Did Yahoo sell out its users and its values? Last year, Yahoo complied with U.S. intelligence demands to scan all incoming emails for a search phrase, according to an investigation by Joe Menn at Reuters. The company has denied aspects of the report. If Yahoo did what Reuters describes, it not only went beyond what other tech giants that manage our mail (like Google and Microsoft) have been willing to do; it also violated the basic trust that customers of internet services place in their providers. The Reuters report comes on the heels of news that 500 million Yahoo user accounts had their information exposed by a massive break-in. That leaves Yahoo with a double black eye — right as it’s trying to sell itself to Verizon. Users expect and deserve privacy and security. The government wants to foil terrorist plots. It’s up to companies to carefully walk the narrow line between customer rights and law-enforcement needs; instead, it looks like Yahoo staggered drunkenly into a roadside ditch. If the company hopes to retain a shred of public trust, CEO Marissa Mayer should commission an impartial external investigation — but that’s unlikely in the middle of an acquisition.
No one is looking our carbon problem in the eye. Hey, now that the European Union has joined the U.S., China, India, and many other nations in embracing last year’s Paris climate agreement, it’s going to become binding (NPR). Good news, everybody! Or maybe not. The fuzzy goals the Paris agreement sets, and its lax system for letting countries adopt their own plans, means that we are almost certainly going to miss the Paris target of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. If we were actually serious about 2 degrees, writes David Roberts (Vox), it would mean “no more exploring for new fossil fuels. No new mines, wells, or fossil fuel infrastructure. And rapid, managed decline in existing fossil fuels.” Nobody’s proposing that. Even the best-case scenarios we’re playing under assume that, as the 21st century progresses, the human species is going to have to develop some extremely effective new technologies to recover carbon from the atmosphere and bury it in the ground. This, according to Roberts, is “a huge and existentially risky bet” on the future of humanity and the planet. Maybe there should be a question or two on this at the next presidential debate. Maybe it should get an entire debate of its own.
Uber’s self-driving cars hit some bumps. Reports from the Pittsburgh streets, where Uber has rolled out the first test of its self-driving car program, suggest that the cars aren’t perfect drivers. Quartz has compiled accounts of the cars turning the wrong way onto one-way streets (there’s video of that one), getting into minor accidents at intersections, and more. Now, of course Uber’s program is going to have problems and bugs — that’s not news. What’s disturbing is Uber’s secretive, furtive approach to the incidents. If the public is going to have any faith in the safety of this new technology, the companies pushing it need to share their data as they learn how to make it work — as the federal government is urging them. Right now, it looks instead like Uber is putting the competitive advantage of secrecy ahead of everything else. That’s a recipe for eventual scandal — and an over-regulation backlash.
It’s not the factory jobs we miss — it’s the benefits. Politicians of both parties keep promising to resurrect the manufacturing sector. Mostly, that’s nostalgia for the middle-class boom that the mid-20th-century U.S. experienced on its shoulders. If we can’t recreate these jobs, we could instead focus on replicating the quality-of-life and quality-of-work benefits they once offered, and bestowing them on the service-sector jobs that are now America’s working reality (Binyamin Appelbaum, The New York Times). Today’s economy is loaded with fast food servers and healthcare aides, and the steelworkers aren’t returning. Why not give these service-industry laborers raises, unions, vacations, and all the other things that make people so nostalgic for factory jobs? It would be a grand experiment. Classical economic theory tells us that the jobs will vanish; but the work will still need to be done. Maybe such measures would just result in some healthy rebalancing of the U.S. economy’s excesses.
Hillary might be serious about reviving tough antitrust rules. In a speech on Monday, as in some previous addresses, Hillary Clinton offered some tough monopoly-busting words (The New Republic). If she wins in November, she won’t need Congress to pass new laws if she wants to crack down on anti-competitive companies and practices — she’ll just need to appoint people who believe in strong antitrust enforcement, and there’s a rising tide of those in the legal and economics world. Not since the original Progressive Era, a century ago, has the U.S. seen Washington make sustained antitrust efforts — we’ve practically forgotten what that feels like. It makes business leaders very unhappy, but it could help loosen up some of our economy’s jammed gears, too.
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