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What Your Business Needs to Know about the EU Cybersecurity Certification Framework

Increased connectivity begets increased cyber threats. Here’s how this new act can protect your devices from hackers. Read


Preparing for the 2020 DOL Changes under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Avoid the pitfalls of noncompliance ⁠— and hefty fines ⁠— with these strategies. Read


How a Proposal for German Corporate Criminal Reform Would Affect Privilege and Internal Investigations

If the Corporate Sanctions Act is adopted in current form, German in-house counsel may face challenges with investigations. Read


EU Regulators Finally Clarify Scope of GDPR

Answers to the pressing questions: "Does the GDPR apply to my organization, and if so, to what extent?" Read


Blockchain Basics: Global Regulations

Blockchain’s regulatory landscape is unsettled and constantly shifting. Here's what to watch on the horizon. Read


In Brief

Today's Top Story

New Mexico Sues Google Over Children's Privacy Violations

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas alleged in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that Google used its educational products to spy on the state's children, reports the New York Times (21 February, Singer, Wakabayashi). The lawsuit charges Google with violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Balderas contended that Google collected a trove of information on New Mexico children, including data on their physical locations, websites they visited, YouTube videos they watched, and their voice recordings. Google is a dominant tech player in US public schools, offering a suite of inexpensive, easy-to-use tools like Gmail and Google Docs. And more than 25 million students and teachers use Google's Chrome laptops in school. The lawsuit also said Google deceived schools, parents, teachers and students by telling them that were no privacy concerns with its education products when, in fact, the company had amassed a trove of potentially sensitive details on students’ online activities and locations. Balderas said Google used its educational products as a means to deceptively track students for nonschool purposes. When students log into their Chromebooks, Google turns on a feature that syncs its Chrome browser with other devices used by a student on that account, the lawsuit said, thereby blending students' personal and educational web activities into a single profile. This is not the first time Google has come under fire for violating children's privacy. The tech giant in September agreed to pay a US$170 million fine to settle federal and New York State charges that it illegally harvested the personal data of children on YouTube.

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Regulatory Developments

China to Cut US$71.3 Billion Insurance Fees to Help Firms Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

China is expected to cut pension contributions and insurance fees by more than 500 billion yuan (US$71.3 billion) this year, government officials said on Thursday, as it seeks to help companies weather the coronavirus outbreak. Reuters (20 February, Zhang) notes the forecast follows a government pledge this week to reduce or exempt companies across the country from pension contributions, jobless and work-injury insurance for a period of time. Under the exemptions announced this week, firms in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, will not have to pay pensions, jobless and work-injury insurance until June. Small firms in other provinces will be exempt from paying pensions, jobless insurance and work injury insurance until June, while payments by large firms will be reduced by half until April. You Jun, vice minister at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, said the government could ensure pension funds and other social insurance would be paid in full and on time despite the exemptions and reductions.

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Mergers and Acquisitions

Morgan Stanley Agrees US$13 Billion Deal to Buy ETrade

Morgan Stanley has reached an agreement to acquire the online trading platform ETrade for US$13 billion, bringing millions of stock-trading millennials to the elite bank's customer base. The Financial Times (20 February, Noonan) notes that the ETrade deal is the largest by a global bank since the financial crisis, and the second-largest in Morgan Stanley's history. In successfully reaching a deal with ETrade, Morgan Stanley has intensified its competition with rival Goldman Sachs, which has pursued US consumers with its mass market wealth management business and online bank. ETrade's roughly 5.2 million customers have US$360 billion in assets, and Morgan Stanley characterized that as a "pipeline of emerging wealth." When the deal officially closes, Morgan Stanley will make 57 percent of its pre-tax profits from wealth management and investment management, a category that was overlooked until the financial crisis. The agreement is still subject to regulatory approval.

From "Morgan Stanley Agrees US$13 Billion Deal to Buy ETrade"
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Thyssenkrupp Nears Full Sale of US$17 Billion Elevator Division: Sources

Three people familiar with the matter said Thyssenkrupp is nearing a full sale of its elevator division, reports Reuters (20 February). The elevator deal is in its final stretch, with two consortia competing to win the contract and complete what could be Europe's biggest private-equity transaction in over a decade. Under the deal, Thyssenkrupp would likely sell all of the division, Elevator Technology, to realize the highest possible valuation, the people said. Though there is a small chance that Thyssenkrupp could retain a minority stake in the business, the likelihood of that happening has decreased as talks advanced, the sources said. Labor representatives, as well as the group’s top shareholder, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, have argued in favor of keeping a stake. Thyssenkrupp declined to comment on the report the deal was nearing completion.

From "Thyssenkrupp Nears Full Sale of US$17 Billion Elevator Division: Sources"
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Board/Management Relations

UBS Names ING's Ralph Hamers as Next Chief Executive

The Swiss banking giant UBS has announced that Ralph Hamers will be its next chief executive, reports the Financial Times (20 February, Morris, Megaw, Smith). Hamers, who is currently with ING, will officially step into the UBS role from 1 November. He will remain with ING until June, and begin his transition period at UBS in September. Outgoing UBS chief Sergio Ermotti dedicated nine years to putting the bank in a good place after it was bailed out during the financial crisis. Ermotti earned praise from analysts and observers for the way he handled the process. Hamers helped steer ING through its own post-financial crisis restructuring, making it "one of the best examples of digital innovation in the banking sector," said analysts at Vontobel. But during his tenure, ING also ran into compliance trouble.

From "UBS Names ING's Ralph Hamers as Next Chief Executive"
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Labor and Employment

Barclays Scraps Big-Brother Style Spyware on Staff Computers

Barclays scrapped the use of spyware software on staff computers at its London headquarters one day after the company policy leaked to the press. Barclays used the spyware to track how much time its employees spent at their desks. If the spyware judged that employees were insufficiently productive, it admonished them. The spyware reminded them to avoid taking breaks, and logged bathroom breaks as unaccounted activity. A The lender introduced the spyware in a pilot capacity last week, but when news of its existence leaked out, HR experts and privacy advocates immediately issued criticisms. A Barclays whistleblower told City A.M. (20 February, Menin) that the spyware caused untold stress on employees. The source said Barclays showed "an utter disregard for employee wellbeing," adding that employees were nervous to even get up for a drink of water because they did not want their activity statistics to get skewed. Sapience, the company providing the spyware, has claimed that the software provides "unprecedented transparency" within companies, but unions and privacy advocates blasted the spyware as "creepy" and unacceptable.

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Technology

Microsoft to Invest US$1.1 Billion in Mexico Over Next Five Years: CEO

The Mexican government released a promotional video Thursday revealing that Microsoft will invest US$1.1 billion in Mexico over the next five years, reports Reuters (20 February). In the video, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the tech giant is committed to "expanding access to digital technology for people and organizations across the country." As part of its investment, Microsoft is set to build a new data center in Mexico, Nadella said. The company will also invest in training labs and skills programs. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Microsoft's decision to invest in Mexico shows off the country's strength as an investment destination. Lopez Obrador has previously faced criticism that his government's policies turned off local and foreign investors.

From "Microsoft to Invest US$1.1 Billion in Mexico Over Next Five Years: CEO"
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Apple Weighs Letting Users Switch Default iPhone Apps to Rivals

Apple is reportedly weighing giving rival apps more prominence on iPhones and iPads as well as opening its HomePod speaker to third-party music services after criticism the company provides an unfair advantage to its in-house products. Sources said the tech giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on mobile Apple devices, reports Bloomberg (20 February, Gurman). That would allow Apple users to eschew the company's Safari and Mail apps in favor of rivals' services. For over a decade, Apple has refused to let its customers replace the pre-downloaded apps with third-party alternatives, prompting frustration among developers and suspicion among lawmakers. Safari and Mail are two of the most commonly-used apps in Apple mobile devices, and are the default option for anyone receiving a web link or email address. The sources, who asked not to be named for confidentiality reasons, said Apple is also discussing loosening restrictions on its rival music apps, including Spotify, on HomePods. Apple's system of promoting its default apps and blocking out rival apps came under scrutiny from the US House of Representatives last year.

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Data Privacy

Google Users in the United Kingdom to Reportedly Lose EU Data Protection

Sources revealed that Google is planning to move its UK users' accounts out of the control of EU privacy regulators, putting them in US jurisdictions instead. The shift was prompted by the UK exit from the European Union, reports Reuters (19 February, Menn), and will leave tens of millions of UK residents with less data privacy protection. Three people familiar with the plans confirmed Google's intention to lump UK users in with US users. The people said Google made the decision to put its UK users under US jurisdiction because it is unclear whether the United Kingdom plans to continue following the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The United States has among the weakest privacy protections of any major economy, with no broad law despite years of advocacy by consumer protection groups.

From "Google Users in the United Kingdom to Reportedly Lose EU Data Protection"
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Fidelity, Large Banks Join Forces to Build Data-sharing Network

A group of financial institutions announced Thursday that they have launched a data-sharing network with the goal of giving consumers more control over where their personal financial data goes. In the announcement, the group confirmed that Akoya, previously owned by Fidelity Investments' parent company FMR, has been spun off as an independent entity. Politico Pro (20 February, Guida) reports that Akoya is now jointly owned by FMR, The Clearing House Payments Co., and 11 banks. The Akoya move is designed to take another step closer to the future of financial data sharing, whereby financial institutions can tap into a common network to obtain financial information. Under that system, people who use the app Venmo, for example, would not have to give Venmo their routing and account numbers, because Venmo can obtain that information from the data-sharing network if it has the proper permission. The data-sharing system "really meets the needs of everybody in the ecosystem, and it creates a safer, more secure, and more transparent way for consumers to grant ... access to their data," said Akoya CEO Stuart Rubinstein.

From "Fidelity, Large Banks Join Forces to Build Data-sharing Network"
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Economic Outlook

Conference Board Leading Economic Index Increased in US in January

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for the United States increased 0.8 percent in January to 112.1, following a 0.3 percent decline in December. "The strong pickup in the January US LEI was driven by a sharp drop in initial unemployment insurance claims, increasing housing permits, consumers' outlook on the economy, and financial indicators," said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economic research at the Conference Board (20 February). "The LEI's six-month growth rate has returned to positive territory, suggesting that the current economic expansion — at about two percent — will continue through early 2020." The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index for the United States increased 0.1 percent in January to 107.3, following no change in December. The Conference Board Lagging Economic Index for the United States was unchanged in January at 108.7, following a 0.1 percent decline in December.

From "Conference Board Leading Economic Index Increased in US in January"
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Corporate Finance

BAE to Make £1 Billion Payment to Shrink Pensions Deficit

BAE Systems is set to make a £1 billion payment to fund a pensions black hole in coming months, reports Bloomberg (20 February, Ryan). BAE, which is Europe's biggest defense firm, struck an agreement with UK regulators before announcing the payment. In a statement Thursday, BAE confirmed it had a pension shortfall of £1.9 billion as of 31 October. The £1 billion debt-funded payment will be made under a deficit-recovery plan, the defense firm said. BAE Finance Director Pete Lynas said the deal "is a really good outcome for all stakeholders, and provides near term certainty for members and the company."

From "BAE to Make £1 Billion Payment to Shrink Pensions Deficit"
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