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  • 4:39 pm

Calling your bank? Be prepared to have your voice biometrics collected

Calling your bank? Be prepared to have your voice biometrics collected
[Photo: rawpixel.com/Pexels]

The other day, I had to do the unthinkable and actually pick up the phone to make a call (shudder). I was having trouble booking a hotel room online and figured that my credit card company, Chase, was doubting my desire to go to Calgary in February and had flagged the purchase as potential fraud. While we all appreciate it when our credit card company prevents fraud (I will forever be grateful to Amex for noting that I would never spend $2,000 on televisions at a Walmart in Mississippi), it is annoying when they block real purchases and force you to pick up the phone and speak into it.

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But as it turns out, doing admin on the phone isn’t just an annoyance these days. It’s also a way to prevent fraud through voice biometrics.

In Chase’s case, the biometric program was announced back in April, but there’s a good chance many customers missed the announcement. (I missed it, and I actually write about these topics for a living.) Now, when you call Chase, an automated recording informs you that your voice is being used to identify you in the hopes of preventing fraud. Pick up the phone and you’re being recorded to make a “voice print,” which, according to Chase’s website, “is created from more than 100 different physical and behavioral characteristics such as pitch, accent, shape of your mouth, and vocal tract as you speak with a customer service representative.” (What happens if some identity-thieving criminal calls first is still TBD.) Once your voiceprint is created, Chase will use it the next time you call to “quickly verify it’s you.”

Chase claims Voice ID will heighten customer security while letting customers skip the rigamarole of remembering their favorite elementary school teacher’s first pet’s name or answering other security questions in public forums. As for the security of your Voice ID print, Chase claims that your voiceprint is securely stored as a mathematical equation. Plus, according to Chase, it can only be used to verify your Chase account.

But Chase isn’t just amassing data on its customers. It’s also collecting intel on known fraudsters for so-called “voice biometric blacklists,” which keep tabs on identity thieves and credit card scammers and prevent them from accessing bank information or requesting new credit cards. This is in addition to the biometric databases being built by prisons.

Of course, it’s not just JPMorgan Chase & Co. using the technology. According to the Associated Press, Wells Fargo, Barclays, and U.S. Bancorp all use some form of Voice ID. In 2017, Pindrop, a company that offers sound-based fraud detection tools to call centers, told Fast Company it worked with eight of the top 10 U.S. banks and two of the top 5 insurers to detect phone scams.

The likelihood that you’ve had your voice’s unique biometric signature recorded are pretty high: An AP survey of 10 leading voice biometric vendors found that more than 65 million people worldwide have had their voiceprints taken. That survey was in 2014, and it has undoubtedly skyrocketed since then, especially as artificial intelligence-fueled fraud prevention improves.

While Voice ID is convenient and for the good of your account, it’s still a bit unsettling to know that you’re being recorded and monitored. And it’s a bit tricky to opt out, at least in Chase’s case. According to a representative, the only way to opt out of the program is to “let the customer service representative that you’re speaking with know that you don’t want to participate.”

What happens then? If you’ve opted out, your Voice ID will no longer be used, but every time you call Chase, you will continue to hear the message. So you may want to confirm with the customer service representative that you are, in fact, not being recorded. A little verbal acknowledgement goes a long way.

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This shopping app will help food allergy sufferers avoid triggers in grocery stores

This shopping app will help food allergy sufferers avoid triggers in grocery stores
[Photo: Oleg Magni/Pexels]

If you’re lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, or one of more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies, good news: Grocery shopping might just become a lot less complicated thanks to a new smartphone app that makes filtering out prohibited foods as simple as a cashier scan.

The app, created by Swiss barcode scanning platform Scandit, lets shoppers personalize their dietary preferences, then simply nix triggering products on participating store shelves with the help of augmented reality filters. It will include various categories such as lactose- or nut-free. Scandit hopes a portion U.S grocery stores will roll out the capability within six to nine months, reports USA Today.

“Standing in front of shelves filled with hundreds of items can be an intimidating experience,” Scandit CEO Samuel Mueller told the newspaper. “Instead of picking the best item, many shoppers just give up and pick the most familiar one. (Augmented reality) filtering enables shoppers to quickly see beyond the shelves and into the products themselves so they can find exactly what they want in the most efficient way.”

The Scandit announcement is the latest in grocery store technology aiming to make the chore faster, easier, and more precise. As Fast Company previously reported, Amazon Go’s cashier-less store is just one of many competitors utilizing sensors and AI to transform the consumer experience.

In July, Scandit raised $30 million in a series B round of funding led by Alphabet’s venture capital arm GV, bringing it to a total of $43 million. The Zurich-based company produces a number of scanning products with clients across various industries, including Verizon, GE Healthcare, Home Depot, and Shell.

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  • 3:00 pm

6 food trends that are blowing up right now, from Zhoug to Spam

6 food trends that are blowing up right now, from Zhoug to Spam
[Photo: Chris Hackmann/Wikimedia Commons]

What’s next for the $5.75 trillion food industry? Tastewise, an AI-powered food intelligence company and trend tracker, shares some insights on consumers’ ever-morphing tastes. In a new report, the Israel-based startup found that Instagram continues to make stars out of once niche or unpopular foods (like Spam), while new behaviors such as “restaurant hopping” transform the dining scene.

“Today, many of us are adventurous eaters, constantly searching for new food experiences, while prioritizing our health,” Tastewise founder Alon Chen said in a press statement. “In this new environment, all CPGs and restaurants whatever their size have to become as dynamic as food trucks and pop-ups.”

Some recent findings:

  • The need for healthier food: Despite all the new organic spots opening up, there is $9 billion demand for healthy food in restaurants across the country.
  • The next sriracha: Zhoug, a spicy Middle Eastern condiment, saw 129% growth in social media mentions and 3.5% uptick in menu placement in the last year. The gluten-free sauce is especially popular with those on the Keto diet.
  • Purple cravings: Ube is reportedly “a natural fit for the Instagram and #foodporn generation,” as evidenced by 94% social media mention growth. The colorful yam is making quite a name for itself in the desserts category, specifically ice cream and frozen yogurt.

  • Spam, redefined: Spam is making a comeback thanks to fusion varieties, like the Hawaii import Spam musubi. The exotic snack is made of grilled spam on top of rice, tied together with nori.
  • ‘Shroom boom: Truffles saw a 5% spike on U.S. menus as restaurants added the Italian favorite to fries, burgers, and of course, and macaroni and cheese.
  • Restaurant hopping: Diners no longer feel compelled to eat the entirety of their meal at one place. They’re increasingly choosing to eat one portion of the meal at a different restaurant, thereby ensuring they snag the most Instagrammable food moments. This tiresome trend increased by 160% from 2017-2018.

Learn more at Tastewise.

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  • 1:41 pm

Elizabeth Warren has a plan to bring universal childcare to the U.S.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan to bring universal childcare to the U.S.
[Photo: Flickr user Marc Nozell]

Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts who is running to be the Democratic nominee for president, just unveiled her plan to bring universal, affordable, reliable childcare to the nation—if she’s elected.

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“My plan will guarantee high-quality child care and early education for every child in America from birth to school age,” Warren wrote in an essay on Medium. “It will be free for millions of American families, and affordable for everyone. This is the kind of big, structural change we need to produce an economy that works for everyone.”

Under Warren’s proposal, the federal government would partner with local governments, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and other groups that meet national standards to create a network of options for childcare, including day care centers, preschools, and even in-home childcare. The options would be available to every family at different prices depending on income.

HuffPost reports the initiative will likely require approximately $700 billion in new federal spending over 10 years, which Warren says will be paid for in part through her proposed wealth tax. (Did anyone else just hear billionaires clutching their pearls?) The United States could make up for the cost by boosting the number of moms in the workforce and because investing in early childhood education tends to to grow the economy. As Warren wrote, “It’s great for parents, for kids, and for the economy.”

Under Warren’s plan, families wouldn’t have to spend more than 7% of their household income on childcare, no matter how many kids they have. Families with incomes that make less than 200% of the federal poverty line, which is roughly $50,000 a year for a family of four, would pay nothing. If you’re curious, the 7% figure is what the Department of Health and Human Services uses to officially define “affordable” childcare.

It almost happened before—twice

Warren’s childcare plan is the latest push by Democratic candidates to focus on helping young children and working parents. Last week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, reintroduced her bill in the Senate that would create a national paid family leave program, which Warren and a number of other presidential candidates co-sponsored.

While ideas like paid family leave and affordable childcare sound revolutionary, the U.S. has almost enacted universal childcare twice before the federal government stopped caring about young children. Seriously, as my colleague Kathleen Davis wrote, “since the 1940s, the U.S. has done next to nothing to care for children under 4.” This new wave of Democratic candidates could change that.

Warren says her program would be optional for families to use, but claims that an independent analysis estimated that 12 million children would participate in one of the new options. Many working parents would undoubtedly be thrilled to take part, as day care can cost more than college tuition in most U.S. states and is basically an unaffordable nightmare.

Considering the fact that, according to the Department of Labor, 57% of women work (a percentage nearly equal to men), and almost 70% of women with children under 18 work outside the home, affordable childcare is an issue that should resonate with a large group of voters.

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  • 12:56 pm

Trump is signing Space Force into reality. The cost is still TBD

Trump is signing Space Force into reality. The cost is still TBD
[Photos: Flickr user Gage Skidmore; skeeze/Pixabay]

Space Force is creeping one step closer to reality. While it sounds like the title of the next Justice League movie or a crossover with Space Ghost or a reboot of Space Jam, instead it is a sixth branch of the military with the mission of protecting the United States from space attacks. President Donald “Rocket Man” Trump will sign a directive Tuesday creating the Space Force, ABC reports senior administration officials as saying.

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While Trump enthusiastically tweeted “Space Force all the way!” back in August, the Air Force, which will oversee Space Force, initially resisted the creation of a new branch, pointing out that the U.S. already has Space Command and NASA, and saying another branch was unnecessary and bureaucratic. Plus, the price of Space Force is astronomical, even for the U.S. government, which spent $93 million on camo that doesn’t work. In September, a memo from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson placed the five-year cost of establishing the new branch at about $13 billion.

The administration has reportedly scaled back on its plans and expects the cost to be far more “modest.” The money for the new program will be included in the administration’s proposed budget for 2020 that will come out next month, officials told reporters Tuesday morning.

Considering many in the administration claim not to have the resources to fix the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, properly fund the recovery in Puerto Rico, fully fund healthcare, or fight the climate change that could eventually make the earth uninhabitable, it will probably still be a hard sell—especially as the idea of a Space Force is just too easy to ridicule. And have you seen the logo?

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  • 11:15 am

Nature’s Path cereal recall: 4 “gluten-free” EnviroKidz products to avoid right now

Nature’s Path cereal recall: 4 “gluten-free” EnviroKidz products to avoid right now
[Photos: courtesy of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration]

Nature’s Path Foods is recalling its gluten-free cereal because it may contain an unfortunate ingredient—gluten.

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The company has issued a voluntary recall of more than 400,000 boxes of its EnviroKidz line, including Choco Chimps, Gorilla Munch, and Jungle Munch–with specific “best before” dates–for containing “undeclared gluten,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recall notice.

The recalled cereals in the U.S. include:

  • 10-ounce EnviroKidz Choco Chimp with a best before date of August 27, 2019
  • 10-ounce EnviroKidz Gorilla Munch with a best before date of August 24, 2019
  • 10-ounce EnviroKidz Gorilla Munch with a best before date of September 21, 2019
  • 10-ounce EnviroKidz Jungle Munch with a best before date of August 1, 2019

In Canada, it’s the same but in metric (284-gram boxes instead of 10-ounce boxes of cereal).

Consumers who want a refund can return the product to their retailer or call Nature’s Path, which is retrieving any affected cereals from customer store shelves and warehouses.

Luckily, other gluten-free Nature’s Path and EnviroKidz products were not potentially invaded by “undeclared gluten” and are not part of the voluntary recall. “The error was isolated to one facility and due to air contamination as a result of incorrect production scheduling,” the company said in the notice.

While gluten-free diets have become a wellness trend, gluten is serious business to those who have an allergy to wheat, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity. They should not consume the affected cereals “due to potential adverse health effects,” Nature’s Path said in the notice.

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  • 10:10 am

“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat”: 22 controversial Karl Lagerfeld quotes

“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat”: 22 controversial Karl Lagerfeld quotes
Karl Lagerfeld [Photo: Siebbi/Wikimedia Commons]

A few years ago, I was in Paris browsing the books at Colette (yes, I’m a fancy nerd) when I realized the store had both gotten very quiet and very attentive. Karl Lagerfeld was at the counter in his trademark black sunglasses, his white hair slicked back into a ponytail, and the collar on his shirt standing at attention.

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While his cat Choupette was not with him, he had a look and an aura around him that made him seem devastatingly Important. Everyone in the shop seemed determined to maintain their surface cool while their insides were jumping up and down like kids hepped up on Fanta and recycled pizza at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party. The fashion icon had that effect on people.

Lagerfeld passed away today at the age of 85. The creative director of Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous label had missed the 2019 Chanel Couture show at fashion week due to illness. The German designer started his long career in fashion under Pierre Balmain, founder of Balmain’s fashion house, in the 1950s. He rose to the top of the fashion world thanks to his talent and a seemingly endless string of well-received collections.

While fashion careers tend to burn out quickly, Lagerfeld maintained his place in the spotlight for decades thanks to his creative mind, his signature look, and his bold statements, including some downright controversial ones. While Lagerfeld famously said that he was “trying to make sure that [he] won’t be remembered,” it may be the one thing in his long, bright-burning life that he completely failed at.

Here are some of his more buzz-generating quotes:

“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” (The World According to Karl)

“I’m a kind of fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm.” (Reuters)

“The iPod is genius. I have 300.” (The Guardian).

“When I was four I asked my mother for a valet for my birthday.” (Vogue)

“Vanity is the healthiest thing in life.” (BBC)

“Life is not a beauty contest, some [ugly people] are great. What I hate is nasty, ugly people. The worst is ugly short men. Women can be short, but for men it is impossible. It is something that they will not forgive in life—they are mean and they want to kill you.” (The Evening Standard)

“I’m rather pro-prostitution. I admire people who do it. It can’t be much fun. Thank goodness for it. People need relief or they become murderers.” (Refinery29)

“Normally, I don’t recommend me for wedding dresses – they all get a divorce.” (Vogue)

“Be politically correct, but please don’t bother other people with conversation about being politically correct, because that’s the end of everything. You want to create boredom? Be politically correct in your conversation.” (Vogue)

“Kate Middleton has a nice silhouette and she is the right girl for that boy. I like that kind of woman, I like romantic beauties. On the other hand, her sister struggles. I don’t like the sister’s face. She should only show her back.”(Daily Mail)

“The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice.” (The Guardian)

“I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couldn’t care less about their opinion,” (New York Times).

“I am a sort of vampire, taking the blood of other people.” (Vogue)

On Yves Saint Laurent: “He is very middle-of-the-road French – very pied-noir, very provincial.” (The Guardian)

On selfies: “They are this horrible thing where you are distorted. The chin is too big, the head is too small. No, this is electronic masturbation.” (Vogue)

“There are not too many people with an opinion I care for.” (New York Times)

“I don’t know Heidi Klum. She was never known in France. Claudia Schiffer also doesn’t know who she is.” (Vogue)

“Chic is a kind of mayonnaise, either it tastes, or it doesn’t.” (Vogue)

“I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that.” (The World According to Karl)

“I have no human feelings.” (Vogue)

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  • 9:00 am

4 reasons to enter Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators

4 reasons to enter Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators
[Illustration: Thomas Vanhuyse]

For more than a decade, Fast Company has been recognizing outstanding achievement with three different awards programs. The Most Innovative Companies, Innovation by Design, and World Changing Ideas lists have celebrated thousands of organizations transforming industries and shaping society through paradigm-shifting products, insights, or services.

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This year Fast Company is launching a new program, Best Workplaces for Innovators, to identify companies that empower employees at all levels to improve processes, create new products, or invent whole new ways of doing business.

“Companies recognize that they need to encourage innovation in order to attract and retain talent,” says Fast Company editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta. “We’re looking to identify the companies that can demonstrate they have the infrastructure and culture needed to stoke innovation across all levels of their organization.”

To compile this ranking, the editors of Fast Company are collaborating with Accenture, a leading professional services firm that works with more than three-quarters of the Fortune Global 500 to deliver innovation and transformation for a digital world.

Here are four reasons why you should apply:

  1. Brand Exposure
    Every company selected as a finalist will be featured in the September issue of the magazine and on fastcompany.com (more than 12 million monthly unique visitors and more than 40 million page views).
  2. Attract And Keep Talent
    Public recognition as a Best Workplace for Innovators will provide powerful third-party validation, and enhance your ability to recruit and retain top talent.
  3. Editorial Access
    Fast Company editors will have the opportunity to review all applications; the application represents an opportunity to highlight individuals and projects that showcase your company’s innovative prowess.
  4. Credibility
    Fast Company‘s reputation for writing about innovation is unparalleled in business media. Inclusion on the list is a powerful stamp of approval of your company’s efforts.

Best Workplaces for Innovators will be the most authoritative list of companies cultivating an organization-wide commitment to innovation. We hope you’ll submit your company today.

But hurry—the early-rate deadline is February 22.

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  • 7:30 am

American Airlines will let super-rich passengers take private helicopters to avoid long lines

American Airlines will let super-rich passengers take private helicopters to avoid long lines
[Photo: courtesy of Blade]

For many domestic flights, the time spent getting to and from the plane could be longer than the flight itself–including driving or riding to the airport, schlepping through the terminal, and inching through security screening. Maybe money can’t buy love, but it can afford less misery for fliers with the means. Today, American Airlines and private helicopter service Fly Blade announce a new partnership in which they will whisk passengers over crowded streets and past long lines at LAX and JFK airports. Running up to nearly $2,000, the service could easily cost more than the flight itself.

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Blade is already established as a service that charters helicopters, seaplanes, and jets to the well-heeled. Its offerings include seaplane and helicopter trips between Manhattan and the Hamptons ($795, when I checked), jet flights between New York and Miami ($2,250), and helicopter charters across the greater Los Angeles area. Today, Blade announces a deal between its airport shuttle, Blade Bounce, and American’s Five Star personal attendant service.

Customers can charter a Blade flight to JFK or LAX. After they land, a personal escort walks them all the way through priority check-in and expedited TSA screening, then on to the gate or to American’s Admirals Club. (They get the same handheld treatment, in reverse, on arrival.)

In an egalitarian twist, this luxury service is available to all American Airlines passengers, regardless of cabin. You could have pampered treatment from Wall Street all the way to a middle seat, in the back of coach, between two screaming babies, next to the restroom.

But those who can afford better seats may be more likely to spring for these add-ons. A customer testimonial on Blade’s site begins, “I am writing you from a first-class seat on a flight from JFK to LAX, a flight I wouldn’t be on if it wasn’t for your company…”

Let’s take a New York-to-L.A. round trip as an example. The first step is to charter a Blade airport flight, which starts at $695 in New York for one person and takes up to five additional people at $195 each. Assuming you can find five other people flying American that same time of day and you all divide the total costs evenly, this works out to $278 each. (Blade flights between downtown L.A. and from LAX run $335 per person.) The deal between Blade and American is only for people chartering whole helicopters. In the Blade app, travelers can then buy American’s Five Star escort service, which costs $350 each way, covering both the departure and arrival airports.

[Photo: courtesy of Blade]
Blade also offers ride share for single passengers starting at $195 per person, although most New York City flights I saw were priced at $295. A solo ride in a taxi is about $65, before tip, and about the same in an Uber. In any of these cases, you’d have to buy Five Star service separately.

In a best-case scenario, gangs of six would take Blade helicopters to and from the airport. For a roundtrip visit to L.A. from New York, or vice versa, that’s two $278 helicopter flights in New York and two $335 ones in L.A. They would also pay $350 each way for American’s Five Star Service.

All told, that’s at least $1,927 to get people to and from airline flights that, when I checked three weeks out, started at $297, round trip, for a Basic Economy seat. The same flight could cost up to $3,317 for first class, however, in which case about two grand extra might not seem like too much more to add.

Convenience over consideration?

But there are other costs, says former New York City Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. “People who fly in helicopters to the airport are putting their convenience, the few minutes of time savings, over the happiness and health of millions of their neighbors,” says Benepe, pointing to the noise and air pollution.

Blade operates from Manhattan locations including West 30th Street on the Hudson, East 34th on the East River, and Wall Street. Its own videos show helicopters flying over residential areas to and from JFK. (In L.A., it operates from spots including 240 Venice Boulevard downtown, and from the Santa Monica and Van Nuys airports.) The amount of noise depends on factors like altitude and the model of helicopter. (Blade contracts with multiple aircraft providers.) But helicopters are famous for being loud.

Benepe is especially aggrieved by the massive numbers of sightseeing flights over Manhattan. But he’s troubled by any expansion of commercial flights–well, almost any. Uber and aircraft makers like Airbus and Boeing are promising a revolution in urban air travel in the coming decade, with quiet, electric-powered air taxis–a bold proclamation with many skeptics. Blade, which picked up $38 million in new funding last year, says it is also preparing for an electric future, for instance, through a partnership with Airbus.

“If there were a nonpolluting, quiet hovercraft or electric helicopter … I would have no problem with that,” says Benepe.

This story has been updated to reflect a price correction from Blade, which initially provided a lower price point for the per-person prices to and from JFK.

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How to watch CNN’s Amy Klobuchar town hall online for free

How to watch CNN’s Amy Klobuchar town hall online for free
[Photo: Wikipedia]

CNN will continue its 2020 presidential town hall series tonight with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who will appear with host Don Lemon at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. The hour-long special will likely mark Klobuchar’s largest national audience since she announced her presidential run during a Minnesota snowstorm eight days ago.

The 58-year-old Klobuchar joins an increasingly crowded field of Democratic contenders, with 11 candidates already declared and as many as 11 more considering a bid, not counting former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who may run as an independent.

CNN’s Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar will air tonight (Monday, February 18) at 10 p.m. ET.

For cord-cutters looking to watch the Klobuchar town hall on their smart TVs, computers, or mobile devices, you’re in luck: CNN is letting people live-stream it for free—no pay-TV login or password required. I’ve rounded up a few ways to stream it below.

  • CNN online: Stream it for free right from CNN’s website (no login required). Find it here
  • CNNgo: Stream it on CNN’s app (no login required) on your desktop, smartphone, or iPad, or via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV. Find it here
  • Streaming TV Services: A number of streaming services offer CNN as part of bundled packages, in case you want long-term access to the network. You’ll need to pay for these, but most are offering free trials, and they’re easy to cancel. They include Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV, or PlayStation Vue.
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Rumor: Sorry, but Apple won’t answer your iPhone SE 2 prayers in 2019

Rumor: Sorry, but Apple won’t answer your iPhone SE 2 prayers in 2019
[Photo: Youssef Sarhan/Unsplash]

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is back with more rumors on future iPhones and MacBooks.

Kuo, who accurately called the iPhone XR around this time last year, says Apple will release three new iPhones in 2019, with the same screen sizes and display technology as their predecessors. That means we’ll reportedly see an iPhone XR follow-up with a 6.1-inch LED display, along with two iPhone XS-like models with 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch OLED displays.

He also lent some validity to earlier rumors that this year’s iPhones will continue to use Lightning connections, even after the switch to USB-C in last year’s iPad Pros. New features may include a “frosted glass casing,” bigger batteries, triple-lens cameras, new radios for indoor navigation, and the ability to wirelessly charge other devices (like AirPods and Apple Watches, perhaps).

In other words, we’ve still seen no evidence that Apple has an iPhone SE 2 in the pipeline for this year, let alone any sub-$999 phone with a screen measuring less than 6 inches.

Apple may, however, grant Mac enthusiasts’ wishes for a larger laptop, as the company is reportedly working on a 16-inch to 16.5-inch display. The long-awaited modular Mac Pro should also launch this year, and Kuo reports that Apple will jump back in the desktop display business with a 31.6-inch “6K3K” monitor.

Finally, Apple also plans to upgrade its consumer iPads, Kuo claims, with a new 10.2-inch model and a faster iPad Mini. Other tidbits from Kuo’s report include new AirPods with wireless charging in the first half of this year, a ceramic Apple Watch Series 4, and–believe it or not–a new iPod Touch.

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No, students can’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and here’s why

No, students can’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and here’s why
[Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash]

The viral news story of an 11-year-old student who was arrested in Lakeland, Florida, over an alleged classroom disturbance is raising questions about a long-settled legal argument: Can students be forced to stand for, or recite, the Pledge of Allegiance?

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The answer is no and no.

The incident reportedly began when a substitute teacher asked the student to stand for the pledge. The student, who is black, declined, saying he thought the flag was racist. The incident apparently escalated from there, with the teacher allegedly asking the boy why he doesn’t find “another place to live,” according to Spectrum’s Bay News 9.

In a statement, the Lakeland Police Department insisted that the boy was not arrested for his refusal to stand for the pledge, but for making “threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom.”

All the same, such confrontations shouldn’t have to escalate in such a way, because they shouldn’t happen at all. Teachers should know that students can’t be required to pledge allegiance in public schools, nor can they be punished for not participating in a pledge, because such requirements violate the basic tenets of free speech and due process.

The U.S. Supreme Court said this back in 1943, in the landmark case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. As Cornell Law School points out, the decision hinged on the idea that any state action making it compulsory for public school children to salute the flag and pledge allegiance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In his court opinion, Justice Robert Jackson offered this kernel of wisdom:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

According to Smithsonian, the document that would become the Pledge of Allegiance dates back to a magazine article in 1892, and arguments over what place it should hold in American society—and in what format—have raged on ever since. The National Constitution Center has a nice roundup of legal challenges to the pledge on its Constitution Daily blog.

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Cashmere sheets are Brooklinen’s new secret weapon in the sleep wars

Cashmere sheets are Brooklinen’s new secret weapon in the sleep wars

Bedsheet brands are fighting hard to get in bed with you. The market for direct-to-consumer bedsheet startups is getting crowded, with companies like Brooklinen, Parachute, Boll & Branch, and 10 Grove all vying to sell you high-quality sheets at affordable prices. And to stand out, brands are coming out with wide ranges of new fabrics that promise even more comfort. In addition to the more common percale and sateen cotton sheets, these brands have played around with variations on linen and twill.

This week, Brooklinen took it up a notch by releasing a line of lightweight heathered cashmere sheets. The brand has incorporated Himalayan cashmere into its cotton sheets, to make them softer and cozier, which will be particularly welcome in the winter months.

But Brooklinen worked hard to make sure that the sheets don’t feel overly stuffy or warm, the way you might feel in a cashmere sweater. And this breathability is key, because our temperatures change over the course of the night. It’s important for heat to be able to leave our bodies without getting trapped under the covers.

This new line of cashmere is slightly more expensive than Brooklinen’s simpler cotton sheets, which start at $99 for a full set. A set of heathered cashmere flat and fitted sheets, plus two pillowcases, will run you $279.

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Celeb fave Taryn Toomey further expands into booming wellness tourism

Taryn Toomey, founder of the cult favorite The Class, is growing her “emotional workout” empire. On Monday, the fitness entrepreneur announced she’s expanding the Retreatment, the brand’s multiday vacations. Fans can now access eight of the trips scheduled for 2019 on The Class website.

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“We’re really about the immersive, community experience,” says Toomey. In Los Angeles, for example, single sessions often draw over 80 attendees jumping and yelling in unison.

The Class hosted 30 Retreatments and over 1,000 attendees in the last five years. These instructor-led getaways take place at luxurious resorts abroad and statewide, like the Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island. They start at $1,750 (up to $6,000), and most have sold out within a few days. Celebrities such as Naomi Watts and Jennifer Aniston have been known to attend.

The getaways are a more immersive version of the $35 hour-long class available in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Miami, and New York (where it boasts a crystal floor-embedded studio). Toomey says they reflect what her ideal day would look like: wake up, meditate, gulp down a tonic, work out, enjoy a communal farm-to-table brunch, get a massage, go hiking, then partake in a mind-body restorative practice before a big dinner full of dancing, music, and “a little tequila, if you’d like.”

Then do it all over again the next day.

Toomey quickly amassed a notable brand with her hybrid cardio workout. It possesses elements of HIIT, Pilates, and meditation–but also combines shouting and shaking, and frankly, doing whatever it is you feel like. But don’t be fooled by its meditative, near spiritual allure. The Class is by no means slow and relaxing: The energizing regimen is complete with burpees, jumping jacks, and many, many squats.

“It’s a mashup of all the different things that I learned, from yoga to fitness to therapy to work in plant medicine to trying to heal myself,” Toomey explained during the Fast Company Innovation Festival. “It’s not one thing.”

[Photo: courtesy of Meghan Mehan Photography]

Get away to get well

The Class tends to draw a more adventurous and spiritual personality, and it skews more female than male. The same goes for the Retreatment: Women make up the majority, although there is a male instructor who sometimes draws as much as a 20% male attendance.

While female travelers increasingly use their time off to reignite health pursuits, many millennials prefer the fitness retreat model. In a 2017 survey of nearly 5,000 Well+Good readers, 40% of respondents said they’d rather go on a fitness retreat with their favorite instructor than attend a five-star resort like the esteemed Miraval in Arizona. (The findings were on par with a study conducted by SpaFinder.)

The Class joins other fitness companies dipping into the tourism market. Well+Good launched Retreats, which pairs high-end resorts with household name “fitness headliners.” This past August, ClassPass announced “Getaways” for members to book mini-vacations and “experiential events” in addition to boutique workout classes and wellness services.


Related: Is this workout for your feelings what American women need right now?


More recently, Equinox revealed its own luxe getaways, starting with a “summit-chasing adventure” in Morocco this April. It joins other recent hospitality-fitness hybrids: Westin Hotels partnered with Peloton, Fairmont with Reebok and Technogym, while Hyatt acquired boutique fitness and wellness brand Exhale.

These join a collection of fitness trips organized by beloved brands like Yoga For Bad People and Barre3. And while slightly different, the wellness festival market rapidly grew into a tourism industry of its own. As Fast Company previously reported, there are now more than 1,000 yearly fitness celebrations that generate hundreds of millions of dollars. Some, like Wanderlust, are held throughout the year in exotic locations like Oahu, Hawaii. Much of this signifies the industry’s move to experiential offerings, which explains hybrids such as SoulCycle live concerts.

In fact, The Global Wellness Institute estimates that wellness tourism is now a $639.4 billion global industry. In 2017, travelers took 830 million wellness trips–139 million more than in 2015. As one of the fastest-growing travel trends, wellness travel currently represents 17% of total tourism expenditures.

[Photo: courtesy of Meghan Mehan Photography]
That’s partially because Americans are so stressed and vacation-deprived. Over 79% of Americans report experiencing daily stress, mostly brought on by work and family obligations, according to a Gallup poll. And more than half of the workforce doesn’t even use all of their amassed days off.

With the Retreatment, Toomey hopes to provide a more lasting calm to the anxiety she witnesses across her clientele. “The collective nervousness,” as she calls it, demands something a little more introspective and thoughtful than just downing margaritas while laying on the beach. (Not that it need be some big spiritual quest, she stresses; travelers are discovering more options than deep-dive psychological explorations or bare-bones yoga retreats.)

“[People] don’t want come home and feel like they need a detox,” says Toomey. “To be able to do a combination of things that you love: music, movement, community, good food, cocktails, and a lot of laughs in a beautiful space–I don’t know what better combination there is.”

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U.K. says Facebook’s leaders are “digital gangsters”

U.K. says Facebook’s leaders are “digital gangsters”
[Photo: Nicolas Ladino Silva/Unsplash]

The U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee has issued a scathing 111-page report on Facebook’s role in spreading disinformation and fake news. The report was the result of an 18-month investigation into the social media giant and fake news. The select committee’s report found that Facebook broke privacy and competition laws and denounced the tech giant and its executives as “digital gangsters,” reports the Guardian.

Announcing the report’s findings, Damian Collins, the committee’s chair, said:

Our inquiry over the last year has identified three big threats to our society. The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer. Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.

The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights. Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers. These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address. The guiding principle of the ‘move fast and break things’ culture often seems to be that it is better to apologize than ask permission.

And from the report itself:

Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritize their aim of making money from user data. It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.

Further, Collins said:

Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.

As for the recommendations the committee suggests, the report calls for:

  • A compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies overseen by an independent regulator
  • That the regulator be given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching the Code of Ethics
  • A requirement for social media companies to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation
  • Electoral reform in the U.K.

As for Facebook, the company released a statement saying:

We share the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.

We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform. But we’re not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorized, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.

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Southwest Airlines declares “operational emergency” after skyrocketing numbers of out-of-service planes

Southwest Airlines declares “operational emergency” after skyrocketing numbers of out-of-service planes
[Photo: Karl Magnuson/Unsplash]

On Friday Southwest canceled 100 of its flights due to outstanding maintenance issues. That’s a five-fold increase over the average number of flights the company is usually prepared to remove from service due to maintenance issues, reports CNBC. Matter of fact, each day last week the number of its out-of-service aircraft among its fleet of Boeing 737s has been double the daily average.

It’s not clear why so many Southwest planes are requiring service, but the airline is worried delays to its flights could increase if the planes can’t be fixed fast enough. To that end, the company has ordered all of its mechanics to show up for work, including overtime work, or risk being fired. A company memo to Southwest’s mechanics even uses the phrase that those “alleging illness” will require a doctor’s note when coming back to work or risk termination.

The problem is that since 2012 Southwest has had a contentious relationship with its maintenance workers. That’s when it began its most recent (and ongoing) contract talks with its mechanics. And in that time the company has outsourced work for foreign workers and eliminated paid rest for mechanics. Matter of fact, as CBS News has reported, the mechanics Southwest does have say they feel pressured by airline management to look the other way when they see potential safety problems on airplanes so that those planes can return to the skies faster.

As for Southwest, the company confirmed it was having higher than normal maintenance issues with its fleet. In a statement provided to the press the company said:

Southwest’s maintenance organization issued a call to maximize the number of Mechanics available for work. On an average day, the airline plans for as many as 20 aircraft to be unexpectedly out of service for maintenance items. Each day this week, the percentage of out-of-service aircraft in our available fleet of approximately 750 aircraft, has more than doubled the daily average.

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How to watch NBC’s “Elvis All-Star Tribute” online without cable

How to watch NBC’s “Elvis All-Star Tribute” online without cable
[Photo: Hispania/Wikimedia Commons]

It’s hard to believe, but the entertainment industry will actually not hold an awards show this weekend. The season will culminate next Sunday with the Oscars—which are certain to attract no controversy and generate zero outrage—and after that, we can all go back to pretending not to care about what the tastemakers in Hollywood deem worthy of kudos.

In the meantime, NBC is taking advantage of the off weekend tonight by airing its star-studded Elvis All-Star Tribute, a look back at the famous 1968 comeback special that put Presley back on the music charts after a series of terrible movies eroded his street cred.

NBC’s two-hour special will feature an array of performers spanning the gamut of musical genres. John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Pistol Annies, Darius Rucker, Ed Sheeran, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban are among those on the roster. Blake Shelton will host.

The Elvis All-Star Tribute will air tonight (Sunday, February 17) at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT on NBC. For cord-cutters looking to stream the show on their smart TVs, phones, or computers, you have a few different options. Basically, you’ll need access to NBC either through a pay-TV login, over-the-air antenna, or standalone streaming service. I’ve rounded up the easiest choices below:

  • Streaming services: Many streaming services offer live access to NBC, including Sling TVPlayStation VueHulu With Live TVYouTube TVFuboTV, and DirecTV Now. Keep in mind that local NBC is not offered in all areas on these services, so check your zip code first before signing up.
  • NBC’s website and mobile apps: You can watch live NBC live on its website and by downloading its mobile apps, but you’ll need login credentials with a pay-TV provider.
  • Locast: This free nonprofit service lets you stream over-the-air broadcast networks, but it’s only available in select cities. Find it here.

NBC released a sneak preview of the special on Friday featuring  Shelton doing a cover of Presley’s “Guitar Man.” Check it out here.

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Taxed out: Here’s why your refund may be smaller or nonexistent in 2019

Taxed out: Here’s why your refund may be smaller or nonexistent in 2019
[Photo: Flickr user KMR Photography]

Most Americans have a smaller total federal income tax bill for 2018 than they did in previous years, thanks to the tax law passed by Congress in 2017. But thanks to changing instructions from the IRS on how to withhold tax, many people will see smaller refunds or may even owe money when they file their tax returns.

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So far, the average refund paid to taxpayers is down 8.7% to $1,949, from an average of $2,135 this time in filing season last year, according to the IRS.

Trump administration officials have argued that smaller refunds are often a good thing, since they mean taxpayers have paid less money unnecessarily over the course of the year. But many taxpayers have come to rely on their refunds as essentially a way to save money. As a result, they are surprised to discover this year that they’re not getting back the amount they’ve been accustomed to—or worse, that they owe Uncle Sam a check.

The Treasury Department has estimated that about 73% of workers have more tax than necessary withheld from their paychecks this year, meaning a refund is due, compared to 76% that would have gotten a refund under previous rules, NPR reports.

Some taxpayers actually do owe more under the new tax law, which capped deductions for state and local taxes, especially affecting homeowners in high-property tax coastal states, and eliminated some deductions, such as those for unreimbursed expenses incurred as an employee.

The IRS has been keeping track of tax filing statistics on its website to see how they compare to years past. However, it’s still early in the season, and the data will likely present a far more accurate picture of the tax law’s effects as the weeks go on. You can follow the stats here.

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How to watch the NBA All-Star game live online without cable

How to watch the NBA All-Star game live online without cable
[Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images]

Break out your smart jerseys, because the NBA’s All-Star weekend is here. The series of games and challenges kicks off tonight and culminates with the 68th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday 8 p.m. ET, where Team LeBron will take on Team Giannis.

Here’s a brief lineup:

  • Friday, February 15: 7 p.m. ET: NBA All-Star Celebrity Game presented by Ruffles (ESPN)
  • Friday, February 15: 9 p.m. ET: Mountain Dew Ice Rising Stars (TNT)
  • Saturday, February 16: 8 p.m. ET: State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (TNT)
  • Sunday, February 17: 8 p.m. ET: 68th NBA All-Star Game (TNT,  TBS)

You can find the full schedule over at the NBA’s website.

As you can see from the above bullet points, you’ll need access to both ESPN and TNT to watch all four games. For cord cutters, that means either getting access to pay-TV credentials so you can stream the games online or signing up for a streaming service that offers both ESPN and TNT as part of their bundled packages.

I’ve rounded up a few streaming services below that offer both networks, but please note that both networks may not be offered in all areas, so check your zip code first before signing up.

  • DirecTV Now (ESPN and TNT offered in the “Live a Little” package)
  • PlayStation Vue (ESPN and TNT are offered in all multi-channel plans)
  • Hulu With Live TV (ESPN and TNT are offered, but check your zip code first)
  • Sling TV (ESPN and TNT are offered through the Sling Orange plan)
  • YouTube TV (ESPN and TNT are offered in the core package)

Most of these services are offering free trials, and they’re easy to cancel if you’re not happy with them. Enjoy the games!

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Payless is closing all 2,100 stores in yet another sign of the death of fast fashion

Payless is closing all 2,100 stores in yet another sign of the death of fast fashion
[Photo: Raysonho/Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine/Wikimedia Commons]

In another sign that fast fashion is dying off, Payless ShoeSource Inc. says it plans to close all of its 2,100 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. Two years ago, Payless declared bankruptcy during a wider wave of store closures throughout the country, something we’ve come to describe as the retail apocalypse. At the time, the company shuttered a number of its stores, which allowed it to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, according to the Wall Street Journal. But none of this restructuring was able to save it from further collapse.

The decline of Payless can be attributed partly to broader trends in the market. The brand’s stores were largely located in malls, and there has a general decrease in the amount of foot traffic at large shopping centers over the last few years.

But there’s also an important shift happening in consumer behavior. People are moving away from poorly made, inexpensive fashion items. For decades fast fashion, epitomized by brands like H&M and Forever21, churned out cheap, fashionable clothes that customers could wear a few times before chucking out. But as I’ve reported before, many fast-fashion brands are now on the decline.

Payless was the shoe equivalent of fast fashion. The brand was not known for the quality or durability of its product, but competed largely on price. As a result, customers could buy whatever boot or heel was in season, and expect to throw it away months later. Consumers appear to be tired of this approach, partly because it is so environmentally unsound. While Payless has spiraled downwards, a flock of brands making high-quality, eco-friendly, durable shoes like M.Gemi, Allbirds, and Rothy’s have been thriving.

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