With help from Margaret Harding McGill, Steven Overly and Eric Geller
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Morning Tech will not publish from Aug. 27-Sept. 3. Our next Morning Tech newsletter will publish on Sept. 4.
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GADGET DAY AT THE TARIFF TALKS — Washington-based tech trade groups have been shouting at the top of their lungs for weeks that President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products will ravage their industry. But today they’ll get critical backup from companies with an advantage that acronym-heavy lobbying orgs like ITI and CTA don’t have: They make gadgets Americans know and love. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is on the second day of a six-day hearing on Trump’s decision to impose 25 percent tariffs on some $200 billion of Chinese goods as part of his trade war with the country. And Tuesday’s witness list is heavy with the companies behind some of the country’s most popular consumer products:
— Fitbit, creator of wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches, is sending its executive vice president/general counsel to make the case that Trump’s tariffs would harm nearly all of the San Francisco-based company’s products, making them less competitive with their Chinese counterparts.
— Logitech, which sells widely used mice and keyboards, will have its director of compliance in Washington to detail how the tariffs will disrupt relationships the Swiss company has built with U.S. customers since its founding 36 years ago.
— iRobot, manufacturer of the ubiquitous Roomba autonomous vacuum, is dispatching its CEO, Colin Angle, to argue that the tariffs will impair the MIT-spawned company’s ability to work closely with the Chinese producers that are part of its product pipeline.
Why it matters: As anyone who’s put together a congressional hearing knows, it’s important to put a human face on esoteric policy disputes. When it comes to trade talks, Fitbits, mice and Roombas can do the same work of illustrating what’s at stake.
GOOD TUESDAY MORNING AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH, where your host has one eye on the Sharktivity app to keep tabs on great whites’ newfound affection for her beloved Cape Cod. Got news, tips, or sightings? Send them to Nancy at email@example.com. You can catch the rest of the team’s contact info after Quick Downloads.
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ASPEN REPORT, DAY ONE — The first day of the Technology Policy Institute Aspen Forum concluded Monday. Steven is on the ground and filed this dispatch:
— Watch your words: Data privacy was a frequent topic of conversation — not just how companies handle personal information but how they communicate those policies to users. Paul Romer, an NYU professor and former World Bank chief economist, said terms of service meant to be read by millions of people should be short and plainspoken. He added that companies could risk future legal exposure because “at some point the courts are going to say … that wasn’t an agreement we’re going to enforce.” But Google chief economist Hal Varian said simple is easier said than done. “Have you ever seen a contract that grows shorter over time?” he asked. Instead, Varian suggested companies choose from a handful of boilerplate agreements so consumers don’t encounter new terms of service at each company.
— An elephant in China: Varian also reiterated a past talking point that search engines are “the best thing that’s ever happened for privacy” because people can find answers to questions they might otherwise be embarrassed to ask. That comes with an expectation their queries will remain private, he conceded. “In general, that’s certainly true across the world. Whether that’s different in China, well, maybe not.” That’s when fellow panelist Samm Sacks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies asked Varian about “the elephant in the room”: Google’s rumored return to China with a censored search engine. The country’s Baidu search engine is “crappy” and even a censored version of Google might be an improvement, Sacks said. “I am very happy to hear you say all that,” Varian replied, “but I am not really that knowledgeable on this subject so I am going to stay silent.”
— A point of contention: Motion Picture Association of America CEO Charles Rivkin delivered a strongly worded keynote calling on the internet industry to clean up its platforms and taking aim at legal protections that the industry holds dear. It struck a nerve. “I have never heard anything so dishonest, disingenuous and cynical,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. The Internet Association weighed in from Washington as well. “Without intermediary liability protections it would be harder, not easier, for online platforms to keep bad actors off the internet,” said spokesman Noah Theran. But Neil Fried, MPAA’s senior vice president for federal advocacy and regulatory affairs, stood by the speech. “Let’s not ignore completely illegal content because it’s going to be hard. … We think, some way, we need to get more accountability online, all of us need to do that together.”
— Tomorrow’s agenda includes an interview with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai as he swings through Colorado. FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra is expected to join a panel comparing tech policy in the U.S., European Union and China.
THE WESTWARD EXPANSION OF AJIT PAI — Pai will later trade conference goers for cows as he heads to a cattle ranch that uses technology to manage its stock. Also on the chairman’s Colorado agenda are visits to a tower crew, a wireless internet service provider and a hospital that uses telehealth services. Pai is making stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah this week in a “Four Corners” digital divide tour.
TECH TO POMPEO: GIVE US A PROPER OMBUD — A coalition of tech industry groups is calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fill the long-vacant spot of under secretary of State for economic growth, energy, and the environment, a job vacated by former Apple executive Cathy Novelli more than a year and a half ago. But the push isn’t simply about having economic leadership at State. Novelli also served as ombudsperson for European data complaints under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield agreement. There’s currently a deputy assistant secretary of State tasked with the ombud responsibilities, but she’s on track to become the next ambassador to Cyprus. Either way, in the letter the tech groups — which include Engine, BSA | The Software Alliance, ITI and The Internet Association — write that “while the duties of the Ombudsperson are currently being carried out, having a senior political appointee in the role is important.”
NEWS GROUP OFFERS ANTITRUST ANGLE — The News Media Alliance, which represents the newspaper industry, laid out a potential antitrust case against its foes, Google and Facebook, in comments filed with the FTC on Monday. The organization outlined legal considerations — including non-price harm to consumers, such as the newspaper industry’s ability to sustain journalism — and explained “how they connect to a potential antitrust case against one or more platforms.” Remember, Monday was the deadline for comments on a slew of tech-related topics the FTC is eyeing for a hearing.
— The Internet Association, which represents Google and Facebook, took a more big-picture approach, but did note that enforcement related to privacy should “encourage companies to take innovative approaches to privacy and data security given each company’s resources, and the volume and sensitivity of the personal information each company collects.” The organization also filed comments in response to the FTC’s inquiry on intellectual property, saying “the problem of low-quality patents” is a concern that merits further study.
— Taking note of the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality regulations, which put the FTC in charge of policing broadband providers, AT&T said the agency should avoid ISP-only rules. Instead, the expectations for internet service providers should be the same as those for other players in the internet ecosystem, the company said. AT&T also argued that vertical mergers — such as its deal with Time Warner — are “usually procompetitive.”
INSIDE TECH’S CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS — American politics might be in upheaval, but one thing that hasn’t changed is who Silicon Valley’s most important donors are, Recode’s Theodore Schleifer reports in a useful “cheat sheet” of tech-industry political spending. The big names still include VC Ron Conway, former LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.
—That said, it ain’t all about the money, finds Recode. Y Combinator president Sam Altman, for example, is becoming known for his niche focus of making the “Democratic big-money apparatus more friendly to technology and digital platforms.” And Mike and Jackie Bezos — parents of Amazon’s Jeff — have put cash into a super PAC specializing in recruiting veterans to run for office.
— What’s more, Recode reminds us of a simple fact underlying any discussion of tech and politics: “By Silicon Valley standards, the amount of money required to be a top-tier player in political fundraising is shockingly small.”
— MICROSOFT’S CONTRIBUTION TO CAMPAIGNS: Microsoft will begin offering free email security services to campaigns, think tanks and political organizations to combat what it says is a rising tide of hacking attempts aimed at political groups. In a blog post published this morning, the company said it would provide notifications about cyberattacks, as well as general security briefings, to “all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state, and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack.” The announcement follows reports of two Democratic congressional campaigns falling prey to hackers.
— Microsoft also offered new details about its efforts to contain suspected Russian hackers. It said it received permission last week from a federal judge to take down a series of websites associated with a Kremlin-linked group that created fake versions of prominent organizations’ login pages, including the U.S. Senate and two conservative think tanks.
T-MO, SPRINT SAY NO EXTRA TIME NECESSARY ON REVIEW — T-Mobile and Sprint on Monday told the FCC it should reject a request from the Communications Workers of America, Public Knowledge and other groups to extend the timeline for reviewing their $26 billion deal. The groups asked for the extension because they said the two wireless giants have not provided enough detail on their spectrum holdings and because the agency has a number of proceedings with deadlines to juggle. The companies, however, said they’ve already provided the requested spectrum information and noted “the commission always has multiple, significant proceedings pending.”
Transition: FirstNet board chair Sue Swenson and vice chair Jeffrey Johnson have resigned, per a release from NTIA.
SILICON VALLEY MUST READS
— WHO’S PAYING AMAZON’S BILLS?: Signs point to Amazon offloading the electricity costs of its enormous cloud computing business onto local residents, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
— AN ICANN FOR WHAT’S ON THE INTERNET: An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal says a “content congress” could serve as a broadly palatable oversight mechanism as companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube become more willing to pull down accounts.
— READING, WRITING, AND CRITICAL REASONING: The Indian state of Kerala is teaching students how to figure out what to trust on WhatsApp, reports the BBC.
— FACT-CHECKING PHOTOS ON THE FLY: A new browser extension can use “digital fingerprints” to help users know right away if an image they’re looking at is fake, Wired reports.
— A POWER-ASSISTED PUSH RIGHT INTO THE ER: Doctors say electric scooter injuries are mounting, BuzzFeed reports, and could become a factor as lawmakers consider regulating a rental industry dominated by companies like Bird and Lime.
— HISTORY GETS WRITTEN BY THE … : Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill investigates how one woman went missing from retellings of California’s digital privacy fight.
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