With help from Sam Mintz, Eric Geller, Adam Behsudi, Leah Nylen and Cristiano Lima
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— Tech tried by coronavirus: As the world grows ever more dependent on tech for teleconferencing, accessing information and cyber-socializing during a global pandemic, the tech sector is both in the spotlight and under more pressure than ever.
— Signed, sealed, (soon-to-be) delivered: In a major blow to Huawei, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that will help small carriers rip out and replace gear from the Chinese telecom giant in the months ahead.
— Disinfo watch: Facebook and Twitter disclosed Russia-linked disinformation campaigns on the platforms, a reminder that social media interference remains a threat in a heated election year.
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AS CORONAVIRUS SHAKES THE WORLD, TECH IS NOT IMMUNE — As the world seizes on technology to brave the COVID-19 pandemic — leaning on telework to keep businesses running, on social media to find and disseminate information, on FaceTime as we begin social distancing, and the list goes on — the tech sector is confronting its own serious struggles. The industry, and many of the people and institutions regulating it, are, like much of America, officially in hunker-down mode. Here’s a look at the tech landscape at the end of a week when the coronavirus reached a fever pitch across the United States:
— At federal agencies: The FCC and FTC have urged hundreds of federal employees to telework starting today, a measure that will “remain in effect for the foreseeable future,” according to the FCC. The Justice Department on Thursday evening told MT it has “nothing to announce at this time.”
— Also happening today: The CDC is taking to Twitter to host a coronavirus Q&A with its deputy director for infectious diseases, Dr. Jay Butler. The Democratic National Committee, urging Americans to tune in, said on Twitter: “The most important thing we can do right now is listen to the health experts.”
— At Silicon Valley giants: Uber joined many companies around the world in “strongly recommending” that employees in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan and South Korea work from home. Facebook and Google in recent days announced similar measures, and for Twitter employees, telework was made mandatory. And speaking of Uber, the pandemic has also put pressure on ridesharing, food delivery and other app-based companies to provide extra support for their gig workers — independent contractors who in many cases are not afforded the same protections as full-time employees. (Uber and Lyft made some concessions this week, as we reported in MT.)
— On the competition front, antitrust prom canceled: The biggest antitrust conference of the year, the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Law Spring Meeting, has been called off, the group announced. The event, which had been scheduled for April 21-24, often draws more than 3,000 antitrust lawyers and officials from around the world, and features top competition officials from the DOJ and FTC as well as the European Commission. EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who is heading a 50-state probe into Google — and the search giant’s top lawyer, Kent Walker, were set to speak along with in-house attorneys from Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal and Uber.
— On the trail: Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate has been moved from Phoenix to CNN’s studio in D.C. “out of an abundance of caution” amid coronavirus concerns, the DNC said Thursday. It’ll be the first debate this election cycle without a live audience, but it’ll also be the first one-on-one faceoff between Sanders and Biden — so intrigue remains high.
The tech take: Sanders and Biden have largely fallen on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to tech. Sanders has long been a critic, particularly regarding Amazon and income inequality between billionaire CEOs (like Jeff Bezos) and their employees, while Biden has gone considerably lighter on the industry. Here’s where Sanders stands on tech’s biggest issues, and here’s what Biden has to say.
HUAWEI WE GO — President Trump signed a bill Thursday that will, in the months ahead, help rural telecom companies replace equipment from Chinese telecom giant Huawei and other firms deemed a threat to national security. The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (H.R. 4998) establishes a reimbursement fund to offset replacement costs for telecom companies with fewer than 2 million customers, creates a program to share threat intelligence with those and other telecoms, and prohibits the FCC from offering Universal Service Fund subsidies for risky equipment. But how soon are we talking? “We continue to discuss with the appropriators the best way to quickly provide the funding authorized by the bill,” an Energy and Commerce committee Democratic spokesperson told John.
— The leaders of the House and Senate commerce panels expressed confidence that the “rip and replace” bill would reduce vulnerabilities in the telecom supply chain. “This legislation lays the foundation to help U.S. firms strip out vulnerable equipment and replace it with secure alternatives,” said Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). In a joint statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), along with two colleagues, said the government could now “take steps to protect our communications networks from bad actors, while helping small and rural providers remove and replace suspect network equipment.”
— Huawei on Thursday slammed the law, as John reported for Pros.
PLUS: LAWMAKERS WANT TO CRACK DOWN ON HUAWEI’S BANKING — Lawmakers want to place Huawei on a Treasury Department blacklist, cutting it off from the U.S. financial system. A bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) comes after efforts to further curb Huawei’s access to U.S. technology appear to have failed.
— The Neutralizing Emerging Threats from Wireless OEMs Receiving direction from Kleptocracies and Surveillance states (NETWORKS) Act would add any company producing 5G technology to Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals List if they engage in economic or industrial espionage or violate U.S. sanctions. Huawei has already been placed on a Commerce export blacklist for posing a national security risk.
‘RUSSIA WILL NOT STOP’ — House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday that a series of Russian meddling campaigns detected on Facebook and Twitter once again proves the foreign power continues to search for new ways to interfere in U.S. affairs. Facebook and Twitter each disclosed disinformation campaigns linked to Russia that sought to sow discord by posting about race, identity and other social issues.
— “The discovery by social media companies of Russia-linked actors attempting to interfere in our online discourse and potentially influence our elections speak to Mueller’s stark warning: the Russians will not stop,” Schiff said in a statement. Though the activity did not appear to focus on electoral politics, the fact that Russian actors are finding new ways to mask their efforts is troubling, Schiff said. “The potential use of cutouts on another continent meant to mask Russian connections is a startling signal that our adversaries continue to pursue new and inventive ways to cover their tracks and evade detection.”
SENATORS: STATE DEPT., TAKE THE WHEEL (ON AI) — A bipartisan group of senators is warning the State Department not to let China assert itself over international bodies that set standards for the use of artificial intelligence technology. The senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that standard-setting bodies should not “advance or legitimize” how Beijing has used the technology to oppress minority groups like the Uighur Muslims.
— “We urge you to continue to prioritize American leadership on this issue, and build an international coalition to preserve international standards setting bodies as technical economic fora,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Paul Atkins, former commissioner of the SEC, and Colleen Sullivan, partner and CEO of CMT Digital, have joined the board of advisors for the Chamber of Digital Commerce; the blockchain trade association also added 40 new companies as members. … Marie Knowles is leaving the Chamber of Digital Commerce to start her own marketing communications consultancy. … Riges Younan, a former Avature and Workday executive, is joining the AI-powered HR technology company Gloat as vice president of Asia Pacific. … Edward Parkinson, acting executive director of the First Responder Network Authority since 2018, has now been named the organization’s executive director. … Joshua Franklin will rejoin the Election Assistance Commission as deputy chief information security officer “to help protect the agency’s internal systems and advise states on election security,” Eric reports for Pros.
Good JEDI news for Amazon: The Pentagon said it “wishes to reconsider” its decision to award its highly lucrative JEDI cloud computing contract to Microsoft (over Amazon), POLITICO reports.
Where COVID-19 gets phishy: “Criminal hackers, scammers and even governments have been sending fake coronavirus-themed emails designed to trick people into opening attachments that download malicious software, allowing access to their data,” NBC News reports.
Coronavirus collateral: Airbnb bookings are nose-diving, WSJ reports.
Where are the kids getting their coronavirus news?: Instagram memes, NYT reports.
Facial recognition fight continues: “The ACLU is suing federal agencies for records about the use of facial recognition at airports and other places where travelers enter the U.S.,” WSJ reports, “the latest salvo in a nationwide activist campaign to halt use of the technology.”
Blog OTD: Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler explores how society can lean on broadcast and digital media in lieu of in-person 2020 campaign events called off over coronavirus concerns.
ICYMI: Nineteen Democratic attorneys general — including from California, New York and New Jersey — called on the FTC to issue a rule banning noncompetes, Leah reports for Pros.
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