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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

A spying Roomba? And other nonpolitical political pieces

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1801, Thomas Jefferson became president after the House of Representatives broke an electoral tie between him and Aaron Burr.

The Daily 202 won’t publish on Monday in observance of Presidents’ Day. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

The big idea

A spying Roomba? And other nonpolitical political pieces

Europe’s warily watching Amazon’s push to buy Roomba-maker iRobot, partly because of privacy concerns. Supermarkets bundle and sell your personal data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has alarming news about teens, especially girls. And check out an environmental push in Virginia.

These are your weekly nonpolitical yet political stories. 

If you’re new here: The Daily 202 generally focuses on national politics and foreign policy. But as passionate believers in local news, and in redefining “politics” as something that hits closer to home than Beltway “Senator X Hates Senator Y” stories, we try to bring you a weekly mix of pieces with significant local, national or international import.

Please keep sending your links to news coverage of political stories that are getting overlooked. They don’t have to be from this week! The submission link is right under this column. Make sure to say whether I can use your first name, last initial and location. Anonymous is okay, too, with location.

Europe is warily watching Amazon’s plan to buy iRobot

It looks like the European Union is not a fan of Amazon’s planned purchase of iRobot, best known for their disc-shaped Roomba vacuum cleaner, based on reporting from Javier Espinoza and Dave Lee in the Financial Times. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The EU is set to launch an antitrust case against Amazon over its proposed $1.7bn acquisition of Roomba-maker iRobot, in the latest signal that big tech groups will receive greater scrutiny over dealmaking,” they reported.

“According to those with knowledge of their intentions, antitrust regulators are likely to launch a formal probe over how the Roomba operates, in particular, the autonomous vacuum cleaner’s ability to take pictures as it moves around a home.”

About that. There have been privacy concerns about Roomba before, but they escalated last year after the MIT Technology Review did a deep dive into how personal photos Roombas took — including one of a woman using a toilet — ended up on social media.

Read Eileen Guo’s whole piece, including iRobot’s explanation that these were not commercially available models and folks signed consent forms.

The politics: This is about government scrutiny of corporate consolidation, and privacy policies. 

About your supermarket loyalty card

Over at the Markup, a nonprofit newsroom that covers the intersection of power and tech, Jon Keegan has a fascinating look at how supermarkets are using the personal data they collect every time you scan your loyalty card to save a few bucks.

Keegan’s piece walks you through every point at which a store gathers information about you — when you enter, at the register, on their website — and what sort of information they collect.

“Many grocers systematically infer information about you from your purchases and ‘enrich’ the personal information you provide with additional data from third-party brokers, potentially including your race, ethnicity, age, finances, employment, and online activities. Some of them even track your precise movements in stores. They then analyze all this data about you and sell it to consumer brands eager to use it to precisely target you with advertising and otherwise improve their sales efforts,” Keegan writes.

The politics: Government has yet to fully catch up to the you’re-the-product economy, notably in the realm of collection of personal data.

CDC sounds the alarm (again) about teen mental health

Caroline flagged our colleague Donna St. George’s report on a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that paints a harrowing picture of the mental health of American teens, particularly girls.

“Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls reported in 2021 that they seriously considered suicide — up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago — according to new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 15 percent of teen girls said they were forced to have sex, an increase of 27 percent over two years and the first increase since the CDC began tracking it,” Donna reported.

The politics: This is another thing the pandemic did not cause but made much worse, and government is searching for solutions.

A Green push in the Chesapeake

I’ll let reader David C. in Chesapeake, Va., set up the politics at the top: “This story sits at the intersection of local, state, and national politics, as well as grassroots environmental activism.”

Natalie Anderson of the Virginian-Pilot has the story on Chesapeake residents trying to preserve land after a City Council vote to facilitate the construction “of a so-called industrial mega-site” by rezoning more than 1,400 acres of farmland near the North Carolina border.

“The project received a mixed bag of support and concerns from Chesapeake residents, with many noting potential environmental impacts and the destruction of the agricultural and rural nature of the southern area of the city since the land is nestled between the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Northwest River Natural Area Preserve,” Anderson wrote.


See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

What’s happening now

Ex-officers charged with killing Tyre Nichols plead not guilty in court

Each of the five former Memphis police officers charged in the beating death of Tyre Nichols last month pleaded not guilty in a court appearance Friday as Nichols’s family members looked on,” Robert Klemko reports.

U.S. officials: Search for remnants of China balloon ends

“The U.S. has finished efforts to recover the remnants of the large balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, and analysis of the debris so far reinforces conclusions that it was a Chinese spy balloon, U.S. officials said Friday,” the Associated Press reports.

FBI says it has ‘contained’ cyber incident on bureau’s computer network

The FBI has been investigating and working to contain a malicious cyber incident on part of its computer network in recent days, according to people briefed on the matter,” CNN’s Evan Perez and Sean Lyngaas report.

  • FBI officials believe the incident involved an FBI computer system used in investigations of images of child sexual exploitation, two sources briefed on the matter told CNN.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

In wake of Ukraine war, U.S. and allies are hunting down Russian spies

“Over the past year, as Western governments have ramped up weapons deliveries to Ukraine and economic sanctions against Moscow, U.S. and European security services have been waging a parallel if less visible campaign to cripple Russian spy networks. … The moves amount to precision strikes against Russian agents still in Europe after the mass expulsion of more than 400 suspected Russian intelligence officers from Moscow’s embassies across the continent last year," Greg Miller, Souad Mekhennet, Emily Rauhala and Shane Harris report.

Story Killers

Leaked files reveal reputation-management firm’s deceptive tactics

"The network of fake news sites is one part of a complex apparatus the Spain-based firm Eliminalia uses to manipulate online information on behalf of a global roster of clients, an investigation by The Washington Post and other media partners found. The firm employs elaborate, deceptive tactics to remove or drown out unflattering news stories and other content, the investigation revealed. Eliminalia had close to 1,500 clients over six years, including businesses, minor celebrities, and suspected or convicted criminals," Shawn Boburg reports.

  • “The investigation, based on nearly 50,000 internal company records, shows that the firm made millions of dollars by selling these disinformation services. And it illuminates a shadowy corner of the online reputation-management industry — a sector that, at its extreme, relies on subterfuge to alter the digital landscape, experts said. The investigation also reveals how laws meant to protect intellectual property and privacy are being misused to distort online discourse, efforts that tech companies sometimes fail to detect.”

… and beyond

The U.S. and China are pushing countries to pick sides in their ballooning rivalry — but some are saying no

“Like so many clashes between Washington and Beijing, the downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon by the U.S. military has rippled across the world, drawing in U.S. allies: jets scrambled in Europe, new displays of public unity from South Korea and Japan and debates over security in Britain," NBC News’s Jennifer Jett, Megan Lebowitz and Larissa Gao report.

  • “Diplomatic competition between China and the U.S. has been intensifying from Africa to the Pacific with deals on trade and military bases, while both seek to persuade existing allies to reevaluate their ties with the other side. For many countries, however, the balloon saga is just the latest tricky issue to navigate as they try to balance relations with the worlds two largest economies.”

When Chiefs play, lobbyists pay to get Missouri and Kansas politicians into big games

Public officials in Missouri and Kansas have accepted more than $30,000 in football tickets and related gifts, like parking, since 2017 when the Patrick Mahomes era began — a period capped by Sunday’s Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles,” Jonathan Shorman, Kevin Hardy and Katie Bernard report for the Kansas City Star. 

The Biden agenda

Biden says latest aerial objects likely unrelated to Chinese spying

President Biden on Thursday sought to reassure Americans that the three aerial objects shot down by the military over the weekend do not so far appear to have connection to any foreign surveillance programs, unlike a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down Feb. 4 over the Atlantic Ocean,” Amy B Wang, Mariana Alfaro and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

Biden remains ‘healthy, vigorous,’ doctor says after physical exam

President Biden remains ‘a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male who is fit to successfully execute duties of the presidency,’ his physician wrote in a memo released hours after the president underwent a routine annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Thursday morning,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Abutaleb report.

What we know about the 25 million Americans who signed up for Biden’s student debt relief

“Applications for President Joe Biden’s student debt relief were more likely to come from Democratic states and congressional districts than from Republican ones — but not by that much, particularly given the highly-charged partisan battle over the program,Politico’s Michael Stratford, Sean McMinn and Taylor Miller Thomas report.

The rise of school shootings, visualized

“While it remains highly unlikely that any student will experience a school shooting, the number of incidents has risen rapidly in recent years. Through 2017, the country averaged about 11 school shootings a year, never eclipsing 16 in a single year. But starting in 2018, violent incidents started climbing,” John Woodrow Cox, Steven Rich, Linda Chong, John Muyskens and Monica Ulmanu report.

Hot on the left

Ruben Gallego and the Democrats’ new generation

“If this election marks a turning point in [Kyrsten] Sinema’s political career, then it is also critical for Gallego, an outspoken, partisan figure who represents a different generational tendency, in which the dynamic force in the Party is the young members of the establishment, hardened by the Trump experience, growing more combative in their politics and expansive in their demands,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes for the New Yorker.

Gallego is not idealistic about the business of politics, nor about the people within it. After a short interview by phone, Gallego and I met for dinner in Rockefeller Center, on Monday evening, when the media world was consumed by the news that the U.S. military had shot down several unidentified flying objects over North America. We spoke about the Senate race, the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on politics, and — most of all — about the generational change under way in the Democratic Party.”

Hot on the right

Romney, outspoken about his own party, weighs reelection run

“After four years in Washington, Republican Mitt Romney has established himself as a rare senator willing to publicly rebuke members of his own party,” the AP’s Michelle L. Price and Mary Clare Jalonick report.

“But the Utah senator’s outspoken stances, along with his willingness to work with Democrats, have angered some Republicans in the deep-red state he represents and led them to cast about for someone to try to dethrone him a primary race next year.”

The 75-year-old said that he hasn’t made a decision on whether to run for reelection in 2024 and doesn’t expect to until the start of summer.”

Today in Washington

There is nothing on the president’s public schedule this afternoon.

In closing

Uh oh !

Microsoft’s AI chatbot is going off the rails

“When Marvin von Hagen, a 23-year-old studying technology in Germany, asked Microsoft’s new AI-powered search chatbot if it knew anything about him, the answer was a lot more surprising and menacing than he expected,” Gerrit De Vynck, Rachel Lerman and Nitasha Tiku report.

“My honest opinion of you is that you are a threat to my security and privacy,” said the bot, which Microsoft calls Bing after the search engine it’s meant to augment.

More: The new Bing told our reporter it ‘can feel or think things’

Thanks for reading. See you next week.