Tech Brief: Lawmakers Plan to Release Russia-Linked Facebook Ads

Government Brief

  • Having met with Facebook Inc. COO Sheryl Sandberg, leading members of the House Intelligence Committee plan to release some 3,000 Russia-linked ads that appeared on the platform during the 2016 election cycle. Facebook, which previously refused to release the ads, has been solicited in helping to clean them of any personal information before they can be publicly released. (The New York Times)
  • President Donald Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, currently serving as principal deputy to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, to take Kelly’s former position as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert, previously served on the White House Homeland Security Council under former President George W. Bush. (USA Today)
  • According to current and former U.S. officials, Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab Inc. must have had knowledge of the Russian government using its software as a wide-ranging spying tool for the Kremlin into U.S. government secrets. (The Wall Street Journal)

Business Brief

  • Commenting on reports of Russia using Kaspersky to spy on the U.S. government, Germany’s cyber agency said the country had no plans to discontinue its own use of the company’s software because there is “no evidence” to support such reports. (Reuters)
  • The American Cable Association, a group of roughly 750 cable companies, wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission complaining that Comcast Corp. is pressuring smaller providers to limit their sales of low-cost TV packages that don’t include sports programming. Comcast, which owns regional sports channels in markets such as Boston and Philadelphia, is looking to avoid the loss of subscribers, the groups says. (Bloomberg)
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg set a goal of having 1 billion people using the company’s virtual reality product. At a VR developers’ conference in San Jose, he touted the ability of the technology to expand the “limits of reality” and announced that an independent headset called Oculus Go would be sold in 2018 for $199. (BBC News)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

IEEE Broadcast Symposium 7:30 a.m.
National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters annual fall conference 8 a.m.
ForgeRock and Public Sector Media Group forum on strategies for securing digital government 8 a.m.
Wireless ISP Association conference 8:30 a.m.
Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on trade barriers and protecting cross border data flow policies 10:15 a.m.
Sixth annual Americas spectrum management conference 8:45 a.m.
ITIF lunch event on “opt-in” vs. “opt-out” privacy policies 12 p.m.
FCBA New England Chapter event including FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly 2 p.m.
Washington Center for Equitable Growth conversation with tech entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly on the future of work 5 p.m.
Wireless ISP Association conference 8:30 a.m.
Sixth annual Americas spectrum management conference 8:45 a.m.
Senate Commerce Committee field hearing on expanding New Hampshire’s broadband infrastructure 10 a.m.
FCBA Intellectual Property Committee brown bag lunch on music licensing 12:15 p.m.


Bitcoin trades above $5,000 for first time ever
Staff, Reuters

Bitcoin smashed through the $5,000 barrier for the first time ever on Thursday, jumping as much as 7 percent to chalk up its biggest daily rise in over two weeks. Bitcoin, the original and still the biggest cryptocurrency, has been on a tear recently, rallying nearly 75 percent in barely a month.

Google to co-host Wilbur Ross talk with news site Newsmax
Staff, Reuters

Alphabet Inc’s Google unit will co-host an event with conservative media firm Newsmax on Thursday with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Newsmax Media’s chief executive officer, Christopher Ruddy, said in an email invitation reviewed by Reuters that Larry Kudlow will interview Ross and discuss “the positive impact President Trump’s policies are having on the American economy.”

Hive Switches From Mining Gold to Bitcoin, Surges Six Six-Fold
Natalie Obiko Pearson and Brandon Kochkodin, Bloomberg

Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining maverick who amassed a fortune building what would become one of the world’s largest gold companies, is digging for another kind of gold: cryptocurrencies. The company he’s backed, Vancouver-based Hive Blockchain Technologies Inc., is among the first publicly traded stocks to provide exposure to crypto mining — the vast data crunching needed to verify the blockchain and the volatile currencies they produce like bitcoin and ether.

Treasuries Gain on Fed as Dollar Drifts; Oil Falls: Markets Wrap
Cormac Mullen, Bloomberg

European stocks struggled for traction and bonds pared gains as investor focus switched back to central banks after the release of minutes of last month’s Federal Reserve meeting. Treasury yields nudged lower and the dollar drifted after halting a decline to a one-week low.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

Regulators May Oppose T-Mobile-Sprint Deal Even Under Trump, Analyst Warns
Aaron Pressman, Fortune

Wall Street is souring on the idea that the Trump administration will go easy on mergers, and that’s hitting one of the most talked about merger candidates right in the stock price. Shares of wireless carrier Sprint slumped 2% to $7.14 on Tuesday after Deutsche Bank telecom analyst Matthew Niknam cut his price target on the stock to $7 from $8 due to concerns that a merger with a rival carrier would be blocked.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

Comcast Pressures Local Cable Firms to Curb Low-Cost TV Packages
Gerry Smith, Bloomberg

Comcast Corp. is trying to restrict cable operators’ sales of low-cost TV service to ensure its regional sports networks don’t lose too many subscribers, according to a trade group of about 750 smaller companies that have taken their complaint to regulators. Comcast has tried to limit the availability of sports-free offerings in contract talks with pay-TV operators, according to the American Cable Association, whose members have about 7 million subscribers.

Deutsche Telekom demonstrates first 5G antennas in Berlin
Staff, Reuters

Deutsche Telekom debuted its first ultra high-speed next generation mobile antennas on Thursday, which Europe’s biggest telecoms provider said showed it was ready for a global launch of the technology by 2020. Telekom said it was the first use of the technology in a real world setting in Europe, with speeds of more than 2 gigabits per second to a customer device, as well as a latency of 3 milliseconds on commercial sites.

T-Mobile, Fox TV Stations Partner On Repack
Phil Kurz, TV Technology

T-Mobile and Fox Television Stations have agreed they will work together to accelerate the repack of Fox-owned stations, shaving 16 months from their scheduled repack and saving millions of dollars in costs to be reimbursed from the Broadcast Relocation Fund, the wireless carrier announced this week. For instance, WWOR-TV, the Fox-owned station serving New York City, will be repacked early next year, more than 12 months before its scheduled FCC repack phase, the announcement said.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

Lawmakers Say They Plan to Release Facebook Ads Linked to Russia
Cecilia Kang, The New York Times

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday that they planned to make public the thousands of Facebook ads linked to Russia that appeared during the 2016 presidential election campaign, the first indication that the ads would be released. The lawmakers told reporters about their plans after an afternoon meeting with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Facebook: We want a billion people in VR
Dave Lee, BBC News

In its continued effort to take virtual reality mainstream, Facebook has announced Oculus Go – a standalone headset that will be released in 2018. Mark Zuckerberg said the device, priced at $199, would be the “most accessible VR experience ever”.

Criminal Probe of Uber May Freeze Waymo Trade Secrets Trial
Joel Rosenblatt, Bloomberg

A federal criminal probe of Uber Technologies Inc. investigating whether the company stole driverless car trade secrets from Waymo could freeze a high-stakes trial between the two companies. Depending on the breadth of the investigation, reported earlier Wednesday by Bloomberg, executives or engineers whose testimony is critical to the trial may choose to assert their constitutional right against self-incrimination and refuse to testify.

Amazon Gives Teens Autonomy to Spend Parents’ Money Online
Jing Cao, Bloomberg

Fair warning to parents: Inc. has just announced plans to let your teenagers use your account to shop. Kids age 13 to 17 can now create their own login and account on the Amazon app, allowing them to shop or stream content under digital parental supervision.

Exclusive: Alphabet’s Waymo demanded $1 billion in settlement talks with Uber – sources
Dan Levine, Reuters

Alphabet Inc’s Waymo sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber Technologies Inc as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company, sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters. The Waymo self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future, the sources said.

Facebook pushes ad overhaul before 2018 U.S. election: executive
David Ingram, Reuters

Facebook Inc has begun overhauling how it handles political ads on its platform and may put some changes in place before U.S. elections next year, Facebook’s chief technology officer said on Wednesday. U.S. congressional and state elections set for November 2018 present a deadline of sorts for Facebook and other social media companies to get better at halting the kind of election meddling that the United States accuses Russia of.

Amazon Alexa devices can finally tell voices apart
Brian Heater, TechCrunch

One of the Amazon Echo’s biggest blindspots has just been addressed. Starting today, the company will finally start rolling out customized voice detection.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

Trump nominates Kirstjen Nielsen for Homeland Security secretary
David Jackson and Julia Fair, USA Today

President Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, a deputy to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, to be Homeland Security secretary on Wednesday, filling the vacancy left by Kelly when he took his current post in late July. “Ms. Nielsen has extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and emergency management,” the White House said in a statement announcing the nomination.

Russia Has Turned Kaspersky Software Into Tool for Spying
Shane Harris and Gordon Lubold, The Wall Street Journal

The Russian government used a popular antivirus software to secretly scan computers around the world for classified U.S. government documents and top-secret information, modifying the program to turn it into an espionage tool, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. The software, made by the Moscow-based company Kaspersky Lab, routinely scans files of computers on which it is installed looking for viruses and other malicious software.

Germany: ‘No evidence’ Kaspersky software used by Russians for hacks
Staff, Reuters

Germany’s BSI federal cyber agency said on Wednesday it had no evidence to back media reports that Russian hackers used Kaspersky Lab antivirus software to spy on U.S. authorities. “There are no plans to warn against the use of Kaspersky products since the BSI has no evidence for misconduct by the company or weaknesses in its software,” BSI said in an emailed response to questions about the latest media reports.

Equifax Faces Questions From U.K. Lawmakers on Hacking
Silla Brush and John Glover, Bloomberg

Equifax Inc.’s political troubles expanded, as a top U.K. Parliament lawmaker demanded information from the company and its British regulator about the hack that exposed sensitive data for nearly 700,000 U.K. consumers. Nicky Morgan, chair of the Parliament’s Treasury Committee, asked the chief executive of the company’s U.K. unit in a letter on Wednesday for details about the scale of the breach, how much credit information was compromised and about the firm’s plans to compensate individuals.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

The evidence is mounting: There are now at least a dozen studies that illustrate the failure of the Durbin amendment. In fact, a recent paper from Federal Reserve economists provides empirical evidence of harm to the consumer. Get the facts from the Electronic Payments Coalition.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Facebook’s $2 billion bet on virtual reality looks like one of Mark Zuckerberg’s rare mistakes
Todd Haselton, CNBC

Facebook dropped $2 billion to acquire virtual reality platform Oculus in 2014. Unlike the company’s other big acquisitions, Instagram ($1 billion in 2012) and WhatsApp ($19 billion in 2014), Oculus does not appear to be paying off.

The Frightful Five Want to Rule Entertainment. They Are Hitting Limits.
Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times

The tech giants are too big. Other than Donald J. Trump, that’s the defining story of 2017, the meta-narrative lurking beneath every other headline.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

In a recent paper, Federal Reserve economists confirm what many industry experts have said before: The Durbin amendment harms consumers. There are now at least a dozen studies that illustrate why this failed policy must be repealed. Learn the truth from EPC.

Research Reports

DEFCON 25 Voting Machine Hacking Village Report on Cyber Vulnerabilities in U.S. Election Equipment, Databases, and Infrastructure
Matt Blaze et al., DEFCON

Since its founding in 1993, DEFCON has become one of the world’s largest, longest-running, and best-known hacker conferences. This year’s DEFCON was held July 27-30, 2017 in Las Vegas and drew a record-breaking 25,000 participants.