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Hillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny

 

 

Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Follow The Hill's cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

A new analysis of Amazon injury reporting to OSHA found a massive discrepancy between publicly announced and officially recorded COVID-19 case numbers, leading labor groups to call for a federal investigation.

Meanwhile, the sixth and final individual involved in a multimillion cryptocurrency scheme was sentenced to prison and given a hefty fine, while Twitter announced a new policy that will ban users from sharing images or videos of private individuals without their consent. 

Let's jump into the news.

 

Amazon accused of underreporting cases 

A coalition of labor groups released a report calling on federal officials to investigate Amazon over allegedly underreporting cases of COVID-19 at its warehouses.

Despite admitting that almost 20,000 workers contracted the coronavirus in 2020, the report claims the e-commerce giant only reported 27 cases of "respiratory conditions" to federal regulators.

Calling for investigation: The Strategic Organizing Center, along with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehouse Workers Resource Center and the Awood Center, are also calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate that discrepancy.

"Amazon has failed to explain why it believes that out of the tens of thousands of its employees infected with COVID-19, virtually none of them were infected at work," the organizations write in their complaint. 

"This persistent pattern of apparent non-compliance would be alarming on its own at any employer - not to mention the second-largest private employer in the entire country," the complaint continues. "However, these evident failures have also happened with little or no federal oversight."

Pushback: Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel countered that the SOC's analysis is "intentionally misleading to try and paint a false picture."

Read more here.

 

Hackers face the music 

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced the sentencing of the last member of an international hacking group indicted for allegedly stealing millions in cryptocurrency as part of a "SIM hijacking" effort.

Missouri-based Garrett Endicott, the sixth and final member of a hacking group known as "The Community," was sentenced Monday to 10 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of more than $120,000 for his part in the cryptocurrency scheme.

Huge payout: The scheme, which members of The Community were indicted in connection with in 2019, involved the hackers using "SIM hijacking" to take control of the victim's phone number and rerouting calls and texts to their own devices. This then enabled the group members to individually steal between $50,000 and $9 million total from victims across the United States through gaining access to email and cryptocurrency accounts on the victims' phones. 

Individual victims of the hijacking effort lost between $2,000 and $5 million. 

"The actions of these defendants resulted in the loss of millions of dollars to the victims, some of whom lost their entire retirement savings," Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin for the Eastern District of Michigan said in a statement Tuesday. "This case should serve as a reminder to all of us to protect our personal and financial information from those who seek to steal it."

Endicott was given a lighter sentence than other members of The Community who had already stood trial, with Endicott and three others being sentenced in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Read more here.

 

NO PICTURES, PLEASE

Twitter will no longer ​​allow users to share images or videos of private individuals without that person's consent, the company announced Tuesday.  

The policy expands on the social media company's existing policy banning users from sharing a person's private information such as a phone number or address. 

The ban won't pertain to sharing videos or images of public figures.

Twitter said that it also acknowledges that videos or images of private individuals may be shared "as part of a newsworthy event or to further public discourse on issues or events of public interest." 

In those cases, Twitter said "we may allow the media to remain on the platform," but the company did not detail in Tuesday's blog post how those decisions will be made.

Read more about the update.

 

KEEP CALM AND SELL

The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority advised Facebook's parent company on Tuesday to sell Giphy, a platform that allows users to share GIFs.

The antitrust watchdog reportedly argued that the acquisition deal between Meta and Giphy could harm social media users and U.K. advertisers by suppressing competition for animated images on the Facebook platform.

"By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising," Stuart McIntosh, chair of the group that carried out the investigation, told The Associated Press.

According to CNBC, the group also found that if Facebook were able to limit other social platforms' use of Giphy's images, it would "increase its already significant market power."

A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that the company disagrees with the watchdog's decision.

Read more here.

MOVING ON

A Meta executive who co-founded Diem digital currency is set to leave the company at the end of this year to embark on new projects. 

David Marcus said in a blog post Tuesday he will be leaving the parent company of Facebook after seven years.

Marcus started at the company in 2014 and worked for the Messenger platform for years. A trusted lieutenant to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, he moved on to the company's digital wallet service, Novi, and then co-founded Diem digital currency, Bloomberg reported.

"While there's still so much to do right on the heels of hitting an important milestone with Novi launching - and I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems - my entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it," Marcus said. 

Read more here.

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Can the 'Summit for Democracy' deliver for independent media?

Lighter click: Your daily dose of cute

Notable links from around the web:

Investors Snap Up Metaverse Real Estate in a Virtual Land Boom (The New York Times / Debra Kamin)

Judge orders Google to disclose secret anti-union documents (Vice Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

UK calls on government agencies to reveal details of AI use (Protocol / Kate Kaye)

One last thing: Legislation in the pipeline 

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is pushing for the creation of an organization that would seek to set both physical and cybersecurity reliability standards for pipelines. 

According to a draft of forthcoming legislation that was first shared with The Hill, Rush wants to create a reliability organization that's run through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). 

This reliability organization would be stakeholder-driven, according to Rush's office, meaning it would be largely made up of industry. 

But the standards would have to be approved by FERC - an independent agency that regulates interstate energy transmission. Currently, the commission is comprised of three Democratic commissioners and two Republicans. 

The reliability organization would also consult with the Energy Department and Transportation Security Administration. 

It comes after high-profile incidents this year involving energy reliability. For instance, a May cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which provides fuel to many East Coast states, led to consumer panic buying that in turn caused fuel shortages. 

Read more here.

 

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Wednesday.

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