March 7, 2022
Image: Stamen Design/Open Street Map/Protocol
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy. Today, we’re talking about tech platforms’ long and sordid history with Russian propaganda. Plus, Tesla fails a climate test and Apple loses a crucial vote.
Jack Dorsey’s beard was not yet Rasputin-esque when he sat down for his first Senate hearing in September 2018. Seated to his right was Sheryl Sandberg, and over his left shoulder, a few rows back, lurked Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist whom Twitter would ban from the platform the following day.
It had been a year since the world found out about Russian efforts to turn Americans against each other during the 2016 U.S. election, and Dorsey and Sandberg were there to explain what their companies had done since to ensure it never happened again.
One big change Dorsey shared: Twitter blocked Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on the platform. Not only that, Dorsey said, but the company had also donated the $1.9 million it made from those outlets to charity. That seemed to satisfy Twitter’s inquisitors in the Senate.
For the next four years, though, not a single other major U.S. tech platform followed suit — that is, until now.
But despite their speedy response to the war, U.S. tech giants enabled Russian state propaganda for years. It didn’t have to be that way.
But of course, that’s not the world that Facebook and YouTube have created for most of their existence. RT now has millions of subscribers and followers on both platforms.
Facebook and YouTube also missed an obvious chance to ride Twitter’s coattails and cut off Russian state media from ads in 2017.
It’s worth wondering what impact tech platforms can even have in weakening an outlet like RT, at least, inside Russia. After all, an organization funded by the Russian government hardly relies on YouTube ads to survive. “It’s important to distinguish between steps that are symbolically useful versus steps that have a real effect on the information environment,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab.
Still, even symbolic steps have consequences. Now, tech giants have arguably found themselves in, arguably, a worst-case scenario: Having allowed Putin’s propaganda machine to grow online for years, they had no choice but to take a blunt instrument to it when a war broke out. Now, Russia has cut off access to a critical communication tool for millions of people. Which is, of course, what these companies wanted to avoid all along.
— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.
DOJ and DHS are on opposite sides of a fight over a key cybersecurity billthat would require infrastructure companies to publicly report hacks. The bill has already unanimously passed the Senate with DHS support, but top officials at the DOJ said it would make the U.S. “less safe.”
Debate is building over whether the National AI Research Resource should be available to private-sector companies. The federally funded cloud for AI researchers was originally intended for academia, and some worry that admitting small businesses and startups will risk overloading the system early on.The FTC is coming for the company formerly known as Weight Watchers. The commission said WW International, as it’s now known, and a subsidiary used an app to illegally collect data from kids as young as 8. Now, the company’s being hit with a $1.5 million fine and must delete any of its ill-gotten data and algorithms based on that data.
Washington state employers may soon have to provide salary information in job listings. Legislation requiring pay transparency in the home state of Amazon and Microsoft recently passed both chambers of the state legislature and would apply to all employers with 15 or more employees.
Also in Washington state: A bill that would give gig workers benefits without classifying them as employees passed the state Senate. Another version has already passed the state House. The two versions need to be reconciled before Gov. Jay Inslee can sign.
Gen Z is poised to help everyone - from a rural small business to a tech giant - rethink how their business operations can help alleviate the digital divide. It’s time to give Gen Z a seat at the table for the generation that sees how tech can be a benefit but often is the barrier for advancement.
Justice Clarence Thomas is coming for Section 230 … again. After the court declined to hear Jane Doe v. Facebook, the case of a 15-year-old girl who was raped and sex-trafficked by a man she met on Facebook, Thomas once again called on Congress and his fellow justices to rein in Sec. 230.
Activision Blizzard is being sued by the family of a former employee who died by suicide. The plaintiffs say their daughter, Kerri Moynihan, experienced sexual harassment at the company, which they argue was a “significant factor” in her death.
Tesla and other tech companies are falling short on their climate pledges, according to a new report. It found that while Tesla “creates products significant to the energy transition,” it “displays a serious lack of disclosure related to its own emissions.” Meta and Square also got poor scores, while Microsoft was one of just two companies to get an A.
Alibaba, which has operations in Russia and Ukraine, has been conspicuously quietabout the war as it navigates U.S. sanctions against three of its partners.
Russia has passed a law prohibiting “fake” news about the military, including referring to the invasion in Ukraine as an “invasion.” The law prompted TikTok to suspend all livestreams and new content from Russia.
Cogent Communications, a U.S.-based internet service provider, is cutting off access to Russia. “Our goal is not to hurt anyone. It’s just to not empower the Russian government to have another tool in their war chest,” the company’s CEO told The Washington Post.The global swarm of volunteer hackers is making it hard to know who’s attacking whom in Russia and Ukraine. “It’s become an independent machine, a distributed international digital army,” one Ukrainian cybersecurity executive told the New York Times.
Apple shareholders voted in favor of conducting a third-party audit on the company’s civil rights impact. Apple had urged investors to oppose the proposal, arguing it already conducts impact assessments. Shareholders also supported a proposal calling for a public report on Apple’s use of concealment clauses.
Cloudflare, CrowdStrike and Ping Identity are offering free cybersecurity services to vulnerable industries under the moniker of the Critical Infrastructure Defense Project. The project is a response to CISA’s “shields up” advisory for businesses. “It’s more important than ever for the security industry to band together and ensure that our most critical industries are protected and prepared,” Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare, said in a statement.
People often think of the digital divide as being just about broadband access, but it is also about understanding the needs and tech literacy levels across roughly six generations. Gen Z could help companies develop products and apps that better serve the needs of our communities, our country and our world.
Ukraine is obviously not a tourist destination right now. But you wouldn’t know it based on the Airbnb stats. On March 2-3 alone, users around the world booked 61,406 nights on Airbnb in Ukraine. That translates to $1.9 million going directly to Ukrainian hosts in need, said CEO Brian Chesky.
Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!