149 posts categorized "Statistics" Feed

Guestworker Programs, Reshoring, And Skilled Workers. The Impacts Upon American Workers

In March 2015, Ron Hira, a Research Associate and Associate Professor of Public Policy at Howard University, testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about immigration reforms needed to protect skilled American workers. That classification includes workers in various high-tech jobs. Mr. Hira testified:

"Congress and multiple Administrations have inadvertently created a highly lucrative business model of bringing in cheaper H-1B workers to substitute for Americans. There are mainframe-sized loopholes built into the H-1B program’s design... Some of these loopholes are intentional, some are not, but they all add up to a system that encourages employers to exploit the H-1B program for cheap labor. Given the extraordinarily high profits involved in using guestworkers instead of Americans, it should surprise no one that many employers are taking advantage of this business model and lobbying to expand it... Myth: Employers must prove there are no qualified American workers before hiring an H-1B... Myth: H-1B workers cannot be cheaper than Americans because employers must pay the “prevailing wage”... Myth: Compliance with the program’s rules that protect American workers is robust..."

You may have believed those myths. Now you know otherwise. That abuse of the H-1B visa program may affect you, an employed family member, or somebody you know. How? Mr. Hira explained:

"... This is not just adversely affecting a few workers. The H-1B program is very large with approximately 120,000 new workers admitted annually. Once admitted those workers can remain in the U.S. up to six years. While no one knows exactly how many H-1Bs are currently in the country, analysts estimate the stock of H-1B workers at 600,000..."

Of course, the corporations claim that they can't find skilled American workers. Mr. Hira explained what's really happening and how it extends beyond H-1B visa recipients:

"Most of the H-1B program is now being used to import cheaper foreign guestworkers, replacing American workers, and undercutting their wages... There are hundreds of thousands of additional guestworkers admitted on L-1 and OPT visas, and they too are harming the job prospects of American workers. Because Congress never expected L-1 and OPT workers to be potential competition to American workers those programs have virtually no rules to protect American workers. That expectation was incorrect. As with the H-1B program, these guestworker visa programs are now being used too to replace and undercut American workers."

Sadly, government agencies also perpetuate the problem:

"The recent case of Southern California Edison (SCE) illustrates the most flagrant abuses of the H-1B program and exposes the flaws in the protections for American workers. As reported by ComputerWorld and the Los Angeles Times, SCE is replacing its American workers with H-1B workers hired by outsourcers Tata and Infosys. To add insult to injury, SCE forced its American workers to train their H-1B replacements as a condition of receiving their severance packages. There could not be a clearer case of the H-1B program being used to harm American workers’ wages and working conditions."

You may remember a similar incident at Disney where fired American workers were forced to train their foreign replacements before leaving. Pew Charitable Trusts reported about other alleged abuses:

"A computer programmer from India was promised a $46,500 salary in New York, plus tuition to study for a master’s degree. Instead, his annual pay averaged less than $13,000 and his degree was withheld when his employer failed to make the promised tuition payments. In California, veteran computer workers at a health care company say they were forced to train cheaper foreign replacements before being laid off, even though the replacements were hired under a program meant to fill critical jobs when employers can’t find qualified U.S. citizens or permanent residents who hold green cards to fill them."

I encourage you to visit the Pew Charitable trusts article, because it features an interactive map where you can discover the number H-1B workers in your state.

Some readers in denial may be thinking: I have a college degree, or I work in a high-tech job such as writing code for websites and mobile apps. It won't affect me. I'm immune.

Don't fool yourself. It will affect you. It probably already has. Former U.S. Labor Secretary and professor Robert Reich summarized the problem in a June 16 Facebook post (links added):

"... the [U.S.] Senate is considering a bill to raise the number of skilled foreign workers that can come to the U.S. on H-1B visas... It’s a bad idea. When Secretary of Labor, I was responsible for implementing the H-1B visa program – and again and again found high-tech companies claiming they needed skilled workers from abroad because they couldn’t find ...such workers in the U.S. -- when in reality they just didn’t want to pay higher wages to Americans with those same skills... A study released in April by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that H-1B visa recipients crowd out American workers, lowering wages and raising profits without increasing productivity. A 2013 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found there are more than enough U.S.-born high-tech workers to fill jobs here, and that companies have been using foreign workers to cut costs, knowing they’re easy to intimidate because if they lose their jobs they have to leave the U.S."

You can read this study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and University of California at Berkeley (Adobe PDF). They concluded:

"We find some evidence that additional H-1Bs lead to lower average employee wages while raising firm profits... we robustly find that new H-1Bs cause no significant increase in firm employment..."

Think about that. Firms pay less to other employees. So, even if you aren't replaced, you may be paid less or your annual wage increases are smaller. The savings went to the company's profits, and to senior executives rewarded for those savings via bonuses.

I have experienced the high-tech guest-worker situation. As a freelancer with a master's degree and plenty of experience, I work with a variety of digital agencies to produce websites for corporate clients. Several years ago, I subcontracted with an agency to work on a website redesign project. That project included a client company's internal website (called an "Intranet") to automate and streamline its human resources processes, forms, and performance reviews for both managers and employees. I was hired to perform the usability work and lead several focus-group sessions with the client company's employees and managers.

After meeting my project team members, I saw immediately the situation. Another person and I were the only two American workers on this project team. The rest of the team included workers from India to perform the project management, documentation, website development, quality assurance, and coding work. Plenty of my peers at other digital agencies, and some as freelancers, regularly perform all of these tasks. So, there's no shortage of qualified, experienced American workers.

During this three-month project, the foreign guest workers flew in from Mumbai as needed for their roles, and shared rooms in a rented home (cheaper than a hotel). When their role on the project was finished, they either returned to Mumbai or traveled to another U.S. location for their next project. The math probably went like this: the digital agency probably charged it's corporate client an average of about $120 per hour across all project team members. The digital agency paid me $90.00 per hour, paid the foreign workers maybe $40.00 per hour, and pocketed the difference. So, the agency's profits were $30.00 per hour for American workers like me, but a far higher $80.00 per hour with foreign workers.

This looked to me like a clear corporate choice aided by a willing digital agency. You'd never know it happened unless you worked directly on the project.

Multiply my experience by thousands of others and you get an idea of how vast the problem is. Corporations, politicians, and news media that defend this employment abuse may announce that thousands of jobs are returning to the USA (often called "reshoring"), but you now know what's really happening. Informed voters question announcements and demand to know if the returning jobs are pre-filled with foreign guest-workers while the employers don't bother looking to hire American workers. You now know more to contact your elected officials and demand that they explain what they are doing to protect American workers.

When returning jobs are pre-filled with guest workers, then there's really no benefit to USA citizens and plenty of downside: unemployment levels remain high, it is harder to find full-time work, and for workers over 55 years of age it can be impossible to find full-time work. You now know it's a pro-business free-for-all at the expense of middle-class and skilled workers.

What are your opinions of skilled guest workers? Of the H-1B visa program? Have you had to train foreign guest workers?


Two Graphics About Wage And Wealth Inequality In The USA

Today's blog post includes two factual graphics. The first graphic compares the bonuses (not salaries, but the year-end bonuses in addition to salaries) paid to executives at Wall Street firms to the earnings of all full-time minimum-wage workers nationwide:

Comparison of Wall Street bank bonuses to minimum wage earnings

The current Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Given a 40 hour work week, that equals about $15,000 a year. Tough to live on that. Meanwhile, the average bonus for Wall Street executives was about $170,000 per person. Read this detailed discussion about the bonus culture on Wall Street:

"Wall Street bonuses rose 3 percent last year, despite a 4.5 percent decline in industry profits. The size of the bonus pool was 27 perfect higher than in 2009, the last time Congress increased the minimum wage... The bonus pool is so large it would be far more than enough to lift all 2.9 million restaurant servers and bartenders, all 1.5 million home health and personal care aides, or all 2.2 million fast food preparation and serving workers up to $15 per hour."

Yes, the playing field is tilted this badly. This is another reason to move your money from big banks to smaller, regional banks or to credit unions.

The second graphic (see below) compares the actual distribution of wealth (the top bar) to what Americans perceive it to be (the second bar), and to what Americans think it should be (the bottom bar). Former U.S. Labor Secretary and professor Robert Reich presented this graphic on his Facebook page:

How consumers view inequality compared to the reality

Mr. Reich said on March 10:

"If more Americans knew the truth, we'd have a better shot at changing what must be changed -- raising the minimum wage, expanding the EITC, raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, limiting the deductibility of CEO pay, making it easier to form labor unions, and increasing taxes at the top to pay for world-class education for all our kids. So, please, spread the truth."

Now, you know the truth. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, and classmates. Not only is the situation worse than you thought, but it's easier for the wealthy to retain their wealthy since investments are taxed at a lower rates than wages. (Or depending upon your point-of-view, more difficult for wage earners to amass wealth.) And, some politicians want to eliminate the Federal minimum wage supposedly to increase employment, but more likely to facilitate a race to the bottom in some states to lower wages further and increase company profits.

Notice a trend that benefits the people who are already wealthy?

Take a moment to study both graphics. You can select either graphic to view a larger version. Remember this when you vote.


Study: Web Pages At News Sites Load More Slowly Than At Other Sites

Adweek reported the results of a study about website performance:

"Research by Web performance monitoring company Catchpoint Systems suggests that news sites may be in trouble because publishers are putting too many assets on their Web pages, forcing the content and the advertisements to load too slowly... search engines loaded the quickest. Travel-related pages and Internet retailers loaded at about the same speeds, with retailers loading slightly faster. But overall, news sites tended to load the slowest..."

Wesite pages at the Financial Times took about 29.5 seconds to load. Website pages at Bloomberg averaged about 27 seconds, while pages at CNN averaged 18.8 seconds and The Wall Street Journal averaged 18.6 seconds.

Have you noticed slow load times at websites? If so, please share which sites. I've found pages often load slowly at The Huffington Post. I doubt that most users would wait half a minute for a web page to load. I wouldn't. Would you? Do you wait or go elsewhere?


Pew Research Reviews Key Statistics From 2014

Pew Reviewed published 14 statistics from 2014 that it views as noteworthy. I found several items from the list particularly interesting.

First, privacy is still a problem. A clear majority of American adult consumers -- 91 percent responded agree or strongly agree -- believe that they have lost control of how their personal information is collected and used by private companies:

Second, a clear majority -- 80% said they agree or strongly agree -- that Americans should be concerned about government monitoring of e-mail messages and Internet usage.

Third, since 2006 more Americans value highly Internet access and their mobile phones, compared to other devices:

You can bet that Internet service providers are aware of this, and will prices their services accordingly.


Dark Social Channels: What They Are, Who Uses Them, And Why

Apparently, there are dark and ligh social channels on the Internet. MediaPost reported:

"Nearly a third (32%) of consumers who share content with other people digitally say they do it via so-called “dark social” channels such as email, SMS or other peer-to-peer platforms that are not as easy to see and monitor as so-called “light social” networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest."

This statistics was based upon an October 2014 survey by Tpoli of 9,000 consumers. However:

"According to RadiumOne, which released the Tpoll findings this morning as part of a new report, “The Light and Dark of Social Sharing,” found that actual content sharing is more like 69% “dark,” based on trends from its PO.ST content-sharing widgets. That finding is much closer to the patterns found by 33Across’s Tynt database, which tracks actual copy-and-pasting of digital content across all channels and has consistently found that more than 70% of content-sharing is via dark social channels."

Reportedly, about one third of users survey only use dark social channels. That sharing rate is higher among older users. Also, users tend to share socially-acceptable content in light social channels; a finding consistent with research about the spiral of silence.


Consumer Opinions And Attitudes About Privacy

The Pew Research Internet Project released the results of a survey of American adults' views about privacy. First, privacy means different things to different people:

"... privacy applies to personal material—their space, their “stuff,” their solitude, and, importantly, their “rights.” Beyond the frequency of individual words, when responses are grouped into themes, the largest block of answers ties to concepts of security, safety, and protection. For many others, notions of secrecy and keeping things “hidden” are top of mind when thinking about privacy."

Former NSA contractor Ed Snowden began leakingd documents in June 2013 about the government ongoing surveillance programs. Pew Research found:

"... 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs."

Survey respondents lack confidence that they have control over their personal information:

"91% of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

88% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that it would be very difficult to remove inaccurate information about them online.

80% of those who use social networking sites say they are concerned about third parties like advertisers or businesses accessing the data they share on these sites.

70% of social networking site users say that they are at least somewhat concerned about the government accessing some of the information they share on social networking sites without their knowledge"

Are government spy programs a concern? Should government do more to protect consumers. Here's are survey respondents answered:

"80% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that Americans should be concerned about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and internet communications. Just 18% “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that notion.

64% believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers, compared with 34% who think the government should not get more involved.”

Historically, web sites have typically claim that the online data collection is necessary to serve up relevant advertisements and/or to provide free services. Here's what survey respondents said about that:

"61% of adults “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement: “I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.”

At the same time, 55% “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement: “I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.”

Pew Research found that most repondents felt the most unsecure on social networking websites, followed by chat and instant messaging services. Respondents felt the most secure on landline phones when they need to share private information. Most people want to protect their privacy online, but it feel it is impossible to be anonymous online.

People considered their Social Security Numbers the most sensitive personal data. The rank order of personal data elements from the most to least sensitive:

  1. Social Security Number
  2. State of their health and medications taken
  3. Content of phone conversations
  4. Content of e-mail messages
  5. Physical location over time (geo-location)
  6. Content of text messages
  7. Phone numbers called
  8. Birth date
  9. Relationship history
  10. Websites visited
  11. Keywords used at online search engines
  12. Religious views and religion practiced
  13. List of friends
  14. Political views and candidates supported
  15. Media liked
  16. Purchasing habits (products/services bought)

This list can be used to measure the intrusiveness of  social networking sites. For example, Facebook collects directly via member interactions items 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16.

The survey included 607 adults who GfK Knowledge Panel members. The survey was conducted online in english January 11 - 28, 2014.

What are your opinions of the survey results?


Survey: Consumers Avoid Shopping At Retailers That Had Data Breaches

CreditCards.com announced the results of a survey of consumers about data breaches and their shopping habits. Key results found:

"45 percent of respondents with credit or debit cards said they would definitely or probably avoid one of their regular stores over the holidays if that retailer had experienced a data breach. 16 percent said they definitely would not return to a retailer if the store had been hacked and 29 percent said they probably would not shop at such stores... 48 percent saying security breaches will make them more likely to pay with cash."

However, the results varied by household income:

"Only 31 percent of those in households earning $75,000 or more annually said they'd definitely or probably avoid retailers who experienced a data breach, compared to 56 percent of those in households earning less than $30,000 a year."

Results also varied by gender:

"Among the women surveyed, 56 percent say they would definitely (10 percent) or probably (46 percent) shop at a store where a security breach had occurred, compared to 48 percent of men who say they would definitely (12 percent) or probably (36 percent) shop at such a store."

And by geography:

"Those living in the West and Midwest were the most forgiving. Fifty-nine percent of both Westerners and Midwesterners said they definitely or probably would shop at a retailer that had been hacked, compared to 52 percent of those living in the Northeast and 45 percent of Southerners."

The survey, conducted from October 2 to 5, included 865 adults in the United States. Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted the survey on behalf of CreditCards.com.

This is very timely information since the holiday shopping season approaches.  It's also relevant given several massive and high-profile data breaches at retailers during the last couple months:

 What are your opinions of the survey? Of the above data breaches? Have these breaches affected your holiday shopping plans? If so, please share how. Do you believe retailers can protect consumers' sensitive payment information? Why or why not?


Study: Researchers Find Online Price Discrimination Exists. Some Discrimination Methods May Surprise You

We all use the Internet to find things: products, services, travel deals, air fare, hotel tickets, and more. Are you getting the best price? Several sites, like Trivago, claim to help provide the best prices. How are consumers to tell? Do the search terms you use affect the prices you find?

Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston announced the results of a study about personalization by websites and the prices displayed to consumers. The study included two types of e-commerce sites:

  1. General retail sites: Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, Walmart, etc.
  2. Travel sites to find air, cars, and hotels: CheapTickets, Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity

E-commerce sites currently collect a wide variety of data about online users, including your Internet history, (cookie files saved to your web browser, pages and products viewed, products purchased, products rated), search terms, device (brand, operating system, screen size, etc.), IP address, geo-location data, and more. Sites and marketers usually justify the data collection as necessary to display relevant content and advertisements. Readers of the blog are familiar with historical privacy abuses where marketers and advertisers used a variety of technologies to track consumers online: browser cookies, supercookies, Flash cookies, zombie e-tags, and zombie cookies, and zombie databases.

The Northeastern University researchers analyzed the prices displayed and the factors that affected those displays. They found:

"... that several e-commerce sites implement price discrimination and steering. Closer examination reveals that a small fraction of users receive personalized results across many sites, indicating that these users are being specifically targeted."

The researchers compared results between users with and without Internet histories by using the same search terms. The researchers found that users with an Internet history could see higher prices online, and presented the example below with two images showing a higher price for a user with an Internet history compared to a user without:

Click to view larger image of price comparison between users with and without Internet history. From the Northeastern Online Personalization Study

In this example, the price difference for a hotel in Paris is $68 per night, a substantial difference. Also, the researchers found that e-commerce sites implement different types of personalization:

Cheaptickets and Orbitz implement price discrimination by offering reduced prices on hotels to "members." Expedia and Orbitz engage in A/B testing that steers a subset of users towards more expensive hotel rooms. Home Depot and Travelocity both personalize search results for users on Android and iOS devices. Priceline personalizes search results based on a user's history of clicks and purchases on the site.

About "price steering" and A/B testing:

"Hotels.com and Expedia are also owned by a single company, and our analysis reveals that they both implement the same personalization strategy: randomized A/B tests on users. A/B testing is a common practice among large websites, and is used to test specific features of a site (for example: do people click a blue button more often than a red button?). In this case, Hotels.com and Expedia appear to be randomly dividing users among three "buckets" based on their [browser] cookie. The graph below shows that users in different buckets see different hotel rooms in a different order... users in two of the buckets are shown higher priced hotels towards the top of the page, which is an example of price steering."

About personalization by device type:

"For Travelocity, we discovered that they alter hotel search results for users who browse from [Apple] iOS devices. The graphs below show that users browsing with Safari on iOS receive slightly different hotels, and in a much different order, than users browsing from Chrome on Android, Safari on OS X, or other desktop browsers. The takeaway from the grpahs below is that we observe evidence consistent with price discrimination in favor of iOS users on Travelocity. Unlike Cheaptickets and Orbitz, which clearly mark sale price “Members Only” deals, there is no visual cue on Travelocity’s results that indicates prices have been changed for iOS users."

There is more:

"Similar to our findings on Travelocity, Home Depot personalizes results for users with mobile browsers... Strangely, Home Depot serves 24 search results per page to desktop browsers and Android, but serves 48 products per page to iOS users. We discovered the pool of results served to mobile browsers contains more expensive products overall... Thus, Home Depot is effectively steering users on mobile devices towards more expensive products. In addition to steering, Home Depot also discriminates against Android users. We discovered that Android users consistently see differences on about 6% of prices..."

Overall, the researchers concluded:

"... we find evidence for price steering and price discrimination on four general retailers and six travel sites. Overall, travel sites show price inconsistencies in a higher percentage of cases... users experience personalization across multiple sites... we are able to isolate specific user attributes that trigger personalization on seven e-commerce sites. This includes logging-in to an account on Cheaptickets and Orbitz, using a mobile device with Travelocity and Home Depot, purchase history on Priceline, and A/B testing on Expedia and Hotels.com."

Read the full study titled, "Measuring Price Discrimination and Steering on E-Commerce Web Sites."

What can consumers do about this? The researchers didn't provide firm recommendations because e-commerce sites can change their personalization methods at any time. One suggestion is for consumers to become members at sites that show lower prices for members. However,, there is no guarantee that this preference will remain so.

Another suggestion is for consumers to try using different devices, including a desktop without any saved browser cookies. You might find lower prices with a specific device. This seems a huge pain, as it defeats the whole purpose of convenience with mobile devices.

I can understand lower prices displayed to members. That encourages repeat business. It's a standard marketing technique.

As a usability professional, I understand and have performed A/B testing with websites; specifically, a portion of a site where users were invited to a separate test session, paid for their time, and asked several questions. A test plan was written to clearly state the test objectives and testing program. The testing had a defined beginning and end; and was separate from the live site. Then, the live site was adjusted based upon the test findings. This approach avoids ethical issues.

When sites perform A/B testing contiuously with the live site, and without notice to users, then ethical issues arise. It becomes impossible to tell of the "test" prices are indeed new prices applied arbitrarily to users. That helps nobody and erodes consumers' trust. These ethical issues were highlighted recently with with the OKCupid dating site. Marketers often claim that "everyone is doing it," but that does not make it right.

Did you expect sites to display higher prices to users with certain device types? I didn't, and I bet you didn't either. Now you know that can and does happen. Is it right? Should there be warnings on sites that do this? What do you think of the study? Share your opinions below.


Ebola And Leading Death Causes HIghlight Bigger Issues Facing the USA

The Ebola virus disease has been in the news. And, everyone seems worried. We all may be worried about the wrong stuff. ProPublica reported in September 2013:

"... a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says. That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second."

I'll bet you didn't know that so many people die every year from medical errors. Below is the ranked list of death causes in 2011 in the U.S.A. published by the Center For Disease Control (CDC):

  1. Heart disease: 596,577
  2. Cancer: 576,691
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  4. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  5. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438
  6. Alzheimer's disease: 84,974
  7. Diabetes: 73,831
  8. Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  10. Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

440,000 deaths per year from medical errors easily captures the number 3 spot. As bad as this is, sadly there is more.

On Friday October 17, professor and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich posted on his Facebook page (link added):

"The failures at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital reflect a much bigger problem. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients, causing 99,000 deaths each year. That’s 1 out of 4 deaths in hospitals -- more deaths than caused by many of the conditions that lead patients to enter hospitals in the first place..."

Hence, a more accurate ranked list of leading causes of death would include both medical errors and hospital-acquired infections:

  1. Heart disease: 596,577
  2. Cancer: 576,691
  3. Medical errors: 440,000
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  6. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438
  7. Hospital-acquired infections: 99,000
  8. Alzheimer's disease: 84,974
  9. Diabetes: 73,831
  10. Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  11. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  12. Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

With existing death causes like these, the calls by politicians to ban flights from West Africa seem to miss the point. So much for American exceptionalism. Mr. Reich explored the problem further:

"... hospital administrators don’t have much incentive to improve. Most people have no idea of the infection rate at any given hospital, and don’t ask their doctors. If a hospital’s infection rate goes down the hospital doesn’t get more patients, and if it goes up the hospital doesn’t get fewer. (In fact, it might even make money because it can then increase its billing.) Bottom line: The CDC should require hospitals to report their infection rates into a common database that you have access to, and you should consult it before choosing a hospital for yourself or a loved one."

Now, that proposal makes sense. It allows consumers to make informed decisions about where to seek health care.

What are your opinions of the leading causes of death? Is the country focused on the right problem? Have you asked your physician about hospital infection rates?


Predictions Of How Consumers Will Use Faster Internet Connections In the Future

In the near future, experts say the average Internet connection speeds will be a lot faster: a gigabit per second. That's equal to 1,000 megabits. But we aren't there yet. Pew Research reported:

"Globally, cloud service provider Akamai reports that the average global connection speed in quarter one of 2014 was 3.9 Mbps, with South Korea reporting the highest average connection speed, 23.6 Mbps and the US at 10.5 Mbps."

In the United States, only selected areas have super-fast connections:

"... Google ran a competition in 2010 for communities to pitch themselves for the construction of the first Google Fiber network running at 1 gigabit per second... Kansas City was chosen among 1,100 entrants and residents are now signing up for the service. The firm has announced plans to build a gigabit network in Austin, Texas, and perhaps 34 other communities. In response, AT&T has said it expects to begin building gigabit networks in up to 100 US cities.The cities of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Bristol, Virginia, have super speedy networks, and pockets of gigabit connectivity are in use in parts of Las Vegas, Omaha, Santa Monica, and several Vermont communities..."

Of course, the scientific and military communities are already using super-fast connections. How might consumers use this faster speeds? And, the Internet of Things (ioT) will suck up some of this faster bandwidth as more Internet-connected homes and appliances -- often referred to as smart homes -- along with connected cities.

Pew Research polled 1,464 experts in private industry and academia, and asked them what they thought that the coming killer apps would be between now and 2025. The experts' predictions were grouped into several themes:

"1. People’s basic interactions and their ability to ‘be together’ and collaborate will change in the age of vivid telepresence—enabling people to instantly ‘meet face-to-face’ in cyberspace with no travel necessary.

2. Augmented reality will extend people’s sense and understanding of their real-life surroundings and virtual reality will make some spaces, such as gaming worlds and other simulated environments, even more compelling places to hang out.

3. The connection between humans and technology will tighten as machines gather, assess, and display real-time personalized information in an ‘always-on’ environment. This integration will affect many activities—including thinking, the documentation of life events (‘life-logging’), and coordination of daily schedules.

4. Specific economic and social sectors will be especially impacted; health/medicine and education were mentioned often.

5. New digital divides may open as people gain opportunities on different timelines and with different tools.

6. Who knows? ‘I have no idea due to rapid change.’ ‘The best Internet apps are yet to emerge.’ ‘If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, I would invest in it!’

7. Advances will be gradual for various reasons: Bandwidth is not the issue. The US will lag because a widespread gigabit network is not easily achieved."

Some high-level predictions:

"Massive change is likely to impact cities, and 3D video and printing will advance... Sensors will be everywhere, contributing to information visualizations... ‘Cloud immigrants’ will appear as holograms and compete for jobs... People will learn more about themselves and ‘avoid coercive marketing’... Bye-bye phones: Devices will manage things machine-to-machine... "Apps" Will Be So Over By 2025... Machines will have ‘more-complex intelligence’ and decision-making capability"

If history is to be a guide, look to military, advertising, porn, and gambling sectors for emerging "killer apps" and underlying technologies. Expect to see a lot more augmented reality and more robust holograms in a lot more places besides advertisements. Sadly, none of the themes directly addressed the high cost of Internet connections in the USA compared to other countries. And, number five is a troubling prediction. Several experts commented that not only will the poor be left behind, but also other groups.

How would you like to use faster Internet connection speeds?


Has Your Monthly Residential Internet Bill Gone Up?

Monthly Internet prices seem to be going up. Last month, my Internet Service Provider (ISP) raised prices about ten percent.

If you are wondering what other Americans pay monthly for Internet access, it's alot. I reviewed the "Cost of Connectivity 2013" report by the New America Foundation (NAF). The NAF analyzed prices in 24 cities worldwide and found:

"... in comparison to their international peers, Americans in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC are paying higher prices for slower Internet service. While the plans and prices have been updated in the intervening year, the 2013 data shows little progress, reflecting remarkably similar trends to what we observed in 2012."

The U.S. cities in the report: Bristol (Virginia), Chattanooga (Tennessee), Kansas City (Kansas), Kansas City (Missouri), Lafayette (Louisiana), Los Angeles (California), New York (New York), San Francisco (California), and Washington, DC.

I hope that Boston makes the 2014 report. Other cities in the 2013 report: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Berlin (Germany), Bucharest (Romania), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dublin (Ireland), Hong Kong (China), London (United Kingdom), Mexico City (Mexico), Paris (France), Prague (Czech Republic), Riga (Latvia), Seoul (South Korea), Tokyo (Japan), Toronto (Canada), and Zurich (Switzerland).

While Chattanooga (Tennessee), Seoul (South Korea), Lafayette (Louisiana), Kansas City (Kansas), and Kansas City (Missouri) offer the fastest connection speeds, residents in the USA  pay more and get slower speeds compared to other countries. Some more comparisons in the report:

"... the best deal for a 150 Mbps home broadband connection from cable and phone companies is $130/month, offered by Verizon FiOS. By contrast, the international cities we surveyed offer comparable speeds for less than $80/month, with most coming in at about $50/month.... In July 2013 Verizon announced a new 500 Mbps service (with 100 Mbps upload speeds) available in selected areas of its FiOS service. However, this new 500 Mbps service costs around $300 a month. In Amsterdam, a symmetrical 500 Mbps broadband plan (with 500 Mbps download and upload speeds) costs just over $86."

$300 per month? That's equivalent to an auto loan. Would you pay that? Can you afford to pay that? The comparisons aren't any better for mobile broadband:

"... the cheapest price for around 2 GB of data in the U.S. ($30/month from T-Mobile) is twice as much as what users in London pay ($15/month from T-Mobile). It costs more to purchase 2 GB of data in a U.S. city than it does in any of the cities surveyed in Europe."

So much for claims of American exceptionalism. I wrote in prior blog posts about how local laws already exist in 20 states to prevent broadband competition by stopping cities and towns from building their own (low-cost to users) fiber Internet services. This keeps monthly prices by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) high. This limits the freedom of consumers to build broadband alternatives through their cities and towns. Bad for you; good for the corporate ISPs., Again, from the NAF report:

"In cities with municipal broadband networks, pricing generally remained the same. The notable exception was Chattanooga, TN, where the local municipal provider EPB dramatically lowered the costs of a symmetrical 1 Gbps connection, from $349/month to $70/month. By contrast, in American cities without local fiber competitors, the highest speed available for $70/month is around 50 Mbps. EPB also raised the speed of their their slowest broadband plan from 30 Mbps to 100 Mbps, while keeping the monthly price the same at $57.99."

$349 to $70 monthly! If this is what it takes to lower monthly Internet prices, I am all for municipal broadband.

Yet, instead of foghting for lower Internet prices, during the past few months U.S. residents have had to fight to keep a fair and open Internet (a/k/a Net Neutrality). The first dealine to submit comments to the FCC was July 18 (moved from July 15 due to heavy volume). 1.1 million comments were submitted, and the electronic version of the comments data is available online.

The next deadline to submit Net Neutrality comments to the FCC is September 15, 2014 (moved from Sept. 10). If you believe prices are too high, tell your ISP, the FCC, and tell your elected officials.

Has your ISP lowered or raised prices recently? If so, how much? Do you think that Americans should pay more for Internet compared to residents of other countries? Do you think monthly Internet prices in the USA are okay as is or too high? Share your reasons.


How Many Of Your Neighbors Care About Keeping The Internet Open And Fair?

If you have followed the net neutrality issue, then you know that the first deadline has passed for consumers to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC received more than 1.1 million comments.

If you are wondering how many of your neighbors submitted comments, then you'll want to visit The Verge website. It features an interesting, interactive tool for consumers to view the number of comments by location. You can view the Zip Codes that submitted the most comments, and looup the Zip Code where you live, work, or attend school.


Online While On The Toilet

Consumers love being connected online. Perhaps, too much. According to the results of a recent survey posted on the Social Times site:

  • 75 percent of Americans have used their smartphones in the bathroom
  • 63 percent of people read books, magazines, and newspapers while in the bathroom
  • 86 percent of men and 27 percent of women said the toilet was where they did most of their reading
  • Most popular bathroom activities: 67 percent text messages; 63 percent answer phone calls; 42 percent read e-mails; 38 percent surf the Web; 38 percent use apps; 29 percent use social networking
  • 24 percent of people said they never go to the bathroom without their smartphone

View more stats from the survey in the Social Times infographic.

If you are going to spend this much time and effort on the toilet, then you might consider upgrading to a "smart toilet." Several smart toilets are for sale on Ebay, and you can follow tweets by a smart toilet on Twitter. Smart crappers (electronic thrones?) are part of the coming Internet of Things (ioT) for consumers' homes. However, like any other Internet-connected device, smart toilets can be hacked.

In the future, I guess that teenagers won't toilet paper victims' front lawns. Instead, they'll hack and remotely operate/flush unsuspecting victims' smart crappers.

What are your opinions of the Social Times survey? Of smart crappers? If you have bought a smart toilet, please share below your opinions of it.


How To Protect Your Smartphone From Online Crime

56 percent of all adults in the U.S. own and use smartphones. Ownership climbs to 79 percent for people ages 18 to 24; to 81 percent for people ages 25-34. Ownership climbs even higher for people with higher incomes. With 4.5 million smartphone stolen during 2013, the threat of theft is real. So, it makes sense to protect both your phone and the sensitive personal and financial information you have saved on it.

Yes, there are apps to track a stolen mobile device (e.g., phone, tablet), but when your device is stolen your sensitive information is out there for thieves to use and abuse. And, some types of theft occur while you still have your phone in your hand.

How should a consumer protect their smartphone or tablet? There are 12 things you should do.

The first recommendation on the list probably is not what you'd expect. The obvious recommendation to lock your device with a PIN (personal ID number) or password is number 12 on the list. There are several more important things you should do first.

The top four recommendations by AARP to protect your mobile device:

"1. If your phone offers encryption, enable it. You can learn how at help.unc.edu/help/encrypting-cell-phones. "Most encryption software will then automatically update as needed," says Adam Levin, founder of IDentity Theft 911."

Encryption protects both your device and your information during wireless transmissions both to and from your device. It makes the transmissions unreadable to everyone else, but you. Anyone spying on your wireless transmissions would see illegible gibberish.

This protection is critical especially when using public WiFi hotspots. Thieves often lurk at these locations to scan the air waves for un-encrypted transmissions with cosnumers' login credentials (e.g., user name, password) to their bank accounts, retail stores, e-mail services, social networking sites, and so forth. Thieves will use stolen credentials to access as many online accounts as possible, since many consumers use the same passwords at multiple websites.

Using HTTPS (instead of HTTP) at websites with your web browser is a good start. There are other and stronger encryption solutions available, such at GetCocoon and PrivateWiFi. As a usability and information architecture consultant, my clients regularly require the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) software to remotely access their network and information. VPN software encrypts transmissions.

Next on the list of security recommendations:

"2. Use security software recommended by your carrier or phone manufacturer, or free products by companies such as AVG, Avast and Lookout Mobile Security.

If you visit websites infected with malware, chances are your mobile device will get infected. It doesn't matter what brand of mobile device you use. Scan your device frequently (e.g., once or twice monthly) with security software to identify and purge any malware. Keep that software updated. Also:

"3. When using your smartphone to shop, use retailers' dedicated apps rather than your phone's browser.

4. Before installing apps, read their reviews — and stick with trusted vendors such as Google or Apple. Always read the "permissions" before downloading apps; avoid those wanting your OK to reveal your identity and location."

This can't be over-emphasized. Reviews can indicate how trustworthy the app and the app developer are. Reviews can also indicate if an app has encryption built into it, or not. Plus, you don't want to download and use an app that has already abused other persons' privacy. One chief privacy abuse has been the theft of contact information from address books on consumers' devices -- without notice to users and without consent.

Besides reading the reviews, also read the terms-of-use and privacy policies before downloading an app. The policies indicate how much of your personal information that app will share with other companies and business affiliates. If an app doesn't have these policies, experts advise consumers not to download that app. Some states, such as California, enforce the disclosure of these policies to consumers both before and after download.

Read the full list of 12 AARP recommendations to safeguard your mobile device. To surfithe web and/or do online banking on your mobile device without these security protections is just plain foolhardy, in my opinion.


Survey: Consumers' Attitudes About The Security of Internet-Connected Homes

Fortinet, a network security provider, announced during the weekend the results of a global survey of consumers' opinions about the security of Internet-connect homes. The survey explored consumers' attitudes about the emerging trend to connect home appliances and electronics to the Internet, referred to as the "Internet of Things" (ioT). While the ioT also includes commercial devices outside the home (e.g., drones, accessories for search animals, supermarket shopping carts), a key aspect is that the connected appliances "talk" or communicate with each other without the user's intervention.

In the coming years, a variety of home appliances will be directly connected to the Internet, including televisions, home security systems, refrigerators, washing machines, smart thermostats, trash or recycle bins, and more. The survey included 1,800 homeowners in 11 countries. Some chief findings:

  • 61 percent of respondents expect the Internet of Things to become a reality within the next five years
  • 69 percent said that privacy is their biggest concern
  • 66 percent want complete control over their personal data
  • 48 percent would hold the manufacturer responsible for vulnerabilities found in home appliances

You can already search the Internet of Things today. That means that cyber-criminals and identity thieves can, too. To learn more about the survey, read the Fortinet blog and infographic.

The coming Internet of Things highlights several security and privacy issues. To understand these issues requires an understanding of the types of  personal data items. There are obvious items and not-so-obvious items that uniquely describe you and your habits. Obvious items are your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, driver's license number, professional licenses, online usernames and passwords, bank account information, payment cards (e.g., credit, debit, prepaid) information (e.g., numbers, expiration dates, security codes), the music you listen to, the films and shows you watch, and the products (and services) you buy.

Obvious personal data also include items in your resume, plus your health and fitness data. That includes not only your medical records at your doctor, but also the personal health data (e.g., heart rate; blood pressure; calories burned; exercise dates, routine, geolocation data, and duration; etc.) collected and archived by fitness apps.

Not-so-obvious items include the search terms you enter into search engines (e.g., Yahoo, Google, Bing, online store search engines, etc.), your color and fabric preferences, left-handed or right-handedness, professional association memberships, contacts in the address book on your smartphone, your geolocation purchase information (e.g., where and when you purchase items in the real world), your geolocation habits (e.g., where and when you drive, walk, or visit), your image, and the people you are connected with at various social networking sites.

Even if you don't use loyalty and payment cards, physical retail stores can collect your search terms, color and fabric preferences, product preferences (e.g., the dresses, skirts, pants you literally pull off the rack to inspect and then put back), and left/right-handedness using discretely placed video surveillance cameras. There are at least five ways retail stores can spy on their customers.

More not-so-obvious items include the unique device identification number assigned to each ioT appliance, your utility consumption (e.g., water, electricity, gas, etc.) at home, the corresponding dates and patterns, the frequency you operate certain home appliances, and the layout plus furnishings in your  home. The government agency or company that provides your utilities collects this utility consumption information via wireless transmissions from smart meters installed in homes. Companies that provide home security systems also can collect some of this information.

ioT appliances provide more ways for companies to collect your personal data -- both obvious and not-so-obvious data items. You might like an Internet-connected refrigerator because it can create and send shopping lists automatically to your smartphone. Behind that convenience benefit is the stark reality that your appliance collects the size, brand, types, number, and frequency (e.g., dates and times) of all items you eat and drink. Anything with a barcode can be tracked, including medical items you store in your refrigerator. Depending upon the terms and privacy policies from the refrigerator's manufacturer, the appliance will probably transmit your usage to business partners and other companies.

Does the convenience benefit still outweigh the loss of privacy?

Another issue is control: not just what you choose to share and with whom, but will the consumer or the device be in control? Today, banks collect your purchase decisions from your usage of debit, credit, and/or prepaid cards. Consumers have made that decision to trade convenience for privacy by using the payment cards issued by their bank. Similarly, retailers (e.g., online stores, physical stores, etc.) collect your purchase decisions from loyalty cards you use for reward points and discounts. Consumers have made that decision to trade privacy for discounts.

Depending upon how much you shared with social networking sites, they may know your purchase decisions, too. Your decision to use public WiFi hotspots with unencrypted transmissions means that you have probably shared more to a wider group of companies.

The coming ioT highlights the security issue: how consumers will protect the ioT appliances in their homes. Today, many people today use anti-virus software to protect their computers, tablets, and smartphones. Will consumers expect anti-virus software developers to provide broader packages that also protect ioT appliances? Or, will consumers expect each appliance developer to provide adequate (and updated) security?

Will consumers be able to enjoy a completely connect home with today's ioT? Not yet, according to one expert:

"“We’re still in the stage where every vendor has their own proprietary standard and few can agree on anything... As such, devices from different vendors aren’t able to talk to each other, and if you want a fully automated house, you need to perform a lot of patchwork to get things working properly.”

What are your opinions of the ioT? Which method do you prefer to secure your Internet-connected appliances? What are your opinions of the survey? You can share your opinions in the Comments section.


Predicting With The Spies. The Intelligence Community Wants People Good At Predicting World Events

Good Judgment Project logo While writing today's blog post, I could have easily used, "Predicting For The Spies" instead of "Predicting With The Spies." Last week, National Public Radio (NPR) reported about the Good Judgment Project, an experiment sponsored by the U.S. intelligence community (e.g., NSA, CIA, NRO, etc.), to harness the predictive power of groups by using citizens to predict world events. NPR reported:

"According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information, and many of the people involved in the project have been astonished by its success at making accurate predictions."

The predictive power of groups is based on research that while each individual's prediction will vary greatly with error, the average prediction of the group is far more accurate. Sample questions:

"Will any country in the Euro zone default on bonds in 2014?" or "Which party will win the most seats in the next parliamentary election in Egypt?"

NPR described one citizen participant in the GJP experiment and her high success rate at predicting world events:

"She's in the top 1 percent of the 3,000 forecasters now involved in the experiment, which means she has been classified as a superforecaster, someone who is extremely accurate when predicting stuff like: Will there be a significant attack on Israeli territory before May 10, 2014?"

Three people co-lead the GJP experiment:

  • Phil Tetlock, the Leonore Annenberg University Professor in Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of the award-winning Expert Political Judgment.
  • Barb Mellers, the George Heyman University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania with appointments in the Department of Psychology and the Marketing Department of the Wharton School of Business.
  • Don Moore, an Associate Professor in the Management of Organizations group at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley. He and Max Bazerman wrote the text Judgment in Managerial Decision Making.

The GJP experiment described itself as:

"We are participating in the Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) Program, sponsored by IARPA (the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity). The ACE Program aims "to dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision, and timeliness of forecasts for a broad range of event types, through the development of advanced techniques that elicit, weight, and combine the judgments of many intelligence analysts." The project is unclassified: our results will be published in traditional scholarly and scientific journals, and will be available to the general public."

GJP participants do not have access to classified information. The GJP experiment is currently operating in season three of its four-year plan. It is not accepting any more participants for season three, which ends in May 2014. If you want to participate, you can apply online for season four, which starts in July 2014. Not all applicants are accepted. Based upon the application form, the project seems to prefer participants with degrees from accredited higher education institutions.

IARPA described three goals of its ACE program:

"The ACE Program seeks technical innovations in the following areas: (a) efficient elicitation of probabilistic judgments, including conditional probabilities for contingent events; (b) mathematical aggregation of judgments by many individuals, based on factors that may include: past performance, expertise, cognitive style, metaknowledge, and other attributes predictive of accuracy; and (c) effective representation of aggregated probabilistic forecasts and their distributions."

The NPR article asked a very relevant question:

"How is it possible that a group of average citizens doing Google searches in their suburban town homes can outpredict members of the United States intelligence community with access to classified information?"

While the researchers seem to believe that the answer is based upon the predictive power (e.g., accuracy) of a group's average prediction, I think that context matters. One must look at the broader picture for an answer.

NSA Android logo With the NSA's dragnet surveillance program, is it collecting more information than it can process? The NSA built this new $2 billion facility to store all of the data it collects. At the SXSW conference earlier this year, Snowden and other panelists discuss how mass surveillance on everyone wastes resources. When a government collects too much information or too much of the wrong information (e.g., data about innocent people; spying on mobile games; violating citizens' privacy when searching non-citizens' communications; inserting back doors inside operating system software; breaking all encryption systems; secret courts, laws, and processes), it places a priority on analyzing and sifting through the information collected (e.g., making predictions).

NSA Inside logo From the documents released since last summer, the extensive NSA surveillance seems to collect everything it can because it can, through both warrant-backed and warrantless searches where the assumption of wrongdoing is tenuous at best. A more targeted data collection means less data to analyze, less wasted resources, and an either time making predictions; or more accurate predictions. Said simply, collect less and focus your energies (and skills) at improving your predictions. Then, you wouldn't need help from a group of citizens to predict world events.

What is your opinion of the Good Judgment Project? Of the intelligence community sponsoring this experiment?


Measures Of Income Inequality And Where It is Worse

In a December 2013 speech, President Obama stated:

"... a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain -- that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. I believe this is the defining challenge of our time..."

Income inequality represents the difference in incomes between the very wealthy and the poor. Upward mobility is the ability of people at lower income levels to move up to higher income levels. Some people refer to it as "social mobility" since people can (and do) move both up and down between income levels. Both economic concepts measure the health of groups.

This is not a new issue. In 2011, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said:

"... upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise.”

Call it what you want: American promise... American dream... America, the land of opportunity. To understand if the dream, promise, and opportunity are still possible, you have to understand these economic concepts.

Recently, the Brookings Institute recently released a report about income inequality. The report used the "95/20 ratio" statistic:

"This figure represents the income at which a household earns more than 95 percent of all other households, divided by the income at which a household earns more than only 20 percent of all other households. In other words, it represents the distance between a household that just cracks the top 5 percent by income, and one that just falls into the bottom 20 percent."

Income inequality is important not solely because the U.S. President mentioned it, but also because:

"Obama’s speech followed a series of municipal elections in November 2013 in which inequality figured prominently as a campaign issue. Foremost among these was in New York City... Similar themes were sounded in the successful campaigns and first days in office of Marty Walsh in Boston, Ed Murray in Seattle, and Betsy Hodges in Minneapolis. The “Google Bus” in San Francisco’s Mission District has shone a spotlight on growing economic divisions within that city."

The Brookings report concluded:

"The latest U.S. Census Bureau data confirm that, overall, big cities remain more unequal places by income than the rest of the country. Across the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2012, the 95/20 ratio was 10.8, compared to 9.1 for the country as a whole. The higher level of inequality in big cities reflects that, compared to national averages, big-city rich households are somewhat richer ($196,000 versus $192,000), and big-city poor households are somewhat poorer ($18,100 versus $21,000)."

The specific cities where income inequality is worse:

"The big cities with the highest 95/20 ratios in 2012 were Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami, and Boston. In each of these cities, a household at the 95th percentile of the income distribution earned at least 15 times the income of a household at the 20th percentile. In Atlanta, for instance, the richest 5 percent of households earned more than $280,000, while the poorest 20 percent earned less than $15,000. In another six cities (Washington, D.C., New York, Oakland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Baltimore), the 95/20 ratio exceeded 12. Overall, 31 of the 50 largest U.S. cities exhibited a higher level of income inequality than the national average."

A second measure of income inequality is the comparison of CEO pay to average workers' pay in companies. In 2012, CNN Money analyzed the differences in pay for the largest (Fortune 50) companies:

"With a staggering total compensation package of $378 million for 2011, Apple's Tim Cook takes the cake for the highest Fortune 50 CEO-to-typical-worker pay ratio. Indeed, it takes 6,258 typical Apple worker salaries to match Cook's total pay. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the ratio for Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett was 11-to-1. Overall, most CEOs took home an average 379 staffers' worth in base pay..."

In this analysis, the CEO/workers pay ratio ranged from a low about 25 to more than 1,000. The ratio was more than 500 at Apple, Walmart, Target, and McKesson. The main conclusion: the CEO/workers pay ratio averaged 379. And, a CEO/worker ratio of 379 is far, far greater than a 95/20 ratio of 15 or 10. Very high CEO/worker pay ratios make it easier for people to demand increases in the minimum wage rate. Very high CEO/worker pay ratios indicate that the increases are easily affordable.

A third way to look at income inequality is to look at how incomes have changed over time. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) did just that when it analyzed income growth in the United States:

"On average, income in the United States grew 36.9% between 1979 and 2007."

Income growth in the USA from 1979 to 2007 by Economic Policy Institute So, the total income for everyone in the United States went up. That's good, right? Nope. You have to dig deeper. Some people in the United States did far better than others:

"The top 1% snared a disproportionate share of that growth—53.9%. So their massive income growth far eclipsed income growth of the bottom 99%, whose raise was meager when you divide it over three decades."

Income growth in the USA from 2009 to 2011 by Economic Policy Institute Since the last recession, some people in the United States did far better than others:

"The top 1% is recovering, but the bottom 99%'s income has actually gone down in the so-called recovery."

So, it's been a recovery for a tiny few, and a continuing disaster for mostly everyone else. At the EPI site, you can use the interactive features to view income growth in the state where you live.

You can view all of these measures of income inequality as indicators of whether things are getting better or worse. Rising income inequality means things are getting worse for most people... better for the few people at the highest income levels, and worse for everyone else at lower income levels. If trickle-down economics (a/k/a "Reaganomics") worked, then everyone would benefit, not only a tiny few.


Consumer Confidence In Online Privacy Falls Again

TRUSTe logo TRUSTe, a global data privacy firm, released this week the results of its 2014 U.S. Consumer Confidence Index. Key findings:

  • Trust continues to fall: 55 percent of U.S. Internet users trust companies with their personal information online, compared with 57 percent in January 2013 and 59 percent in January 2012
  • Business impact remains high: 89 percent of U.S. Internet users say they avoid companies that do not protect their privacy, compated with 89 percent in January 2013 and 88 percent in January 2012
  • Consumers' concerns about online privacy remain high: 92 percent of U.S. Internet users say they worry about their privacy, compared to 89 percent in January 2013 and 90 percent in January 2012
  • 76 percent of users are more likely to check Web sites and apps for privacy certifications and seals

Harris Interactive conducted the online survey of 2,019 adults for TRUSTe during December 2013. was Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe said:

"Even with all the media coverage of government surveillance programs such as the NSA’s PRISM, more consumers remain concerned about businesses collecting their information with only 55 percent regularly willing to share their personal data online. These findings send a clear signal that business data collection, not government activity, is the main driver for increased privacy concerns... While some businesses are taking steps today to address privacy concerns, many are not, and the bar is rising."

Good. A raised bar is a good thing.

In its press release, TRUSTe announced:

"74 percent of U.S. internet users are more concerned about privacy than a year ago and more users cite business data collection, than government surveillance programs, as the reason for the increase in their concerns."

So, consumers are afraid for their privacy with both, and more afraid for their privacy with companies. Both company and government executives would be wise to heed this advice about collecting consumers' sensitive personal information:

If you collect it, tell consumers and protect it. If you can't (or won't) tell consumers nor protect it, then don't collect it.

View results from the 2014 TRUSTe Consumer Confidence Index. View results from the 2013 TRUSTe Consumer Confidence Index.


12 Facts About Why Low Wage Workers Strike For Higher Wages

You've probably heard that workers in several cities in the United States went on strike last Thursday for higher wages. Some facts about why workers are striking:

  1. The average fast food worker makes $8.69 an hour. About 87 percent of fast food workers receive no health benefits. (Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center)
  2. The minimum wage rate kept pace with productivity from 1947 to 1969. Since then, they haven't. If they had, the minimum wage would now be over $16 an hour, not $7.25. The strikers are asking for $15 an hour. (Source: Baker and Kimball, Center for Economic and Policy Research)
  3. The ongoing bailout of the fast food industry is very expensive. The 10 largest fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.9 billion in government health assistance and $1.04 billion in food assistance. (Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center)
  4. The same 10 companies earned $7.4 billion in profits last year, and paid out $7.7 billion in dividends. So, these corporations can easily afford modes increases in the minimum wage rate and/or an end to industry subsidies. (Source: National Employment Law Project)
  5. The strikes targeted large employers. 66 percent of low-wage workers are employed by corporations with 100 employees or more. McDonald’s employs 707,850 people. Yum! Brands (e.g., Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC) employs 379,449 people. The workforce for these 10 corporations is greater than the populations of Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. (Sources: National Employment Law Project, and the US Census Bureau)
  6. 25 percent of American workers receive some form of public assistance. For fast food workers it was 52 percent. And more than half of full-time fast food workers receive some form of public assistance. (Sources: University of California, Berkeley/University of Illinois study; and UC Berkeley Labor Center)
  7. Most low-wage workers are adults. Nationally, adults make up 88 percent of the workers. In areas like New York State and Albuquerque, New Mexico, that figure is 92 percent. (Sources: US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the Fiscal Policy Institute, and New Mexico Voices for Children/Fiscal Policy Project)

Read the full list of facts at the Bill Moyers website.


7 Interesting Statistics About Trust From The Latest AP Survey Of Americans

Recently, the Associated Press (AP) released the results of its latest survey about selected institutions Americans trust, or don't trust. The Associated Press-GfK survey was conducted October 3-7, 2013 by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, a division of GfK Custom Research North America. The poll included a national, representative sample of 1,227 persona ages 18 or older.

If you use social networking websites (e.g., Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, SnapChat, etc.), you will want to pay special attention to item #5 below. The survey asked participants to state how much they trust other people in certain situations. That trust level could be "a great deal," "quite a bit," "not too much, and "not at all." Key survey results:

  1. 81 percent of survey respondents trust only some of the time the government in Washington, DC to do what is right only some of the time. Only 2 percent trust Washington all of the time.
  2. 50 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" people who handle their medical records at a hospital or doctor's office
  3. 47 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" people who prepare their food when they eat out in restaurants
  4. 41 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" people they hired to come into their homes to do work
  5. 38 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" people who they have shared photos, videos, and other information with at social networking websites
  6. 30 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" people who swiped their debit/credit cards when making a purchase in retail stores
  7. 21 percent of survey respondents trust "a great deal" or "quite a bit" other automobile drivers when they are driving, walking, or bicycling

Item number five makes one wonder why so many people use social networking websites when so few trust the "friends" they are connected with. Very interesting. Maybe, Americans are just a mistrustful and wary bunch. Or maybe, we've been burned previously by people or companies that abused their trust.

Some descriptive information about the survey participants:

  • 46 percent live in the suburbs, 26 percent in urban areas, and 25 percent in rural areas
  • 83 percent reported that they have health care insurance: private or public. Of those that have health care insurance, 54 percent have it through an employer, 21 percent through Medicare, 7 percent through Medicaid, 6 percent through private insurance they purchased on their own, and 11 percent through "something else"
  • 34 percent reported that somebody in their household owns a gun
  • 49 percent reported that they work as employees, 18 percent are retired, 9 percent are unemployed and looking for work, 7 percent are self-employed, 6 percent are disabled, and 1 percent are temporarily laid off from a job

Trust questions the survey didn't ask which I wish it had asked:

  • How much would you trust other people at banks to protect your financial information and provide unbiased answers to your questions?
  • How much would you trust other people at Internet service providers (ISP's) to protect your personal information?
  • How much would you trust other people at credit monitoring agencies to protect your credit reports and provide accurate information?
  • How much would you trust other people at software companies to provide effective anti-virus solutions that protect your computers and mobile devices?
  • How much would you trust other people at telephone and telecommunications companies to protect your sensitive phone call and geo-location information?
  • How much would you trust other people at companies to provide complete and accurate policy statements (e.g., terms of usage, privacy) about their websites or mobile apps?
  • How much do you trust other people to use wearable computers (e.g., Google Glass) with maturity and respect for your privacy?
  • How much would you trust other people at retail websites to deliver your purchases via drones to your home?

Learn more about AP-GfK surveys, or download the AP-GfK survey results (Adobe PDF).