Business and Technology News

    Rent the Runway now valued at $1 billion with new funding


    Rent the Runway, the company known for lending designer dresses to women for special occasions, has received a new round of financing that increased its valuation to the unicorn level of $1 billion. The valuation announced Thursday is a milestone for...

    Rent the Runway, the company known for lending designer dresses to women for special occasions, has received a new round of financing that increased its valuation to the unicorn level of $1 billion.

    The valuation announced Thursday is a milestone for Rent the Runway, which was founded a decade ago and has been working for years to expand its business beyond formal dress rentals. It introduced a subscription service for everyday clothing and accessories several years ago that has developed a particularly enthusiastic customer base among professional women. Recently, it announced a partnership with West Elm that will allow subscribers to rent “bundles” of pillows, throws and quilts for their living rooms and bedrooms.

    “You’ll continue to see that this new living closet that we’ve created is going to apply not only to how you get dressed, but it’ll apply to all of the products that you use,” Jennifer Hyman, 38, the company chief executive and a co-founder, said in a phone interview. “Our goal is really to create the Amazon Prime of rental.”

    The company said it had brought in $125 million in the latest fundraising round, which was led by Franklin Templeton Investments and Bain Capital Ventures. That brings the total equity the company has raised to $337 million, and adds to a $200 million credit facility it secured in August.

    Subscribers can borrow up to four items at a time for $159 per month, cycling through designer garments and accessories — including maternity wear — with the option to buy goods at discounted prices. Rent the Runway declined to disclose its subscriber count or its revenue or to say if it was profitable.

    The company plans to expand into more product categories, establish a second distribution facility in Dallas and open an 8,000-square-foot store in San Francisco. Hyman said...

    Faster tax cuts could be backfiring on Republicans


    When President Trump signed a large package of tax cuts into law in 2017, the IRS moved to make sure the savings showed up quickly in paychecks. Doing so probably lifted consumer spending last year, but it may have hurt Republicans politically, new...

    When President Trump signed a large package of tax cuts into law in 2017, the IRS moved to make sure the savings showed up quickly in paychecks. Doing so probably lifted consumer spending last year, but it may have hurt Republicans politically, new polling suggests.

    Administration officials, it appears, underestimated Americans’ love of tax refunds.

    Nearly 4 in 5 people say they would rather overpay their federal income taxes and get a refund every spring — effectively making an interest-free loan to the government — than to underpay and owe money come tax season, according to a poll for the New York Times by San Mateo online research firm SurveyMonkey.

    That preference appears to be influencing how Americans view Trump’s signature cuts: Among people who have already filed their returns, those who said they received a bigger refund this year are far more likely than others to approve of the law.

    But many people are reporting that their refunds are smaller this tax season, or that they owe money. In addition to being more likely than other Americans to say they oppose the law, those people feel worse about the economy overall. They are also significantly more likely to disapprove of Trump’s performance in office.

    The findings suggest that the administration’s decisions on withholding may have hurt the law politically.

    “I was hopeful that the rhetoric for once was going to match expectations and it did not,” said Tony Mendes, 61, a federal employee in Denver. “I got back less than I would have anticipated.”

    Bigger paychecks for most — but smaller refunds for some: Independent analyses consistently show that the 2017 law gave most Americans a tax cut, and few families will end up paying more than under the previous rules.

    Federal officials faced a...

    Facebook did not securely store passwords. Here’s what you need to know


    Facebook said on Thursday that millions of user account passwords had been stored insecurely, potentially allowing employees to gain access to people’s accounts without their knowledge. The Menlo Park company publicized the security failure around the...

    Facebook said on Thursday that millions of user account passwords had been stored insecurely, potentially allowing employees to gain access to people’s accounts without their knowledge.

    The Menlo Park company publicized the security failure around the same time that Brian Krebs, a cybersecurity writer, reported the password vulnerability. Krebs said an audit by Facebook had found that hundreds of millions of user passwords dating to 2012 were stored in a format known as plain text, which makes the passwords readable to more than 20,000 of the company’s employees.

    Facebook said it had found no evidence of abuse and that it would begin alerting millions of its users and thousands of Instagram users about the issue. The company said it would not require people to reset their passwords.

    The security failure is another embarrassment for Facebook, a $470 billion colossus that employs some of the most sought-after cybersecurity experts in the industry. It adds to a growing list of data scandals that have tarnished Facebook’s reputation over the past few years. Last year, amid revelations that a political consulting firm improperly gained access to the data of millions, Facebook also revealed that an attack on its network had exposed the personal information of tens of millions of users.

    In response, the company has repeatedly said it plans to improve how it safeguards people’s data.

    “There is nothing more important to us than protecting people’s information, and we will continue making improvements as part of our ongoing security efforts at Facebook,” Pedro Canahuati, Facebook’s vice president of engineering in security and privacy, said in a blog post on Thursday.

    Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the password vulnerability and what you can...

    Doomed jets lacked 2 key safety features that Boeing sold as extras


    As the pilots of the doomed Boeing jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia fought to control their planes, they lacked two notable safety features in their cockpits. One reason: Boeing charged extra for them. For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the...

    As the pilots of the doomed Boeing jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia fought to control their planes, they lacked two notable safety features in their cockpits.

    One reason: Boeing charged extra for them.

    For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons.

    Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

    Many airlines, especially low-cost carriers like Indonesia’s Lion Air, have opted not to buy them — and regulators don’t require them.

    Now, in the wake of the two deadly crashes involving the same jet model, Boeing will make one of those safety features standard as part of a fix to get the planes in the air again.

    It is not yet known what caused the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 and Lion Air Flight 610 five months earlier, both after erratic takeoffs. But investigators are looking at whether a software system added to avoid stalls in Boeing’s 737 Max series may have been partly to blame. Faulty data from sensors on the Lion Air plane may have caused the system, known as MCAS, to malfunction, authorities investigating that crash suspect.

    Federal prosecutors are investigating the development of the Boeing 737 Max jet, according to a person briefed on the inquiry. The Justice Department said that it does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations. Boeing declined to comment on the inquiry.

    The jet’s software system takes readings from one of two vanelike devices...

    SF Supervisor wants to ban Amazon Go, other cashless stores


    As more businesses have started going cashless, a backlash to the trend is brewing, and now Amazon Go stores could be banned from San Francisco if a proposed change to the police code comes to pass. District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown introduced a...

    As more businesses have started going cashless, a backlash to the trend is brewing, and now Amazon Go stores could be banned from San Francisco if a proposed change to the police code comes to pass.

    District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown introduced a resolution banning cashless stores last month over concerns that such businesses aren't accessible to people who can't obtain debit and credit cards. On Tuesday, she modified the proposal to include Amazon Go among the ranks of stores that would need to modify their payment practices or be banned, Curbed reported Wednesday.

    Ship traffic, March 22


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    Bond yields sharply lower on Fed news; stocks mixed


    Banks led U.S. stocks mostly lower Wednesday after a brief rally sparked by the Federal Reserve’s latest policy update faded. The real action centered in the bond market, where prices rose sharply, pulling Treasury yields down to the lowest levels...

    Banks led U.S. stocks mostly lower Wednesday after a brief rally sparked by the Federal Reserve’s latest policy update faded. The real action centered in the bond market, where prices rose sharply, pulling Treasury yields down to the lowest levels they’ve seen in more than a year.

    The central bank said it has ruled out interest rate increases this year and issued a dimmer outlook on the economy.

    That set off one of the biggest slides for Treasury yields in months, knocking the 10-year Treasury yield as low as 2.53 percent, down from 2.61 percent Tuesday and from 3.20 percent late last year. The two-year Treasury yield, which is more influenced by Fed movements, fell to 2.39 percent from 2.45 percent.

    Yields have been falling steadily since November, as worries rose about a slowing global economy and traders subsequently made moves in anticipation of a more patient Fed.

    The S&P 500 dropped 8.34 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,824.23. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 141.71 points, or 0.5 percent, to 25,745.67. The average had been down more than 216 points earlier.

    The Nasdaq composite eked out a slight gain, adding 5.02 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,728.97. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 11.83 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,543.16.

    Major European indexes finished lower.

    It was only last autumn that interest rates were on the rise and rattling investors, who worried that an overly aggressive Fed would keep raising rates and choke off growth in the face of a slowing global economy. The Fed increased rates four times last year and three times in 2017.

    Besides encouraging more borrowing and economic growth, lower interest rates can make stocks look more attractive to investors, at least when compared with the lower amount of interest that...

    Federal reserve foresees no interest rate hikes in 2019


    WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday and projected no rate hikes in 2019, dramatically underscoring its plan to be “patient” about any further increases. The Fed said it was keeping its benchmark rate —...

    WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday and projected no rate hikes in 2019, dramatically underscoring its plan to be “patient” about any further increases.

    The Fed said it was keeping its benchmark rate — which can influence everything from mortgages to credit cards to home equity lines of credit — in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. It also announced that it will stop shrinking its bond portfolio in September, a step that should help hold down long-term rates. It will begin slowing the runoff from its bond portfolio in May.

    Combined, the moves signal no major increases in borrowing rates for consumers and businesses. And together with the Fed’s dimmer forecast for economic growth this year — 2.1 percent, down from a previous projection of 2.3 percent — the statement it issued Wednesday after its latest policy meeting suggests that it has grown more concerned about the economy.

    The Fed’s decision was approved on an 11-0 vote.

    In signaling no rate increases this year, the Fed’s policymakers reduced their forecast from two that were previously predicted in December. They now project one rate hike in 2020 and none in 2021. The Fed raised rates four times last year and a total of nine times since December 2015.

    The Fed’s pause in credit tightening is a response, in part, to slowdowns in the U.S. and global economies. It says that while the job market remains strong, “growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter.”

    Some Fed watchers say they think the next rate move could be a cut later this year if the economy slows as much as some fear it might. The policymakers’ statement stressed, as they have in recent weeks, that given sluggish growth and continually mild inflation, the Fed “will be patient as it...

    EU fines Google $1.7 billion for abusing online ads market


    BRUSSELS — Europe’s antitrust regulators slapped Google with a big fine Wednesday for the third time in less than two years, ordering the tech giant to pay $1.7 billion for freezing out rivals in the online advertising business. The ruling brings to...

    BRUSSELS — Europe’s antitrust regulators slapped Google with a big fine Wednesday for the third time in less than two years, ordering the tech giant to pay $1.7 billion for freezing out rivals in the online advertising business.

    The ruling brings to nearly $10 billion the fines imposed against Google by the European Union. And it comes at a time when big tech companies around the world are facing increasing regulatory pressure and fierce political attacks over privacy violations, online misinformation, hate speech and other abuses.

    Still, the latest penalty isn’t likely to have much effect on Google’s business. It involves practices the company says it already ended, and the sum is just a fraction of the $31 billion in profit that its parent, Alphabet, made last year.

    Alphabet stock rose 2 percent Wednesday.

    The EU ruling applies to a narrow portion of Google’s ad business: when Google sells ads next to Google search results on third-party websites.

    Investigators found that Google inserted exclusivity clauses in its contracts that barred these websites from running similarly placed ads sold by Google’s rivals.

    As a result, advertisers and website owners “had less choice and likely faced higher prices that would be passed on to consumers,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner.

    Anyone who suffered from Google’s behavior can seek compensation through national courts, she said.

    EU regulators opened their investigation in 2016 — seven years after Microsoft filed a complaint — though by that time, Google had already made some changes to give customers more freedom to show competing ads. For that reason, regulators did not require a specific remedy to restore competition.

    But Vestager said it appeared rivals haven’t been able...

    Astrology app set to disrupt mystical services sector


    Any entity created on this planet comes into the world with a star chart, dominated by a sun sign, reflecting the motion of the spheres above at its moment of birth. Facebook, for instance, is an Aquarius, while Google, Snap and Netflix are all Virgos....

    Any entity created on this planet comes into the world with a star chart, dominated by a sun sign, reflecting the motion of the spheres above at its moment of birth.

    Facebook, for instance, is an Aquarius, while Google, Snap and Netflix are all Virgos. Microsoft and Twitter — both Aries. Amazon? Classic Cancer.

    Sanctuary, a digital astrology startup backed by $1.5 million in venture capital, made the considered decision to release its app Wednesday — the dawn of the new astrological year, when Pisces gives way to Aries in the astral cycle.

    And with private equity veterans, celebrity astrologers and one of Snapchat’s earliest employees on board, its investors foresee fortunes.

    There’s always been money to be made in cosmic guidance. The ancient king Croesus, who’s credited with inventing minted money itself, gave a 500-pound lump of gold to the oracle at Delphi as tribute for good forecasts. Tycho Brahe, the Renaissance scientist whose observations of the stars laid the groundwork for Galileo’s breakthroughs, made his living as a royal astrologer.

    More recently, the phone psychic network behind Miss Cleo raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in the ’90s, and was fined by the Federal Trade Commission for unfair business practices.

    In 2018, Americans spent $2.2 billion on “mystical services,” according to research firm IBISWorld. And the internet, especially social media, is awash in astrology.

    “Astrology has been around for a very long time, and it really adapts to the vernacular that people are speaking,” said Aliza Kelly, Sanctuary’s astrologer-in-residence and a horoscope writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.

    The business models adapt, too. Kelly sells 60-minute phone readings for $149 a pop and is booked solid through early May.

    The IBISWorld...

    How the internet travels across oceans


    The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor. The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this...

    The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor. The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this word.

    Nearly 750,000 miles of cable connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.

    But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.

    “People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not,” said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects. “It’s in the ocean.”

    Getting it there is an exacting and time-intensive process. A 456-foot ship named Durable will eventually deliver the cable to sea. But first, the cable is assembled inside a sprawling factory a few hundred yards away, in Newington, N.H. The factory, owned by SubCom, is filled with specialized machinery used to maintain tension in the wire and encase it in protective skin.

    The cables begin as a cluster of strands of tiny threads of glass fibers. Lasers propel data down the threads at nearly the speed of light, using fiber-optic technology. After reaching land and connecting with an existing network, the data needed to read an email or open a web page makes its way onto a person’s device.

    While most of us now largely experience the internet through Wi-Fi and phone data plans, those systems eventually link up with physical cables that swiftly carry the information across continents or across oceans.

    In the manufacturing...

    Ship traffic, March 21


    Ship traffic Due to arrive today SHIP FROM PORT Mol Experience Los Angeles OAK Due to depart today .. . .. . ....

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    What we know about Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos founder, as she awaits trial


    Years after the scandal broke in Silicon Valley, the story has gained new life as founder Elizabeth Holmes awaits trial on fraud charges. When Theranos launched in 2003, 19-year-old Holmes began a meteoric rise to the heights of tech fame. The concept of...

    Years after the scandal broke in Silicon Valley, the story has gained new life as founder Elizabeth Holmes awaits trial on fraud charges. When Theranos launched in 2003, 19-year-old Holmes began a meteoric rise to the heights of tech fame. The concept of Theranos was nothing short of world-changing: According to Holmes, her company's technology needed just a pinprick of blood to run a gamut of tests, ending the medical industry's expensive and slow lab tests.

    The world's first VR gym is opening in San Francisco. We tried it.


    Like electric scooters and vapes, virtual reality is a technological innovation that is incredibly easy to make fun of. I associate VR — an interactive experience that transports the user to an artificial world — with gamers, the porn industry and...

    Like electric scooters and vapes, virtual reality is a technological innovation that is incredibly easy to make fun of.

    I associate VR — an interactive experience that transports the user to an artificial world — with gamers, the porn industry and people who ride Boost Boards in the bike lane. This is why, when I noticed Black Box VR pop up on Market Street, across from the headquarters of Twitter and Uber, it felt like the punchline to a joke only a San Franciscan could make.

    Black Box is the world's first VR gym. Founded in 2016 by Ryan DeLuca and Preston Lewis, the company plans to transform — ok, "disrupt" — the boutique fitness industry by fusing two things Americans love: trendy fitness and video games. I don't like either of these things, so I decided to try it.

    Facebook to overhaul ad systems to prevent discrimination


    Facebook will overhaul its advertising systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and employment ads as part of a legal settlement. For the social network, that’s one major legal problem down, several to go, including government...

    Facebook will overhaul its advertising systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and employment ads as part of a legal settlement.

    For the social network, that’s one major legal problem down, several to go, including government investigations in the U.S. and Europe over its data and privacy practices.

    The changes to Facebook’s advertising methods — which generate most of the company’s enormous profits — are unprecedented. The social network says it will no longer allow housing, employment or credit ads that are directed at people based on categories that include age, gender or ZIP code. Facebook will also limit other options so these ads don’t exclude people on the basis of race, ethnicity and other legally protected categories in the United States, including national origin and sexual orientation.

    The social media company is also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs’ legal fees and other costs.

    Facebook and the plaintiffs — a group including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance and others — called the settlement historic. It took 18 months to hammer out. The company still faces an administrative complaint filed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in August over the housing ads issue.

    What’s not yet clear is how well the safeguards will work. Facebook has been working to address a slew of social consequences related to its network, with varying degrees of success. Last week, it scrambled to remove graphic video filmed by a gunman in the New Zealand mosque shootings, but the footage remained available for hours on its site and elsewhere on social media.

    This month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new “privacy-focused vision” for the company to focus on messaging instead of more public sharing — but he stayed mum on...