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Amazon: Nearly 20,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19

Inside Telecom Staff

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Amazon Covid-19

Amazon said Thursday that nearly 20,000 of its front-line U.S. workers have tested positive or been presumed positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

But the online retail behemoth, revealing the data for the first time, said that the infection rate of its employees was well below that seen in the general U.S. population. The disclosure comes after months of pressure from Amazon workers and labor groups calling for the company to divulge the COVID-19 numbers.

Amazon said in a corporate blog that it provided the data as part of its effort to keep employees informed, and to share details and best practices with governments and other companies.

“We hope other large companies will also release their detailed learnings and case rates because doing so will help all of us,” Amazon said. “This is not an arena where companies should compete — this is an arena where companies should help one another.”

The Seattle-based company said that it examined data from March 1 to Sept. 19 on 1.37 million workers at Amazon and Whole Foods Market across the U.S.

It said it compared the COVID-19 case rates to the general population, as reported by Johns Hopkins University for the same period. Based on that analysis, if the rate among Amazon and Whole Foods employees were the same as that for the general population, it estimated it would have seen 33,952 cases among its workforce. That is 42% higher that Amazon’s actual rate.

The company also said it is conducting thousands of tests a day, which will grow to 50,000 tests a day across 650 sites by November.

Companies have no legal obligation to publicly reveal how many of their workers have contracted the virus, and few are doing so.

Employers do have to provide a safe working environment, which means they must alert staff if they might have been exposed to the virus, according to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that enforces workplace safety. They are also obligated to keep track of COVID-19 infections contracted on the job, and must report to OSHA if there is a hospitalization or death related to the disease.

A perceived lack of transparency has left workers at various retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, to become amateur sleuths in their spare time. Unions and advocate groups have taken up the cause, too, creating lists or building online maps of stores where workers can self-report cases they know about.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press Thursday night, Walmart said that “we believe that Walmart associates’ rate of infection tracks, or is below, the current rate of infection of the general public nationwide.” It didn’t explain why it doesn’t provide numbers.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery and meatpacking workers, called Amazon’s disclosure as “the most damning evidence we have seen that corporate America has completely failed to protect our country’s frontline workers in this pandemic.”

UFCW is calling for immediate action by federal regulators and a full congressional investigation.

“This titanic safety failure demands the highest level of scrutiny,” Perrone said.

NEW YORK (AP) — By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO AP Retail Writer.

AP Retail writers Joseph Pisani and Alexandra Olson contributed to this report.

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Here’s why Ant Group is about to shatter IPO records

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HONG KONG (AP) — Stella Su, who lives and works in Shanghai, has used an ATM only once in the past year. Instead of cash, in recent years she has done almost all her business using the digital wallet Alipay –- shopping in a mall, buying stuff online or transferring money to friends.

“Now when I go out, I don’t even need to carry my wallet, all I need is my phone,” said Su, one of over a billion Alipay users in China and abroad.

Alipay, operated by Ant Group, is the world’s largest and most valuable financial technology (fintech) company and one of two dominant Chinese digital wallets in China, the other being rival Tencent’s WeChat Pay.

Thanks to the huge scale and potential of China’s fintech landscape, Ant Group is poised to raise about $34.5 billion in the world’s largest share offering, beating Saudi Aramco’s previous record of $29.4 billion. Ahead of the IPO, the company will be valued at about $280 billion.

To tap both Chinese and global investors, Ant Group is listing its shares both in Shanghai and Hong Kong. It is due to begin trading in Hong Kong on Nov. 5. The Shanghai debut has yet to be announced.

Even before announcing its IPO plans, Ant Group was the world’s most valuable fintech company, with a valuation of $150 billion after a 2018 fundraising round.

“Ant Group is much more than PayPal which only processes financial payments. It has a lot of businesses in other areas and with other services that would help 1.3 billion people in China,” Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital Ltd., said in an interview. “We are betting that Ant Group will be able to grow at a very high pace in the future.”

Alipay and WeChat Pay have helped make Chinese society virtually cashless, at least in big cities, with consumers and merchants alike relying on digital payments using their phones.

“Think of Alipay as Visa, MasterCard, Citibank, Fidelity… all rolled up into one,” said Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. “On the Alipay platform, you pay for things, you buy insurance, you buy wealth management. Your whole life revolves around Alipay.”

Walk into a supermarket in China and one would be hard-pressed to find a customer digging around for loose change to pay for groceries. Instead, cashiers scan a QR code on a customer’s smartphone to deduct money from their Alipay or WeChat Pay digital wallets. The transaction takes seconds.

In restaurants, groups of friends often split the bill by transferring money to each other using their digital wallets, similar to how the Venmo app is used in the U.S.

“Ant Group is so valuable because Alipay is used on a day to day basis by a billion people on all of their purchases,” said Rein. “The scale of fintech in China dwarfs the regular financial transaction potential in the United States.”

Alipay evolved from e-commerce giant Alibaba, which was founded by Jack Ma in 1999 to help match buyers and sellers in China’s fast growing market. When Alibaba launched consumer e-commerce platform Taobao to rival eBay in China, Alipay was introduced as a payments method to boost users’ trust in the platform. Today, Alipay’s reach extends to almost every aspect of life related to money.

Ma’s foresight has made him the wealthiest person in China, with a fortune estimated at $58.8 billion according to the Hurun Research Institute, which follows the country’s wealthy.

Alipay was created in 2004 to serve as an escrow service between buyers and sellers on Alibaba’s e-commerce consumer platform Taobao. It held funds from buyers to be released to sellers after goods were received. Alipay’s revenue mostly comes from transaction fees charged to merchants. Users can link their bank cards directly to Alipay to top up their wallets, and transfers can also be withdrawn from users’ bank accounts.

Alibaba, which currently owns a third of Ant Group, spun off Alipay in 2011. The company was later rebranded as Ant as the company expanded the range of its financial services.

One of those is Zhima Credit – -a private credit-scoring system that rates the trustworthiness and creditworthiness of its users based on data such as whether users pay their bills on time via Alipay.

Zhima Credit scores can help people take out small loans from Ant Group’s consumer credit services Huabei and Jiebei to finance such things as iPhone purchases or school expenses. Such loans are hugely popular in China, where credit card usage is low and most people have no official credit history and are unable to borrow from banks.

Ant Group’s money market fund, called Yu’e Bao -– one of the world’s largest –- lets people put idle cash in their Alipay wallets to work and reap returns on investments as small as 100 yuan ($15).

“In the past, wealth management products offered by banks had many requirements, maybe a minimum of 50,000 yuan (about $7,500),” said Chen Zhoumin, who works in a bank in Zhengzhou, a city in central China’s Henan province. “But Alipay has made it very convenient to invest money, because it made wealth management accessible and convenient.”

To compete with Yu’e Bao, banks have begun providing more flexible investment products with lower capital requirements, said Chen, who often invests idle cash in Yu’e Bao since it’s easy to do.

“Digital wallets like Alipay and WeChat have revolutionized payments in China,” he said. “Now, there’s also less worry that we might get counterfeit notes, or that our wallets may get stolen or robbed since everything is done digitally now.”

By ZEN SOO AP Technology Writer

AP journalist Alice Fung in Hong Kong and researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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3 social media CEOs face grilling by GOP senators on bias

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The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are facing a grilling by Republican senators making unfounded allegations that the tech giants show anti-conservative bias.

The Senate Commerce Committee has summoned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai to testify for a hearing Wednesday. The executives agreed to appear remotely after being threatened with subpoenas.

With the presidential election looming, Republicans led by President Donald Trump have thrown a barrage of grievances at Big Tech’s social media platforms, which they accuse without evidence of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views.

The chorus of protest rose this month after Facebook and Twitter acted to limit dissemination of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, an unprecedented action against a major media outlet. The story, which was not confirmed by other publications, cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by Trump allies.

Beyond questioning the CEOs, senators are expected to examine proposals to revise long-held legal protections for online speech, an immunity that critics in both parties say enables the companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate content.

The Justice Department has asked Congress to strip some of the bedrock protections that have generally shielded the tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms. Trump signed an executive order challenging the protections from lawsuits under the 1996 telecommunications law.

“For too long, social media platforms have hidden behind Section 230 protections to censor content that deviates from their beliefs,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the Commerce Committee chairman, said recently.

In their opening statements prepared for the hearing, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai addressed the proposals for changes to so-called Section 230, a provision of a 1996 law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

“We don’t think tech companies should be making so many decisions about these important issues alone,” he said, approving an active role for government regulators.

Dorsey and Pichai, however, urged caution in making any changes. “Undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online,” Dorsey said.

Pichai urged lawmakers “to be very thoughtful about any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers.”

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told congressional leaders in a letter Tuesday that recent events have made the changes more urgent. He cited the action by Twitter and Facebook regarding the New York Post story, calling the companies’ limitations “quite concerning.”

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, recently announced plans to reexamine the legal protections, potentially putting meat on the bones of Trump’s order by opening the way to new rules. The move by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, marked an about-face from the agency’s previous position.

Social media giants are also under heavy scrutiny for their efforts to police misinformation about the election. Twitter and Facebook have slapped a misinformation label on content from the president, who has around 80 million followers. Trump has raised the baseless prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process.

Starting Tuesday, Facebook was not accepting any new political advertising. Previously booked political ads will be able to run until the polls close next Tuesday, when all political advertising will temporarily be banned. Google, which owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls close. Twitter banned all political ads last year.

Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on hate speech, misinformation and other content that can incite violence or keep people from voting. They have criticized Big Tech CEOs for failing to police content, homing in on the platforms’ role in hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the U.S.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have scrambled to stem the tide of material that incites violence and spreads lies and baseless conspiracy theories.

The companies reject accusations of bias but have wrestled with how strongly they should intervene. They have often gone out of their way not to appear biased against conservative views — a posture that some say effectively tilts them toward those viewpoints. The effort has been especially strained for Facebook, which was caught off-guard in 2016, when it was used as a conduit by Russian agents to spread misinformation benefiting Trump’s presidential campaign.

The unwelcome attention to the three companies piles onto the anxieties in the tech industry, which also faces scrutiny from the Justice Department, federal regulators, Congress and state attorneys general around the country.

Last week, the Justice Department sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

With antitrust in the spotlight, Facebook, Apple and Amazon also are under investigation at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.


By MARCY GORDON AP Business Writer – WASHINGTON (AP)

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Chinese FinTech could shatter records with $35B share offer

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The world’s largest fintech company, China’s Ant Group, will try to raise nearly $35 billion in a massive public offering of stock that would shatter records.

Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group, which operates a suite of financial products including the widely-used Alipay digital wallet in China and one of the world’s largest money market funds, will hold dual listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Its Shanghai stock was priced at 68.8 yuan ($10.26) each, while its Hong Kong stock is priced at 80 Hong Kong dollars apiece ($10.32), according to filings on Monday.

The company will raise about $34.5 billion from the share offering, which is expected to surpass oil company Saudi Aramco’s $29 billion share sale last year, making Ant Group’s offering the biggest in the world.

Ant Group will list on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Nov. 5, according to an exchange filing. A trading date for Shanghai has not been fixed.

The company has its origins in Alipay, which was initially created to serve as an escrow service between buyers and sellers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform. Alipay would hold the money paid by the buyer until the transaction was complete, before releasing the funds to the sellers in order to boost trust on the platform among consumers.

In 2011, Alipay was spun off from Alibaba into a separate company. It was later renamed Ant Financial, before its recent name change to Ant Group.

Over the years, Ant has introduced more financial services, and now operates Alipay as a digital wallet which allows users in China to transfer money to others and pay for purchases both online and offline. Its money market fund Yu’e Bao is also among the world’s largest.

In recent years, Ant Group has also partnered with digital wallets around the world and expanded its services to merchants to allow Chinese tourists to pay via Alipay abroad. The company has over a billion users globally.

Ahead of the IPO, Ant Group would be valued at about $280 billion. If the company exercises its greenshoe option, which would allow it to sell more shares than initially planned, it could raise another $5.17 billion, taking its valuation to about $320 billion.

The company plans to issue up to 1.67 billion shares in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, taking the total number of shares issued to about 3.4 billion.

Alibaba, which currently owns a third of Ant Group, will subscribe to 730 million shares and will hold a stake of about 32% after the IPO.

The pricing announcements for Ant Group’s dual IPOs also came days after Alibaba founder Jack Ma called the company’s offering a “miracle”, as it was the first time that such a big listing was priced outside of New York.

“We didn’t dare think about it five years, or even three years ago,” Ma said at a financial conference in Shanghai on Saturday.

Ma also criticized banks in China, saying that they were operated like “pawn shops” since they typically require one to have sufficient collateral before making loans.

He advocated for financial reform, saying that China’s relatively young financial system should be driven by technologies such as big data, cloud computing and blockchain, instead of following traditional methods of banking that involves large amounts of red-tape.

HONG KONG (AP) — By ZEN SOO undefined.

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