Permanent Flexibility: Why Remote Work Is Here to Stay

Since last March, most major companies such as Salesforce have switched to a remote work model. This surge in employees working from home, driven by safety concerns during the pandemic, emptied previously clogged city streets of traffic and boosted the usage of cloud tools such as Zoom videoconferencing, Google Docs’s suite of productivity tools, and massive web storage platforms as Microsoft’s Azure databases. However, even though the pandemic now seems to be subsiding with vaccinations surging in the United States, access to shots open to all Americans by May 1, and President Biden recently promising a return to near-normal by July 4, some semblance of remote work looks to be a permanent feature of many private companies for a long time to come. In this article, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of remote work policies, how companies can appropriately balance the flexibility of virtual work with the community of office spaces post-pandemic, and the long-term impacts of this shift on the legal industry and urban environments.

To start, working from home’s benefits have been extolled by companies and organizations such as Nationwide Insurance, Google, and even the NFL. They cite increased worker productivity— as employees are able to take breaks for exercise and food at their convenience and perform tasks around the clock, instead of being limited to the traditional 9-5pm timeframe. Individuals working remotely can also operate from anywhere in the world. This eliminates the need for sprawling office space, complicated technical equipment and network setups, and rideshare services and transit benefits that many companies previously gave to employees. All of these items are incredibly expensive for companies to set up, so their obviation by remote work allows many private entities to increase revenue. The fact that remote workers are not limited by geographic considerations also enables companies to draw from a far larger pool of talent. It eliminates moving costs and headaches for these prospective employees as well, enabling them to spend time in their preferred communities and with their families. This often increases happiness— which in turn boosts productivity. And another benefit: housing is often cheaper outside major metropolitan regions like Silicon Valley and New York— enabling workers to reduce housing costs while keeping large salaries.

However, working from home also has its drawbacks. While some companies cite flexibility as a benefit, many employees and firms have argued that the lack of a separating line between work and home actually decreases productivity, as it removes a firm separation between work and personal life. Employees may find themselves unable to focus due to the presence of other family members, child care considerations, or the stress brought on by self-isolation. Virtual meetings may also decrease the sense of community that employees working in-person have. The inability to hold natural side conversations within virtual meeting rooms, and the less personal nature of virtual after-work activities such as pub and movie nights may decrease the strength of personal bonds among employees. This could ultimately result in employees leaving companies sooner, thereby increasing the subsequent cost of needing to retrain and rehire workers. Issues with technology and a lesser ability to hold nuanced conversations over social media platforms may also affect a company’s ability to adequately interface with clients and employees— another factor that could decrease revenue and profitability in the long run.

As some semblance of normal life gradually resumes across the United States, companies are likely to take a hybrid approach. This will involve the option to work completely remotely for many employees who have already made moves to other regions. Even if offices reopen, many local employees will likely have the permanent flexibility to work from home when they would like to. This may accelerate a pre-pandemic trend of reconfiguring traditional office spaces lined with cubicles into more communal work hubs. With employees not needing an assigned desk since they are technically free to operate from anywhere, offices can be set up more like college campuses— with open tables and expansive meeting rooms for collaboration (likely equipped with large flat-panel screens for remote employees to join conversations), auditoriums and forums for presentations, and libraries for more private and quiet workspaces.

In the legal world, more court hearings may continue to be held completely or partially over videoconference, enabling people and entities to seek representation from a greater pool of attorneys across the country. This would also have the effect of broadening the convenience and availability considerations of forum non conveniens motions and venue when judges decide whether to transfer or dismiss cases. For associate attorneys working for large law firms in major markets, long hours may continue to be a fixture of life— but where those hours are worked (from home or the office) will likely be far more flexible.

Lastly, the effect of greater remote work flexibility on urban environments would be enormous. With fewer people taking commutes, roads are likely to have less traffic. Fewer pollutants are likely to be emitted, enabling normally smog-ridden cities like Los Angeles to have cleaner air. Moreover, public transit systems— many of which were strained to peak capacity prior to the pandemic— will be able to better accommodate passengers without the need for massive new fleets of vehicles due to lower overall ridership. And lastly, due to the decrease in traffic, city streets which became pedestrian-only to accommodate greater outdoor dining and activities in the pandemic may be permanently closed off to cars. This would greatly increase walkable urban space available to all people, upping mental and physical health for all.

Working from home may have been seen as a temporary necessity early on during the pandemic. But now that it has been a fixture of life that employees and employers alike have gotten used to over this past year, options for remote work may continue to stick around permanently after offices reopen. Finding and striking that appropriate balance between the flexibility of virtual work and the community of offices will be the key for companies throughout the world as the pandemic gradually comes to a close over the months ahead.

The SEC Just Joined the SPAC Party: Will it Shut it Down?

What do you get when you combine pop culture’s new favorite buzzword with celebrity endorsements? SPACs. The use of special purpose acquisition companies has been on the rise for several months, but now that celebrities are involved, the SEC is finally paying attention. On Wednesday, the SEC issued an alert warning against investment decisions based solely on celebrity endorsement. Yesterday, an advisory committee to the commission hosted a meeting focused on investor risks and the adequacy of current protections. Today, the SPAC boom continues and its longevity remains unclear.

In its investor alert on Wednesday, the SEC warned that SPACs come with distinct risks from traditional IPOs, emphasizing that SPAC participation is a risky investment that should not be taken lightly. The commission showed specific concern with the lure of celebrity endorsements and pushed investors to conduct their own research rather than relying on the word of celebrities—this emphasized the need for greater disclosures. Following the alert, an advisory committee discussed other associated risks and a potential need for heightened regulation.

At the meeting, expert panelists fielded questions, primarily concerning the risks and rewards of the SPAC surge, and how they should be treated going forward. The chair of the commission, Allison Herren Lee, voiced her skepticism, stating “[SPACs’] performance doesn’t match the hype.”  Lee alluded to a need for greater regulatory measures and growing regulator concerns: “we’re seeing more and more evidence on the risk side of the equation for SPACs.”

Others, however, expressed fear of enhanced regulation: “well-intentioned increased regulatory obligations around SPACs could make them less cost-effective,” and “telling investors they cannot make decisions for themselves only supports their suspicions that capital markets are for the wealthy.” SPACs are praised for “democratizing markets,” allowing otherwise unavailable access to high-growth companies for retail investors. Thus, a “tight iron grip” from regulators may “lock people out of being able to participate in the upside.”

The advisory committee meeting made one thing clear: the SEC is looking at SPACs. The committee did not agree on a concrete plan of action, but the SEC is “taking a hard look at the disclosures and other structural issues surrounding SPACs.”

Are there already enough guardrails in place to prevent a SPAC-instigated disaster? Some argue there are, others are not so optimistic, and the SEC cannot seem to decide…yet.

The Shift to Online Shopping Drives the Growth of Buy Now Pay Later Services

Have you ever wanted a nice winter coat that was outside of your price range? You could put it on a credit card, but that would demolish your budget for the month. You could purchase it through a layaway program, but that means you will have to wait to get that warm, fashionable look. Or, you could use the rapidly growing Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) plan to get the best of both options.

Like layaway, BNPL enables consumers to pay in small monthly installments, but it is unique in that consumers get to bring home the item immediately. Consumers are able to just walk away with their purchase because BNPL services, like Klarna, Affirm, and Afterpay, pay the retailer for the item upfront and then recoup those funds when the installments get paid off. Most of the income for these companies is derived from processing fees that merchants pay, which can be double or triple what retailers pay to credit card processors, and a smaller portion of the income comes from late fees paid by consumers.

Last year, BNPL services grew by as much as 200% and management consultants Oliver Wyman estimate BNPL firms facilitated between $20 billion-$25 billion in transactions in the U.S. alone. In just the first nine months of 2020, the four big providers – Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay, and PayPal’s Pay in 4 – saw a more than 50% increase in payment volumes, but collectively these firms handle a meager portion of global e-commerce spending. With so much room for these companies to grow and reach more consumers, it is no surprise that Bank of America predicts that such services could have an annual value of $1 trillion by 2025.

Retailers such as Walmart, Macy’s Inc. and Sephora have incorporated BNPL into their payment options to adjust to the growth of online shopping due to the pandemic and also to capture younger shoppers who tend not to use credit cards. Pandemic-related retail sale declines have been somewhat offset by the income from store-branded credit card fees. For Macy’s, credit card income from store and co-branded cards is expected to account for almost all of its operating income in the current fiscal year, even though Macy’s signed up fewer store-branded credit card customers in 2020 because of temporary store closures. But to attract new customers, Macy’s tapped Klarna to create a host of BNPL shoppers that it hopes will eventually move over to store-branded credit cards. The experience seems to be a positive one for Macy’s as 40% of the shoppers using Klarna are new to Macy’s and 45% are under forty years old.

Historically, BNPL services were used to spread out the cost of large purchases, but in the past year more customers have used the service for items costing $500 or less. Currently, fashion and beauty product purchases make up about 70% of pay-later transactions, and the most frequent holiday purchases by U.S. users of Afterpay included thermal clothes from Old Navy and Crocs clogs. This purchase pattern seems to fall in line with the prevalence of young users trying to find ways to make purchases without racking up credit card debt on top of student loans. But Alan McIntyre, the head of Accenture’s global banking practice, also has concerns that around 40% of people using BNPL are doing so because they could not get access to traditional credit for whatever reason.

Although the BNPL companies claim their services cause less financial damage than credit cards, there are growing concerns about the harm these relatively unregulated services can cause. The criteria to sign up for a BNPL service is quite lax. All that is required is for the user to be eighteen years or older and to have a credit or debit card as a backstop for their payments. Only a handful of companies choose to take the extra step of running a credit check before allowing access to the service. The simple sign-up, easy checkout process, and delayed payment format contribute to the convenience of BNPL, but they also create a service that encourages impulse buying. Racking up charges with these services can turn disastrous quickly once a person starts missing installments because services like Afterpay and Klarna keep adding on late fees and some companies like Affirm charge a non-compounding interest rate of 30% (much higher than the average credit card interest rate of 16.43%). According to a report from Credit Karma, nearly 40% of U.S. consumers who used BNPL have missed more than one payment and 72% of those saw their credit score decline.

As a result, regulators in Britain and Australia have started to consider tightening rules around the industry to approximate those of banks. The British Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently proposed that providers need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure customers are treated fairly, especially those who struggle with repayments. Some companies, such as Klarna, have been receptive to such regulation while others, like Laybuy, want to maintain the status quo for fear that the innovation and simplicity of the service will be tarnished. What is unclear at the moment is how such fintech services fit into the U.S. regulation scheme since the companies do not have bank charters, some do not charge interest, and lending laws vary by state. With expectations that Biden’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be aggressive, experts believe that the sector will come under more scrutiny in the near future. And while the regulatory future of BNPL services is uncertain, there is no doubt great growth potential for these companies as more in-person shopping goes online.

The Race to an All-Electric Platform Between Vehicle Manufacturers

“Going green” has officially permeated the automobile industry – and there’s no sign of the environmentally-conscious trend slowing down anytime soon. Within this industry dominated by the internal combustion engine, Tesla has been heralded as the leader of electric cars. However, General Motor’s (“GM”) recent announcement—stating they will cease production and sales of all gas-powered cars by 2035—has begged the question: is the auto industry permanently shifting to an electric-first approach? Tesla’s reign at the top of the electric vehicle industry will not go unchallenged and GM’s announcement may be one of many vehicle manufacturers to follow suit. 


Worldwide electric vehicle sales have continuously trended upward over the last decade – an intriguing statistic automobile makers have watched closely. Perennial vehicle manufacturers like Volkswagen Group—which includes subsidiaries Porsche, Bugatti, and Lamborghini—have tremendously revamped their business models to incorporate the demand for electric vehicles. Volkswagen alone has pledged to spend $34 billion over the next five years to make an electric or hybrid version of every single vehicle they produce, and by 2030 they are aiming to have electric vehicles comprise 40% of their global sales. In an even more drastic measure, Volvo announced that they plan to convert their entire lineup to electric vehicles by 2030 and will no longer sell any vehicles with internal combustion engines. Moves like these are attempts to capture the shifting automobile market in which energy vehicles have grown from a 2.5% market share in 2019 to a 3.2% market share in 2020. 


The recent news of these drastic shifts has been symbiotic with a swim-or-sink mentality that has gained widespread traction in the automobile industry – especially in the last few months. In February alone, Ford announced that their entire European passenger vehicle lineup would have a completely all-electric offering by 2020. Further, Tata Motors entity Jaguar Land Rover announced that the Jaguar brand would be all-electric from 2025 onwards. The push for electric vehicles did not stop there. GM took advantage of their newly revamped business model and captured Super Bowl LV watchers’ attention by utilizing Will Ferrell in a commercial premised on challenging Norway’s current feat of selling more electric vehicles per capita than the United States. This is a trend we are likely to see continue as experts predict that by the year 2040 more than half of all passenger vehicles sold on the market will be electric. 


Even with the electric vehicle transition’s environmental benefits, this swift change will not occur without some negative consequences, specifically in the United States automobile industry. Automobile unions are concerned that the simpler electric vehicle powertrains may render their services obsolete. Those concerns are exemplified by the fact that the Chevrolet Bolt’s e-motor has only three moving parts compared to internal combustion engines that can have more than 110. Additionally, lithium-ion batteries required to power electric vehicles could be produced mainly in factories outside the country. According to a statement made by the United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, in her confirmation hearing, 107 of the 142 lithium-ion battery mega-factories under construction are located in China, while only nine are in the United States. 


Despite these downfalls, the automobile industry appears to be zeroed in on the electric vehicle business model. Vehicle manufacturers continue to announce their shift away from the internal combustion engine making it more likely that the longstanding commercial production of those engines that began in 1886 may finally be coming to an end. But regardless of whether one is excited or concerned about this transition, combustion engine trucks and cars will likely continue to remain on the road for at least a few more decades.

Judge Rules Citibank Cannot Recover Almost $900 Million Mistakenly Wired to Revlon Lenders

Following a trial in the Southern District of New York, a federal judge ruled that Citibank is not entitled to recover approximately $500 million dollars of the $900 million the bank mistakenly sent to lenders of Revlon. The ruling turned on the conclusion that the recipients neither knew nor reasonably should have known that the payment was made in error.

On August 11, 2020, Citibank, acting as the administrative agent for a syndicated loan to Revlon, mistakenly sent approximately $900 million dollars to a group of Revlon’s lenders. Realizing its massive error, the following day Citibank requested the lenders return the funds and many lenders complied. A group of ten lenders who were owed approximately $500 million of the $900 million, however, refused to return the funds arguing that they were indeed owed the money they received.

The error stems from a $7.8 million interim interest payment that Revlon intended to pay to its lenders through Citibank. The interim interest payment was part of a complex restructuring of Revlon’s loan whereby certain lenders, but not others, would be repaid. To effect this interest payment, Citibank’s internal system required the entire loan to be constructively paid off and for the principal balance to be paid to an internal Citibank “wash account.” Citibank’s complex payment system, however, caused its operations employees to mistakenly believe they indeed directed the principal payment to the internal wash account; in fact, the entire principal balance was sent out the door to Revlon’s lenders. Because Revlon only provided $7.8 million to Citibank to pay the interim interest payment, the $900 million sent was from Citibank’s own funds.

The lenders who refused to return the $500 million prevailed in court by successfully arguing a “discharge-for-value” defense. Under New York law, a creditor may retain funds inadvertently paid by a third party to satisfy a debt if the creditor did not have notice of the third party’s mistake. The arguments at trial focused on whether the recipients should have known that the payments were made in error and thus had notice of Citibank’s mistake. Here, the Revlon lenders pointed out that the payments made by Citibank were for the exact amounts owed––to the penny––to each lender. Thus, they argued that it was reasonable for them to assume that the wire was made to repay Revlon’s debt and that it was not made in error. The court further agreed that the alternate assumption the lenders could have made––that a sophisticated financial institution like Citibank mistakenly wired almost one billion dollars to lenders––was less plausible.

Curiously, jokes made at Citibank’s expense by the lenders also weighed in favor of the lenders. The opinion lists a number of chats and communications from employees at the lenders poking fun at Citibank for one of the largest banking errors in history. (“I feel really bad for the person that fat fingered a $900mm erroneous payment. Not a great career move.”) Notably, the teasing only began after the lenders received Citibank’s demand for return of the funds. The court considered the absence of these jokes before Citibank’s demand as evidence that lenders were initially not on notice that the wire was made in error. Citibank announced its intention to appeal the district court’s ruling.

The Future of Face Recognition Software for Policing: Is there one?

Minneapolis is yet another city that has taken the necessary step to ban facial recognition software for police use. After a series of reports over the last five years provided overwhelming evidence that the use of facial recognition software disproportionately negatively impacts minorities, several cities implemented this critical step in their long-term fight against aggressive policing. However, Minneapolis failed to enact policies prohibiting the use of this software for “non-police uses” or by “other local law enforcement who operate in the city.” How does this affect the prospective impact of a seemingly progressive policy?

What is facial recognition software?

Originally “developed in the early 1990s,” this software sifts through images of individuals from various sources, including “social media profiles and driver’s licenses,” employs face detection algorithms to “extract features from the face . . . that can be numerically quantified” to determine the level of similarity between the faces. These algorithms are consistently evolving through training processes, learning which are “the most reliable signals” that diagnose similarity.

Long before technology existed to automate this process, the same principles underlying facial recognition software were employed to confirm individual identities and “identify an unknown face.

How do facial recognition software bans fit within a larger series of reforms against aggressive police tactics? What role does the private sector play?

The ban in Minneapolis arrives after a rather accelerated dismissal of City Council promises made to fundamentally alter the corrupt policing system. These promises included defunding the police – terminology that was quickly retracted and explained away just months later. It is relatively unclear what catalyst led to the proposal and widespread support for this ban after such an extensive retreat from previously planned reform. Some point to the action taken by several cities in the Fall of 2020 and encouragement from prominent organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to prohibit this technology, while others acknowledge the “dystopian” nature of the tracking system and its propensity “for abuse;” but at the very least,  it is certainly a positive step towards eliminating the systemic injustice.

While the ban may signal progress, it is crucial to acknowledge not only the delay in its implementation, but also the lack of widespread application and permissible use of this software by other local law enforcement agencies and private companies.

What are the legal implications of face recognition software use?

Many have discovered the face recognition software encounters difficulties “identifying people of color” which “could widen existing criminal justice disparities.” Additionally, the software draws on historical data from law enforcement sources, which have a proven history of racial biases. Finally, the software filters through all this data “without people’s consent,” presenting issues of privacy violation.

Georgetown University’s “The Perpetual Line-Up” report identifies at least four major areas of legal concern: violation of Fourth Amendment rights; encroachment of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly; disproportionate and unequal impact on racial and ethnic minorities; and invasion of privacy rights given the lack of transparency and requests for consent from the public.

Other individual cities have enacted similar bans. What is the effort at the federal level?

The National Biometric Privacy Act of 2020 in the Senate, and the Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act in the House were both introduced last year to effect widespread impact against the use of racially-biased and inaccurate software. While this proposed legislation illustrates eagerness for change at the federal level, tackling the use of the technology by both the public and private sectors, the bills have yet to move past the initial introduction stage or gain critical bipartisan support.

What does the future of facial recognition software look like for our legal system?

Some believe “police use of face recognition is inevitable,” and helps to identify individuals who may “otherwise have gone undetected.” While there may be truth underlying these assertions, opponents argue the technology has yet to advance to such a level where the community can be confident in the objective use of the system without racial bias or problems of inaccuracy.

Do we as a society continue employing a system flooded with perturbing defects with the knowledge of its constant evolution, ideally to a place of flawless implementation? Or do we protect our country’s minorities and our individuals’ rights to privacy and ban further use of inherently problematic software, at a federal level, until proof of the elimination of bias and increase in accuracy levels?

Uber suffers major legal blow in the UK

Following twelve months of significant financial losses, Uber is now facing serious regulatory challenges across Europe that threaten to significantly increase its operating costs. The company’s future viability may now depend on the extent to which it can dominate in markets outside the continent.

In a landmark decision last month, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that Uber must consider its drivers as “workers” entitled to minimum wage and vacation time. The court unanimously dismissed Uber’s claim of being a booking agent that hires self-employed contractors. Instead, the justices found that drivers are subordinate and dependent, because Uber unilaterally sets contract terms and conditions, dictates how much drivers earn by setting fares, and is free to terminate the relationship if passengers consistently rate driver performance too low. Most dramatically, the court ruled that Uber must consider its drivers as “workers” from the minute they log on to the app, until they log off.

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes after nearly five years of legal battles between Uber and a small group of former drivers. James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam first took the company to an employment tribunal back in 2016 and successfully argued that they “worked” for Uber. The company appealed, but the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the ruling. In 2018 the company took the case to the Court of Appeals but lost again. Friday’s ruling was Uber’s final appeal. Although the decision initially affects only the 25 drivers who brought cases, the ruling is expected to set precedent for the remaining 60,000 drivers across the UK.

Although Uber is no stranger to legal problems in the UK, having been twice banned from London over safety concerns, experts say this ruling could be a “nightmare” for the company. Uber is still not profitable, and Covid has strained their finances further; in 2020 the company reported a net loss of $6.8 billion. Increased labor costs in a top five market could push profitability even farther away. The ruling might also revive discussions about whether Uber should now be classified as a transport provider in the U.K. (rather than as a booking agent), and thus be liable for 20% VAT (Value Added Tax) on fares. Moreover, now that drivers become workers upon logging into the app, Uber will need to adjust its systems to avoid oversupplying markets with too many idle vehicles. The market certainly seems nervous; Uber’s share price dipped 1.6% after the ruling.

The UK Supreme Court decision is not an anomaly. Recently, countries across Europe have been moving towards protecting and strengthening workers’ rights in the gig economy. Last year, France’s top court ruled that an Uber driver did not qualify as self-employed, and earlier this year judges in the Netherlands and Spain ruled that some of their cycle couriers and food delivery riders are employees. Last month Uber released a white paper urging Europe to adopt a Proposition 22-style “third way”, where drivers remain contractors but have access to benefits funds. So far, the European Union isn’t listening. At the end of February, the European Commission began a six-week public consultation period seeking feedback from trade unions and employer groups on how to better protect gig-worker rights. The EU is even said to be considering relaxing its competition laws to allow gig workers to collectively bargain. Increasingly, some companies do not believe that the freelance model is sustainable in Europe. Dutch food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway stopped using gig workers on the continent, but will continue to do so in the U.S.

Back in the U.K., Uber is seeking to narrow the Supreme Court’s ruling, arguing that it has made a number of changes to its business since 2016, and that the ruling should not apply to all drivers. However, it is more likely that the decision will have very broad implications, challenging similar gig economy companies across the country to make changes to their business models before drivers and couriers bring suit. Will Uber stay in the U.K.? Departure is unlikely; Uber dominates the country’s rideshare market. More likely, the company will alter its business model, possibly passing higher operational costs onto customers. Regardless, last month’s ruling will certainly strengthen and accelerate Uber’s pre-emptive efforts to protect itself from regulatory risks in markets outside Europe.

Clubhouse: The Next Big Social Media Platform?

In the span of less than a year, the new audio-only social media platform, Clubhouse, increased its valuation tenfold. At the end of spring 2020, with just 1,500 users, Clubhouse was valued at $100 million after receiving funding from one of the biggest VC firms in Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz. In January 2021, the same investors led a financing round that valued Clubhouse at $1 billion — making the social media startup who currently boasts roughly 2 million weekly users a certified unicorn.

So, what makes Clubhouse so different from other social media platforms? Clubhouse lets users connect via audio chat rooms which are essentially live podcasts that can allow other users to join in on the conversation to discuss anything and everything. Some users have accredited Clubhouse’s success to its ability to create an environment that is more personal than text-only platforms but not as invasive as video chat.

At this point, you might be wondering why you’ve never heard of this app before. Well, that’s because Clubhouse is exclusively on iOS and the only way to join is by being invited by other users. Once a user joins the app, they receive invitations of their own to give out. Clubhouse does let non-users reserve usernames, however, and there are invitations being sold on sites like Etsy and eBay. It’s likely that the app will eventually open up its doors to the public — and even develop an Android version — but, as of now, the app remains closed off to the unlucky masses who are unable to obtain an invite on their iPhones.

Clubhouse’s success has not gone unnoticed. In the social media world, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and Clubhouse should feel quite flattered as Twitter, Facebook, and even Mark Cuban attempt to develop audio-based chat rooms of their own. Twitter is currently in the process of developing its voice-chat rooms called “Spaces” in order to keep up with the rise in popularity of Clubhouse.

To be fair, Clubhouse is far from the first to create a social media platform centered around voice chat. Discord, which gained its popularity by catering to the gaming community, has been a major player in the audio chat room space for some time. Discord has significantly grown its usership since its initial release in 2015, and recently doubled its valuation to $7 billion in a Series H round at the end of 2020. The major success of audio-based platforms like Clubhouse and Discord may be a sign of what direction social media will be taking in the years to come.

Despite not being the first or biggest audio-focused social media platform, Clubhouse certainly has momentum on its side — and sometimes that’s all it takes. The app has received so much hype, in fact, that the Economist reported that after Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he would be joining Clubhouse “the share price of Clubhouse Media Group soared by 117%.” Unfortunately for those investors, Clubhouse Media Group is a completely different company located in China. While Clubhouse, the social media platform, is not yet a publicly traded company, the level of attention brought to the app by its high-profile users such as Mark Zuckerberg, Drake, and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev is sure to help the startup raise cash.

Clubhouse is likely to bring in even more celebrities and influencers as it plans to add monetization for content creators through subscriptions, tipping, and ticketed events. But with more users comes more problems. Live audio makes moderating and regulating content all the more challenging — especially as the risk of hate speech, abuse, and misinformation increases with every new user. Paul Davison, the CEO of Clubhouse, has stated that Clubhouse has strict guidelines on hate speech and trained moderators who can step in and end a conversation that violates Clubhouse policies. However, moderating these talks are easier said than done as many users have noted various instances of hate speech and misogyny taking place on the app.

Clubhouse has a promising future, but it still faces many challenges as it avoids becoming the voice chat version of Parler all while competing with well-established platforms like Facebook and Twitter who are capable of swallowing their competition.

Women in the Workforce are Being Disproportionately Impacted by the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequality in the workforce for millions of American women. First there was that alarming statistic: of the 140,000 jobs lost last December, all of them were held by women. Specifically, women lost 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000.

While economists warn against putting too much stock into a single month, women ended 2020 with 5.4 million fewer jobs than they had in February, before the pandemic began. Comparably, men lost 4.4 million jobs over that same period.

There are additional significant racial disparities among women, with the pandemic disproportionately impacting women of color in the workforce. Latinas currently have the highest unemployment rate at 9.1%, followed by Black women at 8.4%, while white women have the lowest unemployment rate at 5.7%.

There are several factors contributing to this inequity. During a virtual panel with members of Congress, Representative Rosa DeLauro put it this way: “women are not opting out of the work force, they are being pushed by inadequate policies.”

Women, especially Black and Latina women, disproportionately work in the industries that have laid off or furloughed more employees in response to covid-19. The three major sectors experiencing these job losses are education, hospitality, and retail.

Women are also more likely to work in roles that lack flexibility. Black and Latina women specifically are disproportionately impacted, as they more frequently work in roles that lack paid sick leave and the ability to work from home.

The closure of schools and childcare centers also disproportionately impacted women. Parents were forced to monitor the home schooling of the children, and for the vast majority, the burden fell on the mom. In September, when the school year resumed, four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force. For women with jobs that lacked flexibility, the increased caregiving responsibilities forced them to exit the workforce.

Women are also disproportionately owners of small businesses that benefit from foot-traffic, and have therefore been disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic. During the pandemic, women-owned business have had larger net losses in their headcounts and slower recoveries than men-owned businesses.

Economists have suggested that unless significant action is taken, this loss will result in significant damage to the economy and to gender equality in the workforce for decades to come.Earlier this month, Vice President Kamala Harris wrote an op-ed on the exodus of women from the workforce, describing the situation as a “national emergency.” The Biden administration has proposed a plan to address the needs of women workers, including $3,000 in tax credits issued to families for each child, a $40 billion investment in child care assistance and an extension of unemployment benefits. The administration’s relief proposal would also focus on reopening K-12 schools, a major component of child care.

The House Budget Committee is considering the legislation today, with the full House possibly passing the legislation as soon as next week. Whether the legislation will survive through the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote from their party, remains to be seen.

Was There a Systemic GameStop Price Manipulation?

The pandemic we are currently experiencing has created unprecedented market conditions with unpredictable results. In one of those events, seemingly out of nowhere, a company that many institutional investors were betting would end up bankrupt surged 1000% within a period of two weeks. This stirred up a frenzy of retail investors, united by the common cause against the institutional investors who had “shorted” the stock, creating a highly polarized environment with social underpinning. These events activated the reflexes of the trading mechanism’s cogs in an effort to control the irrational price action under the pretense of the “safety of retail investors.” Several brokers halted intraday trading of GameStop, allowing only the sale of the stock, but in later days slowly accepted a reduced number of shares to be traded. The majority of media outlets focused on the coordination of millions of retail investors flocking to GameStop shares, however, the brokers are currently being investigated for market manipulation.

The story, though, goes deeper. Why would a broker risk its reputation and legal sanctions to manipulate the market and keep a surging stock low? The main broker at issue is Robinhood: one of the fastest growing brokers that apparently is striving to “democratize trading” and also serves the highest market cap of traders instigating the surge of GameStop. However, the profit centers of Robinhood are relatively opaque as they advertise themselves as a zero-fee broker. The way Robinhood makes their revenue is by payment-for-order-flow (PFOF), which essentially means that they sell the market moves of the (retail) investors on its platform to interested parties, usually institutional investors. One of these institutional investors is Citadel, which constitutes 40% of Robinhood’s total revenue. Things got more complicated when Citadel invested $2bln in equity of Melvin Capital amidst the GameStop frenzy. Melvin Capital was one of the main “short” sellers of GameStop, which resulted in a 53% loss of the total value of the firm that equated with the amount Citadel invested. This points towards a conflict of interest between Robinhood, Citadel and Melvin Capital, and any regulatory action for the benefit of retail investors must take place by a regulatory authority such as the SEC.

Things got even more complicated: the CEO of Robinhood, Mr. Tenev, in an interview with Elon Musk highlighted that it was not his choice to halt trading, but rather the National Securities Clearing Corporation’s (NSCC) choice. NSCC is a corporation that serves to make clearing of orders easier and more effective, but also provides risk management to brokers. As Mr. Tenev explained, the NSCC called him at 3AM demanding $3bln in cash to be transferred to them to balance the outstanding orders and the cash collaterals. It is worth noting that Robinhood is valued at $5bln and has received $2bln in VC funds. This suggests that $3bln would be an impossible amount for Robinhood to come up with. Mr. Tenev mentioned that after negotiations and implementing the trading halt they managed to agree to $700mln.

As it seems, the story of the rise and fall of GameStop stock is complicated and demonstrated a weakness in the system. But some questions remain unanswered: can this private authority – the NSCC – enforce measures to brokers, thus moving the market at will? If so, is the individual who takes the decisions regarding the type of measures absent of conflicts of interest? How are the amounts calculated and how could they flexibly be reduced by 80%? Did executives act on the conflict of interest that arose? Retail investors that feel they were defrauded will continue to demand answers to these questions and more.