Apple finds quality problems in some iPhone X and MacBook models

The new Apple iPhone X are seen on display at the Apple Store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – Apple Inc said on Friday it had found some issues affecting some of its iPhone X and 13-inch MacBook pro products and said the company would fix them free of charge.

The repair offers are the latest in a string of product quality problems over the past year even as Apple has raised prices for most of its laptops, tablets and phones to new heights. Its top-end iPhones now sell for as much as $1,449 and its best iPad goes for as much as $1,899.

Apple said displays on iPhone X, which came out in 2017 with a starting price of $999, may experience touch issues due to a component failure, adding it would replace those parts for free. The company said it only affects the original iPhone X, which has been superseded by the iPhone XS and XR released this autumn.

The screens on affected phones may not respond correctly to touch or it could react even without being touched, the Cupertino, California-based company said.

For the 13-inch MacBook Pro computers, it said an issue may result in data loss and failure of the storage drive. Apple said it would service those affected drives.

Only a limited number of 128GB and 256GB solid-state drives in 13-inch MacBook Pro units sold between June 2017 and June 2018 were affected, Apple said apple.co/2AXkeEw on its website.

Last year, Apple began a massive battery replacement program after it conceded that a software update intended to help some iPhone models deal with aging batteries slowed down the performance of the phones. The battery imbroglio resulted in inquires from U.S. lawmakers.

In June, Apple said it would offer free replacements for the keyboards in some MacBook and MacBook Pro models. The keyboards, which Apple introduced in laptops starting in 2015, had generated complaints on social media for how much noise they made while typing and for malfunctioning unexpectedly. Apple changed the design of the keyboard this year, adding a layer of silicone underneath the keys.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Ranks Highest In This Important Category, Poll Finds

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the most skilled leader among top tech CEOs, according to a new poll.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said they had confidence in his abilities to grow his company and innovate, beating Apple CEO Tim Cook (77%), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (76%), Google CEO Sundar Pichai (76%), and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (71%), according to a survey conducted on Fortune’s behalf by The Harris Poll.

Bezos has earned his top position by transforming Amazon from a tiny online bookseller into an e-commerce Goliath. At the same time, he pushed the company beyond its roots into streaming video, information technology, Kindle tablets, and, more recently, Echo smart speakers while also expanding into physical retail, most notably by acquiring grocery chain Whole Foods.

“Amazon is sort of it’s own thing right now,” Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said. “It’s like what Apple was 10 years ago.”

But the current landscape is complicated for tech CEOs. Once seen largely as helping make life easier for their users, many of them are now under suspicion amid problems like privacy missteps and the growing sentiment that people spend too much time staring at screens.

In an effort to gauge public sentiment about major tech CEOs, Fortune enlisted Harris Poll to conduct an online survey on its behalf in mid-October of over 2,000 U.S. adults. The group represents the population at large.

The poll found that public confidence in Cook, Nadella, and Pichai was almost neck-and-neck, just below Bezos.

In the past, Apple, and by implication, its CEO, usually ranked much higher than its rivals. But in the latest poll, Gerzema noticed a decline in confidence, which he attributed to a shortage of innovation at Apple compared to during the era of former CEO Steve Jobs, who unveiled the original iPhone and iPad.

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While Apple has continued to grow its revenue, indicating financial health, and has created fast-growing services businesses like Apple Music, the lack of new revolutionary products could be partly why the public gave Cook a lower confidence score than Bezos.

Microsoft’s reputation, on the other hand, has climbed in recent years under Nadella, who is praised as a “competent and visionary CEO,” Gerzema said. Under Nadella, Microsoft shares have reached record highs due in part to Wall Street’s enthusiasm about the company’s shift from older businesses like the Windows operating system to newer and faster growing cloud computing and related cloud software businesses.

The public is probably less familiar with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, because he keeps a lower profile and is outranked by Larry Page, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But most Americans seem to think that Google will continue growing under Pichai’s watch, and likely attribute the company’s success to an executive they likely don’t know, Gerzema said.

That said, the Harris Poll survey was conducted before thousands of Google employees participated in a high-profile walkout to protest how the company’s executive team handled several sexual harassment complaints by workers. Google eventually revised some of its sexual misconduct policies, including ending rules that required mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment and assault claims.

It’s unclear if the recent Google walkout would have impacted the survey results.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finished last in the survey following a number of data privacy scandals. The company came under fire in April when news reports emerged that a researcher improperly sold Facebook user data to the Cambridge Analytica political consulting firm, and the social networking giant recently suffered a major hack that may have affected up to 30 million people.

A noteworthy addendum for Facebook, however, was that people 18-34 were more confident in Zuckerberg’s abilities (79%) than older adults, 35-44 (72%), 45-54 (67%), and 55-64 (63%). Some possible explanations are that younger people are more familiar with Facebook’s less problem-plagued Instagram photo app, they identify more with the CEO’s relative youth, or that may be unaware of recent negative news about the company.

The poll on CEO leadership skills was part of a larger survey on the public’s perception of tech giants and issues pertaining to data privacy and ethics. The results from the other survey questions found that Facebook is viewed as the least trustworthy of the tech giants when it comes to safeguarding data, and that people are beginning to scrutinize tech companies and their data policies more than they have been.

For instance, while Bezos ranked the highest among the CEOs regarding the public’s perception of data ethics, his approval was at 77% and not the high 80s or even 90s that the executive typically receives in other Harris Poll surveys, Gerzema noted. This could imply that the survey respondents are becoming increasingly concerned with Amazon’s growth into newer areas like the Alexa voice-activated digital assistant, which like other digital assistants, improves over time with more user data.

As for the big takeaways from the overall survey, Gerzema predicted that there will be increased public scrutiny of big tech companies as they expand into new business lines.

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“Silicon Valley might look at these companies as tech brands, but the American public looks at them as lifestyle brands,” Gerzema said. “They are a part of their lives.”

The House Science Committee May Soon Become… Pro-Science

For the past eight years, climate science has been under a sort of spell in the House of Representatives. Instead of trying to understand it better or even acknowledging some of the field’s current uncertainties, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) used his position to harass federal climate scientists with subpoenas while holding hearings on “Making the EPA Great Again” or whether “global warming theories are alarmist” and researchers are pursuing a “personal agenda.”

But Smith retired this year and Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday. Now some on Capitol Hill say that the anti-climate science spell may be broken.

“Hopefully we will no longer see the science committee used as a messaging tool for the fossil fuel industry,” says Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and science committee member. “I look forward to hearings with a balance of witnesses that reflect mainstream scientific hearings instead of a small group of industry players.”

Foster, who was a particle physicist before being elected to Congress in 2008, said he also wants to see more appearances from cabinet members like Energy Secretary Rick Perry or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to explain both their budget and their rulemaking on environmental and science issues. Neither agency head was called before Smith’s committee during his tenure, Foster says.

Ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) issued a statement after the election results Tuesday night stating that, if elected chairwoman, she wants to restore the credibility of the science committee “as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.” Johnson said that includes acknowledging that climate change is real, “seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is in line to become Speaker of the House, hinted recently that she may push her members to form a new select committee on climate and renewable energy issues similar to one that operated from 2007 to 2011.

Capitol Hill observers and advocacy groups, however, say it’s not clear that a more science-friendly House will result in any new legislation getting passed or in stopping Cabinet heads that report to President Trump. “The attempt to embarrass the Trump White House isn’t going to work,” says Jeff Ruch, director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group representing federal workers in several scientific and environmental agencies. PEER has been litigating the EPA over the enforcement of pollution rules as well as the disclosure of ethics violations during the tenure of former administrator Scott Pruitt.

Ruck says environmental and science policies need to be changed with votes, not hearings. He foresees some Democratic House members introducing what he calls “green riders,” climate- or energy-related amendments to larger, unrelated pieces of legislation that might be able to pass both the House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

Others predict greater congressional oversight as well over issues including pollution enforcement, vehicle emissions standards, and the localized effects of climate change. “Too many people are seeing the impact of climate change in their communities, whether it’s wildfires or drought or storms,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the center for science and democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group. “So at some point members have to respond to their constituents.”

If nothing else, there will be a greater representation of scientists and members with STEM degrees in the next session of Congress. Of the 14 House and Senate members endorsed and backed by the pro-science group 314 Action, eight won their general election race on Tuesday, while one, Seattle-area pediatrician Kim Schrier, holds a 52-48 percentage point lead with absentee ballots still to be counted.

This mini-wave of STEM-trained politicians might result in more evidence-based policymaking, according to Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder and president of 314 Action. “They have a lot of credibility, whether it’s on the environment or health care, and it resonates with voters,” she says.

Of course, climate deniers might still have a home on the north side of the Capitol, where the Senate meets and where Texas’ Ted Cruz is expected to keep his gavel as chairman of the Senate Science Committee.


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Hyundai raises Southeast Asia bet with second investment in Grab

SEOUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Hyundai Motor Co has raised its stakes in growing Southeast Asian markets with a $250 million investment in Singapore’s Grab, its second in the ride-hailing firm, as it chases rivals in the race for new-age transportation.

FILE PHOTO: A worker fixes the Hyundai logo on a vehicle at a plant of Hyundai Motor in Asan, south of Seoul, February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

The investment is Hyundai’s biggest-ever in an auto-tech firm, yet is smaller than those made by others including Toyota Motor Corp. Nevertheless, it underscores a shift in strategy at a South Korean conglomerate that has typically shunned partnerships in favor of developing its own technologies.

Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors Corp will launch pilot electric vehicle (EV) projects in Southeast Asia next year, starting with Singapore, where 200 EVs will be leased to Grab drivers, Hyundai said in a statement.

It said the project will later be expanded to countries including Malaysia and Vietnam, where markets for traditionally powered cars are dominated by Japanese rivals.

The move comes as Hyundai battles sluggish sales in its two biggest markets, China and the United States, while its stock price has fallen nearly a third this year.

Hyundai has joined the global race to invest in mobility firms as individual car ownership is widely expected to fall due to in part to increasing car-sharing options in big cities.

“Not only Hyundai, but all global auto manufacturers have realized that generating revenue solely from selling vehicles is not a sustainable, viable option,” Hyundai’s chief innovation officer, Chi Young-cho, told reporters in Seoul.

“It is better to disrupt than being disrupted,” he said.

Earlier this year, Hyundai said it invested $25 million for a 0.45 percent stake in Grab, joining investors such as Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp and Toyota Motor Corp.

Grab said it has so far raised $2.7 billion in funding, including Hyundai’s latest investment, and is on track to attract over $3 billion by the end of this year. Grab President Ming Maa told Reuters that the company does not yet have plans to go public.

The partnership will help Grab lower car ownership and operating costs for its drivers, Maa said. Lower costs help ride-hailing firms attract and retain drivers.

Hyundai expects to launch its own ride-sharing service in select markets next year, said Chi, who oversees Hyundai’s new businesses such as those involving ride-sharing, artificial intelligence and robotics. He also said the automaker is looking at acquisition opportunities, without giving details.

The automaker aims to collect data such as on battery charging from cars it leases to Grab to develop vehicles better tailored for Southeast Asia. It also hopes to explore the possibility of building a factory in the region in the longer term.

Southeast Asia’s EV market is very small. Only 142 battery-powered cars are likely to be sold in the market this year, versus six last year, showed data from market researcher LMC Automotive.

EV sales this year are likely to reach 693,894 units in China and 172,744 units in the United States, LMC data showed.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Christopher Cushing

Einride's Electric, Driverless Truck Is Moving Stuff and Making Money

Look at just about any rendering or essayistic sketch of the world’s transportation future, and you’ll notice two things about the cars, trucks, vans, and whatever elses tootling around the roads: They drive themselves and they run on electricity. The funny thing about that pairing is that there’s no inherent relationship between a vehicle’s ability to drive itself and what it uses to move its wheels. Relying on a battery can actually be problematic for vehicles running piles of computers and sensors, but electric rides are a popular choice for autonomy developers anyway, because they feel more like the future.

For Swedish trucking startup Einride, though, the connection between electric and autonomous technology is fundamental. Getting rid of the human, founder and CEO Robert Falck says, makes the formidable challenge of running a truck on batteries far easier.

Last week, Einride started running its all-electric, human-free truck on a commercial route. The “T-pod” is moving pallets of goods between warehouses run by German logistics giant Schenker, in the southern Swedish city of Jönköping. It’s a small, one-year commercial deal: Einride is operating just one truck for the time being, and covering about six miles a day, some of it on public roads, at speeds below 25 mph. But, Falck says, “It’s a first step.”

The first thing you’ll notice about Falck’s truck isn’t that there’s no human sitting inside but that there’s no inside for a human to occupy in the first place. Where a normal truck has a cab, the T-pod has a narrow, windowless slab that holds the sensors and computers that let it drive itself. Under the trailer sit 300 kWh of battery capacity, good for a range of 120 miles. If a situation arises that the current software can’t handle, a remote Einride employee can drive the truck from a call-center-like facility. (Falck wouldn’t reveal how the human and the robot will split the work, but says that “the vision, of course, is to have the highest level of autonomy.”)

Dumping the cab does more than signal that the age of the robo-car is at hand, Falck says. It makes it easier to run the truck on batteries. You save weight. You improve range because you don’t need to worry about a human’s visibility and comfort level, so you can just submit to the laws of aerodynamics. The cab is the most expensive part of the vehicle, and being able to drop it leaves you with money left over for the mass of batteries and the software that makes the whole thing work.

All good stuff, Falck says, but the key upside to getting rid of the human is that you can optimize the truck’s use for running on electricity, not for what a human driver needs. Say the vehicle needs to stop once an hour, to charge for 20 minutes. Keep the human in there, and you’re paying them for every minute, even if they’re only driving 75 percent of the total time. It works the other way, too: no more battery-draining stops for quick bathroom breaks. You can plan your routes based on cold logic. “That’s where you really get the business case,” says Falck, who spent much of his career as an engineer with Volvo Trucks.

Einride is already moving Schenker’s stuff for a “very cost-competitive” rate, Falck says, and he hopes to get more trucks on the road in Jönköping and elsewhere in the coming months, possibly including the US. The startup has plenty of questions left to answer, chief among them how well its self-driving tech actually works, and how it will handle the logistics and costs of having humans do the remote driving when necessary. But if it can turn up satisfactory answers, it might be able to optimize for the best parts of electric vehicles and the best parts of self-driving vehicles—without any pesky human-based design to get in the way.


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Trump’s ‘Racist’ Midterms Ad Backs Facebook Into a Corner

The day before the midterm elections, Facebook took down a virulently anti-immigrant ad paid for by President Donald Trump, which mischaracterizes refugees walking through Mexico toward the US as violent criminals. “America’s future depends on you,” the voiceover says, ending with a plea to “vote Republican.” NBC also took the ad off air on Monday after criticism from stars of NBC shows. And even Fox News stopped airing it on Monday, too. CNN rejected it from the start, on the grounds that it was racist.

Facebook says the ad violated its policy against “sensational content,” which prohibits ads that contain “shocking, sensational, disrespectful or excessively violent content.” Facebook did not specify what aspects of Trump’s ad it found to be sensational.

Immigration has become a major talking point for Republican campaigns across the country this election season as politicians try to rally their base in what is expected to be a number of close races. Trump is not the only campaign to run political ads on Facebook that stoke fears about immigrants making their way to the US border. Arizona Republican congressional candidate Wendy Rogers, for example, is currently running ads that feature many of the same images of so-called “illegal aliens,” as well as footage of violent mobs burning cars and breaking barricades. When asked why Trump’s ad was deemed sensational but Rogers’ was not, a Facebook representative didn’t immediately have an answer, but asked WIRED to send over the specific videos so they could take a closer look.

And Trump’s ad, while no longer allowed to have paid promotion, is still very much on Facebook. The 30-second spot was posted by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and shared by Trump’s official page on Monday; in five hours, it had more than 446,000 views. More than a million people have viewed the longer version of it from President Trump’s official Facebook page since November 1. Six million people have viewed the same version he shared in a tweet the president sent out on Halloween. More than 800,00 have viewed the ad from a tweet shared by Donald Trump Jr. on November 3.

(It appears the ad never ran as a promoted tweet on Twitter, and a Twitter spokesperson told WIRED that it would violate Twitter’s “inappropriate content policy” for ads if the Trump campaign tried to pay to promote it. That policy disallows anything that’s disturbing, shocking, threatening, or distasteful, among other things.)

Social media companies have different standards for content shared in organic posts than they do for ads. The rules for ads are stricter.

After the 2016 presidential election, when it belatedly realized that at least 3,000 ads had been purchased by Russians intent on influencing US democracy, Facebook vowed to do better. It voluntarily raised the standards for political ads on its site, and created a searchable database to make ad buys more transparent, including adding a “Paid for by” feature that shows who paid for a given ad. All of this is good, and important—as it’s been clear since way back in 2010 when Facebook did a randomized vote-mobilization test on 61 million unwitting Facebook users that these ads can have real impact.

But the ad system isn’t perfect, as the midterms have shown. Vice posed as 100 senators requesting to run political ads, and Facebook approved all of them. ProPublica investigated how the energy industry obscured their sponsorship of political ads on the platform. The Intercept discovered that Facebook allowed advertisers to target users interested in “white genocide.”

Applying content moderation rules across a site as big as Facebook is incredibly tricky, and often results—as WIRED has written about at length—in what appears to be arbitrary decisions or a reliance on other parties to flag content that violates terms. Paid advertisements, however, need to be reviewed and approved by Facebook before running on the platform, so it technically should be able to make consistent decisions as it approves or disapproves promotional material. Facebook did not comment on the approval process for Trump’s ad specifically.

The question of whether it really makes sense, however, to treat posts from people as so very different from ads promoted by them is one worth asking. How much does it matter that Facebook took down the ad if you can still see it and share it on the site? As studies of promoted content on editorial websites have shown, readers are not necessarily adept at telling the difference between an ad and other forms of content anyway. And if the point of not allowing an ad to run on a social network is to minimize the harmful impact of the message being spread, then why not take all instances of it down?

Maybe it’s because social media sites are increasingly being accused of censorship as they grapple with taking a firm stance against the spread of hate speech, misinformation, and weaponized information on their networks. Distinctions such as ad policies versus content policies help them walk a very fine line. It’s a tightrope walk with increasingly important consequences. Right now, no less than the midterms may hang in the balance.


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Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp Accuses Georgia Democrats of Hacking

In December 2016, Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp accused the Department of Homeland Security of attempting to hack his office’s systems, which include the Georgia voter registration database. Six months later, the DHS inspector general concluded that the allegations were unfounded; someone on a DHS computer had simply visited Georgia Secretary of State website. Now, two days before an election in which Kemp himself is the Republican candidate for governor, he has levied similarly unsupported charges—this time against his democratic opponents.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office released a short statement on Sunday morning that it had opened an investigation into the Democratic Party the previous evening, “after a failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia sharply denied the accusations in a statement to reporters. “Brian Kemp’s scurrilous claims are 100 percent false, and this so-called investigation was unknown to the Democratic Party of Georgia until a campaign operative in Kemp’s official office released a statement this morning,” wrote Rebecca DeHart, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party. “This is yet another example of abuse of power by an unethical Secretary of State.”

Kemp’s office said it has alerted DHS and the FBI. A DHS official told WIRED in a statement that, “The State of Georgia has notified us of this issue. We defer to the State for further details.” The National Association of Secretaries of State declined to comment on state-specific investigations.

While anything is possible, Kemp’s claims seem unlikely on their face, especially when you parse what little information his team has provided. “We opened an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia after receiving information from our legal team about failed efforts to breach the online voter registration system and My Voter Page,” his office said in a statement. “We are working with our private sector vendors and investigators to review data logs.”

A legal team seems like a surprising source for the discovery of a hacking attempt, and the fact that security teams then began reviewing the logs makes whether any suspicious activity was actually seen an open question. Kemp’s office did not provide any information about the alleged attack, or when it purportedly occurred.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes,” Georgia secretary of state press secretary Candice Broce wrote in a statement. Not sharing details of an investigation is a common practice, but that supposed restraint apparently did not apply to the direct, vocal accusation of Kemp’s Democratic opposition.

In his dual role as Georgia secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate, Kemp wields tremendous influence and faces monumental conflicts of interest. Over the past year, for instance, Kemp purged more than a million voters from Georgia’s rolls and has backed restrictive voter ID laws. On Friday, a federal judge determined that Kemp’s “exact match” policy, which required that a voter’s name on the roles perfectly mirror that on their identification, was likely to infringe on voting rights, and issued a preliminary injunction allowing impacted people to simply show proof of citizenship to a poll worker before voting.

Under Kemp’s watch, Georgia is also one of only five states that still uses electronic voting machines that do not generate a voter-verified paper backup—meaning there is no auditable alternative accounting of votes aside from the digital record. Kemp has resisted finding the funding to replace the machines, and was one of only about 11 top election officials who declined assistance from DHS to secure election infrastructure in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Georgia’s digital election infrastructure has had numerous vulnerabilities and data exposures while Kemp has been in charge.

“There are already allegations that the Georgia voter registration page is vulnerable to attack and data is vulnerable to modification,” says Jake Williams, founder of the Georgia-based security firm Rendition Infosec. “Instead of dealing with the potential fallout of that, Kemp is redirecting his administration’s failure to secure state infrastructure to his opponents.”

In his own preliminary evaluation of Georgia’s voter registration system, Williams says he found numerous signs that the system is badly coded and may be poorly secured. He did not download or alter data or probe the site, and simply reviewed publicly accessible information.

Indeed, it seems within the realm of possibility that Kemp has conflated concerns about vulnerabilities with actual hacking. A report from WhoWhatWhy on Sunday detailed a memo from the Democratic Party of Georgia that outlined flaws in the state’s voter registration system. If Democrats had actually tested those flaws without permission, they would have run afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But plenty of third-party security researchers have identified issues with Georgia’s voter registration system without actively testing them.

Kemp’s opponent in the Georgia gubernatorial race, Democrat Stacey Abrams, told CNN’s State Of The Union on Sunday that Kemp’s office’s hacking accusations are “a desperate attempt…to distract people from the fact that two different federal judges found him derelict in his duties and forced him to allow absentee ballots to be counted and those who are being held captive by the exact match system be allowed to vote.”

Meanwhile, Kemp has plastered the accusations on the front of the Georgia Secretary of State website, where state residents also go to find voting information. And the Kemp for Governor campaign issued a parallel statement about the accusations of voter registration service hacking. “In an act of desperation, the Democrats tried to expose vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voter registration system,” the campaign wrote. “Thanks to the systems and protocols established by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, no personal information was breached.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office did not specifically accuse Democrats of attempting to penetration test the voter registration system to reveal flaws. It is also unclear why the party would attempt to steal voters’ personal information in the first place, given that the Georgia Secretary of State’s office will send it—minus Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses—to any member of the public who requests it. It costs $250.


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Stocks To Watch: Looking Beyond The Election

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Stocks to Watch – a preview of key events scheduled for the next week. Follow this account and turn the e-mail alert on to receive this article in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Yep, there is an election next week that’s going to steal some headlines, but investors have been advised to keep their emotions in check. Reminders have been put out that the stock market has actually outperformed when Congress was divided between parties and that selling immediately after an election based on fears of the winning party has been a losing bet over the last 40 years. The consensus concerns of analysts, economists and CEOs/CFOs of multinationals are more focused on potential Federal Reserve missteps, biting margin pressures and global trade issues over the results of the U.S. election. Still, we can expect some fireworks and volatility no matter the result, especially with certain sectors like healthcare and financials. However, the biggest wildcard of all may be how the Trump-Xi meet and greet develops after the election. Next week also features a FOMC meeting on November 5-6 that won’t feature dot plots and a press conference – but will be closely analyzed after the recent string of strong economic data.

Notable earnings reports: Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG), Marriott International (NYSE:MAR), Pandora (NYSE:P) and Mylan (NASDAQ:MYL) on November 5; Bausch Health (NYSE:BHC), Zillow (NASDAQ:ZG) and Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN) on November 6; Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN), Square (NYSE:SQ) and Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) on November 7; Disney (NYSE:DIS), Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) and Yelp (NYSE:YELP) on November 8; Iconix Brand (NASDAQ:ICON), Moneygram International (NYSE:MGI) and Superior Industries (NYSE:SUP) on November 9. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list of earnings reporters.

IPOs expected to price: The IPO market hits a lull next week with no offerings anticipated to price. The break in the action gives us a chance to update on the ten hottest IPO debuts of 2018 by share price return over the offering price – Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY) +458%, Goosehead Insurance (NASDAQ:GSHD) +243%, ARMO BioSciences (NASDAQ:ARMO) +194%, Allakos (NASDAQ:ALLK) +169%, Zscalar (NASDAQ:ZS) +127%, Solid Biosciences (NASDAQ:SLDB) +100%, Elastic (NYSE:ESTC) +89%, Guardent Health (NASDAQ:GH) +76%, Cactus (NYSE:WHD) +76% and Ceridian HCM Holding (NYSE:CDAY) +73%. Other notable gainers include PlayAGS (NYSE:AGS) +52%, EVO Payments (NASDAQ:EVOP) +48%, Zuora (NYSE:ZUO) +46%, DocSign (NASDAQ:DOCU) +45% and Eventbrite (NYSE:EB) +23%. Notable decliners include NIO(NYSE:NIO) -6%, Yeti (NYSE:YETI) -12%, Carbon Black (NASDAQ:CLBK) -13% and Sonos (NASDAQ:SONO) -15%.

IPO lockup expirations: Evelo Biosciences (NASDAQ:EVLO) and Origin Bancorp (NASDAQ:OBNK) on November 5; AXA Equitable (NYSE:EQH) on November 6; HUYA (NYSE:HUYA) on November 7.

Analyst quiet period expirations: Allogene (NASDAQ:ALLO) and Livent (NYSE:LTHM) on November 5; Anaplan (NYSE:PLAN) on November 6; Equillium (NASDAQ:EQ) on November 7.

China International Import Expo: Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to kick off a week-long expo in Shanghai that promotes his country’s status as a major consumer of the world’s goods. Economists think that China could use the event to announce trade reform without the appearance of caving in to U.S. pressure. Last year, China imported a whopping $2.1T worth of goods, a mark that the U.S. and European nations want to go higher.

Let’s talk dividends: The recent eye-popping dividend slashes at GE (NYSE:GE) and Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD) could be a warning sign for other companies with high payout ratios. After analyzing companies with lush dividends, MarketWatch named Six Flags Entertainment (NYSE:SIX), AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN), Century Link (NYSE:CTL), L Brands (NYSE:LB) and Philip Morris (NYSE:PM) as five stocks to watch in particular for dividend cuts.

AMD intrigue: AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) is hosting a mysterious event called “AMD Next Horizon” on November 6. While the company’s website is barren of information on the event, in the past AMD has announced product updates at a gathering with the same title. Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Buy rating, $30 price target) expects an update on AMD’s EPYC 2/Rome serve CPU. Shares of AMD could use a boost after peeling off 27% over the last month.

Apple-picking: A dip below a $1T market cap has Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) investors wide awake and evaluating if the company’s higher average selling prices will be enough to offset slowing iPhone shipment growth. Next week, things could get really interesting as analysts dig into valuation on Apple to set their revised price targets knowing quarterly updates on iPhones, iPads, and Macs units sold will be missing in action. Apple wants investors to think of the entire business as a service, notes Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster. He joins other analysts in expecting the tactic to work over the long term. “Apple’s mix of loyal customers and product innovation will drive sustained revenue and earnings growth,” says Munster. As it stands now, the average price target on Apple is $236.02 vs. Friday’s closing price of $207.48 and all-time high of $233.47.

When P&G talks… : Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) hosts an investor day event on November 8. Watch for a guidance update from P&G after the company set its FY19 outlook at organic sales growth of 2% to 3% and EPS growth of 3% to 8% just a few weeks. Shares of Procter & Gamble are up 9% over the last month and the sector as a whole is riding high after Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) posted organic sales growth of 4.7% volume in Q3 on higher pricing. P&G’s tone at its investor day could redirect shares of Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) and Clorox (NYSE:CLX) as well.

Novartis scramble: Novartis (NYSE:NVS) has a R&D update scheduled for November 5. The company recently announced that it dropped ~20% of its research projects to focus on the most cutting-edge and transformative medicine projects in its pipeline, but has yet to details which programs are being slashed. A little bit of an industry scramble could ensue as many of the eliminated projects could be picked up by other drugmakers through licensing arrangements.

20 days: Black Friday is sneaking up on us, and amid all the distractions in the stock market, it’s possible that investors might not be factoring in the upside for retail majors riding into the holidays with a strong economy tailwind. While Morgan Stanley sees the “big six” — Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Kroger (NYSE:KR), Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) — posting blowout holiday sales, the firm isn’t nearly as confident about department stores and specialty retailers. However, off-price retailers TJX Companies (NYSE:TJX), Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) and Burlington Stores (NYSE:BURL) are seen generating holiday same-store sales growth ahead of broad retail averages.

FDA watch: Mylan’s (MYL) resubmitted ANDA of its generic to Allergan’s (NYSE:AGN)’s Restasis dry eye treatment may see some FDA action next week. Briefing documents fare due in for Mallinckrodt’s (NYSE:MNK) MNK-812 Roxicodone reformualtion.

R&D day: BioMarin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:BMRN) management and external experts will provide an update on November 7 to the investment community on the company’s development portfolio, which it says is focused on innovative therapies to treat rare and ultra-rare diseases.

Upcoming stocks splits: TJX Companies (TJX) has a 2-for-1 stock split set for November 6. The number of outstanding TJX shares will be ~1.8B share after the split. TJX will still yield ~1.42% following the split action.

Monthly sales updates: Costco (COST) and Zumiez (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) on November 7; Buckle (NYSE:BKE), Cato (NYSE:CATO) and L Brands (LB) on November 8.

M&A tidbits: The Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO)-CA Technologies (NASDAQ:CA) deal is expected to close on November 5. Shareholders of Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX) and Randgold Resources (NASDAQ:GOLD) vote on the companies’ planned merger on November 6. The Israeli shareholder waiting period expires on the SodaStream (NASDAQ:SODA)-Pepsico (NYSE:PEP) deal on November 8.

Videogame check: Berenberg hosts a video gaming conference on November 7, with some under-the-radar European players making an appearance, including CD Projeckt (OTC:OTGLF), Codemasters, Frontier Developments (OTC:FRRDF), Gfnity, KeyWordStudios (OTC:KYYWF), Starbreeze Studios (OTC:STBEF), Sumo Digital, Team17Group and THQ Nordic (OTCPK:THQQF). It’s a busy week overall for the videogame sector, with Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO) and Activision Blizzard (ATVI) reporting earnings and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) trying to make the “final adjustments” to Battlefield V. Activision and Take-Two already have Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2 on the market ahead of the crucial holiday season.

Stephens Fall Investment Conference: The huge investment conference that includes fireside chat presentations from across various sectors runs from November 7-8 in New York City. Participating companies include BMC Stock Holdings (NASDAQ:BMCH), Greenbrier (NYSE:GBX), Kansas City Southern (NYSE:KSU), Matson (NYSE:MATX), MasTec (NYSE:MTZ), Quanta Services (NYSE:PWR), US Express Enterprises (NYSE:USX), Wener Enterprises, (NASDAQ:WERN), Heartland Express (NASDAQ:HTLD), J.B. Hunt Transport Services (NASDAQ:JBHT), Knight-Swift Transportation (NYSE:KNX), Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC), Ryder (NYSE:R), Construction Partners (NASDAQ:ROAD), Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP), BJ’s Restaurants (NASDAQ:BJRI), Habit Restaurants (NASDAQ:HABT), Healthcare Services Group (NASDAQ:HCSG), Ruth’s Hospitality (NASDAQ:RUTH), Sanderson Farms (NASDAQ:SAFM), Addus HomeCare (NASDAQ:ADUS), Endologix (NASDAQ:ELGX), Invacare (NYSE:IVC), Marchex (NASDAQ:MCHX), Proofpoint (NASDAQ:PFPT), AutoNation (NYSE:AN), FedEx (NYSE:FDX), American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL), Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) and QuinStreet (NASDAQ:QNST).

Box office: 20th Century Fox’s (NASDAQ:FOXA) Bohemian Rhapsody is expected to bring in $35M to $40M in the U.S. over the weekend. The Freddie Mercury biopic only cost about $55M to make before marketing costs, setting it up turn a profit. Disney’s (DIS) The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is forecast to tally $20.0M in its debut. Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Halloween is showing some strong legs, and is seen tallying up another $15M.

Barron’s mentions: Rising tension between the U.S. and China could lead to a new arms race with a “scary” hypersonic missile on the way from Beijing, writes Jack Hough. The thought is that deep cuts in defense spending are unlikely, paving the way for Raytheon (NYSE:RTN), Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) to see share price bouncebacks. General Dynamics (NYSE:GD), Huntington Ingalls (NYSE:HII) and Boeing (NYSE:BA) could also benefit as spending opens up for jet fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers. Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE:IR) and Lennox International (NYSE:LII) are seen as oversold amid the housing sector slump. Finally, the publication keeps it simple by reminding that companies with small debt loads could outperform as higher interest rates clip peers. Names that make that cut include Gap (NYSE:GPS), Costco (COST), Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) and Southwest Airlines (LUV).

Sources: Nasdaq, CNBC, EDGAR, Financial Times, Bloomberg.

Editor’s Note: This article covers one or more microcap stocks. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Google Just Revealed a Massive Innovation Failure, and the 'Google Walkout' Made It Even More Obvious. (Everyone Missed It, Which Is Completely Ironic)

There were at least two really big developments at Google that made a lot of news in the last month.

Oddly, it seems nobody has really connected how one of them highlights the failure of the other. So let’s make the connection.

#GoogleWalkout

The first of these developments is the more recent: the Google Walkout (a/k/a by the hashtag, #GoogleWalkout). Thousands of Google employees walked off the job at 60 percent of Google’s offices worldwide Thursday, each starting at 11:10 a.m. local time. 

The whole thing went viral, and it was the photos and videos from those posts that most major media used in illustrating the story.

I’m including a couple of the posts below, but there were thousands on Twitter and Instagram. And that fact illustrates another massive but unrelated development at Google, that also came to light in October.

Google+

The other big development is Google’s decision, announced on October 8 via a 1,400-word blog post, to effectively shut down its own social network, Google+, after seven years of failure.

Yes, there were some posts about the #GoogleWalkout on Google+, but a quick glimpse shows anemic engagement, which lines right up with what Google itself reported when it announced its decision. As I wrote then:

Google+ had every advantage–a giant, then-young tech company behind it, more money than its engineers probably knew what to do with, and the ability to sign up people who were using other Google services to Google+ by “brute force.”

That was part of its downfall, it would seem. You probably have a Google+ account, but you might not even know it. That’s how the site could sign up hundreds of millions of users but still have engagement levels that were a mere fraction of its rivals

By the way, this marks the third time that Google has tried and failed to launch a social network to compete with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and even Snap. It’s okay to admit you barely remember the others: Google Friend Connect (2008 to 2012), Google Buzz (2010 to 2011), and Orkut (2004 to 2014).

It’s natural that Google’s employees would turn to competing companies’ tools to show support for a movement about their company and communicate with each other, it’s striking and reinforces that social media is the one modern field Google (and Alphabet) have been completely unable to crack.

I don’t know how you count that as anything other than a massive failure.

Twitter and LinkedIn

I think most people likely support the overall goals, which have to do with protesting sexual harassment and promoting equal opportunity along both gender and racial lines at Google. 

There were seven named organizers who coauthored an article in The Cut explaining its origins and their goals. The of these runs social media management for YouTube according to her profile on LinkedIn.

What social media account does she list prominently, in fact the only one in her bio?

A Twitter profile for YouTube. And if you were looking for coordination during the walkout itself, you probably followed @GoogleWalkout on Twitter.

Take a quick look at the photos below, which were only two of many thousands posted using the #GoogleWalkout hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. You may find yourself going down a rabbit hole checking them out. 

But it’s up to you if you even want to bother on Google+. The vast majority of other people didn’t. 

6 Unconventional Ways to Make Your Employees Happier and More Successful

When you’re leading a big change to your company, odds are good that you’ll put stress on your people. But if you take steps to make them happy, they’ll make customers happier and your profits will rise.

How so? A former Harvard researcher found that keeping people happy is good for business. As Shawn Achor wrote in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Positive Intelligence — keeping people happy instead of threatening them — produces better business outcomes during stressful situations.

Inspired by Achor, here are six unconventional ways to boost your employees’ success and happiness.

1. Single people out for praise.

If you’re leading your company through a big change — like expanding from selling in the U.S. to 18 other countries, your people are likely to feel stress because you feel it as well.

But in 2008, Burt’s Bees’s then-CEO, John Replogle, was taking the company global. And rather than fill their inboxes with question on their progress, every day he sent out an e-mail praising a team member for work related to the global rollout.

2. Encourage your managers to talk about corporate values.

Another surprising way to make people happy is to encourage your managers to talk with their teams about the company’s values.

Replogle took time away from talking about the global launch to encourage his direct-reports to discuss company values with their people. The reason? The values discussion would help people feel more connected to the company’s mission.

Achor wrote that Replogle’s “emphasis on fostering positive leadership kept his managers engaged and cohesive as they successfully made the transition to a global company.”

3. Exercise your peoples’ sense of well-being.

I’ve read that you can train yourself to be happy by smiling a lot.

But that’s not the only way. Achor ran a session on happiness with some soon-to-be stressed out tax managers at KPMG. He trained them to be happy by writing down things for which they were grateful or exercising for 10 minutes.

Four months later, the tax managers who did these happiness activities scored higher on the life satisfaction scale — a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work, according to Achor — than they did before the happiness training.

4. Hire people with high life-satisfaction.

If you can’t train people to a higher life-satisfaction score, hire people who already have one.

Gallup researchers found that retail employees in an individual store who scored high on life satisfaction generated $21 more in earnings per square foot than employees with lower scores in the retailer’s other stores.

That sounds like a compelling business case for hiring happy people.

5. Follow the 10/5 path to social support.

Helping other people makes the social support providers — people who pick up slack for others, invite coworkers to lunch, and organize office activities — more engaged at work and more likely to get promoted.

One company — Ochsner Health System — uses this insight. Ochsner’s so-called “10/5 Way” encourages employees who walk within 10 feet of another person in the hospital, to make eye contact and smile. When they walk within 5 feet, they must say hello.

10/5 has paid off for Ochsner in the form of more unique patient visits, a 5 percent increase in patients’ likelihood to recommend Ochsner, and “a significant improvement in medical-practice provider scores,” according to Achor.

6. View stress as a performance-enhancer.

Since work is almost always stressful, I was surprised to learn that it’s possible to train people to think about stress positively — e.g., as a force that enhances the brain and body — and negatively —  as debilitating to performance.

Researchers showed videos with positive and negative messages on stress to managers at UBS. Six weeks later, the managers who saw the positive video experienced a big health improvement and an increase in their happiness at work, Achor wrote. 

Encourage your people to list their stresses and make small, concrete steps to reduce the stressors they can control. Those small steps can nudge their brains back to a positive–and productive–mind-set.