with Aaron Schaffer

The tech industry is nervous about the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission. 

The latest sign: Facebook sought to block FTC Chair Lina Khan from participating in decisions about the agency’s high-profile antitrust case against the social network.

The social media company argued in a new recusal petition that Khan’s work before joining the commission shows that she “had already decided the material facts relevant to Facebook’s liability in the Commission’s pending antitrust lawsuit and already reached legal conclusions that Facebook was liable under the antitrust laws.”

The petition cites repeated criticisms of Facebook and other tech companies in Khan’s professional history, including her work on the congressional investigation into large tech companies’ power, and her academic writing and her role at the Open Markets Institute, an organization backed by groups that advocate for breaking up Big Tech. (The petition’s filing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.)

Khan's views on antitrust present an existential threat to tech giants' current business operations. 

Just weeks into her tenure as chair, Khan has emerged as a symbol of greater antitrust enforcement in the Biden administration. Khan was standing right next to the president last week as he signed a sweeping competition order, and shortly after announced plans to review how the federal government handles mergers. 

That's a direct hit at the path many tech companies took to dominance. Facebook's filing also comes just two weeks before the FTC’s deadline to refile an amended antitrust suit against the social network, after a federal judge threw out its first complaint last month for failing to prove that Facebook maintained a monopoly.

With this filing, Facebook is taking a page from Amazon’s playbook. The e-commerce giant filed a similar petition two weeks ago, arguing that Khan would be unable to oversee matters involving the company with “an open mind.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) 

The FTC declined to comment on Facebook’s move. 

But Khan noted during her Senate confirmation hearing that she holds “none of the financial conflicts or personal ties that are the basis of recusal under federal ethics laws.”

“I would be approaching these issues with an eye to the underlying facts and the empirics and really be following the evidence,” she said in response to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who asked whether her work on the 16-month House investigation into the power of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon would be a basis for recusal.

Tommaso Valletti, a professor at Imperial College, called the filing an “act of intimidation.” 

Facebook spokesman Chris Sgro said Wednesday the company is making the request to “protect the fairness and impartiality of these proceedings.”

“Chair Khan has consistently made well-documented statements about Facebook and antitrust matters that would lead any reasonable observer to conclude that she has prejudged the Facebook antitrust case brought by the FTC,” he said in a statement.

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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy says misinformation is “a serious threat to public health.” 

The surgeon general's new report calls for a “whole-of-society effort” to address health misinformation. It specifically calls for tech platforms to make investments to address misinformation. 

Murthy's report recommends that tech companies redesign recommendation algorithms to avoid amplifying falsehoods, build in suggestions and warnings to prevent the sharing of misinformation and make it easier for people to report lies and distortions they see spreading on social media. It also calls for the companies to strengthen their content moderation teams, especially in languages other than English. The companies should also prioritize the detection of “super-spreaders” and repeat policy offenders. 

“Impose clear consequences for accounts that repeatedly violate platform policies,” he writes. 

The report comes as the Biden administration has been stepping up its efforts to promote vaccinations. The report concludes that health misinformation has hindered these efforts. 

“While health misinformation has always been a problem, today it spreads at unprecedented speed and scale,” the report says. “We are all still learning how to navigate this new information environment. But we know enough to be sure that misinformation is an urgent threat, and that we can and must confront it together.” 

Regulators sued Amazon over its refusal to recall dangerous products.

The complaint sets up a fight over the amount of responsibility the e-commerce giant should have over products on its site, Todd C. Frankel and Jay Greene report. It came after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Amazon and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which tried to convince the company that it had to follow CPSC rules, according to a senior agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal discussions.

Amazon refused to acknowledge that the CPSC has the authority to force it to remove dangerous products, the official said, and a lawsuit was seen as a last resort.

Amazon spokeswoman Cecilia Fan said the company offered to expand its recall capabilities, but “we are unclear as to why the CPSC has rejected that offer or why they have filed a complaint seeking to force us to take actions almost entirely duplicative of those we’ve already taken.”

 

Hundreds of Amazon employees have complained about sales of books that allude to transgender people being mentally ill.

The April complaint posted on an internal message board reflects discord at the company about sales of books painting LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses, NBC News’s April Glaser reports. The company told Republican senators in March that it had “chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

At least two employees have quit over the decision to continue selling a book exploring what it calls a “trans epidemic.” Amazon is the country’s second-largest employer. 

Amazon determined that the book didn’t violate its policies, the Seattle Times previously reported. Amazon spokeswoman Cecelia Fan said the company is committed to selling books that reflect a variety of viewpoints. “As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to written speech and a variety of viewpoints is one of the most important things we do — even when those viewpoints differ from our own or Amazon’s stated positions,” she said.

Twitter took action on more accounts for violating hate speech policies in the second half of 2020.

The company said it took action ranging from removing a tweet to banning an account on more than 1 million accounts in the second half of the year, Bloomberg News’s Kurt Wagner reports. It’s a 77 percent increase over the first half of the year, and comes after the company expanded its definition of hate speech in December.

The company also saw a 26 percent rise in demands to take down posts by journalists or news outlets. Most of the legal demands the company generally gets come from Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea.

Rant and rave

Twitter reacted to the demise of Fleets, the social media platform's disappearing tweets feature, with…tweets. Pop culture site Vulture:

Writer Hunter Harris:

Creative strategist and copywriter Amy Brown:

Inside the industry

Privacy monitor

Many Americans share contacts with apps. Privacy experts say an overhaul is overdue.

The way contacts are shared hasn't changed significantly for nearly a decade, Heather Kelly reports. Contacts not only reveal relationships, but they also sometimes contain sensitive information such as birthdays, addresses and door codes.

The Washington Post contacted more than 30 companies with third-party apps that use contacts to ask about the data collected, what it is used for and when it gets deleted. One-third did not respond, and seven — including prominent companies such as Zoom, LinkedIn and Venmo — wouldn't say what information they were taking from contacts. A majority of the companies that shared details said they only accessed basic information.

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Mentions

  • Netflix hired Mike Verdu as vice president of game development as it plans an expansion into video games, Bloomberg reports. Verdu previously worked at Facebook.

Daybook

  • The Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on critical supply chains like semiconductors today at 10:30 a.m.
  • The House Financial Services Committee’s artificial intelligence task force convenes a hearing on identity verification technologies on Friday at noon.
  • A House Intelligence Committee panel holds a hearing on microelectronics security and innovation on July 20 at 10 a.m. 
  • Patreon policy head Laurent Crenshaw discusses patent policy at an Engine seminar on July 20 at 4 p.m.

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