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State AG launches antitrust investigation into Google practices

(BUSINESS NEWS) Google’s business practices are the subject of yet another anti-trust investigation, this time at a state level.

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The Missouri Attorney General’s Office thinks that Google is breaking state consumer protection and antitrust laws, and has issued a subpoena to gather documents and other information for its investigation.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, who will run for U.S. Senate next year as a Republican, says that “There is a strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind.”

His office accuses Google of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, as well as other state antitrust laws.

Hawley’s complaints against Google include the ways in which the tech company collects and uses user information, including details of their credit card transactions.

“When a company has access to as much consumer information as Google does,” Hawley said in a statement, “it’s my duty to ensure they are using it appropriately. I will not let Missouri consumers and businesses be exploited by industry giants.”

Hawley also believes that Google violates antitrust laws by preferentially listing websites owned by Google over competitors’ sites in search results. For this practice, Google was recently fined $2.7 billion by the European Union.

There are further accusations that Google has “lifted information from competitors’ websites to use on Google’s own sites and Google products.”

Google, and other tech companies, have been under heat recently from the U.S. government. Google, Facebook, and Twitter were recently grilled in a Senate hearing over Russian-funded propaganda on social media sites in the run-up to last year’s election.

In July, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over new technology that Google is using to match users’ ad clicks with in-store purchases.

Hawley says that during the Obama administration, the FTC gave Google a “free pass,” but that he “will not stand by and let private consumer information be jeopardized by industry giants, especially to pad their profits.”

Ellen Vessels, Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Business News

Why email remains the top communication tool for businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Communication has changed tremendously over the years, but email appears to remain home base. Here’s why.

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Smartphones are so popular, you might assume that phone calls, text messages, video chat, Slack, Trello, or just social media would have surpassed email as the most popular form of communication. Surprisingly, they have only enabled its growth.

Email is, hands down, the most prominent form of communication and collaboration among businesses, and that’s not expected to change any time soon. “Over the course of the last year, there has been considerable discussion about the role of email in workplaces that depend heavily on social network and other collaboration tools,” says David Roe of CMS Wire.

“In these discussions, there appears to be a general consensus that while social networks are useful to achieve work-related goals, email remains the undisputed communications tool in the enterprise.” The statistics back up these claims.

Worldwide, there are more than 2.5 billion email users, and that number is expected to climb to 2.9 billion by the end of next year. That represents more than a third of the global population operating one or more active email accounts.

Right now, only about 25 percent of current email accounts are business accounts, but we can expect a rapid increase in those as well. The average office worker will send and receive as many as 121 email messages per day.

David Roe also addressed a SendGrind study called The Future of Digital Communication, which evaluated trends in digital communication among the various generations. The findings showed that 74 percent of people chose email as their preferred method of communication and 89 percent email at least once every month for business or personal reasons.

Email is a huge part of our collaborative and communicative society, so understanding its role in business and society can play a huge role in mastering trends to the best advantage in your enterprise.

Roe further explains that, although the status of email has not changed within the walls of business enterprises, it has evolved. “The kinds of people using it are changing so it is only logical that the way it is being used is going to change too,” he says.

A younger generation that’s more in tune with digital trends and technology will soon be dominating the workforce, and email is adapting. SendGrind CMO Scott Heimes said in The Future of Digital Communication report that new technology will render email a new, more useful entity.

“With chatbots making their way into email and messaging apps in 2017, 2018 will be the year in which chatbots effectively provide personalized experiences to customers, if done correctly,” Heimes said. “Marketers will leverage data from email marketing, display retargeting, social media ads and chatbots to create a cohesive and unified experience for customers.”

This is just a glimpse of what’s to come for email users, and businesses may capitalize on its new roles for more effective collaboration.

Given the steadily evolving landscape that is email, here are the chief reasons we can expect it to stick around as a viable business tool:

Convenience: Can you imagine being on the phone or texting/social messaging for the equivalent of 121 email messages per day? You can often accomplish more in a 10-minute phone call than you can in 10 emails, but sending and receiving messages when it’s the most convenient option can be a huge draw for busy employees.

Security: Phone calls can be overheard, texts intercepted, and social media messaging accounts hacked. Email can also be hacked, but thanks to encryption services that plug right into Microsoft, Gmail, or other enterprise email services, that data can be protected.

Work-From-Home Collaboration: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of employees performed all or some of their work from home in 2016, and that number’s expected to grow substantially over the coming decade. Although collaboration programs are popular, working from home simply wouldn’t be possible for this many people without email.

Ease of Talking to People: Some people freeze up when they speak on the phone. Others just don’t like it. Millennials and Gen Z employees are entering the workforce in full swing now, and their use of digital technology makes email a go-to solution. Workers who hate phone conversations can communicate easily with their devices and avoid too much interpersonal interaction.

Information Transfer: There’s rarely a better method of transferring information than via email. Not only can you transfer files and documents to the recipient(s), but you can also store the information for future reference.

Instant Notifications: Email speeds are faster than ever. Posts arrive in your inbox nearly instantaneously. Real-time communication is practicable in a convenient, simple method.

Ease of Access: Thanks to smartphones, you can get access to your email pretty much anywhere. There’s also no need for a WiFi connection since data plans are robust and cell phone coverage broader than ever.

Email is not a perfect system. Like every other form of communication it has its downsides, but it’s proven to be the most useful form of communication to date. Although new forms of collaboration surface regularly, email probably isn’t going anywhere.

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Business News

So the Labor Department is cool with unpaid internships again

(BUSINESS NEWS) Regulations on unpaid internships continue to wax and wane, and businesses that opt to use unpaid labor should be aware of new regulations.

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Unpaid internships are a deacreasingly common institution in the United States, with help from former regulatory attempts to make them more difficult to create.

That regulatory oversight might become more relaxed after the Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that governs the role of unpaid internships in the modern American workforce.

Last week, the United States’ labor governing body decided to revise its guidelines on unpaid internships using the concept of a “primary beneficiary test.”

The core principle behind the seven statements that comprise the primary beneficiary test revolves around the idea that the reason you are hiring unpaid interns is for work that provides the intern with the primary benefit (educational opportunities, hands on learning, and networking), not because the company isn’t paying someone else to perform the same activities.

So with these guidelines, there’d be no more call for jokes about interns fetching coffee or making copies. Sounds like a win for the intern, right?

Not exactly.

The guidelines stress, however, that there is no magic quota of yes or no answers that yields the unpaid intern in question has job duties that would require payment. That even includes answering “no” to the statement that reads: “the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.”

Of course, if a company were in violation of these guidelines, especially the one regarding compensation, it would be easier for adjudication to be brought against the company into a court of law. These rules start as the groundwork for any legal action interns can bring against an organization.

The first set of six guidelines were developed in 2010. By 2011, a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns against Fox Searchlight while working Darren Aronofsky feature, Black Swan, claiming the interns were performing job duties in need of compensation (read: they weren’t already paying employees to do the same roles, rather using interns as free labor).

The ruling in 2013 was in favor of the interns, but a different federal court reversed that decision in 2015. It is interesting to note that the revised guidelines published by the DOL only a week ago were derived from the Court’s 2015 decision on this case.

The larger trend of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns may cause a company pause if they reverse decisions about payment of employees.

Despite the judicial onslaught, some organizations may still choose to pursue unpaid internships in light of the relaxation of the guidelines by the DOL.

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Business News

Starbucks’ Teavana chain finally settles lawsuit with Simon Property Group

(BUSINESS NEWS) A bitter battle over store closures concludes with private settlement – and Teavana stores are still closing.

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A months-long legal fight between Starbucks’ Teavana and Simon Property Group, the number one mall operator in the U.S., has come to an end with a private settlement that reportedly allows the tea chain to move forward with some of its store closures.

In July 2017, Starbucks unveiled plans to close all 379 retail locations of its floundering Teavana stores.

Shortly thereafter, Simon Property Group got a local judge to bar Starbucks from closing the 77 Teavana locations in its malls, a peculiar legal move for this situation. Starbucks would be breaking its lease agreement with Simon, and Simon wasn’t going to stand for it.

Simon Property Group cited the ongoing financial plights traditional malls have experienced for years as more and more retailers shut their doors as its primary reason for blocking Starbuck’s actions. The difference with Teavana is that Starbucks isn’t under great financial stress and can actually afford to keep the stores open, per court documents.

Starbucks disagreed, but in November, a judge sided with Simon and ordered Starbucks to keep its Teavana stores open and not break dozens of leases nationally. Starbucks fought back with a December appeal, but the case moved up to Indiana’s highest court, bypassing the intermediate Court of Appeals.

And now, before Starbucks’ appeal could be heard, the dueling companies have apparently reached an undisclosed settlement, according to New York Post reports. Exact settlement details have not been revealed, but the Post has found at least two Teavana locations that are closing in just a few days, indicating that settlement may play out in Starbucks’ favor.

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