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Stock Markets Rise Slightly After Lull: Live Updates

Credit…Flo

The developer behind Flo, a period- and fertility-tracking app used by more than 100 million women, on Wednesday settled federal charges that it had misled users about its data-handling practices by sharing their intimate health details with Facebook and Google.

In its privacy policies, Flo had repeatedly promised users that it would protect private details about their menstruation cycles and fertility, and that the data would be used only to provide services to them, according to a complaint filed by The Federal Trade Commission.

Instead, federal regulators said, Flo shared sensitive health details on millions of users for years with numerous third parties — including Facebook’s and Google’s analytics units, as well as with two mobile analytics services, AppsFlyer and Flurry. The private data included information related to users’ periods, pregnancies and childbirths, the complaint said.

Moreover, Flo did not put limits on how Facebook, Google and other companies could use the women’s health information, federal regulators said, giving the third parties the ability to use the data for advertising and other purposes.

The proposed federal settlement prohibits the app’s developer, Flo Health, from misleading users about its data-handling practices. It also requires Flo to obtain users’ consent before sharing their health details and to obtain an independent review of its privacy practices.

In settling the case, Flo did not admit to any wrongdoing. In a statement, the company said it does not share information about users’ health without their permission. “We are committed to ensuring that the privacy of our users’ personal health data is absolutely paramount,” the statement added.

The monthly deficit in December — $140 billion — broke a record set in the 2009 recession, the Treasury Department said.
The monthly deficit in December — $140 billion — broke a record set in the 2009 recession, the Treasury Department said.Credit…Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The federal budget deficit was larger last month than in any December in American history, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday, another in a string of record-setting deficits that are a result of the pandemic and the government’s efforts to mitigate its damage to the economy.

The monthly deficit in December — $140 billion — was more than 10 times the size of the deficit the government ran in the same month a year earlier, and it broke a record set in the 2009 recession. The first three months of the fiscal year 2021, which began in October, have seen the nation run a deficit of nearly $600 billion in total — also a record, Treasury officials said. The fiscal year 2020 deficit was a record-smashing $3.1 trillion.

Lawmakers responded to the pandemic-induced recession with trillions of dollars in government spending, including direct aid to individuals and businesses, tax cuts for corporations and increased spending on health efforts to combat the spread of the virus. Late last month, Congress approved an additional $900 billion economic aid package. But little of that money was flowing into the economy by year’s end, Treasury officials said, so it did not materially affect December’s deficit numbers.

Monthly deficits appear likely to swell again in the months to come, as the pandemic continues to rage and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. pushes lawmakers to approve another large stimulus plan. Even many fiscal hawks, who typically decry high deficits, have called for more deficit spending to help people, businesses and state and local governments survive until coronavirus vaccines are widely distributed and the crisis abates.

Shoppers wait outside a Target in Commerce, Calif., on Black Friday. The retailer saw sales rise both in-store and online this holiday season.
Shoppers wait outside a Target in Commerce, Calif., on Black Friday. The retailer saw sales rise both in-store and online this holiday season.Credit…Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Amid a mixed holiday shopping season for some retailers, and as coronavirus cases surged across the country, Target reported strong sales.

The giant retailer said on Wednesday that its sales in November and December were up 17.2 percent from the same time the previous year, a rise driven both by in-store and online shopping.

Its digital sales were the biggest area of growth, however, more than doubling from the 2019 holiday season. The vast majority of those sales were delivered from Target stores, which analysts say helped the company avoid some of the shipping delays caused by an overload of e-commerce orders. Fulfilling online orders from stores is also more profitable than paying to have items shipped through carriers like FedEx and UPS.

Target’s holiday results are further evidence of the growing gap between large retailers that are emerging from the pandemic stronger and more dominant and others that are failing and not likely to survive.

Google said it would not allow political ads on its platforms until after Inauguration Day because of last week’s violent uprising at the Capitol.

In a letter to advertisers on Wednesday, the company said the suspension covered any ads that referred to candidates, the election or its outcome, the upcoming presidential inauguration, the impeachment process, the Capitol riots, or planned protests about any of these subjects. There will not be exceptions for news or merchandise advertisers.

The pause will go into effect on Thursday and extend until at least Jan. 21. Google is the biggest seller of advertising on the internet. In addition to displaying advertising on its own services, such as its search engine and YouTube, it runs a powerhouse ad platform and exchange relied on by other websites and publishers. The policy change was reported earlier by Axios.

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said at the Reuters Next conference on Wednesday that the company had made significant changes to how it handled political ads and election misinformation around the election, but he acknowledged that more work needed to be done.

“The internet, as a whole, needs to come to terms with what kind of information can spread,” Mr. Pichai said. “Definitely, there’s more to do on our side.”

Google has treated last week’s riot as a “sensitive event,” a designation it usually assigns to natural disasters or mass shootings, prohibiting advertising that seeks to take advantage of the tragedy. Google applied this policy for a month after the election and prohibited political ads to help prevent the spread of misinformation through advertising. Last week, in the immediate aftermath of the riot, Google initially stopped accepting ads that referred to the event.

After the polls closed on Nov. 3, Facebook also placed restrictions on political ads in the United States in an attempt to minimize the spread of election-related misinformation.

Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco.
Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco.Credit…Gabrielle Lurie/Reuters

Airbnb, one of the biggest players in the short-term rental market, will cancel all reservations made in the Washington area next week and block new rentals, the company announced in a statement on Wednesday.

The decision came after the police and elected officials warned Americans not to travel to Washington for the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., citing the risk of the spread of the coronavirus and the threat of another attack similar to last week’s violent siege at the Capitol.

Law enforcement authorities have warned of threats of violence ahead of the inauguration on Jan. 20, and National Guard troops have flooded Washington in response. On Monday, the leaders of the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland issued a joint statement telling potential visitors not to travel to the area, citing both the coronavirus pandemic and the riot.

Already, 16 groups — some of them armed and most of them supporters of President Trump — have registered to stage protests in Washington, though Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked federal officials to cancel any public gathering permits issued.

This week, Airbnb said it would review reservations in the Washington area and cancel those it determined were made by members associated with extremist or hate groups. On Wednesday, it said it would take the broader step of canceling all reservations in response to pleas for people not to attend.

Ms. Bowser and the governors of Virginia and Maryland “have been clear that visitors should not travel to the D.C. metro area for the Inauguration,” the company said in a statement. “Additionally, we are aware of reports emerging yesterday afternoon regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the inauguration.”

Airbnb said it would refund guests for their reservations and reimburse hosts at its own expense.

The company declined to say how many reservations would be canceled, the dates the cancellation policy would be in effect or how far from Washington its policy would apply.

But two Airbnb hosts who contacted the company about the status of existing reservations were told by customer service representatives that Airbnb was canceling reservations that started on or after Jan. 15 and ended by Jan. 21, according to screenshots provided to The New York Times.

Airbnb also said it had banned “numerous individuals” associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved with the mob at the Capitol. It declined to provide more details.

  • Dollar General, which has nearly 17,000 locations in the United States, said on Wednesday that it will give four hours of pay to hourly workers who receive a completed Covid-19 vaccination, and additional store labor hours to salaried employees who also do so. Dollar General is one of the first major employers to announce such incentives. It said that it did “not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work.”

  • Visa and the financial technology start-up Plaid abandoned their $5.3 billion merger on Tuesday, citing a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit. The agreement between Visa and Plaid, a service that allows companies and apps to securely share customer data, was challenged in November by Justice Department officials who said the credit card giant was trying to eliminate a “nascent threat” to its online payments business. The leaders of Visa and Plaid said they disagreed with the Justice Department’s stance but decided not to fight the lawsuit.

  • Boeing’s outstanding plane orders shrank by 500 in 2020, though its fortunes began to shift at the end of the year after the Federal Aviation Administration allowed the aircraft maker’s troubled 737 Max to fly again after a 20-month grounding. The company said Tuesday that it had received orders for 90 new planes in December, most of which were part of a previously announced deal with the European airline Ryanair. The company also sold eight 777 freighters to DHL, the shipping company. Those orders were offset by 107 cancellations in the month.


By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet

  • Financial markets in the U.S. were slightly higher on Wednesday, after retreating from record highs earlier this week.

  • The S&P 500 rose less than a quarter of a percent. In Europe, the FTSE 100 was down slightly, while the Stoxx Europe 600 was slightly higher.

  • Energy prices broke their streak of gains, with futures on West Texas Intermediate crude falling half a percent. Futures on the U.S. crude benchmark had risen for seven straight days, the longest streak in two years, after Saudi Arabia said last week it would cut production.

  • The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell for a second consecutive day to 1.09 percent. Last week, the yield climbed above 1 percent for the first time since March. On Tuesday, two Federal Reserve policymakers said that it was too soon to consider when the central bank would taper its bond-buying program, saying any pullback in monetary stimulus didn’t need to be considered while the pandemic was still raging.

  • U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday moved toward impeaching President Trump, the United States set another record for the number of deaths in a single day from the coronavirus, and other countries around the world strengthened restrictions as they rush to vaccinate as many people as possible.

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