Thu, 6/20

Research shows 75% of tech workers will relocate, foreshadowing a ‘tech-xodus’

New trade group research reviewed by Axios shows that 3 out of 4 tech workers will relocate for a job, suggesting most tech employees will work from anywhere.

Now, as workers gear up to chase lower costs of living, companies will have to decide whether or not to follow.

Workers are ready to leave

When picking a place to live, 82% of tech workers prioritize cost of living more than any other factor (weather, commute times, and affordable housing follow closely behind). 

[Notably, women seem to be more particular about location than men: 55% of women consider job location very important, while only 43% of men feel the same way].

So now, the ball’s in the employer’s court

While tech talent is more footloose than ever, many of the people in positions to start new companies cut their teeth in tech hubs like San Francisco, where most opportunities have historically existed.

As these tech veterans start new companies, many will do so outside of expensive hubs like Silicon Valley… because they know people are more willing than ever to follow them anywhere, particularly to places where the rent’s cheap and the weather’s balmy.

Thu, 6/20

Lululemon sells ‘self-care products’ because every brand wants to be a lifestyle brand

Lululemon is expanding its leisurewear empire into the realm of self-care products such as deodorant, moisturizer, and dry shampoo.

Lulu’s sales are already on a roll: Digital sales soared 35% last quarter, beating expectations. But the company thinks it can stretch its lucky leggings even further — and so Lulu’s expanding into the lucrative cosmetics market.

The yoga lifestyle only starts with the yoga pants

Lululemon sold its first pair of yoga pants in 1998. Since then, the company has expanded beyond activewear to lifestyle apparel, yoga accessories, footwear — and now self-care products.

Along the way, Lululemon proved leggings are a lucrative business: The company’s market value is around $24B, and shares in the business are up 50% so far this year. 

No big brand can afford not to be a lifestyle brand

Lululemon became leaders in the leisurewear biz by using their big, bougie brand to expand into untapped markets — and now, Lulu smells a sandalwood-scented opportunity.

But if you’re on your way home from a rousing yoga sesh and looking to “reset your flushed face back to its pre-workout colour,” don’t hold your breath: Most of Lulu’s products — like the “Sweat Reset” face moisturizer, which will run you $48 for a 1.6-oz. tube — are already out of stock.

Thu, 6/20

Adult performers protested Instagram’s nudity guidelines yesterday

Adult performers have taken an #instaSTRIKE straight to IG’s Silicon Valley doorstep where they picketed the company for what they say is its wrongful termination of sex workers’ accounts.

Other users — including artists and various activists — say they’ve been affected by the platform’s arbitrary removal system as well.

2-4-6-8-Instagram’s act-ing opaque 

According to The Guardian, the protestors said the guidelines currently in place are “opaque” and inconsistent, with little explanation for why accounts are removed.

According to James Felton, legal counsel of the Adult Performers Actors Guild, 1k adult professionals have had their Instagram accounts banned that didn’t contain any nude material at all. And that’s just 2019 so far.

Hi. People make their living on the internet now

As Instagram — a service with over 1B users, and an influencer market expected to reach as high as $2.3B by 2020 — grows, grading systems (inconsistent or not) have very large consequences for a very large, and growing, group of people.

And IG isn’t the only one playing fast and loose with people’s financial fate: Facebook and Twitter have also had their share of wrongful termination controversies (Twitter just gained a competitor because of it).

This time, collective bargaining came through

By yesterday afternoon, the Adult Performers Actors Guild tweeted an update, saying the march was a success.

According to the APAG, Instagram agreed to reinstate deleted accounts from a list provided by the union.

Thu, 6/20

Hologram tours are here, but not everyone’s gung-ho about ghost concerts

The ghost of Whitney Houston is coming to a stage near you in 2020 — and she’ll likely be the opening act for years of deceased artists to follow. 

A company called Base Hologram is one of several companies seeking to turn hologram shows into a regular part of the music industry, Fast Company reports — like you might remember from the gimmicky Ghost Tupac appearance at 2012 Coachella.

The not-so-surprising result of our nostalgia obsession

Though Keith Richards may seem immortal, he and other popular musicians are not going to be around forever. 

Yet when it comes to concerts, old is in: U2, Journey, Def Leppard, and The Rolling Stones were among the top 10 highest-grossing tours last year. 

So Base Hologram, which has secured rights for Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, is aiming to give the “Farewell Tour” an entirely different meaning by staging hologram concerts with the digital likenesses of deceased stars.

It’s becoming common for movies, too

A company called Digital Domain uses scanning technology to de-age actors and create 3D digital images of them. You’ve seen it with Carrie Fisher in “Rogue One” and Samuel L. Jackson in “Captain Marvel.” 

Entertainment insiders tell MIT Technology Review the casting of deceased actors and younger versions of actors is going to become more prevalent because they’re a “safe bet” in an increasingly risk-averse industry. 

In other words, Blade Runner 2098 could still have Harrison Ford in it.  

But doesn’t this seem a little unethical? 

Some current actors are opting to make digital versions of themselves (or signing contracts with studios that require it). 

But, that’s not the case with Houston and other deceased artists, whose rights are being sold by estates and record labels. Critics have likened the hologram business to “ghost slavery.” 

But don’t expect their concerns to stop any holograms from taking stage. 

Peter Lehman, an Arizona State professor who wrote a book about Orbison, says, “People who are appalled by this should stay home, but stop worrying about the music world as we know it.”

Wed, 6/19

Chatbot therapists are on the rise

Youper, a startup that makes an AI-powered, digital “mental health assistant,” raised $3m in seed funding, TechCrunch reports.

It’s not just Youper: Several fast-growing companies are building AI chatbots to provide mental health care. 

Some humanoids believe bots will revolutionize mental health, but others are concerned about the ethics of robo-therapists.

Youper says bots break down barriers

Youper already has 1m users. The company, which currently offers the chatbot for free, told TechCrunch it’s considering transitioning to a freemium model.

According to the Youper team, chatbots are more accessible than therapists because they are more private and less stigmatized.

“On average, it takes 10 years for someone to finally talk to a health provider,” Dr. Jose Hamilton, one of Youper’s co-founders, says. “This could become 10 minutes with an app like Youper.”

But not everyone believes in bots

Other AI chatbots — with names like Woebot, Wysa, and Tess — offer similar services. But human therapists remain wary of a world where bots replace human therapy altogether.

“Depending on the [chatbot’s language] abilities there might be some missed opportunities or potential misunderstandings,” Dr. Beth Jaworski, mobile apps specialist at the National Center for PTSD, told The Wall Street Journal.

Wed, 6/19

Border authorities struggle to get a grip on the slimy business of ‘aquatic cocaine’

In recent years, authorities at the US-Mexican border have reeled in several suspicious smugglers carrying concealed kilos.

Just last month, Quartz reports, a California sheriff pulled over 2 men smuggling 104 pounds of premium product worth as much as $3.7m.

But these smugglers weren’t carrying cocaine or fentanyl. They were smuggling something slimier: fish bladders.

The bladder boom

The bladder of the totoaba, a giant fish found only in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, sells for up to $80k per kilo (which, according to the ultimate street drug price authority, Quora, is more than cocaine in many US cities).

Totoaba bladders — which can sell for as much as $137k apiece — are called the “Mercedes Benz of dried fish” in Hong Kong, where they’re prized as a soup ingredient for their alleged anti-aging properties.

But there’s a dark side to the bladder boom

Chinese bladder barons only set their sights on totoabas after they’d battered the bladders of Chinese yellow croakers to the brink of extinction.

Today, totoaba are severely endangered, and the booming bladder black market is threatening to wipe out the species (along with vaquitas, Mexican porpoises that are even more critically endangered). 

Plus, since the Sinaloa cartel — the world’s most dangerous drug-trafficking criminal group — recently invested in the totoaba trade, the business of the bladder is bound to get even badder.

Wed, 6/19

Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency is already making waves: Here’s what you need to know

Take a deep breath: It’s another story with the words “Facebook” and “Libra” in it. 

We probably won’t be the first to tell you, but Facebook released a white paper about its new cryptocurrency, Libra.

But don’t worry: We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about it… without making you puke up your morning smoothie.

It was written in the stars: ‘Facebook will reinvent money’

Libra is a cryptocurrency designed to be sent instantly across the world. Here’s how it works: Libra will be a stablecoin, meaning that, unlike Bitcoin, it’s backed by hard currencies like the dollar and yen. 

Once the coin is operational — sometime in 2020, if Facebook’s being straight with us — the social network’s 2.7B users will theoretically be able to use the coin to pay for anything from an Uber ride to a cup of joe.

Whoa. Is Facebook the world’s bank now?

Not exactly. A team at Facebook created Libra, but Libra will be run by a Switzerland-based non-profit consortium called “The Libra Association.” Facebook will get 1 vote, like all the other members. 

The Libra Association will start with 27 “Founding Members” — each of whom paid $10m to process Libra transactions — but Facebook plans to expand that list to 100 before going live. 

By ceding operational control to a non-profit, the Big ’Book hopes it will be able to avoid past privacy concerns that have plagued its platform. 

But if Facebook isn’t in control, what’s in it for Zuck?

Ohhh, don’t you worry about Marky Mark and the Facebook Bunch… 

Facebook, like all other founding members of the consortium, will earn interest on all the transactions its processes.

But Facebook has a more important goal in mind: It launched a new company called Calibra that will serve as the crypto wallet that enables users to buy, store, and spend Libra coins. 

Down the road, Facebook could use Calibra to offer financial services like lending or investing, diversifying its revenue beyond advertising.

Tight, tight, tight. So… is it a win for consumers?

No surprises here… This one’s up for debate. 

Facebook claims Libra will make it easier and cheaper to transfer money, helping unbanked users avoid fees. But some critics are already saying Libra will have little impact on the unbanked other than pulling them deeper into FB-world.

Many bankers — and businessman-turned-Presidential-hopeful Andrew Yangpraised Libra’s potential. Regulators, on the other hand, have already demanded that Facebook pump the brakes on the project.  

One thing’s for sure: This crypto party ain’t over

Libra is the biggest, boldest move yet to move mainstream money in the direction of blockchain-based digital currency.

Libra will live or die based on whether users — who’ve been bamboozled by Facebook before — can find it in their hearts to trust a Facebook-founded platform to manage most of their money.  

But, given the growing number of partnerships between cool-kid crypto companies and old-school money-managing machines, it seems inevitable that crypto will make it to the mainstream.

Now, the real question is: Will Facebook wear crypto’s crown? (Because… you know… Google would probably look good in it, too).

Tue, 6/18

Infamous porn troll, Paul Hansmeier, has finally been brought to justice

Q: Hey whatchya in here for? 

A: Porn fraud.

These words may soon be muttered often by Paul Hansmeier, a Minneapolis lawyer recently sentenced to 14 years in the clink for an elaborate downloading scheme involving porn.

In short, Hansmeier uploaded porn vids to file-sharing networks for users to download. Then, when somebody took the bait — he sued their a**ses.

Prosecutors say Hansmeier and associates pilfered more than $6m from copyright settlements this way between 2010 and 2013.

The warning flags came up early…

Ars Technica reported Hansmeier was the head of a “porn trolling operation” under a shell organization, Prenda Law, in 2012.

As part of Prenda’s strategy, the firm sought settlements of a few thousand dollars; small enough not to be financially viable for victims to fight in court — not to mention hilariously embarrassing.

But eyebrows began to raise. Judges around the country dug into past Prenda-related cases where they found more and more fraud examples. 

*cues fall from grace*

For years, Hansmeier tossed other lawyers under the bus, lied to the courts and destroyed evidence. But the pile grew faster than he could demolish, and eventually it spilled over.

By 2016, Hansmeier and Steele were arrested for federal fraud, perjury, and money laundering. By 2017 Steele crumbled and pleaded guilty, leaving Hansmeier up porn creek without a paddle. 

And by August 2018, he finally accepted his fate. Now, he’s got 14 years to think about the time he almost got away with defrauding horny middle-aged men in his prime.

Tue, 6/18

In a bittersweet blow, investors call the Cocoa Cartel’s bluff

Last week, cocoa cultivators in Ghana and the Ivory Coast — which together produce more than 60% of the world’s choco-beans — agreed to set a minimum cocoa price of $2.6k per ton.

But, after spiking in a short sugar rush, cocoa prices are falling again as investors bet on consistent cocoa, Axios reports.

Can controls correct cocoa chaos?

Cocoa prices were consistently above $3k per ton between 2014 and 2016, but fell to $2.2k in March due to oversupply.

So Ghana and the Ivory Coast planned to use their massive market share to keep prices sweet — and prevent some of cocoa’s bitter problems.

The considerable conundrums of commodity cocoa

Consumers spend $100B on chocolate every year, but only $5B of that ends up in Africa — where ⅔ of that chocolate comes from. 

This lack of cocoa cash results in reliance on child labor (the industry employs 1.6m children, some trafficked from other countries) and rock-bottom wages (most cocoa families live on less than $2 per day). 

Proponents argue fixing prices could keep kids out of the fields. 

But others argue that processing, not price, is more powerful, pointing to successes in Indonesia — which increased its proportion of value-added cocoa exports from <20% in 2010 to around 95% today.

Tue, 6/18

Sotheby’s just auctioned off its priciest collector’s item ever: Itself

Sotheby’s, the 275-year-old auction house, sold for $3.7B — a 61% premium on its public price — to billionaire Patrick Drahi.

Now, French-Israeli Drahi is competing against another French billionaire art collector to build the world’s most prestigious auction house.

A dueling duopoly

Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been art-auctioneering adversaries for 250 years: Christie’s was founded in London 2 decades after Sotheby’s. When Christie’s went public in 1973, Sotheby’s followed suit 4 years later.

Together, Sotheby’s and Christie’s dominate the market: The 2 auction houses sell more than 80% of the world’s $1m+ auction items. 

But in the last several years, Christie’s has outsold its rival: Last year, Christie’s did $7B while Sotheby’s did $6.4B.

So, now Sotheby’s is copying another page from Christie’s catalog — by going private in a sale to a French billionaire.

Which billionaire’s collection will be biggest?

Christie’s has been owned by French billionaire François-Henri Pinault since 1997. Private ownership has allowed Pinault to stay plugged into the art world — but it has also allowed Christie’s to avoid the variability of swings in stock price.

Now, Sotheby’s will also avoid stock market volatility as it chases Christie’s top spot in the world of art auctions.

Tue, 6/18

A Genius plan used Morse code to catch Google ‘red handed’

Like most sites on the internet, the lyrics website Genius relies on Google for most of its web traffic.

So when Genius discovered that Google was copying its lyrics and displaying them directly, it was understandably peeved and asked Google to stop in 2017.

But Google, which is often criticized for stifling search competition, denied any wrongdoing. So Genius got creative…

So it tapped 1830s tech to take down Google

To prove that Google was ripping off its lyrics, Genius had to catch Google in the act. So the company devised a way to digitally watermark its lyrics, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It worked like this: Genius built an imperceptible series of alternating straight apostrophes (dots) and curved apostrophes (dashes) into its lyrics. When laid out in sequence, these apostrophes create a message in Morse code: “RED HANDED.”

The proof is in the ’postrophe

Caught red-handed, Google issued a statement saying that its lyrics are licensed from 3rd parties, not created internally. 

A representative from Google partner LyricFind insisted that it creates its own lyrics and does not source its content from Genius.

Now, Google says it’s investigating the issue raised by Genius. But it doesn’t exactly require a cryptologist to read between these lines…

The tyranny of Google’s one-stop shop

Genius isn’t alone: Once Google decides to hop into a new industry, it’s notorious for prioritizing its own results over the competition’s — even when it copies the competition.

For years, Yelp and TripAdvisor have criticized Google for prioritizing its results in search listings, and an FTC investigation found that Google ranks its own flights and shopping deals over competitors’.

Google’s goal is to provide info directly, without having to refer users to other websites. Big G already hides competitors’ results for simple searches like dates, times, conversions, and calculations — and an increasing number of searches go no further than Google.

On mobile devices, 62% of searches never leave Google. Google’s desktop dominance is also growing: Between 2016 and today, desktop searches that never leave Google have risen from 9% to 35%.

Mon, 6/17

As Twitter’s controversy continues, Parler’s rival platform attracts ex-Tweeters

Parler, which calls itself a “non-biased free-speech driven” social media platform, saw a surge of 200k new users in recent weeks as disgruntled users abandon Twitter.

Parler defines itself in opposition to Jack Dorsey’s little blue bird — but, in reality, the company’s fate is tied to Twitter’s.

A business built for the banned

In 2018, a number of politically radical accounts — ranging across the political spectrum from Alex Jones’ InfoWars to the antifa group Smash Racism DC — were suspended from Twitter, prompting backlash.

So Parler launched in 2018 as an “alternative” to “lack of transparency in big tech, ideological censorship and privacy abuse,” offering safe harbor to people banned from Twitter.

After the platform attracted a few high-profile Twitter defectors including ex-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and far-right activist Laura Loomer, Parler became popular among people who felt “policed” by platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

People on Parler have one thing in common…

Hatred for Twitter.

Thanks to Giuliani (a famous Trump supporter) and Brad Parscale (Trump’s campaign manager and a proud Parler account-holder), most early Parler users were right-wing Americans who believed Twitter was unfairly biased against the American right.

But most of the 200k users who recently joined Parler are Saudi Arabian nationalists — who also hate Twitter.

The rapid influx of new users doubled the amount of people on Parler in less than a week, causing the platform to continuously crash. Now, Parler’s focused on building its platform to handle even more future free-speech refugees.

Meanwhile, at Twitter…

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who has been in hot water for months for allowing too much hate speech on his platform, is under pressure from Congress to take an even more active role in policing his platform.

Technically, Twitter is currently not responsible for its users’ content — even if it’s fake or defamatory.But, a coalition of lawmakers led by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is pushing for social media companies to actively moderate their platforms to prevent manipulation — which could drive even more Twitter users to Parler.

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