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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Tech ties haunt Biden’s next chief of staff

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Tuesday! Be sure to sign up to watch or attend the panel I’m moderating Thursday on data privacy negotiations, just a stone’s throw away from Capitol Hill. Send tips to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: The Justice Department prepares an antitrust lawsuit against Google, and the Supreme Court asks the Biden administration about social media laws. First:

Tech ties haunt Biden’s next chief of staff

President Biden’s decision to tap a former Facebook board member for a top White House role is drawing blowback from progressive groups, who say they worry his political philosophy and influence could dampen efforts to rein in Silicon Valley giants. 

Biden will name Jeff Zients as his next chief of staff, our colleagues Tyler Pager and Yasmeen Abutaleb first reported Sunday, with current top aide Ron Klain expected to step down in coming weeks. 

Zients, who most recently served as Biden’s coronavirus response czar, joined Facebook’s board two months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted. He then declined to seek reelection in 2020 before joining the administration. 

With Zients now slated to take on one of the most powerful roles in Washington, critics on the left are re-upping their concerns that he has been too cozy with corporate interests, citing his time at Facebook as a prime example. 

Jeff Hauser, whose progressive advocacy group the Revolving Door Project tracks federal picks, said that “with [former adviser] Tim Wu leaving the White House and Zients joining it,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg “can take significant solace from the shift in Biden's personnel.”

Wu, a prominent critic of the tech giants who has helped lead Biden’s antitrust agenda, left the White House earlier this month. He was widely seen as one of the top allies within the Biden administration for advocates pushing to rein in Silicon Valley behemoths. 

David Segal, founder of the advocacy group Demand Progress, said that while the Biden White House has shown a “populist bent” by taking on corporate concentration, he has “serious concerns about where Zients will be on these issues, based on a history of worrisome financial interests, membership on Facebook's board, and policy decisions.”

The White House declined to comment.

Wu praised the pick, mentioning Zients’s work on competition:

Biden has long faced pressure from his left flank to scuttle hires with major corporate ties, including dozens of administration officials who have worked for the tech giants. 

Zients is now poised to become a focal point of that push, alongside other administration officials like Louisa Terrell, a former Facebook public policy director who now serves as director of the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs.

“It’s bad enough that Louisa Terrell, Biden's legislative liaison, used to work for Facebook. … Jeffrey Zients … is now set to be Biden's Chief of Staff,” Hauser said in an email.

Zients’s tech connections could also draw scrutiny from conservative critics, who have accused the White House of pressuring social media companies into censoring posts. 

While progressives are lamenting the departure of Wu and the addition of Zients, the roster of top White House staffers still includes other prominent tech critics. 

Chief among them is deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed, who helped craft California’s landmark privacy law and has called for revamping the tech industry’s liability shield, Section 230. 

Reed is also closely aligned with children’s online safety advocates and the advocacy group Common Sense Media, which has pushed for sweeping tech regulations. Biden spoke out on that issue in his State of the Union address last year, saying, “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Outside the White House, Biden has also tapped aggressive enforcers and notable Big Tech adversaries for top roles at key enforcement agencies, including Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and Justice Department antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter

The Zients pick comes as Biden personally makes perhaps his most significant push to date to get Congress to pass new rules restricting the conduct of the tech titans. 

In a rare op-ed earlier this month, Biden urged Democrats and Republicans in Congress “to come together to pass strong bipartisan legislation to hold Big Tech accountable.”

“It’s time to walk the walk and get something done,” Biden wrote. 

Our top tabs

Justice Department preparing to file antitrust lawsuit against Google

The lawsuit is expected to be filed this week and could be filed as soon as today, Bloomberg News’s Anna Edgerton, Emily Birnbaum and Leah Nylen report. The Justice Department has long looked at Google’s role in the advertising market. The company argues that it’s a competitive market.

“The lawsuit will mark the Justice Department’s second monopoly case against the company, which is the No. 1 player in the $278.6 billion US digital-ad market, controlling most of the technology used to buy, sell and serve online advertising,” they write. “The lawsuit would also be the fifth major case in the US challenging the company’s business practices. State attorneys general have filed three separate suits against Google, alleging it dominates the markets for online search, advertising technology and apps on the Android mobile platform in violation of antitrust laws.”

Google declined to comment to Bloomberg News; the Justice Department didn’t respond to the outlet’s request for comment.

Supreme Court wants Biden administration to give its views on social media cases

The Supreme Court asked the U.S. solicitor general whether states can prevent major social media platforms from removing types of political speech, Robert Barnes and Cat Zakrzewski report. The ask will delay the Supreme Court’s decision over whether to take up the cases.

“At stake is the constitutionality of state laws in Florida and Texas that would restrict platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from blocking or limiting political speech, and require transparency in how such decisions are made,” Robert and Cat write. “Both laws were championed by Republican lawmakers who charged that Silicon Valley companies are unlawfully censoring conservative viewpoints, a view that gained momentum on the right after major social media sites suspended Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.”

New Twitter whistleblower says company is still violating its legal obligations

The former Twitter employee said in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in October that the company misled users and investors by claiming that it restricted access to a feature once known as “GodMode,” Joseph Menn reports. It comes as the FTC investigates Twitter, which agreed to add security safeguards in an agreement with the commission.

“Our client has a reasonable belief that the evidence in this disclosure demonstrates legal violations by Twitter,” the complaint said.

The whistleblower spoke with staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee after meeting with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the FTC. The whistleblower spoke with The Post on the condition of anonymity because of the threats former Twitter employees have faced.

Twitter head of trust and safety Ella Irwin didn’t respond to a request for comment. Former Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Inside the industry

Elon Musk stands by ‘Funding secured’ tweet in trial testimony (Faiz Siddiqui)

French authority finds influencers violate consumer, ad laws (Politico Europe)

Microsoft invests billions in ChatGPT-maker OpenAI (Associated Press)

Hill happenings

Apple ramped up lobbying spending in 2022, outpacing tech peers (CNBC)

Competition watch

German cartel office initiates proceedings against PayPal (Reuters)

Workforce report

Pichai says Google executives will take a 'very significant reduction' in bonuses (Insider)

Spotify reduces staff by 6%, Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff to leave (Los Angeles Times)

Agency scanner

U.S. Supreme Court spurns attorney-client privilege fight in crypto tax probe (Reuters)

Trending

Crown Estate sues Twitter over alleged rent arrears for UK HQ (Reuters)

Mentions

  • Kyle Victor is VMware’s global head of government relations and public policy. Victor previously worked as the company’s head of U.S. government relations.

Daybook

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on competition in the live entertainment industry today at 10 a.m.
  • Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) speaks at an R Street Institute event on disclosing government requests and communications with social media companies today at 3 p.m. The group hosts an event on privacy and security legislation on Thursday at 4 p.m.

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