Hillicon Valley — Microsoft vows neutrality over Activision union efforts

Microsoft applied its new principles for employee organizing for the first time, saying it will not interfere with efforts from Activision Blizzard employees to unionize.

And in cryptocurrency news, companies blocked users from withdrawing funds as the value of digital assets fell.  

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca KlarChris Mills Rodrigo and Ines Kagubare. Subscribe here.

Union advocates secure win with Activision Blizzard

Microsoft will not interfere with efforts by employees at Activision Blizzard to form unions, according to a neutrality agreement the company entered with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) on Monday.

The agreement will apply at Activision Blizzard, the gaming company Microsoft is acquiring, beginning 60 days after Microsoft’s acquisition closes. Microsoft announced earlier this year that it would be buying Activision in a deal valued at nearly $70 billion.

  • CWA had previously raised concerns regarding the acquisition, but the group’s president Chris Shelton said the agreement addresses those issues.
      
  • “This agreement provides a pathway for Activision Blizzard workers to exercise their democratic rights to organize and collectively bargain after the close of the Microsoft acquisition and establishes a high road framework for employers in the games industry,” Shelton said in a statement.  

Just the ‘first’: Microsoft released principles for employee organizing and engagement with labor organizing earlier this month. The agreement for the Activision Blizzard acquisition is the company’s “first opportunity to put these principles into practice,” Microsoft president and vice chairman Brad Smith said. 

Read more here.  

Crypto firms halt withdrawals 

Cryptocurrency companies on Monday blocked users from withdrawing funds as the value of bitcoin and other prominent digital assets plunged.  

Crypto lending company Celsius Network announced late on Sunday night that it would freeze all withdrawals and transfers due to “extreme market conditions.” The move sparked an enormous selloff, with the price of bitcoin falling 12 percent to its lowest level since December 2020.

  • Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, said Monday morning that it was freezing some bitcoin withdrawals “due to a stuck transaction causing a backlog.”
  • Changpeng Zhao, the firm’s CEO, tweeted that the fix would only take 30 minutes but later said that the problem was “going to take a bit longer to fix” than his initial estimate. 

Read more here.  

DEMOCRATS ASK FTC TO TACKLE FORMULA PRICE GOUGING 

Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address online price gouging of baby formula during the nationwide shortage.

The Democrats sent a letter on Monday requesting that the agency issue a public advisory to encourage online marketplaces to put measures in place to detect and prevent exploitative practices by third-party vendors selling infant formula. 

The FTC launched an inquiry into the formula shortage in May. The advisory for online marketplaces such as eBay, Facebook and Amazon would help complement the ongoing work being done to address the supply issue, the Democrats said. 

Read more here.  

GOOGLE ENGINEER ON LEAVE  

A Google engineer who argued that the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) is sentient has been placed on personal leave. 

A spokesperson for the company declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the suspension, noting that it is “a longstanding, private personnel matter.” 

  • Multiple news outlets have reported that Blake Lemoine, the senior software engineer from Google’s responsible AI team, violated the company’s confidentiality policy. 
  • Lemoine’s concerns reportedly grew out of his work with Google’s LaMDA model, which he grew to believe was sentient with feelings and emotions. 

Read more here.  

Drone deliveries coming to California

Amazon will begin delivering orders in a California city by drone later this year, the company announced Monday.

  • The trial in Lockeford, Calif., will be the first time a company uses drones for deliveries in the U.S.
  • Amazon is planning to use the project to test out the service and receive feedback. 

Residents of the city, roughly 40 miles south of Sacramento, will be able to sign up for free drone delivery.  

Read more here.  

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: ‘Data Protection Review Court’ an idea worth expanding 


Lighter click: 
happy quarter century  


Notable links from around the web:
 

The Fight to End ‘Cyberflashing’ (The New York Times / Valeria Safronova) 

What Bitcoin’s nosedive means for the environment (The Verge ? Justine Calma) 

Amazon calls cops, fires workers in attempts to stop unionization nationwide (The Washington Post / Caroline O’Donovan) 

One more thing: EV startup files for bankruptcy

Electric Last Mile Solutions (ELMS), an electric vehicle startup, has announced it has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  

“Ultimately, the Board determined, following a comprehensive review with the assistance of the Company’s outside advisors, and upon the recommendation of the Company’s management, that it is in the best interest of the Company and the Company’s stockholders, stakeholders, creditors, and other interested parties to file for Chapter 7 relief,” ELMS said in a statement

The startup said a leadership team led by newly appointed interim CEO and President Shauna McIntyre had launched a review of the company’s products and commercialization plans and assessed its planned product offerings, production plans and certification processes. 

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 tomorrow.

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Author: Chris Mills Rodrigo