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USTR TAKES ON FRENCH DIGITAL TAX: The U.S. Trade Representative on Monday said that it has determined that France’s digital services tax discriminates against U.S. companies, and is proposing tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion of French products.
“USTR’s decision today sends a clear signal that the United States will take action against digital tax regimes that discriminate or otherwise impose undue burdens on U.S. companies,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a news release.
USTR in July announced an investigation into the French digital services tax, in order to determine whether it’s unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens U.S. commerce. The investigation took place under section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, the same section that Trump has used to justify tariffs on Chinese goods.
USTR announced last week that it would be issuing its findings in its investigation Monday, after a 90-day deadline for negotiations between the U.S. and France expired.
The context: French President Emmanuel Macron signed legislation in July to establish a 3-percent tax on large companies’ revenues from digital services. The tax applies retroactively to Jan. 1.
The tax has drawn criticism from major U.S. tech companies — such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — as well as from policymakers on both sides of the aisle, who argue that the law is targeting American businesses.
USTR says: In a report issued Monday, USTR said that the French tax was intended to discriminate against U.S. tech companies, features of the tax make it particularly burdensome for U.S. businesses, and the tax’s application to a small group of companies conflicts with international tax principles.
Tech reacts: Silicon Valley largely applauded the USTR’s conclusion on Monday night, deriding the French proposal as an effort to harm the world’s largest tech companies, most of which are based in the U.S.
“Today USTR is defending the internet, which is a great American export,” said Jordan Hass, director of trade policy for the Internet Association, an industry group that represents Amazon, Google, Facebook and other Internet companies. “Discriminatory digital services taxes act as a trade barrier for innovative American companies and small businesses often face the biggest burden from them.”
The U.S. and France are continuing to work together through the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organization, on international tax rules. The OECD is aiming to come up with a solution to tax challenges of the digital economy by the end of next year.
The industry has largely thrown its support behind the OECD process. “Once again, we respectfully urge the United States, France, and all participating governments to focus on a successful and lasting tax policy resolution at the OECD,” Jennifer McCloskey, vice president of policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, said in a statement.
OH SNAP FACEAPP: The FBI has classified FaceApp as a counterintelligence threat due to its ties to Russia, with the FBI emphasizing that it will take action if it assesses the face-editing app is involved in election interference efforts.
In a letter sent to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Nov. 25 that was made public on Monday, Jill Tyson, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs, wrote that given that the company that develops FaceApp is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, certain intelligence concerns were raised.
In classifying FaceApp as a threat, Tyson pointed to the ability of the Russian Federal Security Service to “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to [internet service providers].”
FaceApp involves the use of consumer data, including the uploading of a photo to manipulate. Tyson wrote that FaceApp uploads these photos to cloud servers in the United States, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and that the organization has previously claimed that it deletes photos from its servers within 48 hours of them being uploaded.
Due to concerns around Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections in 2016, Tyson emphasized that if FaceApp was found to be interfering with future U.S. elections in any way, the agency would take action.
TWEETING UNDER THE LAW: Twitter on Monday announced that it is revamping its policies around the world to comply with online privacy laws in California and the European Union, a complicated process that will leave some users with more safeguards around their personal information than others.
For most users around the world, Twitter is tweaking its policies to better comply with the incoming California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a tough set of privacy protections that goes into effect in January 2020. The controversial California law requires tech companies like Twitter to share information about what they know about users and offer users more opportunities to see and delete the data that tech companies have collected about them.
But Twitter will hold users in the European Union (EU) to a different privacy standard, the Twitter standard. The Twitter International Company will provide services to users in the EU, while Twitter Inc. — a separate entity based in San Francisco — will handle the accounts of users in other countries and the U.S.
Previously, the Dublin, Ireland-based Twitter International Company provided services to all Twitter users outside of the U.S. But now, in order to ensure that Twitter does not have to comply with European privacy rules all around the world, it will place those users under the U.S.-based Twitter Inc.’s jurisdiction.
In its policy update on Monday, Twitter said it hopes to “test features and settings” globally that would not be allowed under Europe’s tough privacy rules, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company did not specify exactly what its engineers hope to test out.
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ELECTION SECURITY: House Republicans are criticizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for “sidelining” election security for impeachment.
In a letter to Pelosi, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, and Reps. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) accused Democrats of pushing the issue of election security to the corner.
“Only 337 days remain before the 2020 election and the Committee has the important duty of ensuring that states have the resources they need in order to safeguard this upcoming election,” the GOP letter stated. “This duty should not be pushed to the corner as a result of the time constraints and competing priorities imposed by the impeachment proceedings.”
The members criticized Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for directing House Administration Committee Democrats to “focus on partisan election security legislation,” with the Republican members adding that “distractions such as this are not advancing the cause of passing a bipartisan election security bill.”
The attacks by the Republicans come after Democrats have repeatedly criticized the GOP for allowing three House-passed bills on election security to languish in the Senate. All three bills passed along party lines and originated in the House Administration Committee.
Democrats have ripped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not allowing votes on the three measures. Senate Republicans argue the bills would infringe on First Amendment rights, and also have cited language in the bills not being completely focused on election security to explain their opposition.
Republicans are now casting Democrats as focused on impeachment rather than legislation that would help the country. In their letter, the GOP members asked Pelosi to lend support to congressional hearings on how social media companies are preventing election interference, election preparations undertaken by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the cybersecurity preparedness of election machine vendors and on oversight of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
FACEBOOK FIGHTS BACK: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is defending the company’s policy against removing political advertising that contains misinformation, telling CBS News that the network’s users “should be able to judge for themselves.”
“It’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg told CBS’s Gayle King in a joint interview with his wife, Priscilla Chan. “And, you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
King pressed the CEO on criticisms the policy has faced, including nearly 200 Facebook employees who wrote a letter arguing that “free speech and paid speech are not the same.”
“Well, this is a clearly a very complex issue, and a lot of people have — have a lot of different opinions,” Zuckerberg responded. “At the end of the day, I just think that in a democracy, people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”
Pressed by King on whether that still applied in cases when the ads were spreading false claims, Zuckerberg repeated, “I think that people should be able to judge for themselves the character of politicians.”
5G WARNING: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned against European countries allowing companies with Chinese links from constructing 5G networks across the continent ahead of a global technology conference.
In an op-ed for Politico Europe, Pompeo urged leaders to “put security first” when it comes to the construction of 5G networks.
“5G networks will soon touch every aspect of life, including critical infrastructure,” Pompeo wrote. “Innovative new capabilities will power autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, smart grids and other groundbreaking technologies. Thanks to the way 5G networks are built, it’s impossible to separate any one part of the network from another.”
“With so much on the line, it’s urgent that trustworthy companies build these 21st-century information arteries. Specifically, it’s critical that European countries not give control of their critical infrastructure to Chinese tech giants like Huawei, or ZTE,” the secretary continued.
Pompeo’s singling out of Huawei and ZTE come as U.S. officials have accused the two companies of allowing Chinese intelligence services to access devices manufactured by them for commercial use.
In a review of the tech giant’s advertising archives, the newsmagazine found that more than 300 video advertisements for the president had been removed, primarily during the summer, for violating policies.
When pressed during a sit-down interview on whether Trump ads had been removed, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that there were “ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube.”
She told longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl that the ads are “available in our transparency report.”
Wojcicki was also pressed about a controversial ad that has been run on Facebook by Trump’s reelection campaign.
That ad presents unfounded accusations that former Vice President Joe Biden offered military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the firing of a prosecutor that was investigating a company tied to his son Hunter. His campaign asked Facebook earlier this year to remove the ad, but the social media powerhouse denied the request.
MORE WOES FOR HUAWEI: The U.S. government is reportedly considering new measures to try to block shipments of products to the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei.
The Trump administration is considering changes to two rules that would give the U.S. more authority to hamper foreign shipments to the company, which has already been placed on a government blacklist, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The proposed changes would permit the U.S. to regulate the sale of products like cellphone chips that are made abroad with U.S. technology, according to the wire service.
It is reportedly unclear if the government was close to making a decision on whether the changes would be made or how quickly they would be implemented. Sources have told Reuters that the changes would probably only affect Huawei.
The Commerce Department added Huawei to a blacklist in May citing national security reasons. Reuters reported that the blacklisting has not succeeded in halting supplies to the firm.
SUSPENDED: Twitter has permanently suspended a campaign account belonging to Republican Danielle Stella, who is running to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) next year, following a report that her account shared lynching comments about the congresswoman.
A spokesperson for Twitter told The Hill late Wednesday that “the account was permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules.”
The Washington Times was first to report the suspension. In one tweet reported by the newspaper, Stella’s campaign account wrote that Omar “should be tried for #treason and hanged” if it was “proven @IlhanMN passed sensitive info to Iran.”
The tweet was referring to unfounded allegations that have proliferated across right-wing media outlets claiming Omar gave sensitive information to the Iranian government.
Omar has strongly denied the allegations, with a spokesperson for her office telling the Jerusalem Post this month: “Since the day she was elected, Saudi Arabian trolls and mouthpieces have targeted Omar with misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
BLACK FRIDAY WALKOUT: Six Amazon distribution centers in Germany saw employees walk out during Black Friday, BBC reports.
Employees at centers in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Koblenz, Rheinberg, Werne and Graben all took part in the walkout and are expected to be on strike all weekend.
The strike was organized by the union Verdi, which said its members’ work in the distribution centers could not be bought with “knock-down prices.”
Meanwhile in France, climate protesters descended upon the company’s French headquarters in Clichy, a city north of Paris as well as a distribution center in Bretigny-sur-Orge.
The protestors were equipped with banners with slogans such as “Stop Amazon and its world” and “Amazon: for the climate, for employment, stop expanding, stop overproduction,” according to BBC.
Kristen Kish, an Amazon spokesperson, downplayed the situation.
“Today our well-paid, dedicated and highly respected teams across Europe are doing what they do every day – delivering for their customers in an environment that’s fun, engaging and set up to help them succeed,” Kish told The Hill in a statement.
TIKTOK WALKS BACK: The video app TikTok reversed its ban on an account belonging to an American teenager who criticized China’s internment of minority Muslims, admitting that its moderation system had overstepped in shutting down her account.
“There has been significant interest and confusion regarding a user’s two TikTok accounts and her viral video talking about the Uighur community in China,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.
“We would like to apologize to the user for the error on our part this morning. In addition, we are reaching out to the user directly to inform her that we’ve decided to override the device ban in this case. Our moderation approach of banning devices associated with a banned account is designed to protect against the spread of coordinated malicious behavior — and it’s clear that this was not the intent here.”
The account, belonging to 17-year-old Feroza Aziz, was first blocked after she berated China for the mass internment of the minority Uighur community amid reports that the Muslim group was being funneled into concentration camps.
Aziz posted a video that at first appears to be a makeup tutorial. But several seconds in, Aziz begins discussing the Uighurs, saying, “Use your phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there.”
THAT SOUNDS SKETCHY: An American citizen has been accused of helping North Korea to evade U.S. sanctions, federal prosecutors in New York announced Friday.
Virgil Griffith has been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows the president to regulate foreign transactions due to threats or emergencies, according to a criminal complaint. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said that Griffith attended and presented at a cryptocurrency conference in North Korea even though he was denied permission to do so by the government because of sanctions.
Griffith also gave the country information on blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies and took part in discussions about using cryptocurrency to skirt sanctions and launder money, the complaint said.
BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AFRICA: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted Wednesday that he would be living in Africa at some point next year.
“Sad to be leaving the continent…for now,” Dorsey tweeted, adding that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!).”
“Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020,” he continued. “Grateful I was able to experience a small part.”
Dorsey, 43, was in Ethiopia this week to cap off his almost month-long tour across the continent that included stops in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, CNN reports.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Drowning in laughter
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Russia’s status as a space power will end with the start of NASA’s commercial crew
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
A Pennsylvania county’s election day nightmare underscores voting machine concerns (The New York Times)
Campus activists find a target at the intersection of immigration and technology: Palantir (NBC News)
Tinder lets known sex offenders use the app. It’s not the only one. (ProPublica)
Facebook works to make moving photos easier amid antitrust scrutiny (The New York Times)