With help from Cristiano Lima and John Hendel
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— Welcome, No. 46: Inauguration Day will be a monumental moment for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — and for the American tech companies racing to protect the high-stakes events from online and offline violence.
— First inauguration, next immigration: The tech world is eagerly anticipating Biden’s early overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, changes that industry hopes will strengthen American innovation and the startup economy.
— Transition wheels a-turnin’: As Trump-era Republican leaders resign from federal agencies, Washington awaits Biden’s picks for heads of the FTC and FCC.
HAPPY (READ: SAFE) INAUGURATION DAY, AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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TECH’S INAUGURATION LIKE NO OTHER — If you’d told me almost a year ago — as I packed up odds and ends from my desk at POLITICO, expecting to return in just a week or two — that I (and most of the country) would be watching our 59th presidential inauguration over Wi-Fi, via livestreams, in pajamas, without Donald Trump narrating the day’s events on Twitter using SPORADIC CAPITALIZATION of Nouns and Adjectives, I wouldn’t have believed it. But as the global pandemic spirals, and the threat of violence looms over the Capitol, here we are.
— Grab your computer, pop open your apps: The day kicks off with Biden and Harris’ swearing in at the Capitol building and continues this afternoon with a virtual “Parade Across America.” (And that’s not nearly all.) You can stream the festivities online here; through social media via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Twitch; and on Amazon Prime Video or Microsoft Bing. Yes, it’s a big day for the tech giants.
— And the platforms are on high alert: Online extremists could ignore calls for calm around the inauguration. Twitter is working with the FBI, DHS and other law enforcement officials to monitor and respond to potential threats, including ramping up enforcement on posts that could incite real-life harm. Facebook has blocked new event listings near the Capitol and banned ads for weapon-related accessories. The social network’s suspension of Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as its pause on political advertising, also remain in place.
And YouTube, which last Tuesday suspended Trump’s channel for a “minimum” of seven days but has not permanently booted him, has indicated that the restrictions will be extended beyond today. Spokesperson Alex Joseph said “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, the Donald J. Trump channel will be prevented from uploading new videos or livestreams for an additional minimum of seven days.” The #StopHateForProfit coalition, which last summer organized a major boycott of advertising on Facebook to protest its content moderation practices, is threatening a new ad boycott of Facebook and YouTube if the platforms do not make their temporary suspensions of Trump permanent by today.
— Today’s transfer of power will also include a transfer of accounts: Official White House Twitter accounts including @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, @VP, @FLOTUS and @PressSec are changing hands. Twitter has thoroughly detailed how that’ll go down — a process that Biden’s Digital Director Rob Flaherty has dismissed as “absolutely, profoundly insufficient.” He has taken issue in particular with the fact that Twitter will not automatically transfer current followers of those handles to the new administration.
— But before that Twitter transfer: Trump, who refused to attend today’s events in Washington, on Tuesday afternoon shared a farewell address through the White House Twitter account (which he has used sparingly to communicate since being permanently booted). Without naming names, he ruminated on the importance of upholding free speech and on the dangers of cancel culture. “Only if we forget who we are, and how we got here, could we ever allow political censorship and blacklisting to take place in America,” Trump said in the video. “It’s not even thinkable. Shutting down free and open debate violates our core values and most enduring traditions.”
AFTER BEING SWORN IN: FIRST THINGS FIRST — Among Biden’s priorities for his first days in office, he is planning to sign several executive orders and drop a sweeping immigration reform bill that the tech world is watching closely. Though many specifics remain to be seen — the measures are expected to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as part of a broader overhaul of the U.S. immigration system — the tech industry and consumer and civil rights advocates are calling on the Biden-Harris team to heed their concerns.
— TechNet, the Information Technology Industry Council and a dozen of its member companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle signed on to a National Immigration Forum letter Tuesday calling on Congress and the new administration to move fast on this. They’ve argued that comprehensive immigration reform (like improved visa programs for high-skilled workers) will be paramount for innovation in the U.S. and the success of startups.
AS THE INAUGURATION FESTIVITIES GO DOWN — We may well (finally) hear who will become acting heads of the FCC and FTC. Biden’s team will need to name the interim agency leaders today to pick up the baton as Trump-era Republican leaders resign, as we reported in Monday’s MT. Speaking of…
FTC CHAIR STEPS DOWN — Republican FTC Chair Joe Simons — whose term doesn’t expire until 2024 — announced plans to leave next Friday, which means Biden can “name a new commissioner and give Democrats a majority,” Leah reports. Here’s her look-back at Simons’ time as head of the commission.
— Plus: Tuesday was the last day for outgoing DOJ antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim. Here are some parting thoughts.
— And Iancu bids adieu: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Andrei Iancu also said goodbye on Tuesday. “America’s IP system is a crown jewel, a gold standard,” he wrote to staff in an email. “You are its guardians. What you do here enables the greatest minds in the world to create and bring to market the tools that improve the human condition. It is hard to imagine a more consequential mission.”
ON CHINA — Biden tapped former aide and Asia expert Ely Ratner to be the incoming Pentagon chief’s principal adviser on China, my colleague Lara Seligman reports. He’s expected to shape China policy at a time when all eyes are on how Biden will toe the line between repairing ties with Beijing while going tough on its government — and the extent to which Biden will continue Trump’s targeting of Chinese-owned tech, telecom and social media companies, like TikTok and WeChat.
— Separate but related: The State Department’s declaration Tuesday that China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims constitutes genocide could prompt even more scrutiny of American tech giants that have been accused of using forced labor by the ethnic minority.
AS PAI LEAVES, A FINAL BROADBAND VICTORY LAP — The FCC on Tuesday released its annual report on broadband deployment, finding again that broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. “In just three years, the number of American consumers living in areas without access to fixed broadband at 25/3 Mbps has been nearly cut in half,” said GOP chief Ajit Pai, who is stepping down today.
— But millions of Americans still lack broadband, as the report shows — more than 14 million lacked these 25/3 Mbps speeds by the end of 2019, for example — prompting dissent from both of the FCC’s Democratic commissioners, who questioned its findings. Geoffrey Starks noted that they had asked Pai to withdraw the report: “After the election in November, congressional leaders wrote to Chairman Pai to demand that the Commission stop work on all partisan and controversial items during the presidential transition,” Starks said Tuesday. “This item is both.”
CHARTER WITHDRAWS PETITION TO SUNSET MERGER CONDITIONS — The FCC on Tuesday issued a notice announcing that cable operator Charter Communications has yanked back its June petition asking to sunset two of the conditions hitched to the 2016 order approving its merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Those now, as before, will expire in May 2023.
— The two conditions required Charter to freely interconnect with edge providers and prevented the imposition of data caps, although the former was already killed by a court ruling this summer. Charter offered no explanation for the withdrawal in its letter.
LATEST ON LIGADO: With hours to go in the Trump era, the FCC on Tuesday night shot down an executive branch attempt to halt the agency’s April sign-off of a controversial 5G plan from satellite company Ligado Networks, John reports.
Business Roundtable announced its 2021 board of directors: Apple CEO Tim Cook joined as chair of the organization’s immigration committee, and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and PayPal CEO Dan Schulman as at-large members. … Greg Watson, a former policy advisor to the U.S. chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has joined FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr’s office as policy advisor. … Sri Srinivasan, a former Cisco and Microsoft executive, has joined the cloud-based subscription management provider Zuora as chief product and engineering officer. … Evan Swarztrauber, Pai’s policy advisor, is leaving the FCC. … Mahsau Daee, former director of communications and strategic operations for the Internet Association, has joined TikTok’s policy and safety communications team. … Ed Britan has joined Salesforce as head of global privacy.
Here are the winners of the Future of Privacy Forum’s annual Privacy Papers for Policymakers Award. … The Justice Department will participate in the Stanford University CodeX Center’s Computational Antitrust Project examining “how technology and automation can improve antitrust enforcement.”
Eyeballs watching emoji: “Through an obscure startup named Rebellion Defense, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt attempts to buy his way into the Biden White House,” The American Prospect reports.
Trump’s Twitter insults: A compilation of them all, from 2015 to 2021, via NYT.
Across the pond: The CEOs of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon will soon be called to testify at a European Parliament hearing “on digital economy issues relating to competition and tax,” POLITICO reports.
At the eleventh hour: “Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order aimed at preventing hackers from using U.S. cloud providers to launch cyberattacks, a directive that could restrict the foreign operations of companies like Amazon and Microsoft,” POLITICO reports.
And a last-minute lawsuit: The Center for Democracy & Technology is suing DHS over its failure to address the organization’s Freedom of Information Act requests on how the department uses information gathered on social media in its immigration work.
This DOJ headline says it all: “Jeffrey Lowe and Tiger King LLC ordered to relinquish big cat cubs to United States for placement in suitable facilities.”
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