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I spent the weekend in Shanghai taking in the excitement of Alibaba’s Singles Day, where online sales rocketed to a new record of $30.8 billion—exceeding the $19.6 billion Americans spent between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday last year plus the $4 billion they spent on Amazon’s June 16 Prime Day combined. Alibaba executives hailed that result as proof that China’s economy is doing just fine, thank you, and that its consumers don’t care about the escalating U.S.-China trade war. And there was some good news for Apple, which emerged as the top-selling smartphone brand on Alibaba’s platform during the festival, eclipsing Chinese rivals including Huawei and Xiaomi.
And yet, by Monday, Apple’s share price was tanking, dragging the Dow down 600 points and triggering a selloff in Asia. The source of the scare was Lumentum, a key Apple supplier of facial recognition technology, which cut its quarterly profit outlook, citing reduced demand from a major customer. That triggered fears that Apple sales are faltering going into the holiday season. Other Apple suppliers, including Foxconn, Japanese parts manufacturers TDK and Taiyo Yuden, tumbled in tandem.
Monday night brought a glimmer of hope, as the Wall Street Journal reported that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had resumed discussions with China’s top negotiator Liu He about a possible U.S.-China trade deal. The two men spoke by telephone Friday, according to the Journal. In Hong Kong Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported that Liu He had reinstated a scuttled plan to visit the U.S. for trade talks.
As I write, Wednesday midday in Hong Kong, Chinese markets are drifting lower as investors try to figure out what’s going on. All eyes are on the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of this month, where presidents Trump and Xi are slated to meet for dinner. Trump may be in the stronger bargaining position. But it’s hard to imagine how the Chinese leader could accede to all of the demands set forth by the White House—particularly the U.S. demand that Xi dismantle his signature “Made in China 2025” initiative for upgrading China’s technological capabilities. Adding to the uncertainty: Trump’s own economic advisers remain deeply divided about the value of a trade truce.
China’s leaders had hoped Trump would be keener for a deal in the aftermath of Republican mid-term losses, but it’s far from clear Trump himself sees it that way. To date, he has shown few signs of concern about the economic pain higher tariffs on China will inflict on the U.S. economy. If nothing else, the week’s developments offer fresh evidence of how interdependent the two economies have become; how tightly matters of technology, trade, and global markets remain intertwined; and how high the stakes of a protracted stalemate have grown.
Going, going, gone. The latest federal auction of airwave licenses suitable for 5G networks kicks off today. Much of the 28 GHz band is already owned by Verizon but what's left, spread across over 1,500 counties, goes up for sale by the Federal Communications Commission. Fear not, would-be 5G providers. The FCC has at least four more auctions planned for similar airwaves over the next year.
Spoiled meat. Bad day on the stock market for Blue Apron. The prepared food packager reported revenue declined 28% to $151 million even as its net loss improved to 18 cents a share from 47 cents last year. Total customers shrank by 16% to 717,000. Oh, and some layoffs are on the way, the company said. In premarket trading, Blue Apron's shares, down almost 90% from its IPO last year, fell as much as 6%. Shares of teen-dream-messaging app Snap fell 7% in premarket trading on a report the company is the subject of a federal investigation over possible misleading statements made ahead of its IPO. Snap said all its statements had been “accurate and complete.”
Synthetic comedy. Tired of Amazon Alexa's voice, especially telling the corny jokes the digital assistant offers, if you ask for a joke? "Actually my friend Jimmy Fallon wants to tell you a joke," Alexa will reply for the next few weeks. Spoiler alert: Fallon's delivery is much better, but the jokes are just as corny. "Why does Dwayne Johnson sleep under a pile of magazines? Because paper covers rock." Ha ha.
Synthetic marketing. Advertisers spent $49.5 billion on digital sites in the first half of the year, up 23% from 2017. Mobile nabbed 63% of the spending, up from 54% a year earlier, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reports. Online video advertising remains a small segment but growing fast. It jumped 35% to $7 billion, with more than half going to mobile devices.
Bezos benefits. Some additional follow up on the HQ2/HQ3 decision by Amazon, if you're not already sick of reading about the story. The Wall Street Journal talked to some insiders to get behind the curtains of the search process. Also, there's already some budding political opposition to the sweet deals New York and Virginia granted to attract the offices.
Who is in charge here? The developers of bitcoin were all about freeing financial transactions from the grasp of governments and their central banks. But now those central banks may be trying to get into the cryptocurrency game themselves. In a new paper, the International Monetary Fund and managing director Christine Lagarde consider the possibilities. "The case is based on new and evolving requirements for money, as well as essential public policy objectives," Lagarde explained in a speech on Wednesday. "My message is that while the case for digital currency is not universal, we should investigate it further, seriously, carefully, and creatively."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
There's obviously an expanding world of devices and apps that say they aim to help us lead healthier lives. But there's some question as to whether that's actually their main goal. Kaitlyn Tiffany at Vox takes a long and personal look at the growing niche of period tracking apps. And what she finds about marketing, privacy, and design is semi-alarming, though probably not surprising, given how few women are actually involved in designing and funding the sector.
There’s a handful of fancy, venture-funded period-tracking apps. And there are hundreds of free, ad-supported, easy-to-use apps that track menstruation and fertility and simultaneously invite users to track their diet, their workouts, their sex lives, their mood, the state of their skin, the smell of their vaginal discharge. They are mostly glitchy and cheaply made, and the result of opportunists seeing a need and kind of, not really, fulfilling it.
In the health category, this type of app is reportedly the fourth most popular among adults and second most popular among adolescent women. My floating cloud app was one of these junky, generic options, and the choice to download it was not an educated one; it was just whatever the App Store guessed I would want when I typed in “period tracking” more than four years ago.
This app wasn’t designed for me. It wasn’t designed for anyone who wants to track their period or general reproductive health. The same is true of almost every menstruation-tracking app: They’re designed for marketers, for men, for hypothetical unborn children, and perhaps weirdest of all, a kind of voluntary surveillance stance.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Microsoft to Buy Chatbot Startup XOXCO By Jonathan Vanian
Apple's New iPad Pros: The Pros and Cons By Eric Zeman
Spotify Is Rolling Out Its Official Apple Watch App This Week By Kevin Kelleher
Mexican Opposition to 'Teslaquila' Creates Headache for Elon Musk By David Meyer
Advertisers Are Giving People With 1,000 Instagram Followers Endorsement Deals By Laura Stampler
Facebook Wants to Help People Land Their Next Job By Lisa Marie Segarra
Coinbase-Backed Startup Launches $799 Home Crypto Miner By Jeff John Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
Bob Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks is rightly regarded as one of the iconic songwriter's best, and generally ranks among the 10 or 20 greatest rock albums ever made. But it was no easy assemblage of Dylan tunes, as becomes clear from a new boxed set just out from Columbia Records called More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14. The deluxe version includes some 87 tracks of different takes and scraps from Dylan's creative process. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross notes that you can actually find the entire album Dylan initially recorded in 1974 before discarding for the more commercial set he eventually released, but it's not easy:
The box set has all of the discarded tracks, but they are scattered through a complete chronological survey of the four days of sessions—five and a half hours of Dylan at the height of his powers. You will have to study the track listings to assemble the original record. The elusiveness of Blood on the Tracks has been integral to its allure, and so it remains.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.