Instead of Larry Page, Google sends written testimony to tech’s Senate hearing

Silicon Valley is about to have another big moment before Congress. On Wednesday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee to follow-up on their work investigating (and hopefully thwarting) Russian government-linked campaigns to sow political division in the US. The hearing is titled “Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms” and begins tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM ET.

It will be both Dorsey and Sandberg’s first time appearing before Congress on the high-stakes topic, but they’re not the only invitees. Alphabet CEO Larry Page was also called before the committee, though he is the only one of the three to decline to appear on Wednesday. Google also declined to send Sundar Pichai.

“Our SVP of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, who reports directly to our CEO and is responsible for our work in this area, will be in Washington, D.C. on September 5, where he will deliver written testimony, brief Members of Congress on our work, and answer any questions they have,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We had informed the Senate Intelligence Committee of this in late July and had understood that he would be an appropriate witness for this hearing.”

The spokesperson added that the company has briefed “dozens of committee members” and “briefed major Congressional Committees numerous times” regarding its efforts to safeguard US elections from interference originating abroad.

On Tuesday, Google published the written remarks it planned to deliver the following day in a blog post by Kent Walker, the company’s lead legal counsel and now SVP of global affairs.

In the statement, Google predictably reviews the steps it has taken to follow through on previous promises to Congress. Those steps include an ID verification program for anyone seeking to buy a federal US election ad from Google, in-ad disclosures attached to election ads across Google’s products, a transparency report specific to political ads on Google and a searchable ad library that allows anyone to view political ads for candidates in the US. As we previously reported, that database does not include issue-based ads or any ads from state or local races so its utility is somewhat limited though new ads will be added on an ongoing basis.

In the statement to Congress, Google also touted its Advanced Protection Program​, an effort to discourage spear phishing campaigns, and Project Shield, a free DDoS protection service for US campaigns, candidates and political action committees. You can read the full statement, embedded below.

There’s not much surprising in the letter summarizing Google’s progress, nor does the company identify any particular shortcomings or specific areas of concern. That isn’t surprising either. For tech companies on Capitol Hill, the name of the game is ticking off each point of good behavior while divulging as little new information as possible.

Because the committee has decided that it’s heard plenty from Google’s lawyers already, the company’s chair will sit empty tomorrow. Needless to say, the committee —in particular its vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner — isn’t happy about it. The committee is certainly right about one thing: during testimony, a company’s lead counsel is indistinguishable from an empty hot seat.

Tomorrow, we’ll get to see if Dorsey and Sandberg can pull of the same disappearing act. Considering Mark Zuckerberg’s enduring and even performance earlier this year and Facebook’s (in)famously composed public posture, Sandberg is certainly the favorite to make it out without breaking a sweat.

Skype finally adds call recording

Skype is the communication tool of choice (and necessity) for millions, but it has always lacked a basic feature that no doubt many of those millions have requested: call recording. Well, Microsoft finally heard our cries, and recording is now built into Skype on both desktop and mobile.

Inexplicably, the ability is available in the latest version of the app on every platform except Windows 10. Apparently it’ll be added in a few weeks.

Recording is pretty simple to activate. Once you’re in a call, just hit the plus sign on the lower right and then select “Start recording.”

The others on the call will see a little banner announcing the call is being recorded, “so there are no surprises.” But Microsoft is clearly leery of consent laws and reminds you via that same banner to verbally inform your interlocutors that you’re recording it.

When the call is finished, the recording — video and audio — is stored online as an MP4 for up to 30 days, during which time you and anyone who was on the call can save it locally or share a link to it.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a way to record only audio, which is a bit annoying. A call with 3 people on video can get big fast. Hopefully they’ll address that in an update.

People have used third party apps for years to record their Skype conversations; I’ve been using MP3 Skype Recorder, and it’s been pretty solid. I’m afraid that it might not survive the duplication of its key feature — recording, obviously — inside the app on which it piggybacks. But because, among other things, I’m paranoid, I’ll probably keep it installed as a backup. I’ve asked the creator what he thinks of Skype’s latest feature and what it means for apps like his.

In the meantime everyone except Windows 10 users should start Skyping like never before and recording everything to do a bit of system stressing for Microsoft. It’s what they’d want.

Expanding its internet service to more countries in Africa, Tizeti raises $3 million

Tizeti, the Nigerian internet service provider behind the brand Wifi.com.ng, has raised $3 million in a new round of funding as it expands its unlimited internet service into Ghana.

The new financing was led by 4DX Ventures, a new, Africa-focused fund that’s been deploying capital at an incredibly fast clip since its launch earlier this year. Its portfolio includes Sokowatch, a startup connecting local African retailers to international suppliers; the outsourced programmer placement and apprenticeship service, Andela; and the integrated pharmacy supplier and operator, mPharma.

For Walter Baddoo, one of 4DX Ventures co-founders and a new addition to the Tizeti board, the value in a company that operates as “the Comcast of Africa” was clear.

“If you take the efficiency of point to multipoint wireless technology and you add to that solar infrastructure, you leap-frog a generation of infrastructure. That makes getting cheap data to the hands of customers much easier,” Baddoo says.

Tizeti does exactly that. Using solar energy to power its wireless towers, the company provides residences, businesses, events and conferences with unlimited high-speed broadband internet access, which now covers more than 70 percent of Lagos. Since its launch from Y Combinator’s winter 2017 batch, the company has installed over 7,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in Nigeria with 150,000 users.

Tizeti co-founders Ifeanyi Okonkwo and Kendall Ananyi

In November, the company partnered with Facebook to offer Express Wi-Fi and roll out hundreds of hotspots across the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

Now, with the new funding, Tizeti is expanding its operations outside of Nigeria, launching a new brand — Wifi.Africa — and pushing its service into Ghana.

Tizeti was built to tackle poor internet connectivity not only in Nigeria, but on the continent as a whole, by developing a cost-effective solution from inception to delivery, for reliable and uncapped internet access for potentially millions of Africans,” said Kendall Ananyi, the co-founder and chief executive of Tizeti.

The company’s unlimited internet packages cost $30 per-month, a price it’s able to achieve through the use of cheap solar electricity to power its towers.

“Reducing the cost of data in Africa is a critical step in accelerating the pace of internet adoption across the continent,” Baddoo said in a statement. “Tizeti makes it easier and cheaper to connect Africa to the global digital economy and we are excited to partner with Kendall and his team on this mission.”

All of this is being powered by a network of new undersea cables stretching along the ocean floor that is bringing connectivity to the continent.

“There’s a ton of capacity going to 16 submarine cables [coming into Africa],” Ananyi told us back in 2017. “The problem is getting the internet to the customers. You have balloons and drones and that will work in the rural areas but it’s not effective in urban environments. We solve the internet problem in a dense area.”

It’s not a radical concept, and it’s one that has netted the company 3,000 subscribers already and nearly $1.2 million in annual recorded revenue in its first months of operations, Ananyi told us at the time.

“There are 1.2 billion people in Africa, but only 26 percent of them are online and most get internet over mobile phones,” says Ananyi. Perhaps only 6 percent of that population has an internet subscription, he said.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Steve Song

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