News You Can Use: 1/3/2018

  • The Google-Facebook Duopoly Threatens Diversity of Thought

    When virtually all online advertising goes through two companies, however, they have the power to harm websites arbitrarily. One political blog that posted an article trying to distinguish the “alt-right” from white nationalism received a warning email from Google’s AdSense team. An editor took the article down, explaining to readers that the blog “needs revenue from the Google ad platform in order to survive.” You needn’t agree with the editorial decision to publish the article to be troubled by Google’s vetoing it.

    In his 2014 book “Zero to One,” Peter Thiel notes that because Google “doesn’t have to worry about competing with anyone, it has wider latitude to care about . . . its impact on the wider world.” If executives at a Silicon Valley monopoly believe that censoring certain content will push the world in a positive direction, market pressures cannot sufficiently restrain them.

    Journalists also argue that tech companies are pushing media toward the lowest common denominator. Social media rewards clickbait—sensational headlines that confirm readers’ biases. Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly bleeds traditional publishers of the revenue needed to produce high-quality news. At the same time, Google’s search engine is biased against subscription content, depleting another source of funding.

  • China’s New Lenders Collect Invasive Data and Offer Billions. Beijing Is Worried.

    In November, the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, stopped companies and people from starting new online cash lending platforms. In early December, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said it would crack down on unlicensed cash loan companies and put a lid on high-interest loans.

    China’s small loans are piling up. More than 8,600 companies offer some form of small loan, and about $145 billion of those debts remain unpaid, according to the People’s Bank of China. Other estimates run as high as $392 billion, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The government does not track default rates among online lenders, which disclose little on their own.

    “We are worried that in an environment where there is no effective credit system, people tend to overborrow, especially when capital comes in,” said Bai Chengyu, an executive at the China Association of Microfinance, who is no relation to Bai Shichao.

  • 2017 in 7 minutes
  • Internet Tightens: Popular Chinese WeChat App to Become Official ID

    “The data these companies collect is richer and thicker than what the government can collect, so the typical case now is the government going to the companies to get information,” said Severine Arsene, managing editor of AsiaGlobal Online at the University of Hong Kong’s Asia Global Institute. “This shows how much power the companies hold.”

    The move from physical ID cards to digital images makes sense in a country where people use their mobile devices for an array of daily functions, from shopping to paying restaurant bills to streaming videos, Ms. Arsene said, but it also carries risks that the companies might be seen to be working too closely with the government.

    Hosting a huge repository of government data also increases the threat it could be compromised, said Paul McKenzie, a managing partner of law firm Morrison Foerster.

    “In the course of deploying this technology, WeChat may end up with huge volumes of data associated with people’s ID cards and other personal information,” Mr. McKenzie said. “If that’s the case, the security of WeChat ’s network from hacks will be critical.”

  • Use This Five-Point Guide to Find Patience When You’re Annoyed

    Over at Quick and Dirty Tips, Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, writes that patience is a kind of self-control, which, she says, is “the ability to regulate your emotions and behavior, even when your impulses are screaming otherwise.” Thus, patience is a state of mind that can be trained and strengthened—it’s not a rarefied state for saints and superheroes. And annoyance, as anyone who’s stewed in it will recognize, is a subset of anger.

    Hendriksen draws on research about self-control and anger to draw up this five-point guide to letting go of annoyance and find patience:

    1. Know that your goal will still be achieved.
    2. Give yourself what you need in your imagination.
    3. Change your conclusion.
    4. Pretend you’re being watched.
    5. Save the story for later.

Photo: Geran de Klerk

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