Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches ‘News Tab’ | Senate passes bill to take on ‘deepfakes’ | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).


READ ALL ABOUT IT: Facebook on Friday announced the launch of a news tab for the platform, which will aggregate and highlight the top stories of the day.

The launch of the “news tab” comes as Facebook faces intense heat over whether its dominance in digital advertising has stifled the ability for newsrooms across the country to grow and retain readers.

“Today we’re starting to test Facebook News, a dedicated place for news on Facebook, to a subset of people in the US,” said news product manager Mona Sarantakos and vice president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown in a statement

“News gives people more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app,” they added.

Facebook News will feature top stories curated by a team of reporters. It will also personalize the selection of stories for users based on news they interact with while using the feature so that people can easily find stories focused on business, entertainment, health and other subjects.

Users will also be allowed to link their paid news subscriptions and hide articles, topics and publishers they don’t want to see. 

In a New York Times op-ed published Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged “the internet disrupted the business model for much of the news industry.” 

“This model establishes a long-term financial partnership between publishers and Facebook for the first time,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Read more here.


SENATE PASSES DEEPFAKES BILL: The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation intended to help further understand the risks posed by “deepfake” videos, or those altered by artificial intelligence to change the meaning of the video.

The Deepfake Report Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deepfake technology that would be required to include an assessment of how both foreign governments and domestic groups are using deepfakes to harm national security.

The bipartisan bill was passed by unanimous consent and now heads to the House for consideration. A bipartisan companion bill in that chamber is awaiting markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Senate version is sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), all of whom said they were happy with Friday’s passage of the bill.

Peters, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that “with each passing day, deepfakes become easier to create and distribute, opening the door for bad actors to sow discord and mislead thousands with just the click of a button.”

Read more here. 


ELECTRIC FUTURE: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined his vision for boosting the number of electric vehicles on the road, hoping the U.S. will have an all-electric fleet by 2040.

In a Thursday op-ed in The New York Times, Schumer outlined his plan, offering steep discounts for buyers that trade in a gas-powered car for an electric one. The assistance would be even greater for low-income customers. 

“Isn’t the transition to electric vehicles already happening?” Schumer wrote. “Yes, but it is progressing too slowly. Transportation still accounts for nearly one-third of America’s carbon output. Even though many American automakers are preparing for an all-electric future, electric vehicles are still too expensive for too many Americans, and our country lacks sufficient battery-charging infrastructure.”

His plan also calls for grants to help states build charging stations across the country, with a focus on low-income and rural areas. 

While Schumer doesn’t spell out what form the assistance for electric vehicle purchases would take, the article does say it would only apply to American-made cars. He estimates that assistance along with the investment in charging stations and a program to help automakers shift their factories, would require $454 billion over 10 years.

Transportation is the largest sector of carbon pollution in the U.S., according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, surpassing greenhouse gas emissions from both power plants and industry. 

Read more here. 


STEP RIGHT UP OHIO: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Friday signed into law legislation that will increase cyber protections for election systems and enhance the overall cybersecurity posture of the state. 

The legislation, which had bipartisan support, requires post-election audits by county boards of elections to ensure the accuracy of the vote count, while also creating a “civilian cyber security reserve” that can be called into duty to protect state and local government entities against cyberattacks, including those involving elections and those against critical infrastructure 

The bill gives the Ohio secretary of state a seat on the Ohio Homeland Security Advisory Council and creates a chief information security officer position within the secretary of state’s office to increase attention on election security issues. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), the top election official in the state, said in a statement on Friday that the legislation will give local officials “the support they need” to combat foreign cyber threats.

“Imagine looking out the window and seeing foreign paratroopers parachuting into your town,” LaRose said. “We wouldn’t tell a community, ‘you’re on your own – your sheriff department can fight off that threat.’ Well likewise, in the online world, we can now respond with Ohio’s best cyber warriors so these counties and cities have the support they need.”

Read more here. 


GET SMART:  Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in letters to Amazon and Google this week raised concerns that smart speakers are “eavesdropping” on customers without their consent. 

In a pair of letters on Thursday, Dingell pressed Amazon executive Jeff Bezos and Google CEO Sundar Pichai over how they vet applications running on Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

“These smart speakers and the advancement of speech recognition technology represent an incredible convenience for consumers, allowing them to bypass screens and for those with physical disabilities to access the internet like everyone else,” Dingell wrote in the letters.

“But the same feature that contributes to that convenience, not having a screen, also eliminates an important feedback loop for consumers to understand how these applications are performing and puts your company in an even greater position to look after consumers well-being,” she wrote.

Her letter comes in response to research from SRLabs that found hackers could take advantage of Google and Amazon smart speakers to eavesdrop or steal passwords from users. The researchers uploaded malicious software to the smart speakers, successfully getting them to obtain recordings. 

There is no evidence that the vulnerability has been exploited by real-world hackers.

Amazon and Google did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: “Tweet from staff” 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Congress must confront online extremism



Rep. Lieu demands answers on White House cyber departures (Axios) 

Inside an algorithm that could decide whether you get your next job (The Washington Post)

Facebook axed pro-vaccine ads, let anti-vaxxer conspiracies slip through. (The Daily Beast)

The FCC is using streaming services as an excuse to raise cable rates. (The Verge) 

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