After looking left for dead, a crypto mining moratorium could be back on the table on the state legislature’s last day of the session.
New York state has become a crypto mining hotspot. A moratorium could change it, though.
As the New York state legislature entered the eleventh hour, its first-in-the-nation crypto mining moratorium bill was still in limbo. Whether it gets a floor vote before the legislative session ends at the stroke of midnight on Thursday will define what happens with the burgeoning crypto mining industry taking over upstate New York.
New York has become a major hub for crypto mining, particularly following a crackdown in China last year. In an effort to stem the opening of a slew of mines, members in both houses of the state legislature introduced legislation last year that would put a two-year moratorium on mining that uses proof of work, an energy-intensive computational technique that keeps the blockchain secure. That bill passed the state Senate but not the Assembly.
The new version was weakened slightly to allow for mines with air pollution permits to keep doing their thing. Two sources offered Protocol conflicting versions of the status of the bill in the state Senate, with one saying it had the votes while another said effort to secure them were ongoing. The fact that the weaker bill may not even get a floor vote reflects the crypto industry’s growing influence in Albany, including donations to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Miners generally seek out cheap energy to maximize returns, and they found a little slice of heaven in upstate New York, where natural gas and hydropower are abundant. A number of shuttered or nearly shuttered power plants have proven to be particularly attractive as sites to construct vertically integrated bitcoin mines.
But while miners have found heaven, residents have seen places they love become hell. The epicenter of the battle over crypto mining is on the shores of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. There, Greenidge Generation revived a dormant coal plant built in the 1960s. Retrofitted to burn natural gas, the power plant sends a tiny amount of juice onto the grid and spends the rest of its operating time mining bitcoins.
Residents nearby have complained of noise pollution from the mining rigs’ cacophony. They’ve also said the plant destroys the bucolic character of the region and its burgeoning wine industry. That would all be problematic enough, but the plant will also make it harder for the state to reach its climate goals, particularly if other aging power plants are also retrofitted the same way.
“With this legislation in particular, it put forwards a simple question: In the face of New York’s ambitious climate law, should we be allowing an industry to repurpose fossil-fuel power plants when we’re trying to move away from fossil fuels entirely?” Liz Moran, Earthjustice’s New York public advocate, told Protocol.
The moratorium would put the brakes on that. The version currently under consideration would allow mines with the proper air pollution permits to stay open but forbid new ones from being constructed during a two-year pause. That would allow the state to study the impacts and decide if a full-on ban or other approach makes more sense.
This story is developing and will be updated.
Want your finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening in tech? Sign up to get Protocol’s daily newsletter.
Thank you for signing up. Please check your inbox to verify your email.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.
A login link has been emailed to you – please check your inbox.
Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol’s climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo’s climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil’s influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.
Coinbase announced Thursday that it was rescinding accepted job offers to new hires, in addition to its previously announced hiring freeze, Chief People Officer L.J. Brock wrote in a blog post.
The company seemed to be determined to triple its workforce even after weak first-quarter earnings, which resulted in its stock plummeting. However, it changed its mind almost immediately, announcing a hiring freeze just a week after its analyst call.
Now, two weeks later, Coinbase is taking another step further to “reprioritize [their] hiring needs against [their] highest-priority business goals,” which includes extending the hiring pause for the foreseeable future and rescinding a number of accepted offers for people who have not started yet, via email.
Coinbase also said that it was also establishing a “talent hub” for individuals impacted by its decisions.
The slew of hiring freezes and layoffs aren’t just limited to fintechs; companies across all sectors of tech have been slowing hiring and letting go of staff. Both Twitter and Meta froze hiring last month, and Twitter also rescinded job offers.
Inflation and supply chain woes are making the costs of everything skyrocket. Just don’t tell that to Chevy. The automaker announced that it’s lowering the price of the Bolt by nearly $6,000 next year, which will make it the cheapest electric vehicle in all the land. (Well, in all the U.S. anyways.)
If you’ve lived through 2022 so far, first: Congratulations. And second, you’ve surely experienced the fact that most everything is more expensive. But there’s been perhaps no better example of how inflation, supply chain hiccups and the Russian war in Ukraine have created a perfectly hellacious storm than the price of vehicles.
Despite that, Chevy announced on Wednesday that it’s slashing the cost of the Bolt, its flagship EV. The cheapest model will cost $26,595 in 2023, down from $32,495. Other model prices will also come down, some by as much as $6,300. That stands in sharp contrast to automakers new and old, including Tesla, Rivian and Ford, which have jacked up prices of EVs. (Rivian did an about-face and promised to honor lower-priced reservations after customers got big mad.) They’ve done so in part due to the aforementioned reasons, particularly the spike in critical mineral prices over the past year, which has made batteries more costly.
A GM — which owns Chevy — spokesperson told the Verge that the price drop “reflects our ongoing desire to make sure Bolt EV/EUV are competitive in the marketplace. As we’ve said, affordability has always been a priority for these vehicles.”
The EV wanters of the world will surely take heart in this news, even if the Bolt doesn’t exactly move the needle like the various models of Teslas or the F-150 Lightning do in the public imagination. It also doesn’t help that the Bolt faced a recall last year due to issues that could [checks notes] cause the battery to catch on fire. Uh, hmmmm.
While getting people pumped about EVs because they look cool and/or don’t catch on fire is certainly great, ensuring EVs are affordable (and, again, not prone to catching on fire) is vastly more important. Chevy recently put the Bolt back into production following the aforementioned recall that was accompanied by a plant shutdown. Whether the price drop and promises of a non-flammable EV are enough to get people to take the plunge remains to be seen.
The Bolt also doesn’t qualify for the EV tax credit since Chevy has sold more than 200,000 EVs. While the Bolt being the cheapest new EV on the market is certainly a leg up on the competition, its price tag may still be beyond the means of some would-be EV buyers, even if the monthly cost of ownership still makes it more attractive than its gas-powered brethren. That’s all the more reason why the federal lawmakers could step in to kill the 200,000 EV limit or raise the tax credit to make it and other EVs even more attractive options.
And hey, there’s always walking.
Microsoft has broken rank with its peers in the tech industry and said it will not combat employee unionization efforts. The news was announced on Thursday in a blog post authored by Microsoft President Brad Smith.
“Recent unionization campaigns across the country — including in the tech sector — have led us to conclude that inevitably these issues will touch on more businesses, potentially including our own,” Smith wrote. “This has encouraged us to think proactively about the best approach for our employees, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders.”
Smith said the company has outlined four principles it’s committing to in order to guide how it handles labor organizing at Microsoft and its many subsidiaries, which include countless divisions and offices around the world spanning its software, hardware, gaming and cloud businesses. The post is similar in style to one Microsoft published earlier this year in which it pledged to follow pro-competition principles around software distribution and app stores in an effort to avoid regulation.
The principles could have a major effect on the corporate structure of Microsoft’s business. The company does not currently have any labor unions, but it is in the process of acquiring game publisher Activision Blizzard. Raven Software, a video game studio owned by Activision, last week became the first major game developer with a recognized labor union after nearly two dozen quality-assurance testers voted to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board.
At the time, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said the Xbox division would respect the union. “Once the deal closes, we would absolutely support [an] employees’ organization that’s in place,” Spencer told employee during an Xbox all-hands meeting, according to Kotaku. “We think it is a right of employees and something that can be a part of a relationship between a company and people who work at the company.”
Smith’s blog post Thursday, however, goes far beyond those comments by pledging not to actively combat union efforts, as its competitors Amazon and Apple are now doing. “We respect this right and do not believe that our employees or the company’s other stakeholders benefit by resisting lawful employee efforts to participate in protected activities, including forming or joining a union,” Smith said of one of the four principles titled, “We recognize that employees have a legal right to choose whether to form or join a union.”
The other principles indicate that Microsoft may be open to supporting more unions within its workforce. “We are committed to creative and collaborative approaches with unions when employees wish to exercise their rights and Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal,” reads another of the four principles. Smith said of that principle that it gives the company an opportunity to work with existing unions and to foster “collaborative approaches that will make it simpler, rather than more difficult, for our employees to make informed decisions and to exercise their legal right to choose whether to form or join a union.”
The other two principles involve committing to working with labor unions both in the U.S. and Europe and having an open-door policy for discussing issues in the workforce that may be facilitating labor organizing efforts.
“We acknowledge that this is a journey, and we will need to continue to learn and change as employee expectations and views change with the world around us. And we recognize that employers and employees will not always agree on all topics — and that is okay,” Smith concluded. “Perhaps as much as anything, we bring a sense of optimism grounded in an appreciation that success in a competitive global economy requires that businesses and labor strive to work together well.”
On the same day it announced layoffs, Gemini was hit with a lawsuit by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The agency claims that the crypto exchange, run by brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, misled it during conversations in 2017 about a bitcoin futures contract product, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan Thursday.
Gemini, founded in 2014, has long proudly marketed itself an exchange that plays nice with regulators. But, according to the CFTC, Gemini’s leadership made misleading statements on a product that “was significant because it was to be among the first digital asset futures contracts listed on a designated contract market.” The complaint focuses on conversations between the crypto exchange and regulators in 2017.
The alleged false statements were about efforts by Gemini to prevent manipulation, according to the CFTC.
A Gemini spokesperson said the company “has been a pioneer and proponent of thoughtful regulation since day one. We have an eight-year track record of asking for permission, not forgiveness, and always doing the right thing. We look forward to definitively proving this in court.”
The company also published a letter to employees Thursday detailing plans to cut 10% of its staff of more than 1,000 in response to what its leadership deemed the start of “crypto winter.”
The CFTC under Chairman Rostin Behnam has said it will push for a larger role in regulating crypto. The commission is generally the industry’s preferred regulator over the SEC. A forthcoming bill backed by Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand would designate the CFTC as crypto’s lead regulator, according to a draft leaked to The Block last week. Lummis has called that version “outdated” and pledged to release the bill next week, but she has spoken publicly about advancing the CFTC’s role in crypto regulation on other occasions.
Justice Samuel Alito earlier this week signaled that some Supreme Court conservatives might want the First Amendment to work differently with online platforms than it does today. He may also have dropped some hints that he and his colleagues feel the same way about antitrust.
In a dissent released Tuesday, Alito wrote for himself and two of his fellow conservatives that he would let a Texas law proceed during an appeal. The law in question punishes big social media companies for their treatment of particular viewpoints in a way that most scholars think violates those corporations’ free speech rights. A majority of the Court blocked the law.
But Alito also was clear to refer to “the power of dominant social media corporations” and gave a shoutout to Justice Louis Brandeis, the progressive icon of the early 20th century. That framing of the might of services like Facebook, and the approving reference to a jurist who’s more or less the patron saint of the hipster antitrust movement, suggested to some that a bloc of Supreme Court conservatives may be sympathetic to the strange-bedfellows push to beat back the companies through antitrust enforcement.
“We have no doubt that champagne bottles were being popped at the law firm of Wu, Khan and Kanter,” Blair Levin and Matt Perault wrote in a research note, referring to three high-profile competition-law reformers in the administration.
Lina Khan, the chair of Federal Trade Commission, is pursuing the agency’s competition case against Meta, while Jonathan Kanter heads up the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, which is pursuing a lawsuit against Google. Both are expected to go through lengthy appeals — or even potentially end up before the Supreme Court — and both have fans among certain prominent Republicans who view antitrust enforcement as a way to punish Big Tech for how it handles right-wing speech.
Tech policy watchers have, in fact, often labeled the movement to use competition law against Big Tech as “Neo-Brandeisian” in reference to the justice’s longtime skepticism of Big Business and his work to help build the FTC.
Brandeis, then, would seem to be an odd choice for avowed contemporary conservatives such as Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined his colleague’s dissent, to cite. After all, the two had previously been viewed as reliable votes to limit the government’s reach on antitrust. Yet in his dissent, Alito appealed to Brandeis’ writings from way back in 1932 about states’ ability to tackle “changing social and economic” times without overly hasty interference from the federal government — even though Brandeis himself was writing in dissent and wasn’t forming court precedent.
Conservatives and state lawmakers of all stripes do routinely bring up a concept Brandeis formulated in the same text: that states can function as policy laboratories. Alito eschewed that line, though, and instead grabbed for the less-cited notion about the changing of society and the market. The latter does seem to share an outlook with Khan’s frequent meditations on the evolution of business models as a reason she wants to push antitrust law in new directions.
In their note, Levin, a longtime tech industry analyst and former FCC staffer, and Perault, a onetime top policy official at Facebook, said all this intellectual winking and quoting seemed to add up to an interest by Alito, Thomas and others in anti-tech antitrust lawsuits, whether by the federal government or states.
“Alito’s dissent suggest to us that several Justices will be open to novel antitrust arguments in the future,” they wrote.
Even after aggressively trimming its tech portfolio in recent months, Tiger Global hasn’t been able to staunch the losses. The hedge fund has seen its assets shed more than half their value since the start of the year, according to Bloomberg.
In response to the sharp 52% decline, Tiger Global cut management fees and revised its client lock-up policy. It also dropped its management fee from 1.5% to 1% through December 2023. And even though some investors agreed to lock-up deals that would limit withdrawals to 25% from the hedge fund and 20% for the long-only product, Tiger Global bumped the allowable cash-out rate to 33%.
Those closely tracking the VC firm may have seen this coming. Just two weeks ago the firm’s 13F filings revealed that the company cut its entire stake in startups like Bumble, PayPal and Affirm this year. It also cut significant stakes in Spotify, Zoom and Robinhood. At the time, it was already known that the hedge fund’s value had dropped 34% in the first quarter alone. But apparently, Tiger Global’s cuts weren’t enough for some LPs.
The moves are part of a broader push by Tiger Global to appease investors contending with the tech downturn. In a letter obtained by Bloomberg, the firm managers told investors “our recent performance does not live up to the standards we have set for ourselves over the last 21 years and that you rightfully expect.” Even so, the firm has reportedly seen five times more inflows than redemption requests, a sign that investors are still bullish on the long-term prospects of Tiger.
Those investors, however, are on one side of a controversial trade. Tiger Global is known for taking risky big bets on late-stage startups, something that other, more conservative VCs consider risky. The firm began shifting toward investing in earlier-stage startups this year, but the shift may have come too late.
The question now is whether Tiger Global’s fall from financial grace will prompt a reconsideration of the firm’s historically bullish approach, or prove to be just a blip.
Square announced Thursday that Apple’s two-way “Tap to Pay” feature, which turns iPhones that can already transmit payment-card numbers into terminals that can receive them, will become available to some Square sellers this summer. Apple announced a similar partnership with Shopify and Stripe in February.
Currently, iPhone users can pay in stores or on the go by tapping their iPhones to dedicated NFC-reading hardware made by companies like Square. The forthcoming Tap to Pay feature will allow sellers to collect payments directly through an app on their phone that makes use of newly activated hardware included in iPhones, eliminating the need for separate hardware.
The feature is an effort to embrace growing customer preference for touchless payment, and builds on expanded NFC features Apple first began introducing in 2019. Apple has faced criticism for being slow to unlock NFC features for developers, and Tap to Pay addresses one area where its closed-off approach drew official attention. The European Union accused Apple of violating antitrust law last month by not opening up its NFC features to mobile wallets that competed with Apple Pay.
The agreement by Square to use Apple’s Tap to Pay will provide businesses with “more flexibility to adapt their commerce experiences to evolving consumer preferences,” Square head of Financial Services David Talach said in a press release.
The feature will first become available to select Square merchants through an early-access testing program this summer. Square will then roll it out to all sellers later this year.
When the Shopify and Stripe partnership with Apple was announced in February, Apple said that Stripe would be the “first payment platform to offer Tap to Pay on iPhone to their business customers.” Apple did not respond to requests for comment as to whether the product would still be made available to Stripe and Shopify customers before those using Square.
The inclusion of Square in Tap to Pay could address overblown perceptions that the new feature is a “Square killer.” As Protocol noted when it was first released, Apple’s unlocking of NFC hardware didn’t provide the range of payment services required to make it useful. It did, however, help Stripe and Shopify — which have ambitions to grow their in-person retail payments — leapfrog the investment Square has made in card-reading hardware.
The strategy also helps Apple as the tech giant wades more deeply into payments. For one thing, it makes iPhones more useful to retail businesses as mobile check-out terminals. Even Apple itself has had to use add-on hardware to take payments in Apple Stores. And it potentially adds to the number of venues that accept Apple Pay. Apple gets a tiny cut of Apple Pay transactions, but keeping customers locked into their iPhones is likely far more valuable.
Gemini, the crypto exchange run by brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, is slashing 10% of its staff, the firm said in a letter to employees Thursday.
Job cuts are spreading rapidly throughout the tech industry as a result of a recent downturn, but Gemini’s layoffs mark the most significant among cryptocurrency companies — a sign that sagging digital asset values are cooling what was a red-hot hiring market. Coinbase said last month it would slow hiring plans.
The layoffs are the first in Gemini’s eight years in business, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the job cuts. Gemini did not disclose how many total jobs were cut, but the company employs just over 1,000 people, according to LinkedIn.
“This is where we are now, in the contraction phase that is settling into a period of stasis — what our industry refers to as ‘crypto winter,’” the Winklevoss brothers wrote in the memo. “This has all been further compounded by the current macroeconomic and geopolitical turmoil. We are not alone.”
The value of bitcoin and ether have been chopped in half from highs in November 2021. People tend to trade less when crypto values cool, cutting into revenue for exchanges.
Gemini will conduct the layoffs through individual remote conversations and hold a companywide meeting to discuss its future on Friday, according to Bloomberg. The company plans to focus “only on products that are critical to our mission.”
In November, Gemini raised $400 million in new funding at a $7.1 billion valuation.
Payments company Square suffered a two-hour outage Wednesday, prompting outrage from merchants about losing out on business during peak hours. Shares of its parent company, Block, fell 6% amid a broader market pullback.
Multiple Square services were operating at “degraded performance,” including its payment processing services, according to its systems status page. Only its banking services appeared unaffected during the widespread outage. While the issues were eventually resolved, merchants took to Twitter to express their concerns, noting they were losing sales due to the outage. Some called for Square to refund fees to make them whole.
“So much lost business throughout our locations because of this. Will you guys consider providing free processing to offer some sort of relief for all of the $ we lost (and keep losing) due to this situation?” Arepa Zone, a restaurant, tweeted at Square’s support account.
The outage was the second incident in a week, after Square encountered sign-in issues with its Seller Community on Monday. Incident histories on Square’s status page suggest widespread outages have been rare, with isolated problems more typical among the scattered outages.
Sheryl Sandberg announced Wednesday she is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta after 14 years. Sandberg announced her departure in a Facebook post, saying that she will spend the next few months transitioning before leaving the company in the fall.
“When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg wrote. “I am not entirely sure what the future will bring – I have learned no one ever is.”
Sandberg joined Facebook from Google, tasked with transforming Mark Zuckerberg’s wildly successful dorm room experiment into a going business. Sandberg led Facebook’s efforts to develop an advertising business, and quickly became one of the most well-known female tech executives in the US. But in recent years, Sandberg’s once sterling reputation has become tarnished, particularly in the wake of the Internet Research Agency scandal following the 2016 election.
More recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Sandberg personally intervened in negative reporting about her ex-boyfriend Bobby Kotick. The Journal reported that Sandberg was facing an internal investigation over the matter.
Sandberg’s post did not lend much clarity into why she decided now is the time to leave, instead, focusing primarily on her history at the company and her fondness for Zuckerberg, who she first met during a chance encounter at a holiday party.
“Mark is a true visionary and a caring leader. He sometimes says that we grew up together, and we have,” Sandberg wrote. “He was just 23 and I was already 38 when we met, but together we have been through the massive ups and downs of running this company, as well as his marriage to the magnificent Priscilla, the sorrow of their miscarriages and the joy of their childbirths, the sudden loss of Dave, my engagement to [Tom Bernthal], and so much more.”
In his own statement on Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote, “I’m sad that the day is coming when I won’t get to work as closely with Sheryl. But more than anything, I’m grateful for everything she has done to build Meta.”
Sandberg said she now plans to spend more time on philanthropy and family.
In recent years, there have been ample signs that she was taking a less prominent public role at the company. Recently, Nick Clegg was promoted to president of public affairs, a role that made him Meta’s point person in conversations with world leaders and global governments.
Shortly after the news broke, former Meta employees began sounding off on Twitter. “I have no real thoughts on Sheryl as a person/leader but this will be an incredibly non-shocking departure to basically everyone inside the company,” wrote former spokesperson Drew Pusateri.
Sandberg will continue to serve on Meta’s board, but Zuckerberg said he will not be replacing her with anyone who does precisely what she does. “I’m not sure that would be possible since she’s a superstar who defined the COO role in her own unique way,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But even if it were possible, I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated, rather than having all the business and operations functions organized separately from our products.”
Instead, Javier Olivan will become chief operating officer, but with a different set of responsibilities, which Zuckerberg described as more akin to a traditional COO role, focused on making the company “more efficient and rigorous.”
The Department of Justice has charged Nate Chastain, a former OpenSea executive, with insider trading in a case that could set a precedent for NFTs and other areas of crypto more broadly that have not previously been subject to insider trading enforcement.
Chastain is alleged to have traded on NFTs using confidential business information about which NFTs were to be on OpenSea’s home page. Chastain, who was arrested in New York this morning, is charged with wire fraud and money laundering.
As part of Chastain’s job, he was responsible for selecting NFTs that were featured on OpenSea’s home page. When those NFTs were featured on the site, their prices would rise, the DOJ alleged. The DOJ said it was the first-ever insider trading charge involving digital assets.
From June to September 2021, Chastain used the information to buy dozens of NFTs before they were on OpenSea. He then sold them for two to five times his purchase price.
OpenSea is the largest NFT marketplace and was valued at $13.3 billion in January. OpenSea was also the subject of controversy when it froze the sale of 16 NFTs on its platform that were allegedly stolen.
Amazon allegedly told workers it would lower pay and benefits if they unionized in Staten Island, according to Vice. The new complaint from the National Labor Relations Board accuses the company of breaking federal labor laws in the run-up to the first successful election for a union at Amazon.
The complaint alleges that in the months before the vote, Amazon held “captive-audience meetings” at the JFK8 facility where the company threatened to reduce worker salaries and change benefits, according to Vice. In the complaint, the NLRB demands that Amazon train its managers about workers’ union rights and post signs and text workers about those rights.
If Amazon doesn’t agree to settle the new complaint from the NLRB, labor administrators will file the complaint with an administrative law judge and the case will go to trial. Though captive-audience meetings have been permitted under past NLRB precedents, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, a Biden administration appointee, changed course in April by asking the NLRB to make those meetings illegal.
The workers at the Staten Island warehouse secured the first successful union election in Amazon’s history on April 1. Amazon immediately challenged the results of the election, accusing both the Amazon Labor Union and the NLRB itself of breaking labor laws before the election. The NLRB will hold hearings on those challenges before the union win can be officially certified.
“Our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work. The allegations in NLRB complaint are without merit, and we look forward to showing that through this process,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, wrote in an email to Protocol.
This story was updated on Jun 1 with a statement from Amazon.
Blockchain technology is “poorly suited for just about every purpose currently touted as a present or potential source of public benefit” and must be approached with skepticism, a group of 26 high-profile computer scientists, software engineers and technologists wrote in a letter to U.S. lawmakers Wednesday.
The letter offers a tech industry counter to a growing lobbying effort from the cryptocurrency industry in Washington and comes as Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand are expected to offer a bill proposing new federal regulations for digital assets.
“We urge you to resist pressure from digital asset industry financiers, lobbyists and boosters to create a regulatory safe haven for these risky, flawed and unproven digital financial instruments and to instead take an approach that protects the public interest and ensures technology is deployed in genuine service to the needs of ordinary citizens,” the authors wrote.
Harvard lecturer and privacy-focused technologist Bruce Schneier, Google cloud principal engineer Kelsey Hightower and Web3 Is Going Great creator Molly White are among the signatories. The letter is adddressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and several committee chairs and ranking members in the House and Senate.
Crypto lobbying spending jumped to $9 million last year, from $2.2 million in 2018, according to consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
“We’re counter-lobbying, that’s what this letter is about,” signatory and software developer Stephen Diehl told the Financial Times, which was first to report the letter.
While advocates for cryptocurrency say it can serve as a tool for financial inclusion and transparency, the letter counters that the industry has only recently latched onto those concepts and better solutions are already available.
A draft version of the Lummis-Gillibrand bill, published by the The Block, designates the CFTC as crypto’s lead regulator — something supported within the industry. While Lummis said the published draft is outdated and the actual version will be released on June 7, she has generally been supportive of the industry.
The letter does not reference to any legislation directly but encourages Congress to “look beyond the hype and bluster of the crypto industry” when setting its legislative priorities.
Get ready to revamp your Slack profile. As of today, you’ll be able to add name pronunciations, hover over profiles more easily and add “smart tags” to indicate special characteristics and areas of expertise.
People will be able to record audio of their name spoken aloud and attach it to their profile, eliminating guessing games when it comes to pronunciation, and helping to foster a more inclusive workplace. You can also pair this with the phonetic spelling of your name. Slack profiles will also now contain contact information, your position in an organization chart and an “About Me” section that can host anything from pet names to languages spoken. You’ll be able to hover over names to start huddles, calls or messages and search through profiles with “smart tags” highlighting specific criteria.
The updates are meant to let people more fully represent their “authentic self at work,” according to Slack’s blog post. “People’s names have so much significance — from their ancestors, families, religions. They have such connection and bearing on their identity,” Rita Kohli, associate professor and equity adviser at the University of California, Riverside told The Society for Human Resources.
Slack is the communication hub for at least 177,000 paying customers and continues to be essential for the scores of people on geographically distributed teams. Bridging the gap between remote workers is still a big question mark for productivity tools, even years into the pandemic — it’s just not as seamless as interacting in person. At least now, even if you’ve never heard your co-worker’s name spoken aloud, their Slack profile can do the work for you.
The Supreme Court has blocked Texas’s social media “censorship” law, HB 20, after two tech industry groups, NetChoice and CCIA, filed an emergency application asking the court to take the case up on its shadow docket last week.
The emergency filing came after a 5th Circuit court lifted an injunction on the law, allowing it to go into effect with potentially catastrophic consequences for the tech industry. More than 30 groups filed amicus briefs in support of NetChoice and CCIA since last week, and the court has sided with them.
The court decided to overturn the 5th Circuit’s decision by a 5-4 vote, with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch writing a dissent.
“Despite Texas’s best efforts to run roughshod over the First Amendment, it came up short in the Supreme Court,” said Chris Marchese, counsel at NetChoice.
“We are encouraged that this attack on First Amendment rights has been halted until a court can fully evaluate the repercussions of Texas’s ill-conceived statute,” CCIA president Matt Schruers said in a statement.
HB 20 bans social media platforms from moderating content based on users’ “viewpoint.” The statute is aimed at punishing online services for what Republicans insist is censorship of conservative content — an approach that has raised significant constitutional concerns and could undermine platforms’ years of efforts to tackle hate speech and harmful misinformation.
Texas has argued that it is seeking to ensure its residents can speak freely on popular forums by forcing those platforms to “carry” all views or face a flood of lawsuits from users who can claim they have been “censored.” But a broad coalition of legal scholars have concluded that it is the state that’s trying to impose punishments on private actors for their handling of content, in clear violation of U.S. free speech protections.
NetChoice and CCIA, which both represent social media companies, sued to stop the law, and a federal district court had paused the rollout over the likelihood that the statute violates the First Amendment. An appeals court, however, allowed the measure to go into effect earlier this month while the lower court proceeding is ongoing. The appeals court judges cleared the way for the law after a hearing at which they appeared to struggle with basic tech concepts, including whether or not Twitter is a website.
“The Supreme Court noting the constitutional risks of this law is important not just for online companies and free speech, but for a key principle for democratic countries,” Schruers said. “No online platform, website, or newspaper should be directed by government officials to carry certain speech. This has been a key tenet of our democracy for more than 200 years, and the Supreme Court has upheld that.”
The Court’s decision to block the law came from an unusual coalition: Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer. Justice Elena Kagan, a vocal critic of the shadow docket, denied the application to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s decision, but notably did not join with the conservative justices in their dissent, authored by Justice Alito.
Although NetChoice and its allies cited cases from as recently as 2019, Alito wrote that he, Thomas and Gorsuch weren’t sure how “existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.” Thomas, in particular, has previously voiced support for treating social media platforms as common carriers.
Alito argued it was plausible the Texas law’s disclosure requirements are constitutional and that the law was too novel to evaluate at this stage. In his dissent, Alito also suggested he agreed with Texas that, by invoking Section 230 and seeking not to be held as publishers of user posts, the platforms forgo the kinds of robust free-speech protections that speakers normally get.
The dissent also signaled that the high court may not be done with the issue. Shortly after NetChoice sought its emergency ruling from the Supreme Court, another appeals court upheld most of an injunction on a similar Florida law. A potential circuit split could result in the Supreme Court having to take up the issue once again. “This application concerns issues of great importance that will plainly merit this Court’s review,” Alito wrote.
Thousands of Salesforce employees are pressing the company to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, according to a letter seen by Protocol and first reported by SF Gate. The letter comes after the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead.
A Salesforce employee, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the company has not responded to the letter. The employee said Salesforce is expected to hold an all-hands with company executives next week, but it’s unclear if the letter will be addressed during that meeting. A company spokesperson did not return Protocol’s request for comment.
The letter, addressed to co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor and other company leaders, urges the company to end its “commercial relationship” with the NRA. “The NRA uses Salesforce products to drive their marketing and fundraising efforts,” the letter states.
It also cites a recent CNBC interview where Benioff said “we need to take direct action” on social issues. Benioff has spoken out on several social issues, including expressing support for LGBTQ+ people and abortion rights. He’s also called for stricter gun control laws, and Salesforce announced in 2019 that the company would no longer work with vendors that sold semi-automatic and 3D-printed guns online.
Tech companies have been called on to end their relationship with the association before. Apple, AT&T, Amazon and Roku were asked to take down NRATV from their products after the mass shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Roku and Apple publicly stated that they would not remove the channel at the time. Those calls were renewed in a recently launched petition.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Marc and Bret,
“It takes a monster to kill children. But to watch monsters kill children again and again and do nothing isn’t just insanity-it’s
inhumanity.” — National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman
Marc, as you said today on CNBC regarding gun violence, “We obviously need to do something … We need to take direct
It’s not in our power to get background checks or other gun control measures passed by Congress — but we can effect
change by ending our commercial relationship with our customer, the National Rifle Association.
The NRA uses Salesforce products to drive their marketing and fundraising efforts. It is unconscionable to consider their
use of Marketing Cloud to capitalize on mass shootings.
[Nineteen] children and two teachers were killed yesterday. Based on past history, it is likely the NRA is already upping, or preparing to up, their Marketing Cloud usage in response to this tragedy, not to prevent future tragedies from happening, but to sow fear,
sell guns, and abet future atrocities.
Netflix has been testing ways to crack down on password sharing in markets outside of the U.S., and early reports indicate that the A/B tests have resulted in a haphazard experience for users.
Netflix said in its recent earnings call that it would start charging an additional fee for users who share passwords with people who live outside of their household. Those tests have begun in South America. According to global tech publication Rest of World, those changes have not been communicated to users in Peru in a uniform way, causing confusion about the new policy and how it’s being applied.
While many continue to share their Netflix accounts at no extra cost, the crackdown on only some subscribers has caused a few cancellations, according to Rest of the World. Netflix confirmed to the publication that different subscribers may be paying differing charges.
Netflix’s varied rollout is a sign that the company is testing different versions of its password sharing policy as a way to nail down which is the most effective, which is expected given the way the company’s well-known A/B testing works. Even something as simple as an icon to express how much a user likes a show took nearly a year of testing to figure what will resonate with users the most.
Netflix first announced it was testing this feature in March in Chile, Costa Rica and Peru, through which users would be able to “add an extra member” for roughly $2 or $3 per month, depending on the country. Netflix said that extra members would get a separate login and password. The new policy is the first time that Netflix is defining “household” as people who live exclusively in the same vicinity as the subscriber, according to Rest of World.
Netflix is testing its password-sharing and pricing changes as it struggles to grow its user base. The company reported that it lost 200,000 subscribers in the most recent quarter, causing its shares to plunge and analysts to question whether Netflix has peaked.
Microsoft has released mitigations for a zero-day vulnerability in Office that could enable execution of code by a remote user.
The flaw, which security researcher Kevin Beaumont dubbed “Follina,” affects the Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT) in Windows and has reportedly been exploited.
The vulnerability affects the majority of versions of Windows in use today — including Windows 7 and above, as well as Windows Server 2008 and above.
In a blog post, Microsoft provided a workaround for the remote code execution flaw, which “exists when MSDT is called using the URL protocol from a calling application such as Word.”
“An attacker who successfully exploits this vulnerability can run arbitrary code with the privileges of the calling application,” Microsoft said in its post. “The attacker can then install programs, view, change, or delete data, or create new accounts in the context allowed by the user’s rights.”
The vulnerability is being tracked as CVE-2022-30190. Microsoft has ascribed a “high” severity level to the vulnerability with a score of 7.8 out of 10.
BNPL might seem like a 2021 trend, but payment companies still think the short-term credit plans are all the rage.
Affirm announced a partnership with Stripe Tuesday “to help businesses grow their revenue,” according to a press release. Klarna announced a similar partnership with the payments company in October, while Afterpay became available to some Square sellers in January after Block finalized the acquisition of the Australian “buy now, pay later” company last fall.
These partnerships promise opening up millions more transactions to “buy now, pay later” services, which profit from both the interchange charged to merchants and interest paid on purchases which aren’t subsidized with a zero-interest offer. In both cases, merchants like the way “buy now, pay later” plans increase consumers’ propensity to buy.
For Stripe, which wants to offer a broad variety of payment options, the partnership makes additional geographic sense. Affirm is stronger with U.S. sellers, while Klarna is stronger with those abroad.
The deals come at a moment when a growing group of economists and investors worry that “buy now, pay later” is either a risky trend or a passing fad. Affirm’s stock has fallen from roughly $177 last year, per TechCrunch, to just over $30 Tuesday morning. And Klarna set plans to lay off 10% of staff last week after it was reported the company was looking for more funding, possibly at a lower valuation.
But the companies are showing resilience in experimenting with multiple strategies. Several are looking into offering debit cards as part of a super app approach, aimed toward being an all-in-one shopping and discovery solution for customers and retailers. Square, which owns Afterpay, offers a card through Cash App, while Affirm has a debit card enabled with pay-later options. Klarna, which already offers the Klarna Card in parts of Europe, opened a waitlist for U.S. customers in February.
Ecommerce partnerships remain important to the “buy now, pay later” companies. Shopify and Amazon have partnerships with Affirm, while Klarna has partnerships with companies like Wish and AliExpress.
A listing on Binance brought a surge of trades Tuesday for luna 2.0, an attempt by crypto entrepreneur Do Kwon to revive the collapsed Terra blockchain ecosystem.
The coin was trading at about $9.50 early Tuesday morning, a roughly 50% increase in the past 24 hours, according to CoinMarketCap. Binance listed the new luna coin at 2 a.m. Eastern Time Tuesday, placing it in its Innovation Zone, a trading designation reserved for coins that “may have increased volatility and pose a higher risk than other tokens.”
Unsurprisingly, the new luna has indeed been volatile. It launched early Saturday with a list price of $17.80 and climbed for a short time but then quickly fell to a low of just under $4. Even with the gains Monday and early Tuesday, the new luna is off about 50% from its listing price.
The coin was airdropped to holders of the previous version of luna and its affiliated TerraUSD, or UST, algorithmic stablecoin. Both currencies lost nearly all value earlier this month in a bank-run-style sell-off that helped push down values in the broader crypto market.
Under a plan from Kwon, approved last week, the original Terra blockchain was split off and will now be known as Terra Classic, while the original luna coin that crashed near zero this month has been renamed luna classic with the ticker LUNC. The new luna trades as LUNA.
The UST stablecoin will be left behind and not receive a new version on the recreated blockchain.
The plan was an attempt by Kwon to save some of the apps built on the Terra blockchain after that collapse, and recoup some value for investors in the original ecosystem. Some holders of the former luna and UST coins pledged to sell as soon they received the airdrop.
Not all is going smoothly with the airdrop. Terraform Labs, the developer behind the plan, tweeted Monday that it is “aware that some have received less $LUNA from the airdrop than expected [and] are actively working on a solution.”
In addition to Binance, the relaunch is being supported on a list of large exchanges such as FTX and Bitfinex. Two major staking firms, Figment and Chorus One, said they are sitting out the relaunch, citing concerns with the voting process and how quickly the new chain was launched.
After the spectacular implosion that followed the TerraUSD and luna only weeks ago, there is plenty of skepticism for version 2.0 of the ecosystem. Billy Markus, dogecoin’s co-creator, tweeted ahead of the relaunch that “luna 2.0 will show the world just how truly dumb crypto gamblers really are.”
Regulators will surely be watching as well — and the industry is bracing for new rules to come on stablecoins.
Under Bob Iger’s leadership, Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel and other tech-forward companies. Those moves were very intentional: “I envisioned a world where technology would be so disruptive that it would allow for an explosion really of production,” Iger once said on a podcast with LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman.
Months after leaving Disney’s board, that vision has guided his lineup of investments. Iger has bet big on the metaverse, fast delivery and online presentation tools. The former Disney CEO’s investments reflect a world where we have nearly anything at our fingertips in the real and virtual worlds — as well as ways to stay entertained, of course. Here’s a look at where Iger has put his money so far and some clues at why.
After leaving Disney, Iger’s first big move came in March when he joined Genies’ board and invested an undisclosed amount of money. The company has a mobile app that lets users create their own rendered avatars for their social media profiles. Eventually, the avatars are supposed to be able to travel through the metaverse. Genies claims it has “tools that allow you to manifest your ideas and experiences as an avatar ecosystem,” which is basically Web3 speak for “you can customize your avatar with digital clothes.” The company is led by 29-year-old Akash Nigam and is valued at $1 billion after raising $150 million in a series C funding round last month.
“I’ve always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art, and Genies provides unique and compelling opportunities to harness the power of that combination to enable new forms of creativity, expression and communication,” Iger said in a statement.
Iger joined eBay, sports agent Rich Paul and the Chernin Group to buy a 25% stake in Funko, which makes action figures, bobbleheads and other pop culture collectibles. As part of the $263 million investment, Chernin Group CEO Peter Chernin and Iger became advisers on the company’s board. Several characters from Pixar and Marvel are part of Funko’s product line, which makes the former Disney CEO’s investment in the company a logical post-Disney step.
Just a couple of weeks after announcing his investment in Funko, Iger became a part-owner of Gopuff, an instant grocery delivery service that competes with companies like Instacart, for an undisclosed amount. He also became an adviser to the company’s executive team. The company is valued at $15 billion and counts Horizon, Fidelity and SoftBank as investors as well.
“I believe consumer commerce will be very different in the near future, and Gopuff is building the platform to power it,” Iger said in a statement announcing the acquisition.
Iger’s investment comes at a time when instant delivery startups are at a post-pandemic crossroads, but Iger seems to be optimistic about their future. Gopuff, Gorillas, Getir and others have needed to cut staff in recent weeks while tech startups as a whole struggle in the face of a major market correction.
Iger’s announced an investment this week in Canva, a popular design company that helps people create videos, presentations and more. The size of the investment wasn’t disclosed, and Iger also became an adviser. The company was last valued at $40 billion. Rumors have flown around that Canva could be looking at an IPO in the near future, and Iger’s involvement in the company could help push that forward.
It may have started with social media, but the concept behind awarding a “verified” check mark to prove a person’s identity online may soon go broader. Much broader, if Microsoft pulls off its goal for its new Verified ID service — and the effort doesn’t turn into a privacy disaster.
In short, Microsoft wants to enable the creation of digitally verifiable credentials for personal attributes, said Ankur Patel, principal program manager for digital identity at Microsoft.
As part of Verified ID, individuals would be able to get digital credentials that prove where they work, what school they graduated from, which bank account they have — and, perhaps more controversially, whether they’re in good health according to their doctor.
The idea is for individuals to carry these credentials in their digital wallet, which can be easily provided to whoever needs it, such as when applying for a job or a loan, or onboarding at a new employer, Patel said. “My education institution gets to give you an attestation that says I have education, and my doctor gets to tell you if I’m healthy, and my bank gets to tell you if I have money,” he said. “All of those things put together make up my digital identity.”
From a business perspective, Verified ID, which leverages blockchain-based decentralized identity standards, aims to improve efficiency around verifying credentials while reducing the likelihood of fraud.
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced plans to release the service — officially, Microsoft Entra Verified ID — into general availability in early August. Entra is the new name for Microsoft’s portfolio of identity products, including its Azure Active Directory authentication service.
Patel expects it will take one to three years for Verified ID to reach the mainstream. He concedes that that sounds pretty quick, considering the fact that “we’re talking paradigm shifts here” in terms of digitizing a lot more of the analog world. “The reason this will go faster than traditional enterprise technologies is because it’s built for network effect,” Patel said.
In the first year, it’s likely that Verified ID will be used by organizations in tandem with existing verification methods, both digital and analog, with a portion of their users, according to Patel. Wider adoption will depend, in part, on making sure that the service itself hasn’t “done harm,” he acknowledged.
One potential risk is that individuals might inadvertently share sensitive information with the wrong parties using the system, Patel said. “In the physical world, when you’re presenting these kinds of things, you’re careful — you don’t just give your birth certificate to anybody,” he said. Microsoft is aiming to limit the issues in its own digital wallets with features meant to protect against this type of accidental exposure, Patel said.
Apple store workers in Atlanta were reportedly intimidated out of hosting a union election, according to Bloomberg.
The Communications Workers of America, the group that was looking to unionize Apple store employees in Atlanta, said that it withdrew its election application to the National Labor Relations Board “because Apple’s repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act have made a free and fair election impossible.” The group also told Bloomberg that numerous cases of Covid-19 in the city’s Cumberland Mall Apple store have caused issues with the safety of in-person voting.
“Apple has conducted a systematic, sophisticated campaign to intimidate them and interfere with their right to form a union,” the CWA alleged in an email to Bloomberg. The group said they had support from the “overwhelming majority” of the Atlanta store’s workers when originally petitioning.
Because the group withdrew its request to the NLRB to hold an election, it has to wait six months before filing again to represent the same group of workers.
Apple told Bloomberg that the company is “fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple.”
The news follows Apple increasing its starting hourly wage from $20 to $22 an hour for retail workers while reportedly telling workers that if they unionize, the company may have more difficulty improving worker conditions.
In a leaked video sent to Apple’s 58,000 retail employees earlier this week, Apple’s Vice President of Retail Deirdre O’Brien said that “because the union would bring its own legally mandated rules that would determine how we work through issues, it could make it harder for us to act swiftly to address things that you raise.”
Atlanta workers first filed a petition to unionize in late April, with around 70% of the store’s workers signing cards in support of the election. The group aimed to raise wages to $28 per hour, along with other benefits. They had been slated to hold their election from June 2 through June 4.
Apple retail workers in Louisville, New York City and Towson, Maryland still have plans to unionize as of Friday, though Apple retail workers have not won a union election at any of the company’s 272 U.S. retail stores.
A draft of a major crypto bill from Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand seeks to add more clarity to crypto regulation, and appears to propose a far bigger role for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
A draft of the widely anticipated bipartisan bill, reported by the Block, a crypto news site, would give the CFTC a wide remit over digital assets. It reads in part: “Except as otherwise provided by this section, the Commission shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any agreement, contract, or transaction involving a contract of sale of a digital asset that is offered, solicited, traded, executed, or otherwise dealt in interstate commerce, including market activities relating to ancillary assets.”
The CFTC already oversees crypto derivatives, and the agency has pushed for more resources to regulate digital assets in recent budget requests.
The draft language also defines crypto entities such as “digital asset,” “distributed ledger technology,” “smart contract,” “payment stablecoin” and “virtual currency.”
Providing a more regulatory definition of crypto, the proposal also defines “ancillary assets” as “an intangible asset that is offered, sold, or otherwise provided to a person in connection with the purchase and sale of a security through an arrangement or scheme that constitutes an investment contract, as that term is used in section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933.”
The draft bill, expected to be formally introduced in the coming weeks, also details areas of responsibility for crypto that would fall under other agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The language assigning primary responsibility to the CFTC matches other reports about the forthcoming bill, expected to be called the Responsible Financial Innovation Act.
Lummis, a senator from Wyoming, has been outspoken on crypto. She and Gillibrand recently appeared on stage together at the D.C. Blockchain Summit to discuss the planned legislation, where Gillibrand said she expected a Senate vote on the bill “next year at the latest.”
While the crypto industry has been lobbying for a variety of approaches to regulating digital assets, giving more responsibility to the CFTC and minimizing the SEC’s role is a common theme in many proposals.
The SEC would like Elon Musk to explain himself. In a letter the agency sent Musk last month, released Friday, a top SEC lawyer asked pointed questions about filings Musk made about his growing stake in Twitter.
The questions centered on straightforward violations of SEC rules that were readily apparent from the time Musk made filings in April revealing he had accumulated a large stake in Twitter.
SEC senior special counsel Nicholas Panos asked:
It is not clear why Musk delayed his initial filing, but the delay allowed him to accumulate more shares of Twitter at a lower price than he would otherwise have paid. That omission has already prompted a shareholder lawsuit against him.
It is likewise not clear how Musk could credibly claim that he didn’t intend to change, influence or control Twitter. In the letter, Panos noted his tweets about Twitter’s speech-moderation policies, which came as he was quietly accumulating his stake. Twitter has likewise documented extensive conversations between Musk and company officials in March and April as he was buying shares.
The Tesla CEO and the SEC have sparred before, and he is currently bound by a settlement requiring him to have designated officials at the electric car maker vet potentially market-moving tweets about the company before he posts them. Musk has sought to undo that settlement, but a judge recently ruled against him.
The letter’s publication confirmed earlier reports that the SEC planned to investigate how Musk accumulated his Twitter stake in the run-up to his striking a deal to buy the company. Panos copied Heidi Steele, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery, a firm Musk hired to advise him on the Twitter takeover.