(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It finally happened. After a month of threatening to do so, President Donald Trump issued executive orders that will ban the popular Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat in the U.S. on national security concerns. There are still some unknowns around the language and implementation of the decrees, and there’s a chance they get dialed back later during trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. Whatever happens, there will likely be lasting negative ramifications — and not just for Chinese firms, but for American technology companies as well.Trump’s orders, signed late Thursday, have a 45-day lag. They prohibit any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction from dealing with TikTok’s Beijing-based owner ByteDance Ltd. and Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. in transactions related to its WeChat app. The wording of the first order effectively puts Microsoft Corp. and ByteDance on the clock to finish their deal negotiations for TikTok’s U.S. operations by the already stipulated Sept. 15 target date. But the WeChat ban order may be a bigger threat as there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way out before the deadline.The threat to the Chinese apps is clear. But the details cited inside the orders may cause future headaches for the biggest U.S. tech firms, too. For example, Trump noted how TikTok captures location data and user-activity information that could “potentially” be used for blackmail and corporate spying. This pertains to all U.S. social media apps, too. Further, the president cited how TikTok videos spread “debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus” as one of his reasons to ban the app. Similar conspiracy videos also sprout up often on Facebook Inc. and Google’s YouTube platforms. The problem is, the use of such justification opens the door for other countries around the world to use similar rationale to ban U.S. apps within their borders. After all this time and nearly a year of investigation, where is the compelling evidence against these apps? It isn’t in these orders.Big Tech’s leaders are worried about these implications. According to a BuzzFeed News report, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said a TikTok ban would be “a really bad long-term precedent,” adding “it could very well have long-term consequences in other countries around the world.” Earlier this week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates told Bloomberg News that businesses need to know the rule set for commerce when they make investments in the U.S. and wondered about the timing of the TikTok ban threats. “If this is such a clear thing why wasn't it clear three months ago, six months ago?,” he said.In addition to governmental risk, there may be a consumer backlash in foreign countries. By going after ByteDance and Tencent, two of the most respected Chinese internet success stories, Trump’s actions may spark a nationalistic backlash against buying American products and services in the Asian country. Obviously, Apple Inc.’s iPhone and App Store businesses in China are top of mind, along with Starbucks Corp. and Intel Corp. that have large operations in China.The restrictions, if implemented, will also impose mental and financial hardship on vast swath of Americans who rely on the apps to communicate and make their livelihoods. Many e-commerce entrepreneurs, aspiring musicians and influencers rely on TikTok as their most effective marketing channel amid this pandemic. And WeChat is a critical messaging tool for Chinese immigrants to communicate with their families overseas. The numbers are massive: TikTok says 100 million Americans use their app, while WeChat has 19 million daily active users in the U.S., according to Apptopia. For a White House that has repeatedly complained in recent months about the censorship of conservative voices, it seems pretty hypocritical to shutter the access of millions of Americans, many of them Trump supporters with large followings.That is not to say there aren’t legitimate national security issues with TikTok and WeChat. But there is a better way to hold China accountable for concerns over its intellectual property and data-privacy practices. The U.S. should pursue a multi-lateral partnership with its allies based on strong legal frameworks and build a clear compelling evidence-based case against China.Unfortunately, this administration’s strategy is the opposite, using haphazard, seemingly arbitrary decision-making and preying on people’s fears and paranoia, and in the months leading up to an election. A policy that lashes out without a well-thought-out end game will not be as effective, leading to unintended consequences. The U.S. needs to do better.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Once you really get into puzzles, you start seeing them in everyday objects.(1) Even a simple atlas can turn into a Conundrum: Without the labels, you’re left scratching your head trying to figure out what the symbols represent.This week we’re looking at two such mysterious maps, created in collaboration with one of my students who goes by the nom de plume Spaceman Spiff. Each one plots some structured information, and your challenge is to figure out what the points represent.And while of course the data must somehow be geographically distributed, we haven’t limited ourselves to purely geographic features like the presence of lakes and monuments. The underlying pattern could reflect pretty much anything: demographic data, the price of eggs, or even historical milestones.The first one is a bit of a warm-up – figuring it out shouldn’t be the biggest challenge.(2) The second is the main event. It’s more difficult because in some sense it’s a map in motion: if we had waited another couple of months, there’d be one more dot in Russia.You might use all your quantitative skill to figure out what this map represents, and then discover it actually isn’t about the numbers at all.A couple ground rules: Each map represents a single, well-defined category, rather than something subjective. And the answer to each has something to do with the actual places, rather than other features like wordplay. That means the answer will be something like “locations of the mountains more than 10,000 feet tall,” rather than “major cities with a prime number of letters in their name.” Additionally, the data we used is publicly available and easily accessible. That means if you get a hunch, it should be straightforward to figure out if you’re right. So what are you waiting for? Get out your charts and compass and start exploring!If you map out one or both answers – or if you even make partial progress – please let me know at email@example.com before midnight New York time on Wednesday, August 12. (If you get stuck, there’ll be a hint announced in Bloomberg Opinion Today on Tuesday, August 11. Sign up here.) To be counted in the solver list, please include your full name with your answer.Last Week’s Conundrum Fourteen famous figures gave us clues that led to a single person:As solvers started identifying our celebrities, they noticed a shared feature that was too unusual to be an accident: Each one had the same first and last initial.(3)That enabled us to convert each person into a single letter; reading in order then gave the message, “WHO FACES APOLLO[?].”First row:Walt Whitman Helen Hunt Oona O’NeilSecond row:Fred Flintstone Alan Alda Chubby Checker Emilio Estevez Sylvester StalloneThird row:Adam Ant Pablo Picasso Ozzy Osbourne Lindsay Lohan Lucy Liu Olive OylBut where to go from there? There are many potential Apollos to choose from – the name appears everywhere from Greek myth to space exploration.But I had hinted that the Conundrum’s answer was “hardly hidden,” and there was only one Apollo related to our famous fourteen: Apollo Creed, whom Sylvester Stallone faces in multiple movies as Rocky Balboa.Once you were on that track, you could recognize several other clues pointing in the same direction: My description of the figures as having been “boxed up,” not to mention the lines “quest for an answer” and “rise up to the challenge” in the Conundrum text, both of which are riffs on Rocky theme music.So indeed, “Sylvester Stallone” was the answer. And as promised, he was “hardly hidden.” He was looking at readers the whole time.Lazar Ilic solved first, followed soon after by Anna Collins, Jeff Schwartz, Ellen & Bill Kominers, and Zoz. Others among the 28 solvers included Ross Berger(4) & Sally Bloom, Kid Beyond, Andrew Bradburn, Michael Branicky, Ryan Buell, Hensley Carrasco, Filbert Cua, Philip Davidson, Rosie & Jack DeStories, Karl Mahlburg, Jeffrey & Patricia Miron, Tamar Oostrom & Pari Sastry, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Ari Shnidman, Clive Sindelman, Nancy & Murray Stern, and Jeff Young.Suproteem Sarkar wrote a software script to identify all the images using Google. FiveThirtyEight’s Riddler, Zach Wissner-Gross, submitted a boxing glove emoji.And as we learned with our pyramid puzzles a few weeks ago, sometimes stars collide in ways that give Conundrums multiple solutions. Jonathan Zandberg took a trip down the rabbit hole to uncover a particularly spectacular alternate answer: It turns out that there is a book series called “The Trials of Apollo,” the first volume of which is “The Hidden Oracle” (“hardly hidden”). On the cover, Apollo looks upward at (we might say, he “faces”) the name of the author – Rick Riordan, who has the same first and last initial, just like our fourteen. The Bonus RoundTry a puzzle snack from Eric Berlin or a watermelon snack at the zoo; play Codenames online; and swap windows with people around the world. Bird song opera; Quantum Darwinism (hat tip: Christian Catalini); a new pangram (hat tip: Robin Houston); “The Crossword Revolution Is Upon Us” (hat tip: Ellen Kominers). Raccoon artists (hat tip: Jiafeng Chen). And inquiring minds want to know: hybrid fish?(1) In this column, we've already puzzled over chessboards, light switches, and chocolate bars.(2) Although with apologies, we know that it will be slightly harder for readers based outside the United States.(3) In hopes of getting readers to notice this, each paragraph in the Conundrum finished with two words that had the same first letter – “famous figures,” “full family,” “logical leaps,” and so forth.(4) His grandfather was apparently in Rocky III!This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Latin America’s baleful infrastructure is only too familiar. So, too, are the opportunity costs of years of underinvestment and neglect in ports, roads, water works and the electricity grid. Just ask the almost two thirds of private companies in Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador that the World Bank says are trying to do business amid chronic power failures.If the region fails to put more money into infrastructure, Latin America and the Caribbean could forfeit as much as 15% of potential gross domestic product growth over the next 10 years, Inter-American Bank (IADB) manager for infrastructure and energy Jose Agustin Aguerre told me. With the region already forecast to lag behind the rest of the developing world in GDP growth, the misfortunes will likely increase. That’s just one of the takeaways of “From Structures to Services,” a new IADB study on the region’s infrastructure woes. Another is who suffers the most for the debacle.While all 33 nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean are at risk, it’s clear that the burden of shabby services is not shared equally. The poorest workers and households shoulder an inequitable share of the cost of ramshackle transportation, dirty water, serial power outages and patchy communications. Throw in the coronavirus pandemic, and the plight of those at the bottom is even more dire.It’s no secret that a robust infrastructure spurs growth. But politicians in the region have traditionally hurled up ill-conceived grand public works and crisscrossed their nations with asphalt and transmission lines to nowhere, too often lining their pockets along the way. (Build and bilk was the driving logic behind Operation Carwash, the Brazilian government procurement scandal.) Latin American and Caribbean companies pay twice as much in bribes on public contracts as do their peers in the wealthier nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.Running and maintaining all that showy hardware is another story, and this is where regional leaders have fallen down. Faulty oversight, lack of competition and corruption lead to inefficiencies that cost Latin America and the Caribbean 0.65% of gross domestic product a year, the IADB found.Latin America was just recently celebrating a dramatic drop in poverty and the narrowing of one of the world’s widest income gaps. Its targeted cash transfer programs to struggling families became a policy benchmark for fighting poverty without busting welfare budgets. The social gains came to a halt with the end of the commodities boom, and have reversed since the region became the pandemic’s new epicenter. “The most vulnerable populations and individuals are once again being hit the hardest,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last month.Covid-19 has already laid bare the region’s class-centric digital infrastructure. School closings during quarantine left 154 million Latin American students to study online, according to UNICEF. And yet, at least six in 10 households among the lowest-earning fifth of society lack the fast and reliable web connections needed for remote learning. Compare that to the top fifth of earners, where eight in 10 households have access to fixed high-speed broadband connections at home, the OECD reports.While half of 15-year-olds in well-heeled homes log on to learning platforms such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams, just a fifth of those in poor zones have that ability, the OECD found. Worse, just 45% of students in poorer families have access to home computers, compared with 88% of their peers in higher income schools. In Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America after Venezuela, the government this week canceled the rest of the school year citing the lack of internet connections. The digital divide goes beyond the classroom. Even for Latin Americans who are wired, just connecting to the internet can be frustrating - and prohibitive. The bottom earning 40% of Latin Americans must shell out around 10% of their monthly wages for a basic - 1 gigabyte - broadband subscription. That’s more than three times what their low-earning counterparts in the richer OECD nations pay for the same service, and five times the baseline target set by the United Nations Broadband Commission for 2025.Urban mobility is also skewed toward the well-heeled. Consider that the poor, who often live farther from work, spend a greater share of their earnings on shaky public transportation systems. With few options for public transportation, or simply to save on bus and metro fares, some 40% of the lowest earners walk to work or the market, compared with just 10% of the wealthiest commuters.The poor also shell out dearly for energy, often consuming pricier bottled gas for cooking because the municipal street gas pipelines do not reach their communities. As late as 2016, some 80 million Latin Americans still relied on expensive and polluting fuels such as coal, kerosene and wood.And despite aggressive expansion of electric lines, many of the humblest homes – including almost half the poor in Panama, 30% in Guatemala and Honduras, and 20% in Bolivia and Peru – have no reliable access to electricity when they are not entirely off the grid. Overall, the bottom half of Latin American and Caribbean society spends almost 30% more on utilities than other developing regions, Aguerre and his research team concluded.Encouragingly, if the least fortunate are also the big losers in the infrastructure bust, they also stand to gain the most from the sorely needed upgrades. Consider urban mobility. Expanding rapid bus services, which now service 13 countries in the region, could slash urban travel times – by seven minutes in Lima and 11 minutes in Cali – for the lowest income passengers who have the longest commutes.Raising infrastructure efficiency through smart technology (digital metering, drones and GPS systems) could lower fares, fees and utility rates. Since the poor spend so much of their earnings on such services, they have proportionately more to gain from falling prices. The IADB estimates that a decade of infrastructure efficiency gains could raise the earnings of lowest paid consumers by 28% more on average than the rich. Poor Chileans could see their incomes jump 70% more than those of the rich, while the differential for poor Peruvians would be 40% over the wealthiest.This presents Latin America with a rare opportunity to reboot the region’s tapped out pipes, cables and bus queues and turn a rout into a win for development and social justice. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Mac Margolis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Latin and South America. He was a reporter for Newsweek and is the author of “The Last New World: The Conquest of the Amazon Frontier.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.