Their Flight Wasn't Until the Next Morning. Passengers Slept on the Floor. Then Airport Security Prodded Them to Stay Awake

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Have you ever noticed that there are never enough seats for passengers at airports?

Many are forced to mill around because, well, what else are you going to do?

You don’t expect, however, airport staff to instruct you on the milling-around rules. Nor, indeed, on the sleeping-at-the-airport rules.

Last weekend, though, passengers at Stansted Airport near London had a difficult time.

Some passengers flew in from elsewhere late at night and didn’t have a connecting flight until the next morning.

What are passengers supposed to do all night? Wouldn’t you try to get some sleep?

The UK’s Metro describes how passengers tried to find any perch they could to get a few winks.

But when there are only 50 seats and perhaps 500 passengers, there’s only one option: the floor.

I’ve done it before. Perhaps you have too. You try and find a corner, lie down, grip your valuables and hope no one bothers you.

At Stansted last weekend, however, airport security patrolled the scene.

As one passenger, Ricardo Gavioli, told Metro: 

I even saw a young couple sitting together on the ground and when the woman tried to rest her head on her boyfriend’s chest and stretch her legs security came up and prodded her into an upright position.

Gavioli likened it to “sleep deprivation torture.” He said: 

The security were passing every ten minutes to tell people to sit upright and not to lie down.

Why would the airport behave this way?

The airport offered a simple statement: 

We don’t allow people to sleep on the floor or come with sleeping equipment (camp beds, hammocks, sleeping bags etc), and people sleeping on the floor will be asked to sit up or move if necessary. 

There is a caveat, says the airport:

However, nobody is stopped from sleeping or woken up while sitting in a chair.

How very reasonable when there’s hardly a chair to be had.

Why, in fact, doesn’t the airport start charging for chairs? I’m sure U.S. airlines can offer them software for that.

I wonder how Stansted executives fall asleep in meetings. Does security prod them awake, too?

Stansted has banned sleeping on the floor between midnight and 2 a.m. This, it claims, is to accommodate renovation work and, as the airport told the Telegraph:

Feedback shows passengers don’t like arriving at the airport for an early flight to find lots of people blocking access and getting in the way of both staff and those traveling.

They also don’t like having nowhere to sit.

Still, perhaps many will find this approach reasonable. 

Is it also reasonable, though, to prod people awake when they have nowhere else to go and they’re not doing any harm?

Stansted says too many travelers deliberately decide to sleep on the floor, so they don’t have to pay for a hotel.

On the people’s foghorn, Twitter, passengers offered reasonable arguments. There’s just nowhere to go in that airport.

Of course, the airport says passengers should arrive at a time nearer their scheduled departure. 

Many know, however, that this can also provide a crush not worth tolerating.

This airport security’s prodding behavior isn’t exactly unique.

The airport insisted this was to allow cleaners to do their jobs.

Perhaps one idea for passengers is to avoid Stansted altogether.  

Until, that is, the renovations are done and the reception is gloriously welcoming. 

Should both things ever occur, that is.

Gadget Lab Podcast: Pinterest’s Evan Sharp on What Makes Good Software

Why did Apple’s Jony Ive name Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp as one of the figures in technology who he believes will change the future?

If you were wondering about that, here’s a great chance to learn a little bit more about Sharp and make the call yourself. During the 25th anniversary festival for WIRED last week, the Gadget Lab team had the chance to interview Sharp on stage, among other high-profile technologists. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing these taped conversations as a part of the podcast.

In this particularly interview, Mike and Arielle ask Sharp what it’s like to receive praise from Ive, how machine learning is changing software design, and whether Pinterest can remain once of the internet’s last happy places.

Show notes: Click here to read more about Jony Ive’s nomination of Evan Sharp for our 25th anniversary issue. And here’s Lauren’s WIRED 25 interview with Kevin Systrom, which we mentioned in this week’s show.

Recommendations this week: Lauren recommends the Dakota backpack from Dagne Dover. Mike recommends these awesome smartphone accessory lenses made by Moment.

Send the Gadget Lab hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. Arielle Pardes can be found at @pardesoteric. Lauren Goode is @laurengoode. Michael Calore can be found at @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. Our theme song is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week’s podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here’s how:

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.

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We’re also on Soundcloud, and every episode gets posted to wired.com as soon as it’s released. If you still can’t figure it out, or there’s another platform you use that we’re not on, let us know.

Uber Now Wants to Take Over Yet Another Massive Industry (And Nobody Even Noticed)

For a while there, you could probably get a meeting with a lot of potential investors by saying you had a plan to create “the Uber of X.”

We’re building the Uber of private jets. The Uber of trucking. The Uber of real estate.

In Chicago and Los Angeles, the company we once thought of as being in the transportation industry is testing a pilot program where it provides waiters, security guards, and other 1099 independent contractors–all on demand, to businesses.

With about 2 million drivers worldwide, Uber would be arguably be the world’s fourth-largest employer if its workers were true employees as opposed to independent contractors.

For context, the largest employer is the U.S. military; tied at No. 2 are the Chinese army and Walmart, each with about 3.2 million people on payroll.

So how much bigger can Uber get? Tough to say for sure, but it’s a safe bet it’s all about diversifying ahead of the company’s expected IPO next year.

At least Uber wait staff will be able to travel to their Uber events in an Uber car.

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

A giant data mining company might go public

Palantir Technologies Inc., is reportedly eyeing an initial public offering for the second half of 2019, with a possible $41 billion valuation. Cofounded by Peter Thiel in 2004, the data mining company is secretive and influential. Its analytics were credited with helping the government track down Osama bin Laden, and it also has massive contracts with intelligence, defense, and police agencies around the world. (Rob Copeland, The Wall Street Journal)

Here’s how online brands can go brick-and-mortar

It’s been a sad but not unexpected week for retail, with the news that the iconic brand Sears is in bankruptcy. The silver lining for commercial landlords (like malls) is that smaller stores can bring in six times the revenue of big, legacy anchor stores. Now several new startups are trying to find ways to get smaller, online brands into newly free physical spaces. (Michelle Cheng, Inc.com)

In this entire scenario, you don’t actually own anything

Rent the Runway this week announced a new partnership with WeWork. For now, it’s just a matter of installing drop-off boxes at 15 WeWork pilot locations. This means that women customers can rent clothes, likely have them delivered a rented city apartment, and then drop them off at a workspace that they (or their company) also rents. (Marc Bain, Quartz)

Taking on the ‘Pink Tax’

The shaving brand Harry’s launched a line of women’s products recently under the name Flamingo, with a radical pitch: It says it will charge men and women the same amount for similar products. Of course that’s only radical because of the fact that pricing for women’s products is often higher than for men’s, even when the products themselves are exactly the same. This “pink tax” leads women to wind up spending about $100,000 more over a lifetime than men do for similar products. (Sonia Thompson, Inc.com)

Panasonic’s dystopian new office product

They must have done some market research, but it’s hard to imagine what Panasonic thinks of the world with a new product called Wear Space, which is intended to help people stay focused at work, but really just looks like horse blinders made for humans. What’s more, this multibillion dollar company with 250,000 employees is running a crowdfunding campaign to bring the product to life. But they do seem serious. (James Vincent, Circuit Breaker

Tax byte: Africans fear trend towards levies on data, services

KAMPALA/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The brisk business Julius Kirya did from his cash transfer kiosk in the Ugandan capital has slowed right down with a new tax on mobile money. Many of his customers have returned to sending banknotes by hand, in some cases via motorbike taxi.

A customer conducts a mobile money transfer, known as M-Pesa, at a Safaricom agent stall, as he holds Kenyan shillings (KSh) in Nairobi, Kenya October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

How to tax digital revenues, from fintech to social media, is a puzzle authorities around the world are working on. A solution catching on in Africa – levies on usage – has obvious appeal to indebted governments but a big impact on people like Kirya, who saw the tech revolution as a way out of poverty.

“I had a dream of steadily growing to middle income status,” he said from his tiny cubicle attached to a Kampala petrol station, one of thousands across the country that serve the millions of people without access to bank accounts.

He was making three times the average salary before the tax, was introduced in July. Now his income has slid to half that. “With this tax I have no chance,” he said.

It is not just Kirya and his customers who are losing out.

Mobile communications have revolutionized life in Africa where telecom company reports show calls and texts are giving way to data services like Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and WeChat owned by China’s Tencent.

The telecom companies say taxes on mobile payments introduced by a string of countries hurt their revenues and threaten much-needed investment in infrastructure.

Levies on social media usage brought in by Uganda and Benin and a proposed tax on internet calls in Zambia have taken the shine off a fast-growing market and have all sparked protests.

Officials say the taxes are needed to preserve state revenues as technologies evolve.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has long pressed African states to improve tax collection, urges caution.

“You want to make sure you don’t introduce taxes that are stifling innovation and curtailing activity in the sector,” Abebe Selassie, the IMF’s top official for Africa, told Reuters this month. “So striking that balance will be important.”

GLOBAL DISRUPTION

The communications sector is evolving fast in Africa, where the convenience and lower communication costs of “over-the-top” (OTT) services via the internet have particular appeal.

Data revenues in most African markets are increasing at a much faster rate than SMS and voice revenues are declining, a Reuters analysis of telecom company finances showed.

A customer conducts a mobile money transfer, known as M-Pesa, at a Safaricom agent stall in downtown Nairobi, Kenya October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s Safaricom – part owned by Vodafone – reported its customer base jumped nearly 12 percent last year but voice revenues grew just 2.9 percent while SMS revenues shrank nearly 4 percent and data revenue rose 38.5 percent.

MTN saw revenues from outgoing voice calls decline in a number of African countries in the first half of this year; SMS revenue fell across the group and in many markets by double digits year-on-year. But data revenues grew nearly 27 percent.

Mobile operators are expanding 4G networks, trimming data costs and nurturing financial services offerings to drive future revenues.

In theory, this should also protect countries’ tax take, but many African governments supplement revenue or profit taxes with separate levies on voice airtime, SMS and mobile money.

Amid fears the first two services are tailing off, authorities are bringing in or increasing taxes on mobile money and introducing them for social media to make up the shortfall.

In January, Ivory Coast imposed a 0.5 per cent tax on transfers via mobile money services. Kenya last month increased its tax on mobile money transfer fees from 10 to 12 percent. Benin introduced a tax of 5 CFA francs ($0.01) per megabyte consumed on social media usage. And Zambia has proposed a daily levy on consumers who use the internet to make phone calls.

In Uganda, riot police repressed demonstrations against two new taxes implemented in July – one on mobile money transactions and another, a daily levy on social media usage, with apps and websites blocked until a user pays the fee.

Amnesty International and local opposition parties say the OTT tax is a veiled attempt to stifle criticism of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for over three decades. Opposition activists have used apps to organize protests.

Officials say the taxes are aimed at raising revenue, not suppressing dissent, and reject the telecom firms’ complaints.

Finance Ministry spokesman Jim Mugunga said they had helped the revenue authority exceed its third quarter targets.

“There’s no proof that these taxes are hurting business,” he said. “No one has given us empirical evidence … That’s a narrative by telecom companies. I don’t accept it.”

Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission, echoed a common complaint around the world that social media companies keep local tax authorities at arms’ length.

“The traditional voice technology that we have lived with over the past 20 years is dying,” he told Reuters. “These big technology firms are not registered here … so the only way the government can get revenue from them is to put a tax on OTT usage.”

“GETTING COMPLICATED”

As of last year, Facebook boasted 170 million users across Africa, a 42 percent increase from 2015, it said. Facebook’s WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app on the continent, home to more than a billion people.

Slideshow (2 Images)

The number of social media users in Africa grew 12 percent last year on the back of a 20 percent increase in internet users, the fastest rate of any region in the world, a report by social media marketing firms We Are Social and Hootsuite found.

A Facebook-financed report published in August by Christoph Stork, a telecoms analyst with Research ICT Solutions, said network operators in Uganda have seen a 20 percent drop in subscribers using data since the social media tax came in.

Such a decline could also affect the broader economy.

Studies, including one from the World Bank, estimate that a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband penetration translates to a 0.8 to 1.5 percent increase in a country’s GDP growth.

Mobile money transactions are also taking a hit. A spokeswoman for Airtel Uganda, a subsidiary of India Bharti Airtel’s, said the new tax on transfers had led to a significant drop in the volume and value of transactions.

“Any disruption in the Airtel Money operations causes an indirect negative impact on the growth prospects of emerging businesses, stifling economic growth,” said Sumin Namaganda.

Ugandan media have quoted MTN officials saying the tax had cut the company’s mobile transaction volumes in half.

As of March 2017, mobile money services were operating in 39 sub-Saharan African countries with almost 280 million registered accounts, according to mobile communications industry body GSMA.

At least six countries have introduced taxes on the service, prompting GSMA to warn in a report last year that high or unpredictable levies may cost states some of what it said would be $31 billion in investment across Africa, mainly focused on improving data coverage and services.

Some governments appear to be having second thoughts.

Zambia’s proposed levy on internet calls, announced in August, did not make it into the new budget approved last month.

And just three days after Benin introduced its social media tax to widespread public outcry, the government canceled it, on the grounds it created “instability in the sector’s economy which harms the interest of consumers”.

Uganda’s mobile money tax was introduced as 1 percent levy “on receiving, payments and withdrawals”. Museveni later said the rate was 0.5 percent and applied just to withdrawals. Parliament corrected the law but the president has not enacted the revised text.

While kiosk owners and some of their clients in big cities are struggling on, Kirya said his colleagues operating mobile money kiosks in rural areas had simply shut up shop.

“With this tax everything is getting complicated,” he said.

($1 = 3,788.0000 Ugandan shillings)

($1 = 568.2200 CFA francs)

Additional reporting by Allegresse Sasse in Cotonou, Chris Mfula in Lusaka and Mathieu Rosemain in Paris; editing by Philippa Fletcher

TSMC third-quarter profit slips 0.9 percent amid trade war uncertainty

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) (2330.TW), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, reported a 0.9 percent fall in third-quarter net profit, amid worries over trade tensions that could undermine global technology demand.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is seen at its headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

TSMC, whose clients include iPhone maker Apple Inc (AAPL.O), said July-September profit was T$89.07 billion ($2.9 billion). That compared with the T$89.0 billion average forecast drawn from 23 analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

Revenue rose 1.9 percent to $8.49 billion, compared with the company’s own estimate of $8.28 billion-$8.38 billion and the average $8.4 billion estimate of 25 analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

The results come weeks after rival GlobalFoundries announced that it would not compete in the latest generation of chip-making technology, a move analysts said will further consolidate TSMC’s technological leadership advantage.

And semiconductor industry bellwether ASML Holding NV (ASML.AS), a supplier to TSMC, posted better-than-expected third quarter results and gave a bullish outlook on Wednesday, helping assuage fears of slackening demand.

But an intensifying trade spat between the United States and China could also be a near-term risk for TSMC, whose semiconductors are widely used in electronics devices made in China.

KGI analyst Benjamin Chiang said in a report prior to the results in early October that near-term demand for products such as servers will be affected by the trade spat, but TSMC’s leading position in foundries could help it partially offset that.

Analysts said solid demand for Apple’s new iPhone models, estimated from contract electronics maker Foxconn’s revenues for September, will also support TSMC’s growth in the fourth quarter, a crucial year-end holiday season for smartphone makers.

Shares of TSMC, which rivals Intel Corp (INTC.O) as the world’s biggest semiconductor firm by market value, closed down 0.8 percent at T$236.50 on Thursday ahead of the financial results, compared with a 0.3 percent fall for the benchmark index .TWII.

($1 = 30.9330 Taiwan dollars)

Reporting By Jess Macy Yu and Yimou Lee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

It Was Exactly the Donald Trump Product America Needed. Then the Unthinkable Happened

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

We all need our safe spaces.

For some, it might be bars or man caves. For others, it might be book clubs or yoga studios.

You want to be with people who make you feel warm and cuddly. Even if, for some, the only person who can do that is themselves.

It has an arresting motto: Make America Date Again. 

I hadn’t been aware that Americans had ceased dating. I merely thought they’d changed the phraseology to Netflix-and-Chilling. Or Bumping-and Grindring

DonaldDaters.com, though, wasn’t created for adult Donald Duck fans, too shy to confess their penchant. Instead, this is a Donald Trump-supporters dating site.

It’s an excellent business idea.

Our nauseatingly polarized ambience has caused schisms in families and personal relationships. Atmospheres in offices, too, have become strained.

DonaldDaters.com was, therefore, a perfectly safe space.

French security researcher Elliot Alderson looked at the app’s security systems and seems to have purloined the names, profile pictures and private messages of Trump supporters looking for love.

This is manifestly disturbing. 

Many people are concerned about confessing to their true political predilections. They worry that, in the wrong place and at the wrong time, these predilections will incite scorn. 

Love doesn’t require utter commonality. A little understanding, though, does help.

In our current times, there’s little to none.

Like gravitates to Like. Love, on the other hand, is a far more startling, magical essence, one that comes at you when you least expect. 

There’s little more magical than that random moment on Tinder when someone attractive actually swipes in your direction.

That’s surely all these Trump supporters aspired to. A place where they could audaciously hope to find change they could believe in, in the privacy of their own app.

I contacted DonaldDaters.com to ask for its reaction and will update, should I hear.

Privacy breaches are, like friction, raging and Kanye, everywhere these days.

Nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. We’re all exposed. 

Now that we are, will anyone love us again?

An 80-Year-Old Man's ​Website Collected 1 Million DNA Profiles. Now Police Have Used It to Solve 15 Murders and Other Crimes

On Halloween night in 1996, a masked man committed an especially heinous sexual assault in California. The trail went cold.

But last month, they uploaded DNA from the scene to a genealogy website called GEDMatch, run by a retired Florida businessman and a transportation engineer in Texas.

Within hours, reports Heather Murphy of The New York Times, they had a suspect in the 22-year-old case, marking the 15th time authorities have used GEDMatch to make arrests in brutal crimes, including rape and murder.

Most famously, it’s how police made an arrest in the Golden State Killer case–13 murders, 50 rapes and other crimes from the 1970s and 1980s.

The founder of GEDMatch, Curtis Rogers, 80, and his partner, John Olson, 67, say members have voluntarily uploaded more than 1 million DNA samples, that they get from other sites like 23andme. That’s enough so that any American of North European descent has a 60 percent chance of being identified on the site.

It’s grown quickly, with no advertising, and now they’re facing ethical questions like whether users’ privacy rights outweigh the need to find suspects in these cold cases.

So far, Rogers, who runs the site mostly from a battered Toshiba laptop according to the Times, and charges nowhere near what he thinks he could make because he simply believes in helping people, has come down on the side of law enforcement.

But the site, and its accidental mission are a reminder: there’s more than one way for even a very small business to achieve success and leave a lasting impression.

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

Rest in peace, Paul Allen

The co-founder of Microsoft, Seattle sports team owner, and one of the biggest Seattle real estate developers, died yesterday of cancer at age 65. “I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends,” Bill Gates said, adding, “Personal computing would not have existed without him.” (Christine Wang, CNBC)

National Boss’s Day

You should probably discourage your employees from celebrating this fauxliday, but here are some good inspirational stories of business leadership, in case they insist. (Leigh Buchanan, Inc.com)

“Hello, death!”

Coca-Cola tried to mix English and Māori on a vending machine in New Zealand. Unfortunately, their imperfect understanding of the linguistics led them to use a phrase that basically means, “Hello, death!” instead of the intended, “Hello, mate!” (Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian)

The head of LinkedIn says learn these skills

No, they’re not coding skills. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, says written communication, oral communication, team-building, and leadership skills are the ones employers want most. (Simone Stolzoff, Quartz)

The 99-cent site

How’s this for a tenuous value proposition? Pay 99 cents to this website, and  you get to see the name of all the other people who paid 99 cents. And the next person who pay will get to see all them, plus you too. As of a few days ago, 43 people had paid up. I’ll tell you for free whose name isn’t on it: me. (Sean Wolfe, Business Insider)

TomTom reports better-than-expected third-quarter core earnings

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – TomTom (TOM2.AS), the Dutch maker of digital mapping software, on Tuesday reported better-than-expected third-quarter core earnings of 62.4 million euros ($72.2 million), compared with 35.5 million euros a year earlier.

FILE PHOTO: TomTom navigation are seen in front of TomTom displayed logo in this illustration taken July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Company-compiled consensus had seen earnings for the quarter before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) at 41 million euros.

The company raised its full-year revenue outlook to 850 million euros from 825 million euros, but said a contract announced in 2016 to provide location and navigation services to Volvo had been ended.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

In Hiding Its Latest Data Breach, Google Makes Need for Regulation Clear

Last week, the Wall Street Journal exposed that Google hid a data breach related to its Google+ product. The mostly defunct product had exposed more data than intended to developers – similar to Facebook’s problem in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

What’s different this time is that Google intentionally covered up the breach, which was only made public due to the report. Per the WSJ, Google hid the breach because it feared attracting negative press or regulatory scrutiny – scrutiny it’s almost certain to attract now.

By the end of the week, Google had attracted the ire and attention of Congress.  Several senators wrote to the FTC to ask it to take another look at Google. Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday. Grassley pressed on why Google had declined to participate in earlier Congressional hearings in April that focused on Facebook.

“Despite your contention that Google did not have the same data protection failures as Facebook, it appears from recent reports that Google+ had an almost identical feature to Facebook, which allowed third party developers to access information from users as well as private information of those users’ connections,” Grassley wrote. “Moreover, it appears that you were aware of this issue at the time I invited you to participate in the hearing and sent you the letter regarding Google’s policies.”

Google’s problems come on the heels of many months of Facebook being in the spotlight. But despite Facebook’s latest data breach, which effected an estimated 50 million, that spotlight is almost certain to widen now.

It’s increasingly clear that the problems that Facebook has faced are not unique to the social networking platform. Nor, in fact, are they unique to just platform businesses. But given the scale of data and interactions they facilitate, platforms significantly up the stakes and amplify potential problems.

The lack of transparency into how platforms handle user data lies at the heart of the challenge. There’s a massive asymmetry of information between the platform and users, and the platforms are able to exploit that gap with little oversight.

There are a number of potential proposals for how to solve this problem, but each has tradeoffs. Enforcing total transparency and data portability comes with potential security risks, as we’ve seen recently that everyone from competitors to bots, fraudsters and foreign governments are looking to exploit user data for their own ends. We want the platforms to be open – but not too open. Or rather, open in some ways and closed in others.   

However, the trade-off of not enforcing transparency, as would likely be the case if the big platform monopolies were designated as utilities, is that it will be difficult to stop the platforms from continuing to exploit their information advantage. The platforms have a large information and resource advantage over and regulator – similar to what we’ve seen evolve in the financial industry, where regulators are almost always playing catch up with the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Additionally, the challenge of regulatory capture, another issue familiar to the financial industry, is also a risk here, given how active the big tech monopolies have become in political lobbying.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. But the current status quo is clearly not working as the big platforms have shown themselves incapable of self-regulating. Government has yet to find its role, but it’s becoming increasingly clear it will have to soon.

Anand Giridharadas on Saudi Money and Silicon Valley Hypocrisy

Silicon Valley’s deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia illustrate “the hypocrisy behind the ‘change the world’ fantasy” pushed by tech companies, said journalist Anand Giridharadas. Saudi backing for popular apps like Uber, Slack, and Wag offers proof that “the most idealistic companies on earth—in rhetoric—are very happy to take the dirtiest money on earth to grow and grow and grow,” he said.

Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the Word, spoke at the WIRED25 festival on Sunday, on a panel about the trouble with techno-utopianism. He argued that the uproar around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was allegedly killed by Saudi agents last week, forces the tech industry to face the reality of the Saudis.

The relationship has worked well for the Saudis, Giridharadas said, who have financed popular apps as “a form of influence peddling” to distract people from things like the way oil contributes to climate change.

However, in light of the graphic details that have emerged about Khashoggi’s alleged murder, Silicon Valley can “no longer hide behind an idea that it’s another player in Davos in the Desert,” he said, referring to an upcoming festival in Riyadh arranged by the Saudi government. Several tech luminaries scheduled to speak at the summit have dropped out following Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder. But there’s been no reckoning with the billions the Saudi government has funneled into tech companies through its Public Investment Fund.

Anand Giridharadas

Amy Lombard

The panel was moderated by Virginia Heffernan, an author and contributor to WIRED, who quickly challenged Giridharadas on the idea that anyone came to Silicon Valley to associate themselves with repressive regimes. Heffernan offered her own brief experience with the Saudi government as an instance of good intentions. Years ago, Heffernan said she was paid about $24,000 for two speaking gigs in Saudi Arabia, even though the sessions were later cancelled. Perhaps receiving such a large sum, roughly a quarter of what she made while she had been on staff at the New York Times, colored her view of the regime. “I suddenly thought Saudi Arabia is not that bad,” she said.

“I think that that’s what the VCs think,” Heffernan said. “Suddenly the money’s flowing and yet we’re beholden to them.”

Giridharadas agreed. “The winners of our age are not bad people. They’re not evil people. They are there people motivated, as they ought to be under the system that we have, by the pursuit of profit. And that makes them very good at a bunch of things like building businesses and creating things and inventing things,” he said. But what his book Winners Take All explores is the way that pairing the pursuit of profit with the rhetoric of social change has led us to a place where we look to the same tech leaders funded by the Saudi to save the world.

“How did we decide to outsource the improvement of the human condition to those people?” Giridharadas asked. “The Saudi thing and your experience illustrate [that] it’s not bad people, but it’s just people who are ill-positioned to balance the voice of greed with the voice of the good.”


More Great WIRED Stories

5 Ways Tech Will Influence Sports in the Future

The bar for athletic performance will continue to rise.

Thanks to wearable tech , athletes can now embed tiny GPS, accelerometers, and other data collection tools in their jerseys and/or cleats. These tools track everything from distances run to heart rate, speed, jump height, fatigue, overtraining, hydration levels, muscle activation, respiratory rhythms, neurological activity, sleep patterns , and other health markers. Meanwhile, the prevalence of high-speed and high-definition cameras allows athletes and teams to record their movements and training sessions in unprecedented detail, thereby facilitating in-depth reviews of athletic performance.

Together, all of this data enables athletes and coaches to develop more effective training regimens, dial in their form, identify factors that enhance or diminish athletic performance, and so on–all of which has the potential to raise the bar on athletic performance.

Injury prevention and treatment will become more effective and refined.

Tech is making sports safer in a number of ways. For example, the evolution of smart helmets and other wearable tech allows for better monitoring of potentially traumatic injuries, which paves the way for more immediate and effective medical care. It also provides an opportunity to collect data about collisions and identify patterns for better sports injury prevention.

Meanwhile, injury rehabilitation is also getting a boost from tech. For example, anti-gravity treadmills enable athletes to maintain at least some level of physical fitness while recovering from injuries that might be aggravated by weight-bearing activities, while research suggests utilizing VR (virtual reality) gaming technologies might assist with the treatment of neck and spinal injuries.

Referees will get a boost from tech.

We’ve all witnessed the poor referee who makes a call that’s loathed by one or the other team’s fan base and is personally pilloried as a result. Advancements in tech may offer these hapless refs some relief. New technologies–such as 360-degree cameras and FIFA’s goal-line monitors–will take some pressure off referees and ensure greater accuracy while adjudicating sports.

Athletes, protégés, and fans will interact with each other in new and exciting ways.

Technologies such as the internet and cryptocurrencies are decentralizing the world of sports in several ways, thereby facilitating unprecedented relationships between athletes, aspiring athletes, and fans.

For example, 433token plans to offer opportunities for some of the world’s greatest soccer players to mentor up to five youth talents at a time. These mentorships will be sponsored by soccer fans who are invested in cultivating the next generation of talent. It’s a unique platform that will open up new opportunities for aspiring soccer players to apprentice under some of the world’s best players–and for fans to have a say in who becomes the next major player in their favorite sport. This type of interaction wouldn’t be possible without advancements in tech.

The viewer experience will be transformed.

Not only will tech enable sports fans to support the next generation of talent, but it’s also changing the way fans experience athletic competitions. For example:

  • Fans will continue to consume sports content in more dispersed ways. Rather than sitting down at a designated time to watch the only game on TV, fans can now live stream all kinds of sports-related content from anywhere (and at any time) on their mobile phones, tablets, and other devices.
  • More and more sports broadcasters are offering virtual and augmented reality experiences to transform the way fans interact with sports content and to help fans feel like part of the action (even from their couches at home). Down the road, it’s possible sports fans might even partake in virtual experiences meant to mimic being in a stadium or bar with other fans.

From VR-infused sports viewing experiences to safer helmets and enhanced athletic data and performance, technology is radically altering the world of sports. As tech continues to evolve, the barriers between fans, athletes, and teams will likely continue to flatten out so that sports invite more cross-platform participation than ever before.

Snapchat Adds Cat Lenses So You Can Put Filters On Your Cat

Snapchat has had its signature filters to make selfies pop a little extra for awhile, but now even pets can take advantage of the fun.

The messaging app just unveiled its new Cat Lenses feature. Cat Lenses allows you to put filters on your cat, which was previously reserved only for human faces, of course. You can even include yourself in the photo and use matching filters on both you and your cat. Snapchat announced the update on Twitter with the caption, “Lenses. For cool cats and their cool cats Try them meow.”

The update builds on the object recognition software added to the app last year, according to TechCrunch. That technology allowed you to identify or bring up a sales page for an object.

Cat Lenses are just the latest of Snapchat’s seemingly unending ideas. Earlier this week, Snap said it would bring original programming to its signature app including scripted shows and docuseries.

Google Fuchsia: Here's what the NSA knows about it

More Google

A while back, Google told us Fuchsia is not Linux. There have also been endless rumors, with little hard proof, it will eventually replace Android. Other than that, we don’t know much. But the National Security Agency (NSA), of all groups, has been checking into Fuchsia and revealed its findings at the recent North American Linux Security Summit in Vancouver, B.C.

Also: Pixel 3, Google Home Hub and Pixel Slate: Everything Google just announced CNET

Fuchsia is a modular operating system

James Carter and Stephen Smalley of the NSA showed off some Fuchsia secrets. Their focus was on security in Fuchsia and Zircon, its underlying micro-kernel.

Zircon started as a fork from the Little Kernel, the Android bootloader. It’s been heavily modified to become a micro-kernel operating system. It now includes a small set of userspace services, drivers, and libraries. These are used to boot the system, talk to hardware, load userspace processes and run them, and not much more. The kernel manages several different object types. Those that are directly accessible via system calls are C++ classes. Fuchsia is built on top of this.

It’s a modular operating system. This implies you’ll be able to use it on low-powered, minimal-resource devices all the way up to PCs. You simply add the object modules for more functionality.

It looks like Unix/Linux

Fuchsia also supports a subset of Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) conventions.

This means, from a developer’s viewpoint, it looks like Unix/Linux. Fuchsia uses Google’s Flutter as its software development kit (SDK). With it, you can build Chrome OS and Android apps. Fuchsia also supports Apple’s Swift language .

Also: Google Home: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Numerous security issues

Smalley and Carter’s job is to investigate operating systems and software for potential use in national security jobs. In short, to see if it’s easy to break. The NSA doesn’t want the government using fragile systems.

Carter also helped create SELinux, the most secure approach to running Linux. In checking out Zircon and Fuchsia, they shared their discoveries about the operating system.

First, they found that Zircon is the only part of Fuchsia that runs in supervisor mode. Everything else — drivers, filesystems, network, etc. — run in user mode. This means programs on Fuchsia will take a very different approach than they do on most operating systems.

While looking deeper, they also found numerous security issues. For example, Carter said, “You can acquire a handle to anything in that job or any child jobs,” and, naturally enough, “a leak of root job handle is fatal to security.”

Much work needs to be done

Fuchsia’s issues are big enough that, as of this summer, it was far from being ready for production. As Carter explained, Fuchsia is very much a “work in progress” system and “a lot of work needs to be done” before Fuchsia is secure.

Compared to Linux, the still-immature Fuchsia is far from secure.

But, Carter remarked, while “much work” needs to be done, it can be made secure, and he encourage open-source developer to help Google lock Fuchsia down.

Immature or not, Fuchsia might soon be running on the forthcoming Google Home Hub.

Also: Google Home Hub says no to smart-home cameras in your bedroom CNET

Is Fuchsia inside Google Home Hub?

Home Hub is a new Internet-of-Things (IoT) device. It’s essentially a Google Home with a 7-inch touchscreen. It includes a fabric-encased full-range speaker, a light sensor, and two far-field microphones. It doesn’t include a video camera. But, under the hood, it will sport a Amlogic S905D2 CPU instead of a Qualcomm SD624 SoC.

The good people at 9to5Google, who have been covering Fuchsia like hawks, put two and two together and started digging into the Google Home Hub’s source code. They found traces of Fuchsia. Now, this doesn’t mean it will arrive under your Christmas tree running Fuchsia, but it might!

Will you want to? No, based on what the NSA found, I’d say not. But, if you want to tinker with Fuchsia, it might be worth getting the new Google Home Hub.

Related stories:

Why Someone Put a Giant, Inflatable Bitcoin Rat on Wall Street, Facing the Federal Reserve Bank

Bitcoin was created in part out of a distrust of centralized authorities like the Federal Reserve. Now a symbol of the cryptocurrency’s growing threat to the Fed stands on Wall Street: a giant, inflatable rat covered in crypto code.

The bitcoin rat, first noted on Reddit, was created by Nelson Saiers, an artist and former hedge fund manager, according to Coindesk. The art installation, which appeared earlier this week and is temporary, is intended as much as a tribute to bitcoin’s creator Satoshi Nakamoto as much as it is a condemnation of the Fed and critics of cryptocurrencies.

“The sculpture’s supposed to kind of reflect the spirit of Satoshi and what he’s trying to do,” Saiers told Coindesk, who noted the rat image was inspired in part by another titan of traditional finance. “Warren Buffett called bitcoin ‘rat poison squared’ but if the Fed’s a rat, then maybe rat poison is a good thing,” he said.

Fed officials have made comments on cryptocurrencies that range from the critical to the conciliatory. Last December, former Fed Chair Janet Yellen called it a “highly speculative asset” that “doesn’t constitute legal tender.” In April, one Fed official claimed bitcoin couldn’t replace the dollar, while another conceded it’s “like regular currency” in that it has no intrinsic value.

Inflatable rats have become a staple of union protests during the past quarter century, so much so that a few companies specialize in renting them out to organizers. “Rat” is not only an epithet thrown at nonunion contractors, it symbolizes greedy, unscrupulous behavior ascribed to companies opposing unions.

“This is a very iconic image for protest,” Saiers told blockchain news site Breaker. “Somewhere in the heart of bitcoin is a bit of protest of big bank bailouts.”

That idea appeared to be lost on some Redditors, who claimed they spotted the bitcoin rat in the wilds of Wall Street but didn’t immediately see its significance. “I walked past it today,” one wrote. “Had no idea it was about Bitcoin.” “It’s cool, but people walking by won’t understand it,” said another. “I don’t even understand it. Needs a BTC logo or something.”

India's Flipkart confident of bumper sales season; says Amazon losing relevance

BENGALURU (Reuters) – Indian online retailer Flipkart, owned by Walmart Inc, expects bumper sales during the annual festive season that just kicked off, as it boasts that U.S. rival Amazon Inc is losing relevance in India.

The logo of Flipkart is seen on the company’s office in Bengaluru, India, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

Flipkart and Amazon both began their flagship annual sales in India on Wednesday, and will compete for shoppers during the October-December festive season when most big-ticket purchases are made in the country.

“Flipkart is expecting a big spike in (its) ‘Big Billion Days’ sales over last year,” its Chief Executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy told reporters at the e-commerce company’s Bengaluru-headquarters late on Wednesday, referring to Flipkart’s annual sale.

Company executives said Flipkart’s deeper push into India’s small towns and cities, its range of cheap, high-quality private label products and the wide assortment of smartphones will boost its sales during this year’s event.

The ‘Big Billion Days’ sale will go on until Oct. 14, while Amazon’s rival sale dubbed the ‘Great Indian Festival’ will finish on Oct. 15, according to its website.

Krishnamurthy said Flipkart is not worried about its rival stealing customers.

“Do we worry about them? On a scale of 0 to 10, it is close to 0 today. We don’t see that much of relevance for the Indian user coming from our competition today,” Krishnamurthy said. “We see them as becoming a global platform for premium Indian books and home goods buyers.”

The two companies have been locked in a pitched battle to gain share in India’s burgeoning e-commerce market, which is tipped to grow to be worth $200 billion a year in a decade, according to Morgan Stanley.

Flipkart launched in India in 2007, while Amazon only made a full foray into the country in 2014. Still, Amazon has gained ground rapidly, winning over tens of millions of Indian customers with its Prime loyalty program, which gives users early access to deals during sales as well free music and video streaming.

The rivalry has intensified this year after Amazon’s U.S. rival Walmart bought a 77 percent stake in Flipkart for $16 billion.

Krishnamurthy said Flipkart is competing by making its range of products more affordable for Indian buyers through financing options, trade-in programs and its own private label brands.

Smartphones will be Flipkart’s biggest selling category this year, but the online marketplace’s dependence on phones to bulk up sales has fallen as sales in other categories have risen, he said.

The online retailer expects to sell half of all smartphones sold in India during the festive season.

Reporting by Krishna V Kurup and Uday Kumar Sampath; Editing by Sankalp Phartiyal and Susan Fenton

Facebook Purges Hundreds of ‘Inauthentic’ Pages and Accounts Ahead of Midterm Elections

Facebook is continuing its quest to prevent propaganda and fake news from spreading in prelude to the upcoming U.S. midterm elections.

The social networking giant said in a blog post on Thursday that it is removing 559 pages—the public profiles of firms and celebrities—and 251 accounts, claiming that they were intentionally misleading people, engaging in “inauthentic behavior,” and posting spam.

Although a lot of the accounts and pages that Facebook typically removes involve scams intended to sell “fake sunglasses or weight loss ‘remedies,’” Facebook said that shady actors are increasingly sharing “sensational political content.”

Facebook has been pruning bad actors from its service over the past year in order to prevent misinformation from spreading like it did in prelude to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

This questionable political content, which Facebook said covers the gamut of the political spectrum, helps these bad actors “build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site,” the company said.

“And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the ‘news’ stories or opinions these accounts and pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate,” Facebook executives said in the post. “This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior—such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam—rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.”

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Facebook did not name in its blog post any of the pages and accounts that it removed, but several media outlets reported that they included groups with names like “Reverb Press,” “Nation in Distress,” “Right Wing News.” and “Snowflakes.”

The progressive non-profit Media Matters cited over the summer that Nation of Distress was one of the biggest spreaders of conspiracy theories and propaganda on Facebook.

Some of the other misleading pages previously highlighted by Media Matters included “Dean James III%”, “USA in Distress,” and “The voice of the people.” These pages are currently inaccessible, suggesting that Facebook removed them as well.

Fortune contacted Facebook for more information and will update this post if it responds.

The 1 Thing About Content Marketing Only the Best Brands Get Right (Prime Example: Slash)

Once upon a time, popular musicians didn’t need to do a lot of media. Jimmy Page (if you don’t know the band he was in, shame on you) didn’t do many interviews. Sure, he’d talk to an outlet like Rolling Stone… but even, then you got the sense he did so grudgingly.

Things have clearly changed. The explosion of new music — and new outlets where people can listen to music — means musicians do countless interviews, videos, podcasts… Even iconic artists see promoting their music as almost a full-time job. 

Except for Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist who recently released a new album, Living the Dream, with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. (It’s great.)

Do a quick search for interviews Slash has done. You’ll find a few. But not many. 

And you won’t find him doing Carpool Karaoke. Or playing classroom Instruments on The Tonight Show. Or, well, doing basically anything not directly related to his music. 

And, except when performing with his bands, he almost never plays guitar on camera.

So why did he recently appear in this video for the always excellent Ernie Ball Presents series? And why would he let Ernie Ball, the third-generation, family-owned company that makes guitar strings, guitars, pedals, and other accessories, film him for the first time in his private creative space?

Because artists — or, really, just about all of us — are much more willing to open themselves up when the project, the theme, or the “ask” is core to a genuine passion.

It’s hard to create innovative content that attracts an audience, tells the story of a brand, and helps an audience connect with that brand and its products.

Of course, that’s the essence of content marketing. 

That’s why doing content marketing right is really hard.

And that’s why why getting influential people to genuinely, wholeheartedly support a brand can be really hard.

Unless the brand first supports those people — not by trying to ride the latest trend or dream up an unusual (read hopefully “viral”) way to capture the attention of a mass audience, but by highlighting what truly makes that person great.  

Pretend I’m a great musician. Want me to participate in a wacky stunt in a NYC subway? I probably won’t.

Ask me to talk about something I truly care about, that I genuinely believe in, that helps define who I am… that makes me tick? 

I’m there.

Advertising means creating content you (desperately) want people to see; it’s push. Content marketing is pull: Content marketing means creating content people want to see — and will actively seek out on their own. 

The same principle applies to partnering and working with influential people. If you have something you want them to say or do, you have to convince them. If you allow them to say or do what they want to do, they don’t have to be convinced. 

Build a relationship with Slash and he might openly share how a guitar is a tool and a conduit for expressing himself on an emotional level. He might discuss his influences. He might talk about what inspires him creatively.

Why? Because music matters to him. It’s important to him. It’s a lifestyle.

It’s who he is.

The same is true for everyone who see themselves as musicians. There’s a culture and an ethos that helps define how they see themselves. 

Which, on a broader level, is what connects, in a genuine and authentic way, people to any brand.

And is what great content marketing does better than any other form of marketing.

Want an influential person to to help tell your brand’s story? First develop a relationship.

Then see your “ask” as a pull, not a push. Make your content core to who that person really is. 

That’s how you genuinely connect with that person — and with your audience.

5 Easy Microsoft Excel Tips That Can Save You 10 Hours a Week

What are your thoughts on Microsoft Excel? In most cases, people would say they either love it, hate it, or are too intimidated to delve into it.

Thanks to the influx of more user-friendly cross-platform applications for data storage, many would also argue that Excel has become far too dated for regular use. However, Excel continues to dominate the business world.

It’s often used for complex analyses, in addition to forecasting models and storing vast amounts of data into a single file. And while there are plenty of applications designed to replace spreadsheets, they often fall short on different arenas, which leaves you with limited options. As simplistic as it may appear, Excel usually offers you more usability and data control.

With a little bit of practice, it’s perfectly possible for most anyone to squeeze the most out of Excel. It’s come a long way since the 80’s. These five tips can be used personally and professionally, and some of them don’t even call for endless rows of digits:

1. Create a custom calculator.

The capabilities of calculations in Excel go far beyond simply adding subtotals to view the grand total. If you find yourself running the same complex calculations over and over again, let Excel deal with it so you can toss your old calculator:

  1. Open a new file, and label fields for what interests you. This can include rate, quarterly periods, present/future value, and payments.

  2. Select the cell you want the result of each of the labeled fields to go to. Click Insert, select Function to open the Insert Function window. Then select “Financial” to view all the functions in the financial calculation.

  3. Double click the labeled field of choice, which will open a function arguments window. Fill in the field numbers as how you labeled them. Click OK and you’re done with the calculator for that label.

  4. Continue with all other labels.

2. Make use of accounting functions.

Excel is fully equipped for loan calculators, financial reports, expense tracking, forecasts, and budget plans. Spare meeting with the accountant and view metrics like revenue, operating profit, interest, depreciation, net profit, and quarterly trends at a glance. Pivot tables can help you create dynamic summary reports from raw data very easily, all in a drag and drop interface:

  1. If you’re doing this on a new spreadsheet, click on cell 1A, then click on the “Number” tab at the top of the page. Under “Format Cells,” select the “Accounting” option. Unless you wish to make additional adjustments, select “OK.” You can deselect showing the currency symbol if you wish at this point.

  2. You can apply this format to a range of cells by selecting the range of cells with a format painter tool.

  3. Built-in formulas that can be applied and tweaked to customize include cash flow and asset depreciation. After applying the formulas, continue creating other formulas that branch off into new column headings, such as date, balance, and amount.

3. Transform numbers into charts and graphs.

All it takes is a few clicks to transform rows and columns of numerical data into charts and graphs, which are far more visual and digestible. It’s a major time-saver for data analysis:

  1. Enter your data into the spreadsheet. For example, A1 could say “Date” and B1 could say “Number of Signups.” A2 and B2 downwards would have the data as it corresponds with one another.

  2. When done, select the top left cell, then while pressing “Shift,” click on the bottom right cell. This will highlight all the data.

  3. Click the “Insert” tab up top, select “Chart” and “Recommended Charts.”

  4. Click a chart option, or click on “All Charts” for additional options.

4. Map out daily calendars and schedules.

You already have software for daily calendars and schedules. Sure. But why turn to many individual pieces of software when one can handle it all?

Use Excel to map out a content calendar for your website and blog. Use it to maintain a PTO schedule of all your employees. Color-coordinate for different categories, so you can get a quick grasp of areas that may need more focus. It’ll help you monitor progress more efficiently:

  1. Conduct a search on schedule templates. This varies greatly depending on which version of Excel you’re using.

  2. Preview the schedule templates, and download the most suitable one to open into a new worksheet.

  3. Alter text/colors as needed and desired, and get right into inputting the data!

5. Fetch live data from the internet.

Excel can automatically update figures–stock prices, FX rates, results of sports games, flight data of airports, and any info in a shared database–from a live data source. It sure beats tedious manual entry on a daily basis.

Note that this functionality, which is called “Get & Transform/Power Query” isn’t available in the 2007 version. Only 2010 and later:

  1. If you’re using 2010, download and install the Power Query Add-In. This is already built into 2013 and later.

  2. Click “Power Query,” (or “Data” > “New Query” > “From Other Sources” > “From Web”)

  3. In the “From Web” box, enter the URL. Provide user credential info if needed from the website itself. Click “OK.”

  4. Power Query will scan the web page, and load the data in the “Navigator Pane” under the “Table View.”

  5. Select the table you want to connect to by clicking it from the list.

  6. Click “Load,” and the web data will be seen on your worksheet.

Google unveils new Pixel phone, adds tablet in Apple challenge

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google unveiled on Tuesday the third edition of its Pixel smartphone, a Google Home smart speaker with a display and its first tablet computer, as it makes a come-from-behind push into hardware.

The Google Pixel 3 third generation smartphones are seen on display after a news conference in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The company’s Android software has gone from being an also-ran to the brains of most of the world’s smartphones, and Google topped Amazon.com Inc in smart speaker sales in recent quarters.

Pixel phones, though, have been a tougher sell, garnering less than 1 percent of the global market by shipments in Google’s first two years of trying, according to research firm Strategy Analytics, and launching with glitches.

The Pixel 3, priced at $799, and larger sibling Pixel 3 XL, priced at $899, mark Google’s latest entries into a phone lineup it hopes will someday be as popular as Apple Inc’s iPhone.

The new Pixel Slate tablet runs Google’s beefier Chrome OS laptop operating system rather than Android and is priced at $599, putting it in competition with Apple’s iPad Pro tablet series.

Shares of Alphabet barely moved on the release. Financial analysts said it is difficult evaluate Google’s hardware business as it is overshadowed by profits from search ads.

Google branched into hardware three years ago so that, like Apple, it could have full control of the performance of its applications and the revenue they generate. Other phone makers sometimes crowd out Google’s apps with their own or take a share of ad revenue.

The Google Pixel 3 third generation smartphones are seen on display after a news conference in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Expanding geographic distribution is likely to boost Pixel’s fortunes. The Pixel 3 will launch in 10 countries, up from six for the Pixel 2 a year ago. New additions include France, Ireland, Japan and Taiwan.

Also helpful could be a new artificial intelligence tool sure to generate buzz among consumers. The software, launching in the United States only, answers phone calls, requests information about the nature of the call and shares it as text with the recipient.

“We’ve built the first phone that can answer the phone,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president for hardware, told media on Tuesday.

Google shipped 2.53 million Pixel 2 and 2 XL devices through the nine months ended June 30, Strategy Analytics said. The first Pixel devices hit 2.4 million shipments in the nine months ended June 30, 2017, the firm said.

Limited adoption has reflected Google’s hesitancy to go as wide and big in distributing and marketing the Pixel as Apple, which launched its last two iPhone line-ups in about 50 countries.

Going from a small experiment to a polished product that works in various languages and is backed by large sales, support and technical teams has been part of Google’s challenge.

Last year’s Pixel 2 arrived with bugs that prompted user complaints about unwanted noises during calls, a crashing camera app and an unexpected screen tint. Google doubled warranties to two years in response.

Google Assistant, the signature virtual helper feature on the Pixel, was available in six languages a year ago and now supports 16.

Slideshow (12 Images)

In turn, Google hosted 10 unveiling events across the world on Tuesday, including in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, spokesman Kay Oberbeck said.

Still, the Pixel 3 could see limited uptake in the United States as Google again signed an exclusive distribution deal with wireless carrier Verizon Communications Inc that means the device will get little marketing from other carriers.

Google said it would augment distribution by opening on Oct. 18 two temporary stores in popular neighborhoods of Chicago and New York and putting up displays at U.S. retailers B8ta and Goop.

Google’s new smart speaker, which has a display to show visual responses to voice commands, mostly matches offerings from Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc.

But unlike its competitors, Google said its Home Hub, priced at $149, does not have a video conferencing camera.

The nod to privacy concerns comes as Google and other big U.S. tech companies try to bounce back from recent data breach scandals.

Amazon shipped 21.5 million smart speakers, including those with displays, in the year ended June 30, compared with 18.3 million for Google, according to research firm Canalys.

Google said in a blog post on Tuesday that it recently delivered some Google Home speakers within 10 minutes of ordering using drones from Alphabet’s Project Wing.

Shares of speaker maker Sonos Inc were down 5.6 percent on Tuesday.

Reporting by Paresh Dave and Arjun Panchadar; Editing by Leslie Adler, Peter Henderson and Meredith Mazzilli

Google+ Will Shut Down After Security Breach Exposed User Data to Outside Developers, Report Says

A Google+ security breach gave outside developers access to the private data of hundreds of thousands of the social network’s users between 2015 and March 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Google neglected to report the breach to the public, allegedly out of fear that the company would face regulations and damage to its reputation, according to sources and documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

In a memo cited by the Wall Street Journal, Google’s legal and policy staff warned against disclosing the breach, fearing it would draw comparisons to Facebook’s mishandling of user data, when more than 50 million Facebook users had their personal information leaked to the data firm Cambridge Analytica.

The information exposed in the Google+ data breach included full names, email addresses, birth dates, gender, profile photos, places lived, occupation, and relationship status.

Google has recently been at the center of a number of privacy breaches. The company was the target of a massive class action lawsuit in the U.K. after 4 million users had their personal data collected and allegedly used for targeted advertising. The lawsuit was blocked in the High Court on Monday.

The Google+ data breach was discovered in March of this year during an audit of the company’s APIs, conducted by a privacy task force codenamed Project Strobe. A bug in the API could have allowed outside developers to access the data of 496,951 users who had only opted to share their private profile data with friends.

Google is expected to announce the breach on Monday, as well as its plans shut down Google+, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sentiment Speaks: Is The Fed Still In Control Of The Market?

This week, I read an article by Jeffrey Saut entitled “Stock Market Timing?”

While I have much respect for Mr. Saut’s experience and knowledge in the industry, I do not agree with his recent missive, as it is replete with market fallacies and circular logic.

Within this article, Mr. Saut takes market participants to task for not understanding the market:

As mentioned on numerous occasions, if nothing else, if investors only understand and appreciate the following, they will always be on the right side of the market and will never be influenced by others’ opinions or news headlines:

Investors must understand the role of the U.S. central bank (the Fed). The U.S. Federal Reserve System was created in 1913 to perform all roles monetary, but one of their key statutory (written in law) mandates is to “To maintain orderly economic growth and price stability.” This agency has more and better information on the economy than anyone in the world. It was not created to promote hyperinflation or to create depressions. The Fed’s key mandate must be clearly understood and appreciated.

The stock market is a leading economic indicator. The economy does not lead the stock market. Hence, once these two points are clearly understood and remembered, the market’s logic becomes apparent. Hence, when the economy slows and heads into a recession, the Fed will ease and will keep easing until the economy responds (remember, that’s their mandate). The stock market, being a leading economic indicator, will have bottomed 6-9 months before the recovery begins, not after. For example, “the market” bottomed in October, 2008 and the recession ended at the end of June, 2009 and a [market] recovery commenced, eight months ahead of the [economic] recovery. Conversely, when the economy overheats; inflation surges; and speculation is rampant, the Fed will tighten by draining liquidity from the system and raise interest rates in an attempt to cool the economy. The stock market, being a leading economic indicator, will head south long before the onset of a slowdown or recession, not after. This chain of logic is so simple that anyone with an IQ slightly above room temperature would understand it. Yet, most on Wall Street with umpteen degrees and decades of experience can’t figure it out.

However, it seems Mr. Saut is guilty of some of the same errors for which he calls out others.

Let’s start with his first premise. He suggests that in order to understand the market we must understand that it is the Fed’s responsibility to “maintain orderly economic growth and price stability.” I have recently penned an article regarding my perspective on the Fed’s control of our market, and have explained why the common view of the Fed is based more upon fallacies than fact. Feel free to read it here if you have an interest. But, the gist of that article is summarized in the following paragraphs:

When the Fed began to change course on its quantitative easing process, almost any market participant and analyst you spoke with expected it to have a dramatically negative impact upon the stock market. I mean, since it is “clear” to everyone that the market rallied due to the Fed, then it was equally clear that the market would now react in the opposite manner when the Fed began reversing course.

However, the fact is that the stock market has gained 1100 points, which is a 61% rally, from the point at which the Fed began to change course. Yes, you heard me right.

So, I will ask you again: Do you think everyone’s expectations about the Fed’s reversal of course causing a similar impact upon the stock market was correct? And, if not, shouldn’t we then question whether the Fed is really controlling the stock market and was the true cause of the rally to begin with?

Moreover, in prior articles, I have also explained why I think the Fed and the Plunge Protection Team, with which it is involved in “maintaining price stability” within our markets, is either asleep at the wheel or simply does not control the market to the extent that so many are led to believe:

As another example of this perspective, many believe that there is something called the Plunge Protection Team, created as a response to the 1987 crash, which supposedly prevents the market from crashing anymore. And, again, analysts . . . point to this “Team” as the reason they are wrong when they expect a major drop in the markets which does not occur.

If there really is such a team hard at work, with their ever-present finger on the “buy” trigger, then we should not have had any stock market “plunges” since 1987. Rather, the stock market should have only experienced “orderly” declines since that time, and not plunges of 10%, and certainly not over 20%, within a period of a day to a couple of weeks in the same manner as that experienced in 1987. So, the question we now have to look at is if the facts within our markets actually support the existence of such a “Plunge Protection Team” actively at work in protecting us from significant stock market “plunges.”

Since 1987, I don’t think that anyone can fool themselves into believing that we have not experienced periods of significant volatility. In fact, the following instances are just some of the highlights of volatility since the supposed inception of the Plunge Protection Team:

•February of 2001: Equity markets declined of 22% within seven weeks;

•September of 2001: Equity markets declined 17% within three weeks;

•July of 2002: Equity markets declined 22% within three weeks;

•September of 2008: Equity markets declined 12% within one week;

•October of 2008: Equity markets declined 30% within two weeks;

•November of 2008: Equity markets declined 25% within three weeks;

•February of 2009: Equity markets declined 23% within three weeks.

•May of 2010: Equity markets experienced a “Flash Crash.” Specifically, the market started out the day down over 30 points in the S&P500 and proceeded to lose another 70 points within minutes. That is a loss of 9% in one day, but the market did manage to close down only 3.1% in one day!

•July of 2011: Equity markets declined 18% within two weeks

•August 2015: Equity markets decline 11% within one week

•January 2016: Equity markets decline 13% within three weeks

Based upon these facts, you can even argue that significant stock market “plunges” have become more common events since the advent of the Plunge Protection Team, especially since we have experienced more significant “plunges” within the 20 years after the supposed creation of the “Team” than in the 20 year period before.

So, while the Fed is charged with the responsibility of “price stability,” does it sound to you like it is effectively fulfilling its responsibility? I certainly do not and it is simply because I do not believe the Fed has anywhere near as much control as many believe. And, history has proven this to be the case.

Now, let’s move onto to Mr. Saut’s second premise: “The stock market is a leading economic indicator.”

I have always found this to be a fascinating perspective, which seems to be a belief held by a significant amount of market participants. Yet, I never understood the basis behind this premise from the perspective of the masses. Does the stock market have a crystal ball? Is it omniscient?

While Mr. Saut accepts it as “fact” that the stock market seems to be omniscient relative to the economy, he does not offer any reasoning as to why this is the case. While I think many agree with Mr. Saut that the stock market may seem as a leading indicator, why is the stock market price action always leading the economy by as much as a year? Until you understand why the stock market is a leading indicator, I think any analysis based upon this premise will clearly be lacking.

I have addressed this causation chain in prior articles, so I will simply present the heart of my perspective here:

During his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan testified many times before various committees of Congress. In front of the Joint Economic Committee, Greenspan noted that markets are driven by “human psychology” and “waves of optimism and pessimism.” Ultimately, as Greenspan correctly recognized, it is social mood and sentiment that moves markets. I believe this makes much more sense when deriving the causality chain.

During a negative sentiment trend, the market declines, and the news seems to get worse and worse. Once the negative sentiment has run its course after reaching an extreme level, and it’s time for sentiment to change direction, the general public then becomes subconsciously more positive. You see, once you hit a wall, it becomes clear it is time to look in another direction. Some may question how sentiment simply turns on its own at an extreme, and I will explain to you that many studies have been published to explain how it occurs naturally within the limbic system within our brains.

When people begin to turn positive about their future, they are willing to take risks. What is the most immediate way that the public can act on this return to positive sentiment? The easiest is to buy stocks. For this reason, we see the stock market lead in the opposite direction before the economy and fundamentals have turned. In fact, historically, we know that the stock market is a leading indicator for the economy, as the market has always turned well before the economy does. This is why R.N. Elliott, whose work led to Elliott Wave theory, believed that the stock market is the best barometer of public sentiment.

Let’s look at the same change in positive sentiment and what it takes to have an effect on the fundamentals. When the general public’s sentiment turns positive, this is the point at which they are willing to take more risks based on their positive feelings about the future. Whereas investors immediately place money to work in the stock market, thereby having an immediate effect upon stock prices, business owners and entrepreneurs seek loans to build or expand a business, which takes time to secure.

They then place the newly acquired funds to work in their business by hiring more people or buying additional equipment, and this takes more time. With this new capacity, they are then able to provide more goods and services to the public, and, ultimately, profits and earnings begin to grow – after more time has passed.

When the news of such improved earnings finally hits the market, most market participants have already seen the stock of the company move up strongly because investors effectuated their positive sentiment by buying stock well before evidence of positive fundamentals are evident within the market. This is why so many believe that stock prices present a discounted valuation of future earnings.

Clearly, there is a significant lag between a positive turn in public sentiment and the resulting positive change in the underlying fundamentals of a stock or the economy, especially relative to the more immediate stock-buying activity that comes from the same causative underlying sentiment change.

Lastly, while Mr. Saut recognizes that the stock market price action can lead the economy by as much as a year, he still views the Fed as controlling the market. This makes me scratch my head. If the stock market is omniscient, then would it not already know what the Fed will do and will react before the Fed does it? Does this not make the Fed action, in effect, irrelevant? Does anyone else see the circular logic here?

Moreover, Mr. Saut’s logic seems to present us with the following chain of events: The stock market leads the economy. Yet, when the economy gets to hot, the Fed supposedly steps in to act. This places the chain of events as the stock market being the first actor as it the leading indicator, the economy the second actor as it follows the stock market, with the Fed being the third actor as it reacts to the economy. Does this not place the Fed at the end of the causation chain and not at the forefront as so many seem to believe? So, is the Fed “leading from behind” when it supposedly manages the stock market over a year after the stock market moves? Is this lending to “price stability?”

While these perspectives presented by Mr. Saut are viewed as truisms by most market participants, have any of you actually taken the time to analyze these perspectives?

Issac Asimov provided those willing to listen with some brilliant advice:

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Housekeeping Matter

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Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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

The Apollo Breach Included Billions of Data Points

The sales intelligence firm Apollo sent a notice to its customers last week disclosing a data breach it suffered over the summer. “On discovery, we took immediate steps to remediate our systems and confirmed the issue could not lead to any future unauthorized access,” cofounder and CEO Tim Zheng wrote. “We can appreciate that this situation may cause you concern and frustration.” In fact, the scale and scope of the breach has a lot of people concerned.

Apollo is a data aggregator and analytics service aimed at helping sales teams know who to contact, when, and with what message to make the most deals. “No one ever drowned in revenue,” the company says on its site. Apollo also claims in its marketing materials to have 200 million contacts and information from over 10 million companies in its vast reservoir of data. That’s apparently not just spin. Security researcher Vinny Troia, who routinely scans the internet for unprotected, freely accessible databases, discovered Apollo’s trove containing 212 million contact listings as well as nine billion data points related to companies and organizations. All of which was readily available online, for anyone to access. Troia disclosed the exposure to the company in mid-August.

As Apollo noted in its letter to customers, it draws a lot of its information from public sources around the web, including names, email addresses, and company contact information. But it also scrapes Twitter and LinkedIn. In fact, the information in the profiles Apollo compiles is so detailed that Troia originally mistook it for a trove from LinkedIn. Some of Troia’s methods of investigating the Apollo breach have been called into question, though, particularly that he posted a listing for the exposed LinkedIn data on a dark web marketplace. Troia claims he never planned to actually sell the data, and that he made the post as a ruse to aid other ongoing research.

For its part, LinkedIn issued a firm rebuke. “Our investigation into this claim found that a third-party sales intelligence company that is not associated with LinkedIn was compromised and exposed a large set of data aggregated from a number of social networks, websites, and the company’s own customers,” the company said in a statement.

Combining all of that public data in one easily accessible location creates inherent risk; if it leaks, as the Apollo data has, it enables scammers, fraudsters, and phishers to craft compelling targeted attacks against a huge number of people. But the Apollo breach has an additionally problematic layer. “Some client-imported data was also accessed without authorization,” Zheng wrote in the disclosure to customers last week.

Customers access Apollo’s data and predictive features through a main dashboard. They also have the option to connect other data tools they might use, for example authorizing their Salesforce accounts to port data into Apollo. Troia found that more than seven million pieces of internal “opportunity” data, information about impending sales commonly associated with Salesforce, were exposed in the breach. One Apollo client alone had almost a million records exposed.

“There is always a high risk for fraud, spam, or other even harmful actions when these types of data sets leak,” Troia says. “People already receive phishing and voice-phishing messages every day. Now you are talking about exposing potentially hundreds of millions of people to more avenues for phishing and fraud. Meanwhile, Apollo seems to have about 530 clients who each had different amounts of valuable opportunity data caught up in this leak.”

Apollo cofounder and CTO Ray Li told WIRED that the company is investigating the breach and has reported it to law enforcement. The data does not include financial data, Social Security numbers, or account credentials. Apollo said in its initial letter to customers that, “an unidentified third party accessed our systems without authorization before our remediation efforts,” which could mean that the data is already in the hands of scammers.

Troia also provided the contact data included in the breach to security researcher Troy Hunt, who runs the data breach tracking service HaveIBeenPwned. Hunt has added the Apollo data to the repository, and plans to notify the HaveIBeenPwned network about the incident.

“It’s just a staggering amount of data. There were 125,929,660 unique email addresses in total. This will probably be the most email notifications HaveIBeenPwned has ever sent for one breach,” Hunt says. “Clearly this is all about ‘data enrichment,’ creating comprehensive profiles of individuals that can then be used for commercial purposes. As such, the more data an organization like Apollo can collect, the more valuable their service becomes.”

Apollo’s core product not only collects publicly available information, but creates a web of business and employee connections out of it. In addition to names, contact information, and job titles for employees, the data also includes things like the dates companies were founded, revenue numbers, keywords associated with the work companies do, number of employees, and website ranking by the Amazon-owned analytics company Alexa. The service then uses all of this information to try to draw connections between companies and identify possible sales opportunities.

The Salesforce data pulled into the Apollo breach raises the stakes, since that information was never meant to be public, and many clients rely on Salesforce as an internal tool for business development. During his research, Troia became even more concerned when he noticed that when a user authorizes Salesforce to connect with Apollo, they apparently can’t authorize Apollo to only pull specific types of data. Choosing to connect the two services seems to initiate total access.

This doesn’t mean Apollo grabbed all of a given company’s Salesforce data, but Troia notes that Apollo may have held more private opportunity data than some clients realized. Salesforce declined to comment for this story about the breach or how third-party authorizations work. Apollo’s Li told WIRED that, “Customers have full and customizable control and management of the data they’ve imported to Apollo.”

Apollo is far from the first data aggregator to have a breach, and as all the incidents compound, the threat of having all of that curated information so easily accessible becomes even more pressing.

“What almost worries me more [than the raw data exposure] is the mapping of social identities to email address and other personal data, because there’s now so much more you can pull on a person,” Hunt says. “We’re continually seeing massive breaches of data aggregators who hold information on people who have no idea their personal information has been used in this fashion. I understand that it’s Apollo’s customers who provided access to their customers, but the fact remains that there are north of 100 million people out there who have no idea who Apollo is nor that their information was exposed.”


More Great WIRED Stories

AT&T: Bulls Vs. Bears

Written by Nathaniel E. Baker, Seeking Alpha editor and contributor.

AT&T Inc. (T) shares appear to have recovered from a Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)-induced bottom, rallying more than 10% since setting a 52-week low in July. The merger has effectively been finalized, though it could still be unwound on appeal.

With concerns over the merger (mostly) fading, the question now is whether the stock is worth buying at its current price. The Seeking Alpha community remains divided on this matter. A synopsis of six recent articles follows below, split evenly between three bullish arguments and three bearish theses. Read on and have your say in the comments section.

Bulls

  1. AT&T is a “strong buy,” as the company sports “an attractive dividend yield combined with excellent prospects for future top-line revenue growth,” according to David Bradshaw. The market is still discounting the stock with a “very low PE of six,” which appears to be due to lingering uncertainty surrounding the merger. These concerns are unfounded as the government’s claims that the merger harms competition have no merit, Bradshaw writes: “To me, it makes perfect sense why the government lost the first time around and why the case being under appeal is not concerning to me.”
  2. The company is in a much stronger market position after purchasing Time Warner, and the sell-off that followed the initial merger announcement has created a substantial buying opportunity, says Victor Dergunov. While the premium paid for TWC was “staggering” and AT&T had to increase its debt load to finance the deal, the result is “untapped potential growth opportunities.” AT&T can use its position to expand growth in the HBO segment it acquired by incorporating HBO Now into its data service plans for example. “The influence AT&T now possesses in the video, internet, and wireless connectivity, coupled with its newly acquired content empire, seems unparalleled,” Dergunov writes. If AT&T continues to beat EPS estimates by the same 6% average that it has in recent quarters, EPS will be $3.86 next year, implying a ratio of 8.8 times next year’s earnings. The stock is also likely to benefit from late economic cycle rotations, as investors move into more defensive, dividend-paying securities.
  3. The stock is currently cheap, trading at 9.8 times its blended P/E ratio compared to a 13.4 to 15.3 historical range, writes FAST Graphs Inc. Adding in the dividend means investors could see annualized returns of 24% the next two years. More conservative estimates would still see a 13.82% rate of return. There is a lot of potential upside as well. With the addition of what is now called WarnerMedia, AT&T has tripled its advertisement inventory. It can use its most recent acquisition, AppNexus, to target customers with the most relevant advertisements, leading to an increase in revenue.

Bears

  1. The company is heavily indebted and lacking any true catalyst to growth, according to Alpha Gen Capital. Secular trends in the telecoms and cable TV sectors are against AT&T as well, with the shift toward unbundling and skinny broadband continuing to reduce revenue and margin. “If the revenue trend continues, and we think it will not only continue but accelerate, then free cash flow can decline rapidly,” Alpha Gen writes. With interest rates continuing to rise, AT&T’s interest expenses (20% of the debt is floating rate) will increase as well. The TWC acquisition will not necessarily save the company either, if the DirecTV deal is any gauge.
  2. AT&T lacks competitive moats, could see its core business disrupted by new technology, and is no longer seeing rising demand for its core products, writes Charles Lewis Sizemore. The dividend payout ratio may not be as low as it looks either, as the company realized a $20 billion extraordinary tax benefit that will not be repeated. “I’ll be blunt: I hate AT&T,” Sizemore says, adding that he is referring to the stock and not to the mobile phone or home internet service (both of which he “dumped years ago because they’re overpriced,” presumably an indication he isn’t a fan of them, either).
  3. Positive effects of the TWC acquisition, specifically the increase to the bottom line, will take longer than expected to materialize and will not be as much as originally thought, writes David Alton Clark. A long-time bull who recently sold his T shares, Clark is one of few who anticipates hurdles from the government’s appeal of the merger decision. “Most pundits I hear talk about it say there’s nothing to worry about,” he says in his analysis. “I beg to differ.” Even if the appeal is denied, the size and scope of the merger makes it “more likely than not it will drop a few balls along the way.” Clark has experience on this subject, having in the past been a consultant for AT&T on cost reduction and avoidance measures.

Conclusion

The bull/bear divide on AT&T’s prospects appear to mostly come down to how well the company integrates the various Time Warner Cable assets. Bulls are excited about the possibilities. Bears are, well, bearish. The next year or two should see how this plays out.

While high debt levels are never positive, even bears concede the company’s free cash flow should more than compensate. Of course, bears would quickly argue that this equation could (or will) change in short order due to a dramatic reduction in revenues or higher interest payments. Where the macro picture is concerned, it’s true that this sector of the economy has no shortage of companies that were once seen as scions of stability but have since fallen quite far. “Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) ‘Nortel,’ a supposedly solid, well-run, blue-chip company,” Seeking Alpha user Cleo22 writes in a comment. “So many losses – most thought the impossible would never happen. It did.”

In general though, the Seeking Alpha readership appear slightly more bullish, based on an unscientific survey of their comments. “One for the better stocks for Stability, Dividends, Safety In ALL types of Weather Conditions and markets Ups and Downs,” writes g.dimit. “This is the new T. Once revenues from ad sells kick into high gear, this will hit $50,” says MetaPhysics.

Where do you stand on AT&T? Have your say in the comments below.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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.

Dell exploring IPO option if tracking stock bid fails

(Reuters) – Dell Technologies Inc (DVMT.N) confirmed on Wednesday it had met with some investment banks to explore an initial public offering if its plan to buy the tracking stock of VMware Inc (VMW.N) falls through.

FILE PHOTO: Dell’s logo is seen during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

Dell, which owns 80 percent of VMware, said in July it would buy the tracking stock in a $21.7 billion cash-and-stock deal, to return to the public market.

Several hedge funds, including Elliott Management Corp and Canyon Capital Advisors LLC, as well as activist investor Carl Icahn, had resisted Dell’s effort to buy back the “tracking stock” from them.

Reuters reported last month citing sources that Dell is exploring a possible IPO.

The company’s board may not proceed with an IPO even if the VMware deal does not go through, Dell said in a regulatory filing bit.ly/2ybdosj.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

U.S. tech sector getting by without Facebook and Alphabet

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The technology sector appears to be doing just fine on Wall Street a week after it lost two of its highest-profile components to a newly christened communication services group.

FILE PHOTO: A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The S&P 500 technology index .SPLRCT has gained 1.3 percent since the start of last Monday, when Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) – half of the FANG group of hyper-growth stocks that propelled Wall Street higher in recent years – were pushed out of technology and into the telecom sector, renamed “communication services.”

During that short period of time, the technology index outperformed communication services and consumer discretionary, the third sector affected by the largest ever overhaul of the Global Industry Classification Standard.

FILE PHOTO: A Facebook application logo is pictured on a mobile phone in this photo illustration taken in Lavigny May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud/File Photo

Bank of America Merrill Lynch recommended on Monday that investors be overweight technology and underweight communication services and consumer discretionary.

“Old Tech represents a lot of what we like: net cash and healthy balance sheets, free cash flow generation, leverage to unit volume sales growth and low earnings risk,” bank strategist Savita Subramanian wrote in a report.

Following the changes to GICS, Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) and Intel Corp (INTC.O) join Visa Inc (V.N), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Apple Inc (AAPL.O) as the tech sector’s largest five components.

Mature companies with storied histories compared to many of their Silicon Valley neighbors, Cisco and Intel have struggled to grow in recent years, but they deliver steady earnings and return cash to shareholders through dividends and buybacks.

Netflix Inc (NFLX.O), another FANG stock, was moved from consumer discretionary to communication services as part of the reshuffle. It has since rallied nearly 6 percent, helping push the communication services index 1 percent higher.

Up 20 percent so far in 2018, technology may benefit from the absence of Alphabet and Facebook, which have underperformed due to worries about regulation in response to criticism of their handling of user data.

Amazon, the fourth FANG stocks, remains in consumer discretionary and is now the only part of FANG not in the communication services sector.

Since the start of last Monday, the consumer discretionary has risen 0.4 percent. The S&P 500 lost 0.2 percent during the same period.

Consumer discretionary and communication services, which between them now include all of the FANG stocks, remain crowded trades at risk of selloff, according to Subramanian.

RBC in a report on Monday named cloud computing company ServiceNow Inc (NOW.N), software maker Synopsys Inc (SNPS.O) and payment processor Worldpay Inc (WP.N) – all within the technology sector – in a list of 12 top picks for U.S. stocks.

Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Elon Musk’s SEC Settlement Is Sending Tesla Shares Through the Roof

The news of Tesla CEO Elon Musk settling with U.S. financial regulators sent the company’s stock soaring Monday morning.

The electric car firm’s shares were up more than 15% in pre-market trade in the U.S., and up almost 13% in Germany.

The rise pretty much makes up for the losses suffered Friday, after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officially sued Musk over his tweet about having secured funding for a plan to take Tesla private. The funding had not been secured.

On Saturday, Musk settled with the SEC. He and Tesla will pay $20 million each, and the company will have to find an independent chairman to replace Musk, who will stay on as CEO. Tesla will also need to bring a couple more independent directors on board.

However, the Justice Department is still probing Musk’s tweets, and lawsuits by investors and short-sellers over the false information are also still ongoing.

Many see the forced changes as being positive for Tesla, partly because the mercurial Musk will now have someone to answer to, and partly because his reduced role may allow the chronically overworked CEO to focus more.

Over the weekend, Musk emailed his staff to tell them to “ignore the distractions” and to claim that Tesla is “very close” to finally becoming profitable.

Sunday was also the end of the latest quarter, and Tesla has been working flat-out to break a delivery bottleneck that stemmed from increased production capacity.

Electric cars cast growing shadow on profits

PARIS (Reuters) – Electric cars are poised to arrive en masse in European showrooms after years of hyped concept-car launches and billions in investment by automakers and suppliers.

FILE PHOTO: The EQC, the first fully electric Mercedes car is shown at a presentation in Stockholm, Sweden September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Esha Vaish/File Photo

Now comes the hard part: selling them at a profit.

Battery models making their car-show debut in Paris this week, from PSA Group’s (PEUP.PA) electric DS3 Crossback to the Mercedes (DAIGn.DE) EQC, will erode profitability as they struggle to stay in the black, executives generally acknowledge.

But concerns are mounting that the impact could be worse, as consumers resist paying more for electrified vehicles – forcing carmakers to sell them at a bigger loss to meet emissions goals.

“What everyone needs to realize is that clean mobility is like organic food – it’s more expensive,” said Carlos Tavares, chief executive of Peugeot, Citroen and Opel manufacturer PSA.

A Sept. 25 profit warning by BMW (BMWG.DE), blamed in part on electrification costs and tightening emissions rules, was “a first alarm signal”, Tavares said in a weekend radio interview.

“Either we accept paying more for clean mobility, or we put the European auto industry in jeopardy.”

Underlining the turbulence facing automakers, British Prime Minister Theresa May will confront Conservative rebels demanding a harder Brexit stance at her party’s annual conference, just as the Paris show gets underway on Tuesday.

On its second day, the European Parliament votes on plans to cut carbon dioxide car emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2030 from an average 95 grammes per kilometer in 2021 – a goal many automakers are already in danger of missing, on pain of fines running to hundreds of millions of euros.

PRICED TO PUSH

After declining for a decade, new-vehicle carbon emissions are rising again as customers flock from cars to SUVs, and from diesel to gasoline engines. Diesels emit more nitrogen oxides and particulates, but less CO2.

Early signs suggest electric-car prices may fall sooner and faster than production costs, as carmakers adjust for stalled emissions progress and weak consumer appetite. That promises more red ink, as discounted battery car sales finally take off.

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has said the ID hatchback, due to open the brand’s electric onslaught next year, will be priced close to conventionally powered versions of the Golf compact.

“VW is about to launch a load of electric vehicles at the same price as gasolines, and therefore at a loss,” said Laurent Petizon, a managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners.

“Our interpretation is that the 2021 fines have already been factored into their sales strategy,” he said. “Rather than pay penalties they prefer to lose money on vehicles and get the market going.”

Volkswagen declined to discuss pricing in detail. “We want our electric cars to be a real alternative to a reasonably equipped Golf Diesel,” a spokesman said.

Volkswagen and Mercedes parent Daimler, which between them have announced 30 billion euros ($35 billion) in electrification investment, both warned last month that it would not be enough.

They and other carmakers are also mandated to sell more electric cars in China and a group of U.S. states led by California. More than 200 electric and plug-in model launches are already scheduled globally over the next three years.

COST GAP

Electric cars still cost 7,800 euros more to produce on average than conventional ones, AlixPartners calculates. Plug-in hybrids – which combine a smaller rechargeable battery with a combustion engine – overshoot by 5,000 euros.

When that cost gap is reflected in the price, few are sold.

Mass-market electrics such as the Renault (RENA.PA) Zoe and Nissan (7201.T) Leaf have been on sale for most of the current decade, and heavily subsidized in Europe, while Tesla (TSLA.O) has made inroads into the premium business. Yet pure-electric cars claim just 1 percent of the market overall.

Despite their higher cost, BMW plug-in models are already priced broadly on a par with diesels. The luxury carmaker acknowledges that their margins are significantly thinner.

Mercedes also says the EQC electric SUV will be priced close to its GLC cousin to tackle Tesla’s $49,000 Model 3.

“It absolutely is impacting the profitability of the industry,” said Rebecca Lindland, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks vehicle pricing. “Demand doesn’t justify investment at all – it’s all regulation.”

Which is why, on this subject more than most, European carmakers talk from both sides of their mouths. While executives exude confidence for investors’ and customers’ benefit, their Brussels lobby group ACEA warns of an imminent threat to the region’s 3.4 million automotive manufacturing jobs.

“The conditions for such a systemic change clearly aren’t met, and consumers just aren’t ready for full-electric,” ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert said recently.

SCALE EFFECTS

Carmakers are demanding increased public investment in recharging networks – which may yet awaken mass demand.

Economies of scale should also bring some relief. But lithium-ion batteries, which claim 40 percent of an electric car’s value, face global cobalt and nickel shortages that will pull the other way, inflating costs as production volumes rise.

Perhaps more critically, generous government sales subsidies are unlikely to survive much growth. In markets where incentives have been dropped, electric car sales have fallen.

Renault is discounting its recently upgraded Zoe in the UK market with a 5,000 pound ($6,500) trade-in bonus, in addition to the government’s 4,500 pound plug-in incentive.

French rival PSA will price its new rechargeable hybrids to match diesel leasing rates, program director Olivier Salvat told reporters on a recent factory visit – adding that the carmaker aimed to avoid losing money on each vehicle sold.

“We don’t launch vehicles with negative operating margins,” Salvat said.

German luxury carmakers including Volkswagen Group, which includes Audi and Porsche, could put up with losses on electrified vehicles if it enables them to keep selling their biggest earners, upscale SUVs and large sedans.

That would leave mid-market competitors such as PSA and Renault, which can ill afford to sell large volumes of electric cars below cost, in a tougher bind.

“In electromobility you have to be a cost leader,” BMW research and development chief Klaus Froehlich told Reuters.

“If you are not a cost leader you will not survive.”

($1 = 0.7675 pounds)

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Shortfall of planned European battery supply for electric vehicles (EV) tmsnrt.rs/2JnDSOX

Global electric-battery vehicle sales. tmsnrt.rs/2oDPjG4

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Reporting by Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm, Gilles Guillaume and Joe White in Paris, Edward Taylor in Frankfurt; Editing by Mark Potter

The 3 Skills Leaders Need to Succeed in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

AI is here – and it’s introducing an age of empowerment for executives. In the past decade, advances in machine learning and the growing availability of data has given leaders access to new and more detailed information, alongside a tool to aid interpretation of that data – artificial intelligence. Access to this level of insight requires leaders to adapt their approach to strategy development, as the hard skills of leadership like domain knowledge and information processing take a backseat to soft skills like adaptability, vision and engagement.

As collaboration between humans and machines increases, leaders will have to make a shift in leadership style to better manage teams that are augmented by AI capabilities. To ensure you are helping your teams realize success in the age of artificial intelligence and that your organization is poised to capitalize on the AI opportunity, you will need to focus on developing these three skills:

Adaptability

By automating repetitive manual tasks, AI reduces the barrier to entry for new competitors and allows even lean teams to operate with greater efficiency. This means that new ideas get off the ground much more rapidly, resulting in continually shifting landscapes. A recent survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review found that 85% of executives interviewed believed that AI would allow their companies to “obtain or sustain a competitive advantage”.

With an accelerating pace of change, a preparedness to respond quickly to new opportunities or threats gives a competitive advantage. And an agile organization requires adaptable leaders. Here are two ways you can prepare now:

  1. Look to the data to stay informed about changes to your competitive landscape, threats to your value chain, and trends in your customer base

  2. Train your teams on agile business methodology, and embed these practices in your organizational model

That same exposure to vast amounts of new information can create a risk of being too flexible and responsive to trends. Establishing a clear vision and purpose is critical to ensuring an organization can focus its efforts amidst change and create long-term value for its customers and bottom line. Building a culture that instills your vision is also key to ensuring that the activities of your team support the strategy you set at the leadership level.

Zappos’ CEO established a clear vision for the company – that of providing the best possible customer service. In his own words, “Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” To engage their team in this purpose, they launched a number of rewards programs and peer-to-peer recognition platforms to align team motivation to the company’s larger mission.

To ensure that your team is guided by a consistent vision, even amidst disruption, start with these three steps:

  1. Define a set of core ideals and purpose for your company to serve as your north star

  2. Practice integrated leadership, serving as a resource for your teams to help them align their activities to your vision, even as roles and business models adapt

  3. Align company incentives and objectives to your vision and purpose, and track and share successes

Engagement

AI will reduce the amount of time teams spend on manual or rote tasks, freeing them up for strategic and creative thinking and making it easier and more efficient to bring their ideas to life. Empowering team members and giving them the freedom to creatively problem solve will help them to deliver the most value.

Jason Smikle, founder of fNograph, shared that using AI has helped his team reduce the amount of time they spend on tedious, rote tasks and focus more of their attention on strategic and creative thinking. Again, Zappos serves as a great example of employee engagement. Their call center leadership abolished scripts a year ago, giving customer service staff the freedom to decide the best way to resolve customer complaints. The result? Zappos is now beating most of their competition on customer satisfaction ratings.

Sometimes, engaging and empowering employees will require a significant shift to your operating model. While hierarchical ladder structures were a good fit for industrial age corporations that gained a competitive edge through economies of scale and standardization, success in the digital age requires collaboration, flexibility and agility. A study by The Future Laboratory found that collaborative environments were a necessity for companies that want to attract and retain high performing employees.

A few immediate strategies you can implement for engaging your workforce:

  1. Reduce bureaucracy and hierarchical structures, instead engaging in collective decision-making and ownership

  2. Explore approaches like brainstorming workshops, pilot innovation groups, team rotations, and virtual feedback platforms

  3. Balance operational independence with clear goals – set clear objectives for your teams and give them the freedom to meet and exceed them

There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence is already causing a major disruption to the competitive landscape. But it’s also providing leaders with the tools to obtain a competitive advantage. With a clear vision, the flexibility to adapt to a changing environment, and an engaged team – leaders can capture the promise of AI while avoiding the pitfalls.

Kevin Hart Didn't Find Success Until People Started Stealing His Work. Here's Why

Kevin Hart shared his hard-earned lessons on a recent Oprah Masterclass podcast. He kept banging his head against the wall until people began stealing his work – literally. Then he found success.

People don’t care how they get your knowledge

After years as a stand-up comedian, Hart said he kept trying – and failing – to break into Hollywood as a comedic actor. His big break? A silly, low-budget movie called Soul Plane. However, the momentum behind it was strong and it was expected to be a moderate, if not big success for its size.

The problem is that it was bootlegged more than six month before it hit the theaters. People were watching the movie on DVD at home shortly after Hart finished filming the scenes. It was so bad, Hart said that a tone-deaf fan asked him to sign a copy of the Soul Plane DVD – weeks before it even hit the theatres.

The film flopped. Hart was livid.

Then he went back on the road and, suddenly, his stand-up rates went up. Why? Everyone had the bootleg of his big Hollywood debut – and were asking for him by name. They didn’t bootleg the movie to disrespect him and his craft. They bootlegged the movie because they couldn’t wait to get more of him and his craft.

In his words, that heavily bootlegged movie broke open his career – and Hollywood came calling again shortly thereafter. Today, he’s one of the highest paid comedians in the world.

You shouldn’t care how they get your knowledge, either

Here’s the lesson: Give people access to you and they will get to know you and eventually support your work with both attention and money. Withholding your insight – holding back your light for the so-called perfect moment – means that audiences are only getting a muted version of your gift.

It is one of the reasons why I freely talk about my book content on major podcasts, share my coaching insights on social media, and reveal hard-earned wisdom to audiences I speak to whether it is a paid gig or not. It shifts the intention from hording secrets to building a tribe, and that very same tribe will be the same group that will pay for your services and help market your big idea when the time is right.

The deeper you get into your craft, the harder it is to duplicate – turning you bulletproof, as I share in The Productive Bite-Sized Entrepreneur. So it’s not a matter of how people get to you, but that they get you, and the clearer your voice, the quicker they will realize how much you resonate with them – and the sooner they will happily give you the resources you need to continue your path.

7 Weird and Entirely Useless Facts About Coffee

So to celebrate the day, here’s some lore you might find surprising:

1. Coffee is mildly addictive but caffeine is not.

When test subjects abstained from coffee, drank it regularly for 12 days, and then stopped, they experienced “withdrawal effects,” but those effect were “moderate and transient,” i.e. no big deal. However, when the test subjects were gradually weaned from caffeinated to decaffeinated coffee, they didn’t drink more coffee in order to replace the caffeine. Therefore, it is the coffee rather than caffeine that is mildly addictive. So there.

2. New Yorkers like iced coffee more than Chicagoans or Angelenos.

McCafe coffee shops recently surveyed 1,000 Americans on their coffee drinking habits. New Yorkers, when asked how much they’d pay for the last cup of iced coffee available in the city on a hot day, bid the price up to $33. Coffee drinkers in Chicago and Los Angeles were only willing to pay a measly $20. I don’t know about Cleveland but I’d guess maybe $7.95.

3. The world’s largest coffee mug holds 1.6 gallons.

According to the website Mugs.coffee, the world’s largest commercially-produced ceramic coffee mug holds about the same as 20 regular mugs, which comes out to 200 fluid ounces or a little less than 1.6 gallons, roughly as much coffee as a person should drink in a week or half as much as a typical blogger drinks in a day.

4. People have been roasting coffee beans for 1,000 years.

Archeologists in the Dubai area recently discovered coffee beans in a strata dating from the beginning of the 12th century. However, there’s evidence that the beans were imported from Yemen, which would push back the date of roasting at least 100 years. The beans were preserved because they were carbonized by roasting and though there were no complete beans, enough survived to definitely identify them as the Arabica variety. Which makes sense, considering both Dubai and Yemen are on the Arabian peninsula.

5. It is now possible to brew coffee in space.

Since there’s insufficient gravity in space for water to drip through coffee grounds, astronauts typically drink freeze-dried which… yuck. Fortunately, a group of engineers recently figured out a capsule-brewing system that works without gravity. And that’s a good thing because if we ever try to send a colony to Mars and the colonists have to drink that freeze-dried junk, I doubt if they’ll survive. I know I wouldn’t.

6. Dogs can drink coffee but cats shouldn’t.

Caffeine can be lethal to dogs… but only if they drink 150 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight. So the average dog (maybe around 40 pounds?) could down a cup of coffee (100 milligrams) without taking any damage. Cats, however, are far more sensitive to caffeine and even trace amounts can damage their nervous systems. Ferrets are whole ‘nuther case, though. See below.

7. The world’s most expensive coffee comes from monkey spit.

Until recently, it was believed the world’s most expensive coffee was harvested from weasel poop. Kopi luwak (aka civet coffee) ferments in the weasel’s intestines, altering the beans’ chemical composition, apparently much for the better. Cost: around $400 a pound.

Today, however, we know that the world’s most expensive coffee actually comes from beans that monkeys have chewed and spit out. Apparently, the chewing process gives the coffee a unique vanilla-like flavor. Cost: around $600 a pound.

It suddenly occurs to me that if I can train monkeys to chew weasel poop, I could make a fortune! Shark Tank: here I come!