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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

A ‘watered down’ counterfeit crackdown won the support of Amazon, other sites

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Wednesday! We’re halfway there, folks. 

Below: We face facts on Facebook’s facial recognition about-face, and Apple draws an employee complaint.

A “watered down” counterfeit crackdown won the support of Amazon, other sites

E-commerce companies including Amazon are rallying around bipartisan legislation aimed at cracking down on counterfeits sold online, marking a shift in negotiations after months of sparring between lawmakers and the tech industry over attempts to regulate the issue.

But the platforms are notably endorsing a more modest proposal while resisting efforts seen as more threatening that could open them up to greater legal liability or make complying with new rules more challenging.  

Amazon, Etsy and eBay in recent weeks have all come out in favor of the House version of the INFORM Consumers Act, legislation that would require digital marketplaces to verify details about third-party vendors they work with and disclose some of this information to consumers. (Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Unspoken in those announcements is the fact that the companies have not endorsed the Senate version of the bill, which would require platforms to verify information about a larger pool of vendors — thus making it more difficult for companies to comply with the measure. The original Senate version also did not expressly preempt state laws, which the industry has pushed for. 

Several of the companies, meanwhile, are pushing back against a separate bill known as the SHOP SAFE Act that could open digital marketplaces up to lawsuits over the sale of counterfeit goods on their sites if they don’t meet a set of “best practices” to combat them. Companies have argued the proposal could have unintended consequences on e-commerce, while its backers have argued it is a crucial step to hold platforms accountable for counterfeit sales.

The debate is coming to a head after efforts to set new rules protecting consumers against counterfeit goods and services bought online languished for years.

The House Judiciary Committee recently advanced the SHOP SAFE Act, and lawmakers in the House and Senate held hearings in recent weeks discussing the INFORM Consumers Act. The flurry of activity, coupled with the recent industry endorsements, could signal lawmakers may finally have enough momentum to get some legislation passed after past failed attempts.

Tech companies, including Amazon, have lobbied aggressively against passage of counterfeit legislation in the past, notably a June attempt to include the INFORM Consumers Act into a major package aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness with China. 

But e-commerce companies came around on the House version of the bill after lawmakers addressed concerns that the original bill’s more onerous requirements would hurt small businesses that might have a harder time complying with its mandates. 

“We’re thankful for the progress that’s been made on the House version of the INFORM Act and look forward to supporting its passage,” Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman wrote in a blog post last Wednesday, echoing similar remarks by Etsy and eBay. 

But the months-long lobbying campaign targeting the bills hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the Senate version of the bill, on Tuesday rebuffed what he called efforts by Amazon to dilute the legislation further. 

“They have said recently, quote, ‘We look forward to working with lawmakers to further strengthen the bill,’ ” said Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The proposals that they’ve made over the years do not strengthen the bill. They strengthen Amazon’s hand in avoiding the bill.” He added, “I for one am not going to stand by and watch this watered down any further. We need to move on this.” 

Amazon declined to comment on the remarks. The company had praised the latest House version of the bill for including language to preempt state measures.

Durbin spokesperson Joe LaPaille said the remarks were in reference to the latest House version of the bill, which “represents a careful compromise that has achieved broad consensus support and, as Senator Durbin said at the hearing, should not be watered down any further.”

Dane Snowden, CEO of tech trade group the Internet Association, said Tuesday that requiring e-commerce sites to verify information about even more vendors, as the original Senate version proposed, could disproportionately hurt small businesses. 

“We are hoping that the barriers that … initially were in these bills will be lessened by raising the threshold … like the House bill has it right now,” Snowden said in an interview after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His group counts Amazon, Etsy and eBay as members.

Snowden also argued that the “current state of the INFORM Act is a stronger bill” than the SHOP SAFE Act, which Etsy, eBay and Walmart have all voiced concern about. 

Just because one of the proposals is gaining steam doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t look to pass both, however, or advance more legislation targeting the platforms.  

“None of the proposed solutions is a silver bullet,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said at Tuesday’s hearing. “There needs to be a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem.”

And don’t expect lawmakers to stop jockeying for their bills. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-sponsor of the Senate version of the SHOP SAFE Act, said that “SHOP SAFE and INFORM are both part of the solution” and that the bills “complement each other.” Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesperson for SHOP SAFE Act co-sponsor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that proposal “delivers a superior solution” to the INFORM Consumers Act because the latter grants “unwarranted authority” to regulators “rather than empowering trademark holders and other victims of counterfeit sales.”

Our top tabs

Democrats press Facebook on scaled-back plan to curb misinformation detailed by Post

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) expressed alarm toward Facebook in a letter Wednesday, citing reporting by The Washington Post that CEO Mark Zuckerberg raised objections internally to a prospective voting feature tailored for Spanish users because it might not be seen as “politically neutral.”

In a letter shared exclusively with The Technology 202, the senators wrote that they are “concerned by the reports that the plans developed at WhatsApp were blocked because of the view that further promoting access to accurate voting information could be perceived as political in nature.”

In response to the Post report, WhatsApp spokeswoman Christina LoNigro said, “WhatsApp did not propose pushing information to all users, which is not how WhatsApp works.”

The senators are calling on Facebook to provide additional information on the events and on “WhatsApp’s efforts to counter Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation.”

Facebook is ending its use of facial recognition technology

The social media network says it will delete data on at least a billion people, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Drew Harwell write. The company made the decision to scrap the technology, which it used to tag people in photos, after “careful consideration” and weighing the technology’s trade-offs.

“There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” wrote Jerome Pesenti, the company’s vice president for artificial intelligence. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

Facebook “did more than anyone to normalize” the controversial technology, Lizza and Drew write. “The company — which for years had a self-proclaimed ‘move fast and break things’ ethos — has historically pushed forward with products that have resulted in outcries from privacy experts and the public.”

The company has faced legal challenges over its facial recognition technology. Last year, “Facebook agreed to pay roughly half a billion dollars to settle a class-action case alleging the company violated Illinois law in the way it collected data for its facial recognition tools,” Lizza and Drew write.

Another former Apple employee has complained to federal regulators

Former Apple Maps product manager Janneke Parrish argues that she was fired in an “attempt to nip-in-the-bud the successful organizing campaign that Parrish and her co-workers established to address and redress employees’ workplace concerns,” Reed Albergotti reports. Apple told her that she was fired for deleting apps and files from a company phone during an investigation by Apple.

Parrish, a leader of the #AppleToo movement at the company, is at least the third Apple employee to file an allegation that the National Labor Relations Act had been violated. If the National Labor Relations Board finds that her charge has merit, it can file a complaint and try to get remedies.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock previously said the company has “always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace.” He said Apple doesn’t discuss specific employee matters. 

Rant and rave

Twitter had quite a range of reactions to Facebook's announcement about facial recognition. Here's how Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin summed it up:

The Freedom of the Press Foundation's Parker Higgins:

True Ventures partner emeritus Om Malik:

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan:

Comedy writer and producer Brittany Van Horne:

Inside the industry

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming steps down as chairman - source (Reuters)

The latest space race is all about improving Internet access. Here’s what you should know. (Chris Velazco)

Google News to relaunch in Spain after mandatory payments to newspapers scrapped (The Verge)

Yahoo Pulls Out of China, Ending Tumultuous Two-Decade Relationship (Wall Street Journal)

Trending

The latest Oculus Quest update will help to prevent accidental dog punching (The Verge)

Musk tweets ancient Chinese poem in possible nod to crypto spat (Bloomberg)

Mentions

  • Cisco Minthorn is joining the Information Technology Industry Council as its vice president for government affairs. He was previously Intel’s senior director of government relations and senior counsel.

Daybook

  • Tim Wu, a special assistant to President Biden for technology and competition policy, speaks at the American Bar Association Antitrust Law Section’s Fall Forum on Nov. 9. Acting assistant attorney general for antitrust Richard Powers; Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and three FTC commissioners also plan to speak.

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