• The future of space tourism
  • Facebook’s latest tool reveals the depth of its spying…
  • Nothing good ever comes for free…

Dear Reader,

The coronavirus from Wuhan, China, has now reached the scale of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) from 2003. In total, over 8,000 people were infected with SARS, resulting in 774 deaths.

More than 7,700 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, and the numbers are rising exponentially. And we really don’t know how bad things are in mainland China.

At least 170 people have already died from the coronavirus. And with the number of infections growing so rapidly, that number is sadly going to grow much higher.

What does this have to do with the technology markets? Well, there are already estimates that China’s real GDP growth will fall below 4% compared to the 6% growth rate last quarter.

And China’s Hubei province, which is where Wuhan is located, is a massive region for manufacturing in the automotive industry. Honda, Peugeot, General Motors, Renault, Nissan, and others all have manufacturing facilities in the province.

There are also numerous automotive parts manufacturing facilities that are critical to the global supply chain for the industry’s manufacturing there as well. Nearly every automotive manufacturer is currently affected by what is happening.

And there is a significant threat to the global supply chain for pharmaceutical manufacturing. China is home to 13% of all facilities that produce ingredients for medicines that are sold in the U.S. And roughly 80% of active ingredients used to produce finished medicines come from China.

While most of the ingredient production is in the Zhejiang province on the East China Sea, as the coronavirus spreads rapidly, the biotech and pharmaceutical markets are at risk of a major disruption.

I and my team are actively monitoring these developments daily and keeping a close eye on companies that may be affected as a result of these developments.

For those of us who are regular international travelers, travel safely… I hope you can avoid trips to the mainland until this outbreak is under control.

Now to our insights…

The first space hotel is official…

NASA just selected an early stage company called Axiom Space to build a habitable module on the International Space Station (ISS). The “Hab,” as it is called, will go up in the second half of 2024. It will be the very first “hotel” in space.

The Hab’s interior was conceived by world-famous designer Philippe Starck, who also designed Steve Jobs’ yacht.

Axiom “Hab” Modules

Source: Axiom

As we can see, it will be a large addition to the ISS. There’s a section that will house the crew. There’s a place for tourists to stay, complete with a large window for looking at Earth. And there is a section for research and manufacturing.

What’s even more exciting is that this is where this venture begins. This is the start of what will become a completely private commercial space station.

The Hab is just the first module. Axiom will build additional modules afterward, creating a self-sustained space station. At that point, it will detach from the ISS.

We are witnessing an absolute renaissance of space travel and space exploration. And what’s so incredible is that this renaissance is being led by private companies with bleeding-edge technology. The old incumbents are playing just a secondary role.

This is another example of how large incumbents are being disrupted by innovative private companies designing the next generation of space technology.

Facebook will now show you just how far its surveillance goes…

Facebook just released a new feature that allows users to see how extensively it tracks them when they aren’t using the Facebook application itself. That’s right – Facebook keeps a close eye on its users, even when they aren’t logged in.

The new feature is called the “Off-Facebook Activity” tool. It lists all the websites and applications that report user activity to Facebook.

For example, if a Facebook user visits a popular news site, that site may report back to Facebook which articles the person recently read. Or if a user buys a pair of shoes from an e-commerce store, that store may report the purchase back to Facebook. And the list goes on and on.

We may be asking – why would third parties track us on behalf of Facebook?

And the answer is that Facebook has a business relationship with thousands of companies and applications. It pays them for user data. And Facebook also installs tracking cookies that follow users around the web, recording their daily activity.

For readers who have a Facebook account, I would highly recommend checking out this tool. Simply go to Settings & Privacy, then select Settings, and scroll down to the section called “Your Facebook Information.” There, you’ll find the “Off-Facebook Activity” option.

A Vox reporter found that she had 518 websites and apps spying on her for Facebook.

Hundreds of Websites and Apps Share Info With Facebook

Source: Vox

And we took a poll around the office. Employees found that pretty much every application on their phone was actively tracking them for Facebook. Even the local CrossFit gym was in on the act. It’s astonishing how pervasive this is.

While I wish I could applaud Facebook for making this tool available, the sad truth is that it’s not going to change anything with regard to its business practices.

For one, Facebook won’t advertise this tool, so most users won’t know it exists.

And even if users choose to “turn off” future activity recording, Facebook notes, “We’ll continue to receive your activity from the businesses and organizations you visit.”

So it will continue to reap user data, largely without consent, and sell it to the highest bidder.

The whole purpose of this is so Facebook can tell the regulators that it is a transparent company. The next time it is called to Capitol Hill, it’ll have this in its arsenal…

The antivirus product of the year is really a surveillance tool…

Speaking of surveillance… We will conclude today by spilling the beans on antivirus company Avast.

Avast was named AV-Comparatives’ 2018 Product of the Year. It offers premium security for mobile devices, laptops, and home computers. And it can be downloaded for free. What’s not to like?

Consumers certainly love the idea of free antivirus protection. Avast now has more than 435 million active users a month. That’s a huge customer base.

But it turns out there is a catch…

Avast has a subsidiary called Jumpshot. And Jumpshot has been harvesting the data of every Avast user from the moment they installed the software.

Every search. Every click. Every buy. On every site. Jumpshot recorded it all, packaged it up, and sold it.

And guess who the buyers have been? Google, Microsoft, McKinsey, Pepsi, Home Depot, and others.

These are large, blue-chip companies. And reportedly some of them have been paying millions of dollars to get their hands on the data Jumpshot has taken. Some of this data is very sensitive and personal.

This is perhaps even more invasive than what Google and Facebook are doing. It’s scary.

And we were never supposed to know about it. Jumpshot required its customers to sign very strict confidentiality agreements. Thankfully, Motherboard and PC Magazine launched a joint investigation and discovered what was really going on.

So the big takeaway here is simple. Nothing is ever free. If a product or service is marketed as free, that means we are the product.

Somewhere, buried within an agreement, consumers unwittingly “consent” to allow these free products and services to spy on them and do whatever they want with the information obtained.

While some companies may call that consent, I call it deception and a violation of our privacy. And I highly recommend readers stay away from Avast… and stay skeptical of any other product that is supposedly “free.”

As an alternative, look into reputable antivirus products like Norton or Kaspersky. Or simply use a macOS instead of Windows.

Macs’ in-house cybersecurity is strong, and Apple is very good at quickly updating its software with security patches on a very regular basis. And Apple has proven over time to be a good custodian of its user data. Its business model has nothing to do with selling our data for advertising revenue.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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