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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

The Facebook whistleblower’s revelations are rocking the U.K., too

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! We hope you find time this weekend to take a break from Section 230 Twitter and tech antitrust Twitter, as we are.

Below: All the backlash from Section 230 Twitter and tech antitrust Twitter to recent legislative proposals, and more on LinkedIn's China conundrum. First up:

The Facebook whistleblower’s revelations are rocking the U.K., too

Whistleblower Frances Haugen’s proposal to create a new digital regulator to police tech giants like Facebook may not be going anywhere in the United States anytime soon. 

But a top lawmaker in the United Kingdom said Haugen’s remarks have bolstered the case to supercharge their own regulator and give it greater powers to rein in Silicon Valley behemoths. 

Damian Collins, former chair of Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said the troves of Facebook’s internal research that Haugen made public, along with her recommendations, will inform legislation they are considering targeting online harms.

“We're looking forward to not only hearing about her experience, but her recommendations for how we create the kind of regulatory regime we're looking at,” Collins, whose committee will hear testimony from Haugen on Oct. 25, told The Technology 202 on Thursday.

Collins, an outspoken critic of industry giants like Facebook, said Haugen’s input could shape what tools they give regulators to obtain internal research from companies, like what she disclosed. The U.K. proposal, known as the Online Safety Bill, would give the country’s communications regulator new powers to punish companies that don’t do enough to mitigate harmful and illegal content and protect users. 

That may include giving the regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the ability to compel companies to share internal research and documents about how its products may be causing harm to users. “For this to be effective, that has to be a part of what the Online Safety Bill delivers,” Collins said.

Lawmakers in the U.S. have called Haugen’s leaks and recent testimony to the Senate a turning point in efforts to crack down on giants like Facebook. Collins said the revelations are a pivotal moment for global efforts to rein in Big Tech as well. 

“I think this really drives home the case for external regulation because what Frances Haugen is demonstrating is that the companies are well aware of the problems that have been caused, they’re well aware of the harms that have been caused, and who has been harmed,” he said.

Her disclosures about how Instagram may worsen body image issues for teens have been particularly “damaging” and resonant for the millions of social media users who have children of their own, Collins said. “This comes from specific insights within the company,” he added. (Facebook has sharply pushed back on Haugen’s assertions and characterizations in the media of the research.)

During her recent Senate testimony on kids’ safety, Haugen made the role algorithms play in sometimes amplifying harmful content a focus of her critiques. Collins said he sees the issue as a key component of the legislation they are trying to advance in the U.K. 

“As far as we're concerned, amplification is absolutely within the scope of the bill, and is one of the areas where the companies will be held to account,” he said.

Haugen isn’t the only whistleblower lawmakers in the U.K. are eager to hear from. Former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang is set to appear before Collins’s panel Monday. 

Collins said Zhang’s perspective will be crucial to understanding to what extent Facebook is successfully cracking down on networks of fake accounts that are seeking to spread disinformation, particularly in areas outside Western Europe and the United States. 

“It also gets into the kind of resources that companies like Facebook put behind moderating this sort of activity and the harm that it can cause and whether they invest enough certainly in those markets that are less probably commercially important to Facebook,” he said.

Collins’s panel on Thursday heard testimony from three other social media experts: New York University researcher Laura Edelson, Stanford Internet Observatory technical research manager Renée DiResta and former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot. 

Collins said the session raised questions about whether the scope of the U.K.’s Online Safety Bill should target online ads as well as organic user content. 

“I think that was an important point for us,” he said. 

Our top tabs

State attorneys general are looking into the subjects of documents leaked by Haugen

John Tye, a lawyer for Haugen, said his team has shared some of the documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission with state attorneys generals in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Nebraska and Tennessee, Cat Zakrzewski reports.

More than a dozen Democratic state attorneys general are demanding information from Facebook about how it handles vaccine misinformation in response to revelations from documents Haugen leaked to the Wall Street Journal. The regulators want to know if high-profile users known for spreading anti-vaccine content were protected by a Facebook system that shields VIP users from normal enforcement procedures.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone referred The Washington Post to previous statements noting that the company has removed more than three-dozen pages, groups and accounts linked to the users, who are known as the “disinformation dozen.” The company has also imposed penalties so fewer people can see their posts, Stone said.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D), who led the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, signaled that he is looking at a broad array of possible harms in the way Facebook operates. “We’re looking at all manners which they push information out through their platform and how that information puts people at risk,” Tong said.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn is leaving China

LinkedIn said it made the decision after “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China,” the Wall Street Journal’s Liza Lin and Stu Woo report. It was the last major American social media network openly operating in the country.

In March, China’s government forced the social media network to suspend new user sign-ups in the country for 30 days after it found politically objectionable content on the site, three people briefed on the matter told the New York Times. In recent weeks, LinkedIn has come under pressure by U.S. lawmakers for its censorship of journalists who reported on Chinese human rights issues.

LinkedIn will replace its China website with a job board that doesn’t have social media features, the company said. The Biden administration welcomed LinkedIn’s move, an administration official told the Journal. China’s Washington embassy did not respond to a request for comment from the outlet.

Lawmakers and industry groups criticized major technology legislation

Major technology industry groups quickly blasted a new bill by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that would make it illegal for major tech companies to give their products and services an edge over rivals’.

  • NetChoice, whose members include Amazon, Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter, argued that the bill “puts the interests of corporations ahead of consumers by banning useful services that Americans value because competitors say those services are difficult to compete against.”

Industry groups also criticized a bill led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) that seeks to hold platforms responsible for the personalized recommendations they make to users that lead to harm. 

  • The Internet Association, whose members include Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, argued that the legislation could have unintended consequences and “unintentionally disrupt the many systems in place that protect consumers from potentially harmful content.”

Lawmakers also responded to the bill.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-wrote Section 230, said he worries about "approaches that use Section 230 as a bank-shot attempt to regulate lawful speech. These approaches are unlikely to solve the problems with harmful content, will silence marginalized groups and raise real First Amendment concerns as well.”

Rant and rave

Waymo's cars were confused by something rather low-tech: a quiet street in San Francisco. The New York Times's Farhad Manjoo:

The MIT Technology Review's Eileen Guo:

Twitter personality “darth”:

Inside the industry

Chinese Telecom Giant ZTE in Dispute With U.S. Court-Appointed Monitor (Wall Street Journal)

S.Korea targets Apple over new app store regulation (Reuters)

Facebook Should Clarify Terms of Service, Irish Privacy Regulator Says (Wall Street Journal)

YouTube’s stronger election misinformation policies had a spillover effect on Twitter and Facebook, researchers say. (New York Times)

Mentions

  • David Bain is joining the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards, a division of the Information Technology Industry Council, as executive vice president. He previously worked as executive director of the Tech Integrity Council.

Trending

Dubbing movies and TV is the next frontier for machine learning and AI (Steven Zeitchik)

Daybook

  • New York City’s chief technology officer, John Paul Farmer, speaks at an Aspen Institute event about broadband inclusion on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.
  • Alondra Nelson, deputy director for science and society at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, participates in a Brookings Institution event on technology equity on Oct. 21 at 2 p.m.

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