"Google and Facebook aren’t just incredibly profitable tech companies — they are “public goods” with a responsibility to serve the public, says Barack Obama.Barack Obama isn’t happy with Facebook and Google, either - Recode
“I do think the large platforms — Google and Facebook being the most obvious, Twitter and others as well, are part of that ecosystem — have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise,” the former president said at MIT’s Sloan Sports Conference last Friday. “They’re not just an invisible platform, they’re shaping our culture in powerful ways.”"
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Also see Barack Obama warns Facebook and Google to check themselves (CNet)
Also see Amazon acquires Ring's smart doorbell business: It's taking Nest head-on. (Engadget)
"Luke Schoenfelder, chief executive of Latch, a start-up that makes a family of smart locks, said he believed that Amazon would make a more serious effort to enter the home security market and compete against companies like ADT, Comcast and Alarm.com. Mr. Schoenfelder speculated that Amazon could seek to make home security part of its Prime membership service, which today includes free and fast delivery of orders and video streaming.Amazon Buys Ring, Maker of Smart Home Products - The New York Times
“You could imagine some kind of bundled offering with Ring’s capabilities,” he said.
ADT’s stock fell sharply after the deal became public on Tuesday afternoon. It ended the day down 4.6 percent."
Also see Google Clips review: a smart camera that doesn't make the grade (The Verge) and Google’s first camera isn’t an evil all-seeing eye. Yet. (The Washington Post)
"The companies making these devices are aware of the privacy dangers. Many are moving into the field gingerly, slathering their products with safeguards that they say reduce the creepiness.The Sublime and Scary Future of Cameras With A.I. Brains - The New York Times
Take Google’s Clips, which I’ve used for the past week and half. It’s one of the most unusual devices I’ve ever encountered. The camera is about the size of a tin of mints, and it has no screen. On its front, there’s a lens and a button. The button takes a picture, but it’s there only if you really need it.
Instead, most of the time, you just rely on the camera’s intuition, which has been trained to recognize facial expressions, lighting, framing and other hallmarks of nice photos. It also recognizes familiar faces — the people you’re with more often are those it deems most interesting to photograph."
Cyber chief says Trump has given him no new authority to strike at Russian interference threat - The Washington Post
Tangentially, see How Trump’s 2020 campaign manager is connected to the Russia scandal (The Washington Post)
"The head of U.S. Cyber Command warned lawmakers that penalties and other measures have not “changed the calculus or the behavior” of Russia as it seeks to interfere with this year’s midterm elections.Cyber chief says Trump has given him no new authority to strike at Russian interference threat - The Washington Post
“We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’ ”
“If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Rogers said."
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
See this U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs news release for more details
"Traditionally, nurses are responsible for monitoring patients. Since it isn’t feasible to place every patient under constant direct care, the vast majority of patient monitoring is done remotely through electronics and sensors like EKGs and respirators. Nurses and doctors make rounds, checking in on each patient, and listen for alarms at a central station, but there’s really no one watching most patients the majority of the time.Google’s DeepMind teaches AI to predict death
If DeepMind can teach AI to figure out why patients deteriorate then machines can, theoretically, take over monitoring duties. And it’s absolutely feasible for AI to continuously watch every patient all the time — computers don’t take breaks or get tired. This might not be the instant solution to human-error in the medical field – the third leading cause of death in the US – but it’s a start."
One way to Watch healthcare effectiveness
"They will, the company says, provide a “unique concierge-like healthcare experience” that is “enabled by technology”. The company already promotes its Apple Watch as a health-monitoring device capable of more than simple fitness tracking.Apple to launch 'technology enabled' healthcare service | Technology | The Guardian
The company is advertising for primary and acute care physicians, physical therapists, nurses and other positions. One job advert for a primary care physician, emphasises the need for experience of “preventing future disease” and “preventive care” with an “enthusiasm for new methods of care delivery using technology”.
Apple is also looking to hire “designers” tasked with implementing staff programmes to promote healthy behaviour and prevent disease, while data from LinkedIn shows former Stanford employees linked with the firm."
From an article adapted from the forthcoming book The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos; later in the article: "Musk concluded that SpaceX, not ULA or anyone else, was to blame. “It was a self-inflicted wound,” he said in the interview. “It took us a long time, but we were able to re-create the failure.”"
"Although they didn’t say so publicly at the time, SpaceX investigators were looking seriously at sabotage, Musk and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in their most extensive public comments since the explosion.After 2016 rocket explosion, Elon Musk’s SpaceX looked seriously at sabotage - The Washington Post
“We literally thought someone had shot the rocket,” Musk said in an interview last summer at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “We found things that looked like bullet holes, and we calculated that someone with a high-powered rifle, if they had shot the rocket in the right location, the exact same thing would have happened.”"
"California has given 50 companies a license to test self-driving vehicles in the state. The new rules also require companies to be able to operate the vehicle remotely — a bit like a flying military drone — and communicate with law enforcement and other drivers when something goes wrong.California Scraps Safety Driver Rules for Self-Driving Cars - The New York Times
The changes signal a step toward the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles. One of the main economic benefits praised by proponents of driverless vehicles is that they will not be limited by human boundaries and can do things like operate 24 hours in a row without a drop-off in alertness or attentiveness. Taking the human out of the front seat is an important psychological and logistical step before truly driverless cars can hit the road."
First and final paragraphs:
"February has been a particularly bad month in a bad two years for Facebook. Following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and three organizations in connection with running a disinformation operation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there has been a slew of articles indicting Facebook in the court of public opinion for its role in facilitating the operation. The accusations highlight design choices in Facebook’s platform that make it vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation, and these have understandably consumed most of the attention given to Facebook in the U.S. since the indictment. However, a few pieces of news from Europe underline the tensions that make these problems so difficult to solve and are a reminder that platforms must be considered in their global context.Facebook's Policies Pressed From All Sides as Europe Cracks Down - Lawfare
These incidents are just a selection from the growing catalogue of regulations and threats that make up the “techlash” against social media companies. But they highlight the greater emerging dynamics. While the U.S. is focused on its domestic problems, Europe is taking the lead in trialling different ways of regulating these global platforms. Because of the size and need for interoperability of these markets, the effects of these measures will not be confined by geographical borders. In these early stages the only thing that seems certain is that conflicts are inevitable. Social media companies will find it increasingly difficult to simultaneously satisfy governments in all the jurisdictions in which they operate."
Monday, February 26, 2018
Hey Siri, how do I feel today?...
"Your digital footprint — how often you post on social media, how quickly you scroll through your contacts, how frequently you check your phone late at night — could hold clues to your physical and mental health.How Companies Scour Our Digital Lives for Clues to Our Health - The New York Times
That at least is the theory behind an emerging field, digital phenotyping, that is trying to assess people’s well-being based on their interactions with digital devices. Researchers and technology companies are tracking users’ social media posts, calls, scrolls and clicks in search of behavior changes that could correlate with disease symptoms. Some of these services are opt-in. At least one is not."
Sunday, February 25, 2018
I'm guessing Facebook won't be able to fix this readily exploitable model before the 2018 elections
"LIKE MANY THINGS at Facebook, the ads auction is a version of something Google built first. As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.How Trump Conquered Facebook Without Russian Ads | WIRED
A canny marketer with really engaging (or outraging) content can goose their effective purchasing power at the ads auction, piggybacking on Facebook’s estimation of their clickbaitiness to win many more auctions (for the same or less money) than an unengaging competitor. That’s why, if you’ve noticed a News Feed ad that’s pulling out all the stops (via provocative stock photography or other gimcrackery) to get you to click on it, it’s partly because the advertiser is aiming to pump up their engagement levels and increase their exposure, all without paying any more money."
Russian meddling is only one challenge facing the social-media giant - Facebook unfriended (The Economist)
Few friends in journalism for Facebook these days
"In America, Facebook is steadily losing users under the age of 25 (see chart). Youngsters are spending more time on other apps such as Snapchat, and Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram, where their parents and grandparents are less likely to lurk. While Instagram and the two messaging apps that Facebook owns, Messenger and WhatsApp, help insulate the firm, “core” Facebook still accounts for at least 85% of the firm’s revenue. Americans and Canadians are by far its most valuable audience, with an average revenue per user of $86, four times more than the global average. If users continue to engage less with Facebook’s core network, it could cause advertisers to leave over time.Russian meddling is only one challenge facing the social-media giant - Facebook unfriended
Yet most analysts and investors are still exuberant about future prospects for Facebook, which with a market value of $521bn is the world’s sixth biggest publicly traded firm. They may be underestimating some of the risks the firm faces. One challenge, which has been highlighted by the Russia controversy, is its sloppiness. For a company whose sales pitch to advertisers is that it offers precision, targeting and transparency superior to traditional media, including television, it is remarkable that it has struggled to track the movement of ad dollars and content on its properties."
Friday, February 23, 2018
From a wide-ranging Robert Wright Google/AI reality check
"The race to dominate the personal AI space—to build the artificial intelligence that each of us will use as an all-purpose digital assistant—is closer to being over than most people realize. And Google is poised to win. And if ever there was a business that we can’t let any one company dominate, it’s AI. Using the government’s antitrust powers in new ways to stave off monopoly, and preserve a healthy oligopoly, is the only way to keep humankind from buying a one-way ticket to the Matrix.Why We Can’t Let Google Monopolize AI | WIRED
OK, slight exaggeration. I’m personally skeptical of the standard AI nightmare scenarios, including the one where an increasingly smart and helpful automated servant informs us one morning that the roles have been reversed. Still, our reliance on AI is growing, and I don’t see why it would stop growing anywhere short of complete and utter dependence."
After years of testing, The Wall Street Journal has built a paywall that bends to the individual reader » Nieman Journalism Lab
Might be simpler to attract more subscribers if it stopped being a Murdoch propaganda channel; in the meantime, I can read paywalled WSJ content via Facebook on my iPad, searching by article title (perhaps that's part of the WSJ's magical machine learning model)
"Non-subscribed visitors to WSJ.com now each receive a propensity score based on more than 60 signals, such as whether the reader is visiting for the first time, the operating system they’re using, the device they’re reading on, what they chose to click on, and their location (plus a whole host of other demographic info it infers from that location). Using machine learning to inform a more flexible paywall takes away guesswork around how many stories, or what kinds of stories, to let readers read for free, and whether readers will respond to hitting paywall by paying for access or simply leaving. (The Journal didn’t share additional details about the score, such as the exact range of numbers it could be. I asked what my personal score was; no luck there, since the scores are anonymized.)"After years of testing, The Wall Street Journal has built a paywall that bends to the individual reader » Nieman Journalism Lab
To which Benedict Evans tweeted "I hear the sound of @pmarca revising his bucket list." In other Snap news, Snap chief earns $638 million in 2017, third-highest CEO payout ever (Reuters)
"Snap Inc.’s flagship platform has lost some luster, at least according to one social-media influencer in the Kardashian-Jenner clan.Kylie Jenner Tanks $1.3 Billion of Snapchat Parent's Market Value - Bloomberg
Shares of the Snapchat parent company sank 6.1 percent on Thursday, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value, on the heels of a tweet on Wednesday from Kylie Jenner, who said she doesn’t open the app anymore. Whether it’s the demands of her newfound motherhood, or the recent app redesign, the testament drew similar replies from her 24.5 million followers. Wall Street analysts too have begun to notice, citing recent user engagement trends noticed since the platform’s redesign."
SpaceX’s Internet satellites are part of a wave of new tech that could give you more choice in broadband providers - The Washington Post
Multifaceted wide-area wireless oligopoly disruption ahead...
"This potpourri of new technologies could bolster competition in various ways, according to Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation. For example, imagine if your local telephone company could set up a wireless 5G hotspot in your neighborhood rather than digging into the ground to lay expensive Internet cables to each house. As the 5G might be just as good (if not better) than what the cable company offers, customers might benefit from more providers fighting for their loyalty.SpaceX’s Internet satellites are part of a wave of new tech that could give you more choice in broadband providers - The Washington Post
“For competition, it’s particularly good,” said Calabrese, “because it’ll allow these guys to overbuild — in other words, to become a competitive provider at relatively low capital cost.”"
Bad News: the game researchers hope will 'vaccinate' public against fake news | Technology | The Guardian
Bad News Twitch tournament timing TBD...
"Players of the fake news game must amass virtual Twitter followers by distorting the truth, planting falsehoods, dividing the united, and deflecting attention when rumbled. All the while, they must maintain credibility in the eyes of their audience.
The game distills the art of undermining the truth into six key strategies. Once a player has demonstrated a knack for each, they are rewarded with a badge. In one round, players can opt to impersonate the president of the United States and fire off a tweet from a fake account. It declares war on North Korea complete with a #KimJongDone hashtag."Bad News: the game researchers hope will 'vaccinate' public against fake news | Technology | The Guardian
Thursday, February 22, 2018
It will be interesting to see how legal challenges asserting disinformation is free speech play out
"Medium is taking its own steps in the fight against fake news and following a major reworking of its rules, has suspended the accounts of a handful of writers. As The Outline reports, the accounts of Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer now link to a largely blank page that says, "This page is unavailable."Medium suspends alt-right trolls following major rules change
Earlier this month, Medium revamped its Rules page, saying at the time, "Beyond Medium itself, we recognize that we are also part of the larger internet ecosystem. Just as we rely on outside technology, systems and information to run Medium, we also consider off-platform signals when assessing potential rules violations. We have all seen an increase and evolution of online hate, abuse, harassment and disinformation, along with ever-evolving campaigns of fraud and spam. To continue to be good citizens of the internet, and provide our users with a trusted and safe environment to read, write and share new ideas, we have strengthened our policies around this type of behavior.""
AMZN is also up ~3x since it surpassed Walmart's market cap in 2015; on a related note, Amazon Is Taking Over the Stock Market, Too (WSJ) reports "The online retail giant has accounted for 27% of the S&P 500’s gains this year, followed by Microsoft and Netflix"
"Amazon, the perpetual retail boogeyman, is now worth more than two and half times its biggest brick-and-mortar counterpart, Walmart.Amazon is now worth more than 2.5 Walmarts - Recode
Thanks to slowing e-commerce growth this past holiday season, Walmart saw its biggest one-day drop in stock price in two years — it lost nearly $35 billion in market cap since Monday. Amazon, fresh from reporting its record $1.9B in profit last quarter earlier this month, has seen its stock and market value rise about 7 percent since then."
Twitter suspends thousands of suspected bots, and the pro-Trump crowd is furious - The Washington Post
Reducing bot rot; in other Twitter news, see Twitter is going out of its way to verify accounts of some of the most prominent students who survived the Parkland shooting (Recode)
"The social-media service Twitter is believed to have suspended thousands of accounts for being automated bots or for other policy violations, drawing outcry from fringe conservative media figures who lost followers in the move.Twitter suspends thousands of suspected bots, and the pro-Trump crowd is furious - The Washington Post
Many of these figures, such as pro-Trump host Bill Mitchell and white nationalist Richard Spencer, took to the service to complain about losing a small portion of their followers in the move. Other conservative accounts were suspended pending verification that they are run by people."
Final paragraphs from a Roger McNamee Facebook reality check
"Facebook could implement a subscription model with no customer acquisition cost because 223 million adults in the United States already use Facebook, roughly equal to cable and satellite television. With the accelerating trend toward cord cutting, Facebook is ideally positioned to win the battle for customers who get their media services over the Internet.How to fix Facebook: Make users pay for it - The Washington Post
There’s also flexibility in rolling out this business model: For example, Facebook might allow customers to choose between its current model and subscriptions. Customers who remained on the advertising-supported service would still be subject to filter bubbles, addiction and manipulation, but growth in subscriptions would reduce the population of affected people.
Subscription services could be implemented not only in the United States but also in most of the developed world. This wouldn’t just be good for Facebook. It would be good for America and for democracy globally."
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
It's not just social media; also see Right-Wing Media Uses Parkland Shooting as Conspiracy Fodder (NYT)
"Russian bots on Twitter tried to create animosity among critics and advocates of the Second Amendment. High school students who survived the shooting have been mocked online for standing up to politicians and calling for gun control. And now conspiracy theories are circulating on Facebook and Twitter to try and tear down those same students, calling them “crisis actors” and suggesting they’re puppets for liberal politicians.Social media’s ugly side comes out after the mass shooting in Florida - Recode
What we’ve learned from Parkland is that, even in the wake of tragedy, divisive and troubling content still thrives on social media platforms. No one is safe from mockery and ridicule, including children and teenagers. And it’s not entirely clear what anyone can do about it."
Also see Good News: A.I. Is Getting Cheaper. That’s Also Bad News. (NYT); see this page for the full report
"People with the skills to build things such systems have reaped great benefits—they’ve become the most prized of tech workers. But a new report on the downsides of progress in AI warns they need to pay more attention to the heavy moral burdens created by their work.Why Artificial Intelligence Researchers Should Be More Paranoid | WIRED
The 99-page document unspools an unpleasant and sometimes lurid laundry list of malicious uses of artificial-intelligence technology. It calls for urgent and active discussion of how AI technology could be misused. Example scenarios given include cleaning robots being repurposed to assassinate politicians, or criminals launching automated and highly personalized phishing campaigns."
Evidently nobody told Farhad Manjoo that Apple devices other than HomePod also respond to voice commands...
"Google, which is alive to the worry that Alexa will outpace it in the assistant game, is also offering its Google Assistant to other device makers. Though Amazon remains the leader in the business, there’s some evidence that Google’s devices gained market share over the holidays. (Apple, which just released a $349 smart speaker, HomePod, does not seem to be aiming for voice ubiquity.)Why We May Soon Be Living in Alexa’s World - The New York Times
The emerging platform war between Amazon and Google could lead to fallout for users. But their platforms can also play together. Amazon’s and Google’s relationships with third-party companies are nonexclusive, which means that hardware makers are free to add both Alexa and Google Assistant to their products. Sonos, for instance, now integrates with Alexa, and is planning to add Google Assistant soon."
Also see Venezuela’s own oil-backed cryptocurrency is available for presale today (The Verge), which notes "Venezuela’s opposition-run parliament has expressed its disapproval of the petro and has warned investors that after Maduro leaves office, the currency would become null and void. (Maduro is up for re-election this April.) Legislator Jorge Millán tweeted in January, “They have announced issuance of a supposed cryptocurrency that is illegal and unconstitutional. A new deception of the regime.”"
"“It honestly sounds like they don’t really understand how any of it works,” Alex Van de Sande, a Brazil-based developer for the Ethereum Foundation, said in a phone interview.Venezuela launches the ‘petro,’ its cryptocurrency - The Washington Post
“Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it won’t raise money. We’ve seen terrible ideas that don’t make any sense raise a lot of it,” he said. “If I wanted to avoid international sanctions and make money appear out of thin air in my country hiding the origin, I guess this petro would be a useful way.”"
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
From an approximately 8,300-word Google/antitrust reality check
"Google has succeeded where Genghis Khan, communism and Esperanto all failed: It dominates the globe. Though estimates vary by region, the company now accounts for an estimated 87 percent of online searches worldwide. It processes trillions of queries each year, which works out to at least 5.5 billion a day, 63,000 a second. So odds are good that sometime in the last week, or last hour, or last 10 minutes, you’ve used Google to answer a nagging question or to look up a minor fact, and barely paused to consider how near-magical it is that almost any bit of knowledge can be delivered to you faster than you can type the request. If you’re old enough to remember the internet before 1998, when Google was founded, you’ll recall what it was like when searching online involved AltaVista or Lycos and consistently delivered a healthy dose of spam or porn. (Pity the early web enthusiasts who innocently asked Jeeves about “amateurs” or “steel.”)The Case Against Google - The New York Times
In other words, it’s very likely you love Google, or are at least fond of Google, or hardly think about Google, the same way you hardly think about water systems or traffic lights or any of the other things you rely on every day. Therefore you might have been surprised when headlines began appearing last year suggesting that Google and its fellow tech giants were threatening everything from our economy to democracy itself. Lawmakers have accused Google of creating an automated advertising system so vast and subtle that hardly anyone noticed when Russian saboteurs co-opted it in the last election. Critics say Facebook exploits our addictive impulses and silos us in ideological echo chambers. Amazon’s reach is blamed for spurring a retail meltdown; Apple’s economic impact is so profound it can cause market-wide gyrations. These controversies point to the growing anxiety that a small number of technology companies are now such powerful entities that they can destroy entire industries or social norms with just a few lines of computer code. Those four companies, plus Microsoft, make up America’s largest sources of aggregated news, advertising, online shopping, digital entertainment and the tools of business and communication. They’re also among the world’s most valuable firms, with combined annual revenues of more than half a trillion dollars."
Driving data innovation
"Every hour, a modern car processes about 25 gigabytes of information — the equivalent of about seven full-length high-definition movies — on everything from engine temperature and tire pressure to what’s playing on the radio. For automakers, the question is how to turn that into revenue. An Israeli startup claims to have the answer.Crunching Car Data for Cash: An Israeli Startup Takes on Google - Bloomberg
Otonomo, which announced $3 million in funding from NTT Docomo Ventures Inc. on Tuesday, has spent the past three years figuring out how to collect, package and sell such data to insurers, retailers, city planners and others willing to pay for it. In return, it takes a percentage of sales — similar to how Apple Inc. and Google operate their app stores. More than 2 million cars are already on Otonomo’s platform, a number that it says will reach 5 million by year-end."
For more details, see Assessing Cardiovascular Risk Factors with Computer Vision (Google Research blog)
"Scientists from Google and its health-tech subsidiary Verily have discovered a new way to assess a person’s risk of heart disease using machine learning. By analyzing scans of the back of a patient’s eye, the company’s software is able to accurately deduce data, including an individual’s age, blood pressure, and whether or not they smoke. This can then be used to predict their risk of suffering a major cardiac event — such as a heart attack — with roughly the same accuracy as current leading methods.Google’s new AI algorithm predicts heart disease by looking at your eyes - The Verge
The algorithm potentially makes it quicker and easier for doctors to analyze a patient’s cardiovascular risk, as it doesn’t require a blood test. But, the method will need to be tested more thoroughly before it can be used in a clinical setting. A paper describing the work was published today in the Nature journal Biomedical Engineering, although the research was also shared before peer review last September."
Also see On Russia, Facebook Sends a Message It Wishes It Hadn’t (NYT), which notes "More than anything, the details contained in the indictment make clear how vulnerable Facebook still is to a hostile actor."
"With Mueller’s indictment, according to multiple people at the company, everyone felt that Facebook had done something right. The 35 mentions clearly showed that Facebook had fully cooperated with authorities. Many of the details in the indictment, particularly from pages 25 to 30, which include details of messages sent between private Facebook accounts, were given to Mueller by Facebook. That could have been a good story. But then Rob Goldman decided to weigh in, using a rival platform. He now has 10,500 Twitter followers, but a few fewer friends at work.Facebook Executive Rob Goldman Apologizes After Russia Tweets | WIRED
On Sunday night, Joel Kaplan, the VP of Global Public Policy at Facebook, put out a statement saying “Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel’s indictments. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.” Roughly translated, that meant, “We asked Rob Goldman to throw his phone in a river.”"
Monday, February 19, 2018
2018 is going to be a very long year for Facebook
"The crux of the issue here is the pervasive background surveillance of Internet activity for digital ad targeting purposes which is enabled by a vast network of embedded and at times entirely invisible tracking technologies — and, specifically in this lawsuit, whether Facebook and the network of partner companies feeding data into its ad targeting systems, have obtained adequate consent from their users to be so surveilled when they’re not actually using Facebook.Facebook’s tracking of non-users ruled illegal again | TechCrunch
“Facebook collects information about us all when we surf the Internet,” explains the Belgian privacy watchdog, referring to findings from its earlier investigation of Facebook’s use of tracking technologies. “To this end, Facebook uses various technologies, such as the famous “cookies” or the “social plug-ins” (for example, the “Like” or “Share” buttons) or the “pixels” that are invisible to the naked eye. It uses them on its website but also and especially on the websites of third parties. Thus, the survey reveals that even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, Facebook is still able to follow your browsing behavior without you knowing it, let alone, without you wanting it, thanks to these invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other sites.”"
On a related note, see this AMP-focused tweet thread, which concludes "Don't be a kinder, gentler Microsoft. Reconsider."
"With each improvement — whether it is the zapping of irksome ads or the restructuring of how mobile sites work — Google is continuing to consolidate its power over the web, which has lost its centrality in the modern internet ecosystem to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.Google Chrome Now Blocks Irksome Ads. That’s a Good Thing, Right? - The New York Times
So far, what has been good for users has tended to be good for Google, and the other way around. But the collision of the old notion of the web as a free and open space and the reality of it as a digital territory increasingly colonized by commercial interests has provoked worry among some users."
Check the full article for a case study in the law of holes; also see [Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper Calls Facebook Official's Post That Trump Touted 'False' (Bloomberg)
"Rob Goldman, vice president for ads at Facebook, posted an eight-part thread on Twitter late Friday about his company’s role in Russian disinformation — and quickly caused a firestorm.Fact-Checking a Facebook Executive’s Comments on Russian Interference - The New York Times
In his messages, Mr. Goldman discussed the indictment of 13 Russians and three companies accused of carrying out a scheme to subvert the 2016 election. Facebook was frequently mentioned in the indictment as the main tech tool that the Russians had used to tilt the election in favor of Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Goldman defended Facebook in his tweets, saying that the Russian-bought ads on the social network were not primarily aimed at swaying the vote result. His posts went viral on Saturday when President Trump cited them as proof that Russia’s disinformation campaign was about something other than giving him an election victory."
Friday, February 16, 2018
13 Named in Russia Indictment by Special Counsel in First Charges on 2016 Election Interference - The New York Times
Check the full article for some wimpy wiggle words from Rod Rosenstein that appear to be optimized for the next wave of Trump tweets in this context...
"The special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations on Friday with illegally using social media platforms to sow political discord, including actions that supported the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and disparaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton.13 Named in Russia Indictment by Special Counsel in First Charges on 2016 Election Interference - The New York Times
The indictment represents the first charges by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for meddling in the 2016 presidential election — the fundamental crime that he was assigned to investigate."
All the news that's fit to AMP
"Google’s increased traffic to publishers is replacing the traffic publishers have lost from Facebook, according to new data from Chartbeat.Google is replacing Facebook’s traffic to publishers - Recode
While Facebook has been tinkering with its algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family over publishers, more publishers have been signing up for the Google publishing format launched in 2015 known as Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP hosts publishers’ content directly on Google’s servers so it loads faster for mobile users.
During its developer conference this week, Google announced that 31 million websites are using AMP, up 25 percent since October. Google says these fast-loading mobile webpages keep people from abandoning searches and by extension drive more traffic to websites."
Also see Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting (Wired), which concludes "The goal, after all, isn't to help one side or the other of the gun control debate win. It's to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us."
"The common goal, said Albright and other researchers, was to polarize debate, pushing politically active people away from the center. Toward that end, the Russian accounts found plenty of material from U.S.-based sources of news and opinion.Russia used mainstream media to manipulate American voters - The Washington Post
“These trolls didn’t need to retweet RT and Sputnik,” Albright said. “All they needed to do was pick out certain themes and push them.”"
Google’s Chrome ad blocker means the Web’s largest ad company is also now advertising’s biggest traffic cop - The Washington Post
Earlier in the article: "By addressing the ads that Google surveys have found to be most annoying, Chrome’s tool may persuade Internet users not to take more drastic options to hide or eliminate all online ads from their screens." Also see Google's New Ad Blocker Changed the Web Before It Even Switched On (Wired).
"Some note that the company had a lot of say in writing the standards, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Paul Boyle, vice president of public policy for the News Media Alliance, told the Associated Press that Google’s decision to incorporate these standards into Chrome turns the voluntary standards into de facto law.Google’s Chrome ad blocker means the Web’s largest ad company is also now advertising’s biggest traffic cop - The Washington Post
Reinhardt said that the new Chrome feature is likely to accelerate new trends in the digital ad space, including fueling Google and Facebook’s ad duopoly. As for publishers, he said, it’s already clear that many are pushing subscriptions more heavily to offset the need for more aggressive advertising — a trend that Google’s new tool will probably encourage."
From an extensive George Soros Google/Facebook reality check
"There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook customers to the point that they gamble away all of their money, even money they don’t have.Only the EU can break Facebook and Google's dominance | George Soros | Business | The Guardian
Something similar – and potentially irreversible – is happening to human attention in our digital age. This is not a matter of mere distraction or addiction; social media companies are actually inducing people to surrender their autonomy. And this power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.
It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. Once lost, those who grow up in the digital age may have difficulty regaining it."
I'll be watching for clarifications to all of the "iPhone X failure" stories from a couple weeks ago...
"For the first time ever, Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in the December quarter made over half of all the smartphone revenue in the world, with $61.4 billion out of a total market of $120.2 billion, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.Apple Takes Over Half of Smartphone Sales for the First Time Ever - Barron's
That news comes as China’s local market, one of the biggest in the world for devices, experienced its first-ever year-over-year quarterly decline during the period."
Thursday, February 15, 2018
On a related note, see Why Ad Companies Love Google’s Ad Blocker, But Hate Apple’s Privacy Features (How-To Geek)
"That's when Chrome takes a significant step in the direction that hundreds of millions of us already have gone by installing ad blockers. Chrome stops far short of those browser extensions, which typically ban all ads, but the move carries plenty of importance because Google's browser dominates the web on both personal computers and phones. Chrome is used to view about 56 percent of web pages, according to analytics firm StatCounter.Google Chrome browser starts blocking intrusive ads and changing the web - CNET
Chrome's ad-blocking move is designed to rid the web of sites stuffed to the gills with ads or degraded by obnoxious ads, said Ryan Schoen, Google's product manager for web platform work at Chrome. There are signs it's already had an effect: About 42 percent of sites that the company's warned have dialed back on ads to pass Google's standards, including the LA Times, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune."
On a related note, see Berkshire Hathaway doubles down on Apple stock and dumps IBM (CNBC)
"Other big names also expect that the two tech darlings have more room to run. Louis Bacon’s Moore Capital Management added 900,000 shares of Apple, boosting its holding to about $200 million, according to filings. Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global Management pumped up its position in Facebook.Hedge Funds Are Dumping Facebook and Google - Bloomberg
Stephen Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital added a $900 million wager on Amazon snapping up 770,000 shares in the fourth quarter of 2017. The online retailer accounts for nearly 5 percent of the hedge fund’s U.S. stock holdings. The hedge fund firm also started a $625 million stake in Alphabet, buying up about 598,000 shares in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, it reduced its Facebook position, selling about 632,000 shares of the company.
Some prominent hedge funds retreated from the FAANGs in the fourth quarter."
Check the full post for more SpaceX Starlink analysis; also see Elon Musk's Broadband-From-Space Plan Clears Crucial U.S. Hurdle (Bloomberg)
""The common challenges associated with siting, digging trenches, laying fiber, and dealing with property rights are materially alleviated through a space-based broadband network," Patricia Cooper, SpaceX's vice president of satellite government affairs, said in written testimony to a Senate committee in May.SpaceX to launch first 2 experimental Starlink broadband satellites - BI
A global space-based internet network that's low-cost or provided for free to some regions could solve equal-access issues by bathing the whole planet in 1-gigabit-per-second internet.
The global average internet speed in late 2015, according to Akamai's "State of the Internet" report, was 5.6 megabits per second. That's about 1/170th the speed of SpaceX's target, with most of the higher speeds tied up in cable and fiber-optic connections."
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Facebook's Upcoming Smart Speakers with 15" Displays and Face ID Feature is out to challenge Apple Music and HomePod - Patently Apple
Later in the article: "Facebook is planning to build its own ecosystem for video consumer devices in the next five years, and the smart speaker is just the initial-stage product, with more terminal devices expected to be rolled out in the coming years, according to industry sources."
"It's being reported today that Facebook is set to officially foray into the global smart speaker market in mid-2018 by launching two new models, codenamed Aloha and Fiona - both with 15-inch touchscreens - in July at the latest, with the devices positioned as a way to allow family and friends to stay in touch with video chat and various social features.Facebook's Upcoming Smart Speakers with 15" Displays and Face ID Feature is out to challenge Apple Music and HomePod - Patently Apple
The sources said that the Facebook move is expected to further heat up the global smart speaker market, which has been crowded with heavyweight players, including top supplier Amazon and other tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and many China players including Alibaba. According to estimates by market researcher Canalys, the global market sales of smart speakers are likely to double to over 50 million units in 2018 from 2017."
SpaceX is about to launch its first prototype internet satellites and Tesla is getting a ground station | Electrek
I hope this network is commercially available before my Verizon and Verizon Wireless contracts expire... For more details, see SpaceX satellite broadband plans ready to blast off (CNET)
"Along with its rocket launch services and its plan to colonize Mars, SpaceX is working on a less-publicized satellite constellation consisting of up to 12,000 satellites in orbit.SpaceX is about to launch its first prototype internet satellites and Tesla is getting a ground station | Electrek
SpaceX has been working on their own satellites for the past 3 years and now they are getting ready to launch the first two prototypes as a secondary payload on their upcoming launch of hisdeSAT’s Paz, an earth observation satellite, on February 17th.
Ultimately, this constellation aims to offer broadband internet services to end users."
A Civil response to the challenges of the fourth estate? CVL ICO timing tbd
"“Blockchain technology can create both chains of authenticity and a level of security,” Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, tells me. “Journalism in a highly distributed world, particularly where it is increasingly relying on third-party technology, is in need of solutions to those two problems.” On top of that, she says, cryptocurrencies offer an opportunity for “marketplaces which bring journalists and interested communities together to fund work.”What Could Blockchain Do for Journalism? – Welcome to Blockchain – Medium
Could blockchain be the answer to all journalism’s woes? Could frictionless cryptocurrencies solve the industry’s funding crisis at the same time as the immutable ledger of a blockchain solves its trust crisis?
Moore thinks there’s a good chance it can. He is preparing to launch a new startup publication, named Sludge, which will report on the murky world of Washington lobbying. Sludge is one of the “first fleet” of around 20 newsrooms that will all launch together later this spring on a new blockchain-based platform called Civil."
A "deeper connection" based in part on (Oath parent company) Verizon customer profiles; on a related note (from 2017), see Verizon Oath Strategy: Mobile Usage Data is Our Oil and Oath Will be Our Oil Rig (Telecompetitor)
"Oath would love to be there to catch any ad dollars that might leave Facebook and Google, though it doesn’t appear to have happened yet. (Facebook reported record revenues in Q4.) Armstrong thinks that Facebook in particular is making the right kind of long-term moves with its recent News Feed change intended to prioritize posts from users’ friends and family over posts from publishers.Tim Armstrong says Oath is the answer to Unilever’s Facebook and Google problem - Recode
“There are a bunch of business models that got built on what I would say is a mile-wide, inch-deep-type business models,” Armstrong said. “Consumers are not interested in mile-wide, inch-deep relationships.”
Oath and its stable of brands, he says, offers a deeper connection."
For an update on Flipboard's future, see To Our Readers: How we will continue to inform and inspire you in 2018 (Inside Flipboard)
"“Apple News as a product is living in the past,” McCue said in the interview with Recode Editor in Chief Dan Frommer. There’s “no social” sharing capability, “no curation happening — it’s algorithmic,” and it’s “another format that publishers have to adopt.”‘Apple News as a product is living in the past,’ according to Flipboard’s CEO - Recode
“We’re not trying to create a closed ecosystem ... and that’s a big deal for publishers,” he added.
In the fall, Ad Age reported that Apple was running a test that would allow some publishers to sell ads in Apple News — giving them a shot at making money from their own content that’s shown inside the smartphone giant’s app."
In other AMPed hypertext news, see Google to debut emails that automatically update (Reuters) and Bringing the power of AMP to Gmail (Google Keyword blog)
"With publishers eager to make money from the rising tide of consumers viewing content on mobile devices, tech companies also have introduced products designed to aggregate news and speed the loading of articles on mobile, including Apple Inc.’s Apple News app and Facebook’s Instant Articles.Google’s New AMP Stories Bring Snapchat-Like Content to Mobile Web - WSJ
Unlike those products, however, AMP stories don’t yet allow advertising to be incorporated. Google is in the process of building support for ads but didn’t disclose a time frame. Meanwhile, the lack of monetization on AMP stories threatens to slow its adoption among publishers.
Even though creating AMP stories won’t pay immediate dividends, several publishing executives expressed willingness to experiment with the format in the hopes of an eventual payoff."
Amazon’s entry into health care starts with gloves, dental bonding agents and syringes - The Washington Post
Another short story in the WSJ... Tangentially, see The World's Biggest Container Shipping Line Is Now Worried About Amazon and Alibaba (Bloomberg)
"Unlike Amazon’s secretive plans to shake up the prescription drug industry, or its initiative to develop technology tools to rein in health costs for its own employees, Amazon has not hidden this effort. In an earnings call in October, an executive mentioned hospitals first on a laundry list of institutions Amazon was targeting with its Amazon Business offering, along with schools, labs and government agencies.Amazon’s entry into health care starts with gloves, dental bonding agents and syringes - The Washington Post
On Tuesday, the stocks for companies that distribute medical supplies tumbled after the Wall Street Journal reported Amazon has been holding meetings with hospital executives to learn more about the needs of the industry."
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Evidently not an early April Fools' joke
"It seems popular online magazine Salon is the latest company to hop onto the cryptocurrency mining bandwagon. The publication has updated its website to require users to disable their ad-blockers for the right to read articles – or alternatively, lend their CPU power to mine cryptocurrency.Salon is using adblocking readers' CPU power to mine cryptocurrency
Visitors are now prompted to either turn off ad-blockers altogether or select the new ‘Suppress Ads’ option to “block ads by allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.”"
In other digital advertising news, see YouTube Revamped Its Ad System. AT&T Still Hasn’t Returned. (NYT)
"Brown said three separate times in the 50-minute conversation that publishers and businesses should feel free to leave Facebook if they feel the social network isn't working for them.Facebook says leave if social network is not 'good for your business'
"If anyone feels that this isn't the right platform for them, then they should not be on Facebook," Brown said.
The company's Head of News also insisted that "people don't come to Facebook for news," even though studies show the majority of adults in the U.S. get news on Facebook. "They come to Facebook for friends and family," she said, echoing Facebook's latest PR blitz meant to dampen criticism of News Feed."
And if nobody uses the data centers, they require less energy...
"CEO Mark Hurd was previously forced to defend Oracle's relatively paltry $1.7bn investment in bit barns compared to $31bn outlay from AWS, Microsoft and Google in 2016.This Valentine's day Oracle's given you 12 big red data centres • The Register
"If I have two-times faster computers, I don't need as many data centers. If I can speed up the database, maybe I need one fourth as many data centers. I can go on and on about how tech drives this," claimed Hurd.
Today's Oracle announcement also teases "new services in security, blockchain, and artificial Intelligence." Oracle announced security and AI services at its OpenWorld shindig in October 2017, and has included blockchain in some products for the banking sector for a couple of years."
Check the full article for some disconcerting details
"With crypto mania sweeping the world, a handful of countries have stirred at the possibility of issuing their own virtual currencies based on blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin. For now, the idea seems most popular among autocrats looking to evade or undercut international sanctions that are enforced, in part, through the global banking system. But advocates of government-backed cryptocurrencies (so-named because they rely on cryptography for security) say that if the movement takes hold -- which is by no means assured -- it could irrevocably change the international monetary system as we know it."Why Governments Might Join the Cryptocurrency Craze - Bloomberg
Tangentially, see How Artificial Intelligence Is Edging Its Way Into Our Lives (NYT)
"The Harvard-M.I.T. course, which has 30 students, focuses on the ethical, policy and legal implications of artificial intelligence. It was spurred and financed in part by a new artificial intelligence ethics research fund whose donors include Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, and the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder.Universities Rush to Roll Out Computer Science Ethics Courses - The New York Times
The curriculum also covers the spread of algorithmic risk scores that use data — like whether a person was ever suspended from school, or how many of his or her friends have arrest records — to forecast whether someone is likely to commit a crime. Mr. Ito said he hoped the course would spur students to ask basic ethical questions like: Is the technology fair? How do you make sure that the data is not biased? Should machines be judging humans?"
Monday, February 12, 2018
Tbd if Unilever will apply the same criteria to its television and magazine advertising; also see Do Big Advertisers Even Matter to the Platforms? (NewCo Shift)
"Unilever has pledged to:Unilever threatens to pull ads from Facebook and Google - BBC News
According to research firm Pivotal, Facebook and Google accounted for 73% of all digital advertising in the US in 2017."
- Not invest in platforms that do not protect children or create division in society
- Only invest in platforms that make a positive contribution to society
- Tackle gender stereotypes in advertising
- Only partner with companies creating a responsible digital infrastructure
"Some reports have suggested the group was trying to use the center’s supercomputer to mine Bitcoin. Mining cryptocurrencies in this way requires huge amounts of computing power, and it’s common for miners to seek out cheap — and often illegal — sources of digital muscle; for example, by hijacking strangers’ computers.Scientists at Russian nuclear research facility arrested for mining cryptocurrency - The Verge
Whether or not the group targeted the center’s supercomputer or regular PCs isn’t clear. However, it seems that at least some of the machines they wanted to use had been air-gapped for security — meaning they were kept permanently offline to keep them safe from hackers. When the scientists tried to connect the computers to the internet to start their mining operations, they accidentally alerted the facility’s security team, who then contacted Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)."
The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a commercially run venture, NASA document shows - The Washington Post
Perhaps a future Trump Hotel...
"The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a commercially run venture, NASA document shows - The Washington Post
“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”"
From an extensive HomePod review
"Tl;Dr:Later in the review:
I am speechless. The HomePod actually sounds better than the KEF X300A. If you’re new to the Audiophile world, KEF is a very well respected and much loved speaker company. I actually deleted my very first measurements and re-checked everything because they were so good, I thought I’d made an error. Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker."
"Speaking of inputs, you have one choice: AirPlay. which means, unless you’re steeped in the apple ecosystem, it’s really hard to recommend this thing. If you are, it’s a no brainer, whether you’re an audiophile or not. If you have an existing sound system that’s far beyond the capabilities of a HomePod (say, an Atmos setup) then grab a few for the other rooms around the house (Kitchen, bedroom, etc). It’s also a great replacement for a small 2-speaker bookshelf system that sits atop your desk in the study, for example. When this tiny unobtrusive speakers sound so good, and are so versatile, grabbing a few of these to scatter around the house so you can enjoy some great audio in other rooms isn’t a bad move — provided you’re already part of the Apple Ecosystem."Apple HomePod - The Audiophile Perspective + Measurements! : audiophile
A useful collection of crypto* resources
"Here’s a list — building on and including Chris’ last roundup — of crypto readings and resources. It’s organized from building blocks and basics; foundations (& history); and key concepts and beginners’ guides — followed by specific topics such as governance; development, privacy, and security; scaling; consensus; cryptoeconomics and investing; fundraising and token distribution; decentralized exchanges; stablecoins; and cryptoeconomic primitives (crytocollectibles, curation markets, games & culture). We also included a section with other resources, such as newsletters and courses, at the end.Crypto Canon – Andreessen Horowitz
We’ll soon be updating this regularly at crypto.a16z.com, for now we’ll keep it updated here. You can also find most of a16z’s writings, posts, and videos on the topic at a16z.com/crypto."
From a timely Tim Wu interview
"One of the things I've been very interested in is feats of concentration that people used to perform all the time — [such as] writing a book in six weeks or a computer program in a few days. I don’t think that’s impossible now, but I do think it’s become considerably harder in our environment to enter important and deep states of focus and concentration, because we surround ourselves with technology, whose business model is to distract us.There’s a war for your attention. And you’re probably losing it. - Vox
Our computers are ostensibly productivity-enhancing machines, but they also are loaded with platforms whose business model is to consume as much of your time as possible with ads and noise and distraction.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, but we've engineered our environment for distraction. We bob from one thing to another, perpetually. And I don't know if it's so great for our culture or even ourselves."
Friday, February 09, 2018
Also see Nest co-founder Matt Rogers to leave Google (CNET)
"Google is bringing gadget maker Nest back under its control as the search giant battles rivals Amazon and Apple in the rapidly expanding smart home market. A big part of the change: Making it easier to add Google's artificial intelligence technology and Assistant -- a digital helper that competes against Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri -- into new Nest products.Google brings Nest into the game as its AI battles Alexa - CNET
The world's largest search engine has staked its future on building Google smarts into devices beyond smartphones. On Wednesday, Google said Nest was part of its plans and would no longer operate as a separate division that lived in the outer orbit of parent company Alphabet's "Other Bets" group of projects."
"Today, screenshots depicting a new “downvote” button on Facebook began circulating on Twitter, leading some to speculate that the social network is actively testing a ranking mechanism similar to Reddit’s community-controlled comment system. The company has officially confirmed the test to The Verge, but a Facebook spokesperson says it’s only intended to be a method for flagging questionable comments on public posts.Facebook is testing a downvote button, but only for comment moderation - The Verge
Tapping the downvote button hides the comment for the user who taps it, then asks them to say whether the comment was “offensive,” “misleading,” or “off topic.” Downvote view counts not being visible to users. “We are not testing a dislike button,” a Facebook spokesperson writes. “We are exploring a feature for people to give us feedback about comments on public page posts. This is running for a small set of people in the US only.”"
For a bigger-picture Amazon perspective (from January), see Amazon Has a Plan to Become Profitable. It's Called Advertising (Bloomberg)
"But it would be a bigger mistake to analyze Thursday’s news in a vacuum, because this announcement is bigger than heirloom tomatoes and two-hour delivery windows. In the broader context of Amazon’s ambitions—to build an operating system for the home, to expand into pharmacies and health care, to become a hit-making television production studio—this is the logical next step in turning Prime into the ultimate “life bundle,” a single membership program to bind consumers to every possible commercial need. As Amazon extends into more product areas, it can own both the search platform and the product, so that when a dad says to the smart speaker on his counter, “Alexa, I need brown rice and pork,” the product that arrives is an Amazon-branded box containing Amazon–Whole Foods–branded rice and pork.The Amazon-ification of Whole Foods - The Atlantic
This sort of vertical integration is invaluable for Amazon. For one thing, the creation of an on-demand Whole Foods product makes the company’s Prime subscription more valuable. Enriching Prime is arguably Amazon’s most important goal, given the lifetime value of a Prime subscriber. What’s more, as Amazon becomes the top-of-mind destination for not only books but also toiletries, medicine, and chicken breasts, it becomes the first-stop destination for all of its customers’ searches."
The New York Times digital paywall business is growing as fast as Facebook and faster than Google - Recode
All the news that's perhaps no longer fit to print (dead-tree)
"But what’s particularly noteworthy is how quickly the business has grown. The paper brought in $340 million in online subscriptions for 2017, a 46 percent spike over the previous year. Even more impressive: that’s also the average annual growth rate since the paywall started in 2011. That equals Facebook, which grew its business 47 percent last year, and it’s much faster than Google, which grew at a 23 percent clip. The Times’ overall digital business, by the way, is growing by 30 percent, altogether faster than Google.The New York Times digital paywall business is growing as fast as Facebook and faster than Google - Recode
Of course, those comparisons are a bit of a feint. Both businesses dwarf the Times. But it’s still apt since A) it is Facebook and Google that have been eating away the news business, and B) the Times, a 166-year-old establishment known for being stubbornly and decorously staid, often to the point of self-defeat, is now growing like a Silicon Valley behemoth."
Final paragraphs from a timely bitcoin reality check
"Whatever happens to Bitcoin, we must not lose sight of a more fundamental — and more worrisome — development: A financial product with a purely arbitrary value has been successfully introduced in the world’s most sophisticated financial markets.What Bitcoin Reveals About Financial Markets - The New York Times
Bitcoin probably won’t bring financial markets crashing down. But it shows that regulators need to cut those markets down to size."
Unlikely to be helpful with student loans...
"While the price of Bitcoin has dropped since Christmas, the virtual currency boom has shown no signs of cooling off in the more august precincts of America’s elite universities.Cryptocurrencies Come to Campus - The New York Times
Several top schools have added or are rushing to add classes about Bitcoin and the record-keeping technology that it introduced, known as the blockchain.
Graduate-level classes this semester at Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland, among other places, illustrate the fascination with the technology across several academic fields, and the assumption that it will outlast the current speculative price bubble."
Thursday, February 08, 2018
The Falcon Heavy’s creator is trying to change more worlds than one - How Elon Musk does it (The Economist)
From a detailed SpaceX/Tesla reality check
"While Mr Straubel struggles in hell, Tesla burns money as the Falcon Heavy burns kerosene. Barclays, a bank, reckons that Tesla will consume $4.2bn this year. With just $3.4bn in cash at the end of 2017 Mr Musk will almost certainly need another injection of funds by the middle of the year—and maybe more later. Mr Osborne of Cowen reckons Tesla’s capital expenditures will amount to $20bn-$25bn between 2017 and 2020. Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, a prominent short-seller who predicted the collapse of Enron, recently denounced Tesla’s history of missing deadlines and targets as meaning that “the equity is worthless.”The Falcon Heavy’s creator is trying to change more worlds than one - How Elon Musk does it
As yet, though, the shareholders do not seem to agree. Tesla’s stock price has held fairly steady; people might even buy more, if offered. They invest because, as a SpaceX insider puts it: “They believe in Elon.” When he says, as he did on February 7th, “If we can send a roadster to the asteroid belt we can solve Model 3 production,” many happily accept the non sequitur."
See Amazon Begins Grocery Delivery from Whole Foods Market with Plans for Expansion in 2018 (Amazon Press Room) for more details
"Amazon has announced the first major integration between its e-commerce operations and its acquisition of Whole Foods. The company is adding groceries from the chain to its Prime Now high-speed delivery service in four markets — Dallas, Virginia Beach, Cincinnati, and Whole Foods’ hometown of Austin. Amazon Prime members will be able to order groceries for delivery within one or two hours; two-hour delivery is free, while one-hour delivery costs $7.99 on orders above $35.Amazon starts delivering Whole Foods groceries by Prime Now - The Verge
Whole Foods goods available through Prime Now include “fresh and organic produce, bakery, dairy, meat and seafood, floral, and everyday staples” along with “select alcohol,” according to a press release. Prime Now VP Stephenie Landry tells The Wall Street Journal that Amazon plans to offer the service in more markets, although there's no official timeframe yet."
For a possible translation guide, see In ‘Brotopia,’ Silicon Valley Disrupts Everything but the Boys’ Club
"After Mr. Page repeatedly spurned meetings to discuss combining Uber’s ride-hailing service with Google’s work on self-driving vehicles in some sort of partnership, Mr. Kalanick said, his company started to develop its own autonomous car technology.Why Google’s Bosses Became ‘Unpumped’ About Uber - The New York Times
Uber hired a team of robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon University, deepening the division between the two companies.
“Generally, Google was super not happy, unpumped about us doing this,” said Mr. Kalanick, who stepped down as Uber’s chief executive in June. He recalled that Mr. Page had been “angsty” and asked him: “Why are you doing my thing?”"
And this is before the 2018 election cycle disinformation campaigns fully kick in...
"The company topped analysts’ average sales estimates in the fourth quarter and for the first time posted a real profit, a milestone in Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s turnaround effort. Monthly active users were little changed from the prior quarter at 330 million, a lower-than-projected total that the company attributed in part to stepped-up efforts to reduce spam, malicious activity and fake accounts.Twitter Posts Surprise Sales Gain; Monthly User Growth Stagnates - Bloomberg
The report adds to positive momentum in recent months for Twitter, which spent the second half of 2017 explaining how Russian-linked accounts -- including automated bots -- influenced content on its platform around the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Dorsey, who also runs Square Inc., has been working to broaden Twitter from a microblogging site into a destination for users to see "what’s happening now” by striking live-streaming partnerships with news outlets and sports leagues."
A week of ups and downs for Tesla; accentuating the positive, see Tesla posts narrower than expected loss, says it's on track to meet Model 3 production goals (CNBC)
"On Tuesday, Elon Musk had a Tesla Roadster launched toward an orbit around the sun. A day later, he and his car company came back to earth.Tesla Model 3, Elon Musk’s Grail, Remains a Costly Pursuit - The New York Times
The electric-car maker said Wednesday that it lost more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in the fourth quarter as it scrambled to root out glitches from its manufacturing operations and ramp up production of its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan.
In a conference call with analysts, Mr. Musk, the chief executive, acknowledged that Tesla still faced challenges in putting the Model 3 into mass production. “We were in a deeper level of hell than we expected, still a few levels deeper than we would like to be,” he said."
Wednesday, February 07, 2018
The Falcon Heavy’s successful flight is another vindication for Elon Musk - A spectacular spaceflight (The Economist)
A multifaceted space race
"The day before the launch, Mr Musk had said that success would mean “game over” for other launch providers. SpaceX’s mastery of reusability means its launch prices are far lower than those of its competitors. The $90m price tag of a Falcon Heavy launch is about a quarter the price of the next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, which is produced by a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing—and which can haul only half as much cargo into orbit. And it is a tenth of what a single launch of the SLS is expected to cost.The Falcon Heavy’s successful flight is another vindication for Elon Musk - A spectacular spaceflight
Future SpaceX rockets will be bigger still. On Monday Mr Musk hinted at the possibility of a Falcon Super Heavy, comprising five boosters and 45 engines. It is less clear how big the market for such beefy rockets really is: the Delta IV Heavy has launched just nine times since its maiden flight in 2004. If the SLS were to be cancelled, though, being able to sell NASA such beasts for missions to the Moon might be a nice earner."
I'm surprised this wasn't offered a long time ago
"Microsoft is trying to court business customers of competing cloud services by offering its own products for free in a new promotion starting today. The deal, which remains active until June 30th of this year, will let corporate customers of competing enterprise software suites from Box, Dropbox, and Google switch to OneDrive, with Microsoft waiving the bill until a business pays off its existing contract with a cap set at three years. Microsoft also says its dedicated FastTrack team will work with any new customers to help migrate businesses to OneDrive and Office 365. The deal is only valid for businesses that are not currently customers and are willing to commit to a 500-user minimum.From Microsoft takes aim at Google, Box, Dropbox with OneDrive switch offer (ZDNet):
It’s a solid promotion, and it’s sure to lure some customers away from storage, productivity, and other cloud computing providers, with Microsoft eating the short-term contract revenue in hopes of gaining a long-term subscriber relationship. The broader strategy here is one many people are familiar with on the consumer side of the equation: ecosystem lock-in. Many of Microsoft’s products these days work well together, especially for businesses. Getting a company to move to OneDrive for storage or Office 365 for productivity is the first step in converting an organization to more lucrative contracts like Azure for hosting or infrastructure."
"Microsoft isn't backing off from its partnering strategy with this compete offer, officials said. Microsoft will continue to work with Box for situations where customers want Box's cloud storage and content-management services on Azure. Nor is Microsoft backing away from its integration deal with Dropbox around Office 365 and Teams.Microsoft is trying to poach Dropbox and Google customers with free OneDrive deal - The Verge
It's still all about coopetition, Microsoft officials said."
See Elon Musk wants 'a new space race,' says new SpaceX rocket can launch payloads as far as Pluto (CNBC) for additional details
"In the past, Mr. Musk has indicated SpaceX spent nearly $1 billion to develop the rocket. On Tuesday, he said the cost ended up “a lot more than I’d like to admit.“ But in his latest estimate, he pegged it at “half a billion [dollars] or more.”Elon Musk Dissects Falcon Heavy Angst and Sweet Smell of Success - WSJ
Speaking more broadly about the state of commercial space ventures, SpaceX’s chief didn’t respond directly to a question about whether he felt he was competing against fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com Inc., who also has set his sights on eventually transporting large numbers of people deep into space. But Mr. Musk said he hoped Falcon Heavy’s initial success will “encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights” regarding space endeavors.
“We want a new space race,” he said with a chuckle. “Races are exciting.”"
Spiking ... back to its IPO price
"However fast Snap is growing, it still has the world to conquer. EMarketer, a research firm, estimated that the company will generate $1.47 billion in net worldwide ad revenue this year, up 90 percent over 2017. That will give Snap less than 1 percent of the worldwide digital ad market.Snap Reverses Slide as User Growth and Revenue Jump - The New York Times
Snap, based in Venice, Calif., may be benefiting from troubles at its much larger rival, Facebook. Under pressure from multiple sides, Facebook said last week it had made changes that reduced the hours its two billion users were spending on its pages.
Snap shares closed Tuesday during regular trading at $14.06. Even with the spike from the earnings, shares are about $17, which was the initial offering price last March. In its early days, the Snap platform was dismissed as a fad for teens. That criticism has been tempered, but there are still many doubters."
Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, which launched on top of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier today, is going farther out into the Solar System than originally planned. - The Verge
"But now it seems that engine ignition worked a little too well. SpaceX CEO Musk tweeted out a map of the roadster’s final orbit after the burn, showing just how far out the car will travel. And it looks like it’s going so far into the asteroid belt that it will get relatively close to the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres.Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, which launched on top of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier today, is going farther out into the Solar System than originally planned. - The Verge
It’s unclear what exactly will happen to the car: Before the Tesla launched, Musk said that there was an extremely tiny chance that the vehicle would ever hit Mars. But there’s been no clarification about how this new path will affect the car’s chances of running into some other space object. And planetary scientists on Twitter want more answers about the exact orbit to calculate the Tesla’s odds of collision, and how long it will actually last in deep space."
Tuesday, February 06, 2018
More visibility into Intel's smart glasses plans
"News of the Vaunt first broke last week with Bloomberg’s scoop that said, “Intel plans to sell a majority stake in its augmented reality business.” Intel wouldn’t comment on Bloomberg’s story to me, but I think the key line from the story is: “Intel intends to attract investors who can contribute to the business with strong sales channels, industry or design expertise, rather than financial backers.”Exclusive: Intel’s new Vaunt smart glasses actually look good - The Verge
That line jibes with what sources tell me — that Intel isn’t so much looking to sell off NDG whole cloth, but instead find a partner to help bring this thing to retail. It also jibes with what Bautista told me back in December. “It is very unlikely that Intel will take it to market because we typically don’t do that. Our core business [is] we work the partners, we work with others to do that,” Bautista says. “With these glasses, we’re working with key ecosystem hardware providers — whether they’re frames or lenses and things like that. Because we believe there’s a whole channel to people who wear glasses that’s already there.”"
Here’s how Arc’s cautious quest to become the go-to publishing system for news organizations is going » Nieman Journalism Lab
An update on The Washington Post, software vendor
"Arc Publishing has “dozens” of other customers — the Post wouldn’t share an exact number — all of whom can work with the Arc team on site presentation technical transition, troubleshooting, and new features (the PMN arrangement is unique in that the Lenfest Institute will share lessons learned throughout the transition). Arc handles all the hosting through Amazon Web Services, and charges commercial clients based on each publisher’s site traffic. $10,000 per month is the publicly cited figure for the smallest Arc users, up to around $150,000 per month for the larger publishers. Most Arc clients so far have been medium to large-sized publishers, director of Arc Publishing Matt Monahan told me. (College newspapers such as Columbia’s Spectator and the University of Maryland’s Diamondback were the first to test Arc, for free.) The Post declined to share revenue figures for Arc’s business, but revenue “doubled year-over-year,” according to a November Fast Company article.Here’s how Arc’s cautious quest to become the go-to publishing system for news organizations is going » Nieman Journalism Lab
The Post has previously said Arc is moving towards being able to offer a completely automated, self-service option, though it’s not quite there yet (parts of deployment are starting to be automated, and certain developments, like a ticketing system for troubleshooting, set it on a path to scaling faster). In the past two or so years, Arc has been adding publishing clients at a fast trickle, but slowly enough that it can still be responsive to individual publishers’ requests."