Tech scrambles to navigate White House privacy push
With help from Nancy Scola, Margaret Harding McGill, John Hendel and Ashley Gold
TECH SCRAMBLES TO NAVIGATE WHITE HOUSE PRIVACY PUSH — As MT readers know, the Trump administration is exploring some sort of national privacy proposal amid efforts by the European Union and California to impose their own data requirements on the tech industry. “Companies are finding themselves squeezed on both sides,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of Washington-based think tank ITIF. Nancy talked to Castro about what Silicon Valley is thinking as the administration process moves along:
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— Tech is tired of being the industry of “no”: Internet giants balked at California’s new rules and think GDPR is a mess, but they also know the industry is developing a reputation for being obstructionist. That might have been no big deal a few years ago, but tech’s standing in Washington, London and Brussels isn’t what it used to be, so the industry wants some kind of framework it can publicly support. “A lot of companies want to be able to say, ‘Okay. this is what we’ve done for privacy. This is how we’re supporting consumers,’” Castro said.
— Some policy options are emerging: One possibility is a U.S. ombudsperson to handle Americans’ privacy complaints, akin to one that the EU insisted the U.S. create under Privacy Shield. Another: a federal notice-and-choice policy that informs users about data collection. Tech would love a provision that preempts a patchwork of state privacy laws. What they would hate: Being required to let people freely use their products even if those consumers opt out of having their data sold to advertisers.
— Can the Trump White House pull it off? There are nuanced interests to balance and would-be allies to court, including in Congress, but some in the industry are reluctant to commit to the administration’s process and risk being caught out if the White House can’t strike a consensus. “That’s where I think we’re going to struggle,” said Castro. “Having the expertise to pull together a solid proposal.”
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OUTGOING FACEBOOK EXEC STANDS BY HEATED MEMO — Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, who announced Wednesday he is leaving the company later this month for a teaching post at Stanford University, told MT he stands by his fiery leaked memo in which he urged staffers to “be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues.” Stamos has reportedly been at odds with other Facebook executives over the company’s handling of Russian misinformation on the platform. Asked whether that disconnect factored into his decision to leave, Stamos deferred to the memo obtained by BuzzFeed. “That is something I wrote and I was completely honest in it,” he said. “I said everything I was going to say in it.”
— Back to school: As for his future at Stanford, Stamos said he will continue to focus on election security. “Coming up with recommendations for what our country can do for 2020 is probably my main focus,” he said. Stamos said he’s looking forward to building coalitions between academia and Silicon Valley and working in field that is seen as “more neutral” — something he said was difficult as a Facebook executive.
— Irreplaceable? Facebook is losing an officer at the forefront of the battle against misinformation, but the company said it doesn’t plan to replace him. “We expect to be judged on what we do to protect people’s security, not whether we have someone with a certain title,” spokesman Jay Nancarrow said. “We are not naming a new CSO, since earlier this year we embedded our security engineers, analysts, investigators, and other specialists in our product and engineering teams to better address the emerging security threats we face.”
— About that propaganda announcement: While Facebook earned high marks in Washington for suspending 32 “inauthentic” accounts associated with a coordinated election interference campaign, some lawmakers were skeptical of the company’s refusal to attribute the activity to any specific group or country. “I think attribution always is an issue here, but, you heard, there was no doubt from any of the five experts that testified this morning that this was Russian activity,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told Ashley on Wednesday.