Senator Klobuchar’s major tech reform bill advances out of committee

A major tech reform bill that would prevent the industry's biggest players — Apple, Amazon, Google, and their ilk — from discriminating against smaller businesses that rely on the big platforms' services is one step closer to passage on Thursday after passing from committee on a bipartisan 16-6 vote. Senators Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, and Marsha Blackburn all voted against it.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which was sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would prohibit Amazon from promoting its own Amazon Basics gear over similar products in search results. Similarly, Apple and Google would be barred from pushing their in-house apps over those from third-party developers in their respective app stores. The bill passed out of both the antitrust subcommittee and the primary judiciary committee with the support of that vote and will now be put forth on the Senate floor.   

Unsurprisingly, the platforms impacted by these proposed regulations are none too pleased with the recent proceedings. Apple's Tim Cook has reportedly been personally lobbying against the bill while Amazon has released the following statement:

There’s a reason why small businesses who sell on Amazon are asking Congress to take a look at the “collateral damage” that will fall on them and their customers, should the American Innovation and Choice Online Act become law. This bill is being rushed through the legislative process without any acknowledgment by its authors of its unintended consequences. As drafted, the bill’s vague prohibitions and unreasonable financial penalties—up to 15% of U.S. revenue, not income—would jeopardize our ability to allow small businesses to sell on Amazon. The bill would also make it difficult for us to guarantee one or two-day shipping for those small businesses' products—key benefits of Amazon Prime for sellers and customers alike. The bill’s authors are targeting common retail practices and, troublingly, appear to single out Amazon while giving preferential treatment to other large retailers that engage in the same practices. We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Senator Klobuchar and Senator Grassley’s bill and refuse to rush through an ambiguously worded bill with significant unintended consequences.

A similar bill has already passed the judiciary committee's counterpart in the House though the President has not yet weighed in regarding his support of these proposals.

Senator Klobuchar’s major tech reform bill advances out of committee

A major tech reform bill that would prevent the industry's biggest players — Apple, Amazon, Google, and their ilk — from discriminating against smaller businesses that rely on the big platforms' services is one step closer to passage on Thursday after passing from committee on a bipartisan 16-6 vote. Senators Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, and Marsha Blackburn all voted against it.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which was sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would prohibit Amazon from promoting its own Amazon Basics gear over similar products in search results. Similarly, Apple and Google would be barred from pushing their in-house apps over those from third-party developers in their respective app stores. The bill passed out of both the antitrust subcommittee and the primary judiciary committee with the support of that vote and will now be put forth on the Senate floor.   

Unsurprisingly, the platforms impacted by these proposed regulations are none too pleased with the recent proceedings. Apple's Tim Cook has reportedly been personally lobbying against the bill while Amazon has released the following statement:

There’s a reason why small businesses who sell on Amazon are asking Congress to take a look at the “collateral damage” that will fall on them and their customers, should the American Innovation and Choice Online Act become law. This bill is being rushed through the legislative process without any acknowledgment by its authors of its unintended consequences. As drafted, the bill’s vague prohibitions and unreasonable financial penalties—up to 15% of U.S. revenue, not income—would jeopardize our ability to allow small businesses to sell on Amazon. The bill would also make it difficult for us to guarantee one or two-day shipping for those small businesses' products—key benefits of Amazon Prime for sellers and customers alike. The bill’s authors are targeting common retail practices and, troublingly, appear to single out Amazon while giving preferential treatment to other large retailers that engage in the same practices. We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Senator Klobuchar and Senator Grassley’s bill and refuse to rush through an ambiguously worded bill with significant unintended consequences.

A similar bill has already passed the judiciary committee's counterpart in the House though the President has not yet weighed in regarding his support of these proposals.

President Biden signs memo to help improve military cybersecurity

President Biden is following his executive order on cybersecurity with more concrete action. The leader has signed a memorandum aiming to improve digital security for the Defense Department, the intelligence community and national security systems. The notice sets firmer requirements, both for schedules and for the technology needed to lock down government data.

The memo lets the NSA require agencies to take "specific actions" in response to threats and security flaws, and asks the NSA to coordinate with Homeland Security on directives. Agencies will also have to identify their national security systems, report incidents and secure tools that transfer data between classified and unclassified systems. The President's move also sets timelines and guidance for implementing technologies required in the executive order, ranging from encryption to multi-factor authentication.

Biden's move complements an order that was initially signed in response to critical infrastructure cyberattacks. In theory, this will tighten security at some of the most sensitive federal government institutions. As with the order, though, the memo can only accomplish so much without Congress' support. Virginia Senator Mark Warner, for instance, used the signing to ask Congress to pass legislation requiring notices of critical infrastructure breaches within 72 hours.

The timing is apt, at least. The President's effort comes as tensions rise between Russia, the US and American allies, with Ukraine blaming Russia for a string of cyberattacks that knocked out government websites. The situation might not lead to outright cyberwarfare, but the US still has a strong incentive to close as many security holes as possible.

President Biden signs memo to help improve military cybersecurity

President Biden is following his executive order on cybersecurity with more concrete action. The leader has signed a memorandum aiming to improve digital security for the Defense Department, the intelligence community and national security systems. The notice sets firmer requirements, both for schedules and for the technology needed to lock down government data.

The memo lets the NSA require agencies to take "specific actions" in response to threats and security flaws, and asks the NSA to coordinate with Homeland Security on directives. Agencies will also have to identify their national security systems, report incidents and secure tools that transfer data between classified and unclassified systems. The President's move also sets timelines and guidance for implementing technologies required in the executive order, ranging from encryption to multi-factor authentication.

Biden's move complements an order that was initially signed in response to critical infrastructure cyberattacks. In theory, this will tighten security at some of the most sensitive federal government institutions. As with the order, though, the memo can only accomplish so much without Congress' support. Virginia Senator Mark Warner, for instance, used the signing to ask Congress to pass legislation requiring notices of critical infrastructure breaches within 72 hours.

The timing is apt, at least. The President's effort comes as tensions rise between Russia, the US and American allies, with Ukraine blaming Russia for a string of cyberattacks that knocked out government websites. The situation might not lead to outright cyberwarfare, but the US still has a strong incentive to close as many security holes as possible.

Lyft is spending millions to stop Massachusetts drivers from becoming employees

Lyft has already splashed out $14.4 million towards a likely November ballot measure in Massachusetts which would cement its drivers as contractors, rather than employees — and the vast majority of those funds were paid in a single, $13 million donation, the largest in the state's history by a considerable margin. It's an unambiguous opening salvo in what will likely be a bitter and protracted battle, the playbook for which Lyft and its gig work peers successfully tested in California two years ago. 

As the Boston Globereports, Lyft has thus far contributed the lion's share of the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee's $17.2 million war chest, which is intended to fund the forthcoming ballot measure. The rest comes from Uber, DoorDash and Instacart owner Maplebear. The previous record for largest single donation was nearly a third the size: a $5.1 million contribution from General Motors in 2020. 

Currently Lyft and Uber are engaged in a lawsuit, filed by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, which contends that the companies have been misclassifying their driver workforce as contractors. Leveraging contractor status relieves them of many of the costs and obligations associated with employees — such as minimum wage, healthcare and overtime pay — but true contractors typically control how and when they work, and what they charge for their services. Whether or not ridershare drivers actually have that level of autonomy has become a point of legal contention in several of the states and countries in which these companies operate.

California thus far has prosecuted its defense of gig-workers-as-employees most vociferously, first through a state Supreme Court ruling in 2018, then through AB5, a successfully-passed bill that (however briefly) enshrined these kinds of drivers as employees. It went into effect on January 1, 2020 and was overturned by ballot measure Proposition 22 that November. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates dumped a historic $224 million into the proposition — outspending their opposition, which largely consisted of labor unions, by more than 10-to-1 — the most expensive ballot measure in California history. 

Although Prop 22 was eventually ruled unconstitutional, the strategy has thus far been successful for gig work companies. Legislative changes have been tied up in court, and nowhere in the United States are Lyft or Uber drivers currently entitled to the entire slate of benefits enjoyed by full-time employees.

In making their case for Prop 22, gig companies essentially employed two lines of attack. The first, against its own workers, was a facile attempt to tie the concept of "flexibility" to contractor status, an utterly false dichotomy perpetuated by the companies themselves. The second was to convince voters in California that the costs associated with a fleet of employee drivers would either force them to scale back service or raise prices. 

After Prop 22 passed, every single company that backed it raised prices anyway. Uber's CEO also recently contended on a call with investors that, in the face of potential employee-status regulations in the European Union, Uber can, in fact, afford to "make any model work" financially. We've reached out to Lyft to ask if it's in a similar position.

Given this much publicized bait-and-switch, it seems unlikely the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee will be able to successfully argue the same case regarding cost to consumers. Still, the $17.2 million already amassed has paid for, as the Globe reports, a slew of big-name political consultancies who were behind what is currently the most expensive (and likely to soon the be the second-most expensive) ballot measure in Massachusetts history, which sought to stymie a right to repair law.

Update 1/19/21 2:09pm ET: Reached for comment, a representative for Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers told Engadget that, "this is just the beginning of our effort. All of the Coalition members have committed to providing significant resources to achieve our shared goal of protecting drivers’ ability to remain independent contractors while accessing historic new benefits." Lyft decline to comment individually. 

Are you a gig work driver or courier working in Massachusetts? Download Signal messenger for iOS or Android and text me confidentially at 646 983 9846 and let's keep in touch.

 

Apple and Google oppose Senate antitrust efforts, claiming they’d hurt consumer security

With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to discuss the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act this week, Apple and Google are stepping up their opposition to both bills. According to CNBC, Apple recently told lawmakers the legislation would make iPhone users less safe.

“The bills put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches,” Apple said in a letter seen by CNBC. The company specifically targets app sideloading as a potential threat. One of the provisions of the Open App Markets Act would force platform holders to allow consumers to sideload software and install third-party app stores. “But, if Apple is forced to enable sideloading, millions of Americans will likely suffer malware attacks on their phones that would otherwise have been stopped,” the company states in the letter.

On Tuesday, Google, in a post attributed to Kent Walker, the company’s president of global affairs and chief legal officer, advanced a similar argument. “Google is able to protect billions of people around the world from cyberattacks because we bake security and privacy protections into our services,” he said.

Walker warns the bills could hurt the company’s ability to integrate automated security features in its services. He also claims the bills could hurt the company’s ability and that of its US counterparts to compete with foreign firms by forcing them to obtain approval from “government bureaucrats” whenever they plan to release new features or address existing issues.

Apple and Google may not like the proposed bills, but they have support from others in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, the Coalition for App Fairness, an organization Epic and Spotify co-founded to pressure the two companies to change their app store policies, has come out in support of the legislation. “Moving this important legislation forward sends a clear and unambiguous message that monopoly control of the app ecosystem is no longer acceptable,” the group said on Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss both bills on Thursday, at which point they could advance to the floor of the Senate. At that point, the Senate would need to make time to vote on the legislation. That’s something that could take time with all the other issues it needs to consider in the coming weeks.

Israeli police reportedly used Pegasus spyware to conduct domestic surveillance

Israeli police have employed NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to extract data from phones belonging to Israeli citizens, according to an investigation by the country’s Calcalist business publication. Police reportedly used the controversial software to target a number of individuals, including politicians and members of an activist group that had called for the removal of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the report, Israeli police conducted their surveillance without court supervision, a claim both police and public officials deny.

“All police activity in this field is done in accordance with the law, on the basis of court orders and strict work procedures,” Israeli Police said. The Washington Post reports Omer Bar-Lev, the country’s country’s public security minister, said an initial investigation had found no evidence of a “secretive wiretapping” program but promised a judge would check everything “thoroughly and unequivocally.”

“We would like to clarify that the company does not operate the systems in its customers’ possession and is not involved in their operation,” NSO Group said in a statement the company shared with Israeli media. “The company sells its products under license and supervision for the use of security bodies and state law enforcement agencies, to prevent crime and terrorism legally, and according to court orders and local law in each country.”

Per The Guardian, Israeli law only allows Shin Bet, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, to hack a phone without a court order. What’s more, the only context in which the agency is allowed to carry out such an action is to prevent a terrorist attack involving Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs or Israeli-Jews. Approval from a senior Shin Bet official or the attorney general’s office is also required. No such exemption exists for the country’s police service. However, according to Calcalist, the software wasn’t directly covered by Israel’s existing laws.

The report comes a month after Reuters found the Pegasus spyware had been used to target at least nine US State Department officials. In that instance, an unknown assailant had used the software to target federal employees who were either stationed in Uganda or whose work involved the African country. NSO has claimed its software can’t target devices linked to American or Israeli phone numbers. 

Israeli police reportedly used Pegasus spyware to conduct domestic surveillance

Israeli police have employed NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to extract data from phones belonging to Israeli citizens, according to an investigation by the country’s Calcalist business publication. Police reportedly used the controversial software to target a number of individuals, including politicians and members of an activist group that had called for the removal of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the report, Israeli police conducted their surveillance without court supervision, a claim both police and public officials deny.

“All police activity in this field is done in accordance with the law, on the basis of court orders and strict work procedures,” Israeli Police said. The Washington Post reports Omer Bar-Lev, the country’s country’s public security minister, said an initial investigation had found no evidence of a “secretive wiretapping” program but promised a judge would check everything “thoroughly and unequivocally.”

“We would like to clarify that the company does not operate the systems in its customers’ possession and is not involved in their operation,” NSO Group said in a statement the company shared with Israeli media. “The company sells its products under license and supervision for the use of security bodies and state law enforcement agencies, to prevent crime and terrorism legally, and according to court orders and local law in each country.”

Per The Guardian, Israeli law only allows Shin Bet, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, to hack a phone without a court order. What’s more, the only context in which the agency is allowed to carry out such an action is to prevent a terrorist attack involving Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs or Israeli-Jews. Approval from a senior Shin Bet official or the attorney general’s office is also required. No such exemption exists for the country’s police service. However, according to Calcalist, the software wasn’t directly covered by Israel’s existing laws.

The report comes a month after Reuters found the Pegasus spyware had been used to target at least nine US State Department officials. In that instance, an unknown assailant had used the software to target federal employees who were either stationed in Uganda or whose work involved the African country. NSO has claimed its software can’t target devices linked to American or Israeli phone numbers. 

US airlines warn C-Band 5G could cause ‘catastrophic disruption’

The airline industry claims a “catastrophic” event could unfold on Wednesday when AT&T and Verizon activate their new C-Band 5G networks. In a letter obtained by Reuters, the CEOs of several prominent passenger and cargo airlines, including Delta, United and Southwest, warn interference from 5G cell towers could affect the sensitive safety equipment on their planes.

"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," they state in the letter, which was sent to the heads of the White House Economic Council, Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission, as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies."

The airlines have asked that AT&T and Verizon not offer 5G service within 2 miles of some of the country’s busiest and most vital airports. They’re also urging the federal government to ensure “5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption." The agency established 5G buffer zones at 50 airports on January 7th. 

The letter is the latest development in the ongoing back and forth between the airline and wireless industries. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon spent nearly $80 billion at the start of 2021 to secure the repurposed C-Band spectrum the FCC had put up for auction. In November, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their C-Band rollouts to January 5th to help the FAA address any interference concerns. They later proposed limiting the power output of cell towers close to airports and agreed to a further two-week delay on January 4th.

US airlines warn C-Band 5G could cause ‘catastrophic disruption’

The airline industry claims a “catastrophic” event could unfold on Wednesday when AT&T and Verizon activate their new C-Band 5G networks. In a letter obtained by Reuters, the CEOs of several prominent passenger and cargo airlines, including Delta, United and Southwest, warn interference from 5G cell towers could affect the sensitive safety equipment on their planes.

"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," they state in the letter, which was sent to the heads of the White House Economic Council, Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission, as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies."

The airlines have asked that AT&T and Verizon not offer 5G service within 2 miles of some of the country’s busiest and most vital airports. They’re also urging the federal government to ensure “5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption." The agency established 5G buffer zones at 50 airports on January 7th. 

The letter is the latest development in the ongoing back and forth between the airline and wireless industries. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon spent nearly $80 billion at the start of 2021 to secure the repurposed C-Band spectrum the FCC had put up for auction. In November, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their C-Band rollouts to January 5th to help the FAA address any interference concerns. They later proposed limiting the power output of cell towers close to airports and agreed to a further two-week delay on January 4th.