Welcome to Thursday, where NATO allies accuse Russia of lying about withdrawing troops from Ukraine border, Airbus and Airbnb post record profits, and a soccer match sees a major national anthem woopsie. For French daily Les Echos, Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric looks at the surprising health benefits hiding in a bottle of perfume.
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• NATO says Russia lying about troop withdrawal: NATO allies called out Moscow for claiming it was moving troops back to their bases when instead it was actually augmenting its presence at the border with Ukraine. A senior White House official reported that some 7,000 extra Russian forces had arrived in recent days near the border. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that Russia could drag out the Ukraine crisis for “months,” challenging the West's united security front. On the ground, meanwhile, Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels exchanged allegations that each had fired across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine.
• EU-AU summit 2022: The sixth European Union-African Union summit begins on Thursday in Brussels. Leaders from both continents will aim to recalibrate economic and strategic ties between European and African nations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent wave of coups d’état in Africa and the worsening effects of climate change.
• Israeli missiles strike Syria: Syrian state-controlled news agency SANA reported that Israel fired several missiles targeting the town of Zakieh, located on the outskirts of Damascus. This is the second Israeli aerial strike on Syria this month.
• Airbnb & Airbus lead travel sector rebound from pandemic: Short-term-stay booking platform Airbnb announced a $55 million profit for the fourth quarter, significantly outperforming pre-pandemic levels, and bouncing back from huge losses in 2021. Meanwhile European planemaker Airbus also reported record revenues for 2021 of $4.8 billion, its highest-ever profits, contrasting with its $1.3-billion loss in 2020.
• Australia's largest coal-run power plant to close in 2025: Australia's largest coal-fired power station has announced it will shut in 2025, seven years earlier than scheduled, as a developing renewable energy mix, particularly wind and solar power, has considerably reduced the profitability of the plant.
• Dozens killed in landslides near Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro: At least 94 people have died in mudslides and flash flooding in Petrópolis, in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro after hours of torrential rain.
• Anthem mixup at soccer tournament: The Tournoi de France, hosted by the French Football Federation, bringing together international female soccer teams, was off to an awkward start as the Finnish players were treated to the sound of the Albanian anthem by mistake.
Brazilian daily Extra devotes its front page to the “devastating” landslides and flash floods, which have killed at least 94 people in the city of Petrópolis, near Rio de Janeiro. The death toll could rise as rescue efforts are underway.
In a move to expand its influence in eastern Ukraine, Russia has issued passports and citizenship to 720,000 residents of rebel-held areas in the region thanks to a simplified procedure, as well as membership in the Kremlin’s ruling party and other perks. According to Donetsk’s migrant service, the number of residents applying for Russian passports has increased in the past few weeks, amid growing tensions with Ukraine.
What's that smell? The perfume industry's upcycling savoir faire
The circular economy is a hot trend, being embraced by everything from fashion to home decor. But one industry has been upcycling for decades. And the benefits and potentials go far beyond the environment. Soon, your perfume might help you fight stress and even wrinkles, writes Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric in French daily Les Echos.
♻️ Xavier Brochet, director of innovation for natural products at Firmenich, the world's largest fragrance business, explains that in perfumery, the implementation of upcycling dates back to the increasing industrialization of perfumery in the early 20th century, when the production of ingredients began to be rationalized to increase their yield and quality while optimizing costs. For instance, for essential oils from woods such as cedar, the distilleries moved directly to Texas or Virginia, to the same sites as the sawmills that process lumber for furniture or construction.
👃 The final key element in the success of upcycling is the potential that new raw materials bring to the ingredients palette available in perfumery. LMR laboratories based in Grasse, which specializes in natural ingredients and was founded by Monique Rémy, is exemplary in this respect. "One of the first products Monique launched in the late 1980s was a beeswax extract obtained by collecting beehive cells. It was followed by ingredients such as carrot essence, obtained thanks to the sorting differences of the seed companies," says Bertrand de Préville, general manager of LMR.
🧘 Composition laboratories, brands and all the major players in the industry agree that upcycling is at the heart of their current concerns. "Today's end customers expect more than just nice-smelling perfumes. They now want products that embrace the environmental cause and provide additional benefits related to well-being," says Bertrand de Préville. Each company has its own strategy for meeting these specifications. IFF is testing the cosmetic and aromachological benefits of its upcycled materials. For example, Oakwood (from oak) has relaxing properties and promotes memory.
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First, we had the Swedish activists’ campaign of “flygskam” or “flight shame” to discourage people from traveling in polluting airplanes in the face of the climate crisis. Now Austrian winter sport lovers must face: skischam or “skiing shame.” According to daily Die Presse, the campaign is spreading in Austria, where winter sports are extremely popular, highlighting the use of snow cannons and artificial snow to cover otherwise green-brown landscapes. Adding to the would-be shame is the fact that several coronavirus clusters originated in ski stations, including the popular Ischgl resort in 2020.
Colombia: “Feminist” candidate Ingrid Betancourt accused of blaming rape victims
When Ingrid Betancourt announced last month she was running for president of Colombia, the celebrated former hostage said a central focus of her candidacy would be women's issues. After a candidate debate on Tuesday night, those issues have arrived in the worst possible way.
Asked by university students what society could do to better protect women's safety, Betancourt said that women's issues "concern us all," but then added: "Many times we realize, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, that women let themselves get raped, let themselves get raped by people very close to the family or let themselves get followed by criminals, who follow their route, know where they are going to go and they are predators that are chasing them who are totally unprotected.”
After her statement, candidate Camilo Romero, part of the leftist coalition, Pacto Histórico drew attention to what Betancourt had said, saying women didn't "let themselves" be followed or raped.
Enrique Gómez Martínez, a right-wing candidate, brushed off the statement, arguing that it was a language mix-up: "Don't mistreat a woman who has spoken French for 20 years,” a reference to Betancourt's dual nationality with France and French education. In French "se faire violer" means "to be raped" and has no victim-blaming connotations, unlike the Spanish "se hace violar," that she used.
But perhaps the most damning part of Betancourt's comments is that she was referencing only poor women. The other top female presidential candidate Francia Márquez Mina tweeted that the comment "legitimizes class, sexist and patriarchal violence."
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The term was coined by journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the fatal drift of major Internet platforms: if they were ever useful and user-friendly, they will inevitably end up being odious.
The universe tends toward chaos. Ultimately, everything degenerates. These immutable laws are even more true of the Internet.
In the case of media platforms, everything you once thought was a good service will, sooner or later, disgust you. This trend has been given a name: enshittification. The term was coined by Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the inevitable drift of technological giants toward... well.
The explanation is in line with the most basic tenets of Marxism. All digital companies have investors (essentially the bourgeoisie, people who don't perform any work and take the lion's share of the profits), and these investors want to see the percentage of their gains grow year after year. This pushes companies to make decisions that affect the service they provide to their customers. Although they don't do it unwillingly, quite the opposite.
Annoying customers is just another part of the business plan. Look at Netflix, for example. The streaming giant has long been riddling how to monetize shared Netflix accounts. Option 1: adding a premium option to its regular price. Next, it asked for verification through text messages. After that, it considered raising the total subscription price. It also mulled adding advertising to the mix, and so on. These endless maneuvers irritated its audience, even as the company has been unable to decide which way it wants to go. So, slowly but surely, we see it drifting toward enshittification.
From the 90's to Musk
The company that has undergone the most fluctuations of this kind is Twitter, or X, or whatever Elon Musk's social network will be called tomorrow. The platform changes every day based on the whims of its owner. Shortly after acquiring it for $44 billion, Musk changed the logo from the famous blue bird to a picture of a dog. In the name of freedom, he removed the already inadequate anti-bullying filters. For a moment, the content on the platform ceased to be public: only users with an account could read the messages. Musk also decreed that there'd now be a price for profile verification.
Every day, he invents something new in his unstoppable tumble toward enshittification.
In an article titled Stop Talking to Each Other and Start Buying Stuff: Three Decades of Survival in the Social Media Desert, writer Catherynne M. Valente explains that from its early days in the 90s, the internet has always followed this degenerative trend.
The first step towards enshittification is to eliminate competition and get tight control over the market.
"Prodigy, geocities, collegeclub.com, MySpace, Friendster, Livejournal, Tumblr, Twitter. More besides. More next," writes Valente. Social media platforms will eventually pervert their original purpose, inundate your feed with advertising, ask for money, sell your data, become mouthpieces for fascism, and so on. "If one were to get big enough, like Facebook, this cycle doesn’t stop, it just sort of happens all at the same time without interruptions in service," Velente adds.
The idea of business, of course, has always been to make money. However, the current desperation to rake in more and more profits is bringing our internet experience dangerously close to collapse. According to Doctorow, in a perhaps too drastic (or optimistic, depending on your perspective) prediction, the logical end of this capitalist decay is the death of the platforms in question.
Here is how #platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die. 1/ pic.twitter.com/Gm92Xph8VO— Cory Doctorow @email@example.com (@doctorow) January 21, 2023
The three steps to enshittification
Recently, in a conference, Doctorow explained the three steps necessary for. The first is to eliminate competition and get tight control over the market.
For example, Jeff Bezos once took it as a personal crusade to kill a website that sold diapers online. This company, Diapers.com, was doing well, and it initially rejected the offers of partnership made by Amazon. The latter then started selling diapers at ridiculously low prices, compromising the viability of Diapers.com, which eventually sold out.
This was also Google's usual strategy: "Google made one good product 25 years ago. A really amazingly great search engine, and that amazingly great search engine opened a conduit to the capital markets. And that gave Google an effectively blank check to buy out competitors. So it didn't matter that virtually everything Google developed in house was a failure: videos, social media, Wi-Fi balloons, smart cities... They couldn't even keep an RSS reader running. It didn't matter because they could buy other people's companies," explains Doctorow.
The third and final step involves using technological legislation against rebellious users. For example, against those who promote interoperability (something all these companies did in their early days: that's how Facebook drained MySpace and took its members). "When these three factors come into play, enshittification becomes inevitable," says Doctorow.
Nobody is safe
Is there any internet giant that escapes unscathed? It seems not.
YouTube has declared war on ad blockers. Instagram has changed its algorithm to promote business accounts and insert more advertising. Amazon Prime will also start displaying ads, and its customers, who already pay for the subscription, can only skip them by paying even more. Disney+ has already raised its prices in many countries.
In a Forbes article, Emily Baker-White reports on how TikTok tricks users with its "For You" button. It's a practice called "heating," where TikTok injects videos which aren't necessarily tailored to you into your feed in order to inflate their views. It's part of the platforms efforts to "court" influencers and brands. All of this, of course, happens without any indication that you are seeing sponsored content.
Once trapped, users will have no choice but to accept negative changes.
Once TikTok has hooked those influencers and brands, it will stop boosting their videos. Now the plan is to squeeze them for the investors. Many people have had a similar experience on Twitter: accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers have seen their views plummet. What do they have to do to be heard again? Allegedly, pay the 8 euros a month for Twitter Blue.
In summary, enshittification begins with a user-friendly platform that fosters user loyalty. Once trapped, users will have no choice but to accept negative changes. Who hasn't thought about deleting WhatsApp at some point? But very few people actually do it. All their contacts are there, and they don't want to lose a vital communication channel. The same, in some way, applies to Amazon. By the time the conglomerate's reality came to light, it was already too late: buyers can't find products on other sites because those sites have closed (thanks to Amazon). It's the same for sellers: they can no longer sell their products except through Amazon, which extracts a huge commission for them.
To stop this drift and return to something resembling the good old internet, we need strong laws against monopolies. Otherwise, enshittification will continue to swallow tech platforms whole.
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