Facebook's massive psychology experiment likely illegal


Researchers from Facebook, Cornell and UCSF published a paper describing a mass-scale experiment in which Facebook users' pages were manipulated to see if this could induce and spread certain emotional states.

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21st century vocab: "Card clash"


It's what happens when you wave your bag at an RFID reader while you get on the tube and the turnstyle charges your ride the wrong card:

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Kickstarting a Progress City book of Disney history articles

The excellent Disney history blog Progress City is kickstarting a book of its best articles, including several that are substantially rewritten and polished for the project. $15 gets you a PDF, $30 for a paperback.

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Cyber-crooks turn to Bitcoin extortion


Security journalist Brian Krebs documents a string of escalating extortion crimes perpetrated with help from the net, and proposes that the growth of extortion as a tactic preferred over traditional identity theft and botnetting is driven by Bitcoin, which provides a safe way for crooks to get payouts from their victims.

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Rich get richer, faster

A research report from business school professors at Imperial College, Columbia and U of Maryland found that wealthy investors get returns on bonds and stocks that are "up to 70 per cent times greater returns on their investments than those with modest wealth." This is a point that Piketty makes strongly, backing it up by analyzing data from the Harvard endowment, which gets 10% returns on its ~$80B nest-egg, while the rest of us barely clear inflation with our savings.

Kleargear must pay $306,750 for trashing a complaining customer's credit


The notorious online retailer Kleargear (previously) has been ordered to pay $306,750 in damages (including punitive damages) as well as legal costs to Jennifer and John Palmer. The Palmers wrote an online complaint when they didn't get their Kleargear order, only to have Kleargear send them a bill for $3500 for violating a "nondisparagement clause" in the company's terms of service; when they didn't pay it, Kleargear damaged their credit rating, which ended up sabotaging a house-purchase for the couple. Kleargear claims to be based in France, and refused to participate in the case against them.

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Podcast: How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage

Here's a reading (MP3) of my latest Guardian column, How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage, which examines how Hachette's insistence on DRM for their ebooks has taken away all their negotiating leverage with Amazon, resulting in Amazon pulling Hachette's books from its catalog in the course of a dispute over discounting:

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.

MP3

How Hachette made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with


In my latest Guardian column, "How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage," I discuss the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon. Hachette insisted that Amazon sell its books with "Digital Rights Management" that only Amazon is allowed to remove, and now Hachette can't afford to pull its books from Amazon, because its customers can only read their books with Amazon's technology. So now, Hachette has reduced itself to a commodity supplier to Amazon, and has frittered away all its market power. The other four major publishers are headed into the same place with Amazon, and unless they dump DRM quick, they're going to suffer the same fate.

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Former FCC commissioner to Washington: "You should be ashamed of yourself"


Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps has publicly excoriated Congress and the FCC for the state of Internet access in America, which he called "insanity," saying that America's political class "should be ashamed of ourselves." Copps was speaking at a DC event examining the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which created the short-lived practice of requiring American telcoms operators to share their lines with new entrants, allowing many competing DSL providers to flourish. This practice ended in 2005, and led to today's situation in which most Americans have 0, 1 or 2 broadband options.

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Boob and sock money not welcome in the sweaty summertime, sorry


From Adam R. Bowser's Nova Scotia-based Twitter feed, a timely retail sign: "Due to the rising summer temperatures...We will NOT accept any BOOB or SOCK money! Sorry for the inconvenience! It's gross. Thanks."

(via JWZ)

(Image: Socks, Quinn Dombrowski, CC-BY)

Best-paid CEOs perform the worst


In Performance for Pay? The Relation Between CEO Incentive Compensation and Future Stock Price Performance , a paper from U of Utah business-school professors, the relationship between executive performance and executive pay is intensively investigated. The authors carefully document that the highest-paid executives in the 1,500 companies with the biggest market cops from 1994-2013 perform the worst, and that the higher a CEO's pay, the more likely it is that he'll perform worse than his low-paid colleagues. The effect was most pronounced in the 150 highest-paid CEOs.

The authors propose that sky-high pay leads CEOs to be overconfident -- after all, if they're getting $37M for a year's work, they must be pretty damned smart, so anyone who disagrees with them is clearly an idiot, after all, look at how little that critic is paid! The longer a CEO is in office, the worse his performance becomes, because he is able to pack the board with friendly cronies who keep hiking his pay and overlooking his underperformance. And CEOs suck at figuring out when to exercise their stock options, generally getting less money than they would by following conventional financial advice.

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Newspapers' nostalgia has deluded them into thinking print can be "saved"


As Register Newspapers' high-profile paywall experiment implodes, Clay Shirky offers an acerbic obituary and a dire warning in Nostalgia and Newspapers, which discusses the futility of trying to "save" print, and the news industry's enormous, wishful-thinking blindspot about its own business.

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Most-misused scientific concepts


Annalee Newitz rounds up scientists' ten least-favorite misused scientific concepts, from "proof" and "theory" to "natural" and "learned versus innate." The thing that most of these misconceptions have in common is that they're very profitable: clouding the idea of "proof" and "theory" helps oil companies sell climate denial (and were the go-to tactic when tobacco giants were claiming that their products didn't cause cancer). "Natural" is a label that helps sell woo. "Learned versus innate" is a great way to justify crappy policies as being somehow "innate" to our species (see Love of Shopping is Not a Gene).

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Interviewing Leila Johnston about Hack Circus


My latest Guardian column is an interview with Leila Johnston about her Hack Circus project, which includes a conference, a podcast and a print magazine, all with a nearly indefinable ethic of independence and art for its own sake.

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Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

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