Shareholders Force Exxon’s Feet to Climate Fire


Photo: Lippincott

Today’s Top Stories
 — Climate Isn’t the Only Thing Changing for Exxon Mobil: Investors want to know more about the environmental risks ahead.
 — And Then There Were None: The S&P 500 loses its only black woman CEO.
 — Facebook Isn’t Biased, According to Facebook: Internal research exonerates the company from intentional messing with its Trending Topics. Of course it did.
 — A Tale of Two Countries: The America of big cities is thriving and entrepreneurial. The other is in trouble.
 — Google Turns Off Most Useful Feature of Its New App: It has end-to-end encryption, but it doesn’t ship that way.

Climate Isn’t the Only Thing Changing for Exxon Mobil
 Shareholders are supposedly interested in a rising stock price no matter what, but some attempts to prop up stock prices may benefit the environment, however inadvertently. At Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting tomorrow, investors will vote on a resolution to force the company to reveal what climate change might do to its business (New York Times). Similar resolutions have gone nowhere in the past, but a recent SEC ruling said the vote has to happen this time. Some of those behind the resolution are activist investors who want the company to change policy; others just want transparency so they can make better investment decisions. Either way, it looks like the largest publicly traded energy company in the world is going to have to be more accountable even to those who don’t care about climate change.

And Then There Were None
 Xerox’s Ursula Burns is the only black woman running an S&P 500 company. Better make that “was” the only black woman (Quartz). She announced yesterday that she’s stepping down later this year when Xerox splits into two. (She’ll stay on as chairman.) Her tenure was a rough one and perhaps another example of the “glass cliff” phenomenon, in which women get the top job only when a company is doomed (think Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer). Regardless of Burns’s performance, the current situation, in which 4.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 1% are black, and soon 0% are black women, does not reflect well on the world’s largest companies.

Facebook Isn’t Biased, According to Facebook
 Yesterday Facebook released an internal report asserting that there is no systemic bias in its Trending Topics (The Verge). But just to make sure, it says, it’s changing how those topics are chosen. To guard against “unintentional bias,” Facebook is tossing its list of 1,000 or so websites it uses to gauge the newsworthiness of a topic, “as well as the RSS feeds it uses to aide its algorithms.” It’s another step in the company’s attempt to quickly distance itself from charges of anti-conservative bias that may be spurious but threaten to bring unwanted attention in this most improvisational of political seasons. The solution Facebook is offering, it seems, is to keep humans away from the algorithms. But who do company officials think wrote those algorithms? As ProPublica reports, human-written software to predict future criminals can have bias, too, with terrible results.

A Tale of Two Countries
 It’s become conventional wisdom that companies have to scale or they won’t succeed. That might be true for cities, too. An analysis of Census Bureau data conducted by the Economic Innovation Group, which identifies itself as “a bipartisan research and advocacy organization” (the founders include Sean Parker) contend that startups are much less common away from large cities (Washington Post). The study shows that entrepreneurial activity in large cities is more or less flat while it is falling elsewhere. Underlining this perspective is a recent Brookings Institution analysis of Moody’s Analytics data, which states that the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. had “recovered all of the jobs they lost in the Great Recession and added nearly 6 million jobs. The rest of the country, combined, was barely 300,000 jobs over its pre-recession peak.” Those on a mission are headed for the big city.

Google Turns Off Most Useful Feature of Its New App
 Google boasts that its upcoming messaging app Allo has end-to-end encryption built in. The only problem? Google’s default for that secure setting is “off.” (Los Angeles Times). Competitors encrypt end-to-end by default, and privacy wags are mixed on Google’s move. Edward Snowden calls the default-off decision “dangerous” and “unsafe.” Others say Allo could still be a net positive, although even some of those folks acknowledge that Google’s move was probably an attempt to placate government agencies. The app isn’t released yet and there’s evidence that there’s plenty of discussion inside Google as to whether this was the right approach, so the controversy is not over. At the very least, it will be instructive to learn how Google balances the needs of its individual customers with the needs of the governments that regulate it.

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