Alaska Airlines Is Offering a Little-Known, Stunningly Caring Perk (Not Just In Business Class)

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

We’re living in peculiar times when airlines seem to be taking away more than they’re offering.

Sometimes, though, thoughtful people lurk within airline managements. 

Their cogitations can bring fruit.

In Alaska Airlines’ case, that fruit is the grape. 

Or, rather, the result of the grape’s manipulation.

The airline has a program called Wines Fly Free

Created in 2007, the idea was to allow Mileage Plan members to check their wine purchases for free, as they drifted back from Sonoma to their homes in places far less attractive than Sonoma.

Regulations, you see, made it arduous and expensive for smaller wineries to dispatch wine to grateful customers.

It seems that many Alaska customers were grateful for its viticultural appreciation and foresight. 

Now, Alaska is expanding the program from 11 to 29 airports, all toward the west of the U.S. These include smaller airports like Bellingham in Washington state.

The program allows you to check one whole case of wine — suitably packed for shipping, of course — for free to any U.S. destination.

Which is marvelously timed for February 18.

This happens to be National Wine Day.

I thought National Wine Day was every day. (Disclosure: I’m a Wine Ambassador for Honig Winery in Napa.)

Alaska, though, decided to celebrate this even further.

On this very February 18, the airline is even giving passengers — those who are old enough, of course — a free glass wine on certain flights.

This is rare civilization.

It might even serve as inspiration.

You can now choose to save money on fares by flying Economy Class.

If you’re you’re a Mileage Plan member, you can fly to some fine wine region, spend some of the money you’ve saved on the gracious grape infusion and not worry about how much it will cost to get onto the plane.

You could choose Dry Creek, Russian River, Napa, Anderson Valley or Paso Robles.

To name just a few of my favorite Californian wine regions.

Surely more airlines should consider such perks to life the spirits of their customers.

Of course, one way would be to abolish baggage fees altogether.

No, I haven’t had a drink today at all.

This Shark Tank 'Shark' Always Flies Economy. Here's the Surprising Reason Why

Flying: It’s the worst. It makes people sick, and if the airlines aren’t squeezing every last ounce of comfort from your flight, your fellow passengers probably are.

It’s worst of all in economy of course–and yet that’s where entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, the Shark Tank shark and entrepreneur rumored to have a net worth of about $80 million, says she always flies coach if she’s paying for the ticket.

“I always fly economy if I’m paying the tab because I’m too cheap to spring for an expensive ticket,” Corcoran told Kara Cutruzzula in an interview recently for The Points Guy travel site. “I’m even too cheap to use free miles to upgrade because I realized those free miles can buy one of my relatives who don’t have the money a free ticket to somewhere.”

Of course, Corocran isn’t always paying the tab, and she clocks in her share of miles in higher class accommodations and private jets. But she said she’s compiled a list of travel hacks to make flying coach more palatable.

Among them:

Bring your own food.

“I’m not even a picky eater, but I know what I like, and I know that if I have fresh bread, delicious cheese and a bottle of wine, I’m going to be the happiest traveler in town,” Corcoran said.

Drop a cloth napkin on the tray table in front of you.

“It sets the tone and makes a difference, especially when you’re squeezed in the middle seat.”

Get in the zone and get to work.

“I use it to accomplish things that I don’t want to do or that I’m stalling on, and it forces the issue since I have a deadline.”

Carry on everything.

“Even with the smallest carry-on bag, despite how tightly I pack, I will only use what’s on the top half.”

(She has a few other cool tips, too. It’s worth checking them out.)

I find Corcoran’s attitude inspiring–both for aspiring entrepreneurs who should become very comfortable with inexpensive economy class tickets and for people in general.

If you’re an entrepreneur, every penny you put into things like your travel budget is money that’s not going into building your business. And

for the rest of us, I think her perspective on money is interesting–since she has a good chunk and can pretty much do whatever she wants with it.

As she put it in a Reddit AMA she did a few years ago:

“Wealth complicates things. I’m not really sure who my real friends are now … and so I keep my original circle small. When I cashed out on my business, everybody I knew suddenly had a $10,000 problem. But I’m not giving the money back.”

Uber Is Reportedly Planning to Sell Its Southeast Asia Branch to Competitor Grab

Uber is preparing to hand over its Southeast Asia business to the Singaporean ridesharing company Grab, according to a report by CNBC. Uber would get Grab equity in the deal, if and when it goes through.

CNBC’s sources further said the deal was part of a strategy to help Uber reduce costs ahead of a planned IPO. The company lost a mind-boggling $4.5 billion in 2017 on $7.5 billion in sales – which means there’s plenty of demand for its services, but it needs to do some serious streamlining and focus on its strongest regions.

But a closer look shows there may be more going on than one company’s decision to exit a challenging market.

Asia as a whole has certainly been tough on Uber, with regional services consistently beating the American giant. Uber already threw in the towel in China, where it swapped its operations for an ownership stake in competitor Didi Chuxing in 2016. In India, the taxi platform Ola stole 3% of the market from Uber just in the second half of 2017, despite Uber’s major push to win there. Ola now leads in market share by more than 15%.

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But here’s the thing: Didi, Ola, and Grab have all taken large investments from Japan’s SoftBank. Last month, SoftBank also made a $1.25 billion investment in Uber and became the company’s largest shareholder. Based on those relationships, Quartz recently dubbed SoftBank “the real king of ride-hailing.”

An Uber deal with Grab could serve SoftBank’s push to streamline the competitive environment for ride-hailing services – or, put another way, to divide up its global kingdom into small, relatively sheltered fiefdoms. Rajeev Misra, who joined Uber’s board as part of the SoftBank deal, has argued that Uber should focus primarily on the U.S. and Europe. It has also remained strong in Latin America and the Middle East.

So while the Southeast Asia deal might help nudge Uber’s balance sheet in the right direction, it also represents a non-trivial retrenchment of its ambitions. As Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky chronicled in his 2017 book on the company, Uber once sought global domination. Now, facing regulatory and competitive roadblocks in dozens of markets, and with investors guiding it along a more modest path, it may have to settle for a lot less.

The Big Engineering Behind Olympic Snowboarding's Big Air Event

A jump with the exact proportions of the launch ramp for snowboarding’s big air event, which will make its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, does not exist in nature. It must be built. And so, fewer than a dozen times a year, at venues ranging from ballparks to parking lots, impeccably orchestrated teams of engineers, ice suppliers, snowmakers, crane operators, up riggers, down riggers, scaffold designers—you get the picture—do exactly that. And at this year’s Winter Games, from February 19—24, snowboarders from around the world will hurl themselves from one of the biggest big air ramps ever conceived.

“They’re crazy projects—I love them,” says Michael Zorena. The owner of the Massachusetts-based Consultantzee, Zorena has led the construction of awe-inspiring structures around the world, from Ai Weiwei’s 20,000-pound, metal-wire “Good Neighbors” installation in New York City to a geodesic, 360° projection sphere in Dubai. But big air ramps are particularly fun. His company recently built two in as many years—the first inside Fenway Park in 2016, the second in a Los Angeles parking lot, last year, at one of Shaun White’s Air + Style music-cum-snowsport festivals.

Most big air ramps are temporary, purpose-built to fit their particular venues. As a result, each is constructed a little differently, but they share a standard anatomy. At the top of the structure, about 150 feet feet up, is the deck, a flat staging area where snowboarders wait to perform their jumps. There’s the inrun—the long, vertiginous drop, typically at an angle between 38 and 39 degrees, that the athletes descend to gain velocity, accelerating to speeds between 35 and 40 miles per hour. Then there’s the kick, an abrupt upsweep at the bottom of the inrun, which flings riders into the air.

Next comes the landing ramp (another long, steep section with an angle similar to that of the inrun), the placement of which is crucial. Its descending slope helps convert the riders’ downward momentum into forward momentum, sparing them the ruinous impact of a multi-story fall. Placing its center about 70 feet from the lip of the kick gives riders ample room to over- or undershoot, maximizing their odds of touching down on a steep decline. Add in the finishing area—a large, increasingly flat corral of snow beginning some 85 feet from the base of the landing ramp—and you’ve got a run that extends between 400 and 500 feet, from nose to tail.

It’s as challenging to build, and build safely, as it sounds. Underpinning all these features is a combination of snow, metal, wood, and—when their dimensions are close enough to those of the desired feature—existing infrastructure and topography. (At Pyeongchang, for instance, the landing ramp was built by layering snow atop a section of stadium seating.)

Drawings by scaffold engineer Jeremy Thom show the angles and curves of a big air ramp he designed for Fenway Park. A:Deck. B: Inrun. C: Kick. D: Landing.

Jeremy Thom/Atomic Design

But the temporary nature of most big air ramps—and their inruns, especially—results in a strikingly industrial aesthetic. Think soaring skeletons of steel scaffolding; the ramp’s bones and joints comprise tens of thousands of rods, fasteners, and clamps. “It’s essentially a big Erector Set,” says Jeremy Thom, an expert in the design of stage sets, amphitheatres, and similarly tremendous structures. The scaffolds of the big air ramps at Fenway and in LA, both of which he designed, consisted of 25,823 and 22,693 individual parts, respectively. (In his CAD files, he accounted for every single component.) “We assemble the structure one piece at a time,” Thom says. “It’s hand crafted. Bespoke. Like a Savile Row suit.”

On many job sites, workers will often erect a scaffold by forming a passline, handing each component from one person to the next. But then, most job sites don’t accommodate scaffolds as colossal as a big air inrun. Workers on the ground build the repetitive elements of the structure, which crane operators hoist up to riggers, who put them in place. Finally, a wood team adds a reinforcing layer of 4×4 lumber before topping everything off with plywood.

The naked big air inrun in Pyeongchang. Note the stadium seating below, which was covered in snow to create the landing ramp.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

That leaves you with what Zorena calls a “faceted gradient”—a curved incline, sure, but one that’s far from even. To dial in a long, smooth slope, you need a lot of snow, which engineers account for when they design the structure: Dry, fresh powder can weigh as little as three pounds per square foot, while an equivalent volume of wet, heavy stuff can tip the scales at upwards of 20 pounds.

Orders of ice can vary by the hundreds of tons, depending on the local weather. A big air event held in Los Angeles in March needs more than one hosted during a New England cold snap. When Zorena and his team began building the big air ramp at Fenway in 2016, they ordered 800 tons of ice from a local supplier in anticipation of unseasonably warm weather. But when the forecast called for a return to sub-freezing temperatures, they slashed their request by half.

In the end, the snow on the ramp is usually no more than 18 inches deep—any more than that and the weight can overwhelm the underlying structure. (“Plus, removal is a nightmare if it’s too deep,” Zorena says.) Snowmakers add a foundation of crushed ice, then blow powder on top; they point upward-facing snow guns in the landing zone, and another set on the deck, pointing down.

Snowcats can smooth out parts of the jump, but much of the work is done by hand. “It’s super labor intensive, not very glamorous—basically shovels and rakes,” says Eric Webster, who, as the US Ski and Snowboard Association’s senior director of events, has overseen the construction of multiple big air ramps. A week before big air’s Olympic debut, snow-shapers overseen by Schneestern—the German company behind the big air features in Pyeongchang—were still tending to the jump.

But the experts I spoke with say it’s worth the effort. The deck of the big air jump in South Korea towers just over 160 feet above the base of the landing ramp (about 10 feet higher than the jump Zorena built in Fenway Park), and its inramp is a degree or two steeper. Expect those variations to translate to even bigger air than the world has seen in competitions past.

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U.S. regulator warns of cryptocurrency 'pump-and-dump' schemes

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. derivatives regulator warned investors on Thursday about cryptocurrency “pump-and-dump” scams that aim to rip off investors by inflating the price of volatile virtual tokens through spreading bogus information.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission said in a statement that it had received complaints from investors who had lost money in such schemes, and warned against buying cryptocurrencies based on tips found on social media.

“As with many online frauds, this type of scam is not new – it simply deploys an emerging technology to capitalize on public interest in digital assets,” CFTC director of public affairs Erica Elliott Richardson said in the statement.

The CFTC’s warning comes as financial regulators worldwide intensify their scrutiny of cryptocurrencies, which are virtual coins not backed by governments. Cryptocurrency trading has been booming over the past year, with the price of coins such as bitcoin and ethereum hitting record levels in volatile markets.

Bitcoin topped $10,000 on Thursday for the first time in more than two weeks, as investors bought the digital currency after it had fallen 70 percent from its record peak in December.BTC=BTSP

Cryptocurrencies are traded on largely unregulated and anonymous online exchanges, many of which have been plagued by problems such as hacks and technical glitches. The CFTC considers bitcoin a commodity and has anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority over virtual currency markets.

Cryptocurrency “pump-and-dump” schemes are generally carried out anonymously on public chatrooms or on mobile chat apps.

In the “pump” phase, organizers typically post fake or misleading information enticing other investors to buy a token and thus inflate its price. The organizers then quickly sell their holdings of that token – the “dump” – and make a profit at the expense of other investors.

“The price falls and victims are left with currency or tokens that are worth much less than what they expected,” the CFTC said in its statement.

The CFTC has been expanding its reach over cryptocurrencies, having authorized two large U.S. exchanges to list bitcoin futures late last year.

At a Senate hearing this month, CFTC Chairman Christopher Giancarlo noted that the regulator was focused on cracking down on manipulation of cryptocurrency markets.

“What we will do and we are doing is looking for fraud and manipulation,” Giancarlo said. “And we intend to be very aggressive.”

Reporting by Anna Irrera; Editing by Ian Simpson

Cisco posts loss on $11.1 billion tax-related charge

(Reuters) – Cisco Systems Inc reported its first rise in quarterly revenue in more than two years, which also topped analysts’ estimates, as the network gear maker’s years-long efforts to transition to a software-focused company begins to take hold.

Shares of the Dow component rose 5.3 percent to $44.34 in after-market trading on Wednesday.

The company said its board raised its buyback program by $25 billion.

Revenue from its infrastructure platforms category, which includes switching, routing and data center businesses, rose 2 percent to $6.7 billion, beating analysts’ estimate of $6.6 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue from Cisco’s security business, which offers firewall protection and breach detection systems, rose 6 percent to $558 million, but missed analysts’ average estimate of $589.5 million.

The world’s largest network gear maker forecast third-quarter adjusted profit between 64 cents and 66 cents per share, compared with analysts’ estimate of 63 cents per share.

The company posted a net loss of $8.8 billion, or $1.78 per share, in the second quarter ended Jan. 27, compared with a profit of $2.3 billion, or 47 cents per share, a year earlier.

The loss was due to an $11.1 billion charge related to the recent changes to the U.S. tax law.

Excluding items, the company earned 63 cents per share.

Revenue rose 2.7 percent to $11.9 billion.

Analysts on average had expected Cisco to report a profit of 59 cents per share and revenue of $11.8 billion.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila

Cisco beats estimates, boosts buyback program by $25 billion

(Reuters) – Cisco Systems Inc reported its first rise in quarterly revenue in more than two years, which also topped analysts’ estimates, as the network gear maker’s years-long efforts to transition to a software-focused company begins to take hold.

Shares of the Dow component rose 5.3 percent to $44.34 in after-market trading on Wednesday.

The company said its board raised its buyback program by $25 billion.

Revenue from its infrastructure platforms category, which includes switching, routing and data center businesses, rose 2 percent to $6.7 billion, beating analysts’ estimate of $6.6 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue from Cisco’s security business, which offers firewall protection and breach detection systems, rose 6 percent to $558 million, but missed analysts’ average estimate of $589.5 million.

The world’s largest network gear maker forecast third-quarter adjusted profit between 64 cents and 66 cents per share, compared with analysts’ estimate of 63 cents per share.

The company posted a net loss of $8.8 billion, or $1.78 per share, in the second quarter ended Jan. 27, compared with a profit of $2.3 billion, or 47 cents per share, a year earlier.

The loss was due to an $11.1 billion charge related to the recent changes to the U.S. tax law.

Excluding items, the company earned 63 cents per share.

Revenue rose 2.7 percent to $11.9 billion.

Analysts on average had expected Cisco to report a profit of 59 cents per share and revenue of $11.8 billion.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila

EBay Wants to Make Online Shopping More Fun

EBay Inc. will roll out new augmented reality features this year to make buying and selling goods on the website more engaging, and is exploring a credit program for sellers to encourage them to keep their money on the platform.

The San Jose, California-based marketplace said it’s working on an AR kit that, for example, will let car enthusiasts see how the images of new wheels would look on their vehicles before making a purchase. Another feature will help sellers select the correct box size for an item by overlaying an image of the box on the merchandise.

EBay had a strong holiday quarter with 170 million buyers on the platform and a 10 percent increase in gross merchandise volume to $24.4 billion. That is a key metric of the value of all goods and tickets sold on the company’s marketplaces.

Shoppers look to EBay for unique items at good prices and quick delivery is not the only factor that influences their spending decisions, Chief Executive Officer Devin Wenig said Tuesday in San Francisco at a technology conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Wenig sought to convince investors there is room for EBay in a market dominated by Amazon.com Inc., which offers delivery of some items in as little as an hour.

“A lot of people say e-commerce is about one thing: logistics. That’s not true,” Wenig said. “Cost, convenience and the inventory itself matters a lot as well.”

Wenig predicted retail consolidation and brick-and-mortar store closures will continue due to overcapacity created before the internet connected buyers with the merchandise they want. This trend will open new opportunities for EBay to become partners with physical retailers looking to enhance their online presence, he said.

The marketplace plans to add more apparel and home goods, which is helping to balance its customer base by attracting younger shoppers and women, Wenig said. EBay has traditionally skewed toward older men, he said.

“Moving a brand takes years. It doesn’t take quarters,’ Wenig said.

EBay’s key strategies to maintain growth include improving the way artificial intelligence and data are used to personalize what visitors see on the home page and introducing features such as the AR tools to make online shopping more fun, Mohan Patt, EBay’s vice president of buyer experiences, said in an interview. The goal is to expand EBay’s customer reach beyond mission-shoppers who know precisely what they want to enthusiasts in different categories seeking inspiration, Patt said.

“Personalization is all about getting you to buy things you didn’t know you wanted,” he said.

EBay announced Tuesday that it hired data scientist Jan Pedersen to run its artificial intelligence efforts that will bring new shopping experiences to the marketplace. Pedersen most recently worked as vice president of data science at social media platform Twitter Inc.

The company also is considering a program to give sellers credits to entice them to use the money they make on EBay to buy additional items on the marketplace, Patt said. That feature will become possible as EBay transitions to a new payment provider after its relationship with long-time partner PayPal Holdings Inc., he said.

'Olympic Destroyer' malware targeted Pyeongchang Games: firms

(Reuters) – Several U.S. cyber security firms said on Monday that they had uncovered a computer virus dubbed “Olympic Destroyer” that was likely used in an attack on Friday’s opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

Games Organizers confirmed the attack on Sunday, saying that it affected internet and television services but did not compromise critical operations. Organizers did not say who was behind the attack or provide detailed discussion of the malware, though a spokesman said that all issues had been resolved as of Saturday. [L4N1Q1027]

Researchers with cyber security firms Cisco Systems Inc, CrowdStrike and FireEye Inc said in blog posts and statements to Reuters on Monday that they had analyzed computer code they believed was used in Friday’s attack.

All three security companies said the Olympic Destroyer malware was designed to knock computers offline by deleting critical system files, which would render the machines useless.

The three firms said they did not know who was behind the attack.

“Disruption is the clear objective in this type of attack and it leaves us confident in thinking that the actors behind this were after embarrassment of the Olympic committee during the opening ceremony,” Cisco said in its blog.

The attack took the Olympics website offline, which meant that some people could not print out tickets and WiFi used by reporters covering the games did not work during the opening ceremony, according to Cisco.

Drones that were intended to be used in the program failed to deploy, prompting organizers to insert pre-recorded footage of the drones in global telecasts.

It was not immediately clear if the issue with the drones was caused by the cyber attack.

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Hay

Sentiment Speaks: Mining Stocks Have Been The Most Frustrating Trade For The Last Year

For those that follow me regularly, you will know that I have been tracking a set up for the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX), which I analyze as a proxy for the metals mining market. I believe that the GDX can outperform the general equity market once we confirm a long term break out has begun, and I still think we can see it in occur in 2018. But, after last week’s break down below the December 2017 low, the set up will have to be resurrected first in the coming months.

I am not sure what more there is to say. We have had several break-out set ups break down in the GDX over the last year. Yet, all the market has done is consolidate sideways for an entire year. Clearly, this is not something I would have or could have expected. Moreover, we still have a 5-wave structure off the 2015 lows, which still keeps us in a longer term bullish perspective.

Since the GDX is a composition of a whole host of mining stocks, I think I have to resolve myself to understanding that the weaker stocks have certainly been a strong drag on the overall fund. So, until the weaker stocks prove they have a bottom in place, it seems quite clear that the GDX will continue to frustrate us.

With that being said, the miners we are holding in our EWT Miners Portfolio are presenting as exceptionally strong, especially relative to the GDX as a whole. Many of them seem as ready to break out similarly to the manner in which GLD seems poised to break out. Yet, when I go back to look at stocks like ABX, it seems quite clear why the GDX has been underperforming.

As you can see from the attached ABX chart, it has followed through down to lower lows in this current pullback. When I highlighted this chart a few months ago to our members of my The Market Pinball Service, I noted this lower low potential, and the ABX is now fulfilling that potential. But, as I also noted in those updates, the long-term potential being presented by this chart is quite strong. As you can see, the positive divergences evident on this chart as the market has dropped down to just below its .618 retracement of its 2016 rally is quite stark. This is often a precursor to a strong reversal which will likely kick off the larger degree 3rd wave which has failed to take hold over the last year.

Within the micro count of ABX, it would seem we are completing the wave v of (C) of y of ii. But, within wave v, we may still see another 4-5 structure before this completes its downside. That means that the 14 region is going to be the resistance over which it will have to rally in impulsive fashion to begin to signal that this wave ii has finally completed. Should that occur, we may see the ABX catch up quite quickly to the rest of the complex behind which it has been lagging.

So, in order to align the GDX chart with the ABX chart, I have to consider any bounce below the 22-22.66 region as being a 4th wave bounce, similar to the potential we see in the ABX. It will take an impulsive rally through the 22.66 region to suggest that the lows have been struck in the GDX, assuming the ABX is also impulsively rallying through its 14 region. Again, we will have to start seeing the laggards in this complex catch up and potentially even outperform to signal that a true low has been struck.

But, in conclusion, even though the GDX technically broke its recent (1)(2) structure, the metals charts still give me reason to remain bullish in the larger degree. As I noted to my subscribers, the short-term indications in my 144-minute silver chart suggest it is trying to bottom out, while the longer-term structure in ABX suggests it should also catch up to the rest of the market, which would allow the GDX to finally break out when the ABX is finally able to complete its longer-term pullback. Until such time, it seems the market is trying to teach us a lesson in patience, such as that exhibited by the biblical figure Job.

Housekeeping Matters

Lastly, it seems that Seeking Alpha has changed the way they tag articles. So, while my articles used to be sent out as an email to those that follow the metals complex, they are now only being sent out to those that have chosen to “follow” me. So, if you would like notification as to when my articles are published, please hit the button at the top to “follow” me. Thank you.

Disclosure: I am/we are long PHYSICAL METALS AND VARIOUS MINING STOCKS.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I significantly reduced my hedges, and only hold an appropriate amount for portfolio insurance at this time.

What Microsoft’s Antitrust Case Teaches Us About Silicon Valley

In the twilight of the 20th century, Bill Gates was well and truly a tentacular squid, with his sucker-covered limbs extending into every level of the computer industry. The one area that Gates didn’t dominate: the World Wide Web. And how he tried to conquer that newfangled internet led to an epic court battle that continues to shape how the world sees the five-headed beast that Big Tech has become.

Microsoft famously missed the rise of the web in the early ’90s, with Gates dedicating only a fraction of his mid-’90s tome The Road Ahead to the internet. Meanwhile, Netscape introduced millions to the pleasures of browsing and surfing, forcing Microsoft to do one of its notorious “fast follows” (i.e., rapid copycat product launches). The company introduced Internet Explorer in 1995 and wasted no time in browbeating and cajoling companies the world over into making it the default web browser on their systems.

Word of Microsoft’s depredations reached the US Department of Justice, which in 1998 sued the company for violating the Sherman Act, a vague and archaic law that regulates the ability of conglomerates to assemble monopolies and stifle competition. What’s more, the government’s lawyers wouldn’t just move to penalize Microsoft with fines—they’d seek to break it into smaller companies.

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The case would last more than five years, and the trial had its share of Perry Mason moments, as the wily lead litigator, David Boies, arguing on behalf of the DOJ, dueled in cross-examinations with Micro­soft witnesses. The most damning evidence submitted at trial, however, was a videotaped deposition of Gates. Unlike robber barons of yore, he wasn’t a portly, cigar-smoking chieftain. He was a rumpled geek who testified about Microsoft’s past practices with an amnesiac level of vagueness and a truly Napoleonic persona. This wasn’t save-the-world techno-­optimism. It was sharp-­elbowed libertarianism, and the press coverage of his performance introduced audiences at home to a new character of the digital age: the ruthless tech tycoon. From Gates it was a short jump to Steve Jobs, infamous distorter of reality fields; Jeff Bezos, slayer of publishing’s “sickly gazelles”; and so many other dark lords with world-warping visions.

Microsoft lost the first round in 2001, with the presiding judge ordering the company’s breakup. This “structural solution” (to use antitrust lingo) was later overturned on appeal, largely because under US law being a monopoly per se isn’t illegal. It’s typically only when a company abuses that dominance through coercion and collusion (among other anticompetitive tactics that raise prices and hurt consumers) that drastic remedies must be taken, and the appeals court wasn’t convinced that the judge in the first trial applied the correct standards to order a breakup. Microsoft and the government decided to cut their losses and reach a settlement, with the company agreeing to a series of “behavioral remedies” that dampened its ability to strong-arm others. Microsoft as Gates built it would survive, but the message from the government was clear: No one company could dictate the tech industry’s playbook.

Now, as Gates is off trying to cure malaria, and the chorus of complaint against Big Tech reaches a crescendo, could Bezos and his fellow giants end up in the government’s crosshairs? It’s unlikely, mostly because the tech world is fundamentally different today than it was in 1998 while US antitrust laws are essentially the same. To use a geopolitical analogy, technology was then a unipolar world and Microsoft its lone superpower. The tech world has since become multipolar: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, and (a reduced) Microsoft are near-­absolute monarchs of their respective domains. No single giant can dominate any other, and one company can coerce another only with great difficulty, if at all. The prospect of Facebook twisting Apple’s arm to ship a new iPhone without any social media apps except for Facebook’s—which is more or less what Microsoft supposedly did to Apple with Explorer—is unthinkable.

Today’s titans tower over their kingdoms, secure behind their walls of user data and benefiting from extreme network effects that make serious competition from startups nearly impossible. US antitrust laws, written in the industrial age, don’t capture many of the new realities and potential dangers of these vast data empires. Maybe they should.


Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is the author of Chaos Monkeys.

This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

Bitcoin and Bug Bounties on the Hill, Apple and Cisco’s Cyber Deal, iPhone Leak

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate convened two hearings on a couple of this newsletter’s favorite topics: cryptocurrencies and bug bounty programs. The day’s testimonies were chock full of fresh insights—and were a welcome diversion, for this author, from the government’s unending budgetary troubles.

The first hearing before the Senate Banking Committee saw Jay Clayton, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Christopher Giancarlo, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, dish about virtual money. Amid cratering prices, repeated thefts, and recent banking credit bans, Bitcoin investors had braced themselves for the worst. The regulators, however, struck several positive notes during the session, praising Bitcoin for spurring innovations in digital ledger technology. Giancarlo, for one, promised “a thoughtful and balanced response, and not a dismissive one” to the digital gold rush.

One point to keep an eye on: Clayton warned entrepreneurs against “initial coin offerings,” recent fundraising phenomena that founders have used to raise billions of dollars through the sale of digital tokens. “To the extent that digital assets like ICOs [initial coin offerings] are securities—and I believe every ICO I’ve seen is a security—we have jurisdiction and our federal securities laws apply,” he said. Expect Clayton’s agency to continue to pursue action against projects it deems in violation of securities laws.

The second hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection invited cybersecurity professionals to the Hill to discuss the historically uneasy relationship between companies and hackers. Some highlights: John Flynn, Uber’s chief information security officer, told the panel that his company “made a misstep” by failing to promptly report a 2016 data breach that recently came to light. Mårtin Mickos, CEO of HackerOne, a bug bounty startup, urged legislators to revise laws used to prosecute hackers and to standardize data breach notification requirements at the federal level. And Katie Moussouris, founder of Luta Security, a bug bounty consultancy, pressed companies to adopt clear policies around vulnerability reporting. (HackerOne posted a nice recap of the day’s happenings, which you can read on its blog here.)

Both hearings were highly encouraging. Let’s hope that when the lawmakers reexamine their books, they’ll keep the good sense of these experts in mind.

Have a great weekend.

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.

THREATS

Digital defense discount deals. Insurer Allianz will offer discounts on cybersecurity insurance coverage to customers that use Apple devices, like Macs and iPhones, Cisco security products designed to protect against ransomware attacks, and risk evaluations from Aon, the professional services firm. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Cisco CEO Tim Robbins revealed in June that they were collaborating with insurers on these new policies.

Suspicious spy saga sours. U.S. intelligence agents, lured by the possibility of recovering hacking tools stolen from the NSA, paid a Russian intermediary an installment of $100,000 for the alleged cyber weapons last year. Further negotiations fell through after the Russian source delivered only materials already made public by the “shadow brokers,” a mysterious group that first started leaking the NSA attack code in 2016, and as the source continued to push unverifiable, allegedly compromising materials related to President Donald Trump.

Intern infiltrates iPhone internals. Apple forced the code-sharing website Github to take down a post containing leaked source code for the iPhone’s boot process this week, as Motherboard first reported. Apparently, the code escaped Apple headquarters when a lowly intern absconded with the files and shared them with friends in the “jailbreaking” hacker community.

Banks ban Bitcoin buys. Credit card issuers are forbidding cryptocurrency purchases on credit in an effort to reduce financial and legal risks. Firms that have recently blacklisted Bitcoin sellers include Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Capital One, Discover, and Lloyds.

Hey, you using that nuclear supercomputer? Mind if I borrow it for something?

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“If we lived in a dystopian world without trust, Bitcoin might dominate existing payment methods. But in this world, where people do tend to trust financial institutions to handle payments and central banks to maintain the value of money it seems unlikely that bitcoin could ever be as convenient as existing payment means.”

Antoine Martin, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, penned an op-ed that takes a whack at Bitcoin. He said the cryptocurrency could be useful—just not in this universe. But then, that’s what a Fed banker would say…

Meanwhile, Tyler Winklevoss told CNBC that people who fail to see Bitcoin’s potential suffer a “failure of imagination.”

ONE MORE THING

Inside the “smart” home panopticon. If you’re interested in living in a “smart” home—an abode outfitted with hi-tech, Internet-connected gadgetry—you should first understand the extent to which everyday household items will spy on you. This Gizmodo investigation details, in an entertaining firsthand account, the many ways that connected TVs, security cameras, coffee makers, mattress covers, and more mundane objects invade people’s privacy. Add to that the micro-aggravations of dealing with buggy domestic devices and you’ll be left wondering how this stuff ever came to be called “smart.”

Omarosa Says on ‘Big Brother’ She Wouldn’t Vote for Trump Again ‘in a Million Years’

It didn’t take Omarosa Manigault Newman very long to go from being Donald Trump’s advisor in the White House to one of the president’s harshest critics on television.

The former Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison in the White House, who left that role in a reportedly tumultuous exit in December, is already a cast member on CBS’ latest season of the reality show Celebrity Big Brother. On Thursday night, only the show’s second episode of the season, Manigault Newman (who is more commonly referred to by only her first name) wasted little time in spilling her concerns about the Trump White House in a series of emotional conversations with some of her celebrity housemates.

Perhaps most notably, Omarosa had a vague, but extremely negative, take on what she witnessed in the White House during her time with the administration, telling TV personality Ross Mathews: “No, it’s not going to be okay, it’s not. It’s so bad.”

Omarosa seemed to be spending time on the show coming to terms with her role in what has been an administration full of controversy, as she told actress Shannon Elizabeth about the difficulty of remaining loyal to Trump at the cost of some of her other personal relationships. “It’s just been so incredibly hard to shoulder what I shouldered because I was so loyal to a person and I didn’t realize that by being loyal to him it was going to make me lose a hundred other friends,” she said on the TV show.

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“I made choices and [I] just have to live with them,” Omarosa said later to Mathews, who asked the former White House staffer if she would ever vote for Trump again. “God no, never,” she said. “In a million years, never.”

Of course, Omarosa is no stranger to reality television, having risen to fame as a three-time contestant on NBC’s The Apprentice and that reality show’s spin-off programs, all of which were hosted by her former boss, Donald Trump. On NBC, Omarosa earned the reputation as a reality TV “villain” for her tendency to spar with her fellow contestants. So far, on Celebrity Big Brother, Omarosa seems more focused on sharing her feelings, especially with regard to her former employer.

Meanwhile, the White House has tried to distance itself from Omarosa since her new reality TV stint began. White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded to questions about Omarosa during a press conference on Thursday. “Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice and this was the fourth time we let her go,” Shah said in reference to her dismissal in December. “She had limited contact with the president while here. She has no contact now.”

Cummins to use India to develop, test electric powertrains for emerging markets

GREATER NOIDA, India (Reuters) – U.S.-based engine maker Cummins Inc plans to hire a team of engineers in India to modify its existing electric powertrain technology and make it more relevant for emerging markets, a senior company executive told Reuters on Thursday.

Cummins, which is initially developing electric powertrains for buses, is also planning to set up a testing facility in India subsequently, its executive director for electrification, Julie Furber, said on the sidelines of India’s biennial auto show near the capital New Delhi.

“There are unique challenges in India with the way vehicles are operated and the kind of traffic there is in cities. It will be a good learning base for us,” Furber said, adding that what it develops in India will also be relevant for other emerging markets such as Africa that are yet to look at electrification.

The move by Cummins comes when India has set an ambitious target to electrify all new vehicles in the country by 2030, and it wants to push the electrification drive through mass public transport like buses and taxis.

Furber said once India develops regulations for electric vehicles and customers begin to adopt them, Cummins will start investing in setting up manufacturing in the country.

The engine maker’s local unit said in September that commercial vehicle makers in India have asked it to look into electric mobility solutions.

Cummins has said it globally plans to invest $500 million over the next three years to develop an electrified powertrain product line, and the engineers in India will also do work for other global markets.

Reporting by Aditi Shah, editing by David Evans

Twitter surprises with revenue turnaround, shares surge

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc on Thursday delivered its first quarterly profit and an unexpected return to revenue growth helped by expansion outside the United States, pushing shares in the social network to more than two-year highs.

Overall revenue rose 2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, handily beating analyst estimates that called for a fourth straight quarter of declines.

Twitter’s previous inability to turn a profit or log consistent revenue growth had confounded investors given its ubiquitous media presence and popularity among celebrities, athletes and politicians such as U.S. President Donald Trump.

Revenue from outside the United States rose 17 percent, making up for an 8 percent decline in U.S. sales. Revenue from Japan rose 34 percent to $106 million, and Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said Chinese exporters were strong advertisers abroad.

Shares traded 16 percent higher at $31.21 after hitting their highest since July 2015. Twitter was founded in 2006 and debuted as a public company in 2013 at $26 a share.

Twitter, which has doubled the number of characters allowed per tweet and made other changes to attract users, said the number of daily active users rose 12 percent.

“Advertisers want eyeballs, so anything Twitter can do to maximize the number of people accessing the platform daily for a good chunk of time allows for better ROI,” or return on investment, analyst Erna Alfred Liousas of Forrester Research said.

Monthly active users grew more slowly, up 4 percent from a year earlier to 330 million. That was flat from the third quarter, which the company blamed in part on seasonal weakness and its purge of fake and spam accounts.

Twitter said revenue was helped by using data to make the targeting of ads more individualized, a process known as machine learning. That raised clickthrough rates, or the ratio of users who click on a specific ad to the number that view it.

The company also cited higher video ad sales and redesigned ad formats as helping to grow revenue.

“They are showing the right tweets to the right people at the right time, and as you do that, not only do you drive consumers to use Twitter more, but you attract more and more advertisers to want to be on the platform,” analyst Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research said.

Overall revenue was $731.6 million, beating Wall Street’s target of $686.1 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company reported $87 million in data licensing and other non-advertising revenue, up 10 percent from a year earlier. Ad revenue rose 1 percent to $644 million.

Twitter reported a net profit of $91.1 million, or 12 cents per share, compared to a loss of $167.1 million, or 23 cents per share, a year earlier.

Adjusted profit was 19 cents per share, topping analyst expectations of 14 cents per share.

The company said it expects to be “GAAP profitable for the full year 2018,” referring to generally accepted accounting principles.

But analysts were split on what lies ahead for the company.

Twitter needs to attract more new users and is trading at a “lofty premium” given expected earnings, James Cakmak of Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co said in a client note.

Greenfield said he expected growth for years to come. “This is all about really looking at the potential of revenue growth as they scale and leverage their cost structure,” he said.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey focused for the past year on tweaking the product he co-founded to attract users, including by trying to limit user harassment. Twitter has also struck deals with media companies for live news and entertainment shows.

Facebook Inc has 2.1 billion monthly users, while Snapchat owner Snap Inc, which does not report a monthly figure, has 187 million daily users.

Dorsey told analysts on a conference call that he was not planning a search to replace Anthony Noto, who is leaving as chief operating officer to become CEO of online lender Social Finance Inc and whose duties have been absorbed by others.

“We’re not going to have to do any backfilling,” Dorsey said.

Shares in Twitter had already surged 47 percent over the past 12 months as of Wednesday’s close, outpacing a 17 percent rise in the S&P 500 Index.

    That came even as social media companies are grappling with a regulatory backlash in Europe and the United States over privacy, possible user addiction, hate speech and alleged abuse of by Russia to sway foreign elections.

Twitter’s quarterly profit and rising revenue reignited speculation on Thursday among some analysts that a larger company could try to buy it. The Walt Disney Co expressed interest in 2016, though at the time Twitter shares were trading around $18.

Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler and Meredith Mazzilli