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Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica flap triggers FTC investigation

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Facebook’s troubles aren’t going away.

The Federal Trade Commission said on Monday that it has opened an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. As reported last week, the FTC is concerned whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 consent decree. The decree mandated that the social media company notify users and obtain their consent to share information with third parties.

It’s just the latest shoe to drop for Facebook’s headache over its data breach to Cambridge Analytica. The social network is in hot water for letting data on 50 million users get into the hands of the data analytics firm, which was hired by the Trump campaign for the 2016 presidential election. The FTC stepping in signals more scrutiny by the government over Facebook’s actions.

“The FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook,” Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said in a statement. “Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.”

The misuse of the data, which was collected in 2013 through a personality quiz called “thisisyourdigitallife,” shed a light on how poorly Facebook has handled your personal information. While only 300,000 people took the quiz, the app was able to grab data from an extended network of friends, a valuable trove of information that Cambridge Analytica used to great effect with its targeted political ads.

Zuckerberg apologized to the social network’s 2.2 billion users and said he’s finally doing something about the app exploit. He vowed to investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information and “conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity.”

But Zuckerberg faces calls to testify before both the US and US governments. While on an interview with CNN, Zuckerberg said he would testify before Congress — with some caveats.

“So what we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge about what Congress is trying to learn,” he said. “So if that’s me, then I am happy to go.”

Zuckerberg went on an apology tour last week following five days of silence on the matter. The lack of a response from the CEO spurred hashtags like #whereszuck and #deletefacebook, which companies like Tesla and Space X and individuals like Cher taking real action.

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Inside JD.com, the giant Chinese firm that could eat Amazon alive

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Pujiang Pu is a smiley, medium-built man in his mid-forties with stylish glasses, a bling gold watch, and a red JD lanyard around his neck. Along with many of the 150,000 employees of JD.com – a city-size e-commerce store sometimes referred to as the Amazon of China – he lives in a free dorm near one of the company’s 500 gigantic warehouses. The warehouse I visit is in Jiading, 30km north-west of Shanghai’s city centre. Hundreds of people work here, and at 100,000 square metres in size it sits on a JD complex so big it would take at least 45 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

I am allowed here as part of a rare, highly supervised press visit, and warehouse manager Pu is our tour guide. I am not shown everything, but enough to impress – or, as some analysts believe, to show that JD is a kind of company Amazon ultimately wants to become.

JD wasn’t always that big. It started out as a small brick and mortar store in Beijing, founded in 1998 by Richard Liu. Then in 2004, Liu moved it online and JD.com, short for Jingdong, was born. Fast-forward to today, and the firm is worth more than $55 billion. In February, logistics magazine DC Velocity called it “the biggest company you may not know all that much about”. Not for much longer though – JD is so growing so fast at home in China and expanding so rapidly into other markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam and most recently Europe, that even the most devout Amazonians will soon sit up and notice.

The main reason Pu stays in a dorm on site, and away from his family, is to ensure he can meet key performance indicators set by the firm. Sometimes, especially during JD.com’s annual shopping event, he has to work late into the night.

But the future of these dorms is uncertain. Many traditional warehouse jobs like stacking shelves and packing boxes at JD are likely to go to robots in the coming years, as the company starts to automate everything that can sensibly be automated. The tech giant is now busy retraining some staff to take on new roles that machines can’t yet do. Pu’s warehouses have some of the firm’s most advanced robotics – and he gets really excited talking about the autonomous forklift trucks and delivery drones.

These drones have been in the news a lot lately. Remember when Amazon’s boss Jeff Bezos made claims that his firm would soon drop parcels off at your doorstep? Well, that was in 2013 – and, some small-scale trials aside, it’s still not happening. But it’s very much happening at JD – since March 2016, its drones have been delivering products across China, having clocked over 300,000 minutes of flight time. “Today we have over 200 people working on our drone programme,” says Zheng Cui, director of the firm’s drone R&D centre in Xi’an.

The drones come in various shapes and sizes, but the quickest ones can fly up to 100km/h and have a range of 100km. So far though, the furthest delivery has been 15km and that drone flew much slower than 100km/h – but you have to start somewhere. What the drones can’t do yet, JD does with its 65,000 van drivers and couriers.

The drone efforts haven’t gone unnoticed though, and other companies are keen to replicate JD’s air delivery success. Cui says more and more firms are getting in touch to buy their drones. “We’ve just got an order for 1,000 at the beginning of this year,” he adds.

Those drones are still fairly small, but JD is busy developing larger ones that can carry up to five tonnes. “They’ll transfer inventory from one warehouse to another,” says Cui. “Within three years we’re looking at having a couple of thousand,” he says – and they will take off right from existing small airports near the company’s warehouses.

It’s not just the drones that make the Chinese behemoth different from Western e-commerce stores, though. Robots at JD are everywhere. In the warehouse I visit, machines stack tens of thousands of products on 24-metre-high shelves. Over the road from where I am, another fully automated warehouse can pack and ship 200,000 products a day. Robots are not alone yet, though: the fully automated warehouse has four human helpers.

Automation, growth, scale – the mega but still relatively unknown giant seems unlikely to slow down. Its revenues are growing 40 per cent a year, up to $55.7 billion in 2017. The company’s spokespeople tell us proudly the firm is the third largest “internet company” in the world by revenue after Google and Amazon, but ahead of companies like Facebook, eBay and Alibaba, its biggest rival.

It has major backers such as Tencent — the largest internet company in China by market cap and the owner of WeChat. Other investors are Walmart, which has a ten per cent stake, and even Google, which last month announced it was investing $550 million into JD to help it expand further outside China.

And the e-commerce giant is busy doing just that. In January, it opened its first European office, in Paris. It now aims to open another one in Milan, and is actively partnering with Spanish and other European brands – especially luxury ones. In 2017, Chinese made up 32 per cent of the worldwide luxury market.

JD’s response: last October, it launched Toplife, a platform for luxury buyers that can benefit from same-day deliveries and premium services, such as ultra-clean and secure warehouses with special air filters. Over just a few months, Toplife has already signed up 20 brands, including Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen. Amazon beware.

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LG G7 ThinQ Is Now Available In the US for $750

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LG waited longer than normal to announce its big 2018 flagship phone, but it finally took the wraps off the LG G7 ThinQ a few weeks ago. Today, the phone is available for purchase on most US carriers. While LG has had trouble competing with the likes of Samsung, it’s still targeting the same premium space. Although, it’s got an iPhone-style screen notch now. That’s what consumers want, right?

The LG G7 ThinQ is the epitome of all things 2018 in smartphone design. It has a glass back, dual cameras, and a display notch that isn’t done particularly well. The missing bit of screen provides a place for the camera, earpiece, and some other sensors. It does seem a little excessively large for how compact these components are, though. In addition, the G7 has a “chin” at the bottom with a larger bezel than the top and bottom. This asymmetric look isn’t as striking as the iPhone X it imitates. The 6.1-inch 1440p display is also an OLED, which lacks the vibrancy of modern OLED panels.

Inside, this phone has all the current flagship hardware you’d expect with a Snapdragon 845, 64GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM. Unlike many other current smartphones, the company has opted to keep the headphone jack for the G7 ThinQ. LG also touts the G7’s unique speaker design that uses the entire chassis as a resonator to boost sound output.

You may be wondering about the name — specifically the “ThinQ” bit. Well, that’s LG’s expanded brand for all its AI technologies. What that means for the G7 is that there’s an AI mode in the camera that looks for objects it can identify and offers possible filters. It’s not very accurate or useful, but LG didn’t even develop any AI software or hardware for this phone. It just licensed a machine vision library from a third-party.

The LG G7 ThinQ is available from all major carriers in the US except AT&T. Apparently, AT&T chose to sell the LG V35 instead of the G7. This marks the third variant of the V30 that LG has sold since it debuted last year. At other carriers, the G7 ThinQ will run you $750, give or take a few dollars. Carriers offer payment plans to split the cost over two years. It will launch on Google’s Project Fi soon, as well. If you don’t want to go through carriers, the phone is also available from Amazon.

 

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