Tech Brief: Senate Approves Measure to Hold Websites Liable for Online Sex Trafficking

Top Stories

  • Legislation that would crack down on online sex trafficking cleared the Senate in a 97-to-2 vote and is now headed to the White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law. The measure holds online platforms criminally and civilly liable if they knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, rewriting a portion of internet liability laws that previously did not hold online platforms legally responsible for content posted by a third party. (USA Today)
  • Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke a five-day silence following reports that data firm Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest personal information from 50 million U.S. users’ profiles to help the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, admitting in a Facebook post that the social media giant had made mistakes and was working to investigate any potential abuses of personal data by app developers on its platform. Zuckerberg also appeared on CNN to say that the company had been too trusting of app developers in the past, adding that he was willing to testify before Congress and did not oppose some forms of regulation like increased ad transparency. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Video streaming platform YouTube LLC introduced new restrictions on videos involving weapons, saying that it will ban videos promoting or linking to outside websites that sell firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire faster. YouTube, which has faced growing criticism for hosting a number of videos about guns, bombs and other weapons, also said it will restrict videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms. (Bloomberg)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reportedly looking into the relationship between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Cambridge Analytica. Several digital experts who worked for the campaign and also worked closely with Cambridge Analytica have met with Mueller’s team for closed-door interviews over the last several weeks to discuss their digital operations and work micro-targeting voters, according to unnamed sources. (ABC News)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

American Cable Association Summit 7:30 a.m.
FCC monthly commissioners’ meeting 9:30 a.m.
House E&C subcommittee legislative hearing on four communications bills 10:15 a.m.
American Antitrust Institute event on applying antitrust laws to digital platforms 1 p.m.
The Challenge Cup Global Finals startup competition 5 p.m.
FCC & FTC event on illegal robocalls 9:30 a.m.
Brookings Institution event on smart transportation 10 a.m.

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Senate approves legislation to curb sex-trafficking, sending it to President Trump for signature
Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today

The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. Supporters said the bill would deliver justice to victims of sex trafficking and new enforcement tools to law enforcement officials tasked with prosecuting offenders.

Special Counsel studies Trump campaign ties to Cambridge Analytics, sources say
Katherine Faulders, ABC News

As questions have mounted about data firm Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of Facebook data from up to 50 million user profiles, it has not only caught the eye of Congressional investigators but also the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team for the last several weeks has had a growing interest to better understand the relationship between the campaign, the Republican National Committee, and Cambridge Analytica, sources tell ABC News.

Robotic Fish to Keep a Fishy Eye on the Health of the Oceans
JoAnna Klein, The New York Times

You’re a fish in the ocean. It’s 2023 and humans have begun deploying swarms of sentinel robot fish along the reef where you live that will monitor your environment, track pollution and collect intelligence on your behavior.

Cryptocurrency issuers clean up, shun U.S. investors as SEC gets tough
Anna Irrera and Michelle Price, Reuters

Tech start-ups that issue digital tokens to raise funds are falling in line with U.S. securities laws or seeking legal ways to skirt them after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it planned to regulate the market. The issuers are increasingly filing their ‘initial coin offerings (ICOs)’ with the SEC, adding customer checks, barring U.S. investors or halting fundraising after the regulator said it will hold most token offerings to the same standards as share sales, more than a dozen ICO lawyers and executives told Reuters.

Surveillance footage, cellphone data led to takedown of Austin bomber, officials say
Eva Ruth Moravec et al., The Washington Post

The FBI agents and police investigators tasked with identifying who was responsible for planting a series of bombs here seemed at times to be chasing ghosts. They ran down theories of drug-dealer retaliation gone awry and struggled to understand the significance of family connections between the victims.

Bonds Climb, Stocks Drop as Focus Shifts to Trade: Markets Wrap
Samuel Potter, Bloomberg

Treasuries advanced, the dollar steadied and European stocks declined with U.S. futures as traders switched their focus from the Federal Reserve to the outlook for global trade. The pound strengthened and metals rose.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

TV future at stake: Opening arguments Thursday in AT&T case
Mae Anderson, The Associated Press

Opening arguments are set for Thursday in the federal government’s efforts to block AT&T’s efforts to gobble up Time Warner in a case that could shape how you get — and how much you pay for — streaming TV and movies. AT&T says it needs to buy Time Warner to compete with the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Google in the rapidly evolving world of video entertainment.

The nuanced challenges of antitrust and AT&T-Time Warner
Danny Crichton, TechCrunch

It’s been almost eighteen months since the boards of AT&T and Time Warner unanimously voted to sign an agreement to merge their two companies together and create a content and distribution powerhouse. That deal, pegged at $108 billion including debt from Time Warner, would be among the largest corporate mergers in American history.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

Cities File FCC Complaint in Charter/Northwest Carriage Dispute
John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

The cities of Yuma, Ariz., and El Centro, Calif., and the town of Jackson, Wyo., have jointly filed a complaint with the FCC against Charter/Spectrum systems in their respective municipalities–Bresnan and Time Warner Cable Pacific West–over removal of Northwest Broadcasting TV stations from those systems in a carriage dispute. The complaint asserts that the cities and the subs of the Charter-owned systems involved did not get notice of the station’s removal–Northwest stations went off Charter Feb. 2–until after the fact, in violation of the FCC requirement that they get 30 days advanced notice.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

After Days of Silence, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Admits to ‘Mistakes’ With User Data
Deepa Seetharaman, The Wall Street Journal

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence five days into a growing uproar about how outsiders handle Facebook’s user data, admitting mistakes and pledging an investigation but failing to calm some who thought he should have gone further in his remarks. The growing controversy has shaken the social-media company, knocking its stock price lower and prompting renewed calls for governments to better regulate technology businesses that hold enormous quantities of information about their users.

YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos, Entering the Gun Control Debate
Polly Mosendz and Mark Bergen, Bloomberg

YouTube, a popular media site for firearms enthusiasts, this week quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate. YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster.

Under Fire and Losing Trust, Facebook Plays the Victim
Sarah Frier and Max Chafkin, Bloomberg

On Tuesday morning, Facebook employees were quiet even for Facebook employees, buried in the news on their phones as they shuffled to a meeting in one of the largest cafeterias at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Mark Zuckerberg, their chief executive officer, had always told them Facebook Inc.’s growth was good for the world.

BMW to double self-driving car testing fleet despite U.S. fatality
Edward Taylor, Reuters

BMW will not change its strategy on autonomous vehicle testing despite the death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving car during tests by ride-hailing firm Uber, senior executives said on Wednesday. The German carmaker added it would double the size of its autonomous vehicle testing fleet to around 80 this year.

Arizona police release video of fatal collision with Uber self-driving SUV
Sydney Maki and Alexandria Sage, Reuters

Police in Arizona on Wednesday released a short video of a fatal collision between an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian, as investigators probe the accident that has put new focus on the safety of autonomous vehicles. The video, taken from inside the Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle that Uber has used for testing, shows the vehicle driving along a dark road when an image of a woman walking a bicycle across the road suddenly appears in the headlights.

Twitter’s chief information security officer is leaving the company
Casey Newton, The Verge

Twitter’s chief information security officer is leaving the company, sources familiar with the matter have told The Verge. Michael Coates, who joined the company in January 2015, is quitting to start his own company, sources said.

Facebook will limit developers’ access to account data
Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has announced further limits it’ll be placing on apps that gain access to your account. Developers will now receive less information in the first place, they’ll be cut off from access when people stop using their app, and they’ll have to get Facebook’s approval to access more detailed information.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

House lawmakers introduce State Department ‘bug bounty’ bill
Olivia Beavers, The Hill

A pair of House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation seeking to boost cybersecurity at the State Department. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) are co-sponsoring the Hack Your State Department Act, which seeks to establish a Vulnerability Disclosure Program (VDP) as well as a so-called bug bounty program within one calendar year.

Facebook scandal could push other tech companies to tighten data sharing
Paresh Dave, Reuters

Big internet companies and small software developers alike are likely to face scrutiny over how they share customer information in the wake of the scandal involving Facebook Inc and the British election consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Lawmakers in the United States and the EU have called for probes into how Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to access data on 50 million users and use it to help the election campaign of President Donald Trump.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

STRONGER Patents Act Makes Startups Weaker
Rachel Wolbers, Morning Consult

Earlier this month, Playsaurus, the developer of the video game ClickerHeroes sent out a plea to the gamer community: help us fight a patent troll. Playsaurus had received its first patent demand letter, from GTX Corp, a shell entity, claiming the gaming company owed a $35,000 fee to cover a patent on “the utilization of electronic tokens.”

Europe’s Tax War on U.S. Tech
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

One difference between President Trump and the European Union is that Mr. Trump makes mistakes on his own and off the cuff, while Brussels makes mistakes by committee after careful study. So while European mandarins are kvetching about the trade war Mr. Trump risks starting with metals tariffs, Europe is now launching its own economic war with a proposal to tax U.S. tech firms.

Facebook’s PR Crisis Is a Mess of Its Own Making
Kara Alaimo, Bloomberg

Facebook is dealing with one of the biggest crises in its history this week, after it admitted on Friday that it has known since 2015 that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, improperly accessed data on 50 million of its users. On Monday, the company’s stock experienced its largest decline in four years; the social media giant lost a staggering $37 billion in market value in one day.

It’s Time to Break Up Facebook
Eric Wilson, Politico

Facebook is flailing amid the fallout from revelations about the alleged misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s 2016 data firm, dating back to 2014. But the narrow focus on Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign misses the broader problem with Facebook and lacks fundamental context.

Cambridge Analytica didn’t hack Facebook (and that almost makes it worse)
Emily Jashinsky, Washington Examiner

As the story about Cambridge Analytica’s shady use of Facebook data plays out in press coverage, accurately characterizing the “breach” or “leak” of user information is important. To many, those terms probably imply private information was hacked or stolen.

Rivals and consumers will rein in Facebook, not regulation
Liz Peek, The Hill

Note to government bureaucrats panting to regulate Facebook: Back off! And that’s from someone who is no fan of the social media giant. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal unfolds, politicians and government officials in the U.S. and England are itching to pounce.

Research Reports

The Science People See on Social Media
Paul Hitlin and Kenneth Olmstead, Pew Research Center

Millions of people see science-related information on their Facebook feeds or elsewhere on social media, but the kinds of science stories people most likely encounter are often practical tips with “news you can use” or promotions for programs and events rather than new developments in the science, engineering and technology world. In an effort to better understand the science information that social media users encounter on these platforms, Pew Research Center systematically analyzed six months’ worth of posts from 30 of the most followed science- related pages on Facebook.

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