Expiration of Major Cybersex Patent Could Set Off Explosive Innovation

Friday marked a major milestone for the more than $15 billion adult toy industry, with the expiration of a longstanding patent on sex toys controlled over the internet. The patent has been held in recent years by a company widely regarded as a ‘patent troll,’ focused not on developing usable technology, but instead on seeking monetary damages from anyone who infringed on their claim to the idea.

Sex industry insiders speaking with Ars Technica described the moment as a watershed, which could unleash a wave of innovation in so-called “sex tech.” The basic idea behind the expiring patent is almost as old as the internet – that two users might sexually stimulate each other using devices controlled over the internet.

Sales of sex toys have been recently measured at about $15 billion per year, but many have projected major growth for the industry thanks to eroding taboos and high-profile cultural landmarks such as the 50 Shades of Grey books and films. Removing obstacles to internet-linked sex-toys — a field often referred to as “teledildonics” — could further spur growth.

“The race will be on to create the most fantastic orgasmic experiences possible over an Internet connection,” Maxine Lynn, an intellectual property lawyer specializing in sex technology, told Ars.

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Other forms of remote sex, from porn to sexting, have certainly thrived in the digital era. But TZU Technologies, the owners of patent #6,368,268 (a “Method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks”) have in recent years filed frequent infringement lawsuits against product developers. That included at least six filings in 2015, among them a suit against a Kickstarter project intended only to enable virtual handholding. Kickstarter was named as a codefendant in that suit, which the plaintiff partly withdrew when Kickstarter moved to fight it in court.

Whatever your feelings about this specific strain of salacious tech, then, the case highlights still-unresolved problems in the way technology patents are awarded, interpreted, and enforced. The 1998 cybersex patent, like those in other instances of patent trolling, is extremely broad, describing general functions (“select input device and stimulation device”) rather than specific mechanisms. There is also compelling evidence it wasn’t even novel at the time it was filed.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the current patent system as so vulnerable to patent trolls that it’s fundamentally “broken.” Similar tactics have been used to file expensive, distracting claims over the basic functionality behind everything from scanning documents to sending email.

Investors query funding costs at a private Tesla

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) – Several Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) shareholders have told Reuters they are concerned that the electric car maker will have to pay more to fund its growth if it becomes a private company and loses the ability to sell new shares to stock market investors.

The issue has come to the fore as a special Tesla board committee considers Chief Executive Elon Musk’s idea of taking the loss-making company private in a deal that could be worth as much as $72 billion.

Tesla, whose bonds are rated “junk” by credit rating agencies due to its $11 billion debt pile and its negative cash flow, has tapped the stock market six times in the last eight years through share sales, raising nearly $4.3 billion, according to data from Dealogic.

Without that ready access to capital, Tesla investors who would consider keeping their stake in a private Tesla – as Musk has suggested – wonder how Tesla would fund itself as a private company.

“It ultimately comes down to if you can afford to be private and if you can get funding, and what the cost of that funding is,” said Craig Birk, chief investment officer for Personal Capital Advisors Corp, a Tesla shareholder which owned about 97,000 shares as of June 30.

Musk shocked investors last week with a tweet that he was considering taking Tesla private at a price of $420 a share and that funding was “secured.”

He elaborated on Monday that he believed Saudi Arabia’s PIF, a new shareholder in Tesla, could provide the necessary funding, although sources close to the sovereign wealth fund have played down that prospect.

The 47-year-old entrepreneur and engineer said this week he believes two-thirds of existing Tesla shareholders would roll over their holdings into a private company, rather than cash out, and that he was still talking with major shareholders and advisers before settling on a structure for a deal. It remains unclear how any deal would be financed.

LACK OF LIQUIDITY

Musk has cited his long-running vendetta with short-sellers, who are betting that Tesla’s stock will go down, as well as Wall Street’s short-term focus on quarterly earnings, as reasons to take the company private. The implications for the company’s funding, however, show that exiting the stock market will likely come with costs for Tesla.

Musk said on Monday he did not want to saddle Tesla with more debt, meaning it would then have to rely on private fundraising rounds like Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and other venture-backed companies, likely incurring a much higher cost of capital.

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla sales and service center is shown in Costa Mesa, California, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Estimates on how expensive private equity fundraising is compared with secondary share sales in the stock market vary. Venky Ganesan, investing partner at Menlo Ventures, said in an interview that the cost of capital – the rate of return required by an investor to persuade them to make a given investment – averages 17 percent to 18 percent for private companies compared with 6 percent to 7 percent for public companies.

“The primary downside of going private is the higher cost of capital that investors demand for the lack of liquidity, being able to buy and sell at a fair price at short notice,” Jacobs Thomas, professor of accounting and finance at Yale School of Management, wrote on the university’s website earlier this month in a post on Tesla.

The issue of funding is not merely academic. Tesla burnt through $3.4 billion of cash last year and has said it expects to invest another $2.5 billion this year.

Musk has said repeatedly since April that Tesla has no need to raise new capital. But analysts expect Tesla will require billions of dollars more over the next several years to fund its expansion plans and to develop new electric premium vehicles to take on German rivals.

On top of that, the company’s battery Gigafactory outside Reno, Nevada is still only partially complete, and Musk has said that an announcement about a European plant will likely come by the end of this year.

Another big-ticket item for Tesla is its recently announced China factory in Shanghai, although Musk has said funding for the roughly $2 billion cost would come from local debt.

NEW CARS IN DEVELOPMENT

Getting access to cheap capital is a constant challenge for automakers, which can spend $1 billion or more engineering a single new model and bringing it to mass production, only to have the vehicle flop because of a cyclical sales slump or a shift in market tastes.

Mainstream automakers have historically failed to earn their cost of capital of about 9 percent because investments in new models, new technology and production equipment do not generate sufficient profits, the late Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) chief executive Sergio Marchionne said in an April 2015 investor presentation.

Three new vehicles are in development at Tesla, the Model Y compact SUV, a new $200,000 Roadster and an electric heavy-duty truck that Musk unveiled last November, with production start dates in 2019 and 2020.

    Analysts say that a lot will depend on the forecasts that investors make on the company’s profitability for the next few years. The quicker Tesla can turn a sizeable profit, the easier it will be able to fund itself.

“Tesla is clearly capital-intensive… but it’s also a disruptor that’s growing like crazy, perhaps making it more akin to high-growth tech companies,” Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi wrote in a research note on Thursday.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Ross Kerber in Boston; Additional reporting by Heather Somerville and Alexandria Sage in San Francisco, Joe White in Detroit and Harry Brumpton and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Bill Rigby

3 Lessons You Can Learn From These Barrier Breaking Women Who Just Got A Seat At The Table

This week Christine Hallquist, Jahana Hayes, and Ilhan Omar made headlines for their success in the primary election. Each of their victories broke down some sort of barrier, making it even more powerful of a win.

It’s clear to see the walls that these candidates (and their campaigns) are bringing down. Which is why their wins are such valuable lessons in leadership, communication, and branding. Whether you’re a CEO, entrepreneur, or the future president of the United States these three lessons can show you how to get the support and outcomes you seek to be successful. 

1. Walk the walk and talk the talk.

Hallquist is making history for being the first transgender candidate to win the primary and be nominated for governor by a major party. Yet what appealed to her Vermont based voters wasn’t her gender identity, it was her message and her credentials that supported that message. 

As a candidate, Hallquist is perceived as genuine and someone who really does want to help the state of Vermont. She has had a lot of experience providing service to the state. She’s known for her 12 years of work at CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative (one of the largest electric companies in the state) where she helped elevate the states power utility–including making WIFI accessible throughout the state. These efforts have shown her voters that she can walk the walk.

She also made sure to speak to issues such as renewable energy, a $15 minimum wage, and universal health care, that were specifically pressing to voters in the area  This helped her connect with and build a loyal audience. 

If you want the support of your peers, voters, or anyone else you to show them that they can trust you. Good leaders build credibility with their subordinates and their constituents by being accountable. Your actions and words need to display your values, and the valuable change you wish to provide them. 

2. Do the unprecedented. 

This past week Jahana Hayes became one step closer to becoming Connecticut’s first black Democrat in Congress by winning the primary in her district. Like any good candidate, Hayes did this by running a campaign that resonated with her voter base, and that spoke to her story. Her campaign advocated protecting the public education system, aligned with her as a former teacher. She also said she wanted more gun control legislation which she attributed to the Sandy Hook Elemraty School shooting that happened in 2012 in Connecticut. 

Points such as those really connected her to a voter base. Still what sets her apart from a normal candidate was her ability to do the unprecedented. 

“This is my home, where people are strong, but they aren’t supposed to run for Congress,” Hayes said in a campaign video about Waterbury. “If Congress starts to look like us, no one can stop us. This is our moment to act, to organize, and bring our truth to power.”

Most entrepreneurs understand the logic of going after what you want–even though the rest of the world may be telling you not to. This dedication of putting yourself on the line and doing something that no one has done before makes for great leaders and self-starters. From the entrepreneurial space to politics, standing out and getting ahead can stem from your ability to double down on yourself and your vision.

3. Forge your own path, break your own barriers.   

Ilhan Omar is an empowering example of the power of breaking down barriers. She was born in Somalia and later lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years before moving to the United States when she was 12. In 2016, she was voted into the Minnesota House of Representatives, which made her the first Somali-American legislator.  Today, her win in the primary allows her the opportunity to possibly become the nation’s first Muslim women in Congress. 

Her commitment and perseverance is a powerful lesson to anyone who’s ever wanted to give up. Omar’s ability to continue to break down barriers is what has set her apart from other candidates. She’s said that being bold in her progressive beliefs allows her to represent her voter base–even though they may come from different backgrounds.

Her win is a helpful example to future leaders of industry who come up against barriers. Trailblazing isn’t easy but if you take the time to forge your own path and have the perseverance to overcome obstacles you’re bound to gain a significant amount traction, and eventually success.

Mobile Fraud is Big Business: Here's How Game Developers are Fighting Back

The mobile industry in general and the mobile games market in particular have become a magnet for fraudsters and their attacks. Currently, mobile games account for 60% of all app downloads in the world, according to SensorTower, with a forecast of hitting $137.9 billion in revenues in 2018. That’s an increase of 13.3% from 2017. This large amount of growth makes it attractive for fraudsters to scale as well, and a problem for successful developers like Goodgame Studios.

Mobile games can easily attract millions of downloads. At the same time, there are a lot of mobile game developers out there, so it’s unsurprising that developers have turned to advertisers to help them market their product. Gaming advertisers often have significant marketing budgets at their disposal, making the mobile gaming industry particularly interesting and attractive to fraudsters.

The Mobile Games Fraud Problem

Goodgames’ first mobile title, Empire: Four Kingdoms, became one of the most popular games in the strategy genre; Its newest titles, Big Farm: Mobile Harvest  and Big Company: Skytopia, were installed by millions of users worldwide. In order to acquire new users, the developer uses a combination of Facebook, Google Adword, and preload campaigns (where the app comes preloaded on the mobile phone) to ensure downloads and retention. In addition to that, the company relies on various ad networks and agencies to keep the best inbound funnels alive while killing the rest. For that reason, as you can imagine, fraud is an incredibly important thing to be mindful of.

Goodgame Studios has been dealing with fraud threats for several years, but the threats keep getting more complex, according to Tim Heicks, Goodgame’s Head of Performance Marketing. “Although our internal fraud scripts already detect various fraud types, these days we are noticing that newer, smarter techniques are popping up,” says Heicks. “Fraudsters have been using this as an opportunity to mix different types of fraudulent installs together by blurring the lines and making it harder to identify.”

In many ways this leads to an ongoing battle between the fraudsters and the advertisers – a conflict where the advertiser is at a disadvantage since fraud detection isn’t exactly why they got into the mobile game business to begin with. That’s part of why there’s been a growing industry around fraud detection: developers and publishers need to surround themselves with strong anti-fraud solutions.

The Evolving Fraud Landscape

In 2015-2016, the fraud problem was already notable, but the industry was dealing with mostly primitive types of fraud, such as click-spamming and click-injections, according to Inna Ushakova, CEO & Co-founder of Scalarr. While Ushakova says these types of fraud are still common, “smart fraud” is the newest threat were smart bots or sophisticated bots can fully emulate user behavior and even make in-app payments. Ushakova also considers modified click-spamming as a form of smart fraud. “This year, we have seen significant growth in mixed traffic, which is one of the most insidious types of fraud these days,” she explains. “You might be facing click-spamming mixed together with bot traffic. From the developers’ point of view, it may look unsuspicious because of click-spamming, but in fact, this is a prime example of disguised fraud.” Ultimately, the biggest problem with fraud these days is that there’s so much money in fraud that perpetrators are incentivized to find new ways to fraud game developers as old mechanisms stop working.

With the evolving threat of new fraud types, Goodgame Studios’ scripts and anti-fraud tools were only catching primitive types of fraud. The developer then decided to survey the market for more advanced tools and came across anti-fraud solutions based on machine learning algorithms, leading their discovery of Scalarr.

Scalarr uses machine learning and big data algorithms to fight app install ad fraud primarily because of their ability to analyze a huge number of metrics and interrelations between them. This allows Scalarr to make more efficient analysis than manual human or rule-based techniques, which are still an integral part of most solutions. The end result? By reducing the number of false-negatives and false-positives, Scalarr’s accuracy is currently up to 97%, according to Ushakova.

The Road Ahead

Goodgame Studios is able to discover specific percentages for each type of fraud. The company has reported that 77.7% of all fraud cases were caused by classic bots, with click injections responsible for 14.8% and classic click-spamming responsible for 7.5%. But among this 7.5% of click-spamming, about 97% can be classified as modified click-spamming. “The biggest problem behind modified click-spamming is the fact, that we were considering these fake installs to be real, and we were paying for them because of their ‘realistic’ behavior,” explains Heicks. “But now we have a better interpretation of this type of fraud and have higher confidence buying traffic.”

Despite all the hype around mobile ad fraud, the problem remains and tends to grow: Scalarr estimates the damage caused by app-install ad fraud could reach $4,6 billion in 2018 with further compound annual growth rate of 20 % from 2018 to 2020. But this negative tendency could change with more serious and uncompromising approaches to implement strong anti-fraud solutions. As long as there’s money in developing successful mobile games, there will be money in fraud. Luckily, there will also be anti-fraud solutions that rise to stem the tide.

Buying Opportunity In Alibaba Stock

Chinese stocks have been under heavy selling pressure lately, mostly because of investor concerns about the trade war with the U.S. and its possible impact on China’s economy and currency value. In this context, Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) stock is down by nearly 18% from its highs of the last year.

On the other hand, Alibaba is producing outstanding financial performance, its long-term growth prospects look really promising, and valuation levels are fairly attractive for such a strong business. For investors who can tolerate the short-term uncertainty in Alibaba stock, the recent adjustment in the stock price looks like a buying opportunity.

Alibaba Is Firing On All Cylinders

Looking at the company’s financial performance for the quarter ended in March of 2018, it’s hard to see why the stock is down lately. Total revenue during the period amounted to $9.87 billion, increasing by 61% year over year. The company ended the quarter with 552 million users on its China retail marketplaces, an increase of 37 million new users from December 31, 2017. Revenue in the cloud computing business jumped by 103% year over year.

Source: Alibaba

It’s not easy to find companies of that size growing at such an impressive speed, since growth tends to naturally slow down as a business gains size over time. However, Alibaba is not only doing great, growth in local currency is even accelerating in comparison to previous quarters.

Chart

BABA Revenue (Quarterly YoY Growth) data by YCharts

Importantly, Alibaba is producing vigorous growth rates from its different growth engines, and broad-based growth is a major positive in terms of evaluating the company’s ability to sustain performance going forward.

Source: Alibaba

Alibaba is aggressively investing in multiple growth initiatives across different areas, and this is having a negative impact on profit margins at the company level. On the other hand, profitability at the core business level is huge and expanding.

Source: Alibaba

The Long-Term Picture

From a long-term perspective, Alibaba is benefiting from powerful tailwinds, as the company operates in industries offering abundant room for expansion. The rise of the middle class in China and other emerging markets should drive growing demand for online commerce, digital payments, and online entertainment in the years and even decades ahead.

Internet penetration in China is still quite small at only 55%. However, the country is so big that there are three times more smartphone users and eleven times more mobile payments users in China than in the U.S. In a nutshell, Alibaba has an enormous addressable market, and the company’s addressable market should expand substantially in the years ahead due to growing internet penetration and increasing demand for all kinds of online services.

Source: Abacus News China Internet Report

The competitive landscape is quite dynamic, but Alibaba benefits from solid competitive strengths due to factors such as scale, brand recognition, and access to financial resources.

Besides, the network effect plays a key role in businesses such as online commerce and digital payments. Users want to go to the platforms where they can find more and better opportunities, so buyers and sellers attract each other to a leading platform such as Alibaba.

In businesses like online commerce and digital payments, the size of the platform increases the value of the service, which creates a self-sustaining virtuous cycle of growth and increasing competitive strength for a market leader such as Alibaba. The company has plenty of opportunities for growth, and it also has the competitive strengths to capitalize on such opportunities over the coming years.

Attractive Valuation

Wall Street analysts are on average expecting Alibaba to make $5.93 in earnings per share during the current year – meaning fiscal year 2019 for the company – and $7.84 per share during fiscal year 2020. Under those assumptions, the stock is trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 29 and 22 times earnings, respectively.

Looking at valuation metrics such price-to-sales, price-to-free cash flow, and operating price-to-earnings ratio, Alibaba stock looks quite conveniently priced by historical standards.

Chart

BABA PS Ratio (TTM) data by YCharts

The valuation levels are clearly attractive for a market leader firing on all cylinders and offering plenty of room for sustained revenue growth and expanding profitability in the years ahead.

Investing Implications

Technically speaking, Alibaba stock has a key support area around $165-166 per share. Such area has worked as support for more than a year, since August of 2017. With the stock approaching those levels once again, the timing looks right for investors looking to build a position in Alibaba.

Considering all the risks, Alibaba operates in a very dynamic industry, and the company is facing rising competitive pressure from players such as Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY), JD.com (NASDAQ:JD), Vipshop (NYSE:VIPS), and Pinduoduo (NASDAQ:PDD). It is also expanding across different markets and industries, and it’s hard to tell what kind of performance the company can generate in those new ventures.

Investing in China also carries some particular risks. The economic cycle in China is remarkably volatile and unpredictable, and the political and regulatory environment is always a major source of potential uncertainty for investors.

Those risks being acknowledged, the overall risk and potential reward equation in Alibaba stock looks quite attractive for growth-oriented investors who can tolerate the short-term volatility in search for superior upside potential in the long term.

Disclosure: I am/we are long BABA, TCEHY.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Tencent games revenue in focus after China blocks "Monster Hunter: World"

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd saw its stock tumble on Tuesday, wiping out around $15 billion in its market value, amid concern of a blow to its video game revenue after regulators blocked the sale of one of its blockbuster titles.

A Tencent sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

Analysts had widely expected “Monster Hunter: World” to be one of 2018’s biggest hits for Tencent, which licensed the game from Japan’s Capcom Co Ltd to sell on its WeGame platform.

However the game, where players hunt fearsome creatures, disappeared from the platform on Monday, days after its Aug. 8 release. Tencent in a statement said regulators had received a large number of complaints about the game, which has sold over eight million copies worldwide.

Shares in Tencent, which is set to report half-year earnings on Wednesday, closed down 3.4 percent, against a 0.7 percent fall in the benchmark Hang Seng share price index.

The stock has dropped more than 14 percent this year, losing around $160 billion in market value since peaking in January.

“People are very concerned about Tencent in the short-term,” said Douglas Morton, head of research, Asia, at Northern Trust Capital Markets.

He said the block follows concern over Tencent’s ability to monetize “PlayerUnknown Battleground” (PUBG). Tencent had to alter PUBG last year after the regulator deemed it too violent, but has yet to receive a license to sell the updated version.

Industry executives said many firms have been awaiting games sales licenses since March after the government earlier in the year reformed its content regulatory body and split up the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film & Television.

“The key here is, not only PUBG, but no games are able to get licenses now,” a person from Tencent told Reuters on Tuesday on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The person said staff were puzzled as to why sales of Monster Hunter: World had been blocked as it was less gory than other titles and had received its sales license before March.

“It’s not impossible that you could still be hit even after you pass the censors, in the same way a movie can be pulled after public screening,” the person said.

Tencent declined to comment beyond Tuesday’s statement. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which regulates the video games industry, did not respond to requests for comment.

Morton said he remained bullish on Tencent stock and that there is always regulatory risk in China versus the rest of the global gaming market.

“For us this (firm) is a medium-to-longer-term holding with a history of good investment,” Morton said. “I think the monetization (of the blocked games) will happen, it is just a matter of time.”

Tencent said customers who purchased Monster Hunter: World were entitled to a full refund until Aug. 20. It said they will be able continue playing the game but that the firm could not guarantee associated services would continue.

Reporting by Pei Li in BEIJING and Sijia Jiang and Meg Shen in HONG KONG; Writing by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI; Editing by Michael Perry and Christopher Cushing

Vietnam's Vinfast in deal with Siemens for technology to make electric buses

HANOI (Reuters) – VinFast Trading and Production LLC has signed two contracts with Siemens Vietnam, a unit of Siemens AG, for the supply of technology and components to manufacture electric buses in the Southeast Asian country.

The headquarters of Siemens AG is seen before the company’s annual news conference in Munich, Germany, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

VinFast, a unit of Vietnam’s biggest private conglomerate, Vingroup JSC, said on Monday the deals will enable it to launch the first electric bus by the end of 2019.

“Electric buses are an essential element of sustainable urban public transportation systems,” Siemens Vietnam President and CEO Pham Thai Lai said in the statement.

VinFast will also produce electric motorcycles, electric cars and gasoline cars from its $1.5-billion factory being built in Haiphong City, it said.

In June, General Motors Co agreed to transfer its Vietnamese operation to VinFast, which will also exclusively distribute GM’s Chevrolet cars in Vietnam.

Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Cyber Saturday—The War on InfoWars

Good evening, Cyber Saturday readers.

A number of tech companies excised the rantings and ravings of Alex Jones, a pundit known for promulgating deranged conspiracy theories, from their digital repositories this past week.

On his website, InfoWars, Jones has been known to push baseless, detestable claims; for example, that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and the September 11th attacks were orchestrated by the government. Fed up with Jones’ antics, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube—with the notable exception of Twitter—corked his megaphone.

Add this confrontation to the longstanding tug-of-war between free speech and censorship on the web. One of my favorite contributions to this dialogue was supplied last year by Matthew Prince, CEO and cofounder of Cloudflare, a startup offering services that improve website performance and security. By policy, Prince’s firm chooses to protect all comers, whether that’s the webpage of an ecommerce startup or a black market site. Cloudflare has long maintained that policing the Internet is a job for, well, the police—not for itself.

Until Prince broke his own rule. As the CEO described it in a blog post, one day he felt a customer crossed the line. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi sympathizing site, said that Prince’s company was a secret supporter of its ideology. That went too far—and to prove the point, Prince gave the site the boot.

“Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it’s so dangerous,” Prince wrote. “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.”

Subverting his own decision, Prince continued: “Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.”

I don’t have an easy answer for these predicaments. But as I considered Facebook’s move, the words of the company’s parting security chief, Alex Stamos, rang in my ears. “We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues,” he said in March, part of a letter addressed to Facebook that leaked publicly. “And we need to be open, honest and transparent about our challenges and what we are doing to fix them.”

Amen to that. What do you make of this debate, dear reader? I would like to hear from you. What is the right course of action for these companies? Is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the right for keeping Jones afloat, or not?

Do write. I welcome your thoughts.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

How to See Your Company through the Eyes of the Employees

Have you ever seen the reality show Undercover Boss? I highly recommend it.

On the show, the CEO of a company, disguised in casual clothes and with a made-up back story, spends time working incognito alongside his or her front-line employees. There are the predictable inter-employee spats, miniature crises, and times when the CEO just doesn’t ‘get’ how to do some simple task.

It’s all in good fun. The dramatic buildup is to the big reveal at the end where the CEO takes off the disguise, rewards the freshly discovered unsung heroes of the business with money and promotions, shares and fixes lessons learned about the company.

What I recommend about Undercover Boss is not just that you watch it for fun, but that you copy it in your own life. I believe that the leader of an organization should find a way to see his or her business through the eyes of the employees, just as on the show.

I mean, consider: Do you really know what your front-line employees face on the job every day? It’s unlikely; even if you are present in the office, do you really think they behave the same when the boss is standing there?

So try it. Come in to the office in jeans one day, don’t introduce yourself, and try using the mail room. Contact your HR as a “new employee” and ask questions about health insurance and educational or learning opportunities. If you are in retail business, go to a store anonymously or call one with a question. How are people treating each other? The customer? Is the environment bustling and productive or lethargic and unhappy?

Of course you don’t always have to do the James Bond thing and show up in a disguise. Try the classic manage-by-walking-around strategy and make it a regular part of your schedule to go talk to people. Ask about what procedures (or lack thereof) get in the way of productivity. You’ll have to build trust, of course, that talking frankly and even complaining will not be penalized. That’s why you have to do it more than occasionally.

If you are the leader, chances are you don’t really know what it takes to get something done. You haven’t walked down all the pathways that are required to get an idea from Point A to Point B. You probably just say some variation of “Make it so,” and then you’re on to the next thing.

Meanwhile, your employees might be forced into a convoluted process that is not of their choosing. Sometimes they might even have to drop an initiative altogether, or hollow it out until it’s meaningless, simply because of an inefficient structure that gets in  the way.

How much more effective could you be if you really understood where lack of procedure and murky channels of communication are bogging things down? After all, you’re the person who has the clout to change all that–so you need to know.

What ends up falling by the wayside because no one is paying attention to the pathways? That’s why you need to get out your best hourly-worker costume and go find out. It might not make you a TV star, but it will definitely make you a Boss and Leader. (But if you want to see the real Undercover Boss show just for fun, check out the one when my colleague Bryon Stephens, CEO of my Extreme Leadership Institute, was the star of an episode.)

This Company Forces Its Employees to Unplug and It Can't Stop Growing

Culture is often overlooked when starting a business. You have to find customers, deal with growth, and tackle logistics, so culture isn’t always at the top of the list. In fact, most company cultures form unintentionally out of personality and habits because, even though you know it’s important, culture isn’t paying to keep the lights on when you’re just starting out.

Companies that last are the ones that build strong cultures from day one. Culture plays a key role in growth and agility in a constantly evolving marketplace. It can unify employees around a common goal, help you stay on course during tough times, and allow you to pivot quickly in new directions when needed — plus, it’s crucial to employee retention.

Build Off Existing Cultures That Work

As you might guess, building something that’s this essential to your company’s future isn’t exactly easy, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. One way to start is by understanding who you are as a company and what you value; then find examples of other companies that share your values, so you can get a feel for policies and attitudes that might work for you, too.

A good example of culture driving success is Bandwidth, a communications platform as a service company. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, it went public late last year and has since seen its stock steadily rise over 60 percent.

Like any company, Bandwidth is built around its founder, David Morken, who bootstrapped it over the first 10 years to a company of more 350 employees and a valuation over $630 million.

Every culture reflects its founder in some way. Morken values being active and unplugging for specific periods of time. The latter is somewhat rare, especially for a tech CEO, but his “vacation embargo” policy is one of the most progressive culture ideas in the country.

Align Your Culture With Your Values

Vacation time is mandatory at Bandwidth. You have to take it. The idea is simple: Bandwidth wants to keep its employees fresh and enable them to tackle challenges with new perspectives. That’s hard to do when you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions by notifications that always seem to demand your attention right this second.

One of the greatest challenges for organizations right now is focus. It’s great you can now work from home or your favorite cafe or anywhere else, but that connectedness doesn’t come without a price: We are constantly connected.

That’s not a bad thing inherently, but it can be if you’re expected to respond to an urgent email on a Saturday morning during your kid’s soccer game or while you’re on vacation. This constant, always-on state of connectivity leads to burnout. Consequently, it makes employees less motivated, less productive, and less excited to evangelize their own company.

No one wants to live like that. Morken, a father of six, said he values family time, so when he’s on vacation, he can’t be reached. Instead, he delegates responsibility and trusts his team. And every team member is afforded this same courtesy.

That’s incredibly uncommon, especially for company founders, but the policy is strictly enforced because everyone in the company values it and would want the same in return. It’s indicative of a culture of respect and trust, and it builds a bond throughout the organization.

Something to Remember …

Unless you play an active role in building a culture that reinforces your values, then you’re going to end up falling backward into reactive habits and processes that are going to be really hard to change down the road.

Your company is a reflection of you, so make sure your culture affords your employees the same things you’d want. The fastest way to lose trust and lower morale among your team members is to say one thing and then do another. Avoid that fallout by creating a culture that aligns with your values. The less you have to worry about fixing a broken culture, poor retention, and negative overall morale, the more you can concentrate on growing and thriving as a business now and in the future.

​Prometheus, Kubernetes and system monitoring, reaches maturity

Video: What is Kubernetes?

Prometheus, the open-source systems monitoring toolkit usually used with Kubernetes, has graduated from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). To move from incubation to graduation, projects must demonstrate thriving adoption, a documented, structured governance process, and a strong commitment to community sustainability and inclusivity. Prometheus has made the grade.

Also: What Kubernetes really is

First built at SoundCloud in 2012, Prometheus became a standalone open-source project and joined the CNCF in 2016 as the second hosted project, after Kubernetes. This systems and service monitoring system collects metrics from configured targets at given intervals, evaluates rule expressions, displays the results, and can trigger alerts if some condition is observed to be true. When used with Kubernetes Prometheus supports service discovery and monitoring of dynamically scheduled services. It’s licensed under theApache 2.

Prometheus boasts the following features.

  • A multi-dimensional data model with time series data identified by metric name and key/value pairs
  • A flexible query language to leverage this dimensionality
  • No reliance on distributed storage; single server nodes are autonomous
  • Time series collection happens via a pull model over HTTP
  • Pushing time series is supported via an intermediary gateway
  • Targets are discovered via service discovery or static configuration
  • Multiple modes of graphing and dashboarding support

This sounds complex, but as Frederic Branczyk, a Red Hat Principal Software Engineer, wrote in a blog posting, “Prometheus is easy to set up as a single, statically linked binary that can be downloaded and started with a single command. In tandem with this simplicity, it scales to hundreds of thousands of samples per second ingested on modern commodity hardware. Prometheus’ architecture is well suited for dynamic environments in which containers start and stop frequently, instead of requiring manual re-configuration. We specifically re-implemented the time-series database to accommodate high churn use cases with short lived time-series, while retaining and improving query latency and resource usage.”

In short, Prometheus is a powerful, open-source system for collecting server metrics. It then stores them in a searchable database. With a highly dimensional data model, you can run queries to slice and dice a collected series of data to generate ad-hoc graphs, tables, and alerts, You can also integrate Prometheus allows with third-party data exporters, such as for Docker, HAProxy, and StatsD.

Also: How to install the Prometheus monitoring system TechRepublic

Branczyk continued, “Nearly as important as the software itself is Prometheus’ low barrier to entry into monitoring, helping to define a new era of monitoring culture. Multiple books have been written by both users as well as maintainers of Prometheus highlighting this shift towards usability, and even the new Google SRE workbook uses Prometheus in its example queries and alerts.” Chris Aniszczyk, CNCF’s COO added, “Since its inception in 2012, Prometheus has grown to become one of the top open-source monitoring tools of choice for enterprises building modern cloud native applications.”

While it’s best known for its use with Kubernetes to monitor containers and microservices on clouds, that’s far from Prometheus only use. For example, Uber uses Prometheus with its newly open-sourced M3 large-scale data metrics program,

Since Prometheus became a CNCF incubation program, its developers have completely rewritten its storage back-end to support high churn and been made more stable. The Prometheus team has also started a documentation push to make it easier to adopt.

“Since becoming part of CNCF, Prometheus has become an incremental piece in modern infrastructure stacks and helped shape the way organizations monitor critical applications,” said Julius Volz, Co-founder of the Prometheus project. “We are incredibly proud to have Prometheus graduate, and we look forward to working with CNCF to sustain and grow our community.”

Related Stories:

Bugs in Mobile Credit Card Readers Could Expose Buyers

The tiny, portable credit card readers you use to pay at farmer’s markets, bake sales, and smoothie shops are convenient for consumers and merchants alike. But while more and more transactions are passing through them, devices from four of the leading companies in the space—Square, SumUp, iZettle, and PayPal—turn out to have a variety of concerning security flaws.

Leigh-Anne Galloway and Tim Yunusov from the security firm Positive Technologies looked at seven mobile point of sale devices in all. What they found wasn’t pretty: bugs that allowed them to manipulate commands using Bluetooth or mobile apps, modify payment amounts in magstripe swipe transactions, and even gain full remote control of a point of sale device.

“The very simple question that we had was how much security can be embedded in a device that costs less than $50?” Galloway says. “With that in mind we started off quite small by looking at two vendors and two card readers, but it quickly grew to become a much bigger project.”

All four manufacturers are addressing the issue, and not all models were vulnerable to all of the bugs. The researchers are presenting their findings Thursday at the Black Hat security conference.

The researchers found that they could exploit bugs in Bluetooth and mobile app connectivity to the devices to intercept transactions or modify commands. The flaws could allow an attacker to disable chip-based transactions, forcing customers to use a less secure magstrip swipe, and making it easier to steal data and clone customer cards.

Alternatively, a rogue merchant could make the mPOS device appear to decline a transaction to get a user to repeat it multiple times, or to change the total of a magstripe transaction up to the $50,000 limit. By intercepting the traffic and clandestinely modifying the value of the payment, an attacker could get a customer to approve a normal-looking transaction that is really worth much more. In these types of frauds, customers rely on their banks and credit card issuers to insure their losses, but magstripe is a deprecated protocol, and businesses who continue to use it now hold the liability.

The researchers also reported issues with firmware validation and downgrading that could allow an attacker to install old or tainted firmware versions, further exposing the devices.

The researchers found that in the Miura M010 Reader, which Square and Paypal formerly sold as a third-party device, they could exploit connectivity flaws to gain full remote code execution and file system access in the reader. Galloway notes that a third-party attacker might particularly want to use this control to change the mode of a PIN pad from encrypted to plaintext, known as “command mode,” to observe and collect customer PIN numbers.

The researchers evaluated accounts and devices used in the US and European regions, since they’re configured differently in each place. And while all of the terminals the researchers tested contained at least some vulnerabilities, the worst of it was limited to just a few of them.

“The Miura M010 Reader is a third-party credit card chip reader that we initially offered as a stopgap and today is used by only a few hundred Square sellers. As soon as we became aware of a vulnerability affecting the Miura Reader, we accelerated existing plans to drop support for the M010 Reader,” a Square spokesperson told WIRED. “Today it is no longer possible to use the Miura Reader on the Square ecosystem.”

“SumUp can confirm that there has never been any fraud attempted through its terminals using the magnetic stripe-based method outlined in this report,” said a SumUp spokesperson. “All the same, as soon as the researchers contacted us, our team successfully removed any possibility of such an attempt at fraud in the future.”

“We recognize the important role that researchers and our user community play in helping to keep PayPal secure,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “PayPal’s systems were not impacted and our teams have remediated the issues.”

iZettle did not return a request from WIRED for comment, but the researchers say that the company is remediating its bugs as well.

Galloway and Yunusov were happy with the proactive response from vendors. They hope, though, that their findings will raise awareness about the broader issue of making security a development priority for low cost embedded devices.

“The kind of issues we see with this market base you can see applying more broadly to IoT,” Galloway says. “With something like a card reader you would have an expectation of a certain level of security as a consumer or a business owner. But many of these companies haven’t been around for that long and the products themselves aren’t very mature. Security isn’t necessarily going to be embedded into the development process.”


More Great WIRED Stories

5 best Chromebooks for school in 2018

I started my “portable” computer life with a 22-pound KayPro II in 1982. Since then, I’ve used IBM and Lenovo ThinkPads, Compaq luggables, Nec Ultralites, Dell XPS 13s, the list goes on and on. These days, my laptop of choice is the Google Pixelbook.

At a starting price of $999, this is not a Chromebook for everyone. But, if you want to make the most not just from Chrome OS, but from Android and Linux as well, it’s your Chromebook.

There are often discounts for the Pixelbook. You can also get a 10-percent discount on the Pixelbook if you’re a student.

At a minimum the Pixelbook comes with a 1.2GHz 7th gen Intel Core 7Y57 processor, 256GB of SSD storage, and 8GB of RAM. Unlike the others, the Pixelbook comes not with a 100GB free Google Drive storage for two years, but 1TB of free storage for two years. That’s a value of almost $240 alone.

The Pixelbook also has Google Assistant, built-in. You can get to it via its own dedicated button on the Pixelbook’s keyboard or by simply saying “OK Google.” It’s context sensitive, so it will open with search results for what you already have on screen.

This luxury-model Chromebook comes with a pair of USB-C ports. One of these, however, is used to power the system up. For Wi-Fi, it uses 802.11ac.

With a battery life of about 10 hours, it won’t last long as some of the others, but then you can do a lot more with it. On my high-end model, I’ve had over 100 tabs open, while running Android and Linux applications.

You sure wouldn’t want to give this Pixelbook to an elementary student, but an advanced high-school or college student would be another matter. The Pixelbook is meant for power users and developers, if that describes your daughter or son, then get them this one. You’ll be glad you did.

Back-to-school tech: More resources

U.S. think tank's tiny lab helps Facebook battle fake social media

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A day before Facebook announced that it had discovered and disabled a propaganda campaign designed to sow dissension among U.S. voters, it exclusively shared some of the suspicious pages with an online forensics team so busy it hasn’t put a nameplate on the door.

FILE PHOTO: People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica, October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is based in a 12-foot-by-12-foot office in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the nearly 60-year-old Council www.atlanticcouncil.org, a think tank devoted to studying serious and at times obscure international issues.

Facebook is using the group to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. Last week, the company said it took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts that purported to be run by leftists and minority activists. While some U.S. officials said they were likely the work of Russian agents, Facebook said it did not know for sure.

It fell to the lab to point out similarities to fake Russian pages from 2016 during Facebook’s news conference last week.

Facebook began looking for outside help amid criticism for failing to rein in Russian propaganda ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The U.S. Justice Department won indictments against 13 Russians and three companies for using social media in that election to influence voters. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team warned last week of persistent attempts by Russia to use social media against the 2018 congressional elections as well.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos gives a keynote address during the Black Hat information security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

OUTSIDE HELP

With scores of its own cybersecurity professionals and $40 billion in annual revenue in 2017, Facebook might not seem in need of outside help.

But the lab and Atlantic Council bring geopolitical expertise and allow Facebook to distance itself from sensitive pronouncements. On last week’s call with reporters, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, said the company should not be expected to identify or blame specific governments for all the campaigns it detects.

“Companies like ours don’t have the necessary information to evaluate the relationship between political motivations that we infer about an adversary and the political goals of a nation-state,” said Stamos, who is leaving the company this month for a post at Stanford University. Instead, he said Facebook would stick to amassing digital evidence and turning it over to authorities and researchers.

It would also be awkward for Facebook to accuse a government of wrongdoing when the company is trying to enter or expand in a market under that government’s control.

Facebook donated an undisclosed amount to the lab in May that was enough, said Graham Brookie, who runs the lab, to vault the company to the top of the Atlantic Council’s donor list, alongside the British government.

Facebook employees said privately over the past several months that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wants to outsource many of the most sensitive political decisions, leaving fact-checking to media groups and geopolitics to think tanks. The more he succeeds, the fewer complications for Facebook’s expansion, the smaller its payroll, and the more plausible its positioning as a neutral platform. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

FILE PHOTO: Man poses in front of on a display showing a Facebook logo and the word ‘cyber’ in binary code, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica December 27, 2014. Picture taken December 27, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

EXPOSING DISINFORMATION

The lab was founded by Brookie, a National Security Council advisor in the last four years of the Obama administration. Ben Nimmo is a co-founder. He joined after stints as a journalist covering the Baltic states as they sparred with Russia a decade ago and as a spokesman for NATO on Russia and Ukraine.

On a recent visit to the head office, the often-traveling Washington staff of four were packed around three desks pushed to the center of the room.

Aloud and on Slack, the workplace chat room app, they discussed pending articles they were publishing on the news and opinion website Medium about disinformation operations in Brazil, the United States and Pakistan.

Using its own software and other tools, the team sorts through social media postings for patterns. Then it adds geopolitical context to tell stories on Medium about misinformation campaigns early, before they play out.

The combination of urgency and analysis has pushed the young lab to the front line of deciphering state-sponsored and domestically generated misinformation. Even before the Atlantic Council created it 2016, the team drew attention in Washington policy circles and beyond for using crowdsourcing and technology to challenge the claims of nation-states. It first got attention using geo-tagged selfies to show Russian soldiers were in Ukraine, which added to evidence there was no populist uprising there.

During the recent Mexican presidential election, the lab worked with a media consortium, Verificado, that included Al Jazeera and Mexico’s Animal Politico, to debunk wild rumors about candidates’ illicit foreign support, Nazi relatives and plans to ban junk food. On its own, the lab also rooted out a paid influence campaigner relying on automated accounts.

“If you wait for something to happen, it’s going to be too late,” Nimmo said. “You have to put verified information into the environment first.”

Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Damon Darlin and Nick Zieminski

Tesla shares halted after Musk tweet about going private

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shares of Tesla Inc were halted for news pending on Tuesday after Chief Executive Elon Musk earlier tweeted he was considering taking the company private at $420 a share.

Tesla shares were last up 7.4 percent at $367.25.

Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Susan Thomas

As Facebook Gets Slammed for Data Practices, It Wants Your Financial Info from Banks

That’s been clear for years. Facebook’s history is one of pushing limits on acquiring and using personal data. It continually gets into trouble, mumbles an apology, promises to do better, and then keeps going the way it was.

In this case, the point apparently is not to use the data to target more ads (How much do you trust Facebook?) but to offer features in Messenger. The company wants to tell you what your checking account balance is or to provide fraud alerts. Facebook also wants to know where people use their debit and credit cards when not on the site. Because, that wouldn’t lend itself to targeted marketing.

According to the Journal, at least one bank out of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and U.S. Bankcorp, all approached  by Facebook, walked away over privacy worries. The story also said that Google’s parent Alphabet and Amazon have also asked banks to share data to provide banking services.

Everybody’s doing it.

Not that banks are particularly more concerned about people more than other corporations. But there are some strict privacy laws that govern financial services. It’s bad enough when they screw up and get into trouble. Facebook has next to zero credibility at this point when it comes to data safety.

So, banks are supposed to put themselves into the position of possible liability and say, “Hey, Mark Zuckerberg, could you please make money off us and pinky-swear that no one will see anything they’re not supposed to? Thanks, buddy!” What could go wrong?

Facebook has always depended on the tie between data and growth in usage. Last month, if you’ll remember, the company lost $120 billion in market value overnight when it said that growth had slowed.

The idea is to make new services available on Messenger so people will pull closer to the company. As the Journal reported, “Facebook said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-targeting purposes or share it with third parties.”

Just a minute, I have to follow online tradition and roll over on the floor while laughing.

Even if Facebook could and would make good on this promise, how long is it supposed to last? When will the potential to rake in more advertising dollars, particularly if usage continues to slow and advertisers start to walk away, turn into, “We’re not targeting ads, we’re targeting consumer opportunities”?

Facebook has made somewhat stronger statements about privacy and data security of late. But the company also wants to start a dating service. Because everyone should overshare everything.

To complicate things even more for the banks, they want people to go to them, not some third party.

Facebook’s creditability isn’t at zero. It’s less than zero. Zuckerberg would have to do daring cartwheels and personally secure everyone’s information just to get back to nothing.

Facebook has a virtually insurmountable problem. The foundation of its entire business model requires the company to treat personal data they way it does. To fix things, it would need a new way to make a living. That doesn’t seem to be in the works for the near future, however.

[Update 6-Aug-2018 12:50PM: Facebook sent a statement that in part said the Journal story “implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data.”

It doesn’t, exactly, because an account balance or a collection of places where someone used a credit or debit card wouldn’t technically be transaction data, which is, as the name implies, information about specific transactions with companies.

The statement further says:

Account linking enables people to receive real-time updates in Facebook Messenger where people can keep track of their transaction data like account balances, receipts, and shipping updates. The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone – and it’s completely opt-in. We’re not using this information beyond enabling these types of experiences – not for advertising or anything else. A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people’s information safe and secure.

Again, you have to ask whether Facebook has shown that it can be trusted or not.]

Top 10 Crowdfunding Platforms of 2018

It’s an excellent way to gauge interest since people will only fund what they’re seriously interested in.

However, not all crowdfunding platforms are equal. Each one specializes in a different purpose.

You can choose among 10 of the most popular crowdfunding platforms online as of 2018.

Kickstarter

The most popular crowdfunding site on the Internet, Kickstarter has become a household name.

However, it’s more for funding inventions and creative works and not for helping nonprofit organizations or funding your own endeavors without something in return.

Also, you don’t get to keep the money pledged if the kickstarter goal is not reached.

Indiegogo​

While it tends to play second fiddle to Kickstarter, Indiegogo has a number of advantages its counterpart doesn’t provide.

For instance, Indiegogo has flexible funding that lets you keep the funds you’ve raised, even when you haven’t been able to reach your goal.

It also lets you buy funded products in the platform’s marketplace, so successful projects have another potential source of income.

Patreon

Another popular crowdfunding platform, Patreon sets itself apart with its subscription model.

Instead of being for straight-up campaigns, this is more for providing ongoing financial support for a creative venture or artist.

There’s also the option to provide content exclusive to patrons who are subscribed to your Patreon through the site itself.

GoFundMe

This one is more popular for individuals who need money right away.

You may often see people asking for crowdfunding for short-term projects and medical emergencies in GoFundMe, which is common practice in this platform.

Crowdrise

While not as popular as the platforms mentioned above, Crowdrise has garnered attention for its focus on crowdfunding “real-world issues” over funding for-profit ventures.

It can also be used to fund college scholarships, weddings, and even birthday parties.

Due to this mostly socially-conscious objective, GoFundMe took notice and acquired it in early 2017.

PledgeMusic

If you’re a musician and need a way to cover expenses for things like launching a new album or going on a tour, then PledgeMusic may be good for that.

You can also provide rewards for donors who pledge a certain amount of money, like free digital copy of your music or such.

Razoo

Like Crowdrise, this platform has its focus on crowdfunding worthy causes, so it’s not really the right platform for businesses and for-profit ventures.

Razoo is great if you’re looking to fundraise for charity.

RocketHub

This one is mostly for venture capital, so businesses and other for-profit ventures can use RocketHub for crowdfunding their startups.

Meanwhile, their ELEQUITY Funding Room lets you pitch your project idea and generate interest, which can then lead to getting advice and even additional funding.

Crowdfunder

It has a fairly straightforward name, which matches what it’s for.

Crowdfunder lets you sell equity and debt in your business to attract angel investors and venture capitalists to raise money for your projects.

It’s like a regular venture capital program, but with the online infrastructure to raise awareness usually beyond smaller business’ means.

Give

Rather than a website, Give is a WordPress plugin you can install in your blog to help you collect donations from visitors.

However, it’s meant for non-profit ventures only, so it’s not really a “beg for money to pay your rent” type of plugin.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take any fees for collecting donations.

If you’re looking for a way to fund your next unicorn idea, crowdfunding could be the key.

iPhone Chipmaker Works to Recover After Getting Hit by Computer Virus

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which makes chips for the iPhone and other devices, detailed its progress in recovering from a debilitating computer virus and warned of delayed shipments and reduced revenue because of the impact on its factories.

TSMC said that 80 percent of the fabrication tools affected by a virus outbreak Friday evening had been restored and that it expects full recovery on Monday, an emailed statement shows. The Taiwanese company said the incident, which comes as it ramps up chipmaking for Apple Inc.’s next iPhones, would delay shipments, without specifying which customers would be affected.

The chipmaker estimated that third-quarter revenue would decline by about three percent and operating margins by about one percentage point, according to the Sunday statement. It maintained its 2018 forecast of boosting revenue by high single digits in U.S. dollar terms.

The incident underscores the global nature of the technology industry’s supply chain, in which companies like Apple and Qualcomm Inc. depend on hundreds of suppliers around the world. This is the first time a virus had ever brought down a TSMC facility, recalling the WannaCry cyberattacks of 2017 that forced corporations around the world to suspend operations as they rooted out the ransomware. TSMC says no confidential information was compromised in the virus attack and most customers have been notified.

“TSMC has taken actions to close this security gap and further strengthen security measures,” TSMC Chief Financial Officer Lora Ho said by phone Sunday.

The virus outbreak was due to “misoperation” during the software installation process for a new tool, the company said in the statement. The virus then spread once the tool was connected to TSMC’s computer network.

The firm is the latest to fall prey to a growing global scourge. Cyber crime could cost businesses as much as $8 trillion in damage over the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum.

“TSMC has been attacked by viruses before, but this is the first time a virus attack has affected our production lines,” Ho told Bloomberg News on Saturday.

The implications are also unclear for Apple. The iPhone maker last week surpassed a market value of $1 trillion, largely on the strength of sales for its pioneering smartphone. The U.S. company has employed in the past foundries owned by Samsung Electronics Co., its rival in global mobile devices.

The incident comes weeks after TSMC cheered investors with a rosy outlook for smartphone demand in the latter half of the year. That helped the market look past a reduced revenue outlook. A bellwether for the chip industry as well as an early indicator of iPhone demand, it heads into its busiest quarters grappling with waning enthusiasm for the high-powered chips used to mine digital currencies. Chief Executive Officer C. C. Wei had said TSMC’s sales will rise this year by a high single-digit percentage in U.S. dollar terms, down from an already reduced projection of about 10 percent.

Ahead of Midterm Elections, U.S. Officials Warn of Russia While Trump Prevaricates

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates said Thursday that Russia is “a keyboard click away” from disrupting America’s midterm elections. Joined by a collection of top security officials for a White House press briefing, he noted that Moscow’s meddlers “are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party.”

One must commend Coates for his candor. He is trying, desperately, to raise awareness about one of the gravest, immediate threats to American democracy, despite his boss’s intransigence on the matter. President Donald Trump has continued, in contrast, to prevaricate when asked about Russia’s interference in U.S. politics. His go-to: ignoring the consensus of the intelligence community, casting doubt on its findings, and offering Russian President Vladimir Putin a free pass. (As recently as two weeks ago—days after the disastrous Helsinki summit—he called Russia’s interference “all a big hoax.”)

Whether Trump realizes it or not, this approach serves to further the Kremlin’s aims: fomenting mistrust through disinformation. It is a shame to see it. These are not times for sophistry; the American public—and its allies abroad—deserve clarity and guidance. Nothing less than the integrity of the electoral system—the bedrock of this nation’s right to govern—is at stake.

During my cybersecurity session at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. last month, I cited another one of Coates’ recent remarks as a prompt for my panelists. Coates had warned in the days prior that “the warning lights are blinking red again” in a way not observed since the lead-up to the coordinated terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001. Jen Easterly, a security leader at Morgan Stanley and former White House counterterrorism official, replied lucidly. Her answer was so eloquent, I must quote it here in full.

“I’ll try not to use any double negatives,” Easterly began, alluding to Trump’s thin, post-Helsinki summit walk-back regarding Russia’s election interference. “There is no mystery. There is incontrovertible evidence of nation state-sponsored attacks and deliberate—it’s not just espionage—but deliberate sabotage against what we hold dear as part of our constitutional democracy: fair and free elections. I don’t say this as an employee of Morgan Stanley; I don’t say it as a former senior White House official; I say it as an American and, frankly, as a former military officer who spent 22 years in the army sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic.”

Her words were refreshing. It’s the kind of statement one might hope to hear from a chief executive.

This article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered to your in-box, sign up here.

'NBA 2K19' Player Ratings: Marvin Bagley III Render And Overall Rating Revealed

MBIII in 2K19Credit: 2K

</div> </div> <p>The&nbsp;19-year-old big man from Duke averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds in his lone year in college. Bagley helped lead the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight where they fell to the Kansas Jayhawks.</p>

Marvin Bagley 2K19 ratingCredit: 2K

</div> </div> <p>Still, his accomplishments in Durham, North Carolina weren’t enough to produce an overall rating higher than No. 3 pick Luka Doncic. On Friday, we learned Doncic would be receiving a 79 overall.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">7⃣9⃣ <a href="https://twitter.com/luka7doncic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://twitter.com/luka7doncic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" rel="nofollow">@luka7doncic</a> is officially inside our game He’s starting off with a strong rating for a rookie. Too high or nah? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBA2K19?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBA2K19?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" rel="nofollow">#NBA2K19</a> <a href="https://t.co/YacQAuovjM" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://t.co/YacQAuovjM" rel="nofollow">pic.twitter.com/YacQAuovjM</a></p> <p>— NBA 2K19 (@NBA2K) <a href="https://twitter.com/NBA2K/status/1025412470674845697?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://twitter.com/NBA2K/status/1025412470674845697?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" rel="nofollow">August 3, 2018</a></p> </blockquote> <p> </p> <p>Last year, No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball was rated a 79 overall and the No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum (another Duke alum) was at a 77.</p> <p>Obviously, we know Tatum would go on to have a better rookie season than Ball, but it’s a little rare to see the No. 2 pick rated lower than the guy at No. 3. The fact that the gap is two whole points makes it even more eye-popping. Overall,&nbsp;it seems ratings are up across the board and that’s something I’m still trying to understand.</p> <p>I’m still trying to get an interview with the man in charge of ratings to put the numbers in the proper perspective. At any rate, like every other player in the league, Bagley will have an opportunity to improve his rating over the course of the season.</p>

<p>Last year, Tatum went from a 77 to an 82 by season’s end. Sacramento is hoping they will see a similar spike in productivity and development from their Duke rookie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>” readability=”40.487394958″>

Sacramento Kings rookie and No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III will be rated a 78 overall in NBA 2K19 when the game releases on September 11.

MBIII in 2K19Credit: 2K

The 19-year-old big man from Duke averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds in his lone year in college. Bagley helped lead the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight where they fell to the Kansas Jayhawks.

Marvin Bagley 2K19 ratingCredit: 2K

Still, his accomplishments in Durham, North Carolina weren’t enough to produce an overall rating higher than No. 3 pick Luka Doncic. On Friday, we learned Doncic would be receiving a 79 overall.

Last year, No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball was rated a 79 overall and the No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum (another Duke alum) was at a 77.

Obviously, we know Tatum would go on to have a better rookie season than Ball, but it’s a little rare to see the No. 2 pick rated lower than the guy at No. 3. The fact that the gap is two whole points makes it even more eye-popping. Overall, it seems ratings are up across the board and that’s something I’m still trying to understand.

I’m still trying to get an interview with the man in charge of ratings to put the numbers in the proper perspective. At any rate, like every other player in the league, Bagley will have an opportunity to improve his rating over the course of the season.

Last year, Tatum went from a 77 to an 82 by season’s end. Sacramento is hoping they will see a similar spike in productivity and development from their Duke rookie.

I write about sports and video games. I began my career with Bleacher Report in 2010 and I’m now a Forbes Contributor as well as a YouTuber, Twitch streamer and co-host of The Fight Guys podcast, The SimHangout, and my own weekly Q&A AskMazique. I’ve been blessed to make…

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Urgent Care Centers Are Fueling Antibiotic Resistance

American medicine has known for a while that it has an antibiotics-prescribing problem. It’s routine for the precious drugs to be given in the wrong doses, for the wrong period of time, and for the wrong conditions. All of that adds up to burgeoning antibiotic resistance, which kills 23,000 Americans each year and sends another 2 million to a doctor’s office or a hospital, and costs the United States an estimated $2 billion on each year’s health care bills.

American medicine believes it knows why poor prescribing happens: because physicians fearing bad evaluations from patients or supervisors write prescriptions that aren’t really needed. The missing information has been: Where? To figure out how poor prescribing happens, medicine literally had to track down where it was doing things wrong.

A new analysis of more than 150 million outpatient visits made just in 2014 appears to have pinpointed the problem. Antibiotics are prescribed most freely in places where health care personnel are least likely to have an ongoing relationship with their patients, in urgent care centers, emergency departments, and the kind of clinics you find in big-box stores and drug stores. That’s worrisome, because those sectors of the health care system are growing the fastest—and, because patients have so many options to choose from, are also the most vulnerable to consumer pressure.

But one reason urgent care is a fast-growing industry is that it hasn’t been around very long; the oldest walk-in care centers were founded just in the 1970s, and there are more than 10,000 now. That newness might gift it with more nimbleness than hospital or medical offices possess. One sign of change: Last month, leaders of the urgent care industry met in an unpublicized summit meeting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where they talked through strategies to help their physicians prescribe more conservatively.

That would require a pivot away from urgent care’s core mission of giving patients what they want when they want it. The urgent care industry may not be able to reduce consumer demand for antibiotics, the thinking goes. But perhaps they can throttle supply.


The term “urgent care” is an umbrella for a variety of clinic types, according to Laurel Stoimenoff, CEO of the Urgent Care Association, the industry’s trade group. There are large chains that are owned by hospital systems or by private investors, groups of clinics owned by physicians, and stand-alones that might be general purpose or provide only specialty care such as after-hours pediatric help. “We treat those without a medical home, we treat people who can’t get into see their own provider, and we treat those who are geographically displaced from their provider,” she said.

That diversity is tied together by two things. First, there’s an assumption by the clinic that they are unlikely to see the patient again. Second, there’s an assumption by the patient that the clinic visit is a product they are purchasing, often at a higher co-pay than a doctor’s office would charge.

“We hear, a lot, that what these clinics offer to patients is convenience, and so the relationship to patients is more like they are customers,” says Cindy Liu, the chief medical officer of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, which brokered the summit meeting at the CDC. “Patient satisfaction is a really important part of their performance.”

And there’s the crux of the problem. Over and over again researchers have observed that patients think of a prescription as the successful end to any medical encounter. (Some research attests that physicians overestimate the amount of patient demand, and cave too fast). If patients come to clinics thinking they are there to obtain antibiotics, and clinics’ continued business depends on doing what patients want, there doesn’t seem much leverage for change.

The new analysis of problematic prescribing comes from the CDC and researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit that has been working for a while on the puzzle of how to reduce antibiotic demand. It found that urgent care center visits were more likely to end with an antibiotic prescription than any other kind of walk-in care: in 39 percent of visits, compared to 36 percent of visits to drugstore retail clinics, almost 14 percent of emergency department visits, and 7 percent of visits to doctors’ offices.

Those results could be skewed by people going to different types of walk-in care for different reasons, so the researchers looked just for visits in which antibiotics should never have been prescribed. In urgent care centers, 45 percent of those visits ended with a prescription, compared to 24 percent in emergency departments, 17 percent in medical offices, and 14 percent in drugstore clinics.

“This is one of our first glimpses of prescribing in these settings,” says Lauri Hicks, an osteopathic physician who directs the CDC’s office of antibiotic stewardship and was an author on the analysis. Previously, she said, the agency has gotten access to payment-claims data for hospitals and doctors’ practices, but not for walk-in care. “I was surprised by the amount of the difference; the range was pretty striking between the high and low ends.”

What makes this harder is that most urgent care centers, even ones affiliated with hospital systems, lack the kind of in-house information and policing, broadly known as antibiotic stewardship, that could help them push back against patient demand. Hospitals have clinical microbiology labs that test patient samples for resistance, and publish reports on which drugs shouldn’t be prescribed unless the need is critical. They also have staff physicians or pharmacists who sign off on orders for the most important antibiotics, or challenge doctors if they make a request that doesn’t look like the smartest choice.

Urgent care centers have none of those resources. What they do have is tech-aided workflows that allow them to get patients registered, assessed, and treated quickly enough to make the visit financially worthwhile for both sides. Those systems gather a ton of data—about how the patients experience the clinic, but also about how the physicians treat them. At the CDC summit, urgent care industry members suggested that data might build a substitute for the more elaborate systems hospitals have, and provide a path out of antibiotic misuse.

There’s no published transcript of the CDC meeting, but some of the attendees discussed with me what they talked about, have already done, and are laying plans to do. The urgent care organization GoHealth, which operates in five states and attended the CDC meeting, already has incorporated an automated chart review, which examines doctors’ notes of patient visits, into its proprietary records system, and backs that up with an additional human review of five patient charts from every physician every month.

Jonathan Zipkin, a physician who is Northwell Health-GoHealth’s associate medical officer, told me the goal is to assess not just whether or not antibiotics were prescribed but also whether physicians found ways to talk about patients’ concerns and make them feel heard.

“There is this assumption in medicine that if you give the patient whatever they want, they will be happier,” he said. “My experience is, when you give the patient quality they are happier, and quality means a provider who can express why they are doing what they are doing.”

Eric McDonald, CEO of the electronic records company DocuTAP, told me that he outlined a plan at the summit to add two functions to the software suite they sell to about 3,000 urgent care centers. One is a decision-support tool that would challenge physicians to justify their antibiotic choices, and log the answers. The other is a periodic assessment that would score doctors’ prescribing patterns against other physicians in the same organization, and against national guidelines by the CDC and other organizations for what appropriate prescribing looks like.

“The best way to change physicians’ behavior is to compare them to their peers,” he told me after the meeting. “When they realize they are out-prescribing their colleagues, that will pull them back.”

There’s an irony here. Electronic health records have been a routine feature of health care for about 15 years now, and for most of that time they’ve created as many problems as they solve. They divert physician attention from the patient to the keyboard; they enable privacy breaches; they’re hopelessly non-interoperable. But they do allow data sharing, and that data may deliver the one thing that might outweigh patients’ disappointment when physicians don’t prescribe antibiotics: the shared disapproval of other physicians when they do.


More Great WIRED Stories

Climate Change's Looming Mental Health Crisis

For the Inuit of Labrador in Canada, climate disaster has already arrived. These indigenous people form an intense bond with their land, hunting for food and fur. “People like to go out on the land to feel good,” says Noah Nochasak in the documentary Lament for the Land. “If they can’t go out on the land, travel a long ways to feel good, they don’t feel like people.”

The Inuit’s lands, though, are warming twice as fast as the global average, imperiling the ice they rely on to travel. In the fall, hunters tend to get stuck in the community, because ice hasn’t fully formed up—and again, in the spring, when things are melting. Climate change is making these ice transition periods even longer.

“During those times historically, there has been some increases in suicide or suicide attempts or ideation in the communities,” says Ashlee Cunsolo, a health geographer who has studied the region. “There is a lot of concern among the mental health practitioners. What does that mean if this time is lengthened from two weeks to eight weeks?”

It’s known as ecological grief—the mourning of ecosystems and species and ways of life that are disappearing as the planet warms. But it isn’t just hitting the Inuit. As our planet plays host to rising seas, more intense storms, and higher temperatures, those conditions will support a growing international mental health crisis.

“Things like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic abuse, all these things tend to go up in the aftermath of a natural disasters,” says psychologist Susan Clayton of the College of Wooster, co-author of an extensive report on climate change and mental health. “As we have more natural disasters, one would expect to also have increases in those kinds of mental health consequences.”

Take Hurricane Katrina. In its aftermath, a sample of survivors found one in six met the criteria for PTSD. Rates of suicide and suicidal thoughts doubled. And especially in refugee situations, those mental health challenges can be intimately tied to physical health, compounding the harm. “When people are moving to places they bring diseases with them that the home population might not be immune to, and on the flip side these people are moving into places where they might not have immunity to the diseases in the new place,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

Even those whose homes aren’t directly threatened by sea level rise or fiercer hurricanes aren’t immune. By the end of the century, the average American will have to endure four to eight times the number of 95+ degree days. Arizonans will get it particularly bad: Their number of 95+ degree days a year will leap from an average of 116 to over 200. And several studies have made a link between higher temperatures and higher rates of suicide.

One particularly data-intensive survey recently published in Nature Climate Change compiled temperatures and suicide statistics on the county level for the US, and municipality level for Mexico. They compared these granular regions not with each other, but with themselves—so the average monthly temperature in Palo Alto in July 2009 versus July 2010. This controlled for differences between locations in factors like poverty rates or gun ownership rates, both of which have been tied to suicide rates.

The uptick in suicide rates the researchers found may be small—a rise of 2 percent in Mexico and .7 percent in the US for every additional degree Celsius in average monthly temperature—and the relationship is far from simple. Rates of suicide fluctuate around the world, and where those suicide rates are highest, the temperature isn’t necessarily the highest. But extrapolated forward, the impact on public health could be devastating. “The fact that our results are so consistent across different socioeconomic strata, across different populations, suggests a common biological response,” says Stanford economist Marshall Burke, lead author of the study.

It’s unclear if scientists will unearth shared mechanisms behind the mental health effects of climate-related trauma. But the experience itself is obviously, intuitively human. When Cunsolo and a colleague published an essay in Nature Climate Change earlier this year on ecological grief, the email response they got was huge, and it was cosmopolitan.

“It wasn’t drought-affected farmers, it wasn’t low-lying island states, it wasn’t people who had been forced to relocate, it was people often living in urban settings would describe this overall sense of despair and anxiety,” says Cunsolo.

The root of our shared problem may be the same, but the manifestations of climate change can be wildly different. “Each region, each place, each culture, is going to experience something very, very different,” says Cunsolo. For the Inuit, it’s about ice. For the Southern US, it’s supercharged hurricanes. As with all health care, prevention is the best medicine. But in the case of climate change, we may be too late.


More Great WIRED Stories

Here's Who Wins When Blockchain Meets the Food Chain

Margins are razor-thin in the food industry. So when a bacteria outbreak like E. coli hits, it can really wreak havoc throughout the entire supply chain.

Now, 10 leading food companies plan to build a digital tracking system that’s “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.”

That’s how Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, described it to The Wall Street Journal.

Senior Vice President, IBM Global Industries, Platforms and Blockchain Bridget van Kralingen speaks during the forum Digitalization and the New Gilded Age at the World Bank/IMF spring meetings on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

He’s being coy. It’s a revolution. And investors should take note.

Meet the New ‘Food Trust’

Under Walmart’s leadership, Nestlé SA, Dole Food Co., Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger Co., McCormick,  McLane Co., Tyson Foods,  and Unilever, are attempting to do something that has never been done before.

These food industry giants want to create a food trust. They want track food from the farm to the grocery aisle.

If something goes wrong, they will know exactly where it began, and why.

That type of transparency would forever change the food supply chain. It would keep suppliers on their toes.

One wrong move could kill years of goodwill. It would also give distributors and processors unprecedented control.

o make this possible, the food companies will use blockchain. The distributed digital ledger, best known for its role in keeping cryptocurrencies in check, will do the same for the food supply chain.

It will create an electronic verification network in real-time for every single food product in the trust.

Blockchain: The Missing Link in the Food Chain

Blockchain is uniquely suited for this task. That’s because its ledger system is permanent and can’t be altered.

Every time a verified event occurs, a block is created on the chain. And it is viewable by all. That makes the system inherently “trustless,” which in this context means it does not require trust.

Blockchains are popping up everywhere …

In 2017, the Financial Times reported six of the world’s largest banks — Barclays, Credit Suisse, CIBC, HSBC, MUFG and State Street — announced support for the Utility Settlement Coin (USC). That’s a blockchain created by UBS, the Swiss banking giant.

This USC system is supposed to let banks conduct transactions without waiting for traditional money transfers.

In January 2018, Maersk, the container ship conglomerate, announced a blockchain for transoceanic logistics. The Danish company hopes this open-source, digital platform will become the standard for a $4 trillion shipping industry that’s currently drowning in bureaucratic red tape and piracy.

International Business Machines is winning the public relations war. It’s behind the Maersk and food trust blockchains.

However, investors should look elsewhere for blockchain winners …

My research suggests they should focus on Microsoft.

Unlike IBM, the Redmond, Wash., software giant has the cloud computing scale to be a dominant player in blockchain. It also has a history of solving big, real world problems with the technology.

In 2015, the company shifted its business model from selling software licenses to digital subscriptions. The distinction created a flood of partners looking to sell cloud services on Azure, its cloud network.

Microsoft needed a system to quickly assess creditworthiness. The traditional process involved working with individual banks to issue standby letters of credit for the new sellers.

But the process was antiquated, and involved several levels of manual verification. So Microsoft worked with Bank of America to digitize and automate the entire process with blockchain.

Ethereum Enters the Picture

Since 2015, the company has expanded its work with blockchain …

It partnered with ConsenSys, a New York blockchain software company, to bring the Ethereum blockchain to Azure, as a Software-as-a Service layer.

Microsoft leveraged this modularity to win over R3, a consortium of 200 financial institutions. Together, they are developing Corda, a blockchain specifically built to reduce transaction friction in financial services.

In 2017, Bain & Co., a research and analytics firm, estimated $35 billion in operating and capital cost savings for a blockchain of this scale.

For Microsoft, Corda is the gateway. The prize is untold billions in sales of cloud computing services.

It is a big business for Microsoft. In the first quarter of fiscal 2018, Azure commercial cloud revenue jumped 58% to $6 billion.

As businesses move to the cloud, having a blockchain software module is a huge advantage.

The prospects are being reflected in the price. Since 2015, shares have risen an average of 31% annually. And the real growth lies ahead as more companies embrace the cloud and SaaS applications.

FedEx-like tracking for everything is coming. Buy Microsoft shares into any pullback.

China Startups Brace For 'Capital Winter' As VC Funding Slows

Workers use computers at their desks inside a co-working space for start-up companies in Beijing, China. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

After a record amount of money gushed into China’s technology sector and fueled eye-popping valuations for many private companies in recent years, venture capital is said to be drying up and startups should brace themselves for what some industry insiders describe as a “capital winter.”

That’s the view held by several China-based venture capitalists and research firms. Speaking on the sidelines of Forbes Asia’s Under 30 Summit in Hong Kong, a number of young investors and honorees from this year’s list say valuations for private companies in China will return to “more reasonable” levels in the second half of this year. They said “bubble-like” valuation levels had become prevalent in China’s private investment space, as investors poured a staggering 1.2 trillion yuan ($180 billion)— or 1.5% of the country’s gross domestic product— to fund private firms in 2017, according to Beijing-based research firm Zero2IPO.

“There is too much money in China. The not qualified startups are getting funding, and the qualified startups are getting even more funding,” says William Zhao, vice president of Bertelsmann Asia Investments, a fund with more than $1.5 billion under management. “They are good companies, but are they worth that much? I think there is a bubble in it.”

More On ForbesChina To Account For A Quarter Of World’s Top 100 Venture Investors In Five Year

But those days appear to be coming to an end. As Beijing seeks to contain financial risks in the world’s second-largest economy, venture capitalists are having a much more difficult time raising money. This is mainly because authorities are clamping down on riskier investments made by Chinese banks, announcing in April a set of far-reaching rules on their wealth-management businesses. Proceeds raised through such channels have historically accounted for a sizable part of venture capital funding in China, as they were often later used to invest in private companies for higher returns. This can also lead to significant risks as the success of early stage firms is by no means guaranteed.

According to Zero2IPO, in the first three months of this year, venture capital and private equity firms in China raised 206 billion yuan ($31 billion), a 30% decrease from the same period last year. In a recent website post, Wang Ran, chief executive of Beijing-based investment firm CEC Capital, predicted that venture capital funding in China could fall by as much as 80% by year end. For private startups, this means valuation levels would be reduced by 30%, as there would be less money to support their growth, according to the post.

“It is indeed getting very hard for a lot of funds to raise money,” says Patrick Song, chief executive of CEC Data Capital, a fund affiliated with a subsidiary of the state-run China Electronics Corp. “Now, investors are much more cautious in their investment strategy, and valuation levels for many companies are sure to come down.”

Yellow Ofo bikes sit outside of the Park-n-Ride Alameda RTD Station on April 3, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

One area that has been singled out for criticism is the so-called sharing economy. In a recent editorial, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said there is a “bubble” in this sector, with companies rushing to launch various product-sharing schemes that don’t have a viable path to profitability. It cited the example of home-sharing startup Zhubaijia, which is similar to Airbnb, but has been suffering from mounting losses that totaled 87 million yuan ($13 million) in 2016 due to fierce competition and high operating costs. In early July, regulators de-listed Zhubaijia from China’s third stock exchange because it failed to file its 2017 annual report on time.

And some of China’s better-known sharing-economy companies are scaling down their operations. After expanding into a dozen global cities in the past two years, Beijing-based bike-sharing startup Ofo laid off the majority of its workforce in the U.S. to re-focus on China. Meanwhile, its biggest rival, Mobike, was acquired in April for $2.7 billion by China’s largest online services platform Meituan. And Guangzhou Yueqi, a smaller player that operates the Xiaoming Bike brand, went bankrupt last year amid fierce competition that has pushed prices down to less than 1 yuan ($0.16) per hour in China. The company has more than 55 million yuan ($8.2 million) in outstanding debt after deploying more than 400,000 bikes across the country since 2016, according to Xinhua.

Meanwhile, as it gets harder to raise money from private investors, a record number of Chinese tech firms are tapping public markets. So far, several dozen Chinese tech firms, including Meituan and the three-year-old e-commerce startup Pinduoduo, have opted for initial public offerings. But the hotly anticipated IPO of smartphone maker Xiaomi valued the company at only about half of its initially proposed target of $100 billion, signaling that the capital markets may not support the lofty valuations set during earlier fundraising rounds for these tech companies.

More On ForbesIPO Of Chinese E-Commerce Firm Pinduoduo Mints New Young Billionaire

But this is not to say that China’s startup boom is over. According to CB Insights, the country was home to 55 unicorns, or private companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more, as of September 2017— a number second only to the U.S. And Ant Financial, the payment affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, took over ride-sharing firm Uber as the world’s highest valued private startup after completing a $14 billion mega-funding round in June.

Moreover, investors seem to be especially optimistic of blockchain technology, the digital ledgers that underpin digital coin transactions. Although Beijing banned initial coin offerings last year to curb illegal fundraising activities, this technology of secured and decentralized data storage still holds a great deal of promises in China. It can be used in industries such as finance and real estate to facilitate faster and more efficient tracking of data and contracts, thereby improving efficiency. Investors are already making early bets now, predicting that blockchain will give birth to China’s next tech behemoth.

“Blockchain will be the next disruptive technology in China,” says Li Yao, partner at China’s Tsing Ventures, a venture capital firm affiliated with the country’s prestigious Tsinghua University. “It will take some time to be ready, but it definitely has a lot of potential in many different markets.”

More On ForbesThe Next Frontier For Billionaire Investor Jim Breyer: China And Blockchain

10 Ways To Improve Cloud ERP With AI &amp; Machine Learning

istock

</div> </div> <p>Capitalizing on new digital business models and the growth opportunities they provide are forcing companies to re-evaluate ERP’s role. Made inflexible by years of customization, legacy ERP systems aren’t delivering what digital business models need today to scale and grow. Legacy ERP systems were purpose-built to excel at production consistency first at the expense of flexibility and responsiveness to customers’ changing requirements. By taking a business case-based approach to integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning into their platforms, Cloud ERP providers can fill the gap legacy ERP systems can’t.</p> <p><strong>Closing</strong><strong> Legacy ERP Gaps With Greater Intelligence And Insight </strong></p> <p>Companies need to be able to respond quickly to unexpected, unfamiliar and unforeseen dilemmas with smart decisions fast for new digital business models to succeed. That’s not possible today with legacy ERP systems. Legacy IT technology stacks and the ERP systems they are built on aren’t designed to deliver the data needed most.</p> <p>That’s all changing fast. A clear, compelling business model and successful execution of its related strategies are what all successful Cloud ERP implementations share. Cloud ERP platforms and apps provide organizations the flexibility they need to prioritize growth plans over IT constraints. And many have taken an Application Programming Interface (API) approach to integrate with legacy ERP systems to gain the incremental data these systems provide. In today’s era of Cloud ERP, rip-and-replace isn’t as commonplace as reorganizing entire IT architectures for greater speed, scale, and customer transparency using cloud-first platforms.</p> <p> </p> <p>New business models thrive when an ERP system is constantly learning. That’s one of the greatest gaps between what Cloud ERP platforms’ potential and where their legacy counterparts are today. Cloud platforms provide greater integration options and more flexibility to customize applications and improve usability which is one of the biggest drawbacks of legacy ERP systems. Designed to deliver results by providing AI- and machine learning insights, Cloud ERP platforms, and apps can rejuvenate ERP systems and their contributions to business growth.</p> <p>The following are the 10 ways to improve Cloud ERP with AI and machine learning, bridging the information gap with legacy ERP systems:</p> <ol> <li><strong>Cloud ERP platforms need to create and strengthen a self-learning knowledge system that orchestrates AI and machine learning from the shop floor to the top floor and across supplier networks.</strong> Having a cloud-based infrastructure that integrates core ERP Web Services, apps, and real-time monitoring to deliver a steady stream of data to AI and machine learning algorithms accelerates how quickly the entire system learns. The Cloud ERP platform integration roadmap needs to include APIs and Web Services to connect with the many suppliers and buyer systems outside the walls of a manufacturer while integrating with legacy ERP systems to aggregate and analyze the decades of data they have generated.</li>

</ol>

Boston Consulting Group, AI in The Factory of the Future, April 2018

</div> </div> <ol start="2"> <li><strong>Virtual agents have the potential to redefine many areas of manufacturing operations, from pick-by-voice systems to advanced diagnostics.</strong> Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Voice, and Microsoft Cortana have the potential to be modified to streamline operations tasks and processes, bringing contextual guidance and direction to complex tasks. An example of one task virtual agents are being used for today is guiding production workers to select from the correct product bin as required by the Bill of Materials. Machinery manufacturers are piloting voice agents that can provide detailed work instructions that streamline configure-to-order and engineer-to-order production. Amazon has successfully partnered with automotive manufacturers and has the most design wins as of today. They could easily replicate this success with machinery manufacturers.</li> </ol>

Company websites

</div> </div> <ol start="3"> <li><strong>Design in the Internet of Things (IoT) support at the data structure level to realize quick wins as data collection pilots go live and scale.</strong> Cloud ERP platforms have the potential to capitalize on the massive data stream IoT devices are generating today by designing in support at the data structure level first. Providing IoT-based data to AI and machine learning apps continually will bridge the intelligence gap many companies face today as they pursue new business models. Capgemini has provided an analysis of IoT use cases shown below, highlighting how production asset maintenance and asset tracking are quick wins waiting to happen. Cloud ERP platforms can accelerate them by designing in IoT support.</li> </ol>

Source: Capgemini Internet of Things (IoT) study, Unlocking the business value of IoT in operations

</div> </div> <ol start="4"> <li><strong>AI and machine learning can provide insights into how Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) can be improved that aren’t apparent today.</strong> Manufacturers will welcome the opportunity to have greater insights into how they can stabilize then normalize OEE performance across their shop floors. When a Cloud ERP platform serves as an always-learning knowledge system, real-time monitoring data from machinery and production assets provide much-needed insights into areas for improvement and what’s going well on the shop floor.</li> </ol>

Industry Analysis

</div> </div> <ol start="5"> <li><strong>Designing machine learning algorithms into track-and-traceability to predict which lots from which suppliers are most likely to be of the highest or lowest quality.</strong> Machine learning algorithms excel at finding patterns in diverse data sets by continually applying constraint-based algorithms. Suppliers vary widely in their quality and delivery schedule performance levels. Using machine learning, it’s possible to create a track-and-trace application that could indicate which lot from which supplier is the riskiest and those that are of exceptional quality as well.</li> <li><strong>Cloud ERP providers need to pay attention to how they can help close the configuration gap that exists between PLM, CAD, ERP and CRM systems by using AI and machine learning.</strong> The most successful product configuration strategies rely on a single, lifecycle-based view of product configurations. They’re able to alleviate the conflicts between how engineering designs a product with CAD and PLM, how sales &amp; marketing sell it with CRM, and how manufacturing builds it with an ERP system. AI and machine learning can enable configuration lifecycle management and avert lost time and sales, streamlining CPQ and product configuration strategies in the process.</li> <li><strong>Improving demand forecasting accuracy and enabling better collaboration with suppliers based on insights from machine learning-based predictive models is attainable with higher quality data.</strong> By creating a self-learning knowledge system, Cloud ERP providers can vastly improve data latency rates that lead to higher forecast accuracy. Factoring in sales, marketing, and promotional programs further fine-tunes forecast accuracy.</li> <li><strong>Reducing equipment breakdowns and increasing asset utilization by analyzing machine-level data to determine when a given part needs to be replaced.</strong> It’s possible to capture a steady stream of data on each machine’s health level using sensors equipped with an IP address. Cloud ERP providers have a great opportunity to capture machine-level data and use machine learning techniques to find patterns in production performance by using a production floor’s entire data set. This is especially important in process industries where machinery breakdowns lead to lost sales. Oil refineries are using machine learning models comprise more than 1,000 variables related to material input, output and process perimeters including weather conditions to estimate equipment failures.</li> <li><strong>Implementing self-learning algorithms that use production incident reports to predict production problems on assembly lines needs to happen in Cloud ERP platforms.</strong> A local aircraft manufacturer is doing this today by using predictive modeling and machine learning to compare past incident reports. With legacy ERP systems these problems would have gone undetected and turned into production slowdowns or worse, the line having to stop.</li> <li><strong>Improving product quality by having machine learning algorithms aggregate, analyze and continually learn from supplier inspection, quality control, Return Material Authorization (RMA) and product failure data.</strong> Cloud ERP platforms are in a unique position of being able to scale across the entire lifecycle of a product and capture quality data from the supplier to the customer. With legacy ERP systems manufacturers most often rely on an analysis of scrap materials by type or caused followed by RMAs. It’s time to get to the truth about why products fail, and machine learning can deliver the insights to get there.</li> </ol> <p>&nbsp;</p>” readability=”40″>

Capitalizing on new digital business models and the growth opportunities they provide are forcing companies to re-evaluate ERP’s role. Made inflexible by years of customization, legacy ERP systems aren’t delivering what digital business models need today to scale and grow. Legacy ERP systems were purpose-built to excel at production consistency first at the expense of flexibility and responsiveness to customers’ changing requirements. By taking a business case-based approach to integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning into their platforms, Cloud ERP providers can fill the gap legacy ERP systems can’t.

Closing Legacy ERP Gaps With Greater Intelligence And Insight

Companies need to be able to respond quickly to unexpected, unfamiliar and unforeseen dilemmas with smart decisions fast for new digital business models to succeed. That’s not possible today with legacy ERP systems. Legacy IT technology stacks and the ERP systems they are built on aren’t designed to deliver the data needed most.

That’s all changing fast. A clear, compelling business model and successful execution of its related strategies are what all successful Cloud ERP implementations share. Cloud ERP platforms and apps provide organizations the flexibility they need to prioritize growth plans over IT constraints. And many have taken an Application Programming Interface (API) approach to integrate with legacy ERP systems to gain the incremental data these systems provide. In today’s era of Cloud ERP, rip-and-replace isn’t as commonplace as reorganizing entire IT architectures for greater speed, scale, and customer transparency using cloud-first platforms.

New business models thrive when an ERP system is constantly learning. That’s one of the greatest gaps between what Cloud ERP platforms’ potential and where their legacy counterparts are today. Cloud platforms provide greater integration options and more flexibility to customize applications and improve usability which is one of the biggest drawbacks of legacy ERP systems. Designed to deliver results by providing AI- and machine learning insights, Cloud ERP platforms, and apps can rejuvenate ERP systems and their contributions to business growth.

The following are the 10 ways to improve Cloud ERP with AI and machine learning, bridging the information gap with legacy ERP systems:

  1. Cloud ERP platforms need to create and strengthen a self-learning knowledge system that orchestrates AI and machine learning from the shop floor to the top floor and across supplier networks. Having a cloud-based infrastructure that integrates core ERP Web Services, apps, and real-time monitoring to deliver a steady stream of data to AI and machine learning algorithms accelerates how quickly the entire system learns. The Cloud ERP platform integration roadmap needs to include APIs and Web Services to connect with the many suppliers and buyer systems outside the walls of a manufacturer while integrating with legacy ERP systems to aggregate and analyze the decades of data they have generated.

Boston Consulting Group, AI in The Factory of the Future, April 2018

  1. Virtual agents have the potential to redefine many areas of manufacturing operations, from pick-by-voice systems to advanced diagnostics. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Voice, and Microsoft Cortana have the potential to be modified to streamline operations tasks and processes, bringing contextual guidance and direction to complex tasks. An example of one task virtual agents are being used for today is guiding production workers to select from the correct product bin as required by the Bill of Materials. Machinery manufacturers are piloting voice agents that can provide detailed work instructions that streamline configure-to-order and engineer-to-order production. Amazon has successfully partnered with automotive manufacturers and has the most design wins as of today. They could easily replicate this success with machinery manufacturers.

Company websites

  1. Design in the Internet of Things (IoT) support at the data structure level to realize quick wins as data collection pilots go live and scale. Cloud ERP platforms have the potential to capitalize on the massive data stream IoT devices are generating today by designing in support at the data structure level first. Providing IoT-based data to AI and machine learning apps continually will bridge the intelligence gap many companies face today as they pursue new business models. Capgemini has provided an analysis of IoT use cases shown below, highlighting how production asset maintenance and asset tracking are quick wins waiting to happen. Cloud ERP platforms can accelerate them by designing in IoT support.

Source: Capgemini Internet of Things (IoT) study, Unlocking the business value of IoT in operations

  1. AI and machine learning can provide insights into how Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) can be improved that aren’t apparent today. Manufacturers will welcome the opportunity to have greater insights into how they can stabilize then normalize OEE performance across their shop floors. When a Cloud ERP platform serves as an always-learning knowledge system, real-time monitoring data from machinery and production assets provide much-needed insights into areas for improvement and what’s going well on the shop floor.

Industry Analysis

  1. Designing machine learning algorithms into track-and-traceability to predict which lots from which suppliers are most likely to be of the highest or lowest quality. Machine learning algorithms excel at finding patterns in diverse data sets by continually applying constraint-based algorithms. Suppliers vary widely in their quality and delivery schedule performance levels. Using machine learning, it’s possible to create a track-and-trace application that could indicate which lot from which supplier is the riskiest and those that are of exceptional quality as well.
  2. Cloud ERP providers need to pay attention to how they can help close the configuration gap that exists between PLM, CAD, ERP and CRM systems by using AI and machine learning. The most successful product configuration strategies rely on a single, lifecycle-based view of product configurations. They’re able to alleviate the conflicts between how engineering designs a product with CAD and PLM, how sales & marketing sell it with CRM, and how manufacturing builds it with an ERP system. AI and machine learning can enable configuration lifecycle management and avert lost time and sales, streamlining CPQ and product configuration strategies in the process.
  3. Improving demand forecasting accuracy and enabling better collaboration with suppliers based on insights from machine learning-based predictive models is attainable with higher quality data. By creating a self-learning knowledge system, Cloud ERP providers can vastly improve data latency rates that lead to higher forecast accuracy. Factoring in sales, marketing, and promotional programs further fine-tunes forecast accuracy.
  4. Reducing equipment breakdowns and increasing asset utilization by analyzing machine-level data to determine when a given part needs to be replaced. It’s possible to capture a steady stream of data on each machine’s health level using sensors equipped with an IP address. Cloud ERP providers have a great opportunity to capture machine-level data and use machine learning techniques to find patterns in production performance by using a production floor’s entire data set. This is especially important in process industries where machinery breakdowns lead to lost sales. Oil refineries are using machine learning models comprise more than 1,000 variables related to material input, output and process perimeters including weather conditions to estimate equipment failures.
  5. Implementing self-learning algorithms that use production incident reports to predict production problems on assembly lines needs to happen in Cloud ERP platforms. A local aircraft manufacturer is doing this today by using predictive modeling and machine learning to compare past incident reports. With legacy ERP systems these problems would have gone undetected and turned into production slowdowns or worse, the line having to stop.
  6. Improving product quality by having machine learning algorithms aggregate, analyze and continually learn from supplier inspection, quality control, Return Material Authorization (RMA) and product failure data. Cloud ERP platforms are in a unique position of being able to scale across the entire lifecycle of a product and capture quality data from the supplier to the customer. With legacy ERP systems manufacturers most often rely on an analysis of scrap materials by type or caused followed by RMAs. It’s time to get to the truth about why products fail, and machine learning can deliver the insights to get there.

Louis Columbus is an enterprise software strategist with expertise in analytics, cloud computing, CPQ, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), e-commerce and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

I am currently serving as Principal, IQMS. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud, product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems, senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner), marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, a SaaS start…

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Why Companies Are Turning To Chief Data Officers To Generate More Value Out Of Data

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In a conversation with MicroStrategy CMO Mark Gambill, he described the rise of a new type of role—the Chief Data Officer (click here for article). As part of that conversation, he suggested I talk with Matthew Thomas, CDO, Pandera Systems, a leader in helping firms deliver analytics and automated decision capabilities, to better understand why financial institutions in particular need the CDO role (in addition to the CMO and CIO roles). Below are insights from Thomas regarding the CDO role—and how it adds value above and beyond the CMO and CIO roles.

WhitlerCan you describe the CDO role?

Thomas: To truly appreciate the increasing need for the CDO’s role, one must first understand that 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years alone. That’s a lot of information for a company to suddenly organize, secure and make sense of, let alone make strategic decision on. The CDO emerged as organizations realized the need for someone to lead the management of all of this data as well as guide the organization in technology adoption and training necessary to storing and distributing it all.

Modern CDOs have a hybrid role: first control and secure data, second, maximize data’s value with accessibility throughout an organization while continuing to maintain this controlled state

Whitler: Is this a common role in the financial services industry?

Thomas: With the volume and velocity of data continuing to grow the challenge of reporting that data in a timely and trustworthy medium is a constant challenge. Regulatory reporting and legislative deadlines can cause more than migraines. Consider this: the average company loses up to twelve percent of its annual revenue due to bad data. If there are any non-compliance fines or other consequences on top of that, an organization can be crippled. This is especially important in financial services where those regulatory requirements are more stringent.

I’ll also add that in the age of millennials, there is no longer a single team of IT folks building reports. At companies across the globe, the masses have data access and want more from it. The need for self-service is very real, but behind that, the importance of governing data to avoid incorrect reporting becomes an even larger need.

Whitler: What are the consequences of having a CDO role? Or, what is the incremental value above and beyond other C-suite positions?

Thomas: The CDO is charged with providing decision-ready data to other executives to improve cycle times and cost on capital project considerations. For example, I was recently tasked with a plan to extract data from the Oracle E-Business System and input the information into MicroStrategy, our Business Intelligence solution. During the transfer my team came across a range of inconsistencies, such as departments using conflicting facts to report on given subjects. It’s my job to figure out whose data is correct, how long teams have been working with inconsistent data and what the potential domino effects of this inaccurate reporting were.

CDOs remove ambiguity around what data to use and how it should influence decision-making. Going back to my point on a data governance framework, it’s essential that CDOs implement systems that protect data and provide users with a seamless operating language across all elements of corporate data.

Whitler: Who does the CDO report to? And how are they different than a CIO?

Thomas: It’s ideal that a CDO report directly to the CEO, because it’s the CEO’s overall business strategy that’s defining a CDO’s day-to-day work.

There are important distinctions between what a CDO and a CIO do. The CDO’s role is to manage the information necessary to run the business, while the CIO manages the systems that run the business. In the modern economy, a CDO needs to provide standardized, quality controlled data that people can access to make informed decision that align to the overarching goals of the company.

Whitler: What experiences can help prepare somebody for a CDO role?

Thomas: The most important thing that someone can do to prepare for a CDO role is understand how significant data is in making informed business decisions at every level. A CDO must understand how information disseminates throughout an entire organization to support corporate strategy.

 Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler

Google's Grand Plan To Make AI Accessible To Developers And Businesses

Artificial intelligence took center stage at Google’s annual user conference, Cloud Next 2018. The company made several announcements that make machine learning and artificial intelligence accessible to both developers and businesses.

Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist, Google AISource: Google

One of the first announcements came in the form of Cloud AutoML, a managed service that lets developers build machine learning models without requiring any specialized knowledge in machine learning or coding. AutoML Vision, along with other automated ML services became publicly available. According to Google, it is a suite of machine learning products that enables developers with limited machine learning expertise to train high-quality models specific to their business needs, by leveraging Google’s state-of-the-art transfer learning, and Neural Architecture Search technology.

With AutoML, developers use a simple graphical user interface (GUI) to train, evaluate, improve, and deploy models based on their own data. Apart from computer vision, AutoML also offers translation and natural language models. AutoML Natural Language helps customers to predict custom text categories specific to domains automatically. With AutoML Translation, they can upload translated language pairs to train custom translation models.

Google has also enhanced its cognitive computing APIs. Cloud Vision API now recognizes handwriting, supports additional file types (PDF and TIFF) and product search, and can identify where an object is located within an image. The improvements to Cloud Text-to-Speech include multilingual access to voices generated by DeepMind WaveNet technology and the ability to optimize for the type of speaker from which the speech is intended to play. Cloud Speech-to-Text added the ability to identify what language is spoken as well as different speakers in a conversation, word-level confidence scores, and multi-channel recognition. With this enhancement, customers can record each participant separately in multi-participant recordings.

Dialogflow, the platform to build bots, can now be used to build AI-powered virtual agents for the contact center, including phone-based conversational agents known as interactive voice response (IVR). Google Cloud Contact Center, an AI solution based on Dialogflow, includes new features alongside other tools to assist live agents and to perform analytics.

With Dialogflow Phone Gateway, customers can assign a working phone number to the virtual agent and begin taking calls. The dynamic platform can scale based on the utilization patterns. Behind the scenes, all of the telephony infrastructure, speech recognition, speech synthesis, natural language understanding and orchestration are managed automatically.

Another component of Dialogflow Enterprise, the Dialogflow Knowledge Connector understands unstructured documents like FAQs or knowledge base articles to automatically build intents with automated responses sourced from internal document collections, enriching the conversational experience with little extra effort. The added information extracted from the knowledge base is integrated with the Dialogflow agent to deliver conversational user experience.

Apart from the above enhancements, Dialogflow now includes automatic spelling correction, sentiment analysis and text-to-speech capabilities.

Google is integrating its cloud-based machine learning assets with Dialogflow to build an intelligent contact center. The platform includes an agent assist system to provide the call center agents with relevant information through suggested articles and shortcuts for fulfilling relevant tasks in real time. Another feature called the Conversational Topic Modeler uses Google AI to analyze historical audio and chat logs to uncover insights about topics and trends in customer interactions.

Google is working with several industry players to integrate Cloud Contact Center AI with mainstream contact center platforms.

From automated ML to AI-based contact center, Google wants AI to become accessible to both developers and enterprises.

Southwest Airlines Says It Won't Do This Incredibly Annoying Thing That Other Airlines Always Do (And Passengers Rejoice)

Case in point: There’s a lot of stuff to get annoyed about with air travel. But my #1 pet peeve is when flight attendants insist that you listen to them while they try to sell you on an airline-sponsored credit card.

Mental muscle memory

Of course, there are times when it’s crucial that you pay attention to the cabin crew. Even if you’ve flown 100 times this year, it’s still useful to hear the safety instructions–if only for mental muscle memory in the event of an actual emergency.

And if you’ve memorized it all, at least you can understand the benefit of being quiet so that other not-so-frequent fliers can absorb the information.

But a lot of airlines go beyond that. They turn off the in-flight entertainment and insist that passengers sit still and quiet while the flight attendants pitch you on a credit card.

It’s doubly annoying when you already have the credit card that they’re pitching you.

Flight attendants on both United and American get paid commissions for each credit card they sell: between $50 and $100 depending on the circumstances.

Not even optional?

On United Airlines it’s not even optional: As my colleague Chris Matyszczyk recently wrote, flight attendants are actually being required to try to make sales on every flight. (The flight attendants say they don’t like the policy anymore than the passengers do.)

People worried recently, when Southwest Airlines announced that it was going to launch a branded credit card of its own.

Would it mean that we’d start hearing credit card pitches on LUV? Would singing flight attendants be replaced with hawking salespeople?

My friends, we needn’t have worried. 

‘No plans for an onboard sales program’

Writing in the Chicago Business Journal, the utterly indefatigable Lewis Lazare reports that Southwest says it has “no plans for an onboard sales program for the new Priority card.”

That means no brochures for busy flight attendants to hand out, no “lean[ing] heavily on passengers to consider signing up for the new card,” and no annoying on-board announcements trying to hawk the new credit card.

By the way, as Lazare aptly summarizes, Southwest’s new credit card comes with:

  • a $149 annual fee 
  • 7,500 anniversary Rapid Rewards points each year 
  • a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, 
  • 20 percent back on inflight purchases, and 
  • up to four upgraded boardings per year when available

Is that a good deal, then? Should you apply for a Southwest Airlines-branded Chase Rapid Rewards Priority? 

I have no skin in the game either way. And maybe neither should your flight attendant.
 

Atlassian sells team-chat tools to Slack

(Reuters) – Software maker Atlassian Corp Plc said on Thursday it will exit its chat-platform business by selling Stride and Hipchat Cloud to privately owned Slack Technologies for an undisclosed amount.

FILE PHOTO: The Slack messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Atlassian has made an equity investment in San Francisco-based Slack and will also partner with the company for marketing and sales.

Shares of Atlassian rose about 16.7 percent to $78 in after-hours trading.

Slack, a startup providing communication tools for corporate users, will be discontinuing the acquired team-chat tools as it looks to compete against much larger rival Microsoft Corp that has launched a free version of Teams, its own workplace collaboration software, earlier this month.

Atlassian on Wednesday also reported a bigger net loss of $25.9 million, or 11 cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended June 30, from a loss of $20.7 million, or 9 cents, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 40 percent to $243.8 million.

Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

Game publisher EA's revenue forecast misses estimates

(Reuters) – Electronic Arts Inc forecast tepid second-quarter revenue growth on Thursday, overshadowing quarterly results that topped analysts’ estimates and sending its shares down 7 percent in extended trading.

FILE PHOTO: An Electronic Arts (EA) video game logo is seen at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, California, United States, June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The company said it expected adjusted revenue of $1.16 billion for the current quarter, down slightly from a year earlier, when sales were driven by “Battlefield 1”.

The timing of the recognition of bookings in Asia as well as foreign exchange weighed on the company’s forecast, EA added.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of $1.23 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“Expectations may have been higher for second-quarter guidance and the Street may have expected an increase in annual guidance but we understand EA is conservative early in the year,” Consumer Edge Research analyst Raymond Stochel said. 

The rise in popularity of games from the “battle royale” genre such as “Fortnite” is posing challenges to established game publishers, including EA, and rivals Activision Blizzard Inc and Take Two Interactive Software Inc.

EA said it expected the launch of new games, including “Madden NFL” and “Battlefield V”, in the coming months to take on some of those challenges.

For the first quarter, the company said “The Sims 4” player base grew 35 percent and the “FIFA World Cup” update had over 15 million unique players.

Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen told Reuters that though EA had only two weeks of the World Cup in its first quarter, user engagement with FIFA was “extremely” high and that should help “FIFA 19” when it is launched in September.

EA reported revenue of $749 million on an adjusted basis for the latest quarter ended June 30, beating analysts’ average estimate of $742.42 million.

Net income fell to $293 million, or 95 cents per share, from $644 million, or $2.06 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 13 cents per share, according to Reuters’ calculation, topping analysts’ estimate of 6 cents per share.

Shares of the company have risen nearly 40 percent this year.

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Anil D’Silva