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Lawmakers question whether Amazon executives, including Jeff Bezos, misled Congress. | tnewst.com Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lawmakers question whether Amazon executives, including Jeff Bezos, misled Congress.


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Credit…Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed Amazon’s chief executive on Monday to respond to allegations that its executives provided a congressional inquiry with false answers to questions about its house-brand products.

Amazon executives, including its founder, Jeff Bezos, told lawmakers that the company did not look at data from single sellers on its site when it planned for and developed its own products. They also told the House Judiciary Committee that the company did not purposefully give its house-brand products an edge in search results.

Last week, Reuters reported that Amazon had strategically copied products from third-party merchants while growing its business in India. Another publication, The Markup, reported a day later that the company’s house-brand products ranked higher than competitors sold by merchants, even when the third-party products had better ratings.

“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the committee,” said the group of five lawmakers. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law.”

In the letter, the lawmakers said they were considering referring the matter to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation. Their exchanges with Amazon came as part of a longer investigation into the market power of the nation’s largest tech companies.

“Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question,” said Brooke Oberwetter, an Amazon spokeswoman.

She said that the company had a policy against using data from individual merchants in building house-brand products and that Amazon’s search results feature “the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners.”

Bitcoin has been on a tear in recent weeks, approaching record prices above $60,000, as crypto enthusiasts anticipate history in the making.

On Tuesday, ProShares will start a long-awaiting exchange-traded fund on the New York Stock Exchange linked to Bitcoin futures, the firm and the exchange told the DealBook newsletter. The E.T.F. will give investors exposure to Bitcoin without having to hold the cryptocurrency directly, via any ordinary brokerage account.

“2021 will be remembered for this milestone,” said Michael Sapir, the chief executive of ProShares. Investors who are curious about crypto but hesitant to engage with unregulated crypto exchanges want “convenient access to Bitcoin in a wrapper that has market integrity,” he said. For nearly a decade, crypto entrepreneurs and traditional finance firms have sought permission to offer a Bitcoin E.T.F. in the United States, but their applications have been delayed or denied by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Many remain pending.

A Bitcoin futures E.T.F. falls short of what some purists want: a fund that holds crypto directly. Gary Gensler, the S.E.C. chair, recently suggested that the agency might allow crypto E.T.F.s based on futures — bets on Bitcoin’s price fluctuations rather than the underlying crypto itself — that trade on a highly regulated exchange.

Approval for the ProShares E.T.F., which is based on Bitcoin futures that trade on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, won’t be announced by the S.E.C., but the firm’s final prospectus met with no opposition ahead of its effective deadline, and the N.Y.S.E. is readying for its introduction on Tuesday.

Bitcoin’s true price isn’t easy to quote, Mr. Sapir said. There’s no single, reliable market reference and prices vary up to 5 percent from one crypto exchange to another. Many analysts believe that futures prices on the Chicago exchange are the most accurate reflection of Bitcoin market sentiment. From Mr. Sapir’s perspective, the futures-linked fund is effectively a Bitcoin E.T.F., even if not tied to spot markets. (It also avoids issues like custody of cryptocurrencies.)

“This is an exciting step but not the last,” Douglas Yones, the N.Y.S.E.’s head of exchange traded products, told DealBook. He foresees a range of crypto-linked E.T.F.s getting approval, eventually. The ProShares E.T.F. is another sign of crypto’s mainstream legitimacy in a year of milestones for the industry, including the crypto exchange Coinbase going public. Critics remain wary of cryptocurrencies, as do regulators, but the digital asset craze of 2021 shows few signs of abating.

Credit…Ritchie B Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant that assembles Apple’s iPhones, on Monday showed off the first physical fruits of its effort to become a major player in electric vehicles: a luxury sedan, a sport-utility vehicle and a bus.

The unveiling of the prototypes in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, came just a year after Foxconn executives declared their grand ambitions in battery-powered vehicles, an area with which the company had limited experience.

Foxconn has since begun working on hardware elements and software that automakers can use in developing electric cars. It has also signed agreements with start-ups like Fisker and Lordstown Motors to help develop and mass-produce their vehicles.

The prototypes Foxconn presented on Monday, which the company has christened Models C, E and T, are templates that clients can refer to when designing their vehicles. Foxconn worked with the Taiwanese carmaker Yulon Motor to develop the prototypes, and Yulon will be the first customer to bring the two companies’ efforts to market.

Foxconn’s chairman, Young Liu, expressed confidence that a company best known for assembling smartphones and laptops had a role to play in the car industry.

“Our biggest challenge is we don’t know how to make cars,” Mr. Liu told reporters on Monday.

But he said legacy automakers faced an even mightier challenge: They lack expertise in software and computer chips, both of which are important as cars acquire more digital smarts. That makes Foxconn’s background in consumer electronics an advantage, Mr. Liu said.

He added that the fact that Foxconn had given its electric bus the same name as what is possibly the most famous car ever made, the Ford Model T, should not be taken to imply that it was working with the American automaker.

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Goldman Sachs has won approval to take full ownership of a joint venture in China, enabling the Wall Street firm to expand its operations in the country at a time when Beijing has made moves to open up its financial sector.

The go-ahead from the China Securities Regulatory Commission for Goldman Sachs to buy out Beijing Gao Hua Securities, its local partner, comes as Beijing tries to make good on a pledge it made in 2017 to allow foreign investment banks to fully own their China operations.

“This marks the start of a new chapter for our China business following a successful 17-year joint venture,” Goldman Sachs said in a memo on Sunday, adding that the approval would allow the investment bank to “position our firm for long-term growth and success in this market.”

Goldman Sachs reached a deal to buy a remaining 49 percent stake in Goldman Sachs Gao Hua from its Chinese partner in December. The price was not disclosed. The company will be renamed Goldman Sachs China Securities Company.

Chinese authorities have courted global investment banks and pledged financial reforms even as they have cracked down on the operations and fund-raising activities of some of China’s best known companies.

This summer, not long after regulators barred private tutoring companies from making a profit and erased billions of dollars from the stock market overnight, Beijing approved a request by BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, to sell mutual funds in China. The move was seen as an attempt to help calm investor nerves and show that China was still open for business.

Goldman has a long history in China as one of the first foreign investment banks to open offices in the country in 1994. It teamed up with Beijing Gao Hua Securities in 2004 and began to offer investment banking services, like helping domestic companies raise money in financial markets.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times
  • Tesla earnings: The electric carmaker has already said it delivered 241,300 vehicles in the three months ending in September, its highest quarterly total so far. But investors will be watching for the company’s guidance on deliveries for the rest of the year and how it plans to weather the global shortage of semiconductors that is hampering car manufacturing.

  • WeWork goes public: The shared-office-space company is expected to merge with a SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, after it withdrew its plans for an initial public offering in 2019. WeWork has said the SPAC deal values the company at $7.9 billion, but membership fell during the pandemic, and it’s unclear what the long-term impact of the change in office work will mean for WeWork’s business.

  • Southwest Airlines earnings: The company’s operational problems caused widespread cancellations over the summer and in recent weeks. How has that impacted bookings?

  • American Airlines earnings: Although corporate travel is still down, there’s hope that international travel and the holidays might help to make up for it. The quarterly earnings conference call will give company management a chance to lay out expectations for the coming months.

Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Roblox was started in 2004 with the premise that most of its users were underage, so it put safeguards in place to protect children from online harassment and predators. It has long been wildly popular with children, particularly those between 9 and 12 years old.

This month, Roblox said that, for the first time, more than half of its users were older than 13. As its users age, it is trying maintain a safe environment, writes Kellen Browning for The New York Times. Its efforts offer both a road map and a cautionary note for other internet companies trying the opposite: engaging with a younger audience.

It recently announced new tools intended to attract older players to the platform, like more-lifelike avatars; the ability for developers to restrict some games to 13-and-older players, or possibly those 17 and older; and a voice chatting feature available to those who are at least 13. To verify their age, users can upload government-issued identification along with a selfie.

But mixing older users with Roblox’s traditional crowd poses safety risks, such as the possibility that young children are exposed to predators or recruited by extremist groups. The company has tried to crack down on such misconduct, and Dave Baszucki, Roblox’s chief executive, said he recognized that integrating various ages on his platform was “a challenge.” But he said building an online world that was safe and open to all was part of his vision for the so-called metaverse, an idea that people can share an enormous online universe together.

Earlier this month, Roblox updated its community standards to ban any depictions of romance or discussion of political parties. It also explicitly barred terrorist or extremist groups from recruiting or fund-raising on the site — an issue that has plagued social media companies like Twitter for years.

Mr. Baszucki said integrating older users while maintaining the platform’s standards of civility and good behavior was a “huge responsibility.” But he was optimistic that the company would be successful, he said, because Roblox had a history of children behaving better than the adults on other social platforms.

Titania Jordan, the chief parent officer at Bark, a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to monitor children’s devices, said that although bad behavior could sometimes slip through the cracks at Roblox, the company was still “commendable” in its approach to child safety, especially compared with sites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

Despite Roblox’s efforts, explicit material slips through the cracks. And the fact that it still faces criticism could be another lesson to companies like Facebook. READ THE ARTICLE →

Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

When Instagram reached one billion users in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, called it “an amazing success.” The photo-sharing app, which Facebook owns, was widely hailed as a hit with young people and celebrated as a growth engine for the social network.

But Instagram was privately lamenting the loss of teenage users to other social media platforms as an “existential threat,” according to a 2018 marketing presentation.

By last year, the issue had become more urgent, according to internal Instagram documents obtained by The New York Times. “If we lose the teen foothold in the U.S. we lose the pipeline,” read a strategy memo, from last October, that laid out a marketing plan for this year.

In the face of that threat, Instagram left little to chance, Sheera Frenkel, Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac report for The New York Times.

  • Starting in 2018, it earmarked almost its entire global annual marketing budget — slated at $390 million this year — to targeting teenagers, largely through digital ads, according to planning documents and people directly involved in the process.

  • Focusing so singularly on a narrow age group is highly unusual, marketers said, though the final spending went beyond teenagers and encompassed their parents and young adults.

The documents, which have not previously been reported, reveal the company’s angst and dread as it has wrestled behind the scenes with retaining, engaging and attracting young users. Even as Instagram was heralded as one of Facebook’s crown jewels, it turned to extraordinary spending measures to get the attention of teenagers.

“In any media industry, the newest, coolest thing sees the highest uptake among younger generations,” said Brooke Duffy, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies media, culture and tech. That puts incumbents on the defensive, she said, adding, “We’re in a cultural moment where people just seem to be getting tired of the aspirational, performative culture of Instagram.”

  • China’s economy grew 4.9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. The period was markedly slower than the 7.9 percent increase the country notched in the previous quarter. Industrial output, the mainstay of China’s growth, faltered badly, especially in September, posting its worst performance since the early days of the pandemic.

    Two bright spots prevented the economy from stalling. Exports remained strong, and families, particularly prosperous ones, resumed spending money on restaurant meals and other services in September, as China succeeded once again in quelling small outbreaks of the coronavirus. Retail sales were up 4.4 percent in September from a year ago.

  • A union representing Hollywood’s version of blue-collar workers — camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, editors, script coordinators, hairstylists, cinematographers, writers’ assistants — reached a tentative agreement on Saturday for a new three-year contract with film and television studios, according to officials from both sides.

    The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union had said that its members would go on strike beginning on Monday, a move that would have resulted in a production shutdown at a particularly inopportune time for the entertainment industry. IATSE negotiators agreed to a deal after winning concessions on several fronts.

  • U.S. stocks edged lower in early trading Monday, with the S&P 500 ticking down 0.2 percent after sharp gains last week. The Nasdaq composite was unchanged.

  • Monday’s trading came ahead of a week loaded with third-quarter earnings reports from companies including Netflix, United Airlines, Tesla and American Airlines.

  • China’s economy grew by 4.9 percent in the third quarter, compared to the same period last year, the National Bureau of Statistics announced on Monday, a slowdown from the 7.9 percent increase the country notched in the previous quarter.

  • Bitcoin rose on Tuesday, hovering over $61,500, according to Coindesk. ProShares will start a long-awaiting exchange-traded fund on the New York Stock Exchange linked to Bitcoin futures on Tuesday. The ETF will give investors access to Bitcoin, without having to directly hold the asset.

  • European stock indexes fell, with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 0.8 percent. Airlines were among the worst performers, with International Airlines Group falling about 5 percent and Ryanair 3.6 percent lower.

  • Oil prices continued to rise on Monday, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, up 1.2 percent to $82.70 a barrel. Shares of Occidental Petroleum Corporation rose more than 5 percent, while Diamondback Energy was 4.1 percent higher.


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