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China Hits Alibaba With $2.8 Billion Antitrust Fine

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  • Chinese regulators slapped Alibaba with a $2.8 billion fine for monopolistic practices on Saturday, which amounts to 4% of the e-commerce mega-giant’s domestic sales.
  • Regulators accused the company of specifically engaging in a policy known as “choose one out of two,” where Alibaba would penalize sellers who also used other platforms to sell their goods.
  • CEO Daniel Zhang believes the company won’t be negatively affected by the fine, which could have been set as high as 10% of all sales.
  • Despite the fine, the company’s stock rose over 6% by Monday’s closing of the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Dominating the Marketplace

The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba was hit with a $2.8 billion antitrust fine by Chinese regulators on Saturday for using its dominant position in the market to punish merchants and rivals.

In particular, it engaged in a policy known as “choose one out of two,”  where a seller on Alibaba would be penalized in a variety of ways if they were found to be selling on another platform.

While the $2.8 billion fine seems large, it only accounts for 4% of the company’s domestic sales. The fine could’ve been far worse, as antitrust fines in China can go as high as 10% of the company’s annual sales.

Alibaba has agreed to take the fine, not fight it, and will fully comply with the demands of the regulators. Those demands include three years of “self-examination compliance reports” to ensure the company isn’t engaging in the same practices.

The news comes after the company’s founder, Jack Ma, has been under intense scrutiny from Chinese officials. Ma has not been seen in the public eye for months and his Ant Group, a sister company to Alibaba, is being forced by Chinese regulators as of Monday morning to become a financial holding company; therefore facing much stricter banking regulations.

Clear Sailing From Here

Fortunately for Alibaba, the company has managed to dodge much of the scrutiny Ma faces as he isn’t really involved with the business anymore. Its current leadership also doesn’t think the fine will really affect the company at all. Unlike Ma’s past rhetoric that was dismissive of regulators, CEO Daniel Zhang released a statement on Saturday that struck a conciliatory tone.

“Alibaba would not have achieved our growth without sound government regulation and service, and the critical oversight, tolerance and support from all of our constituencies have been crucial to our development,” he said.

Zhang added Monday morning that he doesn’t expect any negative impacts from the situation, which possibly helped Alibaba’s stock to rise sharply from $223 per share to $241 as of Monday’s closing of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where the shares are traded.

There are a plethora of reasons that could explain the stock’s rise just after it was the target of a major antitrust fine, but notably, there doesn’t seem to be any more antitrust fines in the pipeline, leading investors to be confident that the worst is behind the company.

See what others are saying: (Investors) (New York Times) (Wall Street Journal)

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Friendship Is on the Decline in America Compared to 30 Years Ago

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While the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for increased isolation Americans have experienced over the past year, other factors for the drop in friendships include political differences, couples marrying later, and parents spending more time with kids.


Americans Have Fewer Friends Today

A new study released by the Survey Center on American Life has essentially found that friends are in short supply in America — or rather, that “despite renewed interest in the topic of friendship in popular culture and the news media, signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline.”

Out of more than 2,019 respondents made up of U.S. adults, only 13% said they had more than 10 close friends. That’s a big drop compared to a 1990 Gallup poll, which reported that a third of U.S. adults said they had more than 10 close friends. 

The poll also found that fewer Americans now say they have a “best” friend: 59% today compared to 75% in 1990.

Friendship Breakers: the Pandemic, Politics, and Work 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has very likely been the most direct cause of isolation over the past year.

As the poll also notes, women ages 18-29 appear to be the most affected demographic, with 43% having lost touch with at least a few friends and 16% indicating that they’re no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.

In addition to the pandemic, former President Donald Trump seems to be driving more broken friendships than perhaps most presidents. In fact, 22% of the respondents who said they ended a friendship cited Trump specifically. 

According to the poll, 20% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans have ended friendships over political disagreements, with 28% of political liberals saying they would end a friendship over political differences as opposed to 10% of conservatives. 

Other factors for Americans’ lost friendships include couples marrying later, parents spending more time with kids, as well as people working longer hours and being more geographically mobile.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While “best friends” are in shorter supply than in 1990, more than half of U.S. adults still say they have one. Another 46% of Americans have also reported making at least one new friend over the last year.  

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Independent) (Axios)

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NFL Says Teams Could Be Forced To Forfeit Games If Unvaccinated Players Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks

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Neither team will be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that faces the outbreak must also cover all expenses for the opposing team.


NFL Issues Strong Warning to the Unvaccinated

The National Football League announced Thursday that if a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players on a certain team, that team will be forced to forfeit the match. 

Additionally, the league said players on both teams will not be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that causes the game to be canceled will also be forced to cover all expenses for the opposing team. It could also face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s Office. 

As NFL.com writer Kevin Patra noted, this is “the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated.”

While the league has not mandated that its players and staff get vaccinated, in its Thursday memo, it said that “nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” It also noted that 75% of players “are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.”

The NFL added that vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work following two negative tests 24 hours apart. For unvaccinated players and staff who test positive, the NFL is deferring to its 2020 rules: 10-day isolation.

Rescheduling Vs. Canceling

Unvaccinated players — regardless of whether they test positive or not — will also be subject to more stringent protocols, including daily testing, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions.

That said, there is one potential loophole for teams that find themselves subject to outbreaks, though it could still be a longshot. The NFL will allow games to be rescheduled as long as they fit within the timeframe of its regular season.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL made clear in its memo. 

Still, the NFL may not be as flexible as it was during 2020. For example, while it was able to reschedule all of its postponed games during that season, it did so by moving some to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What Players Are Saying 

Currently-unvaccinated players were quick to speak out against the memo on Thursday.

“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.

Source: @deandrehopkins

Those advocating for players to get vaccinated have argued that not vaccinating yourself while engaging in a high-contact sport could still result in hurting teammates. In fact, several athletes have reported lingering effects following COVID-19 diagnoses, and some worry that long-term lung issues could cut their careers short. 

Similar to Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

Las Vegas Raiders running back even compared this year’s season to “playing in jail” in a now-deleted tweet, saying, “read the rules-know em like you know your plays.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hopes his team is “headed toward 100%” vaccination following the memo. 

See what others are saying: (NFL) (ESPN) (The Hill)

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California Sues Activision Blizzard Over “Frat Boy” Culture and Rampant Sexual Harassment

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The lawsuit details how certain executives at the company assaulted and harassed female employees and how one woman ultimately committed suicide after having a nude photo of herself leaked around the office. 


The Lawsuit’s Disturbing Harassment Details

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has lobbed a massive gender discrimination lawsuit against video game developer Blizzard Entertainment and its parent company Activision Blizzard, accusing the two of creating a culture of “constant sexual harassment.”

The details of the suit, which was launched Wednesday following two years of investigations, are disturbing. In some instances, it describes not just allegations of sexual harassment but also of sexual assault. 

For example, DFEH claims Blizzard’s workplaces are seeped in “frat boy” culture and said female employees have been “subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment.” 

The suit cites specific instances of harassment through the accounts of female employees, including one who said random male employees would approach her at her worksite and comment on her breasts. 

Other female employees working on the World of Warcraft team alleged that male employees and even supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape.

In the most tragic outcome cited in the lawsuit, DFEH said one female employee committed suicide on a company trip after having a sexual relationship with a male supervisor who had brought along a butt plug and lubricant. According to the suit, she had also faced harassment at a holiday party when male co-workers began passing around a photo of her vagina. 

DFEH Names Involved Executives

The allegations go straight to the top of Blizzard Entertainment’s chain of command. 

In fact, the suit claims President J. Allen Brack both knew about this behavior and enabled it. 

On top of that, an unnamed former Chief Technology Officer was allegedly seen “groping inebriated female employees at company events.”

The suit also specifically names Alex Afrasiabi, World of Warcraft’s senior creative director, saying he was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.”

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Female Employees Face Retaliation and Gender Discrimination

It’s not just that nothing was being done when female employees reported these instances, according to the DFEH. The agency also said those women faced retaliation, including being deprived of work, unwillingly transferred to other departments, and even being laid off at higher rates than male employees. 

Separately, another employee alleged she was told she couldn’t be promoted as a manager because “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much,” even though she had already assumed some of the responsibilities of a manager. 

Other employees who had actually gotten pregnant said they were given negative evaluations while on maternity leave.

In 2019, it was reported by multiple outlets that Blizzard was offering third-party fertility and pregnancy tracking services to employees but was also receiving that anonymized data back.

Blizzard Denounces Lawsuit

In response, Blizzard has called California’s lawsuit “irresponsible” and from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

Blizzard has also defended its workplace, saying, “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”

Others Speak Up

Since this lawsuit came out, at least five former employees have publicly corroborated several of its details.

That includes one woman who wrote on Twitter, “I left Blizzard after my boss gaslit me so badly my hair started falling out. My profit sharing, which I relied on to make ends meet, was docked due to “underperforming”, and when I went to HR to fight it with proof against his claims, I was told “maybe you are underperforming.”

“The fucked up part? I HATED leaving. Blizzard was my dream job and I loved the work I did there.”

Others, such as gamer Alanah Pearce, have recounted their own experiences working in gaming as a result of the allegations. 

“It’s jarring to me to see so many people on Twitter, who are around the industry, who are like gaming fans who don’t work in the industry, and go ‘Oh my, God, this is horrific.’ When my reaction is, ‘Oh, so it’s normal…” Pearce said in a Twitch stream uploaded to YouTube Thursday.

“Even when I worked in Tech before, the stories that I fucking have — just the shit that they did to me… Iike I was repeatedly grabbed and groped at work functions, and I would complain — like to their faces — I’d be like, ‘Don’t fucking touch me,’ and then, they would be like, ‘Haha, of course. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,’ and then they would do it again because me reacting negatively to it was what made it funny to them.”

Pearce went on to recount other very disturbing details about her time at that job, saying she eventually decided one day to not go back altogether.

“But if you see this shit, and you see ‘bros being bros’ and being like, ‘Who can fuck this girl first?’ Just please fucking say something. It’s so much harder for women to say something,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Kotaku) (Bloomberg Law)

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