David McCabe

Senate votes to overturn privacy rules for major internet providers

Jeff Fusco / AP

The Senate voted 50 votes to 48 on Thursday to overturn FCC rules requiring internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to get users' permission to share their personal data. That data could include what websites someone has visited and the applications they've used.

Why this matters: Big internet providers trying to compete with the dominant players in the digital ad market — Facebook and Google — want the ability to easily share customer data with advertisers. And Washington trade groups that represent Facebook and Google have also been wary of the rules since they think they set a bad precedent, even though they don't apply to those companies.

What's next: The House still hasn't voted on a similar resolution, and it would require the president's signature should it pass both chambers. But this was a big step for opponents of the FCC's rules.


Feds moves forward with robocall fight

Robin Groulx / Axios

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to formally consider steps it hopes will fight robocalls:

  • It has proposed rule changes thats would make it easier for phone companies to block calls with fake caller ID information (a practice called "spoofing") without violating the agency's rules.
  • This could apply in cases where the number showing up on caller ID hasn't been given to a user yet or when the area code in question doesn't actually exist.
  • The commission will also ask for comments about other ways to block robocalls that violate the law.

Why it matters: Robocalls are a regular source of consumer frustration but regulators have struggled to bring them to heel. The vote also follows work by a robocall "strike force" that included companies like AT&T and Verizon as well as major Silicon Valley firms.

What's next: The public can now comment on the FCC's proposals. The agency will need to vote again for the rules to go into effect.


Senate proceeds to overturn privacy rules

Jeff Fusco / AP

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon to move forward with a resolution to overturn FCC privacy rules for broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T, according to a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The FCC's privacy rules require broadband providers to first get permission from their customers before sharing or selling their personal data to advertisers and other third-parties. Republicans in the House and Senate introduced resolutions to overturn those rules, and the vote on the Senate floor tonight officially kicks off debate, led by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Democrat Bill Nelson, Senate Commerce Committee ranking member, will help lead the opposition to the rollback effort.

What's next: A vote on the resolution will likely occur Thursday after debate has concluded.

Update: The Senate made it official Wednesday night, voting to start debate on the issue and vote on whether to send it to the House.


Incoming: more small drones

The Federal Aviation Administration projects in a report published Tuesday that the number of hobbyist aerial drones will likely rise nationwide from just over 1 million in 2016 to more than 3.5 million in 2021. The FAA also thinks the number of drones used for commercial purposes will rise substantially. The data was first highlighted by Reuters.

Why it matters: The rise of the drone as a part of everyday life – from a potential package delivery method to a popular gift — has raised questions for policymakers about how to regulate the devices. Those questions, this data suggests, aren't a flash in the pan.


Congress questions FBI over facial recognition database

www.cwcs.co.uk / Flickr CC

The members of the House Oversight Committee don't always agree, but there was bipartisan outrage on the panel Wednesday over aspects of an FBI facial recognition database.

The setup: The Government Accountability Office expressed anxiety last year over the accuracy and privacy implications of the facial recognition system.

The barrage: Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz hammered away at FBI official Kimberly Del Greco over how the FBI had dealt with the privacy implications of the system. Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch, said that the system "is really Nazi Germany here" and that it was "corrosive of our very liberty."

Why it matters: The bipartisan frustration with the government's use of facial recognition speaks to a broader sense of unease some feel about the technology, which could also be implemented by private businesses.


Your TV could be held hostage, regulator warns

Doug Kline / Wikimedia Commons

Terrell McSweeny of the Federal Trade Commission raised an interesting prospect at a hearing on scams on Tuesday:

"Ransomware attacks on computers, both for individuals and businesses, are unfortunately already well known. But I'm worried that attacks on connected consumer devices will soon become more common, especially given wide ranging industry data security practices. In the not too distant future, a consumer might turn on her smart TV only to see a message asking for $50 in Bitcoin if she wants to watch television again."

Refresher: Ransomware is malware that locks a user out of a device unless they pay up.

Why it matters: With more and more devices to connected to the internet — like refrigerators and, yes, televisions — it raises questions about how to protect the so-called Internet of Things from cyberattacks.


DoorDash moves forward with robot delivery plans

Courtesy Starship Technologies

Delivery startup DoorDash is rolling out delivery-by-robot in Redwood City, Calif. A spokesman said Monday that the company hoped to formally begin robot deliveries in Washington, D.C., where it has also been testing the concept, "later this month."

BuzzFeed News was the first to report the California news.

Why it matters: The use of robots is part of a new frontier in the crowded delivery space, with companies like Yelp and Postmates also looking to get in on the trend. Plus, it underscores the potential for a new wave of automation to change the workforce.


FCC chief says media isn't the enemy

Robin Groulx / Axios

The setup: At a hearing two weeks ago, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai repeatedly dodged questions from Senate Democrats over whether he agrees with President Trump that the "FAKE NEWS media" was the "enemy of the American people." Those lawmakers followed up with questions in a letter later that week.

The cleanup: Responding to the letter, Pai asserted his independence from the White House and said he did not think that the media was the "enemy" of the American people. But he still took steps to avoid directly taking on the president:

"I should note that at the hearing, I was asked if I agreed with the President that the media was the 'enemy' of the people. However, the President has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news.' As I stated at the hearing, these comments are part of a larger political debate into which I will not be wading."

Why it matters: One way for Pai's liberal critics to undermine his work is by suggesting he's taking his cues from the White House — because the FCC is an independent agency. It comes at a time when the public perception of his leadership at the FCC is being shaped before big fights on net neutrality and other issues.


Judge approves warrant to probe Google search in an entire town

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

A Minnesota judge has approved the use of a warrant to reveal who searched for an alleged financial fraud victim's name in Google. The court order gives police permission to review all searches for the victim's name over a given period of time made by the residents of the 50,000-person Minnesota town. The document was first uncovered by independent journalist Tony Webster.

The setup: Police suspect that the perpetrator in the case may have Googled the victim's name to get an image to use on a false passport used to transfer the funds in question to a new account, according to court documents. They argue that the search "is unique, and even more unique when used in the Google search engine."

Google rejected a previous subpoena for the information. "We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users," said a Google spokesperson in a statement issued in response to the new warrant.

Why it matters: The case raises questions regarding online privacy for users over how much information police are entitled to get from Google, or any web company for that matter. Some argue that the scope of the warrant is too broad, potentially entering unconstitutional territory.


Europe pushes social media companies to deal with scams

Liber Europe / Flickr CC

The European Commission and its members have told social media platforms to find ways to do two things:

  • Update their terms of service to comply with European Union law
  • Work to remove scams posted on their platforms

The push comes after the regulators met with major companies.

Why it matters: Questions of how to regulate social media platforms have been front and center because of the continued reality of online harassment and an election marked in part by hoax news stories. Some in Europe have been more forceful in pushing platforms on these issues than regulators in the United States.

What's next: Companies have a month to respond with their final plans or face possible fines.