An NFT of the World Wide Web sells for $5.4 million.
The source code to an early implementation of the web created by Tim Berners-Lee was sold as an NFT by Sotheby’s. Bidders had a week to name their highest price for the source code in an auction called “This Changed Everything.”
NFTs represent “the most appropriate means of ownership that exists,” Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, said in a statement.Credit…Sotheby’s
NFTs, the hottest collectible that has been embraced by the founder of Twitter, the National Basketball Association and the artist who created a flying cat with a Pop-Tart body, has cast its reach back to the beginning of the digital age: the source code to an early version of World Wide Web.
Sotheby’s on Wednesday auctioned off the code, created by Tim Berners-Lee, in the form of a nonfungible token, or NFT, for $5.4 million with fees. Sotheby’s said it was accepting payment in cryptocurrency for both the hammer price and its buyer fee.
The winning bidder will remain anonymous, per auction house rules, but that could change if the buyer steps forward.
Bidding began at $1,000, and bidders had a week to name their highest price in the auction, called “This Changed Everything.” The NFT attracted 51 bids, according to Sotheby’s website, and the proceeds will go toward unnamed initiatives supported by Mr. Berners-Lee. Unlike some NFTs, the offering failed to inspire a last-minute flurry of demand, with the winning bid having been offered just under 10 minutes before the close of the auction.
“It’s nice to see it sell for a value commensurate with its historic significance,” said Jeremy Norman, a California-based rare book and manuscripts dealer specializing in the history of science.
He regards Mr. Berners-Lee’s 1989 invention as an innovation as significant as Johannes Gutenberg’s development of movable type in the 15th century. “It’s unbelievably important in the history of science and technology,” Mr. Norman said.
The NFT is an early copy of the code, a version of which has long been available in the public domain, but the token auctioned by Sotheby’s represents the original archive of the time-stamped files. “It’s authenticating that first code that was created and then selling it as memorabilia,” said Merav Ozair, an assistant professor who teaches finance and technology at Rutgers Business School.
The auction included the original time-stamped files containing the source code, an animated visualization of the code, a letter written by Mr. Berners-Lee reflecting on the code and the process of creating it and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.
A section of code from the NFT created by Mr. Berners-Lee that was auctioned off by Sotheby’s on Wednesday.Credit…Sotheby’s
“We couldn’t have sold this 10 years ago, but now NFTs have enabled us to do it,” Cassandra Hatton, a vice president and global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s, said in an interview. “Previously in the history of science you had manuscripts you could hold in your hand. As we move forward, more and more of these manuscripts are created in a digital format.” (She noted, however, that the code that was auctioned “does not represent any ownership of the World Wide Web as an application.”)
Ms. Hatton said Sotheby’s collaborated with Mr. Berners-Lee, who had approached the auction house, to create an NFT that was understandable and visually appealing to the widest possible audience.
The British inventor has long been an advocate of giving individuals greater control over their data. He started an open-source software project, Solid, in an effort to decentralize the web, and he later founded a company, Inrupt, with John Bruce to encourage the adoption of open-source technology.
NFTs represent “the most appropriate means of ownership that exists,” Mr. Berners-Lee said in a statement released this month by Sotheby’s.
The tokens rely on blockchain technology, similar to the computer code that makes many cryptocurrencies possible. They have become popular in the art world because they allow artists to have more control over their works by selling limited-edition digital goods directly to consumers.
“An NFT is by definition a unique token. Each token has a unique hash number or a unique signature of an artist on their creation,” Professor Ozair said. “With this hash number, you can trace each NFT to the origin and the creator.”
In the past six months, auctioneers have sold a computer-generated illustration by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple; digital Hot Wheels art made by Mattel; and even a New York Times column.
But the highly speculative market for NFTs has also cooled in recent months.
On May 9, the price of Ether, the cryptocurrency to which the values of NFTs are pegged, soared to $3,883, more than five times its price at the beginning of the year, according to coindesk.com. At that point, weekly completed sales of NFTs at dedicated marketplaces on the Ethereum blockchain (which do not include Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions) reached a high of $176 million, said nonfungible.com, which charts the performance of the NFT market.
By May 20, weekly NFT sales had slumped to $19.2 million, a decline of 89 percent, and have flatlined at below $20 million, according to the database. The price of Ether has fallen, too, dipping below $1,800 in June.
This correction in NFT sales, or “stabilization phenomenon,” as the nonfungible.com blog preferred to call it, was due in part to the steep fall in the price of Ether as well as the age-old, ever-irrational cycle of boom and bust.
“Things have settled down,” said Anders Petterson, co-author of the “NFT Art Market Report,” published in May by ArtTactic, a London-based art market analysis company.
“The NFT market reached such high levels that people began to question where was the value,” Mr. Petterson said. “It got saturated. There was a massive supply of new artists, and we don’t have a qualitative benchmark. If you can’t explain value beyond the fact that people are buying it, it becomes difficult.”
But the top-end traditional auction houses, with their formidable global marketing machines, continue to set one-off benchmarks for NFTs. In June, when the specialist marketplace for “nifties” was still supposedly in the doldrums, Sotheby’s sold a rare “alien” CryptoPunk for a record $11.8 million, the second-highest price ever achieved for an individual NFT.
But Mr. Norman, the book dealer, was skeptical that the Berners-Lee NFT will create a surge in demand for computer code nonfungibles.
“There’s a real question of how much people will be interested in collecting digital,” Mr. Norman said. “The amount of digital information being generated is just incalculably gigantic. Everyone with a computer generates something. How much of it matters?”
Lina Khan was named the chair of the Federal Trade Commission this month.Credit…Pool photo by Graeme Jennings
Amazon demanded on Wednesday that Lina Khan, the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission and an avowed critic of the company, recuse herself from any antitrust investigation into the e-commerce giant.
The company argued in a 25-page petition to the F.T.C. that Ms. Kahn could not be impartial in antitrust matters involving the company because she had been intensely critical of Amazon as a scholar and writer and because she had worked on the staff of a congressional investigation of the company.
“At a minimum, this record creates the appearance that the F.T.C., under Chair Khan’s leadership, would not be a neutral and impartial evaluator of the evidence developed in any antitrust investigation against Amazon or in deciding whether to bring enforcement actions against the company,” the company said in the filing.
Amazon said Ms. Khan should be recused from “at least all of the current antitrust investigations of Amazon of which the commission has notified Amazon.” The company is the subject of an F.T.C. inquiry, as well as investigations by state attorneys general.
A spokeswoman for the F.T.C., Lindsay Kryzak, declined to comment on the petition.
The petition shows how the major tech companies are trying to defang and discredit efforts by the Biden administration and lawmakers to regulate the industry. They have lobbied against bills that would ban some of their business practices, supported outside advocacy groups that defend their position and hired scores of lawyers to fend off investigations.
She told lawmakers at her April confirmation hearing that she saw a “whole range of potential risks” around the companies and signaled that she intended to try to address those risks while at the agency.
Amazon said that if Ms. Khan played a role in antitrust investigations of Amazon, it would violate federal ethics rules and the firm’s right to due process.
The company attached a statement from Thomas D. Morgan, a George Washington University law professor emeritus, supporting its position. Mr. Morgan said Amazon had paid him to provide his opinion.
The Robinhood app became the venue of choice for much of the meme stock mania that boosted shares in companies like GameStop and AMC Entertainment.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times
Robinhood Financial, the online stock-trading app, was fined $70 million by the securities industry’s self-regulator on Wednesday for a series of failures that the agency said hurt Robinhood’s customers.
The announcement came ahead of Robinhood filing an investment prospectus to go public, which is likely to land later this week, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The company’s initial public offering is expected to be one of the highest profile of the year.
The fine, the largest ever imposed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is known as FINRA, was the latest legal punishment for Robinhood. The eight-year-old start-up has upended the online brokerage business by introducing fee-free trading and gained prominence this year as the venue of choice for much of the stock-trading mania that boosted shares in companies like GameStop and AMC Entertainment.
The Silicon Valley company has repeatedly been accused of operational and regulatory lapses by regulators and lawmakers that, critics said, left customers exposed to sometimes ruinous losses. Robinhood has already paid tens of millions of dollars in fines, including $65 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, for misleading customers about its business.
In its announcement on Wednesday, FINRA said that the fine covered issues like false and misleading information and the harm suffered by customers from systems outages in March 2020. The regulator said Robinhood must follow rules that were designed to protect investors and the markets.
“Compliance with these rules is not optional and cannot be sacrificed for the sake of innovation or a willingness to ‘break things’ and fix them later,” Jessica Hopper, the head of FINRA’s enforcement department, said in a statement.
Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay, a spokeswoman for Robinhood, said in a statement, “We are glad to put this matter behind us and look forward to continuing to focus on our customers and democratizing finance for all.”
Robinhood, which was founded by Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, has long had a mission of democratizing finance. It grew by attracting investors — especially younger ones — with its no-fee trading. But the company has faced questions about whether it encouraged overly risky trading with its lack of fees and features such as behavioral nudges and push notifications that critics said created a gambling-like atmosphere.
Baiju Bhatt, left, and Vlad Tenev, the founders of Robinhood, in 2016. Credit…Aaron Wojack for The New York Times
Last year, a 31-year-old customer died by suicide after discovering a negative $730,000 balance in his Robinhood account, a figure that was somewhat inflated because of incomplete trades.
In recent months, prominent investors have also criticized Robinhood and its practices. This week, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway called for stronger regulation of the app on CNBC, with Mr. Munger calling Robinhood “a gambling parlor masquerading as a respectable business.”
In its announcement of the fine on Wednesday, FINRA said Robinhood had given customers wrong information about how to trade on margin, or with borrowed money. The company also failed to closely scrutinize some customers who were approved to trade in stock options, despite red flags suggesting they were not suited for that kind of high-risk trading, the regulator said.
FINRA also faulted Robinhood for system outages between 2018 and 2020 that locked customers out of their accounts during huge market swings, saddling some traders with thousands of dollars in losses. And the regulator announced a $30 million education initiative for new investors.
The penalty may help lift regulatory uncertainty that had weighed on Robinhood’s plans to go public. The company, which is privately valued at nearly $12 billion, has been expected to officially publish its I.P.O. prospectus for several months.
In a blog post, Robinhood outlined expansions it has made to support investors, including adding customer support employees and a hotline. The company did not have a phone number for customers to call with issues or questions in its early years, which has drawn criticism.
Robinhood also highlighted improvements it has made to help avoid outages, as well as “more rigorous criteria” for risky options trading that it began applying in September.
It still faces other legal challenges, including a lawsuit by the top securities regulator in Massachusetts that seeks to bar the company from operating there. The state’s securities regulator has claimed that Robinhood uses “aggressive tactics” and “gamification” to attract inexperienced investors to trade on its platform. The S.E.C. is separately continuing a review of January’s “meme stock” rally.
At the time, Robinhood halted trades on certain stocks, which enraged customers and prompted nearly 50 customer lawsuits.
Robinhood has raised billions of dollars in funding from investors such as Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates. During the meme stock rally, it raised $1 billion and then another $2.4 billion in quick succession after it was strained by the high volume of trading through its app.
In a February congressional hearing about the meme stock rally, in which Robinhood was cast as the villain, Mr. Tenev took an apologetic tone.
“I’m not going to say that Robinhood did everything perfect,” he said.
Matthew Goldstein contributed reporting.
A Ford Motor assembly line in Dearborn, Mich. The automaker had hoped a chip shortage would ease in the second half of the year.Credit…Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
Ford Motor said on Wednesday that it would have to keep some North American production suspended into July because of a global shortage of computer chips.
The automaker started idling plants and reducing output early this year, including cutting production by roughly 50 percent in the second quarter. Ford had hoped the shortage would ease in the second half of 2021.
The company said the impact of the shutdowns on shipments to dealers would be reduced somewhat because it now has the parts to finish thousands of nearly complete vehicles that were being held at plants until the necessary components became available.
“Our teams continue making the most of our available semiconductor allocation, finding unique solutions to provide as many high-quality vehicles as possible to our dealers and customers,” Ford said in a statement.
Ford said its Chicago assembly plant, which makes the Explorer and Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicles, would be idle for four weeks in July and restart production the week of Aug. 2. A production line at a Kansas City, Mo., factory where the company makes the F-150 pickup truck will be idled for two weeks in July, while a second line that makes vans will close for one week, the company said.
A Kentucky truck plant that makes the Ford Expedition S.U.V. and heavy-duty pickups will close for one week in July, and operate two shifts instead of three for the rest of the month. Other plants, in Dearborn, Mich.; Oakville, Ontario; and Hermosillo, Mexico, will slow production by eliminating shifts or restricting production to certain models.
Ford expects the shortage to reduce its operating profit this year by $2.5 billion, to between $5.5 billion to $6.5 billion.
Gender equality has been a longtime priority for Melinda French Gates.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday pledged $2.1 billion in spending on gender equality over five years, one of its largest single commitments in two decades of work, amid an economic crisis that has driven women out of work in record numbers.
“We are very concerned that the global recovery is failing women,” said Anita Zaidi, president of the foundation’s gender equality division. “We have to use this moment to reignite attention on women and girls’ issues.”
The foundation announced its commitment at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, convened by U.N. Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality, where more than $40 billion has been pledged from governments, firms and other philanthropies.
Gender equality has been a longtime priority for Melinda French Gates, who announced in 2019 that she would invest $1 billion over a decade toward advancing the issue through her firm, Pivotal Ventures, noting that gender-focused work has been perennially underfunded. The Gates Foundation’s funding will go toward increasing access to contraceptives and reproductive health, expanding job training and promoting women’s leadership in various fields including health, law and economics.
The foundation noted that the need was heightened as men worldwide regained jobs lost during the pandemic and women continued to lose theirs; two million more women expected to leave the work force this year.
“Women face structural barriers that have made them more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impacts,” Ms. French Gates wrote in a report released Wednesday. “Eliminating these barriers will jump-start the recovery.”
The Gates Foundation’s commitment comes at an uncertain time for the organization, which had a $49.9 billion endowment in 2020. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates announced they were divorcing in May and are weighing changes to the foundation’s governance. This month, Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway and a longtime trustee of the foundation, stepped down.
A Renault Zoe at a showroom in England. A popular electric vehicle in Europe, the Zoe is facing increasing competition from Volkswagen and Tesla.Credit…Nick Carey/Reuters
The French carmaker Renault on Wednesday became the latest to go all in on electric vehicles, saying that by 2030 batteries will power all but of a small fraction of the vehicles bearing its name.
During an online presentation, Renault executives outlined a future where electric cars would be cheaper than fossil-fuel models and as practical. Improvements in manufacturing and technology will cut the cost of batteries, the most costly component in an electric car, by more than half by the end of the decade, they said. Vehicles on sale as early as 2026 will be able to recharge to 80 percent of capacity in 12 minutes, Renault executives said.
“We want to democratize electric technology,” said Luca de Meo, who will mark his first anniversary as chief executive of Renault on Thursday.
The auto industry is increasingly divided between companies that have committed decisively to electric vehicles, like Volkswagen, General Motors and Volvo, and those that are more cautious, like BMW and Toyota. Renault joined the converts Wednesday, saying it expected that 90 percent of Renault brand cars would be electric by 2030.
After losing 8 billion euros, or $9.5 billion, last year, Renault has been struggling to fix its partnership with the Japanese carmaker Nissan and show that it can survive technological upheaval in the car industry.
Mr. de Meo argued that Renault could draw on a decade of experience making electric cars, which he said had given the company unique insight into the technology and the behavior of electric car drivers. The compact Renault Zoe is one of the best-selling electric vehicles in Europe but is an aging design and faces increasing competition from Volkswagen and Tesla.
European car companies are effectively required to sell electric vehicles in order to meet increasingly tough limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Volkswagen had to pay a EUR100 million fine after failing to meet the limits for 2020, in part because software problems delayed the rollout of a new line of battery-powered cars.
Mr. de Meo said Renault would be able to comfortably meet the standards even as they became more stringent. Next year the company plans to begin selling a battery-powered version of its mainstay Megane, part of a fleet of electric cars that will eventually include an S.U.V., an update of the classic Renault 5 hatchback and a sports car.
Renault’s plan calls for manufacturing to remain concentrated in France, including a battery factory in Douai, in northern France, built in conjunction with Envision AESC, a subsidiary of Envision Group of China. Factories that now make internal combustion engines will convert to production of electric motors.
Mr. de Meo said the company had reached a “historic” agreement with French labor unions to allow the changes needed to shift to electric car production, and was receiving strong support from government.
“We have created the conditions for our competitiveness in Europe and France,” he said.
By 2025, Renault will be able to sell electric cars that are at least as economical as internal combustion vehicles but achieve the company’s goal of a 5 percent profit margin on sales, Clotilde Delbos, the chief financial officer of Renault, said during a question-and-answer session with reporters.
Mr. de Meo acknowledged that there were still some obstacles to electric car adoption, notably a lack of public charging stations. “We are going faster than the infrastructure, and this is an issue,” he said.
Banks and investment managers say clients are clamoring for cryptocurrency products, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs among those launching new services for wealthy clients and institutional traders in recent weeks. But in the United States at least, the prospects for regulatory approval of a truly mainstream crypto investment vehicle, a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, remain unclear. And it’s not for lack of trying, the DealBook newsletter reports.
Ark Invest is the latest firm to pitch a Bitcoin E.T.F., with the buzzy fund management company run by Cathie Wood proposing an E.T.F. in partnership with 21Shares that tracks the cryptocurrency’s price, according to a filing this week. It joins other established brands like Fidelity and VanEck in asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to approve Bitcoin E.T.F.s, which would give investors exposure to Bitcoin without having to hold the cryptocurrency directly, like the many funds that track the price of gold or oil.
The first to file for S.E.C. approval of such a vehicle, in 2013, were the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame, who founded the crypto exchange Gemini. This month, the S.E.C. delayed for the second time a decision on VanEck’s request as the agency collects public comments on Bitcoin markets’ liquidity, transparency and susceptibility to manipulation. Bitcoin’s recent volatility likely isn’t helping.
Regulators’ concerns are “outdated and misplaced,” given significant trading volume sand established exchanges with reliable pricing, Matthew Sigel, the head of digital assets research at VanEck, told DealBook. “E.T.F.s are generally the most liquid and transparent way to get exposure to many kinds of assets,” he said. “If we agree that E.T.F.s are good, then why should Bitcoin be unique in its exclusion?”
A vote on tenure for the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is scheduled for Wednesday.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
The University of North Carolina’s board of trustees is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Wednesday amid intensifying pressure over its failure to approve tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for The New York Times Magazine.
A spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., which is representing the journalist, confirmed that the board was scheduled to vote on tenure for Ms. Hannah-Jones during the meeting.
Ms. Hannah-Jones, a creator of the 1619 Project, a multimedia series from The Times Magazine that re-examined the legacy of slavery in the United States, had agreed to a July 1 start date as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. In a letter last week, her legal team said she would not join the faculty unless she was granted tenure.
The University of North Carolina announced the meeting of the board, which approves tenure applications, in a news release on Monday. The release did not disclose the meeting’s agenda but said it was expected to include a closed session.
Shortly after the meeting was announced, Susan King, the dean of the Hussman School, said on Twitter that the board was “completing the tenure process begun so long ago to bring Nikole Hannah-Jones to our school.”
Although the dean, the school’s faculty members, the provost and the chancellor had recommended tenure for Ms. Hannah-Jones, the board declined to vote on the matter at a meeting this year. Ms. Hannah-Jones retained legal counsel to address the board’s lack of action in the matter.
The hiring of Ms. Hannah-Jones, who earned a master’s degree from the university’s journalism school in 2003, prompted a backlash from some conservatives who have been critical of the 1619 Project’s reframing of American history. The journalist has also gained the public support of more than 200 academics and other cultural figures who published a letter in The Root last month saying the board had displayed a “failure of courage.”
On Friday, students at the university held a protest in support of Ms. Hannah-Jones. Ms. King, the Hussman School dean, included a link to a video of the demonstration in a Twitter post.
“We so appreciate our great UNC students’ support & other schools’ support,” the dean wrote.
General Mills reported Wednesday that its net sales dropped by 10 percent in the last quarter as demand for at-home consumption, propelled by the pandemic, started to ebb. The Golden Valley-based company reported a 33 percent decline in net income, earning $416.8 million, compared to $625.7 million a year earlier. Futures for General Mills were down 0.8 percent.
Facebook debuted a newsletter subscription service on Tuesday, an attempt to court influential writers to its platform as more creators branch out from traditional publications and go independent. To jump-start the service, called Bulletin, Facebook spent months recruiting dozens of writers, including Malcolm Gladwell, and paying them upfront. The new service is part of a newsletter revival across the media industry. Though newsletters are not new, the recent growth of newsletter-focused start-ups like Substack and Revue has renewed interest in the form.
A federal safety agency told automakers on Tuesday to begin reporting and tracking crashes involving cars and trucks that use advanced driver-assistance technology such as Tesla’s Autopilot and General Motors’ Super Cruise, a sign that regulators are taking the safety implications of such systems more seriously. Automakers must report serious crashes within one day of learning about them, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. Serious accidents include those in which a person is killed or taken to a hospital, a vehicle has to be towed away, or airbags are deployed.
U.S. stocks fluctuated on Wednesday after the release of ADP’s National Employment Report. Private payrolls increased for the sixth straight month to 692,000 in June.
“With new Covid infections and death rates now at their lowest since the pandemic began and most of the adult population now vaccinated, looser restrictions are set to spur stronger job gains,” analysts at Oxford Economics wrote in a note.
The group of oil producers known as OPEC Plus is expected to meet Thursday to discuss goals for the production of crude, while the monthly U.S. jobs report is set to be released on Friday.
The S&P 500 was little changed in midday trading, while the Nasdaq composite was down 0.1 percent.
Didi, the leading Chinese ride-hailing platform, made its Wall Street debut on Wednesday, trading on the New York Stock Exchange. It priced its shares at $14, giving the company a market capitalization of roughly $67 billion. The company’s initial public offering arrives as investors continue to embrace fast-growing tech companies regardless of their ability to turn a profit.
The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes was down 0.02 percentage points to 1.44 percent.
Shares for Walmart jumped 2.7 percent, the most since September, after the retail giant announced on Tuesday that it would launch its own brand of low-cost analog insulin.
Most European stock indexes dropped on Wednesday. The Stoxx Europe 600 closed with a 0.7 percent decline, led lower by financial and industrial stocks.
Oil prices rose. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, gained 1.2 percent to $73.91 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 0.5 percent to $75.17.
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide looks at why we haven’t seen catastrophic internet failures despite wild spikes in online traffic during the pandemic.