Startup News Digest: 2/24/17

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy. To receive this weekly digest in your inbox, sign up at

Very, Very Strange Times at Uber. Uber was thrown into a human resources and public relations nightmare this week after Susan Fowler, a former engineer at the ride-sharing giant, published a damning blog post recounting sexism, sexual harassment, and administrative negligence during her time at the company. The lack of diversity in the technology industry is well-documented, and while top executives at most Silicon Valley companies (including Uber) have acknowledged the problem and pledged to fix it, accounts like Fowler’s call into question whether those pledges are merely talk. The company’s CEO Travis Kalanick responded to the post by calling for an “urgent investigation” into the allegations, and tapped former Attorney General Eric Holder, board member Arianna Huffington, and the company’s Chief Human Resources officer, Liane Hornsey to lead the probe. However, some have called this approach into question, noting that the three individuals selected are all company insiders. Policymakers on the Hill have also responded to the story, calling on tech companies to do more to embrace diversity. Only time will tell how Uber will recover from this crisis, but in the meantime, there’s always Lyft.

Organizations Speak Out Against DHS Proposed Policy. On Tuesday, 50 organizations, including Engine, and over 80 individual subject matter experts joined together to oppose comments made by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly suggesting that the agency could require non-citizens to share their social media passwords with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents as a condition for entering the U.S. The coalition statement pushed back against DHS’ proposal, arguing that it would give border officials access to several years worth of personal data, expose members of the travelers’ networks, including American citizens, to unjustified scrutiny, and discourage people from using online services or carrying their mobile devices while traveling. The statement also pointed out that such a policy could result in similar rules by foreign governments, forcing U.S. citizens to provide their passwords when they seek entry to foreign countries. “This would compromise U.S. economic security, cybersecurity, and national security, as well as damage the U.S.’s relationships with foreign governments and their citizenry,” the group explained. Read the full statement here.

Engine Submits Comments to Copyright Office. This week, Engine submitted reply comments to the Copyright Office as part of its ongoing review of the copyright system. Specifically, the comments addressed Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which grants online service providers (OSPs) a legal “safe harbor” from facing lawsuits arising from user copyright infringements. By limiting secondary infringement liability, the DMCA has facilitated the growth of businesses, both large and small, and of the broader internet. As we argue in our comments, “Section 512 can continue to promote innovation, startup activity, and creative production, but only if we preserve the core policy of limited liability for service providers that is the bedrock of Section 512. Any shift towards increasing the burden on service providers of policing infringing activity or liability for third party infringements will make it harder for the next generation of startups and providers to innovate.” Read our full submission here.

Expect Revised Immigration Ban Next Week. The Trump Administration has been scrambling to revise its immigration ban after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the President’s original executive order earlier this month. While the release of the revised order was expected this week, the White House announced on Thursday that it needed some final tweaking. The technology community vehemently opposed the original ban, and more than 200 startups and investors signed a letter led by Engine and the National Venture Capital Association pushing back against the Administration's immigration EOs earlier this month.  

Senators Urge Sessions to Scrutinize AT&T-Time Warner Deal. The top Senators on the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mike Lee (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about aspects of the merger that they find concerning. Specifically, the Senators pointed to the potential impact on competition, as AT&T could inhibit other networks’ channels and programs’ access to their customers. For their part, AT&T and Time Warner have already begun a robust outreach strategy to other Senators who had previously expressed skepticism about the deal. The companies explained that the merger would allow for more attractive packages for customers and would stimulate competition in the industry, leading to a rise in 5G deployment. Senator Franken (D-MN) responded saying, “nothing in their letter eases my very serious concerns that this deal will lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and even worse service.” While industry experts expect the deal to go through, it remains to be seen how the Department of Justice will respond.

This Week’s #StartupsEverywhere Profile: David Tominsky in Cedar Rapids, IA. This week, we explored Cedar Rapid’s unique startup ecosystem with David Tominsky, Managing Director for the Iowa Startup Accelerator, which is powered by the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo). Learn more about how Cedar Rapids’ resilient spirit and the Midwest’s innate collaborative nature collided at the Iowa Startup Accelerator to drive innovation in the city: read the full profile here.

Join us on MARCH 8TH for a luncheon discussion on Big Data. The event will convene policy analysts and startup leaders to discuss how Big Data is being used to have a positive, public impact. The conversation will also focus on privacy and how to best ensure data security so innovation can thrive. Lunch will be provided. Space is limited. RSVP here.

Engine is Hiring! Know any tech policy wonks who might be interested in working with our growing team? We're hiring a Policy Counsel in SF or DC. Learn more here.