Chatter on House hearing examining conservative censorship

Updated

With help from John Hendel and Ashley Gold

CHATTER: HOUSE JUDICIARY TO HOLD HEARING ON CONSERVATIVE CENSORSHIP — The House Judiciary Committee is aiming to hold a hearing next Thursday on social media censorship, two sources familiar with the matter tell MT. Recall that the committee had a briefing with Facebook staff following the Cambridge Analytica scandal but did not have a hearing when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in town last week. One conservative point of ire in the Zuckerberg hearings was the alleged censorship of conservative video bloggers Diamond and Silk, some of whose videos had been marked as “unsafe” by Facebook (the label was later taken off). We’re tracking.

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AT&T CHIEF TO TESTIFY IN MERGER TRIAL — AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today is set to testify on the telecom behemoth’s acquisition of Time Warner, as part of the banner antitrust trial. His appearance follows that of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who took the stand on Wednesday and suggested that some of the objections DOJ has raised about the merger are “ridiculous.” Bewkes added that the deal would give Time Warner access to better data mining about its customers and pointed to the dramatic shift in advertising revenue to digital companies in recent years.

CARSON: HUD HAS REOPENED FACEBOOK INVESTIGATION The Department of Housing and Urban Development is reopening a previously halted investigation into possible discrimination in Facebook's housing advertising practices, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Wednesday, Ashley reports. Facebook has reportedly allowed landlords to selectively target users by race and other categories with housing ads, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Carson at a congressional oversight hearing said the probe had been reopened while answering questions from Sen. Brian Schatz about why the original investigation was closed.

— Schatz told POLITICO the announcement came as a surprise. "It's good news. But I don’t know what they mean by it, so we’ll be following up to get a more formal update on the status of their investigation," the Hawaii Democrat said. "The investigation was halted and then seemingly just as abruptly Secretary Carson tells me — and only when asked — tells me that it’s been reopened. I don’t think anybody really knows what’s exactly happening."

— Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) earlier this week led a letter from Democratic senators pressing Zuckerberg on ad targeting and the potential for discrimination. “We urge Facebook to strengthen its policies against the use of targeted advertising on the basis of protected characteristics in online housing and employment advertising, to ensure that we can combat 21st century forms of employment discrimination,” the lawmakers wrote.

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** A message from CTIA and America’s wireless industry: China is pulling ahead in the global race to 5G—and America needs to win. Government action on spectrum and infrastructure policy will allow U.S. wireless companies to invest $275 billion, create more than 3 million jobs, and add $500 billion to the economy, according to Accenture. Learn more at CTIA.org. **

WATCH LIVE: The overwhelming majority of traffic accidents can be traced to human choice or human errors. Autonomous vehicles promise to take this risk factor out of the equation. Yet safety remains a top concern of Americans who are apprehensive about sharing the road with driverless cars. As Washington contemplates its role in the driverless cars industry, tune in LIVE tonight at 5:30 p.m. for a conversation about safety in this new era of innovation. Stream the event HERE.

A ‘BIPARTISAN LOATHING’ OF ROBOCALLS — Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle slammed abusive robocalls in a hearing on Wednesday during which they turned up the heat on Adrian Abramovich, the alleged culprit behind a massive campaign involving millions of robocalls. “You are the face of this problem today,” Blumenthal told Abramovich, who sought to use his Fifth Amendment rights to evade a number of questions about his engagement in specific robocall practices, like location spoofing. “I’m not the kingpin of robocalls that’s alleged,” Abramovich said. The FTC and FCC have both received a sizeable collection of complaints about intrusive robocalls, and Lois Greisman of the FTC noted that this number is only growing.

Blumenthal, at the panel, introduced the ROBOCOP bill as one means of targeting this problem. The legislation would require phone service providers to provide free tools that could stymie robocalls. Schatz has also put forth a bill called the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2018 to bolster the FCC’s ability to prosecute offenders.

ICYMI: ERIC SCHMIDT’S CAMEO AT THE HOUSE — Former Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt testified during a House Armed Services hearing on Tuesday, saying the tech industry would need to work together to set up AI principles as the technology is adopted for defense purposes. "My sense of the industry is that it's going to come to [some] set of agreement on AI-principles — what's appropriate and what's not — and my guess is that there will be some sort of consensus from key industry players," Schmidt said. He emphasized that he was testifying in a personal capacity. During a House IT subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, representatives from organizations including OpenAI highlighted the need for industry-wide ethical norms.

SILICON VALLEY MUST-READS

— Facebook’s hardware goals: Facebook Inc. is building a team to design its own semiconductors, adding to a trend among technology companies to supply themselves and lower their dependence on chipmakers such as Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., according to job listings and people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg reports.

— Tesla factory under scrutiny: “California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health said it has opened a new investigation into Tesla Inc. following a report about worker protections at the company’s lone auto plant in Fremont, California,” Bloomberg reports.

— Prime time: “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has revealed in his annual shareholders letter today that his company has over 100 million Prime members, marking the first time in the 13-year history of Amazon offering its Prime membership that the company has ever revealed its number of subscribers,” The Verge reports. Also, this is a thing: Bezos noted that a Prime promotion resulted in record turkey sales for Whole Foods this past Thanksgiving.

MEANWHILE, IN EUROPE — EU lawmakers are clamoring for their chance to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, POLITICO Europe’s Joanna Plucinska reports. "We are convinced that the millions of Europeans affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal deserve a full and thorough explanation from Facebook's top manager, just as was the case for U.S. citizens," European Parliament President Antonio Tajani wrote in a letter addressed to Zuckerberg. Tajani thanked Zuckerberg for his offer to send Facebook's vice president for public policy, Joel Kaplan, but insisted it was the CEO himself who should come. … And on the subject of GDPR: “If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller,” Reuters reports.

TRANSITIONS — Sean Perryman is now the Internet Association’s director of diversity and inclusion policy and counsel. Perryman was previously counsel for the Democratic staff of the House Oversight Committee. … Acting FTC Chief Technologist Neil Chilson is leaving at the end of month to become a senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, the libertarian group that has been noticeably growing its tech policy operation. Chilson was appointed to his FTC post in July by Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, who's on the way out, with her replacement, Joe Simons, waiting to be confirmed by the Senate.

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Qualcomm cost cuts: “Qualcomm Inc has begun cutting jobs as part of its promise to investors to cut annual costs by $1 billion, the chipmaker said on Wednesday,” Reuters reports.

Home Depot beefs up on tech talent: “The $200 billion home improvement retailer is going on the biggest technology hiring spree in its history to try to maintain [its competitive] edge,” Recode reports.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Eric Engleman (eengleman@politico.com, @ericengleman), Kyle Daly (kdaly@politico.com, @dalykyle), Nancy Scola (nscola@politico.com, @nancyscola), Margaret Harding McGill (mmcgill@politico.com, @margarethmcgill), Ashley Gold (agold@politico.com, @ashleyrgold), Steven Overly (soverly@politico.com, @stevenoverly), John Hendel (jhendel@politico.com, @JohnHendel) and Li Zhou (lzhou@politico.com, @liszhou)

** A message from CTIA and America’s wireless industry: The global race to 5G is underway—and we’re at a critical moment. While the U.S. has an opportunity to win, China and South Korea are slightly ahead, right now. These countries understand that wireless leadership means billions in economic growth and millions of jobs in the industries of tomorrow, such as Smart Cities and the Internet of Things. New rules for new 5G networks will allow the U.S. to lead the way without heavy government involvement or public funding. With quick government action on spectrum and infrastructure policy, the wireless industry will invest $275 billion to deploy next-generation 5G networks, according to Accenture. This will fuel innovation and entrepreneurialism across every sector, create more than 3 million jobs, add $500 billion to the U.S. economy and drive breakthrough advancements in remote health care, connected vehicles, energy, education and beyond—making our lives better and safer. Learn how at CTIA.org. **