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Partisan Rift Threatens Federal Data-Privacy Law

WASHINGTON—Congress set the stage last year to pass a sweeping consumer data-privacy law in 2019, but prospects for legislation are dimming amid sharpening divides among lawmakers over how far the federal government should go in reining in Big Tech.

Silicon Valley and its Republican allies are pushing for a national standard that would override state regulations—including California’s landmark 2018 law, which broadens the definition of personal information and gives consumers the right to prevent their data from being sold.

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Alphabet and Salesforce back $75 million funding for UK online payments start-up GoCardless

British online payments start-up GoCardless has landed a $75 million investment backed by U.S. tech giants Alphabet — the parent company of Google — and Salesforce.

Box and Sage. It says it now processes payments for more than 40,000 merchants, handling more than $10 billion worth of transactions every year.

GoCardless was set up in 2011 by Takeuchi and fellow entrepreneurs Tom Blomfield and Matt Robinson. Blomfield went on to create mobile bank Monzo, while Robinson left to start up digital estate agent Nested.

The fresh capital will be used to help the company expand its payments product to the United States, Takeuchi said, with a view to cover about “70 percent of recurring payment volume globally” by the spring. It currently only has offices in Europe and Australia.

“We’ll be opening up an office in Spain later this year, and we’re opening up an office in the U.S. and increasingly going after companies with more of a global footprint,” GoCardless’ boss said.

The company counts the likes of multi-billion dollar payment firms Stripe, Adyen and Square — all of which have a strong presence in the U.S. — as rivals. Although, Takeuchi noted, they differ in that they are more focused on taking card payments instead of bank-to-bank transactions.

“GV invested in GoCardless because it is the only global payments company focused on recurring payments,” Tom Hulme, general partner at GV, told CNBC.

“The advantage of a pull mechanism through bank debit to receive these payments is that it is lower cost and far less prone to failed transactions versus using cards.”

Takeuchi voiced his frustrations with Brexit, labeling the current situation a “joke.”

“It’s crazy that we still don’t know what’s going to happen and apparently the deadline’s in just over a month’s time,” he said.

“I’m sitting in meetings where great people are doing huge amounts of work and effort preparing for every eventual possibility just on the off chance that it goes one way or the other.”

GoCardless has put a contingency plan in place, he said, to ensure there’s no discontinuity in its service and that no disruptions occur for its customers.

Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29. Whether it leaves smoothly with a divorce deal has been complicated by a lack of support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the U.K. Parliament.

U.K. and EU negotiators are set to meet for further talks next week, but the lack of certainty surrounding Britain’s exit from the bloc has proven difficult for businesses.

Though he was critical of the uncertainty surrounding the withdrawal from the EU, Takeuchi said that there was an “opportunity” to build bridges between the U.K. and Europe by making cross-border payments simpler.

“The more different the U.K. is from Europe, the harder the challenge is so the more value we can provide,” he said.

“I hope it doesn’t go in that direction, I think it will be really bad for our country if it does.”

He added: “We’re well prepared, begrudgingly.”

Despite the cloud of Brexit overhanging, investors have been ploughing cash into the country’s fintech sector. In recent weeks, a number of British companies — including online lenders Starling Bank and OakNorth — have announced substantial funding rounds.

According to a report from industry group Innovate Finance, the U.K.’s fintech industry attracted a record $3.3 billion in venture capital and private equity deals last year, up 18 percent from 2017.

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Here’s why Apple is cutting iPhone prices in China

According to an IDC report in January, global smartphone shipments fell nearly 5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

That could in part be due to customers around the world holding onto their phones for longer periods.

But Apple’s slump in sales in emerging markets like China and India also come down to its expensive price range.

Compared to smartphones from China, iPhones are not cheap. For instance, the iPhone XS Max, costs nearly $1,400 — about twice the price of Huawei’s Mate 20 and nearly three times the cost of Xiaomi Mi Mix 3.

iPhone prices are “just too expensive,” Kiranjeet Kaur of IDC told CNBC last week. “At what iPhones used to sell at earlier, there’s like lots of competition coming in … especially from Huawei.”

Chinese players have also been coming up with new features that have created a distinction for the Chinese brands, said Kaur. “Consumers no longer feel that the Chinese players are just following what some of the global players, or what Apple is doing — but rather they are stepping up the game and creating their own new trends in the market.”

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These are the best cities in Asia for millennials to live and work

Asia is the world’s millennial hub, home to a staggering 58 percent of the world’s 20- to 38-year-old population.

best set up for millennial living. Using data from The Economist, the World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization and others, the study measured each of the cities according to three key metrics: Employment prospects; cost of living; and quality of life. It then averaged out each of the city’s overall scores to establish its final ranking.

Here are the cities ranked best for millennials:

With a longstanding reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Melbourne emerged as one of ValueChampion’s top five cities for millennials.

Australia’s second largest city benefits from a vibrant arts scene, iconic sports stadiums and good proximity to the coast, granting it second place overall for for quality of life. Meanwhile, its relative affordability — residents spend an estimated 20 percent of their income on rent — gave it a strong third place for cost of living.

Work prospects pulled the city down, however. With an above average unemployment rate of 5 percent, Melbourne fell into the lowest quartile for employment prospects, scoring a joint 18th place with Sydney and coming in just ahead of Jakarta, Indonesia.

One of China’s most populous cities, Guangzhou, secured a spot in the top five cities for millennials largely thanks to its low cost of living.

The mega-city scored top marks for affordability and ranked in joint first position alongside South Korea’s Seoul. By the estimates of ValueChampion, the average resident spends a moderate 22 percent of their income on rent.

Guangzhou lagged behind on employment prospects and quality of life, however, coming in seventh and 11th place respectively, largely due to China’s average unemployment rate and high pollution levels.

Despite its notoriously high cost of living, Hong Kong ranked third in this year’s list, helped by strong work prospects and a thriving lifestyle scene there.

Noted as one of Asia’s foremost economic hubs, the Chinese administrative district secured third place for employment prospects. Meanwhile, high life expectancy and plenty of entertainment options saw Hong Kong score a respectable sixth place for quality of life.

With residents spending an average of 31 percent of their income on rent, however, the city scored a mediocre ninth place for cost of living, putting it in line with the likes of Auckland, New Zealand.

Striking a good balance on all three measures, Japan’s capital, Tokyo, emerged as the second best city in Asia for millennials.

A bustling business district and a modest 2.5 percent unemployment rate saw the city score a respectable fifth place in terms of employment prospects. Elsewhere, low pollution and crime levels caused the city to score equally well for quality of life.

High living costs meant Tokyo to fell behind other cities, however. Though residents spend an estimated 27 percent of their income on rent — lower than the average, according to ValueChampion — those savings are typically quashed by high transport, grocery and entertainment costs.

Topping the ranks in ValueChampion’s study was the Southeast Asian nation of Singapore.

Despite its small size, the city-state punches above its weight economically, recording the highest GDP per capita ($58,000) of all cities studied. That, added to its low unemployment rate of just 2.2 percent and an accommodative business environment, pushed Singapore to first place for employment prospects.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s low levels of pollution, high safety levels, lively entertainment scene and local travel options meant it stole the top spot for quality of life too.

Those perks come at a cost, though. The city at the center of 2018’s Hollywood blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians” scored relatively poorly in terms of cost of living, emerging in seventh place, far behind the likes of Taipei, Taiwan.

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UAE announces new international weapons deals as Middle East military spending soars

The United Arab Emirates announced about $1.35 billion in defense deals with local and international companies on the opening day of IDEX 2019, the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Hesco, the deals will provide missiles, new radar systems capabilities and defensive shelters for the UAE military, respectively. Others notching sales to the country included France’s Thales, Australian firm EOS Defense and Germany’s Rheinmetall Electronics.

The deals with 18 domestic firms highlight the small Gulf country’s investment in developing its own defense manufacturing industry as part of a drive to diversify its economy away from oil.

The purchases come at a time when defense spending is soaring in the Middle East. A report from IHS Jane’s published Friday revealed an increase in arms expenditures in the Gulf from $82.3 billion in 2013 to $103 billion in 2019. And it’s showing no signs of stopping — IHS forecast spending will hit $110.8 billion in 2023.

While the drop in oil prices from 2014 to 2016 delayed many procurement projects, “defense was generally protected from the worst of the spending cuts due to regional security concerns and budgets are now growing again,” Charles Forrester, senior defense industry analyst IHS Jane’s, wrote in the report.

The heavy spending is no surprise given the ramp-up in political tensions over the last few years between regional rivals Saudi Arabia — along with its Gulf allies the UAE and Bahrain, among others — and Iran. The Saudi-led blockade against Qatar has also spiked arms procurement, as the latter’s resulting re-armament made it the world’s eighth-largest weapons importer in 2018, IHS said.

The Middle East is the world’s top arms-importing region, according to the analytics firm, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the global defense market. American companies make up 50 percent of the exports that go there.

Ian Bremmer, founder of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, says it’s nothing short of a regional arms race.

“I think there is an arms race happening in the Middle East,” Bremmer told CNBC at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. “The Saudis of course are spending the most on their defense, but the UAE is ramping up as well, the Iranians are ramping up.”

With a slowdown in growth forecast for the entire Middle East and North Africa region, thanks in part to lower oil prices, that spending will come under pressure.

“But still, the defense contractors should be happy in this environment, that’s true all over the world,” Bremmer said. “And, in an environment where there are so many big challenges, it’s a little sad to see just how many countries are working to ramp up their defense spend.”

The UAE is a top regional ally to the U.S. in the fight against terrorist organizations, and has been credited by Pentagon officials for its role in combating Al Qaeda in Yemen. More recently, however, it has come under increased criticism for its role in Yemen’s civil war, where a Saudi and UAE-led offensive coalition has been described by the UN as being responsible for most of the at least 10,000 civilian deaths in the country since 2015.

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Japan’s Abe nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize — reportedly after the US asked him to

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize last autumn after receiving a request from the U.S. government to do so, the Asahi newspaper reported on Sunday.

The report follows Trump’s claim on Friday that Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for opening talks and easing tensions with North Korea.

The Japanese leader had given him “the most beautiful copy” of a five-page nomination letter, Trump said at a White House news conference.

The U.S. government had sounded Abe out over the Nobel Peace Prize nomination after Trump’s summit in June last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president, the Asahi said, citing an unnamed Japanese government source.

A spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said the ministry was aware of Trump’s remarks, but “would refrain from commenting on the interaction between the two leaders.”

The White House had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

The Nobel Foundation’s website says a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize may be submitted by any person who meets the nomination criteria, which includes current heads of states. Under the foundation’s rules, names and other information about unsuccessful nominations cannot be disclosed for 50 years.

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Oil is doing something it’s never done before, and at least one expert considers it bullish

It’s already a year for the record books.

Futures Now.”

However, Kloza, who’s known for predicting the 2015 crude collapse, said his forecast comes with a caveat: It’ll be a more temperate and gentle year despite the robust start.

Overall, he predicted 2019 to be cheaper than last year. In 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration finds the average price for WTI crude was $65.06 a barrel.

“The upside is limited to about five dollars a barrel or so – which is probably not a statement you would make in February and many of the last ten years,” he added.

Crude typically sees between $15 to $20 a barrel of upside, according to Kloza. It’s different this year, he said, because oil was oversold in December. Right now, he believes it’s a balanced market for oil.

“You have a lot of refineries that are down for maintenance — and yet gasoline prices are not moving higher, demand is not moving higher, and that means lower demand for crude,” said Kloza.

On Friday, WTI crude rose 2.2 percent to close at $55.59 a barrel, a three month high. Brent, the international oil benchmark, also set a three month high.

“We’re in a Goldilocks sort of situation where the cost of finding the crude in the Permian Basin is coming down,” Kloza said, speaking of the large oil field covering parts of Texas and New Mexico.

“And, the prices, right now, for crude oil blends beyond the benchmarks, beyond and WTI, are actually off to probably their best start for a new year in 30 years,” he added.

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Aging Americans are a big market for tech investors, who also want to track their parents

Greg Yap is a venture capitalist looking for the next big thing in digital health. At age 45, he’s also the father of young kids and the son of an aging mother, who lives nearby in an independent living facility.

Amazon’s Echo, which can set medication reminders, Apple’s smartwatch with fall detection and the Nest thermostat’s motion sensors, Yap has been trying new products specifically designed to monitor aging parents. One example is Silver Mother, which incorporates sensors on pill boxes, front doors and mattresses for remote monitoring of health, safety and sleep.

“I’ve been trying a few sensors out to approximate this monitoring function,” Yap said. “The technology is not yet idiot-proof though.”

There’s a demographic reason why Yap sees as a big opportunity. More Americans in their 60s and 70s are opting to live independently rather than in assisted living as part of the “aging in place” trend. Still, they’re more likely to have chronic illnesses to manage and are at higher risk of a serious medical event, like a fall, heart attack or stroke.

Yap, who lives in Silicon Valley and works at Menlo Ventures, is piecing things together.

“I really do think the core technologies are there,” he said. “But someone just has to weave them together and make it easier to install them.”

From a product perspective, one of the big challenges is to make the gadgets useful, intuitive and affordable without the sensors being overly invasive and burdensome.

“The industry is still a bunch of hobbyists trying to hack together the pieces of a solution to monitor their parents,” said Michael Skaff, a tech industry veteran who’s now the chief operating officer at the Jewish Senior Living Group in San Francisco.

Skaff said there are a number of types of sensors that could prove to be useful, especially when all the data is aggregated. There are sensors for refrigerators that can track if they’ve been opened recently, moisture sensors for monitoring water spillage and smart locks and connected lights that can turn on at night. There’s also sensors that can be placed on doors and windows, that provide an update when someone has come or gone from the home.

Traditional medical devices are also increasingly linked to smartphone apps, and data can be shared with caregivers and children, as long as users consent.

“It’s still a bit hodgepodge, but we’re getting there,” said Scaff.

Technology companies are starting to take the market more seriously.

Alphabet’s Nest has been pitching its technology to senior living facilities, Amazon employees went on a nationwide bus tour to learn about how to make its devices helpful to the elderly and Apple has rolled out a number of features like fall detection on the Apple Watch and Siri Shortcuts, which help people access their apps more quickly using voice technology.

Mark Prince of start-up Quardio, which develops devices for monitoring heart health, said Siri Shortcuts are great for caregivers, who no longer have to worry about emails and notifications.

“I can just say, ‘Hey Siri, what was mom’s last blood pressure reading?’ and get the data,” said Prince, the company’s head of consumer sales and channel marketing.

Older generations are surprisingly adept with new technologies, said Kyle Armbrester, CEO of a Signify Health, which deploys care teams for elderly people who prefer to live at home.

“This whole Luddite argument is a farce,” he said. “Most older Americans have smartphones.”

As a result, home devices and sensors are poised to take off, Armbrester predicts.

“Kids and caregivers are helping to push these new technologies into the home,” he said. “And now you can do so much more remote monitoring than ever before.”

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Funko CEO says company not hindered by Toys R Us bankruptcy, promises ‘insane year’ for the brand

If you love something, odds are Funko has turned it to a collectible — or has plans to.

Mattel and Hasbro did after the fall of Toys R Us.

Or, it could be the fact that Funko says it doesn’t allow any one retailer to make up more than 10 percent of its business.

The bankruptcy and subsequent closure of Toys R Us took a big toll on the toy industry. Sales slumped 2 percent last year, as toy makers found themselves with fewer shelves on which to place their inventory than in years prior. Toys R Us was estimated to account for 10 to 15 percent of all toy sales prior to its closure in June.

Yet Funko didn’t escape Toys R Us’ closure completely unscathed.

“We expected 6.5 to 7 percent growth in our total business in 2018 with Toys R Us, [then] we lost it,” Mariotti told CNBC at New York’s annual Toy Fair on Saturday. However, he reiterated the guidance of 25 to 26 percent net sales growth for full year 2018, set during Funko’s third quarter conference call in November.

“We are never going to be reliant on one retail partner,” Mariotti said.

While Mattel and Hasbro have warned investors that the lack of Toys R Us and other industry factors could result in a flat performance in 2019, Mariotti is confident about the coming year.

“I think 2019 is at an A+ level on content,” he said. “I think we are going to have an insane year. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when we give our guidance, it is not extremely optimistic.”

Funko is set to report its fourth quarter earnings on Feb 28 and will provide full-year guidance at that time. In the previous quarter, the company reported net sales of $176.9 million, a 24 percent increase year-over-year.

Funko sells its products through a number of different retailers, some brick and mortar, some online and some that use both methods. Often, Funko provides these retailers with exclusive collectibles that can only be purchased with that company, which helps to drive up demand and sales.

For example, Barnes & Noble is the only location that customers can purchase a Mr. Rogers Funko Pop that features the character holding a puppet. Similarly, Walmart is the only place fans can get a glittery version of Black Panther. Even drugstore Walgreens carries exclusive collectibles from Funko: It is the only place that consumers can grab a young Obi-Wan Kenobi Pop wearing a hood.

Funko also works with Hot Topic, GameStop, Target, Best Buy and national and local comic book shops.

Mariotti pointed to a number of strong film releases as one reason that Funko is set for a stellar year. This year, the company will have figures tied to “Captain Marvel,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Frozen 2,” “It 2,” “Star Wars: Episode IX,” “Star Wars: The Mandalorian,” “Aladdin,” “Men in Black International,” and more.

Funko is also releasing characters from beloved series and films like “The Addams Family,” “The Office” “Cheers,” “Caddy Shack,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Ghostbusters.”

Not to mention, the company also dabbles in music icons. Popular Korean boy band BTS is being immortalized in Pop form this year, as is Migos, Johnny Cash, NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, Post Malone and Kiss.

Also, there are the famous athletes from the Major Leagues. Funko has a lineup of baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, wrestling and football stars as well as a collection of sports mascots.

“We believe if you take video games, sports, music, TV and theatrical, those five categories represent 85 to 90 percent of the population consuming them,” Mariotti said. “We are not niche, we are not boutique, we are mainstream. Pop culture is mainstream.”

Mariotti said that his big push going forward is to better explain Funko’s vision to Wall Street. Shares of the company are up more than 154 percent over the last 12 months, and 38 percent since January.

“We are absolutely, positively convinced that we are going to be a $2 billion a year company sometime in the future and we think we have a path to get there,” Marrioti said — arguing that Funko doesn’t see other major toy brands as rivals.

“We think we are in our own lane, doing our own thing and those guys would kill to have men and women boys and girls buying their products,” he added.

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Democrat, ex-congressman Anthony Weiner released from prison, begins federal reentry program

Anthony Weiner was released from a federal prison in Massachusetts and is now under the watch of a re-entry program in New York, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons records.

The disgraced ex-congressman served 15 months of his 21-month sentence at Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, after pleading guilty to sexting with a 15-year-old girl.

Devens is one of two federal prisons that house sex offenders who volunteer for what the Federal Bureau of Prisons describes as “high-intensity programming” to prevent re-offending.

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Weiner, 54, is now being supervised by the federal Residential Reentry Management in New York, records show. It is unclear if he is in a reentry center or under home confinement before his official release on May 14. A prison official told NBC News on Sunday that it does not disclose when inmates are moved.

Weiner pleaded guilty in May 2017 to one count of transferring obscene material to a minor. As part of his plea agreement, Weiner must register as a sex offender. He must also pay a $10,000 fine and be under three years of supervised release.

At his sentencing, Weiner asked for leniency.

“I was a very sick man for a long time,” he said. “I have a disease but I have no excuse.”

His now ex-wife Huma Abedin, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, filed for divorce the same day he pleaded guilty in 2017. They later withdrew the divorce action and said they would settle the divorce “swiftly and privately” to protect their child.

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