Portugal Bans Employers from Texting Employees after Work. Could it Happen Here in the US?

From today’s The Guardian:

Employers in Portugal will now face fines if they attempt to contact remote workers after hours, thanks to a new law.

The legislation was conceived by Portugal’s ruling Socialist party to improve work-life balance for the country’s remote workforce, which expanded due to Covid-19, and to make Portugal a more attractive base for international “digital nomads” – people who travel while telecommuting.

Portugal isn’t the only country modernizing its labor laws; citizens of France, Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, Italy, the Philippines, Argentina, India and more, all currently enjoy “the right to disconnect” – or abstain without punishment from working and communicating with their employers during designated rest periods.

In 2013, Germany’s employment ministry implemented a ban on employers contacting workers outside of contracted hours, and several of the country’s large employers, including Volkswagen and Daimler, have instituted policies intended to limit the number of emails employees receive outside of work hours, too.

The provincial government of Ontario is also introducing legislation that would require employers to establish a written policy setting generous “expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren’t working”, according to a government release.

Could this ever happen in the United States?

“I don’t think that we’ll see a firm requirement of employers to not at all contact employees during non-work hours,” says Orly Lobel, professor of law at the University of San Diego.

While California does have laws against employers forcing employees to work overtime, and mandates that all overtime be paid, Lobel thinks that adopting and enforcing rules about work hours on a federal level would be overly complex and contradictory to the nature of globalized professional work, in which urgent tasks inevitably crop up and must be dealt with by someone.

Read the complete story here.

Colorado introduces tight consumer protection law on data privacy

From today’s Digital Journal:

Colorado is set to become the third state — alongside Virginia and California — to sign a privacy act into law, marking another step towards consumer data protection in the U.S.

The new law will be known as ‘The Colorado Privacy Act (CPA)’ and it is scheduled go into effect July 2023. The proposal is for the Act to be applicable to companies that either collect personal data from 100,000 Colorado residents or collect data from 25,000 Colorado residents and also derive some portion of revenue from sales.

The Act will affect businesses and they will need to prepare and put in place systems to ensure compliance. In addition, the Act will provide new rights for customers, and there remains the potential for more states to get on board with this form of legislation.

Looking at the changes for Digital Journal is Tyrone Jeffrees, Vice President of Engineering & US Information Security Officer at Mobiquity.

Jeffrees looks at the growing array of privacy bills appearing in the U.S.: “The news of Colorado joining Virginia and California in the passage of privacy acts is welcome as the nation moves towards ensuring these rights for residents and consumers. The law, while holding many similarities to Virginia’s privacy regulations, is expected to be more effective than others as it can be enforced by both the Colorado office of the Attorney General as well as local district attorney offices.”

He adds that the CPA is a little different to the earlier bills: “The CPA goes beyond California’s by requiring a blocking option for consumers to “opt-out” of having their personal information shared to create consumer profiles.”

This means new challenges for businesses, says Jeffrees. He recommends: “To ensure compliance with the CPA’s heavier guidelines, businesses and organizations must have a deeper understanding of how their data is collected and exactly what it is being used for when targeting new customers and sharing publicly.”

Jeffrees sees the legislation as something positive, noting: “I’m thrilled for the residents of Colorado. Ultimately, each new legislation is a win for U.S. consumers and privacy advocates. As more states introduce privacy regulation, U.S. consumers will be afforded increased agency and control over how their data can be collected and used.”

He see the U.S. as moving towards stronger consumer rights: “Right now, we have a patchwork of privacy regulations that guarantee rights for some, but not all, U.S. consumers based on residency. Each state that adopts common privacy principles will slowly start to raise the bar, but it would be ideal for U.S. residents to have one single framework for data privacy that serves all Americans.”

Read the complete article here.

To Protect Consumer Data, Don’t Do Everything on the Cloud

From today’s Harvard Business Review:

When collecting consumer data, there is almost always a risk to consumer privacy. Sensitive information could be leaked unintentionally or breached by bad actors. For example, the Equifax data breach of 2017 compromised the personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers. Smaller breaches, which you may or may not hear about, happen all the time. As companies collect more data — and rely more heavily on its insights — the potential for data to be compromised will likely only grow.

With the appropriate data architecture and processes, however, these risks can be substantially mitigated by ensuring that private data is touched at as few points as possible. Specifically, companies should consider the potential of what is known as edge computing. Under this paradigm, computations are performed not in the cloud, but on devices that are on the edge of the network, close to where the data are generated. For example, the computations that make Apple’s Face ID work happen right on your iPhone. As researchers who study privacy in the context of business, computer science, and statistics, we think this approach is sensible — and should be used more — because edge computing minimizes the transmission and retention of sensitive information to the cloud, lowering the risk that it could land in the wrong hands.

But how does this tech actually work, and how can companies who don’t have Apple-sized resources deploy it?

Consider a hypothetical wine store that wants to capture the faces of consumers sampling a new wine to measure how they like it. The store’s owners are picking between two competing video technologies: The first system captures hours of video, sends the data to third-party servers, saves the content to a database, processes the footage using facial analysis algorithms, and reports the insight that 80% of consumers looked happy upon tasting the new wine. The second system runs facial analysis algorithms on the camera itself, does not store or transmit any video footage, and reports the same 80% aggregated insight to the wine retailer.

The second system uses edge computing to restrict the number of points at which private data are touched by humans, servers, databases, or interfaces. Therefore, it reduces the chances of a data breach or future unauthorized use. It only gathers sufficient data to make a business decision: Should the wine retailer invest in advertising the new wine?

As companies work to protect their customers’ privacy, they will face similar situations as the one above. And in many cases, there will be an edge computing solution. Here’s what they need to know.

Read the complete article here.

Labor Secretary Says Gig Workers Should Be Converted to Employees

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

President Joe Biden positioned himself as the champion of the American worker during his campaign, as well as an ardent proponent of unions. On Thursday, Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, told Reuters that gig workers should be treated as employees.

This simple statement could become an existential threat to app-based technology companies, such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and dozens of others that heavily rely upon gig-economy workers.

The tech companies are basically built on the backs of contract workers. However, these gig workers are not classified as employees. Without the designation, contractors don’t qualify for traditional benefits, rights and privileges that are afforded to full-time permanent employees.

This sector represents a significant part of the economy. About 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, comprising around 36% of the workforce. If the Biden administration decides to take action based upon Walsh’s plan, it could have devastating consequences. 

Walsh seeks to rectify the situation by reclassifying contract workers as “employees.” The labor secretary said, “We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases, gig workers should be classified as employees…in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.” Based upon this news, shares of Uber fell as much as 8%, while Lyft took a dive by 12%. Doordash fell nearly 9% and Grubhub was down 3.3%.

There are concerns raised by opponents of the gig-economy structure who say, similar to Walsh, it doesn’t seem fair to workers. Venture capitalists, institutions and wealthy individuals have flooded capital into this sector. When the tech companies went public, the investors, CEOs and top executives reaped vast fortunes. Contractors serve as cheap labor. If they acquiesce to critics like Walsh, they risk losing multimillions or billions of dollars. 

While many people earn a livelihood driving cars, delivering food and offering creative services through on-demand companies, there is a dark side. The contractors work long, hard hours for little pay and no real benefits. Near-monopolies have been created that crush or drive out the competition. Look at what happened to the once-ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs when Uber came to New York City. 

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and other similar gig-based companies are highly dependent upon independent contractors. They have a financial self-interest in classifying drivers or workers as contractors. This model enables corporations to avoid paying payroll taxes, FICA (Social Security and Medicare), disability, federal and state-level unemployment and health insurance benefits. They are not required to comply with minimum-wage laws nor offer vacation days. 

Read the complete article here.

Fintechs Need Strong Consumer Protections, Diversity, Inclusion Asserts Key Congressman

From tdoay’s Forbes Magazine:

Fintechs need to include strong consumer protections, diversity, and inclusion, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chair of the House Financial Services Committee’s panel on consumer protection and financial institutions said at a hearing on banking innovation today.

“Most banks and credit unions have been a source of strength in the pandemic in part because of the stringent capital, liquidity, and other regulatory requirements we place on these financial institutions,” he asserted.

The financial stability risks, consumer protection issues, market fairness questions, and potential benefits of unconventional banking charters needs to be explored, Perlmutter said.

Financial Services Committee Chairman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said she was alarmed the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) overstepped its authority by creating a fintech charter and expressed concern it could lead to a regulatory race to the bottom.

The New York State Department of Financial Services has sued the agency, claiming it lacks the legal authority to issue that type of charter. In a memo prepared for the hearing, the Committee’s Democratic staff noted in recent years, OCC, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have taken steps to allow firms to engage in banking activities while being subject to less regulations and supervision compared to most other banks and credit unions.

At the same time Wyoming, which was mentioned frequently at the hearing, and other states have ventured into unconventional bank charters aimed at allowing cryptocurrency and blockchain to provide bank-like services.

Financial Services Committee lead Republican, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, said regulators should be advancing advances in banking innovation and not hindering them.

Brian Brooks, who headed up the agency as Acting Comptroller of the Currency during the Trump administration praised the potential of fintechs to expand credit and economic opportunity with additionally providing better alternatives to payday lenders.

Read the complete article here.

Silicon Valley’s essential workers form new group to fight for work rights

From today’s San Jose Spotlight:

A group of six essential workers and labor leaders stood in front of McDonnell Hall in San Jose Wednesday—the same church labor activist Cesar Chavez started his now-iconic labor organizing more than 50 years prior.

The workers are looking to craft the future of the labor movement among essential workers for the next 50 years, starting with combating unfair treatment from employers, elected officials and corporations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They announced Wednesday the launch of a new initiative called the Essential Workers Council, a collective of 14 members from diverse professional fields in the South Bay, including medical workers, security, grocery workers, childcare, construction and education. The council has been established by Silicon Valley Rising, a collective of leaders who advocate for workers’ rights and affordable housing.

“As workers on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be the ones setting the agenda for recovery,” said Deo Agustin, a childcare worker and member of the new council. “We can’t let business leaders decide how things should be run.”

The group, with local labor leaders’ help, hopes to lobby elected leaders for more essential worker protections during and after the pandemic, such as higher wages, more widespread hazard payrent relief, stronger eviction protections and affordable childcare.

“Even as mostly Black and brown people put their lives at risk, dying at disproportionately higher rates, too many corporate executives and elected leaders have ignored their needs and their voices,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, director of Silicon Valley Rising, on Wednesday. “They call this work essential, but not the people, their families and our communities.”

The coronavirus has killed Black and Latino residents in the county at a far higher rate than other races. Latinos in particular make up 25% of the county’s population but account for 51% of cases and nearly 29% of deaths, according to county numbers. Those racial groups are overrepresented in essential work.

The council, frustrated by the lack of clear leadership from their employers to combat COVID-19, such as providing enough personal protective equipment and socially-distanced workspaces, spoke out about their experiences in working while living in fear that they would contract the coronavirus.

Read the complete article here.

Robinhood ‘buried’ info on consumer rights in runup to GameStop saga

From today’s MarketWatch.com:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren denounced online broker Robinhood’s practices for disclosing its customer rights in a statement Wednesday, while calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to ban the practice of requiring new customers to forfeit their right to sue their stock brokers in court.

“Robinhood promised to democratize trading, but hid information about its prerogative to change the rules by cutting off trades without notice — and about customers’ inability to access the courts if they believe they’ve been cheated — behind dozens of pages of legalese,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Robinhood’s user agreement, like those of its largest competitors, requires new customers to agree that disputes between them and the company must be resolved through binding arbitration. Robinhood did not immediately respond a request for comment.

She also criticized the firm’s decision to temporarily restrict trading of a number of so-called meme stocks, including GameStop Inc. GME, -7.21% and AMC Entertainment Inc., AMC, -1.77% once their volatility triggered large clearinghouse deposit requirements. Warren said the company “did not have enough cash on had to manage a surge in trading and buried important information about consumers’ rights.”

Along with the statement, Warren released Robinhood’s response to a Feb. 2 letter in which she asked for a detailed description of the broker’s relationship with market makers, hedge funds and other entities that may have influenced its decisions. Robinhood executives have said in sworn statements that its decision to restrict trading was due solely to its need to manage risk and meet clearinghouse requirements, though Warren does not appear fully satisfied with this explanation.

“What’s still not clear from Robinhood’s response to my questions is the full extent of Robinhood’s ties to giant hedge funds and market makers,” Warren explained. “I’m going to keep pushing regulators to use the full range of their regulatory tools to ensure the fair operation of our markets, particularly for small investors.”

Read the complete article here.

Amazon to Pay $62 Million Fine for Withholding Tips From Delivery Drivers

From today’s New York Times:

Amazon agreed on Tuesday to pay $62 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it withheld tips to delivery drivers over a two-and-a-half year period, in a case that highlights the federal government’s increased interest in gig-economy workers.

The F.T.C. said in an announcement that Amazon had promised its Flex delivery drivers that they would receive 100 percent of all customers’ tips. But starting in 2016, the F.T.C. said, Amazon secretly lowered the hourly delivery wages, which were advertised at $18 to $25, and tried to mask the smaller wages by using customer tips to cover for the smaller hourly pay. The net effect was that the contract workers received smaller overall take-home pay, the agency said.

The practice wasn’t disclosed to drivers but the Flex drivers noticed the compensation reductions and began to complain. Amazon stopped the practice in 2019, after it became aware of the F.T.C.’s investigation, the agency said. The company settled without admitting wrongdoing.

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, the acting head of consumer protection at the F.T.C. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Flex workers are classified by Amazon as independent contractors and often use personal vehicles for deliveries of the company’s Prime Now and AmazonFresh items. Customers can give a tip to delivery drivers on the checkout page.

Amazon is facing greater regulatory scrutiny overall. The Seattle company is under investigation for antitrust violations amid growing concerns from lawmakers and regulators about the power of the big tech companies.

Read the complete article here.

Op-Ed: The Work-From-Home Employee Bill of Rights Outlined in Seven Articles

From today’s ComputerWorld Online:

Remote work became the new normal quickly as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns came into force in spring 2020, and it’s clear that after the pandemic recedes, remote work will remain the norm for many employees — as much as half the deskbound “white collar” workforce, various research firms estimate. As a result of the sudden lockdowns, many employees had to create makeshift workspaces, buy or repurpose personal equipment, and figure out how to use new software and services to be able to keep doing their jobs.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution overlays a photo of a woman working remotely by laptop.

Users and IT departments alike made Herculean efforts to adapt quickly and ensure business continuity, and the result was an improvement in productivity despite the pandemic. But now the pandemic has become a longer-term phenomenon, and remote work will become more commonplace, even desirable as a way to save on office expenses and commute time, even after the pandemic subsides.

So now it’s time for companies and employees alike to formalize remote work standards and policies. And it’s time for employees to advocate for themselves, so they don’t bear a disproportionate burden in enabling the new remote work reality. This employee bill of rights is meant to help them do just that.

Article 1: The employer provides clear rules and standards for remote work.

Many employees want to continue to work from home at least some of the time, according to multiple surveys conducted across the globe by AdeccoBoston Consulting GroupGallupIBMPwCEngagerocket, and others.

It’s therefore critical that businesses have a clear policy around who must work at home, who may work at home, and who may only work in an office or other company facility — as well as any requirements around how often the use of office space is required or allowed.

Typically, these standards will be based on the employee’s role. But there does need to be flexibility — spelled out in the policy — to handle people who have extenuating circumstances. For example, some employees may need to work at an office even if they theoretically could work at home (such as people in crowded households or with poor broadband access), and some may need to work at home even if they theoretically could work in an office (such as to monitor or care for relatives throughout the day).

Read the complete article here.

OnlyFans: Jobless from the Pandemic, Selling Nudes Online and Still Struggling

From today’s New York Tiimes:

Savannah Benavidez stopped working at her job as a medical biller in June to take care of her 2-year-old son after his day care shut down. Needing a way to pay her bills, she created an account on OnlyFans — a social media platform where users sell original content to monthly subscribers — and started posting photos of herself nude or in lingerie.

Ms. Benavidez, 23, has made $64,000 since July, enough not just to take care of her own bills, but to help family and friends with rent and car payments.

“It’s more money than I have ever made in any job,” she said. “I have more money than I know what to do with.”

Lexi Eixenberger was hoping for a similar windfall when she started an OnlyFans account in November. A restaurant worker in Billings, Mont., Ms. Eixenberger, 22, has been laid off three times during the pandemic and was so in need of cash by October that she had to drop out of dental hygiene school. After donating plasma and doing odd jobs, she still didn’t have enough to pay her bills, so at the suggestion of some friends, she turned to OnlyFans. She has made only about $500 so far.

OnlyFans, founded in 2016 and based in Britain, has boomed in popularity during the pandemic. As of December, it had more than 90 million users and more than one million content creators, up from 120,000 in 2019. The company declined to comment for this article.

With millions of Americans unemployed, some like Ms. Benavidez and Ms. Eixenberger are turning to OnlyFans in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families. The pandemic has taken a particularly devastating toll on women and mothers, wiping out parts of the economy where women dominate: retail businesses, restaurants and health care.

“A lot of people are migrating to OnlyFans out of desperation,” said Angela Jones, an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Farmingdale. “These are people who are worried about eating, they’re worried about keeping the lights on, they’re worried about not being evicted.”

But for every person like Ms. Benavidez, who is able to use OnlyFans as her primary source of income, there are dozens more, like Ms. Eixenberger, who hope for a windfall and end up with little more than a few hundred dollars and worries that the photos will hinder their ability to get a job in the future.