Facebook and many other Big Tech business looking to lay off workers

Revelations 18:23:’For the merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.’

Important Takeaways:

  • Wall Street Journal: Meta is planning significant layoffs
  • The job cuts are expected to impact thousands of workers and could begin as early as this week, the Journal reported
  • Meta has a headcount of more than 87,000, according to a September SEC filing.
  • Once boasting a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion last year, Meta is now valued at about $250 billion.
  • Last week, rideshare company Lyft said it was axing 13% of employees, and payment-processing firm Stripe said it was cutting 14% of its staff. The same day, e-commerce giant Amazon said it was implementing a pause on corporate hiring.
  • Twitter made sweeping cuts across the company

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Cyber threats top agenda at White House meeting with Big Tech, finance executives

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House will ask Big Tech, the finance industry and key infrastructure companies to do more to tackle the growing cybersecurity threat to the U.S. economy in a meeting with the President Joe Biden and members of his cabinet on Wednesday.

“Cybersecurity is a matter of national security. The public and private sectors must meet this moment together, and the American people are counting on us,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Cybersecurity has risen to the top of the agenda for the Biden administration after a series of high-profile attacks on network management company SolarWinds Corp, the Colonial Pipeline company, meat processing company JBS and software firm Kaseya. The attacks hurt the United States far beyond just the companies hacked, affecting fuel and food supplies.

The guest list includes Amazon.com Inc CEO Andy Jassy, Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft Corp CEO Satya Nadella, Google’s parent Alphabet Inc CEO Sundar Pichai and IBM Chief Executive Arvind Krishna, according to two people familiar with the event.

One official said private sector executives were expected to announce commitments across key areas, including technology and staffing.

The meeting comes as Congress weighs legislation concerning data breach notification laws and cybersecurity insurance industry regulation, historically viewed as two of the most consequential policy areas within the field.

Executives for energy utility firm Southern Co and financial giant JPMorgan Chase & Co are also expected to attend the event.

The event will feature top cybersecurity officials from the Biden administration, including recently confirmed National Cybersecurity Director Chris Inglis, as well as Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, to lead different conversations with industry representatives.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Christopher Bing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Big Tech CEOs told ‘time for self-regulation is over’ by U.S. lawmakers

By Diane Bartz and Elizabeth Culliford

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before Congress on Thursday to answer questions about extremism and misinformation on their services in their first appearances since rioters assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc; and Twitter Inc CEO Jack Dorsey are testifying before the joint hearing by two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Lawmakers began the hearing by criticizing the social media platforms for their role in the riot and in the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, as well as concerns about children’s mental health.

“You failed to meaningfully change after your platform has played a role in fomenting insurrection and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties,” said Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce committee.

“Your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable,” he added.

Some lawmakers are calling for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online platforms from liability over user content, to be scrapped or rejigged. There are several pieces of legislation from Democrats to reform Section 230 that are doing the rounds in Congress, though progress has been slow. Several Republican lawmakers have also been pushing separately to scrap the law entirely.

In written testimony released on Wednesday, Facebook argued that Section 230 should be redone to allow companies immunity from liability for what users put on their platforms only if they follow best practices for removing damaging material.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg said polarization in the country was not the fault of social media: “I believe that the division we see today is primarily the result of a political and media environment that drives Americans apart.”

Republicans on the panel also criticized the tech giants for what they see as efforts to stifle conservative voices.

Former President Donald Trump was banned by Twitter over inciting violence around Jan. 6, while Facebook has asked its independent oversight board to rule on whether to bar him permanently. He is still suspended from YouTube.

The three CEOs have all appeared in front of Congress before, with Facebook’s Zuckerberg clocking up seven appearances since 2018.

Lawmakers’ scrutiny of misinformation on major online platforms intensified after U.S. intelligence agencies said Russia used them to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Lisa Shumaker)

Biden beefs up White House staff, including Big Tech critic Tim Wu

By Susan Heavey and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday rounded out his White House staff with a top adviser who has advocated for breaking up Big Tech companies along with a host of new appointments focused on COVID-19, criminal justice and the economy.

The White House announced six additional staffers to its National Economic Council, including Columbia University professor Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” and has warned against an economy dominated by a few giant firms.

Wu authored “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age” in 2018, in which he warned about the inequalities created by extreme economic concentration.

“I think breakups or undoing of mergers are actually called for more than we have appreciated in the last few decades,” Wu has said previously about Big Tech companies.

Wu served as senior enforcement counsel to the New York Attorney General and as adviser at the Federal Trade Commission and the National Economic Council.

“Putting this twitter feed on hold for now — so long!” Wu, said in a post on Friday.

His appointment is a win for progressives, who have pushed for tougher scrutiny of Big Tech firms such as Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google and is likely to shape the White House’s approach on tougher antitrust enforcement.

Google and Facebook have been sued by federal and state regulators for using their dominance to hurt rivals whereas Amazon and Apple are still under investigation.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Committee, said Wu’s appointment shows the administration is serious about promoting competition in the United States. “America has a major monopoly problem that must be urgently addressed,” she said.

Congressional Democrats have already begun talks with the White House on ways to crack down on tech companies, including holding them accountable for disinformation and addressing their market power.

Several Republicans have also sought to hit back at Big Tech, including efforts to scrap a law known as Section 230 that shields online companies for liability over users’ posted content.

In the White House statement on new staff, Biden also named 13 additions to his Domestic Policy Council and two more staffers to the White House COVID-19 response team.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Nandita Bose; Editing by Frances Kerry, Aurora Ellis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Trump says Big Tech is dividing the country

By Nandita Bose and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump blamed Big Tech companies on Tuesday for dividing the country days after Twitter and Facebook banned him on their platforms.

“I think that Big Tech is doing a horrible thing for our country and to our country, and I believe it’s going to be a catastrophic mistake for them. They’re dividing and divisive,” Trump told reporters at the start of a trip to Texas.

He said the companies had made a “terrible mistake” and that there is a “counter move” to the actions Big Tech platforms have taken without being specific about what that means.

Last week, Twitter, Facebook, Alphabet Inc-owned Google, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc took their strongest actions yet against Trump to limit his reach.

They cited the potential for continued violence stemming from the Republican president’s posts, after his supporters’ Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Apple, Google and Amazon also suspended Parler – a pro-Trump app where users have threatened more violence – from their respective app stores and Web-hosting services.

The moves enraged Trump, who immediately vowed he would “not be SILENCED!” and promised a “big announcement soon.”

Trump has repeatedly clashed with large technology companies and railed against the protections they enjoy under a law called Section 230, which protects companies from liability over content posted by users. He has continued to demand that law be repealed, even though his calls have not found enough congressional support.

He even vetoed a $740 billion defense bill that allocates military funds each year because the bill did not include language to overturn Section 230. Congress overrode the veto.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Big Tech to tangle with Washington lawmakers in antitrust showdown

By Nandita Bose and Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CEOs of four of America’s largest tech firms will testify before the U.S. Congress on Wednesday in a hearing that promises a healthy dose of political theater, while also offering a window into the thinking of lawmakers trying to rein in Big Tech.

Facebook Inc’s <FB.O> Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O>-owned Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple Inc’s <APPL.O> Tim Cook – who together represent about $5 trillion of the U.S. economy – are set to speak before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

Facebook’s and Apple’s chief executives have indicated they plan to use the specter of competition from China to push back against lawmakers seeking to rein them in.

Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline has been looking into allegations by critics that the companies have hurt competitors and consumers with their business practices and seemingly insatiable appetite for data.

The CEOs plan to defend themselves https://reut.rs/2P4lpYN by saying they themselves face competition and by pushing back against claims they are dominant, which has led to fears the hearing will bring up little new information to hold the companies accountable in the long term. https://reut.rs/2P4lpYN

In his opening remarks, Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers that China is building its “own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

Apple’s Cook will point out that the “fiercely competitive” smartphone market includes China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], which has been a focus of considerable U.S. national security concern.

The hearing marks the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, and will also be the first-ever appearance of Bezos before Congress.

“The hearing is less about substance and is designed to bring attention to Congressman Cicilline and the work the subcommittee has been doing for the past year,” said Jesse Blumenthal, who leads technology and innovation at Stand Together, a group that sides with tech companies that have come under fire from lawmakers and regulators in Washington.

The hearing will also test U.S. lawmakers’ ability to ask sharp, pointed questions that reflect an understanding of how Big Tech operates. Previous high-profile hearings involving tech companies have exposed the somewhat limited grasp of Washington politicians of how the internet and technology work.

It will also offer lawmakers from both parties a chance to bring up the topic of content censorship – an increasingly sore point for Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly complained of anti-conservative bias at Big Tech companies.

A detailed report with antitrust allegations against the four tech platforms and recommendations on how to tame their market power could be released by late summer or early fall by the committee, which has separately amassed 1.3 million documents from the companies, senior committee aides said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. senator introduces legislation to curb Big Tech’s ad business

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Tuesday introduced legislation that would penalize large tech companies that sell or show targeted advertisements by threatening a legal immunity enjoyed by the industry – the latest onslaught on Big Tech’s business practices.

The bill, titled “Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (Bad Ads) Act,” aims to crack down on invasive data gathering by large technology companies such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google that target users based on their behavioral insights.

It does so by threatening Section 230 – part of the Communications Decency Act — that shields online businesses from lawsuits over content posted by users. The legal shield has recently come under scrutiny from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers concerned about online content moderation decisions by technology companies.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz and No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune will hold a hearing to examine the role of Section 230. The senators recently introduced legislation to reform the federal law.

In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks new regulatory oversight of tech firms’ content moderation decisions, and he backed legislation to scrap or weaken Section 230 in an attempt to regulate social media platforms.

“Big Tech’s manipulative advertising regime comes with a massive hidden price tag for consumers while providing almost no return to anyone but themselves,” said Hawley, an outspoken critic of tech companies and a prominent Trump ally. “From privacy violations to harming children to suppression of speech, the ramifications are very real.”

His recent legislation to ban federal employees from using Chinese social media app TikTok on their government-issued phones was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and will be taken up by the U.S. Senate for a vote.

Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)