B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Corporate news from all over

Russia-linked company Columbus Nova that hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites

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Part of Your Secret Life
Part of Your Secret Life

An odd thing for an investment firm to spend money on, wouldn’t you say?

The Washington Post reports:

A company at the center of widening questions involving President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.

Columbus Nova, a company whose U.S. chief executive, Andrew Intrater, and Russian investment partner Viktor Vekselberg have both reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, is listed as the registrant behind a handful of domains for websites named after the alt-right that were created during the 2016 election.

It is unclear if any of these websites were launched or ever hosted content.

These sites include Alt-right.co, Alternate-right.com, Alternate-rt.com, Alt-rite.com, and other similar combinations, which were all registered in the two days following a speech given by then candidate Hillary Clinton in August 2016 in which she excoriated the far-right movement known for its extremist, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist viewpoints.

(click here to continue reading Russia-linked company that hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites during election – The Washington Post.)

Columbus Novus has been around for while, acting as an Angel Investor firm.

Crunchbase reports on typical investments that Columbus Novus has made in the past, like Atlis:

 

– Local search platforms using average star ratings are antiquated, creating a poor user experience, and causing significant harm to local business reputations. These products still live in the desktop era.

 

– The system has removed negativity from the consumer feedback loop to prevent toxicity and abuse of local businesses, instead empowering satisfied customers to have a larger voice than ever before.

 

– Atlis has taken the preferred channel of “friendly advice” and applied it to a city-wide audience, letting users ask each other for various local businesses, products, and services to receive suggestions directly in real-time.

 

– Atlis tracks user preferences and collects a repository of the word-of-mouth advice across an entire city, making that dataset consumable via a passive search experience, as well. Machine learning will eventually transform this the data collection into smart, personalized search results that knows what people would have suggested to you.

 

– Company launched in NYC in October 2016 with its R&D team based in Tel Aviv. It has already built an engaged user base of over 10,000 and has signed up over 200 local businesses (without any B2B efforts). It has also secured valuable partnerships with Google, OpenTable, and others.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Atlis | Crunchbase.)

How does one make a business case that purchasing alt-right domain names is part of investment strategy? Unless your real strategy is assisting Putin put Trump in office by any means available.

The secrets of the world are whispered
The secrets of the world are whispered

I guess the Russians didn’t want to spend all of their funds with the NRA, and decided to spread it around a bit?

Natasha Bertrand, when she was with Business Insider, reported:

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of several prominent alt-right figures, raising new questions about the Kremlin’s influence on the far-right, white nationalist movement that has asserted itself as a new force in American politics. Whether Russia has played a direct role in awakening the American alt-right, whose resurgence as a crusade against establishment politics coincided with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, is debatable.

 

But the extent to which the alt-right has found a natural ally in Russia’s current zeitgeist — which perceives the US as a globalist, imperialist power working on behalf of liberal elites — is hard to overstate.

 

Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, who said he identifies as a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin’s Russia as “the axis for nationalists.”

 

“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now,” Heimbach told Business Insider in a recent interview. “Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Alt-right connections to Putin and Russia – Business Insider.)

or as Michelle Wolf put it:

 

 

Trump is racist, though. He loves white nationalists, which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies man,’ which isn’t really fair — he also likes plants.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Michelle Wolf’s Best White House Correspondents Dinner Jokes.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 10th, 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

Boeing C.E.O. Downplays Loss of $20 Billion Contract With Iran

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Which End Has the Pot of Gold
Which End Has the Pot of Gold?

The NYT reports:

The chief executive of the aerospace giant Boeing downplayed the fallout from the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear pact, saying on Wednesday that the company would abide by the Trump administration’s decision to cancel Boeing’s licenses to sell $20 billion of aircraft to Iran.

“We will continue to follow the U.S. government’s lead,” Dennis A. Muilenburg, the chief executive, told a luncheon crowd at the Economic Club of Washington.

(click here to continue reading Boeing C.E.O. Downplays Loss of $20 Billion Contract With Iran – The New York Times.)

Craven. Is there any other word for it? $20,000,000,000 is a rather large contract, wouldn’t you say?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Boeing has had discussions with Michael Cohen for a “consultant” deal, like AT&T, Novartis, or Korea Aerospace Industries. I wonder if Boeing agreed to it? I’m guessing they did not, and thus Trump has gone out of his way to antagonize Boeing.

Double Rainbow Over Boeing
Double Rainbow Over Boeing

3rd World Man:

 

Among the other payments to Mr. Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October and January by Novartis Investments S.A.R.L., a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland. Novartis — whose chief executive was among 15 business leaders invited to dinner with Mr. Trump at the World Economic Forum in January — spent more than $10 million on lobbying in Washington last year and frequently seeks approvals from federal drug regulators. Novartis said in a statement that its agreement with Essential Consultants had expired.

 

In addition, Korea Aerospace Industries paid Mr. Cohen’s company $150,000 last November, according to the records. The company, an aircraft manufacturer, has teamed with the American defense contractor Lockheed Martin in competing for a multibillion-dollar contract to provide trainer jets for the United States Air Force that is expected to be awarded this year.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Firm Tied to Russian Oligarch Made Payments to Michael Cohen – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 9th, 2018 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Former Little Village coal plant to be demolished, replaced with warehouses

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Gain the Whole World and Lose
Gain the Whole World and Lose

Ryan Ori of the Tribune reports:

The former coal-fired power plant in Little Village is set to be demolished and replaced with a 21st-century use: warehouses to speed orders for online customers in Chicago.

Northbrook-based Hilco Redevelopment Partners has bought the former Crawford Power Generating Station as part of a $100 million-plus project to demolish the facility and replace it with up to 1 million square feet of warehouses along Interstate 55, Pulaski Road and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. No tenant has been signed.

The facility was one of the last two coal plants in operation in Chicago until 2012, when power company Midwest Generation closed the facility and its Fisk generating station in Pilsen. The Crawford plant opened in the 1920s.

Roberto Perez, president and managing director of Hilco Redevelopment Partners, said “70 acres in a perfect rectangle is almost impossible to find in downtown Chicago.”

Hilco is working on a community benefits agreement with 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz on the Crawford redevelopment. “No. 1, I want to see it cleaned up properly, and No. 2, I want to see jobs go to local residents,” Munoz said. “It’s great that they’re going to repurpose the site, put it back on the tax rolls and bring jobs back to the site.”

Site cleanup and demolition is expected to take 14 to 24 months. Hilco will talk with prospective tenants during that time.

Hilco has been buying and redeveloping similar sites in other parts of the country, including Boston and Baltimore, as online retailers and other companies seek “last mile” distribution centers close to residential areas. The company signed leases with Amazon, FedEx Ground and Under Armour on a former Bethlehem Steel plant it is redeveloping into distribution space in Baltimore.

(click here to continue reading Former Little Village coal plant to be demolished, replaced with distribution center – Chicago Tribune.)

Good news, I guess, though I hope they use permeable pavement. Would have been nicer if that area had become a beautiful parkland instead of warehouses. But, still better than a heavy metal spewing power plant, especially if the site is cleaned thoroughly.

The Dark Doesn t Hide It
The Dark Doesn’t Hide It

West Wind Blowing Ill
West Wind Blowing Ill

Go Back To Where You Have Been Again
Go Back To Where You Have Been Again

West Wind Blowing Ill  Redux
West Wind Blowing Ill – Redux

Tales of the Towering Dead
Tales of the Towering Dead

Everything If You Want Things
Everything If You Want Things

Withered and Died
Withered and Died

Fisk Station
Fisk Station

Satanic Gift
Satanic Gift

Stack for Fisk Generating Station
Stack for Fisk Generating Station

Written by Seth Anderson

May 7th, 2018 at 8:21 am

Bank for Illinois’ medical marijuana industry is pulling out

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Truck full of Cannabis
Truck full of Cannabis, Washington State.

Ally Marotti of the Tribune reports:

The main bank serving Illinois medical marijuana companies is pulling out of the industry, leaving operators with few options other than dealing in cash.

Bank of Springfield sent a letter to its cannabis clients late last month informing them that their accounts will be closed May 21. The decision is tied to the reversal of an Obama-era policy that discouraged prosecution of those operating under state marijuana laws.

The move is a setback for the industry, which remains a pilot program more than two years after medical cannabis became legal in Illinois. Strict regulations and other obstacles have added challenges to running cannabis companies and kept patient numbers too low for some operators to recoup their investments.

Taking away the bank accounts medical marijuana companies use to pay their employees, vendors and the government is another hurdle. It also eliminates some of the legitimacy and traceability of transactions that banking added to the industry, which had $8.5 million in retail sales statewide in February, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

(click here to continue reading Main bank for Illinois’ medical marijuana industry is pulling out, leaving some operators to deal in cash – Chicago Tribune.)

Yet another reason to vote against Governor Bruce Rauner, as if we needed any more. His willful antagonism towards medical cannabis is undermining its growth. Illinois certainly could do better.

Republicans, Democrats, Independents, etc. all agree that money is good for the Illinois budget, why not follow the model of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and others?

Henry Anslinger
Henry Anslinger

From an article earlier this year, also by Ally Marotti:

As the legal marijuana industry navigates uncertainty on the federal level, state attorneys general are asking Congress to pass a law allowing banks to work with cannabis companies.

Along with Illinois, 28 other states, Washington, D.C., and several U.S. territories have legalized medicinal cannabis, and eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use. But in the eyes of federal law, weed is still illegal, and the cash earned selling it is drug money.

Without banks, though, operations and growth could be hindered.

The federal government has issued guidance for how banks can work with cannabis companies, but without a law, banks hesitate to enter the growing industry. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and 18 other attorneys general — from 16 states, the District of Columbia and Guam — signed a letter this week saying they want that to change. Madigan was not available Wednesday for further comment.

Passing a law “would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions,” according to the letter. “Moreover, compliance with tax requirements would be simpler and easier to enforce with a better-defined tracking of funds. This would, in turn, result in higher tax revenue.”

Banks that work with the cannabis industry can take further guidance from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. But, again, that’s just guidance.

“That’s not enough for the national and international banks,” said Cresco’s Bachtell, who has a background in mortgage banking. “They’re not comfortable with guidance; they want real regulation.”

The letter from the state attorneys general asks Congress for legislation to provide a “safe harbor” for financial institutions that work with cannabis companies in states where the drug is legal in some capacity. It points to a bill introduced in the Senate in May that would do just that.

More banks would likely expand operations into the marijuana industry if such a law were instituted, though it might take time for financial institutions to become comfortable with it, said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

(click here to continue reading U.S. law sought to allow banking for legal pot – Near West.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 7th, 2018 at 8:03 am

Michigan OKs Nestlé Water Extraction, Despite 80K+ Public Comments Against It

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

NPR reports:

In a much-watched case, a Michigan agency has approved Nestlé’s plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the state. The request attracted a record number of public comments — with 80,945 against and 75 in favor.

Nestlé’s request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to pump 576,000 gallons of water each day from the White Pine Springs well in the Great Lakes Basin was “highly controversial,” member station Michigan Radio reports. But despite deep public opposition, the agency concluded that the company’s plan met with legal standards.

Under the plan, Nestlé will be approved to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from the well, rather than the 250 gallons per minute it had been extracting. The company first applied for the new permit in July 2016.

Water is a complicated and sore subject in many areas, but in few places more so than in Michigan, where a crisis has raged for years over high levels of lead and other dangerous heavy metals in the water in Flint. And back in 2014, Detroit resorted to shutting off water to thousands of customers as it fought bankruptcy.

With that recent history as a backdrop, Nestlé’s plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the Great Lakes State drew attention and added another dimension to a debate over whether water should be seen as a commodity, a commercial product — or a human right.

Nestlé’s well is in western Michigan, near the town of Evart…The company bottles the water for sale under its Ice Mountain label.

(click here to continue reading Michigan OKs Nestlé Water Extraction, Despite 80K+ Public Comments Against It : The Two-Way : NPR.)

Disgusting, really that Nestlé gets to sell, for profit, water that is taken from the public at a rate of 400 gallons a minute. By my quick math: 400 gallons x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days=  approximately 210,240,000 gallons a year; roughly 1,681,920,000 Iron Mountain 16 ml bottles that are sold for $3.99 in airports, or cheaper at, for instance, Target). Even accounting for the costs of “extraction”, plastic bottles, shipping, labeling, and so on, that’s a damn nice profit margin. Almost 2 billion 16 ml bottles a year, for basically free!

Thirsty Side view
Thirsty? Side view of discarded plastic water bottles

Especially because of this:

in Mecosta County, Nestlé is not required to pay anything to extract the water, besides a small permitting fee to the state and the cost of leases to a private landowner. In fact, the company received $13 million in tax breaks from the state to locate the plant in Michigan. The spokesperson for Nestlé in Michigan is Deborah Muchmore. She’s the wife of Dennis Muchmore—Governor Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, who just retired and registered to be a lobbyist.

 

(click here to continue reading Michigan’s Water Wars: Nestlé Pumps Millions of Gallons for Free While Flint Pays for Poisoned Water | Democracy Now!.)

Private profits from public resources, despicable. And the Republican assholes currently running the State of Michigan are happy to do it.

Thirsty
Thirsty?

Written by Seth Anderson

May 6th, 2018 at 7:53 pm

AT&T and Verizon collude to keep you from switching cellphone carriers–allegedly

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 Zoey Getting Ready to Vote in the Nature Photo Contest

The Washington Post reports:

The Department of Justice is investigating potential efforts by AT&T and Verizon to hamstring a technology that could someday make it easier for consumers to seamlessly switch their wireless carriers, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The probe appears to focus on whether those companies — perhaps in a bid to stop their subscribers from jumping ship to rivals — colluded to undermine so-called eSIM cards, a technology that could someday allow the owners of smartphones, smartwatches or other devices to change their service provider on their own, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the probe, which has not been made public.

If the U.S. government ultimately determines that AT&T and Verizon harmed competitors or consumers, it could result in major fines or other penalties.

(click here to continue reading Did AT&T and Verizon collude to keep you from switching cellphone carriers? The Justice Department is investigating. – The Washington Post.)

Operative word being “if”…

In the Trump/GOP era of government, corporations are encouraged to run rampant over any rules or laws they don’t like, all that is needed is a nice campaign contribution, and issues miraculously vanish! Poof! 

Written by Seth Anderson

April 22nd, 2018 at 11:20 am

Posted in Business,crime

Tagged with , ,

SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon’s Oath

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Old Skooler
Old Skooler

USA Today reports:

Flickr has been snapped up by Silicon Valley photo-sharing and storage company SmugMug, USA TODAY has learned.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill told USA TODAY he’s committed to breathing new life into the faded social networking pioneer, which hosted photos and lively interactions long before it became trendy.

SmugMug, an independent, family-run company, will maintain Flickr as a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers and give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves, MacAskill said in an exclusive interview.

The mostly free Flickr was founded in 2004 and played a central role in the cultural and social life of the Internet. Friendships were forged on Flickr as people shared photographs and others commented on them. 

Overshadowed in the smartphone era by the rise of Facebook and Instagram, Flickr suffered defections to rival services but held onto a core loyal following of shutterbugs despite product and policy misses and the hacks of Yahoo, as well as encroaching competition from Google and other massive photo services.

Traffic has shrunk from its heyday, but Flickr says it has more than 75 million registered photographers and more than 100 million unique users who post tens of billions of photos. In March, Flickr had 13.1 million unique visitors, up from 10.8 million a year earlier, according to research firm comScore.

(click here to continue reading SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon’s Oath.)

Hmm, that’s potentially great news. I’ve used SmugMug for selling prints in the past,1 and of course, I’m a multiple-visits-daily user of Flickr ever since I was a beta-version Flickereeno.2 

Yesterday as I drifted off to sleep I even had the germ of an blog post idea about Flickr’s long term future. I assume Flickr is profitable, and gets quite a lot of traffic, but nothing has been changed there for a long, long time. I’m not sure what Verizon’s plans were, or if they had decided upon them. 

So I’m cautiously optimistic this will be good synergy.

And I especially liked this:

 

And, in an industry that dangles free services to suck up people’s personal information to target ads, SmugMug has catered to people who are willing to pay for privacy and storage, offering four levels of subscriptions to appeal to everyday shutterbugs and professional photographers alike.

 

MacAskill says the SmugMug model works for the business and his conscience because it aligns his incentives with his customers. “We don’t mine our customers’ photos for information to sell to the highest bidder, or to turn into targeted advertising campaigns,” he said.

 

After revelations that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information pilfered by Cambridge Analytica, a British political firm with ties to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, consumers are having second thoughts about trading their data for a free service.

 

 

(click here to continue reading SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon’s Oath.)

Footnotes:
  1. without much success to be honest []
  2. circa 2004 []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 20th, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Business,Photography

Tagged with

Facebook Doesn’t Pay You Because That’s Not Their Model

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Fuck The Internet
Fuck The Internet

In the context of describing yet another social network aimed at Facebook, albeit one that allegedly will pay you for your content1 Wired reports:

DURING MARK ZUCKERBERG’S over 10 hours of Congressional testimony last week, lawmakers repeatedly asked how Facebook makes money. The simple answer, which Zuckerberg dodged, is the contributions and online activities of its over two billion users, which allow marketers to target ads with razor precision. In which case, asked representative Paul Tonko (D – New York), “why doesn’t Facebook pay its users for their incredibly valuable data?”

(click here to continue reading Minds Is the Anti-Facebook That Pays You For Your Time | WIRED.)

Yeah, Facebook doesn’t want to really discuss this key aspect of their business in public: all their wealth is based on the mining and reselling of their users data. It was never a hidden fact, it was always known to anyone who bothered to ask, but Facebook doesn’t really like to explain it so that the majority realize they are the product being sold.

So let’s be clear, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter even2 only exist to collect data about their users, and use information gleaned from their users to sell to corporations, or governments, etc. That is the model. If everyone, including your grandmother, and my 14 year old nephew understands this basic fact, we’ll all benefit as a society.

Footnotes:
  1. in cryptocurrency []
  2. which I still use frequently, maybe even more than I should []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 19th, 2018 at 11:19 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with , ,

Facebook Tracks Non-Users

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Eyeing John Marshall Law School 

HuffPo reports disturbing news:

Concern about Facebook Inc’s respect for data privacy is widening to include the information it collects about non-users, after Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the world’s largest social network tracks people whether they have accounts or not.

Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign among its clients.

Zuckerberg said on Wednesday under questioning by U.S. Representative Ben Luján that, for security reasons, Facebook also collects “data of people who have not signed up for Facebook.”

(click here to continue reading Facebook’s Tracking Of Non-Users Sparks Broader Privacy Concerns | HuffPost.)

Wha? That seems problematic. How are these people consenting?

Of course, as this blog has discussed multiple times, there are hundreds or even thousands of digital advertising firms that track each and all of us, whether or not we’ve consented, or are even aware. Their model is to make money off of the data of others, and perhaps to share that data with NSA and other US intelligence agencies. Facebook is one of the higher profile firms, but they are not alone.

There is also the European Union’s new privacy law, the GDPR.1

Wiki:

GDPR extends the scope of EU data protection law to all foreign companies processing data of EU residents. It provides for a harmonization of the data protection regulations throughout the EU, thereby making it easier for non-European companies to comply with these regulations; however, this comes at the cost of a strict data protection compliance regime with severe penalties of up to 4% of worldwide turnover or €20 million, whichever is higher. The GDPR also brings a new set of “digital rights” for EU citizens in an age of an increase of the economic value of personal data in the digital economy.

 

(click here to continue reading General Data Protection Regulation – Wikipedia.)

Footnotes:
  1. General Data Protection Regulation []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 15th, 2018 at 11:18 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Credit Card Signatures Are About to Become Extinct

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Adult Signature Not Required
Adult Signature Not Required…

The New York Times writes:

Credit card networks are finally ready to concede what has been obvious to shoppers and merchants for years: Signatures are not a useful way to prove someone’s identity. Later this month, four of the largest networks — American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa — will stop requiring them to complete card transactions.

The signature, a centuries-old way of verifying identity, is rapidly going extinct. Personal checks are anachronisms. Pen-and-ink letters are scarce. When credit card signatures disappear, handwritten authentications will be relegated to a few special circumstances: sealing a giant transaction like a house purchase, or getting a celebrity to autograph a piece of memorabilia — and even that is being supplanted by the cellphone selfie.

Card signatures won’t vanish overnight. The change is optional, leaving retailers to decide whether they want to stop collecting signatures.

(click here to continue reading Credit Card Signatures Are About to Become Extinct – The New York Times.)

finally!

Speaking for myself, I’ve been using doodles or wavy lines for years and the only time I’ve ever been questioned was once, when voting.1 

Nobody ever even seems to notice or care my signature looks like a sine wave.

One Is The Loneliest Number
One Is The Loneliest Number

Footnotes:
  1. I had to produce my driver license to receive my ballot []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 8th, 2018 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Business

Tagged with

Facebook hackers could have collected personal data of 2 billion users

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No Need To Look The Other Way
No Need To Look The Other Way. 

From the Washington Post we learn that basically every piece of data Facebook collected about you has been shared with the digital marketing world, and the dark web whether you agreed to do that or not:

Facebook said Wednesday that “malicious actors” took advantage of search tools on its platform, making it possible for them to discover the identities and collect information on most of its 2 billion users worldwide.

…But the abuse of Facebook’s search tools — now disabled — happened far more broadly and over the course of several years, with few Facebook users likely escaping the scam, company officials acknowledged.

The scam started when hackers harvested email addresses and phone numbers on the “dark Web,” where criminals post information stolen in data breaches over the years. Then the hackers used automated computer programs to feed the numbers and addresses into Facebook’s “search” box, allowing them to discover the full names of people affiliated with the phone numbers or addresses, along with whatever Facebook profile information they chose to make public, often including their profile photos and hometowns.

Names, phone numbers, email addresses and other personal information amount to critical starter kits for identity theft and other malicious online activity, experts on Internet crime say. The Facebook hacks allowed bad actors to tie raw data to people’s real identities and build fuller profiles of them.

Developers who in the past could get access to people’s relationship status, calendar events, private Facebook posts and much more data will now be cut off from access or be required to endure a much stricter process for obtaining the information, Facebook said.

Until Wednesday, apps that let people input Facebook events into their calendars could also automatically import lists of all the people who attended the events, Facebook said. Administrators of private groups, some of which have tens of thousands of members, could also let apps scrape the Facebook posts and profiles of members of those groups. App developers who want this access will now have to prove that their activities benefit the group. Facebook will now need to approve tools that businesses use to operate Facebook pages. A business that uses an app to help it respond quickly to customer messages, for example, will not be able to do so automatically. Developers’ access to Instagram will also be severely restricted.

Facebook is banning apps from accessing users’ information about their religious or political views, relationship status, education, work history, fitness activity, book reading habits, music listening and news reading activity, video watching and games. Data brokers and businesses collect this type of information to build profiles of their customers’ tastes.

(click here to continue reading Facebook hackers could have collected personal data of 2 billion users .)

Heck of a network you’ve created, Zuckerberg. 

There is no way to put this information back into the bottle, the only thing left to do is protecting future information from being harvested, and perhaps punishing Facebook for its lackadaisical approach to protecting the world’s personal data. Shut them down!

Speaking for myself, I don’t feel too worried, I always was a bit leery with giving Facebook access to my actual information. They do have my birthday, and where I went to school, but nearly everything else I put in my profile was faux information, or things available elsewhere. For a long time, I’ve used the Facebook API and other tools1 to automatically post photos from Flickr, Instagram, blog entries, etc. But who knows, perhaps I wasn’t careful enough to always delete my Facebook cookies, and so they scraped more information about me than I know. I did use the Facebook app for a few months before deleting it off of my iOS devices, but all it takes is a moment of unguarded attention, and the freaks at Facebook will vacuum up everything not nailed down. So the dark web may know more about me than I know. 

In Your Bubble Where Nothing Goes Wrong
In Your Bubble Where Nothing Goes Wrong

Barbara Ortutay adds:

 

On Monday all Facebook users will receive a notice on their Facebook feeds with a link to see what apps they use and what information they have shared with those apps. They’ll have a chance to delete apps they no longer want. Users who might have had their data shared with Cambridge Analytica will be told of that. Facebook says most of the affected users are in the U.S.

As part of the steps it’s taking to address scrutiny about outsiders’ access to user data, Facebook outlined several changes to further tighten its policies. For one, it is restricting access that apps can have to data about users’ events, as well as information about groups such as member lists and content.

In addition, the company is also removing the option to search for users by entering a phone number or an email address. While this helped individuals find friends, Facebook says businesses that had phone or email information on customers were able to collect profile information this way. Facebook says it believes most of its 2.2 billion users had their public profile information scraped by businesses or various malicious actors through this technique at some point. Posts and other content set to be visible only to friends weren’t collected.

This comes on top of changes announced a few weeks ago. For example, Facebook has said it will remove developers’ access to people’s data if the person has not used the app in three months.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Facebook scandal affected more users than thought: up to 87M – Chicago Tribune.)

Sure, sure. I bet that will solve everything.

Footnotes:
  1. IFTTT, for instance []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 5th, 2018 at 11:24 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

BlackRock Plans to Block Walmart, Dick’s From Some Funds Over Guns

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Stop Gun Violence
Stop Gun Violence.

Interesting, even if mostly superficial change. Capital has its own moral compass.

The WSJ reports:

The world’s largest money manager is stripping retailers that sell guns out of some current and planned exchange-traded funds, the latest sign that weapons sellers are facing the same scrutiny from investors as producers.

Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Kroger Co. are among the retailers that will be ruled out of new environmental social and governance-focused funds BlackRock Inc. is planning, a spokeswoman for the world’s largest asset manager said Thursday. The retailers were among those who said they would no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

BlackRock plans to strip all gun sellers and retailers including Kroger from its current lineup of seven so-called ESG funds, which have some $2.2 billion in assets. Those products had minimal exposure to such firms.

It is also planning to offer new ETFs and pooled funds to 401(k) retirement savings plans that exclude gun makers and retailers. One of those ETFs will track the performance of a new bond index that is similar to the Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, but excludes issuers that make 5% or more or $20 million in revenue from gun-related products.

(click here to continue reading BlackRock Plans to Block Walmart, Dick’s From Some Funds Over Guns – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 5th, 2018 at 10:11 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California

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Jammed Up
Jammed Up

The NYT reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday took steps to challenge California’s decades-old right to set its own air pollution rules, setting up a showdown between the federal government and a state that has emerged as a bulwark against the Trump administration’s policies.

The E.P.A. statement was part of the agency’s widely expected decision to reconsider, and most likely roll back, Obama-era rules requiring automakers to hit ambitious emissions and mileage standards by 2025. The statement, though, was notable for the forcefulness of its language suggesting that the Trump administration would take on California’s authority to set its own rules.

A rollback of the rules, which are designed to cut back on emissions of greenhouse gases, would reverse one of the single biggest steps any government has taken to tackle climate change. California has said it will stick with the tougher, Obama-era regulations, a decision that could effectively split the United States into two auto markets: one requiring cars to be more efficient and less polluting than the other.

California has long possessed the unique authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to write its own air pollution rules. Traditionally, a dozen other states follow California’s air pollution rules and together they represent one-third of the nation’s auto market. That puts California in an extraordinary position to stage a regulatory revolt, with much of the country’s car market in tow.

State officials indicated they would fight the Trump administration. “This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards,” said Mary Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator. California, she said, “will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards.”

(click here to continue reading Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California – The New York Times.)

Scott Pruitt is a demon, and a meddler. Lower auto efficiency standards harms those of us who breathe, and actually harms automobile manufacturers as well, especially those that have already invested in the R&D necessary to reduce emissions and increase mileage, or those who plan on selling their cars to other nations. The only entities that these new proposed rules will help are the corporations that sell fuel1

Despicable behavior by someone who is despicable.

Take A Long Last Look  Kodachrome
Take A Long Last Look – Kodachrome

Automotive companies are not necessarily idiots, as better engineered cars are what the majority of consumers want:

 There have been some signs of discord within the auto industry over the Trump administration’s plans.

 Mr. Pruitt had been expected to publicly announce the effort on Tuesday at a Chevrolet dealership in suburban Virginia. But those plans were complicated by an angry pushback from some Chevy dealerships who were reluctant to see the brand associated with the announcement, according to two Chevy dealers who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing their relationship with General Motors. Late on Monday, the Virginia dealership, Pohanka Chevrolet in Chantilly, said the E.P.A. event it had planned to host had been canceled.

“They don’t want the E.P.A. to highlight Chevy,” said Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, which runs Nissan, Honda and Chrysler dealerships in Maine, and who said he was familiar with dealers’ thinking. “They don’t want to be the bad guys.”

“Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit,” he said. “It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”

 (click here to continue reading Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California – The New York Times.)

The Orange Dotard not having the facts. Hmm, who would have suspected…

Footnotes:
  1. Koch Bros, Exxon Mobile, et all []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 2nd, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Trump vs. Amazon

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Amazon Prime and The Pope
Amazon Prime and The Pope

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump escalated his assault on Amazon.com on Saturday, accusing the online retail giant of a “Post Office scam” and falsely stating that The Washington Post operates as a lobbyist for Amazon.

In a pair of morning tweets sent during his drive from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the nearby Trump International Golf Club, the president argued that Amazon costs the U.S. Postal Service billions of dollars in potential revenue.

Trump has repeatedly advanced this theory, even though officials have explained to him that Amazon’s contracts with the Postal Service are profitable for the agency.

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded that it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, and operates independently of Amazon.

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

The Post on Friday afternoon published online an exhaustive account of the Trump Organization’s finances being “under unprecedented assault” because of three different legal inquiries: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation; a $130,000 payment allegedly to secure the silence of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels over a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump; and lawsuits alleging that Trump is improperly accepting gifts, or “emoluments,” from foreign or state governments through his businesses.

[From Mueller to Stormy to ‘emoluments,’ Trump’s business is under siege]

Trump is known to react especially sensitively to news stories about his personal and business affairs.

(click here to continue reading Trump accuses Amazon of ‘Post Office scam,’ falsely says The Post is company’s lobbyist – The Washington Post.)

Amazon stock fell drastically. If I was a securities lawyer, I might consider filing a class-action lawsuit against the Tiny Fingered Cheeto: smarter men than him have been sanctioned for attempting to manipulate stock prices.

Whole Foods Amazon and The Pope
Whole Foods, Amazon and The Pope

Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair writes:

Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”

 According to sources, Trump wants the Post Office to increase Amazon’s shipping costs. When Trump previously discussed the idea inside the White Hose, Gary Cohn had explained that Amazon is a benefit to the Postal Service, which has seen mail volume plummet in the age of e-mail. “Trump doesn’t have Gary Cohn breathing down his neck saying you can’t do the Post Office shit,” a Republican close to the White House said. “He really wants the Post Office deal renegotiated. He thinks Amazon’s getting a huge fucking deal on shipping.”

Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s multi-billion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud computing services, sources say. Another line of attack would be to encourage attorneys general in red states to open investigations into Amazon’s business practices. Sources say Trump is open to the ideas. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

Even Trump’s allies acknowledge that much of what’s fueling Trump’s rage toward Amazon is that Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, sources said. “Trump doesn’t like The New York Times, but he reveres it because it’s his hometown paper. The Washington Post, he has zero respect for,” the Republican close to the White House said. While the Post says that Bezos has no involvement in newsroom decisions, Trump has told advisers he believes Bezos uses the paper as a political weapon. One former White House official said Trump looks at the Post the same way he looks at the National Enquirer. “When Bezos says he has no involvement, Trump doesn’t believe him. His experience is with the David Peckers of the world. Whether it’s right or wrong, he knows it can be done.”

(click here to continue reading “Trump Is Like, ‘How Can I F–k with Him?’”: Trump’s War with Amazon (and The Washington Post) Is Personal | Vanity Fair.)

Just another totally normal day in Washington…

Amazon Brick and Mortar Location
Amazon Brick and Mortar Location

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo adds:

One notable thing that people seldom discuss is that with a mix of constant growth, cultivation of market confidence and restraint Amazon has managed to be one of the most successful businesses in American history and pay close to no federal taxes for the simple reason that it’s careful to always operate at a more or less a break-even P&L. In other words, on many fronts Amazon creates huge negative externalities which society at large is subsidizing.

It is equally clear that low wage warehouse jobs, upending of retail businesses, disintermediation of publishers or tax avoidance are not things Donald Trump cares anything about. Indeed, the one thing he really focuses on with Amazon – Amazon ripping off the Post Office – seems pretty clearly not to be true. Amazon is Trump’s target because of The Washington Post.

Amazon doesn’t own The Washington Post. But it is owned by Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. So close enough. President Trump’s attacks on Amazon are entirely part of his attacks on independent and even mildly critical media.

(click here to continue reading McCabe, Amazon and Defending the Republic from Donald Trump – Talking Points Memo.)

plus, from Raw Story, we learn the WSJ isn’t pleased by this attack1:

The conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal took President Donald Trump to task for his bizarre Thursday tweet attacking Amazon.com, saying the assault on the popular company appeared to be political in nature and that he could face impeachment should he decide to sic government agencies on the company.

In the piece published on Friday morning, the WSJ board noted that Trump appears to be going after Amazon because it was founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, which has been highly critical of the Trump administration.

The Journal noted that Trump got his facts wrong about the relationship between Amazon and the U.S. Post Office writing, “Mr. Trump’s other big gripe is that taxpayers are on the losing end of Amazon’s deal with the U.S. Postal Service. But that story is also more complicated. The Post Office has often operated at a net loss, but package volumes grew in fiscal 2017 by more than 11%, making it a rare growth market. Many of the additional 589 million boxes delivered last year came from Amazon.”

“Though imperfect, the deal is mutually beneficial,” the editorial continued. “The Post Office arguably needs Amazon more than Amazon needs the Post Office. The Post Office could drop Amazon as a delivery partner, but it would likely have to raise prices elsewhere or endure higher losses. Would Mr. Trump take credit for that?”

As for the possibility that Trump might try to compel officials in his administration to inflict damage on the company, the Journal warned Trump he might be flirting with disaster and impeachment.

“Mr. Trump could try to unleash the Internal Revenue Service, though that would be a scandal that could be an impeachable offense,” the editorial cautioned. “The press and prosecutors would not give the Trump IRS the pass they gave Lois Lerner during the Obama years for targeting conservative nonprofits with extra scrutiny.”

(click here to continue reading Wall Street Journal warns Trump’s ‘political’ attacks on Amazon and Jeff Bezos could lead to impeachment.)

Footnotes:
  1. though not to worry, the Fox and Friends talkers are on board []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 2nd, 2018 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with ,

Why Advertisers Won’t Rush to Delete Facebook But We Should

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Bowl of Lemons
Bowl of Lemons

The WSJ reports:

As frustrated as advertisers may be with Facebook  these days, a bigger challenge may be finding a suitable alternative.

Whether many will actually try to do so remains the $55 billion question. That is what Wall Street currently expects Facebook to generate in advertising revenue this year. It is a big number that also happens to be 37% higher than what the company generated in ad sales last year. For comparison’s sake, Google’s ad business was growing about half as fast when it was the same size.

Perhaps most notable is that the majority of analysts haven’t brought down their projections for Facebook’s ad business even as controversy has engulfed the company over the last two weeks. Many instead are taking a wait-and-see approach. Questions over Facebook’s handling of user data has sparked an online campaign to #DeleteFacebook. But little is known now about whether that is having any effect. Facebook’s next quarterly report—likely about a month from now—will be the first real opportunity to see if users are fleeing or largely sticking around.

In the latter case, most advertisers likely will too. As controversial as Facebook may be right now, its scale and reach make the platform unique among advertising channels. The social network ranked highest in terms of return on investment among online advertising platforms in a survey by RBC Capital Markets. Interestingly, most of the survey took place in the latter half of March as the negative headlines about Facebook piled up. RBC analyst Mark Mahaney noted that Facebook even managed to edge out Alphabet Inc.’s Google for the top ranking for the first time.

(click here to continue reading Why Advertisers Won’t Rush to Unfriend Facebook – WSJ.)

Cash rules everything around me…

Facebook plans on riding out this wave of bad PR, just as they have in the past. As long as people continue to use Facebook, and willingly be the product that is sold to advertisers, Facebook will continue profiting off your clicks. 

Google Express
Google Express

As Vox writer Matthew Yglesias notes, Google collects as much or more information on us, yet they in return give something useful. Google search is the best search engine, usually, and Gmail is a good, free mail. What does Facebook offer in return for selling your data? A place to share photos of your children? A place to argue about politics? Why can’t that be done in the same way it was done before Facebook? The main selling point of Facebook is that it has a built-in audience for your content. But is it really worth it? Maybe because I’m a cynical Gen-Xer who wrote most of my college papers on a typewriter, but I wouldn’t miss Facebook if it vanished, especially if Twitter survived. I’m comfortable emailing people, if I needed to communicate with them. Maybe this sucky blog would start to get decent traffic again? 

Vox:

 

That Facebook’s relentless growth threatens the existence of news organizations is something that should make the architects of that relentless growth feel bad about themselves. They are helping to erode public officials’ accountability, foster public ignorance, and degrade the quality of American democracy.

 

Google, of course, poses similar threats to the journalism ecosystem through its own digital advertising industry. But Googlers can also make a strong case that Google makes valuable contributions to the information climate. I learn useful, real information via Google every day. And while web search is far from a perfect technology, Google really does usually surface accurate, reliable information on the topics you search for. Facebook’s imperative to maximize engagement, by contrast, lands it in an endless cycle of sensationalism and nonsense.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The case against Facebook – Vox.)

Remember ideas become things
Remember, ideas become things.

Facebook is actually bad for our media infrastructure, the media infrastructure which is an essential pillar to our democracy. 

 

Meanwhile, Facebook is destroying the business model for outlets that make real news.

 Facebook critics in the press are often accused of special pleading, of hatred of a company whose growing share of the digital advertising pie is a threat to our business model. This is, on some level, correct.

The answer to the objection, however, is that special pleaders on behalf of journalism are correct on the merits. Not all businesses are created equal. Cigarette companies poison their customers; journalism companies inform them.

 And traditionally, American society has recognized that reality and tried to create a viable media ecosystem. The US Postal Service has long maintained a special discount rate for periodicals to facilitate the dissemination of journalism and the viability of journalism business models. Until last fall, the Federal Communications Commission maintained rules requiring licensed local broadcast stations to maintain local news studios.

The association between Facebook and fake news is by now well-known, but the stark facts are worth repeating — according to Craig Silverman’s path-breaking analysis for BuzzFeed, the 20 highest-performing fake news stories of the closing days of the 2016 campaign did better on Facebook than the 20 highest-performing real ones.

Rumors, misinformation, and bad reporting can and do exist in any medium. But Facebook created a medium that is optimized for fakeness, not as an algorithmic quirk but due to the core conception of the platform. By turning news consumption and news discovery into a performative social process, Facebook turns itself into a confirmation bias machine — a machine that can best be fed through deliberate engineering.

In reputable newsrooms, that’s engineering that focuses on graphic selection, headlines, and story angles while maintaining a commitment to accuracy and basic integrity. But relaxing the constraint that the story has to be accurate is a big leg up — it lets you generate stories that are well-designed to be psychologically pleasing, like telling Trump-friendly white Catholics that the pope endorsed their man, while also guaranteeing that your outlet gets a scoop.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The case against Facebook – Vox.)

MES  Chicago Sun Times
MES (Chicago Sun-Times)

I like this final point:

 

 

For a better path forward, it’s worth looking at the actual life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

 

He likes to do annual personal challenges, and they are normally sensible. One year, he set about to learn Mandarin. Another year, he challenged himself to run 365 miles. He visited all 50 states and met and spoke face to face with people in each state he visited. He committed to reading a book cover to cover every two weeks.

 

This year, his challenge is to try to fix Facebook. But he ought, instead, to think harder about those other challenges and what they say about what he finds valuable in life — sustained engagement with difficult topics and ideas, physical exercise, face-to-face interaction with human beings, travel. This suggests a healthy, commonsense value system that happens to be profoundly and fundamentally at odds with the Facebook business model.

 

To simply walk away from it, shut it down, salt the earth, and move on to doing something entirely new would be an impossibly difficult decision for almost anyone. Nobody walks away from the kind of wealth and power that Facebook has let Zuckerberg accumulate. But he’s spoken frequently about his desire to wield that wealth and power for good. And while there are a lot of philanthropists out there who could donate to charities, there’s only one person who can truly “fix” Facebook by doing away with it.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The case against Facebook – Vox.)

 

If Zuckerberg did this, he’d become a hero to many, and for sure would be immortal in the business school textbooks… 

Written by Seth Anderson

March 30th, 2018 at 10:15 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,