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  • 10:26 am

Instagram’s new warning to hateful trolls: ‘Your account may be deleted’

Instagram’s new warning to hateful trolls: ‘Your account may be deleted’
[Photo: Jessica Ruscello/Unsplash]

Instagram is making another change as it strives for a kinder, gentler version of itself. Yesterday, it rolled out a new policy that could mean a lot more problematic accounts will be disabled.

Under Instagram’s existing policy, accounts are disabled after a certain percentage of posted content violates its terms. The new policy will do that and more. Now, Instagram will also remove accounts with a certain number of violations within a certain time frame—like if someone goes on a racist, homophobic, or violent Instagram rant—which is more in line with Facebook’s policy.

If that idea makes you worried that your edgy content will get flagged, you’re in luck: Instagram is also rolling out a new notification policy, in which it will warn users if their account is at risk of being disabled. This notification will also offer the opportunity to appeal the deletion of content, which is good news for anyone who had their, say, breastfeeding photo deleted or artwork tagged as pornographic.

According to Instagram, appeals will be initially available for content that was deleted on the grounds of “nudity and pornography, bullying and harassment, hate speech, drug sales, and counter-terrorism,” but it will be expanding in the coming months.

[Courtesy of Instagram]
The news comes a few days after Instagram was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons when photos of a young woman’s brutally murdered body were posted on the site. The gruesome images were still available long after they were reported, as bad actors reuploaded them. Users resorted to trying to populate the hashtag and the victim’s handle with photos of pink clouds to drown out the gory images.

That horrifying situation underscores the challenges that Instagram appears to face when it comes to pulling wildly offensive content even when the company is actively trying to do so. While Instagram isn’t saying if the policy changes are a response to that incident, it’s a good time for the social media site to appear to be taking this issue seriously. This change could be a good first step.

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  • 7:30 am

Criminals are using deepfakes to impersonate CEOs

Criminals are using deepfakes to impersonate CEOs
[Photo: Elijah O’Donnell/Unsplash]

“Deepfakes” refers to media that has been altered by artificial intelligence to make it appear that a person is doing or saying something that, in fact, that person has never done or said. The technology first began appearing a few years ago, with crude deepfake tools allowing users to make it look like celebrities were recorded engaging in sexual activities they actually didn’t take part in.

But deepfakes are now moving past the porn realm and into the criminal world where bad actors are using the tech to impersonate CEOs, Axios reports. However, for now, it appears criminals are using deepfake audio instead of video to pull off scams:

  • Symantec, a major cybersecurity company, says it has seen three successful audio attacks on private companies. In each, a company’s “CEO” called a senior financial officer to request an urgent money transfer.

  • Scammers were mimicking the CEOs’ voices with an AI program that had been trained on hours of their speech—culled from earnings calls, YouTube videos, TED talks, and the like.

  • Millions of dollars were stolen from each company, whose names were not revealed. The attacks were first reported in the BBC.

The threat deepfake audio poses to businesses cannot be understated. While someone using deepfake audio to pretend they’re the CEO of a company and getting that company’s accounting department to wire them $1 million because of an “emergency” is one thing, the tech could also be used for sabotage. What if one rival–or even a nation-state–wanted to sink Apple’s stock price? A well-timed deepfake audio clip that purports to show Tim Cook having a private conversation with someone about iPhone sales tanking could do just that–wiping billions off the stock market in seconds.

And unfortunately, right now there just aren’t reliable tools to easily and automatically identify deepfake media on the web. By the time a deepfake video or audio recording has been debunked, the damage could already be done.

If you want to see a deepfake in action, check out the one of President Obama, voiced by Jordan Peel, below.

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  • 6:01 am

22 ways that climate change may ruin your summer

22 ways that climate change may ruin your summer
[Photo: Pawel Janiak/Unsplash]

If the swiftly melting, swiftly heating planet isn’t enough to get you doing everything you can to fight the world’s climate emergency, perhaps this will inspire you to act: Climate change could, like, totally ruin your summer.

As the planet and its oceans heat up, big changes could be coming to the way we spend our holidays if we don’t quickly curb our greenhouse gas emissions. Here are a few ways that the changing climate could dramatically impact your summer plans:

  1. More heat waves
  2. More humidity
  3. Worse sunburns
  4. Higher air-conditioning costs
  5. More heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke
  6. More and worse air pollution
  7. Disappearing beaches
  8. Water shortages
  9. More summer allergies
  10. More ticks
  11. More mosquitoes
  12. More sharks at northern beaches
  13. More algal blooms taking over lakes
  14. Bigger storms
  15. More expensive barbecues
  16. Higher ice cream prices
  17. No more Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup
  18. Railroad disruptions
  19. Increasing travel costs
  20. Fewer landmarks to visit in the U.S. and abroad
  21. Less disposable income to spend on summer fun
  22. Your favorite rosé may disappear

If, however, countries meet carbon-cutting goals, proactively adapt to a warming world, and work together to make sure that global temperatures rise less than 2 degrees Celsius, as set out in the Paris Agreement, this scenario will be much less likely, and we could all go back to enjoying our summers.

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A Florida city is playing ‘Baby Shark’ on a loop to keep homeless people away

A Florida city is playing ‘Baby Shark’ on a loop to keep homeless people away
[Photo: Oleg Laptev/Unsplash]

Using music to torture people has been common practice for the CIA and government for decades. Van Halen’s “Panama” helped the U.S. capture Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and it has been part of the military’s “enhanced interrogation program” since the early 2000s. Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” and the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were both reportedly used to torment possible terrorists, and David Koresh was hit with a “Mitch Miller chorus singing Christmas carols” as the FBI tried to oust him from his compound in Waco, Texas. Blasting obnoxious music is designed to create fear and disorient prisoners or dictators holed up in embassies or, in the case of a Florida city, the homeless.

Officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, have put songs including “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” on a continuous loop overnight in the hopes of keeping homeless people from camping out at on the patio of the waterfront Lake Pavilion, a popular—and profitable—banquet facility owned by the city, according to the Palm Beach Post.

While the city is aware that this looks bad (because it is bad), officials claim it’s a temporary fix to avoid having brides or caterers “trip over bodies” when they use the banquet facilities, while it works on more long-term solutions. That includes job training, mental health services, buying them one-way tickets back home, and, you know, finding them actual homes.

Try listening to this for eight hours in a row:

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Microsoft’s cloud powers another surprisingly strong quarter

Microsoft’s cloud powers another surprisingly strong quarter
[Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Microsoft reported a strong June-ending quarter, beating analysts’ revenue expectations by a comfortable margin.

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The company said it took $33.7 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 12% improvement on the same quarter last year. FactSet analysts expected only $32.8 billion. Microsoft reported earnings of $1.71 per share (GAAP), up 50% from last year. Net income was $13.2 billion (GAAP), up from $8.9 billion last year.

Almost all aspects of Microsoft’s business grew in the June quarter. Its Office 365 commercial business was up 31%. Its Dynamics 365 CRM software revenue grew 45%. LinkedIn revenue grew 21%. Surface hardware sales grew 14%.

The biggest factor in the Microsoft’s performance was its commercial cloud services business, which grew 39% in the quarter. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the business brought in $38 billion over the past year, at a 63% profit margin.

“Microsoft is firing on all cylinders now, growing big in growing markets, and even managing growth in mature markets like PCs,” said Moor Insights & Strategy principle analyst Patrick Moorhead. “In the cloud, Microsoft is cementing its spot as the #2 provider in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS services.”

The only real soft spot in the earnings report was a 49% drop in Xbox hardware sales revenue in the June quarter.

Fiscal-year results

For the full fiscal year Microsoft’s revenue increased 14% to $125.8 billion. Net income was $39.2 billion (GAAP) and $36.8 billion non-GAAP, and increased 137% and 22%, respectively.

Nadella said this about the company’s full-year performance: “It was a record fiscal year for Microsoft, a result of our deep partnerships with leading companies in every industry.” Nadella says Microsoft is seeing larger, multi-year commercial cloud agreements and “growing momentum across every layer of our technology stack.”

Case in point is the long-term agreement with AT&T Microsoft announced earlier this week. In new deployments Microsoft will provide the cloud services while AT&T will provide the 5G communications network.

As of now Microsoft is the biggest tech company in the world if you go by its $1.04 trillion valuation. The momentum its getting from the cloud business shows no sign of stopping.

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Breastfeeding mothers on KLM airlines may be asked to cover up if some rando gets offended

Breastfeeding mothers on KLM airlines may be asked to cover up if some rando gets offended
[Photo: Oskar Kadaksoo/Unsplash]

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is under fire on Twitter after posting details about its breastfeeding policy. While breastfeeding is permitted on its flights, the airline tweeted that it may “request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.” The reason, KLM said, is to ensure that “passengers of all backgrounds” feel comfortable on board.

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The post is not going over well. Although a handful of folks cheered on the airline for protecting their precious eyes from an extremely natural act, many more people around the world have weighed in to express their frustration over a policy that allows some random offended person to dictate how and when a mother can feed her hungry child. In other words, KLM is getting ratioed.

If you’re wondering why so many people feel so strongly about this, it’s because:

  1. Breastfeeding mothers are just trying to feed their child with the tools nature gave them.
  2. Women shouldn’t have to think twice about feeding a hungry or upset child.
  3. Mothers are exhausted and don’t need one more thing to feel exhausted about.
  4. Women are tired of men policing their bodies.
  5. If you’re offended by breastfeeding, it’s really easy to just watch the seat back in front of you and leave the mother to her work of ensuring the continuation of the species.

This thread offers many reasons why women may not want to or be able to cover up, first and foremost being that many, many babies—like many, many humans—don’t want to eat with a blanket over their heads. It also seems likely that the people who would complain about a woman breastfeeding would be the very same people who would complain about a crying baby. Talk about snakes on a plane.

As the Twitter pile-on continued, at some point, KLM’s social media team seemed to realize they had waded into a quagmire and started replying to commenters with a slightly different tune. In response to one tweet, they replied, “By no means is the mother obliged to cover up herself or her child. And we absolutely don’t want to make the mums of our youngest passengers feel judged about.”

For their part, some of KLM’s competitors have jumped into the fray. EasyJet seized the opportunity to ensure moms that they can feed their children on its planes whenever they want.

It’s not just KLM, of course. In 2015, United Airlines was in a similar position after a flight attendant allegedly tossed a blanket for a breastfeeding mother in an attempt to get her to cover up; last year, American apologized to a breastfeeding mother after a flight attendant stopped her from boarding with a milk cooler and a carry-on bag; and this year, Delta was accused of not accommodating a breastfeeding mother who wanted to pump in first class after plugs in her cabin didn’t work. Southwest and Delta both say they welcome breastfeeding mothers on board.

We reached out to KLM for comment and will update if we hear back.

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Pampers smart diapers let you track your baby’s pee with technology

Pampers smart diapers let you track your baby’s pee with technology
[Photo: Pampers]

As a parent, I assure you, it’s relatively easy to tell if your baby has peed or pooped. For one thing, you have a nose and can therefore smell these things. And even though your baby is a helpless little thing, it also can often tell when it has wet its diapers and will cry until you sort it out. But if you have never had a baby, you may not realize this. So the idea of Pampers’s new smart diaper system may be appealing to you.

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The brand has announced it will release a new product, Lumi by Pampers, that comes with a video monitor and activity sensors that you can attach to special diapers, which have Velcro-like patches in the front. The system is designed to track your baby’s wet diapers (but not its poops) and sleep patterns, automatically sending that information to the Lumi app on your phone. If you want to chart feeding times and other milestones like doctor’s visits, you will have to do this manually.

If you are a millennial who has just had your first baby, you are probably already familiar with the art of tracking every one of your infant’s excretions. There are dozens of apps out there that allow you to register every bowel movement your child has made, as if the whole thing were some sort of elaborate science experiment. And yeah, I get it, you’re an overachiever: you want to get an A in parenting.

However, this new system is probably just a marginal improvement over the status quo. If it works perfectly, and your baby does not somehow dislodge the sensor while it is wriggling about, you won’t have to manually track each pee. But there are downsides, too: You need to buy special Lumi by Pampers diapers, and the sensors themselves will have to be replaced every three months. The diapers also only go up to size 4, which would have taken my child to about 9 months. It’s a lot of work for a small decrease in effort.

This kit is being marketed as a way to help you understand your infant’s development and establish his or her routine. And let’s be honest: this would have been catnip to me as a new parent. I would have bought almost anything that promised to make me a better parent. But now that I’ve been through the process, I’m not convinced this will significantly improve your life or parenting skills.

Lumi by Pampers will be available for purchase in the fall. The price has still not been announced.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that this device would track a baby’s poops. A publicist from Pampers wrote to inform me that it only tracks a baby’s pee.

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Toys ‘R’ Us is coming back with a high-tech twist

Toys ‘R’ Us is coming back with a high-tech twist

Get your Geoffrey the Giraffe costume out of storage, because Toys “R” Us is coming back. The toy retailer that declared bankruptcy last year, shuttering 800 stores around the country, will open two permanent stores in November just in time to cash in on holiday toy shopping at Galleria Mall in Houston and the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey.

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In its mission to claw its way back from bankruptcy and reestablish itself in the hypercompetitive toy market, the brand has a new high-tech angle. Toys “R” Us, or rather Tru Kids (the company that is helping to manage the brand names left in the wake of the liquidation last year), has teamed up with b8ta, a software company that specializes in immersive retail experiences, and will each own 50% of the new endeavor. According to CNBC, the company hopes to open 10 stores around the U.S. in 2020 and may even bring back its New York City flagship.

While Toys “R” Us built its brand around the idea of being “the biggest toy store there is,” its new stores will be more in line with its new reality—smaller and taking up less real estate, reportedly spanning between 6,500 and 10,000 square feet, compared with the sprawling 40,000-square-foot footprint of their former incarnation.

As for what toys and brands will be sold in these smaller spaces, that’s still TBD. Declaring bankruptcy is typically not good for the relationship between a store and the brands it carries. Toys “R” Us is reportedly hustling hard to get companies to agree to let it sell their products.

This is where b8ta comes in. Its tech and stores work on a consignment model, which it calls “retail as a service.” It will allow brands to pay to create mini-stores of their own within the Toys “R” Us space and then get all the sales when customers buy in-store or online. Ideally, the new Toys “R” Us will give kids (and trusted adults) the chance to interact with new toys and allow brands to show off their wares to an appreciative audience, which will translate into real-world sales.

“The new Toys ‘R’ Us stores will be the most progressive and advanced stores in its category in the world, and we hope to surprise and delight kids for generations to come,” b8ta founder and CEO Vibhu Norby said in a statement. The move comes after Macy’s acquired a minority stake in b8ta, using the company’s innovative ideas to spruce up its spaces as Macy’s faced down the retail apocalypse.

The tech angle could give Toys “R” Us the edge it needs to compete against Amazon, Walmart, and Target in the toy market.

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Slack is finally resetting passwords 4 years after a big data breach

Slack is finally resetting passwords 4 years after a big data breach
[Photo: Matthew Brodeur/Unsplash]

I just got a Slack message from my editor that the 2015 Slack password breach is back in the news. The real question is: Was that really my editor or just someone who breached his password in 2015 and is masquerading as him? There was a winky emoji, so it was most likely him.

Some four years after Slack suffered a data breach, the company has decided to reset the passwords of users it believes were affected. This issue only applies to people who created Slack accounts before March 2015 and then never changed their passwords and don’t have to access Slack through their office’s single-sign-on (SSO) provider. Basically, according to Slack, this doesn’t impact “the approximately 99% who joined Slack after March 2015.” We have stumbled on the one time it pays not to be in the 1%.

The breach happened back in 2015, when hackers gained access to the messaging app’s user profile database, including passwords. A bug bounty hunter reportedly contacted Slack recently about a list of allegedly compromised Slack account passwords, which are believed to stem from the 2015 hack. So to make sure that the 1% of Slack users who have had the same password since 2015 aren’t compromised, Slack is changing their passwords for them.

The company said it has no reason to believe accounts were compromised, but in the words of my eighth-grade geometry teacher, they didn’t show their work. This is a good reminder, though: Change your passwords frequently. Here’s a list of what not to choose.

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March of Dimes confronts the darker corners of parenting and pregnancy in a necessary new podcast

March of Dimes confronts the darker corners of parenting and pregnancy in a necessary new podcast
[Image: courtesy of March of Dimes]

If you’re looking for a new podcast for your summer playlist, consider listening to one that helps a good cause.

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March of Dimes, the nonprofit that fights for the health of all moms and babies, just launched a new podcast, Unspoken Stories: A March of Dimes Podcast. The show, hosted by Tatyana Ali, shares true, honest stories about pregnancy and parenthood. While there are plenty of parenting and pregnancy podcasts around (Motherhood Sessions, Longest Shortest Time, and Mommifaceted for starters), few tackle the happy times as well as the reality of loss. And unfortunately, since the United States is in the midst of a maternal- and child-health crisis, with more than 380,000 babies born prematurely each year, as well as more than 50,000 women experiencing life-threatening complications as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, loss is far too real and far too common.

“There is no perfect pregnancy, birth, or parent—and yet we rarely hear the REAL stories,” said March of Dimes president and CEO Stacey D. Stewart in a statement. “This is why March of Dimes started the podcast, showing that there are stories to share and people more than willing to share them.”

As March of Dimes does its important work to help reduce the rising rates of premature birth, as well as maternal mortality and morbidity, the new podcast helps it spread the word and bring together a community of support for what can feel like an isolating loss.

“Just knowing what other people go through, it just makes you feel exponentially better. And you don’t feel so isolated,” said actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who was interviewed for the podcast. “You don’t feel so cursed. Other people that are good people have to go through it too.”

Each episode of the podcast features a parent’s honest story about the realities of starting a family, the joys of parenting, and the complex machinations of the U.S. healthcare system. Ali speaks with celebrity guests like Sigler as well as noncelebrity parents like Petina Dixon-Jenkins, who has experienced multiple premature births and loss, and Jay Richardson, a dad who faced the realities of parenting a premature baby.

The podcast is part of the #UnspokenStories initiative launched by March of Dimes in April to shine a light on what can feel like the darker corners of parenting and pregnancy. Get Unspoken Stories: A March of Dimes Podcast wherever you choose to get your podcasts or at UnspokenStories.org.

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Here’s how to get FaceApp to delete your photos

Here’s how to get FaceApp to delete your photos
[Photo: Kobu Agency/Unsplash]

FaceApp had barely shot to the top of the charts before serious questions regarding the app’s privacy policies and any connections to the Russian government began to arise. As we reported yesterday, the app, which uses artificial intelligence to digitally age the person in a selfie that is uploaded via the app, began attracting privacy concerns due to its vague privacy policy and a terms of service that appears to suggest any photo you upload via the app becomes the property of FaceApp and the company can do whatever they want with your photo or your own likeness.

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While many photomorphing apps like FaceApp appear to be a free service offered for fun, such apps are usually a way for artificial intelligence companies to gather huge, free datasets from the app’s users to better train their AI. It is that AI and its datasets which holds the actual value for the company, not the app itself.

This fact, along with the fact that FaceApp is a Russian-based company and that in late 2018 it moved to the Skolkovo Innovation Center, which is run by the Russian government, led to those initial privacy concerns growing into national security concerns yesterday.

Yesterday Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the FBI and FTC to investigate any potential national security and privacy risks the app opens up. From Schumer’s letter calling for a probe:

Furthermore, it is unclear how long FaceApp retains a user’s data or how a user may ensure their data is deleted after usage. These forms of “dark patterns,” which manifest in opaque disclosures and broader user authorizations, can be misleading to consumers and may even constitute a deceptive trade practices. Thus, I have serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it.

In particular, FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.

In response to the increasing alarm over its privacy policies and associations, FaceApp told TechCrunch that no user data is “transferred to Russia” even though its R&D team is based there. The company says it uses AWS and Google Cloud to process and host uploaded photos.

The company also says that “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date,” without specifying how many images they retain after the 48-hour mark. They also say they do have a process in place for users to ask that all their data is deleted from FaceApp’s servers, though that process is in dire need of streamlining. You can see FaceApp’s full statement below:

We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics:

1. FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.

2. We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.

3. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using “Settings->Support->Report a bug” with the word “privacy” in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.

4. All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person.

5. We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.

6. Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.
Additionally, we’d like to comment on one of the most common concerns: all pictures from the gallery are uploaded to our servers after a user grants access to the photos (for example, https://twitter.com/joshuanozzi/status/1150961777548701696).  We don’t do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet.

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Disney releases a fierce rebuke of Abigail Disney’s theme-park investigation

Disney releases a fierce rebuke of Abigail Disney’s theme-park investigation
[Photo: Flickr user fdecomite]

It’s Disney versus Disney.

Two days after Abigail Disney publicly criticized working conditions at Disney’s famed theme parks, the entertainment giant is hitting back with a sharply worded criticism of its own, calling her investigation and subsequent findings “a gross and unfair characterization of the facts” and an “insult” to Disney employees.

Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney cofounder Roy Disney, recently told Yahoo’s Through Her Eyes that she spoke with highly distressed theme-park workers who said they could not pay their bills and even had to “forage for food in other people’s garbage.”

The comments were widely covered in the press, prompting Disney to craft a lengthy defense, which was sent to Fast Company by a spokesperson. Here it is in full:

“We generally avoid commenting on such baseless reports like this, but this one is particularly egregious and we won’t let this stand.

We strongly disagree with this characterization of our employees and their experience at Disney. This widely reported stunt is a gross and unfair exaggeration of the facts that is not only a misrepresentation, but also an insult to the thousands of employees who are part of the Disney community. We continually strive to enhance the employment experience of our more than 200,000 employees through a variety of benefits and programs that provide them opportunity, mobility and well-being.

At our parks in Orlando and Anaheim, The Walt Disney Company currently pays its hourly workers an average of $19.50 an hour, significantly above the federal minimum wage. But we understand the challenges workers and families face in 2019 are complex and go beyond the paycheck. That’s why we provide a wide range of benefits and initiatives to improve our employees’ lives at and outside of work: from subsidized childcare to generous leave policies, from convenient access to pharmacies and clinics to free college degrees and vocational training programs for hourly employees.

We recognize the economic challenges facing all working families. And we continually meet with our employees in the process of developing even stronger programs. Still, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to improve the lives of our employees, and of the more than 45,000 jobs we’ve added in the United States since 2005. The men and women who make Disney parks such a special experience for millions of people are dedicated, hardworking and proud, and we will continue to listen to, empower and reward them. That’s what this company has done throughout its history and will continue to do in the future.”

We reached out to Abigail Disney for additional comment and will update if we hear back. This isn’t the first time that the fair-pay activist has criticized the company that shares her name. At the inaugural meeting of the Fast Company Impact Council in April, Disney took aim at CEO Bob Iger for his “insane” executive compensation, a reported $65.6 million in 2018.

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Netflix stock tumbles after earnings show decline in paid U.S. subscribers

Netflix stock tumbles after earnings show decline in paid U.S. subscribers
[Photo: JESHOOTS/Unsplash]

Have we reached peak TV or just peak Netflix?

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The video-streaming giant reported its second-quarter earnings this afternoon, and the results are less than stellar. Net global subscribers grew by only 2.7 million, far below its guidance of 5 million. Even more shocking, Netflix saw a decline of 126,000 paid domestic subscribers during the last three months. That’s compared to an expected increase of 352,000 subscribers, according to an estimate cited by CNBC.

Shares of Netflix were down 10.47% in after-hours trading.

Here are the key numbers:

  • Revenue: $4.92 billion (compared to $3.91 billion last year)
  • EPS: 60 cents (compared to 85 cents last year)
  • Y/Y growth: 26% (compared to 40.3% last year)
  • Global streaming paid subscribers: 151.56 million

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings conceded that subscribers were not exactly flocking to see what it had to offer in the last quarter. “We think Q2’s content slate drove less growth in paid net adds than we anticipated,” he wrote.

He also said price hikes were likely a factor for the lower-than-expected numbers, which were slightly worse in regions where prices rose. “We don’t believe competition was a factor since there wasn’t a material change in the competitive landscape during Q2,” Hastings wrote.

Subscribers are the most closely watched metric for Netflix and seen as a barometer of the rapidly growing company’s health. Netflix said it expects to grow by 7 million paid memberships in the third quarter, more than the 6.1 million during the same period a year ago. For its next report, the company’s numbers will likely be aided by the third season of Stranger Things, which was released just after the end of Q2.

Some analysts believed Netflix would see solid growth from users joining the service in anticipation of the show’s premiere, but that turned out not to be the case.

We’ll have more on Netflix earnings after the call this afternoon. Stay tuned . . .

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Twitter data reveals the agony and the ecstasy of Amazon Prime Day

Twitter data reveals the agony and the ecstasy of Amazon Prime Day
[Photo: Getty]

Amazon’s latest Prime Day event is now behind us, and the e-commerce giant would like you to know that it delivered all the appropriate superlatives.

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According to the company, Prime members purchased more than 175 million items during the online sales extravaganza, making this “once again the largest shopping event in Amazon history.” I counted no fewer than five instances of the word “biggest” in Amazon’s Prime Day press release, along with liberal sprinklings of “largest,” “best,” and “best-selling.” In a nutshell, everyone is a winner on Prime Day.

But those cheery feelings aren’t universal across social media. According to a sentiment analysis by Sprout Social, an analytics platform for businesses, Amazon’s Prime Day did indeed generate lots of chatter—184,610 tweets between July 15 and July 16 to be exact—but less than half of it was categorically positive. Specifically, Sprout Social found that social sentiment around the event broke down this way:

  • Positive: 46%
  • Unrated: 38%
  • Negative: 16%

Sprout Social determined sentiment by analyzing a number of key words, hashtags, and handles, including #PrimeDay, #PrimeDays, @Amazon, #AmazonPrimeDay, and/or “Prime Day.”

So what are all those negative users tweeting about? While it’s probably impossible to unpack the entire range of gripes people may have with a company the size of Amazon (“One-day shipping is one day too slow!”), Sprout Social was able to uncover certain themes when it dug into the data. Specifically, workplace-related issues appear to be among the more salient topics, likely driven by the strikes that were reported earlier in the week at certain warehouses.

Here’s a list of some of the more frequently used words and hashtags by volume:

  • Workers” was used in 34,145 of the tweets
  • Pay” was used in 22,753 of the tweets
  • Strike” was used in 18,735 of the tweets
  • #amazonstrike was used in 15,659 of the tweets
  • #primedaystrike was used in 7,059 of the tweets

Of course, it’s hard to say how much of an impact social media chatter really has on consumer sentiment in general. Amazon is a walled garden where people often start and stop their shopping activities in a bubble, and according to Amazon’s press release, the walls of its garden are getting even higher: The company says it saw more new Prime sign ups on Monday than any single day in its history.

This post has been updated with fresher data from Sprout Social.

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Shawn Mendes and Flow water want to rid the planet of plastic, one bottle at a time

Shawn Mendes and Flow water want to rid the planet of plastic, one bottle at a time
Andrew Gertler (left), Shawn Mendes (center), and Nicholas Reichenbach (right), founder and CEO of Flow Hydration. [Photo: courtesy of Josiah Van Dien/Flow Hydration]

The new partnership between superstar Shawn Mendes and Flow, the sustainably packaged water, happened organically.

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“Shawn was ordering Flow online, and we found out from our delivery person that it was Shawn Mendes,” said Nicholas Reichenbach, Flow’s founder and CEO. “We were all very excited, of course. He’s one of the biggest artists in the world.”

The company reached out, and soon Mendes and his manager, Andrew Gertler, were sitting at a table with Flow talking about how to save the world. Mendes had been using Flow, a naturally alkaline water, as part of his wellness routine. (Of course, pop stars have wellness routines in 2019. We bet Ozzy Osbourne wished he had one when he was just starting out.) Soon, a new partnership was born, with Mendes and Gertler joining the company as partners and advisers and Mendes serving as a “Sustainability Ambassador” for the brand.

In their advisory roles with Flow, Mendes and Gertler will help the company through international growth and shake up the traditional, unsustainable, plastic-bottles-of-water industry. “Our goal is to help bring a great product that provides a more sustainable alternative to the world,” said Gertler.

Mendes isn’t just serving as a spokesmodel for the brand, though. He is also launching a sustainability campaign, where Flow is helping Mendes make his 2019 world tour more sustainable, by making the easy step of swapping plastic water bottles for Flow’s recyclable, sustainable water backstage. That one step will keep over 70,000 plastic water bottles from malingering in recycling plants or ending up in landfills where they will sit and not decompose.

That’s not all: With the help of Reverb, a company dedicated to helping lessen the environmental impact of touring, Mendes’s 2019 tour is offsetting carbon emissions (saving 2,072 tons of CO2), selecting sustainable catering and hospitality partners, donating excess food and toiletries to food banks and shelters, recycling and composting all waste, and engaging fans in environmental education.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to use my platform to encourage people to use more sustainable products,” said Mendes. “With Flow, the hope is together to inspire positive change in the world, and as much as humanly possible, to help maintain the natural beauty of our planet for our generation, and for generations to come.”

That’s right—Shawn Mendes cares about the planet. Your move, Ed Sheeran.

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This AI breast cancer diagnostic tool is the first to get FDA clearance

This AI breast cancer diagnostic tool is the first to get FDA clearance
[Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash]

There are few things in life more frightening than a possible cancer diagnosis. Now the machines are here to help. Paragon Biosciences and Qlarity Imaging have figured out a way to harness the power of artificial intelligence to help humans catch cancer earlier and more accurately.

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QuantX recently became the first-ever computer-aided breast cancer diagnosis system cleared by the FDA for use in radiology, but it’s not putting radiologists out of a job any time soon. “Radiology is the backbone of diagnosing many diseases today,” said Jeffrey Aronin, chairman and CEO of Paragon Biosciences. “We believe the future is radiologists with technology.”

The combination of humans and machines apparently works really well. In a clinical study, QuantX helped radiologists interpret MRIs, noting the differences between cancerous and noncancerous breast lesions. Using the AI-fueled software led to a 39% reduction in missed breast cancers, as well as a 20% overall diagnostic improvement. It’s a win for the machine age as well as for women anxiously awaiting the results of their breast MRIs. (Currently, the technology is just for women who require a breast MRI, typically used for women with a higher than average risk of breast cancer.)

“Today, about 30 million women are screened for breast cancer each year in the U.S., and we all have women in our lives who have to go through this,” says Meghan Harrison, head of product and COO at Qlarity Imaging.

She adds that if there are any suspicious findings, women have to go through the harrowing process of further imaging, further testing, and more waiting. “The process of going through that biopsy, waiting for your procedure to be scheduled, waiting for your results can create a lot of anxiety with those women,” Harrison says. “And yet 75% of those biopsies come back negative, meaning no cancer was found. We believe that Qlarity can do better, help radiologists make better diagnoses with our software. We can help them deliver better patient care.”

QuantX was initially developed at the University of Chicago based on research led by Dr. Maryellen L. Giger and incubated at Quantitative Insights, a startup that had been launched with the support of the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. It was acquired by Qlarity and brought into the Paragon Biosciences fold. While QuantX is currently only approved for use in breast cancer diagnosis, Qlarity plans to expand the diagnostic applications of its AI technology to additional medical conditions.

Qlarity is in an early rollout phase of QuantX and is currently working with radiologists at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas and the University of Chicago, gathering feedback from users in the field. Soon, though, the AI-assisted doctor will be seeing you.

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Hot dog! You can rent the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile on Airbnb

Hot dog! You can rent the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile on Airbnb

You may be tempted to sleep through National Hot Dog Day this year, because, you know, *gestures broadly at the universe.* Oscar Mayer has different plans, though. To make sure you really, ahem, relish this year’s holiday (which is today), the company is throwing open the doors of the Wienermobile for the first time ever and letting fans book an overnight stay in the famous mobile hot dog through Airbnb.

Has Oscar Mayer fallen on hard times? Did it put the Wienermobile up for rent on Airbnb to earn a little extra cash in the gig economy? Or did it finally hear our (my) pleas to be able to step foot inside the legendary hot dog mobile?

Either way, the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile is for rent. But because it has places to go and children to terrify with its girth, it is only available on Airbnb for a few short days. Specifically, starting Wednesday, July 24, big wiener fans can book one-night stays on August 1, 2, or 3, which is pretty convenient timing if you happen to be going to Lollapalooza, which is taking place in Chicago that weekend.

While the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is fun for the whole family to giggle at, it can only sleep two at a time, so pick your favorite child or Tinder date before booking your reservation at the giant hot dog. Check out the full listing of your weird hot-dog-loving dreams on Airbnb, and if you can’t get a reservation, you can still sleep in a giant potato.

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Viral app hit FaceApp, which makes users look old, has privacy concerns

Viral app hit FaceApp, which makes users look old, has privacy concerns
[Photo: Simon Wijers]

If you’ve been anywhere near social media for the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen people posting photos of themselves, but aged to make them look 60, 70, or older. Those photos come from an app called FaceApp, which uses artificial intelligence to age people. The app has actually been around for a few years but only recently gotten attention from the internet at large.

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However, while the app can be fun if you want to see what the future might have in store for you in the looks department, there are some major privacy concerns. For instance, as TechCrunch notes, when a user taps a photo in their library that they want FaceApp to work its age magic on, the app actually uploads that photo to FaceApp’s servers in Russia (where the company that makes the app is located) and the age effects are crunched by the AI there, off your device.

FaceApp does not alert the user that their photo has been uploaded to the cloud, nor does it specify in its policies if the company retains your original photo or what the company is allowed to do with it. All of Apple’s first-party apps that use AI and machine learning do so on the user’s device–not in the cloud. So people could think that, by default, FaceApp works the same way–which it certainly does not.

It’s also worth noting the company’s extremely broad terms of service, which appear to give FaceApp permission to do anything it wants with your images:

“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.”

There’s no evidence that FaceApp is doing anything shady with your photos–but then again, there’s no clarification on what they are doing with them. In the end, FaceApp’s viral popularity in recent days is just another example of how the internet at large will not stop to think before they give their sensitive data to a relatively unknown company with unknown policies in exchange for something they can post on social media that will give them a few likes.


Read more stories about our current privacy conundrum in our series The Privacy Divide.

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Amazon is facing an EU-wide probe over third-party selling practices

Amazon is facing an EU-wide probe over third-party selling practices
[Photo: Mein Deal/Unsplash]

Following a tough grilling in Washington yesterday over its third-party marketplace practices, Amazon is facing scrutiny on the other side of the Atlantic for the same thing, reports Reuters. While the online retail giant just reached a settlement with Germany’s antitrust authority to overhaul its terms of service for third-party sellers, the company could still face an EU-wide probe over related issues.

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Third-party sellers in Germany, which is Amazon’s second-largest market after the U.S., have long complained that Amazon’s terms of service for selling on its marketplace were stacked against them. But as part of a deal with Germany regulators, Amazon says it will address many of those issues, including giving 30 days notice, and a reason for removing a seller from its marketplace. Previously Amazon could simply block a seller instantly and for no reason.

Sellers will also be able to now take Amazon to court in their own country, instead of only Luxembourg, where Amazon’s European arm is situated. The prior restraint meant many small sellers with limited funds didn’t have the means to take Amazon to court. Sellers will now also be able to appeal against Amazon decisions regarding whether the seller or Amazon should shoulder the cost of a refund and return.

While any EU-wide probe will focus on Amazon’s third-party marketplace, it is thought it will be looking most intently into whether Amazon uses data it gathers from third-party marketplace purchases to compete against them unfairly.

Update: Shortly after this article first appeared, the European Commission has now announced that is has launched a formal antitrust investigation “to assess whether Amazon’s use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on its marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules.”

The EC says its investigation will be wide-ranging but will focus on two areas of interest:

  • the standard agreements between Amazon and marketplace sellers, which allow Amazon’s retail business to analyze and use third-party seller data. In particular, the Commission will focus on whether and how the use of accumulated marketplace seller data by Amazon as a retailer affects competition.
  • the role of data in the selection of the winners of the “Buy Box” and the impact of Amazon’s potential use of competitively sensitive marketplace seller information on that selection. The “Buy Box” is displayed prominently on Amazon and allows customers to add items from a specific retailer directly into their shopping carts. Winning the “Buy Box” seems key for marketplace sellers as a vast majority of transactions are done through it.

Announcing the antitrust investigation EC commissioner Margrethe Vestager said:

European consumers are increasingly shopping online. E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anticompetitive behaviour. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink plans to start human trials next year for brain-computer implants

Elon Musk’s Neuralink plans to start human trials next year for brain-computer implants
[Photo: Micaele Parente/Unsplash]

Neuralink, the secretive company Tesla founder El0n Musk launched in 2017, came out of the shadows last night and unveiled that it’s made some staggering leaps in creating an implantable device that can read a user’s mind, reports Bloomberg.

At an event at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, Musk showed off the device, which looks like a small pod worn behind the ear. However, that pod has small threads that are surgically implanted through the wearer’s skull and into their brain. It is that implantation that allows the user to communicate with the device using only their thoughts.

Such a device could allow the user to control virtually any device with only their mind, from smartphones to televisions, to electric vehicles via a wireless connection between the pod and the device. However, right now whether such a device will actually work on humans is unknown. Neuralink has only used the device with some success in rats and monkeys. But the company hopes to start human clinical trials next year on patients with complete paralysis due to an upper spinal cord injury.

If successful, the device could be a game-changer in the lives of patients with injuries that limit their physical movements. But Musk ultimately envisions his device as something that every human being will wear. Musk has long claimed that the only way humans will be able to keep up with AI in the future is if we become symbiotic with machines–basically if we become cyborgs.

“This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk said. “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”

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