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A high-tech shopping spree: Is Google trying to take over the world?

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:55

Jan. 26, 2014: Google purchases artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies for (the rumored price of) $625 million. There’s not much information on what DeepMind is making, but according to The Guardian: "[their] technology would be built into Google's search systems, rather than becoming part of its fast-expanding robotics division. Google has bought eight robotics companies, including Bot & Dolly which made the computer-controlled cameras used in the film 'Gravity.'"

Jan. 13, 2014: Google buys Nest Labs, creators of internet-enabled thermostats and smoke alarms, for $3.2 billion. Though the two companies will remain separate, VentureBeat thinks Google wants to get involved in the "connected home, the notion that all of our appliances and gadgets will soon communicate with one another."

Dec. 10, 2013: Google buys robotics company Boston Dynamics to protect humankind from the inevitable robot uprising, or to help ship packages. You be the judge:

June 11, 2013: Google acquires Waze, a crowdsourced navigation app for smartphones, for $966 million. If you’ve noticed Google Maps better equipped to find a new route because the 405 freeway (or I-95, or the Beltway, or ...) is closed, again, you can thank Waze’s accident and construction reports.

June 4, 2012: Google buys Meebo, an instant messenger service, for $100 million. The service is now closed, and Meebo employees now focus on Google+.

Sep. 8, 2011: Google buys restaurant review company Zagat, for $125 million. The restaurant’s reviews and ratings are now embedded into Google’s search results, Google Maps and Google+ for free.

Aug. 15, 2011: Google purchases cell company Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The purchase includes Motorola’s portfolio of patents and phone manufacturing, but Motorola remains an independent company from Google and even pits their own Android smartphone against Google’s phones.

Unrest overseas ripples into U.S. economy

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:49

The bottom fell out of the emerging currency market – relatively speaking. Argentina made headlines, and other countries also had problems including Ukraine and Turkey.

“A lot of economies around the world, countries that were doing pretty good…have been running into some troubles in the last six months to a year,” says Tim Fernholz, a business reporter at Quartz. He says those problems all came to a head late last week.  

In some ways we--or rather, the Federal Reserve-- are to blame. As interest rates here rise, some expect that more and more money will come back to the United States, and to other developed economies. 

“People are worried.. that we're leaving these emerging economies outside without a coat,” Fernholz says.

Fernholz says we’re feeling a ripple effect because some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. – including those on the S&P 500 Stock Index – make half of their revenue from outside U.S. borders: “And if economic problems are happening overseas, their bottom line isn’t’ going to look so good. Their stock numbers are not going to look so good.”

Which is what we saw on Friday.  That tumbling stock market in turn means that things tied to the stock market, like your retirement account, probably also took a fall. 

Is grad school "professional suicide"?

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:10

One of the things people do when economies slowdown: Go back to school. The hope is, they'll pick up training for new skills along with their law degree or doctorate.

But PhD's don't come cheap, and in fact, consultant Karen Kelsky says getting a doctorate can cost you more than its worth. 

She runs a business that is in part about finding jobs for students with doctorates, and she's an anthropology professor herself.

Kelsky says when it comes to fields like engineering or medicine, funding remains strong and pay in the workforce is high. But for "soft sciences," like political science or anthropology, schools are investing less and less to support advanced degrees:

"It starts with the massive defunding of higher education in the United States. Basically, it has become a revenue-driven institution, and so departments and programs that don't generate revenue in the way that the sciences or engineering or business do, find themselves defunded. So, consequently, in the humanities and social sciences, a typical stipend will be about $15,000. Which - almost anywhere - is not enough to get by."

Kelsky says on top of that, many graduates finish school saddled with debt they can never pay off:

"In the humanities and the soft social sciences, debt can go anywhere from $0 to $250,000, and that's for fields like religious studies, sociology, women's studies and things like that."

Is grad school "professional suicide"?

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:10

One of the things people do when economies slowdown: Go back to school. The hope is, they'll pick up training for new skills along with their law degree or doctorate.

But PhD's don't come cheap, and in fact, consultant Karen Kelsky says getting a doctorate can cost you more than its worth. 

She runs a business that is in part about finding jobs for students with doctorates, and she's an anthropology professor herself.

Kelsky says when it comes to fields like engineering or medicine, funding remains strong and pay in the workforce is high. But for "soft sciences," like political science or anthropology, schools are investing less and less to support advanced degrees:

"It starts with the massive defunding of higher education in the United States. Basically, it has become a revenue-driven institution, and so departments and programs that don't generate revenue in the way that the sciences or engineering or business do, find themselves defunded. So, consequently, in the humanities and social sciences, a typical stipend will be about $15,000. Which - almost anywhere - is not enough to get by."

Kelsky says on top of that, many graduates finish school saddled with debt they can never pay off:

"In the humanities and the soft social sciences, debt can go anywhere from $0 to $250,000, and that's for fields like religious studies, sociology, women's studies and things like that."

Who's Gideon?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:45

They're as ubiquitous as tiny soaps and starchy towels -- those leather bound books hidden in the drawers of night stands in nearly every hotel in the country. And they have his name all over them.

Who is Gideon, and how did he get those Bibles in there?

I'd always wondered. The story starts in 1898 with a crowded hotel and two men weary enough to share a room with a stranger. John Nicholson and Samuel Hill were both traveling businessmen when they met in the lobby of the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wis. There was just one vacancy with two beds, and in keeping with the times, the men decided to split it.

There were no plasma TVs or pay-per-view back then, of course, so once they checked in, the men had nothing to do but talk. After awhile, they hit on a topic they were both passionate about– their faith. By the end of the evening, the men made plans to create an evangelical association for Christian businessmen.

A year later, those men set up a meeting at a YMCA in Janesville, Wis., but were disheartened when only one other person showed up. That man was William Knights, and what he lacked in numbers he made up for in ideas. He suggested the group call themselves "The Gideons," based on a story in the Old Testament, of a man leading a band of untrained men to battlefield victory.

It took some ten years for the group to amass numbers, and most of the members were travelers just like its founders. The Gideons decided since they were already traveling the country, the best way to spread the good word was to put copies of the Bible in the hotel rooms they frequented. The first Gideon’s Bible was placed in a nightstand at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Mont. in 1908.

More than 100 years later, the group has ballooned to more than 300,000 members and along the way added "International" to its name. Throughout its run, Gideons International has managed to place more 1.8 billion Bibles in hotels in 196 countries. On average, the group says it distributes more than two copies of the Bible per second, and often holds a ceremony with new hoteliers, bequeathing the building with its first book.

 

Why do luxury hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but cheap hotels don't?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:40

MORE MONEY, FEWER AMENITIES?

A question from listener Alison Najman has brought us to New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The lobby is enormous and elegant. There are staffers everywhere, a check-in desk, a concierge desk, a dining area. President Obama stays here. A room tonight goes for $399 -- it's not their nicest, but it's pretty lovely.

And Wi-Fi? That'll cost $19.95 per day. 

We head downtown to Hotel 17. The lobby is small and basic. Instead of a giant staff, there's just a guy. You can stay here tonight for $86, a very good deal in New York. 

So it's not the Waldorf. But the Wi-Fi? Free.

HOW DOES THAT WORK?

Toni Repetti, a hotel management professor at University of Nevada Las Vegas, says on one hand, it's simple: "The easy answer to that is because they can."

Luxury hotels can charge more because they know their customers will pay more. Jeff Beck, a former Marriott executive who teaches at Michigan State's business school, says it has to do with a scale economists call "price sensitivity."

"The type of people that are going to be staying [at a luxury hotel] are typically there on business, which generally means that someone else is paying for it," Beck says.

 If you're a business traveler who can stick your company with the bill, you're hardly price sensitive at all. As for the folks staying at fancy hotels for pleasure? Repetti says their wealth means they're not very price sensitive either.

"A $20 fee on a $400 room... is probably not a big deal when they're paying $400 for a room," Repetti says.

Folks at budget hotels, however, are definitely price sensitive. Managers have to keep Wi-Fi free just to compete.

SO... STEAL THE FREE INTENRET AT STARBUCKS?

Things are changing. The website HotelChatter has a long-running survey of hotel Wi-Fi. Managing editor Juliana Shalcross says nearly two-thirds of hotels offer it free, and that number's growing.

"When [guests] go to a hotel and they see that it's charging them for Wi-Fi, they get a little pissed off and I think they make that known," she says.

Hotels don't want angry customers in the age of online reviews and social media. Companies that give hotels a lot of business are complaining too. So many hotels are getting rid of Wi-Fi charges, which sounds great. But, travelers beware: Repetti points out they're doing something else, too.

"They also are increasing their room rates to make up for that. You may not see that, but they are increasing, even a little bit."

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Why would you hire the long-term unemployed? Why not?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:36

After losing her job in July 2012, Robyn Swirling didn't hesitate. 

"I started looking and working my connections the day I got laid off," Swirling said.  

Still, she had no luck for a year. Sometimes, she could feel a creeping sense of doubt from potential employers.

"When you've been looking for awhile and interviewing places, and you've gotten several interviews, it certainly starts to make people wonder why you haven't gotten picked up by somebody," said Swirling.

"It's hard to look inside the mind of an employer, but I think most employers take the fact that someone has been out of work as a signal that they're a lower-quality employee," said Austin Nichols, a Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute. "What research shows is that employers do discriminate against employees who are otherwise identical, but who have been out of work longer."

David DiSalvo, who writes about science and technology for Forbes, says when a hiring manager is conducting an interview, he or she is also acting as a risk assessor. Applicants who have been out of work for a long time set off alarm bells. They might need training to update their skills.

"When this person comes on board, we're going to have to invest X amount of money, time, [and] resources to ramp them up for the job," DiSalvo said, citing a familiar employer worry. Similarly, he said, some hiring managers worry that applicants who have been out of work for a long time have fallen into "Patterns of behavior that are not conducive to a hard working style," like rising early for work.

DiSalvo thinks that for President Obama's initiative to work, hiring managers will have to let go of those biases. Robyn Swirling has some advice of her own for hiring managers.

"People who are going to want to get back into a job are going to work really, really hard to keep that job and do well at it," Swirling said. 

Swirling finally landed a job in digital advocacy. A year later.

Google's start-up turn-ons: Intelligence, pushing limits and changing the world

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:01

Google is on a buying spree.

Its latest purchase is a mysterious London-based start-up called DeepMind Technologies — check out their website, that’s why we're calling it mysterious — but won’t say exactly how much it paid for the artificial intelligence company. DeepMind hasn’t launched any products publicly yet, but various technology publications say it could be as much as $500 billion. 

Which raises the question, what’s the magic formula for attracting Google’s attention?

Think of it this way: Google is the popular kid in high school and there are a whole bunch of start-ups that would love a long-term relationship with the big man on campus. How do they win Google’s affections?

Be scary-smart, according to Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research. Chowdhry says that doesn’t mean only hiring 'out-of-the-box' thinkers — those are a dime-a-dozen in tech — Google wants “exponential thinkers."

"It’s a person who can think 10 years, 20 years, 100 years ahead," he says, "and then bring all the view of the future into the present.”

Apparently, DeepMind has plenty of exponential thinkers. The start-up's founders include artificial intelligence experts and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, a 37-year-old video game designer, child prodigy in chess and a “world-class games player.”

DeepMind specializes in helping computers think more like humans, which is the other thing turning Google on right now. “The idea is to change the world by computing intelligence,” says Chowdhry.

Think about Google’s driverless cars, or its purchase last year of Boston Dynamics which makes robots for the military. Google also recently bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion, which makes smart thermostats and smoke detectors for the home.

Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank says Google is branching out, just like Apple did when it decided it was more than a computer company. “I think Google realizes that its entire eggs are in one basket, and smart companies don’t do that. Google certainly has the cash to buy and innovate its way out of that.”

Trip Chowdhry says if a tech start-up is pining for Google’s attention, all it has to do is “show Google it has the smarts and vision to help create new industries. Then push innovation to the limits.”

Piece of cake, guys. 

Trouble for the Common Core

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:00

The weekend saw yet another setback for the Common Core, new college and career-focused education standards adopted by most states. The board of the New York state teachers union has voted to withdraw support from the standards – at least as they’ve been implemented so far. It’s the latest in the drip, drip of bad news for the rollout.

When New York tested its students on the Common Core last year, more than two-thirds of them failed. Teachers say they didn’t have enough time to really teach the new math and English standards, and don’t want to be judged on the results until they’ve had that time. On Saturday New York State United Teachers' leadership voted “no confidence” in state education commissioner John King, and called for a three year moratorium on “high-stakes consequences from standardized testing.”

“This is a really big transition, and instead of actually doing it thoughtfully and preparing teachers, and preparing parents, and adjusting, revising, John King has put his foot on the accelerator of testing,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

With its 600,000 members, she says New York is the AFT’s largest state affiliate.

The vote is yet another setback for the Common Core. Teachers and parents don’t like the emphasis on testing. Conservatives don’t like the Obama Administration’s role in promoting the standards.

“What it is is another sign, [a] wakeup call, that we need to be really thoughtful about the implementation of the Common Core, and that we need to hear, very seriously, what the field is saying,” says Sonja Brookins Santelises with the Education Trust, which supports the standards.

Most states have put off new testing to give teachers more time to adjust, says Michael Petrilli with the conservative Fordham Institute. He also supports the standards, and says many teachers do too.

“The political threat on the right is much more serious,” Petrilli says. “There are many, many states, conservative states, where there are bills that have been introduced to pull the state out of the Common Core.”

“It’s going to be a big fight,” Petrilli says – one he hopes President Obama will stay out of in his State of the Union Address tomorrow night.

“He’s mentioned it two years running,” Petrilli says, “and it hasn’t helped.”

PODCAST: Emerging market jitters

Mon, 2014-01-27 08:14

Emerging markets are starting off 2014 in the worst place they've been in 5 years. Investors are fleeing after recent financial tumult in places like Argentina, Turkey, and Thailand. But that's not the only reason the stock market has hit a stumbling block.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- or face penalties -- is a little more than two months away now: March 31. A survey out today says lots of people don’t know that, highlighting just how much confusion there still is about the health care law.

Todd Dickson is trying something a bit unusual for a charter school founder. He’s recruiting students to Valor Collegiate Academy from working class neighborhoods, and Nashville’s wealthiest enclaves.

Google and Samsung make deal to share patents

Mon, 2014-01-27 08:04

Google and Samsung have announced a new licensing deal to share current and future patents over the next decade. The move is seen as a way to bolster both companies as they continue competing with chief rival, Apple.

To Florian Mueller, patent consultant and blogs at Foss Patents, the new deal isn’t much of a surprise. “It’s a peace treaty among friends, not a peace treaty among enemies,” he says.

He says after being ordered to pay Apple nearly $1 billion dollars for patent infringement last year, the deal won’t give Samsung any new legal protection. But it is good PR, especially right before a new trial is set to kick off against Apple in March?

“Samsung just wants to avoid, really strives to avoid the image and the reputation of an infringer who disrespects patent rights,” he says.

But Laurence Balter with Oracle Investment Research says this new deal is Samsung -- yet again -- borrowing from Apple’s, specifically the idea to connect all of its devices. 

“When you take a picture at your kid’s birthday party and it automatically synchs up to all your other devices, that’s the ecosystem. What Google and Samsung are trying to do is emulate that,” he says.

Balter says Samsung’s on-going litigation with Apple has pushed the Korean company to diversify.

He calls the deal with Google a no-brainer. 

How data is changing the game of basketball

Mon, 2014-01-27 07:28

Today, Marketplace Tech kicks off a new series about sports and technology. We're calling it “Gaming the System." We'll be talking Olympics, World Cup, and yes, this Sunday's Super Bowl. But first let's talk about how some people are using numbers and data tracking to try and change the way basketball is played.

Tonight, when the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Phoenix Suns, the players will each be affixed with a tiny GPS unit from a company called Catapult Technology.

"They're basically the size of, like, an apple core, and you wear them under your jersey," says 76ers superfan and blogger at Hoop76, Tom Sunnergren. "What the team can then do is get a baseline measure of how a player's optimal performance is during a practice, and then, you know, make comparisons over the course of the season.

To hear more about the 76ers' GPS units and what the team hopes to do with the data culled from them, click the audio player above.

 

The economics behind Ukraine's unrest

Mon, 2014-01-27 06:59

There's potential for a state of emergency in Ukraine this morning, where protesters are taking over government buildings. The protests began after President Viktor Yanukovych decided to align Ukraine's trade relationship with Russia, instead of the European Union. Ukraine also owes Russia billions of dollars for natural gas. Click the audio player above to hear the BBC's David Stern tell Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary about the economic underpinning of the civil unrest in Ukraine.

Emerging markets spook investors

Mon, 2014-01-27 06:42

Emerging markets are starting off 2014 in the worst place they've been in 5 years. Investors are fleeing after recent financial tumult in places like Argentina, Turkey, and Thailand. But that's not the only reason the stock market has hit a stumbling block, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Shanghai.

"It's been a pretty gloomy start to 2014, and I guess to sum it up in a nutshell, two reasons: less Fed, and less China," he says. "I think in particular, it's the less China that we should focus on, and the real worry is that Chinese growth is slowing. And that's why many analysts believe we're seeing the sea of red across the trading boards."

To hear the story, click the audio player above.

What happens when you put rich and poor students together in charter schools?

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:33

Todd Dickson is trying something a bit unusual for a charter school founder. He’s recruiting students to Valor Collegiate Academy from working class neighborhoods, and Nashville’s wealthiest enclaves.

Dickson addresses a crowd of families with the means to pay private school tuition. But the parents in this room are prepared to give public schools a chance.

A father himself, Dickson also helped start Summit Prep in the San Francisco area. There are similar charters in places like Denver and New Orleans.

Their belief is these charter schools is that all income levels benefit from learning side-by-side, helping them understand multiple perspectives.

“It’s much more authentic and easy to learn to do that well if you are learning with kids who really have different experiences and different backgrounds than you do," say Dickson

The trick is getting everyone in the same classroom.

Jennifer Erickson worries her daughter is being raised in a bubble at her private school.

 “I mean to me, education isn’t just about books. It’s about being well rounded in all areas," says Erickson. "That is a very big piece that my daughter is not getting. Of course, there are negatives that come with that.”

Well-off families often question whether these charters can really push high performers while trying to get disadvantaged students doing double time.  It’s not uncommon for some to come into middle school reading at a second-grade level.

At a recruiting session in an immigrant community center, an interpreter translates in a whisper to a Hispanic mother.

These parents here aren’t so worried about raising kids in a bubble. They’re looking for opportunity.

Hafza Mohamed’s son attends a struggling school now.

“I want him to go forward, not backward," says Mohamed.

A few of these charters with integrated student bodies have been successful getting everyone prepared for college. But advocates say there’s a bigger benefit that doesn’t show up on a report card -- relationships that span the divide between rich and poor.

Court ruling could clear up some Obamacare confusion

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:24

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- or face penalties -- is a little more than two months away now: March 31. A survey out today says lots of people don’t know that, highlighting just how much confusion there still is about the health care law.

More than half of Americans don’t know when the deadline is to sign up for health insurance, according to a report from Bankrate.com.

Granted, many of those people already have insurance.

“But we do think our findings about young adults are somewhat worrisome,” says Bankrate insurance analyst Doug Whiteman.

Everyone is counting on the young and healthy to balance out the insurance pool, to keep costs down, says Whiteman.

“We found that young adults between 18 and 29, which is the age group least likely to have health insurance, also is the group that seems least informed about the deadline,” he says.

One thing that might be preventing better awareness: 17 states have passed laws limiting the work of the so-called "navigators" who are supposed to help people sign up on the federal exchange.

Last week a federal judge blocked Missouri’s restrictions on navigators.

“By preventing navigators from doing their jobs, states really undercut and undermine a fundamental purpose of the Affordable Care Act,” says attorney Jay Angoff, who represented groups suing the state and was involved in the initial implementation of the ACA at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Angoff says the Missouri ruling could help opponents fight similar laws restricting navigators in other states.

Coffee's cheap right now, and you should be worried

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:13

Attention latte lovers, Folgers fanatics and espresso enthusiasts, your favorite cold weather beverage is getting cheaper. Coffee prices are near historic lows. Great news, right? Turns out, it’s not. To learn why, I headed to a large waterfront warehouse in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood to talk with Ed Kaufmann, director of roasting for Joe, a chain of specialty coffee shops. 

He started me off by showing me his coffee roaster, which resembles a large, stainless steel washing machine. Through a small window, you can see cream-colored beans from Mexico being roasted to a deep brown.

"The beans we use are seasonal. We have coffees from Central America and Ethopia and now we’re transitioning into Papua New Guinea, Peru and Colombia, " he says.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil and the price of coffee beans has been on a wild ride: In 2011, coffee hit $3 dollars a pound, a 14 year high. Since then, the price has dropped to less than half that, near historic lows. But that doesn't mean coffee shops like Joe change the price of your morning macchiato every month. "We can’t really fluctuate our prices with the fluctuation of the market," says Kaufmann. "Coffee drinkers are very sensitive to increases in prices."

So, when prices rise, Joe tightens its belt, cutting travel and staffing. When coffee prices drop, staffing and travel get beefed up and Joe uses fancier beans.

But when the prices drop as much as they have recently, it only sets us up for another spike. "Coffee prices are now at such a low level that farmers are losing money," says Ross Colbert, a global beverage strategist at Rabobank. "The risk here is that farmers will replace coffee with other crops."

That could create a shortage of coffee and cause prices to rise. Add speculators and an increasingly global market to the mix and the price fluctuations for commodities like coffee become even more extreme. "The price of a crop rises,  so the farmers say, 'I want to plant more of that crop.'" says  Andrew Burns, economist at the World Bank. "Supply increases substantially and rather than the price falling to that equilibrium position, it actually falls way past it."

To cope with these wild swings, Joe’s Ed Kaufmann is working on drawing up contracts with growers. "We’re hopefully going to be able to lock in prices and work outside of the fluctuating market," he says. Kaufmann hopes the contracts will mean the price is right for him to get the quality beans he needs and for farmers to earn enough to keep our cups full.

Tunisia's economy still recovering, 3 years after Arab Spring

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:03

A little over three years ago, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire and sparked the Arab Spring. A big part of the revolution had its root in economic instability. This weekend was a milestone for Tunisia. The North African country adopted a new constitution.

The lead-up to the new constitution was characterized by political instability that no doubt hurt the economy. Tourism, which makes up 12 percent of GDP, was especially hard hit. But the adoption of the new constitution could assure foreign investors and tourists that it's safe to come to Tunisia. "This is also going to reassure and give confidence to local companies and the local economy," says Riccardo Fabiana, the lead North Africa analyst with the Eurasia Group. "However", he adds, "this is probably not going to be enough."

One of Tunisia's biggest problems prior to the revolution was corruption and cronyism. The good news is that many of those corrupt officials have been removed from power. "Now these cronies are gone. But the barriers and the regulation are still there and are still somewhat of a structural problem for the private sector," says World Bank economist Jean-Luc Bernasconi. Bernasconi believes the new government will have to create policy reforms to solve these larger structural problems.

But Tunisia's slow economic growth is also the result of weak European economies, something the new government cannot control.

What's your Facebook credit score?

Fri, 2014-01-24 14:37

We know that credit goes way beyond the plastic in our wallets -- from how much debt we carry to paying it off on time. Now, some credit agencies are looking into using our social media information in our credit reports.

Credit expert John Ulzheimer says what we post and who we add as friends on social media can have farer reaching effects than we think. “It’s the whole mantra, birds of a feather tend to flock together. And if you tend to connect with people who are high risk or higher risk borrowers, then the perception is that you are as well. And that’s really where the issue lies.”

It's not hard to figure out why credit agencies would want to know what you're like as a person to decide if you're worthy of a loan or credit card, but, is it legal? Ulzheimer says that remains to be seen. "Whether or not it’s legal really is up to how it is perceived in the Equal Opportunity Credit Act. It has to be built using science.”

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have treasure troves full of information that they could sell, but actually selling personal information could lead to headaches down the road, according to Ulzheimer. “Here is the massive, massive problem that ... social media sites are going to have to deal with. Right now, none of those companies are referred to as a 'consumer reporting agency.' The Fair Credit Reporting Act has a very clear definition of what is a consumer reporting agency. The minute any of these social media sites decide to monetize their information for the purposes of allowing lenders and credit reporting agencies to assess the risk … of consumers, they also become become a consumer reporting agency … you’re going to be in the crosshairs for any number of federal fair credit reporting lawsuits.”

So, should you worry? Ulzheimer says don't go into paralysis over your social media networks, but if there's something you want to remain private, don't post it. "I would just be very careful, that if you’re not willing to tell everybody something, then don’t post it on Facebook, don’t put it on Twitter.”

Sound advice, even beyond credit scores.

Moustaches are up; shaving is down

Fri, 2014-01-24 14:34

Procter and Gamble reported quarterly profits this morning. Turns out they're down 16 percent, in part because sales at Gillette were off, as beards and mustaches are apparently becoming more popular.

Chief Financial officer John Moeller said this to the Financial Times: "While the incidence of facial shaving is somewhat down... the incidence of body shaving is up, and we can take advantage of that."

You can't unhear that.

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