Tech Brief: Facebook Says Russian Firm Linked to 3,000 Divisive Ads

Government Brief

  • Facebook Inc. disclosed that it had identified roughly 3,000 political ads focused on divisive social issues — such as race, gun control and immigration — that ran from June 2015 to May 2017 and were connected to fake accounts created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin. Facebook indicated that it shared its findings with federal investigators, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees. (The New York Times)
  • Oracle Corp. announced its support for a Senate bill that would combat online sex trafficking. The legislation, called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, has received opposition from other tech companies that view it as an erosion of important liability protections for websites. (The Hill)
  • The Federal Communications Commission announced a two-week deadline extension for public input on its latest Section 706 report, the agency’s annual overview of how advanced telecommunications are deployed to Americans across the country. The new deadline, which has been pushed until Sept. 21 for comments and Oct. 6 for replies, came after outside groups and several Democratic senators requested more time for the public to provide comment. (Broadcasting and Cable)

Business Brief

  • Inc. announced plans to open a second headquarters somewhere in North America that could house up to 50,000 workers and cost $5 billion to build and operate. The company, which is soliciting bids for the project, said it is prioritizing metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people and that are within 45 minutes of an international airport. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The cryptocurrency market mostly recovered from a crash earlier this week that saw bitcoin and other forms of digital currency drop 20 percent, in part due to China’s announcement that it would ban initial coin offerings. The entire market cap of cryptocurrencies, which dropped to a low of $135 billion on Tuesday, was up 16 percent to $162 billion as of Wednesday. (TechCrunch)
  • An analyst with Pivotal Research Group says that Facebook claims its social media platform can reach more people than actually exist across the United States. Facebook’s Ads Manager says the company can reach some 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds in the country, but there are only roughly 31 million people who fall within that age category, according to U.S. Census data. (Bloomberg)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

ITIF event on global digital technology 10 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce hearing on spectrum repacking 10 a.m
Event on open internet with FCC Chairman Pai 12 p.m.
Next Century Cities hosts Tech-Powered Civic Engagement 3 p.m.
No events scheduled

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Oracle backs Senate sex-trafficking bill
Harper Neidig, The Hill

Tech giant Oracle announced its support on Wednesday for a Senate bill designed to combat sex trafficking, breaking away from many Silicon Valley companies that worry the legislation poses an existential threat to online social media platforms. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has been spearheading the push behind the bill, released a letter from Oracle Vice President Kenneth Glueck applauding the legislation and taking a shot at its critics in the tech sector.

Law Enforcement Concerns Slow Commercial Drone Regulations
Andy Pasztor, The Wall Street Journal

Efforts to develop flight-safety regulations for commercial drones are being disrupted by law-enforcement and national security concerns, industry and government officials said at a conference here Wednesday. Federal Aviation Administration draft rules intended to permit small unmanned aircraft to routinely fly over crowds were close to being published late last year, according to industry officials, but they were effectively vetoed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with other agencies, for failing to adequately address how to remotely identify such airborne vehicles.

As a general rule, body cam footage across US is not a public record
David Kravets, Ars Technica

The California Legislature missed the September deadline to approve pending legislation that would have made police body cam footage a public record. The bill’s failure keeps the Golden State largely in line with the rest of the nation.

Mexico signs e-commerce deal with China’s Alibaba Group
Staff, Reuters

Mexico’s government said on Wednesday it has inked a deal with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, to get Mexican products and services, especially from small- and medium-sized firms, onto the top Chinese e-commerce firm’s platform. The deal comes as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wraps up a trip to China to discuss trade and investment, as part of a strategy to diversify and open new markets for his country’s products.

Dollar Extends Decline; Stocks Swing Before ECB: Markets Wrap
Robert Brand, Bloomberg

The dollar weakened against most G-10 peers as tensions over North Korea and the increasingly cloudy Fed outlook outweighed positive sentiment from the U.S. debt ceiling extension. Stocks in Europe inched higher and core bonds fell as the European Central Bank pondered options to reduce monetary stimulus.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

Former FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez tapped to lead antitrust at global law firm
Brian Fung, The Washington Post

The nation’s former top consumer-protection official is headed to Hogan Lovells, a top international law firm, to specialize on an increasingly visible area of policy: antitrust and competition law. Edith Ramirez, the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission during President Barack Obama’s tenure, will help lead the firm’s practice on economic regulation and antitrust, Hogan Lovells announced Tuesday.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

FCC Extends Sec. 706 Report Comment Deadline
John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

The FCC has extended, by two weeks, the deadline for input on its latest Notice of Inquiry (NOI) request for input for the thirteenth Sec. 706 report, which is the extent to which advanced telecommunications is being deployed to all Americans on a reasonable and timely basis. The new deadlines are Sept. 21 for comments and Oct. 6 for replies.

FCC Activates Reporting System for Hurricane Irma
John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

The FCC has activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in counties in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the face of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 that is devastating the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the FCC is still collecting information on the state of communications in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads
Scott Shane and Vindu Goel, The New York Times

Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin. Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer.

Amazon Opens Search for Second Headquarters City in North America
Cara Lombardo, The Wall Street Journal Inc. is in the market for a second home.The Seattle-based online retailer said Thursday it plans to open a second headquarters somewhere in North America that will house up to 50,000 employees and cost $5 billion to build and operate.

Cryptocurrencies have already recovered from last weekend’s crash
Fitz Tepper, TechCrunch

When cryptocurrency markets crashed 20% a few days ago, I wrote “the next day or so will tell us if this was a temporary bump in the road or the start of the next major correction.” Well here we are, a day or so later.

Facebook Faulted for Saying It Can Reach People Who Don’t Exist
Jing Cao and Sarah Frier, Bloomberg

Facebook Inc. claims its platform can reach more people than actually exist in the U.S., which could hurt its push to compete for TV advertising budgets, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser wrote in a note to clients. According to Facebook’s Ads Manager, the social media giant has potential access to 41 million 18 to 24 year-olds in the U.S., Wieser wrote.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

Homeland Security Puts Up $8.6m for Cutting-Edge Mobile App Security
Joseph Marks and Jack Corrigan, Nextgov

The Homeland Security Department Science and Technology Directorate awarded $8.6 million in research and development contracts to five companies Wednesday to boost smartphone security across the federal government. The department’s Mobile Application Security R&D project focuses on developing technology to fortify mobile devices and the software that often offers a way for attackers to access data or take over a device.

A rebuke from the US army has DJI focused on improving security
Ben Popper, The Verge

DJI is the world’s most successful consumer drone company, estimated to control around two-thirds of the market for drones that cost $5,000 or less. DJI’s rise to the top has been rapid: in five years, the company has gone from supplying parts to hobbyists to selling devices to Hollywood cinematographers, Fortune 500 companies, and law enforcement agencies.

Modernization boosts cybersecurity anxieties, survey says
Derek B. Johnson, FCW

When it comes to protecting the government’s IT infrastructure from cyberattacks, conventional wisdom has long held that modernization of outdated legacy systems can be a key driver of improved security. The results of a survey released Sept. 6 challenged that conventional wisdom.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

FBI needs to show its Kaspersky cards or fold
Jake Williams, CyberScoop

The FBI, in conjunction with other U.S. intelligence agencies, is making the case that Kaspersky has Russian intelligence ties and its products can’t be trusted. CyberScoop broke the story that the bureau has been briefing additional intelligence to U.S. companies using Kaspersky products, warning them to stop.

Research Reports

Telecommunications: Additional Action Needed to Address Significant Risks in FCC’s Lifeline Program
Seto Bagdoyan, Government Accountability Office

In its May 2017 report, GAO found the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not evaluated the Lifeline program’s (Lifeline) performance in meeting its goals of increasing telephone and broadband subscribership among low- income households by providing financial support, but it has recently taken steps to begin to do so. FCC does not know how many of the 12.3 million households receiving Lifeline as of December 2016 also have non-Lifeline phone service, or whether participants are using Lifeline as a secondary phone service.