Exclusive: Tesla in talks with China's Lishen over Shanghai battery contract – sources

BEIJING (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has signed a preliminary agreement with China’s Tianjin Lishen to supply batteries for its new Shanghai car factory, as it aims to cut its reliance on Japan’s Panasonic (6752.T), two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors are seen at the booth of Lishen Battery at a new energy expo in Beijing, China March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

The companies had yet to reach a decision on how large an order the U.S. electric car company would place, and Lishen was still working out what battery cell size Tesla would require, one of the sources said.

While Panasonic is currently Tesla’s exclusive battery cell supplier, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in November the U.S. company would manufacture all its battery modules and packs at the Shanghai factory and planned to diversify its sources.

“Cell production will be sourced locally, most likely from several companies (incl Pana), in order to meet demand in a timely manner,” Musk said in a tweet in November.

Other battery makers in the running for contracts could include Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (300750.SZ) and LG Chem Ltd (051910.KS).

Tesla broke ground on the $2 billion so-called Gigafactory, its first in China, earlier this month and plans to begin making Model 3 electric vehicles (EV) there by the end of the year.

Musk has said the factory will produce “more affordable” vehicles for the Chinese auto market, the world’s biggest, where the firm is facing mounting competition and risks from U.S.-China trade tensions.

Tesla declined to comment, while Lishen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Panasonic said in a statement it was studying various possibilities with regards to Tesla’s Shanghai plant, but nothing had been decided. It declined to comment on the possibility of losing exclusive-supplier status with Tesla.

The sources declined to be identified because the discussions are private.

APPLE SUPPLIER

Lishen, which says its clients range from Apple (AAPL.O) and Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) to Geely (0175.HK) and Hyundai Motor (005380.KS), has joined other battery makers in aggressively pursuing contracts with the rapidly growing EV industry.

The Chinese company started mass production of the same type of cylindrical battery made by Panasonic for Tesla’s Model 3 in 2017, in the city of Suzhou about 100 kms (60 miles) away from Shanghai.

Reuters reported on Monday that Panasonic and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) were set to launch a joint venture next year to produce EV batteries in an effort to compete with Chinese rivals.

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A joint venture would build on the agreement that the pair announced in late 2017 on joint development of batteries with higher energy density in a prismatic cell arrangement.

It would also help Panasonic cut its heavy reliance on Tesla, whose production delays have weighed on the Japanese company’s earnings.

Panasonic planned to shift most of its prismatic battery-related equipment and facilities in Japan and China to the joint venture, while those producing batteries for Tesla would remain under the company, a source said.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Tom Daly in BEIJING; additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki in TOKYO; Editing by Brenda Goh and Stephen Coates

Amazon.com starts direct sales of merchandise in Brazil after delays

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is launching its long-awaited in-house fulfillment and delivery network in Brazil after months of delays caused by complicated logistics and a highly complex tax system in the largest Latin American economy.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

Amazon, which some rivals had expected to kick off direct sales of items beyond books as soon as the Christmas selling season, said it will directly sell 11 categories of merchandise from over 800 suppliers from L’Oreal to Black & Decker as of Tuesday.

Its shift to stocking and delivering goods itself from acting mostly as a marketplace is expected to intensify competition for fast delivery of goods in Latin America’s largest economy as it exits a painful recession.

“We are launching (our direct sales platform) with 320,000 different products in stock, including 200,000 books… Our obsession is always to increase this catalog and to have everything Brazilian consumers seek and want to buy on the internet”, Amazon’s Brazilian country manager Alex Szapiro told Reuters.

In November, Reuters reported that Amazon’s attempt to advance with its so-called Fulfillment by Amazon program in Brazil had run into difficulties such as the nations’s tangled tax system, complicated logistics and testy relations with some prominent vendors.

“As in every negotiation, you take a seat at a table and you want to agree on the best possible terms”, said Szapiro when asked on the tone of conversations with suppliers, without entering in details.

Amazon entered Brazil quietly in 2012, selling e-readers, books and then streaming movies in the fast-growing Brazilian market. The company made its first big move into merchandise in October 2017, when it began offering the use of its Brazilian website to third-party merchants to sell electronics.

The company does not reveal the number of sellers in its marketplace, which it has slowly expanded over the past year, adding new categories while laying the ground for a direct sales platform.

As part of the fulfillment program, Amazon leased a 47,000 square-meter (505,904-square-foot) warehouse just outside of Sao Paulo, as first reported by Reuters almost a year ago.

Szapiro, who previously worked as Brazil country manager for Apple Inc, declined to say how much the company is spending on the new distribution center or how many people it is hiring, but said Amazon employs directly and indirectly over 1,400 people in Brazil.

In a report published on Monday, analysts at investment bank BTG Pactual said the expected direct sales launch signaled the company was ready “to strengthen investments, potentially via more partnerships with fulfillment operators and last-mile carriers.”

Even though the bank predicted Amazon would take a “gradual approach” and was likely to vye for a “low double-digit market share,” shares of Brazilian retailers reacted negatively to BTG’s report, with B2W, Magazine Luiza e Lojas Americanas among the biggest losers in Monday’s session.

Reporting by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Sandra Maler

Cyber Saturday—Challenging Facebook’s ‘#10YearChallenge,’ Tim Cook’s Privacy Plea, Mega Password Leak

Dumpster diving. A huge trove of data spilled onto the web and has been helpfully uploaded to HaveIBeenPwned, a leaked password-checking database for consumers, by security researcher Troy Hunt, the site’s proprietor. The leak, dubbed “Collection #1,” contains nearly 773 million unique email addresses and more than 21 million unique passwords—making it Hunt’s largest-ever upload. It’s unclear where exactly the data originated, although the anonymous person(s) who posted them online claim they came from many different sources. Best use the opportunity to clean up your password hygiene.

Be yourself. Facebook is still combatting disinformation. Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the media giant booted two Russian operations—including one involving Sputnik, a Moscow-based news agency—off Facebook and Instagram on Thursday. Facebook suspended hundreds of accounts and pages that he said engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” He noted that the fight against fakers is “an ongoing challenge.”

Chinese finger trap. Federal prosecutors are probing Huawei for allegedly stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies, including components from a T-Mobile phone-testing robot called “Tappy,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The investigation is “at an advanced stage and could lead to an indictment soon,” the Journal’s unnamed sources said. Add this development to the mess of controversies entangling the Chinese company.

Demand a recount. The Financial Times said it discovered evidence of “huge fraud” in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s December presidential election. The paper claims that its own independent tally of votes, based on data leaked by an unnamed source close to Martin Fayulu, the contest’s loser (but actual winner?), exposes the fraud. The report corroborates the view of the Catholic Church, which earlier denounced the election’s “results” after conducting its own audit.

Look; don’t touch. A California judge recently ruled that police officers are not authorized, even in possession of a search warrant, to force suspects to unlock their phones using biometrics, like a fingerprint or facial scan, Forbes reports. Judges had already ruled that passcodes were protected against such coercion, meaning people could refuse to supply them, thereby preventing self-incrimination. The judge, who called the original law enforcement request “overbroad,” wrote, “If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device.”

Just your friendly neighborhood NSA

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Google Is Paying Employees for Six Months of Charity Work

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has launched a new program that will pay its employees to do pro bono work for nonprofit groups for up to six months.

Google announced the new program, called the Google.org Fellowship, on Tuesday. The purpose is to let Google employees take on full-time pro bono work for the organization’s nonprofit partners, which include groups like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Girls Who Code, and Amnesty International.

The company aims to achieve 50,000 hours of pro bono work this year.

The fellowship extends Google’s community service outreach and adds to a growing list of volunteer-based initiatives offered by tech companies. It also helps Google accomplish two goals: aid the community with the company’s expertise—as well as motivate employees and help them sharpen their skills, according to the company’s blog.

The launch of Google’s fellowship came after the company piloted a six-month program in which it sent five Googlers to work with Thorn, a nonprofit founded by Ashton Kutcher that develops technology to protect children from sexual abuse. Through the partnership, Google employees helped build tools to find patterns in data that would assist law enforcement in identifying and locating child victims faster.

Since then, seven Google.org fellows, including software engineers and data scientists, started working with Goodwill Industries International, to which Google.org gave $10 million in 2017. Googlers will help the organization get better insight about what works best in their job training programs.

Prior to this program, Google had already offered employees volunteer hours, though a much smaller number, for community service projects.

Google launched GoogleServe in 2008, aiming to encourage employees to participate in community service projects for a day in June. The program also helps match employees’ skillsets to nonprofits’ needs and allows them to spend up to 20 hours of work time volunteering. Last year, more than 5,000 employees volunteered more than 50,000 hours across 400 project, according to Google’s website.

Along the same lines, Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of business software company Salesforce, has a Pro Bono Program that offers employees 56 hours of paid volunteer time annually. Between the program’s debut in 2014 and October 2017, Salesforce employees had volunteered 166,000 pro bono hours with 5,700 organizations.

Twitter also offers a community service day. The #TwitterForGood Day, a biannual event at the company, gives employees the chance to do community service at partnering organizations.

Apple premiered its employee volunteer program in 2015. The Apple Global Volunteer Program helps employees organize and support organizations and events in their communities. The program offers training and tools to help them create and promote volunteer events.

An Astonishing 773 Million Records Exposed in Monster Breach

There are breaches, and there are megabreaches, and there’s Equifax. But a newly revealed trove of leaked data tops them all for sheer volume: 772,904,991 unique email addresses, over 21 million unique passwords, all recently posted to a hacking forum.

The data set was first reported by security researcher Troy Hunt, who maintains Have I Been Pwned, a way to search whether your own email or password has been compromised by a breach at any point. (Trick question: It has.) The so-called Collection #1 is the largest breach in Hunt’s menagerie, and it’s not particularly close.

The Hack

If anything, the above numbers belie the real volume of the breach, as they reflect Hunt’s effort to clean up the data set to account for duplicates and to strip out unusable bits. In raw form, it comprises 2.7 billion rows of email addresses and passwords, including over a billion unique combinations of email addresses and passwords.

The trove appeared briefly on MEGA, the cloud service, and persisted on what Hunt refers to as “a popular hacking forum.” It sat in a folder called Collection #1, which contained over 12,000 files that weigh in at over 87 gigabytes. While it’s difficult to confirm exactly where all that info came from, it appears to be something of a breach of breaches; that is to say, it claims to aggregate over 2,000 leaked databases that contain passwords whose protective hashing has been cracked.

“It just looks like a completely random collection of sites purely to maximize the number of credentials available to hackers,” Hunt tells WIRED. “There’s no obvious patterns, just maximum exposure.”

That sort of Voltron breach has happened before, but never on this scale. In fact, not only is this the largest breach to become public, it’s second only to Yahoo’s pair of incidents—which affected 1 billion and 3 billion users, respectively—in size. Fortunately, the stolen Yahoo data hasn’t surfaced. Yet.

Who’s Affected?

The accumulated lists seem designed for use in so-called credential-stuffing attacks, in which hackers throw email and password combinations at a given site or service. These are typically automated processes that prey especially on people who reuse passwords across the whole wide internet.

The silver lining in Collection #1 going public is that you can definitively find out if your email and password were among the impacted accounts. Hunt has already loaded them into Have I Been Pwned; just type in your email address and keep those fingers crossed. While you’re there you can also find out how many previous breaches you’ve been a victim of. Whatever password you’re using on those accounts, change it.

Have I Been Pwned also introduced a password-search feature a year and a half ago; you can just type in whatever passwords go with your most sensitive accounts to see if they’re out in the open. If they are, change them.

And while you’re at it, get a password manager. It’s well past time.

How Serious Is This?

Pretty darn serious! While it doesn’t appear to include more sensitive information, like credit card or Social Security numbers, Collection #1 is historic for scale alone. A few elements also make it especially unnerving. First, around 140 million email accounts and over 10 million unique passwords in Collection #1 are new to Hunt’s database, meaning they’re not just duplicates from prior megabreaches.

Then there’s the way in which those passwords are saved in Collection #1. “These are all plain text passwords. If we take a breach like Dropbox, there may have been 68 million unique email addresses in there, but the passwords were cryptographically hashes making them very difficult to use,” says Hunt. Instead, the only technical prowess someone with access to the folders needs to break into your accounts is the ability to scroll and click.

And lastly, Hunt also notes that all of these records were sitting not in some dark web backwater, but on one of the most popular cloud storage sites—until it got taken down—and then on a public hacking site. They weren’t even for sale; they were just available for anyone to take.

The usual advice for protecting yourself applies. Never reuse passwords across multiple sites; it increases your exposure by orders of magnitude. Get a password manager. Have I Been Pwned integrates directly into 1Password—automatically checking all of your passwords against its database—but you’ve got no shortage of good options. Enable app-based two-factor authentication on as many accounts as you can, so that a password isn’t your only line of defense. And if you do find your email address or one of your passwords in Have I Been Pwned, at least know that you’re in good company.


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Verizon deepens ties with Apple, offers free Apple Music to some U.S. customers

FILE PHOTO: An Apple company logo is seen behind tree branches outside an Apple store in Beijing, China December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) said on Tuesday it will include free Apple Music subscriptions in some of its top-tier U.S. data plans, deepening its ties with the iPhone maker.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is increasingly turning for growth to its services segment, which includes businesses such as iCloud storage, Apple Music and the App Store, and has been partnering with rivals in recent months. Two weeks ago, it cut its revenue forecast, blaming iPhone sales in China.

Verizon customers opting for its “Beyond Unlimited” and “Above Unlimited” plans will also get access to free Apple Music from Jan. 17, the U.S. wireless carrier said in a statement vz.to/2RtAiYk.

Last year, Verizon and Apple announced a partnership, giving some customers six months of Apple Music streaming service along with their data plan. The Verizon “Go Unlimited” plan will continue to get a six-month free trial of Apple Music.

Apple in the last few months has made its iTunes service available on some of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s (005930.KS) newer smart televisions and has made Apple Music available on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Echo smart speakers.

The Cupertino-based firm is facing a saturated global smart phone market and many users are hanging on to their old iPhones longer than ever.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik and Supriya Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Bracing for a Hazy Robo-Future, Ford and VW Join Forces

Sensor partnerships. Subsidiary acquisitions. Software collaborations. The autonomous driving world is about as incestous a place as Caligula’s palace, and it got a little more so today, when Ford and Volkswagen announced a formal and long-anticipated alliance.

“The alliance we are now building, starting from first formal agreement, will boost both partners’ competitiveness in an era of rapid change,” Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen, said on a call with reporters. He and Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the partnership—which is not a merger—will begin with the companies jointly developing and building medium-sized pickups and commercial vans, to debut as early as 2022. The automakers said the arrangement should “yield improved annual pre-tax operating results” by 2023. So hopefully, this makes everyone richer.

After that, well, the companies have signed a “memorandum of understanding” to collaborate on electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services. The shape and details of those partnerships are yet to be determined.

Diess is right about that “rapid change” bit. The automotive industry has shifted remarkably in the last decade, with new vehicle and vehicle-adjacent tech players—Tesla, Waymo, Aurora, Argo AI—injecting fresh blood (and panic) into the business of building cars. Ford and VW seem to believe that banding together will help them not only survive, but thrive.

The companies will need to do that in a world where, eventually, someday, the human driver is obsolete. The path to self-driving domination is not yet clear. What services will automotive manufacturers manage for themselves? Which technologies will they build and own? Ford and VW have spent the last few years toying with different answers to these questions, and by joining forces, each has diversified its AV portfolio. It might be evidence, as automotive writer Pete Bigelow points out, that the companies are making smart, strategic decisions about how to spend their R & D dollars in this confusing, in-between time. Or that they’re flailing. Maybe both.

Both VW and Ford already have (quasi) in-house automated vehicle software teams. VW has built up a 150-person “Autonomous Intelligent Driving” unit as part of its Audi brand, which is building a full AV software stack. (Audi itself has pledged to spend $16 billion on electric and self-driving vehicles through 2023.) And the German automaker is working on self-driving with the AV developer Aurora, which is headed up by self-driving tech veterans.

Ford has a large stake in Pittsburgh-based AV software company Argo AI, whose work is a key element of the automaker’s pledge to have a fully automated robotaxi in operation by 2021. And it has spent time and money boning up on “mobility” tech, purchasing companies like transit software-maker TransLoc, transportation cloud platform Autonomic, (recently killed) shuttle service Chariot, and scooter-share company Spin. It’s trying to figure out how best to connect customers to transportation, and what they’d like to see out of a transportation service, anyway.

It’s not clear yet how these various minglings will affect Ford and VW’s work. Argo AI is involved in the discussions between the companies, but specifics are scarce. “We’re not going to speculate on the details of the advanced discussions that are ongoing,” says Alan Hall, a spokesperson for Ford.

Khobi Brooklyn, a spokesperson for Aurora, did not say what role the company might play in the alliance. “As we continue to build relationships across the transportation ecosystem with providers of vehicles, transportation networks and fleet management operations, we are confident that we will be able to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly,” she wrote in a statement. Aurora has said that it has not ruled out working with other automotive manufacturers on self-driving cars; it also has partnerships with Hyundai and EV startup Byton.

Another element of this “diversification” that should benefit both companies: They get easier access to the others’ regional strengths—and regulatory environments. VW has invested serious money in South America, Africa, and China. But despite a new plan to establish a plant in Tennessee, the German carmaker is weaker in the US, Ford’s home turf. “From Volkswagen’s perspective, it would make a lot of sense to cooperate with an American player given that the regulatory conditions for preparing the breakthrough of autonomous driving are more advanced in the US than they are in Europe,” Diess told reporters. Break out those German-English dictionaries.


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Bio-Printers Are Churning out Living Fixes to Broken Spines

For doctors and medical researchers repairing the human body, a 3D printer has become almost as valuable as an x-ray machine, microscope, or a sharp scalpel. Bioengineers are using 3D printers to make more durable hip and knee joints, prosthetic limbs and, recently, to produce living tissue attached to a scaffold of printed material.

Researchers say that bio-printed tissue can be used to test the effects of drug treatments, for example, with an eventual goal of printing entire organs that can be grown and then transplanted into a patient. The latest step towards 3D-printed replacements of failed human parts comes from a team at the University of California San Diego. It has bio-printed a section of spinal cord that can be custom-fit into a patient’s injury.

UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

The scientists first printed out small implants made of softgel and filled them with neural stem cells, again using a printer. The implants were then surgically placed inside a tiny gap in a rat’s spinal cord. Over time the new nerve cells and axons grew and formed new connections across the cut spinal cord of the animal. These nerve cells connected not only with one another but with the host spinal cord tissue and the circulatory systems of the patient, which helps ensure their survival in the body. The precision 3D printing allowed the softgel and cellular matrix to fit accurately into the wound.

The UCSD team, led by Shaochen Chen, a professor of nanoengineering, and neuroscientist Mark Tuszinski, published their findings today in the journal Nature Medicine. Most work on 3D bio-printing is done in culture dishes, but this experiment was unique in that the team was able to do this in laboratory rats, and because the lab-grown cells then successfully bridged the gap of a cut spinal cord and partially restored movement to the animal’s hind quarters.

“They were able to reorient the cells that create scar tissue and create new connections,” says Christine Schmidt, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida who was not associated with this new research. “This has always been a huge challenge in the field. That is really novel.”

Bio-printers use a computer-guided pipette to layer living cells, referred to as bio-ink, on top of one another to create artificial living tissue in a laboratory. Most bio-printers can only print down to 200 microns, but this group developed a method of producing tissue down to 1 micron, Chen says. This higher resolution meant they were able to more accurately reconstruct the mixture of gray and white matter that makes up the spinal cord.

The team also was able to mimic the structure of a real spinal cord that has gray matter in the middle and a protective white sheath of myelin nerve cells around it. The hope is that as a result, the implant will be able to seamlessly replace a damaged section of a person’s spine, something that hasn’t been possible so far. “That’s the beauty of our 3D printing,” Chen says. “I can mimic the structure. Other people couldn’t do the same.”

But Chen and his team have several hurdles to clear before people with spinal cord injuries can walk again. First, most such injuries result from crushed, rather than cut or completely severed, spinal cord tissue. In this study, the animals’ spines were cut. Because real-world injuries typically don’t produce a clean break, it won’t be so easy to simply slot a new segment into a person’s spine. Second, the technique has to be tested in primates before entering human clinical trials. In the meantime, Chen and his colleagues have other ideas for bio-printing tissue, creating mini-organs to test the effects of various drug treatments. In the past two years, the team has also created bio-printed liver and heart tissue.

How far could bio-printing be pushed? Last year, bioengineers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine created the first 3D printed brain “organoid” that contains all six kinds of cell types found in normal human anatomy. Of course that’s nowhere near an actual thinking brain. Florida’s Schmidt says that may take a few more decades of both engineering and brain science.

“Right now, they could print the materials that mimic the structure of the brain and add biochemical cues and extra-cellular matrix molecules,” says Schmidt. “But there is still so much that is not known about how the brain functions.” Bio-printing a new brain sounds like a neat idea, perhaps the trickier job is the programming.


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Screens Might Be as Bad for Mental Health as … Potatoes

Psychologists can’t seem to agree what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.

As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant datasets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.”

In the latest issue of Nature Human Behavior, Przybylski and co-author Amy Orben use a novel statistical method to show why scientists studying these colossal datasets have been getting such different results, and why most of the associations researchers have found, positive and negative, alike, are very small—and probably not worth freaking out about.

Consider the Millennium Cohort Study. An ongoing investigation into the long-term health outcomes of more than 200,000 Americans, the survey contains dozens of questions whose answers a researcher could reasonably interpret as relevant to a person’s well-being. Those questions span topics as disparate as self esteem, suicidal thoughts, and overall life satisfaction. “But different researchers have different conceptions of well-being, and can choose different questions to fit that conception,” Orben says.

Whether they realize it or not, a researcher who chooses to focus only on certain questions is making a decision to pursue one analytical path at the exclusion of many, many others. How many? In the case of the MCS, combining the survey’s questions on well-being with those on things like TV watching, video game habits, and social media use produces a total of 603,979,752 analytical paths a researcher could take. Combine them with questions directed to the caregivers of study participants, and that figure balloons to 2.5 trillion.

Granted, the vast majority of those 2.5 trillion results are not all that interesting. But the sprawling nature of these datasets allows for associations to emerge that are technically statistically significant but are very, very small. In science, large sample sizes are generally considered to be a good thing. Yet when you combine the large number of analytical paths afforded by subjective survey questions with an enormous number of survey participants, it opens the door to statistical skullduggery like p-hacking—the practice of fishing for favorable results in a large set of data.

“Researchers will essentially torture the data until it gives them a statistically significant result that they can publish,” Przybylski says. (Not all researchers who report such results do so with the intention to deceive. But researchers are people; science as an institution may strive for objectivity, but scientists are nevertheless susceptible to biases that can blind them to their misuse of data.) “We wanted to move past this kind of statistical cherry-picking. So we decided to look for a data-driven method to collect the whole orchard, all at once.”

He and Orben found that method in a statistical tool called Specification Curve Analysis. Rather than investigate a single analytical path through the Millenium Cohort Study, SCA allowed them to investigate 20,000 of them. It also permitted them to probe all 41,338 paths through two other large-scale datasets, called Monitoring the Future and the Youth Risk and Behaviour Survey, that are commonly used to assess the association between digital habits and adolescent well-being.

The result was a series of visualizations that map the wide gamut of potential effects researchers could detect in the three repositories, and they reveal several important things: One, that small changes in analytical approach can lead to dramatically different findings along that spectrum. Two, that the correlation between technology use and well-being is negative. And three, that this correlation is very, very small, explaining—at most—0.4 percent of the variation in adolescent well-being.

To put it in perspective, the researchers compared the link between technology use and adolescent well-being to that of other factors examined by the large-scale datasets. “Using technology is about as associated with well-being as eating potatoes,” Przybylski says. In other words: Hardly at all. By the same logic, bullying had an effect size four times greater than screen use. Smoking cigarettes? 18 times. Conversely, getting enough sleep and eating breakfast were positively associated with adolescent well-being at a magnitude 44 and 30 times that of technology use, respectively.

Put another way: Technology’s impact on well-being might be statistically significant, but its practical significance—according to existing datasets—appears negligible. “The level of association documented in this study is incongruent with the level of panic we see around things like screen time,” says University of California Irvine psychologist Candice Odgers, who researches how technology affects kids’ development and was unaffiliated with the study. “It really highlights the disconnect between conversations in the public sphere and what the bulk of the data are showing us.”

What the study doesn’t do is close the book on questions surrounding technology’s effects. Instead, it highlights the need for more nuanced questions. Not all screen time is created equal, but most studies to date treat it as monolithic. “That’s like asking if food is good or bad for you, and in the end, questions like that will never help us,” says Orben. “We need to stop the debate about the effect of generic tech-use on well-being, and open space for more and better research about the kind of technologies people are using, who’s using them, and how.”


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MacKenzie Bezos and the Myth of the Lone Genius Founder

When award-winning novelist MacKenzie Bezos and her husband Jeff Bezos, the chief executive and founder of Amazon, announced on Twitter Wednesday they were getting divorced, public discussion over the uncoupling quickly centered on the impact it might have on Jeff’s company, and on each sides’ net worth. Were he and his wife to split their estimated $136 billion fortune equally, news articles speculated that MacKenzie could become the “richest woman in the world,” far wealthier than even people like Elon Musk.

TMZ reports that the couple did not have a prenup. Washington, where they live, is a community property state, meaning that all property and debts acquired during the 25-year marriage could be equally split if the Bezoses can’t negotiate an agreement. Amazon, for the record, is 24 years old. But thinking about the divorce as an opportunity for MacKenzie to become the richest woman in the world is a strange way of describing her situation, as Bloomberg points out. She is already the richest woman in the world, because she’s half of the richest couple on Earth.

This week has been full of stories with headlines like “How much could MacKenzie Bezos get in a divorce?” speculating on what will happen to “his wealth.” (Punctuated by the occasional outcry that any human being could stand to receive more than $60 billion at all.) What was often missing, or glossed over, is the fact that MacKenzie helped her husband start his historic company, starting by agreeing to leave their life and move across the country from New York City to Seattle, where Amazon was founded. It’s also part of a wider pattern of how the stories of tech companies get told, which erases the many individuals who help to build them in favor of highlighting the “lone genius” at the helm. Many of the people who fade to the background have been women.

“Both historically and today, it takes a lot more ‘proof’ for a woman to claim competence, importance, and intelligence—something we see powerfully played out on the national political stage every day, from Hillary Clinton to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez,” says Marie Hicks, a technology historian and the author of Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge In Computing. “It seeps into how we talk about women associated with tech on an everyday basis, whether it’s at work, at school, online, or in the media.”

Empires like Amazon and Apple are not created by a single man in a vacuum; they are the product of a mix of luck and contributions from an entire team—including from a founder’s spouse.

MacKenzie met Jeff after she graduated from Princeton in 1992 and took a job at the relatively new hedge fund D. E. Shaw, where Bezos already worked. In 1993 they married, and by 1994 they were driving to Washington, with MacKenzie reportedly at the wheel of the car. The couple was leaving behind a wealthy existence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, according to Brad Stone, the author of the 2013 book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. “They gave up a really comfortable lifestyle and successful careers to move across the country and start something on the internet,” says Stone. “The only reason [Jeff] was able to do that is because he had an extremely supportive spouse. It was an incredible risk and one that they both took on jointly.”

In a 2010 commencement speech he gave at Princeton, Jeff himself acknowledged the gamble his wife had taken. “I told my wife MacKenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn’t work since most startups don’t, and I wasn’t sure what would happen after that,” he said. “MacKenzie … told me I should go for it.” (Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

In Bellevue, the Seattle suburb where Jeff rented a garage to be the site of Amazon’s first headquarters, MacKenzie helped get the company off the ground. While researching his book, Stone interviewed early employees who he says recalled how MacKenzie wrote checks and assisted in keeping track of the books. A WIRED profile of Jeff from 1999 noted that she helped negotiate the retail giant’s first freight contracts. As the company grew bigger and hired more staff, MacKenzie played less of a role in Amazon’s day-to-day operations, though she continued to support Jeff at company events. She wrote two novels, The Testing of Luther Albright, which won the American Book Award in 2006, and Traps, which was published in 2013.

Aside from a profile in Vogue published almost five years ago, MacKenzie, as well the four Bezos children, has maintained a low public profile. One noteworthy exception took place in 2013, after Stone’s book came out. MacKenzie personally left a one-star review on its Amazon page, disputing the book’s accuracy. She also emphasized her own role at the company: “I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.”

MacKenzie and other early Amazon employees, of course, aren’t the only contributors to the company’s—and Jeff’s—success. Amazon has benefited from other factors, like years of successfully avoiding collecting state sales taxes, undercutting competitors’ prices. The company also relied on external innovations like the the internet, developed in part by government researchers. This of course is hardly unique to Amazon. Elon Musk and his company Tesla might not be much without the billions of dollars they have received in government grants. Steve Jobs’ iPhone was made possible by researchers who spent decades developing touchscreen technology, beginning in the 1940s.

Admittedly, MacKenzie’s role in the history of Amazon may not be as crucial as the existence of the World Wide Web. Then again, it’s hard to say for sure. Would e-commerce look any different today if she had refused to move out to Seattle and be part of an internet startup? Countless decisions contribute to the success or failure of a company, some big, some small—and almost never by just one person. It’s not always obvious which choices tip the scale one way or the other. The lone genius myth has been largely debunked, but it can be all too easy to fall back into the familiar rhythms of Silicon Valley’s favorite narrative devices. Even, or maybe especially, when gossiping about the juicy details of a high-profile divorce. Plenty of people facilitate the creation of corporations like Amazon and the immense wealth that they generate, from inventors to employees to policymakers to taxpayers to spouses. Maybe it’s time to talk more about what all those contributions are actually worth.


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