Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
Photo: Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images

Uber and Lyft are rewriting the political playbook in Massachusetts

Protocol Policy

Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! To wrap up a wild week in tech, we bring you a story about the Massachusetts gig battle that’s primed to reshape the future of work … and lobbying. Plus, we catch you up on the Sohn Saga and the latest with the Open App Markets Act. And did we mention Protocol turns two tomorrow? Here’s to many more newsletters. 🥂

Gig companies are rewriting the lobbying playbook in Massachusetts

My colleague Anna Kramer and I spent the last few weeks investigating the Massachusetts Proposition 22-esque campaign that would ensure gig workers remain independent contractors. You can read the full article here. One thing became clear early on: This campaign will likely become one of the most expensive, complicated and consequential ballot questions in U.S. history, and you need to be paying close attention.

Let’s start with the expensive part: Get ready to see a whole lot of broken campaign spending records.

  • The California Proposition 22 battle became the most expensive ballot measure in state history. The gig companies spent a little over $200 million, while their labor group opponents spent just $20 million.
  • In Massachusetts, the gig companies are poised to surpass the state record of $60 million spent across all ballot measures in 2020.
  • Even at this relatively early stage, Lyft has already broken Massachusetts’ one-time political contribution record with a $14.4 million donation late last year.
  • By November, the “No” campaign anticipates their opponents will have raised at least $100 million. Their own goal is around $10 million.

The gig companies are fighting in courts, in the Massachusetts legislature and potentially on November ballots. This three-pronged approach is more sophisticated than the California campaign strategy. It also demonstrates that it’s no longer enough to have a plan — you also need a backup plan and a backup-backup plan.

  • The court battle kicked off in July 2020 when Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit attempting to grant gig workers employee benefits under existing state law.
  • That lawsuit is ongoing, but the gig companies don’t need to win if they change the law underpinning it, either through the legislature or the voter ballot measure.
  • So the gig coalition spent over $1.7 million to gather enough signatures to get the question one step closer to appearing on November ballots.

Here’s where things get interesting: Under Massachusetts law, the state Legislature can choose to decide the outcome of ballot initiatives themselves, cutting in front of voters.

  • “We continue to push for a legislative solution to this issue and we’re confident that our legislative leaders can get it done,” Conor Yunits, a spokesperson for the gig coalition, told Protocol. This outcome would save the gig companies a lot of headache, as they wouldn’t have to shell out for an immense media campaign to win over voters.
  • The legislative opposition doesn’t share this view. “We anticipate that this will go before the voters this November,” said Massachusetts state Senator Paul R. Feeney.
  • Within the Statehouse, Feeney senses that the gig companies are preparing for the measure to go to ballots in November, despite their statements to the contrary.
  • As things stand now, it’s likely neither campaign will get its best-case scenario, meaning Massachusetts voters will likely get the final say. If you live in the Commonwealth, get ready to see a lot of new political ads. (At least maybe you’ll get a break from the endless DraftKings spots?)

A win in Massachusetts would give the gig companies a political playbook ready to export around the U.S.

  • Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi indicated in a November 2020 earnings call that the company is looking to export its Prop. 22 victory across the U.S. and the world.
  • Massachusetts is the perfect proving ground for a new era of lobbying: Opponents believe it will be a tougher test than California, given the state’s long pro-labor history and highly engaged voter base.
  • The future of work hangs in the balance: Millions of full-time American jobs that still provide health insurance and sick leave are primed to be giggified.
  • “We know that if they are successful here in Massachusetts with drivers, that this is only the beginning,” Feeney said.

— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)


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In Washington

The White House has declared itself very cool with the U.S. tech antitrust pushes, but it’s suspiciously mute on the details of the House and Senate bills. It’s also far less keen on Europe’s fast-moving competition initiative — the Digital Markets Act.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Cory Booker joined Rep. Yvette Clarke to introduce a dramatically expanded version of their Algorithmic Accountability Act. The Democrats’ bill would require tech companies to assess and report on the impact of their automated systems and would create a Bureau of Technology at the FTC, staffed with 50 people, to enforce the law.

The Sohn Saga continues: Gigi Sohn will face a second hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee next week. Her nomination to the FCC appears to be in limbo for now, as Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján recovers from a stroke. Republicans also want to dig into her ties to Locast, a free, over-the-air streaming service that recently shut down following a copyright lawsuit. Sohn has made additional ethics commitments to try to put the issue to rest.

The administration announced the new federal Cyber Safety Review Board to probe cybersecurity incidents in hopes of preventing them in the future. First up is Log4j. The board will include government personnel, as well as top officials from Google, Microsoft and others.

The Open App Markets Act is heading to the Senate floor after a speedy markup in the Judiciary Committee. The bill would loosen Apple and Google’s stranglehold on app stores, but has faced fierce opposition from the tech industry over security and content moderation concerns.

On Protocol

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Is Meta about to fail its way out of antitrust scrutiny? Not quite. But the company’s market free fall did bring it amazingly close to the line Congress has set for companies to be covered under its recent antitrust bill. Good thing the bill’s not based on a company’s value on any single (very bad) day.

The 2022 Winter Olympics have become a platform for China to demonstrate its vision of the future. China has attempted to highlight its status as an emerging tech superpower, complete with cocktail-mixing robots and advanced COVID protocols. But the U.S. has built a counter-narrative, suggesting “apps and technologies with ties to the Chinese government … could compromise the security and privacy of Olympic contenders.”

Around the world

Russia was planning to fabricate a video to justify invading Ukraine, according to U.S. intelligence. The video, which would have contained “graphic images of the staged, corpse-strewn aftermath of an explosion” according to The New York Times, would constitute a major escalation of Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns. A video of AP reporter Matt Lee pressing State Department Spokesperson Ned Price to back up these assertions with further evidence went viral, garnering millions of views as of this writing.

Meanwhile, China is cracking down on deepfakes with a draft rule that would require anyone who uses deep learning to generate text, images, audio, videos or virtual scenes to track who’s using their tools and “insert marks” that make the videos traceable.

Apple is totally complying with a Dutch antitrust ruling allowing dating apps to use third-party payment processing to get out of Apple’s fees. Also by the way, Apple is charging a fee at a pretty similar rate for those who do. For reasons. Also actually, Apple recently got fined for not complying with the ruling fast enough.


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Coming soon

The changing role of the CIO: Join Protocol’s own Tom Krazit as he and a panel of experts explore the next evolution of the CIO within modern enterprises. RSVP here to join us on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET.

In the C-Suite

Google and other tech companies have a “whiteness problem,” wrote Alex Hanna, an ethical AI researcher who is leaving Google to join Timnit Gebru’s AI research institution. "I am quitting because I’m tired," Hanna wrote in a resignation letter that accused the company of elevating employees who have "little interest in mitigating the worst harms" caused by its products.

GETTR laid off its CIO and CISO at the end of last year, and they haven’t been replaced, according to a report in the Washington Examiner. The conservative-oriented social network, founded by a former Trump spokesman, cited money troubles as it got rid of more than a dozen members of its security and infrastructure teams. Adding insult to injury, rival app Parler’s Twitter account retweeted the story.


We turn two tomorrow! Protocol, that is. Read some of our editor-in-chief Tim Grieve’s favorite Protocol stories from the past year.

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