David McCabe

Privacy regulator warns against over-regulating self-driving cars

Paul Sancya / AP

Federal Trade Commission Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said Wednesday that her agency should avoid "unnecessary" regulations when it comes to connected cars, including the self-driving models that Google and Uber have bet big on. She noted the thousands of fatalities occur every year on America's roads, adding:

"Connected cars promise to significantly reduce such fatalities, and we regulators must keep that benefit in mind to ensure that our approach to connected cars do not hinder such a positive outcome. And at the FTC, it means we must continue to work with our sister agencies like [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to avoid unnecessary or duplicative regulation that could slow or stop innovation and ultimately leave American consumers worse off."

Why it matters: Consumer privacy and data security are huge outstanding questions for self-driving cars, even as companies in both Silicon Valley and Detroit forge ahead with their plans to get the vehicles on the roads.


Lawmakers want to move fast on self-driving car legislation

Courtesy of Waymo

Members of Congress said Tuesday that they hope to move forward with a package of self-driving car legislation by the end of July. "We've got to keep moving, because again, this technology is moving away from us, you might say," said Republican Bob Latta, who is helping to lead the effort. That would move the bills out of the relevant committee — but not out of the House entirely.
But, but, but: At a hearing on Tuesday, Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the committee, said he feels the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't get enough attention in the legislation, which could open the door to more industry testing.
Sound smart: Self-driving car makers from the Valley to Detroit want the federal government to provide a national framework to avoid a patchwork of laws that differ from state to state. But whether enough members of Congress have the bandwidth or willingness to act remains an open question.

Comcast, Charter and Sprint discuss potential deal

Jeff Chiu / AP

Comcast and Charter are talking about partnering with, or potentially buying, Sprint, the Wall Street Journal reports. Each cable giant already said it wouldn't go ahead with wireless deals for a year without permission from the other one — which could also mean a joint agreement of some kind. Two possibilities:

  • Charter and Comcast could work with Sprint to provide wireless service. They'd provide funding to Sprint but not buy the company outright, the Journal reports.
  • The companies could buy Sprint together.

Worth noting: The talks are reportedly blocking merger discussions for now between Sprint and T-Mobile, a long-watched possible combination that would better allow the companies to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

Why it matters: Communications companies are increasingly seen as needing to do more to compete. Sometimes, as in the case of AT&T, that means a broadband and video company buying content producers. But it could also mean the combination of cable companies and wireless providers. Charter and Sprint declined to comment, and Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube form counter-terror group

Noah Berger / AP

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google's YouTube will be involved in a new coalition aimed at making the companies' "hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists," in the words of YouTube's blog post on the matter. The group has been dubbed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

What it will do: The companies will share information with outside groups, work on technology to address extremism and "commission research to inform our counter-speech efforts and guide future technical and policy decisions around the removal of terrorist content."

Why it matters: Online platforms are under increasing pressure from governments — particularly in Europe — which think they should do more to crack down on terrorist content they host. Platform companies have long resisted being held legally liable for what users do.


Uber reassures D.C. partners after Kalanick's exit

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Uber is quietly reassuring some its Washington partners that the departure of CEO Travis Kalanick doesn't change its policy work, particularly on criminal justice reform.

The details: Malcolm Glenn, who manages outreach to external groups for the company, according to his LinkedIn, wrote in a message received by outside groups that Uber is still committed to its work on criminal justice reform, which has included fighting background check regimes that the company sees as burdensome and advocates say enables discrimination.

Why it matters: Uber has been grappling with allegations that its workplace culture is rife with sexism and harassment, which ultimately resulted in Kalanick's resignation. Glenn's message shows how the scandals at the company have rippled out to Washington, where the company has built up significant relationships in recent years.

"I've heard from a few folks with questions about what his departure means for a couple of issue areas, including our commitment to criminal justice reform," said Glenn in the email, which was obtained by Axios and confirmed as authentic by multiple sources. "I just wanted to let you all know that our commitment hasn't wavered one bit."

Uber did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The background: Uber and Kalanick have been actively working on criminal justice issues for some time. The ex-chief executive wrote an op-ed last year for the San Francisco Chronicle saying that "once a person has served their time, we need to give them a second chance." He also attended a meeting at the White House last September on criminal justice reform.

In his email, Glenn highlighted a website Uber has set up to tout its work on the issue. He said the company is still interested in the background check issue, as well as adjusting its own policies and taking positions on criminal justice issues.


FCC proposes record fine for faking robocall numbers


The FCC on Thursday proposed a $120 million fine against a Florida man allegedly behind millions of robocalls that used faked numbers. It's the largest fine the agency has ever proposed.

The agency says Adrian Abromovich's "operation apparently made the spoofed calls in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to his advertising messages." Spoofing is when a robocaller fakes the number the call is coming from so the called consumer will pick the phone up. The agency said that the "proposed fine is based on 80,000 spoofed calls that the Commission has verified."

Why it matters: First, robocalls are annoying. They're a huge concern for consumers who complain to the FCC, which has struggled in the past to tackle the issue. The proposed fine also gives clues to how Chairman Ajit Pai will use the agency's significant enforcement powers.

What's next: The FCC decision on Thursday was to lodge its allegations against Abromovich. Now he has a chance to respond, and then the process proceeds from there. An attempt to reach Abromovich was unsuccessful.


Trump mulls drone regulation and wireless infrastructure

Evan Vucci / AP

Drone and wireless companies came to the White House to ask President Trump for help in rolling out their emerging technology — and turning it into big business. The event also featured representatives from venture capital, though most major firms weren't present.

"We want our innovators to dream big, like the folks around me and surrounding me in this room," he said. "And we want them to create new companies and to create lots of jobs."

Worth noting:

  • The telecom execs in the room praised Trump's de-regulatory approach, which has delivered key victories for the industry. A T-Mobile executive mentioned Trump's "open-mindedness" when it comes to regulation. And a Verizon executive's comments called to mind telco hopes that broadband will play a big part in a potentially-forthcoming infrastructure package: "With your focus on US job creation and US leadership in these industries, we think this is a great time for public-private partnership," said John Stratton, the company's president. Trump made comments about using the White House's influence to help speed up the process for small cell wireless infrastructure that is needed for 5G network deployment; the next generation wireless tech was a topic of one of the Thursday event's working group sessions.
  • Trump also heard multiple times that it was important for venture capital to reach companies outside of Silicon Valley and other coastal hubs. Steve Case, the Aol-founder turned VC who has pushed for more attention on tech in the middle of the country, said the playing field needed to be leveled to help startups outside of current tech centers.
  • He also heard from drone company representatives. "This is actually the one industry where we actually need a little bit more regulation, because the default is actually limiting what drone technology can do," said PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen.
What we're watching: Listening sessions are one thing, but will any new policy or action come from the meetings?

How the FCC's $100 million fine against AT&T faded away

Alan Diaz / AP

Just over two years ago, the FCC proposed a $100 million fine against AT&T for misleading consumers, the largest penalty the agency had ever recommended. Now that headline-grabbing fine appears all but dead.

Why it matters: If finalized, the fine would have set significant precedent for the size of FCC enforcement actions and the treatment of internet service providers' promises about broadband speed and access. But the agency's new leader — Republican Ajit Pai — is likely to avoid pursuing the fine, as he's long contended it was "drawn out of thin air" and should never have been proposed in the first place.

The setup: When AT&T discontinued its unlimited wireless data plans for new customers in 2010, it said millions of the people with the plans could keep them. But it later drastically slowed down the speed at which they could access that data once they'd hit a certain cap. The FCC said that AT&T hadn't properly disclosed that practice, and proposed in June of 2015 that the carrier face a $100 million fine.

The counterpoint: AT&T said its conduct was legal. "We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC's disclosure requirements," the company said at the time. It later filed a formal response to the agency's allegations.

Since then — crickets from the FCC.

Why it happened: Former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler could have acted on the fine proposal by reaching a settlement with AT&T or bringing an order on the case to a vote. Neither happened. Wheeler indicated to Axios that the decision to proceed with the fine would have started with the Enforcement Bureau at the agency, led at the time by Travis LeBlanc.

"The way I believed in managing, and I think that the essence of good management, is to get good smart people and give them responsibility and tell them to exercise that," Wheeler said.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has also been locked in unresolved litigation related to this particular practice at AT&T — a case with big implications for the agency's jurisdiction.

All but dead? Pai just announced a new enforcement chief, Rosemary Harold. "I expect that this will not be put to a vote and that the chairman will just not move it or will find some mechanism at the bureau level to dismiss it," LeBlanc told Axios.

The FCC declined to comment on a pending enforcement action. A spokesman for AT&T declined to comment beyond the company's previous statement.


Trump will discuss drones, wireless tech with investors, execs

The White House will host executives and investors on Thursday for sessions on emerging technology like drones, 5G wireless and the Internet of Things.

Why it matters: The Office of Science and Technology Policy was, under the Obama administration, a key way for the White House to engage in thorny problems involving new technology like artificial intelligence and self-driving cars. But it's been far less active so far under Trump, who hasn't appointed a chief technology officer to lead it. The event is part of a larger "Tech Week" at the White House that included a meeting with major company execs on Monday.

The rundown:

  • Three working group sessions will focus on drones, new wireless and connected devices technologies and on "financing successful emerging tech companies," said Michael Kratsios, and organizer of the meeting and the U.S. deputy chief technology officer. That last conversation will include a discussion of "ways we can expand geographical diversity in venture investment, so that as the tech economy grows communities nationwide can benefit."
  • The president will speak at a general session about emerging technology and will then talk with the attendees to "learn more about some of the topics raised during the breakout session," Kratsios said. Trump's meeting will also include demos meant to show off drone technology and how 5G wireless could be built into a city.

The guest list: In addition to a cadre of attendees from the White House, the administration will be represented by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar and officials from other executive agencies.

Expected guests from venture capital:

  • New Enterprise Associates Managing General Partner Peter Barris
  • Revolution LLC CEO Steve Case
  • Cayuga Venture Fund Partner Jennifer Tegan
  • 500 Startups COO Aman Verjee
  • Mohr Davidow Ventures General Partner Jim Smith
  • Arboretum Ventures Managing Director Jan Garfinkle
  • EPIC Ventures Managing Director Nick Efstratis
  • Lightspeed Ventures Founding Partner Barry Eggers
A number of major venture capital firms won't be present.

And from companies:

  • GE CEO Jeff Immelt
  • Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk
  • CenturyLink CEO Glen Post
  • T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert
  • AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson
  • Verizon President John Stratton
  • Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure
  • Airspace CEO Jaz Banga
  • PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen
  • Measure CEO Brandon Declet
  • Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke
  • Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens
  • Nasdaq Executive Vice President Nelson Griggs
  • Qadium CEO Tim Junio
  • Airmap CEO Ben Marcus
  • Kespry CEO George Mathew

Why some of the biggest tech leaders met with Trump

Silicon Valley doesn't see eye to eye with Trump on social and climate change policy. But major tech executives showed up to the White House for a set of meetings Monday focused on updating the government's use of technology. From tax reform to high-skilled immigration, these companies have a number of business priorities they feel they need to work with the White House on, and they want Trump to understand their perspective on technology-driven economic shifts.

Here's our rundown of what each of the players featured in this photo (from White House social media aide Dan Scavino) brought to the table:

  1. Oracle Co-CEO Safra Catz is notably close to the administration compared to many other executives from the tech space. She was a member of Trump's transition team, and Oracle Executive Chairman Larry Ellison has been a big Republican donor. At the meeting with Trump, she said the executives and the White House had "an absolutely wonderful day working together."
  2. Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt: Google parent company Alphabet is famously close to Democrats. But it has been recalibrating its government outreach to adapt to a Republican-controlled Washington. Schmidt praised the "new opportunities" of the Trump era, according to Recode. Alphabet is investing in the development of a number of new technologies, including artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, and the government is eyeing policy guidelines that will impact jobs.
  3. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: Bezos pushed Trump to have the government use commercially available technology. Amazon has found a revenue driver in selling its cloud hosting services to, among other organizations, the federal government. He also told Trump about the prospects for artificial intelligence.
  4. Founders Fund Partner Peter Thiel: Thiel was Trump's closest campaign ally in tech and told the president at Monday's meeting that "your administration is doing very well." He's also a co-founder of Palantir, the data-mining company with federal contracts whose founder also met with Trump on Monday, and a board member at Facebook, which was invited to the meeting but said scheduling conflicts existed for its executives.
  5. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
  6. Apple CEO Tim Cook: Cook stressed the importance of modernizing technology and jobs, including equipping future workers with skills like coding. High-skilled immigration is a priority for Apple, which like many tech firms uses H-1B visas to hire foreign technical workers. Trump in the past pushed Cook to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., and Apple recently announced an investment fund to support U.S. manufacturing.
  7. MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga: He has attended other business-focused meetings at the White House. Like many tech CEOs, Banga expressed concern about Trump's travel ban. Otherwise he has been supportive of Trump's pro-business, de-regulatory initiatives, including last week's move to increase industry-driven apprenticeship programs to prepare workers with the technical skills modern companies need. Trump's tax reform proposal could also help MasterCard repatriate overseas cash.
  8. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty: IBM is putting major resources into artificial intelligence (think Watson) and established programs to teach students the skills of the future, including programs with community colleges in line with the Trump administration's efforts to close the worker skills gap. IBM is also a big supplier of technology to federal agencies, so it has an interest in IT modernization and cybersecurity initiatives. Rometty has had more meetings with Trump than most tech CEOs, as she's part of his business advisory council.