Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Enlarge (credit: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high at 6.3 percent. Job growth has stalled, with 9.6 million fewer jobs in January than the same month a year earlier. But gig companies say they’re having trouble finding people to drive, pick up, and deliver for them.

“I’m worried about one thing going into the second half of the year: Are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we’re going to have?” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told an analyst last month. DoorDash chief financial officer Prabir Adarkar called the situation “a tale of two cities,” with hordes of new customers racing to order takeoutbut fewer drivers offering to deliver it. DoorDash orders more than tripled in the last part of 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The looming driver shortage confounds executives’ predictions. “With record unemployment, we expect driver supply to outstrip rider demand” for the “foreseeable future,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said in May. For a time early in the pandemic, Lyft blocked new drivers from signing up. It was understandable, because today’s tech gig companies were born during the Great Recession. They benefited from a deep pool of workers newly outfitted with smartphones and suddenly in need of supplemental income.

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#doordash, #gig-economy, #pandemic, #policy, #postmates, #uber

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Feds indict John McAfee for cryptocurrency pump-and-dump fraud

John McAfee on his yacht off the coast of Cuba in 2019.

Enlarge / John McAfee on his yacht off the coast of Cuba in 2019. (credit: Adalberto ROQUE / AFP / Getty)

Federal prosecutors have indicted noted cybersecurity eccentric John McAfee for securities and wire fraud for misleading investors at the peak of the last cryptocurrency boom. In late 2017 and early 2018, McAfee urged his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers to invest in a number of obscure cryptocurrencies. Prosecutors say he failed to disclose his own financial stake in those tokens—and in some cases outright lied about it.

McAfee has been in custody in Spain since his arrest at a Barcelona airport last October. He was already facing extradition to the United States on tax evasion charges; the self-described Libertarian hasn’t filed a tax return for several years. Now he will face additional charges of securities and wire fraud alongside bodyguard Jimmy Watson, who allegedly helped McAfee carry out some of his pump-and-dump schemes.

The criminal complaint covers much of the same ground as a civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange commission at the time of his arrest last October.

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#cryptocurrency, #icos, #john-mcafee, #policy, #securities-fraud, #wire-fraud

0

Proposed law could force ISPs to stop hiding true size of monthly bills

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | McCaig)

Internet service providers could be required to release “broadband nutrition labels” with detailed information about prices, speeds, and data caps under legislation introduced by US Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.).

Craig’s “Broadband Consumer Transparency Act” would bring back expanded transparency requirements that were eliminated when then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai repealed net neutrality rules and deregulated the broadband industry in December 2017.

The bill “would require straightforward disclosures in an easily understandable format to help consumers better understand the services they are purchasing and protect against hidden fees and sub-standard Internet performance,” Craig said in a press release yesterday. The press release said the bill “would require sellers of broadband services to provide the following information to all consumers”:

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#broadband, #broadband-nutrition-label, #data-caps, #fcc, #policy

0

White House signals coming antitrust push with Tim Wu appointment

The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have.

Enlarge / The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have. (credit: Joe Daniel Price | Getty Images)

Longtime tech critic Tim Wu is joining the Biden administration as an adviser on technology and competition, a signal that the White House is likely to push for policies that rein in Big Tech.

Wu will be serving on the National Economic Council as special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, the White House said this morning. Wu confirmed the news in a tweet.

Wu is best known in tech circles as the man who coined the term “net neutrality” in the early 2000s. He has held several positions at the federal level before, including advisory roles with both the Federal Trade Commission and the National Economic Council. He has also been a full professor at Columbia University law school since 2006, where he teaches First Amendment and antitrust law.

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#antitrust, #biden-administration, #policy, #tim-wu, #white-house

0

Arizona House advances bill targeting Apple, Google mobile app stores

The Arizona State Capitol museum, flanked by the House of Representatives building (R) and a cactus (L).

Enlarge / The Arizona State Capitol museum, flanked by the House of Representatives building (R) and a cactus (L). (credit: mixmotive | Getty Images)

The Arizona state House of Representatives this week passed a landmark bill that would, if adopted, require Google and Apple to allow Arizona-based app developers to choose their own alternate payment systems.

The House voted 31-29 in favor of the bill (PDF), which does not directly mention either major mobile platform but nonetheless squarely targets both, as the text specifically applies to any “digital application distribution platform” that has more than 1 million cumulative downloads in a calendar year from Arizona users.

The text prohibits those platforms from locking either Arizona-based developers or Arizona-based users into using proprietary first-party in-app payment systems. It also prohibits platforms from retaliating against Arizona consumers or developers for opting into using a payment system “that is not owned by, operated by or affiliated with the provider.”

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#apple, #arizona, #coalition-for-app-fairness, #epic, #epic-games, #google, #laws, #policy, #state-laws, #states

0

100Mbps uploads and downloads should be US broadband standard, senators say

Illustration of fiber-optic cables.

Enlarge / Illustration of fiber-optic cables. (credit: Getty Images | Tetra Images)

Four US senators called on the Biden administration Thursday to establish a “21st century definition of high-speed broadband” of 100Mbps both upstream and downstream. This would be a big upgrade over the Federal Communications Commission broadband standard of 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, which was established in 2015 and never updated by former President Trump’s FCC chair, Ajit Pai.

Today’s letter was sent to FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and other federal officials by two Democrats, one independent who caucuses with Democrats, and one Republican. Noting that “the pandemic has reinforced the importance of high-speed broadband and underscored the cost of the persistent digital divide in our country,” they wrote:

Going forward, we should make every effort to spend limited federal dollars on broadband networks capable of providing sufficient download and upload speeds and quality, including low latency, high reliability, and low network jitter, for modern and emerging uses, like two-way videoconferencing, telehealth, remote learning, health IoT, and smart grid applications. Our goal for new deployment should be symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), allowing for limited variation when dictated by geography, topography, or unreasonable cost.

“We should also insist that new networks supported with federal funds meet this higher standard, with limited exceptions for truly hard-to-reach locations,” the senators wrote later in the letter. “For years, we have seen billions in taxpayer dollars subsidize network deployments that are outdated as soon as they are complete, lacking in capacity and failing to replace inadequate broadband infrastructure.”

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#broadband, #fcc, #policy, #upload-speed

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Revolut lets customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries

Fintech startup Revolut has its own banking license in the European Union since late 2018. It lets the company offer some additional financial services without partnering with third-party companies. And the company is going to let customers switch to Revolut Bank in 10 additional countries.

The Bank of Lithuania has granted a specialized license — it isn’t a full-fledged license per se as it focuses on some activities. The company is taking advantage of European passporting rules to operate in other European countries. Right now, Revolut takes advantage of its banking license in two countries — Poland and Lithuania.

In Lithuania for instance, you can apply for a credit card with a credit limit that’s twice the value of your monthly salary (up to €6,000). The company also offers personal loans between €1,000 and €15,000. You can pay back over 1 to 60 months.

Now, customers in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to become Revolut Bank customers. It’s not a transparent process as you need to get through a few steps to carry your account over.

But once this process is done, your deposits are protected under the deposit guarantee scheme. If Revolut Bank shutters at some point down the road, customers can claim up to €100,000 thanks to the scheme — both euros and foreign currencies are protected.

You can expect new credit products in the 10 new markets. Overall, Revolut has attracted 15 million customers. The company recently announced that it was also applying for a banking license in the U.K., its home country and its biggest market.

#challenger-bank, #europe, #finance, #fintech, #neobank, #policy, #revolut, #startups

0

Daily Crunch: Google swears off ad-tracking

Google says it’s focusing on privacy-friendly approaches to ad targeting, Okta acquires Auth0 and a flying taxi startup raises $241 million. This is your Daily Crunch for March 3, 2021.

The big story: Google swears off ad-tracking

While Google had already announced it would be phasing out support for third-party cookies in Chrome, it went further today by declaring that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

In fact, Google’s David Temkin argued in a blog post that attempts to build alternative approaches to ad-tracking will not “meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.” Instead, he pointed to Google technologies like its interest-based Federated Learning of Cohorts.

The tech giants

Okta acquires cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5B — With Auth0, Okta gets a cloud identity company that helps developers embed identity management into applications.

Netflix launches ‘Fast Laughs,’ a TikTok-like feed of funny videos — This feature (now rolling out on iOS) allows users to watch, react to or share the short clips as well as add the show or movie to a Netflix watchlist.

Facebook’s Oversight Board already ‘a bit frustrated,’ and it hasn’t made a call on Trump ban yet — Board member and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger implied that the binary choices the board has at its disposal aren’t as nuanced as he’d like.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Flying taxi’ startup Volocopter picks up another $241M, says service is now two years out — Alongside its vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas.

Identiq, a privacy-friendly fraud prevention startup, secures $47M at Series A — Identiq takes a different, more privacy-friendly approach to fraud prevention, without having to share a customer’s data with a third party.

After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools — CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Eleven words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck — Weeks or even months of working on your pitch deck could come down to the 170 seconds (on average) that investors spend looking at it.

Create a handbook and integrate AI to onboard remote employees — Professionals have adapted to remote working, but the systems they use are still playing catch-up.

First impressions of AppLovin’s IPO filing — AppLovin’s filing tells the story of a rapidly growing company that has managed to scale adjusted profit as it has grown.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cables could help soft robots transform into harder structures — The sub-category of soft robotics has transformed the way many think about the field.

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#advertising-tech, #policy

0

Facebook lifts ban on US political advertising

Facebook lifts ban on US political advertising

Enlarge (credit: KJ Parish)

Facebook will lift a ban on political advertising imposed after the US election to curb the spread of misinformation, and it has pledged to investigate whether its political ads systems need a further overhaul.

Advertisers would be able to resume running political ads on March 4, Facebook said in a blog post on Wednesday. It said it had introduced the temporary moratorium “to avoid confusion or abuse following Election Day.”

The social media company said it had received “feedback” about its ads system during the latest election cycle, including its inability to distinguish between ads from politicians and political groups and social issue ads from advocacy groups, for example.

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#donald-trump, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy

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Comcast hides upload speeds deep inside its infuriating ordering system

An NBC peacock logo is on the loose and hiding behind the corner of a brick building.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Comcast just released a 2020 Network Performance Data report with stats on how much Internet usage rose during the pandemic, and it said that upload use is growing faster than download use. “Peak downstream traffic in 2020 increased approximately 38 percent over 2019 levels and peak upstream traffic increased approximately 56 percent over 2019 levels,” Comcast said.

But while upload use on Comcast’s network quickly grows—driven largely by videoconferencing among people working and learning at home—the nation’s largest home-Internet provider with over 30 million customers advertises its speed tiers as if uploading doesn’t exist. Comcast’s 56 percent increase in upstream traffic made me wonder if the company will increase upload speeds any time soon, so I checked out the Xfinity website today to see the current upload speeds. Getting that information was even more difficult than I expected.

The Xfinity website advertises cable-Internet plans with download speeds starting at 25Mbps without mentioning that upstream speeds are just a fraction of the downstream ones. I went through Comcast’s online ordering system today and found no mention of upload speeds anywhere. Even clicking “pricing & other info” and “view plan details” links to read the fine print on various Internet plans didn’t reveal upload speeds.

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#biz-it, #comcast, #policy, #upload-speed

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Parler sues Amazon (again), claims AWS ban sank a billion-dollar valuation

The bright screen of a notebook computer illuminates the face of the person using it.

Enlarge / A person browsing Parler in early January, before the site got into a fight with AWS. (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Social media platform Parler has dropped a federal lawsuit alleging that Amazon colluded with Twitter to drive a rival offline—but in its place, the platform has filed a new state lawsuit alleging that Amazon deliberately tanked Parler’s valuation.

Parler’s new suit (PDF)—filed in King County, Washington, where Amazon is headquartered—argues mainly that Parler is no worse than the competition and that Amazon defamed and devalued it when AWS discontinued service.

The platform has been embroiled in legal battles with Amazon since January, when Amazon cut off Parler’s AWS hosting in the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Parler went offline shortly after and remained that way until mid-February.

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#amazon, #aws, #biz-it, #lawsuits, #parler, #policy

0

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

Our startup is planning on registering an international student employee in this year’s H-1B lottery. This will be our first H-1B.

Can you help demystify the H-1B process and provide any tips? We also want to hire an Australian and transfer their E-3. How quickly can this be done?

— Plucky in Pleasanton

Dear Plucky:

Thanks for your timely questions! There’s some great news for Australian citizens currently in the U.S. and looking for job transfers, amendments and extensions. Premium processing is now available for the E-3 working visa category! This means that transfers, changes of status, and extensions of status for Australians in the U.S. seeking an E-3 can now obtain adjudications from USCIS in as little as 15 days, making it much easier to hire an Australian who is currently in the U.S. for a new role. Go for it!

On the topic of H-1Bs, the registration period for this year’s H-1B lottery will open at 9 a.m. PST on March 9 and will close at 9 a.m. on March 25. Startups need to make sure they’re registering anybody they want to sponsor during this window. Take a listen to my recent podcast on H-1B Lottery Planning, Part 1 and Part 2, for a general explanation of how this year’s process will work and how best to prepare.

Planning is key for implementing a successful immigration strategy. As always, I suggest you consult with an experienced immigration attorney ASAP to help get organized for registering your H-1B candidate for the March lottery and doing as much prep work as possible so that you can put together a strong H-1B petition in the event your candidate is selected in the lottery.

An attorney will also be up to date on all the recent changes to immigration policy, such as USCIS rescinding a Trump-era policy that went into effect in 2017 that effectively made computer programming positions ineligible for an H-1B visa. You will also want to discuss backup options for the international student employee if they are not selected in this year’s lottery.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Registration and lottery process

Recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it will delay until next year the plan to shift from a random H-1B lottery to a wage-based one that would have selected registrants who would be paid the highest wage for their position and location. In January, the previous administration had finalized the rule implementing the wage-based lottery. The latest announcement ended weeks of speculation whether USCIS under the Biden administration would retain a wage-based H-1B allocation process, which falls in line with President Biden’s presidential campaign platform.

The random H-1B lottery in March means that H-1B candidates with the same education level who will be paid more will have no greater advantage than those being paid less. However, next year that may not be the case.

Regardless of whether there’s a random or wage-based lottery, individuals with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. university will continue to have the best chance of being selected in the H-1B lottery. The annual cap on H-1Bs remains at 85,000 and of those, 20,000 H-1Bs are reserved for individuals with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university. USCIS randomly selects enough registered candidates from the entire pool of registrants to reach the 65,000 regular H-1B cap first. Then it randomly selects another 20,000 registered candidates holding a U.S. master’s degree or higher, in what is called the advanced-degree cap exemption. Therefore, individuals with a U.S. advanced degree have two chances to be selected. To be eligible, your international student employee must have earned their advanced degree from an eligible and accredited U.S. institution by the time the H-1B petition is filed.

After the online registration period closes on March 25, USCIS will conduct a random computerized selection of registrations and will notify those selected by March 31. A completed H-1B petition must be filed within 90 days of being notified that the H-1B candidate was selected in the lottery, which means the filing deadline will be June 30.

In order to register your candidate for the H-1B lottery, your company will need to set up an online USCIS account if it does not already have one. This can be done at any time between now and the end of the registration period. Your attorney can help you with this and the online registration process.

For the online registration process, your company will have to provide the following information:

  • Full legal name of the candidate.
  • Gender.
  • Date of birth.
  • Country of birth.
  • Country of citizenship.
  • Passport number.
  • If the candidate is eligible for inclusion in the U.S. advanced-degree cap.

In addition, your company will have to pay the $10 registration fee, which can be submitted by entering a credit card, debit card, checking or savings account directly into the H-1B registration portal.

Tips for preparing

Generally, your startup and your H-1B candidate should start assembling documents you will need to submit. Your startup will need to get its tax identification number verified by the U.S. Department of Labor to prove that your startup is capable of sponsoring an individual for an H-1B. This needs to be done before your company can submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA), which is also sent to the Labor Department. An approved LCA must be submitted with your H-1B petition to USCIS. In addition to your startup’s tax ID, it will need the following:

  • If your startup formed recently, articles of incorporation, pitch deck, business plan, term sheet, cap tables.
  • Documentation showing your company can pay the prevailing wage for the H-1B candidate’s position and location: bank statements, tax returns, other financial documents.
  • Documents to prove your company is operating within the normal course of business, including marketing materials, company reports, screenshots of the company website.
  • Job offer letter to the H-1B candidate, including job title, detailed duties, benefits, salary and start date.
  • Minimum requirements for the position.

Your H-1B candidate will need:

  • An up-to-date resume.
  • Originals of diplomas, certificates, and transcripts (also scanned copies).
  • Past immigration documents, such as Form I-20 (certificate of eligibility for F-1 student status) or Form DS-2019 (certificate of eligibility for J-1 status.
  • Translations of any documents not in English along with a certified translation document.

For tips for filing the H-1B petition, listen to my podcast episodes on “Your Startup’s First H-1B” and “What Makes a Strong H-1B Petition.” Your attorney will be able to make the case that your H-1B candidate and the position your startup is offering meet the requirements of the H-1B specialty occupation visa.

As of now, premium processing for H-1B petitions remains available. Currently, USCIS is severely backlogged in all case types, so I often suggest using it, depending on the H-1B candidate’s start date and current geographic location. With premium processing, which is an optional service for a $2,500 fee, USCIS guarantees it will make a decision on a case within 15 days. If USCIS approves your H-1B petition, the earliest the international student employee can begin working under the H-1B visa is Oct. 1, 2022, which is the first day of the federal government’s new fiscal year.

Fingers crossed for you in this year’s H-1B lottery

All the best,

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!


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At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

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#column, #diversity, #e-3, #ec-column, #green-card, #h-1b, #immigration-law, #labor, #lawyers, #policy, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #verified-experts

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Google says it won’t adopt new tracking tech after phasing out cookies

While we’ve written about attempts to build alternatives to cookies that track users across websites, Google says it won’t be going down that route.

The search giant had already announced that it will be phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, but today it went further, with David Temkin (Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust) writing in a blog post that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin continued. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”

This doesn’t mean ads won’t be targeted at all. Instead, he argued that thanks to “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies,” it’s no longer necessary to “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

As an example, Temkin pointed to a new approach being tested by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which allows ads to be targeted at large groups of users based on common interests. He said Google will begin testing FLoCs with advertisers in the second quarter of this year.

Temkin pointed out that these changes are focused on third-party data and don’t affect the ability of publishers to track and target their own visitors: “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described FLoCs as “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology” and compared them to a “behavioral credit score.”

And while cookies seem to be on the way out across the industry, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating Google’s cookie plan over antitrust concerns, with critics suggesting that Google is using privacy as an excuse to increase its market power. (A similar criticism has been leveled against Apple over upcoming privacy changes in iOS.)

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #cookies, #google, #policy

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Jane Does v. GirlsDoPorn: How 22 millennial women brought down a porn empire

San Diego Superior Court

Enlarge / San Diego Superior Court (credit: sdcourt.ca.gov)

When she flew to San Diego in October 2013 with her friend who found a modeling ad on Craigslist, Jane Doe 7 believed she’d be paid $2,000 to do a nude photo shoot. And that photo shoot would only be released in Australia.

Instead, she found a much different reality. Jane Doe 7 ended up filming a porn video under duress in a hotel room where furniture blocked the door, preventing her from leaving.

First, Jane Doe 7 found out the photo shoot was actually a video shoot only when she was picked up at the airport by Matthew Wolfe, a videographer working for the porn website GirlsDoPorn. Doe didn’t know that last fact, either.

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#features, #policy, #tech

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Intel hit with $2.2 billion patent judgment

A multistory building with an Intel logo on the wall of its top floor.

Enlarge (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A Texas jury has ordered Intel to pay $2.18 billion in damages for infringing two patents. The lawsuit was filed by VLSI Technology LLC, a 4-year-old firm that Intel says has no products and no sources of revenue besides patent litigation.

The patents at issue in the case previously belonged to NXP Semiconductors, a Dutch company that spun off from Philips in 2006. NXP acquired the patents when it bought Freescale Semiconductor (itself a spinoff of Motorola) in 2015. Intel’s lawyer told jurors that NXP would get a portion of the proceeds from the lawsuit.

The two patents focus on methods for minimizing the power consumption of computing chips. One way to do this is by varying the system voltage: setting a higher voltage when high performance is needed, then lowering the voltage to conserve power afterward. One patent claims the concept of storing information about a memory chip’s minimum voltage in nonvolatile memory so the system can ensure that the memory circuit has a high enough voltage.

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#intel, #patents, #policy

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Dish tries to disrupt SpaceX’s Starlink plans as companies fight at FCC

Illustration of the Earth with lines representing a global network.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | skegbydave)

SpaceX and Dish Network are fighting at the Federal Communications Commission over Dish’s attempt to block a key designation that SpaceX’s Starlink division needs in order to get FCC broadband funding.

A SpaceX filing submitted yesterday said that Dish’s “baseless attempt” to block funding “would serve only to delay what matters most—connecting unserved Americans.” While Dish says it has valid concerns about interference in the 12 GHz band, SpaceX described Dish’s complaint to the FCC as a “facially spurious filing” that “is only the latest example of Dish’s abuse of Commission resources in its misguided effort to expropriate the 12 GHz band.”

The dispute is related to several FCC proceedings including one on a Starlink petition seeking designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) under the Communications Act. SpaceX needs this legal designation in some of the states where it won federal funding to deploy broadband in unserved areas. Dish asked the FCC to deny SpaceX the needed status in the 12 GHz band.

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#dish, #policy, #spacex, #starlink

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Microsoft issues emergency patches for 4 exploited 0days in Exchange

The word ZERO-DAY is hidden amidst a screen filled with ones and zeroes.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft is urging customers to install emergency patches as soon as possible to protect against highly skilled hackers who are actively exploiting four zeroday vulnerabilities in Exchange Server.

The software maker said hackers working on behalf of the Chinese government have been using the previously unknown exploits to hack on-premises Exchange Server software that is fully patched. So far, Hafnium, as Microsoft is calling the hackers, is the only group it has seen exploiting the vulnerabilities, but the company said that could change.

“Even though we’ve worked quickly to deploy an update for the Hafnium exploits, we know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Customer Security & Trust Tom Burt wrote in a post published Tuesday afternoon. “Promptly applying today’s patches is the best protection against this attack.”

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#advanced-persistent-threat, #apt, #biz-it, #exchange-server, #exploits, #microsoft, #policy, #tech, #vulnerabilties, #zerodays

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AWS director sues Amazon, alleging systemic racism in corporate office

Amazon's orange-yellow logo wall.

Enlarge / Amazon’s orange-yellow logo wall. (credit: David Ryder/Getty Images)

A senior manager at Amazon Web Services has filed suit against the company alleging race and gender discrimination, saying that she was underpaid, denied promotions, and sexually assaulted at the firm.

Charlotte Newman, who is Black, began working at AWS in 2017 in a public policy role. Prior to joining Amazon, she served as a congressional advisor, including a senior role advising US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). From the start, she alleges, she was “de-leveled”—hired at a position below the one for which she applied and for which she was qualified—and undercompensated as a result.

Underpaying Black employees through de-leveling is routine at Amazon, the suit (PDF) alleges. “When a company’s top leaders traffic in stereotypes of Black employees and fail to condemn intimidation tactics, managers farther down the chain will take note of that modus operandi and behave accordingly,” the filing reads.

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#amazon, #discrimination, #gender-bias, #policy, #racial-bias, #racism, #sexism

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Biden administration puts a price on carbon

Image of exhaust from power plants.

Enlarge (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

On Friday, the Biden administration announced it had fulfilled the requirements of one of the executive orders issued on the very first day of his presidency: determining what’s called the “social cost of carbon.” This figure tries to capture the cumulative economic value achieved by investing in limiting carbon emissions now. As such, carbon’s social cost plays a key role in informing the cost/benefit analysis of any government policy or regulation that influences carbon emissions.

The government is required to attach a value to the social cost of carbon, which typically requires the consideration of extensive economic and climate research. But the Trump administration had ended the process of updating the value after having chosen an artificially low one. Given a 30-day deadline to come up with a new one, the Biden administration has chosen to adjust the last pre-Trump value for inflation and use that until it can do a more detailed analysis of how the research landscape has changed over the last four years.

The net result is a dramatically higher price on carbon that will enable far more aggressive regulatory action for at least the next four years.

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#biden, #climate-change, #energy-policy, #policy, #science, #social-cost-of-carbon

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Donald Trump is one of 15,000 Gab users whose account just got hacked

Promotional image for social media site Gab says

Enlarge (credit: Gab.com)

The founder of the far-right social media platform Gab said that the private account of former President Donald Trump was among the data stolen and publicly released by hackers who recently breached the site.

In a statement on Sunday, founder Andrew Torba used a transphobic slur to refer to Emma Best, the co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets. The statement confirmed claims the WikiLeaks-style group made on Monday that it obtained 70GB of passwords, private posts, and more from Gab and was making them available to select researchers and journalists. The data, Best said, was provided by an unidentified hacker who breached Gab by exploiting a SQL-injection vulnerability in its code.

“My account and Trump’s account were compromised, of course as Trump is about to go on stage and speak,” Torba wrote on Sunday as Trump was about to speak at the CPAC conference in Florida. “The entire company is all hands investigating what happened and working to trace and patch the problem.”

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#biz-it, #ddosecrets, #gab, #hacking, #hate-speech, #leaks, #policy, #tech

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Why N95 masks are still hard to get, even though production is up

Medical masks move along a conveyor belt.

Enlarge / A machine makes respiratory masks in a family-owned medical equipment factory in north Miami, Florida, on February 15, 2021. The firm now has 30 million unsold masks because it can’t find buyers in the United States. (credit: Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images)

Even though we’ve had more good vaccine news lately, COVID-19 in the US is still very much a widespread concern. We’re still going to need masks for many months to come. So why, a year into the pandemic, are good ones still so hard to find?

The New York Times reports that there are dozens of small, US-based businesses that have pivoted to making medical-grade masks, but they can’t sell them to consumers because of policies put in place to protect supply chains at the beginning of the pandemic.

Facebook and Instagram will be happy to show you ads for cute, fashion-forward fabric masks (in adult and children’s sizes)—but not ads for actual medical-grade, government-approved N95 masks. The social network explained to the NYT that its policies are meant both to preserve supplies for workers in the health care field who need them the most and also to cut down on sales of counterfeits.

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#amazon, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #facebook, #kn95, #masks, #n95, #policy, #supply-chains

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“We knew T-Mobile couldn’t be trusted,” union says after 5,000 job cuts

A T-Mobile logo on the window of a store.

Enlarge / A T-Mobile logo at a store in New York on April 30, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

T-Mobile has cut at least 5,000 jobs since completing its acquisition of Sprint despite promising that the merged company would start creating new jobs “from day one.”

As noted by Light Reading today, a T-Mobile filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week said, “As of December 31, 2020, we employed approximately 75,000 full-time and part-time employees, including network, retail, administrative, and customer support functions.” That’s 5,000 fewer than the number T-Mobile gave on previous occasions, including a press release on December 8, 2020 that said there are “more than 80,000 employees at the post-merger T-Mobile.” The 80,000 figure was probably off by at least a few thousand employees by the time it was repeated in that press release, given that T-Mobile had 5,000 fewer employees just a few weeks later.

The US government didn’t impose any hiring requirements in the merger conditions that allowed T-Mobile to complete its acquisition of Sprint in April 2020. But T-Mobile and then-CEO John Legere made jobs a key part of their lobbying for the merger. In April 2019, Legere published a blog post titled “Just the Facts on Jobs: The New T‑Mobile Will Create Jobs From Day One.”

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#job-cuts, #layoffs, #merger, #policy, #sprint, #t-mobile

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TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

Enlarge (credit: Mateusz Slodkowski | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

TikTok parent company ByteDance has agreed to a $92 million deal to settle class-action lawsuits alleging that the company illegally collected and used underage TikTok users’ personal data.

The proposed settlement (PDF) would require TikTok to pay out up to $92 million to members of the class and to change some of its data-collection processes and disclosures going forward.

The suit, which rolled up more than 20 related lawsuits, mostly filed on behalf of minors, alleged that TikTok violated both state and federal privacy laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Video Privacy and Protection Act, through its use of data.

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#biometric-information-privacy-act, #bipa, #data-privacy, #lawsuits, #policy, #privacy, #settlements, #tiktok

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Texas couple’s $9,546 power bill spurs class-action lawsuit against Griddy

US and Texas flags seen next to power lines and transmission towers.

Enlarge / The US and Texas flags fly in front of high-voltage transmission towers on February 21, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan )

A Texas woman who was charged $9,546 for power this month has filed a class-action lawsuit against Griddy, alleging that the variable-rate electricity provider violated a state law against price gouging during disasters.

Lisa Khoury, a retiree in Mont Belvieu, signed up with Griddy in June 2019 and typically received monthly bills of $200 to $250 until this month’s power disaster that sent rates soaring. Griddy charged Khoury and her husband $9,546 from February 1 to 19, 2021, the lawsuit said, noting that “some customers received bills as high as $17,000.”

Khoury’s lawsuit filed Monday in Harris County District Court seeks certification of a class of thousands of Texas residents who bought power from Griddy, claiming they’re entitled to damages of over $1 billion.

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#griddy, #policy, #power, #texas

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Best Buy lays off 5,000 workers as it shifts focus to online sales

Snow outside of a Best Buy store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Feb. 17, 2021.

Enlarge / Snow outside of a Best Buy store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Feb. 17, 2021. (credit: Nick Oxford/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Best Buy says it has trimmed its headcount by 21,000 over the last year as the pandemic has accelerated the company’s transition to selling online. Most of those losses were due to attrition—including workers who were furloughed during the pandemic last year and then chose not to return to work. But Best Buy says that in recent weeks it formally laid off 5,000 workers. The company now has about 102,000 workers—including employees in its retail stores and corporate headquarters.

A company will often lay off workers because it is struggling. The last year has certainly been a challenging period for some brick-and-mortar businesses. This week, for example, electronics giant Fry’s shut down all of its stores.

But that doesn’t seem to be the situation at Best Buy, which has weathered the pandemic fairly well. In the last quarter, same-store sales at Best Buy’s brick and mortar stores were up 12 percent compared to a year earlier. Meanwhile, online sales were up an impressive 89 percent.

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#best-buy, #layoffs, #online-retail, #policy

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Google reportedly promises change to research team after high-profile firings

Google, by night.

Enlarge / Google, by night. (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

Google is reportedly promising that it will change its research review procedures this year in its AI division in an apparent bid to restore employee confidence in the wake of two high-profile firings of prominent women from the division.

Reuters obtained a recording from an internal meeting this month in which Google Research executives promised to better address “sensitive topics” and research critical of Google’s own business operations.

By the end of the second quarter, the approvals process for research papers will be more smooth and consistent, division Chief Operating Officer Maggie Johnson reportedly told employees in the meeting. Research teams will have access to a questionnaire that allows them to assess their projects for risk and navigate review, and Johnson predicted that a majority of papers would not require additional vetting by Google.

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#ai, #bias, #dei, #diversity, #equity, #ethical-ai, #google, #inclusion, #policy

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Google reportedly promises change to research team after high-profile firings

Google, by night.

Enlarge / Google, by night. (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

Google is reportedly promising that it will change its research review procedures this year in its AI division in an apparent bid to restore employee confidence in the wake of two high-profile firings of prominent women from the division.

Reuters obtained a recording from an internal meeting this month in which Google Research executives promised to better address “sensitive topics” and research critical of Google’s own business operations.

By the end of the second quarter, the approvals process for research papers will be more smooth and consistent, division Chief Operating Officer Maggie Johnson reportedly told employees in the meeting. Research teams will have access to a questionnaire that allows them to assess their projects for risk and navigate review, and Johnson predicted that a majority of papers would not require additional vetting by Google.

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#ai, #bias, #dei, #diversity, #equity, #ethical-ai, #google, #inclusion, #policy

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Australia passes law to force Facebook and Google to pay for news

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Enlarge / Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (credit: Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

The Parliament of Australia has passed a final version of legislation designed to force Google and Facebook to pay to link to news articles. The passage of the News Media Bargaining Code marks the end of a contentious months-long negotiation between the Australian government and the two technology giants—which are singled out in the code.

Google and Facebook have long argued that they shouldn’t have to pay a dime to link to news articles, since the links send valuable traffic to news sites. Over the last decade, Google has successfully beaten back efforts to undermine the principle of free linking.

But over the last couple of years, governments in Australia and Europe have become more determined to force American technology giants to financially support their domestic news industries. In 2019, the European Parliament created a new “neighboring right” giving news sites the right to control the use of “snippets” in search results, and French regulators made it clear that Google wasn’t allowed to simply stop showing snippets—Google needed to cough up some cash.

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#australia, #facebook, #google, #link-tax, #policy

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Working from home now? Your 2020 state tax situation could suck

The arm of the law can be long indeed.

Enlarge / The arm of the law can be long indeed. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Imagine for a moment that you work remotely—as so many now do in the COVID era—from a comfortable spare bedroom in your New Jersey home. Your employer is nominally based in New York City, but thanks to the pandemic, you didn’t even cross the Hudson River last year. So how is it that New York claims you owe them a pile of cash for state taxes?

Maybe this doesn’t sound terrible; after all, New York’s tax rates don’t differ so dramatically from New Jersey’s. But imagine instead that you took the opportunity provided by telecommuting to move to a “no income tax” state like Texas. Come tax time, you are planning on a big fat nothingburger of a state tax bill. And yet, New York could still claim state tax on your earnings. Now we’re talking a serious—and perhaps completely unplanned—financial hit.

Welcome, telecommuters, to the nightmare that can result when you and the state disagree about “where” you work.

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#employer-convenience, #features, #income-tax, #income-taxes, #new-york, #policy, #remote-work, #tax, #taxation, #telework

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Verizon and AT&T dominate spectrum auction, spending combined $69 billion

A US map with lines representing communications networks.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Verizon and AT&T dominated the US government’s latest spectrum auction, spending a combined $68.9 billion on licenses in the upper 3GHz band.

Verizon’s winning bids totaled $45.45 billion, while AT&T’s came in at $23.41 billion. T-Mobile was third with $9.34 billion as the three biggest wireless carriers accounted for the vast majority of the $81.17 billion in winning bids, the Federal Communications Commission said in results released yesterday. US Cellular, a regional carrier, was a distant fourth in spending, at $1.28 billion, but came in third, ahead of T-Mobile, in the number of licenses won.

The auction distributed 280MHz worth of spectrum in the “C-Band” between 3.7GHz and 3.98GHz. This spectrum will help carriers boost network capacity with mid-band frequencies that cover large geographic areas and penetrate walls more effectively than the higher millimeter-wave frequencies that provide the fastest 5G speeds to very limited geographic areas.

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#5g, #att, #biz-it, #fcc, #policy, #spectrum-auction, #t-mobile, #verizon

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New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads

Online advertising can be a “pretty dry topic,” as Facebook’s head of brand marketing Andrew Stirk acknowledged, but with a new campaign of its own, the social networking giant is looking to “bring to life how personalized ads level the playing field” for small businesses.

The Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found campaign will include TV, radio and digital advertising. Individual businesses will also be able to promote it using a new Instagram sticker and the #DeserveToBeFound hashtag on Facebook.

The campaign will highlight specific small businesses on Facebook, including bag and luggage company House of Takura, whose founder Annette Njau spoke about the benefits of digital advertising at a press event yesterday.

“What those platforms allow us to do is, they allow us to tell stories,” Njau said. “I can’t tell this story on TV, I can’t tell this story in a huge magazine because it costs money and I don’t know who will see it.”

These sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, where apps will have to ask for permission before sharing user data for third-party ad targeting. In response, Facebook claimed that it was “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” though the social network also pointed to these changes as one of the “more significant advertising headwinds” that it expects to face this year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, in contrast, has said that these changes provide consumers with the control that they’ve been asking for.)

When asked how this fits into the broader dispute with Apple, Stirk said that while Facebook has been publicly opposed to Apple’s changes, this campaign is part the company’s longer-term support for small business.

“There is a degree of urgency in the fact that … small businesses are hurting right now,” he said.

Head of Facebook Business Products Helen Ma added that this is “very much an extension of the work that we did on the product side at the very start of the COVID period,” which included the launch of the Businesses Nearby section and a #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag.

In addition to launching the campaign today, Facebook is announcing several product changes, including a simplified Ads Manager dashboard, new options for restaurants to provide more information about their dining experiences and more information about personalized ads in Facebook’s Business Resource hub and Instagram’s Professional Dashboard.

The company also said it will continue to waive fees on transactions through Checkouts on Shops through June 2021, and will do the same for fees collected on paid online events until August 2021 at the earliest.

#advertising-tech, #policy, #social

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After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers

A week after Facebook grabbed eyeballs globally by blocking news publishers and turning off news-sharing on its platform in Australia, the country’s parliament has approved legislation that makes it mandatory for platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content, to take account of how journalism is shared on their platforms.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was developed in conjunction with Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with the aim of addressing the power imbalance that exists between digital platforms and news businesses.

Facebook and Google had both lobbied aggressively against the legislation, with Google initially threatening to close down its search engine in Australia — before changing tack and hurrying to strike deals with local publishers in a bid to undercut the law by showing an alternative model.

But none of the tech giants’ moves derailed the legislative effort entirely.

“The Code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” said treasury minister Josh Frydenberg and communications minister Paul Fletcher in a joint statement today.

“The Code provides a framework for good faith negotiations between the parties and a fair and balanced arbitration process to resolve outstanding disputes,” they added.

The operation of the code will be reviewed by the government within a year “to ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with the Government’s policy intent”, they added.

On Tuesday Facebook reversed course on its intentionally over-broad news ban after the government agreed to make amendments to the draft legislation — including adding a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms and publishers to agree deals before being forced to enter into arbitration.

The government also agreed to take platforms’ existing deals with publishers into account before deciding whether the code applies to them and provide them with one month’s notice before taking a final decision.

Facebook said it was satisfied with the tweaks, having been concerned commercial deals it struck off its own bat would not be taken into account.

In a blog post which the tech giant entitled “the real story” (yes, really), Facebook’s chief spin doctor, Nick Clegg — aka the former deputy prime minister of the UK — wrote that the law as originally drafted would have forced it to pay “potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook”.

“Thankfully, after further discussion, the Australian government has agreed to changes that mean fair negotiations are encouraged without the looming threat of heavy-handed and unpredictable arbitration,” Clegg added.

Who exactly has come out on top in this stand off between a sovereign government and two of the biggest tech giants in the world remains to be seen. But if Facebook and Google were hoping to block the law they certainly failed.

Claims by the Australian government that public interest journalism has won are, however, being tempered by critical suggestions that the law will merely end up favoring big media over small publishers — after all, it’s the larger publishers Google has rushed to strike deals with, for example.

How much of the adtech duopoly’s money ends up trickling down to support smaller publishers and grow media pluralism in Australia isn’t yet clear. But the suspicion among some is that the whole episode amounts to a shake down of big tech by big media via their friends in government — and that ugly oligarchy won.

There is also the risk that by directly linking the funding of public interest journalism — and therefore, by implication, the vitality of a country’s democracy — to tech giants like Facebook and Google it will further entrench the monopoly positions of those selfsame giants.

Suddenly calls to break up Google et al can be conflated with ‘harming democracy’ by taking money away from ‘public interest journalism’. Even just the claim of support suggests rich PR pickings for Facebook and co.

Yet these are platform giants that already have massive and unprecedented power over the public information sphere — as Facebook just demonstrated, via its flex against legislators (showing it can flip a switch to crater traffic to all sorts of publicly valuable information if it so chooses, leaving all its users in an entire country vulnerable to disinformation).

Their dominance has also long been implicated in harming democracy around the world — as their ad-funded business models profile people and amplify content for profit, without any kind of public service mission (quite unlike traditional media).

So if the tech giants were looking for a cheap way to reduce their antitrust risk then paying over a couple of billion every few years to regional publishers (who they may hope will also dial down their techlash rhetoric as a result) probably doesn’t sound so bad.

Facebook said this week that it plans to spend at least $1BN on ‘supporting’ the news media over the next three years. Google also recently outted a $1BN fund for news licensing fees.

Neither company can claim it just discovered the existence of journalism; it’s crystal clear these suddenly pledged billions are only on the table because lawmakers have made platforms paying for news mandatory. (Australia is not alone here; EU lawmakers also legislated in recent years to extend copyright to cover snippets of news — which is starting to result in Google striking licensing deals with publishers in Europe.)

So news publishers are certainly winning by gaining revenue that wasn’t being made available to them before. Though at what wider cost — if the mechanism being used to support them helps entrench anti-democratic monopolists?

The lack of transparency around the commercial deals being struck between platforms and publishers is certainly unhelpful. Without clarity on such arrangements the risk, again, is that the law will favor the big publishers while the smaller ones (who may have more of a public interest mission) will be at a disadvantage — needing to work even harder to compete with tabloid giants further fattened up with fresh adtech profits.

Australia has for certain won something, though. It’s bagged the world’s attention for taking on tech giants through a legislative code.

Its direct thrust at Facebook and Google — coming up with a framework tailor made to take on their market power — has caught the eye of other policymakers and competition regulators.

The chief of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Andrea Coscelli, said this week that he’s watching the media code with interest as the UK government moves at a clip to set up a pro-competition regulator with the aim of reining in big tech, calling Australia’s approach of having a backstop of mandatory arbitration if commercial negotiations fail “a sensible one”.

“We are definitely following what’s happening in Australia,” he told the BBC. “We think they are dealing with problems we have in the UK as well and they are coming up with possible solutions to that. There are many variants to it but certainly I think it’s a very important data point for what we could in the UK.”

Asked if the UK should follow Australia’s example, Coscelli gave a cautious thumbs up to something along those lines, saying: “We have said we should also think about fair trading between publishers and the platforms for news content. So I know both government and parliament is certainly interested in what’s happening in Australia — and potentially thinking about something similar.”

#australia, #facebook, #google, #media, #news-media, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social

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Fed glitch shuts down wire transfers, direct deposits, other services

A long Neoclassical building in white marble.

Enlarge / The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Rudy Sulgan / Getty Images)

Federal Reserve electronic systems that enable US banks to send each other electronic payments experienced a massive outage on Wednesday afternoon. A Fed statement attributed the outage to an “operational error” but didn’t provide much more detail.

The Federal Reserve System acts as America’s central bank, and it controls much of the plumbing of the US financial system.

The automated clearing house (ACH) system is used for paychecks, bill payments, and other small and medium-sized transactions across the economy. The Check 21 system is used for clearing paper checks. It takes one to two days for these transactions to clear.

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#federal-reserve, #policy

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Biden admin plans executive order to address chip-shortage woes

An older man in a suit speaks from the Resolute Desk.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden signing a different executive order on January 28, 2021. (credit: Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images)

The White House is launching an effort today to ease the global semiconductor supply crunch affecting a wide array of other industries, but any boost the administration can provide is likely to be on the far side of many more months of shortages.

President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order this afternoon aimed at “securing America’s critical supply chains.” The order will address several challenges in the US supply chain, according to a fact sheet from the White House, with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals, mineral resources, semiconductors, and large-capacity batteries.

The order is a sort of combination of every US politicians’ favorite rallying cry—”more American jobs”—and an acknowledgement that shortages and production challenges in critical supply chains really have had a profound effect on the nation, especially in the past year. It calls for an immediate 100-day review that will “identify near-term steps the administration can take, including with Congress” to identify where the vulnerabilities in these supply chains are and what regulators or legislators can do to increase US manufacturing of these critical components.

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#biden, #biden-administration, #chip-shortage, #chips, #executive-orders, #policy, #semiconductors, #silicon-chips, #white-house

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Ukraine says Russia hacked its document portal and planted malicious files

Ukraine says Russia hacked its document portal and planted malicious files

Enlarge (credit: Oleksii Leonov)

Ukraine has accused the Russian government of hacking into one of its government Web portals and planting malicious documents that would install malware on end users’ computers.

“The purpose of the attack was the mass contamination of information resources of public authorities, as this system is used for the circulation of documents in most public authorities,” officials from Ukraine’s National Coordination Center for Cybersecurity said in a statement published on Wednesday. “The malicious documents contained a macro that secretly downloaded a program to remotely control a computer when opening the files.”

Wednesday’s statement said that the methods used in the attack connected the hackers to the Russian Federation. Ukraine didn’t say if the attack succeeded in infecting any authorities’ computers.

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#biz-it, #hackers, #policy, #russia, #tech, #ukraine

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Europe kicks off bid to find a route to ‘better’ gig work

The European Union has kicked off the first stage of a consultation process involving gig platforms and workers. Regional lawmakers have said they want to improve working conditions for people who provide labor via platforms which EU digital policy chief, Margrethe Vestager, accepted in a speech today can be “poor” and “precarious”.

Yet she also made it clear the Commission’s agenda vis-a-vis the issue of gig work is to find some kind of “balance” between (poor) platform work and, er, good and stable (rights protected) employment.

There’s no detail yet on how exactly regional lawmakers plan to square the circle of giving gig platforms a continued pass on not providing good/stable work — given that their sustainability as businesses (still with only theoretical profits, in many cases) is chain-linked to not shelling out for the full suite of employment rights for the thousands of people they rely upon to be engaged in the sweating toil of delivering their service off the corporate payroll.

But that, presumably, is what the Commission’s consultation process is aimed at figuring out. Baked into the first stage of the process is getting the two sides together to try to hash out what better looks like.

“The platform economy is here to stay — new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead,” said Vestager, segueing into a red-line that there must be no reduction in the rights or the social safety net for platform workers (NB: The word ‘should’ is doing rather a lot of heavy lifting here): “And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights. Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.”

“The key issue in our consultations is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy,” she also said, adding: “It is also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.”

The Commission’s two-stage consultation process on gig work starts with a consultation of “social partners” on “the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions in platform work”, as it puts it.

This will be open for at least six weeks. It will involve platforms talking with workers (and/or their representatives) to try to come up with agreement on what ‘better’ looks like in the context of platform working conditions, either to steer the direction of any Commission initiative. Or — else — to kick the legislative can down the road on said initiative if they can come up with stuff they can agree to implement themselves.

The second phase — assuming the “social partners” don’t agree on and implement a way forward themselves — is planned to take place before the summer and will focus on “the content of the initiative”, per Vestager. (Aka: what exactly the EU ends up proposing to square the circle that must be squared.)

The competition component of the gig work conundrum — whereby there’s also the ’employer fairness’ dynamic to consider, given platforms aren’t playing by the same rules as traditional employers so are potentially undercutting rivals who are offering those good and stable jobs — explains why the Commission is launching a competition-focused parallel consultation alongside the social stakeholder chats.

“We will soon start a public consultation on this initiative that has another legal base since it is about competition law and not social policies. This is the reason why we consult differently on the two initiatives,” noted Vestager.

She said this will aim to ensure that EU competition rules “do not stand in the way of collective bargaining for those who need it” — suggesting the Commission is hoping that collective bargaining will form some part of the solution to achieving the sought for (precarious) balance of ‘better’ platform work.

Albeit, a cynical person might predict the end goal of all this solicitation of views will probably be some kind of fudge — that offers the perception of a plug for the platform rights gap without actually disrupting the platform economy which Vestager has sworn is here to say.

Uber for one has scented opportunity in the Commission’s talk of improving “legal clarity” for platforms.

The ride-hailing giant put out a white paper last week in which it lobbied lawmakers to deregulate platform work — pushing for a Prop-22 style outcome in Europe, having succeeded in getting a carve out from tightened employment laws in California.

Expect other platforms to follow with similarly self-serving suggestions aimed at encouraging Europe’s social contract to be retooled at the points where it intersects with their business models. (Last week Uber was accused of intentionally stalling on improving conditions for workers in favor of lobbying for deregulation, for example.)

The start of the Commission’s gig work consultation come hard on heels of a landmark ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court (also last week) — which dismissed Uber’s final appeal against a long running employment tribunal.

The judges cemented the view that the group of drivers who sued Uber had indeed been erroneously classified as ‘self employed’, making Uber liable to pay compensation for the rights it should have been funding all along.

So if the EU ends up offering a lower level of employment rights to platform workers vis-a-vis the (post-brexit) UK that would surely make for some uncomfortable faces in Brussels.

While it may be unrealistic to talk about striking a ‘balance’ in the context of business models that are inherently imbalanced, given they’re based on dodging existing employment regulations and disrupting the usual social playbook for profit, he Commission seems to think that a consultation process and a network of overlapping regulations is the way to rein in the worst excesses of the gig economy/big tech more generally.

In a press release about the consultation, it notes that platform work is “developing rapidly” across various business sectors in the region.

“It can offer increased flexibility, job opportunities and additional revenue, including for people who might find it more difficult to enter the traditional labour market,” it writes, starting with some of the positives that are, pesumably, feeding its desire for a ‘balanced’ outcome.

“However, certain types of platform work are also associated with precarious working conditions, reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges, and insufficient access to social protection. Additional challenges related to platform work include its cross-border dimension and the issue of algorithmic management.”

It also notes the role of the coronavirus pandemic in both accelerating uptake of platform work and increasing concern about the “vulnerable situation” of gig workers — who may have to choose between earning money and risking their health (and the health of other people) via working and thus potential viral exposure.

The Commission reports that around 11% of the EU workforce (some 24 million people) say they have already provided services through a platform.

Vestager said most of these people “only have platform work as a secondary or a marginal source of income” — but added that some three million people do it as a main job.

And just imagine the cost to gig platforms if those three million people had to be put on the payroll in Europe…

In the bit of her speech leading up to her conclusion that platform work is here to stay, Vestager quoted a recent study she said had indicated that 35% to 55% of consumers say they intend to continue to ask for home delivery more in the future.

“We… see that the platform economy is growing rapidly,” she added. “Worldwide, the online labour platform market has grown by 30% over a period of 2 years. This growth is expected to continue and the number of people working through platforms is expected to become more significant in the years ahead.”

“European values are at the heart of our work to shape Europe’s digital future,” she also went on, taking her cue to point to the smorgasbord of digital regulations in the EU’s pipeline — and perhaps illustrating the concept of an overlapping regulatory net that the Commission intends to straightjacket platform giants into more socially acceptable and fair behavior (though it hasn’t yet).

“Our proposals from December for a Digital Services Act and a Digital Markets Act are meant to protect us as consumers if technology poses a risk to fundamental rights. In April we will follow up on our white paper on Artificial Intelligence from last year and our upcoming proposal will also have the aim to protect us as citizens. The fairness aspect and the integration of European values will also be a driver for our upcoming proposal on a digital tax that we plan to present before summer.

“All these initiatives are part of our ambition to balance the great potential that the digital transformation holds for our societies and economies.”

 

#eu, #europe, #gig-economy, #gig-platforms, #labor, #platform-regulations, #policy, #uber

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California can enforce net neutrality law, judge rules in loss for ISPs

Illustration of Internet cables filled with ones and zeroes.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Pasieka)

California can start enforcing the net neutrality law it enacted over two years ago, a federal judge ruled yesterday in a loss for Internet service providers.

Broadband-industry lobby groups’ motion for a preliminary injunction was denied by Judge John Mendez of US District Court for the Eastern District of California. Mendez did not issue a written order but announced his ruling at a hearing, and his denial of the ISPs’ motion was noted in the docket.

Mendez reportedly was not swayed by ISPs’ claims that a net neutrality law isn’t necessary because they haven’t been blocking or throttling Internet traffic.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#california, #net-neutrality, #policy

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Daily Crunch: Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia

The Facebook-Australia news battle seems to have reached an end, Android gets an update and Lucid Motors is going public via SPAC. This is your Daily Crunch for February 23, 2021.

The big story: Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia

Last week, Facebook responded to the Australian government’s proposed law requiring internet platforms to strike revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers by blocking news sharing and viewing for users in the country. But with the government amending the law, Facebook said it will restore news sharing in the “coming days.”

Among other things, the amendments call for a two-month mediation period before Facebook is forced into arbitration with publishers, and it also says the government will consider commercial agreements that the platforms have made with local publishers before deciding whether the law applies to them.

William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the amendments address “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

The tech giants

Android’s latest update will let you schedule texts, secure your passwords and more — This update will integrate a feature called Password Checkup to alert you to passwords you’re using that have been previously exposed.

Twitter relaunches test that asks users to revise harmful replies — Twitter is running a new test that will ask users to pause and think before they tweet.

Area 120 is beginning to use Google’s massive reach to scale HTML5 GameSnacks platform — GameSnacks is an HTML5 gaming platform where titles are bite-sized and load much faster.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Lucid Motors strikes SPAC deal to go public with $24B valuation — This will be the largest deal yet between a blank-check company and an electric vehicle startup.

Shippo raises $45M more at $495M valuation as e-commerce booms — The startup provides shipping-related services to e-commerce companies.

Reddit ups Series E round by another $116M — Reddit had already announced a $250 million Series E earlier this month.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How to overcome the challenges of switching to usage-based pricing — The usage-based pricing model almost feels like a cheat code, according to OpenView’s Kyle Poyar.

Oscar Health’s initial IPO price is so high, it makes me want to swear — Alex Wilhelm doesn’t mince words: “Public investors have lost their damn minds.”

RIBS: The messaging framework for every company and product — The test is designed to tell you if your story is memorable, so you can turn it into a compelling message.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Announcing the complete agenda for TC Sessions: Justice — Our second-ever dedicated event to diversity, equity, inclusion and labor in tech is coming up on March 3.

Six Miami-based investors share their views on the region’s startup scene — Investors see a huge opportunity for the region to become a major startup hub by utilizing its diverse workforce and wonderful quality of life.

SolarWinds hackers targeted NASA, Federal Aviation Administration networks — Hackers are said to have broken into the networks of U.S. space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as part of a wider espionage campaign.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #facebook, #media, #policy, #social

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Spain’s ten-year plan to put startups in the economic driving seat

Spain is preparing to push forward with pro-startup legislation, having recently unveiled a big and bold transformation plan with the headline goal, by 2030, of turning the country into ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’, as the slightly clumsy English translation has it.

Prime minister Pedro Sanchez took a turn on Web Summit’s stage in December to announce the introduction of the forthcoming Startup Act — and to trumpet a new role, a high commissioner, tasked with bringing off a nationwide entrepreneurial economic transformation by working with all the relevant government ministries.

The broad-brush goals for the strategy are to increase growth in startup investments; attract and retain talent; promote scalability; and inject innovation into the public sector so it can bolster and support Spain’s digital development.

The aforementioned Startup Act is the first piece of dedicated legislation for the sector — and is intended to simplify starting up in Spain, as well as bringing in tax concessions and incentives for foreign investments. So it will be something of a milestone.

Chat to local founders and there’s a litany of administrative, tax-based and fundraising pain-points they’ll quickly point to as frustrations. Wider issues seem more cultural; startups not thinking big enough, investors lacking the necessary appetite for risk, and even — among wider society — some latent suspicion of entrepreneurs. While Spain-based investors are champing at the bit for administrative reform and better stock options. Moving the needle on all that is the Spanish government’s self-appointed mission for the foreseeable future.

TechCrunch spoke to Francisco Polo, Spain’s high commissioner overseeing delivery of the entrepreneurial strategy, to get the inside track on the plan to grow the startup ecosystem and find out which bits entrepreneurs are likely to see in action first.

“The high commissioner for Spain entrepreneurial nation is a new body that’s within the presidency. So for the first time we have an institution that, from the presidency, is able to help coordinate the different ministries on one single thing: Creating the first national mission. In this case this nation mission has the goal to turn Spain into the entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” says Polo.

“What we do is that work of coordination with all the ministries. Basically we have a set of internal objectives. First is what we call impacts — different sets of measures that is contained in the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy. We also work trying to get everyone together on this national mission so we work on different alliances.

“Finally, we are also very focused on helping let the people know that Spain has made a decision to become — by 2030 — this entrepreneurial nation that is going to leave no one behind. So that’s our job.”

Scaling up on the shoulders of giants

The southern European nation doesn’t attract the same level of startup investment as some of its near neighbors, including the UK, France and Germany. But in some ways Spain punches above its regional weight — with major cities like Barcelona and Madrid routinely ranked as highly attractive locations for founders, owing to relatively low costs and the pull of a Mediterranean lifestyle.

Spanish cities’ urban density, high levels of youth unemployment and a sociable culture that’s eagerly embraced digital chatter makes an attractive test-bed for consumer-facing app-based businesses — one that’s demonstrated disruptive potential over the past decade+, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis which hit the country hard.

Local startups that have gained global attention over this period — for velocity of growth and level of ambition, at the least — include the likes of Badi, Cabify, Glovo, Jobandtalent, Red Points, Sherpa.ai, TravelPerk, Typeform and Wallapop, to name a few.

Spain’s left-leaning coalition government is now looking to pick up the startup baton in earnest, to drive a broader pro-digital shift in the economy and production base — but in a way that’s socially inclusive. The shift will be based on “an ironclad principle that we leave no one behind”, said Sanchez in December.

For this reason the slate of policy measures Sanchez’s government has distilled as necessary to support and grow the ecosystem — following a long period of consultation with private and public stakeholders — pays close attention to social impact. Hence the parallel goal of tackling a variety of gaps (territorial, gender, socio-economic, generational and so on) that might otherwise be exacerbated by a more single-minded rush to accelerate the size of the digital sector.

“We are a new generation of young people in government. I think in our generation we don’t understand creating a new innovation system or a new industrial-economic system if we are not also talking about its social impact,” says Polo. “That’s why at the basis of the model we have also designed inclusion policies. So all this strategy is aimed at closing the gender gap, the territorial gap, the socio-economic gap and the generational gap. So at the end of the day, by 2030, we have created the entrepreneurial nation with the highest social impact in history.”

There’s money on the table too: Spain will be routing a portion of the ‘Next Generation EU‘ coronavirus recovery funding it receives from the pan-EU pot into this ‘entrepreneurial’ push.

“Specifically, for 2021, the budget assigned to the different goals of the strategy — we have more than €1.5BN for the main measures that we want to start setting up. And for the period 2023 it’s over €4.5BN dedicated to the rest of the measures. So basically between 2021 and 2023 we will be setting the basis/foundations of the Spain entrepreneurial nation,” says Polo.

Execution of the strategy will be down to the relevant ministries of government — who will be enacting projects and passing legislation, as needed — but Polo’s department is there to “guide and accompany” the various arms and branches of government on that journey; aka “to help make things happen” with a startup hat on.

The national strategy envisages entrepreneurship/startup innovation as the driving force at the top of a pyramid that sits atop existing sectors of the Spanish economy — “spearheading the innovative system that we want to generate”, as Polo puts it. “We are not only focusing on innovative entrepreneurship. We are also trying to create virtuous cycles between this ecosystem and the actual driving sectors of the Spanish economy — that’s why we listed a set of ten driving sectors that represent above 60% of the GDP. And this is of utmost importance.”

The listed sectors where the government wants to concentrate and foster support — so those same sectors can leverage gains through closer working with digital innovation are: Industry; Tourism and culture; Mobility; Health; Construction and materials; Energy and ecological transition; Banking and finance; Digitalization and telecommunications; Agri-food; and Biotechnology.

“We decided we needed to make the cut at some point and we decided that putting together 60% of the GDP in Spain was a clear direction of the sectors that we could be using in order to accelerate the change that we want to see,” says Polo. “Basically what we want to shift with this model is that the innovative entrepreneurship that has been quite enclosed in the past starts working with the different driving sectors that we have in the country because they can help each other solve their different issues.

“So first, for example, for investment — what if big companies start investing more and more than they are actually doing? We accelerate also that path — into innovative entrepreneurship system. That is going to help close that gap… What if startups and scale ups in Spain work together with our international companies in order to attract and retain that talent? That is going to put us as a country in a better position.

“To me the best example is about scaling up: Because what is better than scaling up on the shoulders of giants? We have already a big number of international of world class companies that are in different markets so what is better than being able to scale up with a company that is already there, that has the knowledge and that can help you mature as a scale up in a shorter period of time. So there are a lot of virtuous cycles that we can generate and that’s why we wanted to make also a broad appeal to the different driving sectors. Because we want to let the country know that everyone is called to make this a reality.”

Lime scooters outside El Retiro Park in Madrid (Image credits: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Digital divides

Digital can itself divide, of course, as has been writ large during a global pandemic in which the development of children excluded from attending school in person can hinge on whether or not they have Internet access and computer literacy.

So the principle of entrepreneurial growth being predicated upon social inclusion looks like an important one — even if pulling off major industrial transformations which will necessitate a degree of retraining and upskilling in order to bring workers of all ages along the same path is clearly not going to be easy.

But the ten-year timeframe for ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ looks like a recognition that inclusion requires time.

The long term plan is also intended to address a common criticism of Spain’s politics being too short-termist, per Polo. “In Spain particularly it’s been a regular criticism that politics always look in the small term so this is proof that this government is also addressing the short term issues but also is preparing Spain for the future,” he says, adding: “We really believe that [presenting a long term vision is] a good thing and it’s an answer to that social demand.”

The country has also — over the last decade or so — gained a bit of a reputation for successfully challenging digital developments over specific societal impacts in Europe’s courts. Such as, in 2010, when a Spanish citizen challenged Google’s refusal to delist outdated information about him from its index — which led, in 2014, to Europe’s top court backing what’s colloquially referred to as the ‘right to be forgotten’.

Uber’s regulation-dodging was also successfully challenged by Spanish taxi associations — leading to a 2017 ruling at the highest level in Europe that Uber is a transport service (and therefore subject to local urban transport rules; not just a technology platform as the ride-hailing giant had sought to claim).

Anti-Uber (and anti-Cabify) strikes have, meanwhile, been a quasi-regular (and sometimes violent) feature of Spain’s streets — as the taxi industry has protested at a perceived lack of enforcement of the law against app-based rivals who are not competing fairly, as it sees it.

And while gig platforms (even homegrown European ones) tend to try to shrug off such protests as protectionist (and/or ‘anti-innovation’), they have oftentimes found themselves losing challenges to the legality of their models — including most recently in the UK Supreme Court (which just slapped down Uber’s classification of drivers/riders as self employed — meaning it’s liable for a slew of costs for associated benefits).

All of which is to say that the muscular sense of injustice that segments of Spanish society have willingly — and even viscerally — demonstrated when they feel unfair impacts flowing from shiny new tech tools should not be dismissed; rather it looks like people here have their finger on the pulse of what’s really important to them.

That may also explain why the government is so keen to ensure no one in Spain feels left behind as it unboxes a major packet of startup-friendly policies.

Among a package of some 50 support measures, the entrepreneurial strategy makes a reference to “smart regulation” and floats the idea of sandboxing for testing products publicly (i.e. without needing to worry about regulatory compliance first).

The idea of opening up sandboxing is popular with local gig platform Glovo. “I really believe this is key; allowing innovation to test products/services without having to go through regulatory nightmares to test. This would really drive innovation,” co-founder Sacha Michaud tells us. “This is working well in financial services but could be applied across a wide range of tech areas.”

Attracting more investment to Spain and improving stock options so that local companies can better compete to attract talent are other key priorities for him.

Michaud says he’s fully supportive of the government’s entrepreneurial strategy and the Startup Act, while not expecting immediate results on account of what he expects will be a long legislative process.

He’s less happy about the government’s in-train plan to regulate gig platforms, though — arguing that last-mile delivery is being unfairly singled out there. This reform, which is being worked on by the Ministry of Labor, has been driven by a number of legal challenges to platforms’ employment classifications of gig workers in recent years — including a loss last year for Glovo in Spain’s Supreme Court.

“In Glovo’s case [the government] are specifically looking at regulating only riders, last-mile delivery platforms — yet still allowing over an estimated 500,000 autonomous workers in logistics, services and installations to continue,” says Michaud, dubbing this “very discriminatory; affecting literally a handful of tech companies and ‘protecting’ the status quo of the traditional IBEX35 Spanish companies”.

Asked about progress on the reform of the labor law Polo says only that work is continuing. “I don’t have more transparency on the work they are doing. I have probably the same information that you have and the conversations that we have with the different companies, also the gig companies that we keep an open dialogue with,” he says.

But when pressed on whether reforming regulations to take account of tech-driven changes to how people work is an important component of the wider entrepreneurial strategy he also emphasizes that the “ultimate goal” of the national transformation plan is “to generate more and better jobs”.

“We are always inclined to try to foster the companies that generate these better and increasing new jobs,” says Polo. “And I’m sure that the different gig companies that we have in Spain — I know that they understand this ultimate goal. They understand the benefits for the company and for the country of following this path and that they are willing to transform and evolve as the country is also evolving.”

At the time of writing Barcelona is also being rocked by street protests over the jailing of rapper, Pablo Hasél, over certain social media postings — including tweets criticising police brutality — judged, by Spanish courts, to have violated its criminal code around glorifying terrorism.

Spain’s laws in this area have long been denounced as draconian and disproportionate. Including by Amnesty International — which called Hasél’s imprisonment “an excessive and disproportionate restriction on his freedom of expression”. But Polo dismisses the idea that there’s any contradiction in Spain seeking to rebrand itself as a modernizing, pro-entrepreneur nation at the same time as Spain’s courts are putting people in prison over the contents of their tweets. (Hasél is not the only artist or citizen to fall foul of this law — which has also been infamously triggered by social media jokes).

“There’s no opposition of concepts at all,” Polo argues. “Spain is one of the most robust democracies in the world and that is something that is not us who are saying it — it’s the international rankings. And we have a rule of law. And in this case it’s a very clear case of someone who went across the limits that are established in legislation because the freedom of speech has limits of the rights of other people so it’s something that has nothing to do unfortunately with freedom of speech… The reason why Pablo Hasél is in jail is because he promoted terrorism.”

Pressed further on how ‘jail time for tweets’ might look to an international audience, he reiterates a recent government statement that they do intend to reform the penal code. “There are very specific things that, yes, we want to reform. Because times have advanced,” he says, adding: “We are a more mature country than the one we were in the 1980s. And there are specific things that we want to change in the penal code — but they have nothing to do with the recent events.”

Graffiti in a Barcelona street protesting against the imprisonment of rapper, Pablo Hasél, for crimes involving freedom of speech (Image credit: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Measures to change mindsets

On the broader issue of cultural challenge — aka: how to change a national mindset to be more entrepreneurial — Polo expresses confidence in his mission. He says it’s about making sure people see the big picture and their place in the vision of the future you’re presenting to them; so they see you’re actively working to bring them along for the ride.

“This is one of the things that I feel confident about. Particularly based on my background prior to being in politics. That is helping change mindsets,” he tells TechCrunch. “In the past I was able to help tonnes of people realize that they were capable of doing things that they thought they were never capable of doing. My understanding is that in order to generate those cultural changes you need to do one thing first: That is generating a vision for the future.

“That’s why we insist so much that by 2030 Spain is going to become an entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history and that we have a plan for that… Where we take the entrepreneurship and we help them spearhead this new innovation model. We leverage all the driving sectors of the economy so we are actually building on success; on the actual success of Spain as an international economy. And that there’s something for you in that plan. That’s why we are including in the strategy at the basis of the strategy the inclusion policies in order to close the gender gap, the territorial gap, the socio-economic gap, the generational gap.

“In order to change cultures you need align people into working together towards building something that is greater than themselves and I think that with the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy we made that first step. And this is why — and this is a parenthesis — that’s why we say the [startup] law is as important as having this strategy.”

That startup law — due to be presented shortly in draft (aka as an anteproyecto de ley) for approval by the Council of Ministers, before going to parliament for a wider debate process (and potential amendments) — is the first piece of legislation aligned with the wider strategy. It also looks set to be one of its first deliverables.

Although it’s not clear how long it will be before Spain gets its shiny new startup law. (The country’s politics has lacked consensus for years; Sanchez’s ‘progressive coalition’ was only put together after he tried and failed to get a full majority for his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) twice in a row.)

“That’s something that is difficult to say because there are laws that have a shorter and others that have a longer period of approval,” says Polo, on the timeframe for passing the legislation. “For us the important issue here is that the startup law has a full process — so it has a full agreement on every side of the hill so it becomes robust and stable legislation for the years to come.”

This “long awaited” regulation which the ecosystem has been calling for for “years”, per Polo, will address a number of different issues — from the first legal “definition” of startup (to reflect differentiation vs other types of companies); to measures to help startups retain and attract talent.

“We need to reform stock options so that they become a tool in order to compete internationally for talent,” he says, noting that the idea is to enable Spain to compete with regimes already offered by countries elsewhere in Europe, such as the UK, France and Germany.

“Also we need to reform VISAs in order to again retain and attract that talent,” he continues. “The president also talked about incentivizing investment and having a certain degree of tax breaks — and we understand that business angels need more incentives. So we have a more ordain and logical system of investment at the pre-seed and seed stage. And many other actions — it’s the Ministry of Economy that will end up with the final text that will be passed in the Council of Ministers in the coming weeks.”

Polo cautions that the law won’t instantly fix every gripe of founders and investors in Spain. Clearly it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

“That’s why we have a strategy,” he emphasizes. “I understand the interest in the startup law but I always say that as important as the startup law is the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy. Because it’s in there where we address the big problems that we have as a country when it comes to the ecosystem. And in there we have pointed out four big challenges that we have.

“First is investment. We need to accelerate the velocity of maturity of the investment in Spain… The numbers have been growing, year after year, and they look really good. So what we want to do is to help accelerate those numbers so we are able to run faster and close the gap that we have between us and our neighbours: Basically Germany and France. That they have 4x or 5x the number of investment that we have in Spain. We really want to be in ten years in a place where Spain could be leading the investment in innovative entrepreneurship in mainland Europe.

“Second challenge: Talent. We know that in order to build the entrepreneurial nation we need all the talent that we have. So we need to develop the internal talent but we also need to attract international talent and we need to retain that talent. So that’s why we were talking about the different tools that might be included in the startup law.

“The third challenge is scaling up. We in Spain have a lot of companies that assimilate success to selling. And that’s great — it’s totally legitimate. But what we need as a country is to have an increasing percentage of companies in the future that do not think about selling as a synonym of success; but they think about buying other startups around the world. Of growing. Of scaling up. So they started building today the big companies that in the future by 2030 they will generate thousands of good quality jobs in Spain which is the ultimate goal and the bottom line of the strategy.

“And the fourth goal: Turn the political administration into an entrepreneurial administration. Meaning that the political administration, it’s more agile. That we generate a positive benchmark. And that sometimes the public sector makes the investment that not even the riskier of venture capital funds can do. Because that’s the role of the public sector; to generate this kind of visions and to put the means in in order to achieve those. So among all the challenges that we have in the ecosystem it’s something we have put together in the strategy — that is going to addressed not only with one law but with 50 different measures that we included in the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy.”

The wider entrepreneur strategy talks about nine priority actions to be developed in the next two years via certain projects — which Polo envisages being accelerated in the near term with the help of EU coronavirus recovery funds.

He highlights a couple of priority projects: One to create a network to link entrepreneurs and policymakers with the wider ecosystem, and another to connect incubators and accelerators to build out a national support network for founders — both of which have been inspired by approaches taken in other European countries.

“Among these projects we have one — Oficina Nacional de Emprendimiento — which is deeply inspired by La French Tech in France. So we want to generate a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs, investors and the rest of the ecosystem to access all of opportunities of collaboration between the central government, regions and CP councils in order to improve entrepreneurship in their respective areas,” says Polo.

“We have other projects like Renace — which is an acronym for Red Nacional de Centros de Emprendimiento — and in there we’ve also been inspired by the network that Portugal has that are doing such exciting things. So what we want to do is help connect the different incubators and accelerators and venture builders that we have in Spain. So they’re at first connected and we add more value — but with one particular focus: The different gaps.

“With Renace in particular we want to help close the territorial gap. Because it’s going to be very interesting to be able to work with engineers in Cáceres for a company that is based in Barcelona. Or to work with a team of designers from the Basque country for a company that is setting up in Malaga. With Renace we can help integrate the country and really talk about an entrepreneurial nation and not just cities. So Spain has the potential to build that. And there are many others issues.”

France alone spends billions annually both on R&D and on direct support for the digital sector. And even with EU funding Spain can’t hope to match the level of ‘ecosystem’ spend of richer, northern European countries. But Polo says the plan is to make the most of what it has with the resources it can marshal — hence, with the Renace project, it’s about linking up existing incubators/accelerators (and adding “a new layer of value” such as via public-private partnerships).

“When you end up reading the Spain entrepreneurial strategy you realize it’s not a billionaire plan of money that you put on the table in order to start building this Spain entrepreneurial nation,” he says. “It’s instead it’s a very robust plan in order to create that vision and putting together the different pieces that we already have — the different assets that we have as a country to start working together intelligently so we can make the best of everything that we can.”

Polo also argues that Spain is already doing well on the startup cluster front — saying it stands alone with Germany in having more than one city ranked among the top ten ‘most entrepreneurial’ in Europe, per such listings. More recently, he says, Spain has risen further up these listicles — as more of its cities have popped up in the “global competition for innovative entrepreneurship”.

“Meaning that in different places of Spain there are many cities and regions that have the hunger to become a place that is helping entrepreneurs to create this kind of economy. And we can get many more,” he suggests, pointing to Renace‘s hoped for value from a social inclusion angle.

“With Renace what we want to do is generate this network and add more value — provide services, get into public-private partnership in order to add the value of the different places that we have in the country. So let’s say that a company in Barcelona can find tonnes of engineers in a city like Cáceres. The company in Barcelona becomes more competitive because the salaries in Cáceres — if you pay them the best salary in Cáceres they could be two-thirds of the salary in Barcelona. So the company in Barcelona becomes more competitive. But also the engineers in the city of Cáceres who want to stay in the region, who want to stay with their family or to have a life-project in Cáceres they can stay. So this is an example of how we can close the territorial gap and also become really integrated startup nation in the full term of nation.”

“The ultimate goal of the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy is turning Spain into a country that is able to avoid the effects of different crises. And particularly the effects of that we saw in 2008 when the most vulnerable jobs were destroyed overnight — and they were counted by tens of thousands. That particularly struck the young people with unemployment rates that were above 55%. The immigrants and the people over 50. We don’t want that to happen again. So there’s been a very profound reflection on what needed to happen in Spain for that to change. And the conclusion was that we needed to change the productive basis of the country,” he continues.

“That’s why we are putting together a strategy that is going to help the innovative entrepreneurship sector spearhead these new models, this new economic model for Spain. That is going to be leveraging the different driving sectors of the economy — those ten sectors that we state in the strategy — and that as it could not be differently in a 21st century strategy, and particularly a strategy designed by a new generation of politicians and trying to respond to the ambitions of the new generations that is a strategy that is not including the social impact of this phenomenon. So that’s why we are also focused on putting together inclusion policies.”

Polo won’t be drawn into naming any especially promising startups he’s encountered on his travels around Spain — referring instead to the “tonnes of super innovative companies” he says he’s sure will soon be disrupting business as usual in Spain and (the government hopes) internationally — from battery charging companies to retail disruptors working on new ways to make clothes. (“Different kinds of innovations that people can’t imagine,” is his pithy shorthand.)

“What we are trying to do every time we have an opportunity is to also promote the knowledge of these companies — and also help Spanish people and also people abroad — to know that we have everything that we need in order to succeed as a nation and become that entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” he adds, acknowledging that a big part of his mission is “to tell the rest of the world that we are here”.

 

#digital-policy, #europe, #francisco-polo, #glovo, #policy, #spain, #startup-regulation, #startups, #tc

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Facebook to reverse Australia news ban after lawmakers alter bill

Facebook logo on a street sign outside a wooded campus.

Enlarge / Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017. (credit: Jason Doiy | Getty Images)

Facebook has apparently emerged victorious from its standoff with the entire nation of Australia, as lawmakers in that country have agreed to amend a proposed law that would have required Facebook to pay publishers for news content linked on its platform.

The social networking giant last week banned all news posts both in and from Australia to protest a bill under discussion in Parliament. Users inside Australia became unable to share news links of any kind from any source, and users outside Australia became unable to share links from Australian media. Facebook at the time argued that the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”

Facebook’s ban turned out to be an extremely blunt instrument, blocking sharing not only of news inside Australia but also of public communications from the government, pages for nonprofit organizations and charities, and other Australian organizations that tried to share links to off-Facebook sites. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison blasted Facebook over the ban, saying last week, “We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#australia, #bills, #facebook, #games-of-chicken, #laws, #news, #policy

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