The smarty pants gets pants’d


June 18, 2019

Today, Sotheby’s auctions itself, while a Minneapolis lawyer gets put on the shelf (in prison, that is), but first…
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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%.

Truly Genius
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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.

» Art imitates art
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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.

» Loco de cocoa

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.

» See you in 2033
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He wanted to give his kids money to spend on things like ice cream, but the thought of handing a child a credit card scared the sprinkles off him. 

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By rethinking the corporate card

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