Trade War Fears Send US Stocks Down Again

U.S. stocks plunged again Friday over increasing concerns about a trade war between the United States and China.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 572 points by the close, shedding 2.3 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped nearly 2.2 percent, while the NASDAQ fell nearly 2.3 percent at the end of trading.

Earlier Friday, President Donald Trump continued to protest China’s trade practices after threatening China on Thursday with increased tariffs on $100 billion worth of additional goods.

In a twitter post Friday, Trump said, “China, which is a great economic power, is considered a Developing Nation within the World Trade Organization. They therefore get tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S. Does anybody think this is fair. We were badly represented. The WTO is unfair to U.S.”

China’s commerce ministry said in a statement Friday that if Washington persisted in what Beijing described as protectionism, China would “dedicate itself to the end and at any cost and will definitely fight back firmly.”

Since the start of this week, the United States and China have been engaging in a tit-for-tat trade spat.

Early in the week, the United States proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. China then said it would impose tariff hikes on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods, including soybeans and small aircraft. On Thursday, Trump announced he had instructed the U.S. trade representative to consider whether tariffs on another $100 billion worth of Chinese goods would be appropriate.

‘China created this problem’

The White House blamed China on Friday for trade practices it said were illegal and unfair. 

“China created this problem, and the president is trying to put pressure on them to fix this, and take back some of the terrible actions that they’ve had in the last several decades,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during the daily briefing Friday.

Despite Trump’s threats for more sanctions, he has insisted the U.S. is not engaged in a trade dispute with the Asian nation.

U.S. stocks also were affected this past Monday by Trump’s new verbal attack on giant online retailer Amazon.

Since Trump started his criticism of Amazon, the company has lost more than $37 billion in market value.

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Consumer Groups: Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violates Privacy Rights

Facebook violates its users’ privacy rights through the use of its facial recognition software, according to consumer groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Their complaint to the federal government focuses on the use of Facebook software that identifies people in photographs that are uploaded to its site.

A complaint filed Friday by a coalition of consumer organizations with Federal Trade Commission said the social media giant “routinely scans photos for biometric facial matches without the consent of the image subject.”

The complaint says the company tries to improve its facial recognition prowess by deceptively encouraging users the participate in the process of identifying people in photographs.

“This unwanted, unnecessary, and dangerous identification of individuals undermines user privacy, ignores the explicit preferences of Facebook users, and is contrary to law in several state and many parts of the world.”

The groups maintain there is little users can do to prevent images of their faces from being in a social media system like Facebook’s. They contend facial scanning can be abused by authoritarian governments, a key argument considering Facebook may be required to provide user information to governments.

The complaint is the latest in a string of privacy-related issues the FTC is already investigating, including charges it allowed the personal information of 87 million users to be improperly harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the British consulting firm which was hired by U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Until Thursday, Facebook had not said how many accounts had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has also been hesitant to explain how the company’s product might have been used by Russian-supported entities to affect the U.S. presidential election outcome.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify next week before two congressional committees.

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Consumer Groups: Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violates Privacy Rights

Facebook violates its users’ privacy rights through the use of its facial recognition software, according to consumer groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Their complaint to the federal government focuses on the use of Facebook software that identifies people in photographs that are uploaded to its site.

A complaint filed Friday by a coalition of consumer organizations with Federal Trade Commission said the social media giant “routinely scans photos for biometric facial matches without the consent of the image subject.”

The complaint says the company tries to improve its facial recognition prowess by deceptively encouraging users the participate in the process of identifying people in photographs.

“This unwanted, unnecessary, and dangerous identification of individuals undermines user privacy, ignores the explicit preferences of Facebook users, and is contrary to law in several state and many parts of the world.”

The groups maintain there is little users can do to prevent images of their faces from being in a social media system like Facebook’s. They contend facial scanning can be abused by authoritarian governments, a key argument considering Facebook may be required to provide user information to governments.

The complaint is the latest in a string of privacy-related issues the FTC is already investigating, including charges it allowed the personal information of 87 million users to be improperly harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the British consulting firm which was hired by U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Until Thursday, Facebook had not said how many accounts had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has also been hesitant to explain how the company’s product might have been used by Russian-supported entities to affect the U.S. presidential election outcome.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify next week before two congressional committees.

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Facebook: Up to 2.7 Million EU Users Affected by Data-Mining

The European Union said Friday Facebook has told it that up to 2.7 million people in the 28-nation bloc may have been victim of improper data sharing involving political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

EU spokesman Christian Wigand said EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova will have a telephone call with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg early next week to address the massive data leaks.

The EU and Facebook will be looking at what changes the social media giant needs to make to better protect users and how the U.S. company must adapt to new EU data protection rules.

Wigand said that EU data protection authorities will discuss over the coming days “a strong coordinated approach” on how to deal with the Facebook investigation.

Separately, Italy’s competition authority opened an investigation Friday into Facebook for allegedly misleading practices following revelations that the social network sold users’ data without consent.

Authority chairman Giovanni Pitruzzella told Sky News24 that the investigation will focus on Facebook’s claims on its home page that the service is free, without revealing that it makes money off users’ data.

The investigation comes as Italian consumer advocate group Codacons prepares a U.S. class action against Facebook on behalf of Italians whose data was mined by Cambridge Analytica. Codacons said just 57 Italians downloaded the Cambridge Analytica app, but that an estimated 214,000 Italians could be affected because the data mined extended to also the users’ friends.

A top Facebook privacy official is scheduled to meet with the authority later this month.

This story was earlier corrected to show that the EU call will take place with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg not with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook: Up to 2.7 Million EU Users Affected by Data-Mining

The European Union said Friday Facebook has told it that up to 2.7 million people in the 28-nation bloc may have been victim of improper data sharing involving political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

EU spokesman Christian Wigand said EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova will have a telephone call with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg early next week to address the massive data leaks.

The EU and Facebook will be looking at what changes the social media giant needs to make to better protect users and how the U.S. company must adapt to new EU data protection rules.

Wigand said that EU data protection authorities will discuss over the coming days “a strong coordinated approach” on how to deal with the Facebook investigation.

Separately, Italy’s competition authority opened an investigation Friday into Facebook for allegedly misleading practices following revelations that the social network sold users’ data without consent.

Authority chairman Giovanni Pitruzzella told Sky News24 that the investigation will focus on Facebook’s claims on its home page that the service is free, without revealing that it makes money off users’ data.

The investigation comes as Italian consumer advocate group Codacons prepares a U.S. class action against Facebook on behalf of Italians whose data was mined by Cambridge Analytica. Codacons said just 57 Italians downloaded the Cambridge Analytica app, but that an estimated 214,000 Italians could be affected because the data mined extended to also the users’ friends.

A top Facebook privacy official is scheduled to meet with the authority later this month.

This story was earlier corrected to show that the EU call will take place with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg not with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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As Trump Tweets, Amazon Seeks to Expand its Business Empire

Amazon is spending millions of dollars on lobbying as the global online retailer seeks to expand its reach into a swath of industries that President Donald Trump’s broadsides haven’t come close to hitting.

Trump’s attacks over the last week targeted what Amazon is best known for: rapidly shipping just about any product you can imagine to your door. But the company CEO Jeff Bezos founded more than two decades ago is now a sprawling empire that sells groceries in brick-and-mortar stores, hosts the online services of other companies and federal offices in a network of data centers, and even recently branched into health care.

Amazon relies on a nearly 30-member in-house lobbying team that’s four times as large as it was three years ago as well as outside firms to influence the lawmakers and federal regulators who can help determine its success. The outside roster includes a retired congressman from Washington state who was a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee when he stepped down.

Overall, Amazon spent $15.6 million on lobbying in 2017.

“Amazon is just not on an even playing field,” Trump told reporters Thursday aboard Air Force One. “They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having The Washington Post, which is as far as I’m concerned another lobbyist. But they have a big lobbying effort, one of the biggest, frankly, one of the biggest.”

Bezos owns the Post. He and the newspaper have previously declared that Bezos isn’t involved in any journalistic decisions.

Earlier in the week, Trump alleged that Amazon is bilking the U.S. Postal Service for being its “delivery boy,” a doubtful claim about a contract that’s actually been judged profitable for the post office. And he has charged that Amazon pays “little or no taxes,” a claim that may have merit. Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said in February that Amazon “has built its business model on tax avoidance.” Amazon reported $5.6 billion of U.S. profits in 2017 “and didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes on it,” according to Gardner.

The company declined to comment on Trump’s remarks and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its lobbying operations.

Amazon has grown rapidly since it launched in 1995 as a site that sold books. It has changed the way people buy paper towels, diapers or just about anything else. And its ambitions go far beyond online shopping: its Alexa voice assistant is in tablets, cars and its Echo devices; it runs the Whole Foods grocery chain; the company produces movies and TV shows and it designs its own brands of furniture and clothing.

The company is in the midst of launching an independent business with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that is seeking to lower health care costs for employees at the three companies. Given the three players’ outsize influence the alliance has the potential to shake up how Americans shop for health care and the initiative sent a shudder through the industry when it was announced in January.

Amazon Web Services is angling for a much larger share of the federal government’s market for cloud computing, which allows massive amounts of data to be stored and managed on remote servers. The CIA signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 to build a system to share secure data across the U.S. intelligence community.

A partner of Amazon Web Services, the Virginia-based Rean Cloud LLC, in February scored what appeared to be a lucrative cloud computing contract from the Pentagon. But the contract, initially projected to be worth as much as $950 million, was scaled back to $65 million after Amazon’s competitors complained about the award.

Lobbying disclosure records filed with the House and Senate show Amazon is engaged on a wide variety of other issues, from trade to transportation to telecommunications. The company also lobbied lawmakers and federal agencies on the testing and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles. Amazon has been exploring the use of drones for deliveries, but current federal rules restrict flying beyond the operator’s line of sight.

The $15.6 million Amazon spent on lobbying last year was $2.6 million more than in 2016, according to the disclosure records. The bulk of the money — $12.8 million — went for Amazon’s in-house lobbying team. The nearly 30-member unit is led by Brian Huseman, who worked previously as chief of staff at the Federal Trade Commission and a Justice Department trial attorney.

As most large corporations do, Amazon also employs outside lobbying firms — as many as 14 in 2017.

In Amazon’s corner is former Washington congressman Norm Dicks of the firm Van Ness Feldman. Dicks was serving as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee when he ended his 36-year congressional career in 2013. He represented the company on information technology matters and “issues related to cloud computing usage by the federal government,” according to the records, which show Van Ness Feldman earned $160,000 from Amazon last year.

Amazon brought aboard four new firms in 2017, according to the records. Newcomers Ballard Partners, BGR Government Affairs, Brownstein Hyatt, and McGuireWoods Consulting lobbied for Amazon on transportation, taxes, drones and other issues.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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As Trump Tweets, Amazon Seeks to Expand its Business Empire

Amazon is spending millions of dollars on lobbying as the global online retailer seeks to expand its reach into a swath of industries that President Donald Trump’s broadsides haven’t come close to hitting.

Trump’s attacks over the last week targeted what Amazon is best known for: rapidly shipping just about any product you can imagine to your door. But the company CEO Jeff Bezos founded more than two decades ago is now a sprawling empire that sells groceries in brick-and-mortar stores, hosts the online services of other companies and federal offices in a network of data centers, and even recently branched into health care.

Amazon relies on a nearly 30-member in-house lobbying team that’s four times as large as it was three years ago as well as outside firms to influence the lawmakers and federal regulators who can help determine its success. The outside roster includes a retired congressman from Washington state who was a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee when he stepped down.

Overall, Amazon spent $15.6 million on lobbying in 2017.

“Amazon is just not on an even playing field,” Trump told reporters Thursday aboard Air Force One. “They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having The Washington Post, which is as far as I’m concerned another lobbyist. But they have a big lobbying effort, one of the biggest, frankly, one of the biggest.”

Bezos owns the Post. He and the newspaper have previously declared that Bezos isn’t involved in any journalistic decisions.

Earlier in the week, Trump alleged that Amazon is bilking the U.S. Postal Service for being its “delivery boy,” a doubtful claim about a contract that’s actually been judged profitable for the post office. And he has charged that Amazon pays “little or no taxes,” a claim that may have merit. Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said in February that Amazon “has built its business model on tax avoidance.” Amazon reported $5.6 billion of U.S. profits in 2017 “and didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes on it,” according to Gardner.

The company declined to comment on Trump’s remarks and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its lobbying operations.

Amazon has grown rapidly since it launched in 1995 as a site that sold books. It has changed the way people buy paper towels, diapers or just about anything else. And its ambitions go far beyond online shopping: its Alexa voice assistant is in tablets, cars and its Echo devices; it runs the Whole Foods grocery chain; the company produces movies and TV shows and it designs its own brands of furniture and clothing.

The company is in the midst of launching an independent business with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that is seeking to lower health care costs for employees at the three companies. Given the three players’ outsize influence the alliance has the potential to shake up how Americans shop for health care and the initiative sent a shudder through the industry when it was announced in January.

Amazon Web Services is angling for a much larger share of the federal government’s market for cloud computing, which allows massive amounts of data to be stored and managed on remote servers. The CIA signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 to build a system to share secure data across the U.S. intelligence community.

A partner of Amazon Web Services, the Virginia-based Rean Cloud LLC, in February scored what appeared to be a lucrative cloud computing contract from the Pentagon. But the contract, initially projected to be worth as much as $950 million, was scaled back to $65 million after Amazon’s competitors complained about the award.

Lobbying disclosure records filed with the House and Senate show Amazon is engaged on a wide variety of other issues, from trade to transportation to telecommunications. The company also lobbied lawmakers and federal agencies on the testing and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles. Amazon has been exploring the use of drones for deliveries, but current federal rules restrict flying beyond the operator’s line of sight.

The $15.6 million Amazon spent on lobbying last year was $2.6 million more than in 2016, according to the disclosure records. The bulk of the money — $12.8 million — went for Amazon’s in-house lobbying team. The nearly 30-member unit is led by Brian Huseman, who worked previously as chief of staff at the Federal Trade Commission and a Justice Department trial attorney.

As most large corporations do, Amazon also employs outside lobbying firms — as many as 14 in 2017.

In Amazon’s corner is former Washington congressman Norm Dicks of the firm Van Ness Feldman. Dicks was serving as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee when he ended his 36-year congressional career in 2013. He represented the company on information technology matters and “issues related to cloud computing usage by the federal government,” according to the records, which show Van Ness Feldman earned $160,000 from Amazon last year.

Amazon brought aboard four new firms in 2017, according to the records. Newcomers Ballard Partners, BGR Government Affairs, Brownstein Hyatt, and McGuireWoods Consulting lobbied for Amazon on transportation, taxes, drones and other issues.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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March Jobs Report: Another Big Month for Hiring?

Did March provide another month of blowout hiring? Was pay growth healthy?

When the government issues its monthly jobs report Friday, those two questions will be the most closely watched barometers.

Economists have forecast that employers added a solid 185,000 jobs in March and that the unemployment rate dipped from 4.1 percent to a fresh 17-year low of 4 percent, according to data provider FactSet.

The government will issue the jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

In February, employers added a blockbuster 313,000 jobs, the largest monthly gain in 18 months. Over the past six months, the average monthly gain has been 205,000, up from an average of 176,000 in the previous six months. Hiring at that pace could help nudge the unemployment rate below 4 percent in the coming months.

Hiring defies expectations

The surging pace of hiring has defied expectations that the low unemployment rate meant employers would struggle to fill positions, which, in turn, would restrain job growth. Job gains had slowed for most of 2017. But hiring accelerated starting in October, an unusual boost for an economy already in its ninth year of recovery.

In fact, the recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession has become the second-longest expansion since the 1850s, when economists began tracking recessions and recoveries. Still, the expansion has been puzzlingly slow, with economic growth averaging just 2.2 percent a year, about a percentage point below the historical average. But its durability has been broadly beneficial.

For example, a rising number of working-age Americans have begun looking for a job and finding one, reversing a trend from the first few years after the recession when many of the unemployed grew discouraged and stopped looking for work.

The proportion of adults in their prime working years, defined as ages 25 to 54, who are either working or looking for work jumped to 82.2 percent in February, up one-half of 1 percentage point from a year earlier. That’s still below the pre-recession level, which suggests that steady economic growth could continue to pull more job-seekers off the sidelines.

Will wages rise, too?

An increasing need to compete for workers may also finally be lifting wages in some sectors. Average hourly earnings rose 2.9 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier, the sharpest such increase in eight years. That unexpected surge triggered a plunge in financial markets, with investors fearing that accelerating wage growth might lead the Federal Reserve to step up its pace of interest rate hikes to control inflation.

But pay growth slipped in February to a year-over-year pace of 2.6 percent, suggesting that employers are still avoiding giving broad pay raises to their workers. The influx of new workers, which gives employers more hiring options than a 4.1 percent unemployment rate might otherwise suggest, may also be holding back wage growth.

Though the economy likely slowed in the first three months of this year, the healthy pace of hiring indicates that employers anticipate solid customer demand for the rest of the year. Macroeconomic Advisers, a consulting firm, forecasts that the economy grew at just a 1.4 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter — less than half the 2.9 percent annual pace of the October-December quarter.

But the firm expects growth to rebound to a decent 3.1 percent annual pace in the current April-June quarter.

Other reports indicate that growing optimism among businesses and consumers should help propel the economy in the months ahead.

Businesses have stepped up their spending on manufactured goods, helping lift factory output.

And last month, factories expanded at a healthy pace after having grown in February at the fastest rate since 2004, according to a private survey. Government data showed that orders for long-lasting factory goods, including industrial machinery, metals and autos, surged in February.

Americans have spent less at retail chains in the past two months, after shopping at a healthy pace during the winter holiday season. With consumer confidence near the highest point in two decades, however, consumer spending is likely to rebound in the coming months.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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March Jobs Report: Another Big Month for Hiring?

Did March provide another month of blowout hiring? Was pay growth healthy?

When the government issues its monthly jobs report Friday, those two questions will be the most closely watched barometers.

Economists have forecast that employers added a solid 185,000 jobs in March and that the unemployment rate dipped from 4.1 percent to a fresh 17-year low of 4 percent, according to data provider FactSet.

The government will issue the jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

In February, employers added a blockbuster 313,000 jobs, the largest monthly gain in 18 months. Over the past six months, the average monthly gain has been 205,000, up from an average of 176,000 in the previous six months. Hiring at that pace could help nudge the unemployment rate below 4 percent in the coming months.

Hiring defies expectations

The surging pace of hiring has defied expectations that the low unemployment rate meant employers would struggle to fill positions, which, in turn, would restrain job growth. Job gains had slowed for most of 2017. But hiring accelerated starting in October, an unusual boost for an economy already in its ninth year of recovery.

In fact, the recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession has become the second-longest expansion since the 1850s, when economists began tracking recessions and recoveries. Still, the expansion has been puzzlingly slow, with economic growth averaging just 2.2 percent a year, about a percentage point below the historical average. But its durability has been broadly beneficial.

For example, a rising number of working-age Americans have begun looking for a job and finding one, reversing a trend from the first few years after the recession when many of the unemployed grew discouraged and stopped looking for work.

The proportion of adults in their prime working years, defined as ages 25 to 54, who are either working or looking for work jumped to 82.2 percent in February, up one-half of 1 percentage point from a year earlier. That’s still below the pre-recession level, which suggests that steady economic growth could continue to pull more job-seekers off the sidelines.

Will wages rise, too?

An increasing need to compete for workers may also finally be lifting wages in some sectors. Average hourly earnings rose 2.9 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier, the sharpest such increase in eight years. That unexpected surge triggered a plunge in financial markets, with investors fearing that accelerating wage growth might lead the Federal Reserve to step up its pace of interest rate hikes to control inflation.

But pay growth slipped in February to a year-over-year pace of 2.6 percent, suggesting that employers are still avoiding giving broad pay raises to their workers. The influx of new workers, which gives employers more hiring options than a 4.1 percent unemployment rate might otherwise suggest, may also be holding back wage growth.

Though the economy likely slowed in the first three months of this year, the healthy pace of hiring indicates that employers anticipate solid customer demand for the rest of the year. Macroeconomic Advisers, a consulting firm, forecasts that the economy grew at just a 1.4 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter — less than half the 2.9 percent annual pace of the October-December quarter.

But the firm expects growth to rebound to a decent 3.1 percent annual pace in the current April-June quarter.

Other reports indicate that growing optimism among businesses and consumers should help propel the economy in the months ahead.

Businesses have stepped up their spending on manufactured goods, helping lift factory output.

And last month, factories expanded at a healthy pace after having grown in February at the fastest rate since 2004, according to a private survey. Government data showed that orders for long-lasting factory goods, including industrial machinery, metals and autos, surged in February.

Americans have spent less at retail chains in the past two months, after shopping at a healthy pace during the winter holiday season. With consumer confidence near the highest point in two decades, however, consumer spending is likely to rebound in the coming months.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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Smartphone Technology Helps Mental Health Patients

About 1 percent of the world’s population lives with the mental condition called bipolar disorder, characterized by swings between elevated and depressed moods. In most cases, timely interaction with psychotherapists, family and friends can alleviate the symptoms. Researchers in Denmark say modern technology can help by keeping track of a patient’s symptoms and summoning help quickly when needed. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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