Hillicon Valley — Progressives put pressure on Google

·6 min read
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arrives to the Senate Chamber for a series of judicial nomination votes on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arrives to the Senate Chamber for a series of judicial nomination votes on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.


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Two of Big Tech's biggest critics in Congress set their sights on Google in a letter Wednesday urging the search giant to drop its efforts seeking the recusal of the Department of Justice antirust chief.

Google was in the hot seat abroad, too, with Germany's antitrust enforcer giving the company a new designation that allows the competition regulator to further scrutinize the company.

Let's jump into the news.

Democrats tell Google to back off Kanter

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) urged Google to drop its efforts seeking the recusal of Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter from cases involving the company.

'Misguided' efforts: In a letter sent Wednesday, the two Democrats slammed Google's efforts to push Kanter off cases involving Google as "misguided" and a reflection of "what appears to be a willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of federal ethics mandates."

"These efforts to bully regulators and avoid accountability-which are similar to those of Facebook and Amazon earlier this year-are untethered to federal ethics law and regulations, and we urge you to cease them immediately," the Democrats wrote.

Facebook and Amazon sought to have Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan recuse herself from cases involving their companies based on her past critical comments about the tech giants before she was confirmed to the FTC.

Google's take: An attorney for Google sent a letter to the DOJ in November, shortly after Kanter was confirmed by the Senate, asking the department to examine whether Kanter should be recused from investigations and litigation against Google.

Google's attorney questioned if Kanter is "impartial" based on his prior work representing companies, including Yelp, in lawsuits against Google.

Warren and Jayapal said Kanter meets none of the required reasons for a recusal. They dismissed Google's attempt to question Kanter's impartiality given that his "prior work has aligned with the federal government's interest in robust enforcement of antitrust law."

"Google's logic would neuter federal enforcement activity," the Democrats said.

Read more about the letter.

Germany moves to take closer look at Google

Germany's antitrust enforcer on Wednesday labeled Google a company of "paramount significance across markets," allowing it to further scrutinize the company for what it calls anti-competitive practices.

Stepping it up: The Federal Cartel Office, Germany's competition regulator, noted in a press release that the new designation allows it to "take action against specific anti-competitive practices against Google."

"We have already started to look into Google's processing of personal data and to deal with the Google News Showcase issue in more detail," said Andreas Mundt, president of the Federal Cartel Office, in a statement. "This is a very important first step."

The office said Google has an influence over other companies because it holds the keys to the digital ecosystem with its search engine, video platform YouTube, Android phones and the Play Store. The tech company also has an unfair advantage because of its unique access to data, the office said.

Read more here.

COMING TO AN INSTAGRAM NEAR YOU

Instagram will let users switch between three different feeds on the app, including bringing back an option for content sorted in chronological order.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Wednesday that the company is starting to test the options for three feeds and hopes to launch "the full experience" in the first half of this year.

Users will be able to alternate between three feed options: Home, Favorites and Following.

The "home" feed will include content sorted by the app's algorithm. In 2016 Instagram switched to an algorithmic feed instead of displaying posts in chronological order. The new "home" feed option will include even more content recommendations over time, Mosseri said.

The "following" feature will allow users to see posts from accounts they follow as they are posted in chronological order, similar to what users were familiar with before the platform's change in 2016.

The third option, "favorites," will let users see content posted by accounts they mark as a favorite.

Instagram's update comes after the company has faced increased scrutiny, particularly about the impact it has on teens and children.

Read more here.

SONY UNVEILS ELECTRIC SUV

Sony on Tuesday unveiled a prototype for a new SUV-style electric vehicle called the Vision-S 02, a follow-up to its electric sedan Vision-S 01.

The Tokyo-based tech company displayed the car at the CES 2022 conference, rolling out a sleek gray crossover/SUV at the end of its show.

CEO Kenichiro Yoshida also announced Sony was starting a new company called Sony Mobility Inc. to focus on the development of electric vehicles.

"Sony Mobility Inc. will harness the potential of mobility," Yoshida said, adding the company was exploring a commercial launch for electric vehicles. "This is a bold step into the future."

Sony called its entry into the electric vehicle market a way to "promote the accommodation of a large variety of lifestyles within a society where values are becoming increasingly diversified" in a video and news release on Tuesday.

Read more here.

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Theranos verdict underscores need for media scrutiny

Lighter click: The Taylor Swift Football Team

Notable links from around the web:

Elizabeth Holmes learned all the wrong lessons from Silicon Valley (The Washington Post / Nitasha Tiku and Rachel Lerman)

Turning Point is quietly building the next generation of conservative influencers (The Verge / Makena Kelly)

Mexican teen develops app to help deaf sister communicate (Reuters / Kylie Madry)

One last thing: DHS chief talks extremism

Secretary of Homeland Security A Mayorkas makes an opening statement during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 21, 2021.
Secretary of Homeland Security A Mayorkas makes an opening statement during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 21, 2021.

The U.S. is seeing a growing connection between disinformation and the ongoing threat posed by domestic extremism, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday.

"I think that we are seeing, indeed, a greater connectivity between misinformation and false narratives propagated on social media and the threat landscape," Mayorkas said when asked about ties to what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) classifies as domestic violent extremism.

"I think it's very important to state that words matter. False narratives about a stolen election have an impact on the threat landscape. The words of leaders matter a lot. So I think we're seeing a greater connectivity," he continued.

Mayorkas's comments came in a conversation with reporters ahead of the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to discuss DHS's efforts to improve intelligence gathering and sharing to prevent future attacks.

Read more here.

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Thursday.

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