With help from Nancy Scola and John Hendel
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— Different strokes on COVID-19: As the illness spills over into the United States, Facebook called off its in-person developer conference while Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that “China is getting the coronavirus under control.”
— Facebook on Bloomberg: Facebook’s public policy director for global elections criticized the FEC for being largely absent as the tech industry grapples with how to handle new types of political campaigning on social media — including that by 2020 hopeful Mike Bloomberg.
— FCC monthly meeting: Commissioners are (finally) voting today on how to auction off the 5G-friendly C-band airwaves.
CHEERS TO THE WEEKEND! IT’S FRIDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. LOL: Here’s Stephen Colbert and 2020 hopeful Elizabeth Warren playing a (highly entertaining) guessing game about billionaires — including Zuck and Bezos.
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TECH QUOTE DU JOUR: APPLE CEO DOWNPLAYS CORONAVIRUS — “It feels to me that China is getting the coronavirus under control,” Tim Cook told Fox Business on Thursday (the day after the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in a U.S. patient who had not contracted it from an infected area or from someone known to be infected). “You look at the numbers, they’re coming down day by day by day. So I’m very optimistic there.”
— Apple just last week reported significant financial impacts to its business due to supply chain disruptions and sales closures (earlier this month, the company shuttered stores and offices across mainland China). Yet Cook said the following on suppliers: “iPhone is built everywhere in the world; we have key parts coming from the United States, we have key parts that are in China. … When you look at the parts that are done in China, we have reopened factories.” He added, “I think of this as sort of a third phase of getting back to normal.”
A DIFFERENT TUNE AT FACEBOOK — The social network announced Thursday that it was canceling the in-person F8 Facebook Developer Conference in California this May, “given the growing concerns around COVID-19,” Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of platform partnership, said in a blog post. “We need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on.” In lieu of the in-person festivities, Facebook said it was organizing local events and livestreamed content (more on that in the coming weeks).
FACEBOOK EXEC: WHERE ARE THE REGULATORS ON BLOOMBERG? — Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director for global elections, was asked Thursday at a conference in D.C. how the company is handling Bloomberg’s paying of influencers and others to post supportive messages on social media — a testing of boundaries to which platforms like Facebook have scrambled to adapt.
— Facebook has made changes to adjust to the Bloomberg effect, such as calling on the campaign to make clear these are compensated posts, Harbath said. But she argued that companies like hers could really use an assist from policymakers.
“We can share the lessons we’re learning from having to think through these things right now. But the last time the FEC ruled on this type of paid partnership was back in 2006 when it was about blogging,” Harbath said. “There are always new things, like this branded content work, that we’re having to rethink, and think about, ‘What should the policies be around here?’ — because there’s no one else helping us to think about how we need to do that.”
— Remember: The FEC has lost its quorum, and thus hasn’t been able to pass new rules, since August. And as Harbath suggests, it wasn’t especially active on the digital front even before that happened.
— And speaking of candidates’ novel uses of social media: “The Pete Buttigieg campaign is deploying any army of Twitter volunteers to ‘digitally door-knock’ likely supporters ahead of the important Super Tuesday primaries next week,” The Verge reported.
FCC TO VOTE ON 5G AUCTION SET-UP — FCC commissioners will finally vote today on an issue that has been embroiling it for months: how to set up its December auction of 5G-friendly C-band airwaves. That has become a messy process given the pushback Chairman Ajit Pai’s draft has received from lawmakers, the satellite industry incumbents holding the spectrum, and commission Democrats eager for congressional guidance. One apparent supporter: President Donald Trump, according to Vice President Mike Pence.
— The draft would set aside $9.7 billion to persuade the satellite providers to sell their spectrum, but key players like Intelsat have pushed Pai to revise his proposal in a bid for a greater share of the money. Still, an advocacy group affiliated with the satellite companies has touted national security support for the plan.
— Some lawmakers still want to legislate an alternative auction set-up, which would give satellite players less money and explicitly reserve some auction revenue for rural broadband. Although Senate Commerce Democrats and appropriator John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) are promoting one legislative alternative, House counterparts have yet to reach any deal. “We’re still negotiating,” House E&C telecom subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) told John on Thursday. Panel ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) affirmed that “we’re not there yet.”
— Also on the agenda: The FCC is poised to advance an item aimed at opening the TV white spaces between broadcast channels, without any of the contention that has greeted the other proceeding. Microsoft in particular has pushed for opening up these airwaves for rural broadband.
AND: GEOLOCATION DRAMA — Multiple reports suggest the FCC may propose hefty fines for AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint for sharing consumer geolocation data without their consent (some of which wound up in the hands of people like bounty hunters). As John reported earlier, the FCC has been circulating four enforcement actions in response to the probe, making those four nationwide carriers the likely targets. (All four say they have ended the practice). Although Pai has yet to unveil details, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) responded to the reports by deriding the penalties as “a set of comically inadequate fines that won’t stop phone companies from abusing Americans’ privacy the next time they can make a quick buck.”
(Major) 2020 chatter: “Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has made overtures to Democrat Andrew Yang, courting the former candidate’s endorsement and floating the possibility of Mr. Yang becoming his running mate,” WSJ reports. “Mr. Yang, who dropped out of the race earlier this month, didn’t commit to join forces, as he considers his own political future.”
Did someone say Bloomberg? Facebook said Thursday it “will provide a way for people to track political sponsored content on Facebook and Instagram ahead of the U.S. presidential election,” Reuters reports.
On the president’s desk: “The Senate unanimously voted Thursday to pay rural telecom carriers $1 billion to rip and replace any gear in their networks from Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE,” John reports. (The Senate action sends the legislation to President Donald Trump for his signature.)
3,200: The number (at least) of Amazon delivery drivers who will be laid off this spring, according to BuzzFeed News.
Plus: Amazon “barred more than 1 million products from sale in recent weeks that had inaccurately claimed to cure or defend against the coronavirus,” Reuters reports.
Amazon footnote: Four of the nation’s biggest labor unions are calling on the FTC to investigate the tech giant’s impact on American workers, merchants and consumers, Leah reports for Pros.
Clearview chaos, continued: A BuzzFeed News review of Clearview AI’s facial recognition client list “has revealed the company is working with more than 2,200 law enforcement agencies, companies, and individuals around the world” — including ICE, Macy’s and the NBA.
Podcast OTD: The latest episode of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s “Broadband Conversations” podcast features Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). Listen through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play or the FCC.
McCarthy says: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pressed the FCC to hold a field hearing in Kern County, Calif., “to explore challenges related to ensuring wireless network operability during wildfires.” (The FCC’s answer: Yes.)
Senate snail mail: In response to a Protocol investigation, more than a dozen senators are demanding answers from Zuckerberg on Facebook gun sales.
Need something for this headache: A Gizmodo investigation found that GoodRx, an app that helps users find prescriptions they need, shares data about individuals’ specific prescriptions with third parties.
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