said. “It looks like you’re trying to purchase influence.”
BYTES: Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) will announce the launch of a bipartisan artificial intelligence caucus this morning. The caucus aims to connect members and staff with artificial intelligence experts in the private sector and academia, and it will complement the Trump administration's work on prioritizing artificial intelligence in federal agency spending.
Caucus members will include Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
“Together, we will work with our colleagues to develop smart policy in a responsible way to ensure the United States remains at the forefront of innovation while maintaining important ethical, safety, and privacy standards,” Heinrich said in a statement. “In the years ahead, it will be critical for policymakers to strike the right balance in developing the technology so that academia, private industry, federal agencies, and our national labs can harness the enormous potential of AI to the benefit of society and the American people.”
There has been an artificial intelligence caucus in the House since 2017.
Happy birthday to the World Wide Web, which celebrated the big 3-0 yesterday.
The Web's founder, Tim Berners-Lee, marked the occassion with a 30-hour journey:
I’m taking a 30-hour journey with @webfoundation to celebrate the web’s 30th birthday.— Tim Berners-Lee (@timberners_lee) March 12, 2019
First stop @CERN — where it all began.
We’ll be visiting London, UK today and finishing in Lagos, Nigeria tomorrow.
Follow the celebrations at #Web30 #ForTheWeb. pic.twitter.com/utQlJC8bNj
Others shared their favorite early websites:
In honour of the World Wide Web turning 30, here is my absolute #1 favourite thing on the internet again. (Yes it's the sewing machine website. It will never not be the sewing machine website.) https://t.co/SktT0HjkPY— jenny (phire) (@phirephoenix) March 12, 2019
Or paid homage to dial-up:
The World Wide Web is 30 yrs old today.— Tom Hall ☘ (@TomHall) March 12, 2019
This is how us old-timers first connected to the Net.
A remarkable time.
Imagine a world without email, streaming anything, & your work day ended at 5pm.#TheGoodOldDays
☎️#Web30 #TuesdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/wqlrIjKcp2
Microsoft founder Bill Gates felt nostalgia for 1995:
I was lucky to be a young person when the digital revolution was just getting under way, and my Microsoft colleagues and I had the chance to help shape it. Celebrating #Web30 leaves me feeling nostalgic about 1995. https://t.co/krIFxTGd1q— Bill Gates (@BillGates) March 12, 2019
From Snkat chief executive Tristan Snell:
30?! Oof, time for the Web to grow up and get a real job. #Web30— Tristan Snell (@TristanSnell) March 12, 2019
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