China eyes 'black tech' to boost security as parliament meets

BEIJING (Reuters) – At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects.

A security camera overlooks Tiananmen Square in front of a portrait of the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing, China March 6, 2018. Picture taken March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized “blacklist”.

The test – which coincides with the annual meeting of China’s parliament in central Beijing – underscores a major push by China’s leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country.

That drive has led to growing concerns that China is developing a sophisticated surveillance state that will lead to intensifying crackdowns on dissent.

“(China’s) leadership once felt a degree of trepidation over the advancement of the internet and communication technologies,” said David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, a media studies research project at the University of Hong Kong.

“It now sees them as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control.”

Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China’s authorities were using the equipment for “noble causes”, catching suspects and fugitives from the law.

“We trust the government,” he told Reuters at the company’s headquarters in Beijing.

Reuters was able to verify that the glasses were being used in tests by the police to help identify suspect individuals and vehicles in the Beijing area in recent days.

China, under President Xi Jinping, is making a major push to use artificial intelligence, facial recognition and big data technology to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world.

Xi is expected to cement his power base this weekend as a reform to remove term limits is pushed through. That would in effect allow him to stay in his post indefinitely.

A promotion video shows an actor wearing LLVision facial recognition smart glasses during a demonstration at the company’s office in Beijing, China February 28, 2018. Picture taken February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Delegates and visitors entering the Great Hall of the People, the venue for the parliament, the National People’s Congress, have to go through facial scanners. The same happened to those attending the related advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“This year, security at the two sessions has some freshly-baked ‘black tech’ coming online,” wrote the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper, using a comic-book term in China for futuristic surveillance gadgets.

The paper said cameras at the event had been upgraded to capture, analyze and compare suspicious faces in around two seconds, powered by a system called “Skynet” – which has a national database of blacklisted individuals.

“The plot of sci-fi film ‘Minority Report’ is now basically becoming a part of daily life,” the newspaper added, referring to the Tom Cruise movie set in a futuristic society where crimes are solved and punished before they even happen.

LLVision CEO Wu Fei speaks during an interview at the company’s office in Beijing, China February 28, 2018. Picture taken February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

ROBOTS AND DRONES

China has been deploying a growing arsenal of security technology, fuelling the growth of a domestic industry and worrying civil rights defenders about the growing intrusion on individual privacy.

A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists.

The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online. There are also scanners to forcibly read mobile phone data and even police dogs with virtual reality cameras.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said China was also expanding a biometric voice database to boost voice recognition capabilities.

Surveillance measures long-used in restive areas such as Xinjiang in the northwest are also being rolled out more widely around the country, with a planned drive to centralize and standardize powerful but fragmented systems over the next year.

At the meeting of the NPC, most delegates said the increasing use of technology to improve state security was a positive, and that the benefits far outweighed privacy concerns.

“This is a good thing, it means our technology is really leading the world,” said Lu Yaping, a delegate from Jiangsu province in eastern China. “I don’t have any concerns about safety.”

Reporting by Pei Li and Cate Cadell in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Thomas Sun; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Martin Howell

Great Wall seeks to double vehicle sales by 2025, plans electric car push

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Great Wall Motor Co Ltd aims to more than double its annual sales to 2 million vehicles by 2025, with roughly a third of those expected to be all-electric battery cars.

FILE PHOTO: A Great Wall Motors Haval HB-02 concept vehicle is presented during the Auto China 2016 auto show in Beijing, China, April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

The Baoding-based automaker also plans to invest 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) on electric vehicle research and development by 2020, Great Wall Motor President Wang Fengying told a session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

Wang’s remarks come as China’s industrial policymakers try to engineer a dramatic shift away from conventional gasoline cars with subsidies and strict production quotas for electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

The company “will push forward with a renewable innovation strategy and will aim to assume leading positions” in electric battery vehicle technology as well as hydrogen electric fuel-cell know-how, she said.

Great Wall Motor sold 950,315 vehicles last year, down 1.9 percent from 2016, according to Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai-based consultancy.

Great Wall Motor and Germany’s BMW aim to jointly produce electric Mini vehicles in China, signing a letter of intent last month.

A successful conclusion to the talks would give Great Wall Motor its first foreign manufacturing partner and result in the first Mini assembly site outside Europe for BMW.

Wang also said on Thursday that the company planned to launch three new heavily electrified car models this year and two more next year.

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

7 Signs Someone Isn't Really An Influencer

Marketing is a game of mirrors.

Unless you’re familiar with the unspoken rules of the Internet, it can be very easy to mistake “industry experts” for people who know how to manipulate other people’s lack of knowledge.

In fact, it has gotten to the point where I really struggle calling myself a “marketer” because of what that word has now been associated with:

“2 years ago, I was living in my mom’s garage. I was homeless. I had $2.47 in my bank account. And I was sitting there wondering how everyone else got to live The Good Life, while I sat there, confused. 2 years later, I’ve built multiple seven-figure businesses, and now I’m ready to share with you exactly how you can build a business with absolutely no experience. All you have to do is sign up for my free webinar below…”.

I’ve never seen so many “homeless” people on Facebook.

I grew up on the Internet. And I’ve learned how to differentiate between people worth working with–and people better avoided.

Between the ages of 14 and 18, I spent more time talking to other people across the Interwebz in the World of Warcraft than I attended school–I’m not exaggerating. My sophomore year of high school, my parents received a letter that I had missed (“faked sick”) so many classes that I was in danger of needing to repeat the grade. I barely made it to junior year.

At the time, everyone in my life thought my fascination (obsession) with the Internet was a waste of time. A decade later, and considering my entire career is built online, I can say that early education of how the Internet works served me well.

It bothers me that people get fooled every day. 

So, here’s how you can spot “fake influencers” from truly influential people–and some clear signs to look for that I consider to be red flags.

1. The person won’t tell you what they know.

When someone on the Internet only gives 10% of what they know, and requires you to sign up or pay for the other 90%, I pause.

Why are they only giving away 10%? Is it because the other 90% is truly that valuable? Or are they afraid the other 90% isn’t that valuable, but they’re hoping you won’t find out until after you’ve opted-in or made a payment?

I firmly believe true thought leadership on the Internet has that equation the other way around.

Real thought leaders give away 90% of what they know, and charge for the last 10%–a convenience fee (like having the material in a book). 

2. The person is following the same amount of people who follow them.

If you boast that you have 500,000 followers, but you’re also following 500,000 people, that’s like walking around with a name tag on that says, “Hi, I’m Fake.”

You would be surprised how many people try to pass this off as credibility in their industry.

What’s more unfortunate, however, is that people fall for it. Clients fall for it. Partners fall for it. They sit there and go, “Wow, you have half a million people following you,” not even bothering to think about what that feed must look like while also following half a million people.

Anyone who builds their influence this way and then emails me, I ignore.

3. The person’s main credibility point is being featured in a major publication.

“You’ll want to talk to our CEO. He’s been featured in Forbes.”

Great. You and the 17 year old kid who just made his first $5,000 dropshipping out of his bedroom–who got his friend’s friend to subtly mention him in an article.

As a writer, I’m supportive of publications. I’m choosing to write this piece here within Inc–when I could have chosen to write it somewhere else. But if you want some brutal honesty, being on the cover of a magazine and having your name appear in a columnist’s opinion piece are two completely different things.

It’s depressing how many entrepreneurs and even established industry leaders look to external validation to verify what they know, instead of just sharing something insightful and letting that speak for itself.

I don’t care what publication mentioned your name.

What I care about is the information you share–and the merit it has in comparison to what everyone else is saying in your industry.

4. The person’s website has pop-up email captures everywhere.

A classy email capture is more than acceptable. Even well-timed email captures that aren’t too intrusive (and provide some sort of real value) are OK.

But when you go to someone’s site, and every page, every click, every action prompts another Call To Action for you to enter a funnel, just stop. Pause. Ask yourself what you’re really there for.

The vast majority of sites that work that hard to capture your email are there to funnel you to a point of sale–which is usually something you don’t entirely need (or could otherwise find for free somewhere else). 

Very few people provide the amount of value they’re promising. So when you come across those big flashy, “Do you want to change your life in 3 Easy Steps?” funnels, just leave.

5. The person wrote a book in less than a month.

Dear Marketers,

Writing a book in less than a month is not an accomplishment. It’s an embarrassment–to yourself, and the craft. Your writing is sloppy. Your thoughts are unrefined. Your points are dull and your layers, well, don’t exist

Any book written in less than a month doesn’t have layers. It has the depth of a plastic children’s pool, and isn’t something anyone will read twice.

When I meet people (marketers especially) who tell me they wrote their book in two weeks (usually with a big, proud smile on their face), I immediately question working with them. Why? Because they are more interested in being “done” than they are being great.

They want the conversion more than they want to add real value.

*Note: There are exceptions to every rule, and I know a handful of people who have written short books in a matter of weeks that provide real value (even if the writing is meh). But they are absolutely not the majority.

6. The person speaks in an airy, overly life-changing tone.

This is real.

If you come across people whose YouTube videos sound like they could double for a Sunday prayer, I urge you to do your due diligence. 

“Fake it till you make it” marketers and influencers do this thing where they try to create the sound of being “genuine” by talking as if every word they share is a compass toward a better life. They pause a lot. They emphasize words while closing their eyes, as if they can feel their own life changing below their feet as they speak.

Personally, I cringe at the whole act, but people fall for it all the time–so it’s worth calling out.

7. The person is all sizzle, no steak.

At the end of the day, no matter what someone’s online perception paints them to be, you need to be able to look past the facade and question whether they really know their stuff.

Don’t fall for the big numbers or the publication logos. Don’t fall for the clever sales copy or the “why can’t I stop watching this” YouTube ad. 

Email them. Hop on the phone with them. Watch some interviews with them. Most importantly, read some of their work. Listen to their words. Forget any and all outside signs that point to this person being a big deal, and pay attention to what they’re vocalizing. Is it rudimentary industry jargon? Is it the same stuff everybody else says? Do you really resonate with what they’re saying–or are they just “waving their arms around in the air” (as a mentor of mine used to say).

Part of doing great work, and building a great business, means picking and choosing who you work with, who you associate with, and who you choose to let into your life. 

I base all my decisions on the above.

Stanford Research Explains Lack of Women in Tech by Observing Men's Behavior at Recruiting Sessions

Google engineer James Damore famously suggested that there are few women in technology jobs because we’re biologically unsuited for those rules. Now, research from Stanford reveals a simpler explanation: Technology recruiters on college campuses subtly make it clear from the beginning that women aren’t supposed to be in those jobs. That message may be delivered unintentionally and even unconsciously. But it’s being heard loud and clear: Women with STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) degrees are dramatically less likely to wind up in tech jobs than their male counterparts.

How is this message of unwelcome being delivered? To find out Stanford sociology graduate student Alison Wynn and professor Shelley Correll led a team of researchers who attended 84 on-campus recruiting sessions for graduating STEM students over two years. What they witnessed should be enough to depress anyone who hopes to see greater gender parity in the high-tech world. Here’s what students who attended the recruiting sessions learned about the companies that came calling:

1. Men give presentations; Women hand out raffle tickets.

Students were typically greeted by a female recruiter who handed out raffle tickets and directed attendees to a snack table at the back of the room. At the front of the room, one or several men would be setting up a projector or reviewing their notes. 

When the men began their presentation, they would introduce themselves and their engineering colleagues, but rarely the female recruiter. The few men who did reference the female recruiters often did so in an un-helpful way, such as one who told attendees to pass their raffle tickets to the “lovely ladies” in the back of the room. Another introduced a recruiter this way: “This is Kathy. She’s really nice. She cries easily.”

2. Men speak, women don’t.

Some recruiting companies did send female engineers to the recruiting sessions. In most cases, these engineers did not participate in the presentations or Q&As. Those who were included in the presentations talked about “soft” topics such as the company’s culture, rather than the “hard” tech topics covered by the men.

During the Q&A sessions, which varied widely in length and formality, men asked most of the questions, and men gave most or all the answers, even when there was a female engineer on hand. The researchers described one Q&A session where the lone female engineer attempted to answer questions but was repeatedly cut off by her male colleagues.

3. Forget work-life balance.

Many of the presenters talked about the many perks their companies offered, such as free food, dry cleaning, in one case even a chiropractor–great because you could get an adjustment and be back at your desk in a few minutes. In every case, the subtext was clear: Expect to spend most of your life at work.

Sometimes it wasn’t just subtext. Several startup companies that came recruited boasted of the long hours their employees put in. One suggested students visit the company at midnight or 2 a.m.–because there would always be employees there. 

Research has shown that even in households with female breadwinners, women still perform most of the housework and child-rearing. Given that reality, it’s also unsurprising that women have proved more reluctant than men to join a company that promises they’ll have no time away from work.

4. It will be like a frat house.

Many of the companies–again, especially the startups–seemed eager to let potential recruits know that working at their company would be a lot like hanging out at a fraternity. There were plenty of Star Trek posters, video games, and foosball tables in evidence. Recruits were promised beer fridges at work and given beer-related swag. Profanity and sexual innuendo were woven into presentations, especially those from startups. (Larger, well-established companies are likelier to have things like diversity training.) 

As the researchers point out, plenty of women love Star Trek (I’m a fan!) video games, and beer. But it’s emblematic of Silicon Valley’s “brogrammer” culture that’s been shown to drive women who do get technology jobs into leaving those jobs quickly.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, it should already not be this way in an economy where nearly every company worries about the talent wars and the difficulty of hiring needed tech talent. While 40 percent of male graduates with STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) degrees work in STEM-related jobs, only 26 percent of women do so. That suggests that for every two female engineers employers hire, they’re losing one to some other profession. The researchers’ report on what happens at recruiting sessions provides some excellent clues as to why that’s happening.

But it wasn’t all bad at every recruiting session. The researchers reported that some companies did some things better–explaining how their technologies make the world better, or emphasizing work-life balance with statements like “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” and “Family first.” 

It worked. The researchers observed that in recruiting sessions where such things took place, female students seemed more engaged. They were about twice as likely to ask questions in these sessions as they were in the more brogrammer-flavored ones. There is, of course, a big journey between asking a question during a recruiting session and actually applying for a job. But women who sat silent during the sessions, or–as often happened–left before the end are highly unlikely ever to make that journey.

You would think a company smart enough to put serious resources into recruiting would be smart enough to avoid alienating qualified female graduates from the moment they walk in the door. Logically, companies that make female job candidates feel welcomed and respected should have a hiring advantage, and therefore a competitive advantage, over companies that don’t.

I wonder how long it will take them to figure that out.

Citigroup, Zurich Insurance consortium to develop cyber security norms: FT

(Reuters) – A consortium led by Citigroup Inc (C.N), Zurich Insurance Group AG (ZURN.S) and Depository Trust & Clearing Corp (DTCC) will develop a set of cyber security standards that fintech companies can sign up to, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO – The Citigroup Inc (Citi) logo is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The group was formed as a result of a meeting held by the World Economic Forum last year to promote cooperation between the public and private sectors, the FT said. on.ft.com/2FqDLzX

Founding members of the grouping, which include Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N) and U.S.-based online lender Kabbage, and participants say they aim to produce a set of standards within the next six to 12 months, according to FT.

Citi, Zurich Insurance and DTCC were not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.

Last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission called for “clearer” cyber risk disclosure and asked companies to adopt specific policies restricting executive trading in shares while a hack was being investigated.

Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

Will Tesla Have To Pre-Announce A 42% Q1 Sales Miss?

We all know that Tesla’s (TSLA) Model 3 sales have already fallen way behind Tesla’s guidance this quarter. Its guidance has been for 400,000 Model 3 units in 2018, for a total of 500,000 units when adding 100,000 from the Model S and X columns.

With 1,875 Model 3 units in January and 2,485 in February, the Model 3 already is looking like an epic miss of Olympian proportions. At 2,500 per month, that would be a measly 30,000 a year, or more than a 90% shortfall from the 400,000 per year guidance. Adding insult to injury, Tesla admitted in its February 7 financial report that the Model 3 has negative gross margin even at a selling price that’s currently starting at $50,000. One certainly understands the company’s reluctance to start selling the $36,000 version.

But enough about the Model 3 for a change. Seeing as the Model 3 is suffering from an amazing inability to enter proper volume production, Tesla is left with selling its existing models – Model S and X. So, how are they doing?

Let’s start with the six countries in Europe that as of the time of this writing (Saturday) have reported February month numbers to their respective government registration authorities:

Model S+X

Jan-Feb 2017

Oct-Nov 2017

Jan-Feb 2018

sequentially

year/year

Norway

467

1288

296

-77%

-37%

Germany

353

422

237

-44%

-33%

Belgium

138

144

76

-47%

-45%

Austria

115

108

52

-52%

-55%

Sweden

179

148

48

-68%

-73%

Finland

42

30

4

-87%

-90%

TOTAL

1294

2140

713

-67%

-45%

As you can see in the table above, it’s a massacre. No matter whether you compare the two first months of this quarter with the first two months of the previous quarter, or the one a year ago, sales are down by epic proportions. Down 45% from last year, and down 67% from last quarter.

Alright, I know from geography class that Europe consists of more countries than just six. While these six countries are among Tesla’s top dozen countries in Europe, they are unfortunately the only ones who reported February numbers as of this writing.

Therefore, in the interest of fairness and as a “double-check” on these numbers, let’s look at the other six top Tesla European countries for the January-only comparisons. These comparisons are vs. January a year ago, and the first month in the previous quarter – October 2017:

Model S+X

Jan 2017

Oct 2017

Jan 2018

sequentially

year/year

UK

325

327

139

-57%

-57%

Holland

115

175

77

-56%

-33%

Switzerland

103

155

15

-90%

-85%

Italy

20

59

29

-51%

45%

Spain

23

23

23

0%

0%

France

72

93

12

-87%

-83%

TOTAL

658

832

295

-65%

-55%

As you can see in the table above, the situation is remarkably similar to the one for the other six countries for whom we have not only January numbers, but also February. These are down 65% vs. 67% for the other half-dozen countries. Year over year, these are down 55% vs.45% for the other. Split the difference, and we’re at a nice round 50% year-over-year decline.

Just like Europe doesn’t consist of six countries, the world doesn’t consist of only Europe either. Let’s add Tesla’s home market, the U.S., to this analysis. We do this by virtue of getting the January and February Model S and X numbers from Insideevs, the agreed-to-by-all-parties most accurate estimator of Tesla monthly U.S. sales numbers: here.

Tesla USA

Jan-Feb 2017

Oct-Nov 2017

Jan-Feb 2018

sequentially

year/year

Model S

2650

2455

1925

-22%

-27%

Model X

1550

2725

1575

-42%

2%

TOTAL

4200

5180

3500

-32%

-17%

As you can see in the table above, Tesla’s Model S and X sales in the U.S. are down this year, but not as much as they are in Europe. They are down 32% sequentially and 17% year over year. Those are horrible numbers, but not as bad as the declines in Europe that are more than twice as bad.

So what if we aggregate Tesla’s top six countries in Europe that have reported February numbers, with the U.S. estimates from Insideevs? What’s the combined result?

Tesla US+E

Jan-Feb 2017

Oct-Nov 2017

Jan-Feb 2018

sequentially

year/year

Europe

1294

2140

713

-67%

-45%

USA

4200

5180

3500

-32%

-17%

TOTAL

5494

7320

4213

-42%

-23%

As you can see in the table above, Tesla’s combined Model S and X sales so far this year, between the U.S. and six of Tesla’s top countries in Europe, are down 42% sequentially from the first two months of the previous quarter, and down 23% from a year ago.

So which of these two numbers – a 42% sequential decline and a 23% year-over-year decline – is most relevant? Frankly, I don’t care. Argue it as you wish. Pick your favorite plague and compare it with your favorite cholera. Tesla is trading at a hyper-valuation, based on a hyper-multiple, and is therefore supposed to be a hyper-growth company. If the product was extremely profitable and there were no balance sheet issues or any other “hair” on the story, year-over-year growth of 50% or 100% or something like that, might be considered acceptable for a hyper-growth company.

But not a decline of 42% or a decline of 23%.

Of course, there are at least two factors that we do not know in order to complete the picture for the quarter:

  1. Sales outside Europe and the U.S.

  2. Sales in the month of March.

It’s entirely possible that the Model S and X are able to dig themselves out of the massive hole created by a 42% decline thus far from last quarter, in Europe and the U.S. combined. For starters, Tesla sells to some other countries. Maybe China is having a monster quarter? Perhaps Zimbabwe or Uzbekistan are coming to the rescue? I’m sure some eccentric billionaires in Iceland and New Zealand can pitch in for a few cars.

I have not found reliable February numbers from China. For January, the Tesla China numbers were a disaster: here.

Basically, the Tesla Model X sold only 500 units in China, putting it behind not only one, but two, Trumpchi models (no, I kid you not), as the two Trumpchis sold a collective 1,043 units. Year over year, the Tesla Model X number was down from 624 last year: here. That’s a decline of 20%.

Adding insult to injury, the Tesla Model S sold only 330 units in China in January, bumping it off the top-20 best-selling plug-in list. Cadillac’s (GM) plug-in luxury sedan, the CT6, outsold it with 451 units. Yes, Cadillac.

All that said, the situation in China is simple and most brutal: The top 15 best-selling plug-in cars are domestic Chinese brands that we never see here in the West. In this context, Tesla is going from being an already tiny player in China to somewhere way to the right of the decimal point. It’s simply not a factor, and the 20% decline in the Model X this year suggests confirmation of that tailspin.

Now of course, we are on the lookout for reliable February numbers from China. Perhaps January was a fluke, and Tesla turns it around the second half of the quarter. An update to this article will be due, at some point within the next few weeks.

More generally, we know that Tesla’s quarters always are extremely back-end loaded. Looking historically, almost regardless of geography, the last month in the quarter tends to be by far the biggest.

I have no reason to believe that pattern won’t repeat itself yet again this quarter. However, that also raises the hurdle for what Tesla needs to accomplish in the month of March. With the sequential and year-over-year comps being so high for the final month of the quarter in the past, that leaves precious little room for error this time around March 2018.

Does Tesla have to pre-announce a 42% March quarter sales miss?

We are now four weeks away from the end of the March quarter. Given shipment times to overseas markets, Tesla’s direct sales model, and 3-6 week delivery time for its tiny rate of Model 3 units leaving the factory, Tesla’s management knows right now with some relative precision what its March quarter deliveries will be. Tesla cannot claim to be surprised, in the last week of the quarter, as to what the number turned out to be. That’s simply not a valid excuse for a company which should know this number with a high degree of accuracy at least a month in advance.

For that reason, and with the background of 1Q looking like a 42% miss based on all available numbers, Tesla had better “know” already now, that it can overcome this sales deficit, in order to avoid having to pre-announce a sales miss, before its usual reporting schedule. Remember, Tesla’s policy is to announce a quarter’s deliveries at some point within the first five days of the quarter’s end. We would normally expect Tesla to report the quarterly number right around April 3.

This would be the right thing to do under any normal circumstance, in any quarter. However, this quarter Tesla may have raised the bar on its reporting requirement for any potential shortfall. Why? Because it told one media outlet – BusinessInsider – apparently on February 21 or shortly before, that “Tesla confirmed to Business Insider that the Model S and X delays are due to an increase in demand…”: here.

So what Tesla said – or at least implied to anyone understanding plain English – at that stage of the quarter, was basically that business was not only good, but improving. Given that every single Tesla sales number, from every single geography, that I showed above, was not only bad, but an outright catastrophe, how could Tesla’s statement to BusinessInsider be even remotely true?

I suppose that there is only one way out. Tesla’s statement could, perhaps, be interpreted to have had some accuracy if it knew at the time, based on backlog and shipment schedules, that the month of March was going to redeem itself to the point where there would be massive sales increases beyond the market’s expectations.

If Tesla did not know that at the time, then the clock is now urgently ticking for Tesla to pre-announce what its expected March quarter sales number is expected to be. Tesla knows what the Wall Street consensus number is. Does it have reason to believe it will fall short, despite telling BusinessInsider on February 21 that it is experiencing “an increase in demand?”

Let’s add it all up, where Telsa stands two-thirds through the March quarter (all lines not saying “Model 3” are of course Model S and X only, for Model 3 is sold only in North America thus far):

Europe top 6 countries Jan-Feb

713

Europe other 6 countries Jan

295

Europe other 6 countries Feb (est)

450

Other Europe Jan-Feb (est)

100

North America Jan-Feb

3500

China Jan

830

China Feb (est)

1000

Rest of World Jan-Feb (est)

300

Model 3

4360

TOTAL

11548

As you can see in the table above, based on the best available data to date, plus some estimates to fill the remaining gaps, Tesla sold 11,548 cars in January and February. What is the Wall Street consensus for the March quarter? It’s somewhere around 40,000 units, right? 25,000 Model S and X, plus 15,000 Model 3.

If Tesla knows that it did approximately 11,548 units in January and February combined, and it knows at this point that getting to approximately 40,000 for the March quarter as a whole is all but impossible, is it required to let the investing public know as soon as possible, right now, or is it permissible to wait until after the quarter has ended?

Let’s assume that Tesla magically manages to sell as many cars in March as it did in January and February combined. That means it would end the quarter at 23,096 units (2 x 11,548). Divide by 40,000 and you have 58%. In other words, a 42% shortfall. If you lock in the combined US plus Europe table above, that also yielded a 42% sales decline from the previous quarter.

Amazing coincidence, right? A 42% March quarter sales shortfall, either way.

So when will Tesla pre-announce the number? Will it wait until April 3, plus or minus a couple of days, or will it first try to raise money before it ends up disclosing a material shortfall in sales?

Disclosure: I am/we are short TSLA.

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.

Additional disclosure: At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was short TSLA and long GM. However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by most major automakers.

Chinese Startups See Latin America as a Land of Opportunity

Two years ago, Tang Xin had never set foot in Mexico and didn’t know a word of Spanish. While his grasp of the language hasn’t improved much since then, he has built one of the country’s hottest apps.

Noticias Aguila, which translates as News Eagle, now has 20 million users and became the No. 1 news app in Google Play’s Mexico store late last year, according to App Annie. That has come as Tang and his development team remain based in Shenzhen, the Chinese technology hub just across the border from Hong Kong.

Tang, who worked for Tencent Holdings (tctzf) before striking out on his own, is among an emerging group of Chinese developers and investors betting the next technology gold rush will come from Latin America and its 600 million-plus people. Fueled by deep-pocketed mainland venture capitalists and success at home, the 40-year-old and his peers are exporting a formula honed in China of pursuing rapid expansion over profitability.

Chinese venture capital investment in Latin America jumped to $1 billion since the start of 2017, compared with about $30 million in 2015, according to data collected by Preqin.

“China used to copy from overseas, but now we see more opportunities by helping replicate business models that’ve taken off and exporting them,” said Tang, who now spends a quarter of his time in Mexico. “Competition is so fierce in China that smaller companies feel it makes sense to look for opportunities elsewhere.”

Chinese startups pushing into the region include Hangzhou-based Tian Ge Interactive Holdings, which wants to build an internet finance platform in Mexico. Phonemaker Transsion Holdings is preparing to set up operations in Colombia. China Mobile Games & Entertainment Group plans to distribute mobile games in Mexico. Ofo, the Beijing-based bicycle sharing service, is preparing to make its first Latin America foray by entering Mexico, said Chris Taylor, who runs its U.S. operations.

The push by the tech sector piggybacks on years of state-driven Chinese investments in infrastructure in Latin America, with a pool of 2,000 companies pouring more than $200 billion in the region as of January.

When the startups arrive in Latin America they don’t exactly have the place to themselves. MercadoLibre and Despegar.com, both of which are based in Buenos Aires, have become major players in e-commerce and online travel respectively.

For more on Chinese startups, watch Fortune’s video:

Like China’s infrastructure investments in the region, there’s the possibility of pushback from locals. The road to Latin America has also been littered with cautionary tales of crippled projects. China’s automakers have struggled to establish themselves in countries such as Brazil even after building local plants.

“It’s risky and these companies will need to localize their products,” said Tang Jun, a deputy director at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Zhejiang International Studies University. “There will be political environment risk, as many parts of Latin America often go through quick cycles and turbulence.”

That hasn’t stifled investment interest. Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent are scouring for projects, while Didi’s acquisition of Brazil 99 showed deals can get done quickly, unlike the political opposition Chinese companies face in the U.S.

The trend has captured the attention of investors like Santiago-based Nathan Lustig who joined forces with a Beijing-based partner. Together they want to bridge Chinese investors with projects focusing on Latin America. Lustig’s goal is to scoop them up cheaper and earlier.

“We think Chinese acquisitions will be an important exit strategy for startup investors in Latin America,” said Lustig, managing partner of Magma Partners. “This will be a major theme over the next five years.”

Noticias Aguila’s Tang, whose company is formally known as Shenzhen Inveno Innovation Technology Co., doesn’t just want to sell out. His goal is to become the biggest internet company in the region. The company got its start by scraping news sites, mostly independent outlets and social media because it didn’t have the rights to larger publications. It hired locals to help with translation and build partnerships while the team back in Shenzhen developed algorithms to aggregate and sort the news for users.

It took the company about two months to be able to aggregate as least 100,000 articles a day. The next step was signing up media partnerships and now it has distribution deals with seven of the 10 largest publications in Mexico, including El Universal and Publimetro.

Unlike traditional publications that decide what users get to read based on editor recommendations — Tang’s company aggregates, labels and matches content to user preferences. It’s an approach that has found success in China, with the owner of Jinri Toutiao valued at $11 billion, according to CB Insights.

“It all comes down to how accurate you label items,” Tang said by phone from Shenzhen. “The more accurate and detailed the label, the more accurate you can target and push the content that the users want.”

In keeping with the Chinese model of spending to win over users, irrespective of profits, Tang has bought at least $2 million of advertising on Facebook to reach potential customers, even though the U.S. social networking giant is a competitor with its news feed. The app sat at No. 2 among news apps in Mexico in February, a notch down since November, according to App Annie. That’s part of the reason why this year Tang plans to quintuple spending on promotions and work with phone carriers and makers to pre-install its app.

“Organic growth is picking up but we rely on promotions mostly, because we need to expand fast,” Tang said. “That is key.”

This Business Charged White People More Than Twice As Much As Minorities. Here's How Customers Reacted

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

Many businesses are being drawn into socio-politics.

Some have been there for a while but always wanting to operate behind the scenes. (Translation: buying politicians.)

Recently, though, public neutrality has been hard to achieve. 

Just ask Delta Air Lines.

A business in New Orleans, however, took its public stance on socio-politics one step further.

The owner of Saartj, a food stall in New Orleans, decided to charge white people two-and-a-half times the amount he charged minorities.

Tunde Way explained to NPR that the price difference accurately reflected the income disparity between African-Americans and whites in the city.

It’s not as if Way just charges the disparate amounts and doesn’t say why.

There’s a board outside that raises the issue. 

Moreover, when people come up to his stall, Way engages them in conversation and explains why the requested price is $12 for minorities and $30 for those who identify as white.

The price for white people sn’t compulsory. Way explains that if they choose to pay it, he will redistribute the difference among the minorities who come to his stall.

Surely, though, he’s had to face outrage from white people who think this discrimination.

“Some of them are enthusiastic, some of them are bamboozled a bit by it. But the majority of white folks, nearly 80 percent, decided to pay,” he told NPR.

This wasn’t just Way’s way of seeing what would happen. 

His partner in the experiment was Anjali Prasertong, a graduate student in public health at Tulane University.

She said she was surprised at how people reacted and how many white people paid the inflated price.

And not just by how white people reacted.

The vast majority of the Latino, African-American and Asian people who were offered the redistributed money declined.

Prasertong suspects this is because most of the customers were from relatively higher income brackets.

The experiment does, though, underline how strongly some businesses might choose to respond to socio-political issues that they — or, perhaps more importantly — their customers and employees care deeply about. (Enormous legal issues notwithstanding, of course.)

Both customers and employees have come to increasingly examine companies’ ethical and social stances. 

Whether it be on the subject of climate change or racial and gender equality, they want to know what a company’s management believes and what they’re prepared to do about it.

In Way’s case, he was very upfront about what he wanted to do about it and at least some people understood and, it seems, even appreciated his stance.

It was just an experiment. 

But society is in something of an experimental phase these days. 

Old certainties are dissolving. New questions are being asked. 

How much this will change the way companies do business will be fascinating to watch.

After all, one of the main reasons they’re being dragged into these issues is that many have lost faith in governments. 

Some see corporations as harboring more social common sense than those who have been elected to do sensible things.

It’s quite a burden for managements whose heart has, for the longest time, just been in making as much money as they can. 

Two 11%+ Yielders To Buy After Earnings Reports (REITs/MLPs)

This research report was jointly produced with High Dividend Opportunities co-author Jussi Askola.

We are currently in a raging bull market, and since November 2016, “growth and momentum stocks” have strongly outperformed “value stocks”. Many high-yield sectors, notably Property REITs, BDCs, and Midstream MLPs, were out of favor and became value sectors.

There is plenty of good news that income investors should take into account:

  1. High Dividend Sectors are Cheap! The good news is that today, several high-yield sectors are trading at their lowest valuations in years and currently offer investors a unique entry point.

  2. Value Stocks outperform growth stocks over the long term: Investors should note that over the long term, “value stocks” tend to outperform “growth stocks”. Based on a study by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch over a 90-year period, growth stocks returned an average of 12.6% annually since 1926. At the same time, value stocks generated an average return of 17% per year over the same time frame. “Value has outperformed Growth in roughly three out of every five years over this period”.

  3. Downside Risk is Limited: In a world where equity markets keep trading at “all-time highs” and looking “expensive”, value dividend stocks, such as REITs, MLPs, and BDCs, still trade at very cheap valuations. Therefore, in case of any market turbulence or market correction, the downside potential should be very limited.

Currently, the high yield space is offering some unique buying opportunities. At “High Dividend Opportunities“, we focus on stocks trading at low valuations, or in other words “value stocks”. Today, we highlight two cheap stocks that investors should consider after they reported their 4th quarter earnings – with yields above 11%.

ETP Earnings Report: A Stellar Quarter – Yield 11.8%

Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP), a stock we recently covered on Seeking Alpha, reported its 4th quarter earnings, swinging to huge profits.

  • Revenue came in at $8.61 billion, up 32% year over year.
  • Adjusted EBITDA totaled $1.94 billion for the 4th quarter, up more than 30%.
  • Distributable cash flow increased by $240 million to $1.2 billion, or 25% higher compared to the same quarter a year ago.
  • The dividend coverage ratio soared to 130% for the quarter and 120% for the year.

In addition, the company raised nearly $2 billion in two transactions that significantly increased parent liquidity. These two transactions included the sale of Sunoco LP common units for $540 million and the sale of the compression business to USA Compression Partners LP (NYSE:USAC) for $1.7 billion (of which $1.3 billion was in cash and the rest in equity). In the meantime, these shares will demonstrate to the market that ETP, as the new partner, is aligned with the limited partner interests of USA Compression Partners LP.

Investors can look forward to more good news this year. Many capital projects have come on-line. That once-ambitious schedule of growth will now result in a lot of cash flow. The acquisition of the general partnership of USA Compression Partners by ETP’s parent company Energy Transfer Equity (NYSE:ETE) opens another avenue of growth. There is great chance that more good earning news is on the way this next fiscal year. ETP’s credit line with the banks now has about $4 billion unused. This could provide an excellent way to acquire more assets and grow in the future.

Valuation

Source: Q4 ETP Presentation

In order to conduct an accurate valuation (using full-year numbers), it is best to back out any “distribution incentive rights” (including relinquishment) and any general partner interest from the “distributable cash flows” (“DCF”). DCF for the 12 months was at $3,494 million; less IDR relinquishment and GP interest of $672 million, we get $2,822 million in DCF.

At the most recent price of $19.21 per share, we get a valuation of 8.0 times DCF, which is a real bargain considering that ETP is one of the largest and fastest-growing midstream MLPs.

The outlook of the midstream sector seems to be solid, with many midstream MLPs having reported solid quarters, including Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD) and Buckeye Partners (BPL). This can be attributed to record crude oil and natural gas production in the United States.

The future looks bright for the midstream sector. At the current cheap price and yield of 11.8%, ETP is one of our favorite midstream MLPs to own for the year 2018.

===

WPG Earnings Report: Operational Resilience vs. Strategic Challenges – Yield 14.6%

Washington Prime Group (NYSE:WPG), a Retail Property REIT, reported its 4th-quarter and full-year 2017 results, and while the market keeps focusing on strategic challenges, we are encouraged to see continued resilience in operational figures.

To give a little bit of context here, we need to keep in mind that we are discussing about a firm that is trading at 4.0x its cash flow, which is extremely cheap in today’s market place. In this sense, the expectations of the market are very negative and the sentiment very low. WPG, just like CBL, is a class B mall owner, and as such, it is widely expected to eventually become obsolete due to the growth of e-commerce.

The perception is that no one goes to class B malls anymore; and yet, the NOI went down by just 1%, the average sales per square foot remains at close to all-time-highs, and the leasing performance suggests strong demand for space by retailers.

A 1% drop in NOI is really nothing for a firm selling at such a ridiculously low valuation, and shows once again that class B malls remain relevant even in today’s highly digitalized marketplace. What the market seems to ignore is that unlike CBL, WPG owns on average higher-quality properties. In fact, Tier One and Open Air properties accounted for as much as 81.2% of the NOI in 2017, and these properties even showed a 0.9% increase in NOI for the year! It is the remaining 18.8% which are causing the temporary dilution in FFO, but clearly, the large majority of the portfolio has great value which is highly sustainable.

This was the main news to us: Operationally, the great majority of the properties are performing just fine. Therefore, the reason why the FFO is dropping year over year is not due to problems at the property level, but rather, strategic decisions such as dispositions and continued deleveraging.

As the CEO notes:

“Very simply, the $0.12 of annual dilution was attributable to our unsecured notes offering, the second joint venture with O’Connor Capital Partners and the disposition of six noncore assets. As the result was an overall reduction in indebtedness of approximately $400 million, it’s silly to question the prudency of such actions.”

Put in other words, the company is improving its portfolio and balance sheet quality to lower its risk profile at the expense of some short-term dilution in FFO figures. Short term-oriented investors may not like it, but this is the best approach to maximize and sustain long-term value. Eventually, as WPG ends its disposition and deleveraging plan, the FFO will stabilize and the market will realize the progress made and reward the firm with a higher FFO multiple. Given that it stands currently at 4.0 times FFO (using 12-month adjusted FFO of $1.63), even a small bump would result in material upside.

Other relevant highlights

  • WPG is making a new acquisition, which was rather unexpected! It suggests that we are approaching the end of the deleveraging plan. Moreover, the property appears to be an attractive investment as a dominant hybrid format retail venue situated in Missoula, Montana. The asset features a Lucky’s Market and a nine-screen dine-in AMC Theater – both newly built – and yields about 10%.
  • The dividend is maintained and remains well-covered.
  • Redevelopments continue, with 36 projects underway ranging between $1 million and $60 million with an average estimated yield of 10%.
  • Property NOI is expected to continue show resilience in 2018.

Bottom Line

Overall, we are happy with the news and glad that the market seems to, for once, agree with us – rewarding WPG with a huge bump after earnings. This is the story of short-term dilution versus long-term potential reward to patient investors. Just like in the case of CBL, we remain optimistic long-term holders and are happy to keep cashing a yield of 14.6% while we wait for upside to materialize.

If you enjoyed this article and wish to receive updates on our latest research, click “Follow” next to my name at the top of this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ETP, WPG, CBL, EPD, BPL.

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.

Here's the Story of the Stanford PhD Who Allegedly Gamed the Texas Lottery (and Won $20 Million)

I wrote recently about the husband and wife team out of Michigan who figured out how to game the lottery, and walked away with almost $27 million over the course of nine years.

But it turns out there’s a greater mystery in the world of lottery watchers. 

Her name is Joan Ginther, and she won the Texas Lottery at least four times in 10 years, while apparently buying thousands if not millions of dollars wroth of tickets.

Oh, did we mention she has a Stanford PhD in statistics, lives in Las Vegas, and yet repeatedly made the trip to a single store in rural Texas to make many of her purchases?

Yes, the plot thickens. And so far at least, nobody knows exactly how she did it.

There are several differences between Ginther’s lucrative story in Texas and that of Marge and Jerry Selbee in Michigan and Massachusetts.

For starters, there’s the fact that while the Selbees are now very upfront about how they made their millions, and were the subject of a very well written report recently on HuffPost, Ginther apparently went underground.

At last report, she lives in Las Vegas, but I can’t find that she’s ever given an interview. My attempts to track her down for this story amounted to nothing.

So, we’re left with reverse-engineering and speculation. 

By far the best attempt to decipher her strategy that I can find came from the work of Peter Murca, a reporter with Philly.com, who wrote about her at length in 2014.

As Murca tells the story, Ginther likely won her first jackpot in Texas the traditional way: blind, dumb luck, walking away with a $5.4 million jackpot in 1993, payable in annual installments over 20 years.

But Murca’s report suggests the experience led her to turn her Stanford training toward the goal of winning the lottery over and over.

And, after spending a considerable amount of time trying to unpack what she did, he comes to several conclusions.

First, he says, she figured out that while the lottery is ultimately a game of chance, logistics made it possible to ease the odds.

In sum, the fact that the Texas lottery had to ship thousands of scratch off cards to stores all over the state, made it possible for people who pay close attention to track how many tickets had shipped, how many prizes were left, and in which stores the likely winners might wind up.

Second, she may have had help. As Murca wrote:

Anna Morales, a worker in the local water department, filed claims for 23 prizes worth $1,000 to $10,000 in seven games from 2009 through 2012 — about as many as Ginther claimed but in half the time. Another $1,000 ticket was cashed by Morales’ husband, Noe, in 2011.

Pure coincidence seems implausible.

Since neither woman consented to be interviewed, and records don’t show who physically bought each winning ticket, let alone whose money was used, explanations for both women claiming so many winners range from generosity to imitation to teamwork.

Third, she apparently played the game of large numbers.

Meaning that over time, Murca concludes she bought a total of $3.3 million worth of tickets in order to win her total $20 million in winnings.

To be clear, that’s an amazing margin, if she figured this out. But it suggests she had figured out a statistical truth that required scale to come to fruition.

And, Murca says, she likely bit hard into her cost of goods, because many of those $3.3 million worth of lottery tickets were winners– just not for the massive multimillion dollar prizes that make headlines.

A few dollars here, a few hundred there, even a few thousand now and again–and Murca concluded the $3.3 million in tickets might have cost her only about $1 million.

To be clear, we don’t know exactly what happened.

The frustrating part about Ginther’s story is that we can’t wrap it up with a nice bow the way we can with the Selbees, or with the MIT students who also figured out how to game the Massachusetts lottery.

Ginther apparently hasn’t given interviews. (If you change your mind, Ms. Ginther, contact me!)

But I think there’s a lesson, even if it’s one I’d never put into personally with something like the lottery.

In every successful business, the founders either have unique access to private information, or else a unique application that can be executed with public information.

The question for any of us in business is: which strategy works best for you?
 

Twitter Seeks Health Metrics To Help It Improve Its Platform

Twitter launched a new initiative Thursday to find out exactly what it means to be a healthy social network in 2018. The company, which has been plagued by a number of election-meddling, harassment, bot, and scam-related scandals since the 2016 presidential election, announced that it was looking to partner with outside experts to help “identify how we measure the health of Twitter.” The company said it was looking to find new ways to fight abuse and spam, and to encourage “healthy” debates and conversations.

In a series of tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged that his company didn’t “fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences” of how the platform was designed, like harassment, trolls, bots, and other forms of abuse. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough,” he wrote.

Twitter is now inviting experts to help define “what health means for Twitter” by submitting proposals for studies. The company will provide grant winners, who need to apply by April 13, both “meaningful funding” of an unspecified amount and access to its vast trove of user data. It’s uncommon for a social network to ask outside experts to help it define a new metric, but the resulting “Twitter health” studies certainly won’t represent the first time academics have tried to quantify the quality of interactions online.

“Often when I see graduate students present on this topic they act as though they’ve just discovered something that was a topic of great discussion for 20 years,” says Susan Catherine Herring, a professor of Information Science at Indiana University who has studied online behavior since the 1990s. Herring teaches Computer-Mediated Network Analysis, or the study of how to analyze conversations in online communities. Which is to say, Twitter has literally decades of existing research it could potentially lean on to help inform its new study of health.

Twitter’s size and specific problems, though, may benefit from a fresh look. This may also be one of the first times that a social network has pointedly compared itself to a living, breathing body. And yet both Dorsey’s tweets and the official Twitter blog about the new project disclose that the company doesn’t know what “health” exactly means in this context. What would a healthy Twitter look like? What even is health for a non-sentient website?

It might mean curbing abuse entirely, or eradicating bots. Or health might look more like symptom management, curtailing things like harassment and propaganda without completely curing them. No one really knows. But Twitter does focus on four key metrics in its call for proposals: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion, and receptivity. Which boils down to: Are people talking about the same things using the same facts? Are they crafting a variety of arguments, and are people open to listening to new ones?

The social network borrowed the four “indicators” from Cortico, a non-profit research organization affiliated with the MIT Media Lab. Dorsey said on Twitter that these indicators weren’t necessarily the ones Twitter would end up using to measure the platform’s health, but they demonstrate one possibly approach.

Herring says that most of Cortico’s indicators are reasonable, and that it would be possible to craft an empirical study in which they could be measured. For example, one group of researchers could craft a simple study to test whether people are generally talking about the same things by analyzing the key words they use. Researching other questions, like whether users are open to hearing new ideas, might be more difficult to quantify. Herring acknowledged that the social network would need to eventually be more specific in scope, but that it was fine to start with fairly broad questions. She did say, though, that one indicator might present problems: “shared reality.”

“Are we using the same facts? There’s already a bias in that perspective because we assume we know what the facts are,” says Herring. “What other groups consider facts might not be the same. You’re approaching that from a biased perspective.”

Another thing to consider is exactly whose health Twitter will measure. “When they refer to it in terms of a bodily metaphor, the health of what body? The health of Twitter’s body?” asks Whitney Phillips, a professor at Mercer College who focuses on online culture. “I don’t think as a corporation Twitter necessarily has my health in mind.”

Twitter also hasn’t yet mentioned how the project will factor into its broader business goals. Traditionally, calling a company “healthy” means that it’s profitable—but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to Twitter’s new initiative, and it’s not clear that steps to advance one definition would necessarily benefit the other. Other social media platforms, like Facebook, have acknowledged that making decisions based on users well-being may impact metrics that help lure advertisers, like time spent. What happens if Twitter finds a way to make itself less toxic, but shareholders reject it?

“Developing forms of measurement that deviate from engagement and growth is important for the industry, but what will determine the power of a move like this is how it will factor into Twitter’s business objectives,” says Katherine Lo, an online community researcher at University of California Irvine. “Many anti-harassment initiatives by social media platforms have become effectively toothless because factors like growth metrics, or commitment to advertisers, ultimately trump safety and health in day-to-day product decisions.”

Twitter’s effort to evaluate its health seems like an earnest effort to combat that trend. But identifying the right metrics is only half the battle. The hard part will come when Twitter tries to translate the results of an empirical study into a meaningful change for users. “I wish them luck, because they may discover a lot of information, but to try and implement change and create a healthy environment, that’s much more challenging,” says Herring.

For now, no one really knows what, exactly, a healthy Twitter would look like. There’s at least a consensus, though, that the social platform is certainly not there yet. Twitter asking outsiders for help could improve its platform for millions of people. Alternatively, it might be a sign of just how bad things have gotten. “We are in deep shit on the internet in so many ways,” says Mercer College’s Phillips. “This is an example of the depth of that shit pile.”

Social Circles

Microsoft to buy solar power in Singapore in first renewable deal in Asia

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it will buy solar power from the Sunseap Group in Singapore, the technology company’s first renewable energy deal in Asia.

Microsoft will purchase 100 percent of the electricity generated from Sunseap’s 60 megawatt-peak solar power project for 20 years for its Singapore data operations, the software company said in a statement. Sunseap’s project consists of an array of solar panels on hundreds of rooftops across the city-state.

“This deal is Microsoft’s first renewable energy deal in Asia, and is our third international clean energy announcement, following two wind deals announced in Ireland and the Netherlands in 2017,” said Christian Belady, general manager, cloud infrastructure strategy and architecture at Microsoft.

Microsoft said it is on track to exceed its goal of powering 50 percent of its global datacenter load with renewable energy this year.

“Once operational, the new solar project will bring Microsoft’s total global direct procurement in renewable energy projects to 860 megawatts,” Belady said.

The solar project is under construction and will be operational by the end of the year, the companies said.

Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

Singapore looking at investor protection rules for cryptocurrencies

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s central bank is assessing whether additional regulations are required to protect investors in cryptocurrencies, an official said in a speech on Thursday.

The city-state – which is aiming to be a hub for financial technology and so-called initial coin offerings in Asia – does not regulate virtual currencies and last year called for the public to exercise “extreme caution” over investment in cryptocurrencies.

Its central bank does regulate activities involving virtual currencies if they pose specific risks. For example, it imposes anti-money laundering requirements on intermediaries providing virtual currency services.

“We are assessing if additional regulations are required in the area of investor protection,” Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director (Financial Supervision), Monetary Authority of Singapore said.

Other countries like South Korea, where trading in cryptocurrencies is more popular, are looking at ways to regulate that activity.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie; Editing by Kim Coghill