raceAhead: Free Speech Online, Colin Kaepernick Is The 2017 Racist Costume of Choice, Dennis Banks Dead at 80

How do we protect vulnerable people in a technological age?

This is the fundamental question behind “I Am Jane Doe,” a documentary film by Mary Mazzio, that explores the trafficking and sexual enslavement of children and teens, specifically enabled by online advertisements.

I attended a St. Louis-area screening of the film last night. It is a disturbing look at how girls – typically runaways, or otherwise temporarily separated from friends or caretakers — can be lost to rings of predators who find a seemingly never-ending supply of customers online.

But “I Am Jane Doe” also excels as a legal thriller, a nail-biter which follows the quest of several desperate parents of formerly trafficked girls who enlist the aid of local, under-prepared attorneys to help them find justice. Their target is Backpage.com, a website that was once part of Village Voice Media, which serves the majority of these problematic ads, making tens of millions in the process.

That the first brave mother to file suit against Backpage in 2010 was from Ferguson, Mo., makes a difficult story even more poignant.

But the true villain in the drama is Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act or CDA, a tiny legislative carve-out which protects websites that post third-party content from being subject to civil or criminal liability. As a result, the heartbreaking legal efforts of families to shut down Backpage.com over a period of six years were doomed from the beginning.

While the individual stories cannot possibly fail to move you, the legislative solution the film supports is more complicated.

Mary Mazzio is crisscrossing the country screening the film and participating in panel discussions about recent bipartisan legislation, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act or SESTA (S. 1693) which aims to amend the CDA specifically to allow websites that “facilitate” sex trafficking to now be held liable. (You can see the film anytime on Netflix, among other places.)

The film showcases the work of high profile Senators: Arizona’s John McCain, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, chiefly among them. And as the lawsuits mount, the legal arguments get more interesting as well.

Spoiler alert: If you were a fan of jurist Richard Posner before this film, you probably won’t be afterward.

But the other villains in the piece are Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other technology companies who rely on third-party content.

SESTA, which would allow state attorneys general to prosecute websites under state laws, could open up a potential floodgate of wide-ranging lawsuits. “We recognize that attempts to amend Section 230 target sex traffickers are well intended. However, the likely result will be to create a trial lawyer bonanza of overly-broad civil lawsuits,” says Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Technology Association.

“[M]ost tech companies have been circumspect about their opposition to the bill, choosing to voice their concerns by proxy through trade groups like the Internet Association, which includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter among its members,” says The Verge in this useful explainer.

But lately, worried about being standing on the wrong side of an emotional issue, big tech is signaling some openness to change.

In recent Senate testimony, Abigail Slater, the Internet Association’s general counsel said in addition to criminal sanctions against Backpage, “We also support targeted amendments to the Communications Decency Act that would allow victims of sex trafficking crimes to seek justice against perpetrators.”

Disney, Fox, HP, IBM, and Oracle have recently signed on in favor of the bill.

There’s a lot at stake, particularly now as Facebook, Google, and Twitter head back to Capitol Hill to explore how Russian trolls may have influenced the U.S. election. “The abuse of our platform by sophisticated foreign actors to attempt state-sponsored manipulation of elections is a new challenge for us — and one that we are determined to meet,” says Twitter’s acting general counsel in written testimony.

But propaganda, like sexual coercion and abuse, is nothing new.

Important cultural issues are surfaced in “I Am Jane Doe,” but largely ignored. The girls, once rescued, faced bullying, blaming and shaming from their peers. They feel isolated and alone. The men who paid to have sex with them — often suburban men with jobs, families, and reputations to protect — are rarely punished. And the parents are still struggling to find ways to help their traumatized daughters heal. That this is how we treat women should come as no surprise in the #MeToo era.

While we all need to better understand SESTA, one thing remains clear. If we want to protect vulnerable people online or anywhere else, it would help if we also faced these bigger, real world issues head-on. That’s something that all the Decency Acts in the world won’t be able to do for us.

On Point

So far, the racist costume of the season involves Colin Kaepernick
I know it’s still early, but there seems to be a clear trend in the making. First, a campus police officer at the University of Nevada put on a wig and fake nose, painted on a beard, donned a homemade 49ers jersey and scrawled a sign that said,“will stand for food.” After photos were shared, the director of police services on campus was forced to issue an apology.  Then, at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., a student was photographed in blackface and a Kap wig, looking stupid, with someone else holding a gun to his head. I won’t link to the vile photo, but the obligatory apology from Dickinson’s dean of student life is below.
Dickenson
So far, the racist costume of the season involves Colin Kaepernick
I know it’s still early, but there seems to be a clear trend in the making. First, a campus police officer at the University of Nevada put on a wig and fake nose, painted on a beard, donned a homemade 49ers jersey and scrawled a sign that said,“will stand for food.” After photos were shared, the director of police services on campus was forced to issue an apology.  Then, at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., a student was photographed in blackface and a Kap wig, looking stupid, with someone else holding a gun to his head. I won’t link to the vile photo, but the obligatory apology from Dickinson’s dean of student life is below.
Dickenson
Twitter is attempting to crack down on revenge porn
Revenge porn is a nasty form of retaliation, perpetrated by jilted or otherwise disturbed former associates when they post sexually explicit photos or videos of others without their consent. Twitter has done a poor job of preventing this in the past. While their previous rules prevented users from posting “intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent,” the new rules go into greater detail about what constitutes “compromising imagery.” Hope it helps.
Fortune
Twitter is attempting to crack down on revenge porn
Revenge porn is a nasty form of retaliation, perpetrated by jilted or otherwise disturbed former associates when they post sexually explicit photos or videos of others without their consent. Twitter has done a poor job of preventing this in the past. While their previous rules prevented users from posting “intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent,” the new rules go into greater detail about what constitutes “compromising imagery.” Hope it helps.
Fortune
Top editor Michelle Lee is winning at <em>Allure</em>
Lee earned kudos a couple of months back for banning the term “anti-aging” at the woman’s publication, to stop “reinforcing the message that aging is something we need to battle.” She’s also been a champion for diverse faces and points of view, tackling real issues head-on — like mastectomies and transgender activism. And Muslim model Halima Aden appeared on the cover of the July “American Beauty” issue — the first time a woman wearing hijab was featured on the cover of a major American magazine.
Ad Week
Top editor Michelle Lee is winning at <em>Allure</em>
Lee earned kudos a couple of months back for banning the term “anti-aging” at the woman’s publication, to stop “reinforcing the message that aging is something we need to battle.” She’s also been a champion for diverse faces and points of view, tackling real issues head-on — like mastectomies and transgender activism. And Muslim model Halima Aden appeared on the cover of the July “American Beauty” issue — the first time a woman wearing hijab was featured on the cover of a major American magazine.
Ad Week
Native American activist Dennis Banks has died
Banks, who helped found the American Indian Movement in 1968, died from complications after heart surgery. He was 80. Banks may have been best known for leading the group’s 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in a 71-day protest against both the U.S. and tribal governments.“Dennis Banks is somebody who had an indelible impact on history, not just in our native community but throughout our country,” said Anton Treuer, a professor of the Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University. Banks died surrounded by friends and loved ones. Click through to his Facebook page for stories and tributes. His bio is below.
Associated Press
Native American activist Dennis Banks has died
Banks, who helped found the American Indian Movement in 1968, died from complications after heart surgery. He was 80. Banks may have been best known for leading the group’s 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in a 71-day protest against both the U.S. and tribal governments.“Dennis Banks is somebody who had an indelible impact on history, not just in our native community but throughout our country,” said Anton Treuer, a professor of the Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University. Banks died surrounded by friends and loved ones. Click through to his Facebook page for stories and tributes. His bio is below.
Associated Press

The Woke Leader

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on John Kelly and Civil War revisionism
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly continues to be a polarizing figure. After he lauded Confederate general Robert E. Lee as a hero, and said that the Civil War was caused by a “lack of compromise,” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates woke up early and took Twitter to civics class. “Regarding John Kelly’s creationist theorizing on Lee and the Civil War, its worth pointing out a few things,” he began in a detailed thread on history, compromise, and war. “This stuff is knowable,” he said. “But you do have to actually read what the people who started the War actually said.” And, this: “You do have to get these guys were the worst of America.
Twitter
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on John Kelly and Civil War revisionism
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly continues to be a polarizing figure. After he lauded Confederate general Robert E. Lee as a hero, and said that the Civil War was caused by a “lack of compromise,” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates woke up early and took Twitter to civics class. “Regarding John Kelly’s creationist theorizing on Lee and the Civil War, its worth pointing out a few things,” he began in a detailed thread on history, compromise, and war. “This stuff is knowable,” he said. “But you do have to actually read what the people who started the War actually said.” And, this: “You do have to get these guys were the worst of America.
Twitter
The mathematical genius of John Coltrane
Coltrane was a magical figure to many — part transcendent jazzman, part spiritual seeker. Those two elements came together in a sketch experts called “the Coltrane circle,” a version of the musical “circle of fifths” — a representation of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale — but amplified with a Coltrane twist. Some see elements of Islam in the sketch, a musical mathematics that’s connected to the divine. But in addition to his mystical journey, “Coltrane was also very much aware of Einstein’s work and liked to talk about it frequently,” says musician and writer Josh Jones. “Musican David Amram remembers the Giant Steps genius telling him he “was trying to do something like that in music.”
Open Culture
The mathematical genius of John Coltrane
Coltrane was a magical figure to many — part transcendent jazzman, part spiritual seeker. Those two elements came together in a sketch experts called “the Coltrane circle,” a version of the musical “circle of fifths” — a representation of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale — but amplified with a Coltrane twist. Some see elements of Islam in the sketch, a musical mathematics that’s connected to the divine. But in addition to his mystical journey, “Coltrane was also very much aware of Einstein’s work and liked to talk about it frequently,” says musician and writer Josh Jones. “Musican David Amram remembers the Giant Steps genius telling him he “was trying to do something like that in music.”
Open Culture
Halloween: A cautionary tale
Last year, a man dressed as Cookie Monster in New York’s Times Square district attempted to break up a fight between a man dressed as a pilot and a man dressed as a stereotype of a Native American. The pilot, who was portraying a Tuskegee Airman, set upon the other man, declaring the costume “racist.” He pulled a knife when Cookie Monster attempted to intervene. Cookie Monster was treated and released. I hate Halloween.
Gothamist
Halloween: A cautionary tale
Last year, a man dressed as Cookie Monster in New York’s Times Square district attempted to break up a fight between a man dressed as a pilot and a man dressed as a stereotype of a Native American. The pilot, who was portraying a Tuskegee Airman, set upon the other man, declaring the costume “racist.” He pulled a knife when Cookie Monster attempted to intervene. Cookie Monster was treated and released. I hate Halloween.
Gothamist

China says unlikely to grant licenses for world's hottest video game

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s content regulator on Monday said it was unlikely to grant licenses for the world’s hottest video game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, as being too bloody and violent, thus effectively denying firms the opportunity to cash in.

The ban on the South Korea-made multiplayer game, whose players kill to be the last survivor, is the latest bid to cleanse internet content, after President Xi Jinping painted a vision of China as a culturally confident rejuvenated great power in a speech this month to the Communist Party Congress.

The game’s gladiator-like battle “severely deviates from the socialist core value and the Chinese traditional culture and moral rule,” the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association said in a statement on its website.

Its ethos also goes against the psychological and physical health of juvenile consumers, it added.

The association, grouped under the umbrella of China’s top content regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said SAPPRFT took a negative view of the game and others of the same kind, and any licenses for it were unlikely.

Reuters’ telephone calls to the games publisher, Bluehole Inc., to seek comment, went unanswered.

Leading Chinese gaming and social media company Tencent Holding Ltd., which hinted on its verified site on China’s Twitter-like Weibo that it might introduce the game on its WeGame platform, did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, Chinese gamers can access the game through overseas gaming platforms, though the association, in its statement on Monday, said Chinese companies should not seek to research, develop and import such games.

Gaming platforms and live streaming sites should not provide promotion and advertisement services to such games, it added.

Audiovisual content featuring topics ranging from drug addiction to homosexuality and incest should be restricted, a government-affiliated entity said in June.

China also bans a number of American television shows, such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “House of Cards”.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

Golf Champ Denied Trophy Because She's a Girl Raises Uncomfortable Questions for Any Team

Emily Nash, 16, plays golf where she attends school–at Lunenburg High School in Massachusetts. Playing from the boy’s tees, she earned the best score in the Central Mass Division 3 Boys’ Golf Tournament. Her score helped her team move up, too–no problem counting her contribution to the team’s record. 

Emily Nash: champion trophy and title denied

But her record? Washed away. Her first-place trophy and title (which can help on golf scholarship applications) was awarded to a boy four strokes behind her. And he publicly accepted it, although privately, she says he later offered it to her and she appreciated that.

Not only did Nash not get the opportunity to visibly receive the recognition she earned on the field, the champion watched her title go to another. That young man can move forward to the state championships while she is held back. Washington Post writer Callum Borchers summed it up well: “Nash is the best Division 3 golfer, male or female, in central Massachusetts, and maybe one of the best high school players in the entire state, but she won’t have a chance to prove it because she is a girl.”

“I wasn’t aware that if I won I wouldn’t get the title or the trophy. I feel like it’s a bit unfair,” she told NPR local station WPBF. Professional Golf Association writer TJ Auclair agrees. He wrote, “It’s 2017. This rule sounds like it was created in 1917.”

If sports are a training ground for life, what’s being taught? 

Think of the lesson Nash just received–and the different takeaway the boy playing with her got. It goes something like this: “girls can play when guys can take the credit.” That may sound harsh, but let me just share an echo of this reality from the lunch I had last week with a retired, Fortune 500 C-suite executive. She said, “when it came down to who was left to run the company, it was me and three guys. Each guy then got placed automatically in the next role. The role I would be most likely to fill–and was doing–they ran an exhaustive global search for. No searches for the guys–just automatically promoted.”

The Nash dynamic is playing out in our teams on the field right now in business every single day.  It’s the essence of what is popularly called “the pipeline problem.” You probably know one story–or twenty–like this. No matter the number, it’s too many. 

Biases like the one Emily Nash faces are destroying trust in our teams.

“If you were to force me to rank the most important qualities of leadership, I’d put trustworthiness at the top,” writes New York Times columnist Adam Bryant. He’s famous for  “The Corner Office” column about CEOs.  He wrote last weekend, reflecting back on 525 intimate portraits of CEOs, on how trustworthiness is created. It’s mainly by focusing on doing a great job in the job you’re in, and respecting your team, he suggested, pulling from his body of work. 

You can see how that makes sense–and how skewed it is when we create different rules for some, but not others. Chances are, the boys in the tournament felt respected–even to the point of being lifted above their level of play. Literally, a girl on the same field–well, imagine for yourself what that level of rejection and being used feels like, when your score advances only your team but never yourself, and your trophy is given away to the next in line pro forma. The champion been offered a copy “consolation” trophy. What she asked for was a rule change.

 “No matter what people say about culture, it’s all tied to who gets promoted, who gets raises and who gets fired…

“You have your stated culture, but the real culture is defined by compensation, promotions, and terminations. Basically, people seeing who succeeds and fails in the company defines culture. The people who succeed become role models for what’s valued in the organization and that defines culture,” says Hea Nahm, managing director of Storm Ventures, sharing his leadership insights with Bryant. These words echo on the macro field of business and are first written on the micro level of middle school tryouts, high school championships, and college entrance exams.

Bryant shares, “Are there differences in the way men and women lead?” 

“I’ve been asked this question countless times. Early on, I looked hard to spot differences. But any generalization never held up . . . That said, there is no doubt women face much stronger headwinds than men to get to the top jobs. And many of those headwinds remain once they become CEOs. But the actual work of leadership It’s the same, regardless of whether a man or a woman is in charge.”

It’s nearing the end of the year. That means end-of-year reviews, bonuses, raises–and team dynamics coming to the fore.

My hope is that we can all remove some of the protective cronyism from team dynamics and reward each other’s greatest performances, no matter what our champions look like or how challenging they are to the status quo. Let winners win or we’ll keep caretaking a second-best culture that complains of dysfunction, incompetence, and insularity at the top. Sound familiar? It does not have to. You personally can make the difference where you are.

Tech

Facebook Friends With Your Co-Workers? Survey Shows Your Boss Probably Disapproves

You and your colleagues pitch in together on difficult projects, lunch together, and have drinks together after work. You probably think it’s the most natural thing in the world to friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or Instagram. Your boss, though, probably thinks you shouldn’t.

That’s the surprising result of a survey of 1,006 employees and 307 senior managers conducted by staffing company OfficeTeam. Survey respondents were asked how appropriate it was to connect with co-workers on various social media platforms. It turns out that bosses and their employees have very different answers to this question.

When it comes to Facebook, 77 percent of employees thought it was either “very appropriate” or “somewhat appropriate” to be Facebook friends with your work colleagues, but only 49 percent of senior managers agreed. That disagreement carries over to other social media platforms. Sixty-one percent of employees thought it was fine to follow a co-worker on Twitter, but only 34 percent of bosses agreed. With Instagram, 56 percent of employees, but only 30 percent of bosses thought following a co-worker was appropriate. Interestingly, the one social platform bosses and employees seem to almost agree about is Snapchat, with 34 percent of employees thinking it was fine to connect with colleagues, and 26 percent of bosses thinking so too.

What should you do if you want to connect with a colleague on social media–if you get a connection request from a colleague? Here are a few options:

1. Use LinkedIn.

LinkedIn was not included in the OfficeTeam survey, but because it’s a professional networking tool, few bosses will object to you connecting with coworkers there. And LinkedIn has many of the same features as Facebook–you can even send instant messages to your contacts.

2. Keep your social media connections secret.

Most social networks give users the option to limit who can see what they post and who their other connections are. You can use this option to keep your social media interactions limited to the people you choose. If that doesn’t include your boss, he or she may never know that you and your co-workers are connected.

3. Talk to your boss.

He or she may not agree with the surveyed bosses who said connecting on social media was inappropriate, in which case there’s no problem. And if your boss does object, he or she may have some good reasons you hadn’t thought of to keep your professional life separate from your social media one. The only way to find out is to ask.

4. Consider the future.

It may be perfectly fine to connect with your co-workers on social media when you’re colleagues. But what happens if you get promoted to a leadership position? You may regret giving your former co-workers access to all the thoughts you share on Facebook or Twitter. So if a colleague sends you a social media request, or you want to make one yourself, take a moment to think it through. Will you be sorry one day–when you’re the boss yourself?

Tech

Teforia, the $1,000 Juicero of Tea, Goes Under

The “smart” tea brewer attracted more than $ 17 million in venture funding.

Teforia, the maker of a $ 1,000 internet-connected tea brewing machine, announced on Friday that it was shutting down effective immediately. The company touted the quality of its award-winning product, but said that “we simply couldn’t raise the funds required” to “educate the market” about it.

In some ways, Teforia’s shutdown is reminiscent of Juicero, the maker of a $ 400 “smart” juicer which shuttered in September. Both companies’ core products were remarkably pricey – Juicero’s machine was originally $ 700 – making them convenient symbols of both widespread income inequality in the U.S., and of a strain of investor gullibility when it came to anything remotely techy.

Back in 2015, we wondered whether the $ 5.1 million in seed funding Teforia had accumulated at the time was a sign of investor over-enthusiasm for connected kitchen devices. Despite our skepticism, the company went on to raise another $ 12 million in a 2016 Series A round – thought that’s still nothing compared to the more than $ 118 million in bad bets placed on Juicero by the finest minds in venture capital.

There were big differences between the two products, though. Juicero, infamously, shut down after a Bloomberg report found that its juice packs could be squeezed almost as well by hand as by the Juicero machine. In other words, the thing wasn’t really a “juicer” at all.

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Teforia’s device, by contrast, appears to have done a sterling job of brewing drinks, in part thanks to an algorithm that tracked brewing temperatures and times for different types of tea. A few negative reviews focused on the machine’s price, but it was named Best Tea Brewing Device (Electric) at the June 2017 World Tea Expo. And aficionados aren’t shy about shelling out for high-end tea or coffee machines: one commercial “smart” coffee and tea infuser, the Bkon Craft Brewer, sells for a reported $ 13,000.

It seems plausible, then, that Teforia’s problems raising further capital could actually be blamed on Juicero. Negative coverage of the juicer in recent months has likely left investors skittish over high-end connected beverage devices, even though Juicero’s problems were very much of its own unique making.

That’s a rough ending for Teforia, but there’s a short-term upside for tea drinkers: the last few Teforia machines are now on sale for the downright reasonable closeout price of $ 199.

Tech

FCC Wants to Ease Rules to Benefit Broadcast Giant Sinclair

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to fight media mergers that concentrated more power in fewer hands. But his Federal Communications Commission is paving the way for huge broadcasting companies to get even bigger.

Thursday night, the FCC unveiled a proposal to relax its media-ownership rules. The plan would lift a ban preventing companies from owning both a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market, and ease restrictions on the number of television and radio stations a single owner can control in a market. The FCC is expected to vote on the proposal during its open meeting next month, and with Republicans in the majority at the agency, it will likely pass.

The proposal describes the changes as necessary to help broadcasters and newspapers compete against digital-media companies that face no restrictions on how many websites, apps, or streaming video services they can own. But the rules have already attracted controversy because they will most immediately benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group, which plans to buy Tribune Media for $ 3.9 billion.

“I think it has reached a point where all our media-policy decisions seem to be custom built for this one company, and I think it merits investigation,” Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said during a congressional oversight hearing Wednesday.

The new proposal is part of a series of FCC decisions that aid large broadcasters, and there are likely more to come.

Despite the growth of digital media in recent years, television is still the most common news source among Americans, according to a Pew Research study last year. About 46 percent of respondents often get at least some of their news from local TV. By comparison, 38 percent said they often get news online.

Sinclair owns 173 TV stations and Tribune owns 42. Together, the two companies estimate that they could reach 73 percent of US households.

Federal regulations generally limit the reach of a broadcasting company to 39 percent of US homes. In April, however, the FCC gave broadcasters additional wiggle room by reviving 1980s-era rules that allow Sinclair and other broadcasters to count some stations as reaching only half as many households as they can. According to an FCC filing, Sinclair will be 6.5 percent over the limit even with this “discount.” In a conference call Thursday, senior FCC staffers said the FCC will review the national ownership limits by the end of the year.

Sinclair is generally seen as a conservative-leaning media organization. For example, it requires its stations to air particular content, including commentary from former Trump administration official Boris Epshteyn. Earlier this year, Politico reported that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives that the Trump campaign struck a deal with Sinclair for better coverage. That adds a political layer to what might otherwise be a technocratic debate over the appropriate level of competition in local news markets.

Senior FCC staffers denied that the rules were designed to benefit a particular company during the Thursday conference call. Indeed, not all of the changes proposed immediately benefit Sinclair. Tribune spun off its newspapers into a new company called Tronc last year, and neither it nor Sinclair own many radio stations, so the cross-ownership rules don’t really affect the merger. But the FCC has made life easier for Sinclair this year.

Current regulations prohibit companies from owning two of the top four stations in a particular market. The FCC’s new proposal would allow exemptions in markets where, for example, the size difference between the fourth largest and fifth largest is slight. It would also eliminate a rule that prohibits mergers that would reduce the total number of broadcast owners in a market to fewer than eight.

After acquiring Tribune, Sinclair would have 10 stations that run afoul of the old rules, including stations in markets like Seattle and St. Louis, according to FCC filings. The new rules could spare Sinclair from having to sell those stations, if it can get the necessary exemptions in time.

Earlier this week, the FCC voted to eliminate rules that required broadcast station owners to have a studio within 25 miles of the city where the station is licensed. The change will free companies like Sinclair from having to spend money on local studios in every community where they operate.

Tech

Self-driving startups race down a narrowing road

DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Lei Xu and Justin Song once worked at electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. But with interest and investments in autonomous vehicles mounting, they left to pursue what they see as the next big thing.

Nullmax CEO Lei Xu drives a Lincoln MKZ sedan equipped with his company’s prototype self-driving hardware and software in Fremont, California, U.S. on October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jane Lanhee Lee

Their company, Nullmax, is one of more than 240 startups worldwide, including 75 in Silicon Valley, attempting to design software, hardware components and systems for future self-driving cars, according to a Reuters analysis.

Xu and Song are bankrolled by corporate money, but unlike many of their fellow entrepreneurs, they skipped funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Founded in August 2016, Nullmax got $ 10 million from a Chinese firm, Xinmao Science and Technology Co (000836.SZ).

By seeking corporate backing in China, the Nullmax founders managed to sidestep an issue facing other startups in the sector: While big automotive and technology companies are pouring billions into the autonomous vehicle space, Silicon Valley investors so far have been fairly restrained in increasing their bets.

Headlines have been dominated by old-line players such as General Motors Co (GM.N), which jolted the industry last year when it bought a tiny San Francisco software company called Cruise Automation for a reported $ 1 billion. Just this week, top-tier supplier Delphi Automotive PLC (DLPH.N) acquired Boston-based software startup nuTonomy for $ 450 million.

Now, “every startup thinks they will get a billion dollars” in valuation, said Evangelos Simoudis, a Silicon Valley venture investor and an advisor on corporate innovation.

However, investment in untested startup companies remains relatively modest despite all the buzz and lofty expectations. Total funding of self-driving startups from both corporate and private investors has barely topped $ 5 billion, the Reuters analysis of publicly available data shows.

With the notable exceptions of Andreessen Horowitz and New Enterprise Associates, few of the big Valley venture capital firms are heavily invested in the sector. Overall, only seven of the top 30 self-driving startups have received later-stage funding, the Reuters analysis shows, an indication that some venture capitalists are ambivalent about the industry’s potential.

(For a graphic of venture and corporate funding of self-driving startups, see: tmsnrt.rs/2xOX0jN)

Skeptics note that few of the startups are making money. And established auto and parts companies have not demonstrated a clear path to revenue and profitability in autonomous vehicles despite their big bets in the space.

Another sticking point: While the initial wave of self-driving vehicles is expected to begin commercial service in 2019-2020, experts expect the transition from human-driven to automated cars could take a decade or more to roll out.

Cautions Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI): “You can destroy a lot of value by chasing your tail in autonomous driving.”

CORPORATE INVESTMENTS

All told, U.S. automotive and technology firms likely have invested some $ 40 billion to $ 50 billion in self-driving technology in recent years, mainly through acquisitions and partnerships. The full extent is hard to know because big players such as Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), whose Waymo subsidiary is considered among the front-runners in the arena, have not revealed the full scope of their investments, although it is believed to be in the billions.

Among the top corporate investors in the sector are Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], Intel Corp (INTC.O), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O), Delphi and Robert Bosch GmbH [ROBG.UL]. Corporate investors also have backed five of the six self-driving startups with valuations of $ 1 billion or more.

(For a graphic on key players in the development of autonomous vehicles, see: tmsnrt.rs/2nYv7gc)

Whether the industry is poised to produce more such unicorns is now a topic of much debate. Two former investors in Cruise Automation, for example, are poles apart in their views of self-driving vehicles and technology.

Veronica Wu, managing partner in Palo Alto-based Hone Capital, said her company continues to invest in “quite a number” of self-driving startups, while acknowledging that the technology will take time to deploy.

“It’s a matter of when, not if,” she said. “We’re fairly optimistic.”

In contrast, Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners, another Cruise investor, said his firm does not see any attractive investments in the sector right now.

The hefty price paid by GM for Cruise, he said, “made the space very frothy, with every computer vision and robotics PhD student seemingly emerging with a new self-driving car startup.”

In addition, he said many established players “already have made their big investments (and) acquisitions” in the sector. That could limit investors’ potential returns and entrepreneurs’ payoffs down the road.

Quin Garcia, a partner in San Francisco-based AutoTech Ventures, concurs that the space is crowded and valuations are inflated. There may still be “a select few IPOs, but there will be many failures of autonomous vehicle startups” by 2021, he said.

NULLMAX IN CHINA

Those odds haven’t deterred Nullmax founders Xu and Song, who are looking to differentiate themselves.

With many self-driving startups looking to supply U.S. and European automakers, the Chinese-born entrepreneurs, whose specialties are camera-based vision systems and artificial intelligence, are focused on China. They expect to deliver the first partially automated systems to Chinese automakers by 2020.

The U.S.-educated entrepreneurs, both 35, now work out of a small shop in Fremont, Calif., not far from Tesla’s sprawling home factory. Xu once worked at Tesla as a senior engineer while Song specialized in supply chain and quality engineering. Tesla declined to confirm their prior employment.

Xu said the company employs about 50 people, most of them in a larger office in Shanghai. He said the company wants to keep a foot in California, which is a hub of U.S. tech talent, and where regulators have smoothed the way for testing of self-driving vehicles.

As for how Nullmax plans to cash out, Xu navigated around that question.

“We’re pretty busy,” he said. “We don’t much time to think about an IPO right now.”

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Jane Lanhee Lee in San Francisco; Editing by Joe White and Marla Dickerson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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AIG to update casualty coverage to include cyber: exec

(Reuters) – American International Group Inc will issue an updated commercial casualty policy during the 2018 first quarter that includes cyber coverage, the insurer’s global head of cyber risk insurance said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: The AIG logo is seen at its building in New York’s financial district March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

AIG expects to increase rates for the policy because of the added coverage, said the insurer’s cyber coverage head, Tracie Grella.

Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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AT&T: You Were Warned

Despite ongoing weakness in the stock, AT&T (T) is down following Q3 results. Investors were warned that the wireless giant has no answer to the overly competitive situation that will place the stock price under pressure despite the now substantial 5.8% dividend yield.

AT&T presentation

The stock trades down at $ 33.50 and at yearly lows. The question now is whether AT&T has taken enough of a hit considering the bundling of crucial services following the DirecTV merger aren’t apparently working.

The Q3 results were a big shock considering the wireless and video giant missed on both EPS and revenue estimates. More importantly, the company saw revenues plunge $ 1.2 billion and the only saving grace was that operating expenses declined by a nearly equal amount to produce a similar EPS total of last year at $ 0.74.

As the previous article highlighted, a primary area of weakness is the video business where cord cutters are at least shifting to the DirecTV Now service. Either way, the point of the DirecTV deal was to add pay-TV service to wireless consumers that used competitor offerings. Instead, AT&T lost 89,000 video subscribers last quarter and saw nearly 300,000 shift to the lower priced OTT service.

Source: AT&T Q3’17 Investor Briefing

Possibly even worse were the crucial post-paid phone net losses. The industry grew during Q3 so the weakness shows that AT&T is failing on marketing fronts while others are exploiting the situation. Walk Piecyk of BTIG tweeted these Q3 numbers by wireless provider showing an industry where AT&T is the only one shrinking.

These numbers really call into question the ability of management to select a merger target and execute on the integration. The upcoming Time Warner (TWX) merger should cast serious doubts on investors.

The company will turn focus to wrapping up regulatory concerns and deciding on content plans, instead of focusing on building the 5G wireless network or solving why bundling of wireless and pay-TV isn’t leading to industry leading customer additions.

For most investors, the question comes down to whether AT&T can continue paying the dividend. This isn’t always the most important question, but the market will focus on this issue.

The company pays a $ 0.49 quarterly dividend and earned $ 0.74 so the dividend appears to have decent coverage. AT&T spends about $ 3.0 billion in quarterly dividend payouts and the free cash flow is above that total YTD. The wireless giant has paid out $ 9.0 billion in dividends and generated $ 12.8 billion in free cash flow. The dividend payout ratio is up to 70.5% for the first nine months of 2017.

With annualized net EBITDA at over $ 52 billion and net debt at around $ 115 billion, AT&T doesn’t have any major leverage issues. The bigger concern is the dividend coverage if the competitive situation in the market gets worse. The 5.8% dividend appears more of a warning sign than an opportunity from that stand point.

The key investor takeaway is that industry consolidation such as a merger between Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) could help alleviate the downside risk, but the merger with Time Warner just adds additional risk, debt and distraction. Until the competitive situation in the industry improves, AT&T remains a stock to avoid despite the high dividend yield.

Disclosure: I am/we are long TWX.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as a solicitation to purchase or sell securities. Before buying or selling any stock you should do your own research and reach your own conclusion or consult a financial advisor. Investing includes risks, including loss of principal.

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