The daily business briefing: July 12, 2023

Tax-prep sites shared customer data with Facebook, Hollywood scrambles to avert an actors strike, and more

SAG-AFTRA poised to strike
(Image credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

1. Congress: Tax-prep giants shared private taxpayer data with Facebook, Google

Some of the biggest tax-prep companies shared sensitive customer data with Meta's Facebook and Google without consent or appropriate disclosures, according to new congressional report. The seven-month investigation by a group of lawmakers found that TaxSlayer, H&R Block, TaxAct, and other firms sent customer data including names, phone numbers, email addresses, filing status, income, refunds, and tax breaks to Facebook, which acknowledged it used that information to target ads to those customers, and Google. "On a scale from one to 10, this is a 15," Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck told CNN. "This is as great as any privacy breach that I've seen other than exploiting kids. This is a five-alarm fire, if what we know about this so far is true." The lawmakers, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said the companies violated the law and should face steep fines and other sanctions.


2. Hollywood calls in federal mediators as actors strike looms

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing 160,000 screen and television actors, agreed late Tuesday to a request by Hollywood studios to bring in federal mediators as both sides work to avoid the first actors strike in decades before a Wednesday night deadline. Filming is already largely on pause due to a Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike that began in May. Hollywood hasn't dealt with a double strike by writers and actors since 1960, when the main issue was residuals from films sold to TV networks. The actors and writers are now asking for higher pay and assurances about the use of artificial intelligence, and all sides are trying to adapt to the ascent of online streaming. The studios and WGA have not held talks since the strike began on May 2.

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3. Bank of America to pay $250 million in fines and refunds to customers

Bank of America must reimburse customers more than $100 million and pay $150 million in fines after the banking giant "wrongfully withheld credit card rewards, double-dipped on fees, and opened accounts without consent," Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra said Tuesday. These practices are "illegal and undermine customer trust," Chopra added. In one of the policies targeted by the CFPB, the bank charged customers $35 every time a transaction was declined due to insufficient funds. The CFPB said Bank of America would impose a fee each time a business attempted to recharge the customer after the first transaction failed. This practice was stopped in 2022, but Bank of America will still have to refund customers who were affected.

The Associated Press

4. U.S. judge clears Microsoft's Activision acquisition, thwarting FTC

A federal judge said Tuesday that Microsoft can complete its $75 billion acquisition of videogame giant Activision Blizzard, ruling that the Federal Trade Commission hadn't adequately supported its case for an injection on the merger. The FTC tried to block Microsoft's purchase, arguing the Xbox maker's acquisition of popular titles like Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty franchise would harm consumers and limit competition. U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley disagreed, saying the evidence actually "points to more consumer access to Call of Duty and other Activision content." With the U.S. path cleared for the mega-merger, only Britain's Competition and Markets Authority stands in the way, though the U.K. antitrust regulator indicated Tuesday it would consider Microsoft's proposals to address its competition concerns.

The Wall Street Journal

5. Stock futures up slightly ahead of key inflation data

U.S. stock futures rose slightly Wednesday morning as investors awaited federal inflation data scheduled for release this week. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 were up 0.2% and 0.3%, respectively, at 7:45 a.m. ET, while Nasdaq futures climbed 0.4%. Data for June's consumer prices will be released Wednesday morning, and economists polled by Dow Jones expect a modest rise of 0.3% from May and 3.1% from June 2022. Producer prices will be released Thursday. The consumer price index data "could show that inflation is continuing to cool," said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer of the Independent Advisor Alliance. "But if it shows that inflation is remaining persistent ... that's likely to force the Fed's hand" on raising interest rates even further.


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