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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Racial justice group unveils ‘Black Tech Agenda’ as roadmap for Congress

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Tuesday! Make sure to check out our live coverage this morning as Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko testifies before the Senate.

Below: Zatko's whistleblower complaint is raising questions about the FTC's consent decrees, and Twitter shut down a California data center after “extreme weather.” First:

Racial justice group unveils ‘Black Tech Agenda’ as road map for Congress

Rashad Robinson, leader of the racial justice group Color of Change, says that for too long Silicon Valley giants have put their profits over the well-being of Black consumers. Now the group is laying out its most detailed vision to date for how lawmakers can step in. 

On Tuesday, Color of Change is for first time unveiling a “Black Tech Agenda,” urging Congress to implement a slew of policy changes to address “systemic discrimination” they say has been enabled by major tech companies and their products.

For years, the group has been at the forefront of the push to hold the tech giants accountable for how their services may exacerbate racial inequities, including by advocating for new rules on Capitol Hill. Robinson said he hopes the agenda can serve as a “road map” for legislation.

“We want to create some real clarity and a vision around what needs to happen in terms of tech accountability, and in advancing racial justice as it relates to technology,” Robinson said in an interview ahead of the announcement, shared exclusively with The Technology 202.

The platform covers a sweeping array of big-ticket policy areas, including competition, data privacy and algorithmic discrimination, and it calls on lawmakers to incorporate a series of concrete proposals in legislation as they look to rein in potentially harmful practices in the tech sector.

Lawmakers have already introduced legislation to enshrine some of the group’s ideas, such as limiting discriminatory use of personal data and requiring that companies vet their algorithms for biases. But few if any have become law. Others appear to tread new ground by calling for a more aggressive regulatory response from Washington.

The agenda calls for incorporating a civil rights lens into merger reviews done by regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, allowing them to “challenge and reverse mergers that fail racial equity impact assessments.”

It also urges Congress to require that agencies conduct “regular studies on the impact of concentrated corporate power and antitrust enforcement on Black workers, small business owners and communities,” and to empower them to hire more staff with civil rights expertise.

To address concerns about how algorithmic biases may deepen racial inequities, Color of Change calls on Congress to allow regulators to “suspend the use of discriminatory algorithms and eliminate these risks,” and to require that companies delete potentially harmful data sets.

The agenda calls for heightened regulations throughout the internet stack, from tougher oversight of broadband service providers that may provide unequal internet access to greater liability for social networks whose content practices may contribute to civil rights violations. 

Several prominent Democrats are endorsing the debut agenda: Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Robin Kelly (Ill.).

“We need to implement privacy safeguards and robust racial justice provisions to ensure Black people and their personal information are protected digitally, and I am proud to partner on this campaign to advance equity and justice in the tech space,” Booker told The Technology 202.

Kelly, who co-chairs the Tech Accountability Caucus and a racial equity working group in the House, said the group’s agenda “will help guide technology policy that ensures that all people have access to the internet, that racism and discrimination are pushed out of our platforms and algorithms, and that our cybersecurity is stronger.”

But the group’s aggressive vision for oversight of the tech sector is likely to run into strong head winds on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers for years have failed to deliver on pledges for tougher rules of the road for the internet. 

To that end, Robinson said the group will also soon be releasing a “scorecard” tracking how lawmakers on key committees have stacked up in terms of their tech accountability work. 

Coupled with their new agenda, those efforts will help Color of Change and other civil rights advocates keep tabs on how much these issues are being factored into negotiations on Capitol Hill.

“Does the legislation that’s moving in Congress help to undo the racial injustice that these platforms have created? That can be a very powerful litmus test for evaluating whether or not we’re actually winning and moving things,” he said.

Our top tabs

Twitter whistleblower complaint raises questions about FTC consent decrees

Former Twitter security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko has argued in his complaint that the company violated its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, which required it to set up a comprehensive security system, Cat Zakrzewski and Joseph Menn report. The issue could come up in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning, as well as Zatko’s expected meetings with FTC officials.

“Critics say Congress has done little over the years to fortify the FTC’s ability to monitor compliance with such consent decrees, which are the agency’s principal means of enforcing U.S. consumer protection laws,” my colleagues write.

More than half a dozen current and former FTC officials told The Post that the FTC is ill-prepared to catch alleged violations. “The officials said that chronic underfunding and understaffing have left the government’s top Silicon Valley watchdog without the personnel or technical expertise to monitor decrees and levy fines when they are not followed,” Cat and Joseph write.

The FTC says it will investigate potential violations of its orders. “The commission is committed to enforcing its orders, and potential violations will be investigated thoroughly,” said Sam Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies flout FTC orders at their peril.”

'Extreme weather' shuts down Twitter data center

Twitter vice president of engineering Carrie Fernandez called the Sacramento data center shutdown an “unprecedented event” and said the company is relying on data centers in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., CNN’s Donie O'Sullivan, Brian Fung and Sean Lyngaas report. If one of those data centers goes down, the company “may not be able to serve traffic to all Twitter’s users,” Fernandez wrote.

The shutdown comes amid a historically severe September heat wave across the West. California’s power grid has been stretched to the limit.

The data center shutdown is apparently affecting Twitter updates. All changes to Twitter products are “blocked with the exception of those changes required to address service continuity or other urgent operational needs,” Fernandez wrote.

Access to the social media network hasn’t been disrupted, Twitter said. “There have been no disruptions impacting the ability for people to access and use Twitter at this time,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN. “Our teams remain equipped with the tools and resources they need to ship updates and will continue working to provide a seamless Twitter experience.”

Twitter says payment to Zatko doesn’t violate Musk deal

Elon Musk last week argued that Twitter’s payment of $7.75 million to former security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko and his lawyers violated a provision in his agreement to buy Twitter that said Twitter couldn’t make severance payments that aren’t “in the ordinary course of business consistent with past practice,” my colleague Joseph Menn reported. Twitter fired back Monday, with the company’s lawyers arguing that Musk’s reasons for leaving the deal are “invalid and wrongful,” Reuters’s Svea Herbst-Bayliss reports.

It’s Musk’s third notice of termination of the agreement. Musk and Twitter are set to face off for a trial in Delaware next month.

Meanwhile, a majority of Twitter’s shareholders voted for selling the company to Musk on Monday, Herbst-Bayliss wrote. The deadline for the vote is today, but enough people voted for the deal to make the outcome clear on Monday.

Rant and rave

The shutdown of Twitter's Sacramento data center because of extreme weather prompted jokes on Twitter. Editor Ariel Edwards-Levy:

Reporter Zach Montellaro:

Reporter Michael Tobin:

Inside the industry

Elon Musk’s 19,000 tweets reveal his complicated relationship with Twitter (Linda Chong, Rachel Lerman and Jeremy B. Merrill)

There’s a plan for Google’s failed balloon-based internet, and it involves lasers (The Verge)

Workforce report

Amazon's workplace safety chief to leave next month, internal memo says (CNBC)

Trending

Good buy, Type O’s: iMessages can finally be edited and deleted (Geoffrey A. Fowler)

Daybook

  • Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee today at 10 a.m.
  • FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks speaks at a Consumer Technology Association event today at 4 p.m.
  • Current and former executives at social media companies testify before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • A Senate Judiciary Committee panel holds a hearing on protecting Americans’ personal information from foreign adversaries on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Aerospace Summit on Wednesday.
  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the XR Association host the Augmented and Virtual Reality Policy Conference on Wednesday.

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