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The Week in Tech: Countdown to the California Consumer Privacy Act

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Each week, we review the week’s news, offering analysis about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Hello, readers. My name is Natasha Singer. I’m a technology reporter covering privacy and other thorny industry issues for The New York Times. I’ll be bringing you the week’s tech news.

But first, a data rights update: As the holidays approach, some families may be counting down the days to Christmas with Advent calendars. Many tech companies, on the other hand, are counting the days they still have left to figure out how to comply with a sweeping new law, the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will give Californians the right to see, delete and stop the sale of the personal information that companies have compiled about them.

The new law applies to businesses operating in California that collect personal information for commercial purposes and meet certain conditions — like collecting the data of 50,000 people or more. That means it will cover scores of tech companies, app developers, websites, mobile service providers, streaming TV services — as well as brick-and-mortar retailers, drugstores and many other businesses.

The effort has national implications. Companies like Microsoft have said they will honor the data rights in the California law for customers nationwide.

To prepare for consumers seeking to exercise those new data rights, many companies told me they have had to restructure the way they handle users’ information. It’s not Y2K. It’s YCCPA.

I’ve spent the last week talking to tech executives and legal experts about a few parts of the law that are so new to the United States that many companies are still working out how to comply with them.

The California law gives individuals a new right to see the specific pieces of information that companies have compiled about them. That includes inferences and categorizations — Status Seeking Singles, Blue Collar Comfort, Tight Money — that some companies use to classify people.

Does this mean Uber and Lyft will now be obliged to provide riders in California who request their personal data with a list of all the passenger ratings drivers give them after each ride? Will Amazon be required to give Prime customers detailed activity logs of their streaming video use? Will smart-mattress companies have to show sleepers moment-by-moment records of their tossing and turning?

“Yes, they have to come back with the specific pieces of personal information,” said Mary Stone Ross, a technology consultant who helped write the ballot initiative that led California to enact the law. “So if they’re collecting that, your sleep information, they have to respond with it.”

The California law’s definition of “selling” personal information includes sharing it for nonmonetary compensation. And the law requires companies “selling” personal information to give consumers the choice to opt out of having their data sold or shared for commercial gain.

Will much of the digital advertising industry, like apps that share user data in exchange for targeted ads, now be obliged to offer consumers a way to opt out?

“There are lots of information exchanges going on in the economy where people don’t pay with cash but there’s some kind of consideration for it,” Lothar Determann, a lawyer at Baker McKenzie who specializes in privacy regulation, told me. “And all of that is to some extent covered by this very overbroad law.” (Mr. Determann said he was speaking generally, not about any particular company.)

The law gives employees in the state some new rights related to the data their employers collect about them. How does this change business as usual?

Until now, Mr. Determann said, employees in the United States typically received “a notice saying that ‘you shall not have any privacy expectations at the workplace — we record and monitor everything for compliance and harassment, trade secret protection purposes,’ and so on. So they were getting antiprivacy notices.”

But as of Jan. 1, he said, employers in California must give contractors and employees a notice explaining the types of information the company collects about them and for what purpose. That is, he said, “something that employers in the U.S. never had to do.”

I’ll be following these new employer data disclosures. So please email me at nsinger@nytimes.com or DM me @natashanyt if you work in California, have already received your employer’s disclosure and want to share it.

Some tech companies say the new privacy law is too broad and prescriptive. Microsoft said it would like to see an even more comprehensive privacy regime. How so?

“California is a good first step because it has some very important rights built in around user control,” Julie Brill, Microsoft’s chief privacy officer, told me. “But too much of a burden has been placed on individuals. We need to ensure that companies share the burden to protect individual data in the United States.”

“That means things like requiring companies to assess the data that they have and to make sure that they’re adequately protecting it,” she added. “It should include privacy by design. Good stewardship requirements should also include principles like data minimization.”

Silicon Valley is not alone in having to contend with a new data rights law. As my colleague Vindu Goel reported this past week, India is set to enact data protection regulations that would give its population of 1.3 billion people some controls over their information.

The Indian data bill is an outgrowth of a Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to privacy in the country in 2017. Yet the effort is contentious.

The proposed law would give Indians more power over the details that companies compile on them. But it would also “place fewer restrictions on the government’s own use of sensitive data on its residents,” Vindu wrote, “which include the fingerprint and iris scans that are part of the Aadhaar national ID system and its detailed surveys of who receives government benefits in every household.”

2020 is shaping up to be a very interesting year as American tech giants face an increasingly balkanized landscape of data protection regimes in different countries and, if other states enact versions of California’s privacy law, at home as well. We’ll be covering industry efforts to push Congress to pass a federal law to standardize company obligations — and override some of the data rights that Californians have just gained.

  • A number of high-profile foundations — including the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Economic Security Project, led by the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes — are financing an antitrust movement against Big Tech, my colleague David McCabe reported. Can they build momentum for trustbusting?

  • Speaking of tech giants, an article in Washington Monthly argued that Amazon, Apple and Google should stay out of health care. The piece, by Matthew Buck of the Open Markets Institute, said the tech companies’ drive to maximize corporate revenues could skew the development of health technology away from the best interests of patients and toward overtreatment.

  • Do you own an Amazon Ring doorbell cam? A sobering look at the monitoring system in Vice called Ring “America’s Scariest Surveillance Company.” Meanwhile, a piece in Slate urged Ring owners to post a disclosure notice for passers-by and offers some mock-ups. One said: “Smile! You’re on a Ring Camera!”

  • An essay in The Atlantic riffed on the meaning of drunk texts and their rise as a popular communication style. “Like all texting, drunk texting is a form of nonintimate intimacy,” Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in the piece. “Like all drunk communication, it’s susceptible to poor translation, missed meanings, embarrassment and horniness.”

  • File under the annals of technology: George Laurer, the man who developed the bar code, could not believe how ubiquitous it became, a Times obituary of the inventor reported. Officially called the Universal Product Code, it made its debut in 1974 when a scanner registered 67 cents for a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio.

  • Computer science, the most popular major on many campuses, takes perseverance. This Twitter thread chronicled how one female undergraduate made it through — the A.P. Computer Science “brohort” notwithstanding.

  • A law professor, Frank Pasquale, says the time has come for a second wave of algorithmic accountability. “While the first wave of algorithmic accountability focuses on improving existing systems,” like tackling bias in facial recognition, he wrote in a blog post, “a second wave of research has asked whether they should be used at all — and, if so, who gets to govern them.”

We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please email thoughts and suggestions to bits_newsletter@nytimes.com.

Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here.





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Colleges Clamored for Seesaw. That Was once the Just right Information, and the Unhealthy Information.

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And it’s been a yr. In February, Mr. Sjogreen was once mapping out long-term initiatives from Seesaw’s downtown San Francisco workplace. Come March, he was once running from his Noe Valley area, juggling home-school tasks for his 9- and 12-year-old youngsters, identical to most of the staff, and Seesaw was once in “rapid-response mode,” as he put it.

Lecturers like Sharmeen Moosa, a first-grade trainer at a global college in Bahrain, determined Seesaw could be their remote-learning platform.

“Previous to Covid, I used it as only a virtual portfolio for children,” an internet choice of their drawings and recordings, Ms. Moosa mentioned, but if her college closed in February, her use “remodeled vastly.” She used the app for morning messages and day by day courses, including audio or video clips, posting further assets, and developing scholar assignments along side speaking with households.

Many different academics used the app in an identical techniques, exposing shortfalls that the corporate needed to race to mend.

The app, designed to paintings with iPads and Chromebooks, had hardly ever been used with Android pills. However now oldsters have been going online with Amazon Fireplace or Samsung units operating Android. A large number of scholars didn’t have e-mail addresses and wanted a unique option to log in from domestic. Lecturers, who may just not glance over scholars’ shoulders whilst they labored on an project, sought after to touch upon stored drafts sooner than scholars submitted a last model. Notification delays grew from a few seconds to hours. The corporate’s servers every so often slowed to a move slowly.

The ones problems supposed academics, households and colleges all fired questions at Seesaw for lend a hand. Mr. Sjogreen, who prided himself on getting again to shoppers nearly in an instant, discovered that simply wasn’t conceivable.

“I’m unhappy that throughout a time the place they have been so wired, we weren’t as responsive as we wish to be,” he mentioned.



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With Holiday Leases Empty, Ecu Towns See a Likelihood to Reclaim Housing

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LISBON — Lengthy prior to the coronavirus swept throughout Europe this spring, many towns have been complaining {that a} proliferation of temporary condo leases geared toward vacationers thru platforms like Airbnb used to be using up housing prices for locals and destroying the nature of ancient districts.

Now that the pandemic has all however bring to a halt the stable drift of tourists, many Ecu towns are seizing a possibility to push temporary leases again onto the long-term housing marketplace.

In Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, town govt is turning into a landlord itself through renting empty residences and subletting them as sponsored housing. In Barcelona, Spain, the housing division is threatening to take ownership of empty homes and do the similar.

Different town governments are enacting or making plans new regulations to curb the explosive expansion of leases aimed in large part at vacationers. Amsterdam has banned holiday leases within the middle of the previous town; a Berlin reliable warned of a crackdown on temporary leasing platforms “seeking to evade law and the enforcement of legislation”; and Paris is making plans a referendum on Airbnb-type listings.

For years, homes rented out for temporary remains have put power at the housing markets in different Ecu towns. Lisbon has greater than 22,000 Airbnb listings, in line with Within Airbnb, which tracks listings in towns all over the world. Barcelona has 18,000, and Paris — some of the platform’s biggest markets — has just about 60,000.

When vacationers are abundant, renting a belongings on a temporary foundation can also be extra profitable for house owners than a long-term tenant, one thing that town governments say has distorted housing markets in towns the place provide is already tight. In addition they accuse on-line platforms of circumventing regulations installed position to give protection to native markets.

“We can’t tolerate that lodging which may be rented to Parisians at the moment are rented all 12 months to vacationers,” the deputy mayor of Paris, Ian Brossat, mentioned in a telephone interview. Mr. Brossat additionally mentioned he used to be hoping to chop the choice of days in line with 12 months {that a} belongings can also be rented thru platforms like Airbnb — recently 120. He accused the corporate of breaching even that rule.

“Airbnb pretends to recognize the legislation, nevertheless it’s now not the case,” mentioned Mr. Brossat, who has written a guide important of Airbnb and its have an effect on on towns.

Airbnb denies any wrongdoing, in Paris or in different places. “They’ve set the principles, and we’re following the principles,” mentioned Patrick Robinson, Airbnb’s director of public coverage for Europe, the Center East and Africa. “The place there’s a lively dialogue about the correct laws, we’re a part of that dialog, and in the long run that’s for native politicians to come to a decision.”

He mentioned that Airbnb equipped registration main points and different information to the government in main tourism hubs like Lisbon, Paris and Barcelona to assist town officers put into effect their regulations. “We if truth be told assume that higher get admission to to information is the answer right here.” In September, the corporate offered Town Portal, which it says will permit governments get admission to to information that may assist establish listings that don’t agree to native laws, akin to unregistered listings.

Probably the most formidable initiative is arguably the only in Lisbon, which has began signing five-year rentals for empty temporary condominium residences. Those homes are then sublet at decrease costs to other folks eligible for sponsored housing. The town govt has put aside Four million euros, or about $4.7 million, for the primary 12 months of subsidies.

“We entered the pandemic with an enormous power on our housing marketplace, and we can’t manage to pay for to go out the pandemic with the similar set of issues,” mentioned town’s mayor, Fernando Medina. “This program isn’t a magic wand, however it may be a part of the answer when it comes to elevating the provision of reasonably priced housing.”

This system is aiming to draw 1,000 condo house owners this 12 months, and has drawn 200 thus far. Mr. Medina mentioned he used to be assured that the plan would meets its function, since a rebound in tourism anytime quickly turns out increasingly more not going because the pandemic drags on.

The plan has been welcomed through some group associations that had criticized native politicians for permitting town to transform a playground for vacationers and rich traders, a lot of them interested in Portugal through residency lets in and tax breaks presented to foreigners after the 2007-Eight monetary disaster.

“The coronavirus has helped divulge the unfavourable sides of Portugal’s restoration from the monetary disaster, which used to be pushed through actual property and tourism quite than a focal point at the fundamental wishes of native other folks,” mentioned Luís Mendes, an city geographer who’s a member of a electorate’ platform known as Residing in Lisbon.

Above all, Mr. Mendes mentioned, the lockdown restrictions used to comprise the coronavirus put the highlight at the housing imbalances in Lisbon. “How are you able to quarantine for those who don’t have a good space?” he mentioned. “We’ve a town corridor that has put ahead a fascinating scheme and is no less than conscious that having a roof is a elementary human proper.”

Then again, some house owners don’t believe town govt a competent tenant. Portugal, they are saying, has a historical past of prison uncertainty and unexpected rule adjustments every time a brand new management takes workplace.

“When you take a look at the monitor document of the politicians in Lisbon, it’s a fully hopeless one, of incompetence and frequently corruption,” mentioned Rita Alves Machado, who owns 3 empty temporary residences round Lisbon. “The town owes cash far and wide, and I simply don’t consider they’re going to pay on time or stick with their very own regulations.”

The law of temporary leases has been a drawnout affair in Europe.

In September, the Court docket of Justice of the Ecu Union subsidized towns making an attempt to crack down on temporary leases, after supporting a French court docket ruling in opposition to two belongings house owners illegally renting out 2d properties on Airbnb. The court docket had issued a ruling in Airbnb’s prefer remaining 12 months, announcing that it used to be an on-line platform quite than an actual property corporate, which might have required it to agree to housing regulations. The Ecu Fee is taking additional steps to keep watch over the platform and others thru a brand new Virtual Services and products Act, which objectives to modernize the prison framework for such services and products around the Ecu Union.

The longer the pandemic hinders shuttle, the much more likely tasks like Lisbon’s are to realize traction, town officers and native belongings professionals say. Within the period in-between, Airbnb has discovered itself on moving flooring.

In Lisbon, occupancy charges for Airbnb and Vrbo, a short-rental reserving web site that used to be as soon as referred to as HomeAway, dropped 50 p.c in Would possibly from a 12 months previous, in line with AirDNA, which collects holiday condominium information.

Miguel Tilli, the co-founder of HomeLovers, a Portuguese actual property company, mentioned he have been record as many as 60 new homes a month in Lisbon — virtually all of which had prior to now been rented thru Airbnb however have been now open to long-term tenants.

Apartment costs within the town have dropped 10 p.c because the get started of the pandemic, however landlords who had prior to now let homes thru Airbnb have been nonetheless immune to decreasing rents.

“Many landlords are performing as though Covid is any person’s else downside,” Mr. Tilli mentioned. “That can’t remaining without end.”

Raphael Minder reported from Lisbon, and Geneva Abdul from Paris.



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Apple, Google and a Deal That Controls the Web

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A former Google government, who requested to not be known as a result of he was once no longer authorized to speak about the deal, stated the possibility of shedding Apple’s site visitors was once “terrifying” to the corporate.

The Justice Division, which is calling for a court docket injunction combating Google from getting into into offers like the only it made with Apple, argues that the association has unfairly helped make Google, which handles 92 p.c of the arena’s web searches, the middle of customers’ on-line lives.

On-line companies like Yelp and Expedia, in addition to firms starting from noodle stores to information organizations, frequently whinge that Google’s seek domination permits it to fee promoting charges when other people merely glance up their names, in addition to to persuade customers towards its personal merchandise, like Google Maps. Microsoft, which had its personal antitrust combat 20 years in the past, has instructed British regulators that if it had been the default possibility on iPhones and iPads, it will make extra promoting cash for each seek on its rival seek engine, Bing.

What’s extra, competition like DuckDuckGo, a small seek engine that sells itself as a privacy-focused choice to Google, may by no means fit Google’s tab with Apple.

Apple now receives an estimated $eight billion to $12 billion in annual bills — up from $1 billion a yr in 2014 — in trade for construction Google’s seek engine into its merchandise. It’s most definitely the one largest fee that Google makes to any person and accounts for 14 to 21 p.c of Apple’s annual earnings. That’s no longer cash Apple can be keen to stroll clear of.

If truth be told, Mr. Cook dinner and Mr. Pichai met once more in 2018 to speak about how they might building up earnings from seek. After the assembly, a senior Apple worker wrote to a Google counterpart that “our imaginative and prescient is that we paintings as though we’re one corporate,” in step with the Justice Division’s grievance.

A compelled breakup may imply the lack of simple cash to Apple. However it will be a extra important danger to Google, which might haven’t any obtrusive technique to change the misplaced site visitors. It would additionally push Apple to obtain or construct its personal seek engine. Inside Google, other people consider that Apple is among the few firms on the planet that might be offering an impressive choice, in step with one former government. Google has additionally frightened that with out the settlement, Apple may make it harder for iPhone customers to get to the Google seek engine.



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