US car sales in 2018 up slightly

DETROIT — Sales of new vehicles in the U.S. rose slightly in 2018, defying predictions and highlighting a strong economy. Automakers reported an increase of 0.3 percent over a year ago to 17.27 million vehicles.

The increase came despite rising interest rates, a volatile stock market, and rising car and truck prices that pushed some buyers out of the new-vehicle market.

Industry analysts and automakers said strong economic fundamentals pushed up the sales and should keep them near historic highs in 2019.

Marriott revises hack figures lower

BETHESDA, Md. — Fewer Marriott guest records than previously feared were compromised in a massive data breach, but the largest hotel chain in the world confirmed Friday that about 5.25 million unencrypted passport numbers were accessed.

The compromise of those passport numbers has raised alarms among security experts because of their value to state intelligence agencies.

The FBI is leading the investigation of the data theft and investigators suspect the hackers were working on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, the rough equivalent of the CIA.

The hackers accessed about 20.3 million encrypted passport numbers. There is no evidence that they were able to use the master encryption key required to gain access to that data.

Unencrypted passport numbers are valuable to state intelligence agencies because they can be used to compile detailed dossiers on people and their international movements.

When the Bethesda, Maryland, hotel chain initially disclosed the breach in November, the company said that hackers compiled stolen data undetected for four years, including credit card and passport numbers, birthdates, phone numbers and hotel arrival and departure dates.

The affected hotel brands were operated by Starwood before it was acquired by Marriott in 2016. They include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Méridien and Four Points. Starwood-branded timeshare properties were also affected. None of the Marriott-branded chains were threatened.

Marriott said Friday that it now believes the overall number of guests potentially involved is around 383 million, less than the initial estimate of 500 million, but still one of the largest security breaches on record.

Farmers guessing after delayed reports

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it must delay the release of key crop reports due to the partial government shutdown.

The announcement Friday left investors and farmers without vital information during an already tumultuous time for agricultural markets. The USDA planned to release the reports Jan. 11 but said that even if the shutdown ended immediately, the agency wouldn't have time to release the reports as scheduled.

Grain market analyst Todd Hultman says the situation will worsen if the shutdown continues.

The lack of information comes amid the uncertainty of trade with China, where tariffs led to an abrupt drop in U.S. exports to the country. There were indications that China was beginning to resume purchases of U.S. crops, but because of the government shutdown it's unclear what's happening.

Weather Channel sued over app data

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles prosecutors say they're suing The Weather Channel to stop it from tracking the whereabouts of app users and selling the data to third parties.

City attorney Michael Feuer said Friday that users of the popular app are misled to think their location data will only be used for personalized forecasts and alerts. A company representative says it's "always been transparent with use of location data" and will vigorously defend the "fully appropriate" disclosures.

Gadget show closer to gender equity

NEW YORK — The world's largest tech conference has apparently learned a big lesson about gender equity.

CES, the annual consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas, caught major flak from activists in late 2017 when it unveiled an all-male lineup of keynote speakers for the second year in a row. Although it later added two female keynoters , the gathering's "boys' club" reputation remained intact. It didn't help that one of the unsanctioned events latching on to CES last year was a nightclub featuring female "robot strippers."

This year, four of the nine current keynoters are women. GenderAvenger, the activist group that raised a ruckus last year, recently sent CES organizers a congratulatory letter and awarded the show a "Gold Stamp of Approval" for a roster of keynote and "featured" speakers that it says is 45 percent women — 60 percent of them women of color.

It's a significant change for CES, which like most tech conferences remains disproportionately male, just like the industry it serves.

Wire reports