Trade Talks Should Keep Startups in Mind. Representatives from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico met in D.C. this week to kick off talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. You may think of things like auto manufacturing and government contracts when you hear NAFTA, but it has major implications for U.S. startups that do business abroad or plan to do business abroad.
Tech Community Comes to Section 230’s Defense. Thousands of Internet companies rely on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from being held legally responsible for what their users say online. That’s why we and more than 30 companies, groups, and organizations—including Copia, Automattic, Cloudflare, GitHub, Medium, Patreon, and Reddit—wrote to two lawmakers looking to narrow Section 230’s protections in the name of curbing sex trafficking. In a letter this week, we reiterated the tech community’s demonstrated commitment to the laudable fight against sex trafficking but explained that the new bill from Sens. Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal would have unintended devastating consequences for the Internet.
Startups Oppose Senate Bill Creating Exceptions to Bedrock Internet Law. A bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation this week that would undermine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the fundamental intermediary liability law that protects Internet companies from being held legally responsible for what their users say on their platform. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act has the admirable goal of cracking down on sex trafficking online, however, injecting an exception like this in to CDA 230 would create a huge litigation risk for early stage companies that could drastically diminish investment in the sector. While we continue to work with legislators and victims groups to curb the horrific practice of sex trafficking, Engine has opposed this legislation. If you are a startup, sign onto our letter and tell Congress not to undermine the protections that created the Internet. Also, check out our op-ed with the Charles Koch Institute on the importance of CDA 230 to the success and growth of the Internet.
Engine applauds Senators Lee and Leahy for their continued work on updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The Lee-Leahy bill will modernize the nation’s electronic privacy laws and bring protections against warrantless searches into harmony with the technological realities of today.
Alexa Accelerator Names Nine Startups for Inaugural Amazon and Techstars Program. Amazon, in partnership with Techstars, welcomed the first class of its new Alexa Accelerator. Amazon will incubate nine startups for three months, providing seed money, mentorship opportunities, and access to University of Washington researchers. The Alexa Accelerator is an initiative spun out of the Alexa Fund, and is specifically geared toward incubating startups that work on applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to voice platforms. Amazon’s Alexa product line utilizes voice recognition to allow people to interact with a robot personal assistant, and the company has been heavily investing in technology to help bolster the products.
The First Comment Period for the FCC NPRM on Net Neutrality Closes. Monday was the deadline for the first round of comments to be filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that addresses the 2015 Open Internet Order. Engine was one of over 10 million groups and individuals to file comments with the Commission. The deadline for reply comments extends to August 16. In its submission, Engine explained the need for clear regulations to protect startups from threatening behavior by ISPs and incumbents. “The NPRM’s indifference to the ISP abuse of their terminating access monopoly power is incredibly dangerous to entrepreneurship. Without bright line rules banning anti-competitive ISP practices, startups will be put at a structural disadvantage in competing with well-heeled incumbents, causing venture investment to dry up and innovation to suffer,” Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, wrote. The White House, which has been mostly mum on the topic, also weighed in on the debate this week. “The best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Engine Testifies Against Bad Patents at House Judiciary Committee Hearing. On Thursday, Engine’s President, Julie Samuels, testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on the impact of bad patents on American businesses. Julie spoke to the weaknesses in the patent system and the progress that has been made to weed out low quality patents by Congress, the courts and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patent trolls, armed with low-quality patents, are able to extract settlements from startups and small businesses, adversely impacting the companies that can least afford these threats. Since startups and small businesses are key drivers of innovation and job growth, troll threats against them are particularly stifling to American economic growth and prosperity.
Engine Welcomes Reintroduction of Stock Options Bill. On Tuesday, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Dean Heller (R-NV), along with Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) reintroduced the Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership (EESO) Act, bipartisan legislation that will make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options. Engine was joined by more than 70 companies and organizations in sending a letter supporting the legislation. In response to the reintroduction, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, noted that “The Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership Act will allow more employees to obtain a stake in the companies that they help to build and grow. This policy change is a no-brainer and a win-win for both startups and their employees.” Read more here.
President Trump hosted “Tech Week” this week at the White House. Events held earlier in the week included a meeting with tech company CEOs to discuss a number of policy issues including cybersecurity, tax reform, and updating the government’s technology. CEOs from 18 leading tech companies attended including Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Intel. Later in the week, the White House held meetings with investors and executives to discuss emerging technologies like drones, 5G wireless expansion, and artificial intelligence.