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14th September 2021
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Apple patches security flaw that leaves users vulnerable to spyware
Apple has issued an emergency software update after cybersecurity researchers said they had uncovered a new vulnerability allowing hackers to deploy Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware tool through iMessage. The Pegasus spyware used a method known as the zero click remote exploit, allowing hackers to turn on a user’s camera and microphone, record messages, texts, emails, calls, even those sent via encrypted messaging and phone apps like Signal, and send them back to NSO’s clients. The discovery means that more than 1.65bn Apple products in use worldwide have been vulnerable to NSO’s spyware since at least March. The fix stems from research done by The Citizen Lab, a public interest cybersecurity group that found a Saudi activist's phone had been infected with Pegasus. News of the security update comes as Apple prepares to unveil its new iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches later today.
Walmart probes fake statement on Litecoin crypto deal
The price of Litecoin, a little-used cryptocurrency, jumped more than 30% in early trading Monday to around $230 before falling back, after a news release touting a partnership with Walmart turned out to be fake. According to the release on GlobeNewswire at 9:30 a.m. in New York, Walmart would start letting its customers pay with Litecoin; within an hour, however, the retailer denied the statement, as did Litecoin itself later in the day. The company and the newswire say they are now seeking to determine how the events transpired. Securities lawyers said there was little doubt the phony release would lead to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The hoax is also likely to lead to a call for greater regulation of the cryptocurrency industry, which accounts for billions of dollars of trading on largely unregulated markets.

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Uber loses court fight in Netherlands over drivers' rights
A court in the Netherlands has ruled that Uber drivers are employees and not contractors, and are thus entitled to greater workers' rights under local labor laws. The Amsterdam District Court sided with the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), which had argued that the ride-hailing company's roughly 4,000 drivers in the Dutch capital should enjoy benefits in line with the taxi sector. The court’s decision comes months after a similar U.K. court ruling led to the San Francisco-headquartered firm agreeing a groundbreaking union deal in Britain. "The legal relationship between Uber and these drivers meets all the characteristics of an employment contract," and drivers are covered by a collective labor agreement for taxi drivers, the court said, adding "This means that Uber is obligated to institute a labor contract with drivers . . . and therefore means these drivers are entitled to backpay in certain circumstances."  The judges also ordered Uber to pay €50,000 ($59,000) in damages to the FNV for not adhering to a collective labor agreement. Uber said it would appeal the ruling. "We are disappointed with this decision because we know that the overwhelming majority of drivers wish to remain independent," Maurits Schoenfeld, Uber’s Northern Europe general manager, said, adding "Drivers don’t want to give up their freedom to choose if, when and where to work." The FNV welcomed the ruling. "Due to the judge's ruling, the Uber drivers are now automatically employed by Uber," said Zakaria Boufangacha, FNV's deputy chairman. "As a result, they will receive more wages and more rights in the event of dismissal or illness, for example."
Banks escalate fight over IRS reporting in Biden budget plan
The financial services sector is girding for an extended battle over a legislative proposal requiring banks and other institutions to report customer account data meant to bring in more federal tax dollars. The measure is being considered by lawmakers as a source of revenue in the Biden administration's proposed $3.5tn budget reconciliation plan. It could result in banks having to report transaction data for any account with at least $600 of inflows or outflows annually. “From a bank perspective, the administrative challenges and complexities of having a $600 annual threshold may not achieve the policy goals of reducing tax avoidance,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government relations at the Electronic Transactions Association. “At $600, the squeeze may not be worth the juice." On Tuesday morning, the Independent Community Bankers of America released the results of a survey conducted with Morning Consult that found that 67% of respondents were opposed to “a proposal that would allow the IRS to collect bank account deposit and withdrawal information from American consumers,” according to a press release from the trade group. “A bipartisan supermajority of Americans clearly opposes Washington’s plan for the IRS to monitor their bank account information, which Congress is now quickly advancing through a budget reconciliation package that requires only a simple majority to pass,” ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey said in a statement accompanying the survey results. Florida Bankers Association CEO Alex Sanchez said the move would "kill our community banks" and hurt small businesses. 
Analysts warn that debt ceiling could be hit by mid-October
The government will likely run out of cash and could begin to miss payments on its obligations sometime between mid-October and mid-November, according to a new projection from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). The Washington think tank's warning comes days after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said her agency may run out of room to keep paying the government’s bills on time during the month of October, unless Congress lifts the federal borrowing limit. Most of the resources the Treasury has left include cash on hand, which at the end of August amounted to around $356bn, said Shai Akabas, the BPC's director of economic policy. He added that the potential deadline is more uncertain this year than in previous years because the pandemic has made it much more difficult to model the government’s cash flows over the coming months; he also said analysts should know more after September 15th, when U.S. companies make estimated quarterly tax payments to the Treasury.  
Lowe's reports improvements in inventory position
Lowe's is bringing holiday products into its stores and warehouses earlier than originally planned, as supply chain bottlenecks threaten to leave U.S. stores with empty shelves during the holiday season. U.S. retailers have been scrambling to fill their shelves and have enough inventory to ensure key items are not out of stock, as COVID-19-led factory closures in Vietnam and port congestion have put a dent in their supply chain. Lowe's finance chief David Denton said the home-improvement chain was in a better position today than it was six to 12 months ago, with respect to its inventory position and supply chain. “We’re actually getting better, not worse", Mr Denton said at a Goldman Sachs Annual Global Retailing Conference. “Lowe’s is positioned better than most, if not everybody else in the marketplace".
United will place on leave unvaccinated staff who are granted religious or medical waivers
United Airlines says employees granted a religious or medical waiver from an expedited September 27th vaccination deadline will be placed on temporary leave beginning October 2nd. Staff who are unsuccessful in their requests for a vaccination exemption will have five weeks to get the shots or have their employment terminated by the airline. An undisclosed number of United employees who submitted a request for a “reasonable accommodation” exempting them from the vaccine requirement, based on “sincerely held” religious beliefs or a medical condition, have received an email from the carrier, which says employees will be notified if their application is approved or denied within two weeks. “In determining the appropriate accommodations, we will take many factors into account including an employee's work requirements and the metrics that illustrate the state of the pandemic in the U.S.,” the airline said in its Wednesday memo. For customer-facing roles including pilots, flight attendants and gate agents, employees granted an exemption will be placed on unpaid personal leave beginning October 2nd, and would be able to return to work only after the pandemic “meaningfully recedes,” the airline said.
Office air quality affects workers' cognitive function, study shows
A U.S. study has found that air quality inside an office can have a significant impact on workers' cognitive function, including their response times and ability to focus. "We have a huge body of research on the exposure to outdoor pollution, but we spend 90 percent of our time indoors," observed Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, a research fellow at Harvard University and lead author of the paper published in Environmental Research Letters. He and his colleagues studied 302 office workers in six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the U.S. and the U.K.) over a period of a year. Workspaces were fitted with an environmental sensor to monitor real time concentrations of fine particulate matter 2.5 micrometers and smaller, PM2.5, as well as carbon dioxide, temperature, and relative humidity. The study ended in March 2020 when the pandemic precipitated global lockdowns.
Google announces water stewardship target
Google has launched a new water sustainability program pledging to replenish 20% more water than its offices and data centers use by 2030. Google uses water to cool its data centers and consumed 3.4bn gallons of water in 2019. "We are pledging to a water stewardship target to replenish more water than we consume by 2030 and support water security in communities where we operate," Google Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt wrote in a blog post. "This means Google will replenish 120% of the water we consume, on average, across our offices and data centers." It is noted that Microsoft last year announced a goal of being water positive by 2030 without specifying a replenishment target.
Macy's Thanksgiving parade returns to traditional route
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will this year return to a more traditional route, with the public lining the streets of Manhattan to watch. The retailer said its 95th celebration would travel a longer route than the one block it was confined to in 2020 and bring in marching bands and other groups that were unable to perform last year. It will allow 80 to 100 handlers for its giant character balloons after reducing the number last year. All volunteer participants and staff must nevertheless be vaccinated against COVID-19 and will be required to wear face coverings and other protective equipment. Details on public viewing locations and entry guidelines and restrictions will be announced in November.

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