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December 16, 2021

I hope the newsletter didn't get too wet. It was raining pretty hard here last night as I was finishing up.

Today's newsletter is 1,192 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: How the U.S. is taking cues on EU tech policy

Illustration of two cursors shaking hands, with sleeves showing the US and European Union flags.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Europe is leading the way as Congress and U.S. regulators slowly figure out how America could regulate the digital economy, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Why it matters: Europe's tech regulation influence on the U.S. marks a notable shift in the setting of global standards as international lawmakers continue to scrutinize Big Tech.

Increasingly, U.S. policymakers have shown interest in at least four specific areas of Europe's work in the tech regulation arena.

Competition: The EU has aggressively brought antitrust suits against American tech giants. It's also close to passing the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which aims to address what the EU sees as a lack of competition in the digital economy.

  • The DMA shares similarities with competition bills being considered by Congress, including laying out which companies are "monopolies."

Content moderation: The EU's Digital Services Act (DSA), set to be voted on early next year, would create new rules for how tech goes after illegal content online and boost visibility into content decisions.

  • Congress has similarly discussed the need for companies to be more transparent about their algorithms and the decision-making processes behind their rules, but have yet to agree on an overarching solution.

Privacy: Without a comprehensive U.S. consumer privacy law, U.S. state and federal lawmakers have looked toward Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

  • GDPR served as inspiration for California's privacy law and seems likely to continue being the model as more U.S. states are expected to introduce privacy laws in 2022.

Artificial intelligence: The European Commission released a landmark proposal for AI regulation in April, which would define AI systems, set rules and assess levels of risks.

  • Meanwhile, the U.S. is developing an AI Bill of Rights, which could "clarify the rights and freedoms we expect data-driven technologies to respect," Office of Science and Technology Policy director Eric Lander wrote in October.

The big picture: Despite all of its posturing and hearings, Congress has failed to act on new legislation for the tech industry. Meanwhile, Europe has forged ahead.

What they're saying: Without U.S. action, “Europe is going to continue leading the global charge on tech regulation," says Justin Sherman, fellow at the Atlantic Council.

  • "That should incentivize the U.S. government to do better if it wants to be a global leader...”

2. NYU audits Ring's policies, prompting changes

Ring, the doorbell and security camera device, now works with 2,000 police departments across the country. But the footage downloaded by those agencies is less than one might expect, according to a new audit from New York University's Policing Project.

Why it matters: The Amazon-owned company has come under fire for a number of practices including its privacy policies, economic relationships with police agencies and the growth of the surveillance state.

Details: Ring asked the Policing Project to conduct the audit in 2020, focusing on the racial justice, civil rights and civil liberties implications.

  • The Policing Project's 43-page report says the police agencies working with Ring downloaded less than 100 hours of videos shared by camera owners this year.
  • The report also breaks down the types of crimes for which law enforcement agencies requested video footage. More than half were for some type of robbery and 16 percent for a shooting or homicide.

Between the lines: Ring has made a number of changes during and in the wake of the audit. Among the most notable are:

  • Temporarily halting recruitment of additional police agencies to bring on other agencies that can provide non-policing services, such as homeless outreach.
  • Requiring police agencies to specify a specific offense under investigation when seeking video.
  • Limiting its collaborations with law enforcement by no longer donating devices, participating in sting operations or working with federal law enforcement agencies.

The big picture: The report focuses on Ring, but also talks extensively about how governments need to address the use of similar technologies.

  • "If a policing agency sought to create a network of cameras... it would be the subject of much political debate," the report notes. "But when police crowdsource from private devices, they can achieve surveillance with no cost, no public debate, and no public approval."

3. Rural businesses expect a broadband boom

Illustration of a dollar sign made from wifi symbols
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The $65 billion federal boost to expand broadband access in the U.S. will be a boon to the women-run companies on platforms like Etsy and Airbnb, especially in rural businesses, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Expanding high-speed internet access across the country will enable more women to participate in the online economy at a time when many women have dropped out of the labor force.

What's happening: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with platform leaders and female business owners to discuss broadband access and economic empowerment.

Etsy seller Ali Fitzgerald, who lives in southeastern Washington state, called into the virtual roundtable using a landline because she was worried her satellite internet connection would not be stable enough for Zoom.

  • "There's still quite a lot of us that struggle with maintaining those connections and trying to run our businesses with limited internet," Fitzgerald said during the event. "It's hard enough running a business."

The big picture: Raimondo highlighted a JPMorgan Chase Institute study that found that women are more likely to use platforms like Airbnb, Etsy or eBay, than transportation platforms like Uber or DoorDash.

  • Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk said women make up 60% of the hosts for the home rental company, and described WiFi as a critical amenity. “Having connectivity in these rural areas empowers hosts to participate,” Blecharczyk said.
  • eBay CEO Jamie Iannone said in three quarters of states, rural business is outpacing urban business.

4. Exclusive: TikTok tackles filter bubbles

TikTok is adjusting its algorithm to show users less of the same videos too frequently, Axios’ Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: TikTok says the adjustments are being made to ensure it isn't inadvertently reinforcing viewpoints that could be bad for a person's well-being.

Details: The company is testing ways to avoid recommending content that, viewed sparingly, isn't harmful, but could be problematic, like extreme dieting videos.

  • It's also evaluating whether its algorithms inadvertently recommend content that could take a toll on someone's health if it becomes the majority of what they watch.

The big picture: TikTok's stated mission has been on creating a joyful and positive experience. But as it's gotten bigger, it's had to tackle thorny content moderation issues like violence and misinformation.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Former Facebook, Google and Xiaomi executive Hugo Barra has accepted a post as CEO of health tech startup Detect.
  • Katie Haun, one of the world's most influential crypto venture capitalists, is leaving Andreessen Horowitz to form her own firm, As Axios' Dan Primack scooped yesterday.


6. After you Login

Amanda Seyfried portraying ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes for an upcoming Hulu limited series
Image: Julu

Here's a glimpse of Amanda Seyfried playing former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in a new Hulu series on the company's rise and fall. "The Dropout" debuts in March, while Apple has its own film coming, with Jennifer Lawrence playing Holmes.