Sep 4, 2018

Axios Login

I hope you had a good Labor Day. It may be a short week, but it's shaping up to be a big one, with Big Tech due before Congress, TechCrunch Disrupt and more.

1 big thing: Facebook and Twitter prep for Congress

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to make the case they've learned their lesson on foreign election interference — and it won't happen again.

  • Flashback, a year ago this week: "Facebook has told authorities investigating Russia's influence on the 2016 election about thousands of ads likely linked to Russia, many of which were connected to 'inauthentic' accounts and pages and focused on drawing attention to divisive social issues."

What we're hearing: The execs' message on Wednesday, Axios' David McCabe reports, will be that a year has made a big difference in how seriously they take the threat of foreign election interference.

  • Twitter and Facebook will highlight their initiatives to make political ad-buying more transparent on their platforms and to better spot malicious activity.
  • Both Dorsey and Sandberg will also focus on how they are working with government officials and other tech companies to combat election interference.

Google remains in a stalemate with the Intelligence Committee. Lawmakers want a CEO-level witness, and the company wants to send its top lawyer.

The big picture: The revelations of the Russian operation in 2016 poured fuel on the fire for Silicon Valley in Washington, and previously quiet criticism of the platform companies has grown louder.

  • The left has pushed them to do better at policing far-right media figures like Infowars' Alex Jones.
  • The right has mounted a chorus of complaints about censorship of conservatives — without much hard evidence — that President Trump has amplified.

Twitter may face the brunt of those criticisms this week given that Dorsey is also testifying solo before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Republican leaders have seized on complaints that it's limiting the reach of conservative voices.

  • Dorsey will look to answer their concerns by explaining how Twitter ranks content, and reiterating the company's denial that political bias plays a role.
  • He'll also come armed with a new Twitter analysis that found that, when controlling for outside factors, tweets from Republican and Democratic lawmakers were viewed essentially the same number of times.
  • That said, he will also likely be held to account for a new Wall Street Journal report that he personally intervened on controversial recent decisions, including whether to maintain a ban on Jones.

Meanwhile, an NBC News interview with Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook's head of civic engagement, detailed plans to construct — actually, not virtually — a war room to manage responses to election interference in real time. Chakrabarti also confirmed that, as Facebook promised last year, the company has doubled the size of its safety and security team from 10,000 people a year ago to 20,000 now.

The bottom line: Over the past year, having to publicly answer tough questions from lawmakers has become the new normal for Silicon Valley.

Go deeper: Read Axios' Jim VandeHei's piece on Twitter’s insane mind-control power.

2. Smart cities are coming ... here's what they are

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

For those who often hear the word "smart cities" but don't really get what the heck that really means, my colleague Kim Hart has a really great primer.

Here are the highlights:

  • "Smart city" is the buzzword to describe hyper-connected communities that mash together fast internet, sensors and automation to power so-called "smart" streetlights, power meters, water monitors and transportation systems.
  • If marketing materials are to be believed, smart cities will use gigabit-speed internet and future 5G networks to transform how citizens interact with schools, utilities, their neighborhoods and and local governments.
  • For example, sensors at downtown intersections can monitor pedestrian traffic and direct stop lights when to turn red, while dimming street lights and monitoring weather and rush-hour patterns to send notifications to commuters and public transit drivers.
  • Google, Microsoft, Panasonic, Siemens, IBM, Cisco, Verizon and AT&T are all pitching their services to cities.

Why it matters: Metropolitan areas across the country are trying to take advantage of new technologies to become more efficient and sustainable — two qualities that appeal to younger generations of workers, as well as the startups and big corporations that want to employ them.

The reality: Making cities smarter is more of a business model challenge than a technological one, says George Karayannis, who's leading Panasonic's smart city project near Denver's airport. Aligning the interests of everyone involved — utilities, telecom providers, builders, city leaders — is the hardest part. "In that way, it's like a seven-legged race," he said.

Go deeper: Kim has a lot more, and the full piece is worth a read.

3. Navy airwaves could be bridge to 5G future

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Speedy 5G networks may be on the horizon, but consumer demand for wireless broadband is so intense that mobile companies like AT&T and Verizon need alternatives now — even if it means sharing airwaves with each other and with rival tech firms like Google.

Some wireless providers want to use a wide swath of prime airwaves known as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) that are controlled by the Navy. As soon as a final dispute is resolved, premium frequencies will be available to companies, as long as the Navy still gets first dibs, Kim reports.

The big picture: 5G networks will start showing up next year, but even then will be far from ubiquitous. While we're waiting, the tech, telecom and equipment industries have put aside (some of) their competitive differences to ensure the FCC approves a spectrum-sharing plan that will open up military airwaves for commercial use across the country.

Read more of Kim's story here.

4. The fight over FTC antitrust policy

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

While a lot of the attention is on this week's congressional hearings, the key players are also focused on another front. Silicon Valley giants, lawmakers and Big Tech critics are trying to influence how a key regulator thinks about antitrust law enforcement, David reports.

Why it matters: Starting this month, the Federal Trade Commission is holding public hearings over concerns like privacy, market power of online platforms like Google and Facebook, and the impact on data on competition.

  • The agency asked for input on those issues — and in trying to steer the topics, companies, lobbyists and interest groups are trying to guide the ultimate policy conclusions.

What they’re saying ...

Trade associations representing the tech giants argue that the current approach to antitrust law — which largely insulates companies online platforms because their products are free to consumers — should remain the standard.

  • “The current antitrust framework, when applied correctly, has proven to have the necessary tools to ensure effective competition in the market,” the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents companies including Google, Facebook and Amazon, says in its comments on the platforms issue.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter touted their data portability initiative, a broader goal they say is “critical for user control and competition.”

  • They're sending a message to the FTC that they're working to support competition without the prodding of regulators.

Their competitors urge the FTC to look at issues raised by Big Tech’s dominance in a range of areas.

  • Oracle, which is locked in a feud with Google, says the FTC should examine the “complexity and opacity of digital advertising technology.”
  • Spotify notes its concerns about Apple’s control of both a rival streaming service and, through its app store, a key conduit for customers.

Hill Democrats urge the FTC to reconsider antitrust in the digital age.

  • Sen. Mark Warner submitted a white paper outlining a proposal giving the FTC the authority to make rules when it comes to privacy, not just enforce based on broad guidelines around improper conduct. That, however, requires the agreement of Congress.

What’s next: The hearings start in the middle of September and continue until November.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The IFA consumer electronics show continues through Tuesday in Berlin.

Trading Places

  • Mozilla has tapped former commerce department official Alan Davidson as VP of global policy, trust and security. Davidson, who also worked at the New America Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, was a Mozilla tech policy fellow from 2017 until earlier this year. (TechCrunch)
  • Technology review site Digital Trends hired former Facebook sales executive Bob Gruters to be its chief revenue officer.
  • Snap hired former Time Warner marketing chief Kristen O’Hara to be a top sales officer. (Bloomberg)


  • Big Tech is cooperating with federal officials to crack down on illegal opioids being sold on the internet — but that doesn't mean congressional action on the tech companies is out of the question. (Axios)
  • Facebook has added Inupiaq, a indigenous language spoken in northern Alaska, as an option to its community translation tool. (Axios)
  • California passed a toughest-in-the-nation Net Neutrality bill. (Axios)
  • Richard Liu, founder and CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant, returned to China after he was arrested and then released a day later in Minneapolis on sexual misconduct charges during a business trip. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Check out this fascinating tale about how one San Francisco man got his Prius running off the same overhead power lines that the city's buses use.