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AP

U.S. companies are largely unprepared for what's about to hit them when sweeping new EU data laws take effect next year. The regulation — the General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) — is intended to give users more control of how their personal data is used and streamline data processes across the EU. Companies that fail to comply with the complex law will face steep fines of up to 4% of their global annual revenue.

Why it matters: Europe has by far taken the most aggressive regulatory stance on protecting consumer privacy and will in many ways be a litmus test for regulating the currency of the data economy. It impacts a huge number of businesses from advertisers to e-commerce platforms whose data flows through EU countries. That means everyone from Google to your neighbor who sells shoes on eBay could be affected.

Compliance challenge: Firms in all sectors are dealing with more data than ever before, so managing it requires more resources. Experts tell Axios that complying with the law is a daunting and expensive task for many companies. Niche legal firms are cropping up to help companies deal with it.

"People aren't fully ready for managing this," said Hilary Wadell, general counsel and chief of data governance at TrustArc. "A lot of organizations are still trying to wrap their arms around appropriate data governance and to understand the types of data they have and how it is used." According a recent TrustArc survey, 61% of organizations haven't even begun implementation.

Tech watch: Companies in all sectors will have to comply, but tech companies in particular will have steep climbs. "Were going to see innovative things from Google and Facebook in terms of how they deal with it," says David Downing, EVP at ASG technologies. On its Q2 earnings call, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told investors that when they look at regulatory issues, including GDPR, they make sure those regulators understand how Facebook contributes to economic growth in their countries.

The EU perspective: Wojciech Wiewlorowski, Assistant Supervisor for the European Data Protection Supervisor in Brussels, stressed that the regulation won't slow down innovation or the flow of data. Rather, it's a necessary step to deal with the explosion of the data economy in a "civilized" way — similar to how society had to impose rules on automobile traffic.

"The road code [was] created in order to facilitate the way that we transport things and transport people," he said on a call discussing the GDPR implementation. "But, of course, in some ways it limits the way that we try to invent solutions. This is the kind of price we pay for a civilized way for the flow of personal data in the world."

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The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official tells Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

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Robert Downey Jr. launches VC funds to help save the planet

Robert Downey Jr. on Wednesday announced the launch of two venture capital funds focused on startups in the sustainability sector, the latest evolution of a project he launched two years ago called Footprint Collective.

Between the lines: This is a bit of life imitating art, as Downey Jr. spent 11 films portraying a character who sought to save the planet (or, in some cases, the universe).

DHS warns of "heightened threat" because of domestic extremism

Supporters of former President Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued an advisory warning of a "heightened threat environment" in the U.S. because of "ideologically-motivated violent extremists."

Why it matters: DHS believes the threat of violence will persist for "weeks" following President Biden's inauguration. The extremists include those who opposed the presidential transition, people spurred by "grievances fueled by false narratives" and "anger over COVID-19 restrictions ... and police use of force[.]"

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