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Uber CEO and transport boss had second meeting over London license battle
April 20, 2018 6:06 pm|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s Transport Commissioner Mike Brown met Uber [UBER.UL]boss Dara Khosrowshahi in January, a freedom of information request revealed, as the Silicon Valley app fights to keep its cars on the streets of its most important European market.

FILE PHOTO – Dara Khosrowshahi, Chief Executive Officer of Uber Technologies, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture

Uber is battling a decision by the city’s transport regulator last September to strip it of its license after it was deemed unfit to run a taxi service, a ruling Uber is appealing.

Since then Uber has made a series of changes to its business model, responding to requests from regulators, including the introduction of 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to London’s police.

Khosrowshahi flew to London in October for discussions with Brown after which Uber promised to make things right in the British capital city.

The pair had a second meeting in London in January, according to a response to a freedom of information request from Reuters.

“The Commissioner met with Dara Khosrowshahi on 3 October 2017 and 15 January 2018, both meetings took place in London,” Transport for London (TfL) said.

A TfL spokesman declined to provide an immediate comment on what was discussed at the meeting. Uber declined to comment.

Reuters had asked for a list of every meeting which had taken place between Uber and TfL’s private hire team and/or Brown since Sept. 22 but TfL declined to release such details.

“We are not obliged to supply the remainder of the information requested in relation to meetings as it … relates to information where disclosure would be likely to prejudice the exercise by any public authority of its functions ..,” it said.

A court hearing over Uber’s appeal is due this month before the substance of the appeal is heard in June.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison

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Indian ride-hailing firm Ola to launch 10,000 electric vehicles over 12 months
April 16, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian ride-hailing firm Ola, backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group will launch 10,000 electric three-wheelers in the country over the next 12 months as part of a broader electrification plan, the company said in a statement on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: An employee speaks over his phone as he sits at the front desk inside the office of Ola cab service in Gurugram, previously known as Gurgaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File photo

The move is part of a broader push by Ola to launch 1 million electric vehicles on its platform by 2021, it said in the statement, adding that it will work with various state governments, vehicle manufacturers and battery companies to meet its target.

Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Swati Bhat

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Bad humour: China watchdog shuts Toutiao joke app over vulgar content
April 11, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – In China, a platform for risqué jokes is no laughing matter.

FILE PHOTO – The logo of Bytedance’s news feed platform Toutiao is seen as its building in Beijing, China October 21, 2017. Picture taken October 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

Toutiao, a hugely popular news and online content portal that is luring investors, was forced to pull its joke sharing “Neihan Duanzi” app, literally meaning “implied jokes”, after a watchdog said it included “vulgar and improper content”.

The move comes amid a broader clamp-down targeting online content from livestreams and blogs to mobile gaming, as the country’s leaders look to tighten their grip over a huge and diverse cultural scene online popular with China’s youth.

China’s State Administration of Radio and Television ordered the app to be taken down permanently in a post on Tuesday for low values that had “caused strong disgust amongst netizens”. It urged Toutiao to regulate similar content on its other sites.

Toutiao, one of the country’s fastest-growing tech start-ups which was valued at around $ 20 billion last year, has been in hot water with regulators lately. Earlier this week, its main mobile app was also removed from a number of Chinese smartphone app stores following reports of increased censorship.

In a public letter titled “Apology and Introspection”, Toutiao founder Zhang Yiming pledged to raise the number of in-house censors – referred to as content auditors – to 10,000 people from 6,000 currently to keep its content wholesome.

“This product walked the wrong path and had content in deviation of socialist core values,” he wrote in the letter posted on his official microblog account on Wednesday.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Michael Perry

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Trump attacks Amazon, again, over U.S. postal rates
March 31, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump launched his second attack in a week on Amazon.com Inc on Saturday, accusing the world’s biggest online retailer of getting unfairly cheap rates from the U.S. Postal Service and not paying enough tax.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon.com Inc is seen in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

Trump’s comments on Twitter reiterated criticisms he made on Thursday about the company. He may have been prompted by a report from news website Axios saying he was obsessed with Amazon and considering ways to rein in the company’s power, possibly with federal antitrust or competition laws.

Investor concerns about regulatory action sent Amazon shares down 3.3 percent over Wednesday and Thursday, knocking $ 24 billion off the company’s market value.

“While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $ 1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.

A Citigroup analysis last year showed that if the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) reallocated costs to account for the growing volume of packages it delivers, it would cost $ 1.46 more to deliver each package. Federal regulators, which review contracts made by USPS, have not raised any issues with the terms of its contract with Amazon.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport, Florida, U.S. for the Easter weekend at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $ 2.6 Billion’,” Trump tweeted, although it was not clear what report he was citing. “This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”

A White House spokeswoman said on Thursday the administration has no Amazon-related action at this time.

Trump also accused the Washington Post, owned privately by Amazon Chief Executive and founder Jeff Bezos, of being a “lobbyist” for Amazon.

The newspaper, a frequent target of Trump’s ire, won a Pulitzer Prize last year for its critical investigation of Trump’s donations to charities.

Amazon declined comment. The Washington Post did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Bill Trott

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Investors, lawmakers, advertisers pressure Facebook over data
March 22, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s apology for how his company handled 50 million users’ data did little on Thursday to ease investor worries about the cost to fix mistakes and lawmakers’ dismay that his response did not go far enough.

Germany’s second-largest bank Commerzbank AG has suspended advertising on Facebook until further notice, Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Thursday, following in the steps of Mozilla, which runs the Firefox web browser.

Allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data to build profiles on American voters and influence the 2016 presidential election has knocked more than $ 50 billion of Facebook’s market value this week.

Five days after the scandal broke, Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday that mistakes were made and promised to restrict developers’ access to user information as part of a plan to improve privacy protection.

On Thursday, Facebook executives were still saying sorry. “It was a mistake”, Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, said at The Financial Times FT Future of News Conference in New York City.

Zuckerberg’s apology and promises were not enough to ease political pressure on the world’s largest social media company.

“It shouldn’t be for a company to decide what is the appropriate balance between privacy and innovation and use of data. Those rules should be set by society as a whole and so by parliament,” British minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, told BBC Radio. “The big tech companies need to abide by the law and we’re strengthening the law.”

In Washington, Zuckerberg’s media rounds did little to satisfy lawmakers in either political party who have demanded this week that the billionaire testify before Congress.

Facebook executives were expected to brief two congressional committees on Thursday, after being grilled for nearly two hours by staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman and other executives were unable to answer many questions at Wednesday’s meeting, according to two aides who were present. The executives said they had written down a list of 60 questions they promised to answer, the aides said.

The Republican chairman and top Democrat of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee said they will in coming days formally ask Zuckerberg to testify.

REPUTATIONAL COSTS

Wall Street analysts expressed relief that there were no signs so far of a more fundamental shift in the company’s advertising-driven revenue model, but some said there would be costs to shore up its reputation.

Facebook, with more than 2 billion monthly active users, made almost all its $ 40.6 billion in revenue last year from advertising.

A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration photo March 20, 2018. Picture taken March 20. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Stifel analyst Scott Devitt cut his price target on Facebook by $ 27 to $ 168, while BofA Merrill Lynch slashed its target by $ 35 to $ 230.

“Facebook’s current plight reminds us of eBay in 2004 – an unstructured content business built on trust that lost that trust prior to implementing policies to add structure and process,” Devitt said.

“Warren Buffett has his own thing called a “too hard” pile, and we are choosing to put Facebook shares in it,” he wrote.

Facebook shares were down 2.2 percent on Thursday in heavy trading.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Analysts said that Zuckerberg’s promises to investigate thousands of apps, and to give members a tool that lets them turn off access, would not substantially reduce advertisers’ ability to use Facebook data – the company’s lifeblood.

Nevertheless, open-source browser and app developer Mozilla said it was “pressing pause” on its Facebook advertising after the revelations prompted it to take a closer look at the site’s default privacy settings.

“We found that its current default settings leave access open to a lot of data – particularly with respect to settings for third party apps,” Mozilla, it said in a blog post.

“When Facebook takes stronger action in how it shares customer data, specifically strengthening its default privacy settings for third party apps, we’ll consider returning.”

Commerzbank said it, too, was pausing its campaign on Facebook. “Brand safety and data security are very important to us,” head of brand strategy Uwe Hellmann told Handelsblatt. The comments were confirmed by a spokesman for the bank.

The Times newspaper reported that British advertising group ISBA, which represents thousands of well-known brands, has threatened to withdraw ads if investigations show user data has been misused.

“We think this issue is more likely to snowball than recede and that advertisers are reaching a tipping point at which spending on not only Facebook and other online platforms, is re-evaluated,” brokerage Liberum said in a note.

Technology stocks have fallen along with Facebook this week as investors worried about tighter scrutiny of global platforms like Google, Twitter and Snapchat.

British police removed cordons around the London headquarters of Cambridge Analytica on Thursday after they deemed a suspicious package which sparked a security alert to be safe.

Efforts by Britain’s information watchdog to investigate Cambridge Analytica were delayed when a judge adjourned for 24 hours its application to search the company’s head office.

Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Paul Sandle; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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Exclusive: FCC plans to fine Sinclair $13.3 million over undisclosed commercials
December 15, 2017 6:04 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission plans to fine Sinclair Broadcasting Corp $ 13.3 million after it failed to properly disclose that paid programming that aired on local TV stations was sponsored by a cancer institute, three people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The proposed fine, which covers about 1,700 spots including commercials that looked like news stories that aired during newscasts for the Utah-based Huntsman Cancer Institute over a six-month period in 2016, could bolster critics of Sinclair’s proposed $ 3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co.

Sinclair Broadcasting and a spokesman for the FCC declined to comment. Sinclair, which has told reporters previously the violations were unintentional, disclosed the investigation in financial filings.

Sinclair, which owns more than 170 U.S. television stations and is the largest U.S. operator, announced plans in May to acquire Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets as well as cable network WGN America and digital multicast network Antenna TV, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households. The FCC and Justice Department are reviewing Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune.

The proposed fine, which was approved by the five-member FCC earlier this week but has not yet been made public, is significant, officials said. The penalty represents an average fine of about $ 7,700 for each of the improperly aired spots but is significantly less than the maximum fine Sinclair could have faced under the law.

Sinclair will have the opportunity to respond to the proposed fine before it becomes final.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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Britain urged to prosecute social media firms over online abuse
December 13, 2017 12:39 am|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – Social media companies should face prosecution for failing to remove racist and extremist material from their websites, according to a report by an influential committee.

FILE PHOTO – A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person’s eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015.REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ethics watchdog recommends introducing laws to shift the liability for illegal content onto social media firms and calls for them to do more to take down intimidatory content.

Social media companies currently do not have liability for the content on their sites, even when it is illegal, the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life said.

The recommendations form part of the conclusions of an inquiry into intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates in an election campaign this year.

“The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behavior in recent years,” the report said.

“The committee is deeply concerned about the limited engagement of the social media companies in tackling these issues.”

While the report said intimidation in public life is an old problem, the scale and intensity of intimidation is now posing a threat to Britain’s democracy.

FILE PHOTO – People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

The report found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates are disproportionately likely to be the targets of intimidation.

The committee heard how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic abuse is putting off some candidates from standing for public office.

Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are criticized for failing to remove abusive material posted online even after they were notified.

FILE PHOTO – A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

The committee said it was “surprised and concerned” Google, Facebook and Twitter do not collect data on the material they take down.

“The companies’ failure to collect this data seems extraordinary given that they thrive on data collection,” the report said. “It would appear to demonstrate that they do not prioritize addressing this issue of online intimidation.”

Twitter said in a statement it has announced several updates to its platform aimed at cutting down on abusive content and it is taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year.

YouTube declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many politicians have become more vocal about the abuse they face after Labour’s Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, was shot and repeatedly stabbed a week before Britain’s Brexit referendum last year.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Tezos organizers hit with second lawsuit over cryptocurrency fundraiser
November 16, 2017 12:00 am|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – A second lawsuit was filed this week against the organizers of cybercurrency technology project Tezos, an initiative that raised $ 232 million to issue a cryptocurrency that does not exist and fund development of a transaction system that has no clear end date.

Tezos co-founder and CTO Arthur Breitman and his wife and co-founder Kathleen Breitman respond to questions during the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The class action lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in Florida by Coral Springs-based law firm Silver Miller, alleges that Tezos’ organizers broke U.S. securities laws and defrauded and misled participants in the online fundraiser, according to court documents.

Special Report: Read Reuters original investigation into Tezos

Many who put money toward the initial coin offering consider themselves investors, but the funds were raised as non-refundable donations.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday and made public on Wednesday. The defendants are Kathleen and Arthur Breitman, the co-founders of the project; their Delaware-based company Dynamic Ledger Solutions Inc, which owns the rights to the transaction system’s code; and the Tezos Foundation, a Swiss entity that was set up to carry out the fundraiser.

It is the second lawsuit in less than a month to hit the embattled project that in July raised funds in one of the largest ever initial coin offerings, a popular way for technology startups to collect money by issuing cryptocurrencies.

Neither Brian Klein, an attorney for the Breitmans, nor Johann Gevers, president of the Tezos Foundation, immediately responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit quotes from a Reuters investigation and reports published in October that revealed details of a backroom battle between the Breitmans and Gevers over control of the project. The dispute has delayed the project. (reut.rs/2yGk6IT)

The lawsuit alleges that contributors to the fundraiser were not told that it could take more than three years for the Swiss foundation, which holds the funds, to purchase Dynamic Ledger Solutions and the project’s source code.

This time frame, revealed by Reuters, was not disclosed to investors despite being “a highly material fact,” the lawsuit alleges.

Plaintiffs are asking for a refund as well as damages, according to the lawsuit. It also alleges organizers sold unregistered securities.

“As a result of Defendants’ fraud, false representations and violation of federal and state securities laws in connection with the Tezos ICO, Plaintiff and the Class Members state their demand that the Contract be rescinded and canceled,” the lawsuit states.

Other law firms have said they are considering litigation.

Reporting by Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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EU prepares to raise Privacy Shield over data transfers to U.S.
July 8, 2016 6:43 pm|Comments (0)

European Union officials are set to give final approval to a new EU-U.S. data transfer agreement early next week, after member states gave their approval to an updated text on Friday.

Privacy Shield is intended to replace the Safe Harbor Agreement as a means to legalize the transfer of EU citizens’ personal information to the U.S. while still respecting EU privacy laws.

A new deal is needed because the Court of Justice of the EU invalidated the Safe Harbor Agreement last October, concerned that it provided Europeans with insufficient protection from state surveillance when companies exported their personal data to the U.S. for processing.

The first draft of Privacy Shield agreement presented by the European Commission in January lacked key assurances from U.S. officials on the same matters that had concerned the CJEU about Safe Harbor.

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Oracle whistleblower suit may put dark cloud over stock
June 2, 2016 10:25 pm|Comments (0)

Wall Street is already jittery about the impact that cloud computing services, and their low profit margins, is having on corporate software companies …


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