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Big Tech’s stealth push to influence the Biden administration

Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to secure senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still vital parts of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to secure senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still vital parts of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden arrives to address a drive-in campaign rally on behalf of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates from Georgia Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, ahead of their January 5 runoff elections, at Pullman Yard in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The Biden transition team has already stacked its agency review teams with more tech executives than tech critics. It has also added to its staff several officials from Big Tech companies, which emerged as top donors to the campaign.

Now, executives and employees at tech companies such as Alphabet Inc-owned Google, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Microsoft Corp are pushing to place candidates in senior roles at government agencies, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.

The agencies many of these executives are aiming for include the U.S. Commerce Department, Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs – a key agency under the White House Office of Management & Budget which drafts policies impacting the tech industry, the State Department and the Department of Defense, according to the sources.

Many company executives, who in some cases helped raise money for the Biden campaign or have ties to those on the president-elect’s transition team, still have a huge commercial interest in pushing candidates with industry ties at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission – both of which are investigating whether Big Tech abused its market power. But the spotlight on those agencies from progressive interest groups and members of Congress is likely to make it much harder for Silicon Valley to succeed, the sources said.

To be sure, there is no formal process via which such names and recommendations are being floated by company executives to the transition team. A Biden transition spokesman Cameron French said agency review team members and future administration appointees will be committed to implementing Biden’s policy ideas.

“Each member of the Biden-Harris transition and incoming administration will have values that align with the President and Vice President-elect on a host of issues including the tech sector,” he said.

Facebook and Microsoft declined comment. Amazon’s public policy and communications chief Jay Carney told Reuters that Amazon is not trying to get anyone from the company placed in the new administration. “Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false,” Carney said.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said “as a company, we make no recommendations and are unaware of any such communications.”

SEEKING INFLUENCE

Researchers, lawyers and consultants tracking the transition or working with the team told Reuters the moves are part of an effort by many large tech company officials to influence future policymaking. They are also making sure the Biden administration is not captive to the ideas of progressive Democrats and a growing anti-monopoly movement, who have consistently pushed for higher scrutiny of such companies.

“In 2020, appointing the CEO or top executives of a tech company directly in to your cabinet is bad optics and bad politics,” said Max Moran, a researcher with the Revolving Door Project. He added that allies of Big Tech have begun to emerge as candidates for Biden jobs.

For example, Google’s former Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, a billionaire who is a Silicon Valley titan, has been making personnel recommendations for appointments to the Department of Defense – as the company tries to pursue military contracts and defense work, according to three sources.

Schmidt chairs the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). His vice-chairman on the commission, former deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, has briefed the Biden transition team on national security issues. Schmidt’s name has also come up in discussions to lead a Biden White House technology task force, a suggestion that has been opposed by progressives, according to three sources.

One of the names Schmidt has floated for a senior defense department role is Christopher Kirchhoff, a former aide to the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff under the Obama administration who currently works at Schmidt Futures, two sources said. Schmidt has also pushed for Jared Cohen, the chief executive of Jigsaw, a tech incubator that operates as an independent unit under Google, for a role inside the state department or the defense department, according to two sources. Cohen has previously served at the State Department.

A spokeswoman for Eric Schmidt declined comment. A NSCAI spokeswoman said any work being done by Schmidt and Work in their personal capacity is not associated with the NSCAI.

Similarly, two Amazon officials have landed spots on the president-elect’s agency review teams for the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget.

Now, executives with Amazon are pushing allies for roles inside the Biden administration, according to sources who work with the transition. Names that have emerged as a result include Indra Nooyi, former chairwoman of Pepsi, who now sits on Amazon’s board and whose name has been floated to run the Commerce Department, three sources said.

Facebook, unlike the other companies, has already made significant inroads into the Biden transition team, multiple sources said.

For example, former Facebook director Jessica Hertz is the Biden transition’s general counsel. Austin Lin, a former program manager at Facebook, is on an agency review team for the Executive Office of the President. Erskine Bowles, a former Facebook board member, is already advising the transition team, along with Jeff Zients, another former Facebook board member, who has now been picked to become Biden’s COVID-19 czar.

Another ally for some large tech companies is Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who has ties with both Amazon and Google, according to four sources. Google was a client at WestExec Advisors, which was founded by Blinken. Blinken also helped Amazon’s public policy and communications chief Jay Carney get hired into Joe Biden’s media team in 2008.

Google’s Castaneda said the company’s relationship with West Exec lasted one month in 2018 and the company did not retain any member of the firm. Carney declined comment. WestExec Advisors declined comment. Blinken did not respond to requests for comment.

Four sources said names floated by tech companies have been discussed during meetings held by the Biden transition’s agency review teams. These teams have made several hiring recommendations, they said.

GROWING PUSHBACK

While Silicon Valley reaches for a bigger seat at the table, the pushback from progressive groups is notable.

In November, 32 antitrust, consumer advocacy, labor and related groups sent a letter to Biden asking him to reject the influence of Big Tech companies on his administration.

Many of these groups are now banding together and advocating more forcefully. For example, several of the 32 are part of a new coalition that is designed to expand the number of groups that care about the industry’s influence on government. Alex Harman, who oversees competition policy for Public Citizen, an advocacy group which is part of the coalition, said he has been in meetings with Biden’s agency review teams with a clear goal: making sure such hires are not made by the administration.

Biden’s teams have been listening to their concerns, but it’s not much of a dialogue, he added. “They are not telling us what they are thinking, they are just asking us what our priorities are.”

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Edward Tobin

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-tech-biden-insight/big-techs-stealth-push-to-influence-the-biden-administration-idUSKBN28V170

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Reuters

EXCLUSIVE Galp to hold off on LNG investment until Mozambique ensures security

Portugal’s Galp Energia (GALP.LS), a partner in an Exxon Mobil-led gas consortium in Mozambique, will not invest in onshore plants there until authorities guarantee security and social stability, which may take time, CEO Andy Brown told Reuters.

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The logo of GALP is seen next to a petrol station of GALP company near Lisbon, Portugal July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/Files

Portugal’s Galp Energia (GALP.LS), a partner in an Exxon Mobil-led gas consortium in Mozambique, will not invest in onshore plants there until authorities guarantee security and social stability, which may take time, CEO Andy Brown told Reuters.

This marks a second setback to Mozambique’s hopes to develop a major liquefied nature gas (LNG) hub in the coming years after TotalEnergies (TOTF.PA) suspended its own, separate LNG project in the country.

Attacks by militants in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region, near the $30 billion Rovuma liquefied natural gas project, have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the area. read more

The Mozambican government has said it expects the consortium to take the final investment decision, already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year.

But the CEO of Galp, which has a 10% stake in the consortium, told Reuters on Monday his company did not include investments in Rovuma’s onshore facilities in its net capital expenditure plan for the next five years.

“It means that at the moment it’s very hard for us to predict when the time to invest will be,” Brown said.

“Last year we were really planning to have built Rovuma by 2025 and I don’t want to make a promise on Rovuma and then disappoint the market again,” he said.

“We continue to monitor security developments in the region,” said Exxon (XOM.N) spokesperson Todd Spitler, adding that the company is working with the government of Mozambique “to enable development of this world class resource.”

The other major partner, Italy’s Eni (ENI.MI), declined to comment.

“Before Galp starts investing in the project, the government needs to work with the local population to create the right kind of stability and social cohesion, as well as security, on the ground … That may take a while,” Brown said.

Brown said that once France’s TotalEnergies, which stopped construction of a separate LNG project near Rovuma due to the latest attacks in March and is working with Mozambique to ensure stability in the area, has reliably resumed the work, “we will be in a position to consider our own project”.

Despite the setbacks, Mozambique with its attractive gas projects is “a really important country for Galp”, Brown said, and the consortium is “working to get the cost to a level where this project is really competitive”.

Brown said that over the next five years, Brazil will absorb “the vast majority” of the 320 million to 400 million euros ($388 million to $485 million) of net capex which Galp has allocated to upstream annually, while there will be “some investment in floating LNG in Mozambique and some small investments in Angola”.

The investments in Brazil will be “mostly allocated to already sanctioned developments, including the Bacalhau I,” he said.

($1 = 0.8252 euros)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Mozambican government has said it expects the consortium to take the final investment decision, already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/business/exclusive-galp-says-it-wont-invest-rovuma-until-mozambique-ensures-security-2021-06-14/

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Reuters

Google dangles paid upgrade to businesses using Gmail addresses

Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday unveiled an option for small businesses to upgrade their Gmail accounts for greater calendaring, video chat and email newsletter functionalities.

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is seen on a building at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris, France, September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday unveiled an option for small businesses to upgrade their Gmail accounts for greater calendaring, video chat and email newsletter functionalities.

Google Workspace Individual, which starts at $7.99 monthly including a temporary $2 discount, adds to the company’s expanding efforts to have users subscribe to some of its services such as YouTube and Google Photos in exchange for more support and features than are available for free. Subscription sales could help Google grow revenue beyond advertising.

The small-business offering compares with existing plans aimed at larger organizations that have their own websites to use in email addresses.

Javier Soltero, vice president for Google Workspace, told reporters that his unit had been informally saving photos of business cards or work vehicles mentioning an “@Gmail.com” address to “remind ourselves of the sheer number of people using our consumer products to run their businesses.”

Those that upgrade for appointment booking, newsletter production and other tools should be able to provide a more professional experience to clients, he said.

Workspace Individual will launch soon in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Japan.

Google announced other changes to Workspace on Monday. Big businesses will be able to control encryption of their files on Google Drive for the first time and prevent Google from unlocking them. Airbus SE is an early customer.

All users now have access to Google Chat, the company’s successor to instant-message program Google Hangouts.

Now for the first time in years, free and paid users alike will have the same set of chat and email services, providing a common foundation that makes it simpler to develop new features, Soltero said.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/alphabet-google-workspace/google-dangles-paid-upgrade-to-businesses-using-gmail-addresses-idUSL2N2NT21G

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Reuters

Internal data from breach circulating online -CD Projekt

Internal company data leaked during a February security breach is now being circulated on the internet, Polish video games maker CD Projekt (CDR.WA) said in a statement published on Thursday.

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Cd Projekt headquarters is pictured in Warsaw, Poland January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Internal company data leaked during a February security breach is now being circulated on the internet, Polish video games maker CD Projekt (CDR.WA) said in a statement published on Thursday.

The attack, which compromised some of its internal systems including the source code to its much-hyped game Cyberpunk 2077, dealt another blow to the Warsaw-based business after the game’s launch was beset by glitches.

“We are not yet able to confirm the exact contents of the data in question, though we believe it may include current/former employee and contractor details in addition to data related to our games,” the statement said.

It added that the company couldn’t confirm whether or not the data has been manipulated or tampered with since the breach.

Separately, video game maker Electronic Arts Inc (EA.O) said on Thursday that it is investigating a recent data breach, where some of its game source code and related tools were stolen.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/technology/internal-data-breach-circulating-online-cd-projekt-2021-06-10/

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