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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans TikTok on state devices

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(AUSTIN) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed state agencies on Wednesday to ban the use of social media platform TikTok on government-issued devices over concerns about how the China-owned app handles data on American infrastructure and other sensitive information.

"TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users' devices -- including when, where and how they conduct internet activity -- and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government," Abbott said in a letter to state officials on Wednesday.

TikTok has faced growing scrutiny from state and federal officials over fears that American data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita sued TikTok on Wednesday for allegedly misleading users about the Chinese government's capacity to access their data and showing mature content to minors. It marks the first state lawsuit against the app.

TikTok provided ABC News with a statement after Indiana sued the company.

"While we don't comment on pending litigation, the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority. We build youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, empower parents with tools and resources, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort. We are also confident that we're on a path in our negotiations with the U.S. Government to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns, and we have already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions," the statement read.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a similar prohibition on TikTok, as well as Chinese technology makers like Huawei and ZTE, from use on state business.

In a statement a response to Hogan's ban, TikTok said in a statement to ABC News: "We believe the concerns driving these decisions are largely fueled by misinformation about our company. We are happy to continue having constructive meetings with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices. We are disappointed that many state agencies, offices, and universities will no longer be able to use TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents."

Last month, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission called on the U.S. government to ban the social media platform.

The Biden administration and TikTok wrote up a preliminary agreement to address national security concerns posed by the app but obstacles remain in the negotiations, The New York Times reported in September.

TikTok says that it stores the data of U.S. users outside of China, and has never removed U.S. posts from the platform at the request of the Chinese government.

Recent news stories have called into question the security of user data.

Buzzfeed reported in June that TikTok engineers based in China gained access to intimate information on U.S. users, such as phone numbers. Forbes reported in October that ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, intended to use the app to access information on some users.

The Trump administration tried to ban TikTok in 2020, eventually calling on ByteDance to sell the app to a U.S. company. However, the sale never took place.

ABC News' Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sunny Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes' former partner, sentenced in Theranos fraud case

Jason Marz/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, the former romantic partner of Elizabeth Holmes and president of disgraced blood testing company Theranos, was sentenced Wednesday to 155 months, or nearly 13 years, in prison.

The sentencing in federal court comes less than three weeks after Holmes, the founder of Theranos, received 135 months, or 11 1/4 years, in prison for defrauding investors.

Balwani, 57, was convicted in July on 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy after persuading investors and patients to trust the company's faulty blood testing devices. In addition to 155 months in prison, Balwani was ordered to serve three years of probation after the sentence. Restitution will be decided at a later date. He has been ordered to report to prison on March 15, 2023.

Balwani faced a sentence of 20 years for each of the 12 counts, but legal experts expect the sentences to be served at the same time, giving him a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Prosecutors filed a legal memorandum last week arguing that the severity of the fraud and the need to "promote respect for the law" warrant a prison term of 15 years for Balwani.

Balwani's lawyers, meanwhile, said their client should not receive any jail time, arguing instead that probation would prove sufficient. In a court filing, the lawyers noted Balwani's financial losses on Theranos and contrasted Balwani's low public profile with Holmes, who drew "fame and media attention."

Last month, Balwani received a three-week delay in sentencing to give probation officers additional time to offer a recommended punishment. Balwani had asked for a sentencing date of Jan. 23, 2023, due to an undisclosed health problem and to make sure family members could attend the hearing.

Balwani, who also served as chief operating officer at Theranos, was convicted in July after a 13-week trial that detailed his trajectory from a wealthy software engineer who formed a romantic relationship with Holmes to a second-in-command figure at Theranos who invested millions in the startup and oversaw day-to-day operations.

Theranos sought to revolutionize the medical testing industry with a product that could assess an array of potential health issues with just a few drops of blood. The company, once valued at $9 billion, became an emblem of Silicon Valley malfeasance after it came to light that Balwani and Holmes misled investors even as the product failed to work.

During her trial, Holmes alleged that Balwani psychologically and physically abused her over the course of their romantic relationship -- accusations that he forcefully denied.

Lawyers for Balwani depicted Theranos as a venture launched and shaped by Holmes. "Sunny Balwani did not start Theranos, he did not control Theranos, he did not have final decision-making authority at Theranos," said Balwani's attorney, Stephen Cazares.

Ultimately, however, a jury found him guilty of misleading investors and patients as the company raised more than a billion dollars and formed partnerships with drugstore giants Walgreens and Safeway.

Federal prosecutors indicted Balwani and Holmes in 2018, the same year Holmes agreed to forfeit control of Theranos. Their trials were severed in 2021.

The sentence on Wednesday was handed down by Judge Edward J. Davila at a federal courthouse in San Jose, California. Holmes received her sentence from Davila at the same courthouse on Nov. 18.

In addition to 135 months in prison, Holmes was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after the sentence. She has been ordered to report to prison on April 27, 2023.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


AI photography is taking over social media. Why are some concerned about privacy?

Karl Tapales/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The latest social media trend to be sweeping people's feeds is sharing virtual avatars generated through the Lensa AI app.

Lensa, which has been around since 2018, lets users upload 10 to 20 photos of their selfies or portraits, and then it creates dozens, even hundreds, of digital images called "Magic Avatars."

While the pictures could be considered pieces of digital art, those who are worried about personal online privacy have begun raising concerns about data collection.

Cybersecurity expert Andrew Couts is a senior editor of security at Wired and oversees privacy policy, national security and surveillance coverage. He told ABC News' Good Morning America that it's almost "impossible" to know what happens to a user's photos after they are uploaded onto the app.

"It's impossible to know, without a full audit of the company's back-end systems, to know how safe or unsafe your pictures may be," Couts said. "The company does claim to 'delete' face data after 24 hours and they seem to have good policies in place for their privacy and security practices."

According to Lensa's privacy policy, the uploaded photos are automatically deleted after the AI avatars are generated, and the face data on other parts of the app is automatically deleted within 24 hours after being processed by Lensa.

Prisma Labs, Inc., the developer of Lensa AI, told ABC News in a statement that images users upload are used "solely for the purpose of creating their very own avatars."

"Users’ images are being leveraged solely for the purpose of creating their very own avatars. The system creates a personalized version of the model for every single user and models never intersect with each other. Both users' photos and their models are deleted within 24 hrs after the process of creating avatars is complete," the company said in a statement. "In very simple terms, there is no[t] a 'one-size-fits-all collective neural network' trained to reproduce any face, based on aggregated learnings."

"We are updating our Terms & Conditions to make these more clear to everyone. The much-discussed permission to use the content for development and improving Prisma’s work and its products refers to the users’ consent for us to train the copy of the model on the 10-20 pictures each particular user has uploaded," the statement continued. "Without this clause, we would have no right to perform this training for each subsequent generation. We are fully GDPR and CCAP compliant. We store the bare minimum of data to enable our services. To reiterate, the user's photos are deleted from our servers as soon as the avatars are generated. The servers are located in the U.S."

Couts added that he isn't too worried about the photos because most of us already have our faces on social media. He said his main concern is data collection that can be potentially lifted from users' phones.

"The main thing I would be concerned about is the behavioral analytics that they're collecting," Couts said. "If I were going to use the app, I would make sure to turn on as restrictive privacy settings as possible."

He said his advice, no matter what apps are downloaded, is to tighten up personal security through the phone's settings.

"You can change your privacy settings on your phone to make sure that the app isn't collecting as much data as it seems to be able to," he said. "And you can make sure that you're not sharing images that contain anything more private than just your face."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sunny Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes' former partner, to be sentenced in Theranos fraud case

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, the former romantic partner of Elizabeth Holmes and president of disgraced blood testing company Theranos, is set to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Balwani, 57, was convicted in July on 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy after persuading investors and patients to trust the company's faulty blood testing devices.

He faces a sentence of 20 years for each of the 12 counts, but legal experts expect the sentences to be served at the same time, giving him a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The sentencing in federal court comes less than three weeks after Holmes, the founder of Theranos, received 135 months, or 11 1/4 years, in prison for defrauding investors.

Prosecutors filed a legal memorandum last week arguing that the severity of the fraud and the need to "promote respect for the law" warrant a prison term of 15 years for Balwani.

Balwani's lawyers, meanwhile, said their client should not receive any jail time, arguing instead that probation would prove sufficient. In a court filing, the lawyers noted Balwani's financial losses on Theranos and contrasted Balwani's low public profile with Holmes, who drew "fame and media attention."

Last month, Balwani received a three-week delay in sentencing to give probation officers additional time to offer a recommended punishment. Balwani had asked for a sentencing date of Jan. 23, 2023, due to an undisclosed health problem and to make sure family members could attend the hearing.

Balwani, who also served as chief operating officer at Theranos, was convicted in July after a 13-week trial that detailed his trajectory from a wealthy software engineer who formed a romantic relationship with Holmes to a second-in-command figure at Theranos who invested millions in the startup and oversaw day-to-day operations.

Theranos sought to revolutionize the medical testing industry with a product that could assess an array of potential health issues with just a few drops of blood. The company, once valued at $9 billion, became an emblem of Silicon Valley malfeasance after it came to light that Balwani and Holmes misled investors even as the product failed to work.

During her trial, Holmes alleged that Balwani psychologically and physically abused her over the course of their romantic relationship -- accusations that he forcefully denied.

Lawyers for Balwani depicted Theranos as a venture launched and shaped by Holmes.

"Sunny Balwani did not start Theranos, he did not control Theranos, he did not have final decision-making authority at Theranos," said Balwani's attorney, Stephen Cazares.

Ultimately, however, a jury found him guilty of misleading investors and patients as the company raised more than a billion dollars and formed partnerships with drugstore giants Walgreens and Safeway.

Federal prosecutors indicted Balwani and Holmes in 2018, the same year Holmes agreed to forfeit control of Theranos. Their trials were severed in 2021.

The sentence on Wednesday will be handed down by Judge Edward J. Davila at a federal courthouse in San Jose, California. Holmes received her sentence from Davila at the same courthouse on Nov. 18.

In addition to 135 months in prison, Holmes was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after the sentence. She has been ordered to report to prison April 27.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Santa Shortage: A Head Elf weighs in on holiday headache

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(NEW YORK) -- As the night before Christmas inches nearer, Santa Claus is being asked to make more and more appearances. But Santa Claus is getting harder to find.

Mitch Allen, the founder and "Head Elf" of event planning company Hire Santa, spoke with ABC News' "Start Here" podcast about the difficulty his company is having at a crucial time of year: a nationwide Santa shortage.

"People are wanting Santa more than ever before," he said.

But the demand is outpacing supply.

Hire Santa coordinates booking for Santa Claus impersonators across the country, as well as Mrs. Claus impersonators and Christmas elves. And Santa Claus doesn't just show up in malls; he visits homes, company parties and parades.

Although COVID-19 and its subvariants are continuing to spread across the country, and predicted to rise in the winter months, "people are really back to the tradition of sitting on Santa's knee," Allen said.

Bookings are back to pre-pandemic levels, but there are not enough Santas in the workforce.

"There's just absolutely huge demand coming out of COVID and there are just not enough Santa Claus entertainers," said Allen.

"For every Santa that reaches out to us [for work]," he said, "there are 20 people reaching out to us for Santa events."

Allen told ABC News that demand is up 30% from last year, and more than 120% from pre-pandemic levels. He added that there are more than 2,200 open positions across the industry, which includes Mrs. Clauses and elves.

One factor he noted in his interview with ABC News is that the industry, which already skews older, is aging-out. Over the past few years he estimates the company has lost 10% of its workforce, as Santas have decided to "hang up the red coat," he said.

A major factor is the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affects elderly people.

During a normal holiday season, the hardest thing about being Santa, Allen said, is some of the questions that are asked.

"You have sick children or children that are going through family issues and even just financial issues," he said. "The children really see those things and pour into Santa as somebody as a trusted figure."

The best part, he said, is spreading the Christmas cheer.

"It's this love that gets pushed back," he said, "reflected back onto them from the children who have this joy and faith of Christmas."

"And it's really just an intoxicating experience to have a Santa as somebody sits on your knee and tells you their Christmas hopes and dreams," Allen said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Online scammers don't take a holiday, and neither should you

boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- 'Tis the season for online scammers to steal your personal information. This year, scams are at an all-time high as more consumers turn to e-commerce for their holiday shopping. According to the Better Business Bureau, online scams are 55% more prevalent than scam calls or texts, and experts say the fraudsters are more sophisticated than ever.

“I think in years past you had a person sitting in their parents' basement, maybe with a hoodie. Things have changed dramatically. It is an organized crime,” Tami Hudson, executive vice president and cybersecurity client officer at Wells Fargo, told ABC News.

Social media is considered a gold mine for scammers, so consumers need to be especially wary of targeted ads on their social media feeds, in emails or text messages that contain suspicious links.

“Go to the website of that retailer, that bank, that company that you want to do business with,” Hudson said. “Pick up the phone and call the number on that website. Ensure that it is a legitimate site.”

Hudson says fraudsters will often create a sense of urgency, saying there’s a problem with your purchase and asking you to wire them money or use a link to a payment site.

“Keep in mind that no financial institution or retailer will reach out to you and ask for your username or password. They're not going to ask you to transfer data or transfer money,” Hudson said.

Also, never re-text your authorization code, which banks and retailers often send to your mobile device when you are logging into your account in order to confirm your identity.

If you are receiving unsolicited authorization codes via text or email, experts say chances are scammers already have your username and password for that particular account and are now phishing for an authorization code to gain access to the website. They recommend immediately changing the password for that account by typing the website address directly into your web browser’s address bar.

These “bad actors” are also taking advantage of people’s generosity during the holidays by creating fake social media profiles for charities. If a charity or small business looks suspicious, do an internet search to see if victims have posted about being scammed.

Online shoppers also need to check website addresses for misspellings and poor grammar and, when possible, should always pay with a credit card, instead of debit or prepaid cards, for better fraud protection.

An added layer of protection when checking out outline is to choose 'Checkout as a Guest' instead of 'Create an Account' whenever possible. When you create an account, your personal information, including your credit card information, is stored on that retailer's servers. If that retailer were to get hacked, a shopper's personal information could be compromised.

It's also important that consumers trust their gut. During a recent online search I conducted for an NHL licensed jersey, the site, for a major retailer, listed the item as out-of-stock. But it appeared to be available -- and at a big discount -- at an online small business that was unfamiliar to me. Immediately suspicious of the offer, I called the contact number on the website. No one answered. But less than a minute later I received a text from the “retailer” telling me they were very busy and could not pick up the phone, but that I could text them my information and they would return my call as soon as they were available.

You can bet I deleted that text faster than you can say “eggnog.” As the old adage goes, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay vigilant and safe shopping!

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Why a cap on Russian oil could send gas prices rising

Grace Cary/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Prices at the pump have plummeted over the past month but a dramatic move from the U.S. and allies meant to slash Russian oil revenue and cripple its war effort could send gas prices rising again, some energy analysts told ABC News.

On Monday, the European Union slapped a ban on all seaborne imports of Russian oil. On top of that, a group of Western nations imposed a price cap on Russian oil that will prohibit the country from selling crude to third party countries unless the price falls well below market rates.

The Western scheme aims to choke off the primary source of funds behind the Russian war in Ukraine but the move risks disrupting the global oil supply and spiking gas prices.

The newly announced measures contributed to a jump in global oil prices in early trading on Monday but prices retreated later in the day.

While the exact effect of the price cap remains unclear, some analysts expect the move to send gas prices higher in the coming months as the global market strains under lost Russian oil supply. However, Russia may circumvent the price cap and continue selling oil at its current rate, mitigating any effect on gas prices, other analysts said.

Here's what you need to know about the price cap on Russian oil and how it will affect U.S. gas prices:

What is the price cap on Russian oil?

The price cap on Russian oil is a policy implemented by G-7 nations on Monday that will disallow the world's second-largest oil exporter from selling crude at a price above $60 per barrel.

Since the outset of its war with Ukraine, Russia has sold its oil at discounted prices. As of Friday, Russian Urals crude traded at $67 per barrel -- an amount little higher than the cap. But the price cap aims to ensure that Russian oil sales remain well below global oil prices, which stand at about $80 per barrel.

The policy relies on compliance from insurance companies, shipping outfits and other businesses involved in the transport of Russian oil. Many of those firms are based in Western countries and will play a key role in ensuring that any sale of oil from Russia is kept below the mandated price.

Alongside a newly announced EU ban on seaborne imports of Russian oil, the price cap will, in theory, limit the amount of revenue Russia can generate from the sale of oil to countries that have not imposed a ban.

What's the reason behind the price cap?

Western countries have slapped the price cap on Russian oil in pursuit of a balance between two goals: curtailing the oil funds that drive Russia's war effort while allowing the country to continue selling oil in order to preserve global supply and avert a far-reaching price shock.

The price cap was set at $60 per barrel after months of contentious negotiations between Western allies, some of whom wanted a much lower cap in hope of severely undermining Russia's war aims while others wanted a higher cap that would keep oil flowing and prices low.

"It's very delicate," Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston, told ABC News. "The sale of crude is funding the war. They're really trying to take out that economic engine."

"But if you cut the price too low, Russia has no reason to produce. It says, 'I'll shut it down and hurt all of you in ways that will hurt the global economy," he added.

How will Russia respond to the price cap?

A Russian government official sharply criticized the price cap on Sunday, saying the company would halt oil sales to any country that supports the measure.

Mikhail Ulyanov, a senior Russian diplomat, accused Western nations of weaponizing oil markets.

"They can make politically motivated anti-market decisions putting at risk stability of the oil market," he said. "Russia has the right to react accordingly."

Russia will likely seek to undermine and circumvent the price cap by using insurance and shipping companies that operate outside the purview of the ban, David Doherty, an analyst who tracks the oil industry at BloombergNEF, told ABC News.

Such a response would preserve the current level of Russian oil sales and avert disruption of global supply, leaving oil and gasoline prices largely unchanged, he added.

"You'll see a status quo where China and India continue to take Russian barrels, using ships that are non-EU and insurance that's non-EU," he said.

What does the price cap mean for gas prices in the US?

Still, some analysts said the EU ban and price cap would curtail global oil supply and ultimately drive U.S. gasoline prices upward. Even if Russia evades some enforcement of the ban, they will struggle to sustain their current output or intentionally cut exports, they said.

"There is going to be a shortening of supply and therefore a price increase for crude oil and that will get reflected in an increased price at the gas pump for all of us," said Krishnamoorti, of the University of Houston.

The Western moves will result in an increase in U.S. gasoline prices of between 5% to 10% over the next three weeks, Krishnamoorti estimated.

Global oil prices face other headwinds like an OPEC Plus decision to preserve output at current levels that could further strain supply as well as the potential lifting of COVID lockdowns in China that may boost demand.

Taken together, these factors could send U.S. gasoline prices up as much as 25% over the next three weeks, Krishnamoorti warned.

However, other analysts said that the impact of the cap on Russian oil prices could be minimal or nonexistent, cautioning that it remains too early to tell how U.S. gas prices will respond.

"Consumers don't necessarily need to be worried about an imminent shockwave," Patrick de Haan, the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told ABC News. "There are thousands of potential outcomes."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nike drops Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving over antisemitism

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(NEW YORK) -- Nike has severed ties with Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving following criticism for antisemitism.

"Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete," the company said in a statement to ABC News.

Irving received widespread criticism after he posted a link to an antisemitic film on Twitter in late October.

The NBA star was suspended by his team in November after he and the Nets received criticism for not coming down more forcefully. Irving was suspended for "at least" five games on Nov. 3 for failing to "disavow antisemitism" when questioned by the media about the Twitter post.

"We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film," the Nets said in a statement at the time. "This was not the first time he had the opportunity -- but failed -- to clarify."

One day after the team's suspension, Nike announced it was suspending its relationship with Irving.

"At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism," Nike said in a statement. "To that end, we've made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone."

Irving signed a deal with Nike in 2011 when he left Duke University and entered the NBA draft. He was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. His first line of signature shoes was released in 2014.

At the same time as Irving's deal with Nike was suspended, it announced the cancellation of the launch of the Kyrie 9 shoe.

Irving ended up being suspended eight games before returning to the Nets' starting lineup on Nov. 20. He had played in all nine games since Nov. 20, including his return against Memphis, and the team has gone 6-3.

ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Taylor Swift fans sue Ticketmaster over tour presale meltdown

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Many Taylor Swift fans expressed outrage online over the presale ticket disaster, but now some of those fans are taking it a step further and claiming the ordeal was illegal.

Nearly two dozen Taylor Swift fans filed a complaint Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Ticketmaster, alleging intentional deception, following major issues with the Taylor Swift: Eras Tour presale tickets, which left many fans unable to buy tickets for the singer's upcoming tour.

"There is a problem with the way they're doing business, but they're really hurting the fans in how they're doing it," said Julie Barfuss, a plaintiff in the suit.

The complaint asks for Ticketmaster to be fined $2,500 per violation, theoretically meaning that a violation could be counted on every one of the two million tickets sold, according to the lawsuit.

ABC News reached out to both Ticketmaster as well as LiveNation, the parent company of Ticketmaster, for comment on the lawsuit but has not yet heard back.

In a recent statement, LiveNation denied allegations of price-hiking and said Ticketmaster "does not set or control ticket prices" and "does not embrace deceptive and questionable secondary ticketing practices."

Barfuss is one of more than two dozen fans suing Ticketmaster and Live Nation alleging "fraud, price fixing and antitrust violations."

"Ticketmaster is a monopoly that is only interested in taking every dollar it can from a captive public," the complaint states.

The highly anticipated Eras Tour will be the first time Swift is on tour in nearly five years, performing new songs off her record-breaking Midnight album released in October.

Presale tickets for the tour went live on Ticketmaster on Nov. 15. At that time, tickets were reserved only for "verified" Swift fans, who had registered to a Ticketmaster program prior to the release of the tickets. But, due to the overwhelming surge in demand, many fans reportedly waited for hours in online waiting rooms for access to the tickets, and many reportedly never got the chance to even buy one.

Those who were able to purchase tickets reported exorbitant prices and up-charges. The debacle led Ticketmaster to cancel general ticket sales due to "insufficient" inventory.

Fans took to social media to accuse Ticketmaster of hiking ticket prices and selling most of the tickets to scalpers, who they say often charge even more fees in the resale market.

Swift broke her silence on social media and shared a statement that expressed her disappointment, saying "I'm extremely protective of my fans" and it's "excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse."

Some fans still think that it was more than just a mistake.

"They messed with the wrong fan base," said Jennifer Kinder, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "If Ticketmaster can do this to hardworking Americans that are trying to buy a ticket, they can do it to anybody."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rail unions slam Senate's 'anti-American' rejection of sick days

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(NEW YORK) -- Some unions representing rail workers as well as the nation's largest labor organization blasted a Senate vote on Thursday denying workers paid sick days after the chamber passed a separate measure imposing a labor agreement and averting a nationwide rail strike.

The bill, which gives rail workers seven paid sick days, passed the House but was defeated by a vote of 52-43 in the Senate, as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Republican members in rejecting the measure. A handful of Republican members, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla, voted in favor of the bill.

"It is extremely disappointing that 43 Senators voted to prioritize the corporate greed of rail carriers and CEOs over the needs and quality-of-life improvements that our members so desperately deserve," said the SMART Transportation Division, or SMART-TD, which represents about 28,000 conductors, making it the nation's largest rail union.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees division of the Teamsters, or BMWED, which represents 12,000 members, sharply criticized the Senate vote.

"It is shocking and appalling that any Member of Congress would cast a vote against any sort of provision that raises the standard of living for hard-working Americans," a union statement said.

"In fact, such a vote is nothing less than anti-American, an abdication of their oath of office and you are deemed, in my eyes, unworthy of holding office," it added.

SMART-TD and BMWED were among four rail unions that rejected a tentative agreement brokered by the White House in September, which later set the terms of a labor contract for rail workers passed by Congress on Thursday and signed by President Joe Biden on Friday. That contract did not provide rail workers with any paid sick days.

The contract imposed by Congress includes a 24% raise from 2020 to 2024, bonus increases and an additional paid day off.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization representing 12.5 million workers, slammed the Senate vote denying paid sick days but applauded other parts of the imposed contract.

"While rail workers won significant wage increases and other important gains today, it's deeply disappointing that 43 senators sided with multibillion-dollar rail corporations to block desperately needed paid sick days," the AFCL-CIO said in a statement.

"Rail workers keep America's economy moving, yet rail companies treat workers as essential one minute and disposable the next," the labor federation added.

The American Association of Railroads, a trade group representing rail companies, in a statement applauded the vote in Congress on Thursday that averted a nationwide strike but did not comment directly on the Senate's rejection of paid sick days.

"The Senate acted with leadership and urgency with today's vote to avert an economically devastating rail work stoppage," AAR president and CEO Ian Jefferies said on Thursday. "The product of these agreements is a compromise by nature, but the result is one of substantial gains for rail employees."

"Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address our employees' work-life balance concerns, but it is clear this agreement maintains rail's place among the best jobs in our nation," he added.

After signing the bill imposing the labor agreement on Friday, Biden said the contract helped the U.S. avert a "catastrophe," even as he acknowledged that the measure fell short of worker demands.

Biden has faced criticism for backing congressional intervention in support of labor terms rejected by some of the rail unions, despite referring to himself as a pro-union president.

"Look, I know this bill doesn't have paid sick leave these rail workers, and frankly every worker in America, deserves," Biden said. "But that fight isn't over."

"I supported paid sick leave for a long time," he added. "I'm going to continue that fight til we succeed."

Unions accused rail companies of penalizing workers for taking time off for medical reasons, since employees do not receive paid sick days. To win a favorable deal, rail companies jeopardized the nation's economy, unions said.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, which represents the nation's freight railroads in national collective bargaining, said rail employees are provided "significant" time off and that the companies had offered a fair contract that included a considerable wage increase.

The terms of the labor contract followed guidelines issued by a presidential emergency board formed by Biden in July. Two months later, in September, the White House brokered a tentative agreement based on those terms but the deal was later rejected by 4 rail unions.

While alluding to disappointment over the Senate vote on paid sick days, Transportation Communications Union President Arthur Maratea applauded Biden's efforts to forge an agreement in a statement on Thursday.

"Regardless of our feelings on the outcome of the vote today, union members should not discount the lengths to which the Biden Administration went to deliver a Presidential Emergency Board with strong recommendations that provided our members with record wage increases, preserved our healthcare (which was under assault), and even provided an extra paid day off," he said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alex Jones files for bankruptcy after Sandy Hook $1B verdict

RapidEye/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones filed for bankruptcy on Friday, less than two months after a Connecticut jury awarded almost $1 billion in damages to plaintiffs who accused Jones of committing defamation when he called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a hoax.

Jones, the host of Infowars, filed for chapter 11 protection in the U.S. bankruptcy court in Houston, Texas.

In the filing, Jones said he had between $1 million and $10 million in assets, falling far short of between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities.

He said in the filing that he owes money to between 50 and 99 creditors.

The damages awarded in October to 15 plaintiffs -- relatives of victims and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting -- amounted to $965 million.

Jones had claimed that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was performed by actors following a script written by government officials to bolster the push for gun control.

In a previous case, in Texas, Jones was ordered to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the shooting.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Disney unveils new scene for highly anticipated "The Princess and the Frog" attraction

Disney

(NEW YORK) -- Disney unveiled a new rendering of the highly anticipated The Princess and the Frog attraction, Tiana's Bayou Adventure, coming in 2024 to Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Tiana's Bayou Adventure is based on the 2009 animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Anika Noni Rose, who voiced Princess Tiana, will reprise her role for the attraction, along with Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie) and Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis) -- and a few new characters unique to just the ride, Disney announced on Friday.

The new rendering of one of the ride's new distinctive scenes features zydeco-style tunes, a type of music native to Louisiana born from a special blend of rhythm and blues. Tiana and her friends old and new -- including jazz-loving alligator Louis, and a band full of critters that includes an otter, a rabbit, a racoon, a beaver, a turtle and others -- will explain the importance of zydeco, the blending of sounds and styles of so many cultures, and invite all guests to join in on the celebration.

The re-themed ride was unveiled in June at the 2022 ESSENCE Festival of Culture in New Orleans -- a fitting location since the Louisiana city is also Princess Tiana's hometown.

The ride will officially open in late 2024 at Disneyland Park in Disneyland Resort and Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort.

Last August, Disney released the first look at Tiana's Bayou Adventure with a moody and colorful rendering showing the princess carrying a lantern and helming a boat, highlighting the region's unique bayou landscape.

"The story will take place after the final kiss as Naveen and Louis join Tiana on her latest adventure, hosting a one-of-a-kind Mardi Gras celebration where everyone is welcome -- during which some original music inspired by songs from the film will bring guests into the story," a Disney Parks Blog post revealed at the time.

Disney's team of Imagineers has been traveling to New Orleans and Louisiana frequently to research and gather information to make the ride extra special and reflective of the famed city and region.

"In many ways, Tiana's Bayou Adventure is a love letter to New Orleans," Charita Carter, executive producer of relevancy activations for Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a statement. "Like the musical city that inspired this attraction, Tiana's second act is about a community working in harmony to achieve something extraordinary. She reminds us of an immutable truth we can all relate to: 'If you do your best each and every day, good things are sure to come your way.' And that's a melody we can all sing along to!"

Previously, the attraction was named Splash Mountain and featured characters from The Song of the South, a controversial film from 1946 that was criticized for racist and offensive depictions of Black people and misrepresenting the culture of the South in the 1800s.

In addition to the attraction's new name, Princess Tiana will get a new look for the ride. Her outfit is inspired by the styles and trends of the 1920s and will be historically accurate, according to Ida Muldrow, a costume designer for Disney Live Entertainment.

"Tiana was equally at home in the bayou as she was at a banquet," Muldrow said. "We wanted her look to reflect that, and be a compliment to the story's setting."

The Disney team also made sure to carefully consider Tiana's hair, creating a unique style that reflected the versatility of Black women's hair.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Over 8 million laundry and cleaning products recalled due to possible bacterial contamination

CPSC

(NEW YORK) -- The company behind a popular line of laundry detergent and cleaning products has issued a voluntary recall due to possible bacterial contamination.

The Laundress first issued a safety notice on Nov. 17, urging customers to stop using its products completely.

"We have identified the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of our products that present a safety concern," the company wrote in part, before adding that it would provide an update at a later date.

On Thursday, the company expanded the safety notice into a recall.

"The recalled products can contain bacteria, including Burkholderia cepacia complex, Klebsiella aerogenes and multiple different species of Pseudomonas, many of which are environmental organisms found widely in soil and water, and some may also be found in humans," the company said in its recall notice.

"People with weakened immune systems, external medical devices, and underlying lung conditions who are exposed to the bacteria face a risk of serious infection that may require medical treatment," the company continued. "The bacteria can enter the body if inhaled, or through the eyes or a break in the skin. People with healthy immune systems are usually not affected by the bacteria."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Burkholderia cepacia complex bacteria, also called B. cepacia, "are often resistant to common antibiotics," though they pose little medical risk to healthy individuals. However, the CDC notes that "people who have certain health problems like weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases, particularly cystic fibrosis, may be more susceptible to infections with B. cepacia," a "known cause of infections in hospitalized patients."

Symptoms of B. cepacia infection vary, according to the CDC, with some people experiencing no symptoms and others suffering "serious respiratory infections." The bacteria may be spread through person to person contact, contact with contaminated surfaces, or environmental exposure.

Klebsiella, according to the CDC, is another type of "Gram-negative bacteria that can cause different types of healthcare-associated infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis."

"...Klebsiella infections commonly occur among sick patients who are receiving treatment for other conditions," the agency states on its website. "Patients whose care requires devices like ventilators (breathing machines) or intravenous (vein) catheters, and patients who are taking long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk for Klebsiella infections. Healthy people usually do not get Klebsiella infections."

The CDC notes that Klebsiella bacteria are often resistant to antibiotics as well.

Klebsiella is spread through person-to-person contact, "or, less commonly, by contamination of the environment," according to the CDC, The bacteria are not spread through the air.

Pseudomonas, the CDC states, is also found in soil and water and may also cause infections in the blood and lungs, or other parts of the body. The bacteria may be passed by person-to-person contact or through the environment. Those most at risk include patients in hospitals, especially those on breathing machines (ventilators), with devices such as catheters or with wounds from surgery or burns.

So far, The Laundress says the company knows of 11 reported cases of Pseudomonas infections and is investigating whether the infections are connected to their products.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 8 million Laundress products are affected by the recall, including those produced in the U.S. between January 2021 and September 2022. Affected products were sold both online and at stores such as Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Target, The Container Store and other major retailers.

Customers who bought The Laundress products can submit their information to request a refund. They can also contact the company for additional information via email at customerservice@thelaundress.com or at (800) 681-1915 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.

On social media and on their website, The Laundress is directing customers to visit a dedicated website -- thelaundressrecall.com -- for a full list of affected products, answers to frequently asked questions and directions on requesting a refund.

The company is also asking consumers with recalled products to throw them away immediately. "After requesting a refund, consumers should dispose of the product by closing the bottle tightly and placing it in household trash. Do not empty the product prior to disposal," the company said on the recall website.

Unilever has owned The Laundress since the conglomerate acquired the brand in 2019. The Laundress was launched back in 2004 by Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Gas prices plunge to lowest level since February

Grace Cary/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- Gas prices nationwide have plunged to their lowest level since February as demand has dropped from peak summer travel season and the price of crude oil has fallen.

Softening pain at the pump offers welcome relief for households battered by inflation that stands near a 40-year high.

The national average price for a gallon of gas, which stands at $3.47, has fallen more than 30% since it reached a peak of $5.01 in mid-June, according to data AAA provided to ABC News.

Over the last month alone, the price for a gallon of gas has fallen nearly 8%.

In California, the state with the highest average price, a gallon of gas costs $4.90, though that price has fallen more than 11% over the past month. In Texas, the state with the lowest average gas price, a gallon costs $2.84, AAA data showed.

Despite the recent price dip, the cost of gas remains elevated -- roughly 3% above a $3.38 national average one year ago, according to AAA data.

The decline in gas costs owes in part to a fall-off in demand as weather has cooled and Americans have dialed back travel, industry analysts told ABC News.

"In North America, there is a summer driving season when demand is particularly high and refineries are running all out," Pavel Molchanov, a senior energy analyst at Raymond James, told ABC News. "In the fall and winter, demand cools off."

In addition to a drop in demand, gas prices have benefited from a decline in the cost of crude oil, allowing refineries to generate fuel at lower prices.

The cost of a barrel of oil, which stands at about $83, has plummeted nearly 8% over the last month.

The fall in oil prices -- which are set on a global market -- has stemmed from discussions at the European Union on a plan to place a price cap on Russian oil, analysts said.

The compromise measure would limit the oil revenue enjoyed by Russia as it wages war against Ukraine, but would also allow for the continued purchase of Russian oil, boosting global supply and pushing down prices.

The price of oil has also been pushed downward in recent months by the Biden administration's release of petroleum from the strategic reserve as well as a decline in demand in China due to continued COVID lockdowns, the analysts said.

"The big wild card is China, which seems to change day to day," Peter McNally, a global sector leader for industrial materials and energy at Third Bridge, told ABC News.

In recent days, the price of oil has inched upward amid civil unrest in China and the possibility of a relaxation of the lockdown policy, threatening to reverse the decline in U.S. gas prices, Molchanov said.

"If the Chinese government signals COVID lockdown easing in response to popular protest, then that stimulates among other things oil demand in China and it boosts oil prices," he said.

"So when oil prices go up, you will see that reflected in gas at the pump," he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Retro games get a new life as demand for defunct consoles, games on the rise

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- They were once coveted birthday and holiday gifts for millions of millennials and Generation Xers.

They were Nintendo Entertainment System bundled with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt or that copy of Pokémon Gold for the Game Boy Color.

And even though those vintage game systems and cartridges are long gone from store shelves to make way for more advanced tech, the beloved games are still in high demand. In some cases, they can sell for thousands of dollars for collectors and retro gamers.

"Everybody's into this stuff because this is the stuff they grew up on," Nick Pittelli, the CEO of the retro gaming store "The Game Island," told Impact x Nightline.

Impact x Nightline takes a look at this growing and lucrative trend in an episode now streaming on Hulu.

Although retro gaming has had a following ever since the first video game systems hit the market in the 70s, experts say the trend has boomed in recent years, and along with it the profits.

The industry-wide resale price for Nintendo 64 systems, which sold for $199.99 when it launched in 1996, or roughly $375 in 2022 dollars, can now fetch as much as five figures depending on its condition and rarity, according to experts.

Brandi Ahmer, a Maryland police officer who has a giant collection of video games, arcades and other vintage electronics, showed off her basement where she keeps her gaming relics. She told Impact that she was able to snag some rare consoles at bargains.

"That one goes for about $8,000," Ahmer said of a rare red Nintendo 64 controller. "That's what I was offered, but I paid $12.50 for it. I found it in a video game store."

"Then this one right here is a chrome Nintendo 64...There's only ten of these in the world," she added. "And I was offered close to $20,000."

Ahmer said she has no intention of selling any of her vintage systems or games and is always on the lookout to add to her collection.

"There's something about these older systems," she said. "But it's like there are memories of a simpler time, you know, your childhood."

Ahmer isn't the only one feeling that nostalgia.

Pittelli said that demand for vintage games grew during the pandemic and the value of some items in his shop has gone up by 40%.

Joey Walker-Denny, the social media manager for the Pennsylvania-based retro game store DK Oldies, told Impact that his team gets about 300 emails a day from customers looking to either buy or sell their used games.

"I've seen larger emails than that," he told Impact.

Walker-Denny noted that his team, which has grown tremendously since the store opened in the 2000s, takes great care to ensure that the games are in working condition for their customers, in some cases going as far to replace key components, such as a Game Boy screen.

"A lot of the stuff that we sell is over 30 years old. So you can imagine it needs a thorough cleaning," he said.

Pittelli and other retro gaming experts said they expect that more people will be on the lookout for vintage games to reclaim their youth.

"I think there's a stigma, like, 'Oh yeah the people who shop or go to a video game store. They're super nerdy.' No, it's not like that anymore. Rappers come here. Artists come here," Pittelli said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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