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The missive takes aim at the Trump Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute a case against former Republican FTC commissioner Joshua Wright, who the FTC's inspector general found had violated ethics laws banning officials from lobbying on issues they had “personally and substantially” worked on. The scheme was laid out in a Bloomberg News report.
The groups say the federal government’s handling of the case poses a “lingering threat to public trust” and raises broader questions about whether industry influence has hobbled the FTC’s ability to regulate the tech sector.
The FTC filed a lawsuit accusing tech giant Qualcomm of maintaining a monopoly in 2017, a case Wright, an appointee of former president Barack Obama, had cast a preliminary vote on when he was a commissioner. According to reports by the Tech Transparency Project and Bloomberg News, the FTC’s inspector general later found that Wright improperly lobbied the FTC on behalf of Qualcomm, which is also a top donor to the law school where he works, after the monopoly suit was filed.
Wright’s name was redacted in the report, but he confirmed to Bloomberg News that it was about him, and said that he believes he did nothing wrong. “I never made any appearance at the FTC involving its enforcement action against Qualcomm or discussed the merits of the case with any FTC official,” he said of his post-FTC work. Wright did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Wright’s case was referred to the DOJ, which decided not to act on it.
“Unfortunately, given what is known about the lengths the Department of Justice went to during the last administration to protect political allies, the public has little reason to trust the integrity or wisdom of that decision,” the two groups, Government Information Watch and the Revolving Door Project, wrote in a letter to the FTC on Thursday.
Now, they are urging the FTC to refer the case back to the DOJ’s criminal division and to “conduct a thorough investigation” into whether “related and similar ethical violations” took place and went unaddressed in recent years.
“Without examining potential industry intellectual capture, shadow lobbying, and influence-peddling within the FTC, we fear you cannot truly aim to regulate effectively,” the groups wrote. The letter was co-signed by Marshall Steinbaum, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Utah.
The FTC declined to comment on the letter; the DOJ said it did not expect to have comment.
The letter echoes long-standing criticisms that the FTC has been ineffective at keeping the booming tech sector in check, in part due to industry influence over its decision-making, whether improper or not.
It arrives as the agency is expected to dial up scrutiny of Silicon Valley to historic heights.
President Biden sent shock waves through the tech industry in June by naming Lina Khan, a prominent critic of Silicon Valley giants, to chair the FTC. The appointment raised expectations that the agency could break away from what critics say has been a historically laissez-faire mentality.
But the agency has been hamstrung for almost the entirety of Biden’s term so far by vacancies that have prevented Democrats from seizing a majority and enacting their aggressive agenda.
That may soon change. Senate Democrats inched closer to confirming FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya with a committee vote Thursday. Barring any unforeseen roadblocks, Bedoya’s confirmation would finally give Democrats a 3-to-2 majority on the commission and unlock their ability to pursue more stringent tech regulation.
With an ambitious agenda on deck, Wright’s case may test how much the Biden-era FTC and DOJ want to spend time and energy re-litigating ethics concerns from previous administrations.
But the watchdog groups say revisiting those cases is a crucial step toward restoring public trust in the agency, which could hinder that agenda.
“The lack of credible resolution to these troubling allegations casts a shadow over the agency’s integrity at a moment when it is launching [its] most ambitious agenda in decades,” they wrote.
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Russian state media outlet RT America’s production company is closing
RT America’s production company, T&R Productions, said it is laying off its staff because of “unforeseen business interruption events,” Jeremy Barr reports. It comes after social media companies restricted access to RT in Europe and U.S. satellite television giant DirectTV said that, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it was dropping RT America from its lineup. The move by T&R Productions was first reported by CNN and the Daily Beast.
“RT — originally standing for ‘Russia Today’ — was launched by Vladimir Putin in 2005 as his answer to global media networks like CNN, with outlets in several Western nations, including the U.S., sharing the Kremlin’s perspective on world events,” Jeremy writes. “In the U.S., RT America has lately covered Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine as a minor incursion intended for defensive purposes, drawing increasingly loud criticism.”
T&R Productions registered as a foreign agent in 2017 after the Justice Department concluded that it had to do so. At the time, the Justice Department argued that RT and its Russia-funded owner, TV-Novosti, were “proxies of the Russian Government.” T&R Productions spent more than $35 million on salaries, production costs and other expenses last year alone, according to Justice Department filings. It received around $34 million from TV-Novosti, according to the filings.
TikTok is developing state media policy after Ukraine pressure
The social media app has long tried to avoid topics like propaganda, misinformation and state-controlled media, but the Russia-Ukraine conflict is forcing it to do so, Gerrit De Vynck, Cat Zakrzewski and Elizabeth Dwoskin report. TikTok says it’s developing a policy for dealing with state-controlled media, and it has begun using the words “war” and “Ukraine” in public statements.
“Along with Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, TikTok has been flooded by a confusing mishmash of propaganda, images repurposed from previous conflicts, and real footage of actual events in Ukraine over the past week,” they write. “Under pressure from Ukrainian, American and E.U. officials, all of the companies have blocked Russian state media in Europe and taken down some misleading and false posts about the war.”
TikTok continues to “respond to the war in Ukraine with increased safety and security resources to detect emerging threats and remove harmful misinformation and other violations of our Community Guidelines,” spokeswoman Jamie Favazza said.
Ukraine’s government raised more than $42 million in cryptocurrency donations
The challenge pwill be how the country cashes out the cryptocurrency haul, Nitasha Tiku and Jeremy B. Merrill report. Some of the donations were converted to euros so the government could buy equipment like drones, bulletproof vests and gasoline. The country hasn’t sold any of the more than 180 donated digital artworks, which are known as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
Ukraine’s 31-year-old deputy prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, first asked for cryptocurrency donations on Telegram and Twitter. Ukraine’s official Twitter account boosted the plea.
Skeptics say it’s not clear that cryptocurrency is necessary for donations. “Ukrainians are not the ones cut off from the global financial system, so there’s nothing stopping them from receiving donations via GoFundMe, the Red Cross, or any other platform and [nongovernmental organization],” said Lee Reiners, a former senior associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He added: “Last time I checked, you can’t buy Javelins [missiles] with bitcoin.”
Rant and rave
The closure of RT America was a hot topic on Twitter, where users posted questions, jokes and takeaways. Shorenstein Center research fellow Jane Lytvynenko:
As RT folds and gets blocked across Europe, I continue to wonder why social media platforms don't remove it worldwide along with individual known pro-Kremlin propagandists. https://t.co/Td6K9oge11— Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) March 3, 2022
CyberScoop's Tonya Riley:
okay but...two months of paid severance is better than a lot of U.S. media companies 🙃https://t.co/FystYve0aC— Tonya Riley (@TonyaJoRiley) March 3, 2022
Insider's Walter Hickey:
"unforeseen" doing a tremendous amount of work here https://t.co/9iVYmlvV2u— Walter Hickey (@WaltHickey) March 3, 2022
Inside the industry
Twitter to reopen offices this month but commits to ‘forever’ remote work a day after Google announces forced office return (The Mercury News)
- Kevin Gallagher, a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, discusses artificial intelligence and the workforce at an Atlantic Council event on Monday at 2 p.m.
Before you log off
This is it guys. The pinnacle of the internet. We've done it! Pack it up, it's over. pic.twitter.com/EkqHgag0vO— I'm Jeff 🍻 (@fyvie2) March 2, 2022
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