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Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says foreign disinformation 'never stopped' | DNC says Iowa app won't be used in other states | Shadow CEO feels 'really terrible' about caucus debacle | Trump trade adviser claims Bezos won't meet him

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).


THE RUSSIANS NEVER LEFT: FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that foreign disinformation efforts against the U.S. “never stopped” after Russian actors used them on social media platforms during the 2016 elections.

The FBI chief also told lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that malicious foreign influence campaigns are now targeting more than just elections.

“That is in some ways an even more challenging area, not the least because it never stopped, it happened in 2016 and it’s been continuing ever since then. It may have an uptick during an election cycle, but it’s a 24/7, 365 days a year threat,” Wray said of disinformation campaigns.

A report compiled by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a ‘failure’ Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE concluded that the Russian Internet Research Agency carried out a social media campaign designed to benefit President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Bolton ‘refused’ to submit affidavit on Trump’s involvement in Ukraine controversy Yang congratulates Romney for ‘voting his conscious and character’ in convicting Trump McConnell ‘disappointed’ by Romney impeachment vote, but ‘I’m going to need his support’ MORE and hurt Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: FBI chief says foreign disinformation ‘never stopped’ | DNC says Iowa app won’t be used in other states | Shadow CEO feels ‘really terrible’ about caucus debacle | Trump trade adviser claims Bezos won’t meet him Romney shocks GOP with vote to convict FBI director says foreign disinformation campaigns ‘never stopped’ after 2016 elections MORE in 2016, with the goal of ultimately “sowing discord in the U.S. political system.”

Mueller, along with intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee, also concluded that the Russians had attempted to hack into voting infrastructure across the U.S.

As part of his investigation, Mueller indicted 12 Russian agents in 2018 for successfully hacking into email accounts of Clinton campaign staffers and Democratic National Committee networks. 

On Wednesday, when asked if he had seen any efforts by the Russians to interfere again in U.S. elections, Wray said that Russian disinformation efforts remain a key threat.

“While I don’t think we’ve seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016, we certainly are seeing and have never stopped seeing really since 2016 efforts to engage in malign foreign influence by the Russians,” Wray said, pointing to evidence that Russians are using “false personas, fake media accounts” online. 

Read more here


DNC DITCHES IOWA APP: Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said Tuesday that the app blamed for delaying the results of the Iowa caucuses will not be used in the remaining primary contests.

“It is clear that the app in question did not function adequately,” Perez said in a statement. The app was created by Shadow Inc., a company based in Washington, D.C.

“It will not be used in Nevada or anywhere else during the primary election process. The technology vendor must provide absolute transparent accounting of what went wrong,” he added.

Shadow, a company affiliated with Democratic nonprofit group Acronym, sold an app built to transmit results to the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP).

After results were delayed Monday night — triggering uproar from candidates and supporters — the IDP blamed a “coding issue” in the app.

Read more here.


SHADOW SAYS SORRY (AGAIN): The CEO of the company behind the app that failed Monday night as it was being used to report results in the Iowa Democratic caucuses says his team feels “terrible” for contributing to the chaos.

As officials in Iowa continued recording caucus results Wednesday morning, Shadow Inc. CEO Gerard Niemira told Bloomberg News that he was “really disappointed” in the app’s performance on Monday night.

“I’m really disappointed that some of our technology created an issue that made the caucus difficult,” he said, adding: “We feel really terrible about that.”

“The app was sound and good,” he continued. “All the data that was produced by calculations performed by the app was correct. It did the job it was supposed to do, which is help precinct chairs in the field do the math correctly. The problem was caused by a bug in the code that transmits results data into the state party’s data warehouse.”

That led to a “catastrophic” failure as party officials around the state were attempting to report caucus results late into the evening Monday night, Niemira added.

Read more here.


CEASE AND DESIST: YouTube on Wednesday sent a cease and desist letter to Clearview AI demanding that the controversial company stop collecting faces from its videos and delete any data it has collected already.

The letter, which serves as a warning of impending civil action, comes after Clearview CEO and founder Hoan Ton-That defended his company’s practice of scraping photos from the internet in an interview with CBS.

“YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person,” YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph said in a statement to The Hill.

“Clearview has publicly admitted to doing exactly that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter.”

Clearview entered the public consciousness last month following a report in The New York Times that detailed the company’s work developing a database of 3 billion photos and its ties to over 600 law enforcement agencies.

The facial recognition company built its software by scraping major social media platforms and allowing users to upload photos of strangers.

Read more here.


SPOTIFY TO BUY THE RINGER: Spotify is planning to purchase the website The Ringer, which is known for its popular podcasts, the website’s owner Bill Simmons confirmed Wednesday.

Simmons assured his followers that The Ringer, which features more than 30 podcasts, would remain the same “in every respect.”

“They appreciate what we do and they want us to be us,” he posted in a Twitter statement. 

Simmons founded the website, which includes popular podcasts like “The Bill Simmons Podcasts” and “The Rewatchables,” in 2016 after ESPN did not renew his contract, The New York Times reported. The Ringer started out on Medium before moving to Vox Media in 2017.

Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, said in a statement that the move was done in the hopes of expanding the company’s “global sports strategy.”

“We look forward to putting the full power of Spotify behind The Ringer as they drive our global sports strategy,” Ostroff said. “As we set out to expand our sports and entertainment offerings, we wanted a best-in-class editorial team.”

Read more here.


BEZOS SITDOWN: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro in an interview published Wednesday accused Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosHillicon Valley: FBI chief says foreign disinformation ‘never stopped’ | DNC says Iowa app won’t be used in other states | Shadow CEO feels ‘really terrible’ about caucus debacle | Trump trade adviser claims Bezos won’t meet him On The Money: Pro-union bill draws 2020 battle lines | Companies added 291,000 jobs last month: survey | Warren touts Obama’s 2010 praise for consumer bureau White House trade adviser claims Bezos won’t meet with him about online counterfeits MORE of avoiding a meeting with the Trump administration about the issue of online counterfeits, fueling the ongoing rift between the online retail giant and the White House.

Navarro said Bezos in January agreed to meet with the White House about the scourge of fake products on his platform – but so far, about a month later, the company has only offered up senior executives for a sit-down rather than the Amazon founder himself. 

“The reason I want to see Jeff Bezos is because Jeff Bezos could, in the blink of an eye, put a complete halt to the counterfeiting that Amazon is facilitating,” Navarro told The Washington Post. “It’s a rare occurrence where a single individual can have an enormous impact on the issue — but so far, it’s ‘see no evil.’ ” 

Navarro said he approached Bezos about a potential meeting when he ran into him at a dinner last month. He claimed Bezos said to him, “Just call [Amazon senior vice president of global corporate affairs] Jay Carney, tell him we’ll meet. We’ll get it done.” 

In a statement, an Amazon spokeswoman said multiple senior Amazon executives have met with Navarro and other Trump administration officials “on multiple occasions” to discuss combatting counterfeit goods.

“We are eager to continue this collaboration and will make our executives available to meet as often as necessary to effectively address this issue,” the spokeswoman said. 

The tense back-and-forth comes as the Trump administration is ramping up a pressure campaign against online retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart over reducing the amount of online counterfeits, such as fake chargers or infant formula, available on their powerful platforms. 

A person familiar with the encounter between Bezos and Navarro told The Hill on Wednesday that there was a “miscommunication.” The source said Bezos was under the impression that he’d encouraged Navarro to reach out to Carney to set up a sit-down between Amazon executives and Trump administration officials – but had never promised a personal meeting. 

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Here, have this


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Iowa caucuses prove that tech isn’t always the right answer



The Iowa caucuses app had another problem: it could have been hacked (ProPublica / Jack Gillum, Jessica Huseman) 

Tech experts analyze the app that created chaos in the Iowa caucuses (Motherboard / Jason Koebler, Joesph Cox, and Emanuel Maiberg)

Pai pushes TV white spaces rule for rural broadband delivery (Multichannel News / Gary Arlen) 

Justice Department ramps up Google probe, with heavy focus on ad tools (The Wall Street Journal / Keach Hagey, Rob Copeland) 

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