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A closed ramp to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, on Thursday.

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A closed ramp to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, on Thursday.
A closed ramp to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, on Thursday. Credit... Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

Ana Swanson Jack Ewing

Blockades of the U.S.-Canada border stymied flows of critical supplies for the fourth day on Friday, leaving companies scrambling for materials and shutting down major auto factories from Ontario to Alabama.

The partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing between the countries and a vital conduit for the auto industry, sent ripples through North American supply chains. Business groups called on officials to forcefully remove protesters who were causing the blockades. Some companies tried to redistribute key parts among their factories and looked for other ways to move products.

But others appeared resigned to shutdowns, saying that bypassing the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, was just too expensive or difficult.

Toyota said that the disruptions had led to “periodic downtime” at its engine plants in West Virginia and Alabama, as well as factories in Canada and Kentucky, and that interruptions were likely to continue through the weekend. Ford Motor curtailed capacity at two plants in Windsor and Oakville, which is also in Ontario, and shut down its Ohio assembly plant.

Other automakers said their assembly lines were running but not at optimal levels.

General Motors’ production was “running at relatively normal levels,” the company said Friday. Stellantis, which owns Jeep, Ram and other brands, said that all its North America plants had started Friday morning, but that the situation remained “incredibly fluid.”

The disruptions threatened to linger as truck drivers and members of far-right groups protested vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions in Canada and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Both the Canadian and American governments were trying to help companies get auto parts, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other products through the border. Manufacturers and logistics companies were sometimes routing trucks hundreds of miles out of their way to bridges and border checkpoints that were still open.

Alternatives to the Ambassador Bridge are limited, said Kelly Stefanich, a Toyota spokeswoman. Sending shipments through Buffalo and Mackinaw, Mich., for example, required more drivers and trucks, which were already in short supply.

“We are seeing trucks starting to flow slowly now, which is a good sign,” Ms. Stefanich said Friday.

The protests followed two years of pandemic-related closures of ports and factories and a surge in demand for cars and other goods among consumers who cut spending on restaurant meals, travel and other services.

A persistent shortage of semiconductors has also depressed auto production, leaving manufacturers particularly vulnerable to the blockades.

“Every hour this persists the costs rack up,” said Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, whose members include Ford, G.M. and Stellantis. “They need to enforce the law and remove the protesters from the road leading to the bridge.”

Production shutdowns will worsen a shortage of new vehicles, which has already driven up prices, IHS Markit, a research firm, warned Friday.

Some businesses that need to ship goods across the border were paying extra to reroute the freight through Buffalo, where the crossing remained open — at least for now, said Jennifer Frigger-Latham, the vice president of sales and marketing at EMO Trans, a logistics company.

“In the current market, people are so used to delays and frustrations because of Covid, they’re much quicker to react these days and throw money at the problem,” she said.

Canadian officials were allowing some companies to send goods through other ports of entry without having to refile documents. U.S. customs officials were assisting that effort by adding personnel and screening lines at those alternate crossings.

But finding alternate routes was not always easy, said Linda Dynes, the executive vice president of Canadian operations for Farrow, a 100-year-old customs broker.

She said one crossing in Coutts, Alberta, had not been consistently open over the last week. Protesters may try to block another between Saskatchewan and North Dakota. And the Peace Bridge connecting Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo could be shut down this weekend. On Thursday, protesters clogged the Ottawa airport.

“It seems like every time you find an alternative path, it gets blocked, either by a farm vehicle or a truck,” Ms. Dynes said.

Domestic spot prices for shipping had tripled in some cases, causing many companies to suspend shipments, she added.

Those difficulties have been compounded by a shortage of truck drivers. Some business groups had spoken out against the vaccine requirements for truckers in Canada and the United States, saying they would worsen logistical problems.

Many trucks are trying to use a bridge that connects Port Huron, Mich., with the Canadian city of Sarnia, north of Detroit. But traffic is so heavy that trucks often have to wait hours to cross, Mr. Kingston said, adding that he had heard of waits of up to eight hours.

Some carmakers have moved parts by airfreight or even helicopter. But “air cargo is not as efficient for large and bulky components,” Mr. Kingston said.

He noted that the Ambassador Bridge was designed to accommodate large numbers of heavy trucks. Some hazardous materials or other specialized loads cannot cross any other way.

Carmakers and suppliers are also breaking up shipments and putting them in smaller trucks and vans, which can pass through a tunnel that remains open between Detroit and Windsor. Officials on both sides of the border have added staff to handle increased commercial traffic, said Neal Belitsky, president of the company that operates the tunnel.

But such measures are expensive stopgaps, and many companies are simply slowing down production until the blockade ends. “The hope is that this will be over shortly,” said Dan Hearsch, a managing director at AlixPartners, a consulting firm that has been helping auto companies cope with the turmoil.

The situation remained unpredictable, with authorities warning of copycat protests that could paralyze traffic in other locations. Ron Greene, the vice president of business development at Overhaul, which monitors high-value freight like electronics and pharmaceuticals, said the company was advising truck drivers to plan alternate routes, keep fuel tanks at least three-quarters full and stay in close touch with dispatchers.

“We don’t know what to expect, if there’s going to be additional protests in the U.S. or Canada,” he said. “Truck drivers have to be aware they may need to make alternate plans as these things unfold.”

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Cisco Systems has held acquisition talks with Splunk, whose software mines data for insights, including security threats.

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Cisco Systems has held acquisition talks with Splunk, whose software mines data for insights, including security threats.
Cisco Systems has held acquisition talks with Splunk, whose software mines data for insights, including security threats. Credit... Sergio Perez/Reuters

Cisco Systems, the technology conglomerate, has held discussions with the software company Splunk about buying it, although no deal is currently on the table, two people familiar with the matter told The New York Times on Friday.

A deal may not happen at all, but if talks resume, Cisco could pay more than $20 billion for Splunk, one of the people said.

Splunk, whose stock price has fallen by 30 percent since its chief executive, Doug Merritt, unexpectedly stepped down in November, has a market capitalization of around $18 billion. Cisco’s market capitalization is $227 billion.

The people requested anonymity because the information is confidential. Cisco did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for Splunk said the company did not comment on rumors or speculation. The Wall Street Journal reported the potential deal earlier on Friday.

Splunk — named after spelunking, the sport of cave exploring — mines data for insights, including security threats, a business that grew in importance as the coronavirus pandemic quickly forced many workers online. It has more recently sought to shift toward cloud computing and catch up with its competitors, like Datadog, that started their business in the cloud. In June, the private-equity firm Silver Lake invested $1 billion in Splunk to help with that transition.

Cisco is known as a serial acquirer, effectively using acquisitions as a complement to research and development. Its past deals include Acacia, a maker of optical network components; Luxtera, a semiconductor company; and ThousandEyes, a cloud intelligence company. Its chief executive, Chuck Robbins, told analysts in December that Cisco would continue to look for acquisitions in security.

Technology has been a hotbed of mergers and acquisitions activity over the past year, as soaring stock prices have left companies flush with cash. Microsoft said last month that it was planning to acquire the video game company Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion, and Salesforce acquired the workplace software company Slack last year for $27.7 billion.

Monday

  • 1MDB trial: Roger Ng, a former Goldman Sachs banker, is accused of helping to embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars from a big Malaysian infrastructure fund known as 1MDB. The trial will begin on Monday.

Wednesday

  • U.K. inflation: The Office for National Statistics will release January inflation data for Britain, where prices in December climbed at their fastest pace in 30 years. Economists expect inflation to have risen 5.3 percent in January.

  • Retail sales: The Commerce Department will publish data on consumer spending for January, reflecting whether the Omicron variant of the coronavirus curbed Americans from shopping and whether spending slowed after the holiday season.

  • Starbucks union election: Workers at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz., will learn the result of their vote on whether to unionize. Two Starbucks locations near Buffalo voted to unionize last year, kicking off campaigns at locations around the country. The Mesa election is the first to follow the votes in Buffalo.

  • Fed minutes: The Federal Reserve is set to publish minutes from its January monetary policy meeting. The meeting happened before updated reports on jobs (better than expected) and inflation (worse than expected), but economists could get a sense of how quickly officials expect to raise interest rates.

  • Kraft earnings: The food giant will report its finances for the three months that ended in December, a period when several companies, such as Procter Gamble, Chipotle and Starbucks, began raising prices.

Thursday

  • G20 meeting: Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 nations will gather for their first meeting of the year, which will run until Friday, to discuss inflation, supply chains and the toll that the pandemic is taking on the global economy.

  • Walmart earnings: The retail giant will publish its financial report for the last three months of 2021. Investors will learn how it was affected by snarled supply chains and a tight labor market during the holiday season.

Friday

  • Fed speeches: John Williams, the president of the New York Fed, and two Fed governors, Christopher J. Waller and Lael Brainard, will speak about the economic outlook, giving economists hints at what Fed leadership is thinking as inflation soars.

9:30 A.M. E.T., Feb. 16 Feb. 17 Feb. 18 –3.0 –2.0 –1.0 0.0% Percent change in U.S. stock indexes from previous close SP 500 Dow Nasdaq

Stocks on Wall Street fell for a second consecutive day on Friday, with Ukraine tensions adding to losses that began after worse-than-expected data on inflation renewed investors’ concerns about interest rates and their impact on the economy.

The SP 500 dropped 1.9 percent on Friday, adding to a decline of 1.8 percent on Thursday and pulling the index into negative territory for the week. The Nasdaq composite fell 2.8 percent on Friday.

Investors were weighing the ratcheting up of tension between Russia and the United States over Ukraine. The New York Times and other media outlets reported that the U.S. intelligence community had told the White House and American allies that there were signs that Russia could begin an invasion of Ukraine within days.

Russia produces about 10 million barrels of oil a day so a military or economic conflict could disrupt global energy supplies. Oil prices jumped, with West Texas Intermediate futures climbing 3.6 percent to $93.10 a barrel.

The geopolitical tension and economic uncertainty gave investors a reason to pull back, said Dan Genter, chief executive of RNC Genter Capital Management, an investment advisory firm.

“People are going to take some money off the table until they can figure it out,” he said.

There was a notable exception to the stock selling on Friday. With oil prices at their highest since 2014, shares of energy companies rallied. Among the best performers in the SP 500, Baker Hughes jumped 6.2 percent, while Occidental Petroleum rose 5.7 percent.

The uncertainty around the economy has made for a turbulent stretch for markets. The SP 500 ended Friday down 7.9 percent from its Jan. 3 high, and has fallen four of the six weeks so far this year. The Nasdaq composite, which contains more tech stocks, has been particularly affected by concerns that the era of easy money and record pandemic-driven profits may be coming to an end. It ended the week down 14.1 percent since its peak in November.

Investors have been trying to guess how quickly the Federal Reserve may tighten monetary policy, and stocks have been hit each time expectations for interest rate increases have shifted higher. Fed officials have signaled that the increases could start as soon as March, and some economists expect the central bank to raise rates as many as seven times this year.

The downturn in stocks this week began after the release of a closely watched inflation gauge, the Consumer Price Index, on Thursday morning. The data showed that prices rose 7.5 percent in January from a year earlier. Later in the day, the president of the St. Louis Fed, James Bullard, told Bloomberg News that the central bank should raise interest rates 1 percentage point by July to tackle inflation.

The question hanging over stock investors is whether the central bank will go too far as it looks to contain inflation, potentially pushing the economy into a recession, hurting corporate profits and consumer spending, and discouraging investment in risky assets like equities.

On Friday, investors were presented with evidence that rising prices in major areas like cars and energy were making Americans more pessimistic about the long-term economic outlook. Preliminary results from the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, which measures how Americans feel about the economy, showed that sentiment had slid to its worst level in a decade.

Wall Street’s expectations for interest rates are most evident in the bond market, where the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes — which started the year close to 1.5 percent — climbed above 2 percent this week for the first time since 2019.

On Friday, that yield fell back to about 1.92 percent as nervous traders sought the safety of government bonds. Bond yields fall when their prices rise.

Traders in the futures market are expecting the Fed to raise interest rates half a percentage point when it meets in March. An increase of that size is uncommon, but investors should get some clarity on the Fed’s willingness to entertain that kind of move next week when the central bank releases the minutes of its January policy meeting.

Shoppers on Oxford Street in London in December. Britain’s economy shrank in December, but for the year it expanded 7.5 percent, its fastest pace since World War II.

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Shoppers on Oxford Street in London in December. Britain’s economy shrank in December, but for the year it expanded 7.5 percent, its fastest pace since World War II.
Shoppers on Oxford Street in London in December. Britain’s economy shrank in December, but for the year it expanded 7.5 percent, its fastest pace since World War II. Credit... Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Eshe Nelson

The sudden emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Britain late last year stalled the country’s economic recovery, data confirmed on Friday, though the impact was milder than expected.

Britain’s gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent in December from the previous month, the Office for National Statistics said, as the government told people to work from home where possible. High case numbers and voluntary social distancing led to a wave of cancellations for restaurants, bars, theaters and other social activities. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast, on average, a 0.5 percent decline in economic output.

The data adds to evidence that successive waves of the coronavirus are less virulent, both in terms of the severity of the disease, as vaccinations are increasingly widespread, and to the economy. The economic impact of Omicron was smaller than that of previous surges in virus cases as restrictions were also looser. For example, in January 2021, Britain’s economy contracted nearly 3 percent as the country went into a tight lockdown.

Last year’s economic recovery was choppy. An early boost from reopening in the spring eventually slowed into more middling growth in the second half of year, when virus case numbers were high, supply chain bottlenecks impeded businesses and exports declined. Still, the economy grew 7.5 percent in 2021, its fastest pace since 1941, as it rebounded from a 9.4 percent slump the previous year.

By the end of last year, the British economy matched its prepandemic size. The recovery was propelled by activity in health services as billions of pounds were spent on tests and the tracing of virus contacts. Consumer-facing services, such as restaurants, bars, travel and entertainment, were still more than 8 percent below their prepandemic level.

Britain is trying to move into a new phase where coronavirus is considered endemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that he wanted to remove the remaining Covid-19 rules, including the legal requirement to self-isolate for positive cases, as soon as this month. But in this postpandemic phase where the economic impact of coronavirus is waning, there is another economic challenge created by high energy prices and rapid inflation.

Price gains are expected to peak above 7 percent in April, but wages aren’t keeping up, energy bills are rising and tax increases are scheduled. The squeeze on household budgets is expected to dampen consumer spending and weigh on the economy in the second half of the year.

“The Omicron wave has only briefly stalled the U.K.’s strong economic recovery, which should be more stable from here on in,” James Smith, the research director at the Resolution Foundation, a think tank focusing on living standards in Britain, said in a statement. This will allow policymakers to concentrate on the “more urgent cost-of-living crisis that Britain is experiencing.”

The Bank of England has already raised interest rates twice in the past two months in an effort to cool down the economy. “We have not raised interest rates today because the economy is roaring away,” the bank’s governor, Andrew Bailey, said last week after announcing the second rate increase. The move was necessary to try to bring inflation back down to the bank’s 2 percent target, and more rate increases are likely in the coming months, he said.

The central bank expects the British economy to grow about 3.75 percent this year. It lowered its forecast from 5 percent in November as household income growth, once adjusted for inflation, is expected to be negative for the next two years.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, in front of the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Thursday.

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Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, in front of the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Thursday.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, in front of the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Thursday. Credit... Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Jeremy W. Peters

The jury in Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times began deliberating late Friday afternoon after hearing several hours of animated closing arguments from lawyers on both sides.

The case is a rare instance of a defamation case against a large news organization going all the way to trial. Its outcome — the deliberations will resume on Monday — will be closely watched by First Amendment experts, press freedom watchdogs and lawyers who have argued that media organizations enjoy too much protection under current libel laws.

Ms. Palin’s legal team told the jury that the case, which is being tried in federal court in Lower Manhattan, was ultimately about power and accountability.

Kenneth Turkel, one of the lawyers for the former Alaska governor, argued that The Times had acted in an irresponsible and unaccountable manner when it published a 2017 editorial that incorrectly linked Ms. Palin’s political rhetoric to a mass shooting in Arizona. The mistake, which The Times corrected the morning after the editorial was published online, was “indicative of an arrogance and a sense of power that’s uncontrolled,” Mr. Turkel said.

“An entity as large as The New York Times Company controls every aspect of this dialogue,” he said. “At the click of a button, someone’s accused of inciting murder.”

David Axelrod, the lawyer representing The Times, argued that the case was ultimately about an “honest mistake.” He said Ms. Palin’s arguments amounted to a “conspiracy theory” that the newspaper’s opinion editor at the time, James Bennet, meant to smear her.

Mr. Axelrod dismissed the notion of “Mr. Bennet’s plot” as defying common sense given the contrition that Mr. Bennet displayed in emails, shown to the jury, that were written once he realized he might have been responsible for editing a mistake into the editorial.

“If the intent was to defame, if the intent was to harm political rivals, would you say, ‘We’re sorry, we made a mistake’?” Mr. Axelrod asked.

At one point, Mr. Axelrod turned a catchphrase of Ms. Palin’s around on her, arguing that as a public figure she was accustomed to the slings and arrows of political discourse and had signed up for it as part of the job. “Suck it up, buttercup,” he said, repeating what Ms. Palin said during testimony earlier in the week about how she viewed people who complained too much.

The jury must decide which of two depictions of Mr. Bennet it agrees with more, given the testimony and evidence presented during the trial. Ms. Palin’s lawyers tried to paint him as a vindictive partisan so blinded by his disgust with her that he recklessly inserted a false claim into the editorial, went to bed knowing people had complained about it and then didn’t correct it until 14 hours later. The Times argued that Mr. Bennet had been working under deadline pressures common to journalism, moving fast to finish editing an editorial that he thought needed rewriting, and then made an assumption that turned out to be wrong.

The editorial criticized the increasingly demonizing tone of the nation’s political discourse. It was written after a shooting at a congressional baseball team practice in June 2017 left Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, gravely wounded.

The defense repeatedly stressed that Mr. Bennet had expressed regret in emails to colleagues after he learned that readers, including a Times columnist, had taken issue with the assertion that a fund-raising solicitation from Ms. Palin’s political action committee incited violence with a map that showed Democratic House districts marked with digitized cross hairs.

“It was just a terrible mistake,” Mr. Bennet testified this week.

On Friday, lawyers for Ms. Palin left the jury with a question that they said cut to the heart of whether or not The Times had acted with “actual malice,” the legal standard they must meet to win a verdict. Was the error, Mr. Turkel asked, made “because they didn’t like her, her politics?”

“That’s your province to figure out,” he said.

Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the cryptocurrency exchange that is investing in Forbes.

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Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the cryptocurrency exchange that is investing in Forbes.
Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the cryptocurrency exchange that is investing in Forbes. Credit... Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

Crypto companies have been spending big on celebrity endorsements, stadium naming rights and Super Bowl ads, but one has made the industry’s first big bet on an old-school media company.

The cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced Thursday a $200 million investment in Forbes, the media company that plans to go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company this quarter.

Forbes was founded in 1917. Binance was founded in 2017 by Changpeng Zhao, a billionaire known to his five million Twitter followers as C.Z., who landed on the cover of Forbes magazine within a year of starting the company. (Last year, Binance dropped a defamation lawsuit it had filed against Forbes over an article about the exchange’s structure.)

Mr. Zhao spoke to the DealBook newsletter about the investment in Forbes. The interview has been edited and condensed.

How did this begin?

We have a separate M.A. team and I don’t really get very involved there because looking at deals takes a lot of time. So they go and find deals everywhere, and then one day — maybe two or three months ago — one of the guys says, “Hey, you know, do we want to invest in a media company?”

Why do it?

We don’t want to run a news company. But the angle was, “How do we help traditional businesses come into crypto faster so we can speed up the adoption of crypto?” By investing in traditional businesses and helping them to integrate with crypto, it’s an interesting play for us.

How so?

It increases the perception of the integration of crypto into the traditional economy when crypto businesses are funding traditional businesses, what some readers call “real” businesses. So now they may say, “OK, crypto is not just, you know, some virtual thing.”

What does an old media outlet offer that your Twitter account does not?

My followers are already crypto fans. If they follow me they probably already converted. But the guys we want to attract into this industry are the guys who haven’t followed me. That’s definitely also been a consideration of this collaboration. We can help bring not only Forbes itself, but other traditional media and their audiences, into crypto more quickly.

What does “into crypto” mean?

There’s many different steps. No. 1 is, yes, we definitely hope that they will write more about crypto in all of the newspapers. The second stage, maybe consider accepting Bitcoins for subscriptions or at least accept a stablecoin. Next is maybe some NFTs and you could issue a token for incentives. And if the business is ready to go a fully decentralized way, utilizing writers everywhere in the world and have the crowd judge them by the amount of fees that they can receive.

What else could you buy?

We don’t need to buy everybody. What we want to do is say, “Hey, look, we will be working with a few early adopters.” They will actually in turn be putting pressure on their peers to come into crypto because most likely they will be better financed.

Are you looking at investments in other industries?

We’re also looking at other sectors like gaming, even music, any traditional industries — what we call traditional industry.

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  • Goldman Sachs told its employees on Friday that they would not need to wear masks in the office starting Monday, according to a company spokeswoman. The change comes after Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said on Wednesday that she was ending the state’s indoor masking rules. The investment bank called workers back to in-person working on Feb. 1, requiring staff members in the office to have coronavirus booster shots by that date.

  • JPMorgan Chase told employees on Friday that “masks are now completely voluntary anywhere in our U.S. buildings for employees who are fully vaccinated unless there are more stringent local restrictions in place,” according to a staff memo. Unvaccinated workers are still required to wear face coverings except when seated at their desks or when eating and drinking.

  • A video game hacker and prominent member of a group that sold pirated video games, costing Nintendo and other companies more than $65 million, was sentenced in federal court in Washington State on Thursday to 40 months in prison, prosecutors said. The hacker, Gary Bowser, 52, pleaded guilty to two felonies in October for his role in Team Xecuter, an operation that sold illegal devices that allowed people to play pirated video games on consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation Classic and the Microsoft Xbox, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Washington said in a statement on Thursday.

A California agency said it had received complaints from hundreds of workers at the Tesla plant in Fremont.

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A California agency said it had received complaints from hundreds of workers at the Tesla plant in Fremont.
A California agency said it had received complaints from hundreds of workers at the Tesla plant in Fremont. Credit... Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Niraj Chokshi

A California state agency is suing Tesla, accusing it of allowing racial discrimination and harassment to flourish at its San Francisco Bay Area factory in a lawsuit that was made public on Thursday.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said hundreds of Tesla workers had reported being subjected to racist graffiti and widespread use of racial slurs, including from supervisors. They also accused the company of discriminatory practices. The agency said Black employees were assigned more physically arduous work and denied transfers and promotions more often than other workers.

“After receiving hundreds of complaints from workers, D.F.E.H. found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion creating a hostile work environment,” Kevin Kish, the department’s director, said in a statement. “The facts of this case speak for themselves.”

In a statement posted online on Wednesday, before the lawsuit was filed, Tesla said it “strongly opposes” all forms of discrimination and harassment. The company denounced the lawsuit, arguing that the state agency had investigated dozens of previous claims in recent years and found no misconduct.

“It therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla,” the company said. “A narrative spun by the D.F.E.H. and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla said its Fremont factory had a “majority-minority work force” and described the lawsuit as counterproductive “at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California.” The company moved its headquarters to Texas last year and opened a new factory in the Austin area.

Tesla also said the California agency had declined its requests for information on the accusations. The company plans to ask the court to “pause the case and take other steps to ensure that facts and evidence will be heard,” it added.

In October, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $137 million to a Black former Tesla employee who said he had faced racial harassment from a supervisor and other colleagues while working at the Fremont factory in 2015 and 2016. Employees had drawn swastikas and scratched a racial epithet in a bathroom stall and left drawings of derogatory caricatures of Black children around the factory, he said.

The next month, Jessica Barraza, another Tesla employee, sued the company, accusing it of allowing pervasive sexual harassment, both verbal and physical. Six more women sued the company in December, citing similar treatment.

Last month, one of Tesla’s top Black executives, Valerie Capers Workman, left the company. As head of human resources at Tesla, Ms. Workman was often the face of its response to such suits.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property,” Apple said.

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“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property,” Apple said.
“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property,” Apple said. Credit... Carlos Jaramillo for The New York Times

Kellen Browning

Apple said on Thursday that it would make improvements to its AirTag devices to make it more difficult for people to use them to track others without their knowledge.

AirTags, tiny discs that Apple started selling for $29 last year to help people keep track of items like keys, wallets and phones, have become a headache for the company. People have said on social media and in interviews that they have found the devices hidden on their cars and belongings, leading them to fear they were being stalked.

AirTags use Bluetooth technology to ping nearby Apple devices, which then report the last known location of the AirTag to whatever device is using it to track something. Apple said some built-in features, like beeping automatically and notifying iPhones that an AirTag is nearby, could help prevent abuse, but privacy experts and those who feared they had been stalked said the features were not enough because they do not easily help people who carry phones that use Google’s Android software.

Law enforcement officials have warned that the devices could be used in attempts to steal cars. And women have said they have found AirTags hidden on their cars and in their possessions, and sometimes have called the police. One woman, Ashley Estrada, told The New York Times that she had recently received a notification that an AirTag had been tracking her for four hours across Los Angeles, and that she had eventually found the device lodged behind her car’s license plate. “I felt so violated,” Ms. Estrada said.

Apple’s changes, which will be introduced this year, include the ability for someone who receives an alert that an AirTag is nearby to use his or her iPhone to find the AirTag through a “combination of sound, haptics and visual feedback.”

Users’ devices will display an alert when a nearby AirTag emits a sound, in case the sound cannot be heard, and people will have the option to make AirTag beeps louder so they can more easily find the tracking device. Apple said it would also improve its alert system so that iPhones tell people sooner that unknown AirTags may be traveling with them.

Eva Galperin, a cybersecurity director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who studies so-called stalkerware, said that the changes were “improvements” but that Apple needed to take more steps to prevent abuse, such as working with Google to extend protection to Android phones.

Current fixes, such as an Android app that allows users to scan for AirTags, require people to proactively check rather than passively monitor whether they are being tracked.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products,” Apple said in a news release.

Apple added that it was aware of “reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.” The company said it had worked with safety groups and law enforcement officials to identify needed changes, but declined to comment beyond its statement.