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Why is Amazon exploring health wearables?

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon is reportedly considering a health-tracking wearable — and a lot of people in the health industry think it makes perfect sense.

The space is extremely crowded, and companies like Apple and Fitbit have been marketing health-tracking wearable devices for years. But Amazon is considering making its own move in the space, Bloomberg reports, with a device that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice, among other things.

The device might never reach consumers. Amazon, like most tech companies, frequently tests ideas internally that never see the light of day.

But it’s likely that Amazon will try, despite the competition and the challenges of developing new hardware. Here’s why it’s a no brainer for the company.

Filling in the gaps

A wearable device would let Amazon collect new types of data about customers to target products and advertisements to them more effectively.

Today, Amazon can theoretically collect lots of health data about its customers from their buying patterns. It sells over-the-counter medicines, glucometers and other health products via its marketplace. It could analyze dietary habits based on buying patterns at Whole Foods. And it has basic demographic information, which has some correlations to health and life expectancy. 

But Amazon has no way to know about its users’ habits once they stop shopping on Amazon, or engaging with an Echo device. It lacks information about its users on the go: Their commutes, lifestyles, social lives and fitness levels.

Meanwhile, other companies are garnering those insights, as wearables become increasingly popular.

“Health wearables have the potential to become as essential to consumers as the iPhone, and Amazon may be soon by competing with Apple as they both increase their focus on healthcare,” said Bill Evans, managing director of Rock Health, a health-tech research and investment firm.

Amazon knows wearables aren’t going anywhere. So if Amazon can carve out its own slice of the market, it could help the company target its customers with health-related products and even lifestyle interventions.

A sense of privacy

An Amazon wearable would give a more private way for consumers to interact with health professionals.

Amazon’s Alexa team recently announced that it is HIPAA-compliant, meaning it can work with health developers that manage protected health information. It would be natural to assume that doctors and therapists will someday be able to communicate with patients via Alexa, but health experts told CNBC that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In a nutshell, that’s because of privacy issues associated with a voice-activated device sitting in an open space. Imagine a teenager in a household having an intimate conversation with a doctor when a parent or friend walks in and overhears it.

Wearables like wristwatches or earbuds don’t have the same problem. Apple has repeatedly referred to its smartwatch as its most “personal device ever.”

It already has the team

We know Amazon has people with experience in health wearables.

Amazon hired a cardiologist last year called Maulik Majmudar, who has a lot of experience with setting up clinical studies for new wearable products. Prior to joining Amazon, Majmudar worked with a team at a start-up called Quanttus, which was developing a new way to track blood pressure via a wrist-worn wearable device.

The Bloomberg report notes that a beta testing program is underway, which presumably will involve some level of testing to ensure that any health information shared with a consumer is both accurate and sensitive. Majmudar has plenty of experience in doing that, and presenting the data to federal regulators.

Beyond that, it has scientists, engineers and physicians working across many of its research and development groups, including Lab126 and its secretive Grand Challenges health team. It has also hired a handful of doctors in recent years, including Majmudar and others, which would be useful in helping it position the device to the medical industry.

Cornering an important market

If Amazon gets into the wearables business, it could provide a monitoring system of sorts for consumers who are at risk for serious health events. Many older Americans are alone, and lack social connections, says Kyle Armbrester, the CEO of Signify Health, a company that provides services at home to people with chronic medical conditions. That might help Amazon corner a market of older, sicker and wealthier users, which mirrors general demographic trends.

“Simple things like check-ins can provide immense predictive power on how someone is doing, especially if there are deviations from a normal set of behavior over time,” said Armbrester.

Amazon, if it moves ahead with its plans, intends to learn a lot about its user’s emotional states, with a U.S. patent filing from 2017 describing a system in which voice software uses analysis of vocal patterns to determine feelings like “joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.”

At that point, Armbrester suggests, Amazon could use its existing expertise to provide solutions to problems before they become serious, such as a delivery of a medication via PillPack, the Internet pharmacy it acquired in 2018, or a shipment of food.

This would help Amazon build a connection with its consumers — and also unlock new revenue models in the $3.5 trillion health sector.

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Hong Kong protesters, police face off in renewed clashes

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Protesters in Hong Kong threw gasoline bombs and police fired tear gas Saturday in renewed clashes over anti-government grievances.

Reporters saw at least one person arrested after violence erupted following an afternoon march by several thousand people in Tuen Mun, a district in the northwest of the Chinese territory.

Hong Kong is in the fourth month of sometimes violent protests that occur every weekend. They started with opposition to a proposed extradition law and have expanded to include demands for greater democracy.

Most protesters in Tuen Mun were peaceful but some threw gasoline bombs and bricks toward police who faced them down the street. They appeared to fall short of the police and there was no indication anyone was hit.

In the evening, protesters gathered at a shopping mall in another district, Yuen Long. Some threw gasoline bombs in the street. A government statement said some were thrown toward police vehicles, endangering the officers inside, but gave no indication anyone was injured.

In both areas, police with riot helmets and shields responded by firing tear gas.

Elsewhere, scuffles were reported as government supporters heeded a call by a pro-Beijing member of the Hong Kong legislature to tear down protest posters at subway stations.

The events are an embarrassment for China’s Communist Party ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations of its 70th anniversary in power. Hong Kong’s government has canceled a fireworks display that day, citing concern for public safety.

The protesters in Tuen Mun marched about 2 kilometers (1 1/2 miles) from a playground to a government office building. Many were dressed in black and carried umbrellas, a symbol of their movement.

Protesters chanted, “Reclaim Hong Kong!” and “Revolution of our times!”

Most were peaceful but some took down a Chinese flag from a pole outside a government office and set fire to it. Protesters also set up barricades to block traffic.

A government statement said protesters caused unspecified damage to the Tuen Mun light rail station and threw objects onto the tracks.

An organizer quoted by government broadcaster RTHK criticized police for sending armed anti-riot officers.

That will “only escalate tension between protesters and police,” the organizer, Michael Mo, was quoted as saying.

Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has agreed to withdraw the extradition bill. But protesters are pressing other demands, including an independent investigation of complaints about police violence during earlier demonstrations.

Protesters complain Beijing and Lam’s government are eroding the “high degree of autonomy” and Western-style civil liberties promised to the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.

The protests have begun to weigh on Hong Kong’s economy, which already was slowing due to cooling global consumer demand. The Hong Kong airport said passenger traffic fell in August. Business is off at hotels and retailers.

Police refused permission for Saturday’s march but an appeal tribunal agreed to allow a two-hour event.

Protesters in Tuen Mun also complained about a group of women from mainland China who sing in a local park. Residents say they are too loud and accuse some of asking for money or engaging in prostitution.

Those complaints prompted a similar march in July, highlighting tension between Hong Kong residents and migrants from mainland China.

Later Saturday, protesters gathered at a mall in Yuen Long, where men with sticks beat protesters and subway passengers there on July 21 in an incident that caused controversy in Hong Kong.

Some protesters threw gasoline bombs on the street outside the Yoho Mall but there was no indication anyone was injured. Others started small fires in the street.

Also Saturday, there were brief scuffles as government supporters tore down protest posters at several subway stops, according to RTHK, the government broadcaster.

That campaign was initiated by a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature, Junius Ho.

Near the subway station in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood, a woman who was tearing down posters threw a bag at a reporter and a man shoved a cameraman, RTHK reported. It said there was pushing and shoving between the two sides at stations in Yuen Long and Lok Fu.

Ho made an appearance in the Shau Kei Wan neighborhood but residents shouted at him and told him to leave, RTHK said.

Ho initially called for protest signs to be torn down in all 18 of Hong Kong’s districts but he said Friday that would be reduced to clearing up trash from streets due to “safety concerns.”

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong Jockey Club canceled a horse race after some protesters suggested targeting the club because a horse owned by Ho was due to run.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong airport announced restrictions on access Sunday following what it said were calls to disrupt traffic there.

The airport train from downtown will skip Kowloon and other stops en route, the Airport Authority said. Only passengers with valid tickets and travel documents will be allowed into the airport.

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French police break up ‘yellow vest’ and ‘black bloc’ protests in Paris

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A banner is displayed during a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Charles Platiau | Reuters

French police fired tear gas and made over a hundred arrests in Paris on Saturday as they dispersed “yellow vest” protesters attempting unauthorized rallies and black-masked demonstrators who disrupted a climate march.

Police had made 137 arrests in Paris by mid-afternoon and had pushed back around one hundred protesters who gathered on the Champs-Elysees shopping avenue, the Paris police prefecture said.

The government deployed a massive police presence as it feared yellow-vest supporters and other activists, including “black bloc” anarchists, would take advantage of authorized protests over climate change and pension reform.

Some 7,500 police were mobilized, several districts including the Champs-Elysees were made out-of-bounds for protests, and over 30 metro stations closed.

A woman gestures as she attends a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Charles Platiau | Reuters

The climate rally saw sporadic confrontations between police and masked demonstrators who had infiltrated the march.

Groups wearing black clothing associated with the so-called black bloc anarchist movement formed barricades, set fire to bins and a motorbike, and threw paint over the front of a bank.

Similar skirmishes occurred later in the march with the prefecture again attributing violence to black blocs. Police responded with tear gas.

The violence tarnished an otherwise peaceful march that brought thousands of people, including some yellow vests, onto the streets, a day after marches in Paris and other cities worldwide to demand government action against climate change.

Riot police officers stand next to a burning barricade during a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Demonstrators carried slogans like “End oil now” and “End of the world” while some held carnival effigies, including one of President Emmanuel Macron wearing a crown marked “King of bla-bla”.

The yellow vests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, were holding a 45th consecutive Saturday of action. The movement emerged late last year, triggered by fuel tax rises and swelling into a revolt against Macron’s style of government.

Some of their protests have been marked by rioting, partly blamed on black blocs.

A separate march on Saturday was called by the FO trade union to contest the government’s planned overhaul of France’s retirement system. The proposed reform prompted a strike by metro workers on Sept. 13, shutting most of the underground network.

Police officers look on during a demonstration on Act 45 (the 45th consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Pascal Rossignol | Reuters

The authorities have also been taking precautions so protesters do not disrupt an annual heritage event this weekend that gives the public special access to many historic sites.

Some sites like the Arc de Triomphe monument have been closed while others like the Elysee presidential palace have required visitors to register in advance.

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Iran’s warnings to Saudi Arabia are ridiculous, Saudi’s Al-Jubeir says

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Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends a press event with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department on January 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Zach Gibson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Iran’s recent warnings to Saudi Arabia are “ridiculous” and “laughable” Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir told CNBC amid ongoing investigations by the kingdom tying Iran to a major attack on its oil facilities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in an interview Friday that he hoped to avoid conflict, but that Iran was prepared for “all-out war” in the event of attack by Saudi or U.S. forces. He then questioned whether Saudi Arabia was ready to fight “to the last American soldier.”

“This is not the first time Iran’s foreign minister has said something ridiculous and frankly laughable,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Riyadh on Saturday.

His comments come amid a state of heightened tension between Saudi Arabia, Iran and the U.S. following drone and missile attacks on two Saudi oil facilities a week ago. The attacks, claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have suggested that Iran had a role in, or was responsible for, the attack on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facility. Iran has denied the accusations, calling them “meaningless” and “pointless.”

Asked about next steps, the minister asserted that Saudi Arabia was responsible for its own defenses ⁠— which were criticized as having failed to effectively counter the drone and missile attacks ⁠— but stressed the international community’s role in reigning in what he called Iran’s aggressive behavior.

“It is our responsibility to protect our borders, our people, our infrastructure ⁠— but the world also has responsibility to make sure Iran isn’t allowed to get away with murder, to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf and Arabian Sea so global energy supply isn’t disrupted,” he said.

Engagement with Iran, like the efforts of Germany and France in launching a trade mechanism that would bypass U.S. sanctions, is nothing more than appeasement and will only condone the country’s behavior, al-Jubeir added.

“If you think being lax with Iran will make it behave better, that hasn’t happened in 40 years and won’t happen,” he said. “The idea that Iran can be offered loans we believe is appeasement. Anytime anybody has appeased Iran in the last 40 years, Iran has used that to cause mischief.”

Iran defends its testing and development of ballistic missiles as self-defense. Earlier this year the Donald Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, accusing it of destabilizing activity across the Middle East and supporting militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have stopped short of any retaliatory action against Iran, although on Friday the Pentagon announced that it will deploy additional U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Jubeir said the strikes represented attacks not just on Saudi Arabia but on the entire international community.

Extensive repair work is underway on the two damaged oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive Amin Nasser has reportedly told employees of the state oil giant that the company had emerged from attacks on its oil facilities “stronger than ever” and added that full oil production would resume by the end of this month.

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