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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

A multimillion-dollar campaign is pushing Dems to ditch antitrust reform

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: A long-awaited privacy bill's future is uncertain, and New York passes historic right-to-repair legislation. First:

A multi-million dollar campaign is pushing Dems to ditch antitrust reform

Vulnerable lawmakers don’t usually sweat their tech policy records as voters hit the polls. 

But tech trade associations and groups with ties to industry giants are pushing to change that this cycle, launching a major advertising blitz that’s increasingly targeting swing-state Democrats. 

In recent months, industry-funded groups like CCIA and centrist liberal groups including New Democracy have pumped millions into TV and digital ads, slamming one key antitrust proposal as misguided and dangerous. 

The campaign has zeroed in on senators who may be on the fence about backing Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S.2992), which would prohibit large tech companies from giving their own products preferential treatment.

CCIA — a trade group that counts Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google as members — took out over $8 million in TV ads earlier this year primarily targeting swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin, according to the independent news site the Lever. CCIA also took out over $2 million in ads in New Hampshire, according to the New Hampshire Journal. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) 

The push has been bolstered by groups like New Democracy, a liberal group that bills itself as a home for “pragmatic Democratic leaders” and shares its staff with an industry-funded think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute. 

In recent months, the group has taken out at least $167,000 in Facebook ads and over $218,000 in Google ads that largely call on a narrow set of swing-state Democrats to reject the bill. The ads have been shown at least 13 million times, according to a review by The Technology 202 of the companies’ digital advertising libraries.

The moves arrive as proponents look to lock down support from key Democrats who could decide the bill’s fate, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jon Ossoff (Ga.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). 

The ads appear tailor-made to play into fears privately voiced by some Democratic leaders that advancing antitrust legislation during an election cycle, rather than focusing on pressing issues such as inflation, could hurt the party’s chance of maintaining its Senate majority. 

“Inflation surging. Democracy under threat. Our rights under attack. But instead of tackling our toughest challenges, Congress is considering a bill that could make things worse for millions of Americans, damaging free services like Google search and maps,” an ad run by New Democracy states. 

A spokesperson for Klobuchar (D-Minn.) did not respond to a request for comment.

Another digital ad run by New Democracy and shown in Arizona at least 700,000 times casts the legislation as an innovation killer that would create economic “uncertainty.”

“Protecting this,” the narrator says as pictures of children, a firefighter and a medical professional display, “starts with them,” as a picture of the U.S. Capitol appears. The ad concludes, “Tell your senator to vote no” on the Klobuchar bill. 

Aaron White, a spokesperson for New Democracy, said the group is running ongoing digital and TV ads targeting Klobuchar’s proposal in states including Arizona, but did not specify the amount it has spent on them. “These ads make it clear to voters across the country: Congress needs to focus on what matters to Americans,” White said.

While it’s not immediately clear whether New Democracy has directly received funding from any major tech companies, at least seven of the members or staff it lists on its website — including its director and communications contact — are also employees of the Progressive Policy Institute, which has received funding from Google, Amazon and Facebook, according to data compiled by the Tech Transparency Project

(The tech watchdog group receives funding from the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and Omidyar Network.) 

White, who also serves as director of communications at PPI, said that all of New Democracy's ad campaigns are “funded by general funds, not any direct funder.” He added that a “majority of the companies targeted in S2992 have never contributed to New Democracy,” without elaborating.

The advertising campaign comes as lawmakers race to get their antitrust proposals over the finish line ahead of the midterm elections, which could shift control of Congress and doom any chance of passing their most aggressive antitrust proposals. 

Our top tabs

Lawmakers unveil long-awaited privacy bill, but its prospects are uncertain

The bipartisan proposal would require companies to limit their data collection, and it would also let users sue companies that improperly sell their data and opt out of targeted ads, Jacob Bogage and I report. But the bill faces an uphill climb to become law, with critics saying it doesn’t do enough to protect consumers. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) hasn’t endorsed the bill, and the bill could stall without her support.

Cantwell told The Post that “any robust and comprehensive privacy law must protect consumers’ personal data with a clear requirement that companies are accountable for the use of that data and must act in consumers’ best interests.”

In a letter last week, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told lawmakers that the latest effort was “falling short” in delivering for consumers. Schatz urged them to “refuse to settle for a privacy framework that will only result in more policies to read, more cookies to consent to and no real change for consumers.”

New York passes right-to-repair legislation covering consumer electronics

The bill overwhelmingly passed New York’s state Senate and Assembly last week and now goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) for her signature, Motherboard’s Jason Koebler reports. It requires companies to sell parts and tools to repair their devices, and also makes them provide documentation on how to repair devices under “fair and reasonable terms.”

“The bill is the most expansive consumer rights legislation to pass in the United States in recent memory and is the result of countless hours of grass-roots campaigning from consumers and consumer rights groups,” Koebler writes. It also marks the first time a state has passed right-to-repair legislation for consumer electronics.

Musk’s Twitter deal clears antitrust waiting period, company says

An antitrust investigation by U.S. regulators could have carried on for months, Reuters’s Nivedita Balu and Diane Bartz report.

Now Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy Twitter is facing potential scrutiny from other regulators. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has “inquired with people involved in the merger deal about the foreign investors Musk has brought into his bid because of potential national security concerns,” my colleagues wrote last week. The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked Musk about irregularities in how he disclosed his investment in Twitter, according to a letter from the regulator.

Rant and rave

Journalists discussed accidental emails after an Amazon email exchange about promoting a minority group’s opposition to antitrust legislation was mistakenly sent to Politico. Journalist Jessica Huseman:

Journalist Tonya Riley:

Reporter Rebecca Ungarino:

Inside the industry

E.U. deal on single mobile charging port likely June 7 in setback for Apple (Reuters)

Workforce report

Black employees say tech companies have fallen short two years after DEI promises (Insider)

Elon Musk targets white-collar Tesla staff, a test case of Twitter plans (Faiz Siddiqui and Taylor Telford)

Trending

Holograms of queen appear inside Gold State Coach during jubilee (The Telegraph)

Mentions

  • Former Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer, a Democrat, has joined Airbnb as its North America policy director.
  • Former deputy assistant U.S. trade representative Jonathan McHale joined CCIA as its vice president of digital trade. CCIA also named Kara Mazachek as a research manager, Amir Nasr as a trade policy manager and Sara Young as a communications manager.

Daybook

  • The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab hosts a two-day summit starting today.
  • I'll be moderating a Gallup panel with John Samples, a member of the Facebook Oversight Board, and others Wednesday at 4 p.m.
  • Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Rostin Behnam and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) discuss the future of cryptocurrency regulation at a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
  • NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson testifies before a Senate Commerce Committee panel on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • I'll be moderating a NationSwell and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation panel on building trust in artificial intelligence on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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