2019

Why millennials never want to leave their apartment anymore

Sarah Todd:

Nobody wants to leave their apartment anymore. That’s the prevailing sentiment on the internet, anyway. Mean Girls memes and Viola Davis gifs celebrate the joy of canceling plans. Essays offer neuroscience-backed explanations of the relief that comes with bailing on drinks, while listicles and trend pieces promote the homebody lifestyle. Advice columns enumerate tips for backing out of social plans without losing your friends. The weekly newsletter Girls Night In features “recommendations for a cozy night in” alone or with girlfriends, including books, recipes, gratitude exercises, and candles. And at last count, Etsy offered 11,490 introvert-branded items celebrating a life of blissful solitude, from enamel pins emblazoned with the motto “Anti-Social Butterfly” to t-shirts declaring, “It’s way too people-y outside.”

The rise of millennial hermits is a bit puzzling at first blush. Sure, staying inside has its advantages. You’re sheltered from the elements. You can watch TV, which has gotten really good. Your pet is there, if you have a pet. And everyone needs downtime, some of us more than others.

In-Person Requests Are More Effective Than Electronic Ones

Vanessa Bohns:

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

In research Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University and I conducted, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we have found that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.

In one study, we had 45 participants ask 450 strangers (10 strangers each) to complete a brief survey. All participants made the exact same request following the exact same script; however, half of the participants made their requests over email, while the other half asked face-to-face.

We found that people were much more likely to agree to complete a survey when they were asked in-person as opposed to over email. These findings are consistent with previous research showing that people are more likely to comply with requests in person than over email.

Internet freedom is declining around the world—and social media is to blame

Technology Review:

The news: Governments worldwide are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and spy on citizens, think tank Freedom House has warned in its latest report. It’s the ninth year in a row that global internet freedom has dropped, according to its assessment of 65 countries.

A new menace: Disinformation—false information spread deliberately to deceive people—helped distort elections in 26 of the 30 countries studied that had national votes in the last year. Outright censorship and internet shutdowns persist, but many governments find it more effective to employ individuals to spread online propaganda, facilitated by social-media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, the report said.

Some figures: Of the 65 countries studied, half had an overall decline in their internet freedom score, while just 16 registered improvements. A majority were affected by advanced social-media surveillance programs, with law enforcement in 47 countries arresting people for political, social, or religious speech online.

Image Recognition Trends in 2020

Ina Toncheva:

What is image recognition used for?

One of the most widely used applications of image recognition is the automatic detection and tagging of people, objects and places in large visual databases. Other technologies with increasing popularity are facial recognition used in security, biometrics and personal photos platforms, and content moderation for filtering offensive and illegal visual content. 

Which Image Recognition Technologies Will be on the Rise in 2020? 

Content Moderation

Billions of users share content online and tons of it falls within a range from inappropriate to outright illegal. Platforms operating with user-generated content (UGC) face a significant challenge  how to efficiently and effectively monitor UGC and block inappropriate and offensive images, videos and text. Content moderation done poorly can disturb vulnerable groups, hurt the brands reputation and cause compliance and legal issues. 

Who takes care of the “toxic digital garbage”?

Content moderation can be performed by humans, AI or both. More than 100,000 people worldwide monitor the most violent, pornographic, exploitative and illegal content to protect internet users from online bullies and criminals. The job is tough and can take its emotional and mental toll. 

The great American tax haven: why the super-rich love South Dakota

Oliver Bullough:

A decade ago, South Dakotan trust companies held $57.3bn in assets. By the end of 2020, that total will have risen to $355.2bn. Those hundreds of billions of dollars are being regulated by a state with a population smaller than Norfolk, a part-time legislature heavily lobbied by trust lawyers, and an administration committed to welcoming as much of the world’s money as it can. US politicians like to boast that their country is the best place in the world to get rich, but South Dakota has become something else: the best place in the world to stayrich.

At the heart of South Dakota’s business success is a crucial but overlooked fact: globalisation is incomplete. In our modern financial system, money travels where its owners like, but laws are still made at a local level. So money inevitably flows to the places where governments offer the lowest taxes and the highest security. Anyone who can afford the legal fees to profit from this mismatch is able to keep wealth that the rest of us would lose, which helps to explain why – all over the world – the rich have become so much richer and the rest of us have not.

How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

Kirsten Grind, Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West:

More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal:
  • Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

  • Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called “knowledge panels” and “featured snippets,” and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.
  • Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.
  • In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.
  • Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.
  • To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.

Zillow, Opendoor Pay Close to Market Value for Homes, Study Says

Laura Kusisto:

Companies using technology to make rapid cash offers to home sellers are typically paying their customers close to market value, a new study found.

The study’s conclusion is likely to be reassuring for sellers who are considering using so-called iBuyers instead of traditional real-estate agents. But it raises questions about the long-term sustainability of the iBuying business.

Companies like Opendoor and Zillow Group Inc. give consumers cash for their homes, saving them the hassle of tidying up before open houses and the risk of being unable to find a seller. In turn, consumers pay a fee of about 6% or more—higher than they typically would pay a traditional real-estate agent.

Many sellers have wondered if the iBuyers are making a lowball offer for their homes in exchange for faster execution.

The new study from Mike DelPrete, a scholar in residence on real-estate technology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found Opendoor and Zillow typically purchase homes for just over 1%, or around $3,800, less than the value of the home as determined by First American Financial Corp. , a real estate title insurance company.

“This has always been a fundamental question. Are they ripping people off or not?” Mr. DelPrete said. “You can say pretty conclusively iBuyers are making fair offers on the homes they buy.”

History as a giant data set: how analysing the past could help save the future

Laura Spinney:

Turchin set out to determine whether history, like physics, follows certain laws. In 2003, he published a book called Historical Dynamics, in which he discerned secular cycles in France and Russia from their origins to the end of the 18th century. That same year, he founded a new field of academic study, called cliodynamics, which seeks to discover the underlying reasons for these historical patterns, and to model them using mathematics, the way one might model changes to the planet’s climate. Seven years later, he started the field’s first official journaland co-founded a database of historical and archaeological information, which now contains data on more than 450 historical societies. The database can be used to compare societies across large stretches of time and space, as well as to make predictions about coming political instability. In 2017, Turchin founded a working group of historians, semioticians, physicists and others to help anticipate the future of human societies based on historical evidence.

Urbanization Commentary

Alon:

One faction of urbanists that I’ve sometimes found myself clashing with is people who assume that a greener, less auto-centric future will look something like the traditional small towns of the past. Strong Towns is the best example I know of of this tendency, arguing against high-rise urban redevelopment and in favor of urbanism that looks like pre-freeway Midwestern main streets. But this retro attitude to the future happens everywhere, and recently I’ve had to argue about this with the generally pro-modern Cap’n Transit and his take about the future of vacations. Even the push for light rail in a number of cities has connections with nostalgia for old streetcars, to the point that some American cities build mixed-traffic streetcars, such as Portland.

The future was not retro in the 1950s

The best analogy for a zero-emissions future is ironically what it seeks to undo: the history of suburbanization. In retrospect, we can view midcentury suburbanization as a physical expansion of built-up areas at lower density, at automobile scale. But at the time, it was not always viewed this way. Socially, the suburbs were supposed to be a return to rural virtues. The American patrician reformers who advocated for them consciously wanted to get rid of ethnic urban neighborhoods and their alien cultures. The German Christian democratic push for regional road and rail connections has the same social origin, just without the ethnic dimension – cities were dens of iniquity and sin.

At the same time, the suburbs, that future of the middle of the 20th century, were completely different from the mythologized 19th century past, before cities like New York and Berlin had grown so big. Most obviously, they were linked to urban jobs; the social forces that pushed for them were aware of that in real time, and sought transportation links precisely in order to permit access to urban jobs in what they hoped would be rural living.

But a number of other key differences are visible – for one, those suburbs were near the big cities of the early 20th century, and not in areas with demographic decline. In the United States, the Great Plains and Appalachia kept depopulating and the Deep South except Atlanta kept demographically stagnating. The growth in that era of interregional convergence happened in suburbs around New York, Chicago, and other big then-industrial cities, and in parts of what would soon be called the Sunbelt, namely Southern California, Texas, and Florida. In Germany, this history is more complicated, as the stagnating region that traditionalists had hoped to repopulate was Prussia and Posen, which were given to Poland at the end of the war and ethnically cleansed of their German populations. However, we can still see postwar shifts within West Germany toward suburbs of big cities like Munich and Frankfurt, while the Ruhr stagnated.

The Google Squeeze

Ben Thompson:

First, note just how many screens you now have to scroll to reach organic results — at least 3 on an iPhone 11 Pro which is 812 points tall.

Again, this isn’t necessarily new — Google has been adding ads for a while — but what makes the hotel module compelling is that, while it is easy to ignore the ads, the module is genuinely useful! You have a map of the city with prices of various hotels, an opportunity to specify your dates, and several options to click through on.

Here is the rub, though, at least from an OTA perspective:

Gmail Hooked Us on Free Storage. Now Google Is Making Us Pay

Gerrit de Vynck

Google has also ended or limited other promotions recently that gave people free cloud storage and helped them avoid Gmail crises. New buyers of Chromebook laptops used to get 100 GB at no charge for two years. In May 2019 that was cut to one year. Google’s Pixel smartphone, originally launched in 2016, came with free, unlimited photo storage via the company’s Photos service.

Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive

Doist:

Study after study after study into remote work has made one thing clear: Remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts.

What’s not entirely clear is why.

Yes, people gain back time (and sanity) by avoiding rush hour commutes. They avoid the distractions of the office. They regain a sense of control over their workdays. They have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies.

But apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.

How Amazon Rigs Its Shopping Algorithm

Stacy Mitchell and Shaoul Sussman:

More than half of all internet shopping searches start on Amazon. That staggering fact has made the tech giant an all-powerful gatekeeper for every maker and retailer of consumer products looking to reach customers online. For these companies, success or failure in the pivotal online market hinges on how Amazon positions their offerings on its platform. These sellers live and die by the tech giant’s algorithms, which function as a key mechanism of Amazon’s market power.

 

The most consequential and fear-inducing of these algorithms is the one that controls which seller gets to occupy the “Buy Box” for a given product, the area on the right-hand side of the page that contains the eye-catching orange buttons that say “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.” When customers click one of these buttons, they’re choosing the default seller, the seller Amazon awarded the Buy Box to. 

 

The Buy Box is every bit as crucial as it sounds. For any product you might shop for on Amazon – a 55-inch Samsung television, say, or the paperback edition of Brandeis on Democracy — there are often multiple sellers offering that item, including, in many cases, Amazon itself. Amazon has an algorithm that selects one of these sellers as the default seller for that product. Sellers refer to being selected as “winning the Buy Box.”

 

Customers can opt for a different seller, but they rarely do. That’s partly owing to the one-click convenience of those orange buttons, and also because Amazon doesn’t make it very obvious that there are other options. To select a different seller, a shopper has to locate the inconspicuous text that says “Other Sellers on Amazon” or “See All Buying Options,” and then pick from the list that appears. More than 80 percent of the time, shoppers go with Amazon’s chosen seller. If they’re using a mobile device, that rises to more than 90 percent. 

 

In other words, for the hundreds of thousands of companies that sell on Amazon’s platform, “winning the Buy Box” is everything.

A Chinese digital currency is the real threat, not Facebook’s Libra

Kenneth Rogoff:

The fact that Libra will be pegged to the US dollar will give US authorities additional insight, because (at present) all dollar clearing must go through US-regulated entities. Still, given that Libra’s functionality can largely be duplicated with existing financial instruments, it is hard to see much fundamental demand for Libra except among those aiming to evade detection. Unless tech-sponsored currencies offer genuinely superior technology – and this is not at all obvious – they should be regulated in the same way as everyone else.

If nothing else, Libra has inspired many advanced-economy central banks to accelerate their programmes to provide broader-based retail digital currencies, and, one hopes, to strengthen their efforts to boost financial inclusion. But this battle is not simply over the profits from printing currency; ultimately, it is over the state’s ability to regulate and tax the economy in general, and over the US government’s ability to use the dollar’s global role to advance its international policy aims.

How California Became America’s Housing Market Nightmare

Noah Buhayar and Christopher Cannon:

How did we get here? Simply put, bad government—from outdated zoning laws to a 40-year-old tax provision that benefits long-time homeowners at the expense of everyone else—has created a severe shortage of houses. While decades in the making, California’s slow-moving disaster has reached a critical point for state officials, businesses and the millions who are straining to live there.

This fall, as President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the situation on his swing through the state to raise money for his reelection, lawmakers in Sacramento passed some of the most sweeping legislation in years to address housing affordability. Google, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. are throwing billions of dollars at the issue. But nobody’s kidding themselves that it’s enough.

“Broadly speaking, there is no solution to the California housing crisis without the construction of millions of new houses,” said David Garcia, policy director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley.

A Farewell to Dairy Queens

Loren Steffy:

To this day, virtually every Dairy Queen is a franchise; only two, both in Minnesota, are company owned. (International Dairy Queen Incorporated is based in Minneapolis and is now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.) That’s markedly different from the growth strategies of chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, which have always maintained a healthy number of company-owned outlets. That, plus the chain’s lower franchise fees and shorter wait times for prospective owners, made Dairy Queen appealing to small-town entrepreneurs. Soon stores were popping up across rural Texas, and they became ingrained in the social fabric.

“Before the Dairy Queens appeared the people of the small towns had no place to meet and talk; and so they didn’t meet or talk, which meant that much local lore or incident remained private and ceased to be exchanged, debated and stored,” Larry McMurtry wrote in his 1999 memoir Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond. (Benjamin, a German philosopher, pronounced his name “Ben-ya-meen,” so the title rhymes.)

Last summer, when Republican representative Will Hurd conducted a series of meetings with constituents, he hosted them at Dairy Queens across his district, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. That wouldn’t surprise the 1,200 residents of Gruver, near the border of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, where many used to begin their workday in the fields at the now-shuttered Dairy Queen. “That’s where the farmers would meet in the mornings and drink coffee,” said city manager Johnnie Williams.

The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising

Jesse Frederick:

For more than a century, advertising was an art, not a science. Hard data didn’t exist. An advertising guru of the Don Draper
type proclaimed: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons”

– and advertisers could only hope it was true. You put your commercials on the air, you put your brand in the paper, and you started praying. Would anyone see the ad? Would anyone act on it? Nobody knew.

In the early 1990s, the internet sounded the death knell for that era of advertising. Today, we no longer live in the age of Mad Men, but of Math Men.

Looking for customers, clicks, conversions? Google and Facebook know where to find them. With unprecedented precision, these data giants will get the right message delivered to the right people at the right time. Unassuming internet users are lured into online shops, undecided voters are informed about the evils of US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, and cars zip by on the screens of potential buyers – a test drive is only a click away.

But is any of it real? What do we really know about the effectiveness of digital advertising? Are advertising platforms any good at manipulating us?

You’d be forgiven for thinking the answer to that last question is: yes, extremely good. After all, the market is huge. The amount of money spent on internet ads goes up each year. In 2018, more than $273bn dollars was spent on digital ads globally, according to research firm eMarketer. Most of those ads were purchased from two companies: Google ($116bn in 2018) and Facebook ($54.5bn in 2018).

Goodbye Honey-Do List, Hello Shared-Labor App

Julie Jargon:

Take their Halloween-planning, for example. Ms. Harper gave her husband the task of ordering costumes, but because she didn’t accept his theme for the family—he wanted them all to dress up as characters from “The Powerpuff Girls,” but she worried no one would get it—he bounced it back to her. They ended up agreeing to be “Mario Bros.” characters and splitting the costume-ordering responsibilities.

Sara Blanchard and her husband, John Frederick, had been sharing a to-do list on the Wunderlist app but it went largely ignored by Mr. Frederick until his wife created a new category called “stuff that needs to get done because I see it every day and it is driving me crazy.” It included cleaning the backyard cushions, scrubbing the fountain and buying new bike locks for their two daughters.

Mr. Frederick, an airline pilot, admits he didn’t make his wife’s previous lists a priority but that her new designation got his attention. “It was not only the humorous nature of it but the emotional element that resonated with me,” said Mr. Frederick, who completed most of the items the second day after he returned home to Denver following a flight from Hong Kong.

“I felt so loved,” said Ms. Blanchard, who hosts a social-justice podcast. “But the best part was not nagging him.”

These Hugely Popular Local News Sites In The US And Canada Are Fake

Craig Silverman:

The Albany site has a Canadian counterpart, City of Edmonton News, that’s generated more pageviews than authentic local news operations such as the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, according to SimilarWeb. Those two were recently joined by another fake local site, the Laredo Tribune, which began receiving significant traffic in September. There’s also a now-dormant site called the Stanton Daily whose domain now redirects to the Albany site.

“It’s remarkable — who said local news is dead, right?” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, after examining two of the sites and their analytics for BuzzFeed News.

The Albany and Edmonton sites have not been updated in months, have no employees associated with them, and list no larger corporate entity. Their homepages are filled with bland, out-of-date rewrites of local stories first reported by real news outlets. Beyond the homepage, the sites are chock-full of old celebrity content that has nothing to do with the cities they supposedly cover. They do not have active social media accounts, nor do they list an office address or any contact details.

“You’d think they would do a better job of hiding their non-reality,” Benton said.

Rethinking business processes for the tap tap, swipe swipe era

Juergen Stackmann:

For our Volkswagen sales teams, this means a complete redesign of our interaction and processes between OEM, importers and dealers. Building on our existing strengths, such as our service quality, we need to elevate our currently disconnected distribution levels to a new, complete and well-connected system.

Bye-bye sequential system, hello integrated magic triangle

We have to act as one when facing our customers. OEM, importer and the dealer form a magic triangle in which the customer should always be at the centre of our efforts and considerations.

Computing Platforms: 2019+

Daniel Eran:

My email inbox is absolutely overwhelmed by unsolicited offers to provide free statements from a company CEO or market research group sharing insight and carefully crafted data supposedly proving an important trend. I don’t even write up their ideas, so imagine how much free “content” is streamed to the “journalists” who do rely on outside whispers to guide what they write.

When everyone writes up the same headline about a particular bit of data, you can be assured it was the result of some marketing group forwarding it out. You can be reasonably assured that if somebody is spending their time to disseminate facts for free, it’s most likely a contradiction of reality.

None of these research groups were spending their time announcing to the public that Apple was going to march past Windows and Android to become the most valuable, powerful and important company in electronics. That means they either didn’t know that was happening or didn’t want anyone else to know it.

The power of social media influencers is shrinking

Sara Fischer:

Online social media influencers, who are seen as a valuable asset to digital marketers, are seeing their power wane, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The obscurity around measurement and authenticity in the influencer space has led to a decline in trust between marketers and influencers.

Yes, but: “Despite questions about declining influence, the money paid influencers keeps climbing — roughly 50% a year since 2017,” per WSJ.

Data is a poor judge of opportunity

Lincoln Wilcox:

In 2018 Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Had the executives at Hewlett-Packard not made a critical mistake a few decades earlier, that title might have belonged to them.

It’s well known that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in a tiny garage in Los Altos, California. However, what many people don’t know is that when Wozniak designed the first prototype of the Apple I personal computer, he wasn’t working for Apple, but for HP. In fact, Wozniak proposed the idea for the Apple I to executives at HP and was rejected not once, not twice, but five separate times.

As painful as it must be for the executives at HP to look back on the episode with Wozniak, their experience isn’t an anomaly. In fact, history is full of examples of companies that overlooked or even rejected what turned out to be lucrative business ventures. Just look at how Blockbuster passed on an opportunity to buy Netflix in 2000, how AT&T decided it wasn’t worth investing in personal cellphones in the early 1980s, or how telecommunications executives laughed at Mo Ibrahim in the late 1990s when he proposed building a cellular network in Africa. The list goes on.

“You win some and you lose some,” HP cofounder Bill Hewlett later remarked about the company’s missed opportunity with the personal computer. But were HP’s executives simply unlucky? Or did something actually prevent them from seeing the opportunity in front of them, causing them to repeatedly pass on the idea?

Unicorn Feces: Compass Commentary

Scott Galloway:

Summary/prediction: Strategy makes sense, and they are buying real assets. The SoftBank effect (drunk capital) likely means they have overpaid. Value will decline, but not implode, making it one of SoftBank’s better real estate investments.

Facebook to Pay $40M Under Proposed Settlement in Video Metrics Suit

Eriq Gardner:

According to a brief in support of the settlement, Facebook would pay $40 million to resolve claims. Much of that would go to those who purchased ad time in videos, though $12 million — or 30 percent of the settlement fund — is earmarked for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.

Faced with claims of violating unfair competition law, breaching contract and committing fraud, Facebook contested advertisers’ injuries, questioning whether they really relied on these metrics in deciding to purchase ad time. In early rounds in the litigation, Facebook was successful in getting the judge to pare the claims, though until a settlement was announced, several of the claims including fraud were still live. Even after agreeing to pay $40 million for settlement, Facebook maintains the suit is “without merit.”

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.”