Future Styles: Could Virtual Clothes Reduce Damage of Fast Fashion?

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Striking a pose in the mirror, Swedish model and stylist Lisa Anckarman shows off a new jacket with a difference on Instagram – though it fits her perfectly in the photo, it’s a virtual design that does not exist in real life.

She is among a number of trendsetters embracing cutting-edge technology that offers the opportunity to sate appetites for fast fashion while dramatically slashing the emissions, pollution and labor abuses linked to the garment industry.

“I really liked the idea and the aspect that it’s good for the environment,” Anckarman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as she discussed her virtual styling. Actually I think it maybe looked too good because people didn’t really get that it was digital.”

“People were asking me ‘Where did you buy this?’ and I was saying, ‘It’s digital’, and they were like, ‘No, at what shop did you buy it?'”

Fashion is one of the world’s most damaging industries – it is responsible for about 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, sucks up scarce water and creates vast amounts of pollution and waste.

But the desire for the latest look is only increasing. Global fashion sales grew by about 4.5 percent to $1.7 trillion in 2018, found analysts at McKinsey and Company, who said social media is bringing trends to consumers at an ever swifter pace.

Some businesses are now looking to meet the demand for new styles through digital designs, with Scandinavian fashion firm Carlings convincing its customers to pay real cash for virtual clothes that are digitally “fitted” onto users’ photographs.

“It was kind of scary (launching it) but the response was so overwhelming that we were convinced we were on to something,” said Ronny Mikalsen, the firm’s brand director.

The first Carlings designs, costing between 10 euros ($11) and 30 euros, sold out and a second digital collection is due to be released in spring 2019.

High fashion, low emissions

Digital clothes create far lower emissions than physical clothes as they cut out the long, labor-intensive process of sourcing materials, producing fabrics, making garments and shipping them worldwide.

While virtual styles may still be niche, experts say they are set to grow as technology seeps into more aspects of human lives.

Younger generations in particular are keen to curate their online personas as much as their real-life image, said Matthew Drinkwater, the head of the Fashion Innovation Agency based at the London College of Fashion.

On Instagram you have to ask “how much of that is a real person and how much is an enhanced version or a way they wish to portray themselves?” he said.

The increasing use of filters on social media that can add cute dog ears or a flower crown on top of a photo or edit video in real time to make people vomit rainbows shows how people are already using digital effects to play with their image, he said.

“In a very simple sense people are beginning to enhance or alter the way that they look,” he said. “You can begin to see a drift towards this merging of physical and digital.”

Shopping habits are already changing to meet the demands of online images: nearly one in 10 people have bought clothes to wear once, with the aim of sharing their outfit on social media, according to a survey of 2,000 Britons by finance firm Barclaycard last summer.

“If you get caught wearing the same clothes too many times it’s seen as a bad thing,” said Morten Grubak from the Virtue creative agency, who came up with the Carlings campaign.

“One of the worst things you can write under images is ‘Not again’, making the hint they have posted that outfit before.”

‘Physics-defying’ outfits

Some involved in virtual fashion said they had set out to offer a new solution to the industry’s climate damage and waste rather than trying to persuade consumers to buy less.

“Right now (environmental campaigns) are always about, like, how much water did we save producing these jeans and people don’t care about that,” said Grubak.

“Instead of getting angry with people doing fashion on Instagram, how can we innovatively solve that problem by adding a new platform?”

Other companies said they had taken a deliberate decision to avoid the traditional fashion market entirely.

“We’ve made a very clear point of never wanting to be a physical fashion brand,” said Kerry Murphy of Dutch digital fashion house The Fabricant, which creates only virtual designs.

“We believe the world does not need more clothing. It’s an incredibly wasteful and polluting industry. That’s why we very consciously said we want to re-imagine fashion.”

Digital design also opens up new possibilities to play with fashion, from using fabrics like rubber which would be relatively uncomfortable in real life through to dabbling in exotic skins or even physics-defying fantasies.

“Clothing will definitely have a different meaning because it does not have the same functionality as physical clothing,” Murphy said.

“People can wear fire or they wear rain or they can be a dinosaur, so the possibilities are limitless.”

Those involved in the digital design industry said it will not offer a complete solution to fashion’s emissions and waste problems, but it can help by encouraging people to update their existing wardrobes with virtual flourishes.

And as technology advances, virtual fashion could sashay into the mainstream, said Drinkwater.

Within a decade, people could regularly wear high-tech glasses that can apply digital effects over what the wearer sees in real life, he predicted, meaning virtual clothes will no longer be restricted to a computer or phone screen.

“Could you imagine a point where your existing clothes could be constantly updated through digital design? Could we be downloading content that could portray ourselves differently? Would that stop us from simply buying more product?” he asked. “That potential is really quite exciting.”

($1 = 0.8834 euros)

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Twitter Tightens EU Political Ad Rules Ahead of Election

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Twitter said Tuesday it is tightening up rules for European Union political ads ahead of bloc-wide elections this spring, following similar moves by fellow tech giants Facebook and Google.

The social media company said it is extending restrictions already in place for federal elections in the United States.

Under the new rules, which will also apply in Australia and India, political advertisers will need to be certified.

It’s also taking steps to increase transparency. Ads, in the form of “promoted tweets,” from the past seven days will be stored in a publicly accessible database showing how much was spent, how many times it was seen and the demographics of the people who saw it.

Facebook and Google have put in similar systems ahead of the EU vote in May, as the U.S. tech companies respond to criticism they didn’t do enough to prevent misuse of their platforms by malicious actors trying to sway previous elections around the world.

“This is part of our overall goal to protect the health of the public conversation on our service and to provide meaningful context around all political entities who use our advertising products,” the company said in a blog post .

Hundreds of millions of people are set to vote for more than 700 European Union parliamentary lawmakers.

Political advertisers can start applying now for certification under Twitter’s stricter ad rules, which take effect March 11, by providing more information such as photo ID or a company identification number.

Twitter defines political ads as those bought by a party or candidate or that advocate for or against a candidate or party.

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Artists Create Contemporary Take on Ancient Art Form

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Levitating objects and plastic boxes may not seem to have anything to do with landscape painting, but they are the contemporary take on an ancient Chinese art style called “shan shui hua” or mountain water painting.

Dating back more than 1,000 years, this style of landscape painting, which uses brush and ink, has evolved over time. The art form is evolving once again in an exhibit called “Lightscapes: Re-envisioning the Shanshuihua” at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.

The goal of Nick Dong and Chi-Tsung Wu, the two artists in the exhibit, is to connect the new, digital generation to this traditional type of art and to capture its essence in a new way through modern technology. 

The exhibit forces the viewer to slow down and experience a different world. That’s one of the objectives of the ancient masters of Chinese shan shui paintings.

Escape from reality

“Actually, it was for all these artists to create a world which they want to hide, avoid, escape from reality. So, they create a mountain (and) imagine they could live there,” said Dong, an artist born in Taiwan who now lives in Northern California.

Trained in both Chinese and Western art styles, Dong and Wu use experimental materials and light in the various art pieces in the exhibit. 

In a contemporary approach to what’s real and what is not, one installation involves a slowly moving light directed at clear plastic boxes attached to a wall.

“If we see this through the light, through the different perspective, we could see there’s another world behind that,” Wu said about his installation called Crystal City.

That other world Wu referenced are shadows that look more real and solid than the actual plastic boxes. Wu said the art installation is symbolic of the modern digital age.

“We spend most of our time in our daily life, no matter to work or to our social life or our entertainment, all on this cyberspace,” he said.

That space is an escape for many people similar to the landscape paintings.

Philosophy and the spiritual

To capture the philosophical elements of the landscape painting, magnets are used to levitate objects to show that there is a force between everything in nature.

Another art piece in the exhibit is a take on one’s relationship with the universe. To view Dong’s representation of heaven, one has to step into a room filled with mirrors from ceiling to floor. There is a stool in the middle of the room.

“We’re all searching. We’re all longing for growth, become better and, ultimately, good enough to go to heaven. So, in my mind, heaven is a place of selfless, so eventually once you’ve entered the installation, at first you’ll see a lot of your reflection. But once you sit down, you trigger the mechanism of the room. The mirror actually starts to reflect, and you yourself will disappear within the space. You vanish. All you have is this empty, wide-open space. For me, it’s the ultimate evolution,” Dong explained.

The art pieces in the exhibit are ways the artists hope the modern-day viewer will be able to experience what the ancient artists of the landscape paintings were trying to achieve. 

“They (ancient scholars) were able to say, ‘We’re seeking a spiritual outlet. We’re seeking a way to refine the spirit and refine the soul.’ This work, today, it’s hard to have that experience with the traditional artwork because they’re such a contained device. You see them in a museum under glass, and they’re hard to approach,” said Justin Hoover curator of the Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles.

Contemporary artists hope their use of lighting and experimental materials will make an ancient art form more tangible and real in the 21st century.

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Amazon Aims to Cut Its Carbon Footprint

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Amazon, which ships millions of packages a year to shopper’s doorsteps, says it wants to be greener.

The online retail giant announced plans Monday to make half of all its shipments carbon-neutral by 2030.

To reach that goal, the online retail giant says it will use more renewable energy like solar power; have more packages delivered in electric vans; and push suppliers to remake their packaging.

McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and other big companies that generate lots of waste have announced similar initiatives, hoping to appeal to customers concerned about the environment.

Amazon is calling its program “Shipment Zero,” and plans to publicly publish its carbon footprint for the first time later this year.

Seattle-based Amazon said it spent the past two years mapping its carbon footprint and figuring out ways to reduce carbon use across the company.

“It won’t be easy to achieve this goal, but it’s worth being focused and stubborn on this vision and we’re committed to seeing it through,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations.

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Facebook Voids Accounts Targeting Moldovan Election

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Facebook said on Thursday it had disrupted an attempt to influence voters in Moldova, increasing concerns that EU elections in May could be prey to malign activity.

Employees of the Moldovan government were linked to some of the activity, the California-based social media company said. Authorities in Chisnau, capital of the tiny former Soviet republic, denied knowledge.

Facebook said it dismantled scores of pages and accounts designed to look like independent opinion pages and to impersonate a local fact-checking organization ahead of Moldova’s elections later this month.

“So they created this feedback loop,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters in Brussels. “We did assess that there were links between some of that activity and individuals associated with the Moldovan government.”

The government said it welcomed any initiative to combat “fake news”, saying it did not check the private accounts of its more than 200,000 state employees.

“They have different political views and opinions, and the state is obliged to maintain the boundary between fighting the phenomenon of Fake News and guaranteeing the freedom of expression for citizens,” it said.

Facebook said it removed 168 accounts, 28 pages and eight Instagram accounts involved in “inauthentic behavior.” Some 54,000 accounts followed at least one of these Facebook pages.

The owners of pages and accounts typically posted about local news and political issues such as requirements for Russian- or English-language education and potential reunification with Romania, the company said.

Guarding elections

Facebook stepped up efforts to combat disinformation, including accounts in Russia, Iran and Indonesia, over the last year after coming under public scrutiny for not doing enough to stem the spread extremism and propaganda online.

The vulnerabilities exposed in Moldova, sandwiched between EU member Romania and Ukraine on the fringes of the bloc, were a warning ahead of polls in neighboring Ukraine and for the European legislature.

The European Union has pushed tech companies to do more to stop what it fears are Russian attempts to undermine Western democracies with disinformation campaigns that sow division. Russia has repeatedly denied any such actions.

The sheer perception of manipulation can damage polls, Gleicher warned. “We are starting to see actors try to create the impression that there is manipulation without owning lots and lots of accounts,” he said.

“We already have the teams up and running and focused on the European parliamentary elections and that is only going to grow as the elections get closer and the pace of threats increases.”

Dogged by scandal, Moldova’s pro-Western government has failed to lift low living standards. That has driven many voters towards the Socialists, who favor closer ties with Russia.

The European Parliament called Moldova a “state captured by oligarchic interests” in November, and there are concerns whether the parliamentary election on February 24 will be fair. The election is likely to produce a hung parliament, which could set the scene for months of wrangling or possibly further elections.

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‘Digital Gangsters’: UK Wants Tougher Rules for Facebook

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British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that calls for tougher rules on Facebook to keep it from acting like “digital gangsters” and intentionally violating data privacy and competition laws.

The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament’s influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.

 

The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site’s structure seems to be designed to “conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.”

 

“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report added.

 

U.K. parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding. The committee said it hopes its conclusions will be considered when the government reviews its competition powers in April.

 

And while the U.K. is part of the 28-country European Union, it is due to leave the bloc in late March, so it is unclear whether any regulatory decisions it takes could influence those of the EU.

 

Facebook said it shared “the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity” and was open to “meaningful regulation.”

 

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.

 

“We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

 

Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.

 

The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.

 

 

 

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Gone in a New York Minute: How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart

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In early November, word began to leak that Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a giant new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paying tech jobs, offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got in on the action: “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he joked at the time.

Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens to build a $2.5 billion campus that could house 25,000 workers, in addition to new offices planned for northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political adversaries for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after edging out more than 230 other proposals.

But what they didn’t expect was the protests, the hostile public hearings and the disparaging tweets that would come in the next three months, eventually leading to Amazon’s dramatic Valentine’s Day breakup with New York.

Immediately after Amazon’s Nov. 12 announcement, criticism started to pour in. The deal included $1.5 billion in special tax breaks and grants for the company, but a closer look at the total package revealed it to be worth at least $2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to woo Amazon were now balking at the tax incentives.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who represent the Long Island City area, in a joint statement.

The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos was on the cover of The New York Post in a cartoon-like illustration, hanging out of a helicopter, holding money bags in each hand, with cash billowing above the skyline. “QUEENS RANSOM,” the headline screamed. The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, called the deal a “bad bargain” for the city: “We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize,” it said.

Anti-Amazon rallies were planned for the next week. Protesters stormed a New York Amazon bookstore on the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on the steps of a courthouse near the site of the new headquarters in the pouring rain. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon’s smile logo turned upside down.

In this Nov. 14, 2018 file photo, protesters hold up anti-Amazon signs during a coalition rally and press conference of elected officials, community organizations and unions opposing Amazon headquarters getting subsidies to locate in New York.

They had a long list of grievances: the deal was done secretively; Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, didn’t need nearly $3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was opposed to unionization.

The helipad kept coming up, too: Amazon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a helicopter on or near the new offices.

At the first public hearing in December, which turned into a hostile, three-hour interrogation of two Amazon executives by city lawmakers, the helipad was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of high-paid executives buzzing by a nearby low-income housing project became a symbol of corporate greed.

Queens residents soon found postcards from Amazon in their mailboxes, trumpeting the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, calling the company “Scamazon” and urging people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle.

At a second city council hearing in January, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, subtly suggested that perhaps the company’s decision to come to New York could be reversed.

“We want to invest in a community that wants us,” he said.

Then came a sign that Amazon’s opponents might actually succeed in derailing the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped for a seat on a little-known state panel that often has to approve state funding for big economic development projects. That meant if Amazon’s deal went before the board, Gianaris could kill it.

“I’m not looking to negotiate a better deal,” Gianaris said at the time. “I am against the deal that has been proposed.”

Cuomo had the power to block Gianaris’ appointment, but he didn’t indicate whether he would take that step.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Washington Post reported that the company was having second thoughts about the Queens location.

On Wednesday, Cuomo brokered a meeting with four top Amazon executives and the leaders of three unions critical of the deal. The union leaders walked away with the impression that the parties had an agreed upon framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“We had a good conversation. We talked about next steps. We shook hands,” Appelbaum said.

An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The final blow landed Thursday, when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backing out, surprising the mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon executive Monday night and received “no indication” that the company would bail.

Amazon still expected the deal to be approved, according to a source familiar with Amazon’s thinking, but that the constant criticism from politicians didn’t make sense for the company to grow there.

“I was flabbergasted,” De Blasio said. “Why on earth after all of the effort we all put in would you simply walk away?”

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Amazon’s Exit Could Scare Off Tech Companies From New York

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Amazon jilted New York City on Valentine’s Day, scrapping plans to build a massive headquarters campus in Queens amid fierce opposition from politicians angry about nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and the company’s anti-union stance.

With millions of jobs and a bustling economy, New York can withstand the blow, but experts say the decision by the e-commerce giant to walk away and take with it 25,000 promised jobs could scare off other companies considering moving to or expanding in the city, which wants to be seen as the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.

“One of the real risks here is the message we send to companies that want to come to New York and expand to New York,” said Julie Samuels, the executive director of industry group Tech: NYC. “We’re really playing with fire right now.”

In November, Amazon selected New York City and Crystal City, Virginia, as the winners of a secretive, yearlong process in which more than 230 North American cities bid to become the home of the Seattle-based company’s second headquarters.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo heralded the city’s selection at the time as the biggest boon yet to its burgeoning tech economy and underscored that the deal would generate billions of dollars for improving transit, schools and housing.

Opposition came swiftly though, as details started to emerge.

Critics complained about public subsidies that were offered to Amazon and chafed at some of the conditions of the deal, such as the company’s demand for access to a helipad. Some pleaded for the deal to be renegotiated or scrapped altogether.

“We knew this was going south from the moment it was announced,” said Thomas Stringer, a site selection adviser for big companies. “If this was done right, all the elected officials would have been out there touting how great it was. When you didn’t see that happen, you knew something was wrong.”

Stringer, a managing director of the consulting firm BDO USA LLP, said city and state officials need to rethink the secrecy with which they approached the negotiations. Community leaders and potential critics were kept in the dark, only to be blindsided when details became public.

“It’s time to hit the reset button and say, “What did we do wrong?”‘ Stringer said. “This is fumbling at the 1-yard line.”

Amazon said in a statement Thursday its commitment to New York City required “positive, collaborative relationships” with state and local officials and that a number of them had “made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward.”

Not that Amazon is blameless, experts say.

Joe Parilla, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said the company’s high-profile bidding process may have stoked the backlash. Companies usually search for new locations quietly, in part to avoid the kind of opposition Amazon received.

“They had this huge competition, and the media covered it really aggressively, and a bunch of cities responded,” Parilla said. “What did you expect? It gave the opposition a much bigger platform.”

Richard Florida, an urban studies professor and critic of Amazon’s initial search process, said the company should have expected to feel the heat when it selected New York, a city known for its neighborhood activism.

“At the end of the day, this is going to hurt Amazon,” said Florida, head of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute. “This is going to embolden people who don’t like corporate welfare across the country.”

Other tech companies have been keeping New York City’s tech economy churning without making much of a fuss.

Google is spending $2.4 billion to build up its Manhattan campus. Cloud-computing company Salesforce has plastered its name on Verizon’s former headquarters in midtown, and music streaming service Spotify is gobbling up space at the World Trade Center complex.

Despite higher costs, New York City remains attractive to tech companies because of its vast, diverse talent pool, world-class educational and cultural institutions and access to other industries, such as Wall Street capital and Madison Avenue ad dollars.

No other metropolitan area in the U.S. has as many computer-related jobs as New York City, which has 225,600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Washington, Boston, Atlanta and Dallas each have a greater concentration of their workers in tech.

In the New York area, the average computer-related job pays roughly $104,000 a year, about $15,000 above the national average. Still, that’s about $20,000 less than in San Francisco.

Even after cancelling its headquarters project, Amazon still has 5,000 employees in New York City, not counting Whole Foods.

“New York has actually done a really great job of growing and supporting its tech ecosystem, and I’m confident that will continue,” Samuels said. “Today we took a step back, but I would not put the nail in the coffin of tech in New York City.”

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Report: Facebook, FTC Discuss Multibillion Dollar Fine

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A report says Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are negotiating a “multibillion dollar” fine for the social network’s privacy lapses.

The Washington Post said Thursday that the fine would be the largest ever imposed on a tech company. Citing unnamed sources, it also said the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. 

Facebook has had several high-profile privacy lapses in the past couple of years. The FTC has been looking into the Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March. The data mining firm accessed the data of some 87 million Facebook users without their consent. 

At issue is whether Facebook is in violation of a 2011 agreement with the FTC promising to protect user privacy. Facebook and the FTC declined to comment.

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