NN 161: Our Uber CEO Interview; Interstellar Bodies; Weed Worries; Harry Potter Puppies

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Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📹 1) For Owners of Amazon’s Ring Security Cameras, Strangers May Have Been Watching Too [The Intercept]

“Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”

👴🏻 2) People older than 65 share the most fake news, a new study finds [The Verge]

“In fact, age predicted their behavior better than any other characteristic — including party affiliation.”

⭐ 3) How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success [New Yorker]

“‘I don’t think any of us could have known what this would become,’ Katherine Walker, a producer on the first five seasons of ‘The Apprentice,’ told me. ‘But Donald would not be President had it not been for that show.’”

👽 4) Avi Loeb on the Mysterious Interstellar Body ’Oumuamua [Spiegel]

Astronomer Avi Loeb believes that the interstellar object dubbed ’Oumuamua could actually be a probe sent by alien beings. Given the evidence that has so far been gathered, he says, it is a possible conclusion to draw.

🚬 5) Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think? [New Yorker]

"In some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness. As the National Academy panel declared, in one of its few unequivocal conclusions, ‘Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.’’

➡️ 6) The Weight I Carry [The Atlantic]

“I weigh 460 pounds. Those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write. Nobody knows that number—not my wife, not my doctor, not my closest friends. It feels like confessing a crime.”

📚 7) The best books on Creating a Career You Love [FiveBooks]

“Bestselling business author Emma Gannon tells Five Books about the career advice books that have inspired her most.”

📺 8) The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’ [NY Times]

“Before ‘The Sopranos,’’ yes, TV dramas could take risks (‘Twin Peaks’) and tell stories about difficult people (‘NYPD Blue’). But after the ducks landed in Tony’s backyard pool in January 1999, an immense flock followed….If ‘The Sopranos,’’ which debuted 20 years ago this week, built the ground floor, this list looks at what TV erected on top of it.”

🌍 9) The Mysterious Life (and Death) of Africa’s Oldest Trees [TOPIC]

“A shocking study published in 2018 found that some of the most beautiful, and famous, baobab trees are dying. What will this mean for the people who depend on them—and for the planet?”

🧙‍♂️ 10) my dog only responds to Harry Potter spells [YouTube]

India Wants Access to Encrypted WhatsApp Messages

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That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Tuesday and in Wednesday’s print WSJ. It begins:

NEW DELHI— Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is facing pressure in India to let authorities trace and read the encrypted messages of its more than 200 million Indian users in a new attempt at constraining global tech giants.

India’s telecommunications regulator has asked for feedback on new rules that—in the name of national security—could force “over the top” services such as WhatsApp, which use mobile operators’ infrastructure, to allow the government access to users’ messages.

At the same time India’s Information Technology Ministry has proposed new intermediary guidelines that would force WhatsApp and others to trace messages and remove objectionable content within 24 hours.

WhatsApp—which has more users in India than in any other country—has “pushed back on government attempts to ban or weaken end-to-end encryption and will continue to do so,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking.

Click through to read the rest.

Uber CEO Says Market Turmoil Won’t Derail IPO Plans

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That’s the headline on my latest story, out Tuesday and in Wednesdsay’s print WSJ. It begins:

Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said market turbulence in the U.S. would be unlikely to affect the ride-hailing titan’s plans for a public listing.

“Any company that’s going public would like to do it in a positive, stable market,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in an interview Tuesday in Singapore. But the startup is large and flexible enough to go public in almost any market, he said. “We’ll do it when we’re ready, and, hopefully, the markets will be in a good state."

Mr. Khosrowshahi said Uber was internally on track to list this year, having previously said he expected to seek a debut in the second half of 2019 in what would be one of the biggest public offerings planned for the year. The company is also keeping an eye out for a possible debut by rival U.S. firm Lyft Inc., which has indicated it plans to seek an IPO this year and filed confidentially with the SEC the same day Uber did.

“The good news is that we’ve got a strong balance sheet so we don’t need to go public this year,” he said. “It’s a desire,” he said, but “if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. “I’d be disappointed and I think our shareholders would be disappointed but the company would be just fine."

Click through to read the rest.

Popular Weather App Collects Too Much User Data, Security Experts Say

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That’s the headline on my latest story, out Wednesday. It begins:

NEW DELHI—A popular weather app built by a Chinese tech conglomerate has been collecting an unusual amount of data from smartphones around the world and attempting to subscribe some users to paid services without permission, according to a London-based security firm’s research.

The free app, one of the world’s most-downloaded weather apps in Google’s Play store, is from TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd., of Shenzhen, China. TCL makes Alcatel- and BlackBerry -branded phones, while a sister company makes televisions.

The app, called “Weather Forecast—World Weather Accurate Radar,” collects data including smartphone users’ geographic locations, email addresses and unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers on TCL servers in China, according to Upstream Systems, the mobile commerce and security firm that found the activity. Until last month, the app was known as “Weather—Simple weather forecast.”

A TCL spokesman didn’t address queries about the amount of data the app collects.

The weather app also has attempted to surreptitiously subscribe more than 100,000 users of its low-cost Alcatel smartphones in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nigeria to paid virtual-reality services, according to Upstream Systems. The security firm, which discovered the activity as part of its work for mobile operators, said users would have been billed more than $1.5 million had it not blocked the attempts.

Click through to read the rest.

Amazon, Walmart Foiled as India Tightens E-Commerce Rules

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That’s the headline of a story I wrote Thursday with my colleague Corinne Abrams. It begins:

India is tightening restrictions on foreign e-commerce companies operating in the country, in a new challenge to Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. as they bet billions on the nascent market.

Current rules forbid non-Indian online sellers from holding their own inventory and shipping it out to consumers, as is typically done in other countries. Instead, the foreign sellers have found a work-around, selling online what are effectively their own products but held by their affiliated local companies.

Click through to read the rest.

We wrote more about the issue Friday in another story, which began:

American firms are plowing billions into India’s internet economy in part because, unlike China, India promised a level playing field for foreign firms to compete against local companies. Now that field may be tilting toward domestic startups amid a global backlash against U.S. tech titans, according to analysts and industry officials.

With national elections approaching early next year, India’s government said Wednesday it is tightening restrictions on foreign e-commerce players, the latest move in recent months that restrains their freedom to operate compared with local firms. The new rules present a fresh challenge to Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. as they aim for growing slices of a market where many of India’s 1.3 billion people are starting to shop online thanks to inexpensive smartphones and data.

Vinay Kesari, a Bangalore-based technology lawyer specializing in regulatory matters who has worked with U.S. tech firms, said such moves to rein in foreign tech companies have been highly unusual and may be a sign of more to come.

“I’ve never seen anything like this happening,” he said. “All bets are off at this point.”

Click through to read the rest.

NN 159: Apple’s India Woes; Year’s Best Longreads; NYC Diners; Silly Dog Pics

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Here are ten items worth your time this week:

😐 1) Literally Just A Big List Of Facebook’s 2018 Scandals [Buzzfeed News]

“If you thought 2018 was tough for you, imagine being a staffer in Facebook’s public relations department.”

🔖 2) Best of 2018 [Longform]

“We recommended 1,138 articles articles this year. These were our favorites.”

🎮 3) Fortnite isn’t a game, it’s a place [Charged]

“Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world.”

🍳 4) What 24 hours in a diner taught me about New York [Economist/1843]

"I’d petitioned the owner of the Chelsea Square, John Lapsadis, to let me spend 24 hours at one of his booths, to see life here from sunrise to sunrise. He’d shrugged. ’Do what you want.’”

⛔ 5) Digital detox: Resorts offer perks for handing over phones [AP]

“Some resorts are offering perks, like snorkeling tours and s’mores, to guests who manage to give up their phones for a few hours. Some have phone-free hours at their pools; others are banning distracting devices from public places altogether.”

😞 6) Latent Prejudice Stirs When a Black Man Tries to Join a Charleston Club [NY Times]

“Dr. Brown was the only African-American nominee, and the only one to receive a subtle tap on the shoulder on the way back into the room. Eleven black marbles had been dropped in his box.”

📺 7) Few people are actually trapped in filter bubbles. Why do they like to say that they are? [Nieman Lab]

“Media choice has become more of a vehicle of political self-expression than it once was…Partisans therefore tend to overestimate their use of partisan outlets, while most citizens tune out political news as best they can.”

👂 8) Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home [Reuters]

“The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.”

⚽ 9) The best football tweets of 2018 [BBC]

“…what’s important here is not the actual events themselves but how the beautiful game was documented on Twitter.”

😂 10) Dog-related image of the week: Picture makes me laugh every time!! [Reddit]

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

Books

Here’s the best of what I read in 2018.

As in previous round-ups, some of these titles came out this year, while others were published in years past.

Nonfiction

  • Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World,” by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. The first of two astoundingly good books by WSJ colleagues this year. Even if, like me, you’ve followed the 1MDB scandal, you’ll find here a ton of surprising, colorful, mind-boggling details, not to mention memorable characters. I think this will go down as a narrative nonfiction business classic.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou. The second book by a WSJ colleage. The crazy story of Theranos, founder Elizabeth Holmes, and a cautionary tale about how investors can be duped by powerful personalities.
  • The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” by Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh. A rigorous work, full of data, that explains the factors that have contributed to the remarkable success of Indians (and Indian-Americans) in the U.S. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari. A compelling, accessible, intriguing look at our species. Worth all the attention it has gotten since its 2015 publication. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. I’d heard about this book for a long time. The first half is a harrowing Holocaust survival memoir. The second is a guide to Frankl’s theory of logotherapy. I understand now why so many people say this is the single book that has affected them more than any other. “The meaning of life is to give life meaning,” as Frankl writes.
  • India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy,” by Ramachandra Guha. An exhaustive (it’s more than 900 pages long), impressively researched work: everything you need to know (and then some) about India since independence. I will keep a copy on my desk for reference. On the one hand, the level of detail can make for slow going; on the other hand, India’s history is so complicated that there can be no short cuts in a book like this.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Katherine Boo. A moving introduction to the plight of India’s poor.
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” by Tim Wu. A timely read, given the rise of powers like Facebook and Google. Book Notes entry is here.
  • Fiction

    Last year I noted that I’d read just two memorable novels that year. My consumption of fiction this year, sadly, has again been low.

    I am always tempted to read nonfiction books related to work – India, tech, business – and I sometimes forget that in tackling both the universal and the particular, novels have a unique power. They build empathy and communicate truths in ways that sometimes nonfiction cannot. For example, take my favorite novel of the year, by Mohsin Hamid…

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel,” by Mohsin Hamid. I just recently finished this novel. It was stunning. It’s a parody of a self help book, told in a unique fashion.
  • It succeeds as a page turner, as a thrilling rags to riches tale, as a romance, and also as a realistic look at society, money, power and corruption in South Asia.

    (It is set in an unnamed country that appears to be Hamid’s home country, Pakistan, but there are many echoes of India.)

    This is the first book my Hamid that I’ve read, and apparently some feel it’s not even his best. You can bet I will be reading his other works. Highly recommended. (Thanks, Michael, for the gift!)

  • Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville. It had been years since I’d encountered this book back in school, and I decided to pick it up again. I must have read it at some point, but I can’t remember when.
  • I’d forgotten how vivid the prose is. I highlighted this sentence, about Captain Peleg, which I really loved:

    “Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tons upon tons of leviathan gore.”

    Tons of leviathan gore!

    Previously:

  • The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017.
  • The Best Books I Read in 2016.
  • Merry Christmas from New Delhi

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    I hope your holiday was full of food, friends, family, and festivities.

    Ginger got a candy cane dog toy, which, because she is a #PowerChewer, lasted all of ten minutes!

    India’s Biometric Feat: Big Boon or Big Brother?

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    That’s the headline of my most recent story, online here and in Saturday’s print Wall Street Journal.

    It begins:

    Last July, after virtually every adult in India was connected to the world’s biggest biometric identity database, one of the government officials behind it issued a challenge. R.S. Sharma, who oversees the country’s telecom regulatory agency, publicly disclosed his personal ID number in the system and taunted skeptics and potential hackers. “Show me one concrete example where you can do any harm to me!” he tweeted.

    Opponents of the system swarmed, looking to show the dangers of having too much information amassed in one place. They scoured the internet for Mr. Sharma’s personal data by using the ID number to help open digital doors, and claimed some prizes: They uncovered his mobile number and a photo of his daughter and were able to deposit token amounts of money in his bank account. But they couldn’t withdraw funds or corrupt his data, and Mr. Sharma claimed to have proved that the system – which has on file the irises and fingerprints of all of its participants – is secure.

    Mr. Sharma’s challenge reflects the tensions over India’s unique feat. It has reached near-completion just as objections to such giant concentrations of personal data have escalated elsewhere around the world, fueled by controversies surrounding Facebook and Google. Reetika Khera, an economist at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, calls the Indian system “big data meets big brother,” and she and others have aired what they see as its failings, from invasive information-gathering about those within it to dangerous consequences for stragglers left out.

    India says its system—built to cover its 1.3 billion people, a sixth of the world’s population—heralds a new model for governments to marshal citizens’ data, ease digital pathways and fuel their electronic economies, especially in the developing world. India’s Supreme Court in September ruled that the program doesn’t violate citizens’ privacy rights, removing a huge shadow over the program. “It’s mind-boggling that a country like India has pulled it off,” said Anil Jain, a Michigan State University professor who studies biometrics.

    Click through to read the rest.

    iPhone Falls Flat in World’s Largest Untapped Market

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    That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my WSJ colleague Tripp Mickle. It’s on the front page of Wednesday’s print paper and online here.

    It begins:

    NEW DELHI–Amit Rajput, who runs a counter selling iPhones in a busy electronics shop here, cuts a lonely figure. He is lucky to sell one device a day, compared with the 10 or more smartphones his colleagues at desks for Samsung Electronics Co. , Nokia Corp. and China’s Oppo sell daily in the same store.

    As customers walk past his display, he recalls a different time in 2013 when he sold as many as 80 iPhones a day. Now most people want to pay less than $300 for their devices—a fraction of what Apple Inc.’s newer models cost.

    Smartphone makers, facing sputtering growth in the rest of the world, have looked to India to make up the difference. With 1.3 billion consumers, the country is the world’s biggest untapped tech market. Just 24% of Indians own smartphones, and the number of users is growing faster than in any other country, according to research firm eMarketer.

    How has that worked out for one of America’s most valuable companies?

    The number of iPhones shipped in India has fallen 40% so far this year compared with 2017, and Apple’s market share there has dropped to about 1% from about 2%, research firm Canalys estimates. The Cupertino, Calif., company posted revenues of $1.8 billion in India this fiscal year. That is less than half of what executives had once hoped to capture, said a person familiar with its targets.

    “It’s been a rout,” said Ishan Dutt, an analyst at Canalys.

    Click through to read the rest.