Jul 16, 2021

Axios Login

Join me and Axios' Kim Hart today at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on America's digital connectivity. Guests include Federal Communications Commission acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel and The Manufacturing Institute executive director Carolyn Lee

Today's newsletter is 1,278 words, or a 5-minute read.

Signal Boost: Businesses face disinformation chaos

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Ransomware may be the threat everyone is talking about right now, but businesses also face another growing risk: becoming a disinformation campaign's direct target or collateral damage.

Why it matters: Ransomware's damage is immediate and unavoidable, but the attack takes skill and planning, while disinformation attacks are often cheaper to launch and harder to protect against.

"You've either been the target of a disinformation attack or you are about to be," former U.S. cybersecurity head Chris Krebs told Axios.

The big picture: Businesses are only one target of major disinformation campaigns. The same forces are undermining elections, casting doubt on climate science, and reducing trust in vaccines.

Between the lines: Krebs, in a meeting with businesses leaders Wednesday, described information attacks as coming from at least five different types of actors: profiteers, nation-states, conspiracy theorists, political extremists and political activists.

  • And, in many cases, actors from more than one of these types end up reinforcing each other. "They overlap," Krebs said, speaking to executives and clients of PR firm Weber Shandwick on Wednesday. "You can see two or three interacting on the same campaign."

Of note: Unlike ransomware, many types of disinformation attacks are not illegal.

  • That often means the consequences are minimal — as when specific individuals or accounts are banned from a platform.
  • Other times, the only cause for redress is legal action, such as a defamation lawsuit, and those can be time-consuming and expensive to pursue.

Disinformation, like ransomware, is becoming a business unto itself, spawning the creation of agencies who specialize in creating and spreading false messages.

  • "There are organizations that are playing a disinformation-as-a-service function," Krebs said.

Krebs said businesses shouldn't wait passively but prepare for the inevitable attack — by figuring out where they fit into potential target areas, either through the type of industry they are part of or positions they take, such as those around diversity or immigration issues.

Eliminating risk isn't an option, Krebs said, but there is a lot businesses can do when they assess their potential risks and prepare to fight back.

  • One key is to have clear lines of responsibility, Krebs said. He noted that disinformation attacks often fall through the cracks, with PR, legal, cybersecurity and other teams often pointing fingers rather than taking swift action.
2. New caucus shows GOP split on tech regulations

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) in foreground and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in background. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Image

The top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee is launching a new GOP caucus on Big Tech as he seeks to build support for antitrust changes despite a divide among Republicans, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: Republicans eager to take on Big Tech are at a crossroads between working with Democrats to enact changes now or going it alone and playing a longer game.

Driving the news: The "Freedom from Big Tech Caucus" is co-chaired by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas), and counts Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) as a vice chair, and Reps. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) as founding members.

  • The caucus will seek to "educate Republican members about the abuses of Big Tech," according to a background memo Buck's office sent to lawmakers.
  • Among its goals are antitrust reforms like the bipartisan slate of bills recently passed by the House Judiciary Committee.
  • Other topics of interest will be what they charge is "political censorship" by tech platforms, tech companies' relationships with China and protecting kids from harmful content online.

Context: Lawmakers advanced a slate of antitrust bills in June on a bipartisan basis that would limit future acquisitions by the four largest tech companies, prevent them from favoring their own products on their platforms, and require them to make their services interoperable and pave the way for break-ups by antitrust enforcers.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in June he's working with fellow Republican leaders Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) to craft a GOP approach to regulating Big Tech.

  • Both McCarthy and Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, have criticized the bipartisan antitrust bills as handing too much power to Biden-appointed antitrust enforcers.
  • Instead, Jordan outlined an "agenda" for Judiciary Republicans that includes proposals such as speeding up consideration of Big Tech antitrust cases in court and consolidating antitrust enforcement within the Justice Department.

The intrigue: Buck is a Judiciary Republican but is charting his own path rather than falling in line with the Jordan approach.

3. Valve unveils Steam Deck, its Switch competitor

Image: Valve

Valve is officially entering the crowded market of Switch-like portable gaming PCs with the unveiling of the Steam Deck, a system stuffed with impressive features, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: Valve's device is the latest effort to tap into an audience who likes the idea of the hybrid Switch but would prefer to play PC games and won’t mind missing Mario.

  • It's set to start shipping this December and will run games from Valve's Steam marketplace while also supporting, Valve says, the ability to run any other PC-based store.

Between the lines: The $399 (and up) Steam Deck appears to be a capable portable PC, running at a beefier spec than the Switch. (Official specs)

  • Like the Switch's upcoming $350 OLED model, it has a 7-inch screen.
  • Its control sticks are touch-sensitive, and it sports two front-facing trackpads designed to allow for mouse-like movement for games not designed to be run with sticks and buttons.
  • The device is also larger and heavier than Nintendo's and won't come with a bundled dock, though it does connect to monitors and TVs.

The bottom line: Valve's hardware track record is shaky, and it's veering the closest it ever has to competing with the most successful company in video game history.

4. Surgeon general urges COVID misinfo crackdown

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on social media companies Thursday to curb misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines in his first health advisory since being confirmed to the position, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

Why it matters: Murthy said vaccine misinformation is a factor in the country's slowing vaccination rates. More than 40% of American adults are not fully vaccinated against the virus, and new cases have slightly increased in part because of the rise of the Delta variant.

  • Surgeon general health advisories are typically issued for physical products people consume deemed urgent public health threats, though Murthy said health misinformation now falls under that category.

What they're saying: "Health misinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information about health according to the best evidence at the time," Murthy said. "Misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones."

  • "Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users."

The big picture: The surgeon general said mechanisms that platforms use to keep people scrolling — including likes, share buttons and algorithms that tailor content for specific users — have also allowed misinformation to proliferate.

Go deeper: Coalition calls on Biden to form disinformation task force

5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Okta hired Salesforce and Google veteran John Zissimos as its first chief digital officer.
  • Revenue tracking software provider Gong named former Tableau sales executive Kelly Breslin Wright as president and chief operating officer. Wright has been on Gong's board for the last five months.


6. After you Login

And, I'm back to sea creatures. Check out this deep-sea "glass octopus" with transparent skin.