Startup News Digest 6/21/19

Big Story. Lawmaker targets content moderation practices. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation this week that would impose a ‘politically neutral’ standard on internet platforms, upending critical protections that have allowed the Internet ecosystem to thrive.

The proposed bill, the ‘Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,’ would condition Section 230 liability protections for “big tech” companies by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to dole out immunity to certain companies after they have undergone an external audit and received certification through a supermajority vote by the agency’s commissioners. Companies that meet the bill’s threshold would be required to go through this process every two years to demonstrate that they don’t censor viewpoints. The Supreme Court ruled just this week that First Amendment constraints don’t apply to private platforms.

The bill would severely limit platforms’ abilities to remove objectionable content and manage their sites as they see fit. As Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted in a statement, “Constraining websites’ ability to remove objectionable content will result in the proliferation of hate speech, misinformation, terrorist content, and other content that no responsible Internet platform wants on their site.” 

In D.C. next week? Join Engine at two upcoming events! On Monday, June 24th, please join us in D.C. at the Consumer Technology Association Innovation House for a panel discussion about what’s at stake in the Oracle v. Google case, featuring experts in technology and intellectual property law. Learn more and RSVP here.

Next Friday, June 28th, at noon, Engine and the Charles Koch Institute will also be holding the second panel in our three-part series on the Nuts and Bolts of Content Moderation. We will be discussing the myths of content moderation, including how and why platforms police user content, the differences between platforms and publishers, and the laws behind content moderation. Learn more about the panel and RSVP here

Policy Roundup:

Busy week in trade issues. Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, appeared before committees in both chambers of Congress to testify about the president’s trade agenda, including the USMCA and tariffs on Chinese imports. Members expressed the importance of the Digital Trade provisions in the USMCA, and the harm tariffs will have on small business growth and innovation.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative this week also began hearing testimony from over 320 witnesses from companies and trade groups, about the latest proposed tranche of Section 301 Tariffs. The hearings are scheduled to continue through next Tuesday. Technology industry representatives are expected to testify about the harms the tariffs will have on growth and innovation in the sector.

YouTube investigated over COPPA concerns. The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly in the late stages of an investigation into YouTube over allegations that the video platform violated children’s privacy by collecting data. Company executives are said to be discussing moving all children’s content on the video-streaming site to the platform’s existing YouTube Kids app. 

GDPR harming European startups, countries. New research from the Center for Data Innovation finds that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has had a severe impact on the bloc, including harming the growth of European tech startups and negatively affecting the EU economy.  

Rubio targets Huawei over patents. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) filed legislation to prevent Chinese telecoms firms Huawei from seeking damages in U.S. patent courts after the company reportedly demanded that Verizon pay it $1 billion to license the rights to over 230 Huawei patents. 

Lawmakers to look at Facebook cryptocurrency. Lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee announced plans to hold hearings to investigate Facebook’s recently launched Libra cryptocurrency.

Bipartisan call for 5.9 GHz review. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to move forward with the agency’s proposal to review how the 5.9 GHz spectrum band should be used in order to meet the growing demand of WiFi-equipped devices.

Startup Roundup:

#StartupsEverywhere. Mount Desert Island, Maine. Fostering a year-round economy in a tourism haven can prove difficult, but Alex Birdsall, Operations manager of Mount Desert 365 has some strategies for building out Maine’s startup ecosystem.