April 21, 2024

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Grindr Fined in Europe Over Sharing of User Data

19 min read
Credit…Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority said on Monday that it would fine Grindr, the world’s most popular gay dating app, 100 million Norwegian kroner, or about $11.7 million, for illegally disclosing private details about its users to advertising companies.

The agency said the app had transmitted users’ precise locations, user-tracking codes and the app’s name to at least five advertising companies, essentially tagging individuals as L.G.B.T.Q. without obtaining their explicit consent, in violation of European data protection law. Grindr shared users’ private details with, among other companies, MoPub, Twitter’s mobile advertising platform, which may in turn share data with more than 100 partners, according to the agency’s ruling.

Tobias Judin, head of the Norwegian Data Protection Authority’s international department, said Grindr’s data-mining practices not only violated European privacy rights but also could have put users at serious risk in countries, like Qatar and Pakistan, where consensual same-sex sexual acts are illegal.

Credit…Ilja Hendel

“If someone finds out that they are gay and knows their movements, they may be harmed,” Mr. Judin said. “We’re trying to make these apps and services understand that this approach — not informing users, not gaining a valid consent to share their data — is completely unacceptable.”

The fine comes one year after European nonprofit groups lodged complaints against Grindr and its advertising partners with data protection regulators. In tests last January, The New York Times found that the Android version of the Grindr app was sharing location information that was so precise, it pinpointed reporters on the side of the building they were sitting on. In April, Grindr revamped its user consent process.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Grindr said the company had obtained “valid legal consent from all” of its users in Europe on multiple occasions and was confident that its “approach to user privacy is first in class” among social apps.

The statement added: “We continually enhance our privacy practices in consideration of evolving privacy laws and regulations, and look forward to entering into a productive dialogue with the Norwegian Data Protection Authority.”

The company has until Feb. 15 to comment on the ruling before it is final. The Norwegian agency said it was investigating whether the ad companies that received users’ details from Grindr had also violated European data protection law.”

Privacy experts said the ruling would have wide repercussions beyond dating apps.

“This not only sets limits for Grindr,” said Finn Myrstad, the director of digital policy for the Norwegian Consumer Council, one of the groups that lodged the complaints, “but establishes strict legal requirements on a whole industry that profits from collecting and sharing information about our preferences, location, purchases, physical and mental health, sexual orientation and political views.”

Budweiser’s Covid-19 awareness advertisement includes two health workers who were being vaccinated.
Credit…Budweiser, via Associated Press

Budweiser, the beer giant whose commercials featuring Clydesdale horses, croaking frogs and winsome puppies made it one of the most beloved Super Bowl advertisers, is opting out of the game-time broadcast this year for the first time in 37 years to focus on raising awareness for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Budweiser, an Anheuser-Busch company, said Monday that it would donate portions of its advertising budget this year to the Ad Council, a nonprofit marketing group at the helm of a $50 million ad blitz to fight coronavirus vaccine skepticism. Instead of debuting a splashy big-game commercial, as Super Bowl advertisers often do in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 7 match, the beer company released its 90-second online vaccination ad, titled “Bigger Picture.” (Anheuser-Busch will still feature prominently during the game, with ads for several of its other beer brands.)

Other Super Bowl stalwarts, including Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Pepsi, will also be missing onscreen. As the pandemic disrupted the sports industry, many companies hesitated to pay CBS roughly $5.5 million for a 30-second slot during a game that some worried could be delayed or even canceled.

In the Budweiser Covid-19 vaccination ad, the actress Rashida Jones urges viewers to “turn our strength into hope” while the melody of “Lean on Me” plays as inspirational images from the pandemic are shown. Ms. Jones, who recorded her narration while isolated from other people in a Hollywood facility, said in an interview that “obviously people want to be entertained, they want to watch funny commercials,” but “what’s most important is that we prioritize this next phase.”

The Super Bowl advertising season, which usually extends beyond the broadcast into weeks of teasers, celebrity reveals, YouTube debuts and celebratory live events, is more subdued as companies struggle to adopt an appropriate tone after a year full of marketing missteps.

“You can’t pretend like everything’s OK,” Ms. Jones said. “People can sense when brands are exploiting a moment.”

Ms. Yellen is the first woman to hold the top job at Treasury in its 232-year history.
Credit…Leah Millis/Reuters

The Senate confirmed Janet L. Yellen to be Treasury secretary on Monday, putting her at the forefront of navigating the fallout created by the pandemic as she advocates for President Biden’s economic agenda.

Ms. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, was confirmed by a vote of 84 to 15 with support from both Republicans and Democrats. She is the first woman to hold the top job at Treasury in its 232-year history.

With the confirmation, she will now be thrust into the middle of negotiations over a potential $1.9 trillion economic aid package that is the chief plank of Mr. Biden’s effort to revive the economy. The size of the plan already met with doubts from some Democrats and Republicans.

Ms. Yellen has been a clear champion of continued government support for workers and businesses, publicly warning that a lack of aid to state and local governments could slow the recovery, much as it did in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

At her confirmation hearing and in written responses to lawmakers, Ms. Yellen echoed Mr. Biden’s view that Congress must “act big” to prevent the economy from faltering and defended using borrowed money to finance another aid package, saying not doing so would leave workers and families worse off.

“The relief bill late last year was just a down payment to get us through the next few months,” Ms. Yellen said. “We have a long way to go before our economy fully recovers.”

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Biden Administration Plans to Add Harriet Tubman to $20 Bill

On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the Treasury Department plans to speed up the process of adding Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill.

Reporter: “The Obama administration initially had wanted to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, and the Trump administration dragged their feet on that. I wanted to see if the Biden administration has some view of the timeline on whether or not she should be on the paper currency?” “I was here when we announced that. And it was very exciting and hasn’t moved forward yet, which we would have been surprised to learn at the time. The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes. It’s important that our notes are money — people don’t know what a note is — reflect the history and diversity of our country. And Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort. But any specifics would, of course, come from the Department of Treasury.”

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On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the Treasury Department plans to speed up the process of adding Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill.

President Biden’s Treasury Department is studying ways to speed up the process of adding Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill after the Trump administration allowed the Obama-era initiative to lapse, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday.

The decision to have Ms. Tubman replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 note was set in motion in 2016 by the Treasury secretary at the time, Jacob Lew. President Donald J. Trump opposed the idea, and his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, stopped work on that part of the currency redesign, arguing that adding new security features to the money was a more urgent priority. Mr. Mnuchin said that notes with new imagery could not be put into circulation until 2028 and that a future Treasury secretary would make the call whether to replace Jackson.

The Treasury Department, which Mr. Biden has nominated Janet L. Yellen to lead, plans to accelerate that timeline.

“The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” Ms. Psaki said. “It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.”

A Treasury spokeswoman said that she had no information to share on when a new design of the $20 bill might be released.

Mr. Trump professed to be a fan of Andrew Jackson, a fellow populist, and was a fierce opponent of altering historical images and statues.

Mr. Mnuchin’s decision to slow-walk the change drew backlash from some Democrats in Congress and triggered a probe from the Treasury inspector general about whether the process faced improper political interference. The inquiry found no wrongdoing by Mr. Mnuchin.

Under Mr. Lew’s plan, the new design was supposed to be unveiled in 2020 on the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Preliminary designs of the note that were obtained by The New York Times revealed that — before Mr. Trump took office — conceptual work on a bill bearing Tubman’s likeness on the front and a statue of Jackson on the back was already underway.

Shoppers wait outside of a GameStop on Black Friday. An online community of traders seem to be fueling a spike in the store’s share price.
Credit…Go Nakamura for The New York Times

In an epic contest between Wall Street traders who bet against stocks and legions of small-scale investors, the small guys are winning.

On Monday, shares of the struggling video game retailer GameStop surged, adding to a recent rally that has lifted the stock by more than 300 percent in January alone and making it a glaring illustration of the growing power of small investors in certain segments of the financial markets.

Shares of companies like GameStop are becoming detached from the kinds of factors that traditionally help benchmark a company’s valuation — like growth potential or profits. Analysts expect the company to report a loss from continuing operations of $465 million for 2020, on top of the $795 million it lost in 2019.

What seems to be fueling this spike is an online community of traders, who congregate in places like Reddit’s “Wall Street Bets” forum and hype up individual trades. Lately, they’ve made buying short-dated call options on GameStop’s shares — an aggressive bet that the shares will rise — a favorite position.

Market analysts and academics say a rush of new money in such short-dated call options can create a sort of feedback loop that drives the underlying share prices higher, as brokerage firms that sell the options have to themselves buy shares to hedge the contracts.

In GameStop’s case, these small investors have found themselves going up against a different group of speculators. The company’s struggles have also made it a favorite target for short-sellers — who bet on a stock’s decline by selling shares they don’t actually own. Short sellers profit when a stock has plunged and they can buy those same shares back at a lower price.

Of course, with GameStop’s shares surging, those investors are losing a lot of money. And their rush to get out of the trade by buying shares can cause a surge in prices, too, called a short squeeze.

On Monday, the small traders on Wall Street Bets and the messaging site Discord were encouraging each other to hold on to their positions as the short-sellers ran for the exits.

“Am I too late to get on the GME rocket?,” one commenter on Wall Street Bets wrote shortly after 10 a.m.

“No buy the dip,” another responded.

On Discord, the message was clear.

“GME ONLY UP,” one commenter wrote.

The company announced a series of measures to help accelerate vaccination efforts.
Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Google said it will make company buildings, parking lots and open spaces available to serve as temporary vaccination clinics in partnership with health care providers and public health officials.

In a blog post on Monday, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said the company will start by opening sites in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, with plans to expand to other sites nationwide.

The move is part of a series of measures to help accelerate vaccination efforts. Google also said it plans to contribute $100 million in ad credits to health organizations to educate people about the vaccine and $50 million for groups working on fair access to the vaccine.

It will also include more information in search results and maps to help people find vaccination locations with details about who is eligible and whether appointments are necessary. Google said it will provide local distribution information in search results in the coming week so people can determine whether they are eligible to receive a vaccine.

Adam Aron, left, was the chief executive of the Philadelphia 76ers, among other jobs, before he entered the movie theater business.
Credit…Tim Shaffer for The New York Times

AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest multiplex operator, avoided yet another brush with death on Monday, revealing in a securities filing that it had found enough money to keep running until July if attendance does not begin to recover, and the full year if it does.

AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron, had said in mid-December that AMC needed to raise another $750 million to squeak through. By early this month, it had lined up $204 million. In the filing on Monday, the company said it had secured an additional $713 million, bringing the total to $917 million — and averting bankruptcy for the fifth time in less than a year. AMC had previously raised more than $1 billion in fits and starts.

The latest lifeline came, in part, from Odeon, AMC’s European chain. The company was able to refinance an existing line of Odeon credit and come up with $411 million.

AMC had about $308 million in cash at the end of the year, according to the filing, and had a monthly average cash burn rate in October, November and December of $124 million. About 438 of the company’s 593 theaters in the United States are open, albeit with limited seating and operating hours (and no major movies to play); 86 of 360 locations are open overseas.

Mr. Aron has had one of the wildest corporate rides of the pandemic, which has severely tested chief executives everywhere. And it is not over yet. Even with the new funding, AMC will need to persuade landlords to extend rent deferrals that were negotiated early in the pandemic. Theater owners also need film studios to begin releasing major movies. Last week, studios announced more postponements, leaving “Black Widow” (May 7) as the next would-be blockbuster on Hollywood’s release schedule.

The pandemic has also thrust Mr. Aron, 66, to the front lines of the streaming wars. Over the past six months, his industry has blasted him as a traitor one minute, when he agreed to drastically shorten the exclusive window that AMC receives to play Universal films, and hailed him as a trailblazer the next, with two other chains, Cinemark Holdings and Cineplex, following AMC’s lead.

Even if he does manage to steer AMC through the pandemic, Mr. Aron faces bone-chilling challenges on the other side. At best, the company will emerge deep in debt. Moviegoing could surge with pent-up demand. Or the masses, now trained to expect instant access to major films on streaming services or online rental platforms, could be reluctant to return.

Nobody really knows.

Xi Jinping, China’s top official, did not mention former President Donald J. Trump by name, but took aim at his international policies.
Credit…Pascal Bitz/EPA, via Shutterstock

For four years, China’s leader has tried to portray himself as the antithesis of former President Donald J. Trump on issues ranging from trade and technology policy to support for the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Xi Jinping, China’s top official, grabbed one more chance to do so on Monday, while offering few clues about what specific policies he might pursue with the Biden administration.

Addressing the World Economic Forum’s online “Davos Agenda” gathering, Mr. Xi called for international cooperation on everything from halting the pandemic to restarting global economic growth. He repeatedly assailed unilateral policies without ever mentioning either Mr. Trump or the United States.

“History and reality have made it clear time and again that the misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of Cold War, hot war, trade war or tech war would eventually hurt all countries’ interests and undermine everyone’s well-being,” he said.

Mr. Xi said that the Group of 20 should be strengthened “as the premier forum for global economic governance.” China has long favored the Group of 20 as a broad forum that includes it and some of its allies.

The group has to a considerable extent supplanted the Group of 7 industrialized democracies as the main venue for economic coordination. The Group of 7 atrophied during Mr. Trump’s presidency, as his relations were often frosty with American allies in Europe, Canada and Japan. The Group of 7 heads of state were not even able to gather at Camp David, Md., last March because of the pandemic.

One question facing the Biden administration lies in whether to strengthen the Group of 7 once more as a bastion of democracy or whether to accept a more prominent role for the Group of 20.

  • The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite rose slightly ahead of earnings reports this week from a number of big technology companies.

  • The S&P 500 gained 0.4 percent, inching back into record territory, and the Nasdaq gained 0.7 percent for its third straight record. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.1 percent.

  • Apple stood out among the big tech stocks, with a gain of nearly 3 percent. Microsoft and Facebook rose more than 1 percent.

  • Most European indexes were lower, with concerns growing about the pace of the vaccination rollout and the latest business surveys recording a big decline in expectations for Germany’s economy.

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 and the FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.8 percent. The CAC 40 in France and the DAX in Germany dropped more than 1.5 percent.

  • In Britain, there has been a shake-up in the retail industry, with newer online brands sweeping up the old guard: Shares in Boohoo, the fast-fashion online retailer, jumped as much as 5.7 percent after the company said it would buy the brand of Debenhams, a two-century-old chain of department stores that fell into insolvency last year. The stores are likely to be shut down.

  • Shares in Asos, another online retailer, climbed as much as 6.4 percent after it confirmed that it was in talks to buy some of Arcadia’s most popular brands, including Topshop, following the collapse of the fixture of Britain’s high street shopping districts.

  • The Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose 2.4 percent, to its highest level in two and a half years. Gains were driven by an 11 percent jump in Tencent shares after a company it backed announced an initial public offering.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2018.
Credit…Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

It’s been more than two years since bankers kept their name badges obscured behind ties at a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, held weeks after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

After a wave of cancellations at that 2018 event, the following year’s Future Investment Initiative, often called “Davos in the Desert,” saw many business leaders attend as the immediate furor over the killing subsided.

The next installment of the two-day conference begins on Wednesday, and even more — and more senior — executives are expected to appear.

Some of Wall Street’s biggest names are scheduled to attend, mostly virtually, according to the conference’s itinerary. Executives on the program include David Rubenstein of Carlyle, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, Larry Fink of BlackRock, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley. In 2019, Morgan Stanley and Goldman sent lower-ranking execs to the conference, not their C.E.O.s.

The event could serve as a morality test for business under a new White House administration. Joseph R. Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the campaign trail, and “the atmospherics are going to change,” said Gregory Gause of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Last Friday, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, asked for declassification of a U.S. government report on the Khashoggi killing.

Companies contacted by DealBook often pointed to the important business relationships they have with cash-rich Saudi Arabia and others in the region.

  • “We have long standing clients in the region and continue to serve them,” a Goldman Sachs spokesman said.

  • A representative for BlackRock said that Mr. Fink “has been very public about the need for continued reform in Saudi Arabia and believes that engagement and public dialogue by global leaders like himself can help encourage Saudi Arabia’s path of reform.”

  • Representatives for Carlyle and Bridgewater declined to comment, while a representative for Morgan Stanley did not return a request for a comment.

Mr. Gause of Texas A&M questioned the logic of withdrawing corporate ties from Saudi Arabia but keeping them in, say, China, which faces its own criticisms over human rights abuses. But Thor Halvorssen, the founder of the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation, which has funded “The Dissident,” a documentary about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, said that those attending the event gave the crown prince valuable legitimacy. “The message is, ‘Look, the world’s money and the powerhouses of finance and industry are my puppets,’” he said.

  • The Turkish-owned Godiva chocolatier announced it would close or sell all 128 brick-and-mortar locations in North America by the end of the first quarter in response to the turmoil in retail wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Its retail operations across Europe, the Middle East and Greater China will remain, and U.S. consumers will be able to continue to purchase online and at retail partners stores.

  • Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, will buy Ubitricity, a European provider of on-street charging points for electric vehicles, the companies said Monday. Shell and other oil giants are investing not only in cleaner energy sources like wind and solar but in infrastructure, like charging points for delivering it. Ubitricity, which was founded in Berlin and has a large presence in Britain, installs its plugs at lamp posts and other street features.

  • Google said Monday it would allocate $150 million to promote education and equitable access to coronavirus vaccines around the world. The effort will include ad grants to nonprofit organizations to spread public health service announcements; expanded information when people search for information on local services; and space in Google buildings, parking lots and other facilities for vaccination clinics.

Debenhams, a longtime chain of department stores in Britain, began holding closing-down sales last month.
Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The British online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo said Monday that it would buy the Debenhams brand name and website for 55 million pounds, or $75 million, a few weeks after the 242-year-old department store chain began to wind down its operations after going into administration in April.

The deal is the latest reflection of the seismic reordering underway in the global retail hierarchy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Strong businesses with agile supply chains and e-commerce operations are growing stronger, while weaker — often older — rivals with large brick-and-mortar footprints and more traditional models have started to fall away.

Asos, another online fast-fashion retailer, confirmed Monday that it was in exclusive talks with administrators for Philip Green’s retail group Arcadia to buy its fashion brands portfolio, which includes Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT. Arcadia filed for bankruptcy protection late last year.

A closing-down sale at 124 Debenhams stores began in December, as the administrators continued to seek offers for all or parts of the business. Now Boohoo, known for its $5 bikinis and tie-ins with reality TV stars, will buy Debenhams’ intellectual property rights in a cash deal — though none of its stores or stock will be included. The company took the same approach when acquiring several other British brands teetering on bankruptcy, including Oasis and Karen Millen.

It said Debenhams was expected to relaunch on Boohoo’s web platform in early 2022.

“Our acquisition of the Debenhams brand is strategically significant as it represents a huge step which accelerates our ambition to be a leader, not just in fashion e-commerce, but in new categories including beauty, sport and home ware,” said Boohoo’s executive chairman, Mahmud Kamani. “Our ambition is to create the U.K.’s largest marketplace.”

Neither Asos nor Boohoo is looking to acquire stores, so Debenhams’ remaining 118 department stores and more than 400 store sites occupied by Arcadia brands are likely to close for good, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Boohoo, co-founded by Mr. Kamani in Manchester in 2006, came under public scrutiny last year after investigations into working conditions at garment factories in Leicester found many workers were being paid less than the minimum wage.

The tit-for-tat trade restrictions between China and the United States under the Trump administration, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, have given China a surprising edge.

China has for the first time surpassed the United States as the top place for foreign direct investment, an important measure of a country’s economic health.

Foreign investment in the United States fell by almost half, or 49 percent, in 2020 to $134 billion, according to figures released on Sunday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The decline in the United States mostly centers on overall trade, financial services and mergers and acquisitions, the study indicated.

China, where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected, notched a slight 4 percent rise to $163 billion, led by investments in the country’s growing high-tech sector and in mergers and acquisitions. China, the world’s most populous nation, ordered strict lockdowns and masking requirements, rules that appear to have helped contain the spread of the virus within its borders.

Foreign direct investment plunged for most countries as they struggled to contain the virus. Investment in Europe was wiped out, and globally, the flow of foreign investment altogether fell by 42 percent.

Developed nations such as the United States are typically attractive destinations for such investments because of their skilled work force, open markets and consistently enforced regulations.

For years, China’s manufacturing prowess and its rising consumer base have attracted foreign companies such as Apple, but its stringent guidelines around foreign ownership of its companies and its sometimes unclear enforcement rules made such investments tricky.

But the surging clout of consumers has been hard for multinational corporations to ignore. As foreign investors set up shop, Chinese citizens bought and created enormous wealth. The country is stutter-stepping its way from becoming an economy driven by manufactured exports to one driven by its own consumers.

The United Nations group expects foreign direct investment across the globe to remain weak for 2021.

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