Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 31/05/2021

The week’s news included; NHS data scrape, G7 agrees big tech tax plan, Tesco loses equal pay lawsuit, El Salvador accepts bitcoin as legal tender

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page and Facebook page for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.

Opinion articles of the week: 

  • Charged Retail – Amazon will be the UK’s largest retailer by 2025.
  • City A.M. – New tech regulation mustn’t be allowed to stifle innovation
  • BBC News – Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think

1. J&J LOSES SUPREME COURT CASE

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear Johnson and Johnson’s appeal against a $2.12 billion damages award. An earlier Missouri state court ruling held that 22 women had contracted ovarian cancer due to asbestos in J&J’s talc products and awarded them $4.69 billion in damages. The damages were reduced from $4.69 billion to $2.12 billion in the state Court of Appeals. J&J appealed on the grounds that due process rights had been violated, not that the products did not cause cancer.

The Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear J&J’s appeal following the loss in the Court of Appeals. Now, the US Supreme Court has also declined, meaning there are no further appeal options for J&J and the ruling is affirmed.

2. FACEBOOK FACING DOUBLE CRACKDOWN

Last week, both the UK and EU simultaneously launched antitrust investigations into Facebook over its use of advertising data. The European Commission is probing to determine whether Facebook breached EU data laws in its use of advertising data gathered from competitors. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority will investigate Facebook over the same issue. It will also determine whether Facebook has gained an unfair market advantage through its dominance in the digital advertising space. The CMA will particularly focus on its use of data to bolster its Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Dating. There is concern Facebook could be stifling competition in these sectors through harnessing the data its obtained through other parts of its business. Facebook says it’s a small market player in both sectors but neither the EU or the UK are satisfied. 

3. NHS DATA SCRAPE

The government is facing calls to delay plans to share the medical records of 55m patients with third parties. NHS Digital will pool data from every registered patient in England into a single database. Then this information will be available to both academic and commercial organisations for the purposes of research and planning. Data records from the past 10 years can be extracted via this system. The database cannot be accessed “solely” for commercial purposes and must involve some medical research or planning. Applications for access will be considered on a case by case basis.

The use of the data could help provide greater healthcare advancements but understandably, this has sparked significant privacy concerns. It is likely that organisations like Google will be receiving data, adding their already enormous data piles.

Law firm Foxglove has written to the Department of Health and Social Care, challenging the legality of the plans. Additionally, limited information about the scheme has been given to the public by the government, despite the magnitude of the data scrape. Foxglove has said it will seek an injunction to halt the plans if the government does obtain “meaningful patient consent”.

Even the NHS itself wanted to delay the launch of the plans until September to give patients more time to understand the systems. The government, however, is pushing ahead with the 1 July launch date. Registered patients have until 23 June to opt out. You can opt out using the link here.

4. G7 AGREES TAX PLAN

G7 leaders have agreed a landmark deal paving the way for global cooperation to effectively tax tech giants. The plans will target the world’s largest firms that have profit margins of 10% and over. The joint G7 statement does not mention specific targeting of tech firms, rather that the move targets any large profitable businesses. France and the UK however, have been clear that their primary target is in fact tech firms.

There would be a global minimum tax on large firms of 15%, stemming the aggressive cross-border tax avoidance schemes. Firms often channel profits through low tax jurisdictions and pay little to no tax in jurisdictions where they make most revenue.

The final details of the deal are still being finalised but the foundation has been agreed. This deal has largely been driven by Joe Biden who has set out to ensure fairness in the tax system. Individual nations like France and Italy may abandon their own domestic taxes on big tech once the new framework comes in.

5. TESCO LOSES ECJ CASE

Tesco has lost a landmark equal pay lawsuit in the European Court of Justice. The supermarket pays its majority female shop floor workers up to £3 less than predominantly male warehouse workers. Shop floor workers subsequently sued, claiming that this practice breaches EU law.

The ECJ found that the EU law was currently applicable in this case. Furthermore, they held shop floor workers are considered to do work of equal value to warehouse workers. This could collectively entitle 25,000 Tesco workers to £2.5 billion in back pay claims.  The ECJ still has jurisdiction in this case and its ruling is binding upon UK law despite Brexit. This decision however, is one of the last major decisions of EU courts covering UK employment lawsuits.

Asda recently lost a similar employment lawsuit in the UK courts and could now face billions in back payments. Other supermarkets and retailers could see similar claims arise in light of the precedence being set.

6. EBAY SALE APPROVED

Ebay’s £6.5 billion sale of its classified ads business to Norweigan competitor Adevinta has been approved by the Competition and Markets Authority. Alongside the sale, eBay will receive a 33.3% stake in Adevinta and board member positions.

A number of concerns had to be addressed before approval was granted. This tie-up may have given eBay an unfair advantage over competitors Shpock and Gumtree, which are owned by Adevinta and eBay respectively. Fundamentally, the CMA feared the deal may have seen reduced competition in the sector. To alleviate concerns, Adevinta had to sell UK based Shpock while eBay also agreed to sell Gumtree and Motors.co.uk.

Following this, the CMA was comfortable not to launch a deeper investigation and approve the deal. The deal is expected to be finalised by the end of July.

7. UK NEW TRADE DEALS

The UK has signed a trade deal with three EEA countries. A deal with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway covering a range of products has been agreed. Tariffs would be slashed on farm produce and fish, providing a boost to domestic farmers. Since the UK left the EU, individual deals with these nations needed to be negotiated. This latest deal, however, is less extensive than the arrangements under the EU. Trade between the UK, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway is worth £21.6 billion annually.

8. EL SALVADOR ACCEPTS BITCOIN

El Salvador is to become the first sovereign nation to accept bitcoin as legal tender along with the US dollar. The Central American country has struck a partnership with digital wallet company, Strike, that will see a national financial infrastructure created using bitcoin.

In El Salvador, around 70% of people do not have bank accounts or credit cards and most transactions are cash. Bitcoin could revolutionise the economy. Remittances account for 20% of El-Salvador’s GDP and the use of bitcoin could see faster, cheaper transactions for residents.

This news comes despite a history of volatility in cryptocurrency markets. Prices can typically fluctuate by 10% within a single day without any discernible reason. El Salvador’s GDP was just $27 billion in 2019, whereas Bitcoin’s current market cap is a huge $674 billion. A country like El Salvador is still likely to be at the mercy of the volatility of the markets, even after widespread adoption. Nevertheless, this is an important step for bitcoin in becoming a truly recognised currency. 

9. CALM APP SUPPORTS OSAKA

Meditation app Calm has pledged to pay any professional tennis player’s fine who opts out of press conferences due to mental health reasons.

Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open after refusing to appear at press conferences due to the impact on her mental health. The 23-year-old was fined $15,000 after refusing to speak to the media after her first-round win.

Osaka has been praised and criticised in equal measure. Praise came from all sides, including from the legendary Serena Williams, who voiced her support for Osaka putting her mental health first. Critics from within the tennis community, however, note that while press conferences can be difficult, the relation between tennis players and media is symbiotic. Media has made tennis a lucrative venture for top players and in return players are required to speak to them.

Now, Calm has entered the ring with the largest sign of support for Osaka. The sleep, relaxation and mediation app announced it will give $15,000 to the organisations of the French open to support Osaka’s decision. It will also cover any other fine for players who opt out of this year’s Grand Slam appearances. In its announcement it had an accompanying picture simply reading “Mental health is health.”. 

10. TWITTER LAUNCHES SUBSCRIPTION MODEL

Twitter has announced it will launch its subscription model Twitter Blue, where users pay a monthly fee for exclusive features. This move will help supplement its ad revenue and diversify its income. The service will first launch in Canada and Australia for $3.49 and $4.49 in local currencies respectively per month. No plans for a further rollout have been announced yet.

The features include an Undo Tweet option which allows users to set a timer of up to 30 seconds to amend a tweet. It essentially allows a preview of a tweet before publishing. Users will also be able to use a reader mode, making long threads more digestible and users have dedicated customer support. Whether this model will be successful remains to be seen.

This also comes as the Nigerian government banned Twitter throughout the country after one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets were deleted. Furthermore, although the ban is said to be temporary the government said it will prosecute anyone found in breach of the ban.

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