Saturday Reads Around the Internets - Big Brother Strikes Again

shocknews Welcome to the weekly roundup of great articles, facts and figures. These are the weekly finds that made our eyes pop.


Target Knows You're Pregnant Before You've Told Anyone

The never ending invasion into our privacy knows no bounds. We just saw Google ignoring browser privacy settings and even when you delete cookies, flash cookies and even use proxy servers, you're being tracked. For those who have strong boundaries this is just irritating as hell. It's also stupid in terms of statistics. One percent, which is the typical dismissed exception of these profiling algorithms, equates to 3 million people in the United States.

Forbes amplified Target knows if teenage girls are pregnant before their parents do:

Every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers. And many of those retailers are studying those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are most likely to make you happy. Target, for example, has figured out how to data-mine its way into your womb, to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers.

Now companies know your shopping habits. Yes, with every battery pack you buy, they are running artificial intelligence algorithms on your purchases, anchored to static, set in stone for life past incidents, to profile you.

The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own.

I am not a number! I am a free man!


Another One Bites the Dust

Large predatory financial institution? Don't like a competitor offering good value? Why acquire them. Capital One has bought ING Direct. The deal was approved by the Federal Reserve despite hundreds of organized groups trying to stop it. This is not good, no matter what Capital One's PR says, even if it's twice as much as than their usual customer policy.

Despite hundreds of testimonies and letters from California community groups and a widely-attended public hearing in San Francisco last October, the Federal Reserve has decided to ignore California's community needs by approving the merger of Capital One and ING Direct. With the merger approved, Capital One becomes the fifth largest bank in the country with no immediate obligations to reinvest into the communities from which it profits. This is a critical issue for Californians, who generate more business for Capital One than any other state. Capital One has no branches in California, and, according to the Fed's narrow interpretation of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), they will not be required to reinvest their profits back into our communities.


Facebook's Hyped Out User Statistics

We don't understand why Facebook is so popular. To even login one must destroy the privacy and security settings of the browser, never mind it's a glorified rewrite of the Internets which work perfectly fine. Now that Facebook is going IPO hype happy, they must release disclosure documents. Barry Ritholtz went on a little dig into Facebook's financials and found the most amazing hype.

Last week, I made a surprising discovery about Facebook: It has far fewer “active” users than it claims. I learned this from a note buried deep in the company’s S1 — the IPO document it filed with the SEC in order to go public. Based on its S1, the social-networking giant’s value is probably much less than most investors seem to think.

If you're thinkin' of goin' IPOin', this is a must read.


$6 Trillion in Fraudulent, Phony U.S. Treasuries

Wow, this is over a third of the entire U.S. economy. Federal authorities seized $6 trillion in fake bonds. I guess the Italian Mafia has their own money printing press:

Italian anti-mafia prosecutors said they seized a record $6 trillion of allegedly fake U.S. Treasury bonds, an amount that’s almost half of the U.S.’s public debt.

The bonds were found hidden in makeshift compartments of three safety deposit boxes in Zurich, the prosecutors from the southern city of Potenza said in an e-mailed statement. The Italian authorities arrested eight people in connection with the probe, dubbed “Operation Vulcanica,” the prosecutors said.

The U.S. embassy in Rome has examined the securities dated 1934, which had a nominal value of $1 billion apiece, they said in the statement. “Thanks to Italian authorities for the seizure of fictitious bonds for $6 trillion,” the embassy said in a message on Twitter.


Mentioning the "P" Word

Paul Farrell says we're facing Global suicide in 2020 because we can’t feed 10 billion people.

a crucial research paper from a leading consultant, Jeremy Grantham, whose firm manages $100 billion. He predicted the 2008 meltdown a couple years in advance. Now looking ahead to 2050, he reinforces the Pentagon’s worst fears, warning of an “inevitable mismatch between finite resources and exponential population growth” with a “bubble-like explosion of prices for raw materials” and commodity shortages that will become a huge “threat to the long-term viability of our species when we reach a population level of 10 billion,” making “it impossible to feed the 10 billion people.”

Yes, the planet’s “carrying capacity” cannot feed 10 billion people.

Right, this is while Republicans are trying to claim birth control is immoral. A dead planet and starvation should trump what people do or do not do with their gonads, but who are we?

Bottom line, population matters. It matters in environment, resources and it strongly matters in economics. These days anyone who mentions the limits of population is either attacked by the radical right as a baby killer, since every sperm and egg are sacred according to them, or alternatively, by the radical left who calls those concerned about global overpopulation fascists and racists.


Mortality Rate After 80

Oopsy, someone did a faulty study trying to claim there were a lot more people over the age of 80 than there actually are:

Due to an error in computation, the odds of living to a ripe old age in the United States are much lower than previously thought, researchers said.

Leonid A. Gavrilov and Natalia S. Gavrilova of NORC at the University of Chicago, formerly known as the National Opinion Research Center, said the findings contradict a long-held belief that the mortality rate of Americans flattens out after age 80.

The researchers' work explains why the U.S. Census Bureau was wrong when it predicted six years ago that there would be 114,000 centenarians in the country by 2010 when the actual number turned out to be half that at 53,364.

The findings were based on accurate information about the date of birth and the date of death of more than 9 million Americans born from 1875 to 1895 from the Social Security Administration Death Master File.

So, that makes the 2010 Census population control adjustments even more strange, since most of the growth was people over the age of 65. See, accurate population statistics matter.


Goldman Sachs Ex-Programmer Conviction Overturned

To anyone technical, this is a big deal. Who wants to be arrested for similar C++ classes and algorithmic functionality or sued, held liable for a code bug which may or may not be yours?

Once in a while, the system works.

It was stunning that Goldman was able to get its former employee Sergey Aleynikov arrested, and then convicted, for allegedly stealing computer code (“allegedly” is the right word, since the lower court verdict is now officially an acquittal). The fact that the securities firm could sic the FBI on the case in such short order seemed proof of the strongest form of “Government Sachs” conspiracy theories.

The idea that an intellectual property violation against a private was taken up by a prosecutor, the Manhattan US Attorney, looked like a perverse extension of the “corporations are people” view of the world. Goldman is a very profitable firm with numerous lines of business. The idea that loss of IP in one business could constitute serious harm to the firm seems quite a stretch, particularly in the area in which Aleynikov worked, high frequency trading. I’d imagine that any strategies in that arena have a very short shelf life, and thus whatever damage might have been done would have been of limited duration.


Change You Can Believe In

No surprise team Obama is looking for a new campaign slogan. Seems change you can believe in just won't wash for 2012. We wonder why.