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charlesarthur : regulation   16

Trump’s tax law threatened TurboTax’s profits, so the company started charging the disabled, the unemployed and students • ProPublica
Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel:
<p>The 2017 tax overhaul vastly expanded the number of people who could file simplified tax returns, a boon to millions of Americans.

But the new law directly threatened the lucrative business of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.

Although the company draws in customers with the promise of a “free” product, its fortunes depend on getting as many customers as possible to pay. It had been regularly charging $100 or more for returns that included itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations. Under the new law, many wealthier taxpayers would no longer be filing that form, qualifying them to use the company’s free software.

Intuit executives came up with a way to preserve the company’s hefty profit margins: It began charging more low-income people. Which ones? Individuals with disabilities, the unemployed and people who owe money on student loans, all of whom use tax forms that TurboTax previously included for free. The shift was described to ProPublica by two people familiar with the process…

…Under a 2002 deal with the government, most Americans are supposed to be able to file their taxes for free as long as they make under $66,000 a year. In return, the IRS has agreed not to offer its own free service.

But, as ProPublica has been reporting, Intuit has steered eligible customers away from the truly free version, aggressively marketing products that are called “free” even though many customers end up paying.</p>

An unusual case of regulatory capture: Intuit squirms away from any attempt to lock down what it does. It really is past time for the US government to take over the process.
intuit  turbotax  regulation 
8 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Kids’ apps are filled with manipulative ads, according to a new study • Vox
Chavie Lieber:
<p>suddenly, the game is interrupted. A bubble pops up with a new mini game idea, and when a child clicks on the bubble, they are invited to purchase it for $1.99, or unlock all new games for $3.99. There’s a red X button to cancel the pop-up, but if the child clicks on it, the character on the screen shakes its head, looks sad, and even begins to cry.

The game, developed by the Slovenian software company Bubadu and intended for kids as young as 6, is marketed as “educational” because it teaches kids about different types of medical treatments.

But it’s structured so that the decision to not buy anything from the game is wrong; the child is shamed into thinking they’ve done something wrong. Pulling such a move on a young gamer raises troubling ethical questions, especially as children’s gaming apps — and advertising within them — have become increasingly popular.

On Tuesday, a group of 22 consumer and public health advocacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling on the organization to look into the questionable practices of the children’s app market. The <a href="">letter asks the FTC to investigate apps</a> that “routinely lure young children to make purchases and watch ads” and hold the developers of these games accountable.</p>
ftc  advertising  regulation  privacy  children 
9 weeks ago by charlesarthur
House lawmakers officially ask Facebook to put Libra cryptocurrency project on hold • The Verge
Makena Kelly:
<p>Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, hinted at a move like this last month shortly after the project was announced. Waters’s letter today, sent to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and Calibra CEO David Marcus, formalizes that request from a few weeks ago. Aside from Waters, the letter is signed by House Finance’s subcommittee leaders.

“If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger U.S. and global financial stability,” Water writes. “These vulnerabilities could be exploited and obscured by bad actors, as other cryptocurrencies, exchanges, and wallets have been in the past.”

Skepticism of the project isn’t only couched in the Democrat-controlled House, either. Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) scheduled a hearing with Marcus for July 16th, citing concerns over the currency and the potential risks for data privacy it poses. The following day, Waters’s committee will also hold a hearing on the project.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers as this process moves forward, including answering their questions at the upcoming House Financial Services Committee hearing,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge Tuesday.</p>

Facebook won't be able to answer their questions, because they have no idea of what systemic risks are really posed by having a billion people swapping in and out of local currencies via bigger ones; if it becomes big enough Libra could be a currency basket with heft enough to dampen other forex markets, and so big enough to determine market rates. But we don't know. Facebook doesn't know. Nobody knows.
libra  facebook  regulation 
10 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Friend portability is the must-have Facebook regulation • TechCrunch
Josh Constine:
<p>as the FTC considers how many billions to fine Facebook or which executives to stick with personal liability or whether to go full-tilt and break up the company, I implore it to consider the root of how Facebook gets away with abusing user privacy: there’s no simple way to switch to an alternative.

If Facebook users are fed up with the surveillance, security breaches, false news, or hatred, there’s no western general purpose social network with scale for them to join. Twitter is for short-form public content, Snapchat is for ephemeral communication. Tumblr is neglected. Google+ is dead. Instagram is owned by Facebook. And the rest are either Chinese, single-purpose, or tiny.

No, I don’t expect the FTC to launch its own “Fedbook” social network. But what it can do is pave an escape route from Facebook so worthy alternatives become viable options. That’s why the FTC must require Facebook offer truly interoperable data portability for the social graph.

In other words, the government should pass regulations forcing Facebook to let you export your friend list to other social networks in a privacy-safe way. This would allow you to connect with or follow those people elsewhere so you could leave Facebook without losing touch with your friends. The increased threat of people ditching Facebook for competitors would create a much stronger incentive to protect users and society.</p>

Good idea. Facebook has been able to strangle companies by denying them access to the social graph that people need to be able to build a presence on a new social network, while boosting its own by crosslinking Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp data, all purloined from your phonebook.
socialgraph  facebook  antitrust  regulation 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
It’s time to break up Facebook • The New York Times
Chris Hughes, formerly of Facebook (he worked to develop its News Feed), with a very long article about why he thinks it's time for antitrust action, which boils down to this:
<p>How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares.

Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier. But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the F.T.C. to split them up.
Mark Zuckerberg after ringing the opening bell for the Nasdaq stock market on the day his company went public.

Some economists are skeptical that breaking up Facebook would spur that much competition, because Facebook, they say, is a “natural” monopoly. Natural monopolies have emerged in areas like water systems and the electrical grid, where the price of entering the business is very high — because you have to lay pipes or electrical lines — but it gets cheaper and cheaper to add each additional customer. In other words, the monopoly arises naturally from the circumstances of the business, rather than a company’s illegal maneuvering. In addition, defenders of natural monopolies often make the case that they benefit consumers because they are able to provide services more cheaply than anyone else.

Facebook is indeed more valuable when there are more people on it: There are more connections for a user to make and more content to be shared. But the cost of entering the social network business is not that high. And unlike with pipes and electricity, there is no good argument that the country benefits from having only one dominant social networking company.</p>
facebook  regulation  antitrust 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
San Francisco finds controlled scooter pilot a success •
Carolyn Said, on how SF has limited scooter-ing to just two companies, Scoot and Skip:
<p>Several spurned operators, including Spin, Lime and Uber’s Jump, had appealed their rejections, while Lyft wrote letters asking for reconsideration. All had hopes of being tapped for the program’s second half.

From riders’ perspective, fewer scooters makes the rentals less useful, according to people who attended a public workshop held by the agency this month.

“I used to use them and loved them — then they disappeared,” said Soni Mehra. “It’s harder and harder to find them now, so I can’t rely on them to get to work.”

Both Scoot and Skip said they’d be happy to increase their fleets, especially now that they’ve ironed out some kinks — notably preventing theft and deterring some vandalism by adding built-in locks to all scooters as of early February.

Locks also ensure that parked scooters aren’t tipped over and don’t block sidewalks, curb cuts or crosswalks as they have to be affixed to bike racks or posts.

“The locking is key,” Maguire said. “We’re the first city in the country that has all our scooters lockable.” Complaints about improper parking have plunged since the locks were implemented, he said. Scoot had only a fraction of its allotment on streets for the program’s initial months because theft was so rampant, but now is bringing its numbers up.

“We had a rough start with all the theft and vandalism and then a terribly rainy few months,” said Michael Keating, Scoot CEO. “We want to show that this can be done safely, respectfully and sustainably.”</p>

So.. regulation is what's needed? Novel idea.
Scooter  regulation 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
Social media bosses could be liable for harmful content, leaked UK plan reveals • The Guardian
Heather Stewart and Alex Hern:
<p>Under plans expected to be published on Monday, the government will legislate for a new statutory duty of care, to be policed by an independent regulator and likely to be funded through a levy on media companies.

The regulator – likely initially to be Ofcom, but in the longer term a new body – will have the power to impose substantial fines against companies that breach their duty of care and to hold individual executives personally liable.

The debate has been sharpened in recent months by the case of the British teenager Molly Russell and issues raised by the Christchurch shootings. Molly’s parents said she killed herself partly because of self-harm images viewed on social media.

The scope of the recommendations is broad. As well as social media platforms such as Facebook and search engines such as Google they take in online messaging services and file hosting sites.

Other proposals in the online harm white paper include:<br />• Government powers to direct the regulator on specific issues such as terrorist activity or child sexual exploitation<br />• Annual “transparency reports” from social media companies, disclosing the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms and what they are doing to combat it<br />• Co-operation with police and other enforcement agencies on illegal harms, such as incitement of violence and the sale of illegal weapons.</p>
socialmedia  regulation 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
Fully driverless Waymo taxis are due out this year, alarming critics • Ars Technica
Timothy Lee:
<p>Waymo, Google's self-driving car project, is planning to launch a driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area in the next three months. It won't be a pilot project or a publicity stunt, either. Waymo is planning to launch a public, commercial service—without anyone in the driver's seat.

And to date, Waymo's technology has gotten remarkably little oversight from government officials in either Phoenix or Washington, DC.

If a company wants to sell a new airplane or medical device, it must undergo an extensive process to prove to federal regulators that it's safe. Currently, there's no comparable requirement for self-driving cars. Federal and state laws allow Waymo to introduce fully self-driving cars onto public streets in Arizona without any formal approval process.

That's not an oversight. It represents a bipartisan consensus in Washington that strict regulation of self-driving cars would do more harm than good.

"If you think about what would be required for some government body to examine the design of a self-driving vehicle and decide if it's safe, that's a very difficult task," says Ed Felten, a Princeton computer scientist who advised the Obama White House on technology issues.</p>

Pretty much impossible to prove "safe". But how safe? Safer than a human? My suspicion is that they will be safer than humans in general, but do some strange things leading to accidents when humans wouldn't have.
regulation  waymo  selfdrivingcar 
october 2018 by charlesarthur
Republicans can’t even cut red tape correctly • The New York Times
Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles:
<p>there are huge opportunities for growth that are being hamstrung by rules that protect existing companies at the expense of new ones. A bonfire of regulations like this would be entirely wholesome for the American economy and also help to eat away at some of the hyper-inequality that is generated by these forms of crony capitalism.

Unfortunately, this is not the kind of regulation that the Trump administration has been attacking. Instead, it has been sharpening its knives for precisely the kinds of regulation that, far from distorting markets, help to improve them. In particular, regulation is often necessary to a properly functioning market when, in its absence, businesses can make a profit by pushing costs onto others, in effect forcing others to subsidize their bottom line. In two areas, the environment and finance, these are exactly the sorts of market-improving regulation that the administration has put in its cross hairs, with the effect of increasing profits via freeloading.

The classical justification for environmental regulation is that without properly designed rules, businesses do not have to pay the true costs of their economic activity (what economists call “externalities”). If a company was making money by parking vehicles in all our driveways without paying, it would be obvious, and individuals would have a remedy in the form of trespass laws. But the costs that companies generate through pollution are widespread and hard to trace. Environmental regulations, by making companies absorb the costs they would otherwise impose on the rest of us, reduce market-distorting subsidies to polluters.

One recent example of wrongheaded deregulation is the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed loosening of Obama-era rules on methane leaks from oil pipelines. Methane is a particularly nasty contributor to global warming, but pipeline companies have insufficient incentives to prevent leaks adequately. Without regulation, their profitable move is to pad their bottom lines at the expense of the global climate. In this case, deregulation is just another word for the protection of ill-gotten gains.</p>

This has been the Trump admin all over: protect existing companies and strip the wrong regulations away. Coal, environment, solar - the moves have all been retrograde.
regulation  trump 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
The truth about Trump and deregulation • Bloomberg
Cass Sunstein:
<p>whatever the White House says, there’s a big difference between eliminating potential ideas for the future and actually removing regulations from the books.

To appreciate the difference, consider another development last week that received hardly any attention. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed to leave an important Obama administration air pollution regulation entirely untouched.

In 2010, the EPA finalized a rule designed to reduce health risks from nitrogen oxides. 1 Scientific evidence showed that people with asthma, children and older adults face significant risks from exposure to levels of nitrogen oxides that exceeded the 2010 standard. In view of that, and the legal issues that would be triggered by an effort to reverse the Obama-era rule, it was a lot easier for Trump’s EPA to stick with it than to try to loosen it.

There’s a broader lesson here. Whenever agencies want to cut regulations, they have to go through the same time-consuming processes that govern the issuance of regulations in the first place.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must begin with a formal proposal to eliminate the rule. The proposal has to offer a new analysis of the law and the evidence. That takes a while to produce -- often two months and possibly much longer.

After the proposal comes out, the Administrative Procedure Act requires a period for public comment. Under existing executive orders, that period will usually last for at least two months. If the issues are complicated, the public is going to demand and probably get more time -- potentially as much as six months.

After the comments come in, some of the hardest work begins.</p>

"Getting rid of regulations" is easy to say, much harder to justify and do.
july 2017 by charlesarthur
Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about • The Guardian
George Monbiot:
<p>If the government agrees to a “bonfire of red tape”, we would win bent bananas and newt-squashing prerogatives. On the other hand, we could lose our rights to fair employment, an enduring living world, clean air, clean water, public safety, consumer protection, functioning public services, and the other distinguishing features of civilisation. Tough choice, isn’t it?

As if to hammer the point home, the Sunday Telegraph interviewed Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, in an article claiming that the “red tape burden” was too heavy for listed companies. He described some of the public protections that companies have to observe as “bloody baggage”. The article failed to connect these remarks to his company’s own bloody baggage, <a href="">caused by its unilateral decision to cut red tape</a>. As a result of overriding the safety mechanism on one of its rides at Alton Towers – which was operating, against the guidelines, during high winds – 16 people were injured, including two young women who had their legs amputated. That’s why we need public protections of the kind the Telegraph wants to destroy.</p>

Remember this when someone's telling you that regulations are awful and must be wiped away. They aren't created for no reason. There are reasons demanding their existence; sometimes peoples' limbs, sometimes their limbs, sometimes just their health.
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Productivity is down • FT
Chris Giles:
<p>Utilities and telecoms also show outsized drops in productivity growth, while in the gas and electricity sector, output growth slipped back but jobs growth exploded — something the sector often boasts about when highlighting its importance to the economy. RenewableUK, the trade association for the industry, predicts jobs growth will continue from 35,000 in 2015 to 105,000 in the next decade, indicating that productivity is likely to continue to lag.

In telecoms, the ONS data point to a massive drop in real output, exacerbated by a trend of falling prices before the crisis followed by price stagnation after 2008. Data from Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, however, show different industry trends; its own analysis shows households have been spending less on telecoms services in real terms and receiving more for their money.

This contradiction illustrates the other big problem for analysts: the weakness of the data. (There is a similar issue in management consultancy, where the statistics imply that consultancy prices fell in the boom years and rose in the post-crisis stagnation). Nick Vaughan, chief economic adviser at the ONS, told a statistics conference last month that “parts of the service sector are not just ill-measured but completely mismeasured”.</p>

In other words: telecoms productivity *seems* to be falling because it employs roughly the same number of people, but revenues are flat - but that's a good thing because the regulator is keeping them down, and telecoms is an enabler for other sectors.

Perhaps the measurements should have some sort of "impact measure" of how much other sectors rely on others.
Productivity  data  telecoms  regulation 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Trump’s FDA pick could undo decades of drug safeguards • NY Times
Katie Thomas:
<p>At an anti-aging conference in 2014, Mr. O’Neill advocated something he called “progressive” approval, in which drugs that were proved safe, but not yet proven effective, could be allowed on the market. “Let people start using them, at their own risk,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

Companies have been required to prove that their drugs work since 1962, when Congress passed legislation requiring that licensing for sale be based not just on safety but also on “substantial evidence” of a drug’s efficacy. That law, and others passed since, forced companies to rigorously test their products, running them through a gantlet of clinical trials whose results are then vetted by the F.D.A. before any sales to consumers. Ninety percent of drugs that enter clinical development fail these trials. (The F.D.A. also regulates medical devices, but they undergo a separate approval process.)

As a result, newly discovered drugs can take years to reach the market, a period that Mr. Trump said last week was too lengthy.

“When you have a drug, you can actually get it approved if it works, instead of waiting for many, many years,” he told the pharmaceutical executives. “We’re going to be cutting regulations at a level that nobody’s ever seen before, and we’re going to have tremendous protection for the people.”</p>

Adding this to my growing folder of "ways in which the US is being rolled back to the 1950s, and not in any good sense".

Also: you can't cut regulation and make people safer. The two are obviously in contradiction.
Trump  health  fda  regulation 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Can Uber ever deliver? Part four: understanding that unregulated monopoly was always Uber’s central objective • naked capitalism
Hubert Horan, who claims 40 years' experience in management and regulation of transportation companies - mainly airlines - and is unconnected to Uber or rivals:
<p>There is absolutely no evidence that Uber’s investors put $13bn into the company because they thought they could achieve Amazon type efficiency advantages over incumbent urban car service operators. There is no evidence that Uber’s managers or spending priorities were ever focused on creating welfare-enhancing efficiency improvements or consumer benefits. Unlike past startups, Uber made no effort to provide outsiders with evidence that its business model generated powerful efficiency advantages, or that it could actually produce urban car services at lower cost than incumbents.

From its earliest days, Uber’s investors and managers have always recognized that investor returns would require global industry dominance, and the elimination (or effective nullification) of longstanding laws and regulations designed to protect competition, and to protect consumers from the risks of anti-competitive market power. This presumes that urban car services can be turned into a “winner-take-all-game”, where the winner can earn sustainable rents once quasi-monopoly industry dominance has been achieved. Dominance would also allow Uber to leverage its platform in order to expand into other markets that it could not otherwise profitably enter.

As will be discussed below, the belief that monopoly power can be a major source of financial returns is widely held among the venture capitalists that funded Uber, and its spending priorities and marketplace behavior have been totally consistent with a company pursuing global industry dominance.

But most critically, the staggering $13bn in cash its investors provided is consistent with the magnitude of funding required to subsidize the many years of predatory competition required to drive out more efficient incumbents.</p>

Kill off the rest of the market, then raise rents. It's quite a monopoly play, but Uber's behaviour in adjacent fields (such as self-driving vehicles) suggests that is its playbook.
regulation  uber  monopoly 
december 2016 by charlesarthur
You cannot regulate guns unless you know how to use one • Medium
Yishan Wong:
<p>I am here to tell you the first thing you need to do if you want meaningful gun control legislation to be passed in America.

If you want to personally do something that will help, here it is:

You Must Learn How To Use a Gun

Sounds crazy, right?

Almost every gun control advocate I know hates guns and wants nothing to do with them. They are vaguely (or very) afraid of them, and believe that if they fire a gun or buy one, they will suddenly become a gun nut or turn evil.

That is nonsense. You need to understand guns intimately if you want to regulate them.

This kind of thinking is common sense when it comes to making laws about anything else, yet somehow it flies out the window when it comes to regulating something as simple and dangerous as guns.

Being a gun owner who doesn’t believe in the Second Amendment is really lonely. </p>

He makes a lot of excellent points; we decry legislators who try to regulate crypto without understanding it, yet think it's obvious whether you should legislate against hollow point bullets and AR-15s. I learnt a lot.
guns  regulation 
june 2016 by charlesarthur
Chesterton’s Fence >> The Epicurean Dealmaker
GK Chesterton argued:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This is clearly why Chesterton never got venture funding in Silicon Valley.
december 2014 by charlesarthur

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