Maker of Snapchat Announces Augmented Reality Glasses

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Credit…Snap

Snap said on Thursday that it had built a new version of Spectacles, its glasses that interact with the Snapchat app, to allow users to view artificial reality overlaid on the real world.

It is the first time the glasses include augmented reality features. The earlier versions of Spectacles could record videos and photos and import them to the Snapchat app. A year after the initial version was introduced in 2016, Snap wrote off $40 million worth of Spectacles in a quarter because it “misjudged strong early demand.”

The new glasses piggyback on work the company has already done to rapidly build augmented reality into its main messaging app. The Snapchat app allows people to add filters to photos and videos to transform their faces and surroundings. Recently, retailers have taken notice and begun allowing Snapchat users to try on shoes and makeup in augmented reality.

The new Spectacles, which Snap said it had given to content creators but would not yet sell, are part of a set of developments in augmented reality that Snap unveiled during its annual Partner Summit, an event for developers and advertisers.

The company also said it would expand the ability to try on clothes in Snapchat, add augmented reality filters for use during virtual dates in partnership with the dating app Bumble, and offer $3.5 million to fund augmented reality projects by creators.

“Together with the A.R. creator community, our journey building Spectacles over the years has been one of exploration and learning. We’ve made a lot of progress, but our work here is far from over,” Snap’s chief executive, Evan Spiegel, said during the event. “And in many ways, it’s just beginning.”

A Uniqlo store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The Port of Los Angeles had initially blocked a shipment of cotton garments from Uniqlo in January.
Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

United States customs officials blocked a shipment of men’s cotton shirts from the fast-fashion giant Uniqlo earlier this year because of concerns that the clothes had been produced in part by forced labor in the Xinjiang area of China.

The issue attracted new attention this week when a ruling on Tuesday was posted on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. Reuters reported on the ruling earlier.

The Port of Los Angeles had initially blocked a shipment of cotton garments from Uniqlo in January, citing an order that prohibits the import of cotton and cotton items produced by the Xinjiang area of China. The ban was put in place because of the widespread use of forced labor in the region.

Six of the seven shirt styles that were blocked were not made from cotton and therefore admissible, but U.S. customs officials took issue with the seventh style. “Uniqlo has not provided substantial evidence to establish that the entities within the XPCC that processed that cotton into the subject goods did so without the use of forced labor,” the customs agency said in its statement, referring to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

Customs officials said that documentation provided by Uniqlo after the garments were blocked contained “numerous deficiencies,” like illegible purchase contracts, an outdated code of conduct letter and “unsigned, undated, and generally illegible China customs declarations.”

Representatives for Uniqlo, which is owned by Japan’s Fast Retailing Company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling comes as major apparel companies grapple with accusations that they are profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in Xinjiang.

The Treasury Department’s report lays out the administration’s new “tax compliance agenda.”
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The Biden administration on Thursday provided more details on its plans to raise $700 billion in revenue through beefed-up Internal Revenue Service enforcement, saying additional funds would enable the agency to more easily crack down on tax cheats.

The Treasury Department released a 22-page report laying out the administration’s new “tax compliance agenda,” which is a centerpiece of its plans to pay for a $1.8 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal. The Biden administration wants to give the I.R.S. $80 billion over the next decade so that it can overhaul its outdated technology and ramp up audits of wealthy taxpayers and corporations to ensure they are not avoiding — or evading — U.S. taxes.

Previous administrations have long talked about trying to crack down on tax evasion. The head of the I.R.S., Charles Rettig, told a Senate committee earlier this year that the agency lacked the resources to catch tax cheats, including those who hide income from cryptocurrencies, and that the government was losing out on as much as $1 trillion a year.

The Treasury Department estimated on Thursday that in 2019 the so-called tax gap was $584 billion and is on pace to total $7 trillion over the next 10 years.

The Biden administration’s estimates of the return on investment that it could generate from boosting the I.R.S. budget far surpassed projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And John Koskinen, a former I.R.S. commissioner under President Barack Obama and President Donald J. Trump, has suggested that it would be hard for the agency to efficiently spend that much money.

The Treasury Department said it believes its revenue projections are conservative. Much of the revenue from more rigid enforcement would become evident in the later part of the decade, the report said, but Treasury officials believe that with more enforcement staff and better technology the I.R.S. can chip away at the tax gap.

“This revenue is backloaded in the 10-year budget window as several of these new investments — such as hiring revenue agents capable of complex global high net-worth examinations and building the technological infrastructure to support a new information reporting regime — take years to reach their full potential,” the report said.

In the second decade, Treasury thinks the I.R.S. could bring in an additional $1.6 trillion.

The Biden administration’s proposal would include the hiring of 5,000 new I.R.S. enforcement agents, including those with the kind of sophisticated training needed to understand complex tax evasion schemes.

The Treasury report said that much of the revenue it estimates would come through its “information reporting” rules for financial institutions. This would give the I.R.S. more visibility into corporate accounts to determine how much money they are actually taking in and what should be taxed. The department said it expects that such reporting would be helpful for audits and would serve as a deterrent against corporate tax evasion.

The new information reporting rules would also include an effort by the Biden administration to bring cryptocurrencies into the tax regime and to crack down on those using cryptocurrencies to avoid paying taxes. The report said that cryptocurrency exchange accounts and payment accounts that accept them would fall under the reporting rules. Businesses that receive crypto assets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be subject to information reporting.

The Biden administration has faced questions from Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, to justify its claims that giving the I.R.S. so much money will yield such robust returns. Conservative political groups have criticized the Biden administration’s plan hire an army of I.R.S. agents, saying it’s a way to hike taxes.

The Treasury report attempted to rebut such claims, noting that increased audits would be focused on the rich.

“It is important to note that the president’s compliance proposals are designed to ameliorate existing inequities by focusing on high-end evasion,” the report said. “Audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for those with less than $400,000 in actual income.”

President Xi Jinping of China, upper left, and European leaders discussing the investment deal in December. Since then, opposition to the deal in the European Parliament has hardened.
Credit…Johanna Geron/Reuters

The European Parliament halted progress Thursday on a landmark commercial agreement with China, citing the “totalitarian threat” from Beijing because of its record on human rights and its sanctions against Europeans who have been critical of the Chinese government.

By an overwhelming majority, members of Parliament passed a resolution refusing to ratify the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment until China lifts sanctions on prominent European critics of Beijing. The members of Parliament also warned that they could refuse to endorse the agreement because of China’s treatment of Muslim minorities and its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

“The human rights situation in China is at its worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the resolution said, accusing China of detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, a charge the Chinese government has denied.

The sanctions against members of the European Parliament who have been critical of Beijing, as well as several scholars and research organizations, “constitute an attack against the European Union and its Parliament as a whole, the heart of European democracy and values, as well as an attack against freedom of research,” the resolution said.

The vote was the latest setback to relations between the European Union and China only a few months after they signed a pact intended to make it easier for their companies to do business on each other’s territory. The agreement requires approval by Parliament.

The investment agreement was a high priority for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany because of China’s importance to German automakers and other firms. Among other things, the agreement would allow European companies to own majority stakes in their Chinese subsidiaries, rather than forcing them to operate through joint ventures with Chinese partners and share trade secrets.

But relations have gone downhill since March when the European Commission issued sanctions against four Communist Party officials after accusing them of being responsible for human rights violations.

China retaliated with sanctions against members of the European Parliament, including Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the Greens faction from Germany and prominent critic of Beijing. They are not allowed to travel to China or do business with people in China.

The investment agreement was already in trouble. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, said earlier in May that work to finalize the pact was delayed because of repressive Chinese policies. The European Commission, the European Union’s administrative arm, also took steps this month to clamp down on Chinese companies that receive subsidies from the government, giving them an unfair competitive edge.

The resolution passed Thursday by a vote of 599 in favor and 30 against, with 58 abstentions. The no votes came from a handful of far-right or far-left members of Parliament.

Oatly shares opened at $22.12 on the Nasdaq.
Credit…Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

Shares of Oatly soared 30 percent on Thursday as investors jumped at the chance to take part in rapid changes in the food industry driven by consumer tastes shifting to plant-based products.

The company, which makes an alternative to dairy milk based on oats, priced its initial public offering Wednesday night on the high end of its range, giving the company a value of about $10 billion. Shares were priced at $17 and began trading at $22.12 on the Nasdaq under the ticker “OTLY.”

The offering comes as money is flooding into the food tech space, with investors eager to catch a ride on the next Beyond Meat — the vegan food company valued at about $6.6 billion by public investors. And investors have put a heightened focus on companies like Oatly that say they meet environmental, social and governance standards.

“Long term, it’s an opportunity for us to create a fantastic shareholder base,” Oatly’s chief executive, Toni Petersson, said of the offering. “So E.S.G. was definitely a huge, huge part of it — so we’re excited, we’re really excited, about the outcome here.”

Oatly, based in Malmo, Sweden, was founded in 1994 by Rickard Oste, a professor of food chemistry and nutrition in Sweden, and his brother Bjorn Oste. They developed a way of processing a slurry of oats and water with enzymes to produce natural sweetness and a milk-like taste and consistency. Fans of oatmilk say it tastes better than dairy-free predecessors like soy milk and is better for the environment than almond milk.

The company has drawn the attention of big money and flashy names. The majority shareholder is a partnership between an entity owned by the Chinese government and Verlinvest, a Belgian firm that invests some of the wealth of the families that control the Anheuser-Busch InBev beer empire. Blackstone is an investor, as are Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Howard Schultz.

Oatly’s sales soared last year to $420 million from $204 million in 2019, though the company reported a loss of $60 million as it invested in new factories, marketing and new products. It’s goal going forward remains growth, not profitability, Mr. Petersson said.

“This is about gaining market share,” he said. “This is about leading a movement forward.”

In 2019, Campbell, which sells oat milk through its Pacific Foods brand, complained about Oatly’s marketing around its use of sugar. But Oatly has no plans to address its sugar content.

“We’re just replicating what nature does before it enters your stomach,” Mr. Petersson said in describing the process of making oatmilk.

Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco. The company’s process for verifying accounts has been opaque.
Credit…Laura Morton for The New York Times

Twitter said Thursday that it would begin allowing users to apply for verification, giving new hope to those who have spent years coveting the blue check mark that denotes some level of social media clout.

Representatives from governments, companies and news organizations are already eligible to be verified, along with athletes, entertainers and activists. Twitter will slowly offer the application form to other users over the coming weeks so it is not deluged with requests. To be eligible, users in those categories must confirm their email addresses or phone numbers and should not have recently violated Twitter rules, a spokeswoman said.

Twitter users have clamored to be verified since the company granted its first verification in 2009 to an account belonging to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The blue check mark, which is displayed on a user’s profile, is viewed as an indicator of legitimacy and influence.

But Twitter’s process for verifying accounts has been opaque. Without a clear path to verification, users have resorted to begging Twitter employees and other prominent tech figures to help them get verified.

“I usually get a verification request every couple of days,” said Jane Manchun Wong, a software engineer who researches Twitter and other social media apps. (Ms. Wong does not work for Twitter and cannot verify accounts.) “I usually try to ignore them, but sometimes they begin to start spamming,” she said.

In 2017, Twitter faced criticism after verifying the account of Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who has used Twitter to organize rallies like Unite the Right’s in Charlottesville, Va., where torch-wielding protesters marched through the streets chanting racist rallying cries. Twitter said it would stop verifying accounts until it could develop a coherent process for doing so. That didn’t happen. Instead, the company continued quietly verifying accounts, although it did not allow users to proactively apply for verification.

The confusion over verification became a running joke at Twitter. In 2020, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, joked in an interview with Wired that users could be verified if they sent direct messages to the company’s head of product, Kayvon Beykpour.

Mr. Beykpour was not, in fact, responsible for verifying users.

Last year, Twitter finally took steps to fix the process. It published a draft verification policy and invited users to comment, before eventually opening up the application process on Thursday. Twitter said other account labels would be introduced soon, like an option for users to add their pronouns to their profiles, and that it hoped to begin verifying scientists and religious leaders later this year.

“I’m hoping it will finally get people to stop DMing me, asking me to verify them,” B Byrne, Twitter’s product lead for profiles and identity, said of the new verification process.

Josh Harris may keep busy with basketball after leaving Apollo.
Credit…Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Joshua Harris, one of Apollo Global Management’s top executives, said on Thursday that he planned to give up day-to-day duties at the private equity giant, after clashing with his fellow founders over the departure of Leon Black as the firm’s chief executive.

The departure of Mr. Harris, 56, comes months after he argued that Mr. Black should step down immediately following Apollo’s investigation into his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and registered sex offender. Mr. Harris was overruled by the other two members of Apollo’s executive committee, the firm’s other founders, Mr. Black and Marc Rowan.

Mr. Harris served as one of Apollo’s most visible and hands-on managers, but instead of succeeding Mr. Black as chief executive, he lost out to Mr. Rowan, who had announced last year that he was taking a “semi-sabbatical” from the firm.

In March, however, Mr. Black — who had agreed to step down as chief executive in July, while remaining chairman — unexpectedly gave up all his duties. Mr. Black, at the time, cited health reasons and continuing media coverage of his dealings with Mr. Epstein.

But by then, Mr. Harris was seen as having less of a leadership role at the firm. It was Mr. Rowan who engineered Apollo’s takeover of Athene, a big insurance and lending affiliate that is expected to bolster the firm’s investing power.

Mr. Harris was not on Apollo’s quarterly earnings call with analysts earlier this month, an absence noted by a participant on the call, which fueled speculation that his role at Apollo had diminished since Mr. Rowan’s ascension.

Mr. Harris had wanted Mr. Black to make a complete break with Apollo after a law firm hired by Apollo’s board had found Mr. Black paid $158 million in fees to Mr. Epstein and lent him another $30 million in recent years. Mr. Harris was concerned that institutional investors in Apollo funds might be troubled by the law firm’s findings, even though the report concluded Mr. Black had paid Mr. Epstein for legitimate tax planning advice and had done nothing improper.

Apollo’s stock, which had lagged its competitors while the law firm investigated the matter, has risen about 20 percent since Mr. Black said he was resigning as chairman.

The board of Apollo hired the outside law firm to conduct review following a report in October in The New York Times of Mr. Black’s business and social dealings with Mr. Epstein, who died in federal custody in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Mr. Harris will officially step down after Apollo completes the Athene deal, which is expected to be completed early next year. He will remain a member of the firm’s board and its executive committee. Mr. Harris, like Mr. Black, is one of Apollo’s largest shareholders.

He is expected to focus on an array of other business interests, including his co-ownership of several professional sports franchises — including the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team — and his family office. He is also expected to focus more on philanthropy.

“I have become increasingly involved in these areas and knew that one day they would become my primary pursuit,” Mr. Harris wrote in an internal memorandum reviewed by The Times.

Mr. Harris, whose net worth is estimated at just of $5 billion, recently bought a $32 million mansion in Miami.

Stocks on Wall Street jumped on Thursday, rebounding from three consecutive days of selling.

The S&P 500 rose 1 percent. The index had dropped 1.4 percent through the close on Wednesday, after falling by the same amount the week before. Technology shares led the recovery on Thursday, with the Nasdaq composite climbing 1.5 percent.

Concerns about rapid economic growth fueling inflation, as well as rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the world, have undermined recent optimism about the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

On Wednesday, minutes of the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting showed several officials thought that “at some point in upcoming meetings” they could begin to discuss tapering the bank’s bond-buying program. Investors have speculated the central bank would have to do so as price increases accelerated.

On Thursday, the U.S. government said new claims for state jobless benefits fell again last week, continuing a fairly steady decline since the start of the year. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as business return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

European stock indexes were also higher on Thursday. The Stoxx Europe 600 and FTSE 100 in Britain both rose more than 1 percent.

  • Bitcoin was volatile again on Thursday, after a turbulent day on Wednesday. The cryptocurrency was just above $39,000 in afternoon trading, after having climbed above $41,000 earlier. On Wednesday, the price plunged to below $32,000 before rebounding.

  • The retreat from high levels on Thursday came after the Treasury Department said it would bring cryptocurrencies into the tax regime and crack down on those using cryptocurrencies to avoid paying taxes. Businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be subject to information reporting.

Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell again last week, continuing a fairly steady decline since the start of the year, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The weekly figure was slightly under 455,000, a decline of 37,000 from the previous week and the lowest weekly total since before the pandemic. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 95,000. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.

New state claims remain high by historical levels but are less than half the level recorded as recently as early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as business return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

More than 20 Republican-led states have said they will abandon federally funded emergency benefit programs in June or early July, saying the income is deterring recipients from seeking work as some employers complain of trouble filling jobs. Those programs include not only Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but also extended benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Credit…Daniel Zender

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide talks to Sheera Frenkel about how the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians encapsulates the best and worst of digital life.

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