Tech Brief: ‘Ongoing Investigation’ Into 2016 Russian Disinformation Campaign on Reddit, CEO Says

Top Stories

  • Reddit Inc. CEO Steve Huffman confirmed in a blog post that the company “removed a few hundred accounts” that were knowingly disseminating Russian propaganda on the platform, adding that Reddit is conducting an “ongoing investigation” into how Russian actors may have used the site in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Huffman suggested that Russian-connected sources did not purchase ads on Reddit, saying that all of the site’s ads are “reviewed by humans,” but also noted that thousands of users unknowingly shared Russian propaganda that appeared on other platforms, such as Twitter Inc. (Recode)
  • Congressional investigators looking into Russian meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle plan to question Reddit and Tumblr Inc. over reports that Russian actors may have spread disinformation on their platforms. Staffers for Senate Intelligence Committee members reportedly plan to hold a briefing soon with Tumblr officials, and are seeking further information from Reddit after the company announced that it shut down hundreds of suspicious accounts in 2015 and 2016. (The Washington Post)
  • The Trump administration joined a number of state officials in urging the Supreme Court to overturn a 1992 precedent that gives many online retailers an exemption from having to add taxes to consumers’ purchases. Roughly 35 states and the District of Columbia, including organizations representing retailers from booksellers to shopping malls, are supporting an effort to overrule the 1992 case, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, and Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a recent friend-of the-court brief that the justices in the Quill case “did not and could not anticipate the development of modern e-commerce.” (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Broadcom Ltd. is on track to win all six seats it’s seeking on Qualcomm Inc.’s board of directors, potentially giving the Singapore-based company the upper hand in its hostile takeover bid for the U.S. chipmaker, according to information obtained by reporters. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States postponed Qualcomm’s planned board meeting to review concerns about the deal’s potential threats to national security, but an analysis of more than half of the board votes already cast found that Broadcom would win a majority of Qualcomm’s board seats. (Bloomberg)
  • Google LLC sold restaurant review guide Zagat to The Infatuation, a food recommendation website that rose to prominence through the use of hashtags and Instagram photos. The purchase price was not disclosed, and The Infatuation plans to operate Zagat separately from its namesake platform. (Financial Times)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on NTIA 10 a.m.
Senate Finance Committee hearing on protecting e-commerce consumers from counterfeits 10 a.m.
House Small Business subcommittee hearing on rural broadband 10 a.m.
DOT and NHTSA meeting on self-driving vehicles 10 a.m.
RegTech Data Summit 8 a.m.
TRPI net vitality 2.0 study release event 9 a.m.
ITIF event on piracy and streaming media boxes 9 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on emerging tech’s impact on retail 10 a.m.
House Financial Services subcommittee hearing on legislative proposals to reform data security systems 2 p.m.
FCBA committee meeting on public safety communications systems 6 p.m.
US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on next generation connectivity 9:30 a.m.
World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee meeting 11 a.m.
Silicon Flatirons event on Section 512 Safe Harbor 1 p.m.
CICA event on EU general data protection regulation 12 p.m.

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Trump Administration Joins States in Push to Expand Online Sales-Tax Collections
Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration on Monday urged the Supreme Court to expand states’ authority to collect sales tax on internet transactions, joining a chorus of state officials seeking to overrule a 1992 precedent exempting many online retailers from having to add taxes to a consumer’s final price. In 1992, the justices “did not and could not anticipate the development of modern e-commerce,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a friend-of the-court brief.

Interior Wants To Know How To Manage Its Huge Social Media Presence
Aaron Boyd, Nextgov

The Interior Department has more than 1,500 social media accounts and needs to be able to manage them all through one central portal. Interior has a large social media presence through its many components.

Faced with increased criticism, Pentagon slashes cloud computing contract awarded to an Amazon partner
Christian Davenport and Aaron Gregg, The Washington Post

Faced with criticism over how it awarded a contract to move computer systems to the Internet cloud, the Pentagon on Monday slashed a deal awarded to an Amazon partner, cutting the amount from nearly $1 billion to no more than $65 million, while dramatically limiting the scope of work. When the Pentagon awarded the $950 million contract to Herndon, Va.-based Rean Cloud last month, it was immediately hit with criticism for showing favoritism to a partner of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which industry officials fear has an inside track on the Pentagon’s cloud computing work.

Take up stalled self-driving car bill, automakers urge U.S. Senate
David Shepardson, Reuters

Major automakers on Monday joined forces with tech companies and a variety of interest groups to urge the U.S. Senate to take up, before the end of May, a stalled bill aimed at speeding the deployment and testing of self-driving cars. In a letter to U.S. Senate leaders that was signed by more than 100 groups and companies, and seen by Reuters, the automakers and other advocates of the bill cited the“potential lives that could be saved” in urging quick action, noting human error is a factor in about 94 percent of all U.S. vehicle crashes.

Microsoft to offer governments local version of Azure cloud service
Salvador Rodriguez, Reuters

Microsoft Corp on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft’s localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft’s cloud, comes as competition against Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up.

Stocks Climb on Korea Hope, Opposition to Tariffs: Markets Wrap
Samuel Potter, Bloomberg

Appetite for risk assets picked up across global markets on Tuesday as investors digested an apparent diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea and judged fears of a full-blown trade war overdone. European stocks followed Asian peers higher, extending a rebound as U.S. President Donald Trump faced resistance in his plans for a series of import tariffs.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

Broadcom Is on Course to Win Majority of Qualcomm Board Seats
Ed Hammond and Ian King, Bloomberg

Broadcom Ltd. is on course to win all six of the seats it’s seeking on Qualcomm Inc.’s board, giving it a majority slate at the chipmaker based on a count of more than half of the votes already cast, according to information obtained by Bloomberg. If that result holds up when the final shareholder vote takes place, Broadcom would have a mandate to negotiate its $117 billion hostile bid for its rival, overturning Qualcomm management’s opposition to doing a deal.

Six tech companies filing net neutrality lawsuit
Ali Breland, The Hill

Six technology companies, including Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, have launched a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to preserve net neutrality rules. The companies, which also include Shutterstock, Expa and Automattic, on Monday filed their petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Republican lawmakers back review of Broadcom’s Qualcomm bid
Patricia Zengerle, Reuters

U.S. Republican lawmakers on Monday backed a U.S. panel’s decision to delay semiconductor firm Qualcomm Inc shareholder meeting to allow for a more extensive review of Broadcom Ltd’s takeover bid. “I’m glad they’re taking a closer look at it. Qualcomm is a leader in 5G technology, which is going to be the new standard in the future,” said Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, who had pushed for further review.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

Ajit Pai’s supporters say he’s gone too far with plan that hurts poor people
Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Ajit Pai can usually count on support from broadband industry lobbyists and conservative think tanks each time he announces a new policy. But Pai’s proposal to limit broadband choices for poor people who rely on a telecom subsidy program is coming under fire from all directions.

FCC to Showcase Library-Friendly Tech
John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

The idea is showcase how libraries use digital content to provide broadband access to tablets, phones and e-readers. The exhibit will be hosted by the FCC Technology Experience Center in the FCC’s own library.

Washington becomes 1st state to approve net-neutrality rules
Rachel La Corte, The Associated Press

Washington became the first state Monday to set up its own net-neutrality requirements after U.S. regulators repealed Obama-era rules that banned internet providers from blocking content or interfering with online traffic. “We know that when D.C. fails to act, Washington state has to do so,” Gov. Jay Inslee said before signing the measure that lawmakers passed with bipartisan support.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

Reddit says Russian propaganda was shared by ‘thousands’ ahead of the 2016 election
Kurt Wagner, Recode

It’s widely known that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were used by Russian sources during the 2016 U.S. presidential election to try and sway public opinion. Now we know for certain that Reddit was also part of Russia’s disinformation strategy.

Senate investigators want answers from Reddit and Tumblr on Russia meddling
Tony Romm, The Washington Post

Congressional investigators probing Russian interference around the 2016 U.S. presidential election plan to question Reddit and Tumblr over new reports that the Kremlin may have helped spread disinformation on their sites, as lawmakers continue to explore the ways in which Russia weaponized social media. Staffers for lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a briefing with Tumblr soon, and they’re seeking more information from Reddit after it acknowledged Monday it shuttered hundreds of suspicious accounts in 2015 and 2016, according to a person close to the panel who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Google sells Zagat restaurant review guide to The Infatuation
Shannon Bond, Financial Times

Google has sold the restaurant review guide Zagat to The Infatuation, a food recommendation site that rose to prominence through savvy use of hashtags and tantalising Instagram photos. The Infatuation will operate Zagat, known for its burgundy guidebooks and reviews peppered with quotes from restaurant patrons, separately from its namesake site.

Facebook survey asked if ‘adult man’ should be allowed to request ‘sexual pictures’ from 14-year-old
John Shinal, CNBC

Facebook asked some users if they thought the company should allow posts from child sexual predators and violent extremists, then reversed course and pulled the surveys after they were spotted by a media outlet. The wording of the questions was puzzling given that both types of offensive content have long been banned by Facebook’s own terms of use.

Facebook expands test around new “breaking news” label
Sara Fischer, Axios

Facebook will expand its “breaking news” label that’s being tested in the U.S. to more than 50 additional publishers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia. If the expansion is successful, Facebook says it may add more publishers.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

Escort Says Audio Recordings Show Russian Meddling in U.S. Election
Richard C. Paddock, The New York Times

A Belarusian escort with close ties to a powerful Russian oligarch said from behind bars in Bangkok on Monday that she had more than 16 hours of audio recordings that could help shed light on Russian meddling in United States elections. The escort, Anastasia Vashukevich, said she would hand over the recordings if the United States granted her asylum.

As midterms heat up, lawmakers feeling good about ballot box security
Charlie Mitchell, Washington Examiner

As the Senate Intelligence Committee sends recommendations to states on securing election systems, lawmakers from both parties say they are confident that Congress can overcome partisan tensions around Russia investigations and actually help ensure the sanctity of the ballot box in November. “This is Congress, we’re used to having fights and coming together to do our work,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who has carved out a cyber role for himself on the House Oversight and Government Reform, Homeland Security, and Intelligence panels.

Trio in push on cyber security standards for fintech groups
Ben McLannahan, Financial Times

Three of the world’s biggest financial institutions have joined forces to develop a set of cyber security standards for technology companies, which could allow incumbents to partner with challengers without fear of risking a damaging breach. Big banks, insurers and other financial institutions have spent heavily in recent years on bolstering their defences against cyber attacks, assuring investors that they have done all they can to fend off criminals, “hacktivists” and disaffected insiders.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Parents Can Play Important Role in Teaching Children About Technology
Kristen Galloway, Morning Consult

Parents across the country didn’t grow up with the same technology our kids have at their fingertips today. That may be a reason why a group recently called on the leadership of Apple and other smartphone companies to develop technology to make phones better for kids.

Treasury’s Qualcomm Reversal
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

Well, that was fast, and just in time. The Treasury Department announced very late Sunday that it has ordered Qualcomm Inc. to postpone for 30 days its shareholder vote for directors in its takeover brawl with Broadcom Ltd.

The Left Shouldn’t Be Too Proud to Meme
Jennifer Grygiel, The New York Times

Say the word “meme” and most people think of funny videos that go viral or assaults by internet trolls on platforms like 4chan, a website frequented by alt-right groups. President Trump, who regularly retweets memes, many of them directed at Democrats, is perhaps the most famous devotee of the form.

Public safety needs a pitcher and catcher: NG911 and FirstNet
David G. Simpson, The Hill

Last month, FirstNet submitted its annual report to Congress and reported three major milestones. First, a competitive contract award for the network to AT&T; second, completion of an engagement process with all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories “opting-in,” signifying their readiness to begin implementation; and third, establishment of the commercial ecosystem for first responder end user devices and applications intended to bring radical improvements in emergency response functions at consumer market prices.

Research Reports

Mobile Security Updates: Understanding the Issues
Federal Trade Commission

Thanks to our smartphones and tablets, we shop, bank, play, read, post, watch, date, record, and search on the go. Three-quarters of Americans own smartphones and most check their devices four times or more every hour.