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Quibi, JetBlue and Others Gave Away Email Addresses, Report Says

Millions of people gave their email addresses to Quibi, JetBlue, Wish and other companies — and those email addresses got away.

They ended up in the hands of advertising and analytics companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, leaving the people with those email addresses more easily targeted by advertisers and able to be tracked by companies that study shopping behavior, according to a report published on Wednesday.

The customers unwittingly exposed their email addresses when signing up for apps or clicking on links in marketing emails, said the researcher Zach Edwards, who runs the digital strategy firm Victory Medium. In the report, he described the giveaway of personal data as part of a “sloppy and dangerous growth hack.”

The practice of making customers vulnerable to tracking by allowing their personal data to be passively collected by third parties is nothing new, Mr. Edwards said in an interview, but it has gained traction despite efforts to improve online privacy protections.

“This hack used to be something that only very niche and sophisticated developers understood,” he said. “But now the entire ad-tech industry understands it.”

Privacy experts have raised concerns about leaks of personal information for more than a decade, said Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor at Princeton University who has studied data mining. Careless web programming practices lead to some accidental giveaways of large hunks of personal information, he said, but other leaks are intentional.

“There’s an industry of ad targeting that tries to connect people’s online and offline activities,” Mr. Narayanan said. “People may not want all of their interests and activities and purchases to be tied together in one uber-profile that connects every dot, but that’s exactly what’s happening. These leaks are one clue to the puzzle of how companies are able to create that all-encompassing profile.”

Mr. Edwards, a contributor to a recent study that examined potential privacy violations by dating services like Grindr and OkCupid, wrote in the new report that one of the “most egregious” leaks involved Quibi, a short-form video platform based in Los Angeles that is run by the veteran executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman.

Quibi went live on April 6, long after new data privacy regulations went into effect in Europe and California.

“In 2020, no new technology organizations should be launching that leaks all new user-confirmed emails to advertising and analytics companies,” Mr. Edwards wrote. “Yet that’s what Quibi apparently decided to do.”

People who downloaded the Quibi app were asked to submit their email addresses. Then they received a confirmation link. Clicking on the link made their email addresses available to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, according to the report.

Quibi said in a statement on Wednesday that data security “is of the highest priority” and that “the moment the issue on our webpage was revealed to our security and engineering team, we fixed it immediately.”

Mr. Edwards said customers were probably unaware of leaks at Wish, an e-commerce platform where hundreds of millions of email addresses were most likely exposed starting in 2018. When users clicked on links in marketing emails from the company, their email addresses were shared with Google, Facebook, Pinterest, PayPal and others, he wrote.

Wish strengthened its data protection measures after hearing from Mr. Edwards this year, the company said in a statement. But it criticized his report as “off the mark,” noting that the email addresses were encoded and went to service providers that Wish uses for advertising and sales support.

A spokesman for Wish added that Google and other advertising and analytics companies “had no reason” to crack the encoded email addresses. “In any event,” the spokesman said, “it certainly is not a ‘breach’ to provide a service provider with such encoded information.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Mr. Edwards’s report, customer data also leaked out of JetBlue, which said in a statement that it was taking Mr. Edwards’s concerns seriously and would review his findings.

Other companies, including The Washington Post, had limited leaks, according to the report. The email addresses of people who had unsubscribed to newsletters from The Post ended up with several analytics companies, Mr. Edwards wrote, and the publication addressed the issue shortly after it was notified.

The coronavirus pandemic has reignited concerns over weak privacy protections. The many tracking apps that have been used to trace carriers of Covid-19 may open the door to more surveillance. The Zoom videoconferencing service, newly popular with people stuck at home, has struggled with a slew of privacy and security problems.

Mr. Edwards urged companies to reach out to platforms that might have collected their customers’ email addresses and ask that the information be scrubbed.

“Some of the largest companies doing this pretend like it doesn’t happen, so they don’t have to deal with the deletion process,” Mr. Edwards said. “They ignore people who ask.”

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Airline Flight Delays Got Worse in 2019. Here’s a Scorecard.

Forget about perks like miles, meals and movies. At their core, airlines promise a simple service — timely transportation — yet they made little progress toward improving that basic offering last year.

Airlines in the United States performed worse in 2019 than the year before in getting flights to destinations on time, while the share of flights canceled climbed for the third straight year, the Transportation Department reported Wednesday.

Over all, 79 percent of flights in 2019 arrived on time, slightly less than the year before, the department said. An “on time” flight is defined as one that arrives no more than 15 minutes after its scheduled arrival, a definition that consumer advocates say is outdated.

“It’s a leftover from the 1950s, when we used to have all point-to-point flights,” said Charles Leocha, co-founder of Travelers United, a nonprofit group that promotes travelers’ interests in Washington.

For travelers with short layovers between connecting flights, 15 minutes can make a huge difference, he said.

Hawaiian Airlines was the most punctual airline, with nearly 87.7 percent of flights arriving on time. Delta was next, with 83.5 percent, followed by Alaska Airlines with 81.3 percent. The Transportation Department data for major airlines includes flights operated by the companies themselves and their affiliates.

Frontier performed worse than any other, with just 73.1 percent of its flights reaching their destination by the time promised. JetBlue was next, with just 73.5 percent, followed by United with 75.2 percent.

Of course, travel misery knows many forms. Passengers on a few hundred flights endured another kind of frustration: long waits on grounded planes.

Airlines reported 302 tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights, compared with 202 in 2018 and 193 the year before. There were 26 delays of more than four hours on international flights, compared with 61 the year before and 51 in 2017.

According to federal rules, airlines can hold passengers on the tarmac for three hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights before allowing them to get off.

The longest tarmac delay for a domestic flight in the last month of the year occurred on Dec. 18, when passengers aboard a United plane waited four hours and seven minutes at Newark Liberty International Airport for a flight to San Diego. The same day, passengers aboard another United flight headed to Milan waited more than five and a half hours on the tarmac at Newark, the longest such delay for an international flight in December.

“United is disproportionately impacted by severe weather when compared to our competitors, based on the geographic location and size of our busiest hubs — particularly Newark,” the airline said in a statement. “Additionally, we are seeing worsening weather and much more intense and longer-duration weather events.”

Last year was the worst in United’s history in terms of delays caused by weather or air traffic control, it added.

Airlines for America, a trade group, said airlines carried a record number of passengers last year, adding that the tarmac delays were caused by severe weather, poor airport maintenance and security-related disruptions.

Delays are one thing, though. Never boarding the flight you booked is another.

According to figures released Wednesday, the major carriers canceled 1.9 percent of scheduled flights last year, a figure that has steadily increased since hitting a low of 1.1 percent in 2016. And cancellations were highest at American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United, which have had to scrap hundreds of flights because of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

Passengers suffered other indignities last year, too. More than 2.9 million bags were lost, damaged, delayed or stolen out of the more than half a billion bags the major airlines processed last year. American, United and JetBlue mishandled bags more frequently than any other. Allegiant, Frontier and Southwest mishandled bags the least. The airlines also mishandled 1.54 percent of checked wheelchairs and scooters.

The Transportation Department changed its mishandled baggage data in December 2018 and started counting mishandled wheelchairs and scooters only that month, so the data cannot be compared with previous years.

More precious cargo wasn’t immune to problems, either. Eleven animals died in transit, and eight were injured, though those figures were just a tiny fraction of the more than 400,000 animals transported on airlines.

According to the data, Hawaiian, United and American had the worst track records for ferrying animals.

The Transportation Department also reported an increase in disability and discrimination complaints of more than 9 percent last year compared with 2018.

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The Secret of Their Success: It’s Not About the Money

What does it take to start a successful business these days? A lot of passion, for sure, but it’s really perseverance that matters.

Bob Parsons is best known as the founder of GoDaddy, the domain registration company that grabbed attention with provocative television commercials in the early 2000s. The company quickly came to dominate the market for registering domain names.

After selling the company and amassing a net worth of $2.7 billion, he now runs various companies that include PXG, a high-end golf club manufacturer; the exclusive Scottsdale National Golf Club in Arizona; several motorcycle businesses; and a commercial real estate portfolio.

Around the time of GoDaddy’s success, David Neeleman was changing commercial air travel in the United States. In 1998, he co-founded JetBlue Airways, which he took public in 2002 and ran until 2007, when he was ousted as chief executive. But before he left, JetBlue set a new standard for customer service — and introduced live television in flight.

Mr. Neeleman has since founded two other airlines, Azul in Brazil and a yet-unnamed United States airline that is expected to begin flying next year.

Over the holidays, I sat down with both entrepreneurs in separate interviews. They have long fascinated me, as much for what they did as for what they continue to do. Both started from scratch, struggled in school and worked for decades before they earned tremendous wealth. And both have kept returning to entrepreneurial ventures to test new ideas in new markets.

I wanted to see what could be learned from them, but I also wanted to understand how their success came about. Neither of their ventures was based on creating a new industry: There were more airlines than there are today when JetBlue started, and Mr. Parsons said the domain registration market was full of registrars when he got into it.

Also, in a time when entrepreneurship feels like a college major, I wanted to talk to two people who started out working for other companies and through those jobs got the spark that fueled their creativity.

Mr. Parsons, 69, half-jokingly attributes his success to not technically passing the fifth grade. When the nuns at his Catholic school in Baltimore held him back, he skipped out of summer school and lined up with the sixth graders that fall, to the bafflement of the nuns. They let him stay.

It’s a quirk Mr. Parsons reminded his mother of when he appeared on the Forbes wealth list. “I called and said, ‘Mom, I know guys who passed the fifth grade and aren’t on the Forbes list,’” he said.

But that experience was something he said he came back to as a Marine in the Vietnam War, when he was convinced he was going to die. And when GoDaddy was slowly burning through the $34 million he got from selling his first company, Parsons Technology, which made money management software, he again recalled those nuns.

“When GoDaddy didn’t go broke, I thought of the fifth grade,” he said. “I learned then that in a hopeless situation, if you keep at it, you can keep at it.”

The turning point for GoDaddy was a racy Super Bowl advertisement in 2005 that spoofed the previous year’s Super Bowl halftime show, when the singer Janet Jackson had her famous “wardrobe malfunction.” The ad, which featured a woman in a tight GoDaddy tank top, was supposed to run twice, but Fox pulled the second airing. The ensuing controversy jolted GoDaddy into the public conversation and made it the go-to registrar for domain names.

“That whole business was about as exciting as a cup of sawdust,” Mr. Parsons said. “We made the business exciting through our commercials and made it a fun thing to be associated with.”

Mr. Neeleman, 60, who struggled with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder in school, grew up working with his siblings in their grandfather’s convenience stores in Utah. It instilled in him the value of customer service.

At his first airline, Morris Air, he bought a machine called a fog buster to lessen delays for planes in the winter, he said. “If you shot it in the air, it crystallized the fog and turned it into snow,” he said. That allowed the planes to take off.

After a brief stint at Southwest Airlines, which bought Morris Air, Mr. Neeleman began plans to start JetBlue.

“At the time JetBlue hit the market, airlines were at an all-time low for customer service,” he said. “No one believed we could buy brand-new airplanes, give people live TV, put the airline in New York City and I could blow everyone away. But the bigger the gap between what people got and what they expected — that was what created the buzz.”

Money is never the main motivation of successful entrepreneurs, said Kyle Jensen, associate dean and director of entrepreneurship at the Yale School of Management.

Mr. Parsons agreed. “You’ve got to be doing it to be exceptional,” he said. “The quirkiness of it is, once you do that, it’s what you need to make money.”

Some studies found that entrepreneurs became better at running each successive venture, but in many industries, the one who sticks it out the longest often prevails, said Professor Jensen, who has started three businesses.

“Entrepreneurs usually have some inkling about a problem they can solve,” he said. “But typically they’re not exactly right. So if you survive long enough, you pivot and pivot and pivot and find what sticks.”

That was what happened with GoDaddy, Mr. Parsons said. The company had tried various strategies before it landed on selling domain names in the hopes of driving business to the software it was developing. Instead, domain names became the core business.

With JetBlue, Mr. Neeleman credited his brief stint at Southwest for showing him how an airline could take advantage of tax laws and financing programs to buy new planes and still be profitable.

The three factors typically at play for a successful entrepreneurial venture are a demand in the marketplace, a well-developed idea and luck, said Karl T. Ulrich, vice dean for entrepreneurship and innovation at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

For existing industries, the quality of the execution becomes more important, he said, and it can translate across businesses.

“That factor should be pretty consistent for a given entrepreneur over his or her career,” Professor Ulrich said. “This would be one explanation for why some entrepreneurs — those with great skills — are consistently successful.”

Mr. Parsons said the unifying theme of his various ventures had been to create an experience. With his first software company, he offered better customer service than competitors; with GoDaddy, he built a buzz around the company’s commercials.

With his current businesses, he has focused on creating a premium experience in branding. PXG, which releases its third generation of popular and expensive irons this weekend, has carved out a niche for high-performance golf clubs that can be independently measured. But the brand also has a cultlike following among die-hard golfers.

At Scottsdale National, Mr. Parsons has limited the membership to 145 people. People interested in joining need to send in an application just to visit, which costs $30,000. If Mr. Parsons and his wife, Renee, get along with the prospective members, they can join — for a $300,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $60,000.

“I did not enter the golf club business,” Mr. Parsons said. “I entered the business of creating an experience.”

Mr. Neeleman sees Azul in Brazil as a similar customer service story to JetBlue. When he started the airline in 2008, “there was no customer service and the safety protocols were bad in Brazil,” he said. “Now, we have 1,000 flights a day and serve 114 cities.”

Successful entrepreneurs are, by design, people who see their slice of the world differently. If they didn’t want to improve their industry, they would be content working for an existing company like everyone else.

Even now, after so much success, Mr. Parsons said he was quick to quit a strategy that did not work. “I don’t dwell on things,” he said. “I think about something and I do it.”

But there is a downside. When he’s at Scottsdale National, where he and his wife also have a home, he can’t ever fully relax. “I can’t enjoy it like a member,” he said. “I’m always looking for things to improve.”


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