Daily Digest (7/30)

Lawmakers Hit Facebook, Google Hard in Rare Hearing With Big Tech CEOs; Sen. Josh Hawley Introduces Bill to Curb Personalized Online Ads; US Judge Dismisses Part of Restaurant Group’s Data-Breach Suit; 2.5M Online Accounts of Alcohol Delivery Service Compromised in Data Breach. Click “Continue reading” below.

Lawmakers Hit Facebook, Google Hard in Rare Hearing With Big Tech CEOs

Democratic and Republican lawmakers hit Facebook and Google the hardest Wednesday for alleged abuse of their market power in a much-anticipated congressional hearing with four of America’s most prominent tech CEOs in the hot seat. 

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Inc.-owned Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook — with a combined market value of about $5 trillion — parried a range of accusations from lawmakers via videoconference before an antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee.

Though it was Bezos’ first congressional testimony, he appeared the least fazed by his grilling, Reuters reports.

Cook drew fewer barbed questions than Bezos, but handled them efficiently — while Zuckerberg took the most damage, stumbling a few times when confronted with internal emails.

Pichai, however, took the most heat from conservatives and he looked the worse for it, Reuters reports. He repeatedly told lawmakers he would be happy to look in to various situations and get back to them.

Unfortunately, the Big Tech hearing was decidedly low-tech. Bezos escaped questioning for about 90 minutes in what appeared to be a tech issue, and was caught reaching for what appeared to be a snack.

Poor audio quality, flat-screen televisions switching off, and CEOs appearing together in thumbnails on a large screen frustrated viewers — leading to Twitter users mocking the virtual set-up.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of the Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, began by accusing Google of theft.

“Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” he asked.

Cicilline alleged Google stole reviews from the company Yelp Inc. and said Google threatened to delist the company from search results if it objected.

Pichai responded mildly that he would want to know the specifics of the accusation.

“We conduct ourselves to the highest standards,” he said, disagreeing with the characterization that Google stole content from other businesses to keep users on its own services.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg took questions about the company’s 2012 purchase of Instagram and whether it was acquired because it was a threat.

Zuckerberg responded that the deal had been reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and that Instagram at the time was a tiny photo-sharing app rather than a social-media phenomenon.

“People didn’t think of them competing with us in that space,” he said.

Regarding Republicans, Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio, accused the companies of taking steps that he said showed they tried to hamper conservatives from reaching supporters.

“Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” he said.

The companies have denied allegations of political censorship in a hearing that marked the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, Reuters reports.

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Sen. Josh Hawley Introduces Bill to Curb Personalized Online Ads

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a frequent critic of tech companies, has introduced legislation to require web publishers to avoid personalized advertising in order to maintain protections from lawsuits based on users’ speech.

“Big Tech’s manipulative advertising regime comes with a massive hidden price tag for consumers while providing almost no return to anyone but themselves,” Hawley said Tuesday, MediaPost.com reports.

His proposed “Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (BAD ADS) Act” would strip large web companies of the protection of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if the companies either engaged in what he called “behavioral advertising,” or allowed user data to be collected for such advertising.

Currently, Section 230 generally protects web companies from lawsuits based on material posted by users, including posts that are defamatory or violate state laws.

While the bill uses the phrase “behavioral advertising,” it appears to apply to personalized advertising more broadly.

The measure defines behavioral advertising as including ads that are based on personal traits, historic location data, information from user profiles created for ad purposes — and data about historic online or offline behavior.

The proposed prohibitions wouldn’t apply to “contextual” advertising, however, including ads served based on the content on a page the user is currently visiting, and on users’ current locations, according to the report.

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US Judge Dismisses Part of Restaurant Group’s Data-Breach Suit

A federal judge in Florida has granted a motion to dismiss portions of a data-breach lawsuit filed against Brinker International Inc., which owns Chili’s Grill & Bar.

The plaintiffs, Reuters reports, alleged the company failed to protect customers’ payment-card data and personal information.

But Judge Timothy Corrigan, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, disagreed, ruling that their argument did not show a “threat of future harm beyond a speculative level.”

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2.5M Online Accounts of Alcohol Delivery Service Compromised in Data Breach

Drizly, an online alcohol-delivery start-up founded in 2012, said a hacker accessed customer data, including email addresses, birthdates and hashed passwords.

TechCrunch reportedly obtained a portion of the affected data, which also included cellphone numbers, IP addresses and geolocation data.

Drizly, a Boston-based company, did not say when the hack occurred or how many accounts were affected but advised users to change their passwords.

“In terms of scale, up to 2.5 million accounts have been affected,” a representative told TechCrunch. “Delivery address was included in under 2% of the records.

“And, as mentioned in our email to affected consumers, no financial information was compromised.”

But a listing on a dark web marketplace from a well-known seller of stolen data claimed otherwise, TechCrunch reports.

Drizly has become one of the biggest online alcohol-delivery services in the U.S. and Canada, raising over $68 million to date, rivaling Minibar and Delivery.com.

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— By DPN Staff