The tech takedown continued over the weekend. On Saturday, President Trump attacked Amazon once again, tweeting that he has “stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election” and that the U.S. Postal Service “will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon.” Never mind that, as with so many of Trump’s tweets, there is no clear evidence either statement is true.
Then on Sunday, the New York Times weighed in with a front page story about some patents that Amazon and Google have applied for in connection with their digital assistants that are a bit, well, creepy. In one set of applications, Amazon described a “voice sniffer algorithm” that could analyze audio almost real time when it hears words like “love,” “bought” or “dislike.” Meanwhile, a Google application details how audio monitoring could help detect such things as whether a child is engaging in “mischief” at home, by using speech patterns.
This sort of snooping, of course, is a double-edged sword. The better your digital assistant understands you and your life, the more useful its recommendations will be. But if the data gathered by such snooping is used by advertisers and marketers to manipulate you, that’s another matter. And it’s probably why Tim Cook of Apple—which makes the bulk of its money selling its own products and services, not advertising or marketing others’—was so outspoken last week criticizing tech companies that misuse personal data.
We’ve clearly moved from a world where the FANG companies could do no wrong to one where they can do no right. Faced with this new reality, Amazon swapped out its D.C. lobbyists.
More news below.
China announced plans for new tariffs on meat, fruit, and other products from the United States as retaliation for Donald Trump’s taxes on imported steel and aluminum. Its tariff on pork products and aluminum scrap will increase by 25% and a new 15% tariff will be applied on 120 U.S. commodities such as almonds, apples, and berries. Associated Press
Hackers have obtained more than five million credit and debit card numbers from customers of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor in a breach confirmed on Sunday by corporate owner Hudson’s Bay. It’s one of the largest known breaches of a retailer and follows similar incidents for Equifax in 2017, Home Depot in 2014, and Target in 2013. New York Times
VW shareholder and former DWS CEO Christian Strenger urged investors to vote against the reelection of Wolfgang Porsche as a member of the carmaker’s supervisory board. Strenger accused Porsche, a member of Volkswagen’s Porsche-Piech founding family, of “inaction” in addressing misconduct by top managers over the company’s diesel emissions scandal. Reuters
In August, China’s State Council passed new regulations on outbound investments, curtailing once-heavy U.S. investment. Now the Los Angeles real estate market, which saw more than $5 billion invested by Chinese companies in the last five years, is feeling the effects. Dalian Wanda Group, one of China’s largest private companies, is looking to sell a top development site in Beverly Hills. Similar sales are in the works from other Chinese firms. Los Angeles Times
Around the Water Cooler
Fearing that next year’s European Parliament elections are vulnerable to digital disinformation campaigns, European Commission officials are pushing to crack down on social media platforms in an effort to safeguard democracy. EU member states France and Germany have both introduced legislation that aim to combat “fake news.” Financial Times
In the waning hours of its fiscal quarter, the electric automaker raced to manufacture and deliver its mass-market Model 3 sedan in an effort to get production back on track and silence critics who say that the company is at risk of running out of cash. Bloomberg
Tax experts are closely watching a U.S. Tax Court case between Coca-Cola and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service over a $3.3 billion bill for back taxes. Though a verdict isn’t expected for some time, it’s indicative of tensions between tax authorities and multinational corporation over so-called transfer pricing. Reuters
Marks & Spencer has a surprising hit in India: lingerie. The British retailer launched the line in 2014 as an experiment; it’s now the fastest growing business unit for the company’s India operations. The highly fragmented Indian lingerie market is estimated to be worth $4 billion. Quartz