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Rome Wasn't Built In a Day, But a $30.4B Microsoft Puerto Rico Tax Dodge Was

Fri, 2020-01-24 14:01
theodp writes: ProPublica's Paul KIel has the remarkable tale of the IRS' 12-years-and-counting audit of Microsoft for a 2005 deal involving a Puerto Rico subsidiary (and related "Legal Entities") that was deemed worth nothing or a nominal amount on June 30th, 2005 but valued at $30.4 billion just one day later. Seen as an epic case of tax dodging by one of the largest companies in the world, the IRS opened the biggest audit by dollar amount in the history of the agency. In response to extensive written questions, Microsoft said it "follows the law and has always fully paid the taxes it owes." Kiel writes:Microsoft had shifted at least $39 billion in U.S. profits to Puerto Rico, where the company's tax consultants, KPMG, had persuaded the territory's government to give Microsoft a tax rate of nearly 0%. Microsoft had justified this transfer with a ludicrous-sounding deal: It had sold its most valuable possession -- its intellectual property -- to an 85-person factory it owned in a small Puerto Rican city. Over years of work, the IRS uncovered evidence that it believed laid the scheme bare. In one document, a Microsoft senior executive celebrated the company's "pure tax play." In another, KPMG plotted how to make the company Microsoft created to own the Puerto Rico factory -- and a portion of Microsoft's profits -- seem "real." Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled Microsoft had to turn over disputed KPMG documents because the firm had been promoting a tax shelter. Martinez wrote, "the Court finds itself unable to escape the conclusion that a significant purpose, if not the sole purpose, of Microsoft's transactions was to avoid or evade federal income tax." It's an outcome that "serves the public interest," he wrote, given the difficulty of the IRS' task of discovering underreporting of corporate taxes. Barring an appeal, the ruling resolves the summons enforcement case and means the audit can now be completed by the IRS in the coming months.

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Scientists Re-Create Voice of 3,000-Year-Old Mummy

Fri, 2020-01-24 13:00
Longtime Slashdot reader vm writes: You don't have to wait until next Halloween to get creeped out. Using 3D printing, medical scanners, and an electronic larynx, researchers have recreated the voice of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. The tongue has deteriorated over three millennia and all they have so far is a vowel sound but it's a pretty clever way to raise the dead with science. "The researchers then synthesized Nesyamun's voice by 3D printing a model of his airway and connecting it to an electronic larynx, an artificial voice box that provides a noise source," reports Science Magazine. "Based on writings on Nesyamun's coffin and the objects he was buried with, researchers know that he was an Egyptian priest and scribe who likely sang and spoke to the gods as part of his ritual duties. His coffin inscriptions include a wish to 'see and address the gods as he had in his working life.'" The findings have been reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

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First Space-Baked Cookies Took 2 Hours In Experimental Oven

Fri, 2020-01-24 10:00
pgmrdlm shares a report from ABC News: The results are finally in for the first chocolate chip cookie bake-off in space. While looking more or less normal, the best cookies required two hours of baking time last month up at the International Space Station. It takes far less time on Earth, under 20 minutes. And how do they taste? No one knows. Still sealed in individual baking pouches and packed in their spaceflight container, the cookies remain frozen in a Houston-area lab after splashing down two weeks ago in a SpaceX capsule. They were the first food baked in space from raw ingredients. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was the master baker in December, radioing down a description as he baked them one by one in the prototype Zero G Oven. The first cookie -- in the oven for 25 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) -- ended up seriously under-baked. He more than doubled the baking time for the next two, and the results were still so-so. The fourth cookie stayed in the oven for two hours, and finally success. Parmitano cranked the oven up to its maximum 325 degrees F (163 degrees C) for the fifth cookie and baked it for 130 minutes. He reported more success. As for aroma, the astronauts could smell the cookies when they removed them from the oven, except for the first.

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Mars Rover Is Frozen In Place Following Software Error

Fri, 2020-01-24 07:00
Iwastheone writes: NASA reports that Curiosity has suffered a system failure that left the robot unaware of its position and attitude on the red planet. Until it recovers, Curiosity is frozen in place. Mars is far enough away that we can't directly control Curiosity in real-time -- the rover gets batches of commands and then carries them out. That means it needs to have precise awareness of the state of all its joints, as well as environmental details like the location of nearby obstacles and the slope of the ground. This vital information ensures the rover doesn't bump anything with its arm or clip large rocks as it rolls along. Curiosity stores all this attitude data in memory, but something went wrong during operations several days ago. As the rover was carrying out its orders, it suddenly lost track of its orientation. The attitude data didn't add up, so Curiosity froze in place to avoid damaging itself. While the rover is physically stuck in place, it's still in communication with the team here on Earth. Since everything else is working on the rover, NASA was able to develop a set of instructions that should get the rover moving again. When transmitted, the data will inform Curiosity of its attitude and confirm its current state. This should allow the rover to recover and keep performing its safety checks. However, NASA also hopes to gather data on what caused the issue in the first place. The hope is they can avoid another freeze-up in the future.

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What the Hell Happened To Mint?

Fri, 2020-01-24 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fast Company: Intuit's Mint personal-finance service wants me to know it's sorry. Again. "We're sorry!" its investments page bleats when I try to view my mutual funds' performance. "Our graphs require the latest version of Adobe Flash player." That site has spent years apologizing to me for needing Adobe's vulnerability-riddled plug-in: since I long ago booted Flash from my browser, since Adobe said in 2017 that it would drop Flash by the end of 2020, since Intuit told me in 2018 that Mint would wean itself from Flash "in the coming months." But that's in keeping with this fossilized financial tool. Mint still provides a valuable service for free in aggregating transaction data from multiple financial institutions to clarify where your money comes and goes -- and in the bargain suggests hopefully-better financial products from advertisers -- but this app exhibits severe symptoms of neglect. It's as if Mint, with 13 million-plus registered users, were a resource-constrained startup instead of a property of Intuit, the Microsoft of personal finance. But more than a decade after the firm behind TurboTax and QuickBooks (and, until 2016, Quicken) bought Mint for $170 million, neatly taking a competitor off the map, this once-groundbreaking app might as well be streaked with cobwebs. The report goes on to note the "updates" category of Mint's blog "reveals no new features since April 2019's revised financial-advice interfaces in the mobile apps it introduced soon after the acquisition." "It could be doing much more," says Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint. He points in particular to the lack of integration between Mint and TurboTax, saying, "I had a dream that TurboTax would take you about five minutes." Another explanation for why the personal-finance service has gone neglected is the success of TurboTax, which generates roughly 10 to 20 times the revenue of Mint. Fast Company also notes that Mint "benefits from a lack of serious competition," as Quicken requires an annual subscription and remains desktop-bound, and the free Personal Capital web app is more geared toward investment management.

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Trend Micro Set Up a Fake Tech Company and Honeypot To Study Cyber Criminals

Fri, 2020-01-24 02:02
DesScorp writes: In an effort to better understand the latest threats to IT systems, antivirus and security company Trend Micro created a fake tech company, complete with AI-generated photos of fake employees, in order to build a honeypot environment that looked like an actual, working tech factory environment. "Malicious hackers are targeting factories and industrial environments with a wide variety of malware and cyberattacks including ransomware, cryptocurrency miners -- and in some cases they're actively looking to shut down or disrupt systems," reports ZDNet. "All of these incidents were spotted by researchers at cybersecurity company Trend Micro who built a honeypot that mimicked the environment of a real factory. The fake factory featured some common cybersecurity vulnerabilities to make it appealing for hackers to discover and target." The report adds: "To help make the honeypot as convincing as possible, researchers linked the desktops, networks and servers to a false company they called MeTech and created a website detailing how the manufacturer served clients in high-tech sectors including defense and aerospace -- popular targets for hacking. The website even featured images and bios of people who supposedly worked for the false brand, with headshots generated by artificial intelligence in an effort to make the honeypot look as much like a legitimate company as possible." Trend Micro even leaked details of system vulnerabilities in things like Virtual Network Computing (VNC) access to further lure criminals in. The fake company was attacked by everyone from ransomware actors to cryptocurrency miners, to hackers that did "recon" to look for possible industrial espionage data.

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'Unauthorized Bread': A Tale of Jailbreaking Refugees Versus IoT Appliances

Fri, 2020-01-24 01:25
Science fiction writer, journalist and longtime Slashdot reader, Cory Doctorow, a.k.a. mouthbeef, writes: My novella "Unauthorized Bread" -- originally published last year in Radicalized from Tor Books -- has just been published on Ars Technica: it's an epic tale of jailbreaking refugees versus the disobedient IoT appliances they're forced to use, and it's being turned into a TV show by The Intercept's parent company and a graphic novel by First Second with help from Jennifer Doyle. Making the story open access was in honor of the book being shortlisted for Canada Reads, Canada's national book award. The story builds on the work I've done with EFF to legalize jailbreaking, including our lawsuit to overturn parts of the DMCA. The story is part of a lineage with a long history of /. interest, starting with my 2002 Salon story 0wnz0red, and it only seemed fitting that I let you know about it!

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Oregon Supreme Court Approves Measure To Limit Self-Checkout Lanes

Fri, 2020-01-24 00:45
nickwinlund77 shares a report from Corvallis Gazette-Times: A petition to limit each grocery store to two self-checkout kiosks can move forward to signature gathering for a state ballot measure. On Friday, the Oregon Supreme Court certified the attorney general's description of the proposed measure. Backers need 112,020 signatures to get to voters' ballots in November. Filed in July, Initiative Petition 41 is backed by the Oregon AFL-CIO, a coalition of labor groups representing about 300,000 Oregon workers. "We have been consistently concerned about the impacts of technology and automation on the livelihoods of working people, especially when they have no voice in how technology is used in their workplaces," Graham Trainor, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, said in a statement. "You can see expansion of self-checkout machines in stores across the country and in Oregon." He said jobs are lost as a result. The AFL-CIO contends self-checkout kiosks make customers feel socially isolated, particularly elderly people, and that the kiosks let stores rely more on part-time workers and leaves workers "feeling devalued." They also claim self-checkout stands make it easier for minors to buy alcohol and for people to steal from stores. The measure would give the state Bureau of Labor and Industries enforcement power and let it issue penalties for stores that provide too many self-service stations. "Today's customer wants convenience and less hassle when shopping," said Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, an industry group. "This is evident in the growth of online shopping for local pick-up and home delivery. This measure is tone deaf to what the public is demanding in the marketplace." He said that self-checkout lets customers check out more quickly and privately. He said presuming that self-checkout machines would replace workers is "simply untrue."

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Germany Rejected Nuclear Power -- and Deadly Emissions Spiked

Fri, 2020-01-24 00:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: On New Year's Eve, while the rest of the world was preparing to ring in a new decade, employees of the German energy company EnBW were getting ready to pull the plug on one of the country's few remaining nuclear power plants. The license to operate the two reactors at the Philippsburg nuclear facility expired at midnight after 35 years of providing carbon-free power to Germans living along the country's southwestern border. The Philippsburg plant was the eleventh nuclear facility decommissioned in Germany over the last decade. The country's remaining six nuclear plants will go dark by 2022. To uncover the hidden costs of denuclearizing Germany, economists used machine learning to analyze reams of data gathered between 2011 and 2017. The researchers, based at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University, found that nuclear power was mostly replaced with power from coal plants, which led to the release of an additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 5 percent increase in emissions. More distressingly, the researchers estimated that burning more coal led to local increases in particle pollution and sulfur dioxide and likely killed an additional 1,100 people per year from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses. "Altogether, the researchers calculated that the increased carbon emissions and deaths caused by local air pollution amounted to a social cost of about $12 billion per year," the report says. "The study found that this dwarfs the cost of keeping nuclear power plants online by billions of dollars, even when the risks of a meltdown and the cost of nuclear waste storage are considered."

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Sonos CEO Apologizes For Confusion, Says Legacy Products Will Work 'As Long As Possible'

Thu, 2020-01-23 23:20
On Tuesday, Sonos announced that come May 2020, a number of its older products will no longer receive software updates. Naturally, this frustrated many longtime customers, prompting Sonos CEO Patrick Spence to issue a statement to try to clear up the confusion. The Verge reports: "We heard you," is how Spence begins the letter to customers. "We did not get this right from the start." Spence apologizes for any confusion and reiterates that the so-called legacy products will "continue to work as they do today." "Many of you have invested heavily in your Sonos systems, and we intend to honor that investment for as long as possible." Similarly, Spence pledges that Sonos will deliver bug fixes and security patches to legacy products "for as long as possible" -- without any hard timeline. Most interesting, he says "if we run into something core to the experience that can't be addressed, we'll work to offer an alternative solution and let you know about any changes you'll see in your experience." The letter from Sonos' CEO doesn't retract anything that the company announced earlier this week; Spence is just trying to be as clear as possible about what's happening come May. Spence again confirms that Sonos is planning a way for customers to fork any legacy devices they might own off of their main Sonos system with more modern speakers. (Sonos architected its system so that all devices share the same software. Once one product is no longer eligible for updates, the whole setup stops receiving them. This workaround is designed to avoid that problem.)

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Apple Lawsuit Tests If An Employee Can Plan Rival Startup While On Payroll

Thu, 2020-01-23 22:40
Attorneys for a former Apple executive will try to convince a skeptical judge that employees can plan a competing venture while still in a job. Reuters reports: Apple filed the lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against Gerard Williams III, who left the company last year after more than nine years as chief architect for the custom processors that power iPhones and iPads to start Nuvia Inc, which is designing chips for servers. Judge Mark H. Pierce last week issued a tentative ruling allowing the case to proceed but barring Apple from seeking punitive damages. Apple sued Williams in August, alleging that he breached an intellectual property agreement and a duty of loyalty to the company by planning his new startup while on company time at Apple, spending hours on the phone with colleagues who eventually joined the venture. Apple is not suing Nuvia itself or any of Williams' co-founders and it did not allege any intellectual property or trade secret theft. According to a copy of Williams' agreement that Apple attached to its complaint, the contract required that Williams "will not plan or engage in any other employment" that competes with Apple or is directly related to the company. In a filing in November, Williams argued that Apple's contract was unenforceable because California law allows employees to make some preparations to compete while still in their current job.

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FCC Shuts New York Out of $20 Billion Broadband Fund, and Senators Are Angry

Thu, 2020-01-23 22:03
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission has unfairly shut New York state out of a planned $20.4 billion broadband-funding program, US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last week. ISPs in 48 states are eligible for funding in the FCC rural-broadband program, which will distribute the money over 10 years to providers that expand their networks to new homes and businesses. The FCC said it blocked New York and Alaska from Phase I of the program "because of previously established programs to fund rural broadband in these states." (Phase I will distribute $16 billion of the $20.4 billion.) The FCC previously established a separate funding program for Alaska with $1.5 billion over 10 years. But Schumer and Gillibrand say New York has only gotten its fair share of nationwide FCC programs, rather than something extra. Schumer and Gillibrand's letter urged Pai to reverse the decision and let New York-based ISPs participate in the fund, which is supposed to provide broadband access to up to 4 million rural homes and businesses nationwide. "The FCC is undermining New York State's due process and penalizing New York for proactively creating a program to address unserved communities across the state," their announcement said.

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Jira Software Gets Better Roadmaps

Thu, 2020-01-23 21:25
Atlassian today announced an update to Jira Software, its popular project and issue-tracking tool, that brings a number of major updates to the roadmapping feature it first introduced back in 2018. From a report: Back in 2018, Atlassian also launched its rebuilt version of Jira Software, which took some of its cues from Trello, and today's release builds upon this. "When we launched that new Jira experience back in October 2018, I think we had a really good idea of what we were trying to do with it and where we were taking it," said Jake Brereton, the head of marketing for Jira Software. "And I think if you fast-forward 14 months to where we are today, we just had some really strong validation in a number of areas that are over the target and that that investment we made was worth it." With this release then, Jira Software's roadmapping tool is getting progress bars that show you the overall status of every roadmap item and that give you a lot more information about the overall state of the project at a glance. Also new here are hierarchy levels that let you unfold the roadmap item to get more in-depth information about the stories and tasks that are part of an item. You can also now map dependencies by simply dragging and dropping items, something that was missing from the first release but that was surely high on the list for many users. Atlassian is also introducing new filters and a number of UI enhancements.

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Apple Fights EU Call For Common Smartphone Charger, Claiming Consumer Harm

Thu, 2020-01-23 20:55
Apple on Thursday pushed back against EU lawmakers' call for a common charger, warning the move could hamper innovation, create a mountain of electronic waste and irk consumers. From a report: Apple's comments came a week after lawmakers at the European Parliament called for a common charger for all mobile phones and amended a draft law to say the ability to work with common chargers would be an essential requirement for radio equipment in the bloc. A move to a common charger would affect Apple more than any other company as its iPhones and most of its products are powered by its Lightning cable, whereas Android devices are powered by USB-C connectors. "We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole," Apple said in a statement.

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MDhex Vulnerabilities Impact GE Patient Vital Signs Monitoring Devices

Thu, 2020-01-23 20:16
Security researchers from CyberMDX, a cyber-security company specialized in healthcare security, have disclosed today technical details about six vulnerabilities they are collectively referring to as MDhex. From a report: The vulnerabilities impact seven GE Healthcare devices meant for patient vital signs monitoring. These are devices installed near patient beds, meant to collect data from sick patients, and send it back to a telemetry server, monitored by clinical staff.

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Amazon Prime Video Gives Amateur How-To's, Conspiracy Theories a Stage

Thu, 2020-01-23 19:30
Streaming service touts its large collection of titles, but a majority are uploads -- and questionable films are in the mix [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source wasn't immediately available.]. From a report: When Walter Wilson, a construction worker from North Carolina, sat down to watch the blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame" on Amazon Prime Video, he ended up seeing something very different: a 2007 documentary, also titled "Endgame," directed by far-right talk show host Alex Jones. Mr. Jones's videos have been banned from many mainstream sites like Apple's iTunes and Facebook for promoting outlandish conspiracy theories. "Endgame" purported to document a clandestine organization of bankers and politicians bent on establishing a "blueprint for global enslavement." Its availability on Amazon.com's streaming service highlighted a fact not widely known among subscribers: The e-commerce giant accepts nonprofessional and questionable content to offer a video library that in Amazon's style can dominate the competition through sheer volume. While the video service is known for original movies and shows that have won Oscars and Emmys -- such as "Manchester By the Sea" and "Transparent" -- the site also carries thousands of conspiracy-theory videos, amateur productions and short instructional clips. Similar to Alphabet's YouTube, some videos are uploaded by individuals who made them or by others owning the rights to the content. Others Amazon bought in bulk as part of vast libraries of amateur content. An Amazon spokeswoman says the company has sought a broad selection of content, including videos from award winners and independent producers.

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World's Highest and India's Largest Gamma-Ray Telescope To Go Live in Ladakh this Year

Thu, 2020-01-23 18:50
India's largest and the world's highest gamma-ray telescope is set to go live later this year, aiming to provide a new window into distant stars and galaxies in the universe. From a report: The Major Atmospheric Cherenkov Experiment Telescope (MACE) in Hanle, Ladakh, is placed at an altitude of 4,300 metres above sea level. It is the world's second-largest, ground-based gamma-ray telescope with a 21-metre-diameter dish. The largest telescope of the same class is the 28-metre-diameter telescope, which is part of the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) in Namibia. "The installation of the telescope is complete and trial runs are being carried out. It will go live later this year. The first science results from this project will come in a year or two," Nilay Bhatt, a researcher at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), told ThePrint. The project is a collaboration of scientists from BARC, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, along with the Electronics Corporation of India Limited.

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Ready For Meat Grown From Animal Cells? A Startup Plans A Pilot Facility

Thu, 2020-01-23 18:13
Memphis Meats, a Berkeley, Calif.-based startup, says it's one step closer to bringing cell-based meat to consumers' mouths. From a report: The company plans to build a pilot production facility with funds raised from high-profile investors including Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Kimbal Musk, as well as two giant players in the animal protein and feed space, Cargill and Tyson Foods. The company says its latest funding round has brought in $161 million in new investment. "People thought this was all science fiction" when the company was founded back in 2015, Uma Valeti, the co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, told NPR in an interview at the company's headquarters. "Everything that we've done at Memphis Meats [has] started to show that this can be done," Valeti said. "This is real." Interest in cell-based meat production and other meat alternatives has increased amid growing awareness of the environmental impact of traditional livestock agriculture. Valeti and his team walked us through the process of producing cell-based meat. It starts with the selection of specific types of animal cells that can grow to become meat. Next, the cells are fed and put in a "cultivator" -- similar to a fermenting tank â" where they can grow and form muscle and connective tissue. The process is analogous to the way breweries grow yeast cells to produce beer. Only here, they're growing animal cells.

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DirecTV Fears Explosion Risk From Satellite With Damaged Battery

Thu, 2020-01-23 17:25
DirecTV is racing to move its Spaceway-1 satellite out of the geostationary arc after the 15-year-old satellite suffered a crippling battery malfunction that the company fears could cause it to explode. From a report: DirecTV told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that it does not have time to deplete the remaining fuel on Spaceway-1 before disposing of it by boosting it 300 kilometers above the geostationary arc, a region home to most of the world's large communications satellites. Spaceway-1 is a Boeing-built High Power 702 model satellite that was designed to last 12 years. Launched in 2005 on a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket, the 6,080-kilogram satellite originally provided high-definition television direct broadcasting services from its orbital slot at 102.8 degrees west longitude. More recently, Spaceway-1 was being used to backup Ka-band capacity over Alaska. In December, an unexplained anomaly caused "significant and irreversible thermal damage" to Spaceway-1's batteries, DirecTV said in a filing dated Jan. 19. Boeing, the filing says, concluded that the batteries are at high risk of bursting if recharged, since the damaged cells can't be isolated.

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Facebook, Amazon and Apple Set Records in Annual Spending on Lobbying

Thu, 2020-01-23 16:48
Facebook, Amazon and Apple spent record amounts on lobbying in 2019, with Mark Zuckerberg's social-media company leading the so-called FAANG companies in outlays aimed at influencing Washington, according to disclosures filed this week. From a report: Facebook shelled out $16.7 million last year, well above its 2018 total of $12.6 million, its disclosures show. Amazon has reported spending $16.1 million in 2019 vs. $14.4 million a year ago, and Apple said it put forth $7.4 million, topping its 2018 outlay of $6.7 million and its 2017 total of $7.2 million. The other two FAANG companies -- Netflix and Alphabet's Google business -- didn't set records with their 2019 lobbying spending. Netflix disclosed shelling out $850,000 last year, up from $800,000 in 2018 but below its 2015 total of $1.3 million. Google spent $11.8 million last year, down sharply from its 2018 total of $21.7 million as the search heavyweight reorganized its lobbying effort. The spending -- which already was on a record pace for some companies after last year's third quarter -- has come as Big Tech increasingly finds itself in lawmakers and regulators' cross hairs.

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