Feb 11, 2021

Axios Login

I got in a fight with Siri last night. She couldn’t recognize a song that was playing in "Ted Lasso." I told her she was useless and she replied, "That's not nice."

Anyway, I'm sorry, Siri. I apologize for my tone. Now is the part where you apologize for not knowing the song, Siri.

Today's Login is 1,366 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: States leapfrog feds in regulating tech

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

States across the U.S., unwilling to wait for the slower gears of the federal government to turn, are moving aggressively to regulate the tech industry, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Why it matters: States famously serve as "laboratories of democracy," testing out innovative laws that other states or the federal government can adopt. But their experiments can sometimes be half-baked or have unintended consequences, and their regulations can run afoul of the courts.

Driving the news: Maryland's House of Delegates is expected Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a tax of up 10% on digital advertising. The state Senate is expected to do the same Friday. Democrats control both statehouses, while Hogan is a Republican.

  • The measure, which would be first of its kind in the country and resembles similar taxes passed in the EU, would tax revenue that large tech companies generate from showing online ads to Maryland residents. Money raised from the tax would help bridge budget gaps, largely going to public schools.
  • The tech industry and business community widely oppose the tax, which they contend would be impossible to implement and would violate the Constitution by impeding interstate commerce.

Meanwhile: A new bill out of North Dakota would force Apple to let developers go around the App Store to deliver iPhone apps directly to consumers. It would also block Apple from making developers use its payment system for in-app purchases and subscriptions.

  • Apple says its tight control over the App Store is vital to guaranteeing quality control and protecting users' security and privacy.
  • The measure would also apply to Google, although there are already ways to get apps onto Android devices without going through the Google Play store.

The big picture: The Maryland and North Dakota measures are only the latest in a growing list of state proposals at various stages of development that could have enormous financial and operational impacts on the tech industry.

  • States have a range of motivations: to raise revenue from a wealthy target, to protect citizens in areas where federal legislation has stalled out, or simply to whack Big Tech.
  • The states are acting at a moment when, despite lots of talk in Washington about changing the ground rules for tech, federal lawmakers are preoccupied with impeachment and COVID-19 relief.

What's happening: In Virginia, a digital privacy bill that's supported by some tech trade groups and companies like IBM is set to pass and be signed into law. It would make Virginia the second state to pass a major data privacy bill, after California's 2018 law.

  • In North Dakota, GOP lawmakers just introduced a privacy law that would fine any company that sells someone's data without that person's express consent.
  • Republicans in Nebraska and Florida have floated bills that would fine social media companies for kicking people off their platforms. Critics say such proposals would violate social networks' First Amendment rights.
  • In dozens of other states, lawmakers are considering bills around topics including cybersecurity, digital advertising, privacy, facial recognition, broadband expansion, contact tracing and artificial intelligence.

Our thought bubble: Growing partisan polarization at the state level guarantees the introduction and potential passage of more party-line tech bills that wouldn't stand a chance of moving forward in the more narrowly divided federal government.

  • It's likely, for instance, that we'll see more proposals out of red states aimed at punishing tech for perceived censorship of conservatives, while blue states may follow Maryland's lead on digital taxes, among other tech priorities.

Issues with greater bipartisan overlap, such as privacy, may see broader buy-in.

  • Already, Washington state, Utah, Oklahoma and New York are considering data privacy bills of their own. The industry wants a single federal law to comply with instead, but that goal remains elusive.

What's next: Companies and trade groups will bring lawsuits against any new state law they dislike if it offers any opportunity for constitutional challenge.

2. Ex-Windows boss leads new health data startup

Terry Myerson. Photo: Truveta

Terry Myerson, who ran the Windows unit for part of his 20-year career at Microsoft, is on a new mission to make data more central in medical treatments, with Truveta, the startup he runs that’s backed by 14 health systems.

Why it matters: Too many important decisions are still made based on doctors' personal experiences.

The big picture: The company aims to aggregate an anonymized data set from its 14 backers, as well as potentially other health systems that want to join in the effort.

  • "We need data to really understand health and there is no data set like this anywhere in the world," Myerson told Axios.

Context: Myerson, who left Microsoft in 2018 and has been an adviser at Seattle's Madrona Venture Group, said the pandemic persuaded him to get involved in a health science startup.

  • "It went from a really important, interesting project to an imperative," Myerson said of the effort.

What's next: Truveta is currently working with test data, but Myerson said the goal is to build out a fuller data set this year.

3. Actors union votes to represent influencers

SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors, plans to start representing online influencers as well.

Why it matters: A growing number of online content creators make their living promoting various products on social media. The union says the move will allow people to more easily make a career out of being an influencer and gain access to health care and other benefits.

  • "As new ways of storytelling emerge, it's imperative that we embrace and lift up these artists,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a press release.
  • In order to become a SAG-AFTRA member, the influencer "must be incorporated as a business" and also has to pay an initiation fee of $3,000 as well as annual dues and 1.575% of their earnings up to $500,000.

The big picture: While mega-influencers on platforms from Instagram to TikTok have become multi-millionaires, there's a major income gap between the top earners and most content creators. It's particularly pronounced for Black creators.

  • Being able to join a union could mean more power for the talent that much of the social media economy relies upon.
  • The move also comes amid a broader labor organizing push touching various corners of the tech industry.

Disclosure: I'm a member of SAG-AFTRA dating back to my years as a kid actor.

4. Future of "smart" cities is in streetlights

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cities are rushing to replace their legacy streetlights with "smart" LED fixtures that could one day find you a parking space, monitor air quality, and announce an oncoming thunderstorm, as Axios Cities' Jennifer Kingson reports.

Why it matters: Despite a bumpy and controversial start to some smart streetlight programs, cities are saving tons of money on energy by banishing halogen bulbs — and may soon be able to turn a profit by monetizing data from smart LED sensors or leasing space on light poles.

The big picture: Cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Cleveland have been replacing traditional streetlights with LEDs, which consume less energy and can be programmed to dim or or brighten as needed. Connected lights will eventually serve a whole raft of other functions, notes an Intel white paper.

  • "Streetlights are becoming the backbone of larger smart city initiatives," says a report by the Northeast Group, a smart cities market intelligence firm.

By the numbers: Cities will invest $8.2 billion in the streetlights, whose sensors can do things from analyzing traffic patterns to assisting 911 operators, in the next 10 years, says Northeast Group.

  • It will take time: "Overall, over 90% of streetlights will be LED by 2029 and 35% will be connected."

What's next: Cities hope to make smart streetlights into cash cows, turning light poles into billboards, places to hang 5G equipment and, eventually, sponges for data that cities can sell for profit.

Yes, but: Critics say smart streetlights raise serious concerns about the expansion of the surveillance state — and that, once loaded up with sensors, cameras and ads, they simply look hideous.

5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Axios' Margaret Harding McGill scooped yesterday that the Coalition for App Fairness has a new leader, with public affairs specialist Meghan Dimuzio taking the helm of the anti-Apple group.


6. After you Login

Michael Dell is really seizing the meowment. But, the real props go to this law school class. Honorable meowntian to this one.