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Money This app is helping Hong Kong protesters organize without a cell network

The app allows protesters to keep chatting, even when their phones lose mobile network connectivity. In Taiwan, "Sunflower Movement" protesters also used the app earlier this year as they protested closer ties with Beijing. Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong -- who need functioning phones to organize -- appear to have found a solution to this problem. "With FireChat, it's completely decentralized," said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the app's developer.

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong -- who need functioning phones to organize -- appear to have found a solution to this problem.

More than 100,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded an app called FireChat in a recent 24-hour period. The app allows protesters to keep chatting, even when their phones lose mobile network connectivity.

FireChat works by connecting users in a daisy chain, or mesh network, via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. No mobile network is required, and users can choose to remain anonymous.

"With FireChat, it's completely decentralized," said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the app's developer. "And that means you can get connectivity from the people and devices around you -- directly."

Related: Hong Kong protesters willing to pay economic price

The benefits of FireChat have caught the attention of demonstration organizers, many of whom are encouraging protesters to download the app.

"Before you go near the government headquarters, please go to the App Store and download FireChat," Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of a student protest group, urged supporters on Facebook. "Use this app to broadcast our situation to the outside world."

Photo essay: Police use tear gas as 'Occupy' comes to Hong Kong

Benoliel, who was in Hong Kong as protests escalated over the weekend, said the protesters were well prepared and well organized, and had anticipated that large crowds would complicate communication.

"They knew that at some point the cellular networks would be shut down or would just be overloaded by a number of people gathering in the same place, so they know that Firechat is a way to remain connected and communicate," Benoliel said.

While Benoliel said that FireChat was not designed specifically with protest movements in mind, it does seem to be catching on at demonstrations. In Taiwan, "Sunflower Movement" protesters also used the app earlier this year as they protested closer ties with Beijing.

CNN
Today
19 Points
1

Hong Kong protests rattle Chinese-Americans across U.S.

Hanna Wong has a brother and a sister in Hong Kong and she's been watching the news of protests there every night with growing concern."They're worried. We don't know what China will do," she said from the counter of the New Wing Hing Seafood Market on Clement Street, one of San Francisco's Chinese shopping districts.Chinese-Americans across the United States are paying close attention to events in Hong Kong."They can't win," is John Chong's verdict.

SAN FRANCISCO ? Hanna Wong has a brother and a sister in Hong Kong and she's been watching the news of protests there every night with growing concern.

"They're worried. We don't know what China will do," she said from the counter of the New Wing Hing Seafood Market on Clement Street, one of San Francisco's Chinese shopping districts.

Chinese-Americans across the United States are paying close attention to events in Hong Kong.

"They can't win," is John Chong's verdict. A long-time San Francisco resident, he is originally from Hong Kong and very aware of the delicate balance between the former British colony and China, which took it back into the fold in 1999.

"The good thing is that the civil service and the police in Hong Kong are very professional," he said.

Still, he's worried that the government in Beijing will use the protests in Hong Kong as an excuse to solidify its control over the island.

China's government agreed to "one country, two systems" when Hong Kong rejoined China, saying it could keep its more open and democratic system while China remained under one-party communist rule.

That promise is uppermost on Betty Chang's mind.

"They're not asking for much. They just say they want to vote for their own leaders," she said of the protesters.

Originally from Taiwan, Chang was focused on the issue in part because of China's promise to allow Hong Kong to retain its own system of government. China holds that Taiwan is a wayward state that is in fact part of the People's Republic of China.

"They say that about Taiwan too, that it could keep its form of government," she said.

For her, how things play out in Hong Kong will be a test of what could happen to Taiwan in the future.

It's of huge interest in San Francisco's Chinese community, she said.

"Look at the newspaper," she said, holding up a copy of the Epoch Times, an independent Chinese-language newspaper based in New York.

"They published a special edition today because it's so important, they don't usually publish on Tuesdays," she said.

The paper featured a half-page photo of a Hong Kong police officer pouring water into the eye of a protester who had been hit with tear gas. The protester is saying "Ow, that hurts!" as the officer says "Hold on, can I help clean that up?"

Several staffers from the paper were out distributing them Tuesday morning.

Many people interviewed by USA TODAY had strong opinions about events in Hong Kong but didn't want to comment on the record because of concern for relatives who still lived there. Several said they worried that if China cracks down on Hong Kong, anything they said might hurt their loved ones later.

In New York, activist Yanping Nora Soong is hoping that Beijing backs down and allows Hong Kong to hold real elections. Not just for the people there, but for people across Asia who will see it as a symbol that freedom is possible.

"The people in Hong Kong have the courage to do what I wish people in mainland China would," said Soong. A strong showing for the democracy movement in Hong Kong "will have a ripple effect," said the activist.

Not everyone feels immediately affected, however. Amy Kyo hadn't been paying much attention to Hong Kong, but two of her friends are from there "so I've been reading more about it to try to understand what's happening there and educate myself."

Although older people often mention their fears that the protests in Hong Kong could turn into another bloodbath like Tiananmen in Beijing in 1989, she doesn't think it's possible.

"The students have been very peaceful" in Hong Kong. "Given social media, the whole world is watching, the government can't block it," she said.

San Francisco resident Alexander Akin speaks Chinese and working in Beijing and Hong Kong for many years. He's been following the news closely in the Chinese media.

"It's fascinating how it's playing in Beijing," he said. "It's worth noting that there's been an ongoing denouncement of Hong Kong in the official media for quite awhile now."

For example, "there were public figures saying that it was 'unpatriotic' to speak Cantonese," he said. That's the dialect used in Canton, Hong Kong and much of southern China, as opposed to Mandarin, which is spoken in Beijing and in the north.

Contributing: Jason Allen in New York City

USA Today
Today
15 Points
1

Money Why Transocean Hit A New 52-Week Low Today

In the last twelve months, Transocean has lost 23.4% of its value.During September, the Swiss offshore drilling company had observed a spike in its short interest ratio. (RIG) went as down as 1.7% during trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to a new 52-week low of $31.96 as of 10:44 am EDT today, and finally closed at $31.97. As of September 15, around 71.52 million shares have been shorted, which is an increase of 4.1% as compared to 68.7 million shares a fortnight ago on August 29.

Transocean Ltd. (RIG) went as down as 1.7% during trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to a new 52-week low of $31.96 as of 10:44 am EDT today, and finally closed at $31.97. The reason for the decline in stock can be attributed to a ‘BBB-‘ credit rating given by Morningstar, which reflects that the company has a moderate risk of default. The only other rating agency to provide a rating on Transocean is Egan-Jones Ratings Company, which has given a ‘BB’ rating to the company’s Senior Unsecured debt.

According to some traders who use technical indicators for decision-making, Transocean may have entered Oversold territory, as indicated by Transocean’s 14-day relative strength index (RSI) of 22.53, which is far below 30 and indicates that the stock might be oversold and its price could possibly bounce back.

Transocean receives coverage from 36 analysts across the Street. Only seven analysts rate the stock a Buy, while 14 analysts recommend a Sell. The average 12-month target price provided by these analysts is $35.53. In the last twelve months, Transocean has lost 23.4% of its value.

During September, the Swiss offshore drilling company had observed a spike in its short interest ratio. As of September 15, around 71.52 million shares have been shorted, which is an increase of 4.1% as compared to 68.7 million shares a fortnight ago on August 29. Approximately 20% of the company’s outstanding shares are sold short. Based on the 30-day average daily traded volume of 7.87 million shares, it would take around nine days to cover all the short positions.

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Bidness Etc
Today
19 Points

Money BrightSource Energy looks abroad

Global energy company Alstom, which is an investor in privately held BrightSource, is responsible for the engineering, construction and procurement; BrightSource provides the heliostats and optical concentrating devices. OAKLAND -- BrightSource Energy's massive Ivanpah project in the Mojave Desert was supposed to be its first solar thermal power plant in California.

OAKLAND -- BrightSource Energy's massive Ivanpah project in the Mojave Desert was supposed to be its first solar thermal power plant in California. At least three other solar thermal power plants were envisioned in Southern California: Rio Mesa in Riverside, Hidden Hills in Inyo County, and Palen, also in Riverside.

But getting large, land-intensive projects built in the Golden State is easier said than done and, project by project, failed to come to fruition. Late Friday, BrightSource and its partner, Abengoa Solar, withdrew their application for Palen with the California Energy Commission -- effectively ending BrightSource's pipeline of California projects.

Palen had come under fire from advocates of Joshua Tree National Park, Native American groups and biologists concerned about the potential for bird deaths from intense radiation from the thousands of mirrors, known as heliostats. And Palen was unlikely to be completed by December 2016, putting its ability to qualify for the 30 percent investment tax credit that expires at the end of that year in jeopardy.

So what's next for Oakland-based BrightSource?

"We're focusing increasingly on markets for solar thermal on a global basis," said Joseph Desmond, BrightSource's senior vice president of marketing and government affairs, in an interview. "There's strong interest in Morocco and the Middle East, and South Africa is an excellent market."

The company's main push now is the Ashalim Thermal Solar Power Station in Israel's Negev desert. Global energy company Alstom, which is an investor in privately held BrightSource, is responsible for the engineering, construction and procurement; BrightSource provides the heliostats and optical concentrating devices. The 121 MW plant is scheduled to be complete in 2017.

Unlike the photovoltaic solar panels that are increasingly common on the roofs of homes and commercial buildings, solar thermal technology concentrates the sun's rays to boil water and generate steam. Solar thermal, also known as concentrating solar power, or CSP, is land-intensive, requires access to transmission lines and typically faces several environmental reviews and permitting hurdles before projects can be built.

BrightSource's Ivanpah project faced several concerns about its impact on the desert tortoise, but now that the project is online, the impact on birds -- which have flown into the heliostats or been singed from the radiation -- has become an even bigger issue; The Wall Street Journal recently called Ivanpah a "$2.2 billion bird fryer." Several members of the public mentioned birds in comments to the California Energy Commission about Palen.

"To place this monstrosity here will kill birds like Bald Eagles, woodpeckers, migrating warblers, and other wonderful birds," wrote Karen McQuade. "Why is California ignoring the good advice of wildlife experts?"

California's investor-owned utilities are under pressure to meet the state's 33 percent renewable mandate, which requires utilities like PG&E and Southern California Edison to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. But as more solar comes onto the grid, utilities and grid operators want large solar thermal power plants to come with storage technology, so that the solar can be effectively saved. BrightSource and Abengoa had said that Palen would be able to phase in storage.

Southern California Edison has identified several factors as challenges to achieving California's renewable energy goals. Chief among them: the permitting, siting, approval and construction process of both transmission and renewable generation projects.

"We believe concentrating solar power, and specifically tower technology with thermal energy storage, can play a key role in helping California achieve its clean energy goals by providing the necessary flexibility needed to help maintain grid reliability," said BrightSource in a statement about the withdraw of Palen. "In addition, we are committed to bringing projects to the market that follow sound and responsible environmental measures to ensure all impacts are avoided, minimized or compensated for properly."

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Microsoft skips Windows 9 to emphasize advances

Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft executive who oversees Windows design and evolution, said Windows 10 will offer "the familiarity of Windows 7 with some of the benefits that exist in Windows 8" to help business users make the transition. For instance, the start menu in Windows 10 will appear similar to what's found in Windows 7, but tiles opening to the side will resemble what's found in Windows 8. For now, Microsoft plans to keep the current Xbox interface on the game console.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The next version of Microsoft's flagship operating system will be called Windows 10, as the company skips version 9 to emphasize advances it is making toward a world centered on mobile devices and Internet services.

The current version, Windows 8, has been widely derided for forcing radical behavioral changes. Microsoft is restoring some of the more traditional ways of doing things and promises that Windows 10 will be familiar for users regardless of which version of Windows they are now using.

For instance, the start menu in Windows 10 will appear similar to what's found in Windows 7, but tiles opening to the side will resemble what's found in Windows 8.

Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft executive who oversees Windows design and evolution, said Windows 10 will offer "the familiarity of Windows 7 with some of the benefits that exist in Windows 8" to help business users make the transition.

Microsoft offered a glimpse of its vision for Windows at a San Francisco event Tuesday aimed at business customers. Microsoft is making a technical preview version available to selected users starting Wednesday. It plans to unveil details about consumer features early next year, with a formal release in mid-2015.

Analysts consider the success of the new Windows crucial for Microsoft and new CEO Satya Nadella, who must show that Microsoft can embrace mobile devices without sacrificing the traditional computing experience.

The new software represents an attempt to step back from the radical redesign that alienated many PC users when Windows 8 was introduced two years ago. But it's not a complete retreat from Microsoft's goal of bridging the gap between PCs and mobile devices: It still has touch-screen functions and strives to create a familiar experience for Windows users who switch between desktop computers, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft executive Terry Myerson said Windows 10 will be "a whole new generation" and, as expected, will work across a variety of devices -- from phones to gaming consoles.

Microsoft currently has three main systems -- Windows 8 for traditional computers and tablets, Windows Phone 8 for cellphones and Xbox for its gaming console. By unifying the underlying systems, software developers will be able to create apps for the various devices more easily. Consumers will also be able to switch devices more easily and avoid having to buy the same apps multiple times.

That doesn't mean the apps will look the same on the various devices. Developers will still be able to adapt apps for the various screen sizes, but won't have to start from the beginning for each version.

User interfaces on the various devices may also differ, even as they share underlying technologies. For now, Microsoft plans to keep the current Xbox interface on the game console.

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Holder challenges Apple-Google moves to lock users' mobile data

snooping on phone and Internet communications -- and how companies cooperated. "These companies are trying to build products that people want to use," said Carl Howe, a mobility analyst with 451 Research in Boston. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law," Comey said. Law enforcement officials emphasized that they get court orders, and that they aren't seeking to randomly root through phones.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged technology companies to preserve law-enforcement access to smartphone data, responding to new privacy features from Apple and Google that he said would hamper investigations of child sex abuse.

Holder said Tuesday in prepared remarks he hoped the industry would cooperate ensure that authorities can still get information with court approval from mobile devices. His comments echo concerns from other law enforcement officials that the companies' new privacy policies will stymie inquiries into crimes ranging from drug trafficking to terrorism.

"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy," he said. "When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so."

Holder is the highest-profile official to protest the encryption of phones by Google and Apple. The dispute is the latest flare-up pitting the federal government against the nation's leading technology companies since National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed last year the extent of U.S. snooping on phone and Internet communications -- and how companies cooperated.

U.S. Justice Department and FBI officials are trying to understand how the new Apple and Google Android systems work and how the companies could change the encryption to make it accessible when court ordered. Their requests to the companies may include letters, personal appeals or congressional legislation, said a federal law official who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

In remarks prepared for a speech in Washington, Holder didn't say how the Justice Department hoped to change the companies' minds but hoped they "would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators."

Beyond lobbying the companies, there is little law enforcement can do without congressional action. Technology companies have stepped up efforts to shield customer data from hackers -- and the government -- after the NSA spy revelations and the recent theft of celebrity nude photos from Apple's iCloud service.

"These companies are trying to build products that people want to use," said Carl Howe, a mobility analyst with 451 Research in Boston. "They want to provide that feeling of privacy. Otherwise, people won't use them."

Apple described the new measures on Sept. 17 on its website, noting that it can no longer bypass customers' passcodes and "therefore cannot access this data." Apple has in the past cooperated with court orders and unlocked phones for law enforcement or provided data from its systems. Apple's message said in most cases law enforcement doesn't ask for content such as emails, photos or data stored on its iCloud or iTunes accounts.

"It's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running" the latest version of the company's operating system, iOS 8, the Cupertino-based company said.

Evidence from mobile devices has provided critical help in solving crimes ranging from homicides to drug trafficking. Just as most people spend time on smartphones, so do criminals.

Investigators routinely recover from the devices videos of crimes in progress, photos of drug gang members flashing weapons, text exchanges between conspirators, and child pornography.

"This is a very bad idea," said Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, in an interview. Smartphone communication is "going to be the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal. We are going to lose a lot of investigative opportunities."

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey entered the debate last week, telling reporters that he opposed the companies' decision. He said the FBI was working to get them to change the policies.

"What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law," Comey said.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, and Christopher Katsaros, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, declined to comment on the efforts by federal officials.

"This is a fundamental tension," Howe said. The "balance between how much privacy you're allowed to have and how many rights the government has" is a question that has continued historically in the U.S., he said.

A half-dozen police and federal officials interviewed said that Apple, in particular, was taking an aggressive posture on the issue.

Law enforcement officials emphasized that they get court orders, and that they aren't seeking to randomly root through phones. They said they were unsure whether the same encryption protocols would make it impossible to get data stored in cloud- based servers operated by the companies.

James Soiles, a deputy chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the stakes in resolving the dispute are high.

"It's a significant issue for law enforcement," he said. "As long as we are doing it with court orders, there shouldn't be any reason to keep us from it. We want to attack command-and- control structures of drug organizations, and to do that we have to be able to exploit their communication devices."

Andrew Weissmann, the top lawyer at the FBI from 2011 through 2013, said the bureau was especially concerned that criminals could soon "go dark" with the aid of encryption.

Google and Apple faced a choice, Weissmann said: Creating vault-like systems that nobody could penetrate or ones that were less-secure and would permit authorities to investigate crimes.

"They have created a system that is a free-for-all for criminals," said Weissmann, a law professor at New York University. "It's the wrong balancing act. Having court-ordered access to telephones is essential to thwart criminal acts and terrorist acts."

Weissmann said there was little the Justice Department could do to stop the emerging policies. The companies are permitted to have encryption systems. The only way to ensure law enforcement access is for Congress to pass legislation, he said.

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Hackers admit stealing data worth millions from Army, Microsoft, more

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, says the defendants hacked into networks belonging to the Army, Microsoft, Epic Games, Valve and Zombie Studios from January 2011 to March 2014 and conspired to use and sell information they stole. Neither is charged in the indictment, but the Justice Department said an Australian citizen was facing charges in his home country. Army, Microsoft and several other technology companies, and two other people also have been indicted, the Department of Justice said.

Two members of an international hacking ring pleaded guilty Tuesday for their roles in stealing $100 million worth of intellectual property and other data from the U.S. Army, Microsoft and several other technology companies, and two other people also have been indicted, the Department of Justice said.

"The members of this international hacking ring stole trade secret data used in high-tech American products, ranging from software that trains U.S. soldiers to fly Apache helicopters to Xbox games that entertain millions around the world," Assistant Atty. Gen. Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement.

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, says the defendants hacked into networks belonging to the Army, Microsoft, Epic Games, Valve and Zombie Studios from January 2011 to March 2014 and conspired to use and sell information they stole.

It accuses them of taking information related to Microsoft's Xbox Live and then-unreleased Xbox One; software that Zombie Studios developed for the Army that simulates flying Apache helicopters; pre-release versions of the Epic video game "Gears of War 3" and the Activision video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"; employee login information and other data from Valve; and more than $5,000 worth of "confidential data" from the Army.

Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of New Jersey, and David Pokora, 22, of Canada pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement, the Justice Department said. They are to be sentenced Jan. 13.

A federal grand jury indicted Nesheiwat and Pokora -- as well as Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, Md., and Austin Alcala, 18, of McCordsville, Ind. -- in April. The indictment alleges conspiracies to commit computer fraud, copyright infringement, wire fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and theft of trade secrets, the Justice Department said. It also contains counts of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and unauthorized computer access.

The indictment refers to two co-conspirators, one from North Carolina and one from Australia. Neither is charged in the indictment, but the Justice Department said an Australian citizen was facing charges in his home country.

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Netflix takes aim at the theatrical window

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" won four Oscars, including best foreign-language film, and earned $214 million worldwide. And, perhaps most importantly, "The Green Legend" will not be helmed by the acclaimed director of "Crouching Tiger," Ang Lee. "They had to get into the movie business to reduce windowing, and I think this is an important Step 1 for Netflix." Exhibitors, in tandem with the major studios, have long sought to guard the theatrical window.

NEW YORK -- Hollywood's carefully controlled system of movie rollouts is officially under siege.

Windowing -- the practice of opening a movie first in theaters and then in other stages of home video, streaming and television release -- has been under increasing pressure as smaller screens fight against the prominence of the theatrical big screen. Now, Netflix has fired the most notable missive across the bow of windowing, announcing plans to release a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" on the day it hits Imax theaters next August.

The film, produced by the Weinstein Co., isn't a studio production, so it's in many ways only marginally more significant than the plethora of independent films regularly released on video-on-demand. But the announcement constitutes the biggest move yet by a major digital outlet to blow up Hollywood's traditional release pattern.

"This is a very unique opportunity for somebody from the outside coming in to shake up what appears to be an increasingly antiquated release strategy," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst for BTIG Research. "They had to get into the movie business to reduce windowing, and I think this is an important Step 1 for Netflix."

Exhibitors, in tandem with the major studios, have long sought to guard the theatrical window. On Tuesday, two of the country's largest theater chains, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, which both included some Imax theaters, promptly refused to carry the film.

"We will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3 inches wide on a smartphone," said Regal spokesman Russ Nunley. "We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear."

The same chains also declined to screen Warner Bros.' day-and-date release "Veronica Mars" earlier this year. Warner Bros. instead bought up the 270 AMC theaters it played in while it was also released on VOD.

The sequel "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend" is no sure bet despite the sensation of its 2000 precursor. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" won four Oscars, including best foreign-language film, and earned $214 million worldwide. The film's international appeal surely also motivated the ever-expanding Netflix, which has recently made inroads into Europe.

But sequels released so long after the original often struggle to keep audience interest. And, perhaps most importantly, "The Green Legend" will not be helmed by the acclaimed director of "Crouching Tiger," Ang Lee. Instead, it's directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, the martial arts choreographer of "The Matrix" and both parts of "Kill Bill." It's currently being shot in New Zealand.

Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said in a statement, "The moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement."

Netflix has dabbled in releasing movies before, including distributing the 2013 documentary about the Egyptian revolution "The Square," which was nominated for a best-documentary Academy Award. And its most celebrated entry into original television, "House of Cards," too, has had a widespread effect in the movie business, alerting the industry to a new avenue for big-name talents such as Kevin Spacey and David Fincher.

Netflix's entry into the movie business comes at a potentially fragile time for the movie industry, following a summer in which the box office was down 15 percent from last year. But one of the summer's buzziest successes was a smaller science-fiction thriller, "Snowpiercer," released by the Weinstein Co.' boutique label, Radius. It made nearly $11 million on VOD, more than double its theatrical revenue.

------

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake--coyle

AP-WF-09-30-14 2017GMT

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Caffeinated underwear: $1.5 million refund for bogus weight-loss claims

Oz endorsed its shapewear, but the FTC says the celebrity TV surgeon never did. "Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest 'weight-loss' brew concocted by marketers," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. But the FTC's complaint alleges that Wacoal exaggerated results of the tests, which were based on two flawed, uncontrolled clinical trials. Wacoal America made similar claims about its "revolutionary" iPants, which sold for $44 to $85.

WASHINGTON -- Two companies that sell women's underwear infused with caffeine have agreed to refund $1.5 million to consumers to settle charges that they falsely advertised their products would reduce cellulite and zap fat, the Federal Trade Commission announced on Monday.

In addition to the refunds, the settlements bar Norm Thompson Outfitters, a catalog retailer based in Oregon, and Wacoal America, a lingerie company in New Jersey, from making any further unsubstantiated claims about their caffeinated "shapewear."

There's no scientific evidence that the shapewear -- infused with microencapsulated caffeine, retinol, vitamin E and aloe vera, among other ingredients -- can reshape womens' bodies or eliminate cellulite as advertised, said the FTC, which filed complaints against both companies.

"Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest 'weight-loss' brew concocted by marketers," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. "If someone says you can lose weight by wearing the clothes they are selling, steer clear. The best approach is tried and true: diet and exercise."

Made with Lytess brand fabrics, the shapewear sold online by Norm Thompson Outfitters for $49 to $79 promised to reduce wearers' hip measurements by up to two inches and thigh measurements by one inch "without any effort," according to the FTC's complaint.

Norm Thompson also implied that Dr. Oz endorsed its shapewear, but the FTC says the celebrity TV surgeon never did.

Wacoal America made similar claims about its "revolutionary" iPants, which sold for $44 to $85.

Advertisements for iPants cited scientific tests that supposedly proved the company's shapewear would substantially reduce a woman's thigh measurements if worn 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for 28 days.

But the FTC's complaint alleges that Wacoal exaggerated results of the tests, which were based on two flawed, uncontrolled clinical trials.

San Jose Mercury News
Today
15 Points

Money Drug and device firms paid $3.5B to care providers

The massive trove of information named companies and many of the recipients. Genetech, Pfizer and DePuy Synthes topped the list of companies. Drug companies traditionally have prized their relationships with doctors, the gatekeepers between patients and prescription medications. Many doctors receive significant payments to help drug companies conduct research that can benefit society. Clinical research is another area of financial relationships, and harder to assess.

WASHINGTON -- From research grants to travel junkets, drug and medical device companies paid doctors and leading hospitals billions of dollars last year, the government disclosed Tuesday in a new effort to spotlight potential ethical conflicts in medicine.

The value of industry payments and other financial benefits totaled nearly $3.5 billion in the five-month period from August through December 2013, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which released the data.

The massive trove of information named companies and many of the recipients. Also listed were types of payments, with details down to travel destinations. Some 546,000 clinicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals received benefits.

It's part of a new initiative called Open Payments, required by President Barack Obama's health care law. It was intended to allow patients to easily look up their own doctors online, but that functionality isn't fully developed. In future years, the information will cover a full 12 months and will be easier to search, officials said.

Consumer groups said it's a step toward much-needed transparency. They see a built-in conflict of interest that can influence prescribing decisions, the use of high-tech tests and even types of surgeries performed.

But doctors and industry said the government rushed to release the data, and they raised questions about accuracy and lack of context. The administration said it's not pointing a finger at the medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry.

"Open Payments does not identify which financial relationships ... could cause conflicts of interest," said Shantanu Agrawal, the agency official overseeing the project. "It simply makes the data available to the public."

An initial Associated Press analysis found that orthopedists, cardiologists and adult medicine specialists were among the likeliest to receive payments from drug and device companies. Most of the contributions came in the form of cash payments, followed by in-kind gifts and services, and stock options.

Genetech, Pfizer and DePuy Synthes topped the list of companies.

AP's analysis excluded research grants.

Some doctors also had ownership stakes in companies, and the government counted the value of those stakes as part of the overall $3.5 billion it termed as "payments."

Under Obama, government policy has shifted toward opening the books of the medical profession. A few months ago Medicare released its huge claims database, showing program payments to more than 825,000 providers for 2012. Unlike other provisions of his health care law, Open Payments is supported by lawmakers of both political parties.

Drug companies traditionally have prized their relationships with doctors, the gatekeepers between patients and prescription medications.

Some doctors' offices have started curbing pharmaceutical marketing, which can include anything from free pens and pizzas to paid speaking engagements and golf outings at fancy resorts. Clinical research is another area of financial relationships, and harder to assess. Many doctors receive significant payments to help drug companies conduct research that can benefit society.

The American Medical Association said it remains "very concerned" about release of the payments file, adding that the data may contain inaccuracies and lacks context to help the average person evaluate the information. The administration provided individual doctors an opportunity to inspect their data prior to release, but the AMA says the window was short and the process cumbersome.

Consumer groups say disclosure is overdue.

"Research has shown over and over that these financial relationships influence doctors, even a meal," said John Santa, medical director for health projects with Consumers Union. "Studies also show that doctors believe it does not affect them, but strongly believe it affects other doctors."

AMA President Robert Wah said in a statement that some financial dealings between doctors and the drug industry help patients, particularly when it comes to research. "There are relationships that can help drive innovation in patient care," Wah said.

The information released Tuesday covers payments by drug and medical device manufacturers to doctors and teaching hospitals, as well as the ownership stakes. Manufacturers must report payments and gifts unless they are valued at under $10. Doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors are covered.

The data, however, are preliminary. Officials said identifying details were removed in about 40 percent of the records because of unresolved questions. Another 300,000 records are still being verified, and were not included, so the total value of payments is expected to be higher.

The disclosure provision was championed in Congress by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who said he hopes the data will become a resource for consumers over time.

"The patient who is prescribed a drug that might be beneficial, yet risky, will be able to learn whether the prescribing doctor accepted drug company money to study the risks." Grassley said in a statement. "The information might not change the outcome, but it's something a patient might like to know."

Others worry it will discourage doctors from participating in research.

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Money Canada regulator cut Google, Netflix from TV rules debate

Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman for Netflix, based in Los Gatos, California, declined to comment on the CRTC's letter. The CRTC's orders weren't applicable under Canadian broadcasting law, Wright also said. The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission held hearings earlier this month on how it should adjust regulations that deal with cable TV and online streaming services. 2, the regulator said in letters sent to the companies yesterday and made public on its website.

Canada's telecommunications regulator said it won't take comments from Netflix and Google into consideration when it decides on new rules for TV after the companies refused to provide information on how Canadians watch their content.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission held hearings earlier this month on how it should adjust regulations that deal with cable TV and online streaming services. Google, which operates the YouTube video website, and Netflix, the biggest online streaming service, both said at hearings that they shouldn't be required to carry a set amount of Canadian content like traditional TV providers do.

The refusal of the companies to comply with the commission's request to pass on data on how much Canadian content is watched on their services will mean their contributions to the debate are removed from public record on Oct. 2, the regulator said in letters sent to the companies yesterday and made public on its website.

"By refusing to provide any supporting evidence, the Commission cannot fully test and evaluate the strengths of Netflix's argument which, if supported by evidence, may otherwise be very compelling," CRTC Secretary General John Traversy wrote in a letter to Netflix. In a letter to Google, the CRTC also said it wasn't able to "fully test and evaluate the strengths of Google's argument."

Broadcasting Law

Google gives Canadians a platform to share their creations without regulation, the Mountain View, California-based company said at a hearing in Quebec, Sept. 8. Canadian shows and movies are already popular on Netflix's service, Corie Wright, the company's global public policy director, said at a hearing, Sept. 19.

In a letter to the commission on Sept. 22, Wright said Netflix wouldn't hand over the information because it was competitively sensitive. The CRTC's orders weren't applicable under Canadian broadcasting law, Wright also said.

Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman for Netflix, based in Los Gatos, California, declined to comment on the CRTC's letter.

Google stands by the submissions it gave in the consultation and said it "made a positive contribution to the discussion," according to an e-mail from the company today.

The Class A shares of Google rose less than 1 percent to $588.41 at the close in New York, while Netflix gained 0.4 percent to $451.18.

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Money eBay to shed PayPal as competition increases

Launched by such Silicon Valley luminaries as Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, David Sacks, Reid Hoffman and Max Levchin -- known as the PayPal mafia -- PayPal has seen its annual revenue more than quadruple since 2006, reaching $7.2 billion in the last 12 months. Moreover, its online payment arm, PayPal, has been a huge financial engine since eBay bought it for about $1.3 billion in 2002.

SAN JOSE -- In an abrupt and stunning reversal, eBay announced Tuesday that it will split off its multibillion-dollar PayPal unit into an independent company, months after strenuously resisting a demand to do just that from activist investor Carl Icahn.

A separated PayPal will better attract retailers who had shied away because of its connections to eBay, a sales rival, industry experts said, adding that the move will help the two companies focus more on bolstering their separate businesses, while perhaps making them more attractive takeover targets.

They also noted that the corporate split -- which will see eBay CEO John Donahoe step down when the companies break up next year -- reflects the increasingly dog-eat-dog world of online retailing. That rivalry is getting especially heated with Apple's recently unveiled online-pay service, Apple Pay, which is expected to be a formidable competitor to PayPal.

"This makes a lot of sense for both companies, who are facing massive competition individually," said tech analyst Rob Enderle. "Every once in a while, Carl Icahn does get it right."

Surging revenue

Founded in 1995, San Jose-based eBay has become an online retailing giant with more than 128 million users who have bought or sold items on the site over the previous 12 months. Moreover, its online payment arm, PayPal, has been a huge financial engine since eBay bought it for about $1.3 billion in 2002.

Launched by such Silicon Valley luminaries as Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, David Sacks, Reid Hoffman and Max Levchin -- known as the PayPal mafia -- PayPal has seen its annual revenue more than quadruple since 2006, reaching $7.2 billion in the last 12 months. PayPal's revenue grew 19 percent over the past 12 months, compared with eBay's growth of 10 percent.

As a result, eBay rebuffed Icahn's call earlier this year to shed its PayPal unit.

"Payments is an essential part of commerce," Donahoe wrote in a company blog in January, adding, "We have been successful exactly because PayPal and eBay are together. It's why we believe we are so well positioned to lead in the blended worlds of online and offline commerce."

Icahn had argued that eBay was stifling PayPal's ability to grow and compete with the likes of Google and Apple. But in April, he backed away from his demand that PayPal be jettisoned, settling instead for eBay's offer to name a new independent board member Icahn favored. So eBay's announcement Tuesday was a remarkable reversal.

While the move makes sense, "the timing is surprising," said Seth Shafer, an analyst with SNL Financial. "It was an interesting turn of events."

Investors have pressured other companies to become more efficient by spinning off businesses and eBay said it finally decided to sever PayPal after an extensive review by its board.

"Separation will create sharper strategic focus and better position each business to capitalize on those growth opportunities as independent companies," the company said in a news release, adding that it will continue to have "arm's length operating agreements" with PayPal.

"We are happy that eBay's board and management have acted responsibly concerning the separation -- perhaps a little later than they should have but earlier than we expected," Icahn said in a statement. He added that he believes PayPal and other online payment firms should consolidate, noting that with Apple's entry into the market, "the sooner these consolidations take place, the better."

In an interview Tuesday, PayPal co-founder Thiel also endorsed the separation.

"It made sense for PayPal and eBay to be combined because in 2002, 2003, over two-thirds of PayPal volume was on eBay," he said. "That was down to about half by 2008, and at this point it's around 25 percent to 30 percent. So something like three-quarters of the payment volume is off eBay." Consequently, he said, "It makes a lot more sense now for them to split than it did a few years ago."

eBay's investors liked the news. The company's shares jumped $3.97 -- nearly 8 percent -- to close at $56.63.

Under the separation, PayPal will become a publicly traded company headed by Don Schulman, a veteran of American Express. Donahoe, who will serve on "one or both of the boards of the two companies," will be replaced as CEO by Devin Wenig, now president of eBay Marketplaces, the company said.

More competition

eBay, which had about 33,500 employees at the end of last year, doesn't disclose details about its Bay Area workforce, according to company spokeswoman Amanda Coffee. Asked about the PayPal separation, she said, "We have no plans at this time to change anything about our San Jose offices right now."

Some analysts speculated that shedding PayPal could cause other companies -- perhaps Amazon or even Apple -- to consider buying eBay or PayPal. But others say the main benefit is to give PayPal a better chance to survive.

"I think what finally pushed the button for eBay is they looked around and realized an independent PayPal was going to be able to compete more effectively," said tech analyst Charles King. "And with the addition of a high-profile player like Apple and others getting into the online payment business, it's important for eBay to, in a sense, give PayPal its freedom."

Staff writer Heather Somerville contributed to this report. Contact Steve Johnson at 408-920-5043. Follow him at Twitter.com/steveatmercnews.

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Money EU takes aim at Apple's tax deal in Ireland, Silicon Valley's overseas home

Firms such as Apple, HP, Intel and Dell were among the first to set up shop there, followed by later generations of companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. But European regulators are subjecting sweetheart tax deals to greater scrutiny, meaning multinational companies may be forced to pay more than the rates they've enjoyed. At the heart of the inquiry is transfer pricing, or the rates that companies charge their subsidiaries for goods and services as they do business overseas.

CUPERTINO -- Regulators in the European Union warned Tuesday that Ireland's tax breaks to Apple may amount to unlawful state aid, casting a cloud of uncertainty over Silicon Valley's home away from home.

The European Commission found that Irish tax officials gave Apple special treatment over other companies, which in turn gave the country an unfair edge over the rest of the European Union in the fight to lure foreign firms to their soil. Although the group's findings are still preliminary, Apple may have to pay vast sums of back taxes if the breaks granted to it by the Irish government are found to violate EU law.

"The Commission is of the opinion that through those rulings the Irish authorities confer an advantage on Apple," Joaquín Almunia, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in the 21-page report. "That advantage is obtained every year and ongoing, when the annual tax liability is agreed upon by the tax authorities in view of that ruling."

With a corporate tax rate just a fraction of the U.S.'s, Ireland has long been a popular destination for valley companies looking to plant a flag overseas. Firms such as Apple, HP, Intel and Dell were among the first to set up shop there, followed by later generations of companies like Airbnb and Dropbox.

But European regulators are subjecting sweetheart tax deals to greater scrutiny, meaning multinational companies may be forced to pay more than the rates they've enjoyed. The European Commission also took aim at Luxembourg's tax breaks to Italian carmaker Fiat SpA on Tuesday. Forecasting still more tax probes, federal tax expert Rebecca Wilkins said the scores of tech companies in Ireland seem like prime targets for investigators.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Wilkins, a senior counsel on federal tax policy at Citizens for Tax Justice.

EU regulators are scrutinizing tax rulings from the Irish government in 1991 and 2007 for Apple Operations Europe and Apple Sales International, two subsidiaries. At the heart of the inquiry is transfer pricing, or the rates that companies charge their subsidiaries for goods and services as they do business overseas. Companies sometimes try to concentrate their profits in one country over another to enjoy lower tax rates, said Caroline Chen, an assistant clinical professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

Examining an agreement struck between Apple and Ireland in 1991, the European Commission found that certain costs for the Irish subsidiary appeared to have been reverse-engineered to arrive at a desirable taxable income that did not have any economic basis. Ireland seemed to be "motivated by employment considerations" in its tax discussions with Apple, according to the report. The regulators note that Apple is the largest employer in the Irish city of Cork.

"If you think about it from an employment perspective and an economic perspective, then tell me, what government wouldn't want Apple to have that type of presence in their country?" Chen said.

What's more, Apple's 1991 tax rate remained in place until 2007, far longer than most countries' regulations allow, regulators wrote. That too appeared to grant an advantage to Apple, regulators concluded, as the company's taxes remained unchanged as its sales skyrocketed. Both Apple and Ireland have a chance to respond to the report, and then after that response the EU body will issue its ruling, which can be appealed.

Apple insisted on Tuesday that it had been taxed fairly.

"Our success in Europe and around the world is the result of hard work and innovation by our employees, not any special arrangements with the government," an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement. "Apple has received no selective treatment from Irish officials over the years. We're subject to the same tax laws as the countless other companies who do business in Ireland."

The Irish Department of Finance stood by its practices and said it had already supplied the European Commission with more information about its practices.

"Ireland is confident that there is no breach of state aid rules in this case," a government statement reads.

The European Commission's report draws heavily from the work of the U.S. Senate, where Apple's tax practices have also come under scrutiny. Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company's practices at a hearing of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations last year.

"They're probably one of the most aggressive in sending profits off shore through all kinds of accounting and legal maneuvers," Wilkins said.

Though Ireland's tax rates have undeniably been a big draw for American firms, the scrutiny from the European Commission may not send tech packing from Dublin. Brian Caulfield, a Dublin-based partner at venture firm DFJ Esprit, said Ireland also appeals to American entrepreneurs with its shared language and friendly business environment.

"I don't see a significant short term threat to Ireland's relationship with Silicon Valley," he said.

Wilkins agreed that American tech firms may be in Ireland for the long haul, if only because they have nowhere better to go.

"If they want to be in an EU member state, they may not have any other options," she said.

Contact Julia Love at 408-920-5536 or follow her at Twitter.com/byJuliaLove

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Money Biz Break: GoPro's rockets up after new cameras are revealed

GoPro's YouTube channel has already garnered hundreds of millions of views."We realized our users were really creating magic," Adam Dornbusch, GoPro's head of programming, told the Los Angeles Times. "Through our channels, we're able to share it."If GoPro figures out a way to monetize that footage, investors may have even more to cheer about. Investors cheered the new devices, sending GoPro stock to an all-time high, according to Reuters.

Today: GoPro soared in the market after unveiling its latest video cameras, and eBay also got a lift after announcing that it will spin off PayPal.

The lead:

Shares of GoPro shot up on Tuesday after the company offered the media a glimpse of its latest rough-and-tumble video cameras.          

The San Mateo-based company announced on Monday that it will roll out a trio of new cameras: two action models and a more affordable design geared toward novices. That product, dubbed Hero, will sell for $129, USA Today reported.

Investors cheered the new devices, sending GoPro stock to an all-time high, according to Reuters. Shares of GoPro rose $2.76, or 3 percent Tuesday, to $93.70.

GoPro founder Nick Woodman talked up the company's impact on Monday as he previewed the new cameras at an event for media.

"For the first time, we can share every moment of our lives," he said, according to USA Today. "That's very powerful."

GoPro's market share has soared since Woodman sold the first generation of devices to surf shops from the back of his van. Roughly half of all video cameras sold in the U.S. now are made by GoPro, CBS News reported.

But GoPro is not content to just manufacture gadgets. The company is also morphing into a media brand as it seeks to share the footage that its users capture while surfing, skydiving or mountain biking with the world, the Los Angeles Times reported. GoPro's YouTube channel has already garnered hundreds of millions of views.

"We realized our users were really creating magic," Adam Dornbusch, GoPro's head of programming, told the Los Angeles Times. "Through our channels, we're able to share it."

If GoPro figures out a way to monetize that footage, investors may have even more to cheer about.

SV150 market report:

Shares of eBay jumped as the online auction house announced that it will spin off PayPal. PayPal will stand alone as a separate publicly traded company late next year, breaking off about half of eBay's revenue, the New York Times reported. Investors gave the move a nod of approval, sending eBay's stock up $3.97, or 7.5 percent, to $56.63.

Meanwhile, shares of Apple edged up slightly as the company defended its tax practices after the European Commission issued a report finding that breaks granted by the Irish government may amount to illicit state aid. Apple stock rose $0.64, or .64 percent, to $100.75. Netflix also saw small gains, with its stock climbing .36 percent to $451.18 on news that it would roll out a sequel to the popular film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." But Zynga's stock dropped 3.2 percent to $2.70 amid concerns that its new strategy of partnering with big brands will not be enough to save the company.

Silicon Valley tech stocks

Up: Apple, HP, eBay, Netflix, GoPro

Down: Gilead Sciences, Zynga, LinkedIn, Tesla, Oracle

The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's biggest companies: Up 2.40, or .15 percent, to 1,605.38.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Down 12.46, or 0.28 percent, to 4,493.39.

17,042.90

The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Down 28.32 or 0.17 percent, to 17,042.90.

And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Down 5.51, or 0.28 percent, to 1,972.29.

Sign up for the 60-Second Business Break newsletter at www.siliconvalley.com.

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