The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Tech’s latest critique of antitrust legislation: It would help Russian propaganda

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Placeholder while article actions load

Happy Wednesday! As always, send news tips and hot takes on “The Bachelor” finale to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com

Below: Europe greenlights Amazon's MGM acquisition, and the FCC adopts rules requiring broadcasters to disclose foreign funding. First:

Tech’s latest critique of antitrust legislation: It would help Russian propaganda

The tech industry has a new line of attack against lawmakers’ antitrust proposals: legislation aimed at reining in industry giants would inadvertently make it harder for those companies to crack down on Russian disinformation. 

It’s the latest complaint in a campaign by industry-backed groups to chip away at Congress’s most aggressive antitrust bills. They’ve previously argued the proposals would harm American innovation and national security

But the new argument sidesteps a key fact: The measures expressly prohibit organizations deemed a national security risk or backed by foreign adversaries from co-opting the main protections in the bills. And its proponents say the broader criticisms rely on a bad-faith misreading of the bill. 

“Big Tech’s cynical and manipulative misrepresentations of our antitrust efforts are as reprehensible as they are false — another crass attempt to avoid well-founded and urgent scrutiny,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is leading one of the proposals, the Open App Markets Act.

Blumenthal added that his bill “simply does not require app stores to carry specific apps and would not allow foreign state media to bring lawsuits.”

It comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill are racing to pass a series of blockbuster measures before the midterm elections that could change the competitive landscape in Silicon Valley.

At odds are a pair of bills that seek to block technology giants from giving their own products preferential treatment over those of their competitors, including on app stores. 

Proponents say the legislation is sorely needed to crack down on competitive abuses by dominant platforms. But groups funded by industry giants and some civil society groups have voiced concern that parts of the bills could give known purveyors of misinformation or hate speech a way to get back on major platforms when they are booted off. 

That’s partly because one of the bills would bar the tech giants from discriminating against “similarly situated businesses,” a phrasing critics argue could give groups removed for breaking platform policies a legal recourse. 

Now, some of the same groups are arguing that the tactic could be weaponized by foreign interests including Russian state media, which the platforms have cracked down on amid the war in Ukraine.

Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich, who has been sounding the alarm about the matter on Twitter, argued the proposals would limit the ability of companies like Google, Apple or Facebook to take action against Russian state media outlets like RT and Sputnik. 

“The pressure that Big Tech platforms have received to remove RT and Sputnik shows that most people want platforms to curate for safety, security and community standards,” he told The Technology 202. “But these bills would undermine that curation.”

Matt Schruers, president of the tech trade group CCIA, said the proposals would “tie those services’ hands” in the face of products linked to foreign interests.

“Another outright lie from Big Tech’s mouthpiece,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is spearheading one of the bills.

The Chamber of Progress is a left-leaning tech group backed by Amazon, Apple and Facebook parent Meta. CCIA counts Amazon, Apple and Google as members. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

There’s a major hole in the argument, however: Both of the antitrust bills explicitly exclude organizations owned or controlled by foreign governments from using their protections as legal tools, as well as any groups that pose a national security risk. 

Emma Llansó, a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s (CDT) Free Expression Project, said both bills “have provisions that would minimize the concerns specifically as far as foreign-state-owned businesses go.”

The remarks are notable, given that CDT had previously voiced concern about the bills’ impact on efforts to crack down on disinformation and hate speech more broadly. The nonprofit receives funding from companies that include Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

Still, Llansó said there could still be some “gray areas” where it’s not abundantly clear whether a developer or digital service provider is backed by a foreign government or a security risk. CCIA’s Schruers nodded to these concerns, saying the legislation could offer protection for “Russian puppet accounts and extremist propaganda” that’s not overtly state-backed.

Our top tabs

European regulators approve Amazon’s purchase of MGM

The European Commission ruled that Amazon’s $6.5 billion deal to buy MGM wouldn’t significantly harm competition because the companies don’t have significant content production overlaps and MGM’s content “cannot be considered as must-have,” the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Mackrael reports. The approval comes as the clock ticks down for the Federal Trade Commission to decide whether the deal should go through.

“Amazon wouldn’t necessarily be clear of an FTC threat if the deadline expires, because the commission has the ability to challenge mergers and acquisitions after they close,” Mackrael writes. “And in recent months, the commission started warning some merger partners that their deals remained under investigation even after the legally mandated waiting period had expired.” 

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

U.S. officials push for Apple, Google and Cloudflare to stay in Russia

Civil liberties groups and American officials say the California companies provide Russian civilians with a means of finding independent news and connecting to activists and nonprofits, Joseph Menn reports. On the other side, Ukrainian officials and some expatriates want the companies to cut off Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

“Though hundreds of Western companies have pulled out of Russia, well beyond what newly imposed sanctions require, some core technology services are essential for getting tools of communication and potential protest into more hands,” Joe writes. Previously, tech companies like Apple and Google have made some sacrifices to avoid employee arrests and retribution, this Post story recounted last week.  

Cloudflare, in particular, has walked a delicate line, protecting pro-Russian news sites and vulnerable independent media sites alike. “It is critical to maintain the flow of information to the people of Russia to the fullest extent possible,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked about Cloudflare’s Russia presence.

Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince declined to comment on specific customers. But he said that “it could be that the only thing that the Russian government and the Ukrainian activists agree on is that U.S. tech companies should get kicked out of Russia, and in particular us.” Apple declined to comment, and Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Foreign-funded television programs have new disclosure rules

The Federal Communications Commission’s foreign sponsorship identification rules have gone into effect, the FCC said. The requirements make television broadcasters provide on-air disclosures of foreign sponsorships and comes amid a months-long legal battle between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the FCC.

“In April, the FCC voted unanimously to adopt an order that would mandate broadcasters to disclose that programs they have leased are sponsored or provided by a foreign government at the time of the broadcast or independently verify they are not,” The Technology 202 reported earlier this month. In August, the NAB and industry groups challenged the order in court, arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority and the rules would be “unnecessary and overly burdensome.”

Rant and rave

Microsoft says it included an “experimental banner” in its File Explorer program on Windows. The banner angered some users who thought it was a sign that the company was testing out Windows ads. Here's the statement from Microsoft:

Wirecutter's Dave Gershgorn:

SANS Institute security analyst Jake Williams:

Techmeme's Emil Protalinski:

Workforce report

A worker objected to Google's Israel military contract. Google told her to move to Brazil (Los Angeles Times)

Inside the industry

Slack has started disconnecting customers in Russia (Axios)

Amazon may face antitrust court battle over fair pricing (Protocol)

Ireland slaps Facebook with $19M fine over 2018 data breaches (CyberScoop)

Agency scanner

FTC settlement requires CafePress owners to pay $500,000 to victims of 2019 data breach (CyberScoop)

Trending

Mark Zuckerberg talks building avatars and buying sweatshirts in the metaverse (CNET)

Daybook

  • Federal Reserve of Richmond senior economist and research adviser Nicholas Trachter and former Justice Department official Gregory Werden speak at an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event on antitrust today at 10 a.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s communications and technology panel holds a hearing on 5G and wireless technology today at 10:30 a.m.
  • The R Street Institute hosts an antitrust event today at noon.
  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on China’s role in setting technology standards today at noon.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology acting director James K. Olthoff testifies at a House Science Committee hearing on technical standards on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at a LULAC conference on Thursday at noon.

Before you log off

Thats all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email

Loading...