Farhad and Nicole’s Week in Tech: Russia, Russia Everywhere

Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Mike is off this week, so Nicole Perlroth, who covers cybersecurity, took his place.

Russians Harnessing American Tech

Farhad: O.K., it was a big week in tech. We should probably start with the thing we’ve been talking about every week for, what, 300 years now? Facebook and Russia. In a report this week, a couple of our colleagues found that when Russian operatives set out to sow civil unrest in America on Facebook, they turned to an obvious source — political messages posted by Americans.

The Russians created Facebook pages that had names like “Being Patriotic” and “Blacktivist,” and they populated their pages with videos and memes created by Americans — for instance, a hoax story about Muslim men collecting welfare checks for multiple wives. I found the story fascinating because the whole thing is so banal. You have this picture of foreign spies using James Bond-type technology to go after an enemy’s political system. Nope, turns out they went about it exactly how you or I might do it — they found some videos online and posted them on Facebook.

Nicole: Yup. It turns out the Kremlin has found their sweet spot in the ugly fault lines in American politics. They’ve truly exploited our country’s political grievances, cultural resentments, news literacy and diminishing faith in once-trusted institutions like the news media to bring out the worst in us, simply by creating some Facebook pages. Who would have thought that Russians would be behind a pro-Texas fan page disseminating pro-secessionist Texas messages, or a “Blacktivist” page advocating for more protests against racial inequality?

Farhad: It wasn’t just Facebook. Google disclosed this week that Russian operatives also bought ads on its platform to interfere with the 2016 race. The amounts were small — about $4,700 in ads from the Russian government — but they added to the overall story line, which is that the tech giants’ platforms are being used in ways they probably had never foreseen.

Nicole: Did we really think Russia was going to try to hack election databases in 21 states, and pour that many resources into Facebook and not touch Google, the No. 1 source of information for most Americans?

It’s frustrating that this is only coming out now, but to be fair, much of the Russian activity was not exactly obvious. The silver lining is that we may finally be getting some answers. This week, the House Intelligence Committee said it would turn over Russian Facebook ad content, after meeting with Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Read the full article here: http://nyti.ms/2zxLXbX

Chase takes top spot for first time in over 20 years

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For the first time in 23 years, JPMorgan Chase is the largest US bank by deposits, a distinction Bank of America (BofA) held for nearly 20 years, according to the Charlotte Observer citing data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Chase, which was already the largest US bank by assets, saw its customers add $96 billion to their accounts over the last year to reach $1.3 trillion, a 7.9% increase year-over-year (YoY), surpassing BofA’s $1.29 trillion. This milestone comes at a time when banks have been aggressively jockeying to capture a larger share of financial transactions, which has placed an increased focus on card rewards and digital channels.

By leveraging their rewards programs and digital channels, banks are hoping to spur growth in key areas.

  • Banks are offering some of the highest card rewards ever seen to increase spend and adoption of card products. In fact, the six largest credit card issuers incurred an estimated $22.6 billion in credit card rewards expenses in 2016, more than double the costs seen in 2010, according to Instinet data cited by the Financial Times. However, for banks, these rewards appear to pay for themselves in adoption and spend — for example, after launching its reward-filled Sapphire Reserve card, Chase reported a 35% increase in new card accounts in Q3 2016, and an over 50% lift on credit card spending.

Read the full article here: http://read.bi/2ywuqSY 

The Making Of A Young Latino VC: Meet Rami Reyes

In 2016, I helped to lead a delegation of Latino entrepreneurs and investors to visit Israel — a land also known as Startup Nation — to see what we can learn from the local tech intelligentsia. It was my second delegation, and I was prepared to be surprised in several ways. I had a phrase for one kind of surprise: “the person on the delegation who provokes the most wonder.” In 2016, that person was Rami Reyes, an investor in our group who made practically everyone ask:

“what’s this kid doing here?”

Yes, Rami is young. He turned 29 this year. He’s also baby-faced (in a good way), adding a layer of special optics to the matching reality. Yet beneath the youthful exterior lies a mix of old-soul traits that I have found in the most accomplished investors in Silicon Valley (like the mighty Gilman Louie, who I am writing about next week).

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2ybLoV9

Why the Internet Is Freaking Out Over The Last Jedi’s Porgs

R2-D2. EWOKS. BB-8. With nearly every addition to the Star Wars film franchise, there has been some new creature or droid that has delighted audiences and found its way onto lunchboxes and pajama bottoms. Star Wars: The Last Jediwill be no different. This time around, though, the fandom’s obsession with the movie’s creature du jour is already in full swing long before the flick hits theaters.

Mere moments after The Last Jedi’s new trailer (above) dropped last night, it started: porg mania. The little creature—a Furby-esque species native to the world where Rey and Luke Skywalker met at the end of The Force Awakens—only shows up for about a second in the new trailer, but its singular cry from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon was all it took. Soon, tweets, memes, and fan art were everywhere. There was no escaping its giant saucer eyes and frantically flapping wings.

This reaction was by design. Much like the studio did with BB-8 before Force Awakens, Lucasfilm has been touting porgs as the New Cute Thing for a few months now. It started back in July when a D23 behind-the-scenes video a showed the little bugger in development. That was quickly followed by a piece on StarWars.com that touted “We know only one truth: We love porgs” and offered up a full explanation of their cuteness from Lucasfilm story group’s Pablo Hidalgo. “Porgs are native to Ahch-To,” he explained. “In many ways, they’re the Star Wars version of puffins. They build nests. They can fly. Their babies are called porglets. You fall into those deep, soulful eyes. I think a lot of people are going to want a porg as a pet.”

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2yXnr2N

The Female Code-Breakers Who Were Left Out of History Books

Over the last 100 years, women have had significant, high-level roles in breaking secret codes – from Nazi ciphers to the secret messages of Al Capone’s gang – but their contribution is only just emerging.

Picture this. In 1917, the United States is just entering World War One. But to begin with, its military is small and its capacity for intelligence gathering is severely limited. There is no NSA or CIA. In fact, military code-breaking is being done on a small but intense scale – at a mansion estate in the Illinois countryside owned by an eccentric millionaire.

And the two people at the centre of this extraordinary operation are the code-breaking team Elizebeth Smith and William Friedman, who would later marry. Neither had formal training in cryptanalysis. Elizebeth had studied Shakespeare and Tennyson at college and Friedman had a PhD in genetics. But – as is important both in literary and genetic analysis – the two were adept at recognising patterns.

They now found themselves cracking enemy codes sent from Washington at the only place in the country where this sort of work was, at that time, being done for the military.

Read the full article here: http://bbc.in/2gtOEmR

Ford Analytics Team Democratizes Data-Driven Analysis

“We literally have more than 1,000 examples where we’re applying this sort of in-depth analysis – and we’re doing it across the business.” – Alan Jacobson, Director of Global Analytics

Organizations that want to apply consistent data management, governance and security practices across their organization can learn a lot from Ford Motor Company. Data-driven decision making led Ford Motor Company to perfect the vehicle assembly line in 1913. A century later, Ford had more than 4,600 data sources, and a wide range of analytical tools, methods, and processes in use throughout the company, and needed a more strategic approach to decision-making.

With the appointment of a Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Ford elevated data-driven decision-making to C-Level status, a crucial step in the journey to digital transformation. And, with the creation of the Global Data Insights and Analytics (GDIA) unit, Ford invested in making data and data science talent strategic assets that can be shared and applied across the organization.

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2ycaEKL

Unintended Consequences of Sexual Harassment Scandals

In Silicon Valley, some male investors have declined one-on-one meetings with women, or rescheduled them from restaurants to conference rooms. On Wall Street, certain senior men have tried to avoid closed-door meetings with junior women. And in TV news, some male executives have scrupulously minded their words in conversations with female talent.

In interviews, the men describe a heightened caution because of recent sexual harassment cases, and they worry that one accusation, or misunderstood comment, could end their careers. But their actions affect women’s careers, too — potentially depriving them of the kind of relationships that lead to promotions or investments.

Read the full article here: http://nyti.ms/2kGTv92

More Uber Drama, and Few Answers From Facebook

Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Mike: Bonjour, Farhad!

So I just got back from a quick trip to Los Angeles for a conference, and every time I’m out there I think I want to move there. The weather is perfect, there are celebrities everywhere, and they even have a Shake Shack! There’s just one problem: I don’t think I’m attractive enough to be admitted. Everyone was in great shape. What gives?

Farhad: Well, I can’t argue with you there. You have a face for Silicon Valley. On the bright side, at least our traffic isn’t as bad?

Mike: Yes, well, we can discuss this later. Maybe someday, when I become the next Brad Pitt, I’ll be let in. On to the tech news!

The Latest Revelations About Uber

Mike: Let’s start with everyone’s favorite tragi-comedy, Uber. This week, a court unsealed a key document in the continuing legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car unit spun out of Google. It isn’t a smoking gun, in that it doesn’t prove Uber is using trade secrets stolen from Google in its self-driving car designs, the aim of the entire suit. 

But it did paint a pretty ugly picture of Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer who sold his company to Uber after leaving Google and taking thousands of files with him. Not exactly a good look, if you’re trying to work again in the tech industry.

Farhad: Does he need to work again, though? One thing we didn’t mention last week was the great Wired profile of Mr. Levandowski, which contained this nugget: He seems to be creating his own religious organization, a church meant to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” See, when your god is A.I., maybe you don’t need to be in the good graces of tech companies.

Mike: Yeah. In more upbeat news for Uber, the company’s dramatic boardroom struggles seem to be coming closer to peace. The board this week voted for a significant set of governance changes to the company, including imposing some significant restrictions on Travis Kalanick, the former chief executive, who was pushed out of the company by his investors but remains on Uber’s board.

There were compromises. For one, the board confirmed the addition of two new members — Ursula Burns, the former head of Xerox, and John Thain, former chief executive of Merrill Lynch — who were stealthily added by Mr. Kalanick last week. But the board also agreed to add six more seats for new directors to bring more “independent” voices to the company.

Six new board members! That brings Uber’s board seats to a whopping 17 once they decide who will join.

Can you imagine what those meetings will be like? I have a hard time wrangling more than two friends to meet somewhere for dinner on a text messaging thread.

Farhad: I think it’s pretty cool. Most other tech giants are totally controlled by a single person — usually one white guy. Uber’s board looks totally dysfunctional, but it’s interesting how it has been muddling along to the right decision every now and then. First it picked a good C.E.O., and now it succeeded in reducing the power of its toxic founder. That’s not a bad record.

Read the full article here: http://nyti.ms/2yf81ta

Three New Facebook Ad Features to Boost Your ROI

While planning Facebook campaigns, I noticed new features that Facebook had recently introduced. Curious, I decided to check them out… and here’s the takeaway: These features are definitely worth a try! They will help make life easier for Facebook advertisers.

1. Split-Testing

Split-testing is just the same as A/B testing. Facebook tests your campaigns on the basis of the parameters you select. It also allows testing three variations, like A/B/C testing; however, you can test only one variable at a time. The system creates a different audience group and runs the campaign.

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2guOxYz

5 Black Friday Secrets of Highly Successful Online Retailers

Amazon might be the king of the hill for the moment, with 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S., but there are still plenty of retailers running highly successful campaigns on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Why are they more successful than others? What’s their secret?

Let’s look at five Black Friday and Cyber Monday approaches highly successful online retailers tend to have in common.

1. Start Early

This is a common piece of advice given this time of the year, but it is just as often ignored. Consumers know there are big discounts coming but it doesn’t mean they always know what they want. Pique their interest and build anticipation by previewing your best products and their discounts. Remember, if you’re starting on Thursday before Black Friday, there will be too much noise to cut through.

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2kFsnXU