As stocks of Silicon Valley companies soar and revenues are growing, institutional shareholders are typically reluctant to rock the boat by questioning a company's managers. But some grumpy investors have been sending messages of frugality to maturing tech companies
such as Oracle, Salesforce.com and Yahoo, whose executives rake in record-setting compensation packages each year. Their high pay is inviting emerging dissent.
Now required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, "say on pay" measures offer shareholders a chance to be heard in a non-binding vote for or against executive compensation plans. In June, nearly half of Salesforce shareholders thumbed their noses at Benioff's compensation in such a vote. At Yahoo, the board members who recommended Mayer's pay package were quietly hit with a minority protest vote. A McKesson investor and warehouse worker Glenn Gray spoke up at the annual shareholder meeting two years ago, in order to contrast the lavish executive pay at the giant pharmaceutical distributor, with his own low wages and benefits. Shareholders applauded his three-minute speech. He also got fired. But "the poster child for bad compensation" McKesson CEO John Hammergren's annual pay package has declined steadily in recent years.
"Generally, CEO pay is not going down, so activism has not had a tangible effect on overall pay in that respect," said Dan Marcec of Equilar. At the same time, "we're seeing a lot of people get more involved and be more scrutinizing," and boards are responding to demands for prudence by cutting some perks and better justifying others, he said. While there have been steps toward reform, the "level of pay far outstrips what is justified, even by the best performance" at many companies, said Laura Campos.
Shaun W. Bridges, a computer crime expert and a former Secret Service special agent who helped bring down Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, will plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering for skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars in bitcoin
and routing the money to his own accounts, according to federal court documents.
Using information he got from his interrogation of a Silk Road customer service representative who had administrator access, Bridges accessed Silk Road's systems in January 2013, reset several passwords and transferred about 20,000 bitcoin from the accounts, according to the complaint. He then converted the bitcoin into cash through a Japan-based bitcoin exchange and from there sent the money to the shell company's investment accounts, investigators said. Based on conversion rates at the time various transactions were made, federal prosecutors put the value of Bridges' loot at $820,000.
A second investigator, Carl Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration's lead undercover agent in the Silk Road case, faces a hearing in August for allegedly stealing bitcoin from Silk Road — and for allegedly blackmailing Ulbricht while at the same time selling him information about the investigation.
All 50 state attorney generals, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Communications Commission, reached settlements with Sprint and Verizon Wireless that include $158 million in payments to resolve allegations that Sprint and Verizon placed unauthorized, third-party charges on consumers' mobile telephone bills
, a practice known as "cramming."
Consumers who have been "crammed" often have charges, typically $9.99 per month, for "premium" text message subscription services (also known as "PSMS" subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores that the consumers have never heard of or requested. Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nationwide settlements to resolve allegations regarding cramming. Similar settlements with AT&T were announced in October of 2014 ($105 million)
, and T-Mobile in December of 2014 ($90 million). All four mobile carriers announced they would cease billing customers for commercial PSMS in the fall of 2013.
Sprint will provide $50 million and Verizon will provide $70 million directly to consumers who were victims of cramming. Consumers can submit claims under the redress programs by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com
. On those websites, consumers can submit claims, find information about refund eligibility and how to obtain a refund, and can request a free account summary that details PSMS purchases on their accounts.
Southern California Edison (SCE)
is currently in the process of cutting about 500 IT workers at its Irwindale offices and replacing them with cheaper H-1B visa holders
working for Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services; two India based IT outsourcing firms. SCE will save about $40,000 per worker
, about $16 million a year by replacing American workers with foreigners on an H-1B visa. The layoffs began in August and are expected to be completed by the end of March.
Perhaps it was the fact that SCE is a utility and more in the public eye or perhaps SCE was too flagrant in their swap, but U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.)
and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala)
have both expressed concern over the incident.
"Based on the information currently available, this appears to be an example of precisely what the H-1B visa is not intended to be: a program to simply replace American workers en masse with cheap labor from overseas," Issa said in a statement released late Friday.
A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill in January that would nearly double the number of H1-B guest worker visas.
New Chinese rules will require foreign firms to hand over their source code
for most computing and networking equipment. Companies would also have to set up research and development centers in the country, get permits for workers servicing technology equipment and build "ports" which enable Chinese officials to manage and monitor data processed by their hardware. The regulations initially apply to firms selling products to Chinese banks but are part of a wider initiative.
It comes at a time of heightened tension between the USA and China over cybersecurity. Beijing has considered its reliance on foreign technology a national security weakness, particularly following former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's revelations that US spy agencies planted code in American-made software to snoop on overseas targets. It was also alleged that the US National Security Agency spied on Chinese firm Huawei, while the US Senate claimed that the Chinese government broke into the computers of airlines and military contractors.
US business groups called the rules "intrusive", saying they would force technology sellers to create backdoors for the Chinese government, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms and disclose sensitive intellectual property. They have asked the Chinese government to delay implementation of the regulations.
In 2008, the Drug Enforcement Agency created a program to automatically read and monitor vehicle license plates near border crossings in California, Arizona, and Texas. Federal authorities explained that the system would be used strictly to track the movement of contraband and money by Mexican drug cartels. Today, however, the system has been secretly expanded
to hundreds of cameras and scanners far away from border crossings, from Georgia to New Jersey to Florida. The resulting database tracks the movement of millions of vehicles — maybe yours — throughout the United States. Who says that bureaucrats don’t know how to take an idea and run with it?
According to documents and e-mails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, the vast database can be searched by any participating police agency. No search warrants are required, and no court supervises the system’s management. Not that long ago, the idea of maintaining such information on the movement of law-abiding citizens would have been universally derided as a police state tactic. Many of the same politicians who rush to the microphones to denounce Facebook or Google for using “personal” data to help sell consumers shampoo or Doritos are proving awfully quiet about the proliferation of government databases on private citizens.
A few months after fining a Marriott hotel
for interfering with customer Wi-Fi hotspots in order to force customers to pay $250 to $1,000 for access to their own WiFi network, the FCC made its stance on the practice inescapably clear:
No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner's Wi-Fi network. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.
Marriott and several other organizations claimed their actions were valid security measures, protecting their customers "from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft," and requested clarification from the FCC on just how much WiFi interference they were allowed to get away with; now they have their answer. Of course the FCC ruling could still be challenged in court, but is likely to have an immediate effect reducing how widespread this practice is. The public is urged to visit http://www.fcc.gov/complaints
or call 1-888-CALL-FCC if you have reason to believe your personal Wi-Fi hot spot has been blocked.
Earlier this year tech giants Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe were hit with a class action lawsuit by 64,000 programmers and engineers
employed by the companies, over secret agreements not to poach each other’s employees, spanning 2005 to 2009. The plaintiffs claim that this cost them mobility and higher paying jobs, estimated to be worth $3 billion in lost compensation.
Now the companies have agreed to a settlement, to the tune of $415 million, to be paid jointly by all four, while still denying any wrongdoing. A few hundreds of millions is a fairly small amount, and it may be worth paying this cost to settle quickly. All four companies have tried to cultivate an image as progressive and worker friendly. A long drawn out court case, where they are shown to conspire against the best interest of their employees would damage this reputation.
T-Mobile, the fourth-largest U.S. wireless carrier, won its bid to change rules
for judging whether market leaders AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. charge smaller competitors too much to use their networks for roaming. The Federal Communications Commission in an order released today said it would grant a petition from T-Mobile, and would compare proposed roaming rates with other prices, during disputes.
As usual, Verizon claimed the rule change would "discourage investment". AT&T says T-Mobile "has other options, including building out its own broadband network", and said they will challenge the FCC's decision.
The average data roaming rate paid by T-Mobile in 2013 was 30¢/MB
. With T-Mobile's $30 for 5 GByte per month plan
, using your entire quota while roaming would actually cost the company about $1,500 in roaming fees. AT&T drives-up that price, charging 150 percent more than the average rate T-Mobile pays for data roaming elsewhere.