with Aaron Schaffer
The statement ran as a full-page ad in major newspapers, including The Washington Post and the New York Times. The statement is the largest display so far of corporate opposition to the slew of restrictive new voting legislation, which seeks to respond to former president Donald Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud in the last election. Civil rights leaders have warned a recent law passed in Georgia -- and bills similar to being considered in statehouses throughout the country -- could make it harder for minorities to vote.
(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
The tech companies cast their push as nonpartisan, yet their move threatens to further exacerbate tensions with Republican lawmakers.
Major tech companies attempted to work with the GOP when the party controlled the White House and Congress, but some of their content moderation decisions in the wake of the 2020 election, including banning Trump, have strained their relationship. Signing on to the pledge could only make matters worse.
Top Republicans are already pushing back against the companies’ efforts, as my colleagues Todd C. Frankel, Josh Dawsey and Jena McGregor report.
“Major businesses who are getting in bed with the left, the corporate media and big tech ... these corporate executives have no backbone, they don’t want to be criticized by the corporate partisan media — they cave, they virtue signal in one direction,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a RNC meeting.
“You have these woke corporations who are colluding with all those folks," he continued. “We have to stand up for ourselves, we’ve got to fight back.”
This rhetoric could encourage efforts to regulate the tech giants in GOP-controlled statehouses, and also influence how Republicans approach tech regulation in Washington.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (R) has also attacked large companies as “woke” as he’s introduced new trust-busting legislation that would have major implications for large tech companies. Hawley's proposal would overhaul existing antitrust laws, including prohibiting all mergers and acquisitions by companies with more than a $100 billion market capitalization. That would effectively prohibit Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft from buying up smaller rivals.
Yet tech companies face unique pressures to speak out about against voting suppression, given their checkered history on the issue.
The topic is a particularly sensitive one for major social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube due to concerns that misinformation spreading on their platforms has led to voter suppression, especially among minority communities. Russian disinformation efforts on social media during the 2016 election particularly targeted African American voters, trying to dampen their turnout, my colleagues have reported.
That raises the stakes for major tech giants to join the rest of the corporate world in publicly taking a stand over restrictive legislation, especially as they face a Democrat-controlled Congress and White House eager to regulate them.
The companies’ proclamation indicates they'll continue to have a political voice in the post-Trump era.
Prior to Trump, tech corporations rarely weighed in on political issues and legislation, unless it directly affected their business. But the companies have been growing their political role over the past five years, especially since deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
It remains to be seen how far the companies will go to block the passage of new voting laws. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and former chairman of Linkedin, told my colleagues he expects the business community to keep fighting.
“My hope would be a willingness to go all the way on this issue,” he said.
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Republican lawmakers want the Biden administration to limit the sale of chip-making software to China.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo calling for new guardrails less than a week after our colleagues’ reported on Chinese military systems using American technology. The Biden administration quickly placed the firms under U.S. export controls, but the Republicans say that’s not enough.
The lawmakers call on the Commerce Department to take more decisive steps, like bulking up its export control regulations to require U.S. companies that produce the software to obtain licenses to export products to China, “to ensure U.S. companies as well as those from partner and allied countries are not permitted to sell the communists the rope they will use to hang us all."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is proposing a ban on the sale of Americans’ data to “unfriendly” foreign governments.
The sweeping proposal would join a set of federal privacy proposals that would also restrict the sale of Americans’ personal data, Drew Harwell reports. It would regulate the personal data trade under export-control laws, according to a copy of the draft bill reviewed by The Washington Post.
Wyden circulated the draft bill to lawmakers for discussion today.
“Our country’s intelligence leaders have made it clear that putting Americans’ sensitive information in the hands of unfriendly foreign governments is a major risk to national security,” Wyden said in a statement. The new legislation, he said, would “ensure that countries that can’t be trusted with Americans’ private information don’t get it.”
Ireland opened an investigation into a leak of Facebook user data.
The investigation by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) comes less than two weeks after 533 million Facebook user records, which included personal information like birth dates and biographical details, were shared online. The DPC said in a statement that it believes data laws “may have been and/or are being infringed,” noting that it opened the investigation after Facebook Ireland responded to its questions.
Facebook told the Associated Press that it is “cooperating fully” with the investigation and that “these features are common to many apps and we look forward to explaining them and the protections we have put in place.”
Personal information, such as phone numbers, belonging to well-known Facebook users including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and European commissioner for data protection Didier Reynders were reportedly included in the leak.
Rant and rave
Investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who was involved in the creation of the Real Facebook Oversight Board, which is critical of the social media giant:
BREAKING: The Irish Data Protection Commission has launched an inquiry into the data breach of 533 million Facebook users.— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) April 14, 2021
This is a BIG deal. A potential fine of 4% of Facebook's global turnover. And regulators showing TEETH. 👊👊👊 pic.twitter.com/MmUa047GPV
Facebook is in a league of its own, according to David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at The New School:
Congratulations to FACEBOOK for accruing 15 separate GDPR probes. No other company even comes close.— David Carroll (@profcarroll) April 14, 2021
Inside the industry
Microsoft says it will temporarily offer U.S. government agencies free technology to track their network activity after criticism by lawmakers.
The company will offer all of its clients in the federal government that use its Government Cloud software a one-year free trial to its advanced software called Advanced Audit, which will allow them to closely track activity on Microsoft software, Microsoft Federal president Rick Wagner said in a blog post. The move comes after blistering criticism from lawmakers including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has called for the government to stop giving government contracts to companies including Microsoft, which disclosed a massive Chinese hacking operation earlier this year.
When pressed about the federal government paying additional fees for the technology, Microsoft president Brad Smith previously told Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), that “we are a for-profit company” and “everything we do is designed to generate a return, other than our philanthropic work.”
- Richard Garriott, a founder of video game company Portalarium, was elected president of the Explorers Club, a professional society that promotes science and exploration, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was named its honorary chair. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
- Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speak at a Brookings Institution event on infrastructure today at 2 p.m.
- Kevin Walsh, the Government Accountability Office’s IT and cybersecurity director, and two government agencies’ chief information officers testify on IT acquisition before a House Oversight and Reform Committee panel on Friday at 9 a.m.
- Cecilia Muñoz, the director of former president Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, speaks at a New America CA event on gig workers on April 19 at 1 p.m.
- The House Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on rural broadband access on April 20 at 10 a.m.
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Just reassuring my best friend, a sentient can of meat, not to worry too much about the J&J vaccine pic.twitter.com/LTapEOCeA7— Washington Post TikTok Guy 🕺🏼 (@davejorgenson) April 14, 2021