A major cybersecurity attack by Russia has caused firms like Microsoft to urge Congress to update laws relating to private sector data breaches. Specifically, companies are requesting a more streamlined method for reporting cybersecurity threats to the government. Revamped reporting mechanisms have thus far received bipartisan support. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also continuing to ensure the participation of tech and software companies in their legislative efforts. Notably missing among participants, however, is Amazon. As a result, members of the committee are encouraging the company to contribute, suggesting that it could be subpoenaed should it refuse to do so voluntarily.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has recently expressed some support for the U.S.’s adoption of the “digital dollar.” The term, promoted by former Chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission Christopher Giancarlo, has emerged to describe Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). It is a digitized iteration of money to be potentially issued by the Federal Reserve. Noting the benefits of this concept, Yellen has indicated that a digital dollar, maintained by the Fed and powered on a blockchain, could result in “faster, safer and cheaper payments.” The ability for more Americans to have access to easy payment systems could also improve financial inclusivity. Additionally, Yellen has speculated that a move to digital money could satisfy the public’s recent demand for cryptocurrencies, which she views as susceptible to illicit financial activity. Her outlook has been reiterated by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who has called the digital dollar project a “high priority.”
Maryland’s state legislature recently passed legislation that will tax digital advertising by Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google. The law, passed by overriding Governor Larry Hogan’s veto, creates tax obligations for companies with over $100 million in ad revenue globally per year. It is meant to help pay for the state’s costs of education. Following the law’s passage, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, industry groups, and Big Tech companies filed a lawsuit challenging its legality. Still, other states have begun to follow Maryland’s lead. In both the Connecticut and New York state legislatures, similar bills have been introduced that would levy taxes on digital advertising. Whether they are successful will likely depend on Maryland’s law passing the threshold of constitutionality.
The recent riots at the U.S. Capitol led Google to ban political ads as of January 6, 2021. This involved any ads on its platforms, including YouTube and Google Search, in an attempt to mitigate the spread of political misinformation. As of this Wednesday, the company is lifting that self-imposed prohibition. It will once again allow campaign promotions and other political advertisements. This will likely come as a relief to fundraising efforts, which struggled to adapt to the previous decision. Communications between campaigns and voters had particularly suffered ahead of Virginia and New Jersey’s state elections.
University of California, Irvine professor Erika Hayasaki recently examined the effects of Amazon’s influence on California’s Inland Empire. The region, just east of Los Angeles, is home to one of Amazon’s distribution centers in Eastvale. Among Hayasaki’s observations was the increased burden on city resources due to added stress on infrastructure and increased requests for emergency services for worker injuries. This is combined with lower-than-expected tax revenue from the company considering its dominance in the region. Yet, Hayasaki would not classify Eastvale as a true “company town” controlled by a single employer. Despite Amazon’s employment of over 40,000 residents, the company falls short of replacing the functions of the city’s government. Harvard Business professor Shoshana Zuboff notes, however, that Amazon’s global presence indicates a “company world” beyond the company town phenomenon.
Illinois passed its Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) in 2008. The act, aimed at increasing consumer privacy, has three major provisions: (1) a prohibition against technology services like voice assistants using people’s biometric data without their consent; (2) a limit on the data that companies are allowed to collect; and (3) an authorization for individuals, rather than solely the state, to sue companies. Today, the law could provide guidance to other states hoping to pass similar legislation. Though imperfect, this patchwork of state measures may prove a better alternative to relatively weaker national regulation.