Jun 11, 2021

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Today's newsletter is 1,278 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Amazon fights to kill transparency bills

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon and peers eBay and Etsy are waging a lobbying war to scuttle bills pushed by brick-and-mortar retailers who want to require their online rivals to disclose more information about third-party sellers, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Online shopping became a lifeline for consumers and businesses during the pandemic, and lawmakers say that makes fighting online fraud and theft even more important.

What's happening: Bills in Congress and at the state level, known as INFORM acts, aim to force Amazon and other e-commerce sites to verify the identity of their third-party sellers and disclose some contact information about the sellers to consumers.

  • Supporters of the legislation — including Home Depot, Walgreens and other major retailers that have formed the Buy Safe America Coalition — say the new measures are necessary to help deter online sales of stolen and counterfeit goods.
  • But Amazon, Etsy, eBay and other online marketplaces have argued the proposals could hurt sellers' privacy and are being pushed by big box stores to give them an advantage over their online competitors.

What they're doing: Online marketplace leaders have launched their own coalitions to fend off the legislation.

  • The Amazon-backed Internet Association is funding the Makers and Merchants Coalition, which argues the laws would hurt small sellers trying to supplement their income during the pandemic.
  • "When you look at the unintended consequences of sellers trying to choose between their privacy and their safety and their livelihood, the result is you’re going to have fewer sellers online — and that really just benefits the Walmarts and Home Depots and the Lowes," Alexis Marvel, a spokesperson for the group, told Axios.

Meanwhile, Etsy, eBay, Poshmark and other platforms formed their own coalition to highlight the special privacy concerns of their sellers. For example, Etsy says 97% of its sellers operate out of their homes.

The online marketplaces notched a win when senators failed to hitch the legislation to a China-focused competition bill that passed the Senate this week.

  • "The INFORM Act favors large brick-and-mortar retailers, at the expense of small businesses that sell online, while doing nothing to prevent fraud and abuse or hold bad actors accountable," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

At least 17 states have considered similar legislation, and online marketplace groups point out that the only state that has passed a bill has been Arkansas, home of Walmart.

The other side: Retailers and other members of the Buy Safe America Coalition are trying to spotlight and counter the problem of stolen and counterfeit goods during the pandemic, Michael Hanson, spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition, said.

  • California law enforcement busted an alleged retail theft operation in San Francisco last year and recovered $8 million in stolen merchandise from stores like CVS and Target.

What to watch: With the China competition bill heading to the House, lawmakers have another opportunity to attach the language to the legislation.

2. Amazon rethinks its full-time return to office
Data: Companies, Axios research; Note: Refers to overall policies, exceptions apply; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Amazon on Thursday said it was adjusting its policy on remote work, after earlier indicating it planned to return to an office-first culture as the pandemic eases. Under the new guidance, Amazon says most office workers will need to come in just three days per week, with further leniency possible.

The big picture: Some tech companies, including Twitter and Square, are offering workers the ability to remain fully remote, while even office-centric companies like Apple and Amazon, are recognizing the need for flexibility.

Driving the news: In an internal memo Thursday, Amazon said that its "new baseline will be three days a week in the office" and that workers that live near an office but want to come in less often can apply for an exception to the new policy.

  • "Like all companies and organizations around the world, we're managing every stage of this pandemic for the first time, learning and evolving as we go," Amazon said in Thursday's memo.

Yes, but: Not all workers will see this increased flexibility. For Amazon, for example, this applies to corporate jobs, but not for those at distribution centers.

Between the lines: Amazon's shift reflects the fact that giving workers flexibility has become table stakes in tech, where competition for talent is always fierce.

3. Ransomware epidemic intensifies

FBI director Christopher Wray testifies during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on June 10. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Profit-driven cyberattacks are becoming frighteningly routine, with more and more industries facing the threat of having their vital information stolen and little recourse beyond paying a ransom.

Why it matters: Such attacks may be motivated by profit, but as recent events have shown, can cause significant disruption to vital industries.

Driving the news:

  • JBS and Colonial Pipeline have both confirmed they paid ransoms after recent high-profile attacks, while cities and hospitals have also forked over payments to regain control of their data.
  • Electronic Arts suffered a data breach that included source code for some of its games.

What they're saying:

  • "We think the cyber threat is increasing almost exponentially," FBI director Christopher Wray said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The big picture: Two factors are responsible for accelerating the ransomware problem. First, the rise of cryptocurrency makes it easy for data hijackers to collect their ransom. Second, many companies simply can't afford to risk losing their data.

Yes, but: Experts say the key to slowing the trend is turning the tables on attackers through collective action.

  • "The key to disrupting ransomware is disrupting the ransomware supply chain," Gurvais Grigg, an FBI veteran who is now public sector CTO at crypto firm Chainalysis, said on the Axios Re:Cap podcast.
  • The Justice Department said last week it plans to start addressing cyberattacks in much the way it approaches the fight against terrorism.

Go deeper: Ransomware business achieves critical mass

4. Murdoch pushes GOP to back tech antitrust bills

Lobbyists for Rupert Murdoch's media companies are appealing to House Republicans to support antitrust bills meant to restrain Big Tech companies, sources tell Axios' Ashley Gold and Margaret Harding McGill.

The big picture: Murdoch's media businesses have aggressively positioned themselves in opposition to the power of tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Between the lines: The antitrust bills, at least five of which are expected to be formally introduced as soon as today, have been spearheaded by Democratic leadership on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee.

Yes, but: Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who is ranking member of the Judiciary committee, may be a holdout.

Context: Historically, conservatives have been hostile to strong antitrust enforcement. But in the Trump era, many Republicans, angered over what they saw as censorship by social media platforms, warmed to the idea of going after the tech giants.

Flashback: This is not the first time News Corp. has thrown its weight behind regulations aimed at tech companies. In Australia, Google and Facebook were forced to strike a deal with News Corp. to pay for content after aggressive lobbying from the newspaper giant.

5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • GameStop named a new CEO and CFO, both from Amazon. Matt Furlong will be chief executive, with Mike Recupero overseeing finance.
  • Apple hired former BMW executive Ulrich Kranz to join its autonomous car unit, sources told Bloomberg.

ICYMI

  • Chinese ride-hail giant Didi filed for an IPO on Thursday and plans to list its shares on the NYSE. As part of its filing, Didi reported it had a $1.7 billion loss last year on revenue of $21.6 billion. (Axios)
  • An organization of music publishers is suing Roblox for $200 million copyright infringement. (Engadget)
  • Netflix has introduced an online merchandise store. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Speaking of returning to the office, you know what there has been a lack of over the last year and a half? Good office pranks. Here's a reminder of the kind of antics cubicle dwellers can pull off.