World News

Trump and Biden are using campaign apps to gather mounds of voter data

Millions of citizens involved in the 2020 presidential campaign, including organizers, volunteers and fervent supporters, have downloaded a campaign app like Vote Joe or Trump 2020.

When they download it, users give the app their phone number, thereby subscribing them to a stream of texts encouraging them to get more involved. The Biden app asks for access to user's contact list. The Trump asks for access to user's GPS and Bluetooth data.

It's a lot of information to give away, but most of us are used to the exchange by now. After all, apps from Google Maps to Angry Birds to Instagram collect tons of user data, and advertisers have been scooping up as much of it as they can for years. Hyper-targeted commercial advertising is the norm.

Now, politicians are catching up to the advertisers. That has many privacy advocates concerned, including Sam Woolley, an assistant professor and the project director for propaganda research at the University of Texas at Austin.

"People have gotten really used to this idea that we just give away our data, whether it's we give away our data to Google Maps or we give away our data to third party applications or to Facebook," Woolley says, "The thing that's particularly worrying about campaigns, political campaigns, using applications to gather data is that they're using it for politics. They're using it in attempts to kind of game the democratic system."

Right now, the two parties have different approaches. For Democrats, the name of the game is "relational organizing" — getting supporters toreach out to friends and family on behalf of the campaign.

That's why the Vote Joe app asks for access to user's contact list. If permission is granted, the app matches a user's contacts with the national voter file, allowing them to filter friends and family by political affiliation, voting history, and whether or not they live in a battleground state, thereby helping volunteers understand where their efforts would be best spent.

It's a strategy that the Obama team implemented with great success in 2008 and 2012, and while it may seem pretty innocuous, Woolley says we have reason to be concerned.

"This relational organizing, it's a coin with two sides," he says. "The best way to change someone's mind about something that they believe in politically is to talk to them and to know them. But also, the best way to manipulate someone is also to get someone that they care about to share information with them."

As this outreach strategy becomes less personal and more automated, the potential for manipulation grows.

Republicans haven't implemented relational organizing to near the same degree. But the Trump 2020 app is a clear example of their data collection strategy. Built by Phunware, the Austin-based mobile software company well-known for its advanced location tracking capabilities, Trump 2020 is a gamified outreach tool, news aggregator, media creator, and virtual events platform, with a maximalist approach to data collection.

"The difference between even the Trump and the Biden campaign is so profound, it's not even funny," says Phunware CEO Alan Knitowski, "That's the difference between building a Ferrari and having a beat-up used pickup truck."

Trump's app requires a phone number, full name, email and zip code to sign up, and users are immediately asked to share their location information. While the app says it needs this to show users events in their area, Woolley's research associate Jacob Gursky says the campaign could easily use it for other purposes.

"All these tiny things, the contact list to send text messages, the location to find rallies, all these things are collected, centralized and out of your power how they're used."

In the past, Republicans have put Bluetooth beacons in lawn signs to track who passes by, a company called Beacontrac told Mashable, and have set up geofences around churches to identify attendees of Catholic Mass who aren't registered to vote, according to NPR. Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale has spoken openly about the vast amount of voter data gathered at Trump's rallies.

Woolley doesn't know exactly how the campaign is using location information right now, but he speculates that it could be tracking voter's most sensitive comings and goings.

"They want to know if you're going to church on Sunday or if you're going to the shooting range or if you're going to the abortion clinic. And then once they have that kind of information, they can triangulate that information with other data points that they have in order to really get you with personalized advertising."

As Woolley and Gursky see it, the main problem is that all of this is legal. Republican or Democrat, any politician could gather all this data. And even though users are opting in, they may have no idea how their personal information is really being used.

"We need really strict regulation upon both the commercial side and the political side of data gathering," Woolley says, citing Europe's GDPR as a model for setting strict regulations regarding transparency, consent, and user control over personal data. 

"Regular people don't have time on their hands to figure out how much data is being gathered about them," he adds. "It's not that they're not smart. It's just they don't have the time and that they're really overwhelmed. And so we've got to do something more about it."

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World News

Amazon has resumed policies that penalize workers for taking too many breaks, just in time for Prime Day

  • Amazon workers in Staten Island said the company resumed tracking productivity rates in its facilities, which they claim puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
  • In July, Amazon said it wouldn't take disciplinary action if workers fell short of productivity quotas, saying it knew workers needed the extra time to wash their hands, sanitize their workstation and practice social distancing.

Amazon warehouse workers claim the company has resumed tracking their productivity on the job, putting them at greater risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, according to a court filing submitted Wednesday.

Three employees at Amazon's Staten Island facility, known as JFK8, filed a lawsuit against Amazon in June, alleging the company made the facility a "place of danger" by impeding efforts to stop the spread of the virus and prioritizing productivity over safety. 

In the latest filing, the employees said Amazon reinstated its policies known as "rate" and "time off task" at JFK8 on Oct. 7, despite the company's previous claim that it wouldn't enforce those policies out of concern for their safety during the pandemic. 

"Amazon has reassured the court that it has put into place numerous protocols — like contact tracing, prompt and full paid Covid-19 leave and modifications to productivity policies — in order to ensure a safe working environment at JFK8," said Karla Gilbride, one of the attorneys representing the workers, in a letter to the judge overseeing their case. "But as this (undisclosed) rollback of the productivity feedback suspension shows, Amazon has not been honest and forthcoming with plaintiffs, or this court."

Amazon tracks the number of "time off tasks" workers log each day as a measure of productivity. If workers take a break from scanning packages for too long, Amazon's internal systems will log it as a TOT and generate a warning, which can later lead to firings. 

Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told CNBC in a statement that the company's performance expectations ensure workers have additional time to sanitize their workspace, wash their hands and practice social distancing, as needed. 

"We have reinstated a portion of our process where a fraction of employees, less than 5% on average, may receive coaching for improvement as a result of extreme outliers in performance," Lighty said.

The company had said in previous court filings that it wouldn't discipline employees for falling short of productivity quotas. It said it "ceased providing productivity rate feedback to associates and imposing any discipline related to low productivity rates" in March, and extended the policy indefinitely in April. 

But earlier this month, one JFK8 worker was given "verbal coaching" by their manager and told that disciplinary action for low rates would resume because "Amazon needed its employees to work faster during peak season," according to the latest employee lawsuit filing.

Additionally, a message on a whiteboard in the facility instructed employees of their rate goal, noting that productivity feedback would resume Oct. 7, the filing said.

Amazon's "peak" season is expected to be busier than ever this year, with Prime Day and the holiday shopping period occurring back to back. Peak season typically refers to the week before Black Friday through Christmas, during which warehouses are fully staffed and employees are required to work overtime. Amazon's Prime Day, which started Tuesday and ends Wednesday, will add an extra month onto peak season.

Amazon has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic-fueled rush to online shopping and Prime Day is expected to be just as lucrative for the company. eMarketer estimated Prime Day sales could hit close to $10 billion.

JFK8 workers said they're concerned that the beginning of peak season has given Amazon a pass to forgo necessary coronavirus safety measures like suspending productivity feedback. 

"Amazon is now treating the pandemic – and the need for measures to protect workers' health and wellbeing – as a thing of the past," said Gilbride, a senior attorney Public Justice, which joined several labor advocacy groups in filing the lawsuit on behalf of workers.

Workers have also questioned whether Amazon fully stopped providing productivity feedback during the pandemic like it said it would. Hibaq Mohamed, an Amazon warehouse worker in Minnesota, said in July that she was written up for logging too many time off tasks. Mohamed also claimed she was written up in retaliation for speaking out against the company's labor practices, an allegation that Amazon denied.

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World News

Apple notches biggest gain since July on anticipation of next iPhone

  • Shares of Apple soared Monday, as investors looked ahead to the company's product launch that's expected to reveal new iPhones.
  • It marks the biggest gains for the company since July 31, when Apple stock closed up 10.47% due to its blowout third quarter.

Shares of Apple soared 6.35% Monday, as investors looked ahead to the company's product launch that's expected to reveal new iPhones.

It marks the biggest gains for the company since July 31, when Apple stock closed up 10.47% after reporting a blowoutquarter.

Apple is expected on Tuesday to reveal the first major redesign of the iPhone's exterior since 2017. The company is also likely to release four separate iPhones at different screen sizes and prices, marking a wider range for the company than typical. It's also expected to release iPhones with 5G cellular network, which promise faster download times.

"We expect this fall's launch to be the most significant iPhone event in years," Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a note this week. Huberty is forecasting Apple to ship about 220 million iPhones in its fiscal 2021, which would be up 22% year-over-year, according to the Morgan Stanley model.

Many iPhone owners are also likely due for an upgrade, according to Wedbush Securities.

"With our estimation that 350 million of 950 million iPhones worldwide are currently in the window of an upgrade opportunity, we believe this will translate into an unprecedented upgrade cycle for Cook & Co," the analysts wrote.

Wall Street could also be using history as a gauge ahead of Tuesday's event. Apple stock has a long history of outperforming in the months following the release of its new iPhones.

The company's shares have outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 13 percentage points in the six months following an iPhone launch event, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. Hedge fund analytics tool Kensho data shows Apple shares are down on average for the day and week of a media event, but the stock bounces back. On average, Apple's stock is 10.7% higher three months after the event.

Overall, Apple stock is up almost 70% year to date.

CNBC's Kif Leswing and Maggie Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

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Big-box retailers like Walmart, Target try to beat Amazon on speed by focusing on curbside pickup

  • Walmart, Target and Best Buy will try to divert dollars from Amazon Prime Day by offering their own deals and fulfilling orders quickly through curbside and in-store pickup.
  • Buy online, pick up in store options have gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safe, convenient alternative to browsing store aisles.
  • Yet big-box retailers will have to prove they can keep up as deep discounts and holiday shopping drive demand.

As big-box retailers throw their own sales events during Amazon Prime Day, expect to see them tout an asset that the e-commerce giant doesn't have: numerous stores across the country where customers can quickly retrieve their online purchases.

Amazon Prime Day starts at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday and lasts through Wednesday. Target will have "Deal Days" and Best Buy will jumpstart Black Friday sales on those days. Walmart holds its "Big Save Event" from 7 p.m. ET Sunday through Thursday.

Buy online, pick up in store options — such as curbside and in-store pickup — have gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safe, convenient alternative to browsing store aisles.

Best Buy rolled out curbside pickup at nearly all its stores during the early months of the pandemic. Walmart over the past five or six months has made tens of thousands of general merchandise items eligible for curbside pickup, along with its wide selection of groceries. Target will add fresh and frozen foods to curbside pickup at the vast majority of stores by the holidays, so shoppers can pick up milk along with gifts for their family. 

By offering an alternative to waiting for a package to arrive to the doorstep, retailers are trying to beat Amazon at its own game: shortening the time between when customers hit the "buy" button and receive their purchases. They are also giving shoppers more control over when they receive the item, which means the buyer doesn't have to worry about theft and can hide a holiday gift from prying eyes.

The services could be key differentiators this week and throughout the holidays as big-box retailers try to divert dollars from Amazon.

A surge in sales

Target has been vocal about the huge gains in its same-day services during the pandemic. Its curbside pickup service, called Drive Up, surged by more than 700% in the second quarter and its in-store pickup option, Order Pickup, grew more than 60%.

On an average day in April, CEO Brian Cornell said, the company fulfilled more items and orders than last year's Cyber Monday. It has used the services to attract new customers and win more of their business.

This holiday season will mark Target's second year with Drive Up at its stores nationwide. It sells about 250,000 items that customers can pick up in as little as an hour after they're purchased online.

On an earnings conference call, Target Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan noted the "stickiness" of the service. After a customer tries Drive Up for the first time, he said, the company sees a nearly 30% increase in the shopper's overall spending — both online and in stores. 

For Best Buy, the service has also spurred growth. Online orders can be ready for curbside pickup in about an hour. The company's online revenue rose 242% in the second quarter from a year earlier. About 41% of those online sales were filled either through buy online and pickup in store or curbside pickup options. 

Walmart responded to demand for these services by adding more curbside pickup slots and expanding its assortment to more than 160,000 items that can be ready within four hours, from barbecue sauce to headphones.

Curbside pickup has other business advantages. By eliminating the need to ship a package from a store or warehouse to customers, each online transaction becomes more profitableFor example, Target has said that when it fulfills an order by Drive Up or Order Pickup, it's 90% cheaper than shipping from a warehouse.

Yet big-box retailers will have to prove they can keep up as deep discounts and holiday shopping drive demand. In late March, shoppers began clearing shelves of household and pantry staples and later sought out items for long stays at home, from puzzles to exercise equipment, leading to out of stocks and delays.

'Scramble of the season'

Some customers aren't sold on the convenience of the approach. About 77% of shoppers still want their purchases delivered directly to their homes, according to a recent holiday shopping survey of more than 1,500 U.S. consumers by Accenture. Only 11% said they are willing to use contactless options like locker or curbside pickup.

Shoppers' patience has worn thin, too, giving retailers less leeway for out-of-stock items or other hassles. More than half of respondents told Accenture they won't shop with a retailer again after an unsatisfactory delivery experience.

Kathy Gramling, consumer industry markets leader for EY in the Americas, said the appeal of curbside pickup will evaporate if customers endure long waits or cope with other customer service headaches.

"You think of the holiday parking lot of years gone by. There was never a pretty moment in any of that," she said. "I can't try to imagine a holiday parking lot now, where we're trying to limit the people who actually can go in the store, so there's a line again outside in the wintertime, and we're trying to jam people through a parking lot when it's snowing or raining or sleeting."

Those challenging logistics, she said, could benefit pure-play e-commerce retailers like Amazon that have a near singular focus on delivering to customers' doorstep.

She said brick-and-mortar retailers will have to manage their inventory well in order to have the items customers want a short drive from their home.

"It works well if — and only if —as a retailer you're able to know that store number 115 or on Main Street, somewhere in the U.S., has that actual stock," she said. "Otherwise, I think we're in for a series of really disappointing shopper moments when consumers go online and then can't pick up in store."

"This is going to be the scramble of the season."

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