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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Fate of lawmakers' tech antitrust push is up in the air

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Tuesday! Today's newsletter had us channeling our inner Sesame Street. Send tips to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: The FTC lays out plans to protect health data post-Roe, and Democrats question Facebook's “censoring” of abortion content. First:

Fate of lawmakers' tech antitrust push up in the air

Lawmakers leading a push to pass tech antitrust legislation are calling for the Senate to hold a vote this month on two key proposals, voicing confidence in their ability to clear the chamber. 

“We wouldn’t be asking for a vote if we didn’t think we could get sixty votes,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the lead sponsor of one of the bills, said last month

But to date, a vast majority of senators have not publicly indicated how they would vote on the measures, S.2992 and S.2710, setting up a historic test of congressional efforts to rein in Silicon Valley behemoths like Facebook and Google. Combined, the bills would block the tech giants from favoring their own products and impose new restrictions on their app stores

The Technology 202 asked the offices of all 100 senators last week whether they support or oppose the two bills and would vote in favor of or against them on the floor. 

The responses show that even as public support for the bills has grown, key senators who may help decide the fate of the proposals remain on the fence, while others may be awaiting additional changes.

Here’s our informal whip count on where things stand: 

Public support slowly builds, with Schumer’s backing

Both bills have 13 sponsors in the Senate, meaning that lawmakers would need to secure an additional 47 supporters to pass them due to the chamber’s filibuster rules. According to our review, they have officially picked up several in addition to those groups.

Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) support both of the bills and would vote in favor of them, according to spokespeople. The offices of other senators who are co-sponsors of one of the bills but not the other confirmed that they back both. That includes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“It’s past time for Congress to hold Big Tech accountable and start reining in their anti-competitive behavior, and I support these bills as an important step in the right direction,” Warren said in a statement.

Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — who controls whether the bills get a floor vote — affirmed through a spokesperson that he backs both bills. “Leader Schumer supports both bills and would vote yes,” said spokesperson Justin Goodman.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate antitrust panel, said that while there “are a few more edits” that he is working with co-sponsors to get implemented into the app store bill (S.2710) he is “optimistic that we can get to a good place on this bill, whether in the remainder of this Congress or in the next."

Still, that leaves the number of senators willing to publicly support both bills well short of the sixty needed to pass.  

A slew of senators remain undecided or noncommittal

Twelve lawmakers said they are still reviewing the legislation: Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

That batch notably includes two Senate Democrats, Coons and Ossoff, who initially voted to advance the proposals out of committee but expressed lingering reservations at the time. The remarks suggest they are not yet ready to commit to supporting the bills’ final passage. The list also includes lawmakers like Collins who often serve as swing votes in the chamber.

“Should these bills come before the full Senate, I will carefully review them to ensure that they are fair and do not negatively affect consumers, small businesses, or American competitiveness,” Collins said in a statement. 

Some offices, including those of Hyde-Smith and Tim Scott, cited policies against previewing their voting positions, while others said they are unsure where they will land.

“Sen. Coons is still considering both pieces of legislation right now and hasn’t made a final decision on which way he’ll vote,” said spokesperson Will Baskin-Gerwitz.

Spokespeople for four senators declined to comment: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy is another Democrat who had backed the bills in committee.

The bills have their share of detractors, too

A few lawmakers, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), suggested they would vote against the bills, with Paul’s office citing an op-ed decrying the “antitrust crusade” and Cornyn’s office pointing to his committee votes against the bills. Five other Republicans also voted against Klobuchar’s proposal, S.2992, in committee. 

Lee said he is still “deeply worried” about the “unintended consequences” of Klobuchar’s bill, which targets what’s known as “self-preferencing” by tech companies.

“At this point, I believe we would be better off waiting until Republicans regain control of Congress and can take the lead in drafting a bill that fights Big Tech abuses without granting broad new powers to the Biden FTC that is already out of control,” Lee said of the bill.

A spokesperson for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) indicated she will likely vote against Klobuchar’s bill, saying that as “currently drafted, Sen. Blackburn’s committee vote will reflect her floor vote.” Blackburn is leading the app store bill with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Spokespeople for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) did not return requests for comment. But during a brief interview on Capitol Hill last month, Wyden said he was not ready to support the bills, citing concerns they could hinder content moderation efforts. “I’m not there now, no,” Wyden told me.

A majority of the Senate did not return requests for comment, meaning that the results were ultimately inconclusive. But the responses suggest proponents’ confidence may be overstated.

Our top tabs

FTC pledges to use its powers to protect sensitive data post-Roe

Less than a week after President Biden issued an executive order urging the Federal Trade Commission to take steps to protect reproductive health data after Roe v. Wade was struck down, the agency outlined its plans to do just that in a blog post Tuesday

“The Commission is committed to using the full scope of its legal authorities to protect consumers’ privacy. We will vigorously enforce the law if we uncover illegal conduct that exploits Americans’ location, health, or other sensitive data,” FTC's Kristin Cohen wrote.

The agency laid out three areas of focus: protecting “sensitive data” that is already protected under federal and state laws, targeting “deceptive” claims that data is anonymized and cracking down on over-collection, indefinite retention or “misuse” of related data.

Uber sought ‘strategic investors’ in foreign media to gain favor with officials

Facing government bans around the world, the ride-hailing giant ran public relations campaigns through media conglomerates in Germany and India, my colleague Sarah Ellison reports for the Uber Files investigation.

“In a concerted effort to influence international politicians, regulators and thought leaders — at a time when the company faced legal challenges and local bans — Uber underwrote academic research that positioned its gig driver service as an economic mobility engine,” Sarah reports. “And it invited media owners to invest in Uber, in hopes of enlisting them to make high-level connections and spread a favorable message.”

The Uber Files is based on more than 124,000 records obtained by the Guardian and shared with more than 40 news organizations, including The Washington Post, in a joint investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

On Tuesday, former Uber executive Mark MacGann came forward as the leaker behind the disclosures, as my colleague Elahe Izadi reports.

Klobuchar, Warren grill Facebook on ‘censoring’ of abortion posts

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are pressing Facebook parent company Meta on reports it has been “censoring posts containing accurate information about abortion” since the Supreme Court overturned federal abortion rights, Axios' Ashley Gold reports

“It is more important than ever that social media platforms not censor truthful posts about abortion, particularly as people across the country turn to online communities to discuss and find information about reproductive rights,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, citing reports that Facebook and Instagram suspended accounts sharing information about abortion access. They are seeking answers from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram chief Adam Mosseri by July 15.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone said last month some posts were removed due to improper application of the company's rules against buying, selling or requesting pharmaceuticals, according to Axios.

Agency scanner

Biden’s pitch for Eric Schmidt-funded fellowship raised red flags (Politico)

Hill happenings

Chip subsidies are popular in Congress. They still might fail. (Protocol)

Inside the industry

In leaked memo, Facebook tells managers low performers don’t belong (Naomi Nix and Elizabeth Dwoskin)

Twitter shares plunge as it braces for messy legal battle with Elon Musk (Rachel Lerman and Yiwen Lu)

How Elon Musk damaged Twitter and left it worse off (New York Times)

Competition watch

Tencent, Alibaba and Didi fined for old unreported merger deals (South China Morning Post)

Privacy monitor

Italy's watchdog warns TikTok over alleged breach of EU privacy rules (Reuters)

Mentions

  • Trade group TechNet has added three new members: ZipRecruiter, RingCentral and SeekOut.

Daybook

  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on new U.K. data protection rules today at 9 a.m.
  • Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger discusses semiconductor manufacturing and government support at a Washington Post Live event today at noon.
  • Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) and executives from Amazon and Google speak at an event hosted by the Information Technology Industry Council on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
  • Consumer advocates discuss Europe’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act at an event on Thursday at 9 a.m.
  • Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su discusses technology and the future of work at a Washington Post Live event on Thursday at noon.
  • Brian Deese, who leads the White House’s National Economic Council, discusses the White House Competition Council at an Aspen Institute event on Thursday at 3 p.m.

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