Top Tech News You Need to Know: The White House, Reddit and More

Happy Friday, good people! It has certainly been a long four-day work week, packed with news concerning the safety of the cloud, high-profile hacks, transactional breaches and the loss of Joan Rivers at age 81. With so much commotion at the intersection of tech and culture, we’ve pulled together some of this week’s news you may have missed, including the FCC’s new cable company stance, Verizon’s $7.4 million bill, the newest U.S. CTO and more. 

FCC to Promote High Speed Broadband Competition

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the U.S. lacks a competitive broadband market. In a speech delivered at 1776, a startup incubator in Washington, Wheeler said, “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections.”

Wheeler said the commission would not seek greater regulation but would encourage and promote competition where it doesn’t exist, including rural areas. He also said the FCC would oppose mergers that reduce competition, likely a reference to the merger rumors surrounding Comcast and Time Warner. 

Since the speech, many journalists have been quick to point out that Wheeler’s public addressing of such well-known issues as a cable monopoly – a topic that has been gaining more and more traction and press since the potential destruction of net neutrality first came to light – may be a signal that the battle for net neutrality has been lost.

“My guess is that he realizes that creating any kind of meaningful network neutrality is impossible, so he has to go for the nuclear option,” wrote Stacey Higginbotham of Gigaom. “Not reclassification, but calling out the industry for the lack of competition that is why we need network neutrality in the first place.”

U.S. Internet speeds and prices remain some of the lowest and highest, respectfully, in the world. 

Verizon to Pay 7.4M for Unethically Collected Customer Data

In a major win for data collection and use transparency advocates, Verizon will pay out $7.4 million to settle an investigation that found the company failed to properly notify some customers of their privacy rights before using their information for marketing.

The investigation, led by the FCC, found that starting in 2006, some 2 million new Verizon phone customers did not receive proper privacy notices in their first bill. The notices would have told consumers how to opt out of having their personal information used to tailor marketing offers, which the company later sent to some of them. 

“It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal info without giving them the choice to opt out.”

“It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out,” Travis LeBlanc, acting chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement.

The payment marks a precedent for the FCC, which typically regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, giving the agency additional authority over consumer data rights, an issue the FCC has been actively attempting to oversee since at least 1999

Megan Smith, New U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Hails from Google[X]

On Thursday, the White House confirmed that Megan Smith, vice president of Google’s super-secret Google[X] research lab, will be the new Chief Technology Officer of the United States.

Megan joined Google in 2003, later joining Google[X] as vice president and co-lead for Solve For X, Google’s thinktank/conference for people working on so-called “moonshot” projects.

She is the third U.S. CTO, following Aneesh Chopra and Todd Park.

Etsy, Reddit and More Join in Protest Against Lack of Net Neutrality

On September 10, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Reddit and other sites will alter their load speeds to show potential impact of an FCC decision to kill net neutrality. These companies will install a widget on their sites to show how they believe the internet would look if the FCC overturns net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality has been a hot issue for the FCC, cable companies and the tech world for the better part of 2014. Net neutrality rules currently keep Internet speeds even across all industries – meaning that a startup and a site like the New York Times will load similarly for users. This gives small companies and those attempting to brand themselves online a competitive chance to gain users, given that there is no lag time for loading. 

Killing net neutrality will result in the creation of Internet fast lanes, in which large companies can pay to keep Internet speeds high, decreasing load time. For others who do not pay up, Internet speeds will diminish. 

“I think the three most hated words on the internet right now are ‘Please wait, loading … ‘”

Evan Greer, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a pressure group helping to organize the protest day, said in an email to The Guardian: “Net neutrality is tough to explain to people, so we wanted to organize an action that actually shows the world what’s at stake. I think the three most hated words on the internet right now are ‘Please wait, loading … ‘ Unless internet users unite in defense of net neutrality, we could be seeing those dreaded ‘loading’ wheels a lot more often on some of our favorite websites, while monopolistic companies get to decide which content gets seen by the most people.” 

Earlier this summer, John Olivier’s rant over net neutrality led to a temporary FCC site shut down due to traffic and helped lead to more than 1.1 million comments from Americans requesting that the FCC maintain current net neutrality rules. Given FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s remarks on Thursday concerning increasing cable company competition, many believe the net neutrality issue is lost.