March 4, 2022
Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! The war in Ukraine, like COVID-19 before it, has made once-unthinkable ideas suddenly mainstream in Washington. I asked Silicon Valley’s congressman what that means for tech regulation. Plus, the SEC probing NFTs, Musk’s latest sniping at Biden, and Sohn and Bedoya moving forward oh-so-slowly.
Since getting to Congress in 2017, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents the heart of Silicon Valley, has developed a reputation for showing up everywhere. Sure, he has a knack for courting news coverage, but well, tech is actually everywhere. So when he called me yesterday, Khanna talked about everything from Ukraine and President Biden’s tech-y State of the Union to kids online and his colleagues’ savviness on AI.
Tech platforms’ actions to curb official Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine are getting begrudging thumbs-ups from lawmakers, Khanna said, but Congress wants more on other kinds of misinformation.
Speaking of kids online, Khanna called the issue “low-hanging fruit” because of its bipartisan appeal and Biden’s urging it along.
He also said kids under 13 “shouldn’t be on these sites and having data collected.”
It’s probably going to be Memorial Day before Congress can deliver on Biden’s call for a unified bill from the House and Senate containing $52 billion in chips provisions, Khanna estimated.
Khanna was clear that he has “a few” colleagues who are really sharp on artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge issues, but, he said, “We still need more technological competency.”
Khanna said his own role as one of the representatives for Silicon Valley has “become more prominent” since he arrived in Washington.
Besides chips, it’s anyone’s guess what lawmakers really have the will — and the time — to do. But Khanna’s probably right that, whatever Congress decides to do about tech, it’s going to affect pretty much everything else.— Ben Brody (email | twitter)
The SEC is sniffing around creators of certain NFTs and the crypto exchanges they trade on to figure out if the digital assets are being used to raise money like traditional securities.
A Senate committee readied the nominations of Gigi Sohn (for the FCC) and Alvaro Bedoya (for the FTC) for a floor vote. Both have faced bumpy roads, dealing with seemingly unified Republican opposition and the absence of Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján after his stroke. Both nominees received tied 14-14 votes, so their confirmations will require extra steps on the floor. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt also said he would seek to hold up Bedoya over concerns about the FTC’s analysis of, and responsiveness about, an agricultural acquisition in his state.
How is the Treasury Department ensuring that cryptocurrencies are not used to sidestep sanctions on Russia? That’s what a group of Senate Democrats led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Mark Warner demanded to know in a recent letter.
Warren also suggested Amazon’s attendance policy “may not be in compliance with federal laws protecting workers’ rights to take time off without punishment” in another letter. She and her co-authors, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, urged the Department of Labor to investigate.
Senate Republican staff got briefed on tech gatekeeper issues on Thursday as antitrust bills start heading to the floor, according to several people familiar with the session. Apple, Roku, the conservative Heritage Foundation (which has begun dabbling on competition reform) and the tech trade group NetChoice attended.The surgeon general is demanding information from Big Tech on COVID-19 misinformation, including data about “exactly how many users saw or may have been exposed” to it.
TikTok is officially the subject of a multistate probe, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The investigation is looking into whether the app is being designed or operated “in a manner that causes or exacerbates physical and mental health harms” to young users.
The Justice Department is reportedly prepared to bring out the big guns — in the form of criminal charges, not just civil suits — in monopolization cases, according to a top official. The DOJ official, Richard Powers, was addressing an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco. Really, though, he could be talking about any industry, right?Washington, the home of Amazon and Microsoft, became the second state to pass the Silenced No More Act. Inspired by the experiences of tech workers, the measure bars employers in the state from using NDAs to prevent workers from talking about discrimination, sexual assault, harassment, wage violations and more.
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Meta and the FTC won’t have their day in court for at least two years, maybe more.
The McFlurry is definitely tech: In something of a right-to-repair proxy fight, a startup that sought to help McDonald’s franchisees fix soft-serve machines with a smartphone is suing the fast-food corporation. Kytch alleges that headquarters interfered with its contracts.
We’re keeping track of all the many, many ways that tech companies are cutting ties with Russia and trying to help Ukrainians, including:
TikTok is developing a policy to label state media, according to The Washington Post. The Chinese-owned app has tried to keep out of the war in Ukraine (and other political and international tensions that its corporate parent wants to avoid) but the pressure became too great as other platforms moved to address Russian propaganda.
Elon Musk is big mad at being left out of the EVs talk in Biden’s State of the Union.Beijing is as annoyed with pop-ups and push alerts as you are, although its new draft regulations on the topic are going to put even more pressure on news outlets.
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Part of a rocket apparently hit the moon going very fast this morning. It’s making me giggle imagining road flares and orange traffic cones covered in lunar dust, but to better adults, it raises serious questions about space junk.
Thanks for reading — see you Monday!