My iPhone got hacked once, but the only fallout was that it sent my contacts a bizarre email containing only a fish emoji (really). The billionaire Jeff Bezos apparently wasn’t so lucky — but of course, his phone contents are far juicier than mine. For more on that strange story, and the business and tech news you need to know for the week ahead, read on.
What’s Up? (Jan. 26-Feb. 1)
Delete My Number
An investigation commissioned by Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the richest man in the world, found evidence that his iPhone had been hacked after he received messages from an account apparently belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Where to begin? According to the report, the two men exchanged phone numbers at a dinner back in 2018. Then Mr. Bezos received a weird video from Prince Mohammed containing malware that may have given the Saudis access to his private photos and messages (very awkward, particularly as he was having an extramarital affair at the time). The bad blood is part of a bigger picture: Last year, the prince is said to have ordered the brutal killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a columnist for The Washington Post, which Mr. Bezos owns. The Saudi royal family has denied these accusations.
Depressing News at Davos
Global leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week to fret about everything from climate change to a somber new report from the charity Oxfam that the world’s eight richest people (all men) have as much wealth as the bottom half. President Trump gave a speech bemoaning the state of the embattled aircraft manufacturer Boeing as well as his impeachment trial. And amid widespread alarm over the rising economic impact of global warming, the 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg implored business leaders to divest from fossil fuels. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later dismissed her plea, although many other attendees seemed to take it seriously: The hot trend this year was corporations pledging to make their business practices greener.
A Bank’s Boss Pays the Price
It’s rare for the head of a big company to take the fall for his underlings’ actions, but at Wells Fargo, it actually happened. The bank’s former chief executive John G. Stumpf was fined $17.5 million — the largest individual fine in the history of federal banking regulation — for his role in fostering a toxic culture that encouraged employees to foist fake accounts and unnecessary financial products on millions of unsuspecting customers. He is one of the bank’s 5,300 workers who have lost their jobs over the scandal. He is also barred for life from working in the banking industry.
What’s Next? (Feb. 2-8)
Fuss Over FICO Scores
Take a good look at your FICO score: It may be changing soon. The most widely used credit rating in the country is getting a new set of criteria, said Fair Isaac, the company behind it. And for many people, that’s not great news. Those with rising debt levels and overdue payments will be judged more harshly. The new scoring system will also flag consumers who sign up for personal loans — a category of debt that has skyrocketed in recent years as borrowers use it as a stopgap for ballooning credit card bills. The new system is likely to make it harder for struggling Americans to borrow money. But it will look even more kindly on those whose scores are already high.
A Plague on the Economy
The mysterious, deadly coronavirus outbreak in China is causing widespread panic and a significant dip in global markets. And its timing couldn’t be worse for businesses. Lunar New Year, a weeklong holiday that’s usually full of travel, shopping and gift giving, began on Friday. (It’s technically the largest human migration on the planet.) But this year, many people are canceling their plans and staying home because of travel bans and fear of contagion. While the virus is still spreading, it’s hard to gauge its economic impact so far, but a serious blow to China’s consumer market is likely to reverberate around the world.
Brexit Is Nigh
For years, Brexit was a hopeless quagmire of parliamentary rancor, but now it looks as if Britain will withdraw quite uneventfully from the European Union by next Friday’s deadline. What a difference a few months — and a strong Conservative majority in Parliament — make. The final Brexit plan is expected to be approved by European Union officials within a few days. But that isn’t the end of it. In the coming months, British and European representatives still have to hash out a trade deal, which may prove just as difficult to negotiate — if not more so — as Brexit itself.
The executive in charge of Hallmark TV stepped down after the network apologized for removing an ad that showed two brides kissing. Boeing has once again pushed back the date that the 737 Max jet — which has been grounded since March over safety problems — will be cleared to return to the air. (Now, it’s looking more like mid-2020.) And in London, police are setting off a new privacy debate by deploying facial recognition software to identify people on the street, in real time, with video cameras — a level of surveillance that’s rare outside China.