39.87 0.00 (0.00%)
After hours: 4:15PM EDT
Commodity Channel Index
|Bid||39.79 x 900|
|Ask||39.81 x 800|
|Day's Range||39.29 - 39.93|
|52 Week Range||26.13 - 40.22|
|Beta (5Y Monthly)||0.86|
|PE Ratio (TTM)||46.91|
|Earnings Date||Aug 05, 2020 - Aug 10, 2020|
|Forward Dividend & Yield||0.24 (0.61%)|
|Ex-Dividend Date||Apr 07, 2020|
|1y Target Est||33.10|
The financial regulations require hedge funds and wealthy investors that exceeded the $100 million equity holdings threshold to file a report that shows their positions at the end of every quarter. Even though it isn't the intention, these filings to a certain extent level the playing field for ordinary investors. The latest round of 13F […]
(Bloomberg) -- Tensions between Twitter Inc. and Donald Trump soared after the social-media platform warned users that the president broke its rules against violent speech, prompting critics to accuse the company of unfairly censoring one of its most prominent users.On Friday Twitter slapped a rule-violation notice on a Trump tweet warning protesters in Minnesota that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Earlier this week Twitter added a fact-check label to two Trump posts that made unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting. Infuriated, Trump responded with an executive order Thursday that aims to curb some of the legal protections social media sites have regarding content on their sites.Twitter has long faced calls to both clean up the toxic culture on its site and to remove Trump, who has tweeted falsehoods and misleading information to his 80 million followers. After years of largely staying on the sidelines, the company has recently become more active in policing commentary from public officials.The shift has inevitably outraged many of Trump’s supporters, who claim the site is biased against conservative voices. Twitter’s crackdown also opens it up to charges that its fact-checking is inconsistent. On Friday, just hours after Trump’s Minnesota tweet was flagged, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission challenged Twitter over a bellicose posting from Iran’s top leader asking if it also violated the company’s rules.“Serious question for @Twitter: Do these tweets from Supreme Leader of Iran@khamenei_ir violate ‘Twitter Rules about glorifying violence?’” Ajit Pai said in a tweet. He attached screen shots of May 22 tweets from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei predicting the eventual elimination of Israel.Some of Twitter’s initial flags on officials’ posts were related to misinformation about Covid-19 that the company deemed potentially harmful. Racial violence is another area open to abuse on the site and a topic Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey has taken personally. In 2014 he marched in protests and documented rising tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black man.Trump’s tweet early Friday referred to increasingly violent protests in Minneapolis over the killing in police custody of George Floyd, who was black. The authorities on Friday charged police officer Derek Chauvin with Floyd’s murder, according to the Associated Press.The president used Twitter to assail Minneapolis’s mayor, Jacob Frey, as weak and said he had told Minnesota Governor Tim Walz that “the military is with him all the way, ” and that if there was any difficulty, “we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”Twitter obscured the offending message on Trump’s profile with the following warning: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”The official White House Twitter account later retweeted Trump’s post about looting and shooting. It also was marked with a warning.“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts,” Twitter said in a statement on its @TwitterComms account. It said the company had kept Trump’s tweet live “because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”The president’s tweets about the situation in Minneapolis prompted a strong response from other Twitter users, but those replies have since been hidden or removed by the company. The options to reply and like the tweet have also been disabled, while the retweet and quote-tweet functions have been left active.VIOLENCE SPREADSThe Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. called Twitter’s move “perhaps the bravest and riskiest thing that any tech giant has ever done.”Following up from his executive order, Trump on Friday morning called on lawmakers on Capitol Hill to revoke Twitter’s liability shield under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which allows companies like Twitter and Facebook Inc. to display content that’s controversial, offensive and libelous without fear of lawsuits.Dorsey this year survived a skirmish with activist investor Elliott Management Corp., partly with an agreement to appoint Elliott representative Jesse Cohn and Egon Durban of the private equity firm Silver Lake to its board. He also agreed to meet certain performance-improvement metrics. Paul Singer, who founded Elliott in 1977, is often described as a megadonor to the Republican party.As part of the agreement, Cohn and Durban said they would recuse themselves of any direct or indirect influence on the content of the Twitter platform, including its policies, rules or enforcement decisions. The company said in a statement at the time that both Elliott and Silver Lake said they were doing so to emphasize the importance of maintaining the independence and impartiality of the Twitter platform and its rules and enforcement.Protests have been gathering force across the country following the death of Floyd, who died when a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck in an encounter that was captured on video. The event set off scattered looting and demonstrations in Minneapolis, culminating in the burning of a police station on Friday. Demonstrators have gathered in cities from New York to Los Angeles, to Memphis, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky, to call attention to the killings of black men and women at the hands of police. Some of the gatherings were peaceful, but others were marked by violence, including in Columbus, Ohio, where crowds surged up the steps of the State Capitol and broke windows, according to the New York Times.Trump’s shooting and looting tweet echoed remarks in the late 1960s by the controversial and tough-talking Miami Police Chief Walter Headley. “We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprising and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Headley said in 1967.Trump later attempted to explain the earlier tweet, saying on Twitter, “looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.” He continued in another tweet, “It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media.”The spreading violence was another sign of simmering tensions in the U.S., where much of the country has been on lockdown for more than two months and unemployment has reached historic highs. Some see Trump’s reaction to Twitter as a tactic to deflect attention from the country’s woes in the months leading up to the presidential election this fall.“This is a fight he wants. Not only on Twitter, but on mail-in ballots,” said California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, speaking on The View Friday morning. “It’s a deflecting tool, but it’s also a mobilizing tool for his base. We have to walk through this next process of how we respond with those eyes wide open and that in mind.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Stocks were supposed to be mired in a bear market after they plunged in March as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered business and sent U.S. unemployment to its highest rate since the Great Depression.Even a 62% recovery by the S&P 500 Index by the middle of May failed to comfort experts like billionaire money managers Stan Druckenmiller and David Tepper , who characterized stocks as the worst investments of their careers. They weren't alone; amid an estimated 47% collapse in gross domestic product, fewer than a quarter of respondents to an Evercore ISI survey said they expected the next 10% move in the market to be higher.So far, though, stocks have held their own as economic indicators sagged, regaining 37% of their value from the low point in mid-March. “The stock market looks increasingly divorced from economic reality,” a New York Times article on the phenomenon proclaimed.Or maybe not — not if you think of it as the Microsoft market. No company has defied the pessimism more than Microsoft Corp., and for a lot of sensible reasons. The Seattle-based maker of global business and consumer software led all publicly traded companies most of the year with a $1.4 trillion market valuation, exceeded only by Saudi Arabian Oil Co. which isn't yet freely traded.Unlike the largest fossil fuel company, which lost 13% since its December $1.9 trillion initial public offering, Microsoft is within 5% of its Feb. 11 record high and appreciated $947 billion since 2015, more than any of the 10 largest companies, including Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. The gap between Microsoft and Aramco narrowed to $229 billion from $840 billion, a trend likely to continue amid weak global growth in the months ahead.That's because Microsoft, unlike Aramco, is a mainstay of the global economy, developing and supplying 75% of the operating systems used by computers and servers worldwide, according to the market-analysis company IDC.Microsoft's vast infrastructure and productivity applications enable companies, governments and individuals to navigate increasing social and workforce disruption caused by the pandemic and other disasters stoked by global warming and climate change.As one of the anchors of the Nasdaq 100 Index (more than 80% are technology firms) Microsoft signifies the growing dependence of the economy on these companies, which this year outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average by the most since 2000 (Nasdaq 100 gained 8% as the DJIA lost 10%), according to data compiled by Bloomberg.“Microsoft could emerge stronger than most of its rivals once the Covid-19 crisis subsides, in our view, as enterprises spend more to upgrade their infrastructure and applications, translating into above-consensus, double-digit sales growth from fiscal 2022-2021,” said Anurag Rana, a senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence in a May 15 report. “Its deep portfolio of cloud products, client relationships and security spending are differentiators.”Such confidence is prompted by the past five quarters, when Microsoft earnings for the first time exceeded forecasts by at least 10% after beating the average of analyst estimates in all but one of the 23 quarters since 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Unlike its five more glamorous peers — Facebook Inc., Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (Alphabet) — Microsoft has an uninterrupted growth rate with the least volatility, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.To be sure, the Faang companies and similar technology marvels retained much of their value during the Coronavirus pandemic. Netflix has gained 28% since the end of 2019; Amazon is up 30%, Apple 9%, Facebook 10%. Tesla Inc., the maker of electric, battery-powered vehicles, rallied 93% since the end of 2019 and is worth just $59 billion less than No. 1 Toyota Motor Corp.Tesla anticipated the remotely engaged economy by selling its vehicles online and improving the customer experience with periodic, automatic software upgrades. The traditional auto companies haven't fared well. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, is down 24% since the end of 2019 and General Motors Co., the largest U.S. auto maker, declined 28% and is worth only 26% of Tesla's current market capitalization of $149 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.That's why the Dow, once the benchmark of corporate America, is a shadow of its former self as industrial companies represent just 9% of the average, down from 16% in 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.“Microsoft already had a great relationship with Fortune 2000 tech departments because of its dominance in Windows and Office software products,” said Bloomberg's Rana in a recent interview. “As these legacy companies look to invest more digitally transforming their business post Covid-19, Microsoft should get its fair share of work” — lifting the stock market as it helps transform the economy.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Matthew Winkler, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Bloomberg News, writes about markets.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc. flagged one of Donald Trump’s posts for violating its rules against glorifying violence, escalating a clash with the U.S. president after he signed an executive order that seeks to limit liability protections for social-media companies.Early Friday, the social media company obscured the president’s comments about protests in Minneapolis with a warning that the tweet “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”Trump’s executive order came after Twitter began selective fact checks of his posts on the platform. Under current law, companies like Twitter and Facebook Inc. are protected for users’ posts. Trump told reporters that his order “calls for new regulations under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield.”Twitter earlier this week labeled two of his posts about mail-in voting “potentially misleading” and provided links to news coverage of his comments. The president responded with outrage, accusing the social media company of censorship and election interference and threatening to possibly shut down the service.“I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people,” Trump said. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not.”Trump said he expected the order or the regulations it produces to be challenged in court. If it were legal for him to shut down Twitter, Trump said, “I would do it.”In the clash Friday over protests in Minnesota after the death of a man in police custody, Trump’s comments, concluding with the words “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” incited a strong response from other Twitter users. Those replies have since been hidden or removed by the company. The options to reply and like the tweet have also been disabled, while the retweet and quote-tweet functions have been left active.Twitter rose less than 1% in late trading Thursday after the signing was announced. That followed a 4.4% decline in the regular session, the most in four weeks.Order TextThe order said the protections against lawsuits should only apply when companies act in “good faith” to take down or limit the visibility of content.Any removal or restriction made in a manner that is “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service” would not qualify as being in good faith, nor would a move without “adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard.”Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association trade group, called the order “unconstitutional and ill-considered.”“America’s internet companies lead the world and it is incredible that our own political leaders would seek to censor them for political purposes,” Shapiro said in a statement.In a tweeted statement, Twitter called the executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law,” adding, “attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”A Facebook spokesperson said exposing companies to liability would penalize those that allow controversial speech and “encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki, in an interview with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg Television while the order was being prepared, said, “we have worked extraordinarily hard to make sure that all of our policies and systems are built in a fair and neutral and consistent way.”The Department of Commerce, in consultation with the attorney general, would be responsible for petitioning the Federal Communications Commission within 60 days to craft the new regulation.“This debate is an important one,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”Industry and civil liberties groups who denounced the order as an illegal end-run around free-speech protections and said it gave the FCC powers it does not actually have.Twitter has been an essential tool for Trump as both a politician and as president, dating back to his false allegations that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Trump has observed himself that the social media platform allows him to dodge the press and speak directly to his 80 million followers. It has also afforded him the unfettered opportunity to assail political opponents and to promulgate conspiracy theories and other misinformation.Attorney General William Barr, who joined Trump for his remarks, said the order would not repeal Section 230, which provides social-media companies their liability protection.“But it’s been stretched and I don’t know of anyone in Capitol Hill who doesn’t agree that it’s been stretched beyond its original intention,” he said. “I think this will help get back to the right balance.”Trump and Barr also said they were reviewing possibilities to seek legislation further curbing Section 230 protections. Barr said the government may also bring litigation.“One of the things we may do, Bill, is just remove or totally change 230,” Trump said. “What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it.”Roth CriticismEarlier Thursday, Trump called out a single Twitter employee, head of site integrity Yoel Roth, in a tweet complaining that the platform’s decision to fact-check his tweets on voting by mail could “taint” the U.S. election.White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany criticized Roth for political tweets, including one that said “actual Nazis” inhabit Trump’s White House.“Twitter’s head of site integrity has tweeted that there are quote, ‘actual Nazis,’ in the White House and no fact-check label was ever applied to this actually outrageous and false claim made against the White House and its employees,” she said.White House officials complained that Twitter did not originally append fact checks to China Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lijan Zhao, who without evidence wrote that “it might be” the U.S. military that brought the coronavirus to China. Twitter has since added the fact-check link to his tweets.Democrats have largely applauded the effort to fact-check the president. But they questioned why Twitter didn’t similarly add links to recent tweets by the president that baselessly accused MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murdering a former staffer who died while at work in one of his congressional offices nearly two decades ago.“Yes we like Twitter to put up their fact check of the president, but it seems to be very selective,“ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.The executive order is the latest in a years-long campaign by the president and his allies against social media companies. The companies say they have more aggressively sought to combat disinformation and foreign interference campaigns after the federal government found that Russia and other state operatives used U.S. social media to influence the 2016 election.Bias AllegationsRepublicans have alleged that Twitter and Facebook are politically biased in the way they display posts and block certain material deemed offensive, and objected to Twitter’s decision to ban certain political advertising. Last May, the administration set up a website asking Americans to submit instances of alleged political bias on social media.“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”The president has complained about Twitter’s efforts to combat manipulative and abusive content by deleting fake profiles -- leading to a decline of hundreds of thousands of users in his follower count.The websites have denied their actions are politically motivated, and Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said then he also lost around 200,000 followers in the purge. In 2018 congressional testimony, Dorsey said there were technical explanations for cases of alleged bias raised by Republican lawmakers.Still, the debate has exposed a rift among Silicon Valley tech giants, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticizing Twitter’s decision in an interview with Fox News.“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.“Dorsey fired back in a tweet posted Wednesday night, saying the fact-check was designed to make sure people didn’t misunderstand the president’s tweet and believe they didn’t need to register to vote in order to receive an absentee ballot.(Updates with latest Twitter-Trump clash in sixth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc. has started fact-checking Donald Trump. The U.S. President didn’t take it lightly.Following years of criticism that the social network let the president spread misinformation, on Tuesday a pair of Trump’s tweets that made unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting were appended with links reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”The labels take readers to a page with a collection of stories and reporters’ tweets about the president’s claims, as well as an item apparently authored by Twitter staff titled “What you need to know” that rebuts Trump.It’s the first time Twitter has taken action on Trump’s posts for being misleading, and the president responded shortly afterward, tweeting that the company was interfering with the 2020 election.“Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” Trump posted to his 80 million followers.On Wednesday morning, Trump came back to the subject, writing in a tweet that “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”Twitter shares fell 1.65% in early trading in New York after Trump’s tweet.The labels are part of a policy Twitter expanded earlier this month when it started labeling misinformation related to Covid-19. Posting misinformation is not against the company’s rules, but Twitter is adding links providing more information to tweets “where people may still be confused or misled,” it said at the time. Twitter has expanded that policy to include tweets about voting, according to a spokesperson, who declined to share if this policy included other topics.“Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election,’” the Twitter-authored item reads. “However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”Twitter confirmed it had added the fact-checking links to Trump’s tweets.Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said the label was an effort to impede the president’s efforts to get his message to voters. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility,” Parscale said in a statement.Trump shared the same post about mail-in ballots on Tuesday to his Facebook page, where he has more than 29 million followers. That post is still up and doesn’t include any warning or label. Facebook Inc. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Twitter was under pressure earlier in the day to remove other Trump tweets -- just not the ones focused on mail-in ballots. The New York Times published a letter written by a man whose wife died in former Representative Joe Scarborough’s office, asking Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey to remove tweets Trump posted encouraging a baseless conspiracy theory that Scarborough murdered the woman, Lori Klausutis.Twitter issued a statement apologizing for the pain Trump’s tweets caused Klausutis’s family but did not say whether the tweets would be removed. They are still visible on the president’s Twitter account and on his Facebook page.(Updates with Trump tweet on social media in sixth paragraph, shares in seventh)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
While coronavirus has battered most news media groups, a handful of premium publishers are holding their ground through the tempest. Backed by a subscription model built over the past decade, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have so far decided against the mass lay-offs and pay cuts that have wracked the majority of their peers, and are even still looking to hire. Will Lewis, another Brit who earlier this month stepped down as chief executive of Dow Jones, the publisher of the WSJ, told the FT that the group was “on a tear” and enjoying an uplift in subscribers that “shows no signs of abating”.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The work-from-home movement is gaining steam in Silicon Valley as a flurry of companies – big and small – are embracing remote-working policies beyond the pandemic. But even as some executives extol its virtues, other tech leaders aren’t so sure, opening a growing divide inside the industry over the future of work. It’s a worthy debate.On Thursday, Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his company will start allowing some existing employees to work from home permanently. He said Facebook will also “aggressively open up remote hiring” for engineering talent in areas it doesn’t have an office, saying as much as 50% of the company’s employees could eventually work remotely within 10 years. In similar fashion, Shopify Inc. CEO Tobi Lutke said his e-commerce software company will allow its employees to work from home indefinitely, adding he expects that most of his staff will work remotely going forward. The days of “office centricity is over,” the executive posted on social media. The two companies join Twitter Inc., which said last week it will let employees work from home as standard practice as well.Not everyone in technology is on board. Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. CEO Strauss Zelnick said on an investor call this week that he believes sustained strong productivity will get more difficult the longer people are forced to work from home, adding that “there is no substitute for in-person collaboration and connection.” That follows comments from Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, who expressed concern in an interview with the New York Times last week that early positive remote-work productivity metrics may mask underlying deficiencies, in terms of managing and mentoring employees. He also raised worries about potential burnout and mental-health issues. “Maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?,” he asked.There’s something to be said for this pushback. Sure, there are many pluses to offering off-site work flexibility – including better employee retention and the ability to hire from a more diverse talent base in other geographies – but corporations should realize the work-from-home trend isn’t a panacea. In fact, there are significant drawbacks and challenges that shouldn’t be overlooked. As Zelnick pointed out, there are unquantifiable benefits derived from being in the same physical location. Scheduled videoconferencing meetings don’t engender the same spontaneous creativity compared to the many back-and-forth brief conversations during a typical day at an office. And nothing beats face-to-face interactions for building the relationships and trust required to persuade your colleagues on big decisions.It’s notable that even as Facebook projects confidence and forward-looking thought leadership in its charge toward its new work-from-home culture, it is implementing the change slowly. Zuckerberg said only the company’s senior engineers with strong performance reviews will be initially allowed to apply for remote-work flexibility, adding it will be a measured transition before extending the policy to non-engineers.To be frank, it wouldn’t surprise me to see many of these companies slow down their transitions to remote working. After all, the world is only a few months into this massive remote-work experiment. The initial productivity benefits may dissipate and significant negative consequences may well appear over time. Best not to rush into any drastic decisions.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
In the spirit of harmony and coming together during these divided times, the New York Times gives us an opinion piece we can all agree on: “The end of meat is here.” Just kidding.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- My junior and senior years in high school were 1968 and 1969; five decades later, I can still remember some of the main events of that era: the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the bombing of Cambodia, the Apollo 8 spaceflight that orbited the moon, and Woodstock, which I pleaded with my parents to let me attend. (They said no.)In my personal life, I remember playing on the basketball team, buying my first car, working in my family’s corner grocery store and wishing I had the nerve to ask certain girls out on a date. Here’s what I don’t remember: the pandemic of 1968-1969.And yet there was one. It was called the H3N2 virus — less formally, the Hong Kong flu — and it took a significant toll. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 1 million people died worldwide, 100,000 in the U.S. Conditions in large U.S. cities sound similar to what they’re going through now, with overwhelmed hospital workers, millions of people getting sick and the elderly most likely to die.When I first read about this pandemic, I could scarcely believe I had missed it. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the virus wreaked havoc in Europe, with French manufacturers suffering severe disruptions and West German garbage collectors burying the dead because there weren’t enough undertakers. In the U.S., the New York Times reported, the Citadel had to suspend classes because 165 cadets came down with the virus. Absenteeism in Los Angeles schools rose as high as 25%. In Boston, where I would soon be headed to college, university infirmaries were said to be filled with ill students. Tallulah Bankhead was a prominent victim of the virus.A quick search confirms that the Times(1) had covered the pandemic at the time. But I didn’t read the Times when I was in high school, and even if I had, I might well have missed the coverage. Every article was buried well inside the paper.I did read the Boston Globe, but it wasn’t exactly trumpeting the news either. I found a humor piece by Art Buchwald (“For pretty young ladies, the HKF can be your protection from drunken bosses at Christmas parties”). The news that the virus was officially an epidemic ran in a short wire-service article on Page 5. On New Year’s Eve, the Globe predicted that the flu might keep people indoors. Or maybe not: “Flu or not, there are many who won’t let anything stand in the way of celebrating the holiday.”From our current perspective, with shelter-in-place rules in much of the country, the most striking thing about the contemporaneous accounts was the absence of any discussion of lockdowns or even social distancing. I saw a few photos of nurses and office workers wearing masks, but that apparently wasn’t mandated either.Even the occasional school closings were one-offs; not a single state ordered that schools or businesses be closed en masse. The virus swept across the world, causing tens of millions of people to become sick — and killing nearly three times the number of people who have died so far of Covid-19 — and the world’s chief mitigation effort was to race to make a vaccine. By the time one was ready, the pandemic had largely fizzled out.This pandemic, of course, will be indelibly seared in the memory of those who lived through it. It is the biggest story since 9/11, with the ever-rising number of cases and deaths dominating the news. Children who are now wearing masks, doing schoolwork online and staying indoors will never forget it.They’ll also no doubt remember the economic aftermath, which is likely to be horrific, with deflation and even a depression a possibility. On Tuesday, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that “there is a risk of permanent damage” to the economy if the country remained locked down much longer.All of which raises a question that has so far been relegated to a small handful of coronavirus contrarians: with all the businesses that are going to fail, and the tens of millions of people who will be unemployed — and the other negative consequences that come with forcing people to stay at home — will the lockdown have been worth it? Or would we have been better off doing something closer to what the country did in 1968 — yes, taking precautions like wearing masks, washing hands and protecting the elderly, but allowing businesses and schools to stay open while people went about their lives?There are two issues here. The first is that quarantining an entire population is not some set-in-stone technique that has been used for decades to stem the spread of a virus. It was first proposed in 2006 by two government doctors — neither of them infectious disease specialists — after President George W. Bush asked for a plan to combat pandemics.Soon afterward, a paper was published calling for a national policy of sheltering-in-place. It swayed Bush. But four scientists who were infectious disease specialists also wrote a paper about the idea — a devastating critique. There was no science to support the notion that a national quarantine would halt the spread of infection, they wrote. It could increase the risk of infection for people living in close quarters. Closing theaters, malls, restaurants, stores and bars — not to mention church services and athletic events — would have “serious disruptive consequences.” Closing schools was not only impractical “but carries the possibility of a seriously adverse outcome.” And so on.The scientists concluded:Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.The second issue is that there is surprisingly little evidence that lockdowns work. Last week, a statistician named William M. Briggs, who is solidly in the anti-lockdown camp, wrote a blog post comparing countries that locked down with countries that didn’t. As of May 12, the U.S. had 237 deaths per million people. Taiwan, a no-lockdown country, had 0.3 deaths per million. (The country has had a total of seven deaths.)No-lockdown Sweden has had 347 deaths per million; lockdown Belgium, with a similar population, has had 763 deaths per million. Ethiopia, with a population of 109 million, had no lockdown — and a death rate of 0.04 per million.“Death rates were more than highly variable; they were all over the place,” Briggs wrote of the data he had collected. “If lockdowns worked as advertised, we would not see such enormous variability in the death rates.”“What should we conclude?” he added. “Strike that. What can we conclude? Only one thing: We cannot conclude that lockdowns worked.”Let me point out one other fact about the pandemic of the late 1960s. Like many coronaviruses, the H3N2 virus came in waves. The last one began in the fall of 1969 and ended in early 1970. Assuming this coronavirus fades in the summer, there is a high likelihood that it will return with a vengeance in the fall and winter. If that happens, are you truly ready to lock down again?I didn’t think so.(1) “The Hong Kong Flu Began in Red China,” was the headline of an AP story the Times ran in mid-December1968. Plus ca change.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Joe Nocera is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He has written business columns for Esquire, GQ and the New York Times, and is the former editorial director of Fortune. His latest project is the Bloomberg-Wondery podcast "The Shrink Next Door."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Weak presidents are not safe for democracy.Bright Line Watch, a project of political scientists worried about the erosion of democratic institutions, has found increasing concern by experts about the state of U.S. democracy since 2017. That’s despite the well-documented case that Donald Trump has been an unusually weak president. He often defers to Republican Party regulars on policy questions; when he doesn’t, he’s usually rolled by members of Congress, the executive branch, governors and business leaders. He often appears more interested in announcing policy wins than in actually doing the work to make those victories real.Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist who understands Trump’s weakness, made the case on Tuesday that if the president was really a threat to democracy, he would have taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to seize more power. Douthat argued that Trump isn’t interested in that kind of authority but rather craves only attention, rendering him helpless to effectively subvert democratic rule.Douthat misses, however, a big part of what Trump does appear to care about. Beyond the compulsion to be in the spotlight, Trump also seems to care a lot about squashing negative attention. He has astonishingly thin skin, and a shockingly broad interpretation of what counts as personal criticism. Douthat wrongly asserts that Trump’s “only impulse that related to real power and its uses” has been to duck responsibility for the coronavirus response by sending authority back to the states, missing the bullying of executive-branch experts, governors, the media and anyone else who dared suggest that Trump’s leadership was anything less than perfect. Indeed, Trump’s aversion to criticism is so strong that he tends to take even basic factual information as personal attacks, as when he claims that studies of potential coronavirus cures that don’t conform to his own hopes must have been the work of his enemies.Presidential weakness isn’t insurance against harm. The real nature of presidential power, as political scientist Richard Neustadt explained long ago, is a function of bargaining skill, mastery at gathering and processing information, understanding of the political and other incentives of those a president deals with, and thorough knowledge of the political system. Trump has none of those things. Indeed, that makes his influence minimal. But presidents who can’t manipulate the system to realize their visions of what the country needs try instead to work around the system, even if that means bending or breaking the rules. It usually doesn’t work, but along the way they can do all sorts of damage.Take Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning falsely accusing Michigan and Nevada of voter fraud and threatening to withhold federal funds if they proceeded with legitimate absentee-voter plans. It was a classic display of Trump weakness — he got his facts wrong, and he almost certainly can’t follow through on his threat. As with most Trump orders and proposals, legitimate and illicit, it will probably be ignored.And yet that’s not the whole story. Each time a president advocates something illegal, it harms the rule of law in small ways, even without efforts to follow up. Most party actors from the president’s party are reluctant to contradict their own president because weakening him weakens the party overall. Some will just ignore such things, but some will try to jump on the bandwagon, further harming the republic. And it doesn’t just stop with rhetoric. White House staff and political appointees within the bureaucracy at least partially take their lead from the president. They might undermine constitutional government in their effort to fulfill his wishes even if he’s too inept to know how to get things done. They also may just follow his example and ignore legal and ethical restraints for their own self-interest. A lawless president encourages lawlessness. And the damage isn’t limited to the president’s party. Once the out-of-power party comes to believe that a president and his party are not constrained by law, they may feel pressure to do likewise to compete. Douthat worries about what he used to call Caesarism when Barack Obama was president. But Neustadt understood that the presidential quest for power isn’t a problem, because the kinds of things that produce true presidential influence require the proper use of the political system. The successful ambition for power paradoxically constrains presidents, because they have to avoid doing the things that alienate political actors and voters. To take one example, properly ambitious presidents cultivate a reputation for honesty because it helps them bargain successfully with political actors to get what they want. But that means they actually have to do the things that make their word mean something. Trump doesn’t have that constraint, but also doesn’t get the benefits that go with it. Democracy and the rule of law are a continuum. One violation doesn’t destroy the republic. But Trump’s constant lawlessness has already taken a toll on the strength of U.S. democracy, and continues to do so — in large part because he isn’t interested in real power and doesn’t understand what it is.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
As a security contractor he boasted deep experience across the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, and had overseen high-stakes kidnapping rescues. In others words, Mike Taylor appeared to have the right skills to help pluck Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chief executive, from Japan, where he was embroiled in criminal proceedings, and spirit him to his native Lebanon. Mr Taylor’s purported handiwork as the orchestrator of Mr Ghosn’s daring escape has emerged in recent days, inspiring a sense of awe and wonder around the world at an episode that played out like a James Bond film.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- We all have aspects of the old normal that we miss. For me, it's bookstores.Barnes and Noble will end the shutdown with fewer stores than before the pandemic, and the company will be implementing restrictions that are sure to discourage browsing. Other booksellers have no idea when they will be ready to welcome customers again. The New York Times reported recently that although the number of indies has increased by nearly 900 over the past decade, the current emergency “threatens to wipe out those gains.”You might respond that bookstores don’t matter. If you want a book, you can order it online. You can download it to your Kindle. What difference does it make if physical stores are in trouble? Aren’t they an endangered species anyway?Maybe so — but they’re the kind of endangered species we should be eager to preserve. Brick-and-mortar bookstores matter because browsing is important. Browsing is important not only because it is a pleasure, but also because it underscores the forgotten role of the physical book.Browsing is a voyage of constant discovery. You run your fingers along the spines of the history section only to learn that the volume you’re looking for isn’t in stock. No matter. You find a fascinating book you’ve never heard of and know nothing about, a treasure upon which you happened only because you were looking for another. You pick it up, you leaf through it, you decide to buy. (Especially — no kidding! — if the smell of chocolate is in the air.) No matter how many screens you glance at online, you won’t duplicate the number and variety of volumes you can swiftly take in by spending even a few minutes in a bookstore aisle.So much for all that. To begin with, a lot of people will understandably be uneasy about browsing because browsing means more time in the store, and they won't want to chance infection by another customer. So maybe it makes sense that Barnes and Noble plans to remove those comfy chairs and benches where people used to sit and read. But browsing is also tactile, testing a book's heft and weight even as you leaf through the pages. That's going to be harder than ever, given that the chain has also announced plans to quarantine for five days every volume a customer handles. With booksellers nowadays often displaying only a copy or two of all but the most popular titles, the book quarantine will have many buyers ordering on their phones instead.One obvious question, then, is whether the five-day quarantine is necessary. I appreciate the need for the stores to limit potential liability, and to disinfect a physical book could ruin it. (Try to picture a volume that’s been treated with Lysol.) And, certainly, a business must plan around the fears consumers are experiencing. But where books are concerned, maybe we should be less afraid. A few years ago, experts were assuring the public that books were highly unlikely transmitters of disease. Has Covid-19 changed the calculus? The evidence so far seems to be against the proposition that the coronavirus can survive on paper for more than a few hours. This would be consistent with what we learned from similar viruses in the past.(1)We’ve been through a scare about books and germs before, during the smallpox epidemic of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and one result was a serious crippling of public libraries. The widespread belief that picking up a book could make a person sick was part of what Priscilla Wald of Duke University has labeled “a litany of hitherto unseen dangers.” I’m not insisting that studies suggesting the possibility of a longer life on paper are wrong. But we should approach them with care. This recent article, cited for the proposition that the novel coronavirus might survive on paper for up to five days, is a review of existing literature. The article makes the five-day assertion for only one strain of SARS, known as CoV-P9, recovered from a single patient. The source of the assertion is this 2003 study, which was actually about ways to kill SARS, and in which the paper was infected with an unusually high concentration of virus (105 infective doses per millileter). For other strains, at similar doses, the review showed the SARS virus surviving on paper for 5 minutes to 3 hours, or, at an even higher doses, for just 24 hours.And this is assuming the virus will remain on the surface of the page not just in the right concentration to infect us, but also in a sufficient amount. Certainly it’s possible — but is it really plausible? Even researchers who consider contaminated surfaces an important risk in viral transmission concede that the extant studies are difficult to evaluate.None of this matters, however, unless physical books matter. A detailed argument on this could fill, well, a book, but here it is in brief: Books fill a vital niche in a democracy, presenting a different way of looking at both stories and arguments. They provide a reminder that there exist valuable and complex ideas that can’t be squeezed into a handful of words and fascinating tales that don’t fit on the screen. The solidity of the printed word is a symbol of permanence. And the book in any form, digital or physical, is an escape from the quotidian, a chance to lose yourself in history few people know much about, or to discover brilliantly transportive fiction you might have missed.Browsing bookstores reminds us of this value, which is why we so enjoy it, particularly when we’re browsing used and antiquarian volumes in cramped venues with narrow stairways and bulging shelves and books heaped everywhere because there’s simply no more space — the sort of places where the dust motes seem to have seen more of life and literature than you ever will.Which is perhaps another way of saying that if bookstores fall victim to the pandemic, we will lose remarkable treasures impossible to replace.(1) Experts quoted in the press suggest that newspapers cannot spread the virus.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster.” For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot has found herself in the middle of a public health and political maelstrom.Primarily responsible for managing the Covid-19 pandemic that has paralyzed the most populous U.S. city, Barbot was passed over when Mayor Bill de Blasio last week gave control of the city’s immense diagnostic testing and tracing effort to Mitchell Katz, head of the public hospital system. Barbot was absent Friday from a City Council hearing called to scrutinize the move.“It is unclear exactly why it was decided that Health & Hospitals would lead such an immense effort,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “What is clear is the serious dysfunction playing out behind the scenes at a time when New Yorkers desperately need to have confidence in their city government.”New York’s health department has been at the forefront of urban public health policy. The New York Times reported Friday that the mayor disregarded Barbot’s push to close schools and businesses in early March, while taking Katz’s advice to oppose such a move -- until the virus forced a statewide shutdown a week later. Public health professionals, including Katz, now say with hindsight the delay caused many people to die.Barbot, whose agency has conducted contact tracing in outbreaks of tuberculosis, AIDS, Ebola and measles, has avoided directly speaking about her relationship with the mayor and his choice for leading lead the test-and-trace effort. “We are committed to applying that world-class expertise to bringing this epidemic to an end,” she told a reporter May 10 at the mayor’s news conference. “And we are committed to ongoing collaboration with all of our sister agencies.”Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for Barbot, said she was unavailable to comment.City Council members initially backed Barbot. This week, her political position became more fraught after the New York Post reported she had refused a police demand for 500,000 surgical masks because she was saving them for hospital workers. She offered the department 50,000 in early March as the city faced a shortage, the Post reported.De Blasio has said he appointed Katz -- a former public health director in San Francisco and Los Angeles -- to lead the effort after the city’s system of 11 public hospitals more than doubled their intensive-care capacity to handle thousands of critically ill New Yorkers. As a public corporation not hampered by rules applying to government agencies, Katz can oversee the fast hiring of thousands of tracers, who would remain city employees, the mayor said.The hospital system also has more operational expertise to isolate infected patients and their contacts in hotel rooms if they live in crowded households where they might spread the virus, the mayor has said.The mayor last spoke with his health commissioner “a couple of days ago” and intends to talk with her this weekend, he said during a press conference Friday. He said he hadn’t been informed about the NYPD incident until this week.Katz told council members Friday that health department experts would be intensely involved in training tracers and setting policies on quarantine and isolation, and would continue to analyze hospital testing data. The city’s testing effort, located at sites connected to its public hospitals, has a goal of increasing four-fold to about 50,000 a day by mid-summer.Katz said he last spoke with Barbot three days ago, and that she reaffirmed her support for the effort to contain the virus, no matter who leads it.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Bloomberg Opinion will be running a series of features by our columnists that consider the long-term consequences of the crisis. This column is part of a package envisioning the future of work. For more, see Sarah Green Carmichael on the resilience of open offices, Justin Fox on what jobs will and won't change and Stephen Mihm on worker protests.It is well established by now that the deadly coronavirus is anything but a “great equalizer.” Instead, large swaths of the population are confronting threats — both to their physical and their financial well-being — that if left unchecked could deepen existing divides.Take the gender gap. Before the pandemic struck, women already faced a century-long wait to reach parity with men, a daunting prospect that now risks becoming further out of reach if the economic disparities unleashed by the crisis are ignored. As the health emergency abates, governments, big business and investors have the opportunity to refocus their attention on previous goals, such as aiming to reach gender equality.Women are particularly exposed to this crisis. They are on the frontlines of the fight against the virus itself, making up 70% of global healthcare workers and as much as 95% of long-term care workers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But not only are women putting their lives at risk to save others — they also make up the majority of employees in parts of the economy that have been hardest hit by lockdowns. From leisure to hospitality to retail, entire industries in which women make up a greater share of the workforce have been brought to a halt. Women are also more likely to hold temporary and part-time positions, the types of jobs employers are most likely to cut first in a downturn. Across the U.S., the cost to female jobs is already visible. The latest unemployment figures show that women held 55% of the 20.5 million jobs lost last month. Women’s share of all unemployment claims filed between March and April 11 ranged from 53% in Wyoming to as high as 67% in Alabama, according to nonprofit journalism organization The Fuller Project. In Canada, too, women have made up the bulk of the layoffs.If recent history is any guide, the deepest recession of our lifetimes could hurt women’s economic prospects for many years to come. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, men bore the brunt of the job losses in Europe and the U.S., leading some to dub the economic contraction the “man-cession.” Male-dominated manufacturing and construction industries suffered the biggest blows.But as Aliya Hamid Rao, a sociology professor at Singapore Management University, has found, women took longer to return to work after the last downturn. That’s partly because crises tend to reinforce the idea that men are responsible for putting bread on the table whereas women take care of the family, she has said. So women typically take on a greater share of the unpaid housework, further hampering their return to, and progress in, paid employment. Rao’s study of professionals showed that even when men were unemployed and their female partners were the ones working full time, men still would not shoulder a greater portion of household chores.Early indications on the divisions of household labor in the pandemic era show not much is changing. According to a survey of 2,200 Americans, carried out during the April lockdown for the New York Times, 70% percent of women said they are now either solely or mostly responsible for housework, and 66% said they are handling childcare, in line with analysis from before the pandemic. Though men in the recent survey disagreed — only 20% said their partners are mostly responsible for the unpaid household labor — research has shown women typically report these estimates more accurately.Governments so far have been rightly preoccupied by tending to the immediate health needs of their populations and their financial survival. From household checks to loans and grants to companies, the scale of the fiscal responses we’re seeing around the world are without precedent. Companies too have mostly sought to shield their employees from unnecessary exposure to the virus, with the majority of office jobs relocating to homes and some firms also pledging not to cut staff.But as countries begin planning their exits from lockdown, both policymakers and corporate leaders have to acknowledge and address the economic struggles women face.To begin with, there should be a simple but effective re-evaluation of how we value female-dominated healthcare work, beyond calls to show our appreciation with rounds of hand-clapping. The financial conditions of health and social workers in some countries are in need of improvement. In Portugal and Spain, pay for nurses fell after the sovereign debt crises of the early 2000s and have only slowly recovered, according to the latest OECD data. The same study shows that pay for nurses in the U.K. rose just 5% between 2010 and 2017, while inflation rose about 15%. The industry needs higher pay. For instance, the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank, argues U.K. health employees should receive Covid-19 bonuses, as well as better statutory sick pay and a higher real living wage. As governments shift from handing out financial lifelines to restarting and rethinking their economies, they could tie aid to goals of sustainability, such as improving the balance of women in companies’ leadership.Notwithstanding the clear benefits of having diverse leadership, women in the U.S. and the U.K. still make up fewer than 30% of board members and 10% of CEOs among the biggest companies. At a time in which inequity threatens to undermine societies, closing the leadership gender gap is more important than ever. And gender-diverse boards are more likely to steer their firms to look after stakeholders, not just shareholders.Financial support to firms could also be tied to improving the conditions of precarious workers, such as temporary employees and freelancers, who can slip through the cracks of social security and are less likely to receive on-the-job training. Women make up about 40% of the total wage employment but 57% of part-time employees, according to the International Labour Organization.Governments could also partner with investors to channel funds into small- and medium-sized companies led by women — which struggle at the best of times to secure financing. In some of the world’s biggest economies, the U.K. and Germany for example, women lead fewer than one in five SMEs. Supporting women in running their own businesses would help enable more of them to work and lift the quality of their employment. Leaders will have to invest in retraining as well, to create more opportunities for women. Many who lost their jobs in this crisis might not be able to return to a similar role. The retail sector is already being decimated, and the continuing shift to automation will hurt factory workers and salespeople alike. Offering training in digital skills, and encouraging studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will empower women across the employment spectrum. Women account for only 30% of the tech workforce on average across the Group of Seven countries, and representation in leadership roles is even thinner.At the very least, policymakers should ensure that women are equally represented in their decision-making. In Italy, one of the European countries that has been hardest hit by the pandemic, the government has faced pressure to add more women to its committees of experts that advise on the health crisis and reopening the economy. The most powerful group, the government’s technical and scientific committee, for months consisted of just men before the government announced on Tuesday it would add women to the 20-strong committee.CEOs of large corporations, for their part, have the chance to show that they actually mean what they say when they wax lyrical about their companies’ broader purpose in society, beyond making money for their shareholders. As they plan how to return to office life, there will be fresh opportunities to root out existing gender biases. For example, work cultures demanding face time and long, rigid hours can disproportionately derail women’s career advancement and earnings. Flexible working hours, the ability to work from home and more malleable career paths would help to narrow the gender gap as we emerge from the pandemic — and allow women to produce more than we did before.Opportunities to make a difference abound. If farsighted leaders are willing to view their responses to the pandemic through a gender-tinted lens, they have the chance to transform a massive disruption into a truly equalizing force.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Elisa Martinuzzi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering finance. She is a former managing editor for European finance at Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Readers are flocking to news sites for the latest on Covid-19. Advertisers are running the other way.As news editors do everything to harness public interest in the worst public health crisis in more than a generation, their main source of income is in freefall, with brands pulling ads from news sites, papers and magazines.To some extent that’s normal: With businesses hoarding cash just to stay afloat, marketing campaigns are a low priority. But a bad situation is being made a whole lot worse by advertising “blacklists” — sets of keywords that stop ads appearing next to certain categories of news that are considered a turn-off by brand managers. Because so much coverage now touches on coronavirus, one of the biggest stories of the century is turning into an advertising no-go zone.The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a trade group, surveyed U.S. web publishers in early April and found that news organizations were twice as likely to have ads blocked because of keyword blacklisting.News executives, and even some advertising experts, say the lists can be arbitrary, unfair and often nonsensical: there’s little evidence that readers are less responsive to an ad for shampoo or a car hire service just because they’re sitting alongside a “bad news” story. What’s more, they’re killing news.“We’re in danger of losing some of the most trusted publishers we have in the U.K. in the coming months,” said Tracey de Groose, executive chairman of British news industry marketing body Newsworks. “The unintended consequence of this is the commercial censorship of journalism.”Newsworks calculated that Covid-19 blacklists are set to cost British news brands more than 50 million pounds ($61.7 million) in the next three months — a potential lifeline for newsrooms already slashing costs to survive. It said its members already lost 170 million pounds last year from an ever-growing list of common news words that brands avoid, such as “terrorism” and even “Brexit.” Integral Ad Science Inc., one of a complex array of tech firms that influence where ads appear online, said marketers have begun to address the problem — specific coronavirus-related keyword blocking has fallen by 80% since mid-March in the U.S. and 77% in the U.K., according to IAS Chief Executive Officer Lisa Utzschneider. Prior to that, marketers requested blanket bans on ads appearing next to content with words like “coronavirus” or “pandemic.”In the U.K., news organizations have spent more than a month lobbying ad executives to stop them blocking ads near virus coverage, and even drafted in the government to add its weight to the campaign, to little avail. There’s yet to be any rebound in income for publishers, said de Groose at Newsworks. That’s galling for news sites that have seen readership more than double in some content categories in Europe, according to audience data firm Comscore.In a follow-up IAB survey last week, 18% of news publishers reported that blacklist restrictions had loosened in their second quarter planning. More than half said nothing had changed.Companies that provide “brand safety” lists often use outdated terms and obscure how their keyword targeting works, said Nandini Jammi, a marketing industry advocate. “These are not made clear to advertisers,” she said. “Everyone is doing it. No one is thinking about it.” At the other end of the chain, news publishers struggle to find out which brands are blocking what, making it harder to hold the brands to account. The companies that administer the ad blocking profit from each block, so have little incentive to help. WPP agency GroupM said it’s trying to get brand marketing teams to making their blacklists more intelligent so more ads reach trusted news sources.Rather than blocking “Covid-19,” they block a combination of words such as “Covid-19-Miracle Cure” or “Covid-19-Refrigerated Truck” so that ads don’t appear alongside irresponsible or particularly unpleasant news stories, said John Montgomery, the head of GroupM’s global brand safety practice.“The technology is not the enemy,” he said. “It’s the way we use it.” Opaque MarketUnpicking the chain of arrangements that are pulling advertising away from news is complex because publishers are the last link in a vast online ecosystem. Digital ads are created by agencies at global companies such as WPP Plc and transmitted via technology platforms including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and intermediaries like IAS and DoubleVerify. An ad flows through a warren of automated marketplaces and is sold a split-second after you click a link to the page where you see it. A myriad of suppliers trade and verify the content, while others gather data to target it better. It’s turned what used to be a simple agreement between a paper’s ad department and a brand marketing representative into an opaque process that’s dissipated responsibility and accountability.Google rejects any blame for the boycott of Covid-related news, saying there are no technical or policy reasons to stop publishers monetizing coronavirus-related content on its platforms.“We are in constant discussions with our publishing partners, advertisers and agencies on how we can continue to support a sustainable future for news,” said a Google spokesperson. Ad dollars have been draining from the news business for a decade for reasons that reach beyond the pandemic, said Montgomery at GroupM. As the big social media platforms developed sophisticated filters to keep brands safe from harmful or toxic content, they’ve captured more of the ad dollars that once went to news. The result is that “media planners have been trained not to need news any more,” he said.News organizations such as New York Times Co. and Nikkei Inc.’s Financial Times have cut dependence on ads by moving to reader subscriptions or memberships. Models are also emerging in which tech giants share more revenue, like Apple Inc.’s subscription News+ service or Facebook Inc’s agreement to pay trusted publishers. Ad-funded news organizations pushed to the brink by the virus-induced ad slump are trying to innovate their way out of danger. Some publishers are pitching ad slots next to “good news” stories from the pandemic, relying on technology that can scan language and find the happier articles.One of Britain’s biggest newspaper companies, Reach Plc, has teamed up with International Business Machines Corp. and AT&T Inc. to boost its language processing software and direct ads to these stories. “Coronavirus articles that have a positive sentiment are good for your brand,” said Damon Reeve, chief executive officer of the Ozone Project, an ad platform set up in 2018 by several U.K. news publishers including the Telegraph and the Guardian.For all those efforts, ad blacklists will be hard to banish as long as there are news themes that brands want to avoid.“Yes, ‘coronavirus’ has been the number-one blocked keyword,” said IAS’s Utzschneider. “But before that, it was ‘Trump’.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Much of our pre-coronavirus lives may be reclaimable with some modifications around how we work, socialize and travel. In one crucial way, though, the post-pandemic landscape will be very different: The individual’s autonomy over her data may be lost forever. Our mobiles will keep us safe — by spying on us.This will have important consequences for the relationship not just between citizens and governments, but also between consumers and businesses.Blame the coming end of privacy on success. South Korea and Taiwan have won acclaim for flattening the Covid-19 curve by digitally tracking infected persons. As my colleague Anjani Trivedi described in March, no government was using dispersed databases as extensively to fight the spread of the disease as Seoul. Before an explosive outbreak in its worker dormitories, Singapore earned praise for TraceTogether, which claims to be the first Bluetooth contact-tracing app covering an entire nation. The 1.4 million users represent roughly a fourth of the island’s population.It hasn’t gone unnoticed that enthusiastic adapters of such software are in East Asia where, as MIT Sloan School of Management professor Yasheng Huang and others note, “a collectivist spirit may encourage civic-minded embrace of and a more willing compliance with governments’ infection control.” But while cultural differences can help explain the beginning, the end game may be more universal: power and profit. Safely restarting economies will require governments to restore trust in people mingling in factories, offices, cafes and trains. It can supposedly be done with data more granular than what can be obtained from cellphone networks. Hence states want access to phones, with or without informed consent. Turning the clock back will be hard, if not impossible.Take India’s Aarogya Setu, or Bridge of Health, Covid-19 contact-tracing app. It’s got privacy warriors worried because the country lacks a data protection framework. Among other things, activists want the government to ensure that “any data collected in an external server is designed to be deleted and that it won’t be integrated with other databases,” according to a working paper by the New Delhi-based Internet Freedom Foundation. For now, there are only assurances that the app will wither away once the outbreak is contained, but no legal guarantees. The Singaporean app records physical proximity in an anonymized form on smartphones. Minimal data is stored on servers. Only if a user falls sick are his contacts tracked and alerted. Given that it’s been less than two years since the revelation that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s health records were hacked, I’d hesitate to brand the experiment as foolproof. But it’s at least a voluntary exchange. India’s app is anything but. As the country tentatively reopens after a 43-day lockdown, it’s been made mandatory — first for public-sector employees and now for private-sector workers. Company bosses are liable to ensure their workers download the app, though nobody is accountable for misuse of data.TraceTogether’s building blocks are in the public domain. The source code of Aarogya Setu is yet to be opened. The Indian government recently denied a French security researcher’s claim that the privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake. Hours later, the so-called ethical hacker who goes by the name of Elliott Anderson tweeted that five people were feeling unwell in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office. Where boundaries between private and public are thin to begin with, a pandemic can make them disappear. A New York Times analysis of China’s Alipay Health Code software, which mixes a cocktail of data to color-code a person’s health status, found that some information is shared with the police. The digital prowess of Alibaba Group Ltd. or its rival, Tencent Holdings Ltd., has no match in India. But firms are eager to harness the online footprints of the country’s 1.3 billion people. Covid-19 might give those plans a fillip.Just as the Sept. 11 attacks irrevocably shrank personal freedoms as security-at-all-costs became a policy driver, Covid-19 will erode privacy in the name of public health. The potential market is immense for instruments far more intrusive than Big Brother’s telescreens. Richard Brooks, a computer engineering professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, told Bloomberg News: “If the ability to track social contacts exists to stop a contagion, I can guarantee you it will be used to track the spread of dissent.”An Israeli court verdict that banned Shin Bet, the internal security agency, from using its Covid-19 tracking app shows the discomfort societies have with handing over a shiny, new lever of control to governments. Europe’s data protection laws will try to ensure that the emergency collection and processing of personal information is conducted with accountability, and for a limited purpose. The British parliament’s human rights committee says it isn’t convinced that the National Health Service’s proposed tracing app protects privacy.Tracing in Korea went overboard in the early days, when the authorities released so much data that anonymous patients became identifiable — and got harassed. A strong data protection law forced Korea to limit disclosure. The bottom line: Where they exist, robust institutions could still offer resistance. In most other places, the individual’s autonomy has already become a virus casualty. Poorer countries where consumers have only recently started going online will see states insist on devices that come with pre-loaded tracking apps. More information will reside on central servers than epidemiologists have asked for or need. But who will stop the juggernaut?This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies and financial services. He previously was a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He has also worked for the Straits Times, ET NOW and Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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