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— Cloud control: The Ukrainian government is urging Amazon and Microsoft to kick Russian businesses off of their ubiquitous AWS and Azure cloud computing services.
— Industry-friendly, Utah-approved: The latest state privacy bill set to become law is making the tech industry happy — and causing consternation among privacy advocates.
— Privacy for potential privates: The Selective Service System is getting a data security boost, courtesy of a new tranche of funding from the Technology Modernization Fund.
IT’S MONDAY, MARCH 7. Welcome to Morning Tech! I’m deeply jealous of everyone who was able to frolic outside in Sunday’s tremendous weather — I hope everyone dusted off the shorts and flip-flops!
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AMAZON, MICROSOFT PUSHED TO KICK RUSSIA OFF THE CLOUD: The steady drumbeat of major tech companies shuttering their services in Russia — whether by choice or at the Kremlin’s behest — continued unabated this weekend. On Saturday online payment provider PayPal suspended its services in Russia, and on Sunday video-sharing platform TikTok announced it would halt users’ ability to livestream or post new content under pressure from the Russian government.
But even as the exodus continues, Ukrainian officials are upping pressure on other tech companies — particularly Amazon and Microsoft — to further isolate Russia by cutting off the country’s access to their widely-used cloud computing and software products, including for existing clients.
— AWS and Azure targeted: Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister in charge of digital policy, called Sunday for Amazon to stop providing Amazon Web Services, its premier cloud computing product, to any and all Russian clients. In a letter sent to Amazon founder and executive chair Jeff Bezos, Fedorov suggested failing to cut Russia off would amount to supporting “bloodshed and disinformation that can be leveraged through digital infrastructures.”
Fedorov also singled out Microsoft for continuing to provide its Azure cloud computing services to Russian clients. In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Ukrainian official urged the company to additionally sever all existing relationships in Russia for communications and collaboration software Skype and Microsoft Teams, the popular office software suite Microsoft 365 and code hosting platform Github.
Many of Federov’s requests for assistance from tech firms around the world have so far been met, though it’s unclear whether the companies would have pulled out of Russia or supported Ukraine even without the official’s insistence.
— Starved of oxygen: It’s not clear how widely-used Microsoft and Amazon’s IT products are within Russia. A spokesperson for Microsoft, asked about the extent of Azure’s and the broader suite of Microsoft software’s penetration into Russia — as well as the company’s plans for possibly disabling those products for users in the country — pointed to a recent company announcement that it suspended new sales of its products and services in Russia. An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a similar request regarding AWS’s penetration into Russia or its future plans for the cloud service inside.
Taken together, Amazon and Microsoft’s suites of cloud computing and productivity products represent the bedrock of the global IT ecosystem. If they’re as ubiquitous in Russia as they are in many parts of the world, their abrupt departure could upend key industrial systems and further undermine the already tottering Russian economy.
UTAH’S INDUSTRY-FRIENDLY PRIVACY BILL POISED FOR PASSAGE: Utah is on track to become the fourth to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. But unlike some state privacy laws, SB227 faces strong skepticism from privacy groups and consumer advocates — while enjoying significant support from the tech industry.
— Teed up: On Friday the Utah House and Senate agreed on final passage of SB227, sending the bill to the desk of Utah’s Republican governor, Spencer Cox. The governor has up to 20 days from Friday to sign the legislation, and is widely expected to do so. If he signs, Utah will become the fourth state — after California, Colorado and Virginia — to pass comprehensive privacy rules.
— Industry sanguine: The tech industry has generally fought hard against state efforts to create their own data privacy regimes, arguing that a patchwork of state rules will be difficult for both businesses and consumers to make sense of. But SB227 — described by some legal observers as “much more business friendly” than even Virginia’s law — is being greeted warmly by tech lobbyists.
Tom Foulkes, the head of state advocacy at BSA | The Software Alliance, praised the legislation in a statement on Friday. Foulkes said he’s happy the bill “clearly distinguishes” between companies that control consumer data versus companies that merely process that data, claiming the distinction will safeguard user privacy without creating “new security risks.”
— Advocates frustrated: Utah legislators gave the final nod to SB227 over objections from a coalition of privacy groups, which on Thursday tried to convince them the bill would do little to protect consumers or “rein in major tech companies like Google and Facebook.”
The advocates — including Consumer Reports, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Common Sense and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse — warned the legislation risks “locking in industry-friendly provisions,” and urged lawmakers to include additional restrictions on tech companies’ ability to collect users’ data, such as a default prohibition on data sharing.
— Capitol Hill still stuck: The imminent addition of another state privacy law comes as the congressional push for a federal privacy bill remains stalled. Last week President Joe Biden sought to reinvigorate the data privacy push in Washington, particularly when it comes to protecting children online. But with few legislative days left in the calendar and consensus still elusive, the passage of a major federal privacy bill is looking increasingly unlikely this cycle.
TMF MOVES TO SECURE SELECTIVE SERVICE DATA: The Technology Modernization Fund — a program administered by the General Services Administration that received $1 billion as part of last year’s American Rescue Plan — is today announcing the government is allocating $9 million to beef up IT capabilities and data privacy at the Selective Service System and U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission.
Despite small budgets and staff, these two agencies each handle reams of sensitive data — particularly the Selective Service, which collects and stores the personal information of the millions of young men required to register for the military draft.
—First in MT: In a statement, GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said the new money would make interactions with these agencies simpler, safer and more responsive for the hundreds of millions of Americans who come in contact with them. The statement said the money will bolster cybersecurity and privacy protections for the millions of people required to provide personal data to the Selective Service — which also checks eligibility for benefits such as job training, student aid and over 4 million federal civilian and local government jobs — through what TMF Chair and Federal CIO Clare Martorana called a “cloud-first software and data architecture.”
— Post up: The Postal Regulatory Commission provides independent oversight of the U.S. Postal Service, which operates more than 34,000 post offices and last fiscal year handled more than 128 billion pieces of mail. GSA said the new modernization funding will improve the commission’s ability to oversee operations at the Postal Service.
The statement did not specify how GSA plans to divvy up the $9 million pot between the Selective Service System and Postal Regulatory Commission, and a GSA spokesperson was unable to provide that information ahead of press time.
— Growing pains: The TMF was established in 2017 with an initial $175 million provided by Congress to bolster aging federal IT systems, but ballooned in size last year with the $1 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan. Today’s new investment is the latest in more than half a dozen projects funded by that infusion.
But the rapid growth hasn’t come without hiccups — a January report from the Government Accountability Office found some TMF projects failed to collect or plan for project-related savings, a requirement of the program. Today’s announcement makes no mention of likely or potential cost-savings from either of the new investments.
The Federal Communications Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with the former Soviet state of Georgia concerning bilateral cooperation in media and telecommunications policy.
Iron Curtain 2.0: News outlets are using virtual private networks, the encrypted Tor browser and other technological tools to get information about the war in Ukraine to Russian citizens, the Washington Post reports.
The kids are all right? The Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at how YouTube Kids worked to make its site safer for children — even when doing so didn’t help user growth.
ICYMI: POLITICO EU’s Samuel Stolton reports that Netflix is suspending all service in Russia, just days after Moscow demanded it carry Kremlin-sanctioned propaganda.
‘You won’t have any computer chips’: Former President Donald Trump casually explains to professional golfer John Daly, over speakerphone, what he believes is at stake in a possible war between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.
Graphic content: Vice’s Motherboard reports that adult performers in Ukraine and Russia are using pornography website Pornhub to get word out about the Russian invasion and protest the Kremlin’s policies in one of the last spaces still available for dissent online.
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Have a great day!