Democrats and Republicans are united against big tech
A bipartisan quartet of senators appeared at a virtual event to promote their legislative fixes to the issues that social apps have worsened.
👋🏾 Hi, hey hello! Good Thursday morning. I got a late start on today’s newsletter and am reporting straight from my notebook so you won’t see the sections you’re used to. I also skipped my reading recommendations to keep from missing my deadline. It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day — I hope you take a moment to make someone smile by doing something nice for them. (And yes, it’s a real holiday.)
There aren’t many issues Democrats and Republicans agree upon. One of them is the shared belief that the big tech companies behind the top social apps should be regulated against tracking and collecting data about people, especially kids and teens.
This infrequent solidarity was on display during a virtual event held on Wednesday by the Future of Tech Commission to promote its “Blueprint for Action,” a report of tech policy recommendations and a coordinated national framework intended for the Biden administration, lawmakers, and private citizens.
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. of Louisiana Bill Cassidy joined the event to discuss the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act 2.0, an updated version of the law passed in 1998.
“It is amazing how much data is being collected without our knowledge. Your phone probably knows more information about you than your spouse does,” Cassidy said.
Markey pointed to the is a growing consensus that Congress should act now to protect children and teens online.
“The combination of the increase in kids’ tech use during the pandemic along with the revelations about how platforms like Facebook harm young users have increased public outrage about these threats to children online by an order of magnitude,” Markey said in a statement to Supercreator. “We need to harness this new public awareness and urgency to take meaningful action and make this the year that Congress passes a privacy bill for children that will prevent kids and teens from being tracked and targeted at every turn online. I believe we can accomplish that.”
The Future of Tech Commission is an independent and bipartisan working group of civic leaders developing a comprehensive, inclusive tech policy agenda for the nation. It is co-chaired by former Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Education Secretary Margaret Spelling and founder of Common Sense Media Jim Steyer.
The recommendations outlined in the Blueprint focus on six core tech issues: data privacy and the related issue of platform safety, cybersecurity, market competition, technological innovation, and universal access to broadband. The co-chairs said their work was shaped by input from thousands of Americans over the last year during public town halls, public opinion surveys and interviews with leading experts.
“I don't think it’s realistic for us to expect tech companies to change on their own,” Frances Haugen, a whistleblower who disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook's internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal in 2021, said during the event. “We got here because these tech companies knew they could operate completely in the dark. Until the incentives change, behavior will not change. We need action now.”
Blackburn and Blumenthal propose new protections for kids under 16
In addition to Sens. Markey and Cassidy, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined the event to discuss the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill they introduced on Wednesday that would require tech companies to outfit their social apps with extra safety and privacy tools children under 16.
“Protecting our kids and teens online is critically important, particularly since COVID increased our reliance on technology,” Blackburn said to Supercreator in a statement. “The Kids Online Safety Act will address those harms by setting necessary safety guiderails for online platforms to follow that will require transparency and give parents more peace of mind.”
Cat Zakrzewski at The Washington Post reports that the Blackburn-Blumenthal bill would also establish an obligation for companies to prevent the promotion of self-harm, eating disorders, bullying and the sexual abuse of children.
Additionally, it would allow the federal government to create a program for researchers to access data from companies so that they can do more research about tech’s potential harm to children and teens.
Spokespeople for Meta (which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), Google (owner of YouTube), Snap and TikTok did not respond to requests for comment.
“I wish more parents had that option to raise their kid with healthy influences like being diligently tech-free,” Natalie Toren, a mom of two, said to Supercreator at the time. “Parents are so significantly time-strapped and challenged, this past year especially, that they are particularly susceptible to the idea or promise of something their kids can interact with, learn from, and notably, occupy their time.”
California puts tech companies on notice too
California lawmakers plan to introduce a new bill to protect children’s data online, Madhumita Murgia and Hannah Murphy at the Financial Times report.
It will require big tech platforms like Meta (formerly known as Facebook) and Google-owned Youtube, both headquartered in the state, to limit the amount of data they collect from young people and the location tracking of children in California.
The legislation would mirror the UK’s children’s code, which contains 15 standards online services — including apps, games, connected toys and devices and news services — they must follow in order to protect children’s data online.
Google: Our privacy updates won’t be as intense as Apple’s
Google is working on privacy measures meant to limit the sharing of data on smartphones running its Android software.
The updates are believed to not be as restrictive as Apple’s recent changes to its iOS software, Daisuke Wakabayashi at The New York Times reports. (Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said Apple’s privacy policies would cost it $10 billion in lost advertising revenue this year.)
Google did not provide an exact timeline for its changes.
Meta promotes its policy guru
In related news: Meta (formerly known as Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg promoted Nick Clegg to president of global affairs, Kurt Wagner at Bloomberg reports. (This is further proof Zuckerberg sees Clegg differently than I do. But I digress…)
In the new role, Clegg — one of Meta’s top executives since he joined the company in 2018 after a career in British politics — is expected to enable Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to focus on their areas of strength instead of responding to criticism about Meta’s terrible product policies. (Clegg used to report to Sandberg, but will now report to Zuckerberg.
Prior to the news, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard Sandberg’s name — she’s kept a mighty low profile in the past year or so after convincing a generation of girl bosses without the same safety net she has to #LeanIn. I hope homegirl is well.
Today in Politics
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning before traveling to Cleveland to speak about the bipartisan infrastructure law three months after he signed it into law. The president will return to the White House this evening. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will join Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for a Q&A with reporters during the flight to Ohio.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel this morning from DC to Munich, Germany to lead a US delegation to the Munich Security Conference.
The Senate is in and will consider legislation to fund the government past Friday’s midnight deadline through March 11 to avoid a government shutdown.
The House is out.
WH COVID team: We’re trending in the right direction
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to update its guidance on masks as early as next week. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said there’s a reason for cautious optimism: cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down from the previous week. But the decision to loosen masking restrictions will rest on if hospitals have the capacity to treat patients with non-COVID emergencies.
FYI: Disney announced that masks are now optional for vaccinated visitors at US theme parks. And as states continue to relax their mandates, companies including Amazon, Walmart and Chase are following suit.
During a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients took a victory lap over some other encouraging numbers.
75 percent of all adults are fully vaccinated and two-thirds are boosted.
50 million free at-home rapid tests have been shipped, representing 200 million individual tests, and the administration said it will complete the shipping of all of the initial orders in the next few days.
60 percent of the packages are delivered by the United States Postal Service within 24 hours and 90 percent within two days.
“The president’s COVID plan is clearly working,” Zients said. “And we believe the American people will be well-served by our deliberate and thorough approach to planning for the future.”
But the administration is off track to vaccinate 70 percent of the country by Biden’s September deadline. Several administration officials have spoken to the challenge of “turning vaccines into vaccinations” around the world and Zients said the White House would continue to focus its efforts on building confidence in other countries, creating better access and setting up mobile clinics.
One area of the virus the doctors have yet to crack is long COVID.
“Certainly, long COVID is something that we take very seriously,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, said during the Wednesday briefing. “We know we’re studying it really quite intensively now over the last year.”
Fauci also said that public health experts don’t really understand the condition yet. But what they do know is that it affects people who are mildly to moderately symptomatic to those who require hospitalization, which gives them a lot of ground to have to cover.
WH officials maintain their Russia skepticism
“There’s a difference between what Russia says and what Russia does”: That was the message recited by Secretary of State Antony Blinken during interviews on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also spoke the line at her daily press briefing.
The logic behind their words: Russia claims it is de-escalating the military buildup at Russia’s border, but intelligence from Biden’s national security team indicates otherwise. And since Russia is notorious for a good ol’ okie-doke, administration officials are playing it safe to keep from feeling sorry later.
President Biden spoke on Wednesday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to continue coordinating with European countries so all the nations are united in their response to whatever Russian President Vladimir Putin decides. The White House has not updated its assessment that Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment.
Related: Secretary Blinken will travel to Munich, the city in southeastern Germany, to go to the same conference Vice President is attending.
The conference will give Blinken a chance to discuss the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis with US allies and partners and other global challenges. “The Secretary will also reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department said in a statement.”
John Kerry, the climate envoy for President Biden, will also travel to Munich for the conference too.
He’ll participate in discussions at the intersection of the climate crisis and global security. Kerry will also encourage his counterparts to fulfill and strengthen their climate commitments. (Those counterparts could tell us to practice more of what we preach, tbh.)
Biden splits Landers’ roles among two WH staffers
President Biden announced Alondra Wilson would serve as acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Dr. Francis Collins is stepping in as White House science adviser. (Wilson was previously deputy director for Science and Society at the OSTP and Collins was head of the National Institutes of Health.
“These appointments will allow OSTP and the president’s Science and Technology agenda to move seamlessly forward under proven leadership,” the White House said in a statement. “In the selections of Dr. Alondra Nelson and Dr. Francis Collins, President Biden has doubled down on science.”
The two replace Dr. Eric Lander, the director of the OSTP, resigned last week after Alex Thompson at Politico revealed an investigation that found Lander fostered a toxic work environment for his workers.
Biden blocks Trump’s exec privilege claims
White House Counsel Dana Remus ordered the National Archives to hand over White House visitor logs from the Trump administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Michael Schmidt at The New York Times reports.
President Biden rejected Donald Trump’s claims that the logs were subject to executive privilege and called on the National Archives to provide them to the committee within 15 days.
It’s unclear what the visitor logs might show or how extensive and complete they are. Also unclear is if Trump will sue in an attempt to block or slow the release of the visitor logs, which would be unsurprising to anyone familiar with his MO.
CPC calls out Biden on Afghanistan coins
The Congressional Progressive Caucus rebuked President Biden’s decision to break up and redistribute Afghanistan’s frozen central bank funds between the Afghan people and families of the victims of 9/11.
“While we agree on the need for robust humanitarian aid, it cannot substitute for a functioning central bank that stabilizes the currency, pays the salaries of civil servants, and provides reserves for private businesses that can prop up an ailing economy,” Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement. “It is also unclear how much of that aid would actually be able to reach people in need, when the country’s financial system is impeded by a web of sanctions.”
The White House said earlier this week that Biden is trying to enable certain US-based assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank to be used to benefit the Afghan people and prevent it from being held.
“As you know, many US victims of terrorism, including the relatives of victims who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks have brought claims against the Taliban and are pursuing these assets in federal court,” Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. “What I think it’s important for people to know and understand is he took this proactive step to sign the executive order in an effort to try to provide some of this funding to the Afghan people.”
Hoyer speaks out in opposition of the debt limit
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer testified at a House Budget Committee hearing on the growing consensus to deweaponize the debt limit.
“Over the years, Democrats, Republicans, labor unions, business leaders, and economists have endorsed the notion that, at the end of the day, default should not be an option,” Hoyer said. “That is why this hearing is so important and why I’m joining you today – to make clear that eliminating the threat of default would be an act of fiscal responsibility.”
The debt limit refers to the legislative mechanism that restricts the total amount that the country can borrow to pay on the debt it already borrowed. Read the full remarks.
NFL hires former Obama AG to defend it against racial discrimination suit
The National Football League hired Loretta Lynch, former attorney general during Barack Obama’s second term, to defend it in a high-profile race discrimination case filed earlier this month by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, Brian Baxter at Bloomberg Law reports.
The NFL has had a longtime relationship with the law firm where Lynch works as a partner.
Lynch is the second Black person, the second woman and the first Black woman to serve as attorney general.
Twitter’s CEO plans to take parental leave, the US still lags on making it a federal benefit
New Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal will take a few weeks of parental leave to welcome his second child, Will Oremus at WaPo reports.
Agrawal’s time off will be less than the 20 weeks the company affords its employees yet still noteworthy for a CEO of a major tech firm at a time when norms on paid leave are contested both nationally and in Silicon Valley.
The US is one of six countries — and the only rich nation — with no federal paid leave. Globally, the average paid maternity leave is 29 weeks, and the average paid paternity leave is 16 weeks.
You can now keep up with your Uber rating
Uber will now enable riders to view a breakdown of their average ratings in the app’s new privacy menu, Andrew J. Hawkins at The Verge reports.
In addition to the new ratings breakdown, the company also published data on which cities have the highest and lowest average ratings in the country.
New York City, of course, has the lowest rating among large US cities. San Antonio has the highest.
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