Google is helping online news companies get money out of readers

Google is developing tools to help online news companies get people to give them money, as the Verge reports. It remains unclear how much of that money Google intends to keep for itself.

The plan is to make it harder for people who can pay to read without paying. The changes should come in September.

Arguably, companies like Google and Facebook are themselves responsible for robbing online news organizations of digital advertising dollars in the first place by chewing up 60 percent the market. That’s part of why news organizations need subscriber money so badly.

Since the internet virtually wiped out physical news subscriptions, news companies have had to hustle to find new sources of money while retaining their journalistic credibility. Many reputable news sites have put up pay walls, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. While non-subscribers are allowed to view a limited number of articles on these sites, only paying subscribers have full access to all articles.

Google’s plan includes allowing non-subscribing readers to access full articles if they arrive at the site via Google search. The plan also includes other strategies designed to bolster subscriber numbers. Overall, the effort is intended to make it easier and faster for readers to subscribe, partly by better targeting readers using Google’s tremendous stores of data.

As Bloomberg reported, the New York Times and the Financial Times are among the news organizations working with Google.

In February, the Wall Street Journal struck back at Google’s search results policies which it claimed “discriminated” against paid news organizations. Google’s policy is not to list search results which are hidden behind a paywall.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Your new favorite beauty store: how Ulta beat Sephora

In 2013, beauty store chain Ulta welcomed a new CEO in Mary Dillon and ever since its star has been on the rise, Digiday notes.

It wasn’t long ago that Ulta was considered something along the lines of an expanded drugstore beauty aisle, while Sephora was considered to be the market leader in beauty. French giant Sephora has long held the preeminent position among beauty retail chains thanks to its wide roster of prestige beauty brands.

But Ulta evolved its own market strategy which allowed it to overtake Sephora in the beauty market in 2015, as reported by Bloomberg. So what’s Ulta’s strategy?

The popular beauty store stocks a mixture of less-expensive drugstore beauty brands and more-expensive prestige beauty brands. They offer products you could find at your local Walgreens as well as lines carried at Sephora and upscale department stores.

Urban Decay can be found gracing the beauty store’s shelves, and it recently made a deal to start working with MAC Cosmetics. Ulta has thus turned itself into a one-stop-shop for high-low beauty mavens. As its slogan runs: “All things beauty. All in one place.”

Additionally, Ulta developed an app to interface with guests. The app features makeup tutorial videos, and allows guests to try on makeup with its service “GlamLab.” It also allows guests to book in-store services for hair, brows, and skin. As of today, Sephora’s app has 535 ratings on the App Store, while Ulta’s app has 38,794.

Ulta also rejuvenated its previously-stale loyalty program. It made the program easier for guests to understand in order to cultivate long-term customers and repeated transactions. Last week at Boston’s eTail East conference, Ulta’s senior director of loyalty marketing Linh Peters stressed the importance of simplicity and ease of use in loyalty programs. That’s why, Peters claimed, 90 percent of Ulta’s business comes from loyalty program members.

Let’s look at how Sephora’s and Ulta’s respective loyalty programs differ.

In Sephora’s loyalty program, called Beauty Insiders, guests accrue points for every dollar spent. They can then trade those points and choose from a limited selection of mini beauty products, deluxe samples and in-store services.

Ulta’s loyalty program dispenses with the prizes and instead offers simple store credit, which means real savings for the customer. This way, guests can buy luxury brands cheaper than at Sephora, which rarely offers material discounts. Ulta also has a marketing team that works to offer targeted promotions to guests based on past shopping behavior.

Ulta has taken advantage of its boom in business to expand its store locations in flourishing strip malls, even as actual malls struggle.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons/Michael Rivera

Prisma’s artificially-intelligent machine vision tech is on the market

The company behind the photo filter app Prisma is shifting its focus away from the app and towards selling its technology to other companies, as reported by the Verge. You know, that app that can trick you into thinking bad phone photos are paintings?

You know, that app that can trick you into thinking bad phone photos are paintings? That’s Prisma.

It turns out the AI machine vision tech behind those cute painter filters is actually pretty versatile. That’s why Prisma Labs is trying to sell it to other companies for a number of diverse applications. They’re moving beyond simply courting smartphone app users.

Prisma calls itself a “mobile technology company specializing in deep learning related products,” and it claims to have “the fastest AI-powered on-device image processing with great quality.” The app boasts between five and 10 million active users.

Computer vision technology can be used for many applications. Obviously, there is quite a market for photo filter services, but that market is largely eaten up by giant social media companies such as Facebook and Snapchat. Prisma specializes in offering such abilities locally on-device. That means that mobile users chew up less data and battery life than they would by using web-based services.

Other applications of machine vision include such technologies as object detection, scene recognition, and facial landmark mapping, which can be used to beautify or alter faces in photos. In image processing, the technology can also be used to divorce objects in the foreground from the background.

The new service Prisma Platform offers software engineers the ability to apply Prisma’s deep learning technology within their programs with the addition of only a few lines of code.

As Prisma’s cofounder and CEO told the Verge:  “Even Google is buying companies for computer vision. We can help companies put machine vision in their app because we understand how to implement the technology.”

Featured image via Flickr/Gary Ullah.

Changes are coming to Google’s search results page

As reported by TechCrunch, changes are coming to Google’s mobile search.

Now: video previews

Now, whenever your Google search query returns video results, Google will automatically play a six-second video clip on the results page to give you an idea of its contents.

Don’t worry: the preview will be silent. Your search results will not be broadcasted to the world.

The video previews will not simply be the first six seconds of every video since the first six seconds of any video aren’t necessarily the most accurate reflection of the contents of the full video. That’s why Google has devised a program which can sift through the whole video and select a sex-second clip which, hopefully, gives you a better idea of what you’re about to watch. For each video, the same six-second clip will load for every user.

Google’s servers individually set the previews for each video, so not all videos will have previews yet. But the majority of videos people are likely to search will already have video previews ready. It may take a bit of time for newly-added videos to have previews available to load.

The new feature will work with most major video servers, including Google’s own YouTube.

Google hopes this new feature will give users an idea of what a video has in it, without any need to scrub through the video manually. It will also help users filter out videos that only ever show a single frozen image.

Currently, the preview feature is only available for mobile users via the Chrome and Google apps.

Upcoming: Google’s data-friendly search app

Video previews are not the only change Google has brewing for its search page. Google has been testing a data-friendly version of its search app, as Android Police reports.

The advantages of the new app are pretty straightforward: low data usage, high offline capabilities, and workability with slow connections. It won’t include as much pre-loaded data. It won’t include all the bells and whistles of the full Google search app, but it should work well for users who only need or can support the basic functions.

The app has also been designed to be simple and easily accessible.

The app is not yet available to the U.S. — a pilot version called “Search Lite” is currently being tested in Indonesia.

The FDA is making food companies stop using trans fats this month

As reported by Bloomberg, the FDA is forcing food companies to stop including trans fats, or partially-hydrogenated oils, in food products this month.

Three years ago, a deadline was set for companies to stop using trans fats in their products. Now we’re reaching that deadline.

What are trans fats?

Small amounts of trans fat may naturally occur in animal products such as meat and dairy. But most of the trans fats Americans eat are not naturally occurring. You may also know artificial trans fats as partially-hydrogenated oils.

According to the American Heart Association, artificial trans fats should be avoided, full stop. Ideally, trans fats make up exactly zero percent of a healthy diet. The FDA no longer lists partially-hydrogenated oils as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, for human consumption.

Trans fats are linked to increased chances of heart disease, stroke, and many other diseases.

The scientific consensus that trans fats are unhealthy hasn’t stopped many food companies from continuing to use partially-hydrogenated oils in their products for as long as is legally allowed, since such oils, though unhealthy, are cheap and shelf-stable.

Fortunately, food companies will not legally be allowed to add trans fats to food products for much longer.

What will replace trans fats?

Partially-hydrogenated oils have remained in favor for so long because they are shelf-stable and solid at room temperature.

Companies are scrambling to produce oils with all the positive qualities of partially-hydrogenated oils, and none of the bad qualities.

Dow Chemical Co. has developed a product called “Omega-9 canola oil,” which it claims has all the omega-9s in olive oil and less saturated fat.

DuPont Co. has come up with “Plenish,” an oil product made from soybeans which have been genetically modified so that the resulting oil contains no trans fats. It has less saturated fat and more omega-9s than traditional soybean oil. It is also more shelf-stable.

Monsanto Co. is also launching a soybean oil product, and it’s called “Vistive Gold.” Like Plenish, it has been genetically modified to have less saturated fats and more omegas.

Currently, canola oil products are more popular than soybean oil products. But the soybean industry is working to develop oils which it claims will ultimately prove healthier and better-tasting than their canola-derived competitors.

The new, healthier high-oleic canola oils have high levels of omega-9, but their levels of omega-3 and omega-6 have to be reduced to compensate. High-oleic soybean oils, on the other hand, can retain high levels of all the omegas, which gives them more nutritional value.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Markets lurch as Trump talks and NEC director Gary Cohn considers leaving

The euro has been weakened against the dollar since the release of the minutes of the European Central Bank’s last meeting. But the dollar is having its own problems. The dollar has fallen since the Federal Reserve released the minutes of its last meeting in July, during which policymakers expressed concern about weak U.S. dollar inflation.

The recent attack in Barcelona compounded matters for the dollar, as did certain remarks made by President Trump regarding the recent violent white-supremacist rallies in Virginia. In the fallout from this drama, Trump disbanded two advisory councils of prominent businessmen, a move which some people think violates his promise to work alongside industry leaders.

To make matters worse for the dollar, recent speculation rumors that Gary Cohn, current director of the National Economic Counsel, is considering leaving his post. Cohn was one of many business leaders to denounce Trump’s remarks on the violence in Virginia.

Aside from his duties as director of the NEC, Cohn also acts as a particular advisor of President Trump’s on tax reform and spending, as does Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Cohn previously served as an executive at Goldman Sachs.

Cohn seems to play a key role in keeping the U.S. economy and currency stable. That’s why the rumors circulating about his possible imminent departure caused the markets to lurch. Traders rushed to abandon the dollar for more secure currencies.

An anonymous White House adviser maintains that Cohn will remain and the status quo will not be broken. This news has calmed the markets somewhat.

On Wednesday, the dollar fell O.55 percent to the yen and 0.4 percent to the Swiss franc. The dollar has since gone up incrementally.

On the whole, most analysts don’t seem to see much immediate cause for worry about the U.S. dollar.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Amazon looks into military food tech

Could I interest you in a package of fully-cooked beef stew that sat unrefrigerated on a shelf for a year before being dropped on your doorstep? Or perhaps a vegetable frittata?

That’s what Amazon might have in store for us — lots of non-refrigerated pre-cooked food.

Amazon is reportedly looking into a process called microwave-assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS. This technology, developed at Washington State University, originated to meet the needs of the U.S. military. The process kills bacteria and seals meals using microwaves, allowing pre-cooked meals to remain safe for up to a year without refrigeration. The meals are easy to transport, and they only need to be heated up a bit before being eaten. As a result, they’re also quite cheap compared to fresh meals.

A Dever-based startup called 915 Labs is shopping the technology to Amazon. According to the startup, MATS has many advantages over other methods of sterilization currently being used in food processing. Traditional processing methods get rid of nutrients and flavor along with the bacteria. MATS allows dishes to be treated in a shorter amount of time, meaning that the dishes retain more of their original texture and flavor.

Amazon could get going on this new venture as soon as 2018. It would give Amazon a stronger foothold in the grocery market, which has long been a goal for the company. Prepared meals are much harder to transport than the millions of other shelf-safe items Amazon sells.

This isn’t the only move Amazon is making to chew up more of the food market. Amazon is also in the process of acquiring the grocery chain Whole Foods, and it already has a grocery delivery program in place called AmazonFresh.

Amazon has not yet confirmed that it will actually end up using microwave-assisted thermal sterilization.

Reuters has also suggested Wal-Mart may be looking into MATS as well. A company called Solve for Food is planning on setting up a MATS facility near Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas. Wal-Mart has not yet commented.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

China is using quantum cryptography to produce unhackable transmissions

China has proven itself able to use quantum cryptography to produce what are essentially unhackable transmissions.

A Chinese group of researchers called the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale project, or QUESS, launched a quantum cryptography satellite into orbit in August last year.

This satellite has enabled the QUESS project to send quantum-encrypted messages from earth to the satellite — a record-setting distance of 1200 kilometers.

What is quantum cryptography?

But what makes this particular kind of encryption preferable to regular encryption?

Right now, regular encryption is generally considered safe since our computer technology hasn’t reached that level of sophistication. But some scientists predict that when quantum computing does become fully developed, traditional methods of encryption will no longer suffice to keep information secret.

According to the theory, quantum computers will move beyond our current computers, which rely on mathematics. Quantum computers will rely on the physical properties of sub-atomic particles. That’s why they are looking into methods of quantum encryption, which will be able to stand up to attempts to decode transmissions using quantum computers.

The specific technology the QUESS project used is called quantum key distribution, or QKD. Quantum encrypted messages are encrypted using a key generated by sending a random stream of photons between two communicating users. This method of encryption is essentially unbreakable because the behavior of photons is largely random, and because photons cannot be observed without interfering with their behavior and alerting the communicating parties.

You can learn more about quantum cryptography here.

What does this mean for the future of computing?

Not only is quantum cryptography a safe method of communication, it is also a tremendously effective one which is able to handle massive amounts of information. In the future, China envisages a whole network of people using quantum satellites to communicate at unprecedented levels of safety and speed.

QKD will allow people to send secret messages as never before. But many people worry that quantum cryptography will prove a mixed blessing. It will make it harder to hack into encrypted messages, yes. But what if a government needs to decrypt information for purposes of national security? Friends and enemies alike will be protected in this coming age of computers.

Malicious code can now jump from DNA to computers

We now live in a time in which you can use DNA to hack computer systems.

The discovery was made by a group of researchers at the University of Washington made up of both computer science and molecular biology specialists. They focus on how information is encoded not only in computer systems, but also in biological systems, and particularly in the overlap between the two.

The team of researchers originally launched the project because they noticed possible security vulnerabilities in the computer systems used at their university for DNA sequencing and analysis. The lab treated DNA samples were treated as non-threatening input, but the researchers could imagine a way to sneak code into the computer system via DNA. So they decided to hack the DNA sequencing computer system to prove it.

In this particular case, the group of researchers encoded a malicious program onto a synthetic strand of DNA only 176 bases long — a very small amount. Then a computer read and transcribed the DNA into binary code, which could then be read and executed by a computer. The researchers had already purposefully inserted certain vulnerabilities into the computer’s security system so that the computer wasn’t protected against the malicious code. In this case, the malicious code gave the researchers remote control over the infected computer.

The researchers could have simply chosen to infect the system using malware or remote access tools. Instead, they wanted to infiltrate the system using a virus to prove that it is a real vulnerability which warrants consideration.

The group stresses that they don’t believe there is any cause for alarm, as there is little immediate danger. However, they urge us to begin thinking about such possible threats now, before they become immediate threats.

Security concerns aside, the discovery is interesting in scientific terms. This experiment shows us how fully biological and computer code can overlap, and it invites us to imagine a world of fluid boundaries between life and computer.

You can read the whole paper here.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Facebook is making moves in the realm of video

In an effort to break into the video entertainment market, Facebook is introducing a new video platform called Watch. The platform will be made available to a select group of Facebook users today. Everyone else will have to wait to try it.

In making this move, Facebook is most likely looking to open up new sources of revenue. If Facebook Watch catches on, users will spend more time on Facebook watching TV-length videos. That means that users will be exposed to more ads, thus generating more revenue for Facebook. And users won’t be required to pay for a subscription.

According to Facebook, Watch will be special among streaming video platforms because it can make TV-watching more social. Users will be able to comment on videos and to see what videos their friends are watching and commenting on. Each user will be watching alongside all two billion other Facebook users.

Watch will have two main components: a watchlist and a discovery section. The discovery section will be a feed of videos curated for you based on your Facebook profile. It will also suggest videos to you based on your friends’ activity on Facebook. It will include subdivisions such as “Most talked about” and “What’s making people laugh,” which is made up of videos that many people responded to with “Haha.”

Although Facebook has a huge user base, it still has ways to go in the realm of online video. Netflix, Youtube, Amazon, and Hulu have already come to dominate the market. Users may be reluctant to migrate their TV-watching time from those services over to Facebook Watch.

Facebook will offer a wide variety of programming on Watch. Some shows will focus on direct communication with their audiences through social media. Other shows might have long narrative arcs, like conventional TV shows.

So far, the list of programs available on the platform includes Gabby BernsteinNas Daily, Returning the Favor, and Kitchen Little, among others. Additionally, Facebook has permission from Major League Baseball to broadcast one game live per week.

Facebook funded these early programs in order to “seed the system,” but it does not intend to continue to fund new shows for very long. Eventually, anyone will be able to post videos to Watch, but they won’t get any money from Facebook to get going. By then, Facebook plans to take 45% of ad revenue from shows on Watch.

You can read Facebook’s statement on the launch of Watch here.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Disney and Netflix are about to fight over the kids

Over the past few years, Netflix has invested heavily in original movies and TV shows which are available exclusively on Netflix. This content works to attract new customers who want to find out what the House of Cards hype is all about. And it makes existing Netflix subscribers less likely to cancel the service since they would then be unable to access Netflix-exclusive content.

But even as Netflix is building up a repertoire of hit movies and TV shows, it still relies heavily on licensed content from other companies. And one of those companies is going rogue: the Walt Disney Co., which also covers ESPN and ABC networks under its umbrella.

Earlier this week, Disney announced that starting in 2019 it would no longer license Disney content to Netflix. Instead, Disney will form a new streaming subscription service. Disney will also create a service which will include streaming access to ESPN.

But don’t cancel your Netflix subscription just yet — Disney’s jump is still a couple years off after all. Netflix says that through 2019 its subscribers will continue to have access to Disney movies and TV shows. And until the end of 2018, new theatrically-released movies will continue to appear on Netflix as well. Marvel TV shows which have already been released on Netflix will also remain available on Netflix.

Disney isn’t the first to break off from a major streaming service and form a new one. Such companies as Filmstruck, HBO, and Starz have already broken off to form their own in-house streaming services, as have many others. The entertainment world seems to be catching on to the fact that Netflix is perhaps an unnecessary middleman. Disney is the strongest company yet to take on Netflix.

Although Disney is trailing behind Netflix for now, it is nonetheless in a good position to challenge Netflix for market supremacy. In the field of original content, Disney is the clear winner over Netflix.  Disney has a huge, devoted base of people who grew up or are growing up on Disney movies and will likely follow them on to a different service.

Of course, Disney has a lot of catching up to do in terms of building a dedicated base of consumers using the streaming service. Netflix has over 100 million subscribers.

Featured Image via Pixabay

A Google employee’s manifesto calls for ideological diversity instead of gender parity

A manifesto titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” written by a software engineer at Google has garnered attention not only within the company but also throughout the broader media. The attention has been largely negative, as many commentators have found the manifesto to advance sexist arguments.

The manifesto was originally disseminated via the company’s internal email, but it has now been leaked. You can read the entire thing over at Gizmodo.

So, what does the manifesto say?

The author of the manifesto claims there is widespread discrimination against ideologically conservative employees at Google. It bewails the existence of mentoring and hiring programs at Google which target specific groups of people based on gender, race, or other factors.

The manifesto also claims that gender gaps in tech are the naturally-arising result of differing biological tendencies and capabilities among men and women, not the result of widespread discrimination against women.

The manifesto’s author writes: “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

According to the manifesto, “Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things.” It goes on to suggest “there may be a limit to how people-oriented certain roles at Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this).”

The author of the manifesto speculates: “Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.”

Additionally, the manifesto bemoaned the inflexibility of male gender roles as compared to the flexibility of female gender roles.

Internal reactions

Within Google, employees have tended to respond negatively to the manifesto, and many have taken to social media to express such views. However, at least one article suggests there may be some internal support for certain points raised by the manifesto.

Google’s VP of diversity, Danielle Brown, who was hired mere weeks before this incident, spoke out against the manifesto, saying:

“Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

In response to the outcry against the manifesto, its author affixed the following statement to the manifesto: “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”

Previous problems with diversity at Google

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor sued Google for withholding records related to compliance with labor regulations. An investigation ensued, and by April the DOL came back and accused Google of “systemic compensation disparities against women.”

Tesla faces production challenges as its battery chief departs

Tesla, Inc. has a tough year ahead as it attempts to exponentially increase production even as its battery chief has just announced his departure.

Tesla first unveiled the Model 3 in 2016, but it’s only this July that the company has actually delivered any of them.

Pricing for the Model 3 starts at $35,000. That’s a pretty moderate price for Tesla, if not for the majority of consumers. However, to get all the much-touted features such as autopilot, you’ll have to shell out around $60,000.

Tesla’s battery chief Kelty departs

In the midst of all the publicity and high expectations for the Model 3, Tesla has lost its director of battery technology, Kurt Kelty.

In a statement, a Tesla spokesperson thanked Kelty for his work at the company and confirmed that Kelty had left in order to “explore new opportunities.”

Kelty had held the post at Tesla since 2006. Before coming to Tesla, Kelty worked at Panasonic for fifteen years.

At Tesla, Kelty worked to coordinate battery cell material sourcing. Kelty also frequently negotiated on behalf of Tesla in building partnerships with other companies.

This March, Kelty accepted the International Battery Seminar’s 2017 “Battery Innovator of the Year” award on behalf of Tesla.

A steep production ramp ahead for Tesla

Tesla might have a bumpy road ahead, production-wise, as reservations for the freshly rolled-out Model 3 roll in quicker than the company can yet fulfill them.

According to Elon Musk, the company receives 1,800 Model 3 reservations per day. So far, it has only sold the Model 3 to employees.

Some have criticized the Model 3’s price point as too high for the features on offer, as compared with similarly priced vehicles from luxury automakers. Still, people seem to really want the car, and demand is high, at least for now.

In order to meet this high demand, Tesla plans to produce 100 cars this August, 1,500 in September, and 20,000 per month leading up to December. In 2018, the company hopes to make 50,000 cars per month. That’s over half a million per year. All that adds up to a very sharp increase in production.

Musk maintains that despite the tricky road ahead for Tesla, people have no cause for worry, as he is confident that the company will meet its production goals.

Tesla is currently flush with funding, thanks in no small part to the media storms its CEO Elon Musk is able to conjure up. Indeed, Musk claims the highly publicized Model 3 release has also sparked an uptick in Model S and Model X cars.

Over the course of the last year, 63,000 people canceled Model 3 reservations. Musk has a positive spin on this news: the lost reservations mean less cars for the company to worry about making in the coming months. Besides, the company still has over 450,000 reservations on the books for the Model 3. That’s enough to keep them busy for about a year, at least.

Google and Facebook have a duopoly

The field of digital marketing is dominated by two Silicon Valley superpowers: Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc, the latter of which controls Google and a family of other companies including YouTube.

Google and Facebook, which also controls Instagram, both have enormous masses of users and data. That gives them an advantage in the online advertising market since they can gather data about their users and deploy targeted ads to maximize users’ clicks and their own revenue.

Independent online advertising-focused companies have found it difficult to wrest market control from Facebook and Google. Although networks and service providers such as Verizon have tried to gain a foothold in mobile advertising, the two superpowers remain dominant.

In fact, Facebook and Google are so completely dominant that the research firm eMarketer predicts this year the two will take in 60 percent of revenue in the United States, and about half worldwide. (Reuters)

In the last quarter, both Facebook and Google proved enormously profitable. Each generated billions in profits.

Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research, claims that digital marketing is approaching a saturation point, past which point growth will slow and revenues will settle. Although Facebook and Google are experiencing quick growth in the market now, there are limits to the growth of the market itself. Wieser worries that the investment community has not fully appreciated this prediction.

In the past month, a group of news organizations banded together to lobby to be able to negotiate jointly when dealing with Facebook and Google. Antitrust law normally prohibits this kind of coordination.

Some people are worried that the sheer size of Facebook and Google will reduce marketplace competition and result in a worse result for the consumer. However, Facebook and Google don’t seem yet to have flagrantly violated antitrust law.

Google has previously been at the forefront in monopoly investigations. In Europe, there are multiple investigations pending into Google’s possible monopolistic practices. Last month Google paid the European Union a $2.7 billion antitrust fund. Google had been favoring its own commercial services in search results.

Facebook has previously denied that it is part of a duopoly and claimed that it only controls 5 percent of the advertising market.

However, both companies are clearly gearing up to expand their control of the advertising market, particularly of video advertising. YouTube has released new original programming with big names like Kevin Hart and Ellen Degeneres. Facebook has similarly signed deals with Buzzfeed and Vox Media to release its own video series.

How Google Can Track Disease Outbreaks

Google is now putting its massive power to work tracking disease outbreaks. Of course, it’s not really Google doing the work so much as it is the billions of people who type search queries into Google every day.

Researchers at Harvard University have successfully created a mathematical model to track the spread of infectious diseases using Google searches, as detailed in an article published in the journal “PLOS Computational Biology.”  The Harvard study tracked dengue fever in Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease which afflicts around 400 million people per year. The symptoms of dengue fever include a high fever, nausea, headache, and skin rash. In the vast majority of cases, dengue fever isn’t fatal. It clears up after about a week, and there are generally no lasting aftereffects.

Dengue fever remains a persistent problem in many underdeveloped countries, where it can be difficult to track and combat outbreaks.

In the Harvard study, researchers tracked searches related to dengue fever on Google “Trends.” They also examined data about past outbreaks from health agencies. The idea is that when an outbreak occurs, there will also occur a corresponding spike in Google searches related to the symptoms of dengue fever.

These methods produced more accurate results than previous studies attempting to track disease outbreaks using Google data. The model worked best in countries with long histories of recurrent dengue fever outbreaks, and in countries where outbreaks occurred in high numbers.

The model produced the worst results in Taiwan, which has a short history of only a few years with dengue fever outbreaks.

Researchers are also using websites other than Google to track the spread of infectious diseases. Previously, researchers from Northwestern University modeled the spread of the flu using data from Twitter. They were able to predict flu outbreaks 6 weeks earlier than with other methods.

Elon Musk Hopes to Connect NYC to DC Underground

On July 20 Elon Musk tweeted that he had “just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.” Musk added that the hyper loop would run from “city center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city.”

Earlier this year, Musk launched the tunnel-digging company The Boring Company, which has also taken on a project to build tunnels under Los Angeles.

Though apparently Musk plans to be involved in digging the tunnel for the hyperloop, he does not seem to have any plans to build the hyperloop himself. Musk has left the opportunity to other companies.

Numerous companies have arisen and are contending to develop the necessary technology to build the Hyperloop. One such company, Hyperloop One, claims that hyperloop technology will prove faster and cheaper than high-speed rail.

How exactly would the proposed hyperloop allow people to travel between New York City and Washington, D.C., a distance of over 200 miles, in under half an hour? Magnetic levitation through evacuated tunnels — that’s the idea behind hyperloop transportation. Since there is very little friction or air resistance, trains can travel at very high speeds through vacuum tunnels.

In a follow-up tweet, Musk added: “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly.”

The White House admits to having had “promising conversations” on the topic, but it has not yet publicly stated its approval or disapproval of the project.

In a qualifying statement, The Boring Company also admitted to “promising conversations” and claimed they had “received verbal support from key government decision-makers for tunneling plans.” They expect to have official support, they claim, by the end of the year.

Since the plans have not yet been finalized, Musk called for people to contact their government representatives in support of the hyperloop.

Many people think that plans are long overdue for better public transport across the U.S. However, there remain plenty of others who doubt we’ve attained the necessary technology to build the hyperloop. They worry that the project would almost certainly exceed its budget and become too expensive to feasibly carry out.

 

ABB president claims robotics will create manufacturing jobs

During the TechCrunch Robotics Session on MIT’s campus, Sami Atiya argued that increased robotics use in industry will create rather than replace manufacturing jobs.

Atiya is president of the Robotics and Motion division of ABB, a multinational corporation based in Switzerland. ABB specializes in technology in the areas of robotics, power, and automation. As a result of these business operations, ABB has a decided interest in promoting robotics technology. Atiya is not a disinterested party in this analysis.

Atiya presented various data points gathered by ABB to argue his case. He cited such sources as the International Federation of Robots, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Atiya claims that countries with higher rates of robotics integration into industry tend to have correspondingly low rates of unemployment in the manufacturing sector. He points to Japan and Germany as prime examples of this correlation.

He also claims that increased robotics use in the U.S. over the past five years has created 270,000 additional jobs — two jobs per robot deployed, in fact.

It is unclear whether these favorable numbers can be attributed to robotics alone, or whether there may be other factors at play.

Other studies carried out in the past few years have suggested that robotics might have a different effect on employment numbers in the manufacturing sector.

One PricewaterhouseCooper study recently seemed to suggest 38% of U.S. jobs might be replaced by robots by the 2030s.

In December one Los Angeles Times article made the case that robots have had a detrimental effect on manufacturing employment. It attributes a recent slow in hiring in California warehouses to the recent increase in the industrial use of robots.

But the article also notes that while warehouses are employing fewer people, particularly fewer people to do manual work, there has been a surge of warehouse openings in California. Those few jobs which remain in warehouses tend to offer higher salaries and to attract more qualified candidates who specialize in machinery and robotics.

Overall, companies have tended to praise the shift toward robotics, citing increased efficiency in production which leads to growth.

Atiya claims that in order to compete in the current global marketplace, companies and countries simply must use robots. He predicts that the overall increase in productivity will eliminate certain jobs in the short run, but that in the long run it will result in the creation of new, higher-paying jobs.

You can watch Atiya’s talk over at TechCrunch’s website.

Lobbying Spending Spikes Against Paul Ryan’s Border Tax

Obamacare has proven unexpectedly difficult for Republicans to dismantle. As a result, the GOP is anticipated to focus the bulk of its future efforts on tax reform instead.

The new GOP tax plan put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan includes a border-adjustment tax. Under this type of tax system, all domestic consumption would be taxed, while exports would be untaxed. Over the course of a decade, this provision is anticipated to bring in about a $1 trillion, which could be used to offset the tax cuts promised by the GOP.

Under the proposed plan, the corporate tax rate of 35% would be replaced by the border-adjustment tax. Corporate exports would not be taxed under this plan. So the proposed tax change is anticipated to benefit large corporations who have strong footholds in foreign markets and export large quantities of goods.

The recent legislative shift in focus from healthcare to taxes has already had repercussions in lobbying spending.

Healthcare companies are beginning to spend less on lobbying as a result of the legislative stall on the healthcare front. Companies such as Novartis AG and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. decreased their spending in 2017 from the first quarter to the second quarter, as did the American Hospital Association and insurers such as Aetna Inc. Meanwhile, outlier Cigna Corp. increased its lobbying spending by $690,000.

Even as healthcare companies relax spending on lobbying, retail coalitions are spending more on tax lobbying.

The National Retail Foundation is a trade group of retailers who rely on imports and are vehemently opposed to the proposed border tax. They claim it amounts to an import tax, which would harm their import-heavy business. The NRF also claims the tax would raise prices on consumer goods.

In the three months before June 30, the National Retail Foundation spent almost $5 million to fight the proposed levy. That’s an increase of about $3.32 million over spending in the same time period in 2016. The National Retail Foundation has spent $7.3 million on lobbying in 2017.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association is yet another trade association to increase its tax lobbying spending. In the second quarter the group increased its spending by $120,000 dollars. The RILA has already spent $1.5 million total on lobbying in 2017.

Nike Inc. and Best Buy Co. Inc. similarly increased their lobbying spending in the second quarter. Earlier in 2017, companies such as Target Corp., Best Buy Co. Inc. and Gap Inc. dramatically increased their lobbying spending as well.

Export-focused companies and other supporters of the proposed tax are also upping spending. Companies such as General Electric Co. and Dow Chemical Co. claim that the proposed tax would improve U.S. business by strengthening the dollar. General Electric Co. has accordingly increased its lobbying spending in 2017 by $410,000.

Groups are also increasing spending in opposition to other aspects of the proposed tax law. The Save Our Savings coalition formed in April to fight a proposed tax change which would reduce tax advantages for retirement savings accounts. The White House has stated that 401(k)s will not be affected by the proposed tax changes, since 401(k)s are not funded by taxed dollars. Still, the proposed tax change might have serious implications for people who rely solely on their savings to survive.

IMF to lend Greece $1.8 Billion

The International Monetary Fund has resolved to bail Greece out yet again, Bloomberg reports. To be precise, the IMF has approved “in principle” a loan of up to $1.8 billion to Greece.

Just over two years have passed since Greece was unable to make a payment on a previous IMF loan. Greece has endured severe economic conditions since the 2008 financial crisis, but in recent years conditions have been improving.

The phrasing of the IMF’s approval may at first appear noncommittal. But the IMF’s website explains that “approval in principle” is in fact a regular IMF procedure which fell into disuse after the 1980s debt crisis.

Loans which have been approved “in principle” are conditional. They are contingent upon the country in question and its creditors coming to an agreement on debt relief. Thus approval in principle functions as a kind of escrow in the IMF’s debt relief negotiations.

The IMF contends that Greece’s current debt is unsustainable, and that substantial relief will be necessary to reduce the debt to a manageable level. Even if the IMF’s loan is approved, disbursement will not occur immediately. In the meantime, in order to continue with its economic recovery, Greece is in desperate need of debt relief from its creditors.

Frequently the IMF’s strategy is to dangle funding before creditors in order to motivate them to offer more generous terms to debtors. In this instance, IMF is asking that European creditors offer Greece lenience. Creditors might forgive some of Greece’s debt or offer more sustainable repayment terms. Under this compromise, both European creditors and the IMF would bear some of the burden of Greece’s unpayable debt.

Some of Greece’s creditors have proven recalcitrant. Germany, which will face elections in the fall, has refused so far to offer debt relief to Greece. Many German voters are staunchly opposed to offering relief to Greece.

But the IMF, too, is recalcitrant in its claim that significant debt relief will be necessary. Although programs undertaken to reduce Greece’s debt have had some success, reform alone will not be sufficient to pull Greece out of debt, IMF officials say. The IMF predicts that by 2030, despite the enactment of promised economic reforms, Greece’s debt will have risen to 150% of its GDP. At that point the trajectory of Greece’s debt would become explosive.

The IMF hopes that after the German election cycle has closed, it will be able to reach a compromise with Greece’s creditors and turn the loan’s approval in principle into approval in reality.