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In this photo illustration the Chinese technology firm Tencent logo seen on an Android mobile device with People’s Republic of China flag in the background.
Budrul Chukrut | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Chinese technology giants are looking to make changes to their business models and working practices in order to preempt moves by regulators as authorities crackdown on the once free-wheeling sector.

In the past year, regulators have introduced new rules in areas from anti-monopoly for internet companies to data security, targeting large tech firms.

And punishment has come swiftly. Ant Group’s record-breaking initial public offering was pulled by regulators in November, while Alibaba was slapped with a $2.8 billion fine as a result of an anti-monopoly probe.

Ride-hailing giant Didi meanwhile, became the subject of a cybersecurity review days after its massive U.S. IPO. And China’s top cyberspace regulator ordered app stores this month to suspend Didi from being downloaded.

With regulators breathing down tech companies’ necks, corporations have looked to make moves to appease authorities.

Tencent this month has looked to tighten up its patrol of minors playing games. According to Chinese regulations, minors are banned from playing online games between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Tencent, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, said there are cases of kids using adult accounts to play games.

To counter that, the company will require the gamer to do a facial recognition scan on their phone to verify if they are an adult.

Over the past few years, China’s government has been concerned about video game addiction and how it could damage children’s health. In 2018, regulators froze video game approvals in China over concerns of violence in some titles as well as potential addiction and rising cases of myopia. Games in China need to be approved by censors in order to be released and monetized.

Tencent appears to be getting ahead of any further regulatory action with its latest moves.

Anti-monopoly focus

In February, regulators released anti-monopoly rules for internet platforms. Beijing is concerned about the size and power of China’s technology companies which have grown into some of the world’s largest, broadly unencumbered by regulation.

The focus of the Alibaba probe, which concluded in April and resulted in a $2.8 billion fine, was a practice that forces merchants to choose one of two platforms to sell their goods on.

Alibaba and Tencent have both effectively built up walls around their products. For example users can’t use Tencent’s WeChat Pay service on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce site.

But it appears both Tencent and Alibaba could be looking to get ahead of potential further antitrust action.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Alibaba and Tencent are looking to loosen up some of these blocks on each others’ products. This could include allowing WeChat Pay as an option on Alibaba’s shopping services.

“Such measures of self-regulation would be ahead of the regulation curve, as Tencent often is – and Alibaba hasn’t been,” Neil Campling, head of technology, media and telecoms research at Mirabaud Securities Limited, said in a note on Wednesday.

996 work culture

Technology companies are also trying to make changes to the long-standing practice of grueling work hours known as 996.

This refers to employees working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, six days a week. Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 996 culture a “huge blessing,” but it has faced intense criticism.

On Tuesday, Ling Zhenguo, a member of China’s top political advisory body known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, wrote an op-ed in the entity’s official newspaper, apparently criticizing the 996 culture.

The internet economy should put “people at the center” shouldn’t link “every profit made with every hard working minute of employees,” according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin article.

“We must be clearly aware that it’s in contrast to the market economy with Chinese characteristics to regard people’s legs as wheels and hands as robots,” Ling added, effectively saying that humans should be treated as humans.

Ling’s article highlights how 996 work culture could be targeted next by Beijing.

But technology companies have already begun to tweak their practices.

Last week, TikTok-owner ByteDance said that from Aug. 1, it was ending the practice of “big week, small week.” This is where workers would work every other Sunday and get paid. Short-video app Kuaishou also canceled this policy last month, according to local media.

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DOJ asks for independent probe into FTX bankruptcy, a likely tactic to gather evidence on alleged fraud

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DOJ asks for independent probe into FTX bankruptcy, a likely tactic to gather evidence on alleged fraud

John Ray, chief executive officer of FTX Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange, arrives at bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, US, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Eric Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Department of Justice has requested that an independent examiner be appointed to review “substantial and serious allegations of fraud, dishonesty” and “incompetence” after the implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire. It could be one way for the DOJ to gather evidence of alleged fraud.

In a filing in Delaware federal bankruptcy court, Andrew Vara, a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, told the court that the allegations of corporate misconduct and complete failure merited an immediate and speedy examination of the events leading up to FTX’s stunning collapse three weeks ago.

Vara said there’s a substantial basis to believe that Bankman-Fried and other managers mismanaged FTX or engaged in fraudulent conduct.

“It seems to me that the DOJ is trying to use the bankruptcy process as a way of getting evidence,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told CNBC.

“Many times, the Department of Justice and bankruptcy estates in fraud cases work together in compiling potential restitution or other types of actions to make victims whole,” he said. The DOJ “will likely be part of the asset recovery and potentially having a Victims Fund with money going to those that lost money and what the Department of Justice potentially will view as a fraud.”

“It just shows a level of interest and attention that they’re paying to this that should be troubling to Mr. Bankman-Fried.”

Vara said an examination is preferable to an internal investigation because of the wider implications the company’s collapse may have on the crypto industry.

Another legal expert said that there could be other factors at play too, including the extensive political donations that FTX executives were involved in on both sides of the aisle.

There have been “campaign donations on both sides of the aisle from FTX and there have been political overtones and undertones in this case,” said Braden Perry, former senior trial attorney at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Kennyhertz Perry partner.

“I think that this is just out of prudence and out of caution to make sure that whatever is happening is done at an independent level,” Perry continued.

It’s not unusual to appoint a bankruptcy examiner. There was one to oversee the crypto bankruptcy process of Celsius Network, for example.

Bankruptcies above a certain size require an examiner. In this case, the U.S. Trustee said that an examiner is mandatory because FTX’s fixed, liquidated and unsecured debts to customers exceed the $5 million threshold.

FTX’s November collapse left creditors reeling over the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases, and has rocked the wider crypto world. BlockFi, a crypto lender, filed for bankruptcy protection in New Jersey last week.

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Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic search for employment to avoid deportation

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Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic search for employment to avoid deportation

After years of seemingly boundless expansion, the U.S. tech industry has hit a wall. Companies are in cash preservation mode, leading to thousands of job cuts a month and a surge of layoffs in November.

While the sudden loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the recent wave of reductions is having an outsized impact on skilled workers who are living in the U.S. on temporary visas and are at risk of being sent home if they can’t secure a new job in short order.

Tech companies are among the employers with the most approvals for H-1B visas, which are granted to people in specialty occupations that often require a college degree and extra training. Silicon Valley has for years leaned on temporary visas issued by the government to employ thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotech and computer science. That’s a big reason tech companies have been outspoken in their defense of immigrants’ rights.

Workers on temporary visas often have 60 to 90 days to find a new gig so they can avoid being deported.

“It’s this amazing talent pool that the U.S. is fortunate to attract, and they’re always living on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration lawyer based in Mountain View, California, who specializes in securing visas for tech workers. “Many of them up are up against this 60-day grace period deadline. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the U.S. So it’s a stressful time for everybody.”

The already grim situation worsened in November, when Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Lyft, Salesforce, HP and DoorDash announced significant cuts to their workforces. More than 50,000 tech workers were let go from their jobs in November, according to data collected by the website Layoffs.fyi.

Amazon gave staffers who were laid off 60 days to search for a new role inside the company, after which they’d be offered severance, according to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job. The person spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

In fiscal 2021, Amazon had the most approved petitions for H-1B visas, with 6,182, according to a National Foundation for American Policy review of U.S. immigration data. Google, IBM and Microsoft also ranked near the top of the list.

The former AWS employee has been in the country for two years on student and employment visas. He said he was unexpectedly laid off at the beginning of November, just months after joining the company as an engineer. Despite Amazon informing him that he had 60 days to find another position internally, the person said his manager advised him to apply for jobs elsewhere due the company’s pullback in hiring. Amazon said in November it’s pausing hiring for its corporate workforce.

An Amazon spokesperson didn’t provide a comment beyond what CEO Andy Jassy said last month, when he told those affected by the layoffs that the company would help them find new roles.

Companies generally aren’t specifying what percentage of the people being laid off are on visas. A search for “layoffs H1B” on LinkedIn surfaces a stream of posts from workers who recently lost their jobs and are expressing concern about the 60-day unemployment window. Visa holders have been sharing resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind and in WhatsApp groups, the former AWS employee said.

It had already been a frenetic few years for foreign workers in the U.S. well before surging inflation and concerns of a recession sparked the latest round of job cuts.

The Trump administration’s hostile posture toward immigration put the H-1B program at risk. As president in 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending work visas, including those with H-1B status, claiming they hurt employment prospects for Americans. The move drew a strong rebuke from tech executives, who said the program serves as a pipeline for talented individuals and strengthens American companies. President Joe Biden allowed the Trump-era ban to expire last year.

Whatever relief the Biden presidency provided is of limited value to those who are now jobless. An engineer who was recently laid off by gene-sequencing technology company Illumina said he hoped his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He’s here on a different visa, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation.

The former Illumina employee, who spoke on condition that he not be named, not only has to find a new job within 90 days from the layoff date, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any company that hires him must be willing to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the related fees. He’s considering going back to school in order to extend his stay in the U.S., but he’s anxious about taking on student loans.

Illumina said in November it was cutting about 5% of its global workforce. A company spokesperson told CNBC that less than 10% of impacted employees were here on H-1B or related visas.

“We are engaging with each employee individually so that they understand the impact to their employment eligibility and options to remain in the U.S.,” the spokesperson said by email. “We are working to review each and every situation to ensure great care for those impacted, and to ensure compliance with immigration law.”

The ex-employee said he had dreams of working for Illumina, planting roots in the U.S. and buying a house. Now, he said, he’s just trying to find a way to stay in the country without going deep into debt. In just a matter of months, it’s “like a night and day difference,” he said.

WATCH: Tech layoffs double from October to November

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Elon Musk suspends Ye’s Twitter account after swastika post

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Elon Musk suspends Ye's Twitter account after swastika post

Ye suspended from Twitter again after antisemitic post

Ye’s Twitter account was suspended again Friday for violating the social media platform’s rules on “incitement to violence,” CEO Elon Musk said.

The rapper, formerly known as Kanye West, appeared to post an image of a swastika, a symbol synonymous with the Nazis, inside a Star of David, a prominent symbol of Judaism.

Musk said he “tried his best” in response to Ye’s tweet, which can no longer be viewed. “Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Ye’s tweet came after he made antisemetic comments in an interview with the controversial radio host Alex Jones on Thursday. Ye referred to “the Jewish media” and said he saw “good things about Hitler” in an hourlong conversation with the conspiracy theorist.

In October, Twitter locked Ye’s account for an unspecified amount of time following a string of antisemitic remarks which escalated into threatening and hateful comments about Jewish people. He returned to Twitter in November.

Deals off

Elon Musk is the bravest, most creative person on the planet, says Netflix's Reed Hastings

The billionaire Tesla CEO, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” is finding the limits of that tested in his early days of owning Twitter.

‘Verified’ service

Musk has attempted to make sweeping changes in his first few days in charge, including gutting a huge swathe of Twitter’s workforce and launching an $8 per month “Verified” service that allows users to buy the coveted blue check mark.

Twitter was forced to pause its subscription service however after users abused it by paying the fee to get a blue check then impersonating celebrities.

Musk said last week that the “Verified” service would be relaunched on Friday with different colored check marks, but there has been no update on whether this is still the case.

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