• Market Crumbs

Is Google's New Side Hustle Actually A Win For Privacy Advocates?

Image via Financial Times

Google arguably has more information on you than any other company in the world. Shares of the search giant's parent, Alphabet, surpassed a $1 trillion valuation last week. With a net income of more than $30 billion on sales of nearly $137 billion last year, what difference would a few more bucks really make to Alphabet?

Well depending on who you ask, Google's latest side hustle is yet another way for the company to rake in money or surprisingly, taking a stand for privacy advocates. 

According to the New York Times, Google has started to charge law enforcement and government agencies for legal demands telling the company to provide data such as emails, location information and search histories. A subpoena will require agencies to fork over $45 to Google, a wiretap runs for $60 and a search warrant will cost agencies a whopping $245. 

A spokesperson for Google told the New York Times "the fees were intended in part to help offset the costs of complying with warrants and subpoenas." Federal laws allow companies to charge agencies reimbursement fees, but is typically not done by tech companies for fear they will be accused of profiting off of legal requests for user data. Facebook does not seek reimbursement, while Twitter and Microsoft decline to say whether they do. Telecommunication companies such as Cox Communications and Verizon Communications have charged for such services for years.

During the first half of 2019, Google received more than 75,000 requests for data, with one-third of them coming from the United States. The total equates to about a 50% increase in data requests compared to the same period in 2018. For comparison, Microsoft and Facebook received 24,175 and 128,000 requests for data, respectively, over the same time period in 2019.

A Google spokesperson said that "there was no specific reason the fees were announced this month and that they had been under consideration for some time." Google will not seek reimbursement in cases such as child safety investigations and life-threatening emergencies.

However, some believe the move by Google may actually be a win for privacy advocates. Their argument is by charging agencies a reimbursement fee, it could potentially cause the agencies to not request data as often.

"None of the services were designed with exfiltrating data for law enforcement in mind," Al Gidari, a lawyer who previously represented Google, said. Gidari, who is currently

the consulting privacy director at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, added "The actual costs of doing wiretaps and responding to search warrants is high, and when you pass those costs on to the government, it deters from excessive surveillance."

While Google will likely never go into the full details of its decision to begin seeking reimbursement fees for data requests, it seems unlikely the motive is driven by the money it could generate. Perhaps Google, which has for years seen its reputation deteriorate amidst privacy concerns, had made the move with the goal of deterring law enforcement and government agencies from continuing to flood the company with data requests.

Leftover Crumbs

  • Another Unicorn bites the dust. Investors in mattress retailer Casper, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and 50 Cent, will be disappointed as the company will go public at a valuation well below its last funding round. The company expects to price 9.6 million shares between $17.00 and $19.00 per share, indicating a valuation of $768 million at the high end of the range. However, Casper's latest private funding round in 2019 valued the company at approximately $1.1 billion. Perhaps investors are not impressed with the company's growing losses and increased competition

  • Hedge funds are out of style at the moment. Investors pulled a net $98 billion from hedge funds last year, the largest outflow in three years for the industry. Private equity appears to be benefiting from the trend change, as investors moved 25% of alternative investments—which are those outside of cash, bonds and stocks, into the investment class, compared with 18% in 2018. "While some investors may have reduced allocations to the asset class overall, hedge fund assets continued to rise amid strong returns, hitting a record high at $3.3 trillion according to the Hedge Fund Research database (HFR)," UBS Global Chief Investment Officer Mark Haefele said.

  • It's a drop in the bucket. MacKenzie Bezos, who received a 4% stake in Amazon as part of her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, has reduced her stake by about $400 million. While it's not clear if the move is a sale, gift or transfer, filings show she holds 19.5 million shares compared to the 19.7 million shares she received as part of the divorce settlement. Bezos' stake still stands at approximately $36 billion, making her the 25th-wealthiest person in the world. Bezos signed the Giving Pledge last year, meaning she intends to donate more than half of her wealth to philanthropy.

  • Does three make a trend? New U.S. single-family home sales fell in December for the third-consecutive month, according to the United States Commerce Department. As usual, a lack of supply at the lower end of the housing market was to blame. Sales in the south, which is the largest region and includes the hot Florida market where everyone is moving to avoid taxes, fell to a more than one-year low. For the year, new home sales jumped 10.3% to 681,000 units, the highest since the height of the housing boom in 2007. The median new home price rose 0.5% from the same period a year ago to $331,400.

  • Detroit is turning electric. General Motors announced it will invest $2.2 billion to renovate the Hamtramck Assembly Plant in Detroit so it can build electric vehicles. The plant will become GM's "first dedicated all-EV assembly plant" and will create 2,200 jobs. "We're pleased to announce GM is investing $2.2 billion in this Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant to build a new generation of electric pickup trucks, SUVs, and other EVs (electric vehicles) beginning late just this next year," said GM President Mark Reuss.