regrets. Even though my car has a shorter range (264 miles) than most gas powered cars, I’ve had no problems keeping it charged locally or on road trips, such as the one I took this week to Reno to visit Tesla’s giant “Gigafactory” that makes the batteries that power my Model 3.
Electric cars are often faster and have a lot more pickup than most gasoline cars. They’re also quieter and are often packed with state-of-the-art technology. Most important, they have no emissions and don’t use fossil fuels. Anything that’s manufactured or requires energy has some environmental impact, but electric vehicles are much less harmful to the environment than those powered by gas or diesel fuel. There are environmental arguments for keeping whatever car you have for as long as possible, but if you need a new car, electric is not only much better for the environment but perhaps just as affordable when you factor in possible tax credits and subsidies and lower fuel and maintenance costs.
Charging getting easier
Tesla makes it easy to charge on road trips. It has more than 1,400 Supercharger stations in the U.S. Often you can add enough power to your vehicle to go on with your trip in as little as 15 minutes. I’ve never had to charge for more than 40 minutes and Superchargers are almost always near places to eat.
While no other car company yet has its own extensive charging network, there are several companies that provide public chargers that any electric car owner can use. The biggest of these networks is run by ChargePoint, a Campbell-based company whose CEO, Pasquale Romano, refers to his company as “the platform provider” that offers both the charging hardware and the online infrastructure to manage and monitor charging. ChargePoint makes home charging units that start at about $550 as well as a large network of chargers owned and operated by businesses and municipalities for the benefit of employees or the public.
Anyone who owns one of these public chargers can set their own rules and prices. Many are owned by companies and are free to use by employees and visitors. A few weeks ago I charged my car for free while I was visiting Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino and likewise at Facebook in Menlo Park, but I had to pay 23 cents a kilowatt hour (about six cents a mile) to use the ChargePoint charger at the Mitchell Park Library in Palo Alto. I know of one church that offers free charging, truly bringing a greater power to its parishioner
The ChargePoint smartphone app manages usage including unlocking the cable and billing at public chargers that charge a fee and monitoring your use of a ChargePoint home charger.
In an interview, Romano acknowledge that “Tesla is ahead in a coordinated deployment” of chargers but that the networks of third-party public chargers are growing rapidly along with both in-car and smartphone apps that enable users to easily find these chargers. Last week, ChargePoint announced an alliance with another large charging network, Electrify America, to “connect more than 30,000″ chargers from both companies, “to make it easier for drivers of any electric vehicle to find and use public chargers. Tesla’s in-car display makes it easy to find its SuperChargers, but Romano said that other car manufacturers will be offering similar technology to locate chargers on ChargePoint and other public networks.
The growth of these third-party networks should make it a lot easier for drivers of any model electric cars to confidently embark on road trips without having to worry about being stranded. When it comes to daily commutes, most people charge overnight at home and many also use Chargepoint or other shared chargers to top-off at work.
Building batteries in Nevada desert
Of course, these electric cars wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for batteries. And one of Tesla’s biggest challenges is to make enough batteries to serve what it hopes will be a surge in demand for its cars. To that end, the company invested billions in its Gigafactory in the desert near Reno.
I drove my Tesla Model 3 to the Gigafactory on Wednesday. On the 23-mile stretch from Reno to the facility on Electric Avenue in Sparks, I mostly saw sand and sage brush along the highway. I got there a little early and had hoped to grab a good cup of coffee ahead of my visit, but this place is fairly isolated with a scant but rapidly growing number of nearby businesses, I had to settle on a Subway sandwich shop with a Keurig machine but I bet there will soon be a Starbucks and the usual fast-food places.
The factory itself is a 1.9-million-square-foot building with 5.3 million square feet of operational space across three floors. The building is used by both Tesla and Panasonic. Tesla has 7,000 employees and Panasonic 5,000, but those numbers can go up or down, depending on production needs. Tesla Vice President Chris Lister, who manages the plant, told me that the building is only 30% complete. When it’s fully expanded, it will have a larger footprint than any other building in the world. I was given a tour of both the factory and the grounds. I incorrectly assumed the outside tour would by on foot, but – because of its massive size, I was driven around in a van and even that took a while.
Before the expansion, the factory is huge in both size and output. In November, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Together with Panasonic Japan cell plants, Tesla/Panasonic partnership is producing 60% of global EV battery output!”
Batteries made of cells
Tesla makes the final batteries, but Panasonic makes the cells that provide the power. The assembled Model 3 battery is a relatively flat rectangle that stretches roughly from the backseat to the front of the car, mounted on the car’s undercarriage. It weighs about 1,000 pounds, which, according to Lister, provides a low center of gravity, which adds to the safety of the car.
The cells look like and are a bit larger than AA batteries. Depending on the car’s intended range between about 3,500 and 4,500 of these cells are sandwiched between cooling tubes and packed into a metal casing. The Panasonic cell plant is in the same massive building as the Tesla battery factory, to minimize the time and energy it takes to move the batteries between facilities. The plant has multiple levels of energy efficiency, including starting production on the top floor so the elevators need less power to bring their loads down to lower floors and, finally, out the door to a massive fleet of trucks that transport the batteries to Tesla’s car factory in Fremont.
Tesla doesn’t just make cars. It’s also in the solar energy business and it offers customers a “Power Wall” to store the energy produced by the sun so they can use it to power their homes and charge their cars at night. These Power Walls have similar battery packs as the cars, and they, too, are made at the Gigafactory. The factory also produces the electric motors, (Tesla calls them “drive units”) which are the equivalent to the engines in gasoline cars, only much smaller (about the size of a large watermelon), lighter and with far fewer moving parts and virtually no maintenance.
Even before my back-to-back visits to ChargePoint and the Gigafactory, I was sold on electric cars. But after learning a lot more about how batteries are made and how it is increasingly easy to charge them, I’m even more bullish, not just for Tesla but for all the automakers who are smart enough to wean themselves and their customers from fossil fuels toward the use of increasingly renewable electricity.
You can hear the interviews with Tesla’s VP Chris Lister and ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano at Larrysworld.com.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.]]>
The new entity will be called Raytheon Technologies when the deal closes in the first half of 2020, after United Technologies completes the separation of its Otis elevator and Carrier air-conditioner businesses, the companies said in a statement Sunday. While billed as a merger of equals, current United Technologies shareholders will own most of the company.
The combination “will define the future of aerospace and defense,” United Technologies Chief Executive Officer Greg Hayes said in the statement. The bigger company will combine United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney F-35 fighter jet engines with Raytheon’s Patriot missile-defense products and expertise in areas such as radars, munitions and cybersecurity.
Douglas Rothacker, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, noted that United Technologies makes both commercial and military engines, while Raytheon is focused most on defense.
“It’s largely a diversification play to build an absolute behemoth aerospace and defense contractor,” he said.
Hayes will hold the CEO job in the combined organization, while Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy will become the executive chairman. Hayes will ascend to both roles three years after the deal closes.
Under terms, Raytheon shareowners will receive 2.3348 shares in the combined company for each Raytheon share they hold. When the dust settles, shareholders of United Technologies will own approximately 57% of the new firm on a fully diluted basis while Raytheon’s will own approximately 43%. Raytheon will contribute seven of the 15 board positions, including the lead director.
A United Technologies representative declined Sunday to provide clarity on any premium paid for Raytheon once the Otis and Carrier separations are complete. A conference call is scheduled for Monday morning.
Both companies advanced more than 20% this year through June 7, in line with a Standard & Poor’s index of aerospace and defense manufacturers. United Technologies closed at $132.15 on June 7, giving it a stock-market valuation of $114 billion, while Raytheon was at $185.91, for a market value of $52 billion.
The blockbuster deal caps a dramatic revamp of United Technologies under Hayes, who took the reins at the industrial conglomerate in 2014 with a vow to pursue big transactions. Along with last year’s $23 billion acquisition of aircraft-parts supplier Rockwell Collins, the Raytheon deal remakes United Technologies as an aerospace giant with products including not only jet engines and missiles but other items like cockpit electronics and radars.
Greater heft would enhance the ability of United Technologies to withstand cost pressures from customers such as Boeing and Airbus, said Rothacker, the Bloomberg analyst. Another crucial customer is the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Aerospace suppliers have been, and will continue to be, under immense pressure from Boeing and Airbus to cut costs,” he said. “We’ve seen consolidation in the sector as a way to counter these pricing and competitive pressures, and also to diversify to add revenue streams.”
Another wildcard in winning approval for the deal: the U.S. Department of Defense.
Hayes spurned a merger offer from Honeywell International Inc. in 2016, saying the deal undervalued his company and would face customer opposition. At the time, Wall Street analysts anticipated resistance from the Pentagon, as well as planemakers.
“We don’t expect DoD to raise strong objections to the deal,” though there may be small divestitures where there’s overlap with businesses picked up with the Rockwell Collins purchase, analyst Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners wrote in a note Sunday. Some of that overlap may not be readily apparent because programs are classified, he wrote.
The companies will have combined debt of about $26 billion when the deal closes, with about $24 billion of that coming from United Technologies, the companies said in their statement. There is no change to the 2019 financial outlook for either company.
The companies said they expect to return $18 billion to $20 billion to shareholders in the first 36 months after the merger and to see about $1 billion in annual cost savings by the fourth year.
The headquarters will be in the Boston area; currently United Technologies is based on Farmington, Connecticut, while Raytheon’s headquarters is in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Citigroup Global Markets was Raytheon’s financial adviser, with RBC Capital Markets providing a fairness opinion and Shearman & Sterling serving as its legal adviser. On the United Technologies side, Morgan Stanley & Co., Evercore, and Goldman Sachs & Co. were the financial advisers and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz provided legal services.]]>
“Homage to the Information Technology Revolution,” which opens June 19, was conceived by Marco Boglione, founder and president of BasicNet, an Italian-based network of partners licensed to produce or market sportswear collections worldwide. Boglione wanted to tell the story of the people who shaped the area’s digital breakthroughs for a mass consumer audience.
A series of video interviews focuses on the folks who led the charge, including former Apple CEO John Sculley; Allan Alcorn, who created Pong for Sunnyvale-based Atari in 1972; Apple employee No. 2 Daniel Kottke; Commodore founder Jack Tramiel; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; Chuck Peddle, who created the first operating system for personal computers; and Lee Felsenstein, designer of the Osborne 1, the first mass-produced portable computer.
These interviews will talk visitors through the machines in the exhibit, including the Programma 101, the first commercial programmable desktop computer, released in 1965 by Italian manufacturer Olivetti, and a very rare Apple-1, released in 1976, complete with its original kit. For the first time in its history, the toolbox Wozniak used to assemble the Apple-1 will be on display with his creation.
The show was curated by Cecilia Botta for BasicGallery, a Turin-based archive that houses one of the most complete collections of early computer history in the world.
Jennifer Furlong, executive director of the historical museum, and museum board member Fabrizio Vitagliano coordinated the exhibit.
The exhibit will be on view June-19-Sept. 19. Admission is free.
The Cupertino Historical Society and Museum is located at 10185 N. Stelling Road. Museum hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.]]>
Maker Media, Inc. founder and CEO Dale Dougherty said Saturday all the employees were let go Monday, June 3, and he’s since been in the process of closing out the company. Dougherty founded Make: Magazine 15 years ago as way to celebrate the weird and wondrous inventions of basement tinkerers and backyard robotics builders, driveway mechanics and homegrown scientists.
It was partly a way to eschew an increasingly consumer-oriented culture, partly a way to showcase the boundless possibilities of emerging advances in artificial intelligence, drones, robotics, rockets, 3-D printing and other technologies. Maker Faire — a celebration of those homespun creations — followed a year later as a way for people who make stuff to meet and share ideas.
Since then, the event has exploded into an international educational phenomenon, with 200 affiliated events that share the “Maker Faire” moniker but are produced independently; only the fairs in San Mateo, New York City and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are produced by Maker Media. The maker ethos has seeped into schoolrooms and manifested in meetups, clubs and other countless other community events.
But corporate sponsorship of the magazine and the flagship events has lagged over the last several years, Dougherty said, and at San Mateo’s Maker Faire in May, Dougherty warned it could be the last one.
While some of the maker events receive government or foundation funding, the Maker Media fairs have never received that type of support, he said. And private investors, accustomed to huge payouts, have steadily lost interest in a business that breaks even, but only barely.
“We had a great mission,” Dougherty said, “but we weren’t going to make a lot of profit for investors.”
While it’s the end of the for-profit company, Dougherty is hopeful it could be the start of something new, likely a non-profit. Melding the maker ethos with education has been the most successful outcome of the endeavor, he said. And there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“We figured out how to do things without a lot of resources and spread this idea around,” Dougherty said.
And even with two days of rain at May’s Maker Faire in San Mateo, attendees still came out by the tens of thousands, he said, adding, “It told me this work is important. I just can’t figure out how to fund this myself and why it’s just my problem.”
It will take some time to close out Maker Media and negotiate with banks and lawyers, Dougherty said, in an effort to retain whatever assets from the business he can while exploring the possibility of forming a nonprofit. In the meantime, he’s open to anyone, especially anyone with resources, who is ready to embrace the DIY ethos, roll up shirt sleeves, and help keep the maker movement going.]]>
The first tech detour will be during the planning stage when you’ll be using online travel services to plan your lodging and travel arrangements.
If you’re flying, check the big travel sites such as Expedia but also look at alternative sites, such as Kayak, which scan multiple sights for the best price. But, before you book your flight, check the airline’s site as well. They often meet and sometimes beat the prices from third-party travel sites, and by booking from the airline directly, you may get other benefits. Another advantage to booking directly from the airline is that it might be easier to deal with issues that arise later such as changing flights or seats. I’ve had situations (especially with foreign airlines) where the airline has refused to make any changes because I bought the ticket elsewhere and the travel site told me that only the airline could make the change.
My airline advice also applies to hotels, which sometimes promise to give you the best possible online price. But check Trivago and other booking sites to see if you can get better prices than what the hotels offer directly. I’ve seen it both ways – cheaper from the hotel or cheaper from a third party, which is why it pays to shop around.
Hotwire and Priceline can often save you money, especially if your plans are flexible. Some airline sites let you look at alternative dates for lower fares.
I almost always book my car rentals on third-party travel sites because I don’t care which major company I rent from, and it’s great to see all the prices at the same time. I’ve seen radically different offers from different companies on the same class of car.
When booking lodging, consider Airbnb and VBRO to find entire houses or apartments or rooms in someone’s dwelling. Except for an apartment in a rundown building in a sketchy part of Istanbul, my experiences with Airbnb have been great. But do read the reviews and look for extra fees and cancelation policies, which vary by property.
Turo.com is like an Airbnb for car rental. The app lets you rent a car directly from the car’s owner. I’ve never used it, but I’d be tempted because of the vast selection of cars and – in some cases – excellent prices.
Depending on where you live, getting to the airport can be expensive. I hardly ever used taxis because it would cost more than $200 round trip to get from my house to SFO. I used to pay for airport parking but that, too, can be expensive and a hassle. Using Uber Pool or Lyft Line, I can sometimes get from Palo Alto to SFO for as little as $25. If you’re bringing the family, you’ll need an entire car, but even that is often a lot more affordable than parking at the airport.
If you’re going on vacation, you might want to limit the use of tech, but a smartphone is still an essential travel tool to book rides from the road, check the weather, make last minute hotel or ground transportation reservations and to display an electronic boarding pass. And a tool like Google Maps is essential if you’re driving or to make sure a cab driver is sticking to the route (I’ve had drivers in foreign countries take extra-long routes to pad the bill). Uber is available in many countries, and your U.S. Uber App and account work everywhere. Uber also helps break through the language barrier because you don’t have to tell your driver where you’re going as you do in a taxi.
Don’t forget to take along an extra phone charger, and if you’re not traveling with someone else who has a phone, it’s a good idea to bring along a spare phone if you have an older one lying around.
Almost all phone plans work anywhere in the U.S. without any roaming charges, but once you leave the country, it can cost a great deal of money to make calls, send and receive texts and – especially – consume data. There are no roaming charges if you only use WiFi, but if you plan to use a cellular network, make sure you have an affordable roaming plan or purchase a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. In most cases, you’ll need a separate SIM card for each country, which is why it’s often a lot more convenient to get a good roaming plan from your carrier. AT&T and Verizon offer plans for $10 a day that bring your existing plan to over 100 countries, but you must set it up in advance, and you only pay for the days when you’re using it. T-Mobile, Sprint and Google Fi offer reasonable roaming rates as part of some plans, but check in advance to make sure you’re covered in the countries you’re visiting. WhatsApp is a good and free way to communicate with folks anywhere in the world.
I travel with a laptop, which can be handy, even on vacation, not only for making plans and keeping in touch but watching movies on planes and in hotel rooms. If you have Netflix, download some programs in advance so you can watch them on the plane. You can also download to a phone or tablet with both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
I always carry a short extension cord with me not only because it gives me extra cord, but because it allows me to plug in two or three devices into a single outlet (which are sometimes scarce). If you’re going overseas, don’t use a standard power strip because they’re not designed for the higher voltage you’ll get in most countries. Do bring foreign plug adapters but, for most modern electronics, you won’t need a power converter. There are exceptions like my electric toothbrushes and shaver, so I carry a toothbrush that runs on AA batteries and an old-fashion razor for shaving.
This isn’t tech advice, but I always carry Ziplock bags when I travel. Depending on the size (I get 2½ gallon size bags from Amazon), they can be used to keep your clothes from getting wrinkled, to separate items in your bag and can be used to store extra food that you might take from breakfast to eat later in the day.
I also travel with a motion sensing LED light that I leave by the hotel bathroom to find my way in the middle of the night and, after having my wallet stolen in Argentina, I carry an extra credit card and ATM card in my luggage or hotel safe.
Have a great trip.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.]]>
The start of broad government antitrust investigations into the U.S. technology industry has revived questions about Apple and Google’s dominance of app stores and the fees they charge to developers.
U.S. enforcement agencies recently split oversight of the largest U.S. tech companies, with the Justice Department focusing on Apple and Google, according to people familiar with the matter.
The government hasn’t said why it’s grouping Apple and Google under Justice, or how it might apply antitrust law to their businesses. But a lawsuit filed Tuesday underscored growing developer ire over app stores, the vast digital bazaars showcasing millions of games, productivity tools and other software available for download onto handheld devices.
Apple and Google have disparate main businesses, but they run the world’s two biggest app stores. More than $100 billion was spent through these marketplaces last year. Apple’s App Store handled 45% of that, while Google accounted for 25%. In the U.S., the two control more than 95% of all mobile app spending by consumers, according to Sensor Tower data.
This power means most developers must work with Apple and Google if they want to reach billions of smartphone users as customers. The companies take as much as 30% of app sales, creating highly profitable businesses — but also a rising chorus of critics who see an exploitative duopoly.
“Developers and users have been hurt by this. Simply lowering their cut could spur all types of new apps and business opportunities,” said the creator of a weather app at Apple’s annual developer conference in Silicon Valley on Tuesday. “I personally have an app idea that isn’t feasible because of this 30% tax.”
The person asked not to be identified discussing such a sensitive topic. But others feel the same way. The developer of an iPhone app for customized basketball workouts and another developer who built a baby naming app sued Apple on Tuesday, claiming the company’s App Store suppresses competition.
Apple and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. However, the companies have been preparing to defend themselves against any new antitrust scrutiny. Apple recently added a new section to its website to highlight benefits the App Store provides to developers.
Google and Apple have also highlighted their ability to filter out fake apps and malicious software, and to distribute apps widely. The companies handle identity and payment details, taking friction out of the sign-up process. Promotion inside their app stores can transform a company’s fortunes overnight.
That may not be enough to avoid a U.S. antitrust investigation into these businesses. While the Justice Department hasn’t commented, that agency’s focus on Google and Apple has already sparked concern among some Wall Street analysts.
“The DOJ grouping Google and Apple together may indicate the app model is a risk,” Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie, wrote in a note to investors. “We have long argued that app store fees are at risk for legal or regulatory remedies (as well as competitive).”
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts and presidential candidate, said in March that the App Store should be separated from the rest of Apple because the company’s own apps compete with those of outside developers. “If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform,” she told The Verge.
A few days later, music streaming rival Spotify Technology complained to the European Union’s powerful antitrust agency that Apple’s 30% cut of app revenue was effectively a tax on competitors.
One reason developers still pay so much to Apple and Google is that it’s very hard for competing app stores to succeed — so there’s little competition, especially in the U.S.
The two companies control most smartphones through their iOS and Android operating systems. Apple doesn’t allow other app stores on its platform. Google does, but the internet giant has complex agreements with Android phone manufacturers that require these partners to preinstall its Play store. European antitrust regulators recently forced Google to end this practice, but the deals are still in effect in the U.S.
The result: Apple and Google’s developer fees have remained stubbornly high. As apps have become more important economically, criticism has mounted, with some developers complaining loudly about an app store “tax.”
One example of competition lowering fees on developers comes from another part of the tech industry that Apple and Google don’t dominate: the market for video games on personal computers.
Valve Corp. runs Steam, one of the most popular stores for downloading PC video games. It has traditionally taken about 30% of revenue from game sales and related transactions. But a rival called Epic Games recently introduced a competing store that will only take 12% of revenue.
“There’s not the same pressure on Apple that there is with, for example, the Epic Games Store vs Steam,” said calculator app developer James Thomson. “If Google Play cut their fee, Apple might do the same, but I’m sure they are both happy with 30%. I’d like to get more, obviously, I just don’t see it happening in the current marketplace.”]]>
Sixty-eight percent of teenagers reported that they keep their mobile devices within reach at night, a telephone and online survey released last week by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found. Nearly a third (29 percent) of teens sleep with smartphones, cellphones or tablets in their beds.
Parents — 74 percent of them — are even more likely to have mobile devices within reach at night. But just 12 percent of parents said they kept them in bed.
The findings show that teens and parents both have “an intense relationship with their phones at night,” said Michael Robb, report author and senior director of research at Common Sense.
That is of concern to researchers in light of other studies that have connected mobile device use before bed with poor sleep. One review of 20 studies, for example, found that access to and use of mobile devices at bedtime were associated with “inadequate sleep quality” and “poor sleep quantity,” as well as “excessive sleepiness” during the day.
“We know that poor sleep leads to a number of negative mental and physical health problems — things like obesity, poor academic achievement, poor cognitive performance or just daytime sleepiness,” Robb said. “If you experience poor sleep you might encounter these other outcomes.”
The survey, titled “The New Normal: Parents, Teens, Screens, and Sleep in the United States,” is the second phase of ongoing research by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media about mobile device use and how technology affects family relationships. Interviews for the survey were conducted by phone (43 percent of responses) and online (57 percent of responses).
About 61 percent of parents check their phone within half an hour of falling asleep, and 70 percent of their children check their phones within 30 minutes of falling asleep, the survey shows. On top of that, the study found notifications often disrupt sleep throughout the night. Just over a third (36 percent) of teens look at their phones in the middle of the night to check for “something other than the time” at least once a night. About 26 percent of parents also reported this, the survey shows.
“That’s pretty amazing, and kinda scary,” Robb said.
The survey also showed that opinions on mobile device use have shifted since the comparable 2016 study. In particular, 52 percent of parents said that they feel they spend too much time on their mobile devices, a jump from 29 percent in 2016.
The opposite shift happened with teens questioned in the survey. While 61 percent said they felt they spent too much time on mobile devices in 2016, that percentage dipped to 39 percent of teens in the most recent survey.
Teens and their parents are also changing when it comes to who feels “addicted” to mobile devices. In 2016, half of teenagers said they felt addicted to a device, while just 27 percent of parents said they felt addicted. In 2019, 39 percent of teens said they felt addicted, while among parents the proportion increased to 45 percent.
Robb has a few hypotheses about why these changes have occurred. “For parents, it could be that there has been a lot of press and concern about how mobile devices and smartphones are affecting our day-to-day lives and that’s resonating with parents,” he said. “Maybe these are kids who have been around devices since birth, even more so relative to the group of kids we surveyed in 2016. They don’t have a comparison to not having a device.”
It might also be that teens are getting more comfortable with their mobile device usage, he said. “Maybe kids do feel more balanced.”
Many of the devices and apps that teens and parents use in the late hours are created by companies headquartered in California.
Tech companies should “think about how the products they create and ways in which they design them so they don’t interrupt or hurt kids’ sleep,” Robb said. “Or (they should) make it easier for kids of parents to put them away at the end of the day and not worry about them at night time.”
Administered by Lake Research Partners, the survey consisted of telephone or online interviews with 1,000 parents and children ages 12 to 18 years old. The interviews were conducted from Feb. 2 to March 1 of this year, and the margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percent.]]>
WASHINGTON – House Democrats plan a sweeping review of Facebook, Google and other technology giants to determine whether they’ve become so large and powerful that they stifle competition and harm consumers, marking a new, unprecedented antitrust threat for an industry that’s increasingly under siege by Congress, the White House and 2020 presidential candidates.
The probe, announced Monday by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the leader of the House’s top competition panel, is expected to be far reaching and comes at a moment when Democrats and Republicans find themselves in rare alignment on the idea that the tech industry has been too unregulated for too long. The sentiment spurred a sharp sell-off in tech stocks to start the week.
Cicilline said the investigation won’t target one specific tech company, but rather focus on the broad belief that the “internet is broken,” he told reporters. In doing so, he pointed out problematic practices at tech giants such as Google, which has faced sanctions in Europe for prioritizing its services in search over rivals, and Facebook, which Cicilline criticized for cloning and acquiring competitors to ensure its continued dominance in social networking.
Amazon and Apple also could figure into the committee’s early plans, he said, cautioning the goal is a broader look at the industry.
“In a lot of ways, there was a reluctance in the early days of the Internet to interfere,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “It was creating so much value in the lives of people that [some felt] you should get out of the way and allow it to flourish.”
“Over time,” Cicilline continued, “people have recognized there are some real dangers here.”
Cicilline said Democrats would hold hearings, seek documents – even by subpoena, if necessary – and depose witnesses that could include the leaders of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, who might also be asked to testify publicly. His office said that tech companies, for all their innovations, had created “escalating crises,” from eroding Americans’ privacy rights to depriving ad revenue from cash-strapped local news outlets.
In recent days, the Trump administration has signaled that it, too, has set its sights on Silicon Valley, taking early steps to divvy up future competition oversight of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The efforts by the U.S. government’s two antitrust enforcement agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, could pave the way for more formal probes of each company’s practices, though the agencies’ exact interests aren’t known.
Still, the early efforts won support even among Democratic presidential candidates, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who long has called for breaking up big tech. Over the weekend, congressional Republicans also praised the Trump administration for turning its attention to the industry. “This is very big news, and overdue,” tweeted Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
Amazon, Apple and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment, and Google declined comment. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The broad, bipartisan focus on Silicon Valley presents the whole of the tech industry with what could be its greatest political test after years of enjoying relatively smooth sailing in the nation’s capital. Even when world regulators had sought to challenge these companies’ business practices – Europe has fined Google $9 billion in just the last three years, for example – Washington had remained a staunch ally of Facebook, Google and their peers.
The 2016 election, however, began to erode that political goodwill, as members of Congress began to realize the extent to which malicious actors could capitalize on social networks with vast, perhaps unchallenged reach to spread falsehoods in real time. A flood of privacy violations, particularly at Facebook, further reinforced for some lawmakers the feeling that big tech giants had enriched themselves on their users’ personal information – and left people with little option for alternative services to use.
“For a while, tech could do no wrong. They were the font of all innovation, and good things, and progress and democracy,” said Rob Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that counts Apple and Microsoft on its board of directors. “And now the bloom is off the rose.”
Atkinson, however, stressed the industry had produced some of consumers’ most well-liked services, from Facebook’s messaging apps to Amazon’s lightning fast delivery of goods that previously had taken weeks to order. “This is one of the reasons why this is such a hard sell,” he said. “Most consumers just don’t see a problem.”
On Monday, Cicilline called it a “monopoly moment” for the tech industry, likening his committee’s investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and their tech peers to past congressional probes of airlines and phone providers, each of which resulted in a fine-tuning of the nation’s antitrust laws. Over the next 18 months, he said, the House Judiciary Committee and its top antitrust panel would focus their review on crafting their own recommendations.
“The open Internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the full Judiciary Committee. “But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”
New antitrust scrutiny helped drive down tech stocks Monday. Facebook stock was down more than 7%, Google fell by 6%, Amazon dropped 4% and Apple 1%, a small loss that came on the same day the iPhone giant unveiled a slew of new software updates at its annual developer conference.
In recent months, a growing chorus of politicians, academics and business leaders have argued that tech giants have accumulated too much power and that they should be regulated – or even broken up. In May, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, argued in a commentary that it was time to break up the company.
Critics of Amazon have pointed to the company’s dominance of retail e-commerce sales – estimated to be nearly 40 percent of the market, according to eMarketer data from May 2019. Meanwhile, Amazon has expanded into new lines of business, such as groceries, and amassed a massive cloud-computing footprint. Amazon argues, however, that it controls a smaller portion of all retail sales in an industry dominated by players such as Walmart, the largest U.S. retailer.
For Apple, the concern consistently is its App Store – a portal for games and other software that Apple controls. The iPhone maker long has tangled with companies such as Spotify, a music-streaming app that rivals Apple’s own offering, over charges that Apple makes it harder for competitors to operate. Apple has denied it, but the European Union is reportedly probing the matter.
Google long has struggled to battle back EU regulators who feel its search, advertising and smartphone offerings put its competitors at a disadvantage. U.S. regulators previously probed the company but opted against bringing major penalties when they closed the investigation in 2013. With Facebook, its struggles with disinformation and privacy have fueled calls from a wide array of critics – including Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook – who say it is time to break up the company.
“The Internet platforms have operated with impunity since their founding, producing horrific outcomes for democracy, public health, privacy, and competition,” said Roger McNamee, an early investor in Apple, Facebook, and Google and a former adviser to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg who has since become a critic of the companies.]]>
Although the picture painted by Mueller is largely a legal one, it is also a tech story because of the ways Russia interfered with the election as well as the president’s use of social media to act in ways that some have construed as possibly obstruction of justice.
The Mueller Report should be a wake up call for the entire tech industry, the nation as a whole and especially anyone who has ever logged into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other online service that disseminates information.
While Mueller found “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy,” he clearly stated on Wednesday that Russia “used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.” He also said that “a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.”
Mueller’s most important point was his conclusion, “that there were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Media literacy critical thinking and emotional intelligence
Mueller is right. But it deserves more than our attention. It also deserves a commitment by government, educators, tech companies and all of us to teach and learn media literacy, critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence.
While not in any way letting Russia off-the-hook or exonerating Facebook and Twitter on how they handled early signs of Russian interference, it’s important for all of us to examine our roll in believing or spreading false information.
I saw some of those early posts and ads which were later shown to be deliberate false information promulgated by Russia and I remember doing a bit of my own fact checking before taking them seriously. I also remember seeing how some of my Facebook friends, including a family member, were spreading these fake reports by posting links on their Facebook feed or repeating “facts” that were simply not true. I posted at the time and still believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to at least attempt to verify the accuracy of anything we see before we pass it on to others as truth. I admit one can never be 100% certain. Even legitimate news organizations sometimes get things wrong. But if you’re not sure of the veracity or legitimacy of a so-called news source, do a little research before sharing what is posted. And, if you later find out it’s not true, do what journalists do and issue a correction.
We’re all media personalities
I’m privileged to work as a journalist, but if you post on social media, you too are a media personality, even if you’re not getting paid and even if your reach may not be as big as some in the news media (though there are some social media users who have a bigger reach than many professional journalists). But whether you measure your audience in single digits or in millions, you have a responsibility to try to be accurate because, just like those of us in print or on the air, your reputation is based on what you say and no one wants to be known as a purveyor of false information.
Educators and parents
Educators and parents also have a responsibility when it comes to helping children cope with the fire hose of information coming at them. That’s why Kerry Gallagher and I wrote ConnectSafely.org’s Parent & Educator Guide to Media Literacy and Fake News (connectsafely.org/fakenews/). In the free online guide, we point to a November 2016 Stanford Graduate School of Education Report that found that more than 80% of middle and high school students surveyed were unable to distinguish between advertisements and real news stories. In fairness to teens, we also cited a December 2016 Pew study that found that nearly a quarter of adults admitted to sharing fake news in the past. Most didn’t know it was fake when they shared it.
It’s not just about media literacy but also emotional intelligence. If you examine the behavior of dictators, despots and demagogues, you’ll see how they use emotion to fire up their base, even when the facts aren’t on their side. Even politicians, clergy, professors and other speakers who aren’t despotic, often appeal to our emotions, which isn’t necessarily bad as long as we understand what they are doing.
In our guide, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence associate director Robin Stern, advised adults to “check in with your own feelings first and keep calm when talking to your children – even about a ‘charged’ piece of news. Help children to listen for facts and name their feelings. Encourage them to think about how producers create media to provoke feelings in the audience.”
Keep up the pressure
Finally, we must keep pressure on social media companies to do what they can to stem the tide of foreign interference and fake news. I don’t expect Facebook and Twitter to police the truthfulness of everything that’s posted, but I do expect them to expose those who deliberately and repeatedly lie and to remove any non-genuine accounts designed to mislead and manipulate voters.
And, while I’m not holding my breath, I would also appreciate it if politicians and elected officials would make a real effort to tell the truth when posting to social media and speaking to the public.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.]]>
Christchurch Call, pledging to work together “to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.” The document, which was not signed by the United States, says that “respect for freedom of expression is fundamental.
However, no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.”
Signed two months after the horrific terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch New Zealand, the effort was led by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron.
The non-binding “call,” was more of a pledge than a mandate and it’s aspirational, not regulatory. But it’s an example of how governments and big tech companies can come together to agree on how to solve a thorny and sometimes controversial issue.
As an internet safety advocate (I’m CEO of ConnectSafely.org, which receives support from tech companies including Google and Facebook), I agree with the Christchurch Call’s efforts to curtail violent extremism and I’m also good with Facebook terminating the accounts of known violent, racist, hateful, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic individuals including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. But as a journalist and an ACLU member, I’m also a strong advocate of free speech and worried about any efforts to limit it, even when that speech is unpleasant or downright vile. Battle over speech issues are almost always about topics that make at least some people very uncomfortable. Courts are sometimes called on to rule over issues like pornography, hate speech and even speech that could possibly lead to violence, but I have yet to hear about a court case regarding cat videos, however annoying they may be to some people.
Private vs. government rules
Having said that, I’m OK with voluntary guidelines when it comes to certain types of online content, especially if it incites or celebrates violence as long as it’s at the discretion of the platforms that host the content. But I admit that it can be a slippery slope, and when governments get involved, it’s important to limit suppression of speech that is clearly associated with real-world dangers such as child pornography and yelling fire in a crowded theater.
The key issue here is the role of government. In the United States, our precious First Amendment applies to government, not the private sector. You have the right to say almost anything you want if you’re standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, but if you start spouting racist, sexist, homophobic or anti-Semitic propaganda in my living room, I have the right to show you the door. Companies like Facebook and Google also have that right and – one could argue – responsibility to protect their communities from vile content.
It’s also important to note that the U.S. First Amendment doesn’t apply to other countries. As much as we may not like it, Americans can’t prevent countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia from censoring what their citizens can say, read, hear, view or access online. Even our more liberal European allies that do allow for free expression have laws that might not make it past our Supreme Court, such as banning Nazi paraphernalia and propaganda. Some of the symbols on display at the white nationalists Charlottesville march would have been prohibited in Germany and some other European countries which experienced the horror of Nazi rule.
Because it’s voluntary, I think the U.S should have signed the Christchurch Call, but I understand the principle behind the Trump administration’s decision not to sign. It’s hard to argue against the administration’s statement that “the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech.” Counter speech has long been the recommended antidote for hate speech and, in some ways, I’m impressed that someone in the White House understands that.
Facebook’s new ‘one-strike’ policy
I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but the Christchurch Call came the same day that Facebook announced it would institute a “one strike policy,” temporarily blocking anyone from Facebook Live (its live streaming feature) if they share a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context. Like the Christchurch Call, this decision by Facebook is in the wake of the massacre at the Christchurch mosque where the gunman live-streamed his murderous attack. It took several minutes before Facebook was able to stop the feed and remove the content from its site, but there continued to be links to the content.
The decision by Facebook and other tech companies to sign the Christchurch Call along with actions by Facebook such as suspending people who share certain links or its announcement Thursday that it diffused an Israeli-based campaign to disrupt elections mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a sign that the social media behemoth is waking up and taking its responsibilities seriously. There is plenty of reason to be skeptical of a company that has had so many mishaps on so many fronts, but there is also reason to be glad that it appears to be moving in the right direction.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.]]>