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Instagram can't please Congress

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Good morning! This Thursday, lawmakers urge Instagram to go back to the drawing board, Apple doesn’t have to make its App Store changes yet, Vishal Garg apologizes, and who’d play who in The Silicon Valley Cinematic Universe.

Lawmakers have lost that trusting feeling

Meta still hasn’t impressed Congress. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri addressed a Senate hearing yesterday on the safety of young users on the app, an appearance that lawmakers demanded in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen about Meta’s effects on kids and teens.

Mosseri touted changes at Instagram that were announced the day prior: new controls for teens meant as an offering to senators who have blasted Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, particularly after Haugen testified in front of the same subcommittee in October.

  • Mosseri made more concessions in his remarks, too, aimed at the longtime demands of subcommittee chairman Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who asked for more insight into the company’s operations and effects on users, and for changes to tech’s prized liability shield.

But Instagram’s new tools aren’t good enough, Blumenthal said. “These simple time-management and parental-oversight tools should have — they could have — been announced years ago,” he said. “These changes fall way short.” And his response was shared by almost every lawmaker who spoke.

  • The new controls, some of which the company had previously floated, include limiting the types of recommendations it makes to teens. The app also said it would be nudging those users away from topics they're dwelling on and urging young users in several countries to take a break from the app.
  • “A nudge? A break?” Blumenthal said at one point. “That ain’t going to save kids.”

Many senators said Meta can’t be trusted and demanded access to documents and research from the company, and from other social media platforms including Snapchat and TikTok. Other services have agreed to share some of their materials, and Mosseri did promise “meaningful access to data to third-party researchers outside the company.”

  • Yet Meta’s existing relationships with researchers have proven highly fraught when the latter made unflattering findings, and some lawmakers slammed Mosseri when he didn’t embrace new legal requirements on transparency, tough enforcement mechanisms or other measures on privacy, competition and liability.
  • “This is now the fourth time in the past two years that we have spoken with someone from Meta,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the top Republican on the panel. “I feel like the conversation continues to repeat itself ad nauseam.”

The safety of young users is a bipartisan issue, and social media companies face more than just Congress. The platforms are also dealing, for instance, with international efforts to make the internet safer and more private for teens in addition to kids.

  • In July, for instance, as the U.K. prepared for its new “Age Appropriate Design Code” to go into effect, Meta said it would limit the options for targeting ads to users under 18 on all its properties. The FTC has hinted that social media giants’ commitments abroad on teens should be brought to the U.S.

Meta’s relationship with lawmakers has been deteriorating for years, and as Mosseri tried to pile on commitments and proposals, members of the subcommittee frequently shot him down, at times even dismissing ideas they might have celebrated before.

  • He suggested, for instance, “an industry body that will determine best practices” on age verification, age-appropriate design and parental controls.
  • He added that services should have to earn some of their liability protections for user content under Section 230 by following the body’s standards. The idea echoed the EARN IT Act, a bill Blumenthal introduced in 2020.
  • But Blumenthal himself scoffed at Mosseri’s suggestion as mere self-regulation. “Self-policing depends on trust,” he said. “The trust is gone.”

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

A version of this first ran on Protocol.com. Read it here.

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People are talking

Better.com’s Vishal Garg apologized for his handling of recent layoffs:

  • “I own the decision to do the layoffs, but in communicating it I blundered the execution.”
  • Garg also reportedly called the company’s top investor a “miserable miser,” among other remarks.

Bitfury Group CEO Brian Brooks says that in the future, the U.S. won’t be able to take the dollar’s importance for granted:

  • “There will come a time — gradually, then suddenly — when the attractiveness of the dollar relative to other currencies could change.”

Return-to-office plans aren’t a thing anymore, Instacart’s Arnaud Ferreri said:

  • “The concept of ‘return back to office date’ doesn’t make sense anymore.”

ConstitutionDAO leaned on group trust to make big calls, Jonah Erlich said:

  • “It was this very loose network of people that were vaguely aware of each other that came together.”

Quill’s quick shutdown wasn’t cool, said Sebastiaan de With, who used it at the photo studio Lux:

  • “What an abysmal way to treat your users. Angry and disappointed.”

Making moves

VideoAmp is looking to go public, sources told Bloomberg. The software and data company is considering an IPO as soon as next year.

Meta and IBM joined the Data & Trust Alliance, a group that created a questionnaire aiming to root out AI bias in hiring. Former IBM and American Express execs formed the alliance.

Eric Schmidt is now a strategic adviser for Chainlink Labs. Chainlink has collaborated with Google Cloud in the past.

Meg Whitman was tapped to be U.S. ambassador to Kenya. Though she’s a longtime Republican, she endorsed and raised a ton of money for Biden’s campaign.

Jenny Zhao is GoGuardian’s new CTO. Zhao recently worked at Google as senior director of engineering.

Olivier Toupet joined Zoox as principal software engineer. He spent nearly a decade at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In other news

Apple dodged court-ordered App Store changes. The company’s requirement to allow alternative in-pay payment options was delayed yesterday, just a day before it was supposed to take effect.

Italy fined Amazon roughly $1.3 billion. Antitrust regulators in the country said that Amazon abused its power and forced sellers to use its own logistics service. Amazon will appeal, of course, but this is one of the biggest antitrust fines levied at the company yet.

Elizabeth Holmes “never” intentionally misled investors about Theranos, she said during her last day on the stand. The trial is now moving to closing arguments next week.

Europe wants gig workers to be employees. A newly proposed rule would affect 4.1 millions contract workers, and would also require companies to be more transparent about how their worker-facing software works.

TikTok is holding its first big live shopping event. It’s not the platform’s first time doing live shopping; its Chinese counterpart has been doing it for years. But the event acknowledges there’s a market for live shopping outside China.

Google and Roku made up. The two agreed to keep YouTube’s apps on Roku’s devices and renewed their distribution agreement for YouTube TV and its app, just before YouTube was set to leave Roku.

Some groups are following a lax version of Apple’s privacy rules, according to the Financial Times. Apple is apparently letting apps gather data from iPhone users for targeted ads, but they can’t collect data for the purpose of "uniquely identifying" a device.

High-profile users get heightened protection on Twitter, according to Bloomberg. The platform’s program, called Project Guardian, prioritizes dealing with abusive posts aimed at prominent figures, even if other reports come in first.

Remote work, hiring and DEI will be focal points of 2022, Glassdoor predicts. The platform thinks hiring will stay competitive, top talent will still want remote work, people will push for DEI accountability, and the workplace can be social outside the office.

The Silicon Valley Cinematic Universe

The news dropped this week that Apple will be producing the Theranos film, which reminded us that Jennifer Lawrence will be playing Elizabeth Holmes. J-Law is perfect for the role; she’s got a chill confidence that would mirror Holmes’ demeanor well. But let’s say every tech CEO had a movie: Which actors would star? We put the question to the newsroom, and here’s what Protocol staff thinks:

  • Tom Hanks would be Tim Cook, obviously.
  • James Franco could play Elon Musk.
  • The Rock could play Jeff Bezos.
  • Lisa Kudrow would be Marissa Mayer. Maybe they could even become friends.
  • Mark Ruffalo as Adam Mosseri? Definitely.
  • Bozoma Saint John could probably play herself, but Kerry Washington could also step in to do the role.
  • J. Smith-Cameron would be brilliant in the role of Meg Whitman.

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