May 20, 2022
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, I’m letting you crib my notes on that confusing decision about the SEC and what it means for the future of the agencies that regulate tech. Plus, serious lawmakers want to take down the online ad duopoly, the SEC doesn’t want to give Ripple its emails, and EU and U.S. officials are very cool with chip onshoring.
A recent federal appeals court decision is a reminder that conservative judges are deeply skeptical of the independent U.S. agencies that regulate and oversee tech — and a warning that in coming years, regulators might have to start functioning very differently.
Here’s what it boils down to: The SEC might have trouble tackling fraud the way it currently does. That is, at the very least, a power the agency would like to have intact as it revs up on crypto.
The conservative, Louisiana-based Fifth Circuit, fresh off giving a boost to Texas’ anti-Facebook law, said that this setup violates the right to trial by jury in fraud cases.
This decision could signal a wholesale attack on the work of the SEC or FTC — although it’s not one, just yet.
The context, though, isn’t reassuring for anyone, like the many tech-skeptical lawmakers who would like to see robust action from federal agencies.
How much would a complete elimination of these administrative processes affect tech?
All that means that, together, regulators who believe in their missions might want to have a few plans in place in case courts decide they have to go about them differently.— Ben Brody (email | twitter)
A bipartisan group of senators proposed a bill that would break up the digital ads empire at the heart of Google’s profits. Critics say the operation — which dominates the systems for publishers and advertisers as well as the auction technology linking them — is rife with conflicts of interest that enable extensive anticompetitive behavior.
The DOJ wants to step back from prosecuting good-faith security research under the notoriously broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The CFAA, which became law way back in the ’80s, didn’t really contemplate research, and the Supreme Court recently narrowed its scope, to the benefit of scrapers. Researchers still worry they may face private litigation, however.
The FTC is looking to crack down on ed tech, especially overly broad data collection on kids doing their schoolwork and the potential use of that information in ads.A group of 85 House Democrats sent a letter to the White House decrying the Commerce Department’s solar panel probe. The Commerce Department inquiry kicked off in April, when a small California solar company asked the agency to investigate whether Chinese solar companies were skirting tariffs by shifting production to Southeast Asia. The House Democrats wrote that they’re concerned “about the devastating economic and environmental impacts” of the investigation, which is expected to last around a year.
New polling shows that American voters do not see regulating tech companies as a priority. Their top concerns are strengthening the national economy (38%), followed by controlling inflation (37%). By contrast, only 5% of respondents prioritized regulating tech companies.
The SEC doesn’t want to hand over emails and other documents that Ripple believes could help its case against the regulator. The lawsuit over whether Ripple failed to register $1.4 billion of XRP as securities might depend, in part, on documentation of a speech given by former director William Hinman. In that speech, Hinman argued that ether cryptocurrency isn’t a security.
AWS reportedly paid an employee $10 million as part of a settlement for allegations of discrimination and harassment levied against now-former executive Joshua Burgin. An AWS spokesperson confirmed the settlement but said the settlement figure was “wildly inaccurate.”
The second annual Trade and Technology Council, which just concluded, underscored the centrality of chip onshoring to national security objectives. EU and U.S. officials agreed to share information on the purpose, budget, form and recipient of semiconductor subsidies. Some experts said the collaboration is intended to help avoid a subsidy race in the vein of “Boeing versus Airbus.”
People with disabilities say automated systems and AI intended to facilitate digital access can only go so far. And while vendors of accessibility software often market their products in terms of helping companies avoid lawsuits, that approach might not be enough, according to some experts in the space.
Google is pulling out of Russia, and many of its employees have already left. Most employees of Google’s Russian subsidiary had already elected to leave the country, with many headed toward Dubai, according to the Wall Street Journal. Russian authorities froze the subsidiary’s main bank account; Google plans to have the entity file bankruptcy.
Canada banned the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment from domestic 5G networks. If this feels like a news blurb from 2019, that’s because Canada’s government took three years to make the decision. Bloomberg reports that Canadian telcos BCE and Telus already limited their use of equipment from China-based vendors prior to the ban.Researchers found that Bing might have limited auto-suggestions for political dissidents and Chinese party leaders. The University of Toronto research group that identified the limitation also found it might not only apply to China, but also the U.S. and Canada.
Twitter revealed its plans to suppress the spread of disinformation, and it will start applying the policy to news coming out of Ukraine. The company said it would rely on information from multiple “credible sources” to determine what constitutes misinformation. Once something has been labeled misinformation, the platform will stop amplifying and recommending the post and limit users from engaging with it.
Elon Musk, ever-ready to make headline-grabbing claims, says he’s voting Republican for the first time, suggesting it was because of the response by the left to his planned purchase of Twitter (which he doesn’t seem to really want to go through with). Of course, in reality, he has a long history of donating to Republican candidates and organizations.Meta reminded employees to limit talk of abortions at work. Janelle Gale, the VP of HR, told employees at an all-hands meeting that the topic can “still leave people feeling like they’re being targeted based on their gender or religion.”
New polling shows voters' top tech policy concerns are cybersecurity and data privacy. Only 7% of respondents prioritized antitrust action and 1% prioritized changes to app store rules. In fact, the majority (58%) believe the pending tech antitrust legislation would cause more harm than help to consumers.
At least one group is happy with the shift back to pandemic-related office closures: dogs. The New York Times investigated the trend of furry friends contending with return-to-office plans, and found that dogs aren’t handling it so well. This part was especially emotional to read: “They photo-bombed Zoom meetings, typed cryptic messages on their humans’ laptops and found other ways to contribute to the interspecies work environment. For many people, the dogs were the only warm body around — therapist, companion and entertainment system rolled into one.” 😭Here’s to remote work and ample belly rubs!
Thanks for reading — see you Monday!