Antonio Garcia Martinez’ “Chaos monkeys” is a deep dive into the Silicon Valley ecosystem illustrated with the up and downs of Martinez’ career from the Goldman Sachs credit derivatives desk to the Facebook ads team. His writing style is casual and witty but also show-offy and sexist. If one manages to rise above that, the second half of the book gives an illuminating unpacking of the digital advertising mechanics, and is worth reading. Rarely can one find straightforward and comprehensive information about this exploding sector which increasingly shapes economies and societies. And Martinez does that with brio. Here is a digest of a couple of chapters I’ll share with my kids (while they remind me again that “Facebook is for old people”): Facebook makes money through (people clicking on) ads; Facebook does not sell users data to ad companies, it triages and packages users data for better ad targeting; Targeting was initially done by classifying users’ “likes” and allowing ad companies to plug targeted ad in their feeds; The big revolution in targeting was about bridging online with offline users data (what you do on Facebook with what you buy online and offline with the same credit card); The bridging is done by connecting real world IDs (eg home address) with digital (mobile, tablet, desktop) IDs; “What is generating tens of billions of dollars in investments and endless scheming inside the bowels of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple is the puzzle of how to tie these different sets of [IDs] together, and who controls the links.”; This allows these companies to have full pictures of behaviors; “The match rate (ie the percentage of offline personas that can be found online) for Facebook’s Customs Audience product is as high as 90%”. Martinez says that this information (and more) is shared publicly by Facebook but agrees that it is not easily understandable. And he adds that too many people don’t care, even though they should. Oh, and I should also probably add this other quote: “Facebook has run out of humans on the internet. The company can solve this by either making more humans (hard even for Facebook), or connecting what humans there are left on the planet. This is why Internet.org exists, a vaguely public-spirited, and somewhat controversial, campaign by Facebook to wire [the developing world] with free Internet.” I’ll stop here.
The International Financial Corporation’s “Tackling childcare: The business case for employer-supported childcare” investigates the business impacts of employer-provided childcare. It complements a literature review with an in-depth analysis (~100 interviews and 40 focused group discussions) of 10 companies in different countries. It shows benefits for recruitment, retention and productivity. On-site child care helped the Village Nut Company (Kenya) attract young talent and prevent urban migration; cut staff turnover at Nalt Entreprise (Vietnam) by a third; and led to a 9% drop in sick leave absence in MAS Kreeda Al Safi-Madaba (Jordan). The evidence is here. The impact for companies is clear. This could move the needle for women who remain outside of the workforce in much larger numbers than men (27 percentage point difference). A no-brainer for action!
My graph this week is from the 2018 World Development Report “Learning to realize education’s promise” and shows big learning gaps between poor and rich children in African countries. A good graph pointing to sad realities.
My quote this week is from the late Tom Petty: “I’d have to give technology a D-plus. I think it is unhealthy for rock. I can hear digital anything. It sounds different. It’s very cold.”
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