With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel and Steven Overly
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— Taking a break from giving: While Facebook, Google and Microsoft are stopping all political donations after last week’s Capitol violence, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast pledge not to back Republicans involved in the Electoral College challenge.
— Ditch the consumer welfare standard: A progressive anti-monopoly group reviews what went wrong with antitrust under Barack Obama and how President-elect Joe Biden can fix it.
— Trump Twitter fatigue: Half of U.S. adults think social media companies should have suspended President Donald Trump’s accounts earlier, according to a new Morning Consult poll.
IT’S TUESDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m Leah Nylen, your guest host for the day. H/t to The Recount’s Slade Sohmer for noticing the delightful juxtaposition of Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg’s upcoming book and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s. (Sorry, Pete, MT will be reading Klo’s first).
Send your 2021 book recs to [email protected], and follow on Twitter at @Leah_Nylen. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
TECH, TELECOM COMPANIES HALT POLITICAL DONATIONS — Facebook, Google and Microsoft are freezing all political donations, my colleague Cristiano reports, as Wall Street and corporate America seek to respond to last week’s assault on the Capitol. USTelecom, a trade group for the telecommunications industry, also said it is pausing political donations. Other tech companies, including AirBnB, cable company Comcast, and telecom giants AT&T and Verizon, said they will stop donating only to those Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s election victory last week.
— Not enough: Still, some wanted the companies to go further. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) called pauses aimed at both political parties “deeply offensive and worse than doing nothing.” She aimed particular ire at Facebook, which she called the “most cowardly and despicable” for being “unwilling and unable to confront their role in fostering the hatred that led to this action.” How long these donation pauses last remains an open question: It’s another 22 months until the next congressional election.
FIRST IN MT: ANTI-MONOPOLY GROUP PUSHES ANTITRUST REFORM — Obama-era antitrust enforcers relied too heavily on conservative thinking that mergers and business conduct should be measured based on their effect on consumers, particularly consumer prices, according to a new report out today by the anti-monopoly group American Economic Liberties Project.
Such overdependence on the “consumer welfare standard” — as opposed to bright line rules on illegal mergers and conduct — handicapped antitrust enforcement, the group argues in a 183-page report, and allowed dangerous levels of concentration in markets like e-commerce, online travel, media and communications, online advertising and more.
— “We need enforcers who are not wedded to the consumer welfare standard that has failed,” Sarah Miller, executive director of ALP and one of nine authors on the report, told MT. The report seeks to offer a comprehensive accounting of what went wrong during the Obama years, and how Biden can avoid making those same mistakes, said Miller, who served as a Biden transition official focused on the Treasury Department. There were “severe institutional failures in this space,” she said.
— Democratizing antitrust: The report names names, calling out antitrust economists and lawyers the group thinks contributed to the problem. Miller said the authors wanted to show how “a really pretty small guild of people have controlled a very central part of the way our economy functions.” She added, “We want to break that guild open and democratize it.”
POLL: 50 PERCENT THINK TRUMP SHOULD HAVE BEEN BANNED EARLIER — Data intelligence company Morning Consult is out with a poll this morning on Trump’s ban from Facebook and Twitter, and half of the 2,200 Americans surveyed over the weekend think social media companies should have cut him off before now. About 39 percent said the temporary ban was “exactly right,” though feelings (predictably) split along partisan lines: 69 percent of Republicans said the suspensions went too far while 43 percent of Democrats said they don’t go far enough.
— QAnon: More than half of the adults surveyed, 56 percent, said the spread of conspiracy theories like QAnon through social media represents a “major problem.” That’s up from 40 percent in an October poll. Twitter said it suspended 70,000 accounts associated with the conspiracy theory between Friday and Monday.
— Meanwhile, Parler sued Amazon Web Services over its cut-off. The Twitter alternative, which about 8 million people in the U.S. downloaded last year, said Amazon’s decision to immediately stop hosting its service “will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket.” (In the meantime, Parler appears to have moved over to Epik, which also hosts far-right social media platform Gab.) Conservative antitrust experts called the suit “absurd on its face”. Still, 20 conservative advocacy groups, including the Oracle-backed Internet Accountability Project, said the actions Google, Apple and Amazon took against Parler demonstrated the companies are “too big and powerful” and should be broken up. Cristiano has more on GOP responses to the bans.
DEMOCRATS PRESS BROADBAND PROVIDERS OVER COVID DATA CAPS — Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee fired off letters to several top broadband providers on Monday, demanding information about how they’ve treated consumers during the pandemic and approached service pricing and data caps.
— The lawmakers say they’re worried, given that a voluntary pledge FCC chief Ajit Pai had secured with ISPs expired at the end of June: “With the expiration of the FCC’s pledge, and the passage of time, some companies have already started to abandon the policies they adopted in the early days of the pandemic even though COVID-19 continues to surge throughout the nation and millions of Americans remain unemployed or under-employed.”
IN FTC’S FIRST FACIAL RECOGNITION CASE, CHOPRA BACKS MORATORIUM — EverAlbum agreed to delete technology it developed from billions of photos uploaded to its free photo-storing app to settle FTC allegations that the company had deceived users by failing to disclose it used those pics to train its facial recognition software. The app, Ever, started in 2013 but shut down last year, blaming steep competition from Apple and Google. Critics offered a less charitable interpretation of the shutdown: Ever no longer needed more photos to train its facial recognition technology, rebranded as Paravision.
— Moratorium: In a separate statement, Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra called for a moratorium on use of facial recognition technology, saying it is “fundamentally flawed and reinforces harmful biases.” Chopra — who could lead the agency under Biden — said the FTC should impose monetary penalties for data abuses linked to facial recognition technology. He also plugged state privacy laws, noting that Ever took greater care with photos uploaded by users in Illinois, Washington and Texas since those states have laws on facial recognition or biometric privacy.
COMMERCE DEPARTMENT, PENTAGON TO LAUNCH ‘5G CHALLENGE’ — The Trump administration is collecting comments about the government, potentially creating a challenge competition intended to foster 5G technology in ways that could support the Pentagon’s efforts. Comments on how to craft such a challenge are due Feb. 10, according to a Commerce Department news release Monday.
THE NEW FACE OF THE INTERNET — K. Dane Snowden has been named CEO of the Internet Association, a trade group representing internet companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Snap and Uber. The association has been vocal in pushing back against changes to internet companies’ liability shield, barriers to growing digital trade such as taxes on digital goods, and restrictions on cross-border data sharing. Snowden was previously the chief operating officer of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.
Roy L. Austin Jr. joins Facebook as vice president for civil rights. … Samir Jain has joined the Center for Democracy and Technology as director of policy. … Ari Goldberg also joins CDT as director of communications. … CTIA announced three promotions: Benjamin Aron has been promoted to assistant vice president for state regulatory affairs; Jen Oberhausen is now assistant vice president for regulatory affairs; and Melanie Tiano is assistant vice president for cybersecurity and privacy. … Nilda Gumbs is joining the NCTA to become chief of staff to President and CEO Michael Powell. Mark Kulish will become NCTA’s chief administrative and financial officer. … The Cloud Communications Alliance has joined INCOMPAS as an affiliate member.
Trump’s ‘problematic’ Twitter ban: Germany’s Angela Merkel is among European leaders not pleased with the social media company’s handling, POLITICO Europe’s Pierre-Paul Bermingham reports.
Don’t blame Facebook, Sandberg says: The U.S. Capitol riot was not organized on Facebook, the company’s chief operations officer said, according to CNBC.
No more ‘Stop the Steal’: Facebook is removing any content that uses the phrase, my colleague John reports.
Social media splinter: With Parler shutdown and groups getting the boot from mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, fringe groups are moving to Gab, Telegram, Signal and lesser known sites, according to the New York Times.
Smart masks and robot cats: The Consumer Electronics Show is virtual this year and developers are out with new tech for the pandemic era, The Washington Post reports.
Hide the swag: Facebook tells employees to avoid company-branded apparel to avoid putting themselves at risk after the social network banned Trump last week, The Information reports.
Ready to Rumble: The video-sharing platform popular with conservatives filed an antitrust suit against Google, saying it preferenced YouTube over other video services in search results.
Fingers crossed for a frog-theme: Walmart is teaming up with technology investment firm Ribbit Capital to launch a fintech venture, POLITICO’s Victoria Guida reports.
Be careful what you connect to the internet: A hacker gained control of internet-enabled chastity cages, VICE reports, and demanded a ransom to unlock them.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).
Just three more days to a long weekend…