Fran works six days a week in fast food, and yet she’s homeless: ‘It’s economic slavery’

Fran Marion and Bridget Hughes are leading voices in Stand Up Kansas City, part of the Fight for $15 movement that aims raise the minimum wage across the US

Once a customer has barked their order into the microphone at the Popeyes drive-thru on Prospect Avenue, Kansas City, the clock starts. Staff have a company-mandated 180 seconds to take the order, cook the order, bag the order and deliver it to the drive-thru window.

The restaurant is on short shift at the moment, which means it has about half the usual staff, so Fran Marion often has to do all those jobs herself. On the day we met, she estimates she processed 187 orders roughly one every two minutes. Those orders grossed about $950 for the company. Marion went home with $76.

Despite working six days a week, Marion, 37, a single mother of two, cant make ends meet on the $9.50 an hour she gets at Popeyes (no apostrophe founder Al Copeland joked he was too poor to afford one). A fast food worker for 22 years, Marion has almost always had a second job. Until recently, she had been working 9am-4pm at Popeyes, without a break, then crossing town to a janitorial job at Bartle Hall, the convention center, where she would work from 5pm- to 1.30am for $11 an hour. She didnt take breaks there either, although they were allowed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/21/missouri-fast-food-workers-better-pay-popeyes-economics

The dark side of optimism: How the trait you value most could be ruining you

Mark Cuban
Image: REX/Shutterstock

Few people have crushed more bright-eyed, entrepreneurial dreams than Mark Cuban.  

At first, that might sound like a rough assessment. After all, Cuban has invested a quarter of a billion dollars in bringing other people’s hopes to life. But, if Cuban’s rejection rate—which hovers right around 80% on ABC’s Shark Tank—teaches us anything, it’s a lesson profoundly contrary to popular wisdom. 

“They think,” Cuban said via email, “they can find a solution for any problem. Of course, I can. But everyone else. Not so much. :)” 

Joking aside, belief in our ideas and abilities is often regarded as the most valuable trait we can cultivate. After all, optimism isn’t just physically healthy, it also fuels passion, emboldens risk, and inspires courage. 

In his 2011 classic, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman called optimism the “engine of capitalism”: 

Optimistic individuals play a disproportionate role in shaping our lives. Their decisions make a difference; they are the inventors, the entrepreneurs, the political and military leaders — not average people.

And yet, for all its benefits, optimism has a dark side.  

“Most of us,” Kahneman continued, “view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be.” 

From those assessments, two questions arise. First, what makes optimism so dangerous? And second, how do we foster healthy pessimism without losing hope? 

When half full goes all wrong 

To understand the danger of optimism, the first thing we have to come to grips with is: Fear.  

Humans are hardwired for threat detection. For the most part, our fight-or-flight impulse is a good thing. It’s what made our ancestors our ancestors

When it comes to decisionmaking, things get trickier. Psychologists call the phenomenon loss aversion: the universal drive to avoid risk even at the expense of equal or greater gain.  

Just how influential is this drive? Experiments by behavioral economists like Richard Thaler gauge the motivational sway between loss and gain at roughly two to one. “Losses,” in Thaler’s words, “hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good.” 

Given our sensitivity, wouldn’t loss aversion keep us safe from optimism’s bias? Perhaps not.  

When I put the question to Kahneman directly, he explained: 

A combination of optimism and loss aversion is very common, causing people to take risks because they don’t acknowledge their existence. They take risks while feeling both confident and prudent.

Fear and optimism are two sides of the same coin. This is especially true in situations where not only the odds are against us, but control is too.  

Success demands a host of serendipitous events—the right development, timing, marketing, sales, supply, retention, and blunders from the competition. Rather than contemplate those requirements, we fall back on optimism’s mantra: “I think I can.” 

The result? Again, here’s Kahneman: 

Whenever you look at a great success you are likely to find an optimist. Optimists are great for the economy because their unreasonable risk-taking is an engine of innovation… On average, however, they are not particularly good for themselves. The fact that most or all successful people are optimists does not guarantee that all optimists are successful.

Compounding optimism’s danger is another bias: Survivor Selection. Success sells, which means if we only pay attention to the headlines, we’re likely to get a warped sense of how uncommon success truly is. For every magazine lionizing an outlier, countless bodies litter the same path. 

That’s why, when failure rears its head, we marvel and ask, “How could they be so stupid?” In truth, their stupidity stems from the very same place as our own. Not only do we overestimate our gifts, abilities, and insights, we chronically underestimate costs, timelines, and challenges.  

Why? Because loss aversion and survivor bias numb us to the realities of life. Just like any good pain killer, optimism soothes without treating the disease.  

What’s more, it can also turn on us. That’s what New York Times Bestseller Lewis Howes told me: 

Optimism can go south and turn into stress, anger, or frustration when the reality of my life doesn’t match up to the highlight reels I see around me on social media — especially if I’m struggling in an area where it seems like everyone around me is doing awesome.

At work, optimism can even have the opposite effect of its intention. “While it can inspire us to action,” Anthony Stephan, a principal at Deloitte, explains, “it also has the potential to unintentionally stifle the creative voices of others, which can limit your own opportunity for growth.” 

Strangely enough, Stephan goes on: 

What I had failed to realize was that with all the optimism I was trying to create, I was actually limiting the potential for ideas from others. Instead, the more positive and animated my words became, the less people were willing to share, out of fear that their ideas might not be received with the same enthusiasm I had for my own.

Don’t misunderstand; optimism can be a powerful force for good … right up to the point when it all goes wrong

The bright side of embracing the dark side 

If optimism fuels risk-taking and risk-taking drives innovation, then retaining optimism is essential. But so is tempering it.  

How? By embracing four habits. 

First, start planning your funeral. In the wake of any great failure, wise organizations conduct postmortems: business-focused autopsies that diagnose where things went wrong. 

Instead of waiting until it’s too late, analyze your demise before you begin. It’s a practice known as the premortem. After gathering stakeholders, ask your team, “A year has passed, and our project went down in flames. Why’d we fail?” Participants then talk through and record every possible cause of their foretold collapse.

You can take the same approach in your personal life as well. As Brad Stulberg explains in To Reach Your Goals, Imagine You Already Tried and Failed

It may seem like the negative thinking inherent to a premortem would work against self-belief and confidence. But if anything, it actually works toward it. When you force yourself to become aware of all that could go wrong, you become more likely to take the necessary steps to ensure that things go right.

The key is to divorce yourself from subjectivity and adopt an “outside” view. Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman’s article Delusions of Success: How Optimism Undermines Executives’ Decisions offers detailed instructions — including a five-step formula — to do exactly that. 

The second way to cultivate healthy pessimism is by facing the numbers. Broadly speaking, fifty percent of new businesses survive past five years, and only one-third make a decade. Worse, for venture-backed startups, the failure rate is anywhere between seventy-five and ninety percent

On the personal side, a mere 4 percent to 7 percent of people quit smoking without medication or outside help: “Even experiencing a traumatic event — like the death of a loved one or being diagnosed with cancer — only leads to a 20% success rate.” Twenty-five percent of all New Year’s resolutions fail within the first two weeks. And we won’t even get into the failure rates of diet and exercise. 

But why flood yourself with negative numbers? 

“Many successful people,” writes Charles Duhigg, “spend an enormous amount of time seeking out information on failures. This, ultimately, is one of the most important secrets to learning how to make better decisions.” 

Third, know your limitations. “The optimism or pessimism choice is a forced choice; it’s a faulty assumption,” says Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and the forthcoming book Altered Traits. “What you want is realistic optimism.”  

While at Harvard, Goleman and his colleges researched success in a surprisingly simple way:  

The test was a ring toss. Participants would take a little post and place it out as far away from them as they wanted. The further out they put it, the more points they’d get. It turned out that successful entrepreneurs — the business people who were going to last — were able to put the post pretty far out but still get the ring on. They knew what they could do. 

In other words, realistic optimists are people who know the game. They know what they bring to it, what their odds are, what’s possible, and they know the most they can do to still be successful. “That,” as Goleman put it, “is the best path to follow.” 

Lastly, and perhaps the best way to become a pessimist, isn’t to become one yourself. Entrepreneurs are natural optimists. In a very real sense, we have to be. The trouble comes from birds of a feather flocking together. Without getting intentional in our selection, we inevitably surround ourselves with people just like us: hopeful people, encouraging people, optimistic people.  

As strange as it sounds, that’s a recipe for disaster. 

“Behind every unbridled optimist,” says angel investor Joe Roos, “is a counterbalancing rationalist that ever so slightly varnishes the tint of the rose-colored glasses. It’s the delicate balance between blind ambition and rational thought that creates a dynamic environment conducive to innovation and growth.”  

Every optimist needs a pessimist to tell them when they’re naked. If your whole team is just as excited as you, something’s gone wrong.

Optimism and the Truth 

Going back to Cuban, his solutions echo the same principles: “Preparation, experience, and the never ending quest for more knowledge. More often than not, when I am pessimistic, it’s in areas that I haven’t had experience in or have chosen not to get involved with previously.”  

In the end, facing the truth about optimism doesn’t mean abandoning it.  

Rather, it means (1) envisioning all the possible ways your plan could fail, (2) staring long and hard at the odds against you, (3) knowing your limitations, and (4) sticking close to the people in your life who love you enough to be mean.  

So, here’s to the pessimists and all the dreams they crush. Because dreams stay dreams, until a pessimist drags them into the light. 

Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent and a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider and more. Connect with him about content marketing (and bunnies) on Facebook or Twitter.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/25/dark-side-of-optimism/

Donald Trump’s eyeroll of a 2020 campaign ad is as bad as you think it is

Donald Trump is barely seven months into his scandal-ridden first term as president and he’s already dropped a ludicrous ad that both makes the free press out to be an enemy of the American people and sets the stage for a 2020 reelection campaign.

Because what we really need is another reason to drink on Monday.

And this ad … hoo boy.

It’s just 30 seconds long but, much like the Trump administration, it feels like it exists in a plane beyond our normal concept of time, where everything slows down and each moment feels like a fever dream that stretches into eternity.

In other words, Donald Trump packed a whoooole lot of intense ideas in a short, half a minute ad. So let’s break it down, everlasting second by everlasting second.

0:00 – Okay, before we even hit play, please note that the title of the ad is called “Let President Trump Do His Job.” I don’t know who has the power to keep Trump from doing his job, though. No one’s keeping him off the golf course so how can anyone keep him from being president?

0:01 – Democrats are criticized for being obstructionists with a quick shot of “Cryin'” Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren. Like Mitch McConnell didn’t just spend a year blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination.

It’s also entertaining that a president so used to criticizing the opposition is now mad that the opposition is also, well, opposing him.

0:02 – “The media, attacking our president,” screams the ad. Indeed, how dare the free press hold the president accountable? Among those singled out at this point are Anderson Cooper, Joe Scarborough, Chris Hayes, George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd, John King, Erin Burnett, Rachel Maddow, and Don Lemon. That’s a lot of media!

But you know who the ad doesn’t display on screen? Anyone from print or digital journalism. There are no New York Times or Washington Post headlines critical of Trump called out in the ad. These are the publications that are actually making the big scoops that are doing the main damage to the the administration.

And, yet, the ad focuses on TV figures, which makes a weird sort of Trumpian sense given that this president pretty much reacts to whatever he sees on television.

0:06 – The ad rolls out shots of Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Steny Hoyer, Democrats who have been very vocal in their criticism of Trump, calling them “career politicians” who keep “standing in the way of success” for Trump. For whatever criticism these two lawmakers may deserve, it’s incredibly misplaced here.

This cannot be stressed enough: the GOP has a majority in both houses and the president is a Republican so if you still can’t get your agenda through, you might want to do a little soul searching.

0:09 – “But President Trump’s plan is working!” The issue here is: which plan?

IS AMERICA GREAT AGAIN YET OR NAH?

Image: YouTube

His health care reform? His border wall? The Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the election? A stable White House staff?

This is a particular moment where time feels like it slows down to a crawl, the past and future visible from the same fixed point in space, warping around me like a stream around a stone, polishing me down until I am nothing.

0:10 – There’s a lot of touting of strong economic numbers and we know our president has a way of touting economic milestones that are either misleading or not a result of his work.

Remember when Trump said jobless numbers were phony until they magically weren’t anymore?

It’s hard to take anyone that admits this seriously though that doesn’t stop Trump from expecting voters to.

0:20 – The military is strong! Look at this mighty plane and aircraft carrier. Behold, the power of a man leading a nation to nuclear war via Twitter!

0:23 – In case you were still wondering how Trump feels about the press, we return to the same collage of TV news anchors with the voiceover proclaiming, “The president’s enemies don’t want him to succeed.”

Again, Trump is treading on dangerous but familiar ground by proclaiming the press as the enemy and hatching a conspiracy that reaches Nixon-level paranoia. If this ad were two minutes long (God help us), it’d be a soft first step toward a Two-Minute Hate.

And what better time, really, to release a campaign ad denouncing the free press as the enemy of the people than after a violence-marred weekend involving Nazis who were emboldened by your success and rhetoric?

0:27 – “Americans are saying ‘Let President Trump do his job’.”

Well, if you consider abysmally low approval ratings as a way of saying, “Get the hell off Twitter and start doing your damn job,” then, yes, this line of reasoning works.

If time is really a flat circle, then may it eventually spin fast enough to launch me off into the nethersphere where I can at last be at peace.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/14/trump-campaign-ad-freedom-of-press/

Chipotle is facing more questions in the criminal investigation into its food poisoning problems

Chipotle's facing the next episode in an ongoing criminal investigation.
Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Federal regulators have some serious questions for Chipotle after the chain suffered yet another food poisoning outbreak at a Virginia restaurant this month.

The burrito shop revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Wednesday that it was served a federal grand jury subpoena last week as part of an ongoing probe into the company’s food safety practices.

“We intend to continue to fully cooperate in the investigation,” the company wrote in the document.”It is not possible at this time to determine whetherwe will incur, or to reasonably estimate the amount of, any fines or penalties.”

Regulators first launched the criminal investigation in 2015 after the first wave of food-borne illnesses sickened hundreds of customers across the country. It’s being conducted as a joint operation between a the U.S. Attorney’s office for central California and the Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigations team.

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells claimed this week that the most recent incident originated with a sick employee at the Sterling, Virginia store. More than 130 people are said to have fallen ill from that contamination.

Ells said the company’s been doubling down on emphasizing food safety rules in response.

“We made it clear to the entire company that we have a zero-tolerance policy,” Ells told investors in a call on Tuesday.”When followed, they work perfectly.”

The county health department said at least two of those infected have been diagnosed with norovirus, the same sickness that afflicted one of the waves of victims in the company’s previous spate of outbreaks two years ago. That contagion was also traced back to a sick worker.

Despite the assurances of Ells, the department said it hasn’t yet determined the specific source of the most recent outbreak.

The rash of new sicknesses come as Chipotle was still digging itself out of the public perception hole caused by its last food scare. The incident was such a crushing stroke of bad luck that one industry consultant has even hatched a conspiracy theory suggesting corporate sabotage may be at play.

“It does beg the question: How is it that Chipotle has been struck by Norovirus, Salmonella, and E.coli in different locations throughout the country, in such short order?” independent consultant Aaron Allen wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Foul play or not, Chipotle clearly has some more explaining to do.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/26/chipotle-food-safety-rules-investigation/

Modern Fertility wants to revolutionize fertility testing with $149 at-home tests

A game-changer.
Image: modern fertility

Fertility testing is an area of medicine that isn’t really covered by insuranceand hasn’t yet seen much innovation from the tech world.

Modern Fertility is trying to change that. The startup wants to be the first to revamp the experience of fertility testing and revolutionize how women think about their own fertility in the years before they’re ready to have children.

The key is Modern Fertility’s $149 at-home testing kit. Like the lab tests ordered at doctor’s offices, the kit measures up to 10 key fertility hormones. Customers do a finger prick and send four drops of blood into accredited labs, where the results are reviewed by physicians.

Users can then view their results online with explanations about what the different levels of each hormone and numerical fertility score actually mean.

“We believe information is the first step,” said cofounder Afton Vechery. “Women everywhere should know this information.”

Vechery, a former product manager at 23andMe with experience in health tech and private equity, and Carly Leahy, who developed health products like flu shot delivery at Uber, co-founded Modern Fertility in an effort to address what they see as a serious shortage and lack of options in fertility testing resources.

“Women everywhere should know this information.”

“There are only 2,000 reproductive endocrinologists in the United States and each one can only handle so much demand,” Vechery said. “We’re able to deliver more value than a single one doctor ordering these.”

At-home medical testing has emerged in the past few years as a hot area of investment, with startups selling a wide variety of kits that offer everything from blood testing to intestinal health information.

There are already a few other companies addressing fertility: Future Family and Everlywell both offer fertility tests. Celmatix focuses on using data and DNA to give fertility insights. Other startups mostly focus on devices like wearables and apps to help track fertility, not tools to test it. Modern Fertility’s test comes in at the lowest price point.

A Modern Fertility customer could pay $149 to order an at-home fertility test that would let her know her fertility levels. That’s compared to the traditional experience of going to a lab for tests and paying somewhere around $1,500 out of pocket.

These tests are available for pre-order right now in advance of a launch planned for the end of the year. But that $149 price could go up once the startup is up and running. Users don’t submit their insurance information, since most insurance plans don’t cover fertility testing.

With a much more low-cost, accessible way to test fertility, women could get a sense of their own hormone levels years before they’re ready to have childreninstead of hearing unexpected news when they’re finally ready to start trying. Women could rely on these tests as a regular component of their healthcare and check fertility levels once a year, as hormone levels continue to change.

For women who are trying to have children, the test could serve as a first step before seeing a specialist.

The Y Combinator startup just raised $1 million in a funding round led by First Round Capital. With that first round of funding, Vechery and Leahy plan to build out their team. The key next step is hiring a chief medical officer.

Modern Fertility isn’t trying to change the science of these fertility testsonly the way they’re taken. By reaching an entirely new population of customerswomen who aren’t actively trying to get pregnantthe startup says it can do this all at scale. That’s why it can offer a $1,350 discount.

As startups working on women’s health, menstrual health and other oft-ignored kinds of tech get more attention from investors in Silicon Valley, Modern Fertility is one that could really change an outdated industry.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/12/modern-fertility-at-home-tests/

Facebook’s original video is something publishers are actually excited for

Virtually Dating" is a five-episode series produced by Cond Nast Entertainment.
Image: conde nast entertainment

For all of Facebook’s big talk about video, it was still just part of the almighty News Feed.

Publishers hoping to capture a moment of a user’s attention looked for thumb-stopping moments, which gave rise to a new and not-terribly compelling format of video that remains endemic to Facebook.

Watch is something different. Facebook’s new original video program features TV-like shows made by media companies. Perhaps most importantly, the shows are showcased in a brand new section of the social network.

That’s enough to convince publishers, who have spent years contorting to fit into Facebook’s plans, that Watch could be big.

“We are really excited,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of Cond Nast Entertainment, which is producing a dating show with a virtual reality twist for Watch. “This is a new opportunity, a new type of content. [Facebook’s] trying to open up a whole new area for content makers.”

Oren Katzeff, Tastemade‘s head of programming, offered similar excitement. The food-focused media company has created six shows for Facebook Watch.

“Were able to be a part of appointment viewing, and thats huge,” Katzeff said

That enthusiasm is quite unlike how publishers have previously behaved when asked about their work with and on Facebook. Typically, there’s a roll of the eyes, a sigh, and a list of grievances.

“The problem with Facebook’s entire ‘news team’ is that they’re glorified client services people,” the head of digital operations at a major news outlet told Mashable at F8, the company’s annual developer conference in April.

Now, there’s a new sense of hope among the media industry. Facebook’s massive scale has always tempted publishers, but revenue has been elusive. Facebook’s new program, with its emphasis on quality content and less on thumb-bait, seems ready-made for high-end ads. These original shows, in concept, also compete with what’s available live on TV and bingeable on Netflix and Huluplatforms that most publishers haven’t cracked.

“I think it is where people will go to watch on-demand programming and live news, and I intend Cheddar to be the leading live news player on Watch,” Jon Steinberg, CEO of business news show Cheddar, wrote in a private Twitter message.

Facebook’s Watch platform

Image: facebook

Simultaneously, there’s little stress for publishers about potential revenuefor now. Facebook has guaranteed minimum earnings for each episode, according to an executive at a participating publisher who could not be named since financial discussions are private. Facebook not only pays a licensing fee to publishers but also will split revenue from mid-roll ads.

It’s not the first time Facebook has cut checks for publishers to support video efforts. Last year, Facebook paid publishers, including Mashable, to produce live videos, requiring a minimum number of minutes streamed per month. (Mashable is also a Watch partner.)

But Facebook’s live video effort was slow to start, and publishers didn’t reap in rewardsespecially when it came to the return of their investments, several participants told Mashable.

It wasn’t all their fault or Facebook’s. For one, Facebook users weren’t really used to going to the site or the app for live video. Since then, Facebook has released several products, including a redesigned version of the current video tab and a TV app, both of which better support the new ecosystem. Publishers’ series will be spotlighted on the Facebook’s new tab for shows, for example. The experience is slowly being rolled out to users over the next month.

Participating publishers are going all in.

Tastemade produced six shows over the last few months and is still wrapping up a couple. Three are food focused: Kitchen Little, Struggle Meals, and Food To Die For. Two are more home and lifestyle: Move-In Day and Safe Deposit. The sixth is a late-night comedy show with celebrity interviews, hosted by an animated taco, called Let’s Taco Bout It.

“Tomas grew up as a Taco, and he had adopted parents, and his life goal has been to discover who his true parents are. He tries to relate with his guests,” Katzeff said.

Tomas Taco

Image: tastemade

What’s exciting here is not just an animated taco, but the fact that these publishers are well positioned to scale these tacos… err video series.

Maybe an animated taco won’t appeal to all 2 billion of Facebook’s users, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Unlike TV, these shows aren’t locked into specific networks with a specific time-slot. Rather, they can be directed to actual people, based on their interests (Facebook likes) and demographic information.

“With Facebook Watch, the era of audience parting has truly arrived,” wrote Nick Cicero of Delmondo, a Facebook media solutions partner for video analytics.

Unlike TV, Facebook has a built-in platform for conversation. Ostroff of Cond Nast Entertainment said she believed Facebook greenlighted Virtually Dating, a show where blind dates take place in a virtual reality world, for the Watch platform because of the potential for online conversation.

“If it works, it was something that could go viral or a show that everyone could weigh in on,” Ostroff said. “Were excited about learning, learning how the viewer and the consumer is going to use [Watch]. Whats going to succeed and whats not.”

No one is saying it’s been easy. Several publishers told Mashable they have been careful to make sure they are staying in budget. They also noted that it is still a testone that they will be closely monitoring. Now that the shows are near launch, publishers said they will need to focus on promotion.

Watch “is really great for those who were actually able to get into the program,” said Jarrett Moreno, cofounder of ATTN, which has created Health Hacks starring Jessica Alba and We Need to Talk with Nev Schulman and Laura Perlongo.”It’s a priority for Facebook. They’ve emphasized that.”

A priority, for now.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/12/facebook-watch-original-video-publishers-pitchfork/

Why Facebook’s most ‘meaningful’ Groups show us where the social network is headed

Image: Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Facebook’s newest priority isn’t a shiny new technology or a funky new predictive algorithm. It’s Groups, one of the earliest features on TheFacebook.com.

These aren’t your sophomore year of college Groups though. Facebook is pointing to a series of highly-engaged collectives that highlight why they believe that Groups will play an important part in the future of Facebookand fulfill CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal to “bring the world closer together.”

It comes down to a particular word: “meaningful.”

Facebook’s representatives keep coming back to this word when discussing Groups. Maybe that’s because the feature initially lent it self to jokes like “Bring Back The Jello Bears,” which I championed back in 2007.

This all happened somewhat off of Facebook’s radar. Groups like Pantsuit Nation amassed hundreds of thousands of engaged members. Many Groups have developed important use cases which even top Facebook executives were unaware of until they began traveling the world and interviewing users about why they use the site.

“A lot of Groups came and went,”said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox earlier this year in an interview. “If you just looked at the average Facebook Group you maybe wouldn’t find it something that’s deeply meaningful. But if you go and study, just asking people all around the world what the most meaningful experience you have with Facebook, you started discovering these Groups.”

But just what Groups are “meaningful” on Facebook? We can gleam some insight from the list of peopleall administrators of Facebook Groupthe company invited to its first-ever Facebook Communities Summit in June.

A Facebook representative shared with Mashable a list of seven different Groups:

  • FIN (Female IN): a private, women-only group described as a no-judgment support group for women” and includes personal stories from women of African culture around marriage, sex, health issues, beauty tips, parenting, domestic violence, mental health, work challenges, and loss

  • Black Fathers: a private men-only group described as dads doing our thing” and includes men asking each other questions about raising teen girls and custody disputes

  • Keep Austin Fishing!: an open group described as a “fishing family” where people in the area are invited to chat about fishing

  • Lady Bikers of California: an open group for women who ride motorcycles, with meet-ups in real life and planning of group rides

  • Affected by Addiction Support Group: a private group for people recovering from addiction and their friends and family to offer support and share stories

  • Moms of Beverly: an open group for moms in Beverly, Illinois to meet up and ask for advice

  • Bethel Original Free Will Baptist Church: an open group for members of the Bethel Church in Decatur, Georgia, includes announcements about events, meetings time and also uses Facebook Live to share sermons

These Facebook Groups are all over America and include people of all different demographics. What they have in common is being deeply personal but not necessarily inclusive of people already within a Facebook’ user’s social network. They bring real world interests and activities online, connecting users to people who they may have never met in real life.

It’s a goal that has drawn comparisons to Reddit, which has subgroups that serve a similar use case by connecting people over topics of discussion. But unlike Reddit, Facebook is not anonymized. The social network prides itself on a real name policy, where even drag queens and sexual assault survivors who wish to use different names are forced to oblige with the rules.

Facebook’s Groups are meant to be safe spaces, where trolling is more difficult in an online environment that does not allow users to hide behind a made-up username like on Reddit, Tumblr, or Twitter.

Facebook also has a bit of overlap between Groups and Pages. While the former is focused on interest-based communities, the latter can be dedicated to a person or an organization. For example, Mashable has a Facebook Page where we share our stories. But now, as part of this new Groups push, Page owners can promote Groups. For example, The New Yorker has a Facebook Group for its Movie Club.

This new emphasis on meaningful communities can be a good service for people, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized in his 6,000-word manifesto titled “Building Global Community” earlier this year.

It’s also a smart business strategy. Facebook is trying to address its other big problemdeclining engagement among its users. Facebook makes money when people spend time on its platform, so it needs people putting up stuff and liking/commenting on that stuff.

Groups, it seems, is key to creating a better world through Facebook, which inevitably means spending more time on Facebook. More people spending more time means more money for Facebook.

Facebook follows the money, just like any successful business. How does a social network make money? Advertising.

To capture ad budgets, you need engagement. Facebook has 2 billion monthly active users, and yet, advertisers still say “Snapchat” when you ask where to find a younger audience. There’s the fear that Facebook is becoming “old news” combined with the bad public image of being a distributor of “fake news.”

But people will always have passions and if Facebook can provide the best place to dive deep into those passions, they have your attention, and therefore, they have money.

Whether Groups are good or bad isn’t really the question. They’re engaging, or “meaningful,” in Facebook parlance.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/20/facebook-groups-meaningful/

Vizio files $100M lawsuit against LeEco

Last summer LeEco announced it intended to purchase the U.S.-based TV maker Vizio for $2 billion. The deal fell through in Marchamid myriad problems surrounding LeEco,including a major cash crunch. Allegedly the deal included a $100 million buyer-termination fee and now Vizio has filed suit in a California court to collect payment.

Vizio claims that in lieu of paying Vizio the fee, the Chinese company offered to set up a joint distribution deal, which would have included paying Vizio $40 million up front, $10 million after the new deal closed with the remaining $50 million turned into a capital contribution for the joint venture. Yet Vizio alleges that LeEco never intended to pay the entire $100 million and purposed the deal in an effort to reduce its liability by 60 percent.

And Vizio sounds like its onto something. The deal sounds shady from the start.

The lawsuit alleges that LeEcos CEO, SVP of Finance and a director of LeEcos holding company mislead Vizio executives on the health of LeEcos holding company the entity actually trying to purchase Vizio. It goes on to say that these executives, in person, over the phone and through email, mischaracterized the companys financials, saying that LeEco needed to complete this merger to either obtain the instant financial stability, credibility and resources.

The lawsuit goes on to state Vizio believes LeEco was going to use [the] publicly announced intended merger with VIZIO to gain or try to obtain access to VIZIOs large corporate customers and key decision makers thereat for their own purposes and by means of confidential customer information that had been developed and provide LeEco with access to VIZIOs confidential customer information, including contact information, account history, purchasing needs or requirements, contract terms, and the like.

This comes days after a Shanghai court froze $180 million in assets belong to the LeEco founder and former CEO, his wife and three LeEco affiliates. Yesterday Faraday Future, which lists LeEco as a major financial backer, announced it was not going to build a factory in the Nevada desert that would have cost $1 billion. News also broke earlier today that LeEco would not be paying some of its workers in China until August 10th.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/11/vizio-files-100m-lawsuit-against-leeco/

Here are some of the weirder and more creative ad blockers on the market

Image: Shutterstock / underverse

A host of niche ad blockers are helping web surfers trade annoying ads for cats, art, and inspiration.

The tools are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of blocking software birthed by a popular frustration with disruptive digital ads in recent years.

But where most of their ilk simply scrub pop-ups and promos from your screen, a handful of developers have tried to set their services apart by taking it a step further: They want to turn the lemons of online ads into lemonade.

These ad blockers replace aggressive web advertising with a more pleasant alternative, whether that be images of goofy cats, vintage billboards, fine art, inspirational memes take your pick.

Like many one-note browser extensions, most of them are novelty gags and open-source hobbyist projects. Their gimmicks may be fun at first, but at some point the clutter of cats on every page might get old.

A small segment of startups, however, are more serious about their missions. Companies like Intently a Pinterest-like ad replacer are actually hoping to create viable rivals to industry heavyweights like Eyeo’s AdBlockPlus and AdBlock (two confusingly named, yet separate companies).

There is a potentially enticing moneymaking opportunity hidden in this deceptively simple model. The secret to ad blockers is that, despite the contradictory name and intra-industry antagonism, they aren’t much different than the ad networks they block. Ad blocking startups also make their money by selling the screen space in front of you to advertisers.

For most of the popular ad blocking services, that means charging certain high-traffic platforms like Google and Microsoft for the privilege of being whitelisted a practice trade groups have likened to extortion.

But the prospect of slipping ads in among aspirational memes or social content could make for a more sustainable and less shady model provided there’s actually an appetite among web users for content in place of ads.

Judging by the number of projects that have already stumbled on this path, that demand is by no means guaranteed. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy morphing ads into anything under the sun.

Vintage social ads

Image: kindai

What would your Facebook feed look like in ’80s get-up?

French ad agency Kindai answered that question this week with a new tool that papers over sponsored posts with classic ads from the decade.

The browser extension will transport you back to a world of Atari’s Pong, Sony Walkmans, and Apple II’s. There’s a tribute to a partnership between Pizza Hut and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other retro cultural signifiers galore.

The program is also a reminder of how easy it remains to block Facebook ads nearly a year after the company’s supposed crackdown on the practice.

Image: screenshot

CatBlock

Image: screenshot

Developers at AdBlock originally intended for CatBlock to be an April Fool’s joke in 2012. But they apparently underestimated the force of feline fanaticism on the internet.

The service a temporary code tweak that rendered blocked ads as “Lolcat” memes or Flickr images got such an overwhelming reception that AdBlock decided to spin it into part of a monthly subscription package.

Two years later, however, AdBlock turned the project over to open-source developers who now maintain it as a free browser extension. Last year, it became the first ad blocker to run on Microsoft’s Edge browser.

Intently

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

Intently replaces aspiration-mongering and health-shaming in service of consumerism with… aspiration-mongering and health-shaming as an end unto itself.

To be clear, the latter is definitely preferable. The service first lets you customize your interests and life goals by selecting from a few preset choices. You’ll then start to see peppy positive mantras like “start by believing that things can change” and “7 days without fruits and vegetables makes one ‘weak'” where you’d otherwise see ads.

The company’s eventual goal is to become a sort of Pinterest-like platform that operates in the space vacated by blocked ads.

Image: screenshot

Addendum

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Probably the most intriguing project on this list, Addendum lets you replace ads with one of several “essays,” or sets of similarly themed art, curated by the influential Kadist art organization.

The collections are all compiled from archives uncovered by Kadist’s various research projects, according to Addendum’s site, but you can also upload your own galleries and share them with friends.

It’s not the fastest or most reliable blocker at this point, and it’s currently only available on Firefox though Chrome and Safari versions are in the works.

The developers are also among the few to directly confront the ethical underpinnings of ad blocking.

“You downloaded the page, and you own it,” the developers write in their justification of the practice. “Its yours and you can do whatever you want to it. Just like if you get a free newspaper, you can read it, or cut it up, or burn it. Its your life and you have no legal obligation to look at every ad presented to you.”

Image: screenshot

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/08/ad-blockers-replacers/

Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

An
An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

Eric
Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley