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Mark Zuckerberg had an intense day of meetings yesterday with some of his biggest detractors, including a surprise rendezvous with President Trump. But even though Zuckerberg left the Oval Office unscathed so far by Twitter attacks, he’s not out of the woods – or Washington – yet.
On Friday, Zuckerberg will meet with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who leads the House panel conducting a broad antitrust review of Silicon Valley, Tony Romm confirmed.
It could get tense: The panel last week requested a trove of a documents about how Facebook approaches competitors – including company records of Zuckerberg’s communications about rivals, like now-shuttered Vine. Cicilline has also been one of Facebook’s loudest opponents in Washington, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company on antitrust grounds in a New York Times op-ed.
This will be one of the most significant meetings for Zuckerberg on this trip. Antitrust action could present an existential threat to Facebook’s future, as lawmakers and regulators question whether Instagram and Whatsapp should be broken off from Facebook. Cicilline’s subcommittee, the FTC and several state attorneys general are all probing Facebook’s power.
Zuckerberg has had to address host of political issues over the last 18 months, including election security, privacy, the company’s cryptocurrency plans and accusations of anti-conservative bias. Though lawmakers praised Zuckerberg for taking the time to engage in Washington, it’s unlikely a few days of meetings will relieve the pressure piling on the company over the last three years.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) dined with Zuckerberg and a group of senators on Wednesday night, and he said Zuckerberg was very receptive and engaged while discussing issues including privacy legislation.
“I welcome his engagement with us, it gives us an opportunity to better understand his positions and perspectives, but it certainly no way diminishes my concerns about privacy and antitrust in Big Tech,” he told Tony in an interview.
Trump tweeted he had a “nice meeting” with the tech titan, even including a link to a Facebook post with a photo of the pair cordially shaking hands. That image stands in stark relief from some of Trump’s previous comments about Facebook, such as when he said the social network is “on the side of the Radical Left Democrats.” From Twitter:
But based on Trump’s track record with other tech chief executives, it’s unlikely the president’s jabs at Facebook will stop just because of one meeting with its top executive. Trump's infamous “Social Media Summit” that was essentially a roast of Big Tech took place after he had a meeting with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and one that "ended very well" with Google chief executive Sundar Pichai.
Facebook confirmed the session with Trump, telling reporters Zuckerberg had a “good, constructive” meeting at the White House. White House aide Jared Kushner and social media director Dan Scavino also attended, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he had a frank discussion with Zuckerberg, where he vocalized his well-known concerns about Facebook’s market concentration and data practices. Hawley challenged Zuckerberg to prove he was serious about privacy and not afraid of competition by selling off the messaging app WhatsApp and Instagram. He also discussed allegations of anti-conservative bias, and he called for Facebook to submit to an independent, third-party audit on political bias.
“There’s a lot of words that emanate from Facebook,” Hawley told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. “The company talks a lot. I’d like to see some action. I think they could start by doing some of the things I suggested he do today.”
Get ready for another day of chasing Zuckerberg through the halls of Congress. In addition to meeting with House Judiciary Democrats Zuckerberg is also expected to huddle with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), for a discussion about privacy, Tony confirms.
From Politico's Cristiano Lima:
The photo of Trump shaking Zuckerberg's hand quickly turned into a caption contest on Twitter.
From my colleague Drew Harwell:
An obscenely wealthy man with unassailable control of a powerful empire meets Donald Trump https://t.co/rX3uFaLRnl— Drew Harwell (@drewharwell) September 20, 2019
And my colleague Hamza Shaban:
“I do not give Instagram or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Instagram it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute...” https://t.co/OpSXYwYuXY— Hamza Shaban (@hshaban) September 20, 2019
And Twitter user 13 million made a joke about Trump's preferred social network:
"I like Twitter. Why isn't Facebook like Twitter? Why don't you have a little bird?"— 13 Million (@13millionplus) September 20, 2019
BITS: Workers at Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are today expected to walk out in protest of their employers’ carbon footprints as part of a global climate strike. But even before the strikes begin, it seems like months of employee activism may be paying off at Amazon and Google.
Amazon workers won a small victory yesterday when CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company would sign a pact it drafted to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early, my colleagues Rachel Siegel and Jay Greene report. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice called the news “a huge step forward,” but said that the effort still doesn't go far enough. Workers still want the company to address additional concerns including its support of the fossil fuel industry and the carbon footprint of its supply chain. Environmental activists have also called out Amazon for failing to meet its commitment to power its Virginia data centers with 100 percent renewable energy.
Amazon’s Climate Pledge is a huge win for @AMZNforClimate & we’re thrilled at what workers have achieved in under a year. But we know it’s not enough. The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets. pic.twitter.com/vTMzGKahTR— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) September 19, 2019
Google also made a splash yesterday when it announced the purchase of a blockbuster 18 new energy package increasing its renewable energy ownership by 40 percent – a move the company is calling the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.
Meanwhile at Microsoft, workers are contesting a recent decision by the company to partner with oil companies to “accelerate creation of innovative petrotechnical and digital technologies," Brian Merchant at Gizmodo reports. A group of employees wrote a letter yesterday slamming the company for making them "complicit" in the climate crisis.
Twitter and Facebook employees will also be walking out today. Tumblr, Kickstarter, and WordPress will participate in digital efforts to spread awareness about the Global Climate Strike through banner ads and site shutdowns.
NIBBLES: Apple is putting a greater emphasis on privacy with its newest operating system as lawmakers step up their scrutiny of Silicon Valley's privacy practices. With iOS 13, users will receive pop-up notices every time an app seeks their location data, my colleague Heather Kelly reports. Apple also now requires apps to provide notice as to why they’re requesting the data.
The feature is an important step to building user trust and placating lawmakers after growing criticism that the company mishandles user data. But as NBC News's David Ingram points out, it's also a way for the tech giant to stick it to competitors. Users with access to the new features have shared images of notifications that Facebook and Google — both Apple competitors that have launched their own privacy forgiveness tours in recent months — are seeking location data for unclear reasons, David reports.
While the feature could give users greater awareness of just how much apps are collecting about them — even when they sleep — privacy experts are skeptical. “This is a step in the right direction, but it's still putting a lot of onus on users to understand and manage confusing settings,” said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and tech policy for Consumer Reports, told David. “Many people just reflexively press ‘okay’ when prompted because they just want things to work.”
BYTES: While Mark Zuckerberg took meetings on the Hill yesterday, some members of Congress took action to make sure their colleagues could actually make sense of his company and a host of other technological challenges the United States faces. A bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced legislation yesterday to fund the Office of Technology Assessment, a congressional office that has lain dormant for more than two decades.
“A revised and reformed Office of Technology Assessment will play a crucial role in helping Congress tackle issues as diverse as data privacy, energy independence, and American innovation and entrepreneurship,” Tillis said in a statement. “This bicameral, bipartisan legislation will give Congress the tools, resources, and policy expertise it needs to address the most pressing technological issues facing our country.”
As my colleague Tony Romm reported last year, Takano and a handful of other lawmakers have increased efforts to revive the office in light of digital attacks on the 2016 election, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and mounting technological challenges beyond the expertise of most members of Congress — and their staffs.
— News from the private sector:
— News from the public sector:
- Colin Crowell, Head of Global Public Policy at Twitter, is leaving the company after eight years.
- LinkedIn Chief Marketing Officer Shannon Brayton is leaving the company.
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Coming soon
- Sen. Mark R. Warner will give a talk at the U.S. Institute of Peace on U.S.-China Competition Monday at 12 p.m.
- The House Science Committee will host a hearing on “Online Imposters and Disinformation” Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee will host a hearing to “explore issues relating to competition in technology markets and the antitrust agencies’ efforts to root out anti-competitive conduct” on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
- Amazon will host a media event to launch new hardware on Wednesday.
- Toronto will host Elevate, a tech and innovation conference, September 20-26.
License plate scanners were once a law enforcement tool. Now, private citizens have access to this powerful surveillance technology through new start-ups such as Flock Safety. But privacy advocates say the implications around the consumer use of license plate scanners are troublesome.