Business and Technology News
Since the merger, Alaska has toyed with the idea of keeping the Virgin America brand, which has crafted a quirky, tech-friendly image that focuses on its in-air experience. [...] the company will incorporate some of the notable characteristics of Virgin America, which include enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting and music. Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, said that while Virgin America has created a strong brand in San Francisco, Alaska Airlines has better name recognition around the country.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz presided over his last annual shareholder meeting as head of the company Wednesday by standing by its pledge to hire refugees and expanding on previously announced goals to hire veterans and at-risk youth. Schultz, who will remain executive chairman, defended the promise on refugees to a shareholder who criticized his willingness to have the company’s reputation “take a beating” over it. The pledge came after President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven Muslim majority nations, and had prompted some calls for a boycott of Starbucks. Since he returned as chief executive in 2008, the company has expanded its footprint globally and seen sales growth at home. Over the past year, purchases have risen 5.4 percent, but sales growth has been restricted by a shortage of homes on the market. Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said the February drop “is just a blip in the overall trend.” With inventories squeezed, home values have been rising at levels that are putting greater financial pressure on would-be buyers. An Australian couple with roots in Alaska has bought radio stations in three states, marking the first time federal regulators have allowed full foreign ownership of U.S. radio stations. The Federal Communications Commission approved Richard and Sharon Burns’ request through their company Frontier Media to increase their interest in 29 radio stations in Alaska, Texas and Arkansas to 100 percent. The agency long took what some viewed as a hard line in limiting foreign ownership under a 1930s law linked to wartime propaganda fears. Turkish courts, police or government agencies made 3,076 such requests from July through December, up by around a quarter from the previous six-month period, according to the latest Twitter transparency report. Removal requests are typically made by governments over content considered illegal in their jurisdiction, by antidiscrimination organizations, or lawyers representing individuals, Twitter said. “Given the concerning global trend of various governments cracking down on press freedom, we want to shine a brighter light on these requests,” Twitter said. Turkish authorities have tightened their oversight of Twitter, as well as Facebook and YouTube, since antigovernment protesters in 2013 used social media to organize.
Tech workers fear diversity efforts could be undermined Since the 2016 presidential election, tech companies and their workers have been on high alert, anxiously looking out for ways the Trump administration’s policies and preferences might affect them. A January survey of more than 1,400 tech workers and middle managers in the Bay Area and across the U.S. found that the election has heightened awareness and anxiety around the issue. Tech workers feel a sense of urgency and want to push for more diverse workplaces, but worry their efforts may be thwarted or undermined in the current political climate, according to the survey conducted by Atlassian, the Australian team-collaboration software maker with an office in San Francisco. The 2016 presidential election was fraught with controversy over how various minority groups were perceived, treated and spoken about. Muslims, Latinos and others felt they were a target of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric, while others derided what they described as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s identity politics and political correctness. Academics have found that increased diversity in the workplace and the awareness that the United States could become majority-minority by midcentury may have helped stoke xenophobic attitudes among voters. Beginning next month, immigrants eligible for H-1B visas, which are given to highly skilled workers like those at tech companies, will no longer have the option of a 15-day expedited processing service, which may impact tech companies’ ability to bring in employees from other countries.
An estimated 17,000 AT&T employees in California and Nevada went on strike Wednesday to protest what they claim is the illegal way in which the company is handling work assignments for technicians. Employees at the company’s retail stores are not covered by the contract and did not participate in the strike. The workers — 98 percent of whom are in California — moved to strike over what they claim is AT&T’s practice of directing lower-salaried workers to perform jobs that their contract reserves for their more experienced, higher-paid colleagues. The workers claim that allocating work in such a way threatens the positions of employees with more seniority, and fails to compensate less experienced technicians for working above their pay grade. The union said its workers will remain on strike until they reach an accord with AT&T. The work assignment dispute that prompted the strike Wednesday could be resolved before a full contract is agreed upon. The union has also repeatedly called on AT&T to end its practice of sending call center and customer support jobs overseas as the contract negotiations have dragged on. “We want the company to come back to the table, to bargain in good faith and give them the fair share for their job title,” said Jacque Coniglio, an AT&T call center worker and union steward who helped lead the San Francisco picket line.
Movie money, butterbeer ice cream, Instagram appointments Movie receipts in North America hit a record $11.4 billion, although the increase of $300 million was due largely to rising ticket prices. Civil War — all Disney releases. A Pennsylvania ice cream maker is courting Harry Potter fans with a new flavor based on Hogwarts’ favorite drink, butterbeer. Yuengling’s Ice Cream, noting that J.K. Rowling described butterbeer as tasting “a little bit like less sickly butterscotch,” says the variety combines buttercream and butterscotch ice cream.
Stitch Fix, the online personal-styling service backed by Benchmark, is reportedly considering an initial public offering. The San Francisco company, which also counts Lightspeed Venture Partners among its backers, also turned down late-stage money from several interested investors, one of the people said. Stitch Fix hasn’t turned down late-stage funding from interested investors, a spokeswoman for the company said in an email, adding that the board will not be meeting next month to decide on an IPO. Cloudera, MapR Technologies and ForeScout Technologies have hired underwriters, people familiar with those deals said, while Appian and Ancestry.com are considering listings.
Just under three years later, Ng said in a blog post this week that he is leaving the Chinese search engine company. Ng and Barra were viewed as part of a nascent trend of Silicon Valley executives jumping to Chinese Internet companies. Few American tech executives followed them, and China’s Internet behemoths remain mostly focused on their home markets. Yet as more consumers picked up smartphones, the company has struggled to keep its hold on ad spending.
The corporate owner of Sears and Kmart says there is “substantial doubt” that it can continue operating, as brick-and-mortar stores continue to face challenges in an e-commerce world. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week, the corporate owner, Sears Holdings Corp., cited its efforts to cut costs, sell property, tap new funding sources and make other moves to stanch the flow of red ink. “Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” it said in the filing, its annual report. Kmart, which has its own lengthy history beginning as a five-and-dime store in Detroit, became a major national presence in the 1960s as a big-box department store, with Blue Light Special discounts geared toward thrifty middle-class Americans. The program is focused on streamlining its back-office corporate and support functions, changing its product offerings and supply chain, and looking for ways to reshuffle its real estate portfolio.
Google Maps users will soon be able to broadcast their movements to friends and family — the latest test of how much privacy people are willing to sacrifice in an era of rampant sharing. The location-monitoring feature was released Wednesday in an update to the Google Maps mobile app, which is already installed on most of the world’s smartphones. [...] location sharing in one of the world’s most popular apps could cause friction in marriages and other relationships if one partner demands to know where the other is at all times. Similar tracking is already available on other apps; Glympse, founded by former Microsoft employees, has offered this function for years. If no time limit is selected, Google will periodically send people email reminders that they’re still sharing their location, a step that Glenn said may help anyone who didn’t know an abusive partner was still following them.
CBS Sports, Turner Sports, Intel and the NCAA said Tuesday they are teaming up to broadcast six March Madness tournament games, including three from San Jose’s SAP Center and the three Final Four games from Phoenix, for the first time in virtual reality. For $2.99 per game, or $7.99 for all six, fans will receive a courtside view from several virtual reality cameras, with a special audio broadcast. The VR broadcasts start with Thursday’s West region semifinal games in San Jose, but don’t include games played in the three other regions. [...] the networks, Intel and the NCAA have signed a multiyear partnership to use Intel’s True VR technology. Stocks took their biggest loss in five months Tuesday as a health care bill backed by President Trump ran into trouble in Congress, which raised some questions about his agenda of faster economic growth spurred on by lower taxes and cuts in regulations. Banks plunged as bond yields continued to fall, which will mean lower interest rates on loans. Transportation companies including airlines, railroads and rental car companies dropped, and so did steel and chemicals makers. Small-company stocks, which stand to benefit the most from Trump’s policy proposals of lower taxes and looser regulations, fell more than the rest of the market. Bebe Stores, the Brisbane women’s apparel chain with locations across the country, is reportedly planning to shut its stores and seek a turnaround as an online brand. The company is trying to close the locations without filing for bankruptcy, said people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified because the efforts aren’t public. The company, known for selling trendy going-out apparel to young women, has been operating about 170 boutique and outlet stores. Bebe would become the latest retailer to shed brick-and-mortar stores and hitch its fortunes to e-commerce. Wells Fargo plans to upgrade all 13,000 of its ATMs next week to allow customers to access their funds using their cell phones instead of traditional bank cards. To access their money, customers would get unique eight-digit codes from their Wells Fargo smartphone app, and enter the code into the ATM along with their PIN. The codes will not work on the secure doors that many branches have for nonbusiness hours that require an ATM or debit card to gain entry. Income and revenue rose during the peak holiday season at FedEx, but higher fuel costs helped keep profit below Wall Street’s forecast. Holiday-season package volume was the heaviest ever, and the big package-delivery company continues to benefit from the growth in online shopping. Adjusted profit, which excludes costs related to the acquisition and restructuring of TNT Express, was $2.35 per share. A decline in the sales of “light” yogurts hurt the bottom line in the third fiscal quarter, General Mills said, reporting a 20 percent dip in U.S. yogurt sales. Adjusted for restructuring costs and nonrecurring costs, the company said that earnings came to 72 cents per share, a penny more than analysts had expected.
The search engine gleans these insights by analyzing past requests and, when people allow it, tracking locations, a practice that periodically raises privacy concerns about Google’s power to create digital profiles of its users. Based on the knowledge that Google already has accumulated, its Shortcuts feature may already list a user’s favorite sports teams or recommend nearby restaurants serving their preferred cuisines. Shortcuts also show how Google’s search engine has been adapting to its audience, now that smartphones have become the primary way millions of people stay connected to the internet. Since more than half of requests for Google’s search engine now come from smartphones, the Mountain View company has adapted its services to smaller screens, touch-keyboards and apps instead of websites.
Like CEO Alex Karp and billionaire Chairman Peter Thiel, Abramowitz was a Stanford University alumnus looking to build a business empire. Abramowitz’s suit was filed this month in Delaware’s Chancery Court, saying Palantir thwarted his efforts to sell shares and that the company must disclose its books and records. “This lawsuit is nothing more than a blatant attempt to distract from Mr. Abramowitz’s unlawful and egregious theft of our intellectual property,” Palantir said in an email. The legal battles highlight the contentious relationships between startup investors and companies that want to maintain tight control of stockholders. Investors rarely receive financial updates and wield little influence over their ability to cash out through a stock sale, merger or initial public offering. Thiel maintains a variety of business interests, from Internet, finance and energy to rocket ships. KT4 Partners negotiated in May to sell preferred shares to Highbridge Capital Management LLC, a fund that was once majority-owned by JPMorgan Chase Co. When Abramowitz’s group notified Palantir of the sale, Palantir dispatched an adviser to Highbridge in an attempt to persuade the firm to purchase shares directly from the company. A month later, Palantir filed suit. [...] its CEO has begun to publicly entertain the idea of providing a consistent way for stockholders to cash out, including a potential IPO.
The purchase of Jet, an upstart e-commerce venture, for $3.3 billion last summer was meant to give Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, a way to transform its online retail strategy. The company said this week that it has formed Store No. 8, an internal venture meant to hatch new online retail businesses. Behind the strategic shift has been a recognition that Walmart, long dominant in the world of physical retailing, has fallen far behind in the business of selling goods online — and particularly far behind Amazon. [...] Walmart already has an internal research lab, WalmartLabs of San Bruno, that has focused on developing new e-commerce applications for the retailer. The new venture takes its name from an early Walmart store, built in an old bottling plant, that the company founder Sam Walton would use to try out new retail strategies. Store No. 8 is meant to foster relationships with entrepreneurs, particularly those in the fields of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies. Beal, who was previously a senior vice president for global marketplace and digital store operations at Walmart, will be joined by Katie Finnegan, who led Jet’s corporate development and has a background in fundraising and mergers.
In what passes for innovation in Cupertino these days, Apple announced a new red iPhone Tuesday. If a digital currency doesn’t strike you as inherently risky, how about borrowing money to place wagers on its price gyrations? To comply with the Commodity Exchange Act, Coinbase is requiring that individual investors have at least $5 million to invest before they engage in margin trading. The company backed down on requiring all 72,000 employees of Google and other Alphabet subsidiaries to waive their right to sue over adult content at the workplace after a lawsuit alleged that the policy violated labor laws. Some Google employees have to view porn in dealing with Web searches, but it’s not clear why engineers working on, say, self-driving cars needed to sign on.
House Republicans’ proposed changes to the American Health Care Act — the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act — could reduce federal funding to Medi-Cal, California’s insurance program for the poor, even more dramatically than the original bill sought to do, health experts said. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health Care Services, which administers Medi-Cal, said the agency “cannot speculate as to any potential changes to the Medicaid program that may occur under proposed federal legislation.” [...] Tim Jost, a health law professor at Washington & Lee University, said he would be surprised if California headed down this path, which some Republican-led states have attempted in recent years, only to be denied by the Obama administration. The new Republican amendments would also give states the option of choosing between two types of Medicaid federal funding starting in 2020, though both options would result in a significant reduction of federal dollars to Medi-Cal. On the individual market side, the new proposals would lower the tax threshold for medical expense deductions, from 7.5 percent to 5.8 percent, with the apparent aim of allowing the Senate to provide more generous tax credits for people in their 50s and 60s. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts have found that lower-income Americans in their 50s and 60s would be hurt most by the GOP plan, as the bill would provide smaller tax credits to buy plans while at the same time allowing insurers to charge older consumers five time more than what they charge younger consumers.