• Better Odds
  • Posts
  • Prepare for AI therapists trained on your Zoom calls — #97

Prepare for AI therapists trained on your Zoom calls — #97

Climate change, consumer behaviours, remote work and more

Good morning,

I've always enjoyed the beginning of each new semester, the opportunity to recalibrate and start new.

A natural pause in the sentence that makes up a year.

An occasion to buy special pens, start a new routine, or get a haircut.

And while every day could technically be the day you begin your new life, Mondays in mid-August feel predisposed to bring something different.

Work-wise, I'm gathering the courage to launch our first Better Odds tool. And on a more personal note, I want to create opportunities to dress up. Giving myself excuses to wear dresses, heels, and all the items in my closet that fall into the category of lovely but impractical.

What will you focus on First name?

Also, thanks for the friendly response to the first deep dive. The next issue will cover a very different topic — that's all I'll give away this time.

Enjoy the reading!


Zoom reserves the right to train AI on your calls without your explicit permission

This week, Zoom updated its terms and conditions. Zoom now has the right to use your video calls to train artificial intelligence without your permission. And there is no option for users to opt-out. This update makes Zoom problematic for anyone discussing sensitive or confidential data, like therapists, researchers, and consultants.

The update has been widely discussed on Social Media, and Zoom released a blog post to clear up the situation. But clarity seems to be distant. Zoom writes, "Zoom does not use any of your audio, video, chat, screen sharing, attachments, or other communications like customer content (such as poll results, whiteboard, and reactions) to train Zoom’s or third-party artificial intelligence models."

However, the policy still says that Zoom reserves the right to train AI on your calls without your explicit permission. Still, the Terms of Service now include an additional line which says, essentially, "We promise not to do that".

While Zoom has taken a significant reputational risk with its new terms and conditions, sparking intense customer anger and making customers seek alternative video meeting providers, legal risks are also at play. Zoom is under specific privacy-related legal requirements within the European Union, where regional data protection laws are in force.

Maui wildfires killed at least 80, leaving thousands homeless

At least 80 people have died after wildfires and hurricanes on Hawaii's Maui island, and the death toll is expected to rise with many people still missing. There is widespread devastation to the resort city of Lahaina, its harbour and surrounding areas. Hawaii officials are determined to understand how the flames could spread so rapidly with little warning.

Multiple neighbourhoods have been burnt to the ground as the island's western side with the city of Lahaina was nearly cut off, with only one highway open and thousands of people needing evacuation. The fires torched 1,000 buildings and left thousands homeless, likely requiring many years and billions of dollars to rebuild.

While Hawaii is known for its lush vegetation, the islands have been experiencing deadly wildfires due to a long-term decline in average annual rainfall and rising temperatures. Since 1990, rainfall has decreased 31% in wet and 6% in dry seasons.

Successful operation by the United Nations prevented a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea

After a month-long operation, the United Nations successfully transferred over 1.1 million barrels of oil from an ageing tanker, FSO Safer, off the coast of war-torn Yemen.

The operation successfully prevented a potential catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea, a strategically important area controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The tanker held four times the amount of oil spilt in the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. FSO Safer has long been a concern due to the lack of maintenance, damaged pipes, and the potential risk of a spill or explosion.

The United Nations has led the initiative with obstacles posed by the war and raised international funding for the operation. Most of the oil is now in a replacement tanker named MOST Yemen, but a small amount mixed with sediment remains in the Safer's hull, to be removed in a final cleaning phase, but the timeline remains uncertain.

The Yemeni civil war, which began in 2014 when Houthi rebels took control of the capital, has caused devastation in the country. A Saudi-led coalition intervened to support the internationally recognised government against the rebels, leading to a complex conflict. The situation with FSO Safer, with its potential for an ecological disaster, exemplifies Yemen's broader challenges amid the ongoing conflict and political tensions.

Early patterns of climate change-driven consumption

The Canadian wildfires smothered large parts of the United States with smoke earlier this summer. In the Northeast, where the wildfire smoke was particularly terrible, air purifier sales jumped 119%.

Some of the worst air quality levels on record on the American East Coast impacted consumer shopping patterns and drove up the price of air purifier stocks. Sales of air purifier units increased by 96% compared to June of last year, according to the market research firm Circana.

Additionally, during the brutal heat wave in the United States earlier this summer, consumers bought air conditioners, ice makers, pool floats and other goods to help them cool down. According to data from Jungle Scout, Amazon's sales of air conditioners increased 248% from mid-June to mid-July. Sales for fans grew 60%, and search terms like “single room AC units” and “portable misting fans” spiked triple digits during the period.

This is an early indication of how climate change will drive consumer behaviour — at a time when more consumption is the last thing we need.

Most people still want to work (a bit) from home, but how you do video calls will impact your career

This week, Amazon employees in the United States who had not been in the office at least three times a week received an email informing them they were “not currently meeting our expectation of joining your colleagues in the office at least three days a week”. The emails have sparked debate about workers being tracked and penalized for insufficient office time.

Several tech companies are pushing back against work-from-home practices that advanced during the pandemic. For example, Google's parent company, Alphabet, asks workers to come into the office three days a week, and Zoom has been calling back employees who live within 50 miles of a Zoom office to return to in-person work part-time.

However, research from Stanford University on global working-from-home preferences shows an apparent mismatch between employees' wishes and employers' plans.

Data collected across 34 countries between April and May 2023 show that 67% of full-time employees work five days per week on business premises. 26% have hybrid arrangements, splitting the workweek between home and the office. 8% of full-time employees work entirely from home.

However, if employees could choose, 26% of workers would like to work from home five days a week, 56% would prefer a hybrid set-up, and 19% would prefer working entirely on-site. On average, the desire would be to work two days from home every week, but employers plan for 1.1 days per week.

On average, full-time employees worked 0.9 days per week from home. In English-speaking countries, employees worked from home an average of 1.4 days per week. Europe ranged from 0.5 days (Greece) to 1.0 days (Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands), averaging 0.8 days a week. In the seven Asian countries surveyed, people worked from home an average of 0.7 days per week, while it was slightly higher, at 0.9 days per week, in Latin America and South Africa.

The top three reasons employees enjoy working on-premise is socialising with co-workers (62%), face-to-face collaboration (54%) and clearer boundaries (43%). The top reasons for working from home are no commute (60%), savings on gas and lunch (44%), and increased flexibility (42%).

However, roughly 30% of workers said they "never" meet with co-workers face-to-face, while a similar percentage said they only do so twice or more monthly. Also, camera usage differs, based on hierarchy. Managers are far more likely to turn their cameras on in meetings involving anywhere from two to 30 people. Only in meetings of 30 people and above are managers and employees both likely to switch off their videos in equal numbers.

Another study published last year found that 96% of executives agreed that primarily remote workers were disadvantaged compared to those working from the office. And that 92% of executives believed employees who are frequently on mute or don't turn on their cameras may not have a long-term future at the company.

Political beliefs impacted the risk of dying in Covid-19

Everyone was dying at higher rates during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the beginning, the excess deaths were evenly distributed across ideologies. However, a new study shows that after COVID-19 vaccines arrived, "the excess death rate among Republican voters was 43% higher than the excess death rate among Democratic voters".

Researchers from Yale University who studied the pandemic's effects on the two states concluded in a recent paper that from the pandemic's start in March 2020 through December 2021, "excess mortality was significantly higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters after Covid-19 vaccines were available to all adults, but not before."

The different rates "were concentrated in counties with lower vaccination rates, and primarily noted in voters residing in Ohio".

The polarised politics of Climate Change in the United States

New research from the Pew Research Centre has examined American sentiment towards Climate Change (1)(2). 46% of Americans say human activity is the primary reason the Earth is warming. By contrast, 26% say warming is caused mainly by natural environmental patterns, and another 14% do not believe there’s evidence the Earth is warming at all.

The insights reveal a polarisation between those with the insight of human-caused climate change and those without, likely creating political tension in the coming years. While climate change is becoming an increasingly urgent threat among Democratic voters, that is not true among Republicans. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (78%) describe climate change as a significant threat to the country’s well-being, up from about six-in-ten (58%) a decade ago. By contrast, about one in four Republicans (23%) consider climate change a significant threat, a share almost identical to 10 years ago (!).

Still, 37% of Americans think addressing climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress, and another 34% say it is an "important but lower priority". Still, while most adults view climate change as a significant threat, it is a lower priority than issues such as strengthening the economy and reducing health care costs.

Two-thirds of US adults say the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, over expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas. And the same share thinks the federal government should encourage domestic wind and solar power production. While just 7% say the government should discourage this, and 26% believe it should neither encourage nor discourage it.

Nine in ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the United States should prioritise developing alternative energy sources to address the country's energy supply. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 42% support developing alternative energy sources, while 58% say the country should prioritize expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas. However, among the Republican voters, two-thirds of Republicans under age 30 (67%) prioritise developing alternative energy sources. While, 75% of Republicans ages 65 and older prioritize expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas.

While the American public is generally reluctant to phase out fossil fuels altogether, younger adults are more supportive of this idea. Among Americans ages 18 to 29, 48% say the US should exclusively use renewables. This divide between age groups exists in both parties.

Among those Americans who do not believe in climate change, 67% have little or no trust in climate scientists. This relates to the increasing scepticism and distrust towards government and institutions we see in American society (a trend that the OECD tracks globally, with many countries developing in the opposite direction).

Back-to-school shopping is breaking all-time records, but inflation is making resales attractive

While inflation in the United States is cooling, many household budgets are still challenged by the higher prices, and parents have increased their back-to-school budgets for the second year. Many families are searching for ways to save, including late-summer sales and secondhand shopping.

Data from the National Retail Federation on United States consumers show that 39% of back-to-school and 35% of back-to-college shoppers said they’d consider buying used clothing and accessories this year.

71% of back-to-school and 67% of back-to-college shoppers say sustainability considerations are important when shopping for back-to-class items, with shoppers aged 25-44 more likely to say sustainability is "very important" to them. Of those who say sustainability is important when preparing for the school year, 58% of back-to-school shoppers say that clothing and accessories are the categories it matters most.

However, not everyone who views sustainability as important is considering shopping resale. Only 39% of back-to-school and 35% of back-to-college shoppers would consider buying clothing and accessories secondhand, with their top reasons being to “save money” and “be more sustainable."

Another survey suggests parents plan to buy more items secondhand than last year. 8% plan to buy used school supplies – like backpacks and binders – compared to 4% in 2022. 14% plan to purchase used books (11% last year). And 12% plan to buy used home goods, compared to 6% last year.

Consumers in the US are expected to spend record amounts on back-to-school and back-to-college shopping this year. Back-to-school spending is expected to reach an unparalleled $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year and the previous high of $37.1 billion in 2021. And back-to-college spending is expected to hit $94 billion, about $20 billion more than last year’s record.

Electronics is where both back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers spend the most — followed by clothes for back-to-school, and furniture for back-to-college, shoppers.

The small things

CAREER — Soft skills are out, and green skills are in. At least they are highly requested by everyone from companies and charities to politicians and CEOs. But, few seem to know what skills are included in this new trend. Here's a great article explaining 15 different "green skills".

TOOLS — With many parallel projects running, I started to log my (billable) hours with Tyme. Simple, well-designed and convenient.

CHANGE — On a constant hunt to cut waste, I've been researching refillable and sustainable deodorants for years. After being sold out forever, I finally got to try Glossier's version. So far, I'm a fan.

ART — These monster-inspired lamps from Hannah Simpson would be a delightful addition to any home preparing for the season of darkness.

EAT — Strain Greek yoghurt in a kitchen towel overnight. Season with salt and black pepper, and you'll get Labneh—a perfect spread on bread. Top with apricots, blackberry marmalade, or summer tomatoes.

That's all for today. If you like this newsletter, the best way to show your appreciation is to share it with someone you think will enjoy it, too. 💕