Hillicon Valley: Justices deal blow to Apple over App Store lawsuit | Twitter apologizes for sharing users' location data | Dems turn focus to rural broadband | Activists protest Palantir's work with ICE
Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.
Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).
SCOTUS TAKES A BITE OUT OF APPLE: The Supreme Court on Monday said that iPhone users can proceed with a class-action lawsuit against Apple over its control of app sales in a ruling that could threaten the company’s exclusive marketplace of third-party software.
A group of consumers had sued Apple, claiming that the company’s monopoly over its App Store led to inflated app prices. Apple disputed the legality of the suit, arguing the consumers had no standing to sue the company because it merely operated the App Store as an intermediary between users and the developers who make and sell apps.
The twist: Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMichael Bennet must find a way to stand out in the crowd Michael Bennet a welcome addition to the 2020 Democratic field Suspense builds for Supreme Court moves on abortion, LGBT cases MORE wrote the opinion for the 5-4 decision, surprising many by breaking with his conservative colleagues and siding with the court’s liberal justices.
The Supreme Court had ruled in 1977 in a case called Illinois Brick that only “direct purchasers” of products have standing to bring antitrust lawsuits. In his decision, Kavanaugh rejected Apple’s argument that it was the app developers, and not the company operating the App Store, that sold the programs directly to users.
“Apple’s theory would provide a roadmap for monopolistic retailers to structure transactions with manufacturers or suppliers so as to evade antitrust claims by consumers and thereby thwart effective antitrust enforcement,” Kavanaugh wrote.
The dissenters: Leading the dissent for the four conservatives was Justice Neil Gorsuch — who, like Kavanaugh, is a Trump appointee. Gorsuch argued that if Apple’s App Store practices are indeed monopolistic, than it would be the app developers who are harmed and have standing to sue and not the consumers. Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
Apple’s response: Apple in a statement denied that the App Store was a monopoly.
“Today’s decision means plaintiffs can proceed with their case in District court. We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric,” the company said in a statement to The Hill.
“The vast majority of apps on the App Store are free and Apple gets nothing from them,” the company added. “The only instance where Apple shares in revenue is if the developer chooses to sell digital services through the App Store.”
Why Silicon Valley is taking notice: The decision comes as Apple and other tech companies face growing antitrust scrutiny over the way they operate their platforms. The high court provided a rare win for antitrust reformers, who see large tech companies as a unique threat to competition and consumers.
Read more on the decision and what’s next here.
APOLOGY TWEET: Twitter apologized Monday for inadvertently collecting and sharing the location data of users with a “trusted partner” of the company, adding that the issue had been fixed and they are “working hard to make sure it does not happen again.”
“You trust us to be careful with your data, and because of that, we want to be open with you when we make a mistake,” Twitter wrote in a statement. “We have discovered that we were inadvertently collecting and sharing iOS location data with one of our trusted partners in certain circumstances.”
Specifically, Twitter announced that it had unintentionally collected the location data of iOS users that had more than one account and had opted to use a location feature on one of these accounts. Twitter said in some cases, it may have collected the location information for an account not authorized for location features if the user was on the same device for both accounts.
Read more here.
DEMS TAKE ON DIGITAL DIVIDE: House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Monday announced the creation of an all-Democrat task force on rural broadband, signaling his support for the inclusion of broadband funding in any infrastructure package.
The move comes as Democratic leaders pursue a potential $2 trillion infrastructure deal with President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules Authorities investigating shooting near Trump resort in Florida Trump: ‘China is dreaming’ Biden, other Dems get elected MORE, with both sides saying rural broadband would likely be included.
“It’s unacceptable in 2019 that many rural communities have limited to no access to the internet,” Clyburn said in a statement. “If rural America is to thrive in the 21st century information economy, it must have affordable and accessible internet service to every community.”
The group of 17 House Democrats aims to ensure federal funding for rural broadband is spent “effectively” and that legislation is passed to expand internet access to all Americans by 2025, according to a statement about the new coalition. Its members include lawmakers representing rural districts, as well as some progressive leaders like Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDems push to revive Congress’ tech office Co-founder’s call to break up Facebook energizes its critics Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump’s Yemen veto MORE (D-Calif.).
“Majority Whip Clyburn and the President agreed on the need to include significant funding for rural broadband in the package,” the statement reads.
Why now: Trump is slated to meet with Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump lashes out at Dem talk of ‘constitutional crisis’ Dems warn of ‘constitutional crisis’ but wary of impeachment 2020 hopeful Kamala Harris says US faces constitutional crisis MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer urging Pompeo to warn Putin of consequences if Russia interferes in election Call Trump’s tax cut what it was: Keynesian Trump will ‘hang tough’ on China, political fallout be damned MORE in the coming weeks to hammer out more details on the potential infrastructure deal after both parties emerged optimistic from a meeting last month.
The deal has already hit some roadblocks in Congress as members of the GOP raise concerns over how to pay for the expansive package, saying they do not support a tax increase.
There is a bipartisan House Rural Broadband Caucus, which last year urged the president to included dedicated broadband funding in any infrastructure deal before the White House released its own infrastructure plan. The coalition of 71 members called investments in high-speed Internet “essential.”
All three Democratic co-chairs of the Rural Broadband Caucus are on Clyburn’s new task force. A Clyburn spokesperson told The Hill that the Democrats see the task force as “complementary,” aiming to elevate the issue of rural broadband within the Democratic caucus and inside the Democratic leadership, according to the spokesperson.
Read more here.
FACEBOOK RAISES WAGES FOR CONTENT MODERATORS: Facebook on Monday announced that it will increase wages and offer more counseling to its thousands of content moderators in the U.S., most of whom are contract workers who have complained of unfair working conditions.
The embattled tech giant in a blog post said it is rolling out the reforms after hearing from content moderators and heeding advice from psychologists on its “global resiliency team.”
Facebook said it will pay at least $22 per hour to content moderators in the San Francisco area, New York City and Washington, D.C.; $20 per hour to content moderators in Seattle; and $18 per hour for those in all other U.S. metro areas.
It is also adding “preferences” that allow content moderators to customize how they see certain content — for example, they will now be allowed to blur out graphic images by default before reviewing them.
“We made these changes after hearing feedback that reviewers want more control over how they see content that can be challenging,” Janelle Gale, Facebook’s vice president of scaled operations, said in the post.
The company will also require Facebook’s content moderators to have access to counselors on-site at all hours, rather than during certain parts of their shifts.
Read more on changes for all Facebook contractors here.
BRING IT BACK! House Democrats are pushing to revive funding for a nonpartisan agency intended to better inform lawmakers about technology.
At issue is the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was created by Congress in 1972 but closed its doors in 1995 after the then GOP-controlled House cut its funding.
The agency provided lawmakers and staffers with expertise on science and technology issues relevant to legislation and public policy, including the areas of intellectual property, technological change, and climate.
The debate over the agency is back in the spotlight after a House Appropriations subcommittee voted on Thursday to designate $6 million to the agency for “necessary expenses” in the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for fiscal 2020.
Democrats say there is a new urgency for the agency, as lawmakers tackle a host of complicated technology issues. But Republicans are wary of reopening the agency, arguing that other departments can carry out those tasks without “duplication.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanDems push to revive Congress’ tech office Michael Bennet must find a way to stand out in the crowd Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Cotton all to appear on ‘The View’ next week MORE (D-Ohio), the chairman of the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee and a 2020 candidate, told The Hill that Ryan received requests from almost 50 House Democrats to fund the OTA, but none from any Republicans.
House Democrats have been pushing their case to bring back the OTA.
We’ve got more on the debate here.
PALAN-TEAR: Tech activists have engaged in a multiday protest of tech software company Palantir’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following revelations that the company’s products helped facilitate the arrests of over 400 immigrants.
Github protest: The protests kicked off on Saturday as participants flooded Palantir’s software development page — on Github, a source code management platform — with messages calling on the company’s workers to “take a principled stand” and “refuse to work on projects that support ICE.”
The digital protest offered a new frontier for the burgeoning tech activist movement, as workers used tools made to improve communication among software developers to spread their message.
The hundreds of anti-ICE messages were removed within hours on Saturday.
Protests outside Palantir: And on Monday, groups of tech activists stood outside of Palantir’s New York City and Washington, D.C., offices, passing out flyers and confronting workers about the company’s ties to ICE.
“Even if you don’t work on projects supporting ICE, your company produces software that has directly enabled ICE to deport families,” the flyers read. “Ask yourself if the good your project does outweighs the harm caused by these deportations. Talk to your coworkers about whether they’re okay with the collaboration between Palantir and ICE.”
The context: Documents obtained by activist group Mijente this month showed Palantir software was used to target and identify the families of unaccompanied children crossing the border in 2017.
Palantir had previously claimed that its $38 million contract with ICE did not aid the agency’s work deporting and detaining immigrants, saying it was used to aid ICE’s broader criminal enforcement efforts.
The documents obtained by Mijente and reported by The Intercept showed Palantir software was used to target the parents of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in a 2017 ICE program described as a precursor to the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy last summer.
Over 440 immigrants without legal status were targeted as part of operation, leading to 35 criminal arrests, according to The Intercept.
ICE responds: ICE in a statement said the 2017 program was aimed at targeting “human smuggling facilitators,” noting that it resulted in 35 criminal arrests and 38 prosecutions accepted on charges including “alien smuggling and re-entry of removed aliens.”
“ICE conducted a surge initiative focused on the identification and arrest of individuals involved in illicit human smuggling operations, to include sponsors who have paid criminal organizations to smuggle children into the United States,” the agency said.
Palantir did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT…The reaction some parents may have had after watching Game of Thrones.
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Broadband infrastructure should be a national priority for policymakers.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Insert ‘Oopsies’ right here.
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
The broad implications if Cisco routers are attacked by hackers. (Wired)
Chinese owners of Grindr must sell App by 2020 because of US agreement. (Bloomberg)
SIM swapping ring allegedly includes AT&T contractors, Verizon employee. (Vice News)
How to opt out of facial recognition screening at airports. (Tech Crunch)