Day: October 4, 2017

Technology's dark side: Pressure mounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google – The Mercury News

Technology

Technology's dark side: Pressure mounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google – The Mercury News

Facebook wants to bring the world closer together. Twitter vows to protect freedom of expression. And as Google tries to make information universally accessible, the company urges its employees not to be evil.

Now, these companies are facing a wake-up call after the U.S. presidential election highlighted how social media, ads and search results can distort facts, promote fake news or reinforce biases.

U.S. lawmakers are putting more pressure on the world’s largest tech firms, drafting legislation that would require them — like TV stations — to disclose more information about political ads they run online, including who purchased the ads and the targeted audience.

Accused of undermining the democratic process, the tech firms are acknowledging they could have done more to prevent foreign powers and users from buying politically divisive ads and spreading misinformation. Mistrust of their platforms is growing.

“It’s not just social media, but the whole internet platform business has shifted in the last six months from good until proven otherwise to bad until proven otherwise. It’s stunning,” said Steven Weber, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and Department of Political Science.

To some extent, the damage is done: Users are questioning whether they can trust the information on social networks and search results . Lawmakers are compelling Bay Area technology companies to testify before Congress — and then in some cases, criticizing them for not taking Russia’s possible interference in the U.S. presidential election more seriously.

Facebook this week turned over more than 3,000 ads — likely linked to Russia — to congressional investigators looking into whether the country meddled in the U.S. presidential election. The ads, which focused on divisive political issues such as immigration and gun rights, were seen by an estimated 10 million people in the United States before and after the election, the company said Monday.

Facebook said it found 470 accounts and pages linked to Russian entities that had placed the ads, and it shut them down because their identities weren’t authentic.

Twitter recently met with lawmakers, revealing that it found 201 Twitter accounts linked to the Russian entities that purchased ads on Facebook.

And Google is also reportedly investigating whether Russian entities used its ads and services.

Some tech moguls even expressed disappointment in themselves.

“After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a recent post on social media. “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive.”

But as Facebook digs deeper into the negative roles it may have played in the 2016 election, it’s also facing political heat from conservatives who question the tech firm’s motives.

They’ve accused Silicon Valley tech firms of censoring conservative content and are suspicious of CEOs who have slammed some of the Trump administration’s policies.

Zuckerberg created and backs an immigration lobbying group, Fwd.us, which criticized Trump’s decision to end an Obama-era policy that shielded young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. And speculation persists that Zuckerberg could run for president in 2020, even though the tech billionaire denied any intentions of doing so.

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“We live in a time when nothing is apolitical,” Weber said. “Particularly for large firms to try to strike a position that they’re somehow above politics or completely impartial is disingenuous, but more importantly, no one believes it.”

After Facebook turned over ads to congressional investigators, Trump took aim at the company on Twitter and accused the Menlo Park-based tech firm — like other media outlets — of being consistently “anti-Trump.”

But some experts don’t think Trump’s attacks on Facebook will drive users away from the world’s largest social network.

“I suspect that when Donald Trump strikes at Facebook by questioning its integrity, the concern might be that people who support Donald Trump might actually walk away from Facebook,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “I don’t think people are going to walk away from social media. That’s a stronger addiction than Donald Trump.”

Many of Facebook’s more than 2 billion users worldwide rely upon the social network not only to consume news, but to promote their work or keep in touch with families and friends.

About two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat, according to a study released in September by the Pew Research Center.

Some Facebook users said they are already wary about news they see on social media, noting that students should be taught in school to check the source of the information they’re consuming.

Lauren Wilson, a 21-year-old Los Altos Republican, said the news she sees on Facebook is more of a “conversation starter,” making her more interested in searching for information on different topics.

“If anyone is going on Facebook to find the full truth and nothing but the truth, they’re lying to themselves,” she said.

Trump’s criticisms did hit a nerve with Zuckerberg, who runs a company that has a mission to “bring the world closer together” and has been touring the United States.

In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg pushed back against the allegations that Facebook wants to censor conservative content. He noted that liberals also criticized the company, accusing it of helping Trump by not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news.

“Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Both Facebook and Twitter said they’re making changes to protect election integrity and stop the spread of misinformation.

Facebook said that in the coming months, users will be able to visit advertisers’ pages and see the ads they’re currently running on the social network. The tech firm is also hiring more than 1,000 people to review ads and investing more in machine learning to flag and take down ads that run afoul of its online rules.

Twitter said it will beef up its enforcement of suspicious accounts, engagement and tweets on its website.

Despite the social networks’ pledges of transparency, some experts suggested that it’s government oversight and regulation that will ensure tech firms follow through.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner raised concerns that the information Twitter recently disclosed in testimony to lawmakers was “inadequate” and questioned whether the company was taking the concerns about election integrity seriously.

Warner, D-Virginia, has been working on legislation that would require digital platforms like Facebook and Google to keep a public file of certain election ads and communications. The file would include a copy of the ad, the amount it was purchased for, the number of views generated and other information.

The firms would also need to make a “reasonable” effort to ensure that election ads are not purchased indirectly or directly by a foreign national, according to a letter by Warner and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota.

“No one is untouchable when the political winds really shift,” Weber said. “I think in some ways the rhetoric that the firms have created around their social good mission makes them more vulnerable.”

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The Nutty Bull Market – Cramer's Mad Money (10/3/17)

Finances

The Nutty Bull Market – Cramer's Mad Money (10/3/17)

Stocks discussed on the in-depth session of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money TV Program, Tuesday, October 3.

Cramer said the bull market is behaving nutty. He looked at few stocks and was shocked to see the market’s positive reaction on negative news. “There’s a total suspension of skepticism, along with a widespread belief that everything works out for the best. It’s really the stuff of novels, not reality, where the bad morphs into the good and the negatives turn into positives,” he said.

Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) model 3 production was 220 vehicles instead of 1,260 expected by the market and yet the analysts defended CEO Elon Musk. “Yet when I criticized Musk for the short-term failure, analysts quickly derided such small thinking, reminding me that Musk did say that the Model 3 would be manufacturing hell,” said Cramer.

Next was General Motors (NYSE:GM) which rallied to its yearly high when it released new strategy of electric vehicles by 2023. The stock turned from a hated one to a loved one. “After years of not being able to get out of its own way, GM’s stock is now in historic beast mode, with analyst after analyst who’d been lukewarm suddenly embracing the darned thing,” said Cramer.

The stock of Delta Airlines (NYSE:DAL) rallied 6.6% despite giving the estimate of the hurricane impact. “The idea that Delta’s not bathing in red ink was a clarion call to buy this bedraggled group. They are all beloved now, as much as they were hated just a few days ago. It’s a mad scramble to buy the stock of any airline, not just Delta, even though at most moments in history this would’ve been seen as a not-so-hot quarter and a good reason to sell,” said Cramer.

Sherwin-Williams (NYSE:SHW) had been going down due to the peak housing theory. However the stock rallied 4% on Tuesday after they announced the synergies from Valspar acquisition.

The homebuilding stocks rallied after Lennar (NYSE:LEN) reported a good quarter. “Every time they report these spectacular numbers, the so-called experts presume that we’re looking at the last good numbers before the business falls off a cliff,” added Cramer.

The stock of Equifax (NYSE:EFX) rose more than 2% even as former CEO Richard Smith was testifying before the congress. “What an opportunity to buy the beaten-up stock of a company that the banks are still using as if nothing happened. Based on the way it vaulted more than 2% today, you’d think the stock of Equifax wasn’t facing gigantic lawsuits, or even that Sen. Elizabeth Warren may have upgraded it from a hold to buy and slapped it on the Congressional Recommended list,” said Cramer sarcastically.

Lastly, Domino’s went up by 1.4% after the analyst upgrade despite negative commentary about the company recently.

“Logically speaking, many of these moves should not be happening. The action’s way too positive, but then again, you could also argue that maybe we’ve all just been too negative for too long. And until the bears start acknowledging, en masse, that things are better than they thought, this rally could be far from over,” concluded Cramer.

VIX

Cramer went to the charts with the help of technician Mark Sebastian to get a read on the direction of CBOE Volatility Index or VIX. The stocks went up on Tuesday despite the negatives. “When investors are scared, the VIX shoots higher; when they feel confident, the VIX goes lower. When you look at the action in the VIX relative to the action in the S&P 500, it can give you a great deal of insight into where stocks might be headed,” said Cramer.

The VIX traded for just 13 days in September and experts have called it the lease volatile month. Historically, August, September and October are volatile months but the VIX spiked for a brief period after August and went down in September despite tensions between US and North Korea. The VIX’s long-term average has been around 17 or 18 over last 20 years but in 2017, its highest close was just above 16 in August.

8 of the 36 closes below 10 since 2004 has been before 2017. VIX has been trading below 10 for five days in a row. “In short, this is unprecedented. It’s almost as though this market has forgotten how to feel fear,” said Cramer. When the VIX and S&P500 trade in the same direction, a reversal is coming soon. The charts now tell a different story from August. The S&P keeps going higher while VIX is headed lower. This is despite the market watchers calling a correction.

“For the moment, the action in the volatility index, as interpreted by our VIX expert Mark Sebastian, suggests that this fabulous stock market, at least for the bulls, could have even more room to run. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he turns out to be right, especially since, historically, the last three months of the year tend to be pretty positive for stocks, especially if they’ve been up,” said Cramer.

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)

For a long time, Cramer has liked the stock of Wells Fargo. “Long story short: we loved the stock of Wells Fargo for the very thing that ultimately got them in trouble: the cross-selling. We thought the bank had this unique business model where it was able to cross-sell products to individuals who do more than just open a savings account,” said Cramer. “‘How can I get more of your business?’ was always the signature line of anyone involved with Wells Fargo. Candidly, I truly believed they did it better than anyone else,” he added.

Eventually everyone realized that lot of the cross-selling was fraudulent. Cramer was disappointed how CEO Tim Sloan answered the questions of cross-selling in front of the congress. “I wish he’d just made the case that Wall Street was willing to pay a higher PE multiple for shares of his bank precisely because of its apparent success at cross-selling. That’s just the truth; for years, it was why investors, including my charitable trust, owned the darned thing,” said Cramer.

Even as Sen. Warren called for Sloan’s firing, Cramer doesn’t expect much to come out from the hearing. “The only resignation I expect here is from the people like me who are resigned to the idea that nothing more will be done. This is America, where people who commit white-collar crimes for corporations rarely suffer anything worse than some firings and some clawbacks and some nasty looks at the supermarket,” he added.

Cramer called Wells Fargo’s past strength illusory. “Before the scandal broke, the stock got a premium valuation because of the cross-selling. Now that’s gone and it’s just another bank. There are zillions of them out there, many both cheaper and better,” he concluded.

CEO interview – Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX)

Paychex reported yet another good quarter and the stock went up 3.6%. Cramer interviewed CEO Marty Mucci to know more about the quarter.

“We’re growing very consistently in small business job growth right now, and we’re seeing wages up, which is a very good thing, obviously, for the consumer, those employees, buying more and I think that’s going to add to business confidence. And you see from the company side, really, our HR outsourcing is one of the fastest-growing segments of our business and that’s adding more to the clients that we already have,” said Mucci. The company is looking for acquisitions in the HR space to grow and achieve scale.

Mucci said the company is innovating on the technology front as well by getting new technologies faster than its competitors. Be it high-touch personal service or low-touch online service, they have something for everyone’s need.

Cramer asked Mucci about his views on recovery in Florida and Houston. “Probably for the next month or so, we’ll see businesses down. The hours worked we saw drop dramatically, obviously. But then, typically, depending on whether those businesses can come back or not, but we think they will, you’ll see an uptick, frankly, in small business as landscapers and roofers and all of those contractors come into those areas to help them recover. So we really think that that’ll probably offset the downsizing of some of the businesses,” he answered.

BioTelemetry (NASDAQ:BEAT)

In the second executive interview segment, Cramer called medical device maker BioTelemetry CEO Joe Capper to know what lies ahead for the company.

Capper said that the connected health market is relatively new and no one knows how big it will become. He estimates the market to be up to $2B. Their cardiac monitor can be worn for 30 days which is connected to a patient’s smartphone from which the information is in the cloud where technicians can access it.

Capper added that Bio Telemetry will not suffer when it comes to consumer grade healthcare connected devices. “You’re seeing some of these consumer-oriented products or consumer-oriented companies talk about products in this space. I think it’s wonderful. It grows the whole market. And they’re going to go see a physician [who’s going to run a clinical-grade product like theirs that has far greater detection capability, FDA-approved, to verify. I actually think it’s a great move.”

Viewer calls taken by Cramer

Allegiant Travel (NASDAQ:ALGT): Cramer’s favorite in the group is Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) as it has not lost money.

USG Corp (NYSE:USG): Cramer thinks the stock will go up due to rebuilding required after hurricane. Be patient.

Marriott International (NYSE:MAR): As the user was worried about property damage due to war, Cramer suggested he should exit stocks and buy gold and hold cash.

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Revolutionary microscope technology wins chemistry Nobel – Science Magazine

Technology

Revolutionary microscope technology wins chemistry Nobel – Science Magazine


Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Major advances in the imaging of biomolecules–everything from the needles that bacteria use to attack cells to the structure of Zika virus–have garnered three scientists the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The award goes to three pioneers of a technique called cryo-electron microscopy: Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Joachim Frank of Columbia University in New York City, and Richard Henderson of the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory for Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The winners helped dramatically improve the resolution of biological molecules, including in 3 dimensions. “They’ve opened up a completely new world to us, to see these molecules in the cell and how they interact,” Peter Brzezinski, a biochemist at Stockholm University, said at this morning’s announcement in the Swedish capital. Further advances have brought cryo-EM within reach of resolving single atoms, rivalling x-ray crystallography. “We are facing a revolution in biochemistry,” said Nobel Committee chair Sara Snogerup Linse, a scientist a the Center for Molecular Protein Science at Lund University in Sweden.

The electron microscope has been around for a while—there were prototypes as early as 1931—but it had serious limitations for biologists. Samples must be contained in a vacuum, which dries out biological molecules and warps molecular structures. Then the samples are pelted by a beam of radiation that can fry sensitive biomolecules.

Henderson took a major step forward when he placed a bacterial cell membrane containing millions of molecules called bacteriorhodopsin into an electron microscope. He then lowered the amount of energy in the beam, creating a low-contrast picture. Because the molecules were embedded in the membrane in an orderly fashion, Henderson got a diffraction pattern that he could turn into a higher resolution image. By 1975, he had created a 3-dimensional picture of the protein. “This breakthrough proved the technology’s potential,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says in a press release. It was a bit of a special case, because of the ordered arrangement of the proteins in the cell membrane, but in principle this approach could be used for any molecule found in cells. 

 “They’ve opened up a completely new world to us.” 

Peter Brzezinski, Stockholm University

A challenge remained: how to use low-energy radiation to see less organized molecules. The problem is that these collections of molecules yield a confusing assortment of images, as they are oriented randomly. In work between 1975 and 1986, Frank came up with a way to make sense of the data, sorting the images into related groups of shapes and then averaging each group. This not only sharpened the 2-dimensional images but also allowed them to be combined into a 3-dimensional structure. Today’s award left Frank feeling “overwhelmed,” he told the press conference by phone. “I was speechless.”

Another significant advance came from Dubochet in the early 1980s. The problem with freezing biological samples is that ice crystals diffract the electron beam, blurring the image. Dubochet realized that if the water was frozen quickly enough—vitrified, like glass—ice crystals wouldn’t form. By dropping samples in ethane cooled by liquid nitrogen to -196 degrees Celsius, Dubochet created breathtakingly sharp images. “Everyone in the world travelled to his lab to learn this technique,” Brzezinski said. Because molecules are flash-frozen, they are caught in a variety of states, allowing researchers to assemble these pictures into movies that recreate their motion. 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has produced an easy-to-read history about the role each of the three winners played in the development of cryo-electron microscopy; there is also an 18-page scientific summary of the research.

Today’s announcement brings to seven the number of U.S. citizens among nine Nobel laureates in the sciences announced this year. (Dubochet, who’s Swiss, and Henderson, a Brit, are the two exceptions; Frank and physics Nobelist Rainer Weiss were both born in Germany but now have U.S, citizenship.) “The United States has after the Second World War allowed scientists to perform fundamental research, to focus on important questions in science, not forcing them to do immediate applications, not controlling them in a political way,” the academy’s secretary-general, Göran Hansson, said when asked by a Chinese journalist to explain the success. “That freedom, combined with very good resources, has been very helpful for the United States.” But Hansson pointed out that scientists at the LMB, which offers the same kind of freedom, have won an extraordinary 15 Nobel Prizes.

Dubochet, Frank, and Henderson will receive their Nobel medals at ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December. They will also share a cash prize of $1.1 million.

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Edwards Lifesciences Is A Buy – Cramer's Lightning Round (10/3/17)

Finances

Edwards Lifesciences Is A Buy – Cramer's Lightning Round (10/3/17)

Stocks discussed on the Lightning Round segment of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money Program, Tuesday, October 3.

Bullish Calls

Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW): It’s a definite buy. Cramer likes Baxter International (NYSE:BAX), Becton, Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) and Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) as well.

AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV): “I actually like the stock for the unmanned aircraft stuff. You know I like the defense contractors, too. Eaton (NYSE:ETN) has a charge box for electric cars, but Eaton has a lot of other stuff going with it. I like your choice. It’s not cheap, by the way.”

Oshkosh (NYSE:OSK): The company’s business is commercial-intensive, and Cramer likes it.

Bearish Calls

Chemical & Mining Company of Chile (NYSE:SQM): The lithium group is good, but Cramer likes Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) and FMC Corp. (NYSE:FMC) within it.

SunCoke Energy Partners (NYSE:SXCP): Its yield is high for an MLP.

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