with Tonya Riley

Tech industry leaders are aggressively criticizing President Trump’s immigration crackdown, warning the move could prevent them from recruiting the most highly-skilled workers from around the world. 

Many major companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter and top industry groups came out swinging against Trump’s sweeping order to block a broad range of worker visas until the end of the year. The president's proclamation applies to H-1B visas, which many tech companies rely on to bring engineers and other specialized workers to the United States. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Aaron Levie, the chief executive of Box, warned the restrictions could result in the next top tech company developing outside the United States: 

The Trump administration argues the order will protect U.S. workers struggling with job losses during the coronavirus pandemic, my colleagues Nick Miroff and Tony Romm report. The proclaimation will prevent foreign workers from filling 525,000 jobs, according to the administration’s estimates. 

But tech executives tell me the order couldn’t come at a worse time. 

Many tech companies in cloud and big data businesses have not been as adversely impacted by the pandemic as other sectors, especially as many workers log on from home. Companies still actively hiring worry Trunp's immigration order could prevent them from recruiting the best talent. 

“My gut reaction was, I cannot believe that that the administration is doing this at this time,” Doug Merritt, chief executive of the big data company Splunk, told me in an interview. Merritt warned the order could have a detrimental impact on innovation at a critical time during the pandemic, possibly impacting improving technology in health care.

“National borders and country of residence should not be a barrier when this is a global phenomena," he said. "It's not a national phenomenon.” 

The order only applies to H-1B visa applicants seeking to come to the United States, not workers who are now on American soil. But H-1B visas are key to Splunk's workforce, as the company relies on such visas to sustain more than 300 U.S.-based employees, or 5 percent of the company's workforce.  Splunk could not immediately say how many outstanding offers it has to H-1B candidates who would now be barred from coming.

Amazon slammed the move as “short-sighted.”

“Preventing high skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America’s economic recovery puts American’s global competitiveness at risk,” Amazon spokesman Brandon Scheller told me in a statement. 

The order is a clear blow at the tech industry, which has aggressively lobbied the White House on immigration. 

Immigration policy has been one of the top tension points between the Trump administration and tech companies. Since Election Day 2016, tech industry executives and investors have fretted that Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric would result in policies that could adversely affect their recruiting efforts. 

Tech companies have deployed a variety of tactics to fight the most aggressive of Trump's immigration policies. They've actively opposed some of the administration's early travel bans, as well as efforts to restrict Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Apple chief executive Tim Cook has also directly appealed to Trump on the issue. 

Such restrictions on immigration run counter to the tech industry's core values. 

Many of the top companies in the tech industry have founders or core executives who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. More than half of the top American tech companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants, tech investor Mary Meeker said in her 2018 report on the future of the Internet.

“Our business is all about getting the most talented technical team in the world together, and so we rely a lot on foreign visas,” Okta chief executive Todd McKinnon said in an interview. McKinnon estimates hundreds of the company's 2,500 workers are on such visas, underscoring how vital they are to the business. 

To be sure, the broad shift to remote work during the pandemic could make it easier for some companies to adapt to Trump's order. 

McKinnon said Okta's move to remote work has been accelerated by the broad stay-at-home orders. He said that could actually make it easier for some potential recruits to log on from outside the United States than before, adding he'll be letting applicants and employees concerned about the immigration crackdown know that could be an option. 

“It gives us an option in terms of getting top technical talent, even with these kinds of restrictions,” he said. 

Cook tweeted this morning:

Our top tabs

Twitter will not label President Trump's unfounded claim that foreign governments will interfere with mail-in ballots in U.S. elections.

The tweet said that foreign countries would print "MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS" and it would be "THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!"

Trump later tweeted “who knows where they are going, and to whom?” in reference to mail-in ballots:

Twitter said the tweet did not violate its  its Civic Integrity Policy, which says the company won't label "broad, non-specific statements about the integrity of elections or civic processes."

Twitter last month labeled a tweet by the president claiming mail-in ballots would result in “a rigged election" in California as “potentially misleading.” Voting experts say vote-by-mail fraud is rare. The company has since labeled other Trump tweets for glorifying violence and copyright violations.

Experts questioned Twitter's most recent decision given that claims that foreign powers could simply print ballots to interfere are unproven.

ProPublica elections reporter Jessica Huseman:

Current and former election officials also say that such a feat would be nearly impossible, Amy Gardner reported after Attorney General William P. Barr raised the possibility earlier this month.

Apple will roll out new privacy features – and in a sign of the times – an alert to remind you to wash your hands.

The coronavirus may have forced Apple's annual Worldwide Developer's Conference to go virtual this year, but the iPhone giant still announced a slew of new products and features. Geoffrey A. Fowler and Heather Kelly broke down the highlights:

Apple wants developers to show you exactly what data they're collecting.

Apple will require developers to self-report which kind of data their app collects and label information that could be used to track users across the Web. This will show up in a feature Apple compares to a nutrition label on packaged food. Apple's Safari browser will also have new features including a toolbar that gives users access to a report of which Web trackers Safari blocked.

The update will also allow users to customize their iPhone screen in new ways.

You can now add "widgets" that contain live information from apps directly to your home screen, saving you a few taps previously required to pull up the information. You can also pin iMessage conversations to the top of your screen.

Apple will help you properly wash your hands. The coronavirus-era feature will use your Apple Watch to detect signals that might indicate you're near a sink (like the sound of running water). The watch will then count down the doctor-recommended time for you to clean up. 

Tim Cook used his opening remarks to discuss protests of police brutality and to assert Apple's commitment to racial justice.

More than 1,600 Google employees are demanding the company stop selling its technology to police. 

The employees allege that Google's sales to police undermines its support for black employees and the black community, according to a letter sent to chief executive Sundar Pichai obtained by Megan Rose Dickey at TechCrunch

“We’re disappointed to know that Google is still selling to police forces, and advertises its connection with police forces as somehow progressive, and seeks more expansive sales rather than severing ties with police and joining the millions who want to defang and defund these institutions,” employees wrote in a letter. “We should not be in the business of criminalizing Black existence.”

Google is a partner and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, and its venture capital arm has invested in start-ups working on policing technologies, Megan writes. Employees cite concerns that the company has publicized its software partnership with a police department in Clarkstown, N.Y. that was sued for illegal surveillance of black activists. 

The letter comes as more tech employees are pressuring their employers to sever ties with local police and other law enforcement. Earlier this month, 250 Microsoft employees called on the company to cancel police contracts and to call for the defunding of the Seattle Police Department.

Rant and rave

One crowd less enthused by today's widget announcement? Android users, who pointed out that the rival operating system already has them. YouTuber James Morrison:

Video producer Marques Brownlee:

Verge editor Tom Warren pointed out another inspiration: Windows phones.

Hill happenings

HUD doesn't keep track of facial recognition use in public housing, the agency told members of Congress.  

Instead, the agency gives oversight to individual public housing authorities, Len Wolfson, the agency's assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental agencies, wrote in a May letter to lawmakers. Wolfson says federal funds are approved for surveillance equipment, but not facial recognition, Alfred Ng at CNET reports.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are now demanding the agency ban the use of the technology until it can ensure that it won't be used for discrimination and can conduct an investigation into which public housing authorities are using it.

It's obvious from this response that Housing and Urban Development has a lot of work to do to get a handle on whether facial recognition technology is being used on residents of public housing, who often have no choice in where they live or whether they will be subject to invasive surveillance, they wrote in a statement.

HUD's response comes nearly seven months after the two Democrats first called on the agency to investigate the use of facial recognition. The pair introduced legislation last year that would ban the technology in public housing. 

Inside the industry

Google will begin labeling some misleading photos in its image search. 

The new fact-checking feature is an expansion of the labels it uses on its main search results and on YouTube, Rachel Lerman reports. The label will appear as a small description on the photo; a larger preview of the photo will show a short summary and direct users to the fact-checking source.

More industry news:

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Daybook

  • The Aspen Institute will host a presentation of a nearly released report from the Transatlantic High Level Working Group on Content Moderation Online and Freedom of Expression today at 11 a.m. 
  • The Aspen Tech Policy Hub will host an event on "Protecting Your Digital Reality" Wednesday at 9 a.m. PT
  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on online disinformation on  Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. The hearing will cover disinformation related to covid-19 and the recent racial unrest.
  • The Bridge and All Tech is Human will host a discussion on Section 230 Thursday at 12 p.m. 
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will markup the EARN IT Act of 2020 on Thursday.
  • Carnegie's Partnership for Countering Influence Operations and Twitter will host an event on influence operations on Twitter on July 9 at 1 p.m.

All events are online unless otherwise indicated.

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