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McAfee Creator Charged in Cryptocurrency Scam, Allegedly Raked in Over $13 Million From Investors

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 6 March 2021

The creator of McAfee computer security software was facing charges Friday that he cashed in on a “pump-and-dump” scheme, by promoting cryptocurrencies on Twitter to drive up their value.

John McAfee, founder of the antivirus firm that bears his name, and Jimmy Watson face charges of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering in connection with schemes to trick cryptocurrency investors, according to an indictment unsealed by the US Department of Justice.

“McAfee and Watson exploited a widely used social media platform and enthusiasm among investors in the emerging cryptocurrency market to make millions through lies and deception,” US attorney Audrey Strauss said in a release.

McAfee, Watson, and other members of their “cryptocurrency team” allegedly “raked in more than $13 million (roughly Rs. 95.1 crores) from investors they victimized with their fraudulent schemes,” according to Strauss.

Pump-and-dump schemes typically involve over-hyping the value of stocks or, in this case cryptocurrency, by holders so that they can be sold at artificially high prices.

“McAfee and Watson used social media to perpetrate an age-old pump-and-dump scheme,” FBI assistant director William Sweeney said.

“When engaging in illegal activity, simply finding new ways to carry out old tricks won’t produce different results.”

McAfee and Watson also used Twitter to promote digital tokens on behalf of initial coin offerings without disclosing they were being paid for their efforts by the startups, according to the indictment.

McAfee, 75, is in custody in Spain pending a decision on his extradition to the United States where he is wanted for tax evasion.

He has been held at a prison near Barcelona since he was arrested in the Spanish city in October just as he was about to board a flight to Istanbul.

The arrest followed his indictment in June in the United States for tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting work, cryptocurrencies and selling the rights to his life story.

Since making a fortune with his eponymous antivirus software in the 1980s, McAfee has become a self-styled cryptocurrency guru.

He has one million followers on Twitter, where he describes himself as a “lover of women, adventure and mystery.”

McAfee made headlines after he moved to Belize and his neighbor in the Central American country was mysteriously murdered in 2012, a crime that remains unsolved.

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Run Out of Milk? Robots on Call for Singapore Home Deliveries of Groceries

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By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021 

Hoping to capitalise on a surge in demand for home deliveries, a Singapore technology company has deployed a pair of robots to bring residents their groceries in one part of the city state.

Developed by OTSAW Digital and both named “Camello”, the robots’ services have been offered to 700 households in a one-year trial.

Users can book delivery slots for their milk and eggs, and an app notifies them when the robot is about to reach a pick-up point – usually the lobby of an apartment building.

The robots, which are equipped with 3D sensors, a camera and two compartments each able to carry up to 20kg (44 lb) of food or parcels ordered online, make four or five deliveries per day on weekdays and are on call for half day on Saturday.

They use ultraviolet light to disinfect themselves after every trip, said OTSAW Digital’s chief executive, Ling Ting Ming.

“Especially during this pandemic period, everybody is looking at contactless, humanless,” he told Reuters.

For the time being, staff accompany the robots on their rounds to ensure no problems arise.

Tashfique Haider, a 25-year-old student who has tried out the service, said it could be particularly helpful for the elderly so they wouldn’t have to carry goods home.

But a passerby worried the technology might be too much trouble for some.

“The younger customers will like it. I don’t think they (the older generation) will, because these are gadgets that younger people like,” said 36-year-old housewife Xue Ya Xin.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Alibaba Says Does Not Expect Material Impact From $2.75-Billion Antitrust Fine

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By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021

China’s Alibaba does not expect any material impact from changes to its exclusivity arrangements with merchants, CEO Daniel Zhang said on Monday, after regulators fined the e-commerce giant a record $2.75 billion (roughly Rs. 20,640 crores) for abusing its market dominance.

Shares in Alibaba Group rose as much as 9 percent in Hong Kong trade as a key source of uncertainty for the company was removed, and on relief the fine and steps ordered were not more onerous.

Alibaba has come under intense scrutiny since billionaire founder Jack Ma’s public criticism of the Chinese regulatory system in October.

The company will introduce measures to lower entry barriers and business costs faced by merchants on its platforms, Zhang told an online conference for media and analysts.

Alibaba executives said despite Saturday’s record CNY 18 billion (roughly Rs. 20,630 crores) fine and measures ordered by regulators, they remain confident in the government’s overall support of the company.

“They are affirming our business model,” said Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai. “We feel comfortable that there’s nothing wrong with our fundamental business model as a platform company.”

Shares bounce

Markets reacted positively, with shares jumping by the most since July last year.

“Now the penalty is determined, the market’s uncertainty about Alibaba will be reduced,” Everbright Sun Hung Kai analyst Kenny Ng said. “Alibaba’s stock price has lagged behind the overall emerging economy stocks for some time in the past. The implementation of this penalty is expected to allow Alibaba’s stock price to regain market attention.”

Aside from imposing the fine, among the highest ever antitrust penalties globally, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) ordered Alibaba to make “thorough rectifications” to strengthen internal compliance and protect consumer rights.

“The required corrective measures will likely limit Alibaba’s revenue growth as a further expansion in market share will be constrained,” said Lina Choi, Senior Vice President at Moody’s Investors Service. “Investments to retain merchants and upgrade products and services will also reduce its profit margins.”

SAMR said it had determined Alibaba, which is also listed in New York, had prevented its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms since 2015.

The practice, which the SAMR has previously spelt out as illegal, violates China’s antimonopoly law by hindering the free circulation of goods and infringing on the business interests of merchants, the regulator said.

The probe comes as China bolsters SAMR with extra staff and a wider jurisdiction amid a crackdown on technology conglomerates, signalling a new era after years of laissez-faire approach.

The agency has taken aim recently at China’s large tech giants in particular, mirroring increased scrutiny of the sector in the United States and Europe.

Exclusivity issues

Alibaba said it accepted the penalty and “will ensure its compliance with determination”.

Speaking with analysts on Monday, Tsai said that other than a review of the company’s mergers and acquisitions, which the company’s peers also face, it does not expect further investigation from the antitrust regulator.

“We are pleased we can put this matter behind us,” he said.

Tsai added the company “doesn’t rely on exclusivity” to retain its merchants, adding such exclusivity arrangements in the past only covered a small number of Tmall flagship stores.

Alibaba and its peers remain under review for mergers and acquisitions from the market regulator, Tsai told the briefing, adding he was not aware of any other anti-monopoly-related investigations.

The fine is more than double the $975 million (roughly Rs. 7,330 crores) paid in China by Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, in 2015 for anticompetitive practices.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook to Turn Menlo Park Headquarters Into COVID-19 Vaccination Site

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 April 2021

Facebook said on Friday that it is converting a part of its Menlo Park headquarters into a vaccination site, joining the government effort to speed up the vaccination drive in the US.

For this initiative, the company is teaming up with Ravenswood Family Health Centre, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a post.

“We’re also teaming up with the State of California and local nonprofits to support mobile vaccination clinics in four of the state’s hardest hit regions,” wrote Sandberg.

Earlier this year, the social media company decided to launch a tool to give people in the US information about where to get COVID-19 vaccines and added a COVID-19 information area to its photo-sharing site, Instagram.

Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said in an interview that the company had taken viral false claims “very seriously” but said there was “a huge grey area of people who have concerns… some of which some people would call misinformation and some of which other people would call doubt”. “The best thing to do in that huge grey area is just to show up with authoritative information in a helpful way, be a part of the conversation and do it with health experts,” he added.

The company said it was labelling Facebook and Instagram posts that discuss the safety of COVID-19 vaccines with text saying the vaccines go through safety and effectiveness tests before approval. In the blog post, it also said that since expanding its list of banned false claims about the coronavirus and vaccines in February, it has removed an additional two million pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Amazon Union Vote Defeated in Alabama by More Than 2-to-1 Margin

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 April 2021

Amazon.com warehouse workers in Alabama voted against forming a union by a more than 2-to-1 margin in a major win for the retailer, but the union hoping to reignite the US labour movement said on Friday it would challenge the results, citing election interference.

National Labor Relations Board representatives counted 1,798 voting against forming a union, with 738 ballots in favour. A simple majority was needed for victory.

Both sides have the right to challenge the eligibility of individual ballots and the campaign process, but a ballot count official on a Zoom call of the proceeding announced that there were not enough challenged votes to affect the results.

Amazon shares rose 1.8 percent Friday, adding to earlier gains.

Union leaders had hoped the election outside Birmingham would spark a new era of worker activism. Appealing to concerns that Amazon was monitoring their every move and associating themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, organisers told the largely Black workforce a union could get more from the company controlled by the world’s richest man.

The defeat joins high-profile failures to start unions at auto and plane factories in the US South, and illustrates the challenges of organising a major company. Amazon required workers to attend meetings, for instance.

Still, some employees described relatively good conditions and pay. Amazon offers at least $15.30 (roughly Rs. 1,100) an hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage, which applies in Alabama.

“Amazon is not perfect, there are flaws, but we are committed to correcting those flaws and management has been, thus far, on board with us,” William Stokes, an Amazon worker at the Bessemer warehouse said at a panel organised by his employer.

He voted “no” to the union.

The vote was watched across the United States, with President Joe Biden defending workers’ right to form unions during the process.

The US South has been particularly anti-union. Nearly all the states in the area, including Alabama, passed so-called right-to-work laws that curtail unions’ abilities to mandate dues and other measures.

What’s next?
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is trying to organise the Amazon employees, said it is filing objections, charging that Amazon interfered with the right of employees to vote.

“People should not presume that the results of this vote are in any way a validation of Amazon’s working conditions and the way it treats its employees, quite the contrary. The results demonstrate the powerful impact of employee intimidation and interference,” Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU President, told a news conference after counting ended.

“We contend that they broke the law repeatedly in their no-holds-barred effort to stop workers from forming a union.”

The dispute likely will play out before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then in federal appeals court.

Union membership has been declining steadily, falling to 11 percent of the eligible workforce in 2020 from 20 percent in 1983, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Amazon, the second-largest private employer in America, for decades has discouraged attempts among its more than 800,000 US employees to organise, showing managers how to identify union activity, raising wages and warning that union dues would cut into pay, according to a prior training video, public statements and the company’s union election website.

The union objection will focus in part on what it described as Amazon pressuring the US Postal Service to install a mail box and then pressuring employees to bring their ballots to work and use the mailbox.

Out of 5,867 workers eligible to cast ballots, 3,041 voted. NLRB officials said 505 ballots were contested and 76 were voided.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, who spoke at the union’s press conference, said, “This is not the outcome any of us hoped for… but make no mistake, you won the moment that you decided to take on Amazon.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Alibaba Group Fined Record $2.75 Billion for Anti-Monopoly Violations in China

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 April 2021

Chinese regulators have fined Alibaba Group Holding CNY 18 billion ($2.75 billion or roughly Rs. 20,500 crores) for violating anti-monopoly rules and abusing its dominant market position, marking the highest ever antitrust fine to be imposed in the country.

The penalty, equivalent to around four percent of Alibaba’s 2019 revenues, comes amid an unprecedented regulatory crackdown on home-grown technology conglomerates in the past few months that have weighed on company shares.

Alibaba’s billionaire founder Jack Ma’s business empire has been particularly put under intense scrutiny after his stinging criticism of China’s regulatory system in late October.

In late December, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) announced it launched an antitrust probe into the company. That came after authorities scuttled a planned $37 billion IPO from Ant Group, Alibaba’s internet finance arm.

While the fine brings Alibaba a step closer to resolving its antitrust troubles, Ant still needs to agree to a regulatory-driven revamp that is expected to sharply cut its valuations and rein in some of its freewheeling businesses.

“This penalty will be viewed as a closure to the anti-monopoly case for now by the market. It’s indeed the highest profile anti-monopoly case in China,” said Hong Hao, head of research BOCOM International in Hong Kong.

“The market has been anticipating some sort of penalty for some time … but people need to pay attention to the measures beyond the anti-monopoly investigation.”

SAMR said on Saturday that it had determined that Alibaba had been “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by preventing its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms.

It said the practice violates China’s anti-monopoly law by hindering the free circulation of goods and infringing on the business interests of merchants.

The SAMR ordered Alibaba to make “thorough rectifications” to strengthen internal compliance and protect consumer rights.

Alibaba said in a statement posted on its official Weibo account that it “accepted” the decision and would resolutely implement SAMR’s rulings.

It said it would also work to improve corporate compliance.

The Chinese e-commerce giant said it will hold a conference call on Monday to discuss the penalty decision.

‘Fine bill is a milestone’
Alibaba had come under fire in the past from rivals and sellers for allegedly forbidding its merchants from listing on other e-commerce platforms.

The practice of preventing merchants from listing on rival platforms is a long-standing one, and the regulator spelled out in rules issued in February that it was illegal.

“The fine bill is a milestone and road sign with great importance,” Shi Jianzhong, antitrust consultant committee member of the State Council and professor of China University of Political Science and Law, wrote in state-backed Economic Times.

“It indicates that the antitrust law enforcement on internet platforms has entered a new era, and released clear policy signal.”

Beijing has vowed to strengthen oversight of its big tech firms, which rank among the world’s largest and most valuable, citing concerns that they have built market power that stifles competition, misused consumer data and violated consumer rights.

Besides Ma’s Alibaba, regulators have also been targeting other internet behemoths.

Although Ma has stepped down from corporate positions and earnings calls, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant, and has promoted them globally at business and political events.

Ma, who commands a cult-like reverence in China, had briefly disappeared from public view since October 24, when he blasted China’s regulatory system in a speech at a Shanghai forum. He reappeared in January.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook, Google, More Tech Giants to Be Kept in Check by New Watchdog in UK

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 8 April 2021

The UK launched a tough new regulator on Wednesday, which it says will help make sure tech giants such as Facebook and Google cannot exploit their market dominance to crowd out competition and stifle innovation online.

The Digital Markets Unit (DMU), based within the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will oversee plans to give consumers more choice and control over their data, promote online competition and crack down on unfair practices which can often leave businesses and consumers with less choice and more expensive goods and services.

The UK government says it has asked the new watchdog to begin looking at how codes of conduct could work in practice to govern the relationship between digital platforms and groups, such as small businesses which rely on them to advertise or use their services to reach their customers.

“Today is a major milestone in the path to creating the world’s most competitive online markets, with consumers, entrepreneurs and content publishers at their heart,” said UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“The Digital Markets Unit has launched and I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers, and platforms and digital advertisers. This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data, and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values,” he said.

The minister has asked the DMU to work with the country’s communications regulator, Office of Communications (Ofcom), to look specifically at how a code would govern the relationships between platforms and content providers such as news publishers, including to ensure they are as fair and reasonable as possible.

This would pave the way for the future rules of the road and is alongside the wider work being done by the government.

“This is a significant step towards our goal of improving consumer choice and delivering better services at lower prices,” said UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

“The UK has built an enviable reputation as a global tech hub and we want that to continue – but I’m clear that the system needs to be fair for our smaller businesses, new entrepreneurs and the wider British public. Our new, unashamedly pro-competition regime will help to curb the dominance of tech giants, unleash a wave of innovation throughout the market and ensure smaller firms aren’t pushed out,” he said.

The government acknowledged that online platforms bring huge benefits for businesses and society and make work easier and quicker and help people stay in touch.

But there is a consensus that the “concentration of power among a small number of firms” is curtailing growth and having negative impacts on consumers and businesses which rely on them.
In November 2020, the UK government announced plans for the DMU to enforce a new pro-competition regime to cover platforms with considerable market power – known as strategic market status.

The new unit has today kicked off its first work programme as it launches in “shadow” non statutory form ahead of legislation granting its full powers.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “People shopping on the Internet and sharing information online should be able to enjoy the choice, secure data and fair prices that come with a dynamic and competitive industry.

“Today is another step towards creating a level playing field in digital markets. The DMU will be a world-leading hub of expertise in this area and when given the powers it needs, I am confident it will play a key role in helping innovation thrive and securing better outcomes for customers.”

The government says it will consult on the design of the new pro-competition regime this year and legislate to put the DMU on a statutory footing as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The unit will work closely with the CMA enforcement teams already taking action to address practices by digital firms, which harm competition and lead to poor outcomes for consumers and businesses.
This includes taking enforcement action against Google and Apple, and scrutinising mergers involving Facebook and eBay.

Alongside, the government has also published an outline of the new unit’s function and role for its first year of operation.

It includes working alongside business, the government and academia to compile the necessary evidence, knowledge and expertise so that once the new pro-competition regulatory regime is in place it can begin operation as quickly as possible.

As countries around the world grapple with these issues, the unit will coordinate with international partners so the UK remains a global leader in shaping the debate in this area, a government statement said.

The UK is already discussing its approach to digital competition with international partners through bilateral engagement and as part of its G7 presidency.

The Digital Secretary will host a meeting of digital and tech ministers in April as he seeks to build consensus for coordination on better information sharing and joining up regulatory and policy approaches.

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