In her perceptive review of Tim Wu’s new book, The Attention Merchants, journalist-turned-academic Emily Bell provides a tidy synopsis of Wu’s observation that pernicious innovations in advertising typically are met with resistance. She writes: “First came the unscrupulous false advertising, then the corrective of investigative journalism; first the tidal bore of broadcast television, then the corrective of the remote control; first the era of spam, then the development of filters and blockers.”
Spoiler alert: Resistance is mostly futile. Efforts to rein in the proverbial snake oil salesmen of the advertising industry typically fail. The attention merchants, in Wu’s phrasing, are just too good at figuring out better ways to compel us to view what they’ve been paid to show us.
Yes, we’re talking about Facebook again. Wu refers to the young company as an “attention plantation,” a sad and apt description. There is so much of great interest on Facebook, but an algorithm, combined with one’s own predilections, drive what you’ll see. No editors are required to 1) repurpose the hard work of others, and 2) encourage you to consider alternative viewpoints. In this dire analysis, the traditional media withers and political discourse becomes ever more insular, and at a frightfully accelerating speed.
What happens next? Facebook, the company, is nothing if not responsive. I knocked Mark Zuckerberg yesterday for copping out on the issue of fake news on his company’s platform. Yet already, Facebook is trying to prevent blatantly fake news purveyors from selling ads. Facebook has other persistent problems, like failing to accurately measure the effectiveness of its ads. It will solve these relatively easily as they are a matter of engineering and commerce, Facebook’s specialties.
Will Facebook step up and acknowledge its role in informing the public? Inside its walls, will it discuss Wu’s book and ask itself how it can do more than tweak its ad products to make more money—and, when pushed, screen out egregiously bad actors?
A lot of money—and maybe the political health of the U.S.—are at stake.
BITS AND BYTES
Cisco’s financial woes could be sign of broader slowdown. The world’s largest networking equipment maker recorded a 2.6% drop in first-quarter revenue, logging $12.4 billion for the three-month period ended Oct. 29. Even more troubling: Cisco is projecting a 4% decline during the current quarter, traditionally a busy one for tech hardware spending. (Reuters, Bloomberg)
This is how serious Microsoft is about open source software. The company finally broke down and joined the Linux Foundation, a move that was all but unthinkable under its previous CEO Steve Ballmer. It’s a matter of self-preservation, given how popular Linux is within corporate data centers. (Fortune)
Do you need drone insurance? Some hobbyist groups are introducing new coverage to account for potential damage caused by collisions with buildings or other flying obstacles. As commercial applications multiple, the business policies will also need to evolve. (Reuters)
iPhone battery failures get attention of Chinese consumer watchdog. Apple is addressing reports of sudden battery failures after the China Consumer Association made a “flood” of complaints public. That’s concerning because this particular group has a history of forcing companies to make recalls. (Fortune)
WATCH FOR IT
Relatively low expectations for Salesforce’s latest quarter. The cloud business software company anticipates around $2.12 billion in revenue, for its third quarter, which will be reported after the market close on Thursday. One result to watch closely will be billings as Salesforce missed its projections last quarter. (Investor’s Business Daily)
Google’s CEO will meet EU antitrust officials. Sundar Pichai is scheduled to chat with two high-ranking commissioners in Brussels on Friday in the wake of his company’s decision to fight three separate sets of charges involving its online search services, a shopping site, and the Android mobile operating system. The EU agency is expected to rule on the matter next year. (Reuters)
The fate of the Tesla-SolarCity will be decided today. Shareholders will vote Thursday on a $2.6 billion deal, which some investors have characterized as a bailout for the residential solar installer. (Reuters)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Big data software upstart MapR hires new sales chief. Former Oracle executive Jim Kowalski was most recently with Marketo, where he led the marketing automation software firm’s push into larger enterprise customers. (MapR)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Why Is Secretive Snap in Such a Hurry to Go Public? by Erin Griffith
Here’s Why Twitter Banning ‘Alt-Right’ Accounts Is a Risky Strategy,
by Mathew Ingram
Snapchat Partners With Foursquare to Power Even More Geofilters,
by Madeline Farber
Google’s Translation App Is About to Get Much Better, by Lisa Eadicicco/TIME
ONE MORE THING
Want to fly like Superman? Here’s your chance. The new virtual reality edition of Google Earth lets headset-wearing visitors hover over places such as the Grand Canyon. (Fortune)