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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Senators are pushing to bring tech giants to the negotiating table with publishers

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Wednesday! For those waiting on the Senate to vote on President Biden's FCC and FTC nominees, you'll have to wait a little longer: The Senate Commerce Committee confirmed last night their markup has been delayed due to a health matter

Below: Google chief executive Sundar Pichai speaks out about antitrust legislation, and Tesla faces safety complaints. First:

Senators are pushing to bring tech giants to the negotiating table with publishers

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) says publishers are in need of a lifeline. For years, their profits have shrunk as Google and Facebook have come to dominate the digital advertising market. 

“It’s not because of [a] lack of talent or passion for work,” Klobuchar told me in an interview Tuesday. “It’s a lack of revenue.” Now, she’s forging ahead with a rescue plan. 

On Wednesday, Klobuchar’s antitrust panel will discuss a bill that would allow publishers to collectively negotiate terms for how their content is distributed with the major tech platforms — a move aimed at creating leverage for outlets to secure more revenue from tech giants. 

It’s the latest piece of lawmakers’ sprawling antitrust agenda to gain momentum as officials look to rein in the conduct of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies. 

And it’s a tactic that’s picked up steam globally, with countries like Australia and Canada weighing or enacting similar measures to give publishers more bargaining powers. 

The efforts have faced fierce resistance from the industry, with Google initially threatening to block its search engine in Australia if the country’s bill on the matter was enacted and Facebook temporarily blocking Australian users from sharing news stories on its site

Klobuchar said those actions underscore the need for legislative action in the United States, particularly to protect local news publishers.

“If they are willing to take on an entire industrialized nation, a little newspaper in Lanesboro, Minn., doesn't stand a lot of chance,” she said. “So that’s why this idea of allowing the local news outlets the ability to collectively negotiate for fair compensation is a good one.”

Klobuchar said the session will be “entirely devoted” to the bill — the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, S.673 — which lawmakers are tweaking and she’s hoping to advance this Congress as part of the chamber’s broader antitrust efforts. 

“There’s a number of bills [under discussion] and this bill actually, you know, gets at a part of this that has been so devastating for our democracy and the First Amendment,” she said. 

The legislation has picked up broad bipartisan support, including from some unlikely corners. 

In addition to the lead Republican co-sponsors in the House and Senate — Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) co-sponsored the bill last Congress, while serving as majority leader. 

That bipartisan coalition makes the bill a contender to advance on Capitol Hill and potentially be signed into law, particularly given that it’s being spearheaded by Congress’ top two Democrats on antitrust issues: Klobuchar and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.). 

The bill remains a top priority for Cicilline, who would like to see it advance out of committee, said Jennifer Bell, his spokesperson.

But the bill also faces opposition from allies of both Klobuchar and Cicilline, who argue it could actually hurt local outlets by giving larger publishers more leverage in talks. 

In a letter shared exclusively with The Technology 202, over a half-dozen advocacy groups and nonprofits including Public Knowledge, the Wikimedia Foundation and Fight for the Future warned that the legislation could “entrench existing power relationships among both news organizations and digital platforms and alter the free and open nature of the internet.”

“News giants with the greatest leverage would dominate the negotiations and small outlets with diverse or dissenting voices would be unheard if not hurt,” the groups wrote Wednesday in a letter to Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Lee (Utah.), the Senate antitrust panel’s top Republican.

While the groups said they wanted to “make clear that we oppose the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act,” they suggested changes to strengthen the bill and said they backed its aims.

Asked on Tuesday about criticisms that the proposal could favor larger publishers over smaller and local news outlets, Klobuchar pushed back on the argument. 

“I don’t see it that way because it would allow for them to collectively negotiate and … I know, the small newspapers in my state are huge fans of this bill.” She added, “I think that what this does is allow for the potential that content is going to be paid for appropriately and that journalists’ work will be compensated for instead of stolen.”

Facebook spokesman Chris Sgro said in a statement that publishers “choose to share and make their stories available on Facebook because they get value from doing so.” The company is the past has strongly disputed assertions that publishers' content is “stolen” by Facebook, calling the claim “false.”

Google spokeswoman Charlotte Smith said in a statement that a “sustainable future for the news industry requires continued innovation, sensible regulation, and the public and private sectors to work together,” and Google remains “committed to doing our part.”

While Klobuchar is also pursuing a slew of other antitrust bills targeting Big Tech, she said she’s hoping to seize on the global momentum for this proposal to make headway.

“Our country can’t just stand alone as the only one that is just letting Big Tech run wherever they want and take whatever they want,” she said. “And so that’s why I think that the support that you’re seeing internationally on this front is really important.”

Our top tabs

Google’s CEO doubled down on criticisms of a major antitrust bill

During a call to announce fourth-quarter earnings, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company was in favor of “sensible updated regulations” such as a federal privacy bill or new online protections for children. But he echoed statements made in January by Google’s lobbyists when it came to a bill currently in front of legislators which would stop Big Tech companies from boosting their own products over others on their platforms, Gerrit De Vynck reports for The Technology 202.

“We are genuinely concerned that they could break a wide range of popular services we offer to our users, all the work we do to make our products safe, private and secure, and in some cases can hurt American competitiveness by disadvantaging solely U.S. companies,” Pichai said.

Google’s lobbyists and proxies have argued that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act could require them to give spammy websites prominence and let other companies offer security protections for Google products like Gmail and YouTube, rather than using the company’s existing security tools. Jane Meyer, spokeswoman for lead bill sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), said “big tech companies and their allies have spent months spreading misinformation about this bill.”

Pichai himself does not directly address hot-button topics like antitrust and misinformation very often. When Google does issue statements, it normally does so the company’s perspective is usually communicated by subordinates like head of global affairs Kent Walker or even unsigned blogs. 

Tesla vehicles are unexpectedly slamming their brakes, leading to a surge in complaints to federal authorities

Tesla vehicles are hitting the brakes because of imagined hazards, like oncoming traffic on two-lane roads, Faiz Siddiqui and Jeremy B. Merrill report. Reports of phantom braking to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rose to 107 complaints in the past three months, compared with only 34 in the preceding 22 months.

“The automaker was forced to recall a version of its ‘Full Self-Driving’ software in October over false positives to its automatic emergency braking system that it said were triggered by the software update,” they write. “Complaints surged following the recall and remain elevated, signaling continued owner concern.”

The complaints also coincide with Tesla ending use-of-radar sensors in its vehicles to supplement their cameras, which help perceive the vehicles’ surroundings.

“NHTSA is aware of complaints received about forward collision avoidance and is reviewing them through our risk-based evaluation process,” NHTSA spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez said. “This process includes discussions with the manufacturer, as well as reviewing additional data sources, including Early Warning Reporting data. If the data show that a risk may exist, NHTSA will act immediately.”

Rant and rave

Google started rolling out a feature to convert reactions sent from Apple's iMessage for Android users who use the Google Messages app. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Joseph Ferguson:

The New York Times's Shira Ovide:

ProPublica's Allen Tan:

Inside the industry

Dorsey says Zuckerberg should have focused on Bitcoin, not Diem (Bloomberg)

Big Tech increases funding to US foreign policy think-tanks (Financial Times)

White House on Spotify’s Joe Rogan mess: “There is more that can be done” to inform users (Hollywood Reporter)

Privacy monitor

Civil rights groups launch effort to stop IRS use of 'flawed' ID.me facial recognition (ZDNet)

Mentions

  • April McClain-Delaney, the former Washington director of Common Sense Media, has joined the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information. Former Chattanooga, Tenn., Mayor Andy Berke has joined as a special representative for broadband.
  • Discord appointed Block chief financial officer Amrita Ahuja and former Netflix chief marketing officer Leslie Kilgore to its board of directors.

Trending

'No war pls' — Gen Z is spamming Putin's Instagram asking him not to start World War III (Task and Purpose)

Daybook

  • Facebook parent Meta holds an investor call on its earnings on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s consumer protection committee hosts a hearing on price gouging on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee considers legislation to rein in the dominance of Apple and Google’s app stores on Thursday at 9 a.m.
  • The House Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee holds a hearing on 5G technology and aviation security on Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • Tim Wu, a special assistant to President Biden, discusses antitrust and its effects on workers at a New America event on Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. 

Before you log off

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