TIME Companies

So Long, Shamu: Southwest, SeaWorld End Ties

Southwest Airlines debuts Penguin One in celebration of 25 years
Southwest Airlines debuts its newest specialty plane, Penguin One, in celebration of 25 years of partnership with SeaWorld on June 20, 2013 Stephen M. Keller—Southwest Airlines/AP

The decision comes amid animal-rights backlash, but the two companies insist the break is "mutual"

Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will be ending their 26-year relationship, a decision that comes a year after a documentary film raised questions about the theme-park chain’s treatment of whales.

In a joint statement released on Thursday, the two sides described the decision to end their decades-long co-marketing scheme as “mutual.”

“The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities,” read the statement, explaining that the airliner would focus on expanding into international service while SeaWorld is eyeing new opportunities to grow in Asian and Latin American markets.

The press release made no mention of the pressure both companies have faced since the release of the film Blackfish last year. The documentary focuses on the alleged mistreatment of SeaWorld orcas and the violent deaths of several trainers working with the animals.

A petition posted on Change.org calling on Southwest to terminate its relationship with the Florida-based amusement-park chain garnered 30,000 signatures. Attendance at SeaWorld parks dropped 4.1% in the last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The three Southwest aircraft painted to promote the amusement parks will return to the company’s traditional livery by year’s end.

TIME Companies

Twitter Pushing DOJ, FBI To Let It Disclose More Info on National Security Requests

Twitter Transparency Report 2014
A sign is posted outside of the Twitter headquarters on July 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Twitter has grown increasingly frustrated with U.S. government restrictions barring fuller disclosures in its biannual transparency report, which shows a steady rise in global requests for user information, content removal and copyright takedown.

The report, released Thursday, indicates a 46 percent increase in the number of government requests for user information between the first half of 2014 and the second half of 2013. The requests are usually associated with criminal investigations, according to Twitter, and have more than doubled since Twitter released its first transparency report in 2012. While the report is now in its fifth edition, Twitter is still eyeing one area for improvement.

“One section in particular has been notably absent from our all of our previous reports, including today’s: our disclosures on national security requests,” said Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy. “Specifically, if the government will not allow us to publish the actual number of requests, we want the freedom to provide that information in much smaller ranges that will be more meaningful to Twitter’s users.”

Twitter isn’t satisfied with the extent of information it’s been legally authorized to release, and the company has met with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to improve transparency on the number of national security requests. The DOJ’s restrictions, announced in January, allow companies to disclose the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders only “in bands of 1,000″ under a six month embargo — or even longer depending on the situation. (Verizon also releases transparency reports, and it reports national security requests in these wide ranges.)

Twitter had submitted a draft to the DOJ of its most recent transparency report in April, requesting information about which information could not lawfully be published, but has not yet received a reply.

“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” said Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy, earlier this year. “We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

Still, what is available in Twitter’s transparency report illuminates a consistent rise across three types of requests.

The total number of global government requests for user information—including national security requests—has grown since 2012 by nearly 250 percent. By country, the U.S. government filed 1,257 of these requests between Jan. 1 and Jun. 30—the most of any country—specifying 1,918 users. And in 72% of these requests, at least some information was produced. On a state level, California filed 163 information requests, the most of any state.

In content removal requests, though, Turkey led with 186 requests with 30 percent resulting in some content being withheld. The total number of these requests has increased dramatically since 2012, but only 14 percent since the previous report. The biggest rise occurred between the first and second halves of 2013, largely due to the 306 requests made by France.

With 9,199 notices, the number of DMCA copyright takedown requests saw an 80 percent increase from the last report. Anti-piracy and Internet companies were the top copyright violation reporters. Each month between January and June, between 70 percent and 84 percent of notices resulted in material being removed, with a total of 30,870 tweets affected. Only 18 counter copyright notices were filed, all of which resulted in material being restored.

Twitter’s transparency report is released in January and July each year, and also includes information on Twitter accessibility across the world.

TIME Companies

Target Announces New CEO To Lead Recovery After Data Breach

Brian Cornell, then president and CEO of Sam's Club, speaks during the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., in this June 4, 2010 file photo.
Brian Cornell, then president and CEO of Sam's Club, speaks during the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., in this June 4, 2010 file photo. April L. Brown—AP

Brian Cornell will help "bring vision, focus and a wealth of experience to Target’s transformation," the company said Thursday.

Target announced a new CEO Thursday as it looks to rebound from the damage wrought last year by a massive data breach that prompted former CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s resignation.

PepsiCo exec Brian Cornell, the former head of Sam’s Club, will take over at Target, replacing interim CEO John Mulligan, the company said in statement.

Steinhafel stepped down in May, months after an embarrassing data breach affected up to 110 million customers and cut into company profits. When he resigned, Target said Steinhafel had held himself “personally accountable” and “pledged that Target would emerge a better company.”

On Thursday, Target said Cornell, the former CEO of PepsiCO Americas Foods, would help “bring vision, focus and a wealth of experience to Target’s transformation.”

TIME Cancer

Johnson & Johnson Urging Doctors to Steer Clear of Hysterectomy Device

The Johnson & Johnson logo is arranged for a photograph in New York on April 15, 2013.
The Johnson & Johnson logo is arranged for a photograph in New York on April 15, 2013 Bloomberg/Getty Images

The device, studies show, can spread some forms of uterine cancer and lower chances of survival

Johnson & Johnson is urging surgeons not to use a surgical tool that has been found to spread certain forms of uterine cancer in women, the company said Wednesday.

Sales of the company’s laparoscopic power morcellators, used during hysterectomies and fibroid-removal surgery, were halted in April because of a warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA told members of the medical community that the device could spread a form of uterine cancer called sarcoma in patients, lowering chances of survival.

Two recent studies — from the FDA and researchers at Columbia University — found that around 1 in 350 women has undetected cancer when being treated for fibroids; for women having hysterectomies, the risk is around 1 in 368.

Because of this, Johnson & Johnson is now expanding its pullback of the device, urging those who have purchased the device to return it. The Wall Street Journal reports the company originally stood by the tool, but now says the risk of spreading the cancer is more significant than previously believed. Though sales of the device are only a small part of Johnson & Johnson’s business, according to the Journal, the company represents about 72% of the market for this particular device.

[WSJ]

TIME Telecom

Sprint Is Offering Super-Cheap Data Plans for Only Accessing Social Media

Sprint New Facebook Only Wireless Plan
A man shows the smartphone photo sharing application Instagram on an iPhone. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

In the latest example of a wireless carrier offering unique but controversial data plans

As wireless carriers launch services to make mobile Internet more affordable, Sprint is taking a more drastic approach with its new wireless plan—unlimited access to a few popular social media apps, and nothing else.

Offered under Sprint’s Virgin Mobile brand, the $12 monthly plan allows customers uncapped access to either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, according to the Wall Street Journal. For $10 more, they’ll receive access to all four, and another $5 will grant unlimited streaming from a music app of their choice. The offers are part of a new set of customizable mobile data plans Sprint debuted Wednesday.

Sprint’s announcement arrives on the heels of other wireless carriers’ policies and services that waived certain apps’ data usage from monthly data limits. T-Mobile announced in June that it would stop counting data consumed by music streaming towards monthly caps, one of the perks of its “Un-Carrier” initiative to get away from some of the wireless industry’s long-held policies. Earlier this year, AT&T unveiled a “sponsored data” service where sponsors can entice subscribers to try out their apps while the related data use is billed to the sponsors. (Sprint isn’t being paid by the apps included in its plans, but Dow Draper, president of prepaid at Sprint, has said such a deal is “definitely possible.”)

While Sprint’s new plan seems favorable to users who go online only to tweet, post, upload or pin, it’s already incited criticism from net neutrality proponents who believe all traffic should be created equally. In other words, they argue that no Internet Service Provider should be allowed to enforce preferential treatment—faster speeds—for its users, while other users remain in congested, slower areas of the network. Sprint’s opt-in plan isn’t paid prioritization, but its nature as an exclusive, divided Internet access (like T-Mobile’s unlimited streaming, and also Comcast’s on-demand video games) have some advocates worrying it sets a potentially dangerous precedent during an ongoing debate over net neutrality. (The FCC’s Open Internet rules, however, have never applied to wireless carriers.)

Sprint’s new plan is available at only Walmart with a base offering of 20 minutes of talk time and 20 texts.

TIME China

Unexpected Microsoft Probe Highlights China’s Distrust of U.S. Tech

Microsoft China Antitrust Probe
A vendor sells game consoles including Microsoft's Xbox One in a major electronics market in Shanghai on January 8, 2014. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

Following recent accusations of U.S. tech companies' alleged monopolies and security threats in China

Unannounced visits Monday by Chinese officials to Microsoft offices across China have sparked controversy over the latest Sino-U.S. relation: technology.

Officials from China’s State Administration for Industry & Commerce (SAIC) visited offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, according to Sina, a Chinese online media company. Microsoft China, which has three major locations in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, has since confirmed the visits, providing no further details, adding that the company would “actively cooperate” with the government’s requests.

The visits reportedly lasted from morning until 6 p.m., and resulted in computers and hard drives being taken away, according to several Chinese news outlets. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the visits were likely preliminary stages of an antitrust investigation, while Microsoft China has reportedly confirmed to the Beijing News that it is, in fact, what the SAIC calls “unfair business.”

Chinese IT analysts believe that suspicions of a Microsoft monopoly are relegated to the operating system market alone. One well-known Chinese IT lawyer told media outlets that it’s likely Microsoft is being accused of using its broad market share to unfairly bundle in other products, like Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011.

China set a precedent in preventing U.S. tech giants from monopolizing the Chinese market in November, when the Chinese government launched an antimonopoly investigation of Qualcomm, a U.S. company that’s the largest maker of processors and communication chips for mobile phones. China’s antitrust regulator said Thursday that Qualcomm does have a monopoly.

Fears of a U.S. monopoly appear closely linked to anxiety, fueled by revelations made by Edward Snowden of NSA surveillance abroad, that U.S. technology may compromise Chinese citizens’ personal information. Earlier this year, the Chinese government banned Microsoft offices from installing the company’s latest operating system, Windows 8, due to skepticism over possible security threats. Several broadcasts on the state-run CCTV accused Microsoft cloud technology of compromising user data.

Apple also came under scrutiny in July, when CCTV broadcasted that Apple’s iPhone was a “national security threat” due to its GPS system, which could expose “state secrets.” Apple has denied these claims.

China also appears to be involved in the very hacking that it’s discouraging, as reports surfaced of Chinese hackers attempting to gain access to confidential U.S. data.

TIME

Dollar Tree Extends Limb to Low-Income Shoppers by Buying Family Dollar

Dollar Tree to Buy Family Dollar
The exterior of a Dollar Tree store in Westminster, Colorado on February 26, 2014. Rick Wilking—Reuters

A cash-and-stock bid worth $8.5 billion

Dollar Tree will buy Family Dollar for $8.5 billion in a deal that will create North America’s largest discount retailer.

Dollar Tree announced the acquisition Monday, a month after activist investor Carl Icahn pressured Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine to consider a sale of the company, arguing that buyers would see strategic and financial benefits. Though Icahn had said Family Dollar resisted his suggestions, Levine said in a statement Monday its plans to sell had begun last winter.

Under the transaction’s terms, Dollar Tree will pay to Family Dollar shareholders $74.50 for each share. The bid consists of $59.60 per share in cash and Dollar Tree stock worth about $14.90. The transaction is expected to close in early 2015, and Dollar Tree expects to save about $300 million annually through synergies over the next three years.

“This acquisition will extend our reach to lower-income customers and strengthen and diversify our store footprint,” Dollar Tree CEO Bob Sasser said. “We plan to leverage best practices across both organizations to deliver significant synergies, while we accelerate and augment Family Dollar’s recently introduced strategic initiatives.”

Both Dollar Tree, which sells items $1 and less, and Family Dollar, which sells $1 items but also higher priced goods, have struggled amidst a weak economy. While years ago recession boosted deep-discount stores’ sales, Family Dollar reported in April declining second-quarter profits while announcing that it could cut jobs and close nearly 400 underperforming stores. Earlier this month, its third-quarter report noted a 33% drop in profit.

Family Dollar Quarterly Profit Margins
YCharts

Difficult economic conditions have become financial headwinds for discount store shoppers, who are forced to choose between discretionary and necessary items. The average American household in 2013 was poorer than it was 10 years ago, according to a study, as wealthier families rode the surging stock market after the 2008 crash, and the middle-class struggled with decreasing values of their homes. The “bifurcation,” as Levine called it in January, is even harsher for the low-income families that make up the bulk of Family Dollar’s consumers: on average shoppers have an annual income under $40,000, and 50% receive government assistance.

“Our core lower-income customers have faced high unemployment levels, higher payroll taxes, and more recently reductions in government-assistance programs,” Levine said. “All of these factors have resulted in incremental financial pressure and reduction in overall spend in the market.”

But the deal provides a valuable opportunity for Dollar Tree to stake a bigger space in the deep-discount market. Aside from Dollar General, one of Dollar Tree’s largest competitors is Wal-Mart, whose stores have increasingly offered items at steep discounts, at times even $1 and less. In stores and on-line, prices of commonly-purchased Walmart items are already on average 20% less than those on Amazon, according to a study by Kantar Retail. Several items sold in Dollar Tree stores are sold at equal prices in Wal-Mart. The 2-piece Dial Gold soap bar, for example, sells for $1 at both Walmart and Dollar Tree—except at Dollar Tree, the deal is available in only 36-order bulk package.

There are over 13,000 Dollar Tree stores across the U.S. and Canada.

 

 

TIME Companies

You Can Now Buy 3D Printed Bobbleheads on Amazon

Mixee Labs customizable 3D printed bobble heads, one of the products available in Amazon's 3D printing store.
Mixee Labs customizable 3D printed bobble heads, one of the products available in Amazon's 3D printing store. Courtesy of Mixee Labs

In a new marketplace for 3D printable goods that launched on the site Monday

Amazon announced Monday customers can now use the site to send customized 3D printed products, including toys, earrings, and decorative vases.

In the online marketplace’s new “3D printing store,” customers can choose from over 200 products to customize and print on-demand.

“The introduction of our 3D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail – that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience,” said Petra Schindler-Carter, Director for Amazon Marketplace Sales in a press release.

After selecting the template for the desired product, customers can select color, designs, and other features to tailor it to their exact taste. Amazon is working in partnership with 3D printing companies including Sculpteo, 3DLT, and Mixee labs, to manufacture the new goods, which the site says are priced under $40 but can run for as much as $100.

So far, customers aren’t able to upload their own designs to Amazon, though other companies like Shapeways already offer the service, Tech Crunch reports.

TIME apps

For a Few Hours, Uber Riders Could Learn Their Client Rating

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013.
An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

The app's software team quickly repaired the glitch, and passenger rankings were once again controversially private

Uber, as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle writes, “doesn’t care about being hated.” After all, the taxi service application earned a cool $18.2 billion valuation last month, in spite of a gallery of controversial corporate practices that has prompted critics of Silicon Valley to make a litany of accusations. Uber incommensurately raises prices during peak hours, holidays and weather emergencies. Uber sabotages its competition. Uber ranks its customers.

It ranks its customers, yes. At the end of a ride, the application asks the passenger to give his or her driver a ranking on a five star system; the drivers, as the internet has only recently learned, are asked the same of their clients. The underlying logic is obvious and not really anything new — if your credit score is bad, a bank is going to hesitate before doing business with you — but users were nonetheless kind of perturbed, given the secrecy surrounding the passenger rankings. (“Uber Anxiety,” New York Magazine calls it.)

On Sunday, however, a software engineer named Aaron Landy posted to Medium step-by-step instructions on how a client can find his or her aggregate score, via some very simple skullduggery on the app’s mobile website. Uber’s programming team naturally caught wind of this and quickly swooped in to patch things up, but not before a number of Uber riders sought revelation.

By early Monday morning, one user’s attempts to learn his worth in the eyes of the benevolent transit god proved futile.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.39.06 PM

Uber is, however, exploring ways of sharing passenger ratings in future versions of the app, or so they say. Meanwhile, the company expands — they celebrated the launch of service in Hong Kong and mainland China in the last few weeks — with the habit of incurring the wrath of local taxi drivers in each new territory.

TIME

You’ll Never Guess Which Store Is the Most Powerful in the U.S.

T.J. Maxx Retail
A customer shops at the opening of TJ Maxx's 1000th store on April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi—Getty Images

The off-price chain has built a fantastically loyal following. How?

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Consider Company X. Its annual sales—now $27.4 billion, or more than those of Estée Lauder, Hilton Worldwide, and Hershey combined—have risen 50% over the past six years. Its profits have almost tripled, to $2.1 billion. Its shareholders have been the beneficiaries of 18 consecutive years of earnings-per-share growth. In its nearly-four-decade history, it has had only one year of negative same-store sales. And it does all this by selling blouses…pots and pans…and bedding, sunglasses, sriracha seasoning, yoga mats, and the occasional $1,250 Stella McCartney dress.

Company X—make that TJX—may well be the biggest enigma in an industry so fragile and capricious that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once likened it to the “human condition.” The business of retail is hard stuff. Chains soar when they manage to sell into the zeitgeist (“Tar-zhay,” anyone?) and collapse when the stars of public taste realign (Abercrombie). In the off-price realm that the TJX TJX Companies dominates, it is, if anything, harder. The past six years have seen the demise of Filene’s Basement, Daffy’s, and Loehmann’s, which has reemerged as an online-only store. The number of customer purchases at TJX, by contrast, has risen in each of the last six years; over that time, TJX shares have climbed over 200%.

“It’s the most consistent, most powerful apparel retailer in the United States,” says Howard Davidowitz, who has run his own retail consulting and investment banking firm for 33 years. “It’s a bold statement, but it’s true.” Ron Hess, a professor of marketing at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, puts it this way: “They are stunningly good.”

But there is one other salient fact about the Framingham, Mass., retailer that adds to the enigma: It will do almost anything to prevent anybody else from knowing how it has managed all of the above. TJX is Company X: a black box—arguably one of the most secretive retailers around.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

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