Kavanaugh and the future of net neutrality

 In Politics

KAVANAUGH AND THE FUTURE OF NET NEUTRALITY — It’s official: President Donald Trump ended weeks of speculation Monday by nominating D.C. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Democratic leaders are raising red flags about many of Kavanaugh’s past rulings, but Senate Republicans have the slim majority necessary to confirm the judge if they can prevent any defections.

— A lengthy track record on telecom: Kavanaugh, one of the most prolific jurists Trump considered, has made rulings in a wide array of cases, including many related to telecom issues. His most noteworthy opinion on that front came in 2017, when the D.C. Circuit let stand a ruling that upheld the Obama-era net neutrality rules. In a striking dissent in that case, United States Telecom Association v. Federal Communications Commission, Kavanaugh deemed the rules “unlawful” and in violation of the First Amendment. Margaret has more on that and other Kavanaugh telecom writings here.

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— Net neutrality redux? Now that the Republican-led FCC has repealed the net neutrality rules, action on the topic has shifted to the state level, with a number of states advancing their own rules aimed at restoring open internet protections. That makes MT wonder about the impact of Kavanaugh if he’s confirmed and litigation over state net neutrality regulations eventually reaches the high court. His views will undoubtedly play a major role should the issue rise up again through the legal system.

CAPITOL HILL WELCOMES TWITTER PURGE, BUT NOT WALL STREET — News that Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June as part of a massive push to stamp out fake accounts drew praise from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, even as the company’s stock took a dive amid concerns over a potential drop in monthly active users on the platform. The company’s shares tumbled nearly 10 percent Monday before recovering to a loss of 5.4 percent, marking the worst trading day for the company since March.

— After a tough morning in the markets, Twitter CFO Ned Segal posted that “most accounts we remove are not included in our reported metrics as they have not been active on the platform for 30 days or more, or we catch them at sign up and they are never counted.” Segal added that the actions detailed in the Washington Post report show the company is “getting better at improving the health of the service.”

— The purge got a friendlier reception from some members of Congress, who framed it as a positive step to combat the kind of misinformation that plagued the 2016 election. “I applaud Twitter for putting the integrity of its platform over short-term business interests,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “Social media companies have a responsibility to ensure their platforms aren’t playgrounds for disinformation, scams & abuse.”

— Warner encouraged “other platforms to follow Twitter’s lead.” You may recall that Facebook, which has faced similar questions about fakes, announced earlier this year it was disabling over a billion such accounts. But fake accounts and identity theft continue to plague social media.

GREETINGS AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH, where your host may have sworn off Belgian waffles, but he’s at least still got pancakes. Got any tech or telecom tips? Drop me a line at [email protected] or @viaCristiano. Don’t forget to follow us @MorningTech. And catch the rest of the team’s contact info after Quick Downloads.

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FTC ADDS AMAZON CRITIC — FTC Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra revealed Monday that he’s hiring Lina Khan, a prominent critic of the growing power of the tech industry, to his staff. The addition of Khan, who authored a widely cited paper arguing that Amazon’s market dominance may run afoul of antitrust law, could signal the newly minted commissioner is gearing up to take on Silicon Valley more aggressively, Nancy reports.

— But according to one former FTC official, the hiring is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the agency’s actions. “Arguing that the current antitrust framework should be overturned is a non-starter in the short term,” said Rational 360 vice president Nat Wood, who until June served as associate director of the FTC’s division of consumer and business education. Wood told MT that the move suggests Chopra is playing a long game. “I think Commissioner Chopra is laying the groundwork for what he’d like to see in a future progressive administration, rather than trying to influence the current commissioners,” he said.

THE SOUNDS OF SURVEILLANCE? — A new wrinkle in congressional scrutiny of tech’s handling of consumer data: Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to Apple and Alphabet asking about their collection of audio and location information. Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and three Republican subcommittee chairs called on Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Larry Page to provide details on whether third parties have access to such data on their platforms.

— The lawmakers want both companies to explain whether they “collect ‘non-triggered’ audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone.” Apple’s recent privacy statements and actions “raise questions about how Apple device users’ data is protected and when it is shared and compiled,” they wrote to Cook. To Page, they asked if “Google still permitted third parties to access the contents of users’ emails.”

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