The daily business briefing: November 7, 2019

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Harold Maass
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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1.

California discloses it's investigating Facebook privacy practices

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Wednesday revealed the state is investigating Facebook's privacy practices. Becerra made the disclosure as the state filed a lawsuit against the social networking company over its refusal to comply with subpoenas to hand over documents and respond to questions. "Facebook is not just continuing to drag its feet in response to the Attorney General’s investigation, it is failing to comply," the lawsuit said. The state's investigation started in response to the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company that collected personal information on up to 87 million Facebook users without their consent. The Federal Trade Commission already has fined Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations uncovered in an investigation triggered by the same scandal. Facebook did not immediately comment on the case. [The Associated Press]

2.

Beijing: U.S., China agree to lift tariffs in phases under any deal

China and the U.S. have agreed to lift new tariffs on each other's goods in stages as part of any "phase one" trade deal, China's Commerce Ministry said Thursday. Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said the agreement came as the two sides moved closer to an agreement on ending their trade war. A key condition is that the two countries must scrap an equal amount of levies simultaneously. The news sent U.S. stock index futures surging. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite were all up by around 0.5 percent. All three main U.S. indexes reached all-time highs earlier in the week. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly might delay a meeting to sign an interim trade deal until December. [Bloomberg, MarketWatch]

3.

2 former Twitter employees accused of spying on users for Saudi Arabia

Federal authorities have charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia. The charges were disclosed Wednesday in San Francisco after the Tuesday arrest of one of the suspects, U.S. citizen Ahmad Abouammo. He was accused of spying on three users for the Saudi government. The second suspect is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen accused of accessing more than 6,000 users' personal information in 2015 for Saudi Arabia. One of the accounts belonged to prominent dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was assassinated in Istanbul last year. The Saudis implicated in the case included an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA determined probably ordered Khashoggi's killing. [The Washington Post]

4.

Airbnb announces plans to verify all 7 million listings

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Wednesday announced the company's plans to verify all 7 million listings to give customers "peace of mind" after a shooting at an Airbnb "party house" in California last week left 5 people dead. In a company-wide email, Chesky said "trust is the real energy that drives Airbnb" and pledged to "do everything possible," including launching a new 24/7 Neighbor Hotline and manually screening suspicious "high-risk reservations." The Airbnb CEO also tweeted the short-term rental giant's new plans to ensure all listings are advertised accurately and fully refund customers if listings were inaccurate after a Vice News investigation uncovered a "nationwide web of deception." Chesky noted that "two million people a night stay in Airbnbs," making it "hard to prevent every bad thing happening." [CNBC, Airbnb]

5.

Roku shares plunge as losses grow

Roku shares dropped by 15 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday after the entertainment streaming and smart TV company reported widening losses. Roku said it lost an adjusted 22 cents per share in the third quarter, up from a loss of 9 cents a share in the same quarter last year. Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv had expected a loss of 28 cents per share. The company reported revenue of $261 million, beating Refinitiv consensus estimates of $256.9 million and marking roughly a 50 percent increase over the same period last year. Roku also reported 32.3 million active accounts, 1.7 million more than in the previous quarter, and a 30 percent increase since last year in average revenue per user to $22.58, beating expectations. [MarketWatch]