Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 141: Back from Summer Break!; Data-Siphoning Apps Exposed; Pachelbel’s Chicken

Edition 141 of my email newsletter went out last Sunday.

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Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

🇺🇸 So, I’m back after a few weeks of summer holiday. Anasuya and I enjoyed the 4th of July (and biscuits and grits and burgers and sausages and going out on the water) with family and friends in Beaufort, S.C..

We celebrated a milestone birthday with family in central Pennsylvania.

We caught up with amigos in Washington, D.C., and then spent nearly a week in New York working and eating and visiting with pals and colleagues.

It was fantastic to be back in the U.S., see people close to us, and — let’s not forget about the beautiful game — watch the conclusion of a memorable World Cup (Croatia almost did it, but a dynamic and exciting France were deserving winners).

Now we’ve returned to Delhi and are getting back into the swing of things. Thankfully, while we were away, the blistering heat gave way to the monsoon rains, so the weather is cooler.

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📵 1) By me: App Traps: How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries — [WSJ] The story, which I wrote with my colleagues Josh Chin, Myo Myo and Kersten Zhang, ran on the front page of our Business and Finance section and online July 5. It begins:

For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users’ data without their knowledge.

One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner’s location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile Corp., or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers said.

I worked on this piece for a some time and am proud of it because it involved some deep digging and hit on some important themes. Several outlets picked it up, as well.

📉 2) Shot: Facebook Suffers Worst-Ever Drop in Market Value [WSJ] — TLDR: Shares plummeted 19%, wiping out nearly $120 billion in market value, with investors concerned about decelerating growth.

⬇️ 3) Chaser: Twitter User Numbers Slip as It Shuts Fake Accounts; Stock Drops [WSJ] — TLDR: Twitter slipped more than 20% after it said its global monthly active users fell.

🤑 4) And the context: Investors Step Back From Social-Media Highfliers [WSJ] — My colleagues Marc Vartabedian, Yoree Koh and Michael Wursthorn write:

Facebook and Twitter have different business models but each is dependent on grabbing — and keeping — people’s attention and then showing ads to them. That imperative on occasion has led them to embrace content that is viral or provocative, and now they are trying to find a better balance that will keep users engaged without driving them away. For instance, both are scrambling to clean up their platforms, which were the epicenter of Russian misinformation campaigns around the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In a look at Facebook’s earnings, specifically, Shira Ovide at Bloomberg writes:

If what the company predicts comes to pass, the internet’s best combination of fast revenue growth and plump profit margins is dead. All at once, it seemed, reality finally caught up to Facebook.

🛍️ 5) Online shopping-related longread of the week: How E-Commerce Is Transforming Rural China [New Yorker] — Jiayang Fan profiles, the Amazon of China, which is pushing into the country’s hinterlands.

🗣️ 6) Speaking of China: Balding Out — A bittersweet essay in which a well known American business school professor, Christopher Balding, describes why he’s leaving China after nine years. My colleague Chun Han Wong in Beijing has more on the wider story.

🗳️ 7) Interactive of the week: An Extremely Detailed Map of the 2016 Election [New York Times] — This feature is pretty straightforward, allowing you to zoom in to examine individual precincts to see how people voted. But it’s a reminder of the stark political differences between people in big cities and more rural areas. More info available in an accompanying piece called “Political Bubbles and Hidden Diversity.”

✨ 8) Not tech-related, but getting lots of buzz online: How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million [New York Times] — Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the “most controversial brand in the wellness industry,” and the woman behind it.

🐐 9) Alpaca-related story of the week: Altiplano review: A brain-tickling board game about…alpacas [Ars Technica] — “Don’t let the grinning llamas (alpacas?) fool you,” Tom Mendelsohn writes, “this can be a powerful gaming experience… but only for a certain kind of player.”

🐔 10) Silly video of the week: Pachelbel’s Chicken [YouTube] — Yes, that’s Pachelbel’s Canon…played on rubber chickens.

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi — and I hope your summers are going well, friends!


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