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INTO THE LION’S DEN: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to woo some of his top critics in Washington during a string of Capitol Hill meetings on Thursday, underlining how seriously the tech executive is taking the intensifying government scrutiny of his company.
Zuckerberg’s meetings with Republican senators on Thursday and sit-down with Democrats the day before marked his first return to the halls of Congress since he testified in widely publicized hearings in April 2018.
In closed-door meetings with influential senators, Zuckerberg defended his company against accusations that it has amassed too much power, censored conservative voices and failed to adequately protect against election interference on the platform.
According to a Facebook spokesperson, Zuckerberg came to town to discuss “future internet regulation.” According to lawmakers and their offices, the meetings ultimately addressed everything from data privacy to conservative bias, with Zuckerberg in the hot seat.
Powwow with Dems: On Wednesday night, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) arranged a swanky dinner for Democrats and Zuckerberg at Facebook’s request.
During the meal, which included Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), lawmakers pressed Zuckerberg over the “role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data, and encourage competition in the social media space,” according to a Warner spokesperson.
“Good dinner last night with my colleagues and Mark Zuckerberg,” Warner tweeted. “There is a long road ahead of us but I appreciate his candor, and that he took our concerns seriously. Hope we can work together to address these challenges.”
One hitch: But Zuckerberg’s seemingly smooth tour hit a snag on Thursday after he sat down with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) for over an hour in the senator’s office.
After the huddle, Hawley convened a press gaggle, telling reporters he had asked Zuckerberg to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp to “prove” that he is committed to privacy.
“I said to him, ‘Prove that you’re serious about data — sell WhatsApp and Instagram,'” Hawley told reporters in a press gaggle after the sit-down with Zuckerberg, which lasted for over an hour. “That’s what they should do.”
Hawley added that Zuckerberg seemed taken aback by his suggestions and was “not receptive.”
MAYBE THEY COULD SAVE THE AMAZON? Amazon on Thursday announced a sweeping new pledge to take on climate change amid intensifying pressure from thousands of its employees worldwide.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world — announced his company is committing to carbon neutrality by 2040 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, hitting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule.
Bezos said he intends to recruit the CEOs of other large corporations to get on board with the plan.
“We can make the argument — and we plan to do so passionately — that if we can do this, anyone can do this,” Bezos said.
As part of the so-called climate pledge, Amazon is ordering 100,000 electric vehicles to hit the roads by 2024 and investing $100 million in global reforestation projects.
The company also said it would launch a new website to report progress on its commitments.
On Friday, more than 1,000 Amazon employees are set to strike against their employer as part of the Global Climate Strike, a worldwide campaign to rally around the issue of climate change.
Amazon employees have led extensive efforts to push their larger-than-life company to commit extensive resources to becoming greener and more sustainable.
Activists heading Friday’s efforts have been urging Amazon to commit to cutting ties with the fossil fuel industry, a demand that Bezos on Thursday said he does not agree with.
“No, I don’t agree with the idea that we should not give sophisticated tools to energy companies,” Bezos said, responding to a question about whether Amazon’s cloud-computing arm will continue offering its services to oil and gas companies. “I think we should and we need to help them instead of vilify them.”
ELECTION SECURITY FUNDING MOVES FORWARD: The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved $250 million to help states improve election security as part of the annual 2020 financial services and general government funding bill.
The funding was the result of a bipartisan amendment to the bill primarily sponsored by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.).
The overall bill with the amendment included was approved unanimously by the committee. The election security funding amendment includes a clause that requires states to provide a 5 percent match to the federal funds within two years to increase election security.
The funds will be given to the states by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which has 45 days after the overall funding bill is signed into law to distribute the money.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has blocked the majority of election security efforts in the Senate, citing concerns they could cause elections to be federalized, also co-sponsored the amendment.
McConnell announced the measure ahead of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s markup of the spending bill on Thursday, noting he was “proud” to co-sponsor the funds.
“The Trump administration has made enormous strides to help states security their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around,” McConnell said. “That’s how we continued the progress we saw in 2018, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Senate Democrats have stepped up pressure on McConnell to address election security issues in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller‘s testimony in July that he expected the Russians to interfere in the U.S. elections in 2020. Democrats led a “day of action” earlier this week.
Mueller found in his report that Russian actors pursued a sustained campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through both hacking and social media disinformation operations.
LIGHTER CLICK: Everyone loves to get fan mail.
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The ‘trust busters’ versus Google.
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Google, Facebook cozy up to publishers as regulators circle. (The Wall Street Journal)
Huawei confirms the new Mate 30 Pro won’t come with Google’s Android apps. (The Verge)
Facebook and Google have ad trackers on your streaming TV, studies find. (Ars Technica)