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AnitaB.org, the tech organization behind the conference, said Palantir enables human rights abuses of asylum seekers. Palantir provides and maintains software used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to screen migrants and conduct raids; the firm renewed a US$50-million contract with the agency earlier in August. AnitaB’s move follows a petition calling for the drop by a group called NoTechForICE; it had 337 signatories at the time of publication. The petitioners continue to demand that AnitaB cuts partnerships with organizations that work with ICE, including Amazon and Microsoft. Palantir has not commented on the decision. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest conference for women in computing: in 2018, it drew 20,000 attendees from 78 different countries; past speakers have included Anita Hill and Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It joins a growing chorus of groups calling on tech firms like Palantir to halt their work with ICE, including some Palantir employees. At least two employee letters have circulated within the company that criticize its business with the agency, but CEO Alex Karp continues to defend the contracts, citing his commitment to working with the U.S. government, whose immigration policy he has described as “fair but rigorous.” AnitaB has a history of cutting sponsors it deems out of line with its values. In 2017, it ended a partnership with Uber over the latter’s treatment of women employees. Following that— and mounting pressure from advocacy groups—Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned. Most of the Palantir criticism has been focused in the U.S., but the company is expanding significantly in Canada. In June, my colleague Murad reported that the firm had inked a million-dollar contract with the defence department. That was the first time the federal government had admitted working with the company. And, earlier in August, David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., announced he was leaving his diplomatic post to join Palantir.

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Amazon is offering credit to Prime members who download Amazon Assistant, a browser extension that displays competing offers from Amazon on other retailers’ websites. (Reuters)

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Talking point: Amazon is the only large online retailer that runs a browser extension aimed at drawing users away from competitors’ websites. This is the second year the firm has offered this promotion; last year’s credit was US$5. The tool has a wide user base, with about seven million downloads on Chrome and 400,000 on Firefox, but there’s room for it to grow: Amazon Prime has about 100 million users. Other tech giants have attempted similar pay-for-data tools before. Facebook attempted to pay users for deeper access to their data with an iOS app in June. Apple quickly shut down the app and temporarily revoked Facebook’s developer certificate, citing privacy concerns. Unlike Facebook, though, Amazon’s add-on doesn’t rely on Apple’s participation.

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The company will use software from Los Angeles-based TruTrace, to track medical cannabis the way it does other legal drugs, in advance of a rollout to direct cannabis sales at over 1,300 stores across the country. The project will launch next month and is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. (Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: This move puts Shoppers even further ahead of other pharmacies when it comes to medical cannabis. It is currently the only pharmacy authorized to sell, although London Drugs and Rexall are training staff on the product. TruTrace is hoping a successful pilot will allow it to build similar partnerships with Walgreens and CVS in the U.S., as a growing number of states legalize medical cannabis. Standardization and origin tracking could also reassure doctors, some of whom have been reluctant to prescribe cannabis, despite its legalization in 2018, over concerns about what precisely is in the product.

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Ontario residents can now buy cannabis on the pharmacy chain’s e-commerce platform, but must first provide medical documents in-person at a retail location. (Canadian Press)

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Talking point: Shoppers has the scale and customer base to take a major share of the cannabis retail market in Ontario. Parent company Loblaw has long advocated that the government allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana—but in brick-and-mortar stores, not online. In Ontario, the province has a monopoly on recreational cannabis e-commerce, and will only license 25 private physical locations in the first wave on April 1, 2019. That makes focusing on online medical marijuana—as Loblaw is doing for now—a smart move. Meanwhile, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is accusing Ontario Premier Doug Ford of using police to stop unionization attempts at Domain Logistics, which handles some of the cannabis for the province’s online store. It’s worth noting that OPSEU provided no evidence that Ford directed the alleged police attempts, and that the union has opposed Ontario government’s privatization of retail sales.

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The retailer bought into Maple, a Toronto telemedicine provider, after its Shoppers Drug Mart chain partnered with the company to offer virtual consultations as COVID-19 spread throughout Canada. (The Logic)

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Talking point: An industry source told The Globe and Mail the retailer purchased 20 to 25 per cent of Maple, which has a staff of 70 and annualized revenue of about $25 million. Shoppers president Jeff Leger said telemedicine “really became a critically important way of accessing care” during the pandemic and believes “there is a meaningful change, a tipping point in terms of how health care is accessed in Canada.” Loblaw started investing in health care with the purchase of Shoppers in 2014, and more recently the $170-million purchase of electronic-medical-record firm QHR in 2016.

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The Loblaw subsidiary launched a no-monthly-fee bank account linked to its loyalty program. It marks PC Financial’s first move back to everyday banking since it and CIBC severed ties in 2017. (The Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: The new account links to Loblaw’s PC Optimum loyalty program. The retailer merged two existing programs—Shoppers Optimum and PC Plus—in 2018, and it’s since grown it to some 18 million consumers. The new bank accounts will allow customers to earn loyalty points on every dollar they spend, online bill payments over $50, setting up direct deposit and other moves. PC Financial president Barry Columb said consumer research has shown customers want “rewards.” Building loyalty helps Loblaw retain customers and boost profits. It can also mine the data to deliver targeted ads, among other things.

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Amazon also wants to fill 33,000 job vacancies in the U.S.. The company also shared plans for two new warehouses and five delivery stations, one of which has already opened, in Ontario. (The Logic, CNBC)

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Talking point: Amazon’s Career Day announcements boasting thousands of jobs acknowledge the economic reality of COVID-19, which has left many Americans and Canadians unemployed. “COVID-19 continues to affect millions of people across the country, and people are eager for the opportunity to get back to work,” said Beth Galetti, senior vice-president of human resources, in the American announcement; Canada’s unemployment rate hit a record high of 13.7 per cent in May. The jobs, along with the new warehouses and delivery stations, come as online shoppers have turned to e-commerce in droves amid the pandemic, boosting Amazon’s bottom line in its most recent quarter. The company hired 36,400 people in the three months ended June 30, growing 34 per cent year over year.