Archives December 18, 2020

TikTok: Rampant product placement

In the world of TikTok, brands have the opportunity to get products out into the real world – or make stories of them already being out there. The platform turns placement into consumption as consumers participate – or play – with the products. Product placement on the platform could come from just giving products out to creators, or partnering with them, as is done on other platforms. However, it could also come from amplifying organic content or trends that are already happening with a brand’s products … Viewers are the stars. When it comes to distinguishing between viewers and audiences on TikTok, just as with content and ads, the lines are blurred. In fact, many TikTok users are also creators. For these creators, the feed is their stage and this where the opportunity for sponsorship and placement lies for brands.

Hundreds Riot, Thousands Protest at iPhone Factory in India

The international news agency AFP reports on “a violent rampage at a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory in southern India” leading to over 100 arrests. About 2,000 workers were involved in the protest, reports the Verge, citing the Indian Express newspaper.

The workers are protesting over allegations of unpaid wages and exploitation, according to AFP. “Local media reported workers saying they had not been paid for up to four months and were being forced to do extra shifts…”
Workers at the Taiwanese-run Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing near Bangalore smashed glass panels with rods and flipped cars on their side… CCTV cameras, fans and lights were torn down, while a car was set on fire, footage shared on social media showed…

A local trade union leader alleged that there was “brutal exploitation” of factory workers in sweatshop conditions at the iPhone manufacturing plant. “The state government has allowed the company to flout the basic rights,” Satyanand, who uses one name, told The Hindu newspaper… Labour unrest is not uncommon in India, with workers paid poorly and given few or no social security benefits.

High-Frequency Traders Push Closer To Light Speed With Cutting-Edge Cables

High-frequency traders are using an experimental type of cable to speed up their systems by billionths of a second, the latest move in a technological arms race to execute stock trades as quickly as possible. From a report:
The cable, called hollow-core fiber, is a next-generation version of the fiber-optic cable used to deliver broadband internet to homes and businesses. Made of glass, such cables carry data encoded as beams of light. But instead of being solid, hollow-core fiber is empty inside, with dozens of parallel, air-filled channels narrower than a human hair. Because light travels nearly 50% faster through air than glass, it takes about one-third less time to send data through hollow-core fiber than through the same length of standard fiber. The difference is often just a minuscule fraction of a second. But in high-frequency trading, that can make the difference between profits and losses. HFT firms use sophisticated algorithms and ultrafast data networks to execute rapid-fire trades in stocks, options and futures. Many are secretive about their trading strategies and technology.

Hollow-core fiber is the latest in a series of advances that fast traders have used to try to outrace their competition. A decade ago, a company called Spread Networks spent about $300 million to lay fiber-optic cable in a straight line from Chicago to New York, so traders could send data back and forth along the route in just 13 milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. Within a few years the link was superseded by microwave networks that reduced transmission times along the route to less than nine milliseconds. HFT firms have also used lasers to zip data between the data centers of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and they have embedded their algorithms in superfast computer chips. Now, faced with the limits of physics and technology, traders are left fighting over nanoseconds. “The time increments of these improvements have gotten markedly smaller,” said Michael Persico, chief executive of Anova Financial Networks, a technology provider that runs communications networks used by HFT firms. High-frequency trading is controversial, with critics saying that some ultrafast strategies amount to an invisible tax on investors. Industry representatives say such criticism is unfounded.

Australia Sues Facebook Over Its Use of Onavo To Snoop

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing Facebook over its use, in 2016 and 2017, of the Onavo VPN app to spy on users for commercial purposes. From a report:
The ACCC’s case accuses Facebook of false, misleading or deceptive conduct toward thousands of Australian consumers, after it had promoted the Onavo Protect app — saying it would keep users personal activity data private, protected and secret and not use it for any other purpose, when it was being used to gather data to help Facebook’s business. “Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in a statement. “Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook.”

Facebook Said It’s Developing A Tool To Read Your Brain

Facebook told employees this week that it’s developing a tool to summarize news articles so users won’t have to read them. It also laid out early plans for a neural sensor to detect people’s thoughts and translate them into action. From a report:
[…] He [Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer] also detailed a neural sensor to read commandments from people’s brains. Having acquired neural interface startup CTRL-labs in 2019, Facebook demonstrated its progress in the field with a sensor that takes “neural signals coming from my brain, down my spinal cord along my arm, to my wrist” and allows a user to make a physical action. Schroepfer noted that it could be used for typing, holding a virtual object, or controlling a character in a video game. “We all get the privilege of seeing the future because we are making it,” he said. Still, Facebook’s chief technology officer seemed to anticipate any criticisms of the products — or past failures — by touting safety measures. “We have to build responsibly to earn trust and the right to continue to grow,” he said. “It’s imperative that we get this right so that people around the world get all these amazing technologies … without experiencing the downsides.”

How the Nature Conservancy, the World’s Biggest Environmental Group, Became a Dealer of Meaningless Carbon Offsets

At first glance, big corporations appear to be protecting great swaths of U.S. forests in the fight against climate change. JPMorgan Chase & Co. has paid almost $1 million to preserve forestland in eastern Pennsylvania. Forty miles away, Walt Disney has spent hundreds of thousands to keep the city of Bethlehem, Pa., from aggressively harvesting a forest that surrounds its reservoirs. Across the state line in New York, investment giant BlackRock has paid thousands to the city of Albany to refrain from cutting trees around its reservoirs. JPMorgan, Disney, and BlackRock tout these projects as an important mechanism for slashing their own large carbon footprints.

By funding the preservation of carbon-absorbing forests, the companies say, they’re offsetting the carbon-producing impact of their global operations. But in all of those cases, the land was never threatened; the trees were already part of well-preserved forests. Rather than dramatically change their operations — JPMorgan executives continue to jet around the globe, Disney’s cruise ships still burn oil, and BlackRock’s office buildings gobble up electricity — the corporations are working with the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental group, to employ far-fetched logic to help absolve them of their climate sins. By taking credit for saving well-protected land, these companies are reducing nowhere near the pollution that they claim. […]

China Turns On Nuclear-Powered ‘Artificial Sun’

China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities. Phys.Org reports:
The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source. It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People’s Daily — approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun. Located in southwestern Sichuan province and completed late last year, the reactor is often called an “artificial sun” on account of the enormous heat and power it produces. They plan to use the device in collaboration with scientists working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — the world’s largest nuclear fusion research project based in France, which is expected to be completed in 2025.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Status Lowered To ‘Critical’ and Deteriorating

The health status of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has officially declined from “significant concern” to “critical” for the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced this week. CBS News reports:
It said climate change is now the biggest threat to natural World Heritage sites, including the world’s largest and most spectacular coral reef. According to the new report, one-third of the 252 natural World Heritage sites are now threatened by climate change. Previously, invasive species were listed as the top threat.

The Great Barrier Reef must contend with ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather to stay alive amid record heat waves. It has lost half of its coral to climate change since 1995, with its status now listed as “critical” — the most urgent designated status in the classification system of the UNESCO advisory board. Sites listed as critical are “severely treated and require urgent, additional and large-scale conservation measures,” the report said. Additionally, the report warns that plans to protect the reef long-term have been slow to implement, failing to stop or reverse the reef’s deterioration.
The report adds that four other Australian world heritage sites have also deteriorated and received lowered statuses — the Blue Mountains, the Gondwana rainforests, the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay. “Overall, more sites have deteriorated than improved since 2017,” reports CBS News.

US Air Pollution Monitoring Network Falling Into Disrepair

The U.S. air pollution monitoring network has fallen into disrepair after years of budget cuts and neglect, leaving tens of millions of Americans vulnerable to undetected bad air quality from events like wildfires to industrial pollution, according to a report by the investigative arm of Congress. Reuters:
The conclusions from a 2-1/2-year audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirm key findings in a Reuters special report published last week that detailed broad failures in the air-pollution monitoring system, whose data guides U.S. regulatory policy and informs the public about health risks. Federal funding for the air monitoring network, which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and operated and maintained by state and local environmental agencies, has declined by about 20% since 2004, after adjusting for inflation, leaving it in poor condition, according to the GAO report viewed by Reuters. The GAO report said some agencies have reported termite damage and leaky roofs at shelters housing sensitive but aging pollution monitoring equipment, and one state agency resorted to shopping on eBay to find used monitor parts because the manufacturer had stopped making them.

China Expanding Weather-Control Program To Make Artificial Rain, Snow

China is massively expanding its weather-control project, and is aiming to be able to cover half the country in artificial rain and snow by 2025, the government said Tuesday. Business Insider reports:
The practice of “cloud seeding” was discovered in the US in 1946 by a chemist working for General Electric. China launched its own similar program in the 1960s. Dozens of other countries — including the US — also have such programs, but Beijing has the world’s largest, employing around 35,000 people, The Guardian reported.

In a statement, China’s State Council said that the country’s cloud seeing project will expand fivefold to cover an area of 2.1 million square miles and be completed by 2025. (China encompasses 3.7 million square miles, meaning the project could cover 56% of the country’s surface area.) The project will be at a “worldwide advanced level” by 2035, the State Council said, and will help alleviate “disasters such as drought and hail” and facilitate emergency responses “to forest or grassland fires.”