Guys, it’s the trash ban


February 28, 2019

Thanks to China’s ban on recycling imports, the US incineration biz is scorching.
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The Hustle Daily Email

The FTC is finally cracking down on fake Amazon reviews

In a first-of-its-kind case, the US Federal Trade Commission has taken action on the scourge of Amazon sellers who pay for phony reviews.

The complaint, which seeks a $12.8m settlement, alleges a shady supplement company by the name of Cure Encapsulations artificially boosted its product ratings by working with a third-party company that specializes in crafting fake “verified” reviews.

If it’s verified, you know it’s legit

According to the complaint, Cure sold a totally legit supplement through Amazon that touted the weight loss benefits of an Indonesian plant (which, in reality, has been shown to cause acute liver failure).

To instill consumer confidence in his product, the company’s founder, Naftula Jacobowitz, turned to amazonverifiedreviews.com — one of 100s of websites that write fake 5-star reviews for a fee.

Records show that Jacobwitz paid at least $1k for a series of 30 reviews; in return, he was promised an average rating of 4.3 stars.

This is a massive, widespread problem

Some 82% of American adults check online reviews before buying a product. As consumers, we place an enormous amount of trust in these review systems and the technology that underlies them. Thing is, an alarming number of online reviews are fake.

Fakespot, a website that ID’s fake reviews, estimates 30% of product reviews on Amazon, and as many as 95% for “Chinese no-name companies, are inauthentic. (Amazon has contested this figure.)

In one study of fake review buying sites, a Northwestern University researcher found that in just 2 months, 11k sellers posted 250k job listings seeking phony reviews, offering between “tens of cents” and $5.

One giant leap for real humans with real opinions

Regulators have known about this issue since the dawn of e-commerce, but until now Amazon has had to take things into its own hands.

As an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, the company has filed suits against more than 1k defendants for “review abuse” since 2015. They’ve also sued the third-party sites that write them.

The FTC’s involvement — the latest in a string of actions it has taken against the tech industry — is welcome for Amazon and other e-commerce platforms. Though as with any federal action, consistent enforcement is a different story.

Time will tell if this was the start of a larger movement or just a one-off public flogging.

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After a 30% stock hit, only Oprah can restore WW to its former Weight Watchers glory

Earlier this week, stock in WW — the company formerly known as Weight Watchers — fell more than 30% after the company announced disappointing results and an even more disappointing forecast. 

Now, to turn things around, the company is looking to the only person who can turn its fortune around: Oprah.

Oprah wants to get that bread…

But carbs are an endangered species in this market 

Three years ago, Oprah famously declared “I love bread!” in a commercial for Weight Watchers. But since then, the American diet has shifted away from carbs with gluten-free options, with diets like paleo and keto commanding larger audiences.

In an effort to win back customers, Weight Watchers rebranded itself as WW several months ago, positioning itself as a lifestyle company and not just a specific diet. 

But so far, the bet hasn’t paid off: WW’s quarterly sales came in at $330m, lower than the expected $347m, and the company revised its 2019 forecast from $1.66B in revenue to $1.4B.

Will Oprah go keto? 

Oprah personally lost $58m when the stock took its most recent nosedive. Oprah’s 8% stake in the company, which was once worth around $500m, has lost 80% of its value since its peak.

Now, WW hopes that Oprah — a highly visible public personality and hypewoman who has helped champion the brand in past promotions — can help get the company back on track after its failed rebrand.

» Operation: Oprah

The great debate: Is Cloudflare a free-speech hero, or a hate speech villain?

Cloudflare, a little-known content delivery network and cloud security provider, has been lauded as an internet hero in many circles. 

The San Francisco-based company helps over 12m websites — ranging from Zendesk to even the Library of Congress — negotiate their place on the Wild Wild Web, while also shielding them from attacks with its free security and encryption products.

But, on the flip, it has been no stranger to controversy. Cloudflare has been shamed for its absolutist free-speech policies… oh, and the fact that it provides optimization and security to a list of 7 terrorist organizations.

Herein lies the debate

The problem is, nobody knows exactly how to categorize the company. Is it on the front lines with other internet service providers? Then, many argue, it has a duty to let all content flow freely. 

Or, is it considered a content host (like YouTube and Facebook)? Then, people argue, the company needs to take responsibility — something its highly philosophical CEO, Matthew Prince, disagrees with.

“If you do believe — as we do — that the internet’s edge is controlled by about 10 companies, then imposing the values of their leadership on what the internet looks like… [is] an incredibly risky thing to be doing,” he said.

The company is growing fast 

In Q4, Cloudflare expanded its global footprint with 10 new data centers (adding to the 165 it already had), its first app, and a new office in Munich. Plus, the company’s also rumored to be prepping for a $3.5B IPO.

Given its growing market hold, it’s clear things are only going to get more complicated for outspoken Cloudflare — which will surely continue to be a powerful guinea pig in the debate over responsibility in tech.

» Maybe don’t negotiate with terrorists

The US incineration industry is on fire thanks to China’s ban on recycling imports

Until recently, the US exported nearly 40% of its recycling to China for processing. But in recent years, China trashed its recycling import program. 

Without many alternatives, American cities that formerly shipped mangled Bud Light cans and bent Starbucks straws straight to China are now doing something different to get rid of their plastic: Lighting it on fire.

China didn’t start the fire…

Well, actually, this time it kinda did: In 2016, China imported 10B metric tons of plastic from around the world. That’s ⅔ of the world’s plastic waste — 17x more than any other country.

But in 2017 China unexpectedly stopped importing garbage, igniting actual dumpster fires across the world. 

Since the ban went into effect in January 2018, recycling has piled up in garbage dumps across the US. And increasingly, it has ended up on fire.

One person’s plastic is another person’s pain-in-the-a$s

Now, the entire US recycling industry is in the dumps. In Philadelphia, citizens continue to recycle their cans and bottles, but half of the city’s recycling ends up in the nearby Covanta incinerator, which now burns 3.5k tons of trash every day.

Towns that once sold recycled paper now pay to remove it. It’s an expensive headache: In 2017, Stamford, CT’s recycling program made $95k (last year it paid $700k).

On the one hand, this dumpster fire is a good kick-in-the pants for the US and other countries to find new, responsible ways to dispose of trash. But in the meantime, it’s a catastrophic problem, both for the environment and for communities that are exposed to incineration fumes.

» Hot garbage
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Don’t trust your friends

Seriously.

It will take more than an act of God to get six 20-somethings to a wedding rehearsal dinner on time, much less recreate the dance finale of America’s Best Dance Crew during the reception — a guy can only dream.

And if they can’t get to a place with food on time, can you really trust them to do something even less appealing — like getting measured for and picking up a mall tux? 

Of course not. Which is why I use The Black Tux

The best thing to happen to weddings since the open bar

When I explained The Black Tux to a friend planning his wedding last week, he practically broke down in tears and promised to name his first born after me.

Why? Because The Black Tux is so simple

You, the bride/groom, pick your perfect outfit from their catalog and send a link to your friends. They plug in a few measurements, and BAM — the Black Tux’s algorithm spits out the ideal fit. 

Two weeks before the event, they get a handy carrier box containing the suit and accouterments (shipped anywhere in the US). That means no mall trips, no last-minute rushes, and no panic attacks on your Big Day. 

Soon-to-be-married readers of The Hustle save $20 with code HUSTLE20. And if that wasn’t enough, grooms get their rental free when they reserve six or more party looks.

  • Alex, “Hips Don’t Lie” Eklund, The Hustle’s Resident Wedding Singer
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