By CRISTIANO LIMA (email@example.com; @viaCristiano)
02/21/2019 10:00 AM EST
With help from Steven Overly, John Hendel and Jordyn Hermani
Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Tech is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Technology subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m.
— The Google Glass is half … : Lawmakers are outraged over Google’s failure to disclose a built-in microphone in its Nest security system — but the company’s latest expansion plans are drawing bipartisan praise on the Hill.
— On deck: Reps from tradeassociations and civil liberties groups have been invited to testify at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on data privacy next week.
— California dreamin’: The state’s powerful bloc of House Democrats, wary of efforts to override California’s sweeping privacy law, may create a roadblock to federal legislation.
GREETINGS AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH, where your host thoroughly enjoyed his day of watching Washingtonians struggle through the snow. Got a news tip? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or @viaCristiano. Don’t forget to follow us @MorningTech. And catch the rest of the team’s contact info after Quick Downloads.
DRIVING THE DAY
JEERS & CHEERS FOR GOOGLE — Google’s admission that it failed to tell consumers about a microphone in its Nest security system is stoking fresh anger on Capitol Hill over the company’s privacy practices. The company on Wednesday said the device was “never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” adding that the mic “has never been on.” But the statement prompted familiar scorn from lawmakers.
— “Another classic screw up by another creepy tech company. It’s all too common anymore,”said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Added Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): “Every sensor in every electronic device should be clearly identified to consumers prior to purchase.” And Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blasted Google’s actions and called for hearings “to shine a light on the dark underbelly of the digital economy, including how incumbents are shaping the smart home ecosystem in potentially unfair and anti-competitive ways.” (Plus, at least one advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is now calling on the Federal Trade Commission to make Google divest Nest.)
— Look on the bright side: At the same time, Google is enjoying a steady stream of praise from lawmakers of both parties over its plans to invest $13 billion in data centers around the country. Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California praised the company for “setting a great example for tech companies in spreading their workforce across the country,” while Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said he was “proud to see @Google continue to invest” in his state. The warm reception for Google’s expansion contrasts with the backlash Amazon has experienced over its headquarters search and subsequent pullout from New York City.
GOOGLE MAPPING A PLAN ON OPIOIDS — The search giant today is announcing an expanded partnership with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and state governments to surface local drug disposal locations in Google Maps year-round. “This type of consumer empowerment —providing easily accessible data — is the kind of innovation needed to improve healthcare,” HHS chief technology officer Ed Simcox said in a statement.
— The tech sector has faced pressure from government leaders to curb the spread of opioid sales online. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has even floated making firms more legally liable for the sale of such drugs on their platforms.
AND ON THE LOBBYING FRONT — Google’s public policy chief has reorganized its newly renamed “government affairs and public policy” operations as the company faces mounting criticism on issues like content moderation, data privacy and market competition, according to a source familiar with the changes. Karan Bhatia, who joined Google from General Electric last year, has designated one group to work on policy issues that cut across the company’s various products and locations. Leslie Miller, an existing Google public policy official, will oversee that team. Meanwhile, other government affairs employees will be assigned to regional and product-specific policy issues. Axios first reported the news.
ABOUT THAT HEARING — The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to announce witnesses for its Feb. 26 data privacy hearing soon, and POLITICO hears those invited to testify include representatives from trade associations and civil liberties groups. The Business Roundtable and Interactive Advertising Bureau are on the list, along with racial justice group Color of Change and the Center for Democracy and Technology, among others.
ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH? — As House E&C Democrats prep for the privacy hearing, a senior panel member says data breaches should be part of the discussion. E&C consumer protection subcommittee chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) brought up both privacy and cybersecurity in a video this week announcing the hearing, making specific mention of the massive Equifax breach. But recall that E&C ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) warned about combining the issues of data privacy and data breaches, suggesting they’d be hard to do together. “I think you’d better stick to privacy,” Walden told John last week.
CALIFORNIA LAW LOOMS OVER FEDERAL PRIVACY TALKS —“Congressional efforts to pass a national data privacy law could face a major obstacle: California’s powerful bloc of House Democrats,” your host and John report in a new dispatch. “That’s because many California Democrats are happy with their home state’s new privacy law, which is tougher than what Republicans in Congress seem likely to entertain. And those same Democrats are wary of giving Republicans a chance to pass federal legislation that weakens California’s rules, which if left alone could set a de facto national standard.”
— And privacy advocates say others states have reason to worry. “California is not the only state in danger of preemption by a weak federal privacy law that serves data collectors,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of U.S. PIRG’s Federal Consumer Program. “Every state loses with preemption.” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of Center for Digital Democracy, predicted that “as the public — and Congress — becomes better informed about how highly precise and personal geolocation data is being seized by advertisers … there will be a backlash against those that work to weaken state protections.”
ABOUT THAT DON JR. SOCIAL MEDIA GRIPE — Donald Trump Jr., who has long accused tech platforms of suppressing conservative speech, on Wednesday told Breitbart that Instagram users told him they were unable to like or follow his or his father’s pages. Trump Jr. pointed to the incident on Twitter to accuse social media companies of “rampant systematic one way censorship.” But an Instagram spokesperson told MT the temporary blocks were the result of a bug that erroneously flagged accounts for spammy behavior. “As soon as we identified the issue, which affected a large number of people regardless of who they like or follow, we removed the block,” the spokesperson added.
— Evangelos Razis, former manager of government relations at Fujitsu and graduate policy fellow at the Information Technology Industry Council, is joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a senior manager for international digital economy policy.