CDC to update advice on best masks—but just wants you to wear one, any of them

A masked woman in a business suit.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Shawn Thew)

As cases of the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant continue to increase in the US, many experts have pushed for Americans to upgrade their masks to better protect themselves—i.e., ditch the handmade cloth masks that were fashionable in spring 2020 for options like the high-quality N95s and KN95s that are now more available.

Taking note of the shift, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that it is working to update the mask guidance on its website, which hasn’t been refreshed since last fall, prior to omicron’s rise. Meanwhile, the White House is actively considering providing high-quality masks to Americans.

In a press briefing Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients offered little detail on what a federal mask distribution program might look like or when it could come, noting only, “We’re in the process right now of strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans.”

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#cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #masks, #public-health, #science, #white-house

Offchain Labs raises $120 million to hide Ethereum’s shortcomings with its Arbitrum product

As the broader crypto world enjoys a late summer surge in enthusiasm, more and more blockchain developers who have taken the plunge are bumping into the blaring scaling issues faced by decentralized apps on the Ethereum blockchain. The popular network has seen its popularity explode in the past year but its transaction volume has stayed frustratingly stable as the network continues to operate near its limits, leading to slower transaction speeds and hefty fees on the crowded chain.

Ethereum’s core developers have been planning out significant upgrades to the blockchain to rectify these issues, but even in the crypto world’s early stages, transitioning the network is a daunting, lengthy task. That’s why developers are looking to so-called Layer 2 rollup scaling solutions, which sit on top of the Ethereum network and handle transactions separately in a cheaper, faster way, while still recording the transactions to the Ethereum blockchain, albeit in batches.

The Layer 2 landscape is early, but crucial to the continued scalability of Ethereum. As a result, there’s been quite a bit of passionate chatter among blockchain developers regarding the early players in the space. Offchain Labs has been developing one particularly hyped rollup network called Arbitrum One, which has built up notable support and momentum since it beta-launched to developers in May, with about 350 teams signing up for access, the company says.

They’ve attracted some high-profile partnerships including Uniswap and Chainlink who have promised early support for the solution. The company has also quickly piqued investor interest. The startup tells TechCrunch it raised a $20 million Series A in April of this year, quickly followed up by a $100 million Series B led by Lightspeed Venture Partners which closed this month and valued the company at $1.2 billion. Other new investors include Polychain Capital, Ribbit Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Pantera Capital, Alameda Research and Mark Cuban.

Offchain Labs co-founders Felton, Goldfeder and Kalodner

It’s been a fairly lengthy ride for the Arbitrum technology to public access. The tech was first developed at Princeton — you can find a YouTube video where the tech is first discussed in earnest back in early 2015.  Longtime Professor Ed Felton and his co-founders CEO Steven Goldfeder and CTO Harry Kalodner detailed a deeper underlying vision in a 2018 research paper before licensing the tech from Princeton and building out the company. Felton previously served as the deputy U.S. chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and — alongside Goldfeder — authored a top textbook on cryptocurrencies.

After a lengthy period under wraps and a few months of limited access, the startup is ready to launch the Arbitrum One mainnet publicly, they tell TechCrunch.

This team’s scaling solution has few direct competitors — a16z-backed Optimism is its most notable rival — but Arbitrum’s biggest advantage is likely the smooth compatibility it boasts with decentralized applications designed to run on Ethereum, compared with competitors that may require more heavy-lifting on the developer’s part to be full compatibility with their rollup solution. That selling point could be a big one as Arbitrum looks to court support across the Ethereum network and crypto exchanges for its product, though most Ethereum developers are well aware of what’s at stake broadly.

“There’s just so much more demand than there is supply on Ethereum,” Goldfeder tells TechCrunch. “Rollups give you the security derived from Ethereum but a much better experience in terms of costs.”

#arbitrum, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #chief-technology-officer, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #offchain-labs, #pantera-capital, #polychain-capital, #redpoint-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc, #technology, #uniswap, #united-states, #white-house

A majority of tech workers support antitrust legislation enforcement

With the arrival of U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, breaking up Big Tech has reemerged as a major policy discussion in Washington. The issue seems to be bipartisan, with Republicans and Democrats alike in favor of stemming monopolistic behavior in the tech industry. Of course, the situation on the ground is more nuanced.

One month after the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance five bipartisan bills that would force Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google to split up or walk away from core businesses, Republican committee members introduced new legislation to give Americans legal recourse against online censorship by Big Tech companies. The more conservative-driven policy measures also propose greater transparency into content moderation practices by Big Tech.

This sparring between lawmakers on how to regulate Big Tech is not expected to end anytime soon. But as the U.S. ushers in a new era of digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, Congress stands firmly united in the belief that Big Tech’s power must be checked to preserve the free market.

As it stands now, small competitors and consumers alike have little choice but to be tethered to Big Tech to participate in today’s modern economic engine. And coming out of the pandemic, the five biggest tech giants are growing at breathtaking speed unseen before in the history of capitalism.

Big Tech companies have come out strongly against regulation that would break up their business operations, suggesting reform would result in the loss of research and development, impractical market fragmentation and higher service costs to consumers.

A survey commissioned by a tech industry trade group funded by Big Tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Amazon suggests that Americans view tech regulation as a low priority for Congress. Among those listed as top priority for Americans were the economy, public health, climate change and infrastructure. The survey also revealed that Americans are more likely to oppose regulation if it were to affect offerings like free shipping on Amazon Prime products.

Perhaps this poll and the bipartisan sentiment among elected leaders signals that after COVID-19, society has become aware of its dependency on tech giants, for better or worse. For the last 18 months, American workers have adapted to remote work. They utilize programs run by Big Tech companies to communicate with other employees, to run companies, and to buy groceries and essentials. It is unlikely this dynamic will change, as many companies have announced their transition to a fully remote or hybrid work model.

This topic has raised interest among professionals, more specifically those who work in the tech industry, startups and small businesses. We at Fishbowl thought we’d ask professionals — many of whom work in the tech industry — about breaking up tech giants. Fishbowl is a social network for professionals, so conducting surveys on this and other workplace topics is a natural fit.

The survey ran from July 26-30, 2021, to determine how employees in the field feel about antitrust laws. The survey asked professionals: Do you believe antitrust legislation should be used to break up Big Tech companies like Amazon and Google?

There were 11,579 verified professionals on the Fishbowl app who participated in the survey, and they were given the option to answer either yes or no. The survey was broken down into state and professional industries such as law, consulting, finance, tech, marketing, accounting, human resources, teachers and others.

Here’s what the survey revealed:

Image Credits: Fishbowl

Out of 11,579 professionals, the majority — 6,920 (59.76%) — responded yes to the survey question.

Based on responses, we found that law professionals were the highest group responding in the affirmative to the survey, with 66.67%. Consulting professionals followed with 61.97%, while finance (60.64%) marginally beat out tech (60.03%). Conversely, teachers had the lowest percentage with 53.49%. Human resources (55.65%), accounting (58.51%) and other professional industries (58.83%) trailed behind.

The survey’s data was collected from professionals in 25 U.S. states. The highest percentage responding “yes” was Colorado with 76.83%. In second place was Washington with 73.17%, and Michigan rounded out the top three with 69.70%. Missouri (51.35%) had the lowest percentage of employees responding “yes” to splitting up Big Tech. Following closely behind were Indiana (52.59%) and Massachusetts (52.83%). Overall, the majority of the states involved in the survey agreed that they believed antitrust legislation should indeed break up Big Tech companies.

Tech had the fourth-highest percentage of professionals agreeing that Big Tech companies should be broken up. Some benefits from breaking up Big Tech companies are more opportunities for small businesses — for a tech professional or entrepreneur, this could open up opportunities to launch new products, programs and services. It could also add more jobs for highly skilled professionals. Second, it can reduce data privacy and national security concerns. But some cons of breaking up Big Tech companies include the loss of research and development — large companies provide major funding for artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, wearables, robots and more. Ultimately, breaking up Big Tech companies can also increase service costs for professionals and the overall public.

As policymakers continue to negotiate on how to break up Big Tech, the White House is also making moves. President Joe Biden recently named Khan, a professor at Columbia Law School, as chair of the FTC. A staunch critic of Big Tech, Khan’s main priority is to protect the public from corporate abuse and ensure merger guidelines reflect economic realities and empirical learning and enforcement. Simply put, she reviews mergers with skepticism.

And in July, Biden announced his intention to nominate Jonathan Kanter for chief of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Kanter is an antitrust lawyer with over 20 years of experience who has been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy.

With these additional members, it is expected that there will be an aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust laws across industries, leaving it to Congress to ensure that moving forward things are different.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #big-tech, #column, #congress, #facebook, #google, #government, #joe-biden, #lina-khan, #microsoft, #policy, #tc, #white-house

President Biden to host infosec roundtable with tech giant CEOs

If there's any single photo that better encapsulates the state of enterprise information security in 2021, we weren't able to find it.

Enlarge / If there’s any single photo that better encapsulates the state of enterprise information security in 2021, we weren’t able to find it. (credit: Ian Dennis via Getty Images)

Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the White House will host a meeting between President Joe Biden and some of the country’s largest tech firms on Wednesday afternoon. According to those sources, the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple have confirmed their attendance. Other large companies, including Google, IBM, Southern Company, and JP Morgan, have been invited.

The meeting is intended to address the severe increase in ransomware, online attacks, and data leaks seen this year. Although we don’t know the exact agenda, one senior official familiar with the event said discussions of better supply chain security are likely, and there will probably be a focus on software-driven solutions.

High-profile security breaches Biden and the tech CEOs might discuss include, but are not limited to:

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#biden-administration, #biz-it, #infosec, #policy, #tech, #white-house

Crypto community slams ‘disastrous’ new amendment to Biden’s big infrastructure bill

Biden’s major bipartisan infrastructure plan struck a rare chord of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but changes it proposes to cryptocurrency regulation are tripping up the bill.

The administration intends to pay for $28 billion of its planned infrastructure spending by tightening tax compliance within the historically under-regulated arena of digital currency. That’s why cryptocurrency is popping up in a bill that’s mostly about rebuilding bridges and roads.

The legislation’s vocal critics argue that the bill’s effort to do so is slapdash, particularly a bit that would declare anyone “responsible for and regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets” to be a broker, subject to tax reporting requirements.

While that definition might be more straightforward in a traditional corner of finance, it could force cryptocurrency developers, companies and even anyone mining digital currencies to somehow collect and report information on users, something that by design isn’t even possible in a decentralized financial system.

Now, a new amendment to the critical spending package is threatening to make matters even worse.

Unintended consequences

In a joint letter about the bill’s text, Square, Coinbase, Ribbit Capital and other stakeholders warned of “financial surveillance” and unintended impacts for cryptocurrency miners and developers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, two privacy-minded digital rights organizations, also slammed the bill.

Following the outcry from the cryptocurrency community, a pair of influential senators proposed an amendment to clarify the new reporting rules. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) pushed back against the bill, proposing an amendment with fellow finance committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would modify the bill’s language.

The amendment would establish that the new reporting “does not apply to individuals developing block chain technology and wallets,” removing some of the bill’s ambiguity on the issue.

“By clarifying the definition of broker, our amendment will ensure non-financial intermediaries like miners, network validators, and other service providers—many of whom don’t even have the personal-identifying information needed to file a 1099 with the IRS—are not subject to the reporting requirements specified in the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Toomey said.

Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis also threw her support behind the Toomey and Wyden amendment, as did Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Picking winners and losers

The drama doesn’t stop there. With negotiations around the bill ongoing — the text could be finalized over the weekend — a pair of senators proposed a competing amendment that isn’t winning any fans in the crypto community.

That amendment, from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would exempt traditional cryptocurrency miners who participate in energy-intensive “proof of work” systems from new financial reporting requirements, while keeping those rules in place for those using a “proof of stake” system. Portman worked with the Treasury Department to author the cryptocurrency portion of the original infrastructure bill.

Rather than requiring an investment in computing hardware (and energy bills) capable of solving increasingly complex math problems, proof of stake systems rely on participants taking a financial stake in a given project, locking away some of the cryptocurrency to generate new coins.

Proof of stake is emerging as an attractive, climate-friendlier alternative that could reduce the need for heavy computing and huge amounts of energy required for proof of work mining. That makes it all the more puzzling that the latest amendment would specifically let proof of work mining off the hook.

Some popular digital currencies like Cardano are already built on proof of stake. Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, is in the process of migrating from a proof of work system to proof of stake to help scale its system and reduce fees. Bitcoin is the most notable digital currency that relies on proof of work.

The Warner-Portman amendment is being touted as a “compromise” but it’s not really halfway between the Wyden-Toomey amendment and the existing bill — it just introduces new problems that many crypto advocates view as a fresh existential threat to their work. Prominent members of the crypto community including Square founder and Bitcoin booster Jack Dorsey have thrown their support behind the Wyden-Lummis-Toomey amendment while slamming the second proposal as misguided and damaging.

Unfortunately for the crypto community — and the promise of the proof of stake model — the White House is apparently throwing its weight behind the Warner-Portman amendment, though that could change as eleventh hour negotiations continue.

#biden, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #broker, #cardano, #chairman, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #democrats, #digital-currency, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #jack-dorsey, #proof-of-stake, #proof-of-work, #republicans, #ribbit-capital, #ron-wyden, #tc, #white-house

Facebook warns of ‘headwinds’ to its ad business from regulators and Apple

Facebook posted its second quarter earnings Wednesday, beating expectations with $29 billion in revenue.

The world’s biggest social media company was expected to report $27.8 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2020. Facebook reported earnings per share of $3.61, which also bested expectations.

In the first financial period to really reflect a return to quasi-economic normalcy after a very online pandemic year, Facebook met user growth expectations. At the end of March, Facebook boasted 2.85 billion monthly active users across its network of apps. At the end of its second quarter, Facebook reported 2.9 billion monthly active users, roughly what was expected.

The company’s shares opened at $375 on Wednesday morning and were down to $360 in a dip following the earnings report.

In spite of a strong quarter, Facebook is warning of change ahead — namely impacts to its massive ad business, which generated $28.5 billion out of the company’s $29 billion this quarter. The company specifically named privacy-focused updates to Apple’s mobile operating system as a threat to its business.

“We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, which we expect to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter,” the company stated its investor report outlook.

 

No matter what Facebook planned to report Wednesday, the company is a financial beast. Bad press and user mistrust in the West haven’t done much to hurt its bottom line and the company’s ad business is looking as dominant as ever. Short of meaningful antitrust reform in the U.S. or a surging competitor, there’s little to stand in Facebook’s way. The former might still be a long shot given partisan gridlock in Congress, even with the White House involved, but Facebook is finally facing a threat from the latter.

For years, it’s been difficult to imagine a social media platform emerging as a proper rival to the company, given Facebook’s market dominance and nasty habit of acquiring competitors or brazenly copying their innovations, but it’s clear that TikTok is turning into just that. YouTube is huge, but the platforms matured in parallel and co-exist, offering complementary experiences.

TikTok hit 700 million monthly active users in July 2020 and surpassed three billions global downloads earlier this month, becoming the only non-Facebook owned app to do so, according to data from Sensor Tower. If the famously addictive short form video app can successfully siphon off some of the long hours that young users spend on Instagram and Facebook’s other platforms and make itself a cozy home for brands in the process, the big blue giant out of Menlo Park might finally have something to lose sleep over.

#computing, #congress, #earnings, #facebook, #facebook-stories, #instagram, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #sensor-tower, #social, #social-media, #software, #tc, #united-states, #whatsapp, #white-house

Biden nominates another Big Tech enemy, this time to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division

The Biden administration tripled down on its commitment to reining in powerful tech companies Tuesday, proposing committed Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Kanter is a lawyer with a long track record of representing smaller companies like Yelp in antitrust cases against Google. He currently practices law at his own firm, which specializes in advocacy for state and federal antitrust enforcement.

“Throughout his career, Kanter has also been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy,” the White House press release stated. Progressives celebrated the nomination as a win, though some of Biden’s new antitrust hawks have enjoyed support from both political parties.

The Justice Department already has a major antitrust suit against Google in the works. The lawsuit, filed by Trump’s own Justice Department, accuses the company of “unlawfully maintaining monopolies” through anti-competitive practices in its search and search advertising businesses. If successfully confirmed, Kanter would be positioned to steer the DOJ’s big case against Google.

In a 2016 NYT op-ed, Kanter argued that Google is notorious for relying on an anti-competitive “playbook” to maintain its market dominance. Kanter pointed to Google’s long history of releasing free ad-supported products and eventually restricting competition through “discriminatory and exclusionary practices” in a given corner of the market.

Kanter is just the latest high profile Big Tech critic that’s been elevated to a major regulatory role under Biden. Last month, Biden named fierce Amazon critic Lina Khan as FTC chair upon her confirmation to the agency. In March, Biden named another noted Big Tech critic, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, to the National Economic Council as a special assistant for tech and competition policy.

All signs point to the Biden White House gearing up for a major federal fight with Big Tech. Congress is working on a set of Big Tech bills, but in lieu of — or in tandem with — legislative reform, the White House can flex its own regulatory muscle through the FTC and DOJ.

In new comments to MSNBC, the White House confirmed that it is also “reviewing” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a potent snippet of law that protects platforms from liability for user-generated content.

#amazon, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #chair, #columbia, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #doj, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #joe-biden, #lawyer, #lina-khan, #msnbc, #section-230, #tc, #tim-wu, #white-house, #yelp

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on big tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for big tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e. unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past ten years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies—including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden feeds. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being pre-empted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right to repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the Director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation… Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

#amazon, #america, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #broadband, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #executive, #facebook, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-government, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #healthcare, #internet-service-providers, #lina-khan, #president, #tc, #white-house, #youtube

Zero trust unicorn Illumio closes $225M Series F led by Thoma Bravo

Illumio, a self-styled zero trust unicorn, has closed a $225 million Series F funding round at a $2.75 billion valuation. 

The round was led by Thoma Bravo, which recently bought cybersecurity vendor Proofpoint by $12.3 billion, and supported by Franklin Templeton, Hamilton Lane, and Blue Owl Capital. 

The round lands more than two years after Illumio’s Series E funding round in which it raised $65 million, and fueled speculation of an impending IPO. The company’s founder, Andrew Rubin, still isn’t ready to be pressed on whether the company plans to go public, though he told TechCrunch: “If we do our job right, and if we make our customers successful, I’d like to think that would be part of our journey.”

Illumio’s latest funding round is well-timed. Not only does it come amid a huge rise in successful cyberattacks which show that some of the more traditional cybersecurity measures are no longer working, from the SolarWinds hack in early 2020 to the more recent attack on Colonial Pipeline, but it also comes just weeks after President Joe Biden issued an executive order pushing federal agencies to implement significant cybersecurity initiatives, including a zero trust architecture. 

“And just a couple of weeks ago, Anne Neuberger [deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity] put out a memo on White House stationary to all of corporate America saying we’re living through a ransomware pandemic, and here’s six things that we’re imploring you to do,” Rubin says. “One of them was to segment your network.”

Illumio focuses on protecting data centers and cloud networks through something it calls micro-segmentation, which it claims makes it easier to manage and guard against potential breaches, as well as to contain a breach if one occurs. This zero trust approach to security — a concept centered on the belief that businesses should not automatically trust anything inside or outside its perimeters — has never been more important for organizations, according to Illumio. 

“Cyber events are no longer constrained to cyber space,” says Rubin. “That’s why people are finally saying that, after 30 years of relying solely on detection to keep us safe, we cannot rely on it 100% of the time. Zero trust is now becoming the mantra.”

Illumio tells TechCrunch it will use the newly raised funds to make a “huge” investment in its field operations and channel partner network, and to invest in innovation, engineering and its product. 

The late-stage startup, which was founded in 2013 and is based in California, says more than 10% of Fortune 100 companies — including Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas SA and Salesforce — now use its technology to protect their data centers, networks and other applications. It saw 100% international growth during the pandemic, and says it’s also broadening its customer base across more industries. 

The company has raised more now raised more $550 million from investors include Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst and Formation 8.

#america, #andreessen-horowitz, #anne-neuberger, #california, #colonial-pipeline, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberwarfare, #executive, #formation-8, #franklin-templeton, #funding, #general-catalyst, #information-technology, #joe-biden, #morgan-stanley, #network-management, #president, #proofpoint, #salesforce, #security, #solarwinds, #system-administration, #thoma-bravo, #unicorn, #white-house

Biden admin will share more info with online platforms on ‘front lines’ of domestic terror fight

The Biden administration is outlining new plans to combat domestic terrorism in light of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and social media companies have their own part to play.

The White House released a new national strategy on countering domestic terrorism Tuesday. The plan acknowledges the key role that online platforms play in bringing violent ideas into the mainstream, going as far as calling social media sites the “front lines” of the war on domestic terrorism.

“The widespread availability of domestic terrorist recruitment material online is a national security threat whose front lines are overwhelmingly private–sector online platforms, and we are committed to informing more effectively the escalating efforts by those platforms to secure those front lines,” the White House plan states.

The Biden administration committed to more information sharing with the tech sector to fight the tide of online extremism, part of a push to intervene well before extremists can organize violence. According to a fact sheet on the new domestic terror plan, the U.S. government will prioritize “increased information sharing with the technology sector,” specifically online platforms where extremism is incubated and organized.

“Continuing to enhance the domestic terrorism–related information offered to the private sector, especially the technology sector, will facilitate more robust efforts outside the government to counter terrorists’ abuse of Internet–based communications platforms to recruit others to engage in violence,” the White House plan states.

In remarks timed with the release of the domestic terror strategy, Attorney General Merrick Garland asserted that coordinating with the tech sector is “particularly important” for interrupting extremists who organize and recruit on online platforms and emphasized plans to share enhanced information on potential domestic terror threats.

In spite of the new initiatives, the Biden administration admits that that domestic terrorism recruitment material will inevitably remain available online, particularly on platforms that don’t prioritize its removal — like most social media platforms, prior to January 2021 — and on end-to-end encrypted apps, many of which saw an influx of users when social media companies cracked down on extremism in the U.S. earlier this year.

“Dealing with the supply is therefore necessary but not sufficient: we must address the demand too,” the White House plan states. “Today’s digital age requires an American population that can utilize essential aspects of Internet–based communications platforms while avoiding vulnerability to domestic terrorist recruitment and other harmful content.”

The Biden administration will also address vulnerability to online extremism through digital literacy programs, including “educational materials” and “skills–enhancing online games” designed to inoculate Americans against domestic extremism recruitment efforts, and presumably disinformation and misinformation more broadly.

The plan stops short of naming domestic terror elements like QAnon and the “Stop the Steal” movement specifically, though it acknowledges the range of ways domestic terror can manifest, from small informal groups to organized militias.

A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March observed the elevated threat to the U.S. that domestic terrorism poses in 2021, noting that domestic extremists leverage mainstream social media sites to recruit new members, organize in-person events and share materials that can lead to violence.

#attorney-general, #biden-administration, #counter-terrorism, #online-extremism, #online-platforms, #policy, #politics, #qanon, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #tc, #terrorism, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

Tech antitrust crusader Lina Khan is confirmed as FTC commissioner

The Senate confirmed big tech critic and prominent antitrust scholar Lina Khan as FTC Commissioner Tuesday, signaling a new era of scrutiny for the tech industry. Khan was confirmed in a 69-28 vote, with Republicans joining Democrats in a rare show of bipartisan support for Khan’s ideas on reining in tech’s most powerful companies.

An associate law professor at Columbia, Khan’s star rose with the publication of a landmark paper examining how the government’s outdated ways of identifying monopolies have failed to keep up with modern business realities, particularly in tech. In Khan’s view, that regulatory failure has allowed the biggest tech companies to consolidate unprecedented wealth and power, in turn making it even more difficult to regulate them.

President Biden nominated Khan back in March, sending an early message that Biden would not extend the warm relationship big tech companies enjoyed with the White House under former President Obama.

Khan’s confirmation is a sign that the agency will be prioritizing tech antitrust concerns, a priority that will run parallel to Congressional efforts to bolster the FTC’s enforcement powers. The FTC famously imposed a $5 billion fine on Facebook for privacy violations in 2019, but the record-setting fine was only a glancing blow for a company already worth more than $500 billion.

Last week, Congress revealed a long-anticipated package of bipartisan bills that, if passed, would overhaul tech’s biggest businesses and redraw the industry’s rules for years to come.

A previous bill proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar would set aside a pool of money that the FTC could use to create a new division for market and merger research, one step toward modernizing antitrust enforcement to keep up with relentless growth from tech’s most powerful giants.

#amy-klobuchar, #biden, #big-tech, #competition-law, #congress, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #lina-khan, #policy, #senate, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

Facebook changes misinfo rules to allow posts claiming Covid-19 is man-made

Facebook made a few noteworthy changes to its misinformation policies this week, including the news that the company will now allow claims that Covid was created by humans — a theory that contradicts the previously prevailing assumption that humans picked up the virus naturally from animals.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

The company is adjusting its rules about pandemic misinformation in light of international investigations legitimating the theory that the virus could have escaped from a lab. While that theory clearly has enough credibility to be investigated at this point, it is often interwoven with demonstrably false misinformation about fake cures, 5G towers causing Covid and most recently the false claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine implants recipients with a bluetooth chip.

Earlier this week, President Biden ordered a multi-agency intelligence report evaluating if the virus could have accidentally leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Biden called this possibility one of two “likely scenarios.”

“… Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said in an official White House statement, adding that there isn’t sufficient evidence to make a final determination.

Claims that the virus was man-made or lab-made have circulated widely since the pandemic’s earliest days, even as the scientific community largely maintained that the virus probably made the jump from an infected animal to a human via natural means. But many questions remain about the origins of the virus and the U.S. has yet to rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a Chinese lab — a scenario that would be a bombshell for international relations.

Prior to the Covid policy change, Facebook announced that it would finally implement harsher punishments against individuals who repeatedly peddle misinformation. The company will now throttle the News Feed reach of all posts from accounts that are found to habitually share known misinformation, restrictions it previously put in place for Pages, Groups, Instagram accounts and websites that repeatedly break the same rules.

#astrazeneca, #biden, #china, #covid-19, #facebook, #government, #misinformation, #president, #social, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

White House teams up with dating apps to give vaccinated users free perks

With vaccination rates slowing in the U.S., the White House is getting creative about getting shots in arms. Beyond protecting yourself and others from from a deadly disease, the latest incentive to get vaccinated could help you find love (or get laid).

The White House COVID-19 response team announced Friday that a number of popular dating apps would offer new perks for users who get vaccinated, with Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish and Badoo all participating in the promotional push. The White House hopes to make inroads with the 50 million users across those dating apps where they’re already spending time.

On Tinder, anyone who adds a sticker to their profile promoting their vaccination status between June 2 and July 4 will be gifted a free Super Like. (Proof of vaccination isn’t necessary, but really, you should get vaccinated if it’s available where you live.) Tinder and other apps will also add vaccination site resources from Vaccine.gov to help people figure out where they can get the shot nearby.

“Nothing like fireworks to signal a new spark and a new start for those looking to meet new people IRL this summer,” Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone said.

According to OkCupid, getting vaccinated might help with that. The company found that people who displayed their vaccination status were 14 percent more likely to find a match. On OkCupid, vaccinated users will get a free boost, a perk that promotes their profile to potential matches. The other apps participating in the White House initiative are handing out their own premium perks to give users a competitive edge.

The effort is part of a push by the White House to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. To reach more Americans, the Biden administration has also coordinated with popular entertainment companies like NASCAR and country music channel CMT to promote vaccination.

“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” White House Senior COVID Advisor Andy Slavitt said during a press event Friday. He characterized the vaccine push through dating apps as those companies “responding to the president’s call to action” rather than calling it an official partnership.

“We have finally found the one thing that makes use all more attractive,” Slavitt said. “A vaccination.”

#4th-of-july, #biden-administration, #ceo, #disease, #iac, #jim-lanzone, #okcupid, #president, #social, #social-software, #software, #tc, #tinder, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine, #white-house

Uber, Lyft to give free rides to COVID-19 vaccine sites in deal with White House

Uber and Lyft will provide free rides to any user traveling to get the COVID-19 vaccine through an agreement reached with the White House.

The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated, according to the WSJ, which was the first to report on the partnership between the ride-hailing companies and the White House.

Lyft and Uber separately told TechCrunch the companies will cover the costs of the free rides. The White House will help advise on the product and how it is rolled out as well as share data on the more than 80,000 vaccination sites in the country, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Uber didn’t provide a specific launch date for the program, only noting that it is expected to become available in the coming weeks. Lyft riders will be able to get a free ride code beginning May 24 via the app or website.

“Vaccines are our best hope to beat this pandemic and soon everyone in America will be able to take a free Uber to get their shot,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “We are honored to deepen our previous global commitments, and partner with the White House and Lyft to provide free rides to vaccination sites across the US. This is a proud moment for me, for Uber, and for our country. More and more Americans continue to get vaccinated every day — let’s keep moving forward, together.”

Uber hasn’t released further details about how its program will work. Lyft said its ride codes will cover $15 each way and noted that based on previous rides given to vaccination sites, the company expects that figure will cover most, if not all, fares. Ride codes can be used for Lyft ride-hailing, bike or scooter rides during standard pharmacy operating hours of 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

“The vaccine is the key to getting us all moving again, and we’re proud to do our part to move the country forward,” John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, said in a statement. “We’ve always believed transportation has the power to improve people’s lives, and this initiative makes that truer than ever. Helping more Americans get vaccinated helps the Lyft community of drivers and riders, and we’re grateful to the Biden Administration for prioritizing access.”

The announcement builds off of efforts by Lyft and Uber to provide free and discounted rides to underserved communities as well as roll out features to make it easier to access vaccine information and point-of-distribution sites. Uber first rolled out a COVID-relief program in March to offer free rides and deliveries. In December, the company said it would give an additional 10 million free or discounted rides.

Last month, Uber said it was launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab.

Lyft kicked off in December a universal vaccine access campaign, a coalition of partners that includes JPMorgan Chase, Anthem and United Way, to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites for low-income, uninsured, and at-risk communities.

#automotive, #lyft, #president-joe-biden, #ride-hailing, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #white-house

Biden proposes ARPA-H, a health research agency to ‘end cancer’ modeled after DARPA

In a joint address to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation on vaccination efforts and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals.

Biden’s first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping legislative packages that could lift millions of Americans out of poverty and slow the clock on the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president highlighted another smaller plan that’s no less ambitious: to “end cancer as we know it.”

“I can think of no more worthy investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan…. It’s within our power to do it.”

The comments weren’t out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House released a budget request for $6.5 billion to launch a new government agency for breakthrough health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would live within the NIH. The initial focus would be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but the agency would also pursue other “transformational innovation” that could remake health research.

The $6.5 billion investment is a piece of the full $51 billion NIH budget. But some critics believe that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services rather than being nested under NIH. 

ARPA-H would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops moonshot-like tech for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science, but the agency contributed to or created a number of now ubiquitous technologies, including a predecessor to GPS and most famously ARPANET, the computer network that grew into the modern internet.

Unlike more conservative, incremental research teams, DARPA aggressively pursues major scientific advances in a way that shares more in common with Silicon Valley than it does with other governmental agencies. Biden believes that using the DARPA model on cutting edge health research would keep the U.S. from lagging behind in biotech.

“China and other countries are closing in fast,” Biden said during the address. “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”

#arpanet, #biden, #biotechnology, #cancer, #congress, #darpa, #diabetes, #government, #health, #joe-biden, #life-sciences, #national-institute-of-health, #national-institutes-of-health, #president, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

I can’t believe it’s not meat! Mycelium meat replacement company aims for summer launch of first products

Meati, a company turning mycelium (the structural fibers of fungi) into healthier meat replacements for consumers, is prepping for a big summer rollout.

Co-founder Tyler Huggins expects to have the first samples of its whole-cut steak and chicken products in select restaurants around the country — along with their first commercial product, a jerky strip.

For Huggins, the product launch is another step on a long road toward broad commercial adoption of functional fungi foods as a better-for-you alternative to traditional meats.

“Use this as a conversation starter. About 2 ounces of this gives you 50% of your protein; 50% of your fiber; and half of your daily zinc. There really is nothing that can compare to this product in terms of nutritionals,” Huggins said. 

And moving from meat to mushrooms is a better option for the planet.

Meati expects to turn on its pilot plant this summer and is joining a movement among mushroom fans that includes milk replacements, from Perfect Day, more meat replacements from Atlast, and leather substitutes from Ecovative and MycoWorks.

“We’re definitely all in this together,” said Huggins of the other mob of mycelium-based tech companies bringing products to market.

However, not all mycelium is created equally, Huggins said. Meati has what Huggins said was a unique way of growing its funguses (not a real word) that “keep it in its most happy state.” That means peak nutritional content and peak growth efficiency, according to the company.

For Huggins, whose parents own a bison ranch and who grew up in cattle country, the goal is not to replace a t-bone or a ribeye, but the cuts of meat and chicken that find their ways into a burrito supreme or other quick serve meat cuts.

Rendering of Meati mushroom meats in a Banh Mi. Image Credit: Meati

“Head to head with that kind of cut, we win,” Huggins said. “I’d rather pick a fight there now and buy ourselves some time. I don’t think we’re going to go super high-end to start.”

That said, the company’s cap table of investors already includes some pretty heady culinary company. Acre Venture Partners (which counts Sam Kass — President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, Executive Director for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and an Assistant Chef in the White House — among its partnership) is an investor. So is Chicago’s fine dining temple, Alinea.

But Huggins wants Meati to be an everyday type of meat replacement product. “I want to make sure that people think this is an every day protein,” Huggins said.

Meati thinks its future meat replacements will be cost competitive with conventional beef and chicken, but to whet consumers’ appetites, the company is starting with jerky.

“Meati’s delicious jerky,” said Huggins. “It provides this blank canvas. We’ll start with these beef jerky like flavors. But I want to come out of the gate and say that we’re mycelium jerky.”

The company currently has 30 people on staff led by Huggins and fo-founder Justin Whiteley. The two men initially started working on Meati as a battery replacement. Based on their research (Huggins with mycelium and Whiteley with advanced batteries) the two men received a grant for a mycelium-based electrode for lithium ion batteries.

“We were trying to tweak the chemical composition of the mycelium to make a better battery. What we found was that we were making something nutritious and edible,” said Huggins.

Also… the battery companies didn’t want it.

Now, backed by $28 million from Acre, Prelude Ventures, Congruent Ventures and Tao Capital, Meati is ready to go to market. The company also has access to debt capital to build out its vast network of mycelium growing facilities. It’s just raised a $18 million debt round from Trinity and Silicon Valley Bank.

“Two years ago … most companies in this space … there wasn’t this ability to take on debt to put steel in the ground,” said Huggins. “It’s an exciting time to be in food tech given that you can raise VC funding and there’s this ready available market for debt financing. You’ll start seeing faster and more rapid development because of it.”

Meati co-founders Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley. Image Credit: Meati

#acre-venture-partners, #barack-obama, #beef, #biology, #chicago, #congruent-ventures, #ecovative-design, #food-and-drink, #food-tech, #jerky, #meat, #michelle-obama, #mycelium, #mycoworks, #prelude-ventures, #president, #silicon-valley-bank, #steel, #tc, #white-house

Biden proposes gun control reforms to go after ‘ghost guns’ and close loopholes

President Biden has announced a new set of initiatives by which he hopes to curb the gun violence he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.” Among other things, the ATF will be closing loopholes in unregulated online sales and so-called “ghost guns,” which can be built or printed with no serial numbers or background checks.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon, Biden recounted the many recent mass shootings as horrific tragedies, but pointed out that over a hundred people are shot every day in this country. “This is an epidemic, for God’s sake,” he repeated, “and it has to stop.”

Before outlining his plans for combating the problem, he made sure to address the inevitable Second Amendment objections from people who believe it is a Constitutional right for anyone to own things like assault rifles.

“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning of the Second Amendment existing, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons.”

Of course federal laws often conflict with state laws on this point, giving rise to surprising sights like heavily armed protestors taking over the Michigan capitol building — quite legally. But the feds do have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Background checks and registration tracking involve federal authorities, and there are loopholes that have appeared or worsened over recent years as online traffic in guns has increased (social networks are notorious for thinly veiled gun trade) and the process of building weapons at home has become easier.

“I have directed ATF to begin work on an updated study of gun trafficking, one that takes into account the fact that modern guns are not simply cast or forged any more, but can be made of plastic, printed on a 3D printer, or sold in self assembly kits,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who took the podium after Biden. “We will ensure that we understand and measure the problem of criminal gun trafficking in a data driven way.”

“Ghost guns” were a hot topic a few years back when several people and organizations, among them Defense Distributed, attempted to popularize 3D-printed pistols and assault rifle components. The high-tech angle made the media bite, though of course traditional gun trafficking in the form of smuggling and in-person sales dwarf the scale of anything these sites and services delivered.

But gun building kits do represent a significant loophole in the ATF’s regulations, which do not require registration or background checks for them. So a person can get 80% of a gun that way, get the other 20% (usually the “receiver,” which component qualifies the assembly as a firearm) by printing or another method, and have a gun with no serial number or registration whatsoever.

Garland has proposed a rule for the ATF to adopt that would change this and a few other things, such as easily purchased modifications for pistols that effectively make them into short-barreled rifles; the new rule would require those conversion kits to be registered. This presumably will follow the confirmation of the ATF’s first director in five years — the position was vacant for the whole last administration — David Chipmen, whom Biden plans to nominate.

Other efforts by the administration include a $5 billion, 8-year investment in community violence intervention programs, a push for “red flag” laws that temporarily bar people in crisis from obtaining guns, and a nudge for Congress to start working on legislation that addresses things the Executive can’t.

#atf, #defense-distributed, #firearms, #ghost-guns, #government, #gun-laws, #guns, #joe-biden, #president-biden, #white-house

Nuclear should be considered part of clean energy standard, White House says

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

More details have emerged about the climate and energy priorities of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, and they include support for nuclear power and carbon capture with sequestration (CCS).

In a press conference yesterday with reporters, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the administration would seek to implement a clean energy standard that would encourage utilities to use greener power sources. She added that both nuclear and CCS would be included in the administration’s desired portfolio. The clean energy standard adds a climate dimension to the Biden administration’s recently announced infrastructure plan, seeking to put the US on a path to eliminating carbon pollution.

“We think a CES is appropriate and advisable, and we think the industry itself sees it as one of the most flexible and most effective tools,” McCarthy told reporters. “The CES is going to be fairly robust and it is going to be inclusive.”

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#biden-administration, #climate-change, #green-energy, #policy, #science, #white-house

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

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

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

Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

#advisor, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #barack-obama, #ben-horowitz, #biden, #brooklyn, #chicago, #co-founder, #columbia, #columbia-university, #construction, #department-of-energy, #director, #duke-university, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #mitch-kapor, #new-york, #oakland, #president, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #washington, #white-house

Renewable investment wave continues as solar lending company Loanpal raises $800 million

Days after the billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya announced his involvement in the $1.3 billion acquisition of the solar and home improvement lending business Sunlight Financial, a collection of investors announced a nearly $1 billion cash infusion into Loanpal, another renewable energy and home improvement lender.

The $800 million commitment to Loanpal arrives alongside a flurry of climate commitments from some of the world’s largest investors.

Yesterday, Blackrock chief Larry Fink, released the $9 trillion investment manager’s annual letter calling for more stringent accounting and reporting of climate data, and Bank of America joined 60 other companies in committing to a new reporting standard for climate and sustainability endorsed by the International Business Council and the World Economic Forum. Fink endorses a separate reporting scheme called the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures that has the backing of some of the biggest financial investors in the world.

These new standards will drive more investment dollars into businesses that are reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. And lending programs incentivizing the switch to more energy efficient appliances and renewable installations are probably the lowest of low hanging fruit for the financial services industry.

That’s one reason why investors like NEA, the WestCap Group, Brookfield Asset Management, and the giant private equity energy investment fund Riverstone Holdings are backing Loanpal.

The deal, which was a secondary transaction to give strategic investors a stake in the business actually wrapped up last year. As a result Scott Sandell, the managing general partner at NEA and a longtime investor in pr and Laurence Tosi, Managing Partner of WestCap Group, have joined the company’s board of directors.

“We invited a number of players into the company,” said Loanpal’s founder, chairman and chief executive Hayes Barnard. The former chief revenue officer for SolarCity before its acquisition by Tesla, Barnard has a long history with solar energy development. At Loanpal he also had the balance sheet to take his pick among would-be investors. “We’re a multi-billion dollar company,” said Barnard.

Loanpal founder chairman and chief executive, Hayes Barnard. Image Credit: Loanpal

“This was us inviting strategic investors into the company and being thoughtful about where they could help and how they could help,” Barnard said.

Loanpal is profitable, has zero debt and throws off monthly dividends to its financial backers. “Today we finance $400 million a month for roughly 15,000 solar systems that are combined with battery systems,” says Barnard. In all, the company has arranged $5.9 billion in consumer finance loans since its launch in 2018. Loanpal also counts around 85% of the top solar firms as vendors and has a staff of around 12,000 sales professionals.

Those numbers allowed the company to bring in board members like Tosi, the former chief financial officer of the multi-billion dollar financial services firm, Blackstone. “He really understands how to bring in capital markets at scale,” said Barnard. 

If anything, the attention from Blackrock, Blackstone, Riverstone and all the financial services firms without references to stones or rocks in their name shows that this is a problem of capital at scale. Decarbonizing the global economy is a $10 trillion business, according to the World Economic Forum (or, for the retail investment crowd, the equivalent of roughly 66.7 billion Gamestops at yesterday’s share price).

The near term market that we’re going to penetrate now is sustainable home solutions that’s a $100 billion market,” Barnard said. 

A significant chunk of that $10 trillion is going to come from the development and integration of new consumer facing appliances and hardware to reduce the consumption of energy. “We believe the battery storage market, the smart thermostat market and the solar market are all intertwined and combined,” said Barnard. “Overall the most important thing is that this is just technology that is better. It was going to scale regardless of who was in the White House. These pieces of technology are better, they save homeowners money.. It’s kind of an IQ test if homeowners want to do it.”

#bank-of-america, #blackrock, #blackstone, #chamath-palihapitiya, #chief-financial-officer, #economy, #energy, #finance, #general-partner, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #laurence-tosi, #managing-partner, #money, #nea, #officer, #private-equity, #renewable-energy, #riverstone-holdings, #scott-sandell, #solarcity, #tc, #tesla, #white-house, #world-economic-forum

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

All change in the capital as the Biden administration takes charge, and thankfully without a hitch (or violence) after the attempted insurrection two weeks earlier.

In this week’s Decrypted, we look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds breach and who the incoming president wants to lead the path to recovery. Plus, the news in brief.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google says SolarWinds exposure “limited,” more breaches confirmed

The cyberattack against SolarWinds, an ongoing espionage campaign already blamed on Russia, claimed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as another federal victim this week. The attack also hit cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, the company’s chief executive confirmed. Marcin Kleczynski said in a blog post that attackers gained access to a “limited” number of internal company emails. It was the same attackers as SolarWinds but using a different intrusion route. It’s now the third security company known to have been targeted by the same Russian hackers after a successful intrusion at FireEye and an unsuccessful attempt at CrowdStrike.

#anne-neuberger, #app-maker, #biden-administration, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cybersecurity-startup, #european-medical-agency, #federal-trade-commission, #fireeye, #flo, #india, #malwarebytes, #national-security-council, #operating-systems, #russia, #security, #signal, #social-media, #software, #startups, #united-kingdom, #web-application-firewalls, #whatsapp, #white-house

The biggest step the Biden administration took on climate yesterday wasn’t rejoining the Paris Agreement

While the Biden Administration is being celebrated for its decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement in one of its first executive orders after President Joe Biden was sworn in, it wasn’t the biggest step the administration took to advance its climate agenda.

Instead it was a move to get to the basics of monitoring and accounting, of metrics and dashboards. While companies track their revenues and expenses and monitor for all sorts of risks, impacts from climate change and emissions aren’t tracked in the same way. Now, in the same way there are general principals for accounting for finance, there will be principals for accounting for the impact of climate through what’s called the social cost of carbon.

Among the flurry of paperwork coming from Biden’s desk were Executive Orders calling for a review of Trump era rule-making around the environment and the reinstitution of strict standards for fuel economy, methane emissions, appliance and building efficiency, and overall emissions. But even these steps are likely to pale in significance to the fifth section of the ninth executive order to be announced by the new White House.

That’s the section addressing the accounting for the benefits of reducing climate pollution. Until now, the U.S. government hasn’t had a framework for accounting for what it calls the “full costs of greenhouse gas emissions” by taking “global damages into account”.

All of this is part of a broad commitment to let data and science inform policymaking across government, according to the Biden Administration.

Biden writes:

“It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

The specific section of the order addressing accounting and accountability calls for a working group to come up with three metrics: the social cost of carbon (SCC), the social cost of nitrous oxide (SCN) and the social cost of methane (SCM) that will be used to estimate the monetized damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

As the executive order notes, “[an] accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions.” What the Administration is doing is attempting to provide a financial figure for the damages wrought by greenhouse gas emissions in terms of rising interest rates, and the destroyed farmland and infrastructure caused by natural disasters linked to global climate change.

These kinds of benchmarks aren’t flashy, but they are concrete ways to determine accountability. That accountability will become critical as the country takes steps to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. It also gives companies looking to address their emissions footprints an economic framework to point to as they talk to their investors and the public.

The initiative will include top leadership like the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (a position that Biden elevated to a cabinet level post).

Representatives from each of the major federal agencies overseeing the economy, national health, and the environment will be members of the working group along with the representatives or the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council.

While the rule-making is proceeding at the federal level, some startups are already developing services to help businesses monitor their emissions output.

These are companies like CarbonChainPersefoni, and SINAI Technologies. And their work compliments non-profits like CDP, which works with companies to assess carbon emissions.

Biden’s plan will have the various agencies and departments working quickly. The administration expects an interim SCC, SCN, and SCM within the next 30 days, which agencies will use when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and agency actions. The President wants final metrics will be published by January of next year.

The executive order also restored protections to national parks and lands that had been opened to oil and gas exploration and commercial activity under the Trump Administration and blocked the development of the Keystone Pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canadian tar sands into and through the U.S.

“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs,” according to the text of the Executive Order. “The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Key`12stone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

#articles, #biden-administration, #carbonchain, #chair, #director, #executive, #greenhouse-gas, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #joe-biden, #office-of-management-and-budget, #oil, #persefoni, #president, #sinai-technologies, #tc, #trump, #trump-administration, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

White House, dark mode: Biden admin refreshes Presidency’s website, vows accessibility

WhiteHouse.gov, the official website for all Presidential actions and efforts, is among the first things to be changed up under the freshly inaugurated President Biden. A fashionable dark mode appeared, a large text toggle for straining eyes, and the webmaster has committed to making the whole site conform to the latest accessibility guidelines.

The look isn’t so very different from the previous administration’s site — they’re both fairly modern and minimal experiences, with big photos up front and tidy lists of priorities and announcements once you drill down into a category.

Animation showing dark and light modes on whitehouse.gov

Image Credits: White House

But one big design change implemented by the new administration that many will appreciate is the inclusion of a dark mode, or high contrast mode, and a large type toggle.

Dark modes have been around forever, but became de rigeur when Apple implemented its own system-wide versions on iOS and macOS a while back. It’s just easier on the eyes in many ways, and at any rate it’s nice to give users options.

The WhiteHouse.gov dark mode changes the headline type from a patriotic blue to an eye-friendly off-white, with links a calming Dijon. Even the White House logo itself goes from a dark blue background to full black with a white border. It’s all very tasteful, and if anything seems like a low contrast mode, not high.

The large type mode does what it says, making everything considerably bigger and easier to tap or click. The toggles, it must be said, are a bit over-prominent, but they’ll probably tweak that soon.

More important is the pledge in the accessibility section:

This commitment to accessibility for all begins with this site and our efforts to ensure all functionality and all content is accessible to all Americans.

Our ongoing accessibility effort works towards conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1, level AA criteria.

The WCAG guidelines are a set of best practices for designing a website so that its content can be easily accessed by people who use screen readers, need captions for audio, or can’t use a mouse or touchscreen easily. The guidelines aren’t particularly hard to meet, but as many have pointed out, it’s harder to retrofit a website to be accessible th