Their Flight Wasn't Until the Next Morning. Passengers Slept on the Floor. Then Airport Security Prodded Them to Stay Awake

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Have you ever noticed that there are never enough seats for passengers at airports?

Many are forced to mill around because, well, what else are you going to do?

You don’t expect, however, airport staff to instruct you on the milling-around rules. Nor, indeed, on the sleeping-at-the-airport rules.

Last weekend, though, passengers at Stansted Airport near London had a difficult time.

Some passengers flew in from elsewhere late at night and didn’t have a connecting flight until the next morning.

What are passengers supposed to do all night? Wouldn’t you try to get some sleep?

The UK’s Metro describes how passengers tried to find any perch they could to get a few winks.

But when there are only 50 seats and perhaps 500 passengers, there’s only one option: the floor.

I’ve done it before. Perhaps you have too. You try and find a corner, lie down, grip your valuables and hope no one bothers you.

At Stansted last weekend, however, airport security patrolled the scene.

As one passenger, Ricardo Gavioli, told Metro: 

I even saw a young couple sitting together on the ground and when the woman tried to rest her head on her boyfriend’s chest and stretch her legs security came up and prodded her into an upright position.

Gavioli likened it to “sleep deprivation torture.” He said: 

The security were passing every ten minutes to tell people to sit upright and not to lie down.

Why would the airport behave this way?

The airport offered a simple statement: 

We don’t allow people to sleep on the floor or come with sleeping equipment (camp beds, hammocks, sleeping bags etc), and people sleeping on the floor will be asked to sit up or move if necessary. 

There is a caveat, says the airport:

However, nobody is stopped from sleeping or woken up while sitting in a chair.

How very reasonable when there’s hardly a chair to be had.

Why, in fact, doesn’t the airport start charging for chairs? I’m sure U.S. airlines can offer them software for that.

I wonder how Stansted executives fall asleep in meetings. Does security prod them awake, too?

Stansted has banned sleeping on the floor between midnight and 2 a.m. This, it claims, is to accommodate renovation work and, as the airport told the Telegraph:

Feedback shows passengers don’t like arriving at the airport for an early flight to find lots of people blocking access and getting in the way of both staff and those traveling.

They also don’t like having nowhere to sit.

Still, perhaps many will find this approach reasonable. 

Is it also reasonable, though, to prod people awake when they have nowhere else to go and they’re not doing any harm?

Stansted says too many travelers deliberately decide to sleep on the floor, so they don’t have to pay for a hotel.

On the people’s foghorn, Twitter, passengers offered reasonable arguments. There’s just nowhere to go in that airport.

Of course, the airport says passengers should arrive at a time nearer their scheduled departure. 

Many know, however, that this can also provide a crush not worth tolerating.

This airport security’s prodding behavior isn’t exactly unique.

The airport insisted this was to allow cleaners to do their jobs.

Perhaps one idea for passengers is to avoid Stansted altogether.  

Until, that is, the renovations are done and the reception is gloriously welcoming. 

Should both things ever occur, that is.

Gadget Lab Podcast: Pinterest’s Evan Sharp on What Makes Good Software

Why did Apple’s Jony Ive name Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp as one of the figures in technology who he believes will change the future?

If you were wondering about that, here’s a great chance to learn a little bit more about Sharp and make the call yourself. During the 25th anniversary festival for WIRED last week, the Gadget Lab team had the chance to interview Sharp on stage, among other high-profile technologists. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing these taped conversations as a part of the podcast.

In this particularly interview, Mike and Arielle ask Sharp what it’s like to receive praise from Ive, how machine learning is changing software design, and whether Pinterest can remain once of the internet’s last happy places.

Show notes: Click here to read more about Jony Ive’s nomination of Evan Sharp for our 25th anniversary issue. And here’s Lauren’s WIRED 25 interview with Kevin Systrom, which we mentioned in this week’s show.

Recommendations this week: Lauren recommends the Dakota backpack from Dagne Dover. Mike recommends these awesome smartphone accessory lenses made by Moment.

Send the Gadget Lab hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. Arielle Pardes can be found at @pardesoteric. Lauren Goode is @laurengoode. Michael Calore can be found at @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. Our theme song is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week’s podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here’s how:

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.

If you use Android, you can find us in the Google Play Music app just by tapping here. You can also download an app like Pocket Casts or Radio Public, and search for Gadget Lab. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.

We’re also on Soundcloud, and every episode gets posted to wired.com as soon as it’s released. If you still can’t figure it out, or there’s another platform you use that we’re not on, let us know.

Jack Dorsey Has Problems With Twitter, Too

It contributes to filter bubbles, he said. It risks silencing people, he said. And when it’s not silencing them, it might be incentivizing them to behave badly, or basely, he said. His biggest criticism of the social media site he runs was that it could be nudging its users in the wrong directions.

“What does the service currently incentivize?” asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on stage at the WIRED25 summit today. It’s the question he and his whole team are asking themselves right now—about every aspect of the site “Right now we have a big Like button with a heart on it and we’re incentivizing people to want it to go up” and to get more followers, he pointed out. “Is that the right thing? Versus contributing to the public conversation or a healthy conversation? How do we incentive healthy conversation?”

When he co-founded the website 12 years ago, it was meant as a place for friends to share pictures of their lunch. “Now it’s become a place to launch nuclear war,” said Wired editor in chief Nick Thompson. That evolution, from innocuous late-night destination for cryptic jokes to lubricator of social movements to a cesspool of outrage and the platform for geopolitical discourse was not a result of Twitter’s code, Dorsey’s argued. But it was inevitable.

From the second it launched, Twitter was a free app with which anyone could text message the entire world. “Once the world saw that, there was no taking it back,” Dorsey said. “Once they saw it, they needed it. Our job now is to make sure we are actually serving that need.” By which he means the need for a global public square, a place for a global conversation to discuss the most important topics—he cited climate change and poverty as topics that can only be tackled in a global discussion—which he feels it is Twitter’s responsibility to facilitate.

If that means not being an absolutist about free speech, so be it. “We can only stand for freedom of expression if people feel safe to express themselves in the first place,” he said, adding, “A lot of people come to Twitter and they don’t see a service. They see what looks like a public square and they have the same expectation as they have of a public square, and that is what we have to get right.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (right) on stage with WIRED editor in chief Nick Thompson.

Amy Lombard

To get it right, Dorsey indicated everything was on the table. Twitter, he indicated, may need to be radically changed. He noted right now the service only allows you to follow accounts, not topics. It only allows you to like or retweet. What should it allow you to do instead? He’s not sure, but he’s considering every option.

And he’s open to your ideas. “When we started the company, we weren’t thinking about [any of] this at all,” he said. “One of the interesting things about Twitter has been this amazing experiment in creating with others—the hashtag, the thread, the retweet—have all been invented by the people using our service, not us.” So if you have ideas for how to fix Twitter, make it known. Dorsey is listening.


More Great WIRED Stories

Robert Mueller Has Already Told You Everything You Need To Know

With the exception of President Trump’s legal team, no one has been watching the Mueller investigation more closely than Garrett Graff. Graff, a historian and journalist, wrote the book on Robert Mueller (literally), has interviewed him probably more than any other journalist, and covers the investigation for WIRED. He sat down with WIRED features editor Mark Robinson at the four-day WIRED25 anniversary event in San Francisco to decode the Russia probe and answer the question: What happens next?

A lot. As even a casual follower of the Russia investigation knows, questions have swirled over whether Donald Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election by hacking the DNC and launching a massive disinformation campaign. Though numerous indictments of Trump associates have already come out of the investigation, Mueller has yet to finish it, or release a conclusive report.

A more hotly anticipated government report there may never have been. As Trump’s legal teams prepare their defenses—arguing as recently as last week that it was perfectly legal for the campaign to use materials stolen by Russia to further Trump’s chances—the nation waits.

“Everyone is so focused on ‘When is Mueller going to release the Mueller Report?’, and I think that what people miss is that Robert Mueller has been writing the Mueller Report in public through all of these court filings,” Graff said.

In the short year and a half that Mueller has been investigating Russia’s attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s ties to it, he has indicted some of Trump’s most senior campaign officials. In each of those court filings he has included far more information than he needed to, notes Graff. For example, when Mueller indicted officers of Russia’s military intelligence GRU agency for hacking, he noted in the criminal filing that the night that Donald Trump went on live TV and invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton and find her missing emails, the GRU “returned to the office and attacked Hillary Clinton’s personal email server for the first time,” Graff says, emphasizing that last phrase.

“Mueller uses that phrase ‘for the first time’ in the indictment, which is totally unnecessary, unless Muller wants us to know that further down the road,” he says. “Mueller is making claims that I think point to breadcrumbs he is leaving us for where this going to go.”

Graff says that once you factor in the information hidden in plain sight in the indictments, as well as what is pointedly left out of them, you begin to see that Mueller is carving out the negative space where the heart of investigation lies. “He is staying very, very focused,” Graff explains, “And anything that he’s finding that is not directly related to Russia he is handing off to other prosecutors in a really interesting way because it gives us almost a negative relief of how to view Mueller’s investigation.”

That blank space can tell us where the investigation is going. And where is that? Straight toward Roger Stone, Graff surmises, pointing out that no one is more implicated by the information in the indictments that have already come out of the investigation. Short of that, Graff is hesitant to make predictions.

Garrett Graff is the author of The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI and the War on Global Terror.

Amy Lombard

Normally, he says, as a reporter you always expect a story to end up being less weird than you are originally told. “You get these weird tips as a reporter, and it’s never that good. It ends up being like 75 to 80 percent as weird as the tip. That’s not true about any part of this story. Every single thing ends up being about 140 percent as weird as original reporting,” he says.

A few weird things he thinks Mueller is particularly interested in, that linger in that negative space carved out by the public indictments so far: A Trump campaign meeting with Betsy Devos’ brother Erik Prince in the Seychelles in 2016, the role of the nation of Qatar in Russia’s disinformation campaign, the Trump tower meeting, the Trump money trail, and “weirder questions about money,” says Graff.

“I think almost certainly the bombshell—if there is a bombshell—is about money,” he says.


More Great WIRED Stories

This Survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School Alumni Reveals the 5 Skills You Need to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Do you admire leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have turned their ideas into world-leading public companies? I certainly do. But it is one thing to admire such leaders and another thing to have the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

Which raises an important question: What skills do successful founders have that other business leaders lack? Thanks to a survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School alumni, here are the five key skills — out of 11 examined by the researchers — at which entrepreneurial leaders distinguish themselves compared to non-founders.

1. Identification of Opportunities

Founders excel in skills and behaviors associated with the ability to identify and seek out high-potential business opportunities, according to the research. This should come as no surprise. But what makes for a great business opportunity? 

My interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs reveal four tests:

  • Does the product relieve deeply-felt customer pain that other companies are ignoring?
  • Does the founder have a passion for doing a market-beating job of solving that problem?
  • Does the startup’s founding team have the critical skills to build that solution?
  • Is the market opportunity large enough — e.g., at least $1 billion? 

2. Vision and Influence

Founders have strong abilities to influence all internal and external stakeholders that must work together to turn a strategy into action and results.

Harvard researchers found that entrepreneurial leaders have more confidence of their abilities to provide vision and influence than the average leader — and that leaders working within established firms actually rated themselves much lower.

As I wrote in my 2012 book, Hungry Start-up Strategy, a successful entrepreneur is able to attract and motivate talent by creating what I called emotional currency — rather than paying people more money than Google does, they offer a powerful mission which gives work at the startup much more meaning.

3. Comfort with Uncertainty

Entrepreneurial leaders are better able to “move a business agenda forward in the face of uncertain and ambiguous circumstances,” according to the researchers.

You’ll know whether you share this skill if you are willing to start a company even though you have no money, no product, and no customers — but you do have a clear idea of what problem you are trying to solve and what your solution will look like.

Starting there, successful entrepreneurs are far more comfortable living with the uncertainty needed to go from there to building a large company. 

4. Building Networks

One reason for founders’ comfort with uncertainty is that they are good at assembling the resources the startup needs because they can create professional and business networks that will help them realize their vision.

Indeed, many of the CEOs I’ve interviewed have told me that they often find themselves not knowing how to solve problems — but they are able to get advice from CEOs who have been there before.

5. Finance and Financial Management

Being able to raise capital and control cash flow are essential to a successful startup. The founders HBS surveyed were “much more confident in their skills at managing cash flow, raising capital, and board governance — than were non-founder alumni.”

My interviews this year with CEOs for my forthcoming book on scaling startups highlights that successful entrepreneurs are great at persuading investors to write them checks.

The most successful sales pitches for money emphasize the size of the market the company is targeting, the value that the company’s product provides for customers, and the rapid rate at which the company is winning new customers and retaining old ones who spend more on the company’s products.

Not surprisingly, there is one area where founders are not as good as non-founders — preference for established structure.

Entrepreneurial leaders have a lower preference for operating in more established and structured business environments and would rather “adapt to an uncertain and rapidly changing business context and strategy,” according to the HBS researchers.

If you are great in these five skill areas, you may just have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

7 Strategies to Maximize Your Productivity While Traveling

Whether you hate the idea of traveling or you actually look forward to it, it’s hard to deny that travel can sabotage your productivity–at least temporarily. It takes hours of planning and coordination to prepare for some trips, and hours to navigate airports, not to mention the actual time you spend traveling.

It can make a full day of responsibilities feel like a waste, and put you behind on achieving your goals. Fortunately, there are some helpful strategies that can make you more productive–no matter how you’re traveling.

Try using these tactics to get more done when you’re setting course on a major trip:

1. Get used to a different sleep cycle.

One of the biggest sources of productivity disturbance while traveling is the disruption in your sleep cycle. Depending on where you travel to, you could be dealing with timezone changes and jet lag, and you may not be able to get a comfortable eight hours of sleep when you’re used to getting it.

Instead, you can try a biphasic cycle or an everyman cycle, which rely on split patterns to break up your time sleeping; that way, travel may not have as big of an impact on you. The caveat here is that it takes time to get used to a new sleep cycle, so it’s best for frequent travelers only.

2. Take a private jet.

One of the biggest sources of time delay while traveling is navigating the airport; going through customs, waiting to board the plane, dealing with delays, etc., can add several unnecessary hours to your trip.

Taking a private jet allows you to circumvent most of these problems–and it’s cheaper than you think. If a few hundred dollars can save you literally hours of time, and afford you a better workspace when you’re flying, it’s likely worth the extra money.

3. Look for coworking spaces when you arrive.

Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one at your destination. Instead of going straight to a hotel or meeting, check into one of these productivity hubs; you’ll be able to get coffee, work in a peaceful environment, and if you’re up for it, socialize with other people who may be in similar situations. It’s a great way to both decompress and get more work done, so take advantage of it.

4. Rely on audio.

While you’re driving, navigating the airport, or dealing with a lack of lighting or Wi-Fi, you won’t be able to work on your most important heads-down tasks–but that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive.

Try focusing on audio-specific tasks when you can, listening to recordings of old meetings to prepare for the future, catching up on your favorite industry podcasts, and listening to audiobooks that can improve your skills or expand your professional horizons. There’s no shortage of audio content to plunder, so make good use of it.

5. Prepare travel-specific tasks.

While traveling, you won’t be able to do tasks that require multiple monitors, or meet with your teammates in person. You’ll have limited space, and in some cases, limited Wi-Fi connectivity.

Prepare tasks that you can work on under these conditions, so you don’t run out of things to do. As long as you have a few days’ heads-up, you can handle your least travel-friendly tasks in advance, and set yourself up to work offline for the next several hours.

6. Say “no” and delegate.

New things are going to come to your attention before and during your travel; for example, you might get a client email requesting a change to a piece of work you submitted. If this is the type of work that can’t be done efficiently when traveling, don’t bend over backwards trying to do it; instead, tell them you’re traveling, and not able to do it right now.

If it’s an emergency, or if you won’t be able to get to it for a while, consider delegating it to someone who can handle it.

7. Rest (if you can).

To some people, sleeping may seem like the opposite of productivity. But in reality, sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your mental energy and cognitive capacity. It can even reduce your susceptibility to illness and improve your overall physical health.

Accordingly, if it’s possible for you to take a nap during a long flight or car ride, take advantage of the opportunity. Use a face mask, a neck pillow, or some comforting white noise from your headphones–whatever you need to get some extra shuteye when you’re between destinations. You’ll thank yourself later.

Finding Your Own Style

Not everyone is going to travel the same way. For example, some people may not be able to read while in a vehicle, and some may have trouble sleeping on airplanes. The goal isn’t to fall in line with a series of productive habits, but rather to craft your own habits to maximize your personal productivity. Learn which strategies and actions suit you best, and customize your own set of approaches.

The Cars of the Paris Auto Show Reveal a Quirky, Urban, Electric Future

The Renault Ez-Ultimo brings the high-end glitz to the show this year. Just because cities of the future may prioritize ride sharing over private cars doesn’t mean you should have to slum it on the way to opening night at the Opéra national de Paris.

This rounded bronze box is about as far from a production car as a concept can be (could those wheels even turn? where’s the ground clearance for cobbled streets?) but Renault says it shows a vision of an autonomous future, where passengers demand more from vehicles. In particular, the interior “reflects French elegance” with wood, leather, and marble.

Citroën went the opposite direction, unveiling a very real, very modest EV. The DS3 Crossback E-Tense is a fashionable crossover SUV, and an update on Citroen’s tres popular DS3 supermini car. The electric version comes with a 50-kWh battery—about half that of a high-end Tesla—a range of 186 miles on the generous European test cycle, and a 0-60 time of 8.7 seconds. None of those specs are going to blow buyers away, but at the right (to be revealed) price, the quirky car, with sharp angles and odd window cutouts, could rival the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, as a city runabout.

Europe has taken styling cues from the US for the Peugeot E-Legend concept, albeit with a little added flair. There are plenty of muscle car hints in the styling, with a side profile reminiscent of the modern Dodge Challenger, and a Mustang-like front squint. Of course it’s a concept, so it’s electric and autonomous, and supposed to show that those things don’t have to be boring or bland.

The retro theme continues inside with velvet upholstery and fake wood screensavers for the displays when they aren’t in use. It’ll apparently have a 100-kWh battery pack and all-wheel drive, but it’s so concept-y that wise money should be on all that potentially changing, if and when the E-Legend makes it to production.

It wouldn’t be a European auto show without a city car, and Smart is the brand synonymous with cars so small they can be parked end-on to a curb. The Smart Forease moves that theme into an electric age. The rather optimistic concept banks on the future always being sunny, given that it doesn’t have a roof. Not even an optional one. (Have these people been to Europe?)

Smart has already stopped the sales of all internal combustion engined cars in the US, and if this car makes it across the Atlantic (and to reality) it could find a place in some Californian garages. The Golden State has good EV electric rebates, and as close to a guarantee of good weather as you’re going to find.

Infiniti is keeping it real with its Project Black S hybrid, based on a Q60 coupe and its V6 engine. Infiniti engineers turned to electrification, and lessons from partner Renault’s Formula 1 team (there’s the French connection) to give the machine an e-boost.

It’s a hybrid, but one that delivers performance rather than economy. The three motors add 213 horsepower to bring the total to 563, and drop the 0-60 mph time to under four seconds.

Toyota didn’t use the Paris show to unveil radical new concepts, but did introduce a term that will be new to most buyers: self-charging hybrids. This is no magical perpetual motion-type technology: Self-charging hybrids are just cars that can run on battery power, but can’t be plugged in. The type Toyota has been selling for years with the Prius, when they used to be just called “hybrids.” As they’ve gone from being radical, to commonplace, to somewhat lame given the influx of more robust electric options, Toyota is looking to rebrand to remind people that the tech is still quite clever, and does save fuel.

DHS says no reason to doubt firms' China hack denials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday it currently had no reason to doubt statements from companies that have denied a Bloomberg report that their supply chains were compromised by malicious computer chips inserted by Chinese intelligence services.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Department of Homeland Security employee stands inside the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center as part of a guided media tour in Arlington, Virginia June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“The Department of Homeland Security is aware of the media reports of a technology supply chain compromise,” DHS said in a statement.

“Like our partners in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre, at this time we have no reason to doubt the statements from the companies named in the story,” it said.

Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday cited 17 unidentified intelligence and company sources as saying that Chinese spies had placed computer chips inside equipment used by around 30 companies, as well as multiple U.S. government agencies, which would give Beijing secret access to internal networks.

Britain’s national cyber security agency said on Friday it had no reason to doubt the assessments made by Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) challenging the report.

Apple contested the Bloomberg report on Thursday, saying its own internal investigations found no evidence to support the story’s claims and that neither the company, nor its contacts in law enforcement, were aware of any investigation by the FBI on the matter.

Apple’s recently retired general counsel, Bruce Sewell, told Reuters he called the FBI’s then-general counsel, James Baker, last year after being told by Bloomberg of an open investigation of Super Micro Computer Inc (SMCI.PK), a hardware maker whose products Bloomberg said were implanted with malicious Chinese chips.

“I got on the phone with him personally and said, ‘Do you know anything about this?,” Sewell said of his conversation with Baker. “He said, ‘I’ve never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.’ He called me back 24 hours later and said ‘Nobody here knows what this story is about.’”

Baker and the FBI declined to comment on Friday.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Dan Grebler

Oracle Says Thomas Kurian, Who Oversaw the Company’s Cloud Efforts, Is Stepping Down

Oracle confirmed late Friday the departure of a top product executive from its ranks. Thomas Kurian, a 22-year veteran of the company who most recently served as president of Oracle’s product development, is stepping down from the company.

Kurian’s bio on Oracle’s corporate site credits him with overseeing Oracle’s transition to cloud-based enterprise software. Prior to Oracle, Kurian worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. Last week, Oracle’s stock stumbled after the company’s second-quarter earnings showed revenue from its cloud services came in below analyst expectations.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Oracle said that Kurian notified the company that he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. “Kurian’s duties and responsibilities have been reassigned to other senior executives in Oracle’s development organization,” Oracle’s filing said.

The announcement comes a few weeks after several news organizations reported on a clash between Kurian and Oracle founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison. According to CNBC, Kurian took a leave of absence from Oracle earlier this month, notifying the company’s staff of his plans in an email. At the time, an Oracle spokesperson said the company expected Kurian to “return soon.”

Kurian has battled with Ellison over the role that cloud-based software will play in Oracle’s future. The two executives faced “growing strife” over the appropriate cloud strategy for Oracle, Bloomberg reported, with Kurian wanting Oracle to make “more of its software available to run on public clouds from chief rivals Amazon and Microsoft as a way to diversify from its own struggling infrastructure.” Ellison reportedly disagreed.

Oracle’s stock was little changed in aftermarket trading, declining 0.3% to $51.40. In official trading Friday before Kurian’s departure was announced, Oracle shares were down 0.3% at $51.56.

Facebook Can Target Your Phone Number for Ads. And You Might Not Be Able to Stop Them

Advertisers have long been able to target their marketing on Facebook using lists of phone numbers, and they can obtain those numbers from legitimate business interactions with existing customers or by leasing or purchasing lists of numbers from data brokers. (That’s one reason why stores ask for your number when you make a purchase.)

On Wednesday, Facebook admitted phone numbers provided to the social network for extra security purposes on user accounts—often referred to as two-factor authentication (2FA)—may be used to target advertising to those people, even if that phone number wasn’t previously disclosed to the company in another way.

In addition, Facebook can also target ads to a user if their phone number only exists in a friend’s uploaded contact list. Gizmodo described this method of using undisclosed phone numbers in its story revealing the practice as “shadow contact information.” Facebook doesn’t offer a setting for opting out or blocking the use of your number if it appears in someone else’s uploaded contact list. Fortune asked Facebook whether another privacy or ad settings would include this and hasn’t immediately received a reply.

But you can prevent the “shadow” use of your number—so long as you’re willing to stop using your phone number for 2FA.

“We are clear about how we use the information we collect, including the contact information that people upload or add to their own accounts,” a Facebook representative told TechCrunch on Thursday. “You can manage and delete the contact information you’ve uploaded at any time.”

With 2FA, Facebook and many other companies make the entry of a password just the first step in a login. After successfully entering an account name and password, you receive or generate a “second factor,” a short code that’s bound to the same account. Only the person who set up 2FA and has access to the account can receive or generate this code.

A second factor proves that you don’t only “know” something (the password), but also “have” something (a phone or an app registered to the account). That physical component deters account cracking even if passwords get disclosed, guessed, or broken.

These second-factor codes, often six digits long, can arrive in different ways. The method varies by service. A code may be sent as a text message to a phone number or generated by an authentication app that has a secret initially provided by the service. Some companies also let you verify a login elsewhere within an installed smartphone app. Apple, meanwhile, has a proprietary approach across its computers and mobile devices as well as using text and voice messages. Using phone numbers and text messages is a preferred method of 2FA for most users because of its convenience.

Facebook always required a phone number as a second factor, even as it added app-based verification. A few months ago, it lifted the phone-number requirement.

To alter your Facebook 2FA settings, select the downward-pointing triangle at the top-right of any Facebook page, choose Settings, then Security and Login, and finally Two-Factor Authentication. If you’ve assigned a phone number, click or tap Remove Number, and then confirm with Remove. Facebook said this will disable its ability to market to your phone number (unless one of your contacts has your number in their address book, which they likely do).

Keppel, SPH offer to buy remaining stake in M1 for up to $930 million

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Keppel Corp Ltd and Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) have offered to buy the remaining shares in Singaporean telecom operator M1 Ltd that they do not already own, in a deal worth up to S$1.27 billion ($930 million).

FILE PHOTO: People shop for handsets at an M1 mobile shop in Singapore March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The companies, through a special purpose vehicle, have offered to pay S$2.06 per M1 share, a premium of 26 percent to the stock’s last closing price, they said in filings to the stock exchange.

Conglomerate Keppel, through its unit Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation Ltd (Keppel T&T), media firm SPH and their related parties have a deemed interest of 33.27 percent in M1, which has a market capitalization of S$1.51 billion.

“With majority control, Keppel Corp and SPH, who are long-term shareholders of M1, would be better able to support M1’s management to implement strategic and operational changes to strengthen its performance and position as a connectivity platform,” Keppel Corp said in a statement.

Mobile telecoms competition is heating up in Singapore, with Australia’s TPG Telecom seeking to launch a new service after winning a license to become the city-state’s fourth telecom operator. M1 is considered to be the most vulnerable to new competition.

Malaysia’s Axiata Group Bhd is the largest shareholder in M1, Singapore’s smallest mobile network operator, with a 28.3 percent stake.

Last year, Axiata, Keppel and SPH considered, and then called off, a strategic review of their M1 shareholding, which sources said was due to a lower-than-expected offer from external parties.

Reuters, citing sources, on Wednesday said Axiata was also open to teaming up with overseas partners to buy out Keppel and SPH’s stakes if a potential offer from Keppel and SPH did not meet its expectations.

Separately, Keppel said it was seeking to privatize Keppel T&T for S$1.91 per share, a 40 percent premium. It already owns a 79.22 stake in Keppel T&T, which provides logistics and data center services.

Trading in shares of Keppel, Keppel T&T, SPH and M1 was halted ahead of the announcements.

DBS Bank is the financial adviser to Keppel, while Credit Suisse (Singapore) is advising SPH.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Sunil Nair

Jeff Bezos Just Revealed How the 'Smartest Guy at Princeton' Radically Changed His Life 34 Years Ago. (He Never Knew Until Now)

Do you ever wonder if you’ll have a lasting effect on the world?

But the truth is, your greatest impact might turn out to be something you never realize. 

The kind gesture to someone when he or she needs it most. The example you give to someone that leads them to pursue what turns out to be their calling.

Jeff Bezos just revealed the story behind one such person in his life.

It’s a 34-year-old tale, involving a college classmate he describes as “a humble, wonderful guy … the smartest guy at Princeton.” And as often happens, this classmate had no idea that Bezos even remembered him, until Bezos talked about him this week.

The story goes like this. When Bezos was in high school and college, he had his heart set on becoming a theoretical physicist. He enrolled at Princeton as a member of the class of 1986, one of about 20 students in the elite electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) program. 

Bezos fit right in. But although he was clearly very intelligent (he’d been the valedictorian of his high school class, and a National Merit Scholar), he by no means thought of himself as the smartest student in the program.

That honor, in his mind, went to a fellow student named Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, from Sri Lanka. And Bezos shared the moment that became truly clear.

He and his roommate, Joe, Bezos explained, had been working together for three hours on a particularly difficult partial differential equation, and getting nowhere. So they brought it to Yasantha.

He stared at it for a couple of minutes and came up with the answer without even writing anything down: “Cosine.”

Then he walked Bezos and Joe through the problem, writing three full pages of detailed algebra. Years before, he’d solved a similar problem years, Yasantha explained, and he remembered how he’d done it. So, he’d just “mapped this problem on to that problem.”

To him, the answer had been “obvious.”

“That was an important moment for me, because it was the very moment I realized I was never going to be a great theoretical physicist,” Bezos recalled in his talk. 

People laughed. And it’s funny of course to think that if Yasantha and Bezos hadn’t had that exchange, perhaps Amazon wouldn’t be exactly what it is today.

But of course that’s pretty theoretical. Instead, I think the real lesson from this story is Yasantha Rajakarunanayake’s take on it today.

The two men hadn’t talked since Princeton. Bezos also recalled him as “humble” and “wonderful,” but Rajakarunanayake had no reason to think that Bezos particularly remembered him-;certainly hadn’t known that he’d had any kind of impact that Bezos considered important.

And he was clearly proud.

“Wow! Jeff is talking about me,” Rajakarunanayake wrote on Twitter. “Amazingly he remembers interacting with me 34 years ago. What a memory! Also no Amazon if it weren’t for this, since he decided not to pursue physics!”

He continued: 

“Back in college, Jeff and I were just fellow students, and no one could have predicted what future would hold for us. Jeff remembers me as smart, humble and speaks fondly simply because I helped him with his homework.”

But Rajakarunanayake also had an insight into why Bezos went on to become the world’s wealthiest person.

Because remember-;Bezos had spent three hours trying to solve that problem before asking for help. And Rajakarunanayake recalled another time when Bezos stayed up all night working on another project, ultimately finding a solution that was better than the one Rajakarunanayake had come up with.

“Jeff was an excellent student, and a very persistent, tenacious one. That is unique to him,” he recalled to an Indian newspaper, The Print. He “will not give up like most of us would when presented with a challenge.”

That’s probably the ultimate combination: not just smart, not just tenacious, but both together in a single package. And that’s as good an explanation as any for why Bezos built Amazon, and you and I didn’t.

By the way, Yasantha Rajakarunanayake is doing fine. He went on after Princeton to earn a doctoral degree at ​Caltech, “and received 54 patents in the U.S.” with 40 others currently pending, according to The Print. “Currently, he is based in California and serves as a senior director for MediaTek, a Taiwanese semiconductor firm.”

How the HTC Exodus Blockchain Phone Plans to Secure Your Cryptocurrency

Blockchain phones are coming, that much is certain. The Sirin Labs Finney and the HTC Exodus are both expected by the end of the year, each with its own, sometimes vaguely defined sense of what exactly that term means. HTC’s Phil Chen, who spearheaded Exodus development, has at least started to fill in the blanks of how the Exodus will pull off its most important trick: keeping your cryptocurrency safe.

The Exodus has loftier ambitions than mere storage, of course. “A few years down the road, we see a world where people own their own identities and data, where everyone understands the concept and economics of digital property,” says Chen, HTC’s decentralized chief officer. For the moment, though, the primary concern for the Exodus’s intended audience is how well it works as a hardware wallet.

That had, until now, been a bit of a question mark. After all, a smartphone seems like an inopportune place to stash digital currency. Android phones, in particular, present inherent security risks, subject to a wide assortment of malware and other targeted threats. Smartphones also, as you may be personally and painfully aware, tend to get lost or stolen, at least more than is ideal for what aspires to be a digital bank vault.

In fact, even the mere act of connecting to the internet goes too far for protective cryptocurrency investors, who prefer to keep their assets in so-called cold storage wallets, which remain entirely offline. If anything, cryptocurrency storage has trended toward that extreme, with some deep-pocketed enthusiasts opting for physical vaults with Faraday cage surrounds.

By contrast, putting your cryptocurrency—more specifically, the private keys required to access it—in an Android phone might seem the equivalent to stashing your money not under the mattress but neatly on top of it, and then placing that mattress on a fairly busy street corner.

“Phones are very promiscuous in the sense that they transfer a lot of data, they connect to a lot of networks, we install third-party apps on them. They can be made relatively secure, but they’re not the safest thing to carry around a lot of money,” says Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University who is affiliated with a privacy-focused cryptocurrency called Zcash. “And if you’re not carrying a lot of money, you don’t need a special phone.”

And yet tens of millions of people already use software wallets, Chen says, tied to centralized exchanges like Coinbase. “What’s obvious in the old internet model, is centralized cloud systems are very hackable,” says Chen. “Centralized honeypots are continually hacked. The concentration of data in walled gardens increases the cost of security.”

The HTC Exodus aims instead for something of a compromise. It isn’t quite cold storage, but at least it empowers users by allowing them to hold their own keys. It does so by placing them in a so-called trusted execution environment, a part of an ARM chip called TrustZone. The secure enclave sits apart from the operating system, designed to inoculate precious cargo even in the event of a broader breach. Think of it as a smartphone’s panic room.

The concept of a secure enclave isn’t new; Intel has offered one for PCs for some time, and Apple uses one to protect the biometric data—your fingerprint and face—that it uses to unlock the iPhone. Even TrustZone has been around for years, commonly used by studios and such to lock down DRM-protected content.

It’s as good an answer as any right now, and preferable to HTC attempting to built its own solution from the ground up. But TrustZone isn’t a security panacea. “If somebody claims something is secure, a lot of people try to poke into it,” says Simha Sethumadhavan, a computer scientist at Columbia University. “Over the years there have been several attacks on TrustZone.”

That includes one from Sethumadhavan, who along with coauthors Adrian Tang and Salvatore Stolfo published research last year detailing how to not just break TrustZone security but alter the code that’s running in the secure environment.

To be absolutely clear: These attacks are difficult to pull off, and TrustZone generally works as advertised. “It does significantly raise the bar for the attacker,” says Sethumadhavan. “It’s better than putting it in the insecure world, for sure,” he adds, referring to the broader Android operating system.

Even Chen, refreshingly, recognizes the trade-offs involved. “There’s no such thing as 100 percent security. It’s always a balance between security and usability,” he says. “We’re still at the very early stages of educating users that this is not a 100 percent secure solution, but as of right now it’s the best so far. It’s our attempt to do something that’s best from the market.”

Until and unless the industry open sources everything, Chen says, HTC has to take as an article of faith that ARM and chipmaker Qualcomm will deliver the security they promise. He acknowledges that hardening the HTC Exodus will also require input from cryptographers and the broader cryptocurrency community. “It’s really a beta,” he says. “We’re still targeting the 30-35 million people that have software wallets, and this is a much better solution than that.”

And while Chen wouldn’t argue that the Exodus is more secure than cold storage, he does stress that it offers much better usability. There’s no dusting off a hard drive and connecting it with USB to your laptop and struggling through a clumsy interface.

The HTC Exodus will also offer a novel way to recover your keys, which are often a series of words that need to be entered in the event that you lose access to your wallet. If you lose both your wallet and your recovery keys, you’ve officially lost everything.

That dynamic comes into especially sharp relief with smartphones, which, when you aren’t losing or breaking them periodically, you’re actively replacing every two or three years.

HTC’s proposed failsafe: You can split your key among three to five people you trust, all of whom will need to download an app for this to work. You won’t need their help to assign transactions, but you will if you lose your phone. “It revolves around this fundamental principle of users owning their keys. I do want to stress that this is a very, very difficult problem. People aren’t used to owning their keys. People are used to calling up Apple or Google,” says Chen.

Putting that power in the hands of users and their friends is certainly in line with the HTC Exodus philosophy. But it also raises several immediate flags: What if you have a falling out with one of those friends, or they get a new phone, or delete the app, or die? Does the backup have a backup?

Not yet. “This is the 1.0 version,” Chen says. “There are other backup plans that we’ve thought of, but they’re not part of the solution yet.”

That sounds dire, but it’s at least something. If you find yourself in a comparable situation with a cold storage wallet—or the Sirin Labs Finney blockchain phone—you generally have no options at all.

Plenty of questions remain about the HTC Exodus, especially regarding the company’s long-term vision of revolutionizing how people relate not just to their cryptocurrencies, but their data and identity. HTC may still be figuring out how the blockchain smartphone will change the world. But at least it has some answers as to how to make it safe.


More Great WIRED Stories

Australian regulator cracks down on misleading digital coin offerings

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s corporate watchdog said on Thursday it was stepping up scrutiny on “misleading” initial coin offerings (ICOs)targeted at retail investors while adding it has already acted against several such proposals.

Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris, France, May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) said consistent problems with proposed ICOs included the use of “misleading or deceptive” statements in sales and marketing materials and not holding Australian financial services licenses.

ICOs, or the selling of digital coins or tokens, are increasingly popular with start-ups as a way to finance projects. The ICO market is relatively small in Australia but ASIC is concerned poor conduct could have a negative impact on investor confidence.

“If you raise money from the public, you have important legal obligations,” ASIC Commissioner John Price said in a statement.

“It is the legal substance of your offer – not what it is called – that matters,” Price said, adding some proposed ICOs operated illegal, unregistered investment schemes.

Since April 2018, ASIC has prevented five ICOs from raising capital. These ICOs have been put on hold and some will be restructured to comply with legal requirements, ASIC said.

The regulator is taking action against one completed ICO, it said without identifying the company.

“ICOs are highly speculative investments that are mostly unregulated, and while there are genuine businesses using this structure many have turned out to be scams,” ASIC noted.

Earlier this year, Moscow-based cyber security firm Group IB found projects which raise funds through ICOs were attacked by cyber criminals 100 times a month on average, underscoring the risks of investment in cryptocurrency ventures online.

Globally, start-up firms have raised millions of dollars online to fund projects, with often little more than a handful of employees and an outline business plan attracting regulatory attention.

Reporting by Swati Pandey; Edtiting by Sam Holmes

With a Few Tweets, This Tiny Coffee Shop Got Ryan Gosling to Walk Through the Door. Here's How They Did It

Toronto coffee shop Grinder Coffee landed a heap of social media attention yesterday when its campaign to attract actor Ryan Gosling  went viral, generating more than 10,000 likes and retweets in a matter of hours.

The social media campaign–which included a cardboard cutout of Gosling–asked the star to stop by while he was in town promoting his latest movie, a Neil Armstrong biopic called First Man, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The shop promised Gosling free coffee, and even offered to pay for his Uber ride from the red carpet to the front door.

While Gosling opted not take the Uber fare, he did arrive at 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon to enjoy a cup of coffee. According to CBC, the campaign cost owner Joelle Murray $50 (not including the cardboard cutout).

Small businesses like coffee shops have neither huge margins nor ad budgets. Most can rarely afford promotions, let alone advertising, so any opportunity to grab 15 minutes in the spotlight needs to be taken–or in this case, created strategically. 

So how can you follow Murray’s example and create a social media campaign that gets celebrity attention? Here are a few tips:

  1. Dream big. This isn’t Starbucks. This isn’t a million-dollar endorsement deal. This is one woman with a big dream and a small budget–and she succeeded.
  2. Be personal. Grinder Coffee’s Twitter account is anything but grand: before this campaign it had fewer than 300 followers and 100 tweets​. But going viral isn’t about getting your content in front of people. It’s about getting your content in front of the right people–in this case, Gosling. To get his attention, Murray used a photo-rich, meme-worthy series of tweets.
  3. Make your ask easy. Murray determined based on the festival schedule when Gosling would be in Toronto. If the actor hadn’t already been in town, it would have been exponentially more difficult to pull off this campaign. So look to your city’s or town’s upcoming events. Look at the bands playing locally, and the movies being shot. Find a star who is already in your area.
  4. Be relentless. This was a well-planned and well-executed 10-day plan. Murray was relentless. She acquired a full-sized cardboard cutout of Gosling and took photos with it multiple times a day.
  5. Empower others to share. People can be lazy. Make it easy for them to help you. Include sharing links to a variety of social media platforms and encourage people to share far and wide. Murray encouraged customers and others (including the mayor of Toronto) to take pictures with the cardboard cutout of Gosling and tweet them.
  6. Engage others as allies. Murray engaged with media outlets that were already promoting the film festival. You can do the same. No venue or festival will say no to free press. By engaging with others already in the same orbit, you help those allies further their own goals. 
  7. Be genuine. Over the entire campaign, Murray balanced her desire and dream with humility and understanding. It was apparent that this was a small business owner trying to make it big and have some fun. She never took herself, or the campaign, too seriously.

The film festival will be over in a few days. Gosling will likely leave the city before then. But while Gosling may have only stayed for a few moment at Murray’s coffee shop, the impact is likely to reverberate for weeks, if not months.

Published on: Sep 15, 2018

Internet group backs 'national' data privacy approach

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group representing major internet companies including Facebook Inc (FB.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) said on Tuesday it backed modernizing U.S. data privacy rules but wants a national approach that would preempt California’s new regulations that take effect in 2020.

People look at data on their mobiles as background with internet wire cables on switch hub is projected in this picture illustration taken May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

The Internet Association, a group representing more than 40 major internet and technology firms including Netflix Inc (NFLX.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), said “internet companies support an economy-wide, national approach to regulation that protects the privacy of all Americans.”

The group said it backed principles that would ensure consumers should have “meaningful controls over how personal information they provide” is used and should be able to know who it is being shared with.

Consumers should also be able to seek deletion of data or request corrections or take personal information to another company that provides similar services and have reasonable access to the personal information they provide, it said.

The group also told policymakers they should give companies flexibility in notifying individuals, set a “performance standard” on privacy and data security protections that avoids a prescriptive approach and set national data breach notification rules.

Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, said in an interview the proposals were “very forward looking and very aggressive” and would push to ensure the new rules apply “economy wide.”

He said the group “would be very active working with both the administration and Congress on putting pen to paper.”

The Internet Association wants new rules to be technology and sector neutral, which would mean any new privacy protections would cover anything from how grocery stores or other physical retailers use consumer data to car rental, airlines or credit card firms as well as internet service providers.

The White House said in July it was working to develop consumer data privacy policies and officials had been meeting major firms as it looked to eventually seeing the policies enshrined in legislation.

Data privacy has become an increasingly important issue, fueled by massive breaches that have compromised the personal information of millions of U.S. internet and social media users.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed data privacy legislation in June aimed at giving consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information, although it was not as stringent as Europe’s new rules.

Beckerman said “we definitely want to get this in place prior to California because California got it wrong.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also unveiled privacy principles last week that aim to reverse California’s new rules.

Under the law, large companies would be required from 2020 to let consumers view the data they have collected on them, request deletion of data, and opt out of having the data sold to third parties.

Many privacy advocates have called for robust new U.S. data protections.

Laura Moy, deputy director at Georgetown Law’s

Center on Privacy & Technology, told Congress in July that lawmakers should not overturn new state privacy rules and federal agencies “must be given more powerful regulatory tools and stronger enforcement authority” and more resources.

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation took effect in May, replacing the bloc’s patchwork of rules dating back to 1995.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Paul Tait

Elon Musk’s Weed-Toking Goodwill Tour Isn't Enough to Save Tesla

The thing to remember about Elon Musk smoking a blunt with Joe Rogan is not that he took just one hit, or that he didn’t seem to know what a blunt was, or that he whiffed on an opportunity to show off just how useful his “not a flamethrower” can be. It’s that it came 130 minutes into his two-and-a-half-hour interview with Rogan, for the former Fear Factor host’s podcast, livestreamed on YouTube.

Two hours in which Musk got to play the most popular version of himself: the far-out thinking engineer who doesn’t conform to the status quo. Two hours in which he whoa’d Rogan with cogent breakdowns of the threat and promise of artificial intelligence, his plan to obliterate traffic with underground tunnels, and his enlightened fear of chimpanzees. Musk talked about his idea for an electric, supersonic airplane, complete with a physics lesson on how it would accomplish vertical takeoff and landing. He used math to argue that we’re all living in a simulation. He did it while remaining relatable, likeable, and interesting. And while the interview had its boring moments, it was, overall, a lot of fun.

That’s because it starred Musk at his best. As the guy who appeared on The Simpsons, turning Homer’s silly musings into world-bettering inventions. The Elon who met Stephen Colbert’s accusation of being a supervillain with a sheepish chuckle. The one who earned a cameo in Iron Man 2.

Cool Elon. Not the version who claimed that the British man involved in the rescue of the Thai cave boys is a pedophile. Not the Musk who sparked shareholder lawsuits and a reported SEC investigation by announcing he might take Tesla private, then recanted a few weeks later. Not the Musk who called a reporter a “fucking asshole” while doubling down on the pedophile claim. That’s the Musk who has seen Tesla’s stock price drop 17 percent since the beginning of the year. So for everyone who doesn’t freak out when someone takes a puff or two, the Rogan interview promised to be a reassuring appearance.

Except that Friday morning, Tesla shares dropped 10 percent in response to news that that human relations chief Gabrielle Toledano, who has been on a leave of absence, won’t rejoin the company, and chief accounting officer Dave Morton had resigned September 4—from a job he started August 6. (CNBC reports Morton was frustrated that Tesla’s leadership was ignoring his advice on the question of going private.) He was the third high-ranking finance executive to leave the company this year.

Tesla finally hit its target of making 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week in June, and Musk, true to form, immediately said they’d hit 6,000 a week this quarter. He has also said this is the quarter Tesla starts—at long last—to turn a profit. We won’t have a better idea of how Tesla is doing on production until early October, or of its financial state until early November, but these departures are just the latest evidence that the automaker is struggling.

Musk’s behavior of late hasn’t helped, of course. But a return to Fun Elon (and the emergence of Blunt Smokin’ Elon) isn’t enough to keep Tesla’s future from going up in smoke.


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Gadget Lab Podcast: Can Facebook and Twitter Be ‘Fixed?’

Facebook and Twitter went to Washington. Almost immediately afterwards, controversial Internet troll Alex Jones was kicked off Twitter. Now what? WIRED senior writer Issie Laposwky joins the Gadget Lab podcast this week to break down the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, tell us what it means for Facebook and Twitter (and Google – which didn’t send its CEO to the hearings), and to help us answer the question that’s become one of the more pressing questions in modern times: Is social media to blame, or are the humans who do terrible things on social media to blame?

Show notes: Issie wrote all about the hearings, as well as Alex Jones getting booted off Twitter, this week.

Recommendations this week: Issie recommends the Dr. Death podcast, about murderous surgeon and the health care system that failed to protect his patients. Mike recommends a podcast, too: The Bob Lefsetz podcast. Lefsetz is a music industry insider and “gadfly,” as Mike describes him; his guests are fascinating. Arielle recommends checking out the @Sweden Twitter account, the “last good thing on Twitter,” before it shuts down at the end of the month. For several years now, the account has been curated by a rotating cast of Swedes who were tasked with representing life in Sweden. Lauren recommends “Glow,” on Netflix. It’s a show about a show about women’s wrestling in the 1980’s. You won’t regret it.

Send the Gadget Lab hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. Arielle Pardes is @pardesoteric. Lauren Goode is @laurengoode. Michael Calore can be found at @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. Our theme song is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week’s podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here’s how:

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.

If you use Android, you can find us in the Google Play Music app just by tapping here. You can also download an app like Pocket Casts or Radio Public, and search for Gadget Lab. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.

We’re also on Soundcloud, and every episode gets posted to wired.com as soon as it’s released. If you still can’t figure it out, or there’s another platform you use that we’re not on, let us know.

In India, Google races to parry the rise of Facebook

SAN FRANCISCO/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Google retains only a slight lead over Facebook in the competition for digital ad dollars in the crucial India market, sources familiar with the figures say, even though the search giant has been in the country far longer and has avoided the controversies that have dogged its rival.

A woman walks past the logo of Google during an event in New Delhi, India, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Facebook’s success has shaken Alphabet Inc’s Google, led by an Indian-born CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has made developing markets a priority.

Google officials in India earlier this year were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018, according to one of the sources. Google’s India revenues reached $1 billion only last year.

Facebook and Google declined to comment on Indian revenue figures or the competition between the two companies.

Google is now pushing back, attempting to lure customers with better ad-buying tools and more localized services. The revamped strategy mirrors initiatives that have succeeded in boosting the time Indian consumers spend with Google services.

The battle in India reflects an epic challenge for Google in developing markets around the world that are crucial to the company’s long-term growth – many consumers in those country’s are gravitating to Facebook and it’s siblings, Instagram and WhatsApp, at the expense of Google search and YouTube, and advertising dollars are quick to follow.

“Facebook is a far more user-friendly platform even though they haven’t created features specifically for Indian advertisers,” said Vikas Chawla, who runs a small ad-buying agency in India.

Facebook ads, compared with those on Google search or YouTube, tend to transcend language barriers more easily because they rely more on visual elements, said Narayan Murthy Ivaturi, vice president at FreakOut Pte Ltd, a Singapore-headquartered digital marketing firm. Pinpointing younger consumers and rural populations is easier with Facebook and its Instagram app, he and other ad buyers said.

And Facebook is succeeding in India, which boasts the fastest-growing digital ad market of any major economy, despite internal turmoil and political controversy. It has been without a country head for the last year, and has faced a series of incidents in which rumors circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp have prompted mob violence.

Facebook and Google between them took 68 percent of India’s digital ad market last year, according to advertising buyer Magna. Media agency GroupM estimates digital advertising spending will grow 30 percent in India this year.

The Facebook phenomenon is evident close to home for Google. During a recent lunch period, six out of 10 people who walked out of Google’s Bangalore offices while looking at their phones told Reuters they were checking WhatsApp. All 10 said they regularly used Whatsapp.

Eight Indian ad buyers interviewed by Reuters were divided on whether Facebook would overtake Google in Indian ad revenue. That such a question would even be debated explains why Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has pressed to flip the company’s approach to emerging markets.

“India is the most important market for the ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative,” Caesar Sengupta, the head of the effort, told Reuters on the sidelines of the annual “Google for India” event in New Delhi last week.

A man walks past a Google hashtag during an event in New Delhi, India, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW TACTICS

For many years Google designed its services for early adopters of new technology, who tended to be in Silicon Valley, said Nelson Mattos, who oversaw Google’s Europe and Africa operations for several years. Great products would then find a broad global audience.

“Over time, as you saw the growth of Facebook, the importance of WhatsApp and other tools in these new markets, and not the same adoption of Google, the company started to realize that maybe they had to change that approach,” Mattos said.

Shortly after taking the helm three years ago, Pichai mapped a new strategy for places such as India: More services tailored to locals; more marketing on radio, billboards and TV; more local staff and start-up investment.

Google’s India workforce has more than doubled since to more than 4,000 employees, or about eight times Facebook’s presence, according to a tally of LinkedIn profiles and company statements.

Its products evolved too, becoming easier to use with low data plans. Smartphone apps such as Files Go and Tez – rebranded last week as Google Pay – were aimed at Indians.

“There’s definitely a sea change,” said Asif Baki, a user researcher at Google who oversees two-week “immersion trips” in developing markets for senior executives and staff.

The efforts are bearing fruit. Indian users during the first half of this year spent more time on Google services than on Facebook services, according to estimates from audience measurement firm Comscore. Over a similar period a year ago, Facebook came out on top.

Extending those gains to the ad business is a work in progress. A handful of Google executives, including leaders for display ads and small business advertisers, traveled to India earlier this year in a previously unreported trip to better understand the needs of Indian clients.

The visit spurred them to consider ideas such as enabling advertisers to reach users only in a particular Indian state, since language and literacy vary greatly around the country, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

At the New Delhi event, Google unveiled a plan to bring Indian newspaper content online, to increase the supply of search results – and ads – available in regional languages. 

Google still has to reckon with other issues. Small businesses in emerging markets are less likely to have websites, a foundation for Google ad campaigns but unnecessary for Facebook.

Executives met with one Indian merchant who recorded product videos on YouTube then messaged the links to potential customers on WhatsApp, said Kim Spalding, the company’s general manager and product lead for small business ads. 

    Facebook, meanwhile, is already on to commercializing such behavior. Just weeks ago, it began charging for text-based marketing features on WhatsApp, with video ads expected to launch next year.

Reporting by Paresh Dave and Sankalp Phartiyal; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bangalore; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Alex Richardson

17 Great Motivational Quotes About Organized Labor

Not everybody realizes Labor Day was originally create to honor organized labor (i.e. labor unions). Few people also realize that labor unions were responsible for many of the workplace rights that created the American middle class.

Over the past fifty years, though, most of those hard-won rights have been under attack from billionaires and their political pawns. With that in mind, here are 17 of those hard-won rights and an “motivational” quote. (I’ll tell you at the end why the quotes are motivational)

  1. Unions won us weekends.  “Approximately 70% [of Americans] worked at least one weekend a month, with 63% saying that their employer expected them to put in time on an average Saturday and Sunday.” – Forbes.
  2. Unions won us paid time off. “A total of more than 30 days of vacation time allotted to workers in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the 10 public holidays in the U.S., which are not guaranteed to come with pay.” — CNBC
  3. Unions won us sick leave. “While the majority of large US corporations offer paid sick leave, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 36% of workers don’t have such protections.” – Fortune
  4. Unions won us social security. “The tax cuts enacted by Republicans and signed into law by Trump in December also will have a negative effect on Social Security in the near term, chiefly by reducing the program’s income from the taxation of benefits.” – Los Angeles Times
  5. Unions won us a minimum Wage. “Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.68 (in 2016 dollars). Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation.” Pew Research
  6. Unions won us (theoretically) equal pay. “U.S. women working full-time earned just $0.80 for every dollar earned by a man in 2016. The wage gap widens even more when broken down by race. Black women make $0.63 for every dollar, while Latina women earn $0.54 cents.” — CNBC 
  7. Unions won us anti-discrimination laws. “Companies are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they submit whitened resumes than candidates who reveal their race–and this discriminatory practice is just as strong for businesses that claim to value diversity as those that don’t.” — Harvard Business School
  8. Unions won us the eight hour workday. “A survey, which was conducted via Slack over a span of roughly three minutes on Monday afternoon, found that 97 out of 97 respondents have at some point in the recent past checked their work email addresses on their cellphones or non-work-related computers.” — The Atlantic 
  9. Unions won us overtime pay. “A paltry 7% of salaried workers received overtime pay.” — US Department of Labor 
  10. Unions won us child labor laws. “Republican governors and state lawmakers, who succeeded this year in curbing union powers, are pushing to revise their child-labor laws to help companies such as groceries get workers. Wisconsin will let employers treat teenagers as adults in pay and hours, and Maine lawmakers want to let companies keep teens working longer hours.” — San Francisco Chronicle
  11. Unions won us the 40 hour work week. “In a Gallup survey of 1,200 adults, 21% work between 50 and 59 hours a week, 18% work more than 60 hours, and 11% work between 41 and 49 hours. That means that 50% of the adults surveyed work more than 40 hours a week.” — Gallup
  12. Unions won us employee pensions. — “The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the agency set up 40 years ago to guarantee those pensions, made clear in its annual report released last month that one group of pension funds would most likely run out of money within a few years. Absent new legislation, the already modest pensions of some retired workers will be eliminated.” — New York Times
  13. Unions won us collective bargaining rights. “The lack of collective worker power helps explain why workers’ wages have been stagnant for the past 40 years, and why working people are so frustrated — as they have not reaped any of the gains of an improving economy.” — Economic Policy Institute
  14. Unions won us age discrimination laws. “Tech workers of all ages think older engineers are highly qualified, have good experience, and can share wisdom. But many older engineers are worried about losing their jobs as the tech workforce skews heavily towards Millennials.” — IEEE
  15. Unions won us whistleblower protection. “22 percent of corporate employees who reported misconduct faced retaliation, up from 12 percent in 2007. Most alarming, increases in the incidence of retaliation are outpacing the overall rate of increases in whistleblowing disclosures.” — Ethics Resource Center
  16. Unions won us privacy rights. “The battle for workplace privacy is over; privacy lost. Despite repeated language in judicial opinions regarding the need to balance the competing rights of employers and employees, no balancing occurs.” — American Bar Association
  17. Unions won us parental leave. “The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.” — The Washington Post

Maybe you found those quotes alarming rather motivational? Well, I think they should motivate you to VOTE

Published on: Sep 2, 2018

Pressures on Didi intensify after latest passenger slaying

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s largest ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing has suspended its carpooling service after a passenger was killed, and is likely to face tighter oversight that will squeeze driver numbers and extend customer waiting times.

Logo of Didi Chuxing is seen at its headquarters building in Beijing, China August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The incident, which follows a similar grisly killing by a Didi driver in May, triggered public and government backlash – and created an opening for rival services to chip away at Didi’s dominance in China, industry analysts say.

“There is certainly room for others to serve the market, and such incidents expose an apparent weakness in Didi’s business model: aggressive expansion without adequate control of the integrity of the drivers on their platform,” said Bill Russo, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automobility Ltd.

Didi founder Cheng Wei and President Jean Liu issued a lengthy and deeply apologetic letter late on Tuesday – a humbling move for a Chinese company celebrated as a homegrown “unicorn” in state media.

The company controls 90 percent of the Chinese ride share market, according to a Bain report in May. Didi says it makes 10 billion trips a year.

Valued at $56 billion in a fundraising round last year, Didi is trying to expand globally and is considering a giant initial public offering as early as next year. It bought rival Uber’s China business in 2016.

But now it may need to tap the brakes. This week, regulators in major cities, including Beijing, Chongqing, Dongguan, Guangzhou and Shanghai, ordered company officials to suspend drivers without proper operating licenses and stop new registrations for unqualified drivers, government statements and local media said.

Tougher safety measures and driver screenings are likely, analysts said. Already, Didi says it rejects tens of thousands of unqualified driver applications every day.

Didi had already faced mounting public frustration over waiting times and concerns that it had not done enough after the May killing. Drivers complained that working for the company had become less lucrative.

In a statement sent to Reuters on Wednesday, the company said it would “do everything we can technologically and institutionally to prevent crime,” adding that it uses technology to improve efficiency.

It added that based on an eight-hour day, its drivers made 6,000 to 7,000 yuan ($873-$1,018) per month, roughly three times the 2,120 yuan minimum wage in Beijing.

In 2016, the official Beijing Youth Daily newspaper reported that drivers earned more than 10,000 yuan per month at the height of the subsidy war between Didi and Uber, which made them popular employers at the time.

There are more than 80 businesses with licenses to operate in what the Bain report said is a $30 billion Chinese ride-hailing sector, which includes Tencent-backed (0700.HK) Meituan Dianping, CAR Inc and Geely Holding Group’s CaoCao Car.

Meituan and five other companies either declined to comment or did not respond. CaoCao Car said in a statement it only hired full-time drivers and used no privately owned cars.

Signs were already emerging last year that hailing a ride with Didi was getting harder. In June 2017, average driver response rates fell 13 to 40 percent in some densely populated areas across China’s largest cities compared with a year earlier, according to data Didi sent to Reuters in January.

Didi declined to provide updated numbers, or data on wait times. However, domestic media reports this year include complaints over long wait times.

Li Qiangzhi of the state-backed China Academy of Information and Communications Technology told the China News Service this month that between March and July the number of ride calls accepted by all Beijing ride-hailing service drivers fell 22 percent, while the time to respond to a call was 3.4 times longer on average.

REGULATORY BACKLASH

Didi’s popularity in China has amplified the outcry and passenger frustrations.

In China, the number of rides per day on Didi’s platform rose to 20 million from 14 million after its deal with Uber in 2016.

That year, the government imposed stricter regulations, such as a rule in some places requiring drivers to have a permit to work and live in the city where they drive, which excludes the large pool of migrant workers.

Didi said Wednesday it supports 30 million drivers, and rides have surged to over 30 million a day.

The sudden regulatory scrutiny in the five days since the killing could signal a shift for Didi and the industry.

“Chinese technology companies have a culture of moving fast and breaking things, and while Didi got a free pass from the regulator for the first incident … it is unlikely to get off scot-free the second time,” Richard Windsor, a technology analyst, wrote on his Radio Free Mobile blog.

Transport officials in Dongguan, in southern China, told Didi that it had far more drivers operating in the city than the total number of ride-hailing drivers registered there, The Paper, an online news site, reported.

“There are still a large number of drivers and vehicles that do not have the regulatory qualification to operate,” it cited Dongguan transport officials as saying.

DRIVER GRUMBLING

Didi is also contending with dissatisfaction among drivers, with at least eight strikes in different cities across China in the past year, local media have reported.

Some of the strikes protested how much Didi collects from drivers, while others were over fines drivers had to pay after regulatory changes, the reports said.

Like passengers, drivers have other companies to choose from.

Four Didi drivers in Beijing told Reuters the company had in recent months persuaded them to obtain a certificate to register their cars as vehicles used for ride-hailing, an unpopular step.

“If we register our car, the car is forced to be scrapped after eight years. No one actually wants to get a certificate,” said one, surnamed Zhang.

Those four, as well as three other current or former Didi drivers, said they were frustrated with Didi’s cancellation of subsidies after the deal with Uber.

Even changes such as stricter dress standards for drivers in its premier service made life harder, they said.

“Last week, some people complained that my car is smelly. Didi then lowered my rate and cut 600 yuan ($87) out of my earnings. That means I did one week for nothing,” said one Beijing driver, surnamed Yang.

Additional Reporting by Yilei Sun in BEIJING and Beijing and Shanghai Newsrooms; Editing by Tony Munroe and Gerry Doyle

Labor Board Backs Engineers Who Were Fired for Unionizing

The National Labor Relations Board is joining the fight by a group of engineers who want to form a union at a small San Francisco software company. The NLRB Tuesday issued a complaint against Lanetix, alleging the company violated federal labor laws when it fired 14 engineers in January after they filed papers to unionize. The complaint seeks an injunction to reinstate the fired engineers with back pay.

The dispute marks a rare case of Silicon Valley engineers trying to organize a union, and an even rarer example of the government coming to their aid. White-collar tech workers have won attention in recent months for coordinated campaigns against their employers’ business practices, but engineers in Silicon Valley almost never unionize.

Contractors and service workers for tech companies, who often are employed by outsourcing firms, have fought for years to unionize. Shuttle-bus drivers and food-service workers have made some progress. Earlier this month, after five years of organizing, security officers for companies including Facebook, Google, and Genentech, many of whom were making between $12 and $14 an hour, ratified their first union contract. They won wage increases of up to $1.20 per hour, better healthcare, and, for the first time, paid holidays. Bug testers who worked as contractors for Microsoft filed an NLRB charge for union-busting when they were fired in 2016. But this spring, workers agreed to settle with the contracting company in exchange for dropping the charge after the case seemed to sputter out.

The tension at Lanetix began in mid-November, when the company fired a highly respected female engineer who had been advocating for better pay and leave policies on behalf of her coworkers, according to interviews with two fired engineers and a copy of the complaint obtained by WIRED. The same day, the complaint says that managers held meetings at their offices in San Francisco and Arlington, Virginia, trying to dissuade employees from discussing work conditions in an independent messaging group that employees started on Slack, a popular chat app. The complaint says that Lanetix told workers that any attempts to unionize would be futile, but a group of about 14 non-supervisory engineers persisted.

In mid-January, after most of the unit signed authorization cards to be represented by the union, Lanetix was informed and the union filed papers with the NLRB. Ten days later, the engineers were fired.

Lanetix develops cloud-based software for transportation and logistics and has raised at least $18 million in funding from Salesforce Ventures and others. Lanetix and Salesforce declined to comment.

Bjorn Westergard, one of the fired Lanetix engineers leading the charge to unionze, says that small concessions by management would have easily deflated their efforts. The tipping point came late last year, when management offered additional stock to a handful of high-level male engineers, including Westergard. Employees suspected Lanetix planned to fire lower-level female engineers, many of whom graduated from Hackbright, an all women’s coding bootcamp, as did the female engineer fired in November.

“It became increasingly clear that their strategy was divide and conquer—flatter a handful of us in the hopes that we would go along with their plans and not put up a fight when they fired half of our co-workers,” Westergard says.

The NLRB’s complaint affirms allegations that the union filed in January. Lanetix employees worked with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild because most of the engineers were in the Virginia office. Cet Parks, the guild’s executive director, says the complaint is a rare victory. “It is hard to get the NLRB to pursue a court injunction for reinstatement and recognition,” he says. Parks says Lanetix’s timing was brazen. Even if an employer wants to fire workers involved in an organizing campaign, “usually their lawyers are going to inform them that there’s a problem,” he says.

“Unions are in retreat everywhere,” says William Gould, former chairman of the NLRB who teaches law at Stanford. He says recent Supreme Court decisions have been hostile to workers and employers are fighting hard to restrict worker rights. Still, Gould says the NLRB’s request for an injunction to reinstate the Lanetix employees signals the agency’s desire to “put this case to the top of the pile.”

The tech industry has been inhospitable to labor unions since before the microchip was invented. In order to ward off efforts from labor unions in San Francisco in 1939, Eitel McCullough, which made vacuum tubes for radar and broadcast, added an on-site cafeteria and medical clinic, and launched a profit-sharing program. Tech companies used the same strategy in the 1970s, offering employees high salaries and sweet perks to make collective action less appetizing.

The Lanetix engineer who was fired in November, who requested anonymity, says she was stunned by the termination because Lanetix’s CEO had solicited her opinions on referral bonuses and paid leave, including asking her to announce the improved policy at a company all-hands. Roughly five months before she was fired, the CEO said he appreciated her candid conversation and offered her a bonus or a raise. When board members came to the office, she says the CEO would often bring them by her desk as a way of showing that Lanetix believes in women.

Labor groups hoping to make inroads in the tech industry have tried to draw attention to the Lanetix engineers. In February, Tech Workers Coalition and Tech Action Working Group, part of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America, issued a statement of solidarity with the fired engineers. In March, 30 supporters joined a protest outside Lanetix’s San Francisco office.

Will Luckman, cofounder of Tech Action, said he hoped the statement would pressure the NLRB and increase awareness of nascent attempts to unionize within the tech industry. Despite their futuristic sheen, tech companies, “actually operate like traditional industrialists and will go through old fashioned methods of suppressing workers,” he says.


More Great WIRED Stories

Exclusive: Iran-based political influence operation – bigger, persistent, global

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An apparent Iranian influence operation targeting internet users worldwide is significantly bigger than previously identified, Reuters has found, encompassing a sprawling network of anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Facebook and other companies said last week that multiple social media accounts and websites were part of an Iranian project to covertly influence public opinion in other countries. A Reuters analysis has identified 10 more sites and dozens of social media accounts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

U.S.-based cyber security firm FireEye Inc and Israeli firm ClearSky reviewed Reuters’ findings and said technical indicators showed the web of newly-identified sites and social media accounts – called the International Union of Virtual Media, or IUVM – was a piece of the same campaign, parts of which were taken down last week by Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc.

IUVM pushes content from Iranian state media and other outlets aligned with the government in Tehran across the internet, often obscuring the original source of the information such as Iran’s PressTV, FARS news agency and al-Manar TV run by the Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

PressTV, FARS, al-Manar TV and representatives for the Iranian government did not respond to requests for comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations last week dismissed accusations of an Iranian influence campaign as “ridiculous.”

The extended network of disinformation highlights how multiple state-affiliated groups are exploiting social media to manipulate users and further their geopolitical agendas, and how difficult it is for tech companies to guard against political interference on their platforms.

In July, a U.S. grand jury indicted 12 Russians whom prosecutors said were intelligence officers, on charges of hacking political groups in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. U.S. officials have said Russia, which has denied the allegations, could also attempt to disrupt congressional elections in November.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who has previously analyzed disinformation campaigns for Facebook, said the IUVM network displayed the extent and scale of the Iranian operation.

“It’s a large-scale amplifier for Iranian state messaging,” Nimmo said. “This shows how easy it is to run an influence operation online, even when the level of skill is low. The Iranian operation relied on quantity, not quality, but it stayed undetected for years.”

FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS

Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow said the company is still investigating accounts and pages linked to Iran and had taken more down on Tuesday.

“This is an ongoing investigation and we will continue to find out more,” he said. “We’re also glad to see that the information we and others shared last week has prompted additional attention on this kind of inauthentic behavior.”

Twitter referred to a statement it tweeted on Monday shortly after receiving a request for comment from Reuters. The statement said the company had removed a further 486 accounts for violating its terms of use since last week, bringing the total number of suspended accounts to 770.

“Fewer than 100 of the 770 suspended accounts claimed to be located in the U.S. and many of these were sharing divisive social commentary,” Twitter said.

Google declined to comment but took down the IUVM TV YouTube account after Reuters contacted the company with questions about it. A message on the page on Tuesday said the account had been “terminated for a violation of YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

Slideshow (2 Images)

IUVM did not respond to multiple emails or social media messages requesting comment.

The organization does not conceal its aims, however. Documents on the main IUVM website iuvm.org said its headquarters are in Tehran and its objectives include “confronting with remarkable arrogance, western governments and Zionism front activities.”

APP STORE AND SATIRICAL CARTOONS

IUVM uses its network of websites – including a YouTube channel, breaking news service, mobile phone app store, and a hub for satirical cartoons mocking Israel and Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia – to distribute content taken from Iranian state media and other outlets which support Tehran’s position on geopolitical issues.

Reuters recorded the IUVM network operating in English, French, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, Russian, Hindi, Azerbaijani, Turkish and Spanish.

Much of the content is then reproduced by a range of alternative media sites, including some of those identified by FireEye last week as being run by Iran while purporting to be domestic American or British news outlets.

For example, an article run by in January by Liberty Front Press – one of the pseudo-U.S. news sites exposed by FireEye – reported on the battlefield gains made by the army of Iranian ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That article was sourced to IUVM but actually lifted from two FARS news agency stories.

FireEye analyst Lee Foster said iuvmpress.com, one of the biggest IUVM websites, was registered in January 2015 with the same email address used to register two sites already identified as being run by Iran. ClearSky said multiple IUVM sites were hosted on the same server as another website used in the Iranian operation.

Reporting by Jack Stubbs in LONDON, Christopher Bing in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in LONDON; Editing by Damon Darlin and Grant McCool

Airbnb Sues New York Over Law That Demands Host Information

Airbnb has sued New York City, claiming a law that requires the online home-sharing arranger to disclose detailed information about its participating hosts each month is unconstitutional and exposes private information to unfettered government and public scrutiny.

The New York City council passed the legislation in contention in July, and the mayor signed it into law August 6. It requires that online, for-fee, short-term rental platforms like Airbnb pass a list every month of every host, location, kind of rental (an entire or partial unit), how many days it was rented, and money collected by the host and paid to the booking platform.

Airbnb’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that these provisions violate portions of the U.S. Constitution and the New York State Constitution, and the federal Stored Communications Act. The suit maintains that information disclosed to the city’s Office of Special Enforcement could be used across city agencies and become part of the public record that could be requested by any citizen.

Thus, Airbnb argues, the intent is “intimidating New Yorkers into abandoning homesharing.” The company pins the blame in its suit on the hotel industry, which it says has engaged in a multi-million-dollar lobbying operation, and which has close ties to government via a former NYC city employee.

Airbnb declined to comment beyond what appears in its suit.

Part of the current debate is whether the number of units that fall outside NYC’s rental laws is significant and reduces the housing stock available to residents, thus forcing up prices and increasing the risk of homelessness. Airbnb says in its suit that only 28,000 homes or 0.8% of its listings in New York City are for entire homes, while there are about 3.1 million households (including homeowners and renters).

However, the lawsuit doesn’t include a number that would help scale that 28,000 figure. For instance, there are just 116,000 hotel rooms across the five boroughs, according to a 2017 market report by the city, and based on Airbnb’s figure, 350,000 total Airbnb listings.

This battle is another melee in a three-way war between Airbnb, city regulators, and hotel operators which has occurred in cities around the world. Like Uber, Airbnb entered markets originally largely without consulting with regulators, and allowed hosts—its members offering rentals—to create listings that could be at odds with local rules.

Many towns and cities, including New York City, allow whole-home rentals (whether an apartment, condo, house, or miscellaneous) for 30 days or longer if the owner or property renter isn’t living on site. Renting a room may require safety upgrades, and some localities had a rental tax in place long before Airbnb came around, even if it was hard to enforce.

As Airbnb grew in listings, hotel operators have apparently felt the pressure, and have tried to hit back. A 2016 report funded by a hotel trade group said 30% of Airbnb’s revenue came from “illegal” hotels, or hosts renting every unit in a building.

Many major cities have too few commercial hotel rooms and other rental properties relative to the crush of business travel and tourism. Airbnb relieves some pressure, potentially reducing the maximum rates hospitality operations can charge. In other places, Airbnb provides affordable or even cheap alternatives to hotel and motel rooms.

Mr. Dorsey Goes to Washington: Twitter CEO to Testify Before House Panel on Sept. 5

Twitter has been ground zero in the culture wars that have been raging on social media. Now its CEO Jack Dorsey will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Sept. 5, the panel said.

The Energy and Commerce Committee made the announcement—where else?—on Twitter Friday.

“Twitter is on incredibly powerful platform that can change the national conversation in the time it takes a tweet to go viral,” committee chair Greg Walden said in a statement on Twitter. “When decisions about data and content are made using opaque processes the American people are right to raise concerns.”

Walton said that the Energy and Commerce Committee “intends to ask tough questions about how Twitter monitors and polices content, and we look forward to Mr. Dorsey being forthright and transparent regarding the complex processes behind the company’s algorithms and content judgment calls.”

Dorsey has found himself facing the brunt of criticism from the political left and the political right because of Twitter’s evolving, and sometimes vague, policies regarding what content is and is not allowed on the social network.

Last week, Twitter suspended the accounts of far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his media site Infowars after Jones posted a tweet that violated the company’s rules against inciting violence. That followed a controversial decision by Dorsey not to fully ban Jones from Twitter, even though Apple, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify had done so on their platforms.

Dorsey also said in an interview with CNN last weekend that, while the company’s employees may have a “left-leaning” bias, “we do not look at content with regards to political viewpoint or ideology.” But many right-wing media companies focused on his remark about a left-leaning bias.

Also on Friday, President Trump went on Twitter to call out social media companies like Twitter for silencing “millions of people.”

September’s hearing will not be the first time that Dorsey has been invited to testify before Congress. The Twitter co-founder was previously invited to share information with lawmakers in 2017, but declined to participate, according to Recode.

Facial Recognition Technology Catches Imposter at Airport, Officials Say

Using newly installed facial-recognition technology, a man entering the U.S. from Brazil with a French passport at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles airport was identified as an impostor, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said on Thursday.

The identification came three days into the use of a new cutting-edge facial comparison system that matches a person’s face and the picture in a passport, visa, and other travel documents.

The person entering was sent to secondary screening, at which point the CBP said he became “visibly nervous” and was subject to a search, which revealed a Republic of Congo I.D. card beneath an insert in his shoe. That photo matched.

Attempted entry into the U.S. using false documents is a crime.

The CBP provided information about the incident with an image of the ID in the man’s shoes with some redactions. But the agency didn’t provide any independent verification about the use of the facial-recognition technology to flag the traveler.

The facial-comparison system has been installed as a technology demonstration in 14 airports and put into use on August 20. It’s intended to provide better accuracy and speed the processing of arriving passengers from international destinations. American citizens are currently allowed to decline the comparison scan.

The CBP’s privacy policy states it doesn’t store the “biographic data” captured for any travelers, and that the photos are transmitted only for identity verification. Photos of U.S. citizens are deleted within 12 hours of verification and non-U.S. citizens within 14 days.

Facial-recognition systems used in public places, like airports, and public accommodations, like malls and football stadiums, have come under criticism since the introduction of systems that had any chance of matching faces in video against a database, as well as recording faces for future matching or other purposes.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, notes that governments can use the technology for continuous surveillance without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and use motor-vehicle agency photographic databases to identify and track people without their knowledge.

At the same time, the reliability of such systems in providing false positives—inaccurate matches that are presented as correct—could put innocent people in the path of law enforcement. The ACLU recently demonstrated that principle with a version of Amazon’s Rekognition facial-recognition technology marketed to various organizations, including police departments.

The ACLU scanned the official photo for every member of Congress, and the system matched 28 of them to criminal mugshots. Amazon said the system was designed to help filter matches for humans for further review, and that the ACLU could have used its best practices to set a “confidence threshold” for matching that reduces false positives.

This facial-comparison system, as described by the CBP, only matches people against photos the CBP already has of them, providing a different set of potential risks for false negatives, or errors in matching correctly, which the CBP says it mitigates through manual screening.

Top 6 Career Myths That Make People Miserable

I end up hearing a lot of people complain about their jobs (in general) and specifically about how their career expectations haven’t been met. In almost every case, the complainer has a false belief that is creating the discrepancy between expectation and reality. Here are the most common:

Myth 1: If I skip my vacation, I’ll get a promotion.

Skipping vacation sounds like a great way to impress the boss, but statistically it hasthe opposite effect. According to a recent study of vacation usage, “only 23 percent of those who forfeited their days were promoted in the last year, compared to 27 percent of “non-forfeiters.” 

Rather than skip your vacation, schedule it ahead, and then resist the urge to “check in.” Your ability to separate yourself from work tells your boss that you’re independent and not in the slightest doubt of your value to the firm. 

Myth 2: If I work really hard, I’ll get a raise.

Most people interpret “carrot and stick” as using reward and punishment to motivate. In the original story, though, the carrot was tied to one end of the stick and the other end of the stick was tied to the donkey’s harness. The donkey never gets the carrot. Get it?

The way to get a raise is create more value for the firm, and then documenting that you created that value. But even before that, get a commitment from your boss that if you exceed your goals you’ll get an appropriate raise.  

Myth 3: If I help others, they’ll help me in return.

While humans theoretically value reciprocity, at work you’ll find that often “no good deed goes unrewarded.” If you’re too helpful, you can become a dumping ground where everyone throws tasks they’d rather not do themselves.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be helpful, but that it’s wise to temper your helpfulness with a little bit of cynicism. Try negotiating beforehand what the other person will do for you, before you do a favor.

Myth 4: If I’m more accessible, people will value me more.

Just because you’ve got a phone in your pocket and a computer on your desk doesn’t mean you should allow anybody and everybody to monopolize your time based on their convenience.

One of the great truths of marketing is that people place a higher value on resources that are scarce than identical resources that are plentiful. Making yourself available all the time is great way to say “my time isn’t worth much.”

Myth 5: If I turn down a project, my boss won’t like me.

Look, the top priority in your relationship with your boss isn’t to be liked but to be respected. If you accept donkey-work or extra projects when you’re already running at 100%, the boss may be pleased but will secretly think “what a chump!”

As with all work situations, your argumentative watchword should be “what’s best for the team?” It’s almost never good for the team or the company to utilize a high-priced resource (you) to do a low level task.  

Myth 6: If I provide more information, customers will buy.

Contrary to all the biz-blab about the “information economy,” information isn’t valuable. (Everyone has too much already.) What’s valuable is the right information at the right time. And the right time to provide information is when the customer asks for it.

As an aside, this particular myth is responsible for the 90% of marketing campaigns (especially email marketing) that fall flat. Look, the customers are only interested in themselves. So if you’re not talking about them you’re boring them.

The Incredible McDonald's With Butlers, a String Quartet and Reservations Required

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

One way of achieving this noble goal is to appear, well, more noble.

If your experience is more pleasurable, the quaint thought process goes, you’ll want to spend more money.

Last week, however, McDonald’s climbed the mountain to veritable poshness.

Naturally, this happened in the home of posh, the (Dis)United Kingdom.

Here was a McDonald’s with white-gloved butlers. It also enjoyed fancy tableware and candelabra. Red velvet abounded.

And of course you needed a reservation.

This attempt at taste was inspired by a snooty British TV personality named Mark Vandelli.

Here he is in this Haute McDonald’s.

Please believe me, he really is snooty.

Why was McDonald’s pushing the boat out so far toward an exotic island of luxury?

Though this was a one-night-only affair, it isn’t even the first time a McDonald’s has required reservations.

This is merely the latest drift toward competing with the likes of Shake Shack, where quality of food and customer experience are rather significant.

But will there ever come a day when you have to make a reservation to get your Big Mac?

That would, indeed, be a very strange day.

Elon Musk's Tesla Tweets Could Spark a Fight With the SEC

Elon Musk is, if nothing else, a warrior. He has battled short sellers. He was waged war against the auto industry and the National Transportation Safety Board. He has scrapped with the media and Los Angeles traffic and, because 2018, Azealia Banks. Now, Musk may be in yet another battle, with the US Securities and Exchange Commissions.

This all started a week ago, when the Tesla CEO tweeted, “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” But as Musk revealed in a Monday blog post, that funding may not, in fact, have been all that secured. And for the agency that regulates the securities industry, that may be a problem. One that could hurt Tesla where it counts: its checkbook.

The problem is that securities law requires that public companies make certain sorts of information public to all their shareholders at the same time. And that said information be true. Anything less could be construed by courts (and juries) as fraud or market manipulation. That makes Elon’s tweet problematic. Investigators have reportedly opened a probe into the tweet, and could choose—after collecting facts—to either sue the company in a district court or bring a sanction before an administrative law judge. Tesla declined to comment.

For the SEC, Elon’s tweets have two potentially concerning elements. One is the medium. Sure, anyone investing in Tesla should know Musk says all the juicy stuff on Twitter. And the Commission has allowed companies to disclose information on social media in the past, provided other shareholders are alerted in some other way. In the eight days since Musk tweeted about taking Tesla private, the automaker has not filed paperwork to disclose a material event or disclosure, the kind of big deal happening that all shareholders need to know about.

The second concerning element of Elon’s tweet is the message, especially the “funding secured” part. From the SEC’s perspective, that should be a factual statement: Musk definitely has the $70 billion or so lined up to take Tesla private.

But the CEO’s Monday blog post wasn’t so straightforward. He writes of a July 31 meeting with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment fund, which recently took a 5 percent stake in Tesla. He says that the fund’s managing director “expressed regret that I had not moved forward previously on a going private transaction with him,” and that the director “expressed his support for funding a going private transaction with Tesla at this time.” Then Musk hedges: “I understood from him that no other decision makers were needed and that they were eager to proceed.”

Securing take-private funding is not that easy, says John Coffee, Jr., the director of the Center on Corporate Governance at Columbia Law School. It is an intensive process that requires a lot of financial wrangling before anything’s a done deal. “There are enough concessions in the blog post about this being subject to financial and due diligence review and final approvals to determine that Musk didn’t have funding secure,” Coffee says. “He had at best, a hope for it.”

For the SEC—which, like many enforcement agencies, enjoys making headlines with shows of force—this might be an easy win against Tesla. Its investigators don’t even have to prove that Musk meant to lie or mislead investors. “The SEC can just say there was a materially false statement,” says Coffee. “It doesn’t have to prove an intent to defraud.”

If Tesla were smart, Coffee says, it would strike a deal with the feds, and quickly. In rule violations and breaches, federal regulators generally appreciate a touch of diplomacy, or contrition. An easy settlement might only cost the electric carmaker tens or hundreds of thousands—while a loss at court could cost it millions. (Back in 2003, the SEC fined one company $25,000 for a take-private transaction gone foul.)

Fighting the SEC, on the other hand, might get the electric carmaker in to deeper trouble, for more legal headaches lurk. By Tuesday, three Tesla shareholders had filed proposed class action lawsuits against Musk and Tesla, alleging the CEO tweeted to squeeze Tesla short sellers and goose its stock price. (If that was the plot, it worked for a spell—the stock spiked, then settled back to its previous price.) To win their cases (which may be combined), the plaintiffs will have to prove Musk meant to screw with the stock price. That means they’ll have to find a paper trail, or be able to string together enough compelling evidence to convince a jury or judge of what Musk was thinking when he tweeted. But if Tesla loses a case to the SEC, Coffee says, elements of that judgement could be used during a civil case. Bad begets bad.

Musk, and Tesla by extension, have always been scrappers, and unafraid of a fight. For years, the CEO has expressed intense frustration with short sellers, and with the requirements that come with being a public company. (Recall that he called analysts’ questions “bonehead” and “dry” during a May earnings call.) But when it comes to the SEC, some contrition might be wiser. Indeed, Musk seems to have temporarily gone the more conventional CEO route, announcing Monday night that he’s working with serious financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Silver Lake, and serious law firms, like Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and Munger, Tolles & Olson, on the take private transactions. Now that federal investigators are involved, the well-paid lawyers are here, too.


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How to Master the Art of Giving a Great Virtual Presentation

For online presentations, the first step is to get everyone on video (sometimes you have to insist). No more audio-only calls where all your audience members are just secretly multi-tasking. You can’t make an engaging presentation with slides and their disembodied voice. Get your face on video so people can see you and ideally you can see your audience too. This allows you to really connect with your audience, and see how they are reacting to you.

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And for both online and in-person presentations, you have to engage your audience. Don’t droning on for a long time, doing too many text-rich slides, and not matching your abstract to your presentation (this is actually a big one – people want to know what they’re getting in to). Instead, stop regularly to tell a (quick!) story, ask a question, take a straw poll, tell a joke, give your audience a small task, and so forth. Just keep them awake and interested! Also, you need adjust your presentation to your audience’s response. I have multiple large screens in my office so I can see all the participants in my meeting or presentation all at once and read their body language and facial expressions. If I see attention waning or some disagreement, I will switch things up.

Finally, a quick technical recommendation for online presentations. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This makes sure that your participants join with their sound off, so you don’t get background noise that can disrupt the flow of your presentation.

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