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Should Twitter have to measure up to Facebook?

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

If "A Tale of Two Cities"were written today and Charles Dickens chose social networkers, instead of cities, as his subject, the opening line might go a little something like this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of metrics.

“If you are a social network, the two most important metrics for you are your user base and the level of engagement of the users,” says Shaym Patil, Vice President of equity research at Wedbush.

The value that Wall Street places on a social network like Twitter or Facebook is primarily based on its MAU’s, or  monthly active users--the more active users, the more potential for ad revenue.  This is why when Twitter announced its third quarter earnings  Monday, its stock took a hit.  

Investors are worried that Twitter’s user base isn't growing fast enough. It’s not anywhere near the gold standard of social media companies, Facebook. Twitter’s active user base is about one fifth of Facebook’s

But Nathan Eagle,  CEO of Jana, a mobile marketing platform, is skeptical of the one metric fits all approach. “Twitter and Facebook have different models and they are going after different things,” says Eagle.

Twitter, for example, doesn't just sell ads. It has a whole suite of developer tools it sells to companies like Jana. It offers tools for detecting crashes and monetizing, for example.

These are parts of Twitter’s business model that aren't reflected in the MAU numbers. As a result, Nathan Eagle thinks Twitter should have its own more sophisticated metric for assessing its value.  “MAU’s are at least a proxy for success,”  But says Eagle, “I do think that we will come up with more nuanced metrics.”

Until that more nuanced metric arrives, the almighty MAU will likely reign supreme. Or, as Dickens said, Twitter and Facebook will continue to live, “for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

 

 

CNN takes the Empire State Building

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

CNN announced its election night plans Tuesday: the network will take over the Empire State Building to display U.S. Senate vote results.

As results come in, a vertical LED-illuminated "meter" atop the spire of the building will ascend in either red or blue.

Once a meter reaches the top of the spire, that party will take control of the Senate.

Who will win? Apparently CNN will decide.

 

 

What the end of Quantitative Easing will and won't mean

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

Quantitative easing – it’s fun and accessible and all the cool kids are talking about it, right?

“Believe it or not, I tend to try not to talk about Quantitative Easing at cocktail parties,” says Ann Owen, an economics professor at Hamilton College. “But just a real brief explanation is that it’s a way for the [Federal Reserve] to increase the money supply by buying bonds.”

The Fed generally has two focus areas: employment and inflation. Historically, a main tool to keep each in check has been setting interest rates through its Federal Funds Rate. But back in 2008, the Fed decided it needed something more and QE was born.

Six years later, the Fed is widely expected to announce the end of QE after its Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Owen says while ending QE may sound like a giant leap, it's actually a relatively small step because the Fed now has a balance sheet worth over $4 trillion.

“That’s money that in the banking system and will hopefully finds its way into the economy, says Michelle Girard is the chief U.S. economist with RBS. “As long as those reserves aren’t taken back out, through asset sales or other methods of shrinking the balance sheet, then the reserves that have already been created are still able to boost economic growth.”

Think of the Fed as a jogger who’s not slowing down or speeding up, but keeping the same pace – and there’s still a long road ahead.

The economy is clearly in a better place than it was when QE started.

But Morris Davis, a professor at Rutgers University and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Board, says he’s skeptical about how much of that is due to the bond-buying program.

“We can debate its effectiveness and we should debate its effectiveness,” he says. “But going forward, we’re going to see a lot more of this, actually, by Central Banks all around the world and I think we’ll point back to this episode as having led the pack.”

After QE, the Fed still has its more traditional tool – interest rates. Davis says it’ll probably be a while before the Fed feels comfortable enough to start raising its Federal Funds Rate in any meaningful way. 

The numbers for October 28, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-28 09:04

Six years and $3 trillion later, quantitative easing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve is expected to make an announcement following a tw0-day meeting in Washington this week. The Washington Post has an interesting history of the bond-buying "experiment," noting QE was originally intended as a one-time injection into the economy, but has been used to stimulate growth in many areas.

As we await official word from Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the policy, here are some other stories we're reading — and numbers we're watching — Tuesday:

3.5 million

That's how many customers have had their Internet speed slowed down more than 25 million times by AT&T since fall 2011, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday. Many of these customers are heavy data users with unlimited plans, which AT&T no longer offers, Reuters reported. The FTC called the throttling "deceptive," with some customers' speeds slowed up to 90 percent.

300 million

The number of people using Alibaba's payment system, Alipay. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, fresh off a massive IPO, is set to meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook this week to talk about potential partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported. Apple just launched its own mobile payment system last week. 

25

The number of times per second new RFID chips installed in NFL players' shoulder pads transmit their location. The new sensors allow for near-real-time motion tracking and player data of unparalleled depth, the Verge reported. The league is experimenting with these "next-gen stats" in games this year, with an eye toward putting more sensors on all players and, eventually, the ball.

9

The number of movies Marvel Studios announced through 2019 at an event in Los Angeles Tuesday. It's a shot across the bow at DC Comics' similarly huge plan, announced earlier this month, for ten new films through 2020. 

The 21-year-old who owns a factory in China

Tue, 2014-10-28 07:02

Alex Shlaferman was 11 years old when he made $10,000 by selling DVDs that taught viewers how to levitate. At the age of 16, he founded his company, Vante Toys. His venture has been so successful that he now owns his own manufacturing company in China.

Vante Toys is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

"I create products for the mass market," says Shlaferman. "My specialty is products that are under like 20 bucks, that’s what I’m good at. I don’t understand luxury goods or high-end fashion; I understand products that sell for like ten, twenty bucks."

The 21-year-old that owns a factory in China

Tue, 2014-10-28 07:02

Alex Shlaferman was 11 years old when he made $10,000 by selling DVDs that taught viewers how to levitate. At the age of 16, he founded his company, Vante Toys. His venture has been so successful that he now owns his own manufacturing company in China.

Vante Toys is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

"I create products for the mass market," says Shlaferman. "My specialty is products that are under like 20 bucks, that’s what I’m good at. I don’t understand luxury goods or high-end fashion; I understand products that sell for like ten, twenty bucks."

A holiday rush at ports piles up cargo

Tue, 2014-10-28 06:18

There’s a traffic jam in Los Angeles, but this one’s not on the freeways. The port complex  of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest, is so backed up right now that some importers are avoiding the port altogether. Problems there are delaying some shipments for two weeks or more. The bottleneck is giving southern California’s ports “a black eye,” says Jock O’Connell, international trade adviser at Beacon Economics.

There’s congestion at many ports right now, but the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex handles 40 percent of U.S. imports, so the ripple effects are long and wide.  If retailers are "planning on having it stocked for the Christmas holiday, it needs to be in the port now, it needs to be moving through,” says Frank Layo, a partner with Kurt Salmon Associates. “So any delays now are kind of critical. We’re running out of runway.”

Port officials say the delays at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are rooted in a shortage of trailer chassis, to load the containers onto. But that problem has been exacerbated by an unexpected surge in imports this year, along with the sudden rise of “mega-ships.” They can carry three times as many containers as older ships and they’re straining port capacity. Others say unresolved labor negotiations at the port are crimping efforts to ease the port’s traffic jam as well.

Some retailers are diverting shipments to other ports and a few are even flying merchandise into the U.S.  But Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says they’re working hard to ease congestion. “At the end of the day our reputation is at stake,” says Hacegaba. “Beneficial cargo owners have choices. And we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we continue to be the gateway of choice.”

PODCAST: The NBA banks major net gains

Tue, 2014-10-28 03:00

We might be on the cusp of a change in the business-evolution of online video. Hint: it involves YouTube, which is owned by Google, and paid subscription service. And the NBA season starts tonight with three games, and the promise of a lot of money. This month the basketball league announced a 9-year, $24 billion deal with TV networks; nearly tripling the cash it gets from broadcasting. But the trickle-down started before the deal was even signed. Plus, since the landmark "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision in 2010, money from outside groups has poured into elections. In Iowa, what's unusual this year is that in addition to a blizzard of TV ads, members of outside groups are also out knocking doors

The $128 million dollar supercomputer

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Cray, a Seattle based supercomputer company, just announced that they will be supplying the UK's Met Office, their version of the national weather service, with its next generation supercomputer worth over $128 million.

The machine itself looks like a bunch of refrigerators, known as racks, lined up next to one another.

Barry Boulding, Vice President of Business Development for Cray, says, "Weather forecasting today is more than just the morning news. It's really about providing a set of products to financial markets and the defense industry. What the Met Office just purchased will give them the ability to deliver 13 times more to their customers than they were able to deliver in their previous business."

Technology and the level of computing power continues to improve, and with it, the accuracy of forecasts. But along with more capability comes more complex questions. 

Click the media player above to hear Barry Boulding in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Old old old MacDonald had a farm

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Wave Williams, a 4th-generation farmer at Gardeners Gourmet in Westminster, Maryland, knows first-hand that getting into farming is difficult.

“A lot of the people that are farming are the sons, the daughters, the grandkids of the farmers,” Williams said as he sold vegetables at Washington DC’s Eastern Market. “Even if you want to start farming, it’s really hard because to get the land, it’s expensive. So the only people that are actually going to have the land are the people it got passed from the generations, like our family, for instance.”

At 26, Williams stands out in the agricultural industry. American farmers are older than they ever have been. In 2012, the average farmer was 58, compared to 50 in 1982, according to the Census of Agriculture. It’s a 30-year trend.

And while farmers are aging, fewer young people are entering the industry.

Creating an even farming field

The biggest obstacles beginning farmers face are access to capital and land, according to a 2011 survey by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC).

It costs a couple million dollars to get the land, equipment, machines, seeds and more to start a small farm, according to David Fowler of Sunnyside Farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland, who’s been farming for 50 years.

“There’s no guaranteed retirement, there’s no guaranteed income,” he said. “What you make today is spent yesterday. You don’t have any money until you die because all your assets is tied up in your equipment and your land.”

This is why young people aren’t going into farming. “Besides that, they don’t like to work,” Fowler said. “Farming’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job with no time off. And young people just are not going to do that anymore.”

That’s where organizations like the National FFA Organization (FFA) and NYFC come in.

FFA tries to eliminate obstacles that keep young people from entering agricultural fields by offering students Supervised Agricultural Experience grants, scholarships, proficiency awards, internships and other resources, according to Dwight Armstrong, CEO of the National FFA Organization and National FFA Foundation.

FFA offers mentorships and other opportunities for middle and high school students to learn agricultural methods. Armstrong encourages those in agricultural fields and older generations of farmers to get involved with FFA, 4-H or similar groups.

NYFC, founded in 2010, uses a different approach to encourage young people into farming. The group of young farmers, with 24 chapters in 22 states, pushes for policy shifts.

They’ve been talking to Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) about introducing a bill that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which currently offers loan forgiveness for teachers, physicians, not-for-profit and government employees. Student loan debt makes it difficult for beginning farmers to get a mortgage, credit, land and equipment, according to Lindsey Shute, the Executive Director of NYFC.

“What we’re asking is the U.S. government put farming in the category of public service, which it really is,” Shute said. “There is a group of young people that want to farm. But to enable them to make a career of farming, there has to be structural change.”

Changes taking hold

FFA is seeing record-high membership with 610,000 members and 7,570 chapters across the country. And new chapters are starting in urban areas like Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia. Two-thirds of FFA members live in suburban or urban locations. Brian Walsh, 21, the president of FFA, believes the organization is effectively helping more young people get into agriculture.

Walsh said FFA is reaching members who might not be traditionally interested in agriculture because the industry is diversifying.

“Agriculture is interesting,” he said. “We see it all over the news, we see it everywhere. People want to know where their food comes from. It’s no longer just large conventional farming. There’s organic farming, there’s locally grown foods.”

There is constant innovation in the agricultural industry, Walsh said.

He’s witnessed this innovation and various pathways to agriculture while traveling across the country since 2013. In his travels, Walsh has seen ag-science programs and greenhouses at schools. He’s spreading the message to FFA chapters that agriculture needs young people to survive.

“Farmers are arguably one of the most important professions in the U.S.,” said Shute, who runs Hearty Roots Community Farm with her husband in Germantown, N.Y. “They’re taking soil, water, sunshine, seeds and turning that into value and feeding local people and creating very vibrant economies. So this issue of farmers aging is so vital to the future of our country.”

Outside groups launch ground game in Iowa

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Since the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision in 2010, there’s been more and more participation in electoral politics by groups not coordinated with campaigns or parties. In Iowa, what’s unusual this year is — in addition to a blizzard of TV ads — outside groups are out knocking on doors. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, roughly $50 Million dollars of outside money has been spent on Iowa’s close open Senate race. A fraction of that money was spent to put Denise Bubeck on this Des Moines voter’s doorstep.

“I’m letting people know the policies of Bruce Braley that we don’t agree with. You know, the healthcare law,” Denise Bubeck says to a voter on his doorstep.

Bubeck won’t tell you who to vote for, but it’s evident she’s not a fan of the Democrat in the race: Four-term Congressman Bruce Braley.

“The bailouts, the stimulus package, the spending. And so we’ve been encouraging people to vote,” says Bubeck. 

“Oh, I hear ya. I’m on the same page,” the voter responds.

Bubeck never mentions Iowa state senator Joni Ernst, the Republican in the race. That’s because Bubeck is a paid staffer with Americans for Prosperity. It’s a social welfare organization that’s limited in how it can engage in electoral politics. It also doesn’t have to reveal its donors. AFP was started by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, a conservative group often demonized by Democrats.

“It’s a lot easier to raise some money and throw some ads on TV,” says Drew Klein, the deputy director of AFP’s Iowa chapter. He says knocking doors is a more effective way to connect with voters.

“Looking back at 2008 and 2012, that’s really where the left dominated both the size of the presence and the effectiveness of their presence,” Klein says. “I think it has been kind of a learning curve for us.”

Both liberal and conservative groups are pounding Iowa pavement. The increasing participation by outside groups has become an issue in itself in this race that could determine what party holds the majority in the senate. That’s a problem, says Drake Political Science Professor Dennis Goldford. 

“So the campaigns become not about issues that matter to voters,” Goldford says. “The campaigns become campaigns about campaigns themselves.”

Goldford says outside money is nothing new in Iowa; it’s just the unprecedented volume and intensity in this midterm. He says with all this outside money sloshing around, Iowans shouldn’t be surprised if it sticks around long after November 4th.  After all, once the polls of the midterm close, it’s 2016 Iowa caucus season.

 

How the NBA TV deal is already having an effect

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The NBA season starts Tuesday night with a lot of hope toward the future. Earlier this month, the basketball league announced a $24 billion deal to allow TV networks to carry its games, nearly tripling the league's broadcast revenues compared to its previous deal.

But the trickle-down effect of the cash infusion started even before the deal — scheduled to start in 2016 and last until 2025 — was even signed. That’s because NBA watchers and insiders had been expecting a more lucrative TV contract, although best guesses had assumed a doubling of fees, not a near tripling.

Nevertheless, that anticipation of a cash infusion had already had an effect, says Victor Matheson, who specializes in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross.

“Just a couple years ago, we thought that a team like the Clippers may be worth $500 million, maybe a billion. And all of a sudden the Clippers are selling for $2 billion,” Matheson says.

Valuations are forecast to go up for the other 29 teams as well. And players have also been factoring in the expected TV cash, too, says Raymond Sauer, who teaches sports economics at Clemson University.

"LeBron James signed a short-term contract, so he’s positioned to re-up, as it where, with the new revenue streams,” says Sauer.

And for those players who don’t have contract renewals coming up, the NBA and the players’ union are now looking into how to best spread the wealth. One of the options that may be considered is a combination of a raise of the current salary cap — set at 51 percent of revenues — and a payment to the union, which then would distribute money among players.

The NBA, by the numbers:

$24 billion

The deal the league struck to allow TV networks to carry its games, nearly tripling their broadcast revenues.

11.7 million

The number of followers for the NBA’s official Twitter handle. That’s the highest of the four major American sports leagues, by far. (NFL = 7.68 million, MLB = 3.93 million, NHL = 2.8 million.)

6

The number of NBA teams with at least one million followers on Twitter. The Los Angeles Lakers lead all teams with 4.02 million. The other five teams are the Miami Heat (2.78 million), the Chicago Bulls (1.76 million), the Boston Celtics (1.54 million), the Orlando Magic (1.2 million), and the New York Knicks (1.04 million).

3

The number of years the NBA has presented "Social Media Awards." The awards were slightly expanded in 2014 with more categories.

$2 billion

 The record-breaking price Steve Ballmer paid for the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year.

29 teams

 Besides the Clippers who hope the league's coffers keep flowing.

Fed set to end its bond buying

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The Federal Open Market Committee could call it quits on QE3 after meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. The Fed has bought more than $4 trillion worth of Treasuries and Mortgage bonds in its extraordinary effort to stimulate the economy.

For six years, the Fed has used some form of the unconventional monetary policy known as quantitative easing. When that ends, the Fed still has its conventional tools.

“So the Fed still can influence short-term rates, thirty-day rates, overnight rates,” says Rutgers University’s Morris Davis, who was once an economist with the Federal Reserve Board. “It just has decided it will not try to influence longer term rates like the ten-year Treasury or mortgage-backed securities.”

But even if the Fed stops its bond buying program, it won’t stop buying bonds. Interest-rate strategist Ian Lyngen with CRT Capital Group says the Fed plans to replace all those securities it owns as they mature. He says the Fed wants to maintain the size of its balance sheet for now, with those trillions injected in the economy.

He describes the thinking like this:

“We’ve put that much more money into the system, and we’ve provided that much more stimulus. And as long as we’re not shrinking the size of our balance sheet, then we’re continuing to keep our foot on the pedal.”

We’re just not accelerating more.

Change to PLUS loan program hits HBCUs hard

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Several U.S. colleges have seen declining enrollment since the recession began. But changes to a federal loan program in 2011 have hit some historically black colleges and universities especially hard.

Clark Atlanta sophomore Jasmine Johnson says waiting for a federal Parent PLUS loan to be approved can be stressful.

“My freshman year when I got here, I didn’t have enough money because my Parent PLUS hadn’t been approved yet. They didn’t let me move in my dorm, and I was like, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’” Johnson says. “’I have no family in Atlanta,’ and they just were like, ‘Well, you can’t move in.’”

The new PLUS loan requirements mean fewer HBCU students now qualify. In a two-year period, Clark Atlanta’s enrollment dropped about 13 percent.

“It’s not like they’re Ohio State, with over 100,000 students,” says University of Pennsylvania professor and HBCU expert Marybeth Gasman. “An institution like Prairie View, for example, in Prairie View, Texas, has about 8,000 students. If they lose 100, 200, 300 students, they’re going to feel an impact.”

Gasman says federal officials didn't warn schools about the changes. She says HBCUs really felt the squeeze because they serve a higher number of low-income students who need to apply for loans.

The changes initially caused a 6 percent enrollment drop at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The school lost about $17 million in revenue, resulting in Moody’s downgrading its credit rating.

Graphic courtesy of Public Broadcasting Atlanta.

Lenora Jackson is the director of financial aid at Atlanta’s Spelman College. She says the changes initially impacted about 200 of the school’s 2,000 students.

“Two hundred students not coming back does affect the bottom line of our budget,” Jackson says. “So, we had to come up with some very strategic ways of getting those students back in school.”

Jackson says Spelman was proactive. The school offered students scholarships to make up the gap and coached parents on how to seek an appeal.

Atlanta’s Morehouse College, on the other hand, had to cut $2.5 million from its budget. That meant laying off 50 employees.

Gasman says it’s not a crisis yet. Enrollment is up at some HBCUs. But, she says, if schools like Morehouse and Spelman can’t recover, the effects could be widespread.

“If we did not have these institutions, we would have a huge drop in the number of these students becoming doctors, becoming pharmacists, becoming scientists,” she says.

Federal officials recently published changes to the PLUS loan. The new standards would relax some of the loan’s credit requirements starting in the fall of 2015. 

Fed set to end its bond buying

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The Federal Open Market Committee could call it quits on QE3 after meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. The Fed has bought more than $4 trillion worth of Treasuries and Mortgage bonds in its extraordinary effort to stimulate the economy.

For six years, the Fed has used some form of the unconventional monetary policy known as quantitative easing. When that ends, the Fed still has its conventional tools.

“So the Fed still can influence short-term rates, thirty-day rates, overnight rates,” says Rutgers University’s Morris Davis, who was once an economist with the Federal Reserve Board. “It just has decided it will not try to influence longer term rates like the ten-year Treasury or mortgage-backed securities.”

But even if the Fed stops its bond buying program, it won’t stop buying bonds. Interest-rate strategist Ian Lyngen with CRT Capital Group says the Fed plans to replace all those securities it owns as they mature. He says the Fed wants to maintain the size of its balance sheet for now, with those trillions injected in the economy.

He describes the thinking like this:

“We’ve put that much more money into the system, and we’ve provided that much more stimulus. And as long as we’re not shrinking the size of our balance sheet, then we’re continuing to keep our foot on the pedal.”

We’re just not accelerating more.

Want the best price online? Good luck with that.

Mon, 2014-10-27 13:04

Here's some not-so-happy news as the holiday shopping season continues: The price you see online for a given item may not be the same as the price others see. The retailer may ask you for more money, or just show you an array of more-expensive products, depending on what kind of machine you’re using, or whether you're logged into their website, or your browser. That’s the bad news from a recent paper by researchers at Northeastern University.

The worse news is: It’s really, really hard to tell what conditions might get you the best price. 

Earlier reports had documented individual quirks: Staples might charge you a $1.50 more for a stapler depending on your ZIP code. The CEO of Orbitz once acknowledged steering Mac users to fancier hotels.

This study was more rigorous, and it found systematic differences in which users see what products, at what prices. The systems were tricky to detect and would be super-hard for consumers to game. 

"Initially, we assumed the best thing was just going to be ‘clear your cookies,’" says Christo Wilson, a computer science professor and one of the study's co-authors. "But it turns out to be much more nuanced than that."

For instance, clearing your cookies gets you slightly more-random results on Expedia. Android customers see higher-priced items when they search Home Depot, and sometimes the same items at a higher price. Travelocity seems to offer better deals to iPhone users.

That last part — different prices for different customers — is called price discrimination. Which sounds bad, but in general is actually really popular.

"This happens all the time in the real world," says Wilson.  "People get discounts, there’s coupons — people love it.  But it’s typically transparent."

You know when there’s an early-bird special, or a discount for using a loyalty card. The price is right there on the shelf, or in an ad, or on the menu.

"Online stores aren't like physical stores," says Internet policy consultant David Robinson. "It's not just one set of offers, and everybody sees the same store. When you're on the Internet, it could be a totally different store."

And how would you ever know? The Northeastern University researchers ran tests that no home user could ever replicate, and came back with only partial results. They recruited hundreds of people online to run an initial round of tests, then created fake accounts in order to isolate variables.  The initial tests showed that Sears sometimes offered the same item for different prices, but the "lab" tests couldn't isolate a variable that triggered a different price.  

This study didn't even test Amazon. With so many different merchants selling on that site, it would have been hard to differentiate offers by Amazon itself from offers by other retailers. 

"One of the problems with the capability of a company to personalize the terms on which is offers you services and the price is this information asymmetry. You don’t know when they’re doing it," says Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who studies privacy rights.

If you’re determined to try to find better prices online, here are some tips.

Be warned: They are not for the instant-gratification-oriented. Effort is involved. So is patience.

 

Delia Ephron: "Nora always said we shared half a brain"

Mon, 2014-10-27 11:20

When the hilarious and typically New York-neurotic author Delia Ephron sat down with Marketplace, she had some numbers to share with us. 

  • Uber rating: 4.5. "I was in a car uptown and the driver told me, you have a 4.5. If it drops to a 4, no one will pick you up." The answer? "Tip $5 to get 5."
  • Blowdry rating: (undisclosed). Ephron admitted to 2 blowouts per week, at an untold cost, plus taxi fare to and from. "It's breaking me."
  • PageRank: "I Googled you [Kai]. The first thing that comes up is your salary."
  • Nervous rating: "I'm not the person you want sitting in the exit row on an airplane. I go from 0 to 100 faster than anyone you've ever met."

Marketplace's road show, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers, wraps up in Los Angeles, Saturday, November 8. Buy tickets here

Caught the common cold? You have everyone to blame

Mon, 2014-10-27 11:00

While we're all freaking out about Ebola, here's yet another thing to worry about catching: If someone with a cold touches an office doorknob, within four hours that virus is found on the hands of half of the people who work in that office, according to a study by the American Society for Microbiology.

The most contaminated surface?

The common coffee pot.

The good news?

At least your coffee pot can't give you Ebola.

Why did Rite Aid and CVS block Apple Pay?

Mon, 2014-10-27 11:00

Need to pick up a prescription? How about some shampoo or Tic Tacs?

Last week, consumers with the newest iPhones could have used the Apple Pay system to make payments with their devices at their local Rite Aid and CVS.

But no more; those two chains have pulled the plug on Apple Pay, saying only that they’re still evaluating payment options for their customers.

The reversal was poorly executed and a bad idea for CVS and Rite Aid, says Deborah Baxley, a payments consultant with CapGemini.

“It’s already having an effect because the Twitterverse is exploding with disgruntled Apple Pay customers,” she explains. “So I think these merchants are effectively shooting themselves in the foot.”

But she says the impact will likely be more reputational, less bottom-line.

“[The stores are] saying, 'We control the terminal,'” says Mary Monahan, the head of mobile at Javelin Strategy & Research. “'We control the customer relationship and if you don’t listen to us, then we’re just not going to turn on these terminals.'”

Monahan expects Apple Pay to be successful in the next few years, but says the company will likely need to reach out to merchants.

“Apple Pay doesn’t offer loyalty [programs], doesn’t give the merchant anything to bring the customer back into the store,” she explains. “So Apple’s going to need to add that to really sweeten the pot for these merchants to turn on Apple Pay.”

“Given that we are still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options, Rite Aid does not currently accept ApplePay,” spokeswoman Ashley Flower wrote in an emailed statement. “We are continually evaluating various forms of mobile payment technologies, and are committed to offering convenient, reliable and secure payment methods that meet the needs of our customers.”

CVS also said only that it’s still evaluating different mobile payment technologies.

But the stores are also part of the Merchant Customer Exchange, which is developing its own payment system called CurrentC. Many analysts believe these stores are blocking Apple Pay to wait for that launch in 2015.

“The best thing you can do if you’re waiting for your system to come online and be a competitor is to make sure that there’s as much hesitation on part of consumers to adopt that new standard as possible, to buy yourself time so that you can actually compete,” says Pai-Ling Yin, a researcher at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

She says while this was a bad move for Rite Aid and CVS, it might be the right move for CurrentC.

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