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Big Tech Updates


Apr 17, 2024
Blog

Witness Spotlight: Ava Smithing

Tune in to the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee Legislative Hearing on Proposals to Protect People Online Meet Ava Smithing.   A Nashville, Tennessee-native, she grew up playing volleyball, including at the Stevens Institute of Technology where she earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration in 2023.  She’s now among those leading the charge to ensure that Americans—especially young people—can use social media platforms without being targeted or manipulated.   In her role as Director of Advocacy at the Young People’s Alliance, Ava is stepping up to confront a challenge that she and so many other young people face today: social media companies exploiting Americans’ mental health.  Big Tech platforms collected and then weaponized Ava’s data—like her age, location, and gender—against her. According to Ava, “they used my data to infer what other types of ads and content I might ‘like,’ leading me down a pipeline from bikini ads, to exercise videos, to dieting tips, and finally to eating disorder content.”  By monitoring her post engagements and what she spent time viewing, social media companies could track Ava’s vulnerabilities. These platforms were able to drive her into a downward spiral that resulted in a threat to her well-being. In her case, watching one video for just a little too long encouraged the algorithm to funnel harmful content into Ava’s feed.  Ava says, “How was I—a 14-year-old child—supposed to understand that social media platforms would use my age, location, and gender to target me with advertisements designed to instill insecurity in me?”  Today, Ava is flipping the script. As an advocate, she is leading to promote kids’ safety online through a national data privacy standard so people can control their data and be protected from manipulative algorithms.  Last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced a comprehensive data privacy bill, the American Privacy Rights Act.    Support for establishing privacy rights has more momentum than ever, in no small part because people like Ava are speaking up about the consequences of companies’ unchecked power.  Among its protections, the American Privacy Rights Act will establish the ability for users opt-out of targeted advertising. Ava said that if such an option existed when she first joined social media, she may never have been put in harm’s way.  The bill also requires companies to review their algorithms to ensure they do not endanger children through malicious content suggestions. This will stop the downward spiral that exploits so many children online.  The Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a legislative hearing at 10:00 AM today to consider proposals to protect kids online and advance strong comprehensive data privacy protections. Ava Smithing will highlight why these proposals are critical for Americans who want to use the internet without being targeted and manipulated by the sites they visit. Be sure to tune in! 



Apr 4, 2024
Big Tech

Chairs Rodgers and Latta Announce Hearing on the Future of Section 230

Washington D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Bob Latta (R-OH) announced a hearing titled “Where Are We Now: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.”  “Section 230 has not been meaningfully updated since the Communications Decency Act of 1996, even though Big Tech companies and others facilitating user-generated content have become increasingly integrated into our everyday lives. The growth and influence of these companies has raised concerns about how best to ensure Big Tech remains transparent and accountable to the American people. Section 230 immunity has been challenged in the courts, but the law remains the same, despite the evolution of the tech marketplace. This hearing will provide an opportunity to reexamine the purpose of Section 230 and discuss what Congress can do to bring this law into the 21st Century.”  Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing titled “Where Are We Now: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.”   WHAT: A hearing to discuss the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.   DATE: Thursday, April 11, 2024  TIME: 1:00 PM ET  LOCATION: 2123 Rayburn House Office Building  This notice is at the direction of the Chair. The hearing will be open to the public and press and will be live streamed online at https://energycommerce.house.gov/ . If you have any questions concerning the hearing, please contact Noah Jackson at Noah.Jackson@mail.house.gov . If you have any press-related questions, please contact Sean Kelly at Sean.Kelly@mail.house.gov



Mar 12, 2024
Big Tech

WSJ Editorial Board: Tackling the TikTok Threat

“Break up with the Chinese Communist Party, or break up with the U.S.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board is out with a new piece on why Congress must pass H.R. 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which protects Americans from the national security threats posed by CCP-controlled TikTok . Check out excerpts and highlights below:  The House on Wednesday is expected to vote on a bill that would give popular social-media app TikTok an ultimatum: Break up with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), or break up with the U.S. It didn’t need to come to this, but Beijing and TikTok’s Chinese-owner ByteDance left Washington with no choice. […] Donald Trump tried in 2020 to force ByteDance to divest TikTok, but his executive order was blocked in court, partly because the President lacked clear authority from Congress. Legislation by Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher and Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi aims to overcome the legal obstacles.   Their bill would ban TikTok from app stores and web-hosting services in the U.S. if the company doesn’t divest from ByteDance. It also establishes a process by which the President can prohibit other social-media apps that are “controlled by a foreign adversary.” The bill is narrowly tailored while giving the President tools to combat future threats.   Banning TikTok should be a last resort, but ByteDance and Beijing have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted. Reams of evidence show how the Chinese government can use the platform for cyber-espionage and political influence campaigns in the U.S.   […]   TikTok’s other major security risk is cyber-espionage. The app vacuums up sensitive American user information, including searches, browsing histories and locations. This data can and does flow back to China. “Everything is seen in China,” a TikTok official said in a leaked internal recording reported by Buzzfeed.   ByteDance employees tried to uncover internal leakers by spying on American journalists. After this surveillance was reported, ByteDance blamed “misconduct of certain individuals” who were no longer employed. But there’s nothing to stop CCP puppets in ByteDance back-offices from spying on Americans.   […]   Chinese law requires ByteDance to comply with Beijing’s surveillance demands. This is why there’s no way to mitigate TikTok’s security risks besides a forced divestment. U.S. investors have expressed interest in buying TikTok, though a Chinese government official last year said it would block a sale. If TikTok is banned, users can blame Beijing.   […]   In any case, the House bill doesn’t restrict First Amendment rights. It regulates national security. It also has ample precedent since U.S. law restricts foreign ownership of broadcast stations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States forced the Chinese owners of Grindr, the gay dating app, to give up control of the company.   China has blocked U.S. social-media companies that don’t comply with its censorship regime, and the House bill would prevent Beijing from applying its political speech controls and surveillance in the U.S. Despite America’s political divisions, this ought to be a shared goal.   CLICK HERE to read the full piece from the WSJ Editorial Board.  CLICK HERE to learn more about H.R. 7521. CLICK HERE to read what experts and top voices are saying.



Mar 12, 2024
Big Tech

Fact Check: The Truth about H.R. 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act

Ahead of the House’s expected consideration of H.R. 7521 tomorrow, here’s the truth about how the bill protects Americans from the national security threat posed by applications controlled by foreign adversaries:  Claim: H.R. 7521 bans TikTok in the United States.  Rating: FALSE.   As long as TikTok divests from its parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), TikTok can continue to operate in the United States without interruption. TikTok can choose to protect their American users, or they can side with the CCP. The choice to end Americans use of its platform is strictly TikTok’s.  Claim: H.R. 7521 is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment.  Rating: FALSE.   The bill does not regulate speech. It is focused entirely on the ownership of an application by a foreign adversary country—not the content of speech it hosts. The bill provides a clear path for TikTok to continue its operations as long as it resolves the national security risks posed by its ownership structure.  Claim: H.R. 7521 violates the Constitution’s Bill of Attainder Clause.  Rating: FALSE.   The bill does not run afoul of the Constitution’s Bill of Attainder Clause. The case law here is clear. H.R. 7521 takes an appropriate step to protect America’s national security interests in a forward looking and ongoing way. Further, this bill does not apply solely to TikTok—it applies to other applications that are controlled by a foreign adversary of the United States, now and in the future. Claim: TikTok is not controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.   Rating: FALSE.   The People’s Republic of China (PRC) National Intelligence Law of 2017 requires PRC individuals and entities to support PRC intelligence services. Beijing Bytedance Technology is a Chinese internet technology company headquartered in Beijing. It is operating in the United States through a holding company, Bytedance Ltd, which is the parent company of TikTok. TikTok was used to spy on American journalists and surveil American user data. Internal TikTok recordings revealed, “everything is seen in China.” Former TikTok employees have attested ByteDance is closely involved in the company’s decision-making and product development.  Claim: TikTok is no different than any other social media app.  Rating: FALSE.   TikTok is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party through its parent company, ByteDance. A recent Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report showed that the CCP was using TikTok to target political candidates and influence the 2022 election cycle. Internal TikTok recordings have revealed “everything is seen in China” and the CCP “maintained supreme access” to TikTok’s data. If nations that want to undermine America can access and manipulate Americans’ data through a specific app, that poses a unique threat and requires a narrow and targeted response. Claim: This will allow the President to prohibit any app for any reason.  Rating: FALSE.   This bill DOES NOT empower the Executive Branch to define “foreign adversary” and prohibit any apps owned by its own definition of “foreign adversary.” The bill defines a foreign adversary-controlled application as subject to the control of China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea. Only Congress can change the definition used in this bill. This is not a blank check for the Biden administration, or future administrations, to restrict whatever apps it wants.  Claim: TikTok is already separating itself from China through Project Texas.  Rating: FALSE.   TikTok’s “Project Texas” would continue to allow personnel in Beijing to access U.S. user data. After promising to wall off American users’ data, this data continues to be accessible from inside China. TikTok personnel have thrown cold water on the idea that U.S. users’ data will be adequately protected under any new arrangement. TikTok’s own Project Texas employees say ByteDance managers continue to request U.S. data. Many of the Project Texas data protections have devolved into what one employee called “a wink and a nod.”  Claim: This bill will hurt small businesses and content creators.  Rating: FALSE.   If TikTok is not divested from ByteDance, TikTok must allow its creators and users to extract all of their account data. This ensures that creators and users retain their content and can move to a different platform. Furthermore, if TikTok actually cared about small businesses and content creators on its platform like they claim, they would divest and remain operational in the United States.  Claim: H.R. 7521 applies to all social media companies or websites.  Rating: FALSE.   The bill does NOT apply to all websites. It only applies to applications and websites controlled by a foreign adversary—China, Russia, Iran, North Korea—that pose a clear national security threat.



Oct 12, 2023
Big Tech

Chair Rodgers Demands Briefing from Big Tech on Policies to Combat the Spread of Illegal Content Posted by Hamas

Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) today called on Alphabet, Meta, X, and TikTok to brief the Committee on their moderation policies regarding the spread of illegal content posted by Hamas to glorify their human rights abuses. Excerpts below from the exclusive coverage by Fox News : House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers is calling for a briefing from social media companies on content moderation policies regarding the spread of "illegal content" posted by Hamas amid the deadly terror attacks in Israel. McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., sent requests to government affairs representatives for Alphabet, Meta, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok to brief committee staff by Oct. 20. CLICK HERE to read the full story. Chair Rodgers released the following statement: “I’m calling on Big Tech companies to brief the Energy and Commerce Committee on how they are enforcing their moderation policies and community standards surrounding the war in Israel. Big Tech must take its responsibility seriously to expose the world to the pure evil of Hamas terrorists and to make sure their platforms aren’t breeding grounds for more terrorist activity. Specifically, these companies must provide transparency and answers for how they are monitoring and removing illegal content posted by Hamas for recruitment, to spread propaganda, to livestream murders and the torture of hostages, and to organize more terrorist activities.   “This is an urgent matter and we expect full transparency from Big Tech. We continue to pray for peace, protection, and justice for Israel.”



Jun 14, 2023
Big Tech

WSJ: “Instagram Connects Vast Pedophile Network”

Reporting underscores need for a national data privacy standard A new investigative report is out by the Wall Street Journal and the evidence is clear: Instagram connects and promotes accounts that are openly dedicated to the purchasing and selling of child sexual abuse materials. Instagram is allowing this content to spread in violation of both federal law and Meta’s own platform rules. The Journal’s reporting underscores the need to pass a national data privacy standard. It’s the best way to protect Americans online, especially kids, and hold Big Tech companies accountable for its dangerous algorithms. Top takeaways from the report: 1. Instagram’s algorithms actively promote illicit content. As reported by the WSJ: “Pedophiles have long used the internet, but unlike the forums and file-transfer services that cater to people who have interest in illicit content, Instagram doesn’t merely host these activities ... Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems .” “Even glancing contact with an account in Instagram’s pedophile community can trigger the platform to begin recommending that users join it.” 2. Instagram allows explicit hashtags which connect users to accounts that advertise child-sex material for sale. “The researchers found that Instagram enabled people to search explicit hashtags such as #pedowhore and #preteensex and connected them to accounts that used the terms to advertise child-sex material for sale.” 3. Instagram has allowed users to search for terms that its own algorithms know may be harmful or illegal content. WSJ: A screenshot taken by the Stanford Internet Observatory shows the warning and clickthrough option when searching for a pedophilia-related hashtag on Instagram. PHOTO: STANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY “In response to questions from the Journal, Instagram removed the option for users to view search results for terms likely to produce illegal images. The company declined to say why it had offered the option.” 4. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, admitted they are not enforcing their policies and have failed to combat inappropriate content. “Earlier this year, an anti-pedophile activist discovered an Instagram account claiming to belong to a girl selling underage-sex content, including a post declaring, ‘This teen is ready for you pervs.’ When the activist reported the account, Instagram responded with an automated message saying: ‘Because of the high volume of reports we receive, our team hasn’t been able to review this post.’ “A Meta spokesman acknowledged that Meta had received the reports and failed to act on them. A review of how the company handled reports of child sex abuse found that a software glitch was preventing a substantial portion of user reports from being processed, and that the company’s moderation staff wasn’t properly enforcing the platform’s rules, the spokesman said.” Energy and Commerce is leading on a federal data privacy and security law that establishes the strongest safeguards for kids’ online data, strengthens Americans’ data protections, and holds Big Tech accountable. As Chair Rodgers said in our data privacy hearing series, a national standard is a foundational piece of protecting children online. Our framework protects kids online by: Minimizing the sensitive data that is collected and retained on all Americans, including children   Treating all data on children under 17 as sensitive , meaning more robust protections for the collection and transfer of their personal information   Requiring assessments of Big Tech algorithms and how they harm children   Prohibiting targeted advertising to children under 17 years old CLICK HERE to read the full Wall Street Journal report. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) released a joint statement demanding answers from Instagram. Key excerpt: " “It is clear these companies cannot be trusted to protect children on their platforms, which is why the majority of parents want Congress to do more to strengthen protections for online safety. And they are right. The exploitation of children that this report revealed is indefensible, and we are determined to rein in these social media companies, starting with the passage of bipartisan privacy legislation.” Read more about the Energy and Commerce Committee's bipartisan efforts to strengthen data privacy and security protections for Americans: Protecting Kids’ Privacy with a National Data Privacy and Security Standard How Your Online Data is Being Abused to Surveil you and Violate Your Freedoms Expert Warns Data Brokers Profit from Unregulated Surveillance We’ve Waited Long Enough for a National Privacy Standard



Jun 5, 2023
Big Tech

How Your Online Data is Being Abused to Surveil you and Violate Your Freedoms

Do you know how much personal information on you and your family is available online for d ata brokers to harvest without your knowledge?   Data brokers are aggregating your online information to build profiles on you and your family members, which they then sell to anyone willing to pay. That includes government agencies, which are paying these data brokers to spy on Americans, creating an ecosystem of surveillance that jeopardizes peoples’ data privacy and security, and violates our civil liberties.  HOW THE GOVERNMENT IS USING DATA BROKERS TO SPY ON AMERICANS:   A California County hired a data broker to track the location and number of people attending church during government-enforced COVID-19 lockdowns. The location data was so specific that the county was able to identify how many people visited each structure within the church’s property.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used taxpayer dollars to hire a data mining and surveillance company to screen travelers , including U.S. citizens, by linking people’s social media posts to personal information like their Social Security number and location data. This is particularly troubling given DHS’ recent attempt to establish a disinformation governance board to surveil and censor Americans online.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) used a data broker company to collect personal data on investigative journalist Matt Taibbi who—through his Twitter Files reporting—was exposing the government's collusion with Big Tech to censor Americans and control what they see online. The IRS visited Taibbi’s home unannounced the same day he testified before Congress on the weaponization of the federal government.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) paid $420,000 to a data broker for access to Americans’ location data, which was harvested from tens of millions of Americans’ phones. This data was then used by the CDC to monitor whether Americans were complying with curfews and track who was visiting K-12 schools.  BOTTOM LINE: The Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating data brokers’ unrestrained collection of Americans’ data, and their ability to sell our most sensitive information to anyone including to government agencies. This is the type of behavior we would expect from the Chinese Communist Party—not the United States.   NEXT STEPS: The best way to protect Americans’ personal information online and end this surveillance state is with a comprehensive data privacy and security law, which would:  Give Americans more control over their data;   Bring these data brokers out from the shadows; Preserve law enforcement’s ability to protect their communities; and   Prevent the government from buying data from data brokers to violate people's civil liberties.   Read more about the Energy and Commerce Committee's bipartisan efforts to strengthen data security and privacy protections for Americans across the country, no matter where they live.   Expert Warns Data Brokers Profit from Unregulated Surveillance   We’ve Waited Long Enough for a National Privacy Standard  



Expert Warns Data Brokers Profit from Unregulated Surveillance

With more Americans than ever using online apps and digital services, a stunning amount of information and personal data is being collected on you and potentially exploited by data brokers. Energy and Commerce is investigating how these companies are harvesting your data, selling or sharing it without your knowledge, and failing to keep it secure.  WHAT EXPERTS ARE SAYING: At an April 19 Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing , Justin Sherman, a Duke University Senior Fellow and Research Lead for the Data Brokerage Project, outlined the risks and dangers of continuing to let data brokers exploit your data without consequence, saying:   “Data brokerage is a threat to Americans’ civil rights, consumers’ privacy and well-being, and U.S. national security. The entire data brokerage ecosystem—from companies whose entire business model is data brokerage, to the thousands of other apps, advertisers, tech giants, and companies that collect, buy, sell, and share Americans’ personal data—profits from unregulated surveillance of every American, particularly the most vulnerable.”   INFORMATION COLLECTED BY DATA BROKERS: The best way to change the status quo and restore Americans’ control of their personal information is through a comprehensive data privacy and security framework, which will:  Protect your sensitive information online—like GPS, health, and mobile phone data—from being transferred to data brokers and sold without your knowledge to another private entity or government agency.   Prevent data brokers from aggregating your personal online information and selling that information to an employer or bank, who could then weaponize it to prevent you from getting a job or buying a home.  Restore your control over your personal online information by giving you the power to demand data brokers delete all of the information they’ve collected and stop further collection.  Require greater transparency around data brokers whose sole purpose is to covertly take money off of your information.   WHY IT MATTERS:  You are the product driving data brokers’ bottom line — these companies are willing to violate your civil liberties to turn a profit. This was made clear at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when data brokers collected Americans’ location data and sold it to federal and local government entities, including government entities in California and Washington, D.C. , as well as to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The information was then weaponized to spy on people during lockdowns to see who was attending activities, like church services, in person.  BIG PICTURE: Next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality will further deepen our reliance on online services and increase the amount of information collected. Without proper guardrails, that information can easily be sold to data brokers. Robust guardrails and a national privacy and data security standard would help prevent your information from being exploited further by these new technologies.  DON’T MISS: Last week, a bipartisan group of Energy and Commerce Committee Leaders sent letters to several data broker firms calling on them to be transparent about their data collection practices, selling practices, and the risks posed for Americans. The letters follow the April 19 Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing examining the role of data brokers in the digital economy.   From CNBC:   The letters ask whether the brokers consider any type of data to be off limits for them to buy or sell, what restrictions they put on data they share with third parties and how they verify the accuracy of the data they collect and distribute. Additional questions span from seeking to understand how much money the businesses make from selling data to how many sources they use to get that information.   Last month, the subcommittee on oversight and investigations held a hearing with expert witnesses to examine “the role of data brokers in the digital economy.” The letters indicate the committee remains focused on this slice of the tech industry as it looks to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. It also shows that Congress is focused on a broader swath of companies than just the massive players like Google and Facebook that attract so much scrutiny.   CLICK HERE to read more. 



May 8, 2023
Big Tech

Protecting Kids’ Privacy with a National Data Privacy and Security Standard

Energy and Commerce is leading on a federal data privacy and security law that strengthens Americans’ data protections and establishes the strongest safeguards for kids’ online data. As Chair Rodgers said in the latest hearing in our privacy series, a national standard is a foundational piece of protecting children online.   Our framework protects kids online and makes it tougher for their data to land in the hands of Big Tech and data brokers by :   Minimizing the data that is collected and retained on all Americans, including children Making it illegal to target advertising to children under 17 years old Treating all data on children under 17 as sensitive, meaning more robust protections for the collection and transfer of their personal information Requiring Big Tech to assess for how their algorithms harm children BIG PICTURE: Big Tech is manipulating, exploiting, and monetizing children.   Big Tech companies are collecting a stunning amount of data on everyone, including children—from physical and mental health, to their location, what they are buying, and what they are eating. To profit off children, these companies are using this data to build algorithms to keep kids hooked on their platforms.  These algorithms subject children to dangerous content and targeted advertisements that can lead to dangerous and life-threatening behaviors, like eating disorders and self-harm. The collection, retention, and sale of children’s data also exposes them to criminals, like drug dealers and sex traffickers, who have exploited features on these platforms—such as location sharing—to target children.  WHY IT MATTERS: Big Tech and data brokers are profiting from and manipulating children for nearly their entire adolescent lives. Half of American teens use the internet “almost constantly” and most kids have their own smartphones by age 11. The more time children spend on their screens, the more companies are able to collect, retain, share, and use data to build profiles on them. Teens and young adults who spend more time using social media report lower psychological well-being, lower life satisfaction, less happiness, more feelings of loneliness and isolation, and more depression.  The best and strongest way to ensure kids are safe online and prevent Big Tech from manipulating them is with a comprehensive national data privacy and security law.  DON’T MISS: Parents whose children have been harmed by Big Tech are raising the alarm to E&C. They’re calling on Congress to act so other parents don’t experience their pain. READ MORE .   In addition, child privacy protection advocates agree a national standard is a key way to protect kids online.  "ADPPA... provides the strongest possible safeguards for the online data of kids and teens. Establishing strong data privacy protections is a critical step toward making today's internet healthier and safer for young users... the kids' protections in [ADPPA]… are stronger than current federal law, stronger than California law, and stronger than when the bill was first introduced.” — Common Sense Media   ADPPA stands for the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which passed the Energy and Commerce Committee last Congress with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. Committee members have participated in six data privacy hearings already this year and will be considering an updated data privacy and security standard.  RELATED:   WATCH Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) tell Big Tech CEOs that their platforms are her biggest fear as a parent.  CLICK HERE for more on why privacy experts are saying America needs a national data privacy standard.