From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying

TIRUPUR, India — When Alan Greenspan ran a consulting firm and wanted to know where the economy was headed, he would often look at sales of men’s underwear as a guide.

Mr. Greenspan, who later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, believed that when times were tough, men would stop replacing worn-out underwear, which no one could see, before cutting other purchases.

By that measure, India is in a serious slump.

“Sales are down 50 percent,” said Jeffrin Moses, gesturing toward the boxes of cotton briefs and tank tops bulging from the shelves of the Tantex undergarment emporium in Tirupur, the southern city where most of the country’s knitwear is made.

It’s not just underwear. Car sales plunged 32 percent in August, the largest drop in two decades, and carmakers are warning of one million layoffs as shoppers balk at rising prices and struggle to get loans from skittish lenders. Macrotech, a big real estate developer that has teamed up with President Trump on a residential tower in Mumbai, just laid off 400 employees as demand for new housing sinks.

Families are even skimping on the 7-cent packets of Parle biscuits that are a staple of India’s morning milk and tea. They are turning instead to even cheaper snacks made by local food vendors, according to Mayank Shah, a Parle executive. Biscuit sales are down about 8 percent, he said, and if current trends continue, the company may cut as many as 10,000 jobs.

Further darkening India’s outlook is the global economic slowdown, the recent spike in oil prices and the impact of Mr. Trump’s trade battles — including one with India.

On Friday, the Indian government, which spent months playing down evidence of a slowdown, finally acknowledged the depth of the problem, announcing a surprise cut in income taxes for all companies and additional incentives for manufacturers.

And this weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is traveling to Houston to meet with Mr. Trump and try to resolve some of their trade disputes.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Until last year, India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, was the world’s fastest-growing large economy, routinely clocking growth of 8 percent or more. Now the government pegs the country’s growth at 5 percent. And the layoff notices are piling up, with unemployment at 8.4 percent and rising, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.

India’s reversal of fortunes, partly driven by domestic problems like neglected farmers, is ominous for other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are trying to navigate both the weakening global economy and Mr. Trump’s fusillade of trade conflicts.

“India is potentially a bellwether,” said Per Hammarlund, the chief emerging markets strategist at SEB, a Swedish bank. “It’s a sign of the global economic trend right now: Growth has slowed further this year than last year.”

As skittish global investors have flocked to the safety of the dollar, India’s rupee and other emerging-market currencies have plunged in value. That has made vital imports of energy, electronics and factory equipment more expensive. Last weekend’s attack on two Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which sent the global price of oil soaring, underscored just how vulnerable India and other developing countries are to external factors beyond their control.

Like China and Indonesia, India is grappling with the fallout from years of excessive lending encouraged by the state. In India’s case, the overhang of bad bank loans, coupled with recent defaults by nonbank financial firms, has curbed lending to consumers and businesses.

Policy decisions by India’s central and state governments have worsened the country’s downturn, according to economists and business leaders.

Auto manufacturers, for example, were hit by a triple whammy: New safety and emissions standards increased the cost of vehicles, nine states raised taxes on car sales, and the banks and finance companies that fund dealers and 80 percent of consumer car purchases were paralyzed by the credit crunch.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

“All of that coming in one year resulted in a normal cyclical recession becoming a deep depression in the auto sector,” said R.C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest automaker.

Some manufacturers are now begging the government to cut taxes on new car purchases or get old gas guzzlers off the road through a cash-for-clunkers program.

Mr. Modi was criticized in his first term for ignoring early evidence of a slowdown. After he won a sweeping re-election victory in May, many economists expected him to pass a short-term stimulus package and tackle longstanding issues like farm poverty and land reform.

Instead, he dealt the economy a blow with an unexpected tax increase on foreign investors, prompting them to dump Indian stocks and bonds. The rupee reeled.

More recently, the Modi administration has acknowledged the need for action. In addition to the tax cuts on Friday, the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently promised that the government would step in to help automakers and speed infrastructure spending, and she has directed government-owned banks to make more loans. The government also reversed the new taxes on investors.

The textile industry, which employs about 45 million people and is India’s second-largest employer after agriculture, is emblematic of the country’s distress.

On an afternoon in early September, Tirupur’s market for wholesale, overstock and slightly defective clothing was deserted. Mr. Moses said that store owners and distributors typically traveled across India to place bulk orders for shirts, pants, dresses and fabric before the country’s September-to-November festival season.

“Now, people do not come,” he said.

The region’s spinning mills, which twirl cotton into yarn, are cutting production. Although the world price of cotton has plunged because of the increased American tariffs on Chinese textiles, owners say that yarn prices have also fallen, making it difficult for mills to profit.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

At Dollar Industries, which has made men’s underwear for nearly half a century, a 4 percent decline in sales last quarter was a shock.

“I haven’t seen a slowdown like this,” said Gaurav Gupta, a son of one of Dollar’s founders, as he walked through the company’s plants. “For a customer who used to buy six pairs of garments, now he has come down to probably four.”

Still, Dollar’s Italian-made cutting machines continue to slice colorful sheets of fabric for undershirts and underpants, six days a week. About 100 workers sort the pieces and tie them into bales, ready for contractors who will sew them into finished garments.

Dollar has not laid off anyone yet, although it has cut work hours — and paychecks — by 10 to 20 percent. Mr. Gupta said his factories were switching to making thermal underwear for northern India’s chilly winters, and he hoped that the festival season would mark the beginning of a turnaround in sales.

Sambhu Karwar, a 22-year-old employee who smooths the fabric before it is cut, said the job was better than working in his family’s bakery in eastern India. Dollar pays him a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees, or about $167, and provides lodging and some subsidized food.

“It’s good living here,” said Mr. Karwar, whose brother also works at the factory.

The outlook is bleaker at Siva Exports, a contractor that stitches some of Dollar’s underwear.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Most of the sewing machines in the two-story factory sit idle. Siva’s owner, V. Murugesan, said he had to lay off about three-quarters of his tailors over the last six months after he lost his two biggest clients — clothing brands in Italy and France. He said he could not match the prices they could get in Bangladesh, where wages are far lower.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Mr. Murugesan said. “Orders are very slow.” He urged the government to help small exporters like him with subsidies or other support.

Dollar said its distributors and retailers were having trouble borrowing money to finance inventory. The government’s lengthy delays in paying tax refunds to small businesses are increasing the cash crunch.

So Dollar is trying to step into the gap, allowing its partners to buy a few weeks’ worth of stock at a time instead of requiring them to buy three months of inventory as it did previously.

“We are trying to work in a different manner,” said Shashi Agarwal, Dollar’s senior vice president of corporate strategy.

With the cheaper rupee and the higher American tariffs on imported Chinese textiles that began Sept. 1, India has an opportunity to export more garments to the United States.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

That’s the theory, at least.

But C. Anand, director of RTW Renaissance Asia, a Tirupur garment maker that focuses on exports to the United States, said that India could not compete on price alone against exports from Bangladesh or Vietnam or free-trade zones like Jordan or Haiti.

“You have to bring innovation to the market,” he said. For example, he said, his company has devised a way to process the cotton yarn and fabric for an American company’s work uniforms so that they can withstand at least 50 washings without significant wear.

Innovation may not be enough, however.

Vijay Varthanan, who was once a quality control manager at a garment factory and now runs a small grocery store in Tirupur, predicted that times would get worse before they got better.

Sales are down by about 50 percent in his shop, he said, and a lot of people are buying food on credit. Mr. Varthanan said that many workers would head back to their home villages next month for Diwali, India’s biggest holiday — and not come back.

“Everything is totally down,” he said. “People are just waiting for their Diwali bonuses.”

Ayesha Venkataraman contributed research from Mumbai, India.

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Congress Asks More than 80 Companies for Big Tech Complaints

SAN FRANCISCO — House lawmakers have asked more than 80 companies for information about how their businesses may have been harmed by Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, according to four people familiar with the requests.

The House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the influence of the tech giants, sent formal requests for information to the companies on Sept. 13.

They were asked about their own businesses and how the four tech companies may have engaged in anticompetitive behavior, according to the people who have seen the requests and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the lawmakers asked to keep the letters private.

The bipartisan requests from the committee indicated the increasing scope of the congressional investigation into Silicon Valley’s power and offered more insight to the pressure Big Tech faces in the coming months. Similar inquiries are underway at the Justice Department, at the Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan collection of attorneys general from dozens of states.

Lawmakers sent the requests on the same day they asked for scores of documents and personal emails from top executives at the four tech companies, according to the people. All of the companies have until mid-October to respond.

The additional letters to more than 80 companies show the breadth of the offensive forming against Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The recipients of the requests range from smaller firms in retail and advertising to large corporations in entertainment, software and social media, the people said.

A range of companies, including News Corp., Oracle, Spotify, TripAdvisor and Yelp, have complained about the behavior of the four big tech companies and were likely to have received the requests. It was unclear how the queries to the more than 80 companies are split among the four tech giants.

One person familiar with the requests said lawmakers decided against publicizing the requests to protect the complaining companies from potential retribution from the four tech firms — though those firms have said they do not retaliate against critics.

Companies have protested Silicon Valley’s growing size and influence for years, but regulators and lawmakers in Washington have sharply increased their focus on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in recent months.

The House investigation is largely centered on the market power and alleged anticompetitive practices by the four companies. The committee is examining accusations that the big companies favor their own products over rivals, buy smaller firms to head off competition and leverage their size to further cement their dominance.

Lawmakers are also scrutinizing how the companies avoid taxes, are used to spread disinformation and handle people’s personal information.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have said in the past that they face ample competition and do not engage in anticompetitive practices. When asked on Friday about the letter sent to the more than 80 companies, none of the companies offered additional comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that House lawmakers had sent requests to some of the tech companies’ rivals.

The various investigations are just beginning in earnest. How far they will go, what they will uncover and whether any allegations will stand up in court are all uncertain.

It is also not clear how the tech companies will defend themselves. On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, met with President Trump and held discussions on Capitol Hill about election security, privacy and other issues.

Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said on Thursday that it was time for the companies to be more upfront with the public.

“We’ve had a lot of talk from Facebook, and we have a troubling pattern, when they’re up on the Hill, of them saying things that turn out to be either very misleading or at the end of the day it’s just not true or they just don’t follow through on it,” Mr. Hawley said.

The Department of Justice sent Google a formal request for information earlier this year, and Facebook has acknowledged it is the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. When the agencies divided up responsibility for handling competition questions about Silicon Valley earlier this year, the Justice Department also took Apple and the F.T.C. got Amazon.

State attorneys general around the country have also banded together to start separate investigations into Google and Facebook.

The House Judiciary committee has held multiple public hearings on the subject of the tech companies’ market power as part of its inquiry. It escalated last week when it sent the formal requests to the tech companies and their critics.

CreditPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

In a statement last week, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the subcommittee on antitrust, which is leading the Judiciary Committee’s investigation, called the document requests “an important milestone” in the fact-gathering stage.

Separately on Friday, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, and Mr. Cicilline met with Mr. Zuckerberg, who left the meeting without offering a comment.

Mr. Cicilline said afterward that Mr. Zuckerberg had offered an “ongoing commitment to cooperate in the investigation, and that’s a whole range of things, obviously document requests, requests for information, participation in a number of different ways.”

“And I take him at his word,” he said.

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Twitter Suspends Account of Former Adviser to Saudi Crown Prince

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Twitter said on Friday that it had removed or suspended thousands of accounts with ties to governments in the Middle East, including the account of Saud el-Qahtani, a former close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Twitter said it suspended Mr. Qahtani’s account because of “violations of our platform manipulation policies.” The company declined to provide more details, but said in a blog post that it took down 5,000 other accounts for what it described as inauthentic behavior or spamming.

Mr. Qahtani has been linked to the murder of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He had been described as a close friend and adviser of Prince Mohammed, but Saudi state media reported several weeks after Mr. Khashoggi’s death that he had been dismissed from his post.

Before it was suspended, Mr. Qahtani’s Twitter account had 1.3 million followers. But the account had largely gone silent after Mr. Khashoggi’s death last year.

Mr. Qahtani’s suspension may have meant Twitter found evidence that the former Saudi adviser was directing an operation aimed at critics of the kingdom’s leaders, said Alex Stamos, director of Stanford University’s Internet Observatory and the former chief security officer for Facebook.

The New York Times reported in October that hundreds of people worked at a so-called troll farm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mr. Qahtani was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations.

A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in the United States did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, Facebook also announced that it took down 65 Facebook accounts and 35 Instagram accounts that were part of a network involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior in Spain.

“We will continue reviewing activity on our platforms and if we find any violating coordinated inauthentic behavior we will take action and share it publicly,” said Rita Zolotova, a Facebook spokeswoman.

Facebook said its investigation benefited from information shared by Twitter.

“What we’ve seen is coordinated takedowns from Facebook and Twitter because of sharing information with each other,” Mr. Stamos said.

Twitter said it was also suspending six accounts with connections to Saudi state media that “presented themselves as independent journalistic outlets while tweeting narratives favorable to the Saudi government.”

In addition, Twitter suspended a separate network of 267 accounts connected to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The accounts were operated by a private company called DotDev, and the information operation focused on Qatar and Iran, according to Twitter.

The social media company said it suspended 4,258 inauthentic accounts operating from the U.A.E. that tweeted about subjects like the Yemeni civil war, 259 accounts connected to a political party in Spain and that falsely bolstered public sentiment and 1,019 accounts in Ecuador with links to a local political party that amplified tweets and hashtags about President Lenín Moreno’s administration.

Last month, Twitter revealed details about a state-sponsored coordinated disinformation campaign from China. It also suspended 200,000 other accounts that it said were connected to the Chinese operation but not yet very active. Facebook and YouTube quickly followed suit. All three platforms are blocked in mainland China but not in Hong Kong.

Twitter has released detailed, archived information about the accounts it has been taking down. It is the only company among major tech outfits “sharing this kind of data,” said Nick Monaco, a researcher who studies disinformation at the Digital Intelligence Lab at the Institute for the Future. “This disclosure helps the public to gain a better understanding of how online disinformation is evolving.”

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Inside Airbnb, Employees Eager for Big Payouts Pushed It to Go Public

SAN FRANCISCO — Last summer, several Airbnb employees wrote a letter to the online room-rental start-up’s founders.

On behalf of more than a dozen employees, they pleaded to be able to sell their Airbnb stock options. Because Airbnb is privately held, its shares cannot be easily traded or cashed in. So the employees also asked that the company go public, a move that would let them freely sell their shares, said five people who saw or were briefed on the document and were not authorized to speak publicly.

The letter was a sign of the tension that has built up among Airbnb’s workers.

According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees and investors, most of whom declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, Airbnb’s 6,000-person work force has become increasingly frustrated by not being able to cash in the company stock that was received in compensation packages. Waiting for the start-up to go public has become a growing source of stress, many said, preventing some from making career changes, starting a family or moving on with their lives.

Questions about going public have risen to the top of an internal message board where employees vote for topics for executives to address every few months, the people said. The discontent has been exacerbated because Airbnb, which has been valued at $31 billion, doled out two tranches of employee equity that are set to start expiring in November 2020 and in mid-2021; those shares will become worthless if the company is not trading publicly by then, they said.

To try to keep employees happy, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, and other top executives have made some adjustments, the people said. They began offering sabbaticals to longtime employees, extended Airbnb’s parental leave policy and increased the retirement matching program. They also created a program to provide low-interest general-purpose loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to employees. In performance reviews this spring, the start-up issued higher bonuses and raises, one of the people said.

On Thursday, Airbnb took the biggest step of all: It released a one-sentence announcement saying it planned to go public next year.

CreditGabriela Hasbun/Redux

“We are deeply committed to our employees, and our focus on the long-term has helped build a company that is highly successful and true to our mission and values,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s senior vice president for policy and communications, said in a statement. He added that Airbnb was consistently ranked as a great place to work “because of the spirit, energy, values and morale of our employees.” He declined to comment on the employee letter.

Vivek Wagle, a marketing executive who left Airbnb in 2014, said Thursday’s announcement “was definitely welcome news for a lot of us early employees, who may have been wondering whether we’d be rewarded for our part in the company’s success.”

Airbnb’s situation illustrates a paradox of the start-up dream. Many tech workers join fast-growing privately held companies with the hope of gaining stock in the firms and converting those shares to riches when the start-ups go public. But employees are dependent on the company’s founders and board before that can become a reality.

Mr. Chesky, who co-founded Airbnb in 2008, has been vocal about not rushing to take it public. In January, he published a letter saying the company will have an “infinite time horizon.” He is now exploring a nontraditional initial public offering by potentially listing the shares directly, or on the Long-Term Stock Exchange, which is backed by venture capital but not yet operational, three people with knowledge of the situation said.

Doug Leone, a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, one of Airbnb’s backers, said that while start-ups had “an implied social contract” to go public at some point, there was no rush for them to do so. “The I.P.O. is just a moment in time,” he said.

Yet Mr. Chesky’s go-slow stance has become problematic as other high-profile start-ups of the same generation as Airbnb have started listing their shares on the stock market. This year, the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, the online pinboard company Pinterest and the business software maker Slack are among those that have gone public. That has allowed their employees to cash in their shares.

Employee tension is unusual for Airbnb, known for its cheery mission of “belong anywhere” and for fostering a kumbaya culture among its staff. The company has grown rapidly, with more than seven million listings in 100,000 cities. In the second quarter, its revenue exceeded $1 billion. Many employees work out of an airy building in San Francisco, which features rooms that replicate its famous listings. Several former employees said they were grateful for the windfall they would eventually receive from their shares.

Creditvia Airbnb

But any reward from owning Airbnb stock has been held back. Starting in 2011, when the young company topped a $1 billion valuation, Airbnb prohibited workers from selling shares, while allowing its three founders — Mr. Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia — to cash out a total of $21 million.

In its early days, Airbnb paid employees partly in grants of stock options, which allow them to eventually buy — or “exercise” — shares in the company at a low price. Airbnb later began offering a different form of equity compensation, called restricted stock units, which do not need to be bought.

Gabriel Cole, who worked in Airbnb’s food department, said he had spent his life savings to buy his stock after he left the company in 2015. That incurred a $180,000 tax bill, which he couldn’t afford, he said.

“I was returning bottles to buy groceries,” he said. He said he had asked Airbnb’s founders for help and had been told that nothing could be done.

Over the years, Airbnb has extended rules around exercising stock options to make the “golden handcuffs” less onerous. In 2016, it allowed longtime employees who were still at the company to sell portions of their stock. Those who sold had to agree to stricter restrictions on offering any remaining stock.

But those changes did not benefit all of Airbnb’s stockholders. Some current and former Airbnb employees have tried to circumvent the prohibitions by selling their stock on a shadow, or secondary, market for private share sales. In recent weeks, those Airbnb shares have traded as high as $166, which implies a fully diluted company valuation of $52 billion, three people familiar with the secondary market said.

Investment firms have also sprung up to offer loans to former Airbnb employees, using their stock as collateral, in what is known as a “prepaid variable forward contract.” The firms aggressively court former employees, often inundating them with offers for their stock the minute they change their employment status on LinkedIn.

CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

The transactions typically involve a cash loan in exchange for a pledge of shares to a buyer at an agreed-upon price when the company goes public, according to investment offers viewed by The New York Times. The firms charge as much as a 15 percent fee and more for insurance. Former employees who did these deals said they existed in a legal gray area — not authorized by Airbnb, but not explicitly banned.

“Opportunistic brokers and firms push them due to their fat fees,” said Barrett Cohn, chief executive at Scenic Advisement, which works with companies on secondary share sales. “They’re dangerous to buyers and sellers, and expensive.”

When the small group of Airbnb employees sent their letter to Mr. Chesky and other top executives last year, they received no response, two of the people who viewed or were briefed on the letter said.

At the same time, Airbnb took several steps that appeared to signal it was preparing for a public offering. It added independent board members and hired Dave Stephenson, a seasoned finance executive, from Amazon to become its chief financial officer. Current and former employees said they had taken the moves as signs that the company was finally set to reach the stock market.

In January, just before Mr. Stephenson’s first day of work, he was injured in a ski accident, three people with knowledge of the situation said. That slowed Airbnb’s I.P.O. timeline, they said. An Airbnb spokesman said the accident did not have any impact.

On Thursday evening, at an informal gathering of Airbnb alumni in San Francisco, the company’s announcement that it would go public next year was the topic du jour. But the attendees reserved their excitement for when the company officially files to do so, two people who were present said.

Until then, one attendee said in a text message, the general sentiment is “🤷.”

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‘Nerd,’ ‘Nonsmoker,’ ‘Wrongdoer’: How Might A.I. Label You?

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When Tabong Kima checked his Twitter feed early Wednesday morning, the hashtag of the moment was #ImageNetRoulette.

Everyone, it seemed, was uploading selfies to a website where some sort of artificial intelligence analyzed each face and described what it saw. The site, ImageNet Roulette, pegged one man as an “orphan.” Another was a “nonsmoker.” A third, wearing glasses, was a “swot, grind, nerd, wonk, dweeb.”

Across Mr. Kima’s Twitter feed, these labels — some accurate, some strange, some wildly off base — were played for laughs. So he joined in. But Mr. Kima, a 24-year-old African-American, did not like what he saw. When he uploaded his own smiling photo, the site tagged him as a “wrongdoer” and an “offender.”

“I might have a bad sense of humor,” he tweeted, “but I don’t think this is particularly funny.”

As it turned out, his response was just what the site was aiming for. ImageNet Roulette is a digital art project intended to shine a light on the quirky, unsound and offensive behavior that can creep into the artificial-intelligence technologies that are rapidly changing our everyday lives, including the facial recognition services used by internet companies, police departments and other government agencies.

Facial recognition and other A.I. technologies learn their skills by analyzing vast amounts of digital data. Drawn from old websites and academic projects, this data often contains subtle biases and other flaws that have gone unnoticed for years. ImageNet Roulette, designed by the American artist Trevor Paglen and a Microsoft researcher named Kate Crawford, aims to show the depth of this problem.

“We want to show how layers of bias and racism and misogyny move from one system to the next,” Mr. Paglen said in a phone interview from Paris. “The point is to let people see the work that is being done behind the scenes, to see how we are being processed and categorized all the time.”

Unveiled this week as part of an exhibition at the Fondazione Prada museum in Milan, the site focuses attention on a massive database of photos called ImageNet. First compiled more than a decade ago by a group of researchers at Stanford University, located in Silicon Valley in California, ImageNet played a vital role in the rise of “deep learning,” the mathematical technique that allows machines to recognize images, including faces.

Packed with over 14 million photos pulled from all over the internet, ImageNet was a way of training A.I. systems and judging their accuracy. By analyzing various kinds of images — such as flowers, dogs and cars — these systems learned to identify them.

What was rarely discussed among communities knowledgeable about A.I. is that ImageNet also contained photos of thousands of people, each sorted into their own categories. This included straightforward tags like “cheerleaders,” “welders” and “Boy Scouts” as well as highly charged labels like “failure, loser, non-starter, unsuccessful person” and “slattern, slut, slovenly woman, trollop.”

By creating a project that applies such labels, whether seemingly innocuous or not, Mr. Paglen and Ms. Crawford are showing how opinion, bias and sometimes offensive points of view can drive the creation of artificial intelligence.

The ImageNet labels were applied by thousands of unknown people, mostly likely in the United States, hired by the team from Stanford. Working through the crowdsourcing service Amazon Mechanical Turk, they earned pennies for each photo they labeled, churning through hundreds of tags an hour. As they did, biases were baked into the database, though it’s impossible to know whether these biases were held by those doing the labeling.

They defined what a “loser” looked like. And a “slut.” And a “wrongdoer.”

The labels originally came from another sprawling collection of data called WordNet, a kind of conceptual dictionary for machines built by researchers at Princeton University in the 1980s. But with these inflammatory labels included, the Stanford researchers may not have realized what they were doing.

Artificial intelligence is often trained on vast data sets that even its creators haven’t quite wrapped their heads around. “This is happening all the time at a very large scale — and there are consequences,” said Liz O’Sullivan, who oversaw data labeling at the artificial intelligence start-up Clarifai and is now part of a civil rights and privacy group called the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project that aims to raise awareness of the problems with A.I. systems.

Many of the labels used in the ImageNet data set were extreme. But the same problems can creep into labels that might seem inoffensive. After all, what defines a “man” or a “woman” is open to debate.

“When labeling photos of women or girls, people may not include nonbinary people or women with short hair,” Ms. O’Sullivan said. “Then you end up with an A.I. model that only includes women with long hair.”

In recent months, researchers have shown that face-recognition services from companies like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM can be biased against women and people of color. With this project, Mr. Paglen and Ms. Crawford hoped to bring more attention to the problem — and they did. At one point this week, as the project went viral on services like Twitter, ImageNet Roulette was generating more than 100,000 labels an hour.

“It was a complete surprise to us that it took off in the way that it did,” Ms. Crawford said, while with Mr. Paglen in Paris. “It let us really see what people think of this and really engage with them.”

For some, it was a joke. But others, like Mr. Kima, got the message. “They do a pretty good job of showing what the problem is — not that I wasn’t aware of the problem before,” he said.

Still, Mr. Paglen and Ms. Crawford believe the problem may be even deeper than people realize.

ImageNet is just one of the many data sets that has been widely used and reused by tech giants, start-ups and academic labs as they trained various forms of artificial intelligence. Any flaws in these data sets have already spread far and wide.

Nowadays, many companies and researchers are working to eliminate these flaws. In response to complaints of bias, Microsoft and IBM have updated their face-recognition services. In January, around the time that Mr. Paglen and Ms. Crawford first discussed the strange labels used in ImageNet, Stanford researchers blocked the download of all faces from the data set. They now say they will delete many of the faces.

Their longstanding aim is to “address issues like data set and algorithm fairness, accountability and transparency,” the Stanford team said in a statement shared with The New York Times.

But for Mr. Paglen, a larger issue looms. The fundamental truth is that A.I. learns from humans — and humans are biased creatures. “The way we classify images is a product of our worldview,” he said. “Any kind of classification system is always going to reflect the values of the person doing the classifying.”

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David Jones, Health Care Entrepreneur Behind Humana, Is Dead at 88

David A. Jones, who with a partner built Humana from a single nursing home into a health insurance behemoth, died on Wednesday at a rehabilitation facility in Louisville, Ky. He was 88.

A company spokesman said the cause was complications of multiple myeloma.

In Louisville, a city known mostly for thoroughbred horses and bourbon, Mr. Jones and Wendell Cherry, a friend and fellow lawyer, brought health care assertively into the foreground.

In the 1960s, they built the nation’s largest nursing-home chain. After selling the homes in the early ’70s, they created Humana, one of the biggest hospital chains in the United States. And in the 1990s, after Mr. Cherry’s death, Humana spun off the hospitals as Mr. Jones led the company’s drive into health insurance. It is now the fourth-ranked company in the industry.

Over more than 40 years at Humana, Mr. Jones became an influential business and civic leader and a confidant to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Mr. Jones and his family have been strong supporters of Mr. McConnell’s political career, Politico has reported, and Mr. McConnell, a Republican, secured millions in funding for a 4,000-acre park in Louisville, Parklands, which was championed by Mr. Jones.

“I can say without exaggeration,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, “that David Jones was the single most influential friend and mentor I’ve had in my entire career.”

CreditLin Caufield/Humana

Mr. Jones was a genial but extremely competitive executive. During the years that Humana owned hospitals, several in Louisville, he vigorously defended the for-profit hospital model, contending that Humana’s facilities could deliver better care at lower costs.

“The notion that being nonprofit adds some weight to what you do is baloney,” he once said.

In 1984, Humana boldly lured the artificial heart experiment program run by Dr. William DeVries to Louisville from the University of Utah. Mr. Jones pledged that Humana would fund 100 implantations of the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.

Dr. DeVries performed the second implantation of the mechanical heart at a Humana hospital in Louisville, attracting enormous media attention. (He had done the first in Utah.)

“There was a halo effect,” Mr. Jones told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. “People thought if they can handle artificial hearts they can probably handle almost anything else.”

But the program fizzled out after Dr. DeVries had implanted only a few artificial hearts. He left Humana in 1988.

Humana’s rapid growth, unsurprisingly, displeased some of its nonprofit rivals.

“The company’s philosophy toward their competitors is ‘We’ll run over them, or through them, or around them,’” Richard Abell, the administrator of St. Anthony Hospital in Louisville, told The Washington Post in 1985.

Mr. Jones was sensitive about any articles in The Courier-Journal — including an eight-part series in 1985 — that he felt cast Humana in a negative light.

“David was very well respected and a little bit feared,” Paul Janensch, a former executive editor there, said by phone. “He had a temper. He was very demanding and not very subtle.” Mr. Jones was, he added, “very protective of the company’s reputation.”

Mr. Jones’s belief that Humana could be cast as a villain was underscored in 1987 when he pressed a federal lawsuit against NBC demanding that “St. Elsewhere,” a series about a hospital in Boston, stop using “Ecumena” as the name of the fictional facility’s callous new owner.

“I don’t want a name on their hospital that sounds in any way like Humana,” Mr. Jones said at a news conference after NBC agreed to cease using “Ecumena” by the end of the season, “because Humana operates outstanding hospitals, it does terrific work, and I don’t know what their hospital does.”


A few years later, after ABC News reported that Humana had overcharged patients for a wide range of hospital supplies, from crutches to Vaseline, Mr. Jones testified in Congress that the company’s supply prices had to be viewed in a broader context.

“We are not a drugstore,” he testified. “We provide these items as part of the entirety of our patient care, and, for better or for worse, we price them and charge them only as an integral component of the total cost of patient care.”

David Allen Jones was born on Aug. 7, 1931, in Louisville. His father, Logan, was a laborer, and his mother, Elsie (Thurman) Jones, was a clerk for the Census Bureau.

After studying accounting at the University of Louisville, which he attended on a Navy R.O.T.C. scholarship, Mr. Jones spent three years in the Navy. He then graduated from Yale Law School and joined a hometown law firm, Wyatt, Grafton & Sloss, where he met Mr. Cherry.

“The pay was miserable, but the experience was fabulous,” Mr. Jones said in an interview in 2014 for an oral history at the University of Kentucky.

Looking to earn more money to support his growing family, he spoke to another young lawyer who was somehow able to afford an expensive house once owned by a local corporate executive.

“I built a nursing home,” Mr. Jones said the lawyer told him. “I ran back to my buddy Wendell and said, ‘Let’s build a nursing home.’ There was no forethought in it.”

Each man borrowed $1,000, and with other investors their first nursing home got built.

Within a few years they had a chain of about 50 homes, called Extendicare, which they took public in 1968 at $8 a share. By the end of the year the share price had multiplied tenfold.

In the early 1970s — after ending a losing venture in trailer parks — they sold the nursing homes and started to buy and build hospitals. Even as Mr. Jones and Mr. Cherry were amassing a chain, eventually named Humana, that grew to about 100 hospitals, they saw a need to shift direction again.

Humana had been operating health insurance plans since the mid-1980s, supplying its hospitals with a constant stream of insured patients. The arrangement in some cases led Humana’s insurance companies to push doctors to hold down costs, prompting the doctors to rebel by boycotting the company’s hospitals.

Humana spun off the hospitals in 1993 to a new company, Galen Health Care (which later that year was sold to Columbia Health Care for $3.4 million). Mr. Jones took control of a Humana that was dedicated entirely to health insurance.

In 1998, Mr. Jones agreed to sell the company to UnitedHealthcare for $5.5 billion. But the sale was never completed; the deal ended a few months later after United reported an unexpected $900 million charge in its second quarter, causing its stock to plunge.

Mr. Jones retired as Humana’s chairman in 2005 and focused on nonprofit work on behalf of the Parklands project, the Louisville Public Libraries and the Actors Theater of Louisville.

He is survived by his daughters, Susan and Carol Jones; his sons, David Jr., Dan and Matt; 11 grandchildren; a sister, Jean Donoho; and a brother, Clarence. His wife, Betty Lee (Ashbury) Jones, died last month.

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Trump Calls China a ‘Threat to the World’ as Trade Talks Approach

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WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that China was a “threat to the world” and suggested Beijing was eager to make a trade deal because his tariffs were hurting the Chinese economy, coarsening his tone as the two countries prepared to resume negotiations.

The Trump administration has closely tied economic policy and national security and, in remarks at the White House, Mr. Trump said that China was using money pilfered from the United States through unfair trade practices to build up its military. The comments come as midlevel officials from both countries have been holding talks in Washington this week ahead of a planned meeting between senior trade negotiators next month.

“Obviously, China is a threat to the world in a sense, because they’re building a military faster than anybody,” Mr. Trump said. “I view China in many different ways. But right now, I’m thinking about trade. But, you know, trade equals military.”

Mr. Trump also tried to put to rest speculation that he might settle for an interim deal to give markets a lift ahead of the presidential election next year.

“I’m looking for a complete deal, I’m not looking for a partial deal,” Mr. Trump said during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. “We’re looking for the big deal.”

Mr. Trump has imposed tariffs on $360 billion of Chinese goods and plans to tax nearly all imports from China by the end of the year. The president said that the tariffs have not had an impact on the United States economy, despite vocal complaints from American businesses, who say that their costs are going up and their supply chains are being disrupted.

Many of those businesses have applied to the United States Trade Representative for relief from the tariffs and, on Friday, the administration excluded hundreds of products from being taxed.

Those products include imported dog leashes, plastic straws and Christmas tree lighting sets.

Despite Mr. Trump’s renewed criticism of China, the two countries have been taking steps to ease tension in recent weeks as they try to resolve a dispute that has cast a cloud over the global economy. China has recently allowed its companies to resume purchases of some American farm products after Mr. Trump agreed to delay increasing tariffs on another batch of Chinese imports by two weeks, to Oct. 15.

As part of a deal, China wants the United States to roll back the tariffs that it imposed and lift restrictions on American companies doing business with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. In addition to buying more American agricultural products, the United States wants China to make sweeping changes to its industrial policy, protect American intellectual property and open its market to American businesses.

But it remains evident that mending the relationship between United States and China will not happen easily.

During a speech in New York this week, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, squarely blamed the United States for the trade war.

“The trade war the U.S. launched and repeatedly escalated was based on a wrong rationale in the very beginning, and its negative impact has now hit both countries and spilled over to the whole world,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Trump insisted that even though the relationship between the United States and China has soured on his watch, he continues to have fond feelings for China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

“My relationship with President Xi is a very amazing one, very good one,” he said. “But we have right now a little spat.”

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G.M. Walkout Begins to Pinch Suppliers and Canada Plants

The strike that has shut down General Motors plants in the United States since Monday is starting to ripple through the automaker’s supply chain, causing layoffs and production stoppages by parts makers and components manufacturers across the Midwest.

“My whole plant is shut off,” said Robert Jacobson, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 652 in Lansing, Mich. His local represents 228 workers at Android Industries, which makes instrument panels for G.M.

Other Android plants that supply G.M. factories in Bowling Green, Ky.; Flint, Mich.; and Arlington, Tex., have also been affected, Mr. Jacobson said.

“They’re all down,” he said. “My members are on two shifts and they’re all laid off.”

Android did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

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The United Automobile Workers union members organized a strike against General Motors in an effort to improve wages, reopen idled plants, add jobs and narrow the pay difference between new hires and veteran workers.CreditCreditErin Kirkland for The New York Times

The U.A.W. and G.M. are at odds over pay for temporary and recently hired workers, health care costs, the automaker’s intention to shut down four plants in the United States, and decisions that have shifted a larger portion of its production to Mexico in recent years.

[Read more: Here are key points in the dispute between G.M. and its unionized workers.]

In a letter to union members Thursday evening, Terry Dittes, a U.A.W. vice president, said the two sides were prepared to continue bargaining, through the weekend and beyond, in the absence of a tentative agreement.

“I can report to you that as of today, some progress has been made, but there are still many of our membership’s issues that remain unresolved,” Mr. Dittes said.

As the discussions continue, the walkout is beginning to have an impact on G.M.’s Canadian operations. The company has stopped production at its plant in Oshawa, Ontario, idling about 2,000 members of the Canadian union, Unifor. Elsewhere in the province, G.M. is evaluating whether to idle an engine plant in St. Catherine’s, which employs 700 people, and at a plant in Ingersoll that makes sport utility vehicles, a G.M. spokesman said.

In Michigan, Nexteer, a supplier of gears and other components, has warned workers that it may halt production soon as a result of the strike.

CreditErin Kirkland for The New York Times

“Without an imminent resolution, Nexteer faces the difficult conclusion that we must temporarily reduce our work force in the coming days because of the disruption in G.M. production,” the company said in a statement released to U.A.W. Local 699, which represents 3,000 workers at the company. The company did not respond to phone calls and emails for further comment.

Bridgewater Interiors, another vendor, has laid off workers at factories that supply G.M.’s Lansing Delta Township and Detroit-Hamtramck plants, according to a message on its employee hotline. The message provided instructions for applying for unemployment benefits.

The strike is the first U.A.W.’s first against G.M. since 2007, and affects 49,000 workers in seven states.

So far the strike hasn’t caused shortages of vehicles for dealers or consumers. G.M. started September with enough cars and light trucks on dealer lots to last 77 days at the current sales rate, according to Cox Automotive.

“No impact yet,” said Pete Delongchamps, senior vice president for manufacturer relations at Group 1 Automotive, a large chain of new-car franchises. “We’ll see what happens if it lasts a few weeks, but right now we have plenty of cars and plenty of parts.”

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Walmart to End Sales of E-Cigarettes

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Walmart said on Friday that it would end sales of e-cigarettes at its United States locations.

The decision comes amid growing medical concerns about the effects of vaping. In recent months, mysterious vaping-related illnesses have been on the rise. Medical authorities said on Thursday that the number of vaping-related lung illnesses had risen to 530 probable cases, and a Missouri man became the eighth to die from the mysterious ailments.

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced emergency regulations to quickly ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, and state health officials approved the ban on Tuesday. Michigan announced this month that it would also prohibit such products.

Last week, the Trump administration said it would move to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes.

Walmart had raised the minimum age for tobacco products to 21 earlier this year, and said in May that it would also no longer sell “fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Read more:

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Barron Hilton, Hotel Magnate and Founding A.F.L. Owner, Dies at 91

Barron Hilton, who oversaw the vast expansion of his father’s hotel empire and took part in changing the pro sports landscape as an original club owner in the American Football League, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. The last survivor of the A.F.L.’s founding ownership, he was 91.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, of which he was chairman emeritus, announced the death.

Mr. Hilton embarked on a business career at 19, when he acquired a citrus distribution company in the Los Angeles area. He had turned down an offer from his father, Conrad Hilton, for a $150-a-week job and a chance to work his way up in the chain he founded in 1919 when he bought his first hotel, in Cisco, Tex., capitalizing on an oil boom in the area.

Barron Hilton’s citrus business proved successful. But he joined Hilton Hotels in the early 1950s, became a vice president in 1954 and then rose to president and chief executive in 1966 and chairman in 1979, when his father died.

“Barron, like Conrad, was a man who paid great attention to the day-to-day operations of his hotels,” J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote in “The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty” (2014), explaining that Barron Hilton reduced company payrolls, economized on food preparation costs and centralized purchasing in the 1960s.

“Everything is about the bottom line,” the author quoted Mr. Hilton as saying. “That’s where I keep my eye, all the time.”

CreditAssociated Press

Still, Barron Hilton pursued new ventures, turning the family enterprise, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., into a business that included thousands of hotel rooms, casino-hotels, time-share apartments and an early credit-card company, Carte Blanche.

He engineered Hilton’s entrance into the Las Vegas casino market in 1970. He purchased Kirk Kerkorian’s International, the world’s largest resort hotel, renaming it the Las Vegas Hilton, and bought Mr. Kerkorian’s Flamingo as well, renaming it the Flamingo Hilton.

The company’s casino-hotels later extended to Atlantic City and other locations. At varying times the Hilton empire also included the Waldorf Astoria and the Plaza in New York, as well as the Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco, the Mayflower in Washington and the Conrad Hilton and Palmer House in Chicago.

The Hilton company split off its United States and international hotels into separate entities in the 1960s, but reunited its properties in 2006 with the acquisition of more than 400 overseas hotels, creating an empire of 2,800 hotels.

Barron Hilton was co-chairman of Hilton Hotels together with the financier Stephen Bollenbach when it was sold for some $26 billion to the private equity group Blackstone in 2007.

Mr. Hilton largely kept away from the spotlight that fell on others in the family.

His father had a brush with show business when Zsa Zsa Gabor became his second wife in 1942. Barron’s older brother, Conrad Jr., known as Nicky, married a teenage Elizabeth Taylor in 1950. Barron’s socialite granddaughter Paris Hilton transformed herself into a pop culture brand.

Barron Hilton entered the sports world as a member of the so-called Foolish Club: the eight team owners who defied long odds in challenging the National Football League by forming the American Football League in 1960.

CreditAssociated Press

He was the founder of the A.F.L.’s Los Angeles Chargers, then moved the team to San Diego in 1961 after the Chargers lost some $900,000 in their first season. The Chargers, with an offense led by quarterback Tobin Rote, running back Paul Lowe and receiver Lance Alworth, won the 1963 A.F.L. championship and captured five Western Division championships during Mr. Hilton’s ownership. They returned to their origins in 2017, becoming the Los Angeles Chargers again.

William Barron Hilton (he preferred using his middle name) was born on Oct. 23, 1927, in Dallas, the second of three sons of Conrad Nicholson Hilton and the Mary Adelaide (Barron) Hilton.

He displayed a penchant for deal-making while away at school in his early teens. As related in Jerry Oppenheimer’s “House of Hilton” (2006), Barron sent his father a letter carefully detailing his expenses in asking for a raise in his allowance to $5 a week, leaving him $2.50 for “weekend pleasures.”

“Sorry this is all business,” he wrote in conclusion, then signed off, “Your loving son, Barron Hilton.” (It’s not clear whether he got the raise.)

After serving as a Navy photographer at Pearl Harbor in World War II and running his citrus distribution business, he was groomed by his father to oversee the Hilton properties, although Nicky and Eric, the youngest of Conrad’s three sons, also held executive posts with the company.

Mr. Hilton is survived by two daughters, Hawley and Sharon Hilton, and six sons: Steven, the chairman of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Richard, the father of Paris Hilton and her three siblings; William Barron Jr.; David, Daniel and Ronald. He is also survived by 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Marilyn Hawley Hilton, died in 2004. His brothers Nicky and Eric and his half sister, Constance Francesca Hilton, whose mother was Zsa Zsa Gabor, also died before him.

CreditJean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

Mr. Hilton had been an aviation enthusiast since his teens and received a twin-engine rating from the University of Southern California’s aeronautical school, though he did not earn a degree. He played host to aviation pioneers and Hollywood celebrities at his Flying-M Ranch in Nevada (named by a previous owner) and piloted a variety of aircraft, including gliders and helicopters, from its airstrip. The adventurer Steve Fossett died flying one of Mr. Hilton’s planes from that ranch in September 2007.

Conrad Hilton left 97 percent of his estate to the foundation he created in 1944; its ventures include the development of clean water and sanitation facilities in developing countries, the prevention and treatment of blindness, and housing for the homeless. In 2007, Barron Hilton announced plans to similarly bequeath to the foundation 97 percent of his own net worth, estimated this year by Forbes at $2.5 billion. He was the foundation’s chairman from 2007 to 2012.

Mr. Hilton paid a $25,000 fee to obtain a franchise when he founded the A.F.L.’s Chargers. Although he became a billionaire with his Hilton holdings, he told The Los Angeles Times in 2009 that “the happiest days of my life were the days I was involved with the Chargers.”

Those were profitable days as well. In 1966, he sold the majority interest in the Chargers for $10 million.

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