European commissioners, BoJo’s defeat, robot religion

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What to watch for today

The European Commission president unveils her new team. Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister and the head of the EU’s executive branch, will present her proposed team of 27 new commissioners today. No British commissioner will be appointed on the assumption that Brexit will happen on Oct. 31.

Italy’s prime minister faces a second confidence vote. After easily winning approval in the lower house yesterday, Giuseppe Conte and his coalition government face a similar vote in the Senate, where they count on a slimmer majority. The coalition brings together the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, and has promised smoother relations with Europe.

Jack Ma steps down. The Alibaba chairman who has become the face of Chinese entrepreneurship announced last year that he would retire on his 55th birthday.  He’ll be replaced by CEO Daniel Zhang, a low-key figure who came up with the idea for the company’s Single’s Day shopping festival.

A special election in North Carolina might offer clues for 2020. The state’s ninth district will have a do-over of last November’s congressional race after the initial results were thrown out due to illegal ballot tampering. Analysts are looking at the contest as a possible harbinger of how the presidential race will take shape.

While you were sleeping

MPs dealt Boris Johnson another defeat. British lawmakers rejected the prime minister’s bid for a snap election, and also voted to force the government to publish details of its no-deal Brexit plans. That followed other setbacks for him yesterday, including the formal enactment of a bill to prevent the UK from leaving the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31.

North Korea fired more projectiles. Just hours after Pyongyang agreed to more talks with the US this month, the country launched “unidentified projectiles” towards the sea this morning, according to the South Korean military.

A US federal judge allowed a nationwide lawsuit against Facebook to proceed. A privacy class action seeking damages from the social media giant for allowing third parties like Cambridge Analytica to access users’ data has been given the green light by a judge who called the company’s views on privacy as “so wrong.”

Donald Trump declared Afghan peace talks “dead.” Two days after the US president abruptly cancelled secret plans to host a Taliban delegation at Camp David, he said that there is no point in continuing negotiations aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan. The militant group has promised more bloodshed.

Huawei dropped a lawsuit against the US government. The Chinese tech giant is no longer suing the commerce department and other agencies over seized telecommunications equipment, after Washington returned the gear last month. Earlier this year, the US put Huawei on a blacklist barring American companies from selling products to the firm.

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This week we take a deep dive into the vaping invasion, starting with Jenni Avinsstate of play analysis on the tobacco industry’s high-tech revival, a brief history of vaping and e-cigarettes, and a look at US high schoolers’ vaping habits. Plus, read our Q&A with Philip Morris COO Jacek Olczak, who explains the company’s strategy for converting smokers to vapers.

Quartz Obsession

Digital easter eggs started as a workplace protest. The little messages and in-jokes coded into hidden places in video games started in the 1970s, before video-game programmers had the status they do today. Lacking recognition, they’d subtly embed it into their work. As companies grew to tolerate them, they’ve become a feature, not a bug. Go hunting at the Quartz Obsession.

Matters of debate

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Your expense report says a lot about you. The things you demand reimbursement for offer a window into your soul.

Cyclists shouldn’t be forced to wear helmets. It would discourage people from biking, reducing the crucial “safety in numbers” effect.

Travelers should pay tourist taxes. Levies make sure visitors benefit the community, not just the businesses that serve them.

Surprising discoveries

Robots are revolutionizing religion. Machines are delivering sermons, performing sacred rituals and doling out blessings.

Some technology really is magic. Anastasia Synn has more than two dozen microchips and magnets in her body for her work as a “cyborg magician.”

Researchers are using YouTube to study autism. Scraping online videos, a team of scientists trained AI to analyze the body movements of children with autism.

Private Instagram posts aren’t really private. Photos on private accounts can be accessed, downloaded, and distributed publicly by friends and followers with a simple trick.

Americans believe the truth is out there. One in three Americans think some UFO sightings are real aliens, and two-thirds think the government isn’t telling the full story.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, magic implants for muggles, and not-so-private Instas to Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by Mary Hui and edited by Tripti Lahiri.