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Congress is behind on AI. That’s your problem.

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Washington, D.C., is preparing for more snow, meaning mostly that we’ll have to contend with an influx of tweets from my fellow northern-state transplants about timid drivers. What the capital area doesn’t seem to be getting ready for is a solution to the AI harms question, even if everyone wants one. Meanwhile, the scrutiny of lawmakers’ Big Tech holdings is heating up, the Empire State says your bosses can’t hide if they’re watching you online, and crypto’s not too pleased with the new tech competitiveness bill. And, of course, a happy Data Privacy Day to those who observe.

Algorithms don't vote

We who follow tech are pretty alarmed about the harm and discrimination that can spring from artificial intelligence. But if anything, Congress is moving backwards on the issue.

Earlier this week, I hosted an event on the future of tech regulation, and the little voice inside me chanting “fight” while the four panelists discussed AI bias ended up coming away disappointed. Everyone just agreed: We have to deal with it ASAP.

  • Justin Brookman of Consumer Reports, nominally a foil to corporate interests on the panel, ended up talking about “common ground” on this issue. “A lot of our conversations with companies have been like, ‘Well, yeah, we should not be using data in ways that has a disparate impact on folks,’” he said.
  • Julie Brill, chief privacy officer at Microsoft, jumped in: “I do think there is a clear middle ground between advocates and companies that want to engage in responsible data use.”

That said, companies and consumer advocates are still nowhere near shaking hands on real solutions, and that process may not go smoothly.

  • It’s pretty easy to say you oppose something everyone’s against while leaving out that you plan to haggle behind closed doors on the really consequential details — like, who has to check for harms, what kinds of bias developers need to mitigate, which groups of people get protection and how to deal with those unintentional effects Brookman mentioned.
  • Companies aren’t living up to the rhetoric, either: There’s always a steady drumbeat of stories on bias being found in AI systems, especially facial recognition.
  • Ultimately, though, tech types agree these issues are a high priority, and say regulation is a key part of the puzzle.

It’s just an urgency Capitol Hill doesn’t share.

To be fair, a few lawmakershave taken on the issues, but members of Congress are mostly a busy bunch with an extremely tenuous grasp of tech topics.

  • Privacy, the legislative push that may have to absorb these concerns, will supposedly remain at a standstill for another year, and AI harms have only popped up on the periphery of hearings about tech and kids, even though people want this issue solved now.
  • Meanwhile, lawmakers have already been struggling to come together on the old debates — like who can sue whom over data misuse — for years, if not decades.
  • Putting another issue, like AI harms, on the agenda only makes things tougher as members of Congress essentially try to make up the homework and cram for the final at the same time.

The task just keeps getting harder the longer lawmakers wait — but Brill had her own solution. “Everyone wants to get a perfect bill,” she said. “We need to iterate to get it better.” But that may be another tech-y habit that D.C. won’t pick up.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

Nearly 100 members of Congress own shares of the tech giants targeted in the marquee antitrust bill headed to the Senate floor, according to Bloomberg. Those lawmakers include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose husband owns a whopping $25.5 million in Apple stock.

The FBI bought and tested NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to an investigation by The New York Times. The FBI paid NSO $5 million for access to its tools, but decided last summer not to deploy them amid widespread media scrutiny of Pegasus.

Gigi Sohn has agreed to add to her existing ethics agreement by recusing herself from two broadcast matters for a time if she’s confirmed to join the FCC. The move earned Sohn the backing of the broadcasters trade group, which had been making noise about her involvement with a free streaming service shut down following a lawsuit. Senate Republicans said it’s still not enough. Her nomination is due for a committee vote next week.

Speaking of AI harms, the bipartisan lawmakers who got the National AI Research Resource Task Force off the ground wrote to the administration urging it to expand “ongoing efforts related to developing and deploying safe and ethical AI,” making sure the government keeps an eye on “privacy and civil rights and civil liberties.”

Dozens of advocacy groups are urging Congress to take action on the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, a bipartisan bill that would prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from buying Americans' information from data brokers.

At the behest of Congress, the FCC is (again) proposingnutrition labels for broadband services to inform consumers about “prices, including introductory rates, as well as speeds, data allowances, network management practices, and other critical broadband service information.”

Section 230 “has brought an end to a number of lawsuits seeking remedies for a wide range of civil wrongs… including, but not limited to, defamation, housing discrimination, negligence, securities fraud, cyberstalking, and material support of terrorism,” California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger observed in 2018. Kruger is thought to be on the short list to replace outgoing U.S. Supreme Court Justice (and antitrust wonk) Stephen Breyer.

In the states

Employers in New York state will need to disclose whether they use electronic monitoring software for employees, starting in May. The new law empowers the state attorney general to levy fines on violators.

California’s attorney general said more Big Tech lawsuits are coming. “This is [a] priority space for me, to hold big corporations, big tech specifically, accountable,” Rob Bonta said in an interview with Bloomberg. “You should expect to see more.”

More than 30 states are on Epic’s side in its case against Apple. Epic won a ruling last year in its landmark antitrust suit, dismantling Apple’s policies on communicating about its fees. But in December, Apple won a stay on making any changes, pending appeal. Now attorneys general for 34 states and D.C. have submitted a brief supporting Epic in the appeal, writing, "Apple’s conduct has harmed and is harming mobile app developers and millions of citizens."


As businesses grow during the pandemic, they also encounter pressing challenges to maintain that success. Among them is the pressure to strengthen their digital backbone, which leads to the question: How can companies find the ideal technology provider suited to their evolving needs?

Learn more

On Protocol

Your company should use bug bounties to catch AI bias, according to a new research paper by leading AI experts. But, but, but! Camille François, one of the paper’s authors, told Protocol bug bounties are “definitely not a substitute to having a responsible industry that is well-regulated.”

Crypto advocates are ringing alarm bells on the America Competes Act. A provision buried deep in the nearly 3,000-page bill expands the Treasury Department’s authority to surveil crypto exchanges and transactions.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse admitted to “losing some customers” over the SEC lawsuit, but he isn’t making any apologies. “The SEC declared war on Ripple,” he said. “We're trying to defend ourselves.”

Around the world

European competition regulators said Meta can acquire Kustomer, which makes CRM software, following an investigation into whether the deal would harm other CRM competitors. As part of the review, Meta agreed to make its public APIs and other messaging features available to Kustomer’s rivals, and to appoint a trustee to ensure Meta keeps its promises.

Neil Young was right to ditch Spotify over COVID-19 misinformation, the director-general of the WHO said Thursday. “Public and private sector, in particular #socialmedia platforms, media, individuals - we all have a role to play to end this pandemic and infodemic,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a tweet.

In data

$770 million: That’s how much the FTC says people in the U.S. lost to fraud in 2021, up 18 times from four years earlier, making up about a quarter of all losses. People lost the most money to investment scams, followed by romance scams.


A federal appeals court today handed California a win, upholding the state’s net-neutrality law. Longtime net-neutrality advocate Evan Greer, of Fight for the Future, called it “a huge court victory” in a tweet, adding a spicy “official statement: ‘Eat shit, AT&T!’”

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

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