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Jeff Bezos is crowdsourcing Instagram about his spat with a Trump administration official: He's offering a “Seinfeld”-style “Serenity Now” to the Instagrammer who gives him the best advice.
The cheeky post shows how tensions have escalated between the Amazon chief executive and White House adviser Peter Navarro, just days after Navarro accused Bezos of backpedaling on a promise to meet about counterfeit products on Amazon, my colleagues Jeff Stein and Abha Bhattarai write.
The billionaire and Washington Post owner accused Navarro of interrupting him while he was talking to his father and girlfriend at the Alfalfa Club dinner last month, asking for the meeting:
View this post on Instagram
Let’s say you’re at a big cocktail party and someone you don’t know comes up to you while you’re talking to your dad and girlfriend and asks for a meeting. Let’s say this person is the kind of person who actually uses the word “minions” to describe the people who work for you. How do you respond: A) Yes, I’ll definitely meet with you. B) No, I won’t meet with you. C) Tell you what. Call so and so and they’ll work something out. D) Quietly resolve to become a shut-in. E) Something else (fill in the blank) A Seinfeld “Serenity Now!” button (second pic) for whoever comes up with the best answer.
The feud's escalation to Instagram memes underscores how Bezos has perhaps the most strained relationship with the Trump administration of any tech executive at the moment. Other tech chiefs have been seeking better relations with the administration in recent months, holding meetings and joint public appearances.
Yet the Amazon chief's relationship appears to only be devolving. Navarro, who took his complaints about Bezos's meeting snub public in a Washington Post interview earlier this week, described it to The Hill as: “A wonderfully banal passive aggressive post from the would-be author of ‘Zen and the Art of Counterfeit Trafficking.’” The Trump administration has been increasingly cracking down on counterfeits, and said last month it would start imposing fines on Amazon and other e-commerce sites that facilitate their sale.
In an email to Jeff and Abha, Navarro added: “How about the choice Jeff Bezos actually made when I spoke with him on January 28: F) ‘Peter, call my second-in-command Jay Carney and have him set up the meeting.’ That’s exactly what I did and now Bezos in hiding is simply trivializing one of the most important issues facing American consumers.” Navarro has railed against trade practices that could give Chinese companies an unfair advantage over U.S. companies.
Before the brawl this week, there were signs there was an easing of tensions between Bezos and at least some Trump administration officials: A few hours after the same dinner, he hosted President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for a party at his house in Washington.
Trump and the tech industry have a complicated relationship that's extended since even before the president took office. Bezos's feud is perhaps more personal because of the added tension due to Trump's criticism of The Washington Post.
Trump has frequently attacked Bezos on Twitter, and Bezos has clapped back. After the then-presidential candidate's swipe in 2015, Bezos joked that he was starting a campaign to send Trump to space on one of his space company's rockets.
Yet other tech executives — even others who have faced Trump's ire and personal attacks — have taken a much less adversarial approach to dealing with this White House and president. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, met privately with Trump on at least two separate occasions in the fall. Since then, Trump has appeared more conciliatory to the social network chief, even saying in a recent interview that Zuckerberg running for president “wouldn't be too frightening.”
Trump also recently broke bread with several executives on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He had breakfast with Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, per a Politico report. Cook has been doing more public events with the White House in recent months, and Benioff signed on to the White House's Pledge to American Workers, an initiative led by Ivanka Trump to create more jobs and keep unemployment rates low. Trump also had an animated conversation with Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai at the event, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Bezos is seeking a way to cool off. “Serenity Now” is what a “Seinfeld” character would say when he was starting to become angry and wanted to calm himself and keep his blood pressure down.
When my colleagues asked if Bezos would meet with Navarro, Amazon reiterated an earlier statement saying senior executives have met with administration officials, including Navarro, on “multiple occasions” to discuss counterfeits. Amazon is “eager to continue this collaboration and will make our executives available to meet as often as necessary to effectively address this issue.”
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: The Trump administration is using a database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in the United States for immigration and border enforcement, the Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau and Michelle Hackman report. The location data comes from smartphone apps, including games, weather and e-commerce.
The Department of Homeland Security used the location data to detect undocumented immigrants and others that might be entering the country illegally. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also used the data to help identify immigrants who were subsequently arrested. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used the data to look for cellphone activity in underpopulated places, such as remote reaches of the desert near the Mexican border.
It's one of the largest known troves of bulk data being used by U.S. law enforcement, and experts tell the Journal that the government appears to be on firm legal footing because it's coming from a commercial vendor.
“This is a classic situation where creeping commercial surveillance in the private sector is now bleeding directly over into government,” Alan Butler, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a think tank that pushes for stronger privacy laws, told Byron and Michelle.
NIBBLES: A U.S. appeals court announced last night that it will not reconsider an October ruling that largely upheld the repeal of net neutrality rules, David Shepardson at Reuters reported. The decision deals a huge blow to more than a dozen U.S. states, trade groups and tech advocacy groups that pushed the court to revisit the decision.
It's a win for Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai, who in 2017 led the agency to reverse the Obama-era rules requiring Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally.
The appeals court ruled in October that the FCC did not have the legal authority to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality laws, as my colleague Tony Romm reported at the time.
An effort to reinstate net neutrality passed the House in April, but was not picked up by the Senate.
“While today’s result is unfortunate, it’s not that surprising,” Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at Free Press, one of the advocacy groups to file the petition, said in a statement. “But we’ll keep weighing our legal options. And we’ll keep making the case in Congress, in statehouses and in future FCC proceedings about the need to restore the vital nondiscrimination rules that Chairman Pai ripped away.”
BYTES: Attorney General William P. Barr said the United States should consider taking an ownership stake in Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson to counter China’s growing dominance in the 5G wireless market, my colleagues Ellen Nakashima and Jeanne Whalen report.
The unusual proposal indicates that the Trump administration is mulling drastic measures in its campaign to convince foreign allies to ban Chinese-owned telecommunications company Huawei from their 5G networks.
“Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power,” Barr, a former Verizon lawyer, said. “We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach.”
U.S. officials have long argued that Huawei poses a national security risk and gives Beijing a backdoor for spying. Key allies, including Great Britain, have largely ignored the warnings, pushing the White House to consider new tactics. Trump unleashed “apoplectic” anger at Boris Johnson in a phone call after the United Kingdom prime minister announced a decision to allow Huawei a limited role in building his nation’s next-generation 5G telecommunications network, Sebastian Payne and Katrina Manson at the Financial Times report.
A U.S. trade regulator launched an investigation into Google after speaker maker Sonos complained the search giant imported products that infringe on its patents, Lauren Feiner at CNBC reports. The investigation adds to a growing list of investigations into Google's business practices at the federal and state level.
The U.S. International Trade Commission has 45 days to complete its probe, which will include a hearing with an administrative law judge. Sonos requests that the commission issue a limited cease-and-desist order on the imports.
Sonos filed a lawsuit against Google for allegedly violating its patents last month. The company's chief executive Patrick Spence also testified in front of the House antitrust subcommittee about his concerns.
Google denies the allegations. “Sonos has made misleading statements about our history of working together,” Google said in a statement to CNBC. “Our technology and devices were designed independently. We deny their claims vigorously, and will be defending against them.”
— More news from the private sector:
The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee warned against the federal government halting its use of facial recognition technology yesterday, Chris Mills Rodrigo at the Hill reports. Opposition from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) could hamper bipartisan efforts in the House to regulate use of the systems.
“We're not prying in folks' bedrooms. This is strictly a method of identification that helps keep us safe,” Thompson told reporters after a hearing on DHS's use of the technology. “And I think that would not put me on a moratorium route, but it would put me on the route to get us to 100 percent [accuracy]."
Government research shows that a majority of facial recognition systems are less accurate when used on nonwhite individuals.
Thompson's stance puts him at odds with House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who announced at a hearing last month that she and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) plan to soon introduce legislation that would halt government use of the technology.
— News from the public sector:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
- Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy in partnership with the Georgetown Law Technology Review will co-host a daylong conference on “Election Integrity in the Networked Information Era on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
— Coming up:
- The House Energy and Commerce committee will host a hearing “Autonomous Vehicles: Promises and Challenges of Evolving Automotive Technologies" Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- The Department of Justice will hold a public workshop in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19, 2020, titled “Section 230 – Nurturing Innovation or Fostering Unaccountability"
- Silicon Flatirons will host its “Technology Optimism and Pessimism” conference Feb. 9 and 10 at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. Speakers include Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra.
- Mobile World Congress takes place Feb. 24 to 27 in Barcelona.