Analysis | Tech's allies say antitrust reform would help China. Critics say it's a cheap ploy. – The Washington Post

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.
A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.
Good morning and happy Friday! Today: A flare-up over China in the congressional antitrust debate, and below, more on the week that can’t end soon enough for Facebook.
The tech industry and its allies in Washington this week issued a pair of documents reviving concerns that antitrust reform could harm U.S. national security and hinder competition with China — a tactic critics are calling a thinly veiled effort to dodge regulation and ward off would-be backers.
The flurry of activity arrives during a critical stretch: proponents and opponents of antitrust reform are racing to win the support of lawmakers who may be on the fence — a number of whom are outspoken China and national security hawks.
That includes Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), all security-minded lawmakers who are in talks to potentially sponsor companion legislation to antitrust proposals introduced in the House, according to a Politico report
The tech trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) — which counts Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple as members — released a white paper Monday arguing that the House package of antitrust bills would give tech companies’ overseas competitors a leg up and expose U.S. consumer data to foreign adversaries. 
On Wednesday, a group of 12 former U.S. national security officials — including some affiliated with groups that have worked for or received funding from the tech giants — raised similar issues in a letter urging House leadership to pump the brakes on the antitrust legislation. 
Together, the two initiatives mark a timely uptick of efforts to convince lawmakers it’s an issue that beckons their attention.
They’re not the only ones sounding that alarm. NetChoice Vice President Carl Szabo, whose trade group counts Google, Amazon and Facebook as members, said U.S. competitiveness and security are among the issues they are stressing to officials weighing whether to back the bills. 
“We are definitely making lawmakers aware of this clear threat as part of the broader explanation” for opposing the bills, Szabo said.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is leading the House antitrust push, said those claims “might have short-term appeal, but the reality is that when people study this issue they’ll recognize that … innovation is driven by competition and a competitive marketplace. We don’t have that right now in the digital space.”
Public Citizen President Robert Weissman, whose advocacy group supports the antitrust package, said he could see why the tech industry and its allies might be emphasizing these arguments now, however.
“Members of Congress are susceptible to ‘national security’ arguments, including when they’re not well-grounded,” he said, noting that some key players may be “persuadable” on that front.
Hawley, one of the tech industry’s most outspoken Republican critics and a prominent China hawk, said he’s not buying the supposed security concerns.
“It’s no surprise that a bunch of people funded by Big Tech are defending Big Tech,” Hawley said. “But we’ve heard this talking point for years — that allowing Big Tech to do whatever it wants is the country’s only hope against China.”
Hawley added, “To outcompete China, we’ve got to break the tech giants up.”
A spokesperson for Cotton, one of the lawmakers being recruited for the reform push, also voiced skepticism. 
“If big-tech monopolies are concerned about Chinese aggression, they should stop selling their services to the Chinese Communist Party while boycotting our own Department of Defense,” said Caroline Tabler, Cotton’s communications director.
Heather Greenfield, CCIA’s director of communications, said the trade group commissioned the white paper and that it was researched and written by King & Spalding, a law firm which former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats advises, and that has represented Google in the past. Coats also signed the letter to House leadership.
Another signatory on that letter, former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend, is a co-chair of the national security advisory board for the American Edge Project, a political advocacy group backed by Facebook that’s pushing against tech regulation in the U.S.
Some Democrats said they hope to move forward on an approach that balances concerns about U.S. competitiveness with the need to rein in Big Tech.
“I believe we can level the playing field in ways that won’t jeopardize our competitiveness,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who has introduced legislation to make it easier for users to transfer their data between competing digital services. 
Warner added, “The truth is that we need to rein in these tech giants, which have largely benefited from their dominance while failing to mitigate their harm to individuals and democracy.”
The revelation comes despite most of the social media giant’s users coming from outside the United States, the Wall Street Journal’s Justin Scheck, Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz report. Just 13 percent of the 3.2 million hours that Facebook employees and contractors spent searching, labeling and taking down false or misleading posts in 2020 were for content abroad.
Facebook employees have raised concerns about harmful content staying up on the site in countries outside the United States, the Journal reports.
“In countries at risk for conflict and violence, we have a comprehensive strategy, including relying on global teams with native speakers covering over 50 languages, educational resources and partnerships with local experts and third-party fact-checkers to keep people safe,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said.
The company will begin to take action against users who coordinate to spread misinformation, hate and “social harm,” Craig Timberg reports. It’s a departure for the social media giant, which has relied on company standards that don’t allow “inauthentic” content.
Facebook has already used the new policy to take action against portions of a German network pushing the Querdenken conspiracy theory, which has led to resistance to coronavirus health measures.
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to the search warrants, which ask them to hand over information about people in a certain area or people who have searched a specific phrase, as they conduct investigations, the Guardian’s Johana Bhuiyan reports. Major technology companies like Google have received thousands of geofence search warrants.
Experts and activists say they raise civil liberties concerns.
“As long as the data exists, all it takes is a creative law enforcement officer to say, ‘Hey, we can get a warrant or we can send a subpoena for this particular subset of the data that’s already being harvested’,” said Caleb Kenyon, a defense attorney who represented Zachary McCoy, a subject of one of the warrants. “They’re coming up with everything they can to do their job. That’s all it takes for the next type of [reverse] search warrant to come about.”
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone’s tweets defending the company after the Wall Street Journal’s latest report were the subject of scathing critique. Journalist Erin Biba:
Emily Dreyfuss, the senior editor of the Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Technology and Social Change Project:
Journalist Hussein Kesvani:
Navalny app vanishes from Apple, Google stores as Russian voting begins (Taylor Telford and Robyn Dixon)
The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet (New York Times)
Teamsters organizing workers’ unions at 9 Amazon.com facilities in Canada (Reuters)
Meet the YouTubers determined to find lost media (The Verge)
Thats all for Friday — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email

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