Goldman Sachs is making it easier to plug its services into other tech platforms like Amazon or Apple’s iPhone, and an industry consultant says it shows how the bank is leading a `fundamental change’ in retail banking.

  • Goldman Sachs is in talks with Amazon about providing small-business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon’s retail platform, according to a person with knowledge of them. The talks were first reported by the Financial Times on Monday. 
  • The partnership would be the second inked by Goldman with a large technology firm that can provide the scale and distribution for Goldman’s products that it can’t get itself. 
  • The partnership, and another one with Apple, is an example of banking-as-a-service, though some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 
  • “If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay … that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking,” according to independent consultant Richard Crone.

Goldman Sachs is close to inking a second high-profile deal to offer banking services in partnership with a large tech company, and it’s a sign of what may be a fundamental change in retail banking. 

Goldman is in talks with Amazon to offer small business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion. The Financial Times first reported the talks on Monday. Goldman’s small business loans may feature the bank’s name and begin as soon as March, the newspaper said. 

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment. 

If the deal is signed, it would become the second Big Tech partnership for Goldman Sachs after it launched a credit card last year with Apple last year. Goldman CEO David Solomon has called the Apple Card the most successful credit card launch of all time, without providing details to back up the claim. 

But it would also be a sign of something much more ambitious: Goldman Sachs moving quickly and aggressively to leverage those characteristics that make it uniquely a bank, with a license that allows it to offer banking products and a balance sheet where it can fund loans cheaply being just two prominent examples. 

The company has been sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into building out its technology capabilities, including APIs (application programming interfaces), to make it as easy and seamless to plug such services into the technology platforms of others, whether that’s Apple’s mobile devices, as with the Apple Card, or Amazon’s retail platform. 

At an investor day last week, execs referred to it as banking-as-a-service, but some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 

Stephanie Cohen, Goldman’s chief strategy officer, appeared on stage last week at the bank’s investor day alongside Marco Argenti, the co-chief information officer who recently joined the bank after several years as a senior exec at Amazon Web Services.

Cohen said the bank is looking for ways to use technology to embed the types of things that Goldman can do well, such as risk management, or loan underwriting.

Cohen cited the Apple Card, which is a Goldman-designed product delivered on Apple’s devices, as one such example. 

“That last capability is the consumer version of our platform strategy,” Cohen said. “It allows us to take products and services that we build for our own clients and then give it to other clients so that they can embed financial products into their ecosystem. This strategy will drive top-line growth, and it will create scale efficiencies.”

Goldman isn’t the only large bank that’s working with Big Tech companies. In November, Google announced a partnership with Citigroup to provide checking accounts to the tech firm’s customers. 

And yet, Goldman is probably doing it better than anyone because it has developed a suite of APIs that it can take off the shelf and plug into other platforms, according to Richard Crone, an independent consultant. 

“Goldman Sachs, when they write the history books, will be noted as the one who invented or perfected embedded banking, where you embed your financial services through the user interface, or at the edge, of someone else’s network,” Crone said. “If Goldman can get this right with Amazon, I would expect them to go to Facebook next or any other online platform of substance that provides them a large distribution channel.”

Goldman is leaning on many of the lessons it learned in its partnership with Apple, known as an incredibly demanding partner, Crone said. Most notably, the ability to offer instant issuance to a set of customers that have already been pre-validated, multi-factor authenticated, Know-Your-Customer credentialed by the large tech firms. 

“They already know the customer, but they have met the regulatory requirement in advance before they hand it over,” he said. 

The product will likely look similar to what small merchants are getting from Square Cash or PayPal Working Capital. 

Goldman has bigger ambitions. At last week’s investor day, the bank presented a slide that showed a product called Marcus Pay, which talked about point-of-sale solutions for merchants based on its digital consumer bank. 

This is just another example of how embedded banking is here to stay, which can be hard for a lot of bankers to understand because they want to service customers through their own app, Crone said.

But “no financial institution can reach the scale that’s required to compete electronically” with the large platforms if they only do it through their own app, he said.  

“If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay, or if Citigroup can pull off Google Cache, that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking.”

See also: Goldman Sachs just unveiled hundreds of slides laying out the future of the company. Here are the 10 crucial slides that show how it plans to transform into a bank for everyone.

See also: Inside Goldman Sachs’ first investor day, where avocado toast and crab apples were served with tech talk, 3-year plans, and a surprising trading mea culpa

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Death, Diarrhea and Late Night Sackings: The Inside Story of an Unfolding Staff Nightmare at UBA and Dangote

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Last November, thousands of Lagosians including hundreds of UBA Bank employees attended what was billed as the ‘party of the year’ at the Lekki Special Events Centre on Admiralty Way.

The UBA RedTV Rave had everyone from Wizkid to Olamide to Jidenna to Burna Boy thrilling the festive crowd as UBA chairman Tony Elumelu and CEO Kennedy Uzoka mingled with the artists and guests.

On the surface, this was the best of times, as a bank that was clearly in rude health celebrated a successful year with thousands of employees, friends and family. The bank had also recently concluded a recruitment exercise that would add nearly 4,000 new employees to its staff strength, so the year ahead looked to be a promising one for most employees present. 

Unknown to them, while senior executives danced with Wizkid in the VIP area, one of the most brutal staff layoffs in Nigerian banking history was just around the corner. They partied well into the night and then showed up for work the following week as usual. A week went by. Two weeks. Four weeks. Then right at the start of the new year – a shocker.

Closed at 5.30PM, Terminated at 10.30PM

Ifunanya (name has been changed) was asked to wait behind at work on Friday January 3. As a 12-year UBA veteran including a long stint in her role as a Branch Operations Manager at a branch in Ojodu, Lagos, this was not an unusual request to receive. She was even used to working weekends so that the ATMs could remain functional and she could troubleshoot other onsite customer-facing issues. This time however, was different. 

Along with other staff members at the branch, she was asked to wait for a board meeting. By 10.30PM, the assembled staff were informed that their services were no longer required. They were then told verbally to write out their resignation letters on the spot and leave voluntarily or be forced out. At this point, her security pass was taken, and along with the other affected staff, her profile was unceremoniously deactivated from the bank’s internal system. She was reminded to drop her work ID on the way out, and thus ended a 12-year association with the bank.

When a relative of hers reached out to tell the story, he was keen to make the point that she was not an agency employee, but a full UBA employee on a monthly salary of N153,000. He could not understand why the bank would treat her that way. I heard similar stories from two other sources who insisted that they were coerced into resigning after being told that their services were no longer required right at the start of the new year.

Shocking and callous as these stories may have sounded, one of the first things you are taught in any professional journalism program is to always balance the story. So I sought an alternate account of what transpired, with the goal of putting the picture together to tell a complete story. There were conflicting accounts of the events of January 3 flying around, with some accounts describing a recruitment and promotion exercise without mentioning any firings, while others reported a purported “restructuring” at UBA, which is a well-known euphemism for “mass sack.”

I managed to establish contact with a current senior employee at UBA who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak about such matters. This was his account of what happened at UBA bank at the start of this year:

“Usually when anyone joins UBA with a Bachelor’s degree, they are put on a GT1 level (N80,000). After one year, they are promoted to GT2 (N100,000), then after another year ET1 (N140,000) which is where a lot of people get stuck on. If you are lucky, you get to ET2 (N165,000). So what UBA did was to meld those 4 levels into one (ET) so any one who was on GT1 and GT2 gets automatically promoted to ET2. Those that were on ET1 and ET2 got promoted to SET (Senior Executive Trainee). 

So it was a promotion of sorts, but honestly it was long overdue because compared to other banks, N80,000 for entry level staff is quite low. About the layoffs: I only know 4 people personally who got affected. The people affected were on manager grades and worked at the head office, they all reportedly got 6 months arrears.”

According to this source, he was not personally aware of the fate of any branch staff or what he termed ‘OND staff.’ He did however say that in his opinion, the bank handled the situation poorly and that Nigeria does need stronger labour laws to protect young graduates fresh out of school from exploitation for cheap labor at the hands of corporates like UBA. He also mentioned that he knows current UBA staff have not had a salary increase in ten years – a remarkable situation for workers in a country whose currency has declined 195 percent over the same period.

As it later emerged, more than 2,000 staff were affected by the shocking late-night cull at UBA. It also became increasingly clear that the firings had nothing to do with a harsh operating environment or decreased profitability. The bank which had brought together Nigeria’s most expensive music stars to perform at its end of year shindig was anything but struggling – it actually hired more people than if fired. What the sackings did though, was clear out a number of people in roles that the bank considered obsolete, particularly within branch operations.

It can definitely be argued that such restructuring is inevitable in the face of rapidly changing technology, which is hardly a terrible thing. What is also true however, is that the bank that paid huge sums of money to bring Burna Boy and Jidenna to an annual vanity event that adds nothing to its bottom line could also afford to retrain its redundant staff to fit into new roles –  instead of just sacking them and instantly bringing in thousands of readymade replacements.

Yet again, the actions of a Nigerian corporate made the point that Nigerian labour law, in addition to be being poorly enforced is also woefully inadequate and unfit for purpose. If after 12 years of useful service to a bank, Ifunanya could be dumped out onto the street without even a few hours of notice – and no regulatory action was forthcoming – then clearly, Nigerian employees working for Nigerian companies have a problem on their hands.

As much as the UBA situation made that point, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to unearth about another Nigerian corporate behemoth.

Diarrhea in India, Death in Ibeju-Lekki: The Unbelievable Story of Dangote Refinery

While senior executives at UBA House were going over the finer points of their plan to log 2,000 employees out of their work systems and force them to resign on the spot, a different level of labour exploitation was entering its fourth year about 73KM east of the Marina. There, at the site of the Dangote Refinery at the Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, the refinery was taking delivery of the world’s largest crude oil refining tower.

While this was predictably being celebrated across local and foreign media as the start of a glorious new chapter in Nigeria’s industrial history, I was speaking to a whistleblower with close and detailed knowledge of the project. What he had to say about the refinery project, the Indian project managers, the company’s internal culture and its much-publicised trainee program left me absolutely floored. Naturally I reached out to Dangote Group for a comment, but at press time I have received no response or acknowledgment.

My source, whom I shall call “Mukhtar” worked in and around the refinery project between 2016 and 2018, and what I found most distressing amidst everything he said was the revelation that deaths due to onsite accidents are not just known to happen at the refinery site, but are effectively covered up by Dangote. This he said, is because the people who die are mostly site labourers who are hired through staffing agencies instead of directly. When they die, it becomes the staffing company’s problem and the Dangote brand distances itself from it – even though the site owner is legally responsible for all safety-related incidents onsite.

Something else that struck me was that he implied that – contrary to all its public posturing – the company actually has no intention of using Nigerian engineers to run the refinery anytime soon. The trainee program that sent dozens of Engineering graduates for a one-year training program in India? “Strictly PR,” he said.

Accidents
The first batch of Dangote Refinery trainees head off to India in March 2016

For full effect, I have decided to reproduce the full and unredacted transcript of our conversation instead of using quotes and reported speech. Here is the conversation below:

ME: When we started this conversation, you mentioned that Dangote Refinery is exempt from Nigerian labour laws. What were you referencing?

Mukhtar: Because the refinery is in the FTZ, it is not subject to certain laws like local content laws. As such, even mundane jobs are given to non-Nigerian companies. Even the refinery’s fence wall was handled by a Chinese company. This didn’t stop long stretches of the fence from collapsing sometime in 2017. The FTZ affects Labour laws too. The company is not really under any obligation to employ Nigerians. They do so mostly for PR. All key decision makers are Indians (say 98%).

ME: There have been several horror stories about Indian-run businesses in Nigeria. Was this one of them?

Mukhtar: Yes, the Indians are quite racist. Some even demand to be referred to as “master”. To be fair, when this is reported, the HR unit makes a show of cautioning them. But I dont think anyone has ever been dismissed for it or seriously punished. Most of workers who meet their death on site are labourers. So their names might be known to many staff. I’ll see what I can get. It happens. It’s kept under wraps but it happens.

ME: Now you mentioned onsite deaths earlier. I want to know all about this. Why haven’t we heard anything about this?

Mukhtar: The refinery site is not really the best place to work. Mortality rate on site is quite high. People falling from heights or getting crushed by heavy vehicles/machines is quite common. These numbers are not reported because most staff are contract staff (or outsourced) so the company gets to wash its hands off such cases. But safety on site is the ultimate responsibility of the owner of the project. The construction site has a board that is supposed to display the safety statistics but it is never displays the truth. According to that board, there has never been a fatality on site. But in reality, I think 2018 had about 5 fatalities between January and March. If I were to guess, I’d say there have been over 25 fatalities since construction started in 2016/17.

ME: Now you said earlier that the trainee program was a washout and a disappointment. Fill me in on that.

Mukhtar: I was one of the first batch of engineers sent to India for training in 2016. In my opinion, the whole scheme was either poorly thought out or the company was somehow compelled to do it, and did so for PR. Our salaries were being paid into our accounts in Nigeria, so we were using our debit cards to access our Nigerian accounts for expenses over there) Around July 2016 when the naira went from around 160 per dollar to nearly double that number, our spending power was effectively halved.

ME: I also remember that there was a forex shortage crisis in 2016 and Nigerian bank cards stopped working outside the country.

Mukhtar: So when the banks eventually stopped all cards from functioning abroad, we were stranded. The company resorted to selling us dollars or rupees at the black market rate.They deducted the money from our salaries. We had accommodation (two adults per room) and feeding (Indian food which many of us did not like). Some of had to buy intercontinental dishes regularly, because Indian food is really not nice if you’re not into many smelly spices. It was crazy. Meanwhile we were told categorically that we would have Nigerian food and Nigerian cooks. It was a blatant lie by the Indian HR director.

Also, no arrangement was made for our medical care. Those who fell ill had to treat themselves from their pockets. During the currency crisis, those who fell ill had to rely on the rest of us to put together our spare change to pay for their treatment. The company promised to refund medical expenses, but this shouldn’t have been the situation in the first place.

ME: Tell me about the training program. What was the course content and the experience like? Was it what you were expecting?

Mukhtar: The training itself was a mess too. We were supposed to be trained to operate the refinery (at the time, it was said that it will be completed by mid 2017), but we were sent to a design company. These (designing a refinery and operating it) are two very, very different things. The trainers did not want us there in the first place. It was not a part of their initial contract with Dangote. Plus, they didn’t know what to teach us because designers are not operators. They were confused, several times, they asked us what we wanted to learn. But we could not know what we wanted to learn cos we knew nothing about the entire business. In the end, they reluctantly settled for teaching us design (skills we were/are unlikely to use cos the refinery was already 90% designed). 

ME: If you say that the refinery was “already 90% designed,” and you were learning design in India, that sounds like your presence was superfluous. Was the company really serious about sending you to learn skills to run a refinery?

Mukhtar: Indians will run the refinery. It will take many many many years before that refinery will be populated by just Nigerians. It was strictly PR. Anyways, the training with that design company was suddenly terminated on December 31st. Apparently, Dangote had not paid them a dime for all the months were were being taught design. They didn’t want to send us back to Nigeria so they moved us to the Dangote office in India. The office housed the Indian engineers (around 150 – 200 in number) who were supervising the design work being done by the design company. Now, it is interesting that these guys were working and earning as expatriates within their own country.

But realising that the “training” was a blunder, the company sent back some engineers to train in an actual refinery. So what was supposed to be a 1 year training became 2 years.

ME: Since returning to Nigeria, is there anything else you have noticed about the project that worries or disturbs you?

Mukhtar: Yes. So we have only the refinery at the FTZ, but the company gets to import things meant for other branches of the company duty-free. As a matter of fact, with the Dangote jetty in place and a customs office right there, the company no longer needs to clear stuff at Apapa. Dangote empire effectively has its own customs and port, because we cannot assume that the custom officers stationed at Dangote’s jetty/FTZ are extremely meticulous in checking what comes in and goes out. Personally, I find this disturbing. No non-military entity should be able to import stuff that easily into any country. This is bigger than just skipping custom duty payment.

–Ends–

Between bank staff being fired at 10.30PM and refinery site labourers being killed by workplace accidents without accountability, the sheer grimness of the picture facing Nigerian workers comes into stark relief. It is afterall, an employer’s market, with several thousand qualified people jostling for every job opening, which creates the possibility and incentive to treat staff like battery animals.

Whether the Labour Ministry is willing or able to do anything about such blatant labour exploitation is anybody’s guess. Nigeria’s government is increasingly weak and unable to impose its will on the country even territorially. In the event that the government did take interest, there is a valid fear that it would go to the other extreme and adopt a lazy anti-business Hugo Chavez approach, as it so often does. The real solution if there is to be one, must come from Nigerian labour having a stronger bargaining position through an improved economy. Anything else as it stands, is little more than a sticking plaster.

As Mukhtar mentioned, even inside the ridiculous situation of being financially stranded in a foreign country at the behest of an irresponsible and insincere Nigerian corporate, the vast majority of the group chose to suffer in silence. They did so because spending a year abroad learning useless information, suffering deprivation and experiencing diarrhea after being forced to eat unfamiliar food was still preferable to whatever alternative was at home.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem facing Nigerian labour. 

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Odunlade Adekola’s new film ‘Ajanaku’ tops trending list on YouTube

Popular Yoruba actor, Odunlade Adekola’s new film, ‘Ajanaku’ is currently at the top of the trending list on YouTube.

The Yoruba film, which was written, directed and produced by the renowned actor was premiered on Dec. 13 and it has over 420 views in the first six days on YouTube.

The film ‘Ajanaku,’ tells the story of Dr Ajanaku, a worthy unorthodox healer, a role played by Adekola.

Ajanaku(Adekola) believed so much in his ancestral powers but in this chosen path, there were lots of battles to be fought to remain relevant.

The film features Yemi Solade, Odunlade Adekola, and Ireti Osayemi, Eniola Ajao, Bolaji Amusan aka Mr. Latin and Babatunde Aderinoye.

According to him, the film also features some of the students from his acting academy, Odunlade Adekola Film and Production Academy (OAFP).

Adekola a Nigeria actor, singer, film-maker, producer and director, gained popularity with his lead role in Ishola Durojaye’s 2003 movie ‘Asiri Gomina Wa’.

Adekola is a prolific movie producer, who has produced mostly Yoruba films and currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Odunlade Adekola Film Production(OAFP).

Through his production company, he has been able to produce several movies in Nigeria and has acted in multiple Nollywood movies.

The most notable movie he has produced is “Adebayo Aremu” which he also acted in as a lead character.

The renowned Yoruba actor, began his acting career professionally in 1996 .

Then he joined the Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners, under the tutelage of the late Nollywood actor and producer, Isola Durojaiye, also known as Alasari.

READ ALSO: Odunlade Adekola, Dayo Amusa, others grace ‘Omoniyun’ premiere

Adekola has acted, scripted, produced and directed several Yoruba films over the years which include Omo Colonel, Aroba, Oro, Sunday Dagboru, Monday omo adugbo, Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo, Eku Meji, Kurukuru, Sunday gboku gboku, Adura, etc.

In December 2015, he marked his entrance into the Nigerian music industry.

Adekola in the cause of his acting career, won several awards in Nigeria, which include Best Actor in Yoruba at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in April 2014, Best Actor of the Year at the City People Entertainment Awards in 2009.

In 2011, he won the Best Actor of the Year at the City People Entertainment Awards and in 2014, he won the Best Actor (Yoruba) at the City People Entertainment Awards.

In 2015, he won the Best Actor in a Leading Role at the City People Entertainment Awards and Best Actor of the Year at the African Magic Viewers Choice Awards.

Odunlade Adekola is currently one of the most talented actors, who is married to Ruth Abosede Adekola and the marriage is blessed with beautiful children.

(NAN)

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Join Millions Of Christians In Asking Netflix To Cancel Film Depicting Jesus As Homosexual

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This is an absolutely unacceptable provocation. No one has the right to attack the faith of millions of people around the world.

'Porta dos Fondos' - Netflix evil movie

The Brazilian group ‘Porta dos Fondos’ (Translates to “Back door”) has produced a film titled “The First Temptation of Christ” which depicts Jesus Christ as a homosexual in a clear attack to Christianity as Christmas approaches.

Over 1.5 million people have signed a petition asking streamer Netflix to take down the film that portrays Jesus in a gay relationship.

The 46-minute film premiered on Netflix Brazil on Dec. 3 and has since sparked a ton of controversy online for its politically incorrect satire that paints Jesus as a closeted homosexual on Christmas.

Using humor and art as an excuse, this group has attacked Christianity in an unprecedented manner. They supposedly produced this film as a “Christmas” film for their viewers!

In this film they present Christ as having relationships with a homosexual while the disciples are alcoholics and unruly . The Virgin Mary is presented as an adulterous woman who has sex with God the Father ..

“The First Temptation of Christ” sees Jesus and a friend named Orlando arrive at Mary and Joseph’s house where they’ve thrown a birthday party for their son, according to the New York Daily News. Jesus attempts to downplay his relationship with Orlando, who constantly hints that they’re more than just friends.

The outlet reports that the comedy group Porta dos Fundos is responsible for the special, which actually marks their second religious satire following “The Last Hangover,” which depicts Jesus’ disciples looking for him on the morning after the Last Supper. They recently earned an International Emmy Award for best comedy web television special for “The Last Hangover.”

The petition quickly formed and people continue to sign it in a push for the streaming service to take action against the group’s latest special for its alleged insensitivity toward Christians.

The petition which started on Change.org, has so far collected 1,529,504 signatures. It calls upon Netflix to remove the movie, made by comedy sketch group Porta dos Fundos (Backdoor in English).

This is an absolutely unacceptable provocation. No one has the right to attack the faith of millions of people around the world. This type of supposed ‘shows’ only cause one thing: numbing the population to attacks against Christians, according to .

That is why we are asking Netflix to remove this brutal attack on religious freedom.

By signing this campaign, you will be sending an email to the following Netflix executives expressing your disagreement with their film :

  • Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix
  • Jeff Hensien, Head of the Netflix Consumer Service Department
  • Ted Sarandos, Netflix Content Manager

The post Join Millions Of Christians In Asking Netflix To Cancel Film Depicting Jesus As Homosexual appeared first on Believers Portal.

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Naples Senior Center offers drum circle twice a month to senior members

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Naples Senior Center members move to beat of a drum


Liz Freeman


Naples Daily News
Updated 8:00 AM EST Nov 26, 2019

Martha Davis arrives early for drum circle at Naples Senior Center, a giveaway she’s fond of the activity.

“It just makes you feel happy,” Davis, 82, said. “I know it’s healthy for us. (Afterward) I’m full of energy I didn’t have before.”

The 45-minute drum circle sessions began earlier this year as an experiment to see if it held any appeal to members. The center offers 40 different programs each week to keep seniors engaged and active.

Scheduled initially for once a month, attendance at the drum circle quickly mushroomed. The center’s purchase of eight drums didn’t suffice.

Now drum circle is twice a month. The center has purchased a dozen drums and counting.

Jim Sernovitz, 74, is a volunteer who leads drum circle. He wasn’t surprised how quickly it became popular with the seniors.

Drum instructor Jim Sernovitz, center, leads the drum circle, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Naples Senior Center.
Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

“It helps everybody. With drums, you really don’t have to know a lot about music. In a group, it is so loud if you make a mistake, nobody knows.”

The drumming provides exercise through the hand movement, and the vibration can be a stress reliever.

“You feel good when you are done,” he said.

Jackie Faffer, the center’s president and CEO, said drum circle provides members with a connection to others and a sense of interpersonal support.

“This epitomizes the purpose of Naples Senior Center,” she said. “We are all about connecting, energizing and supporting all who participate in our programs. And, when you see the smiles on the faces of our drummers, you know we are also all about having a good time, too.”

Mary-Rina Longo, left, Terry Butts and Carolyn Mulligan participate in a drum circle class, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Naples Senior Center.
Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

Sernovitz started a recent session with some warm up drumming before picking up the tempo. Most of the participants in a recent session were women, except for Art Sturm, 86. He started coming to drum circle three months ago.

“It kind of relaxes me,” Sturm said, adding that he likes it when Sernovitz picks up the pace.

Drum circle events are plentiful in Southwest Florida, with gatherings held in Cambier Park in Naples, at Shangri-La Springs in Bonita Springs and in Centennial Park in Fort Myers, according to a public Facebook page, Fort Myers Drum Circle.

Participants play drums in a drum circle class, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Naples Senior Center.
Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

The Naples center purchased djembe drums, which hail from West Africa. The drum traditionally is carved from a single piece of African hardwood with animal skin as the drumhead, according to a detailed history on the website, drumconnection.com, and is affiliated with a drum circle program in Boston.

Numerous websites refer to health benefits of drum circles as a way to address stress, provide a sense of belonging and a connection to others. Drumming is a way to decrease anxiety and depression, and can improve motor skills and energy.

Terry Butts plays her drum during a drum circle class, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Naples Senior Center.
Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

For Terry Butts, 89, the drum circle at the senior center doesn’t help with her essential tremor, a neurological condition that causes involuntary shaking, but it makes her feel good.

“I love it,” she said. “I like the rhythm. I like the camaraderie.”

The drum circle helps her forget that she’s got essential tremor.

 “I don’t think about it, and the people here are nice,” she said.

Mary-Rina Longo participates in a drum circle class, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Naples Senior Center.
Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

Naples Senior Center is located at 5025 Castello Drive.

For more information, go to naplesseniorcenter.org or call 239-325-4444.

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Google, Facebook business models threat to human rights: Amnesty | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, US, Oct. 23, 2019. Erin Scott, Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — The data-collection business model fueling Facebook and Google represents a threat to human rights around the world, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.

The organization argued that offering people free online services and then using information about them to target money-making ads imperils a gamut of rights including freedom of opinion and expression.

“Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty said in its report, “Surveillance Giants.”

“The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.”

With ubiquitous surveillance, the two online giants are able to collect massive amounts of data which may be used against their customers, according to the London-based human rights group.

The business model is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy,” Amnesty contended.

The report maintained that the two Silicon Valley firms have established “near-total dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world,” giving them unprecedented power over people’s lives.

“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives — amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era.”

The report called for governments to implement policies that ensure access to online services while protecting user privacy.

“Governments have an obligation to protect people from human rights abuses by corporations,” Amnesty maintained.

“But for the past two decades, technology companies have been largely left to self-regulate.”

DISPUTE ON FINDINGS

Facebook pushed back against what it contended were inaccuracies in the report, saying it strongly disagreed with its business model being characterized as surveillance-based.

“Our business model is what allows us to offer an important service where people can exercise foundational human rights — to have a voice (freedom of expression) and be able to connect (freedom of association and assembly),” said a letter from Facebook privacy and public policy director Steve Satterfield in an annex to the Amnesty report.

“Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people.”

Facebook spotlighted its measures implemented which limit data information used for ad targeting; controls provided to users regarding their data; and steps taken to restrict abuses by apps on the social network.

“As you correctly note, we do not sell data; we sell ads,” Facebook said.

Facebook chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments to implement uniform rules regarding data-handling instead of leaving private companies to make crucial social decisions such as the limits of free speech.

Google did not offer a specific written response.

But the Amnesty report noted that Google announced this month it would limit data that it shares with advertisers through its ad auction platform, following the launch of an inquiry by the Irish data protection authority and had launched a new feature allowing users to delete location data.

© Agence France-Presse

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Profiles: 4 Twitter executives that visited Nigeria with CEO, Jack Dorsey

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On Thursday, 7th of November 2019, co-founder and CEO of social media service, Twitter, and mobile payments company, Square, Jack Dorsey, came to Lagos, Nigeria on the first leg of an African tour that will span Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.

The next day in Lagos, Jack met with entrepreneurs at the the Bosun Tijan-led Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) and afterwards headed to the University of Lagos (Unilag).

He also visited Andela and ended the day with a well-attended town hall meeting at the Techpoint Africa headquarters in Lagos.

The 14-man Twitter entourage included four executive members asides Jack Dorsey.

Kayvon Beykpour

Kayvon Beykpour is the co-founder and CEO of Twitter’s video streaming application, Periscope.

Beykpour started Periscope with Joe Bernstein in early 2014. Less than a year later, in January 2015, and before it publicly launched, the app was acquired by Twitter.

In 2017, Beykpour started overseeing all the video initiatives at Twitter as a product lead.

During the town hall meeting, Techpoint invited a Nigerian engineer, Dara Oladosu, to present the solution to Jack Dorsey. Oladosu had built a Twitter bot, called Quoted Replies, that allows users see quoted replies on their tweets.

Suggested Read: Quoted Replies: The viral Twitter bot built by a Nigerian

After the presentation, Beykpour called Oladosu back and offered him a job on the spot.

“I would love for you to maybe consider come joining the company [Twitter],” Beykpour said.

“Things went way better than I expected”. @dara_tobi, creator of @QuotedReplies, reacts to getting a job offer from Twitter. He also discusses the fate of his viral Twitter bot in this interview https://t.co/ZVQKwH6mc3 pic.twitter.com/1wgYOxjHv5

— Techpoint Africa (@Techpointdotng) November 9, 2019

Parag Agrawal

Parag Agrawal is the chief technical officer (CTO) at Twitter.

As an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, as well as having a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University, Parag was chosen in 2018 to lead the technology team of the micro-blogging site after working for Twitter as a distinguished software engineer for over six years.

According to Parag’s LinkedIn profile, he assumed the CTO position in October 2017, after six years of being in his previous role.

Before that, he focused on research in Microsoft, Yahoo!, and AT&T labs up until October 2011 when he joined Twitter.

According to Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), Parag’s contributions included “leading efforts to increase the relevance of tweets on Twitter users’ timelines using artificial intelligence.”

Parag is one of the people responsible for Twitter’s foray into the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) space, and may have played a major part in utilising the technology to automate campaigns on the platform. Something that Jack Dorsey has cited as perhaps the single biggest improvement around elections since he became CEO of the company he co-founded.

During their visit to Techpoint Africa’s HQ, Parag made it clear that Twitter is looking outside the Bay Area for engineering talent.

“We’re looking to have half of our engineers out of San Francisco,” said the CTO.

TJ Adeshola

TJ Adeshola is the head of US Sports Partnerships at Twitter. He assumed the role after three years as the head of Sports League Partnerships.

In 2012, Adeshola left sports channel ESPN to join Twitter as a senior account officer. Before his current role, Adeshola managed Twitter’s partnerships with major US sports leagues, including the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB).

He is also the executive sponsor of Blackbirds, Twitter’s business resource group that celebrates and encourages diverse perspectives.

Adeshola is Nigerian by origin, but he is not the only Nigerian working at Twitter.

Michael Montano studied electrical engineering at The University of Toronto, graduating in 2008.

After his first startup, IPartee, which he co-founded with a roommate back in high school, Mike went on to participate in the 2008 Y Combinator (YC) summer programme to start BackType, a service that lets people find, follow, and share comments from across the web.

At YC, Mike learned how important it is to build something that people want and that building something that’s useful right away is a huge advantage.

He joined Twitter in 2011 as an engineer, and after a major reorganisation by Jack on June 28, 2018, Mike was tasked with leading the company’s engineering team.

Even as Twitter’s lead engineer, Mike admits to working from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He claims he is more productive on those days and able to spend more time on deeper, more strategic work. Tweeting under the hashtag #WhyIWorkFromHome last month, Mike explained that his journey into remote work was initially restricted to afternoons before he made it an all-day affair.

Before IPartee, Mike started a design and development company called, UrbanTwelve, but he doesn’t consider that to be a startup.

New Report: Nigerian startups raised a combined $38.01m in Q3 2019, just 7% higher than Q3 2018. Download the report.

Attend Techpoint Startup School, a 5-day intensive training for budding African tech founders and CEOs. Classes start 2nd of December. Enrol now.

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Highlights from the town hall meeting with Jack Dorsey and the Twitter team at Techpoint Africa

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A couple of days ago, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, made his presence in Nigeria known through a tweet.

One of the arranged engagements for Jack — who is also the co-founder and CEO of Square — was a town hall meeting at Techpoint’s headquarters in Lagos.

Jack with Twitter’s CTO, Parag Agrawal; lead engineering team, Micheal Montano; and Twitter product lead and Periscope co-founder, Kayvon Beykpour took turns responding to questions from people at the meeting.

“I want to understand the challenges of starting a company here and figure out a way I can support,” Jack claimed.

He also revealed that there are plans to hire Nigerians to work remotely for Twitter as well as Square.

“Speaking specifically about Nigeria, in the future, many of our customers will be from here [more] than there are today. There is [a] massive opportunity here for Twitter because Nigeria has many technical talents and impactful public conversations happen here too,” Parag added.

Here are highlights of the town hall meeting.

Twitter’s product lead offered Dara Oladosu a job at Twitter

After listening to Dara Oladosu talk about his Twitter bot — @QuotedReplies — Twitter’s product lead, Kayvon Beykpour offered him a job on the spot.

Kayvon went as far as offering Dara his seat on the panel.

And in what seemed like a confirmation of Kayvon’s job offer, Jack asked Dara to wait behind when Adewale Yusuf — Techpoint’s CEO — asked Techpointers to join the Twitter team for a group picture.

Parag had earlier pointed out that the company is working on decentralising its workforce.

Interestingly, Kayvon joined Twitter, along with Micheal after it acquired his startup, Periscope.

There are not enough Nigerians on Twitter

Jack, reacting to a question of Nigerian representation on Twitter, simply quipped, “not enough.”

Corroborating this, Kayvon added, “I’ll just say not enough, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here. We sense the impact that can be made is relative to the number of people.”

These responses pointed to the fact that the micro-blogging platform only has a small fraction of the 98.39 million active Internet users in Nigeria.

Jack to spend six months in Nigeria

Responding to a question from the moderator, Jack revealed that he would be spending six months in Nigeria in 2020.

“I want to live here for three to six months next year, full time, no travelling.”

However, Jack didn’t mention what he would be doing in the country during this period.

Practical tips on how CEOs can manage their startups

Sharing his experience as CEO of two companies, Jack touched on how setting priorities and creating team dynamics can be key to a company’s success.

He further stated that CEOs should ensure decisions are made with rich context that can properly address solutions.

He went on to say entrepreneurs shouldn’t set mediocre goals.

“We often raise bars on what we think is possible. We do things that scare us.”

“Remote work helps me connect well with my team.”

Jack mentioned how working from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays helps him bond properly with his team.

He added that this gives him ample time to have elaborate discussions regarding the company’s growth.

“Working remotely twice a week gives me so much time to focus. When I invite these three over, we set apart three hours to have deeper conversations and make tactical plans we may not have in the office environment.”

New Report: Nigerian startups raised a combined $38.01m in Q3 2019, just 7% higher than Q3 2018. Download the report.

Attend Techpoint Startup School, a 5-day intensive training for budding African tech founders and CEOs. Classes start 2nd of December. Enrol now.

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