Apple’s FaceTime Bug Underscores Questions of Privacy Protection

An alarming FaceTime video-chat service vulnerability raises questions about Apple’s public commitment to security and consumer privacy. A fourteen year old from Arizona discovered the security flaw, which allowed iPhone users to call other users via FaceTime and listen in on conversations, even if the recipient did not answer. In certain instances, the caller was even able to see video of the non-responsive recipient. While Apple regularly boasts about the safety of its products, such security violations go beyond surface level mistakes into the territory of personal privacy, data protection, and even national security.

For many years prior, Apple allowed outside app developers to access, store, share and sell users’ contact data, often without consent. In July of 2018, Apple closed that loophole by banning the storage and sale of such data and stepped its data security by offering bounties to hackers that flag bugs to the company. What’s more, Apple’s reputation as a privacy protector was cemented in the minds of users when the company refused to compromise its stance on iOS security in the face of FBI scrutiny.

But others, including House Democrats and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, are not so easily convinced. While collecting less of our data and de-identifying who it comes from is a good start, leaving consumer data in the hands of independent developers with direct access to iPhone users who are not incentivized to collect and use our data responsibly eats away at those protection headways. Consumer privacy and protection must take serious the need for a system that gives customers more direct control over who has their information.

For a company that has made it a point of heralding as the privacy conscious adult among the other tech giants, Apple might do more to pre-empt security attacks and protect user privacy. Lessons from Facebook’s responsibility for the actions of Cambridge Analytica tell us that the company should be more proactive in limiting how developers use iPhone users’ data. The proliferation of bugs like the FaceTime glitch could lead to serious privacy breach issues, not to mention the danger of the data landing in the hands of people that commit attacks on our nation. If privacy is indeed the fundamental human right that Apple CEO Tim Cook says it is, more work is needed to ensure that useful tools like our iPhones don’t become spying machines for perverse use.

Apple’s FaceTime Bug Underscores Questions of Privacy Protection

Negotiating New WTO Rules to Uproot China’s “Mercantilist” Trade Practices

In 2018, President Trump began to aggressively punish countries for engaging in what he deemed unfair trade practices, the start of the trade war. Trump points to the current US trade deficit, the value of what a country imports exceeds what it exports. To reduce this, Trump has enforced or threatened tariffs on nearly all products from China. China’s response, however, was to place taxes on most US goods entering China. The US hopes that negotiating new World Trade Organization rules will dismantle China’s “mercantilist” trade practices that cause the US deficit. Such methods come from China’s economic policy of maximizing exports. China relies on its undervalued currency, cheap labor, and foreign investors to continue these trade practices.

To better understand this situation, it is helpful to understand what the World Trade Organization (WTO) is. The WTO is essentially a place where member governments go to negotiate or settle trade problems. Everything established or decided at WTO comes from negotiations. The WTO agreements are basically contracts that governments join that maintain the legal ground-rules for international commerce. These rules assist trade in different ways, mainly by either liberalizing trade or maintaining trade barriers.

The Trump administration’s public justification for negotiating new WTO rules, to uproot China’s “mercantilist” trade practices, is to protect US workers, farmers, and businesses. While some US allies have already commenced discussing possible changes to the WTO rules, the pressures of China’s economic policies make any success in negotiating new rules unlikely. For such changes to take place, all 164 government members must agree. The Office of the United States Trade Representative commented that while “China retains its non-market economic structure and its state-led, mercantilist approach to trade, to the detriment of its trading partners” the US, regardless, plans to hold China accountable.

Tim Wu’s February 4 opinion in the New York Times made an important point by directing attention to China’s internet censorship. If the Trump administration intends to aid US businesses, it should also focus on the global internet economy, which is worth at least $8 trillion currently. China’s censorship is, therefore, a severe economic barrier by obstructing nearly all substantial online foreign competitors like Google, Facebook, and the New York Times. The US is the world’s most significant internet sector and should negotiate through this advantage.

Another crucial and overlooked factor is US consumers that continue to favor minimal prices for Chinese goods as opposed to US-made products. Rather than attempting to change a fixed economic system, why not increase efforts to educate US consumers on locally made products?

Negotiating New WTO Rules to Uproot China’s “Mercantilist” Trade Practices

Tesla Acquires Maxwell Technologies – A Strategic Move Towards Broadening Its Consumer Base Amidst Rising Competition

Tesla, founded in 2003, continues to be a powerful force amidst international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and move towards sustainable energy. In an effort to further its mission, Tesla has remained innovative and agile when it comes to reaching a broader consumer base. Most recently, Tesla acquired Maxwell Technologies, a company specializing in energy storage technology that can increase the efficiency of Tesla’s electric vehicle (“EV”) batteries and, ultimately, decrease the cost of Tesla’s EVs. This recent acquisition, however, is just one of Tesla’s deliberate steps toward making its EVs more efficient, affordable, and sustainable.

This $218 Million acquisition is a noticeable departure from Tesla’s traditional emphasis on producing EV batteries in-house. Maxwell Technologies specializes in dry electrode technology, which can be employed to develop ultracapacitors. This technology, when applied to EV batteries, has the ability to dramatically increase the efficiency of Tesla’s vehicle but will also help Tesla decrease the cost of its vehicles in the long run. This sudden shift from in-house EV battery development is likely attributed to Tesla’s rapidly growing list of competitors. Audi, for example, just recently announced its new Audi e-tron all-electric SUV which rivals Tesla’s Model X. However, Tesla and Audi are not the only EV players in the game. Chevrolet, Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW, Kia, and Hyundai have all come out with successful electric vehicles. Moreover, Tesla’s competitors have not only entered the luxury EV market, they are producing less expensive models in order to reach more consumers. While Tesla has made strides towards offering less expensive models, it has yet to offer a model that is financially comparable to that of its competitors.

Thus, this most recent acquisition is a significant stride towards remaining competitive in an increasingly diverse EV industry, broadening its consumer base, and furthering its core mission. However, it is still uncertain how quickly and effectively this acquisition will achieve those same goals. The most recent reduction in the Model 3 price, for example, was accompanied by cuts in Tesla’s workforce. As a result, 7% of Tesla’s full-time workforce was cut earlier this year while the Model 3, Tesla’s cheapest model, has yet to break the $40,000 threshold despite the most recent price reduction. This begs the question: how far is Tesla willing to go in its efforts to produce a more accessible electric vehicle? While this remains to be seen, what can be said for certain is that the strategic acquisition of Maxwell Technologies is an effective stride towards lowering Tesla’s EV prices and enhancing EV battery efficiency.

Tesla Acquires Maxwell Technologies – A Strategic Move Towards Broadening Its Consumer Base Amidst Rising Competition

AMI’s Alleged Extortion of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

On January 9, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced their divorce on Twitter. The next day, the National Enquirer published a story detailing the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sánchez. On February 6, the National Enquirer then sent an email to Mr. Bezos, allegedly extorting him by threatening to publish several private photographs they had acquired if Mr. Bezos did not publicly state that he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” In an astonishing move, Mr. Bezos then revealed both the existence of the photos and the alleged extortion in a personal blog post, discrediting AMI’s value proposition that investors would question Bezos’ judgment as a result of the photos’ existence.

Prosecutors are currently investigating the alleged extortion, which complicates matters for American Media, Inc., which owns the National Enquirer and is owned by David Pecker. During the 2016 election cycle, Pecker became infamous for using “catch and kill” techniques to buy and bury stories alleging everything from sexual misconduct to illicit affairs between President Trump and a number of women, at least once at the direction of Michael Cohen.

After determining that such payments by AMI violated campaign finance regulations, Federal Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and AMI reached a non-prosecution agreement this past September, which required AMI to admit that it had made the payments to “influence the election” in exchange for non-prosecution so long as AMI committed “no crimes whatsoever” for three years.

The question now is whether the Federal Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York require ongoing cooperation from AMI, or if they have enough already that they are willing to pursue prosecution. If so, instead of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, it may be David Pecker and the Enquirer who have to answer to investors for poor judgment.

AMI’s Alleged Extortion of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

A Nation of Self-Interested Devils

Howard Schultz, ex-CEO of Starbucks and unofficial presidential candidate, gave a speech in San Francisco on February 1, 2019. Mr. Schultz touched on many issues, including healthcare, immigration, and climate change. He also announced that he may run as an Independent in 2020, which provoked the ire of Democrats. As an assumedly left-of-center candidate, Schultz could split the Democratic vote and thereby ensure President Trump’s second term. But, some are optimistic about the possibility of a viable third-party candidate.

Mr. Schultz has a constitutional right to run for the presidency. More power to him.

Mr. Schultz is responding to the nation’s appetite for an Independent candidate (much like President Trump’s hints at running for the presidency a few times over the years). The theme of Mr. Schultz’s potential candidacy appears to be bringing the two parties together—something an Independent would be better equipped to do than a partisan president—to overcome the problem of self-interest in lawmaking.

With respect to health care, Mr. Schultz explained that the ACA was the “right move,” even though rising premiums “have clearly become a problem.” That’s like saying that communism in Soviet Russia was the right idea, even though the starvation of millions of people was a problem. The ACA, regardless of its policy objective, was designed so that those who could afford to pay would have to cover the cost of insurance for those who would not otherwise qualify.

But, it’s Mr. Schultz’s proposed solution with which I have a particular problem. He claims that Congress “made a deal with the devil.” According to Mr. Schultz, if we could just remove ideology and self-interest from the room, then our health care problem would be solved.

I don’t think so.

The last time Congress got enough votes for a bill on health care, we got the ACA. Mr. Schultz wants to bring in health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and the government to solve the problem. Isn’t that exactly how the ACA was concocted? Maybe we’ll get a different solution this time if we can just “put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to remove the self-interest from the equation.” I am not so hopeful.

The health care industry was heavily regulated even prior to the enactment of the ACA. Could it be that government regulation is the cause of this health care problem? Perhaps the part of the health care equation that needs changing is the degree of government involvement.

A Nation of Self-Interested Devils

Nissan Charges at the Competition

Increasing fuel prices, environmental concerns, and the demand for traveling in style and convenience have ushered in an era of electric vehicles. When consumers think about electric cars, Tesla Inc., with its exclusive focus on electric cars, is at the forefront of the era. However, more traditional automakers such as Acura and Volkswagen are ready to challenge Tesla and to take a piece of the market share for themselves. Amongst these automakers, Nissan’s innovative vision for the electric car took the 2019 North American International Auto Show by storm—a vision that arguably redefines the boundaries and possibilities of the electric car.

Adding to its slate of electric vehicles, which currently consists of the highly successful Nissan Leaf , Japanese automaker Nissan announced that eight new electric models are in the queue for release by 2022. In addition, the company presented its Nissan IMs. The Nissan IMs offered a glimpse of what the automaker is envisioning for its electric car series beyond the eight slated to appear in 2022. Nissan describes its IMs concept as an “elevated sports sedan.” The IMs features a sedan car shape but contains SUV-like capabilities.

Of the IMs’ many features, two stood out concerning the car’s autonomous driving capabilities. One of these features includes the ability of the vehicle’s steering wheel to retract and the front seats to turn toward one another to allow occupants to face each other to converse and interact more naturally while the car is in autonomous mode. The effect of this feature would be a mobile living room or office-like setting. Another feature that stood out in the IMs concept is the car’s 3D augmented reality system called “Invisible-to-Visible.” This system would enable drivers to activate a human-like 3D avatar in the car that can provide directions, give advice, or just converse with you. Furthermore, the driver has the option to make the avatar look like a family member or a friend. The effect of this feature would be a more intimate and personal driving experience.

In order to win consumer mindshare in the electric vehicle market, automakers will have to differentiate themselves on three main aspects: cost, creativity, and safety. We’re already seeing the cost benefit of electric vehicles with Tesla stating it could produce a more economic electric model at a $25,000 price range in three years, compared to its current Model 3 with a $35,000 to $45,000 price range. Now, competitors such as Nissan are leveraging technology such as augmented reality to increase the creative boundaries of electric cars. As to safety, automakers will have to cooperate with stakeholders such as their respective regulatory bodies to instill customer confidence in features like autonomous driving. Nevertheless, as competition intensifies in the electric vehicle market, consumers should expect to benefit from companies’ efforts to differentiate their electric models and to be the quickest to market.

Nissan Charges at the Competition

U.S. Economy Lost $11 Billion to Government Shutdown

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended on January 25, 2019, after a 35 day partisan standoff between Democrats and Republicans. One primary point of contention was Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall, which Democrats vehemently opposed. In response to Democratic leaders’ refusals to fund a physical barrier for the border, President Trump told Democrats “he was willing to have the government shut down for ‘years’ over border wall funding.”  Fortunately for American people, that turned out not to be the case. Yet.

When President Trump finally signed a bill to reopen the government, amid flight delays and other shutdown-instigated crises resulting from understaffed government jobs, many federal workers went back to work. However, many of these workers, who went weeks without pay, were left feeling demoralized, like “pawns” in a “political game of chess.”

Further, the 800,000 federal employees working for the affected government departments and agencies still can’t breathe a sigh of relief. Since the bill Trump signed did not contain border funding, the President only reopened the federal government for three weeks for the purpose of “negotiating” boarder security funding. That means if Trump and Congress cannot reach an agreement, it could mean another partial shutdown beginning on February 15.

The government shutdown has also had far-reaching financial impacts on the American Economy. Standard & Poor’s released a report on January 25 estimating that the partial government shutdown would end up costing the U.S. economy at least $6 billion, which ironically, is more money than it would have cost to fund the border wall that started the entire month-long debacle. However, on January 28, the Congressional Budget Office released an even more troubling report stating that the five-week shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, “with nearly a quarter of that total permanently lost.”

In its initial assessment, S&P expected businesses to bounce back quickly once the government reopened but found instead a delay in indirect costs. Now, S&P is cautioning Americans about the “end” of the shutdown, reminding us that “little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments.” The initial funding battle is over, but in a few weeks if an agreement is not reached, a new shutdown will likely begin. If shutdowns become a pattern, the economy will react, and we may experience further reductions in growth expectations.

U.S. Economy Lost $11 Billion to Government Shutdown

The Orchard: One Bad Apple?

Whether it’s an issue with hardware, privacy, or both simultaneously, Apple has recently found itself facing criticism.

Most recently, a 14-year-old boy found a bug on FaceTime, which allowed users to eavesdrop on others even if they never answered a FaceTime call. Apple was quick to respond and acknowledge the issue. However, a fix will not be available until next week, and for now, Apple has deactivated group chat. In addition, a “high-level” Apple executive flew to Arizona to thank the young boy and noted that he may be available for Apple’s bug bounty program, which awards invited users with monetary awards for finding bugs.

While Apple was quick to respond, this has not always been the case. When Apple first released its new keyboards with butterfly switches, it took several class action lawsuits for Apple to admit that there was a problem. Once Apple acknowledged the problem, it created a new repair program and updated its keyboards; however, users have continued to list complaints.

It is hard to discern the effects these hardware and software issues have had on Apple’s value, especially given the decrease in demand of smartphones. However, it is unlikely that these issues have led to a decrease in many users as made evident by the large host of online articles discussing how Apple has “trapped” them on iOS, “perhaps forever.” Nevertheless, Morgan Stanley believes that Apple’s new video streaming and associated businesses will catalyze Apple’s stock in the coming year.

The Orchard- One Bad Apple?

The Losers of the AI Revolution

In an effort to adapt to an economy largely fueled by e-commerce, retailers are beginning to merge their distribution centers with their stores. The intermingling of inventories in stores and warehouses has some retailers testing the use of shelf-scanning robots that roam store aisles and provide restocking data in real time. Because the data provides an accurate snapshot of store inventory multiple times a day, consumers can purchase their items for same day pick-up, and managers can target areas to restock based on profitability, all for a lower price than hiring a human armed with a scanner.

Robots displacing humans is not a new phenomenon. Robots are even penetrating white collar service jobs, which was once thought to be shielded from automation. What is happening here is the same story we have seen in each of the industrial revolutions—disruptions in the market caused by innovation and globalization—except today the digital and socioeconomic sphere lay the groundwork for a far more unsettling result.

Americans already face competition from foreign workers working, virtually, in U.S. offices. Through platforms like Upwork, companies hire freelancers from across the globe, often at a much lower wage. This obviously takes jobs away from the U.S., but it allows for a redistribution of income to those who are willing to work for less. Through a process called “machine learning,” essentially an advanced version of pattern matching, computers using AI are now able to perform the same service type jobs that freelancers using Upwork are looking to do while at a much lower cost. As more companies adopt this technology, labor income that would go to a human gets redistributed as capital income to the owner of the robot. This will exacerbate U.S. wealth and income inequality for two reasons: first, capital is already extremely concentrated at the top; second, taxes on capital income are much lower than taxes on labor income.

The fact that technological innovation creates jobs is very unlikely to mitigate this effect. Newly created job positions, such as robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators, all require higher education, which has become increasingly expensive. If interest rates continue to increase, lower and middle class people not looking to enter into computer science or engineering majors will be less willing to go to college, leaving mostly those at the top going to school. This trend further concentrates wealth and income at the top.

A second mitigating factor might be the fact that as the economy becomes more capital driven the rising stock of capital should cause the rate of return for capital to fall. Intuitively, this makes sense, but what drives the reduction in the rate of return of capital is more complicated than supply and demand alone and depends on the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor. A high elasticity suggests more substitutability between capital and labor, which elicits a slower reduction in the rate of return for capital. A low elasticity suggests that capital and labor are complements, which elicits a quicker reduction in the rate of return. Think of calculators. If you hand an accountant one calculator, she becomes extremely productive and the owner gets a high rate of return. Hand her two, and the second calculator does not add any more productivity, and the owner’s rate of return on the second calculator is minimal. The rate of return sharply falls because calculators complement labor and are useless without a human to operate them. Now imagine you can completely replace the accountant with an AI-enabled computer. You may not see a substantial reduction in the rate of return until the third or fourth AI-enabled computer.

Unless the U.S. government is willing to intervene, by perhaps raising taxes on capital income, the future looks bleak. The losers of the AI revolution are not just the low-skilled laborers without a college degree, it’s everyone but those at the top who are unable to enjoy the fruits of what many call the fourth industrial revolution, falling victim to a widening gap between the middle class and the rich.

The Real Losers of the AI Revolution

In an Unpredictable Climate, Businesses May Find the Need to Prepare for the Worst

Sub-zero temperatures and crippling wind chills hit large parts of the Midwest and East Coast this past week, as schools, businesses, and government services shut down in the face of hostile weather conditions. While cities like Chicago, where temperatures reached as low as negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill bringing that number closer to negative fifty degrees, are used to bitterly cold winters, the intensity and irregularity of these conditions represent a major threat to businesses in the affected areas. Climate data from the last half-century suggests that these cold snaps are and will continue to be less frequent. While on the surface this might bode well for those cities in the path of these cold snaps, just the opposite is true; a volatile climate makes these temperature drops all the more devastating, as businesses struggle to acclimate quickly enough to a new norm yielded by a changing climate. Further aggravating this problem is a rising threat of conflicting misinformation disseminating from the highest levels of government. President Trump took to twitter on January 20 with a message that poked fun at the concept of global warming; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, was unable to respond to the President’s tweet, as it was closed during the partial government shutdown.

Moreover, the damage that cold snaps cause cannot be overstated. In addition to an inexcusable loss of life, the cold forced small business and major manufacturers to close shop or significantly reduce production. Following a fire at a Southeastern Michigan natural gas facility, the big three automotive manufacturers, Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Fiat Chrysler (NYSE:FCAU), suspended some operations for fear that energy supplies would not satisfy the greatly increased energy demand needed to heat their factories. Automotive manufacturers were not alone in making changes to accommodate the cold reality of the week. American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) resorted to using tanker trucks to refuel its planes; the freezing temperatures had disabled its underground refueling systems. As hope for a “green new deal” driven by improved environmental, regulatory frameworks and government incentives for green technologies looms over the horizon, business may find themselves facing eerily similar problems. Wind farmers across the central United States were forced to close as less renewable, more expensive coal facilities were activated when the extreme cold threatened to shatter fiber-glass wind turbines and seize up lubricated bearings.

As climate change continues to affect weather patterns, governments and businesses face the daunting task of preparing for a climate that facilitates sudden, potential catastrophe. Their ability to work together, to work quickly, and to work with a mind toward possible future events may shape numerous industries and the lives of countless people.

In an Unpredictable Climate, Businesses May Find the Need to Prepare for the Worst