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Don’t Watch Porn at Work and Other Tips

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“If someone asked you before, ‘Do you want to sign up for a world in which your co-workers see inside of your house all the time?’, the answer would probably be ‘no,’” said Kelly Williams Brown, an etiquette expert.

Whelp, here we are. In a recent poll, one in four American workers said they’d been working from home entirely.

The line between our personal and professional spaces may be blurred, but in many ways, the rules of conduct are the same. For starters, it is still not OK to expose your genitalia to your co-workers, like Jeffrey Toobin, a writer for The New Yorker, did in a recent Zoom call. Nor should you look at pornography on your work computer — unless that is literally your job.

With our offices situated steps away from our living rooms and kitchens, it is easy to forget that our work computer is still for work, and that our colleagues are not our roommates.

“When people are sitting in their homes, it’s easy to multitask, to go between work and home,” said Samantha Ettari, the privacy counsel at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. “It’s tempting to do everything on your work laptop.” But, she said, it’s important to “protect your private space.”

Many of us are now living with grown-up versions of the “I came to school naked” nightmare: Texts to your girlfriend showing in your work chats. The nude self-portrait you painted popping up in a video chat on the wall behind you. Your collection of cannabis cookbooks appearing in the background of a video call with your boss.

“When you do these work video Zooms, you’re letting people into your home, but you’re still in a work environment,” Ms. Ettari said. From a legal perspective, that means you are still protected from discriminatory actions. For example, if you have a disability that your employer did not know about, they cannot retaliate against you based on that information.

Of course, much of what we do not want people to see has nothing to do with legality. Our concerns are more about the impressions we make.

“First of all, turn off your camera when you don’t need it,” said Lorrie Cranor, the director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Or, “get a tiny webcam cover,” said Ms. Brown, the author of “Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact and Unsinkable Strength.” “You don’t have to worry about turning your video off. You will truly know that nobody can see you. That’s a lot of security for $8.” Dr. Cranor said a Post-it or a piece of opaque tape works, too.

When your camera is on, Dr. Cranor said, “make sure your computer is facing the wall.” She added: “Other than your cat dropping in, it should be hard for anyone to get into the frame.” Both Dr. Cranor and Ms. Brown suggested making use of virtual backgrounds. (Here is a guide to the dos and don’ts of video meetings.)

Finally, Dr. Cranor said, “never share your whole screen, just share the particular application,” such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Word. If you’re hosting the meeting, you can disable other people’s ability to share their screens.

“Make a very quick joke and move right on,” Ms. Brown said. “Say, ‘That was a lot more than I intended to share with you today. I’m sorry about that.’ The less you react to it the less others will react to it.” She noted that, in most cases, people are sympathetic.

“If you have a bra in the background, presumably your co-workers know you wear bras or they could assume you do,” she said. The news will not be a revelation.

Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and host of the podcast “Awesome Etiquette,” recommended being sincere when apologizing, and letting people know it will not happen again.

How to judge if something you did or experienced is a serious offense? Think of it this way: If it is something that would not fly in your office, it is a no-go in a professional video meeting, conference call, or on your company-issued laptop or phone.

Remember, sexual harassment in the workplace does not need to occur inside of the office. If you experience sexual harassment, including in the digital space, you have options, such as making a criminal complaint, alerting your employer or going to a government agency.

“It depends on the offense,” Ms. Post said. “If background noise is getting in the way, like the dog is barking, the kids are screeching, the construction is loud, those are things you can say, ‘Jim, do you mind muting for the background noise right now?’ You can be direct and upfront. If Jim doesn’t realize in any capacity that he’s doing embarrassing things, I would try to call or text Jim.”

Ms. Post pointed out that in some cases, your colleague’s actions might be beyond a faux pas. “Like the Jeffrey Toobin incident,” she said. “It’s so egregious, it has to be dealt with then and there. Say, ‘Your camera is on and it shouldn’t be right now, shut it off and we will discuss it later.’ Or ‘we will end the call and discuss it now.’”

“With any group larger than three you should be muted if you’re not talking,” Ms. Brown said. “The less people that are muted, the more that video call makes all of us subtly crazy because we were not designed to hear 10 environments at once.”

Ms. Post said the host of the conversation should take on the responsibility of muting and un-muting people, if they have that capability.

There are accessories that can make the mute-unmute transition simpler. “I got these gamer headphones with a microphone,” Ms. Brown said. “The sound quality is much better for hosting panels. Mine have a little button that can mute and un-mute.” (Here are some recommended from Wirecutter.)

“I think it’s a good idea to at least be present at the beginning of the call,” Ms. Brown said. “If it’s a meeting where you’re not presenting, it’s nice to show up, smile, greet people and once people start talking, turn your camera off.”

After all, once upon a time, many of us used to put on professional costumes and commute to our offices. If you were able to put in that amount of effort, you should probably still be willing to show your face on a screen.

Appearing on video might also be a nice way to support your co-workers. When people have their cameras off and are muted and only one person is visible and speaking, Ms. Brown said, “there’s something eerie about it.” She added: “If it’s a shy co-worker or you want to be able to give body language feedback in real time, that’s a good reason to keep your camera on.”

Not all employers monitor what you do on the devices they issue. Some will block entire websites, or regulate how, where and when you can use the company-issued device.

Or, “they could be monitoring you by having software on your computer that’s logging your keystrokes or taking a screenshot of what you’re doing,” Dr. Cranor said.

In some cases, all of your work computer’s web requests go through the employer’s proxy system, so whoever is tracking you can see what websites you visited.

Some companies do not just want to know what you are doing during work hours; they want to know where you are doing it, too, and will track where your devices are.

When it comes to newer technologies, like Slack or WhatsApp, Ms. Ettari said that your company might not be able to monitor you in real time, depending on privacy settings or if the applications are loaded onto personal devices.

But that does not guarantee that your communications will remain private, even if they took place on your personal phone. For example, if you send work-related texts on your own phone and are later pulled into a lawsuit related to that work, your records could be required as evidence in court.

On a nonwork-related note, if you are wondering how to keep your personal exchanges safe, consider using messaging apps with end-to-end encryption options, like Signal. For more on that, read the guide to “Communicating With Others” from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization.

“If your employer is monitoring which websites you’re going to, every now and then, when you go to a website, there’s a notice that says you’re not allowed to go there,” Dr. Cranor said. Some employers have an alert set up for each time you log in that will tell you that you’re being watched.

To find out whether your company keeps track of your digital activities, ask the I.T. department or human resources, or check your employee handbook.

But does your employer have to tell you that they’re monitoring you? Not always.

Unions sometimes negotiate contracts that require employers to notify workers that they’re being watched. Some government employees fall under the scope of federal protections that require the same.

But when it comes to most private enterprises, the requirements depend on the state. Search for “electronic monitoring notice law” and your state’s name to see where your state stands.

“Some states have laws requiring employers to provide notice if they’re monitoring your email,” Ms. Ettari said. “A very small handful of states make them provide a daily notice.” Others have no laws around the issue.

All the experts agreed: When you’re working, treat your at-home office the way you would your regular office. Based on what employer allows, it may be perfectly acceptable to spend a work break reading consumer reviews of hiking boots or texting your friends to plan trivia night.

“Employers and colleagues should adjust expectations and allow a certain amount of grace when it comes to workers’ personal lives bleeding into the workday — whether it’s taking time for child care, virtual schooling, looking after pets or managing our own well-being,” Dena Haritos Tsamitis, the director of the Information Networking Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote in an email.

Ideally you could switch over to a personal computer, phone or tablet during your break, if possible.

After hours, the same theory applies. Take care when using your employer’s devices and inquire what expectations and rules surround your usage of them.

Close it!

“If you were there for five seconds and closed it and they are not monitoring closely, it won’t trigger any issues probably,” Dr. Cranor said. Consider telling someone what happened. “If you click a link that’s legitimate and it takes you somewhere that’s not legitimate, you should think about reporting it to your tech people,” Ms. Ettari said. “You could have been the victim of a phishing scam that introduced malware into your company system.”

If you’re concerned about how private your browser is, review its security settings, and check out these protective add-ons from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Dr. Cranor said there is a lot of confusion around “incognito mode.”

“The main thing it gets you is that it doesn’t store the list of websites you’ve visited on your computer,” she said. Incognito mode does not provide a shield of anonymity. “If your employer is tracking you, they’ll still be able to track you if you’re using incognito mode.”

“We are all responsible for setting boundaries between our personal and professional lives,” Dr. Haritos Tsamitis said. She suggested taking broad steps to separate different parts of your life. “This means sticking to scheduled work hours, creating a designated work space, restricting your work email to work-related communication and using your personal email for everything else,” she said.

But generally, you can be sure that some things are no-nos, such as anything that is illegal.

Do not spam people, do not harass anyone, do not download movies and shows illegally, and definitely, “don’t look at pornography,” Dr. Cranor said.

As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Haritos Tsamitis wrote, “behave as though you are physically in the office even when working from home.”

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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