Start Up No.1270: time to kill targeted advertising?, the low-income workers at biggest risk, smartphone shipments crash, the cleaner air of lockdown, and more


Is this real or virtual? For Formula One, last weekend showed there’s little difference. CC-licensed photo by Marius Tatariu on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Hunker down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why don’t we just ban targeted advertising? • WIRED

Gilad Edelman:

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[In January] Republican member of Congress, Ken Buck, was questioning another young tech executive, Basecamp cofounder David Heinemeier Hansson. “I don’t really care if they tell fifteen tee-shirt companies that I’m out looking for a tee-shirt,” Buck said. “It’s another thing when you’re trying to use that information in ways that I explicitly don’t want that information used. And so, what’s the answer there?” This was nothing new: a lawmaker in Washington who took for granted that our online behavior will be shared with advertisers, only then to wonder how one might contain the damage that ensues. But this time, his tech-world witness would reject the premise.

The solution to our privacy problems, suggested Hansson, was actually quite simple. If companies couldn’t use our data to target ads, they would have no reason to gobble it up in the first place, and no opportunity to do mischief with it later. From that fact flowed a straightforward fix: “Ban the right of companies to use personal data for advertising targeting.”

If Hansson’s proffer—that targeted advertising is at the heart of everything wrong with the internet and should be outlawed—sounds radical, that’s because it is. It cuts to the core of how some of the most profitable companies in the world make their money. The journalist David Dayen argued a similar case in 2018, for the New Republic; and since then, the idea has quietly been gaining adherents. Now it’s taken hold in certain parts of academia, think-tank world, and Silicon Valley.

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I’ve never seen an estimate for how much extra value these companies get from behavioural advertising. DuckDuckGo doesn’t use it, and it’s profitable. But Edelman suggests that Spotify, Netflix and Bumble (as examples) could still offer personalised content. I’m not sure about the distinction.
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Who is most at risk in the coronavirus crisis: 24 million of the lowest-income workers • Politico

Beatrice Jin and Andrew McGill:

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This week, unemployment claims soared as state and federal officials restricted public gatherings and shuttered stores to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Using wage data from the U.S. Department of Labor and working conditions surveys from O*NET, we analyzed those who are most vulnerable.

First, we looked at the bottom quarter of earners — people in jobs that pay less than $35,000 a year. Next, we narrowed that list to people who work at an arm’s length or less from others during their regular shifts, according to workforce survey data.

This group, nearly 24 million people — or about 15% of the American workforce — is at the highest risk of suffering injury from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them are bartenders, paramedics, home health aides, janitors, drivers and more.

The chart below plots more than 600 jobs, arranging them by how much they pay and how much they involve human contact. We’ve highlighted the most-at-risk zone, using the criteria above. We’ve also shown a moderately-at-risk zone, which includes professions that pay the up to median wage and require contact equivalent to working in a shared office.

American workers at risk from Covid-19

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Formula 1 launches Virtual Grand Prix Series to replace postponed races • Formula 1

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Formula 1 has today announced the launch of a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. The series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually, despite the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has affected this season’s opening race calendar.

The virtual races will run in place of every postponed Grand Prix, starting this weekend with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday March 22. Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula 1 race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix*, with the initiative currently scheduled to run until May**.

WATCH LIVE: F1 Esports racing with the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix

The first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars to be announced in due course. In order to guarantee the participants safety at this time, each driver will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from the Gfinity Esports Arena (or remotely if required) from 8:00pm (GMT) on Sunday March 22.

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Available on replay, I hope. I watched some of it, and found it utterly impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Though I didn’t watch the celebrations; less champagne splashing, at a guess.
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Global smartphone shipments tumble 38% yoy in February 2020 • Strategy Analytics

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According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone shipments tumbled 38% year-on-year in the month of February, 2020. It was the biggest fall ever in the history of the worldwide smartphone market.

Linda Sui, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global smartphone shipments tumbled a huge 38% annually from 99.2m units in the month of February, 2019, to 61.8m in February, 2020. Smartphone demand collapsed in Asia last month, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and this dragged down shipments across the world. Some Asian factories were unable to manufacture smartphones, while many consumers were unable or unwilling to visit retail stores and buy new devices.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “February 2020 saw the biggest fall ever in the history of the worldwide smartphone market. Supply and demand of smartphones plunged in China, slumped across Asia, and slowed in the rest of the world. It is a period the smartphone industry will want to forget.”

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Oh, I think they’ll be able to forget it. The next couple of quarters will make that seem like the last hurrah.
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YouTube is letting millions of people watch videos promoting misinformation about coronavirus • Buzzfeed News

Joey D’Urso and Alex Wickham:

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YouTube has allowed videos promoting misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic to be viewed by millions of people, it can be revealed, leading campaigners to demand emergency legislation to remove “morally unacceptable” conspiracy theories from the platform.

Videos falsely claiming that coronavirus symptoms are actually caused by 5G phone signals or that it can be healed by prayer — as well as claims that the UK government is lying about the danger posed by the virus — have been viewed 7 million times, according to an analysis by the Center for Countering Digital Hate that has been shared with BuzzFeed News.

A YouTube account belonging to an American chiropractor called John Bergman has produced a series of videos on COVID-19 amassing more than a million views.

Bergman advocates using “essential oils” and vitamin C to treat the disease, against medical advice.

In another video, he falsely claims that hand sanitiser causes “hormone disorders, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes … weakens the immune system, plus it doesn’t work”.

This directly contradicts the principal medical advice from the UK’s National Health Service and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which urge people to wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available.

Bergman did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.

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This is where YouTube (and others) will really crash into the inherent conflicts in its business model: what if the information you’re letting people see is killing them?
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Why is the coronavirus so much more deadly for men than for women? • Los Angeles Times

Melissa Healy:

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The apparent gender gap in Italy echoes earlier statistics from other hard-hit countries. While preliminary, early accounts have suggested that boys and men are more likely to become seriously ill than are girls and women, and that men are more likely to die.

Italian health authorities last week reported that among 13,882 cases of COVID-19 and 803 deaths between Feb. 21 and Mar. 12, men accounted for 58% of all cases and 72% of deaths. Hospitalized men with COVID-19 were 75% more likely to die than were women hospitalized with the respiratory disease.

Those figures are in line with early accounts from China, where the novel coronavirus first appeared, and from South Korea, where detection and tracking of coronavirus infections have been very comprehensive.

An analysis of all COVID-19 patient profile studies filed in China from December 2019 to February 2020 suggests that men account for roughly 60% of those who are infected and become sick. And in a detailed accounting of 44,600 cases in mainland China as of Feb. 11, China’s Center for Disease Control reported that the fatality rate among men with confirmed coronavirus infections was roughly 65% higher than it was among women.

Even among children younger than 16, coronavirus may affect boys more than girls. In a recent report on 171 children and adolescents who were treated for COVID-19 at the Wuhan Children’s Hospital, 61% were male.

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It’s not (just) smoking. Women seem to fare better than men; it seems to be an immune system difference.
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In ‘Had I Known,’ Barbara Ehrenreich explains our current moment • The Washington Post

Helaine Olen:

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The book that turned her into household name was 2001’s best-selling “Nickel and Dimed,” about her time working undercover as a waitress, hotel housekeeper and Walmart clerk. It revealed a working-class world of physical and financial agony, all but invisible to the rest of America.

“I look for pain,” Ehrenreich told me about her life’s work. “I try to see where it’s coming from and what’s causing it.”

Now, the coronavirus epidemic is bringing all her research into play. “For 20 or 30 years now, the right has been trying to shrink government,” she told me in our follow-up Wednesday. “And the part of government they’ve tried to shrink is the part that we would normally think of as helping people.”
“We have no system of response, no way of coping,” she said. “The social infrastructure, the medical infrastructure is revealed as practically nonexistent.”

“We are beginning to understand how much we need a government, and a government that actually does things to help people. We don’t have one.”

The impacts are, as always, hitting the poor first and hardest. “Suppose your job is to clean houses, and people don’t want you to come into their house,” she says. “People will have no income at all.”

But it’s not just the poorest; the pandemic will reveal the long-standing financial weakness of the middle class. “Anybody who thinks they are out of danger … they’re fooling themselves.”

…And what, I ask, does Ehrenreich think our response to the coronavirus says about our ability to handle the challenge of climate change? She laughs. “You know what it means.”

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Traffic and pollution plummet as US cities shut down for coronavirus • The New York Times

Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich:

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In Los Angeles, as businesses and schools have closed this month and drivers have stayed off the roads, air pollution has declined and traffic jams have all but vanished.

Preliminary data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide, which are influenced in large part by car and truck emissions, were considerably lower over Los Angeles in the first two weeks of March compared to the same period last year. The car-dependent city normally features some of the highest smog levels in the country.

Los Angeles’s famous rush-hour congestion has virtually disappeared. On Wednesday at 8 a.m., traffic in the city was moving 53% faster than it usually does on a Wednesday morning, according to data from INRIX, a company that analyzes traffic data from vehicle and phone navigation systems. At 5 p.m., when the freeways are typically congested, traffic was moving 71% faster than usual.

“There’s basically no rush hour anymore, or at least not what we would recognize as a rush hour,” said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX. He said that traffic has decreased even more sharply in the evening because that’s when people are normally running errands in addition to commuting home, but many of those activities have now been put on hold.

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It’s amazing. But unsustainable.
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Will the next James Bond film make more or less than its predecessors? • Good Judgment® Open

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What will be the U.S. domestic box office gross in the opening weekend for the next James Bond film No Time to Die?

No Time to Die, starring Daniel Craig for the fifth time as James Bond, is the 25th installment in the Bond movie franchise (Economist, IMDB). The film is scheduled to be released domestically on 25 November (formerly 8 April) 2020, and the outcome will be determined with “Domestic Weekend” data for the weekend of 27-29 November (formerly 10-12 April) 2020 as reported by Box Office Mojo (BoxOfficeMojo). The opening weekends for the last two Bond films totaled: 

Skyfall (2012): $88,364,714 (BoxOfficeMojo)

Spectre (2015): $70,403,148 (BoxOfficeMojo)

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This is a question on the superforecasting site, Good Judgment. Some of the answers astonish me. People really think that not only we will be going to the cinema in large numbers by November, they reckon we’ll be going in even larger numbers than in the past.

I don’t think so. My estimate would be 99% chance it will be lower. (You’d have to sign up to see the answers.) The present crowd forecast is 40% think it will gross as much more than Skyfall, 35% more than Spectre but less than Skyfall. Only 25% think it’ll do less than Spectre. I think they’ll adjust that.
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10 days that changed Britain: “heated” debate between scientists forced Boris Johnson to act on coronavirus • Buzzfeed News

Alex Wickham:

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While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

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Terrific reporting. If the government had acted 10 days earlier, the epidemic would have been slower (not smaller) and the economy would have crashed. Because it acted when it did, the epidemic is faster, and the economy is going to crash.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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