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Economy January 23, 2023

Elon Musk Takes His Transparency Wars to ‘Unwanted’ WEF World Government



Elon Musk Takes His Transparency Wars to ‘Unwanted’ WEF World Government
Elon Musk and Klaus Schwab.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk may have turned down a Davos invite, per his contested claim, but he did not necessarily sit out the proceedings. The chief twit has been chatty about this year’s edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF), questioning its legitimacy as the talking shop for solutions to global problems.

“WEF is increasingly becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want,” Musk tweeted. He was responding to a video of World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and other high ranking officials discussing the organization’s new “Global Collaboration Village.”

On day one of the event, Musk sarcastically responded to a buzzword, “‘Master the Future’ doesn’t sound ominous at all,” and added, “How is WEF/Davos even a thing? Are they trying to be the boss of Earth!?” This year’s meetings ran from Jan. 16 – 20.

Musk criticizes WEF global agenda

Musk’s criticism of the Davos is an extension of his criticism of institutional opacity. The Twitter Files, a retrospective look into the tech behemoth before Musk’s takeover, includes revelations that the company ranked right-leaning tweets lower without making this information available to users.

Musk, a self-styled “free-speech absolutist”, has posed as the broom of the system since he started his hostile bid for Twitter. He demanded transparency from the company not just for his own due diligence but for Twitter users. The billionaire has also accommodated dissenters on Twitter in symbolic correction of mute-happy Meta platforms and others.

Also read: Twitter Q4 Revenue Tumbles 35% as 500 Advertisers Suspend Spending

Making good on his transparency crusade from the helm of his new acquistion, he recently announced, “Twitter will publish tweet recommendation code and make account or tweet status visible no later than next month. Transparency builds trust.”

WEF, known by its Davos synecdoche, is a gathering of global who’s who, meeting annually to discuss solutions to world problems, including the ecological crisis and the social aspects of new technology. While it is made up of unelected leaders, as Musk points out, the guest list is remarkable for its star power, including heads of state and tech magnates.

Davos’ emphasis on global cooperation, everyone speaking like they are walking on egg shells, may also account for the mercurial billionaire’s dismissiveness. Musk is known for speaking his mind, however unpalatable. Like many businesspeople at home with the bare-knuckle language of competition rather than diplomacy.

In the heat of corporate rivalry, Musk has savaged Davos’ upcoming “Global Collaboration Village” in the metaverse powered by Meta. WEF founder Schwab’s announcement of Interpol’s contribution to the security side of the Global Collaboration Village does not help.

That’s given the so-called tech-intelligence complex whereby major technology companies are accused of back-channeling user data to security agencies, particularly in the U.S and China (The Permanent Record, Edward Snowden, 2019).

Parallels between Big Tech monopoly and WEF

As he angled towards his Twitter takeover, Musk said he wanted to push the company towards free expression and questioned permanent bans and content restrictions.

To hear Musk tell it, in having content “mysteriously promoted or demoted with no insight into what’s going on”, Twitter was failing the transparency test. It includes the erstwhile secrecy around the identities of the makers of such decisions.

This goes for the other tech companies whose drive to moderate content also unilaterally and unaccountably amplified their power over speech. Davos may well spell a parallel, a talking shop of the powerful deciding the direction the world should take without consulting or representing the people they speak for.

“Having a black box algorithm promote some things and not other things, I think this can be quite dangerous,” Musk said of Twitter, an analogy which may well hold against mega-rich and mega-powerful clubs calling the shots.

In defense of the WEF, while it can be characterized as a high-powered exclusive club, it is also the place where the “big boys” get to interface with activists and lobbyists supposedly from the grassroots and alternative campaigns.

Populist posturing

Elon Musk’s call for Twitter to publish its code on Github was classic Tesla. In 2006, he published “The Secret Master Plan of Tesla” detailing his strategy to make affordable self-driving cars a reality. In 2014, he also published Tesla patents.

However, his critics cite his prolific use of non-disclosure arrangements and punishing of vehicle safety whistleblowers like former employee Cristina Balan as a proof of double standards.

His handling of Twitter Files has also been criticized as populist posturing against the former leaders which may well be a decoy away from his own opaque and individualized decision-making.

Klaus Schwab founded the World Economic Forum in 1971. Elon Musk ran a poll on Twitter asking users whether the WEF should control the world. Over 2.42 million people voted and an overwhelming majority of 86% voted “No”.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.


How the Metaverse is Changing the Beauty Industry



How the Metaverse is Changing the Beauty Industry

Countless obituaries have been written about the metaverse, but not everyone is reading from the same page. This week, 120-year old American cosmetics brand Elizabeth Arden launched its first virtual store in the metaverse. The store’s opening signals the growing importance of the metaverse for the beauty industry throughout the world.

Located on the experiential e-commerce platform Obsess, the digital store allows users to explore Elizabeth Arden’s products like skincare and fragrances, and learn about its history. It is a fully immersive experience that lets people interact with the products in a realistic way.

According to Martine Williamson, the brand’s global chief marketing officer, users can zoom in on the products, read about their ingredients, and even try them on virtually. The store also features a history section that tells the story of the eponymous brand founder.

“We are truly operating as an omnichannel business to evolve our customer experience and engage a whole new generation of shoppers about our products and legacy through digital storytelling,” Williamson said in a statement.

Also read: Gucci uses Metaverse as a Product Testing Ground

Reinventing beauty the metaverse way

The metaverse is an emerging, immersive virtual world created by the convergence of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and the internet. It is a place where people can connect with each other and with digital content in a way that feels real for some users.

In an industry that already thrives on digital marketing and e-commerce, beauty brands are well-positioned to benefit from the metaverse. It can offer brands such as Elizabeth Arden a new way to reach consumers, according to metaverse expert and author Rume Dominic.

“The metaverse is an opportunity [for entities] to innovate on a more immersive experience [for consumers] in the application of their beauty products virtually,” Dominic, author of beginners guide “An Evolution into the Metaverse,” told MetaNews.

“It also promotes a better social community – online is the new community. Like it or not, there is influence and value distribution of environments that the metaverse allows you to experience. Elizabeth Arden wants to meet its customers at their point of need,” he added.

Dominic spoke about how Elizabeth Arden could use the metaverse to create virtual makeovers or to offer live beauty tutorials. The metaverse is also useful for building new forms of beauty content, including virtual fashion shows and beauty documentaries.

“This is a journey into the digital transformation of their [beauty companies] e-commerce and online shopping by balancing virtual and physical experiences,” said Dominic.

More beauty brands join the bandwagon

Beauty lovers are already experiencing multiple metaverse use cases elsewhere in the industry. Brands that include Sephora, MAC Cosmetics, and L’Oréal have all opened stores in the metaverse.

These brands are using the metaverse to engage directly with their customers for commercial and promotional purposes.

In April, Estee Lauder’s Clinique launched its eponymous virtual shopping experience called “Clinique Lab”. The digital storefront, built in partnership with metaverse company Journee, comes with a virtual Clinique counter that lets users create a customized avatar and explore six unique zones.

How the Metaverse is Changing the Beauty Industry

Laura Mercier virtual store

French beauty brand Laura Mercier opened its World of Beauty metaverse store in December. As with Elizabeth Arden, the company worked with Obsess to set up its first virtually experiential e-commerce presence. Laura Mercier is making use of web-based VR and AR to offer high-definition quality, 3D and 360-degree metaverse experiences.

Obsess recently launched its Ava by Obsess service, which enables brands and retailers to create stores in the metaverse. To date, the company says it’s helped create over 200 immersive stores for brands like Ralph Lauren and Charlotte Tilbury.

For Charlotte Tilbury, the retailer initially launched a digital twin of its physical store in 2020. The following year the company unveiled a 3D virtual store with a feature enabling users to invite their friends and family to join them for a virtual store experience by email or text.

The retailer reportedly “now offers metaverse shoppers branded avatars that can be personalized across all of a shopper’s characteristics, including skin tone, facial features, body shape, clothing and makeup.”

Not all rosy

But it is not always rosy for beauty brands pitching up to the metaverse. Metaverse expert Rume Dominic told MetaNews that companies could struggle with issues of data privacy and security, including the requisite technology and infrastructure.

“The technology may not be as reliable as it needs to be and the cost of setting up and and maintaining a metaverse store is expensive,” he said.

There are also issues around lack of regulation in the space, which means “there are no clear rules or regulations about how businesses can operate in the metaverse.”

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Presidential Hopeful RFK Comes Out in Support of Crypto



Presidential Hopeful RFK Comes Out in Support of Crypto

Democratic Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has given cryptocurrencies his support, calling them “a major innovation engine.”

The 69-year-old member of the Kennedy dynasty took to Twitter to outline his views on digital assets as his campaign for the White House kicks into gear. RFK launched his primary bid on April 19 and a recent Fox News poll put his support at 19%.

Kennedy slams centralization, endorses crypto

“Cryptocurrencies, led by bitcoin, along with other crypto technologies are a major innovation engine,” Kennedy wrote on Twitter. “It is a mistake for the U.S. government to hobble the industry and drive innovation elsewhere. Biden’s proposed 30% tax on cryptocurrency mining is a bad idea.”

The latter comment refers to the President’s ambition to pass a 30% tax on the electricity used in cryptocurrency mining in the next federal budget. The so-called Digital Asset Mining Energy (DAME) excise tax doesn’t cut much muster with Kennedy, though.

“Yes, energy use is a concern (though somewhat overstated),” he acknowledged, “but bitcoin mining uses about the same as video games and no one is calling for a ban on those. The environmental argument is a selective pretext to suppress anything that threatens elite power structures. Bitcoin, for example.”

The tweet thread didn’t just tackle bitcoin energy FOMO, a common criticism levelled at the currency. The long-shot Presidential candidate was also keen to debunk the claim that digital assets are the preferred currency of criminals. 

“Some advocate tight control of cryptocurrencies to prevent their use by criminals. But it isn’t just criminals who want privacy. So do dissidents and ordinary citizens,” Kennedy noted.

“Governments harass their enemies and crush dissent by controlling bank accounts and payment platforms. Until we restore trust in government (a distant prospect) we need cash and crypto to ensure freedom.”

Kennedy is not a lone voice: politicians on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for cryptocurrency. On Wednesday, Republican Representative Mike Flood of Nebraska said “Digital assets are at the heart of our digital economy’s future, but the Biden’s Administration’s response is driving innovators out of America and into the hands of international competitors.”

Kennedy’s tweet thread garnered 3.3 million impressions and almost 40,000 likes, with many voicing their support for the Presidential hopeful.

“Woah! RFK jumping up in my personal poll,” wrote one. “I haven’t bothered to vote for a president in years, but if this really is your stance, I’d go out of my way to vote just to show support for this,” said another.

Kennedy sets out stall for White House

In a wide-ranging interview with Freddie Sayers of UnHerd this week, Kennedy touched on many key topics – war in Ukraine, the environment, the merger of state and corporate power, and what he calls “the systematic gutting of the middle class.”

The environmental lawyer also took aim at the expenditure of the Biden government, including the recent bailout of the crypto-friendly Silicon Valley Bank and “the war in Ukraine, which is costing us $113 billion.”

With Ron DeSantis looking like the most obvious rival to Trump on the Republican side of the fence, does Kennedy have what it takes to challenge Biden?

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Six Months of Twitter Under the Rule of Elon Musk



Six Months of Twitter Under the Rule of Elon Musk

Twitter has barely been out of the headlines since its takeover by Elon Musk last October in a deal worth $44 billion. Partly these have stemmed from the raft of significant changes made to its policies. Though company-wide layoffs and Musk’s brain-fart tweets have also got tongues wagging.

Musk’s Twitter buy was the social media takeover story to end them all, and the first six months with the mogul at the wheel have been eventful to say the least. In this article, we’ve summarized some of the most notable stories of his reign so far.

Liftoff, layoffs

Musk made a memorable entrance to Twitter HQ, holding a sink in his hand to indicate “Let that sink in.” Things appeared to start on a positive note when he added, “Meeting a lot of cool people at Twitter today.”

However, he did not waste any time in laying off employees in huge numbers, starting with then-CEO Parag Agrawal, the CFO, and the head of legal, policy, and trust.

The exact number of employees dismissed under Musk’s leadership is unclear. However, within the first three weeks of his tenure, nearly two-thirds of the company’s 7,500-person workforce were purged.

Furthermore, the company had lost almost all of its senior leadership. And the number of people with access to Twitter’s internal systems fell to just over 2,700, according to two sources who saw the numbers in the last week of November.

The layoffs have included long-tenured engineers, some with more than a decade of experience at the company, as well as a growing list of corporate leaders.

Advertisers sever ties

Since October, many corporations and companies have cut ties with the platform for advertising.

Major corporations such as Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, General Mills, Mondelez, Pfizer, and United Airlines have paused or pulled their advertisements from Twitter due to concerns over hate speech and conspiracy theories.

International ad and consulting firm Interpublic, which represents American Express, Coca-Cola, Fitbit, Spotify, and dozens of other major corporations, has also stopped advertising on the platform. That cut caused Twitter to lose $24 billion in value since Musk took over.

Introduction of paid verification subscription

Without a doubt, one of the most popular changes on Twitter since Musk’s takeover is its Bluetick subscription feature.

In November, the Tesla chief introduced a feature called “Blue for $8/month,” which brought a drastic change to Twitter’s policy by providing a verification checkmark known as a Bluetick. This feature also offers additional benefits such as the ability to edit tweets, half-ads, longer tweets, text formatting, bookmark folders, NFT profile pictures, etc.

However, it has also raised concerns that Twitter Blue’s additional features make the platform more elitist. Interestingly, though, the change has been copied by Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, whose subscription service Meta Verified lets users add a blue checkmark to their accounts.

Twitter for everything app

Reportedly, Musk has long wanted to turn Twitter into an “everything app.” The maverick social media typhoon envisions a future where Twitter becomes like China’s WeChat, offering a wide range of services beyond social media.

This would involve integrating features such as e-commerce, messaging, and even transportation services, all within the Twitter platform.

Musk’s ambition is apparently to turn Twitter into a comprehensive digital ecosystem that people can rely on for all their needs. Watch this space.

Q4 revenue tumbled by 35%

Twitter’s fourth-quarter revenue plummeted by 35% year-on-year to $1.03 billion, as advertisers held back spending after Musk’s takeover.

More than 500 advertisers pulled the plug on ad spending after the takeover, with revenue representing 72% of the company’s own targets for the quarter under review.

Twitter faces an imminent finance charge of $13 billion and has projected first-quarter revenue to come in at $732 million, down 39% from a year ago.

Controversial 2FA policy change

Back in February, Twitter faced criticism from experts when it announced that SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) would only be available to Bluetick subscribers.

The move was seen as contradictory to Twitter’s goal of improving security and sparked concerns that users would be confused by the sudden change. Despite SMS-based 2FA being considered less secure than other methods, some questioned why verified users were being given unfavourable treatment.

Twitter leverages AI to detect manipulation

The Twitter boss is also working on AI despite his agreement to pause developing the technology.

As MetaNews previously reported, Musk’s announcement comes after Twitter has faced criticism for its handling of disinformation and propaganda on its platform.

Musk, who often uses Twitter to voice his opinions and ideas, believes that his AI platform can identify misinformation campaigns and protect users from having their opinions manipulated.

His initiative is part of a broader trend toward the use of AI to monitor and regulate social media platforms.

Algorithms go public

Twitter made its timeline algorithm code public on GitHub, allowing developers to access and use it.

The move came with the expectation that developers would have more freedom to create new features and enhance the platform’s functionality.

The announcement generated a buzz among social media users, with some hoping to find out why certain posts were prioritized.

According to a Twitter blog post, the algorithm prioritizes likes and retweets over replies when selecting tweets to feature on the For You timeline, with each like given a 30x boost and each retweet a 20x boost.

Monetization avenues for content creators

Musk has announced that the social media platform will now allow creators to monetize their content through a new feature called “Subscriptions.”

This move is part of Twitter’s efforts to generate more revenue and compete with other social media sites.

Creators can charge subscribers $2.99, $4.99, or $9.99 per month and will receive 97% of revenue up to $50,000 in lifetime earnings.

Additionally, Twitter plans to promote creators’ work and give them full ownership of their content.

Aside from the controversies and policy changes, Musk has reached some personal milestones since taking over. Indeed, he has become the most followed individual on the entire platform, surpassing former President Barack Obama.

Musk also paid for the blue tick verification of three celebrities, after they declined to sign up themselves.

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