National News

How to sell your private data - if you really want to

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:53

So, what is your online activity worth? You know: social media posts, web history, GPS location—the works. Right now, data brokers trade with advertisers in a multi-billion dollar market. There are also a bunch of new ways you can sell your own data. But it may not add up to as much as you would hope.

Big data brokers like Acxiom want to create a precise file on you. They want to know things like how much money you make and where you shop – online and in person. 

Matt Hogan says amassing an accurate, personal file filled with info is no easy task. “If you're Acxiom, you're the largest data broker, you're cobbling together all these different piece-meal, publicly available, stale, maybe leaked data sources and what you get is a profile that is not correct.”

Hogan is the founder of Datacoup, a start-up where consumers can sell their data directly to advertisers. He says his platform gives marketers a clearer picture of consumers, and it will give consumers some return for their data. “Why not sell your information?" he asks. "Companies already do it.”

The information sold through Datacoup is currently anonymous, and not tied to a user's identity. Still, it's an advertiser's dream—disparate information from our online lives all packaged up and sent straight from the source: us. Datacoup pays users $10 a month for it all. 

Katryna Dow, CEO of a start-up called Meeco, says your info will soon be worth much more. Meeco allows users to hide data from outsiders and record it themselves. The personal information users save could become more valuable in the future, especially as their files becomes fatter and fatter.

Dow says, “there's no reason why you wouldn't take information from your teen years and mash it up with time in your twenties or thirties or forties which just makes that core data more valuable.” She says that information may have all kinds of unforeseeable applications ten years down the road.

Dow envisions private data becoming a kind of cryptocurrency in a “Me Economy.” It could be used in transactions to purchase items and get discounts, or even secure mortgages, loans, and insurance. In a way, it would alter how we define personal identity.

All this terrifies Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy. 

“A huge depersonalized system has emerged that treats bits of our self like we were simply hog bellies at a commodities market,” he says. “Our data is much more valuable than just a few dollars a month it might bring us. It is really the key to who we are as, as human beings.”

Trying to put a price on that, he says, is a dangerous thing.

By the way, you can find out what Axciom knows about you through a website they launched: www.aboutthedata.com. But beware: It requires you to input some personal information. And its Private Policy section discloses that the company may use that data at a later date. 

Survey says: People don't trust pollsters anymore

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:51

When the monthly jobs report comes out Friday, many eyes will undoubtedly shoot to the unemployment rate. But that number alone doesn't tell the whole story.

"It's gotten harder [to figure the unemployment rate] because Americans have become less willing to respond to surveys of all kinds," says David Leonhardt, columnist and editor of the Upshot at the New York Times.

A large part of that, Leonhardt says, is our changing behavior when it comes to answering our phones.

"Think back to 1975 — you're sitting at home, your phone rings, you have no idea who it is, you pick it up, it's a pollster, you're willing to answer it," he says. "Today, you've got your cell phone, you don't even have a landline, it may be harder for the poll firms to figure out where you are and thus [how] to reach you. But it's also a case of, you see '888' pop up and you think to yourself, 'I'm not answering that.'"

It's a reminder, Leonhardt says, that the unemployment numbers aren't the be-all, end-all of economic data.

"I would encourage some people to take the attention that now goes to the unemployment rate and shift it to job growth, which actually comes from a larger survey of businesses, or look at the number of Americans who are employed, which captures this phenomenon of discouraged workers," Leonhardt says.

Diplomats And Lawyers Try To Define 'Culturally Acceptable Food'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:34

Some governments recently said that agricultural investments should supply "culturally acceptable food." Now they're trying to define what that is.

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American Airlines, Orbitz on the outs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

American Airlines and Orbitz are having a tiff.  American has pulled its flight listings from Orbitz websites. 

Since American and US Airways have merged, their fares will disappear, too.  Orbitz's corporate clients aren't affected. Still, will Orbitz take a big hit if you can't buy American or US Airways tickets on its sites?  How does it make its money, anyway? 

Well, when you book a flight online you spread the love.  Everybody gets a cut; the airline and ticket distributors, who then pay travel websites like Orbitz.

American and Orbitz aren’t saying much about their dispute. 

“But ultimately it all comes down to economics,” says Robert Mann,  a former American executive who started his own consulting business, R.W. Mann & Company.

He says big carriers like American are trying to stay competitive with budget guys like Southwest.  Southwest tickets are only available from the airline.  It doesn’t use Orbitz. 

"And airlines have gotten really attentive to this because of the difference in cost,” Mann says.

Of course, online travel agencies like Orbitz are happy to take the airlines’ cash, but they have lots of other ways to make money.

Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com, says agencies need to sell plane tickets because that’s the first thing consumers buy.  But after that, travel sites will try to sell you packages including rental cars and hotel rooms.

"Where you make your better money is on the hotels," he says. "It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to make 10 to 12 percent on a package.”

That is, Bestfares would get 10 to 12 percent of the total package price. Travel sites also sell cruises. But just as Orbitz needs American, American needs Orbitz, or it’ll lose business to other airlines. 

Gary Leff writes the View From the Wing.   Here’s how he describes the situation: "This is a lose-lose if it goes on," he says.  "It’s a do-what-I-want-or-I’ll-shoot-myself kind of a scenario.”

Leff expects American and Orbitz to smooth things over in a matter of weeks, but no one really knows how long this will drag on.

US sugar policy leaves sour taste for candy makers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

The U.S. Commerce Department will impose new duties on sugar from Mexico, responding to complaints from U.S. growers that Mexico was dumping sugar here for less than it sells for there. Sugar growers have a track record of getting what they want from policymakers: Government protections have kept U.S. sugar more expensive than the world market price for decades.

That doesn't sit well with bakers and gumball makers.

Make that gumball-maker. Singular. George Stege,  president of Ford Gum and Machine Co. in upstate New York, says he is the only gumball manufacturer left in the United States. His last domestic competitor, he says, moved production to Canada more than a decade ago.

"The advantages of being in Canada are that they can acquire sugar at world sugar pricing, which tends to be 40 to 50 percent lower than what I’m paying," he says. "The cost of sugar becomes an insurmountable edge."

He says the newest ruling is just more of the same: Government policy protecting sugar growers at his expense.

Iowa State University economist John Beghin recently looked at how many jobs the U.S. could save — making things like candy, baked goods and breakfast cereal — by changing policy to lower the cost of sugar. His best estimate is 15,000 to 20,000.  That's lower than some industry estimates, he says. "But still, 15,000 jobs is nothing to neglect."

Similarly, costs to U.S. consumers from high sugar prices look modest. Beghin pegs them around $3 billion dollars a year for the whole country — which breaks down to about $10 a year per person. Not enough, he says, to write your senator about.

On the other hand, the American Sugar Alliance, which lobbies for sugar growers, is a diligent bunch of letter writers. "You have to admire them for their effectiveness," says Beghin.

"Thank you for saying that the sugar industry is an effective lobby," says Sugar Alliance spokesman Phillip Hayes. "I would certainly agree with that."

He says they have to be — in order to protect their members from sugar growers in other countries, who pressure their own governments to protect their interests in much the same way.

Suzuki recalls 19,000 cars because, spiders.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

Warning: this is not for the arachnophobes among you.

Suzuki has had to recall 19,000 of its mid-sized cars because of spider webs in the fuel lines.

It turns out spiders are attracted to gasoline vapors. They build webs in gas tank vent lines. Those lines get blocked. Gas tanks get damaged.

And oh,  by the way, THERE ARE SPIDERS IN YOUR GAS TANK.

Is Snapchat really worth $10 billion?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:32

Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers made a pretty breathtaking bet today. It agreed to invest in a deal that values Snapchat at nearly $10 billion. Snapchat is a social network where people share photos that self-destruct within 1-10 seconds. 

It seems like things go this way. One day, you're a struggling start-up, making no profit, paying people in stock options...

 and the next...

Someone is telling you’re worth almost as much as the GDP of Iceland.

James McQuivey is an analyst at Forrester Research. I asked him what exactly Snapchat’s 100 million users share with the service.

"Among my children, it's really just 'this is what my face looks like in response to something that I just read or heard or saw or a song that I’m listening to.' It’s a way of expressing emotions… think of it as a live emoticon."

But can Snapchat be a face that launches 10 billion real dollars?

"Not even... It’s about $9 billion too much," says tech analyst Rob Enderle.  Enderle says Snapchat doesn’t know how it plans to spin its 100 million users into money yet. Still, he says, in today’s overheated tech sector, the nuts and bolts of the business plan take a backseat to the buzz.

"There’s two ways you can value a company: One of them is legitimately based on how much money they’re returning to investors and the other is based on screwy math largely based on the hopes and dreams of those that think that social networks every place should be made of gold and honey."

The question now is whether Snapchat has the makings of a social media Cinderella…or will end up being an ugly stepsister.

Enderle says it’s all about where Google and Facebook drop their magic. Messaging service WhatsApp had no profit plan and only 55 employees, and Facebook snapped it up for $20 billion.

We'll just have to wait and see how the story ends for Snapchat.

In Settlement, Homeland Security Agrees To Reform 'Voluntary Departures'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:20

The Department of Homeland Security is settling a lawsuit with the ACLU, which deals with immigrants who were improperly pushed to leave the country.

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Freemasonry Still Alive And Well, And (Mostly) Men-Only

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 13:10

The Freemasons are arguably one of the world's most famous men's organizations. Membership has been falling in the U.S. since the 1960s, but millennials are now showing an interest in the fraternity.

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Nashville tries to boost civic pride with an investment fund

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:57

CNBC called it a “wacky” idea when it launched a year ago: a fund that invests in companies solely because they’re based in a particular city — in this case, Nashville. The Nashville exchange-traded fund has beat the odds, but maybe not for long.

Having a single share of this exchange-traded fund, or ETF, is like buying stock in all the public companies headquartered in Nashville. It’s heavy in health care, with hospital chains like HCA. There are also companies like Dollar General and Cracker Barrel in the mix. The pitch to locals was “invest in companies you know.”

“You can say you are investing in Nashville,” says financial advisor Stephen Frohsin of Woodmont Investment Counsel. “There’s a story that goes along with that, that people can understand a little bit easier.”

Frohsin attended the first annual shareholders meeting Thursday. Personally, he is trying out the ETF. He says his clients are dipping their toe in the water as well.

Shareholders range from community leaders and politicians who see it as an exercise in civic pride. One woman said she asked for a few shares for her birthday.

Analyst Paul Britt says he’s got a soft spot for the concept because it’s got a real “support-your-community” feel. He also says it probably won’t last.

“The short answer is yes, I am surprised it’s still with us,” says Britt.

Britt’s company ETF.com has a rating for funds, and by its estimate, the ticker symbol NASH may not last long on the New York Stock Exchange. A year in, the fund has fewer than $9 million in assets. Many investors won’t touch an ETF with less than $50 or $100 million.

Without more money in the fund, there’s not enough trading volume for big investors to be able to sell on a moment’s notice, which is supposed to be one of the selling points of an ETF and trading volume creates fees to operate the fund.

“We see [Nashville ETF] as a high risk for fund closure right now,” he says.

Currently, the Nashville ETF is operating at a loss, but founder Beth Courtney says that’s not unusual for any one-year-old start-up business. She says she knows there’s some proving left to do.

“You know, we’re the first in the country. I think that there were obviously people who wanted to take a closer look at it and watch it,” Courtney says. “And they might continue to watch it and see the performance and that will speak for itself and the fund will grow.”

While the fund is still tiny, investors aren’t complaining. They earned a nearly 20 percent return for year one.

Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:43

The ALS Association has raised more than $94 million in recent weeks via its online ice bucket challenge — compared with $2.7 million this time last year. Now what?

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Before Leaving Afghanistan, U.S. Troops Must Declutter

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:41

American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by year's end. So the military is sifting through 13 years of accumulated stuff to see what will be scrapped, given away or sent home.

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Staring Down Famine, Agencies Hesitate To Use F-Word In South Sudan

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

The "famine" label will bring an influx of aid to South Sudan from foreign countries — but why do donor organizations wait for that F-word before getting involved?

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Chicaco Greets Little League National Champs As Returning Heroes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

Chicago has gathered for a parade to celebrate the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, which won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series. Chicago Public Radio's Natalie Moore reports that this all-black team has helped to unify a city reeling from North and South Side segregation, as well as renewed attention on the city's violence.

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As BK Takes Tim Hortons, Canadians Stay Loyal To Their National Icon

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

The takeover of Canada's Tim Hortons by Burger King is causing quite the stir in the great white north. Melissa Block talks with Ian Hardy, editor-in-chief of Inside Timmies, a fan site devoted to Tim Hortons, about the Canadian existential crisis over one of the country's cultural icons being taken over by an American corporation.

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Mapping Out The End Days Of The Midterm Campaign

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

The end of August heralds the start to the final phase of the 2014 election season. As primaries wrap up and candidates ready themselves for November, NPR's Charlie Mahtesian lays out the political landscape.

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When Do Food Shortages Become A Famine? There's A Formula For That

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

The U.S. government has a detailed and technical system for determining a famine. But conditions in South Sudan make it extremely difficult to assess just how dire the situation is.

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Chicago Greets Little League National Champs As Returning Heroes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

Chicago has gathered for a parade to celebrate the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, which won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series.

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Surfers Flock To The Water, As Huge Waves Hit The West Coast

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

High surf is hitting the Southern California coast, much to the delight of surfers and the worry of lifeguards.

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In Fixing Recalled Cars, GM Dealers Hope To Wow Customers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 12:09

General Motors has recalled 29 million autos in North America this year. Dealers replacing the faulty parts aren't just fixing cars. They're repairing customers' relationships with the automaker.

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