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The world is a complicated place, and a perfect example is the damned-if-they-stay, damned-if-they-leave conundrum faced by buyers of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The DRC is a poor nation in central Africa, whose southern region is the largest supplier in the world of cobalt. The metal, in turn, is critical for making lithium-ion batteries, which are crucial for smartphones as well as electric cars. That should be a blessing for the DRC. But in a classic case of the “resource curse,” instead the country is impoverished, corrupt, and exploited. Children too often mine its cobalt, particularly in “artisanal” mines that are tough for the government or corporations to monitor.
The corporate conundrum, as described by Fortune’s Vivienne Walt in her richly reported new feature, is that buying DRC cobalt can taint the reputation of manufacturers while not buying DRC cobalt only punishes minors, youths and adults alike.
This is business journalism at its finest. Walt braves hostile local authorities to get this important story. Users of shiny Apple iPhones and shinier still Tesla cars don’t often stop to think of where the components in the toys come from. But the companies do. Apple is trying to train locals to do jobs other than mining. Meantime, Western battery manufacturers are facing off against Chinese producers, who dominate the DRC cobalt trade.
I hope you’ll spend some time with this important story and its vivid photographs.
Feeling droopy. In the latest twist on drones and AI, IBM filed a patent for an autonomous flying vehicle that could deliver hot beverages to “those who appear to be in a ‘pre-determined cognitive state’ requiring coffee.” Sign me up.
TKO. After last month rejecting the Winklevoss brothers concept for a bitcoin exchange-traded fund, the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday offered similar reasons in nixing proposed digital currency funds from investment firms ProShares, GraniteShares, and Direxion. The requests failed to show how such funds could “prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices,” the agency wrote.
Cleaning up the block. Under fire for failing to adequately police third-party apps on its service in the wake of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook permanently banned the personality quiz app myPersonality. Facebook said myPersonality’s creators refused to cooperate with an audit of how they protected and shared app gathered by the app.
Shutterbug shift. Back in April, we mentioned that the two titans of photography, Canon and Nikon, were in danger of being disrupted by a new camera technology known as mirrorless. On Thursday, Nikon finally tried to match competitors with a couple of high-end mirrorless cameras of its own. The new $3,400 Z7 and $2,000 Z6 are said to be smaller and quieter than Nikon’s comparable traditional DSLR models. In a first impressions review, photog site DPReview found the Z7 to be “a pretty well-rounded do-everything camera.”
Under pressure. Stealthy self-driving car startup Zoox fired its CEO Tim Kentley-Klay. The co-founder tweeted that his board moved against him “without warning, cause or right of reply.” Zoox raised $500 million last month in a deal valuing the company at $3.2 billion.
Judging by the cover. As initially announced earlier this year, Walmart jumped into the declining ebook market on Wednesday, launching an online store in partnership with e-reader maker Kobo. Publishers set ebook prices and a quick check showed Walmart’s prices were identical to Amazon’s prices in its Kindle ebook store. James Patterson’s recent best seller Texas Rangers is $15 in both stores, while Jodi Picoult’s 2016 novel Small Great Things is $4, for example.
Chinese clicks. Speaking of retailing giants, Alibaba reported its revenue jumped 61% to $12.2 billion last quarter though adjusted earnings per share rose only 1% to $1.22. Both figures were slightly better than Wall Street expected. The company said it reached 576 million annual active customers in China, 4% more than a year earlier. Alibaba shares, up a measly 3% so far this year, gained another 4% in premarket trading on Thursday.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The 2016 U.S. elections were attacked by Russian hacking efforts on multiple levels. Signs of continued attacks by the Russians to affect 2018 races are in the news daily. Now Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Yahoo and Facebook, is sounding off about the risks to coming elections. Stamos takes personal responsibility for his role in failing to fight off the prior attacks and offers some suggestions for improving security in the future. But it’s not a reassuring read, as Stamos rips into the Obama and Trump administrations, as well as Congress, for their feeble responses so far.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Uber Is Finally Growing Up By Tim J. Smith
Amazon Alexa Fellowship Program Is Heading to 14 More Universities By Jonathan Vanian
BEFORE YOU GO
Amid rampant climate change and weakening environmental regulations, one piece of good news about the planet: the amount of forests worldwide has actually increased over the past 35 years. A new study finds that deforestation in the Amazon and other tropical regions was outpaced by increasing tree cover in other regions, particularly in Russia, China, and the United States. So at least we’ll have more shade to hide under for these increasingly hot summer days.