Fraud problem makes Facebook more attractive to online advertisers, say ad insiders

Jeff John Roberts:

Digital marketers, weary of online scams, will start placing more ads on Facebook rather than run the risk that their ads will be shown to robots instead of actual people.
 That was one conclusion of an ad industry breakfast in Manhattan, titled Bagels and Bots, where executives last week explored the pervasiveness of botnets — networks of corrupted computers that provide an easy way for criminals and hackers to defraud big brands out of billions of dollars. Here are some new numbers, and the implications for advertisers.

Why The Climate Corporation Sold Itself to Monsanto

Michael Spector:

From Galileo to Servetus to Mendel to Einstein. Revolutionary science has always incited visceral hatred on a mass scale. Galileo told us that the Bible was wrong and he was chastised for denying the word of God. Mendel was engaged in the devil’s work. And Einstein “invented a weapon that killed millions” because of his original theories of physics.
 It’s a lot easier for a reaction to something new to turn into repeated statements of evil, supported by anecdote and innuendo, and eventually turn into a meme, ultimately becoming the commonplace perception. Melissa McEwen is a blogger who writes about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating. She recently penned an article titled “Just Kale Me: How your Kale habit is slowly destroying your health and the world”. She chastised Kale (a very healthy vegetable) as being deadly ( She used innuendo, extrapolation, unscientific references, out-of-context facts and statements to make her point. Her “fake” article spread like wildfire and for about a day was considered “truth” by many “healthy living” bloggers and readers alike. The very next day, she edited the article and admitted to the truth—she was trying to make a point that it is so easy to demonize something without clear logic and fact, and still get everyone to believe you and repeat the bottom line. Her declaration was that when you read “an article that demonizes a food, think about whether or not there are citations and follow those citations”. Her article struck me as very poignant, in light of all the GMO research I had been doing in the prior weeks. There are so many articles (some are repeatedly published) that are wholly inaccurate, based in half-science, extrapolation, innuendo, and out-of-context rhetoric. When I did my own research—to the source and in the science—I was amazed at how far these inaccurate statements had gone and how wrong so many people were, thinking they were right because they repeated the same things others did.
 Perhaps Monsanto should have adopted the mantra that Paul Bucheit so cleverly and timely introduced at Google in 2000—“don’t be evil”. Just saying that was their mantra has helped Google countless times avoid the evil designation that so many people have tried to hurl their way over the years. It has worked.
 Did you know: Google sues more of its customers each year than Monsanto does? Google spends 3 times as much as Monsanto on Federal lobbying? There are more ex-Googlers in the Obama administration than there are ex-Monsanto employees?
 I could go on. But a lot of the “bad things” being said about Monsanto are simple truths about the nature of doing business at scale. On the list of top lobbyists on payroll in DC, Monsanto is not even in the top 50. The “Monsanto Protection Act” is actually called the “Farmer Assurance Provision” and was drafted and written by a number of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers, and others, to help ensure farmers aren’t denied the right to grow crops that are approved and regulated by the Federal agencies, protecting them from emerging state propositions that aren’t based on science or research.

Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)

Kurt Anderson:

David Hockney and others have speculated—controversially—that a camera obscura could have helped the Dutch painter Vermeer achieve his photo-realistic effects in the 1600s. But no one understood exactly how such a device might actually have been used to paint masterpieces. An inventor in Texas—the subject of a new documentary by the magicians Penn & Teller—may have solved the riddle.

In the history of art, Johannes Vermeer is almost as mysterious and unfathomable as Shakespeare in literature, like a character in a novel. Accepted into his local Dutch painters’ guild in 1653, at age 21, with no recorded training as an apprentice, he promptly begins painting masterful, singular, uncannily realistic pictures of light-filled rooms and ethereal young women. After his death, at 43, he and his minuscule oeuvre slip into obscurity for two centuries. Then, just as photography is making highly realistic painting seem pointless, the photorealistic “Sphinx of Delft” is rediscovered and his pictures are suddenly deemed valuable. By the time of the first big American show of Vermeer paintings—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1909—their value has increased another hundred times, by the 1920s ten times that.

Despite occasional speculation over the years that an optical device somehow enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures, the art-history establishment has remained adamant in its romantic conviction: maybe he was inspired somehow by lens-projected images, but his only exceptional tool for making art was his astounding eye, his otherworldly genius.

Has The Self Driving Car Arrived?

Burkhard Bilger:

Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.
 A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He’s twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I’m riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.
 Levandowski shakes his head. He’s used to this sort of thing. His Lexus is what you might call a custom model. It’s surmounted by a spinning laser turret and knobbed with cameras, radar, antennas, and G.P.S. It looks a little like an ice-cream truck, lightly weaponized for inner-city work. Levandowski used to tell people that the car was designed to chase tornadoes or to track mosquitoes, or that he belonged to an élite team of ghost hunters. But nowadays the vehicle is clearly marked: “Self-Driving Car.”

Via Oliver Bruce.

The Rise of Driving to Work


Over the past 50 years, the way Americans commute has seen one dominant trend: toward commuting alone by car.
 The percent of Americans who drive a private vehicle to work has increased significantly since 1960. The rapid suburbanization of the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, which some attribute to White Flight after the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, may be responsible. America’s love affair with the car certainly didn’t help.
 All these commuters could be carpooling, but as Planet Money points out, the percentage of Americans who carpool decreased from 20% to 10% over the past 30 years. (Despite all the new carpool lanes built.)
 All other forms of commuting became less common from 1980 to 2011 except for working from home. So the only categories that didn’t continually decrease over the past 50 years were “Private Vehicle” and “Work At Home.” We’ll have to wait and see whether the movement for all things green pushes up the numbers of people biking, walking, and using mass transport. But environmental efforts are fighting against longtime commuting trends.

Back to Housing Bubbles

Nouriel Roubini:

NEW YORK – It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing-market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, along with the severe recession that followed. While the United States is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fueled similar bubbles in the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai.
 Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia and Brazil.
 Signs that home prices are entering bubble territory in these economies include fast-rising home prices, high and rising price-to-income ratios, and high levels of mortgage debt as a share of household debt. In most advanced economies, bubbles are being inflated by very low short- and long-term interest rates. Given anemic GDP growth, high unemployment, and low inflation, the wall of liquidity generated by conventional and unconventional monetary easing is driving up asset prices, starting with home prices.
 The situation is more varied in emerging-market economies. Some that have high per capita income – for example, Israel, Hong Kong, and Singapore – have low inflation and want to maintain low policy interest rates to prevent exchange-rate appreciation against major currencies. Others are characterized by high inflation (even above the central-bank target, as in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil). In China and India, savings are going into home purchases, because financial repression leaves households with few other assets that provide a good hedge against inflation. Rapid urbanization in many emerging markets has also driven up home prices, as demand outstrips supply.

Tesla faces uphill fight against dealers, lawmakers

Julie Bykowicz & Angela Greiling Keane:

Tesla Motors was in trouble in North Carolina. Prohibited from opening showrooms there, it was on the way to being unable to sell cars at all when the state Senate voted unanimously to block online auto sales.
 Then Tesla turned out a lobbying weapon that, in the home state of stock-car racing’s hall of fame, spoke louder than money: It parked a Model S at the Capitol and invited lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory, R, to take it for a spin.
 “When you accelerate it, it was the same sort of feeling I got when I test-drove a Mustang Boss back when I was probably 23 years old,” Republican House Speaker Thomas Tillis, 53, told the Raleigh News & Observer.

Gartner’s Vision Of The Future Of Mobility; Should Users Be Afraid?

Yann Gourvennec:

Gartner’s four phases of “cognizant computing”
 “sync me”: this is the most obvious phase, the one which most of the Computing giants have achieved; it is composed of storage and the syncing of personal data,
 the “see me” phase: this is all about our digital footprint. “This phase is still not very intelligent, and not many companies are taking advantage of this” the Gartner analysts said,
 the “know me” phase: this is about understanding who the user is, what he likes and what he does through the data he stored; so that he can be presented with offers and messages which are relevant to him,
 “be me” phase: this is where services are acting on the user’s behalf based on learned or explicit data.
 Yet, looking at how many companies do this show that there is still room for improvement:

Mobile Interaction Models

Benedict Evans:

The interaction model for the desktop internet was pretty much settled 15 years ago. It turned out that the answer was a web browser. Stand-alone apps such as Pointcast were a mostly blind alley, and while apps persisted for email and IM, and for very specific things like music, the words ‘web’ and ‘internet’ became effectively synonymous to anyone non-technical. Over time we added Ajax and better search and better social, but everything really happened inside the browser.
 In mobile this is quite different: nothing is settled. We have the web and apps and of course apps, and then we have many complications – voice, in-app payments, web apps, hybrid apps, widgets, push notifications, social messaging apps, Google Now and Siri. Then there’s the hardware layer – images, barcodes, NFC, bluetooth, location, motion sensors etc. Innovative and disruptive new interaction models can very often find a route to market, far more easily than they could on the desktop internet. Sometimes, they scale to a hundred million users in a year to two. And we have more and more waves of innovation coming, with things like local wireless from Apple and deep linking to within apps from Android, and a very fast-evolving social messaging space, and more things in 2014 and beyond.
 So, we can actually have a pretty limited idea of what the dominant interaction models will be in 5 years.