Numlock News: September 20, 2021 • Trolls, Dune, Coupon Fraud

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

The Spice Must Flow

Dune, which is out in the U.S. in late October, has begun its international rollout in 24 markets and 7,819 screens overseas. In its opening weekend, it hauled in $36.8 million with $7.6 million from Russia, $7.5 million from France, $4.9 million from Germany and $2.6 million from Italy. The initial data looks great: the per-screen IMAX average gross was $25,000, which is phenomenal and numbers previously only attained during the brutal yet profitable Harkonnen regime.

Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter

Whistleblowers

Two whistleblowers scored $114 million from the Securities and Exchange Commission, bringing the total amount paid out by the SEC program north of $1 billion. Since the program was created in the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, 207 whistleblowers have ratted out financial crimes and received between 10 to 30 percent of the eventual fines levied in civil enforcement actions. One of the two awardees got $110 million, which is the second-highest ever.

Mengqi Sun, The Wall Street Journal

Clipped

A Virginia woman was sentenced to 12 years in prison following one of the largest coupon fraud schemes in history. Agents who raided her home found $1 million in counterfeit coupons in the house, over 13,000 coupon designs on the computer, and prosecutors say the scam bilked retailers and manufacturers out of $31 million. The counterfeits were really, really good, and were indistinguishable from authentic coupons, and were sold to coupon enthusiasts in exchange for cryptocurrency and PayPal payments.

Johnny Diaz, The New York Times

Well, Crap

The oil industry has been hit by a swell of bankruptcies, and that’s contributing to an increase in orphan wells, which are wells that have been abandoned by their owner and can leak and cause damage. In Louisiana, which recently took a hit from Hurricane Ida, this is a serious problem because the storm can damage orphaned wells and cause pollution. There are 446 orphan wells in the 17 parishes worst hit by the storm that are under state jurisdiction. It’s likely that at least a few are now leaking, and at least 160 of them — a third of them — were left by bankruptcies that happened since 2016.

Mike Lee, E&E News

Airbnbs

A new study looked at the prices for Airbnb rentals during college football games and found that during rivalry games, hosts were fond of jacking up the prices. Two-thirds of the units raised their price during rivalry games, hiking the price by 22 percent compared to typical pricing during home games. However, this had the unfortunate blowback of a 30 percent decrease in spending on the platform during the rivalry games because the prices were simply too high. The researchers think that local home hosts were down to screw over the rival fans compared to just a typical visitor.

Lisa Ward, The Wall Street Journal

MGMT

In the United States, there is one manager for every 4.7 workers, and 17.6 percent of the U.S. workforce — as well as 30 percent of the workforce’s compensation — is in management. With many companies going hybrid or remote, this is prompting some to ask if there are too many managers, or if at some point the understanding of what management entails has been lost. Having “management” be title-driven or esteem-driven incentive rather than genuinely overseeing the direction of employees may have some managers ill-suited for the actual needs of management: a study of sales workers at 214 firms found that when looking at promotions, companies prioritized current job performance over whether the person would actually be a good fit for their new role.

Ed Zitron, The Atlantic

Troll Farms

A report produced by a Facebook employee details the enormous impact troll farms — that is, organized networks designed to spread misinformation — have on the social network. The October 2019 report identified that the most popular pages for Christians and Black Americans were, in fact, operated out of Kosovo and Macedonia. As of October 2019, 15,000 Facebook pages with a predominantly American audience were operated out of those countries, reaching 140 million U.S. users every month. Troll farms operated the fifth-largest women’s page, the second-largest Native American page, 10 of the top 15 African-American interest pages, and every single one of the 15 top pages targeting Christian Americans.

Karen Hao, MIT Technology Review

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