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The Week in Business: A Headache for Big Tech


Welcome to the weirdest (and legitimately scariest) Halloween week ever. Surprisingly, candy sales are up this year — perhaps it’s the stress eating? Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news going into Monday. — Charlotte Cowles

The federal government is finally making good on its threats to crack down on big tech. The Department of Justice announced a major antitrust lawsuit against Google and accused the company of deploying unfair business tactics to squelch its competitors. (The only precedent for a case like this occurred nearly two decades ago, when the government sued Microsoft.) Google rejected the allegations and said the suit would “artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices” and hurt consumers. But many consumer advocates say it’s high time to regulate big tech more aggressively. Next up: The Federal Trade Commission is planning to vote on whether to file an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.

Purdue Pharma, the drugmaker behind the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, has pleaded guilty to felony charges and will be required to pay more than $8 billion in settlement fees. The company admitted to rewarding doctors for pushing prescriptions for its drugs, thereby contributing to an opioid crisis that has resulted in the deaths of more than 450,000 Americans. It still faces thousands of lawsuits in several states. As for the wealthy Sackler family, who own the company: They’re being held accountable in a separate settlement, to the tune of $225 million in penalties.

It’s been over a year since the financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide after being charged with sexually abusing teenage girls, but his case continues to haunt his business and personal associates. His former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, remains under arrest and has been silent on charges that she recruited victims for Mr. Epstein. But in a four-year-old deposition, released this past week, she vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Elsewhere, new revelations about financial ties between Mr. Epstein and Leon Black, the founder of the investment firm Apollo Global Management, prompted one pension fund to halt new investments with the firm and others to consider doing the same. Apollo’s board announced that it was investigating Mr. Black’s relationship to Mr. Epstein.

Social media platforms are struggling to fight the spread of misinformation leading up to the election, particularly as Russia and Iran have mounted new interference campaigns to hurt the Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph R. Biden Jr. But nobody’s happy with how it’s going, particularly lawmakers. Now, the Senate has called for the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter (Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey,) to testify on Wednesday about how they’re handling hate speech, misinformation and privacy. The hearing will focus on a law that shields tech companies from liability over the content posted by their users, while also allowing them to moderate it. President Trump has claimed the rule is unfair, and wants an overhaul.

Like many art institutions, the Brooklyn Museum is struggling to absorb the pandemic’s impact on its revenue. But unlike many of its peers, it has resorted to selling notable pieces from its holdings to pay its staff and care for the rest of its collection. This week, Sotheby’s will auction off a selection of the museum’s Impressionist and modern artworks, including paintings by Henri Matisse and Claude Monet. While de-accessioning is usually prohibited by the Association of Art Museum Directors, the association has made an exception because of the pandemic, and will allow such sales to proceed through 2022.

The first report on the United States’ third-quarter gross domestic product — the broadest assessment of the economy’s health — will be released on Thursday, and is anticipated to show the fastest growth on record. But that’s because it follows a record drop in the second quarter, when many businesses were forced to close under lockdown measures. Either way, don’t get too excited by the numbers. The country’s economy is expected to slow considerably in the fourth quarter, especially as a wave of new infections hampers reopenings and, in some cases, results in more shutdowns.

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