Democratic texting platform Hustle lays off a big chunk of its staff

The company behind a texting platform that powered more than 1,300 Democratic campaigns has slashed its staff in the lull following the 2018 midterms. Hustle co-founder and CEO Roddy Lindsay, a former Facebook engineer, disclosed the layoffs in a recent Medium post, apologizing for the choices that led up to the decision to “right-size” Hustle’s team.

“… While we have an exciting set of initial commercial customers using Hustle successfully, it was premature to aggressively expand our team — we need the time to do the research with our customers and build the right product to support industries beyond politics and non-profits,” Lindsay wrote in the layoff announcement. “I made the rookie misstep of not watching our growth closely enough, and we ended up overbuilding our team beyond our means.”

Bloomberg reports that Hustle’s aggressive layoffs reduced its team by 35 percent. TechCrunch has reached out to Hustle to confirm those numbers.

It sounds like Hustle scaled up considerably in the lead-up to midterms, undertaking “an enormous operational challenge” that ultimately could not be sustained after the political cycle died down. The company’s booming success and its post-race contraction serve as a cautionary tale for startups that hitch their wagon to the inherently boom and bust nature of political campaigning. To correct course, Hustle has brought in “strong finance leadership” and plans to chart a fiscally realistic path forward.

Hustle’s platform allows clients to mobilize and optimize texting campaigns that eschew mass texting templates. Within Hustle’s system, designated point people can manage and personalize texting campaigns, tracking progress in the platform as they go. A number of Democratic and progressive campaigns have leveraged Hustle for their causes, most notably the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. Notably, Hustle exclusively opens its platform to causes on the political left.

Last May, Hustle raised a $30 million Series B, led by Insight Venture Partners. Less than a year prior, the company picked up $8 million for its Series A. A small team of 17 people in early 2017, Hustle had swelled to more than 100 by May of 2018.

Lindsay asserts that the decision should make Hustle more financially sustainable and poised for “long-term impact.” In the blog post, he notes that Hustle will zero in on its non-profit client core moving forward.

“There aren’t many companies who have been able to pair business success and positive political and civic impact in the world,” Lindsay wrote. “In 2018, we discovered why: it’s really, really difficult.”

President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

Vietnam threatens to penalize Facebook for breaking its draconian cybersecurity law

Well, that didn’t take long. We’re less than ten days into 2019 and already Vietnam is aiming threats at Facebook after it violating its draconian cybersecurity law which came into force on January 1.

The U.S. social network stands accused of allowing users in Vietnam to post “slanderous content, anti-government sentiment and libel and defamation of individuals, organisations and state agencies,” according to a report from state-controlled media Vietnam News.

The content is said to have been flagged to Facebook which, reports say, has “delayed removing” it.

That violates the law which — passed last June — broadly forbids internet users from organizing with, or training, others for anti-state purposes, spreading false information, and undermining the nation state’s achievements or solidarity, according to reports at the time. It also requires foreign internet companies to operate a local office and store user information on Vietnamese soil. That’s something neither Google nor Facebook has complied with, despite the Vietnamese government’s recent claim that the former is investigating a local office launch.

In addition, the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information (ABEI) claimed Facebook had violated online advertising rules by allowing accounts to promote fraudulent products and scams, while it is considering penalties for failure to pay tax. The Vietnamese report claimed some $235 million was spent on Facebook ads in 2018, with $152.1 million going to Google.

Facebook responded by clarifying its existing channels for reporting illegal content.

“We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law. We are transparent about the content restrictions we make in accordance with local law in our Transparency Report,” a Facebook representative told TechCrunch in a statement.

TechCrunch understands that the company is in contact with the Vietnamese government and it intends to review content flagged as illegal before making a decision.

Vietnamese media reports claim that Facebook has already told the government that the content in question doesn’t violate its community standards.

It looks likely that the new law will see contact from Vietnamese government censors spike, but Facebook has acted on content before. The company latest transparency report covers the first half of 2018 and it shows that received 12 requests for data in Vietnam, granting just two. Facebook confirmed it has previously taken action on content that has included the alleged illegal sale of regulated products, trade of wildlife, and efforts to impersonate an individual.

Facebook did not respond to the tax liability claim.

The company previously indicated its concern at the cybersecurity law via Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) — a group that represents the social media giant as well as Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Line and others — which cautioned that the regulations would negatively impact Vietnam.

“The provisions for data localization, controls on content that affect free speech, and local office requirements will undoubtedly hinder the nation’s fourth Industrial Revolution ambitions to achieve GDP and job growth,” AIC wrote in a statement in June.

“Unfortunately, these provisions will result in severe limitations on Vietnam’s digital economy, dampening the foreign investment climate and hurting opportunities for local businesses and SMEs to flourish inside and beyond Vietnam,” it added.

Vietnam is increasingly gaining a reputation as a growing market for startups, but the cybersecurity act threatens to impact that. One key issue is that the broad terms appear to give the government signficant scope to remove content that it deems offensive.

“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Vietnam. In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” said Amnesty International.

Vietnam News reports that the authorities are continuing to collect evidence against Facebook.

“If Facebook did not take positive steps, Vietnamese regulators would apply necessary economic and technical measures to ensure a clean and healthy network environment,” the ABEI is reported to have said.

In revamped transparency report, Apple reveals uptick in demands for user data

Apple’s transparency report just got a lot more — well, transparent.

For years, the technology giant released a twice-a-year report on the number of government demands it received. It wasn’t much to look at in the beginning; a seven-page document with only two tables of data. Once in a while, Apple would tack on a new table of data as the government would ask for new kinds of customer data.

But that wasn’t sustainable, nor was it particularly easy to read — especially for the hawkish handful who would obsessively read and digest each report.

As other companies, like Microsoft and Google, received more demands over the years, they began to expand their own reports to help users to better understand who wanted their data, why and how often. Apple knew its document-only reports didn’t cut it, and took a leaf from its Silicon Valley neighbors and pushed ahead with its own plan to publish its biannual numbers in a way that ordinary people — like its customers — can read and understand.

The company’s latest transparency report, out Thursday, still comes in its traditional PDF format for those who don’t like change, but now also has its own dedicated, browsable and interactive corner of Apple’s website. The new site breaks down the figures by country — but also historically to provide trends, patterns and context over years’ worth of reporting cycles, in a way that’s more in line with how other tech giants report their government data demands.

And, the company has CSV files for download, containing raw data for academics to drill deeper down into the numbers.

Apple has also reworked how it discloses national security requests, such as FBI-issued subpoenas like national security letters (NSLs) and orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Since the introduction of the Freedom Act in 2015, passed in response to the NSA surveillance scandal in 2013, companies were given three options of reporting their secret orders — including the numerical bands it can release under what time period. Most companies disclosed the secret requests in bands of 500 with a six-month reporting delay to avoid any inadvertent interference with active investigations. Apple originally released its figures in bands of 250 requests, but is now expanding that to bands of 500 requests to standardize its reporting with other tech companies. It’s also breaking out its FISA content (such as photos, email, contacts and device backups) and non-content requests (like subscriber records and transactional logs).

As for the figures, the transparency report reveals a rise in worldwide demands for data.

According to the report, Apple received 32,342 demands — up 9 percent on the last reporting period — to access 163,823 devices in the second half of the year.

The report found Germany as the top requester, issuing 13,704 requests for data on 26,160 devices. Apple said that the figures were due to the high volume of device requests due to stolen devices. The U.S. was in second place with 4,570 requests for 14,911 devices.

Apple also received 4,177 requests for account data, such as information stored in iCloud — up by almost 25 percent on the previous reporting period — affecting some 40,641 accounts, a four-fold increase. The company said the spike was attributable to China, which asked for thousands of devices’ worth of data under a single fraud investigation.

And, the company saw a 30 percent increase in requests to preserve data for up to three months to 1,579 cases, affecting 4,033 accounts, while law enforcement obtained the right legal process to access the data.

The company also said it received between 0 and 499 national security orders, including secret rulings from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, affecting 1,000 and 1,499 accounts. As the company is subject to a six-month reporting delay, the updated figures are expected out in the new year.

Apple did not reveal in this latest report any national security letters where the gag orders were lifted.

In State Tectonics, an explosive ending for the future of democracy

An omnipotent data infrastructure and knowledge-sharing tech organization has spread across the planet. Global conspiracies to disseminate propaganda and rig elections are ever present. Algorithms determine what people see as objective truth, and terrorist organizations gird to bring down the monopoly on information.

Malka Older faces a problem few speculative science fiction authors face in their lifetimes: having their work become a blueprint for reality. The author, who began formulating her Centenal Cycle series just a few years ago, now finds that her plots have leapt off the page and have become the daily fodder for cable news programs and Congressional investigations. Her universe is set decades into the future, but history is accelerating, and decades into the future can now mean 2019.

So we arrive at the third and final volume of a trilogy that began as a single work called Infomocracy and has proliferated into Null States and now State Tectonics. Ending a trilogy is rarely easy, but State Tectonics does what Older has always done best with her works, smashing together ideas about the future of politics with a medley of thriller styles to deliver an ample helping of thought-provoking nuance.

Older’s world is built on two simple premises. First, through a project called microdemocracy, the world has been subdivided into 100,000 person governing units known as centenals, and every citizen in the world has the right of migration to choose the government they want. This creates strange artifacts — for instance, in dense areas like New York City, citizens can change governments from a corporate-backed libertarian paradise to a leftist environmental oasis in as quick as a subway stop.

Second, to ensure that citizens can make the best choices for themselves, a global organization called Information (a hybrid Google, United Nations, and BBC) tirelessly works to provide objective information to citizens about politics and the world, verifying claims about everything from election promises to the taste of items on a restaurant menu.

Together, they allow Older to explore a world of information manipulation and electoral strategy while meditating on the meaning of objective truth. Across the trilogy, we follow a crew of Information staffers as they uncover political plots and intrigue around a series of global elections. This structure allows Older to create paced thrillers without losing the intellectual spirit of speculative fiction.

While in her last work Null States, the focus was on inequality and lack of access to information, in State Tectonics, Older interrogates the meaning of Information’s monopoly on … information itself. In this microdemocratic world, it is a crime to provide unverified information to people, and yet, Information hardly has infinite knowledge about the world. A shadowy group starts to purvey local information about cities and people outside the normal Information channels, and that raises profound questions — who ultimately “owns” reality? How do we decide what objective truth even is?

In the background of this central question is a trial for an Information staffer accused of the crime of algorithmic bias, of adjusting reality to suit her own ends. Sound familiar?

As a work of speculative fiction — particularly about a subject as complex as the future of democracy — State Tectonics is superlative. Older is striking in her frenetic ability to weave together idea after idea into vignettes that caused this reader to constantly stop and wander in thought. In just this book, we have discussions on the future of politics, mental health, infrastructure finance, transportation, food, nationalism, and identity politics. The dynamic range here is exhilarating.

Unfortunately, that enormous range forces Older to sacrifice depth, not only in the sophistication of some of these topics, which are often only conceived in slight brushstrokes, but also in the characters themselves. After three reasonably hefty books, I still don’t feel as if I truly know the characters I’ve spent so much time with. They are like friends in a transient city such as New York City, people to hang out with on weekends, but not worth a followup once they move on.

More pejoratively, the book feels constantly weighed down by extraneous details that at times can feel more like Wikipedia than assiduous worldbuilding. In this regard, Older has actually matured as a writer from her earlier works, as the detailed digressions are fewer and far between, but they remain as distracting from her core plot, and take time away from the needed work of fleshing out her characters further.

State Tectonics, like its earlier siblings, is the best and worst of fusion cuisine: the brilliant items on the menu can inspire us to think radically beyond our traditional categories and beliefs, but the vast majority of the dishes end up being mishmashes that are ultimately ephemeral and forgotten. The novel is brilliant in discoursing on the future of democracy, and if that is a topic of keen interest, few books will satisfy that urge like this one will.

Trump administration sues California over its brand-new net neutrality law

The Department of Justice announced on Sunday that it has filed a lawsuit against California to block its new net neutrality law, just hours after it was signed by governor Jerry Brown. The lawsuit was first reported by the Washington Post. Senior Justice Department officials told the newspaper it is filing the lawsuit because only the federal government can regulate net neutrality and that the Federal Communications Commission had been granted that authority by Congress to ensure states don’t write conflicting legislation.

In its announcement, the Justice Department stated that by signing California’s Senate Bill 822 into law, the state is “attempting to subvert the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach by imposing burdensome state regulations on the free Internet, which is unlawful and anti-consumer.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order.”

This is the latest of several legal showdowns between the Trump administration and California, the largest blue state.

Under Attorney General Sessions, the Justice Department has already filed separate lawsuits against California over immigrant sanctuary laws and a law meant to stop the Trump administration from selling or transferring federal land to private corporations. The Trump administration is also clashing with the state over environmental protection regulations.

Senate Bill 822 was introduced by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality protections tossed out by the FCC last year.

Even though Washington and Oregon have also passed their own net neutrality laws, the outcome of the federal government’s battle with California will have ramifications throughout the country because the state’s new net neutrality law is the most stringent one so far, banning most kinds of zero-rating, which allows telecoms to offer services from certain providers for free.

As such, it has been the target of fierce lobbying by telecoms like AT&T and Comcast. While the FCC’s chairman Ajit Pai and telecoms argue that zero-rating allows them to offer better deals (Pai claimed in the Justice Department’s statement today that they have proven popular “especially among lower-income Americans,”) net neutrality advocates say it gives Internet service providers too much power by forcing users to rely on certain services, stifling consumer options and freedom of information.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will reportedly meet with Republican lawmakers this week

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will meet in private with Republican lawmakers on Friday to discuss issues including its work in China and alleged political bias, reports the Wall Street Journal. The meeting was organized by House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who has accused Google of “controlling the internet” by boosting negative news stories about conservatives in its search results, despite the company’s denials.

The WSJ reports that Pichai also plans to appear at a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled to take place in November after the mid-term elections.

Pichai told the newspaper that “I look forward to meeting with members on both sides of the aisle, answering a wide range of questions, and explaining our approach. These meetings will continue Google’s long history of engaging with Congress, including testifying seven times to Congress this year.”

A vocal opponent of net neutrality, McCarthy tweeted earlier this month that “an invite will be on its way” to Google, which he accused in the same tweet of making a “silent donation” to an unnamed left-wing group to stop Trump; working with Russia and China to censor the Internet even though it cancelled a U.S. military contract and ignoring a Senate hearing.

McCarthy told the WSJ that “Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behavior and business dealings with repressive regimes like China.”

As an example of what he claims to be Google’s anti-conservative bias, McCarthy previously cited search results that listed “Nazism” under the California Republican Party’s ideologies. Google blamed vandalism on Wikipedia for the descriptor, which appeared in an information box, and quickly removed it.

Though McCarthy did not specify what contract he was referring to in his tweet, it may have been Project Maven, an aerial drone imaging program that provided artificial intelligence to the Department of Defense. Google reportedly decided not to renew the contract when it expires because of ethical concerns and employee backlash.

In August, however, sources told the Intercept that Google is working on a version of its search engine for China, code-named Project Dragonfly, that would adhere to the government’s censorship regulations. This prompted bipartisan outcry and more employee backlash, including the resignation of senior research scientist Jack Poulson. Poulson told the Intercept that about five of Google’s employees have resigned over Project Dragonfly, which he says represents “the forfeiture of our public human rights commitments.”

As part of the Republican Party’s onslaught against what it perceives to be political bias on social media, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will also meet with state attorneys general to discuss social media’s alleged suppression of conservative users.

TechCrunch has contacted Google for comment.

Google denies Trump’s claim that it did not promote his State of the Union address

Google is pushing back against a claim by Donald Trump that the search engine stopped promoting State of the Union livestreams on its homepage after his presidency began. Trump’s claim came in the from of a tweeted video, which was still pinned to the top of his profile when this post was published at 9:30 PM PST, Aug. 29, 2018, after Google’s refutation and multiple media reports of its inaccuracy.

Hashtagged #stopthebias, the video appears to show that Google did not display links to livestreams of Trump’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 or his first State of the Union on January 30, 2018, despite promoting Obama’s State of the Union addresses in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Google, however, says it did indeed highlight Trump’s first State of the Union in 2018, but that it usually does not include links on its homepage to a president’s first public address to Congress, so neither Obama nor Trump’s were featured. In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, the company said “On January 30, 2018, we highlighted the livestream of President Trump’s State of the Union on the google.com homepage. We have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new President, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn’t include a promotion on google.com for this address in either 2009 or 2017.”

The video shared by Trump does not make a distinction between a president’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress and his first State of the Union address.

A discrepancy in Google’s logo also suggests that at least one of the screenshots, which appear to have been taken from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, was doctored. A Gizmodo commenter notes that one of the screenshots in the video Trump tweeted, from January 12, 2016, shows a version with the previous Google logo, not the sans-serif version introduced in September 2015, which can be seen in a Wayback Archive’s screen capture from January 10, 2016 and other days from that month when a Google Doodle wasn’t featured.

Capture from the video tweeted from President Trump’s account

One of Wayback Machine’s captures on January 10, 2016

Furthermore, while a link to Trump’s State of the Union does not appear on archived versions of Google’s homepage from January 30, 2018, it does show up on a capture from 1AM on January 31, as Twitter user @WrockBro notes. That may be because the Wayback Machine uses Greenwich Mean Time time stamps.

The Wayback Machine capture linked by Twitter user @WrockBro

Trump’s tweet is the part of his current onslaught against Google, other tech companies and mainstream media, which he accuses of having a liberal bias and burying news about his administration. It is worth pointing out, however, that Trump’s 2017 first speech to Congress was widely praised as “presidential” by journalists across the political spectrum, even liberal publications. In turn, they were ridiculed by critics for being awed by a president acting presidential.

UPDATE: Mark Graham, director of the Wayback Machine, sent TechCrunch a list of more links showing that Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year was promoted on Google’s homepage. All are shown in Greenwich Mean Time.

http://web.archive.org/web/20180131022709/http://www.google.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20180131022757/http://www.google.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20180131023147/http://www.google.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20180131023314/http://www.google.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20180131023314/http://www.google.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20180131024506/http://www.google.com/

Valimail offers US election boards, campaigns and voting vendors its email anti-spoofing service for free

Valimail, an enterprise email security firm, announced that it will offer its email protections for free to relevant government workers and campaigns through the 2018 midterms. That offer covers state election boards, voting system vendors and major party U.S. election campaigns including congressional, statewide and gubernatorial candidates. The company will also offer the same email fraud prevention service, known as Valimail Enforce, to the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee at no cost through the 2020 US presidential election.

“Bad actors are trying to disrupt our elections and sow chaos in our democracy,” Valimail CEO and co-founder Alexander García-Tobar said in a statement. “They are targeting email because it is one of the weakest points in digital communications.”

As Valimail observes, spear phishing attempts in which an attacker tricks their target into opening a malicious email are a particular problem. In a spear phishing attack, a hacker can compromise a target’s login credentials by getting them to click on a fraudulent link or just by pretending to be someone they aren’t and obtaining usernames, passwords and other sensitive information. (The suspected Russian government-affiliated attackers who compromised a Gmail account belonging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair John Podesta used spear phishing to achieve their goals.)

Spear phishing attacks often employ email spoofing, a strategy in which the attacker disguises their true identity and makes an email look like it’s coming from a trusted domain. Citing its own research, Valimail notes that 90 percent of cyber-attacks originate in spear phishing and two thirds of those employ a fake “from” address to target potential victims.

Valimail Enforce works prevents this kind of attack with an email authentication system that only allows authorized senders to use a domain name. The company’s email authentication service employs standards like SPF, DKIM and DMARC and is Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) authorized, making it easier for government entities to adopt its security tools.

Though no states and campaigns have signed on yet, Valimail has been talking with the Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency tasked with coordinating security for election systems — now designated as critical infrastructure — among the states. Valimail follows companies like Cloudflare and Synack in offering its services at no cost to help secure election systems.

Due to the state and local-led nature of US elections, it’s very difficult to ensure that security measures can be uniformly implemented and enforced across the board. It’s too late for the patchwork of post-2016 election security efforts to provide any kind of comprehensive assurance for the 2018 midterms, but private tech companies are stepping in to fill some of the gaps. At the very least, getting some security relationships in place and educating state and local officials on potential precautions should be a useful stepping stone to a more secure elections by 2020.

Twitter suspends more accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation”

Following last week’s suspension of 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation,” Twitter announced today that it’s kicked an additional 486 accounts off the platform for the same reason, bringing the total to 770 accounts.

While many of the accounts removed last week appeared to originate from Iran, Twitter said this time that about 100 of the latest batch to be suspended claimed to be in the United States. Many of these were less than a year old and shared “divisive commentary.” These 100 accounts tweeted a total of 867 times and had 1,268 followers between them.

As examples of the “divisive commentary” tweeted, Twitter shared screenshots from several suspended accounts that showed anti-Trump rhetoric, counter to the conservative narrative that the platform unfairly targets Republican accounts.

Twitter also said that the suspended accounts included one advertiser that spent $30 on Twitter ads last year, but added those ads did not target the U.S. and that the billing address was outside of Iran.

“As with prior investigations, we are committed to engaging with other companies and relevant law enforcement entities. Our goal is to assist investigations into these activities and where possible, we will provide the public with transparency and context on our efforts,” Twitter said on its Safety account.

After years of accusations that it doesn’t enforce its own policies about bullying, bots and other abuses, Twitter has taken a much harder line on problematic accounts in the past few months. Despite stalling user growth, especially in the United States, Twitter has been aggressively suspending accounts, including ones that were created by users to evade prior suspensions.

Twitter announced a drop of one million monthly users in the second quarter, causing investors to panic even though it posted a $100 million profit. In its earnings call, Twitter said that its efforts don’t impact user numbers because many of the “tens of millions” of removed accounts were too new or had been inactive for more than a month and were therefore not counted in active user numbers. The company did admit, however, that it’s anti-spam measures had caused it to lose three million monthly active users.

Whatever its impact on user numbers, Twitter’s anti-abuse measures may help it save face during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on September 5. Executives from Twitter, Facebook and Google are expected to be grilled by Sen. Mark Warner and other politicians about the use of their platforms by other countries to influence U.S. politics.