Technology – News Net Daily an integrated news site covering all the news from all over the world, with a new vision that covers all the news as it happens from our different sources. Sat, 05 Sep 2020 10:05:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Parents Got More Time Off. Then the Backlash Started. Sat, 05 Sep 2020 10:05:05 +0000

With its offices scheduled to remain closed until at least October and schools restarting online in California, Facebook said in August that the leave policy would remain in place through June 2021 and that employees who had already taken some leave this year would be afforded another 10 weeks next year.

That angered some nonparents. A few wrote openly about how isolated they felt, living alone and not seeing anyone for weeks at a time. The company, they said, seemed less concerned about their needs.

Facebook said all employees could take up to three days to cope with physical or mental health issues without a doctor’s note. It separately offers 30 days of emergency leave for all employees if they need to care for a sick family member. In addition, all Facebook employees receive an unlimited number of sick days and receive at least 21 vacation days a year.

“We’ve added more support for all of our employees and encourage everyone to have open discussions about the challenges they’re facing,” said Liz Bourgeois, a company spokeswoman. “In too many workplaces, trying to hide the added difficulties of caregiving or well-being is yet another burden people have to carry, and we don’t want that to be the case at Facebook.”

Resentment from employees without children about extra parental benefits existed at companies before the pandemic, of course. But the health crisis has amplified that tension. Parents who had normally been able to balance work and home are struggling to help their children learn remotely while still doing their jobs.

In a July survey of 1,700 people conducted by ZipRecruiter, a job-listing and recruiting sites, parents said that if schools did not reopen at all this fall, the number of hours they could work would be reduced. Mothers said their working hours would be reduced 9 percent, while fathers said their time would go down 5 percent.

It is a difficult situation for everyone, but “for people to get upset enough to say that ‘I feel this is unfair’ demonstrates a lack of patience, a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s former head of people operations, or human resources. He is now the chief executive of the start-up Humu, which aims to help companies manage employees more effectively.

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Reed Hastings on Netflix, Hollywood and the Future of Streaming Sat, 05 Sep 2020 00:15:04 +0000

Does it feel good to be the man who killed Hollywood?

“No,” said Reed Hastings, who nurtured Netflix into the Godzilla of the entertainment world. “But, of course, we haven’t killed Hollywood.”

At 59, the slender, gray-haired Mr. Hastings remains a mystery in the industry he dominates. “He’s a complete cipher here,” one Hollywood macher said.

You won’t find Mr. Hastings hanging with the stars at the San Vicente Bungalows. He doesn’t bellow at the pool at the Hotel du Cap or swan around at premieres. He may show up in line at Sundance, but he’s not cutting the line.

He started a delivery system for movies, and now his company is one of the most powerful forces in movies. In the capital of drama, Mr. Hastings is, without drama, ripping out the infrastructure and replacing it with his own.

Studio bosses are toppling, agents are scrambling, golden parachutes are disappearing, Disney is reeling, Covid is wreaking havoc on theme parks and movie theaters and #MeToo is still reverberating.

Amid these tectonic plate shifts, Netflix has blotted out the sun. Streaming, resisted for so long by the old clubby powers, is now absolute king. R.I.P., Louis B. Mayer.

Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist, wrote an obit recently for old Hollywood. And Janice Min, the former co-president of The Hollywood Reporter, agrees that Netflix is “winning the pandemic,” siphoning viewers from broadcast and cable.

“They were all asleep to it during the early ascendance of Netflix,” Barry Diller said of his fellow Hollywood moguls. “Now they’ve woken up to it, and it has slipped away from them and is never to be regained. They lost hegemony over an entire industry.”

As Mr. Diller notes, businesspeople ordinarily gravitate to Hollywood for status and glamour, but Mr. Hastings is that rarest of creatures “who will never be seduced” even though he is “playing the game there like a pitch-perfect violin virtuoso.”

So how did a self-described “math wonk” whose favorite pastimes are walking and thinking, a man who trained for a time with the Marine Corps before switching to the Peace Corps, teaching math in Swaziland, render old Hollywood irrelevant?

Mr. Hastings said that his mother was a Boston debutante from a Social Register family who married a lawyer who later worked in the Nixon administration. She was repulsed by the world of high society and taught her children to disdain it. So young Reed grew up thinking that it was a good thing to distance yourself from elites and avoid pretensions.

The new overlord of the land of artifice and playacting hates artifice and playacting.

“Probably it all comes down to, you know, your mother or your father,” he murmured.

The height of his flashiness was posing on a Porsche in 1995 on the cover of USA Today, when he was a tech executive. He said he put aside that kind of “superfun” immaturity and sold the Porsche in favor of a Toyota Avalon. (Now he drives a Tesla.)

But for all the low-key charm, there’s no doubt that Mr. Hastings — along with his more wheeling-dealing Hollywood-based partner, Ted Sarandos — is running the show.

“The heart and soul of our content,” is how Mr. Hastings describes Mr. Sarandos, who grew up glued to the TV and dropped out of community college in Arizona to work in a video store. Mr. Hastings, who recently moved over to share his C.E.O. role with Mr. Sarandos, describes their partnership as “a positive, low-ego thing.”

Ms. Min notes that “there are all sorts of ways people have tried to hate the company,” for not getting their calls returned or not being able to schmooze their way into a big production deal with a friend or not getting cushy back-end deals. People whisper about the Netflix culture being arrogant and cultlike, a culture of fear.

“But now,” Ms. Min said, “they’re too big to hate.”

Netflix is like the British Empire at its height, expanding across the globe. Indeed, in addition to all the royals in “The Crown,” Netflix now has its very own prince. The company this week signed Harry and Meghan to a multiyear deal.

They join the Obamas; Ryan Murphy; Shonda Rhimes; Kenya Barris; Ava DuVernay, who is teaming up with Colin Kaepernick for a Netflix series; and the erstwhile lords of HBO, the “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who are adapting a Chinese sci-fi epic by Liu Cixin called “The Three-Body Problem,” about humanity’s first contact with alien civilization.

After a long period when the club of mostly white, supposedly liberal men running Hollywood secured the power in a lockbox, keeping a death grip on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and acting shocked anew every time a movie with Asian or Black or female leads did great box office, Netflix is swiftly democratizing things.

Its offerings include a show about a Japanese underwear store, a Belgian crime drama, a Spanish period piece about phone operators, a Portuguese bull-riding show. Netflix has also invested heavily in Black programming.

But operating a global empire is not without its hazards. Mr. Hastings took heat last year for bowing to Saudi censors and pulling an episode of the comedy show “Patriot Act,” starring Hasan Minhaj, which was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Challenged, the Netflix chief spurred more criticism when he said, “We’re not trying to do truth to power. We’re trying to entertain.”

He told me that he used “an awkward phrase” and that the company sometimes has to make “hard choices” and compromises where “it definitely gets squirmy and makes us feel unsettled.” But he said Netflix kept that episode on YouTube and that “Queer Eye” is available in Saudi Arabia, so “real positive stuff comes out of that.”

When I asked him where Hollywood will be in 15 years, Mr. Hastings said: “I see producing stories and sharing them as bigger than ever. But those stories will be produced in Atlanta, in Vancouver, in London, all over the world as opposed to strictly in Hollywood.”

Could the new Hollywood, which often feels ruled by algorithms, not capricious tastemakers, ever create a star like Grace Kelly?

Yes, he replied, but she would need a social media component in addition to being a performer.

I told Mr. Hastings that, while some may be weirded out by the Netflix algorithm that figures out what you want to watch next, I love it.

I simply type in “betrayal,” “revenge,” “lives ruined,” and it brings up everything I want to see. He said his taste runs to independent films, “dark, difficult things.”

Mr. Hastings, who was, he said, “a pretty average kid with no particular talent,” has a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford.

He founded a software company, Pure Software, before pioneering DVDs by mail with Marc Randolph. (There is a split about the company’s origin story, with Mr. Randolph saying the two founders came up with the idea while driving, and Mr. Hastings saying it was a light-bulb moment after he had to pay a $40 late fee on a VHS rental.)

In our interview, Mr. Hastings was uncommonly self-effacing for a billionaire.

He told me that Elon Musk is “100 times more interesting a person” than he is. “I’ll, like, do the basic core, traditional stuff very well,” Mr. Hastings said. “And he is a maverick in every dimension. He’s just, like, amazing.”

Mr. Hastings noted: “I’ll never be Steve Jobs, the creative, brilliant person.” And he praised the Disney chairman of the board. “I’m an Iger wannabe. He’s such a statesman.”

I told Mr. Hastings that, given all the poaching that the big-spending Netflix does, I’m surprised that some Disney executive hasn’t thrown a drink in his face at a chichi restaurant, “Appointment in Samarra” style.

“Sounds like a good storytelling device,” he said dryly, though he conceded that Disney bosses do get mad when he steals executives and talent.

For our Zoom interview, the Netflix mogul looked comfy in a checked shirt, khakis and bare feet in his “Covid hide-out”: his son’s old bedroom, in the house in Santa Cruz, Calif., he shares with Patty Quillin, his wife of 29 years.

“It was great sport making fun of this bedroom on our earnings call four months ago,” he said, smiling. “I don’t want to really set up a home office because I want to believe that the pandemic is going to end soon. So, month by month, I stay here without fixing it up out of kind of stubborn hope.”

Because he believes “any locked area is symbolic of hidden things,” he does not have an office or even a cubicle with drawers that close, even at his headquarters. He writes that he might grab a conference room if he needs it but prefers walking meetings.

“He makes his own cappuccino at machines, and we have no private dining rooms in our Hollywood office,” said a Netflix colleague. “He and Ted get food in the cafeteria like everyone else.”

Has the pandemic altered Mr. Hastings’s perception of the competition?

It’s the “sideways threats” that bite companies, he said. “If you think of Kodak and Fuji, competing in film for 100 years, but then ultimately it turns out to be Instagram.”

Speaking of which, I wondered if he thinks that Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey have done enough as far as election meddling and disinformation threats?

“Every new technology has real issues that have to be thought through and, you know, we’re in that phase for social media,” he said, adding: “The car, many people think is a great invention for human freedom, but it also has killed a lot of people over time. Film got used by Hitler for terrible purposes.”

He continued: “So I find Mark and Sheryl to be sincere in trying to think these things through.”

In 2016, he was vocal about his fear that Donald Trump “would destroy much of what is great about America,” even telling one of Facebook’s original investors, Peter Thiel, that he had to give him a negative evaluation of his performance on the Facebook board because of his “bad judgment” after Mr. Thiel spoke at the Republican convention.

After the Muslim ban in 2017, Mr. Hastings called President Trump’s actions “un-American” in a post on Facebook.

He thinks if Mr. Trump wins re-election, “it would not be good but I’m not worried that it’s the end of America. I mean, America is super-resilient, and I feel great about our civic institutions, whether that’s the military or the Civil Service. It won’t be as traumatic as the Civil War or the Great Depression.”

He is supporting Joe Biden, but he is not as outspoken as he was last time and didn’t watch either convention.

“You know, C.E.O. announcements about politics don’t carry much weight with most people,” he said.

I asked if he would ever give Mr. Trump a Netflix deal like the Obamas.

“I haven’t thought about that,” he said, noting that he doesn’t try to tailor the company to his own political views.

The Netflix psyche is dissected in Mr. Hastings’s new book, written with Erin Meyer, “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention.”

The book was born from the Netflix Culture Deck, a famous — and infamous — show of 127 slides that Mr. Hastings put online in 2009. It was hailed, in a 2013 GQ article, as possibly “the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley” by Ms. Sandberg. (Mr. Hastings was on the board of Facebook at the time.)

Even Ms. Meyer, a business professor, loathed some of the tenets at first and compared the company culture to the Hunger Games. But Mr. Hastings believes it was essential to his revolution.

Netflix pays top dollar and wants what it calls High Talent Density, which means only stars, no average people. Some of the rules of the Freedom and Responsibility workplace sound rigid.

“Adequate performance gets a generous severance,” one rule says.

Managers use The Keeper Test to figure out which employees are merely average and to weed out complainers and pessimists. How hard would you fight to keep someone? If the answer is “not that hard,” that employee should go. As one former executive frets in the book, they are more like penguins, who abandon those in the group that are weak or struggling, than elephants, who nurture the weak back to life.

Employees are also encouraged to use The Keeper Test Prompt, to ask bosses if they would fight hard to keep them.

Maxing Up Candor, getting rid of the “normal polite human protocols,” is a part of daily life at Netflix with a daily Circle of Feedback and annual written and live 360 Assessments, in which you meet with the team to get ripped apart.

Mr. Hastings, who grew up in a house where emotions were never discussed, said he got the idea for more transparency after going to marriage counseling.

By making things less hierarchical, Mr. Hastings believes the company can be more nimble.

Employees are encouraged to critique those above and below them at any time. (This does not seem to apply to top talent, like Shonda Rhimes or Ryan Murphy.) Staff members must Farm for Dissent and Socialize new ideas. Failures should be Sunshined, talked about openly and frequently.

Mr. Hastings does not think of his employees as family, but as a sports team — and one that has to win trophies.

“For people who value job security over winning championships, Netflix is not the right choice, and we try to be clear and non-judgmental about that,” he writes.

Mr. Hastings writes of his managers: “To feel good about cutting someone they like and respect requires them to desire to help the organization and to recognize that everyone at Netflix is happier and more successful when there is a star in every position.”

Holy Ayn Rand!

Mr. Hastings even demoted Mr. Randolph, who described his own reaction to his co-founder’s radical candor: “There is no way I’m sitting here while you pitch me on why I suck.”

And Mr. Hastings canned one of his best friends and original employees, Patty McCord, who helped create the Culture Deck and who drove to work with him, from her H.R. job.

“It’s not easy, just like you said,” he acknowledged. “There’s a conflict between the head and the heart.” He added that sometimes you just have to tell someone “you’re not as engaged, or we needed someone who’s got these additional skill sets as we grow and face new challenges.” He said it’s “very much a joint conversation” and “it’s not like ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

He writes in the book: “We all stay friends and there is no shame.”

One fired Netflix executive told me, “When Reed views somebody’s contribution as less than the problems they’re causing or potential risk, he gets rid of them. He’s an extraordinary guy, but he’s coldly rational and calculating. But the trade-off is, you get to go on this amazing fun ride, make a lot of dough, and when your number’s up, your number’s up.”

Ms. Meyer initially wondered whether Netflix’s culture represented bad management — “hypermasculine, excessively confrontational and downright aggressive” — and whether it was “ethical to fire hard-working employees who don’t manage to do extraordinary work.”

How could people feel safe to “dream, speak up and take risks” if they were being injected with fear daily?

But she concludes in the book that Netflix’s “incredible” success is hard to argue with, and employee surveys show a high degree of satisfaction. She said she did not discover the back-stabbing she expected.

Mr. Hastings writes that all the rules apply to him: “I tell my bosses, the board of directors, that I should be treated no differently. They shouldn’t have to wait for me to fail to replace me.”

He adds: “I find it motivating that I have to play for my position every quarter, and I try to keep improving myself to stay ahead.”

But, I pressed, the board wouldn’t really dismiss him, right? With a cascade of tears and apologies, he survived the Qwikster debacle — a separate company he created in 2011 to handle the DVD market — after the Netflix stock dropped more than 75 percent and “everything we’d built was crashing down.”

“They really would do it,” he said of the board, “if there was a better leader.” But he conceded, “I guess it’s unproven, so I’m sure it doesn’t generate a lot of credibility.”

The book describes the problems of imposing “the Netflix Way” on other cultures, especially in Asia and Brazil, where it can be considered rude or debilitating. (The Dutch seemed fine; they’re even more blunt than Americans.) But Mr. Hastings does not give up. He simply doubles down: “With less direct cultures, increase formal feedback moments,” including feedback clinics.

“A high sharing environment,” as Mr. Hastings calls it, is my idea of hell. That’s why I’m not on Facebook.

I broke the news to Mr. Hastings that I could never work at Netflix because I am extremely sensitive to criticism. (I know that is ironic, given my job.) I like to complain and be pessimistic.

“There are a few probably, like you, who don’t like the criticism,” Mr. Hastings said, noting that Netflix is not a good fit for everyone.

With trepidation, I asked Mr. Hastings how I would fare if he gave me The Keepers Test based on our interview.

“Would you fire me right now?” I asked.

Mr. Hastings decided to be diplomatic. “I look forward to having a redo sometime when we’re in person,” he said, “which I’m sure is just richer in every way.”

[How about a Confirm or Deny binge?]

Maureen Dowd: Your favorite movie on Netflix is the erotic flick “365 Days.”

Reed Hastings: Let’s say it’s more stimulating than most people realize.

You still haven’t figured out if you’re subscribed to HBO Go or HBO Max.


You have never felt the need to Netflix and chill.


Jeff Bezos is going through a midlife crisis.

No comment.

You hated “Roma.”

False. “Roma” is incredible.

Helen Mirren, who last year told a convention for theater owners what Netflix could do with itself, is on your Dead to Me list.

No. Everyone is traditionally against us.

Bob Iger should have bought Twitter instead of Fox.

That’s a very playful and interesting one. I’d say false. Remember in Michael Eisner’s days, they bought, and then it was just too different and they killed it. Twitter, you’ve got all that user-generated content, all that controversy. So I think Iger made the right set of decisions to go big and buy Fox.

You send John Malone and Greg Maffei a thank-you note every year on the anniversary of the Starz deal.

I would say that’s not literally true.

The person you never got involved in Netflix that you wish you had is John Malone.

Yeah. He’s close to Bill Gates in terms of who I admire.

As a kid, when your father worked in the Nixon administration, you spent a weekend at Camp David and saw Nixon’s gold-colored toilet seat.


In 2010, when he was C.E.O. of Time Warner, Jeff Bewkes scoffed at the idea of Netflix taking over Hollywood, saying, “Is the Albanian Army going to take over the world?” So now, every two weeks, you text Bewkes, “How do you like them apples?”

Well, I’ll firmly deny. He is a great and thoughtful guy.

But you do have a tattoo of the Albanian Army logo on your back.

I’ve got my Albanian Army dog tags.

The Netflix lobby is the new MGM canteen.


TikTok is your toughest competitor.


You sold vacuum cleaners door to door and served coffee at a computer company in Boston.


Executives at media companies make too much money.


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Harassment Against Gay and Trans People on TikTok Fri, 04 Sep 2020 23:00:04 +0000

Chris smiles widely as a video of Miso Chan, a transgender creator presenting as a young woman with pink hair, plays next to him. A song with the lyrics “Now I know what’s real and what is fake,” loops in the background.

Then Miso Chan rips off their wig, pulls tissues out of their shirt and is revealed to present as male. Chris’s face drops to a wide-eyed deadpan expression.

The video has been viewed over 1.7 million times — and its comment section is filled with cruel remarks.

“This is why I have trust issues nowadays,” one person replied. “Imagine what it’s parents thought,” said another.

Chris, who is 17 and uses the name @Donelij online, has grown an enormous audience on TikTok. Before his account was banned on Tuesday he had amassed more than 2.5 million followers. Another one of his accounts had more than 2.2 million followers, but, on Friday afternoon, both of Chris’s backup TikTok accounts were banned as well. (“This account was banned due to multiple community guideline violations,” read a banner atop the account.)

“It’s stressful,” he said by phone. “That’s how I got my money.”

Chris’s account is known in the TikTok community as a reaction account, an account where someone creates reaction videos that appear alongside other TikToks. Reaction and commentary TikTok channels are a growing niche on the platform and have been taking off in recent months.

Nearly all of Chris’ videos follow the same format: a video loops to his right, he smiles, sometimes gives a thumbs up, then something happens in the video and his smile drops. The majority of Chris’s videos are reactions to anodyne moments. In one, his smile drops when a man slams a brick of tofu in his own face; in another it’s when cockroaches appear onscreen.

Some of his videos, however, feature reactions to LGBTQ creators. He has a shocked expression when men put on skirts, when a man sucks on a straw, or when trans people reveal transformations over time.

Even though he never says a word, thousands of people have called them out for being homophobic. Young gay and trans TikTokers who have been featured in Chris’s reactions report they have suffered vicious harassment from commenters and in messages. Some have deleted their accounts.

Chris said he had no ill intent with his videos, and said, before his accounts were banned, that he would stop duetting members of the LGBTQ community.

“I want people to know I’m not homophobic or transphobic,” he said. “The facial expressions I make in my videos are jokes. I myself didn’t think of them as offensive, but I can see how people would take it that way and I don’t want them to feel that way.”

Rob Anderson, 32, a TikTok creator who is a gay man, ended up in the cross hairs after calling attention to Chris’s videos in a video of his own. Immediately after posting, Mr. Anderson was inundated with a stream of gay slurs, death threats and threats to his family.

“It’s a vicious, intense relentless form of harassment and it’s endless,” said Mr. Anderson. “These people go through all of your social channels, find any information about you — they sent gay slurs to my agent. It doesn’t stop, it doesn’t go away one day and leave.”

Any creator who speaks out against Chris’s content inevitably receives a wave of threats and harassment. After Toby Phillips, 20, posted a soft-spoken ’90s-style PSA video asking Chris to take responsibility for his fans’ behavior, he too suffered for it.

Mr. Phillips was met with death threats and doxxing attempts.

As the controversy began trending on Thursday, popular creators began to weigh in, including the children of several politicians and celebrities.

Cisco Hernandez, a 15-year-old high school student in San Diego, was dismayed to see that big creators he followed were expressing support for homophobic content. He posted a video about his disappointment and was immediately met with an onslaught of harassment himself. Mr. Hernandez is not a full-time TikTok creator. He has a very small following and was shocked by the vitriol he encountered. “People DMed me telling me to kill myself, a lot of other things,” including homophobic slurs, he said. Mr. Hernandez identifies as bisexual.

Other large TikTok creators began issuing threats to LGBTQ creators for speaking out. In an Instagram Live on Thursday night, Freek Da Gemini, a 21-year-old TikTok creator with more than 750,000 followers, issued threats to a 17-year-old, calling him a slew of homophobic slurs. “I’m saying slurs, yeah I said a slur,” he said on his livestream, adding that the young man could expect to have “blood leaking out of his head” if he encountered him in person.

Chris’s fans say that critiques of his content are overblown. “This has to be the worst display of cancel culture that I’ve ever seen,” a YouTube drama commentator known as Relex said in a video on Thursday. “He’s getting canceled for the facial expressions he’s making in his videos. How are you getting offended by someone who doesn’t even talk?”

Many flooded the comment sections of LGBTQ creators with the snowflake emoji.

Chris said that he had been on the receiving end of harassment himself as anger about his content built on the app. “I get called the N-word, monkey, in my DMs, people saying they’re going to kill me when they see me,” he said. Many TikTokers have encouraged their fans to flood Chris’ comments with abusive messages, others have attacked members of his family and have tried to get him thrown out of school.

He also said he was frustrated with his fans’ behavior. He said that he’s spoken out several times on his TikTok account asking people to stop making homophobic comments, but that ultimately he can’t control the millions of people who follow him, and that they interpret his pleas to “spread positivity” as a covert directive to attack.

“A percentage of my followers are trolls and I feel like they do this because they like getting adrenaline on the internet,” he said. “I’ll just keep on trying to get my fans to change their ways. I’m trying my best to get my fans to stop doing what they’re doing.”

Many members of the LGBTQ community respond that, whether Chris intended to or not, he built an audience of homophobic followers by posting homophobic content and it’s now his responsibility to manage that audience.

“They say Chris is not responsible for his followers,” said Mr. Anderson. “To that I say: Of course he is. He’s cultivated this group of people with this content. The people who follow him are the people who enjoy the content he’s putting out and his content is clearly anti-gay and homophobic. If you have a large following. it’s your responsibility to make sure people aren’t getting hurt by what you post.”

In this experience, many young creators are realizing how inadequate TikTok can be at protecting users from harassment. Hateful videos snowball quickly as they gain traction on the app’s all-powerful “For You” page. There’s no mechanism to mass report or mass block a user’s entire following. Comment controls are limited and glitchy; the reporting process can be slow. Often, harassment campaigns are instigated with a wink and a nod.

“We are committed to promoting a safe and positive app environment for our users. Our Community Guidelines outline behavior that is not acceptable on the platform, and we take action against behavior that violates those policies, including by removing content or accounts. We also offer a number of features to help users control their online experience, including options to report inappropriate content, limit and filter comments and block users,” a spokesperson for TikTok said in a statement.

“I’m 32, I’m not on this app to have drama with teenagers,” Mr. Anderson said, “I’m confident about who I am. But there are queer people who are 15 or 16, exploring their gender. They are just trying to explore who they are.”

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Pentagon Sticks With Microsoft for Cloud Computing Contract Fri, 04 Sep 2020 21:45:04 +0000

The Defense Department on Friday reaffirmed its decision to award a massive cloud computing contract to Microsoft, despite protests from Amazon, which had argued that President Trump interfered to prevent it from winning the $10 billion contract.

The decision, which comes more than six months after a federal judge halted work on the contract in response to a legal challenge from Amazon, is not likely to put an end to the acrimonious battle. But it does indicate the Defense Department is confident in its decision to give Microsoft the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project, or JEDI.

Amazon had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract. But the Defense Department chose Microsoft in October to lead a modernization of the military’s cloud computing systems.

Amazon challenged the decision in court and won a reprieve in February, when a federal judge blocked the award and ordered Microsoft to halt its work on fulfilling the contract.

The legal fight over the contract is likely to continue. Amazon argued that its technology was superior and that Microsoft had failed to meet some of the Defense Department’s specifications.

The tech giant also claimed that Mr. Trump had interfered in the process because of his feud with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the owner of The Washington Post. The Post has aggressively covered the Trump administration, and the president has referred to the newspaper as the “Amazon Washington Post” and accused it of spreading “fake news.”

But Amazon was unable to offer evidence that Mr. Trump or members of his administration tipped the scale in Microsoft’s favor. Amazon is seeking to depose Mr. Trump and senior Defense Department officials, but focused its legal challenge on how the Defense Department would be charged for cloud services.

In March, the Pentagon said it would reconsider its work with Microsoft in light of Amazon’s objections. After a “comprehensive re-evaluation,” however, it determined that Microsoft’s proposal “continues to represent the best value,” a spokesman said.

“We appreciate that after careful review, the D.O.D. confirmed that we offered the right technology and the best value,” said Frank X. Shaw, a spokesman for Microsoft. “We’re ready to get to work and make sure that those who serve our country have access to this much-needed technology.”

Amazon said in a blog post that the Defense Department had an opportunity to “address the numerous material evaluation errors outlined in our protest, ensure a fair and level playing field, and ultimately, expedite the conclusion of litigation. Unfortunately, the D.O.D. rejected that opportunity.”

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Why Facebook’s Blocking of New Political Ads May Fall Short Fri, 04 Sep 2020 19:15:04 +0000

Because France’s election silence laws also ban campaign news in the 48 hours before people vote, most French news outlets did not cover the hacked emails. While Facebook removed attempts by Russian hackers to post the emails, blogs picked up other articles about the emails and then published posts about them on the social network. Many people also posted about what they had read.

Mathias Vermeulen, the public policy director at a new data rights agency called AWO in Brussels, said election silence laws also haven’t covered social media in several European countries, so groups have been able to target voters with campaign content and political ads. While Facebook could have voluntarily adhered to those laws, it didn’t.

“Political ads have flourished,” he said.

The number of political ads on Facebook has increased significantly ahead of November’s election. And since the company does not plan to take down older ads, users are likely to continue seeing many of those circulate.

Here’s how much political advertising has already spiked: In the week before Labor Day in 2018, 76,500 political ads were created on Facebook, according to Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University’s Online Political Transparency Project. (Since 2018, Ms. Edelson has used Facebook’s ad library, a public database of all ads on the platform, to build her own repository of U.S. online political advertising.)

This year, in the week before Sept. 1, 118,239 political ads were created on Facebook, a 54 percent increase, Ms. Edelson found.

When Facebook bars new political ads from its site on Oct. 27, politicians will still be able to adjust the amount of money they spend on their existing ads and continue targeting people with those ads. Candidates may simply ensure that more of their ads are running well before the Oct. 27 cutoff, Ms. Edelson said.

Facebook may use the ad block period to more closely scrutinize the ads that are already running on the social network, Ms. Edelson said. But campaigns would not be able to use ads to capitalize on a last-minute scandal after Oct. 27.

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Marvel’s Avengers the game is now out on PS4, Xbox and others Fri, 04 Sep 2020 18:00:07 +0000

Disney’s Marvel Entertainment and video game publisher Square Enix released the long-awaited Avengers video game Friday on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Google’s cloud gaming platform, Stadia.

The release comes more than two years after Marvel Entertainment announced its partnership with the Japanese gaming company.

The new Avengers game costs $60 and has in-game transactions for cosmetic upgrades. While there’s a story mode that lasts approximately a dozen hours, the game also has a multiplayer mode where you play online with others.

The developers plan on giving the game the “Fortnite”-like treatment, keeping it alive for years with continuous updates, adding more content over time. That’s a departure from the traditional strategy in which games were released as standalone physical copies with a fixed experience that ended when you won.

Disney hasn’t had much success with past multiplayer efforts such as Toontown and Marvel Heroes, which it shut down over time.

“The new direction with Marvel’s Avengers has a better chance of success because of the strength of the franchise and the changes in online consumer behavior since then,” said Joost van Dreunen, founder of video game investment firm New Breukelen.

“Marvel’s Avengers” plunges players right into the action with an intense battle sequence on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. After a tragedy, the team disbands, but they must reunite several years later to save the world once again.

While at a glance, the plot sounds like parts of the movies “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame,” the game introduces a new character, Kamala Khan, better known as Ms. Marvel, who was previously little known outside comic book circles. Kamala is a Muslim American heroine who can wield her stretchy fists like slingshots and transform to be bigger than the Hulk.

From the start of the game, players can see what it’s like to play as Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow. It’s epic, with cinematic battle scenes accompanied by the rumbling of your controller. “God of War” fans may find Thor’s playstyle of slamming enemies over and over in the air is similar to 2018’s game of the year, as the combat director for “Marvel’s Avengers” worked on both.

The game was developed by Crystal Dynamics, a subsidiary of Square Enix that worked on the critically acclaimed “Tomb Raider” series of video games.

You won’t find Hollywood’s biggest stars in the games. The developers hired a new cast of actors to portray Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, the Hulk and Thor. But the characters’ outfits, styling and quips are still similar.

“Avengers: Endgame” raked in $1.2 billion on its opening weekend in April last year, shattering records. Marvel Studios has made over $20 billion at the global box office with its larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“It’s a brilliant extension of the MCU even if its gameplay could use some fixes,” said Dreunen, the investment firm founder, referring to bugs present during the early preview. “The introduction of a new protagonist like Kamala Khan evidences that Disney is willing to rewrite its own playbook on IP development.”

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Forget TikTok. China’s Powerhouse App Is WeChat, and Its Power Is Sweeping. Fri, 04 Sep 2020 15:30:04 +0000 A vital connection for the Chinese diaspora, the app has also become a global conduit of Chinese state propaganda, surveillance and intimidation. The United States has proposed banning it.

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How an American who lost his job due to Covid-19 got roped into an apparent Russian plot to meddle in American life Fri, 04 Sep 2020 13:00:10 +0000 It all began in July when Delaney received a private message on Twitter from “Alex Lacusta,” who introduced himself as an editor with Peace Data, an independent leftwing online magazine.

The editor said he had seen some of Delaney’s pieces on other independent, mostly left-leaning sites and wanted to offer him a regular, paid column.

Delaney, who had lost his day-job at a restaurant early in the Covid-19 pandemic, thought this could be his big break.

He began writing for the site, producing three articles over a few months for $100 a piece.

His articles could have appeared on any independent leftwing site, with headlines including “QAnon Is Meant to Spread Fascist Mythology and Distract From U.S. Failures” and “Overfunding of U.S. Military Is Driving Climate Change and White Supremacist Culture of War Crimes.”

But Peace Data and “Alex Lacusta” were not what they presented themselves to be.

On Tuesday, Facebook, acting on a tip from the FBI, said Peace Data was part of a covert Russian campaign — tied to the same Russian group that used social media to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.

In a post on the website after Facebook’s announcement, Peace Data maintained it was an independent site and disputed the company’s findings. The Russian government has not commented.

The smiling man in Lacusta’s profile picture on Twitter, the account that had offered Delaney work, did not exist, according to experts. Though realistic looking, the picture was computer-generated, using new artificial intelligence techniques.

Peace Data had recruited and paid Americans to write stories on a host of issues, including American politics and racial inequality in the US.

While it has a modern, digital twist, the scheme comes straight from a playbook Russia has been using since at least the Cold War: tap unwitting Americans to help highlight cracks in American society and elevate dissenting voices. It’s all part of a campaign the US government says is designed to exacerbate divisions in American life.

Delaney, and others like him, are by all accounts acting in good faith, simply writing articles and opinion pieces they would for any other outlet.

Voices that challenge conventional wisdom are all good things, says Delaney, but not at the behest of a foreign (or any) government. The writer was shocked, appalled, and embarrassed on Tuesday when he came to the realization he had been co-opted by an apparent Russian influence operation.

“I’m obviously no fan of Putin or the Russian government,” he told CNN in an interview on Thursday. “I don’t want to have any association with an authoritarian regime.”

Delaney wasn’t the only one — some other Americans were also unwittingly coopted to write for the website.

In 2016, the same Russian troll group that Facebook said was tied to Peace Data, ran a network of fake sites and social media accounts posing as everything from Black Lives Matter activists to pro-Second Amendment groups. CNN has previously documented how, as part of that effort, unwitting Americans were recruited to organize protests and stage stunts.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in 2018 identified the persona “Alice Donovan” as being run by the GRU, Russian military intelligence.

The persona was used to plant articles in a real US publication, the independent leftwing magazine CounterPunch.
CounterPunch’s managing editor Joshua Frank outlined at the time how his publication had been duped. And it appears CounterPunch remains a target of Russian influence operations.

Frank shared emails with CNN this week that had been sent over the past few months to CounterPunch from “Alex Lacusta.”

The person posing as Lacusta pitched all three of Delaney’s stories to CounterPunch, in an apparent attempt to have a real American publication publish Russian-commissioned pieces written by real Americans.

“We would really appreciate if you could share this story on your platform. Looking forward to your reply and fruitful cooperation,” one email read.

CounterPunch did not run the pieces.

Frank told CNN Wednesday, “This sort of thing ultimately hurts real journalists caught up in it and independent media more broadly, especially outlets that are critical of the United States government, by casting doubt about our authenticity.”

Delaney, meanwhile, is hoping he’ll be able to find work with a genuine publication.

“I’m more mad at myself for letting this happen than at Vladimir Putin or Russia or anything like I should have, I should have my guard up a little bit more,” he said.

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After rides, California law could target food and grocery delivery services next Fri, 04 Sep 2020 11:45:06 +0000 The fight over whether ride-hail drivers should be treated as employees in response to the new California law, or independent contractors, as they have long been treated by Uber and Lyft, has been heated. Last month, following a court order, Uber and Lyft threatened to shut down their ride-hailing services in California before being granted […]]]>

The fight over whether ride-hail drivers should be treated as employees in response to the new California law, or independent contractors, as they have long been treated by Uber and Lyft, has been heated. Last month, following a court order, Uber and Lyft threatened to shut down their ride-hailing services in California before being granted a temporary reprieve.
Had the companies suspended their services in the state, Uber said it would’ve continued operating its food delivery service, Eats, which has been a breakout star for the company during the pandemic. But Eats similarly treats workers as independent contractors and must answer to the same California worker classification law, known as AB-5, that is aimed at making it more difficult for companies to classify workers as independent contractors.
The law, which went into effect January 1, codifies an “ABC” test stemming from the California Supreme Court’s 2018 Dynamex decision. Under it, employers must meet three requirements to prove their workers are independent contractors, including that the service the workers are providing is outside the company’s core business.
California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill, said the intent of AB-5 was to narrow who the Dynamex decision applied to — with the on-demand gig economy being one of those targets.
Despite being in effect since the beginning of the year, it wasn’t until May that the Attorney General and a coalition of city attorneys went after the best known companies in the industry and their original services.

According to William B. Gould IV, a law professor at Stanford University, it “certainly makes a lot of sense for the AG to put a lot of their marbles in the Uber basket.”

“You’re dealing with a company that has thumbed its nose at the rule of law for some time now and thinks there’s no restriction that they can’t evade,” added Gould IV, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Jenny Montoya Tansey, policy director at the Public Rights Project, a public interest legal nonprofit that has been involved with enforcement efforts in California, said another factor is that “drivers have organized in numbers and are doing a really compelling job in getting their stories out, letting regulators, enforcers and policy makers understand some of the experiences that drivers go through.”

That said, Montoya Tansey added, “food delivery hasn’t escaped the notice of AB-5 enforcers.”

Other legal battles in California have started to chip away at the similar alleged misclassification of workers of on-demand food and grocery delivery companies, which have only grown in significance as consumers rely on them to avoid public spaces amid the ongoing public health crisis.
Prior to AB-5, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott filed a suit against Instacart, the on-demand grocery delivery startup valued at $14 billion, over worker classification; the case is on-going. More recently, in June, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed a suit against DoorDash, the food delivery startup valued at $16 billion.

“Food delivery is in demand now more than ever. Multi-billion dollar corporations that deliver food are profiting off this crisis while they exploit their drivers and deny them a living wage, unemployment insurance, sick leave and other basic workplace protections,” said Assemblywoman Gonzalez of San Diego in a statement to CNN Business, adding praise to Elliott and Boudin’s actions.

“I hope other officials follow their lead. These companies need to be held to the same standards as any other law-abiding business in the state,” Gonzalez added.

Deciding to go after deep-pocketed companies, and which ones, comes down to resources for local officials.

“This has been a tough fight. It always is when you’re taking on billion-dollar industries — there’s a lot at stake for them,” said San Diego’s Elliott, of the Uber and Lyft lawsuit during an event in August with the Public Rights Project.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget has earmarked $20 million towards AB-5 enforcement, but it is unclear if it will target any other companies while the case against Uber and Lyft plays out this fall. The Attorney General’s office declined to comment on its potential legal strategy.

Of the Instacart suit, Elliott said she was “a little reluctant initially and that’s because it is a big case for an office like ours,” adding that they have just three litigators.

The threat to the combined on-demand business model is evident. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and Uber-owned Postmates have funneled more than $110 million into passing a referendum in November, known as Prop 22, that would exempt them from the law while providing drivers with some additional benefits.
Additionally, Uber and Lyft are facing lawsuits from California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office over allegedly committing wage theft by misclassifying their on-demand workers as independent contractors instead of employees.
Beth Ross, a labor employment attorney in San Francisco who led a high-profile worker misclassification case against FedEx, said it is “anybody’s guess” whether other cases regarding on-demand food and grocery delivery workers will crop up in the meantime.

“The City Attorneys in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco have planted their flags on the Uber and Lyft case,” Ross said. “Will they file further public enforcement cases? I’d be surprised because it’s a resource issue — they may wait to see what happens.”

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TikTok Bid Highlights Oracle’s Public Embrace of Trump Fri, 04 Sep 2020 09:15:03 +0000

WASHINGTON — In March, when the Trump administration ordered up a study enabling the widespread release of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, one of the first questions the director of a government research agency that would oversee the trial asked was: “Who has talked with Oracle?”

The Silicon Valley powerhouse had already started to prepare to help with collecting data about the drug, and its founder, Larry Ellison, talked to President Trump about its possible use.

Some tech companies may have shied away from helping to test a drug that many medical experts said had potentially dangerous side effects and might not even work for Covid-19 cases. But Oracle, a business software giant founded in 1977, is a prominent ally of Mr. Trump, whose administration was invested in the drug’s use.

Oracle’s involvement in the planned drug study was its latest effort to aid the president and his administration. The company has also backed the administration’s trade plans and its positions on major tech policy issues, and its executives played roles in Mr. Trump’s transition team in 2016 and have backed his re-election campaign.

Mr. Trump has declined to say whether the company is a better suitor for the app than Microsoft, another major bidder. But he said last month that Oracle “would be certainly somebody that could handle it.” The negotiations hit a snag in recent days, after the Chinese government issued new rules that seem to make a sale more complicated.

Matt Perault, a former policy executive at Facebook who teaches at Duke University, said that unlike many of the biggest tech companies, Oracle had a business model — selling software and services to businesses and governments — that allowed it to develop a relationship with Mr. Trump without putting its brand at risk.

“Oracle can be close to the president without alienating the customer base,” Mr. Perault said, “and that’s a luxury that a company like Twitter doesn’t have.”

A spokeswoman for Oracle, Deborah Hellinger, declined to comment. The White House also declined to comment.

Oracle has pursued TikTok with some of the app’s American investors, like the private equity firm General Atlantic and the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. The other bidding group includes Microsoft and Walmart.

There is already a pitched corporate lobbying battle over the possible sale. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, traveled to Washington last month to talk with White House officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill about how the company would assuage concerns if it bought the app. Oracle announced that it was joining the State Department’s Clean Network program, which is aimed at combating China’s influence over global technology.

Oracle spent $8.21 million on federal lobbying and employed 59 lobbyists last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In comparison, Google spent $12.78 million and Microsoft $10.3 million. Oracle’s Washington office is run by Ken Glueck, who in the 1990s was an aide to Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut.

It has used that influence operation to pursue a small number of rivals with grudge-match intensity. For years, it has been locked in a lawsuit with Google over an obscure copyright question. It has not just attacked the company over the case, but has dogged it with antitrust questions and produced technical research on what it says are Google’s abuses of consumer data. Oracle also competed with Amazon for a $10 billion military contract and accused the retailer of trying to rig the process.

Its close ties with the White House, though, are what really make it stand out in Silicon Valley.

While many companies were caught off guard by Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, Oracle had begun to build relationships in his political universe shortly before Election Day, said one person familiar with its approach. The person would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. Safra Catz, Oracle’s chief executive, was the only major tech executive to join the executive committee of the Trump administration’s transition team, the group that prepares policies and plans before a new administration takes office. (Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and Facebook board member, also served on the committee.) Mr. Glueck also joined the broader transition team.

Oracle’s representatives worked with the incoming administration on issues related to taxes, trade and government contracts, which are a major source of business for the company, said the person familiar with its approach.

The company has also hired people with ties to Mr. Trump. One of its outside lobbyists, David Urban, was a West Point classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Another is Matt Schlapp, whose wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is a senior adviser to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and a former White House communications official.

Its relationship with the White House has attracted some concern from inside and outside the company. A whistle-blower at the Labor Department said last month that Eugene Scalia, the secretary of labor, had interfered in a discrimination lawsuit against the company. The department said Mr. Scalia had done nothing untoward, and Oracle said the case was groundless.

When Mr. Ellison, Oracle’s founder and chairman, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump this year at a home in Southern California, some employees protested the move.

The company has pressed on despite the criticism. Ms. Catz has donated more than $130,000 to support Mr. Trump’s re-election, federal records show. Another Oracle executive, Jeffrey Henley, has donated more than $55,000. Last year, the company gave $500,000 to $999,999 to a group established by Republican operatives to push for Mr. Trump’s North American trade deal.

In March, when Rick Bright, the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, asked colleagues about orders to start a study of hydroxychloroquine that his agency would oversee, he said details on the project were “very sketchy, and the directive is to move quickly,” according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

He soon received a reply from Stacy Amin, the top lawyer at the Food and Drug Administration. The president, Ms. Amin said, “is announcing this tonight, and I believe the WH would like it set up by tomorrow with data to flow into the Oracle platform.”

Mr. Bright was ultimately removed from his role in April, which he says was the result of his doubts over hydroxychloroquine. He has filed a formal whistle-blower complaint. The study and the announcement never came to fruition. (Senior administration officials have pushed back on his account, saying his allegations don’t hold up.)

But a little less than a month after his initial exchanges over the plans to bring the drugs to patients, the department announced that Oracle had donated a platform to “gather crowdsourced, real-time information from doctors and other clinicians about how patients are responding to possible therapeutics” used to treat Covid-19.

Alex Azar, the health secretary, praised Oracle in a statement at the time.

“The work Oracle is doing with H.H.S. and the Trump administration to deliver data-driven solutions is another tangible result of the all-of-America approach President Trump has led to combat Covid-19,” he said.

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