An exterior view of the Commerce department building
Photo: Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash

Want to understand tech's hold on DC? Check the real estate listings.

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! In the real world, neighbors might be people with different ideas from you about lawn care, acceptable TV volume or prudent oven-fan use. In Washington, you can hatch a potent political alliance while waiting for the elevator or picking up the dry cleaning — which is worth remembering as the Chamber of Commerce moves staff into the same building as Google. Plus, we’ll catch you up on Amazon’s latest court victory, Meta’s subpoena spree and Moscow’s fight with Instagram.

Office politics

There’s an old joke that even momentous news stories should have local angles — like the New York City newspaper that wryly reported “a Queens-born real estate developer” had been impeached as president for the second time. But I really believe a Washington, D.C., office move tells us a ton about the power of tech: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Google are becoming neighbors.

The Chamber is moving its government relations team to an office a few blocks from the Capitol “to share a building with top corporate partners.”

  • Who are these partners? Well, the building lists existing tenants that include the American Medical Association, GM, the American Institute of Iron & Steel — and Google.
  • If that doesn’t convince you the Chamber’s move is in part about tech, and not just for the food trucks that line up outside the building, the NCTA — a trade group for cable providers and programmers — is also in the building, and will be a neighbor too.

The Chamber has long been Washington’s most fearsome trade group (even as it continues to fall out with Trumpy Republicans), but the meaning of “leading advocacy for business” has been changing.

  • In the past, the Chamber was all about manufacturers, energy companies and Big Tobacco.
  • It fought against pollution regulations and health care reform about as hard as anyone could, while also pushing for all-sector priorities such as immigration reform and trade deals.
  • It’s still lobbying on plenty of those issues, but today, the biggest companies in the world — and the constraints that state and federal lawmakers are working hardest to put on businesses — are in tech.
  • Tech companies are increasingly setting the agenda for pro-business groups, and have even begun pushing another big lobbying association, the Business Roundtable, toward Biden’s climate proposals.

The Chamber has been trying to make itself a one-stop shop for tech for years.

  • The Chamber is threatening “war” (presumably in court) over Lina Khan’s actions at the FTC, and it’s made itself a primary voice opposing the Congressional push for antitrust reform, which is aimed squarely at Big Tech.
  • The Chamber also set up what it calls a “Technology Engagement Center,” joined with tech groups to campaign for an industry vision of online privacy and has worked on automated vehicles and crypto.
  • It’s also gone all-in on artificial intelligence, holding a “field hearing” on the topic in Austin ahead of SXSW earlier this month.

The Chamber told me that, with the move to the new office building, it’s also planning to put its “core policy issues under one roof,” including antitrust and work on defense and aerospace.

  • In other words, just as the Chamber starts to share an outdoor terrace with Google, it’s viewing competition as a No. 1 issue and trying to streamline its approach to the topic.
  • When the Chamber makes an issue a priority, it can bring to bear expensive litigation, a barrage of regulatory lobbying, the ability to get a meeting in almost any lawmaker office, a network of state and local chambers’ mobilization and huge piles of funds for nationwide ads and campaign spending.
  • In other words, the organization can make it an infernal nightmare for the government to do anything it doesn’t like.

At the end of the day, geography isn’t quite destiny in D.C. If it were, Democrats and Republicans who are crammed into the same Congressional office buildings and apartment complexes would like each other a lot more. But anyone imagining that we’ve already seen the hardest parts of the fights over regulating tech would be wise to check the real estate pages.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

Most of official Washington will be focused for the next few days on the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Once lawmakers get past the hot-button issues, there may be plenty of questions about the tech policy issues the high court could take up in the future.

A Senate copyright bill years in the making will pit internet companies against the content industry, as POLITICO points out. In the past, similar fights were definitional for Big Tech, but political realities may keep this one from becoming a major legislative battle this year.

Progressive groups want the House Financial Services Committee to dig into Google’s tentative forays into crypto. The panel’s scrutiny of Mark Zuckerberg’s Diem plans helped slow — and eventually sink — the project.

A MESSAGE FROM HASHICORP

If you’re a CEO these days, odds are that your CIO understands something you may not: your company’s cybersecurity strategy is fundamentally flawed, and has been ever since your organization began using cloud-based services.

Learn more

In the courts

A D.C. Superior Court dismissed one of the first significant antitrust cases facing Amazon. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed the suit last year, alleging that Amazon engaged in anticompetitive pricing practices by forcing sellers to guarantee the best prices on its platform. The judge did not explain why he dismissed the case. Last week, a Seattle judge allowed a similar case to proceed.

Racine also announced Monday his office is suing Grubhub for allegedly “charging hidden fees and using deceptive marketing tactics during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Brazil reinstated access to the Telegram messaging app after it was blocked for two days for failing to comply with an order from the Supreme Court. To appease the courts, Telegram will add misinformation labels to certain shared news items and more closely track the most popular channels, according to The New York Times. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has a particularly strong following on the messaging app.

Meta went on a subpoena spree, and Snap, Twitter, LinkedIn, Oracle and more got served. The companies are now asking the court overseeing the FTC’s antitrust case against Meta to limit the firm’s access to millions of documents that might show how much everyone competes.

A former Google recruiter sued the company, alleging it systematically underpays and under-promotes its Black employees.

On Protocol

Ukrainian entrepreneur Michael Chobanian told the U.S. Senate his country could serve as a sandbox for crypto. We touched on the crypto Senate hearing in Friday’s newsletter, but look at this piece on Chobanian, the president of the Blockchain Association of Ukraine.

Tech companies are nudging a major Big Business lobbying group toward President Biden’s climate investments, but it’s a slow process that didn’t stop the group from helping kill the Build Back Better Act.

Malaysia’s deputy minister of Communications and Multimedia Ministry wants to green-light cryptocurrencies as legal tender, following in El Salvador’s footsteps. Representatives from the central bank of Malaysia told Bloomberg in January they were exploring the issuance of a central bank digital currency. Malaysia’s finance minister doesn’t seem to be as keen on cryptocurrencies, as he said earlier this month that crypto does not represent a “good store of value and a medium of exchange.”

Around the world

Russia has reportedly banned Facebook and Instagram, using a new law for the first time to declare Meta an “extremist” organization. Moscow has sought to maintain its hold on information about its invasion of Ukraine.

A handful of startups with ties to Ukraine have allocated resources to solving wartime problems such as organizing evacuations and spearheading fundraising campaigns, The Wall Street Journal reports.

EU digital chief Margrethe Vestager covered the Digital Markets Act, Digital Services Act and cryptocurrency in a recent interview with The Verge. On the topic of democracy and digitization, Vestager remarked: “Democracy is coming back to be able to govern our society when it’s digital.”

A MESSAGE FROM HASHICORP

As a business leader, you need to understand that zero-trust is not just another buzzword. It’s a fundamentally different mindset that you will need to embrace — and the sooner you do so, the better.

Learn more

The next big thing

Remember when Snapchat came out, and you felt old? And then TikTok came out, and you came to terms with being whatever’s the opposite of “hip”? Well now there’s an even newer social media upstart in town: BeReal. As Protocol’s Lizzy Lawrence explains, BeReal is a photo-sharing service that only lets users post once a day, within a random two-minute interval. The idea is that a narrow, surprise posting window encourages users to share more candid depictions of their existence, eschewing the unattainable lifestyle aesthetics that thrive on Instagram.

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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