Average commute time reached a new record last year

Christopher Ingraham:

The average American commute grew to just over 27 minutes one way in 2018, a record high, according to data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The average American has added about two minutes to their one-way commute since 2009, the data shows. That may not sound like a lot, but those numbers add up: The typical commuter now spends 20 more minutes a week commuting than they did a decade ago. Over the course of a year, it works out to about 17 additional hours commuting.

Relative to 1980, the picture is even more grim: Since then, American workers have lost nearly an hour a week to their commutes, the equivalent of one full-time workweek over the course of a year. All told, the average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting in 2018.

The shift is being driven in large part by an increase in the share of workers with long commutes. In 2010, about 8 percent of workers had a one-way commute of 60 minutes or more. By 2018, that share had edged up to nearly 10 percent. As of 2018, there were 4.3 million workers with commutes of 90 minutes or more, up from 3.3 million in 2010.

“They’ve done a cannonball into the pool,” DelPrete said of Zillow. “They’re all in.” – ibuying 7.5% fee

Nick Wingfield:

It is hard to overestimate how significant the shift to instant-buying is for Zillow’s business. For most of its existence, Zillow made money by selling advertising to real estate professionals who wanted to reach the home buyers and sellers flocking to its site to look up property listings and gawk at their “Zestimates,” the home value estimates it pioneered. That was a tidily profitable business, with around 93% gross margins.

In contrast, trading homes has razor-thin profit margins. Zillow charges sellers fees that currently average about 7.5% of the price the company pays for their homes. The upside for Zillow, though, is that the total addressable market, or TAM, for home purchases is much bigger than the advertising market. As its grows, Zillow could make better profits from related services, such as selling title insurance and mortgage lending.

Home purchases are “a mindbogglingly larger TAM—$1.8 trillion of secondary market transactions happen a year in the U.S. of homes.” he said. “That’s not rentals. That’s not title, that’s not mortgage. That’s just the homes.”

Barton said the goal behind Zillow’s transition to a bigger, lower-margin market is to turn it into something more like Amazon, which operates in a retail market far larger than advertising. “We have to move from a Google mindset to an Amazon mindset,” he said.

Live and Die by internet “traffic” data: Comscore settles Fraud Charges for $5M

Adi Robertson:

Comscore, the influential analytics firm that measures web traffic, has been formally accused of falsely reporting its own revenue and customer numbers. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Comscore and its former CEO Serge Matta with fraud today. Matta and Comscore agreed to settle the case for a total of $5.7 million without admitting wrongdoing.

The SEC writes that between 2014 and 2016, Comscore padded its public revenue filings with an extra $50 million by misreporting the value of data-swapping contracts with other companies. It also allegedly misreported its customer numbers and growth percentages, giving the impression that new signups and revenue growth were increasing when the opposite was actually true.

As part of the settlement, Comscore and Matta will respectively pay penalties of $5 million and $700,000. Matta will also repay $2.1 million to Comscore and be banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years.

This is a major step in a long-running controversy. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Comscore’s sketchy accounting in late 2015, noting that its bartering system “warrants scrutiny.” Comscore began an audit in 2016 — leading to years of instability as it corrected the false numbers, including a temporary delisting from Nasdaq. A March 2018 filing revealed that it was cooperating with the SEC on an investigation. Earlier this year, the company’s CEO Bryan Wiener and president Sarah Hofstetter both resigned due to “irreconcilable differences.” Matta left the company in 2016.

Alphabet is partnering with FedEx and Walgreens to bring drone delivery to the US

Mike Murphy:

Google sister company Wing announced today that it would be partnering with FedEx and the drugstore chain Walgreens to bring autonomous drone deliveries to the US in October.

The pilot program will be launched in Christiansburg, Virginia, one of the two areas in the state that Wing has been testing its drone technology for years. In April, Wing was certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to become what it says was the first company in the country to be able to offer autonomous drone deliveries. Wing has completed over 80,000 test flights and thousands of deliveries at its facilities in Australia and the US.

People expecting packages from FedEx will be able to choose to get their deliveries made via drone, assuming that they live in certain areas that Wing has designated it can safely deliver parcels in. Similarly, Walgreens customers will be able to order products, such as non-prescription medicine, and have them delivered by drone. Walgreens said in a release that 78% of the US population lives within 5 miles of one of its stores. Wing said that its drones can currently make a round-trip flight of about 6 miles (9.7 km), traveling about 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour), and can carry around 3 lbs (1.4 kg) of payload. The company also said that it would be offering deliveries from a local Virginia retailer, Sugar Magnolia. Wing won’t be charging for the delivery service itself during the trial.

How Dollar General Took Over Rural America

Chris McGreal:

When Dollar General came to Haven, Kansas, it arrived making demands. The fastest-growing retailer in America wanted the taxpayers of the small, struggling Kansas town to pick up part of the tab for building one of its squat, barebones stores that more often resemble a warehouse than a neighbourhood shop.

Dollar General thought Haven’s council should give the company a $72,000 break on its utility bills, equivalent to the cost of running the town’s library and swimming pool for a year, on the promise of jobs and tax revenues. The council blanched but ended up offering half of that amount to bring the low-price outlet to a town that already had a grocery store.

“Dollar General are a force. It’s hard to stop a train,” said Mike Alfers, Haven’s then mayor who backed the move. “Obviously there’s been collateral damage. We didn’t expect it. I’m torn but, net-net, I still think it was a good move to bring them in.”

The Dollar General opened in Haven at the end of February 2015. Three years later, the company applied to build a similar store in the neighbouring town of Buhler, a 20-minute drive along a ramrod straight road north through sprawling Kansas farmland.

Buhler’s mayor, Daniel Friesen, watched events unfold in Haven and came to see Dollar General not so much as an opportunity as a diagnosis.

Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products

Dana Mattioli:

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -1.93% has adjusted its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the company, said people who worked on the project—a move, contested internally, that could favor Amazon’s own brands.

Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company.

The adjustment, which the world’s biggest online retailer hasn’t publicized, followed a yearslong battle between executives who run Amazon’s retail businesses in Seattle and the company’s search team, dubbed A9, in Palo Alto, Calif., which opposed the move, the people said.

Any tweak to Amazon’s search system has broad implications because the giant’s rankings can make or break a product. The site’s search bar is the most common way for U.S. shoppers to find items online, and most purchases stem from the first page of search results, according to marketing analytics firm Jumpshot.

‘Sign In With Apple’ Is Way Better Than Passwords—If You Can Find It

Joanna Stern:

What are the downsides of Apple’s option?

In cases like Tinder’s, the anonymity benefit to one user can be a problem for other users. “Verifying a user’s identity using their login credentials helps us prevent those who have been removed for their conduct from accessing our service,” a Tinder spokesman said, adding that the company looks forward to hearing more from Apple on this.

There’s also the fact that the iPhone isn’t immune to security vulnerabilities. Plus, who could forget the iCloud celebrity hacks of 2014? Apple does require two-factor for Sign in with Apple.

And finally, even when your favorite app does adopt it, you might have to create a new account to use it.

So what should I do?

I wish more app makers would run—not walk—to implement Apple’s option as an alternative to Facebook and Google. For now, just be on the lookout for it. If you don’t see it, I recommend Google as the quickest, safest alternative. Just do yourself a favor, and choose your doors wisely.

Ratings systems have returned to haunt the gig economy

Andrew Hill:

This shift is mere common sense. Any review system is prone to what experts call the “idiosyncratic rater effect”, which is a polite way of saying that bias and discrimination can pollute the outcomes. That applies in particular to “rank-and-yank” assessments, but also to poorly presented feedback. As Marcus Buckingham, a consultant, and Cisco’s Ashley Goodall wrote in Harvard Business Review earlier this year: “Because your feedback to others is always more you than them, it leads to systematic error, which is magnified when ratings are considered in aggregate.”

Having tested such methods to soul-destroying destruction in some of the biggest organisations in the world, it is not merely perverse but positively dangerous to disinter their flaws so they can haunt the gig economy.

Discrimination has been one of the first ghosts to re-emerge. Researchers who looked at Uber, concluded that while its rating system was outwardly neutral, it could be a vehicle for, say, racial bias. Academics feel the ratings effect personally. The authors of another paper about Uber pointed out that their own students’ evaluations were “relevant for the renewal of teaching contracts, promotions or future applications”, and are also suspected of bias. Their study suggested solutions could include giving Uber drivers the opportunity to challenge a bad rating, or appointing a third party who could audit reviews for potential bias.

Uber does let drivers rate users, who can themselves be kicked off the app if their bad behaviour pushes their rating below par. This leads to the mutually assured insincerity of high ratings on both sides (the flaw in Airbnb’s review system identified in the Boston study) and leaves neither customer nor provider much the wiser.

The grim alternative is not much better, though, and I will bear it in mind before I next submit a low mark. It is that everyone slips back into a swamp of personal performance ratings, where customers are cast in the role of rankers-and-yankers, remotely and unwittingly ruling on the fate of individuals just like them.

I’ve Built Multiple Growth Teams. Here’s Why I Won’t Do It Again.

Lars Lofgren:

The recommendations above are exactly how I run my business today. We’re moving faster than I ever have before—at a fraction of the budget.

That’s why I doubt I’ll ever build a growth team again:

Few folks understand probability, and most executives don’t care about the data—regardless of what it says.

Testing encourages growth teams to get out of sync with company strategy, and it’s easy to screw up the data, which forces you to throw away months of testing.

Even if you get past all this, you probably don’t have enough data to work with anyway.

A 1.5-year growth program will cost you just short of a million dollars.

Once you hit a wall on your conversions and need your growth team to do something else, they’ll have to start from scratch to learn another workflow.

And it all depends on finding an amazing growth manager to run the team.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. But that’s an awful lot of work when the upside is limited to doubling or tripling the conversion rate in your funnel.

Yes, massive business and businesses with user-driven growth are the exceptions. It’s absolutely worth it to them. For the rest of us, I’d rather spend that money and time building a marketing team that can continue to grow my business for years to come.

Search Advertising and Information Discovery: Are Consumers Averse to Sponsored Messages?

Navdeep S. Sahni and Charles Zhang:

We analyze a large-scale field experiment conducted on a US search engine in which 3.3 million users were randomized into seeing more, or less advertising. Our data rejects that users are, overall, averse to search advertising targeted to them. At the margin, users prefer the search engine with higher level of advertising. The usage of the search engine (in terms of number of searches, and number of search sessions) is higher among users who see higher levels of advertising, relative to the control group. This difference in usage persists even after the experimental treatment ends. The increase in usage is higher for users on the margin who, in the past, typed a competing search engine’s name in the search query and navigated away from our focal search engine. On the supply side, higher level of advertising increases traffic to newer websites. Consumer response to search advertising is also more positive when more businesses located in the consumer’s state create new websites. Quantitatively, the experimental treatment of a higher level of advertising increases ad clicks which leads to between 4.3% to 14.6% increase in search engine revenue.

Overall, patterns in our data are consistent with an equilibrium in which advertising conveys relevant “local” information, which is unknown to the search engine, and therefore missed by the organic listings algorithm. Hence, search advertising makes consumers better off on average. On the margin, the search engine does not face a trade-off between advertising revenue and search engine usage.

Period Tracker Apps Used By Millions Of Women Are Sharing Incredibly Sensitive Data With Facebook

Megha Rajagopalan:

“Considering that the unauthorized disclosure has already happened, we hereby urge you to erase all the material erroneously obtained without prevarication and delays. We shall be waiting on your confirmation of the erasure.”

Plackal Tech, which owns Maya, said it does not share any personally identifiable data or medical data with Facebook.

“The Ad SDK [Facebook’s software development kit] helps us earn revenue by displaying ads that our users can opt out of by subscribing to Maya’s premium subscription,” the company said in an email to Privacy International and BuzzFeed News.

“All data accessed by Maya are also essential to the proper functioning of the product. Predicting information pertaining to menstrual cycles is complex and dependent on thousands of variables,” the email added. “Location information, the significance of which is highlighted in the report, helps us triangulate regional variations in cycle lengths and thus help improve accuracy of our prediction over time.”

Facebook warns users of iOS 13 location tracking permissions

Apple Insider:

In a post to Facebook’s official “Newsroom,” titled “Understanding Updates to Your Device’s Location Settings,” company engineering director Paul McDonald explained the app’s various location technologies in broad strokes.

Claiming “Facebook is better with location,” McDonald says existing services enable functionality of popular features like check-ins, Find Wi-Fi and Nearby Friends, while keeping the user community “safe.” Location tech also improves ad targeting and personalized alerts.

With new location tracking safeguards baked into iOS 13, as well as Google’s recently released Android 10, users will be made more keenly aware of an app’s reliance on active location data and information gleaned during background operations. In the case of iOS 13, that could lead to an abundance of notifications.

As noted by McDonald, iOS currently gives users the option to allow apps access to precise location information “Always,” “While Using the App” or “Never.” When iOS 13 sees release a new “allow once” option will be added to grant location services access on a one-time basis. When the new function is enabled, apps like Facebook will need user authorization each time it makes a request for a device’s location information.

Apple’s forthcoming iOS also generates reports detailing when an app uses location services in the background, how many times it accessed said data and where that information was requested, as represented on a map. Apple also requires developers to clearly denote how and why the information is used.

Facebook emphasizes its commitment to privacy, saying users are in control of how and when location data is shared by managing settings in the app’s Location Services menu. It appears those restrictions come with a few caveats.

Softbank (Compass Investor) faces large WeWork IPO Losses

Giles Turner & Sarah McBride:

SoftBank has a roughly 29% stake in the We Co., WeWork’s parent, said one executive at an analyst call on Wednesday, after the company plowed a total of $10.65 billion into the startup. The Tokyo conglomerate’s massive stake is a vote of confidence in the unprofitable company, which lost about $1.61 billion last year.

Perhaps more than any other startup, WeWork has come to symbolize the brash investment style of SoftBank and its $100 billion Vision Fund, known for making huge bets on promising but unproven companies, and spurring others in the industry to follow suit to compete. The success or failure of WeWork’s initial public offering is likely to be read as a statement on the overall standing of SoftBank, the judgment of its executives and its ability to raise cash for future ventures.

Now, SoftBank’s big bet may already be turning sour as WeWork mulls an IPO that would peg its worth at less than half its $47 billion valuation when SoftBank invested earlier this year. The New York-based company is now said to be considering a market debut at just $20 to $30 billion, fueling tensions among SoftBank employees.

The WeWork IPO comes at a critical time for SoftBank, which is currently trying to convince investors to bankroll a second $108 billion iteration of its Vision Fund. The company is already mopping up the fallout from another poorly performing IPO. SoftBank put $7.7 billion into Uber, whose market value promptly fell after shares listed publicly at $45 in May. That price has since fallen to about $35, well below the price SoftBank paid for part of its stake.

What Statistics Can and Can’t Tell Us About Ourselves

Hanna Fry:

The dangers of making individual predictions from our collective characteristics were aptly demonstrated in a deal struck by the French lawyer André-François Raffray in 1965. He agreed to pay a ninety-year-old woman twenty-five hundred francs every month until her death, whereupon he would take possession of her apartment in Arles.

At the time, the average life expectancy of French women was 74.5 years, and Raffray, then forty-seven, no doubt thought he’d negotiated himself an auspicious contract. Unluckily for him, as Bill Bryson recounts in his new book, “The Body,” the woman was Jeanne Calment, who went on to become the oldest person on record. She survived for thirty-two years after their deal was signed, outliving Raffray, who died at seventy-seven. By then, he had paid more than twice the market value for an apartment he would never live in.

Raffray learned the hard way that people are not well represented by the average. As the mathematician Ian Stewart points out in “Do Dice Play God?” (Basic), the average person has one breast and one testicle. In large groups, the natural variability among human beings cancels out, the random zig being countered by the random zag; but that variability means that we can’t speak with certainty about the individual—a fact with wide-ranging consequences.

Every day, millions of people, David Spiegelhalter included, swallow a small white statin pill to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you are one of those people, and go on to live a long and happy life without ever suffering a heart attack, you have no way of knowing whether your daily statin was responsible or whether you were never going to have a heart attack in the first place. Of a thousand people who take statins for five years, the drugs will help only eighteen to avoid a major heart attack or stroke. And if you do find yourself having a heart attack you’ll never know whether it was delayed by taking the statin. “All I can ever know,” Spiegelhalter writes, “is that on average it benefits a large group of people like me.”

That’s the rule with preventive drugs: for most individuals, most of those drugs won’t do anything. The fact that they produce a collective benefit makes them worth taking. But it’s a pharmaceutical form of Pascal’s wager: you may as well act as though God were real (and believe that the drugs will work for you), because the consequences otherwise outweigh the inconvenience.

There is so much that, on an individual level, we don’t know: why some people can smoke and avoid lung cancer; why one identical twin will remain healthy while the other develops a disease like A.L.S.; why some otherwise similar children flourish at school while others flounder. Despite the grand promises of Big Data, uncertainty remains so abundant that specific human lives remain boundlessly unpredictable. Perhaps the most successful prediction engine of the Big Data era, at least in financial terms, is the Amazon recommendation algorithm. It’s a gigantic statistical machine worth a huge sum to the company. Also, it’s wrong most of the time. “There is nothing of chance or doubt in the course before my son,” Dickens’s Mr. Dombey says, already imagining the business career that young Paul will enjoy. “His way in life was clear and prepared, and marked out before he existed.” Paul, alas, dies at age six.

Google defends tracking cookies—some experts aren’t buying it

Timothy Lee:

Google’s Chrome team is feeling pressure from competitors over ad tracking. Apple has long offered industry-leading protection against tracking cookies, while Mozilla recently announced that Firefox will begin blocking tracking cookies by default. Microsoft has been experimenting with tracking protection features in Edge, too.

But Google has a problem: it makes most of its money selling ads. Adopting the same aggressive cookie blocking techniques as its rivals could prevent Google’s customers from targeting ads—potentially hurting Google’s bottom line.

So in a blog post last week, Google outlined an alternative privacy vision—one that restricts some forms of user tracking without blocking the use of tracking cookies any time soon.

“Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant Web,” Google’s Justin Schuh writes. (Those publishers, of course, include Ars publisher Conde Nast. We use cookies to serve targeted ads because they generate more revenue to support our journalism.)

Google also warns that completely blocking tracking cookies will cause ad networks to resort to browser fingerprinting as an alternative means of tracking users. Under this technique, a site harvests many small pieces of data about a user’s browser—browser version, fonts installed, extensions active, screen size, and so forth—to generate a “fingerprint” that uniquely identifies a particular device.

So Google’s proposal is to declare war on browser fingerprinting while only gradually restricting the use of cookies for ad targeting.

The Sidewalk Wars

Essays by joe berridge, michael bryant, ann cavoukian, jan de silva, dan doctoroff, cory doctorow, richard florida, ken greenberg, alexander josephson, jennifer keesmaat, bruce kuwabara, mohamed lachemi, kwame mckenzie, gord perks, robert prichard, yung wu, bianca wylie and shoshana zuboff :

Google has big plans to build a Jetsonian smart city on the waterfront, and Torontonians have strong opinions about it: is it the solution to all our problems or the end of the world as we know it? We asked 18 super-smart people to tell us what they think

Google, YouTube To Pay $170 Million Penalty Over Collecting Kids’ Personal Info

Avie Schneider:

The companies allegedly collected information of children viewing videos on YouTube by tracking users of channels that are directed at kids. YouTube allegedly failed to notify parents or get their consent, violating laws that protect children’s privacy, according to a complaint filed against the companies by the FTC and the New York attorney general.

YouTube earned millions of dollars by then using this information to target ads to the children, according to the complaint.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with (the children privacy law), the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

According to the complaint, YouTube marketed itself as a top destination for kids in presentations to the makers of popular children’s products and brands.

For example, Google and YouTube told Mattel, maker of Barbie and Monster High toys, that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels” and told Hasbro, which makes My Little Pony and Play-Doh, that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Google services, including Madison.

Brave uncovers Google’s GDPR workaround

Johnny Ryan:

The new evidence reveals a surreptitious mechanism that raises additional data protection concerns about Google’s “DoubleClick/Authorized Buyers” advertising system. This system is active on 8.4 million websites.[1]

Google claims to prevent the many companies that use its real-time bidding ad (RTB) system, who receive sensitive data about website visitors, from combining their profiles about those visitors.[2] It also announced that it had stopped sharing pseudonymous identifiers that could help these companies more easily identify an individual, apparently in response to the advent of the GDPR.[3]

But in fact, Brave’s new evidence reveals that Google allowed not only one additional party, but many, to match with Google identifiers. The evidence further reveals that Google allowed multiple parties to match their identifiers for the data subject with each other.

Brave commissioned Zach Edwards to analyze a log of Dr Ryan’s web browsing. The analysis confirmed that Dr Ryan’s personal data was broadcast, confirming the fears laid out in his complaint to the DPC in September 2018. The analysis also revealed a mechanism, “Push Pages”, through which Google invites multiple companies to share profile identifiers about a person when they load a web page.

Google Push Pages are served from a Google domain (https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com) and all have the same name, “cookie_push.html”. Each Push Page is made distinctive by a code of almost two thousand characters, which Google adds at the end to uniquely identify the person that Google is sharing information about. This, combined with other cookies supplied by Google, allows companies to pseudonymously identify the person in circumstances where this would not otherwise be possible.

All companies that Google invites to access a Push Page receive the same identifier for the person being profiled. This “google_push” identifier allows them to cross-reference their profiles of the person, and they can then trade profile data with each other.

Google accused of secretly feeding personal data to advertisers

Madhumita Murgia:

Google is secretly using hidden web pages that feed the personal data of its users to advertisers, undermining its own policies and circumventing EU privacy regulations that require consent and transparency, according to one of its smaller rivals.

New evidence submitted to an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner in Dublin, which oversees Google’s European business, accused the US tech company of “exploiting personal data without sufficient control or concern over data protection”.

The regulator is investigating whether Google uses sensitive data, such as the race, health and political leanings of its users, to target ads. In his evidence, Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer of the niche web browser Brave, said he had discovered the secret web pages as he tried to monitor how his data were being traded on Google’s advertising exchange, the business formerly known as DoubleClick.

The exchange, now called Authorized Buyers, is the world’s largest real-time advertising auction house, selling display space on websites across the internet.

Mr Ryan found that Google had labelled him with an identifying tracker that it fed to third-party companies that logged on to a hidden web page. The page showed no content but had a unique address that linked it to Mr Ryan’s browsing activity.

Using the tracker from Google, which is based on the user’s location and time of browsing, companies could match their profiles of Mr Ryan and his web-browsing behaviour with profiles from other companies, to target him with ads.

Silicon Valley’s giants are no longer producing better products and services. They’re exploiting people.

Josh Hawley:

What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff.

But here’s the problem. As we spend more time on that digital treadmill, our real-world relationships atrophy, sometimes to disastrous effect. Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection.

At the same time, the dominant tech companies’ market concentration is stifling competition that might bring truly new and rewarding innovation. Want to raise money for a venture to challenge Facebook or Google? Good luck. The best pitch for a startup is a pitch for getting purchased by one of the tech giants a few years in. If they won’t buy you, they’ll just copy you.

Americans shouldn’t settle for this stagnation. It’s time we demanded more of Big Tech than it demands of us. That’s why I’ve proposed banning the “dark patterns” that feed tech addiction. I’ve introduced legislation to provide consumers a legally enforceable right to browse the internet privately, without data tracking. I’ve advocated stepping up privacy safeguards for children and requiring tech companies to moderate content without political bias as a condition of civil immunity. And I’ve advocated more competition to spur real innovation for real people.

Deconstructing Google’s excuses on tracking protection

Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan.:

Blocking cookies is bad for privacy. That’s the new disingenuous argument from Google, trying to justify why Chrome is so far behind Safari and Firefox in offering privacy protections. As researchers who have spent over a decade studying web tracking and online advertising, we want to set the record straight.

Our high-level points are:

1) Cookie blocking does not undermine web privacy. Google’s claim to the contrary is privacy gaslighting.

2) There is little trustworthy evidence on the comparative value of tracking-based advertising.

3) Google has not devised an innovative way to balance privacy and advertising; it is latching onto prior approaches that it previously disclaimed as impractical.

4) Google is attempting a punt to the web standardization process, which will at best result in years of delay.
What follows is a reproduction of excerpts from yesterday’s announcement, annotated with our comments.

Technology that publishers and advertisers use to make advertising even more relevant to people is now being used far beyond its original design intent – to a point where some data practices don’t match up to user expectations for privacy.

Google is trying to thread a needle here, implying that some level of tracking is consistent with both the original design intent for web technology and user privacy expectations. Neither is true.

Reasons not to use Google

Richard Stallman:

Google censored installation of Samsung’s ad-blocker, saying that blocking ads is “interference” with the sites that advertise (and surveil users through ads).

The ad-blocker is proprietary software, just like the program (Google Play) that Google used to deny access to install it. I would refuse to have either of them on my computer. Using a nonfree program gives the owner power over you, and Google has exercised that power.

To identify yourself to a Google service is a grave error.

Google stores a list of all purchases a user has made that in any way mention the user’s a gmail account. A user can delete purchases from this list, but only one purchase at a time. Then that purchase disappears from the list that the user sees. Whether it remains in another list, we do not know, but I’d expect Google to answer that question with doubletalk.

The article talks about what Google cites as its motive for doing this, but the motive is irrelevant — because it’s not an excuse.

Opendoor Home Loans

Nadia Aziz:

We’ve been testing Opendoor Home Loans with home buyers across Texas and are excited to see the early feedback.

“Opendoor Home Loans was great to work with. My purchase was on a very tight deadline and my own work schedule was extremely busy at the time. Opendoor Home Loans worked around my schedule and was still able to get my deal closed with plenty of time to spare. I highly recommend them for their customer service, professionalism and transparency. Plus they beat the next lowest rate by half a point.” – Jason W., San Antonio, TX

Moving is stressful and comes with an ever-expanding list of things to do. We’re making it our job to streamline the entire process while keeping you in control. Help sell your home? Check. Help find and tour your dream home? Check. Submit an offer for and finance your next home purchase? Check and check. We look forward to helping even more customers complete their move!

Additional commentary.

Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products

Alexandra Berzon,
Shane Shifflett and Justin Scheck

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc. ’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.

The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits.

Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.

After the Journal brought the listings to Amazon’s attention, 57% of the 4,152 listings had their wording altered or were taken down. Amazon said that it reviewed and addressed the listings the Journal provided and that company policies require all products to comply with laws and regulations.

“Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” says a spokeswoman. Amazon uses automated tools that scan hundreds of millions of items every few minutes to screen would-be sellers and block suspicious ones from registering and listing items, using the tools to block three billion items in 2018, she says.

“When a concern arises,” she says, “we move quickly to protect customers and work directly with sellers, brands, and government agencies.”

The A’s have taken advantage of those forces by quickly finding the latest inefficiency to exploit: actual major-league players

Jared Diamond:

Early in the movie “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane sits in front of a room of befuddled old-school scouts and delivers the message that has defined the real-life Oakland Athletics for nearly two decades.

“If we try to play like the Yankees in here,” Oakland’s heralded executive says, “we will lose to the Yankees out there.”

That attitude helped spark baseball’s data revolution and made the A’s the blueprint for how to thrive with a minuscule budget. Unable to compete with their big-market opponents for high-price talent, the A’s built a powerhouse in the early 2000s largely through their farm system.

But with the A’s now pushing for yet another playoff berth despite a payroll near the bottom of the major leagues, an examination of their team reveals something strange: As they begin a crucial three-game series against New York on Tuesday, the A’s are suddenly more like the Yankees than the Yankees themselves.

Oakland has just six homegrown players—those who have spent their entire North American professional career in the A’s organization—on its active 25-man roster and MLB injured and restricted lists. Only the Chicago Cubs have fewer. The deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers have 18. The Boston Red Sox, the game’s highest-spending team, and the Yankees, the exact opposite of the A’s when it comes to wealth and luxury, both have 13.

“We’re zigging when everyone else is zagging,” A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty said.

Analytics are reshaping fashion’s old-school instincts

Maghan McDowell:

Key takeaways:

Department stores are increasingly using data to help predict the rise and decline of future trends.

Fashion houses like Marni and Miu Miu use data analytics to identify opportunities and weaknesses in their collections.

While data-driven tools have improved trend forecasting, human interpretation remains essential.

When Detroit-based luxury goods brand Shinola began working on its new Vinton watch, the team designed with a woman in mind, but testing the product through analytics platform MakerSights, which correlates consumer feedback with historical sales data, revealed the style appealed to all genders. As a result, the brand deepened its buy-in on those by about 70 per cent. “You never design by data, but the data, but the data provides a compass as you’re navigating a hunch,” says Shinola CEO Tom Lewand.

In other words, Shinola already had a great vision — and the data enhanced it.

SoftBank Will Let People Invest in IPOs With Less Than $10

Takahiko HyugaAugust:

“When you buy food or fuel your car, it’s easier to specify the amount of money you want to spend rather than the volume,” Uchiyama said in an interview. “The only thing investors want to know is how much they can gain from $10.”

SoftBank is going up against competition from Line Corp. and Rakuten Inc. in the race to tap individuals through financial services. Line started an online brokerage with Japan’s biggest bank, Nomura Holdings Inc., this week, while Rakuten last month announced it will start lending and issuing credit cards in the United States. All three are aiming to create and expand new markets, targeting younger and less well-off investors.

SoftBank owns 46% of One Tap BUY, while Mizuho Securities Co. holds 13%. Uchiyama, who joined the smartphone-based brokerage in 2016 after stints at the predecessors of SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. and Accenture Plc., became the CEO in July.

Changing Work Environments: Why Japan’s ‘shūkatsu’ job-seeking system is changing

Mari Shibata:

Every year beginning in early April, thousands of soon-to-be-graduates in Japan make their way around town dressed in black business attire, carrying a briefcase containing only their CVs, hoping to land jobs at the country’s most reputable companies.

This ritual is part of a year-long hiring process in their penultimate year of university: the season of ‘shūshoku katsudō’ (job-hunting activity). It’s known as ‘shūkatsu’ for short, when third-year students drop classes in order to attend career seminars organised by universities. In their last year, they submit job applications and endure a structured selection process to secure a position (called ‘naitei’) by the time they finish their degree.

Shūkatsu is the traditional, predominant recruiting practice across Japan. It is vital not just for employers and university placement numbers, but also for the students whose social status can be elevated by the outcome of their job hunt.

This system was created in 1953 by Keidanren – Japan’s leading business lobby, comprising more than 1,300 major Japanese corporations and 100 group industries. Due to labour shortages during Japan’s post-war period of rapid economic growth, the hunt for college graduates heated up. The shūkatsu system offered lifetime employment to new graduates who, in turn, provided security and status for major Japanese firms.

The Browser Monopoly


Why Chrome Exists

Google Chrome was conceived and developed for a fairly straightforward purpose: advertising. Google called this “driving innovation on the web,” and to be fair, Chrome introduced a lot of neat new features (Porn “Incognito Mode,” multithreaded memory changes, tabs and more). But what Google was really doing was laying the groundwork for the ability to deliver all sorts of new online ad formats (like video) and complicated Javascript behind them that would help track and target users more effectively. The first created new, higher-margin ad products that Google (and others) could sell; the second would give advertisers and marketers new tools to convince their companies of ROI on those ads, enabling more digital ad spending over newspapers or whatever.

In other words, it was a win-win for Google.

If, like me, you work in and with web development, you know how much more complicated webdev and the Javascript ecosystem has gotten even since then. There are approximately a billion different Javascript frameworks. Facebook is sending down 7MB in uncompressed Javascript just to run; GMail, almost 4MB. Websites have become far more interactive, but at great cost to performance for anyone without a late-model phone. On the web’s war for user attention-seconds, there’s a whole arms race going on to introduce novel new Javascript tricks based on Chrome’s V8 engine – all of which drives ad impressions.

Product/User Dislocation

In The Internet As Television, I lamented the drift of the modern web towards favoring passive consumption of “content” over all else. But we should also bemoan the gradual sacrifice of user privacy and security as well. Despite highly visible examples of how easily personal data is tracked, recorded and weaponized by the advertising-ravenous web, the harms are hard to understand and extremely opaque to most people.

Yet product needs proliferate. Ad blocking, for example, has exploded in popularity in recent years. I changed my mind on this earlier this year, and let me tell you, I am never going back. Ad blocking is both highly effective and simply a material improvement of one’s whole online experience, which its broad adoption easily demonstrates. Another example is passwords. Passwords are a technology straight out of the 1980s, an absolute lowest-common-denominator system of authentication. Password managers like LastPass and 1Password are strong, secure and reliable alternatives that live right in your browser and make a huge difference for personal security. (Seriously, if you do not use a password manager, stop reading this and go do it. I am personally a very happy LastPass customer.) It is mind-boggling that basic tools like these are not yet standard features in browsers.

That is, until you remember that classic internet maxim: you, dear user, are not the customer. You’re the product.

Product choices like these can be traced directly back to who provides the biggest web browsers, and why they’re doing it. Google is fundamentally in the business of advertising, which is why they have absolutely no interest in limiting ad impressions, or preventing the sharing of your personal data. I suspect that this is primarily why they don’t bother with password manager features, either, though it’s an open question.*

Google Is Tightening Its Grip on Your Website

Owen Williams:

AMP strips publishers of full autonomy and control over their content. Hosted AMP pages obfuscate the source of what you’re reading, removes some control over your own brand, and essentially allows Google to use your content for free under the guise of making the web better. It hides your URL in favor of a Google.com-hosted version. (Though that will soon change for developers who opt to enable a “signed exchange” that authenticates their content with Google — a complex, technical workaround for what appears to be a simple design problem.) Previous applications of AMP even threw posts into a swipeable carousel, as if all the content were on display in a shop window.

All of which is to say that AMP is a way for Google to own the browsing experience. Sure, it’s technically optional — but it’s not really an option. If developers don’t use it, they stand to miss out on important traffic. Their websites will rank significantly lower in search. Google is by far the dominant search engine, with 92% market share worldwide and 94.5% on mobile. It’s simply impossible to ignore.

I’m well aware of all these problems because I was there when AMP was born. I attended the event where Google unveiled the project and hailed it as the savior of the mobile web. It was a noble cause: Someone had to do something about how slow and horrible it was to use the web on a phone. I worked at a news company that adopted AMP as a launch partner, and I’ve used it on my own site. It’s hard to exaggerate how much impact adding AMP support to a website actually has on traffic.

Apple will soon treat online web tracking the same as a security vulnerability

Natasha Lomas:

WebKit, the open source engine that underpins Internet browsers including Apple’s Safari browser, has announced a new tracking prevention policy that takes the strictest line yet on the background and cross-site tracking practices and technologies which are used to creep on Internet users as they go about their business online.

Trackers are technologies that are invisible to the average web user, yet which are designed to keep tabs on where they go and what they look at online — typically for ad targeting but web user profiling can have much broader implications than just creepy ads, potentially impacting the services people can access or the prices they see, and so on. Trackers can also be a conduit for hackers to inject actual malware, not just adtech.

This translates to stuff like tracking pixels; browser and device fingerprinting; and navigational tracking to name just a few of the myriad methods that have sprouted like weeds from an unregulated digital adtech industry that’s poured vast resource into ‘innovations’ intended to strip web users of their privacy.

Justin Schuh (Google):

Second, blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web. Many publishers have been able to continue to invest in freely accessible content because they can be confident that their advertising will fund their costs. If this funding is cut, we are concerned that we will see much less accessible content for everyone. Recent studies have shown that when advertising is made less relevant by removing cookies, funding for publishers falls by 52% on average1.

So we are doing something different. We want to find a solution that both really protects user privacy and also helps content remain freely accessible on the web. At I/O, we announced a plan to improve the classification of cookies, give clarity and visibility to cookie settings, as well as plans to more aggressively block fingerprinting. We are making progress on this, and today we are providing more details on our plans to restrict fingerprinting. Collectively we believe all these changes will improve transparency, choice, and control.

But, we can go further. Starting with today’s announcements, we will work with the web community to develop new standards that advance privacy, while continuing to support free access to content. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve started sharing our preliminary ideas for a Privacy Sandbox – a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy. Some ideas include new approaches to ensure that ads continue to be relevant for users, but user data shared with websites and advertisers would be minimized by anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only. Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy.

We are following the web standards process and seeking industry feedback on our initial ideas for the Privacy Sandbox. While Chrome can take action quickly in some areas (for instance, restrictions on fingerprinting) developing web standards is a complex process, and we know from experience that ecosystem changes of this scope take time. They require significant thought, debate, and input from many stakeholders, and generally take multiple years.

SoftBank plans to lend $20 billion to its CEO and employees amid volatile markets


Some analysts are of the view that this highly unusual move could be risky in terms of overall exposure SoftBank Group will have.

The upside is that the move can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of the $108 billion Second Vision Fund from investors with the same goal.

The Japanese company announced its second Vision Fund last month. The fund includes $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from investors.

The government of Kazakhstan – one of the investors, is expected to make a contribution of about $3 billion while banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Britain’s Standard Chartered PLC and Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc have also indicated they are willing to invest several hundred million dollars each, according to sources.

The WSJ reported that SoftBank also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, with stakes from employees provided with loans totaling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

Some analysts said that the potential pay-off can be big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that offer big returns that employees can use to pay off the original loans, and walk away with profit. That could still be risky though amid volatile markets.

Softbank has

The Techlash Is Only Making Facebook Stronger

Sarah Frier:

When Facebook Inc. agreed to settle a privacy complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for $5 billion last month, both parties acted like the news was a big deal. The FTC noted it was a record federal penalty, while the company released a video of Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg solemnly telling employees a new era of regulatory compliance was at hand. Leaving aside that the fine was hardly a serious blow—last year alone, Facebook’s profit topped $22 billion—the settlement is great news for Zuckerberg in another way. The fine print will likely help Facebook cement its dominant position in social media advertising, just as the FTC begins an antitrust investigation of the company.

Facebook’s most valuable resource is its data. Every click, comment, and even scroll from its 2.5 billion users is incorporated into its ideas about what people like and want. The company combines that knowledge with information from outside sources, tracking people as they browse the open web and offline through their credit card purchases and phone GPS signals, then uses that data to precisely target ads for Facebook and its other apps: Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. This unimaginable mountain of information is the bedrock of Facebook’s $70-billion-a-year ad business.

The biggest risks to TikTok

Casey Newton:

With Facebook under antitrust scrutiny around the world, the company is spending more time making the case that it is beset on all sides by competitors. There are other messaging apps, other professional networking apps, and other video apps. And when it comes to good old-fashioned social networking — public broadcasts, following influencers, and that sort of thing, there’s TikTok.

“In just three years, TikTok has become one of the world’s most popular online social network platforms,” Facebook wrote today in a letter to Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, who has championed an antitrust inquiry into the company. “The app has been downloaded more than one billion times globally, is available in more than 150 countries, and in 2018 was installed more times than either Facebook or Instagram.”

TikTok’s ubiquity is all the more striking considering that it just celebrated its first birthday on August 2nd. That’s when the Chinese company ByteDance, which had bought an American app named Musical.ly in November 2017, rebranded it as TikTok. In the year since, the app has become a global hit, thanks to a core feed powered by machine learning that’s entertaining even if you never follow anyone. (TikTok’s “duets” feature, which allows you to easily remix others’ content, also skillfully married a strong creative tool with a useful engagement hack.)

2019 email client marketshare

Bettina Specht:

Over the course of the past year, we’ve analyzed over 10 billion—yes, that’s billion with a “B”— email opens tracked with Litmus Email Analytics to see where subscribers read emails. And while a few things stayed the same, we saw plenty of movement this year in terms of email client popularity. In our 2019 Email Market Share infographic, we take a look at mobile, webmail, and desktop opens over the course of the year, providing insights into why these changes occurred and how they may affect your email campaigns.

How to Get a $5,000 Amazon Credit: Buy a House Through Realogy

Conor Dougherty and Karen Weise:

Over the past year, the decidedly analog business of buying and selling real estate has been upended by a flurry of new money and start-ups trying to usher in a world where homes are bought and sold online. Now, Amazon is creating a partnership that goes in the opposite direction by using its gigantic retail platform to facilitate phone calls with human real estate agents.

On Tuesday, Amazon said that it was working with Realogy, the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company and owner of Century 21, Coldwell Banker and other brands, to create TurnKey, a service that will help prospective home buyers find real estate agents. To entice customers, Amazon will give buyers up to $5,000 in home services and smart-home gear when they close.

Amazon is now as much a search engine as it is a store, and the deal fits into the company’s effort to capitalize on its status as an online destination by making money on advertising and other services. It’s also a way to encourage people to adopt products like Alexa speakers and Ring doorbells and to promote its list of handymen, furniture assemblers and other home services.

For Realogy, who will pay for those benefits, the partnership is a way of using Amazon to find home buyers and help its brokers separate the closers from the lookie-loos by rebating a portion of its commission, in the form of free Amazon stuff, to anyone who actually buys a house.

Here’s how it works: Buyers who are interested in the program go to Amazon.com/TurnKey and answer four questions about who they are and where they live. They then get a phone call from a Realogy representative who tries to determine what sort of home they are looking for and how serious they are about buying.

The best prospects are sent to agents. Depending on how much buyers ultimately spend on a home, those who close with one of Realogy’s agents get a coupon for $450 to $1,500 in Amazon Home Services like unpacking, cleaning and furniture assembly, along with $500 to $3,500 in smart-home products that Amazon or some affiliate will install. To get the maximum benefit, worth $5,000 in equipment and services, a buyer would have to purchase a home for $700,000 or more.

Google, Yelp and Data Scraping

Danny in the valley podcast:

The Sunday Times’ tech correspondent Danny Fortson brings on Jeremy Stoppelman, founder of Yelp, to talk about the early days of “user-generated content” (3:50), when ‘Yelp’ became a verb (7:10), when Google took notice (9:00), becoming a resource for the search giant (11:35), when Google tried to buy Yelp (12:40), testifying in Congress (13:40), Google’s dirty deeds (16:00), Google’s unseen power (18:50), whether Trump is good for Yelp (23:20), the coming crackdown (25:50)

Related: Keller Williams’ recent Google “Data Alliance” announcement.

Oregon Just Voted to Legalize Duplexes on Almost Every City Lot

Michael Andersen:

“This is about choice,” said Rep. Tina Kotek, the Democratic speaker of Oregon’s house and the bill’s architect and lead champion, when she introduced the bill in February. “This is about allowing for different opportunities in neighborhoods that are currently extremely limited.”

“We all have an affordable housing crisis in our areas,” said Rep. Jack Zika, a Redmond Republican who supported the bill before a different committee June 11. “This is not a silver bullet, but will address some of the things that all our constituents need. … We have an opportunity now for first-time homebuyers.”

About 2.8 million Oregonians live in jurisdictions affected by the bill. Of those, about 2.5 million live in larger cities and the Portland metro area where up to four homes per lot would become legal; the rest, in mid-size cities where only duplexes would be legalized.

Cities would retain the ability to regulate building size and design, giving them leeway to ensure that change will be gradual. Cities also have flexibility to incentivize projects that create new below-market homes. (Portland, which has been working on its own fourplex legalization for the last four years, is planning to do exactly that, using a sliding scale of size bonuses that lets buildings be slightly larger for each additional home they create, and another bonus if one or more of the homes is offered below market price.)

Internet Trends: Daily Hours Spent with Digital Media, by Device

Internet Trends 2019.

Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake—and Google Profits

Rob Copeland and Katherine Bindley:

Yet despite its powerful algorithms and first-rate software engineers, the company struggles to protect against chronic deceit on Google Maps.

Once considered a sleepy, low-margin business by the company and known mostly for giving travel directions, Google Maps in recent months has packed more ads onto its search queries. It is central to Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG 0.93% hope to recharge a cresting digital-advertising operation.

Often, Google Maps yields mirages, visible in local business searches of U.S. cities, including Mountain View, Calif., Google’s hometown. Of a dozen addresses for personal-injury attorneys on Google Maps during a recent search, only one office was real. A Viennese patisserie was among the businesses at addresses purported to house lawyers. The fakes vanished after inquiries to Google from The Wall Street Journal.

The false listings benefit businesses seeking more customer calls by sprinkling made-up branches in various corners of a city. In other cases, as Ms. Carter discovered, calls to listed phone numbers connect to unscrupulous competitors, a misdirection forbidden by Google rules but sporadically policed by the company.

Hundreds of thousands of false listings sprout on Google Maps each month, according to experts. Google says it catches many others before they appear.

Online advertising specialists identified by Google as deft fraud fighters estimated that Google Maps carries roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day, according to a Journal survey of these experts.

Facebook usage falling after privacy scandals, data suggests

Alex Hern:

The decline coincided with a series of data, privacy and hate speech scandals. In September the company discovered a breach affecting 50m accounts, in November it admitted that an executive hired a PR firm to attack the philanthropist George Soros, and it has been repeatedly criticised for allowing its platform to be used to fuel ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Facebook’s own statistics show increases in daily and monthly active users (DAUs and MAUs), the numbers logging on to the site at least once in the respective periods, during the year ending March 2019.

In the company’s latest quarterly earnings report, published in April, it said it averaged 1.56bn DAUs in March up 8% on March 2018, and MAUs were also up 8% year on year.

The two sets of numbers can be reconciled. Anecdotal reports over the past year have suggested that while few users have deleted their Facebook accounts or stopped logging on since the scandals, many have reduced their usage.

This month a market research firm, eMarketer, reported a decline in Facebook usage in the US, saying the typical Facebook user spent 38 minutes a day on the site, down from 41 minutes in 2017.

“On top of that, Facebook has continued to lose younger users, who are spreading their time and attention across other social platforms and digital activities,” eMarketer said.

How to Design for the Web in 2019

Casper Beyer:

Chrome is moving to block ad-blockers so if the user is using a browser like Brave we’ll be able to just claim the user’s browser isn’t modern enough.

Death of the Country Club

Charles McElwee:

The country club, once a mainstay of American suburbia, faces a cloudy future, with a changing culture eroding its societal influence. Golf and tennis, the traditional club pastimes, have lost popularity. Declining marriage and fertility rates mean fewer families joining. Young professionals, many burdened with limited incomes and high debt, balk at paying dues. And a yearning for broader community makes the clubhouse’s exclusivity unappealing. The country club is increasingly a refuge for retirees—and, upon closure, a site for mixed-use development.

Country clubs once served as communal centers for social climbers. Dating to the 1880s, the clubs—modeled on the British aristocracy’s country houses—opened in the bucolic outskirts of industrial cities and towns. For a growing upper-middle-class, wealth permitted entry into this local society. Golf, dormant since the colonial era, became the favored sport for club members; in 1895 alone, more than 100 courses opened. Country clubs would help shape the development of streetcar suburbs, with stately homes lining manicured courses. By the Great Depression, nearly 4,500 country clubs existed across the country.

Brand Building: The Wrong Math

Bob Hoffman:

Sadly in the field of advertising and marketing, experts are not usually hatched based on their record of producing reliable results, but on their ability to attract attention. Consequently we should be highly dubious of their “expertise.” But we’re not. Because as Kahneman also says, “a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition.”

One of the most frequently repeated and, in my opinion, highly dubious tropes in our industry these days is the idea that the paragon of media strategy is “mass one-to-one” communication. In non-jargonista terms, this means reaching large numbers with individualized messages.

You would expect that this assertion would be met with skepticism. For one thing, there is no record of “mass one-to-one” communication achieving anything. You might argue that no one has yet been able to engineer “mass one-to-one” and that is why there is no record. Which is exactly my point. Shouldn’t we exercise a little skepticism about a theory for which there are no examples?


First, I believe brands are far more likely to achieve big success if they are well-known. Public media (broad based media) make you well-known. Private media (one-to-one) don’t. Perhaps the best argument for this can be found outside the advertising industry. As many have noted, in their early stages Google, Facebook, and Amazon were brands that became successful without advertising. How did they become successful? One component was that news media fell in love with them and gave them zillions in free coverage. These companies became well-known without advertising, and being well-known helped them grow. The rules of probability don’t just apply to advertising, they apply across the board.

Second, I believe people are more likely to accept the legitimacy of brands that advertise in public than brands that advertise in private

Third, except for sociopaths, we all (secretly) want to fit in. Understanding what products fit with our peer culture is part of fitting in. This is why goths wear black and golfers wear plaid. Consequently, we are more likely to buy a brand about which everyone in our group knows what the brand stands for. Public media provide the framework to believe that your group has the same understanding of what the brand is about as you do. Private media do not. When advertising is customized for individuals, we have no idea if others know what we know.

Is GDPR working? Brave’s Johnny Ryan says it’s starting to, and marketers must heed the risks

Greg Sterling:

Article 7 (3) of the GDPR requires that an opt-in must be as easy to undo as it was to give in the first place, and that people can do so without detriment.

Tech Platforms

Ben Evans:

There are about 5.3bn people on earth aged over 15. Of these, around 5bn have a mobile phone. This is an estimate: I’m going with the GSMA’s but most others are in the same range. The data challenge is that mobile operators collectively know how many people have a SIM card, but a lot of people have more than one. Meanwhile, ownership starts at aged 10 or so in developed markets, whereas in some developing markets half of the population is under 15, which means that a penetration number given as a share of the total population masks a much higher penetration of the adult population.

About 4bn people have a smartphone. How do we get to this number? Well:

  • Apple gave a number of 900m active iPhones at the beginning of the year, which is consistent with the unit sales that it reported until recently.

  • Google said at this year’s IO conference that there are 2.5bn active Android devices, and the Android developer dashboard says that about 95% of these are phones.
  • Google’s number does not include Android phones in China, which do not come with any Google services (conversely Apple’s number does include iOS devices in China). The Chinese government estimates just over 800m internet-connected smartphones in China, and perhaps 20% of these are iPhones, giving a round number of 650m Android phones.

How many of these are online? These sources are all based on devices that connect to the internet regularly in order for them to be counted, but ‘connection’ is a pretty fuzzy thing. The entry price for low-end Android is now well under $50, and cellular data connectivity is relatively expensive for people earning less than $10 or $5 a day (and yes, all of these people are getting phones). Charging your phone is also expensive – if you live without grid electricity, you may need to pay the neighbor who owns a generator, solar cells or car battery to top up your battery. Hence, MTN Nigeria recently reported that 47% of its users had a smartphone but only 27% were active data users (defined as using >5 meg/month). Of course, some of these will be limiting their use to wifi, where they can get it. These issues will obviously intensify as the next billion convert to smartphones (or near-smartphones like KaiOS) in the next few years. There are lots of paths to address this, including the continuing cost efficiencies of cellular, cheaper backhaul (perhaps using LEO satellites), and cheap solar panels (and indeed more wifi). The fratricidal price wars started by Jio in India are another contributor, though you can’t really rely on that to happen globally. But this issue means that on one hand there are actually more than 4bn smartphones in use in some way, but on the other that fewer than 4bn are really online.

Facebook held talks with Winklevoss twins over new currency

Hanna Murphy and Philip Stafford:

Facebook’s vaulting ambition to create a new global digital currency has led it to hold talks with some of America’s largest trading houses and cryptocurrency exchanges, including one founded by Mark Zuckerberg’s sworn enemies — the Winklevoss twins.

A secretive unit of the social media company has been working for more than a year to create a currency that its 2bn users can use to send money to each other, and to buy things not just on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp but across the internet and in the real world.

“Payments is one of the areas where we have an opportunity to make it a lot easier. I believe it should be as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo,” said Mr Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, at the company’s developer conference at the end of April.

But the project will be “bigger and more open” than just a way to make payments and purchases within Facebook, according to three people familiar with the project.

To make sure that its new currency, a digital coin linked to the value of the dollar, is liquid and tradeable, Facebook has talked to Jump and DRW, Chicago’s biggest high-frequency trading firms about making a market, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Both firms declined to comment. Facebook has required all parties taking part in talks to sign non-disclosure agreements.

CrossFit, Inc. Suspends Use of Facebook and Associated Properties


Recently, Facebook deleted without warning or explanation the Banting7DayMealPlan user group. The group has 1.65 million users who post testimonials and other information regarding the efficacy of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. While the site has subsequently been reinstated (also without warning or explanation), Facebook’s action should give any serious person reason to pause, especially those of us engaged in activities contrary to prevailing opinion.

Facebook and its properties host and oversee a significant share of the marketplace of public thought. To millions of individuals and communities across the world, Facebook and its properties remain the platforms where ideas and information are exchanged. Facebook thus serves as a de facto authority over the public square, arbitrating a worldwide exchange of information as well as overseeing the security of the individuals and communities who entrust their ideas, work, and private data to this platform. This mandates a certain responsibility and assurance of good faith, transparency, and due process.

CrossFit, Inc., as a voluntary user of and contributor to this marketplace, can and must remove itself from this particular manifestation of the public square when it becomes clear that such responsibilities are betrayed or reneged upon to the detriment of our community. Common decency demands that we do so, as do our convictions regarding fitness, health, and nutrition, which sit at the heart of CrossFit’s identity and prescription. To this end, all activity on CrossFit, Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram accounts was suspended as of May 22, 2019, as CrossFit investigates the circumstances pertaining to Facebook’s deletion of the Banting7DayMealPlan and other well-known public complaints about the social-media company that may adversely impact the security and privacy of our global CrossFit community.

The Rise of the Rural Creative Class (!)

Richard Florida:

One of the most persistent myths in America today is that urban areas are innovative and rural areas are not. While it is overwhelmingly clear that innovation and creativity tend to cluster in a small number of cities and metropolitan areas, it’s a big mistake to think that they somehow skip over rural America.

A series of studies from Tim Wojan and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service documents the drivers of rural innovation. Their findings draw on a variety of data sets, including a large-scale survey that compares innovation in urban and rural areas called the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey (REIS). This is based on some 11,000 business establishments with at least five paid employees in tradable industries—that is, sectors that produce goods and services that are or could be traded internationally—in rural (or non-metro) and urban (metro) areas.

The survey divides businesses into three main groups. Roughly 30 percent of firms are substantive innovators, launching new products and services, making data-driven decisions, and creating intellectual property worth protecting; another 33 percent are nominal innovators who engage in more incremental improvement of their products and processes; and 38 percent show little or no evidence of innovation, so are considered to be non-innovators.

Google to push new ads on its apps to snare shoppers

Paresh Dave:

The search giant on Tuesday announced an expansion of its advertising real estate to boost revenue from mobile shoppers. It will feature ads on the homepage of its smartphone app worldwide, show more ads in Maps and place ads with image galleries in search results.

The changes come as choppy revenue growth prompt questions from some Alphabet investors about whether services such as Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc’s Instagram are drawing online shoppers and in turn, advertisers away from Google.

Google executives told reporters on Monday the latest features were a response to how users behave, not competition.