Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified at a rare joint hearing before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees to answer questions following revelations that personal information from more than 87 million Facebook users may have been shared without their permission by Cambridge Analytica, a political targeting firm. Over the weekend, Facebook suspended two more data analytics companies from using its service suspected of collecting user data under false pretenses.
Cambridge Analytica is accused of exploiting Facebook to obtain the personal information of 87 million Facebook users without their permission to build a software program that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalized political advertisements. Cambridge Analytica initially received permission through an app from hundreds of thousands of individuals who were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their Facebook data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers' Facebook friends, leading to millions of users having their data collected.
WARNING SHOTS FIRED
During Zuckerberg's testimony, Senators signaled they were prepared to impose new regulations for big tech companies. Zuckerberg responded that he was open to government regulation but stressed it needed to be the "right regulation." He suggested openness to a few categories of government regulation, including transparency requirements concerning data use, mandates for user control over their data and protections for innovation. He also reiterated Facebook's support for The Honest Ads Act, which calls on major online services to keep a public file on political ad purchases that anyone can access. It would also force tech companies to include political ad disclaimers and identify who sponsored them. Twitter just announced its decision to also support the Honest Ads Act.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the only agency that has authority over tech companies, shared its own intention to investigate the Cambridge Analytica scandal. So far, U.S. privacy regulations have stalled under the Trump administration, whose leadership has rescinded many of the Obama-era privacy regulations. We'll keep an eye on if the tide will turn and additional regulations will gain momentum.
Always On My Mind
The Workers' Compensation Research Institute released a study last month that found injured workers who were on longer-term opioid prescriptions led to longer durations of temporary disability - more than triple the time of claims with no opioid prescriptions. Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti stated that the state needs to change laws to limit long-term opioid prescribing. A task force she headed is recommending legislation that would limit the duration of first-time opioid prescriptions to seven days without specific steps and due diligence from the provider.
Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that limits opioid prescriptions issued in West Virginia - the state with the highest overdose death rate in the nation. The Opioid Reduction Act limits initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply. However, the bill limits prescriptions to four days when written in emergency rooms or urgent care facilities. The new law also limits dentists and optometrists to a three-day supply as well as any prescription to a minor to three days. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation that would prevent injured workers from being over-prescribed opioids. Hawaii is also working on passing a workers' compensation bill that would require health care providers who prescribe opioids to adopt and maintain policies of informed consent as well as limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The state legislature passed a bill to raise the workers' compensation death benefits for dependents. The bill increases the initial dependency payment for spouses and children from $40,000 to $60,000 and continues weekly benefits up to 67% of the workers' average weekly wage. The bill also states that children will receive benefits until the child graduates high school or turns 19, whichever happens earlier. Funeral costs will also double from $5,000 to $10,000. The bill also increased dependency benefits for other individuals (other than a spouse or children) from $25,000 to $100,000. The bill now heads to Gov. Jeff Colyer for his consideration.
COMINGS & GOINGS
The Texas Department of Insurance announced Workers' Compensation Commissioner Ryan Brannan will resign effective May 1. Commissioner Brannan was originally appointed in 2014 by Gov. Rick Perry and reappointed twice by Gov. Greg Abbott. During his time with the DWC, Commissioner Brannan led the development of a fraud and prosecution unit, created a paperless initiative that included digitizing millions of claims, and developed rules to open the door to telemedicine and curtailing the use of compound drugs and opioids. No successor has been announced yet. Christine Baker, Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), retired unexpectedly after 34 years with the agency that administers and enforces California's laws covering workers' compensation, workplace safety, wages, hours, overtime, retaliation and apprentice programs. André Schoorl, undersecretary of the DIR, was names acting director.
Since my Cubs were snowed out for their home opener this week, I'm looking forward to warmth of San Antonio at the RIMS 2018 Annual Conference & Exhibition. We will be at RIMS and would love to see you. Come visit us at Booth 2137!