Tech News: French Parliament Approves Digital Sales Tax, U.S. Orders Inquiry

The French parliament has just approved a 3% digital sales tax aimed at closing the loopholes big tech companies use to bring down their tax bills.  

The plan: The tax on sales generated in France will apply to companies with global revenues over €750 million ($849 million) or French revenues over €25 million. It is expected to raise about €500 million a year.

A backlash: Inevitably, most of the companies affected are based in the US. It’s for that reason that the US government has ordered an inquiry into the new tax, with the potential to implement tariffs on French goods in retaliation.

First of many: The low tax yield from wealthy global tech firms is controversial far beyond France. The UK, Spain, Italy, and Austria are considering similar sales taxes, raising the question of how the US will respond if they take effect. Perhaps it might even prompt countries to finally agree on some common tax rules.

source: MIT Technology Review and Wall Street Journal

Congress drops proposal to ban IRS from competing with Turbotax

Tax-prep companies lobbied to ban the IRS from offering a competing service.

Lawmakers are planning to drop a proposal to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from offering a free online tax-filing option, Politico and Pro Publica report. The provision was included in the Taxpayer First Act, which passed the House in April but has not passed the Senate. It was backed by the makers of private tax preparation software, including Intuit (makers of TurboTax) and H&R Block.

The IRS doesn’t currently offer a free online tax filing option. Instead, since 2003 the agency has had a standing deal with companies like Intuit and H&R Block to offer free versions of their products to customers with modest incomes and simple tax situations. In exchange, the IRS promised not to offer an online filing program of its own. Around 70 percent of all tax filers are eligible for the companies’ free versions.

The current arrangement has obvious advantages. Consumers can choose from several different tax-filing programs, all produced at no expense to taxpayers. The problem, critics say, is that hardly anyone is actually using the free private options. Only about 3% of eligible returns have been filed using the services over the last 16 years, according to Pro Publica. That’s partly because many eligible taxpayers don’t know about the program.

The companies have little incentive to publicize the option, and they take every opportunity to upsell customers on paid services that they may not actually need. Recently, Pro Publica even caught Intuit using a robots.txt file to prevent Google from indexing the free version of Turbotax, preventing many eligible users from finding it. (Intuit changed this after the Pro Publica story ran.) full article

Rise of the Augmented Worker

Augmented reality (AR) technology is beginning to change how workers are trained in education, healthcare, entertainment, and gaming. Now it’s entering manufacturing. In the session, The Rise of the Augmented Worker – How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize Manufacturing, Chris Kuntz, VP of marketing at Augmentir explained how training in AR can improve productivity, efficiency, and safety in the manufacturing setting. He also shared insights on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be combined with AR to deliver manufacturing knowledge

Transferring Boomer Knowledge to Millennials

One challenge facing manufacturers is the retirement of Baby Boomer. Those skilled workers are leaving the plants with decades of knowledge. “There is a lot of intelligence and expertise in the aging workforce that is leaving,” said Kuntz. “Companies are trying to figure out how to take that knowledge to new younger workers. Yet there is not a lot of insight into how to capture that knowledge.” click here for full article

Tech Policy Conversation Starter: “I left the ad industry because our use of data tracking terrified me”

Richard Stokes is the founder and CEO of Winston Privacy.

It was a little over two years ago that I realized the ad-tech industry had gone too far. I was an executive at a global advertising company, watching a demo from a third-party data provider on how they could help with ad targeting. Their representative brazenly demonstrated how he could pull up his own personal record and share with us his income, his mortgage details, where he worked, what kind of car he drove, which political party he was likely to vote for, and his personal interests (craft beer, of course). It was everything, all in one place. Not to be outdone, another startup projected a map of San Francisco with a red line tracking a real, anonymous person throughout their day. He challenged us to infer what we could about her. She left the house at 7 a.m. Went to Starbucks. Went to a school. Went to a yoga studio. Went back to the school. She was a mother with at least one child, and we knew where she lived. We knew this because this woman’s cell phone was tracking her every move. As does every other cell phone, including the one in your pocket right now.

Advertising had ceased to be about connecting with consumers—it was now about finding novel ways of extracting evermore personal information from computers, phones, and smart homes. [We have] come to accept that our every move is being tracked and used to manipulate what we read, what we buy, how we vote, and how we see the world. By using ‘smart’ devices, we have invited a vast network of big tech companies, advertisers, data brokers, governments, and more into our homes and pockets. These companies have been extracting our personal data without permission and making fortunes with it. And now, with every post, click, and purchase, we have become the product. I didn’t agree to that, and I bet you didn’t either. Full article