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Apple once threatened Facebook ban over Mideast maid abuse

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Apple once threatened Facebook ban over Mideast maid abuse

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Two years ago, Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from its app store over concerns about the platform being used as a tool to trade and sell maids in the Mideast.

After publicly promising to crack down, Facebook acknowledged in internal documents obtained by The Associated Press that it was “under-enforcing on confirmed abusive activity” that saw Filipina maids complaining on the social media site of being abused. Apple relented and Facebook and Instagram remained in the app store.

But Facebook’s crackdown seems to have had a limited effect. Even today, a quick search for “khadima,” or “maids” in Arabic, will bring up accounts featuring posed photographs of Africans and South Asians with ages and prices listed next to their images. That’s even as the Philippines government has a team of workers that do nothing but scour Facebook posts each day to try and protect desperate job seekers from criminal gangs and unscrupulous recruiters using the site.

While the Mideast remains a crucial source of work for women in Asia and Africa hoping to provide for their families back home, Facebook acknowledged some countries across the region have “especially egregious” human rights issues when it comes to laborers’ protection.

“In our investigation, domestic workers frequently complained to their recruitment agencies of being locked in their homes, starved, forced to extend their contracts indefinitely, unpaid, and repeatedly sold to other employers without their consent,” one Facebook document read. “In response, agencies commonly told them to be more agreeable.”

The report added: “We also found recruitment agencies dismissing more serious crimes, such as physical or sexual assault, rather than helping domestic workers.”

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it took the problem seriously, despite the continued spread of ads exploiting foreign workers in the Mideast.

“We prohibit human exploitation in no uncertain terms,” Facebook said. “We’ve been combating human trafficking on our platform for many years and our goal remains to prevent anyone who seeks to exploit others from having a home on our platform.”

This story, along with others published Monday, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Taken as a whole, the trove of documents show that Facebook’s daunting size and user base around the world — a key factor in its rapid ascent and near trillion-dollar valuation — also proves to be its greatest weakness in trying to police illicit activity, such as the sale of drugs, and suspected human rights and labor abuses on its site.

Activists say Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, has both an obligation and likely the means to fully crack down on the abuses their services facilitate as it earns tens of billions of dollars a year in revenue.

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Report: Amid COVID, demand for lab space surges, leading to higher rents

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Report: Amid COVID, demand for lab space surges, leading to higher rents

Demand for Boston-area lab space is surging, but the supply is scant, leading to soaring rents, according to a new report.

Demand is far outpacing available space in the Boston area, with a record number of large biotech and drug companies seeking 100,000 square feet amid a global race for new drug development, according to the report from CBRE, a Dallas-based commercial real estate services and investment firm.

“The Boston lab market is expanding at an unprecedented pace,” said Jonathan Varholak, the firm’s vice chairman. “With over $9.3 billion of venture capital funding having flowed into Boston area life science firms in the first three quarters of this year, demand from startups is at an all-time high. We’re seeing record-setting rents and historically low vacancies as a result.”

The vacancy rate for existing lab and research and development space is just 1.1% in the Boston-Cambridge market, as average asking rents soar, jumping 7.5% to $94.62 per square foot in September compared to March 2021.

In Boston and Cambridge, where vacancy is 0.1% and 0.3% respectively, the average asking rents are now $100.00 per square foot in Boston and $112.79 in Cambridge, according to CBRE. The leasing of lab space has been pushed into the suburbs, including Watertown and Route 128 West.

“As we see in housing, space is scarce,” said Joe Boncore, CEO of the industry group MassBio. “But as we add more space to the economy, we expect the price of lab space to level off.”

Ten million square feet of lab space is under construction in the Boston area, which includes 9.3 million square feet of “spec” construction, where developers broke ground with no tenants signed at the time, the report said. Six million square feet is expected to deliver by the end of next year, and 3.2 million square feet is being converted from other uses such as office or warehouse space.

In Boston, life sciences employment has grown faster than the U.S average over the past 15 years, although Boston has only about a sixth of the life sciences employment as Middlesex County, including Cambridge, Waltham, Lexington, among others. Yet Boston has grown more rapidly over the past year: 7.5% vs. 5.2%, according to CBRE.

“Life sciences labs quickly have become a highly sought-after property type for both tenants and investors,” said Ian Anderson, CBRE’s Americas Head of Office Research. “This intense demand for lab space is the natural result of a global push for new medicines begetting strong funding and hiring in the life sciences sector.”

Global demand for vaccines for COVID-19 and viruses like it has led to initial public offerings for life sciences companies in the on pace for a record year, raising roughly $13 billion, according to CBRE.

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MBTA to cut back bus routes Dec. 19, citing workforce shortages

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MBTA to cut back bus routes Dec. 19, citing workforce shortages

Amid a national workforce shortage cutting across industries, the MBTA has not been spared.

The agency announced that, starting Dec. 19, bus service and Mattapan line service will be scaled back to accommodate employee attrition, which is outpacing new hires.

“Like other transit systems across the country, the MBTA is experiencing significant challenges in attracting the workforce needed to meet demands for service,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “The MBTA is budgeted for a full level of service, and ready to add back services when we have hired and trained new bus and train operators.”

Poftak added in his comments that teams at the MBTA are working to streamline the hiring process and encouraged those interested in applying to head to mbta.com/apply.

The MBTA’s winter schedule will focus on maintaining service for routes with “durable ridership,” on routes with crowded buses and on supporting those returning to in-person work and school. The routes will also be adapted to new, COVID-induced travel patterns.

Buses will reduce in frequency by about one in every 20 scheduled trips, with many of the changes reducing frequency on weekdays, especially in the morning.

Several other bus changes are going into effect later this month. Route 111, with service to and from Woodlawn, will operate a simplified service pattern this winter, and Routes 62 and 76, which run between Alewife and the Bedford VA Hospital, will resume rush-hour weekday service.

The MBTA will hold a public information session Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. to discuss the changes. People can learn more about the affected routes at mbta.com/servicechanges.

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First snowfall of the season for many in Massachusetts could impact evening commute

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First snowfall of the season for many in Massachusetts could impact evening commute

It’s time to dig out your winter boots and snow brush for your car.

Wednesday will bring the first snowfall of the season for many across the Bay State, as meteorologists predict a widespread 1 to 2 inches of snow, with lower amounts along the coast.

While the light snowfall totals look to be minor, much of the snow will fall during the evening commute, so officials are urging people to plan for extra travel time and slow down on the roads.

“Not only will you be safer on snow if you curb your speed, you’ll have greater ability to stop if you need to,” said Mary Maguire of AAA Northeast. “Allow for more distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. This will provide you with more stopping distance if you need to brake.”

The best chance for accumulation looks to be between 4 p.m. and midnight, and the best shot for higher snow amounts would be toward the Worcester Hills.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation advised people to clean snow off their vehicle, and to make sure their windshield wipers work and they have windshield washer fluid.

“So ask any Cop who has been on the job for few years which day normally has the most motor vehicle crashes? Answer: First snowfall of the year,” the Hanson Police Department tweeted. “Slow down, be safe, and keep your insurance rates down.”

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