Congress Faces Renewed Pressure to ‘Modernize Our Antitrust Laws’

WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.

But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.

On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.

The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.

David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.

Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.

This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.

“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”

introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.

including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.

In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.

The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.

He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.

The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.

fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.

The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.

Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.

The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.

Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.

“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”

But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.

The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.

Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”

Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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Why Asia, the Pandemic Champion, Remains Miles Away From the Finish Line

SYDNEY, Australia — All across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are now languishing in the race to put it behind them.

While the United States, which has suffered far more grievous outbreaks, is now filling stadiums with vaccinated fans and cramming airplanes with summer vacationers, the pandemic champions of the East are still stuck in a cycle of uncertainty, restrictions and isolation.

In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a sudden lockdown in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also clamped down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with its own weariness from a fourth round of infections, spiked with fears of viral disaster from the Olympics.

the new outbreak in southern China will affect busy port terminals there. Across Asia, faltering vaccine rollouts could also open the door to spiraling variant-fueled lockdowns that inflict new damage on economies, push out political leaders and alter power dynamics between nations.

The risks are rooted in decisions made months ago, before the pandemic had inflicted the worst of its carnage.

blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meant for Australia to control its own raging outbreak. Other shipments were delayed because of manufacturing issues.

“The supplies of purchased vaccine actually landing on docks — it’s fair to say they are not anywhere near the purchase commitments,” said Richard Maude, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Australia.

with the United States and Europe.

In Asia, about 20 percent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with Japan, for example, at just 14 percent. By contrast, the figure is nearly 45 percent in France, more than 50 percent in the United States and more than 60 percent in Britain.

Instagram, where Americans once scolded Hollywood stars for enjoying mask-free life in zero-Covid Australia, is now studded with images of grinning New Yorkers hugging just-vaccinated friends. While snapshots from Paris show smiling diners at cafes that are wooing summer tourists, in Seoul, people are obsessively refreshing apps that locate leftover doses, usually finding nothing.

“Does the leftover vaccine exist?” one Twitter user recently asked. “Or has it disappeared in 0.001 seconds because it is like a ticket for the front-row seat of a K-pop idol concert?”

keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is currently barring almost all nonresidents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of overseas arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.

The immediate future for many places in Asia seems likely to be defined by frantic optimization.

China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou — testing millions of people in days, shutting down entire neighborhoods — is a rapid-fire reprise of how it has handled previous flare-ups. Few inside the country expect this approach to change anytime soon, especially as the Delta variant, which has devastated India, is now beginning to circulate.

has threatened residents with fines of around $450 for refusing vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by asking the public for donations to a Covid-19 vaccine fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a range of inducements to ease severe vaccine hesitancy.

Nonetheless, the prognosis for much of Asia this year is billboard obvious: The disease is not defeated, and won’t be anytime soon. Even those lucky enough to get a vaccine often leave with mixed emotions.

“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who last week had just received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be further ahead than where we are.”

Reporting was contributed by Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan, Ben Dooley in Tokyo, Sui-Lee Wee in Singapore, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia.

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Farewell, Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy

A few years ago, while on a work trip in Los Angeles, I hailed an Uber for a crosstown ride during rush hour. I knew it would be a long trip, and I steeled myself to fork over $60 or $70.

Instead, the app spit out a price that made my jaw drop: $16.

Experiences like these were common during the golden era of the Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy, which is what I like to call the period from roughly 2012 through early 2020, when many of the daily activities of big-city 20- and 30-somethings were being quietly underwritten by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

For years, these subsidies allowed us to live Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets. Collectively, we took millions of cheap Uber and Lyft rides, shuttling ourselves around like bourgeois royalty while splitting the bill with those companies’ investors. We plunged MoviePass into bankruptcy by taking advantage of its $9.95-a-month, all-you-can-watch movie ticket deal, and took so many subsidized spin classes that ClassPass was forced to cancel its $99-a-month unlimited plan. We filled graveyards with the carcasses of food delivery start-ups — Maple, Sprig, SpoonRocket, Munchery — just by accepting their offers of underpriced gourmet meals.

tweeted, along with a screenshot of a receipt that showed he had spent nearly $250 on a ride to the airport.

“Airbnb got too much dip on they chip,” another Twitter user complained. “No one is gonna continue to pay $500 to stay in an apartment for two days when they can pay $300 for a hotel stay that has a pool, room service, free breakfast & cleaning everyday. Like get real lol.”

Some of these companies have been tightening their belts for years. But the pandemic seems to have emptied what was left of the bargain bin. The average Uber and Lyft ride costs 40 percent more than it did a year ago, according to Rakuten Intelligence, and food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub have been steadily increasing their fees over the past year. The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental increased 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same quarter the year before, according to the company’s financial filings.

set up a $250 million “driver stimulus” fund — or doing away with them altogether.

I’ll confess that I gleefully took part in this subsidized economy for years. (My colleague Kara Swisher memorably called it “assisted living for millennials.”) I got my laundry delivered by Washio, my house cleaned by Homejoy and my car valet-parked by Luxe — all start-ups that promised cheap, revolutionary on-demand services but shut down after failing to turn a profit. I even bought a used car through a venture-backed start-up called Beepi, which offered white-glove service and mysteriously low prices, and which delivered the car to me wrapped in a giant bow, like you see in TV commercials. (Unsurprisingly, Beepi shut down in 2017, after burning through $150 million in venture capital.)

These subsidies don’t always end badly for investors. Some venture-backed companies, like Uber and DoorDash, have been able to grit it out until their I.P.O.s, making good on their promise that investors would eventually see a return on their money. Other companies have been acquired or been able to successfully raise their prices without scaring customers away.

Uber, which raised nearly $20 billion in venture capital before going public, may be the best-known example of an investor-subsidized service. During a stretch of 2015, the company was burning $1 million a week in driver and rider incentives in San Francisco alone, according to reporting by BuzzFeed News.

But the clearest example of a jarring pivot to profitability might be the electric scooter business.

Remember scooters? Before the pandemic, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk of a major American city without seeing one. Part of the reason they took off so quickly is that they were ludicrously cheap. Bird, the largest scooter start-up, charged $1 to start a ride, and then 15 cents a minute. For short trips, renting a scooter was often cheaper than taking the bus.

But those fees didn’t represent anything close to the true cost of a Bird ride. The scooters broke frequently and needed constant replacing, and the company was shoveling money out the door just to keep its service going. As of 2019, Bird was losing $9.66 for every $10 it made on rides, according to a recent investor presentation. That is a shocking number, and the kind of sustained losses that are possible only for a Silicon Valley start-up with extremely patient investors. (Imagine a deli that charged $10 for a sandwich whose ingredients cost $19.66, and then imagine how long that deli would stay in business.)

Pandemic-related losses, coupled with the pressure to turn a profit, forced Bird to trim its sails. It raised its prices — a Bird now costs as much as $1 plus 42 cents a minute in some cities — built more durable scooters and revamped its fleet management system. During the second half of 2020, the company made $1.43 in profit for every $10 ride.

“DoorDash and Pizza Arbitrage,” about the time he realized that DoorDash was selling pizzas from his friend’s restaurant for $16 while paying the restaurant $24 per pizza, and proceeded to order dozens of pizzas from the restaurant while pocketing the $8 difference, stands as a classic of the genre.)

But it’s hard to fault these investors for wanting their companies to turn a profit. And, at a broader level, it’s probably good to find more efficient uses for capital than giving discounts to affluent urbanites.

Back in 2018, I wrote that the entire economy was starting to resemble MoviePass, the subscription service whose irresistible, deeply unprofitable offer of daily movie tickets for a flat $9.95 subscription fee paved the way for its decline. Companies like MoviePass, I thought, were trying to defy the laws of gravity with business models that assumed that if they achieved enormous scale, they’d be able to flip a switch and start making money at some point down the line. (This philosophy, which was more or less invented by Amazon, is now known in tech circles as “blitzscaling.”)

There is still plenty of irrationality in the market, and some start-ups still burn huge piles of money in search of growth. But as these companies mature, they seem to be discovering the benefits of financial discipline. Uber lost only $108 million in the first quarter of 2021 — a change partly attributable to the sale of its autonomous driving unit, and a vast improvement, believe it or not, over the same quarter last year, when it lost $3 billion. Both Uber and Lyft have pledged to become profitable on an adjusted basis this year. Lime, Bird’s main electric scooter competitor, turned its first quarterly profit last year, and Bird — which recently filed to go public through a SPAC at a $2.3 billion valuation — has projected better economics in the years ahead.

Profits are good for investors, of course. And while it’s painful to pay subsidy-free prices for our extravagances, there’s also a certain justice to it. Hiring a private driver to shuttle you across Los Angeles during rush hour should cost more than $16, if everyone in that transaction is being fairly compensated. Getting someone to clean your house, do your laundry or deliver your dinner should be a luxury, if there’s no exploitation involved. The fact that some high-end services are no longer easily affordable by the merely semi-affluent may seem like a worrying development, but maybe it’s a sign of progress.

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U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.

Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.

Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.

“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”

announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.

Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.

But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.

CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.

“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”

In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”

Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.

said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.

Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.

Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.

Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.

“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.

In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.

The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.

Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.

Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.

One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.

In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.

Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”

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5 Tips to Take Command of Your iPhone

Last month, Apple released an update to its operating system, iOS 14.5, which gives users more control of their personal data. But if you’re looking to gain more control over the iPhone itself, you also have options. Want to put your favorite apps within easy reach, tag friends in Messages or set your preferred browser to open links? You can do all that and more.

Here are a few quick tips for enhancing the iPhone experience. Next week’s Tech Tip column will round up a few helpful hints for the Android faithful.

The Control Center — that handy panel of often-used settings summoned with a finger swipe — first appeared back in 2013 and got more useful when Apple began to let users add their preferred buttons a few years later. If you haven’t tinkered with your Control Center to add the features and functions you use the most, just open the Settings icon on the home screen, scroll down to Control Center and give it a tap.

Credit…Apple

From the list on the next screen, choose the icons for the apps and settings you want to live in your Control Center. While tools like the Flashlight are typically there by default, you can remove those you never use and add icons for apps you want, like the Magnifier, the QR Code scanner or even the Shazam music recognition feature. To rearrange the order of the icons on the screen, drag them up and down the list before you close the Settings app.

Back Tap feature to have your iPhone perform a specific action when you give it quick taps on the back.

Credit…Apple

To set it up, open the Settings, select Accessibility and then Touch, and scroll down to Back Tap. Once you select Back Tap, select either Double or Triple Tap and choose an action on the next screen, like opening the Spotlight search app or the Control Center or running a Shortcut you’ve set up with Apple’s Shortcuts app. You can assign two separate tasks to the Double Tap and Triple Tap functions — and Back Tap should work even if your iPhone is in a case.

Tired of the iPhone always opening the Safari browser instead of your favored DuckDuckGo when you tap a link, or firing up Apple’s Mail program instead of the Gmail app when you select an email address from your Contacts list? If your iPhone is running iOS 14 or later, you can choose the apps you want as your default programs.

Messages chat or get someone’s attention in a group conversation, just as you can on some social media platforms? You can do both.

Credit…Apple

To reply to a certain message in either a one-on-one or group chat where everyone is using the Messages app, press your finger on that message until a menu appears. Select Reply, enter your response and tap the blue Send arrow. To tag someone in a conversation so he or she gets a notification, put the @ symbol in front of the name or just type the name and select it when it pops up onscreen from your Contacts.

Apple’s Siri voice assistant, celebrating a decade on the iPhone this October, has been losing ground in knowledge and usefulness to Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant in recent years. To boost Siri’s powers, Apple added more skills in iOS 14. And with iOS 14.5, it now includes a more diverse set of voices.

Credit…Apple

To change how and when Siri sounds, open the Settings icon on the home screen, select Siri & Search and make your selections. You can also opt to display your conversations on the screen by tapping Siri Responses and turning on “Always Show Siri Captions” and “Always Show Speech” to make sure you see the last word, too.

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The Big Deal in Amazon’s Antitrust Case

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

Hoo boy, this is a moment. A government authority in the United States has sued Amazon over claims that the company is breaking the law by unfairly crushing competition.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by the attorney general for the District of Columbia, joins the recent government antitrust cases against Google and Facebook. These lawsuits will take forever, and legal experts have said that the companies likely have the upper hand in court.

The D.C. attorney general, Karl Racine, however, is making a legal argument against Amazon that is both old-school and novel, and it might become a blueprint for crimping Big Tech power.

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

told me that he believed that those price claims were the strongest potential antitrust case against Amazon on legal grounds. (He has since been picked to advise the White House on corporate competition issues.)

I don’t know if any of these lawsuits against Big Tech will succeed at chipping away at the companies’ tremendous influence. And I can’t definitively say whether we’re better or worse off by having a handful of powerful technology companies that make products used and often loved by billions of people.

the price of power is scrutiny.

How to fight back against bogus online information: The comedian Sarah Silverman and three of my colleagues are hosting a virtual event Wednesday about disinformation and how to combat it. Sign up here for the online event at 7 p.m. Eastern. It’s open only to New York Times subscribers.



fine social media companies for permanently barring political candidates’ accounts. The measure is most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable, Democrats, libertarian groups and tech companies told my colleague David McCabe, but it’s a response to Facebook’s and Twitter’s suspension of former President Donald Trump.

  • Posting is life. My colleague Taylor Lorenz explains how social media invitations to a teenager’s birthday party spread on TikTok and drew thousands of people and a police crackdown. The event got big partly because it was an opportunity for attendees to post compelling material online. SIGH.

  • POTUS loves Apple News? I don’t like it when computers and smartphones come with the device makers’ apps already installed, but it’s effective — even with the president of the United States. The Washington Post reported that during the 2020 campaign Joe Biden shared with aides human interest stories from Apple News, which came on his iPhone and he apparently hadn’t deleted.

  • The Linda Lindas are glorious. Here is the talented punk band of four girls between the ages of 10 and 16 — Bela, Eloise, Mila and Lucia — playing “Racist, Sexist Boy” at a Los Angeles public library. The Guardian interviewed them about their sudden internet fame.


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    Veterinary offices go upscale to care for pets (and their owners).

    More than 12.6 million United States households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices.

    That heightened demand has drawn investors and others to the market for veterinary services. Landlords who might have spurned tenants associated with unpleasant odors and noise are more amenable to leasing to the clinics after a year when the vets paid their rent while other businesses fell behind. And architecture firms that specialize in the design of vet space are busier than ever.

    Tech-savvy start-ups are promising a reinvention of the experience, with phone apps, round-the-clock telemedicine and boutique storefronts with refreshments (for pet owners).

    The pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.

    “Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, the chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now, it’s all about pets.”

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    Vets Go Upscale to Care for Pets (and Their Owners)

    When Allegra Brochin and her boyfriend adopted Sprinkles, a feisty white Maltese, last year, they set about finding pet care.

    “I immediately started looking,” said Ms. Brochin, 23, who works as a communications coordinator for Michael Kors in New York.

    She saw ads for Bond Vet pop up on her Instagram feed, and when she took in Sprinkles for her shots, she was won over by the look and feel of the clinic, “especially when it’s for a pet you care about and feel responsible for,” she said.

    Ms. Brochin is not alone in her devotion to her pandemic pet. More than 12.6 million households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices, as new owners took pets in for their first checkup.

    pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.

    “Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now it’s all about pets.”

    Small Door Veterinary recently announced it had raised $20 million and planned to go from a single location to 25 by 2025. The firm operates on a membership model, with 24/7 telemedicine and waiting areas with arched, white oak-paneled alcoves that give owners and their pets an intimate place to chill before appointments. Designed by Alda Ly Architecture, the clinics are rented storefronts of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and cost about $1 million to kit out, said Josh Guttman, Small Door’s co-founder and chief executive.

    Bond Vet, another New York start-up, models itself on CityMD clinics; it recently raised $17 million and now has six offices, including its first suburban location, in Garden City on Long Island.

    Modern Animal, has an office in a high-end shopping district in West Hollywood, with three more to come in the city by year’s end and a dozen clinics in California by 2022, said the company’s founder and chief executive, Steven Eidelman.

    new pet owners during the pandemic. Seventy-six percent of millennials own pets, according to a recent survey, and they are spending generously on their charges.

    Terravet Real Estate Solutions, founded in 2016, now owns more than 100 buildings in 30 states, many of them housing practices owned by consolidators. For instance, Terravet owns the building housing CountryChase Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and the American Veterinary Group, which operates practices across the South, owns the business.

    Hound Properties, founded two years ago, has been buying buildings with an investor-backed fund. And Vetley Capital, started this year, has a portfolio of 20 buildings in nine states, most of them on the small side, ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and costing around $1 million, said Zach Goldman, the company’s founder and president.

    The price of real estate has risen, but the returns are generally modest. “It’s the ultimate slow and steady income,” said Tripp Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Hound Properties, who is also a practicing vet.

    Despite the interest, there are obstacles to opening pet hospitals. Zoning sometimes limits their locations. In Pasadena, Calif., GD Realty had to request a zoning change for Modern Animal.

    Because such businesses revolve around animal doctors, who are in demand as veterinary companies expand, there are shortages of vets in some parts of the country, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

    The improvements in vet facilities are thus aimed not only at pets and their owners, but also at the doctors themselves, who can choose where they want to work.

    “It used to be that when you went to a vet, it was a family vet who worked out of a kitchen in an old house,” said Dr. Stewart. “Today, you’re not going to attract new young vets to an old house.”

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