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Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase to Disband US Employee Health Venture Haven

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 January 2021

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan will disband Haven, the joint venture aimed at lowering health care costs for their US employees, just three years after launching.

The announcement Monday means the three major American companies admitted defeat in their attempt to address one of the most vexing and longstanding problems for employers and employees alike in the world’s largest economy.

Haven said on its website that the venture would end in late February, although the companies plan to “continue to collaborate informally to design programmes tailored to address the specific needs of their own employee populations.”

The company did not elaborate on the decision and did not respond to a request for comment, but JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said the venture produced some success.

“We’re proud of the progress the Haven team made exploring a wide range of healthcare solutions, including pilots at our company to make primary care easier to access and insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use,” he said in a note to employees.

Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and financial giant JPMorgan Chase announced in January 2018 the plan to create a nonprofit health care plan to “provide US employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable cost.”

The trio aimed to become a disruptor in the health care industry just as Amazon has in retail, using their combined data, technology, buying power, and customer contacts to improve delivery while cutting costs.

The companies did not specify how many people would benefit under the new programme, but a source told AFP at the time domestic employees of the companies and their dependents likely amount to at least a million workers nationwide.

Political hot potato

The US is the only major world economy that does not provide universal medical coverage to its citizens, and healthcare costs have spiraled upwards for decades, accounting for 17.7 percent of GDP in 2019, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

About half of Americans get their insurance through their employers, while the rest depend on government assistance or are uninsured, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Taming health care costs has been a priority for successive presidents, and likely will be on the agenda of President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office later this month.

His arrival in Washington will come after outgoing president Donald Trump tried and failed to convince Congress to abolish Obamacare, the system put in place by his predecessor that allowed individuals to access private medical insurance and provided other protections while trying to limit spiraling costs.

But he has managed to undermine it, reducing the timeframe allowed to enroll, cutting the advertising budget, and eliminating in a 2017 tax reform package the requirement that every person have health insurance or pay a fine.

In announcing Haven, Dimon said the new initiative would benefit employees and “potentially, all Americans” and analysts viewed it as a potentially promising expansion of Amazon’s services.

The announcement at the time swamped health care stocks on Wall Street, but on Monday share prices of major insurers and pharmacies showed little reaction to the disbanding on a downbeat day for indices where the Dow ended 1.3 percent lower.

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Paytm Said to Have Secured SEBI’s Approval for India’s Biggest IPO

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 23 October 2021

Digital financial services firm Paytm has received market regulator SEBI’s approval for its Rs 16,600 crores initial public offer, a source involved in the process said on Friday. The company expects to hit the bourses by the end of this month and is planning to skip the pre-IPO share sale rounds to fast-track listing.

“SEBI has given approval for Paytm IPO,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The company’s plan of shelving the pre-IPO raise is not related to any valuation differences, the source added.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

According to the draft IPO documents, the company plans to raise Rs 8,300 crores through fresh issue of equity shares and another Rs 8,300 crores through the offer-for-sale route.

Paytm founder, managing director and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Alibaba Group firms will dilute some of their stake in the proposed offer-for-sale.

Alibaba group firm Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV is expected to sell at least 5 percent stake to bring its shareholding below 25 percent to comply with regulatory requirements, according to a source.

As per the documents, investors selling stake include Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV (which has a 29.6 percent stake), Alibaba.com Singapore E-Commerce (7.2 percent) and Elevation Capital V FII Holdings (0.7 percent).

Moreover, Elevation Capital V (which has a 0.6 percent stake), SAIF III Mauritius Company (12.1 percent), SAIF Partners India IV (5.1 percent), SVF Panther (Cayman) (1.3 percent) and BH International Holdings (2.8 percent) will also sell stake.

The company has proposed to use Rs 4,300 crores for growing and strengthening the Paytm ecosystem, including through acquisition of consumers and merchants and providing them with greater access to technology and financial services.

Paytm plans to earmark Rs 2,000 crores for business initiatives, acquisitions and strategic partnerships and up to 25 percent of the total fund raised through the IPO for general corporate purposes.

According to the documents, Paytm’s merchant base grew to 2.11 crores as on March 31, 2021 from 1.12 crores in March 2019, and gross merchandise value (GMV) almost doubled to over Rs 4 lakh crores in the financial year (FY) from Rs 2.29 lakh crores in FY 2019.

The company has reported a narrowing of its loss to Rs 1,704 crores in FY21, from Rs 2,943.3 crore in FY20 and Rs 4,235.5 crores in FY19.

Total income declined to Rs 3,186.8 crores in FY21, from Rs 3,540.7 crores in FY20.

Paytm has reported negative cash flow of Rs 222.1 crores in FY21 primarily due to operating losses and additional working capital requirement.

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Google May Face Fine of Up to 20 Percent of Annual Turnover in Russia Over Failing to Delete Illegal Content

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 October 2021

Russia said on Tuesday it would this month seek to fine US tech giant Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete content deemed illegal, Moscow’s strongest effort yet to rein in foreign tech firms. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Google had failed to pay RUB 32.5 million (roughly Rs. 3.4 crores) in penalties levied so far this year and that it would now seek a fine of 5-20 percent of Google’s Russian turnover, which could reach as much as $240 million (roughly Rs. 1,800 crores), a significant increase.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia has ramped up pressure on foreign tech companies as it seeks to assert greater control over the Internet in the country, slowing down the speed of Twitter since March and routinely fining others for content violations.

Opposition activists have accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of caving to Kremlin pressure after they removed an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores.

Roskomnadzor earlier in October said it would ask a court to impose a turnover fine on social media firm Facebook, citing legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in December 2020.

“A similar case will be put together in October against Google,” Roskomnadzor said in emailed comments to Reuters on Tuesday, noting that the company also owned video-hosting site YouTube.

The SPARK business database showed that Google’s turnover in Russia in 2020 was RUB 85.5 billion (roughly Rs. 9,050 crores). A 5-20 percentfine would amount to between RUB 4.3 billion (roughly Rs. 455 crores) and RUB 17.1 billion (roughly Rs. 1,810 crores).

Google is currently fighting a court ruling demanding it unblock the YouTube account of a sanctioned Russian businessman or face a compounding fine on its overall turnover that would double every week and force Google out of business within months if paid.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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SolarWinds Hackers Said to Have Stolen Sensitive US Data on Russia Sanctions, Intelligence Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

The suspected Russian hackers who used SolarWinds and Microsoft software to burrow into US federal agencies emerged with information about counter-intelligence investigations, policy on sanctioning Russian individuals and the country’s response to COVID-19, people involved in the investigation told Reuters.

The hacks were widely publicised after their discovery late last year, and American officials have blamed Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, which denies the activity. But little has been disclosed about the spies’ aims and successes.

The reluctance of some publicly traded companies to explain their exposure has prompted a broad Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The campaign alarmed officials with its stealth and careful staging. The hackers burrowed into the code production process at SolarWinds, which makes widely used software for managing networks.

The group also took advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft’s methods for identifying users in Office 365, breaching some targets that used Microsoft software but not SolarWinds.

It has been previously reported that the hackers breached unclassified Justice Department networks and read emails at the departments of treasury, commerce and homeland security. Nine federal agencies were breached. The hackers also stole digital certificates used to convince computers that software is authorised to run on them and source code from Microsoft and other tech companies.

One of the people involved said that the exposure of counter-intelligence matters being pursued against Russia was the worst of the losses.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A White House official said that President Joe Biden has issued orders improving federal agency security, among other things requiring more multifactor-authentication and more monitoring of workplace devices.

In an annual threat-review paper released on Thursday, Microsoft said the Russian spies were ultimately looking for government material on sanctions and other Russia-related policies, along with US methods for catching Russian hackers.

Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said the company drew its conclusions from the types of customers and accounts it saw being targeted. In such cases, she told Reuters, “You can infer the operational aims from that.”

Others who worked on the government’s investigation went further, saying they could see the terms that the Russians used in their searches of US digital files, including “sanctions.”

Chris Krebs, the former head of US cyber-defense agency CISA and now an adviser to SolarWinds and other companies, said the combined descriptions of the attackers’ goals were logical.

“If I’m a threat actor in an environment, I’ve got a clear set of objectives. First, I want to get valuable intelligence on government decision-making. Sanctions policy makes a ton of sense,” Krebs said.

The second thing is to learn how the target responds to attacks, or “counter-incident response,” he said: “I want to know what they know about me so I can improve my tradecraft and avoid detection.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google, YouTube to Stop Serving Advertisements Next to Climate Change Misinformation

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 October 2021

Google on Thursday said it will no longer post advertisements next to misinformation about climate change on its search engine or on global video-sharing platform YouTube. The new policy for Google advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators will prohibit the platforms from helping people make money from content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.”

That includes online content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, or denying the world’s temperature is rising and that human activity is contributing to the problem, Google said in a post.

“Advertisers simply don’t want their advertisements to appear next to this content,” Google said.

“And publishers and creators don’t want advertisements promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos.”

The Internet giant added that the policy change aligns with efforts by the company to promote sustainable practices and confront climate change.

“Google’s important decision to demonetise climate misinformation could turn the tide on the climate denial economy,” said NGO Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran.

“For years, climate misinformers have confused public opinion and obstructed urgent political action on climate change, and YouTube has been one of their weapons of choice.”

Quran urged other online platforms to follow Google’s lead and stop funneling money to those peddling debunked denials of climate change.

Social networking colossus Facebook, which is Google’s biggest competitor in the digital advertising market, touts efforts to curb climate misinformation at its platform but has no such advertisement ban in place.

Social media platforms are regularly accused of promoting content that provokes strong emotional responses in order to keep users engaged so the platforms can make more money made from advertisements, even if the content can cause harm.

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Google Says It Used AI to Reduce Traffic Delays, Fuel Use in Israel; Plans to Test in Rio De Janeiro

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

Alphabet’s Google cut fuel use and traffic delays by 10 percent to 20 percent at four locations in Israel by using artificial intelligence to optimize signal lights and it next plans to test the software in Rio de Janeiro, the company said on Wednesday.

The early-phase research project is among new software initiatives inside [Google] to combat climate change. Some employees as well as advocacy groups have called on the company, the world’s third-most valuable, to more urgently use its influence to combat the crisis.

While Google has not addressed critics’ calls to stop selling technology to oil companies or funding lawmakers who deny global warming, it has prioritized sustainability features.

Google plans in the coming weeks to allow its Nest thermostat users to buy renewable energy credits for $10 (roughly Rs. 750) a month to offset emissions from heating and cooling. Credits will come from projects in Texas including Bethel Wind Farm and Roseland Solar. A majority of the funds will go toward credit purchases and utility-bill payment costs, Google said, without elaborating on the remainder.

For no charge across the United States, Nest users soon can automatically shift heating and cooling to times when energy is cleaner.

New informational panels alongside search results show emissions or other environmental ratings of flights globally and cars and home appliances in the United States. To stem misinformation, English, Spanish and French queries mentioning “climate change” starting this month will feature explanations from the United Nations.

Based on early results in Israel’s Haifa and Beer-Sheva, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal traffic authority expressed high hopes for the AI to better time traffic signal changes. It told Reuters the system should be introduced within months with locations announced soon.

Aleksandar Stevanovic, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of Pittsburgh, said simulations show AI could smooth traffic flow. But he questioned whether a tech company without traffic engineering expertise ultimately could bring such software to reality.

“Every year there is someone new claiming we can do wonders,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, More US Tech Giants Should Be Regulated Where They’re Based: EU Lawmaker

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

US tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon should be regulated by the EU country where they are based under proposed EU rules, a top lawmaker said on Tuesday, knocking back efforts by some countries to broaden the planned act’s scope.

The country of origin principle is set out in EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager’s draft rules known as the Digital Services Act which requires US tech giants to do more to police the internet for illegal and harmful content.

The principle means Ireland is responsible for regulating Apple, Alphabet unit Google and Facebook because they have their European headquarters there while Amazon is subject to Luxembourg’s supervision.

France and a few other countries are seeking to broaden the scope, worried that enforcement concentrated in just two countries may weaken the rules and also slow down decision-making.

Lawmaker Christel Schaldemose, who is steering the DSA through the European Parliament and has power to amend or add other provisions to it, supports the act’s core proposal.

“It makes sense to keep the country of origin principle,” she told Reuters in an interview.

Schaldemose however wants to go one step further than Vestager by including a ban on some targeted advertising in the DSA.

“Targeted advertisements that are based on your behaviour on Facebook, for instance, that should not be allowed. Advertisements based on the fact that you have visited websites for buying shoes and things like that, classic commercial advertisements should probably be allowed,” she said.

Schaldemoe said she hopes to finalise her draft with other lawmakers in the next two months so she can thrash out a deal with EU countries next year before the proposed rules can be implemented.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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