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September 29, 2022

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Today's Login is 1,273 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: California abortion-info law escalates war between states

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

California's unprecedented new law to bolster protections for abortion-related personal information held by tech companies marks a new phase in the deepening legal fight between red and blue states over digital regulations, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Why it matters: With Congress deadlocked over national laws to govern online privacy and free speech, states are stepping into conflicts over abortion rights and censorship and setting their own, sometimes contradictory rules.

Driving the news: California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Tuesday an abortion rights bill with a provision that protects reproductive digital information housed by companies headquartered or incorporated in the state.

  • The law allows those firms to resist efforts by other states to serve them with warrants in the course of enforcing anti-abortion laws.

The big picture: California's move follows conflicts in Texas and Florida over laws intended to prevent tech platforms from discrimination against "points of view."

Between the lines: As the partisan divide between Democratic-led and Republican-dominated states grows, states are increasingly passing laws governing the digital realm that put them at direct odds with one another.

What they're saying: The new California law, A.B. 1242, "gives [tech companies] a way to protect the privacy of their customers .... We have given a tool to our tech companies to be our partner in protecting health privacy," California Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan told Axios.

  • "It's a really strong step forward if the goal is to make California sort of this sanctuary state for abortion information," Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Axios.
  • "We're seeing legislative strategies in states that are outlawing abortion, so we're trying to respond in kind, where abortion is legal."

What's next: Bauer-Kahan said she and California Attorney General Rob Bonta are working with the White House to tell other states about the bill and urge them to pass similar laws: "The more states that would like to do this, the better."

Yes, but: "For the tech companies, it's a tight spot to be in," Aaron Cooper, a partner at D.C. law firm Jenner & Block and former Senate counsel, told Axios.

  • Following California's law and other states' anti-abortion laws will "be irreconcilable obligations — there is no way to satisfy both," he said.

How it works: AB1242 blocks out-of-state law enforcement officers from using California law to execute search warrants on California corporations to investigate abortions that are legal in the state.

  • If another state wants Google to provide search history from an IP address, it could not serve a warrant to Google in California without specifically attesting the evidence sought is not related to abortion services.
  • "California law enforcement and courts will not be used to help other states prosecute individuals for conduct that's perfectly legal in California," California Attorney General Rob Bonta told Axios.

The intrigue: Bonta said his office and the law's sponsors worked with tech companies for input and feedback, declining to name specific companies.

The bottom line: "This is how democracy works .... States are laboratories of innovation that provide approaches no one thought of that are new, different, cutting-edge," Bonta told Axios. "We're putting on the table what we believe is a significant contribution to protecting women who are under attack."

2. Exclusive: Lawmakers ask FTC to bar Amazon deal

Illustration of a giant Amazon logo surrounded by orange cones.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is asking the Federal Trade Commission to reject Amazon's proposed acquisition of iRobot, Ashley reports.

Driving the news: The FTC is conducting an extensive review of Amazon's bid for the robot-vacuum maker, per a securities filing, along with the same type of review of Amazon's planned acquisition of OneMedical.

Why it matters: FTC chair Lina Khan, who became famous for her antitrust writings on Amazon, must decide whether to challenge the e-commerce giant's purchases of smaller companies at a moment when the agency is already engaged in other high-profile suits against Amazon and Meta.

What they're saying: "I have serious concerns about the Amazon-iRobot deal — dominant companies like Amazon shouldn’t be allowed to just buy their way out of competing," Warren told Axios in a statement. "The FTC should oppose this proposed merger to protect competition, lower consumer prices, and rein in Amazon's well-documented anticompetitive activities."

  • "Rather than compete in a fair marketplace on its own merits, Amazon is following a familiar anticompetitive playbook: leveraging its massive market share and access to capital to buy or suppress popular products," wrote Warren, along with six House Democrats.

Read the whole letter here.

3. Exclusive: Fired Nintendo worker speaks out

Illustration of Mario's hat with a fist instead of an "M".

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Mackenzie Clifton, the Nintendo worker who filed a labor complaint earlier this year against the gaming giant, is stepping forward by name for the first time in an interview with Axios' Stephen Totilo.

Why it matters: The veteran game tester alleges Nintendo and contracting firm Aston Carter had them fired in February because they asked Nintendo management a question about unions.

  • The complaint alleged that the employers had interfered with Clifton's federally protected rights to discuss unionization without fear of retaliation.

What they're saying: "I hope that sharing this story can get more and more people thinking about how the games industry works and how these companies, that everyone's come to know and love as providers of fun entertainment, are so much more than that," Clifton tells Axios.

Details: Clifton traces their firing to an online company meeting for hundreds of Nintendo testers in January.

  • During a Q&A portion with Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser, Clifton asked, "What does NoA think about the unionization trend in QA in the games industry as of late?" they told Axios.
  • Less than a month later, Clifton was fired.

Nintendo has denied that unions had anything to do with Clifton's dismissal, instead saying the tester was let go for publicly disclosing "confidential information."

  • Clifton tells Axios that they had pressed supervisors for proof of a violation and were shown a tweet they posted on Feb. 16, which stated: "in today's build someone somewhere must have deleted every other texture in the game [because] everything is now red. Just like, pure red. it's very silly."
  • Clifton says that is misdirection, noting the tweet is vague and does not clearly identify what Clifton was working on.
  • Nintendo and Aston Carter did not reply to requests for comment about Clifton's account. The NLRB declined to comment on the status of the complaint.

The big picture: Current and former contractors for Nintendo of America have said that Nintendo treats them like "second-class citizens."

  • After Clifton's NLRB complaint made headlines, dozens spoke out on social media and in the press, saying Nintendo consigns hundreds of crucial workers in its game-testing, customer service and even game-writing teams to precarious and stressful temporary deals. Even some top performers say conversions to full-time status are rare.

Read the rest.

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Kudos to the Santa Clara University's cross country team for pulling off this amazing team photo.

Thanks to Scott Rosenberg and Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.