Tech companies and automakers are rolling out more autonomous and smart technology features in cars hitting the market, as we saw at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. We broke down what drivers can expect and the challenges the new technologies pose.
Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission dismissed a GOP complaint over Gmail filters, and Meta’s Oversight Board urged the company to update its adult nudity policy to avoid discriminating against transgender and nonbinary people.
This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Ines Kagubare. Someone forward you this newsletter?
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Innovation, challenges face future cars
Drivers can expect more electric cars and autonomous features to hit the market in the next few years as car makers go high-tech and tech industry giants like Google and Amazon branch further into automotives.
Those trends were on full display at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with companies from Sony to BMW, and even the United States Postal Service, showing off electric vehicles and digital features the companies say improve safety and add entertainment value.
“Not to disparage smartphones or anything else, but automotive is really the place where it’s at right now,” Patrick Brady, vice president of automotive at Google, said during a CES panel.
Cars are offering opportunities for innovation where software and artificial intelligence (AI) “really come together in one,” he said.
But the additional bells and whistles may come at a price for drivers — in both money and privacy. Users could see a growing trend in paid subscriptions to access the new tech. And the advances may give rise to data privacy concerns similar to those that have surrounded smartphone and computer advancements.
Companies may also run into traditional tech regulatory challenges in their efforts to introducethe new features.
FEC dismisses GOP’s Gmail complaint
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismissed a Republican-filed complaint that Google’s Gmail spam filters unfairly censored GOP fundraising emails at a higher rate than it did for Democrats.
The complaint, filed in April, argued Google effectively made “illegal corporate in-kind contributions” to campaigns for President Biden and other Democrats through the alleged politically biased filters.
The FEC told Google in a letter last week it “finds no reason to believe” that the tech giant made or the Biden campaign accepted “prohibited in-kind corporate contributions” in violation of the law.
“Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution,” the FEC wrote, according to a copy of the letter.
META URGED TO UPDATE NUDITY RULES
Meta’s independent Oversight Board overturned the social media giant’s decision to remove bare chest photos of transgender and non-binary people on Instagram, and urged the company to redefine its rules around nudity in a way that is clear and does not discriminate based on gender.
The board’s Tuesday decision overturned Instagram’s original decision in 2021 and 2022 to remove two photos posted by the same U.S.-based couple who identify as transgender and nonbinary. The photos showed images of the couple bare-chested with nipples covered and had captions discussing transgender health care.
The posts were initially removed by Meta, the parent company of Instagram, for violating the platform’s Sexual Solicitation and Community Standard. But Meta restored the posts after finding they were removed in error following the Oversight Board accepting the case to repeal the decision.
“Here, the Board finds that Meta’s policies on adult nudity result in greater barriers to expression for women, trans, and gender non-binary people on its platforms,” the board wrote in its decision.
JUDGE DENIES CLASS ACTION FOR EX-TWITTER EMPLOYEES
A group of laid-off Twitter employees must drop their class action lawsuit against the company, which accuses the social media giant of skipping out on its promised severance pay, according to a ruling from a federal judge on Friday.
U.S. District Judge James Donato told the employees that they had to instead make their claim in private arbitration, citing their employment contract with the company.
The ruling said the contract provided the employees an opportunity to opt out of nonmandatory arbitration, but they did not. The contract also included a class action lawsuit waiver, mandating that employees bring any disputes on an individual basis to arbitration.
SpaceX launches Falcon Heavy rocket
Following a three-year hiatus, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket celebrated its second successful launch in two months, lifting off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:56 p.m. ET and carrying two satellites to geostationary orbit.
Spectators on Florida’s Space Coast were treated with not just a twilight launch, which is known for producing cool views thanks to some atmospheric effects, but also a double landing of the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters back at Cape Canaveral roughly 8 minutes after liftoff.
Sonic booms crackled across the sky when the boosters touched down. The Falcon Heavy’s center core was discarded in the ocean and the two recovered boosters will be refurbished and flown again.
UT BLOCKS TIKTOK ACCESS
The University of Texas at Austin has barred access to the social media platform TikTok on its Wi-Fi network after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banned the application from use on government devices.
The university told students in an email on Tuesday obtained by The Hill that they were taking the step to comply with Abbott’s December directive to “eliminate the cybersecurity risk posed by TikTok.”
“Today, the university blocked TikTok access on our networks,” the university said in the email. “You are no longer able to access TikTok on any device if you are connected to the university via its wired or WIFI networks.”
BITS & PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: The AI advantage in decision-making
Notable links from around the web:
Musk’s securities fraud trial begins over Tesla ‘Funding secured’ tweet (The Washington Post / Faiz Siddiqui)
Private-Equity Firms Tighten Focus on Cyber Defenses at Portfolio Companies (The Wall Street Journal / James Rundle and Kim Nash)
Inside Elon’s ‘Extremely Hardcore’ Twitter (Intelligencer / Zoë Schiffer, Casey Newton, and Alex Heath)
ONE LAST THING
Tech giants under fire over Brazilian riots
Online conspiracy theories and false claims about Brazil’s election results fueled riots in the nation’s capital last weekend as extremists followed the digital playbook used in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Researchers and advocates warned tech companies for months to take action to mitigate the likelihood of real-world harm in Brazil. Now they say mainstream giants’ efforts to curb the spread of content fueling the riots are too little, too late — a pattern they say is familiar for Silicon Valley.
And with social media companies lacking what they deem adequate safeguards, experts warn the uptick of political vitriol online threatens to give rise to similar events again in the future.
“When we are seeing this kind of content, this kind of attitude, being repeated over and over again. It’s extremely concerning,” said Flora Rebello Arduini, campaign director of the advocacy group Sum of Us.
“History is repeating itself, not in a positive way,” Arduini said.