with Tonya Riley

The Trump administration is continuing to wage war against Silicon Valley on immigration, even in its dwindling days in office. 

The Justice Department sued Facebook for allegedly illegally discriminating against U.S. workers for thousands of positions. The lawsuit claims that the company did not adequately advertise at least 2,600 jobs or consider applications from U.S. workers before making offers to foreign workers. That violates laws that require employers to demonstrate there are no qualified U.S. workers before offering positions to temporary foreign workers it’s sponsoring, it says. 

“Our message to workers is clear: if companies deny employment opportunities by illegally preferring temporary visa holders, the Department of Justice will hold them accountable,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

The lawsuit signals that Republicans could continue scrutinizing Big Tech on immigration well after Trump leaves office. 

Already, lawmakers from both parties have put Facebook under the microscope for its data security practices, allegedly anticompetitive behaviors and its content moderation processes. 

The new salvo over immigration is sure to worry tech companies other than Facebook. It's the first time the administration has brought legal action action against a tech giant claiming immigrant employment bias, according to the New York Times. And an escalation of Trump and other conservatives' long-running criticisms of H1-B visas, or temporary visas for highly-skilled foreign workers. Trump has long said he's fighting against the potential displacement of American workers and taken actions to restrict immigration and foreign travel. 

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the incoming chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, criticized Facebook in a tweet. 

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on pending litigation, but he said the company is “cooperating with the D.O.J. in its review of this issue.” He said the company disputes allegations in the complaint, but he did not specify which allegations. 

The lawsuit adds to Facebook's potential legal headaches. The Federal Trade Commission and states could also bring antitrust lawsuits against the tech giant as early as this month. 

The lawsuit signals Facebook could face greater political backlash to its long-running efforts to reform immigration. 

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been one of the top proponents of immigration reform in the tech industry and founded a non-profit group Fwd.US, with a goal of expanding the number of visas available for high skilled workers. 

Even thought the incoming Biden administration is expected to be far more friendly to the tech industry on immigration issues, it's unclear if meaningful changes will be possible, especially if Republicans continue to control the Senate. 

The lawsuit could have an impact on hiring throughout Silicon Valley. 

Kim Clarke, a lawyer at Varnum who advises employers on immigration and labor issues, told the Times that the Justice Department suit could impact how employers handle applications from foreign workers. 

“In the long run, if broader tech companies can’t hire the skilled talent on which they rely, their competitive positions will be hindered,” Ms. Clarke said. “The trickle-down effect of this action could impact even smaller employers that hire only a handful of foreign workers.”

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The U.S. government used a controversial surveillance program to secretly collect logs of website visitors. 

The White House's top intelligence official admitted to collecting the sensitive information just days after initially issuing a denial, Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports.

The new disclosures could fuel debate over reviving Section 215, the controversial surveillance tool used by intelligence officers, under the Biden administration. Congress did not renew the program when it sunset in March. 

The response raises “all kinds of new questions, including whether, in this particular case, the government has taken steps to avoid collecting Americans’ web browsing information,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)  told the Times.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence's acknowledgment of the practice came in response to a request from Wyden for information on whether the surveillance tool had been used to gather Internet browsing and search data. Wyden has called for excluding Internet browsing and search data from the tool's purview.

Privacy advocates also pointed to the revelation as another reason for change. “Our web-browsing records are windows into some of the most sensitive information about our lives — revealing everything from our political views to potential medical conditions,” said Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. “If Congress considers reviving Section 215 at all, it must prohibit the government from abusing this surveillance law to track the Web-browsing activities of people in the United States.

Facebook will remove false claims about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines. 

The policies announced yesterday refine Facebook's prohibition on misinformation related to the coronavirus and advertising opposing vaccines, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.  Facebook is a hub for groups that oppose vaccinations, which is allowed by Facebook. But those groups often have become hubs for misinformation about the coronavirus. 

This is a step up from Facebook's handling of misinformation about other vaccines, the New York Times notes. The company typically “downranked,” or made that content less visible, in people's news feeds. 

Human rights organization Avaaz found that three of the biggest sources of coronavirus misinformation on the platform were groups opposing vaccines. Anti-vaccination groups also promoted protests against pandemic shutdowns in the spring. 

Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy said the company is still developing its policy in advance of the introduction of a medically approved vaccine. The company already prompts users who search for vaccine content to visit credible public health resources. YouTube, which also hosts a large amount of anti-vaccine content, began removing videos with coronavirus vaccine misinformation in October.

Nearly 600 Google employees are calling for answers about the firing of a leading A.I. ethicist. 

The employee group behind previous walkouts over sexism at the company posted the letter Thursday in response to the firing of Timnit Gebru, co-leader of Google's Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team. Gebru says she was fired for criticizing the company's treatment of minorities, Drew Harwell and Nitasha Tiku report

The employees, joined by more than 800 researchers and industry partners, are demanding answers from Google AI Jeff Dean about why the company allegedly attempted to censor Gebru's research and fired her.

“Research integrity can no longer be taken for granted in Google’s corporate research environment, and Dr. Gebru’s firing has overthrown a working understanding of what kind of research Google will permit,” they wrote. “This is also a moment of reckoning beyond Google.”

Tensions between Gebru and the company flared after the company asked her to remove Google employees' names from or retract a research paper that was critical of an A.I. system used by Google, Gebru told Bloomberg News. Google sees the model Gebru criticized as potentially valuable to the future of its consumer products, one researcher familiar with the study told Drew and Nitasha.

"[S]top writing your documents because it doesn’t make a difference,” Gebru wrote to an employee mailing list, as Platformer first reported. “[Y]our life gets worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people, you start making the other leaders upset when they don’t want to give you good ratings during calibration.”

Alex Hanna, a researcher on Gebru’s team, tweeted that Dean was “now emailing the whole of the research organization, spreading misinformation and misconstruals about the conditions” of Gebru’s firing. “Google researchers: don’t buy it,” she added.

Google did not respond to a request for comment. Dean urged employees in an internal email to continue with their diversity efforts, as Platformer reported.

Rant and rave

Gebru's firing adds to the growing reckoning over the treatment of Black women in the tech industry.

Data scientist Rumman Chowdhury:

Other researchers accused Google of being more committed to money than diversity.

“People would think, ‘Timnit’s there, so it’s evidence that there’s an openness I’d have to work with people there on these issues,’ ” said Inioluwa Deborah Raji, an A.I. researcher on a fellowship with the Mozilla Foundation who has worked with Gebru. “Firing her in such a disrespectful way reveals that perhaps Google’s commitment to some of these issues was not as legitimate as previously believed.”

Ifeoma Ozoma also chimed in. Ozoma is one of two Black women who left key public policy roles at Pinterest and went public with claims of racial discrimination against the company this summer.

 

Hill happenings

Six Democratic senators want to know what virtual testing companies are doing to address student privacy.

The group cited recent media reports about the growing concern that the technology is vulnerable to racial biases, accessibility issues and false positives for cheating. The surveillance software, which has grown in popularity during the pandemic, has sparked student protests over its invasive nature. 

Now lawmakers want the industry's biggest companies to address any issues of racial biases and concerns around data privacy.

“Students have run head on into the shortcomings of these technologies — shortcomings that fall heavily on vulnerable communities and perpetuate discriminatory biases,” the senators led by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in letters to ExamSoft, Proctorio and ProctorU. “Students relying on your software to further their education have put a great deal of trust in you to reserve their privacy. You must be able to demonstrate that you are respecting students’ privacy.”

Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also signed the letters.

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  • The Atlantic Council will hold an event on the incoming U.S. administration and the future of supply chains in the Americas on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.

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