The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
If technology makes a particular kind of data collection possible, sooner or later some business will try to use that info to target ads. But sometimes the creepiness factor can get so intense that alarms go off. That’s what happened earlier this month with an alarming report from Australia, which suggested that Facebook was studying how to target young people in distress.
The company had conducted research intended to gauge the effectiveness of ads aimed at young users during “moments of psychological vulnerability,” and delivered the results to advertisers in a 23-page report (Nitasha Tiku in Wired). Facebook’s response implied that the project was a rogue operation that hadn’t followed stricter research guidelines put in place after Facebook’s last controversial study of psychological manipulation. But the details are disturbing enough on their own, and they have watchdog groups and privacy advocates mobilizing.
As Tiku writes: “Welcome to the next phase of Facebook privacy backlash, where the big fear isn’t just what Facebook knows about its users but whether that knowledge can be weaponized in ways those users cannot see, and would never knowingly allow.”
The equation is simple: Real-time social network and messaging updates + sentiment analysis + machine learning = advertisements that know how you feel right now. The power of this kind of surveillance isn’t limited to consumer-based products, either: Think about how much real-time information an office communication tool like Slack provides — and how employers might use it to manipulate workers. (Quartz has a good take on this concern.)
Even if its denials are true, Facebook is clearly going to keep being tempted to “weaponize” the data it collects on behalf of advertisers and its own bottom line. The European Union is steadily tightening its privacy rules to limit how far Facebook and other companies can go. Under a more thoughtful administration, the U.S. would be doing the same.
For Many U.S. Employees, Freedom Ends Where Work Begins
“Freedom” is a watchword for American conservatives and an ideal for citizens of all stripes, but too much of how our business world handles employment leaves workers anything but free (Paul Krugman in The New York Times).
Noncompete clauses now cover nearly one in five American workers. The tool, originally intended to protect trade secrets, now serves as a kind of employment straitjacket, locking workers into their jobs and removing any leverage they might have in negotiating better salaries or working conditions.
In the U.S., health insurance rules have long worked to enforce another kind of job lock-in: If you had any kind of “pre-existing condition,” the only way you could get insured was through an employer. Obamacare changed that, but its reforms are now under massive assault by the Republican majority in Congress.
Recent court rulings and executive orders have aligned the federal government with free-market absolutists who advocate removing as many restraints from businesses as possible. But when it comes to rescuing workers from restraints, these freedom fighters suddenly lose interest.
Women Are Everywhere in AI
Artificial intelligence/machine learning, like so many other software-based fields, can look awfully male if you just glance at conference speaking rosters or look at media profiles. But that’s a mistaken and incomplete picture, as a Forbes survey of leading women in AI demonstrates.
These mini-profiles of 20 research scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers and innovators suggest that there’s no shortage of extraordinarily talented and experienced women working in the trenches and at the forefront of this blossoming discipline. If we’re not seeing their names on conference schedules and in media coverage, it’s our own fault.
Fields of Plenty, Under a Roof
The annals are full of startups that have tried and failed to prove that indoor, “vertical,” or urban farming can produce food as cheaply and more sustainably than old-fashioned open-field farming. But recent entrant Plenty isn’t fazed, and its founders believe they’ve finally figured out how to make the math work (Fast Company).
Plenty grows specialty crops like chives, mizuna, sorrel, and kale from heirloom seeds. Its vertical beds are engineered for efficient irrigation and LED lighting. The company’s model allows it to grow produce much closer to the point of sale, allowing more delicate kinds of foods to reach market in tastier shape and with more nutrients intact. If things go well, Plenty’s pilot project in San Francisco this year will be followed by other cities in 2018. Berries, tomatoes, and cucumbers will join greens on the menu.