With help from Pieter Haeck, Alexandra S. Levine and Leah Nylen
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— Inner workings: The Facebook Oversight Board hopes to guide the social media platform’s approach to mis- and disinformation. But it has some crucial blind spots, its members said Monday.
— Getting carded: As more businesses require proof of vaccination, a retail coalition is urging Congress to crack down on online sales of counterfeit vaccination cards.
— Under the sea: Major tech companies have announced their involvement in ambitious underwater cable projects this week — a sign of their growing interest in controlling the world’s internet infrastructure.
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ASPEN PANEL REVEALS TENSIONS BETWEEN FACEBOOK, OVERSIGHT BOARD — False and misleading content continues to be a major threat to the U.S. pandemic response and is likely to roil the 2022 midterm elections. And members of Facebook’s “Supreme Court” worry they don’t have the oversight capability to stop it.
— On fact-checking: Michael McConnell, a former Republican-appointed federal judge who sits on the board, said Facebook’s third-party fact-checking operation is outside the oversight body’s jurisdiction. And that fact “makes a lot of people quite nervous,” he said during the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum on Monday. The fact-checking process is “something that we don’t review, and yet this is something if you ask people what they think is a problem at Facebook, that’s on a lot of people’s lists.”
— On WhatsApp: The Facebook-owned messaging app — which has been flooded with Covid-related falsehoods and political conspiracy theories over the past year and a half — is also outside the oversight board’s authority. But even if it weren’t, board member Julie Owono, executive director of French civil liberties group Internet Sans Frontières, said the messaging app’s end-to-end encryption adds a complicating layer.
“We do not want to undermine the privacy features that come with encryption, but at the same time, it’s a big challenge because a lot of messages are being forwarded with a lot of disinformation,” she said at the forum.
McConnell added that it’s for the best that the oversight board doesn’t have input on WhatsApp, at least for now. The messaging service is “really a different kind of animal” and “wouldn’t be on my list of the most important priorities,” he said.
— What’s next: Still, the scope of Facebook’s oversight board is expected to expand. (Its initial jurisdiction was limited to hearing users’ appeals to restore content that had been taken down by moderators; the board now hears objections to material being left up as well as removed.) But it’s unclear what, exactly, a beefed-up oversight board would look like — and what content or services it might watch over.
One thing the board does not plan to take the lead on is whether former President Donald Trump should have his Facebook account reinstated in 2023, when his suspension from the platform expires. The board should not play a role in helping the company determine whether it’s safe for Trump to return, according to McConnell — at least “not in the first instance,” he said. “We’re like a court of appeals; we’re not like the police department.” Owono agreed, adding, “I don’t even think it would be that productive.”
CLAMPING DOWN ON FAKE VACCINATION CARDS — Interest groups are pushing the Senate to bring legislation to the floor that could help stem the spread of fake Covid-19 vaccination cards.
One proposal they’re pushing for is the INFORM Consumers Act, which has bipartisan support and would require e-commerce platforms to more thoroughly verify the identities of top sellers on their platforms.
“We need a crackdown on counterfeit merchandise, and it starts with transparency and accountability on leading e-commerce platforms,” said Michael Hanson, a spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition, which includes retailers, manufacturers and consumer groups.
— The subtext: Multiple coalitions have popped up to lobby around these anti-counterfeit bills, which have sparked an expensive fight between online marketplaces like Amazon and retailers like Walmart and CVS. Even Amazon’s top lobbyist, Brian Huseman, has weighed in on the legislation, saying in a company blog post that it would harm small online businesses.
— Fueling the push: Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer condemned Americans who purchase these fake vaccine cards, especially from China, and urged federal authorities to take action. “Some people, rather than get the vaccine, which is free, are paying money for a fake card and risking prosecution, because it’s against the law,” Schumer said at a press conference. “Who can be that dumb? The vaccine’s free.”
— Context: Proof-of-vaccination requirements are becoming more common nationally. Starting today, New York City is mandating that people provide proof of vaccination to enter indoor entertainment venues, restaurants and gyms. And last week, a father and son were arrested in Hawaii for violating the state’s coronavirus restrictions by using fake vaccination cards. Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that CBP officers in Memphis have seized more than 3,000 fake cards so far this fiscal year.
FTC’S PHILLIPS: OPEN MEETINGS YES, MERGER CHANGES NO — Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips praised Chair Lina Khan for trying to open up the often secretive agency to the public. But Phillips, speaking at the same conference in Aspen, Colo., expressed concerns akin to those of his fellow Republican commissioner, Christine Wilson, that the FTC is undermining mergers and taking too long to resolve probes.
“I fear some of the steps we are taking now will make [merger reviews] less effective and less efficient and less fair. We have deliberate and public policies of holding off on making decisions,” he said, highlighting a move to make all deals wait a full 30 days instead of allowing some noncontroversial mergers to move forward sooner.
Phillips accused some of his colleagues of not wanting to risk political blowback from Congress for allowing potentially controversial mergers to go ahead. “They don’t want to say, ‘Yes, I’m OK with this merger,’” he said. “In order to bring cases, we’re going to have to resolve others. I worry we are needlessly impeding our ability to do so.”
TECH COMPANIES BACK UNDERSEA CABLES — In a bid to boost internet connectivity, a consortium of Facebook and seven telecom operators is adding more branches to one of the world’s largest subsea cable projects, dubbed 2Africa.
The original plans, announced in May 2020, were for a nearly 23,000-mile long cable that would encircle Africa and connect it with Europe and the Middle East. The Monday announcement added planned branches to the Seychelles, the Comoros Islands and Angola. The project now will have 35 landings in 26 countries, and it is expected to go live in late 2023.
— Unexpected winner: While Facebook is the obvious face of the project, others are celebrating behind the scenes, including Finnish network operator Nokia. Its France-based subsidiary, Alcatel Submarine Networks, was chosen to manufacture the cable, as well as deploy the branches announced Monday.
— Back-to-back cable news: On Sunday, Facebook and Google announced their plans to participate in Apricot, a new subsea cable connecting Singapore, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia, with an expected launch date in 2024. The Apricot cable is complementary to the Echo cable, another Facebook- and Google-backed effort announced earlier this year that will connect the U.S., Singapore, Guam and Indonesia.
— Why cables? In recent years, tech companies have opted to invest directly in their own subsea cables, rather than rely on telecom providers’. This allows them to have more say over the internet’s infrastructure, especially in areas where they see key growth opportunities.
Mike Liptak will be director of federal government affairs at the Internet Association. He most recently was VP of government relations for the Travel Technology Association, and is a Mitch McConnell alum. … Colin Tooze will run global policy and comms for Pacaso, a startup aimed at fractional second-home ownership. He previously spent six and a half years helping build Uber’s public policy team. … Wouleta Ayele is joining Sweetgreen as CTO. She was most recently SVP of Starbucks Technology Services, where she oversaw the coffee chain’s technology pillars. … Jay Graber will lead Bluesky, a Twitter-funded initiative to decentralize social media. … Ashley Gunn is now a public policy manager for legislative affairs at Coinbase. She previously was senior adviser for Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). … Hadrian Luo has joined White & Case as a technology litigation associate “focusing on the global litigation of Facebook and other tech companies.”
Diagnosing the issue: “Why no one really knows how bad Facebook’s vaccine misinformation problem is,” Vox reports.
Nice guys finish last: Twitter brought in a tough-love executive to shake up the company’s culture. It’s been a rocky road. NYT has more.
Tech frenemies: “How Big Tech traps haters like AOC and MTG to spend big on its products,” Insider reports. Meanwhile, tech critic Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is earning big money from his tech investments.
Expansion pack: “Amazon Eyes Podcast Advertising Market With Wondery, SmartLess Deals,” Bloomberg reports.
Sphere of influence: The Chinese government is seeking more direct control of ByteDance with a stake and a board seat, via The Information.
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