HONG KONG — Viewers of some of China’s most popular online variety shows were recently greeted by a curious sight: a blur of pixels obscuring the brands on sneakers and T-shirts worn by contestants.
As far as viewers could tell, the censored apparel showed no hints of obscenity or indecency. Instead, the problem lay with the foreign brands that made them.
Since late March, streaming platforms in China have diligently censored the logos and symbols of brands like Adidas that adorn contestants performing dance, singing and standup-comedy routines. The phenomenon followed a feud between the government and big-name international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are accused of mounting a wide-reaching campaign of repression against ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs.
While the anger in China against Western brands has been palpable and enduring on social media, the sight of performers turned into rapidly moving blobs of censored shoes and clothing has provided rare, albeit unintentional, comic relief for Chinese viewers amid a heated global dispute. It has also exposed the unexpected political tripwires confronting apolitical entertainment platforms as the government continues to weaponize the Chinese consumer in its political disputes with the West.
resurfaced a statement H&M made months ago expressing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang.
they would avoid using Xinjiang cotton, and one after another, many Chinese celebrities severed ties with them. Since then, the loyalty test seems to have spread to streaming shows.
Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies media and politics, said he believed that the platforms most likely censored the brands to pre-empt a backlash from viewers.
“If anyone is not happy with those brands appearing in the shows, they could start a social media campaign attacking the producers, which could attract attention from the government and eventually lead to punishment,” he said by email on Thursday.
As the blurring spread across apparel brands, it led to some hiccups on shows. The video platform iQiyi announced that it would delay the release of an episode of “Youth With You 3,” a reality show for aspiring pop idols. It did not disclose the reason, but internet users surmised that it had to do with Adidas, which had supplied T-shirts and sneakers for the contestants to wear as a sort of team uniform.
Some internet users made mocking predictions about how the upcoming episode would look, photoshopping images to flip the contestants vertically so that their Adidas T-shirts read, “Sabiba” instead.
The earlobes of male pop stars have been airbrushed to hide earrings deemed too effeminate. A period drama featuring décolletage distinctive to the Tang Dynasty was pulled off the air in 2015, only to be replaced with a version that cropped out much of the costumes and awkwardly zoomed in on the talking heads of the performers. Soccer players have been ordered to cover arm tattoos with long sleeves.
The onscreen censorship illustrates the difficult line that the online video platforms, which are regulated by the National Radio and Television Administration, need to tread.
“The blurring is likely the platforms’ self-censorship in order to be safe than sorry,” said Haifeng Huang, an associate professor of political science at the University of California at Merced and a scholar of authoritarianism and public opinion in China.
“But it nevertheless implies the power of the state and the nationalistic segment of the society, which is also likely the message that the audience gets: These big platforms have to censor themselves even without being explicitly told so.”
The blurring episodes also show how the platforms seem to be willing to sacrifice the quality of the viewing experience to avoid political fallout, even when they become the butt of audience jokes.
“In a social environment where censorship is commonplace, people are desensitized and even treat it as another form of entertainment,” Professor Huang said.
Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. Few reporters heeded the Orwellian directive, and the junta embraced a new goal — crushing all free expression.
Since then, the regime has arrested at least 56 journalists, outlawed online news outlets known for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded while taking photographs of the anti-coup demonstrations.
With professional journalists under pressure, many young people who came of age during a decade of social media and information sharing in Myanmar have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to help document the military’s brutality. They take photographs and videos with their phones and share them online when they get access. It is a role so common now they are known simply as “CJs.”
“They are targeting professional journalists so our country needs more CJs,” said Ma Thuzar Myat, one of the citizen journalists. “I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.”
the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, stamped out a pro-democracy movement by massacring an estimated 3,000 people. She said she saw it as her duty to help capture evidence of today’s violence even though one soldier had already threatened to kill her if she didn’t stop.
The regime’s apparent goal is to turn back the clock to a time when the military ruled the country, the media was firmly in its grip and only the wealthiest people had access to cellphones and the internet. But the new generation of young people who grew up with the internet say they are not giving up their freedoms without a fight.
Facebook became the dominant online forum. A vibrant media sprouted online and newsstands overflowed with competing papers.
Since the Feb. 1 coup, protests have erupted almost daily — often with young people at the forefront — and a broad-based civil disobedience movement has brought the economy to a virtual halt. In response, soldiers and the police have killed at least 536 people.
At the United Nations on Wednesday, the special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that “a blood bath is imminent.” The regime has arrested thousands, including the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Thursday, one of her lawyers said she had been charged with violating the official secrets act, adding to a list of alleged offenses.
While the military uses state-owned media to spread its propaganda and fire off warnings, attacks on journalists have increased drastically in recent weeks, as have arrests.
hop on his good leg as they lead him away.
Another photojournalist shot that day, U Si Thu, 36, was hit in his left hand as he was holding his camera to his face and photographing soldiers in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city. He said he believes the soldier who shot him was aiming for his head.
“I had two cameras,” he said,“so it was obvious that I am a photojournalist even though I had no press helmet or vest.”
“I’m sure that the military junta is targeting journalists because they know we are showing the world the reality on the ground and they want to stop us by arresting or killing us,” he added.
Of the 56 journalists arrested, half have been released, according to a group that is tracking arrests. Among those freed were reporters for The Associated Press and the BBC.
But 28 remain in custody, including at least 15 who face prison sentences of up to three years under an unusual law that prohibits the dissemination of information that might induce military officers to disregard or fail in their duties.
Ma Kay Zon Nway, 27, a reporter for Myanmar Now, live streamed her own arrest in late February as she was running from the police in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Her video shows the police firing in the air as protesters flee. The sound of her labored breathing is audible as the police catch up and take her away.
She is among those who have been charged under the vague and sweeping statute. She has been allowed to meet just once in person with her lawyer.
Mr. Swe Win, the Myanmar Now editor, himself served seven years in prison for protesting in 1998. “All these court proceedings are being done just for the sake of formality,” he said, adding, “We cannot expect any fair treatment.”
With mobile communications blocked, Facebook banned and nightly internet shutdowns, Myanmar’s mainstream media has come to rely on citizen journalists for videos and news tips, said Mr. Myint Kyaw, the former press council secretary.
One of them, Ko Aung Aung Kyaw, 26, was taking videos of the police arresting people in his Yangon neighborhood when an officer spotted him. The officer swore at him,aimed his rifle and fired, Mr. Aung Aung Kyaw’s video shows.
The bullet hit a wall in front of him.
“I know that recording these kinds of things is very risky and I might get shot to death or arrested,” he said. “But I believe I need to keep doing it for the sake of having a record of evidence to punish them.”
Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had manipulated vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, including during appearances on Fox News programs. In January, Dominion individually sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers write in the complaint. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
Fox News did not immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment.
In February, Fox Corporation filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of news coverage of a matter of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
After a failed initial public offering and the near implosion of its business in 2019, WeWork said Friday that it had agreed to a deal that would take the beleaguered co-working company onto the stock market.
Instead of a traditional I.P.O., WeWork is merging with BowX Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, in a type of deal that has become hugely popular in recent months.
WeWork leases office space and then effectively sublets it to its members. Its heady expansion was fueled by big investments from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that became WeWork’s largest shareholder and rescued the company in 2019 just as it was about to run out of cash.
WeWork said the deal with BowX gives it an equity value of $7.9 billion, far less than the $40 billion value that investors placed on the company in 2019. WeWork will receive $1.3 billion in cash from the deal, including $800 million from Insight Partners, Starwood Capital Group, BlackRock and other investors.
The pandemic emptied WeWork’s offices, and has raised questions about the level of demand for its office space after many people have gotten used to working from home. The company said Friday that memberships fell to 476,000 last year, from 619,000 in 2019.
WeWork says it has improved its cost structure.
“WeWork has spent the past year transforming the business and refocusing its core, while simultaneously managing and innovating through a historic downturn,” Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork’s chief executive, said in a statement Friday.
A company presentation released Friday said WeWork had a net loss of $3.8 billion last year, more or less the same as in 2019. The 2020 loss included a $1.4 billion impairment charge. Last year, WeWork’s operations consumed $857 million of cash, more than the $448 million they used up in 2019.
The path to a deal was cleared last month when Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork, and SoftBank settled a legal dispute. WeWork had called off its I.P.O. in 2019 after investors balked at its losses and criticized its governance practices.
SoftBank has been eager to take WeWork public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a route to Wall Street that has become increasingly popular in recent months. As of Wednesday, 295 SPACs had gone public in 2021, raising $93 billion and breaking last year’s record in a matter of months.
Personal income and spending dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
The government reported on Friday that personal income fell 7.1 percent in February from the previous month, while consumption dropped by 1 percent. Powered by $600 checks to most Americans from a December relief bill, income in January leapt by 10.1 percent, while consumption rose by 3.4 percent, a figure revised Friday from the originally reported 2.4 percent.
Despite the drop last month, a big pickup is expected in March with the arrival of $1,400 payments to most Americans from the $1.9 trillion relief package signed into law this month.
In the months ahead, most economists expect consumers to return in greater numbers to stores, restaurants and other gathering places as vaccination efforts gather speed and consumers put the stimulus money and lockdown-accumulated savings to work.
“In February, households were waiting for the bigger stimulus check coming in March and there will be a surge in consumer spending, particularly on services,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.
All of the drop in spending last month was for goods, Mr. Faucher noted, as consumers pulled back on buying big-ticket items like automobiles and appliances. Services should benefit in the coming months, he added, as people have more opportunities to go out and life increasingly returns to normal more than one year after the pandemic hit.
“Consumer spending will be very strong for the remainder of this year and into 2022,” Mr. Faucher added. “There’s a lot of money saved up.”
Economists have improved their forecasts for U.S. economic growth, with Bank of America foreseeing a 7 percent increase this year in gross domestic product.
Stocks rose on Friday, along with government bond yields, amid a bout of optimism about the economic recovery.
On Thursday, President Biden said he wanted the United States to administer 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, on April 30, a target the country is already on track to meet. The Federal Reserve vice chair, Richard Clarida, pushed back on concerns that the government’s spending plans would fuel higher sustained inflation.
In a victory for financial institutions, the central bank said that pandemic-era rules that restricted share buybacks and dividend payouts by banks would end midway through 2021 for most firms. On the economic front, gross domestic product data for the fourth quarter was also revised slightly higher on Thursday.
Stocks & Bonds
The S&P 500 index rose nearly half a percent in early trading, on track to end the week with a small gain. Bank stocks fared better than the broad market, with the KBW Bank index up about 1.5 percent.
The Stoxx 600 Europe rose 0.6 percent, set for a fourth consecutive week of gains.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.67 percent.
Personal income and spending in the United States dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
Retail sales in Britain rose 2.1 percent in February, rebounding from a slump of 8.2 percent the month before, when the country entered a third national lockdown.
A survey of German business expectations rose to the highest level in nearly three years.
Oil prices rose with futures of Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbing 1.7 percent to $63 a barrel.
The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday upheld a 2019 ruling that Tesla had illegally fired a worker involved in union organizing and that the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, had illegally threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized.
The board ruled that the worker, Richard Ortiz, must be reinstated with back pay, and that Mr. Musk must delete his tweet. The company must also post a notice committing not to violate labor law in the future and announcing that it will undertake the mandated remedies.
Mr. Ortiz had been visibly involved in union organizing, including distributing leaflets in the parking lot of the company’s plant in Fremont, Calif., before he was fired in October 2017. The company said it fired him because he had posted screenshots of employees’ profiles in an internal platform to Facebook. An administrative law judge ruled that it was in retaliation for his organizing efforts.
The judge also found that the company had illegally issued a warning to another employee for taking the screenshots and sending them to Mr. Ortiz, a ruling that the board upheld on Thursday as well.
In May 2018, Mr. Musk posted his tweet, which included the clause, “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” Both the judge and the board deemed the post an unlawful attempt to coerce employees by threatening their compensation.
The board went further than the judge’s earlier ruling on some questions, finding that Tesla’s confidentiality agreement, which it required employees to sign, unlawfully prohibited them from speaking with the media about Tesla without authorization even if the material was public. The ruling on Thursday requires the company to amend its agreement.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
A one-of-a-kind digital collectible item created out of a New York Times technology column sold for more than $500,000 in an auction, the first such sale in the history of the newspaper.
An image of the column — titled “Buy This Column on the Blockchain!” — was turned into a nonfungible token, or NFT, and sold in a heated auction that brought in more than 30 bids on the NFT marketplace website Foundation.
The NFT, a unique bit of digital code that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain and refers to a 14 megabyte graphic of the column hosted on a decentralized file hosting service, cannot be duplicated or counterfeited, making it potentially valuable for collectors. Some NFTs have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, with one such sale — a collection of art by the digital artist Beeple — bringing in more than $69 million at auction.
Along with the token, the winner of the auction — should they choose to identify themselves — will receive additional perks including a voice message from Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily” podcast. All proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Neediest Cases Fund, a Times-affiliated charity.
The winner of the auction, an NFT collector who goes by the handle @3fmusic, placed a last-minute winning bid of 350 ether, a digital currency, which translates to roughly $560,000 at Wednesday’s exchange rates. A link on the user’s profile led to the website of a Dubai-based music studio.
@3fmusic could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon. The user appeared to be an avid collector of NFT artwork. In addition to the Times token, their collection on Foundation also includes such works as “The result of 2020,” an image of a sad-looking Kermit the Frog, and “Mushy’s Midafternoon Nap,” an image of a cartoon toadstool sitting on a log.
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Here’s what you need to know.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said that the site played a role in the storming of the Capitol, in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment by a top social media executive of the influence of the platforms on the riot. When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Mr. Dorsey said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
As lawmakers on Thursday threatened to strip the liability protection encoded in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the chieftains of the biggest social networks couldn’t agree on how to fix the act, or if it even needs fixing. Mr. Zuckerberg urged Congress to take on “thoughtful reform” of Section 230. He said the law needed to be updated for the modern age. Mr. Pichai said while regulation has a role to play in “addressing harm and improving accountability,” he cautioned that recent proposals to change Section 230 would have unintended consequences.
Democratic lawmakers accused the chief executives of making money by allowing disinformation to run rampant online, reflecting their mounting frustration about the spread of extremism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods online in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol.
Republican lawmakers came into the hearing steaming about the Capitol riot, but their animus was focused on the decisions by the platforms to ban right-wing figures, including former President Donald J. Trump, for inciting violence. The decisions to ban Mr. Trump, many of his associates and other conservatives, they said, amounted to liberal bias and censorship.
Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. And if the trend continues, it would put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.
The potential confrontation made some market veterans recall the events of the 1990s when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending, Nelson D. Schwartz reports for The New York Times. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.
Ed Yardeni, an independent economist, coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs of fiscal deficits getting out of hand.
“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”
Yet, evidence of inflation remains elusive, and the bond vigilantes remain outliers. Even many economists at financial firms who expect faster growth as a result of the stimulus package are not ready to predict inflation’s return.
Even if inflation goes up slightly, the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate, said Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a former top Fed official.
“Bond traders are an excitable lot and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”
“I don’t think anyone wants a world where you can only say things that private companies judge to be true.” “Our mission is to organize the world’s information, and make it universally accessible and useful.” “We believe in free debate and conversation to find the truth. At the same time, we must balance that with our desire for our service not to be used to sow confusion, division or destruction.” “There are two faces to each of your platforms. Facebook has family and friends, neighborhood, but it is right next to the one where there is a white nationalist rally every day. YouTube is a place where people share quirky videos, but down the street, anti-vaxxers Covid deniers, QAnon supporters and Flat Earthers are sharing videos.” “You’ve failed to meaningfully change after your platform has played a role in fomenting insurrection, and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties. And while it may be true that some bad actors will shout ‘fire’ in the crowded theater by promoting harmful content, your platforms are handing them a megaphone to be heard in every theater across the country and the world. Your business model itself has become the problem.” “How is it possible for you not to at least admit that Facebook played a central role or a leading role in facilitating the recruitment, planning and execution of the attack on the Capitol?” “Chairman, my point is that I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law, and take and do the insurrection and secondarily, also the people who spread that content, including the president, but others as well.” “Your platform bears some responsibility for disseminating disinformation related to the election and the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement that led to the attack on the Capitol. Just a yes or no answer.” “Congressman, it’s a complex question. We —” “OK, we’ll move on. Mr Dorsey.” “Yes, but you also have to take into consideration a broader ecosystem. It’s not just the technology platforms we use.” “We’re all aware of big tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda by influencing a generation of children — removing, shutting down or canceling any news, books and even now, toys, that aren’t considered woke.” “First of all, do you recognize that there is a real concern, that there’s an anti-conservative bias on Twitter’s behalf? And would you recognize that this has to stop if this is going to be, Twitter is going to be viewed by both sides as a place where everybody is going to get a fair treatment?” “We don’t write policy according to any particular political leaning. If we find any of it, we route it out.”
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, causing Twitter’s chief executive to publicly admit for the first time that his product had played a role in the events that left five people dead.
When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
The roughly five-hour hearing before a House committee marked the first time lawmakers directly questioned the chief executives regarding social media’s role in the January riot. The tech bosses were also peppered with questions about how their companies helped spread falsehoods around Covid-19 vaccines, enable racism and hurt children’s mental health.
It was also the first time the executives had testified since President Biden’s inauguration. Tough questioning from lawmakers signaled that scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s business practices would not let up, and could even intensify, with Democrats in the White House and leading both chambers of Congress.
tweeted a single question mark with a poll that had two options: “Yes” or “No.” When asked about his tweet by a lawmaker, he said “yes” was winning.
The January riot at the Capitol has made the issue of disinformation deeply personal for lawmakers. The riot was fueled by false claims from President Donald J. Trump and others that the election had been stolen, which were rampant on social media.
Some of the participants had connections to QAnon and other online conspiracy theories. And prosecutors have said that groups involved in the riot, including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, coordinated some of their actions on social media.
ban Mr. Trump and his associates after the Jan. 6 riots. The bans hardened views by conservatives that the companies are left-leaning and are inclined to squelch conservative voices.
“We’re all aware of Big Tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda,” said Representative Bob Latta of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel’s technology subcommittee.
The company leaders defended their businesses, saying they had invested heavily in hiring content moderators and in technology like artificial intelligence, used to identify and fight disinformation.
Mr. Zuckerberg argued against the notion that his company had a financial incentive to juice its users’ attention by driving them toward more extreme content. He said Facebook didn’t design “algorithms in order to just kind of try to tweak and optimize and get people to spend every last minute on our service.”
He added later in the hearing that elections disinformation was spread in messaging apps, where amplification and algorithms don’t aid in spread of false content. He also blamed television and other traditional media for spreading election lies.
The companies showed fissures in their view on regulations. Facebook has vocally supported internet regulations in a major advertising blitz on television and in newspapers. In the hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested specific regulatory reforms to a key legal shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that has helped Facebook and other Silicon Valley internet giants thrive.
The legal shield protects companies that host and moderate third-party content, and says companies like Google and Twitter are simply intermediaries of their user-generated content. Democrats have argued that with that protection, companies aren’t motivated to remove disinformation. Republicans accuse the companies of using the shield to moderate too much and to take down content that doesn’t represent their political viewpoints.
“I believe that Section 230 would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in the statement.
He proposed that liability protection for companies be conditional on their ability to fight the spread of certain types of unlawful content. He said platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it. Reforms, he said, should be different for smaller social networks, which wouldn’t have the same resources like Facebook to meet new requirements.
Mr. Pichai and Mr. Dorsey said they supported requirements of transparency in content moderation but fell short of agreeing with Mr. Zuckerberg’s other ideas. Mr. Dorsey said that it would be very difficult to distinguish a large platform from a smaller one.
Lawmakers did not appear to be won over.
“There’s a lot of smugness among you,” said Representative Bill Johnson, a Republican of Ohio. “There’s this air of untouchable-ness in your responses to many of the tough questions that you’re being asked.”
Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google are appearing at a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about how disinformation spreads across their platforms.
Democratic lawmakers accused the chief executives of allowing disinformation to run rampant online, reflecting their mounting frustration about the spread of extremism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods online in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Their comments opened the first hearing since President Biden’s inauguration featuring Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter. They were a signal that scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s business practices will not let up, and may even intensify, with Democrats in the White House and leading both chambers of Congress.
The January riot made the issue of disinformation intensely personal for many lawmakers. Some participants have been linked to online conspiracies like QAnon, which the platforms have tried to stem in recent months.
“We fled as a mob desecrated the Capitol, the House floor and our democratic process,” said Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “That attack and the movement that motivated it started and was nourished on your platforms.”
Lawmakers argued that the platforms also had enabled misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers’ growing frustration comes as they consider whether to more tightly regulate the business models of the platforms. Some have proposed modifying a legal shield that protects websites from lawsuits over content posted by their users, arguing that it allows the companies to get away negligence in policing their products.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, said Thursday that the executives should take away that “self-regulation has come to the end of its road.”
Republican lawmakers came into the hearing steaming about the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, but their animus was focused on the decisions by the platforms to ban right-wing figures, including former President Donald J. Trump, for inciting violence.
The decisions to ban Mr. Trump, many of his associates and other conservatives, they said, amounted to liberal bias and censorship.
“We’re all aware of Big Tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda,” said Bob Latta, the ranking Republican of the House’s communications and technology subcommittee.
After the Capitol riots, Mr. Trump and some of his top aides were temporarily or indefinitely banned on major social media sites.
Mr. Latta’s comments are expected to be echoed by many Republicans in the hearing. They say the platforms have become gatekeepers of information, and they accuse the companies of trying to suppress conservative views. The claims have been consistently refuted by academics.
Mr. Latta homed in on the legal shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and whether the big tech companies deserve the regulatory protection.
“Section 230 provides you with the liability protection for content moderation decisions made in good faith,” Mr. Latta said. But he said the companies have appeared to use their moderating powers to censor viewpoints that the companies disagree with. “I find that highly concerning.”
The chief executives of Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter are expected to face tough questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democrats have focused on disinformation, especially in the wake of the Capitol riot. Republicans, meanwhile, have already questioned the companies about their decisions to remove conservative personalities and stories from their platforms.
New York Times reporters have covered many of the examples that could come up. Here are the facts to know about them:
How a Stabbing in Israel Echoes Through the Fight Over Online Speech
After his son was stabbed to death in Israel by a member of the militant group Hamas in 2016, Stuart Force decided that Facebook was partly to blame for the death, because the algorithms that power the social network helped spread Hamas’s content. He joined relatives of other terror victims in suing the company, arguing that its algorithms aided the crimes by regularly amplifying posts that encouraged terrorist attacks. Arguments about the algorithms’ power have reverberated in Washington.
What is Section 230? Legal Shield for Websites is Targeted by Lawmakers
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, has helped Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and countless other internet companies flourish. But Section 230’s liability protection also extends to fringe sites known for hosting hate speech, anti-Semitic content and racist tropes. As scrutiny of big technology companies has intensified in Washington over a wide variety of issues, including how they handle the spread of disinformation or police hate speech, Section 230 has faced new focus.
Facebook Dials Down the Politics for Users
After inflaming political discourse around the globe, Facebook is trying to turn down the temperature. The social network started changing its algorithm to reduce the political content in users’ news feeds. Facebook previewed the change earlier this year when Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, said the company was experimenting with ways to tamp down divisive political debates among users. “One of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” he said.
From Voter Fraud to Vaccine Lies: Misinformation Peddlers Shift Gears
As the Electoral College affirmed Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election, voter fraud misinformation subsided. But peddlers of online falsehoods ramped up lies about the Covid-19 vaccines. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, as well as far-right websites like ZeroHedge, have begun pushing false vaccine narratives, researchers said. Their efforts have been amplified by a robust network of anti-vaccination activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
In Pulling Trump’s Megaphone, Twitter and Facebook Show Where Power Now Lies
In the end, two billionaires from California did what legions of politicians, prosecutors and power brokers had tried and failed to do for years: They pulled the plug on President Trump. Journalists and historians will spend years unpacking the improvisational nature of the bans, and scrutinizing why they arrived just as Mr. Trump was losing his power, and Democrats were poised to take control of Congress and the White House. The bans have also turned up the heat on a free-speech debate that has been simmering for years.
In the fall of 2017, when Congress called on Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify about their role in Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election, the companies didn’t send their chief executives — as lawmakers had requested — and instead summoned their lawyers to face the fire.
During the hearings, the politicians complained that the general counsels were answering questions about whether the companies contributed to undermining the democratic process instead of “the top people who are actually making the decisions,” as Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, put it.
It was clear Capitol Hill wanted its pound of C.E.O. flesh and that hiding behind the lawyers was not going to work for long. That initial concern about how the chieftains of Silicon Valley would handle grilling from lawmakers is no longer a worry. After a slew of hearings in recent years, both virtual and in-person, the executives have had plenty of practice.
Since 2018, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has testified on three different occasions. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, has made four appearances, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, has testified six times.
And when the three men again face questioning on Thursday, they will do so now as seasoned veterans in the art of deflecting the most vicious attacks and then redirecting to their carefully practiced talking points.
In general, Mr. Pichai tends to disagree politely and quickly at the sharpest jabs from lawmakers — such as when Mr. Pichai was asked last year why Google steals content from honest businesses — but not harp on it. When a politician tries to pin him down on a specific issue, he often relies on a familiar delay tactic: My staff will get back to you.
Mr. Pichai is not a dynamic cult-of-personality tech leader like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but his reserved demeanor and earnestness is well suited for the congressional spotlight.
Mr. Zuckerberg has also grown more comfortable with the hearings over time and more emphatic about what the company is doing to combat misinformation. At his first appearance in 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg was contrite and made promises to do better for failing to protect users’ data and prevent Russian interference in elections.
Since then, he has pushed the message that Facebook is a platform for good, while carefully laying out the steps that the company is taking to stamp out disinformation online.
As the sessions have gone virtual during the pandemic, Mr. Dorsey’s appearances, hunched over a laptop camera, carry a just-another-guy-on-Zoom vibe when compared to the softly lit neutral backdrops for the Google and Facebook chiefs.
Mr. Dorsey tends to remain extremely calm — almost zen-like — when pressed with aggressive questions and often engages on technical issues that rarely illicit a follow-up.
about 17.2 million have HBO Max accounts. That suggests that of the company’s new subscriber target, not all of them will necessarily be streaming HBO Max.
The company has a complicated setup around HBO Max. People can sign up for the service directly, and those who already pay for the premium cable channel through their cable or satellite provider also have access, but not everyone has set up their streaming account. The service is also offered for free or at a reduced price to AT&T’s wireless customers.
The jump into international markets shows how aggressively AT&T needs to expand its streaming enterprise. The addition of an advertising-based service means the company sees an opportunity to capture the ad dollars that have started to move away from traditional television. It’s unclear if the ad-supported version will be free or whether it will only be available at a reduced price from HBO Max’s current $15 per month cost.
Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the unit that manages HBO, said the service is expected to start making money after 2025. It should generate about $15 billion in sales by that year, he added.
HBO Max has become a key part of AT&T’s overall strategy to keep and grow mobile customers, so losing money is less of an immediate concern if it helps AT&T retain its core wireless subscribers. Mr. Kilar emphasized HBO Max’s value to the phone business, citing that 25 percent of HBO Max customers have come via AT&T.
He ended his presentation with a cliché from the Warner Bros. film archives: “It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Lawmakers on Friday debated an antitrust bill that would give news publishers collective bargaining power with online platforms like Facebook and Google, putting the spotlight on a proposal aimed at chipping away at the power of Big Tech.
At a hearing held by the House antitrust subcommittee, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, emerged as a leading industry voice in favor of the law. He took a divergent path from his tech counterparts, pointing to an imbalance in power between publishers and tech platforms. Newspaper ad revenue plummeted to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005, he said, while ad revenue at Google jumped to $116 billion from $6.1 billion.
“Even though news helps fuel search engines, news organizations frequently are uncompensated or, at best, undercompensated for its use,” Mr. Smith said. “The problems that beset journalism today are caused in part by a fundamental lack of competition in the search and ad tech markets that are controlled by Google.”
The hearing was the second in a series planned by the subcommittee to set the stage for the creation of stronger antitrust laws. In October, the subcommittee, led by Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, released the results of a 16-month investigation into the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report accused the companies of monopoly behavior.
This week, the committee’s two top leaders, Mr. Cicilline and Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, introduced the Journalism and Competition Preservation Act. The bill aims to give smaller news publishers the ability to band together to bargain with online platforms for higher fees for distributing their content. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota and the chairwoman of that chamber’s antitrust subcommittee.
Global concern is growing over the decline of local news organizations, which have become dependent on online platforms for distribution of their content. Australia recently proposed a law allowing news publishers to bargain with Google and Facebook, and lawmakers in Canada and Britain are considering similar steps.
Mr. Cicilline said, “While I do not view this legislation as a substitute for more meaningful competition online — including structural remedies to address the underlying problems in the market — it is clear that we must do something in the short term to save trustworthy journalism before it is lost forever.”
Google, though not a witness at the hearing, issued a statement in response to Mr. Smith’s planned testimony, defending its business practices and disparaging the motives of Microsoft, whose Bing search engine runs a very distant second place behind Google.
“Unfortunately, as competition in these areas intensifies, they are reverting to their familiar playbook of attacking rivals and lobbying for regulations that benefit their own interests,” wrote Kent Walker, the senior vice president of policy for Google.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida became the most prominent Republican leader to weigh in on the unionization drive at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., with a surprising endorsement of the organizing effort on Friday.
“The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over,” Mr. Rubio wrote in an opinion piece published in USA Today.
“Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” he continues. “And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today.”
More than 5,800 workers at the Amazon warehouse, outside Birmingham, are voting by mail this month to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Last week, President Biden posted a video message on Twitter referring to the vote in Alabama and espousing on the importance of unions in helping build the middle class, while excoriating employers who interfere in unionization efforts. He did not mention Amazon by name, but his remarks followed reports that the online retailer was engaged in aggressive anti-union tactics.
“We welcome support from all quarters,” the union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement. “Senator Rubio’s support demonstrates that the best way for working people to achieve dignity and respect in the workplace is through unionization. This should not be a partisan issue.”
The unionization drive has also continued to attract backing from Democrats. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an email on Friday that she supported the workers in their effort.
Mr. Rubio, who recalls marching in a union picket line with his father, a hotel bartender, accused Amazon of expressing “woke” values, while bowing to Chinese censorship. And he warned the company not to expect Republicans to come to its rescue and condone its anti-union efforts.
“Its workers are right to suspect that its management doesn’t have their best interests in mind,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “Wealthy woke C.E.O.s instead view them as a cog in a machine that consistently prioritizes global profit margins and stoking cheap culture wars. The company’s workers deserve better.”
The chief executive of Ant Group, the Chinese internet finance giant, has stepped down, the company said on Friday, a move that came in the middle of a business overhaul meant to address regulators’ concerns about its rapid growth.
Ant said its chief executive, Simon Hu, had asked to resign for personal reasons. The company’s chairman, Eric Jing, was named as Mr. Hu’s replacement, effective immediately. Mr. Jing, who will remain Ant’s chairman, previously served as chief executive until December 2019, when Mr. Hu took over the post.
Hundreds of millions of people in China use Ant’s Alipay app to make everyday payments, sock away savings and shop on credit. Ant, which was spun out of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, has faced rising scrutiny from China’s government, and officials scuttled the company’s plans last year to go public in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The company had been preparing to raise more than $34 billion by listing its shares in November, in what would have been the largest initial public offering on record. Instead, days before Ant’s shares were scheduled to begin trading, Chinese officials summoned company executives — namely, Mr. Hu, Mr. Jing and Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder — to discuss regulation. The I.P.O. was halted soon after, and financial watchdogs said Ant had taken advantage of gaps in China’s regulatory system and ordered it to revamp its business.
Mr. Hu joined Alibaba in 2005 and was president of its cloud division from 2014 to 2018. He joined Ant as president that year before becoming chief executive in 2019. Mr. Jing, also an Alibaba veteran, has been Ant’s executive chairman since April 2018. They are both members of the Alibaba Partnership, the company’s club of elite management partners.
Ford Motor said two members of the Ford family have been nominated to join the automaker’s board of directors, replacing one family member who is retiring and an independent director who has chosen not to seek re-election.
Alexandra Ford English, 33, daughter of Ford’s chairman, Bill Ford, and Henry Ford III, 40, son of Edsel B. Ford II, a current board member, are expected to be elected to the board by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on May 13. Both are great-great-grandchildren of Henry Ford, who founded the company in 1903.
Ms. English is a director in corporate strategy at the company. Henry Ford III is a director in investor relations.
They will replace Edsel Ford II, 72, who is retiring after being on the board since 1988, and John C. Lechleiter, 67, who joined Ford’s board in 2013 and is a former president of Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company.
Although the Ford family only owns a small portion of the company’s common stock, it retains effective control of the automaker though Class B shares with super-voting rights.
The stock of Coupang, a start-up in South Korea that is sometimes called the Amazon of South Korea, drifted after trading publicly for the first time in New York on Thursday.
Coupang — the company’s name is a mix of the English word “coupon” and “pang,” the Korean sound for hitting the jackpot — was founded by a Harvard Business School dropout and has shaken up shopping in South Korea, an industry long dominated by huge, button-down conglomerates.
The initial public offering raised $4.6 billion and valued Coupang at about $85 billion, the second-largest American tally for an Asian company after Alibaba Group of China in 2014. Coupang’s shares rose 6.6 percent on Friday as trading began but ended the day down 2 percent.
Coupang is South Korea’s biggest e-commerce retailer, its status further cemented by people stuck at home during the pandemic and those in the country who crave faster delivery. In a country where people are obsessed with “ppalli ppalli,” or getting things done quickly, Coupang has become a household name by offering “next-day” and even “same-day” and “dawn” delivery of groceries and millions of other items at no extra charge.
— The New York Times
Shares of Lordstown Motors, an electric-vehicle start-up, fell more than 19 percent on Friday after an investment firm claimed the company had inflated the number of orders for its pickup trucks and overstated its technological and production capabilities.
The revelations are the latest to call into question the promises made by an electric vehicle company that has gone public by merging with a shell company that has a stock market listing, cash and no operating business. Lordstown, which gained prominence by buying a former General Motors factory in Ohio to make electric trucks for commercial users, completed its merger with a shell company and started trading on the stock market in October 2020.
In a lengthy post on its website, the investment firm, Hindenburg Research, said that Lordstown’s claim of having 100,000 “pre-orders” for its electric pickup truck included tens of thousands from small companies that do not operate fleets, and others who merely agreed to consider buying trucks but made no commitment to do so. Hindenburg said it had bet against Lordstown’s stock by selling its shares short, a maneuver used by some professional investors when they believe a stock is overvalued and poised to fall.
“Our conversations with former employees, business partners and an extensive document review show that the company’s orders are largely fictitious and used as a prop to raise capital and confer legitimacy,” Hindenburg said.
A Lordstown spokesman said, “We will be sharing a full and thorough statement in the coming days, and when we do we will absolutely be refuting the Hindenburg Research report.”
One company that Lordstown said was prepared to buy 14,000 trucks, E Squared Energy, appears to be based in an apartment in Texas, have two employees and owns no vehicles. Hindenburg also unearthed a police report that showed a Lordstown prototype caught fire and burned to a shell during a test drive in January in Michigan.
On Friday morning, Lordstown shares were trading at just over $14 a share, down from their close the previous day of $17.71.
Former President Donald J. Trump hailed Lordstown in 2018 when it agreed to buy a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that General Motors had closed, and former Vice President Mike Pence participated in an unveiling of the company’s truck in June. In September, Mr. Trump hosted Lordstown’s chief executive, Steve Burns, at the White House and praised the company’s technology.
Hindenburg Research gained prominence last year when it released a report saying Nikola, an electric truck start-up, and its executive chairman, Trevor Milton, had mislead investors and exaggerated the capabilities of that company’s technology. The revelations resulted in Mr. Milton’s departure from Nikola, and prompted General Motors to scale back a partnership with the company.
Nikola denied some of Hindenburg’s claims but recently acknowledged to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Mr. Milton had made statements that were “inaccurate in whole or in part.”
Target, a fixture in downtown Minneapolis, is giving up space in a large office building there, becoming the latest company to permanently allow its staff to spend more time working from home.
The retailer told employees it would cease operations in the City Center building in downtown Minneapolis and that the 3,500 employees working there would relocate to other nearby offices, while also working from home part of the time. More than a quarter of Target’s corporate employees in the Minneapolis area work in the City Center building.
“This change is driven by Target’s longer-term headquarters environment that will include a hybrid model of remote and on-site work, allowing for flexibility and collaboration and ultimately, requiring less space,” the company said Thursday.
Office landlords across the country have been struggling to retain tenants as the pandemic drags on and companies realize their staff has been able to work effectively in a remote setting. Empty office buildings are putting a squeeze on city budgets, which are heavily reliant on property taxes.
Salesforce, the software company based in San Francisco, adopted a flex model in which most of its employees would be able to come into the office one to three days a week. In a bet that more people would work from home after the pandemic ends, Salesforce acquired the workplace software company Slack in December.
After the move, Target said it would still occupy about three million square feet of office space in the Minneapolis area.
“It’s not easy to say goodbye to City Center, but the Twin Cities is still our home after all these years,’’ Target’s chief human resources officer, Melissa Kremer, said in an email to employees.
LinkedIn has stopped allowing people in China to sign up for new member accounts while it works to ensure its service in the country remains in compliance with local law, the company said this week, without specifying what prompted the move. A company representative declined to comment further.
Unlike other global internet mainstays such as Facebook and Google, LinkedIn offers a version of its service in China, which it is able to do by hewing closely to the authoritarian government’s tight controls on cyberspace.
It censors its Chinese users in line with official mandates. It limits certain tools, such as the ability to create or join groups. It has given partial ownership of its Chinese operation to local investors.
In 2017, the company blocked individuals, but not companies, from advertising job openings on its site in China after it fell afoul of government rules requiring it to verify the identities of the people who post job listings.
The backdrop to the suspension of new user registrations is not clear. The government has previously blocked internet services that it believes to be breaking the law. In 2019, Microsoft’s Bing search engine was briefly inaccessible in China for unclear reasons. Microsoft also owns LinkedIn.
By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet
The S&P 500 inched further into record territory on Thursday, rising 0.1 percent. The index gained 2.6 percent this week, its best weekly performance since early February.
The Nasdaq composite fell 0.6 percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.9 percent.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped as much as 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage points, to 1.64 percent, its highest level in more than a year.
Higher interest rates and tighter central bank policies are now considered to be the single biggest threat to so-called risk assets, mainly stocks, according to a Bank of America survey of fund managers. Investors have grown concerned that the stimulus bill and economic rebound will trigger inflation, prompting central banks to pull back on stimulus measures.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 0.3 percent, while the FTSE 100 index in Britain rose 0.4 percent.
Data published on Friday showed that the British economy declined 2.9 percent in January as the country entered its third lockdown, shut schools and left the European Union single market and customs union. Separate data for the same month showed the largest monthly drop in trade since records began in 1997. Exports to the European Union dropped 40 percent and imports fell nearly 30 percent. Some of the fall is because of stockpiling at the end of last year, but many businesses struggled to keep trading as they dealt with new customs requirements.
The economic relief plan that is headed to President Biden’s desk has been billed as the United States’ most ambitious antipoverty initiative in a generation. But inside the $1.9 trillion package, there are plenty of perks for the middle class, too.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center published this week estimated that middle-income families — those making $51,000 to $91,000 per year — would see their after-tax income rise by 5.5 percent as a result of the tax changes and stimulus payments in the legislation. This is about twice what that income group received as a result of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Here are some of the ways the bill will help the middle class.
Americans will receive stimulus checks of up to $1,400 per person, including dependents.
The size of the payments are scaled down for individuals making more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000. And they are cut off for individuals making $80,000 or more and couples earning more than $160,000. Those thresholds are lower than in the previous relief bills, but they will still be one of the biggest benefits enjoyed by those who are solidly in the middle class.
Tax credits for parents
The most significant change is to the child tax credit, which will be increased to up to $3,600 for each child under 6, from $2,000 per child. The credit, which is refundable for people with low tax bills, is $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17.
The legislation also bolsters the tax credits that parents receive to subsidize the cost of child care this year. The current credit is worth 20 to 35 percent of eligible expenses, with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals. The stimulus bill increases that amount to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more.
Cheaper health insurance
After four years of being on life support, the Affordable Care Act is expanding, a development that will largely reward middle-income individuals and families, since those on the lower end of the income spectrum generally qualify for Medicaid.
Because the relief legislation expands the subsidies for buying health insurance, a 64-year-old earning $58,000 would see monthly payments decline to $412 from $1,075 under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
A rescue for pensioners
One of the more contentious provisions in the legislation is the $86 billion allotted to fixing failing multiemployer pensions. The money is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.
The legislation gives the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees their full pensions for the next 30 years.
Even as they are making more money thanks to the higher oil and gasoline prices, industry executives pledged at a recent energy conference that they would not expand production significantly. They also promised to pay down debt and hand out more of their profits to shareholders in the form of dividends.
“I think the worst thing that could happen right now is U.S. producers start growing rapidly again,” Ryan Lance, chairman and chief executive of ConocoPhillips, said at the IHS CERAweek conference.
Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major Texas producer, predicted that American production would remain flat at 11 million barrels a day this year, compared with 12.8 million barrels immediately before the pandemic took hold.
Even the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers like Russia surprised many analysts this month by keeping several million barrels of oil off the market, The New York Times’s Clifford Krauss reports. OPEC’s 13 members and nine partners are pumping roughly 780,000 barrels of oil a day less than at the beginning of the year even though prices have risen by 30 percent in recent months.
Chevron said this week that it would spend $14 billion to $16 billion a year on capital projects and exploration through 2025. That is several billion dollars less than the company spent in the years before the pandemic, as the company focuses on producing the lowest-cost barrels.
“So far, these guys are refusing to take the bait,” said Raoul LeBlanc, a vice president at IHS Markit, a research and consulting firm. But he added that the investment decisions of American executives could change if oil prices climb much higher. “It’s far, far too early to say that this discipline will last.”
While the Biden administration’s stimulus bill, which will funnel nearly $1.9 trillion to American households, made its way through Congress, some politicians and economists began to raise concerns that it would unshackle a long-vanquished monster: inflation.
The worries reflect expectations of a rapid economic expansion as businesses reopen and the pandemic recedes. Millions are still unemployed, and layoffs remain high, The New York Times’s Nelson Schwartz and Jeanna Smialek report. But for workers with secure jobs, higher spending seems almost certain in the months ahead as vaccinations prompt Americans to get out and about, deploying savings built up over the last year.
Healthy economies tend to have gentle price increases, which give businesses room to raise wages and leave the central bank with more room to cut interest rates during times of trouble.
Over the long term, inflation can be a concern because it hurts the value of many financial assets, especially stocks and bonds. It makes everything from milk and bread to gasoline more expensive for consumers, leaving them unable to keep up if salaries stall. And once inflation becomes entrenched, it can be hard to subdue.
Inflation is expected to increase in the coming months as prices are measured against weak readings from last year. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the Consumer Price Index to hit an annual rate of 2.9 percent from April through June, easing to 2.5 percent in the three months after that before easing gradually to year-over-year gains of 2.2 percent in 2022, based on the median projection.
But those numbers are nothing like the staggering price increases of the 1970s, and evidence of renewed inflation is paltry so far.
The Bank of Japan said on Friday that it would scrap its annual minimum target for equity fund purchases, a decision that comes as Japan’s stock markets hit levels unseen since the collapse of the country’s economic bubble in the early 1990s.
The decision was announced as part of a three-month policy review meant to give the central bank more flexibility to address the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under its previous policy, the bank aimed to invest around $55 billion annually in exchange-traded funds — baskets of equities that can be bought and sold on the stock market. That was part of a policy of monetary easing intended to stimulate inflation to combat sagging prices, which sap corporate profits.
Since 2010, when the purchases began, the bank has become Japan’s single largest stockholder. Share prices are now at their highest point in over three decades. Friday’s decision will give the bank the flexibility to make future purchases at more favorable prices. It will also help to address concerns that the program has distorted Japanese stock markets.
The bank will continue to invest in equities that track Japan’s Topix stock index “as necessary,” it said. It will maintain the upper limit of $110 billion in purchases per year that was set earlier in the pandemic, as part of emergency measures to stimulate the economy.
The bank also said that it would maintain its current interest rate targets while allowing long-term rates slightly more room to breathe, increasing the band to 0.25 percent from 0.2 percent.
LinkedIn has been the lone major American social network allowed to operate in China. To do so, the Microsoft-owned service for professionals censors the posts made by its millions of Chinese users.
Now, it’s in hot water for not censoring enough.
China’s internet regulator rebuked LinkedIn executives earlier this month for failing to control political content, according to three people briefed on the matter. Though it isn’t clear precisely what material got the company into trouble, the regulator said it found objectionable posts circulating in the period around an annual meeting of China’s lawmakers, said these people, who asked for anonymity because the issue isn’t public.
As a punishment, the people said, officials are requiring LinkedIn to perform a self-evaluation and offer a report to the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator. The service was also forced to suspend new sign-ups of users inside China for 30 days, one of the people added, though that time period could change depending on the administration’s judgment.
The C.A.C. did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
LinkedIn’s presence in China has long drawn interest across Silicon Valley as a potential path into the country’s walled-off internet, home to the world’s largest group of web users. The punishment underscores deep divisions between the United States and China over how the internet should work.
such barriers are symptomatic of China’s unwillingness to follow global norms governing the internet and technology more broadly.
LinkedIn’s China service, which has more than 50 million members, makes it vulnerable to tensions between the two powers. The run-in with the regulator came just weeks before Thursday’s scheduled meeting between Chinese and American officials in Alaska, the first face-to-face sit down of the Biden administration.
Competition over technology has been a key sticking point between the two countries. The Biden administration has said it will turn to allies to help pressure China on tech policies it deems unfair. Chinese officials have pushed new plans for technological self-reliance, which involve developing its own versions of everything from computer chips to jetliners.
Anxieties in Washington were recently heightened by a hack that Microsoft has tentatively linked to China aimed at businesses and government agencies that used the company’s email services.
On March 9, LinkedIn posted a statement saying it had “temporarily” stopped registering new users in China. “We’re a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China,” the statement added.
opening a Chinese site nearly seven years ago, LinkedIn drew curiosity from a U.S. internet industry perennially banned by the country’s Great Firewall, as China’s censorship system is nicknamed. To ensure its presence, LinkedIn sold a stake to well-connected Chinese venture capital partners and pledged to follow local laws, including censorship guidelines.
The company has used a combination of software algorithms and human reviewers to flag posts that could offend Beijing. Users who run afoul of the speech rules have generally received emails informing them that their post is not viewable by LinkedIn members in China.
Its early efforts drew ire from users whose content was blocked even if they had been posting from outside the country. Still, unlike its peers, LinkedIn has remained in China and offered a tantalizing case study in market access.
That perseverance hasn’t always translated into success. LinkedIn has had a hard time competing with WeChat, the ubiquitous Chinese chat and social media service, and remains a relatively small player.
The environment has become more difficult, too. Since he took the reins of the Communist Party in late 2012, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has implemented a series of crackdowns on the internet. Mr. Xi’s policies have also called for deeper economic self-sufficiency and eschewing Western culture, a blow to a service whose appeal has been to connect Chinese professionals to the world.
Mr. Xi has presided over the rising power of the C.A.C., the regulator that punished LinkedIn. It has become a de facto ministry of censorship, poring over memes and complaints across the country’s internet, and calling for takedowns when companies’ censors miss something.
sales in January surged by 7.6 percent — a gain likely fueled by stimulus checks that were deposited at the end of last year. The increase in January, revised upward on Tuesday, benefited a broad array of retailers. Consumers spent more on goods, including at furniture sellers and department stores, as well as in restaurants, in a positive sign for an economy that has been battered by the pandemic.
The data suggests that the recovery in consumer spending is likely to be bumpy as the retail sector recovers from shifts in consumer spending and a new round of stimulus payments arrives in Americans’ bank accounts. Retailers saw largely uneven sales for the better part of last year, as consumers flocked to big-box chains and grocery stores and spent less at many apparel retailers and restaurants. Balancing out those categories is likely to take a combination of stimulus money, vaccinations, improvements in unemployment numbers and warm weather.
“It was obviously going to slow down a bit,” Mickey Chadha, a retail analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said of the February sales.
“Going forward, the new stimulus checks that are going out as we speak are definitely going to be a positive for retail sales in March and through April,” he added. “All indications are, as the vaccines roll out through the country and the pandemic gets under control, this capacity to spend is only going to fuel further sales in retail.”
Economists at Morgan Stanley had forecast a 0.7 percent gain in February sales based on the outsize gains in January, and also predicted that new stimulus money arriving in late March and early April would drive a spending surge in coming months.
President Biden signed into law a nearly $1.9 trillion relief plan last week, and direct payments of $1,400 per person are already making their way to the bank accounts of low- and middle-income Americans.
“Some of that money is bound to flow into retail — it just has to,” Mr. Chadha said.
The law, known as the American Rescue Plan, also extends $300 federal jobless benefits through Sept. 6 and provides billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
Emmanuel Faber, the chairman and chief executive of the French consumer group Danone, abruptly left the company on Monday under pressure from activist investors. Now, shareholders of the company, which owns Evian and several yogurt brands, are fighting among themselves about it.
CtW, an adviser to union pensions with more than $250 billion in assets, sent a sharply worded letter to Artisan Partners, the firm that led the revolt over Mr. Faber’s leadership. The twist in the letter, which was reviewed by the DealBook newsletter, is that CtW owns a “substantial” number of Artisan shares — and said that the fund needed the sort of governance shake-up it pushed for at Danone.
Artisan had criticized Danone’s performance versus competitors like Nestlé and Unilever, calling for boardroom changes, including someone other than Mr. Faber becoming chairman. Mr. Faber had been chief executive since 2014 and added the chairman role in 2017. Danone said at the beginning of the month that it would search for a new chief executive, but Mr. Faber would remain as chairman. Mr. Faber shed both of those roles on Monday.
“The appointment of new leadership and better corporate governance will strengthen the company for the benefit of all stakeholders,” Artisan said in a statement on Monday welcoming Mr. Faber’s departure.
CtW says Artisan’s own policies are inconsistent with its demands for Danone. Notably, one person, Eric Colson, serves as Artisan’s chairman and chief executive. “Artisan’s call for an independent chair at Danone while maintaining the positions of C.E.O. and chair combined on its own board is inconsistent with best governance practices,” wrote Dieter Waizenegger, CtW’s executive director. He also questioned the firm’s use of “large discretionary cash bonuses” and demanded a discussion with Artisan’s management by the end of the month.
Artisan did not respond to a request for comment.
Danone, which reported $28 billion in sales in its latest fiscal year, was the first public company to adopt the French legal framework of “Entreprise à Mission,” which allows companies to take greater consideration of social and environmental issues in their business model. Some 99 percent of shareholders, but not Artisan Partners, approved the move in June last year.
The turmoil raises the question whether business models that take all stakeholders into account can survive resistance from activist investors focused primarily on shareholder returns. Danone said in a statement announcing the management changes that it “believes in the necessity” of combining “high economic performance” with Danone’s “unique model of a purpose-driven company.”
The Taiwanese electronics behemoth Foxconn, which is aiming to become a contract manufacturer of electric cars, is considering a plant in the United States for production of its first battery-powered vehicles, the company’s chairman said on Tuesday.
Foxconn is weighing whether to use its facility in Wisconsin or one of its plants in Mexico to make its clients’ vehicles, Young Liu, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said at a news briefing in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital.
Foxconn, best-known for making iPhones for Apple, has moved eagerly to expand its car business as the world shifts away from internal combustion engines. Last month, it signed an agreement with the California-based start-up Fisker to develop a new electric vehicle. The two companies said they would aim to start jointly producing cars in 2023, with a goal of eventually making more than 250,000 of them a year.
On Tuesday, Mr. Liu emphasized that Foxconn had not made a final decision about where to manufacture cars for Fisker or any other potential partners.
Foxconn has taken its time figuring out what to produce at its site in Wisconsin, a reflection of the complicated economics of manufacturing in the United States.
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the plant in 2018, President Donald J. Trump said it would be the “eighth wonder of the world,” as a manufacturer of flat-screen TVs. But those plans have stalled, and the company will announce what it decides to make in Wisconsin — whether electric cars or something else — before July, Mr. Liu said.
In October, Foxconn unveiled a kit of technology and tools aimed at helping automakers develop electric vehicles. It also said it was aiming to release a solid-state battery by 2024. Many companies are investing in the technology behind such batteries, which would allow electric cars to travel farther and be charged more quickly than current batteries.
“It’s just the beginning of this E.V. era,” Mr. Liu said. “We have to be ready for that.”
President Biden plans to visit a small business in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to promote the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which contains an assortment of measures aimed at helping small employers and their workers endure the pandemic’s economic shocks.
The aid bill created a $29 billion grant fund for restaurants and set aside additional money for several relief programs run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses that the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.
But the Biden administration’s most sweeping small-business initiative has been hindered by problems. Last month, the administration announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program that were intended to get more money to freelancers, gig workers and other self-employed people.
Women and minority owners are much more likely to run tiny businesses than larger ones, and they were disproportionately shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program under earlier rules that calculated such companies’ forgivable relief loans based on the size of their annual profit. The Biden administration’s more forgiving formula lets those businesses instead use their gross income, a switch that significantly increased the money available to many applicants.
But the change was not retroactive, which has set off a backlash from the hundreds of thousands of borrowers who got much smaller loans than they would now qualify for. Many have used social media or written to government officials to vent their anger.
JagMohan Dilawri, a self-employed chauffeur in Queens, got a loan in February for $1,900. Under the new rules, he calculates that he would have been eligible for around $15,000. That wide gulf frustrated Mr. Dilawri, who has struggled to keep up on his mortgage, car loan and auto insurance payments since the pandemic took hold.
“When the Biden administration came, they said, ‘We will be fair with everyone,’” he said. “But this is unfair.”
Small Business Administration officials have said that only Congress can fix that disparity. Some key Democratic lawmakers say they are willing.
“I am aware of the situation facing these sole proprietors and am working to ensure they get the funds they are entitled to under the Biden administration’s rule changes retroactively,” said Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat who leads the House Small Business Committee. “My staff and I are working with the S.B.A. and congressional Republicans to find a path forward, whether that be through agency action or additional legislation.”
Signal, the encrypted chat app, had stopped functioning in China as of Tuesday, in what appeared to be a block of one of the last major foreign messaging services still available in the country, where the internet is closely controlled.
Users in China on Tuesday morning reported widely that the app had stopped working. A New York Times test of the app in Shanghai and Beijing confirmed the reports. Signal did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The outage appeared likely to be a government-led block. The app continued to work when users in the mainland logged on to the service via a virtual private network, software that routes their connections outside the country.
Signal allows messages to be sent with “end-to-end encryption,” which blocks anyone but the sender and receiver from reading the contents. The app has soared in popularity globally in recent months a fears have grown over data harvesting from large internet companies.
The likely block further limits communication options on China’s internet, where the government has built a sophisticated system of censorship and surveillance to control speech. Over the past 15 years, Beijing has steadily winnowed down the major foreign communication tools available to regular Chinese users. Services like Google’s Gmail, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Twitter are all blocked.
In recent years, Signal had grown a modest following in China among activists, journalists, lawyers and others as China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has presided over a series of campaigns to crack down on the media, civil society groups and online speech broadly.
For years, it had been a parlor game among its users in China to guess why Signal, long a well-known tool for secret communications, remained unblocked. One theory was that it helped the authorities find who was trying to hide from government spies because, when first downloaded, the app sends the new user a text message that they could possibly track. Still, China’s government often waits for apps to reach larger scale before banning them. Last month, the social media site Clubhouse fell afoul of the blocks after it soared in popularity.
Wall Street followed European and Asian markets higher on Tuesday, adding slightly to gains that on Monday lifted the S&P 500 to a record.
The S&P 500 rose about 0.1 percent in early trading while the Nasdaq composite gained more than half a percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 and FTSE 100 rose about 0.8 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index and the Nikkei in Japan had climbed more than half a percent earlier.
The gains came despite recent turmoil about the vaccine rollout in Europe, and growing expectations of a new round of pandemic-related restrictions there.
Several European countries, including Germany, France, Denmark and Norway, have halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports that some people had developed fatal brain hemorrhages and blood clots after receiving the vaccine. AstraZeneca has said there is “no evidence” of a link, and the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have warned that countries suspending use of the vaccine would disrupt the rollout.
But investors are in wait-and-see mode ahead of central bank meetings this week.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will announce its policy stance and publish new economic forecasts. Analysts at BNP Paribas said the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, faces a tricky balancing act: acknowledging the improved economic outlook and increase in bond yields, while defending the central bank’s easy-money policies.
Investors have been focused on interest rates and inflation expectations for the past several weeks, concerned that resurgent growth in the United States might prompt the Fed to start to wind down efforts to keep rates low sooner than they’d expected. Fed officials have repeatedly said that they’re not concerned about lasting inflation, and that they have no intention of ending their efforts to keep the financial system functioning smoothly.
On Thursday, the Bank of England will announce a rate decision. Economists are not forecasting a change in policy.
A survey of investor confidence in Germany’s economic outlook rose in March, for the fourth consecutive month. The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.5 percent and the DAX index of Germany’s 30 largest companies by market value gained 0.6 percent.
What else is happening in markets
Shares in NatWest, formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland, fell 1.8 percent after Britain’s financial regulator said it has begun criminal proceedings against the bank for failing to properly follow money laundering rules.
Oil prices fell. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, dropped 1.5 percent to about $64.50 a barrel.
Volkswagen shares spiked as much as 29 percent after the German carmaker said on Monday that it was going all in on electric cars, with plans to build battery factories in Europe and work out how to drastically cut charing times.
Commerzbank, one of Germany’s largest banks, said on Monday that Hans-Jörg Vetter would step down as chairman of the supervisory board for health reasons after barely six months in the position. Mr. Vetter, 68, was appointed chairman in August over the objections of shareholders led by Cerberus, the private equity firm, which owns a 5 percent stake in Commerzbank and wanted someone it thought would be more likely to force changes. The German government is the bank’s biggest shareholder with 15 percent.
Viewership for the Grammy Awards on CBS on Sunday fell to 8.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the television research firm. That’s a new low for the show and a 53 percent drop compared with last year’s show, which drew 18.7 million viewers. The previous low was 17 million viewers in 2006, when Green Day won record of the year.
The future for the travel industry is looking a little brighter as more Americans get vaccinated, states open up and resorts sell out, the nation’s largest airlines said Monday. Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Industrial Conference on Monday, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian, said he was starting to see “real glimmers of hope” as ticket sales accelerated. At the same conference, the United Airlines chief executive, Scott Kirby, said his company would end the month having taken in more cash from operations than it spent.
The Hatch is alive, albeit as a different place.
Louwenda Kachingwe used ingenuity and a bit of good fortune to take advantage of federal money and discounted leases to not only hold on but expand his Oakland, Calif., bar, Jack Nicas reports for The New York Times.
He lobbied city officials to close down a lane of traffic and then twice built a patio in its place. (Days of rain ruined the first patio.) He and staff built the takeout window, rewrote the menu, moved a projector and screen outside, and bought an outdoor sound system off Craigslist.
He said the Hatch was now better suited for a post-pandemic world, with more outdoor space and a takeout operation. It also suddenly has a few sister businesses.
Last month, he and the Hatch’s manager, Robin Easterbrook, opened Pothead, a flower and wine shop, next door to the Hatch. They also took on a third lease in the empty space next to Pothead as a place to build larger floral arrangements for events, to stage a new operation making bottled cocktails and sauces, and to sublease the storefront to some friends’ apparel business.
Such a bet in the midst of a pandemic was bold, but Mr. Kachingwe saw opportunity. He had just received his second $72,500 forgivable loan from the federal government, and his landlord was desperate. So Mr. Kachingwe negotiated a deal that gave him access to the three adjacent storefronts for $7,500 a month, or 20 percent more than what he was paying for only the Hatch before the pandemic. The landlord said they would assess the arrangement at the end of April.
Over two decades, as Amazon mushroomed from a virtual bookstore into a $1.5 trillion behemoth, it forcefully — and successfully — resisted employee efforts to organize. Some workers in recent years agitated for change in Staten Island, Chicago, Sacramento and Minnesota, but the impact was negligible.
The arrival of the coronavirus last year changed that, reports David Streitfeld for The New York Times. It turned Amazon into an essential resource for millions stuck at home and redefined the company’s relationship with its warehouse workers. Like many service industry employees, they were vulnerable to the virus. As society locked down, they were also less able to simply move on if they had issues with the job.
Now Amazon faces a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. — the largest and most viable U.S. labor challenge in its history. Nearly 6,000 workers have until March 29 to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A labor victory could energize workers in other U.S. communities, where Amazon has more than 800 warehouses employing more than 500,000 people.
“This is happening in the toughest state, with the toughest company, at the toughest moment,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “If the union can prevail given those three facts, it will send a message that Amazon is organizable everywhere.”
But a unionization effort in Chester, V.a., which The Times reconstructed with documents from regulators and the machinists’ union, as well as interviews with former facilities technicians at the warehouse and union officials, offers one of the fullest pictures of what encourages Amazon workers to open the door to a union — and what techniques the company uses to slam the door and nail it shut.
The tactics that Amazon used in Chester are surfacing elsewhere:
The retail workers union said Amazon was trying to surveil employees in Bessemer and even changed a traffic signal to prevent organizers from approaching warehouse workers as they left the site.
Last month, the New York attorney general said in a lawsuit that Amazon had retaliated against employees who tried to protest its pandemic safety measures as inadequate.
It wouldn’t have been a Carl Hiaasen column if it didn’t go on the attack. In his Miami Herald farewell on Friday, Mr. Hiaasen took aim at the sorry state of local news coverage.
“Retail corruption is now a breeze,” he wrote, “since newspapers and other media can no longer afford enough reporters to cover all the key government meetings.”
Mr. Hiaasen, 68, joined The Miami Herald as a reporter in 1976 and started his column in 1985. Along the way he became a best-selling author, writing about Florida’s underbelly and environmental devastation in comic novels like “Tourist Season,” “Sick Puppy” and “Strip Tease.” Now he will no longer have a weekly venue for skewering government officials, business leaders and the various absurdities of life in the Sunshine State.
“Nobody becomes a journalist because they yearn for mass adoration,” he wrote in his final column. “Donald Trump didn’t turn the public against the mainstream media; the news business has never been popular.”
Mr. Hiaasen also used his goodbye to pay tribute to his brother, Rob, a journalist who was killed in a gunman’s rampage at The Capital Gazette in Maryland in 2018. He also thanked The Herald’s “talented, tenacious” editors and reporters.
The paper was owned by the newspaper publisher Knight Ridder when he started working there. In 2006, the McClatchy Company, a family-run newspaper chain, bought Knight Ridder for $4.5 billion. Last year Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey hedge fund, bought McClatchy, and The Herald along with it, in a bankruptcy auction.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Hiaasen said he had lasted 45 years at The Herald because it was “a good fit.”
“I always felt privileged to be able to write for a paper that I read as a kid growing up here in Florida and to be writing in a place that I care about,” he said. “I was lucky to be at this paper as a reporter in the ’70s and ’80s, when Miami was catching fire. It was a hell of a newspaper, hell of a news town and I was lucky to be there.”
He said he planned to do more fishing but will continue writing books. “Nobody really retires as a writer,” Mr. Hiaasen said. “You keel face forward into the keyboard one day and that’s it.”
He added that the hardest thing to watch during his career was the shrinking of the local news industry, saying, “There are fewer and fewer boots on the ground to do the grunt work required to keep democracy informed.”
TAIPEI—Messaging app Signal became unusable for many people in mainland China this week, stifling one of the last widely used messaging apps that could send and receive encrypted messages in the country without a virtual private network.
The government’s apparent move to block Signal intensifies its hold on public and private discourse in China, where many social-media and messaging apps, including Facebook, Twitter and, most recently, the popular social-audio platform Clubhouse, have been banned.
Signal users in mainland China started reporting around Monday evening issues with sending and receiving messages in the app. Using a virtual private network, or a VPN, a tool that enables internet users to circumvent China’s elaborate system of web filters, resolved those issues, which led users to conclude that the app had been blocked in China.
Some also reported issues with registration, another common censorship practice that affected Clubhouse last month, where users aren’t able to sign up with their phone numbers because the verification text code is never received.
The issues started on Sunday and included halted registration and network blocks, a person familiar with the matter said. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption, which prevents third-party access to communications between the sender and receiver. It includes features such as disappearing messages and media, and has been promoted as a tool for secure and private communication. Similar encrypted messaging apps, such as Telegram and Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, are also inaccessible in China without a VPN.
Signal surged in popularity last year among Chinese users after the U.S. administration said it would ban WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, operated by Tencent Holdings Ltd. Downloads also jumped in Hong Kong after lawmakers passed national-security legislation, suppressing pro-democracy protests.
WeChat uses client-to-server encryption, which grants Tencent full access to data between senders and recipients. The app is ubiquitous in China and largely a necessity for everyday life through its messaging and payment services. It is also known for its censorship of sensitive topics, such as of political criticism or during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
In February, Chinese censors blocked Clubhouse after the app started gaining traction in the country and led to discussions of sensitive topics generally restricted in China, such as the treatment of China’s Uyghur Muslims or the Tiananmen Square protests.
“ ‘It’s always been a surprise that Signal lasted as long as it did, given that the purpose of the app is to facilitate encrypted communications.’ ”
— James Griffiths, author of ‘The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the internet’
As with Clubhouse, some saw the loss of Signal as inevitable because of China’s expansive censorship apparatus and tightening controls over its internet users.
“It’s always been a surprise that Signal lasted as long as it did, given that the purpose of the app is to facilitate encrypted communications,” said James Griffiths, author of “The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the internet.”
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher with Human Rights Watch in New York, said Signal was the last encrypted messaging app that she could easily use to connect securely with friends and activists in mainland China.
Though Signal can still function with a VPN, those services have become more difficult to access in China, as the government has put more pressure on VPN users and providers.
“All of these are indications that it will be harder and harder for people to speak to people securely on sensitive issues,” Ms. Wang said. “I really worry about communication for people inside China.”
While there was no clear catalyst for the apparent ban, some experts speculated that its recent popularity with mainland users may have contributed.
According to research firm Sensor Tower, downloads of Signal on iOS, Apple’s operating system, had been gaining momentum in China over the past year before dropping off in February and March. Signal installs reached a monthly high in August of 52,000 after the U.S. WeChat ban was announced and surged again in January, with about 49,000 installs.
Still, Signal users in China are a fraction of those on WhatsApp or Telegram, according to Sensor Tower data. Signal downloads on iOS have reached a total of about 510,000 in China, compared with 9.6 million WhatsApp installs and three million Telegram installs.
Signal was also blocked in Iran in January. The company has said it launched a workaround for the network block and was exploring more ways to circumvent that ban.