Toutiao, a higher-Flying Chinese Application, Delivers News to Millions. China’s Censors Have Observed.


HONG KONG — Among the world’s best start-ups got this way by utilizing artificial intelligence to fulfill Chinese internet users’ voracious appetite for news and entertainment. Every single day, its smartphone application feeds 120 million people personalized streams of buzzy news tales, videos of dogs frolicking in snow, GIFs of traffic mishaps and listicles for example “The World’s Ugliest Celebrities.”

Now the organization is finding the potential risks involved, under China’s censorship regime, in giving the folks exactly what they need.

The manufacturers from the popular news application Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves now to allay rising concerns in the government bodies. A week ago, the Beijing bureau of China’s top internet regulator accused Toutiao of “spreading pornographic and vulgar information” and “causing an adverse effect on public opinion online,” also it purchased that updates to many popular parts of the application be stopped for twenty-four hrs.

In reaction, the app’s parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, required lower or temporarily suspended the accounts in excess of 1,100 bloggers it stated have been publishing “low-quality content” around the application. Additionally, it replaced Toutiao’s “Society” section with a brand new section known as “New Era,” that is heavy on condition attention of presidency decisions.

The modification is made, the organization stated, to “promote the spirit from the Communist Party congress,” talking about the range of top party leaders that required devote Beijing in October.

The episode suggests the thin line that Toutiao’s creators must walk.

Despite China’s famously strict censorship, online news is a huge business there. Greater than 610 million people in the united states acquired use of some news on the web in 2016, based on official statistics.

Toutiao, which states it uses complex algorithms to determine what its users see, combines China’s want media quite happy with its rising ambitions in artificial intelligence. Its daily users list of 120 million people is the same as several-third of people from the U . s . States.

Suan Lin, a 24-year-old private equity finance analyst in Shanghai, stated that they commonly has to look everywhere online to locate articles concerning the Chinese historic dramas she watches on tv. But Toutiao delivers, she stated.

“Once you’re onto it,” she stated, “you just can’t stop.”

In China, however, a powerful position on television invites scrutiny in the government’s censorship apparatus. That scrutiny is becoming increased in the last 2 yrs because the government bodies have looked past the political to hack lower on news it sees as degrading to society in general, which could include things as apparently unsubversive as celebrity gossip.

In Toutiao’s situation, among the accounts which were suspended now had published a saucy video of the lady inside a short skirt. It got 57,000 views. Another suspended account had lately set up a publish entitled “The World’s Ugliest Celebrities, Michael Jackson Is Rated First, You Will Not Wish to Eat After Studying This.”

“Once you’ve more and more people watching, then you need to become more careful,” Wei-Ying Ma, who heads Toutiao’s artificial intelligence lab, told a celebration in Beijing recently.

As Toutiao’s recognition has skyrocketed, Bytedance has turned into a darling of Plastic Valley investors for example Sequoia Capital. The organization, that is presently worth $20 billion, has been around talks with existing backers to boost new financing that will value the organization at greater than $30 billion, according to someone acquainted with the discussions who spoke on the health of anonymity since the facts are not public.

That cost tag will make Bytedance one of the most valuable independently held technology companies on the planet, not only to China. Airbnb is stated to become worth around $30 billion. SpaceX, the rocket maker founded by Elon Musk, is worth $21 billion.

Bytedance has big plans for overseas expansion, too. It lately spent between $800 million and $1 billion to buy, a relevant video-based social networking well-liked by teenagers within the U . s . States and Europe. In the Beijing conference recently, a high Bytedance executive, Liu Zhen, stated the organization wished to become earning half its revenue from outdoors China over the following 5 years.

Jinri Toutiao, whose name means “today’s headlines” in Chinese and it is pronounced JING-er Foot-tee-yow, aggregates content from various sources and appears similar to Facebook’s newsfeed. But rather of displaying articles and videos according to what your buddies have shared, the application achieves this according to that which you have formerly read and viewed around the application.

Should you click articles about iPhones, then Toutiao will feed you more tech coverage. Once you see a couple of cooking videos, the application will fetch you more clips of individuals wrapping dumplings and braising chicken’s ft.

This method helps Toutiao thrive among China’s heavily controlled atmosphere for social networking. Rather of policing the discussing activity of millions of users, the organization needs simply to calibrate and adjust its centralized recommendation software.

It must make certain the app’s content doesn’t mix the lines of censors. That’s a huge task, particularly since overwhelming most of content on Toutiao is created by individual bloggers, not professional news organizations or any other institutions. Ms. Liu stated finally month’s conference in Beijing that 90 % from the app’s content originates from blogger accounts. Toutiao has around 1.two million content-producing accounts as a whole.

In the Beijing conference, Mr. Ma from the Toutiao A.I. Lab stated that videos which are seen by only a number of individuals are not instantly screened. But when a relevant video has attracted several 1000 viewers, the machine triggers a more elaborate formula to check on the submissions are acceptable. Certain materials are also examined by humans like a final check.

Bytedance also takes more overt steps to remain around the right side from the government bodies. Important updates in the government are occasionally pinned to the peak of the user’s feed. That can result in awkward juxtapositions — between, say, a condition media write-on President Xi Jinping’s recent decisions along with a photo slide display on six ladies who are “so beautiful that wealthy businessmen immediately grew to become drawn to them,” because the piece’s headline puts it.

Toutiao originates set for official rebuke before. Last June, the Beijing bureau from the Cyberspace Administration of China purchased around twelve accounts around the application shut lower, contacting Toutiao along with other news portals to “actively promote socialist core values” and make up a “healthy, uplifting atmosphere for mainstream opinion” by eschewing dishy coverage of celebrity scandals.

In September, the web site from the People’s Daily newspaper, the state mouthpiece from the Communist Party, printed a number of opinion articles strongly criticizing A.I.-based news apps, including Toutiao, for distributing misinformation and superficial content.

Despite Toutiao’s recognition, some in China share that view. Yang Sun, a 26-year-old financial analyst in Shanghai, decried the app’s sensationalist headlines.

“It should absolutely be used offline,” Ms. Yang stated. “Totally deserves it.”

Paul Mozur contributed reporting from Beijing. Carolyn Zhang contributed research.

Follow Raymond Zhong on Twitter: @zhonggg.


First on the hefty to-do list for Congress: Avoid a shutdown


Want more tales such as this? Have them here.

Welcome back. And here’s wishing you’d a restful holiday, because Washington is beginning 2012 with a great deal on its plate.

Looming early and enormous: The us government has no money Jan. 19. Averting a shutdown will need Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to strike an offer with recently empowered Senate Democrats, who using the seating of Alabama’s Doug Johnson will chop the GOP’s majority to 51 votes. The negotiations look exceedingly difficult, thinking about the plethora of billed issues  — including measures to stabilize medical health insurance markets give a lengthy-term immigration fix to protect “dreamers” address pension shortfalls for miners, food service workers yet others supply emergency funding for last year’s spate of disasters and lift budget caps on Government and domestic spending. (Given everything, Compass Point’s Isaac Boltansky pegs the chances of the mid-The month of january shutdown at 60 %.)

Talks around the immigration piece resume now, per The Washington Post’s Shaun Stein, who reports that bipartisan congressional leaders mind towards the White-colored House tomorrow to satisfy with budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative matters chief Marc Short: 

“Congressional Democrats express openness to locating additional funding for border security but have eliminated funding the wall across the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump guaranteed throughout his presidential campaign… Democrats they are under intense pressure from Hispanic lawmakers and liberal activists to reject any government funding deal that doesn’t resolve the DACA issue. Already, Democratic senators have helped pass multiple funding deals that didn’t include DACA protections, including one out of December.”

Meanwhile, another avoidable fiscal showdown looms: Lawmakers most likely only have until mid-March to boost your debt ceiling. The Treasury exceeded its borrowing authority recently and it has been employing “extraordinary measures,” borrowing using their company accounts, to guarantee the government doesn’t default on its obligations. Also around the must-do list: finding a lasting means to fix funding the Children’s Medical Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage for 9 million, after Congress approved a 3-month patch in December along with a measure reauthorizing warrantless surveillance of foreign intelligence targets. 

But President Trump and the GOP are searching to remain on offense after closing the entire year using their improbably fast rewrite from the tax code. Which will mean various things to various Republicans, based on where they sit. Trump appears anxious to tackle a set of his populist campaign promises, with new pushes for infrastructure spending along with a trade attack. 

Trump continues to be teasing a major infrastructure proposal because the campaign, as he promised to release $1 trillion of recent paying for rebuilding the nation’s crumbling public works. The administration is anticipated to detail its vision inside a 70-page plan this month, and also the big querry is still how it ought to be funded. “I wish to perform a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, a minimum of,” Trump told the brand new You are able to Occasions a week ago, however it isn’t obvious the amount of that he’ll propose covering through direct spending. (Can remember the administration this past year known as for matching $200 billion in federal outlays with four occasions much privately investment, but Trump made an appearance to bail around the idea within the fall.) 

The actual process from the proposal aside, finding bipartisan buy-set for any big new program appears like a lengthy shot.

Last year, Democrats sounded encouraging notes about dealing with Trump on this type of plan. A political eternity has passed since, and today the party is eyeing the actual chance of riding a wave of anti-Trump animus to power within the midterms. And also the Republicans most likely will face divisions about how exactly much infrastructure spending to use the nation’s charge card after approving $1.5 trillion in deficit-financed tax cuts. 

On trade, obama looks primed to create good on his threats to obtain tough on which he’s known as abusive buying and selling practices through the Chinese — or to back away.

Forcing now you ask , a choice due through the finish from the month on imposing tariffs or quotas on Chinese solar power panels and automatic washers. The Post’s David Lynch says: “Trump may also order new limits on Chinese purchase of the U . s . States or raise tariffs unilaterally — a probable breach of U.S. commitments around the world Trade Organization — pending the end result of the broader analysis into Beijing’s alleged failure to safeguard foreign companies’ ip legal rights, analysts say. And White-colored House action arrives on the separate Commerce Department probe triggered by worries concerning the national security impact of rising imports of Chinese steel and aluminum.”

Congressional Republicans produce other priorities. McConnell signaled recently he promises to give “early consideration” to some bank deregulation package that’s got wide backing from his party while splitting Democrats. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has spoken up his curiosity about cutting anti-poverty spending by putting new limits on who’s qualified for food stamps and housing benefits. 


Wages rise. WSJ’s Shayndi Raice and Eric Morath: “In U.S. metropolitan areas using the tightest labor markets, personnel are finding something that’s lengthy been missing in the broader economic expansion: faster-growing paychecks. Workers in metro areas using the cheapest unemployment have one of the most powerful wage growth in the united states. The labor market in places like Minneapolis, Denver and Fort Myers, Fla., where unemployment rates stand near or perhaps below 3%, has tightened to some extent where companies are raising pay to draw in employees, frequently from competitors. It’s a result entirely expected in economic theory, only one that’s been largely absent so far within the upturn that started greater than eight years back.”

No IPO avalanche in 2018. WSJ’s Maureen Farrell and Corrie Driebusch: “The marketplace for U.S. initial public choices bounced in 2017, however, many bankers and investors continued to be frustrated as top-tier companies stick to the sidelines. That’s unlikely to alter in 2018. The amount of companies raising profit U.S. markets is anticipated to get, quite a few the greatest-valued, big-name private companies, including Airbnb Corporation., Uber Technologies Corporation. and WeWork Cos., are anticipated to carry off ongoing public not less than another year…

Although a lot of behemoths are suppressing, some notable names will test the marketplace in 2018. Music-streaming company Spotify AB is among the best-known firms likely to go public—but it’s unlikely to boost anything if this debuts around the New You are able to Stock Market. Spotify needs to visit public in March or April via a so-known as direct listing that wouldn’t raise funds or use underwriters to market the stock, based on people acquainted with the procedure… Meanwhile, Dropbox Corporation., that was worth $10 billion if this last elevated capital in 2014, is get yourself ready for an inventory that may are available in either March or April and it is likely to value the organization roughly around or possible above its latest round of non-public financing”

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Pension Funds’ Dilemma: Things To Buy When There Is Nothing Cheap?

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New You are able to Given Takes Names searching for Next Chief

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Blue-condition Dems plot to bar. NYT’s Ben Casselman: “Democrats in high-cost, high-tax states are plotting methods to do what their states’ representatives in Congress couldn’t: blunt the outcome from the recently passed Republican tax overhaul. Governors and legislative leaders in New You are able to, California along with other states are thinking about legal challenges to aspects of what the law states which they say unfairly pick out areas. They’re searching at methods for raising revenue that aren’t penalized through the new law. And they’re thinking about altering their condition tax codes to permit residents to benefit from other federal regulations and tax breaks — essentially, restoring deductions the tax law scaled back. One proposal would replace condition earnings taxes, which aren’t fully deductible underneath the new law, with payroll taxes on employers, that are deductible. Also try this is always to allow residents to exchange their condition tax payments with tax-deductible charitable contributions for their condition governments.”

Goldman’s $5 billion tax hit. WSJ’s Liz Hoffman: “Goldman Sachs Group Corporation. will require a $5 billion earnings charge associated with the current tax overhaul, a 1-time jolt likely to be adopted with a longer-term windfall from lower rates. Companies from Wall Street towards the heartland are wrestling using the immediate implications of the very most sweeping changes towards the nation’s tax code in 30 years. Goldman’s announcement on Friday, which creates its first quarterly reduction in six years, also hints of broader turbulence visiting U.S. corporate earnings in 2012.

Under one estimate, companies within the S&P 500 index could have to take tax-related earnings charges of $235 billion—about 1% of the combined market price. The charge will swing Goldman to some quarterly loss and eliminate a lot of its full-year profit. However the firm, like its brethren on Wall Street and across a lot of corporate America, is a champion over time because it enjoys the cheapest U.S. corporate tax rate in eight decades and will get new versatility in the way it funds itself, invests in the industry and returns capital to shareholders.”

Goldman gives early stock awards to 300. CNN Money: “Inside a race against looming changes towards the tax code, Goldman Sachs passed out huge amount of money price of stock awards to hundreds employees. The move helps you to save the firm an believed $140 million on its goverment tax bill the coming year, a resource acquainted with the problem told CNNMoney. Based on public filings published Friday, 10 Goldman executives — including Chief executive officer Lloyd Blankfein and far from the company’s C-Suite — received stock awards worth a combined $94.8 million on Thursday. However the individuals stocks were not said to be delivered until The month of january.”

Gig workers benefit, conditionally. NYT’s Noam Scheiber. “The brand new tax law will probably accelerate a hotly disputed trend within the American economy by rewarding workers who sever formal relationships using their employers and be contractors… That’s just because a provision within the tax law enables sole proprietors — together with proprietors of partnerships or any other so-known as pass-through entities — to subtract 20 % of the revenue using their taxed earnings. The tax savings, that could be for sale $15,000 each year for a lot of affluent couples, may prove enticing to workers…

However it can lead to an erosion from the protections which have lengthy been a cornerstone of full-time work. Formal employment, in the end, provides not only earnings. Unlike independent contractors, employees get access to unemployment insurance when they lose their jobs and workers’ compensation if they’re hurt at the office. They’re paid by workplace anti-discrimination laws and regulations and also have a federally backed right to create a union.”

Tax lobbyists hit pay dirt. Politico’s Theodoric Meyer: “Instead of streamlining the tax code, Republicans make it more difficult by jamming via a new number of temporary regulations and tax breaks for from craft brewers to citrus growers. Lobbyists expect these breaks, referred to as tax extenders, to create paydays for a long time. Adding for their workload: Republicans rammed their bill through Congress so rapidly that it is almost sure to require follow-up legislation to repair the mistakes and miscalculations still being discovered, based on interviews with six tax lobbyists.”

IRS guidance confuses. Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson and Lynnley Browning: “New guidance in the Irs that limits taxpayers’ capability to subtract prepaid property levies on their own 2017 tax statements causes confusion nationwide as people hurry to pay for ahead of time not understanding whether they’re wasting their money and time. The IRS stated Wednesday that taxpayers can subtract prepaid condition and native property taxes for 2018 on 2017 returns only when the required taxes were assessed before 2018. The brief guidance — which doesn’t define the word “assessed” — had local tax officials scratching their heads. Some begin to see the issue being an early signal of far wider confusion that’s not far off — the foreseeable consequence of passing an invoice that rewrites the tax code just two days before most of the changes take hold.”

Increase in house values to slow. The Post’s Kathy Orton and Aaron Gregg: “The steady rise in housing prices in most of the nation’s priciest markets, such as the Washington region, is anticipated to slow in future years, analysts say, because the Republican tax law starts to reshape a main issue with the U.S. economy… Economists and housing experts broadly agree the alterations will slow cost increases in costly housing markets — though nobody expects housing values to say no, because of the overall strength from the economy cheap you will find relatively couple of houses for purchase in top markets.”

Caterpillar’s Swiss profits. WSJ’s Andrew Tangel and Michael Rapoport: “Greater than a decade before federal agents showed up at Caterpillar Corporation. CAT -.53% in March with search warrants, an anonymous worker claimed inside a letter to the leader that something was wrong about how exactly the heavy-machinery maker used a subsidiary in Europe to contract its goverment tax bill… Two CEOs and a minimum of four investigations later, Caterpillar faces a possible goverment tax bill of $2 billion in the IRS, that is challenging the amounts compensated on profits from parts sales made with the Swiss unit, known as Caterpillar SARL. The raids in March, brought through the Commerce Department, were an indication of an intensifying criminal analysis in to the company’s taxes and exports. No civil or criminal charges happen to be filed against Caterpillar or anybody at the organization. A business spokeswoman states it “believes its tax position is right” and it is “in the entire process of answering the government’s concerns.”

Anger but no action against Equifax. Politico’s Martin Matishak: “The huge Equifax data breach, which compromised the identities in excess of 145 million Americans, motivated a telling response from Congress: It didn’t do anything. Some industry leaders and lawmakers thought September’s thought from the massive invasion — which required place several weeks following the credit rating agency unsuccessful to do something on the warning in the Homeland Security Department — may be the lengthy-envisioned incident that motivated Congress to finally fix the country’s confusing and ineffectual data security laws and regulations. Instead, the aftermath from the breach performed out just like a familiar script: white-colored-hot, bipartisan outrage, adopted by proceedings along with a flurry of proposals that went nowhere. Out of the box frequently the situation, Congress progressively now use other priorities — this time around probably the most sweeping tax code overhaul inside a generation, and the other mad scramble to finance the us government.”

Five ways financial laws and regulations could alternation in 2018

Republicans have made limited progress on President Trump’s pledge to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank Act, which the Republicans had wished to gut through the finish of 2017.

The Hill


With Disney Deal Looming, Murdoch’s Empire Is Fractured

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How Come Mutual Fund Charges Excessive? This Millionaire Knows

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‘We get this amazing problem’: Puerto Rico seeks aid for thousands of squatters

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The Trump impact on business. NYT’s Binyamin Appelbaum and Jim Tankersley: “A wave of optimism has taken over American business leaders, which is starting to result in the type of purchase of baby plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and could finally raise wages considerably. While business leaders are looking forward to the tax cuts that work this season, the newly found confidence was inspired through the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, less because deregulation is saving companies cash except since the administration has instilled a belief running a business executives that new rules aren’t coming.”

Trump’s shrinking government. The Post’s Lisa Rein and Andrew Ba Tran: “Nearly annually into his takeover of Washington, President Trump makes a substantial lower payment on his campaign pledge to contract the government paperwork, a shift lengthy searched for by conservatives that may eventually bring the workforce lower to levels not observed in decades. Through the finish of September, all Cabinet departments except Homeland Security, Veterans Matters and Interior had less permanent staff than when Trump required office in The month of january — with many shedding 100s of employees, based on an analysis of federal personnel data through the Washington Publish.

The diminishing federal footprint uses Trump guaranteed in last year’s campaign to “cut a lot your mind will spin,” also it reverses a lift in hiring under The President. The falloff continues to be driven by an exodus of civil servants, a reduced corps of political appointees as well as an effective hiring freeze. Despite the fact that Congress didn’t pass a brand new budget in the newbie, the drastic spending cuts Trump specified by the spring — which may slash greater than 30 % of funding at some agencies — also offers triggered a spending slowdown, based on officials at multiple departments.”

A brand new worry: The South China Ocean. The Post’s Emily Rauhala: “Getting added a large number of acres towards the Spratly Islands recently, China has become building out bases there. Once operational, these outposts will let the Chinese military to higher patrol the South China Ocean, potentially altering the neighborhood balance of power. It is both a territorial dispute along with a test of regional influence, by having an more and more assertive China frequently appearing to create the terms. Though Chinese reclamation and building predate Trump, many expected the Republican president to break the rules more forcefully compared to previous administration… But experts see couple of signs the problem is a White-colored House priority.”

Anthony Scaramucci Is Telling Pals That Jesse Trump Wants Him Back

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Daily Animal


Judge States PricewaterhouseCoopers Was Negligent In Colonial Bank Failure

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The Dow jones gets near 25,000, the ‘death tax’ lives along with other 2017 surprises

It’s been an infinitely more interesting stock exchange year than I was expecting.

Allan Sloan

The Republicans tax plan creates among the largest new loopholes in decades

The brand new 20% deduction for “pass-through earnings” disproportionately benefits the rich and penalizes workers.

LA Occasions



  • The Heritage Foundation holds a magazine discussion on “Crashback: The Ability Clash Between your U.S. and China within the Pacific” on Thursday.

  • The American Enterprise Institute holds attorney at law on “Reconnecting Healthcare Policy with Financial aspects: Finding and Fixing Distortive Incentives” on Thursday.

  • The Nation’s Economists Club holds a lunch discussion on “The Return of Trillion Dollar Deficits” on Thursday.

  • Brookings Institution holds a celebration entitled “Should the Given stick to the two percent inflation target or re-think it?” on Jan. 8.

  • The American Enterprise Institute holds a celebration on “New considering poverty and economic mobility” on Jan. 18.


In The Post’s Tom Toles: 


See President Trump’s New Year’s Eve party at Marly-a-Lago:

Watch Wolf Blitzer “sing” the language t the greatest 2017 hits:

Uber-EU court decision: Exactly what the defeat method for customers and motorists across United kingdom and Europe

Uber continues to be worked a significant blow following the European Court of Justice ruled that it’s a transport company, not really a digital platform, as the organization had contended. But just what will the decision mean for motorists and passengers over the continent?

What’s the decision?

Europe’s top court have been requested to rule on the situation introduced by Spanish taxi motorists who contended that Uber ought to be susceptible to exactly the same rules normally cab companies. 

​Uber has consistently claimed that it’s just a platform that connects passengers with motorists.

The ECJ could not agree, ruling that the service whose purpose was “to connect, using a smartphone application as well as for remuneration, non-professional motorists utilizing their own vehicle with persons who would like to make urban journeys” should be legally considered a transport company.

Exactly what does this suggest for a way Uber operates?

This means Uber might be susceptible to elevated regulation.

EU governments formerly needed to convince the ecu Commission that any limitations installed on Uber’s business are “reasonable” and “proportionate”, because this is needed for digital companies under single market rules.

This isn’t needed for transportation services that are controlled in the national or local level to some bigger extent.

Will this really make a difference for passengers?

The United States company stated the verdict will make little impact on the way it works in lots of areas since it already operates under local laws and regulations governing transportation firms.

However, others have recommended that it’ll have wide-varying implications because of not just Uber, however the wider gig economy.

The precise ramifications are unknown at this time since the ECJ has simply ruled the EU member states are to treat Uber in the same manner as other taxi firms. How each condition interprets that can be them but chances are it will mean more strict controls on Uber.

The organization has attracted critique for failing to handle sufficient safety checks in certain jurisdictions. This may be an area that local regulators might crack lower on.

Will Uber’s fares increase?

That’s uncertain, but when Uber needed to adhere to additional rules it might also face extra costs. These would probably be forwarded to motorists and eventually to passengers sooner or later, meaning there’s possible that fares could rise.

What wider implications might there be for that gig economy?

The Uber ruling particularly associated with Uber’s peer-to-peer service, UberPOP, which connected unlicensed motorists with individuals requiring a good start. This would mean that an identical argument might be designed to reclassify other services which are now considered to become digital p2p platforms. 

Rohan Silva, a tech entrepreneur and former advisor to David Cameron, stated that discussing economy services like Airbnb will most likely face regulation because of the ECJ ruling.

The IWGB union, that has introduced cases against Uber and Deliveroo within the United kingdom over drivers’ legal rights stated the ruling was “one more nail within the coffin for Uber’s argument that it’s simply a real estate agent acting with respect to motorists and for that reason not prone to outlay cash minimum wage and holidays”.

How have people reacted towards the ruling?

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady stated the decision meant Uber must “play through the same rules as everyone else”.

She added: “Their motorists aren’t goods. They deserve at the minimum the minimum wage and holiday pay.

“Advances in technology should be employed to make are more effective, not to go back to the kind of working practices we thought we’d seen the rear of decades ago.”

Bernardine Adkins, mind of EU, trade and competition law at Gowling WLG, welcomed the “vital clarity” the ECJ’s decision had provided to Uber’s status within the taxi market.

“Uber’s control of its motorists, being able to set prices and also the fact its electronic services are inseparable from the ultimate buyer experience means it’s more than merely a platform connecting motorists to passengers,” Ms Adkins stated. 

“For Uber, what this means is it must adhere to the appropriate transport rules governing local taxi services.”

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1,000 Miles, Four Families, One Christmas Tree

Before it arrived at Lisa Maichin’s cozy family room in Queens, her Christmas tree — now speckled with delicate crochet angels and glinting bulbs — spent 5 days being hacked, hauled and hawked across a logistics in flux.

The tree originated on the farm of exactly the same family for pretty much 220 years, in part of Canada referred to as balsam fir capital around the globe, where reliable labor is more and more scarce.

A trucking company operated by a parent and the two sons delivered the tree across a 1000 snow-dusted miles, past a border that may become harder to mix if your key trade pact doesn’t happen.

The salesperson in Queens, who leans on his wife and five children to assist on his lot in which the tree was offered, worries about competition online rivals and nearby national chains like Lowe’s.

Even Ms. Maichin, who bought the tree, is distracted by change. Round her home, which she explains to three other generations of her family, her neighborhood is quickly gentrifying. Christmas gets costlier.

“This year, the trees are certainly more costly,” she stated.

First Day: THE FARM

In Lunenburg County, a piece of Quebec pockmarked by ponds and patches of balsam firs, Silver’s Farm hugs a hill with 45 acres of farmland splayed in front and 150 acres of Christmas trees behind, all growing naturally and tightly “like the hairs on the dog’s back,” stated Wayne Silver.

His operation is small, felling just 3,000 trees a season. Some Quebec farms cut lower thousands of trees yearly as well as ship some overseas.

Mr. Silver required within the farm in 1991 from his father, who required it over from his father, who started cutting Christmas trees within the 1930s. Trees “are within my bloodstream,” he stated.

Planting the trees is unnecessary they sprout abundantly by themselves. When they’re 2 ft tall, Mr. Silver selects the very best examples, after which trims back the neighboring firs to own future Christmas trees room to develop.

Because they grow taller, he shears these to provide them with the correct shape, and pats fertilizer in to the soil around their trunks.

At the begining of October, he tags the trees destined for that holiday market, utilizing an internal calculus perfected over decades. Trees marked “#1” are considered “perfect.” The “#2” trees are “fancy” and also the “#3” trees are “choice.” Mr. Silver charges lot proprietors $5 to $16 for many firs.

Cutting, utilizing a chain saw that may topple a fir in 20 seconds, starts in November, and also the jobs are grueling. Mr. Silver puts in 12-hour days, felling, dragging and packaging the trees in twine. Even during the cold months chill, sweat percolates on his face.

Assistance is scarce. Inside a tight labor market with low unemployment, a number of other tree maqui berry farmers are hiring migrants from Mexico and Jamaica. Mr. Silver will probably follow the coming year.

“I just work a lot of lengthy hrs,” he stated.

Cutting a load of trees for clients in New You are able to, he stopped at sundown for any supper of venison and Fried potatoes after which labored until 1 a.m. The skeleton crew started again at 6 a.m., by noon, once the truck showed up to get the burden, they’d packed 700 trees in to the trailer. Included in this was the one which would soon claim a large part of Ms. Maichin’s family room.

DAYS 2 and three: The18 Wheeler

Mr. Silver pays 4,500 Canadian dollars (about $3,500) to obtain a load of trees to New You are able to. With fuel prices rising, he expects which will jump to 4,700 dollars in 2018, requiring him to margin his tree prices by 50 cents each to pay.

And when the U . s . States withdraws in the United States Free Trade Agreement, as President Trump has frequently threatened, Mr. Silver’s costs may increase further. The charge to mix the border with merchandise, under $100 now, could balloon to $500 to $1,000, he stated.

“A large amount of our stuff goes there,” he stated. “The frightening factor is, when they eliminate Nafta, it’s likely to cause lots of devastation and havoc.”

Within the last 5 years, Mr. Silver has sent several truckloads of trees towards the Eastern Seaboard via G.K. Morse &amp Sons, a Quebec trucking firm.

The organization earns $6.5 million in revenue annually, stated Robert Morse, an periodic truck driver who handles dispatching. He and the brother, Richard, work with their father, Ken, who bought his first truck in 1956 in an effort to travel.

“Most in our trade is south from the 49th parallel,” Robert Morse stated, talking about the road that roughly divides the U . s . States and Canada.

After collecting a clip from Silver’s Farm, he hauled it 30 minutes off to Bridgewater. There, he met track of Keron Roberts, a person who’d go all of those other way.

Mr. Roberts, that has labored for G.K. Morse for pretty much annually, found Canada in 2013, searching for chance. He regularly transmits money-back the place to find relatives in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Truckers, like farm hands, are an issue.

“Drivers are becoming old and becoming upon the market, and also the more youthful people wish to be making around 200 1000 dollars annually,” Mr. Morse stated. “Truckers make very good money, but it isn’t a get-wealthy-quick plan.”

After aiming using the trees, Mr. Roberts exhausted his 13-hour daily driving limit that Canada enforces on truckers and stopped in New Brunswick. He rested at the back of the cab.

Upon entering the U . s . States, he hit a snow storm coupled with to fit, again, in Portsmouth, N.H.

“It’s frustrating on the highway sometimes,” he stated. “The faster I achieve my location, the greater rest I’m able to get.”

DAY 4: All

When Mr. Roberts and the truck finally pulled to the Greenpoint Trees lot in Middle Village, Queens, Stephen Leddick was becoming anxious. Mr. Leddick, the dog owner, figures he requires a way to obtain about 300 trees to satisfy demand.

That morning, he’d just 30 firs. His other lot in Brooklyn was stripped bare.

To supplement his stock, Mr. Leddick bought 80 trees in the Brooklyn Terminal Market. But they weren’t cheap: he compensated an 80 % premium over the price of buying and shipping a fir from Silver’s Farm.

The 24-hour Queens lot, bunched onto a pavement close to the Atlas Park Mall, doesn’t have permit to function. Couple of Christmas tree sellers in New You are able to do.

A quirk from our administrative code enables the periodic entrepreneurs to setup coniferous trees for purchase on any public pavement in December without getting permission in the city.

Some sellers make use of the insufficient documents, disappearing when the season ends and stiffing their suppliers, Mr. Leddick stated — rapidly adding he was undertake and don’t.

Per week earlier, Ms. Maichin purchased grave blankets from Mr. Leddick on her father, who’s hidden within the graveyard nearby. Today, she came for trees, and haggled for 3, one for every floor of her brick townhouse in Ridgewood, ultimately having to pay $45, $65 and $75.

Mr. Leddick opened up the Brooklyn lot in 1990 and also the Queens location in 2005. At some point, he stated, he’d passion for certainly one of his sons to consider within the business, allowing him to spread out their own “soup to nuts” gardening center. Until then, with multiple children around the college track, he cannot spare the main city.

Besides, working 18 hrs each day in the lots and also at his regular job like a construction superintendent, he is just too tired.

DAY 5: The House

The following day, Ms. Maichin and her family started decorating the tree on top floor, inside a family room ringed with family portraits and wedding photos. The audience — Ms. Maichin, her daughter Melissa Babb, boy-in-law Keaton Babb and infant daughter, Karolina, observant in her own bouncer seat — rifled through an accumulation of family ornaments compiled over 30 years.

Most of them were knitted by Ms. Maichin’s mother, who lives downstairs.

Ms. Maichin’s parents, who have been Austrian immigrants, bought the home when she is at 4th grade. A lately upon the market administrative assistant, she now barely recognizes her neighborhood.

Property prices have surged. The populace, once predominantly German, now includes more Polish residents, more millennials crowding into new bars, more investors snapping up qualities and renting them out through Airbnb.

However the family vowed to retain its community spirit, pledging to patronize Greenpoint Trees again the coming year.

“We attempt to shop small , shop local whenever you can,” Ms. Babb stated, adding, sheepishly, “with the exception of Amazon . com.”

Can Marriott Keep Starwood’s Culture of Cool, and Its Customers?

PITTSBURGH — Consider the conundrum of the modern hotel-room shopper.

Oh, O.K., consider my conundrum.

There are trips where I’d like to feel younger than I am, which means staying in a hotel that is cooler than I am. There are trips when I just want to be close to the airport because of a 6 a.m. departure. And then there are trips that require accommodation for a toddler, a tween and two parents who would appreciate an interior door or three to separate everyone.

Now, consider Marriott. I sure am, and so are untold numbers of loyal Starwood Hotels customers who feel uneasy about big, beige Marriott acquiring their beloved Starwood.

Last year, Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood and its Westin, Sheraton and W brands and became the biggest hotel company on the planet. As with industries from media to health insurance, Marriott made a bet on scale — a collection of 6,400 properties and more than 1.2 million rooms in 126 countries and territories.

In theory, this gives the company the power to drive hard bargains with commission-hungry travel agents and booking websites. The companies’ 30 brands ought to provide enough variety to satisfy everyone from picky millennials to finicky retirees, right?


For one thing, many of those brands are indistinguishable from one another. Do we really need both Sheraton and Marriott? Can you even tell their rooms apart if you walk into one without seeing the sign outside? And what do the names Element, Four Points, Homewood, TownePlace and Delta mean to you? They’re among the 30, so they seem to mean a lot to Marriott.

And even with all those properties, the newly combined giant is not necessarily everywhere we need it to be. Sure, they are downtown and at the airport and on ring roads that circle big cities, but the company has usually taken too many years to identify and open a property in the up-and-coming neighborhoods where Airbnb listings are legion.

Add in the spaghetti-swirl task of having to combine two loyalty programs with dozens of airline and other partners into one that will keep more than 100 million members in the fold. At that point, it starts to seem downright daunting for the new Marriott to answer the following question: Can it give us what we need — on every kind of trip — to keep us from straying?

To understand all the challenges that Marriott faces, consider Pittsburgh. It is a fantastic place to visit (and eat), but it’s still far enough down the list of most-desired American convention and tourist cities that its hotel lineup feels incomplete. That makes it an excellent place to examine the company’s challenges.

Marriott still has not found a spot here for one of its cool-kid brands like Edition or Moxy. For a cutting-edge overnight experience, you might turn to the Ace Hotel and its 63-room property in an old Y.M.C.A. in the funky East Liberty neighborhood. As for family-size accommodations — and most of the sleeping spots outside the downtown core — those are now the domain of Airbnb. It can put you up in a 3-bedroom dome or a house festooned with mirrors.

Marriott’s aim to get much bigger is a risky one. But the answer to just three questions will probably determine how investors, developers and people like me will react over time.

■ First, will the new Marriott be convenient? The old Starwood often was not, especially for people seeking lower-price properties.

■ Starwood regularly lapped Marriott on matters of coolness, though. Its W, Westin and Aloft brands offered the possibility that your hotel room could look and feel like your bedroom at home. Will Marriott impede Starwood’s culture of innovation, just as the company is facing the enormous new threat from Airbnb and its appeal to fans of quirk, local culture and value?

■ And then, there’s the loyalty programs. Frequent travelers want their hotel stays to count for something. The Starwood Preferred Guest program has drawn particularly passionate, opinionated members. But it’s a rare merger that results in better benefits for all elite-level travelers. Marriott is still several months away from announcing crucial details about the future of the program, but how much will it take away from wary S.P.G. fans like me?

For the acquisition to succeed, creative employees need to stick around. Because the company owns only a tiny fraction of its hotels, the real estate developers it partners with must want to raise the various Marriott flags and hire the company to manage the properties.

And travelers who could easily stay at a Hilton, the Ace or at an Airbnb must become or remain loyal. “Each of them needs to see material, quick benefits from this transaction in order to be proponents of the deal,” said Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s chief executive.

Starwood’s primary origins are in two acquisitions in the late 1990s, first of Westin and then of Sheraton’s parent company. The first W Hotel, which grew into a boutique chain (something that previously was an oxymoronic notion), arrived in New York in 1998. The Starwood loyalty program, notable back then for its lack of blackout dates or capacity controls on free rooms, emerged the next year.

All of that gave Starwood a running start, but it eventually became clear that its founder, Barry Sternlicht, whom Bill Marriott once dismissed as a “kid with a backpack,” was better at buffing and building higher-end brands than he was at the more boring task of getting hotel developers to build $100-a-night limited-service properties in college towns and suburban office parks.

The result for people looking for a place to stay was often a metropolitan area map that looks like the one in Pittsburgh, with a Sheraton and a Westin downtown, or near it, plus a solitary offering out at the airport. Marriott, however, has properties in a near ring around the city, plus several hotels downtown and several more in the Oakland, Shadyside and Bakery Square neighborhoods.

To a loyalty program member, it could seem that Starwood was not trying hard enough, or fast enough, to fill the holes in its map. Here in Pittsburgh, East Liberty has no W or Aloft (the junior, lower-price version of W that first appeared in 2008). Instead, the Ace Hotel moved in and converted the former gymnasium in its building into a ballroom that’s now a go-to spot for weddings. On my last trip there, tired of the humdrum Sheraton, I used Airbnb to stay in one of just a few dozen Yaca Domes known to exist.

It would be tempting for Marriott executives to laugh off the threat. But Airbnb has been making a concerted effort to be more business-traveler friendly.

Mr. Sorenson, Marriott’s chief executive, said he had never used Airbnb to book lodging, but his daughter has. She told him he had nothing to worry about.

But does he really think she’s right? “They were the toughest competition when they were offering a true sharing-economy product,” he said, describing the company’s origins in renting out an air mattress or a room. “The more they get to offering dedicated units, which they’ve done as they’ve grown, the more they look like the competition we’ve faced for decades.”

Any comparison stretches only so far, said Tina Edmundson, Marriott’s global brand officer. She has sampled Airbnb, twice. How did she like it? “It was O.K.,” she said, scrunching up her face a little. “It was fine.”

She acknowledged that her standards might be particularly high. “I like the notion that someone professional has been in and cleaned it,” she said, befitting someone who was once a hotel general manager. “I totally get that I am not the target for Airbnb. Tons of people love that, and I think that’s great.”

So yes, she concluded, it’s an important threat worth keeping an eye on. “But I don’t think there is panic in the city,” she said.

Three years ago, in describing to my colleague Brooks Barnes why Marriott felt it needed to partner with an outsider, Ian Schrager, on its first foray into design-forward hotels, Mr. Sorenson admitted the following: “We probably didn’t have consumer permission to enter this boutique space on our own,” he said.

Mr. Sternlicht, Starwood’s founder, never asked anybody’s permission. Instead, he bet that people would like their hotel interiors to look more like their home (or the one of their modernist dreams) and less like a gallery of plaid and polyester.

The resulting parade of innovation began with the W chain, with sleek in-room furniture and lobbies that felt like nightclubs. Westin introduced the Heavenly Bed (complete with a trademark), and the newly comfortable guests purchased more than $150 million in bedding to use at home.

Marriott, meanwhile, suffered not necessarily from bad taste but a sort of baseline blandness. “There are very few properties in the Marriott spectrum that I might find desirable,” said Kenneth Ballenegger, a longtime Starwood customer who lives in San Francisco.

But Marriott had its fans. Road-weary sports reporters and the people they cover are almost cultish about the company. Rhapsodic online odes include testimonials about how waking up in a Marriott with another night’s worth of loyalty points makes you feel as if you are doing something good for yourself and your family. Scouts for professional teams have joked about living in one of the company’s Fairfield Inns if they ever got divorced.

In recent years, Marriott has introduced a number of new brands, including the Autograph collection of luxury properties and Moxy, which is in the same general category as Starwood’s Aloft. “But Starwood has owned that space for a longer period of time than anyone else,” Mr. Sorenson said. “We want to make sure to graft that onto new shoots that already exist at Marriott.”

Those shoots may bear fruit in Pittsburgh one of these days. A Moxy that was supposed to occupy converted space downtown fell by the wayside, but the Oakland neighborhood will get an Autograph soon.

Even before Marriott began trying to define or redefine the brands it had acquired, it listed its incumbent ones in a security filing with all sorts of head-scratching definitions that were supposed to differentiate them. Marriott “typically” includes “destination-driven restaurants” (really?), while Courtyard is for an “upscale tier” (wait, isn’t that Ritz and Renaissance and Autograph?) and Fairfield Inn & Suites helps “maintain balance and momentum.”

I scrambled these descriptions and challenged one executive to match them with their correct brand names. She could not.

Hotel developers shop among brands — and they, too, are confused. “I’m a hotel nerd, and it’s blurry for me,” said Deno Yiankes, president and chief executive of investments and development at White Lodging, which owns 16 Marriott-branded properties and is building eight more.

The world does not need both Four Points and Fairfield. Affluent travelers would suffer no grievous harm if Marriott forced a death match between Starwood’s St. Regis brand and Ritz-Carlton.

But combining brands turns out to be challenging. Franchisees often sign 20-year contracts, and pulling them out of a particular brand mid-deal may be difficult. Plus, there’s the sheer expense of changing every last pen, sign and interior marker.

Sheraton is probably the biggest Marriott brand that is in sorry shape. Even some Starwood loyalists have never been sure what it is supposed to stand for. It’s popular (and more upscale) in some parts of the world, but its United States properties often feature various shades of brown, smudged fake brass in the elevators and nicked wooden furniture.

“Every time there’s been a new C.E.O., they’ve tried to fix it,” said Ms. Edmundson, the Marriott executive who once worked at Starwood. “It requires an unbelievable amount of discipline to do it. I promise you Marriott has that, and Starwood does not.”

Indeed, not long after she told me that, the company announced that it had identified the 50 worst Sheratons in the United States. Many are undergoing renovations, but 5,000 Sheraton rooms will soon earn points under some other flag because their owners could not bring them up to standard.

If the fixes for Sheraton work, it preserves an additional choice for the travelers (as well as convention planners and corporate travel managers) who will ultimately decide the merger’s fate.

Marriott also has to appeal to the large number of people who have no brand loyalty and book their hotel rooms on whatever third-party websites seem to offer the best deal. The company dislikes paying commissions to the Expedias of the world, but it often needs those websites to help fill its properties on any given night. On those sites, Marriott’s 30 brands may offer an advantage.

The decisions likely to draw the most attention at Marriott in the next year involve the combination of its Marriott Rewards loyalty program with Starwood Preferred Guest.

The man in charge of the integration process is David Flueck, and when he spoke at a conference last spring of frequent travelers and peers of his who manage similar programs, the moderator, Ravindra Bhagwanani, had some choice words to describe Mr. Flueck’s challenge. “You can only imagine the nightmare.”

Frequent travelers are picky, and some of them (O.K., some of us) have occasional entitlement issues. Marriott and Starwood have different rules about what amount of spending earns what amount of points and what those points are worth if you want to trade them in for a night at the Ritz or a week at an Aloft. Frequent travelers want to qualify for elite status quickly so they can earn upgrades and other perks, but the two programs have different rules about this, too. Then, there are the programs’ partnerships, dozens of them, with airlines and others, all of which have to be negotiated or renegotiated.

The travelers who spend the most money take all of this minutiae seriously, and Marriott knows it. Moreover, its executives are quick to acknowledge that Starwood’s loyalty program is a big part of what made the chain a worthwhile acquisition.

So they professed to be a bit surprised at the negative reaction from many top-level members of Starwood’s loyalty program. “It was very intense, very possessive,” Mr. Sorenson said.

He added that he understood that at least part of it was disappointment, given that most of the program’s elite members like me could have chosen Marriott, but did not. “And you convinced yourself,” he said, “that that was the right choice and that all things Starwood are more appropriate for me, even though I might have stayed at a lousy Sheraton last night.”

But people who travel frequently and have cast their lot with a particular chain come to value — and then expect — special or exclusive creature comforts. Travel is often anonymous, inconvenient and uncertain. A good loyalty program offers payback, recognition and at least some predictability.

Starwood understood that from the beginning, offering late checkout in most properties, no blackout days for people trying to redeem their points for free hotel rooms and free upgrades (often to enormous suites) for elite members. One popular perk allows members to trade their Starwood points for American Airlines frequent flier miles and get a 25 percent bonus when they do. Redeem those miles for expensive business class seats on ocean-crossing flights, as I’ve done for years, and you’re a big winner.

Starwood’s limited footprint also meant that it had to make it easier for members to qualify for elite status. After all, people often had to go out of their way to stay in its properties. Starwood allows people to qualify based on the number of stays in a property in a single year. People like me who take lots of short trips can qualify for Platinum with 25 stays, which I accomplished with just 39 nights away from home this year. Marriott members need 75 nights to achieve the same status.

So far, the company has said little about the fate of its airline partnerships. It will probably be another year before it can formally combine the Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs.

That silence has not kept travelers from jumping to some logical conclusions though. “They’ve handled things surprising well, and I believe they have good intentions,” said Mr. Ballenegger, the longtime Starwood fan. “But the more they touch it, they worse it will probably get, unfortunately.”

But that depends on your perspective. Bruce Schobel is a retired actuary with over 2,400 lifetime nights at Marriott. “One of the things I like best about getting to Marriott’s highest elite levels is that it’s pretty damn hard,” he said. “The benefits they are able to provide are fairly generous because the number of people are fairly small.” Given that exclusivity and the likelihood that Marriott will want to maintain it, it seems near certain that Starwood fans like me are going to need to bed down many more nights each year to keep our status.

Mr. Sorenson is aware, however, that he would be foolish to take away too much. A hotel company’s most loyal customers generally book directly on its website or phone lines, instead of going to a human travel agent or Expedia and its competitors, where the hotel company has to pay a commission. As long as the Marriott perks do not cost more than what the third parties get in commission, the company is still winning.

As Mr. Sorenson presides over it all, he says he senses wariness, cynicism even. But he also draws hope from those strong feelings about the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

“We want you to care intensely about the program, because that shows the value of the program to us,” he said. “The worst thing would be if people said that they never really cared about S.P.G. anyway.”