Facebook’s Virtual Assistant M Is Dead. So Are Chatbots

Erin Griffith:

In some respects it’s impressive that Facebook kept M running as long as it did. Despite the hype, M, which lived in Facebook Messenger, was presented as an experiment. The free service was only offered to 10,000 people in the San Francisco area, who used it to do things like book restaurant reservations, change flights, send gifts, and wait on hold with customer service. For those that had access, M was a fantastic perk. But for Facebook, it was a cost center.

That’s because most of the tasks fulfilled by M required people. Facebook’s goal with M was to develop artificial-intelligence technology that could automate almost all of M’s tasks. But despite Facebook’s vast engineering resources, M fell short: One source familiar with the program estimates M never surpassed 30 percent automation. Last spring, M’s leaders admitted the problems they were trying to solve were more difficult than they’d initially realized.

Tech’s New Hotbeds: Cities With Fastest Growth In STEM Jobs Are Far From Silicon Valley

Joel Kotkin:

The third tech turning, now in its infancy, promises greater dispersion to other markets, some with strong tech backgrounds, some with far less. In the last two years, according to numbers for the country’s 53 largest metros compiled by Praxis Strategy Group’s Mark Schill based on federal data and EMSI’s fourth-quarter 2017 data set, the STEM growth leader has been Orlando, at 8%, three times the national average. Next are San Francisco and Charlotte (each at 7%); Grand Rapids, Michigan (6%); and then Salt Lake City, Tampa, Seattle, Raleigh, Miami and Las Vegas (5%).

On Google’s AMP

ampletter:

We are a community of individuals who have a significant interest in the development and health of the World Wide Web (“the Web”), and we are deeply concerned about Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”), a Google project that purportedly seeks to improve the user experience of the Web.

In fact, AMP keeps users within Google’s domain and diverts traffic away from other websites for the benefit of Google. At a scale of billions of users, this has the effect of further reinforcing Google’s dominance of the Web.

$76B to “nudge” shoppers

Sarah Nassauer:

Most retailers still see digital advertising as a growing focus of their spending, and many continue to cut back on traditional print ads as well as mailers. But more are also experimenting with new ways to send out deals on paper, sometimes mining online behavior or databases of shopper trends to improve their so-called junk mail.

PebblePost, a New York City marketer, uses online browsing and buying data from retailers and brands to send relevant coupons and ads to homes within a few days. For example, it might send a printed offer for free shipping if a shopper browsed a site without buying, said Lewis Gersh, chief executive of the firm.

At Jet.com, the e-commerce site that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. bought in 2016, direct mail makes up 10% of the media budget and is the online retailer’s largest offline marketing expense. Jet sent around 35 million paper coupons and mailers last year, which are effective in reaching new and repeat shoppers as the company tries to attract more urban, affluent shoppers, said Emily Frankel, senior director of digital marketing.

Annual spending on newspaper circulars, coupons, direct mail and catalogs hit about $76 billion in 2017, slightly lower than the previous year but up 85% versus 2012, according to Borrell Associates, a media consulting firm. The firm expects spending on some forms of mailed ads to fall as the U.S. Postal Service raises rates in coming years, said Kip Cassino, executive vice president at Borrell.

Experiences First

BBC:

“Millennials would rather put their money into experiences than consumer goods,” she says.

“They’d rather spend their money on something that’s going to bring a memory – or a Snapchat photo – than a car, or a new couch.”

That theory is supported by Elijah. When he opened his present, his girlfriend said: “I know you like experiences more than material things.”

It’s also backed up by Asia Jones, a 20-year-old from Maryland.

Ad-tech firm Criteo likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth after Apple blocked ‘pervasive’ tracking on web browser Safari

Alex Hern:

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Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.

With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Is it possible to beat Google?

Mark Nuzzilo:

Not only is it possible, but it is becoming more and more likely to happen soon.

The reason it hasn’t happened yet is because nobody has applied the correct strategy yet. I do not think it would take heroic feats of execution, given the right strategy. In order to compete with Google’s strategy, or understand why it can be beaten in the first place, it is helpful to understand it:

Despite Google’s profits, talent, and maturity, the number of ways a user can possibly search for something is very limited. The way that Google Search presents results to the user, given an input query, is also out of the user’s hands. The user, no matter how savvy, cannot instruct Google to use a different kind of search algorithm. Nor can the user see the details of the algorithm that is chosen for them, as it is a highly guarded trade secret.

This is of course a deliberate choice on Google’s part. There are a few reasons, in my opinion, why Google’s strategy is successful:

Thousands of major sites are taking silent anti-ad-blocking measures

Devin Coldewey :

It’s no secret that ad blockers are putting a dent in advertising-based business models on the web. This has produced a range of reactions, from relatively polite whitelisting asks (TechCrunch does this) to dynamic redeployment of ads to avoid blocking. A new study finds that nearly a third of the top 10,000 sites on the web are taking ad blocking countermeasures, many silent and highly sophisticated.
 
 Seeing the uptick in anti-ad-blocking tech, University of Iowa and UC Riverside researchers decided to perform a closer scrutiny (PDF) of major sites than had previously been done. Earlier estimates, based largely on visible or obvious anti-ad-blocking means such as pop-ups or broken content, suggested that somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of popular sites were doing this — but the real number seems to be an order of magnitude higher.
 
 The researchers visited thousands of sites multiple times, with and without ad-blocking software added to the browser. By comparing the final rendered code of the page for blocking browsers versus non-blocking browsers, they could see when pages changed content or noted the presence of a blocker, even if they didn’t notify the user.

Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–June 2017

Stephen J. Blumberg, Ph.D., and Julian V. Luke :

Preliminary results from the January–June 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that the number of American homes with only wireless telephones continues to grow. More than one-half of American homes (52.5%) had only wireless telephones (also known as cellular telephones, cell phones, or mobile phones) during the first half of 2017—an increase of 3.2 percentage points since the first half of 2016. Nearly three-quarters of all adults aged 25-34 were living in wireless-only households; more than two-thirds (70.7%) of adults renting their homes were living in wireless-only households. This report presents the most up-to-date estimates available from the federal government concerning the size and characteristics of this population.

The Digital Advertising Duopoly

Fred Wilson:

We have a digital advertising duopoly.
 
 The difference between second and third place is massive.
 
 I don’t want nor do I expect any governmental response to this market failure.
 
 I want to see the technology industry adopt new approaches to monetization, ideally not attention based models, to combat this.
 
 I don’t think subscriptions are the only answer here, as many do.
 
 We need models that support free consumption of media for many reasons.

Apple Wins 2017 Smartphone Holiday Season

Chris Klotzbach & Lali Kesiraju:

2017 was another marquee year for smartphone sales and innovation with the introduction and evolution of manufacturers’ flagship devices, such as Apple’s iPhone X, Google’s Pixel 2, and Samsung’s Galaxy S8. With more consumer options than ever before, Flurry took a look at the most gifted smartphones and tablets around the globe this holiday season, examining activations throughout the week leading up to Christmas day and the end of Chanukah. Flurry Analytics, part of Oath, is used by over 1M mobile apps and has insight into 2.1 billion devices worldwide.

The Beginning of a Big Tech Backlash?

David Dayen:

The Beginning of a Backlash
 
 “I think you do enormous good … but your power sometimes scares me,” said Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana in October to the general counsels of Facebook, Google, and Twitter at the first major congressional hearing on Big Tech in years. The topic was Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, but the testimony illuminated the platforms’ domination of large parts of American life, without any interest in managing that control. Malign actors could so easily penetrate platform defenses because there weren’t any. Facebook has five million advertisers at any one time; it couldn’t possibly vet them if it tried.
 
 Furthermore, tech firms have no incentive to interfere with the source of so much revenue. That’s why ProPublica could list discriminatory rental housing ads excluding races and ethnicities in 2016, and then again in 2017, after Facebook claimed to fix the problem. That’s why Google is purging videos and disabling comments on YouTube’s predatory, sexualized user content aimed at children, but not always removing the predators’ accounts. Allowing the narrowest possible targeting and the maximum possible targets has built the most lucrative ad mechanism in history, and it generates big bucks, even if the bill is paid in rubles.
 
 The hearings were important more for their explanatory power than for the technicalities of election integrity. “The end of the story is not Russia hacking the election, but that gross harm exists,” says Marshall Steinbaum, research director at the Roosevelt Institute. It filled out the picture on these platforms, whose operations we understand as much as the proverbial blind man feeling around an elephant. “We need to make sure that the public fully understands the scope of the problem we face, and how it could be dramatically worse, given the speed at which these companies are growing,” says Lina Khan, legal policy director at the Open Markets Institute.
 
 We don’t know how our data is handled. We don’t know how algorithms nudge us into certain apps or products. We don’t even have a confirmed figure of Amazon Prime memberships (recent estimates range between 52 million and 85 million households). There are nearly 270 million fake and duplicate accounts on Facebook, a number they quietly updated only in November.
 
 Platforms like Google have invested heavily in the academic research establishment. The search giant has funded around 100 public research papers since 2009, with up to $400,000 in seed money for each, according to data from The Wall Street Journal. Most of the research papers failed to disclose Google’s funding; Google even gives notes on the studies before they get published. This academic payola tilts the debate about how these businesses work, and in whose interest.

The All-American Aldi The no-frills grocery chain is a perfect example of spare, unfriendly German efficiency. The All-American Aldi The no-frills grocery chain is a perfect example of spare, unfriendly German efficiency.

Nora Battelle:

Aldi, a German company with outposts across Europe, has quietly become one one of the biggest grocery chains in the US. Since it first opened its doors in Iowa in 1976, it has established 1,600 locations across the nation. Over the next five years, it announced in June, that number will jump to 2,500, putting its reach alongside that of Walmart and Krogers. The grocer is throwing itself head first into the American Supermarket Wars, and cranking up its numbers in a bid for dominance. But the Aldi strategy also includes a $1.6 billion investment in the renovation of existing locations: the company, after forty years in this country, is giving up its staunch disinterest in US shopping norms.
 
 Existing locations will be updated with brightened lighting, wider aisles, and expanded perishables sections. These updates all mark basic standards in American retail; introducing them is the first major concession Aldi has made to the comfortably expansive, glitteringly bright megamarkets that surround it in the US. Existing stores, pre-renovation, feel more like German warehouses than American supermarkets; the dim lighting, narrow isles, and minimal perishables sections contribute to that feeling. But the entire Aldi system is in opposition to the more-is-more Walmart ethos.
 
 In New York City, the company’s only location (for now) is on 117th on the banks of the East River. It’s five long avenue blocks from the nearest subway stop—no open-armed welcome to curious passersby here. If you are at Aldi, it’s because you needed groceries and you went out to get them, not because you were tempted in by a cute box of chocolates, or a deal posted in the window, or the warm comfort of brightly lit Christmas displays on a cold afternoon.

Apple Changes Business of Selling Your Browsing Data

Stephen Wilmot:

Online advertising is under siege from an unlikely coalition of privacy campaigners: Apple and European regulators. The only long-term solution may be for websites to be more explicit about how they make money from customer data.
 
 Citing privacy concerns, Apple launched a feature on its Safari browser in September called Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which limited the use of cookies to track users’ browsing histories. These cookies are heavily used by ad-tech companies, which maximize the value of online ads by matching…

Is SEO Opportunity Growing or Shrinking?

Rand Fishkin:

The metric of “clicks / ten search queries” helps us avoid seasonality biases and look instead at the rate of queries that lead to traffic opportunity. Here, the reality is sobering.

• The high point was the first month of the graph, November 2015
• Since then, there have been two significant declines in organic clicks/query (12/2015 and 11/2016) and one significant decline in paid clicks/query (01/2016, though it’s now nearly recovered)

• The 5.41 clicks/10 queries in October, 2017 is 23% lower than the 6.97 clicks/10 queries we had back in November, 2015. That’s a lot of lost SEO opportunity

• I haven’t yet tried to tie the drops back to noted changes in the SERPs, but I suspect the growth in featured snippets, instant answers, and knowledge panels in the results are at least partially responsible

• The growth of search volume has made up for much of the lost click opportunities, but this is a tough trend chart to see as an SEO

• That said, SEO still gets ~20X more traffic than PPC, and it doesn’t cost anything close to as much, so there’s still a massive advantage to ranking organically.

The media today: Google starts its ad-blocking purge in February

Matthew Ingraham:

If you’re a publisher that relies on digital ad revenue—and the vast majority of news sites fall into that category—you will have a new problem to worry about in February: That’s when Google starts blocking ads by default for users of its Chrome browser.
 
 The fact that Google planned to make this move was first reported earlier this year by The Wall Street Journal, but the exact timing was unknown. On Tuesday, the web giant said in a blog post that it will start blocking sites on February 15.
 
 ICYMI: People are not happy with Twitter right now
 
 The company says this is an attempt to clean up the state of online advertising, which is awash in pop-ups, interstitials, auto-playing videos, and other clutter. And it says it will only block ads that fail to meet guidelines set by the Coalition for Better Ads (of which Google is a member).
 
 The blocking also comes with a nuclear option: If a site falls below a certain threshold for bad advertising for 30 days, Google will block all of the ads on the site until it takes action to fix whatever problems have been reported.

Can Facebook and Google Be Disrupted?

Ethan Chiel:

It’s very appealing, for the drama alone, to imagine some as-yet-unknown company driving Facebook into Myspace-like obscurity, or Alphabet being broken up, or whatever scenario for the demise of one of Silicon Valley’s five dominant companies you prefer to imagine. Not just appealing but natural to do so: We have in living memory at least a dozen examples of large and successful tech companies just failing, or becoming shadows of their former selves: Myspace is a ghost town owned by Time Inc. AltaVista and Friendster are long dead. Even Yahoo! and AOL, while still technically around, have become part of whatever Verizon-owned, centaurlike creation Oath can claim to be.

This recent history of “creative destruction” is important to Silicon Valley not just for its narrative neatness — Davids that become Goliaths, only to get toppled by new Davids — but for the protective shield it provides. Why be worried about Google’s power (or Facebook’s, or Amazon’s), when they’re each a bad decision against a more nimble competitor away from irrelevance? Surely Facebook can be Facebook’d, just as Myspace was? Surely Google will someday be disrupted?

Fake-Ad Operation Used to Steal From Publishers Is Uncovered

Lara O’Reilly:

An ad-tech firm says it has discovered a large and sophisticated advertising-fraud operation in which fake websites and infected computers were used to scam advertisers and publishers out of upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.

Denmark-based Adform, identifier of the scheme, named it “Hyphbot” and estimates that it has been going on since at least August.

According to Adform, the fraudsters behind the Hyphbot scheme created more than 34,000 different domain names and more than a million different URLs, many designed to attempt to fool advertisers into thinking they were buying ad inventory from big-name publishers such as the Economist, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN. It is a tactic known in the industry as “domain spoofing.”

How often do consumers tap on mobile ads?

emarketer:

While there were some (31%) who said they sometimes click on a mobile ad, very few (10%) did so regularly.

This was the case for older consumers as well. In fact, baby boomers were the least likely to engage with mobile ads. Nearly a quarter said they never did, while another 49% said they rarely did so. Just 4% said they clicked on a mobile ad at least somewhat often.

Meanwhile, ads promoting mobile apps tell a somewhat different story. The study found that when it comes to those types of ads, consumers are more engaged than with ads in general. But even that engagement rate is declining.

Some 52% of all respondents said they intentionally clicked on a mobile ad for another app, down from 57% in 2015. And while engagement levels with mobile app ads was relatively high, only 44% of those who clicked on such an ad actually downloaded the app.

That same study from App Annie and Button also found that apps are outdoing the mobile web when it comes to the shopping preferences of US smartphone users. (Read more about that on eMarketer Retail.)

A simple theory of Moore’s Law and social media

Tyler Cowen:

1. Moore’s Law plus the internet makes smart people smarter, and stupid people less smart.

2. Manipulable people can be reached with a greater flood of information, so over time as data on them accumulate, they become more manipulable.

3. It is often easier to manipulate smart people than stupid people, because the latter may be oblivious to a greater set of cues and clues.

4. Social media bring smarter people together with the less smart more than used to be the case, Twitter more so than Facebook. Members of each group are appalled by what they experience. The smarter people see the lesser smarts of many others. The less smart people — who often are not entirely so stupid after all — can see how manipulated the smarter people are. They also see that the smarter people look down on them and attack their motives and intellects. Both groups go away thinking less of each other.

4b. The smarter people, in reacting this way, in fact are being manipulated by the (stupider) powers that be.

5. “There is a performative dimension that renders both sides more rigid and dishonest.” From a correspondent.

From Territorial to Functional Sovereignty: The Case of Amazon

Frank Pasquale:

Economists tend to characterize the scope of regulation as a simple matter of expanding or contracting state power. But a political economy perspective emphasizes that social relations abhor a power vacuum. When state authority contracts, private parties fill the gap. That power can feel just as oppressive, and have effects just as pervasive, as garden variety administrative agency enforcement of civil law. As Robert Lee Hale stated, “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

We are familiar with that power in employer-employee relationships, or when a massive firm extracts concessions from suppliers. But what about when a firm presumes to exercise juridical power, not as a party to a conflict, but the authority deciding it? I worry that such scenarios will become all the more common as massive digital platforms exercise more power over our commercial lives.

A few weeks ago, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (a think tank affiliated with the Social Democratic Party in Germany) invited me to speak at their Conference on Digital Capitalism. As European authorities develop long-term plans to address the rise of powerful platforms, they want to know: What is new, or particularly challenging, in digital capitalism?

The complex implementation of China’s Social Credit System

Merics:

The Social Credit System“ is designed to monitor and rate citizens and companies in China and to guide their behavior. „It is a wide-reaching project that touches on almost all aspects of everyday life,“ the authors Mareike Ohlberg, Bertram Lang and Shazeda Ahmed write in the new MERICS China Monitor „Central Planning, local experiments: the complex implementation of China’s Social Credit System“.

The authors analyze the current stage of the system’s implementation and they describe how it will likely function in practice. Their analysis is based on government publiations, discussions in media and social networks, as well as pilot projects.

The Future 100: 2018

J Walter Thompson:

Our annual forecast of 100 trends to watch in the coming year.

The Innovation Group presents The Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2018, our snapshot of the year ahead and the most compelling trends to keep on the radar.

Today, trends scale rapidly through technological change and digital networks. New models of commerce are causing disruption, while technology like augmented reality and 5G are transforming the internet. In food, drink and beauty, nascent trends explode in a nanosecond, thanks to social media. And marketers are navigating a sophisticated landscape where they are assessed on the nuances of their visual language and representation.

The Future 100 charts 10 emerging trends across 10 sectors, spanning marketing, culture, travel and more. Highlights include:

Culture: Intersectionality. “Intersectionality” is resurging in popular discourse—both in media outlets trying to reach the highly diverse generation Z, and among diversity chiefs developing employment practices.

Antonio Casilli: ‘Workers are the heart of the algorithm’

Roberto Ciccarelli:

Antonio Casilli, a professor at Télécom ParisTech, is considered one of the leading experts in the capitalism of digital platforms. He is known for his pioneering research on “digital labor,” refuting the apocalyptic common-sense notion that is proclaiming the end of work as such because of automation.

“We are the ones who make the robots, with our own labor,” he says. “We make the criteria according to which they operate. And then we teach them to learn how to improve. The problem is not that robots are stealing our work, but that we continue to work more and more, and that the platforms are fragmenting and rendering invisible the labor that is necessary to make the algorithms work.“

In Italy there has been a lot of discussion about the firing of two IKEA workers, Marica in Corsico and Claudio in Bari. They were fired because their lives could not fit into the algorithm that governs the workforce. Have we gone back to the 19th century?

The capitalism of digital platforms makes labor discipline more rigid, as it imposes seemingly “scientific” measurements and evaluations, which can resemble the old industrial manufacturing. The key difference is that the workers, in exchange for their submission to this discipline, are not getting the social safety and the political representation that they obtained before in exchange for their subordination. This new Taylorism has all the disadvantages and none of the old benefits. The workers are caught within a contradiction in terms: subordinate and precarious at the same time.

In China, a Three-Digit Score Could Dictate Your Place in Society

Mara Hvistendahl :

In 2015, when Lazarus Liu moved home to China after studying logistics in the United Kingdom for three years, he quickly noticed that something had changed: Everyone paid for everything with their phones. At McDonald’s, the convenience store, even at mom-and-pop restaurants, his friends in Shanghai used mobile payments. Cash, Liu could see, had been largely replaced by two smartphone apps: Alipay and WeChat Pay. One day, at a vegetable market, he watched a woman his mother’s age pull out her phone to pay for her groceries. He decided to sign up.

To get an Alipay ID, Liu had to enter his cell phone number and scan his national ID card. He did so reflexively. Alipay had built a reputation for reliability, and compared to going to a bank managed with slothlike indifference and zero attention to customer service, signing up for Alipay was almost fun. With just a few clicks he was in. Alipay’s slogan summed up the experience: “Trust makes it simple.”

Alipay turned out to be so convenient that Liu began using it multiple times a day, starting first thing in the morning, when he ordered breakfast through a food delivery app. He realized that he could pay for parking through Alipay’s My Car feature, so he added his driver’s license and license plate numbers, as well as the engine number of his Audi. He started making his car insurance payments with the app. He booked doctors’ appointments there, skipping the chaotic lines for which Chinese hospitals are famous. He added friends in Alipay’s built-in social network. When Liu went on vacation with his fiancée (now his wife) to Thailand, they paid at restaurants and bought trinkets with Alipay. He stored whatever money was left over, which wasn’t much once the vacation and car were paid for, in an Alipay money market account. He could have paid his electricity, gas, and internet bills in Alipay’s City Service section. Like many young Chinese who had become enamored of the mobile payment services offered by Alipay and WeChat, Liu stopped bringing his wallet when he left the house.

Criteo Provides An Update On Its Q4 2017 Outlook And On The Impact On Its Business From Apple’s ITP

Criteo SA

Earlier this month, Apple launched a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 11.2, which disables the solution that some companies in the advertising ecosystem, including Criteo, currently use to reach Safari users. As a result, we believe the projected 9%-13% ITP net negative impact on Criteo’s 2018 Revenue ex-TAC relative to our pre-ITP base case projections, communicated on November 1, 2017, is no longer valid.

We are focused on developing an alternative sustainable solution for the long term, built on our best-in-class user privacy standards, aligning the interests of Apple users, publishers and advertisers. This solution is still under development and its effectiveness cannot be assessed at this early stage. Should it not mitigate any ITP impact, we believe the ITP net negative impact on Criteo’s 2018 Revenue ex-TAC, relative to our pre-ITP base case projections, would become approximately 22%.

Much more on Apple’s ITP ( intelligent tracking prevention), here.

You can log out, but you can’t hide

Sara Fischer:

A new study from Ghostery, an anti-tracking tool, shows that an overwhelming majority (79%) of websites globally are tracking visitors’ data — with 10% of these sites actually sending user data to 10 companies or more.

Why it matters: Trackers can collect and sell visitor data in ways that aren’t always obvious to consumers. Too many trackers can also slow down website load times. As the trade war for data intensifies, companies that collect the most data through trackers will become the biggest targets of data privacy reform.

How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web

Brian Merchant:

“I just came across this email,” began the message, a long overdue reply. But I knew the sender was lying. He’d opened my email nearly six months ago. On a Mac. In Palo Alto. At night.
 
 I knew this because I was running the email tracking service Streak, which notified me as soon as my message had been opened. It told me where, when, and on what kind of device it was read. With Streak enabled, I felt like an inside trader whenever I glanced at my inbox, privy to details that gave me maybe a little too much information. And I certainly wasn’t alone.
 
 There are some 269 billion emails sent and received daily. That’s roughly 35 emails for every person on the planet, every day. Over 40 percent of those emails are tracked, according to a study published last June by OMC, an “email intelligence” company that also builds anti-tracking tools.
 
 The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email—usually in a 1×1 pixel image, so tiny it’s invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.

What’s Driving Walmart’s Digital Focus? Paranoia, Top Exec Says

Brian O’Keefe:

The biggest company in the world has a chip on its shoulder right now—and that’s probably a good thing. Why? The ever-growing challenge from online retailers is pushing Walmart to be a much better operator in the digital world.

“For us, a big part of it is being paranoid,” said Walmart chairman Greg Penner on Thursday at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. “We’re at our best when we’ve got a competitor that’s really challenging us.”

If so, the mega-retailer is doubly blessed: It now has two mammoth online retailers targeting its core business.

For quite some time, Walmart, No. 1 on Fortune’s Global 500 list of the world’s largest companies with $486 billion in sales last year, has been working to adjust its strategy to reckon with the threat posed by Amazon.com.

How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories

Jon Christian:

In late October, TechCrunch editor-at-large John Biggs noticed a Facebook Messenger request from someone he didn’t know, a man named Varun Satyam. When Biggs accepted the request, Satyam introduced himself as a marketer for technology startups. He was looking for coverage of some clients, he said, and he was willing to pay Biggs to write about them.

It was a bold opening move, and an unethical proposition for any journalist who wants to retain their credibility. But Biggs wasn’t surprised. He estimates that he receives two or three similar offers each month, and he doesn’t take them seriously.

“They’re stupid,” said Biggs. “Organic press is far more effective and anyone with a brain can see through them.”

But solicitations like Satyam’s may be more successful than Biggs is aware. Interviews with more than two dozen marketers, journalists, and others familiar with similar pay-for-play offers revealed a dubious corner of online publishing in which publicists, ranging from individuals like Satyam to medium-sized “digital marketing firms” that blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients in articles that make no mention of the financial arrangement.

A New Era of Retail Is Coming

Doug Stephens:

Barely a quarter goes by that I don’t speak with at least one brand executive awakening to the reality that the reach, ubiquity and market penetration that hyper-retailers, department stores and discounters once offered is now the very thing that is siphoning equity from their precious trademarks. The power-merchants that made these brands household names were now the very things rendering them commoditised hostages in a high-speed chase to the bottom. Once the salvation of many a fledgling brand, mass merchants have increasingly become like kryptonite. In a world constantly seeking what’s next, new or special, mass retail has become toxic in its overexposure. For consumers, to whom shopping experiences matter as much, or more, than products, mass merchants are bringing nothing to the table.

Nike is merely one in a growing list of labels rethinking their distribution strategies. Earlier this year Coach announced it would leave the floors of over 250 department stores. Michael Kors also made a similar decision. And high-end outerwear brand Canada Goose, a brand that has traditionally been sold through wholesalers, now has a long-term goal of generating at least half its profits from its direct-to-consumer business. One by one, brands are fleeing the mass market and their absence will weigh heavily on all mass merchants.

I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant On TripAdvisor

Oobah Butler:

Once upon a time, long before I began selling my face by the acre for features on VICE dot com, I worked other jobs. There was one in particular that really had an impact on me: writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor. Restaurant owners would pay me £10 and I’d write a positive review of their place, despite never eating there. Over time, I became obsessed with monitoring the ratings of these businesses. Their fortunes would genuinely turn, and I was the catalyst.

This convinced me that TripAdvisor was a false reality – that the meals never took place; that the reviews were all written by other people like me. However, they’re not, of course – they’re almost all completely genuine. And there was one other factor that seemed impossible to fake: the restaurants themselves. So I moved on.

Consumer spending across app stores worldwide to top $110 billion in 2018

Sarah Perez:

Consumer spending on all mobile app stores will surpass $110 billion in 2018, according to a new report from App Annie, out today, which forecasts the state of the app ecosystem for next year. The $110 billion figure represents a 30 percent increase from the year prior, the firm also said, adding that the majority of the overall spend will come from games, as before.
 
 However, the introduction of in-app subscriptions – a newer monetization model for apps – is starting to have an impact on non-games’ share of consumer spend. Though games still dominate in terms of overall dollars spent, the share for non-game apps will increase in 2018 as its growth is now outpacing that for games, App Annie said.
 
 In addition, the report called out China, India and Brazil as top countries to watch in 2018. China’s growth rate, in particular, will “significantly outpace” the rate for the rest of the world. That’s even more notable given that China is already the top market today for iOS App Store consumer spend.
 
 India and Brazil, meanwhile, will see time spent on Android phones increasing in 2018, continuing the trend from this year which saw 50 percent and 30 percent growth, respectively, over 2017. India also has seen a big jump in Google Play downloads, coinciding with the launch of Reliance Jio’s network in September 2016. And the emerging market of Brazil still has room for further growth since – like India – it has a large population who does not yet own a smartphone.

Digital Usage Reports

mixpanel.

Measuring the Information Society Report 2017

ITU (PDF):

Young people are more likely to be online than their elders. The proportion of people aged between 15 and 24 who are online is estimated to be over 70 per cent worldwide, compared with just 48 per cent of the population overall. Elderly people are less likely to be connected.

2017 global mobile consumer survey: US edition

DeLoitte:

Mobile usage habits form the device etiquette

Survey results show that usage habits are maturing and becoming better defined leading to a naturally developed device etiquette. Overall, the number of times users look at their phones has remained nearly constant for the past three years at approximately 47 times per day. Similarly, 89 percent of consumers looked at their phones within an hour of waking up, a yearly increase of only one percent. Before going to sleep 81 percent looked at their phones within an hour, consistent with 2016.

Predictable crises

Steve Dennis:

When someone we care about fails to admit they have a serious problem and fails to do the work to remedy it, are we shocked when they eventually experience the consequences of their addictive or dysfunctional behavior?

Are we surprised one little bit when a brand facing stiff competition and highly disruptive forces finds itself struggling to stay in business because it never bothered to get serious about innovation?

Is it at all astonishing that deficits mount or poverty persists or bridges collapse when politicians lack the courage to address the root causes and constantly kick the can down the road?

Facebook, Google Leading to Internet Domination of Advertising

Paul Bond:

The investment management firm GroupM said Sunday that the dominance of Facebook and Google “is exceedingly bad news for the balance of the digital publisher ecosystem.”
 
 Facebook and Google will capture a phenomenal 84 percent of the digital ad spend worldwide this year as the two online companies account for all of the growth in internet advertising this year, according to GroupM.
 
 The investment management firm said Sunday that the dominance of Facebook and Google “is exceedingly bad news for the balance of the digital publisher ecosystem.” Since the two firms are not only grabbing all the new money advertisers are spending but are also taking share from the competition, GroupM says they will account for “186 percent of digital growth in 2017.”
 
 GroupM’s data strips out China, since media is heavily regulated there and the country is immaterial to both Google and Facebook.
 
 With China, digital advertising will increase overall 11.5 percent this year and will capture 34.1 percent of all spending, while television grows at a mere 0.4 percent, though when state-controlled China is included TV will grow at 3 percent. Worldwide, TV still dominates with 41 percent of ad share.

Underscores, Optimization & Arms Races A dozen years ago, the web started to reshape itself around major companies like Google. We can understand the genesis of today’s algorithmic arms race against the tech titans just by looking at a single character.

Anil Dash:

By the time we realized that we’d gotten suckered into a neverending two-front battle against both the algorithms of the major tech companies and the destructive movements that wanted to exploit them, it was too late. We’d already set the precedent that independent publishers and tech creators would just keep chasing whatever algorithm Google (and later Facebook and Twitter) fed to us.
 
 Now, the challenge is to reform these systems so that we can hold the big platforms accountable for the impacts of their algorithms. We’ve got to encourage today’s newer creative communities in media and tech and culture to not constrain what they’re doing to conform to the dictates of an opaque, unknowable algorithm. We have to talk about the choices we made in those early days, even at risk of embarrassing ourselves by showing how naive we were about the influence these algorithms would have over culture.

Number of monthly active Instagram users from January 2013 to September 2017 (in millions)

statista:

This statistic gives information on the number of monthly active Instagram users as of September 2017. As of that month, the mainly mobile photo sharing network had reached 800 million monthly active users, up from 600 million in December 2016. The app is one of the most popular social networks worldwide.

Instagram is a mobile social network that allows users to edit and share photos as well as videos. In 2015, there were approximately more than 77.6 million active Instagram users in the United States. This figure is projected to surpass 111 million in 2019. Instagram is most popular with teens and young Millennials – this holds true in the United States where more than half of Instagram’s user base is between 18 and 29 years old. Globally speaking, 41 percent of users are 24 years of age or younger. Instagram is the preferred social network of teens in the United States, beating out Twitter and Facebook.

How Snapchat is separating social from media

Evan Spiegel:

Be smart: The Snapchat solution is to rely on algorithms based on your interests — not on the interests of “friends” — and to make sure media companies also profit off the content they produce for our Discover platform. We think this helps guard against fake news and mindless scrambles for friends or unworthy distractions.

While many people view Snapchat as a social media service, it is primarily used to talk with friends – like visual texting. Snapchat began as an escape from social media, where people could send photos and videos to their friends without the pressure of likes, comments, and permanence. By focusing on the camera, Snapchat lowered the barrier to self-expression and showed a new generation that everyone is creative.

The Business Case for Quirkiness

Cara Cannella:

When Tyler Williams applied for a job at Zappos with a DIY music video, he anticipated one of two things: “They’ll either really love it or say, ‘This guy is a complete psycho. Don’t let him within 100 feet of the building.’”
 
 The 2011 YouTube message to the online shoe and clothing retailer — legendary for its customer service and playful company culture — was direct: “Hey, Zappos. My name is Tyler, and I’m trying to get a job with you guys, so … I wrote a little song based on [your] 10 core values.”
 
 Fortunately for Williams — and for the company’s “brand aura,” which he now oversees — Zappos got it. The video made its way around the Las Vegas headquarters, all the way to CEO Tony Hsieh and the company’s head of human resources, who brought Williams in. In June of 2011, he joined the Customer Loyalty Department answering customer phone calls.
 
 

It seems increasingly likely that our society will one day view our infatuation with Twitter, Facebook, and the like as a passing, often destructive fad.

Nick Bilton:
 

Many people imagine 19th-century antebellum America as a frontier fantasia: men with handlebar mustaches sitting in dusty saloons, kicking back moonshine whiskey, as a piano player picks out tunes in the background. In reality, though, life was a little more sordid: Americans spent their time after work in fully legal heroin dens; in 1885, opium and cocaine were even given to children to help with teething. “Cocaine Toothache Drops,” which were marketed as presenting an “instantaneous cure” were sold for 15 cents a box. Today, in the midst of our opioid crisis, we hear about this past and wonder unequivocally, what the hell were they thinking?
 
 I often wonder the same thing when I think about social media and its current domination of our society. Will a future generation look back in 10, 20, or maybe 100 years from now and wonder, mystifyingly, why a generation of humans believed in these platforms despite mounting evidence that they were tearing society apart—being used as terrorist recruitment tools, facilitating bullying, driving up anxiety, and undermining our elections—despite the obvious benefits and facilitations they provide? Indeed, some of the people who gave us these platforms are already beginning to wonder if this is the case. Last month, I wrote a piece detailing how some early Facebook employees now feel about the monster they have created. As one early Facebook employee told me, “I lay awake at night thinking about all the things we built in the early days and what we could have done to avoid the product being used this way.”
 
 After the piece published, I expected to receive angry e-mails and text messages from current or former Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram employees. Instead, my inbox was flooded with former (and even current!) employees of these social networks, who confided that they felt the same way. Some even mentioned they had abandoned the platforms themselves. The people who reached out ranged in pay grade from engineers to C-suite executives. Some venture capitalists who once funded the companies, or their competitors, have told me that they no longer use them—or do so sparingly. After witnessing Trump’s use of social networks, Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures wrote last month that he had deleted Facebook and Twitter from his phone. “This has really had a massive improvement on every day of my life in ways I can’t describe unless you try it yourself,” he wrote. This squares with the countless journalists who have told me they have deleted their accounts, removed the apps from their phone, or simply walked away from the world of social media.
 
 

How Social Media Is Leveling the Playing Field Between Governments, Militants, and Ordinary People

Murtaza Hussain:

Decades before smartphones, the internet, and social media, the philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who worked on media theory, predicted a future world war fought using information. While World War I and World War II were waged using armies and mobilized economies, “World War III [will be] a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation,” McLuhan said, a prophecy included in his 1970 book of reflections, “Culture Is Our Business.”

McLuhan’s prediction may have felt outlandish in his own era, but it seems very close to our present-day reality. Decades ago, the barriers to entry for broadcasting and publishing were so high that only established institutions could meaningfully engage in news dissemination. But over the past 10 to 15 years, ordinary individuals have been radically empowered with the ability to record, publish, and broadcast information to millions around the world, at minimal cost.

The Party Is Over for Australia’s $5.6 Trillion Housing Frenzy

Chris Bourke:

After five years of surging prices, the market value of the nation’s homes has ballooned to A$7.3 trillion ($5.6 trillion) — or more than four times gross domestic product. Not even the U.S. and U.K. markets achieved such heights at their peaks a decade ago before prices spiraled lower and dragged their economies with them.

Australia’s obsession with property is firmly entrenched in the nation’s economy and psyche, fueled by record-low interest rates, generous tax breaks, banks hooked on mortgage lending, and prime-time TV shows where home renovators are lauded like sporting heroes. For many, homes morphed into cash machines to finance loans for boats, cars and investment properties. The upshot: households are now twice as indebted as China’s.

The Future Of Retail In The Age Of Amazon

Austin Carr:

Indeed, Target’s digital efforts continue to lag. When Mulligan takes me to the back to show off the redesigned storeroom, I don’t see any floor-roaming robots or automated conveyer belts, despite the fact that Target has stated that it plans to use its more than 1,800 stores as fulfillment centers (80% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Target). Instead, I find just one store clerk manually taping cardboard boxes for in-store pickup. Later, when I arrive to retrieve a $14.99 Goodfellow Henley shirt I purchased via Target’s app, the cashier asks for my ID because the flagship store’s smartphone scanner is broken. When I test Target’s new curbside-pickup service to buy paper towels, it fails at three consecutive outlets within the Minneapolis area. Ultimately, I give up.

The company needs to improve e-commerce and store pickup, but its future success does not depend only on these services. “Target is going to have to win on stuff that nobody else has,” the high-level expert says. “And that’s great retail, right?”

Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled

Keith Collins:

Many people realize that smartphones track their locations. But what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any apps, and haven’t even inserted a carrier SIM card?
 
 Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they’re connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed.
 Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

No, you’re not being paranoid. Sites really are watching your every move

Dan Goodin:

If you have the uncomfortable sense someone is looking over your shoulder as you surf the Web, you’re not being paranoid. A new study finds hundreds of sites—including microsoft.com, adobe.com, and godaddy.com—employ scripts that record visitors’ keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior in real time, even before the input is submitted or is later deleted.
 
 Session replay scripts are provided by third-party analytics services that are designed to help site operators better understand how visitors interact with their Web properties and identify specific pages that are confusing or broken. As their name implies, the scripts allow the operators to re-enact individual browsing sessions. Each click, input, and scroll can be recorded and later played back.
 
 A study published last week reported that 482 of the 50,000 most trafficked websites employ such scripts, usually with no clear disclosure. It’s not always easy to detect sites that employ such scripts. The actual number is almost certainly much higher, particularly among sites outside the top 50,000 that were studied.
 
 “Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information, such as medical conditions, credit card details, and other personal information displayed on a page, to leak to the third-party as part of the recording,” Steven Englehardt, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, wrote. “This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior. The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes.”

We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself

Sandy Parakilas:

This makes for a dangerous mix: a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse. Facebook needs to be regulated more tightly, or broken up so that no single entity controls all of its data. The company won’t protect us by itself, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

Benefits of Continuous Delivery

Henrik Warne:

During my career as a software developer, I have seen the release frequency increasing steadily. When I started, it would take 12 to 18 months for new features to reach the customer. Years later the frequency increased, so deployment to production happened every three weeks. For the past two years, we have been using continuous delivery at work. This means that as soon as a feature is ready (implemented, code-reviewed and tested), it is deployed to production. Continuous delivery is by far the best way in my opinion, and here is why: