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Hillicon Valley: Experts unveil plan to combat ransomware attacks | Labor secretary weighs in on gig workers | Joe Rogan clarifies vaccine comments

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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter by clicking HERE. 

Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Experts unveiled a plan Thursday to combat ransomware attacks, amid a spike this year targeting hospitals and schools. Labor Secretary Marty WalshMarty WalshHillicon Valley: Experts unveil plan to combat ransomware attacks | Labor secretary weighs in on gig workers | Joe Rogan clarifies vaccine comments On The Money: US economy roars in first three months of 2021 | Jobless claims drop again | White House: No tax hikes for couples making less than 9K Labor secretary backs employee status for some gig workers MORE weighed in on the debate over the classification of gig workers, and popular Spotify podcast host Joe Rogan clarified his controversial comments that young, healthy people don’t need a COVID-19 vaccine.

 

WE’VE GOT A PLAN: A coalition of experts on Thursday unveiled a road map for the federal government and industry to potentially use in combating ransomware attacks, which have spiked over the past year as hackers targeted organizations including hospitals and schools. 

The report, created by the Institute for Security and Technology’s Ransomware Task Force, describes ransomware attacks as an “urgent national security risk,” and lays out 48 steps to take to immediately work across the public and private sector to confront the threat.

“Tackling ransomware will not be easy; there is no silver bullet for solving this challenge,” task force members wrote. “This global challenge demands an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, with support from the highest levels of government.”

The report serves as one of the first major efforts to present the federal government and industry leaders with a plan to combat ransomware attacks, which have increased massively during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to data cited in the report, nearly 2,400 U.S. organizations were victimized by ransomware in 2020, including nearly 1,700 U.S. schools, colleges and universities, and 560 health care facilities, delaying and endangering patient treatment.

Additionally, ransomware victims paid close to $350 million worth of cryptocurrency in 2020 to unlock their systems, an increase of more than 300 percent from 2019.

Read more about the report here.

 

WALSH WEIGHS IN ON GIG: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh weighed in on the debate over classification of gig workers for the first time Thursday, saying that “in a lot of cases” they should be full employees rather than independent contractors.

“We are looking at it but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said in an interview with Reuters.

Walsh said that “in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.”

“These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not [going to] begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America… but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” he continued.

Read more.

 

ROGAN CLARIFIES COMMENTS: Popular Spotify podcast host Joe Rogan on Thursday sought to clarify his recent controversial comments that young, healthy people don’t need a COVID-19 vaccine.

During a conversation on his most recent episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the comedian made it clear that he wasn’t anti-vaccine, and people should not necessarily be looking to him for medical advice.

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a f—ing moron, and I’m a cage fighting commentator …. I’m not a respected source of information, even for me. But I at least try to be honest about what I’m saying,” Rogan said.

Rogan’s initial comments drew backlash from multiple critics as harmful and irresponsible, including from many infectious disease experts and even Biden administration officials.

Read more here. 

 

FACEBOOK TO FUND LOCAL COVERAGE: Facebook said Thursday it is committing $5 million towards paying local journalists for coverage in their communities as part of the tech giant’s new newsletter platform. 

Independent journalists chosen from the pool of applicants will enter into a deal with Facebook that includes a multiyear licensing fee to give the writers “time to build a relationship” with their audience, Facebook said in the announcement. 

The announcement comes about a month after Facebook announced plans for its newsletter platform, following the rising success of the Substack platform, and after years of friction between local news publishers and the tech giant came to a head earlier as Australia put forward a plan to require Facebook and Google to pay news publishers to share their content. 

Read more about the announcement

 

50 CENTS FOR YOUR TROUBLES?: Amazon announced Wednesday night that it will give over half a million of its workers a raise but maintain its $15 per hour minimum wage.

The e-commerce giant plans to hike pay starting in mid-May by between 50 cents to $3 an hour as part of an effort to hire more people into its customer fulfillment, delivery, package sorting and specialty fulfillment teams.

The raises will cost over $1 billion in incremental pay, Amazon executive Darcie Henry said in a blog post.

“This is on top of our already industry-leading starting wage of at least $15 an hour and the more than $2.5 billion that we invested last year in additional bonuses and incentives for front-line teams,” Henry wrote.

Read more.

 

MISS THEM YET?: Twitter permanently banned former President TrumpDonald TrumpPandemic inspector general blasts DOJ memo, urges Congress to clarify mandate Court watchers buzz about Breyer’s possible retirement Venezuela grants house arrest for six jailed US oil execs MORE earlier this year, and pulled his thousands of tweets down with his account. But a group of teens are now selling nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs, of the tweets for charity as a way for critics of Trump to get the last laugh. 

“A lot of them are actually really funny. And not funny in that we’re laughing with them, it’s more like we’re laughing at him,” said Jackie Ni, the 18-year-old behind the company Strategic Meme Group, which is selling the NFTs. 

“And his tweets have also been historically known to be hateful and inciting violence. So we tried to do something good with his tweets,” Ni added. 

The NFTs are being sold on Strategic Meme Group’s “Drumpfs” website. The tweets are divided into different categories, including “infamous,” “deleted,” and “flagged” posts. 

Read more about the “Drumpfs.” 

 

TWITTER WARNS OF SLOWING GROWTH: Twitter reported $1 billion in revenue for the first quarter of the year on Thursday, but the social media platform warned of user growth slowing the rest of the year after a “pandemic-related” surge. 

Twitter’s quarterly earnings marked a 28 percent increase from the same period the previous year, the company said in its letter to shareholders

The platform also reported a 20 percent increase in monetizable daily active usage.

“Looking ahead, the significant pandemic-related surge we saw last year creates challenging comps, and may lead to [monetizable daily active usage] growth rates in the low double digits on a year-over-year basis,” Twitter said in its earnings report. 

Read more about the earnings report

 

A $500K ‘DISASTER’: The original copy of a photo that went viral in 2005 and became known as the “Disaster Girl” meme has been sold as a nonfungible token (NFT) for nearly $500,000.

Zoë Roth, the woman who as a child was captured in the photo smiling as a house burned in the background, sold the image at an online auction earlier this month.

Roth, who is now 21, sold the image to a user identified as @3FMusic for 180 Ether, a form of cryptocurrency. It was worth more than $430,000 at the time it was sold, MarketWatch reported, and as of Thursday it was worth the equivalent of more than $490,700.

Read more here

 

ICYMI: NYPD NIXES ROBOT DOG: The New York Police Department (NYPD) will no longer be using the controversial “robot dog” following mounting uproar against the machine’s use, officials confirmed Wednesday.

John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told The New York Times that the leasing contract valued at around $94,000 with the robot dog’s maker, Boston Dynamics, had been ended early on April 22.

The action was taken in response to a subpoena issued by New York City Councilman Ben Kallos (D) and Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) for records relating to the device.

Read more here

 

Lighter click: Hey Google, be nice 

An op-ed to chew on: Massive school data breach shows we need better privacy policies

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Scammers Are Hacking Target’s Gig Workers and Stealing Their Money (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

Myspace Tom got it right (The Verge / Luke Winkie)

Regulators have a new tech target: dark patterns that dominate the web (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky) 



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Rep. McHenry introduces Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act

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U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced legislation that would include the gig workforce in the category of workers who can benefit from equity compensation.

© Shutterstock

The Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act (H.R. 2990) would help gig workers share in the economic resurgence while preserving their flexibility and independence.

“How people choose to work is changing. Our technology-driven economy is embracing this shift, Washington needs to keep up,” McHenry, the Republican leader on the House Financial Services Committee, said. “By giving these non-traditional workers access to equity compensation—just like traditional employees—we can ensure they benefit from the growth of the companies they are making successful. While Democrats attempt to stifle this growing sector of the workforce, my bill ensures they retain the flexibility they need while giving them the opportunity to grow wealth. This is a win for our capital markets, job creators, and gig workers.”

McHenry points out that about a quarter of the U.S. workforce participates in the gig economy or non-traditional work — whether as a rideshare driver, food delivery courier, or sharing their property through a platform like Airbnb. Further, about 10 percent of workers rely on alternative work arrangements for their primary source of income. These workers do not want to be bound by constraints like an office, set hours, or a traditional employer-employee relationship. This bill seeks to provide additional flexibility to support these workers.

In November 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to propose rules to provide equity compensation options for gig workers. McHenry welcomed this initiative and is committed to working with the SEC to implement his broader proposal.

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GigIndia to provide Rs 3 lakh insurance cover to active gig workers

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GigIndia, a B2B gig marketplace for on-demand work completion, will provide free COVID health insurance to its active gig workers covering up to Rs 3 lakh of medical expenses. Considering the adverse financial impact of COVID-19 on its gigger families, the Pune-headquartered firm in a release said that it is offering this insurance to active gig workers to make them feel relatively secure during these challenging times.

Moreover, the company is initiating efforts to ensure certified giggers on its platform continue receiving gigs (projects), thereby enabling a steady monthly income, it added.

“The COVID Health Insurance will ensure that medical costs are covered if any gig worker tests positive for COVID-19. We are also providing financial assistance to gig workers, which will help them with essential expenditure such as hospital charges, oxygen cylinders and ventilators, among others,” said Sahil Sharma, Co-founder & CEO, GigIndia.

Sharma said Rs 3 lakh covid health insurance will be given to thousands of active giggers on the company’s platform. In addition, the company has also set up an internal Rs 10 lakh covid relief fund for gig workers in need.

He further said that unlike full-time white/grey collar workers, giggers and grey collar part-time workers typically do not receive social security benefits and paid leave or access to health insurance.

According to Sharma, GigIndia is providing emergency loans for medical expenses, 100 per cent reimbursement of vaccination cost for all its employees and their family members, along with 14-days’ paid leave if an employee tests positive.

GigIndia said it empowers large enterprises to scale rapidly by providing a flexible workforce along with tech-enabled real-time tracking for work completion, remote customer onboarding, virtual customer support, recruitment on-demand, influencer marketing and field operations among others.

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Biden Administration Mulls Reclassifying Independent Gig Workers as Employees Nationally

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Lyft (NASDAQ:LYFT) and Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER) may end up having to classify their drivers as employees after all.

Months after California voters overturned a controversial state law requiring gig-economy companies to reclassify their independent contractors as employees — which would have cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars in pay and mandated benefits — the Biden administration is now considering imposing similar rules nationwide.

Woman looking down street

Image source: Getty Images.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Biden’s Labor secretary, Marty Walsh, indicated his agency would explore forcing companies across the country to reclassify their workers.

Although Lyft and Uber are the most visible symbols of the cost and disruption such regulations impose, the change would actually stretch over large swaths of the economy, changing the relationships between workers and hundreds of professions, trades, and industries.

Not only would rideshare companies be impacted, but also any business with freelance workers — including food and grocery delivery drivers, publishers and newsrooms, trucking companies, and more — would be affected by the change. 

While framing it as a worker protection issue, Walsh said requiring companies to treat independent contractors as employees is really a means of ensuring company profit “trickles down to the worker.”

It’s estimated 43% of the workforce is employed in the gig economy, meaning a national policy of worker reclassification would dramatically affect the economy as well as undermine the concept of at-will employment.

Walsh’s comments are not policy proposals, but Lyft’s stock tumbled 10% while Uber fell 6% as investors surmised that the Labor secretary would be putting the regulatory framework into motion.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.



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