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Can AI flag disease outbreaks faster than humans? Not quite

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BOSTON —
Did an artificial-intelligence system beat human doctors in warning the world of a severe coronavirus outbreak in China?

In a narrow sense, yes. But what the humans lacked in sheer speed, they more than made up in finesse.

Early warnings of disease outbreaks can help people and governments save lives. In the final days of 2019, an AI system in Boston sent out the first global alert about a new viral outbreak in China. But it took human intelligence to recognize the significance of the outbreak and then awaken response from the public health community.

What’s more, the mere mortals produced a similar alert only a half-hour behind the AI systems.

For now, AI-powered disease-alert systems can still resemble car alarms — easily triggered and sometimes ignored. A network of medical experts and sleuths must still do the hard work of sifting through rumors to piece together the fuller picture. It’s difficult to say what future AI systems, powered by ever larger datasets on outbreaks, may be able to accomplish.

The first public alert outside China about the novel coronavirus came on Dec. 30 from the automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital. At 11:12 p.m. local time, HealthMap sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The system, which scans online news and social media reports, ranked the alert’s seriousness as only 3 out of 5. It took days for HealthMap researchers to recognize its importance.

Four hours before the HealthMap notice, New York epidemiologist Marjorie Pollack had already started working on her own public alert, spurred by a growing sense of dread after reading a personal email she received that evening.

“This is being passed around the internet here,” wrote her contact, who linked to a post on the Chinese social media forum Pincong. The post discussed a Wuhan health agency notice and read in part: “Unexplained pneumonia???”

Pollack, deputy editor of the volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, known as ProMed, quickly mobilized a team to look into it. ProMed’s more detailed report went out about 30 minutes after the terse HealthMap alert.

Early warning systems that scan social media, online news articles and government reports for signs of infectious disease outbreaks help inform global agencies such as the World Health Organization — giving international experts a head start when local bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers might otherwise get in the way.

Some systems, including ProMed, rely on human expertise. Others are partly or completely automated.

“These tools can help hold feet to the fire for government agencies,” said John Brownstein, who runs the HealthMap system as chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It forces people to be more open.”

The last 48 hours of 2019 were a critical time for understanding the new virus and its significance. Earlier on Dec. 30, Wuhan Central Hospital doctor Li Wenliang warned his former classmates about the virus in a social media group — a move that led local authorities to summon him for questioning several hours later.

Li, who died Feb. 7 after contracting the virus, told The New York Times that it would have been better if officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier. “There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.

ProMed reports are often incorporated into other outbreak warning systems. including those run by the World Health Organization, the Canadian government and the Toronto startup BlueDot. WHO also pools data from HealthMap and other sources.

Computer systems that scan online reports for information about disease outbreaks rely on natural language processing, the same branch of artificial intelligence that helps answer questions posed to a search engine or digital voice assistant.

But the algorithms can only be as effective as the data they are scouring, said Nita Madhav, CEO of San Francisco-based disease monitoring firm Metabiota, which first notified its clients about the outbreak in early January.

Madhav said that inconsistency in how different agencies report medical data can stymie algorithms. The text-scanning programs extract keywords from online text, but may fumble when organizations variously report new virus cases, cumulative virus cases, or new cases in a given time interval. The potential for confusion means there’s almost always still a person involved in reviewing the data.

“There’s still a bit of human in the loop,” Madhav said.

Andrew Beam, a Harvard University epidemiologist, said that scanning online reports for key words can help reveal trends, but the accuracy depends on the quality of the data. He also notes that these techniques aren’t so novel.

“There is an art to intelligently scraping web sites,” Beam said. “But it’s also Google’s core technology since the 1990s.”

Google itself started its own Flu Trends service to detect outbreaks in 2008 by looking for patterns in search queries about flu symptoms. Experts criticized it for overestimating flu prevalence. Google shut down the website in 2015 and handed its technology to nonprofit organizations such as HealthMap to use Google data to build their own models.

Google is now working with Brownstein’s team on a similar web-based approach for tracking the geographical spread of tick-borne Lyme disease.

Scientists are also using big data to model possible routes of early disease transmission.

In early January, Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and researcher at Toronto General Hospital, analyzed commercial flight data with BlueDot founder Kamran Khan to see which cities outside mainland China were most connected to Wuhan.

Wuhan stopped outbound commercial air travel in late January — but not before an estimated 5 million people had fled the city, as the Wuhan mayor later told reporters.

“We showed that the highest volume of flights from Wuhan were to Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong,” Bogoch said. “Lo and behold, a few days later we started to see cases pop up in these places.”

In 2016, the researchers used a similar approach to predict the spread of the Zika virus from Brazil to southern Florida.

Now that many governments have launched aggressive measures to curb disease transmission, it’s harder to build algorithms to predict what’s next, Bogoch said.

Artificial intelligence systems depend on vast amounts of prior data to train computers how to interpret new facts. But there are no close parallels to the way China is enforcing quarantine zones that impact hundreds of millions of people.

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Larson reported from Washington.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Insider Q&A: Facebook VP of Messenger discusses privacy

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Government officials worry about Facebook’s plans to extend end-to-end encryption to Messenger

SAN FRANCISCO —
At Facebook, Stan Chudnovsky oversees the Messenger chat app that’s used by well over 1 billion people each month. He’s playing a key role in helping Facebook integrate that app with its other chat tools, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct.

The massive project has already gotten pushback from regulators worried about Facebook’s size and power. Government officials also worry about Facebook’s plans to extend end-to-end encryption to Messenger. Once that happens, Facebook wouldn’t be able to respond to law enforcement subpoenas because it wouldn’t have a way to unscramble messages.

Chudnovsky, who moved to the U.S. from Russia in 1994, joined Facebook in 2015. He spoke with The Associated Press recently about his work and views on privacy. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the biggest roadblocks in bringing end-to-end encryption?

A: It’s technologically hard to move from the system that is alive and functioning and has billions of messages being sent every day to where it’s done completely differently architecturally. We also need to figure out how to do as much as we can on safety, while being the leaders on privacy. We are trying to go through that process slowly and very responsibly while talking to everyone.

Most messages in the U.S., where (Apple’s) iMessage is leading, are already end-to-end encrypted. We want to make sure that we get to the point when we lead very strongly and we do as much on safety as we possibly can given the constraints of end-to-end encryption.

Q: How do you ensure that people are safe when you can’t see bad things people are doing?

A: We are going to continue to work very closely with law enforcement on whatever we can provide. We also have connectivity to social networks. Whoever is a bad player on social networks, we will be able to see if those bad players exist on messaging services.

I don’t want to go into details on how we are thinking about approaching that stuff. But we’re just going to invest heavily in identifying threats earlier,

Q: You can send things in a private message that you can’t post on Facebook, right?

A: Definitely. You should be able to send whatever you want to send in a private message.

Q: What if it’s illegal or hurting someone?

A: Generally we believe that conversation between people should be private. We don’t make a difference between the conversations that are happening in the living room or on the phone and conversations that are happening in a private chat.

Q: What if you try to sell a gun, despite Facebook’s ban?

A: If you’re trying to sell a gun, you are probably trying to sell a gun to many people. When someone reports that and someone provides the messages that from the point of that person are illegal, then definitely we will be able to look at that.

Q: What are the biggest things that you have to figure out before interoperability becomes reality?

A: Generally, just a features compatibility in the sense that, if I “like” some message on one app, how does it manifest itself in another? Or will I be able to also call people, not only send messages?

Q: Do you think scrutiny of Facebook will ease any time soon?

A: We have a lot of responsibility. And the criticism, sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s not accurate. At the end of the day, what it means if everyone’s talking about you positively or negatively or both, is that you’re important. We just need to continue to deliver value to people. And as long as we are building products that people like. I think it’s going to be fine.

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Focus turns to Latino authors amid ‘American Dirt’ debate

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Latino activists say they hope the controversy around the novel “American Dirt” brings more attention to recent and overlooked works by Latino writers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —
When Oprah Winfrey endorsed the novel “American Dirt” for her book club last month, many Latinos took to social media to decry the selection for its stereotypes and caricatures.

The novel about a Mexican mother and her young son fleeing to the U.S. border had been praised widely before its Jan. 21 release. But anger built over “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins — a writer who primarily identifies as white — and Latinos shared reading lists and pointed to recent work that went overlooked, offering “alternative” options for those who wanted to read about the Latino experience in the United States.

Across the U.S., Latino writers say they are seeing a jump in sales of those works following social media campaigns to draw more attention to Latino literature as big New York publishers face criticism for ignoring the work or not promoting it enough.

Nicolas Kanellos, founder and publisher of Houston-based Arte Publico Press, the largest publisher of Hispanic literature in the U.S., said he noticed last month some of his books by immigrant writers selling out.

“I’m not on Twitter but my staff told me some of our books were appearing on these lists as suggestions,” Kanellos said. “They are gone now.”

Journalist and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, who Cummings cited as an influence, reported seeing sales of his early 2019 novel “The House of Broken Angels” jump to his surprise. It was one of the books mentioned on social media.

“Thank you. #14 on the LA Times bestseller list. Again,” Urrea wrote on Facebook. “Big Angel keeps coming back.”

Wendy C. Ortiz’s memoir “Excavation” in California’s San Fernando Valley also sold out on Amazon.

Others suggested readers buy the novel “Dominicana” by New York-born Angie Cruz and El Paso-born Sergio Troncoso’s short story collection, “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant Son” — works released last year.

PEN-award winner and Fresno, California-born writer Daniel Chacón’s “Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall” also was recommended as a work to understand life on the borderlands. The collection was sought out as comfort following the August 2019 killing of 22 people in a shooting that targeted Mexicans in El Paso, Texas.

In addition, Latino advocates told followers to look out for new work from memoirist and essayist Luis J. Rodriguez, who released on last month, “From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys and Imaginings From a Native Xicanx Writer.”

“I’ve seen interest in my new book. Yeah, people are asking about it,” said Matt Sedillo, a Los Angeles-based poet and author of “Mowing Leaves of Grass.” He’s also getting more offers to visit colleges to read his work.

Myriam Gurba, a Long Beach, California-based writer who has been a vocal critic of Cummins, said she saw “no silver lining” in the controversy of “American Dirt.” She said readers should have been picking up books by Latinos writers anyway.

Gurba and a group of other Latino writers called #DignidadLiteraria met with publisher Macmillan (Flatiron Books, which published “American Dirt,” is a division of Macmillan) this week to demand the publisher hire more Latino staff.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the Latino civil rights group the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he didn’t have a problem with non-Latinos writing about immigration. “But it’s important to have a conversation with publishers about who is getting published and the lack of Latinos in the industry,” he said.

In New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanic residents, the conversation shifted this week from “American Dirt” to Levi Romero. The bilingual Spanish-English poet was named as the state’s inaugural poet laureate. He will document his travels around the state to promote poetry through a web journal and podcast.

Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, an Albuquerque-based writer and author of “One Day I’ll Tell You the Things I’ve Seen,” said he’s happy Latino works are getting recognized but he hopes the interests doesn’t die down. “Let’s not be angry for two weeks and forget about it,” Vaquera-Vásquez said. “Let’s be angry for months.”

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Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras



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PayPal drops out of Libra, Fb’s funds mission

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PayPal has pulled out of Fb’s digital forex mission, often called Libra, a blow to the social media firm that has confronted stronger-than-expected scrutiny over its proposed creation of another funds system.

The digital funds firm mentioned Friday it’s withdrawing from the Libra Affiliation so it will probably give attention to its current companies.

“Fb has been a longstanding and valued strategic associate to PayPal, and we are going to proceed to associate with and help Fb in numerous capacities,” PayPal mentioned.

Fb has introduced Libra as a forex that might be used for digital funds, notably exterior the U.S. It could be backed by actual forex, in contrast to different digital currencies like Bitcoin or Etherium.

The Libra Affiliation, primarily based in Switzerland, was supposed to offer the forex mission a cushty arm’s size distance from Fb, which would not personal Libra.

Regardless of Fb’s efforts, monetary regulators in addition to members of Congress have questioned the corporate’s motives for creating a brand new digital forex, notably in mild of criticisms that Fb’s enterprise mannequin is just too invasive of its customers’ privateness.

Rep. Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the Home Monetary Providers Committee, has demanded Fb founder Mark Zuckerberg testify in entrance of her committee earlier than Libra is rolled out. Together with privateness issues, Waters’ has cited the potential for Libra for use in cash laundering and different monetary crimes.

Republicans and Democrats and even President Donald Trump have known as for in numerous levels for Fb to be topic to U.S. banking legal guidelines — an arduous, sophisticated prospect — if the social media firm does transfer ahead with the Libra mission. In response, Fb has reportedly employed a number of outstanding Washington lobbyists to persuade politicians to offer their approval to Libra.

PayPal Holdings Inc., which is predicated in San Jose, California, is the primary firm to publicly finish its partnership with Libra, however different firms have been reportedly having second ideas. The Wall Road Journal reported this week that Mastercard and Visa, the world’s largest fee suppliers, have been contemplating ending their Libra relationships.

The Libra Affiliation mentioned it plans to proceed to maneuver ahead with the mission with out PayPal.

“Constructing (Libra) is a journey, not a vacation spot … every group that began this journey should make its personal evaluation of dangers and rewards of being dedicated to seeing by way of the change that Libra guarantees,” mentioned Dante Disparte, head of coverage and communications for the Libra Affiliation.

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Senate tech critic to Fb CEO: Promote WhatsApp, Instagram

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As Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg met Thursday with President Donald Trump and different critics of the tech business, the Senate’s most vocal detractor supplied a problem: Promote your WhatsApp and Instagram properties to show you are severe about defending knowledge privateness.

It might have been greater than Zuckerberg anticipated from his personal assembly with Sen. Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican from Missouri, in his Capitol Hill workplace. Zuckerberg left the hourlong assembly — one in all a number of with lawmakers on Capitol Hill — with out answering questions from a throng of reporters and photographers pursuing him down a hallway.

Hawley, although, had loads to say. “The corporate talks so much. I would wish to see some motion,” he advised reporters. “I’ll imagine Fb once I see some actual motion out of Fb.”

Reasonably than shifting customers’ private knowledge from properties similar to WhatsApp and Instagram to the core Fb platform, the corporate ought to put a wall across the companies or, higher but, promote them off, Hawley stated he advised Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, who requested the assembly, “didn’t suppose that was an excellent concept,” he stated.

Zuckerberg “had , constructive assembly with President Trump on the White Home in the present day,” a Fb spokesman stated. On Fb and Twitter, Trump posted a photograph with the caption, “Good assembly with Mark Zuckerberg of Fb within the Oval Workplace in the present day.”

No particulars got on the assembly, first reported by the Axios web site.

Trump has persistently criticized social media firms like Fb, Google, Amazon and his platform of selection, Twitter, embracing conservative critics’ accusations that they censor non secular, anti-abortion and politically conservative views. Trump has claimed, with out proof, that the businesses are “in opposition to me” and even prompt U.S. regulators ought to sue them on grounds of anti-conservative bias.

A Fb spokesman declined to touch upon Hawley’s remarks regarding his assembly with Zuckerberg.

The favored companies WhatsApp and Instagram are amongst some 70 firms that Fb has acquired over the previous 15 years or so, giving it what critics say is very large market energy that has allowed it to snuff out competitors.

Zuckerberg’s dialogue with Hawley touched on business competitors, knowledge privateness laws, election safety and accusations by conservatives that Fb and different social media giants are biased in opposition to right-leaning content material.

Throughout his go to, Zuckerberg additionally met with different senators together with Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mike Lee, R-Utah, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. He additionally declined to reply reporters’ questions when he left Lee’s workplace earlier within the afternoon.

Lee’s workplace stated the 2 mentioned bias in opposition to conservatives on Fb’s platform, regulation of on-line companies, enforcement of antitrust legal guidelines within the tech business and knowledge privateness points.

Congress has been debating a privateness regulation that might sharply rein within the capacity of firms like Fb, Google, Amazon and Apple to gather and earn a living off customers’ private knowledge. A nationwide regulation, which might be the primary of its type within the U.S., may enable individuals to see or prohibit use of their knowledge.

Performing preemptively, Zuckerberg final spring referred to as for tighter rules to guard shoppers’ knowledge, management dangerous on-line content material and guarantee election integrity and knowledge portability. The web “wants new guidelines,” he stated.

It was Zuckerberg’s first public go to to Washington since he testified earlier than Congress final spring about privateness, election interference and different points.

Fb, a social media large primarily based in Menlo Park, California, with almost 2.5 billion customers, is underneath heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a collection of privateness scandals and amid accusations of abuse of its market energy to squash competitors.

The Justice Division, the Federal Commerce Fee and the Home Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting antitrust investigations of the large tech firms, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys common has opened a contest probe particularly of Fb.

At Fb’s request, Warner helped manage a dinner assembly in Washington on Wednesday evening for Zuckerberg and a bunch of senators.

Warner advised The Related Press he wished Zuckerberg to listen to his Senate colleagues’ “monumental issues about privateness and about defending the integrity of our political system.”

Their message for the Fb chief was “self-regulation is just not going to be the reply,” Warner stated. “I believe Zuckerberg understood that.”

Warner and Hawley have proposed laws that might power the tech giants to inform customers what knowledge they’re accumulating and the way a lot it is value. The proposal goes to the center of Massive Tech’s massively worthwhile enterprise mannequin of commerce in customers’ private knowledge. The businesses collect huge knowledge on what customers learn and like, and leverage it to assist advertisers goal their messages to people they wish to attain.

The tech firms view with explicit alarm a separate legislative proposal from Hawley that might require them to show to regulators that they are not utilizing political bias to filter content material. Failing to safe a bias-free audit from the federal government would imply a social media platform loses its long-held immunity from authorized motion.

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Fb expands new device aiming to shrink ‘information deserts’

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Fb is making an attempt to coax “information deserts” into bloom with the second main enlargement of a device that exposes individuals to extra native information and knowledge. However the social community confesses that it nonetheless has so much to study.

The social media large mentioned Thursday it’s increasing its “At the moment In” service to six,000 cities and cities throughout the U.S., up from 400 earlier than.

Launched in early 2018, the service lets Fb customers decide into native info, together with information articles, missing-person alerts, native election outcomes, highway closures and crime experiences. Fb aggregates posts from the official Fb pages for information organizations, colleges, authorities businesses and neighborhood teams like canine shelters.

The mobile-only device lives inside the Fb app; turning it on provides native updates to a person’s common information feed. In areas with scant native information, Fb will add related articles from surrounding areas.

Some 1,800 newspapers have closed in the USA over the previous 15 years, in keeping with analysis from the College of North Carolina. Newsroom employment has declined by 45% because the trade struggles with a damaged enterprise mannequin partly brought on by the success of corporations on the web, together with Fb.

Campbell Brown, head of world information partnerships at Fb, mentioned Fb has a duty to help journalism, whereas additionally noting that the media trade has been in decline “for a really very long time.” Brown, a former information anchor and host at NBC and CNN, mentioned native reporting stays a very powerful type of journalism at present.

“There isn’t a silver bullet,” Brown mentioned in an interview. “We actually wish to assist publishers deal with challenges in native markets.”

Warren St. John, CEO of hyperlocal information service Patch, mentioned the service means potential new readers as a result of it goes to individuals who have not essentially preferred a Patch Fb web page.

“Fb has taken its lumps, maybe rightly so during the last couple of years, however I believe what they’ve carried out round native information is fairly distinctive,” he mentioned. This consists of grants and accelerator applications for native information organizations, “passing the experience and information of a Silicon Valley tech agency all the way down to the native writer ecosystem.”

At the moment In will not robotically activate for individuals even within the areas it serves, which might restrict its attain. Up to now, Fb says, 1.6 million individuals have activated the function and obtain information from some 1,200 publishers each week.

The service has no human editors and makes use of software program filters to weed out objectionable content material. Tweaking the algorithm to search out related native tales has been difficult. Does a highway closure matter if it is 100 miles away? How a couple of homicide?

Already, Fb says it is realized from publishers’ enter about what does not work. As an illustration, it now permits solely posts from publishers registered with its “Information web page index,” which suggests they meet pointers resembling specializing in present occasions and knowledge, and haven’t got a document of publishing misinformation. Obituaries from funeral houses and actual property posts — each of which beforehand confirmed up below “information” — are not eligible.

Fb has additionally realized that native information does not work like nationwide information. Political tales, for example, do not generate loads of native curiosity.

Fb is not paying licensing charges or sharing advert income with these information retailers. However the firm says publishers get extra referrals to their web sites, extra so than when individuals see the identical tales of their common information feed, based mostly on knowledge from its check companions.

Whereas individuals scroll by means of their information feeds passively, individuals have interaction with articles extra once they seem in At the moment In, mentioned Jimmy O’Keefe, a product advertising supervisor at Fb.

Google additionally introduced adjustments to its information service Thursday, saying it will barely alter its search system so unique information tales on a subject present up earlier than follow-ups or repeated information from different publications. Much like Fb, the corporate has been engaged on exhibiting information articles from authoritative, confirmed publications.

Outdoors researchers finding out native information knowledge offered by Fb discovered that about half of the information tales within the At the moment In function met what they referred to as a “vital info want” within the communities it served.

The researchers mentioned Fb customers interacted essentially the most with tales serving a vital want — resembling info on emergencies, transportation and well being — although “non-critical” tales resembling sports activities had been extra quite a few. The researchers — Matthew Weber on the College of Minnesota and Peter Andringa and Philip Napoli at Duke College — obtained no funding from Fb.

Massive metro areas resembling New York Metropolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco are nonetheless excluded from At the moment In. The abundance of reports and inhabitants density there makes it tougher to offer related native info. A giant native story in Brooklyn, for example, is perhaps irrelevant in the identical borough only a few miles away.

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Illinois lawsuit filed towards high e-cigarette maker

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An Illinois teenager who fell sick with a lung illness after vaping for over a 12 months sued a number one e-cigarette maker on Friday, accusing it of intentionally advertising and marketing to younger individuals and sending the message that vaping is cool.

Attorneys filed a lawsuit in Lake County Circuit Courtroom on behalf of 18-year-old Adam Hergenreder, who was hospitalized on the finish of August for a couple of week after complaining of nausea and labored respiration.

The 85-page go well with argued Juul Labs conveyed in commercials and thru social media campaigns that youngsters may enhance their social standing by vaping. It additionally stated Juul by no means totally disclose their merchandise comprise harmful chemical compounds.

“To place it mildly, Adam did not stand an opportunity to keep away from getting hooked on these poisonous timebombs,” stated Hergenreder’s lawyer, Antonio Romanucci.

The submitting comes as well being officers examine a whole bunch of respiration diseases nationwide reported in individuals who used vaping gadgets. An Illinois man died in August after contracting a lung illness linked to vaping.

Hergenreder just lately informed the Chicago Tribune that final 12 months he began shopping for home made gadgets crammed with THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana, off the road. Vaping corporations say blame ought to be placed on these black-market gadgets, referred to as dab sticks, for a spate of hospitalizations.

Friday’s lawsuit didn’t immediately increase that problem, together with whether or not it’s attainable that the makeshift gadgets containing THC may have prompted or contributed to Hergenreder’s sickness.

Hergenreder, from the Chicago suburb of Gurnee, was launched from the hospital on Sept. 6 with “important lung injury,” in line with the lawsuit. He appeared together with his mom and his lawyer at a Friday information convention asserting the litigation.

San Francisco-based Juul stated in a Friday assertion that it is “by no means marketed to youth” and has ongoing campaigns to fight underage use. It added that its merchandise are supposed to assist grownup people who smoke wean themselves off conventional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes, which Juul referred to as “the deadliest authorized shopper product recognized to man.”

Among the many precautions Juul stated it is taken to make sure younger individuals aren’t drawn to its e-cigarettes was to shut Juul’s Fb and Instagram accounts. The corporate stated it has additionally deployed expertise that restricts a sale till somebody’s age is verified.

The brand new lawsuit accused Juul of typically counting on oblique promoting to kids, together with by using social media customers with enormous followings to advertise Juul merchandise in tweets or Instagram posts.

The lawsuit additionally names a fuel station in Waukegan as a defendant, accusing it of recurrently promoting Hergenreder nicotine-based Juul merchandise when he was too younger to legally purchase them. Federal legislation prohibits e-cigarette and all different tobacco gross sales to these below 18.

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Lawmakers ask four large tech firms for paperwork in probe

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Lawmakers investigating the market dominance of Huge Tech on Friday requested Google, Fb, Amazon and Apple for a broad vary of paperwork, marking a step ahead in Congress’ bipartisan probe of the businesses.

Letters went out to the 4 firms from the leaders of the Home Judiciary Committee and its subcommittee on antitrust, which has been conducting a sweeping investigation of the businesses and their affect on competitors and customers. The lawmakers are in search of an in depth and broad vary of paperwork associated to the businesses’ sprawling operations, together with high executives’ inner communications.

The transfer comes as scrutiny of the massive tech firms deepens and widens throughout the federal authorities and U.S. states and overseas. The Justice Division and the Federal Commerce Fee are conducting competitors investigations of the businesses, and state attorneys normal from each main political events have opened antitrust investigations of Google and Fb. The probe of Google has drawn participation by 50 states and territories.

“We’ve got to behave if we see that they are breaking the regulation,” Rohit Chopra, one of many FTC commissioners, stated Friday in an interview on CNBC. Chopra, a Democrat, would not affirm particularly names of firms that might be below investigation, however he stated the company is consulting intently with the Justice Division and the state attorneys normal as their work proceeds.

Additionally Friday, the European Union’s highly effective competitors chief indicated that she’s increasing rules on private knowledge, dropping an preliminary trace about how she plans to make use of new powers towards tech firms. Margrethe Vestager stated that whereas Europeans have management over their very own knowledge by the EU’s world-leading knowledge privateness guidelines, they do not tackle issues stemming from the way in which firms use different individuals’s knowledge “to attract conclusions about me or to undermine democracy.”

The bipartisan accord marking the Judiciary antitrust inquiry contrasts with the bitter divide within the panel over the difficulty of impeachment of President Donald Trump. Republicans denounced the committee Democrats’ approval Thursday of floor guidelines for hearings, which set the stage to launch an impeachment investigation.

“Democrats adopted the yellow brick street, and now they’re absolutely misplaced in Impeachment Oz,” stated Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s senior Republican.

The lawmakers set an Oct. 14 deadline for the tech firms to offer the paperwork.

Spokesmen for Fb, Apple and Amazon did not reply to requests for remark Friday. Google referred to a latest weblog submit by its senior vice chairman for world affairs, Kent Walker, saying the corporate is anticipating further questions from investigations and that “We’ve got all the time labored constructively with regulators and we’ll proceed to take action.”

The businesses have stated they’re going to cooperate absolutely with the congressional investigation.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., stated the paperwork will assist the committee perceive “whether or not they’re utilizing their market energy in ways in which have harmed customers and competitors and the way Congress ought to reply.”

The letters went to the 4 firms’ CEOs: Larry Web page of Google’s dad or mum firm Alphabet Inc.; Mark Zuckerberg of Fb; Jeff Bezos of Amazon; and Tim Cook dinner of Apple. They had been signed by Nadler and Collins; Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who heads the antitrust subcommittee main the investigation; and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the subcommittee’s senior Republican.

Cicilline has stated Congress and antitrust regulators wrongly allowed the massive tech firms to manage themselves, enabling them to function uncontrolled, dominating the web and choking off on-line innovation and entrepreneurship. He has urged legislative modifications could also be wanted, although he has known as breaking apart the businesses a final resort.

At a listening to of the antitrust panel in July, executives of the 4 firms pushed again towards lawmakers’ accusations that they function as monopolies, laying out methods wherein they are saying they compete pretty but vigorously towards rivals within the market.

Cicilline stated he was dissatisfied with the solutions the executives gave to lawmakers’ questions, calling their testimony “evasive.”

The letter to Fb requests a breakdown of firm earnings since 2016 on its high merchandise — together with Fb Adverts, Instagram and WhatsApp. It additionally seeks communications from Zuckerberg and different high executives associated to a California courtroom case wherein plaintiffs accuse the corporate of deceptively crushing hundreds of apps in 2015 whose companies had relied on their platform. Amongst different inner communications the letter seeks are these associated to 6 messaging, video- and photo-sharing apps particularly that Fb reduce off.

The lawmakers are in search of Fb executives’ emails on the choice to disclaim any particular apps or classes of apps entry to Fb knowledge about or shared by customers. This can be a concern as a result of critics say the corporate deliberately walled itself off from different on-line apps, enabling it to amass almost 2.5 billion customers with no clear competitor.

The letter to Alphabet seeks detailed monetary data and names of main rivals for Google’s huge operations, together with search, video service YouTube, the Android cellphone working system and Gmail. Inside communications the lawmakers are in search of embody these associated to Google’s 2007 acquisition of internet advertising firm DoubleClick — which critics usually level to as pivotal to Google’s promoting dominance.

For Amazon, the lawmakers search monetary knowledge and competitor names for Amazon Internet Companies, sensible audio system Alexa and Echo, Amazon Prime, Entire Meals and different properties, in addition to on its on-line retail, on-demand film and music streaming, digital promoting and cloud computing operations. A 2018 settlement with Apple to promote Apple merchandise on Amazon and to restrict the resellers that may promote Apple merchandise on Amazon is among the many selections being examined.

Monetary data and rivals are hunted for Apple’s App Retailer, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Siri, Apple Pay, Apple TV and Apple Watch. The lawmakers are enthusiastic about Apple’s determination to take away from the App Retailer or to impose restrictions on some screen-time and parental-control apps, and on the App Retailer algorithm that determines the ranked order of search apps on the positioning, amongst different areas.

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AP Know-how Author Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

Comply with Gordon on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mgordonap



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Alibaba’s Ma steps down as industry faces uncertainty

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Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, who helped launch China’s online retailing boom, stepped down as chairman of the world’s biggest e-commerce company Tuesday at a time when its fast-changing industry faces uncertainty amid a U.S.-Chinese tariff war.

Ma, one of China’s wealthiest and best-known entrepreneurs, gave up his post on his 55th birthday as part of a succession announced a year ago. He will stay on as a member of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of the company’s board of directors.

Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba in 1999 to connect Chinese exporters to American retailers.

The company has shifted focus to serving China’s growing consumer market and expanded into online banking, entertainment and cloud computing. Domestic businesses accounted for 66% of its $16.7 billion in revenue in the quarter ending in June.

Chinese retailing faces uncertainty amid a tariff war that has raised the cost of U.S. imports.

Growth in online sales decelerated to 17.8% in the first half of 2019 amid slowing Chinese economic growth, down from 2018’s full-year rate of 23.9%.

Alibaba says its revenue rose 42% over a year earlier in the quarter ending in June to $16.7 billion and profit rose 145% to $3.1 billion. Still, that was off slightly from 2018’s full-year revenue growth of 51%.

The total amount of goods sold across Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms rose 25% last year to $853 billion. By comparison, the biggest U.S. e-commerce company, Amazon.com Inc., reported total sales of $277 billion.

Alibaba’s deputy chairman, Joe Tsai, told reporters in May the company is “on the right side” of issues in U.S.-Chinese trade talks. Tsai said Alibaba stands to benefit from Beijing’s promise to increase imports and a growing consumer market.

Alibaba is one of a group of companies including Tencent Holding Ltd., a games and social media giant, search engine Baidu.com Inc. and e-commerce rival JD.com that have revolutionized shopping, entertainment and consumer services in China.

Alibaba was founded at a time when few Chinese were online. As internet use spread, the company expanded into consumer-focused retailing and services. Few Chinese used credit cards, so Alibaba created the Alipay online payments system.

Ma, known in Chinese as Ma Yun, appears regularly on television. At an annual Alibaba employee festival in Hanzhou, he has sung pop songs in costumes that have included blond wigs and leather jackets. He pokes fun at his own appearance, saying his oversize head and angular features make him look like the alien in director Steven Spielberg’s movie “E.T. The Extraterrestrial.”

The company’s $25 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014 was the biggest to date by a Chinese company.

The Hurun Report, which follows China’s wealth, estimates Ma’s fortune at $38 billion.

In 2015, Ma bought the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s biggest English-language newspaper.

Ma’s successor as chairman is CEO Daniel Zhang, a former accountant and 12-year veteran of Alibaba. He previously was president of its consumer-focused Tmall.com business unit.

Alibaba’s e-commerce business spans platforms including business-to-business Alibaba.com, which links foreign buyers with Chinese suppliers of goods from furniture to medical technology, and Tmall, with online shops for popular brands.

Alipay became a freestanding financial company, Ant Financial, in 2014. Alibaba also set up its own film studio and invested in logistics and delivery services.

Ma faced controversy when it disclosed in 2011 that Alibaba transferred control over Alipay to a company he controlled without immediately informing shareholders including Yahoo Inc. and Japan’s Softback.

Alibaba said the move was required to comply with Chinese regulations, but some financial analysts said the company was paid too little for a valuable asset. The dispute was later resolved by Alibaba, Yahoo and Softbank.

Corporate governance specialists have questioned the Alibaba Partnership, which gives Ma and a group of executives more control over the company than shareholders.

Ma has said that ensures Alibaba focuses on long-term development instead of responding to pressure from financial markets.

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Alibaba Group: www.alibaba.com

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How much do Trump tweets swing the market? Check “Volfefe”

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Financial markets have become so in thrall to President Donald Trump’s tweets that J.P. Morgan has created an index to help identify how much volatility they’re creating.

Strategists at the bank developed the “Volfefe” index by measuring which Trump tweets triggered big movements in Treasury yields, one of the world’s most closely followed markets and one that influences prices for stocks and nearly every other investment. J.P. Morgan said the index, whose name is reminiscent of Trump’s “covfefe” tweet, shows Trump’s tweets explain a “measureable fraction” of volatility, particularly in the market for shorter-term rates.

Trump has gotten more active on Twitter lately, averaging more than 20 tweets and retweets per day, up from five in early 2017. That means more opportunities for tweets that move markets, although only some of them actually do. The ones that have the biggest sway on the market focus on trade and the Federal Reserve, and J.P. Morgan says they often include the words “China,” ”billion” and “great.”

Trump’s tweets often hit the market around lunchtime on the East Coast and can cause a lot of indigestion. Consider Aug. 1, when Trump sent out a tweet at 1:26 p.m. Eastern time announcing he’d extend tariffs across virtually all Chinese imports.

The tweet shocked markets, and fear climbed that the worsening trade war may knock the economy into another recession. Prices for everything from Treasurys to stocks to gold screeched into a U-turn immediately following the announcement.

Stocks have largely been churning in place since then. Despite several days where the S&P 500 lost more than 2.5%, the index remains only 1.5% below its record set in late July. The S&P 500 also remains well above where it was before Trump’s 2016 election, up nearly 40%.

But the bond market has been knocked further off course. Treasury yields fall when investors are worried about a weak economy and inflation, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury has dropped to 1.61% from 1.94% moments before the Aug. 1 tweet.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury sank as low as 1.42% last week, its lowest level since before Trump’s 2016 election jolted yields and stock prices higher.

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