What in the World—Week of May 10

Is Starbucks leaving Facebook over hate content?
Starbucks is considering leaving Facebook because of the hate posts that appear alongside its anti-racism and social justice content, according to BuzzFeed News—which saw internal communications from Facebook about the problem. “Starbucks is in the process of evaluating their organic presence on FB, and whether they should continue to have a presence on the platform at all,” wrote one Facebook employee. Whenever the Starbucks posts organically about social issues (such as BLM, LGBTQ, climate etc.), “they are overwhelmed by negative/insensitive, hate speech related comments on their posts.” A Starbucks spokesperson would not confirm it was considering leaving Facebook, but said it wants to see more done to address the problem. “While some changes have been implemented, we believe more can be done to create welcoming and inclusive online communities,” they said. A Facebook statement said it works with clients and provides tools to “keep hate off their pages.”

Ed Sheeran sponsors a soccer team
In North American sports, uniform sponsorships are a relatively new—and still controversial—practice. But pro teams and athletes in other markets have long worn the names of marketers on their uniforms, including some of the biggest names in automotive, finance, travel and telecom. But next year, English soccer club Ipswich Town’s shirt sponsor (both men and women) will be global singing star Ed Sheeran, a longtime fan of the club. The shirts won’t have “Sheeran” on them, however. Instead, they will feature the mathematical symbols +, x, and ÷, which Sheeran has used as the names for his albums, along with – and =, and the word “Tour.” “The football club is a big part of the local community and this is my way of showing my support,” said Sheeran, who would not say what the shirt message meant. “All will be revealed in time,” he said.

Publicis faces legal action of opioid crisis
The state of Massachusetts is suing Publicis Groupe over work for drugmaker Purdue Pharma that it says contributed to the U.S. opioid crisis. The state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, alleges the advertising giant created campaigns to “persuade doctors to prescribe more opioids, including to patients who did not need them,” reports Reuters. “Purdue alone paid Publicis more than $50 million for its work, which continued even after Publicis proposed in 2016 that Purdue shut down its sales force to ‘fully embrace a deeper-held responsibility’ the drugmaker owed the public, Healey said,” according to Reuters. A Publicis Health spokesman said the company’s work was “completely lawful,” there was no legal basis for the lawsuit, and that the statute of limitations had run out.

For now, Deckers gets the (ugly) boot
An Australian company has been dealt another legal blow in its ongoing fight to use the word “uggs” for its footwear. A U.S. appeals court last week rejected the claim by Australian Leather that the word “uggs” is a catchall term in its home country, used since the 1930s to describe any form of sheepskin boots lined with fleece. “We should be able to sell our ugg boots worldwide,” said Australian leather owner Eddie Oygur. “It’s generic here, and it’s an Australian product.” He argued that the term “uggs” warranted similar protection to the French “Champagne” and the Greek “Feta.” U.S. company Deckers Outdoor Corporation holds the Uggs trademark in 130 countries, according to The New York Times, and the fashionably ugly footwear accounted for three-quarters of its US$2 billion in sales last year. The company successfully argued that in the U.S. at least, most consumers recognize Uggs as a brand. “[T]his case was about protecting American consumers from being deceived into buying counterfeit product that was being offered for sale and sold online into the U.S,” said Deckers’ chief administrative officer Tom Garcia.

Smart home devices taking things into their own, er, hands
If you have any fears or misgivings about the technological singularity, stop reading now. Google and Amazon have introduced features for their smart-home devices that proactively assist users, rather than waiting to be called on. Google’s newest Nest hub device, for example, can automatically track users’ sleep patterns once the feature is enabled, using a combination of microphones and sound, light and temperature sensors to detect coughing, snoring and other factors that impact sleep. The Amazon Echo 10, meanwhile, automatically moves its display to face users, even when performing a task that doesn’t require input. “Amazon and Google hope the experiences will help them compete for users and more fully integrate their devices into people’s lives,” said The Wall Street Journal. Smart speaker ownership continued to rise in the U.S. during the pandemic, with 94 million Americans estimated to own at least one device.

David Brown