Startup News Digest 9/20/19

The Big Story: Lawmakers, tech industry take on hateful online content. Facebook, Google, and Twitter defended their efforts to combat online extremism during testimony before a Senate panel this week, even as some lawmakers pushed for measures that would force online platforms to take more drastic steps to remove hateful content. 

Representatives from the three online platforms told members of the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday that they are improving their efforts to identify and remove harmful content, including collaborating with one another and using more advanced AI systems to detect and remove content. The hearing, which focused on “mass violence, extremism and digital responsibility,” came after several mass shootings this year appeared to be inspired by online extremism or were otherwise streamed online or discussed in advance. 

The tech industry is already working to improve the way it polices hateful content. In advance of the hearing, Facebook announced that it was expanding its definition of terrorist organizations to include people and organizations that attempt any violence towards civilians. The platform also announced progress in the creation of an independent oversight board to determine whether questionable content should stay online or be removed. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week attended dinner with approximately half a dozen senators that included a discussion about “the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy.”

Despite the increased focus on improving content moderation practices, congressional lawmakers are continuing to draft legislation in response to the spread of harmful online content. House lawmakers are circulating a draft bill, set to be introduced next week, that would establish a “national commission” within the Department of Homeland Security to examine how social media companies police their platforms. The commission would reportedly be empowered to issue subpoenas, hold hearings, and recommend legislative responses.  

The Nuts and Bolts of Encryption. Please Join Engine and the Charles Koch Institute today at noon for the first panel in our three-part series on the nuts and bolts of encryption. We'll be discussing what encryption is, how it works, and the various ways that it's used every day. Learn more and RSVP here

Policy Roundup:

STRONGER Patents Act would hurt startups. Engine submitted comments this week to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property following the panel’s hearing on the STRONGER Patents Act, which would limit the ability of existing tools to combat low quality patents. As R Street Institute explained in a recent op-ed, “Congress should look for solutions that enhance not the strength of patents, but the strength of patent correctness.”

FTC, DOJ bicker over antitrust probes. The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are fighting over how to divide up their roles in both agencies’ antitrust investigations of large tech companies following turf tensions over the summer. In a letter sent to the Justice Department last week, the FTC complained that the department’s behavior was hurting interactions between the two agencies. 

Lawmakers ask eBay about illegal e-cigarette sales. A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), wrote a letter to eBay this week asking the online auction platform to explain how it plans to counter the illegal sale of vaping products and devices. The letter comes after the Trump administration announced plans last week to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette products. 

German blockchain strategy limits stablecoins. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet this week approved a new strategy for using blockchain technology, including to improve digital identity, Internet-connected devices, and other security efforts. Most notably, the strategy states that the government will “work to ensure that stablecoins do not become an alternative to state currencies.”

Antitrust panel wants feedback on anticompetitive practices. The House Judiciary’s antitrust panel is reportedly asking customers of top U.S. tech companies to complete a survey about the state of tech competition. The eight-page survey, seen by reporters, does not mention specific companies, but asks respondents to provide information about their digital providers and any alleged antitrust violations or anti-competitive practices. 

EU antitrust chief floats possibility of new data rules. Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s antitrust chief, said during a speech last Friday that she’s exploring the possibility of expanding existing regulations on personal data. Although EU countries are covered by the General Data Protection Regulation, Vestager said existing rules still allow companies to utilize data “to draw conclusions about me or to undermine democracy.”

Startup Roundup:

#StartupsEverywhere. Houston, Texas. TMC Innovation, a sector of the Texas Medical Center, provides resources to healthcare startups from around the world so they can commercialize solutions to meet the needs of their member institutions. Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, recently spoke with us about the institute’s work and role in the American innovation industry.