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Big Tech's giants set to testify at congressional hearing on their power, influence – CBC.ca

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook are all set to answer for their companies’ practices before Congress Wednesday as a House panel caps its year-long investigation of market dominance in the tech industry.

Critics question whether the companies — which have grown increasingly powerful after gobbling up scores of rivals — stifle competition and innovation, raise prices for consumers and pose a danger to society.

The four CEOs are testifying remotely for a hearing Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET by the House’s judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.

In its bipartisan investigation, the panel collected testimony from mid-level executives of the four firms, competitors and legal experts, and pored over more than a million internal documents from the companies.

A key question is whether existing competition policies and century-old antitrust laws are adequate for oversight of the tech giants, or if new legislation and enforcement funding is needed.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has called the four companies monopolies, although he said breaking them up should be a last resort. While forced breakups may appear unlikely, the wide scrutiny of Big Tech points toward possible new restrictions on its power.

Bezos has never testified to Congress

The companies face legal and political offensives on multiplying fronts, from Congress, the Trump administration, federal and state regulators and European watchdogs. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating the four companies’ practices.

For Bezos, who presides over an e-commerce empire and ventures in cloud computing, personal “smart” tech and beyond, it will be his first-ever appearance before Congress.

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Previewing his written testimony in a blog post Tuesday, Bezos traces his origins as a “garage inventor” who came up with the concept of an online bookstore in 1994.

He addresses the issue of Amazon’s power in what he describes as a huge and competitive global retail market. The company accounts for less than four per cent of retail in the U.S., Bezos maintains. He affirms his rebuff to critics who call for the company to be broken up: Walmart is more than twice Amazon’s size, he says.

Bezos initially declined to testify unless he could appear with the other CEOs. He’ll likely face questioning over a Wall Street Journal report that found Amazon employees used confidential data collected from sellers on its online marketplace to develop competing products. At a previous hearing, an Amazon executive denied such an accusation.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and protests against racial injustice, Facebook’s handling of hate speech has recently drawn more fire than issues of competition and privacy, especially after Facebook’s refusal to take action on inflammatory posts by Donald Trump that spread misinformation about voting by mail and, critics said, encouraged violence against protesters.

Zuckerberg has said the company aims to allow as much free expression as possible unless it causes imminent risk of specific harms or damage. “We believe in values — democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression — that the American economy was built on,” he says in his testimony prepared for the hearing.

“I understand that people have concerns about the size and perceived power that tech companies have,” Zuckerberg’s statement says. “Ultimately, I believe companies shouldn’t be making so many judgments about important issues like harmful content, privacy and election integrity on their own. That’s why I’ve called for a more active role for governments and regulators, and updated rules for the internet.”

Google ad dominance questioned

Looking at Google, European regulators have concluded that the company manipulated its search engine to gain an unfair advantage over other online shopping sites in the e-commerce market, and fined Google, whose parent is Alphabet Inc., a record $2.7 billion US. Google has disputed the findings and is appealing.

Attorneys general in 50 states and territories, led by Texas, launched an antitrust investigation of Google in September, focused on its online advertising business.

“Google operates in highly competitive and dynamic global markets, in which prices are free or falling, and products are constantly improving,” Pichai says in his written testimony. “Competition in ads — from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Comcast and others — has helped lower online advertising costs by 40 per cent over the last 10 years, with these savings passed down to consumers through lower prices.”

Apple, whose iPhone is the third-largest-selling phone in the world, faces EU investigations over the fees charged by its App Store and technical limitations that allegedly shut out competitors to Apple Pay.

“Apple does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business,” Cook says.

He is making the case that the fees Apple charges apps to sell services and other goods are reasonable, especially compared with what other tech companies collect. In over a decade since the App Store launched, “we have never raised the commission or added a single fee,” Cook says in his testimony.

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Brandon, Man. experiencing 'fairly large outbreak' of COVID-19: health officials – CTV News Winnipeg

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BRANDON, MAN. —
The city of Brandon, Man. is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19, according to the province’s chief public health officer.

A total of 34 cases have now been linked to a cluster in the western Manitoba city. Six others are considered community spread.

“What we see is that there’s a fairly large outbreak in that area right now, in the community,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer.

Six additional cases were confirmed Friday among workers at the Maple Leaf Foods pork processing plant but it’s not the only business in the community dealing with the virus.

A pylon perimeter surrounds the parking lot at the Tim Hortons along the Trans Canada Highway in Brandon.

The location temporarily closed after an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 worked while they were infectious but not symptomatic, according to Roussin.

While public health officials have said the risk of exposure at the coffee shop is low, it’s unsettling news for Alyssa Russell of Virden, Man, which is about a 40-minute drive west of Brandon.

“When they had to shut down Tim Hortons — where I was the day before they had to shut it down — I was there and that alarms me,” said Russell.

Russell was in Brandon getting tested for COVID-19, not from her visit to Tim’s, but because she came into close contact with someone else who had contact with a known case.

She’s worried about the growing number of positive cases in the area and so is Brandon resident Donald Blagden.

“We had flattened it for such a long period of time and now it’s kind of exploding, I guess you could say,” said Blagden.

Maple Leaf Foods said Friday afternoon a total of 10 people who work at the Brandon plant have tested positive.

Public health officials said so far it appears everyone’s contracted the virus outside the workplace.

“To be clear there is no evidence of workplace transmission at this time,” said Roussin.

In a statement posted on the company’s website, Maple Leaf said the plant continues to operate at normal capacity with strict protocols in place to protect workers and prevent the virus from spreading within the workplace.

Still, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, the union representing Maple Leaf workers, continues to push for a temporary closure to avoid a large outbreak like the ones in Alberta and the U.S.

“Our members are extremely frightened,” said UFCW local 832 president Jeff Traeger. “They don’t really want to go to work.

“Many of them are telling us in large numbers they want to see the plant shut down for a short period of time.”

UFCW said it would give employees a chance to get tested, allowing the company to get a handle on the situation and do a deep clean. UFCW also said it can be difficult to physical distance in certain areas of the plant, such as the lunchroom and change area.

But Maple Leaf said the plant was inspected by both public health officials and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Thursday and has been deemed safe.

“They said we were going above and beyond in everything we were doing to ensure safety and they support our decision to continue operating,” said Janet Riley, Maple Leaf’s vice president of communications and public affairs.

In a blog post on the company’s website Friday afternoon, Maple Leaf Foods president and CEO Michael McCain urged Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest to call on the community to strictly adhere to physical distancing and mask use in the community.

“We must work together as one to prevent the community spread of COVID-19,” McCain’s post reads.

In response, Chrest said the city has been carefully following the advice of public health officials and that people should be even more vigilant with public health measures to help contain the spread.

“We have consistently and strenuously advocated for our community to follow the practices of physical distancing, hand sanitizing, staying home if ill, get tested if you have symptoms and the advice to wear masks if physical distancing is difficult,” Chrest said in a text message do CTV News.

Meantime, a Walmart employee in Brandon who last worked Jul. 26 also recently tested positive for COVID-19. The store stayed open.

Prairie Mountain Health said the demand for testing has increased over the past week and additional screeners have been brought on to keep the city’s only testing site open over lunch. Health officials said it’s also possible the hours may be expanded, as the number of cases continues to increase. The testing site is currently open Monday to Saturday from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Public health officials said anyone who recently visited the closed Tim Hortons in Brandon should monitor for symptoms and get tested if symptoms arise. 

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Alberta's unemployment rate drops for first time since start of COVID-19 pandemic, falling to 12.8 per cent – Edmonton Journal

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Article content continued

“There are more than 15,000 unemployed Albertans in the educational services sector compared to one year ago after the UCP made brutal cuts to our education system in the middle of a pandemic. By rehiring these people, we can immediately get Albertans back to work, create a safer learning environment for students during the pandemic, and create a stronger economy for tomorrow,” Bilous said in a statement.

The 25,000 job increase in the Edmonton metropolitan area in July broke a four-month streak of losses, which the city’s acting chief economist Felicia Mutheardy said is a sign of recovery. The city’s labour force also continued to grow, adding 22,900 people.

“Given the severity of the pandemic’s negative impact on Edmonton’s labour market, the road to recovery is expected to be gradual and uneven. However, the turnaround in the region’s employment levels is welcome news, reinforced by the direction of provincial labour market indicators over the past two months,” Mutheardy said in a report published Friday.

Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Janet Riopel called on all levels of government to support job-creating businesses in an effort to get the 122,200 unemployed residents in the Edmonton region to work.

“While today’s numbers are a step in the right direction, there are still over 120,000 people in our region who are looking for work and struggling to meet the needs of their families as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate our community. We need all orders of government to continue supporting those job creators who are still trying to get back on their feet, so we can get our economy back on track,” she said in a statement.

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Manitoba reports 17 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, 10 cases now identified at Brandon pork plant – Global News

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Manitoba health officials reported 17 new cases of novel coronavirus Friday as Maple Leaf confirmed 10 employees at their Brandon pork processing plant have tested positive for the virus.

At a 1 p.m. press conference Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer confirmed reporting from the union representing workers at the plant that said four more employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday morning.

Read more:
3 more employees at Brandon Maple Leaf hog plant test positive for COVID-19

But Maple Leaf’s president and CEO Michael McCain said another two workers had tested positive in a statement posted to the company’s website around 3 p.m., bringing the total number of workers at the plant who have tested positive since the weekend to 10.

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McCain said there is no indication the illness is spreading inside the facility, echoing what Roussin had said earlier in the day.

“Not a single case acquired it there from our investigation,” Roussin said at a Friday press conference.






4:25
Self-isolation dos and don’ts


Self-isolation dos and don’ts

The cases at Maple Leaf are linked to a cluster of 34 cases in Brandon, Roussin said, and appear to be connected to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada.

Roussin added that there is indication of community spread in Brandon.

The 17 new cases reported province-wide Friday bring Manitoba’s total number of lab-confirmed and probable cases reported since March to 491 and include 10 from the Prairie Mountain Health region, five in Winnipeg, and two people in southern Manitoba.

Read more:
Manitoba to launch COVID-19 health awareness campaign among rising job numbers

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Roussin said as of Friday nine people are in hospital with COVID-19, including three in intensive care.

He said there are currently 132 active known cases in Manitoba and 351 people have recovered from the virus.

The number of Manitobans who have died from COVID-19 since March remains at eight.

Union calls for closure of Maple Leaf plant

Jeff Traeger, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, said he expects more Maple Leaf employees will test positive.

“We are renewing our call on Maple Leaf to halt production in the Brandon plant until this situation is under control,” Traeger said in a memo Friday morning.

The union, which represents nearly 2,000 workers at the plant, said many employees have asked if they can refuse to go to work. The union said it is complicated, since the province has deemed their work essential and the facility safe.

Read more:
Coronavirus — Manitoba reports 30 new cases, potential exposure on Air Canada flight

“If you notice that protocols are not being followed properly, then you need to let your union know immediately,” the memo said.

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Maple Leaf had earlier said the cases at the plant are not linked to workplace spread.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Public health and workplace safety authorities inspected the plant Thursday, and the company said the results support its decision to continue operations.

Roussin said the industry has learned from serious outbreaks at meat-processing plants in southern Alberta this spring.

Premier Brian Pallister said the province would only step in if recommended by health experts. He noted that the rise in cases shows people need to remain vigilant.

“Safety is the key to this recovery,” the premier said. “There is nothing more important than that.”

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Read more:
Coronavirus case confirmed at Maple Leaf plant in Brandon, 2 new cases reported Wednesday

The cases at the meat plant come as the Tim Hortons restaurant at 1845 Middleton Ave. in Brandon was forced to close after the company said an employee there has also tested positive for COVID-19.

At the Friday briefing Roussin warned of a potential exposure at the Tim Hortons that may have occurred Aug. 1. He said the while the risk of transmission is low at the restaurant, located along the Trans-Canada Highway at 18th Street, customers should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and seek testing should symptoms develop.

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A spokesperson from Tim Hortons tells Global News employees who worked closely with the employee who has tested positive are self-isolating for 14 days and the restaurant will remain closed until it can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and a separate crew of workers can be brought in.

While Manitoba has yet to mandate mask wearing to stem the spread of COVID-19, on Friday Roussin said wearing a mask is advisable when physical distancing isn’t possible, especially in Brandon right now.

When asked about masks Friday morning, Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest said the city is following the guidance of public health officials.

Chrest while people in Brandon are concerned said he’s been impressed by the work health authorities and affected businesses have done to try and control the outbreak.

“All of the companies that have been identified are doing a superb job of following the health protocols, locking down situations.. outright closing their store in the case of Tim Hortons to make sure that there isn’t any further spread,” he told 680 CJOB Friday morning.

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2:47
Coronavirus: Manitoba reports 30 new cases, potential exposure on Air Canada flight


Coronavirus: Manitoba reports 30 new cases, potential exposure on Air Canada flight

“We know that the virus is still in our province and still in our community and it seems that every health region has sadly taken its turn in this thing with a bit of an outbreak and right now we’re having one to deal with.”

The province says 1,452 lab tests for COVID-19 were done Thursday, bringing the total number of tests completed in Manitoba since early February to 96,999.

The new cases reported Friday bring the province’s test positivity rate to 1.10 per cent.

–With files from The Canadian Press






2:15
Coronavirus: After long-weekend spike, Manitoba announces 2 additional COVID-19 cases


Coronavirus: After long-weekend spike, Manitoba announces 2 additional COVID-19 cases

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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