With help from Alexandra S. Levine, Emily Birnbaum and Leah Nylen
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— Timing is everything: Former President Donald Trump announced that he’s suing social media platforms over alleged censorship. That was the perfect set up for House Republicans’ own antitrust framework.
— Playing catch-up: China is moving quickly to enact a privacy law, while the U.S. effort has stalled. But how effective will China’s legislation be?
— Welcome back: Texas state legislators are returning for a special session today, where they will take up a bill aimed at eliminating perceived social media censorship of conservatives.
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COORDINATED GOP OFFENSIVE — Trump announced on Wednesday his legally questionable lawsuits against Facebook, Google and Twitter, just an hour after House Judiciary Republicans unveiled their own plans to take on tech. Coincidence? Not really, House aides said.
The GOP base is clamoring for Washington to break up the tech giants, and House Republicans could face their wrath if they oppose the bipartisan antitrust legislation that advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee two weeks ago. So Republicans on Wednesday timed their announcement with Trump’s speech to make it clear that they’re dead set on reining in tech’s power. (Maybe just not the same way Democrats want to do it.)
— Republicans respond: House Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is helping lead the effort on the Republicans’ antitrust framework, which seeks to speed up antitrust enforcement and make content moderation decisions more transparent, among other reforms. The lawmakers are also looking into increasing judicial salaries and the number of law clerks to help with any additional load from lawsuits the changes would spur.
But House Judiciary Republicans weren’t the only ones to speak out on tech issues Wednesday morning. Republicans on House Energy and Commerce, led by ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), put out a tweet Wednesday morning that touted their work to hold tech companies accountable.
— Back to those Trump lawsuits: Legal experts panned Trump’s move, saying his legal challenges won’t hold up in court. But something else about the filings caught MT’s eye: the degree to which anti-Section 230 sentiment has become the norm among Republicans. For instance, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust panel, said after Trump’s announcement that overhauling Section 230 — part of the Communications Decency Act that’s long shielded tech companies from liability for what third parties post — was the solution to platforms’ alleged censorship of conservatives.
It’s just a little ironic, though, that Trump’s suit against Twitter cites Democrats’ repeated “threats” to revoke or restrict the Section 230 protections as evidence of a pressure campaign aimed at getting the social media platform to remove him. In the same suit, after all, he asks a judge to declare the crucial portions of that very same law unconstitutional.
GOOGLE BACK IN THE ANTITRUST SPOTLIGHT — Dozens of state attorneys general filed suit against the search giant Wednesday over its Android app store. It’s the latest salvo in regulators’ attempts to check Google’s power, Leah reports for Pros, on top of ongoing suits from the Justice Department and separate groups of attorneys generals targeting Google’s dominance in search and advertising technology. Google responded by saying the suit is “about boosting a handful of major app developers who want the benefits of Google Play without paying for it.”
WASHINGTON WATCHES AS CHINA OUTPACES U.S. ON PRIVACY LAW — China has become one of the world’s most active players on digital regulation, and its recent crackdown on ride-hailing app Didi is just the latest example. Next on the horizon? A national privacy law, which seems likely to pass the country’s parliamentary body this fall — well before the U.S. has its own national privacy standard on the books. Alex, our in-house privacy expert, unpacks China’s evolving privacy landscape in a story for Pros out this morning.
— Privacy in China? Seriously? It’s easy for Americans to be dismissive of Chinese privacy efforts and cynical about how much such a law could possibly protect civilians from surveillance by the government or companies. But Beijing is slowly starting to acknowledge the growing, bottom-up demand for consumer privacy and data rights in China, and experts say taking those tensions into account will be key to understanding the implications of the looming Personal Information Protection Law. A draft version of the law is modeled off Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation and similarly targets big tech companies’ use of personal data.
— The most interesting part of China’s bill (and the biggest cause for skepticism): The provisions that apply to so-called state organs, which would in theory put constraints on what the government can do with citizens’ personal information. Experts say those rules are rife with loopholes; many privacy advocates believe they’ll have little effect on data collection by the Chinese government and won’t stand in the way of authorities going after perceived national security threats, such as political dissidents.
“It’s going to be really fascinating to see whether the notions of privacy and consent and everything else that’s built into this bill have any meaning whatsoever when it comes to state surveillance,” former NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell said. “And I suspect we know the answer to that — and that’s probably none.”
FIRST CAME FLORIDA, NOW COMES TEXAS — Texas state lawmakers will convene in Austin today to consider a slew of GOP priorities, including a bill meant to deter censorship of conservatives by social media platforms. The bill would make Texas the latest state to challenge perceived bias against Republicans by social media platforms, but it comes shortly after a federal judge blocked a similar Florida law from going into effect.
— What Republicans want: The bill, which passed the state Senate but not the House, would block social media companies with more than 100 million monthly active users from banning Texans from their platforms for political statements. It would also require them to publish their content moderation decisions online and set up an appeals process for users.
— Tech’s perspective: Major tech industry groups, such as Chamber of Progress and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, have come out against the bill, arguing that restricting tech companies’ ability to moderate content would open the door for a wave of noxious content to proliferate online. “This bill forsakes conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host obscene, antisemitic, racist, and hateful content,” NetChoice president Steve DelBianco said in a statement.
Manu Cornet has left Google, where he was known internally for publishing cartoons that were critical of senior leaders. “I have to draw the line somewhere,” he told The Information. … Brian Nick joins Fox Corp. as chief communications officer and executive vice president. He currently leads communications at Coca-Cola Consolidated and was chief of staff to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. … Mark Kornblau will be SoftBank’s global head of communications, Axios reports. He is currently EVP of communications for NBCUniversal News Group and is a Susan Rice alum.
Our very own Cristiano Lima will join WaPo to anchor The Technology 202 newsletter. … Jessica Humphrey is joining Catalist as chief technology officer. She currently is director of membership, data and analytics for the American Federation of Teachers. … Suzette Kent joins cloud data management company Rubrik’s public sector advisory board. She was previously federal chief information officer of the United States under Trump.
Matt Cameron has joined digital notary service Notarize as head of financial services policy. He is a nine-year veteran of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. … Manuel “Manny” P. Alvarez will join digital-asset marketplace Binance.US as chief administrative officer. He was previously commissioner of the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.
An update from POLITICO Influence: Huawei has added two new lobbying firms, according to disclosure filings. The telecom company has hired former Rep. Lee Terry’s consulting firm, as well as Stephen Binhak, in the past month. Terry will lobby for the company on infrastructure and telecom issues, while Binhak will lobby on foreign investment, telecom, export controls, sanctions and the National Defense Authorization Act, according to the filings.
Although the company’s lobbying spending soared in the second half of 2019, after Trump signed an executive order seeking to block U.S. companies from doing business with companies like Huawei, Huawei’s lobbying spending has slowed significantly, with the company paying one of the four firms it retains $70,000 and spending $180,000 on in-house lobbyists in the first quarter of this year, according to disclosure filings.
Behind the scenes: While Jeff Bezos backed plans for tax hikes, Amazon was lobbying to keep its tax bill low, Theodoric Meyer reports for Pros.
Get ready for it: “The U.S. says humans will always be in control of AI weapons. But the age of autonomous war is already here,” WaPo reports.
Paging the FTC: The Institute for Policy Integrity wants the FTC to weigh in on drip pricing, the hidden fees revealed later on in the purchasing process.
Let them decide: Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to give local leaders “maximum flexibility” in how to spend Covid relief funds meant to help them expand broadband access.
Stop right there: “Bill Would Ban Facial Recognition in Public Housing,” via Nextgov.
It’s official: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a comprehensive data privacy law, making it the third state to do so, The Denver Post reports.
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