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    porg sdcc comic con star wars

    San Diego Comic-Con is taking place from July 19 to July 22 and plenty of guests will be lining up to get their hands on exclusive merchandise that will be available. 

    INSIDER has rounded up the best of "Star Wars" exclusives you can find at the Con starting Thursday and the tiny porgs from "The Last Jedi" are a hot item. 

    Hasbro has some of the biggest and best items, but Mattel, Lego, and Loungefly have a few collectibles you may want to grab too on the convention floor. If you can't make it to Comic-Con, some of the items will be available online as well. Keep reading to see some of the hottest items at SDCC.

    Loungefly has the best-looking Porg-themed backpack we've seen.

    Where to find it: Booth #5346
    How much is it: $65

    There are a lot of Porg plushes and backpacks out there, but this one from Loungefly is by far the cutest one the company has released so far. It looks like the perfect addition to the company's "Star Wars" collection which includes a backpack modeled after Rey's "Force Awakens" outfit and a colorful Stormtrooper knapsack.



    A Lego "Star Wars" Millennium Falcon Cockpit set comes in a cool box.

    Where to find it: Booth #2829
    How much is it: $39.99

    The 203-piece set is based on the cockpit from "Solo: A Star Wars Story" and includes both Han Solo and Chewie. It's recommended for ages 8-14. In order to get your hands on this item, you would have needed to win an online lottery for eligible members by July 12.

    If you don't get your hands on a mini Millennium Falcon, a life-sized version of the Millennium Falcon cockpit will be available for fans to take photos with at the Lego booth. Twelve master builders spent 790 hours building the 201,985 Lego brick structure.



    Han Solo fans can relive one of his best moments from "The Empire Strikes Back."

    Where to find it: Booth #3329
    How much is it: $34.99

    The "Star Wars: The Black Series Han Solo and Mynock" figurine set comes in a collectible box you won't want to open. The two sides of the box gently pull back to reveal Han exiting the Millennium Falcon and coming face-to-face with the winged mynock.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    nra gun control

    • Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist with deep ties to the National Rifle Association, was arrested on espionage charges.
    • Butina is accused of working as a Russian agent at the direction of a high-ranking Russian government official — believed to be fellow gun-right activist Alexander Torshin.
    • An affidavit submitted along with the criminal complaint against Butina said she and the official worked to establish "back channel" lines of communication with US political operatives.
    • The aim was "to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus" and advance Russian interests.

    Maria Butina, a Russian national with significant connections to the National Rifle Association, was arrested over the weekend on espionage charges, the Justice Department announced Monday.

    Specifically, she is suspected of conspiring to act as an agent of the Russian government in the US.

    Butina was arrested on Sunday and made an initial court appearance Monday afternoon, the Justice Department said. A hearing in her case has been set for Wednesday.

    Butina was not indicted as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. But her arrest indicates that the US government as a whole is focusing more of its attention on Russia’s influence in domestic politics.

    According to an affidavit submitted with the complaint, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level Russian government official who was previously a member of the Russian parliament and later a top official at the Russian Central Bank. The official is not named but the description in the indictment fits that of Alexander Torshin, a Russian gun-rights advocate and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Torshin was sanctioned by the US in April.

    The affidavit says that Butina worked for the official from as early as 2015 through at least February 2017.

    Both Torshin and Butina have deep ties to the NRA, and Torshin attended the NRA's convention every year between 2012 and 2016, occasionally with Butina at his side. He has met every NRA president since 2012, according to NPR.

    And when the NRA sent a delegation to Moscow in the winter of 2015, it was Torshin who received them on behalf of The Right to Bear Arms, the Russian gun-rights group that Butina spearheads.

    Butina and the Russian official worked to establish a 'back channel' with US political operatives to advance Russian interests

    alexander torshin

    Butina has been cultivating her own ties with American gun-rights activists, like Republican strategist Paul Erickson, whom she has been acquainted with since at least 2013.

    Erickson appears to fit the description of an individual denoted as "US Person 1" in the affidavit.

    The affidavit said Butina and this individual worked together to arrange introductions to other Americans who are influential in US politics, "including an organization promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation."

    The affidavit outlines several emails Butina sent to US Person 1 that highlight the depth of her connections to the NRA and to GOP politics. It also elaborates on the extensive contacts between Butina and the Russian official during the election. The document said Butina and the Russian official worked to establish "back channel" lines of communication with US political operatives to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus" and advance Russian interests.

    Erickson first invited scrutiny last year, when The New York Times reported that he emailed Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn in May 2016, with the subject line "Kremlin Connection," telling him that he could arrange a backdoor meeting between Trump and Putin.

    Russia is "quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the US," Erickson wrote. 

    'President Putin's emissary on this front'

    Torshin was designated to make "first contact" with Trump from Russia's side. Erickson described him in an email as "President Putin's emissary on this front."

    Erickson wrote that Torshin would make "first contact" with the campaign at a dinner honoring wounded veterans that was organized by Clay. Neither Trump nor his campaign advisers attended the reception. Donald Trump Jr. and Torshin did, however, attend a separate NRA dinner the same night.

    Butina made a similar request through Rick Clay, a conservative Christian advocate. Dearborn forwarded Clay's email to senior adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly rebuffed the offer.

    Vladimir Putin

    The affidavit also lists another individual, "US Person 2," described as a US citizen who was included in a series of email communications in 2016 and 2017.

    The emails "reveal Butina’s efforts to arrange a series of dinners" in Washington, DC, and New York with influential American political operatives.

    Butina allegedly told this person that the Russian official was "very much impressed by you" and that the "Russians will support the efforts from our side."

    In another email, sent on October 4, 2016, US Person 1 allegedly said to an acquaintance, "Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [GOP] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA]."

    The next day, Butina and the Russian official exchanged a series of Twitter direct messages in which Butina said they had "made" their "bet" and that she was "following our game."

    The official replied that it "is not about winning today’s fight (although we are striving for it) but to win the entire battle. This is the battle for the future, it cannot be lost! Or everyone will lose."

    Butina had a birthday party on November 12, 2016, four days after Trump won the US election in a shocking upset. The gathering featured several top Trump campaign advisers, according to The Daily Beast. Erickson, who was also in attendance, reportedly told guests Butina was on the Trump transition team.

    Two months later, Butina was one of several Putin-allied Russians who attended Trump's inaugural celebrations.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korean defector: Kim Jong Un 'is a terrorist'


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    TAP Portugal Airbus A330neo

    • The Airbus A330neo is Europe's rival for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
    • The plane is based on the current generation Airbus A330 wide-body airliner.
    • The A330neo has struggled to find customers of late as Airbus has taken just 224 orders since it went on sale in 2014.
    • The Airbus sales campaign continues at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow
    • The A330-800neo is priced at $259.9 million while the larger A330-900neo costs $296.4 million.

    FARNBOROUGH –The Boeing 787 Dreamliner entered service to great fanfare back in 2011. Despite being hampered early in its production life by a series of serious reliability issues, the Dreamliner has since proven itself to be a hot-selling and highly efficient airliner. 

    In fact, it has come to dominate the small wide-boy market of late. Naturally, Airbus had to answer its rival. 

    Instead of designing a brand new aircraft from the ground up, Airbus decided to use its current generation A330 as the starting point. 

    At the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow, Airbus launched the A330neo. Like in the A320neo, "neo" stands for new engine option. 

    However, the A330neo is more than an old plane with a new engine. 

    To create the neo, Airbus thoroughly updated the A330 airframe, gave it a pair of brand new wings, and state-of-the-art avionics. And yes, there is a pair of fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce engines. 

    Airbus is offering the neo in two sizes — the A330-800 and the larger A330-900. 

    Thus far, Airbus has struggled to find customers of the A330neo. Through may, the European planemaker has just 224 orders for the plane which has been on sale since 2014. In that same period, Boeing racked up more than 400 orders for Dreamliners. 

    The plane's largest customer is Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia X with 66 on order. The A330neo's only US airline customer is Delta with 25 orders on the books. All 224 orders are for the Dash 900.

    In March, Hawaiian Airlines canceled the last remaining order for the A330-800. In its place, the Honolulu-based carrier ordered 10 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

    In spite of the setbacks, Airbus is pushing forward with its A330neo sales campaign.

    The Toulouse, France-based company decided to show off of its A330-900neo prototype at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow in the livery of the plane's launch customer, TAP Air Portugal. 

    We were able to take a brief tour of the new Airbus jet on the tarmac in Farnborough. 

    Here's a closer look at the Airbus A330-900neo.

    SEE ALSO: These are the 9 biggest stories people will be talking about at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow

    FOLLOW US: On Facebook for more car and transportation content!

    Parked on the Farnborough tarmac, in the sea of shiny new jets, is the new Airbus A330neo.



    The plane on display is the A330-900 prototype. It's the larger and much more popular of the A330neo planes. The jet is kitted out in the paint scheme of launch customer TAP Air Portugal.



    Let's have a closer look. Walking up the airstairs into the to the cabin, you can't help but notice the A330neo's massive Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    airplane hotel house costa rica fuselage 727 10

    Upon first glance, you might think this Boeing 727 in the photo above had an unfortunate crash landing in the jungle.

    But it's actually a hotel — and yes, you can stay in it.

    The fuselage, or the frame of an aircraft, is one of many accomodations offered by Hotel Costa Verde, a vacationer's dream resort nestled in Manuel Antonio National Park, located in Quepos, Costa Rica. Its many lodgings and amenities include not just the Boeing 727 fuselage suite, but also a restaurant carved out of another airplane, a "Cockpit Cottage" built out of an Aéropostale aircraft, and a rail road car-turned-restaurant. 

    There's clearly an architectural theme here.

    Take a look inside the unconventional vacation digs of Hotel Costa Verde:

    SEE ALSO: This $5 million dome-shaped home, known among locals as 'The Star Wars Home,' is hurricane-resistant and available to buy for the first time — take a look inside

    Staying here is not your run-of-the-mill hotel experience. how often can you say you lived in an airplane, even for a brief time? The suite has an outdoor deck over each wing ...



    ... one of which affords viewers sights of the jungle and the Pacific Ocean.



    Inside are two bedrooms, both of which are air-conditioned, and two bathrooms. A total of three queen-sized beds are offered to guests.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    David Solomons Cabinet 2x1

    When Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein hands off to his heir apparent, David Solomon, in the coming months, it will be the investment bank's first change in leadership since 2006.

    During the intervening years, Blankfein led the firm through the financial crisis and the subsequent fallout surrounded by a coterie of loyalists, some of whom worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the CEO at commodities trader J. Aron & Co.

    Solomon's management team will differ from his predecessor's. An investment banker who climbed the rough-and-tumble ranks at Bear Stearns before jumping to Goldman Sachs before it sold shares to the public in 1999, Solomon runs with a different crowd. Many of them worked for the Goldman president during the decade he ran the investment-banking division.

    Solomon may be formally announced as Blankfein's successor as early as this week, The New York Times reported on Sunday. To understand who's in, who's out, and who is line for promotions, Business Insider spoke with more than a dozen Goldman Sachs insiders. Solomon declined to comment through a spokesman.

    What follows is a list of more than two dozen executives at Goldman Sachs, broken into four categories: Solomon's inner circle; some key members of his broader management team, but not all ("bench"); a collection of executives facing an uncertain future ("on the bubble"); and a few Blankfein loyalists who have a depth of institutional knowledge not easily replaced. Executives are listed alphabetically within each group.

    Before we get to the list, one last thing: Do you work at Goldman Sachs and feel as if we overlooked a key player or ignored a member of the inner circle? Something else about the bank you want to share? Email me at dcampbell@businessinsider.com or find me on WhatsApp or Signal at 917-673-9252.



    Dan Dees

    Dees leads one of Goldman's most lucrative investment-banking businesses, routinely tussling with Morgan Stanley for the top spot. He has spent time in Asia as cohead of the region's investment-banking division and the increasingly powerful financing group, and he joined the management committee last year at Solomon's behest. In June, a colleague was named to share TMT duties, interpreted as a sign Dees is in line for a promotion. Insiders say he is most likely to become cohead of the investment-banking division should John Waldron get a promotion.



    Jim Esposito

    Esposito may have an inside track on getting a bigger role since he once served as the chief operating officer of the investment-banking division under Solomon. He also led the financing group, now considered a farm team of sorts for Solomon's chief lieutenants. Of all the top leaders in sales and trading, Esposito may be the one whom Solomon is most comfortable with, according to a person who knows both men. Some inside Goldman think he's in line to become a cohead of the securities unit.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Jeff Bezos

    • Amazon's critics came out in full force on social media in the run-up to Amazon Prime Dayattacking the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos.
    • These consumers urged people not to shop the Prime Day sales and to boycott the retailer for its working environment and tax policies. 
    • The company has come under increased scrutiny as it has grown at a rapid rate over the past few years. 

    Many of Amazon's harshest critics are taking Prime Day as an opportunity to voice their concerns about the e-commerce giant. 

    Before Amazon's technical glitches plagued the beginning of its Prime Day sales, hundreds of consumers took to social media to show their disdain for the retailer, urging customers not to shop there.

    For some consumers, Amazon has increasingly become a symbol of everything that is wrong with big corporations in the US – an image that has historically been associated with Walmart. This has intensified in recent years as Amazon has grown and spread its tentacles into new areas of business.

    Today, the backlash is mainly centered around the issues of taxes and workers' rights.

    President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out against the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, on Twitter, accusing the company of not paying taxes.

    This is true — Amazon pays almost no federal taxes. As Business Insider reported earlier this year, the company uses a variety of tax credits and tax exemptions, which are legal and built into the US tax code, to avoid paying these taxes. 

    But perhaps the biggest reason for the anti-Amazon campaign stems from recent reporting about working conditions in the company's warehouses. 

    In 2016, a journalist went undercover as a worker in an Amazon warehouse in the UK and described how workers were peeing into bottles because they feared that bathroom breaks would take too long and cause them to miss their strict targets.

    Several warehouse employees subsequently confirmed this crippling working environment to Business Insider, adding that the constant surveillance and security cameras dotted around the warehouses made employees feel like "robots."

    In a statement sent to Business Insider Amazon said:

    “Amazon is proud to have created over 130,000 new jobs in the last year alone. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay and full benefits. One of the reasons we’ve been able to attract so many people to join us is that our number one priority is to ensure a positive and safe working environment. We use our Connections program to ask associates a question every day about how we can make things even better, we develop new processes and technology to make the roles in our facilities more ergonomic and comfortable for our associates, and we investigate any allegation we are made aware of and fix things that are wrong."

    Amazon workers in Spain and Poland went on strike on Monday to protest against the conditions at its warehouses. Thousands more are expected to do the same in Germany on Tuesday.

    “Amazon is a fair and responsible employer and as such we are committed to dialogue, which is an inseparable part of our culture. We are committed to ensuring a fair cooperation with all our employees, including positive working conditions and a caring and inclusive environment," a spokesperson for Amazon told Business Insider.

    SEE ALSO: Amazon is the new Walmart: the e-commerce giant is increasingly becoming a symbol for everything wrong with big business

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Learning to celebrate failure at a young age led to this billionaire's success


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    Screen Shot 2018 07 16 at 2.22.04 PM

    • Following President Donald Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took a stand and said he was "absolutely" with the president.
    • Paul blamed "Trump-derangement syndrome" for the outrage over Trump's meeting with Putin.
    • In his remarks at a joint press conference, Trump refused to back the US intelligence community's assessment on Russia and railed against the FBI and his political opponents.
    • Trump's comments were widely condemned by lawmakers from both parties.

    While President Donald Trump's statements on Russia at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin were widely condemned by a group of bipartisan lawmakers, at least one US senator took a stand and said he was "absolutely" with the president.

    "I think engagement with our adversaries, conversations with our adversaries, is a good idea," Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said during an interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. "Even in the height of the Cold War, I think it was a good thing that [President John F. Kennedy] had a direct line to [Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev]."

    Paul then went beyond backing Trump's comments and blamed partisan leanings for the ongoing outrage.

    "I think there is a bit of Trump-derangement syndrome," Paul said. "I think there are people who hate the president so much that this could've easily been President Obama early in his first administration setting the reset button and trying to have better relations with Russia."

    Paul added that Russia was a valuable intelligence asset and could be helpful in establishing diplomatic relations with other adversaries, such as North Korea.

    "All those things are good," Paul said. "But because people hate Trump so much, all of that's being lost."

    Paul's interview with Blitzer became testy at times, as the CNN anchor interjected with a few follow-up questions.

    "If you're going to interrupt me on every question, Wolf, we can't really have an interview," Paul said. "If you want to have an interview, you got to let me answer the question."

    "You're usually better than this ... at doing an interview."

    The response comes shortly after Trump and Putin conducted their first summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. During a joint press conference with Putin, Trump refused to back the US intelligence community's assessment on Russia and railed against the FBI and his political opponents.

    While referring to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Trump indicated he had no reason to believe Russia had meddled with the presidential election: "My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me, some others — they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

    The meeting was held just three days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian intelligence officers who were suspected of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.

    Following Trump's remarks at the press conference, several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, criticized what they believed was "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

    SEE ALSO: America's top spy issues forceful response after Trump sides with Putin over the US intelligence community: 'We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker Airbus A350

    • Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker has alleged that Qatar's Middle Eastern adversaries are trying to intimidate suppliers, manufacturers, and banks into shunning the country. 
    • Al Baker also said that his country will "remember" those who turn their backs on his homeland
    • Since June 2017, several of Qatar's Persian Gulf neighbors including Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have cut off all relations with the nation.

    FARNBOROUGH — Over the past year, Qatar Airways has had to battle financial headwinds resulting from a blockade instituted by the Middle Eastern neighbors of the home country. 

    However, even as the airline adapts to life with the blockade in place, the man in charge of Qatar Airways doesn't think the political climate that caused the strife will get better in the near future. In fact, things may get worse, he said. 

    "I don't think it is going to get better, on the contrary, they are trying to make things more difficult," Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker told reporters at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow in England. 

    The controversial chief executive also accused Qatar's adversaries of "intimidating" suppliers, manufacturers, and even banks into shunning the country and its national airline. 

    While Al Baker understands that business must do what's best for their individual interest, he also hinted there may be consequences for those who capitulate. 

    "At the end of the day, this is a business decision companies have to make of where they have an interest," Al Baker said. "They should also know that if they oblige the adversaries, when things get back to normal, we will remember them."

    The Qatari CEO declined to identify the specific party or parties who have gone about the alleged behavior. 

    Since June 2017, several of Qatar's Persian Gulf neighbors including Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have cut off all relations with the nation. Points of contention include Qatar's close ties with Iran, the alleged funding of terrorists, and the country's controversial Al Jazeera news network.

    As a result, of the blockage, Qatar Airways and all Qatari-registered aircraft are barred from entering their respective airspaces. 

    This has effectively kicked Qatar Airways out of two of its most important markets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    It has also forced the country's national airline to take round-about routes that increase both the length and costs of its flights. 

    For example, the airline's service between the Qatari capital of Doha and Sao Paulo, Brazil now requires an extra one hour and 45 minutes of flying time because its planes must fly around Saudi-controlled Yemeni airspace.

    SEE ALSO: These are the 9 biggest stories people will be talking about at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow

    FOLLOW US: On Facebook for more car and transportation content!

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: An early investor in Uber, Airbnb, and bitcoin explains why it's actually a good sign that no one is spending their crypto


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    leveon bell

    • Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to agree on a long-term contract by Monday's deadline.
    • According to a report, Bell could sit out half of the year to save his body for free agency next offseason.
    • Doing so would be a significant risk for Bell, but it would be an attempt to secure a lucrative long-term contract that's uncommon for running backs in the NFL today.


    The deadline to sign long-term contracts in the NFL passed on Monday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell did not reach a deal.

    For the second straight season, Bell is slated to play on the one-year franchise tag. This year, the tag will pay him about $14.5 million.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers and Bell negotiated long-term deals, with the Steelers offering deals that started around $13 million and gradually increased. According to Fowler, Bell rejected them, refusing to take less than something equal to the $14.5 million tag.

    Bell has reportedly wanted to be paid like a top running back and a top wide receiver. The highest-paid running back this season is the Atlanta Falcons' DeVonta Freeman at $8.25 million, while the highest-paid receiver on average is the Steelers' Antonio Brown at $17 million.

    With Bell once again on the franchise tag, he could make a dramatic move to help himself and hurt the Steelers. ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Sirius XM on Monday that Bell could hold out for half the season to preserve his body before hitting free agency next season.

    Last year, Bell had 321 carries and 85 targets. He has topped 330 total touches in three of the past four seasons. The idea behind sitting for half of the year would be to preserve himself and limit his overall mileage heading into free agency, where running backs often struggle to command huge deals.

    Doing so would also come at a significant cost for Bell. According to CBS's Jared Dubin, he would lose almost $7 million in salary if he were to sit out for eight games. It's also unclear how much he would benefit from missing half the season and hitting free agency with 200 fewer overall touches. Bell skipped training camp and preseason last year to hold out for a long-term deal and averaged his fewest yards per carry since his rookie year during the regular season.

    It feels as though the situation with Bell and the Steelers may be reaching a breaking point. Bell's agent Adisa Bakari told Schefter on Monday after the two sides couldn't come to an agreement that it may be Bell's last season with the Steelers.

    "His intention was to retire as a Steeler," Bakari said. "But now that there's no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le'Veon's last season as a Steeler."

    Bakari added, "It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player."

    The Steelers in a statement said they will continue negotiations with Bell next offseason, while Bell in a statement said he wants to retire a Steeler and that 2018 will be his best season yet.

    Kirk Cousins could offer a path for Bell to follow. Cousins played two years on the franchise tag for the Washington Redskins. He hit free agency this offseason, and the Redskins declined to extend a third, even-more-lucrative franchise tag. Cousins got a three-year, fully guaranteed, $84 million contract.

    Bell won't make that type of money, but as an elite running back and strong pass-catcher, if Bell plays and plays well in 2018, perhaps some team will pay him the money he's seeking. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why the US Men's team sucks at soccer


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    JUUL In Hand Female Denim Jacket copy

    • Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul Labs is bursting at the seams.
    • On the heels of a $15 billion valuation, the company is rapidly expanding in the US and opening the doors to its first international office in London on Tuesday.
    • After London, Juul plans to launch in three more countries. 

    Standing in the bustling lobby of a San Francisco warehouse where employees zoom past one another carrying trays of freshly-prepared lunch, you wouldn't know you'd just set foot in the headquarters of an e-cigarette company.

    But Juul Labs is bursting at the seams, with employees on every floor from the basement to an attic with no air conditioning. The company's popular vape pen, called the Juul, packs a uniquely powerful nicotine punch, and it has singlehandedly revived the once-flatlining e-cig industry.

    On the heels of a $15 billion valuation and news of plans to raise $1.2 billion, Juul is opening its first international office in London on Tuesday.

    After London, the company plans to open its doors in three additional countries — France, Singapore, and Israel. The international move parallels a similar expansion in the US, where staff sizes have tripled in the last six months alone. 

    Currently headquartered at a 5-story warehouse in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood (with plans to spill into a larger building across the street), Juul is opening offices in 19 more locations across the country, from big cities like Boston and Chicago to smaller locales like Des Moines, Iowa and Manchester, New Hampshire.

    But as it expands, Juul faces several challenges, including local laws limiting the sale of its products, concern from teachers and parents over the rise of teen vaping, and investigations into its advertising practices.

    The rise of 'Juuling'

    woman vaping vape e-cigJuul users — some of them current and former adult smokers; others kids and teens— swear by the device because of its powerful concentration of nicotine, discrete design, and satisfying flavors, which include everything from Virginia Tobacco to Creme Brulee and Cool Cucumber.  

    The most popular e-cig on the market, the Juul has even spawned its own verb: "Juuling." 

    But while adult Juuling (instead of smoking) is largely considered a benefit to public health because it's less dangerous than inhaling burned tobacco, teen Juuling represents a massive and unforeseen concern — at least in the US, where a growing cadre of researchers is sounding the alarm on the vape pen's addictiveness. 

    Scientists are especially worried about the young users who may otherwise have never smoked but instead pick up a Juul, as several well-designed studies suggest that young people who vape are significantly more likely to go on to smoke traditional cigarettes.

    In addition to concerns from public health experts and researchers, the Juul is facing legal pressure. Last month, the city of San Francisco banned the sale of flavored tobacco products that includes Juul flavor packs, known as Juul Pods. Also, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether Juul has marketed its products to teens.

    SEE ALSO: An e-cigarette with twice the nicotine of comparable devices is taking over high schools — and scientists are sounding the alarm

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The tallest lifeforms of all time


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    Channel 4 Facebook

    • A reporter for British broadcaster Channel 4 went undercover as a Facebook moderator at CPL Resources, a Dublin-based content moderation contractor.
    • They found that Facebook is failing to delete shocking examples of graphic violence, child abuse, and racism, including a little boy being beaten by a grown man.
    • The documentary, "Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network," exposes wild inconsistencies in how moderators were being trained and Facebook's standards.
    • Facebook said it has made "mistakes," but denied accusations that it seeks to profit from extreme content.


    A journalist from British broadcaster Channel 4 went undercover as a Facebook moderator and found a stream of toxic content that the company was failing to delete.

    The reporter posed as an employee of CPL Resources — a Dublin-based content moderation contractor that has worked with Facebook since 2010 — for documentary "Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network."

    The journalist undertook CPL Resources' training, where new staff are brought up to speed with Facebook's community standards, and set to work reviewing content, including graphic violence, child abuse, and hate speech.

    Moderators were given three options when reviewing a queue of material: Ignore, delete, or mark as disturbing. The latter means it remains on Facebook, but places a restriction on who is able to view the content.

    The reporter found that shocking examples of child abuse, racism, and violence were allowed to remain on Facebook. The findings also exposed wild inconsistencies in how moderators were being trained and Facebook's standards on specific pieces of content.

    A video of a little boy being beaten by a grown man

    During the training session, the reporter was shown an example of content that should be marked as disturbing — a video of a grown man beating a small boy.

    Facebook

    The video was reported to Facebook in December 2012 by online anti-child abuse campaigner, Nicci Astin, but she was told at the time that the video did not violate Facebook's terms.

    In its first two days on Facebook, the video was shared 44,000 times, and it was still up years later when Channel 4 investigated.

    Richard Allan, Facebook's vice president of public policy, told Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy that the video "should have been taken down."

    A week after Channel 4 brought the video to Facebook's attention, it was still online. As of Monday, Business Insider was still able to find a version of the video on the platform.

    A racist meme of a girl being drowned

    In Facebook's community standards on hate speech, it says "we do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence."

    CPL Resources trainees were shown a meme of a little girl having her head held underwater with the caption "when your daughter's first crush is a little negro boy."

    The reporter was told that the image was an "ignore," because "it implies a lot, but to reach the actual violation, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there."

    Facebook told Channel 4 that the image did, in fact, violate its hate speech policy, and that it was "reviewing what went wrong to prevent it happening again."

    Richard Allan

    The undercover reporter also found that certain instances of hate speech were permitted. A comment aimed at Muslim immigrants that said "f**k off back to your own countries" was allowed to remain on the site. Had the comment been aimed solely at Muslims, rather than Muslim immigrants, it would have been deleted.

    "People are debating very sensitive issues on Facebook, including issues like immigration. And that debate can be entirely legitimate," Allan said in response to the comment. When pressed about whether it constituted hate speech, he said it's "right on that line."

    In a statement to Business Insider, Allan said Facebook had made mistakes. The company has reviewed training materials at contractors like CPL and provided refresher training courses for moderators.

    "It's clear that some of what is shown in the program does not reflect Facebook's policies or values, and falls short of the high standards we expect," Allan said.

    "We take these mistakes in some of our training processes and enforcement incredibly seriously and are grateful to the journalists who brought them to our attention. Where we know we have made mistakes, we have taken action immediately. We are providing additional training and are working to understand exactly what happened so we can rectify it."

    Does Facebook profit from extreme content?

    Channel 4 spoke to Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who has become a critic of the company over issues including the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He said Facebook stands to benefit from extreme content.

    "It's the really extreme, really dangerous form of content that attracts the most highly engaged people on the platform. Facebook understood that it was desirable to have people spend more time on site if you're going to have an advertising-based business," he said.

    Roger McNamee

    This was backed up by a CPL Resources staff member. They told the undercover reporter that violent content is left on the Facebook because "if you start censoring too much then people lose interest in the platform. It’s all about making money at the end of the day."

    Facebook's Allan strongly disagreed. He said: "Shocking content does not make us more money, that's just a misunderstanding of how the system works...

    "There is a minority who are prepared to abuse our systems and other internet platforms to share the most offensive kind of material. But I just don't agree that that is the experience that most people want and that's not the experience we're trying to deliver."

    The documentary also tackles problems with moderating images of self-harm, underage users, and far-right pages with large followings. "Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network" will air on Channel 4 at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 17. It is produced by Firecrest Films.

    SEE ALSO: Facebook has apologized for flagging parts of the Declaration of Independence as hate speech

    UP NEXT: A former Facebook moderator says she had to review 8,000 posts a day and it made her numb to child porn

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    NOW WATCH: This conveyor belt can move in any direction


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    Lee Sedol Go

    • Billionaires including Bill Gates and Elon Musk have argued that robots will basically replace humans at work.
    • People are now worried about vast swathes of unemployment where a few wealthy people own the robots and the rest survive on government handouts.
    • But a new PwC forecast suggests artificial intelligence will create as many jobs as it destroys.
    • AI will disproportionately affect certain sectors negatively such as manufacturing and transport, but will create jobs in healthcare and education.


    The likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates have made repeated doomsday warnings about artificial intelligence becoming more skilled at humans at just about everything.

    So it's little surprise that people are scared about a post-AI future where a mostly jobless population subsists on universal basic income while rich people own and operate all the robots.

    But a new report from consultancy firm PwC joins a growing chorus of more cautious economic forecasts that suggest the future is brighter than we might think.

    Looking at the UK, PwC found that it's true that robots will replace some jobs, especially in sectors like transport or manufacturing. AI will "displace" 38% of transport jobs, and 30% of manufacturing jobs, according to the report.

    But other sectors will actually see greater job creation thanks to AI, evening out the balance. Only 12% of jobs in healthcare will be displaced by AI, while 34% will be created, PwC predicts.

    The upshot is that AI will create as many jobs as it destroys, when evened out across different sectors.

    The report said: "Our estimates suggest that AI will not lead to technological unemployment as we project that it will displace around 20% of existing UK jobs by 2037, but create a similar number.

    "In absolute terms, around 7 million existing jobs are projected to be displaced, but around 7.2 million are projected to be created, giving a net jobs boost of around 0.2 million."

    The OECD was even more conservative about job displacement in a report earlier this year. The economic organisation concluded that just 14% of jobs in its member countries were at risk of automation.

    Both PwC and the OECD suggested that sectors that would benefit the most from AI, or are at least risk from automation, are those that involve complex, specialised tasks and people. This includes:

    • Education
    • Scientific and technical work
    • Information and communication
    • Accommodation and food services

    Sectors that will do badly include those that involve repetitive, administrative tasks such as:

    • Finance and insurance
    • Retail
    • Construction
    • Public administration
    • Construction
    • Transport
    • Manufacturing

    Here are the full UK numbers from PwC showing AI job creation and displacement in different sectors:

    PwC robots AI jobs

    SEE ALSO: Apple is failing spectacularly in one of the world's biggest smartphone markets

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    NOW WATCH: What would happen if America's Internet went down


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    Fossil Q Hybrid Smartwatches

    • Fossil, a $1.26 billion fashion house, chose Google G Suite over Microsoft Office 365 about 4 years ago — and never looked back. 
    • A top IT exec at Fossil says that its interface was more familiar to the company's mostly-younger workforce, and that it lets them spend less of their time managing servers. 
    • Fossil has had such a positive experience with G Suite, in fact, that it plans on moving at least some of its databases to Google Cloud.

    Nowadays, fashion house Fossil has bet big on G Suite, Google's productivity suite, including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, and more, specifically for business customers. All 10,000 of its office workers — two-thirds of its global workforce, if you include retail stores — are all-in on G Suite, with plans to extend into the Google Cloud, too. 

    Fossil's big Google move has its roots about four years ago, when the $1.26 billion publicly-traded company had to make a big decision. 

    Its enterprise agreement (EA) with Microsoft was almost up. Fossil's IT department knew that it wanted to go to the cloud, so that the company would no longer have to operate its own email servers. That left Fossil with two options, says Fossil VP of IT Infrastructure Jørgen Scheuer-Larsen: Renew its EA with Microsoft and go to Office 365, or take a chance and move the company to its upstart competitor, Google's G Suite

    A three-month pilot program of both showed something surprising, says Scheuer-Larsen: Only 3% of Fossil's 15,000 or so employees actually used Microsoft PowerPoint, and 2% used Excel. That undercut most arguments that Fossil needed Microsoft Office, specifically, in order for employees to do their jobs. And, because 70% of Fossil's workforce was under 30 at the time, says Scheuer-Larsen, Google was a familiar and easy interface for most employees. 

    Further, Scheuer-Larsen found that Google's G Suite was much further along the technology curve than his team originally thought — especially given that G Suite has a certain reputation as being better for smaller companies than those of Fossil's larger size. 

    "It's obvious that the technology level was much more advanced on the Google side, much more mature, much more edgy," says Scheuer-Larsen. 

    Google Diane Greene

    Within 100 days of ending the pilot program, Fossil finished taking Office out for most employees, and putting G Suite in. That's faster than you usually see with traditional, boxed software, says Scheuer-Larsen, who saw the speed as a benefit of cloud-based software delivered via a web browser. 

    Four years later, the move has meant much lower overhead for Fossil: Where before, the company managed 47 Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers, they're now down to one, for the stragglers not yet on G Suite. Without the need to manage that many servers, the IT team has been able to shrink its email team from 15 people down to three. 

    "This changed our world completely," says Scheuer-Larsen. 

    Without the need for "eyes on glass," with staff constantly monitoring for server outages and other problems, the team has been more free to pursue new projects and other "really cool stuff." 

    As for users, Scheuer-Larsen decided to give the power to the people. Rather than host formal trainings, the team instead found a few "champions" who were really jazzed about the change to Google, and gave them the title of "Google Guides."

    Those Guides were empowered to throw regular G Suite-themed mixers, where they could answer their colleagues' G Suite questions, directly. Because this training came from their coworkers, and not IT, users asked more questions and retained more of the answers, says Scheuer-Larsen. 

    "That was actually pretty smart," says Scheuer-Larsen. 

    Another, underrated reason why the company liked it, says Scheuer-Larsen: A common headache at Fossil with Microsoft Office was keeping everyone on the same versions — if one team was using an older version of Microsoft Word than another team, incompatibilities could arise. G Suite only has one version, accessed from the browser, and everyone has the exact same apps. 

    "We were giving everyone in the company the same tool kit," says Scheuer-Larsen. "From day one, everyone was based on the same technology." 

    As for the cool stuff that the IT team can now get up to: Scheuer-Larsen says that the company found recent announcements of a cloud partnership between Google and SAP to be "extremely interesting."

    Fossil operates SAP databases from its own data centers, but is in the process of moving some of those to Google Cloud — the positive experience with G Suite made Fossil more willing to choose Google over Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, says Scheuer-Larsen. In the long-term, Scheuer-Larsen sees Fossil as focusing more on fashion than IT infrastructure, and this is a key part of that move.

    "We're not interested in the data center business," says Scheuer-Larsen. 

    Next week, Google will unveil the next steps for both G Suite and Google Cloud at its annual Google Cloud Next conference, so stay tuned.

    SEE ALSO: Everything we've heard so far about the Pixel Watch, the rumored Google smartwatch said to be coming later this year

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    NOW WATCH: North Korean defector: Kim Jong Un 'is a terrorist'


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    apple exec emojis

    • Emoji were swapped in for the headshots of Apple executives, including Tim Cook, on the company's website Monday.
    • The profile updates coincide with a published company blog post offering a glimpse at Apple's new round of emoji, as well as to celebrate the unofficial World Emoji Day holiday.
    • The new emoji will be available for iPhone users in a September software update.

    Visitors to Apple's page for its executive leadership team on Monday were surprised to find that the official headshots were replaced with emoji-fied portraits. 

    The emoji faces, superimposed on top of the execs' real-life torsos, are a tongue-in-cheek way for the the company to commemorate the reveal of the next round of emoji, which the company announced on Monday will launch in a free September sofware update for iPhone and iPad. 

    Apple gave a glimpse of some of the 70 new emoji in a blog post published Monday, including more hair options for human faces, a cupcake, and a kangaroo. 

    The change also seems to be an early celebration for World Emoji Day, an unofficial holiday to celebrate the ubiqitous emoticons, which is on Tuesday. 

    SEE ALSO: Here's our first look at some of the new emoji coming to iPhones later this year

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    AMD CEo Lisa Su, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

    • On Monday, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger made his first public appearance since Dell announced that it wouldn't be reverse-merging with the company after all. 
    • He can't help but smile when asked about how VMware wiggled out of Dell's grasp.
    • He believes that everyone walked away happy with the alternative deal that Dell agreed to: going public in a deal paid for by VMware, but that leaves VMware independent.
    • As for talking to Intel about the CEO job, he repeated, "I'm very happy running VMware."


    VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger can't help but smile when asked about the boardroom drama that consumed his company for months, but that successfully resolved itself — in his favor, no less — earlier this month.

    He's diplomatic about it, of course. But it's clear that Gelsinger won his battle. And he knows it.

    On stage at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen, Colorado on Monday, Gelsinger was asked about the deal with Dell Technologies, which holds a controlling stake in VMware, and which was considering a reverse-merger that would see Dell go public by gobbling up the company. Dell ultimately opted to go public via a different route.

    Gelsinger explained that shareholders are happy because all of them got a special dividend in Dell's ultimate deal, and because the cloud of uncertainty over the future of VMware is lifted. 

    Moreover, Gelsinger said that Dell's involvement in the company has been good for VMware, overall. When Dell bought EMC for $67 billion, it also acquired EMC's controlling stake in VMware as part of the package. 

    "Dell has been a huge accelerant of our growth," Gelsinger said, a nod to his master. "But we continue to have a great independent board and ecosystem and Michael [Dell] is cheering us on."

    The concept of Dell pulling off its reverse-merger with VMware was largely derided by shareholders, Wall Street analysts, and pretty much everyone else with any skin in the game. Dell ultimately scrapped the idea, and instead opted for a plan where it will swap shares of itself for the publicly-traded "tracking" shares of VMware. VMware agreed to pay for the deal with the $11 billion special dividend to shareholders that Gelsinger referred to.

    This bit of financial maneuvering allows Dell to get its hands on VMware's cash stash, an irresistible benefit for the debt-laden Dell, while VMware maintains its independence.

    There were questions over if Gelsinger would have stayed at VMware if it ceased to be an independent, public company. Armchair pundits can't help to point out that his old employer, Intel, is looking for a new CEO, and how Gelsinger is well qualified.

    When asked about the Intel CEO search, he joked that if the chipmaker called, he would send them AMD CEO Lisa Su's name — a friendly nod at Su, who was on stage with him. Beyond that, he simply restated that he's "very happy running VMware."

    So, if he does talk to Intel, he's not going to advertise it until and unless he actually takes the job. In the meantime, his smile is proof that he might truly be happy at VMware. 

    SEE ALSO: Dell's final deal with VMware is a big win for VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger — with one caveat

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    trump putin helsinki meeting

    • Former CIA director John Brennan called Trump's failure to acknowledge Russian meddling in a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin "treasonous." 
    • Two constitutional law experts talked to Business Insider about what exactly treason means per the law, and if Trump could be guilty of it.
    • They concluded that Trump's being impeached for treason is a long shot, but his conduct at the Helsinki summit could have other legal implications later on. 

    After a joint press conference on Monday in which President Donald Trump refused to endorse the US intelligence community's consensus of Russian interference in the 2016 election while standing next to President Vladimir Putin, former CIA director John Brennan accused Trump of treason.

    "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous," Brennan wrote on Twitter.

    #Traitor then became a trending hashtag on Twitter, with thousands of users expressing outrage over Trump's comments and accusing Trump of treason. 

    Here's what exactly treason means and the potential legal consequences of Trump's comments, according to two constitutional law experts.

    Legal definition of treason:

    Treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the US Constitution, in section three of Article III. 

    "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court," the Constitution says.

    This definition of treason is narrow and requires a high burden of proof. Someone can only commit treason against the US in favor of another nation if the US is at war with said country. It also requires at least two witnesses, or for the alleged traitor to confess.

    In order for Trump to have committed true treason, it must first be proven that the US is at war with Russia. But the terms "aid and comfort" are deliberately ambiguous, giving courts plenty of room to interpret what exactly those conditions mean. 

    What the experts say:

    Andrew Wright, former assistant White House counsel to President Barack Obama and associate professor at Savannah Law School, told Business Insider on Monday that he doesn't believe the US and Russia are at war, or that Trump's conduct at the summit alone amounts to treason. 

    "It's quite clear he's selling out important American national security interests by not standing up to Russian aggression," Wright said. "That's why you see some people using the term traitor. It's not a term I prefer to use...it's the kind of thing I'd like to see after more investigative processes and legal findings." 

    But Jens David Ohlin, vice dean and professor of constitutional law at Cornell Law School, told  Business Insider that even without a formal declaration, there is a case to be made that Russia and the US are indeed at war.

    "One argument would be that Russia has engaged in a covert cyber-intervention against US interests, including election meddling, that rises to the level of hostilities," he wrote. "However, an even better argument would be that Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria," he continued, referencing Russia's backing of the Syrian regime in opposition to the US' backing of anti-Assad rebel groups. 

    What's next for Trump:

    Wright and Ohlin both agreed Trump's comments open himself to greater legal liability, but to differing degrees. While Ohlin said the president's conduct at the summit increases the chances of him being impeached, Wright argued those chances will only increase if Trump is proven to have been blackmailed in some way by Russia. 

    "Trump is clearly helping Russia — whether it rises to the level of 'aid and comfort' would be for a jury to decide or for the House of Representatives to decide if it pursues articles of impeachment," Ohlin wrote.

    Ohlin added that while most expected a Democratic House to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice in relation to his attacks on the Mueller probe, Trump's latest defense of Russia at the expense of the US makes it "more likely" for the House to pursue impeachment on articles of "treason or some other disloyalty-based allegation" if the Democrats win back a majority in this year's midterm elections. 

    Even if Congress doesn't impeach Trump, Ohlin said that Trump's siding with Russia over his own intelligence forces will certainly be scrutinized by special counsel Robert Mueller's team.

    "It looks like the “quo” of a “quid pro quo” — Putin helped Trump get elected and now Trump is rewarding Putin with a favorable foreign policy. If Trump gets listed as an un-indicted co-conspirator, this arrangement might be relevant," Ohlin said.

    Wright was slightly more skeptical about the scope of legal implications stemming from Trump's comments.

    “I don’t think the president’s conduct of foreign policy, even if I think it’s misconduct of foreign policy, is going to itself have legal liability," he said. "It’ll all really depend on what the findings [of Mueller's probe] are.”

    Wright argued that Trump's behavior in the press conference is unlikely to lead to criminal consequences unless it is proven that his defense of Russia was the result of him being blackmailed or extorted in some way by Putin or other Russian operatives. 

    With that said, Wright noted that the unprecedented level of backlash against Trump's remarks from leaders in his own party will likely "lead to an uptick in oversight activity" in Congress and could signal that the Republican Party's patience for Trump is wearing thin.

    "As one of my colleagues put it, every political figure has a candle of goodwill that they slowly burn down and it eventually gets to a point where they can't keep the flame alive," Wright said.

    SEE ALSO: Republicans few and far between come to Trump's defense after his remarks with Putin get shredded as 'disgraceful'

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    Antitrust attorney Gary Reback, of counsel at Silicon Valley law firm Carr & Ferrell

    • The European Union this week is expected to slap Google with a massive fine for abusing its dominance of smartphone operating systems via its Android software.
    • But Gary Reback, a legendary antitrust lawyer who helped spur the case, thinks it will have little practical effect on Google or the tech industry.
    • Reback worries that regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are doing too little to constrain Google and the tech giants, and consumers are losing out.
    • The past has shown that rigorous antitrust enforcement in the tech sector is necessary and beneficial, he said.


    This should be a heady time for Gary Reback.

    This week the European Commission is expected to issue a finding that Google illegally used the dominance of its Android operating system to thwart competitors. In response, the EC, the European Union's competition enforcer, is expected to slap Google with a multibillion-euro fine and order it to change some of its business practices. The legal setback will be the second such finding by the EU against Google in the last 15 months and the second jumbo fine.

    Given that Reback, a longtime antitrust lawyer who famously fought Microsoft in the 1990s, helped prompt the investigations that led to both EU findings against Google, you might think he'd be taking a victory lap of sorts now. But you'd be wrong. Instead of celebrating, Reback is disappointed and frustrated.

    "Although these things in Europe are enormously important, in many ways they have yet to yield any results," he said.

    Even though the the EU issued an "enormous" fine against the search giant last year, that move "didn't restore competition, and it didn't change Google's conduct," continued Reback, an attorney with Silicon Valley law firm Carr & Farrell who represents firms that charge they've been harmed by the search firm.

    And Reback is worried that in the future, rivals are going to have any even tougher time trying to compete with Google and the other tech giants because no one's really ensuring a level playing field. While European competition regulators have been slow and largely ineffectual, American antitrust regulators have almost entirely abdicated their role.

    At least in the US, "it's not hard to imagine we might be out of the monopoly enforcement area altogether," he said.

    In the past, US officials were serious about enforcing antitrust law in tech

    It didn't have to be this way.

    As Reback has often argued, the tech industry is particularly susceptible to so-called network effects. Leading companies tend to become more dominant over time. The more users they have, the more likely it is they will attract additional users, and then the cycle repeats, allowing the firms to lock in their advantage. Once they achieve a monopoly — or something close to it — companies have tended to use it to frustrate would-be rivals and to extend their dominance into new areas.

    Sundar Pichai But in the past, the US government repeatedly stepped in to rebalance the equation. In the 1970s, it pursued antitrust cases against AT&T and IBM. In the 1990s, it sued Microsoft.

    "It's fair to say in earlier time periods, you had more antitrust enforcement generally," Reback said. He continued: "In those days, even the conservatives favored antitrust enforcement."
    The legal outcomes of those cases were mixed. The case against AT&T led to the breakup of Ma Bell, while an appeals court threw out a similar effort to break up Microsoft. The government ended up dropping its case against IBM after it spent more than a decade in the courts. But the cases all were crucial to the development of the tech industry, Reback argues.

    The internet developed and flourished in the space afforded by the fracturing of AT&T and the constraints placed on its behavior. The IBM case led to the company's voluntary agreement to separate its hardware from its software, a move that led directly to the modern software industry. And the Microsoft case constrained the tech giant enough to allow the web to take off and companies including Google, Facebook, and Netflix to succeed.

    "The fact is that antitrust enforcement does produce very positive results," he said.

    The Microsoft case showed the importance of antitrust enforcement

    The government's case against Microsoft was particularly important, Reback argued. When the Bush administration settled the case in 2001, many critics thought the outcome was too favorable to the software giant. Although a district court judge had ordered the company to be broken up, that penalty was thrown out by an appeals court, and the settlement agreement left intact not only the company but its monopoly of PC desktop computers.

    Bill GatesBut the case and settlement ended up being much more consequential than people realized at the time, Reback said. The case showed that antitrust law and principles weren't outdated but could be applied as they were to cutting-edge technology firms. It also demonstrated that when the government focused on it, antitrust enforcement could be quick and timely. What's more, the court's determination that Microsoft was a monopoly that had abused its power — a ruling that was upheld by the appeals court — helped set the rules of the road for technology companies for the next 10 years, highlighting behavior that was out of bounds, Reback said.

    As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to certain restrictions on its behavior and agreed to have a committee of experts oversee its compliance with those restrictions. Additionally, the company was hit with repeated fines from European regulators in their separate but related antitrust inquiry.

    The case itself distracted company executives from focusing on new technologies and emerging threats to Microsoft's business, company President Brad Smith, who was one of the software giant's top lawyers at the time, said recently. But they also became gun shy about introducing new features, the New York Times reported earlier this year.

    One executive reviewed proposed new features with a compliance officer, allowing the officer to approve or block them, according to The Times report. Others went so far as to share the company's plans with competitors to make sure they didn't object to those plans.

    "People started second-guessing themselves," Gene Burrus, a former Microsoft lawyer, told The Times. "No one wanted to test the regulators anymore.”

    The Microsoft case allowed Google and Facebook to flourish

    Thanks to its dominance over both PC operating systems and web browsers at the turn of the millennium, Microsoft could have easily crushed Google, Facebook, and other internet startups in their cribs. In many cases, it had the incentive to do so, because it had its own web sites and services. What's more, the company actually considered redirecting users who typed in "www.google.com" to Microsoft's own MSN search site instead and displaying an alert warning users of the privacy dangers of using Google," the Times reported.

    But the antitrust case stopped Microsoft in its tracks.

    “There was a new culture of compliance, and we didn’t want to get in trouble again, so nothing happened,” Burrus told The Times.

    Unfortunately, the US government hasn't brought a major antitrust case in the tech industry since it took on Microsoft. Instead, its general rule in the last 10 years or so has been to either close investigations without taking any kind of action or to negotiate a so-called consent decree with a tech firm. In those decrees, the companies generally avoid prosecution by agreeing to make certain changes in their behavior.

    Those consent decrees, though, have done little to constrain the huge and growing power of the big tech firms. For one thing, they're difficult to enforce, Reback said. Government agencies typically don't have the resources to closely monitor the tech firms' behavior to make sure they're complying with terms of the decrees.

    The tech firms learned they need to stay out of the limelight

    For another, they allow the companies to avoid a public trial. Before its antitrust trial, Microsoft was one of the most admired companies in America, Reback noted. But the case was covered closely by the press. And after prosecutors released emails that showed how the company was engaging in cutthroat behavior and played a video deposition of Bill Gates in which he came across as arrogant and ruthless, public support for the company took a sharp turn.

    European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager holds a news conference at the EU Commission's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 27, 2017.   REUTERS/Francois LenoirWhat's more, it became apparent through the trial that certain companies and technologies were victims of Microsoft's behavior and consumers had lost out because of it, Reback said.

    "I think Google and these other big companies understand fully how damaging [a] public trial would be … so they're going to do damn near anything to avoid that," he said.

    And what they've mostly done is to step up their political contributions, Reback charges. Antitrust law hasn't changed since the Microsoft trial, but campaign finance law certainly has, most notoriously with the Citizens United decision. The tech companies have stepped up their political donations and lobby — and the result has been little more than taps on the wrist when it comes to antitrust enforcement, Reback said.

    Worse, it's a self-perpetuating system. Companies with monopoly profits have plenty of money to throw around on lobbyists and political donations that are targeted at maintaining their monopolies, he said.

    "It make it increasingly difficult for the government to do anything meaningful," he said.

    Europe has become the antitrust enforcer by default

    That's left the Europeans as the chief antitrust enforcers of late, most notably when it comes to Google. But the European investigations have done little to redress the competitive balance. The fine they levied against Google last year was the result of an investigation into how the company handled shopping search results that started in 2007. The Android inquiry has literally been going on for years too. That's a lifetime in the fast-moving tech industry.

    Because Europe's antitrust enforcement is mostly done behind closed doors, rather than through a public trial, the cases against Google haven't offered a chance to widely inform the public about what it's doing. And as big as the fines have been, they've done nothing to open up space for potential rivals to Google.

    "On one hand, the EU deserves … praise and credit for what they've done," Reback said. "But man, they only look good because we're totally absent."

    SEE ALSO: Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon have too much power — so it's time for regulators to take on tech's titans

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    Screen Shot 2018 07 16 at 4.57.28 PM

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin smirked and brushed off a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 12 Russians during an interview with Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace.
    • Mueller's Friday indictment of Russian intelligence officers named 12 members of the GRU for conspiring to infiltrate computers that contained US election-related software.
    • As Wallace continued explaining the contents of the indictment, Putin let out a laugh.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin smirked and brushed off a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment after being handed the stack of papers during an interview with Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace on Monday.

    "Mr. President, one of the issues that is standing in the way of more progress, as you know, are the allegations of Russian interference in the US election," Wallace said to Putin. "You have repeatedly said, and you said again today, that this was not the action of the Russian state, that if it was anything it was patriotic Russian individuals."

    Wallace referred to Mueller's indictment of Russian intelligence officers on Friday, in which his team named 12 members of the military intelligence unit GRU for conspiring to infiltrate computers that contained election-related software.

    Wallace held the stack of papers in full view of Putin: "I have here the indictment that was presented on Friday from the special counsel, Robert Mueller," Wallace said.

    As Wallace continued explaining the contents of the indictment, Putin let out a laugh.

    "And they talk specifically about Units 26165 and 74455, they say — you smiled," Wallace said. "Let me finish."

    Wallace gestured towards Putin with the indictment and asked if he wanted to read its contents: "May I give this to you to look at, sir?"

    After a brief pause, Putin gestured for Wallace to drop the documents on a nearby table. The Russian president then went on to deny all of the allegations made by Mueller and the US intelligence community.

    "Russia, as a state, has never interfered with the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections," Putin said. "Do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?"

    Wallace countered that the issue was not whether American voters were influenced, but Russia's attempts to interfere. US intelligence agencies and officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have given a scathing assessment of Russia's actions and concluded it used cyberattacks and other means to meddle in the US presidential election.

    Following Trump's joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Coats said it was "clear" that Russia had "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy."

    Watch the clip here:

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    Donald Trump Narendra Modi India White House

    • India's defense minister told US lawmakers that New Delhi was pursuing plans to buy Russia's S-400 air-defense system.
    • India has longstanding defense ties with Russia, and the S-400 buy is a response to practical concerns.
    • But the US is trying to isolate Russia and expand ties with India, and the S-400 complicates things for Washington.

    Despite US efforts to convince other countries not to make deals with Russian defense firms, India's defense minister told US lawmakers this month that New Delhi will go ahead with its purchase of the Russian-made S-400, one of the most advanced air-defense systems on the market.

    "With Russia, we have had a continuous relationship of defence procurement of seven decades. We told the US Congress delegation, which met me in Delhi, that this it is US legislation and not a UN law," Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the press Friday, referring to the US's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which seeks to prevent foreign deals with Russian defense or intelligence firms.

    "We have had this relationship, an enduring relationship with the Russians, and are going ahead with buying the S-400," Sitharaman said, adding that the US secretaries of defense and state "have taken a position understanding of India's position."

    Sitharaman said the S-400 deal was at an "almost conclusive stage," and the system is expected to arrive within two and a half to four years of signing. Officials are expected to announce the deal in October, before an annual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    S 400

    The agreement to buy the S-400 was part of weapons deal between Moscow and New Delhi in late 2016. Delhi sees it as a way to bolster its air defenses amid a growing rivalry with China, which has already bought the S-400.

    India currently fields a host of Russian-made weapons systems, including the S-300 air-defense system, an overhauled Kiev-class carrier-cruiser, and squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter aircraft.

    India's defense ties with Russia are longstanding, but the US has sought to expand its relations with the South Asian country for years. Since 2008, Washington has sold Delhi $15 billion worth of arms, and the Pentagon recently renamed US Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command to reflect India's growing role in the region.

    For India, the decision to buy the S-400 system was likely made out of practical concerns rather than for geopolitical motives, said Jeff Smith, a research fellow focused on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation.

    "Simply put, the S-400 is considered a more affordable, albeit highly capable, missile-defense system when compared to competing US systems," Smith said in an email, noting that the S-400 had attracted interest from other US partners, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Turkey's S-400 purchase has caused tension with NATO.)

    "Additionally, the Indian military has great familiarity with their Russian counterparts," Smith added. "The majority of India’s legacy platforms are Soviet origin, and Russia continues to be India's top supplier of defense equipment, although by a shrinking margin."

    Indian Navy

    The deal has nevertheless run afoul of US attempts to isolate Russian companies with the CAATSA, which Congress passed in August 2017 and went into effect in January.

    US officials have cautioned India about making deals with Russian firms. Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said earlier this year that the US was disappointed with Delhi's purchases of Russian-made weapons.

    The S-400 deal in particular "threatens our ability to work interoperably in the future," Thornberry said at the end of May, around the same time India and Russia concluded negotiations over the sale.

    The CAATSA would force President Donald Trump to put sanctions on actors that make a "significant transaction" with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, which the legislation does not define, Smith said.

    But it would likely cover India's S-400 contract — thought to be worth $5.5 billion for five S-400 regiments, totaling as many as 240 of the system's four-tube launchers, plus fire-control radars and command systems.

    modi putin

    "For reasons beyond my comprehension Congress did not envision this would become a point of contention with Delhi, or foresee that it would be impractical to demand India immediately halt all defense trade with its top defense supplier for the past half-century," Smith said.

    Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have asked Congress to make exceptions for US partners using Russian-made weapons.

    Mattis told lawmakers in April that there are countries "who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems" but need to keep supply lines open to maintain those weapons.

    "We only need to look at India, Vietnam, and some others to recognize that eventually we're going to penalize ourselves" with strict adherence to CAATSA, Mattis said at the time.

    Congress has denied a Pentagon request for an expansive waiver for CAATSA-related sanctions, Smith said, but others on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to insulate Delhi and others who may get caught up.

    "Among other things, the House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act included an amendment that would expand the president’s authority to delay or terminate CAATSA sanctions," he said. The versions of the NDAA passed by the Senate and House of Representatives are now being reconciled.

    "India watchers are eager to see whether the provision survives the conference committee," Smith added. "If it doesn't, I expect the Hill to contemplate additional legislative remedies in the months ahead."

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    qatar airways ceo

    • Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said his airline's US business has improved since the Trump Administration took office mainly because of services cuts by his rivals.
    • Al Baker doesn't believe the Trump Administration's stricter immigration policies will affect the travel habits of his customer base.
    • The airline CEO also doesn't believe President Donald Trump's rhetoric indicates he wants the US to be isolationist.

    Qatar Airways has had its fair share of business and political problems over the past year. However, its US business is doing just fine according to the airline's CEO.

    In fact, not only has its US business not softened, Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker claims his airline's US business has actually increased.

    "On the contrary, our traffic from the United States is growing because our adversaries next door are cutting traffic into the US," Al Baker said to Business Insider in reference to United Arab Emirates-based Etihad's and Emirates' decision to reduce US flights. 

    While fellow Middle Eastern powerhouse Emirates has complained about falling passenger figures due to the US Government's toughened stance on immigration, the Qatari CEO seems unfazed by President Donald Trump's tough talk. 

    "You should not forget that the United States has a huge diaspora of people from our region and they have to travel," Al Baker explained. "So, whatever President Trump says, people will still want to travel in and out of the US."

    Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al BakerThe outspoken CEO who, in the past, has made his fair share of controversial statements believes the tangible effects of Trump's immigration policies will only affect a smaller percentage of his customer base.

    "The only people that will hesitate to leave America are people who are there on refugee visas or extended education visas who are from the countries that President Trump has announced will not be given visas," Al Baker told us. 

    "Other than that, the diaspora who is already there with green cards or with nationalities, but have their roots in our region, will continue to travel."

    In addition, the Qatar Airways CEO said that his airline's role in the tourism industry falls within President Trump's "Buy American" initiative.

    "When you're talking about "Buy American," then you also need to promote tourism to your country," Al Baker said. "And how will the tourists go? They won't go by swimming across the Atlantic right? They have to fly."

    Al Baker said this leads him to believe that, in spite of Trump's sharp rhetoric about immigrants and immigration, the President doesn't actually want to close America's borders to foreigners. 

    "I don't think the statements that are coming from President Trump really (means) he wants to close to doors on the United States," the airline boss explained. 

    "In this regard, I'm still positive that the traffic flow in and out of the US will continue."

    The Trump Administration has been criticised over the past year for its zealous immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant sentiment. 

    This includes President Trump's plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and the separation of migrant children from their families at the border. 

    In an interview with The Sun, Trump told the UK newspaper that has had a negative effect on Europe's culture.

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