26th September 2019

Written by Katie Stanton (Senior Associate)



According to Katie Stanton, data is power – and big tech companies have got us by the Johnson.
















Good morning,


As one of four children, I understand the importance of the power dynamic.


You want the front seat? Earn it. First shower in the morning? Fight for it. Best presents at Christmas? Lie, cheat and steal, baby. It’s a ruthless world out there and one of us has to rule this roost. (Obviously, it was me).


Politically, however, we seem to have misplaced our leader.


Or rather, we have one, but he’s more a semi-fictional, paper leader; a mythical caricature with the pomp of high office, but without power or authority. One that looks the part yet can be torn with ease into tiny pieces, melted away with the flick of a water bucket, his integrity fundamentally destroyed by comrades and challengers alike, leaving behind him nothing but a sloppy mess on the Commons floor.


It’s a pity. Happily, it doesn’t really matter.


For in reality, power lies far beyond the gables of Westminster, Holyrood or any national assembly. It sits, in fact, with the big corporate tech hubs nestled on the periphery of cities. You may associate them more commonly with bypasses, ring-roads, and McDonald’s drive-thrus (see: Slough).


This is where innovation is born, and we rely on it.


The rise of the “life-saving” app What3words is a prime example. Essentially, the technology has divided the world into three metre squares, apportioning each a unique three-word address. This allows for people to be easily located in emergencies. In the UK alone, 60 emergency services use it.


What’s more, it has given billions of people without a formal address access to one for the first time. In Mongolia, it is now the official addressing system used by banks, postal services and taxis. Carmakers in Germany are using it for navigation systems; Cabify (Uber’s main competitor in Latin America) has adopted the tech so users can specify locations to their hearts content; and a South Korean messaging app is utilising it to locate off-the-beaten-track fishing spots. It’s a total game-changer – for fishermen and firemen alike.


But with this immense growth comes incredible power. What3words – and more specifically its founder and CEO Chris Sheldrick – now holds the key to search and rescue operations across the globe, and you need their permission to access it. If the firm goes under, where does the database go? What’s more, what happens to all the personal data it gathers?


Alas, What3words is just the latest in a long list of tech companies with unprecedented power. The retail realm pretty much belongs to Jeff Bezos and his Amazon empire; Google’s got a list of your darkest search engine secrets, ultimate control over the true gateway to your soul; and Facebook certainly knows everything about you, drip feeding information nuggets to third-party advertisers (and, ostensibly, questionable consulting firms). To top it off, Elon Musk is on track to put his name on the deeds for space in general, the unrivalled landlord of Mars’ finest real estate.


These CEOs are our unelected leaders, our gentleman Messiahs, with the egos and stage presence to match. They know we need them much more than any politician wielding a red box full of promises, white papers and a couple of homemade London buses.


These days, data is power – and big tech companies have got us by the Johnson.



News


Boris Johnson is facing backlash from MPs after he was accused of using “dangerous” language over Brexit. In a heated Commons debate yesterday, the prime minister repeatedly accused MPs of “sabotaging” Brexit, accusing them of passing a “surrender act”. He was urged to curb his “violent” remarks, given MPs had faced death threats from people using similar language. Johnson described one intervention from Paula Sherriff, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, as “humbug”.


A call log released by the White House has revealed President Trump pressed Ukraine’s leader for information relating to corruption allegations against political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump repeatedly reminded President Zelensky of Ukraine’s reliance on American military aid, according to the transcript that has triggered an impeachment inquiry. (£)


According to researchers at Newcastle University, delicate washing machine cycles release 800,000 extra fibres than a standard wash and should therefore be avoided whenever possible to avoid polyester microplastics from building up in our environment.



Business & Economy


KPMG has moved 800 staff and approximately 20 partners from its advisory division into its audit department as it seeks to prepare itself for a “more separate future”. Any consultant who spends more than 10% of their time advising auditors will now sit within the audit department, in a move to prepare the firm for a sector overhaul by politicians and regulators. (£)


The US and Japan have agreed an initial trade deal that will eliminate or lower tariffs on certain products traded between the two countries. Duties on some agricultural goods will be removed or lowered, while digital products will also benefit.


The total bill for Prudential’s ambitious plan to split itself in two has been put at more than £430 million in the first year. Britain’s biggest insurer is planning to demerge its M&G fund management operation. Chairman Paul Manduca said in a letter to shareholders that the total cost to Prudential will be around £350 million, while its demerged M&G business would incur at least an extra £80 million a year in head office costs. (£)documentation.


Markets


What happened yesterday?


UK shares had a dreary start to the day yesterday amid political turmoil and the collapse of Thomas Cook. At lunchtime, the index was trading one per cent lower, before rallying somewhat to close down 0.2%.


TUI led the losers, finishing down 4.54% after gains earlier in the week. The travel giant wasn’t alone: Aveva, Halma, Mondi and Melrose Industries all fell more than three per cent.


But it wasn’t all bad news. BAT was up 2.82% and Imperial Brands was up 2.3% after two major US players in the tobacco sector abandoned merger talks. Altria Group and Philip Morris International had been in negotiations, however, a regulatory crackdown on e-cigarettes has put a stop to the merger worth an estimated $200 billion. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s was up 2.25% at close of play after announcing the closure of 60 Argos branches as part of its cost reduction strategy.


Across the pond, US stocks overcame a rocky start to the day after Donald Trump released the transcript of the phone conversation at the centre of an impeachment inquiry. The release contained no direct evidence that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as leverage in a bid to smear his political rival, Joe Biden. Consequently, the S&P 500 was up 0.3% while the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.4%.


On the currency markets, the pound dropped 0.9% against the dollar to $1.24 in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overrule Boris Johnson’s attempt to stop MPs from debating Brexit. Against the euro it was down 0.37% at €1.13.


Whats happening today?



Finals

Orient Telecom.



Interims

Alfa Fin

Allied Minds

Arricano Real

Circassia

Ebiquity

Eve Sleep

Northbridge Ind

Pelatro Plc



AGMs

Alcentra Gbp

Argo Group

Finncap Group

Illika Plc

Kainos Group

Kromek

Nwf

Real Good Food

Sure Ventures

Trakm8 Hldgs



Int Economic Announcements

(09:00) M3 Money Supply (EU)

(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)

(13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditures (US)

(13:30) Gross Domestic Product (US)

(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)

(15:00) Pending Homes Sales (US)



Columns of Note

In this week’s Atlantic, Sophie Knight has found a novel solution to redressing the gender imbalance at home. She has started invoicing her partner for housework. The nature of their work – his being at an office and hers being at home – meant that she fell into those classic, systemic gender patterns which saw her doing a disproportionate level of housework. Ultimately, her strategy failed in incentivising him to do more; and she didn’t want more money, just more time. Still, the piece is a really interesting exploration of a frustration that has plagued women for centuries.


Simon Nixon argues in this morning’s edition of The Times that the central argument of Brexiteers – that Europe is falling apart – was wrong. This assumption held that the Union was unstable and liable for collapse, so naturally we should get out before it’s too late. Yet, three years post-referendum, the EU has not burned down as some might have thought. In fact, it is stronger. There is no shadow of the financial crisis looming, no scary accessions have taken place, and broadly mainstream pro-European governments have been elected in France and Germany. The EU is doing fine, he asserts, and we’d do well to accept our newly subservient position. (£)



Did you know?


Edinburgh University’s Data and Visualisation project has mapped data from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft onto an interactive map. Click on a location to see the list of witches that lived and died there, including information about their individual cases. (Warning: do not go down this rabbit hole unless you have at least 20 minutes to spare, it is totally captivating).


Parliamentary highlights


Today


House of Commons

No business scheduled


House of Lords

No business scheduled


Scottish Parliament

General questions

First Minister’s questions

Portfolio questions

Stage one debate:

Scottish National Investment Bank Bill

Financial Resolution

Scottish National Investment Bank Bill


TOMORROW


House of Commons

No business scheduled


House of Lords

No business scheduled


Scottish Parliament

No business scheduled.