Top senator fears Big Tech at home as Alexa, Nest dominate – Reuters

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress takes up the issue on Tuesday of yet another area where big tech firms -- in this case, Amazon.com (AMZN.O) and Alphabets (GOOGL.O) Google -- dominate, this time in smart home devices where they battle smaller companies like speaker maker Sonos Inc (SONO.O).

The hearing takes place at a time of extraordinary interest in tougher antitrust enforcement, much of it focused on the biggest U.S. technology companies. One result has been a series of investigations and several federal and state lawsuits filed against Google and Facebook as well as a long list of antitrust bills.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, is hoping to act before the existing tech giants, in this case Amazon and Google, establish themselves as unassailable.

In the smart speaker market, she cited data that showed that Amazon was at 53 percent market share while Google was at 31 percent.

"This is an area where we can look forward and see around the corner and not just respond years later," she said, noting that people are buying everything from smart speakers to smart door locks and more. "We know that this is a growing market."

Smart home technology can be smart speakers like Amazon's Echo or Google's Nest, security systems or televisions.

Witnesses will include Ryan McCrate, Amazon's associate general counsel, and Google Senior Public Policy Director Wilson White, along with Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus.

Last year, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence told a congressional committee that Google and Amazon used their dominance of search and online retail, respectively, to subsidize the smart speaker market and, potentially, dominate the market for other smart home devices.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Nick Zieminski

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Top senator fears Big Tech at home as Alexa, Nest dominate - Reuters

What Data About You Can the Government Get From Big Tech? – The New York Times

Law enforcement authorities can also use warrants in other ways. Police have issued warrants to Google for any devices that were near where a crime was committed.

The companies say they sometimes work with law enforcement officials to narrow their requests so the companies turn over only information that is relevant to a case.

Apple said that in the first half of 2020, the latest period available, it received more than 5,850 requests from U.S. authorities for data related to 18,600 accounts. It turned over basic data in 43 percent of those requests and actual content data, such as emails or photos, in 44 percent of requests.

Microsoft said that it received 5,500 requests from U.S. law enforcement over the same period, covering 17,700 accounts, and that it turned over basic data to 54 percent of requests and content to 15 percent of requests.

Google said that it received 39,500 requests in the United States over that period, covering nearly 84,700 accounts, and that it turned over some data in 83 percent of the cases. Google did not break down the percentage of requests in which it turned over basic data versus content, but it said that 39 percent of the requests were subpoenas while half were search warrants.

Facebook said that it received 61,500 requests in the United States over the period, covering 106,100 accounts, and that it turned over some data to 88 percent of the requests. The company said it received 38,850 warrants and complied with 89 percent of them over the period, and 10,250 subpoenas and complied with 85 percent.

In these cases, U.S. authorities include any federal, state or local law enforcement office.

Yes. The companies say they sometimes push back on subpoenas, court orders and warrants if they believe the officials lack appropriate legal authority or if the requests are too broad.

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What Data About You Can the Government Get From Big Tech? - The New York Times

Inside the fight to reclaim AI from Big Techs control – MIT Technology Review

Among the worlds richest and most powerful companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have made AI core parts of their business. Advances over the last decade, particularly in an AI technique called deep learning, have allowed them to monitor users behavior; recommend news, information, and products to them; and most of all, target them with ads. Last year Googles advertising apparatus generated over $140 billion in revenue. Facebooks generated $84 billion.

The companies have invested heavily in the technology that has brought them such vast wealth. Googles parent company, Alphabet, acquired the London-based AI lab DeepMind for $600 million in 2014 and spends hundreds of millions a year to support its research. Microsoft signed a $1 billion deal with OpenAI in 2019 for commercialization rights to its algorithms.

At the same time, tech giants have become large investors in university-based AI research, heavily influencing its scientific priorities. Over the years, more and more ambitious scientists have transitioned to working for tech giants full time or adopted a dual affiliation. From 2018 to 2019, 58% of the most cited papers at the top two AI conferences had at least one author affiliated with a tech giant, compared with only 11% a decade earlier, according to a study by researchers in the Radical AI Network, a group that seeks to challenge power dynamics in AI.

The problem is that the corporate agenda for AI has focused on techniques with commercial potential, largely ignoring research that could help address challenges like economic inequality and climate change. In fact, it has made these challenges worse. The drive to automate tasks has cost jobs and led to the rise of tedious labor like data cleaning and content moderation. The push to create ever larger models has caused AIs energy consumption to explode. Deep learning has also created a culture in which our data is constantly scraped, often without consent, to train products like facial recognition systems. And recommendation algorithms have exacerbated political polarization, while large language models have failed to clean up misinformation.

Its this situation that Gebru and a growing movement of like-minded scholars want to change. Over the last five years, theyve sought to shift the fields priorities away from simply enriching tech companies, by expanding who gets to participate in developing the technology. Their goal is not only to mitigate the harms caused by existing systems but to create a new, more equitable and democratic AI.

In December 2015, Gebru sat down to pen an open letter. Halfway through her PhD at Stanford, shed attended the Neural Information Processing Systems conference, the largest annual AI research gathering. Of the more than 3,700 researchers there, Gebru counted only a handful who were Black.

Once a small meeting about a niche academic subject, NeurIPS (as its now known) was quickly becoming the biggest annual AI job bonanza. The worlds wealthiest companies were coming to show off demos, throw extravagant parties, and write hefty checks for the rarest people in Silicon Valley: skillful AI researchers.

That year Elon Musk arrived to announce the nonprofit venture OpenAI. He, Y Combinators then president Sam Altman, and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel had put up $1 billion to solve what they believed to be an existential problem: the prospect that a superintelligence could one day take over the world. Their solution: build an even better superintelligence. Of the 14 advisors or technical team members he anointed, 11 were white men.


While Musk was being lionized, Gebru was dealing with humiliation and harassment. At a conference party, a group of drunk guys in Google Research T-shirts circled her and subjected her to unwanted hugs, a kiss on the cheek, and a photo.

Gebru typed out a scathing critique of what she had observed: the spectacle, the cult-like worship of AI celebrities, and most of all, the overwhelming homogeneity. This boys club culture, she wrote, had already pushed talented women out of the field. It was also leading the entire community toward a dangerously narrow conception of artificial intelligence and its impact on the world.

Google had already deployed a computer-vision algorithm that classified Black people as gorillas, she noted. And the increasing sophistication of unmanned drones was putting the US military on a path toward lethal autonomous weapons. But there was no mention of these issues in Musks grand plan to stop AI from taking over the world in some theoretical future scenario. We dont have to project into the future to see AIs potential adverse effects, Gebru wrote. It is already happening.

Gebru never published her reflection. But she realized that something needed to change. On January 28, 2016, she sent an email with the subject line Hello from Timnit to five other Black AI researchers. Ive always been sad by the lack of color in AI, she wrote. But now I have seen 5 of you 🙂 and thought that it would be cool if we started a black in AI group or at least know of each other.

The email prompted a discussion. What was it about being Black that informed their research? For Gebru, her work was very much a product of her identity; for others, it was not. But after meeting they agreed: If AI was going to play a bigger role in society, they needed more Black researchers. Otherwise, the field would produce weaker scienceand its adverse consequences could get far worse.

As Black in AI was just beginning to coalesce, AI was hitting its commercial stride. That year, 2016, tech giants spent an estimated $20 to $30 billion on developing the technology, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Heated by corporate investment, the field warped. Thousands more researchers began studying AI, but they mostly wanted to work on deep-learning algorithms, such as the ones behind large language models. As a young PhD student who wants to get a job at a tech company, you realize that tech companies are all about deep learning, says Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a computer science professor who now serves at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. So you shift all your research to deep learning. Then the next PhD student coming in looks around and says, Everyones doing deep learning. I should probably do it too.

But deep learning isnt the only technique in the field. Before its boom, there was a different AI approach known as symbolic reasoning. Whereas deep learning uses massive amounts of data to teach algorithms about meaningful relationships in information, symbolic reasoning focuses on explicitly encoding knowledge and logic based on human expertise.

Some researchers now believe those techniques should be combined. The hybrid approach would make AI more efficient in its use of data and energy, and give it the knowledge and reasoning abilities of an expert as well as the capacity to update itself with new information. But companies have little incentive to explore alternative approaches when the surest way to maximize their profits is to build ever bigger models.

Continued here:

Inside the fight to reclaim AI from Big Techs control - MIT Technology Review

Fed up with Big Tech? Find out how to get your privacy back, explore alternatives to Google – USA TODAY

Not all voice assistants can handle the same requests. We put Siri, Alexa and Google to the test. USA TODAY

Years ago, we searched the web, bought new gadgets, and typed in our email addresses without much thought. As far as accounts went, "Hey if it's free, sign me up," we thought.

Fast forward to now, and you can't go online or turn on the news without hearing about the control Big Tech has on our lives and the growing resentment around it.

Were not the only ones noticing. Probably due to government initiatives, tech companies are making changes to address these concerns. You can now password protect the page that reveals all your Google searches and other activity.

Heres how to set it up:

If you own an iPhone, its easier than ever to see what info the apps you use are collecting and block that data from being shared. Tap or click for five iPhone security settings everyone should know about.

Americans may be finally waking up to the fact that when a product is free, they are in fact, the product.

Nearly 60% of poll respondents fear their smartphones are spying on them and say theyve experienced the phenomenon when theyre having a conversation about something and then saw an ad online for that exact product.(Photo: Ponomariova_Maria/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I hear from callers to my national radio show and readers from my website and newsletters all the time who say theyre tired of Big Tech companies, their power, and their control. It got me wondering, how widespread is this feeling? I put together a poll and sent it out to subscribers of my free newsletters, and 6,351 people responded.

Heres a telling stat for you: 86% say they no longer trust Big Tech companies. As a country, we realize how much power and influence they have on our everyday lives.

Whens the last time you got through a day without picking up your iPhone or Android smartphone? What about your Apple or Microsoft computer? Shopping on Amazon or scrolling through posts on Facebook?

The survey found that 76% of those who responded use Google daily, followed by Microsoft (60%), Apple (49%), and Facebook (45%). Over 40% shop on Amazon or use Amazon owned-products like the Echo daily; 89% are active shoppers on Amazon.com.

Only a mere 1.34%, or 85 of those polled say they dont interact with at least one of those companies every day.

If you have a smart speaker at home, I bet you have wondered, Is it listening to me all the time? Its one of the reasons I unplugged my Amazon Echo and stuck it in the garage.

I asked those polled if they think smart speakers listen to what you say all of the time instead of only when you use the wake words. A whopping 82.73% said all the time.

Amazon, Apple and Google will tell you their artificial intelligence assistants only listen for the wake words, like Alexa, Siri and Hey, Google. One issue, though, is how often smart speakers are accidentally triggered.

A 2020 study from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany showed a combined 1,000 phrases could trigger Alexa (election, a letter), Google Home (OK, cool, Ok, you know), Siri (hey Jerry, hey, seriously) and Microsofts Cortana (Montana, frittata).

Worried your smart assistant hears too much?Tap or click to stop all your smart devices from listening to you and recording what you say. A good rule of thumb is to keep smart speakers out of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Nearly 60% of poll respondents fear their smartphones are spying on them and say theyve experienced the phenomenon when theyre having a conversation about something and then saw an ad online for that exact product.

Before you jump to thinking your phones microphone is recording what you say, there could be other reasons for the coincidence. Maybe you searched for something similar before, or someone in your house did. Your homes IP address is used to target you with ads, after all.

To see the rest of the surveys findings, check out the full results on my website.

Heres one of the most conclusive answers from my survey: 92% of respondents think Google knows too much information about their personal lives.

Think about it. Many of us use Google for our email, video meetings, document storage, web browser and much more. Tap or click here to see everything Google knows about you with one quick search.

You have great alternatives you want to step outside the Google sphere.


Unlike Google, DuckDuckGos entire gimmick is itslackof user tracking, as well as a company policy of no targeted ads or relevant results based on your search history.

On the one hand, this means your results will be less tailored to your specific needs and interests. On the other hand, these organic results may help you find things that the Google algorithm might otherwise bury.


StartPage calls itself the worlds most private search engine. The Netherlands-based company recognizes that when it comes to search, its hard to beat Google. Thats why they use the power of Google without passing along user tracking.

StartPage pays Google for the use of its search algorithm but strips out the tracking and advertising that usually comes along with it. You get a Google-like experience, along with the promise that your data will never be stored, tracked, or sold.


If you have little ones at home, consider Kiddle. Its not affiliated with Google, but Google Safe Search powers it.

Is Google Chrome tracking you? Well, it's complicated. Elizabeth Keatinge explains.

The default options for Macs and PCs, Safari and Edge, are solid choices and use up much less of your computers resources than Chrome. If youre looking for different features, Firefox and Tor are solid contenders.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox predates Chrome but this browser is no dinosaur. Firefoxs active developer community frequently releases new updates and add-ons. Firefoxautomatically blocks third-party cookiesby default andautomatically notifies youif you visit a website thats been hit by a data breach.

Youll also find many of the same add-ons that make Chrome so robust. Firefox uses less CPU than Chrome typically does and is capable of loading some websites faster to boot.

Tor browser

Designed as an encrypted browser, Tor uses special coding to keep your browsing habits secret from prying eyes and advertisers. Its so reliable, in fact, that people living in authoritarian states have used it to break through censorship by installing the browser on USB drives.

Tor routes your internet traffic through anonymous servers in different parts of the world, making it difficult for ad trackers, search engines and even governments to know you are and what youre up to. Just dont expect every website out there to play nice with your browser.

Gmail keeps track of things like buying habits, which can make switching to a new mail service seem worthwhile. These alternatives are easy to pick up and master and lack many of the privacy drawbacks found in Googles mail client.

Email getting you down?Tap or click for five inbox hacks, including ways to banish tracking and junk mail.


Mailfence is an encrypted email servicewith a variety of unique security features. Users have the ability to add digital signatures to their messages, which guarantees that your emails are from you to your recipients.

Mailfence also offers a suite of document tools like G Suites Docs and Sheets, along with a calendar and access to third-party mail services so you can create email addresses using your own domain. Its a great option for small business owners and ordinary users alike.


Protonmailis a popular option for users seeking absolute privacy. The company is based in Switzerland, a nation famous for its privacy standards.

Unlike most email services, Protonmail doesnt require any personal info to set up your account. If anyone were hypothetically able to compromise your info, they wouldnt be able to glean any personal information other than what youre sending in messages.

Theres a limited free version and a more robust paid version, and you can use the service for your websites domain.


Signalis an independent non-profit that aims to create a totally secure, encrypted cross-platform messaging app. Its got state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption. Signal promises no ads and no trackers, ever.

Add that on top of its price, free, and you can start to see why Signal is the go-to messaging app for the privacy-minded. You can get Signal on everything from Windows to macOS to Linux as well asiOSandAndroid.

YouTube is another tool Google uses to build a digital ad profile for its users. As good as it would be to move to an alternative, none of the most popular options really match the quality of what YouTube has to offer.

Thats why these alternatives either work hand-in-hand with YouTube itself or have features that provide something YouTube does not.


Designed for faster load times and less impact on your browser, you can useHooktubeto search and browse videos just like you would on YouTube itself without ever visiting the Google-owned site.

You can watch YouTube links that other people send you by simply changing youtube.com in the URL to hooktube.com.

Wed recommend visiting the site this way most of the time. Hooktubes Avoid the Trending videos section it can sometimes promote questionable content like conspiracy theories and fake news because content selection is based on shares rather than curation.


Vimeois a longtime competitor to YouTube, and despite never surpassing it, it still holds its own. It boasts 280 million viewers per month, along with a much lighter server load that makes uploading videos easier. If you have long-form videos or self-made movies you want to share, its a perfect place to host them.

Vimeo allows for higher-quality videos than YouTube does, too. Independent filmmakers even use the platform to host movies for online distribution.

Google Mapsis so big that many third-party mapping apps actually pull map data from it. That said, if youre using an alternative that doesnt share your data with Google, they arent going to see your movement and activity.

What you use instead depends on which operating system you use.

Apple Maps

When Apple and Google Maps split up, it was a major controversy.Apple Mapscomes standard on every iOS device and it now has more robust features than ever.

Apple Maps emphasizes user privacy by not tracking your searches beyond your device.DuckDuckGo actually utilizes Apple Maps for its own mapping program. Youll have access to Apple Maps by default if youre using an iPhone or Mac, but Android and PC users can access Apple Maps via DuckDuckGo.


A lightweight and powerful mapping client,HERE WeGousers give it high marks for its commitment to privacy and speed.

This application offers versions for nearly every platform, including iOS, Android, PC and Mac. HERE WeGo loads directions and maps a bit quicker than Googles option but wont run quite as fast as Apple Maps on Mac systems.

Google may dominate the web, but its far from your only option. You can switch to some of these alternatives and rest easy, knowing all your internet and privacy needs are covered.

Need a hand with a pesky printer, slow internet or online business? Post your tech questions for concrete answers you can trust from me and other tech pros. Visit my Q&A Forum and get tech help now.

Learn about all the latest technology on theKim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website atKomando.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2021/06/11/online-privacy-stop-big-tech-getting-too-much-information-google-alternatives/7609442002/

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Fed up with Big Tech? Find out how to get your privacy back, explore alternatives to Google - USA TODAY

Some Big Tech companies may ‘do better if they’re not connected at the hip,’ says $9.5 billion fund manager – MarketWatch

Change can be hard to embrace, particularly when it means breaking with traditions formed over decades.

But technologies adopted by corporations, governments and households out of necessity during the pandemic likely wont be tossed on the scrap heap when the threat of COVID-19 fades.

So says Jonathan Curtis, portfolio manager at Franklin Equity Group, who thinks spending on technologies that help corporations boost productivity and businesses reach more customers have more room to rise.

The world remains in the early days of tech infusing itself in every industry, much deeper, said Curtis, who co-manages the roughly $9.5 billion Franklin Technology Fund, in an interview with MarketWatch. Experimentation during the crisis is going to stick, because it drives massive productivity gains.

High-flying technology stocks soared to dizzying heights last year as investors and regular people all clearly realized the growing role of technology in our lives, Curtis said. But a look under the covers also shows several categories of tech that struggled from an downturn in spending.

He pointed to a pullback in back-office software spending as companies looked to cut costs and in the cyclical semiconductor sector, but also initially across payment networks as fewer people ventured out to swipe their cards at restaurants, shops and on entertainment in the early months of the pandemic.

Global payments revenues fell an estimated 22% in the first six months of last year compared with the same stretch in 2019, according to a McKinsey report.

And after combing through a year of pandemic corporate results, Curtis sees evidence of ramped-up spending in areas that lagged at first, but can help companies better digitally engage with staff, clients and customers.

Spending also needs to increase on cybersecurity and backup data services to help businesses manage the attack-of-the-day problem, he said, which currently centers around ransomware attacks. That really highlights, with this digitalization, there is clearly a flip side.

Read: Ransomware boom comes from gangs that operate like cloud-software unicorns a truly incredible business model

Some Wall Street analysts worry that antitrust intervention may pose the biggest risk to the S&P 500s five largest stocks, namely Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.64%, Facebook Inc. FB, -0.01%, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.02%, Microsoft Corp. MSFT, -0.59% and Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, -0.84% GOOG, -0.25%.

Curtis isnt convinced, even though the U.S. has gone from being more light-touch in its initial regulatory approach than China and Europe to being more concerned about how best to manage far-reaching technology giants, he said.

House lawmakers were expected to soon propose legislation that could require Amazon.com and other tech giants to effectively split into two companies or shed their private-label products, the Wall Street Journalreported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Shares of big tech companies were mixed Friday. The S&P 500 index SPX, -0.20% was flat, but the information technology component was up 0.3%, while the Dow DJIA, -0.27% was modestly lower and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.71% was slightly higher.

If Big Techs wings get clipped he said, the worst case might be a company like Amazon getting broken up into two companies. But then, Curtis said he would end up owning a cloud-computing giant and an e-commerce behemoth.

In some cases, there may be companies that do better if theyre not connected at the hip, he said.

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Some Big Tech companies may 'do better if they're not connected at the hip,' says $9.5 billion fund manager - MarketWatch

Experts Disagree Over Effectiveness of Amy Klobuchar’s Antitrust Bill – BroadbandBreakfast.com

June 15, 2021 Legal experts and policy makers were split in opinion over an expansive antitrust bill introduced in February by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, at an online seminar hosted by the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Klobuchars proposed bill would modify the laws regulating mergers and acquisitions to block certain anticompetitive conduct by larger firms, shift the burden of proof from investigators to the businesses themselves to prove anticompetitive practices have not been undertaken, and authorizes an increase in funding for federal antitrust enforcement.

Some of the panelists called Klobuchars bill an all out mistake. Others endorsed it, while also arguing that antitrust legislation would not be the only tool necessary to check Big Techs power.

Charlotte Slaiman, the competition policy director at Public Knowledge, believes that the danger of Big Tech is not just in the power they can accumulate through unregulated business practices, but in the power tech firms hold by virtue of the industrys ability. She endorses Klobuchars bill, but believes that antitrust legislation is not the only tool that should be employed to reign in Big Techs power.

Bilal Sayyed, director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission under the Trump Administration, says that Klobuchars bill targets specific companies, and primarily takes issue merely at the companies size, without focusing on the harmful practices they may or may not be employing.

Slaiman says consumers usually help keep business practices in check because businesses are dependent on keeping their consumers happy in order to attract their business. She says that technology firms are similar in this way at their genesis, but this changes as the firms become more powerful. Eventually, the customers need you [the tech firm] more than you need the customers, she says. The calculus completely changes.

She said she believes the unique relationship of firms to customers in the big technology industry allows firms to employ practices that harm consumers, but in ways that antitrust laws wont necessarily address.

In an interview with Harvard Kennedy School, Jason Furman, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under the Obama administration, said pro-competition regulation is not, however, the way to solve all of the social problems of Big Tech, of which the biggest is the contribution many believe they are making to spreading fake news and reinforcing politization. Additional approaches are needed to address those issues.

Slaiman said, Were really concerned about the power itself. These companies should not be this powerful. And so its not just about relying on antitrust to address our problem. We need additional laws and rules on top of antitrust for Bit Tech.

Adam Kovacevich, founder and CEO of the Chamber of Progress, notes that while many take issue with the size of Big Tech, a companys size is not enough to file antitrust complaints against them. He says that there can also be virtues associated with Big Techs size.

Theres also an argument that their bigness allows them to do things that are pro-social, that are beneficial to consumers, he says. What you see is that everyone can agreeI have anxiety about their bignessbut I think theres not as much agreement as to whether theyre using their bigness to disadvantage people.

Kovacevich says that while many people are concerned with the size of Amazon, many people relied on it as a lifeline for their groceries and other essential living utilities during the pandemic.

Kovacevich counters the argument that the massive quantity of data Big Tech has collected makes them a monopoly power by saying that innovation on the side of smaller firms would lead a collection of higher quality data, which would allow them to compete with Big Tech in new ways.

On Friday, a package of five new bills were introduced in Congress that aim to limit the power of Big Tech. The bills come as a response to the completion of a 16-month long investigation by the Antitrust Subcommittee completed last year, which scrutinized the business practices of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, which led to a report that accused the tech giants of harming consumer welfare and employing anti-competitive practices.

In October, the Department of Justice sued Google over anticompetitive practices used to preserve their alleged monopoly power, and in December, the Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook for similar reasons.

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Experts Disagree Over Effectiveness of Amy Klobuchar's Antitrust Bill - BroadbandBreakfast.com

Opinion | Meet Big Techs Tormenter in Chief – The New York Times


When you walk in a room, do you have sway?

Im Kara Swisher and youre listening to Sway. Theres one name that gets all the tech bros shaking in their Allbirds no, not Kara Swisher, but thanks for thinking of me. Im talking about Margrethe Vestager, the European Unions top antitrust enforcer. Shes a regulator with a knack for hitting tech giants where it hurts, their profits. In 2019, she slapped Apple

The European Commission ruled today that Ireland must collect $14 and 1/2 billion in back taxes from Apple.

And then, a year later

Facebook has been fined 110 million euros by European regulators.

And in the last few years, shes gone after Amazon.

The company faces a possible fine of up to 10% of its annual worldwide revenue.

And her work is far from over. Her office is proposing new legislation that could force big tech to change the way it operates, legislation that could come into force next year. So where is Silicon Valleys, quote, tormentor in chief going next? Margrethe Vestager, welcome to Sway.

How are you doing?

Great, really good.


Youve had a lot of big political wins over your many years as commissioner. And you and I have talked about them for a long time, and the fines against Apple and Google got a lot of attention. But lets start with a recent loss. The European Commission ordered Amazon to pay $303 million in back taxes to Luxembourg, but Amazon won the appeal last month. Did the court get it wrong, or is there some issue with the way you charged them?

Well, as we speak, its actually difficult to say. We think it may be some of the same reasons as to why we lost the Apple case. So right now, were analyzing it to see if we have good grounds to appeal. So far, it seems that some of the same issues as in the Apple judgment that we appealed to the general court of justice.

All right, let me explain. The European Union court sided with Apple last year in a fight over a $15 billion Irish tax bill. These are different cases. Why do you think the courts are ruling against you in these cases? Has it made you reevaluate your approach, particularly on the issue of taxes?

Well, two things. First thing is that it was always obvious that for real tax justice you need a change of legislation. You need not only European but also different global approach. And fingers crossed, it may actually come now, almost literally as we speak. And the second thing is that in every case, both the cases that we have won with Engie and Fiat, and the cases we have lost, Apple and Amazon, the court says you are fine to use your instruments. You are absolutely welcome to say, well, no state aid also come in the form of a tax credit. And also, member states, while theyre in their good right to design their own tax legislation, they must at the same time fulfill European laws. So as a matter of principle, the court has said you go ahead. But in these specific cases, you have laws, we disagree with you on some of the issues. And this is why we have been appealing.

Now, you said this you just said this may change right now. I think youre referring to the big news of the win scored on the idea of a global corporate tax. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, she scored a big win by getting the G7 nations to agree to a 15% global tax rate minimum, but the deal is nonbinding right now. Is this just political theater? Do you really think its going to have an impact on companies trying to relocate to tax havens?

Well, first and foremost, progress are way too slow for sort of my line of temper. But it is progress, and the fact that G7 agrees may pave the way for G20 to agree, may pave the way for an OECD agreement. But everything is in the implementation. If tax authorities are given the right resources and member states actually changing their legislation, then wed see real change on ground, because part of the work that we have been doing is realizing that complexity is part of what helps some businesses not to pay taxes as any other business. Because the first thing you feel once you open such a tax case is let me just close it again, because its crazy complex. And tax authorities, they need to have the resources to go into this in full, because otherwise it will not be possible to get the right taxation.

Do you think you were too aggressive in attacking Apple, because this was seen as a huge win, and then it didnt hold up. Do you think thats been damaging to authorities like yours that are trying to call attention to this, for one, and the second thing, to try to actually get companies not to do sweetheart tax deals, which is essentially what this is?

Of course, Ive been wondering that myself quite a lot. I think you have to do that when you lose a case in court. But I think the case in itself have given attention to the issue at hand. It has also given attention to the fact that you need to change legislation in order to get better results. And last but not least, we dont know what the European Court of Justice will say once they rule over our appeal.

Did you think about re-figuring your strategy, because taxes were an important part of, and its one of your main tools that youve been using here.

Well, its one of many tools. And the question of taxes is a very specific question, because there are so many other things that you should not do in the marketplace either to make it difficult for your competitors to compete against you. And I think its important to use every tool in the toolbox to make sure that we have fair competition, because if we do not have fair competition, we lose the most important drivers for innovation, for renewal in the marketplace, and obviously for affordable products for customers.

Yeah. Do you feel like when youre pushing on these deals, if you lose this a ability to attack them on taxes, that youll lose an important tool?

No, we will continue to do the casework that we do. State aid can come in many forms, but it can also come in the form of a tax benefit. So we can continue using our tools. I would, of course, prefer that it was not the case, and that I would on behalf of the huge majority of businesses who pay their taxes. Because I think that is one thing that should not be forgotten in the discussion about corporate taxation the majority of companies, they work very hard to make a profit. From that profit, they pay their taxes.

And how do you characterize these companies doing this? What do you say to them when they take advantage of laws that are just written to help them?

Well, I would not do the soul searching of the motives. I think there are lines where things may develop from tax planning into aggressive tax planning into tax avoidance. In a busy life, I dont think it makes much sense to try to search other peoples souls. I think my own is complicated enough.

OK, all right, low tax countries like Ireland arent happy about this. What are the chances of a global tax system actually succeeding?

I think the chances of success is probably better now than what they have been for a very, very long time, because of the fact that the Biden administration had a completely different approach to this compared to the previous administration. That was a key to unlock the situation. And the European members, they have been pretty much together in the discussions before. And that position, of course, is maintained. So the fact that the U.S. is changing you saw at the G7 how that changed the approach. So if it can happen, I think its more or less now. The momentum is there.

The momentum is there to do that. Will global taxation make global regulation easier?

Well, the tricky thing is, of course, that we do not have a global taxman. We have all these many, many jurisdictions. And same goes for competition law enforcement. We have global companies, but we do not have a global jurisdiction. And only now is there an alignment of minds, and that may allow us to see the same sorts of legislation passed in multiple jurisdictions, so that you get a regulation that has the same direction, even though you dont have a global authority.

Would you like there to be a global authority on regulation on issues like this, given that these are global companies?

From a pragmatic point of view, it would take so long for that to be effective. And you need competition law enforcement now, because it is as we speak that businesses are being closed out of the marketplace because of the behavior of other businesses.

Right, absolutely. So when this happened, you were saying you dont soul search other people. Did you soul search yourself and say, oh, its like pushing a rock up a hill and then down it goes again.

Yes. And unfortunately, I think the soul search is deeper when you lose than when you win, because on the same day as we lost the Amazon case, we won the Engie case. And I havent had a single question about that. But one of the things that Im still really motivated by is the fact that fair competition is one of the most important drivers also out of this crisis that were in right now, because it drives you to be innovative. It drives you to treat your consumers better. And taxes, they are part of this. And businesses, they should contribute to the society where they do their business.

Well, that would be nice. All right, but taxation is one way youre getting them to pay. I want to talk to you about how youre regulating. Lets start with antitrust. We can start with your latest antitrust case. Just last week, the European Commission announced a formal antitrust inquiry into Facebook, taking aim at its Facebook Marketplace service, which is sort of like an eBay. Explain why this case matters.

The Facebook case, we do that actually in a very close coordination with the U.K. competition authorities. It is a specific case on part of the Facebook advertising, but its a data case, so its about the use of data for these advertising purposes. Why it matters is that if we as consumers do not get competition in advertising, eventually the ads we get, they will be poor in quality. And we may not get the offers that we really want to see. And the advertising market used to be a market with quite a lot of competition, where you could place your ads with different ad providers, and if all of a sudden its not possible for those who place ads actually to do this because of the use of data on the platform, well then, eventually, we as customers, we would be losing out.

So I want to also know whats going on with the Spotify case. Youve accused Apples App Store of antitrust violations, basically alleging the App Store gives preferential treatment to Apples music streaming service. If Apple loses, it could face a fine of up to 10% of its annual turnover. Fines make good headlines, but are fines the right remedy when its really needed is to change bad behaviors? Talk a little bit about this case.

Yeah, the Apple music streaming case is about the way Apple treats competitors to their own products. Here, you have Apple Music. Then you have Spotify, Deezer, SoundCloud those will be familiar European names, at least. And here, if you want to subscribe, you will have to pay a 30% commission fee. And also, if for instance, youre then Spotify, you cannot tell your subscribers that you can get it without the commission fee if you sign up via the Spotify website. And that lack of communication that is simply forbidden of course makes it really difficult, because if you sign up for Apple music, youre not paying the commission fee. So even though you could avoid the commission fee signing up via the website, youre not being told that this is possible. And that squeezes, of course, the margins for the other music streaming providers, and it makes the competition unfair. For most things, if you subscribe to it, and you stop subscribing, they would come back and, say, why were you not happy, is there something we can do for you. Not even that can you do. And that, of course, makes it very difficult.

What are your chances of succeeding here?

Well, I think its really important, because what we see is also that in Europe, Apple would hold like 30% of the marketplace. But the thing is that once you have an iPhone, they hold a de facto monopoly of you getting apps on your phone. And of course, its really important, because its a case about what should be the acceptable de facto monopoly behavior in these markets. And the second thing is that, hopefully, it can also pave the way for a proposal we have tabled that if you are in such a position as Apple are, they should allow for another app store on their phone. If Im not happy in the supermarket with the prices or the choices, I just go to the next one. This, we have accepted not to be the case in app stores for a really, really long time.

What do you make of their argument that theyre providing safety, security, theyre vetting apps and things like that.

Of course, thats a really important argument, because we want things to be safe. We want them to be tested. But we dont want safety and testing to be something that you can use to make life difficult for your competitors. And in the Apple Music streaming case, well, you see very different conditions depending on what kind of apps youre dealing with. So I think its an important argument, but neither safety and security nor privacy should be used as a dike against competitors.

So what do you think of the current Apple Epic case here in the US? Thats another case that goes after Apple on antitrust concerning the App Store. Are you talking with their lawyers? Or do you just hope that theres all kinds of lines of attack on the same issue?

No, we follow, for instance, the hearings on the Epics case very close, because there are a lot of similarities. And I think part of the Epics complaint could be solved by allowing a second App Store, because then they are looking for some specificities in how they engage with their customers.

So when youre looking at cases like this, when youre saying a second App Store, Apple could say, look, why should we let another company take advantage of our platform that we built and let them run wild on it? That would be their argument. We believe in privacy. How do we know theyre going to be private? How do we know theyre going to be safe? We paid all this money to create this thing and are taking economic advantage from that

But its its fair enough. But on the App Store, as you see it by now, well, here you see the different treatment of different apps. Some apps you dont pay for, theres no commission fee. Other apps you pay for, theres a very high commission fee that Apple do not pay themselves for where they compete against. And I think every one of us, we would expect if we were to place another app store on our phone, that the people responsible for that app store, well, they would, of course, deliver us a safe place to do our business. But there is a thing when you are in a dominant position, as you are when you provide an operating system, and you put your own products in that rein of that operating system. And that, of course, is what is at stake here, because if we do not have a marketplace that gives room for that kind of innovation, well, then were kind of stuck in the situation that were in right now.

Is there any other solution besides the second app store? Could you regulate them, or regulate the commission fees? Or is there any other way to deal with this and not have a second app store or you think thats the only way?

Now, I think a second app store, that is in the future. That will take time, because its in a legislative proposal that we have tabled in front of the European Parliament. But I would hope that we could conclude this case in good time. And then wed see how to remedy this. Depends, of course, very much on the Apple answer to our concerns. Some of the music streaming services, the smaller ones, theyre not doing too good. And no one can judge what would actually be the market performance of those who are still doing quite well. We have seen in other cases how damaging it can be if things takes a lot of time then the market moves on. So obviously, we never compromise on the quality of our case work and on due process, but we need speed, because a digital marketplace and a digital world is a world where things are moving fast.

One of the themes youve had here is how long it takes and how much power and really teeth you have to actually enforce these laws. Tech moves fast, regulators and courts move slowly. The European Commission slapped Intel with a $1.45 billion fine back in 2009. Intel appealed and then lost. Then in 2017, the European Court of Justice ordered a new trial. They still havent paid the fine. In the meantime, tech companies can keep up with their behaviors. How do you get it to work faster? Because it feels like a giant game of whack-a-mole with what youre doing.

Yeah, this is exactly why we call in the cavalry. This is why we table proposed regulation. And one of the things that takes quite a lot of time in our work is to prove that a company is dominant. Only if youre dominant, you have these responsibilities. And what we have tabled now as proposed legislation is to say, well, if you buy these objective criteria, qualitative and quantitative, will be designated as a gatekeeper, then from the very first day these are the things that you cannot do. These are the things that you have to do. Have to do could be make room for a second app store. Have to do could be share data. Cannot do could be that you cannot lean into a neighboring market in order to promote yourself if you cannot compete on the merits.

All right, so you have a reputation of being tough, but not everybody agrees. The finance and economic ministers from Germany, France, and the Netherlands recently said the EU isnt doing enough to crack down on a flurry of mergers and acquisitions. Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Apple acquired over 800 companies in the last 30 years. Are you doing enough to crack down on mergers, which also gives them a huge advantage given they can come in and scoop up these companies, not just control the platforms, but control innovation going forward.

We just intensified our work with the national competition authorities of the European Union in order to see are you actually buying your future competitor. Because we have seen that in a very innovative start up scene in Europe, we have a lot of acquisitions from big tech. And that, of course, is of our interests to see why this is happening.

So have you made enough aggressive moves here to crack down on them?

Well, I dont think just as well as panic is never a good response to anything, I dont think aggression is the point here either. But I think to be really targeted in the work we do, both regulation wise to pass regulation that regulate what you can do and what you cannot do if you are a gatekeeper and at the same time vigilantly enforcing our competition rules so that we make sure that you cannot just destroy future competition, that you cannot lean on a neighboring market to your own benefit. And we do need both.

But just as with taxes, they dont have to do it. Theyre not going to do it. This is part of their imperative to be bigger businesses. Its your imperative to slow them down, but its not their imperative to be smaller.

No, our point is not to say that they should be smaller. Our point is to say that when in the marketplace, they should take the responsibility that comes with the kind of power you have when you are this size.

So the big argument tech is making is that regulation stifles their ability to innovate. They point out how few multibillion dollar and trillion companies are coming out of Europe in recent decades versus the US, where regulations are lighter. How do you respond to that argument?

Well, the only thing that regulation and competition law enforcement stifles is innovative attempts to break that regulation and antitrust law enforcement, because I think that, indeed, its about time that democracy catches up and get a bit ahead of technology, because its not by our publicly elected representatives that our society is being shaped. It is by corporate business. But it is 100% legitimate for our elected representatives to say, this is the framework within which youll have to go compete. And yes, that puts a brake on something, but then its democratically decided. And I think that is perfectly fine. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Well be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. Youll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Senator Amy Klobuchar. And youll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Margrethe Vestager after the break. [MUSIC PLAYING]

So lets move on to privacy. Back in 2018, the commission got a lot of praise for enacting the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. It was aimed at stopping companies from exploiting EU citizens personal data. Three years later, one of the only big tech companies that got fined was Google, which was fined about 50 million, which is like pocket change to them. How are you thinking about GDPR three years hence.

Im a bit disappointed in the marketplace, that it has taken so long to have a market response let these new services help you enforce your rights when it comes to privacy. That has been really slow. And obviously, authorities in member states, theyre still working together to find the right level of enforcement when it comes to privacy, because privacy regulation and the citizens rights here, they are not just for bigger companies. Theyre for all companies. So we still have work to do in order to get the enforcement right and for people to feel that they have the power of their data.

So the European Commission is proposing whats coming up next, the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. Explain to me whats in these acts and why the commission wants to update the rule books to reign in. Explain exactly whats in them.

Well, the regulation Ive been talking about is the Digital Markets Act. Its the one that will harness what we call gatekeepers. Second, Digital Services Act, will basically make sure that what you get offline is also what you get online, for instance, that products are safe, and that platforms, they know the merchants doing business via that platform so well that they knew that these merchants will actually live up to that kind of responsibility. For instance, as an importer, that you can complain about your products, that the products are safe. And the second thing is about the services. If your post, if your profile is taken down, that there is somewhere where you can go complain about it in order to sort of maintain freedom of expression while at the same time being much stricter on the obligations to take down what is considered illegal in a member state. That could be incitement to violence, child abuse, bomb recipes, that sort of things.

So the Digital Service Act is more about content moderation. The Europeans have a different view on that than the Americans. How far should governments go to spelling exactly what amounts to acceptable and unacceptable speech? In the United States, its impossible because of the First Amendment. Facebook has a First Amendment right, for example. How do you balance free expression with the open internet?

So also here is a balancing act, because obviously freedom of expression is of the essence. But its really needed that we get more aggressive on all the illegal content out there. Our proposal does not say anything about what you say. It says something about how should you process that what is illegal is taken down, but what may be hurting or harmful or somewhat damaging, but which is not illegal, can actually stay up. And that, of course, is a really tricky thing to do. And this is why we are suggesting a more, I think for the platform, cumbersome procedure, that if something is taken down and people complain about it, that they have somewhere to go complain about it and they have a fair chance of getting their post back up again if what they have said is actually not illegal, even though it may be harmful to someone or hurting to someone, but not illegal.

Well, should that be the government doing that, or should it be the private companies.

It should be an independent body to assess this, so that things can be aligned.

All right, so thats a very difficult process, given the amount of data that comes across these companies all the time. Now, should private companies be held liable for actions like January 6th, for example?

Well, were very careful when it comes to liability. And to a very large degree, we sort of maintain the basics here, that you are a platform, and as such, youre not liable as to what happens there if it is obvious who is the sender. If people would make the obvious mistake that its actually you, a platform, who is responsible for this, then you may fall into a different category, but were still working on the question of liability. And we will come back to that later this year.

Do you think they should that companies like Facebook and others should be liable for January 6?

I think this is really tricky. What we think is that you should lift your responsibility away before it gets to that, because that kind of incitement to violence would be illegal, I think, in every EU member state.

So Facebook just announced last week its banning Trump for two years and it had to do with January 6. What do you make of the decision?

Well, I kind of understand the decision and why they felt the need to do something. What we would want is that that is not just a decision that they unilaterally take, but that you have a system so that you can actually discuss that and you also have some rights. That, of course, should be held up against the terms and conditions that you have signed up to.

But they tried to do that. They tried to give it over to their oversight board. What did you make of the board that theyve created that is allegedly independent, and this is what its supposed to do it shoved the decision back to Facebook, saying youve got to make laws about someone like Trump.

Well, I think its important that these processes, they are bound in legislation, so that people know what are their rights. If its a body set up by a private company within sort of the rein of that private company, of course, its a different thing then something that is guarded in legislation.

And do you imagine that would be workable in any sense?

Well, youre completely right to say that this is troublesome. And it will take a lot of resources. But the problem is that the alternative can be really undermining freedom of expression. But youre right to say that, obviously, this is so much more troublesome than just sort of a blanket, say, you take down what you think is illegal and well leave it at that.

Do you agree with their decision to remove President Trump from the platform?

That I have not thought about.

Come on. Really?

No, because Im not myself an active Facebook user. And I dont know what would be the ups and downs. I dont know what they have been considering. I dont know what are the details.

How do you look at his behavior online?

Well, I myself was surprised that one could express oneself as the former president did without any consequences until the very last minutes, so to speak, when you look at the terms and conditions that everyone signs up for.

I see. I think thats a yes. By the way, Donald Trump called you Europes tax lady. He also accused you of hating America. Trump told Fox Business, She hates the United States, perhaps worse than any person Ive ever met. Do you recall that?

Yes, I recall it. And it was really strange, because Ive never met President Trump.

Yeah. Well, anyway, President Biden is traveling to Brussels this month. How much of digital and tech is going to be on the agenda if you meet with him? And what would you like from the Biden administration?

First and foremost, I think its really, really good what the Biden administration is doing on taxation. The fact that there is now a G7 agreement may pave the way for a real global agreement when it comes to taxation. So obviously, I would encourage continuation of this line. But also, it will be really interesting were trying to create what we call a trade and technology council in order to have such a high level format to discuss everything from AI to standard setting. And hopefully, from that starting point, creating maybe a larger coalition of democracies to deal with some of these issues, because your take on technology also becomes your take on democracy.

I have to ask about your political future. You were once going to try to be the President of the European Commission. Are you still eyeing that post?

I have three and a half years left of this mandate, so I have not considered that for a second. When I didnt make it the last time, I spent between 15 and 20 seconds considering if I should be bitter and contesting for the next five years. And I figured out that that would be pretty harmful for me, but the rest of the world probably wouldnt care. So I took the choice to engage fully in my job and I really enjoy it. And I admire and respect the president that we have.

If the global tax authority or global regulatory authority emerges, would you want that job, to be the global tax cop?

Well, yes, if I can make it to 150, because I think thats the kind of age it would take to get to a global tax authority.

Just so you know, Jeff Bezos just announced hes going to space, so maybe global tax policy wont work for him if hes not literally on the globe. But perhaps you can extend it to Mars.

Well, first things first, now were working on space traffic management. I think its a good thing to get started. And that should be global as well.

OK, all right. I think thats perfect. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Sway is a production of New York Times Opinion. Its produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Daphne Chen. Edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Eric Gomez, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristen Lin, and Liriel Higa. If youre on a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If youre listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of Sway delivered to you by a tax lady who loves Americans, download any podcast app and search for Sway and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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Opinion | Meet Big Techs Tormenter in Chief - The New York Times

The S&P 500 now is top-heavy in 5 big tech stocks but that alone won’t end this bull market – MarketWatch

A top-heavy market may not be a warning sign, after all. Im referring to the outsized share of the U.S. market reflected in a handful of megacap stocks. The combined market valuation of just five stocks Apple AAPL, -0.64%, Microsoft MSFT, -0.59%, Amazon.com AMZN, -0.02%, Alphabet (Google) GOOGL, -0.84% and Facebook FB, -0.01% currently represent more than 20% of the total of all companies in the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.20%.

Many believe that such a lopsided market isnt healthy. They point out that, prior to the past couple of years, the peak of internet bubble held the record for when the five largest companies commanded the greatest share of the S&P 500s market cap. That was when their share hit 17%, according to data from Morgan Stanley Research.

Any parallel to the top of the internet bubble is certainly alarming. But what is overlooked when drawing this parallel is that the world has changed in fundamental ways over the past two decades. What previously was a danger sign may now be the new normal.

Thats because the markets are evolving along with whats known as a winner take all economy. Im referring to a prediction made in 2005 in the Journal of Economics & Management Strategy by Thomas Noe of Oxford University and Geoffrey Parker of Dartmouth College. The researchers predicted that, because of so-called network effects in an internet-based economy, industries will become increasingly dominated by their largest companies.

Their prediction has been remarkably prescient. As I pointed out in a late April column, the percentage of total corporate profits coming from the 100 biggest earners has skyrocketed over the past three decades. In 1975, the profit share of the top 100 was 48.5%, and in 1995 was 52.8%. But by 2015 it had jumped to 84.2%. (These percentages come from research conducted by Kathleen Kahle of the University of Arizona and Rene Stulz of Ohio State University.)

With the recent earnings season now behind us, I decided to see what the comparable percentage was in 2020. It was higher still, at 91.8% as you can see from the chart below. One third of the S&P 1500 companies lost money. The rest more or less were competing for the crumbs falling off the table from the profit feast of the top 100 companies.

In light of this, the lopsided U.S. market appears to be far less concrning. In fact, given how much the biggest companies are earning relative to the rest of the market, they deserve to have outsized market caps. According to FactSet data, for example, the five largest U.S. stocks as of June 7 represented 21.5% of the total market cap of the S&P 500, and their latest fiscal years net income represents 22.6% of the total net income of all 500 companies in that index.

Relative to earnings, in other words, the top five companies are slightly cheaper than the other 400 companies in the S&P 500. This is far different than the situation that prevailed at the top of the internet bubble, when some of the stocks with the biggest market caps were producing paltry earnings.

Dartmouths Parker said in an interview that its not particularly surprising that profits and market caps are currently correlated. It would be more surprising if they were not, as was the case at the top of the internet bubble. Absent such a disconnect, he said, the concentration of market cap in the largest companies is not a signal of a top-heavy market.

This doesnt mean that the stock market isnt vulnerable to a big decline, Parker added. The point instead is that, if indeed the market does decline, it will be for other reasons than the concentration of market cap among the largest companies.

Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. He can be reached at mark@hulbertratings.com

More: Dont get too optimistic about a stock market rally theyve been fizzling out

Also read: Never short a dull market? What stock traders need to know about a popular adage

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The S&P 500 now is top-heavy in 5 big tech stocks but that alone won't end this bull market - MarketWatch

Marc Lore, Gary Vee, early in some big tech winners, share a new investment – CNBC

Marc Lore, left, and Gary Vaynerchuk

Scott Mlyn | CNBC; Prince Williams | Getty Images

The pandemic forced more companies to migrate sales online and data analysis to the cloud, where they can tap computing resources without having to worry about managing infrastructure in their own data centers. The accelerated adoption of cloud services has attracted interest from investors who want to get in early on tech trends they expect will continue to grow in significance in a post-pandemic, increasingly digital, world.

Marc Lore and Gary Vaynerchuk are among the investors in a $10 million round of seed funding for data processing platform Tracer, which focuses on optimizing advertising and marketing spend for corporations, and was incubated and used as an in-house product for Vaynerchuk's media company VaynerMedia.

Vaynerchuk is known for his early bets on companies likeTwitter,Uber,Snap and Coinbase. Equally significant is the backing of serial entrepreneur Lore, who sold his online delivery start-up Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore had previously sold another start-up that he founded, Quidsi, the parent of Diapers.com, to Amazon for about $550 million.

Lore, who joined Walmart for several years after the big-box retailer acquired Jet.com, was seen by experts as a key part of the deal: a way for Walmart to bring the digitally savvy entrepreneur and his team in-house as it tried to turbocharge its online retail business to catch up to rivalAmazon.

"Iinvested in Tracer becauseI know firsthand the power of data to drive business results," Lore told CNBC via email. "As more companies are challenged with how to manage datacomingfrom multiple platforms having a single source of truth to make better decisions will matter especially coming out of Covid."

Throughout the pandemic, competition has ramped up in the cloud database and analytics market, as well as adtech more broadly. Tracer is among those competitors, a marketing data aggregation and reporting platform that has integrations with some of the biggest cloud service vendorsincluding Amazon,MicrosoftandGoogle, as well as social networks likeFacebookandSnap.

Tracer works by pulling in and making sense of all types of data everything from customer IDs to revenue figures visualizing a company's media spend across campaigns and platforms.

The software integrates with data visualization services like Salesforce-owned Tableau.

Co-founder Jeff Nicholson developed the technology in 2015 while managing budgets for VaynerMedia. Low on bandwidth and resources to crunch client data, he and Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, built their own platform to help scale the company into the global advertising giant it's become over the last decade amid the rise of dominant digital ad platforms like Facebook and Google.

The company says its early funding will be used to expand and improve the technology and grow their engineering team. In addition to VaynerMedia, Tracer's current roster of clients includes Sanofi and Cond Nast.

"We created Tracer to solve a problem that we faced time and time again," said Tracer CEO Nicholson in a release announcing the deal. He also serves on advisory boards for Roku, Pinterest and Nextdoor. "We're excited that others have found such value in our platform and are eager to continue our growth with the help of Gary, Marc, Kevin and others."

NBA star Kevin Durant also is an investor in the deal.

Vaynerchuk has worked with Nicholson and co-founder Leighton Welch over the last six years while developing the product inside VaynerMedia's media department. "I invest in talented entrepreneurs and Jeff and Leighton are the epitome of this," said Vaynerchuk in the funding announcement. "I've also had the huge advantage of working so closely with them for so long."

Loreleft his Walmart role in Januaryand will serve as a strategic advisor through September. At the time, he told CNBC in an interview that he planned to return to his start-up roots, investing in new companies, and starting others.

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Marc Lore, Gary Vee, early in some big tech winners, share a new investment - CNBC

Gavin Newsom is getting huge donations from big tech as he fights recall – SFGate

June 8, 2021Updated: June 8, 2021 4:47p.m.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom listens to questions during a news conference outside a restaurant in San Francisco.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom can raise an unlimited amount of money as he attempts to survive a recall election later this year, and he is pulling in massive sums of money from technology executives.

At the end of May, he pulled in $3 million by far the largest sum of money spent on the recall on either side from Netflix founder Reed Hastings. On Tuesday, a new filing from the California Secretary of State's office showed that he received an additional $300,000 from tech titans.

The governor received $200,000 from Laurene Powell Jobs the widow of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and founder of the Emerson Collective as well as $100,000 from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Powell Jobs has long been a Democratic Party mega-donor, giving $500,000 to President Joe Biden in 2020. She also has donated thousands of dollars to congressional Democrats over the years.

Schmidt has also been active in aiding the Democratic Party, as he once funded a startup that became a major technology vendor for Hillary Clintons presidential campaign in 2016.

Powell Jobs and Schmidt were just two of 75 signatories on a letter from tech executives announcing their opposition to the recall, so more big money contributions could be coming.

The donations were made to Newsom's "Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom" committee. According to CalMatters, the governor's side has raised about $13.5 million to date, while recall supporters have raised $4.7 million.

Eric Ting is the editor of California Issues, SFGATE's politics section. He is an East Bay native who has a Master's degree in journalism from Stanford University. Eric did his undergrad at Pomona College, where he majored in politics and minored in economics. Email: eric.ting@sfgate.com

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Gavin Newsom is getting huge donations from big tech as he fights recall - SFGate

The New Normal: What If Your Beloved CRM Is Big Tech’s Next Target? – Inman

The New Normal is a multistory Inman series exploring whats returning to normal after the pandemic fades and what will never be the same. Check back tomorrow for a new installment and join usJune 15-17when we take the conversation live atInman Connect.

LionDesk founder David Andersons father and grandfather practiced real estate for decades. His sister is an agent, and his step-father was a mortgage broker.

After success in software within the travel industry, the prospect of another challenge called to Anderson. So why not enter the family business?

Although I knew it would be hard work starting a new company from zero, and getting no outside investment, I was up for the challenge and was ready to have fun, Anderson said in an email to Inman.

He also shared the initial handwritten napkin sketch upon which he built his company. Scrawled on the napkin with a roughed-out logo, the message was succinct: Make sales and marketing easier for real estate agents. And thats what he did.

Once on the market, LionDesks $25-per-month fee gave individual agents access to a CRM they could afford independently and the freedom to operate with autonomy when their brokers offering cost too much money or wasnt the best fit for the agent.

The CRM proliferated by providing sophisticated lead management, generation and follow-up for the everyday agent. It was one of the first in the space to offer text automation, which empowers agents to program auto-follow-up campaigns using text instead of email, which had been the standard for a long time.

LionDesk also championed open ecosystems, a model that connects many common third-party tools to help users consolidate data and connect features. (Realogy is a champion of this open ecosystem approach.)

As it goes, LionDesk was sold to Canadian enterprise software builderLone Wolfas part of its recent surge in growth. When tech is acquired, customers often have concerns, especially related to their data.

However, several clients rightfully congratulated Anderson, who was transparent and ever-present with his user-base throughout. He will stay fully embedded with the software as general manager of agents and teams for Lone Wolf.

Nevertheless, his customers have a right to be concerned about what lies ahead for the affordable, feature-rich CRM. For every agent whose valuable tech gets sold, the concerns can include price increases, losing certain lead source partners, changing website templates or new lead-routing models, among many others.

And the technology agents use wont cease evolving. It will continue to automate, making the agents day-to-day life easier. And the more it innovates, the harder it is to break away from the daily conveniences it provides.

As was the case with LionDesk, theres a clear trend of CRMs and other valuable business tech getting acquired by larger names. Agents and brokers should consider this trend the new normal among all real estate tech sectors, from portals to back-office solutions. Tech is changing hands rapidly, and potentially taking the way agents do business onto the next company with it.

At this pace in such a limited vendor category within this pressurized market this trend has no reason to slow down.

The people behind these acquisitions are hunting for potential Wall Street trophies. And even though your favorite CRM may not end up publicly traded, it could end up emblazoned on the memo line of a massive check.

Its time for brokers and agents to begin thinking about how theyll react when a larger company likes their CRM as much as they do.

Lets first look at how CRMs have become the lifeblood of agents businesses.

It wouldnt be hard to find agents who once worked from an Act! database or maybe an Outlook contact list. These were the early iterations of lead databases. Before them, it was Rolodexes and hard copies. But this was true for all industries, not just real estate.

As the internet merged with business, solutions for keeping tabs on contacts and leads became a cottage industry and, eventually, an industrial enterprise. Once online home search took hold, agents needed ways to channel people from their website to their database without losing critical information.

From there, the fundamental business concept of customer relationship management staying in touch with clients morphed into whats now colloquially known asthe CRM,an amalgamation of omnichannel marketing, sales support, and account management. The CRM has gone from a value-add business tool to a fully integrated component of everyday business.

Todays software tells you who to call and email and then leaves the voicemail and sends the email for you. Who wouldnt want this tech empowering their business?

Vendors in the industry employ large teams of foreign and domestic coders, interface designers and product managers, all working to create new ways for agents to work smarter.

The advancements are taking work out of the agents hands, a powerful benefit when one considers how much work it requires to generate new business and manage whats current. Although automation and tools to simplify the workload for agents are out there at all levels of the CRM space, some of the more prominent names in the space are making them a priority.

For example,Inside Real Estaterevamped kvCORE for spring 2021. Its Lead Details module is more or less on autopilot, continually updating a users entire database by monitoring home search-related activity. It also double-checks the authenticity of the leads actions to provide the agent with everything needed to reach out. And kvCORE isnt the only one.

Highly popular CRM BoomTowns Success Assurance Program combines human interaction and marketing automation. The service actively monitors a database from the moment of account setup to gauge a contacts activity level, score them and then recommend the appropriate action.

This feature came about afterBoomTown discovered the longer a contact record (a lead) is exposed to marketing, the more apt they are to work with that agent. This tremendous realization aims to solve the long-standing call me when you decide to sell conundrum.

Hours of tedious, manual recording of lead follow-up is quickly dissipating with such automation and high-touch CRM database management, opening up critical windows of energy to be spent elsewhere, like managing blossoming deals and in-escrow transactions.

The result is making CRM technology ever more challenging to pry away from a busy agent and thriving brokerage. That tight grip makes switching CRMs ever more complicated, and providers know that.

The more valuable CRMs are to agents, the more dollar signs larger technology companies see in them. CRM solutions offer large technology companies access to intelligent technology that agents are already entrenched in, which can pose myriad problems for those agents. Brokers, teams and agents need to brace for this new normal.

Innovation happens faster in small spaces, where ideas quickly ricochet into features, and user feedback, not subject to a vacuum, is easier to implement. Startups become targets because theyre small enough to focus on solving a single problem and getting it to market quickly. They become more valuable to the marketplace.

DashCMA, for example, was built by a mom-turned-advertising-executive-turned-real-estate agent and sold in under two years to well-funded, long-established Inside Real Estate.

Similarly, open house solution Spacio was developed and championed by a small team. HomeSpotter acquired it, and itsnow part of Lone Wolf.

These deals move fast. The quicker startups disrupt a market, the more attention they command, especially when theyre small and offer a new take on an old problem.

Funding to proptech startups quadrupled between 2015 and 2019, with investors allocating $8.9 billion across more than 500 deals in 2019, according to technology economy analystCBinsights.com. Naturally, 2020 saw a slowdown, but the organizations reporting shows that theres ample room for growth in real estate tech.

Real estate technology has transformed the industry, putting more control in the hands of consumers and giving salespeople flexible solutions, Laura Adams, senior real estate analyst at Aceable, said in a May 25TechRepublic report.

Unfortunately, all of that money fueling startups can bring risk to the user.

Thus, its common for customers to leave a technology partner because of an experience with or assumptions about the new parent company. People will continue to get upset every time Compass, Opendoor, CoStar and Zillow make any notable industry move.

No better recent example of this can be found in the reaction to Zillows latest trip to the market, which resulted in it spending $500 million on the industrys most-accessed home showing tool.

Inman reader Clay Stapp was one of many who wasnt thrilled with the deal. Whats a good alternative to ShowingTime? Im done he wrote in the comments section of the story.

Wow Why would my MLS dollars go to support this in using ShowingTime, what a MISTAKE When are Realtors going to wake up and see what is really going on here? Robert Adams commented.

Other readers threw around the word monopoly and expressed concern about ownership of listing data.

Although no other technology company in real estate ignites as much passion in agents as Zillow, Compass is a relatively new close second. Its 2019acquisition of CRM Contactuallytook flack.

NO COMPETITOR IS EVER APPROPRIATE AS A VENDOR! Compass can say they will not access data from non Compass agents, but who wants to take a chance, reader Tom Bailey commented on the Inman story.

Interesting announcement from a company that thought that they were the only ones capable of developing a state of the art agent technology tool kit, Larry Knapp wrote. At least theyre not too arrogant to admit they were wrong. This will help put them on a par with the many great traditional brokerages who have been using Contactually for quite some time.

What those readers are communicating is not a rare sentiment, theres a great deal of passion in this industry, and its possible your CRM could end up under the banner of a company with a lot of heat on it.

In 2020, Naberly Solutions added to its offeringa sharp, competitive CRM. Within a year of that announcement,IntelliAgent acquired it.

Constellation Real Estate Group bought long-time industry CRM TopProducer in March to cap off an impressive buying spree. Its other acquisitions include marketing tech companyTorchX, lead-gen solutionOffers,Real Estate Digital,Baynet World,SmartZipandParadym.

But consolidation is happening in other ways, too: partnerships.

Partnerships are forming across the proptech space, all designed to merge common user groups.

If a CRM wants to add transaction management, it likely calls upon SkySlope or DocuSign. Or maybe if a lead-generation service wants to help its customers route leads, it might build a connection with a CRM.

Chimes built-in lead scoring recently got a boost byintegrating with relocation data service Revaluate, which owns a powerful algorithm for predicting when a person is likely to move. Its system constantly roams a Chime users database to detect activity indicative of a move, such as searches about new neighborhoods, portal browsing or credit checks.

There was a time when we believed an all-in-one platform was the best way to support agents, saidMike McGowan of Chime. Through our strategic partner program, we learned that by maximizing the potential of each best of breed partner and tightly integrating with our powerful CRM, we can deliver a more powerful technology stack to our clients.

Desire to expand is why open APIs (application programming interfaces) exist. Zapier, a tremendously popular product, was solely founded to connect different software products.

Its crucial for brokers and agents to look for specializations in their technology stack, which means multiple partnerships, explained Howard Tager, co-founder of Ylopo.

In a growing trend, the highest performing teams now choose to work with the top specialized providers in each category and make sure that there is seamless integration with these top gun solutions, Tager said.

Unfortunately, when a larger company comes for blocks of your tech stack, the benefit of that nicely assembled foundation can crumble.

Brokers have a hard enough time choosing a vendor and encouraging adoption. As big tech continues to absorb its more nimble rivals, more brokers will face more technology decision points, leaving agents wondering where they have to log in next.

These CRM acquisition trends illustrate why Gary Keller andRobert Reffkinare so driven to own their code, regardless of howbumpy the roadis to get there.

Agents within such brokerages should realize that outside of the entire brand being acquired, their tech is there to stay. They can feel better about committing to it.

Additionally, its much more likely that these brokerages will communicate software changes, problems, and updates ahead of time (in an ideal scenario), offering agents the opportunity to prepare and adjust as needed. Thats not to say your current independent CRM doesnt do that, but typically user feedback groups and feature beta tests are limited in size and scope.

The companywide collaboration and enterprise-level commitment to the technology can provide agents with more peace of mind about its longevity and support. In short, theres a were all in this together mentality.

Brokers and agents dont have any reason to believe your technology provider will abandon you. Thats an extreme way to couch the issue.

Sales and marketing automation are terrific advancements for the industry. Yet, how often does the user know the strategy behind them? Does the everyday agent with an already heavy task load really know how their CRM is scoring their leads?

Agents should exercise support teams understanding of whats happening when an automated response campaign gets triggered, and technology providers should be ready to explain it.

Agents need to make sure they have a grip on the underlying business and marketing concepts their CRM is performing for them. Additionally, they need to ensure their technology-based marketing plan is portable and can translate into a new system.

The set-it-and-forget-it approach is only good when you know how it all works. Thus, get into the weeds on why segmentation is essential for lead nurture and lead management efficiency, and take time to understand how a single-listing page works and what it does for your seller.

Its crucial for agents to know what percentage of their database is their own, always. The percentage of leads and contacts that are paid for by your brokerage and facilitated by your CRM are likely not yours to walk away with. Meaning, if you happen to get a new CRM, it will look a bit different because it will be working with different relationships.

The ever-changing technology landscape is a big part of why earned leads are gaining ground; they offer a stronger sense of ownership, control and longer-term ROI.

Technology providers should begin to share the systems behind lead analysis algorithms or find a way to make the process more transparent.

Providers can help their constituents by offering a little goodwill along the way. By no means should any business halt their long-range goals or sacrifice employee goodwill, but they can create a balance.

This could take the form of an acquisition promise that entails sharing plans to sell in advance or at least communicating as a deal is happening. Dedicated customers dont always have to find out their CRM was acquired by reading Inman.

They can do some customer relationship management of their own.

Lastly, the industry needs to do its homework on the rise of SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies.

SPACs arecompanies specifically formed to acquire businesses and take them public, and theyre popping up all over residential real estate. Opendoor used one to go public, and former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff also has a SPAC thatsin the processof taking Offerpad public.Matterport is on its way to the stock exchangevia a merger with Gores Holdings VI.

Regardless of how brokers prepare themselves or what a technology vendor does for their bottom line, working in the right now of the real estate tech space must be similar to what its like to sit in the cockpit of a starship as it jumps to lightspeed: Its kind of a blur.

And agents are only along for the ride.

Email Craig Rowe

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The New Normal: What If Your Beloved CRM Is Big Tech's Next Target? - Inman

Big Tech-Backed Gig Worker Union Bill Fails to Get in Gear in Albany – THE CITY

A plan to grant app-based gig workers some bargaining rights is dead in the state Legislature even as the City Council held a hearing Tuesday on measures to improve working conditions for New Yorkers who deliver food.

The gig worker proposal, which initially garnered some support from organized labor, collapsed under scrutiny before a bill could be introduced in Albany. State lawmakers are slated to conclude this years legislative session on Thursday, with no bill introduced by the Monday evening deadline.

The proposal would have granted workers for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash some bargaining power despite not being classified as employees entitled to certain rights. The effort failed to gain steam as pushback from food delivery workers and their advocates knocked out some early backing from organized labor.

Among the oppositions concerns: The industry-backed proposal would have conceded some key rights including the ability to strike or demonstrate against a company. The measure also would have overridden local wins for gig workers including some of the proposals being considered by the City Council.

DoorDash, Uber, Seamless, GrubHub and other delivery apps have schemed to introduce legislation behind the backs of these workers, said State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), who chairs the Senates labor committee.

They want to amend our state labor laws to support their rights on the job under the guise of collective bargaining. One of the most egregious parts of the so-called Right to Bargain bill is that it undercuts delivery workers local organizing efforts, she added.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island, Brooklyn), who had been drafting the measure, told Bloomberg News that she plans on revisiting the topic next year when the Legislature returns.

Its a complicated problem, but the only way were going to get to a solution is people are going to have to put aside their own agendas and figure out how do we solve it? said Savino, who told THE CITY she was not available to comment.

Meanwhile, the City Council held a hearing Tuesday on a package of bills that aim to improve working conditions for the burgeoning app-based food delivery sector.

The proposals look to boost wages, ensure tips get to delivery workers and set limits on where they can deliver local regulations that would be barred under the draft state bill that circulated among lawmakers, tech companies and labor unions last month.

Many items in the City Councils seven-bill package were introduced in late April following months of discussions with Los Deliveristas Unidos. The group of mostly immigrant food couriers toiled for months during the pandemic with little access to bathrooms or to shelter and without much recourse against tech companies.

On average, a delivery worker works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, earning a grand total of $300. That is less than $4 an hour. When they need to take a break or use the restroom, they are denied basic courtesy and treated with hostility by some of the very same restaurants kept open by their labor, said Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), who is pushing a bill that would fine restaurants and bars that refuse to allow delivery workers to use the restroom.

Other proposed measures would require that companies provide workers with insulated bags at no cost and direct the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to study the working conditions of food delivery workers so it can come up with rules for minimum payments to workers.

While generally supportive of the measures, the departments acting commissioner, Sandra Abeles, expressed concerns in testimony at Tuesdays hearing that multi-billion dollar tech companies would find loopholes in the proposed regulations if enforcement is not carefully constructed.

Although Council members had been told that representatives from the food delivery companies would be testifying at the virtual hearing, none did.

In a statement, San Francisco-based DoorDash said the company was actively engaging with workers and eager to engage with policymakers on ways all stakeholders can better support New York City delivery workers.

Uber, which runs UberEats, did not respond to a request for comment.

In his testimony before the Council on Thursday, Los Deliveristas Unidos leader Sergio Ajche called the hearing a very important day for the citys delivery workers.

Its time for the city to recognize us as essential workers not just with words, but with actions, he said, reading aloud from his testimony in Spanish.

Its frustrating to see these apps make our tips disappear and the restaurant industry turn its back on us, he added. It hurts to see clients gratuities out of reach to those of us risking our lives in the streets. I know many hesitate to call out these injustices out of fear, but we are here today to make our situations with these apps visible.

Although Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) was quoted in a Deliveristas press release supporting the workers, a spokesperson for the Council leader did not immediately respond to questions on whether he would bring the bills to a vote.

Deliveristas risk their lives to bring food to our doors, a service so many of us depended on during the pandemic. They were there for us, now we need to be there for them. Deliveristas deserve better, more fair treatment, and the Councils legislative package will help them get the protections they need as they continue to serve our city, Johnson said in the press release.

At a rally before the hearing, workers gathered with supporters from the union 32BJ SEIU and Transport Workers Union Local 100 at City Hall Park to urge the Council to pass the bills.

In testimony, workers described getting shortchanged by the apps and accused the platforms of withholding the tips many workers depend on in order to earn livable wages. One of the bills discussed at the hearing, introduced by Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), would establish minimum per-trip payments, excluding tips, to ensure workers earn an hourly amount equal to the $15 minimum wage.

Los Deliveristas Unidos leader Jonn Huerta spoke on behalf of a Relay delivery worker who charges the app stole a $9.60 tip sent by a customer last month.

At the rally, Huerta read from the testimony submitted by Manhattan delivery worker Gustavo Mancilla, who said a customers $9.60 tip never made it to his account.

When I handed him the food, he asked me immediately if I had received his tip; I immediately checked my balance on the app and saw I had $0. The client showed me their receipt and I saw that he paid a $9.60 tip, for which I received $0, according to the testimony in Spanish. THE CITY reviewed copies of those receipts.

When I submitted a complaint, the app blamed the restaurant and refused to give me any further explanation, Mancilla wrote in his testimony, which was submitted to the Council.

A spokesperson for Relay was not immediately available for comment.

The f**king restaurant kept my tip, Mancilla wrote in a text message in Spanish on the day of the incident.

At the rally, Lander said: Apps like Doordash, Seamless, Instacart and UberEats exploit the idea that these workers are independent contractors, leaving them to earn on average $5 an hour in New York City.

These are not folks on a side-hustle, Lander said. These are folks working full-time every day and they deserve full-time, more-than-a-minimum-wage, living-wage pay.

At the hearing, Ajche testified that in the summer months, he has earned just $30 for a 13-hour work day. These applications work the algorithm to their benefit. They dont care about our lives out in the streets and the conditions we have to work through, he testified in Spanish.

Some workers, like 22-year-old Pp Jhonson, described being brushed off by restaurants that refused bathroom access, an issue Riveras bill would address.

As a woman, one of the hardest things about doing this job is not being able to use the bathroom, Jhonson, a native of Togo, said in Spanish. I work 12 to 16 hour days, sometimes biking 10 miles for a single delivery, only for restaurants to tell me I cant relieve myself.

Its not right.

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Big Tech-Backed Gig Worker Union Bill Fails to Get in Gear in Albany - THE CITY

The pandemic showed that Big Tech isnt a public health savior – The Verge

Two days after the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic, then-President Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden next to a flow chart. The chart promised that soon, it would be easy for anyone in the United States to get tested for the virus. According to Trump, Google was building a website to streamline the entire process.

It was the first of many promises that private companies would swoop in and rescue or bolster the countrys flailing COVID-19 response. Public health infrastructure in the United States has been underfunded for decades, and its underlying tech infrastructure is outdated and clunky. Health departments relied on fax machines and paper printouts to ferry data around. Fighting the pandemic would require a clear view of how many people were sick and where those sick people were, but the US was flying blind.

It seemed like Big Tech, with its analytic firepower and new focus on health, could help with these very real problems. We saw all over the papers: Facebook is gonna save the world, and Googles going to save the world, says Katerini Storeng, a medical anthropologist who studies public-private partnerships in global public health at the University of Oslo. Politicians were eager to welcome Silicon Valley to the table and to discuss the best ways to manage the pandemic. It was remarkable, and indicative of a blurring of the boundaries between the public domain and the private domain, Storeng says.

Over a year later, many of the promised tech innovations never materialized. There are areas where tech companies have made significant contributions like collecting mobility data that helped officials understand the effects of social distancing policies. But Google wasnt actually building a nationwide testing website. The program that eventually appeared, a testing program for California run by Googles sibling company Verily, was quietly phased out after it created more problems than it solved.

Now, after a year, were starting to get a clear picture of what worked, what didnt, and what the relationship between Big Tech and public health might look like in the future.

Tech companies were interested in health before the pandemic, and COVID-19 accelerated those initiatives. There may be things that tech companies are better equipped to handle than traditional public health agencies and other public institutions, and the past year showed some of those strengths. But it also showed their weaknesses and underscored the risks to putting health responsibilities in the hands of private companies which have goals outside of the public good.

Big tech companies can be extremely useful, says Andrew Schroeder, who runs analytics programs at the humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief. The question is, how do you make sure that designing with the public good in mind actually happens?

When the pandemic started, Storeng was already studying how private companies participated in public health preparedness efforts. Over the past two decades, consumers and health officials have become more and more confident that tech hacks can be shortcuts to healthy communities. These digital hacks can take many forms and include everything from a smartphone app nudging people toward exercise to a data model analyzing how an illness spreads, she says.

What they have in common, I think, is this hope and optimism that itll help bypass some more systemic, intrinsic problems, Storeng says.

But healthcare and public health present hard problems. Parachuting in with a new approach that isnt based on a detailed understanding of the existing system doesnt always work. I think we tend to believe in our culture that higher tech, private sector is necessarily better, says Melissa McPheeters, co-director of the Center for Improving the Publics Health through Informatics at Vanderbilt University. Sometimes thats true. And sometimes its not.

McPheeters spent three years as the director of the Office of Informatics and Analytics at the Tennessee Department of Health. While in that role, she got calls from technology companies all the time, promising quick fixes to any data issues the department was facing. But they were more interested in delivering a product than a collaboration, she says. It never began with, Help me understand your problem.

Before the pandemic, tech companies tended to assume that one data problem was the same as another, McPheeters says. Broadly speaking, they didnt appreciate how important it was to understand epidemiology and public health in order to work with the data in that field. During her tenure at the department of health, for example, she oversaw efforts to develop a data-driven response to the opioid epidemic in the state. Wed have folks come in and say, We can solve your opioid problem because weve solved bank fraud before, McPheeters says. While there may be similar data science involved, the social environment on the ground how people were behaving, and why is just as important as the data itself. In that respect, there arent many similarities between the two.

This isnt to say that there cant be data-driven solutions to public health problems. Tech companies can have important roles to play during infectious disease outbreaks, like offering data-crunching expertise or platforms to analyze information. But companies have to work as partners, not outside disruptors, McPheeters says. Thats hard to do on the fly during an emergency when there hasnt been a history of collaboration. One of the challenges of a situation like this pandemic is that if you havent built those relationships already, its very difficult for those relationships to suddenly flourish, she says.

Even without a history of robust collaboration, governments were eager to welcome tech companies to the table during the early phases of the pandemic response. When COVID-19 took hold in the United States, the countrys public health infrastructure had been crumbling for years. Underfunded and understaffed health agencies worked on outdated data systems and didnt have the resources to invest in new ones. Many test results were still sent on fax machines.

Faced with the typical levels of public health problems, the systems could keep themselves together. But under the strain of a devastating pandemic, the cracks split. There werent reliable ways to send information on cases, hospitalizations, and deaths between hospitals, labs, and health agencies. Health officials didnt have the resources to monitor the spread of disease.

Scrambling, officials took tech companies up on offers to take on some of the burden. They got handed the keys to the kingdom, says Jorge Caballero, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University and co-founder of the volunteer group Coders Against COVID.

Some of the first pandemic problems tech companies tried to tackle were COVID-19 testing projects. Google sibling company Verily piloted a testing system in California in March 2020, and eventually inked $55 million in testing contracts with the state. They started off with this big overture that they could offer a turn-key solution to the state of California, Caballero says, and to other states, as well. But by October 2020, two counties phased out the Verily testing program over concerns that it was asking for too much patient data and wasnt accessible to low-income groups that had the greatest need for testing. The states partnership with Verily ended in February.

Google also wanted to link people to testing sides nationwide, and testing sites started showing up in Google searches at the beginning of April 2020. The company pulled in location data from state governments and groups like Castlight Health, which had its own testing site directory, Hema Budaraju, director of product management at Google, tells The Verge.

That Google project was technically a success someone could search for a testing site and find one. But there was a problem with the approach, Caballero says. Any changes to testing site data would take a few days to update. But many COVID-19 testing sites, particularly those targeted at underserved communities, were temporary pop-ups. The lag meant those wouldnt show up in search. Caballero tried to flag that issue to Google in spring 2020 but says he wasnt impressed with its response: it took Google a long time to acknowledge the concern, and even then, he says it didnt seem to him like it fully understood the issue.

Budaraju tells The Verge that Google relied on its partners to provide accurate testing site information, and that it makes updates if those partners flag any missing locations.

Health experts are always concerned that a push toward high-tech solutions would widen inequities rather than alleviate them. If Google wasnt including pop-up testing sites or was updating them on a lag, people who live in areas without many medical resources which were targeted by those pop-up sites may have had a harder time finding them.

After someone tests positive for COVID-19, the next step for health officials is to identify the people who that person had been in contact with to encourage them to quarantine or get tested themselves. Tech companies thought they were positioned to help with that, too.

One of the flashiest attempts tech companies made to fight the pandemic was the Google and Apple exposure notification program. The companies teamed up on an app-based system that utilized Bluetooth to keep tabs on which smartphones spent time near each other. Then, if someone tested positive for COVID-19, they could alert strangers whose phones had been nearby.

In theory, this could help track down people who had been exposed to COVID-19 but wouldnt have been identified by traditional contact tracing, which relies on sick people remembering everyone theyd been in touch with while they were contagious. There was a naivete about it, Storeng says. Wouldnt it be awesome if I could just be notified when Im exposed to infection, and that can solve it all?

In the end, evidence on the system was mixed. In the United States, only a small percentage of people used apps built on the system likely not enough to make a difference in the trajectory of the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, where a quarter of the population signed up, researchers estimated it helped avert hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 cases.

All of the data, though, are estimates: because of the apps focus on privacy, officials around the world can only extrapolate from the number of people the app notified about a possible exposure. Theres no way to know if people who got those notifications actually isolated themselves or got tested for COVID-19. Without that data, officials cant evaluate how many infections the exposure notification programs prevented. It also meant that they werent able to learn who was notified about a possible exposure, let alone get in touch with them to offer support or resources. That information stayed in the app.

Its an example of a tech company building a digital system without incorporating the most important elements of the manual program its attempting to augment. McPheeters says that contract tracing cant be as effective if there isnt any connection to the people who were exposed. If you look at the history of contact tracing and you talk to experienced contact tracers, its actually about relationship building, she says. Its not about tracking.

There are success stories from the past year. One clear bright spot was mobility data. Companies like Facebook and Google tracked how peoples movement patterns changed in response to social distancing policies. Before the pandemic, there hadnt been anything like the sweeping stay-at-home policies introduced by governments around the world.

This was really chaotic. Nobody really knew what was going to happen, or if anyone would listen to these policymakers, Schroeder at Disaster Relief says.

Google started releasing COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports in April 2020, and Facebook pushed out similar information through its Data for Good program, which builds datasets in partnership with humanitarian organizations and academic research institutions. That helped researchers understand how peoples behavior changed under new policies. It went from flying blind, to not flying totally blind, Schroeder says.

Seattle area researchers used Facebooks data for one of the earliest looks at how movement patterns affected the spread of COVID-19. Other cities, like New York City, used the information to tailor their public health response. The data also informed academic research on COVID-19 over the past year.

Tech companies are the only resources for this data, Schroeder says. Theres no government anywhere thats producing this, no nonprofit producing it if you want that information, the only way to do that is through one or another private tech company.

Through Data for Good, Facebook also started running large-scale surveys in partnership with academic researchers. One project, the KAP COVID dashboards, was a collaboration with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group surveyed people in 67 countries about their COVID-19 knowledge and pandemic behaviors. Facebook provided the platform, and the researchers designed the survey.

Its a phenomenal resource. Theres really nothing like it, says Douglas Storey, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs working on the project. The team has used its findings to run webinars with working groups in the countries it surveys and to share information about how people are modifying their behavior to prevent COVID-19 spread. The team has started to incorporate questions on vaccine acceptance, as well. Then, countries can use the information for their own pandemic response strategies, Storey says.

The Data for Good team was eager to work with the scientists, he says, and seemed to have a clear sense of the areas in which it didnt have expertise. They seemed genuinely committed to understanding how they can have a more positive impact.

These enormous, worldwide surveys could only really be done by big tech companies like Facebook. Facebook, every single day, is surveying hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, Schroeder says. Could any government run a survey, daily, globally, at that scale? The UN doesnt have the ability to do that, and theyre the only ones who would have the authority globally.

Notably, Facebook and Google werent doing their own interpretation of this data they supplied it to public health experts and left them to do the epidemiology. Thats an important part of the Data for Good approach, Laura McGorman, policy lead on the team, said in a statement to The Verge. Our partners provide the domain expertise required to make use of these tools to solve real-world problems whether its in public health, natural disaster response, or climate change. This work is extremely collaborative and plays to the unique strengths of everyone involved, she said.

Its different from, for example, the exposure notification program where Google and Apple built a self-contained product that collected and used data. In the recovery from the pandemic, as tech companies continue to push into healthcare and public health, theres an open question around which approach will win out.

What is the role Big Tech should play as a neutral data publisher, and what role should it have in terms of producing something where analysis has already been done? Schroeder asks.

Despite the mixed record on tech contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, coalitions of companies are gearing up to keep pushing into healthcare. Its a hugely lucrative area that they were already interested in before the pandemic the healthcare market is a nearly $4 trillion industry in the US alone. Last summer, for example, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) launched the Public Health Tech Initiative, a working group that includes CVS, Facebook, Microsoft, and other major players. It plans to analyze the things that did and didnt go well for tech companies during the pandemic and leverage that experience to prepare for the next health emergency.

To start, the group is focusing on health data and virtual care, says Ren Quashie, vice president of digital health at the CTA. Members are talking about projects like an early warning system for public health that aggregates data from wearables, or creating data sharing platforms for public health agencies.

We would envision sort of a new paradigm, more of a public-private partnership where public health agencies and government bodies are able to leverage the technological expertise of the private sector, Quashie says.

Some experts remain wary about the implications of integrating the private sector even more tightly with public health. Public health is supposed to be just that: public, and governed with the public good in mind. What is a public good coming from private companies? Schroeder asks. Could you have some kind of structure that draws on what theyre good at, but doesnt turn the authority over to them? I have no idea.

The goal of public health is to make a community healthier, not just individuals. Everyone shares in the success of reducing the spread of a disease like COVID-19, for example no one is excluded from the benefits of lower levels of disease, even if they dont personally contribute to reduction efforts. Turning a public health task over to a private company could turn the overall goal of a project away from the pursuit of a collective good and toward accomplishments that would benefit the company. It may also lead to collective good, but that might be secondary.

Companies that used their resources to fight COVID-19 got something out of it. Whether it was lucrative contracts, good PR, or even just helping their customer base stay healthy it benefits companies to participate when the worlds health is on the line. As the emergency of the pandemic recedes, companies motivations to venture into public health and healthcare may change and consumers and governments should pay attention to that changing landscape, experts say. Does it have anything to do with health improvement, or is it about something else? Is it a way for these companies to harvest data, or get entry into new markets, or just some corporate social responsibility scheme to enable other kinds of activities? the University of Oslos Storeng says.

The mobility data, for example, was a huge boon to researchers through the pandemic. At first, many companies were giving that information away for free. Now, its like, About that free price, Schroeder says. He isnt expecting Facebook to put up any paywalls. The profit or loss on the mobility data or the survey data is a rounding error for Facebook, he says. But its more of a concern for the smaller companies. Mobility data company SafeGraph, for example, offered its data for free to government agencies and nonprofits early in the pandemic but is now charging those users for data again.

But it shows the tension created by relying on a private company for a critical public health service: it could, at any time, decide that it no longer wants to provide it to researchers or it could decide that that valuable information comes with a price; private companies, after all, are first and foremost in the business of making money. Or, health officials have to make compromises on the terms and conditions around the data, as with the Apple and Google exposure notification program. These are companies that have been known to be monopolistic, and potentially antithetical to democracy and free speech, Storeng says. You have to ask skeptical questions about the legitimacy of their involvement.

The pandemic highlighted the underlying weakness of the US public health system, particularly around its data systems and tech infrastructure: theyre outdated, disjoined, and underfunded, which leaves the country vulnerable to infectious disease threats. The past year opened the door for the tech industry to tackle some of those problems. Regardless of concerns around the companies intentions, it will likely stay open and companies have made their interest in the space clear over the past few years. They may be able to make useful, lifesaving contributions, but the public good still has to be the priority.

What is really clear, and I think this was clear well prior to the pandemic, is that tech does not substitute for strong public institutions, Schroeder says. Public health investment needs to happen independently of what any tech company does.

Read the original:

The pandemic showed that Big Tech isnt a public health savior - The Verge

Urgent team-up between big tech and government is needed for cybersecurity – Digital Journal

Digital Journal

Otterbourg litigator Bill Moran says the time is now for the Biden administration to bring about a collaboration with Big Tech companies willingly or not to protect U.S. national commerce and defense.

Moran, who chairs Otterbourgs Crisis Management and Investigations Group, says Its time to Declare War on Cybercrime. He shares his thoughts with Digital Journal.

Moran has had a significant increase in clients and potential clients in the private sector seeking advice about getting ahead of the cybercrime tidal wave (a term coined in a 2013 futurist article).

Moran begins by the recent recovery of the Colonial Pipeline ransomware by U.S. authorities (as reported by Digital Journal), noting the Seizure by the Justice Department of the majority of the bitcoin ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline is obviously what the Biden administration meant by rapid tracing and interdiction of virtual currency proceeds. This includes plans for backing up data with segregated systems, separating online corporate business functions from the production side of the business, establishing quick response security and continuity plans, and educating the workforce on proper cyberhygiene.

The insurance sector remains jittery about the progress, Moran notes: While the recovery of most of the Colonial Pipeline ransom is a stunning achievement for the newly formed Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, it will not likely impact the insurance industrys concerns. It appears that law enforcement was able to track the bitcoin to a digital wallet identified as connected to the ransom, which as described in the FBI agents affidavit supporting the seizure warrant was accomplished using a blockchain explorer searching the blockchain where [a]ll Bitcoin transactions are recorded, and which is visible online for everyone.

Furthermore, Moran clarifies, the transparency is missing: As also explained in the warrant affidavit, the wallet was opened and the bitcoin was able to be seized by use of a digital private key the task force obtained. It was not revealed in that affidavit how that private key was obtained.

So what happened?According to Moran: Given the nature of cryptocurrency it is unlikely it was obtained by brute force hacking by law enforcement. Most likely it was obtained by either a careless criminal through the FBIs year-long surveillance of DarkSide, the Russian-based hacking group associated with the intrusion, or from a cooperating confederate of the group. As such, while laudable, this success may be unique, and therefore unlikely to relieve the increased vetting of customers by cybercrime insurers or the increasing costs. Accordingly, the need for U.S. businesses to increase cybersecurity measures and crisis preparedness will not soon abate.

Yet there is more than needs to be done, as Moran. He explains that While the Biden administration now has cybercrime at the top of its priority list, as far as government action is concerned it is unclear what is being done. So far all we have seen is the recent executive order to federal agencies and contractors to up their game on cybersecurity and the well-publicized warning in an open letter last week from the deputy national security advisor to American business to increase security measures.

He adds that greater clarity is needed of what the U.S. government is planning. His point is: The only action item the government has clued us in on in its efforts to combat ransomware, which was in that open letter, is an effort to enable the trading and interdiction from ransom payments, so as to disrupt and deter. What that entails and what success has been achieved, however, is not yet known. As I have been stating for some time, until the Biden administration drafts U.S. Big Tech to join forces and aggressively turn the table on cybercriminals, it is very much every company for itself.

Excerpt from:

Urgent team-up between big tech and government is needed for cybersecurity - Digital Journal

Map Of The Internet Exposes The Lie That ‘Big Tech’ Controls The Internet – Techdirt

from the it's-a-wide-wide-world-wide-web dept

To hear many people talk about things, the entire internet these days is controlled by just a few companies, mainly Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Depending on who you're talking to, you may hear them throw in companies like Netflix. But some of us keep pointing out that while those guys are big, that doesn't mean the rest of the internet stops existing. And it's still incredibly large. If you want this point really driven home, check out this amazing map of the 2021 internet by Martin Vargic (first spotted via Fast Company).

Here's a thumbnail version, but you really should go check out the full size version on Martin's website (or, better yet, buy some prints of the whole thing).

Just the fact that looking at this smaller version above it's nearly impossible to read what most of the "countries" are should give you just a taste of how vast the non-big-tech part of the world wide web really is. There's a lot of "land" out there that isn't controlled by the big players, and we should be celebrating that. On his website he's got a few zoomed in examples as well, including the part that is my favorite: "Protocol Ocean."

Now some may quibble with various aspects of this. It's based on Alexa data, which isn't the most reliable, and it's only covering web traffic, which likely misses a lot of activity that is purely mobile these days. But still, when laid out this way, you really begin to get a sense of the diversity of the web.

The other thing that really stands out for me is that this is an updated map by Vargic. He last produced a map of the internet in 2014 and it looks strikingly different. It seems like a strong visual reminder of just how much the internet keeps changing, even in the fairly short time frame of seven years.

There seems to be this belief among some that the internet has been more or less stuck in place since 2010 when Google, Facebook, and Amazon divided the land between them and wiped the rest of the web off the map. But that was never true, and these maps really drive that point home in a very visual manner.

For what it's worth, if you love getting lost looking at maps like I do, Vargic's entire page is fascinatingly full of maps he's created, many of which explore aspects of actual geography, and plenty of others (like the internet maps) that explore other concepts in map form.

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyones attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise and every little bit helps. Thank you.

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Filed Under: competition, internet, map, martin vargicCompanies: amazon, facebook, google

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Map Of The Internet Exposes The Lie That 'Big Tech' Controls The Internet - Techdirt

‘Technically Food’: how big tech puts new foods on our plates J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Food coverageis supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Once you know Larissa Zimberoffs backstory, its easy to understand how her book topic chose her instead of the other way around.

Zimberoff, 49, is the author of Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valleys Mission to Change What We Eat (Abrams) that came out this month. Its her first book.

It is a fascinating, if not quite mouthwatering, exploration of how technology companies and its an important distinction that none are food companies in the traditional sense are putting millions of dollars into highly manipulated ingredients, transforming the very definition of what we consider food.

For Zimberoff, reading food labels has been a lifelong habit, as she explains in the books introduction. She was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Therefore, she is much more than a casual reader of these labels, as she has spent a lifetime thinking about the macronutrients in food the amount of protein vs. carbohydrates vs. fat vs. fiber shes consuming in any one serving, and how they all interact with each other.

One of her superpowers, she said, is that she sees food from the inside out. Its something unusual and what I have to offer people.

Zimberoff, a Marin County resident who is seen as an expert in her specialized field, says food startups have much more in common with tech startups than with the food companies of yore.

They have to start out with technology thats proprietary, which is how they get funding, she said in an interview. Its only later that they learn how to make their product delicious or sell it.

The book takes the reader behind the scenes of some well-known companies, such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, and introduces some lesser-known technologies making food products out of algae, pea protein and fungi, and emergent technologies such as cultured meat, indoor vertical farming, and upcycling, which takes the waste from one kind of food production and uses it to make something else.

They have to start out with technology. Its only later that they learn how to make their product delicious

A great local example she gives is Berkeley-based Regrained, which uses spent grain from brewing beer to make flour, energy bars and other items (we wrote about the company and its founders, Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, two Peninsula natives, in 2016).

Zimberoff is a fun guide, taking us into the labs, factories and board rooms where these products are made and planned, and conferences like the Alternative Protein Summit. She says that shes willing to taste anything in the name of research. This includes bacon made from seaweed protein, cultured meat from cells grown in a lab, and tea made from avocado pits.

She compares the new burger substitutes to fast food, in that eating them once or twice a month is fine, but every day is not. She points out that Beyond and Impossible are made up of many ingredients that are put through so many steps before it comes to you, she said. Of course, wine, cheese and bread are all processed, too, but you have to look at the level of processing and how many countries have touched your ingredients.

As conscious consumers try to balance their taste for meat and dairy with their concerns about climate change and their health, as well as the welfare of factory workers and animals in factory farms, more of them are eating lower on the food chain and going to alternative proteins. But in doing so, they are also asking the types of questions Zimberoff gets all the time: Should I eat this? Is it bad for me? and Whats in it?

She spent over a decade working for tech companies before she became a food writer. After one too many unanticipated layoffs, she decided to pursue a career in writing. While working toward her MFA, she lived in New Yorks Lower East Side where she says she got in touch with her Jewish food roots and food kept finding its way into her stories. Her byline regularly appears in publications such as Bloomberg, Businessweek and Business Insider.

Zimberoff grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where her mother worked in the wine industry and her father liked to cook; Chinese food was his specialty. To this day, she said, her familys Passover meal rivals Thanksgivings. She remembers her grandmother using horseradish from her garden for the holiday, and Zimberoff always insists on making the haroset, using the same wooden bowl.

Zimberoff is making appearances on a number of podcasts and other outlets right now; check her website (larissazimberoff.com) for details.

Originally posted here:

'Technically Food': how big tech puts new foods on our plates J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

Thousands of Austin’s tech workers will soon be back in the office – Austonia

Austin's big tech offices are starting to open upto varying degrees.

Over a year of remote work later, some companies found it to be the perfect fit, while others experienced less productive employees. Overheard on Conference Calls, a workplace reviews site, ranked Austin as the third best city for remote work last year based on a variety of factors, including cost of living, average WiFi speed, commute time savings and coffee shops per capita.

Nevertheless, most tech companies are adopting a hybrid model, allowing more remote options than they did pre-pandemic but reinstating in-office minimums at the same time. Here's how six Austin offices are handling the transition. (Oracle declined to comment.)

In addition to its corporate office at the Domain, Amazon is also planning to open fulfillment centers in Kyle, San Marcos and Pflugerville. (Amazon)

Office: The DomainApproximately 1,000 corporate employees

Amazon expects its U.S. office employees will return to the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall, according to companywide guidance issued March 30. At that time, about 10% of the company's corporate employees were working from the office full-time.

Office: Riata Vista CircleApproximately 7,000 employees

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out an email last week informing employees that they will return to the office three days a week starting in early September, according to multiple reports. Employees will be able to work remotely for up to two weeks a year, so long as management approves their requests.

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell believes remote working will be the new normal. (Stock photo)

Multiple officesApproximately 13,000 employees in Central Texas

Most Dell employees continue to work remotely, Senior Vice President Mark Pringe said in a statement to Austonia. Before the pandemic, 65% of the company's employees worked flexibly and 30% worked remotely on any given day. Last March, the company transitioned 90% of its team to remote work, and the majority are still remote today.

Moving forward, the company will continue to encourage flexibility and anticipates a hybrid model will emerge. "If employees can successfully do their job from home, they can work with their manager to make the choice to do so," Pringle said."

CEO and founder Michael Dell told the technology news site CRN in March that "remote working is absolutely here to stay," explaining that a company that offers flexibility will be more attractive to potential hires than one that doesn't.

Facebook's downtown office opened at Third + Shoal in September 2019. (Facebook)

Offices: The Domain, Parmer Innovation Center, West Sixth StreetApproximately 1,200 employees

Facebook's Austin employees have not yet returned to local offices, and the company is still developing its return-to-office plan, Head of Local Communications Tracy Clayton wrote in an email to Austonia.

The plan will likely include increased flexibility, with both in-office and remote options. "We believe people and teams will be increasingly distributed in the future, and we're committed to building an experience that helps everyone be successful, no matter where they're working," Clayton said.


Offices: West Second Street, SaltilloApproximately 1,100 employees

Google declined to share Austin-specific return-to-office details through a spokesperson but referred to a recent blog post from CEO Sundar Pichai, which lays out a plan for all offices. It includes:

Pichai "fully expects" the share of employees working remotely to increase in the coming months, according to the post. He estimates 60% will fall into a hybrid schedule, 20% will switch offices and 20% will work remotely.

An internal survey conducted by Google last June found that engineers reported feeling less productive than they did pre-pandemic, according to reports.

(Brandywine Realty Trust)

Office: Burnet RoadApproximately 6,000 employees

Around 90% of IBM's Austin employees are still working remotely as the company moves toward a hybrid office model similar to its pre-pandemic norm, according to a spokesperson.

CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg in March that he expects 80% of employees to work in a hybrid model post-pandemic, with the remainder staying entirely remote. But he raised concerns about the impact such a split would have on the company's culture. "When people are remote I worry about, 'What's their career trajectory going to be?'" he told the business news site.

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Thousands of Austin's tech workers will soon be back in the office - Austonia

Wall Street Journal editor: Journalists, Big Tech suppressed lab-leak theory to ‘fit their priors’ – Fox News

Media top headlines June 8

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refusing GoFundMe money for abuela, a judge ordering Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to clarify policy that only granted interviews to journalists of color, and MSNBCs Nicole Wallace agreeing that not passing Democratic voting bill would be like the fall of the Roman empire round out todays top media headlines

Wall Street Journal editor at large Gerard Baker wrote the media about-face on the COVID-19 lab leak theory has shone a spotlight on the "layers of rottenness" in U.S. institutions that may be just as "damning" as China's corruption in the pandemic.

"Chinas officials may well be culpable of a combination of incompetence, recklessness and deceit," Baker wrote Monday in his piece, "America's Covid Groupthink Functioned Like China's Repression." "But in an authoritarian regime, they might not have had much individual agency in the matter. In this country, scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and executives of Big Tech companies suppressed the story not out of fear of imprisonment or death, but of their own volition, out of ideological or even venal motives."

"Marching in ideological lockstep is less forgivable in a society where one has a choice in the matter," Baker argues.


Baker ripped Big Tech for "deliberately" extinguishing debate on the topic. Facebook, for instance, had banned talk of the lab leak theory on their platform up until last month.

"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 said in a statement.

Baker places the majority of the blame, however, on the media.

"Yet the largest responsibility for the failure to consider in a timely fashion the lab-leak theory lies with the media," he said. "Journalists were once marked by their curiosity. Now the only thing thats curious about many of them is their lack of curiosity when a story doesnt fit their priors."


For months, mainstream media dismissed the idea that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a "conspiracy theory," slapping down conservatives who promoted the theory like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in the process. But more prominent experts and journalists have begun to recognize its credibility, particularly after a report last month that three lab researchers were sickened with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019.

The 180 was not lost on observers, some of whom accused the media of suffering "amnesia" on the topic. New York Times writer David Leonhardt was among the analysts who suggested the media made a "mistake" by so quickly dismissing Cotton, former President Donald Trump, and others who considered the lab leak a possibility. The Washington Post's Josh Rogin was just as critical, ripping outlets for failing to "own up" to their errors.

"The obsession with debunking anythingDonald Trumpsaid and the fear of being accused of racism undoubtedly colored the judgment of many whose job is to consider only the empirical evidence," Baker wrote.


Baker acknowledged there were "independent-minded people" in each industry who sought the truth. But those rebels, he said, "were no match for the groupthink and coverup."


Wall Street Journal editor: Journalists, Big Tech suppressed lab-leak theory to 'fit their priors' - Fox News

Facebook Data Trove Probed as Europe Turns Screw on Big Tech – Bloomberg

Facebook Inc. is facing its first in-depth probe by European regulators, the latest in a series of efforts to crack down on big tech market dominance across the continent.

The European Commission said it will investigate whether Facebook misuses a trove of data gathered from advertisers to compete against them in classified ads. It will also check if the company unfairly ties its Marketplace small ad service to the social network.

At the same time, the U.K said it was opening probes into Facebooks Marketplace and Dating services hours after Germanys antitrust watchdog announced a case targeting the Google News Showcase product.

The cases open up yet another front for the worlds biggest tech firms to fight on, as regulators investigate their market power during a pandemic when online commerce and advertising has become far more important to people working from home. Germany is already investigating Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. while France is examining advertising practices by Google and Apple Inc.

Opening a formal probe means regulators can start building firm evidence of antitrust violations, a process that can lead to a charge sheet, or statement of objections, and may eventually culminate in hefty fines or an order to change the way a business operates.

Shares of Facebook were up less than 1% to $328.1 at 9:47 a.m. in New York on Friday. The stock has gained about 20.2% this year.

Fridays move by the EU is the first time its escalated a case into Facebooks behavior beyond the preliminary stages. It follows other high-profile cases targeting Google, Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. The EU previously fined Facebook for failing to provide correct information in the merger review of the WhatsApp takeover.

Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, said Margrethe Vestager, the EUs competition chief. EU regulators will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, she said.

Google Targeted as German Attack on Silicon Valley Gathers Pace

Online commerce has played an increasingly important part of Facebooks business during the pandemic as more people are buying goods online.

Commerce ads continue to do very well and drive a meaningful amount of our overall business, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call in April. He said more than 1 billion people now visit Facebook Marketplace each month.

Facebook will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit, the company said in an emailed statement. We are always developing new and better services to meet evolving demand from people who use Facebook.

The U.K.s antitrust regulator also opened its own probe into Facebook data, looking at both Marketplace and the dating service the company launched in Europe last year.

The Competition and Markets Authority said it planned to investigate whether Facebook abused its dominant position by collecting data from services including its single sign-on option.

The increasingly tech-focused CMA is running an independent investigation, but said it will cooperate with the EU probe. The CMA said its initial investigation including information gathering will run until Feb.

Germanys Federal Cartel Office said Friday that its looking at the Google News Showcase to check if its terms offer unreasonable conditions to publishers. The move is latest in a series of assaults on Big Tech by Germanys antitrust chief Andreas Mundt.

The EU investigation mirrors an earlier probe into Amazon by looking at how a so-called digital platform may use data it gathers from companies that use its service to compete against them. The EU commission has been investigating Facebook since 2019. Facebook sought to curb the probe with lawsuits last year to limit what information officials could scoop up.

Facebook Antitrust Data-Hunt Gets Ground Rules From EU Court

With assistance by Jonathan Browning, Natalia Drozdiak, Karin Matussek, and Nate Lanxon

(Updates with share price in the fifth paragraph)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.

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Facebook Data Trove Probed as Europe Turns Screw on Big Tech - Bloomberg

Biden, Europeans Close to Pact on Taxing Multinationals, Including Big Tech – Foreign Policy

June 4, 2021, 1:06 PM

On the eve of his first overseas trip as U.S. president, Joe Biden is pushing for a dramatic revamping of international corporate tax policies that could resolve a stalemate between the United States and Europe over taxing Americas Big Tech sector and make it much harder for all major multinational corporations to exploit tax havens.

Meeting in London on Friday, the G-7 finance ministers are expected to endorse a proposal by Biden and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for a minimum global corporate tax of at least 15 percent, part of a measure that major governments hope will yield corporate taxes that are not getting paid worldwide. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is responsible for writing tax guidelines in the worlds wealthiest nations, is leading the discussions. This week, the new OECD secretary-general, Mathias Cormann, called Bidens plan a game-changer and said he was quietly optimistic about reaching an international deal on taxing multinational companies.

Biden is also asking the G-7 and G-20 nations to approve an additional proposal requiring the worlds largest and most profitable companies to pay taxes in any country they sell goods or services to. The new approach would upend century-old policies that now make it legally necessary for corporations to be physically present in countries where they are taxed.

Though the proposal would also apply to other multinationals from many other countries, it is partly an attempt to resolve a decades-long dispute among the United States, the European Union, and other countries worldwide over how to deal with major tech companies, most of them headquartered in the United States.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations refused to consider a digital tax specifically targeted at companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. And until now, countries havent been able to tax the profits of goods and services sold under their jurisdictions if the corporation is not headquartered there. Under the Biden administration, the United States has gone from being the No. 1 holdout on corporate tax reform to the champion for such a transformationincluding new taxes on Silicon Valleys tech titans.

Its far from a done deal, with Ireland and other tax havens resisting the Biden proposal, but U.S. officials say they fully expect an endorsement from the G-7 as well as major G-20 nations such as Japan, India, Argentina, and South Africa. On Wednesday, the Biden administration imposed, and then immediately suspended, 25 percent retaliatory tariffs on six countriesAustria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain, and Turkeythat have imposed a tax on digital services that Washington says discriminates against U.S. companies. The move was interpreted as a warning to go along with the Biden proposal.

Its a negotiating ploy, said Michael Greenberger, an expert in international finance at the University of Maryland. Essentially, what theyre telling these countries is this is not a free vote for you. Theres a significant threat of pain, and were going to give you six months to think about this.

If approved by the G-7 ministers, Biden is expected to sign off on the deal at his summit next week in Cornwall, England. If an agreement is then reached by the G-20 finance ministers at their meeting in Julyand finally by leaders at the G-20 summit in Octoberthe changes could amount to a virtual revolution in international corporate tax policies.

And at a time when multilateral trade negotiations are stalled, the forthcoming pact could also open the door to new trade deals, some experts say.

This agreement could be the starting point for the reemergence of multilateralism in international trade, said Eduardo Baistrocchi, a professor of tax law at the London School of Economics. The next stage might be a new wave of free trade agreements.

A senior Biden administration official told Foreign Policy that the two pillars of the negotiations amount to a trade-off. The administration will demand agreement on one pillara minimum global corporate tax of 15 percentin exchange for the ability to tax U.S. digital giants and other multinationals that often find tax havens where they are charged only a few percentage points.

Weve never had as much momentum as weve had now, the official said. Such changes would also have to be approved by Congress, but administration officials believe some Republicans might be on board, and the filibuster rule that has blocked so much legislation could well be eliminated by the time the proposal comes up for a vote, perhaps next year.

For Biden, the new corporate tax plan is integral to his broader aim of reorienting the U.S. and global economy away from exploitation by major corporations and back to labor. Bidens Made in America tax plan seeks to eliminate incentives for offshore investment and reverse a trend under which, even though U.S. corporations are the most profitable in the world, the United States collects less in corporate tax revenues as a share of GDP than almost any advanced economy in the OECD.

Yet the problem of missing corporate tax revenue affects all advanced economies. For more than a decade since the Great Recession, revenue-strapped major countries have sought to find ways to collect tax revenue for multinationals that have headquartered themselves in tax havens such as Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Caribbean locales like the Cayman Islands. The so-called race to the bottom among countries has driven down corporate tax rates substantially over the last two decades. The average statutory corporate rate among OECD countries was 32.2 percent in 2000; by 2020, this had fallen to 23.2 percent, according to the OECD.

Our goal is to end the global race to the bottom in terms of corporate taxation, said the administration official. Every country is made worse off by tax competition, especially workers. When people say they feel the system is rigged, and when you consider why we have such extreme inequality, tax is a big part of the story. The official pointed out that corporate revenue as a share of U.S. GDP fell from an average of 2 percent in 2000 to 1 percent in 2018 and 2019. Thats one-third of the average of the OECD, the official said. And we have to fix it.

Even before Biden assumed the presidency, the web had been slowly closing on tax evasion by individuals. In recent years, the OECD, working with more than 100 countries worldwide, adopted new international standards on the automatic exchange of information for tax purposes that have curtailed the use of tax havens and resulted in more than $100 billion in additional tax revenues to OECD countries, according to the organizations data.

And in 2019, the OECD proposed a new formulation for the way taxing rights are allocated across jurisdictions to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the economy. Its proposal would empower states to treat some multinationals as single, consolidated entities and tax them on a share of their worldwide profits based on where real economic activity occurs. The profits targeted are known as residual or excessive profits of higher than 10 to 20 percent margins. Bidens proposal builds on these ideas.

If enacted, Baistrocchi said Bidens plan would amount to the first systemic attempt to redistribute profits and revenues from tax havens and multinational corporations since the 1930s.


Biden, Europeans Close to Pact on Taxing Multinationals, Including Big Tech - Foreign Policy