New York, in Unprecedented Move, Votes to Kick Spectrum Cable Out of the State

The New York State Public Service Commission has moved to kick Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable and internet service out of the state, citing Charter’s “repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments”. The commission voted Friday to rescind approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, which would effectively end its ability to do business in the state.

The commission approved the Charter-Time Warner merger in 2016 on a number of conditions, including expanding services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a focus on rural areas. The commission says the company has failed to meet milestones for that expansion, and has now given the company 60 days to come up with a plan to hand over its customers to other providers—that is, to sell its assets in New York.

That transition is unlikely to actually happen. Charter has said it will contest the order, calling the commission’s actions “politically motivated.” Experts speaking to Syracuse.com speculated that the move is intended to “give Spectrum a kick in the pants” towards providing more rural broadband access, and said the dispute could spiral into a yearslong court battle. Charter is the largest cable provider in New York, with more than 2 million subscribers.

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The commission fined Charter $2 million this June for failing to meet milestones for expanding services, after the company improperly claimed more than 12,000 New York City addresses as counting towards the commission’s targets. The Friday vote imposed another $1 million in fines for missed deadlines, bringing the total to $3 million. Charter has in part blamed competitor Verizon for slowing its expansion, claiming Verizon has limited its access to telephone poles.

But the commission hasn’t been convinced by that explanation, and on Friday hinted at broader issues, citing Charter’s “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers”. Charter has been among the U.S. cable providers ranked lowest by its own customers, a situation widely blamed on lack of competition between providers. Though New York’s kick in the pants might motivate Charter to do some things better, that basic condition is unlikely to change until high-speed 5G wireless service becomes a reality.

45 Percent of Millennials Expect This From Brands (It Can Also Help Grow Your Business)

The power of Millennials is no joke: They’re now a leading group of consumers, at 75 million strong. With roughly $200M in annual buying power and a strong voice on social media, discerning (and some say demanding) Millennials dictate not just what happens with their wallets, but also often with national conversations.

So what Millennials want–and expect–from brands is worth grasping if you want to market to them successfully.

Ross Paquette, founder and CEO of tech startup Maropost, has built a business around customer input–improving and innovating based on customer needs, many of whom are Millennials. While the company began as an email service provider, Maropost grew to span cross-channel marketing, total sales cycle management, and everything in between–largely through customer feedback.

For Paquette, it all comes down to one thing: “Customers are more than just the people buying from you–or at least they should be. Your success depends on taking company-customer relationships from transactions to connections.”

Your success depends not on transactions, but on connections.

The old-school version of business was to see customers as passive recipients of things, whether that thing was an ad or a product someone bought in a grocery store. Before the advent of social media, for example, it was nearly impossible for a big (or little) brand to have any kind of dialogue with consumers, let alone a public one like those that now regularly take place on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Now, taking your business to the next level requires seeing customers in a fundamentally different way. They’re not passive recipients; they’re active participants–a fact that can be either intimidating or galvanizing, depending on how you look at it.

According to recent research by TotalRetail, 45 percent of Millennials expect more engaging experiences with brands than with retailers. In other words, they expect brands to build relationships with them, to listen to them, and to engage with them. They want to be part of the innovative process (especially if something isn’t working for them).

For Paquette, this approach was a founding principle of the startup: “Customer-first innovation directs every decision we make–everything we create, we create for our customers.” It’s not just lip service, either. At Maropost, everything from feature tweaks to entire platforms have been created based directly on customer feedback.

Obviously this requires investing energy into building the right kind of structure: you need a robust feedback loop that goes from customers, to customer support, to development, and back to customers.

It’s worth investing that energy, though. “We’ve been able to build out our capabilities to a level you only see at much larger companies,” says Paquette, “and we’re winning against some of the industry’s biggest players.”

In fact, Maropost is now a leading enterprise digital marketing startup, with customers that include Rolling Stone and Mercedes-Benz. Many of their key customer decision-makers are Millennials, and they keep in close touch with them.

In the past, one-way relationships were the norm. You made the sale and were done. Few companies were interested in nurturing a relationship. Now, not only does that attitude not fly, but it constitutes a missed opportunity.

When companies are committed to true partnership with their customers … it shows. They prioritize smart feedback loops that connect people in social media with people in customer support with the development team. The things customers say (and Millennials don’t tend to hold back) are crucial–and smart companies know that they’ve got to make sure those comments aren’t wasted.

Treating customers as collaborators also ensures you’re answering real business needs–instead of operating in an echo chamber. When you collaborate directly with the people using your product and consistently seek out their feedback (instead of just assuming they’ll tell you), you don’t lose sight of what they need. It’s right there, in their words. 

Obviously not every comment is worth a feature update. But wise is the company that has a strategy in place to capture those that are–and who actively, consistently, and intentionally focus on building connections rather than transactions.

Today, You Need More Than A Market Strategy, You Need An Ecosystem Strategy

In the 1960s and 70s, Route 128 outside of Boston was the center of technology, but by the 1990s Silicon Valley had taken over and never looked back. As AnnaLee Saxenian explained in Regional Advantage, the key difference was that while Route 128 was a collection of value chains, Silicon Valley built an ecosystem.

Clearly, ecosystems are even more important today than they were back then. In fact, a recent study by Accenture Strategy found that ecosystems are a “cornerstone” of future growth and that 60% of executives surveyed viewed ecosystems as a way to disrupt their industry. A similar number saw them as key to increasing revenue.

The problem is that competing successfully in an ecosystem environment is vastly different than a traditional value chain strategy. While a value chain is driven by efficiencies, an ecosystem is driven by connections in a network. So we need to do more than adapt our strategy and tactics, we need to learn how to play a whole new game. The first step is to learn what the rules are.

First, Start Early

One of the key aspects of ecosystems is that they don’t seem all that important at first. By the time it becomes clear that a change is underway, it is often too late to adapt. The demise of Boston’s technology companies is a great example of how that can happen. Dominant firms such as DEC, Data General and Wang Laboratories found themselves irrelevant so quickly that they never recovered.

Network scientists call this an instantaneous phase transition and it happens because connections tend to form slowly. They start as isolated clusters that, even taken in sum, don’t seem to amount to much. However, when those clusters connect, a cascade ensues and what once seemed inconsequential suddenly becomes predominant.

That’s why it’s so important to become active in an ecosystem before those clusters connect, when things are moving relatively slowly, everybody wants to talk to you and the price of admission is still fairly cheap. Once an ecosystem begins to thrive, things move much faster and costs for entry raise exponentially.

Consider the automobile industry, which is now spending billions to set up research centers in Silicon Valley. Just think of how much cheaper — and more effective — it would have been for those companies to have started 20 or 30 years ago.

Not Just Spinning Out, But Spinning In

A typical strategy for an enterprise looking to leverage an ecosystem is to spin out a division to focus on activities that are relevant to it. These spinoffs tend to have a lot more in common with the ecosystem firms than the parent company and therefore are much more able to connect. However, because links to the parent company become more tenuous over time, benefits are limited.

A potentially more successful strategy is to spin ecosystem firms in. For example, the National Labs have set up programs like Cyclotron Road, Chain Reaction and Innovation Crossroads that invite entrepreneurial firms to come work at the labs, make use of the scientific facilities and be mentored by top scientists.

In the private sector, corporate venture capital operations, as well as incubators and accelerators, can be a great way to connect with small entrepreneurial companies early in the ecosystem lifecycle. Beyond the actual investments made, these programs give you the opportunity to connect with hundreds of small firms, some of which can become important partners, suppliers and customers later on.

What’s crucial is that you are not seen as an interloper, but a true source of value, whether that value is in actual monetary investment, access to facilities and expertise or connection to points of market access. What may be insignificant to your company may be incredibly valuable to a small, entrepreneurial firm.

Maintaining Open Nodes

One of Saxenian’s most interesting findings in Regional Advantage was how differently the Boston technology firms treated outsiders compared to the Silicon Valley companies. The Boston firms were vertically integrated and sought to keep everything in-house. The Silicon Valley companies, on the other hand, thrived on connection.

For example, in Silicon Valley if you left your employer to start a company of your own, you were still considered part of the family. Many new entrepreneurs became suppliers or customers to their former employers and still socialized actively with their former colleagues. In Boston, if you left your firm you were treated as a pariah.

When technology began to shift in the 80s and 90s, the Boston firms had little, if any, connection to the new ecosystems that were evolving. In Silicon Valley, however, connections to former employees acted as an antenna network, providing early market intelligence that helped those companies adapt.

So while it is necessary to reach out to evolving ecosystems, it is just as important to ensure that there are also paths for small entrepreneurial firms to engage within your enterprise. Ecosystems thrive on personal connections. Those may not show up on a strategic plan or a balance sheet, but they are just as important as any other asset.

The New Competitive Advantage

Ever since Harvard professor Michael Porter published his seminal book, Competitive Strategy in 1980, strategists have sought advantage through driving efficiencies in order to maximize bargaining power against customers, suppliers, substitute goods and new market entrants. By doing so, they could achieve higher margins and invest in greater efficiencies, creating a virtuous cycle.

Yet today things move much too fast for that kind of chess game. To compete in a networked world, you must constantly widen and deepen connections. Instead of always looking to maximize bargaining power, you need to look for opportunities to co-create with customers and suppliers, to integrate your products and services with potential substitutes and form partnerships with new market entrants.

Power no longer resides at the top of value chains, but rather at the center of networks and collaboration has become the new competitive advantage. Value is no longer merely a target for extraction, but an asset for connection. You need to be seen to be adding value to the ecosystem in order to get value out.

The truth is that we can no longer manage for stability, we must manage for disruption. We can’t predict the future, but we can connect to it, nurture it and profit from it. Yet to do so requires far more than a simple shift in strategy and tactics. It requires a fundamental change in mindset.

Disney Announces Plan To Drop Plastic Straws And Stirrers By 2019

The Walt Disney Company is the latest in a series of large corporations recently bent on eliminating plastic drinking straws and stirrers, which some disability activists say could pose new problems for customers.

The company announced Thursday that it plans to scrap single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers at all Disney-owned and operated locations by mid-2019. In a news release, Disney said its internal ban will amount to “a reduction of more than 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.”

Disney is the latest company to announce a ban on plastic straws in recent weeks, which have seen the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s UK renouncing this form of single-use tableware.

See also: Chemists Find New Method Of Recycling Common Plastics As Fuel

As CNN reported, activists have long been working to cure America of its estimated 500-million-a-day plastic straw habit, which gained fresh attention after a 2015 video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral.

In lieu of plastic straws, Disney and other companies have said they’ll offer versions made out of paper, bamboo, or other more sustainable materials.

Despite the proposed environmental benefits, however, some critics say this recent trend of forsaking plastic straws could put disabled persons at a real disadvantage with drinks.

Server Alissa Dow holds a handful of new paper straws, left, and remaining plastic straws no longer in use, right, at Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, Maine on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

As NPR reported, disabled persons who rely on plastic straws to drink have argued for more flexibility in companies’ bans as the technology for sustainable straws catches up with demand.

Katherine Carroll, policy analyst at the Rochester, New York-based Center for Disability Rights, told TIME earlier this month, “The disability community is concerned with the ban because it was implemented without the input of their daily life experience … Plastic straws are an accessible way for people with certain disabilities to consume food and drinks, and it seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws and also that plastic straw replacements are not accessible to people.”

Environmental and manufacturing researchers have also pointed out that plastic packaging like bottles and bags account for significantly more waste than straws do.

Disney also announced this week that it has plans to reduce single-use plastics in other areas down the road.

In the next few years, the company says it will transition to providing refillable toiletries and in-room amenities on cruise ships and in its hotels, reduce its plastic shopping bags at resorts and on cruises, and drop polystyrene cups entirely. When single-use plastics are unavoidable, the company says it will continue its recycling practices in these areas.

Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products, commented in the release, “These new global efforts help reduce our environmental footprint and advance our long-term sustainability goals.”

And the sooner companies take steps to truly reduce their plastic footprints, of course, the better; humanity is literally and figuratively already swimming in the stuff.

Stock market newbie Spotify hits targets, plays down challenges

LONDON (Reuters) – Market leading music streamer Spotify added 10 percent more paid subscribers in the second quarter and said it was on track to meet its full-year targets as it downplayed reports it was losing ground to rival Apple Music in the United Sates.

FILE PHOTO: The Spotify logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Despite some mixed results in its report and financial outlook, its shares touched new highs early Thursday near $199 – up 20 percent from its first day of trading in April – before settling back to $191.10, up 1.6 percent, at 1436 GMT/1036 ET.

In the Swedish company’s second financial report since its debut on the New York Stock Exchange, Spotify said monthly paying subscribers, which generate the bulk of its revenue, rose to 83 million at the end of June from 75 million in March.

The figure topped the 82 million average estimate in a Reuters poll of analysts and was more than double that of the 40 million paid users which Apple, its closest rival in the music streaming business, last disclosed in April.

Spotify, which launched its service a decade ago, has seen a surge in subscriber growth in recent years as the previously skeptical music industry warmed to streaming as a surer way to return to health after struggling to adapt to the digital age.

The Stockholm-based company tightened its full-year forecast for total monthly active users – including those choosing the entry-level, ad-supported service – to between 199 million and 207 million.

A Reuters poll showed analysts already expecting 207 million users, on average.

The still loss-making company is under increasing pressure, however, from Apple, which has the advantage of a huge customer base, especially in the lucrative U.S. market. Apple will report second-quarter results next week.

Spotify co-founder and Chief Executive Daniel Ek said the company continues to enjoy rising growth in paid and free users in the United States, while providing no specific figures.

He said customer churn, or service cancellations, fell below 4 percent in the United States, which contributes 31 percent of the company’s worldwide revenue. The churn rate worldwide was 5.1 percent at the end of 2017.

The company said it was seeing lower churn thanks to growth in family usage and student packages and bundling of Spotify with the video streaming service Hulu.

PRIVACY SHOWDOWN

Premium subscription revenue topped expectations, rising 27 percent to 1.15 billion euros ($1.34 billion) while revenue from its ad-supported service was weaker at 123 million euros, well below the 138 million, on average, analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll.

Overall, revenue rose 26 percent to 1.27 billion euros. But its growth was slowed by new European data privacy rules that took effect in May, which gives users more control of how their personal information is used by marketers and others.

“We did see some GDPR disruption across our European markets during Q2 but seem to be largely past that now,” the company said in a statement, referring to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect in May.

Chief Financial Officer Barry McCarthy said Spotify endured a “short-term hiccup” – around two weeks, late in the second quarter – during which it came under pressure from advertising firms to divulge more data about its users.

“When it became clear that we weren’t going to soften our position, we were able to move on and get back to the business of booking revenue,” McCarthy told reporters of the company’s behind-the-scenes skirmish over user data privacy.

The company said its operating loss widened to 90 million euros from 41 million in the first quarter, largely due to costs related to its stock-market listing. Management reiterated its focus on rapid growth in global market share and entry into emerging markets rather than on short-term profitability.

Spotify’s CEO denied recent reports his company was seeking to replace major music labels by licensing music directly from artists, saying it has done this for years and its goal remains to act as a promotional platform for both artists and labels.

“We will continue licensing music from whoever owns the rights,” Ek told investors on another conference call. “We have been doing this for years because our goal is to get as much music on to the platform as we possibly can.”

Spotify’s $26 billion stock market debut in April was the most highly scrutinized technology IPO since that of Snapchat owner Snap last year.

It is the first European company to take on major U.S. tech rivals – Apple, Amazon and Google – on the global stage. Its unorthodox direct market listing, bypassing investment banks, also made for rocky trading in its first few weeks.

Reporting by Eric Auchard in London; editing by Jon Boyle and Elaine Hardcastle

Hedge funds hit by Qualcomm-NXP deal collapse

LONDON (Reuters) – Hedge funds betting Qualcomm (QCOM.O) would succeed in a $44 billion bid for NXP Semiconductors (NXPI.O) face steep losses after the deal fell through – taking the shine off a strong start to the year for many funds.

Qualcomm, the world’s biggest maker of chips for mobile phones, called off the deal on Thursday after the Chinese regulator failed to approve it by a Wednesday deadline.

Many funds bought into NXP months ago at an average of around $115 a share, well below the $127.5 a share offer price, a trader at a major investment bank told Reuters, but rising U.S. China trade tensions caused a steady slide in the value of the target.

After closing at $98.37 on Wednesday, ahead of the deadline, shares in NXP were down more than 7 percent early on Thursday. From Wednesday’s close to Thursday, the estimated paper loss based on the share price movement would be more than $700 million, based on available Thomson Reuters data.

“It’s a significant hit but it’s always more palatable for risk-arbitrage to lose money as a slow bleed,” said the trader at the bank. “The struggle is when you come in and the stock is down 30 percent in one day.”

Which funds held what position at when the deal was called off on Wednesday is hard to determine as U.S. securities filings data has a long lag. It is also impossible to show using publicly available data when they bought and sold, to determine precise losses.

The most recent Thomson Reuters data, however, showed hedge funds made up seven of the top 10 shareholders in NXP, and collectively they held more than 35 percent of its shares.

“A lot of hedge funds are involved in NXP-Qualcomm. We have about five to 10 event-driven managers involved in the trade,” said Ben Watson, senior investment manager, alternatives at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Three of the seven hedge funds among the top-10 investors cut exposure to NXP ahead of Wednesday, including Soroban Capital Partners, Och-Ziff Capital Management and Pentwater Capital Management, Thomson Reuters data showed.

All of these funds declined to comment to Reuters.

“We cut our position from near-10 percent of our portfolio in February down to under 5 percent,” said a trader at one of the top-30 hedge funds with a position in NXP.

The losses marred what has been an otherwise strong start to the year for ‘event-driven’ funds that specialize in trading around deals.

Up 2.26 percent in the first half of 2018, the average fund outperformed average industry returns of 0.79 percent, industry tracker Hedge Fund Research showed.

One of the star contributors to portfolio performance has been Sky (SKYB.L), up 52 percent this year as Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) compete to buy the company.

Also, a number of other China-U.S. deals had successfully completed or were expected to complete which has helped performance, investors said.

Among them were Marvell Technology (MRVL.O), which announced it had acquired Cavium on July 6, and Microchip Technology (MCHP.O), whose takeover of Microsemi Corp was finalised May 29.

Investors and analysts also pointed to reasons for funds not to sell out of NXP completely.

As a result of cancelling the deal, Qualcomm paid a $2 billion breakup fee to NXP – a fact that should help bolster the share price – while NXP also launched a share buy-back. Olivetree analysts suggested NXP could now hit a standalone price of $120 a share.

Reporting by Maiya Keidan. Editing by Jane Merriman

China pulls approval for Facebook's planned venture: New York Times

(Reuters) – China has withdrawn its approval for Facebook Inc’s plan to open a venture in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies gathering at Paris’ Station F in Paris, France on January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

A Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary, but the registration has since disappeared, according to checks made by Reuters.

The move is a setback for Facebook, which has been struggling to gain a foothold in China, the most populous country in the world, where its website and messaging app Whatsapp remain blocked.

And it makes the social networking company the latest to get caught in the middle of U.S.-China trade tensions.

U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc’s deal to buy NXP Semiconductors NV has yet to win approval from Chinese regulators, the only holdout from eight of nine global regulators required to approve the deal. The companies have said they will call off the deal if they do not win China approval.

“If China blocks this move by Facebook it’s another shot across the bow at U.S. tech companies as this tariff battle heats up between China and the Beltway, coupled by the Qualcomm-NXP saga continuing,” GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives said.

Facebook, which said on Tuesday it planned to create an “innovation hub” to support local start-ups and developers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

While the about-face does not definitively end Facebook’s chances of establishing the company, it makes success very unlikely, a source told the New York Times.

The decision to take down the approval came after a disagreement between officials in Zhejiang and the national internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, which was angry that it had not been consulted more closely, according to the New York Times.

China strictly censors foreign news outlets, search engines and social media including content from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

“At first blush it looks like it’s not trade-war related but more free-speech related. China has wanted to control what gets into the public hands which has made Google and Facebook’s entry difficult there,” Elazar Advisors analyst Chaim Siegel said.

“If the U.S. and China were best buds maybe it could have affected this decision but I don’t think so,” he said.

The Chinese internet regulator was not immediately available for comment. Other Chinese officials could not be reached outside business hours.

“While Facebook had hoped to dip a toe in the market and work with Chinese developers, its very presence appears to have become a large, and incendiary, political question,” said Daniel Morgan, a portfolio manager at Synovus Trust, which holds 73,386 Facebook shares.

Facebook said on Tuesday that owning the China company would not change its approach to China, where it was still understanding and learning how to operate.

Its venture in China was similar to what it did in other countries: Station F in France, Estacao Hack in Brazil, Tech Hub launch in India and Innovation Hub in Korea.

Shares of Facebook pared most of their gains to trade marginally up at $215.34, after touching a record-high earlier in the session. The company is due to report quarterly results after the closing bell.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Susan Thomas

Apple's MacBook Pro Heating Problem Gets a Software Fix

When Apple revealed its newest MacBook Pro laptops in New York City two weeks ago, it naturally emphasized the computers’ performance capabilities. Apple’s line of pro laptops is targeted toward creative professionals who do processor-intensive work on their PCs, and Apple was eager to appeal to them. There was just one issue, as some early buyers soon found out: In certain scenarios the machines were underperforming due to thermal throttling.

Apple now says it’s aware of the issue and is releasing a software fix to address it. In a statement released today, the company says it’s discovered a bug that’s been slowing down processor speeds when the machine gets hot. “Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down” under heavy loads on the new laptops, an Apple spokesperson said. “We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems.”

The fix will be available through a macOS High Sierra “supplemental” update going out today. It’s not just on the new 15-inch MacBook Pros running on Intel Core i9 processors (which is what many of the early complaints were about), but on all new 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros. Apple plans to post the results of some of its latest internal tests—including a test that replicates a YouTuber’s experience running Adobe Premiere on a new MacBook Pro—on its website today.

The MacBook Pro software fix is the latest admission (verbal or otherwise) that newer models of Apple laptops may have scattered issues. It comes on the heels of Apple having to launch a repair program for the keyboards on newer MacBooks. But unlike the keyboard issue—which Apple has never apologized for and maintains has only affected a small percentage of users—the company is explicitly acknowledging here that it has found a bug in the software running on the new MacBook Pros.

Hot Metal

Apple first announced the new MacBook Pros earlier this month, in an airy Tribeca loft where a dozen Mac-happy professionals were on hand to vouch for the performance of the laptops. Initial reactions to the new machines (including my own) ranged from impressed—the 15-inch model is running on a six-core, Intel Core i9 chip for the first time, and can be configured with up to four terabytes of SSD—to sticker-shocked, since a fully loaded MacBook Pro costs $6,700.

There were also questions as to why Apple didn’t upgrade the 13-inch, non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro to include the latest Intel chips. This means that if customers want an Apple laptop running the absolute newest chips, they have to buy a MacBook Pro model with a Touch Bar. Buy a model without the Touch Bar and you’re running on outdated silicon.

But shortly after the new MacBook Pros began shipping, some early users and reviewers began to notice that their Core i9 machines weren’t performing as promised. It was assumed by many that the machine was being throttled so that it would generate less heat. One YouTuber, Dave Lee, demonstrated how his new Core i9 MacBook Pro actually performed worse than last year’s laptop running on an Intel Core i7 chip. He even ran a test of his new laptop in a freezer, rendering files in Adobe Premiere, and discovered that the render time was twelve and a half minutes less than it was when his laptop, well, wasn’t in the freezer. However, Jonathan Morrison, another YouTuber, ran a series of tests on two brand new 15-inch MacBook Pros—one with an Intel Core i7 chip and another with a Core i9—and didn’t have the same negative outcomes as Lee.

All of this happened after Apple estimated that its new, top-of-the-line MacBook Pro was “70 percent faster” than the previous model, all features and specs combined. (Apple doubled down in this claim in its statement today, repeating that customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70 percent faster, and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro to be two times faster, than previous models.)

Off Key

The software fix for MacBook Pros is also coming on the heels of “Keyboardgate.” Late last year writer Casey Johnston of The Outline detailed the issues she was having with her MacBook Pro keyboard, which were believed to be the result of particles getting stuck in the ultra-thin butterfly switch keyboards. Other customers came forward with their own stories of unresponsive keys on newer machines. Eventually, the company launched a free keyboard service program for any newer MacBook keyboard that has letters or characters that repeat unexpectedly or don’t appear at all; or if there are keys that feel sticky.

At the MacBook Pro launch two weeks ago, Apple pointed out that the new keyboards were notably quieter (they are). But company representatives failed to mention one interesting detail, even when pressed by members of the media for more information about the keyboards: The keys on the new MacBook Pros now have a thin, silicone barrier beneath them, which was discovered by iFixit when the techs there tore down the new laptop. Though unconfirmed by Apple, it’s believed the keyboards were designed this way so debris wouldn’t get under the keys and the keys wouldn’t get stuck, not solely for the sake of quietude.

This may be a decent solution—you might even call it clever—to the sticky-key problem. But the real problem is larger, and that’s a lack of transparency on the part of Apple as to what’s really going on in the products it sells and how it’s managing the problems that arise.

You could rightly point out that Apple has always operated within a shroud of secrecy, so it’s not surprising that certain aspects of its engineering aren’t just blurted out in press briefings. But the recent issues with the MacBook Pro goes beyond the “magic sauce” it doesn’t want to share. In order for something to be magic, it has to work in the first place. These are premium products that don’t always live up to their maker’s promises. Apple sometimes openly acknowledges its products’ flaws, as it has now done with the software bug. But then again, it sometimes doesn’t.


More Great WIRED Stories

Google Chrome Now Labels HTTP Sites as 'Not Secure'

Nearly two years ago, Google made a pledge: It would name and shame websites with unencrypted connections, a strategy designed to spur web developers to embrace HTTPS encryption. On Tuesday, it finally follows through.

With the launch of Chrome 68, Google will now call out sites with unencrypted connections as “Not Secure” in the URL bar. The move flips the convention of how Chrome displays the security of sites on its head. Previously, pages that deployed HTTPS-enabled encrypted connections were preceded by a green lock icon and the word “Secure” in the URL bar. HTTP sites had a small icon that you could click for more information; if you did, it read, “Your connection to this site is not secure. You should not enter any sensitive information on this site (for example, passwords or credit cards), because it could be stolen by attackers.”

It’s a warning worth heeding. Under an unencrypted HTTP connection, any information that you send across the web can be intercepted by a hacker or other bad actor. In extreme cases, like so-called man-in-the-middle attacks, someone could pose as a destination site, tricking you into handing over your credentials, credit card info, or other sensitive information.

“Encryption is something that web users should expect by default,” says Chrome security product manager Emily Schechter.

The use of HTTP has privacy implications, as well. If you’re browsing on an unsecured connection, your internet provider and any bad actors can hypothetically see not just which site you’re on, but what specific pages. Not so with HTTPS, a benefit that has clear implications for, say, adult sites. Even innocuous sites—pages that neither ask for nor contain sensitive information—have good reason to embrace it.

“You may occasionally be in a coffee shop. If you go to a non-HTTPS site, sometimes you’ll get ads that pop over the page. Those aren’t ads from the web page; they’ve been injected somewhere along the way. That kind of behavior is what HTTPS overcomes,” says Ross Schulman, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “It’s not just ads. Malware is served this way, a lot. It’s not just about making sure that user information is private, it really ensures the integrity of the website.”

Sticking a warning sign in front of unencrypted sites is just one step in a broader, ongoing plan. In January 2017, Chrome put a warning on sites that asked for credit card information. Several months later, they instituted it on HTTP sites in incognito windows.

Despite the broader security benefits, Google’s HTTPS push is not without its critics. Developer Dave Winer, one of the creators of RSS, objects to what he views as Google imposing its will on the open web. “The fact is that they’re forcing it,” says Winer, who also wrote a detailed objection actions in February. “They’re just the tech industry. The web is so much bigger than the tech industry. That’s the arrogance of this.”

Winer worries that forced HTTPS adoption—and scolding sites that don’t embrace it—will penalize web developers who don’t have the wherewithal to implement it, and potentially cordons off older, passively managed corners of the web. He also worries that Google won’t stop here. “Was this the only way to achieve this end? Because this is draconian,” Winer says. “If this were done properly, it would have been deliberated, and a lot of people who aren’t in the tech industry would have had a say in it.”

For what it’s worth, Chrome is not alone in posting warnings next to HTTP sites; Firefox has explored it as well. Between them, they have 73 percent of browser market share. And Google notes that the vast majority of Chrome traffic—76 percent on Android, and 85 percent on ChromeOS—already travels across an HTTPS connection. Gains have come not just from Google, but from a broader push toward HTTPS that ranges from hosting sites like WordPress and Squarespace, to internet infrastructure companies like Cloudflare, to Let’s Encrypt, a service that provides free certificates that enable HTTPS connections. As of Tuesday, Let’s Encrypted has secured 113 million sites.

“It’s not like you need a big IT department or a ton of money to turn on HTTPS. Particularly for small, simple sites, it should be extremely easy and straightforward,” Schechter says.

The ubiquity of HTTPS was no sure bet as recently as two years ago, when only 37 of the top 100 sites on the web used it. Now, Google says, 83 do. (WIRED made the jump in 2016, in a rollout that took five months and no small number of headaches.) Let’s Encrypt, in particular, has been a boon to smaller site operators.

“Expecting every website to enable HTTPS would have been unreasonable prior to the existence of Let’s Encrypt, which lowers financial, technical, and educational barriers to enabling HTTPS,” says Josh Aas, cofounder of Internet Security Research Group, the organization behind Let’s Encrypt. “Our focus on ease of use at scale has been a primary driver behind the incredible growth in HTTPS deployment in recent years.”

In many ways, Tuesday’s announcement is just the continuation of a still-ongoing plan to promote HTTPS around the web. In September, Google will remove the “Secure” indicator next to HTTPS sites, a sign that encrypted connections have largely become the default posture online. And in October, if you attempt to enter data on an HTTP page, Chrome will show you a “not secure” warning in red.

The web still has dangers plenty, and HTTPS may well take a toll on certain sites that can’t or won’t upgrade. But at least, as of Tuesday, you can make the baseline assumption that your connection is secure. And if it’s not, Chrome will tell you.


More Great WIRED Stories

Why You Should Start Your Next Company in the City of Lights

All over the country of France, the streets are abuzz with excitement as the men’s football (soccer) team took the highest achievement in the world for the first time in 10 years. It seems all eyes have been on Paris, with stories and images capturing the passion of a generation that exhibits a certain joie de vivre not only for their sports, but also for their country’s growing role in the global tech scene.

France’s leadership put a stake in the ground 10 years ago to make Paris the financial capital of Europe, and with the highest GDP on the European continent, Paris has become an increasingly viable place to launch and develop tech companies. And top titans of tech are taking notice, with icons like Sheryl Sandberg and John Chambers asserting Paris as the place to be in Europe right now, but why is the City of Lights exploding now?

The Funding Flows

Since 2014, Paris has been making a fast and furious run to the top of the list of startup investment deals in Europe, outpacing Germany in 2016 and surpassing the UK last year. The country boasts the highest birth rate of new companies and more money was invested in French startups in the last quarter than anywhere else in Europe.

Last year (2017) also saw a record year for deals made to French tech companies, increasing by nearly 45 percent, and investors are putting in more money than ever. In fact, the average investment rose from €2.4m in 2014 to €4.1m in 2016. [[source?]] And the first generation of French unicorns, BlaBlaCar and Criteo, have not only achieved tremendous success, but are now choosing to invest in other French entrepreneurs, extending the start-up ecosystem.

It’s Cool to Be a Founder

Some have said the French have been slower to accept the cultural shift in career paths for young people. While in the U.S. we’ve grown accustomed to 20-year-old CEO’s, the French have been more reluctant to jump on that bandwagon–choosing to pursue careers in more established industries like banking and management consulting–but times are changing.

Some of this shift is the result of a nudge from the French government, which for the last decade has made a concerted effort to ensure France is seen as a country doubling down on technology and fostering innovation.

The election of President Macron last summer further cemented this commitment, fueling the French Finance Minister to roll out a $13 billion disruptive innovation fund, with special focus on artificial intelligence, data protection, defense, energy, health, telecommunications, transport and water. Experts also point to La French Tech, a publicly funded initiative to promote French startups, as a major factor in bolstering the rise of Paris as a tech hub.

France Is Where the Talent’s At

French tech talent, particularly in engineering, are among the best in the world. French engineering schools have produced top tier innovators for years and the country now graduates as many engineers as their German neighbors. More importantly, that talent is being fostered and mentored by top tier enterprises and collaborating more than ever.

France now houses 450 incubators and accelerators, including Paris’ leading projects Partech Shaker and Station F. These campuses offer the most elite office space for startups in the country and provide founders with unmatched opportunities for networking and mentorship. Among present and past residents of Partech Shaker, which is a Techstars’ partner, are Dropbox, HotelTonight, Hired and Pinterest.

The shift in focus on technology and innovation in France has long been recognized and prioritized as a vital national movement that French citizens are incredibly proud of; however, global recognition is a more recent phenomenon. And with both talent and capital continuing to pour into the country, it’s safe to say that the growth will not just continue but will do so exponentially.