How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web

Brian Merchant:

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

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

Brian O’Keefe:

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Christian:

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

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

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

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

A New Era of Retail Is Coming

Doug Stephens:

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

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

I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant On TripAdvisor

Oobah Butler:

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

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

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

Sarah Perez:

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

Digital Usage Reports

mixpanel.

Measuring the Information Society Report 2017

ITU (PDF):

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

2017 global mobile consumer survey: US edition

DeLoitte:

Mobile usage habits form the device etiquette

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

Predictable crises

Steve Dennis:

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

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

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

Facebook, Google Leading to Internet Domination of Advertising

Paul Bond:

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

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

Anil Dash:

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

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

statista:

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

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

How Snapchat is separating social from media

Evan Spiegel:

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

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

The Business Case for Quirkiness

Cara Cannella:

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

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

Nick Bilton:
 

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

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

Murtaza Hussain:

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

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

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

Chris Bourke:

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

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

The Future Of Retail In The Age Of Amazon

Austin Carr:

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

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

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

Keith Collins:

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

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

Dan Goodin:

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

We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself

Sandy Parakilas:

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

Benefits of Continuous Delivery

Henrik Warne:

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

There’s a Digital Media Crash. But No One Will Say It

Josh Marshall:

Yesterday I appeared on a panel about digital publishers who are ‘pivoting to video’. I’ve written about this before. But in case you’re new to it, there have been numerous cases over the last six months to a year in which digital publishers have announced either major job cuts or in some cases literally fired their entire editorial teams in order to ‘pivot to video.’ The phrase has almost become a punchline since, as I’ve argued, there is basically no publisher in existence involved in any sort of news or political news coverage who says to themselves, my readers are demanding more of their news on video as opposed to text. Not a single one. The move to video is driven entirely by advertiser demand.

What crystallized for me from this and other discussions I had yesterday is that we’re actually in the midst of a digital news media crash, only no one is willing to say it. I’ve noted before that digital news media in the midst of a monetization crisis. But it’s more than that. It’s a full blown crash.

How to find out what Facebook knows about you

Todd Haselton:

Between information you’ve provided and your usage habits, Facebook knows a lot about you

CNBC will walk you through how to find out what Facebook knows about you

You’ll see options to help limit what Facebook can discover about you along the way

How Many Hours Americans Need to Work to Pay Their Mortgage

Jeff Desjardins :

When it comes to the cost of living in cities, a general rule of thumb is that housing prices are much higher in the country’s economic and population hubs, especially in the cities along the coasts.

Particularly in recent years, prices have been pushed sky-high in places like New York City or San Francisco through a combination of limited supply of new homes, increasing demand, shifting demographics, and government regulations.

Google Has Picked an Answer for You—Too Bad It’s Often Wrong

Jack Nicas:

Google became the world’s go-to source of information by ranking billions of links from millions of sources. Now, for many queries, the internet giant is presenting itself as the authority on truth by promoting a single search result as the answer.

Tim Berners-Lee on the future of the web: ‘The system is failing’

Olivia Solon:

ir Tim Berners-Lee’s optimism about the future of the web is starting to wane in the face of a “nasty storm” of issues including the rollback of net neutrality protections, the proliferation of fake news, propaganda and the web’s increasing polarisation.

The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee’s vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators.

Messages Matter: Exploring the Evolution of Conversation

Facebook:

Some believe that the digital age has its tradeoffs in communication. But our study reveals that the diverse toolkit of channels available has improved and deepened the way people connect with others.

Messaging is a core part of everyday life: 80 percent of adults (age 19-64) and 91 percent of teens (age 13-18) across the globe message every day

There has been an increase in the amount of communication over the past two years: People have increased their usage of various channels, but the top five include messaging (67 percent), social media (48 percent), email (47 percent), video chat (47 percent) and face-to-face (38 percent) communication

More modes of communication = greater social satisfaction: As modes of communication increase, people report having greater and more authentic conversations

No boundaries: Exfiltration of personal data by session-replay scripts

Steven Englehardt :

This is the first post in our “No Boundaries” series, in which we reveal how third-party scripts on websites have been extracting personal information in increasingly intrusive ways. [0]
by Steven Englehardt, Gunes Acar, and Arvind Narayanan

You may know that most websites have third-party analytics scripts that record which pages you visit and the searches you make. But lately, more and more sites use “session replay” scripts. These scripts record your keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior, along with the entire contents of the pages you visit, and send them to third-party servers. Unlike typical analytics services that provide aggregate statistics, these scripts are intended for the recording and playback of individual browsing sessions, as if someone is looking over your shoulder.

The stated purpose of this data collection includes gathering insights into how users interact with websites and discovering broken or confusing pages. However the extent of data collected by these services far exceeds user expectations [1]; text typed into forms is collected before the user submits the form, and precise mouse movements are saved, all without any visual indication to the user. This data can’t reasonably be expected to be kept anonymous. In fact, some companies allow publishers to explicitly link recordings to a user’s real identity.

“We would miss out on some incredible investment opportunities if we required three or five years of audited returns before backing somebody.”

Janet Lorin:

Yale University chief investment officer David Swensen, in a rare public appearance, spoke Tuesday to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin at the Council on Foreign Relations.

During the hour-long session, Swensen, 63, disclosed that annualized returns over his 32-year tenure have been 13.5 percent, higher than the endowment’s assumption of 8.25 percent a year.

Swensen said he favors private equity and doesn’t like quants, and talked about his efforts to get university officials to lower expectations for future returns. The endowment has swelled to a record $27.2 billion, the second-largest in U.S. higher education.

Psychological targeting as an effective approach to digital mass persuasion

SC Matz:

Building on recent advancements in the assessment of psychological traits from digital footprints, this paper demonstrates the effectiveness of psychological mass persuasion—that is, the adaptation of persuasive appeals to the psychological characteristics of large groups of individuals with the goal of influencing their behavior. On the one hand, this form of psychological mass persuasion could be used to help people make better decisions and lead healthier and happier lives. On the other hand, it could be used to covertly exploit weaknesses in their character and persuade them to take action against their own best interest, highlighting the potential need for policy interventions.

Access Across America: Transit 2016

University of Minnesota:

The 2016 edition of Access Across America: Transit reports that 36 of the 49 largest metros showed increases in job accessibility by transit. Though rankings of the top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by transit remain unchanged from the previous year, new data comparing changes within each of the 49 largest U.S. metros over one year helped researchers identify the places with the greatest increases in access to jobs by transit. Cincinnati and Charlotte improved more than 11 percent. Seattle, which ranks 8th for job accessibility by transit, improved nearly 11 percent.

“This new data makes it possible to see the change from year to year in how well a metro area is facilitating access to jobs by transit,” said Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “Transit is an essential transportation service for many Americans, and we directly compare the accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

It’s time to stop trusting Google search already

Adi Robertson::

Alongside pushing Google to stop “fake news,” we should be looking for ways to limit trust in, and reliance on, search algorithms themselves. That might mean seeking handpicked video playlists instead of searching YouTube Kids, which recently drew criticism for surfacing inappropriate videos. It could mean focusing on reestablishing trust in human-led news curation, which has produced its own share of dangerous misinformation. It could mean pushing Google to kill, not improve, features that fail in predictable and damaging ways. At the very least, I’ve proposed that Google rename or abolish the Top Stories carousel, which offers legitimacy to certain pages without vetting their accuracy. Reducing the prominence of “Popular on Twitter” might make sense, too, unless Google clearly commits to strong human-led quality control.

Unusual experiment reveals the power of non-mainstream media

Annalee Newitz:

To be more precise, it only takes three or more stories from small news outlets covering the same topic to make discussions of that topic go up by 62.7 percent on Twitter.

It took a group of Harvard researchers five years to reach this conclusion. They did it by tracking the effects of stories covered by 48 small media outlets, measuring how they affected conversations on Twitter. Harvard political scientist Gary King and his colleagues explain in the journal Science that they honed in on 11 broad topics in public policy, ranging from refugees and race to food policy and domestic energy production.

“If we’d been conducting this study 100 years ago, we would have gone into town squares and listened to what people said on soap boxes,” said King. “Today, it’s Twitter.”

Many older Americans are living a desperate, nomadic life

Richard Eisenberg:

In her powerful new book, “Nomadland,” award-winning journalist Jessica Bruder reveals the dark, depressing and sometimes physically painful life of a tribe of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are — as the subtitle says — “surviving America in the twenty-first century.” Not quite homeless, they are “houseless,” living in secondhand RVs, trailers and vans and driving from one location to another to pick up seasonal low-wage jobs, if they can get them, with little or no benefits.
 
 The “workamper” jobs range from helping harvest sugar beets to flipping burgers at baseball spring training games to Amazon’s AMZN, -0.33% “CamperForce,” seasonal employees who can walk the equivalent of 15 miles a day during Christmas season pulling items off warehouse shelves and then returning to frigid campgrounds at night. Living on less than $1,000 a month, in certain cases, some have no hot showers. As Bruder writes, these are “people who never imagined being nomads.” Many saw their savings wiped out during the Great Recession or were foreclosure victims and, writes Bruder, “felt they’d spent too long losing a rigged game.” Some were laid off from high-paying professional jobs. Few have chosen this life. Few think they can find a way out of it. They’re downwardly mobile older Americans in mobile homes.

It’s time to stop trusting Google search already

Adie Robertson:

Last weekend, in the hours after a deadly Texas church shooting, Google search promoted false reports about the suspect, suggesting that he was a radical communist affiliated with the antifa movement. The claims popped up in Google’s “Popular on Twitter” module, which made them prominently visible — although not the top results — in a search for the alleged killer’s name. Of course, the was just the latest instance of a long-standing problem: it was the latest of multiple similar missteps. As usual, Google promised to improve its search results, while the offending tweets disappeared. But telling Google to retrain its algorithms, as appropriate as that demand is, doesn’t solve the bigger issue: the search engine’s monopoly on truth.
 
 Surveys suggest that, at least in theory, very few people unconditionally believe news from social media. But faith in search engines — a field long dominated by Google — appears consistently high. A 2017 Edelman survey found that 64 percent of respondents trusted search engines for news and information, a slight increase from the 61 percent who did in 2012, and notably more than the 57 percent who trusted traditional media. (Another 2012 survey, from Pew Research Center, found that 66 percent of people believed search engines were “fair and unbiased,” almost the same proportion that did in 2005.) Researcher danah boyd has suggested that media literacy training conflated doing independent research with using search engines. Instead of learning to evaluate sources, “[students] heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not.”

America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning

Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon:

The so-called retail apocalypse has become so ingrained in the U.S. that it now has the distinction of its own Wikipedia entry.
 
 The industry’s response to that kind of doomsday description has included blaming the media for hyping the troubles of a few well-known chains as proof of a systemic meltdown. There is some truth to that. In the U.S., more than 3,000 stores did open in the first three quarters of this year.
 
 Store Openings and Closings
 
 Excluding grocery stores and restaurants

Interview with Founder and CEO of DiDi, Cheng Wei. Part I: Understanding DiDi and Data

Harbinger China:

Starting your own business is about creating value for your customers. Technological advances will create massive value for users in every industry. Most of the past 2000 years were the agricultural era, and the development of technology and society was so low that it was impossible for the average person with life expectancy of 50 to 70 years to witness any significant advancement in technology, so it is only reasonable that there have been no waves of start-up in the past.
 
 Few events in history had as much an impact as the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution. So, it is no wonder that both eras witnessed a spate of innovations and start-ups. Right now, there is nothing as influential as the Internet. Artificial intelligence is dominating the second round of the Internet Revolution, and in the future we might see more advancements in life sciences and space technology.
 
 The Internet is meant to connect. Through connections, efficiency is improved, and value is created and distributed through the industries. Taobao stands for connecting people with products, Baidu for connecting people with information, and Tencent for connecting people with one another… And I hope when people talk about connecting people with cars, they will think of DiDi. Connections form platforms, which then collect big data, and as a result we look to artificial intelligence to be more efficient in utilizing these data. This is why AI is the second round of the Internet Revolution.

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met

Kashmir Hill:
 

In real life, in the natural course of conversation, it is not uncommon to talk about a person you may know. You meet someone and say, “I’m from Sarasota,” and they say, “Oh, I have a grandparent in Sarasota,” and they tell you where they live and their name, and you may or may not recognize them.
 
 You might assume Facebook’s friend recommendations would work the same way: You tell the social network who you are, and it tells you who you might know in the online world. But Facebook’s machinery operates on a scale far beyond normal human interactions. And the results of its People You May Know algorithm are anything but obvious. In the months I’ve been writing about PYMK, as Facebook calls it, I’ve heard more than a hundred bewildering anecdotes:

Sustainable Housing Finance And Stigler’s Regulatory Capture: November 7, 2017 Hearing in Washington DC

Anthony Saunders:

That is correct, yet another hearing in Congress on what to do with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal government guarantee.

Here is the witness list:

Mr. Peter Wallison, Senior Fellow and Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial
Policy Studies, AEI

Dr. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody’s Analytics

Dr. Michael Lea, Cardiff Consulting Services

Ms. Alanna McCargo, Co-director, Housing Finance Policy Center, Urban
Institute

The Honorable Theodore “Ted” Tozer, Senior Fellow, Center for Financial
Markets, Milken Institute

Rent-control policies likely ‘fueled’ SF gentrification, Stanford economists say

Michelle Robertson:

Rent control policies in San Francisco may have fueled gentrification, Stanford economists say.
 
 Stanford economists Rebecca Diamond and Tim McQuade, who published their findings last month, said occupants of rent-controlled apartments built before 1980 are 20 percent more likely to stay than other renters.
 
 It might seem that rent-control policies, therefore, act as a bastion against gentrification, by allowing and encouraging long-term residents to stay, but the researchers say that’s not exactly the case.
 
 “Rent control exacerbates the housing shortage by pushing landlords to remove supply of rental housing,” Diamond told SFGATE.

An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions

Garrett Dash Nelson:
 

The emergence in the United States of large-scale “megaregions” centered on major metropolitan areas is a phenomenon often taken for granted in both scholarly studies and popular accounts of contemporary economic geography. This paper uses a data set of more than 4,000,000 commuter flows as the basis for an empirical approach to the identification of such megaregions. We compare a method which uses a visual heuristic for understanding areal aggregation to a method which uses a computational partitioning algorithm, and we reflect upon the strengths and limitations of both. We discuss how choices about input parameters and scale of analysis can lead to different results, and stress the importance of comparing computational results with “common sense” interpretations of geographic coherence. The results provide a new perspective on the functional economic geography of the United States from a megaregion perspective, and shed light on the old geographic problem of the division of space into areal units.

Millennials to Small Cities: Ready or Not, Here We Come

Tim Henderson:

Tyler and Alissa Hodge, two of the hundreds of young professionals who have moved here in recent years, noticed that despite the influx there was not a single city-style coffee shop downtown.
 
 So the couple opened one in May, with sofas, baked goods and local micro-roaster beans, adding a play area as a nod to the family-friendly culture of this southern Indiana city and their own three children.
 
 “The 18- to 35-year-olds expect something like that, but they just didn’t have it,” said Tyler Hodge, 32, who used crowdfunding to help finance the shop. The same tactic was used for a rock climbing gym opened in September by a group of young engineers who, like Hodge, spend their weekdays working at Cummins Inc., the diesel engine company that is the city’s largest employer.
 
 “There’s not that much to do here for the young people,” said Juan Valencia, a 25-year-old Colombian immigrant who is one of the founders of the climbing gym. “We think this will help.”

Detroit: From Motor City to Housing Incubator

Matthew Goldstein:

Midwestern cities like Detroit have long embodied the American can-do spirit. Over the course of a century, Motor City melded assembly-line prowess with freedom-of-the-road ideals to help define a nation. In the postwar years, Detroit became the epitome of the American dream, a place where factory workers without college degrees could make enough money to buy a house of their own.
 
 Yet as home prices soar across the United States — particularly on the coasts — Detroit remains a poster child for the economic crisis and housing collapse of a decade ago. Boarded up homes and rubble-strewn fields litter the landscape.

Why Do We Still Commute?

Greg Rosalsky:

Over the last year, many companies have ended their liberal work-from-home policies. Firms like IBM, Honeywell, and Aetna joined a long list of others that have deemed it more profitable to force employees to commute to the city and work in a central office than give them the flexibility to work where they want. It wasn’t supposed to be this way—at least according to Norman Macrae.
 
 In 1975, when personal computers were little more than glorified calculators for geeks and the Internet was an obscure project being developed by the United States government, Macrae, an influential journalist for The Economist who earned a reputation for clairvoyant prophesies—including the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Japan—made a radical prediction about how information technology would soon transform our lives.
 
 Macrae foretold the exact path and timeline that computers would take over the business world and then become a fixture of every American home. But he didn’t stop there. The spread of this machine, he argued, would fundamentally change the economics of how most of us work. Once workers could communicate with their colleagues through instant messages and video chat, he reasoned, there would be little coherent purpose to trudge long distances to work side by side in centrally located office spaces. As companies recognized how much cheaper remote employees would be, the computer would, in effect, kill the office—and with that our whole way of living would change.

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web

Parimal Satyal:

We’re quietly replacing an open web that connects and empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. We need to stop it.
 
 I quit Facebook seven months ago.
 
 Despite its undeniable value, I think Facebook is at odds with the open web that I love and defend. This essay is my attempt to explain not only why I quit Facebook but why I believe we’re slowly replacing a web that empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. And why we should, at the very least, stop and think about the consequences of that shift.
 
 The Web: Backstory
 
 (If you want, you can skip the backstory and jump directly to the table of contents).
 
 I love the web.
 
 I don’t mean that in the way that someone might say that they love pizza. For many of us in the early 2000s, the web was magical. You connected a phone line to your computer, let it make a funny noise and suddenly you had access to a seemingly-unending repository of thoughts and ideas from people around the world.
 
 It might not seem like much now, but what that noise represented was the stuff of science fiction at the time: near-instantaneous communication at a planetary scale. It was a big deal.

I can no longer recommend MailChimp

Graham Cluely:

All very sensible. And a good example of why, in the past, I have recommended MailChimp to organisations and individuals wishing to send out legitimate email newsletters.
 
 Only problem is… after years of protecting internet users from unwanted newsletter subscriptions, MailChimp has had a change of heart.
 
 Last week it quietly (I only found out by logging into my account, I never – ironically – received an email advisory from them) revealed that it would be switching its customers’ mailing lists to “single opt-in” rather than “double opt-in”.

The Trinet

Andre Stalz:

The internet will survive longer than the Web will. GOOG-FB-AMZN will still depend on submarine internet cables (the “Backbone”), because it is a technical success. That said, many aspects of the internet will lose their relevance, and the underlying infrastructure could be optimized only for GOOG traffic, FB traffic, and AMZN traffic. It wouldn’t conceptually be anymore a “network of networks”, but just a “network of three networks”, the Trinet, if you will. The concept of workplace network which gave birth to the internet infrastructure would migrate to a more abstract level: Facebook Groups, Google Hangouts, G Suite, and other competing services which can be acquired by a tech giant. Workplace networks are already today emulated in software as a service, not as traditional Local Area Networks. To improve user experience, the Trinet would be a technical evolution of the internet. These efforts are already happening today, at GOOG. In the long-term, supporting routing for the old internet and the old Web would be an overhead, so it could be beneficial to cut support for the diverse internet on the protocol and hardware level. Access to the old internet could be emulated on GOOG’s cloud accessed through the Trinet, much like how Windows 95 can be today emulated in your browser. ISPs would recognize the obsolence of the internet and support the Trinet only, driven by market demand for optimal user experience from GOOG-FB-AMZN.
 
 Perhaps a future with great user experience in AR, VR, hands-free commerce and knowledge sharing could evoke an optimistic perspective for what these tech giants are building. But 25 years of the Web has gotten us used to foundational freedoms that we take for granted. We forget how useful it has been to remain anonymous and control what we share, or how easy it was to start an internet startup with its own independent servers operating with the same rights GOOG servers have. On the Trinet, if you are permanently banned from GOOG or FB, you would have no alternative. You could even be restricted from creating a new account. As private businesses, GOOG, FB, and AMZN don’t need to guarantee you access to their networks. You do not have a legal right to an account in their servers, and as societies we aren’t demanding for these rights as vehemently as we could, to counter the strategies that tech giants are putting forward.

How Americans really feel about Facebook, Apple, and more

Casey Newton, Nick Statt, and Michael Zelenko :

This year marked a sea change in our attitude toward tech’s largest players — and not for the better. Facebook, with a user base twice the size of the Western Hemisphere, seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis: CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent much of 2017 on a national tour that The New York Times billed as a “real-world education.” Meanwhile, the platform has become embroiled in a national debate that started with fake news and has evolved into an investigation into how the Russian government weaponized the network to influence the 2016 presidential election. Next week, the company will be brought to testify in front of Congress on the matter.
 
 Amazon made considerable headway in its quest to serve every part of our lives, from acquiring Whole Foods this summer to rolling out a plan to get keys to our front doors just this week. Apple continues to amass a vast reserve last valued at $260 billion, but its top-tier devices have lost their luster, and it’s been years since the company released a truly game-changing product. Twitter has come under increased scrutiny for harassment and bot armies of nefarious origin, which may explain its tepid user base growth despite becoming the new unofficial platform for American politics. And there’s a growing sense, underlined by this summer’s $2.7 billion EU antitrust ruling against Google, that the entire cabal of big tech companies have turned the corner from friendly giants to insidious monopolies.