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  1. (Reuters) - Google was sued on Tuesday in a proposed class action accusing the internet search company of illegally invading the privacy of millions of users by pervasively tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode. The lawsuit seeks at least $5 billion, accusing the Alphabet Inc unit of surreptitiously collecting information about what people view online and where they browse, despite their using what Google calls Incognito mode. According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads. This helps Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favorite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online, the complaint said. Google “cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone,” the complaint said. Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, said the Mountain View, California-based company will defend itself vigorously against the claims. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” he said. While users may view private browsing as a safe haven from watchful eyes, computer security researchers have long raised concern that Google and rivals might augment user profiles by tracking people’s identities across different browsing modes, combining data from private and ordinary internet surfing. The complaint said the proposed class likely includes “millions” of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet in “private” mode. It seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. Boies Schiller & Flexner represents the plaintiffs Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen and William Byatt. The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 20-03664. Source
  2. (Reuters) - Cyber Monday is on track to bring in a record of as much as $12.7 billion in online sales, according to latest industry estimates, surpassing Black Friday’s digital numbers as U.S. retailers reached the last leg of an extended holiday selling season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon Warehouse Shoppers have seen nearly two months of offers from retailers looking to recover sales lost due to mall and store closures, while Amazon.com pushed back its annual summer promotional event to October, creating a longer than ever season. Estimates from Adobe Analytics, however, showed this year’s conclusion to Thanksgiving weekend promotions would still be the largest online sales day in history, with spending between $10.8 billion and $12.7 billion. “We are seeing strong growth as consumers continue to move shopping from offline to online this year,” Adobe Digital Insights director Taylor Schreiner said. “New consoles, phones, smart devices and TVs that are traditional Black Friday purchases are sharing online shopping cart space this year with unorthodox Black Friday purchases such as groceries, clothes and alcohol, that would previously have been purchased in-store.” Traditionally, Cyber Monday starts with people, fresh off their long weekend, scouring for discounts online at work and driving another big day of promotions. The popularity of event shopping days has faded with the emergence of online shopping and cheap deals throughout the year from retailers including Amazon and Walmart Inc, but the health crisis this year has also played with shopping patterns. Walmart, Target Corp, Best Buy all moved their promotions up to remain competitive with Amazon, while doubling down on investments in fulfilling online orders. The tent pole shopping event of Black Friday, which pulled in record online sales of about $9 billion, according to Adobe, saw shoppers turning up in smaller numbers at stores as they utilized the early deals and avoided stepping out into large crowds. Consumers sought out deals for gifts and necessities including the latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles, Lego sets, the Roku Stick+ and Apple Watches. Source
  3. (Reuters) - Facebook Inc may face U.S. anti-trust charges as soon as November, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing four people familiar with the matter. The Federal Trade Commission met privately on Thursday to discuss a probe while state attorneys general under the leadership of New York’s Letitia James have been scrutinizing the company for potential threats to competition, the newspaper reported. The timeline could still change, the newspaper said, adding that state attorneys general are in the late stages of preparing their complaint. Facebook, the FTC and the office of the New York Attorney General were not immediately available for comment late on Friday. Facebook said in August that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed at an FTC investigative hearing as part of the government’s antitrust probe into the company. Facebook faced similar probes by the Justice Department and by state attorneys general, and has said previously the investigations were looking at prior acquisitions and business practices involving “social networking or social media services, digital advertising, and/or mobile or online applications.” In July 2019, Facebook agreed to pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to resolve a separate FTC probe into the company’s privacy practices. Source
  4. This summer, when officials in a few cities started using facial recognition software to identify protesters, many cried foul. Those objections turned ironic when protesters used facial recognition to identify police officers who had covered their badges or nameplates during protests. Powerful technology beloved by police had become a tool for accountability: David defeats Goliath. San Francisco, where this photo was taken, was the first U.S. city to ban local government agencies’ use of facial recognition technology. Possibly satisfying—but profoundly naive. Protesters, civil libertarians, and ordinary Americans have far more to lose than gain from the normalization of facial recognition software. These incidents simply highlight the pressing need for more comprehensive regulation of this increasingly cheap and powerful tool, one that threatens to alter the balance of power between citizens and their government. Law enforcement likes to talk the most about the least objectionable use of this technology: identifying suspected criminals from security footage. Police in Maryland, for example, identified the man who shot eight people at the Capital Gazette newspaper by running his photo against the Maryland Image Repository System, which contains millions of mug shots and driver’s license photos. But already, law enforcement is using this technology for mass surveillance and data gathering purposes, not just one-off identifications where there is reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed by an identifiable suspect. Except for a few localities that have banned its use, the only real limitation on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology is fear of public outrage. In China, facial recognition is used to identify jaywalkers, who receive text messages warning them of punishment for second offenses. The hard truth is that there are few current legal obstacles to American police using the technology in much the same way. Congress has resisted calls for federal regulation. Decades of judicial curtailment of privacy protections—usually in the name of the drug war—have reduced the scope of Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections, and Americans out and about on public streets have surprisingly few privacy rights that police must observe. The only real obstacle to a China-like panopticon in the U.S. is funding and policymakers’ hesitance to outrage Americans. Americans concerned about their privacy should not rely on the scruples of politicians and police, however. The NYPD, for example, recently issued a facial recognition policy that permits the technology’s use in investigating any crime, no matter how minor, including shoplifting. Florida courts recently greenlighted a lawsuit by a Coral Gables resident, who alleged that local police use automated license plate readers to identify nearly every vehicle that enters or exits the city, and at many points in between. These readers note the license plate number, date, time, and location of hundreds of thousands of cars every day. The data is stored for three years and shared with other law enforcement agencies in the state—which means that police in one Florida beach town can build and then share with other departments an astonishingly detailed history of a person’s movements through town and into other localities. Other Florida towns have pressed to expand their own use of plate reader technology. Coral Gables didn’t really deny the allegations. Instead, like all police departments with similar programs, it tends to talk out of both sides of its mouth, insisting that the law-abiding have nothing to fear while denying that they have any privacy interest in their public movements in the first place. But the legal precedents cited by police rely on an unspoken assumption that resource constraints operate as their own kind of protection. Police don’t have the time or money to track and monitor every person moving about public byways and property, so they will necessarily limit their monitoring to those suspected of criminal activity. The average citizen’s anonymity is protected, while public safety is enhanced. In an age of technologies such as license plate readers, “geofencing” (which uses smartphones’ GPS capability to map social networks and track personal data), and especially facial recognition, this unspoken assumption has been upended. Surveillance and monitoring data can be collected and stored on a mass basis, giving law enforcement the ability to build astonishingly detailed portraits of people’s lives. When the plaintiff in the Coral Gables case obtained his license plate reader records under a state sunshine law, the report ran for more than 80 pages. In our mass surveillance future, every trip to the doctor’s office, girlfriend’s apartment, library, church, gay bar, pharmacy, or liquor store can be identified, stored, and analyzed by law enforcement—with no need for individualized monitoring or individualized suspicion. Facial recognition programs do have weaknesses, and they are currently far better at identifying white males than women or persons of color (which leads to the likelihood that the technology will misidentify black men and women as criminal suspects). But improvements have been exponential—the 127 leading software algorithms got 20 times better at searching photo databases between 2014 and 2018—and near-flawless facial recognition technology is likely within the industry’s grasp. Law enforcement, especially the FBI, has poured billions of dollars into databases to store photographs to improve facial recognition efforts, and is expanding efforts to identify persons based on voice prints or even walking gait. This technology is spreading, getting better, cheaper, and more powerful with every year, and legal precedents and policy debates haven’t kept up. This is why protesters should not be so quick to embrace the use of this technology, even to hold police accountable. Nine times out of ten, Goliath beats David. Hoping for the occasional miracle isn’t a policy. Source
  5. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Monday it was expanding a probe into nearly 159,000 Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles, upgrading it to an engineering analysis, a step required before it can seek to compel recalls. The auto safety regulator had opened a preliminary evaluation in June over touchscreen failures. NHTSA said the failure can result in the loss of rear-camera image display when in reverse and reduced rear visibility when backing up, and can impact defogging ability, and audible chimes relating to driver assistance system Autopilot and turn signals. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The probe now covers 2012-2018 model year Tesla Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles. The preliminary investigation covered 63,000 Tesla Model S cars. NHTSA said the failure does not affect vehicle-control systems. The memory control unit (MCU) uses an Nvidia Corp Tegra 3 processor, NHTSA said. The flash devices have a finite lifespan based on the number of programs or erase cycles, NHTSA said. Some complaints said failures could result in loss of charging ability and that other safety alerts could be impacted. One driver said he could not clear fogged windows because he could not change climate controls. In total, NHTSA said it has reviewed 12,523 claims and complaints about the issue, which would impact roughly 8% of the vehicles under investigation. Tesla said it has received 2,399 complaints and field reports, 7,777 warranty claims, and 4,746 non-warranty claims related to MCU replacements. Many complaints said Tesla requires owners to pay to replace the unit once warranties expire. NHTSA said the data showed “failure rates over 30% in certain build months and accelerating failure trends after 3 to 4 years-in-service.” Tesla has implemented over-the-air updates “to mitigate the effects of MCU failure,” NHTSA said, including changes to reduce memory usage of the subject memory card, improving storage management strategies, and changing the control logic for turn signal activation. Source
  6. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Wednesday granted ByteDance a new seven-day extension of an order directing the Chinese company to sell its TikTok short video-sharing app, according to a court filing. The administration previously had granted ByteDance a 15-day extension of the order issued in August, which was set to expire Friday. President Donald Trump on Aug. 14 had directed ByteDance to divest the app within 90 days. The new deadline is Dec. 4, TikTok said in the filing. Under pressure from the U.S. government, ByteDance has been in talks for months to finalize a deal with Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to shift TikTok’s U.S. assets into a new entity. TikTok declined to comment beyond the filing. ByteDance has made a new proposal aimed at addressing the U.S. government’s concerns, said a person briefed on the matter who declined to detail that proposal. A U.S. Treasury representative said the extension was granted to review a recently received “revised submission”. ByteDance made the proposal after disclosing on Nov. 10 that it had submitted four prior proposals including one in November that sought to address U.S. concerns by “creating a new entity, wholly owned by Oracle, Walmart and existing U.S. investors in ByteDance, that would be responsible for handling TikTok’s U.S. user data and content moderation.” Separate restrictions on TikTok from the U.S. Commerce Department have been blocked by federal courts, including transaction curbs that TikTok said could effectively ban the app’s use in the United States. A Commerce Department ban on Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google offering TikTok for download for new U.S. users that had been set to take effect on Sept. 27 has also been blocked. Source
  7. The covid-19 pandemic has many of us working and learning from home, which means access to fast internet is more important than ever. Unfortunately, despite being the richest country in the world, the U.S. has fallen out of the top 10 list for the countries with the fastest broadband speeds. Based on recent data from Speedtest.net’s Global Index, first highlighted by DecisionData.org, for the past few years the U.S. has typically hovered between No. 7 and No. 10 among countries with the fastest broadband speeds. But in the last year, average broadband speeds in the U.S. haven’t improved as quickly as other developed nations. In April 2019, average broadband download speeds in the U.S. were about 118.6 Mbps, placing America at No. 7 on the list of countries with the fastest internet speeds. A year later, average download speeds had only risen to 132.6 Mbps, placing the U.S. 11th—behind Macau, Denmark, and Sweden. Here are the top 10 countries with the fastest broadband, plus the U.S. a Screenshot: Speedtest.net Meanwhile, despite the lack of any huge gains in broadband speeds, with average download speeds of 198.4 Mbps, Singapore comfortably retained its No. 1 spot ahead of Hong Kong (176.7 Mbps) and Thailand (159.9 Mbps), which rank second and third, respectively. While it might be easy to attribute the U.S.’s relatively lackluster gains in broadband speeds on covid-19, recent data published by Speedtest.net (and updated yesterday) that tracked changes in speeds between Jan. 6 and March 2 shows that’s really not the case. Both the U.S. and the global average increased by an average of 1 percent. Screenshot: Speedtest.net What’s most worrisome about Speedtest’s latest global index is that while the U.S. still ranks in the top 15 for broadband speeds, it ranks just 33rd at 43.7 Mbps when it comes to mobile data. That’s a pretty weak showing compared to similarly sized countries like China (84.9 Mbps), Canada (73.52 Mbps), and Australia (62.15 Mbps) which all rank in the top 10 for mobile data, with South Korea taking the top spot at 88 Mbps. A country’s size may partially account for the fact that smaller nations have faster fixed broadband speeds than the U.S., but it’s clearly not the only reason—as evidenced by the U.S.’s mediocre mobile data speeds. And with covid-19 forcing many schools and businesses to rethink the need for having large offices and campuses, the U.S. really needs to step up its efforts to make fast internet access available to more people. Source
  8. BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke on Tuesday with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, exchanging views on pushing forward the next stage of trade talks, China’s Commerce Ministry said. Source
  9. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.-China trade negotiations need to reach a successful end by March 1 or new tariffs will be imposed, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday, clarifying there is a “hard deadline” after a week of seeming confusion among President Donald Trump and his advisers. Global markets are jittery about a collision between the world’s two largest economic powers over China’s huge trade surplus with the United States and U.S. claims that China is stealing intellectual property and technology. “As far as I am concerned it is a hard deadline. When I talk to the president of the United States he is not talking about going beyond March,” Lighthizer said on the CBS show “Face the Nation,” referring to President Donald Trump’s recent decision to delay new tariffs while talks proceed. “The way this is set up is that at the end of 90 days, these tariffs will be raised,” said Lighthizer, who has been tapped to lead the talks and appeared to tamp down expectations that the negotiation period could be extended. After a turbulent week in markets, investors “can be reassured that if there is a deal that can be made that will assure the protection of U.S. technology...and get additional market access...the president wants us to do it,” Lighthizer said. “If not we will have tariffs.” In Argentina last weekend, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a truce that delayed the planned Jan. 1 U.S. hike of tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese goods while they negotiate a trade deal. However, the arrest of a top executive at China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s [HWT.UL] has roiled global markets amid fears that it could further inflame the China-U.S. trade row. In Beijing on Sunday, China’s foreign ministry protested the arrest to the U.S. ambassador. In a series of appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows, Lighthizer, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, and trade adviser Peter Navarro insisted the trade talks with China would not be derailed by the arrest, which they deemed solely a law enforcement matter. U.S. equity markets have staked much on the outcome of the talks. Stocks climbed early in the week on optimism tensions between the two sides were easing, then cratered after Trump claimed he was a “tariff man” after all. He also seemed to indicate the talks could be extended. But Lighthizer, in his first comments since being appointed to lead the negotiations, said the United States will need concessions across a number of areas in coming weeks if the higher tariffs are to be voided. That includes demands for increased purchases of U.S. goods in a more open Chinese market, as well as “structural changes” to a system that, for example, forces American firms to turn over technology to Chinese partners as a condition of doing business. “We need agricultural sales and we need manufacturing sales. We need structural changes on this fundamental issue of non-economic technology transfer,” Lighthizer said. The demands are similar to those made under previous Democratic and Republican presidents, but Lighthizer said he felt Trump’s willingness to go beyond “dialogue” and impose tariffs will produce results. Source
  10. Intelligence official says Chinese economic espionage on the upswing Rob Joyce speaks during the 2018 Aspen Cyber Summit in San Francisco on Thursday. SAN FRANCISCO — China has violated an accord it signed with the U.S. three years ago pledging not to engage in hacking for the purpose of economic espionage, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday. The 2015 bilateral agreement had significantly reduced the amount of Chinese cybertheft targeting American companies, but Beijing’s commitment to the deal has eroded, said Rob Joyce, senior adviser for cybersecurity strategy at the National Security Agency. “It is clear they are well beyond the bounds of the agreement today that was forged between our two countries,” Joyce said during a panel conversation at the Aspen Cyber Summit. Joyce’s comments were the latest sign of Washington’s rising frustration over China’s alleged violation of the pact signed between then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Last week, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said China wasn’t adhering to the deal, in which the U.S. and China agreed not to conduct cyber operations against each other to steal intellectual property or other forms of economic intelligence. Source
  11. NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of large institutional investors including BlackRock Inc and Allianz SE’s Pacific Investment Management Co has sued 16 major banks, accusing them of rigging prices in the roughly $5.1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by plaintiffs that decided to “opt out” of similar nationwide litigation that has resulted in $2.31 billion (£1.76 billion) of settlements with 15 of the banks. Those settlements followed worldwide regulatory probes that have led to more than $10 billion of fines for several banks, and the convictions or indictments of some traders. The banks being sued are: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Japan’s MUFG Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale, Standard Chartered and UBS. Investors typically opt out of litigation when they hope to recover more by suing on their own. The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit accused the banks of violating U.S. antitrust law by conspiring from 2003 to 2013 to rig currency benchmarks including the WM/Reuters Closing Rates for their own benefit by sharing confidential orders and trading positions. This manipulation was allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.” “By colluding to manipulate FX prices, benchmarks, and bid/ask spreads, defendants restrained trade, decreased competition, and artificially increased prices, thereby injuring plaintiffs,” the 221-page complaint said. Norway’s central bank Norges Bank and the big public pension fund California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) are among the several other named plaintiffs. Many of the plaintiffs plan to pursue similar litigation in London against many of the bank defendants with respect to trades in Europe, a footnote in the complaint said. Citigroup’s $402 million settlement is the largest in the earlier litigation. Credit Suisse has yet to settle that case. Neither had an immediate comment on Wednesday’s lawsuit. The law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan represents the opt-out investors. The case is Allianz Global Investors GMBH et al v Bank of America Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-10364. Source
  12. BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China and the United States made progress on “structural issues” such as forced technology transfers and intellectual property rights in talks this week and more consultations are being arranged, China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday. The three-day talks in Beijing that wrapped up on Wednesday were the first face-to-face negotiations since U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Buenos Aires in December and agreed on a 90-day truce in a trade war that has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods. The negotiations were initially scheduled to last two days but went on for three because both sides were “serious” and “honest”, Gao Feng, spokesman at the Chinese commerce ministry, told a news conference. Asked about China’s stance on issues such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights, tariff barriers and cyber attacks, and whether China was confident it could reach agreement with the United States, Gao said those issues “were an important part of this trade talk”. “There has been progress in these areas,” he said. He did not elaborate. The United States has presented China with a long list of demands that would rewrite the terms of trade between the world’s two largest economies. They include changes to China’s policies on intellectual property protection, technology transfers, industrial subsidies and other non-tariff barriers to trade. China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfer. Nearly halfway into the 90-day truce, there have been few concrete details on any progress made. Gao did not address questions on what demands both sides raised, or if the United States had agreed to drop its plan to implement additional tariffs by the March 2 deadline. In a brief statement earlier, the ministry said the talks were extensive, and helped establish a foundation for the resolution of each others’ concerns, but gave no details. On Wednesday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office (USTR) said officials from the two sides discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity and balance in trade relations”, and focused on China’s pledge to buy a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured, and other products and services from the United States”. At stake are scheduled U.S. tariff increase on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump has said he would increase those duties to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 2, and has threatened to tax all imports from China if it fails to cede to U.S. demands. U.S. officials have long complained that China has failed to live up to trade promises, often citing pledges to resume imports of American beef that took more than a decade to implement. No schedule for further face-to-face negotiations was released after the talks. The USTR said the American delegation was returning to Washington to report on the meetings and “receive guidance on the next steps”. Both sides agreed to maintain close contact, the Chinese commerce ministry said. “For the next step, work teams from both sides will continue to work hard and push forward consultations as originally planned,” Gao said. CORE ISSUES Since the Trump-Xi meeting in Argentina, China resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans. Buying had slumped after China imposed a 25 percent import duty on U.S. shipments of oilseed on July 6 in response to U.S. tariffs. China has also cut tariffs on U.S. cars, dialled back on an industrial development plan known as “Made in China 2025”, and told its state refiners to buy more U.S. oil. Earlier this week, China approved five genetically modified (GM) crops for import, the first in about 18 months, which could boost its overseas grains purchases and ease U.S. pressure to open its markets to more farm goods. Big spending on commodities and goods would send a positive signal on China’s intent to work with the United States, but would do nothing to resolve the U.S. demands that require difficult structural change from China. China has said it will not give up ground on issues that it perceives as core. One of the biggest challenges to any deal would be to ensure that China enforces whatever is agreed to stop technology transfers, intellectual property theft and hacking of U.S. computer networks. Source
  13. ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Oil producer group OPEC is not the enemy of the United States, United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. UAE's Oil Minister OPEC President Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei “We are complementing each other, we are not enemies here,” Mazrouei told an industry conference in Abu Dhabi, addressing the relationship between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the U.S., a major oil consuming country. OPEC and other leading global oil producers led by Russia agreed in December to cut their combined oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day from January to prevent a supply glut and boost sagging prices. The decision came despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the oil exporters’ club to refrain from cutting production, saying it would trigger higher oil prices worldwide. Mazrouei said the average oil price in 2018 was $70 a barrel. His Omani counterpart Mohammed al-Rumhi, addressing the same event, said he expected a price of between $60 and $80 a barrel in 2019. The 1.2 million bpd cut should be enough to balance the market, Mazrouei said, expecting the correction to start this month and to be achieved in the first half of the year. “We are assuming no changes in the cut that we have,” he said. Mazrouei also said he did not expect OPEC members Venezuela, Libya or Iran, who effectively have exemptions from the cuts, to increase their oil output in 2019, rather it was more likely their production would decline. Both Mazrouei and Rumhi said there was no need for OPEC and its allies to meet before April when they are set to decide their output policy for the rest of 2019. “Things are working well,” said Rumhi, whose country is taking part in the supply reduction agreement but is not an OPEC member. Source
  14. SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to extend a reprieve given to Huawei Technologies that permits the Chinese firm to buy supplies from U.S. companies so that it can service existing customers, two sources familiar with the situation said. The “temporary general license” will be extended for Huawei for 90 days, the sources said. Commerce initially allowed Huawei to purchase some American-made goods in May shortly after blacklisting the company in a move aimed at minimizing disruption for its customers, many of which operate networks in rural America. An extension will renew an agreement set to lapse on August 19, continuing the Chinese company’s ability to maintain existing telecommunications networks and provide software updates to Huawei handsets. The situation surrounding the license, which has become a key bargaining chip for the United States in its trade negotiations with China, remains fluid and the decision to continue the Huawei reprieve could change ahead of the Monday deadline, the sources said. U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss Huawei in a call this weekend, one of the sources said. Huawei did not have an immediate comment. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment. When the Commerce Department blocked Huawei from buying U.S. goods earlier this year, it was seen as a major escalation in the trade war between the world’s two top economies. The U.S. government blacklisted Huawei alleging the Chinese company is involved in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests. As an example, the blacklisting order cited a criminal case pending against the company in federal court, over allegations Huawei violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Huawei has pleaded not guilty in the case. The order noted that the indictment also accused Huawei of “deceptive and obstructive acts”. At the same time the United States says Huawei’s smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied. The world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without additional special licenses. Many Huawei suppliers have requested the special licenses to sell to the firm. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters late last month he had received more than 50 applications, and that he expected to receive more. Source
  15. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday delayed imposing a 10% import tariff on laptops, cell phones, video game consoles and a wide range of other products made in China, in an abrupt pull-back from a hardline stance on Chinese trade. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office action was published just minutes after China’s Ministry of Commerce said Vice Premier Liu He conducted a phone call with U.S. trade officials. The delay in the tariffs that had been scheduled to start next month provides some relief to retailers. Although most stores would have stocked their holiday merchandise before the earlier September deadline, some might have faced the tariffs for fill-in orders late in the holiday shopping season. “We’re doing this for the Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers” President Donald Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart from New Jersey for an event in Pittsburgh. The decision came less than two weeks after Trump said on Aug. 1 he would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese goods, blaming China for not following through on promises to buy more American agricultural products. The administration is still moving forward with 10% tariffs on much of the $300 billion of imports first disclosed in May, publishing a 122-page list of products that will face tariffs beginning Sept. 1, including smartwatches. Since Trump’s Aug. 1 tweets threatening the new tariffs, the U.S. benchmark S&P stock index has dropped more than 4% percent. On Tuesday, technology investors welcomed news of the exemptions, pushing an index of chip stocks up 3.1%, while shares of Apple (AAPL.O) surged more than 5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 500 points. The exemptions, combined with renewed talks with China, suggest Trump may be willing to compromise. In a sign the administration may be expecting something in return, Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “As usual, China said they were going to be buying “big” from our great American Farmers. So far they have not done what they said. Maybe this will be different!” Trump tweeted. Other products that will have tariffs delayed until Dec. 15 include “computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing,” the USTR said in a statement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the tariff delays and said it was “more important than ever that the two sides return to the negotiating table and recommit to achieving progress towards a comprehensive, enforceable agreement.” The Retail Industry Leaders Association said “removing some products from the list and delaying additional 10% tariffs on other products, such as toys, consumer electronics, apparel and footwear, until Dec. 15 is welcomed news as it will mitigate some pain for consumers through the holiday season.” The 21-page-list of products that won’t get hit with tariffs until December includes baby monitors and strollers, microwaves, instant print cameras, doorbells, high chairs, musical instruments, ketchup dispensers, baby diapers, fireworks, sleeping bags, nativity scenes, fishing reels, paint rollers and food products. USTR is still moving forward with tariffs on Sept. 1 on many products such as live animals, dairy products, skis, golf balls, contact lenses, motorcycle engines, lithium ion batteries, snowblowers and various types of steel. A separate group of products will also be exempt altogether, “based on health, safety, national security and other factors,” it added. The announcement comes amid growing concerns about a global slowdown. Goldman Sachs said on Sunday fears of the U.S.-China trade war leading to a recession are increasing and that Goldman no longer expects a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies before the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Cell phones, laptop and tablet computers, toys and video game controllers were among the top four product categories in the proposed $300 billion list of products targeted by the latest 10% tariff. These products accounted for a combined $98 billion of Chinese imports in 2018, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. Census bureau data. Trump has also personally criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping for failing to do more to stem sales of the synthetic opioid fentanyl amid an opioid overdosing crisis in the United States. The USTR office plans to conduct an exclusion process for products subject to the additional tariff. Source
  16. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department has received more than 130 applications from companies for licenses to sell U.S. goods to China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, three sources said, nearly two months after President Donald Trump said some sales would be allowed. But the Trump administration has not yet granted any licenses for sales to the blacklisted company, said the people familiar with the process who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity. The standstill coincides with mixed messages from Trump in the U.S.-China trade war, which have dimmed hopes for prompt decisions on license applications to sell to Huawei, the world’s top producer of telecoms equipment. That has raised the specter of billions of dollars of lost sales for chipmakers, software companies and others in Huawei’s U.S. supply chain. “Nobody in the executive branch knows what (Trump) wants and they’re all afraid to make a decision without knowing that,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce department official. Last week, Trump vowed to raise tariffs on $550 billion in Chinese imports, hours after China imposed new levies on $75 billion in U.S. goods. Then he softened his tone toward China at the G7 leaders’ meeting over the weekend, saying he thought the world’s two largest economies would reach a deal to end the tit-for-tat trade war that has roiled markets and hammered growth. The current number of license applications, not previously reported, far exceeds the 50 or so that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross disclosed receiving in July. A spokesman for the Commerce Department said: “The interagency process, weighing license requests concerning Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates, is currently ongoing.” Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has called for the United States to remove the company from the so-called entity list and put an end to what it called “unjust treatment.” Huawei, the world’s no. 2 smartphone maker, was placed on the list because of U.S. national security concerns in May, when trade talks with China broke down. Sales of U.S. goods are mostly banned to companies on the list, unless suppliers obtain special licenses, which must overcome tough scrutiny. The United States says the company can spy on customers and has sought to convince allies to exclude it from 5G networks. Huawei denies the allegations. PROMISE Seeking to lure China back to the negotiating table in late June, Trump promised President Xi Jinping that U.S. companies would be allowed to make some sales to Huawei, a gesture welcomed by U.S. chipmakers and software companies. Huawei spent $11 billion on U.S. components from U.S. firms such as Intel Corp, Qualcomm and Micron Technology last year. Government officials urged U.S. companies to apply for licenses following Trump’s pledge of relief, saying exports to Huawei of non-sensitive items that are readily replaced by foreign competitors would be permitted. Ross and Trump in July promised timely responses. One of the sources noted that the review process was not delayed, pointing to the complexities of interagency consultation. But the only relief seen by Huawei thus far was the extension in August of the temporary general license, which gives U.S. companies a small exception to repair and maintain Huawei’s existing handsets and networks. China expert Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said a breakthrough in U.S.-China trade talks could spur license approvals for Huawei as soon as next month. The two trade teams are due to meet in September in Washington, but no specific dates have been disclosed. According to three Commerce department officials, many of the licenses requests have been reviewed by other agencies such as the Departments of State and Defense. However, no standards have yet been set and no responses have been issued as officials await a green light from Ross and the White House, according to three people familiar with the process. The United States has a case pending against Huawei over allegations Huawei violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou has been detained in Vancouver since December on U.S. bank fraud charges for misleading banks about the company’s Iran business. Trump has at times asserted that Huawei and Meng could be included in a grand U.S.-China trade deal. Source
  17. The United States and United Kingdom signed an agreement Thursday that officials say will speed up dozens of criminal and national security investigations and make it easier for law enforcement to obtain the electronic evidence they need. WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and United Kingdom signed an agreement Thursday that officials say will speed up dozens of criminal and national security investigations and make it easier for law enforcement to obtain the electronic evidence they need. The deal would let American and British authorities seek electronic data in investigations directly from technology companies based in the other country, instead of the time-consuming process of going through the government. The agreement was signed by Attorney General William Barr and U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel at a ceremony Thursday evening at the British ambassador’s residence in Washington. “This agreement will enhance the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to fight serious crime — including terrorism, transnational organized crime, and child exploitation — by allowing more efficient and effective access to data needed for quick-moving investigations,” Barr said in a statement. Under the terms of the agreement, the U.S. agreed to seek the permission of the British government when seeking evidence for death penalty prosecutions, and the U.K. agreed to get U.S. approval for cases involving freedom of speech issues. “This historic agreement will dramatically speed up investigations, allowing our law enforcement agencies to protect the public,” Patel said in a statement. “This is just one example of the enduring security partnership we have with the United States and I look forward to continuing to work with them and global partners to tackle these heinous crimes.” The agreement is expected to take effect after a six-month review period for Congress and a related review by Parliament. Source
  18. The head of Russia's security service said Thursday it is now reviving cooperation with US agencies over cybersecurity despite major tensions between the two countries. "We are restoring those relations," the head of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, told journalists in comments reported by Interfax news agency, despite trading accusations of cyber attacks in recent years. "We discuss a lot of questions with the Americans, including about providing information security and cyber security," Bortnikov said. He cited as an example that "just recently the American secret services provided Russia with information on specific people and plans to carry out attacks in our country." The Russians and Americans "have always had working relations irrespective of the situation in political relations between our countries," said Bortnikov. Allegations of Russia's interference in the 2016 US elections won by Donald Trump with the use of hackers and social media have plunged relations to a post-Cold War low. Last year Washington and London accused the Russian state of "malicious cyber activity" affecting governments, companies and vital infrastructure around the world. Moscow has come under suspicion over major cyber attacks in recent years that hit the US Democrats, the World Anti-Doping Agency and Odessa airport in Ukraine. Russia has strongly denied these attacks, arguing that it has itself fallen victim to US cyber attacks on state institutions, the national grid and financial establishments. In June, The New York Times revealed that the US was in fact carrying out attacks that hacked into Russia's national grid. In December 2017, Putin thanked Trump for the CIA's help in thwarting a planned attack in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg. Source
  19. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is finalizing a set of narrow rules to limit exports of sophisticated technology to adversaries like China, a document seen by Reuters shows, in a boon to U.S. industry that feared a much tougher crackdown on sales abroad. The Commerce Department is putting the finishing touches on five rules covering products like quantum computing and 3-D printing technologies that were mandated by a 2018 law to keep sensitive technologies out of the hands of rival powers. Before drafting the rules, Commerce sought industry comment last year on a raft of high-tech sectors that it could cover under the law, from artificial intelligence technology to robotics. That fueled concerns among U.S. businesses the department would craft broad, tough regulations that would stymy a host of exports to key customers. But the internal status update seen by Reuters shows for the first time that Commerce is finishing a first batch of rules that touch on just a few technologies that will be proposed to international bodies before taking effect, a reprieve for U.S. companies. “Based on their titles, the rules appear to be narrowly tailored to address specific national security issues, which should go a long way to calming the nerves of those in industry concerned that the administration would impose controls over broad categories of widely available technologies,” said Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration. Commerce declined to confirm any details but said it has a number of proposed rules in the review process. Despite the apparent reprieve, Commerce could issue more rules in the future regulating sales abroad of cutting-edge items. The document failed to outline when the rule proposals would be made public or what the controls would look like for specific countries, buyers and uses. In a move that should appeal to U.S. firms, the rules will be submitted to international bodies for approval so that they may be implemented overseas, not just by the United States. That would establish a level playing field for U.S. companies abroad, but would also take much longer to review and go into effect, likely until mid-2021 at the earliest. Commerce is expected to seek industry comment on the rules before submitting them to the groups, a source said, adding that a sixth rule, covering artificial intelligence, will go into effect in the United States without a comment period. The revelations come amid growing frustration from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the slow pace of the rule roll-out, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urging the Commerce Department to speed up the process. In a statement to Reuters, Republican Senator Tom Cotton said he was “disappointed at the lack of political will” at the Commerce department, accusing it of a “troubling” lack of urgency. “While bureaucrats and industry shills twiddle their thumbs, the Chinese Communist Party continues to purchase sensitive U.S. technologies with clear military applications,” he said. “I will be digging deep into the Commerce Department’s actions.” “China firmly opposes the U.S.’ generalization of the concept of national security and abuse of export control measures to interfere with and restrict the normal communications and cooperation between businesses,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, when asked about the rules. Limiting tech exports will not disrupt China’s innovation or development, said Geng. According to the status update, the agency plans to regulate exports of quantum diluted refrigerators, which are used to keep qubits cold in some quantum machines. Qubits are used in quantum computers to perform calculations that would take conventional computers thousands of years. Major makers of the refrigeration devices include U.K.-based ICE Oxford, Finland-based Bluefors and U.S.-based Janis Research. The rules would apply to exports of goods from the United States as well as shipments of items made abroad that contain a significant amount of U.S. technology or components. That rule was sent to the Commerce Department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning on Nov. 19, along with another rule regulating 3-D printing for explosives, the document shows. Another regulation on exports of the so called “Gate-All-Around Field Effect transistor technology, which is used to manufacture semiconductors, was awaiting comments from other agencies on Dec. 5. The transistors are expected to play a major role in newer, faster semiconductors that are under development by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Intel Corp Two other rules would regulate chemicals used to make Russian nerve agent Novichok and single-use chambers for chemical reactions. Source
  20. NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government will strictly enforce a rule that requires cryptocurrency firms engaged in money service businesses such as digital asset exchanges and wallet service providers to share information about their customers, Kenneth Blanco, director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), said on Friday . Part of anti-money laundering regulations, the “travel rule” requires cryptocurrency exchanges to verify their customers’ identities, identify the original parties and beneficiaries of transfers $3,000 or higher, and transmit that information to counterparties if they exist. “It (travel rule) applies to CVCs (convertible virtual currencies) and we expect that you will comply period,” Blanco said at a conference hosted by Chainalysis, a New York-based blockchain analysis company. “That’s what our expectation is. You will comply. I don’t know what the shock is. This is nothing new,” he added. The U.S. government’s moves came as cryptocurrency crime soared into the billions of dollars, with global investigators grappling with major money laundering hubs that are at the center of the virtual worlds. Ciphertrace, in a recent report released in August, said cryptocurrency thefts, scams, and fraud may exceed more than $4.3 billion this year. The travel rule was first issued by FinCEN in 1996 as part of anti-money laundering standards that applies to all U.S. financial institutions. FinCEN expanded the rule’s coverage in March 2013 to apply to crypto exchanges as well, and in May this year, the Treasury unit affirmed that guidance. The government’s action comes on the heels of guidelines released in June by the U.S. Treasury led-Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental global organization devoted to battling money laundering and terrorism financing. FATF likewise directed crypto exchanges and regulators around the world to comply with the travel rule, giving them about year to do it from June this year. “FinCEN...has been conducting examinations that include compliance with the funds’ travel rule since 2014,” Blanco said, adding that it is the most commonly cited violation with regard to money service businesses engaged in virtual currencies. FinCEN’s May guidance on the travel rule created confusion within the crypto industry, which believes the rule didn’t apply to them. In an earlier interview, Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of U.S. blockchain forensics company CipherTrace, said people in the crypto industry were surprised at FinCEN’s recent actions because digital currencies have never been classified as money and the belief was that the travel rule does not apply to them. Source
  21. (Reuters) - U.S. stocks hit fresh record levels on Friday after China said first phase trade talks with the United States have achieved major progress and that Beijing would cancel tariffs scheduled to take effect on Sunday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 107.74 points, or 0.38%, at 28,239.79, the S&P 500 .SPX 8.97 points, or 0.28%, at 3,177.54. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 41.69 points, or 0.48%, at 8,759.01. Wall Street opened lower after President Donald Trump said a report about a trade deal with China was completely wrong. The U.S. will phase out China tariffs, Beijing officials say BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has agreed to phase out tariffs on Chinese goods, Chinese officials said at a press conference in Beijing Friday evening. Trump: U.S. to suspend scheduled tariffs after reaching deal with China WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States had reached a so-called Phase One trade deal with China in which Washington would suspend tariffs on Chinese imports scheduled for Sunday, while Beijing would step up purchases of U.S. agricultural products. “We have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China. They have agreed to many structural changes and massive purchases of Agricultural Product, Energy, and Manufactured Goods, plus much more,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump also said the United States would curb some tariffs on Chinese goods that had already been imposed. Sources: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-stocks/wall-st-rises-as-china-u-s-agree-on-context-of-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH1D1 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china/the-u-s-will-phase-out-china-tariffs-beijing-officials-say-idUSKBN1YH1SA https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-trump/trump-u-s-to-suspend-scheduled-tariffs-after-reaching-deal-with-china-idUSKBN1YH1T3
  22. BEIJING (Reuters) - China is in close touch with the United States on signing a Phase 1 trade deal, the country’s commerce ministry said on Thursday, adding that both sides are still going through necessary procedures before the signing. Gao Feng, commerce ministry spokesman, made the comments to reporters at a regular briefing. Festive Wall St. set to stay near record levels on trade deal hopes (Reuters) - U.S. stock indexes were set to open near record highs on Thursday and the S&P 500 was on course for its best year since 2013 on optimism over an imminent U.S.-China trade deal. Traders returned from the Christmas break to Beijing’s reaffirmation that it was in close contact with Washington about the initial agreement, which is widely expected to be signed in early January. President Donald Trump on Tuesday confirmed that the pact would be formalized at a signing ceremony, but did not disclose a date or location. “It looks like everybody had a good Christmas, and that is slopping over into today’s stock action,” said Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners in Pittsburgh. Hopes of a breakthrough in the prolonged trade war, combined with a loose monetary policy and robust domestic data, have powered U.S. stocks to record highs in the past few weeks. The S&P 500 is about one percentage point short of its best year since 1997. At 8:34 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMcv1 were up 37 points, or 0.13%. S&P 500 e-minis EScv1 were up 5.5 points, or 0.17% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQcv1 were up 16.5 points, or 0.19%. Trading volumes are expected to remain thin this week. The recent gains have come as a relief to investors anxious of a repetition of the volatility from December 2018, when escalating trade tensions led to the worst December on Wall Street since the Great Depression. A Labor Department report on Thursday showed that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, indicating resilience in the labor market. Underlining relatively strong consumer confidence, a report on Wednesday showed U.S. shoppers spent more online during the holiday shopping season, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high. Among the handful of corporate movers premarket, Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) shares edged up 0.6% as Wedbush boosted its price target on the electric-car maker’s stock, partly on expectations of strong U.S. demand for the Model 3 sedans. Sources: Here & Here
  23. The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday that two Chinese nationals have been charged with laundering over $100 million worth of cryptocurrency stolen by North Korean hackers from a cryptocurrency exchange. The suspects, Tian Yinyin and Li Jiadong, have been charged with money laundering conspiracy and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The second charge is related to allegations that the Chinese nationals laundered money through financial accounts in the United States, for which they should have registered with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Prosecutors have also filed a civil forfeiture complaint in an effort to recover stolen funds. The complaint targets 113 cryptocurrency accounts and addresses allegedly used by Yinyin, Jiadong and their accomplices to launder the stolen funds. Authorities say some funds have already been seized. In addition to the charges brought against them by the DoJ, the two individuals have been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which blocked all their property and assets in the United States. According to authorities, Yinyin and Jiadong laundered over $100 million worth of cryptocurrency, mostly obtained as a result of a cyberattack launched in April 2018 by North Korean hackers. The attack targeted an unnamed cryptocurrency and resulted in the theft of nearly $250 million worth of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash, Dogecoin, Ripple, Litecoin and Ethereum Classic. Laundering the stolen funds involved hundreds of automated transactions, accounts created on cryptocurrency exchange platforms using forged identification documents, and bank accounts at several Chinese banks. Yinyin and Jiadong allegedly provided cryptocurrency transmission services, an operation that included customers and financial accounts in the U.S. North Korean threat actors, including the infamous Lazarus group, have targeted many cryptocurrency exchanges and financial institutions in the past years, and it has been estimated that these attacks may have helped them earn as much as $2 billion. Some believe North Korean hackers were also behind the January 2018 hack of Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck, from which over $500 million was stolen. The indictment made public on Monday also mentions the theft of roughly $49 million worth of cryptocurrency from a South Korean exchange in November 2019. This is most likely the attack on Upbit, which was previously attributed to North Korean hackers. Source
  24. Trump imposes new U.S. sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, other top officials WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions on Monday, taking a dramatic, unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone. With tensions running high between the two countries, Trump signed an executive order imposing the sanctions, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said would lock billions of dollars more in Iranian assets. Trump told reporters the sanctions were in part a response to last week’s downing of a U.S. drone by Iran, but would have happened anyway. He said Khamenei was ultimately responsible for what Trump called “the hostile conduct of the regime” in the Middle East. Trump said the sanctions “will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support.” John Smith, who was director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before joining a law firm last year, said the United States had never targeted an Iranian head of state before and that was a sign Trump was getting personal. “Generally, when you target a head of state you’re not turning back. That is when you believe all options are at an end,” Smith told Reuters. Some policy analysts say earlier sanctions issued under Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign are why Iran has felt compelled to adopt more aggressive tactics as its economy feels the crunch. The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programs and its activities in the region. Iran would not accept talks with the United States while it is under the threat of sanctions, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told reporters at the U.N. The U.S. decision is another indication it “has no respect for international law and order,” he said. The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Monday at the request of the United States, whose acting ambassador Jonathan Cohen said evidence showed Iran was to blame for attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf in May and June and urged the world to tell Tehran its actions were unacceptable. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, responding to the sanctions in a Twitter post, said hawkish politicians close to Trump “despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.” Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 international accord to restrict Tehran’s pathway to a nuclear bomb and has since been ramping up sanctions to throttle the Iranian economy. Mnuchin said Zarif would be targeted with U.S. sanctions later this week. The latest sanctions are aimed at denying Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or having access to any assets in the United States. “Anybody who conducts significant transactions with these sanctioned individuals may be exposed to sanctions themselves,” the White House said. OIL IMPORTS Tensions worsened in May when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil. U.S. President Donald Trump displays an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria “We call on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, change its destructive behavior, respect the rights of its people, and return in good faith to the negotiating table,” Trump said in a statement. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and refers to a religious decree issued in the early 2000s by Khamenei that bans the development or use of nuclear weapons. Sanctions were also imposed on eight senior commanders of Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the U.S. Treasury Department said. “These commanders sit atop a bureaucracy that supervises the IRGC’s malicious regional activities, including its provocative ballistic missile program, harassment and sabotage of commercial vessels in international waters, and its destabilizing presence in Syria,” the department said in a statement. Trump said the sanctions are a “strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions.” Iran said on Monday U.S. cyber attacks on its military had failed, as Washington sought to rally support in the Middle East and Europe for a hardline stance that has brought it to the verge of conflict with its longtime foe. MARITIME SECURITY Iran denies responsibility for the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. On Monday, the United States said it was building a coalition with allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes. A coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions to the program, a senior U.S. State Department official said, without identifying the countries. “It’s about proactive deterrence, because the Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say hey we didn’t do it. We know what they’ve done,” the official told reporters, adding that the deterrents would include cameras, binoculars and ships. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the Middle East to discuss Iran with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Sunni Muslim allies aligned against Shi’ite Muslim Iran. “Freedom of navigation is paramount,” Pompeo tweeted from the Saudi city of Jeddah. Iran’s Zarif, in his Twitter post, said: “@realDonaldTrump is 100% right that the US military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of US and the world.” It was an apparent reference to a tweet in which Trump said other countries should protect their own oil shipping in the Middle East rather than have the United States protect them. The United States accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets. In a joint statement on Monday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Britain expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian “destabilizing activity” to peace and security in Yemen and the region. The confrontation between Iran and the United States heated up last Thursday when Iran shot down an American drone, saying it had flown over its air space. Washington, which said the drone was in international skies, then appeared to come close to attacking Iranian military targets, with Trump saying that he aborted a retaliatory air strike 10 minutes before it was to go ahead. Trump said he decided the strike would have killed too many people. Both Iran and the United States have said they do not want war and both have suggested they are willing to talk while demanding the other side move first. Allies of the United States have been calling for steps to defuse the crisis, saying they fear a small mistake by either side could trigger war. “We are very concerned. We don’t think either side wants a war, but we are very concerned that we could get into an accidental war and we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia view Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal as a mistake that strengthens hardliners in Iran and weakens the pragmatic faction of President Hassan Rouhani. France, Britain and Germany have sent an official diplomatic warning to Iran if Tehran reduces its compliance with the accord, two European diplomats said on Monday. It was not immediately clear what consequences Iran might face for non-compliance. Update June 24, 8:37 PM ET: The article has been updated. The article adds reference to and a quote from John Smith (who was director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control), adds reference to a U.N. Security Council meeting held Monday, adds a new section heading ("Oil Imports") and removes section heading ("Fears of War). Previous updates changed the title of the article, added a quote by the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, added Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's response to the sanctions via a Twitter post, added a quote from a Twitter post by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and also added various U.S. Treasury Department and U.S. State Deparment quotes. The initial article published this morning discussed Iran's position that the recent U.S. cyber attacks failed as opposed to U.S. sanctions on Iran. Source: Trump imposes new U.S. sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, other top officials (Reuters)
  25. NEW YORK (Reuters) - The average American video gamer is 33 years old, prefers to play on their smartphone and is spending big on content — 20 percent more than a year ago and 85 percent more than in 2015, a report showed on Thursday. The annual research from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) comes as more American households rethink how to set limits for kids who love gaming and how to allocate their entertainment budgets in the streaming era. The $43.4 billion spent in 2018 was mostly on content, as opposed to hardware and accessories. Of pay-to-play games, “Call of Duty: Black Ops III”, “Red Dead Redemption II” and “NBA 2K19” took the top spots for most units sold but the list did not include free games such as “Fortnite.” “Games are striking an important chord with American culture,” said Stanley Pierre-Louis, ESA’s acting president and chief executive officer. “That’s what makes it the leading form of entertainment today.” Nearly 65 percent of U.S. adults, or more than 164 million people, play games. The most popular genre is casual games, with 60 percent of players gaming on their smartphones, though about half also play on personal computers and specialized consoles. Parents are limiting screen time for their kids and using video game ratings to screen content, and 87 percent of parents require permission for new game purchases, the study showed. Some 46 percent of all gamers are female, though they favor different kinds of games than men, particularly depending on age. Female gamers between 18 and 34 years old prefer “Candy Crush”, “Assassin’s Creed” and “Tomb Raider” and play most often on smartphones, while their male counterparts mostly play games on consoles, particularly “God of War”, “Madden NFL” and “Fortnite.” Gen Xers, who are 40 to 54 years old, lean towards “Tetris”, “Pac-Man”, “Call of Duty”, “Forza” and “NBA 2K.” Male baby boomers aged 55 to 64 like “Solitaire” and “Scrabble”, while women lean towards “Mahjong” and “Monopoly.” Game players were no more prone than other Americans to live isolated, sedentary lives, according to the report. Americans will soon have even more ways to play video games. Apple Inc is launching a game subscription service and Alphabet Inc’s Google announced a video game streaming service late this year. The new services will present challenges to established video game developers like Electronic Arts Inc, maker of “Apex Legends”; Tencent Holdings Ltd’s Riot Games, maker of “League of Legends”; Valve Corp, owner of “Counter-Strike” and the Steam distribution platform; and Activision Blizzard Inc, owner of “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush.” Ipsos gathered data from more than 4,000 Americans to conduct the study for the ESA. Source
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