Tech Roundup - March 26, 2021

Fri, 03/26/2021

This is our second edition of the ‘Tech Roundup,’ where we highlight some of the most significant/thought-provoking news items from the world of tech, especially at the nexus of law and technology. We are particularly interested in foregrounding tech news that is happening in Nebraska, and our region more broadly. If you have a news item you would like to see in the Roundup, please email

Faculty Circle-Back

Last week we highlighted the story of the sale of a piece of digital artwork in the form of a non-fungible token by the artist Beeple, the rights to which sold for $69 Million at Christie’s auction house.

Our faculty member, Justin Firestone, offered his take:

"My first thought was: $69 million for an NFT? That came with an opportunity cost of not buying 138 million Taco Tuesday tacos! Then again, tacos are relatively more fungible than NFTs, but I would have found more utility in tacos. 

I made a decent amount of money selling baseball and basketball cards at garage sales when I was in junior high. To me, they were cardboard with pictures and stats. In return, I received paper currency with pictures and numbers. I used this paper to buy an Amiga 500. Hopefully, we all, including NFT buyers and sellers, are maximizing our utility."


Nebraska Today- “Nebraska team aims to improve irrigated ag in sub-Saharan Africa”

  • A team of Nebraska researchers is heading to Rwanda to study how more developed “marketing channels, customer acquisition, training and the supply chains for spare parts and expertise” can help farmers get their food from the field to market, at the best possible price.

  • Nick Brozović, the grant’s principal investigator, said “(w)e’ll do some very detailed studies on what’s happening; how farmers are getting irrigation; what’s working; what isn’t working; where’s the cutting edge of the innovation; how does government policy support that innovation; and cases where the policy is obstructing it. How can we provide business training, entrepreneurial training, capacity building?”

Nebraska Today- “Engineered microbe excels at ‘breathing rubber,’ could curb reliance on petroleum”

  • Biochemist Nicole Buan and colleagues at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have now genetically engineered a species of methanogen (a microorganism that produces methane) that can also yield sizable amounts of isoprene, the primary chemical component of synthetic rubber.”

  • “Roughly 800,000 tons of isoprene, most of which go to the production of synthetic rubber, are refined from petroleum annually. A climate-conscious desire to reduce reliance on the fossil fuel has pushed researchers to seek alternative, renewable sources of the chemical.”

Silicon Prairie News- “Omaha startup PINATA specializes in blockchain, plays vital role in emerging digital art market”

  • “PINATA provides the technology that supports the sale and authentication of digital files, such as art and movies. These digital sales depend on the use of non-fungible tokens, which are uniquely identified units of data that can be considered digitally equivalent to an authorized copy of a cassette tape or DVD—or even, as in the world of digital art, the equivalent of an original painting.” 


Federal Trade Commission- “FTC Acting Chairwoman Slaughter Announces New Rulemaking Group”

  • “Today Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter announced the creation of a new rulemaking group within the FTC’s Office of the General Counsel,” aiming to give the FTC “a strategic and harmonized approach to rulemaking across its different authorities and mission areas.”

  • According to the FTC: “Especially given the risk that the Supreme Court substantially curtails the FTC’s ability to seek consumer redress under section 13(b), rulemaking is a critical part of the FTC’s toolbox to stop widespread consumer harm and to promote robust competition.”

Reuters-  “Microsoft could reap more than $150 million in new U.S. cyber spending, upsetting some lawmakers”

  • “Microsoft stands to receive nearly a quarter of Covid relief funds destined for U.S. cybersecurity defenders, sources told Reuters, angering some lawmakers who don’t want to increase funding for a company whose software was recently at the heart of two big hacks.”

  • “Congress allocated the funds at issue in the COVID relief bill signed on (March 18th) after two enormous cyberattacks leveraged weaknesses in Microsoft products to reach into computer networks at federal and local agencies and tens of thousands of companies. One breach attributed to Russia in December grabbed emails from the Justice Department, Commerce Department and Treasury Department.”

Quotable Quote“If the only solution to a major breach in which hackers exploited a design flaw long ignored by Microsoft is to give Microsoft more money, the government needs to reevaluate its dependence on Microsoft.” 

- Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee

Federal Trade Commission- “FTC to Hold Virtual Workshop Exploring Digital ‘Dark Patterns’”

  • “The Federal Trade Commission will host a virtual workshop on April 29, 2021 to examine digital ‘dark patterns,’ a term that has been used to describe a range of potentially manipulative user interface designs used on websites and mobile apps.”

  • “(The workshop) will explore the ways in which user interfaces can have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of obscuring, subverting, or impairing consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice. For example, some sites sneak extra items into a consumer’s online shopping cart, or require users to navigate a maze of screens and confusing questions to avoid being charged for unwanted products or services.”

Why it matters: According to Bloomberg News, “The FTC workshop likely foreshadows ramped-up enforcement in this space, given the agency’s track record following similar events in the past.”

Business Insider- “Saudi Arabia's $500 million mega-city Neom is creating plans to harvest an unprecedented amount of data from future residents. Experts say it's either dystopian or genius.”

  • “In 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that a new city would be built from scratch in Saudi Arabia's northwest deserts. Neom would be ‘a place for dreamers,’ he said, adding the $500 billion city would run by artificial intelligence and be funded by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.”

  • “Early plans for the city imagined flying taxis, holographic teachers, and an artificial moon. But few concrete details emerged until this January, when Neom authorities announced ‘The Line,’ a string of settlements connected by a vast subterranean transport system.”

  • Last month Joseph Bradley, Neom's head of technology, told ZDNet he wanted to collect 90% of available data from residents and smart infrastructure.”

Why it matters: existing smart cities like Songdo, South Korea, have utilized an “ubiquitous city” model, where computers are built into buildings and streets, and sensors gather information on everything from water flow, traffic, and energy use, as well as notifying police when a crime is believed to be taking place. But smart cities also raise questions regarding residents’ willingness to surrender anonymity for the sake of convenience and security.

Federal Trade Commission- “New FTC Data Show Massive Increase in Romance Scams, $304M in Losses”

  • “A newly released data spotlight shows that the amount consumers reported losing to romance scammers is up about 50 percent since 2019, and has increased more than fourfold since 2016.”

  • “The impact can be major, with the median loss reported to the FTC being $2,500—more than ten times higher than the median loss across all other frauds.”

Nebraska Governance and Technology Center Happenings

Tech Refactored Podcast - Ep. 12 - “The Lifeblood of Satellites: Spectrum and How It's Governed”

In Episode 12 we discussed spectrum: what it is, how the government decides who can use it, and whether that process needs to change - from the battle for spectrum between 5G and satellites, to forecasting the policies of the new administration. Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies over which signals travel. Those signals are what enable our mobile devices, but cellular phones are only a portion of the technology that uses spectrum. 

Our guest was Jennifer Manner, the Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Echostar Hughes and this episode was co-hosted by the founding Director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law program at Nebraska Law and one of the center’s faculty fellows, Matt Schaefer.

For a short, 2-5 minute read, check out a review of the podcast, supplied by our Research Associate, Neil Rutledge. 

What We Are Reading

For those of you who have been following the saga of the massive container ship, the Ever Given, our Director Gus Hurwitz had this reflection.

“It's not one article, but I've been consumed by the ongoing situation in the Suez Canal. Everything about it demonstrates scale and interconnectedness that is at once completely invisible to and intricately part of our day to day lives. The sheer size of these ships, the amount of commerce that travels the Canal every day, the engineering challenges of removing the Ever Given from the Canal, the ways that all of this works to tie diverse people and interests around the world together -- and the fragility of this entire system as demonstrated by the current situation -- every aspect of this is fascinating and awe inspiring."


Tech Roundup, March 26, 2021