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The shelf company, one weird trick Paul Manafort allegedly used

The shelf company, one weird trick Paul Manafort allegedly used
[Photo: Todd Quackenbush/Unsplash]

As the jurors in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s bank and tax fraud trial deliberated Thursday, they asked the judge to answer four questions. Among them: the definition of “shelf company,” a term that arose in relation to allegations that Manafort hid payments he received from Ukrainian political operations.

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A takeoff on “shell companies,” meaning companies largely used simply to hold and store assets, “shelf companies” are often designed to add an additional layer of indirection. They’re corporations that have been created by specialized lawyers years before they actually do anything of substance. That means that when investigators or potential business partners look into their histories, they see what looks to be a long-established company. That appearance of age can boost the company’s credibility and obscure the date when the company actually became active, which may reveal clues about its operations.

In actuality, the companies often sit dormant “on the shelf” doing nothing but filing rote paperwork until they’re placed under de facto control of new anonymous owners.

In Manafort’s case, the campaign consultant is alleged to have used shelf companies set up in Cyprus with names like Leviathan Ltd. and Peranova Ltd. to receive foreign payments in a relatively anonymous manner. Prosecutors say he never mentioned the companies to his tax preparers, Roll Call reports. On Thursday, when jurors in Manafort’s trial asked about shelf companies, the judge told them they needed to rely on their collective memory to answer that and other questions about evidence, the Washington Post reported.

Like a fine wine

When it comes to shelf companies, “the older they are, the more expensive, like Scotch whisky,” Reuters wrote in a 2011 exposé on the clandestine, secrecy-focused technique. In some cases, the aged corporations could be picked to match the age of a pre-existing but unincorporated business, suggests an incorporation service called Companies Incorporated.

“For example, let’s suppose you have been in the plumbing field for 12 years,” explains Companies Inc. “Your attorney and accountant recommend that you incorporate for liability protection and tax savings. So, you acquire a 12-year-old aged corporation that corresponds with amount of time you have been in business. This way, when you advertise that you have been in business for a dozen years, if a potential customer looks up your company, they will see that your corporation filing date will correspond with the amount of time you have actually conducted business.”


Related: Manafort allegedly used “foldering” to hide emails. Here’s how it works; How Cambridge Analytica fueled a shady global passport bonanza


Another incorporations firm, called Wyoming Corporate Services, offers “aged shelf companies” for sale with names like Crowdsourcing LLC, Go Viral LLC, Organic Blockchain LLC, and Unpredictable Adventures LLC. Some, like Life’s Little Pleasures Inc. and Fresh Start Therapy Inc., have been on the shelf for more than a decade, according to the company.

To review some of the offerings from WholesaleShelfCorporations.com, potential customers must digitally sign a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement. “To protect the Privacy of our Aged Corporations and avoid our Inventory from being indexed by Search Engines, please provide your Contact Information,” its website says.

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You haven’t seen this 1990 Steve Jobs video, but should

You haven’t seen this 1990 Steve Jobs video, but should

I’m a sucker for old Steve Jobs videos I haven’t seen before. And here’s one that was brought to my attention by my friend Jonathan Rotenberg, who led the Boston Computer Society and spent a considerable amount of time with Jobs, who spoke at several memorable BCS events in the 1980s.

This video dates from 1990, during the period when Jobs was out of Apple and working on NeXT and Pixar. It was produced by a team which interviewed him for a documentary about Joseph Juran, a legendary expert on quality management who visited NeXT several times to learn and impart his wisdom.

Though some of the 19-minute video is devoted to discussion of Juran’s philosophies—and of-their-time issues such as Japan presenting a scary competitive threat to the U.S.—there are a number of moments that are pure Jobs. Jonathan found one sound bite particularly striking:

I’ve had an opportunity to meet a few great people in my life and they all have had one characteristic in common, which is that they treat everyone the same, whether it’s the janitor or the president of the company, whether it’s the President of the United States or someone in a rural slum. They treat them exactly the same. If a question is asked, they will directly answer that question to the best of their ability. The look in their eyes is exactly the same.

Here’s what Jonathan wrote on Facebook:

BCS members who had the chance to interact with Steve when he used to come to Boston Computer Society meetings in the 80s know exactly what I mean. He was so excited for EACH individual—no matter how young or old, how quick or mentally challenged, how technical or nontechnical—to be able to ask whatever question was important to them. And there was so much heart and care put into each carefully thought-out answer that Steve would provide.

Maybe the same attitude led Jobs to personally reply to random emails from Apple customers. He was always terse, often blunt, and sometimes crabby. But he did treat everyone the same, and took this customer-service gig seriously even after Apple became one of the largest companies in the world.

Everyone with an interest in Steve Jobs knows about some of the instances in which he failed to be consistently nice to his fellow human beings. But Jonathan, to whom Jobs was both friend and mentor, had a unique, close-up view of the Apple cofounder at work—and so his take on Jobs’ humane side matters a lot.

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The government is demanding Facebook let it access Messenger calls

The government is demanding Facebook let it access Messenger calls
[Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [LC-DIG-hec-43454]

Facebook has become the latest tech company to receive an ultimatum from the government: allow us access to encrypted data to help with a criminal investigation.

Reuters is reporting that at a sealed trial in California, the government has asked the court to hold the social networking company in contempt of court for refusing to allow law enforcement to access voice calls made in Facebook’s messenger app. The case itself involves an investigation into the MS-13 gang, which the Trump administration (and other Republican candidates) use as a political football in the fight over immigration. Facebook says it is impossible to comply the request, because phone conversations on messenger are encrypted end-to-end and there is no way for the company to access them.

The case is the latest in a series of battles between law enforcement and tech companies about access to the personal data and communications we give those companies and store on their devices–and what expectations we have when we we do it. The last major  front in this fight was when the FBI attempted to use the courts to force Apple to unlock the phone of the deceased San Berardino shooter, which was ultimately resolved not with a new legal precedent because the FBI found a different way to access the phone.

What will happen in this case, writes Reuters, could create major changes in who can access our data:

The potential impact of the judge’s coming ruling is unclear. If the government prevails in the Facebook Messenger case, it could make similar arguments to force companies to rewrite other popular encrypted services such as Signal and Facebook’s billion-user WhatsApp, which include both voice and text functions, some legal experts said.

Law enforcement agencies forcing technology providers to rewrite software to capture and hand over data that is no longer encrypted would have major implications for the companies which see themselves as defenders of individual privacy while under pressure from police and lawmakers.

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Amazon is working on a recorder for live TV

Amazon is working on a recorder for live TV
[Photo: courtesy of Amazon; Liz Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons]

TiVo dominates the current market for recording live TV, but Amazon is reportedly now working on a new device of its own.

A source told Bloomberg that the device, internally dubbed “Frank,” would connect to Amazon’s Fire TV boxes. Fire TV can currently stream programming from Amazon Channels, but it hasn’t been possible to store video locally. Bloomberg reports:

Users will be able to record live TV and stream the video to a smartphone so it can be watched later. That functionality is similar to offerings from TiVo and Dish Network Corp.’s Slingbox. Amazon hasn’t made a final decision on rolling out the streaming feature, the person said, noting that the plans could either be canceled or delayed.

The company is developing the DVR in its Lab 126 R&D center, which also designed the Echo speaker and is reportedly working on Project Vesta, a domestic robot.

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Your low-carb diet could be shortening your life

Your low-carb diet could be shortening your life
[Photo: Flickr user Marc Bonica]

Eating a low-carb diet might help you lose weight now. But a new study suggests it might make it more likely that you will die earlier.

The study, published in Lancet Public Health, tracked more than 15,000 people over 25 years. The people who ate a low-carb diet (meaning less than 40% of their calories came from carbs like pasta and bread each day) or a high-carb diet (more than 70% carbs) were more likely to die during the study period than those who ate a moderate-carb diet (50 to 55% carbs). The researchers also pulled data from seven other studies involving more than 400,000 people in 20 countries.

The research didn’t definitively prove that the difference in diets was the cause of early deaths, but the researchers estimate that a 50-year-old eating a moderate amount of carbs might live about four years longer–to the age of 83–than someone eating a very low carb diet. There’s a caveat: If you’re eating low-carb and also vegan, you have a lower risk of dying early than someone who replaced carbs with meat and dairy. The authors write:

These data provide further evidence that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are more prevalent in North American and European populations, should be discouraged. Alternatively, if restricting carbohydrate intake is a chosen approach for weight loss or cardiometabolic risk reduction, replacement of carbohydrates with predominantly plant-based fats and proteins could be considered as a long-term approach to promote healthy ageing.

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Some baseball fans want robot umpires, and they make a pretty compelling case

Some baseball fans want robot umpires, and they make a pretty compelling case
[Photo: paulbr75/Pixabay]

Half the fun of baseball is yelling at the umpire when you disagree with his calls of balls versus strikes. In fact, baseball games would be quiet places without fans hollering “What are you, blind?” after every swing.

Now some fans and even players are calling for a new way to solve the problem of bad umpire calls–give them a little help from machines. There’s a growing movement, led by Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist, to turn those baseball rulings over to software.

Technology Review lays out a pretty compelling case, noting that the tennis world has managed to embrace robot judges–or at least robot-assisted judges–through the “Hawk-Eye” program, which has final say when it comes to deciding whether a ball is in or out. Perhaps baseball will be next, although it would ruin the fun of hollering at the umpire, since robots don’t really care if you yell at them.

Read the full story here.

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Heart-stopping security news: Hackers can now get into pacemakers

Heart-stopping security news: Hackers can now get into pacemakers
[Photo: Lucien Monfils/Wikimedia Commons]

A security flaw in a pacemaker made by Medtronic makes it possible for hackers to take control of the device and deliver malware to the computers implanted in someone’s chest.

At the recent Black Hat information security conference, researchers demonstrated how the Carelink 2090 pacemaker, along with the company’s insulin pump, could be hacked. First, they warned anyone with an implanted device to leave the room. Then they disabled an insulin pump. A hacker near a patient could copy the device’s radio frequency signals, and then play them back later to deliver insulin when it isn’t needed–potentially leading to dangerously low blood sugar. They also hacked a system that doctors can use to program a patient’s pacemaker. The hack could be used to shock someone’s heart, or to withhold a shock when it’s needed.

The researchers, Billy Rios from the security firm Whitescope, and Jonathan Butts of QED Secure Solutions, have spent nearly two years trying to get Medtronic to address the flaws. Despite demonstrating attacks to the company, they say, the company was slow to evaluate the problem and hasn’t fixed the flaws. The researchers decided to go public with their concerns; they also went to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team and the FDA, which is evaluating the vulnerabilities in an ongoing investigation.

In a statement, the company said that the “likelihood of a breach of a patient’s device is low.”

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Analyst warns Facebook investors: “systemic mismanagement” poses big risks

Analyst warns Facebook investors: “systemic mismanagement” poses big risks
[Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

Headlines over the past few weeks–nay, years–have been hard on Facebook. If it’s not a story detailing how the company mismanaged user data, it’s another scathing report about how it misleads customers, can’t get fake news under control, or is killing the news business.

And analysts are getting increasingly worried.

Yesterday, an advertiser filed a lawsuit, seeking class-action status, over Facebook allegedly misrepresenting its “Potential Reach” statistic. In Myanmar, the company’s attempt to fight hate speech is reportedly going terribly. The list goes on.

With all of this, Pivotal analyst Brian Wieser sees a big problem. Though he’s given the company a “sell” rating for a while, these latest headlines further bolster his opinion. “Although we don’t have a tangible sense of financial consequences these situations may bring they are illustrative of systemic mis-management at the company which is mostly under-appreciated as risks by investors,” he writes in a new note.

Wieser goes on, “All of these issues compound our primary concerns on the stock related to the limits to growth for digital advertising paired with rising costs for content, security, and other activities.”

Wieser isn’t the only one sour on Facebook. After its last earnings report, multiple analysts downgraded the company’s stock. And even though that was a few weeks ago, the company isn’t faring much better. Shares continue to stumble, down to $173 today, compared to its peak over $218 late last month.

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When will tech worker wages start growing again?

When will tech worker wages start growing again?
[Photo: Taylor Nicole/Unsplash]

We’re all used to rolling our eyes when we see headlines about the obscene wealth in Silicon Valley: Jeff Bezos making $6.2 billion in 5 minutes, Sean Parker’s $9 million wedding in a redwood forest, tech CEOs building expensive underground bunkers in case of doomsday.

And the inequality is getting worse, in and out of the tech sector. While CEOs at the 350 biggest U.S. companies earned an average pay of $18.9 million in 2017—a steep 17% increase from the previous year—wages for the average U.S. worker grew just 0.2% during that period, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Average tech sector wages ($112,890) are more than double the average national wage ($54,520), but they also remain relatively stagnant. Wages increased by just 2.1%, which adjusted for inflation, is essentially flat, according to a CompTIA report. It’s been a source of frustration for many in the industry, considering that demand is so high. In May 2018, employers posted 314,000 tech job openings and only filled 8,700 of them, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of software developers to grow 24% through 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

In recent years, there have been a number of factors to explain this sluggishness: managed service providers driving down rates through volume-based negotiation for talent, and there’s been an increased use of foreign workers on H1B visas at lower salaries. But this should change soon, says Harley Lippman, CEO of staffing firm Genesis10, pointing to the intense competition for highly skilled workers and the Trump administration’s crackdown on H1B visas.

“That will put more demand on companies to increase wages,” Lippman says. “I was talking to a Fortune 500 client the other day and the CIO told me for the first time that they’re talking about raising salaries.”

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No, there’s not a measles outbreak

No, there’s not a measles outbreak
[Photo: Drew Hays/Unsplash]

The Centers for Disease Control wants people to know that there is no current multi-state measles outbreak. Yes, people have come down with the preventable illness over the last year, but it’s no more than to be expected—especially when people stubbornly refuse to get vaccinated.

Yesterday, the CDC tweeted the good news that there is no measles outbreak after some media outlets misinterpreted CDC data about the state of measles in the United States in 2018.

Here’s what happened: 

  • On Wednesday, federal officials announced that 107 people had contracted the disease from January 1 to July 14 of this year. Cases were reported in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland,  Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington. The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.
  • While that sure sounds like a multi-state measles outbreak, according to the CDC, it’s not. The number of measles cases this year is reportedly on par with those of recent years. No cause for alarm, unless you have a high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, a rash all over your body, and never got the measles vaccine.

In fairness, the confusion is understandable. The webpage where the CDC published its data is titled “Measles Cases and Outbreaks.” However, the relevant information is under a subhead that says simply “Measles Cases.” This is why good design matters.

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Singapore Airlines has a plan to keep your kids occupied on super-long flights

Singapore Airlines has a plan to keep your kids occupied on super-long flights
[Photo: courtesy of Singapore Airlines]

If you purchased a ticket on a Singapore Airlines flight from New York to Singapore (one of the world’s longest commercial flights, clocking in at 18 hours and 45 minutes), you may be wondering how to keep the kids entertained.

This may be the answer: Children’s app developer Toca Boca has teamed up with Singapore Airlines to make in-flight entertainment a little more fun. Passengers flying on select Singapore Airlines flights can now spend hours playing free games from Toca Boca and its sister company, Sago Mini—including Toca Kitchen 2, Toca Builders, Toca Life: Town, Sago Mini Babies, and, appropriately enough, Sago Mini Planes.

Toca Boca is the developer behind such hits as Toca Hair Salon and Toca Kitchen, where you get to make monsters eat their vegetables. The company and Singapore Airlines hope free access to fun apps will make your flight fly right by—at least for the first eight hours or so. No promises after that.

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A street artist is using Facebook’s ads against itself

A street artist is using Facebook’s ads against itself

The artist who goes by the name of Protest Pencil has been altering Facebook’s “not our friend” ads in London, reports Business Insider. The ads have appeared at bus stops for months and are Facebook’s way of addressing the fake news and data-sharing scandals that have rocked the company recently. But Protest Pencil isn’t having this PR stunt.

The artist has been altering the ads, adding or replacing text to show Facebook and its business practices in a negative light. In one ad, Protest Pencil added to the “Fake news is not our friend” message, stating “it’s a great revenue source.”

In another ad where Facebook states “Data misuse is not our friend,” the artists added “it’s out business model.”

Facebook has yet to comment on the reinterpretation of its work.

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Elon Musk says past year “the most difficult and painful year of my career”

Elon Musk says past year “the most difficult and painful year of my career”
[Photo: Kim Shiflett/NASA/Flickr]

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has given a wide-ranging interview to the New York Times in which he opened up about the struggles he has dealt with in the past year. Musk told the publication, “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating.” Among the struggles Musk says he has dealt with due to running his multiple companies are failing health and nearly missing his brother’s wedding in order to meet Tesla production targets. Musk also said that recently he has been working 120 hours per week, adding, “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days–days when I didn’t go outside.”

Musk has come under criticism lately for his erratic and aggressive behavior, including lashing out at the press on Twitter and calling one of the Thai cave rescue divers a “pedo.” Though Musk did not specifically attribute those actions to his stress levels, a link can be inferred. As for Musk’s future, the New York Times reports that Tesla’s board has been trying for years to recruit a number two executive in the form of a chief operating officer to help take over some of Musk’s day-to-day duties running the business. Though Musk told the Times that he had no knowledge of any recruitment drive for a COO, people familiar with the matter say the board’s search has intensified in the wake of Musk’s recent tweets.

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Google is said to be looking to launch a smart display

Google is said to be looking to launch a smart display
[Photo: Kevin Bhagat/Unsplash]

The new product would take on Amazon’s Echo Show in the increasingly crowded smart speaker market. While Google’s Home device currently competes with Amazon’s Echo smart speakers, Google doesn’t currently have a smart speaker with a built-in display as the Echo Show has. But that will change later this year, according to a report from Nikkei.  While Google’s new smart display would still rely on voice commands as the primary means of interaction, it would also allow users to view maps and directions and watch YouTube videos. As one source told Nikkei: “Google targets to ship some 3 million units for the first batch of the new model of smart speaker that comes with a screen. It’s an aggressive plan.”

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Aspiring doctors can now go to NYU for free–if they can get in

Aspiring doctors can now go to NYU for free–if they can get in
[Photo: Flickr user Billie Grace Ward]

NYU’s new class of medical students got more than just a white coat this morning during the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony. In a surprise announcement, NYU revealed it would foot tuition–about $55,000 per year–for all medical students going forward.

“This decision recognizes a moral imperative that must be addressed, as institutions place an increasing debt burden on young people who aspire to become physicians,” Robert Grossman, the dean of the medical school, said in a statement.

About 62% of NYU’s medical students reportedly graduate with debt; for 2017 graduates, that debt came to $184,000 on average. The school claims that as the burden of student debt steers medical graduates into more lucrative specialties, fewer students are pursuing, say, primary care or obstetrics and gynecology, which don’t pay as well. And some aspiring doctors may abandon the career path altogether, or not even consider medicine in the first place.

Few medical schools have managed to cover tuition for a wide swath of students. While it must be easier for a moneyed institution like NYU to offer full-tuition scholarships, it is reportedly the first school of its caliber to do so (according to NYU, that is). The school has already raised $450 million and estimates it will take $600 million in total to cover tuition for current and future students.

Now the onus is on NYU to ensure that money goes to a diverse group of students–an important consideration with the school’s low admission rate. In 2017, 119 students matriculated from the medical school, which receives well over 7,000 applications a year. One thing is for certain: It just became even harder to get into NYU.

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Bill Gates offers a simple explanation for why the economy works differently now

Bill Gates offers a simple explanation for why the economy works differently now
[Photo: Flickr user BorsheimsJewelry]

Bill Gates believes the rules of supply and demand are changing faster than people and governments are adapting. We live in a world where an increasing number of products are “intangibles,” or products you can’t touch–like software and other digital content.

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This kind of product is very different than the physical products our basic economic theory was built around. Intangibles scale differently. Once a developer has paid for the upfront costs of developing a piece of software, for example, they need only make as many copies as the market demands, and the copies cost virtually nothing. For a more traditional, physical type of product like a car–to use Gates’s example–the “copies” cost at least as much as the materials needed to make each one.

Gates outlined this distinction in a recent LinkedIn post–a review of a new book on the subject by economists by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake called Capitalism Without Capital

“What the book reinforced for me is that lawmakers need to adjust their economic policymaking to reflect these new realities,” Gates writes. “For example, the tools many countries use to measure intangible assets are behind the times, so they’re getting an incomplete picture of the economy.”

He points out that the United States didn’t start including software in its calculation of the gross domestic product until 1999. Haskel and Westlake, meanwhile, show in their book that the number of “intangible” products contributing to the economy began arcing upward around 1994, a trend that has accelerated in the 21st century. “Even today, GDP doesn’t count investment in things like market research, branding, and training–intangible assets that companies are spending huge amounts of money on,” Gates adds.

How to accurately measure economies is just one question. Other traditional beliefs should be rethought, says Gates. For instance:

  • Should intangible products be patented and trademarked using a different set of rules than physical products?
  • Should they be taxed differently?
  • Should competition be defined differently in markets for intangible products?

The concept of “intangibles” is nothing new, of course. What Gates and the authors of the book are suggesting is that governments must move faster to get in a position to regulate economies where “intangible” products are dominant.

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Report: Facebook & Google’s free campaign embeds help boost their profits

Report: Facebook & Google’s free campaign embeds help boost their profits
[Images: cbcindustries/Pixabay; WikimediaImages/Pixabay; joshborup/Pixabay]

It’s well known that Facebook and Google have embedded their employees in political campaigns, guiding them at no charge through how to use their ad tools in the most effective way, helping Donald Trump build his coalition of supporters to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Less discussed has been how this close coordination with powerful lawmakers has been enormously lucrative, directly and indirectly, to the tech giants. A new report from the organization Campaign for Accountability digs deep into the role of these political embeds and how their unfettered access ultimately helped the tech companies’ bottom lines.

This report details quite thoroughly how Facebook and Google’s embeds went beyond the role of knowledgeable techies teaching the campaigns how to correctly use their products to target ad and persuade voters. In fact, they were “sometimes indistinguishable from campaign hands,” says CfA. Relying on LinkedIn profiles, the group identified 70 Google and YouTube employees and interns whose job responsibilities included political work, as well as 32 Facebook employees that performed this work (not to mention the outside contractors hired by Facebook for its political teams.)

While this has been happening for years, it’s the scope of the activity that raises concerns. For one, this free work could be considered an “in-kind” campaign contribution from the tech companies, given that they are essentially consulting on strategic practices. Yet, they’re not considered as such by the Federal Election Commission and the Facebook and Google say they’re doing the work as a public service. In comparison, Facebook and Google’s many other corporate clients have to pay a hefty price for such services, according to the report.

Ultimately, this comes down to what Facebook and Google get in return when they offer free labor to campaigns. As the report notes, many of these embeds have shifting roles–which range from ad sales to outright political lobbying. According to a review of LinkedIn profiles, numerous employees whose jobs were to guide campaigns through the use of their ad products also had roles advocating for their companies’ political causes.

As Google and Facebook continue to dominate the digital advertising ecosystem, it’s these kinds of little-known programs that helps the duopoly maintain their power. The role of the embeds remains generally opaque to the public–but we’re just now learning more about the scope of their activities, and how they likely help Facebook and Google maintain control of the digital landscape.

You can read the full report here.

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600 Chipotle customers got sick in Ohio, and now we know why

600 Chipotle customers got sick in Ohio, and now we know why
[Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart]

Late last month, hundreds of people in Ohio got sick and they had one thing in common: Chipotle. Between July 26 and July 30, over 600 people experienced stomach discomfort after eating at one Chipotle location in the midwestern state. The embattled fast-casual chain was hit with a lawsuit over the incident

Now, health officials have figured out what caused the illnesses: the bacterium Clostridium perfrigens. According to CNBC, this disease is caused by food being left out “at unsafe temperatures.” Though the CDC has deduced the cause, it’s still unclear which food specifically was the source of the outbreak.

This development will likely further tarnish the already-sullied brand. The restaurant chain has been trying to stage a comeback after other reports of food-related illnesses. CEO Brian Niccol is now reportedly planning to retrain employees on best food-handling practices.

We’ll see if this latest issue will further hurt the restaurant’s sales.

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Sacramento has been tracking license plates to monitor welfare recipients

Sacramento has been tracking license plates to monitor welfare recipients
[Photo: lvdzwaag/Pixabay]

Sacramento County officials have been tracking the license plates of welfare recipients in the hopes of catching potential fraud, according to a new report in the Sacramento Bee.

The license plate monitoring program, which the ACLU warned us about, snaps photos of license plates when the cars they are attached to make their way past telephone poles and police cars, letting officials track the location of vehicles. Welfare fraud investigators working with the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance (DHA) pay $5,000 a year for access to the license plate reader database to track those welfare recipients they suspect of fraud. This isn’t new, either: They’ve been doing it since 2016.

It’s not immediately clear what welfare investigators are even hoping to do with the information they unearth by tracking license plates, but the Sacramento Bee reports the DHA accessed the data over a thousand times in two years.


Related: Cop cameras can track you in real time and there’s no stopping them


The Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed this surveillance two weeks ago, pointing out that under California law license plate data cannot be collected without a privacy policy that “is consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy and civil liberties.” Until the EFF called them out, the DHA did not have such a policy. Now, they have put one in place to ensure that investigators could justify their requests for the license-plate tracking data.

The use of such license plate tracking software is not only a potential violation of privacy rights, but is also an odd use of limited resources for a statistically rare phenomenon. In 2012, the DHA found only 500 cases of fraud among Sacramento’s 193,000 recipients.

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Silicon Valley is dismantling a priceless piece of its history

Silicon Valley is dismantling a priceless piece of its history
[Photo: Harry McCracken]

Only a few companies can claim to have been part of Silicon Valley before the term “Silicon Valley” came into use—and the legendary Ampex is one of them. Founded in 1944 by Alexander Poniatoff, it introduced the first commercial video-tape recorder in 1956, thereby ushering in a new era in communications. It’s easy to connect the dots between Ampex’s legacy and other key accomplishments in tech history: It gave Atari founder Nolan Bushnell his first job in the Valley, for example. Bushnell, in turn, gave Steve Jobs his first job at Atari.

I took this photo in 2016. [Photo: Harry McCracken]

Though Ampex still exists as a maker of digital storage systems, it no longer occupies its historic headquarters alongside Highway 101 in Redwood City. But its vintage sign remained—a wonderfully evocative reminder of the Valley’s roots which you could appreciate even if you were stuck in traffic.

In a horrifying act of cultural shortsightedness, however, the Ampex sign is coming down. Stanford University, whose Stanford Health Care now occupies the land around the sign, has decided to dismantle it as it continues to develop the property. The city of Redwood City, which should have done everything in its power to prevent that from happening, instead concluded that the sign wasn’t a historic landmark.

I heard this news last night, and took it hard. This morning, I instinctively skipped out of work in order to visit the Ampex sign one last time. Its letters are already gone; as I arrived, I witnessed guys in hard hats in the process of dismantling the sign itself. I resisted the temptation to chain myself to the base—I wish I’d thought to bring the necessary equipment—but did pay my respects and take some photos.

The Ampex sign is going into storage in case somebody wants it. (The current incarnation of Ampex wasn’t interested.) But really, everyone involved in its removal from its spot next to 101 should be ashamed of themselves. Silicon Valley has a regrettable lack of interest in its own story: For instance, IBM’s fantastic 1950s San Jose campus stands in vandalized ruins, unless they’ve bulldozed it since my last visit. May that change while there’s still history left to preserve.

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