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Corporate news from all over

ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine

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No Information Left Of Any Kind
No Information Left Of Any Kind

The Facebook exposé continues at The Guardian. Privacy enthusiasts have known or suspected this was Facebook’s business model all along, it is good to make Facebook’s practices more well known to the general public.

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach.

 “My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

Parakilas said Facebook had terms of service and settings that “people didn’t read or understand” and the company did not use its enforcement mechanisms, including audits of external developers, to ensure data was not being misused.

Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied: “Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on.”

Parakilas said he “always assumed there was something of a black market” for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively “audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data” he was discouraged from the approach.

He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking too deeply at how the data was being used, warning him: “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?” Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that “Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening”.

He added: “They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying.”

(click here to continue reading ‘Utterly horrifying’: ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine | News | The Guardian.)

As a side note, if you have a few dollars to throw at the feet of The Guardian, they’ve done heroic work on this story, and don’t have a paywall. Support heroic journalism!

Written by Seth Anderson

March 20th, 2018 at 8:24 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

6 Charged With Identity Theft Scheme Using Card Skimmers at Gas Stations

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Filling Up
Filling Up…

There has to be some better solution to the problem of gas station and ATM skimmers  other than paying cash inside the little gas station booth.

Six Florida residents are accused of using card skimmers at Chicago-area gas stations to commit identity theft to the tune of more than $200,000.

Charges of identity theft, financial institution fraud, theft by deception, conspiracy to commit a financial crime, computer fraud and mail fraud have been filed in Cook County

“This scheme is nearly impossible to detect by a customer, so it is critically important that people regularly monitor their bank and credit card accounts and report any unauthorized charges,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in the statement.

(click here to continue reading 6 Charged With Identity Theft Scheme Using Card Skimmers at Gas Stations – NBC Chicago.)

Impossible to detect! Well, what then? Apple Pay or other higher security transactions?

Written by Seth Anderson

March 19th, 2018 at 10:57 am

Posted in Business,crime

Tagged with ,

Facebook’s Role in Data Misuse Sets Off a Storm on Two Continents

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Helicopter with Camera
Helicopter with Camera

The big news over the weekend was how Facebook, Trump and Cambridge Analytica worked together to weaponize people’s personal information against them to help Trump win the 2016 election, perhaps with the assistance of Russia. The truth is this harvesting and manipulation of data is Facebook’s model, and anyone who uses Facebook is participating. Facebook is “free”, how exactly do you think they make their billions?

American and British lawmakers demanded on Sunday that Facebook explain how a political data firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. The backlash forced Facebook to once again defend the way it protects user data.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to press for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to appear before the panel to explain what the social network knew about the misuse of its data “to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”

The calls for greater scrutiny followed reports on Saturday in The New York Times and The Observer of London that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, had used the Facebook data to develop methods that it claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior. The firm’s so-called psychographic modeling underpinned its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, though many have questioned the effectiveness of its techniques.

But Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested. The lack of disclosure could violate laws in Britain and in many American states.

(click here to continue reading Facebook’s Role in Data Misuse Sets Off a Storm on Two Continents – The New York Times.)

Even the Faux Walls have eyes
Even the Faux Walls have eyes

If you have time, you should read the tale of the ex-Cambridge Analytica whisteblower, Christopher Wylie in The Guardian/Observer.

which includes this revelation:

Dr Kogan – who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan – is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: “We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that “they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections” but that they were “failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers”. The work, he said, would be “shared with the CEO of the business”, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Lukoil is a private company, but its CEO, Alekperov, answers to Putin, and it’s been used as a vehicle of Russian influence in Europe and elsewhere – including in the Czech Republic, where in 2016 it was revealed that an adviser to the strongly pro-Russian Czech president was being paid by the company.

When I asked Bill Browder – an Anglo-American businessman who is leading a global campaign for a Magnitsky Act to enforce sanctions against Russian individuals – what he made of it, he said: “Everyone in Russia is subordinate to Putin. One should be highly suspicious of any Russian company pitching anything outside its normal business activities.”


(click here to continue reading ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower | News | The Guardian.)

The attention led to Facebook suspending Mr. Wylie’s Facebook and Instagram accounts…

Techcrunch reports

In the latest turn of the developing scandal around how Facebook’s user data wound up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica — for use in the in development in psychographic profiles that may or may not have played a part in the election victory of Donald Trump — the company has taken the unusual step of suspending the account of the whistleblower who helped expose the issues.

(click here to continue reading Facebook has suspended the account of the whistleblower who exposed Cambridge Analytica | TechCrunch.)

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic writes:

Academic researchers began publishing warnings that third-party Facebook apps represented a major possible source of privacy leakage in the early 2010s. Some noted that the privacy risks inherent in sharing data with apps were not at all clear to users. One group termed our new reality “interdependent privacy,” because your Facebook friends, in part, determine your own level of privacy.

For as long as apps have existed, they have asked for a lot of data and people have been prone to give it to them. Back in 2010, Penn State researchers systematically recorded what data the top 1,800 apps on Facebook were asking for. They presented their results in 2011 with the paper “Third-Party Apps on Facebook: Privacy and the Illusion of Control.” The table below shows that 148 apps were asking for permission to access friends’ information.

But The Guardian’s reporting suggests that the company’s efforts to restuff Pandora’s box have been lax. Wylie, the whistleblower, received a letter from Facebook asking him to delete any Facebook data nearly two years after the existence of the data was first reported. “That to me was the most astonishing thing,” Wylie told The Guardian. “They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”

But even if Facebook were maximally aggressive about policing this kind of situation, what’s done is done. It’s not just that the data escaped, but that Cambridge Analytica almost certainly learned everything they could from it. As stated in The Guardian, the contract between GSR and Strategic Communications Laboratories states, specifically, “The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information.”

It’s important to dwell on this. It’s not that this research was supposed to identify every U.S. voter just from this data, but rather to develop a method for sorting people based on Facebook’s profiles. Wylie believes that the data was crucial in building Cambridge Analytica’s models. It certainly seems possible that once the “training set” had been used to learn how to psychologically profile people, this specific data itself was no longer necessary. But the truth is that no one knows if the Kogan data had much use out in the real world of political campaigning. Psychological profiling sounds nefarious, but the way that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica first attempted to do it may well have proven, as the company maintains, “fruitless.”

(click here to continue reading Cambridge Analytica and the Dangers of Facebook Data-Harvesting – The Atlantic.)

The way I personally deal with Facebook is by seeding it with incorrect information whenever I can, and by being diligent about deleting Facebook cookies from my browsers. Of course, I’m sure they know way too much about me, but at least some of their information is wrong.

Facebook Cookies
Facebook Cookies.PNG

Written by Seth Anderson

March 19th, 2018 at 9:27 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions While Facebook Winked

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Revolution of The Innocent
Revolution of The Innocent…

Cambridge Analytica, remember them?

All the more reason to cut back on the amount of time you spend at Facebook, and all the more reason to give Facebook and similar data-mining corporations fake information whenever possible:

As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.

(click here to continue reading How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions – The New York Times.)

Smile Through It All
Smile Through It All

Yeah, Facebook is going to “take action”. How? By admitting that they accumulate and sell way more personal information than their users know? By deleting this information? What exactly is the action that Facebook is going to do that will miraculously solve their bad PR?

The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in the tech giant’s biggest ever data breach, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with an academic at Cambridge University to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

The New York Times is reporting that copies of the data harvested for Cambridge Analytica could still be found online; its reporting team had viewed some of the raw data.

(click here to continue reading Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach | News | The Guardian.)


From the Facebook statement:

In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.

Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists.” Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.

Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies. When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.

(click here to continue reading Suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from Facebook | Facebook Newsroom.)

Since 2015, Robert Mercer’s team of anti-liberal hordes have been siphoning personal information from Facebook, and Facebook only suspended them yesterday. Who else is doing similar things? I bet the list is long, longer than I can even imagine. But Facebook is content to take the cash…and get Trump elected.


Bloomberg reported a while ago

Facebook Inc.’s platform was a crucial messaging tool for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to the campaign’s digital director — who told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he hand-picked pro-Trump “embeds” from the company to help him use the platform in targeted ways.

“Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won,” Brad Parscale told “60 Minutes,” according to an excerpt of an interview that the program intends to air Sunday. The social-media platform was particularly valuable because it allows for targeted messaging, Parscale said, according to the excerpt.

Facebook’s employees showed up for work at his office multiple days a week to provide guidance on how to best use the company’s services, Parscale said in the interview excerpt. “I wanted people who supported Donald Trump,” he said — and he questioned the workers about their political views.

(click here to continue reading Facebook ‘Embeds’ Helped Trump Win, Digital Director Says – Bloomberg.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 17th, 2018 at 9:31 am

Posted in Apple,Business

Tagged with , ,

The Koch Brothers vs. God

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To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin
To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin

Fascinating story about a new line of anti-environmental attacks from the Kochs, and the ensuing counter-attack from religious people. We only have on Earth, let’s keep it habitable, and not exploit it for money for a few, leaving our planet despoiled.

At another rally focused on fossil fuels a year earlier in Richmond, religion was front and center.

In December 2016, gospel music stars descended on a local community center in Richmond’s East Highland Park neighborhood. Hundreds of residents from throughout the area had answered the call to attend a concert marketed as an opportunity for enlightenment, both spiritual and environmental.

As a sea of hands waved through the air as eyes closed in prayer, what many in the crowd didn’t know was that they were the target of a massive propaganda campaign. One of the event’s sponsors was a fossil-fuel advocacy group called Fueling U.S. Forward, an outfit supported by Koch Industries, the petrochemicals, paper, and wood product conglomerate founded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The gospel program was designed to highlight the benefits of oil and natural gas production and its essential role in the American way of life. During a break in the music, a panel discussion unfolded about skyrocketing utility costs. The lobbyists and businesspeople on the panel presented a greater reliance on fossil fuels — billed as cheap, reliable energy sources — as the fix. Later, a surprise giveaway netted four lucky attendees the opportunity to have their power bills paid for them.

The event was one big bait and switch, according to environmental experts and local activists. Come for the gospel music, then listen to us praise the everlasting goodness of oil and gas. Supporting this sort of pro-oil-and-gas agenda sprinkled over the songs of praise, they say, would only worsen the pollution and coastal flooding that come with climate change, hazards that usually hit Virginia’s black residents the hardest.

“The tactic was tasteless and racist, plain and simple,” says Kendyl Crawford, the Sierra Club of Richmond’s conservation program coordinator. “It’s exploiting the ignorance many communities have about climate change.”

Rev. Wilson likens that gospel concert to the Biblical story of Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. Like many African Americans in Virginia, he initially didn’t connect environmental policy with what he calls the “institutional racism” — think racial profiling, lack of economic opportunity, etc. — that can plague black communities nationwide. Now he considers “the sea level rising or the air quality in the cities” another existential threat.

So in response to the Koch Brothers’ attempt to sway their flocks, Wilson and others affiliated with black churches in Virginia have channeled their outrage into a new calling: climate advocacy. For Wilson, environmentalism has become a biblical mission.

(click here to continue reading The Koch Brothers vs. God.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 15th, 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in Business,environment,religion

Tagged with ,

Equifax executive charged with insider trading before data breach made public

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Where all hopes sank
Where all hopes sank

Equifax shouldn’t be allowed to exist, there should be some sort of 3 Strikes law for corporations that are rogue entities like Equifax…

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged a former Equifax executive with insider trading, alleging that he profited from confidential information about a data breach at the company that compromised sensitive data of 143 million people to make a profit.

Jun Ying, former chief information officer of a U.S. business unit of Equifax, faces both civil and criminal charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.

”Ying used confidential information to conclude that his company had suffered a massive data breach, and he dumped his stock before the news went public,” Richard R. Best, Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office, said in a statement.  ”Corporate insiders who learn inside information, including information about material cyber intrusions, cannot betray shareholders for their own financial benefit.”

(click here to continue reading Former Equifax executive charged with insider trading before data breach made public – The Washington Post.)

Everyone is going to have to deal with fallout from the Equifax debacle for years to come, meanwhile, they have not made amends.


Equifax Inc. said more U.S. consumers were affected by its large data breach last year than originally disclosed.


The company on Thursday said that it identified about 2.4 million U.S. consumers whose names and partial driver’s license information were stolen. The company said the consumers affected “were not in the previously identified” population of cyberattack victims.


That brings the total number of U.S. consumers whose personal information was compromised by the breach to 147.9 million, up from 145.5 million previously.

The company also reported fourth-quarter earnings rose 40%, to $172 million, beating expectations due to a benefit from the new U.S. tax law and revenue growth in international markets. The U.S. division of Equifax that works closely with banks and other lenders reported a drop in year-over-year revenue, while overall operating expenses rose 8% as the company deals with security improvements and litigation costs.



(click here to continue reading Equifax Identifies Additional 2.4 Million Affected by 2017 Breach – WSJ.)

Voyeurs and a Handful of Change
Voyeurs and a Handful of Change

Take away their business license, send the executives to jail, or even better, strip them of their citizenship and deport them.


Equifax, one of the three main consumer-credit data companies, is paid to spy on and compile all of your personal financial records. The company holds sensitive data on almost every aspect of our lives, yet hackers were able to get past their weak protection systems. This is because you aren’t a customer of Equifax; you are the company’s product. As a result, Equifax has no incentive to provide you with good services. In the wake of the hack, Equifax offered a credit-monitoring tool, but to use it consumers needed to sign an arbitration agreement that said they wouldn’t sue the company. (Equifax has since dropped this requirement after an outcry.)


These kinds of arbitration agreements replace courts with a private judicial system of company lawyers, and they have since metastasized across the entire economy. The CFPB recently finalized a rule that would outlaw these mandatory agreements by financial companies starting next year. Among other things, the rule would prevent Equifax from forcing people into arbitration after it goes into effect. Yet under an obscure congressional procedure, Republicans have the ability to repeal this rule with only 50 votes in the Senate. Though they might still do it, they’re having a harder time now, since they would be on the hook for any further abuses.


As reported by David Sirota, Equifax was one of the lead companies lobbying against the CFPB rule. But Equifax’s calamitous blunder, more than any white paper, demonstrates the need for strong new regulations to protect our personal data. If the rule survives, we can thank the companies whose own horrible gaffes demonstrated the need for it in the first place.



(click here to continue reading The Financial Industry Is Its Own Best Enemy | The Nation.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 14th, 2018 at 9:31 am

Posted in Business,crime

Tagged with ,

JAB – The Secretive Company That Pours America’s Coffee

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Daily Rounds
Daily Rounds

Huh, I didn’t know this:

Here’s a question with billions of dollars riding on the answer: What do these American brands have in common? Peet’s, Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme, Dr Pepper and Stumptown.

They are all owned by JAB, a secretive European holding company that 50 years ago was making industrial chemicals for swimming pools. Through multiple deals, the firm has stumped its publicly traded rivals with what seemed like a mildly eccentric and expensive shopping spree.

JAB today sells coffee in nearly every form and venue. It distributes brands it doesn’t own such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks for its Keurig coffee maker in single-serve K-cups to brew at home and at work. It sells its own brands of bottled cold coffee and bags of beans, such as Peet’s and Green Mountain. With its own bakeries and coffee shops, it competes directly with America’s biggest coffee chains.

The group’s approach to the coffee business amounts to an expensive bet that the U.S. beverage industry is on the cusp of a reorganization that has been half a century in the making, ending an era in which hot drinks only competed against hot drinks and soft drinks against other soft drinks.

(click here to continue reading The Secretive Company That Pours America’s Coffee – WSJ.)

Betting large on coffee drinks all through the day is an interesting strategy. 

Coffee from El Mirador  Cauca Columbia
Coffee from El Mirador – Cauca, Columbia

Written by Seth Anderson

March 12th, 2018 at 9:05 am

Posted in Business,Food and Drink

Tagged with

Can U.S. States Hang on to Net Neutrality?

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Untitled Abstraction 7391
Untitled Abstraction 7391… 

Geoff Duncan of TidBITS wrote a fascinating, depressing article about Net Neutrality:

As anticipated, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted late last year to scrap net neutrality regulations that required ISPs and telecommunications companies to treat all traffic equally (see “FCC to End Net Neutrality,” 28 November 2017), However, the battle for net neutrality is still raging in the United States, with many individual states both suing the federal government over the new regulatory framework and moving ahead with their own state-specific net neutrality legislation. Washington State — home to high-tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft — is the first out the door with new net neutrality laws.

Do these strategies stand a chance? Don’t federal regulations pre-empt state authority? Or are these lawsuits and state regulations essentially stall tactics, hoping to muddy the waters long enough for a possible shift in the balance of Congress or perhaps even a new presidential administration?

(click here to continue reading Can U.S. States Hang on to Net Neutrality? – TidBITS.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 9th, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Foxconn wants to stick 7 million-gallon straw into Lake Michigan

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Foxconn 78B2
Foxconn 78B2. 

Foxconn, not content to slurp up all the cash in Wisconsin, is now seeking to drain Lake Michigan. Sure the Great Lakes have a lot of fresh water, but why allow it to privatized? And polluted?

Less than a year after Waukesha secured permission to withdraw more than 7 million gallons a day from the lake, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group could end up winning access to a similar amount of fresh water for its new Wisconsin factory with merely a stroke of a pen from Gov. Scott Walker, the company’s chief political sponsor.

Foxconn’s bid for Lake Michigan water is the latest test of the decade-old Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the region’s states intended to make it almost impossible to direct water outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes unless it is added to certain products, such as beer and soft drinks.

At issue with both Waukesha and Foxconn is an exemption that allows limited diversions outside the basin for “a group of largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial, and other institutional operators.”

Of the 7 million gallons of water withdrawn daily for Foxconn, 4.3 million gallons would be treated and returned to the lake and the rest would be lost, mostly from evaporation in the company’s cooling system, according to the application sent to Wisconsin officials.

That amount of lost water falls below a daily limit of 5 million gallons that would trigger a review by other Great Lakes states, including those that lost out on the factory.

(click here to continue reading Foxconn finds way to stick 7 million-gallon straw into Lake Michigan – Chicago Tribune.)

Treated, sure, but not returned to pristine state I’m guessing.

No Information Left Of Any Kind
No Information Left Of Any Kind

You Got To Try To See A Little Further
You Got To Try To See A Little Further

Lake Michigan in October
Lake Michigan in October

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2018 at 9:36 am

Bricklayers And Robots

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Laying Bricks
Laying Bricks…

Bricklayers will most likely be replaced by robots, eventually. Not for a while though, the robots are still too expensive, and slow. But I foresee it happening.

Here at this race, humans are holding off the future with trowel and muscle. But that may not last. Bricklayers are becoming increasingly hard to find nationwide. Despite rising wages, there’s a shortage of workers.

Nearly two-thirds of bricklaying contractors say they are struggling to find workers, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders . And it can take three to four years before a person with no experience can become a journeyman bricklayer.

In addition, productivity — how much brick wall a laborer can complete in an hour of work — isn’t much better than it was two decades ago. Bricklaying’s most important tools — a trowel, a bucket, string and a wheelbarrow —  haven’t changed much over centuries.

These factors would seem to put the trade at risk of a robot takeover.

But the human competitors here weren’t worried. SAM is far from being widely adopted. There are only 11 of them, costing roughly $400,000 each, a prohibitive amount for many small contractors. The machines can’t do corners or curves or read blueprints. SAM also requires workers to load its brick, refill its mortar and clean up the joints of the brick it lays.

What SAM does do is work without getting thirsty, sick or tired. In some ways, it is running a different kind of race.

“It’s not whether or not we win in the first hour,” said Scott Peters, president of Construction Robotics, the maker of the machine. “We’d just like to see them in the fourth hour.”

Innovations like these could ease the pressures of construction costs that are worsening the housing shortages in some parts of the country. Even Jeff Buczkiewicz, president of the Mason Contractors Association of America, acknowledged a role for robots.

“The machines will never replace the human,” Mr. Buczkiewicz said. “They will help down the road and they will make it that we won’t need as many workers, but given the shortages we’re seeing now, that’s probably a good thing.”

But he added, “There’s a human element to a craft that you don’t get from a robot.”

(click here to continue reading Bricklayers Think They’re Safe From Robots. Decide for Yourself. – The New York Times.)

You should click through read the story if you can, there are some fun images and gifs of robots and bricklayers at the NYT website.

The Real Is What Works
The Real Is What Works

Written by Seth Anderson

March 7th, 2018 at 9:50 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Food manufacturers are leaving the Grocery Manufacturers Association

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Produce Center
Produce Center.

Probably good news for the American food consumer1 – the GMA is crumbling.

A succession of high-profile, global companies have terminated their memberships with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the self-professed “voice of the industry”—rapidly undoing some 110 years of work the trade association had done to amass influence in US politics. In July 2017, as first reported by Politico, the Campbell Soup Company decided to leave GMA by the start of 2018, saying the trade association no longer represented its views. Three months later, the world’s largest food company, Nestlé, announced it was following suit. Then the floodgates opened, with Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, the Hershey Company, Cargill, the Kraft Heinz Company, and DowDuPont all opting to leave, as well.

These high-profile departures will likely cost GMA millions of dollars in lost membership dues; one top lobbyist with a former member company speculates the association may lose about half of its former financial might. In 2016, GMA reported spending nearly $35 million on lobbying initiatives.

Publicly, the companies that left GMA are mostly vague about their reasons for defection. Privately, though, their executives have complained about disagreements with management, arthritic association bylaws, and a seeming unwillingness to budge on issues. As the lobbyist puts it, rather than trying to evolve with consumer demand, GMA leadership chose instead to be pugnacious about issues like GMO transparency and improved food-package ingredient labeling.

New York University nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle says a wounded GMA is unequivocally a good thing for everyday people eager for better access to information about the foods they’re eating.

The positions that GMA took were really, really retrogressive on a range of consumer issues,” Nestle says. “All these companies are trying to position themselves as being consumer-friendly.”

(click here to continue reading Food manufacturers are leaving the Grocery Manufacturers Association, signaling an end of the Big Food era — Quartz.)

Onions  Lower Yurtistan
Onions – Lower Yurtistan

From Ms. Nestle a few months ago:


What’s going on?  Easy.  GMA just isn’t keeping up with today’s marketplace.


Politico’s analysis (these are quotes):


  • Companies are increasingly under pressure to find growth in a market where more and more consumers are seeking healthier fare, whether they’re buying organic baby food, cereal without artificial colors or meats raised without antibiotics.
  • As legacy brands lag, food companies have two options: Change to compete or buy up the new brands that are already growing rapidly.
  • With each episode of discord, both internally and publicly, it becomes harder for GMA to convince its members to pay fees to belong to a trade group that’s rife with division and, at times, fights against issues they either don’t want fought or don’t want to be associated with.
  • “More than one food industry lobbyist has told me that they spend more time lobbying their industry association than they do Capitol Hill,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
  • Many in Washington think GMA has been tone deaf as it has, in some cases, kept up lavish spending even as its members are cutting costs and laying off workers to meet their quarterly targets.
  • “I don’t know a single challenger brand that’s said ‘hey, I need to join GMA,’” said John Foraker, the founder and former CEO of Annie’s.

My favorite quote comes from Jeff Nedelman, who was a VP of communications at GMA during the 1980s and ’90s: “To me, it looks like GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die.”



(click here to continue reading Food Politics by Marion Nestle » GMA(Grocery Manufacturers Association).)

Non GMO Project
Non GMO Project

  1. i.e., people who eat []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2018 at 12:52 pm

The Mitt-Hawley Fallacy and Trade Wars

with 2 comments

F Trade
F Trade…

Since we discussed tariffs earlier, it is only fair to note that Dr. Paul Krugman disagrees with the premise that the Smoot-Hawley tariff act was a cause of the Great Depression, and with the idea that tariffs are by themselves a bad thing…

protectionism in general should reduce efficiency, and hence the economy’s potential output. But that’s not at all the same as saying that it causes recessions.

But didn’t the Smoot-Hawley tariff cause the Great Depression? No. There’s no evidence at all that it did. Yes, trade fell a lot between 1929 and 1933, but that was almost entirely a consequence of the Depression, not a cause. (Trade actually fell faster during the early stages of the 2008 Great Recession than it did after 1929.) And while trade barriers were higher in the 1930s than before, this was partly a response to the Depression, partly a consequence of deflation, which made specific tariffs (i.e., tariffs that are stated in dollars per unit, not as a percentage of value) loom larger.

(click here to continue reading The Mitt-Hawley Fallacy – The New York Times.)

The Trade Union Vow
The Trade Union Vow

…and on the Lord Little Hands Dotardo’s tariff threats in general:

 So what will happen when the Trump tariffs come?

 There will be retaliation, big time. When it comes to trade, America is not that much of a superpower — China is also a huge player, and the European Union is bigger still. They will respond in kind, targeting vulnerable U.S. sectors like aircraft and agriculture.

And retaliation isn’t the whole story; there’s also emulation. Once America decides that the rules don’t apply, world trade will become a free-for-all.

Will this cause a global recession? Probably not — those risks are, I think, exaggerated. No, protectionism didn’t cause the Great Depression.

What the coming trade war will do, however, is cause a lot of disruption. Today’s world economy is built around “value chains” that spread across borders: your car or your smartphone contain components manufactured in many countries, then assembled or modified in many more. A trade war would force a drastic shortening of those chains, and quite a few U.S. manufacturing operations would end up being big losers, just as happened when global trade surged in the past.

An old joke tells of a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — and runs over the victim a second time. Well, the effects of the Trumpist trade war on U.S. workers will be a lot like that.


(click here to continue reading And the Trade War Came – The New York Times.)

Emphasis mine.

Hmmm, so maybe I shouldn’t lay awake worrying about the upcoming conflagration? That Trump is not trying to sabotage the world economy so that totalitarian governments will rise around the world? I suppose we’ll see for ourselves, if Trump even follows through with his trade threats.

One Chromosome Too Many
One Chromosome Too Many


Trump has threatened to withdraw NAFTA pact since the 2016 campaign, saying the 24-year-old deal allowed manufacturers to relocate to Mexico and take advantage of cheaper labor. Even a number of Democrats have said NAFTA should be reworked, but Canada and Mexico have resisted Trump’s strong-arm tactics.


And a number of GOP lawmakers are apoplectic about what would happen if Trump withdrew from NAFTA, warning it could devastate the U.S. agriculture industry.


Tying NAFTA to the steel and aluminum tariffs shows that Trump is trying to use his new trade gambit as leverage, though it’s unclear if it will work.


Trump on Thursday surprised much of Washington — and his own staff — by announcing that he would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. A formal announcement is expected this week or next. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and top trade adviser Peter Navarro are both supportive of the tariffs, but even they were hard pressed to explain how the new restrictions would work.



(click here to continue reading Trump says Canada and Mexico will only escape new tariffs after NAFTA concessions – The Washington Post.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 8:53 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

Trade wars: Tariffs on bourbon, Harleys and blue jeans

without comments

Col Sanders Day 1995
Col Sanders Day 1995

This does make me a bit nervous about the economic near-future of the US. We can hope that Trump chickens out again, letting one of his lackeys claim that Trump never meant to impose tariffs, but I’m not sanguine this Trump-train won’t keep steaming until we reach 1930s-era economics. After all, the rise of totalitarian governments soon followed in those times, perhaps Trump1 has a plan for emulation.

President Donald Trump declared Friday that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

But European Union officials are already planning retaliatory actions, targeting products from politically sensitive Republican-run states, including the imposition of tariffs on Harley-Davidsons made in Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin; duties on bourbon made in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky; and duties on orange juice from Florida, a critical swing state.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levis,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told German television. Commissioners from the EU’s 28 member countries plan to discuss the countermeasures on Wednesday.

Across the globe, Trump’s plan to impose a 25 percent duty on steel and a 10 percent duty on aluminum imports would alienate dozens of countries in Europe, North America and Asia, many of them longtime allies and trading partners, who could turn the tables by targeting key U.S. sectors such as agriculture and aircraft, based in states that elected him and fellow Republicans.

(click here to continue reading Trade wars: Tariffs on bourbon, Harleys and blue jeans – POLITICO.)

We can also take heart that perhaps the long-term effect of Trump nuking the world economy will drive historically GOP friendly corporations away from the Republican Party, sectors like agribusiness, automotive, manufacturing and the like.


Also amused at these targeted tariffs, that’s fairly clever, make the states that vote in these Republican monsters pay an economic price for their negligence and enabling behavior. 

Orange You Glad This Isn t A Banana
Orange You Glad This Isn’t A Banana?

Anyway, Hawley and Smoot, authors of the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, don’t have many bridges or post offices named after them…


Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.


Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor of history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risqué poems and similar texts as “worse than opium … I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.


Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot-Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti-trade. Until today.


(click here to continue reading Anyone, anyone? What happened when the US last introduced tariffs | US news | The Guardian.)

Dusty bottle of Old Kentucky Tavern
Dusty bottle of Old Kentucky Tavern

  1. or someone wormtonguing Trump’s ear []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 3rd, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Business,government,politics

Tagged with ,

P&G Slashed Digital Ad Spending by $200 Million Last Year

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Be A Better Lover
Be A Better Lover

More signs that the bottom hasn’t yet been reached for the advertising industry, as we’ve mentioned previously…

The consumer products giant says that its push for more transparency over the past year revealed such spending had been largely wasteful and that eliminating it helped the company reach more consumers in more effective ways.

P&G , PG +0.18% whose brands include Crest, Tide and Pampers, says it cut its digital ad budget by more than $100 million from July through December. Those reductions were on top of the more than $100 million in digital marketing spending the company had already cut in the June quarter, which P&G said had little impact on the business.

The ad dollars were pulled back from a long list of digital channels but also included reducing spending with “several big digital players” by 20% to 50% last year, according to Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer. He has been leading the charge among marketers as a vocal critic of digital advertising clutter, ad fraud and brand safety issues on platforms like YouTube.

Once armed with more measurement data, P&G discovered that the average view time for a mobile ad appearing in a news feed, on platforms such as Facebook , was only 1.7 seconds. The Cincinnati-based company also realized some people were seeing P&G ads far too many times.

“Once we got transparency, it illuminated what reality was,” said Mr. Pritchard. P&G then took matters into its owns hands and voted with its dollars, he said.

Long the biggest advertiser in the world, P&G carries significant weight among marketers and its efforts are closely tracked.

(click here to continue reading P&G Slashed Digital Ad Spending by $200 Million Last Year – WSJ.)

Translated, Facebook and YouTube ads were fairly useless for P&G, so they cut back on spending on them, without noticing much of a difference on sales. If P&G, with its sophisticated marketing analysis teams thinks digital/mobile ads are missing the mark, what about other businesses? I’d assume many will follow in P&Gs footsteps, and the digital ad world is about to have revenues sliced drastically.

Prevent Cross Site Tracking
Prevent Cross-Site Tracking…

Large advertising holding corporation WPP is already feeling the pinch:


Advertising’s digital upheaval took a heavy toll on WPP LLC as the world’s largest ad company Thursday logged its worst performance since the financial crisis, triggering jitters among investors across the sector.


On Thursday, WPP said net sales fell 0.9% on a like-for-like basis last year, spooking investors who were expecting signs of recovery after the company cut its forecast three times, predicting a “broadly flat” 2017. The firm also said it is setting budgets for 2018 on the assumption of no growth in revenue and net sales.


WPP shares tumbled 9%, and the fallout quickly spread to rival ad giants like Publicis Groupe SA, which fell 4%.


Digital disruption is leading Unilever PLC, Procter & Gamble Co. and other consumer-goods giants that once splurged on ad agency-led campaigns to redirect their spending. That is saddling ad firms with their slowest revenue growth in a decade and pressuring agency holding companies to revamp organizational structures that are out of step with the digital age. Advertisers are demanding agencies provide services that target consumers relentlessly over the internet as well as coming up with traditional campaigns for print and TV.

The question is whether the big ad companies can evolve fast enough. P&G, long the biggest advertiser in the world, has said that it is looking to cut an additional $400 million in agency and production costs by 2021, having already saved around a combined $750 million in recent year. Unilever, meanwhile, has also been slashing agency fees and production costs, in part by reducing the number of traditional ads it makes and bringing more of its marketing work in-house.



(click here to continue reading Ad Industry’s Digital Upheaval Rocks WPP; Shares Fall 14% – WSJ.)



The packaged-goods sector, which accounts for close to a third of WPP’s sales, is the key problem. Big advertisers like Procter & Gamble have been driving hard bargains with their suppliers as they trim and reallocate ad budgets in response to new consumption patterns and new media.


This malaise could spread to other industries challenged by new tastes and technology. Car makers, for example, are trying to work out how their approach to advertising needs to adapt if, as many expect, individual car ownership gives way to “mobility as a service”—renting cars by the hour through tech platforms. They accounted for 12% of WPP’s revenue last year.


Then there is the question of whether the ad industry itself is challenged by new technology. This is far from clear in the data: WPP’s 19% margins in media buying—the ad business most vulnerable to a more digital approach—haven’t slipped. Such high margins could also be a reason to worry at a time when clients are seeking big savings.



(click here to continue reading Is WPP Cheap Enough to Own? – WSJ.)

Interesting times. And like the Chinese proverb says,1 to live in interesting times is not actually fun.

  1. or doesn’t actually say []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 1st, 2018 at 10:09 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with , ,

Why more companies should hop on the anti-NRA bandwagon

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Jesus gun
Jesus Lock-and-Load

A follow-up to the brewing NRA corporate backlash, which continues to grow…

Robert Reed of the Chicago Tribune writes, in part:

The biggest problem with this anti-NRA crusade is that more companies haven’t joined it.

In addition to acting as responsible corporate citizens, these companies are teeing up an important new business strategy. They’re aligning themselves with an emerging market of younger, more socially conscious consumers and financial backers who want to connect with companies that address big social justice issues, including a crackdown on gun violence.

The corporate backlash against the NRA and its approximately 5 million members shows no sign of abating. In addition to United Airlines, the anti-NRA crowd includes Delta Air Lines, Hertz, Avis Budget, Enterprise, Symantec (owner of the LifeLock identity theft protection company), SimpliSafe (home security), insurer MetLife and First National Bank of Omaha, which offered a branded NRA Visa credit card.

Amazon, Google and Apple are under pressure to stop offering an NRA channel through their streaming services.

That channel is sort of an ongoing infomercial, showcasing segments about various firearms and gun-related issues, including one about the difficulty of buying an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon in California because of red tape and a 10-day waiting process. The NRA’s correspondent boasted about getting the gun in time for Christmas.

Companies also are aligning with the multitudes of baby boomers, millennials and teenagers taking a stance against gun violence.

As more CEOs are discovering, customers prefer to patronize companies that are in sync with many of their broad social values— improving public safety, saving the environment, rationale immigration policies and more.

Increasingly, companies are being held accountable for their corporate behavior and often are blasted on social media when they disappoint. That may happen to FedEx, which on Monday decided to maintain its NRA discount program and is facing mounting criticism.

(click here to continue reading Why more companies should hop on the anti-NRA bandwagon – Chicago Tribune.)

FedEx in the snow
FedEx in the snow

And as I mentioned, I’m a long-time customer of FedEx, and opposed to the NRA. Since FedEx is telling me to take my business elsewhere, I shall oblige. I don’t receive any special discounts from FedEx, but they are saying NRA members should. 


FedEx said it was keeping a discount deal for NRA members while issuing a statement that tried to distance its views on gun policy from the group’s.


On Tuesday it clarified that the discount program it offers is for NRA members, not the organization itself. FedEx has never provided any donation or sponsorship to the NRA, the company said.



(click here to continue reading NRA: Companies sticking by the them a problem? FedEx poses test case.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 27th, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with ,