Business News

Google begins process of deleting inactive Gmail accounts

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(NEW YORK) -- If you have a Gmail account you haven’t used in a while – it could be deleted as soon as today.

Starting Dec. 1, Google will begin purging accounts that have not been used or signed into for at least two years. That means emails, Google Drive, Google Docs, calendar entries and photos will all be erased from these dormant accounts.

The company announced the move in May as part of an effort to protect users from security threats. Google says forgotten accounts often rely on old or reused passwords that could have been compromised. These accounts are 10 times less likely to have 2-step verification set up, increasing the likelihood of identity theft and spam.

If Gmail users have an old account that they want to preserve – all they need to do is sign in once every two years. Google says any of the following actions will also prevent an account from getting deleted once you’re signed in: read/send an email, use Google Drive, watch a YouTube video, download an app on the Google Play store or use Google Search.

Google says the policy only applies to personal accounts, not to organizations like schools or businesses. Accounts with YouTube videos are also exempt.

The first accounts to be deleted will be those that were created and never used again. Users who are affected should have received multiple notifications to the account email and recovery email address.

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Cyberattack caused 'temporary disruption' to Staples online ordering

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(NEW YORK) -- Office retail company Staples was hit with a cyberattack, the company announced in a post on their website Thursday.

The cyberattack "caused temporary disruption to the processing and delivering capabilities, as well as to our communications channels and customer service lines," the company said in a statement.

Staples said its systems were disrupted because of the "proactive steps" it took to "mitigate the impact and protect customer data."

"All of our systems are in the process of coming back online and we expect to return to normal functionality in short order," a company spokesperson told ABC News. "We may experience slight delays in the interim but expect to ship all orders that have been placed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused for our valued customers. While it is too early to make any definitive statements, we are optimistic that our quick action helped avert more serious consequences. We take seriously our responsibility to protect all of our data."

Staples stores remain open and are operating normally, according to a Staples spokesperson.

It is unclear what type of cyberattack occurred.

"Staples stores remain open and are operating normally," the company said in its statement.

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Elon Musk apologizes for antisemitic tweet but crudely attacks advertisers

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(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk apologized for a recent antisemitic post on X while speaking at a conference on Wednesday night, but added a crude denunciation of advertisers that have since withdrawn from the platform.

The advertising exodus this month amounts to "blackmail," Musk said, warning that the loss of ad revenue would ultimately result in the closure of X, formerly known as Twitter.

Musk used an expletive while addressing companies that removed advertisements from the social media platform.

"I don't want them to advertise," Musk said at The New York Times DealBook Summit in New York. "If someone is going to blackmail me with advertising money, go f--- yourself."

"What the advertising boycott is going to do is it's going to kill the company," Musk added. "The whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company and we will document it in great detail. Let's see how Earth responds."

X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The recent wave of advertising exits from X included Comcast, IBM, Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney, the parent company of ABC News.

"Hey Bob, if you're in the audience, that's how I feel," Musk said, addressing Disney CEO Bob Iger, who spoke at the conference earlier in the day.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

X CEO Linda Yaccarino, who most recently served as the ad sales chief at NBCUniversal, sat in the audience during Musk's remarks.

Prior to his criticism of advertisers, Musk expressed remorse for a post on X earlier this month that was widely condemned as antisemitic.

"I'm sorry for that post," Musk said. "It was foolish of me. Of the 30,000 it might be literally the worst and dumbest post I've ever done. And I've tried my best to clarify six ways from Sunday, but you know at least I think it'll be obvious that in fact I'm far from being antisemitic."

Since Musk acquired the company last year, advertising revenue has fallen about 50%, Musk said in a post on X in July.

Before the acquisition, advertising sales made up the vast majority of the company's income, earnings reports showed.


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Autoworkers at Tesla, BMW and more move to join UAW, union says

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(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of employees at 13 non-union automakers -- including Tesla, Toyota, BMW and Nissan -- have moved to join the United Auto Workers, according to the union.

Autoworkers are signing union cards online at the UAW's website as part of simultaneous campaigns across the 13 automakers, the union said Wednesday, calling it an "unprecedented move."

"To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: Now it's your turn," UAW President Shawn Fain said in a video statement.

The drive encompasses nearly 150,000 autoworkers across BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Rivian, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, according to the union.

The push comes after UAW's weekslong labor dispute with the Big 3 U.S. automakers -- General Motors, Stellantis and Ford -- which brought tens of thousands of its union members to picket lines.

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

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What to know about the Tesla Cybertruck ahead of its delivery event

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(NEW YORK) -- Since Tesla unveiled a prototype of its Cybertruck four years ago, the electric pickup truck has remained in the realm of preorders and earnings-call updates -- until this week.

On Thursday, the company will make its first deliveries of the Cybertruck at a high-profile event sure to be closely watched by consumers and Wall Street investors alike.

Encased in stainless steel, the Cybertruck boasts a payload and tow capacity that rival some other pickup trucks on the market.

But the ramp-up to full production will likely stretch into 2025, well-behind an initial rollout goal, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on an earnings call last month.

Here's what to know about the Tesla Cybertruck, the delivery event on Thursday and when the car will be made widely available for purchase:

What do we know so far about the Cybertruck?

The Cybertruck made headlines for a miscue at a prototype-reveal event in 2019, when Musk touted its "armored" glass but a window unexpectedly shattered seconds later during a demo.

The signature feature of the Cybertruck, meanwhile, may be its stainless steel frame. The steel resists dents, allows customers to forego a paint job and is "literally bulletproof," according to Musk.

The Cybertruck has a 3,500-pound payload capacity and 100 cubic feet of storage space, Musk said. The vehicle has room to seat six adults, the company says.

A 17-inch touchscreen rests atop the center of the dashboard, alongside an otherwise spare interior. Drivers can raise or lower the suspension 4 inches, Tesla says.

Tesla will offer three versions of the vehicle, ranging in price from $39,000 to $69,000, according to the release event in 2019. The lowest-cost option will offer a 250-mile range while the most expensive option will provide a 500-mile range, Musk said.

Those prices no longer appear on the Tesla website, however, leaving open the possibility of changes before the Cybertruck is made widely available.

More than one million people have pre-ordered the Cybertruck, Musk said last month.

What will happen at the Cybertruck delivery event?

On Thursday, Tesla will announce the delivery of an initial batch of Cybertrucks at an event in Austin, Texas, the company says.

The event, hosted at a manufacturing plant, will take place at 3 p.m. ET, the company said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Tesla says it plans to live-stream the event but the company has not announced where the video can be viewed.

The company plans to ​​to deliver just 10 Cybertrucks at the event, according to remarks made by Tesla global director of product design Javier Verdura earlier this month, Mexican outlet Milenio reported.

When will the Cybertruck be widely available for purchase?

Tesla faces "enormous challenges" scaling up production of the Cybertruck, Musk told investors on an earnings call last month. On a previous earnings call, Musk said the company "dug our own grave" with the decision to develop the Cybertruck.

Last month, Musk cited innovative features of the Cybertruck as a key reason for the delay.

"Prototypes are easy," Musk said. "Production is hard."

"You will have problems proportionate to how many new things you're trying to solve at scale," Musk added.

Ultimately, Tesla will produce 250,000 Cybertrucks per year, Musk said, noting that the company likely won't reach that output rate until 2025.

"You have to invent not just the car but the way to make the car," he added. "So, the more uncharted the territory, the less predictable the outcome."

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Travel Tuesday boasts savings on flights, hotels, cruises and more: how to score the best deal

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(NEW YORK) -- Travel Tuesday is taking off, and that next great vacation could be just a click away.

"We're expecting to see more deals available today than on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined," Hayley Berg, lead economist for the travel app Hopper, told ABC News' Good Morning America.

"There will be great deals on flights, hotels, rental cars and vacation homes today," Berg said. "If you're planning a trip for 2024, today is one of the best days of the year to book and score deals on future trips."

Whether you're looking to take a trip with the family or enjoy a weekend getaway with friends, there are plenty of ways to plan and save so you don't have to break the bank.

Hotels are slashing prices on rooms, including some holiday stays. Marriott is offering up to 20% off through Tuesday only for stays through Jan. 15. Also, travelers who are enrolled in the free One Key rewards program from Expedia and can get at least 30% off travel through 2024.

If you have your sights set on Europe, Hopper is offering great deals on hotels there.

"We're going to be offering up to 50% off hotels exclusively on the hopper app in destinations like Rome and Paris," Berg shared of the 80 dream destinations and over 10,000 hotel properties offering discounts without blackout dates or restrictions.

The Points Guy CEO and founder Brian Kelly told GMA that flight deals are even better now than during previous Travel Tuesdays.

"Because the airline industry is slowing down, air fares are starting to come down. And something we would have never thought a year ago [is] airlines struggling to fill seats," he said.

Southwest is offering 30% off some fares, while Frontier extended its all-you-can-fly annual pass at its lowest price of $499 through today.

Over 100 of Hopper's airline partners will be offering deals on Tuesday, including $50 round-trip fares from New York LaGuardia to Orlando, Chicago to San Juan for $160 round trip, and Los Angeles to Rome for as low as $480 round trip.

If an oceanfront vacation is more your style, Virgin Voyages -- one of many cruise lines discounting trips -- is offering up to 30% off fares.

"MSC cruises are an up and comer, they're offering really robust deals," Points Guy's Kelly said, adding that "Holland America is also offering 30% off select cruises."

Travel Tuesday Tips

As Berg mentioned, Hopper app users can check out the sale page, where Hopper has highlighted the best deals available.

You can also set price alerts on Hopper for the destinations or hotels you're eyeing, which Berg recommended for keeping track of the best deals in real-time. Simply click "Watch" on the app for destinations or hotels of interest, and Hopper will notify you when a good deal is detected.

You can also take advantage of Hopper's flexible booking options, which include "Cancel and Change for Any Reason" and "Flight Disruption Guarantee," adding the flexibility to book now and then change or cancel plans later, if necessary.

Berg also said Hopper has over 500 travel partners confirmed to be participating in Travel Deal Tuesday this year. So if there is a particular airline you prefer or hotel you've been eyeing, Berg said Tuesday is the ideal time to check for a deal.

"Airlines such as Aer Lingus, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Fiji Airways, Icelandair, PLAY Airlines, and many more will have special offers today," Berg said. "Hotels such as Caesars Entertainment, Encore Boston Harbor Resort & Casino, Fontainebleau Hotel Vegas, MGM Resorts, Nemacolin Woodland Resort, The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa, Vermont, Wyndham Destinations and many more properties around the world will have discounts up to 50% off available to book on Hopper today."

If you're not ready to book on Travel Tuesday but don't want to miss great deals, Hopper also has a "Price Freeze" feature that will extend the Travel Deal Tuesday offers. When you see a good deal, simply freeze the price and book it later once you're ready.

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What parents should know about iPhone's 'NameDrop' feature

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(NEW YORK) -- In some recent social media posts about a new Apple iOS feature, several police departments have expressed concern about the new "NameDrop" feature potentially putting children at risk if it were to be misused.

But some tech experts say the technology is safe when used as intended and that the warnings in some cases are exaggerated.

According to Apple, the NameDrop option lets iPhone and Apple Watch users who are next to each other share contact information such as a name, photo, phone number or email address quickly and easily with just a few taps.

The feature, announced in June, is currently available on Apple's iOS 17.1 and watchOS 10.1 software, and is part of the software's existing AirDrop feature.

Concerns first arose after the Watertown Police Department in Connecticut shared a Facebook post Sunday that claimed Apple's NameDrop feature is "enabled by default" after a user updates their iPhone to the latest operating system. The post inaccurately claimed that with the feature enabled, "anyone" could place their phone near another person's phone and "automatically receive their contact information" and picture "with a tap of your unlocked screen."

In Pennsylvania, the Jefferson Hills Police Department on Sunday also shared a Facebook post with a similar note, specifically addressing parents, encouraging them to "change these settings after the update on your children's phones."

Despite those warnings, Liz Keping, the owner and founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, told ABC News' Good Morning America that parents do not have to be overly alarmed about kids' safety surrounding the use of NameDrop.

"I wouldn't say they should be hyper concerned about NameDrop more so than any other feature that their kids are exposed to when they use the devices," Keping said. "The way the police postings read was that if you put two phones close together, you can have your personal information taken from your device, but there's actually a screen that pops up that asks for approval to transfer that information."

Keping suggested the NameDrop feature might serve as a reminder for parents to talk to their children about digital safety and safeguarding private information, especially from a young age.

"Show them where it's at, tell them that you want to turn it off [if you decide that], but then what it does is it gives a parent another platform to talk about why it's important to protect that information," Keping said. "If you say like, 'Hey, here's a feature in the app or the device. Let's talk about it.' You're not coming at kids like, 'Hey, are you sharing your personal information?' [which can make] kids really defensive."

Watertown Deputy Police Chief Renee Dominguez, meanwhile, told GMA this week that her department's decision to share the post, which also included instructions on how to disable the iPhone feature and change settings, was more about taking a proactive approach to try to educate and raise awareness of a newer phone feature, as they have done previously when sharing information about phone scams or incidents that arise from the use of new technology.

"We just want people to be aware and choose to set up your child's phone, your own phone, the way that you feel that suits your needs and as much privacy as you want to keep on your phone and restriction of access," Dominguez said. "We will go to some of these workshops that we do for parents, and parents really have no idea that their kids have all these abilities on their phone."

However, Dominguez added, "There has been no negative activity with [NameDrop] that [has] been reported to the police department, or even in our surrounding area that we've been made aware of."

Apple declined to comment to GMA about the NameDrop feature. The company explains on its website, however, that if users wish, they can select who they want to share any contact information with and when -- and it can only be done when devices are within centimeters of each other, when devices are unlocked, and when a user follows the prompts to complete a NameDrop process.

The NameDrop function can be disabled by going to an iPhone's Settings app, selecting the General tab, then the AirDrop tab, and then toggling the "Bringing Devices Together" option off.

If a NameDrop process is started, it will also automatically cancel if one of the iPhones or Apple Watches is moved away from the second device, or if an iPhone is locked before the NameDrop process is completed.

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Black Friday shopping takeaways and what they mean for the economy

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(NEW YORK) -- Black Friday sales did gangbusters as the nation enters a holiday shopping season expected to test shoppers, who account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. economic activity.

Consumers spent a record $9.8 billion online on Black Friday, which marks a 7.5% increase over the year prior, according to Adobe Analytics.

Shopper visits, a metric used to assess in-person sales, rose 4.6% compared to a year ago -- a rate nearly double the average overall increase in foot traffic so far this year, retail data firm Sensormatic Solutions said.

Even more, consumers are expected to spend between $12 billion and $12.4 billion on Cyber Monday, which would make it the biggest online shopping day ever recorded, Adobe Analytics said.

A significant reduction of inflation over the past year has delivered some relief for consumers. At the same time, they've been squeezed by a decline in savings built up during the pandemic and a spike in borrowing costs for loans like credit cards and mortgages.

"The Christmas buying season got off to a good start, as Black Friday sales appear to be strong," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told ABC News. "Consumers are hanging tough."

A host of key indicators bode well for consumers as the holiday season takes hold. The unemployment rate stands near a 50-year low, wage growth outpaces inflation and savings have been resilient for upper- and middle-income households, Zandi said.

The U.S. economy grew at an annualized pace of 4.9% over three months ending in September, more than doubling growth in the previous quarter and rebuking worries about a possible recession, a government report last month showed.

Black Friday sales data suggests that the good times for consumers may continue for the remainder of the year, Zandi said.

"While Black Friday isn't always a good guide to overall Christmas sales, this is a good sign," he noted.

Still, potential pitfalls remain for consumers and, by extension, the U.S. economy, Simeon Siegel, a retail analyst at BMO Financial Group, told ABC News.

Credit card debt climbed to a record high in the third quarter of 2023, surging nearly 5% from the previous quarter and leaving a growing share of borrowers late on payments, a Federal Reserve report earlier this month showed.

The growing debt has emerged alongside a spike in borrowing costs for loans from credit cards to mortgages that stems from interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Since last year, the Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate at the fastest pace in more than two decades, seeking to slash price hikes by slowing the economy and reducing consumer demand.

In theory, the economy should eventually falter as it becomes more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow. The job market, for instance, remains robust but has slowed in recent months.

Broad economic trends offer ample "reason to be concerned," Siegel said. He noted, however, that Black Friday sales appeared to dispel fears of a worst-case scenario for consumers.

"The question was, 'Is it going to be such an overhang that it closes the cash registers and keeps people from going online and in stores?'" Siegel said. "The retailers' response would suggest that it was not."

Rosy inferences from the data deserve a note of caution, Siegel said. Consumers often spend during the holidays, even if it means shopping beyond their means, Siegel added, making Black Friday sales an imperfect shorthand for consumer health.

"The holidays have gotten off to a good start," Siegel said. "What you and I can see from revenues is what people spent. But what we can't see is what they have in their bank accounts."


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Opening up the world of canned seafood

ABC News

To the casual observer, canned seafood, or "tinned fish," appears to be having a moment.

Stacks of tins, filled with everything from mackerel to octopus, have been filling social media feeds, complete with intricate, colorful, and Instagram-friendly packaging. Brands like Fishwife, founded in 2020, tout "responsibly sourced tinned fish" for "heavenly hors d'oeuvres" and "charming charcuterie."

In August, a colorful shop that specializes in canned seafood called The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine opened in New York City's Times Square.

"The theme is kind of this magical library," says Joanna Quaresma, the project manager for the shop. The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine is packed with floor-to-ceiling shelves of tinned fish, known as "conservas" in Portuguese culture.

"It's something that is very, very cherished in our culture," Quaresma tells ABC Audio.

She says the store sells more than 20 different varieties of tinned seafood, including a display of cans designed to look like gold bars. The $44 tins come with gold leaf inlays alongside meticulously skinned and de-boned sardines.

"The gold bar was us trying... and I think we managed, to elevate the sardine to its highest level," says Quaresma.

But the shop, as well as the recent explosion of tinned fish content, divides opinion in the culinary community.

"There is a stunty, touristy, showy, kind of element to it now," says Amy McCarthy, a staff writer for the food website Eater. "When something like tinned fish becomes a status symbol, that is such an opportunity for brands to jump on the train and, like, just start charging you a premium for a product that isn't necessarily premium but has a really cool looking package."

Dan Waber is the co-owner of the Rainbow Tomatoes Garden, a farm in Pennsylvania that, in addition to selling a full crop of heirloom tomatoes, also sells a huge variety of tinned seafood from around the world. Waber says the European locations of The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine are seen in the tinned fish community as a tourist trap, selling middling products at exorbitant prices. The company's New York City location, he says, is more of the same.

"You have graduated from fleecing customers in Portugal to fleecing the world's customers in, what is basically the center of the universe for fleecing tourists," says Waber.

Quaresma says the gold bars are her company's attempt to bring Portugal's relationship with tendency food to the masses. She says prices at The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine can be high because the company wants every part of their supply chain, from the fishermen to the workers in the factory, to be compensated fairly.

"Criticism, if it's constructive, we appreciate it," says Quaresma.

The process of canning fish stretches back to the mid-1800s. The first Portuguese tins of tuna, mackerel, and sardines were made by the Ramirez Canning Company in 1865. But the cuisine's influence stretches far beyond Portugal.

"France, the Philippines, Japan, really any country with a coast, has a rich history of tinned seafood," says Waber.

Sardines and tuna are just the start of the veritable ocean of seafood available in a can. The Rainbow Tomatoes Garden website advertises muscles nestled alongside allspice and bay leaf, mackerel with coriander and juniper, and white tuna stuffed inside sweet red peppers.

"The products are sensational. I mean that's another huge factor," says Waber. "People try them, and then they go, 'there's 700 of these things?'"

Waber says calling the current moment a "tinned fish trend" misses the mark. He says tinned fish has always been around, and always been popular, if you knew where to look.

"A significant portion of the population that has been consuming these products sort of in secret, or without telling anybody," says Waber, adding that the rise of social media has contributed to the buzz.

Mei Liao makes culinary videos on TikTok and Instagram centered, in part, around the world of canned seafood. She even has a recurring series she calls "Tinned Fish Talk."

"Each episode I introduce a type of fish or a concept related to tinned fish and try to provide a background and - almost more education-forward resource," says Liao.

Liao is ethnically Chinese, and her parents are first-generation immigrants. She says tinned fish is fundamental to many food cultures around the world, including her own.

"A big part of the culture that I'm then able to inherit and understand my heritage though, is translated through cooking," says Liao.

She says for her, and for many around the globe, tinned fish isn't a trend. Rather, it's a staple.

"To think of it as a trend food or to think of it as something that is only recently been discovered, I think does a disservice to the many cultures that incorporate tin fish as a really kind of key component of their diet and culture," says Liao.

Waber says whether you're new to the world of tinned seafood, or a seasoned pro, the important thing is to try as many different varieties as possible.

"The products are delicious, and convenient, and you should try some," says Waber.

Hear the full story in "Let's Eat" from ABC Audio:

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You can buy a Christmas tree for as little as $5 if there's a national forest nearby

National Forest Service

(NEW YORK) -- The centerpiece for home holiday decorating could cost next to nothing if you live near a national forest and are willing to do some heavy lifting.

The U.S. Forest Service is encouraging Americans to cut down their Christmas trees at a nearby federally protected forest, and in a majority of participating locations, all it will cost is a mere $5 or $10 for a permit.

Cutting down Christmas trees actually improves forest health, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The permit system, offered at dozens of national forests throughout the country, helps to thin densely populated areas of small-diameter trees and allows other trees to grow larger, opening areas that provide forage for wildlife and reduce wildfire danger.

In untouched foliage, natural selection causes trees to grow smaller and closer together, Jill Sidebottom, seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, told ABC News. The trees "compete" with each other for resources, including sunlight and water.

Cutting them down allows better growth for the trees that remain and builds resiliency to threats such as insects and disease, Sidebottom said.

Trees cut from the forest would likely be more "open," allowing for more ornament placement, because they are not being sheared and packaged throughout the commercial process, Sidebotto said.

The areas that would most benefit from thinning trees, which tend to house trees the "perfect size for Christmas," are pre-determined by local forest health experts, according to the Forest Service. The type of trees available depends on the forest of choice.

At Ocala National Forest in Florida, sand pine trees are the species that need to be thinned out, Jared Nobles, district silviculturist for Ocala National Forest, told ABC News.

About 306,000 permits have been sold annually since sales began on in 2020, according to the Forest Service. The average number of permits sold in 2018 and 2019 was about 240,000. Most of the holiday tree permits are issued in November.

It was once a common occurrence for Americans living in rural areas to venture into a nearby forest to cut down a Christmas tree, prior to the evolution of the modern Christmas tree industry in the mid-20th century, Sidebottom said.

The tradition also connects people to their local forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Nobles described the act of finding and cutting a tree as an "adventure."

"If you’re tight on a budget, come over here and get you a Christmas tree," Nobles said.

Each year, the Christmas tree displayed at the U.S. Capitol is cut from a national forest.

This year's U.S. Capitol tree originated from Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

The permits serves as an alternative to purchasing a tree from a stand or tree farm, some of which across the country are experiencing shortages.

Tree cutting guidelines from the USDA:

  • Contact the forest district office nearest you to obtain a permit for home firewood, Christmas tree and tree cutting instructions.
  • The chosen tree must be at least 200 feet from main roads, recreation sites and campgrounds. Visitors should also stay away from the sides of streams, rivers, lakes and wet areas.
  • Select a tree with a trunk of 6 inches or less in diameter. Prepare to cut the three no more than six inches above ground level.
  • The wood of Christmas trees cannot be sold, and permits must be in the holder's possession at all times while in the forest.
  • Never cut a tall tree just for the top.
  • Only cut one tree per tag.
  • Bring a rope and tarp to move the tree from the harvest area to your vehicle.
  • Check weather conditions and dress properly.
  • Inform someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Check with your local district before cutting downed or dead trees, which could provide habitat to wildlife.
  • Be aware of areas where trees may be weakened by storms, insect damage or fire.
  • Bring emergency supplies, including water, food and a first aid kit.

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Binance founder Chengpeng Zhao to plead guilty to money laundering charges: DOJ

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(SEATTLE) -- The Justice Department announced Tuesday that the cryptocurrency giant Binance and its CEO are pleading guilty to violations of U.S. anti-money laundering laws while agreeing to pay more than $4 billion in fines.

Chengpeng Zhao, the company's founder, pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle on Tuesday for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and has agreed to resign as part of his plea deal, the Justice Department said. The company has also agreed to enter in a number of anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance programs and retain an independent monitor for the next three years.

The government says that by willfully ignoring their obligations to register as a money transmitting business, Binance allowed money to flow unfettered to terrorists, cybercriminals and child abusers who used their platform -- the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange. They also accuse the company of profiting off scores of illegal transactions between U.S.-based users and people in sanctioned countries like Iran, Cuba, Syria and Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine. In just a four year period, the department alleges Binance caused over $898 million in trades between U.S. users and users in Iran.

DOJ says the more than $4 billion in fines the company has agreed to pay amounts to one of the "largest corporate penalties in U.S. history." Zhao has separately agreed to pay a $50 million fine as part of his plea deal.

While the felony charge Zhao pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, it's not immediately clear what federal prosecutors will recommend he ultimately serve under the agreement. Officials told reporters at the Justice Department on Tuesday that they will recommend at least some period of incarceration.

According to the deal, however, it appears Zhao, who confirmed he plans to step down from his role, could ultimately return as CEO -- given the terms of the plea agreement will lapse after a period of three years.

In plea documents filed today in Seattle, the department details how Binance executives were warned of the legal risks they could face by not implementing the proper protocols to flag or report suspicious transactions, and how their structure could ultimately attract criminals.

One compliance employee allegedly wrote, "we need a banner 'is washing drug money too hard these days - come to binance we got cake for you."

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Sam Altman ouster spotlights rift over extinction threat posed by AI

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(NEW YORK) -- Months before OpenAI board member Ilya Sutskever would gain notoriety for his key role in the ouster of CEO Sam Altman, Sutskever co-authored a little-noticed but apocalyptic warning about the threat posed by artificial intelligence.

Superintelligent AI, Sutskever co-wrote on a company blog, could lead to "the disempowerment of humanity or even human extinction," since engineers are unable to prevent AI from "going rogue." The message echoed OpenAI's charter, which calls for avoiding AI uses if they "harm humanity."

The cry for caution from Sutskever, however, arrived at a period of breakneck growth for OpenAI. A $10 billion investment from Microsoft at the outset of this year helped fuel the development of GPT-4, a viral conversation bot that the company says now boasts 100 million weekly users.

The forced exit of Altman arose in part from frustration between him and Sutskever over a tension at the heart of the company: heightened awareness of the risks posed by AI, on the one hand, and explosive growth in the release and commercialization of new products on the other, The New York Times reported.

To be sure, details remain scant about the reason for Altman's departure. The move came after a review undertaken by the company's board of directors, OpenAI said on Friday.

"Mr. Altman's departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities," the company said in a statement.

Altman was hired by Microsoft days after his exit, eliciting a letter on Monday signed by nearly all of the employees at OpenAI that called for the resignation of the company's board and the return of Altman, according to a copy of the letter obtained by ABC News.

The OpenAI board, the letter said, "informed the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed 'would be consistent with the mission' of the company.

Stuart Russell, an AI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who co-authored a study on societal-scale dangers of the technology, said OpenAI faces a tension centered on its mission of developing artificial general intelligence, or AGI, a form of AI that could mimic human intelligence and potentially surpass it.

"If you're funding a company with multiple billions of dollars to pursue AGI, that just seems like a built-in conflict with the goal of ensuring that AI systems are safe," Russell told ABC News, emphasizing that it remains unclear why exactly Altman left the company.

The divide over the existential threat posed by AI looms industry-wide as the technology sweeps across institutions from manufacturing to mass entertainment, prompting disagreement about the pace of development and the focus of possible regulation.

An open letter written in May by the Center for AI Safety warned that AI poses a "risk of extinction" akin to pandemics or nuclear war, featuring signatures from hundreds of researchers and industry leaders like Altman and ​​Demis Hassabis, the CEO of Google DeepMind, the tech giant's AI division.

For his part, Altman has said rapid deployment of AI allows for stress-testing of products and offers the best way to avert considerable harm.

Other AI luminaries, however, have balked at the purported risk. Yann LeCun, chief AI scientist at Meta, told the MIT Technology Review that fear of an AI takeover is "preposterously ridiculous."

Warnings from industry titans about the risks of AI have arisen alongside an increasingly competitive industry in which the speedy development of products requires massive investment, which in turn places pressure on firms to pursue commercial uses for the technology, Anjana Susarla, a professor of at Michigan State University's Broad College of Business who studies the responsible deployment of AI, told ABC News.

"The very large investments needed to build these kinds of technologies means the companies have a tradeoff between the profits they would generate from these investments and thinking about some abstract benefit from artificial intelligence," Susarla said.

The multi-billion dollar investment from Microsoft earlier this year deepened a longstanding relationship between Microsoft and OpenAI, which began with a $1 billion investment from the tech giant four years ago.

OpenAI was founded as a nonprofit in 2015. As of last month, the company was set to bring in more than $1 billion in revenue over a year-long period through the sale of its artificial intelligence products, The Information reported.

In addition to uniting OpenAI employees behind Altman, his recent ouster appears to have resolved some of the tension with Sutskever.

"I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions," Sutskever, a longtime AI researcher and co-founder of OpenAI, posted on X on Monday. "I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company."

The choice of Altman's replacement, meanwhile, could offer a hint of the company's future approach to safety.

OpenAI appointed interim CEO Emmett Shear, the former chief executive at video game streaming platform Twitch.

In a podcast interview on "The Logan Bartlett Show," in July, Shear described AI as "pretty inherently dangerous," and placed the odds of a massive AI-related disaster in a range between 5% and 50% -- an estimate that he called the "probability of doom."

In September, Shear said on X that he favors "slowing down" the development of AI.

"If we're at a speed of 10 right now, a pause is reducing to 0," Shear wrote. "I think we should aim for a 1-2 instead.

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What to know about new OpenAI interim CEO Emmett Shear

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(NEW YORK) -- OpenAI was thrown into upheaval in recent days after the sudden departure of CEO Sam Altman, who just three days later landed at Microsoft. The ouster elicited a letter from about 600 employees at OpenAI, all of whom threatened to resign unless Altman returns.

As the worker protest unfolded, OpenAI – maker of the popular conversation bot ChatGPT – appointed a replacement for Altman: Interim CEO Emmett Shear, the former chief executive at video game streaming platform Twitch. Shear revealed the news Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying he'd received a call from the company offering him the position only hours earlier.

"It's clear that the process and communications around Sam's removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust," said Shear.

"I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence," he added. "When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could."

Here's what to know about Shear, his attitude toward AI, and his plans for the company.

Who is Open AI interim CEO Emmett Shear?

Shear, who earned an undergraduate degree in computer programming from Yale University, is best known for his role as the founder and CEO of Twitch.

Launched in 2011, Twitch set out to become the preeminent online platform for livestream video content. Within two years, the site boasted 45 million unique visitors in a single month, Forbes reported. Amazon acquired Twitch for nearly $1 billion in 2014.

Shear stepped down as CEO of Twitch last year, comparing the 16-year-old company to a teenager. "Twitch is ready to move out of the house and venture alone," Shear said.

Before Twitch, Shear co-founded a series of startups. One of the first, in 2005, was an early attempt at an integrated online calendar, called Kiko Calendar.

"Kiko Calendar was a story in repeated mistakes and failure," Shear said at a 2014 event with startup accelerator Y Combinator, with which he has been affiliated on and off for nearly two decades. Kiko Calendar was later sold on eBay for $250,000, Shear said at the event.

What are Shear's plans for OpenAI?

In his announcement on X accepting the role as interim CEO, Shear laid out his initial plans for the company over the coming weeks.

He vowed to hire an independent investigator to examine Altman's ouster, to speak with an array of company stakeholders, and to reform the company's management team as needed.

"Depending on the results everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization – up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary," Shear said.

Shear is among a large number of prominent tech industry figures who believe that AI poses an existential threat to humanity. In a podcast interview on "The Logan Bartlett Show," in July, Shear described AI as "pretty inherently dangerous," and placed the odds of a massive AI-related disaster in a range between 5% and 50% -- an estimate that he called the "probability of doom."

As recently as Wednesday, Shear "unironically" wondered aloud whether AI could largely replace one of corporate America's most prominent job titles: the CEO.

"Most of the CEO job (and the majority of most executive jobs) are very automatable," Shear declared on X.

He added, however, that "There are of course the occasional key decisions you can't replace."

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'Really worried': Meta decision allowing 2020 election-denial ads risks distrust, extremism, experts say

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(NEW YORK) -- Less than a year out from the next presidential election, former President Donald Trump and some Republican allies continue to falsely deny the results of the previous one.

Three in 10 adults believe that President Joe Biden only won the 2020 contest because of election fraud, a Monmouth poll in June found. More than two-thirds of Republicans espouse the debunked claim, the survey showed.

Despite the persistence of such falsehoods, political advertisements featuring incorrect assertions about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 contest will be permitted on Instagram and Facebook, a Meta content policy shows.

Meta, the parent company that controls the platforms, made a policy change allowing political advertisers to say past elections were fraudulently conducted but prohibiting ads that question the validity of future or ongoing elections, the policy says. The Wall Street Journal first reported the policy change.

The move raises concerns about the spread of false election-denial ads on Instagram and Facebook that could erode the public's trust in U.S. democracy, some researchers who examine misinformation and disinformation told ABC News, noting that election-denial ads could also help fuel violent extremism like that on Jan. 6, 2021.

"I'm really worried that this is one crucial trigger that will make our election even more divisive, causing more conspiracy and disinformation activity," Hazel Kwon, a professor at Arizona State University who leads its Media, Information, Data and Society Lab, told ABC News.

"The big concern is that this directly affects trust in democratic institutions," Kwon added.

The researchers cautioned, however, that studies indicate limited influence of online political advertisements on voter sentiment, suggesting that the policy change could impact the electorate less than the immense user base of the platforms may lead some to think.

Some of the experts noted that the circulation of election-denial ads on social media could help shape the wider public conversation even if they do not change the minds of a large share of individual voters.

"I'm confident that there will be malefactors attempting to game the election," Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law who studies tech platforms, told ABC News. "It's less clear how well this misinformation will work."

The policy at Meta focuses on upcoming or ongoing elections that can still be impacted by political ads, rather than previous elections that have already become a matter of historical record, the company said in a statement.

In response to ABC News' request for comment, the company pointed to a blog post in August 2022 detailing the Meta's approach to that year's midterm elections.

"We will reject ads encouraging people not to vote or calling into question the legitimacy of the upcoming election," wrote Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta.

The reported move by Meta coincides with the loosening of election-related content restrictions at other major tech platforms. Google-owned YouTube announced in June that it would halt the removal of content claiming widespread voter fraud in 2020 and other past elections.

A civic integrity policy updated in August by X, formerly known as Twitter, does not address claims of voter fraud.

A potential rise in election-denial content on social media during a hotly contested 2024 election cycle could increase the likelihood of extremist violence, Edward Perez, Twitter's former product director for civic integrity, which includes its election policies, told ABC News. Perez is now a board member at the OSET Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to election security and integrity.

"There's a very troubling area where we have people who take extremist behavior because they've been radicalized by what they've read on social media," Perez said, pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as well as David DePape, a far-right conspiracy theorist who was convicted on Thursday for attempted kidnapping and assault of the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The change in policy toward election-denial ads could also contribute to a political environment in which a wider swathe of people adopt the debunked claim of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, some experts said.

Some research has linked news consumption on tech platforms and belief in misinformation. A study by researchers at Northwestern University, released in September 2020, found that individuals who received their news from social media were more likely to believe in misinformation about coronavirus conspiracies and risk factors.

Still, some experts downplayed the influence of political advertising online, pointing to studies that show little effect on voter sentiment or election outcomes.

"Political ads don't have large observable effects, just in general," Zeve Sanderson, the executive director at New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics, told ABC News. Direct posts from prominent people are more likely to sway users than ads, Sanderson added.

A study led by a researcher at Yale University, published last year, found that a nearly $9 million, eight-month ad campaign on social media across five swing states ahead of the 2020 election found "no evidence" that the program increased or decreased average voter turnout.

A separate study examining results from dozens of different political advertisements tested across nearly 60 groups of voters during the 2016 presidential election found small average effects on candidate favorability and voter choices.

While social media ads may hold little direct effect on voters, Kwon said, the election-denial messages could still elevate the false claims within the wider national conversation ahead of the 2024 election.

"If we just consider political ads on Facebook, it may not have a significant effect," Kwon said. "However, the problem is that once it's shared, the message can be picked up and propagated by others."

"It gives more reason for extreme thinkers to talk about and share their opinions," she added. "It's a disturbing idea that this could influence public trust in the election process."


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Sam Altman steps down from role as CEO of OpenAI

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(NEW YORK) -- Sam Altman is stepping down from his role as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced on Friday.

The departure follows a review process undertaken by the company's board of directors, said OpenAI, the maker of the popular conversation bot ChatGPT.

"Mr. Altman's departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities," OpenAI said in a statement. "The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI."

The company's chief technology officer, Mira Murati, will take over the CEO role on an interim basis, OpenAI said.

Founded as a non-profit in 2015, OpenAI has risen to prominence since ChatGPT was made available to the public a year ago. The chatbot now boasts more than 100 million weekly users, Altman announced earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the company has grown dramatically. As of October, OpenAI was set to bring in more than $1 billion in revenue over a year-long period through the sale of its artificial intelligence products, The Information reported.

In January, Microsoft announced it was investing $10 billion in OpenAI. The move deepened a longstanding relationship between Microsoft and OpenAI, which began with a $1 billion investment four years ago. Microsoft's search engine, Bing, offers users access to ChatGPT.

Speaking with ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis in March, Altman said AI holds the capacity to profoundly improve people's lives but also poses serious risks.

"We've got to be careful here," Altman said. "I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this."

In May, Altman testified before Congress with a similarly sober message about AI products, including the latest version of ChatGPT called GPT-4. He called on lawmakers to impose regulations on AI.

"GPT-4 is more likely to respond helpfully and truthfully, and refuse harmful requests, than any other widely deployed model of similar capability," Altman said.

"However, we think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models," he added, suggesting the adoption of licenses or safety requirements necessary for the operation of AI models."

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

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