Huh. Well, at first blush, this seems like good news…
High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users.
The decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday comes in a case about rules applying to a doctrine known as net neutrality, which prohibit broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers.
Those rules, created by the Federal Communications Commission in early 2015, started a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses.
The court’s decision upholds the F.C.C. on the declaration of broadband as a utility, the most significant aspect of the rules. That has broad-reaching implications for web and telecommunications companies and signals a shift in the government’s view of broadband as a service that should be equally accessible to all Americans, rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision.
Modernization of technology is not always the most urgent task: sometimes the newest innovations are more trouble than they are worth. But as time passes, older technologies become harder to maintain and find parts for. I speak from experience, as my office has an older computer kept around just to run legacy software that has been defunct for about ten years. Not ideal, but I realize eventually, I won’t be able to rebuild the old computer without learning how to solder and program.
The US government has a much greater budget than my humble office, yet doesn’t seem concerned that the nuclear arsenal is controlled by floppy-disk era computers, and even more ancient COBOL routines.
The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon. In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.
GAO says its estimate of at least $80 billion spent on information technology in 2015 is probably low. Not counted were certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.
The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office.
“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.
Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act.
Unclear. Right, meaning, Congress has no intention of doing anything between now and election time, other than demagogue and raise money.
Computer Repair LED
America’s nuclear arsenal depends on a surprising relic of the 1970s that few of us may recall: the humble floppy disk.
It’s hard to believe these magnetic, 8-inch data storage devices are what’s propping up the most fearsome weapons humanity has ever created. But the Department of Defense is still relying on this technology to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report.
The floppy disks help run what’s known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, an important communications network that the Pentagon uses to issue launch orders to commanders and to share intelligence. And in order to use the floppy disks, the military must also maintain a collection of IBM Series/1 computers that to most people would look more at home in a museum than in a missile silo.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the military’s reliance on seemingly archaic tech: back in 2014, the U.S. Air Force showed CBS’s “60 Minutes” one of the top-secret floppy disks that helps it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites. So to hear from the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon has still not phased out the technology – and doesn’t plan to until the end of fiscal year 2017 – is remarkable.
For the record, here are some of the systems we are spending $80,000,000,000 a year on:
Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:
— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.
— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.
— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.
— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, faces challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.
— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information regulators rely on. The system is about 41 years old, and vendors no longer support some of its software, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.
Modestly useful change – there are certainly times when conversations are terse because of this.
A week after Bloomberg reported that Twitter was getting ready to relax its rules for what counts against your 140-character limit, the company is confirming the move today. Soon, photos and video won’t be included in that tally, freeing up more space for those witty quips. What’s more, usernames in replies won’t count against the limit either, and you’ll be able to retweet or quote your own posts. You know, just in case you need to remind everyone of that hot take you had a few months back.
When sending a tweet to someone you want all of your followers to see, you’ll no longer need to include a period or some other punctuation in front of their username. With the changes to the character limits, all tweets that begin with a Twitter handle will be seen by everyone who follows you by default. Despite the rumblings last week, regular ol’ links still count towards that 140-character allotment. CEO Jack Dorsey explained that these changes are the latest in an attempt to make the social network “simpler.”
Don’t know if it will “save” Twitter or not, but we’ll see.
I’m also glad Twitter didn’t go as far as first reported: that tweets could suddenly become novels…
The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment. It’s a step in a larger plan to give users more flexibility on the site. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said in January that the company was looking for new ways to display text on Twitter, and would experiment based on how people use the service. For example, some people tweet screenshots of longer text in articles, or send many tweets one after the other to tell a story. Twitter’s 140-character limit was originally adopted because it was a way to send Tweets while fitting all the information within a mobile text message — a common way for sending Tweets when the service debuted in 2006, before the proliferation of smartphones.
The company earlier this year considered raising the limit to as many as 10,000 characters. But the quick, concise nature of Tweets has helped set the site apart from the competition. Executives have spent the last few months emphasizing how Twitter is a destination for live events and discussion. Removing the character requirement for links and photos may encourage users to add more media to their posts.
In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.
Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.
In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.
With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.
It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should.
Infrastructure is ignored until there is a crisis, alternatively, we could invest in the country and its workers before disaster strikes. Or money gets left unspent because Governor Rauner has a different agenda…
For the Chicago Transit Authority, for example, the lack of state capital funding has meant $1 billion in federal money may get left on the table. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last year made federal dollars available, but state matches are needed to access them.
“A capital program would be very helpful, or else those funds could be put at risk,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said. He said the money is needed for projects like the Red and Purple Line modernization, and rail and right of way improvements to prevent slow zones.
CTA needs a total of $13 billion in capital spending over the next decade to get the system in a state of good repair, Carter said.
Metra needs $11.7 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years. Because that’s a tall order, the board has made two programs top priorities — positive train control, a federally mandated computerized system to prevent train collisions, and new or rehabbed rolling stock. That would include 367 new railcars. (The agency currently has funding for 10.)
Some of Metra’s railcars are 63 years old. “They’re eligible for Medicare in a couple of years,” joked Metra CEO Don Orseno ruefully.
Besides new cars and locomotives, Orseno said Metra needs a better maintenance schedule for its old ones. Walking around a big, barnlike rail repair facility on 49th Street last week, Orseno and Metra capital projects manager Lexie Walker showed how cars are stripped down and rebuilt — with new floors, seats, toilets, air conditioning, outlets for plugging in laptops and wheelchairs, plus new wheels and brakes.
The Poem Remained Too Short
What about roads, you ask? They are as neglected, with no positive news forthcoming:
[Illinois] cannot afford to keep up the roads it has now. One of the pressing needs for the Illinois Department of Transportation is a rebuild of the aging and congested Eisenhower Expressway, similar to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan in 2007, said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit focused on regional growth.
“Money for that project isn’t even on the radar,” Skosey said.
He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.
Skosey noted that closed roads and bridges lead to gridlock, which already costs the region $7 billion a year. On an individual level, bad roads cost the average Illinois driver $400 to $800 a year in car repairs.
Speaking of infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers have released their latest “Failure To Act” report, and predictably, it isn’t the lead story in corporate media’s front pages and opening moments. But it should be, because we all pay the costs affiliated with ignoring our infrastructure deficiencies…
Isiah J. Poole writes:
But something that is costing each American family on average $3,400 a year is worth at least a few minutes of discussion – especially in the context of this Trump-besotted presidential campaign.
That is the money that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said in its latest “Failure to Act” report that each US household is losing “each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.”
Not adequately investing in infrastructure is costing the economy more than three times more than what it would cost to bring these systems up to a state of good repair. Seen another way, each family pays a $3,400 annual tax for what federal, state and local governments don’t spend to properly maintain and expand our transportation, water and electricity networks.
Closing the investment gap between what we’re spending now on the range of infrastructure needs – from roads and bridges to airports and waterways – and what we should be spending between now and 2025 would take about $1.4 trillion, the ASCE says. The cost of not spending that money, according to the ASCE? Almost $4 trillion. With that loss comes the loss of 2.5 million jobs.
Likewise, consider the plight of people who rely on public transportation. According to the report, more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail cars are in marginal or poor condition. The average transit bus has been on the road since Bill Clinton was president. Washington’s Metro system, whose recent troubles have gotten national attention, is suffering a lot of self-inflicted wounds, but one of its problems is that it is still running cars that were on the system when it opened in 1976.
from the ASCE report (which you can download in PDF form if you are curious or sanguine):
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which grades the current state of national infrastructure categories on a scale of A through F.
Since 1998, America’s infrastructure has earned persistent D averages, and the failure to close the investment gap with needed maintenance and improvements has continued. When the next Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is released in 2017, it will provide an updated look at the state of our infrastructure conditions, but the larger question at stake is the implication of D+ infrastructure on America’s economic future.
The Failure to Act report series answers this key question — how does the nation’s failure to act to improve the condition of U.S. infrastructure systems affect the nation’s economic performance? In 2011 and 2012, ASCE released four Failure to Act reports in a series covering 10 infrastructure sectors that are critical to the economic prosperity of the U.S.
These reports were followed by a fifth, comprehensive final report, Failure to Act: The Impact of Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Future, which addressed the aggregate economic impact of failing to act in more than one sector. The purpose was to provide an aggregate analysis of the economic implications for the U.S. of continuing its current investment trends in multiple infrastructure categories. Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future is an update to the Failure to Act comprehensive report; it addresses the current infrastructure gaps between today’s needs and investment and how they will affect the future productivity of industries, national competitiveness, and future costs to households.
We talk about infrastructure a lot on this humble blog, but conceptually, the word infrastructure encompasses so much more than just sewer pipes and bridges. Updated electric grids, high speed internet access for all, and other digital infrastructures are key to a prosperous future, and our current government clings to out-dated models and resists change.
The U.S. needs to embed digital technologies into existing infrastructure to take advantage of new economic opportunities, a tech industry think tank said Monday, but outdated regulations, security concerns, a lack of public funding and a small pool of tech-savvy workers may hinder progress.
More digital infrastructure, including “hybridized” infrastructure that involves some mix of physical and digital features, can ultimately cut costs, create jobs and improve overall quality of life, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a recent report. Smart water meters, for example, could be used to measure consumption and quality while using real-time data processing to help utilities detect leaks before they happen.
New technologies can also be applied to roads, planes, trains and other systems used to transport goods, people and information. Digital roadway infrastructure, including electronic toll collection and smart traffic lights, could help reduce congestion and fuel consumption and increase travel speeds, boosting overall productivity. It could also enable vehicle-to-infrastructure communications as driverless cars and other autonomous vehicles hit the road.
The foundation made a number of recommendations for policymakers, including:
Policymakers should create ‘digital-friendly’ regulations. Current policies are often characterized by overlapping mandates and conflicting goals, ITIF said. And while deployment of some smart meters has increased, governments haven’t yet approved them to use dynamic pricing or other features. “There is a need to modernize existing regulations to reflect significant changes in technology advances and leading industry practices.”
Each state and federal agency that influences infrastructure should create a strategy for speeding the transition to digital infrastructures.
Increase funding. ITIF suggests Congress enact a “Cement & Chips” funding approach that directs no less than 5% – or about $2.5 billion — of the Highway Trust Fund allocated to states to be devoted to digital infrastructure projects. National governments also need to “take a proactive role in creating national data and software systems that can easily be used across the nation,” the report said.
Privacy and security concerns shouldn’t slow deployments. “Rather government should work with the private sector to ensure that public policies support privacy and security in ways that enable innovation” and create value for society.
I’m surprised that merchants haven’t stepped up their transition to chip-cards, especially now that the issuing banks are no longer responsible for fraud. All of our credit cards have chips in them, even some store-issued cards.
For millions of merchants that haven’t yet met the credit-card industry’s deadline for accepting more secure plastic, the bill is coming due.
As of last October, retailers who didn’t make the transition to chip cards are on the hook for counterfeit transactions that used to be covered by card-issuing banks. The costs of the fraud, known in the industry as chargebacks, are starting to stack up.
The credit-card industry and retailers battled for a decade over rolling out chip cards, which are more secure but also require new payment terminals and take more time at checkout. The balance tipped against retailers after a spate of cyberattacks hit major chains such as Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc. and compromised millions of cards.
Target, Home Depot and some other large merchants, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are now processing chip transactions, but there are still plenty that haven’t installed the new equipment and are for the first time facing sizable costs for counterfeit transactions.
Financial institutions have been issuing the new cards to customers for more than a year, but just 22% of retailers are able to process them, according to a survey released last month by Boston Retail Partners. Another 53% of the merchants in the survey planned to install the systems within the next 12 months.
Some of them didn’t want to install the new equipment before the busy holiday shopping season and have been surprised to discover that there is a long wait to get it certified, according to payments executives and merchants.
I wonder if lawyers for various merchants are considering making consumers responsible? Or what really is the hold up? Boggles the mind that only 1/5 of the retailers have converted their credit-card accepting machines. This isn’t a new thing, sprung without warning. The change has occurred over years…
Credit Card Fraud – all charges eventually reversed by my bank…
Technology used to reduce energy use – seems like a good idea. Why isn’t this technique being used everywhere?
American hotels have long resisted key cards or other energy-saving systems. Energy was cheap, and hoteliers feared that guests, who routinely left their rooms with the lights and air-conditioner on, would see any check on their energy use as an inconvenience.
Hotel guests “have a feeling that they paid for the space and they can use it freely, and there’s a natural tendency not to be too conscious of their energy use,” said Brian Carberry, a director of product management for Leviton Manufacturing Company, of Melville, N.Y., which makes key card switches and other energy-saving devices for hotels.
But the aversion of hoteliers in the United States is slowly shifting as Americans have become more energy conscious and more states and municipalities have adopted rigorous building codes for energy use.
In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, 29 percent of hotels surveyed by the American Hotel and Lodging Association had a sensor system in guest rooms to control the temperature, compared with less than 20 percent in 2004; and more than 75 percent had switched to LED lighting, up from less than 20 percent. Other energy-saving measures had also been more widely adopted.
Energy costs typically represent 4 to 6 percent of a hotel’s overall operating expenses, with the largest share for heating and air-conditioning.
Many major hotels in the United States have digitally controlled thermostats to monitor the temperature in guest rooms, said Pat Maher, a retired Marriott executive who is a consultant to hotels on energy management.
And a growing number, he said, have installed sophisticated systems that sense when a room is occupied. When a hotel guest enters a room, the device allows the temperature to be manually controlled within a certain range — from 60 to 80 degrees, for example — and then sets it back into an energy-saving mode when the room is vacant again.
Mr. Maher said such a system could save a hotel 20 percent or more in energy costs. And many utility companies, he noted, now offer rebates to hotels that have installed digital thermostats and other energy management devices.
I fail to see the downside to this idea, other than the hotel’s investment in the new technology, but even that seems like it would be recouped sooner than later. Would you really care if the lights were off when you entered your hotel room? And the air-conditioning wasn’t cranked to 63ºF? I wouldn’t.
Anyway, this is the part of Hillary Clinton’s mind that irks me and many others who want to be able to vote for her in the general election. Rather than tell West Virginians the truth that coal is the energy source of the past, not the future, Ms. Clinton apologized for speaking the truth in front of a different audience.
Voters in Appalachian coal country will not soon forget that Democrat Hillary Clinton told an Ohio audience in March that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
“It was a devastating thing for her to say,” said Betty Dolan, whose diner in this mountain hamlet offers daily testament to the ravages that mining’s demise has visited upon families whose livelihood depends on coal.
Mine closures, bankruptcies and layoffs are staples of lunchtime conversation for those who have not fled town in search of work. Like many fellow Democrats in the region, Dolan, 73, favors Republican Donald Trump for president, however rude he might seem to the proprietor of a no-frills restaurant known for its graham cracker pie.
“I’m going to go for the person who wants coal,” she said.
front-running Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton in West Virginia, where a pledge the former U.S. secretary of state made two months ago to kill coal miners’ jobs in favor of renewable energy continues to haunt her.…She had added that she doesn’t intend to abandon workers “who did the best they could to produce the energy we relied on” and apologized directly last week to an out-of-work foreman who confronted her in Williamson, West Virginia, but the general sentiment hasn’t played well in coal country.
“That was really a devastating comment,” said Robert DiClerico, a professor emeritus of political science at West Virginia University. He said he believes Clinton’s remark more than any other factor has boosted Sanders.
Solar Panels – Chicago Center for Green Technology
Mining coal is not even that big of a part of the Appalachian economy! 5% or something close to that per Wikipedia – $3.5 billion / $63.34 billion = approximately 5.5%
[West Virginia] has a projected nominal GDP of $63.34 billion in 2009 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis report of November 2010…Coal is one of the state’s primary economic resources, first discovered in the state in 1742. The industry employs 30,000 West Virginians directly, resulting in $2 billion in wages and a $3.5 billion economic impact
In other words, coal is not that big of a slice of West Virginia’s current economy, more important for intangible reasons, like “optics”, and “tradition”, and “tradition” and other empty words. Ms. Clinton shouldn’t worry about putting coal miners out of business, she ought to suggest re-education programs to train coal extraction employees to work in solar and wind and other alternative energy fields instead! They get to keep being productive members of the 21st Century, and we make advances towards ameliorating global climate change.
Instead, she said this:
The exchange during a visit to a health center in Williamson, West Virginia, highlighted the challenge Democrats will face in November winning over working-class voters in states where that have lost jobs in manufacturing and mining.
“I don’t mind anybody being upset or angry” about the struggles of the industry, its workers and their families, Clinton said. “That’s a perfect right for people to feel that way. I do feel a little bit sad and sorry that I gave folks the reason and the excuse to be so upset with me because that is not what I intended at all.”
“I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context from what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time,” she responded at the start of several minutes of back-and-forth with Copley. “I understand the anger and I understand the fear and I understand the disappointment that is being expressed.”
and also, most maddening, Hillary Clinton’s pandering is not even necessary – West Virginia is not going to suddenly vote for a Democrat in the general election! They are a reliable Republican state!
David Myers, an out-of-work miner, echoed the profanity Trump has repeatedly used on Twitter to repudiate global warming. Like Trump, Myers and others in coal country say misguided plans to stop it are costing jobs.
“A man of my caliber should be able to get a job in a blink of an eye, but there’s no jobs to be had,” said Myers, 49, who wore miner coveralls to Trump’s rally.
Trump has dismissed global warming as a “canard,” “hoax” and “total con job,” citing cold weather snaps as evidence.
On the day of Obama’s 2012 reelection, Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” In September, he told CNN, “I don’t believe in climate change.”
update: both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton already have retraining proposals, fwiw:
“We just don’t want to be forgotten,” said Betty Dolin, who co-owns a restaurant in Danville, about 20 miles southwest of Charleston, where customers tucked into hearty meals like meatloaf and country fried steak with gravy.
She pointed out the empty tables that would once have been filled. “We can’t have coal? Bring us something else,” she said. “And I don’t mean job training. A lot of these men are too old to train for another job.”
Presidential primaries tend to bring attention to local issues as candidates move from state to state, and as the candidates have come to West Virginia to campaign, coal has been no exception.
“These communities need help,” Mr. Sanders said last week at a food bank in McDowell County. “It is not the coal miners’ fault in terms of what’s happening in this world.”
In some ways, Mr. Sanders is not a natural candidate to be courting the votes of coal miners: He is outspoken on climate change and advocates moving away from fossil fuels. But his message of economic fairness has been embraced by white, working-class voters.
Joe Atkins, chief executive officer of Bowers & Wilkins, has owned a majority stake in the half-century-old British speaker business for the last 30 years. On Tuesday, he plans to tell his 1,100 employees that he’s selling it to a tiny company that almost no one has heard of, run by a man he met just 30 days ago. Over the weekend, Atkins reached a sale agreement with Eva Automation, a 40-person Silicon Valley startup that hasn’t yet sold a single product or service. The company was started in 2014 by Gideon Yu, a former Facebook Inc. chief financial officer, ex-venture capitalist, and current co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Yu has said little about his startup. According to the company’s website, it is “making products that will change how people interact and think about the home.” About a quarter of its employees have worked at Apple, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Bowers & Wilkins became a household name before speaker companies had to distinguish themselves through Spotify integrations and voice recognition capability. While Bowers & Wilkins does sell speakers designed to accommodate people used to listening to music through their smartphones, Atkins acknowledges that his company lacks the expertise needed to build software that communicates with cloud services. Any company that wants to sell speakers at a significant premium would need to integrate high-end hardware with sophisticated software. Yu plans to begin selling new products that incorporate Eva’s work by early to mid-2017.
Speaking of privacy and technology, Wired Magazine’s Mark McClusky boasted to Ad Age that everything is going great with their ad blocker gambit.
Ad Blockers – Wired
In early February, Condé Nast’s Wired took a stand against the rise of ad-blocking technology, which was being used on more than 20% of visits to the magazine’s website. It gave ad-blocking Wired readers two options: whitelist Wired.com, allowing ads to be served as intended, or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of the site. “We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content,” Wired said in a note to readers at the time, “but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.”
Nearly three months in, Wired Head of Product and Business Development Mark McClusky pronounced himself pleased with the early returns.
“Overall, it’s going great,” he told Ad Age. “We’ve exceeded sort of our hopes and expectations in terms of the performance.” “The uptake in whitelisting has exceeded our expectation, the subscriptions have gone better than we projected, the abandon rate has been lower than we projected,” he said.
Here’s the thing: in general, I support magazines and news organizations desire to stay solvent, in fact going as far as to give subscription dollars to several of them1 including even for a long time, to Wired Magazine. But the print edition of Wired was somewhere around $12 a year – by their new model, they want to charge me $52 a year to read their content.
OVER THE PAST several years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of people using ad-blocking software in their web browser. We have certainly seen a growth in those numbers here at WIRED, where we do all we can to write vital stories for an audience that’s passionate about the ongoing adventure of our rapidly changing world.
On an average day, more than 20 percent of the traffic to WIRED.com comes from a reader who is blocking our ads. We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content, but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.
We know that there are many reasons for running an ad blocker, from simply wanting a faster, cleaner browsing experience to concerns about security and tracking software. We want to offer you a way to support us while also addressing those concerns.
Therefore, we have restricted access to articles on WIRED.com if you are using an ad blocker.
In other words, Wired wants me to agree to sell my data to these corporations in exchange for reading an article about Adblock Plus. I don’t know each of these entities, but I’m guessing most2 don’t only report to Wired – they sell the data they’ve accumulated to multiple parties. And they don’t give me any slice of the revenue.
Hmm, on balance, I’ll keep my $52, and I’ll stop clicking through to Wired articles. Sounds fair.
Tidbits.com, NYT, WSJ, Chicago Tribune, The Nation, Harpers, etc. etc. [↩]
This sucky blog’s editor1 has assigned Tuesday’s topic as technology. Like all good topics, that’s a bit vague, there are lots of threads that can be collected here.
Don’t Worry – Keep Shopping…
We’ve discussed the weird state of consumer data many times, where companies such as Acxiom and thousands of others collect every scrap of information about us they possibly can, by whatever method, and then sell it to marketers. Our data, our habits, our propensities, but their profits. Seems like a bum deal, for consumers.
So when I read the headline on this Fast Company article, I got interested. The headline and sub-head reads:
This Startup Lets Users “Sell” Their Own Shopping Data InfoScout’s apps sell their users’ shopping data to marketers—and give those users a cut.
but that is not quite truthful. Or at least, InfoScout isn’t selling shopping data in a manner I was hoping. No, they mean that if you willingly give InfoScout information about your shopping trips by photographing/scanning your receipts, they’ll drop a few pennies in your cup now and again. If you are lucky.
San Francisco-based InfoScout offers a set of smartphone apps that lets users snap pictures of shopping receipts in exchange for incentives like credit card-style reward points and sweepstakes entries. The company digitizes the receipts with a mix of optical character recognition and crowdsourced help from services such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Then it bundles that purchase information into reports it offers to companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, letting them see how consumer preferences evolve over time and how discounts and promotions affect sales.
“Our ability to provide these insights back to the brands in near real time, literally within days, is something they’ve never had before,” claims CEO Jared Schrieber, who cofounded InfoScout in 2011.
Schrieber says that while brands can get some data from programs like supermarket reward card programs, those usually only track customer activity at one particular retail company.
“We’re not trying to change what people buy,” Schrieber says. “We’re just trying to observe it.”
The company says it has collected data on more than 100 million shopping trips and is processing about 300,000 receipts per day. Users can of course choose not to scan receipts that include purchases they find embarrassing, but Schrieber says many just upload every receipt, so the apps gather quite a bit of data about sensitive purchases, such as condoms and feminine hygiene products. Ultimately, what type of purchase information users feel is worth trading for a few cents or a sweepstakes entry is up to them.
Users can participate anonymously or receive additional rewards for linking the app to their Facebook profiles, answering demographic questions, or taking occasional surveys.
InfoScout is not even alone in using this model. I recently saw a presentation that included mention of Ibotta– a smartphone app where consumers photograph their receipt and theoretically get future coupons. Or rebates, whatever.
1. Download the App Download the Ibotta app, available on iOS and Android. The app is required to submit a receipt.
2. Unlock Rebates Before you go shopping, unlock cash rewards on great products by completing simple tasks.
3. Go Shopping Buy the products you’ve unlocked at any supported store.
4. Verify Your Purchases Scan your product barcodes, then submit a photo of your receipt.
If you jump through the hoops in precisely the correct way, you may get a few pennies. According to some internet complainers, Ibotta mostly uses the small print to avoid paying out.
I read about IBOTTA on Facebook and decided to try it out. Downloading the app was easy and the instructions were straight forward. Two days ago I wend grocery shopping and decided to use the app for rebates on bread, milk and eggs – all of which were on my shopping list and I was shopping at a listed store. When I returned home I scanned the items as requested by the app and took a picture of the receipt. All items were accepted. Today I received an email stating that my account had been deactivated because of fraud. From what I understand I am being deactivated for taking a picture of the same receipt. Well, duh..I bought the items at the same time, so they would be on the same receipt. No where in the instructions does it say that you have to have a separate receipt for each item purchased. Plus you are going to spend more time sorting out your groceries and paying for each item separately – not worth the money they say they will pay you.
I downloaded the app and it isn’t terribly hard to figure out. Verified the items and got the approval for receipt. All fine. Now when it comes to actually getting paid, all that happens is a notice on the site saying “working on the site”. Seems everything works that makes them money but nothing works where they pay money.
I am guessing they are out of cash and so just stick this sign up to avoid the real issue.
I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself, is willingly giving corporations intimate shopping data about you and your family worth a few pennies? Your data is much more valuable to them – building smartphone apps and Point-of-Sale and coupon redemption infrastructure is not cheap. A corporation wouldn’t invest millions unless it was worth it to their bottom line.
Not This Store
I’m still waiting for one of the companies that Ghostery tracks to start offering me a real cut of the sale of my data, I’d whitelist their tracking cookie, and they would pay me a percentage every month. Ha! Zero is a percent…