Tag Archives: business

Aldi confirms up to 100% horsemeat in beef products

Supermarket says it is angry with supplier Comigel after tests reveal 30% and 100% horsemeat in withdrawn ready meals

The environment secretary is due to meet the Food Standards Agency, food suppliers and retailers on Saturday to discuss the horsemeat scandal after Aldi became the latest supermarket to confirm its withdrawn beef products contained up to 100% horsemeat.

Owen Paterson said it was unacceptable that consumers were mis-sold products, but that the problems originated overseas.

“We believe that the two particular cases of the frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus are linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively. We and the Food Standards Agency are working closely with the authorities in these countries, as well as with Europol, to get to the root of the problem,” he said.

Paterson said he believed the food was safe but urged consumers to return products to the retailers. “The French authorities are saying they are viewing the issue as a case of fraud rather than food safety. Anyone who has these products in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution.”.

Findus denied reports that the company first knew there was horsemeat in its products last year.

“Findus want to be absolutely explicit that they were not aware of any issue of contamination with horsemeat last year,” it said in a statement. “They were only made aware of a possible August 2012 date through a letter dated 2 February 2013 from the supplier Comigel. By then Findus was already conducting a full supply chain traceability review and had pro-actively initiated DNA testing.”

The Metropolitan police said in a statement it was not carrying out a criminal investigation. “Although we have met with the FSA we have not started an investigation and will not do so unless it becomes clear there has been any criminality under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police service.”

Aldi said it felt “angry and let down” by its French supplier Comigel after tests on Today’s Special frozen beef lasagne and Today’s Special frozen spaghetti bolognese found they contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

Comigel, which also produced the contaminated Findus beef lasagnes, has blamed its suppliers. Erick Lehagre said he believed his company was buying French beef from a company called Spanghero but it had since told him it had come from Romania.

A spokesman for Aldi said random tests had shown that the products they had withdrawn contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

“This is completely unacceptable and like other affected companies, we feel angry and let down by our supplier. If the label says beef, our customers expect it to be beef. Suppliers are absolutely clear that they are required to meet our stringent specifications and that we do not tolerate any failure to do so,” he said.

The company added that it would test the meals for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, often referred to as bute, but said it was confident the meals were safe.

Hospitals and education authorities were also checking the food they provide for traces of horsemeat. A spokeswoman for the Local Authority Caterers Association said: “We are as sure as we can be that this is not affecting the school catering area.”

She said there were strict guidelines around food safety and supplying dinners in schools, including transparency and traceability of ingredient provenance, and this was written into contracts.

Food businesses have been told to send test results on all their products to the FSA by Friday but Paterson is expected to tell MPs in a statement on Monday that some suppliers have been complaining to departmental officials that they have come under pressure from supermarket suppliers to cut corners.

As David Cameron indicated that he would have no qualms about eating the sort of processed meat dishes that have been at the heart of the recent scare, authorities insisted there was no evidence that frozen food in general was a risk to human health.

But the FSA advised consumers who had bought affected beef lines from Findus not to eat them. They had not been tested for the presence of phenylbutazone, which is banned in the human food chain. It can cause a serious blood disorder in rare cases.

The Guardian has also established that the FSA has been unable to trace all the horses slaughtered in the UK that tested positive for bute last year. The agency has routinely been testing less than 1% of slaughtered horses for the drug, but found four positives in a sample of 82 carcasses in 2012. It carried out a special additional survey on a further 63 horses last year and found 5% of those contained residues, bringing the total of positives to nine.

The Red Lion abattoir, owned by High Peak Meat Exports, has admitted that two of its slaughtered horses had tested positive for bute “historically” but said this was typical of the industry as a whole and that residue levels were so low as not to be a public health issue. The abattoir is currently under investigation by the FSA for alleged animal welfare abuses, and three of its slaughterers have had their licences to kill horses rescinded. The company said it was the FSA’s responsibility to inspect horses at abattoirs and decide whether they were fit for the human food chain.

The FSA found six of the horses found to contain bute last year had been exported to France, two were still being traced, and one had been allegedly returned to two owners in the north of England for personal consumption. However the family of one of the owners, in Chorley, Lancashire, told officials they had never received the carcass nor expected to receive it.

Some companies have told the Guardian they began testing their own products soon after the first cases were reported in Ireland in mid-January. Full details of the testing requirements will be sent to the industry on Monday, although the agency says companies already have enough information to get on with the job and return results by next Friday.

The agency said evidence of the significant amounts of horsemeat in burgers and lasagne pointed “to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain”.

It said two particular cases of horse DNA in frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus were linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively. “We are working closely with the authorities in these countries to get to the root of the problem. Our priority remains to protect UK consumers.”

Tesco which withdrew burger lines after one of its products made at an Irish plant had 29% equine DNA and withdrew lasagne made by Comigel said it had already begun testing other beef lines at independent laboratories.

Cow and Gate, one of the UK’s major baby food companies, began testing its 14 lines containing beef in the second half of last month. The results were due soon, it said. The company, part of the French-based multinational Danone, has no production plants in Britain but has factories in France and Spain. It insists it can trace meat back to a specific cow. Heinz said it did not source from Comigel and would be responding to the request for testing.

“We only source beef for our baby food recipes as whole muscle meat. We are continuing to keep the issue under close review with our suppliers as more information becomes available about the incident and root cause.”

Baxters and Bird’s Eye were among other companies who said they had begun their own tests. Both said none of their products came from any suppliers so far implicated. The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the interests of the UK food industry, emphasised the “small number” of products where significant levels of horsemeat had been detected so far and said it was “unlikely” the national testing programme would reveal negligence or fraud by other suppliers.

Meanwhile Findus said it knew there was a potential problem with its lasagnes two days before the products were withdrawn. It was looking into claims by the Labour MP Tom Watson that meat used by Comigel may have been suspect since August last year.

Labour has claimed the loss of 700 trading standards officers in three years has made this type of consumer fraud more widespread.

It also points to FSA’s Meat Hygiene Service suffering cuts of 12m in the four years to 2014, with the result that the amount of food checked in laboratories has gone down by as much as 30%.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/feb/09/aldi-100-percent-horsemeat-beef-products

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Americans Are Retiring Later, Dying Sooner and Sicker In-Between

The U.S. retirement age is rising, as the government pushes it higher and workers stay in careers longer.

But lifespans aren’t necessarily extending to offer equal time on the beach. Data released last week suggest Americans’ health is declining and millions of middle-age workers face the prospect of shorter, and less active, retirements than their parents enjoyed.

Here are the stats: The U.S. age-adjusted mortality rate—a measure of the number of deaths per year—rose 1.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the Society of Actuaries. That’s the first year-over-year increase since 2005, and only the second rise greater than 1 percent since 1980.

 

At the same time that Americans’ life expectancy is stalling, public policy and career tracks mean millions of U.S. workers are waiting longer to call it quits. The age at which people can claim their full Social Security benefits is gradually moving up, from 65 for those retiring in 2002 to 67 in 2027.

Almost one in three Americans age 65 to 69 is still working, along with almost one in five in their early 70s.

Postponing retirement can make financial sense, because extended careers can make it possible to afford retirements that last past age 90 or even 100. But a study out this month adds some caution to that calculation.

Americans in their late 50s already have more serious health problems than people at the same ages did 10 to 15 years ago, according to the journal Health Affairs.

University of Michigan economists HwaJung Choi and Robert Schoeni used survey data to compare middle-age Americans’ health. A key measure is whether people have trouble with an “activity of daily living,” or ADL, such as walking across a room, dressing and bathing themselves, eating, or getting in or out of bed. The study showed the number of middle-age Americans with ADL limitations has jumped: 12.5 percent of Americans at the current retirement age of 66 had an ADL limitation in their late 50s, up from 8.8 percent for people with a retirement age of 65.

At the current retirement age of 66, a quarter of Americans age 58 to 60 rated themselves in “poor” or “fair” health. That’s up 2.6 points from the group who could retire with full benefits at 65, the Michigan researchers found.

Cognitive skills have also declined over time. For those with a retirement age of 66, 11 percent already had some kind of dementia or other cognitive decline at age 58 to 60, according to the study. That’s up from 9.5 percent of Americans just a few years older, with a retirement age between 65 and 66.

While death rates can be volatile from year to year, Choi and Schoeni’s study is part of a raft of other research showing the health of Americans deteriorating.

Researchers have offered many theories for why Americans’ health is getting worse. Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner, have argued that an epidemic of suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse have caused a spike in death rates among middle-age whites.

Higher rates of obesity may also be taking their toll. And Americans may have already seen most of the benefits from previous positive developments that cut the death rate, such as a decline in smoking and medical advances like statins that fight cardiovascular disease.

Declining health and life expectancy are good news for one constituency: Pension plans, which must send a monthly check to retirees for as long as they live.

According to the latest figures from the Society of Actuaries, life expectancy for pension participants has dropped since its last calculation by 0.2 years. A 65-year-old man can expect to live to 85.6 years, and a woman can expect to make it to 87.6. As a result, the group calculates a typical pension plan’s obligations could fall by 0.7 percent to 1 percent.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-23/americans-are-retiring-later-dying-sooner-and-sicker-in-between

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    Aldi confirms up to 100% horsemeat in beef products

    Supermarket says it is angry with supplier Comigel after tests reveal 30% and 100% horsemeat in withdrawn ready meals

    The environment secretary is due to meet the Food Standards Agency, food suppliers and retailers on Saturday to discuss the horsemeat scandal after Aldi became the latest supermarket to confirm its withdrawn beef products contained up to 100% horsemeat.

    Owen Paterson said it was unacceptable that consumers were mis-sold products, but that the problems originated overseas.

    “We believe that the two particular cases of the frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus are linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively. We and the Food Standards Agency are working closely with the authorities in these countries, as well as with Europol, to get to the root of the problem,” he said.

    Paterson said he believed the food was safe but urged consumers to return products to the retailers. “The French authorities are saying they are viewing the issue as a case of fraud rather than food safety. Anyone who has these products in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution.”.

    Findus denied reports that the company first knew there was horsemeat in its products last year.

    “Findus want to be absolutely explicit that they were not aware of any issue of contamination with horsemeat last year,” it said in a statement. “They were only made aware of a possible August 2012 date through a letter dated 2 February 2013 from the supplier Comigel. By then Findus was already conducting a full supply chain traceability review and had pro-actively initiated DNA testing.”

    The Metropolitan police said in a statement it was not carrying out a criminal investigation. “Although we have met with the FSA we have not started an investigation and will not do so unless it becomes clear there has been any criminality under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police service.”

    Aldi said it felt “angry and let down” by its French supplier Comigel after tests on Today’s Special frozen beef lasagne and Today’s Special frozen spaghetti bolognese found they contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

    Comigel, which also produced the contaminated Findus beef lasagnes, has blamed its suppliers. Erick Lehagre said he believed his company was buying French beef from a company called Spanghero but it had since told him it had come from Romania.

    A spokesman for Aldi said random tests had shown that the products they had withdrawn contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

    “This is completely unacceptable and like other affected companies, we feel angry and let down by our supplier. If the label says beef, our customers expect it to be beef. Suppliers are absolutely clear that they are required to meet our stringent specifications and that we do not tolerate any failure to do so,” he said.

    The company added that it would test the meals for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, often referred to as bute, but said it was confident the meals were safe.

    Hospitals and education authorities were also checking the food they provide for traces of horsemeat. A spokeswoman for the Local Authority Caterers Association said: “We are as sure as we can be that this is not affecting the school catering area.”

    She said there were strict guidelines around food safety and supplying dinners in schools, including transparency and traceability of ingredient provenance, and this was written into contracts.

    Food businesses have been told to send test results on all their products to the FSA by Friday but Paterson is expected to tell MPs in a statement on Monday that some suppliers have been complaining to departmental officials that they have come under pressure from supermarket suppliers to cut corners.

    As David Cameron indicated that he would have no qualms about eating the sort of processed meat dishes that have been at the heart of the recent scare, authorities insisted there was no evidence that frozen food in general was a risk to human health.

    But the FSA advised consumers who had bought affected beef lines from Findus not to eat them. They had not been tested for the presence of phenylbutazone, which is banned in the human food chain. It can cause a serious blood disorder in rare cases.

    The Guardian has also established that the FSA has been unable to trace all the horses slaughtered in the UK that tested positive for bute last year. The agency has routinely been testing less than 1% of slaughtered horses for the drug, but found four positives in a sample of 82 carcasses in 2012. It carried out a special additional survey on a further 63 horses last year and found 5% of those contained residues, bringing the total of positives to nine.

    The Red Lion abattoir, owned by High Peak Meat Exports, has admitted that two of its slaughtered horses had tested positive for bute “historically” but said this was typical of the industry as a whole and that residue levels were so low as not to be a public health issue. The abattoir is currently under investigation by the FSA for alleged animal welfare abuses, and three of its slaughterers have had their licences to kill horses rescinded. The company said it was the FSA’s responsibility to inspect horses at abattoirs and decide whether they were fit for the human food chain.

    The FSA found six of the horses found to contain bute last year had been exported to France, two were still being traced, and one had been allegedly returned to two owners in the north of England for personal consumption. However the family of one of the owners, in Chorley, Lancashire, told officials they had never received the carcass nor expected to receive it.

    Some companies have told the Guardian they began testing their own products soon after the first cases were reported in Ireland in mid-January. Full details of the testing requirements will be sent to the industry on Monday, although the agency says companies already have enough information to get on with the job and return results by next Friday.

    The agency said evidence of the significant amounts of horsemeat in burgers and lasagne pointed “to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain”.

    It said two particular cases of horse DNA in frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus were linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively. “We are working closely with the authorities in these countries to get to the root of the problem. Our priority remains to protect UK consumers.”

    Tesco which withdrew burger lines after one of its products made at an Irish plant had 29% equine DNA and withdrew lasagne made by Comigel said it had already begun testing other beef lines at independent laboratories.

    Cow and Gate, one of the UK’s major baby food companies, began testing its 14 lines containing beef in the second half of last month. The results were due soon, it said. The company, part of the French-based multinational Danone, has no production plants in Britain but has factories in France and Spain. It insists it can trace meat back to a specific cow. Heinz said it did not source from Comigel and would be responding to the request for testing.

    “We only source beef for our baby food recipes as whole muscle meat. We are continuing to keep the issue under close review with our suppliers as more information becomes available about the incident and root cause.”

    Baxters and Bird’s Eye were among other companies who said they had begun their own tests. Both said none of their products came from any suppliers so far implicated. The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the interests of the UK food industry, emphasised the “small number” of products where significant levels of horsemeat had been detected so far and said it was “unlikely” the national testing programme would reveal negligence or fraud by other suppliers.

    Meanwhile Findus said it knew there was a potential problem with its lasagnes two days before the products were withdrawn. It was looking into claims by the Labour MP Tom Watson that meat used by Comigel may have been suspect since August last year.

    Labour has claimed the loss of 700 trading standards officers in three years has made this type of consumer fraud more widespread.

    It also points to FSA’s Meat Hygiene Service suffering cuts of 12m in the four years to 2014, with the result that the amount of food checked in laboratories has gone down by as much as 30%.

    Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/feb/09/aldi-100-percent-horsemeat-beef-products

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    Here are some of the weirder and more creative ad blockers on the market

    Image: Shutterstock / underverse

    A host of niche ad blockers are helping web surfers trade annoying ads for cats, art, and inspiration.

    The tools are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of blocking software birthed by a popular frustration with disruptive digital ads in recent years.

    But where most of their ilk simply scrub pop-ups and promos from your screen, a handful of developers have tried to set their services apart by taking it a step further: They want to turn the lemons of online ads into lemonade.

    These ad blockers replace aggressive web advertising with a more pleasant alternative, whether that be images of goofy cats, vintage billboards, fine art, inspirational memes take your pick.

    Like many one-note browser extensions, most of them are novelty gags and open-source hobbyist projects. Their gimmicks may be fun at first, but at some point the clutter of cats on every page might get old.

    A small segment of startups, however, are more serious about their missions. Companies like Intently a Pinterest-like ad replacer are actually hoping to create viable rivals to industry heavyweights like Eyeo’s AdBlockPlus and AdBlock (two confusingly named, yet separate companies).

    There is a potentially enticing moneymaking opportunity hidden in this deceptively simple model. The secret to ad blockers is that, despite the contradictory name and intra-industry antagonism, they aren’t much different than the ad networks they block. Ad blocking startups also make their money by selling the screen space in front of you to advertisers.

    For most of the popular ad blocking services, that means charging certain high-traffic platforms like Google and Microsoft for the privilege of being whitelisted a practice trade groups have likened to extortion.

    But the prospect of slipping ads in among aspirational memes or social content could make for a more sustainable and less shady model provided there’s actually an appetite among web users for content in place of ads.

    Judging by the number of projects that have already stumbled on this path, that demand is by no means guaranteed. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy morphing ads into anything under the sun.

    Vintage social ads

    Image: kindai

    What would your Facebook feed look like in ’80s get-up?

    French ad agency Kindai answered that question this week with a new tool that papers over sponsored posts with classic ads from the decade.

    The browser extension will transport you back to a world of Atari’s Pong, Sony Walkmans, and Apple II’s. There’s a tribute to a partnership between Pizza Hut and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other retro cultural signifiers galore.

    The program is also a reminder of how easy it remains to block Facebook ads nearly a year after the company’s supposed crackdown on the practice.

    Image: screenshot

    CatBlock

    Image: screenshot

    Developers at AdBlock originally intended for CatBlock to be an April Fool’s joke in 2012. But they apparently underestimated the force of feline fanaticism on the internet.

    The service a temporary code tweak that rendered blocked ads as “Lolcat” memes or Flickr images got such an overwhelming reception that AdBlock decided to spin it into part of a monthly subscription package.

    Two years later, however, AdBlock turned the project over to open-source developers who now maintain it as a free browser extension. Last year, it became the first ad blocker to run on Microsoft’s Edge browser.

    Intently

    Image: screenshot

    Image: screenshot

    Intently replaces aspiration-mongering and health-shaming in service of consumerism with… aspiration-mongering and health-shaming as an end unto itself.

    To be clear, the latter is definitely preferable. The service first lets you customize your interests and life goals by selecting from a few preset choices. You’ll then start to see peppy positive mantras like “start by believing that things can change” and “7 days without fruits and vegetables makes one ‘weak'” where you’d otherwise see ads.

    The company’s eventual goal is to become a sort of Pinterest-like platform that operates in the space vacated by blocked ads.

    Image: screenshot

    Addendum

    Image: screenshot

    Image: screenshot

    Probably the most intriguing project on this list, Addendum lets you replace ads with one of several “essays,” or sets of similarly themed art, curated by the influential Kadist art organization.

    The collections are all compiled from archives uncovered by Kadist’s various research projects, according to Addendum’s site, but you can also upload your own galleries and share them with friends.

    It’s not the fastest or most reliable blocker at this point, and it’s currently only available on Firefox though Chrome and Safari versions are in the works.

    The developers are also among the few to directly confront the ethical underpinnings of ad blocking.

    “You downloaded the page, and you own it,” the developers write in their justification of the practice. “Its yours and you can do whatever you want to it. Just like if you get a free newspaper, you can read it, or cut it up, or burn it. Its your life and you have no legal obligation to look at every ad presented to you.”

    Image: screenshot

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/08/ad-blockers-replacers/

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    Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

    Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

    The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

    US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

    The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

    The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

    This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

    Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

    An
    An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

    How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

    As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

    Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

    And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

    Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

    Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

    Eric
    Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

    Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

    If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

    The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

    John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley

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    DIY meal delivery service Blue Apron is going public

    / by / Tags: ,

    Meal delivery service and podcast advertising staple Blue Apron filed to go public on Thursday, marking the start of its journey to become a publicly traded company.

    In doing so, the company officially revealed its finances for the first time. The subscription service pulled in nearly $800 million last year but lost around $55 million overall.

    Despite the lack of profit, the company has been growing at a rapid clip overall; its revenue more than doubled in 2016 and grew fourfold the previous year. Even better, that rapid growth is outpacing its growth in losses.

    The financials show other hopeful signs too. The company actually managed to turn a profit in the first quarter of last year, and, on the whole, the balance sheet has stayed relatively steady by the standards of money-burning tech startups.

    At the same time, average order value and orders per customer haven’t grown much in the past two yearsand actually declined slightly in recent months.

    The company also reports a slight dip in customers during the final months of last year before growth rebounds again perhaps thanks to a big ad push it launched around the same time.

    Founded in 2012, Blue Apron tapped into the subscription delivery boom with weekly shipments of meal kits stocked with pre-apportioned ingredients.

    It made a name for itself with heavy marketing spend, perhaps most memorably in the advertising breaks of major podcasts. Last year, the company spent $144 million on advertising nearly half of which on “online media.”

    It most recently undertook its first global TV ad campaign earlier this year as rumors swirled about an IPO.

    Deep in the obligatory legalese of the filing, Blue Apron also notes an litany of potential threats on the horizon that cover everything from natural disasters to taxes.

    One is the prospect that its employees might decide to unionize.

    “If a significant number of our employees were to become unionized and collective bargaining agreement terms were to deviate significantly from our current compensation and benefits structure,” the document reads, “our business, financial condition and operating results could be materially adversely affected.”

    Blue Apron’s food-related business model also comes with some extra challenges. The company must contend with fluctuating ingredient prices, heavy health regulation, and complex supply chains.

    The possibility of a food-borne illness or contamination is also raised.

    The company was most recently valued at $2 billion after a $135 million funding round in 2015.

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/01/blue-apron-ipo/

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    How a Silicon Valley veteran created an app that 400 nonprofits use to help refugees

    Image: Mashable Composite; RefAid / Trellyz

    Shelley Taylor calls herself a Silicon Valley veteran. Veteran, she tells me, “means old.”

    Raised in Palo Alto, Taylor has an extensive tech background. She isn’t an engineer, but she wrote the “bible of user interface” back in 1995 at the dawn of website creation, inventing a lot of the language still used to this day to describe websites and ecommerce. She’s launched a bevy of startups and advised companies like AOL, Cisco, Microsoft, and Yahoo in their early days.

    “My approach to being a technology founder, which I pretty much have always been, is starting with the user experience and then using that to do product design development,” she says.

    That’s exactly what she’s doing with her latest project, albeit with a more humanitarian twist. Taylor is behind the Refugee Aid app, or RefAid, which connects refugees with crucial services when and where they need them most. More than 400 of the largest aid organizations in the worldfrom the Red Cross to Save the Children to Doctors of the Worldall use it.

    In many cases, they even rely on it.

    Through a simple, easy-to-use interface, the free mobile app uses geolocation to show migrants, refugees, and aid workers a map of the closest services for food, shelter, health care, legal help, and more. Aid organizations can communicate with each otherand touch base with the refugees they’ve helpedthrough a web-based content management system, as well as update and keep track of the services they offer.

    The app began as Taylor’s passion project in early 2016. It’s an offshoot of her company Trellyz, formerly known as Digital Fan Clubs, which launched four years ago to help people manage their brands and monetize their fans on Facebook. But about 18 months ago, Taylor, who has lived in Europe on and off for the last 25 years, felt compelled to do something a bit different.

    “I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

    “I was struck, like many other people, by the refugee crisis,” she says. “In Europe, it’s much more prominent. Where I am in Italy, just looking out over the sea where I am, there are people who have been drowning trying to get to Europe, to safety. And so I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

    Since Digital Fan Clubs already created geolocation-based apps with real-time data, Taylor wondered how they could adapt that technology for refugees, who she knew were already using smartphones. So she asked a number of large organizations like the UNHCR and the British Red Cross if an app like RefAid would be helpful. They all had the same answer: “That would be great.”

    Over the course of just one weekend, Taylor and her team created RefAid using the company’s app creation platform technology. It launched in February 2016, first in the UK and Italytwo countries where refugees can have very different needs. In the UK, many refugees have already reached their destination, and are focused more on integrating into a new society. Many refugees in Italy, meanwhile, are just arriving off boats after extremely harrowing, dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean.

    Image: RefAid / Trellyz

    Image: RefAid / Trellyz

    Nel Vandevannet, director of Belgian projects at Doctors of the World, and Mark Forsyth, refugee support services coordinator at the British Red Cross, both say RefAid has proven extremely useful for their organizations. Spreading awareness of their services has been difficult, but the app has streamlined the entire process.

    “I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people.”

    In Belgium, where many refugees are quickly passing through to get to the UK and other parts of Europe, Vandevannet says the app has helped Doctors of the World explain to them their rights. And, in many cases, it helps point them in the direction of life-saving health care. It’s not always easy to translate this kind of vital information and convince refugees of what they need, but tapping into their smartphoneswhich Vandevannet calls “their compasses”has helped develop more trust between aid workers and refugees.

    “I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people, who, because of bad experiences, repression, violence they had through their traveling … don’t really go to services,” she says. “The application is something they can control. If the police would give information, [refugees] would never go. Because they would think that it’s controlled by police, you would have to give your identity, and so on.”

    The app protects refugees’ identities by only requiring an email address, not names or other personal information. There’s also a double-login function that protects their accounts, in case they ever lose their phones.

    According to Forsyth, the British Red Cross has mainly used RefAid as a directory of relevant services across the country. It enables them to search for up-to-date information about services, such as locations and opening times.

    “It’s not uncommon for refugees and asylum seekers to be moved all around the country,” he says. “So it’s really useful that RefAid covers the whole country, so we can contact services in other cities and refer people on.”

    RefAid is now available in 14 countries: Greece, the UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Malta, Turkey, and the U.S.

    They weren’t planning to launch the app in the U.S.at least not so soon. But as one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 to create a 90-day travel ban for citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. (The ban was ultimately blocked by lower courts, a ruling that a federal appeals court upheld just last week.)

    “Because I’m an American, I was so upset by the Trump [travel] ban,” Taylor says. “I’m an expat living in Europe, and I’m so proud of our American history of welcoming immigrants. I thought about it all weekend, and I thought, ‘Well, we just have to do it.'”

    She invited her team and a group of friends to her house on the following Monday, and they all got on their phones and called as many organizations with real-time legal services as they could. They wanted to make sure that people who were being detained had access to essential phone numbers. Even though the ACLU and others had set up free legal resources at international airports, many people couldn’t even get out of customs to reach them.

    “I thought, if we could at least make this available to people so that they can make phone calls, that would be a great start for RefAid in the U.S.,” Taylor says.

    In just that one day, RefAid went live in 21 U.S. cities, focusing on legal services in areas with big international airports.

    RefAid isn’t the only app on the market helping refugees and immigrants at various stages in their journeys. But it’s especially novel because of the unexpected problems it solves for nonprofits overall: managing their resources.

    What Taylor and her team didn’t realize is that most of these organizations didn’t have centralized databases of the services they were offering. Information on the different categories of aid they provided and what satellite offices offered was all in aid workers’ heads, or on pieces of paper filed away in drawers.

    “Because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

    “The first organization that said they would love to use our system said, ‘We’ll get back to you when we’ve collected all of the services.’ I asked, ‘Well, how many are there?’ And they said, ‘We don’t really know,'” Taylor says.

    That same organization, which Taylor didn’t name, had 60 offices in the UK. It took them two-and-a-half months to compile everything and give her an Excel spreadsheet with 300 lines of services.

    Forsyth says it’s been a similar case for the British Red Cross.

    “Services are changing all the time, especially these days, so paper and PDF directories are virtually obsolete from the second they are made,” he says. “RefAid is updated regularly, and because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

    It was a revelation, and Taylor saw a market opportunity. She dropped everything else, changed the name of Digital Fan Clubs to Trellyz, and pivoted toward exclusively helping nonprofits manage their resources.

    Now, the company is applying RefAid’s technology to a new app called LifeSpots, in which all nonprofits can compile their services by location, helping people find the assistance they need as well as local volunteer opportunities. It’s expected to launch within the next month. Trellyz also plans to do the same thing for cities, offering another app for local governments to list and manage the public services they offer.

    RefAid is updated every few weeks or couple of months, as more nonprofits use it and provide feedback. Even governments are starting to hop on board Washington State uses the app to help distribute information about local services available to refugees, as well as the UK’s National Health Service and cities across Europe.

    Doctors of the World is also working with Trellyz to integrate a “medical passport” into RefAid, allowing refugees to put their own medical histories in the app. It’s all secure, staying in the hands of users, and solves the problem of not being able to keep such important paperwork with them as they’re traveling.

    Ultimately, it all comes down to what Taylor said about focusing on user experience understanding who’s using the app and then developing it to maximize the impact. And with RefAid, that human-centered approach is clear as soon as you register. You immediately get a short, two-sentence email sent to your inbox.

    “Thanks for registering for the RefAid app,” the email reads. “We all hope that you find some support near you, and that you have a safe journey.”

    With that attitude and the technology behind it to create real, positive change, RefAid is quickly becoming a must-have addition to any refugee’s phone.

    WATCH: This is what refugees face when coming to America

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/29/refaid-refugee-aid-app-shelley-taylor/

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    Beyond Bollywood: where India’s biggest movie hits really come from

    The global success of fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion underscores the power of the countrys billion-dollar regional film industry

    The global success of SS Rajamoulis fantasy epic sequel Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has once again brought Indian cinema to the attention of the world. Its forerunner, the $31m-budgeted Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), grossed $100m worldwide but caused little more than a ripple outside India. Within the country, it made waves because the film, made in the south Indian Telugu and Tamil languages, saw the Hindi-dubbed version alone gross more than $20m.

    It is a common misconception that the Hindi-language, Mumbai-based film industry known as Bollywood is Indias national cinema. The numbers tell a different story. India produces an astonishing 1,900 films a year on average, of which Hindi-language Bollywood accounts for about 340. The bulk of the rest comes from the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati languages. Domestic box office has remained stagnant at about $1.5bn and, while Bollywood might produce more films (Tamil had 291, Telugu 275, and Kannada 204 films in 2016), it contributes just a third of the box office gross. In short, Bollywood has the visibility, but not the profits, with the under-performers far outweighing the hits.

    In this context, the numbers racked up by the regional Baahubali 2 budgeted at $39m, made in Telugu and Tamil, with Hindi and Malayalam dubbed versions are astonishing by Indian standards. The film opened on 28 April and grossed $194m in 13 days, making it the highest Indian grosser of all time and putting it on track to become the first Indian film to gross $200m. It easily outperformed the $123m collected by PK (2014), starring Bollywood icon Aamir Khan.

    Baahubali 2 consolidated this performance by delivering an extraordinary result in the US, opening in third position at the box office, above The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. With $17m and counting, it is the highest grossing Indian film of all time in North America.

    Baahubali 2 has the perfect blend of action, emotion and all the right ingredients that a moviegoer wants, says Soma Kancherla, of the films US distributors Great India Films. Baahubali 1s success and the curiosity factor had created a huge hype. The conclusion had lived up to the expectations.

    Female
    Female empowerment saga Parched, directed by Leena Yadav. Photograph: Brisbane Asia and Pacific Film Festival

    Has the film broken out beyond Indian diaspora audiences to a broader audience? Yes, says Kancherla. We factored some of that into our promotion and targeted non-Indians, and to some extent it worked. We have seen many Americans in the theatres who watched and appreciated the film.

    The film also collected $2.3m across 66 Imax screens around the world in its opening weekend. This included $1.8m from 45 Imax locations in North America, making it the highest ever opening in the format for a foreign language film.

    In the UK, rather than the consolidated figure of the various versions charting as in North America, fragmented versions were listed, with the Hindi version bowing in sixth position, the Tamil one in ninth and the Malayalam and Telugu versions lower in the Top 20.

    Creating and maintaining anticipation for the larger-than-life saga of warring cousins and fiery queens was a carefully calibrated task for producer Shobu Yarlagaddaof Arka Mediaworks, the company behind the films. As we started preproduction on the film, we knew that for the kind of efforts we were planning to put into the project, financial and otherwise, it would be sad if we didnt at least attempt to go beyond our regional strongholds, says Yarlagadda.

    Global
    Global hit Dangal has taken $143m worldwide. Photograph: Disney

    Getting a wide release in the south Indian language markets of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam was simple enough as director Rajamouli is a brand name there, with hits such as Eega and Magadheera behind him. For north India and the international markets, Arka promoted the project on social media platforms, as well as attending comic-cons and university festivals.

    The so-called traditional market for Indian films is a block of 50 territories with the biggest being the US, the UAE, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indias south Asian neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, and North Africa, with some pockets in France, Germany and Switzerland. Elsewhere, Indian films were popular in Russia and China in the 1950s, particularly actor/film-maker Raj Kapoors blockbuster Awara, while dancing action star Mithun Chakraborty enjoyed fame there with his 1982 film Disco Dancer. However, of late, Indian studio majors have been striking out into non-traditional territories with dubbed or subtitled versions of films: Ki & Ka was released in territories as diverse as Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Gibraltar; Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Morocco, Tunisia and Poland; and Mary Kom in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

    Indian producers have utilised every trick in the book to reach overseas audiences. Arka hired Franois Da Silva, former artistic director of Cannes directors fortnight, to sell and market the film internationally. Non-Indian behind-the-camera talent is increasingly common. Leena Yadavs female empowerment saga Parched, in Hindi, boasts Titanic cinematographer Russell Carpenter and The Descendants editor Kevin Tent.

    Accessible English-language titles are also on the rise. Pan Nalins Angry Indian Goddesses, billed as Indias first female buddy movie, sold to 61 territories internationally. Nalin says: Based on my past movies and gaining some experience with international distribution one thing I realised is that its not enough to just have a great movie. We also need a great title which is universally appealing. Titling it in English has paid off. Across the world, the moment we utter or read Angry Indian Goddesses it puts a smile on faces.

    All the major Hollywood films are released in English and in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil dubs, demonstrating that India loves global tentpoles, provided they speak in their own tongues. (Appropriately, the highest grossing Hollywood film in India is the India-set The Jungle Book, which roared to $28m in 2016.) Nevertheless, the dominance being enjoyed by Baahubali 2 could be under threat. Wrestling drama Dangal has taken $143m at the global box office, while fans of Baahubalis spectacle will be waiting for the big-budget adaptations of epic story cycles The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which are in the works. Its fair to say that, with Hollywood accounting for just 10% of the local box office, the Indian film industry continues to enjoy rude good health.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/may/13/bollywood-india-film-industry-baahubali-2-the-conclusion

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    Plain cigarette packaging could drive 300,000 Britons to quit smoking

    Review by research organisation Cochrane suggests impact of UKs ban on branded packs could echo results seen in Australia

    Plain cigarette cartons featuring large, graphic health warnings could persuade 300,000 people in the UK to quit smoking if the measure has the effect it had in Australia, scientists say.

    Standardised cigarette packaging will be compulsory in the UK from 20 May. A new review from the independent health research organisation Cochrane on the impact of plain packaging around the world has found that it does affect the behaviour of smokers.

    In the UK, the tobacco industry has become increasingly innovative in the design of cigarette packets as other controls on sales and advertising have taken hold, according to Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at Kings College London. The tobacco industry has been focusing its efforts on the tobacco packs, she said.

    Among those that will be banned are vibrant pink packets, targeted at young women, and gimmicky cartons that slide rather than flip open. The rules that come into force next month require all packs to look alike, with graphic health warnings across 65% of their surface.

    The Cochrane reviewers found 51 studies that looked at standardised packaging and its impact on smokers, but only one country had implemented the rule fully at the time. Australia brought in plain packs in 2012.

    Analysing the evidence from Australia, the team found a reduction in smoking of 0.5% up to one year after the policy was introduced. According to the Australian government, that translates to 100,000 people no longer smoking. The decline was attributable specifically to plain packaging, after taking into account the continuing drop in the numbers of smokers caused by other tobacco control measures.

    Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce of the Cochrane tobacco addiction group at Oxford Universitys Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences said: We are not able to say for sure what the impact would be in the UK, but if the same magnitude of decrease was seen in the UK as was observed in Australia, this would translate to roughly 300,000 fewer smokers following the implementation of standardised packaging.

    The review found signs that more people were trying to quit smoking as a result of plain cartons, rising from 20.2% before to 26.6% after introduction. There was also evidence that standardised packs were less attractive to those who did not smoke, making it less likely that they would start.

    However, the researchers say variations in the way countries are introducing standardised packs may affect the outcomes. Some allow different colours, slightly different carton shapes and the use of descriptive words such as gold or smooth.

    Cancer Research UK backs plain packaging. Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK every year, so we support any effective measure which can help reduce this devastating impact. The evidence shows that standardised packaging works and helps to reduce smoking rates, said George Butterworth, the charitys tobacco policy manager.

    Its too soon to see the impact in the UK, as the new legislation will only be fully implemented in May, but we hope to see similar positive results as the UK strives towards a day when no child smokes tobacco. Cancer Research UK is continuing to evaluate the impact of standardised packaging in the UK and will share the lessons with other countries who are considering introducing them.

    Simon Clark, director of the smokers group Forest, said the idea that plain packaging would have an impact on the number of smokers in the UK was based on hope and anecdotal evidence.

    Since plain packaging was introduced in Australia, smoking rates have fallen, but only in line with historical trends, he said. Its grasping at straws to credit plain packaging with the continued reduction in smoking rates, because the most significant anti-smoking measure in recent years in Australia has been a massive increase in tobacco taxation. Like graphic health warnings, the novelty of plain packaging quickly wears off.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/27/plain-cigarette-packaging-could-drive-300000-britons-to-quit-smoking

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