Although business leaders in the tech industry and prominent privacy advocates usually stay on opposite sides of the aisle, the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census has these players on the same team. Both groups filed (separate) amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in advance of oral argument on the issue, which took place on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Privacy advocates, led by EPIC, argued that the administration had failed to complete a privacy impact assessment. This assessment would have forced the government to disclose how the information would be stored, how it would be secured, and who would be able to access said information. EPIC warns that without this assessment, the government could share the information freely with law enforcement or other interested individuals. Business leaders from some of the largest tech companies filed a brief raising different arguments. The tech leaders argued that they rely on accurate census data to target products (such as Uber’s self-driving scooters) to the correct geographic locations. Without accurate and complete information, these calculations will be impossible, preventing tech companies from developing and benefitting the most promising areas. To read further, find the full story here.
The recent months have seen a flurry of new tech IPO’s including Lyft, Zoom and Pinterest. However, this recent surge of IPO’s does not necessarily foreshadow tech companies going public sooner in their individual lifecycles. Over the past decade, companies have been staying private for as long as possible before making a big splash with an IPO. This used to be an impossible strategy for the majority of companies. IPO’s used to be the only way companies could raise a large amount of money in a short period of time; this could not be further from the truth today. Today there is generally more money available to companies from private investors than from joining a public exchange. In fact, even the aforementioned companies who recently went public raised more money through private fundraising than in their much anticipated IPO’s. Although we have seen an abnormally large number of companies go public in recent months, until private fundraising dries up, or IPO’s become more lucrative, this is likely not the beginning of a trend.
On Wednesday, April 24, 2019, Facebook released its quarterly earnings information. This report revealed a projected $3-5 billion loss in the form of a fine levied against it by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This expected fine is the first time Facebook has been officially punished by the government for its various privacy indiscretions. While Facebook has historically (and infamously) been unacceptably lax with its user’s private information, Facebook had never been punished anywhere other than in the court of public opinion. Additionally, a $3 billion fine would represent the largest fine ever levied by the FTC by more than $2.95 billion. The previous record was a $22.5 million fine against Google in 2012. While even this seemingly massive fine will not do much to damage Facebook’s financial strength, this large fine carries significant symbolic weight, signaling that the FTC will no longer sit on the sidelines and watch while the European Union punishes American tech companies for their various privacy blunders.