American Airlines Just Suffered a Huge Embarrassment. But Is It Really the Airline's Fault?

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Frequent business flyers can be an insipid, self-regarding bunch.

They watch the masses troop to the back of the plane, sip on their champagne and smugly pat themselves on the back for their evident superiority.

Airlines pander to them, of course. They want their money on a repeat basis. 

Sometimes, though, you have to wonder what goes through fine minds of so-called Elites.

Last weekend saw the release of a video — posted to Twitter by travel blogger Jamie Larounis — that starrred four female American Airlines Flight Attendants.

They were in slightly more alluring Flight Attendant attire than that normally seen on board.

And they were performing a skit in which they fawned all over a First Class passenger. 

You know, um, sexily.

The organizers of this, oh, entertainment, reportedly were some Executive Platinum and Concierge Key customers. Yes, American’s most important passengers.

It was held at a private venue and was supposed to raise money for charity.

Some might be less than charitable on seeing that the performance featured a large American Airlines logo in the background.

It’s not clear who took this liberty, but American did offer a few items for auction at this event.

I feel fairly sure its brand image wasn’t one of them.

Perhaps this was all good clean, humorous insider fun for these privileged types.

The part, however, that may have caused a little more consternation was when the four female Flight Attendants began to dance — with alleged sexy intent — around a First Class passenger.

To heighten the steamy effect, they sang Big Spender.

[embedded content]

Yes, of course a Flight Attendant ends up sitting on the customer’s lap. You needed to ask?

The song was first performed in 1966.

And goodness me, this skit wouldn’t have looked out of place then.

These days, however, it might reek to many of bilge-brained sexism.

The fawning Flight Attendants are, reports say, real Dallas-based American Airlines Flight Attendants.

Which led the The Association of Professional Flight Attendants — representing American’s Flight Attendants — to demand an investigation.

There was the suspicion, you see, that the airline had some involvement in all this.

The Transport Workers Union — which also represents many American Airlines employees — saw the invisible hand of American’s management in the show. It claims this is all part of the airline’s strategy: 

Destroy blue collar America and expose air travelers to potential disaster by fixing AA planes on foreign soil, while simultaneously sexualizing and degrading their own flight attendants.

Naturally, I contacted American to ask for its view. It offered me the contents of a memo it sent on Sunday to all its staff. It read, in part: 

This was not an American Airlines event. We did not have any say about the content of the event, nor did we preview any of the agenda. Additionally, we were particularly upset to see our logo on the screen as the skit was performed.

Well, indeed. American also said: “We are as upset as many of you are with the video.”

It didn’t, at least in this memo, specifically rail against its manifest sexism. (Its utter lack of actual humor might have deserved a mention, too.)

Larounis, at American’s request, removed the video. Sadly, thanks to the internet’s cloying immediacy, it soon proliferated far and wide.

Many will hiss and tut at those who performed in this abject display.

Somehow, though, I can’t help but consider those who laughed and applauded. 

Flying regularly in First Class may have its privileges. 

I wasn’t aware that permission to be a sad, myopic, dunderheaded Neaderthal was one of them. 

With 4 Short Words, Amazon Just Revealed the Brutal Truth About Its Decision to Cancel HQ2 in New York. (So Many People Don't Want to Admit This)

It’s not a plan really, not a hidden secret message. It’s more of an expression of emotion. Maybe a realization of necessity.

In fact, while the text Amazon posted on its blog on February 14 runs 363 words, the most important part of this crucial passage is just four words long. But those four words speak volumes.

It starts with a dig at “state and local politicians” in New York, and a statement about how many New Yorkers supposedly supported the deal. Then, we get to the crucial part:

We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion–we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture–and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. 

There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.

Those four crucial words? “We love New York.”

They’re not included by accident. In fact, I’ll bet this statement probably went through more writing, editing and rewriting than anything in Amazon’s history.

But the passage is crucial. It’s a recognition that even in a post-HQ2 world Amazon, still depends big time on New York. That’s why I think the company is at pains to reassure everyone that it isn’t going to try to just reopen the HQ2 search and do this elsewhere.

The brutal truth is: New York City is special.

I know people don’t like to admit this. I know that there are many trying to make political points, attacking union leaders and politicians who they say are to blame for Amazon running away.

But there is no other place truly like New York City, and Amazon isn’t really going to run — not completely. It’s not just chest-thumping; it comes down at least partly to sheer numbers. Here are three of them:

  • By far, New York is the largest city in America, with 8.6 million people–almost as big as the second, third, and fourth largest cities combined.
  • By far, it’s the largest metropolitan area: more than 20 million people. If it were its own state, it would be about as big as Florida — but much more densely packed.
  • By far, it has the largest GDP of any metro area, at at $1.7 trillion. That’s nearly 9 percent of the entire country.

Was it ever possible that Amazon would direct a personal insult at the largest and most important market in the country, by jilting it for say, Nashville? 

No offense to Nashville, the so-called runner-up. It’s a really great city too, but numbers don’t lie: it’s tiny compared to New York.

Remember, they just proved it at Amazon, too.

After staging a 14-month beauty contest, playing off more than 200 cities against each other, and keeping the terms secret so that none of them could know what they needed to do in order to win, the result was almost comically predictable:

Amazing n couldn’t do better than New York and an area right outside Washington, D.C. 

You know what I think’s going to happen now? Amazon is going to redistribute those 25,000 jobs around a lot of different places. (Remember, it was only planning to create 700 jobs this year, and wouldn’t hit the full number until 2028 at least.)

Now, New York will still get the largest share, only without having to give an average of $120,000 per job in tax breaks to get them.

And, it will make up the rest and still more–because Amazon just did the legwork for every other company in America.

Especially if the state and city can come up with anything even approaching a small percentage of the deal they were willing to give Amazon, and offer it to a wide array of smaller employers,  think things look pretty rosy.

No matter your size, and as long as you don’t try to squeeze completely one-sided terms out of the deal, if you want to attract amazing workers and expand in one of the greatest cities in the world, Amazon just proved where you should go. 

Amazon loves New York. And a lot of other people do too. 

CenturyLink: Don't Head To The Bomb Shelter

The big dividend cut by CenturyLink (CTL) came as a surprise to some shareholders, but my previous research indicated that investors remain focused on free cash flows and EBITDA margins. Whether or not the company uses the cash flows to pay dividends or reduce debt shouldn’t reflect on the stock as the value is in the ability to generate cash on a consistent and hopefully growing basis. Any stock weakness from cutting the dividend and maintaining cash flow targets provides a better entry point in the stock.

CenturyLink logo

Image Source: CenturyLink website

Dividend Slashed

Only last week, Citibank argued that CenturyLink would slash the dividend. Analyst Michael Rollins slapped a $11 price target on the stock making a bearish case around more capital spending and a focus on revenue growth issues.

The negative analyst call was odd considering the telecom had beaten estimates since the new CEO took over to the point that the dividend wasn’t really at question. Regardless, it appears that some investors evidently knew that a cut was on the way or were just wanting to push the stock down so far that the company would cut the dividend.

Along with the Q4’18 earnings report, the Board of Directors made the move to cut the dividend to $1.00, down from $2.16 per share. With the dividend up around 15% and so many analyst questions about the sustainability, a dividend cut wasn’t a huge bombshell.

The likely shock to the investor community is that CenturyLink is having any financial problems that would require a dividend cut. According to CEO Jeff Storey on the Q4’18 earnings call, the move was made purely to de-lever the balance sheet quicker:

However as you saw, we announced today that we plan to reduce the annual dividend to $1 from the current $2.16 per share beginning with the next dividend declaration. This decision is not based upon any concern for the outlook of our business. Our business fundamentals are strong and we believe our free cash flow could sustain the dividend at the prior level through 2019 and beyond. As I said, this change in policy isn’t about a diminished view of our business; it is driven by our view that the long-term interest of shareholders are best served by proactively accelerating, de-levering to a new lower target range of 2.75 to 3.25 times net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA.

Despite these facts, the stock is down over 40% in the last 6 months while the S&P 500 is only slightly down.

Chart

Data by YCharts

In fact, CEO Storey actually hinted at interest rate hike fears as the real reason for slashing the dividend payout to reduce leverage:

By reallocating more of our capital to leverage reduction, we believe, we will improve our cost of capital, return a significant amount of cash to shareholders at a very sustainable payout ratio, and provide additional flexibility to respond to market opportunities and any potential interest rate challenges that may occur. This is not something we did lightly but it is something we firmly believe is in the best long-term interest of our shareholders.

It sure sounds like the FED hiking interest rates in 2018 and the prospects of more hikes in the future caused CenturyLink to reconsider the acceptable leverage ratio.

About Those Cash Flows

A big key to understanding the story here is to look at the FCF progression in 2018. CenturyLink originally guided to FCFs of $3.15 to $3.35 billion for the year.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’17 presentation

The company ended up hitting an incredible $4.25 billion of FCF for the year. Due to a tax refund and other items that amounted to a $500 million bonus in 2018 that won’t repeat this year, the company was clear that the improved cash flows weren’t sustainable in 2019

Regardless, the guidance for 2019 has FCF at $3.10 to $3.40 billion. The most important detail is the capital expenditure guidance.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’18 presentation

A big key here is the capital expenditures of $3.50 to $3.80 billion or roughly 16% of revenues. The company has guided to a long-term target of ~16% of revenues, but CenturyLink didn’t hit those targets in 2018 with capex of only $3.175 billion.

In essence, the 2019 plan includes an ~$500 million boost to capital expenditures in comparison to some of the under spending in 2018. Clearly, the company could further boost cash flows by constraining capex, but the best idea is for CenturyLink to reestablish a higher level of capital spending.

The end result is solid capex spending and a dividend payout of only $1.075 billion with a payout ratio in the 30% range on FCFs of $3.25 billion. In addition, the leverage ratio was already improved by $1.7 billion in debt repayments in 2018 due in part to the extra FCFs last year. The goal of reaching a leverage ratio of 2.75x in ~3 years is another positive sign for the stock.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’18 presentation

Takeaway

The key investor takeaway is that all of the numbers indicate the dividend cut was indeed due to a focus on reducing leverage and improving the capital structure. No indication exists that the cut was due to financial problems out into the future, therefore, the stock is appealing down below $13 with a dividend yield that still sits over 7.5%.

Investors shouldn’t make the mistake of heading to the bomb shelter like with typical dividend cuts.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as a solicitation to purchase or sell securities. Before buying or selling any stock you should do your own research and reach your own conclusion or consult a financial advisor. Investing includes risks, including loss of principal.

Disclosure: I am/we are long CTL. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

It Might Be Time to Stop Assuming Hotels Are the Best Option for Business Travel

I travel about 75,000 miles a year for business, yet I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel. That may surprise many business travelers, but to me, it’s a relief. I suffered through years of expensive boutiquesor cookie cutter chains, uncomfortable mattresses and terrible breakfasts. Finally I gave up on hotels altogether, and I’ve never looked back.

For several years now, Airbnb has been the secret weaponto my business travel success. There’s an amazing variety of locations, types of lodging, and hosts. I’ve found wonderful places and fascinating people I never would have if I’d stayed in hotels.

1. Feels More Like Home

One of the biggest complaints about business travel is that you don’t have your stuff. It may sound silly, but the stuff and the people are what turns a house into a home. And if you can’t have the people while you’re traveling, at least you can have things more like your own stuff at home. Hotels can be so sterile – or worse yet, unsterile!

2. Cheaper than Hotels

I’ve saved a ton of moneyusing Airbnb instead of hotels. This is especially true for me because I’m willing to stay in a privatebedroom in a shared unit. Even if I weren’t into sharing, Airbnb-ing a fully private unit is often a huge savings over even a modest hotel. Don’t forget to consider a whole house rental for group business travel. It may be closer quarters with your colleagues than you’re used to, but think of it as bonding time. Everyone could still get their own bedroom, and you can save using group transportation and food options.

3. Healthier Eating

In the last 2 years, I’ve lost – and successfully kept off– 54 pounds. One of the benefits of Airbnb is that many units provide a fully functional kitchen, often including staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil. All I had to do was take a quick trip to the grocery store. Then instead of eating bad take out or overindulging at a restaurant, I could cook exactly what I wanted at exactly the calorie count I could afford. No more temptation for midnight room service. It saves calories and money – and you can multiply the savings by making your own lunch, too.

4. Often More Convenient

Business travel can be unpredictable, and often doesn’t leave flexibility for changingdates. So what can you do if you have to go visit a client at the same time as the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships, and every hotel room in Springfield, Illinois, is booked? Airbnb to the rescue. Just like hotels, Airbnb prices go up with demand, but I’ve never had a problemfinding an Airbnb that worked. Sometimes the Airbnb is considerably more convenient to where I need to spend time. I also often save money on parking by avoiding expensive hotel garages.

5. Opens Opportunities – and Eyes

One of the most fun and powerful reasons to use Airbnb is the amazing experience it can provide. While others are isolated in boring hotelsfilled with other businesspeople, you’ll be living among the local people. The hosts can share a great deal about the local way of life, which may be helpful in dealing with your client. The fellow guests, if you have them, often have wonderful stories to tell. For this and all the above reasons, Airbnb makes travel easier and more accessible, which means you can experience even more of this world!

7 Reasons To Start Your Own Company in Your 20s

The traditional narrative for entrepreneurs is a step-by-step process that generally looks something like this:

  1. Get a degree
  2. Get a job
  3. Build a network
  4. Save some “seed capital”
  5. Start your business

The assumption is that you’ll be ready to launch your startup in your 30s or 40s. Or maybe your 50s because, well…, kids.

Now, I don’t want to burst any happy bubbles for those of you who are already treading the traditional pathway, but that traditional narrative no longer makes much sense because over the past two decades, big corporations, big academia, and big corporatist government have rigged the business world so that the longer you wait to start your own company, the less likely you are to be successful. 

Because of this, young entrepreneurs (Millennials and Gen-Zers) should launch their startups immediately rather than waiting until they’ve got a degree and some experience. Here’s why:

1. College has become increasingly irrelevant.

If you already know you’re going to be an entrepreneurs, college is a waste of time. Business colleges are so out of touch that very few teach sales skills–the most important business skill for any entrepreneur. B-schools are also notorious repositories of wannabee entrepreneurs spouting clouds of fluffy biz-blab. Furthermore, colleges are always a decade behind the real world in technical skills and technology. Example: almost all computer animation college programs lack even a single class on real-time animation, the most important new technology in that industry.

2. College has become absurdly expensive.

How many thousands of times have you read about recent college graduates who can’t get a decent job in their field but are nonetheless saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt? By contrast, how many times have you heard successful entrepreneurs say: “wow, I’m sure glad I graduated from college…”? Like never, right? Look, if you’re going to spend yourself $50,000 into debt, do you want to end up with a useless, but largely symbolic degree? Or do you want to own a business that cost $50,000 to start?

3. College doesn’t impress recruiters anyway.

Let’s suppose you want to start your own business but you’re banking on your college degree as a backup plan… as in “I’ll give this startup my best shot but if I fail I can get use my degree to get a job.” Well, IMHO, if you’re thinking that way, you’re setting yourself up to fail as an entrepreneur, but whatever. Let’s suppose it’s a reasonable plan. Hate to tell you, but recruiters are far more impressed by an effort to start your own company than whatever cookie-cutter degree you managed to eke out of the college system. Even fancy Ivy League degrees don’t have much cachet any longer.

4. Employers hire contractors not employees.

According to a recent study conducted by Allison & Taylor Reference Checking, “the current growth of freelancing is estimated to be three times faster than that of the traditional workforce, with approximately 47% of working millennials now working in some freelance capacity.  At the current growth rate, the majority of the U.S. workforce will freelance by 2027.” Freelance positions lack benefits and pay less, thus making it more difficult to put aside the money you’ll need to start your business. Can you spell “dead end street,” boys and girls?

5. Employers legally limit your options.

You may think you’re gaining valuable experience and contacts that you can use to launch your own business, but chances are that your employee agreement or “work for hire” agreement vastly limits your ability to use whatever you’ve learned. You might launch your business and find yourself at the short end of a lawsuit, from a company that can afford an entire staff of lawyers to make sure you’re properly crushed.

6. Resumes don’t impress investors.

Investors don’t give a rodent’s posterior about your college experience. They also don’t value your work experience much more than that, unless what you were doing was directly relevant to building and running the company you’re envisioning. Investors want people who’ve successfully started their own businesses or, at the very least, somebody who’s gained the valuable experience of starting a business that didn’t pan out.

7. Exuberance is a limited resource.

You may think all those long hours and hard work working for somebody else is preparing you for the long hours and hard work you’ll need to make your startup successful. But you’d think wrong. Their plan is to burn through your youthful energy and enthusiasm until you’re an empty husk. Even if you keep your spirits up and your body in tip-top shape while they try to suck you dry, as you get older, you will INEVITABLY find it more difficult to summon extra oomph. Far better to expend your youthful exuberance making your own business a success, rather than lining someone else’s pockets, right?.

Tesla rolls out 'sentry mode' safety feature

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen at a groundbreaking ceremony of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory in Shanghai, China January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

(Reuters) – Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc on Wednesday launched a safety feature called “sentry mode” for its electric cars, as it attempts to make its vehicles more attractive to buyers.

The feature will be compatible with U.S. Model 3 vehicles, followed by Model S and Model X vehicles that were manufactured after August 2017, the electric carmaker said.

When enabled, the “sentry mode” monitors the environment around an unattended car and uses the vehicle’s external cameras to detect potential threats, according to Tesla’s blog here

A minimal threat will be detected if anyone leans on the car, triggering a message on the touchscreen and warning that its cameras are recording.

For a more severe threat, like someone breaking a window, the mode activates the car alarm, increases the brightness of the center display, plays loud music and alerts owners on their Tesla mobile app.

The United States had 773,139 motor vehicles stolen in 2017 – the highest since 2009, according to data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. here

Last week, Tesla lowered the price of its Model 3 sedan for the second time this year to make its cars more affordable for U.S. buyers. The Palo Alto, California-based company has been cutting costs as it looks to turn in profit this year.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

Japanese self-drive cars map developer to buy rival U.S. startup for $200 million

(Reuters) – Japanese map platform developer Dynamic Map Platform announced on Wednesday it plans to acquire Detroit-based map startup Ushr for up to $200 million in a bid to widen its geographical footprint in the burgeoning self driving cars market.

Dynamic Map Platform counts Japan’s Toyota Motor, Nissan and Honda among its investors, while Ushr provides 3D mapping data to General Motors.

The move comes as the Japanese car makers seek to challenge Alphabet Inc’s Google and Chinese rivals in the mapping business.

For the acquisition, Dynamic Map Platform said it would raise a combined 22 billion yen ($198.9 million) from investors including two existing shareholders – the Japanese state-backed INCJ fund and Mitsubishi Electric.

“Through the combination, we will be able to offer automotive OEMs a comprehensive high-definition mapping solution for the North American and Japanese markets, with the ability to expand globally in the future,” Tsutomu Nakajima, the head of Dynamic Map Platform, said in a statement.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru and Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Amber Authenticate Protects Video Footage From Deepfakes and Tampering

Video has become an increasingly crucial tool for law enforcement, whether it comes from security cameras, police-worn body cameras, a bystander’s smartphone, or another source. But a combination of “deepfake” video manipulation technology and security issues that plague so many connected devices has made it difficult to confirm the integrity of that footage. A new project suggests the answer lies in cryptographic authentication.

Called Amber Authenticate, the tool is meant to run in the background on a device as it captures video. At regular, user-determined intervals, the platform generates “hashes”—cryptographically scrambled representations of the data—that then get indelibly recorded on a public blockchain. If you run that same snippet of video footage through the algorithm again, the hashes will be different if anything has changed in the file’s audio or video data—tipping you off to possible manipulation.

Users need to set the interval to balance system constraints on devices with what a camera may be filming. Creating hashes every 30 seconds on a police body camera might allow quick and subtle, but still potentially impactful, manipulations to slip through. Setting the interval to every second on a small business’ surveillance camera might be overkill.

“There’s a systemic risk with police body cameras across many manufacturers and models,” says Amber CEO Shamir Allibhai. “What we’re worried about is that, when you couple that with deep fakes, you can not only add or delete evidence but what happens when you can manipulate it? Once it’s entered into evidence it’s really hard to say what’s a fake. Detection is always one step behind. With this approach it’s binary: Either the hash matches or it doesn’t, and it’s all publicly verifiable.”

A tool like Amber has obvious appeal for human rights activists, free speech advocates, and law enforcement watchdogs wary of potential abuse coverups, but governments also have an interest in video integrity tools. Allibhai is presenting Amber Authenticate to Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security representatives at a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showcase on Monday. And DHS has already shown an interest in similar solutions like one from the blockchain-based data validity company Factom, which is also working on a video authentication tool.

Amber Authenticate is built on the popular open-source blockchain platform Ethereum, and includes a web platform that makes it easy to visually understand which parts of a video clip have hashes that match the originals stored on the blockchain and which, if any, don’t. A green frame around the footage as it plays indicates a match, while a red frame takes its place for any portion with a mismatched hash. Below the video player, Amber also shows a detailed “audit trail” that lists when a file was originally created, uploaded, hashed, and submitted to the blockchain.

The idea is for the manufacturers of products like CCTVs and body cams to license Amber Authenticate and run it on their devices. Amber research consultant Josh Mitchell, who found software vulnerabilities in five models of mainstream body cameras last August, has been able to demonstrate that Authenticate is compatible with at least some of those brands.

“I’ve been taking the technology and putting it on a body camera, because there’s no authentication mechanism right now on any of the cameras,” Mitchell says. “The fact that there’s nothing protecting that evidence from a malicious party is worrying, and manufacturers don’t seem very motivated to do anything. So if we have a provable, demonstrable prototype we can show that there are ways to ensure that all parties have faith in the video and how it was captured.”

Amber’s Allibhai, who is self-funding the project, says that Authenticate plans to be totally transparent and open to vetting by outside experts.

Whether’s its Amber Authenticate or another solution, an integrity and authentication tool for video—particularly police body cameras—can’t come soon enough, according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Technologists are going to have to validate the security of Amber as with any authentication technique,” he says. “But I hope that Amber or a similar product becomes standard. Like body cameras themselves, video authentication can help create community confidence in evidence about what’s taken place, and can give everybody confidence that things are on the up and up in what can be very harrowing and difficult incidents.”


More Great WIRED Stories

Elon Musk's Dumb Lie About Smart Cars

I have too much respect for Elon Musk to think that he really believes that, because there’s not the slightest sign that we are anywhere close to that level of automated driving. Therefore I must very reluctantly conclude that he’s intentionally misleading the public.

I’ll speculate on his reasons for surfacing this whopper at the end of this column. Meanwhile, Musk isn’t the only one who’s overplaying his hand on full automation. It’s endemic to the automobile industry, most of which has adopted this “sliding scale” model of how automation will come about:

0. No automation. Driver does everything.

1. Driver assistance. Standard cruise control.

2. Partial automation. Cruise control with lane changing, ability to parallel park and other easily defined, predictable driving behaviors.

3. Conditional automation. Self-driving; system hands control to human when needed.

4. High automation. Self-driving; system hands control to human when needed but overrides dumb human decisions.

5. Full automation. You can bunk out in the back seat when you leave, and wake up when you arrive.

Described in this way, full automation seems like merely an extension of technologies that are already working. We’re now at stage 2 and moving to stage 3, it follows that eventually we’ll make the human driver redundant.

However, when you get outside the bubble of AI hucksters and talk to experts in automation and transportation, a different story emerges. A recent ThinkProgress article provides some excellent examples:

  • “Taking me from Cambridge to Logan Airport with no driver in any Boston weather or traffic condition — that might not be in my lifetime.” — John Leonard, VP for automated driving research at the Toyota Research Institute.

  • “Recent Uber and Tesla autonomous vehicle deaths show general use of real self-driving is a decade away. The tech still needs orders of magnitude improvement.” — Michael Liebreich, the former chair of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF)

And most damning of all:

  • “Despite several decades of automation in aviation, airliners will have human pilots for the foreseeable future. Streets and highways are much more variable and unpredictable than airways, and predictions that the streets will be filled with large numbers of autonomous vehicles within a few years are ignoring not only the lessons of automation history, but also the numerous additional challenges that will be faced on the ground.” — Christopher Hart, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

That last quote is the big buzz-kill because proponents of self-driving cars frequently and loudly cite the example of auto-piloted airplanes as evidence that driverless cars are  practical.

In fact, as Hart points out, the current state of avionics automation argues the opposite–that a human pilot is still necessary even when traveling mostly involves traversing a vast empty space.

Rather than a sliding scale of incremental improvement, car automation is better represented by a chasm that’s yet to bridged, like so:

0. No automation. Driver does everything.

1. Driver assistance. Standard cruise control.

2. Partial automation. Cruise control with lane changing, ability to parallel park and other easily defined, predictable driving behaviors.

3. Automation. Self-driving; system hands control to human when needed.

4. High automation. Self-driving; system hands control to human when needed but overrides a dumb human decision.

5. Full automation. You can bunk out in the back seat when you leave and wake up when you arrive.

The myth that driverless cars are just around the corner would just be annoying hype were it not for the fact that the hype is influencing public policy and infrastructure investment. 

Similarly, truck drivers and teamsters are now being told that they’ll soon be replaced by driverless vehicles. Believing this, they’re likely to focus on simply keeping their own jobs rather than working to change the real danger, which is the erosion and elimination of compensation and benefits by an unregulated, non-union gig economy.

Which lead me to why I think Elon Musk is making a prediction that he probably knows to be untrue. Simply put, he’s trying to convince people to buy more Teslas so that they can be on the cutting edge of a driving revolution that will never take place.

And that’s dumb because eventually people will notice that driverless cars aren’t happening. Even worse, this driverless car nonsense is distracting consumers from the real reason to buy an electronic car, which is that the internal combustion engine is helping make the planet uninhabitable.

As I see it, Musk’s vision for the future has a lot going for it. A car that runs on stored solar power would be a huge boon to humankind. Musk doesn’t need to spout fictions about full automation that’s just not going to happen.

Thailand launches Huawei 5G test bed, even as U.S. urges allies to bar Chinese gear

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Friday launched a Huawei Technologies 5G test bed, even as the United States urges its allies to bar the Chinese telecoms giant from building next-generation mobile networks.

FILE PHOTO: A Huawei 5G device is pictured outside an exhibition in Bangkok, Thailand, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Huawei, the world’s top producer of telecoms equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones, has been facing mounting international scrutiny amid fears China could use its equipment for espionage, a concern the company says is unfounded.

The 5G test bed in Thailand, the United States’ oldest ally in Asia, will be Huawei’s first in Southeast Asia.

Thailand’s cooperation with Huawei on the test bed does not mean it is not concerned about security issues, Minister of Digital Economy Pichet Durongkaveroj told Reuters at the launch.

“We keep a close watch on the allegations worldwide. However, this 5G test bed project is a testing period for the country,” Pichet added. “We can make observations which will be useful to either confirm or disconfirm the allegations.”

Pichet was speaking at the test site in Chonburi, the heart of the Thai military government’s $45 billion economic project – the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)- about 90 km southeast of Bangkok. Vendors like Nokia, Ericsson and Thai telecoms operators have also set up 5G labs at the site.

Huawei, which gets nearly half of its revenue from outside China, says it has secured more than 30 commercial 5G contracts globally. But it has not yet signed a 5G contract in Thailand.

Huawei is in talks with telecoms operators, such as Advanced Info Service Pcl and TRUE, to secure local partnerships ahead of a national rollout scheduled for December 2020, industry sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Asked if the United States had reached out to Thailand about barring Huawei, Pichet said: “I have no knowledge of that”.

U.S. embassy spokesperson in Bangkok said the United States “advocates for secure telecoms networks and supply chains that are free from suppliers subject to foreign government control or undue influence that poses risks of unauthorized access and malicious cyber activity”.

“We routinely urge allies and partners to consider such risks and exercise similar vigilance in ensuring the security of their own telecoms networks and supply chains, including when awarding contracts,” the spokesperson added.

Huawei representatives at the test bed site declined to comment as they were not authorized to speak to media.

Ties between the United States and Thailand have cooled since the Thai military took power in a 2014 coup. Relations between Bangkok and Beijing, on the other hand have, warmed in recent years as evident from a pick up in defense trade and Chinese investment in the Southeast Asia nation.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Huawei has previously set up a cloud data center worth $22.5 million in Thailand’s EEC, a centerpiece of the government’s policy to boost growth in the country that has struggled to attract foreign investors besides the Chinese.

Alibaba, Tencent, Kingsoft and JD.com have also pledged to invest in the EEC.

This stands in stark contrast to the intense scrutiny being faced by Chinese investment in other parts of the world amid a crippling Sino-U.S. trade war.

Reuters reported exclusively on Jan. 30 that the European Commission was considering proposals that would ban Huawei from 5G networks, but that work was at an early stage.

Slideshow (2 Images)

For Thailand, security concerns over Huawei’s equipment come second to its competitive pricing versus that by U.S. firms, said Pranontha Titavunno, Chairman of the Information Technology Industry Club of the Federation of Thai Industries.

“We don’t think about it because their products are decent and affordable,” Pranontha told Reuters.

“There are always surveillance concerns when it comes to China … But Thailand doesn’t really have anything exciting that might be of interest to Beijing.”

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Himani Sarkar

The Next Era of Innovation Will Emphasize Privacy and Individualization, Report Says

Over the next three years, companies will give consumers more control over their data, privacy, and how they interact with products and services, according to a new report.

“Companies are amassing tremendous amounts of information about consumers,” said Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s chief technology and innovation officer. “The key thing for companies to think about is just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.”

The insight comes from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2019 report released on Thursday. The annual report predicts key technology trends that will redefine business over the next three years.

Successful brands will have to build trusted relationships with consumers, the report says, and that includes providing transparency and giving consumers control of their data. If consumers trust a brand, they’re more likely to offer up even more data in exchange for a better experience—thus continuing the cycle of improving the product or service and growing the business.

Given recent privacy and data breach blunders from big technology companies like Google and Facebook, industries facing less heat over privacy may have a leg up in developing these deeper relationships. For example, insurance or financial services companies could ask their customers for permission to track more things about them, like the number of steps they take daily or their spending habits, to provide more customized offerings.

“This next generation [of innovation] is not going to be led by just technology companies,” said Michael Biltz, managing director of Accenture’s report. “It’s going to be led by all of these companies that have transformed themselves into digital businesses.”

While in recent years, technology companies have led the way in developing more personalized services, they have served as the “canaries in the coal mines,” said Daugherty. Through their mistakes, tech companies have shown other industries what not to do when it comes to handling consumer data. As a result, they left room for old-line industries to leverage their better relationship with consumers to introduce data-dependent products. Tech companies may have a harder time convincing their users to give up their personal information for similar services.

And though Accenture supports federal data privacy regulation, future innovation likely will be dependent on self-regulation, as laws struggle to keep up with advances in technology.

Here are all five trends outlined in the report:

  • The power of DARQ: Companies must understand and take advantage of distributed ledgers like blockchain, artificial intelligence, extended reality (a catchphrase for virtual and augmented reality), and quantum computing (a nascent technology that promises faster data crunching).
  • Get to know me: Understand more about consumers using the data trail they leave online to better develop personalized experiences as a way to unlock new business opportunities.
  • Human + worker: Companies of all kinds should redefine employee roles to take into account new technologies like artificial intelligence.
  • Security first: Businesses will have to recognize they are the conduit for data breaches rather than victims. They’ll have to be diligent about not just protecting of their internal and customer data, but also that of their partners and vendors.
  • Meet consumers now: Capitalizing on “momentary markets,” or markets that spring up and then vanish, will be critical. Successful companies will have to move quickly and take advantage of the on-demand economy and growing expectations by consumers for customization.

Trump's State of the Union Is Silent on Key Tech Issues

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Trump promised legislation to invest in “the cutting edge industries of the future.” But the speech was characteristically backward-looking. Trump talked up gains in manufacturing jobs and oil and gas exports, but didn’t once mention the word “technology,” nor any other tech policy issue, such as privacy, broadband, or antitrust.

Aides filled in the blanks. “President Trump’s commitment to American leadership in artificial intelligence, 5G wireless, quantum science, and advanced manufacturing will ensure that these technologies serve to benefit the American people and that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a statement.

Still, some of the administration’s other signature policy positions, such as the trade war with China and its hardline position on immigration, may be holding back progress in these areas.

5G Wireless

Of these issues, the Trump administration has perhaps been most active on 5G, an umbrella term for “next generation” wireless technologies and standards that could one day enable download speeds of up to 10GB on your phone, or around 10 times the speed of Google Fiber’s standard home service. We’re still a long way from seeing those types of speeds in reality, even as carriers begin offering “5G” branded services in a few cities.

Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum warn that if the US falls behind China in deploying 5G, the next generation of mobile platforms could emerge in China, just as Android and iOS and their respective app stores emerged in the US during earlier wireless eras.

The Trump administration sees the race to 5G as a national security issue, as much as an economic issue. The US has long feared that Chinese telco giant Huawei could plant “backdoors” in its equipment that the Chinese government could use to spy on US citizens. US carriers like AT&T and Verizon are effectively banned from using Huawei gear in their networks; but the Trump administration fears that if China gets a leg up on 5G, there will be few if any alternatives to Huawei and other Chinese vendors to build the next generation wireless networks. That led to the unusual decision to block Singapore-based chipmaker Broadcom from buying US wireless chip giant Qualcomm, even though Broadcom offered to relocate to the US.

Beyond efforts to curb Huawei’s global reach, the White House hosted a summit on 5G last September, and Trump has encouraged federal agencies to accelerate the construction of 5G networks. Much of the focus is on opening up more wireless spectrum to carriers. The Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for licensing access to the spectrum, has identified a few chunks of spectrum that can be repurposed for 5G. Its first 5G-related spectrum auction ended last month, and another is scheduled to begin March 14. But carriers say they need more.

In a comment filed last month with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which advises the president on telecommunications policy issues, the industry group CTIA complained that less than 6.5 gigahertz of spectrum is devoted to mobile wireless while nearly 30 gigahertz is dedicated to satellite communications.

Trump signed a memo last year calling for a national strategy to allocate more spectrum to 5G, but it was short on specifics. In 2017, Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) introduced a more detailed plan called the Airwaves Act, which identifies several ranges of spectrum frequency that could be repurposed and auctioned off several years. The bill was reintroduced in the House last year but has yet to see a vote in either chamber.

Apart from auctioning spectrum, the government has been mostly focused on slashing telecom regulations on the theory that it will encourage more investment.

For example, the FCC repealed its Obama-era net neutrality protections, which banned broadband providers from blocking, throttling, or otherwise discriminating against lawful content. FCC Chair Ajit Pai argued, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that the change was necessary, in part, because the rules deterred investment in broadband infrastructure.

LEARN MORE

The WIRED Guide to 5G

A real national broadband policy needs to serve the needs of the public, not just the carriers. “The problem is that the wireless industry is very good at using this hype to blow through any sort of regulatory oversight that’s designed to protect consumers, and to ignore the problem of rural broadband,” says Harold Feld of the consumer group Public Knowledge. Without oversight, Feld says, the industry might not deploy the fastest 5G technologies in places they consider less profitable, like low-income areas.

Regulators would do well to keep that in mind when considering T-Mobile’s proposed acquisition of Sprint. The companies say the merger would enable them to build 5G networks faster. But it would also reduce competition for wireless services, and could lead to higher prices.

Meanwhile, there’s more the government could do to help the US stay competitive in 5G. Building 5G networks will be expensive. One of the main technologies that carriers hope to use takes advantage of what’s called “millimeter wave” spectrum. Using this part of the spectrum could enable the mind-boggling speeds 5G boosters promise, but blanketing cities and towns with millimeter wave signals would require a huge number of cellular towers. These could be as small as smoke detectors, but just like your home WiFi router, these “micro-cells” will need wired connections to the internet. That will mean a big investment in fiber-optic networks that hardly anyone is talking about.

Last year, leaked documents revealed a proposal for the government to build a 5G network to complement commercial networks. The idea was widely panned across the political spectrum, and the White House denied that the idea was ever seriously considered. But, as Harvard Law professor Susan Crawford wrote for WIRED last year, a national program to build more fiber optic networks isn’t a crazy idea.

Ironically, the Trump administration’s trade war with China may be hampering the US’s progress on 5G, says FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “There are new tariffs on Chinese imports on key network inputs like modems, routers, and antennas,” she tells WIRED in statement. “They raise the price of deployment of 5G domestically and make it harder for the United States to lead.”

But during Tuesday’s address, Trump doubled down on tariffs.

AI and Quantum Computing

Although Trump didn’t mention the technology specifically Tuesday night, the White House had already signalled it would take a stronger interest in artificial technology in 2019.

National AI strategies are becoming quite popular—outside the US. A Canadian report from December noted 18 national or pan-national AI plans, including those from China, France, and the European Union.

The US should join that roll in the next few months. In December the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s lead on AI said that the US would have a new AI research strategy this spring.

The OSTP statement released Tuesday name-checked AI but didn’t offer any specifics on what new support Trump might offer people or companies working on the technology. In its limited AI engagement so far, the administration has portrayed AI primarily as a way to exert dominance over other nations. The Pentagon has established a Joint AI Center to speed adoption of the technology by US forces. A one-day White House summit on AI last year focused on how it gives the US an economic advantage. And the Department of Commerce is considering whether to use arms-control rules to restrict US companies from exporting some AI technologies, in areas such as image recognition or machine translation.

Chris Meserole, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, hopes the Trump administration can broaden its view of AI. The government needs to pay close attention to the technology’s effects on society as it is adopted in areas such as finance, education, law enforcement, and moderating online speech, he says.

Trump will also need to consider how his tough stance on immigration could undermine what OSTP’s Kratsios called his “commitment to American leadership in artificial intelligence.” That leadership is built on the diverse talent at American research institutions and tech companies. “It’s a small pool of folks, maybe ten to twenty thousand people, and a lot of those are foreign born Americans,” Meserole says. “We’re going to need a sensible immigration policy to maintain our lead in AI.”

Talent is also an area of concern for quantum computing, another emerging technology in which the US has a lead Trump says he wants to maintain. In December, he signed a bill that authorizes more than $1.2 billion of spending in support of quantum R&D and talent development over five years.

But new funds have not yet been appropriated for the program. Backers of the bill like Chris Monroe, a professor at the University of Maryland and CEO of quantum computing startup IonQ, say that Trump’s immigration policies are undermining efforts to expand America’s pool of quantum engineers. “The scientific community is aligned on that we want to keep these people here, and encourage more people to come,” he says.

As expected, Trump talked up his dream of a border wall. But he had nothing to say about attracting the sort of talent the US will need to lead in the cutting edge industries of the future. Let’s hope the actual legislation has more substance.


More Great WIRED Stories

Tom Brady Kept Saying 1 Simple Word Over and Over After the Super Bowl. (And Taught an Amazing Lesson in Leadership)

Tom Brady has now won more Super Bowls than any other player in NFL history.

And in the minutes after the game, we got a small insight into why he’s so successful — after he kept using the same single word over and over and over.

You probably saw this unfold if you watched the game to the end: the giant scrum that erupted at midfield afterward, as CBS journalist Tracy Wolfson tried to get an interview with Brady, but he kept eluding her to embrace and congratulate other players.

It was fascinating in that we could hear snippets of the private conversations he was having on the field. The first player he rushed to embrace was Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

“Cookie!” Brady yelled, as he pushed through the crowd on national television, to hug Cooks. “Love you man. Love you. You had an unbelievable year.”

Then, Rams running back C.J. Anderson (it was tough to hear what they said), but then Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. It’s an emotional, but we can hear what Brady says at the end of their embrace: “I love you dude. I love you dude.”

Brady also has a long embrace with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Again, it’s a scrum, and you can’t make out much of what’s being said. But at the very end: “I love you.”

Let’s talk a bit about that word: love.

Some of us are afraid of it. Others probably use it too quickly, maybe too often. But we all know that it’s probably the most powerful emotion and feeling. 

As I saw Brady telling player after player (and an owner) that he loved them, I thought of an Army officer I interviewed in Iraq back in 2007. He had a family back home, and the separation of multiple combat tours was taking its toll.

He was starting to wonder whether he should get out of the military — but every time he thought of it, he stopped. Why did he stay? 

“I love Joe,” he told me. (“Joe” being slang for soldiers). 

To hear Brady saying that word over and over: “Love you.” “Love you dude.” “I love you.” 

It was striking. It’s part of the key to true leadership. I know of course that after winning a sixth Super Bowl, it was an emotional time for everyone on that field. 

But even so, it was notable. How often do you profess love for your work colleagues? For the people who work for you? 

I wrote recently about how Brady says the same simple four-word phrase to every new player on the Patriots when he meets them: “Hi, I’m Tom Brady.”

It’s obvious, right? Except that it’s not necessary.

Everybody who joins the Patriots knows who Tom Brady does. But besides being nice, and friendly, it sort of bridges the gap with new players who haven’t proven themselves yet.

This four letter word, “love,” does something very similar.

If you truly want to be a leader, and you want the people you’re leading to trust you implicitly, I think you have to be willing to let yourself love them.

Sometimes, you have to make sure that they know it. And sometimes, it means being willing to say it.

Tech Companies Have a Brand Image Problem: Here's How to Solve It

Tech companies everywhere, but especially those in Silicon Valley, have a serious brand image problem. Over the past few years, major tech companies have drawn ire from the public for their lack of diversity, apathy toward privacy issues, as well as their accumulation of wealth.

This isn’t exactly stopping people from using the tech products we’ve come to rely on so heavily, but it is having an effect on share prices–and it’s attracting stricter regulations from governments all over the world. If these corporate juggernauts are going to earn back the trust of consumers, shareholders, and policymakers, they need to take serious strides to change how they’re publicly perceived. There are several ways to accomplish this, but it’s going to take a concentrated effort.

Diversity and Representation

First, Silicon Valley has a major diversity problem–and has had one for many years. The overwhelming majority of tech CEOs (and even tech employees) are white men. This is problematic both for the vision and products of the companies and for the reputation of those companies in the general public. Having a leadership team without representation from women and minority groups means your company is less likely to consider the wants, needs, and perspectives of those groups; it’s why we end up with algorithms that discriminate against women and minorities.

There is a fix, though it’s not necessarily a simple one. The most obvious solution is to hire more people from underrepresented groups, but tech companies don’t always have the luxury of having equal or proportional quantities of applicants from each of those groups; in other words, you can’t hire more women if there aren’t many qualified women applying.

So instead of simply adjusting HR practices to hire more applicants who belong to underrepresented demographics, companies need to take part in programs designed to incentivize people from minority groups to pursue careers in tech. As an example, Women in Technology (WiT) programs are becoming more popular, offering mentorship and guidance for young women looking for careers in fields like software engineering, mechanical engineering, or signal processing. Given a few years of development, enough early-stage outreach programs like these could fill the pipelines with more appliances from diverse groups, and slowly change the overall composition of these companies.

Consumer Privacy and Corporate Transparency

Tech companies have also taken a hit on the consumer privacy front, with Facebook showing up in the headlines many times in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it was a London-based political consulting firm was capable of harvesting the personal data of millions of Facebook users for political manipulation purposes. Apple, Amazon, Google, and other companies have also been called to testify in front of a Senate Committee on consumer privacy protections.

We use devices, software, and digital products capable of collecting and storing ridiculous quantities of data on our lives, from where we are at any given time to what we’re talking about in our homes. With opaque and hard-to-understand terms of service agreements and an increasing diversity of connected devices, consumers and policymakers are more concerned than ever that data could be used for nefarious purposes–and tech brands are getting labeled as malicious, data-hungry consumer manipulators, working in darkness to take advantage of us.

There’s no quick fix to this dilemma, but offering more transparency is a good start. Giving users more options when it comes to their privacy, giving them simpler tools so they can truly understand what’s at stake when they use a product or service, and taking accountability when breaches do occur are the only path to restore trust.

Leadership and a Company “Face”

Tech brands also suffer from being faceless, corporate conglomerates. They’re either so massive they don’t have a public face, or their public face seems too detached from reality to seem relatable. Take, for example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; this man serves as the “face” of Facebook, but has become generally disliked and distrusted due to his reclusiveness and seemingly robotic disposition when testifying before Congress. Or take Jeff Bezos, who is periodically caricatured as a cartoonish supervillain due to his similarly reclusive nature, his ambition for growth, and his access to practically unlimited resources.

Having a stronger, more trustworthy public face isn’t going to fix everything, but it would give the public someone more relatable to associate with the brand. And it doesn’t have to be a charismatic, charming CEO either–it can be a handful of PR reps or even customer representatives who make consumers feel like there are “real” people behind these companies, instead of just automated tech and reclusive billionaires. It would be a massive investment, to be sure, but it’s one of the only reliable ways to rebuild public trust.

SoftBank's Vision Fund in talks to invest $1.5 billion in Chinese used car platform: sources

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – The SoftBank-led Vision Fund is in talks to invest up to $1.5 billion in Chinese used car trading platform Guazi.com, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

That would mark the latest Chinese deal by the mammoth $100 billion investment fund as it looks to expand in the world’s No.2 economy, and would come after it invested 460 million euros in German used car dealing platform Auto1.

The fund is likely to invest up to $1.5 billion in Guazi in a deal that would value the firm at $8.5 billion before the investment, according to one of the sources, who had direct knowledge of the situation.

The two sources, who were not authorized to speak to media, also said the Vision Fund had in the past few months held talks with Guazi’s direct rival, Renrenche, which is backed by Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing.

Guazi, a consumer-to-consumer used car trading platform founded in 2014, is backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent and Sequoia Capital China. Its talks with Softbank were first reported by the Financial Times late on Friday.

The Vision Fund and Renrenche declined to comment. Guazi did not respond to a request for comment. Japan’s Softbank was not immediately available for comment.

The Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity fund after raising more than $93 billion in 2017, has previously made investments in firms such as ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc and shared-office space firm WeWork.

China’s used car market has continued to grow even as overall auto sales declined last year for the first time since the 1990s.

Used sales rose 11.5 percent in 2018 from the year before to 13.82 million vehicles. The total value of these transactions was 860.4 billion yuan ($127.61 billion), according to the China Automobile Dealers Association.

China’s state planner has said the country would aim to loosen restrictions on the second-hand auto market, with “appropriate” subsidies provided to boost rural sales of some vehicles.

Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Yilei Sun in Beijing, additional reporting by Junko Fujita in Tokyo; Editing by Joseph Radford

5 Important Business Travel Tips You Should Stop Ignoring

Although technological changes and a rise in travel opportunities are good things, the possibilities of information being lost, stolen, or attacked come with the territory. You’ve probably come across articles addressing these issues with travel tips to help your business travels run smoothly. Most people (myself included) might do a quick scan, take note of something relevant, and disregard the rest.

However, there’s a reason these tips get posted often. While it’s true that some tips are obvious, there are some that you should stop ignoring. This is especially important given the US government shut down and the potential for delays and problems being higher than they normally would be.   

No matter how much we plan, things aren’t always guaranteed to go accordingly. Therefore, it’s important to prepare for the worst case scenario. Here are five travel tips that you probably ignore but shouldn’t. 

1. Make a copy of important documents.

No matter how much we plan, unexpected events will happen at some point or another. These events can be especially challenging when they involve documents such as your passport, driver’s license, or visa if your business trip requires it. If you lose any of these documents or they get stolen and you don’t have a backup in place, you’ll have an extra layer of stress and problems added to your trip that you really could’ve gone without.

While you’ve likely heard this tip before, taking the time to copy your documents and storing them somewhere safe online is worth it. Store them in your email, on a cloud-based service, and with family so that they are easily accessible. As someone who had their credit card hacked while abroad, having a copy of all the information from the credit card stored help me handle the situation much more efficiently.

This is one of those tips that once done, you won’t have to worry about again until your information changes or documents get renewed.

2. Learn your destination’s local emergency number.

We all know that 911 is the go-to emergency number in the United States. However, besides a few other countries like Canada and Argentina, dialing 911 in other countries will not put you across to their emergency department. Even then, some countries don’t use the same number to reach the local police, ambulance, or fire department.

Being aware of the different numbers while traveling is never a bad idea. No matter how alert and aware you are, things can always go wrong. Keep a note saved in your wallet and on your phone with useful numbers, just in case.

3. Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone you trust.

I can’t stress this enough – always leave a copy of your itinerary with a loved one. This goes without saying, but if something was to happen to you, it’ll give them a place to start looking. Plus, it will help you keep organized and keep track of your business activities.

4. Get travel insurance.

Travel insurance is something that I consider a necessity, especially when traveling abroad. Yes, it does add extra money you need to spend on a trip. But compared to the amount it’ll save you if you do end up in a situation where it’s needed, buying travel insurance is worth it.

Since most travel insurances cover things like cancellation, delay, lost baggage, and medical coverage, you’ll be glad you don’t have to worry about that. Additionally, if you use your credit card to book your travels, you may also have coverage from that. It’s a good idea to read up on your policy before you travel.

5. Sign up for alerts from the State Department.

Though many people prefer to avoid thinking about it (especially if they’re already a nervous traveler), there are possibilities of coming in contact with a terrorist attack, political violence, or even a natural disaster while traveling. If you are traveling abroad, I recommend checking the State Department’s website to see if there are any specific risks you should be aware of.

I also recommend signing up for the State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so if a crisis does occur while you’re abroad, the U.S Embassy will contact you and help you through it. If you have social media, consider following or at least being aware of relevant accounts that will post any information you might need when traveling. For instance, you can often reach representatives and get updates through Twitter.

Though these five tips might require some time and research, they are worth doing. Being prepared and having friends and family in the loop can make a significant difference should something happen. It is always better to be prepared.

Who Should Govern Your Data? Inside the Privacy Debate in Davos

Grüezi from the snow-coated Swiss Alps, in whose fir-studded, canvas blanc landscape the World Economic Forum recently transpired.

An inescapable theme at this year’s summit was data privacy. The topic happens, ironically, to play counterpoint to another central theme—that datavore dubbed “artificial intelligence,” as Adam Lashinsky, this newsletter’s regular, weekday author, noted in an earlier column (and elsewhere).

The two concepts are inversely related, a Yin and Yang. Businesses are looking to fill their bellies with as much information as possible, extracting insights that might give them an edge over the competition. Indeed, data-guzzling machine learning processes promise to amplify businesses’ ability to predict, personalize, and produce. But in the wake of a seemingly endless string of data abuses and breaches, another set of stakeholders has grown increasingly vocal about implementing some, let’s call them “dietary restrictions.” Our appetites need limits, they say; left unchecked, the fast-and-loose practices feeding today’s algorithmic models threaten to undermine the autonomy of consumers and citizens everywhere.

The subject of data stewardship clearly occupied the minds of the most powerful politicians in attendance. In the main hall of the forum, two heads of state shared their concerns on Wednesday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the topic will be one of two primary agenda items for the G20 Summit he is hosting in Osaka in June. (The other is climate change.) Later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Europe to find an approach to data governance distinct from the U.S.’s style, where corporations dominate, as well as the Chinese one, where the state seeks total control.

While policy-makers leaned, unsurprisingly, toward lawmaking, some members of the business set countered their notions with alternative views. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, cautioned against regulation, arguing that it restricts innovation. During a panel on digital trust I moderated on Thursday, Rod Beckstrom, the former CEO of ICANN, an Internet governance group, argued that Europe went astray when it adopted the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, last year, and he advised against the U.S. pursuing a similar path. Instead, Beckstrom proposed adding a privacy-specific amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one separate from the Fourth Amendment’s guard against warrantless searches and seizures. A provocative, if quixotic, idea.

By all measures, the disruptive, data-centric forces of the so-called fourth industrial revolution appear to be outpacing the world’s ability to control them. As I departed Davos, a conference-sponsored shuttle in which I was seated careened into a taxi cab, smashing up both vehicles. (No major injuries were sustained, so far as I could tell; though two passengers visited the hospital out of an abundance of caution.) While waiting in the cold for police to arrive and draw up a report, I was struck by how perfectly the incident encapsulated the conversations I had been observing all week.

We are all strapped, inextricably, to a mass of machinery, hurtling toward collision. Now what must be done is to minimize the damage.

A version of this article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter Data Sheet. Sign up here.

Cyber Saturday—Data Privacy in Davos, Facebook Chat Changes, Google’s GDPR Fine

Grüezi from the snow-coated Swiss Alps, in whose fir-studded, canvas blanc landscape the World Economic Forum recently transpired.

An inescapable theme at this year’s summit was data privacy. The topic happens, ironically, to play counterpoint to another central theme—that datavore dubbed “artificial intelligence,” as Adam Lashinsky, this newsletter’s regular, weekday author, noted in an earlier column (and elsewhere).

The two concepts are inversely related, a Yin and Yang. Businesses are looking to fill their bellies with as much information as possible, extracting insights that might give them an edge over the competition. Indeed, data-guzzling machine learning processes promise to amplify businesses’ ability to predict, personalize, and produce. But in the wake of a seemingly endless string of data abuses and breaches, another set of stakeholders has grown increasingly vocal about implementing some, let’s call them “dietary restrictions.” Our appetites need limits, they say; left unchecked, the fast-and-loose practices feeding today’s algorithmic models threaten to undermine the autonomy of consumers and citizens everywhere.

The subject of data stewardship clearly occupied the minds of the most powerful politicians in attendance. In the main hall of the forum, two heads of state shared their concerns on Wednesday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the topic will be one of two primary agenda items for the G20 Summit he is hosting in Osaka in June. (The other is climate change.) Later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Europe to find an approach to data governance distinct from the U.S.’s style, where corporations dominate, as well as the Chinese one, where the state seeks total control.

While policy-makers leaned, unsurprisingly, toward lawmaking, some members of the business set countered their notions with alternative views. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, cautioned against regulation, arguing that it restricts innovation. During a panel on digital trust I moderated on Thursday, Rod Beckstrom, the former CEO of ICANN, an Internet governance group, argued that Europe went astray when it adopted the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, last year, and he advised against the U.S. pursuing a similar path. Instead, Beckstrom proposed adding a privacy-specific amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one separate from the Fourth Amendment’s guard against warrantless searches and seizures. A provocative, if quixotic, idea.

By all measures, the disruptive, data-centric forces of the so-called fourth industrial revolution appear to be outpacing the world’s ability to control them. As I departed Davos, a conference-sponsored shuttle in which I was seated careened into a taxi cab, smashing up both vehicles. (No major injuries were sustained, so far as I could tell; though two passengers visited the hospital out of an abundance of caution.) While waiting in the cold for police to arrive and draw up a report, I was struck by how perfectly the incident encapsulated the conversations I had been observing all week.

We are all strapped, inextricably, to a mass of machinery, hurtling toward collision. Now what must be done is to minimize the damage.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

The Pitfalls of Facebook Merging Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp Chats

In an effort led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has plans to rearchitect WhatsApp, Instagram direct messages, and Facebook Messenger so that messages can travel across any of the platforms. The New York Times first reported the move Friday, noting also that Zuckerberg wants the initiative to “incorporate end-to-end encryption.” Melding those infrastructures would be a massive task regardless, but designing the scheme to universally preserve end-to-end encryption—in a way that users understand—poses a whole additional set of critical challenges.

As things stand now, WhatsApp chats are end-to-end encrypted by default, while Facebook Messenger only offers the feature if you turn on “Secret Conversations.” Instagram does not currently offer any form of end-to-end encryption for its chats. WhatsApp’s move to add default encryption for all users was a watershed moment in 2016, bringing the protection to a billion people by flipping one switch.

Facebook is still in the early planning stages of homogenizing its messaging platforms, a move that could increase the ease and number of secured chats online by a staggering order of magnitude. But cryptographers and privacy advocates have already raised a number of obvious hurdles the company faces in doing so. End-to-end encrypted chat protocols ensure that data is only decrypted and intelligible on the devices of the sender and recipient. At least, that’s the idea. In practice, it can be difficult to use the protection effectively if it’s enabled for some chats and not for others and can turn on and off within a chat at different times. In attempting to unify its chat services, Facebook will need to find a way to help users easily understand and control end-to-end encryption as the ecosystem becomes more porous.

“The big problem I see is that only WhatsApp has default end-to-end encryption,” says Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins. “So if the goal is to allow cross-app traffic, and it’s not required to be encrypted, then what happens? There are a whole range of outcomes here.”

WhatsApp users, for example, can assume that all of their chats are end-to-end encrypted, but what will happen in Facebook’s newly homogenized platform if an Instagram user messages a WhatsApp user? It’s unclear what sort of defaults Facebook will impose, and how it will let users know whether their chats are encrypted.

Facebook can also glean more data from unencrypted chats and introduce monetizable experiences like bots into them. The company has had a notoriously hard time earning revenue off of WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion users, in part because of end-to-end encryption.

“We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Friday. “We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks. As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work.”

Facebook emphasizes that this gradual process will allow it to work out all the kinks before debuting a monolithic chat structure. But encryption’s not the only area of concern. Privacy advocates are concerned about the potential creation of a unified identity for people across all three services, so that messages go to the right place. Such a setup could be convenient in many ways, but it could also have complicated ramifications.

In 2016, WhatsApp started sharing user phone numbers and other analytics with Facebook, perforating what had previously been a red line between the two services. WhatsApp still lets users make an account with only a phone number, while Facebook requires your legal name under its controversial “real name” policy. The company maintains this rule to prevent confusion and fraud, but its rigidity has caused problems for users who have other safety and security reasons for avoiding their legal or given name, such as being transgender.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Thursday evening, Zuckerberg wrote that, “There’s no question that we collect some information for ads—but that information is generally important for security and operating our services as well.” An indelible identity across Facebook’s brands could have security benefits like enabling stronger anti-fraud protections. But it could also unlock an even richer and more nuanced user data trove for Facebook to mine, and potentially make it harder to use one or more of the services without tying those profiles to a central identity.

“The obvious identity issue is usernames. I’m one thing on Facebook and another on Instagram,” says Jim Fenton, an independent identity privacy and security consultant. “In some ways, having the three linked more closely together would be good because it would make it more transparent that they are connected. But there are some Instagram and WhatsApp users who don’t want to use Facebook. This might be seen as a way to try to push more people in.”

Such a change to how chat works on the three brands isn’t just a potentially massive shift for users—it also seems to have stirred deep controversy within Facebook itself, and may have contributed to the departure last year of WhatsApp cofounders Jan Koum and Brian Acton.

End-to-end encryption is also difficult to implement correctly, because any oversight or bug can undermine the whole scheme. For example, both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger currently use the open-source Signal protocol (used in the Signal encrypted messaging app), but the implementations are different, because one service has the encryption on by default and the other doesn’t. Melding these different approaches could create opportunities for error.

“There’s a world where Facebook Messenger and Instagram get upgraded to the default encryption of WhatsApp, but that probably isn’t happening,” Johns Hopkins’ Green says. “It’s too technically challenging and would cost Facebook access to lots of data.”

And while end-to-end encryption can’t solve every privacy issue for everyone all the time anyway, it’s harder to know how to take advantage of it safely when a service doesn’t offer it consistently, and creates potential privacy issues when it centralizes identities.

“I think they can work this out,” Fenton says. “The bigger problem in my opinion is user confusion.”


More Great WIRED Stories

Zuckerberg to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger: NYT

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is planning to unify the underlying messaging infrastructure of the WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger services and incorporate end-to-end encryption into these apps, the New York Times reported on Friday.

WhatsApp and Facebook messenger icons are seen on an iPhone in Manchester , Britain March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The three services will, however, continue as stand-alone apps, the report said, citing four people involved in the effort.

Facebook said it is working on adding end-to-end encryption, which protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in a conversation, to more of its messaging products, and considering ways to make it easier for users to connect across networks.

“There is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work,” a spokesperson said.

After the changes, a Facebook user, for instance, will be able send an encrypted message to someone who has only a WhatsApp account, according to the New York Times report.

Integrating the messaging services could make it harder for antitrust regulators to break up Facebook by undoing its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, said Sam Weinstein, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

“If Facebook is worried about that then one way it can defend itself is to integrate those services,” Weinstein said.

But Weinstein said breaking up Facebook is viewed as an “extreme remedy” by regulators, particularly in the United States, so concerns over antitrust scrutiny may not have been a factor behind the integration.

MAJOR TRADEOFFS

Some former Facebook security engineers and an outside encryption expert said the plan could be good news for user privacy, in particular by extending end-to-end encryption.

“I’m cautiously optimistic it’s a good thing,” said former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now teaches at Stanford University. “My fear was that they were going to drop end-to-end encryption.”

However, the technology does not always conceal metadata – information about who is talking to whom – sparking concern among some researchers that the data might be shared.

Any metadata integration likely will let Facebook learn more about users, linking identifiers such as phone numbers and email addresses for those using the services independently of each other.

Facebook could use that data to charge more for advertising and targeted services, although it also would have to forgo ads based on message content in Messenger and Instagram.

Other major tradeoffs will have to be made too, Stamos and others said.

Messenger allows strangers to contact people without knowing their phone numbers, for example, increasing the risk of stalking and approaches to children.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Systems based on phone numbers have additional privacy concerns, because governments and other entities can easily extract location information from them.

Stamos said he hoped Facebook would get public input from terrorism experts, child safety officers, privacy advocates and others and be transparent in its reasoning when it makes decisions on the details.

“It should be an open process, because you can’t have it all,” Stamos said.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, Jan Wolfe in Washington and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Tom Brown

So Uber Wants Self-Driving Bikes and Scooters. Why? And How?

Really, it was only a matter of time before somebody thought to combine today’s hottest transportation trends: shared electric scooters and autonomous driving. Over the weekend, Uber reportedly unveiled a micromobility robotics division at a robotics meetup in the Bay Area. Though the company declined to confirm or comment on the new addition, the division will reportedly explore how to make the scooters and shared bikes it’s now deploying alongside its cars capable of riding themselves.

The key questions, then, are the classic ones—why and how.

The “why” makes, well, a touch of sense. Self-driving e-scooters and bikes would be able to mosey themselves over to battery-charging stations, or wheel themselves into maintenance depots, or redistribute themselves to exactly where users need them to be. That would be helpful, because operations and logistics can be an pricey pain for tech-enabled scooter- and bike-share companies. Figuring out where and when scooters need to be deployed, and when and how they need to be charged and repaired, is hard enough. But getting human beings out into the field, and doing the actual work of collecting, charging, and maintaining the vehicles has proven costly for the companies. According to investor documents provided to The Information showing internal company numbers from last spring, the e-scoot company Bird spent almost half its gross revenue per ride paying individual contract workers to charge their scooters, and another 14 percent of gross revenue per ride to repair them.

So yes, it would save companies a tidy sum if they could cut human labor out of the picture. “Operating expenses are the biggest thorn in the side of the companies,” says Richard Branning, the CEO and founder of the startup Sweep, which provides operations and logistical services to scooter firms. (Sweep runs operations for Spin, the scooter startup acquired by Ford last year.) But he argues that even the most advanced robots might not be able to extricate themselves from the pinches that shared bikes and scooters can get themselves into. “Let me know when a scooter is behind a fence and there’s a dog biting at it, when it can hop that 10-foot fence and get back on the road and zoom itself back to a charging pod,” he adds.

Indeed, making anything drive itself in the real world is really hard. Beyond a few demo rides, no company has been willing to take the human safety operator out of its cars, which is another way of saying that nobody has cracked the self-driving problem yet. And while scooters and bikes don’t match the speed or weight—and thus the potential danger—of cars, they bring their own challenges.

First, these are two-wheeled vehicles, and they tend to fall over when they don’t have a human using their weight and movement to keep them upright. Beyond adding extra wheels or heavy, complex tech like a gyroscope, there’s no obvious way to ensure they don’t tip, or to get them back up off the ground when they do. It’s not clear how to make a bike propel itself at all, since the e-bikes that Uber’s mobility subsidiary Jump and its peers use are pedal-assist: They augment foot power with motors, but those alone aren’t powerful enough to move the whole bike.

Second, scooters will have to operate on the sidewalk or on the street. That means they’ll have to deal with vehicles, intersections, and walking humans. Maybe even the occasional rogue squirrel.

That stuff is hard, but achievable, according to Kevin Peterson, the CTO of sidewalk delivery-robot company Marble. The bigger hurdle he sees is cost. Any self-driving vehicle needs sensors to perceive the world and computers to turn that data into decisions about how to move. Even if you manage to do this without lidar—which is the most expensive sort of sensor and costs in the thousands-of-dollars range—and use a combo of sensors and computer vision techniques instead, you’re making the vehicle more expensive.“I don’t know of a safe autonomy system that would be cheap enough to put on a scooter,” Peterson says, suggesting an ambitious $50 as a ceiling.

Trouble is, a key advantage of bikes and scooters is that they are cheap, around $500 per scooter. And these shared vehicles live outside and take a beating—even when people aren’t hurling them into local bodies of water or stuffing them up into trees. On top of the cost of the system, Uber would have to put more money into hardening an expensive sensor and computing suite, or replace the scooters’ and bikes’ cameras and other bits more often than they’d like.

OK, so coaxing scooters and bikes to drive themselves would be very difficult and very expensive. The undertaking is still somewhat on brand for Uber. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has positioned the company as the “Amazon of transportation.” He wants Uber to be able to get you anywhere, and bring you any meal, no matter your travel mode. He also has decided against nixing the company’s expensive self-driving research and development efforts—Uber wants autonomy to be part of its very long term future.

As the company gears up for its initial public offering this year, of course self-driving scooters and bikes will be part of its narrative.


More Great WIRED Stories

Glassdoor Just Announced the 50 Best Jobs in America for 2019 (Is Your Job on the List?)

Some of the highlights in the 2019 best jobs rankings include:

  • A red-hot tech job — Data Scientist — takes the #1 spot

  • #1 most in-demand bob: Software Engineer (#10) with 49,007 open jobs.

  • Twenty-two jobs are new to the list this year, including Security Engineer (#17), Recruiter (#28), and Brand Manager (#48).

According to Amanda Stansell, Glassdoor economic research analyst, the results point out some important trends. Says Stansell:

“As we look closer at the Best Jobs in America for 2019, we’re seeing continued demand for highly-skilled workers, especially in tech and health care roles. Paired with today’s tight labor market, this demand heightens competition among employers to recruit and retain top-performing talent. This is why we’re seeing more employers across industries invest in workplace culture, transparent communication with senior leadership, clear career mobility and attractive compensation packages in order to keep employees satisfied in their jobs long-term.”

Here’s Glassdoor’s list of the 50 Best Jobs in America for 2019. Is your job on it?

1. Data Scientist
Number of Job Openings: 6,510
Median Base Salary: $108,000

2. Nursing Manager
Number of Job Openings: 13,931
Median Base Salary: $83,000 

3. Marketing Manager
Number of Job Openings: 7,395 
Median Base Salary: $82,000  

4. Occupational Therapist
Number of Job Openings: 17,701
Median Base Salary: $74,000

5. Product Manager
Number of Job Openings: 11,884
Median Base Salary: $115,000

6. Devops Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 4,657
Median Base Salary: $106,000

7. Program Manager
Number of Job Openings: 14,753
Median Base Salary: $87,000

8. Data Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 4,739
Median Base Salary: $100,000

9. HR Manager
Number of Job Openings: 3,908 
Median Base Salary: $85,000 

10. Software Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 49,007 
Median Base Salary: $104,000 

11. Mechanical Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 5,949  
Median Base Salary: $75,000  

12. Physician Assistant
Number of Job Openings: 9,819   
Median Base Salary: $105,000  

13. Sales Manager
Number of Job Openings: 21,695 
Median Base Salary: $65,000  

14. Sales Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 3,145 
Median Base Salary: $90,000  

15. Operations Manager
Number of Job Openings: 18,311  
Median Base Salary: $68,000  

16. Strategy Manager
Number of Job Openings: 2,783   
Median Base Salary: $140,000  

17. Security Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 4,683    
Median Base Salary: $102,000 

18. Construction Manager
Number of Job Openings: 3,334   
Median Base Salary: $75,000 

19. Speech Language Pathologist
Number of Job Openings: 29,467    
Median Base Salary: $72,000 

20. Project Manager
Number of Job Openings: 30,107  
Median Base Salary: $75,000 

21. Product Designer
Number of Job Openings: 2,158   
Median Base Salary: $100,000 

22. Java Developer
Number of Job Openings: 6,636  
Median Base Salary: $85,000 

23. Executive Assistant
Number of Job Openings: 4,858  
Median Base Salary: $60,000 

24. Electrical Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 7,191  
Median Base Salary: $77,000 

25. Finance Manager
Number of Job Openings: 3,747  
Median Base Salary: $118,000 

26. Business Analyst
Number of Job Openings: 13,340   
Median Base Salary: $72,000 

27. Solutions Architect
Number of Job Openings: 6,969    
Median Base Salary: $127,000 

28. Recruiter
Number of Job Openings: 9,782     
Median Base Salary: $48,000 

29. Business Development Manager
Number of Job Openings: 6,348    
Median Base Salary: $80,000 

30. Dental Hygienist
Number of Job Openings: 2,805   
Median Base Salary: $67,250  

31. Data Analyst
Number of Job Openings: 5,456  
Median Base Salary: $60,000

32. Nurse Practitioner
Number of Job Openings: 18,997   
Median Base Salary: $102,000

33. Applications Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 2,591   
Median Base Salary: $77,000

34. QA Manager
Number of Job Openings: 1,923  
Median Base Salary: $91,250 

35. Risk Manager
Number of Job Openings: 3,924 
Median Base Salary: $100,500 

36. Communications Manager
Number of Job Openings: 2,009 
Median Base Salary: $80,000 

37. Physical Therapist
Number of Job Openings: 34,899 
Median Base Salary: $70,000 

38. Facilities Manager
Number of Job Openings: 3,472 
Median Base Salary: $65,000  

39. Systems Engineer
Number of Job Openings: 16,793  
Median Base Salary: $90,000  

40. Customer Success Manager
Number of Job Openings: 2,601  
Median Base Salary: $65,000 

41. Radiologic Technologist
Number of Job Openings: 6,115 
Median Base Salary: $48,000

42. Restaurant Manager
Number of Job Openings: 21,754  
Median Base Salary: $49,000  

43. Software Engineering Manager
Number of Job Openings: 1,445 
Median Base Salary: $153,000  

44. Software Developer
Number of Job Openings: 11,833  
Median Base Salary: $80,000 

45. Safety Manager
Number of Job Openings: 2,180   
Median Base Salary: $71,000  

46. UX Designer
Number of Job Openings: 3,333    
Median Base Salary: $89,000   

47. Office Manager
Number of Job Openings: 18,681     
Median Base Salary: $42,000  

48. Brand Manager
Number of Job Openings: 1,500      
Median Base Salary: $85,000   

49. Software Development Manager
Number of Job Openings: 1,178      
Median Base Salary: $140,000    

50. Systems Administrator
Number of Job Openings: 8,278   
Median Base Salary: $68,000     

Amazon.com starts direct sales of merchandise in Brazil after delays

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is launching its long-awaited in-house fulfillment and delivery network in Brazil after months of delays caused by complicated logistics and a highly complex tax system in the largest Latin American economy.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

Amazon, which some rivals had expected to kick off direct sales of items beyond books as soon as the Christmas selling season, said it will directly sell 11 categories of merchandise from over 800 suppliers from L’Oreal to Black & Decker as of Tuesday.

Its shift to stocking and delivering goods itself from acting mostly as a marketplace is expected to intensify competition for fast delivery of goods in Latin America’s largest economy as it exits a painful recession.

“We are launching (our direct sales platform) with 320,000 different products in stock, including 200,000 books… Our obsession is always to increase this catalog and to have everything Brazilian consumers seek and want to buy on the internet”, Amazon’s Brazilian country manager Alex Szapiro told Reuters.

In November, Reuters reported that Amazon’s attempt to advance with its so-called Fulfillment by Amazon program in Brazil had run into difficulties such as the nations’s tangled tax system, complicated logistics and testy relations with some prominent vendors.

“As in every negotiation, you take a seat at a table and you want to agree on the best possible terms”, said Szapiro when asked on the tone of conversations with suppliers, without entering in details.

Amazon entered Brazil quietly in 2012, selling e-readers, books and then streaming movies in the fast-growing Brazilian market. The company made its first big move into merchandise in October 2017, when it began offering the use of its Brazilian website to third-party merchants to sell electronics.

The company does not reveal the number of sellers in its marketplace, which it has slowly expanded over the past year, adding new categories while laying the ground for a direct sales platform.

As part of the fulfillment program, Amazon leased a 47,000 square-meter (505,904-square-foot) warehouse just outside of Sao Paulo, as first reported by Reuters almost a year ago.

Szapiro, who previously worked as Brazil country manager for Apple Inc, declined to say how much the company is spending on the new distribution center or how many people it is hiring, but said Amazon employs directly and indirectly over 1,400 people in Brazil.

In a report published on Monday, analysts at investment bank BTG Pactual said the expected direct sales launch signaled the company was ready “to strengthen investments, potentially via more partnerships with fulfillment operators and last-mile carriers.”

Even though the bank predicted Amazon would take a “gradual approach” and was likely to vye for a “low double-digit market share,” shares of Brazilian retailers reacted negatively to BTG’s report, with B2W, Magazine Luiza e Lojas Americanas among the biggest losers in Monday’s session.

Reporting by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Sandra Maler

An Astonishing 773 Million Records Exposed in Monster Breach

There are breaches, and there are megabreaches, and there’s Equifax. But a newly revealed trove of leaked data tops them all for sheer volume: 772,904,991 unique email addresses, over 21 million unique passwords, all recently posted to a hacking forum.

The data set was first reported by security researcher Troy Hunt, who maintains Have I Been Pwned, a way to search whether your own email or password has been compromised by a breach at any point. (Trick question: It has.) The so-called Collection #1 is the largest breach in Hunt’s menagerie, and it’s not particularly close.

The Hack

If anything, the above numbers belie the real volume of the breach, as they reflect Hunt’s effort to clean up the data set to account for duplicates and to strip out unusable bits. In raw form, it comprises 2.7 billion rows of email addresses and passwords, including over a billion unique combinations of email addresses and passwords.

The trove appeared briefly on MEGA, the cloud service, and persisted on what Hunt refers to as “a popular hacking forum.” It sat in a folder called Collection #1, which contained over 12,000 files that weigh in at over 87 gigabytes. While it’s difficult to confirm exactly where all that info came from, it appears to be something of a breach of breaches; that is to say, it claims to aggregate over 2,000 leaked databases that contain passwords whose protective hashing has been cracked.

“It just looks like a completely random collection of sites purely to maximize the number of credentials available to hackers,” Hunt tells WIRED. “There’s no obvious patterns, just maximum exposure.”

That sort of Voltron breach has happened before, but never on this scale. In fact, not only is this the largest breach to become public, it’s second only to Yahoo’s pair of incidents—which affected 1 billion and 3 billion users, respectively—in size. Fortunately, the stolen Yahoo data hasn’t surfaced. Yet.

Who’s Affected?

The accumulated lists seem designed for use in so-called credential-stuffing attacks, in which hackers throw email and password combinations at a given site or service. These are typically automated processes that prey especially on people who reuse passwords across the whole wide internet.

The silver lining in Collection #1 going public is that you can definitively find out if your email and password were among the impacted accounts. Hunt has already loaded them into Have I Been Pwned; just type in your email address and keep those fingers crossed. While you’re there you can also find out how many previous breaches you’ve been a victim of. Whatever password you’re using on those accounts, change it.

Have I Been Pwned also introduced a password-search feature a year and a half ago; you can just type in whatever passwords go with your most sensitive accounts to see if they’re out in the open. If they are, change them.

And while you’re at it, get a password manager. It’s well past time.

How Serious Is This?

Pretty darn serious! While it doesn’t appear to include more sensitive information, like credit card or Social Security numbers, Collection #1 is historic for scale alone. A few elements also make it especially unnerving. First, around 140 million email accounts and over 10 million unique passwords in Collection #1 are new to Hunt’s database, meaning they’re not just duplicates from prior megabreaches.

Then there’s the way in which those passwords are saved in Collection #1. “These are all plain text passwords. If we take a breach like Dropbox, there may have been 68 million unique email addresses in there, but the passwords were cryptographically hashes making them very difficult to use,” says Hunt. Instead, the only technical prowess someone with access to the folders needs to break into your accounts is the ability to scroll and click.

And lastly, Hunt also notes that all of these records were sitting not in some dark web backwater, but on one of the most popular cloud storage sites—until it got taken down—and then on a public hacking site. They weren’t even for sale; they were just available for anyone to take.

The usual advice for protecting yourself applies. Never reuse passwords across multiple sites; it increases your exposure by orders of magnitude. Get a password manager. Have I Been Pwned integrates directly into 1Password—automatically checking all of your passwords against its database—but you’ve got no shortage of good options. Enable app-based two-factor authentication on as many accounts as you can, so that a password isn’t your only line of defense. And if you do find your email address or one of your passwords in Have I Been Pwned, at least know that you’re in good company.


More Great WIRED Stories

Apple, Amazon called out for 'incorrect' Taiwan, Hong Kong references

TAIPEI/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – One of China’s top government-linked think tanks has called out Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and other foreign companies for not referring to Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of China in a report that provoked a stern reaction from Taipei.

FILE PHOTO: An electronic screen displays the Apple Inc. logo on the exterior of the Nasdaq Market Site following the close of the day’s trading session in New York City, New York, U.S., August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a report this month that 66 of the world’s 500 largest companies had used “incorrect labels” for Taiwan and 53 had errors in the way they referred to Hong Kong, according to China’s Legal Daily newspaper. It said 45 had referred to both territories incorrectly.

Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province of China and the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and operates as a semi-autonomous territory.

China last year ramped up pressure on foreign companies including Marriott International and Qantas for referring to Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate from China in drop down menus or other material.

The report was co-written by CASS and the Internet Development Research Institution of Peking University. An official at the Internet Development Research Institution told Reuters that it had not yet been published to the public and declined to provide a copy.

A spokesman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure.

“As for China’s related out-of-control actions, we need to remind the international community to face this squarely and to unite efforts to reduce and contain these actions,” Alex Huang told reporters in Taipei.

Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai, from the pro-independence ruling party, took office in 2016.

That has included rising Chinese scrutiny over how companies from airlines, such as Air Canada, to retailers, such as Gap, refer to the democratic island in recent months.

Nike Inc, Siemens AG, ABB, Subaru and others were also on the list. Apple, Amazon, ABB, Siemens, Subaru and Nike did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Reporting By Yimou Lee, Jess Macy Yu, Josh Horwitz; Additional Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom, Gao Liangping, Cate Cadell, Pei Li, Brenda Goh and Naomi Tajitsu in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie

Bracing for a Hazy Robo-Future, Ford and VW Join Forces

Sensor partnerships. Subsidiary acquisitions. Software collaborations. The autonomous driving world is about as incestous a place as Caligula’s palace, and it got a little more so today, when Ford and Volkswagen announced a formal and long-anticipated alliance.

“The alliance we are now building, starting from first formal agreement, will boost both partners’ competitiveness in an era of rapid change,” Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen, said on a call with reporters. He and Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the partnership—which is not a merger—will begin with the companies jointly developing and building medium-sized pickups and commercial vans, to debut as early as 2022. The automakers said the arrangement should “yield improved annual pre-tax operating results” by 2023. So hopefully, this makes everyone richer.

After that, well, the companies have signed a “memorandum of understanding” to collaborate on electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services. The shape and details of those partnerships are yet to be determined.

Diess is right about that “rapid change” bit. The automotive industry has shifted remarkably in the last decade, with new vehicle and vehicle-adjacent tech players—Tesla, Waymo, Aurora, Argo AI—injecting fresh blood (and panic) into the business of building cars. Ford and VW seem to believe that banding together will help them not only survive, but thrive.

The companies will need to do that in a world where, eventually, someday, the human driver is obsolete. The path to self-driving domination is not yet clear. What services will automotive manufacturers manage for themselves? Which technologies will they build and own? Ford and VW have spent the last few years toying with different answers to these questions, and by joining forces, each has diversified its AV portfolio. It might be evidence, as automotive writer Pete Bigelow points out, that the companies are making smart, strategic decisions about how to spend their R & D dollars in this confusing, in-between time. Or that they’re flailing. Maybe both.

Both VW and Ford already have (quasi) in-house automated vehicle software teams. VW has built up a 150-person “Autonomous Intelligent Driving” unit as part of its Audi brand, which is building a full AV software stack. (Audi itself has pledged to spend $16 billion on electric and self-driving vehicles through 2023.) And the German automaker is working on self-driving with the AV developer Aurora, which is headed up by self-driving tech veterans.

Ford has a large stake in Pittsburgh-based AV software company Argo AI, whose work is a key element of the automaker’s pledge to have a fully automated robotaxi in operation by 2021. And it has spent time and money boning up on “mobility” tech, purchasing companies like transit software-maker TransLoc, transportation cloud platform Autonomic, (recently killed) shuttle service Chariot, and scooter-share company Spin. It’s trying to figure out how best to connect customers to transportation, and what they’d like to see out of a transportation service, anyway.

It’s not clear yet how these various minglings will affect Ford and VW’s work. Argo AI is involved in the discussions between the companies, but specifics are scarce. “We’re not going to speculate on the details of the advanced discussions that are ongoing,” says Alan Hall, a spokesperson for Ford.

Khobi Brooklyn, a spokesperson for Aurora, did not say what role the company might play in the alliance. “As we continue to build relationships across the transportation ecosystem with providers of vehicles, transportation networks and fleet management operations, we are confident that we will be able to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly,” she wrote in a statement. Aurora has said that it has not ruled out working with other automotive manufacturers on self-driving cars; it also has partnerships with Hyundai and EV startup Byton.

Another element of this “diversification” that should benefit both companies: They get easier access to the others’ regional strengths—and regulatory environments. VW has invested serious money in South America, Africa, and China. But despite a new plan to establish a plant in Tennessee, the German carmaker is weaker in the US, Ford’s home turf. “From Volkswagen’s perspective, it would make a lot of sense to cooperate with an American player given that the regulatory conditions for preparing the breakthrough of autonomous driving are more advanced in the US than they are in Europe,” Diess told reporters. Break out those German-English dictionaries.


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Exclusive: Facebook brings stricter ads rules to countries with big 2019 votes

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc told Reuters on Tuesday that it would extend some of its political advertising rules and tools for curbing election interference to India, Nigeria, Ukraine and the European Union before significant votes in the next few months.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

As the largest social media service in nearly every big country, Facebook since 2016 has become a means for politicians and their adversaries to distribute fake news and other propaganda.

Buying Facebook ads can widen the audience for such material, but some of those influence efforts may violate election rules and the company’s policies.

Under pressure from authorities around the world, Facebook last year introduced several initiatives to increase oversight of political ads.

Beginning on Wednesday in Nigeria, only advertisers located in the country will be able to run electoral ads, mirroring a policy unveiled during an Irish referendum last May, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global politics and outreach, said in an interview.

The same policy will take effect in Ukraine in February. Nigeria holds a presidential election on Feb. 16, while Ukraine will follow on March 31.

In India, which votes for parliament this spring, Facebook will place electoral ads in a searchable online library starting from next month, said Rob Leathern, a director of product management at the company.

“We’re learning from every country,” Leathern said. “We know we’re not going to be perfect, but our goal is continuing, ongoing improvement.”

Facebook believes that holding the ads in a library for seven years is a key part of fighting intereference, he added.

The library will resemble archives brought to the United States, Brazil and Britain last year.

The newfound transparency drew some applause from elected officials and campaign accountability groups, but they also criticized Facebook for allowing advertisers in the United States to obfuscate their identities.

The Indian archive will contain contact information for some ad buyers or their official regulatory certificates. For individuals buying political ads, Facebook said it would ensure their listed name matches government-issued documents.

The European Union would get a version of that authorization and transparency system ahead of the bloc’s parliamentary elections in May, Leathern said.

The ad hoc approach, with varying policies and transparency depending on the region, reflects local laws and conversations with governments and civil society groups, Harbath said.

That means extra steps to verify identities and locations of political ad buyers in the United States and India will not be introduced in every big election this year, Leathern said.

In addition, ad libraries in some countries will not include what the company calls “issue” ads, Leathern said.

Facebook’s U.S. archive includes ads about much-debated issues such as climate change and immigration policy even though they may not directly relate to a ballot measure.

Australia, Indonesia, Israel and the Philippines are among nations holding key votes this year for which Facebook said it is still weighing policies.

Leathern and Harbath said they hoped to have a set of tools that applies to advertisers globally by the end of June. They declined to elaborate, saying lessons from the next couple of months would help shape the worldwide product.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Facebook is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

“Our goal was to get to a global solution,” Harbath said. “And so, until we can get to that in June, we had to look at the different elections and what we think we can do.”

Other Facebook teams remain focused on identifying problematic political behavior unrelated to ads.

Last month, researchers working for a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency used social media ads and regular posts on inauthentic accounts to promote then presidential candidate Donald Trump to millions of Americans. Russia has denied the accusation.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

HSBC settles forex deals worth $250 billion on blockchain in last year

FILE PHOTO: HSBC’s building in Canary Wharf is seen behind a City of London sign outside Billingsgate Market in London, Britain, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC (HSBA.L) has settled $250 billion worth of forex trades using blockchain in the last year, it said on Monday, suggesting the heavily hyped technology is gaining traction in a sector until now hesitant to embrace it.

The bank has settled over three million forex trades and made over 150,000 payments since February using blockchain, it said in a statement. HSBC would not give data on forex trades settled by traditional processes, saying only that those settled by blockchain represented a “small” proportion.

Still, the data marks a significant milestone in the use of blockchain by mainstream finance, which has until now been reluctant to start using the technology at any scale.

Blockchain is a shared database that can process and settle transactions in minutes. Originally conceived to underpin the cryptocurrency bitcoin, the technology does not require third-parties for checks and its entries cannot be changed, making it highly secure.

Banks and other financial firms have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the technology, hoping it will simplify and slash costs in processes from settlements to payments.

But few banks moved from testing to implementation of blockchain in large-scale projects. Many are worried about high costs, uncertainty over regulation and the risk of disruption to existing systems.

HSBC said its blockchain technology has automated manual processes and reduced its reliance on external technology.

Blockchain has also lowered the risks of errors and delays, cut costs, and helped the bank to better optimize its balance sheet, it said.

Richard Bibbey, the bank’s acting head of forex and commodities, said in a statement the bank was looking at how the technology could help multinational clients better manage forex flows.

Reporting by Tom Wilson, Editing by William Maclean

The Final Season of 'Game of Thrones' Has a Launch Date

Happy Monday, and welcome to another installment of The Monitor, WIRED’s roundup of the latest in the world of culture. In today’s news, HBO has finally coughed up a release date for the final season of Game of Thrones, Netflix is facing a lawsuit, and it looks like the Super Bowl won’t be marooned without a halftime show act.

Finally, a Date to Watch the Thrones

Always one to keep fans waiting in anticipation, HBO waited until three months out before to announce the launch date for Season 8 of Game of Thrones. Sunday night, just before the season premiere of True Detective, the network aired a teaser revealing that the epic fantasy’s final run will begin on April 14. What will the show look like when it does return? Snowy, as the Stark children—Arya, Sansa, Jon Snow—are about to confront some family demons at Winterfell. Or, at least, that’s what it seems like if the show’s new vague-as-hell-trailer is to be believed. Don’t worry, we’re sure plenty of third cousins you don’t remember will show up as well. And maybe Ed Sheeran.

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If You Want to Sue Netflix, Turn to Page Petty-Seven

In “Huh, didn’t see that coming!” news—there’s a lot of that these days, admittedly—Chooseco, the publisher behind the Choose Your Own Adventure books, is suing Netflix over its interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. In the interactive episode, a young videogame programmer designs a game based on a “choose your own adventure” book, and the episode itself lets viewers make choices about what the characters will do in the story. Chooseco’s suit claims it has the trademark to the phrase “choose your own adventure” and that Netflix doesn’t have a license to use it. The company is seeking at least $25 million in damages, though it’s also possible that if the judge doesn’t like the way the arguments proceed, she’ll just bang her gavel and restart things from an earlier point.

Hold Up, Is That Adam Levine?!

After Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z, and others reportedly passed on the gig, the NFL announced Sunday that Maroon 5 will be playing the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl. The band—along with Big Boi and Travis Scott, who are joining them in hopes of stemming a mass Puppy Bowl exodus—will bring their Jagger-like moves to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on February 3. And while he’s not part of the proceedings, we can only hope A$AP Ferg is nearby, his long quest at an end.


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Huawei Canada executive leaves post as scrutiny of company grows

NEW YORK/OTTAWA (Reuters) – One of Huawei Canada’s top executives on Friday disclosed he was leaving his post after more than seven years with the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, which is facing heightened scrutiny over security issues from Canada and its allies.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei Canada Vice President of Corporate Affairs Scott Bradley stands outside after the B.C. Supreme Court bail hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was released on a $10 million bail in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Scott Bradley disclosed his departure as the company’s senior vice president for corporate affairs in a post on LinkedIn that did not give a reason for the move. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Huawei Technologies Co is under intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.

On Friday, sources told Reuters that Poland arrested a Huawei employee and former Polish security official on spying allegations, a move that could fuel Western concerns about the security of the company’s technology.

Bradley was a key public spokesman for Huawei Canada, which has been under the spotlight since Canadian authorities in December arrested the chief financial officer of its parent company at the request of the United States.

Huawei is a major supplier of telecommunications equipment in Canada, where Bradley had served as chair of the 5G Canada Council, a national trade group promoting adoption of next-generation high-speed wireless technology.

The Canadian government last year launched a new security review of Huawei’s 5G technology, which at least two major Canadian carriers have said they plan to test in small-scale pilots.

Bradley will serve as special adviser to the company, assisting the company “as required,” Huawei Canada President Eric Li said in a memo to staff that was obtained by Reuters.

“We are saddened to see him leave but grateful for the tireless work he has put in to help us grow our brand and public image, and build various relationships with government,” Li said.

Bradley confirmed on LinkedIn that he intended to advise the company.

“As we start 2019, it is time for a change,” Bradley said in the post. “I continue to believe passionately in all of the values our Canadian team represents, and I believe that our team is one of the most innovative in the world.”

Jim Finkle in New York and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tom Brown