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On Main Street, business owners push for greater protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits

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At Chris Purcell’s Firehouse Subs location in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, things aren’t quite business as usual.

After suffering sales drops of as much as 60% during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, customers are starting to return. Now it’s all about making them comfortable and keeping employees and patrons alike safe in his store, which means going above and beyond guidelines for operating in the new normal.

Workers are wearing masks and gloves, and washing hands every 15 minutes. Purcell has plexiglass up between the point-of-sale and customers, barriers between customers and employees and he’s operating at less than the 50% capacity he’s allowed to, just to be safe. The threat of a Covid-19 lawsuit looms over his head.

“There’s really no way to prove or disprove that someone did or did not catch it in any particular location. And that scares a lot of the small business owners, like myself and fellow restauranteurs, in town,” he said.

“We’ve done everything that the CDC, the state of North Carolina, WHO, anybody can think of, for us to do, we’re doing it,” Purcell continued. “And that’s our concern, if we’re doing everything that we’re told is correct to do, we can still be open for liability. We have no recourse against it.”

As small businesses like Purcell’s around the country begin to reopen their doors to customers after months of limited operations, Main Street advocates are putting out the call to enact liability guidelines and provide protections at the federal level.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 200 trade groups across the country sent a letter to Congress in late May addressing the issue, and pushing for temporary and targeted relief legislation related to the pandemic.

The groups ask for temporary liability protections for businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions that follow public health guidelines; workers and facilities providing critical Covid-19 services; manufacturers, donors, distributors, and users of vaccines, therapeutics, medical devices, as well as PPE and other supplies critical to the pandemic response, and finally public companies targeted by “unfair and opportunistic” Covid-19-related securities lawsuits.

“These crucial protections should safeguard businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions, as well as healthcare providers and facilities from unfair lawsuits so that they can continue to contribute to a safe and effective recovery from this pandemic,” the letter said

The International Franchise Association has also followed up with its own Congressional petition, including 7,000 signatures from members, to protect business owners from potential lawsuits. The group’s president and CEO, Robert Cresanti, said, it’s tracking lawsuits and has already seen 1,000 across the country tied to the coronavirus.

“In the midst of the economic crisis and just having stood up your business, having been shut down for a long time, and now having to face lawsuits because someone got sick, even though you may be taking the best available precautions … you end up in a situation of near hopelessness,” Cresanti said.

As the pandemic took hold and states forced nonessential businesses to close, many small businesses sought the relief of their business interruption coverage only to find that Covid-related closures were not covered.

“It turns out that business interruption insurance is not what it sounds like,” Cresanti said. “Most of the insurance companies are telling our people that business interruption insurance is actually business destruction insurance. So if your business is burned down or destroyed by a flood, you’re covered. But you’re not [covered] in a crisis like this where your business is truly interrupted.”

The insurance industry is facing new questions from small business owners, this time about general liability coverage for incidents involving a customer getting sick after patronizing a business. Specific policy exclusions vary between insurers, but most liability policies include an exclusion for virus- and bacteria-related losses. Industry executives warn without these exclusions, the large burden could bankrupt the industry or leave it unable to cover other catastrophes in the future.

Liability protections promise to be another battleground between Republicans and Democrats as Congress considers additional stimulus. Senior Republicans said they won’t consider another stimulus bill without the inclusion of liability protections for doctors and businesses.

“Liability protections would be the No. 1 thing I would look at,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNBC’s Squawk Box last month. “No bill will pass without it.”

The public, though, is divided on the issue. Data from CNBC and Change Research on liability for coronavirus risk shows that 37% of likely voters nationwide believe businesses should have protections from lawsuits, while nearly 49% think that employees and customers should be able to sue.

Still, Purcell is hopeful the government will come through.

“It’s scary for all of us that we could be bankrupt [and lose] what we’ve worked so hard for, for so many years,” he said.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/on-main-street-a-push-for-protection-from-coronavirus-related-lawsuits.html

CNBC

Google Assistant’s driving mode for Android is nearly ready, one year later

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Google Assistant driving mode on Android
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Google promised an Assistant driving mode for phones would arrive in mid-2019, but that clearly didn’t happen — over a year passed without any sign of it. It appears to be ready, though. XDA-Developers has discovered (via Android Police) that Google Assistant’s driving mode is at least partially enabled for Android users. The interface has changed considerably from the I/O 2019 demo you see above, but the concept remains the same with large buttons and text that let you chat, message and play music while keeping your driving distractions to a minimum.

The rollout appears to be server-side, and might be part of a test. It’s not attached to any particular versions of Google’s Maps or search apps, and also works on a variety of devices. Your access might depend on your account.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

It’s rare for Google to have Android feature delays this long, and it’s not certain what prompted the extended wait. However, the redesign suggests that Google wasn’t completely satisfied with the Assistant driving mode it showed at I/O. Whatever the reasoning, this gives you one more way to handle common tasks during your trips.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/google-assistant-driving-mode-215249421.html

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Cloud leak exposed sensitive data from over 200,000 voicemails

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Some data leaks contain more sensitive info than most. Security researcher Bob Diachenko and Comparitech discovered (via Threatpost) that Broadvoice, a cloud VoIP provider for businesses, left over 350 million records exposed online in an unprotected cluster, including 2 million voicemail records with 200,000 transcripts. Many of those transcripts included sensitive data, and not just common elements like names and phone numbers — medical conditions, mortgages and insurance policies were all left open.

The largest general data collection, 275 million records, typically included full names, phone numbers, and cities.

The company told Comparitech that the data had been stored on September 28th and was locked down October 2nd, a day after Diachenko notified Broadvoice. There hasn’t been evidence of “misuse” so far, the company said. Marketing VP Rebecca Rosen told Threatpost that it believed “less than 10,000” businesses were impacted, although that doesn’t say how many of those companies’ customers were at risk.

The practical damage appears to have been limited as a result. Even so, this illustrates the dangers of insecure data. The wrong decision can expose vast amounts of info, and it can only take a subset of that data to create serious problems.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/broadvoice-voicemail-data-leak-211913573.html

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Meet the dairy firm hoping to power its delivery trucks using cow manure

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Like many large businesses, dairy company Arla Foods has grand plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and the firm aims to be carbon net zero by 2050.

Around 85% of Arla’s total emissions come from the co-operative of 10,000 farms it has across Europe, a combination of the methane and nitrous oxide from the cows themselves, as well as from the fuel needed for milking and other operations.

It is hoping one of the ways it will get there is by harnessing one of its most readily-available resources: the manure produced by the half a million cows on its U.K. farms alone.

It is in the middle of a three-month trial looking at the viability of turning manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, working with two farms to collect the raw material that would usually be used by farmers as a fertilizer.

The manure, combined with other materials such as food waste, are put into an anaerobic digester that acts like a cow’s stomach, to produce gas, which is then cleaned and liquified into fuel that Arla then uses to power two of its milk trucks. Currently, Arla is running the trial with two of its farms in Buckinghamshire, a county northwest of London, said Graham Wilkinson, the company’s agriculture director.

“We collect it off two farms as part of the trial … but we’ve got 2,500 (U.K. farms) to go in the longer term, so there’s definitely the opportunity to scale up. We’ve got plenty of cow manure,” Wilkinson told CNBC by phone.

The U.K. pilot follows a 2019 trial in Sweden, where Arla’s farms have the potential to produce biofuel that is equivalent to 54 million liters of diesel [source]. That trial showed that running a truck on biofuel is cheaper than using diesel, but the vehicles themselves are more expensive, Wilkinson said. “The ambition would be to go down this (biofuel) route and for it to be more financially viable than diesel. We need to think differently from diesel anyway,” he added.

“For every liter of diesel that … we replace with biofuels, we actually reduce our carbon emissions by (about) two kg … So you’re actually having a sort of double positive (effect) on our emissions,” Wilkinson added.

The anaerobic production process also produces a substance called digestate, which farmers can use as a natural fertilizer for crops. Usually, they’d spread slurry and manure directly on to crops, but that is very watery, Wilkinson explained. “(There’s) a tougher consistency within the digestate, which actually (has) more nutrients. So, ultimately, what (the farmers) get back is of a higher value,” he said. Eventually, Wilkinson would like to get to a point where farmers wouldn’t have to use nitrous oxide-rich manufactured fertilizer that currently contributes to carbon emissions.

As well as benefiting the environment and farmers, another long-term aim is to save money, in an industry where the price paid for milk fluctuates. Farmers called for shoppers to boycott U.K. supermarkets over dairy prices in 2015, while Sardinian producers poured sheep’s milk into the streets during a 2019 protest.

“Throughout our whole supply chain we are relentlessly looking at how we do things, and how we can simplify it … the potential with this (biofuel trial) … is it could be another example of where we could actually take cost out and benefit our farmers at the same time,” Wilkinson stated.

Transforming manure into biofuel is not brand new: a renewable natural gas facility that uses manure from 33,000 dairy cows opened in Oregon in December, while Ugandan firm Green Heat International is turning agricultural waste into energy to help power homes in the country.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg Getty Images

Big energy

Creating energy from food waste is something that oil company Phillips 66 hopes to be able to do on a huge scale. It is planning to spend around $800 million to turn its San Francisco refinery in Rodeo, California into a renewable fuel plant, which it claims would be the world’s largest.

Phillips 66 announced the plan in August and if it gets approved by authorities, the “Rodeo Renewed” project would produce 680 million gallons of biofuels a year and is likely to begin production in 2024. The raw materials include used soybean and cooking oil and other fats (known as renewable “feedstocks”) and would be delivered to the plant via its existing marine and rail terminals, said Joe Gannon, senior advisor for external communications at Phillips 66, in an email to CNBC.

“Due to the facility being the largest in the world, the feedstocks will be sourced both domestically and internationally and are currently under evaluation to ensure reliable supply and minimization of impact to the environment,” Gannon stated.

Infrastructure is also something Arla is keen to have more of, and Wilkinson wants government backing in building anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities. “We’re relatively confident that from a financial perspective it is a viable option, but if we haven’t got the AD (anaerobic digester) facilities to be able to utilize, then that’s where we need support,” he told CNBC.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/16/arla-dairy-firm-hoping-to-power-delivery-trucks-with-cow-manure.html

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