Where’s the Value? An Inside Look at Walmart’s Flipkart Deal


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Now, that the storm has settled a bit, a deeper analysis of the mega deal.

The big takeaway from the present deal is that deep pockets win. This is a maxim that has been demonstrated over and over again, especially in B2C technology plays. A certain disdain for capital efficiency, a focus on gaining share and a relentless focus on killing competition define today’s leading companies. Flipkart would have been in the news for very different reasons had it not been for the timely fund infusion by SoftBank in 2017. Growth had stalled, the annual burn was high and unit economics were unsustainable. And yet, as part of the strategy of Lee Fixel of Tiger Global and Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart doubled down on not ceding market share to Amazon, whatever the capital burn. This in turn caught Softbank’s eye (whose earlier investment in Snapdeal was not working to its expectations).

The complete article

Rajat Kumar — Knowledge@Wharton

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Is technology bringing history to life or distorting it?


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Earlier History would be subject to interpretation of historians basis scant evidence. But, now History can be recreated to tell the story you want to say.

Taking more than 116,000 snippets of speech from samples of the 35th president’s other recordings, a Scottish “voice cloning” firm has produced a Kennedy-esque rendition of his final scripted words:

“America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason,” a virtual version of that unmistakable Boston Brahmin accent intones, “or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

The complete article

Steve Hendrix — The Washington Post

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How the Golden State Killer Case Ignited a Privacy Debate


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What is also worrisome about the potential uses of DNA data is that “it doesn’t have to be your own” to help establish links, said Field. “If a cousin of yours decides to donate DNA information, it’s out there,” he added. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t prevent your cousin from doing that, and you probably don’t even know [about] it. That’s a really tough one for the law to address.” Up until now, the assumption was that an individual would have the autonomy to decide who could see his or her genetic information, but that is no longer the case, he noted.

The complete article

Knowledge@Wharton

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Learning from Gossip about Free Speech


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Revelations about Facebook are the latest manifestation of dysfunction. Not only is Facebook lax about regulating the speech that takes place on its gargantuan platform, but the very nature of the platform is the result of an unregulated economic market. If Facebook is being used successfully to steal elections, spread false news, and infringe upon civil liberties, then it is undermining the very fabric of democracy.

Ironically, gossip can help to address some of these problems. You might think that gossip is the problem, if by that word we mean self-serving and often fallacious talk about others. But that’s not how gossip works in small-scale societies around the world.

The complete article

David Sloan Wilson — The Evolution Institute

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Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017, say Princeton researchers


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There was a Princeton study in 2014 which compared Facebook to an infectious disease. According to the study, Facebook will lose 80% of its users by 2017. The prediction seems to have missed its mark. But, really?

In this paper we have applied a modified epidemiological model to describe the adoption and abandonment dynamics of user activity of online social networks. Using publicly available Google data for search query Myspace as a case study, we showed that the traditional SIR model for modeling disease dynamics provides a poor description of the data. A 75% decrease in SSE is achieved by modifying the traditional SIR model to incorporate infectious recovery dynamics, which is a better description of OSN dynamics. Having validated the irSIR model of OSN dynamics on Google data for search query Myspace, we then applied the model to the Google data for search query Facebook. Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.

The complete study

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I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.


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Everyone is now really looking into how much data these big companies have about you. You will be surprised, to say the least.

With a few clicks, I learned that about 500 advertisers — many that I had never heard of, like Bad Dad, a motorcycle parts store, and Space Jesus, an electronica band — had my contact information, which could include my email address, phone number and full name. Facebook also had my entire phone book, including the number to ring my apartment buzzer. The social network had even kept a permanent record of the roughly 100 people I had deleted from my friends list over the last 14 years, including my exes.

The complete article

Brian X. Chen — The New York Times

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Psychological Weapons of Mass Persuasion


In short, it is important to remember that psychological weapons of mass persuasion do not need to be based on highly accurate models, nor do they require huge effects across the population in order to have the ability to undermine the democratic process. In addition, we are only seeing a fraction of the data, which means that scientific research may well be underestimating the influence of these tools. For example, most academic studies use self-reported survey experiments, which do not always accurately simulate the true social dynamics in which online news consumption takes place. Even when Facebook downplayed the importance of the echo chamber effect in their own Science study, the data was based on a tiny snapshot of users (i.e. those who declared their political ideology or about 4% of the total Facebook population). Furthermore, predictive analytics companies do not go through ethical review boards or run highly controlled studies using one or two messages at a time. Instead, they spend millions on testing thirty to forty thousand messages a day across many different audiences, fine-tuning their algorithms, refining their messages, and so on.

The complete article

Sander van der Linden — Scientific American