With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel and Leah Nylen
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— Section 230 latest: The battle over the bipartisan EARN IT Act, which could threaten tech giants’ legal liability protections, will continue next week when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the bill — probably with testimony from law enforcement officials and leaders from the tech sector.
— (Another) TikTok bill: The day after Republican Sen. Josh Hawley announced plans to introduce a bill banning federal employees from using TikTok on their work devices, the House passed similar legislation from Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.
— Coronavirus, cont’d: The FCC is under pressure from Congress to use the same authority and resources it deploys for disaster response to address the threat of the coronavirus.
HELLO FRIDAY! AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. On today’s coronavirus misinformation monitor: Tito’s lays down the law that no, pouring vodka on yourself will not protect you from COVID-19. (“Per the CDC,” the company wrote on Twitter, “hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol.”)
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WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE HOTLY CONTESTED EARN IT ACT — The bipartisan rollout of the EARN IT Act on Thursday sparked widespread pushback from tech industry leaders, civil liberties groups and others, while garnering plaudits from child abuse prevention advocates — and the battle over the bill is just getting started.
— Next up: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing on the bill, which would require companies to prove they are doing enough to curb child abuse online to keep their Section 230 protections. “This hearing is only the beginning,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Thursday. “We’re eager to listen to critics or anyone else who has suggestions for improvement. … We take them seriously.”
— On deck: Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Cristiano he’s planning to bring in trade groups that represent the tech industry to testify at next week’s hearing — but not Attorney General William Barr, who this week separately unveiled new voluntary guidelines on combating child exploitation. Blumenthal said he hopes to hear testimony from law enforcement officials and child abuse prevention advocates, in addition to leaders from the tech sector.
— But will it pick up steam in the Senate? The bill already has the backing of 10 senators — four Republicans and six Democrats, including the top two officials on Senate Judiciary — but a number of key lawmakers said they’re still weighing its merits. “I’m open to talking to them about it,” Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said Wednesday. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who helped lead the last major push to amend Section 230, “is reviewing the EARN IT Act to see if it builds upon the passage of SESTA,” spokeswoman Emily Benavides said.
TIKTOK’S TOUGH WEEK, CONTINUED — The House passed legislation on Thursday that, in a move aimed at protecting Americans from Chinese surveillance, would ban some airport workers’ use of TikTok on their government-issued phones. After the TSA last month banned employees from using the Chinese-owned video app for work, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) included an amendment in a bipartisan bill she co-sponsored, the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, codifying that TSA policy.
— “TikTok, like other Chinese companies, is required under Chinese law to share information with the government and its institutions,” Spanberger said Thursday. “Because it could become a tool for surveilling U.S. citizens or federal personnel, TikTok has no business being on U.S. government-issued devices,” she added. The legislation passed the day after Hawley, a tech critic and China hawk, announced plans for a similar measure “to ban the use of TikTok by all federal employees on all federal government devices.”
CANTWELL TO FCC: STEP UP ON CORONAVIRUS — Senate Commerce ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is urging the FCC to “respond to some of the challenges posed by COVID-19 just as it has in the past with disaster response” and “consider how the FCC’s existing authority and programs, as well as temporary policies or rule waivers, may be used to secure the nation’s safety and continued well-being.”
— Examples she offers: Perhaps adopting temporary rules to let Red Cross shelters tap telemedicine subsidies; helping facilitate remote monitoring of patients, especially low-income ones; and finding ways to help spur at-home learning for students in areas where schools may be closing.
VAN HOLLEN TO PUSH FOR QUANTUM COMPUTING CASH — Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) expressed frustrations Thursday over what he sees as a dearth of proposed Commerce Department funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s quantum computing efforts. “The good news I see in the NIST budget is you’ve increased the funding for AI,” he told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during an appropriations hearing. “When it comes to quantum computing in the NIST budget, it’s flatlined.” He also pressed Ross on Huawei, as John reported for Pros.
AIRWAVES BATTLE OVER 6 GHZ HEATS UP — Lobbying continues apace over the FCC’s forthcoming decision about what to do with the 6 GHz band (now occupied by utilities that fear disruption). This week saw new pushback to the wireless giants’ attempt to get the FCC to auction off a part of this prime mid-band spectrum for exclusive licensed use: California Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Tony Cárdenas along with Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) asked the FCC to reserve the whole swath of airwaves for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi, as did hundreds of smaller wireless ISPs on Thursday in a letter to lawmakers.
— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may also wade in and side with the wireless industry, per a draft letter to the FCC circulating now. In this tentative draft, Cruz said making the whole band available for unlicensed use “is in stark contrast with European countries” that are divvying up the band for both licensed and unlicensed uses. “A similar strategy could create a win-win scenario for both licensed and unlicensed users,” the draft said.
— And globally, speaking of 6 GHz: Grace Koh, who helped lead last year’s U.S. delegation to the World Radiocommunication Conference, recently said on a podcast that China had made “a big push” whenever she met with its officials bilaterally to see about using this 6 GHz band for 5G, largely due to interest involving Huawei. “What did happen was that Huawei and Ericsson were not successful and China were not successful in getting the entire 6 GHz ban studied for 5G,” she added.
DO CONSUMERS UNDERSTAND GOOGLE RESULTS? — A federal appeals court grappled Thursday with whether average consumers know the difference between the ads and the organic search results that appear on Google. Arguing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, 1-800 Contacts — which is seeking to reverse an FTC decision that its trademark agreements violated antitrust law — contended that they don’t understand.
— Federal law allows a company to protect its trademark if use of the trademarked term could confuse consumers. The online contact lens retailer argued that consumers would be confused if they search for “1-800 Contacts” on Google or Bing but instead see ads for other companies.
— But two of the three judges on the panel weren’t so sure. “Even an old guy who is old enough to remember Kodak and film knows the first four things you get on Google, which are labeled ‘ad,’ you should disregard and move down to the next thing,” said Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall, a George W. Bush appointee. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch was also skeptical. “Is that the standard, everyone has to know that? Twenty years from now when our kids are up there and doing this stuff, we’re not even going to be having this conversation,” he said.
— FTC attorney Imad Dean Abyad told the appeals court that 1-800 Contacts’ agreements with rivals were the same as an offline agreement to divide up market. “1-800 is claiming that digital (ad) space as its own exclusive territory and has agreed with its rivals that they would not advertise in that territory,” he said. Abyad also said that 1-800 Contacts’ agreements were overly broad because they barred rivals from using the company’s name in any kind of ad, even a comparative one. Courts have consistently found that comparative ads aren’t trademark violations. “This is not about protecting trademarks,” he said. “This is about 1-800 protecting its much higher price.”
Barr named Will Levi as his new chief of staff, POLITICO reports. … Frances Marshall, former senior counsel for intellectual property at the Justice Department’s antitrust division, has joined Apple as senior standards counsel.
ICYMI: In a rare move to take down content posted by President Donald Trump, Facebook said it would remove ads that invoke the Census when directing people to the website of his reelection campaign, POLITICO reports.
Like Shazam, but for faces: Want to know the name of that stranger you ran into at a party? Or that person you see from across the restaurant? There’s an app for that, NYT reports — that’s precisely how some have used the controversial facial recognition app Clearview AI.
Coercion up close: A factory making computer screens, cameras and other gadgets for a supplier to tech companies including Apple and Lenovo relies on forced labor by Muslim ethnic Uighurs, the AP reports.
Broke: “Anthony Levandowski, the self-driving engineer accused by Google of breaching his employment contract and misusing confidential information, filed for bankruptcy, citing a $179 million legal judgment,” WSJ reports.
Kremlin watch: “How Russia Is Trying To Boost Bernie Sanders’ Campaign,” via NPR.
Andrew Yang’s next move: A political nonprofit called “Humanity Forward,” POLITICO reports. “The core issues: a universal basic income for all Americans provided by the government, a ‘human-centered economy’ and ‘data as a property right,’ Yang said.”
First Amazon, now Facebook: Facebook confirmed Thursday that a contractor at its Seattle office had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, Reuters reports.
Droppin’ like flies: LinkedIn joined the host of other tech companies — including Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Netflix — that have backed out of SXSW over coronavirus concerns, AdWeek reports. (Also scrubbed: The Red Hat Summit.)
Stars, they’re just like us: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may cancel his up to half-a-year sojourn in Africa over coronavirus concerns, Reuters reports. (But then again, as MT reported, there’s a push right now to oust him from the helm of the company.)
Also on Twitter: The platform “said it’s expanding its rules against hateful conduct to include ‘language that dehumanizes on the basis of age, disability or disease,’” CNET reports.
Not the Winklevoss twins: “A start-up founded by two MIT researchers is suing Facebook,” Reuters reports, “alleging the social media giant has stolen and made public technology that could ‘revolutionize’ the field of artificial intelligence.”
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