Uber bringing fleet of self-driving cars to Washington, DC

Andrei Stanescu/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Uber is bringing a fleet of self-driving cars to the nation's capital to begin mapping out prospective routes -- aided by human drivers at first -- starting on Friday.

The new self-driving cars that are expected to hit the roads in Washington, D.C., will have the initial goal of data collection, and will have a human vehicle operator maintaining control of the car at all times, Uber said in a blogpost.

"We are using a phased approach to develop and deploy our self-driving vehicles, taking the necessary steps to operate safely in every city," Danielle Burr, the head of Uber federal affairs wrote. "Manual data collection is the first step in our development process and part of how we are validating our self-driving expansion approach."

They hope to gain information about different city-specific scenarios that the cars might encounter and create high-definition maps.

"We believe self-driving technology can play an important role in expanding transportation access," Burr added, "and we’re committed to developing this technology with safety at its core."

Uber has already begun the first steps of implementing self-driving cars in a handful of other cities including San Francisco and Dallas, though the technology has been embroiled in controversy in the past.

In March 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian while driving in autonomous mode, marking the apparent first case of a pedestrian death by a self-driving vehicle. A later investigation revealed the human operator was watching a TV show at the time of the fatal crash.

In the wake of the crash, Uber temporarily suspended its self-driving operations, saying its focus would be on safety.

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Tesla overtakes Volkswagen for No. 2 spot among world's most valuable carmakers

jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. electric car company Tesla has topped Germany's Volkswagen to become the second most valuable automaker in the world.

The electric car maker's market value surpassed the $100 billion mark this week, overtaking Volkswagen's approximate $99 billion. Both car companies still trail far behind the value of Japan's Toyota, which has a market cap of more than $234 billion.

Tesla, a relatively new player to the industry, was founded by CEO Elon Musk in 2003. Volkswagen's history dates back to 1930's Germany.

Surpassing the $100 billion market cap could mean a big pay bump for Musk, potentially unlocking a pay package worth more than $50 billion for the CEO, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Stock for Tesla has soared in recent months, more than doubling in value since late October 2019. The market rally may have been driven by news of high third-quarter profits and global expansion -- the company successfully opened a Gigafactory in China and announced plans to build one in Germany.

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Greta Thunberg joins climate strike on last day in Davos

DisobeyArt/iStock(DAVOS, Switzerland) -- Greta Thunberg joined fellow activists in a climate strike Friday, capping off her time in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, where she continued her push for climate change action.

Earlier that day, Thunberg once again called out world and business leaders for their inaction on the issue.

"As long as the science is being ignored, as long as the facts are not being taken into account and as long as the situation is not being treated as a crisis, then world and business leaders can of course continue to ignore the situation," she said at a news conference.

Thunberg, 17, of Sweden, also spoke about U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggesting she go to college for economics and then "come back and explain that to us."

When asked if the comment had any effect on her, she matter-of-factly replied: "Of course, no effect."

"We are being criticized like that all the time," Thunberg said at the news conference onstage with four other campaigners. "Of course, if we could care about that then we wouldn't be able to do what we do."

Thunberg is currently taking a gap year from school to focus on her activism.

The World Economic Forum began Tuesday. A major focal point at the conference, which brings together world leaders at the beginning of the year to discuss global, regional and industrial agendas, was climate change.

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Gas-guzzling Hummer could make its comeback as an all-electric truck

Spauln/iStock(NEW YORK) -- General Motors' hulking, ostentatious, gas-guzzling Hummer SUV was once the scourge of environmentalists. Now the military-style ute may have its ultimate revenge: a second chance as an all-electric pickup truck.

That's right. GM, which discontinued the Hummer brand in 2010 as gasoline prices were skyrocketing and the Detroit automaker was culling brands as part of its bankruptcy agreement, has decided to revive the Hummer name, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The nameplate will allegedly be sold under GM's GMC brand, the company's premium truck division.

The new Hummer will be officially announced in a Super Bowl ad that also stars LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, the WSJ said, citing unnamed sources.

GM declined to comment to ABC News. A representative for James did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelly Blue Book and AutoTrader, called the reported move "fabulous," noting the "beautiful irony" in the vehicle's return.

"Ten years ago the Hummer was public enemy No. 1," Brauer told ABC News. "It was a poster child for environmentalists -- a symbol of the end of the earth."

Even though the brawny Hummer was a target of the green community -- dealers would report vandalism of the vehicles -- the 10-mpg SUV appealed to a certain segment of drivers, and deliveries of the Hummer H2 and H3 totaled 71,524 units in 2006, its best year of sales since 1999, when GM bought the brand from AM General.

Brauer noted that today, 70% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. are trucks and SUVs.

"Trucks will always be critical to domestic manufacturers," he said. "This is a segment that's growing, and the Hummer name is high profile."

Plus, it adds visibility to GM's electrification efforts, he said. GM has vowed to produce 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023, with Cadillac as the lead GM brand for future EVs.

GM currently has one EV available to eco-conscious consumers: the Bolt, a "nerdy-looking hatchback with a great range," according to Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific. Sales of the Bolt have been modest compared to the Tesla Model 3, the top-selling EV in the U.S.

If GM truly wants to take on EV leader Tesla -- and its futuristic, nontraditional Cybertruck -- an all-electric Hummer makes perfect sense, Kim noted. But the Hummer name could also turn off potential buyers.

"The Hummer was a lightning rod for controversy ... it was very polarizing," he said. "It was big and brash and people drove it to make a statement."

GM could minimize the risk by casting the born-again Hummer as an upscale, outdoor adventure vehicle that's no longer powered by Middle Eastern oil, Kim suggested.

"Vehicles that are rugged and cool and go off-roading are very fashionable right now," he explained. "GM still owned the Hummer trademark. Why not leverage the name?"

GM is not the only automaker with plans to build an EV truck. A slew of battery-electric models are about to join the marketplace in the next 12 to 20 months, including offerings from Ford, Jeep, Rivian and Bollinger.

The all-electric Hummer "is a move to expand the reach into important segments and bring in new buyers to EVs," Jeff Schuster, president of global vehicle forecasting at LMC Automotive, told ABC News. "GM wanted to do something that would stand out in a crowded market."

Kim of AutoPacific said current pickup owners will still need to be wooed by carmakers. He's most bullish on the Rivian R1T truck, which is expected to cost about $70,000 and be a high-volume seller.

"There's a lot of buzz around Rivian," he said. "There's so much innovation in that truck."

Eddie Alterman, chief brand officer at Hearst Autos, said a Hummer truck could put to bed consumers' lingering concerns about the all-weather, all-terrain capabilities of EVs. And bringing back the Hummer nameplate has financial upsides for GM.

"Establishing brand names in the public sphere is a very expensive affair," he told ABC News. "GM has a successful history of repurposing brand names. The Hummer is still an American icon. People rap about them."

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Steve Mnuchin tells Greta Thunberg to study economics before discussing fossil fuel divestment

Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks(DAVOS, Switzerland) -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said teen climate activist Greta Thunberg can talk about divesting from fossil fuels "after she goes and studies economics."

Mnuchin made the comments to reporters Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, where world and business leaders are gathering for the annual World Economic Forum meeting.

Thunberg, 17, and Mnuchin, 57, were both headline speakers at this year's gathering.

When asked by a reporter if Thunberg's call for an end to fossil fuel investment would threaten U.S. economic growth, Mnuchin responded with: "Is she the chief economist or who is she? I'm confused."

He then followed up with, "that's a joke."

"After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us," Mnuchin said.

The Swedish teen, who is currently taking a gap year from school for her activism work, said she intends to return to school and have a "normal life" in August.

She responded to Mnuchin's remarks on Twitter, saying "it doesn't take a college degree" to see the impact of fossil fuel subsidies and investments on carbon emission.

"My gap year ends in August, but it doesn’t take a college degree in economics to realise that our remaining 1,5° carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don’t add up," she wrote.

"So either you tell us how to achieve this mitigation or explain to future generations and those already affected by the climate emergency why we should abandon our climate commitments," she added in a follow-up tweet.
This isn't the first time world leaders have come after the teen.

President Donald Trump has famously feuded with Greta on Twitter, telling her to "chill."

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil called her a "brat."

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Cashless stores and restaurants banned in New York City

SolStock/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Cash will remain king in Big Apple stores and restaurants.

The New York City Council will vote Thursday to prohibit businesses from only accepting credit card, debit or digital payments. There were concerns from elected officials that such stores and eateries discriminated against poorer customers who don't have access to bank accounts, according to city councilman Ritchie Torres, who drafted the bill.

"Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment," he said at a news conference before the vote.

The bill, which will take effect 90 days after it is signed, makes it illegal for any store to refuse a cash payment from a customer, but there are a few exceptions. Stores can refuse to take denominations larger than $20, and they would be exempt from the ban if they have a machine on site that can load cash onto a prepaid card.

Online and phone purchases would also be exempt from the law, which fines first time violators $1,000.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said he supports the bill and will sign it into law.

Torres said this was a win for the city, especially its working class members. The city's Department of Consumer Affairs reported in October that nearly 11.2% of New Yorkers have no bank account and roughly 22% of city residents used alternative banking services, such as check cashing stores.

"The marketplace of the future must accommodate the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers," Torres said at a news conference before the vote.

The bill had some pushback from some chain stores and small businesses that were cashless. During a hearing on the bill in February, Dos Toros co-founder Leo Kremer said his restaurant chain implemented the policy as a way to keep a tighter control of its finances and help customers get their meals quickly.

"We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless," he said.

Dos Toros didn't immediately return messages for comment on Thursday's vote.

Last year Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Jersey passed laws that banned cashless establishments. Massachusetts passed a similar law in 1978.

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Tinder is adding a panic button to its app for dating emergencies and cracks down on catfishing

iStock/Wachiwit(NEW YORK) -- Tinder announced a slew of new safety features Thursday, ranging from letting users call emergency services while on a date to a photo verification system that ensures "every match is who they say they are."

The updates come a little over a year after headlines about a suspected dating site serial killer rattled those looking for love online.

The dating platform is teaming up with safety app Noonlight to allow users to share details about upcoming dates so there is a record of who they are meeting, where and when.

It also gives users a panic button of sorts with the ability to call emergency services discreetly and easily if they feel they are in danger.

It works as a "silent bodyguard in situations when you're alone or meeting someone for the first time," Brittany LeComte, the co-founder and CCO of Noonlight said of her platform.

"Now, through our integration with Tinder, it can serve as a quick backup for daters, helping to deter bad behavior and helping members meet matches with more confidence," LeComte said in a statement Thursday.

"It’s a first-of-its-kind added security measure to help protect Tinder members even when they’ve taken their interactions off the app into real life," she added.

Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder, called the updates "an important step in driving our safety work forward at an unmatched scale."

Artificial intelligence-powered photo verification tools are also coming to Tinder, to ensure "every match is who they say they are," the company said in a statement.

In addition to enhancing safety, it can also prevent people from "catfishing" or using photos of someone else to lure prospective suitors.

"The feature allows members to self-authenticate through a series of real-time posed selfies, which are compared to existing profile photos using human-assisted AI technology," according to the company. "Verified profiles will display a blue checkmark so members can trust their authenticity."

The platform is also using AI technology to crack down on potentially offensive messages, asking users "Does This Bother You?" if the message is flagged by a machine-learning tool. If they select yes, the user can report the behavior on the app.

Finally, the "Undo" message feature will allow Tinder users to take back a message if it's potentially offensive

Tinder's parent company, Match Group, said the safety partnership with Noonlight will be rolled out on their entire portfolio of dating services in the coming months.

Scott Berkowitz, the president of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said that Match Group had "come to us for ideas and advice on resources and the latest tech available and have been open to trying new things."

"The addition of Noonlight is a good step forward and a valuable component of their overall safety strategy," he said in a statement.

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Sin City changes famous 'What happens here, stays here' slogan

georgeclerk/iStock(LAS VEGAS) -- For years visitors have come to know that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas -- but now Sin City's slogan is getting an update.

The award-winning campaign -- "What happens here, stays here" first created in 2002 -- will reportedly change to "What happens here, only happens here."

The new tourism slogan is expected to be officially unveiled in a 60-second ad during the broadcast of the Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, R&R Partners, the advertising agency behind the slogan told ABC News.

Steve Hill, the president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, announced the news last Friday about the update to the organization's branding at the Vegas Chamber’s Preview Las Vegas event at Wynn Las Vegas.

The advertising agency behind the updated slogan, R&R Partners, reportedly spent several years working on the campaign, but told ABC News that they are currently "not confirming nor denying" the new slogan "until after the ad runs."

"It’s personal to me and the 75 other people at R&R Partners who work on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority account to get it right," Billy Vassiliadis, CEO R&R Partners said in a statement.

"Everything we do is driven by listening to our customers and what they want and need. We are confident this new campaign delivers that, and is the perfect evolution of 'What Happens Here, Stays Here,'" Vassiliadis explained.

Hill also said the goal is for people to see how Las Vegas has transformed itself to be more than the Entertainment Capital of the World, ABC News Las Vegas affiliate KTNV reported.

The city will celebrate on the Las Vegas Strip with activations at various locations and marquees to showcase the new slogan starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening.

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Zero-based budget helped woman pay off $215k worth of debt in four years

DNY59/iStock(NEW YORK) -- When Cindy Zuniga graduated from law school in 2015, she accomplished a major milestone, but it also came with a hefty $215,000 mountain of debt.

“Ninety percent was law school, five percent was from my undergrad and five percent was credit card debt,” she explained to ABC News' Good Morning America.

Like many graduates, she decided to defer her loans for one year after getting her degree, but when that period was over, she started chipping away and began making normal, monthly payments like she was taught to do.

It seemed like a simple and straightforward strategy, but what she didn’t know was that her monthly payments didn’t get very far.

“That first year that I was paying off my debt, I paid $24,000 to my loans. However, I realized that only about $4,000 went to the principal and $20,000 went to the interest,” she said.

Zuniga was devastated, but she said it was a wake up call to start educating herself about how money and finances work.

So, she did what any millennial would do and turned to social media for advice.

“I really needed to hear relatable stories,” she said. “And that’s what I found with these social media platforms, is that they were just telling the stories of ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things. And I wanted to be one of those ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.”

Zuniga was inspired.

She started following fellow social media finance influencers like Bola Sokunbi of Clever Girl Finance, who empowers other women to achieve financial success, Dave Ramsey and Jamila Souffrant, experts who give helpful financial advice on their podcasts, The Dave Ramsey Show and Journey to Launch, respectively, and even Yanely Espinal, a financial educator and host of Miss Be Helpful on YouTube.

From these financial content creators on social media, Zuniga learned about budgeting, tracking expenses and automating savings and went to work.

First, Zuniga refinanced her student loan by taking out a new loan with a private lender who paid off all of her school loans. This allowed her to consolidate her loans into a single student loan with a lower interest rate.

The next thing she did was be extremely intentional with her finances by getting on a very specific budget and knowing exactly where her money was going.

“Refinancing was one of the most important things that I did to pay off my debt,” she said. “Eventually, I started making you know, additional payments to get rid of my debt even faster.”

She also adopted the zero based budget, a method of budgeting where any income amount earned is given a “job.” Zuniga said that a portion of what you earn could go to rent, savings or groceries and the point is that when you subtract the money that’s going out from your income, you would get a balance of zero.

“That type of budgeting method really allowed me to see exactly how much I was bringing in and exactly what I was doing with everything that went out,” she said.

Although she was on the path to financial freedom, it came with a lot of highs and lows too.

“It was extremely difficult, especially being a lawyer in New York City. You’re expected to have a certain kind of lifestyle,” she explained. “I just became very intentional with my finances and that wasn’t really easy to do. Especially as a mid to late 20-something-year-old in this city -- it’s just very tempting to spend here. I was sacrificing a lot because I knew that I had an immediate goal, which was to eliminate all of my debt.”

As a Latina and a daughter of immigrants, Zuniga grew up in a low-income community in the Bronx, New York and said she was raised to understand how destructive debt can be. As a kid, she said her parents’ main focus was putting food on the table and providing a good education for their kids and that there wasn’t much room for any extra things.

Ultimately, Zuniga said that in times when her financial journey became difficult, her parents ended up being her motivation to stick to her goal and keep going.

“I really kept my ‘why’ in my mind. My ‘why’ is really my family,” she said. “I had my parents and my family in the back of my mind at all times knowing that if I made these sacrifices now, I could really help them financially because I could be in the position to do that. Anytime I would be tempted by certain things, I realized that financial security was the goal. And it wasn’t just about me, it was also about my family.”

After 48 months of sticking to a plan and being disciplined with what she spent her money on, Zuniga finally reached her goal.

“I feel so much lighter,” she said. “I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. I can’t really put into words how I feel because I genuinely feel the most confident that I ever have with my finances.”
Now, the 30-year-old is following in the footsteps of some of her favorite social media finance influencers and helping others take control of their finances and helping them pay off their debts with her program, “Zero Based Budget.”

There, she offers sessions where she coaches others through their finances, creates customized budget plans and provides non judgmental advice for any questions that anyone may have.

“I realized there’s a need for people to just sit with someone that, you know, like a girlfriend that they’re meeting for a cup of coffee to discuss finances, how to get your money right,” said Zuniga. “I wanted to open the door for people to ask those embarrassing questions, write those questions that you might think are embarassing and help people just better manage their money.”

On her Instagram under the same name, Zuniga offers money saving tips and advice to nearly 28,000 followers and her growing Zero Based Budget community.

“As a young Latina daughter of immigrants, it means a lot because it’s an example that I hope to set to other women, but particularly women of color of just how much you can accomplish with your finances when you become intentional and what you decide to really take control of,” she said.

Below are more of Zuniga’s Zero Based Budget tips:

Before beginning Zuniga’s method, she recommends understanding these top three things first:

1. Understand how much debt you have

Zuniga says most people don’t know how much debt they have. She says in order to pay debt off, it’s important to sit down and write what kind of debt you have such as student loans or credit card debt and calculate the total balance. Once you figure out the total balance, determine what the interest rate is.

2. Select a payoff method

Zuniga says there are two popular payoff methods: Debt-snowball and Debt-avalanche.

Under the debt-snowball method, smaller debts will be paid off first, while still making minimum payments on larger debts.

Unlike the snowball method, the debt-avalanche method calls for paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first to the lowest interest rate.

3. Create a budget

“When you create a budget, you’re really going to become mindful of the different types of expenses that you have,” said Zuniga. “It’s also going to make you see what’s necessary in your life like rent and your lights and groceries … Once your budget tell you how much you can throw at your debt, you basically make a plan to put that model to that specific debt that you’re targeting and you go from there.”

Once debts are determined, a payoff method is selected and a budget is implemented, Zuniga says that three main spending areas to be mindful of are food, housing costs and transportation.

When Zuniga was on the road to paying off her mountain of debt, she said she rarely ate out and meal prepped.

“You can save thousands of dollars a year by just bringing lunch from home,” she said.

Zuniga became more intentional about the types of groceries that she bought, which helped her eliminate food waste.

The second area that she says to be mindful of is housing.

“If you’re paying $2,500 a month in a place like New York City and you can take on a roommate and potentially pay $1,800 instead, you can save $700 a month,” she said.

The final area that Zuniga mentioned was transportation. She said that if there isn’t a need to buy a car, then don’t get one and eliminate that cost. Instead, take public transportation.

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Boeing's new CEO: 'We were our own worst enemy'

Wolterk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Boeing CEO David Calhoun, who's been on the job about a week, said that in the aftermath of the 737 Max crisis, "We were our own worst enemy."

Calhoun, a longtime Boeing board member who took over after the sudden departure of Dennis Muilenburg, spoke out on Wednesday about how he hoped to restore trust among his employees and his customers.

The best way to rebuild consumer confidence in the 737 Max jets, Calhoun added, is when pilots can vouch for them.

"When pilots get on that airplane and support that airplane, I believe passengers will follow," he said during a phone call with media.

Governments and airlines around the world have grounded 737 Max aircraft since March 2019 after two crashes within six months of each other -- in October 2018 and March 2019 -- killed a total of 346 people.

Boeing announced in December it was suspending production of the jets starting this month.

Calhoun said he expects production of 737 Max aircraft to restart a few months before current jets return to the skies, approximately in mid-2020. The company's supply chain likely will be "reinvigorated" even before that, he added.

In discussing what went wrong with previous 737 Max aircraft, Calhoun said the company made a "fatal assumption" about how pilots would respond to the triggering of the MCAS software system, which contributed to the two deadly crashes.

"The process around which that fatal assumption was made, around what a pilot would do in a moment in time in a certain circumstance, based on a very long historical record, that process should have had more light shined on it," he said. "We will do things to shine brighter lights -- we will do things to create more authorities and approvals and all the things you would expect us to do."

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DOT proposes new rules for emotional support animals on planes

tonefotografia/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Travelers may be used to flying with their emotional support animals -- anything from a pet hamster to a baby crocodile -- but the rules are about to change, according to a new proposal from the Department of Transportation.

The proposal unveiled by DOT on Wednesday proposes to strictly limit the definition of a service animal to a dog, reversing a policy that permits a wide range of other animals to fly under that framework.

DOT’s new rule also no longer requires airlines to recognize emotional support animals, with the agency citing a number of reasons for the change.

Department officials noted that airlines have consistently complained of fraudulent incidents related to the declaration of certain pets as emotional support animals, even costing the industry millions in unpaid pet carriage fees.

The airline industry as a whole is applauding the move as a means of ensuring the safety of every flying traveler.

"The increased availability of fraudulent ESA credentials has enabled people who are not truly in need of animal assistance to abuse the rules and evade airline policies regarding animals in the cabin," Airlines for America said in a statement. "This has led to an increase in incidents by untrained animals threatening the health and safety of passengers, crew and passengers with disabilities traveling with legitimate service animals."

In one instance, United Airlines denied a passenger’s attempt to bring a peacock onto a flight out of Newark Liberty International.

According to the petition, "passengers have attempted to fly with many different unusual species of animals, such as a peacock, ducks, turkeys, pigs, iguanas, and various other types of animals as emotional support or service animals, causing confusion for airline employees and additional scrutiny for service animal users."

The proposal also come with new check-in rules for passengers looking to fly with service animals, requiring them to arrive at the airport at least an hour earlier than passengers flying without animals.

"Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience," said Nicholas E. Calio, president and CEO of A4A, adding, "We are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone."

There is a 60-day public comment period before the agency can move forward on next steps and implementation.

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Coalition of NGOs battling private equity firm trying to buy '.org' domain

DenisKot/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Some of the world's biggest nonprofit organizations are banding together to fight the purchase of the ".org" internet address by a private equity firm, calling management of the domain a "human rights and social justice issue."

".ORG is the place where civil society and NGOs reside in the digital environment," read an open letter to the internet's governing body, signed by leaders from groups including Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The coalition of NGOs raised concerns over price-raising, surveillance and online censorship, among others. Their letter was released Wednesday in Davos, where world and business leaders gathered for the annual World Economic Forum conference.

Currently, the domain is owned by Internet Society, a Virginia-based nonprofit that established the Public Interest Registry that manages the .org domain.

The proposed acquisition by Ethos Capital, for more than $1 billion, was announced in late November.

Ethos Capital said the firm has taken steps to address issues raised by the nonprofits.

The group of NGOs is arguing the sale "undermines the safety and stability of the digital space for countless non-governmental organizations, their partners, and their broader communities."

"We believe the ownership and management of .ORG is a significant human rights and social justice issue," the letter states. "This unique address is a critical channel for civil society to seek and receive information about human rights and other environmental and social justice issues, and to hold institutions accountable."

Last week, a group of Democratic lawmakers led by 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also wrote an open letter to the internet's governing body, ICANN, opposing the acquisition.

"The Ethos Capital takeover of the .ORG domain fails the public interest test in numerous ways," the lawmakers wrote. "It threatens the quality and reliability of .ORG websites, and could severely limit access to these domains via price increases and 'arbitrary censorship.'"

The letter was signed by Warren, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

An Ethos Capital spokesperson told ABC News on Wednesday that "many facts have been misconstrued in the public discourse" and argued the "transaction serves the public interest in several important ways."

"First, it will ensure the long-term growth and development of the .ORG domain by enabling PIR to expand its work and the services it provides to the nonprofit community and other .ORG users in innovative and socially responsible ways," the spokesperson said. "Second, it will provide essential support for the ongoing work of the Internet Society by providing a substantial endowment that will ensure its ability to continue its efforts to build a more accessible, inclusive and secure Internet around the world."
The company added that it will keep PIR's current management team in place "so that .ORG will remain secure, reliable and stable."

It has also outlined pricing guidelines, which don't exist, to ensure "that prices will stay low," and that it will "enshrine these pricing commitments into the founding documents governing the operation of .ORG moving forward."

Finally, the company said it takes "freedom of expression very seriously, and the registry's commitment to free speech will continue unabated" and that it's creating a Stewardship Council that "will ratify strong rules protecting freedom of expression and safeguarding against censorship."

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Amtrak backtracks on $25,000 charge to wheelchair passengers, promises policy review


(NEW YORK) -- Amtrak officials have apologized and said they're suspending a policy after two wheelchair users in a group of five passengers were charged $25,000.

Five members of Access Living, an Illinois-based nonprofit that advocates for disabled persons, were traveling from Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois, on Wednesday and paid a regular fare of $16, said Bridget Hayman, a spokeswoman for the passengers.

Initially, though, when the group bought tickets in December, Amtrak said accommodating two of the five would cost an additional $25,000 because cars would have to be added to the three-car train to accommodate everyone.

Typically, Hayman explained, some seats in a car are removed to make room for wheelchair passengers at no additional charge.

"It was sticker shock," she said. "I went back to look at the old bills to see what we were charged, and for seat removal there were no additional charges."

Hayman told ABC News she and her colleagues were grateful Amtrak rescinded the charge but were concerned that it could happen to wheelchair passengers in the future.

"There are so many people with disability needs who ride the train, and they've been able to take it without any inconvenience in the past," she added.

Members of the group reached out to Amtrak and were told the charges were part of a new policy. No additional details were provided until last week, when the group's story went public.

Amtrak apologized and added three more cars for Wednesday's trip.

"We assured them that as valued customers we will accommodate all passengers who use wheelchairs aboard the same Amtrak trains they originally requested between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Ill," Marc Magliari, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

In an additional statement, Amtrak said they were suspending the policy in question.

"After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question," the statement said. "It was never meant to be applied to this situation and we apologize for that mistake. We are glad it has all worked out and we were able to accommodate our customers' trip. We will do better next time. We are America’s Railroad and we want to provide more trips, not fewer."

Word of the group's predicament made headway among the disabled community and several prominent activists, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee, who tweeted out her frustration at Amtrak.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years. Yet in 2020, @Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together," she tweeted.

Magliari said Amtrak is planning to meet with the senator to review its policies on accommodations for disabled riders, but couldn't immediately provide additional details.

"It is outrageous that Amtrak asked a group of passengers with disabilities to pay $25,000 to ride from the City of Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois," Duckworth said in a statement. "It is also disappointing that Amtrak leadership appears to have failed to offer a public apology for its initial mistake."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

UN officials implicate Saudi Arabia for hacking Jeff Bezos' phone

GOCMEN/iStock(UNITED NATIONS) -- United Nations officials said they have information that suggests Saudi Arabia may have attempted to hack Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' phone in an effort to "influence, if not silence" the Washington Post's reporting on the kingdom.

Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, where Saudi dissident Jamal Khasshogi worked as a columnist before he was murdered by Saudi government agents in October 2018.

Moreover, the U.N. officials directly linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the alleged hacking. Bezos and Mohammed reportedly exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in Los Angeles during the Saudi leader's 2018 tour of the U.S.

"The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia," Agnes Callamard, U.N. Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said in a joint statement Wednesday.

The findings are important amid the "ongoing evaluation of claims" linking the Crown Prince to Khashoggi's murder, the U.N. officials added.

They called for an immediate investigation by U.S. and other authorities into the hacking of Bezos' phone, and into Mohammed's alleged involvement in Khashoggi's murder.

"The circumstances and timing of the hacking and surveillance of Bezos also strengthen support for further investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities of the allegations that the Crown Prince ordered, incited, or, at a minimum, was aware of planning for but failed to stop the mission that fatally targeted Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul," Callamard and Kaye said.

Bezos' phone was hacked at some point between May and June 2018. Two close associates of Khashoggi, Yahya Assiri and Omar Abdulaziz, were also hacked using the same Pegasus malware during the same time period, the officials said.

The gruesome murder of Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, has roiled U.S-Saudi relations in recent years and led to international outrage.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced last month that five men have been sentenced to death for their roles in the killing of Khashoggi.

Ahead of the U.N.'s statement Wednesday, the Saudi embassy in the U.S. called the reports of the kingdom hacking Bezos' phone "absurd."

"Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd," the Saudi embassy said in a tweet. "We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."

Later Wednesday, Saudi's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, added that, "I think absurd is the right word."

"The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly," he said in a video posted to twitter. "And my understanding of the U.N. report, it's not a actually a report, it’s a statement based on a report by a private company, that has not been vetted by any indifferent agency."

"And in its own conclusions 'no hard evidence' to substantiate the claims it's making," he added.

Meanwhile, Bezos posted a photo on Twitter from a Khashoggi memorial, captioning it only: #Jamal.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

New fraudulent text message claims to contain FedEx package information

-Oxford-/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Customers should be cautious about a new text message phishing scam that at first glance looks to be about a FedEx package delivery, the company said.

Some people around the country have received a text message that appears to show a "tracking code" from the package delivery company and prompts the user to enter their "delivery preferences."

The link to set those "preferences" would then take a recipient to a fraudulent, scammer-operated site and would attempt to separate the victim from personal information and money.

FedEx shared a statement with ABC News in response to the recent fraudulent text messages claim: "We are committed to protecting the security and integrity of our network. While there is no foolproof method to prevent the FedEx name from being used in a scam, we are constantly monitoring for such activity and work cooperatively with law enforcement."

"FedEx does not send unsolicited text messages or emails to customers requesting money or package or personal information. Any suspicious text messages or emails should be deleted without being opened, and reported to," the statement continued.

Local law enforcement agencies have also urged people in their communities to be wary of the potential text scam.

The company advised that customers utilize information on its website about unauthorized, fraudulent attempts to resemble their business.

Although the text may appear legitimate, the company says there are a few key factors that can help people identify a fake.

FedEx tips to recognize phishing scams

Recognizing phishing scam e-mails and SMS messages is key to protecting yourself against such theft and other crimes. FedEx says that indicators that an e-mail or SMS message might be fraudulent include:

  • Unexpected requests for money in return for delivery of a package or other item, personal and/or financial information, such as your Social Security number, bank account number, or other identification.
  • Links to misspelled or slightly altered Web-site addresses. For example, variations on the correct Web-site address, such as or
  • Alarming messages and requests for immediate action, such as "Your account will be suspended within 24 hours if you don't respond" or claims that you've won the lottery or a prize.
  • Spelling and grammatical errors and excessive use of exclamation points (!).

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