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jack maREUTERS/Lucy NicholsonJack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California October 27, 2014. Jack Ma, the CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, gave an interview at Davos with Charlie Rose, in which he talked about Alibaba's growth and history.

During the interview in Switzerland, Ma reflected on the effects of the company's growth from a Chinese web startup to a global e-commerce giant.

"For the first three years, we made zero revenue," Ma said. But eventually the site's fortunes picked up, and people in China began using Alibaba as a platform to sell their goods and run businesses online.

Ma told the audience at Davos this story about a time where he realised the impact that Alibaba was having:

I went to a restaurant to go for dinner. And when I tried to pay the bill, the owner of the restaurant came to say “Sir, your bill is paid by someone.” And there was a small note saying “Hey, Mr Ma, I’m your customer of Alibaba group, I made a lot of money and I know you don’t make any money. I’ll pay the bill for you.”

That's not the only time that people in China have wanted to thank Ma, though. He also claimed that when he was buying coffee someone sent him a cigar with a note thanking him for making Alibaba. But Jack Ma says he doesn't smoke.

Original author: James Cook
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Michael DellREUTERSMichael Dell.

We caught up with Dell CEO Michael Dell this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

We had heard from one of Dell's investors a few days ago that the company is thriving as a private company. Mr. Dell enthusiastically confirmed that.

Dell says the Dell team is energized, reinvigorated, and aligned. He says that, after 25 years as a public company, it is a great relief to be private. PCs aren't dead, he says, and Windows 10 looks cool. Dell 's debt is getting upgraded as analysts realize the company isn't toast. Dell's software, server, and services business are growing in double digits. And, no, Google's "ChromeBooks" aren't going to take over the world.

Highlights:

* After 25 years as a public company, it is a wonderful relief to be private.  The administrative hassles and costs are much less, and you have far greater flexibility. You don't have to react to daily volatility and re-pricing, and there's less distraction, so you can focus on your business and team.

* Dell went public because the company needed capital — but these days there's plenty of capital available in the private market.  Dell went public in 1988, when Michael Dell was 23.  Over the next 25 years, the stock produced fantastic returns. But the one-two punch of the financial crisis and concerns about the "death of the PC" poleaxed Dell's stock and caused many people to write the company off for dead. Dell thought it would be easier to retool the company in the relative quiet of the private market, and he found investors willing to provide all the capital he needed. He understands why red-hot emerging tech companies like Uber, Palantir, Facebook, and Twitter don't go public until they are very mature — they can raise all the capital they need in the private market. There's no reason to subject yourself to the headaches of the public market if you don't have to.

* Dell's new management team is energized and aligned around the new mission — serving mid-market growth companies with comprehensive hardware, software, and services solutions.  Some of Dell's old managers did not want to sign up for another tour of duty, Dell says. After going private, Dell replaced these folks with younger, hungrier executives who were excited to take on their bosses' responsibilities. 

* Dell's debt, which some doomsayers thought would swamp the company, is now getting upgraded, as analysts realize Dell's future is much brighter than they thought. S&P, for example, recently raised its rating on Dell's debt to just a notch below "investment grade." 

* It turns out the PC isn't dead. There are 1.8 billion of them out there, Dell says, and a big percentage of them are more than 4 years old. Dell's PC business got a bump from the retirement of Windows 95 last year. Dell expects there will be be another bump from the launch of Microsoft's next version of Windows, Windows 10.

* Windows 10 looks good so far. Microsoft's last version of Windows, Windows 8, was a dud. No one wanted to buy a PC to get it. [In fact, many people and companies chose to avoid getting new PCs to avoid it.] Windows 10, in contrast, looks like a positive step. It will likely cause many older PC owners to upgrade, driving some growth in the PC market.

* Dell isn't just PCs anymore! The company's server, software, and services businesses are doing well, Dell says. Server growth is up double-digits year over year. 

* Google's ChromeBooks — cheap, stripped-down computers that don't run Windows — are popular in some segments of the market, but they're not going to take over the world.  Dell sells some ChromeBooks. They're doing well in some market segments, like education. But Michael Dell thinks they may end up looking like the netbook market of a few years ago. They sound great, at first, especially for the low price of $249. But then many buyers find that they don't do what they want or expect them to do.

Original author: Henry Blodget
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It looks as though Facebook is ready to kill off FBX, the ad exchange it launched back in 2012. In recent months it has become less and less of a priority for the company and now it seems the market’s shift to mobile is hammering the final nail in FBX’s coffin.

David Fischer, Facebook’s vice president of advertising, hinted at FBX’s demise at Adexchanger’s Industry Preview conference on Thursday, Digiday reports. He said FBX wouldn't be a focal point going forward.

Business Insider has contacted Facebook for a comment on FBX's status.

As Ari Paparo, the CEO of adtech company Beeswax, tweeted to summarize Fischer’s presentation: “David Fischer on FBX: a) it’s for desktop retargeting; b) not coming to mobile; c) there are better ways to reach FB audience. Dead.”

Other members of the digital ad industry also responded to the news, mentioning that the death knell for FBX had been ringing for some time.

The rumoured death of Facebook's ad exchange reveals the difficulties of adapting desktop tech to a mobile world http://t.co/6VAFop7d6j

Sounds like FBX spending may have peaked, with other FB products scaling further #ip2015

@aripap There are still some benefits to FBX, but I agree that it appears that the future is elsewhere.

@aripap FBX being on road to death has been true for a long time especially since they nuked antonia as fbx prod lead

@pkafka I feel like the primary purpose is to hurt the rest of the banner business by lowering prices.

FBX launched as Facebook’s answer to Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s RightMedia — which, incidentally, Yahoo shut down earlier this month. It was the first ever social media real-time bidding (RTB) ad exchange and let advertisers buy Facebook ad inventory that retargeted users based on their online browsing history. It was largely responsible for those “right-rail” ads you see on Facebook. It fulfilled a very specific marketing objective — “demand fulfillment — and very early on produced some stellar results for advertisers against search campaigns.

But just three years from launch, those kinds of ads are out-dated for two reasons:

News Feed Facebook’s focus is on News Feed ads, not the right-rail. FBX inventory did also consist of News Feed ads, but Facebook’s big sell to advertisers is about the branding opportunities News Feed ads can offer as it looks to take on other media like TV for ad dollars. FBX inventory was more about direct response ads, which do not command the expensive ad rates that broadcast ads do. Elsewhere, it has also been prioritizing and embarked on a hiring spree for its Atlas ad server, which allows the company to sell and deliver ads outside of the Facebook platform.

Facebook mobile ad revenue EmarketereMarketer

Mobile Facebook has pivoted to becoming a mobile company. Unfortunately for ad exchanges that specialize in retargeting, cookies don’t work on mobile. As Digiday points out, to overcome this, Facebook has been touting its Custom Audiences product, which uses a smartphone’s unique identification number to allow advertisers to retarget people who have used their mobile apps. 

Facebook’s mobile ad revenue set to completely dwarf its desktop revenue next year, and by 2018, 75% of Facebook’s users will be mobile users, according to estimates released this week from eMarketer. So it’s little wonder FBX, Facebook’s shiny new ad product a mere three years ago, is being sidelined.

Original author: Lara O'Reilly
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BeyoncéMonica Schipper/Getty ImagesBeyoncé has threatened legal action against Etsy over a line of mugs riffing on her name, TMZ reports.

The online marketplace allows anyone to sell their handcrafted goods — a kind of boutique eBay. And one popular item on the site was a mug emblazoned with "Feyoncé," with a ring for the "O" — a play on the word "fiance" referring to Beyoncé's hit "Single Ladies."

It turns out Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter doesn't like that mug one bit.

According to TMZ, the A-list singer's lawyers "fired off a letter to the company crying foul... and then threatening them."

Of course, Etsy doesn't make these items themselves. Anyone can sell their items on the site without prior approval from the company, or even their knowledge. But the company does have a duty to respond to objections and potential legal issues if it doesn't want to be held responsible for potentially illegal content sold on its site. (It's the same reason YouTube deletes copyrighted material from its site.)

Etsy has folded, and the mugs in question are no longer available. But other products with "Feyoncé" branding are still available, however — though it's unclear whether the singer intends to threaten legal action against them as well.

feyonceEtsySome of the "Feyoncé" items still available for purchase on Etsy.

If it came to trial, it's not clear whether Beyoncé would actually win. There are exemptions to copyright for "fair use," and the "Feyoncé" articles could arguably be considered parody. (There are thousands of T-shirts that jokingly twist popular companies' logos, for example.) It'd also be hard to make the argument that the singer has been negatively impacted or deprived of revenue because of the items' sale.

More likely, the Beyoncé's entourage is just attempting to zealously control every aspect of her (highly polished) personal brand. And Etsy, not wanting the legal headache, backed down without a fight.

Original author: Rob Price
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O2Reuters/Eddie KeoghTelefonica could sell O2 for £10.25 billion. Telefonica has entered "exclusive negotiations" with Hong Kong investment conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to sell O2 for £10.25 billion, the Spanish company said Friday.

The announcement confirms speculation earlier this week that billionaire businessman Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest man and chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, had his eyes set on the acquisition.

It means Ka-shing's network Three would combine with O2, Britain's second-largest mobile provider, to form a much larger customer base. Three is the UK's fastest growing network and has around 7.5 million customers, while O2 has 23 million. 

In a statement, Telefónica said:

The agreement includes an initial amount of £9.25bn (approximately €12.2bn) which would be paid at closing of the transaction and an additional  deferred payment of £1.0bn (approximately €1.3bn). The exclusivity period will last several weeks, allowing Telefónica and Hutchison Whampoa Group to negotiate definitive agreements, while the necessary due diligence process on O2 UK is completed.

The company said the move marks "another step in Telefónica’s transformation process" as it looks to become a leading digital telecoms operator and forge long-term growth.

Any deal would massively shake-up the already fluid mobile industry in the UK. In December, BT entered exclusive talks with Deutsche Telekom and Orange to buy EE for £12.5 billion.

The merger of Three and O2 could cause regulatory problems as it would reduce the number of providers by four to three. As the BBC suggests, this could cause a "competition issue" because it would leave just Three, EE, and Vodafone as the market's key players.

But Hutchison Whampoa group finance director Frank Sixt says there have been similar deals in other countries. In Ireland, a change from four to three companies was approved by competition regulators in Brussels. 

"The European Commission has taken a positive view of four-to-three consolidations of mobile in three cases now...and we believe that the precedents that they have set in those transactions will apply for this transaction," he told the BBC.

Others think there is cause for concern. Chief research officer art telecoms consultancy Ovum, Mark Newman, questions whether such a consolidation would force prices up. He points to the Austrian market, which has recently gone from five operators to three, consequently leading to price increases. 

Original author: Joshua Barrie
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Original author: James Cook
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Houthi Rebels YemenKhaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/REUTERSA frontal view of a tank barrel is seen as Shi'ite Houthi rebels stand on its turret, after they took over the compound of the army's First Armoured Division in Sanaa September 22, 2014.Hello! Here's what you need to know for Friday.

1. Saudi Arabia's 91-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died early Friday and his half-brother Salman was named the new king.

2. Oil prices jumped on the news of King Abdullah's death.

3. The European Central Bank announced a huge quantitative easing (QE) programme Thursday in which it will buy bonds worth €60 billion each month until the end of September 2016

4. Yemen's president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his prime minister resigned on Thursday, citing the seizure of the capital Sanaa by Houthi fighters in September as a key reason. 

5. Libyan militants seized a Central Bank facility in Benghazi with a reported $100 billion (£66 billion) in cash.

6. Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner says the death of a prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre was not a suicide, contrary to earlier suggestions from officials.

7. 300 vials of GlaxoSmithKline's experimental Ebola vaccine is on its way to Libera.

8. Britain's Prince Andrew denied allegations he had sex with an underage girl, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for the first time since the claims. 

9. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the Cold War Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight, which signals global disaster.

10. Democratic speaker of the New York Assembly Sheldon Silver, considered one of the three most powerful men in New York, has been taken into FBI custody on fraud charges

And finally...

Höegh Osaka, the cargo ship full of luxury cars that was deliberately run aground at the beginning of January, has finally been refloated and towed back to Southampton port.

Original author: Dina Spector
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tim cookLucy Nicholson/Reuters

Being Apple's CEO is a lot of work.

So much work, in fact, that Apple paid Tim Cook a handsome sum for all the vacation days he didn't take in 2014, according to a recent filing.

Cook got $56,923 in vacation cash-out last year, the value of all the time he worked instead of taking time off.

For comparison, the median household income in the US was around $54,000 last year.

Cook also got a $6.7 million bonus last year, so the vacation pay may not matter so much.

Apple's CEO wasn't the only exec to leave vacation time on the table last year.

Eddy Cue, Apple's SVP of Internet Software and Services, got $42,308 of vacation cash-out in 2014.

These payments are just a small portion of Cook and Cue's overall compensation, but they demonstrate just how valuable Apple's top brass is to the company on a daily basis.

Original author: Sam Colt
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Aaron Levie Box CEOMax Morse/Getty ImagesBox CEO Aaron Levie

Box raised its IPO price to $14 a share, making it worth about $1.67 billion, Reuters reported Thursday.

That’s slightly more than the initial pricing range of $11 to $13 a share Box had set in its S1 two weeks ago. At $14 a share, Box will be able to raise $175 million from its IPO.

Raising the IPO price usually means investor interest is high, so that’s good thing for Box. But the $1.67 billion price tag is still far lower than what it was worth last July, when it raised $150 million at a $2.4 billion valuation.

If Box does go public Friday as planned, it would be a big moment for Box CEO Aaron Levie and his management team. It’s been nearly a year since Box filed its first S1, and it reportedly delayed its IPO multiple times blaming cooling market conditions.

In an interview with Business Insider in November, Box CEO Aaron Levie admitted the IPO process has been "unusual," saying he wouldn't have filed at the time he did if he had known what was going to happen to the market.

Box had $153.8 million in sales in the first nine months of 2014. But that came at the expense of $152.3 million in sales and marketing alone, which resulted in a total net loss of $121.5 million. 

In the S1, Box indicated that it has no plans of slowing its spending as it wrote, "We have invested, and expect to continue to invest, in our sales and marketing organizations to sell our services around the world." It also wrote it does not expect to be profitable in the foreseeable future.

Box is expected to start trading Friday morning on the NYSE under the ticker symbol BOX. 

Original author: Eugene Kim
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Original author: Thiago Guimarães
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We're learning just how much Apple's top executives get paid, thanks to a recent filing.

Unsurprisingly, upper management gets paid a lot.

Here's the breakdown:

Tim Cook, CEO

tim cookREUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Cook made $9,222,638 in 2014, more than double what he pulled in the year before. None of Cook's stock vested this year, but in 2011 he was awarded about $376 million in restricted stock units that will turn into shares he can sell over the next decade.

Luca Maestri, SVP and CFO

Lucas MaestriApple

Luca Maestri joined Apple in 2013 and was promoted to CFO last year. He made over $14 million in 2014. His pay from 2012 and 2013 is omitted because he wasn't an executive officer then.

Peter Oppenheimer, Former CFO

apple cfo peter oppenheimerApple

Peter Oppenheimer was Apple's CFO before announcing he would retire last March. Luca Maestri assumed Oppenheimer's role last year. Oppenheimer made $4.5 million last year, a paltry sum compared to the nearly $68.6 million he pulled in in 2012.

Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Retail and Online stores

Angela AhrendtsGetty / Ian GavanAngela Ahrendts made $73.3 million in 2014, most of it in Apple stock. Apple said Ahrendts' stock package was based on her high salary and unvested equity at Burberry, where she was CEO before coming to Apple last May. Her pay from 2012 and 2013 is omitted because she wasn't working for Apple yet.

Eddy Cue, SVP of Internet Software and Services

tim cook eddy cueGetty ImagesEddy Cue pulled in a neat $24.4 million in 2014, most of it from a $20 million stock award. Cue didn't have any stock awards in 2013 but was given $50 million in Apple shares in 2012.

Jeff Williams, SVP of Operations

Jeff Williams Apple Close-upAppleJeff Williams is Tim Cook's right-hand man at Apple. Williams also recieved a $20 million stock award last year, bringing his total pay to around $24.4 million.

Here's the full breakdown of Apple's executive compensation:

Apple Executive CompEdgar Online

Original author: Sam Colt
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M-PesaSayyid Abdul Azim/APCustomers are assisted at an M-Pesa counter in Nairobi, Kenya, to make a money transfer. A mobile phone banking service called M-Pesa allows people without a bank account to transfer money between phones instantly anywhere in the country.

Over the next 15 years, digital banking will give over 2 billion people an unprecedented level of control over their financial assets, according to the Gates Foundation. The key to this access will be mobile phones. 

In its annual letter published Thursday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation outlined its goals for the next 15 years, one of which is to help the poor transform their lives by giving them access to mobile banking.

The letter states that roughly 25 billion adults in the world do not currently have a bank account, which prevents them from effectively using what little assets they have. 

The lack of access to efficient financial services means many poor people often waste valuable time and money delivering cash to family members by hand or paying high interest rates to unregulated moneylenders. Instead of storing their assets in banks, they hide their cash under the mattress where it only loses value over time. 

The Gates Foundation predicts that by 2030, the 2 billion people who don't have a bank account will be making payments and purchases with their phones. They will also use their phones to store money with mobile money providers that will provide them with a full range of financial services — from loans to interest-bearing savings accounts. 

It doesn't make financial sense to build a bank branch in a remote village because the poor only save and borrow in small amounts. But as the letter points out, the marginal cost of producing a digital transaction is near zero, and over 70% of adults in developing countries own cellphones — this means mobile banking companies would receive small commissions of millions of transactions at a negligible cost to them. In this way, mobile banking companies would profit from providing their services to even the poorest individuals. 

The letter cites a Bangladeshi mobile money provider called bKash, which processes roughly 2 million transactions per day adding up to a value of nearly $1 billion each month. Access to bKash is still unequal, however: 76% of men in Bangladesh have a phone versus only 46% of women. 

This problem of disproportionate access is only one challenge facing the mobile banking industry. Others include government regulation, which in many countries limits digital banking, and a lack of locations where people can turn their digital money into cash and vice versa. Still, the Gates Foundation remains optimistic about the number of entrepreneurs worldwide who are devoting themselves to digital financial innovation.

The letter also outlined the Foundation's other goals for 2030, which included totally eradicating diseases such as Polio and Guinea worm and drastically reducing the rate of child mortality worldwide.

Original author: Natasha Bertrand
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Posted by on in Technology

eBay reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 2014 on Wednesday night, and it was mostly brutal news from the online marketplace. The company's revenue fell short of expectations, and the company announced it will cut 2,400 jobs, or 7% of its total workforce, early this year.

So why is eBay's outlook so bad? Just take a look at the company's gross merchandise volume (GMV), which represents the total value of goods sold — it's a good indicator for how healthy an e-commerce site like eBay is doing. Based on the company's data charted for us by BI Intelligence, eBay's GMV growth has slowed down considerably to just 2% year-over-year, down from 13% year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Even though this is bad news for eBay, BI Intelligence believes this could make it a more attractive target for an acquisition once it splits from PayPal later this year. Though eBay faces increased competition and, last year, suffered a massive security breach, it is still a household name that could help a company's standing in the e-commerce market for a relatively cheap price tag.

bii sai cotd ebay gmvBI Intelligence

Original author: Dave Smith
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Slack CEO Stewart ButterfieldSlackSlack CEO Stewart Butterfield

One of Silicon Valley's hottest young companies is Slack, the business messaging app that was valued at a jaw-dropping $1.1 billion valuation in October, just 9 months after it launched.

Zero to over $1 billion in 9 months?

Even by Silicon Valley’s loose standards, that seems insane.

And now Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has admitted that the valuation was based almost as much on speculation as it was on traditional metrics.

Ian interview with Fortune, Butterfield explained, “There are fairly precise methods for putting a value on future cash flow given steady business," but since Slack's business is skyrocketing, not steady, he admitted, "We’re not in that position, obviously.”

The issue: Slack is growing at such a fast rate that it's hard to come up with meaningful business projections. Since its launch in February when it claimed to have 15,000 daily active users, Slack has grown to have 365,000 users. That’s nearly 25X growth in just a year, all without any real spending on sales and marketing.

Slack claims to be adding $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) every month, with “near perfect” retention rates. ARR doesn't mean actual revenue. But it's a good indicator of a cloud software company's health since it represents the value of the total subscription contracts expected to recur for the next 12 months. Based on those metrics, Slack would have made a little over $12 million last year.

That amount of revenue doesn't seem like enough to justify Slack’s billion-dollar valuation, but it does show that companies are willing to pay for its service. And that's what the VCs are counting on.

“We’ve established that people would pay for us. Slack is being valued based on its ability to make money rather than something more speculative,” Butterfield told us in a previous interview.

Valuations are a tricky business, too, because they are based in part on how much money venture capitalists are willing to invest in exchange for how big of a chunk of the company they'll own. In the end, if the investors and the company agree, that's what the company is worth.

And it looks like investors were lining up to invest in Slack. Butterfield says he was initially trying to raise only $100 million, but he saw so much interest that he ended up raising $120 million, with $200 million in commitments. It also probably helped that Butterfield is a well-known figure in the Valley, having sold his previous company, Flickr, to Yahoo for about $35 million in 2005.

In Slack's case, there was a bit of a leap here, too, apparently. Butterfield didn't really need the money. But Butterfield saw that venture was relatively easy to raise right now, and having lived through the 2008 downturn, wanted to strike while he could. He also wanted Slack to be known as a $1 billion company. His logic: Being in the "Billion Dollar Club" helps to acquire new customers and great talent.

“One billion is better than $800 million because it’s the psychological threshold for potential customers, employees, and the press," he told Fortune.

Yet still, it’s unclear if the app is just a trend or a real long-term business. Some companies are just leaving the space altogether. Basecamp, for example, dropped a business group chat app called Campfire from its product lineup in early 2014. 

Even Butterfield seems to concede: when asked why Slack is so popular at a recent conference, he said, “I have no f—ing idea.”

 

Original author: Eugene Kim
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Barrett BrownYoutube/Barrett BrownBarrett Brown


An activist and writer linked to the hacking collective Anonymous was sentenced to prison on Thursday for threatening an FBI agent and helping share stolen data, marking the end of a criminal case criticized by free-speech advocates.

Barrett Lancaster Brown originally faced charges that carried more than 100 years in prison, but he pleaded guilty to greatly reduced charges last year. Supporters say Brown, who was sentenced to five years in prison, was targeted by th federal government after sharing data hacked from the Austin-based defense contractor Stratfor.

The 33-year-old was often quoted on the workings of Anonymous, a shadowy group of hackers that has staged several high-profile attacks on governments and businesses all over the world. Brown courted attention on the Internet with provocative tweets and YouTube videos — including a live chat he conducted while taking a bubble bath. But some of those posts also landed him in trouble, including one in which he threatened an FBI agent.

Brown, who has been jailed for more than two years, read a lengthy statement before he was sentenced, saying he broke the law to reveal illegal government activity going unpunished.

"If I criticize the government for breaking the law, but then break the law myself in an effort to reveal their wrongdoing, I should expect to be punished just I've called for the criminals at government-linked firms... to be punished," he said. "When we start fighting crime by any means necessary, we become guilty of the same hypocrisy as law enforcement agencies throughout history that break the rules to get the villains, and so become villains themselves."

He was arrested in September 2012, shortly after posting a video in which he threatened an FBI agent by name, promising to "ruin his life and look into his (expletive) kids." Three separate indictments followed, carrying a maximum sentence of more than century in prison.

Brown's lawyers won the dismissal of most of a broad indictment related to his posting a link to the Stratfor data.

He eventually pleaded guilty in April to three counts: obstructing the execution of a search warrant, making Internet threats and being an accessory to an unauthorized access of a protected computer. The reduced charges carried a maximum sentence of more than eight years in prison.

According to plea agreement documents he signed, Brown admitted to sending online messages "threatening to shoot and injure" FBI agents.

anonymousRahman Roslan/Getty Images

Brown also acknowledged helping someone access the stolen data and obstructing the execution of a search warrant at his home. His mother pleaded guilty to helping Brown hide laptops during a March 2012 raid, and was given six months' probation.

The case drew attention as the U.S. Justice Department sought in recent years to subpoena reporters' phone records and force some to testify in criminal cases. Among Brown's supporters is Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who reported on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Brown has continued to be published online while in custody with the help of his lawyers and supporters.

Prosecutors have declined public comment but made negative and occasionally sarcastic references in court documents to the attention the case has received.

Much of the publicity about Brown contains "gross fabrications and substantially false recitations of facts and law which may harm both the government and the defense during jury selection," prosecutors wrote last year in a motion accusing Brown of trying "to continue to manipulate the public."

Original author: Associated Press
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marissa mayerREUTERS/Denis Balibouse Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

When Marissa Mayer became Yahoo's CEO in 2012, she was faced with restoring a failing internet giant back to its former glory.

Shortly after joining the company, she implemented a Quarterly Performance Review system, which was similar to a Google practice, Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson writes in his book "Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!." 

It had managers place their employees into "buckets": 10% in "greatly exceeds," 25% in "exceeds," 50% in "achieves," 10% in "occasionally misses," and 5% in "misses."

In a company-wide meeting in October 2013, Mayer agreed to have employees anonymously submit questions and have colleagues vote on the best ones. There was an overwhelming backlash against the QPR, according to Carlson.

The first question Mayer read to her audience illustrated the main problem with QPRs and other "stack ranking" systems:

I was forced to give an employee an occasionally misses, [and] was very uncomfortable with it. Now I have to have a discussion about it when I have my QPR meetings. I feel so uncomfortable because in order to meet the bell curve, I have to tell the employee that they missed when I truly don't believe it to be the case. I understand we want to weed out mis-hires/people not meeting their goals, but this practice is concerning. I don't want to lose the person mentally. How do we justify?

This particular question received 1,531 votes from employees and was just one of many. And gripes against the stack ranking system weren't isolated to Yahoo.

According to a 2012 Vanity Fair profile of Microsoft, the large majority of Microsoft employees under CEO Steve Ballmer found stack ranking to be the most destructive force within the company, saying that it "effectively crippled Microsoft's ability to innovate." It eventually shed the practice in late 2013.

Many large corporations have done the same in the past several years. Research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity shows that 49% of the companies it tracks used a stack ranking management system in 2009, while only 6% of those same companies did two years later.

Stack ranking became widely practiced in the 1980s and remained popular for nearly three decades after Jack Welch used it to great success as CEO of GE. Welch explains the initial effectiveness of this system in a USA Today interview from 2005:

It's letting the bottom 10% know where they are and then giving them a chance to move on. About 70% (of the bottom 10%) leave on their own. Who wants to be on the bottom once they know it? You don't fire them. That's being mean. This is not a mean-spirited thing. It's you sitting across the table from me and telling me, "Jack, you're not measuring up. You're going to have to improve." If I don't, you tell me that it's best for me and my family to find someplace else to work.

But when many companies put it into practice, they weren't flexible with their reviews. If a team sheds a few blatant underachievers in a couple rounds of these reviews, then a competent worker is one step closer to being on the bottom for slightly underperforming on team-wide goals compared to one of his colleagues.

"What's happened in the last 15 or 20 years is that HR has started to take a more analytical approach," says Cliff Stevenson, senior researcher at the Institute for Corporate Productivity. "We started to see the rise of evidence-based human resources, and when they looked at the numbers they weren't finding success [with stack ranking]. In fact, they were finding negative correlations to employee engagement and especially to innovation."

Teams do not neatly fall into bell curves of performance, the current consensus finds, and instead should be reviewed on an individual basis. 

Additional reporting by Max Nisen.

Original author: Richard Feloni
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atherton houseRedfinA 9,000-square-foot home belonging to a Silicon Valley-based financier has just hit the market for $28 million. 

The steep listing price is not uncommon for Atherton, a ritzy Silicon Valley town that has been named America's most expensive zip code by Forbes for two years in a row. The median listing price for a single-family home in Atherton is a whopping $9.03 million.

The house sits on nearly three acres of land, complete with a guest house, pool, tennis court, and expansive gardens.

Carol MacCorkle of Pacific Union International has the listing.

Original author: Madeline Stone
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Turn Down For WhatProduct HuntPranking friends and coworkers never gets old, but old stand bys like covering a colleague's desk in tinfoil can feel tired. 

Product Hunt, a discovery site focused on new products, put together a collection of the best apps and services to catch your pal off guard or at least make them crack a smile. 

These are some of our favorites.

Original author: Taylor Lorenz
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Apple is paying its retail boss Angela Ahrendts $73.4 million in cash and stock, according to a new filing.

By contrast, Apple CEO Tim Cook's compensation is about $9 million.

Here's Apple's explanation for Ahrendts' pay from the filing. She was making about $37 million at her former job as CEO of Burberry:

In determining her transition package, the Compensation Committee considered Ms. Ahrendts’ compensation arrangement at Burberry and the amounts that she was expected to receive in future years. At the time, Ms. Ahrendts was among the highest paid executives in the UK and held unvested Burberry equity awards with a value of approximately $37 million. She also received cash and perquisites from Burberry that exceeded $5 million annually, which was significantly higher than the cash opportunities provided to the Company’s executive officers. 

Ahrendts officially joined Apple in May of 2014, although she was hired several months before that. One of her big tasks this year will be to sell the Apple Watch, which comes in dozens of varieties, in Apple Stores.

Ahrendts' predecessor, John Browett, left Apple in October 2012 after only seven months on the job. It took Apple nearly a year to hire Ahrendts as Browett's replacement.

Original author: Steve Kovach
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The alleged mastermind behind the world's largest drug emporium was more than just a kingpin.

Prosecutors say he was also a businessman who, like any entrepreneur, had employees to hire and spreadsheets to update — he just had to do it all in secret. 

As it turns out, Ross Ulbricht — who the government has accused of being Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder and operator of illegal drugs marketplace Silk Road — was not very good at covering his tracks if federal prosecutors are to be believed. 

On Wednesday, digital forensics expert and FBI agent Tom Kiernan testified against Ulbricht and cited the many incriminating documents the agency says it found on his laptop.

The files ranged from Ulbricht's personal journal entries, in which he discussed Silk Road extensively, to chat logs between Ulbricht and his Silk Road employees. Kiernan says he even found an accounting spreadsheet on Ulbricht's laptop titled "Expense_Report" which listed various Silk Road expenses like "payroll," "rent," (referring to the montly cost of renting Silk Road's servers) and "commissions." 

Other notable expenses included a new laptop and a "420 Grand Prize" of $4,000 and an all-expenses-paid vacation awarded to one Silk Road user who was instructed to "Roll up a doobie and put your party hat on."

Also found on Ulbricht's laptop were identification documents of his alleged employees, who were required to prove their identities to Ulbricht before they could work for Silk Road. It wasn't easy finding employees for Silk Road. In one chat log, according to the FBI, Ulbricht told an employee that he had to dip into the local Silk Road community looking for applicants after no one from bitcointalk.org expressed any interest.

"Working for a criminal enterprise isn't exactly attractive to everyone," Ulbricht allegedly wrote. "But more and more I'm trying to spread the responsibility around."

But the pay was attractive enough, and there was room for growth. Records show Ulbricht's employees were paid anywhere from $500-$2,000 per week depending on their responsibilities and how long they'd been employed, according to the FBI. There was even a "careers" link at the bottom of the Silk Road homepage. 

Potential staff were sometimes hesitant to send Ulbricht the personal information he required of all employees, according to records the FBI obtained. But Ulbricht told them the risk of getting caught was quite small, chat logs show. 

"Put yourself in the shoes of the prosecutor trying to build a case against you," Ulbricht allegedly wrote to a potential employee. "What evidence could they pin on you? Realistically, the only way for them to prove anything would be for them to watch you log in and do your work."

Ulbricht's statement turned out to be eerily prophetic. As we now know, law enforcement officers followed Ulbricht to a San Francisco library where he often worked on his laptop, walking up behind him as he unknowingly chatted with an undercover FBI agent while logged on to Silk Road's servers. 

In opening statements, the defense said Ulbricht had created Silk Road as an "economic experiment" but later handed it off to someone else once it became too chaotic. This "someone else," the real Dread Pirate Roberts, is still out there, Ulbricht's lawyers argue. The defense says its client was just a "fall guy."

We have reached out to Ulbricht's lawyer for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

Original author: Natasha Bertrand
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