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Facebook could face state, federal antitrust lawsuits in November, sources say

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The timeline could still change, cautioned the people familiar with the probe, adding that work is ongoing.

State attorneys general in particular are in the late stages of preparing their complaint, according to the people. A fifth person, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, added the state investigators sought to shore up an initial roster of participants by Friday. The bipartisan group has focused its attention on Facebook’s strategy of purchasing potential competitors, sometimes to acquire and kill them, according to two of the people.

The FTC, meanwhile, has not yet voted to bring a case against Facebook, though some of the people said a meeting of its Democratic and Republican members this week — first reported by The Washington Post — involved presentations illustrating how the agency might proceed.

A lawsuit against Facebook would be the second major antitrust action against Silicon Valley in a matter of weeks. The U.S. government joined 11 states to sue Google on Tuesday over allegations that it engaged in illegal, anti-competitive tactics to ensure the dominance of its search engine.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for the attorney general of New York.

Federal officials initiated their antitrust probe into Facebook last year after the company agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a government probe over a series of privacy scandals. The FTC, one of the country’s two competition enforcement agencies, specifically set its sights on Facebook’s purchase of its past rivals — Instagram, a photo-sharing app, and WhatsApp, a messenger service — and the extent to which the tech giant’s sprawling corporate footprint has come to violate antitrust laws.

State investigators revealed their own plans last October: James, the Democratic attorney general of New York, said at the time she would lead 46 other states and territories in a bipartisan, wide-ranging antitrust inquiry targeting Facebook. James said in a statement then that state enforcers had grown “concerned that Facebook may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising.”

Since then, Facebook has faced a slew of criticism from regulators nationwide who believe it brazenly has sought to expand its digital empire in a way that undermines competition and leaves its billions of users with worse service, including fewer privacy protections. A probe conducted by House lawmakers, concluded earlier this month, appeared to furnish fresh evidence of the company’s brass-knuckled tactics — illustrating for members of Congress the extent to which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had sought to neuter potential rivals before they could mount a serious challenge.

One memo showed Facebook leaders discussing a “land grab” to acquire its possible threats. Another 2018 document prepared for Zuckerberg seemed to suggest Facebook felt its greatest competition came from its own subsidiary apps. Investigators led by Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, said the trove they amassed ultimately showed how Facebook’s past purchases “tipped the social networking market toward a monopoly.”

Facebook staunchly has rebutted the charges, pointing to the fact that federal regulators had the chance to prevent it from acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp and did not. The company’s arguments foreshadow the likelihood of a major, lengthy legal battle between the tech giant and state and federal antitrust enforcers that try to exact severe penalties for Facebook’s business practices.

“Acquisitions are part of every industry, and just one way we innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people,” Facebook spokesman Chris Sgro said in a statement this month in response to lawmakers’ report. “Instagram and WhatsApp have reached new heights of success because Facebook has invested billions in those businesses.”

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LightStrike’s virus-killing robot zaps airport viruses amid pandemic travel

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As air travel gains some steam and coronavirus-related shutdowns return in pockets of the country, one of the latest iterations of virus-fighting tech at the airport is a germ-zapping robot at San Antonio International Airport in Texas. It’s called LightStrike, and other airports are considering whether to invest in the $125,000 device that has been shown to be effective against the coronavirus. Some airports are watching to see whether travel improves over the coming weeks, according to officials at Xenex, the company behind the device.

“When you bring something like SARS-CoV-2 into focus, institutions like hotels, airlines, professional sports teams, they’re looking for what’s best-in-class to kill it,” said Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

Xenex says that its robot business has increased 600 percent amid the pandemic. Most of the increase is related to the health-care industry, but the robot also has entered new markets such as hotels, professional sports facilities and police stations.

Initially developed for use in hospitals and recently picked up by a local school district in Texas, LightStrike is 43 inches tall, about the size of a wheelchair, and has to be pushed along by an operator to reach targeted areas.

The high-tech plug-in pushcart uses powerful bursts of UV light to combat viruses on surfaces within a seven-foot radius in each direction, according to Mark Stibich, an infectious-diseases epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at Xenex.

It’s been known for decades that UV radiation can destroy viruses by chemically altering their genetic material. However, different pathogens are susceptible to UV light at varying wavelengths. Many traditional UV devices use low-intensity mercury bulbs, which means they may take longer to kill organic material such as viruses. By contrast, LightStrike robots have a powerful xenon UV-C light source capable of damaging the DNA and RNA of viruses in a matter of minutes.

When plugged in, the machine stores up a charge and releases the UV light in quick, pulsating bursts that also happen to be gentler on surfaces than continuous UV rays generated by mercury, according to Xenex. The device is not safe for use on humans, and the company built in a motion sensor, so the robot automatically turns off if a person comes within a certain range.

In a test run at San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the robot destroyed the coronavirus in two minutes. It has also been effective at obliterating some superbugs such as C. diff, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and is resistant to many disinfectants.

To combat the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, Xenex encourages operators to leave the UV-C light in reach of highly touched surfaces for at least two minutes to maximize efficiency. The surfaces are immediately safe to use and touch after the disinfecting cycle is complete. The number of cycles required to disinfect a room depends on the size of the space, the company says.

While robot cleaners can provide an additional layer of protection against spreading the virus, their value is questionable at airports, according to some epidemiologists. Sure, the technology represents a way of disinfecting surfaces such as handrails, kiosks, water fountains and bathrooms, but that’s not the primary way for the virus to travel. Also, disinfecting points of physical contact has little effect on circulating air that might transport respiratory illnesses, experts say.

Still, the devices may help the struggling travel industry motivate some people to start moving again.

“Surface transmission is one of the least likely ways that an individual would catch coronavirus,” said Mercedes Carnethon, professor of epidemiology at Northwestern University. “Perhaps robots are a measure that’s reassuring to individuals, but it’s not really going to have a large-scale impact.”

Hand-washing is still encouraged if you come in contact with highly touched or unclean surfaces, which may pose a small risk if you touch your face.

Despite innovative tech and the latest talk of possible vaccines, the U.S. air travel industry still has a long way to go to reach pre-coronavirus levels. In the seven days ending Nov. 17, air travel was down 63 percent compared to the same period last year. That represented a modest improvement over a 66 percent drop tallied a week earlier.

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Rolls-Royce’s Black Badge cars get lit with Neon Nights series

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YouTube, under pressure over election falsehoods, suspends OAN for Covid-19 misinformation.

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YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.

But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.

The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.

In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.

YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.

In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.

OAN representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.

“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”

YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.

“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.

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