Marketplace Tech®

with Ben Johnson

About the Program

Hosted by Ben Johnson, this daily "journal of the Digital Age" airs during broadcasts of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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Encryption debate heats up after Paris attacks

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris has brought an ongoing debate about encrypted data and the rights of consumers into the forefront. The debate centers on whether tech companies should provide the U.S. government back door access to their encrypted messaging systems.

The government says the ability to read messages is vital to fight criminals and terrorists who use communication networks such as iMessage and WhatsApp to organize and carry out there destruction. 

But Silicon Valley has long argued the need for stronger encryption tools to protect consumers. They also say that allowing access to messaging tools and calls can allow police to spy on individuals and can lead to corruption if used as a big brother policing tool. 

Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, said there is a conflict between what the government and the tech industry sees. 

“The intelligence looks at people overseas using mobile devices and computers and sees targets and the tech industry looks at people overseas using those same devices and computers and sees customers and that’s a real conflict of their two interests,” he said. 

Despite early reports that the terrorists in the Paris attacks used encrypted messaging tools, there is no evidence to support the claim that ISIS used such technology. 

On Thursday, the Information Technology Industry Council, a group that includes Apple, parent company of Google Alphabet, and Facebook, said “weakening security with the aim of advancing security simply does not make sense.”

Wittes agrees and says encryption is necessary.

“It’s not just people working against bad regimes. Look, encryption is essential to the safety of digital commerce. It’s essential to basic cyber security in a lot of different areas, so I don’t think anybody responsible is making an argument against encryption,” he said. “There is no question that if you weaken encryption to give U.S. or good guy law enforcement access under the right circumstances you weaken the security of systems that also has to protect people against bad guys and so there are real costs no matter what direction you go.”

Since the attacks in Paris, some lawmakers have said they want to allow investigators to be able to access encrypted communication. But, Apple said they would not build a backdoor system to allow the government access to its system. The company said doing so would expose customers to too many security risks.

At The Wall Street Journal’s technology conference last month, Apple CEO, Tim Cook discussed privacy.

“We’ve said that no backdoor is a must, and we’ve said that encryption is a must,” he said. “I don’t know a way to protect people without encrypting.”


Why pharmaceutical coupons might push costs up overall

More and more of us are paying a greater share of our own healthcare costs.

Nearly half of everyone who gets insurance from work faces at least a $1,000 deductible.

To help stretch that thousand bucks as far as possible, a number of apps have entered the market that help consumers find the best deals on prescription drugs.

Three years ago, a couple hundred thousand consumers were finding discounts on the app GoodRx every month. Today it’s more than 3 million.

And CEO Doug Hirsch said there’s no sign of a slowdown.

“We continue to see double digit growth every month and just tremendous traction,” he said.

GoodRx and competitors like OneRx help consumers comparison shop and point them to discounts from pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens. They also offer coupons from drug makers.

Hirsh estimated consumers save about half a billion dollars a year thanks to his company, the nation’s largest drug app.

“I got an email the other day from someone who had gotten I think a liver transplant where [the patient said], ‘It’s going to be rent or it’s going to be the drugs I need to keep me alive,’” Hirsch said.

Drug app makers, the pharmaceutical industry and some patient advocacy groups argue the rise of this software helps make meds more affordable.

On paper, that means patients will take their pills and avoid getting sick again, a problem the federal government pegs at $300 billion a year.

“Lowering the cost is helpful, but it’s insufficient to make a big change in this problem,” said Harvard health policy professor Stephen Soumerai.

Soumerai has worked on getting people the drugs they need for 40 years. He said sometimes the problem has nothing to do with money. Some people, for example, forget to take their medicine, others don’t like the side effects.

Given the limited benefit, some healthcare people wonder if these money-saving apps that offer discounts and drug-maker coupons may do more harm than good.

“Couponing is definitely contributing to the high prices that we face for new pharmaceuticals,” said University of Chicago health economist Rena Conti.

The problem, she said, is coupons help patients sidestep high co-pays.

So a consumer may get a great deal, but insurers are still on the hook for their share of the prescription.

“Coupons make patients less willing to switch from high cost drugs to low cost drugs,” she said. “Therefore insures have less ability to negotiate discounts off of high prices from manufacturers.”

That, in turn, helps drug prices continue their steady climb.

One report estimates couponing could raise prescription drug spending by $32 billion over the next decade. PhRMA certainly sees this as a winning strategy. Drug makers have increased the number of coupons by at least 61 percent since 2012.


Another day, another way to cut the cord

Walt Disney announced earnings after the bell yesterday. Revenue increased partly due to ad sales from ESPN. 

Disney also announced a new content deal with Sony's PlayStation Vue. The internet service will add ESPN, ABC and Disney Channel to its streaming line-up. It already has channels like Comedy Central, MTV, and USA Network.

The entry level price starts at $50 a month. No word yet if this new deal will translate into a higher subscription cost.

But the pairing creates another alternative for consumers looking to cut the cord. 

Depending on how you look at it, the broader move from traditional cable TV packages to digital television makes this either a very messy time for media companies, or a very innovative one.

"It's messy and innovative," said James McQuivey, a media analyst at Forrester Research.

The companies that make and own content are experimenting with all sorts of distribution models--from Netflix to Amazon to Sony to their own dot coms. 

They want to be sure to build the consumer and business relationships they'll need, once the market does start picking some winners.  "They know that once the model starts to coalesce, it’s going to coalesce quickly," said McQuivey.

But all that experimentation isn’t without some risks. "ESPN and Disney are still very much invested in the traditional paid TV ecosystem," said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. "Anything that takes viewers away from that is at some level a threat to their business."

But, the bigger risk today may be to ignore consumers who want to watch when, and where, and on the device that they want to watch on.


Apple TV tunes into MOOCs

When it comes to streaming video, binge watching “Scandal” or catching up on past seasons of “Arrested Development” might come to mind. Now, here come's Apple TV to make us all feel guilty about that.

Its latest version includes an app from Coursera, a provider of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Viewers will be able to stream video lectures from the likes of Stanford, Yale, and more than 100 other schools.

Coursera students already move between laptops and mobile devices, said Shobita Thomas, a mobile product manager with Coursera.

“They’ve become a multi-screen audience,” she said. "This was just a natural extension of that."

The challenge, as it always has been for MOOCs, is to turn that audience into revenue. Coursera’s classes are free, but it sells certificates to people who finish them.

“If they are making money, it’s not a lot, because the vast majority of students that start courses on their platform don’t finish,” said Jeff Alderson, a software analyst with Eduventures.

The real money will come, Alderson said, when MOOC providers figure out how to get more students to stick it out – and pay for the proof.


Facebook hopes you'll like its new search function

In a quest to become a leading source of news, Facebook has unveiled a powerful new feature that will allow users to search the sites 2 trillion posts – including those made by people not on your friends list — for newsworthy content.

“Previously, you could search over things that your friends and your family had shared. But now you can actually search over all of the stories, perspectives, experiences that other people have shared publicly on Facebook,” said Tom Stocky, vice president of search at Facebook.

The posts will be organized first from top news sources such as ABC, then from people in your network. Next, a list of the most popular links will be aggregated, and then, finally, posts from strangers. With the expanded search features, users can join conversations across the social platform and stay up to date on topics that they are interested in.

“People come to Facebook every day, and they experience what’s in their news feed, so they see what’s happened in the last couple of days,” he said. “But what you can now do is for anything you are particularly interested in or maybe there is something trending in the world that you heard about. Now, you can dive into that and see what is the latest that’s happening about that one thing.”

With more than 1.5 billion searches every day through Facebook, other tech sites have wondered if this endeavor could challenge Google, the world’s most popular search engine, as well as Twitter, which has carved a niche for itself as a place to break news. Earlier this month, Twitter launched Moments, a curation tool that shows the "best" of the site.

Stocky said the search tool is optimized for real time and that the content found on the social media platform is unique and can’t be replicated on other social sites.

“The things that people share, they tend to share authentically from their voice. They share about what’s happening in their world, from their perspective, and these are the sorts of posts that do not exist anywhere else,” he said.

The new search rollout does have some concerned about privacy, but Stocky said Facebook makes every effort to inform users of how to control who views their posts..

“It’s really important to us that people understand, you know, the controls they do have for deciding what audience their posts can be seen by and understanding how that shows up in different places. So we have actually made a bunch of proactive efforts to let people know,” he said. “We even have it that if you are sharing publicly and you’ve decided you don’t want to do that, with a single button you can go back and change all of your previous posts to be friends only."


As AT&T issues results, strategy is key to future

AT&T and Verizon are plotting different strategies to win over video consumers in a rapidly evolving landscape.

Wall Street is getting its first glimpses of how those strategies are working in the companies' Q3 earnings reports. AT&T, which acquired DirectTV to become the biggest pay-TV provider in the U.S., announces earnings Thursday.

On Tuesday, Verizon announced its earnings, and said its acquisition of AOL helped its bottom line with a 2 percent bump in revenue growth.

Longer term, Verizon hopes AOL will help it grow into mobile video. It recently launched a mobile-only streaming service Go90, targeting millennials.

"When we think about video, we think about mobile video," said Jerry Rizzo, a Verizon spokesperson. "Seventy-five percent of millennials are using mobile to watch video."

Rizzo said the millennial audience is very much at the forefront of the company's plans for Go90.

"This is something that we feel resonates with that audience and definitely was built ... with this mobile-first generation in mind."

Meanwhile, AT&T has taken a bigger-is-better approach. CEO Randall Stephenson explained the rationale for buying DirectTV to analysts earlier this summer by recounting his conversation with a room full of millennials — who also were AT&T interns at the corporate offices in Dallas.

Stephenson said he asked them: "'How many of you, because you're living here in Dallas away from home, have a TV service?' One hand went up out of a big group."

Stephenson wasn't surprised, but then he asked this question: "None of you guys watch football?"

He said many said they did, using passwords from their parents' pay TV subscriptions to stream live TV on their mobile apps.

Stephenson's point was that pay TV is not going anywhere. And AT&T is using its DirectTV merger to bundle services and sell family plans, both for parents and their millennial kids.

Brett Sappington at Parks Associates is one of the people keeping track of the changes in video consumption, and both Verizon and AT&T use his research.

"They've definitely taken two different directions," he said.

"There are so many roles that [Verizon and AT&T] could play," Sappington said. "I'm really curious to see what they will do and where they see the opportunity in the market."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Brett Sappington's first name. The text has been corrected.


Giphy CEO Alex Chung: 'We're gonna make a ton of money'

What if I told you that the future of mobile advertising was GIFs? And that the company best situated to make money from this GIF-y future didn't care about making money? 

"Why would you ever want to make money?" joked the co-founder and CEO of Giphy, Alex Chung. "That's what venture capital's for." 

Chung's says his website now gets 65 million unique visitors a month (recent numbers from the website tracking company Alexa put's Septembers numbers closer to 13 million uniques). Yesterday Giphy released a new tool called GIF Maker, which makes it easier than ever to generate the short, soundless video loops popular everywhere from Reddit's main page to the private channels of Marketplace's Slack account. Yes, we use Giphy all the time at Marketplace. And judging by this year's growth in use of the company's massive library of media, so do a lot of other people. 

But Giphy isn't just for jokes and memes. Chung says the company has a plan to make tons of money. How? 

"We have the biggest distribution of GIFs in the world right now," he said. "We also have licensing deals with almost all the content producers and music companies. We are in that sense a content distribution company."

Chung says that he wants Giphy to save mobile advertising. His company's GIFs have better "click through" rates than your average text link. And that means that advertising in GIF form is more successful at getting people to engage with content. Since Giphy plans to be in almost every major mobile messaging app in the next year, Chung thinks his company is about to change the way brands advertise to users. 

This potential for the mobile ad world may be part of how Giphy is striking deals with movie studios instead of tiptoeing around conversations about fair use, trademark and copyright infringement. Chung uses the example of a teenager doing a search for the word "hungry," finding a McDonald's GIF, and then sending that to their friend to let them know it's time to eat. 



"It's like peer-to-peer advertising," he said. "It's what kids do with fashion. As soon as people realize that GIFs are the fashion of the internet — it's what's trendy, what's cool — and it's what I can use to represent myself to my friends, that whole advertising system hasn't really been touched yet."


Giphy CEO Alex Chung, Codebreaker producer Clare Toeniskoetter and Marketplace Tech Host Ben Johnson play with a glitter filter on the GIPHY CAM app. Yes, it makes the glitter appear in your teeth, hence the grins.


Slack's breakneck growth

Slack has been called an email killer. It's a tool that can generate so much new conversation inside companies, some old-school managers might raise an eyebrow at how much work is, in fact, getting done. But one thing is certain: the company that's changing how we work is itself being rapidly transformed. Not least by money. After raising $160 million this Spring, the company is valued at $2.8 billion. And the customers using Slack, initially heavy on tech startups, have grown to include Fortune 500 companies. 

"It does change what we’re thinking about," said CEO and cofounder Stewart Butterfield. "When we first started working on it, there was a team of 8. And after the first three months or so, we had developed the perfect internal communication software for exactly 8 people. And it took us a little while to figure out how that broke down at 50 people, and how that broke down at 100 people."

Customers use Slack in surprising ways:

There’s all kinds of little ones. So mostly the kind of information that they post into the channels. Whether that’s the election results as they’re coming in so that all the journalists covering an election have the latest stats. Or, in a shipping and logistics company, new deliveries at the warehouse. So it’s not surprising in the sense that we could never have imagined any of those things, but it is surprising in the sense of just, you know, the range of possible types of information that people need to distribute and be aware of on a day-to-day basis across different industries.

On the possibility of being acquired:

We are staying away from that right now. There’s four cofounders here, all of whom were on the original Flickr team, and so all of whom went to Yahoo when Yahoo acquired Flickr in 2005, and worked through that for several years. So I guess we feel like we’ve done that already. I think we’re also conscious that we’re not going to get an opportunity of this magnitude again over the course of lives. It’s fun to work on it and see how far we can take it.

But has Microsoft, in particular, come knocking?

 I guess it depends on how you define ‘try to buy.’ But I’m sure that there’s some strategic interests.

His greatest fear:

It’s the people. We were at Christmastime, last Christmas, and we were 80 people, and now it’s 250. And that’s obviously a lot of growth. That means we ended up with teams that were two people now are eight people, but 75 percent of that team has been at the company for less than 90 days. It’s really difficult to preserve both the understanding of the mission and what we’re doing, preservation of the culture, but also just to try to maintain the same level of productivity or efficiency. Because as we grow, every process we develop becomes obsoleted within 45 days of getting it nice and smooth. So it’s hard to grow this fast.

 Editor's note: We use Slack at Marketplace at no charge; a courtesy they extend to nonprofits. 



Virtual reality film festival an immersive experience

There’s a new film festival in town, but it requires headgear. The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival has been touring North America and wraps up in Austin on October 14. I was one of the 400 people who checked it out when it came to New York.

At first, virtual reality can be a little disorienting. I put on the headset, read the health and safety warning on the screen, and launched into "The Night Café," the painting by Vincent Van Gogh. I used a touch pad on the side of my headset to move around the famous painting and ended up bumping into a lot of walls. Apparently, that’s part of the experience — and the experiment.

“No one knows how to tell a story in virtual reality right now,” said René Pinnell, festival founder. “To do it you’re going to have to fail. You’re going to have to try something that doesn’t work.”

Bumping into walls aside, it was pretty cool to get so close to Van Gogh’s bar. That film — or as people in the virtual reality world refer to it, that experience — was created by Mac Cauley, a Brooklyn-based game developer. It was just one of the experiences people could have at Kaleidoscope, a festival where filmmaking intersects with game playing.

From swivel chairs set in rows, festival attendees could also be transported to post-earthquake Nepal or to a devastated city in Syria. There were more abstract experiences as well: Animations like LoVR, in which infatuation is expressed in a vibrantly colored, 360-degree diagram.

From swivel chairs, festival attendees are transported to different experiences.

Ibby Caputo

“It seems like a great way to have a very short experience on your own,” said festival attendee Jana Fitzgerald.

With the medium in its infancy, though, there are still a lot of kinks to work out, like how to make the headsets less clunky and how to get rid of what’s called the “screen door effect,” overly pixelated images.

But Pinnell said those technological upgrades are only a matter of time.



Video streaming in the cloud (like, real clouds)

The hit Netflix series "House of Cards" is hitting cruising altitude on Virgin America. 

Passengers on the airline’s new planes equipped with satellite Wi-Fi can now get access to the full catalog of Netflix films and shows on their personal devices until March 2. The hitch? If they’re not already Netflix members, passengers have to sign up for a free, 30-day trial membership. Three seasons of House of Cards will also be available on the planes’ in-flight entertainment system.

JetBlue recently crafted a similar deal with Amazon Prime, allowing Prime members to stream content for free on their tablets, smart phones or laptops and for nonmembers to pay to access Amazon content.

“For companies like Netflix, these partnerships are great sampling opportunities,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research, a travel industry research firm. “They are a way to introduce the product to an up-market audience.”

Harteveldt said these deals are only possible with satellite Wi-Fi, not the air-to-ground Wi-Fi system many airlines use.

"Satellite Wi-Fi, which Virgin America is installing, and which JetBlue has, allows a greater bandwidth to be transmitted to the plane, which means more people can use it and you can do more with it, including streaming video,” he said.

But business travel expert Joe Brancatelli of doubts these deals will matter when people book airline flights.

“Most people who travel for leisure will buy on price,” he said. “And most people who travel for business will buy on their loyalty to an airline's frequency program or price or some combination thereof.”


Finding art in NSA Powerpoints

Not everyone is inspired artistically by Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked classified NSA documents. But then again not everyone is Simon Denny, the New Zealand-born, Berlin-based artist, who took the PowerPoint slides leaked by Snowden and turned them into art for his installation show “Secret Power.”

(Courtesy Jens Ziehe)

“The kind of knee jerk reaction from the design community when those slides came out, was to me a little disappointing, because it was kind of like ‘Oh these are really ugly and we are not happy with that,’” says Denny. “To me they contain so much more information.”

Around the same time, Denny came across the work of David Darchicourt, the former NSA creative director of defense intelligence, who had posted material online through Behance. Denny commissioned Darchicourt to make a map of New Zealand, his home country. At the time, Darchicourt had no idea why the work was commissioned or how it was going to be used. Denny also reproduced other material Snowden leaked such as cartoons, illustrations and logos. 

(Courtesy Jens Ziehe)

“Part of what I wanted to do was compare Darchicourt’s creative work for the U.S. government to Venice and Titian, and some of these other artists that worked at a different time making images that related to intelligence that related to knowing things and presenting knowledge to the world.

Although Denny has an artistic background, he is inspired by tech industry and those working in tech. His first major solo show in the U.S., called "The Innovators Dilemma" lived at MoMA PS1 in New York. 

“I’m a fan of these companies and the way that they work and I think the people in charge of tech, the people involved in tech are shaping the way we can communicate. They are shaping and changing all these industries worldwide.”

(Courtesy Jens Ziehe)


A story of dirty emissions … and copyright law

Squirreled away in something called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 is fine print that makes it risky to dig around under the hood of a new car and find out what makes it tick, explains Kit Walsh of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“The modern automobile is controlled by about 100 different computers running software created by the automakers or third parties that they contract with,” Walsh said. "And they typically will lock down that software so that you can’t even look at it, let alone modify it as a user."

So, imagine you’re an engineering graduate student or a consumer advocate or a curious mechanic, and you want to examine that software code: for instance, to check out what’s coming out of the tailpipe, or if the airbags are safe, or if some hacker with a smartphone can take control of the dashboard and crash your car into a wall.

Walsh says you might think twice about breaking the lock, circumventing the encryption and revealing what you find. “Congress made it unlawful to circumvent the encryption that protects access to that work,” he said.

Attorney Scott Vernick leads the data security and privacy practice at Philadelphia law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. He says automakers do have a legitimate concern in trying to protect their copyrighted intellectual property. They don’t want cyber thieves or unscrupulous competitors stealing their software and trade secrets.

“Piracy is a huge issue,” Vernick said. "And no one wants to make it easy for them — particularly in light of the amount of industrial espionage and cyber hacking that’s going on today.”

But Vernick agreed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and consumer advocates that independent researchers looking for pollution or safety or security problems should be shielded when they access that software.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, has petitioned the Library of Congress, which has jurisdiction over these matters, to exempt software in automobiles from the copyright protections in the DMCA. A decision is expected in October.

And several efforts are proceeding through Congress to amend or overhaul the DMCA to allow for independent research without fear of legal penalties and prosecution for copyright violation. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has sponsored one such bill with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), called the Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation Act.

In light of recent revelations of safety and emissions problems with automobiles from multiple manufacturers, Wyden says the DMCA as it stands now “is a textbook case of some of the limitations and pitfalls of overly restrictive copyright law.”


Junk in space could have impact on earth

A lot of our infrastructure is moving to space.

“Communications satellites, GPS, our TV," says former NASA scientist Donald Kessler. "We’re talking about the region of space that’s only about 600 or 700 miles above us. That’s where most things go and that’s the most crowded region.”

And sometimes, on rare occasions, they crash. In 2009, Russian and American satellites ran smack into each other.

“They came together roughly like two cars in an intersection but traveling 17, 000 miles per hour each,” Kessler says. “And that’s typical of what we should expect in the future to happen at an increasing rate.”

Kessler’s been warning about this issue since the late 70s, so much that the problem is called the Kessler Syndrome. It refers to the domino effect of all that debris crashing together. 

“We’re at what we call a 'critical density' — where there are enough large objects in space that they will collide with one another and create small debris faster than it can be removed,” he says. Something like a loose fleck of paint, moving at these speeds, can hit with the force of a grenade.

Kessler got pulled out of retirement to start working on the issue again, but he doesn’t go around saying “I told you so” at space conferences.

"I don’t have too," he laughs.

Donald Kessler, former NASA scientist and expert on orbital debris (aka space junk).

Provided by Donald Kessler

The U.S. the government is worried about the issue, too, says Air Force lieutenant colonel Scott Putnam.

“Because a bad day in space for one owner is a bad day for everybody,” he says. “From a standpoint of a collision … that creates a debris cloud that could create hazard for other users including Department of Defense.” Putnam runs the Air Force program that monitors roughly 23,000 objects in orbit that are about the size of a softball or larger.

NASA spends almost $7 million a year tracking space junk.

“The way we do warfare now depends on outer space and the functions that we can perform through outer space," he says. Those functions include communications, navigation and weapons guidance. And, Putnam warns, if something goes wrong in space, many of us will notice on the ground.

"Space is getting to be foundational to our everyday lives," he says. "From GPS giving smartphones the ability to do point-to-point directions, to the banking system relying on GPS from a timing standpoint, from satellite radio and satellite television ... If we turned off space, a lot of the things that people take for granted would go away."


Comcast targets big business

Talk about clash of the titans. The nation's largest cable TV provider is going head-to-head with the nation's two biggest phone companies, competing for the biggest of the big business customers.

Comcast announced Wednesday a new Enterprise Services unit that is aimed at offering internet, phone and other communications products to Fortune 1000 companies.

These kinds of offerings have been the purview of AT&T and Verizon because they have nationwide communications infrastructure in place, which can serve corporations with offices in multiple cities. While Comcast covers more than half the cable markets in the country, it still has geographic limitations, just like all other cable providers.

But in announcing its latest move, Comcast said that it's struck deals with other cable operators to cover a broader swath of the country, and that it has already signed up "large customers from multiple industries, including financial services firms, banks, hospitality chains and retailers."

Craig Moffett, senior research analyst at MoffettNathanson, says that is something cable companies have wanted to do for years. "It's always been the dream of the cable industry to say, 'let's do a nationwide consortium.'"

In the past, that dream has not withstood the daylight of reality, says Thomas Eagan, senior research analyst at Telsey Advisory Group. Cable companies have tried similar partnerships when first selling broadband and another in a deal with Sprint, Eagan says.

"We haven't seen these cable consortia be that successful," he says. "What we found is that the cable operators' individual agendas were sometimes at conflict."

While the prospect of this latest partnership remains an open question, the potential for revenue does not. Providing broadband and communications services to business customers is a much higher margin business than selling cable TV plans, because the former doesn't require expensive deals with content providers, Eagan says.

Comcast has already been offering services to smaller businesses, ones within its geographic service areas. The company says that part of its business is among its fastest growing and could bring in as much as $4.5 billion. 


Fox's Minority Report aims to predict tech's future

The 2002 movie "Minority Report" has been remade into a television show, which will premier September 21st on Fox. Along with the return of the precogs, the show will also bring back some of the futuristic tech that made the original so fun.

Max Borenstein, one of the show's writers and executive producers, joins Marketplace's Adriene Hill to talk about the show, predicting innovation and whether we should be optimistic about the future. 

Click the media player above to hear more.



The push for better cybersecurity in cars

Over the next few days, members of the automotive industry are gathering in Detroit for this year’s Autonomous Cars Conference, and one of the big issues facing the field is cybersecurity for vehicles.

Last month, you may remember, a Wired Magazine reporter lost control of his transmission, driving 70 miles an hour on a highway in St. Louis as a sort of demonstration project set up by "white hat" hackers. If there had been any doubt whether new cars rolling off the assembly line are at risk, last month’s stunt answers that clearly.

“Theoretically, hackers can take control over all control of the car, the steering wheel, can take control of the brakes, can take control of the engine and shut it off,” says Pete Samson, with the firm Security Innovation.

If your vehicle’s computer is networked to any other computer, your vehicle is vulnerable. Kathleen Fisher of Tufts University says automakers are beginning to recognize that now they must become software companies too.

“It’s going to take significantly more investment in the software that is running the cars written to higher standards of quality,” she says. “It’s going to take a culture of assuming hackers are trying to break in and thinking in a defensive mindset.”

Fisher says a bill moving through the Senate, the Spy Car Act, may force the industry to make necessary changes. If done right, she says, that could make hacking so hard, attackers would look for easier marks.


The creative limitations of sampling

As part of a series about music technology called "Noise Makers," we're talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. For our last installment Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson visited El-P's apartment studio in Brooklyn where they talked about his favorite keyboard sampler.

In his studio filled with select synthesizers, drum machines, and records, El-P explains why the Ensoniq EPS-16+ keyboard still stays at the figurative center: "I keep it here because it's been the most important thing for me to even become a musician or to even learn what I'm doing."

According to El-P — real name Jaime Meline — most rap producers start out with either a drum machine sampler or a keyboard sampler. With a sampler, the performer triggers pre-recorded sounds and edits them to create a composition. Rather than a short, percussion-based sample triggered by buttons on a drum machine sampler, the keyboard sampler is advantageous for El-P because it deals with longer iterations of sound.

He describes sampling as "using sound to create sound" and employs this technique to spawn otherworldly sounds. But El-P also acknowledges the hip-hop history behind this technique: "The creativity popped out of limitation. The idea of using two records to perpetuate a groove that was limitation."

Limitation leads to creative solutions in his own music: "I have a track, I know I need a kick and a snare, I can pretty easily get that. I know I want a bass line. Can I find a bass line? Or do I need to find a bass line? Can I find a horn that I can slow way down and make it sound bassy and take the place of that?"

This process requires a give-and-take relationship with the equipment.

"You sort of paint yourself into a corner," he says, "just as much you're working with trying to find something that fits an idea you're having. You also are working with responding to the thing you've put into the machine. And you're always making the choice between bending to the sound or trying your best to bend the sound to the thing you have in your head."

Ultimately, El-P finds this feedback productive and profound because it puts his musical genre in perspective, vis a vis the larger world of music. Through the keyboard sampler El-P says he has "an unlimited sound source. Every record from every genre that has ever been made but it all has to go through this one box."

"You stop thinking about them in terms of category," he says. "It doesn't matter to you that you got a snare from a rock record, a blip from a soul record, or a recording that you just made in your living room. It all loses its original meaning and it's there for you to manipulate and turn into something else."

Click the media player below for an extended interview with El-P about other rap producers that use the EPS-16+, Blade Runner and video game sounds, and the one guy in California who replaces El-P's equipment.


The anatomy of equipment: simple hacks with Money Mark

As part of a series about music technology called "Noise Makers," we're talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. For this week's installment Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson had a conversation with Money Mark about simple hacks and making music from unexpected sources. 

If you ask Mark Ramos Nishita, or Money Mark, about his work with the Beastie Boys, you might end up hearing more about minutiae of writing a song than say, what it's like to be part of a multi-platinum group. He remembers the marginalia of the Check Your Head album, released in 1992, specifically: "There was a time when we were building the studio in Atwater village at the same time as we were recording. They were playing basketball in the other room. I was screwing a screw into the wall and it made this incredibly amazing sound. And [Adam] Yauch came in and was like, 'We should just record that.'"

The spontaneity of incorporating an accidental sound into a studio album fits within Mark's musical ethos: "There’s this Japanese saying that if you sharpen the knife too much, you actually make it dull. So, there’s a point when you have to have an emotive force there to inject into all this stuff that’s around you."

This philosophy derives from Mark's childhood — As a kid, whenever he would get a new piece of gear, his father, who was an electrical engineer, would take it apart in order to understand how it works.  

As a result, Mark's music making involves less polishing and more tinkering. For a live performance, Mark says: "I actually just bring everything out on the table. Nothing is really hooked up. But I think even that is the theater of it — Getting the cables and patching it all together and making a chain. And this is how it sounds in the end. All of that to me is very entertaining. I always wanted to know what was behind in the wings of the theater and what was really making all that magic happen."

Click the media player above for an extended interview with Money Mark which includes a live demonstration of a musical hack involving a cell phone, an amplifier, and a quarter.


I believe I can fly (for a very, very long time)

Emirates, the airlines, announced it's adding a flight between its hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Panama City. Perhaps most notable is the sheer length of the flight: At 8,590 miles, and with an estimated travel time of 17 and a half hours, it will be the be longest nonstop flight in the world.

In its honor, Stephan Richter, editor-in-chief of the Globalist, joins us as quiz master. The topic? Travel, of course.

Click the media player above to play along.


Silicon Tally: The hitchhiker robot's guide to the galaxy

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? 

This week, we're joined by Dave Pell, a startup investor in San Francisco who writes the NextDraft newsletter.

Click the media player above to play along.


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