Business Maverick

Business Maverick

12 April: Toyota hid the truth from federal investigators

12 April: Toyota hid the truth from federal investigators

Also today: Papers feel days of anonymous Internet postings may soon be over; Google aims to be at forefront of media industry’s future; BA execs dobbed in by co-conspirator Virgin over ticket add-ons; Twitter takes on shades of Google’s search model; Europe helps Greece, but markets still fear PIGS might not fly.

Toyota hid the truth from federal investigators


A US congressional panel investigating the failure of Toyota’s accelerator pedals has unveiled an internal email from a senior company executive that indicates he told another staffer the time to hide the problem from federal regulators was over. The world’s largest carmaker subsequently caved in to pressure by issuing a recall on millions of vehicles in both the US market and across the world. In his email, Irving Miller, then group vice president for Toyota’s US sales said: “I hate to break this to you, but we have a tendency for mechanical failure in accelerator pedals of a certain manufacturer on certain models.” Regulators claimed there had been deliberate efforts by Toyota to keep information about possible defects from them. They were right. Photo: Reuters.

Read more: The New York Times, Reuters, AP


Papers feel days of anonymous Internet postings may soon be over


Internet users have implicitly understood the phenomenon of the World Wide Web to be exactly what a New Yorker cartoon described it as in 1993: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. That allowed the very good and the very bad to flow across the digital ether, from aid for Haiti (the non-scam type) to child molesters posing as friendly teenagers. And while many news sites were slow to embrace the idea of allowing readers to post anonymous comments, it seems their decision to do so has come back to bite them. Now, papers such as The Washington Post are mulling over whether to give greater prominence to readers posting comments using their real names as opposed to pseudonyms. They and other papers have moved toward requiring people to provide some information about themselves before being able to post comments. The Huffington Post has just jumped on the bandwagon, and will rank commentators by how much other readers know and trust their writing. It’s amazing that any anonymity was ever allowed from the public at large, as journalists that can’t name their sources – provided they can do so without breaking professional confidences, legally and ethically – usually aren’t credible anyway.

Read more: The New York Times, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, The Grand Rapids Press


Google aims to be at forefront of media industry’s future


Google boss Eric Schmidt told print media executives things will look up for the deeply ailing newspaper industry, adding his company will be an integral part of that by customising online advertisements and subscription models for consumers based on stories they like. He says the industry has a business model problem, not a news problem, calling journalism an indispensible art. In blasting blogs, he said high quality journalism will triumph. That’s heartening news for any quality journalist, whose skills-set currently is as valuable as that of the average sewer-rat. But here’s the rub. Schmidt says media companies should refocus their attention on personalising content and disseminating news through mobile devices – businesses in which Google is king – and then new forms of making money will develop. Good journalists hope Schmidt ultimately understands that writing news is not about making money, and that it can’t be tailored to that end. But he, along with many publishers, probably doesn’t.

Read more: Politico, Direct Traffic Media, AP, CNET News


BA execs dobbed in by co-conspirator Virgin over ticket add-ons


Three former British Airways executives and one current employee are to appear in court soon charged with price-fixing in the UK, after allegedly agreeing with Virgin Atlantic to set fuel surcharge prices between mid-2004 and April 2006. BA and Virgin are mortal enemies in the sky, but that didn’t appear to stop BA’s head of sales Andrew Crawley and ex-commercial director Martin George, along with BA’s one-time communications head and an ex-UK and Ireland sales chief to fiddle fuel surcharges on the average long-haul return ticket. As is usual in such cases, Virgin Atlantic’s staff qualified for immunity because they told Britain’s Office of Fair Trading about the collusion. Unseemly profiteers know no friends.

Read more: BBC, SQ Talk


Twitter takes on shades of Google’s search model


Bill Gross, the guru of search advertising, aims to make money by allowing Twitterites (or Tweeters or whatever) to bid on key words to give their own posts top ranking. Because finding meaningful tweets amid all the white noise is unbelievably arduous, Gross says his new venture TweetUp will also organise posts according to how often readers repost them and click on links they contain. The goal is to keep useful posts from disappearing into a wave of random messages by enabling marketers and self-promoters to push their Twitter profiles to the top of TweetUp’s rankings. Bids begin at 1c US and customers will pay each time they show up in a search. Gross has already signed deals with other Twitter services to display his product’s rankings, and will split revenue evenly with each partner — when he actually makes some. He says the gamble is whether micro-bloggers are willing to pay to get their 140-character messages noticed — and whether other Twitter users will acknowledge such paid placement as being credible. It sounds great for product wholesalers and retailers, but is otherwise just a form of micro-vanity publishing.

Read more: The New York Times, Buzzbox, All Things Digital


Europe helps Greece, but markets still fear PIGS might not fly


The 16 eurozone economies say they’ll provide $40 billion in aid to Greece amid speculation the International Monetary Fund will offer up to $15 billion more. That gives breathing space to the beleaguered Greeks, who have been ordered by the EU to slash debt and sort out their rampant 12.7% annual budget deficit. Eurozone countries fear a collapse of Greece’s economy would devastate the value of the euro, plunging Europe into another economic crisis just as it seeks to crawl out of the global meltdown. But such rescue measures don’t create access to private markets, as many investors shy away from lending to economies that are on their knees. The Greek tragedy has sharpened the problem of lending to the PIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Or, PIGSI if you include Europe’s biggest debtor, Italy. Investors holding Greek debt have lost a lot of money, so markets will be very leery of every other domino in the row. That’s bad for all of Europe, and it’s yet to be seen if the most concrete pledge of assistance to Greece will get the eurozone out of the woods.

Read more: The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, The Washington Post


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