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Sen. Elizabeth Warren singled out Facebook policy chief Joel Kaplan as she launched a plan to “slam shut the revolving door” between Washington and large corporations.
The Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate wrote on Twitter that Kaplan, a former George W. Bush official, “is flexing his DC Rolodex to help [CEO] Mark Zuckerberg wage a closed-door charm offensive with Republican lawmakers.” Warren says Kaplan’s career move is indicative of a broader problem in Washington that hits across sectors. She wants to ban senior government officials from joining large corporations for at least four years after they leave government.
It's unclear how this would work in practice as many government officials leave for the private sector after their stint in Washington. And it’s highly unusual for a presidential candidate to take aim at an individual company executive — especially one who is not a CEO or known to much of the public. But it dovetails with the broader trend of candidates more frequently calling out individual companies as liberal Democrats such as Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) run 2020 campaigns challenging corporate size and income.
“If you’re a Democrat in the primary running a populist campaign, playing on the notion that the system is rigged and evil and everything else, it’s a popular position to take,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political strategist who has worked with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D).
Kaplan is a clear foil for Warren as she tries to rally the Democratic base. He’s the Facebook executive who created controversy by sitting behind Brett Kavanaugh at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kaplan pushed for the company to include The Daily Caller's fact-checking division among the company’s partners to address conservatives' concerns of bias among its fact-checking partners. The same Journal article called Kaplan "Facebook’s protector" against allegations of anti-conservative bias -- a charge that companies and most politicians on the left dismiss.
Warren could have chosen to call out a long list of companies that have former Washington officials high in their ranks — including other tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft. But the focus on Kaplan highlights just how contentious Warren’s relationship with Facebook has become in recent months — as the leading presidential contender has promised to break up the company, criticized it for allowing President Trump to distort the truth in ads and questioned the tech titan’s ability to address election integrity issues ahead of 2020.
In announcing the policy, she even took a dig at Zuckerberg’s recent comments leaked by The Verge, where he said a Warren presidency would likely result in a legal challenge for Facebook, and if Facebook faced such a challenge, “You go to the mat and you fight.” From Twitter:
Executives have made it clear they're ready to “go to the mat” to fight, but that’s not how our economy or our democracy is supposed to work. Together, we’ll close the revolving door and break the grip of giant corporations on our economy and our government.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 29, 2019
Facebook declined to comment on Warren’s plan. It's specifically aimed at corporations she calls "market-dominant," and she defines such companies as "corporations worth over $150 billion and companies that control the product or labor supply in their industry." Breaking the rule would come with a hefty fines: Any company that violates this restriction will be required to pay a minimum of 1% of its net profit for a first violation, 2% for a second violation and at least 5% of profits for any subsequent violation.
If it amounts to more than a threat, Warren's plan would significantly change the way tech titans interact with Washington. In recent years amid increased antitrust and privacy scrutiny, many technology companies have been expanding or overhauling their policy and public affairs teams, bringing in more senior government officials. The tech companies were often criticized for not focusing enough on Washington or understanding how it works -- and one way in which they've tried to remedy that is by hiring some of the city's top players.
Warren's plan could make it difficult to recruit top talent for her administration because potential hires may be concerned about the limits on their job opportunities after working for her administration.
"Companies should be able to hire talented people with government experience, and successful private-sector professionals should be encouraged to serve in government," she wrote in a blog post. "But giant corporations should compete on a level playing field – and they shouldn’t be able to rig the system by scooping up every available former government official in an effort to get federal regulators off their backs."
Other presidential contenders have promised to take on Washington’s revolving door and yet it still keeps turning. President Barack Obama made such a promise central to his 2008 campaign, and yet many of his top officials went on to top lobbying roles, as Politico reported in 2015. President Trump has promised to drain the swamp, but has hired more ex-lobbyists during his time in office, so far, than his two recent predecessors.
“They were overpromising on something they could never deliver,” Melanie Sloan, former executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Politico. “It’s worse than doing nothing.”
RANT AND RAVE
Facebook hit back against critics of its political ad policy in a USA Today op-ed yesterday. “Anyone who thinks Facebook should decide which claims by politicians are acceptable might ask themselves this question: Why do you want us to have so much power?” asked Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director of global elections, and Nell McCarthy, director of policy management.
Twitter had some answers to their question:
The Verge's Casey Newton:
Researcher David Carroll pointed out that employees could suggest even bolder demands.
They’re not calling for a moratorium on Custom Audiences where voter files get uploaded into Facebook to microtarget voters. Other Facebook employees have essentially suggested this. https://t.co/7C60PwPKZa— David Carroll 🦅 (@profcarroll) October 29, 2019
Georgetown Law fellow Lindsey Barrett:
ocean liner dumping oil into the sea: "you want us to decide when not to pollute on a colossal scale? fools, why would you want us, the colossus that definitely needs to exist as it wreaks irreversible damage on a shared resource, to have so much power" https://t.co/CHUrv9sYRj— Lindsey Barrett (@LAM_Barrett) October 29, 2019
Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, also pointed out that Facebook's advertising problems could be addressed by the kind of targeting it allows.
Option 3 - eliminate targeting of audiences smaller than X in political ad campaigns. Show us you actually are willing to put public interest ahead of more scrutiny for your toxic business model. Otherwise stop trying to spin the public. https://t.co/ssgxcBzLse— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) October 29, 2019
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: WhatsApp sued software vendor NSO, alleging the Israeli firm helped governments break into the phones of civil rights advocates, journalists and other civil society figures. Human rights and privacy advocates have long complained about intrusive surveillance technologies, but this is the first time an encrypted messaging service has sued a malware manufacturer for spying efforts, my colleagues Craig Timberg and Jay Greene report. (Read more from my colleague Joseph Marks at The Cybersecurity 202).
“This is unprecedented,” John Scott Railton, a senior research at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, who worked with WhatsApp on the case, told my colleagues. “It’s a huge milestone in digital rights and privacy.”
The court complaint alleges that NSO employees created WhatsApp accounts that allowed them to initiate calls in April and May that injected malicious code into 1,400 devices. The malware gave hackers access to decrypted messages of at least 100 victims. The activity stopped after Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, closed the vulnerability in the middle of May.
“This should serve as a wake-up call for technology companies, governments and all Internet users,” Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “Tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk.”
NSO's software has been implicated in a number of human rights abuses, including the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the attempted espionage of human rights group Amnesty International. The group has claimed it has no knowledge of the attacks and committed last month to protecting human rights in its work.
“In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them,” NSO said in a statement that was forwarded to The Washington Post by a Washington public relations agency.
NIBBLES: A campaign backed by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart unveiled a new California state ballot measure that would ensure those companies can keep classifying their workers as independent contractors, according to a news release. The initiative — targeting the November 2020 ballot — is a direct response to a new California law threatening to force the companies to reclassify drivers as employees.
The Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act would offer drivers new benefits, including a health-care subsidy, earnings tied to 120 percent of the minimum wage for hours spent engaged with passengers, and protection against discrimination and sexual harassment. The campaign argues it will give gig workers the flexibility they want while still affording them more protections.
“The new law could take this flexibility away — potentially eliminating hundreds of thousands of work opportunities and forcing app-based drivers into rigid employment schedules whether they prefer it or not,” the group wrote in a statement.
Uber, Lyft and DoorDash all put $30 million each toward the initiative this summer and have expressed a willingness to spend more if they can’t reach a deal with the governors office. Instacart would not disclose if it donated when asked by TechCrunch.
Drivers who fought for the California law, called AB5, are now turning their attention to combating the new initiative. A coalition of 20,000 drivers called We Drive Progress organized a news conference yesterday to voice opposition to the referendum, which they say doesn’t provide the same protections as employee status.
“This is yet another example of corporations and billionaires trying to exempt themselves from the democratic process by using wealth and fear tactics,” said Edan Alva, a Lyft driver.
BYTES: A San Francisco man launched a bid for governor this week in order to test Facebook's political ad policies. But now he's considering legal action as Facebook says it won't exempt his ads from fact-checking, as they typically do with ads from politicians, according to CNN's Donnie Sullivan.
"This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking," Facebook told CNN.
Adriel Hampton, the man who has been running stunts to test Facebook's political ad policy, hit back, telling CNN that the company has made a policy specific to him as he launches his bid for office "to regulate Facebook."
"I am going to look at suing them -- I will immediately seek all available legal options," he said.
He also said he's looking into recruiting other candidates across the country to run false ads on Facebook.
Hampton also is the treasurer of the left-leaning group "The Really Online Lefty League," and he created the ad that Facebook removed over the weekend that claimed Sen. Lindsey Graham supported the Green New Deal, highlighting how Facebook treats ads from political action groups differently than ads from politicians.
— News from the public sector:
-- A high school senior in Virginia is protesting his school's use of E-Hallpass, a digital tracker that monitors trips to the bathroom, nurse's office, and other places on campus for violating his privacy. His online petition highlights the student and parental privacy concerns sparked by the growing use of data-collecting applications by schools for everything from tracking homework to modifying behavior, my colleague Heather Kelly reports.
Parents who are asked to opt in to these technologies face a conundrum over whether to allow their children to use the services and how doing so will affect their digital footprint. E-Hallpass says that student data is not shared with third-party companies for marketing or advertising, and schools and parents can request data deletion.
But many apps are still selling easily de-anonymized data and track users, Girard Kelly, counsel and director of privacy review at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews technology and media targeting young people, told Heather. While there are laws dictating data privacy for users under 13, for the most part, schools are not legally obligated to get permission from parents to use specific software in classrooms.
The sometimes hundreds of apps employed by schools, each of which have different rules for storing data, have left parents feeling helpless.
“Everyone feels overwhelmed, everyone feels like they don’t know what they’re doing, and that’s because the technology is not transparent and does not allow for easy understanding of what your kid is using,” said Monica Bulger, a research affiliate at the independent, nonprofit Data and Society Research Institute.
— News from the private sector:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Coming up:
- The Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism will host a hearing entitled “How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time