National / International News

Your phone knows where you are. So do marketers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:26

People who buy used trucks rarely go to toy stores. Customers of KFC also frequent Home Depot, Nissan dealerships and museums. Latinos are 43 percent less likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average person.

These are conclusions made by the consumer behavior analytics company PlaceIQ, derived from tracking people on their smartphones.

Over the years, companies have developed surveys to gather data on people inside their homes — things like demographics, income and automobile ownership. But the outside world has remained largely a black box. Now, smartphones allow companies like PlaceIQ to not only uncover what people do in the real world, but also connect it back to traditional data gathered from homes.

PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall says: “We use location as foundation to essentially hang data from.”

In other words, location becomes the glue holding together a rich digital profile.

To better track mobile users, PlaceIQ has built a new map of America. The company has broken down the country into 100-meter-by-100-meter tiles. Inside each one, PlaceIQ notes where mobile users go and what they do. “We can see their journey across our map of the world,” McCall says, “and now we can build very rich behavioral profiles.”

The company can tell who shops at Wal-Mart frequently, who travels for business, who likes fine dining or who works a particular job. Since PlaceIQ can see where mobile users live, it can tie this real-world behavior to traditionally gathered info like demographics, income and even TV-viewing habits. McCall says linking all this data lets companies see relationships. They can connect information — PlaceIQ gets TV data from the company Rentrack — with their physical behaviors in the world. That means companies can start to predict what people will do based on something like what they watch. And that is a powerful tool for advertisers. 

So, in case you're wondering, does PlaceIQ know exactly who you are? No, McCall says. The data is currently anonymous, and furthermore, McCall says he doesn't even want to know your identity. That would raise privacy concerns, and, well, it's not the point. With a rich digital profile, PlaceIQ doesn't need to know who you are in order to predict what you'll do and help companies sell you things.

Sanjog Misra is a professor of marketing at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He says digital data “is going to change the way we market our products.” It will alter things like how companies develop products and display them in stores. Companies can now send personalized ads to individual users at an exact time and place. For instance, Misra says companies may advertise to customers when they are entering a supermarket but not while they are sitting at home.

Advertisers have been dreaming of individually tailored, one-to-one marketing for years. The ability to know exactly where you are is even better than they hoped.  

But according to Jeffery Chester, “It has a very, very dark side.” Chester is with the Center for Digital Democracy. He says collecting all this data is an invasion of privacy.  And there's another problem, he says — one that is less obvious and even more alarming: discrimination.

Chester says this kind of hyperlocal behavioral analysis allows for a new form of redlining. Chester says customers won't be treated differently because of where they live, but instead because of their digital data. Chester says digital data is already being used to determine how we are treated — whether we get perks like coupon codes and free shipping, or if we have to pay full price. In the future, who knows what it will impact, he says — maybe credit card rates and loan accessibility.

Chester wonders if this is the future we would like to have. “Do we want to live in a society where every movement we make, every decision we embrace is collected and analyzed and decisions are made about it?”

Well, we do give apps the right to track us. We can stop them by turning off the location services feature on our phones. But without it, some apps won't work.  

Duncan McCall from PlaceIQ says it's foolish to try to hide from tech. He says we cannot avoid the potential threats of innovation by “trying to play whack-a-mole with technology, because you'll always lose that, because it will always evolve.”  

McCall and Chester do agree on one thing: The only way to prevent discrimination and control our privacy is through regulation.

Manchester City 1-1 Roma

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:19
Manchester City are still without a win in Champions League Group E after Francesco Totti's goal gives Roma a point.

Former city centre nightclub on fire

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:16
Crews from 10 fire engines tackle a blaze at the former Majestyk nightclub in Leeds city centre.

Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Chelsea

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:06
Nemanja Matic scores a first-half header as Chelsea beat Sporting Lisbon to go top of Champions League Group G.

BRAIN Initiative Bets on Wearable Scanners, Laser-Controlled Cells

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:06

A wearable PET scanner and lasers that could control individual brain circuits are among the projects funded by a $46 million federal effort to accelerate research on the human brain.

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EBay Spins Off PayPal Into Fast-Changing World Of Mobile Payments

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 13:01

Commerce and payments are splitting up. Ebay is breaking away from PayPal and its payments operation will turn into a separate, publicly traded company.

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Argentina defies US over debt payment

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:57
Argentina deposits $161m in bond interest payments with the state-controlled Nacion Fideicomisos bank, in an effort to skirt US court rulings.

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break in to original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point, there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "There's no equivalent of that for streaming, and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try to break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny, new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall says. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo had produced 86 different series over the past year, "none of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, re-hirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap, too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Even the mighty Netflix is still buying credibility, especially as it changes strategy. The service brought back three canceled shows this year, and Netflix is set to release its first original feature film — a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" — the same day it's released in IMAX theaters.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when 'House of Cards' season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success. Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which debuted over the weekend to rapturous reviews.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Contractor With Criminal History And Gun Was Allowed On Elevator With Obama

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

The security lapse happened when President Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The incident continues to raise questions about the Secret Service's efficacy.

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Preventing Worker Burnout Can Boost The Bottom Line

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:12

Weary employees could need more than just time off to re-energize. Some employers have ditched the time cards, let workers set their own schedules or allow them to rotate jobs to prevent burnout.

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VIDEO: Tooth decay: 'We found out the hard way'

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:11
As a survey shows more than one in 10 three-year-olds have tooth decay, Waheed Ahmad describes how his daughter, Mariam, had to have teeth removed at the age of four.

Phelps 'arrested for drink driving'

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:09
US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has apologised after being arrested for speeding while driving under the influence of alcohol in Baltimore, Maryland.

How One Chauffeur Took Down A Corrupt Brazilian Politician

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:08

Antonio Cavalcante helped get a candidate for governor barred after showing that the politician had embezzled millions of dollars while he was a state legislator.

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Ebola Researchers Have A Radical Idea: Rush A Vaccine Into The Field

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:08

Traditional methods for containing the Ebola outbreak aren't working fast enough. So some scientists want to bypass the typical trial phases and bring new vaccines directly to people at risk.

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'Human Flesh' Burger Is A Treat To Tempt The Walking Dead

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:04

In a stunt to promote the next season of the hit zombie show The Walking Dead, London chefs have concocted a burger inspired by human flesh. They're giving them away Tuesday at a pop-up restaurant.

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Excerpt: 'Law of the Jungle'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-30 12:03

Deep in the jungle of Ecuador, after a steep climb over the Andes and into the rainforest, oil executives struck gold. Well, more oil anyway. This was back in the 1960s. Texaco was drilling wells in Colombia and had reason to believe there was plenty more petroleum to the South. The boom that followed brought airports, roads, jobs and a middle class that hadn't really existed before in Ecuador.

But the oil company — Texaco then, now a part of Chevron — did everything fast and cheap.

Waste was dumped straight into unlined oil pits. Water used in oil production was left untreated on the surface of rivers. Although the Ecuadorian government noticed, no officials came from Quito to supervise.

The long-term damage to the community prompted an environmental lawsuit that lasted more than two decades. In the process, the pursuit of justice turned an initially well-intentioned lawyer named Steven Donziger into a green celebrity, and later, a Machiavellian figure.

Paul Barrett has documented the bad behavior all the way around, and wrote about it in his new book, "The Law of the Jungle." 

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Chapter One

SURVEILLANCE

The lawyer Steven Donziger stepped out onto 104th Street. He looked west toward Riverside Park and east toward Broadway. The dark sedans had been tailing him for at least a month now. They followed him for blocks at a time, slowing when he slowed, stop­ping when he stopped, their passengers watching his every move.

Donziger lived on a quiet block on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He worked from home, a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife, their five-year-old son, and a cocker spaniel. Photographs and artwork from Latin America adorned the apart­ment. Documents in cardboard boxes surrounded the dining table. In the narrow foyer, stacks of stapled legal filings competed for space with a mud-spattered mountain bike.

On this morning in the spring of 2012, Donziger had wheeled the bicycle down the hall to the elevator and across the marble-floored lobby. Fifty years old, he dressed like a graduate student, in jeans, unironed button-down shirt, and tattered jacket.

“Cómo estás?” he asked the doorman as they bumped fists.

“Bien, muy bien, señor.”

Then Donziger had emerged from the building and, as was his habit, searched for the dark sedans. Six-foot-four and powerfully built, he would not have been difficult to track. Sometimes, in ad­dition to the cars, he thought he saw men on foot, pretending to peer into store windows if he looked their way.

Donziger began pedaling toward Ocean Grill, a seafood res­taurant where he did business over lunch. As he approached the corner, he glanced over his shoulder in time to see the large car pull out of its parking space and fall in behind him. He didn’t fear actual physical harm. The company was too smart, he thought, to turn him into a martyr. It wanted to distract him, intimidate him.

He despised his corporate foes: their money, their influence, their cynical disrespect for his clients in the Amazonian rain for­est of northeastern Ecuador. The company would never willingly pay what it owed. Its lawyers and lobbyists had said as much. Now they were coming after him, making it personal. He’d written down license plate numbers, but the police weren’t interested. Every day people killed each other in New York. What did he expect the police to do about cars that might or might not have been following him?

The surveillance wasn’t his main worry. A year earlier, in Feb­ruary 2011, the company had sued him. The 193-page suit, filed under the federal antiracketeering statute, alleged that he had ginned up fraudulent evidence as part of a conspiracy to extort the company. A federal judge had taken the accusations seriously. The judge forced him to turn over his hard drives, e‑mail, and boxes of documents. Donziger had said some truly dumb things—he admit­ted that much—and now they were public. His bravado sounded in­criminating, he also acknowledged, especially if it was taken out of context. He’d cut a few corners, used tactics they didn’t teach back at Harvard Law School. He could lose his law license. Conceivably, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could bring criminal charges.

The company, as Donziger saw it, fought dirty; he fought back in kind. Slugging it out, he’d pulled off something amazing. His ragtag team had gone to a provincial Ecuadorian courtroom and won a judgment that mighty Texaco had ruined the lives of thousands of farmers and Amazon tribesmen. Because of him, a tiny third-world nation had spoken truth to power. Donziger had pressed the case for nearly twenty years now, beginning as the most junior member of the plaintiffs’ legal team and ultimately rising to field commander. Before going after Texaco (which was acquired in 2001 by Chevron), he’d never brought even a slip-and-fall suit. That he’d survived this long must have shocked the oil company and its lawyers. No wonder they were branding him a racketeer and prying into his personal life.

He was not alone, though. Impressed by the potential for gar­gantuan legal fees, Patton Boggs, a tough corporate law firm, had joined Donziger. Together, they were seeking liens against refin­eries, terminals, and tankers worldwide. He’d retained a famous white-collar defense attorney to represent him in the racketeering suit. The Amazon pollution case had been featured on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Bloom­berg Businessweek. In 2009, it was the subject of an acclaimed docu­mentary that played at the Sundance Film Festival. A rock star in green-activism circles, Donziger had received support from Bianca Jagger, Sting, and Sting’s wife, the actress Trudie Styler. He had given Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie a private tour of the oil zone in Ecuador.

“I cannot believe what we have accomplished,” Donziger had written in private notes several years earlier, during a flight to Ecuador. “I cannot wait to get off the plane and see my fellow soldiers—often the only people I feel who get me. I want to look in their eyes and see if they understand the enormity of what this team has accomplished.” He had gone toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful multinationals in the world and won the largest pollution verdict in history: $19 billion. That was billion with a “b,” real money by anyone’s standard. If he could survive the venge­ful countersuit and collect the judgment, the Ecuador case would, in Donziger’s expansive estimation, create a precedent benefitting “millions of persons victimized by human rights abuses commit­ted by multinational corporations pursuing economic gain.” And it would make him a very wealthy man.

Arriving at the Ocean Grill, he slowed his bicycle. The surveil­lance sedan—Wait, were there two of them?—kept cruising south. Donziger chained his bike to a no parking sign and shrugged off his backpack. The spy cars disappeared in traffic. He knew they would circle back. They always did.

Protest halts Nasa spaceflight plans

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 11:42
Nasa is facing a delay to work on two new commercial spacecraft after a formal protest about the contract award process.

Catalans rally for independence vote

BBC - Tue, 2014-09-30 11:25
Thousands of pro-independence campaigners take to the streets of Barcelona after the Catalan government says it remains "determined" to hold the vote.

U.S. Charges Four Hackers Over Theft Of Games From Microsoft, Army

NPR News - Tue, 2014-09-30 11:17

The four men were between the ages of 18 and 28 and stole games before they were released. They also stole Apache helicopter simulator software developed by a video game manufacturer.

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Netflix grabs rights to 'Crouching Tiger' sequel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-09-30 11:10

A new battle in the war for our eyeballs has just been scheduled for August 28, 2015. The Weinstein Company announced a deal to release the sequel to the hit art-house martial arts film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" simultaneously in Imax movie theaters and on Netflix. 

It's a shot across the bow of the major movie theater chains — Regal, AMC and Cinemark — who control most of the theaters in the United States and demand an exclusive, 90-day "window" before their films move to smaller screens on television or online.

"Anything that starts to erode or challenge the 90-day window could be disaster for them," says Sam Craig, director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology program at NYU. According to Craig, if just 10 percent of theatergoers stayed home, it would mean a loss of more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. 

"No one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens Imax committed are in science centers and aquariums," says an AMC Theatres statement.

Other movies have attempted to debut online and in theaters, but this deal is the first to include Netflix, and the first to include a film that could have just as easily debuted in theaters, according to BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield. "I think if movie studios see the success of what Netflix and Imax do, I think others will follow," says Greenfield.

If they do, theaters will only be able to differentiate on the basis of the theatergoing experience — something they've been attempting to do for years. Regal Cinemas ran trailers in which action films gradually shrank to a small rectangle in the middle of the big screen, while a narrator intoned: "If you want action this big you can’t have a screen this small."  But consumers with smartphones increasingly watch videos even on the smallest of screens, and hardware options have arguably made home viewing more theatrical. 

"The exhibitors are right: It is a different experience," Craig says. "But you get a lot of people that have 60-inch HD screens and surround sound, and maybe they would be just as happy watching it at home."

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