Top 1% may out-earn US middle class
The one-percenters in America may soon have as much money as the middle- and upper-middle classes combined. Federal Reserve data shows the top bracket had assets worth roughly $35.4 trillion in the second quarter, compared to $36.9 trillion held by those in the 50th to 90th percentiles. This is in part due to huge returns in the stock market and interest rates with the wealthiest controlling over half of the equity in U.S. companies. (Bloomberg)
An auto loan mess in the making
A growing share of consumers are digging deeper into auto debt, as they trade old cars for new, rolling old, unpaid balances into new loans. The trend is leading to a rise in negative equity, when borrowers owe more debt than their new car is worth. Some 33% of those who traded in their cars in the first nine months of 2019 were in this situation. And with each successive trade-in and new loan, borrowers plunge deeper into debt, a scenario that’s reminiscent of last decade’s housing crisis. (The Wall Street Journal)
A military bot that follows orders
The U.S. Army has developed a military robot that can follow verbal commands, recognize and analyze physical objects, and even ask follow-up questions to make sure it understood its orders correctly. The robot, which is part of an effort led by the army along with institutions like MIT, Carnegie Mellon and NASA, functions similarly to that of a military dog, that just also happens to be able to be controlled via tablet, MIT Technology Review reports. Such bots could one day serve as scouts, detecting IEDs and other security threats before human troops enter an area. (MIT Technology Review)
Child Abusers Run Rampant as Tech Companies Look the Other Way
Photographs and videos of child sexual abuse that were circulated across the internet haunt victims into adulthood as criminals exploit search engines, social networks and cloud storage. A record 45 million images were flagged last year. An investigation found that tech companies consistently failed to take coordinated steps to shut down the illegal content. Researchers spoke to survivors of child sexual abuse whose anguish has been preserved on the internet, seemingly forever. Among the findings:
- Apple does not scan its cloud storage, and it encrypts its messaging app, making detection virtually impossible.
- Amazon does not look for the images in its cloud service.
- Dropbox, Google and Microsoft’s consumer products scan for illegal images only when someone shares them, not when they are uploaded.
- Facebook scans its platforms, but it has announced plans to encrypt its messenger service, which will make it harder to detect illegal images.
- Live streams represent a major challenge. No major tech company is able to detect, much less stop, illegal live streaming. (The New York Times)
Ben & Jerry’s has been sued by an environmental advocate who said it deceived consumers by touting that the milk and cream it uses to make ice cream came exclusively from “happy cows”
A complaint filed last week claims Ben & Jerry’s “breached consumer trust” by representing that the milk and cream were sourced from cows on Vermont dairies that participate in its “Caring Dairy” program. The complaint said less than half the milk and cream actually came from “happy cows,” with the rest coming from “factory-style, mass-production” dairy operations. The deception enabled Ben & Jerry’s to charge premium prices, unjustly enriching themselves and violating a Vermont consumer protection law. The proposed class action filed on October 29th in the federal court in Burlington, Vermont seeks damages for ice cream purchasers nationwide and in Vermont, and to stop Ben & Jerry’s from claiming its milk and cream came from “happy cows” on “Caring Dairy” farms. According to Ben & Jerry’s website, the Caring Dairy program requires participating farms to meet a variety of standards to ensure the humane treatment of cows. (Reuters)
A Texas woman was legally declared dead while still alive
A 73-year-old woman from Magnolia, Texas, found out she was dead the day after Halloween while was picking up her medical prescription from Walgreens when her bank card was declined. She said she knew something was fishy because the card was three months old. So she went to the bank, and after rounds of phone calls she found out she had been declared dead by the Social Security Administration. “With my bank card declined everywhere, I can’t get gas, I can’t get money for food, I can’t do anything,” she said. “I don’t know how long I’d been dead before I found out.” She said a social security check, her Medicare, and secondary insurance were put on hold. She takes 10 different medications for blood pressure, a stomach condition and heart issues that can cost up to $1,400 without insurance. After getting the news of her death, she traveled an hour out of her way to the nearest SSA office to rectify the problem. The Office of the Inspector General said in 2016 the SSA sees fewer than 1,000 cases of mistaken death declarations a month. The OIG also said mistaken deaths can lead to mistaken benefit terminations and “cause severe financial hardship and distress” for peoples. The SSA said on their website that if someone thinks they’ve been incorrectly listed as deceased they should go to their local office as soon as possible and bring one piece of identification. This can be a passport, driver’s license or health insurance card. (CNN)
If a post shared on Instagram gets zero likes, did the moment even really happen?
Instagram will soon begin hiding the “likes” counter on some users’ accounts in the U.S., says Instagram chief. The users in the test will be able to see the likes on their photos or videos, but no one else will. The primary goal behind this move, which has similarly been tested in Australia, Canada, Ireland and Japan, is to “depressurize” the platform and make it less competitive for young people. (Wired)
Wednesday Jaunts In With:
- GIS Day (Geographic Information Systems) (2nd Wednesday)
- International Pathology Day
- World Kindness Day