Patriotism and haste combine with an alphabet stew of regulators around the world to raise the prospects of coronavirus chaos

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Illustration: 731 for Bloomberg Businessweek

By Vernon Silver, Suzi Ring and James Paton

Making vaccines that are safe and effective is certainly the hard part of the race to pull humanity from the pandemic brink. Promising results are pouring in. On Nov. 9, Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE said early findings showed their vaccine prevented more than 90% of symptomatic infections in a trial of tens of thousands of volunteers. On Nov. 16, Moderna Inc. reported a 94.5% prevention rate for its vaccine, with a 30,000-plus test group. Today, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that a final analysis of its trials showed that its vaccine was 95% effective. …

New details about deals with Apple and Mozilla show how the search giant discourages competition

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Illustration: Joren Cull for Bloomberg Businessweek

By Mark Bergen, Gerrit De Vynck and Mark Gurman

After the government sued Google as a monopolist, Mozilla Corp., you’d think, might have celebrated. Mozilla makes Firefox, a web browser that Google undercut by using massive engineering resources, financial muscle, and — according to ex-Mozilla staffers — dirty tricks to promote its own Chrome. The smaller company has periodically raised alarms about Google’s business practices and once even put up a billboard in the Bay Area that read, “Big Browser Is Watching You,” with the word “browser” fashioned to resemble Google’s logo.

Yet within hours of the federal Department of Justice filing its antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google on Oct. 20, Mozilla published a blog post offering a stern warning to the government: Please don’t go too far. The Justice Department’s case centers on Google’s practice of spending billions of dollars a year to become the default search engine on browsers, smartphones, and other gadgets. Google pays Mozilla for it to be the default search engine on Firefox, and the money accounts for the vast majority of Mozilla’s revenue. …

The region’s Salton Sea contains a massive trove of the metal needed for electric-car batteries

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Salton Sea. Photo: Matic Kozinc

By David R Baker

Dust storms laced with toxins sweep across California’s Imperial County, where mud volcanoes spit and hiss near the shores of the slowly shrinking lake known as the Salton Sea. The county is one of California’s poorest, most of its jobs tied to a thin strip of irrigated land surrounded by desert. San Diego and the Golden State’s prosperous coast lie only 100 miles away across a jumble of mountains, but it might as well be another world.

Yet this overlooked moonscape may hold the key to America’s clean-car future. Hot brine trapped beneath the desert floor contains potentially one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium. Demand for the metal is soaring as automakers worldwide shift to electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. Most of that lithium now comes from Australia, China, and South America. The U.S. …

Despite record-breaking, around-the-clock production, the disinfectant still vanishes from store shelves in a matter of hours — even before the latest Covid spike

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A wall of Lysol at a New Jersey factory. Photo: Chris Maggio for Bloomberg Businessweek

By Drew Armstrong

One of America’s most recognizable icons of fresh-scented cleanliness comes from New Jersey. No matter where U.S. shoppers are lucky enough to spot cans of Lysol, the sanitizing spray was almost certainly produced at the same sprawling, tan-colored factory, in a suburb an hour’s drive from New York City. Over the noisy plant’s concrete floors, a steady stream of empty cans clink through an assembly line, waiting to be filled. On the line, a machine packs them all with a blend of ethanol, another disinfecting chemical called a quaternary ammonium compound, or quat, and some scent. …

A sale to Hyundai could hasten the company’s shift from research to commercialization

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SpotMini, Boston Dynamics, Robot, prior to going on Centre Stage during the final day of Web Summit 2019 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

By Sarah McBride

Human baseball fans weren’t allowed to attend the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks game on July 7, but that didn’t keep a collection of humanoid robots from supporting the home team with a peppy fight song while 20 mechanical dogs in baseball uniforms bopped along in unison. The canines were made by Boston Dynamics, and their performance perfectly illustrated the conundrum the company has faced since its founding almost three decades ago: It’s created what may be the world’s most technologically sophisticated — and expensive — parlor trick.

Boston Dynamics has long represented the cutting edge of robotics in popular culture, captivating YouTube audiences with the fluid movements of its animal- and human-like machines. It’s had bouts of profitability over its 28 years of existence, but recently has been losing millions of dollars a year, vexing SoftBank Group Corp., as it did its previous owner, Google. SoftBank is now preparing to sell it to Hyundai Motor Co. …

The president has not had to play by the same rules as everyone else. That’s changing.

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Illustration: Carolyn Figel for Bloomberg Businessweek

By Kurt Wagner

When President Trump leaves the White House on Jan. 20, one thing he’ll have to hand over to President-elect Joe Biden is his Twitter account.

Well, not that one. Trump will get to keep @realDonaldTrump, but the @POTUS account, which has 32.6 million followers, belongs to the president, whoever that may be. And while Trump has rarely used @POTUS for the diatribes and ramblings that have become synonymous with his presidency, he has used it to retweet messages from his personal account to tens of millions of people.

Trump’s loss of that additional megaphone is just one way the end of his term will set off a period of transition with his preferred online platform. While both sides have something to lose, Trump may be the one who will lose more. …

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman are phenomenally successful businesspeople with precisely the wrong instincts for a streaming service

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Illustration: Nichole Shinn for Bloomberg Businessweek;

By JP Mangalindan

The view from Meg Whitman’s wraparound private terrace was dazzling. In 2018, three months after she stepped down as chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., Whitman moved to Los Angeles, into a sprawling, $6.5 million condo on the 24th floor of West Hollywood’s Sierra Towers. The apartment had only two bedrooms but offered lots of other indulgences — floor-to-ceiling skyline views, a home theater, a quarry’s worth of kitchen marble — as well as a patina of Hollywood glamor. Whitman could say she lived in a building whose residents have included Sandra Bullock, Elton John, David Geffen, Evander Holyfield, and Cher. …

The ride-hailing leaders and other gig companies bought themselves immunity from California’s employment reform with a model they may be able to export around the country

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Rideshare driver Jesus Ibarra stands on his car in support as app based gig workers on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

By Josh Eidelson

A year ago, California looked like an existential crisis for Uber and Lyft. Now, a $200 million political campaign has turned the state into a legal fortress for the same companies, one that could help them repel threats from Washington and elsewhere.

On Election Day, voters in California approved Proposition 22, a ballot measure bankrolled by Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash, and Instacart that declares their drivers to be independent contractors while affording them certain perks. Prop 22 excludes the drivers from AB 5, a state law passed last year that made employees of gig workers whose roles were in the “usual course” of a company’s business. As employees, they were entitled to an hourly minimum wage, overtime, paid sick days, and unemployment and worker’s comp benefits. Prop 22 pulls back from that, instead promising drivers a guaranteed minimum pay rate while they’re assigned a task; a review process for terminations; and health stipends if they work enough hours. A University of California at Berkeley analysis concluded that after accounting for full expenses and wait times, the proposition’s pay guarantee is worth less than $6 an hour. (The companies dispute this.) …

And if he’s defeated this time, Trump could even run again in 2024

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Photo: Joshua T. Kozlowski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Joshua Green

As the ballot-counting drags on, President Trump’s fate is still unsettled. The fate of Trumpism, on the other hand, is clear: It isn’t going away. And Trump himself may remain in the political spotlight even if he loses.

As the Electoral College battle extends into overtime, the results already highlight the ways in which Trump’s four years in office have imprinted his stamp on the American political map. Even if he squeaks through with just enough support to secure another term, he’s changed U.S. …

The telehealth startup has prospered during the pandemic and is about to go public. Is anybody going to rein it in?

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Photo: Danilo Alvesd

By Kristen V Brown and Gerrit De Vynck

Against all odds, the box of pills is cute. On one side of its winsome cardboard shell, a custom typeface spells out the brand name, Hims, in all lowercase, giving off a vibe somewhere between an e.e. cummings poem and a retro zine. A pamphlet that comes with the drug — Addyi, a controversial pill that aims to increase female libido — trades in millennial-empowerment language worthy of Goop. “Future you thanks you,” it begins, followed by a string of rah-rah slogans like “balance is everything” and “you’re not alone.” Also included: a stylized postcard of a woman joyfully watering plants in a pair of clogs. …

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