Month: March 2017

5 Easy ways to secure your privacy online

Privacy in America is meant to be a protected inalienable right. It feels like however in this day and age that right is being infringed upon everywhere you look. The biggest intrusion though seems to come from what goes on in the world wide web.

With search engines, email, and social media Big Brother has its grasp on almost all we do online. Many of us are guilty of blindly acknowledging privacy terms and conditions where these companies blatantly spell out what they are doing with the information we provide. Some are selling you data and searches to advertisers because unfortunately when it comes to the Internet when users don’t pay for products they eventually become the products themselves. Your information is also willingly handed over to the government without any due process. As far as they’re concerned they own the content once you acknowledge the consent.

There are alternatives, however that allow you to freely use the internet without feeling trespassed.

1) Proton Mail is a must for anyone who is looking to take their privacy to another level. Yes, I know that nothing is 100% secure, and the FBI, CIA and other nefarious agencies have numerous tools available to access your information, but Proton Mail is by far the most secure FREE email platform on the web. If you’re sick of Google reading and cataloging every email you send you should probably sign up for a free Proton Mail account. Here’s how it works.

2) DuckDuckGo is a search engine that is all about users taking back their privacy. They don’t store your personal information, they don’t follow you around with ads, and they don’t track your online activity. Established in 2008, the company decided to separate themselves from Google, Bing, Yahoo and other prominent search engines by making a bold move not to collect or share any of its user’s personal information. In 2014 they grew to be so successful that Apple began including DuckDuckGo in Safari, with the launch of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. Firefox soon followed when Mozilla added DuckDuckGo as a built-in option to Firefox and Firefox OS.

The company also gives back by donating to other privacy advocacy companies. In 2017 they divided $300,000 and dispersed it equally among sixteen projects including Freedom of the Press Foundation, World Privacy Forum, Open Whisper Systems, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Tor Project and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This marked the seventh year in a row that the company has made efforts to support these types of organizations.

3) VPN is a Virtual Private Network which is a method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet.

Over the years I have experimented with many different VPN’s, but at the end of the day I always end up at Private Internet Access where I currently have a one-year subscription. It is very easy to use and offers some of the most competitive prices in the market. Here’s how it works.

4)  Unfortunately, Google, just like it dominates, email and search also dominate browsers with the likes of their Chrome extension. But luckily there is an alternative. It is free and very easy to use, even for the novice. It’s called TOR.

Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.

Tor Browser lets you use the software on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux without needing to be installed . It can run off a USB flash drive, comes with a pre-configured web browser to protect your anonymity, and is self-contained (portable).

5)  Ideally, you should refrain from using social media, period. It promotes disturbing effects on your health including addiction, shortened attention spans, stress, and fatigue.

Social media can also be dangerous because people are so willing to divulge such personal and intimate information without a second thought. Even Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg thinks people are dumb f***s for trusting him with their personal information. Facebook tracks everything its users do and is more than willing to sell what they learn to the highest bidder.

For those that keep their social media pages fairly clean the thought of having your every thought, word, and deed potentially used against you should still make you feel uneasy. These sites own everything you post, even if you try to delete specific posts or your profile altogether. If you can’t imagine a life without social media, sites like Seen.Life won’t sell your personal information, and won’t let search engines data mine your posts. Once you delete something on Seen.Life, it’s gone from the site, and they won’t retain it.

There is also the that is not only privacy conscious but also believes in free speech for its users. Considering how much Facebook and Twitter have outwardly admitted to censoring their users, this comes as a breath of fresh air.

We will continue to update this list and provide more options. As more and more people become enraged over online practices, many new platforms are being created.

Here are some other honorable mentions in no particular order that also offer great products or services. Please feel free to add any others in the comment section.


RadioShack and J.C. Penney announce 690 stores closing

2017 has continued to be a horrendous year for retail, and we’re only three months in. As stores continue to suffer from results of over expansion and plunging sales, many companies have been forced to shut their doors. For some, it is a Hail Mary to keep the company financially sound. For others, it’s the final nail in the coffin as they are ushered into bankruptcy.

Two iconic American retailers, J.C. Penney and RadioShack, have been in the crosshairs of slowing customer traffic and declining sales for years. It was announced this week that between the two companies a total of almost 700 stores would be closing over the next few months.

JC Penney is set to close 138 stores in an effort to cut costs and grow sales at its strongest locations. According to CNBC, the closures highlight the pressures on traditional department stores, which are losing market share to off-price competitors and Amazon. They also underscore the deteriorating economics at lower-quality shopping centers, whose risk of failure rises when an anchor tenant exits.

Most of its closures would occur in the second quarter, while liquidations will start April 17. Around 5,000 jobs are in jeopardy due to the closings. Initially, Penney’s said it would provide 6,000 employees with voluntary early retirement programs depending on their age and tenure. Those employees have until the end of this month to decide if they will accept the package. Penney’s will also try to relocate some store leaders to better performing stores as well as provide outplacement support services for eligible workers.

In addition to its store closures, Penney’s is shutting down one supply chain facility in Lakeland, Florida, and relocating another in Buena Park, California. The full list of stores closing can be found on the J.C. Penney website.

RadioShack, which filed for its second bankruptcy in two years, announced they would be closing 552 of their stores. This will affect roughly 36% of their total stores and leave around 1,000 stores to remain open. The stores closing are said to have the “lowest sales velocity and highest rent,” according to the court filing. Per Business Insider the closures will occur in two waves, with 187 closing immediately and another 365 closing by the first week of April.

As this bleak retail climate continues to claim victims only time will tell who will be next on the chopping block.

Oklahoma state senator arrested on child prostitution charge

Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey is facing three felony charges for his involvement in child prostitution. The charges come after Shortey was caught in a motel room with a 17-year-old boy where it was apparent the two were there to engage in sexual acts. Shortey, who is 35, has a wife and three young children.

Police were tipped off by the teen’s father. Authorities were able to obtain a search warrant during which they discovered the juvenile’s Kindle Fire tablet containing a conversation between him and Shortey pertaining to sex in exchange for money. The felony charges that Shortey will be facing include:

-Engaging in child prostitution
-Engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church.
-Transporting a minor for prostitution/lewdness.

While the age of sexual consent in Oklahoma is 16, state child prostitution laws apply to any person under the age of 18. Both Shortey and the teenage boy admit to being acquaintances for about a year, having met through Craigslist and later communicating on the messenger application Kik, which has been criticized as being unsafe for minors. Within a few hours after the arrest, Shorty was released on a $100,000 bond.

Shortey has been a senator since 2010. He is a staunch Republican and was the state chair of President Donald Trump’s campaign during the primary elections. During his time in the state Senate Shortly pushed bills that targeted the expulsion of illegal immigrants and the expansion of the state’s gun rights. Ironically a few of his bills targeted gay and transgendered people, including a measure passed earlier this year that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people. His most notable bill, however, was introduced in 2012 and would have banned the use of aborted human fetuses in food. The bill garnered a lot of controversies both in-state and around the country. The bill was never granted a hearing in a Senate Committee.

The arrest has, of course, led to calls for Shortey’s resignation. The Oklahoma Senate imposed sanctions on Wednesday voting 43-0 for a resolution that accuses him of “disorderly behavior.” Among other things, it removes Shortey from membership and leadership of various Senate committees, bars him from occupying his office and reserved parking spot at the Capitol, blocks his expense allowances and authorship of bills, and revokes his right to have an executive assistant. Shortey will, according to Senate officials, still receive his $38,400 annual salary as a senator and will be allowed to vote.

The allegations have also raised red flags pertaining to Shortey’s involvement with the Oklahoma City YMCA’s Youth and Government Program. Shorty has since been removed from his volunteer position of which he served over the last 17 years. He had been active in the program and served as a chaperone on several out-of-state trips. The organization is unaware of any allegations of wrongdoing involving Shortey’s work for the program, but the agency is conducting an internal investigation due to the nature of the criminal case.

Vine, The Limited, Motorola, Sears and American Apparel Lead the way as companies go bust

The list of doomed retailers continues to grow.  According to this Forbes report many companies have given up hope and simply thrown in the towel.

There is no denying we live in the age of consumerism, where customers are calling the shots on what they want, when they want it and what price they are willing to pay. Buoyed by Amazon, Netflix, Nordstrom, Chick-fil-A, Southwest Airlines and others, a consumer-centered mindset has become the norm.

When looking at brands that landed at the top of Prophet’s recent Brand Relevance Index, it’s clear how critical unparalleled customer obsession is to a company’s success. Many companies like Pinterest, Etsy and Spotify didn’t even exist 20 years ago, but they quickly become indispensable to people’s lives by developing innovative, inspiring products that give consumers what they want, sometimes even before they know they want it. The traditional brands at the top of the list have also maintained their relevance by being as obsessed with their customers as the “new kids” on the block. Clorox, KitchenAid, Dove, Tide and other old-timers continue to reinvent themselves, finding different ways to connect with both new and legacy customers.

On the flipside, within the last six months, we have learned of the bankruptcy and shuttering of The Limited and American Apparel stores, Twitter’s decision to shut down Vine after its failed attempt to turn it into Snapchat, multiple store closings from Sears and Radio Shack, and the complete shutdown of the consumer division of Blackberry. Just 10 years ago, each of these brands (sans Vine) was a leader in its category. Consumers understood what they stood for, and it was hard to imagine how they could ever be dethroned. Well, that was before brands like Zara and Forever 21 entered the mainstream for teens and millennials, before the iPhone was a thing, and way before Instagram and Snapchat were even born. Today the marketplace these brands used to dominate looks completely different.

Zara to open hundreds of new stores

Zara, the king of fast fashion has announced it’s going to open hundreds of new stores according to this Retail Dive report.

Zara’s name comes up a lot in discussions about apparel retail, mostly because the company continues to shrug off the many challenges faced by rivals, including slow traffic and minimal shopper interest. There are several reasons Zara so often sidesteps danger, above all is its supply chain. The retailer, which invented fast fashion and continues to master it, runs most of its own factories and controls most of the supply chain. This helps Zara order up small batches of inventory on the fly and get them into stores in record time. That approach — small batches, record time to market — helps it adjust more quickly to phenomena like unseasonable weather.

As other retailers work to catch up by accelerating their own supply chains, Inditex is leaving little to chance. The company said that ordinary capital expenditure this year will reach some €1.5 billion, driven mainly by investments in customer-oriented technologies and R&D projects, expanding its eco-efficient store base, upgrading its logistics operations and shoring up the second-hand clothing collection and fiber recycling programs and research, among other areas.

French Connection reports loss for fifth year in a row

More bad news for retail. According to this Reuters report the French Connection has reported their fifth straight years of losses.

An activist investor urged struggling British fashion retailer French Connection Group Plc (FCCN.L) to split itself or spin off its Toast brand, after the company posted its fifth straight annual loss on Tuesday.

Gatemore Capital, which has been mounting pressure on French Connection since July, said the company should consider separating its retail and licensing businesses among other options.

The investor urged the company in January to split the role of chairman and CEO and called for an outright sale.

French Connection, which made a name for itself selling FCUK branded clothes, has been struggling to fend off competition from fast-fashion rivals such as ASOS Plc (ASOS.L), Forever 21 and Inditex’s (ITX.MC) Zara.

Gatemore’s managing partner, Liad Meidar, said on Tuesday the firm would still prefer a sale of the company.

The investment firm, which owns an 8 percent stake, estimated French Connection to be worth 80 million-100 million pounds ($97 million-$121 million).

The company’s current market value is about 33.4 million pounds.

Apart from Toast, French Connection owns the Great Plains and YMC brands. The company was not immediately available for comment.

French Connection has closed stores and hired new management and design teams as it tries to return to a profit.

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San Francisco tech workers paying $1900 a month to sleep in bunk beds with 40 other people

According to this Venture Beat report tech workers are paying $1900 a month to sleep on bunk beds with 40 people. Welcome to the absurdity of San Francisco.

Zander Dejah, 25, pays $1,900 a month rent to live in a downtown San Francisco house with at least 40 other people, many of whom sleep in bunk beds.

Dejah is a resident of The Negev, a communal living space that styles itself as a home for millennial tech workers to brainstorm ideas, write code and create apps, even if they have to share toilets and bathrooms with dozens of others.

Houses like The Negev, located in a neighborhood known as “SoMa” or South of Market, have cropped up around San Francisco as an influx of young professionals, many of whom are tech workers, have faced the city’s notoriously high rents and apartment shortages. It has three floors and roughly 50 rooms, filled with bunk beds, beer bottles and laptops, according to residents.

Dejah, born and raised in New York, graduated last year with a degree in computer science and math from McGill University. Unemployed, he moved to California six months ago and found his room at The Negev on Craigslist.

“I thought New York was expensive,” said Dejah, who quickly landed a job as a virtual reality engineer at consulting firm moBack. “It’s basically an extension of college. We sort of live in a frat house.”

The home is certainly filled with parties on weekends, but the residents make sure to sit down every Sunday for a communal dinner, akin to a traditional family gathering.

While some say communal housing provides a solution for many first-time workers fresh out of college, such housing also has created its share of controversy. Housing advocates have complained that this new dorm-like style of living has pushed up rents and forced longtime residents to move out.

Millennials overwhelmingly choose Amazon to purchase apparel

According to this Money report Millennials are overwhelmingly choosing Amazon as their place to purchase clothing. This alarming trend isn’t good for traditional retailers like Nordstrom’s who continue to struggle with this sought after demographic.

It’s not known for being the height of fashion, but new data suggests millennials spend more on clothes from Amazon than from any other online store.

The online marketplace conducted 16.6% of the revenue from 18 to 35-year-old online shoppers last year, followed by Nordstrom (8.1%), Old Navy (5.1%), J. Crew (4.2%) and Victoria’s Secret (3.6%), according to research from digital commerce data organization Slice Intelligence.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was going to start selling an original line of inexpensive bras in the U.S. According to the WSJ, the site was the most frequently shopped apparel retailer in a Morgan Stanley AlphaWise survey last fall, with 58% of respondents saying they had purchased clothing on Amazon in the past six months.

Downtown Cleveland retail vacancies hit 10.4 %

Cleveland continues to be plagued by a terrible ‘Midwest’ economy. According to this Crain’s report, downtown retail vacancies have hit 10.4%.

Following trends in national retailing and its own market, CBRE Group Inc. has started reporting downtown Cleveland statistics as part of its just-completed annual retail survey covering eight Northeast Ohio counties.

CBRE reported downtown vacancy at 10.4% among the 1.6 million square feet of selling space on the city’s broad thoroughfares and the long-suffering enclosed malls The Avenue and Galleria.

Surprisingly, that’s not far from areawide averages as retail gets roiled by oversupply and competition from the internet.

CBRE estimates the region has 11.7% retail vacancy as of year-end 2016 from 10.3% a year ago. However, regional asking rental rates climbed to $12.13 a square foot at year-end 2016 from $12.02 a square foot a year ago.

In-demand retail locations are able to command far higher rates than the regional ask, with taking rates at some new retail centers commanding rents of $40 a square foot. Adding more downtown retail specifics required the realty brokerage to rejigger its approach for a different selling environment.

Brandon Isner, CBRE research analyst, and two other staffers had to physically canvass the storefronts to produce the figure. The national brokerage also had to report street retail for the first time, a big switch from its traditional way of surveying about 400 shopping centers above 50,000 square feet in size in eight Northeast Ohio counties. Isner said additional downtown retail data is a natural response to increasing urbanization in the U.S.

Keith Hamulak, CBRE vice president, said the firm is getting increased queries about downtown retail space as well as neighborhoods such as Tremont and Ohio City.

“This is so we can drill down our data properly,” Hamulak said. “In the past, there was little demand from national retailers about downtown space. Now, national retailers want to know about downtown and Main Street retail locations.”

Moreover, the market is changing between proposed downtown developments such as Stark Enterprises of Cleveland’s 48-floor nuCLEus project in the Gateway District, which has 150,000 square feet of proposed retail space, and developers converting office buildings to apartments also want to revitalize their first-floor spaces with new retailers. All told, CBRE estimates 550,000 square feet of retail is proposed downtown.

Michael Deemer, executive vice president of business development at Downtown Cleveland Alliance, said having a national brokerage firm produce such information will be helpful as he is getting increasing requests for it.

Deemer said he personally estimated the figure at about 10%, but he believes many building and business owners he works with peg it at a much higher level.

“For a lot of folks in the marketplace, that will be a real surprise,” Deemer said. “In a lot of ways, I wish we had an earlier benchmark. As the downtown residential market has taken off, we could show how much the market has improved.”

The report is also useful given the leading role that chefs and quick-serve restaurants are playing in the retail sector.

Stephen Taylor, a CBRE vice president who focuses on restaurants, said that when he works with chefs in Cleveland or other parts of the state, they actively seek sites in revitalizing neighborhoods.

“It’s the walkability of the environment that is drawing them. Breweries are also serving as a catalyst for neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “It’s the attraction of storefront retail that was popular from the 1920s to the 1940s.”