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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

U.S. made ‘marginal’ gains in internet freedom, report finds

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Tuesday! As of this writing, no other billionaire has offered to buy a social media platform today, but the day is young. Send tips to:

Below: Kanye West explains when he decided to buy Parler, and an Amazon warehouse's unionization vote will be counted today. First:

U.S. made ‘marginal’ gains in internet freedom, report finds

Internet freedom in the United States improved for the first time in six years, but a lack of progress in passing privacy protections and other digital safeguards made the gains “marginal” at best, according to an annual report by the nonprofit Freedom House.

The analysis attributed the rise in part to a drop in targeted surveillance and online harassment of protesters, which spiked in years prior as racial unrest led to a wave of protests nationwide. 

Adrian Shahbaz, vice president of research and analysis at Freedom House, said the improved score highlights “just exactly how bad it got during 2020, particularly around the Black Lives Matter protests and indications of [surveillance by] different law enforcement bodies.”

The shift brought the United States up to ninth in the group’s list of countries with the most internet freedom, tying France and Australia. It ranked 12th last year.

But the biggest brake to the U.S.’s score, researchers said, is the ongoing lack of federal guardrails on issues like consumer privacy and government surveillance.

The report lamented that “proposed laws that would strengthen human rights online and increase tech-related transparency made little progress,” and that there is a “continued lack of a comprehensive federal privacy law and incomplete reforms to surveillance rules” in Washington. 

It also noted that a flood of claims from former president Donald Trump and hundreds of Republican candidates baselessly denying the results of the 2020 election has “polluted the information environment and seeped into the broader American political system.”

The report credited the Biden administration for making “the promotion of internet freedom a top priority of its foreign policy,” citing several specific steps:

  • The White House in April convened dozens of global governments to sign the “Declaration for the Future of the Internet,” a nonbinding statement affirming the countries’ shared commitment to open internet principles.
  • The State Department in April launched a Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy and in September confirmed a new chief to lead it.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in December said it planned to invest $20 million annually to “dramatically expand our digital democracy work.”

But the “flurry” of action in advocating for internet freedom globally, Freedom House wrote, “stood in stark contrast to the lack of movement at home.”

“There's a clear disconnect between the domestic and foreign policy agenda in the United States” on internet freedom, Shahbaz said.

By failing to enact basic digital protections domestically, Shahbaz said, the U.S. is ceding leadership and contributing to the fragmentation of global internet policies. 

“In the absence of that leadership from the United States, we've seen many governments then create their own regulations for governing the internet that oftentimes are not coordinated, and then end up fragmenting the internet,” he said.

The report paints a far starker picture of internet freedom globally, which Freedom House found declined for the 12th consecutive year. 

“What we're seeing is that governments worldwide are carving up the global internet to create a more repressive domestic internet,” said Shahbaz. 

The report looked at internet freedom across 70 countries — accounting for 89 percent of the world’s internet users — from June 2021 to May 2022. 

It found that only 18 percent of internet users globally live in countries identified by the group as having a “free” internet, while 34 percent live in countries where it’s “partly free” and 37 percent live in ones where it’s “not free.” 

For the eighth consecutive year, Freedom House named China as the country with the most repressive internet practices. Iceland, on the other hand, reprised its role atop the internet freedom rankings.

Meanwhile, the group found that the sharpest decline in internet freedom of any country occurred in Russia, which began a series of internet and social media crackdowns as it launched its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Our top tabs

Kanye West says he decided to buy Parler after Instagram, Twitter bans

The deal by the controversial artist, who legally changed his name to Ye, to purchase the platform would put him in charge of the site, which is popular among supporters of former president Donald Trump but hasn’t been used by Ye himself, Rachel Lerman and Jennifer Hassan report. Instagram and Twitter suspended West’s accounts this month over antisemitic posts.

“Parler is hoping the power and popularity of Ye’s brand will give it a needed boost,” Rachel and Jennifer write. “The platform has trailed many of its competitors in terms of monthly viewers, according to data from digital analytics firm Similarweb. Parler’s monthly visits have plunged 83 percent this year, compared with the same period in 2021.”

  • George Farmer, the chief executive of Parler parent company Parlement Technologies, said the deal came together in the last week. “Farmer is married to conservative commentator Candace Owens, who recently appeared with Ye at a Paris fashion show wearing shirts emblazoned with the words ‘White Lives Matter,' ” Rachel and Jennifer write.

Ye told Bloomberg News’s Kurt Wagner and Kim Bhasin that he “knew it was time to acquire my own platform” when he was suspended on Instagram and Twitter. He also told the outlet that he plans to have dinner with Trump this week and would invite him onto Parler. “Ye said he’ll join Trump’s own alternative network, Truth Social, too,” Wagner and Bhasin write. “He has not yet decided if owning Parler means he will fully abandon other social networks, like Instagram and Twitter, saying he plans to speak with his advisers about that.”

Unionization votes will be counted at Amazon warehouse today

Hundreds of employees at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, N.Y., have been voting on unionization for the past week, and the election could indicate whether the Amazon Union Labor Union can replicate its success in winning a historic victory at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse this year, Lauren Kaori Gurley reports. Recent efforts to unionize at two other Amazon warehouses have failed.

“Amazon Labor Union is asking for higher wages and safer working conditions at the warehouse near Albany in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y.,” Lauren writes. “Amazon employees at the warehouse have described suffering concussions and other serious injuries while working. The company recently raised the starting wage at the facility from $15.70 to $17 an hour.” 

The union has accused Amazon of retaliating against workers who were tasked with observing the vote. Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan said the company doesn’t retaliate against employees for exercising their labor rights. “We’ve always said that we want our employees to have their voices heard, and we hope and expect this process allows for that,” he said. Flaningan previously said employees have always had the choice to join a union. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Western suppliers cut ties with Chinese firms after U.S. chip curbs

U.S. and Western suppliers are cutting ties to Chinese semiconductor factories and telling their U.S. employees to stop installing equipment at Chinese factories while they sort through new rules from the Biden administration, Jeanne Whalen reports. National security experts say the restrictions, which are an attempt to stop China from making advanced chips, are some of the toughest enacted by the U.S. government.

“One large supplier of chip-making equipment, ASML, told U.S. employees to stop installing or servicing equipment at any Chinese chip factory while it sorts through the new rules,” Jeanne writes. “Another equipment provider, Applied Materials, said the export restrictions will prevent it from making sales of roughly $400 million in the fourth quarter.”

Rant and rave

Twitter was abuzz after Parler announced its planned acquisition. Researcher and journalist Ariel Bogle:

Journalist Casey Newton:

Venture partner emeritus Om Malik:

Inside the industry

Cisco gear is being shipped into Russia from China and other countries, leaked customs database shows (MarketWatch)

EU considers paying Elon Musk to keep giving Starlink internet to Ukraine (Politico Europe)

Germany slaps messaging app Telegram with $5 million fine (Associated Press)

Competition watch

Visa, Mastercard draw new government scrutiny over debit-card routing (Wall Street Journal)

Scores of Google rivals want EU tech law used in antitrust case (Reuters)


Oakland cops hope to arm robots with lethal shotguns (The Intercept)


  • European and U.S. officials speak at a Center for a New American Security event on developing a transatlantic technology strategy today at 12:30 p.m. 
  • The Federal Trade Commission holds an event on digital advertising to children on Wednesday.
  • Government and industry officials speak at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy’s Spectrum Summit on Wednesday.
  • The Institute for Security and Technology hosts an event on the data transfer agreement on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s acting chairman, Martin J. Gruenberg, speaks at a Brookings Institution event on digital assets and banks on Thursday at 10 a.m.

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