Happy (Cyber) Monday, folks. American card-swipers set a record last Friday, spending $7.4B on online purchases on Black Friday. But today is Cyber Monday, the day that’s really designated to bring in those digital dollars. We’ll see how it goes. Today:
- Some big toymakers are on this year’s naughty list
- Taylor Swift is pissed
- There’s some info about deepfakes you may have missed
Have a great week.
Several big toymakers ended up on the industry’s ‘naughty list’
Several weeks ago, the nonprofit organization “World Against Toys Causing Harm” (WATCH) published its annual list of the “10 Worst Toys.”
The nonprofit, which has published the list for more than 40 years, is no mere Scrooge: It makes its list “so parents and caregivers know what traps to avoid when buying toys — especially in the upcoming 2019 holiday shopping season.”
So, who has been bad this year?
The products that ended up on the list ranged from toy guns to stuffed yetis. Here’s the full list of the toys — and what makes them bad (all capitalization and exclamation points WATCH’s emphasis, not ours):
- Nerf Ultra One foam dart blaster. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR EYE INJURIES!”
- Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR INGESTION AND CHOKING INJURIES!”
- Bunchems Bunch’n Build. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR HAIR ENTANGLEMENT AND CHOKING!”
- Yeti stuffed toy. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR INGESTION/ASPIRATION INJURIES!”
- Nickelodeon Frozen Treats Slime. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR CHEMICAL INGESTION AND IRRITATION INJURIES!”
- Anstoy Electronic Toy Gun. Why? “REALISTIC TOY WEAPONRY!”
- Diecast School Bus. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR CHOKING INJURIES!”
- Pogo Trick Board. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR HEAD AND IMPACT INJURIES!”
- Power Rangers Electronic Cheetah Claw. Why? “POTENTIAL FOR EYE AND FACIAL INJURIES!”
- Viga Pull Along Caterpillar. Why? POTENTIAL FOR STRANGULATION AND ENTANGLEMENT INJURIES!
But toymakers tell customers to watch out for WATCH
For toy companies, WATCH is the grim reaper of the toy industry — and the fact that its list comes out right before the holiday shopping rush isn’t helpful to sales either.
But WATCH itself has been criticized by many members of the toy industry for failing to rigorously test the products it labels as bad.
“By law, all toys sold in the United States must meet 100+ rigorous safety tests and standards,” wrote the Toy Association, an industry trade group. “WATCH does not test the toys in its report to check their safety.”
Sparks fly as Taylor Swift sticks it to the man
When Taylor Swift recently tweeted that men associated with her former record label wouldn’t let her perform her old songs at the American Music Awards, the record label and the men associated with it endured death by a thousand cuts from Swifties.
Well, not literally. But Scooter Braun — whose biz, Ithaca Holdings, acquired T Swift’s OG record label, Big Machine, this year and now owns the masters of her first 6 albums — said he and his family received death threats after Tay took to Twitter. He also denied blocking her from performing her songs and said he doesn’t have the legal right to do so.
Swifties’ swift support for Swift…
… is a testament to the (kinda terrifying) power of superstardom and social media reach. T Swift made an emotional appeal to her fan (and stan) base of more than 85m Twitter followers, and effectively pulled them in to opine on a contract negotiation that the public really doesn’t know much about.
Musicians rarely own the rights to their master recordings
Record labels typically maintain those rights as compensation for taking a financial risk on an artist. But Swift, who signed with Big Machine at age 15, has been clear about wanting full control of her music and made this a sticking point when she signed with a new label last year.
But buying those master recording rights from Braun could cost Swift hundreds of millions of dollars, the NYT reports.
It’s unclear whether the two sides will be able to shake it off and come to a mutually beneficial agreement — but it’s very apparent that Swift’s fans will love her forever and always.
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Small business of the week: Infento launches life-sized construction kits that last through childhood
A decade ago, Spencer Rotting was working for a youth organization when an idea sparked: a soap box car race, where the kids make the cars themselves. As the gears started spinning, he and co-founders Sander Letema and Rogier Groen realized a world of potential in multi-functional, reusable parts. Imagine Lego or Meccano, but life-size. That’s Infento.
Instead of buying the hottest new scooter, skateboard, or bicycle, Infento allows parents to purchase a singular modular kit that lasts through their kids’ entire childhood. When kids are ready for a new ride, they just construct a new one. There’s less waste, while kids learn important technical skills.
Each kit costs between $249 and $1,099 and enables 14 to 40 potential builds. As physical toy stores shutter, Infento has focused online. It is doing $2m annually, building off a Kickstarter campaign that helped the company’s product video get 16m views. For buzz, the company relies on families showing off their rides on social.
- Founders: Sander Letema, Spencer Rotting, and Rogier Groen
- Employees: 29
- Years in business: 10
- Cost to launch: $250k
- Funding methods: Personal savings, friends/family contributions, angel investors, crowdfunding, loans
- 1st-year revenue: $50k
- Current annual revenue: $2m
‘Deepfakes’ could upend the information economy. Tech companies are girding for battle
Does the term “fake news” make you cringe? Get ready for the era of really fake news.
So-called “deepfakes” are digitally manipulated photos and videos designed to spread misinformation. They’re so elaborate that they can make celebrities look and sound like they’re saying things they didn’t. Need a primer? Our friend “Adele” will give you the gist.
It’s more than just someone like you
Fake images are disrupting politics already. An altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her sound like she was drunk. Reporters debunked that one, but it’s getting harder to spot the phonies.
The cybersecurity company Deeptrace found that online deepfakes almost doubled in a recent 9-month stretch, according to the WSJ.
Can Big Tech slow the spread?
Companies like Google and Facebook are trying to stem the tide. Facebook used actors to make fake videos, and then released them to researchers so that the humans could dissect the frauds.
The bad news? It doesn’t always work — and the fraudsters are usually one step ahead of the detectives.
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| Brad “About a toy” Wolverton
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Holiday Travel Coordinator