Year: 2019

A grassroots campaign against Amazon is reportedly funded by some of its biggest competitors

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  • A nonprofit group called the Free and Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI) has been attacking Amazon for monopolistic practices since its inception 18 months ago.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports FFMI is secretly funded by three of Amazon’s rivals: Walmart, Simon Property Group, and Oracle.
  • Walmart denied funding FFMI to the Journal, while Simon declined to comment, and there was no comment from Oracle.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A group presenting itself as grassroots independent watchdog which has been hounding Amazon has been funded by three of its biggest rivals, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Free and Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI) is a nonprofit group which, according to the Journal, sprung up roughly 18 months ago. The group frequently put out emails to journalists criticising Amazon’s dominant market position, some of which Business Insider received. Its Twitter page and website are equally critical of the tech giant.

However, the organisation is opaque about its structure and financial backing, describing itself only as a “nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon’s harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans,” and citing a single chief spokesperson, Robert B. Engel. 

Read more: Amazon denies a report that it altered its search algorithms to favor its own products

Citing anonymous sources “involved with and briefed on the project,” The Journal reports that FFMI is in financially backed by retail giant Walmart, Simon Property Group (a real estate company with large investments in shopping malls), and enterprise tech company Oracle.

Walmart competes with Amazon in the commerce space, Simon has found its malls increasingly endangered by online shopping, and Oracle is currently bidding against Amazon for a $10 billion Pentagon contract

FFMI’s parent company, communications firm Marathon Strategies, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. In a statement, FFMI told the Journal: “The bottom line is that FFMI is focusing on the substantive issues and putting a spotlight on the way companies like Amazon undermine the public good—something that media outlets, activists, and politicians in both parties are also doing with increasing frequency. If Amazon can not take the heat then it should stay out of the kitchen.”

Phil Singer, the managing director of Marathon Strategies, told the Journal: “FFMI is not obligated to disclose its donors and it does not.”

The Journal’s reporting also raised questions about FFMI’s claims of support from other organisations.

Numerous entities listed as members of FFMI told the newspaper they weren’t aware their names were on the FFMI site. FFMI subsequently removed them, but gave the explanation: “The names of the groups listed on the site were removed at their request after we heard complaints about some receiving harassing phone calls [from journalists].” In one instance a union official contacted by the Journal said that the group had somehow obtained her signature without her giving it.

Walmart denied funding FFMI in a statement to Business Insider. Simon did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but declined to comment to the Journal. Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.

An Amazon spokesman told Business Insider the Journal’s report “speaks for itself.”

Read the Journal’s full report here »

SEE ALSO: Oracle customers and partners say that Larry Ellison may never achieve his dream of toppling Amazon, but the future of its cloud looks bright anyway

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The SEC just announced a settlement in a compensation-fraud case against former Nissan-Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn

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  • The SEC announced a settlement in an investigation into a $140 million compensation-fraud scheme involving former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, Nissan director Greg Kelly, and the company itself.
  • All parties under investigation paid fines and agreed to SEC conditions without admitting or denying the allegations.
  • Ghosn was ousted as chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance last year amid allegations of financial malfeasance; he continues to await trial in Japan.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The former chairman of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance continues to await trial on allegations of financial malfeasance in Japan, but the wheels of justice have moved forward more swiftly in the US.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Monday that had settled with Nissan, Ghosn, and a former Nissan board member, Greg Kelly. Both Ghosn and Kelly were arrested in Japan last year. Ghosn has yet to be tried, and Kelly was released.

In a statement, the SEC said it has filed “settled fraud charges against Nissan, its former CEO Carlos Ghosn, and its former director Greg Kelly related to false financial disclosures that omitted more than $140 million to be paid to Ghosn in retirement.”

The investigation has been ongoing since early 2019.

Read more: Even if deposed Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn did everything he’s accused of, he shouldn’t still be in a Japanese jail

The $140 million was made up of two chunks: one 0f $90 million was concealed compensation for Ghosn, while another of $50 was retirement funding for chairman who, as CEO, has engineered the Renault-Nissan alliance.

“Each year, Ghosn fixed a total amount of compensation for himself, with a certain amount paid and disclosed and an additional amount that was unpaid and undisclosed,” the SEC explained in a statement.

“Ghosn and his subordinates, including Kelly, crafted various ways to structure payment of the undisclosed compensation after Ghosn’s retirement, such as entering into secret contracts, backdating letters to grant Ghosn interests in Nissan’s Long Term Incentive Plan, and changing the calculation of Ghosn’s pension allowance to provide more than $50 million in additional benefits.”

Despite the scheme to conceal the payments, Ghosn never saw any of the money.

Fines paid and bans agreed to, but nobody admitted or denied the SEC allegations

Ghosn bail

“Simply put, Nissan’s disclosures about Ghosn’s compensation were false,” Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement.  “Through these disclosures, Nissan advanced Ghosn and Kelly’s deceptions and misled investors, including US investors.”

Nissan shares aren’t traded on US markets, but as Reuters noted earlier this year, the carmaker “has American Depository Receipts traded on the US over-the-counter market, giving the United States authority to investigate it for potential wrongdoing.”

In response to the fraud charges, all parties under investigation parted with civil penalties: Nissan paid $15 million penalty, Ghosn paid $1 million, and Kelly paid $100,000.

According to the SEC, Ghosn agreed “to a 10-year officer and director bar,” while “Kelly agreed to “a five-year officer and director bar and a five-year suspension from practicing or appearing before the Commission as an attorney.”

The agency added that “Nissan, Ghosn, and Kelly settled without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations and findings.”

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The ‘Warren Buffett of China’ could lose $1.5 billion in Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy

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When Thomas Cook, the storied British travel agency that filed for bankruptcy on Monday, needed financial help in recent years, it turned to the Chinese investment firm Fosun International.

Since 2015, the Shanghai-based conglomerate and its chairman, Guo Guangchang, have built up a controlling stake in Thomas Cook, The Guardian reported. The stake was worth as much as $1.5 billion in recent weeks, according to regulatory filings compiled by Bloomberg, before the company became officially insolvent on Monday.

By August, Fosun and Thomas Cook had managed to agree on a deal that would give Fosun 75% control of Thomas Cook’s tour business and 25% of its airline, Reuters reported at the time. However, that deal fell through in September, The Guardian reported, as new debts piled up near the end of the summer holiday season.

Thomas Cook is far from Fosun’s only stake in Western companies as 52-year-old Guangchang seeks to emulate American “oracle” Warren Buffett. It also owns major stakes in France’s competing tour agency Club Med, Cirque du Soleil, an English football club the Wolverhampton Wanderers, insurance and real-estate companies, and more.

“Our goal is very clear. We need to create a Buffett-style investment company, rooted in China but with global capabilities,” he told the BBC in a 2014 interview.

Still, he has plenty of room to run. Forbes estimates Guangchang’s wealth at $6.3 billion, making him the 41st-richest person in China. For comparison, Buffett is worth an estimated 10 times more, roughly $82.5 billion.

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5 surprising reasons the Echo Show smart display will seriously upgrade your Alexa experience

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  • Over the summer, Amazon released the all-new Echo Show 5 smart display. Priced at $90 (and often on sale for less), it’s the first smart display released by Amazon or Google priced at under $100. 
  • Here are 5 surprising ways the Alexa experience is so much richer when Alexa can show you things on a screen. 

Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant and comes built into Echo smart speakers and smart displays. There are so many great everyday Alexa uses, especially with an Echo Show smart display.

Whether your Echo Show sits in the kitchen, ready with recipe instructions, or on the nightstand acting as an alarm clock with your customized video Alexa flash briefing, the addition of the Echo Show’s visual output makes the Alexa experience more powerful. 

#1. Echo Show displays karaoke-style song lyrics — so you can listen and sing along!

When you listen to songs via Amazon Music, the Alexa Echo Show will display the lyrics in true karaoke sing-a-long fashion. It will even highlight in blue the lyric it’s currently playing so you’ll know exactly what to sing when! This is definitely one of the best Alexa music hacks.

How? “Alexa, play Blank Space by Taylor Swift on Amazon Music!” 

Pro Tip: Remember, you’ll only see lyrics displayed if you’re listening to a song via Amazon Music. If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get access to 2 million songs for free. If you don’t have Prime, you can still listen to Amazon Music playlists and stations for free, but you’ll have to listen to a few ads as well.

Katherine Prescott is the founder of VoiceBrew, the first-ever digital media company focused on helping people get the most out of Alexa. 

#2. With Echo Show, voice shopping is the easiest way to buy stuff on Amazon

Shopping with Alexa is 10 times better when you have a display and can see products before they end up at your doorstep. 

You can search, research and compare products on the Alexa Echo Show screen much like you do on a tablet or your phone. This multi-sensory capability adds a comfort level to Alexa shopping that’s just not there with an Echo smart speaker.

How? 

Simply say “Alexa, buy pencils on Amazon” (insert whatever you’re shopping for).

Alexa will show relevant items on the Echo Show’s screen, and you can scroll and tap to see more items or learn more. If you’ve purchased the item before, the previously ordered item will be the top result. 

Alexa will show relevant items on the Echo Show’s screen, and you can scroll and tap to see more items or learn more. If you’ve purchased the item before, the previously ordered item will be the top result. 

Pro Tip: An Alexa shopping list is the easiest way to keep track of everything you need.

#3. Create your own custom news program with video flash briefings

Ever wish you could tune into a news program that only gave you the stories you’re looking for? With an Alexa Echo Show, you can! All you have to do is queue up your favorite video Alexa flash briefings.

An Alexa flash briefing is a bite-sized news update, and they’re available from almost every outlet — and on almost every topic — you can think of. Many of the big news outlet flash briefings also include video.

It’s easy to add as many flash briefings as you’d like from your favorite outlets to your personalized flash briefing list. With flash briefings, you can queue up the news from your favorite outlets just like you’d queue up your favorite songs on a playlist.

How? Take a few minutes to add your favorite flash briefings to your personalized flash briefing list. Then just say “Alexa, play my flash briefing” to hear and see the news played on your Echo Show.

Pro Tip #1: Looking for inspiration on where to start with flash briefings?  Check out a few of our favorite video flash briefings here.

Pro Tip #2: Add your Alexa flash briefing to a morning Alexa routine so when you say “Alexa, good morning” Alexa provides your customized video flash briefing news update along with weather and traffic updates.

#4. The Echo Show has dinner covered, soup-to-nuts!

From helping you find the best recipes and walking you through each step to playing helpful videos on how to chop that onion, the Alexa Echo Show is like having the world’s biggest cookbook library, a personal assistant and an entertainment center alongside you while you make dinner. Being able to interact with Alexa hands-free is especially helpful when you’re cooking.

How?

To find a recipe… “Alexa, find me a recipe for grilled vegetables” then scroll through them on the screen and tap when you find a winner. Or say “Alexa, next” to hear another option and “Alexa, more information.”

When you’re ready to get cooking… “Alexa, start recipe” and “Alexa, next step” when you’re ready. Alexa will walk you through each step and display helpful text and images (some recipes even have video).

To save a recipe… “Alexa, send recipe to my phone.” You’ll receive a push notification and can find it in the Activity section of the Alexa app.

Pro Tip: Want to know the best way to chop an onion? For super quick (and spunky) video guides on the best way to chop just about any fruit or vegetable, just say “Alexa, open Chop Chop.”

#5. You’ll love making video chat drop in calls

Alexa drop in works like a two-way intercom between you and an Echo speaker or smart display. With video drop in, you can “call” an Echo Show, and start a video chat all without anyone having to answer the call. You can video drop in on an Echo device from your phone’s Alexa app or from another Echo Show.

From reaching someone at home when they’re not picking up their phone to surprising a loved one with an unexpected hello, there are so many great reasons to use Alexa drop in.

How? Follow a few simple set-up instructions then just say “Alexa, drop in on Mom” (insert name of contact or name of device like “Kitchen Echo Show”).

Pro Tip: Alexa drop in works only between contacts who have given each other drop in permission. Be thoughtful about giving out drop in privileges because anyone who has them can essentially show up, listen and, with an Echo Show, see what’s happening in your home. Only my husband and I have drop in privileges for our Echo devices.

BrandPost: An Inquisitive Citizen Data Analyst

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Every day, people around the world generate a collective 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. To put that in perspective, one “quintillion” is a 1 followed by 18 zeros — it’s a number frequently used to quantify the mass of the Earth in tons.

One aspect of my job is to make sense of sometimes staggering volumes of information. Which data sets are crucial? Which ones can we simply ignore? Where is the actionable signal amidst all of the noise?

I’m far from the only business person asking these sorts of questions. In today’s digital economy, every business must make use of data to outsmart its competitors and please its customers. In short, successful brands need all of their people to think like data analysts. So how do you do that?

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