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Facebook launches its new TikTok clone, Instagram Reels

Facebook takes on TikTok

Facebook's Instagram is officially launching its answer to the hit short video app TikTok — Instagram Reels.

The new Instagram feature will let users record and edit 15-second videos with audio, and will let users add visual effects. Users will be able to share Reels with followers in Instagram in a dedicated section called Reels in Explore, or in the Story feature where posts disappear after 24 hours.

The Reels option will be available in the Instagram app. The company has been testing Reels in Brazil since November and in France, Germany and India since earlier this summer.

Facebook has a long tradition of cloning competitive services. The Instagram “Story" feature, which lets people share photos and videos that expire in 24 hours, is similar to Snapchat. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced tough questioning about the company's habit of copying rivals before a congressional hearing on July 29.

Facebook earlier launched a TikTok knockoff called Lasso in 2018, but closed that down in July. It also tried services similar to Snapchat called Slingshot and Poke before Instagram Stories caught on. But those were separate apps — it might have more success with a feature built into Instagram.

In fact, copying Snapchat’s features was successful for Instagram in part because Snapchat was difficult to figure out for new users. They were already comfortable with Instagram. But TikTok is very easy to use -- easier than Instagram -- and part of its appeal is that you’re able to sit back and scroll endlessly with just swipes, without the need to follow anyone or post anything.

Even with the success of Stories, Snapchat remains popular with younger people, though the Instagram feature has likely limited its growth. Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter.

For Reels to succeed, Facebook will have to lure video creators away from TikTok. This might be easier to do with Reels since many creators are already on Instagram. In response to published reports that Instagram is paying TikTok influencers to join Reels, Instagram said in a statement that the company “have a long history of reaching out to emerging creators and working to break new stars on Instagram."

“As with previous products, we remain committed to investing in both our creators and their overall experience, and in certain cases, we may help cover production costs for their creative ideas," the company said.

TikTok, in turn, launched a $200 million “creator fund” in July that it says will grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. in the next three years and more than double that globally, to pay video creators for their material.

TikTok, however, is under fire, possibly opening an opportunity for Facebook.

Microsoft is in talks to buy part of TikTok in what would be a forced sale, following threats from President Donald Trump to ban the Chinese-owned video app, which claims 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally.

Experts think Facebook has an opportunity to lure in young users with Reels, but its success is not guaranteed.

“Social media users, especially younger users, tend to use social platforms for different things,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. This means Snapchat to message friends privately, Facebook to keep up with school groups or check up on parents and grandparents, Instagram to follow their passions and TikTok for entertainment.

“Instagram has put a lot of effort into developing Reels and making it attractive to TikTok users and the creators who work on the app, but I’m not sure it can replace TikTok,” Williamson added. “Even if TikTok were to be banned in the U.S. (which I think is unlikely to happen), users would find a way to keep using it. They are incredibly loyal and protective of TikTok.”

Since early July, some TikTok users have been posting videos urging viewers to follow them to other platforms like Instagram, reflecting the threat of a TikTok ban. Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO at the influencer marketing agency Takumi, said the creators she works with have been sad, angry and upset about the threat of a ban. Still, they're “pragmatic," she said, and the smart ones were already active on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

Reels is debuting in over 50 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Australia and others, as well as officially launching in the test countries — Brazil, France, Germany and India.

Instagram has more than a billion users worldwide.



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Vancouver home sales jump to 3,128 in July while prices rise amid lower supply

Vancouver home sales jump

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says home sales and prices rose in July as more homebuyers took advantage of low interest rates to boost activity.

Buyers purchased 3,128 homes in the Vancouver metro area last month, up from 2,443 in June and up from the 2,557 sold in July 2019. The 28-per-cent sales bump from June came as the market adjusted to virtual sales and safety precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

Home prices also rose, hitting a benchmark of $1,031,400, 4.5 per cent higher on a year-over-year basis.

Colette Gerber, the real estate board’s chairwoman, said that low interest rates and limited supply have increased competition in the Vancouver real estate market over the past month. While more homes hit the market in July compared with June, the total 12,083 homes listed for sale is down from 14,240 listed a year ago.

Detached homes — as opposed to apartments or townhomes — was the fastest-growing segment in terms of climbing prices and sales volumes. The benchmark price is now $1,477,800 for detached homes in Vancouver, up five per cent year-over-year, after sales volume increased 33.3 per cent to 1,121 detached homes.

“We're seeing the results today of pent-up activity, from both homebuyers and sellers, that had been accumulating in our market throughout the year,” Gerber said in a statement.



CN, CP ship record grain volumes in 2019-2020 despite blockades and COVID-19

Record grain shipments

Canada's two major railways shipped record amounts of grain over the past crop year despite a gauntlet of obstacles.

Canadian National Railway Co. hauled more than 30 million tonnes of grain in 2019-20, a seven-per-cent increase from the previous year.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. moved 10 per cent more grain at 29.5 million tonnes.

The railroads attribute the achievement to investments in their network that included high-efficiency hopper cars and twinning sections of the main line.

Other factors include a bounty of grain held over from last year following a late harvest as well as insatiable global demand for bread and pasta amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted rival wheat-producing countries to curb exports in order to build up domestic stores.

The record grain figures come after a tumultuous crop year that saw a CN strike in November, rolling rail blockades in February, landslides, trade disputes and the coronavirus, which dented shipment volumes from automotive to metal and triggered more than 5,000 layoffs between the two railroads.





Ottawa announces details of support program for fishermen

Support for fishermen

The federal government has announced details of a $469-million program aimed at helping Canada's fish harvesters deal with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan issued a statement today saying the Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program, which was first announced in May, will be open for applications from Aug. 24 to Sept. 21.

Jordan says the program represents the single largest investment in Canada’s fisheries in nearly two decades.

The minister says the program is designed to address unique challenges facing the seasonal industry.

Detailed information about the application process for financial support is now available online from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Meanwhile, the federal government says it is still working on a program — also announced in May — that will allow self-employed fishermen to access employment insurance benefits on the basis of insurable earnings from previous seasons.

Earlier this year, Ottawa announced a $62-million program to help stabilize the fish and seafood processing sectors, and another $50 million was pledged to help farmers, fish harvesters and food-processing employers deal with the mandatory 14-day isolation period required of all workers arriving from abroad.

"Our fisheries operate under a unique structure and have faced distinct challenges throughout this pandemic," Jordan said in a statement. "We’ve been working around the clock to develop a simple, accessible system to deliver over $469 million to Canada's fish harvesters as smoothly and quickly as possible."



Delta company awarded $87M F-35 fighter jet component contract

BC firm's fighter jet contract

A Delta company was recently awarded major contracts to supply a component for one of the world's most highly advanced fighter jets.

Avcorp Industries, which manufactures integrated composite and metallic aircraft structures at its Tilbury operation, announced it has been awarded contracts by BAE Systems for the assembly of the F-35 carrier variant outboard wing.

The total contract awards are approximately (CND) $87 million and extend Avcorp’s current long-term contract with BAE Systems into 2022.

“We are extremely pleased with the award of these significant contracts for our military and defense production lines” stated Amandeep Kaler, Avcorp Group CEO, in a news release.

The Delta facility is the single source supplier for the F-35 CV-OBW assembly under contract with BAE Systems with delivery of the assemblies directly to Lockheed Martin in Ft. Worth, Texas.

The outboard wing is the foldable portion of the wing on the carrier version of the F-35 aircraft, which allows for handling and storage of the aircraft on the aircraft carrier’s deck and hangers, while keeping its long-range and low-landing-speed flight characteristics.

It is regarded as one of the more complex assemblies that the Canadian aerospace industry manufactures for the F-35 program.

The Avcorp Group designs and builds major airframe structures for such aircraft companies as BAE Systems, Boeing, Bombardier, Lockheed Martin and Subaru.



Spilling continues at W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams

BC Hydro opens big dams

Spilling continues at the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams near Hudson's Hope.

As of Tuesday, the Williston reservoir behind the Bennett Dam was at 670.214 metres, or just under 2,199 feet. At full pool, the reservoir is 672.08 metres, or 2,205 feet.

BC Hydro says it is releasing water from the Williston and Peace Canyon reservoirs due to high rainfall and snowmelt this season, and to maintain storage space ahead of a planned river diversion at Site C this fall.

The public is advised to use caution on and around the river due to changing water levels.

The Bennett dam was first spilled in 1972.

The last spill in April 2016 was done ahead of spillway repairs, and a month-long spill in June 2012 was brought on by high levels of runoff and rainfall. 

A spill in 1996 was prompted by a sinkhole discovered by a tourist at the top of the dam.



Canadian auto sales hit 165,020 in July, up 6.2 per cent from June

Auto sales jump in July

Auto sales continued their upward trend in July, mounting a steadier recovery from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. reported Tuesday.

In a 6.2 per cent increase from June, 165,020 autos were sold in Canada during July.

Those numbers are 4.9 per cent below the same month last year, but nonetheless mark the seventh best July in Canadian automotive history, DesRosiers said in its monthly report.

The auto industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown appears to have tapered, the data show.

After a "brutal" collapse in April, sales jumped 147 per cent and 37.3 per cent in each of the following months, before the 6.2 per cent increase in July, DesRosiers noted.

While auto sales made a "strong" showing in July, the consultants noted that it’s still unclear how much of the auto-selling momentum is driven by buyers who have been holding off since spring, when dealerships were in a holding pattern due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"Giant strides become moderate steps, but still, the momentum is forwards," the report said.

"The long-term implications of COVID-19 on the economy and the automotive market are far from clear and will likely include more twists and turns."

In a separate note in mid-July, DesRosiers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic put a brief but sharp downward pressure on the number of vehicles sold at each dealership. That may accelerate a long-term pattern as the industry shifts from independent car dealerships, and toward collectives of 10 or more franchises owned by a single ownership group, the consultants predicted.

"To be sure, the overall number of dealer franchises has continued to grow. The ownership of these franchises has been increasingly concentrated, however," the consultancy said.

"The question remains as to who the purchasers will be, and the extent that industry consolidation of the dealer network will lead to new models of retailing, and a new balance in the relationship between factories and their networks."



Air passenger advocacy group asks top court to hear ticket refund case

Air travellers seek SCC

An advocacy group is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear a case on passenger refunds as frustration over flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to simmer.

The Air Passenger Rights organization sought leave to appeal Monday a Federal Court of Appeal decision that dismissed the group's attempt for an injunction compelling the Canadian Transportation Agency to remove a post about refunds from its website temporarily while a broader case about the statement's validity is ongoing.

The CTA said in March that airlines have the right to issue travel credits instead of a refund for cancelled trips in the "current context," though the agency later clarified that the online statement was "not a binding decision."

Canadian airlines have generally offered credit valid for two years or more but avoided offering reimbursement to customers whose flights were called off because of the coronavirus crisis, with carriers citing the agency's stance in response to consumer complaints and analyst questions.

Air Passenger Rights founder Gabor Lukacs says the CTA's statements misled travellers about their right to a refund and contradict the quasi-judicial body's previous decisions.

"If people believe they have no right to a refund, they will just not pursue it," he said in an interview.

"This case is about whether a public body can mislead the public without facing some kind of judicial scrutiny."

Some passengers may not be able to fly in the next two years for health or financial reasons, advocates say. Meanwhile, the airfare they paid amounts to a no-interest loan to airlines.

The pandemic has devastated the airline industry, with billions of dollars in losses for Canadian carriers amid grounded flights and tight international borders.

In contrast to Canadian authorities, the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation have required airlines to refund passengers. The U.S. and European countries including France and Germany have also offered billions in financial relief to struggling carriers, however, while Ottawa has provided no industry-specific bailout to airlines.

Since February, passengers have filed a handful of proposed class-action lawsuits and three petitions garnering more than 109,000 signatures that call for customer reimbursement.

The CTA did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

In March, the agency said passengers "should not simply be out-of-pocket for the cost of cancelled flights," but also stated that airlines facing a plunge in revenues and customer volumes "should not be expected to take steps that could threaten their economic viability."

"The CTA believes that, generally speaking, an appropriate approach in the current context could be for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases)," it said on March 25.

The online statement is not an official CTA decision — these are issued periodically on complaints brought before the body — but Lukacs argues it amounts to an unsolicited advance ruling on how the agency will treat passenger complaints, and thus deters them.

Responses by officials in the airline industry and government suggest the post is viewed authoritatively.

On a conference call Friday, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu told analysts that "the CTA spoke clearly on the topic, and at this point...I've got no reason to believe that they'll change that."

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has also framed the online post as an authoritative ruling.

"The Canadian Transportation Agency has ruled on this issue and has ruled that, in the present circumstances and in a non-binding way, it is acceptable for airlines to offer credits for up to two years," Garneau told the special all-party COVID-19 committee on May 28.

Customer reimbursement for services that were never rendered is a fundamental principle of consumer protection legislation across multiple provinces, Lukacs said.

The CTA's statement touting travel credit as an alternative has served to "undermine" that right, the court submission says, particularly since some credit card and insurance companies have cited the statement as a reason "to deny policy coverage for actual travel disruptions," the court submission says.

The Supreme Court does not automatically hear appeals and instead issues a written decision, usually within one to three months, on whether it will consider a case.

Air Passenger Rights' leave to appeal relates to the Federal Court of Appeal's dismissal of its request for an injunction against the CTA while the case over the travel credits statement is ongoing.

Air Passenger Rights states that the appeal court's test to determine eligibility for such an injunction is too stringent, and could affect not only interprovincial transportation but all areas of federal law, including immigration and refugees, intellectual property law and Indigenous claims.



Moores parent company files for bankruptcy, closing stores

Moores files for protection

Moores Clothing for Men, which has locations in Kelowna and Kamloops, is the latest retail chain to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid the pandemic.

Tailored Brands, which also owns Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank stores, said over the weekend it will continue to operate most stores during restructuring and expected to reduce its funded debt by $630 million.

COVID-19 restrictions have severely limited weddings and office work since March, hitting the clothing retail and rental sectors particularly hard. 

It is still not known whether the Kelowna or Kamloops locations will stay open. The company said online in a statement it is still deciding what stores will close permanently.

Dinesh Lathi, chief executive of Tailored Brands, said in a statement to clients over the weekend the pandemic has altered the way people live and work.

“It means fewer in-person meetings, wedding celebrations and special events. Simply put, people are staying home more, and our clothes are better suited to being out and about,” Lathi said.

He said the company is “making major shifts” by creating a leaner structure to adapt to the realities of today’s retail environment.

“In July, we announced some store closures. However, we will continue to have stores across Canada operating as usual. Nothing about our decision to seek Chapter 11 protection changes that.”

Meanwhile, Lord & Taylor, the oldest retailer in the U.S., also said it was seeking bankruptcy protection over the weekend, lengthening the list of major retail chains that have faltered during the pandemic.

Household names, many longtime anchors in malls, were already struggling to keep up with consumers moving to online sales.

Lord & Taylor, which began as a Manhattan dry goods store in 1824, was sold to the French rental clothing company Le Tote Inc. last year. Both filed for bankruptcy protection, separately, on Sunday.

Lord & Taylor says it’s looking for a buyer.

Tailored Brands was struggling even before the pandemic lockdowns smothered any demand for suits or ties.

It wasn’t alone.

Last month, Brooks Brothers, the 200-year-old company that dressed nearly every U.S. president, filed for bankruptcy protection. Its rival, Barneys New York, is being dismantled after filing for bankruptcy last year.

Dozens of retailers, big and small, have filed for Chapter 11 protection this year. The pace through the first half of 2020 far exceeds the number of retail bankruptcies for all of last year. About two dozen stores have sought bankruptcy protection since the pandemic started.

Others include J. Crew, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Stage Stores, and Ascena Retail Group, which owns Lane Bryant in addition to Ann Taylor.



Stingray reports lower Q1 revenue, earnings as pandemic hits radio business

Radio revenues clobbered

Stingray Group Inc. says revenue in its fiscal first quarter ended June 30 fell by 35 per cent to $52.3 million as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hit revenue from radio operations.

Stingray owns and operates K96.3 and Country 100.7 in Kelowna and Radio NL, K97.5 and Country 103.1 in Kamloops. 

It is reporting net income of $7.02 million, down 23.5 per cent from $9.18 million on revenue of $80.4 million in the same period of 2019.

The Montreal-based company, which provides an advertising-free music service, says it had $13.5 million or 18 cents per share in earnings adjusted to exclude one-time items, beating analyst expectations of 16 cents per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

That compared with an adjusted profit of $16.7 million or 21 cents a year earlier.

Radio revenues decreased by 62 per cent, while broadcasting and commercial music revenues were down by 3.7 per cent in the quarter.

It says revenues in Canada fell by $28 million or 50 per cent from $56.1 million in the year-earlier period, while revenues in the United States increased 12.7 per cent to $10.3 million, mainly due to organic growth in subscriptions.

"The full impact of COVID-19 hit the radio segment during the quarter," said CEO Eric Boyko in a statement.

"For provinces and cities that opened their economies faster, we are seeing encouraging signs of recovery and we are confident that key markets for us, such as Toronto and Ottawa, could follow similar patterns."



Honda Canada recalls 53,770 Odyssey, Passport and Pilot vehicles

Large Honda Canada recall

Honda Canada is recalling 53,770 vehicles for repair.

The recall in Canada covers 2018 to 2020 Honda Odysseys, 2019 to 2020 Honda Passports and 2019 to 2021 Honda Pilots.

The automaker says that depending on the vans or SUV, it may need one or more of four free repairs, including two software updates, replacement of rear view camera and replacement of sliding door outer handle cables.

There have been no reports of crashes or injuries associated with the voluntary recall, said Honda spokeswoman Laura Heasman.

The recall comes after Honda recalled 1.6 million vehicles in the U.S., citing faulty software that can stop the display of the speedometer, engine oil lights, gear positions and rear cameras.

In Odyssey minivans, water can enter the door handle cables and freeze, preventing the doors from latching, and water can also distort the rear-view camera.



Tampa teenager accused in Twitter hack pleads not guilty

Twitter hack not guilty plea

A Florida teen identified as the mastermind of a scheme that gained control of Twitter accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to multiple counts of fraud.

Graham Ivan Clark, 17, is accused of using the hijacked Twitter accounts to scam people around the world out of more than $100,000 in Bitcoin.

He is charged with 17 counts of communications fraud, 11 counts of fraudulent use of personal information, and one count each of organized fraud of more than $5,000 and accessing computers or electronic devices without authority. The brief hearing in Tampa took place via the video conferencing service Zoom.

Clark is scheduled for a bond hearing on Wednesday. He remains in the Hillsborough County Jail with bail set at $725,000, according to court records.

Clark was arrested on Friday in Tampa, and the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is prosecuting him as an adult, a news release said.

Two other men were also charged in the case. Mason Sheppard, 19, of Bognor Regis, U.K., and Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando were charged separately last week in California federal court.

As part of the high-profile security breach, bogus tweets were sent out on July 15 from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Celebrities Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, were also hacked.

The tweets offered to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.

Court papers in the California cases say Fazeli and Sheppard brokered the sale of Twitter accounts stolen by a hacker who identified himself as “Kirk,” and said he could “reset, swap and control any Twitter account at will” in exchange for cybercurrency payments, claiming to be a Twitter employee.

The documents do not specify Kirk’s real identity but say he is a teen being prosecuted in the Tampa area.

Twitter has said the hacker gained access to a company dashboard that manages accounts by using social engineering and spear-phishing smartphones to obtain credentials from “a small number” of Twitter employees “to gain access to our internal systems.” Spear-phishing uses email or other messaging to deceive people into sharing access credentials.

Although the case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said his office is prosecuting Clark in state court because Florida law allows minors to be charged as adults in financial fraud cases when appropriate. He called Clark the leader of the hacking scam.

“This defendant lives here in Tampa, he committed the crime here, and he’ll be prosecuted here,” Warren said Friday.

Fazeli’s father told The AP on Friday that he's 100% sure his son is innocent.

“He’s a very good person, very honest, very smart and loyal,” Mohamad Fazeli said. “We are as shocked as everybody else. “I’m sure this is a mix up.”



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