Amazon users report website down

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(NEW YORK) — If you were trying to make a purchase on Amazon overnight, you may have run into some issues.

Several users went on Twitter to complain that they couldn’t get past the homepage after logging into their accounts or that they weren’t able to complete their purchases.

The website Downdetector, which tracks outages, says there were more than 38,000 reports of users having trouble with Amazon’s site after 11 p.m. ET Sunday.

Service on the site has since been restored.

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What to know about Richard Branson’s spaceflight, as billionaires race to the cosmos

Virgin Galactic

(NEW YORK) — Sir Richard Branson is set to briefly leave earth’s atmosphere on Sunday, risking it all to usher in a new era of space tourism that has been propelled by a billionaire-backed commercial space industry.

“We’ve spent 17 years trying to get to this stage,” Branson said in an interview with ABC News’ “Good Morning America” last week. “I’m just expecting the most extraordinary trip of my lifetime and by pioneering it myself, an extraordinary trip of a lifetime for other people in the future.”

If all goes well, Branson will beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos — who revealed he was launching via his own rocket on July 20 — into space by just over a week. While Branson said he doesn’t see it as a “race,” his own spaceflight announcement came just hours after Bezos’ revealed he was bringing along a female pilot whose dreams of being an astronaut in the ’60s were deferred.

The two launches within ten days of each other leave some to speculate whether these billionaires are “democratizing space” as they claim, or seeking bragging rights here on Earth. Still, as with all spaceflights, swaths of viewers from across the globe are expected to tune in — and there are no guarantees of safety as the ultra-rich use themselves as guinea pigs for their space-travel firms.

Here is what to know about Branson’s trip to the edge of space, scheduled to take off Sunday morning.

What is happening and how to watch

Branson, 70, will take-off aboard the first fully crewed flight from his private space-faring firm Virgin Galactic. The spaceflight will be streamed live on Virgin Galactic’s website as well as its Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages. ABC News will also carry live coverage of the event.

The launch will take place from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, and live coverage will commence at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Branson will serve as a mission specialist on what is being dubbed the Unity 22 mission, the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight on its VSS Unity spacecraft. Branson will be accompanied into space by fellow Virgin Galactic staff: Beth Moses (chief astronaut instructor), Colin Bennet (lead operations engineer), and Sirisha Bandla (vice president of government affairs and research operations).

Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will fly the spaceship, with C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying the aircraft from which the spaceship will dispatch.

Branson’s role is to evaluate the private astronaut experience to prepare for future customers, which Virgin Galactic expects to do beginning in 2022.

R&B singer Khalid tweeted Friday that he will be at the launch, and debuting a new song.

Flight details

The VSS Unity spacecraft launches from a custom-built “mothership” aircraft, the VMS Eve, that takes off from a conventional runway. At an altitude of approximately 50,000 feet, the spaceship will be released from the aircraft and enter its glide to the edges of space where those aboard can experience just a few minutes of microgravity, as well as novel views of earth and space. Previous test flights for the spaceship reached an altitude of 55.5 miles.

As gravity pulls the spaceship back toward Earth’s upper atmosphere, the astronauts will buckle back into their seats for reentry. Eventually, the spaceship will glide back to Spaceport America for a runway landing. Branson has said in previous interviews that the flight will take about 1 1/2 hours total.

Virgin Galactic has taken heat from critics, including the twitter account of Bezos’ firm Blue Origin, for stretching the definition of “space” as its flights do not go above the Karman line (62 miles above earth) that is defined by many — but not all — as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

Neither Blue Origin nor Virgin Galactic’s flights will reach Earth’s orbit, however, the way Elon Musk’s SpaceX missions have. Musk on Twitter has called out this “big difference.”

The billionaires’ race to space

The modern commercial space race has been undeniably dominated by the ultra-rich. Blue Origin founder Bezos is the richest man in the world, according to Forbes data, and SpaceX CEO Musk is the third-richest. Branson’s net worth, meanwhile, is some $6 billion.

While this has led some to see space as a new frontier for billionaire daredevils, others have argued that the rise of private sector involvement in space travel has accelerated technological advancements, saved NASA money, and carries the longterm potential to open up space tourism to all who have been curious about the cosmos.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement earlier this month announcing his spaceflight. “After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good.”

Virgin Galactic has stated its mission is “democratizing space” and increasing accessibility. Its initial price of tickets, however, cost $250,000. Bezos, meanwhile, auctioned a seat on his upcoming Blue Origin flight for a whopping $28 million.

As the pandemic spotlighted the nation’s wealth inequality and deepened the divide between the haves and have-nots, not everyone is rooting for the billionaires the way Americans got behind astronauts in the Apollo era. A Change.org petition calling for Bezos to stay in space has garnered headlines and more than 150,000 signatures.

Animosity was exacerbated by recent reports on how Bezos and Musk have avoided paying income taxes.

Earlier this year, progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responded to one of Musk’s tweets about a “multiplanetary” future, calling for him to “focus on Earth.”

“Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don’t go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare,” Sanders wrote. “The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy.”

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Biden to sign executive order aimed at increasing competition in US economy

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is set to sign a wide-ranging executive order Friday afternoon aimed at minimizing the stranglehold of monopolies on certain industries and increasing competition among companies, which the White House believes will benefit consumers by driving down prices.

“For decades, corporate consolidation has been accelerating. In over 75% of U.S. industries, a smaller number of large companies now control more of the business than they did 20 years ago. This is true across health care, financial services, agriculture and more. That lack of competition drives up prices for consumers,” according to a White House fact sheet.

Targeting air travel, labor practices, meat processing and more, the executive order contains 72 initiatives overseen by a dozen different government agencies.

Here is some of what’s in the order:

It will allow owners of iPhones, appliances and other machinery to attempt perform repairs on their devices themselves or seek out repairs at independent shops without voiding warranty protections.
It requires the FAA to mandate efficient airline refunds for lost bags and dysfunctional WiFi service.
It aims to lower the price of prescription drugs by urging state and local tribes to import cheaper drugs from Canada, a move long supported by Democrats, and former President Donald Trump.
Hearing aids, which can often run consumers thousands of dollars, would be able to be sold over the counter under the order.
The order will encourage the FTC to limit non-compete agreements that prevent workers from seeking out better-paying jobs and affect some 30 to 60 million Americans. It also encourages the FTC to ban unnecessary licensing requirements for jobs like accounting and hair dressing, which differ from state to state and prove burdensome, especially for military families who frequently move.

These items in particular, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, are “fulfilling [Biden’s] campaign promise to promote competition in labor markets in order to raise wages and make it easier for workers to change jobs and to move between states.”

The changes won’t be immediately evident to Americans since the executive order merely kicks off longer rule-making and regulatory processes. Some of the executive actions are only recommendations, especially on those areas governed by the FTC and FCC, which are meant to be independent agencies not obligated to carry out White House directives.

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Twitter extends partnership with NFL

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(NEW YORK) — The NFL and Twitter announced a new game plan on Thursday.

The league extended its partnership with the social network in a multi-year deal, which will include the use of Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s new live audio feature.

“The commitment to Twitter Spaces represents another innovative step forward in the longstanding partnership between the NFL and Twitter,” Blake Stuchin, the NFL’s vice president of digital media business development, said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring NFL fans a new way to engage with live audio ahead of our biggest events of the year and every week throughout the NFL season.”  

The league plans to host more than 20 Twitter Spaces for the upcoming 2021 season. They will “include participation from current NFL players and other NFL talent to discuss season matchups and insights,” the NFL said.

“We’re excited to super-serve NFL fans with even more of what they love to see on Twitter, including epic touchdown highlights all season long,” Twitter’s head of U.S. sports partnerships, TJ Adeshola, said in a statement. “In addition to fueling the timeline with the best moments from each game in real time, we’ll be doubling down on innovation by leveraging our live audio format, ‘Spaces’, to bring fans even closer to the game.”

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Three dozen states file new antitrust suit against Google over its app store practices

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(NEW YORK) — A coalition of 36 states and the District of Columbia are suing Google, alleging the tech giant illegally wields monopoly power over its app store.

The suit, filed late Wednesday in California federal court, is the latest in a spate of bipartisan attacks on Big Tech’s dominance from lawmaker and regulators. It is the fourth antitrust suit filed against Google by government agencies in the past year.

The latest lawsuit specifically takes aim at Google’s Play Store app store. In a complaint that is nearly 150 pages, the state attorneys general argue that “Google has taken steps to close the ecosystem from competition and insert itself as the middleman between app developers and consumers.”

“Unbeknownst to most consumers who own a mobile device running Android, every time they purchase an app from the Google Play Store, or purchase digital content or subscriptions within an app, up to 30% of the money they pay goes to Google,” the complaint said. Moreover, the complaint states that to collect and maintain this commission, “Google has employed anticompetitive tactics to diminish and disincentivize competition in Android app distribution.”

Many of the arguments in the court documents echo similar sentiments expressed by “Fortnite” maker Epic Games, which has repeatedly taken aim at Apple and Google for their app store commissions. A federal judge’s decision regarding Epic Games’ lawsuit against Apple is expected to be announced soon.

Wilson White, Google’s senior director of public policy, called the latest lawsuit “meritless” in a company blog post.

“We built Android to create more choices in mobile technology. Today, anyone, including our competitors, can customize and build devices with the Android operating system — for free,” White wrote. “We also built an app store, Google Play, that helps people download apps on their devices. If you don’t find the app you’re looking for in Google Play, you can choose to download the app from a rival app store or directly from a developer’s website.”

“So it’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others,” White added.

White argues that the lawsuit’s allegations that consumers and developers have no option other than to use Google Play is “not correct,” noting that device makers and carriers can preload competing app stores alongside Google Play on their devices and that most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded.

Moreover, White stated that developers have earned over $80 billion through the Google Play app store and nearly two million American jobs have been created through the “Android app economy.”

“We understand that scrutiny is appropriate, and we’re committed to engaging with regulators,” he added. “But Android and Google Play provide openness and choice that other platforms simply don’t. This lawsuit isn’t about helping the little guy or protecting consumers. It’s about boosting a handful of major app developers who want the benefits of Google Play without paying for it.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been taking aim at the dominance of America’s tech companies in recent years as their size and influence rises. Last month, an outspoken critic of Big Tech’s dominance, Lina Khan, was sworn in as the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission, leaving many to speculate if a new crackdown on the industry could be imminent.

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Hidden ways big brands are making you pay at the grocery store

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(NEW YORK) — You may have noticed that prices for some goods at the grocery store are going up. But now, there’s another type of inflation that consumers should be on the lookout for — it’s called “shrinkflation.”

The term has be coined by experts to describe when manufacturers shrink package sizes but make shoppers pay the same price. And, they warn, the practice is on the rise.

ABC News’ Becky Worley appeared on Good Morning America Thursday to let consumers know what to look out for:

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LEGOLAND Hotel set to open in New York

LEGOLAND New York

(NEW YORK) — The LEGOLAND Hotel in New York is almost open for business.

The hotel just announced it will open for overnight bookings beginning on Aug. 6 following the opening of LEGOLAND New York Resort on July 9.

This will be the first and only Lego-themed hotel in the Northeast and features 250 guest rooms.

All of the rooms are decorated with Pirate, Kingdom, Lego Friends and Lego Ninjago themes that feature separate sleeping areas for kids.

“Guests are greeted by a fire-breathing dragon at the hotel entrance and will discover more than 2,000 LEGO models inside the hotel,” according to a press release from LEGOLAND New York.

Activities for hotel guests include visits from Lego characters, a heated outdoor pool and creative workshops for kids.

Located at the main entrance of the resort, guests will be close enough to explore all seven lands at the new LEGOLAND New York Resort.

Reservations can be booked now on the LEGOLAND website.

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Trump says he’s filing class action lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter and Google

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(BEDMINSTER, N.J.) — Former President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he is filing class action lawsuits against three of the country’s largest tech companies — Facebook, Twitter, and Google — all of which have banned the former president from their social media platforms.

At a press conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, Trump announced a “major class-action lawsuit” against the three companies, demanding “a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and canceling that you know so well.”

The former president is currently banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“Today, in conjunction with the America First Policy Institute, I’m filing, as the lead class representative, a major class action lawsuit against the big tech giants, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, as well as their CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey, three real nice guys,” Trump said.

The former president said the lawsuits seek injunctive relief to “allow prompt restitution and, really, restoration.”

“In addition, we are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants,” he said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Chipotle hiding $1M worth of free burritos in ads during NBA Finals

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(NEW YORK) — As the Suns and the Bucks face off in the NBA Finals, Chipotle is giving away millions in free burritos.

Amid the on-court action of Tuesday’s Game 1 broadcast, Chipotle raised the stakes for the commercial breaks and hid a keyword that unlocked 10,000 free burritos at the end of its ad.

The fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain announced Wednesday that it has hidden up to $1 million — or possibly more, depending on if the teams go further than Game 4 — worth of free burritos in its TV ads.

As the series progresses, Chipotle will continue to offer a number of prizes that vary from game to game hidden in the end card of the commercial.

Now the word is officially out, the brand said it expects codes will go fast. To score a free entrée, fans will have to put a full court press on texting the keyword to 888-222.

“The final games of the basketball season are arguably some of the most entertaining moments of the year,” Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s Chief Marketing Officer said in a statement. “Along with the high-profile player matchups, off-court storylines, and fan interactions, our hidden code giveaway creates another ‘game within the game’ and elevates the viewing experience for our fans during breaks in the action.”

Check out the full NBA Finals schedule below to make sure you’re tuned in and ready to go.

Game 2 – Thursday, July 8: 10,000 free burritos
Game 3 – Sunday, July 11: 20,000 free burritos
Game 4 – Wednesday, July 14: 30,000 free burritos
Game 5 (If necessary) – Saturday, July 17: 40,000 free burritos
Game 6 (If necessary) – Tuesday, July 20: 10,000 free burritos
Game 7 (If necessary) – Thursday, July 22: 10,00 free burritos

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Kim Kardashian temporarily shutting down KKW Beauty, relaunching ‘completely new brand’

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(NEW YORK) — Kim Kardashian is saying goodbye to KKW Beauty.

Kim took to her Instagram Stories on Tuesday to announce that she’ll be temporarily shutting down the website and relaunching it “under a completely new brand with new formulas.”

“To our loyal customers, [i]t all started with a contour kit and expanded to eyes, lips, body and many incredible collections over the past four years,” she said in a statement.

“On August 1st at midnight we will be shutting down the KKWBeauty.com site so that we can come back to you under a completely new brand with new formulas that are more modern, innovative and packaged in an elevated and sustainable new look,” she continued.

The 40-year-old beauty and fashion mogul also teased a new “shopping experience,” which will allow customers to purchase all of her beauty and cosmetic products in one place.

“I’m excited to continue to develop and expand my product range and for you to finally be able to experience it the way that I have always envisioned,” she said. “In addition, my team is hard at work to improve the customer shopping experience where you will be able to purchase my beauty and cosmetic offerings in all categories from one single website.”

Kardashian launched her line in 2017. She sold 20% of the company to Coty in 2019 for $200 million, although the deal wasn’t finalized until this past January.

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