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The Federal Reserve is open to creating a digital dollar

The Federal Reserve finally released a much-delayed paper yesterday opining on the pros and cons of developing its own central bank digital currency (CBDC), but without coming to any firm conclusions.

Why it matters: Around the world, there are now 23 CBDCs either in pilot or formally launched. They have morphed from a theoretical concept into real-world digital cash, changing the way governments and millions of people use money — but not in the U.S.

Between the lines: Although the Fed’s paper doesn’t advocate one way or another on whether the U.S. should begin development, the language used in the paper indicates that it’s very open to the idea, Josh Lipsky, director at the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, tells Axios.

  • “Part of the reason that they’re [open to it] is they see countries around the world exploring CBDCs,” says Jonathan McCollum, chair of federal government relations for Davidoff Hutcher & Citron. “I think they understand that the U.S. has an important role to play in creating some sort of [international] standards.”

The big picture: A digital dollar would be legal tender pegged to the value of the physical dollar and backed by the Fed.

  • Central banks are considering CBDCs in order to retain control over monetary policy in the face of growing cryptocurrency adoption, and because they could enable more efficient government payments and financial inclusion.
  • It’s also a matter of international influence: Fed vice chair nominee Lael Brainard, for one, said last year that she couldn’t “wrap [her] head around” the U.S. not having one, given the dollar’s current dominance in international payments — and China’s head start on developing its own digital yuan.

China is the largest economy with a pilot, and as of November about 140 million people had opened digital wallets, China’s central bank said.

  • For the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese authorities are encouraging athletes and companies to use the digital yuan, in an effort to showcase it internationally, Bloomberg reported.

How it works: Globally, central banks are so far using existing financial networks — like banks, fintechs, and even telecom companies — to distribute CBDCs to citizens, Jonathan Dharmapalan, CEO of eCurrency, tells Axios.

  • That’s notable, because “if you go back a few years, there were these ideas out there that people were going to have Fed apps on their phone. But that’s not happening,” adds Lipsky.

Still, consumer adoption has been slow — in part since existing electronic payments systems are pretty convenient, according to reports on China’s efforts. Same in Nigeria, the largest economy to formally launch a CBDC.

  • In Nigeria, consumers go through a clunky process to set up the digital wallet app and connect it to their bank account, says Naomi Aladekoba, who’s based in Nigeria for the Atlantic Council. But once that’s done, using the wallet is simple and efficient, with instantaneous transfers — not unlike using Venmo stateside, she says.
  • Nigeria plans to roll out a program in which users won’t need smartphones — only a national identification number — to use the digital currency. With a large cash economy, this could help alleviate the crippling challenge that the frequent lack of correct change poses for vendors and consumers, Aladekoba says.

What’s next: In the U.S., there’s a 120-day comment period on the new paper, after which the Fed may issue a follow-up.

  • But the ball is effectively in Congress’ court: the Fed said unequivocally that it wouldn’t move forward on any CBDC development without legislative action granting it authority.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Kate Marino

ISPs must accept gov’t subsidy on all plans—no more upselling, FCC chair says

A stack of three $10 bills

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | maogg)

Less than a year after Verizon and other ISPs forced users to switch plans in order to get government-funded discounts, a new federal program will prevent such upselling by requiring ISPs to let customers obtain subsidies on any Internet plan.

With last year’s $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit that was created by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission let ISPs participate in the program as long as they offered the discount on at least one service plan. The FCC said it did so to encourage participation by providers, but some major ISPs drastically limited the subsidy-eligible plans—forcing users to switch to plans that could be more expensive in order to get a temporary discount.

Congress subsequently created a replacement program that will offer $30 monthly subsidies to people with low incomes. The program also specified that ISPs “shall allow an eligible household to apply the affordable connectivity benefit to any Internet service offering of the participating provider at the same terms available to households that are not eligible households.” The FCC still has to make rules for implementing the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), but that requirement prevented the FCC from using the same one-plan rule that helped ISPs use the program as an upselling opportunity.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jon Brodkin

More EVs, hybrids likely to follow revised EPA fuel economy standards

More EVs, hybrids likely to follow revised EPA fuel economy standards

Enlarge (credit: Luke Sharrett via Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency today announced more stringent fuel economy standards that will require passenger vehicles to travel 70 percent farther on a gallon of gasoline.

The Biden administration announced earlier this year that it would be revising the Trump-era standards, which sought to increase fleet average fuel economy 1.5 percent per year through 2026. The new EPA standards will require automakers to improve fuel economy by 5–10 percent annually across their fleets. Five years from now, fuel economy on new vehicle Monroney stickers will average about 40 mpg combined, up from about 25 mpg today.

The move will save car and truck owners more than $1,000 over the lifetime of their vehicles, the agency said, and it will prevent 3.1 billion tons of carbon pollution through 2050. Transportation represents about a third of US carbon emissions. The rule will take effect in 60 days and will apply to model years 2023–2026. 

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tim De Chant

Maryland health department hit by cyberattack


Maryland authorities are investigating a cyberattack that took the state Department of Health offline this past weekend, as they determine if any information has been stolen.”The Maryland Security Operations Center…

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joseph Choi

The Treasury Department is buying sensitive app data for investigations


It’s no secret that app data can reach investigators without much oversight, but you might be surprised at just who is buying that data. The Intercept and advocacy group Tech Inquiry have learned that the US Treasury Department recently bought sensitive app data from Babel Street, the same firm that handed info to the Secret Service and other agencies. The department spent over $300,000 on two contracts in the past four months to collect data for the sake of investigations.

One contract, made official in July 2021, gave Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) investigators access to mobile app location data from Babel Street’s Locate X tool. The info will help OFAC target people and enforce international sanctions, according to the contract. As you might expect, there’s a concern the office is effectively circumventing Fourth Amendment search restrictions. The data is technically anonymous, but it’s relatively easy for an investigator to link data to individuals.

The other contract, from September 2021, gives the Internal Revenue Service a tool that scrapes information from “public digital media records.” The software will theoretically help the IRS catch tax evaders through online activity like social media posts and forum conversations. While it’s legal to view that content, the Treasury wants Babel Street to provide “available bio-metric [sic] data” like addresses and marital status that may create a detailed profile.

The concern isn’t just that the Treasury might be circumventing the Fourth Amendment by obtaining some data (particularly locations) without a warrant. This also represents an expansion of “invasive surveillance,” Tech Inquiry founder Jack Poulson told The Intercept. Rather than scaling back its efforts, the US government is stepping things up.

We’ve asked the Treasury for comment. There’s no guarantee it will back off. With that said, Senator Ron Wyden and others are pushing legislation that would require a court order for these data purchases. If bills like The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act ever become law, the government would at least need to pass a basic legal test to buy this sensitive material — even if officials wouldn’t require your knowledge.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jon Fingas

A GPS-Based Bug Could Roll Back Your Devices to 2002


No one needs low-rise jeans to come back. Or capri trousers. And though they were supremely comfortable for their time, the Juicy Couture tracksuit can stay in the vault we put it in. Time has to stay synced precisely to the second, to prevent there from making a comeback. But a bug in the time rollback checking code…

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Florence Ion

‘The Buck Stops With Mark’: Facebook Whistleblower Says Zuckerberg Responsible for System Harming Kids


Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen stepped out of the shadows Sunday after months of working secretly with lawyers, journalists and lawmakers to build a case against the company she’d once thought to change from within—but now views as fundamentally threatening to the whole of humanity. Haugen was once against…

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Dell Cameron

Apple, Amazon and others back groups trying to kill US climate legislation


Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Disney are among the major companies backing corporate lobby groups and organizations that are battling a US climate bill, according to a report. That’s despite those companies all making pledges to reduce their impact on the environment.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the Rate Coalition are three of the lobbyist and business groups that oppose the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget bill, which includes measures to fight climate change. The Guardian reports that watchdog Accountable.US analyzed the groups to learn which companies have connections to them.

The Chamber of Commerce, the biggest lobbying group in the US, has said it would “do everything we can to prevent this tax-raising, job-killing reconciliation bill from becoming law.” The group’s board includes executives from the likes of United Airlines and Microsoft.

The board of the Business Roundtable includes Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google and Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. The group has said it’s “deeply concerned” about the bill and the increased taxes it would lead to for the rich. Google has also made political contributions in the past to individuals and organizations that have denied climate change.

The report notes that The Rate Coalition is set to release attack ads against the bill. That body’s members include Disney and Verizon (Engadget’s former parent company).

The support of lobbying groups that are attempting to kill the bill conflicts with the tech companies’ attempts to tackle the climate crisis. Apple, Google and Microsoft have all backed the Paris Agreement, for one thing. Apple and Microsoft promised to become carbon neutral and carbon negative respectively by 2030.

In 2019, Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos launched the Climate Pledge, which has a goal of hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and meeting the Paris Agreement benchmarks a decade early. Microsoft is among the 200+ companies that have joined the pledge. Disney, meanwhile, is aiming to reach net zero emissions for its direct operations by 2030.

Engadget has contacted Apple, Google and Microsoft for comment. The Guardian said that none of the companies it contacted rejected the stances of the groups they’re members of. None of them said they would re-assess their connections to those bodies either.

As Congress considers a vote on the #IIJA, we urge action to modernize the transportation network, reduce emissions and address the climate change crisis. The climate-focused elements included represent significant strides to turn ideas to reality.

— Amazon Public Policy (@amazon_policy) October 1, 2021

On Friday, Amazon expressed support for the infrastructure bill and the climate aspects of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. A spokesperson provided the following statement to Engadget:

Amazon believes both private and public sector leadership is required to tackle the global issue of climate change. That’s why we actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system. In addition to advocating for these issues on a local, state, and international level, we have a worldwide sustainability team that innovates sustainable solutions for both our business and customers, as well as co-founded The Climate Pledge – a commitment to be net-zero carbon 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.

Amazon has made bold commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and we continue to encourage other companies to join us. We support investments in the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills to lower emissions in key sectors like energy and transportation, and we believe these investments will help advance America’s carbon reduction goals. As we said earlier this year, we support an increase in the corporate tax rate to pay for things like infrastructure, and we look forward to Congress and the administration coming together to find the right, balanced solution that maintains or enhances U.S. competitiveness.

Update 1/10 12:22PM ET: Added Amazon’s statement.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Kris Holt

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