TIME Business

Big Idea 2015: The Coming Micropayment Disruption

Getty Images

Walter Isaacson is the author of “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.” Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has also been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine.

A flourishing digital economy based on easy payments could help save journalism and encourage the invention of new forms of media

The innovation that will shape the coming year, I think, will be the consumer use of digital currencies, such as bitcoin and its derivatives. Companies such as ChangeTip, BitWall, BitPay, and Coinbase – as well as other digital wallets that make use of cyber currencies or loyalty-points/miles currencies – will empower creators and consumers of content and wrest some power from the Amazons, Alibabas, and Apples. This will upend our current kludgy financial system and ignite an explosion of disruptive innovation.

Our current way of handling small transactions is a brain-dead anachronism. Even Apple Pay and other NFC systems, alas, require that payments go through the current banking and credit card systems. This adds transaction costs, both financial and mental, that make small impulse payments less feasible, especially for digital content online.

Likewise, instantly transferring money to friends, even those who have PayPal or Popmoney accounts, is more difficult than it should be. That’s why I have become addicted to my Akimbo card, which makes instant money transfers from my phone to friends and workers simple, and why I have invested in it and other disruptive money-transfer mechanisms.

An easy micropayment system for digital content could help save journalism. At the moment, most news sites are either beholden to advertisers or force readers to buy a subscription. Digital coins would add another option: people could click and pay a few pennies for an article. Frictionless coin systems that allowed us to buy digital content on impulse would support journalists who want to cater to their readers rather than just to advertisers. It would encourage news sites to produce content that is truly valued by users rather than churn out clickbait that aggregates eyeballs for advertisers

In my new book, The Innovators, I report on how the creators of the web envisioned protocols that would allow digital payments, and I argue that this would benefit individual artists, writers, bloggers, game-makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Ever since the British parliament passed the Statute of Anne four hundred years ago, people who created cool songs, plays, writings, and art had a right to get paid when copies were made of them. A flourishing cultural economy ensued. Likewise, easy digital payments will enable a new economy for those who sell such creations online.

A flourishing digital economy based on easy payments might also encourage the invention of new forms of media: collaboratively created role-playing games, interactive online plays and novels, and new ways to combine art and music and narrative.

In addition, it would expand the realm of crowdsourcing. At the moment, people make additions to Wikipedia or improvements to Linux out of the joy of contributing. That’s cool. But imagine a world in which non-fiction books, in-depth reporting, and various other creations could be done collaboratively, with a digital micropayment system that divvied up the revenues based on the use of each person’s contributions. I would love to curate the crowdsourced writing of a book this way.

That’s why I believe that digital currencies and micropayments are likely to be the disruptive innovation of 2015. Then we can move on to the big disruption of 2016, which will be breaking the stranglehold that monopolistic cable companies have over the way content is bundled and distributed for our televisions, so that we pay for only what we want, from wherever we want, and watch it when we want.

This Influencer post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Walter Isaacson shares his thoughts as part of LinkedIn’s Influencer series, “Big Ideas 2015” in which the brightest minds in business blog on LinkedIn about their predictions on ideas and trends that will shape 2015. LinkedIn Editor Amy Chen provides an overview of the 70+ Influencers that tackled this subject as part of the package. Follow Walter Isaacson and insights from other top minds in business on LinkedIn.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Business

Capitulating to Terrorists Will Only Make Things Worse

Sony Hack Theaters
A poster for the movie "The Interview" lays on the ground after being pulled from a display case by a worker at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. David Goldman—AP

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

There are steps that can be taken both by our government and by the private sector to confront these attacks on our liberty

If the North Korean government is in fact behind the hacking of Sony and the threats of violence directed against theaters that planned to show The Interview, then the United States has been a victim of warfare directed against our most basic right—free expression. Those who hacked and threatened violence succeeded in doing something the U.S. government could not do: namely censor a movie based on its content.

North Korea’s apparent victory over this film is but a coming attraction of things to come. If hacking and threats can shut down a poorly reviewed comedy, they can also shut down newspapers, magazines, television stations, and other media. This then was the Pearl Harbor of a war that is just beginning.

Like all wars, there were preludes. The prelude for this one came in an unlikely location: Yale University. Several years ago, the Yale University Press published a book on the controversy surrounding the cartoons of Mohammad that had appeared in several Scandinavian newspapers and provoked violent responses. Naturally, the book, as submitted, included the cartoons that were at the center of the dispute. But Yale University Press decided to censor these cartoons out of fear that their inclusion might endanger the lives of Yale students and faculty. Yale’s understandable decision set an unfortunate precedent that has now been followed by Sony and by the theaters that pressured Sony into canceling The Interview.

There is no simple solution to this dilemma. On the one hand, terrorists cannot be allowed to succeed in their censorial goals by hacking and threatening. On the other hand, responsible institutions must do everything in their power to protect their employees, their students, and the general public. It is precisely the object of the terrorists to create this dilemma, knowing that democracies will generally err on the sides of caution and protection.

In one sense, this dilemma is not unlike those faced by democracies that must decide whether to pay ransom to ISIS and other terrorists groups in order to prevent their citizens from being beheaded. There is no perfect solution to either dilemma. But there are steps that can be taken both by our government and by the private sector to confront these attacks on our liberty.

Our government must respond strongly, but it is constrained by North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. This should be an object lesson for how important it is to America, and to the rest of the world, to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran too is a cyber-superpower, as well as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. A nuclear Iran would stop at nothing to censor anything it found offensive to its radical brand of Islam. It may be too late to stop North Korea from flexing its nuclear muscles, but it is not too late to stop Iran from becoming the world’s most powerful censor.

The response of the private sector can be much stronger as well. When Islamic extremists directed threats were made against Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, several leading publishing companies agreed to publish the book jointly in a show of solidarity against censorial threats. Although Rushdie had to live in hiding for several years, as the result fatwa issued against him by Iran’s supreme leader, freedom of speech prevailed and his book was published and widely read. In the Sony case, there was no such collective support. Nor did Sony itself do everything it could to strike a proper balance between caution and artistic freedom. It should have offered the film free on the Internet so that millions of people around the world could choose to see what North Korea didn’t want them to see. They can still do this, thus showing the North Korean’s leaders that private companies have ways to fight back. Such an action would not eliminate all risks, but it would remove movie theaters in malls as soft and highly visible targets.

None of these proposals offer perfect solutions to an intractable dilemma that will only get worse if we simply capitulate to the censorial terrorists.

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME russia

Google Is Now Worth More Than the Entire Russian Stock Market

Google joins an elite list of companies, including Exxon Mobile, Microsoft and Apple

Google is now more valuable than the entire Russian stock market. Russia’s stock market is now worth $325 billion while Google is valued at more than $340 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The news comes as Russia’s currency, the ruble, continues to stumble under pressure from declining oil prices and western sanctions. Russia’s gold reserves have also declined to their lowest point since 2009.

Google joins an elite list of companies, including Exxon Mobile, Microsoft and Apple, worth more than the entire Russian market.

Read next: Leaked Sony Emails Reveal How Much Movie Studios Hate Google

TIME Business

McDonald’s Japan is Facing a French Fry Shortage

Labor dispute on the West Coast has delayed production

McDonald’s Japan is only selling small-size french fries because a labor dispute among ports on America’s West Coast has delayed shipments of supplies, Reuters reports.

“Unfortunately without this sales restriction step, we would run the danger of running out of fries at some of our stores around the end of the year or beginning of the new year,” McDonald’s Japan spokeswoman Kokoro Toyama told Reuters.

To help avoid a shortage, the company is ordering shipments of frozen potatoes from East Coast ports to Japan—the biggest Asian market for frozen potatoes made in America.

McDonald’s Japan reportedly has not said when it would resume selling larger sizes, but Reuters points out there does not seem to be a limit on how many small-size fries customers can buy.



TIME Bizarre

Why This Company Sent Poop to 30,000 People for Black Friday

"Initially we got a dozen people who were really surprised it was poop, but it was just actual poop."

Christmas came early this year for 30,000 people who received a box of poop in the mail last week.

The sleekly designed box filled with actual excrement came courtesy of Cards Against Humanity, a fill-in-the-blank party game where players try to one up each other with phrase cards ranging from merely politically incorrect to legitimately disgusting. Costing $6 a pop, the special offer was a part of the stunt-loving company’s Black Friday sale.

“We all really hate Black Friday, it’s just kind of a horrible day,” says game co-creator Max Temkin. “It comes after this day where you’re supposed to be thankful for what you have, and then it’s just this whole huge media spectacle of people fighting each other to save $50 on a TV.”

MORE: The 13 most influential toys of all time

And so Cards Against Humanity decided to create a media spectacle of its own by pulling all of its products off its site and only selling “Bullshit” — which Temkin says sold out in less than two hours. (This isn’t the company’s first stunt — for last year’s Black Friday, the game was sold for $5 above the normal price.)
“We also had the idea of issuing people a one penny off coupon, but that felt weird because it was still a deal,” he says. “That’s sort of still doing Black Friday.”

But how did the makers of Cards Against Humanity get the poop in the box? “Well, we didn’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t have done,” Temkins says. “We went on Google and were like, ‘Can you buy bullshit? Can you sell bullshit?'”

The team found a cattle ranch in Texas that sold pasteurized bull feces for shipments and understood “what we were trying to do.”

Writing on the package boasts that while the box was made in China — “It’s the same manufacturer that does packaging for Apple!” Temkin says — the poop was made in America.

And now, says Temkins, “It’s sent, it’s out, it’s done… Initially we got a dozen people who were really surprised it was poop, but it was just actual poop.”

LAist journalists broke the poop apart to see if there was hidden inside, only to find that it was simply feces.

While the promotion is over, some people are even selling their “Bullshit” packages at a 600% markup of $36 on eBay.

Cards Against Humanity made 20 cents on each $6 box of holiday bullshit. The profits will go to Heifer International, a charity that aims to eradicate poverty and hunger by providing livestock to developing communities.

Read next: Lance Armstrong Played Cards Against Humanity and Got *That* Card

TIME Social Media

Facebook Unfriends Microsoft Search Engine

Facebook offices in Paris, France in 2010.
Facebook offices in Paris, France in 2010. Tomas van Houtryve—VII for TIME

The social media behemoth may be angling in on Google-dominated web search

Facebook has officially dropped from its website search results from Bing, the search engine owned by Microsoft Corp.

The move comes on the heels of Facebook unveiling a new search tool on its own site, allowing the site’s 1.35 billion users to easily search for old Facebook activity on theirs and others’ pages, perhaps indicating an increased emphasis on the lucrative web search market currently dominated by Facebook rival Google.

Facebook’s decision was confirmed to Reuters on Friday by a company spokesperson. “We’re not currently showing web search results in Facebook Search because we’re focused on helping people find what’s been shared with them on Facebook,” a spokesperson said. “We continue to have a great partnership with Microsoft in lots of different areas.


TIME Travel

Korean Air Exec Sorry in Macadamia Nut Controversy

She offered a contrite apology for lambasting a flight crew member over service she deemed unacceptable

An executive at Korean Air, and daughter of the company’s chairman, issued a public apology and resigned amid outrage over her treatment of a flight crew member when she was unhappy with the way she was served macadamia nuts in first class.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble for everyone,” said Heather Cho, 40, who was head of Korean Air’s in-flight service division before stepping down this week. “I’m sorry.”

Cho, seated in first class on a Korean Air flight departing from JFK airport in New York, was displeased after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a dish. She ordered the plane back to the gate so the cabin crew chief could be expelled from the flight causing a small departure delay, Reuters reports.

The incident has touched a raw nerve among the public in South Korea, a country dominated by a small number of giant, family-operated comglomerates, known as chaebol.


TIME Business

Germany Requires Large Companies to Put More Women in the Boardroom

Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014.
Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014. Stefanie Loos—Reuters

Large listed companies must fill at least 30% of the supervisory board seats with female non-executive directors, under new law

Women are about to flood the corporate world in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government adopted a bill on Thursday that will require large listed companies to fill at least 30% of the supervisory board seats with female non-executive directors. The bill will also force thousands of large and mid-size companies to employ more women as managers.

Despite being arguably the most powerful woman in the world, Merkel has so far been unable to convince Germany’s male-dominated business world to voluntarily diversify. Only one-third of the 30 companies in Germany’s DAX stock index would currently meet the 30% quota suggested in the bill. Women’s representation on executive boards is low compared to other European countries like Norway, France and Sweden, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I am convinced that we will set in motion a cultural change and that this law is a historic milestone for more equality between women and men in this country,” Manuela Schwesig, family minister and main sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference.

The new law will require 108 publicly-traded companies to place women in over 170 supervisory board seats. And an additional 3,500 companies with over 500 employees each will have to boost the number of women in management positions within the next two years.

But businesses are unenthused to meet these targets. A quota “ignores that professional qualification must be the decisive criterion for filling a supervisory board position,” Germany’s employer and industry federations said in a joint statement.

TIME Business

Where Are Bernie Madoff and His Inner Circle Now?

Bernard Madoff
Bernard Madoff walks out of Federal Court on Jan. 5, 2009, in New York City Jin Lee—Bloomberg News / Getty Images

Madoff brought his family down with him

Bernard “Bernie” Madoff, the most extraordinary swindler of the heady pre-recession years, was arrested six years ago on Thursday, but the distrust that his dealings directed toward the financial system is indelible. Many people know a friend, relative or school acquaintance whose college savings or retirement fund was pillaged by Madoff’s gargantuan Ponzi scheme. The Occupy movement, the Heartland’s vitriolic anger towards bankers, and the proverbial Main Street-Wall Street divide are all linked to the mess Madoff sank himself into. His loss of $65 billion in Americans’ savings rattled what little confidence many Americans still had in Wall Street and the finance industry.

The well-known director Michael Moore wrote a commentary on the scammer for TIME in the Spring of 2009, shortly before Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Moore proclaimed him the incorrigible tip of the iceberg:

If Ponzi schemes are such a bad thing, then why have we allowed all of our top banks to deal in credit default swaps and other make-believe rackets? Why did we allow those same banks to create the scam of a sub-prime mortgage? And instead of putting the people responsible in the cell block in Lower Manhattan, where Bernie now resides, why did we give them huge sums of our hard-earned tax dollars to bail them out of their self-inflicted troubles? Bernard Madoff is nothing more than the scab on the wound. He’s also a most-needed and convenient distraction. Where’s the photo on this list of the ex-chairmen of AIG, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup? Where’s the mug shot of Phil Gramm, the senator who wrote the bill to strip the system of its regulations, or of the President who signed that bill?

Moore’s is a sentiment that still rings true years after the depth of the financial crisis: Where is the retribution?

In fact, Madoff’s circle of friends and family bore much of it. Ruth Madoff, disgraced after her husband’s fall, endured a series of public shamings in the year after Bernie’s sentencing, including being stripped of $80 million in assets. She cut off contact with her husband and moved to son Andrew’s house in Connecticut. Madoff’s eldest son, Mark Madoff, committed suicide in 2010, and his younger son, Andrew, died this year of lymphoma. Madoff’s long time assistant, 66-year-old Annette Bongiorno, was sentenced just this week to a six-year prison term, and Jerome O’Hara, a computer programmer for Madoff, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years. Brother Peter Madoff is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison and forfeited all his personal assets.

Madoff himself has shown a measure of remorse, though it’s not likely to be enough for the people whose savings disappeared. He told Politico earlier this year that he has not changed: “There’s nothing for me to change from. It’s not like I ever considered myself a bad person. I made a horrible mistake and I’m sorry.”

TIME Business

Holiday Party Hookups Are Good for Employees–And None of HR’s Business

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Noel Hendrickson—Getty Images

Neil McArthur is a philosopher specializing in ethical issues around sex and love. Marina Adshade is the author Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love.

Corporate policies punish employees for having on-the-job romances, but oftentimes these relationships lead to marriage

Eggnog, mistletoe, and a late-night lip sync to that Mariah Carey song. Is there any better way to celebrate the holidays with people that you spend most of your time – your coworkers? It seems many employees, however, are sharing more than just Christmas cheer when they get together this time of the year. According to a survey conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive, 25% of Americans claim that they have had a sexual relationship as the result of a office holiday party. Those numbers are even higher among workers who are the least likely to be married, young adults between the ages of 18 and 34.

People are doing more than just having holiday flings. Forty-three percent of HR personnel report knowledge of current romances between employees at their firm, and 40% of people admit to having been involved in an office romance at some point in time.

Many of these romances lead to marriage. In fact, among couples that married between 2005 and 2012, meeting through work was the second most common way couples met (14%) trumped only by meeting on online dating sites (16%).

Those statistics have left some employers feeling more like Scrooge than Santa. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in corporate policies that punish employees for having on-the-job romances.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the number of firms with restrictions on sexual relationships between employees (not just at holiday parties) has more than doubled over the last decade – from 20% in 2001 to 42% in 2013. And 49% of HR professionals surveyed reported that within the last five years, someone at their organization has been fired, suspended, or formally reprimanded for a workplace romance.

Employers are cracking down on workplace relationships, and in the process are inflicting real costs on themselves and their workers. So there must be some evidence to justify the increasing involvement of firms in the private lives of their employees…right?

Not really. And, in fact, there are some good reasons why employers should be tolerant towards workplace romance.

Firstly, there is the question of basic principle. The right of consenting adults to have sex with whomever they want has come to be seen as one of our basic liberties, on par with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, throwing out Texas’ law banning gay sex, reflects a growing recognition by courts and lawmakers that what adults do in private is nobody’s business, unless someone can show there is a direct and tangible harm. That’s part of what it means to live in a free country.

Second, the workplace is one of the few places young, overworked, singles can find love. With more men and women staying single into their 30s than ever before and with employers demanding more and more of their employees time, firms that ban workers from engaging in relationships with one another are either depriving their employees a chance for personal happiness, or are forcing them to choose between happiness and professional success at that firm.

Finally, the evidence suggests that, on balance, office romances can make for happier and more productive workers. Banning workplace romances can also make it difficult to attract good employees and can lead to an atmosphere of paranoia. No one wants to work in an office in which gossip – the most common way in which HR professions learn of workplace romances – can cost you your job.

Of course, any firm that completely ignores the behavior of its employees exposes itself to legal risk, for instance in cases in which a supervisor is dating a subordinate. But even then, is the best solution to terminate one or both of the employees? This is what happens in 41% of cases. But there are plenty of less punitive solutions, such as transferring supervision to another manager.

Employers need to protect employees against harassment. But that is an argument for specific anti-harassment policies, and not an argument for the policies many firms adopt: blanket policies that govern consensual sexual relationships. Rather than trying to ban sex outright, the best solution is educating people on respect and consent in order to prevent complaints, and taking them seriously when complaints do arise.

We’re not telling you to go out and sleep with a co-worker this Christmas. Office romances can be tricky. And if you do succumb to temptation, at least stay off the copier. We all have to use that on Monday.

Neil McArthur is a philosopher specializing in ethical issues around sex and love. He works at the University of Manitoba. Marina Adshade uses research, human insight and economic analysis to unlock the mysteries behind our actions, thoughts and preferences regarding sexual relationships, gender, love and power. She shows that every option, every decision and every outcome in the realm of sex and love is better understood through economics. Dr. Adshade has a Ph.D. from Queen’s University and currently teaches economics at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser