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Airbnb to buy background-check startup

Airbnb Inc. is purchasing background-check startup Trooly Inc. in an effort to protect its guests and hosts from bad actors.

Los Altos, Calif.-based Trooly has been helping Airbnb authenticate user identities since 2015. By analyzing data from public records, social media and other sources, Trooly's technology could help Airbnb track various customer violations, such as side deals between guests and hosts.

"We look forward to welcoming the Trooly team to Airbnb in the coming weeks," said Airbnb spokesman Tim Rathschmidt. He declined to provide a purchase price or specifics of the arrangement.

Since starting in 2008, Airbnb has struggled to control fraudulent listings from people posing as property owners. Some Airbnb guests have also been found to sidestep the company by finding an attractive listing on Airbnb's website, then contacting the hosts -- usually via social media -- and offering to pay them directly.

Airbnb takes as much as a 12 percent fee from its guests. Hosts are charged a 3 percent fee on listings that are booked. In most cases, the company is also required to charge guests a local tax, usually 3 percent, though the tax rates vary by city, state and country.

-- Bloomberg News

Amazon has eye on corporate-chat firm

Corporate chat-room startup Slack Technologies Inc. has received recent inquiries about a potential takeover from technology companies including Inc., people with knowledge of the situation said.

A deal could give San Francisco-based Slack a valuation of at least $9 billion, the people said. An agreement isn't assured and discussions may not go further, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

A representative for Seattle-based declined to comment. Slack also declined to comment.

Slack raised $200 million in its latest funding round in 2016, valuing it at $3.8 billion. The company introduced its business-chat software in 2013. In January, Slack debuted an enterprise version of its chat software that allows tens of thousands of employees to collaborate across teams at major corporations like International Business Machines Corp.

-- Bloomberg News

Merchandisers draw EU antitrust inquiry

Hello Kitty's brand owner Sanrio Co., Comcast's Universal Studios and Nike Inc. face European Union antitrust investigations over restrictions that may unfairly prevent merchandise from being sold online or across the EU.

The European Commission said it will examine whether some of the three companies' licensing and distribution practices illegally restrict traders from selling licensed merchandise outside one country or online.

The trio "may be denying consumers access to wider choice and better deals in the single market," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an emailed statement.

Nike said in an email statement that it's "aware of the European Commission's investigation and will continue to cooperate with the authorities." Calls made to Sanrio's Tokyo headquarters outside business hours went unanswered. A Comcast regulatory spokesman in Washington didn't respond to text and emailed requests for comment outside of normal business hours. Universal Studios also didn't respond to emailed requests for comment.

-- Bloomberg News

Hiring on the rise at U.K.'s BenevolentAI

Drug discovery startup BenevolentAI has begun a major hiring spree, as it seeks to take advantage of the current boom in the U.K.'s artificial-intelligence and machine-learning sector.

The London-based company, valued at $1.7 billion according to data firm CB Insights, is seeking to hire 50 new staff members across AI, data science and bioinformatics, software engineering and medicinal science.

"We are already bursting at the seams of our current office space so alongside this hiring spree we'll be moving to a much larger London office later in the year," said Ken Mulvany, founder of BenevolentAI.

Benevolent is one of five private AI companies that have reached a valuation of more than $1 billion, according to CB Insights. The startup, founded in 2013, focuses on using machine learning to help parse medical data -- from existing studies to new papers -- to speed up drug discovery.

The company has so far raised $140 million from investors including Lansdowne Partners, Index Ventures and Woodford Investment Management.

-- Bloomberg News

Germans, Ford team up on electric van

Ford Motor Co. is teaming up with Deutsche Post AG on an electric delivery van, as the German mail carrier secures a big-name partner to advance its portfolio of battery-powered StreetScooters.

The new vehicle, bigger than Deutsche Post's current lineup of no-frills e-vans and based on the Ford Transit, will be used to deliver packages, the companies said in a joint statement. Production will start in July, with the goal of assembling at least 2,500 vehicles by the end of 2018. That would make it Europe's biggest venture in that segment, they said.

The German postal company, which also owns the DHL shipping service, has made surprising inroads into the electric-vehicle market by developing a bare-bones model with no passenger seat, air-conditioning or radio -- and a top speed of less than 50 miles per hour. The mail carrier plans to electrify its global fleet of 92,000 vans in a shift away from diesel, which is under growing scrutiny because of health concerns.

-- Bloomberg News

347,200 SIM cards seized at 'click farm'

BANGKOK -- Three Chinese men arrested in Thailand have acknowledged that they were operating a "click farm," using hundreds of cellphones and several hundred thousand SIM cards to run up "likes" and views on WeChat, a Chinese social media mobile application, Thai police said last week.

Immigration Police Capt. Itthikorn Atthanark said the men explained they were paid according to how many likes and views they generated, each earning $2,950-$4,400 per month. Click farms are hired to inflate an online site's viewership for prestige and profit. Some politicians boast of how many followers they have on social media, while clicks can generate ad revenue.

WeChat is China's most prominent online social media platform, incorporating a text-messaging service as well as marketing for online stores.

Police seized 476 cellphones and about 347,200 SIM cards during the arrests at a house in Sa Kaeo province, about 120 miles east of Bangkok. The men, identified as Wang Dong, Niu Bang and Ni Wenjin, were charged with working without a permit and importing the phones without paying taxes.

-- Bloomberg News

SundayMonday Business on 06/19/2017

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