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Fortnite is one of the most popular games available at the moment, so it comes as no surprise that the title is making a ton of money on iOS devices alone.
Fortnite brought in $ 300 million in its first 200 days on Apple’s iOS platform, according to market analyst Sensor Tower. The game is free to play, but players can purchase Fortnite skins and dances. It’s made the most of any game on iOS in the first 200 days of availability. Users can buy skins and dances separately or purchase a season pass to get a collection of new releases. In just the month of April, Fortnite made $ 300 million across all its available platforms, The Verge reported.
Fortnite is also available on Android, the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It’s become a massive cultural phenomenon since its release in 2017. Celebrities like Drake have streamed themselves playing Fortnite, players streaming their games on platforms like Twitch have become a kind of celebrity of their own, and the premiere of Saturday Night Live’s 44th season even featured a Fortnite-themed sketch.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Even if it says so itself.
The airline just released some figures for July, and, at a cursory glance, they’re glowing.
Consolidated traffic (revenue passenger miles) increased 6.9 percent and consolidated capacity (available seat miles) increased 4.0 percent versus July 2017. UAL’s July 2018 consolidated load factor increased 2.4 points compared to July 2017.
Won’t you look at that?
This means the airline’s packing them in and making lots of money.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that domestic traffic rose by 9.1 percent in July. Compared to last July, that is.
And Lordy, the airline is doing wonderfully in the regions. There, traffic is up a pulsating 17.6 percent.
United’s also packing them in on each flight.
The so-called load factor (number of people who are actually paying) at home soared to 90.5 percent. That’s a 2.6 percent increase.
United was loaded internationally, too. A 2.2 percent increase to 87.8 percent.
People are paying to fly United and there are more flights to more places, which makes the United world a wonderful place.
Alright, if you read the headline at all — and if you didn’t, what are you doing here? — there’s a little bad news.
You see, when you pack more people onto your planes, it might take a little longer.
That’s what appears to be happening. All this success in selling tickets appears to be leading to a reduction in on-time departures, the beautifully named D0.
A mere 62.3 percent of mainline flights — that is, the non-regional variety — departed on time or even slightly early.
This is a 1 percent drop from this time last year.
This isn’t, of course, merely an inconvenience for passengers. When a plane departs late, cabin crew must explain themselves to their bosses.
Well, you see, it was like this. There were so many darned people. And have you seen all that stuff they bring on planes?
On the latest edition of Market Week in Review, Senior Quantitative Investment Strategy Analyst Kara Ng and Sam Templeton, manager, global communications, discuss why we should pay attention to the US yield curve, President Trump’s tariff talk, and the latest corporate earnings reports.
US yield curve getting close to inverting
The slope of the US yield curve has fallen to just 24 basis points and getting close to inverting. Ng says “we should pay attention because an inverted yield curve is historically one of the best predictors of a downturn.” She notes over the last 5 economic cycles, an initial inversion preceded an economic recession between 9 and 18 months, while equity markets tend to peak about 6 months before a recession. This means there’s a large negative impact in being defensive in your portfolio too late, but also a cost in being defensive too early, and missing out on the late-cycle gains. Ng says savvy and timely investment strategy is everything. And while the slope of the yield isn’t inverted yet, it has uncomfortably flattened. She is currently expecting a recession in late-2019 or 2020, so believes it’s still too early to go completely defensive.
Should the Federal Reserve be more concerned about the yield curve?
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington this week and didn’t express a lot of concern about the flattening yield curve. Ng says Powell was upbeat about the economy and affirmed that gradual rate hikes are appropriate; for now it’s the neutral rate he’s more focused on than the shape of the yield curve. The neutral rate isn’t something you can observe, but is the theoretical rate where interest rates neither hurt nor help the economy. Ng is concerned that the Fed hasn’t paid enough attention to the slope of the yield curve historically and has argued “this time is different” too often. She explained it contains lots of information. For example, when the 10-year rate falls lower than the current short-term rate, it may be that the market expects lower short-term rates in the future, possibly because of a future growth slowdown resulting in the Fed cutting rates to stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, she says the shorter end of the curve is heavily influenced by the current Fed policy. If the Fed raises interest rates too far above sustainable fundamentals, then the restrictive monetary policy might start a recession. Ng says not to ignore the yield curve.
Trump threatens more tariffs on China
Ng says a month ago it looked like a US trade war with China was a risk, but not our central scenario. Now, she says the odds of a full-blown trade war are closer to 50/50. Ng says the tariff announcements are probably a “maximum pressure” negotiation strategy, because the US wouldn’t benefit from closed trade. She notes a lot of the tariff goods are intermediate, not final goods. That means that those goods are an input to some final product that could be made in the US. In the short run, US companies would have trouble finding substitutes for those intermediate parts, which would hurt US businesses. Ng says to keep an eye on how consumer and CEO confidence develops given potential disruptions to global supply chains.
It’s still early days in the reporting season, but so far Ng says the Q2 earnings season is surprisingly strong. Only 17% of US companies have reported so far, so Ng isn’t extrapolating too much from the small sample size, but of those companies, about 95% have beat expectations. She says that’s high, especially since earnings expectations were optimistic to begin with. However, market response has been relatively muted. Ng expects the Q2 earnings season will be strong, but not as strong as the Q1 season. Some of the macro tailwinds that previously helped Q1 earnings are fading – global growth is moderating and the US dollar strengthened, which impacts US multinational companies’ earnings.
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What are the three most important things non-programmers should know about programming? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Early in my web development career I realized that there were three things that were critical for every non-programmer to know before interacting with programmers in a professional setting.
My experience building a single feature with a non-technical product manager taught me these lessons almost immediately.
Let me explain…
I was working with Colin, a non-technical product manager who was responsible for driving the direction of the product and working with my team, the development team, to implement features for our product.
As a developer, Colin was great to work with. The feature requests he created were always really well thought out. He always had all the edge cases accounted for and he drew detailed wireframes, diagrams of what the expected behavior of the feature should look like.
But then, all of a sudden, Colin had a feature request for our team that caused a major problem for our entire development team!
Colin gave our team a wireframe diagram of our application that had an additional checkbox that would allow a user to store their credit card information on the platform.
The feature request seemed simple enough, but because of laws and regulations about credit card information (specifically PCI compliance laws), storage of credit card information is something that is highly complex and regulated.
Despite seeming simple, supporting this one feature in our application would require a complete rewrite of our code.
I brought this issue up to Colin and at first he didn’t get it. “All I’m asking for is a simple checkbox, it can’t be that difficult to add”, he said. I explained that adding the checkbox would be super easy, but making the checkbox do what it claimed would be the difficult part.
Colin then did something that proved that he was the type of product manager who got things done.He explained, “Let me explain why I wanted to include the ability to allow a user to save their payment information…” and then Colin explained that after making a certain type of purchase, it was very common for users to make a related purchase shortly after.
Together we realized there was a solution where we could prompt the user to purchase both items at the same time, instead of worrying about storing the payment information. This was a solution that would give Colin everything he wanted and be ten times easier to implement for our team.
Together with Colin, we implemented this solution. This experience taught me that there are only three things that non-programmers need to focus on when working together with other developers.
They’re also easy lessons to learn…
1. Communicate the technical details to developers quickly and efficiently.
There is no more effective way to explain functionality of an application than showing a developer wireframes of proposed changes.
2. Things can appear to be easier to implement than they actually are.
Be open to the idea that things that seem like they should be really easy can be much more difficult to implement in practice.
3. Provide context about why you think things are important.
Explain the why behind the thoughts you have in situations where you’re getting pushback from developers — if you do this you’ll find yourself working together with them to solve problems.
Remember that you are have the same end goal as the developers you’re working with — to provide the best experience possible or the application you’re building.
Follow these steps and the developers you’re working with can focus their energy on being the best developer they can be. And if you’re a developer you can focus on the.
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:
So, Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally in theaters. It’s fun! It might not be blowing up the box office, but folks are still seeing it in droves and when they do they’re in for a really nice time. (Alden Ehrenreich is a fun, swaggering Han Solo; Donald Glover is a sexy, swaggering Lando Calrissian; Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a smartass, swaggering droid.) They’re also in for at least one big surprise—and a few slightly smaller delights. But we’ll get to all of that in a second. First we need to give folks afraid of spoilers a chance to show themselves out. OK, everyone’s been warned. From here on out it’s just WIRED writers and editors Brendan Nystedt, Jason Parham, and Angela Watercutter dissecting Solo in detail. Make like Chewie and join us.
Angela Watercutter, Senior Associate Editor: Alright guys, I’m going to go out on a limb here (OK, not a crazy limb; like the kind of limb some ambitious dad turned into a tree bench, or put a swing on…): I liked Solo. Maybe that was the result of low expectations, maybe I just really love Glover’s Lando—I dunno. I just thought it was fun. It’s not going in my Top 5 Star Wars films, but I at least thought it was better than Rogue One. (Rotten Tomatoes disagrees with me here. That’s their problem.)
What about y’all? Did you like Pansexual Lando as much as me? Did you enjoy seeing the Millennium Falcon when it still had that new-ship smell? Did you have cognitive dissonance watching the Mother of Dragons (aka Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) play Han Solo’s childhood girlfriend Qi’ra? Tell me things!
Brendan Nystedt, Market Editor: I would totally agree with you—I think it’s better than Rogue. I love that movie, but think it has some struggles getting off the ground at first. Solo kicked in and didn’t let up. I had heard the first act was slow, but for me, the movie never dragged. I went into it knowing a little more than the average bear, but it still kept me on my toes with its double-crosses and reveals. That’s not even digging into the endless references.
If I can give this movie props for one thing it would be that it made me love a bunch of stuff that sounds cringeworthy on paper. Did I want to know where Han’s name comes from? No, but in the moment, I bought it. I knew we were going to probably see Han and Chewie meet for the first time and I thought it added to their relationship. The card game where Han won the Falcon from Lando? Had me grinning. I thought Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover were about as good in the roles as you could ask for—not too much of an impression of the originals, but also imbued with their essences. Did anyone not click with these two dudes?
Also, as a non-GoT human, I thought Emilia Clarke was a standout. I was worried she’d be a prop for Han, someone who dies tragically and turns him into the embittered guy we see in A New Hope. Giving Qi’ra her own arc and giving her agency made me greatly appreciate the storytelling at work here. My other faves were Enfys Nest (let’s see her Cloud Riders in some ancillary materials, Disney!), Rio Durant (RIP), and, of course, L3 (Bridge).
Jason Parham, Senior Writer: I’m going to have to agree with WIRED colleague Brian Raftery on this one—I found Solo mostly inessential as a film. I’m of the belief that prequels are, by design, tougher canvases to experiment on. There’s always room for depth and context, but the Star Wars universe has already been dreamed up in spectacular, revolutionary fashion. For me, George Lucas’ original holy trinity is a near perfect symphony of love and loss and intergalactic repression. History also tells us that Star Wars prequels don’t fare too well. Just look at The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Still, Solo did get a handful of things right—one of which was its easy, untangled plot. Sometimes a film just needs to move from point A to B to C without taking detours or overthinking its next step. Especially in the case of origin stories. For me, Solo felt like the least complicated movie in the franchise. There was plenty of action and humor and cooly-imagined characters—I appreciated getting a view into Han and Chewy’s genesis; and loved L3’s zero-fucks attitude, though I do wonder if Ron Howard’s team hyper-feminized her look. Do robots have hips?
What the film lacked—and what every successful Star Wars film requires—was what Brian got at in his review: the intoxication of surprise. There were no truly satisfying reveals, maybe except for Darth Maul’s cameo near the close of the film. I would consider it a fun, but forgettable romp in the franchise’s treasure chest. A better play for Disney, if they’re going to make prequels an ongoing habit [And it seems that they are. —Ed.], would be to shed light on its side players. A stand-alone Lando Calrissian movie would be a real treat—which, according to Glover, would be “Frasier in space.” Sign me up!
Watercutter: Jason, I’m pretty sure you and I would both be in line on opening night for a Lando movie. Call me simple, but I just want to see more capes. And, yeah, more Glover.
I’m also wondering what folks thought of the look of Solo. One of the other smart things Brian brought up in his review were the films it resembled—shades of Paths of Glory, Runaway Train, and even a bit of the Mad Max movies. I think it even had a bit of Snowpiercer in there, too. But more than that, it felt just a tinge more stylish than, say, The Force Awakens. I was perhaps looking for this because I like the work of cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival), but I really think there was something inviting about the environments in Solo. And frankly, since Young stayed on during the transition from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Ron Howard, his visual signature might be the thing that helped the whole film feel unified. Brendan, you’re a Star Wars encyclopedia, what do you think? Am I nuts?
Nystedt: I totally agree, Angela. Rogue One’s cinematography was done in landscapes, and this felt tighter and more personal. Young did some terrific work here in spite of the rocky production. Personally, I think Rogue has the more stunning vistas, but this had a unified look that worked at all times, and helped the world come alive. From the muddy, foggy Mimban to the dusty mines of Kessel, it felt Star Wars-y through and through.
I’d like to take Jason to task for a sec. I fundamentally disagree with his premise: I think Star Wars should have surprises, but not every film needs revelations. If the franchise is going to survive, audiences can’t expect a crazy twist in each and every film. How exhausting would that be? By Episode XX, the dialogue from Spaceballs—”I am your father’s, brother’s, nephew’s, cousin’s, former roommate!”—wouldn’t seem so outlandish. Snoke can be Snoke, Rey can be a nobody from Jakku. Though it’s still the highlight of the franchise, not every film needs to ape The Empire Strikes Back to be good, or even great.
I think this was a film with surprises and one that knew it didn’t need to have huge galaxy-on-the-brink stakes to keep people engaged. I want more Star Wars like this—movies that push the Jedi and the Force to the margins, dive into the underworld, and keep the stakes relatable.
OK, now that the cat’s out of the bag—who wants to talk more about Maul? Do we think this will confuse the heck out of audiences?
Parham: That’s fair, Brendan—a subtler, quieter, more relatable Star Wars could rightfully usher the franchise into a more deserving phase. I will say this: The Enfys Nest twist was probably the most rewarding surprise for me, though by the time we realize that they’re actually the good guys, the film is hurtling toward its end. I would’ve loved a little more screen time from them. As space Westerns go, Young did a standup job—each setting more visually alluring than the last. Westerns are often hypnotic in that way: bright, dusty, full of gunfire and promise. Young’s stellar cinematic patchwork made the film especially more radiant in those small ways. I’ve got one final question, which brings us back to Brendan’s point—is Solo deserving of a sequel or should Disney dive deeper into the underworld and into the lives of other space bandits next? Where do we go from here?
Watercutter: Oh man, OK, those are some big questions. First of all, Brendan, as you know from my Slack messages to you following the Solo screening I saw, I was a little confused by the Maul thing (mostly because he didn’t look like I’d remembered from the prequels). That said, I think audiences will like seeing him. Of all the final-act twists Lucasfilm could’ve thrown in there, that one felt the most unexpected. If you would’ve told me a month ago that Solo would have a callback to The Phantom Menace (and other expanded universe properties) I wouldn’t have believed you.
Now, to answer Jason’s question, I think it’s actually the Maul cameo that helps Solo earn a sequel—though I don’t think it’ll be one dedicated to Han. I know there’s already been talk, most of it debunked, of a Lando movie, but after Solo what I really wanted to see was a movie that dealt more with Crimson Dawn. And, like Jason said, Enfys Nest. Like if there’s a film that’s a Solo sequel in name only that becomes Qi’ra, Maul, and Crimson Dawn vs. Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Raiders, then I’m totally onboard. Brendan, do you agree?
Nystedt: ZOMG that’d be an awesome movie! I’d love for Enfys and her gang to get together with the rest of the Rebels, too. As for Maul, I also hope we get to see more of him in live action. We’ve seen him die already in Star Wars: Rebels but I wanna know where he’s been hanging out since the end of the Clone Wars. A sequel with him and Qi’ra (especially if we get a glimpse of Maul’s homeworld Dathomir, where he told her to meet him) could answer that question and finally give us more of Ray Park’s unmatched lightsaber acrobatics to boot. Fans have been waiting almost 20 years to see more Maul on the big screen.
As much of a Maul stan as I am, I’d also love more of Glover’s Lando. If his spin-off is “Frasier in space,” does that mean Lobot is Niles? That I’d pay good money to watch!
More Great WIRED Stories
I know what you’re thinking. I must be crazy right? What can be wrong with taking advantage of employee connections to find your next hire? After all, studies have found that referral hiring saves money, takes less time, lowers employee turnover rates, and is rising in popularity.
While none of these things are untrue, referral hiring isn’t just this perfect strategy with no strings attached. In fact, a lot can go wrong with using referrals, and it can often lead to terribly regrettable hiring decisions. Here’s how:
1. It encourages laziness.
Referral hiring can potentially make it so easy to hire a candidate that companies become complacent. In other words: too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing.
Part of what makes referral hiring so appealing is that it gives companies the ability to outright skip parts of the recruitment process. Once you get a good number of potential referrals, you simply identify which among them will be your best bets. There’s no longer the need to go through thousands of resumes and job applications to find the perfect candidate. No need to go to job fairs or to advertise on social media. Perhaps you also skip the phone interview stage and jump straight to on-site interviews.
The result? You save time and you save money, just like what studies claim. But as a consequence, your talent pool is significantly smaller and your screening process isn’t as comprehensive as what it should have been.
2. It forces biased decision-making.
Alright, so maybe it doesn’t necessarily force you to be biased about your hiring decisions, but it’s definitely a very real concern and something that’s very difficult to avoid. In fact, companies don’t avoid biased decision-making. They embrace it. This is why referral hiring is so popular to begin with and why referral candidates have their applications placed right on top of the pile. What else would explain why referred candidates are so much more likely to be hired than your average applicant. It’s why business connections are so important in the first place.
Ask yourself this though. Does having a pre-established connection with someone make this someone a better fit for the job? Are they somehow smarter, harder working, more creative, more driven, or more likely to do a better job than the next guy?
From what I can tell, the answer is “no,” and that’s what makes referral hiring so dangerous. Referred candidates have a way, way higher chance at getting the job, yet when you look at their actual credentials and work experience, they’re often no more qualified than everyone else applying.
3. It doesn’t find you the best talent.
Isn’t the whole point of the hiring process to find top talent? I’m not talking about good talent or good cultural fit. I’m talking about the very best of the best. The elite. The cream of the crop. Now what are the chances this person just so happens to be someone your employees already know? Not very likely from my guess. The point is, finding the best person for the job should be a lot harder than simply going through a list of your employees’ existing connections.
Look. I’m not advocating for you to eradicate referral hiring from your arsenal of hiring strategies. I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t use referral hiring myself. However, it’s important to consider some of the possible ramifications when using it.
While referral hiring does have its merits, it also has its fair share of issues as well. It can shrink your talent pool and cause you to make suboptimal hiring decisions.
I’m a baseball fan. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was a season ticket holder to the San Francisco Giants. And every baseball fan knows about Pete Rose, the preternaturally talented player who scandalized his sport when it was revealed he bet on baseball, including games involving his own team. Now, no one is contemplating allowing players or managers to bet on games in their own sport. But the Pete Rose story serves as a grim reminder of what can happen with sports gambling.
The trouble is that sports gambling is fun! The thrill of making some dough on your team just adds to the excitement of the sport. It’s also hugely profitable for business and government. So when the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision on Murphy vs. NCAA last week, the gambling-loving world rejoiced. SCOTUS determined that the 1992 federal law called Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) violated the Constitution’s anti-commandeering clause, thus striking down the law.
Mark Conrad is a professor of law and ethics at Fordham University, where he has taught in the School of Law and in the Gabelli School of Business. He’s also the director of Gabelli’s Sports Business Concentration, and is the author of The Business of Sports -; Off the Field, In the Office, On the News. Professor Conrad was kind enough to share with me some of his thoughts on this landmark decision.
1. Nothing’s Actually Changed…Yet.
The Court’s decision caused an avalanche of news and commentary, but, “At the moment, not much has changed,” says Conrad. The decision opened the door to huge change, but nothing is actually different yet. Conrad explains, “The court declared unconstitutional the Federal law that prohibits sports gambling. It did not sanction or permit sports gambling.” So what happens now? Conrad says no one really knows: “It is now up to the states, or the federal government, to decide.” Here’s where it get interesting!
2. The Devil Is in the Details.
“This story is only beginning,” says Conrad, who also has a degree from Columbia’s School of Journalism. “No state has enact a gambling scheme, although New Jersey may soon,” he says. The question is what happens next. For starters, Conrad asks, “Will states legalize it? And if so, which ones, and when?” Next comes the what. Conrad wants to know, “Will it apply to all sports or just pro sports?” And finally, the how. Conrad ponders: “What will be the license fees for companies wishing to do business in the state? Taxes? Anti-corruption measures?” The potential complexities are endless.
3. Congress May Not Be Done.
The Court may have struck down Congress’ PAPSA law, but that doesn’t mean Congress can’t still have the final word. Conrad explains, “The problem with PAPSA was it prevented states from exercising their powers. The law did not mandate a ban on sports gambling – rather, it told the states they were not allowed to enact laws ‘authorizing’ such gambling schemes.” The problem was the way this law was structured, but not the idea behind the law. In fact, Conrad says, “The decision did state that Congress has the power to enact a ban on gambling.” It’s possible Congress could throw some very cold water on all the excitement.
4. Integrity May Be an Issue…Or May Not.
The potential implications for the integrity of sport are fascinating. As with any gambling, there’s risk of corruption. Conrad recalls, “It has occurred in the past, notably in point-shaving in college sports.” But cheating isn’t a given. “In fact, the risk of corruption may decrease with a properly regulated integrity oversight,” Conrad explains. There are examples the US could look to for inspiration. Conrad says, “The UK model has worked well. The betting companies engage in analytics and metric systems to police suspicious gambling patterns and report these anomalies.” The key is not to over-regulate or over-tax it, which may push otherwise legal gambling underground.
5. This Decision Could Have Major Implications for State Versus Federal Authority.
“This is the underlying constitutional issue in this ruling,” Conrad explains. “Ultimately, it is a constitutional law case regarding state powers under the Tenth Amendment.” Here’s his plain-English explanation of the finer constitutional points: “PAPSA was problematic because it ‘commandeered’ states rights. Instead of banning sports gambling, it said could not enact laws authorizing gambling. It’s a subtle difference, but a constitutionally defective one.” This is an important decision in part of a greater shift. According to Conrad, “It continues a trend to give greater deference to state sovereignty.” It will be fascinating to watch as the complexities continue to develop.
Good morning and happy cyber Cinco de Mayo, dear readers.
I received an abundance of thoughtful responses to my essay on rejecting consumer DNA tests last weekend. In lieu of a column, I’ve reproduced a selection of the several dozen well-considered comments that landed in my inbox. I hope you enjoy the variety of perspectives and insights as much as I did. (I have stripped out the identities of the authors—for privacy reasons, of course.)
KA: “While I understand your reticence, I believe as a human race we need to share genomic and other data to move forward. I’ve been in the precision medicine space for 18 years, and the only way to see it reach maximum potential is if we break down silos for information sharing globally.”
EM: “I think it is likely too late for you to refuse. It is most likely that a relative of yours—whether close or distant—has already chosen to test his or her DNA, and has shared the extended family tree that includes you.”
MP: “I don’t blame you. I do however believe that sooner or later we all will have to do it if only to have access to future healthcare (personalized medicine is coming faster than anyone thought would) and that somewhere a national genetic repository will soon exist.”
KS: “I was a fencesitter veering towards disagreeing until I read your mention of TOS [Terms of Service]. Decoding TOS can often be harder than decoding the DNA. DNA Testing is simply not worth the effort. So, now I agree!”
ML: “I did ancestry.com about a year ago and have had several moments of regret since—especially on the heels of this story. Maybe I’m a little paranoid too but I often think about what things could look like if someone like Hitler had access to our DNA records. Yikes.”
JP: “I can think of no more elegant way for the NSA (or similar group) to collect DNA information on millions of people than to own one of the ‘23 and me’ type companies.”
JR: “Just take the implications of this data in the hands of a totalitarian government, a greedy and maligned corporation, a foreign power. Bad, bad, bad.”
EF: “Everyone keeps asking me why I don’t want to know my ancestry and now I will forward them this newsletter.”
In case you didn’t catch last weekend’s essay (or EF’s forward), you may read the piece here. Thank you to everyone who wrote in and offered an astute viewpoint, personal experience, or opinion. What a pleasure it is to have so many attentive, engaged subscribers to this newsletter. I wonder if there’s a gene behind that.
Have a great weekend.
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’sdaily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
They say you should get out ahead of a bad story.
Present your version before the story hits, so that people can have good feelings about you before aspersions are cast.
I wonder, therefore, what Allegiant Air might do this weekend.
I wrote about this airline a couple of years ago, after it had been accused of having planes that break down four times more often than those of other airlines.
In mid-air, that is.
Of the airline’s 86 planes, it was said that 42 of them had broken down in mid-air the previous year.
The airline fought back and claimed that the accusations were “incendiary.” Indeed, its stock went up 24 percent soon after the original Tampa Bay Times article was published.
Now, though, Allegiant might have a bigger PR problem.
On Sunday, it’ll be featured in a 60 Minutes segment, one that CBS teases will be twice the usual length.
Here’s the teaser.
Just those 48 seconds suggest that Allegiant should brace for something of calm, considered skewering.
I asked the budget airline what it thought of the upcoming exposé. A spokeswoman told me Allegiant would wait until the segment airs before offering a rebuttal.
One of the main issues with Allegiant’s record of breakdowns is that it flies old planes. Very old planes, some 22 years of age.
Recently, though, it has begun to replace these planes with Airbuses. Indeed, last May was the first time that Allegiant enjoyed the experience of fitting out a new(ish) plane.
The question, then, is how much Sunday’s 60 Minutes piece will reflect the whole current scenario.
The problem for the airline’s PR department, though, is that Allegiant will surely come out looking not so good on one of the most respected news programs in America, one that’s watched by 12 million people.
It’s inevitable, then, that it will instantly be associated with the sort of bad reputation that plagued United Airlines over the last year.
Worse, perhaps, is the idea that instead of a brutal lack of customer sensitivity — as in the United case — Allegiant might be tarred with the notion that it’s simply an unsafe airline.
On Friday, the airline’s stock began to drop. What might happen to it on Monday?
Over the last two days, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned for more than 10 hours by two different Congressional committees. There was granular focus on privacy definitions and data collection, and quick footwork by Zuckerberg—backed by a phalanx of lawyers, consultants, and coaches—to craft a narrative that users “control” their data. (They don’t.) But the gaping hole at the center of both hearings was the virtual absence of questions on the tactics and purpose of Russian information operations conducted against Americans on Facebook during the 2016 elections.
Here are the five of the biggest questions about Russia that Zuckerberg wasn’t asked or didn’t answer—and why it’s important for Facebook to provide clear information on these issues.
1. What were the tools and tactics used by Russian entities to execute information operations against American citizens, and what were the narratives pursued?
In both hearings, in answering unrelated questions, Zuckerberg began to describe “large networks of fake accounts” established by Russian entities. In both instances, he was cut off. This was a significant missed opportunity to pull back the curtain on the mechanisms of Russian information operations against the American public.
The vast majority of information made available by Facebook—and the focus of questions in response—have been about ads and promoted content from Russian entities like the Internet Research Agency. In fact, this was not the primary means of distributing content, collecting information, identifying potential supporters, and promoting narratives. The main tool for this was fake accounts posting “native” content—plain old Facebook posts—building relationships with real users.
In Wednesday’s hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, for example, Zuckerberg said that tens of thousands of fake accounts were taken down to prevent interference in elections in 2017, implying that this was mostly relating to Russia. But this wholesale removal of accounts obviously went way beyond the 740 accounts that have been identified as buying ads on behalf of the IRA. Zuckerberg focused only on ads bought by Russian accounts, not the regular Facebook posts that were so much more numerous. He testified that the Russian accounts were primarily using “issues ads”—aimed at influencing people’s views on issues rather than promoting specific candidates or political messaging. Asked about the content though, Zuckerberg said he had no specific knowledge.
In the indictment of the IRA, prosecutors highlighted the fact that the agency had used false IDs to verify false personas. So, while Facebook’s announcement that group pages will now require verification with a government ID and a physical address that can be validated, fake IDs and the use of US-registered shell corporations (a point raised by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse) can be used to bypass these security protocols—albeit with a much more significant expenditure of resources.
Zuckerberg said Facebook only identified Russian information operations being conducted on their platform right before the 2016 elections. But in his written testimony, he says they saw and addressed activity relating to Russian intelligence agencies earlier. And from 2014 onward, Facebook was made aware of the aggressive information campaigns being run against Ukraine by Russia.
It wasn’t an accident that Zuckerberg used the term “sophisticated adversaries” in his prepared statement. Facebook, more than anyone, has visibility into what Russia does and why it works. Apparently, no one was interested in hearing what he had to say.
2. What personal data does Facebook make available to the Russian state media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor or other Russian agencies? Is this only from accounts located in or operated from Russia, or does this include Facebook’s global data?
These questions were asked by former fighter pilot and Russia-hawk Rep. Adam Kinzinger—and answered evasively by Zuckerberg, who did not address the fact that the Russian government requires companies like Facebook to store their data in Russia precisely so they can access it (and that the Russians say that Facebook has agreed to comply). Very few companies—including Twitter and YouTube—have provided much transparency on what data they share with the Russian government. This is important because, depending on the scale, Russia doesn’t need to rely on data harvesters if they can just get it themselves. In another instance, a corporate partnership was formed with Uber to force data sharing.
This is also important because Zuckerberg expressed extreme skepticism about sharing data with the US government. Does he feel the same way about foreign entities? When law enforcement or intelligence agencies from more aggressive foreign governments ask for information, does Facebook comply? Is there any instance where they have complied with a foreign government request that they would deny the United States?
In both hearings, Zuckerberg was also asked if Russia or China scrape Facebook data, or used apps like the one used by Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who provided Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg responded that he didn’t have specific knowledge of that—but, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky pointed out, there were 9 million apps scraping data, so how can they possibly begin to know where the data and all its derivative copies went?
Zuckerberg called Chinese internet companies a “strategic and technological threat”—and whoever asked the question just moved on. This is a huge admission from one of the people best positioned to understand how AI and data tech can be weaponized by adversaries. Next time, maybe let the man talk about what he sees and the threats we are up against?
3. Did Facebook delete data related to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens? Will it agree to make this material available for researchers?
In the House hearing, there was one question relating to data preservation in connection to the Cambridge Analytica case. But not a single member asked if Facebook has preserved all of the data and content connected to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens, or whether that data and content would be made available to researchers or intelligence agencies for evaluation.
Many accounts have been pulled down and deleted, and while some of the advertising clients have been exposed, many of the fake accounts and false identities are not known to the public. It is vital that this information be analyzed by people who understand what the Russians were trying to achieve so we can evaluate how to limit computational propaganda from hostile entities and assess the impact these operations had on our population. Without this kind of analysis, we will never unravel the damage or build realistic defenses against these capabilities.
Zuckerberg got no questions about mitigating the psychological impact of these operations. There were no questions to about Facebook’s own internal research and evaluation of these tools and tactics. And no one asked what Facebook knows about their broader effectiveness or impact on the public.
4. What assistance do Facebook employees embedded with advertising clients provide? Did any Facebook employees provide support to the Internet Research Agency or any other business or agency in Russia targeting content to American citizens?
Facebook dodged a major bullet because this entire line of questioning was left unexplored. There was one question about Facebook employees embedded in 2016 political campaigns; largely Zuckerberg answered sideways. But there are extremely important questions to be raised about the way in which Facebook employees aided and enabled harvesters of data and the targeting of hostile information operations—not only against the American public, but in other countries as well.
If Facebook employees worked with the Russians to define more effective audience targeting, for example, then they had vastly more knowledge than they admit and are vastly more complicit. The same would be true if Facebook embeds were working with third parties like Cambridge Analytica and other companies that help governments and ruling parties target their oppositions and win elections. For example, Cambridge Analytica/SCL’s work in Africa shows how aggressively Facebook was used in elections. Did Facebook know? Were they involved? Do their employees have direct knowledge of or aid “black PR” and coercive psychological operations?
5. Does Facebook have copies of data uploaded to “custom audiences” by any Russian entity?
In many ways, the data will be the fingerprints of the investigations of the Russian operations in the 2016 elections. As part of Facebook’s “custom audiences” feature, you can upload datasets to target Facebook users. If there is overlapping targeting data or instances in which similar data was used by different advertising clients, you can show potential coordination between separate entities—for example, maybe the IRA and the NRA, or the dark money PACs running ads against Clinton. Does Facebook have any known Russian datasets from 2016 that could be compared to Cambridge Analytica and or Trump campaign data?
Senator Amy Klobuchar highlighted the fact that 126 million people saw IRA content and asked if these people overlapped with the 87 million who had their data scraped by Cambridge. Zuckerberg said it was “entirely possible” that they overlapped. If this can be documented, it would make it likely that the Cambridge Analytica data was used by the Russians and by the Trump campaign—and this would mean coordination between the two entities. The question then would be who knew about the shared data?
American privacy is important. But gaining a more expansive understanding of the information operations being targeted against our population by hostile foreign actors like Russia is also critical. In that respect, the Zuckerberg hearings were a huge missed opportunity. We do not have a lot of time to assess and evaluate what happened in 2016 before the 2018 elections are upon us. This is not merely a cybersecurity challenge; it’s not just about protecting voting machines or email servers. There is an information component that is not being addressed, and doing so gets harder when companies like Facebook are erasing and suppressing the data that can help us become more informed and help us develop a new kind of human-led deterrence that will prevent these campaigns from being as effective in the future.
Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to the idea of data “control” that was completely nonsensical to anybody who actually speaks English as a first language. We don’t control our data. Especially not when Facebook is aggressively harvesting data on everyone, not just their 2 billion users, and building internet access globally so they can get even more data. It doesn’t matter that Facebook isn’t “selling data”—an oft-repeated theme. They are using psychographics to profile you and selling advertisers access to the products of those algorithms. This is why there was evasion on questions about predictive profiling—the entire backend of adtech. Facebook knows it works. They use it every day—and they understand exactly how effective it can be for hostile actors like Russia.
Mr. Zuck Goes to Washington
Molly K. McKew (@MollyMcKew) is an expert on information warfare and the narrative architect at New Media Frontier. She advised Georgian President from 2009-2013 and former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in 2014-15.