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  • 5:23 pm

A frightening Android camera flaw could’ve let apps secretly record you

A frightening Android camera flaw could’ve let apps secretly record you
[Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash]

Sometimes it only seems like your smartphone is recording you, like when you say something about Oreos and then lock eyes with an eerily similar Facebook ad moments later. Other times, your phone just leaves the door open wide for determined hackers to record you without ever asking for permission.

That second scenario might not be quite as common, but researchers at security firm Checkmarx say they discovered a serious flaw involving the Android camera app earlier this year.

As reported by Ars Technica, the researchers say they were able to create a proof-of-concept application that looked like a weather app and only asked for permission to access Android device storage. Taking advantage of the flaw, the researchers say they could silently take pictures, record video and audio, check whether the phone was facing down, record calls, and access the device’s location via GPS data included in photos. And while there appears to be no proof this vulnerability was abused in the wild, the researchers were able to upload everything they recorded to a remote server.

Google tells Fast Company that it addressed the issue for “impacted Google devices”—aka Pixel phones—back in July. And Samsung says it has “released patches to address all Samsung device models that may be affected,” but the company did not say when it released its fix, Ars Technica reports.

Google said in its statement that its “patch has also been made available to all partners,” but it wouldn’t say whether any Android devices from other manufacturers are still affected today. Unfortunately, some devices might be, according to Checkmarx. Ars Technica shared a how-to for technically savvy users who want to see if their device is still vulnerable.

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  • 4:40 pm

Cheers or no cheers? New Belgium Brewing gets guzzled by Big Alcohol

Cheers or no cheers? New Belgium Brewing gets guzzled by Big Alcohol
[Video: New Belgium]

New Belgium Brewing, the fourth-largest craft brewer in the U.S., is being acquired by Lion Little World Beverages of Australia, which is owned by Kirin Holdings, a Japanese company.

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New Belgium will remain a certified B Corporation but will no longer be employee-owned, according to company cofounder Kim Jordan’s public letter today. She said 300-plus employees will get more than $100,000 of retirement money and some significantly more. Plus, many of New Belgium’s initiatives will remain, such as striving to become carbon neutral and its on-site wellness clinic.

“Little World is committed to strategies to broadly share the wealth going forward, like profit sharing, best-in-class healthcare and a generous family leave policy,” she wrote. “We are as committed to being a vibrant, values-driven enterprise as we’ve ever been, and we look forward to having a beer with all of you along the journey!”

The all-cash transaction is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to approvals by regulators and the employee stock ownership plan, according to Lion’s press release on the deal. No dollar amounts were disclosed.

New Belgium is probably best known for its Fat Tire offerings, though the Voodoo Ranger line is also popular.

In her letter, Jordan outlined some of the money challenges New Belgium faced. The company needed cash for the employee stock ownership plan and to pay shareholders who were selling, but also had to up its physical capacity to make beer and to grow the brand. Raising capital proved tough:

“Some of the most widely used options by craft brewers were going to compromise a lot about what makes New Belgium great; environmental sustainability, and a rich internal culture. Some of these were going to lead to cost-cutting or a lack of focus on sustainability. Having the support and resources of Lion Little World Beverages, allows us to attend to those competing priorities and utilize our brewery capacity to its fullest.”

The Fort Collins, Colorado-based company opened a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016.

“We’re excited to welcome New Belgium Brewing into the Lion fold and take a significant step forward in the largest craft beer market in the world. We’re confident that our shared values and commitment to purpose and culture will provide the foundation for a great partnership in the U.S.,” Lion CEO Stuart Irvine said in a statement.

Fast Company recently featured a profile of New Belgium in its special issue on the New Capitalism.

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  • 4:00 pm

What this fashion hackathon tells us about the future of luxury fashion

What this fashion hackathon tells us about the future of luxury fashion
[Photo: courtesy of Moda Operandi]

Moda Operandi is an eight-year-old startup best known for bringing designers’ entire collections to customers before they launch. The company has filled its leadership team with technology experts, including a CEO from Tesla, a chief product officer from Grubhub, a CFO from Etsy, and a head of data science from Netflix. This year, the company held its first hackathon to identify key obstacles and come up with out-of-the-box solutions to solving them.

“Hackathons are common in the tech industry, but we don’t often see them in the fashion industry,” says Arpan Nanavati, Moda’s CTO, who has worked for Paypal, Zynga, and Adobe. “But we thought we could generate some great ideas that could help us create the future of fashion.”

Moda held a company-wide hackathon in which 60 employees from across different departments—engineering, product, data, corporate strategy, design, and operations—formed seven teams to generate problem-solving ideas. One team tackled the issue of sizing by developing a system that would allow you to upload a photo to generate a size recommendation. Another designed a neural network that would allow you to upload a picture of an item, say a handbag, and automatically generate alternate angles of that object, like a side view or top view.

[Photo: courtesy of Moda Operandi]
In the end, Moda’s CEO, its CTO, and its founder, Lauren Santo Domingo, picked these three ideas:

  • One involved creating a blockchain that would certify the authenticity of design products and registered goods directly to a customer. This would create a stronger bond between the designer and the customer, but it would also come in handy should the customer choose to resell the product.
  • Another idea involved creating a Chrome extension that would allow a customer to pick an image anywhere on the internet and find similar items on Moda.
  • Finally, the winning idea was a multichannel messaging app that would allow stylists (who make up half of Moda’s customers) to chat with people at the company. The platform would be a modern version of a traditional concierge service, allowing customers to chat quickly and easily, much as they would on text.

[Photo: courtesy of Moda Operandi]
As the winner, the messaging app team will get the resources to build the product. Some tech leaders argue that hackathons aren’t a great idea because a lot of work goes into ideas that never make it past the day of the event. But Moda’s leadership team says they aren’t throwing out any ideas that emerged from the event and will find ways to incorporate worthy ones into the business.

For those of us who closely observe the fashion industry, Moda’s hackathon offers some insight into the main issues that brands are tackling in the fashion industry and the various tools that might be created to overcome them. Indeed, other brands are creating similar solutions to the ones that emerged from the hackathon. Last week, I reported that Uniqlo has created an app that allows you to upload a photo and get personalized recommendations for similar outfits. And earlier this year, I reported on a company that’s creating a digital code that will identify a garment throughout its entire life cycle.

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  • 2:54 pm

Louisiana’s state government was just crippled by a ransomware attack

Louisiana’s state government was just crippled by a ransomware attack
[Photo: Flickr user joevare]

If you were a Louisiana resident trying to get a driver’s license, apply for SNAP or Medicaid benefits, or access results from Saturday’s gubernatorial election, you likely would have been out of luck Monday, as the state shut down computers to fend off an apparent ransomware attack, the Advocate reports.

The state’s Office of Technology Services took down servers “out of an abundance of caution,” tweeted Governor John Bel Edwards, and fully restoring operations could take several days. The Office of Motor Vehicles is expected to reopen branches across the state midday Tuesday, although operations may be limited. The state isn’t likely to lose any data and didn’t pay any ransom, according to the governor.

Earlier this year, Edwards declared a state of emergency after multiple school districts across the state were hit by a similar ransomware attack.

State and local agencies across the country have been increasingly affected by ransomware in recent years, including attacks that took down services in major cities such as Baltimore and Atlanta, and experts have said that may continue, because agencies often have limited budgets for digital security. StateScoop, which covers government technology issues, has reported more than 100 ransomware attacks affecting state and local institutions so far this year, compared to 51 publicly disclosed in 2018.

State and federal officials are investigating the Louisiana attack, Edwards tweeted.

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  • 2:08 pm

The behavior of 30,000 Reddit users shows we fundamentally misunderstand conspiracy theorists

The behavior of 30,000 Reddit users shows we fundamentally misunderstand conspiracy theorists
[Photo: Miriam Espacio/Unsplash]

Ever wonder how climate change deniers and antivaxer conspiracists come to their beliefs? A trio of Australian researchers analyzed eight years of Reddit to trace the paths that 15,370 users took to becoming active commenters in Reddit’s r/conspiracy community.

It turns out that our perception of conspiracists is misguided: They are not crazy people with conspiratorial mindsets, nor are they unwittingly indoctrinated. Rather, they are, as the researchers put it, “attracted to a range of non-mainstream beliefs” and tend to be involved in a variety of debate forums (politics! porn! guns! cars!), of which the conspiracy forum is just one.

Researchers followed 30,740 users, half of whom were future conspiracists, and half of whom were typical users in the same threads. They found that future conspiracists tend to use language related to crime, stealing, and law long before they join r/conspiracy, as well as words related to dominance, power, government, deception, and terrorism. (“There are enemies among us!” and so forth.) Not in their vocabularies are words about friendship, optimism, and affection. “This is suggestive of alienation rather than positive bonding,” write the researchers.

They also found that future conspiracists are very likely to engage with the r/politics community, where they are 2.4-times as likely to appear, and where they post five times as often. “It appears that political debate is especially attractive to users who go on to post in r/conspiracy,” write the researchers.

Interesting findings:

  • Conspiracy theorists are wordy. They posted a median of 20,599 words, versus the 8,082 words of the control group.
  • Future conspiracists are likely to pop up in the Drugs/Bitcoin community (which covers a range of fringe ideas), as well as Toxic Reddit, which ranges from innocuous memes to hotbeds of sexism and racism. They also pop up in Porn and Overseas and are particularly engaged in the Internet Culture community.
  • They’re not crazy. Future conspiracists are not any more hostile than the control group, nor does their language indicate any more anxiety, mental illness, or negative emotional states.

This all indicates that future conspiratorial behavior is somewhat predictable (if you’re a brilliant researcher with a coding background) and ripe for deeper understanding.

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  • 1:55 pm

Macy’s data breach: Here’s what to know if you shop macys.com

Macy’s data breach: Here’s what to know if you shop macys.com
[Photo: Paulo JC Nogueira/Wikimedia Commons]

If you shopped on Macy’s website in early October, you might want to take a close look at your credit card statement.

The company disclosed in a letter to affected customers that malware was inserted onto its website on October 7 that could have siphoned off credit card data, names, postal addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for customers who used the macys.com checkout page or updated their payment information.

The unauthorized code was removed October 15. People who used the Macy’s mobile app or updated their account info on a mobile device shouldn’t have been affected, the company says.

Macy’s says it’s working with law enforcement to investigate the breach and taking steps to secure the site so it can’t happen again. In the meantime, the department store giant is offering affected customers a year of Experian IdentityWorks protection and has notified the major credit card networks of the issue.

The company also recommends customers take a look at their statements and promptly report any unauthorized activity. As Macy’s says, U.S. credit and debit card users usually aren’t responsible for unauthorized charges they promptly report to financial institutions.

Similar malware infections, often dubbed Magecart attacks, have affected other major online retailers recently, including Ticketmaster and Newegg, ZDNet reports.

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  • 12:36 pm

Kylie Jenner now works for CoverGirl’s parent. Will her cosmetics brand lose that indie sparkle?

Kylie Jenner now works for CoverGirl’s parent. Will her cosmetics brand lose that indie sparkle?
[Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images]

Kylie Jenner no longer owns Kylie Cosmetics, the wildly successful direct-to-consumer makeup brand she launched in 2016. As was reported yesterday, the 22-year-old just sold a 51% stake of the company for $600 million to Coty, the conglomerate that owns such drugstore makeup brands as CoverGirl, Rimmel, and OPI. This means her company has landed a $1.2 billion valuation in just three years.

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It also means that one of the fastest-growing indie brands in the makeup industry has now joined the ranks of Big Makeup. Jenner says she will stay on as a “strategic partner” at Coty, but she no longer has a controlling stake in the company she created.

Low overhead, big growth

Jenner launched Kylie Cosmetics through her own website but eventually expanded into Ulta stores. According to Refinery29, the company had extremely low overhead: It outsources its manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and fulfillment and has a tiny staff of two dozen employees. In other words, the success of Kylie Cosmetics relied almost entirely on branding and Jenner’s own star power. Her best-known product was a $29 “lip kit,” which consists of a liquid lipstick along with a lip liner.

From the start, the kits frequently sold out. The immediate success of the brand made her the youngest self-made billionaire, at least according to Forbes. (She also generates income from appearing on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sharing sponsored Instagram posts with her 128 million followers, and brand collaborations.)

In a press release, Jenner suggested that the partnership would mean increased distribution of products through retailers: “I’m excited to partner with Coty to continue to reach even more fans of Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin around the world.”

By any standard, this Coty deal is a massive success for Jenner. And going forward, Coty appears to believe that it can continue leveraging Jenner’s fame and brand to sell even more products. But part of what made Kylie Cosmetics so exciting was that it allowed customers to support a brand that was built and owned by a young female entrepreneur. And to the young women who bought these lipsticks and blushes, Jenner represented someone they aspired to become. Now that the brand is owned by a massive conglomerate, some of that sparkle might be gone.

Still, given Jenner’s talent for starting businesses, there’s a good chance she’ll launch another one soon. We’ll be here watching.

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  • 8:10 am

Here’s how to watch the Trump impeachment hearings today

Here’s how to watch the Trump impeachment hearings today
[Photo: Chris Grafton/Unsplash]

Today Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Pence, will testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment hearings against President Trump.

The hearings revolve around a July 25th call in which the U.S. president is alleged to have asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly state the Ukrainian government is opening an investigation into Joe Biden’s son in return for the U.S. granting aid to Ukraine.

Biden is one of the most prominent Democrats opposing Trump in the 2020 election, and it’s thought that an announcement into investigations against his son, Hunter, could damage his campaign chances.

You can watch the hearings live below when they begin at 9 a.m. ET today. A second set of hearings will start at 2:30 p.m. ET and involve testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine. You can check out both hearings live below.

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  • 6:44 am
  • meme

Facebook has launched a meme-making app called Whale

Facebook has launched a meme-making app called Whale
[Photo: Meghan Schiereck/Unsplash]

Facebook has quietly launched a new app called Whale that allows users to quickly make memes and share them on social media, reports The Information (via The Verge). Right now Facebook wants to keep the app on the down-low as much as possible, which is why the social media giant has released Whale via its New Product Experimentation (NPE) team, which is listed as the app’s developer in Apple’s App Store.

Facebook’s NPE was launched earlier this year to develop and release apps that Facebook wants to experiment with without the promise that those apps will stick around for a long time or radically change course over their development cycle.

Right now the Whale app is only available on the Canadian App Store, which suggests just how experimental the app is. The app’s description is fairly simple: “No distractions, no hidden subscription pricing. Use your own images or choose from our stock photo library and get creative with text, tools, effects, and more right inside the app.” In other words, it’s like other meme-making apps.

So why is Facebook testing a meme-making app? Probably because its platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp, are widely used to share said memes. Whale is just another example of Facebook wanting to have a hand in the creation of any type of content you post on its platforms.

Will Whale expand to other markets outside of Canada? It’s possible if the app has a successful test run there. Then again it’s entirely likely that even if Whale is a success, Facebook could scrap the app and just build its tools into the Facebook app directly.

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  • 6:07 am

Boomers apparently love Snapchat now

Boomers apparently love Snapchat now
[Photo: Paul Szewczyk/Unsplash]

A new report from market research firm eMarketer has some good news for Snap investors: The company’s Snapchat app is finally seeing growth again following its disastrous redesign in 2018. That redesign saw Snapchat’s user base decline 1.4% in 2018, according to eMarketer. However, through the course of 2019, Snapchat has seen a turnaround, growing its global user base 14.2%.

Snapchat will have 293.01 million users worldwide by the end of this year, according to the firm. That growth sees an increase in users in all age ranges except for the 18- to 24-year-old demographic, which will see a 0.2% decline. However, the all-important 11- to 17-year-old demographic will see 11.5% growth. What’s perhaps most interesting, though, is that the age demographic that will grow the most in 2019 is the above-35 crowd.

[Image: courtesy of eMarketer]
eMarketer says Snapchat’s users aged 35 to 44 will grow 12.1% in 2019, users aged 45 to 54 will grow 12.4%, and users aged 55 to 64 will grow 13% in 2019. Yeah, that’s right: Boomers have the highest growth rate out of any age group on Snapchat.

As for why Snapchat made such a turnaround in 2019, eMarketer’s principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said, “Snapchat has reported gains in users every quarter so far in 2019, and we believe that the relaunched Android app has reinvigorated growth. In addition, features such as the successful baby face and gender swap filters earlier this year have driven increases in user engagement with the app.”

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A vegan is suing Burger King because its Impossible Whoppers are meat adjacent

A vegan is suing Burger King because its Impossible Whoppers are meat adjacent
[Photo: courtesy of Impossible Foods]

A vegan is suing Burger King over its Impossible Whopper, which is made by plant-based Impossible Burgers but cooked on the same grills as traditional beef Whoppers, rendering them unfit—according to the suit—for people who don’t eat animal by-products.

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The lawsuit, filed by Phillip Williams in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, was entered on the docket today. He wants it to be a class-action suit.

Court documents describe Impossible Whoppers cooked on the regular grills as “contaminated” and say vegans who know this is how they’re prepared wouldn’t buy them.

Williams calls Burger King‘s business practices false and misleading and accuses the fast-food chain of violating Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.

Williams bought an Impossible Whopper without mayonnaise (problematic for a vegan, with eggs among the condiment’s ingredients) from a Burger King drive-thru in Atlanta because he saw no signs saying it was cooked on the same grill as an animal-based Whopper. When Williams got his order, he checked that it was mayo-free and then ate the Impossible Whopper.

“Plaintiff, like the other members of the Class, reasonably believed that the Impossible Whopper was in fact ‘0% beef’ and, therefore, did not contain any meat or meat by-products. Plaintiff would not have purchased the Impossible Whopper if he knew that it . . . was coated in meat by-products,” according to court documents.

The suit accuses Burger King of violating vegans’ rights through its unfair and deceptive practices and wants the chain to “return all benefits gained, profits received, etc. from its deceptive marketing and sale of its Impossible Whopper so as to make full  restitution to Plaintiff and the Class” and make an actual meat-free Impossible Whopper. It also asks for injunctive and equitable relief and actual, compensatory, and any other damages the court sees fit to award. No dollar amounts are listed in the suit.

“We do not comment on pending litigation,” Burger King said in an email to Fast Company.

The Burger King website’s tagline for the plant-based menu item is “100% Whopper, 0% Beef.” Beneath the blurb describing the dish, it says, “For guests looking for a meat-free option, a non-broiler method of preparation is available upon request.”

The Impossible Whopper launched nationwide on August 8 after a successful trial run in St. Louis in April.

Burger King is headquartered in Miami but owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International, whose portfolio also includes Popeyes and Tim Hortons.

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This 2,000-year-old cartoon figure was rediscovered by IBM’s Watson in Peru

This 2,000-year-old cartoon figure was rediscovered by IBM’s Watson in Peru

Whether built to please the gods, guide pilgrims, or signal to aliens (absurdly unlikely), the Nazca Lines in southern Peru are a marvel of ancient engineering. Over 1,000 years, from 500 BCE to 500 CE, ancient Peruvians created channels in the landscape to trace complex shapes and cartoon-like characters, which sometimes measured up to half a mile across.

But time takes a toll. Millennia of erosion have washed away much of these geoglyphs, as they are called. And since the figures aren’t always obvious from the ground level, people have even built roads over the remains without realizing it. While some images are giant, others measure just a few feet acrossss, making them especially hard to pick out.

But where human vision struggles, computer vision can make things clear. Using aerial imagery, IBM employed its Watson Machine Learning AI to pick a possible humanoid figure out of a landscape that to the naked eye appears to hold nothing at all. The AI model was trained on just a dozen images of other Nazca Lines figures provided by Japan’s Yamagata University, which it used to learn the task. Yamagata archaeologists still had to investigate the site to confirm there was a figure and determine its exact shape.

The original aerial image (left) and reconstruction using AI and human surveying. [Photos: courtesy of IBM]
Measuring about 13 feet tall, the figure has a disproportionately large rectangular head that looks a bit like an old-school television. Three columns erupt out of its head, and the figure holds up what looks like a staff or club in its right hand.

Yamagata researchers have been able to tease out more than 100 new figures from the landscape since 2006, without the benefit of AI help. Using AI, they expect to be able to move much faster going forward.

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Juno is abruptly shutting down. Here’s what riders and drivers need to know

Juno is abruptly shutting down. Here’s what riders and drivers need to know
[Photo: Lerone Pieters/Unsplash]

New York-based ride-hailing service Juno is coming to an abrupt stop at 6 p.m. today, according to a press release from its parent company, Gett.

“Our strategic partnership with Lyft is a win-win,” according to Gett’s statement. However, if you’re one of Juno’s devotees (which the Daily News reports are less than 8% of Uber’s daily rides) or one of its drivers, you’re out of luck.

Riders will have to find other means of transport. According to the company’s website, their credits expire today, and support for complaints or payment issues will only extend through November 21.

Drivers will be paid for all their rides through 6 p.m. today. Although Gett now has a “strategic partnership” with Lyft, drivers aren’t automatically added to Lyft’s roster. “If you are interested in driving with other rideshare platforms in New York City, you are welcome to contact them directly,” Juno’s FAQ reads.

As for Gett, the company maintains that it’s “expanding its reach across North America at the same time as we continue to see strong momentum in Europe.” The statement also suggests that Lyft will “benefit from the large number of Gett enterprise clients traveling to the U.S.” That’s because when Gett’s corporate customers are in the U.S., they can hail rides with Gett’s app, which will pair them with a Lyft driver. Gett’s app, the company said, is used by a third of the Fortune 500 companies across 100 countries.

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Inside the meeting that’ll determine WeWork’s fate—plus a possible path for Adam Neumann to return

Inside the meeting that’ll determine WeWork’s fate—plus a possible path for Adam Neumann to return
[Photo: Jackal Pan/Visual China Group via Getty Images]

Last Thursday, as November fog rolled across the San Francisco Bay, Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, walked into Salesforce Tower, on Mission Street, for a meeting that would determine the fate of thousands of people and billions of dollars. Here, inside this 1,000-foot skyscraper, he’d come to visit WeWork’s West Coast headquarters, a stunning space that spans three floors and boasts 360-degree vistas, Artemide lighting, vintage rugs, and a Vladimir Kagan chair.

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But Son hadn’t come to admire the interior design or the view.

He’d come for a raw look at the grim picture inside WeWork right now.

A month ago, the embattled coworking company was on the verge of collapse. In late October, Son stepped in with a $9.5 billion rescue package, which for now has pulled WeWork back from the brink. All in all, he has staked $18.5 billion in the company since 2017.

Now Son has to figure out how to get his money back.

In an extraordinary meeting that would last close to four hours, Son huddled with executives from WeWork and SoftBank in a conference room, shades drawn, to map out a new course for WeWork. Co-CEOs Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham presented Son and top lieutenants from across SoftBank’s global empire with details of the current state of WeWork’s operations. Among those present were SoftBank’s chief strategy officer, Katsunori Sago; Rajeev Misra, chief of SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund; and Marcelo Claure, CEO of SoftBank International, whom Son dispatched in September to oversee operations at WeWork, following the departure of cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann.

Together, the goal was to map out a plan to turn WeWork around.

Son, known for his ebullient, quirky demeanor (he once compared himself to Yoda), was all business. He told the group that he wanted the company to turn a profit by 2021. He also suggested that WeWork advised them to look for new ways to monetize existing space, by identifying additional services and products to sell to members. “If we have this space and we have it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, what are the other ways it can be utilized?” observes one executive familiar with the discussions last week. A spokesperson for SoftBank declined to comment for this story.

Of course, WeWork already has a “hot desk” offering: “It’s perfect for those who need flexible, 24/7 access to a coworking space, but not necessarily a private office, or even the same desk every day,” says WeWork’s marketing copy touting the service. And the company’s acquisitions of Flatiron School and Meetup, for example, were arguably done to “identify additional services and products” either to sell to members or better utilize the space after hours.

“If in the past he had been all about grow, grow, grow,” says a source familiar with the discussions last week, “now he’s like, we need to prove to the world this is a really good business.”

To get there, WeWork is planning a restructuring that will impact thousands of employees, starting this week. The New York Times reported that 4,000 jobs will be cut. According to a source familiar with the restructuring plans, the company will announce this week the fates of its top executives, including Minson and Gunningham, as well as chief operating officer Jen Berrent. One source inside WeWork says a board meeting is planned Tuesday, and decisions regarding management changes will be determined then.

Even the fate of ex-CEO Neumann is unclear. One provision of his exit deal, not yet made public, stipulates that while the company is private, he has the right to designate one board seat and one nonvoting board observer, once he’s repaid his debts to SoftBank and stuck to the terms of a four-year noncompete agreement. If the company goes public, Neumann can regain two board seats (under the same conditions), provided future underwriters of such a deal don’t advise otherwise.

It will take more than cutting headcount to fix WeWork’s troubles. The company announced last week that it lost $1.25 billion in the quarter that ended in September, double its losses from a year earlier. Under Neumann, WeWork changed its name to The We Company; expanded into dozens of new businesses, including schools, a gym, apartments, and a surfing business; and set a breakneck pace to grow. “I am opening an average of two buildings a day globally,” Neumann told me in April. Between 2016 and the second quarter of 2019, WeWork opened 417 new locations. To fill those spaces, under Neumann’s leadership, the company offered deep discounts to tenants, which contributed to We’s massive losses. For example, in Austin, Texas, one tenant who ran a small events business recalls WeWork offering him dozens of free desks to move into one of its new buildings. The company was opening so many new offices that he learned that by switching locations every few months he could drastically reduce his overhead. “It was kind of common knowledge around Austin,” he says. “As long as you were willing to move, WeWork would give you free space.”

Under the new management, those flush days for prospective and current WeWork members are over. Rather than racing to open new locations, the company is now scrambling to pare back its sprawling operations. It is shedding all assets that aren’t part of its core business while also moving to fix problems with its core office-rental business. One real-estate executive familiar with WeWork’s operations says that the company is attempting to extract itself from leases negotiated under Neumann that were poorly priced.

As Son and his team dig in for the fight of WeWork’s life, they are facing strong forces moving against them. Competitors have been quick to take advantage of its weakened position. “We’re in a hypergrowth stage at the moment,” says Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, which is WeWork’s biggest competitor, with 3,500 locations around the world. He says that the attention on WeWork is helping to fuel IWG’s expansion, which includes opening new locations and scooping up smaller competitors. WeWork’s bad press has been a selling point for corporate customers in particular—many have been put off by WeWork’s financial troubles. “Our strategy has been greatly helped by the focus that they have put [on flexible office leasing], so we are grateful to them for that,” Dixon says. “Thank you, WeWork.”

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Forget fad diets. Fasting once a month might help you live longer

Forget fad diets. Fasting once a month might help you live longer
[Photo: Robina Weermeijer/Unsplash]

Rejoice: A gentler form of intermittent fasting provides the same life-lengthening effects as more frequent, intensive fasting. A study of people who fast just once a month showed notably higher survival rates.

Researchers led by Benjamin Horne, Ph.D., looked at 2,000 cardiac catheterization patients at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, many of whom were practicing Mormons who fast for approximately 24 hours on the first Sunday of every month. Even when controlling for other healthy behaviors, the fasters lived notably longer over a 4.5-year period.

This is relevant to you because the more faddish intermittent fasting diets include multiple fasts a week, which are hard. The researchers hypothesize that perhaps consistent fasting just once a month over a long period conditions the body to activate the beneficial aspects of fasting more quickly, so that rather than needing the typical 12 hours for the positive effects to kick in, the body activates the positive benefits daily during normal overnight fasting.

It is unclear which specific effects of intermittent fasting might impact longevity, but occasional fasting is known to have many positive effects on heart health, including lowering sodium and bicarbonate levels while activating ketosis and autophagy, as well as changing hemoglobin, red blood cell, and human growth hormone levels. More research is needed—this study found correlation, not causation—though all signs point to the wisdom of the numerous spiritual practices that have periodically fasted for millennia.

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The New York Times shrugs off FedEx CEO’s ‘colorful’ challenge to a tax policy debate

The New York Times shrugs off FedEx CEO’s ‘colorful’ challenge to a tax policy debate
[Photo: Liam Kevan/Unsplash]

The chairman and CEO of FedEx is so ticked off about a New York Times story about its $0 tax bill that he issued a scathing rebuttal and challenged the paper’s publisher and business editor to a debate about federal tax policy.

Fred Smith’s comments came yesterday, the day the piece ran on the front page of the country’s premier newspaper.

The story reports that in 2017, the Memphis-based delivery company’s tax bill exceeded $1.5 billion but dropped to zero in 2018 and that the company has been actively lobbying for the president’s tax cuts, which became law. FedEx officials told the paper that the company “paid $2 billion in total federal income taxes over the past 10 years.”

In his statement, Smith called the Times story “distorted and factually incorrect” and invited A.G. Sulzberger and his unnamed business section chief to Washington, D.C., to debate him and FedEx’s corporate vice president of tax. The debate would be about taxes and “the relative societal benefits of business investments and the enormous intended benefits to the United States economy, especially lower and middle class wage earners,” he said.

The Times was unmoved.

“FedEx’s colorful response does not challenge a single fact in our story. We’re confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which you can read here,” New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email to Fast Company. “FedEx’s invitation is clearly a stunt and an effort to distract from the findings of our story.”
The idea behind the tax cuts was, in part, that companies paying less in taxes would spend more on investments, but the Times found that FedEx didn’t do so.
The company disagreed with that assessment. It was quoted in the story as saying, “FedEx invested billions in capital items eligible for accelerated depreciation and made large contributions to our employee pension plans . . . These factors have temporarily lowered our federal income tax, which was the law’s intention to help grow G.D.P., create jobs and increase wages.”
Smith is a known fan of tax cuts. He’d tried to convince Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, to slash corporate taxes but to no avail.
Smith founded FedEx and built it into the international powerhouse it is today. As part of a response to the Times story, he also attacked the media company’s tax and investment record.
“[T]he New York Times paid zero federal income tax in 2017 on earnings of $111 million, and only $30 million in 2018—18% of their pretax book income. Also in 2018 the New York Times cut their capital investments nearly in half to $57 million, which equates to a rounding error when compared to the $6 billion of capital that FedEx invested in the U.S. economy during that same year.”
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John Legere, T-Mobile’s influential CEO and cheerleader, is leaving next year

John Legere, T-Mobile’s influential CEO and cheerleader, is leaving next year
[Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images]

T-Mobile CEO John Legere isn’t waiting to complete the carrier’s Sprint merger to announce his departure. On Monday, Legere announced to his 6.5 million Twitter followers that he’ll step down on May 1, 2020 and that COO and President Mike Sievert will be his successor. A press release says the transition is part of a “well-established succession planning process” by T-Mobile’s board.

Legere didn’t say where he was going next, though the Wall Street Journal reported last week that he was in talks to become the next CEO of WeWork. CNBC later reported that Legere would not take the WeWork job and had no plans to leave T-Mobile, so at least one part of that story has not held up.

While it’s rare for wireless carrier executives to become popular public figures, Legere quickly became a mascot of sorts for T-Mobile after becoming the company’s CEO in 2012. Coming off a failed merger with AT&T, Legere rebranded T-Mobile as an “Un-carrier” that was unafraid to throw sand at its larger rivals. The company led the way in eliminating long-term contracts, lowering prices, and restoring unlimited data plans (albeit with some limits), and Legere took on the role of public cheerleader, often wearing leather jackets and magenta undershirts.

That consumer-friendly image has become tougher to maintain, however, as T-Mobile tries to merge with Sprint. While the companies argue that a combined entity would provide better coverage compared to AT&T and Verizon, critics point to a long history of mergers producing higher prices and worse service. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission have already approved the merger, leaving lawsuits by several state attorneys general as the biggest remaining obstacle.

However that plays out, T-Mobile says it will continue to go to bat for customers once Legere departs.

“The Un-carrier culture, which all our employees live every day, will not change,” Sievert says in the company’s press erlease. “T-Mobile is not just about one individual.”

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Report: WeWork could lay off almost half of its employees this week

Report: WeWork could lay off almost half of its employees this week
[Photo: Eloise Ambursley/Unsplash]

WeWork, the former darling of the startup world, may be planning to lay off thousands of its workers this week, reports the New York Times. The paper cites “two people with knowledge of the matter” who say the company will lay off up to 4,500 employees this week. However, one of those people says the layoffs could be as much as 5,000 to 6,000 employees.

WeWork currently has around 12,500 employees worldwide, which means the layoffs will amount to the company cutting anywhere from a third to almost half of its workforce. The sources tell the Times that 2,000 to 2,500 layoffs will come from the divisions responsible for subletting office space. Another 1,000 layoffs will come from “noncore businesses, like a private school in Manhattan that WeWork set up,” the Times says. WeWork will either close or sell these noncore businesses. And yet another 1,000 layoffs will be of building maintenance workers.

It’s unclear what departments the additional layoffs will come from if the 5,000 to 6,000 numbers are the correct ones. Sources told the Times that the layoffs are part of a five-year turnaround plan for the company and that they could be announced to employees on Tuesday. WeWork spent much of this year as the darling of the tech world and its IPO was expected to be one of the biggest in recent memory. However, after investors became nervous about the company’s mounting losses, the IPO was shelved and WeWork’s CEO Adam Neumann announced his departure from the company.

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Even Hulu realizes that live TV prices are out of control

Even Hulu realizes that live TV prices are out of control
[Photo: Pawel Kadysz/Unsplash]

Hulu is raising the price of its live TV channel bundle for the second time this year. Starting on December 18, Hulu With Live TV will have a base cost of $55 per month, both for new and existing subscribers. That’s a price hike of $10 per month.

As Hulu points out in a blog post, the new price is still a lot cheaper than cable or satellite TV, for which the average home pays about $107 per month according to Leichtman Research Group. Still, as TV networks demand ever-more money for their channels, streaming providers are no less affected than traditional ones. (Don’t forget that cable companies continue to raise prices as well. They just do a better job hiding the extra fees.)

In any case, Hulu’s blog post seems to acknowledge that live TV pricing has gotten out of hand, and it even gently reminds customers that they don’t have to subscribe year-round:

“[W]e’ve made it easy for Hulu subscribers to switch back and forth between our plans to best suit their needs. If you love college football, choose Hulu + Live TV during the season, then switch to one of Hulu’s less expensive on-demand plans when it’s over. If you enjoy most of your TV on demand but really want to watch live election news, just switch to Hulu + Live TV for a few months.”

Hulu also suggested, as it has for over a year now, that it wants smaller and cheaper bundles, but that’s at odds with TV programmers (one of which is Hulu’s own corporate parent, Disney) that want to keep packages bloated and expensive. Hulu provided no details on how it might reconcile those competing desires.

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Americans finally understand Big Tech’s Faustian bargain, but that doesn’t mean they’ll quit tech

Americans finally understand Big Tech’s Faustian bargain, but that doesn’t mean they’ll quit tech
[Photos: Tianyi Ma/Unsplash; Alexander Andrews/Unsplash]

America is no longer buying the internet advertising industry’s argument that personal data tracking helps us by showing us more relevant ads. That’s perhaps the biggest lesson from the results of a broad new Pew Research study, released today.

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The survey of 4,272 U.S. adults found that 6 in 10 people believe they can’t go through a day without having their personal data captured by some company or government agency.

Pew found that 72% of Americans believe that “all, almost all or most of” what they do online–either on their cellphone or their computer–is being tracked by advertisers, ad tech companies, data companies, or others. An additional 19% believe that “at least some of” what they do is being tracked.

If it’s true that Americans trade away their data privacy for convenience, a majority don’t feel they’re getting the best end of the deal. Pew finds that 81% feel that privacy risks of the systematic collection of their personal data by the likes of Google and Facebook outweigh the potential benefits. And exactly two-thirds say government collection of their personal data has more downside (in loss of privacy) than upside (in security).

Almost half of Americans–47%–believe that the government is tracking at least most of their online activities, mobile or otherwise. That’s a stunning stat, especially in light of the common belief that America is a better place to live than China, which systematically surveils its population.

A large majority of Americans–roughly 8 in 10–believe they have very little control over their personal data. Fully 81% say they have no control of what advertisers and ad tech companies collect from them, and 84% say they can’t control what they share with the government.

Seen together, all this helps explain the angst many people feel toward big tech companies and the paranoia some of us feel about government surveillance.

Companies like Facebook and Google, and the thousands of ad tech companies in the ecosystem, have built huge businesses on the harvesting of personal data in the background where consumers can’t clearly see. Only when strongly pressured have such companies been forthcoming about their data harvesting practices, choosing instead to trumpet the frontal benefits of “convenient” and “free” to consumers.

And yet the data (and Facebook and Google’s stock prices) suggest that while consumers feel they are being harmed more than helped by the data harvesting of Big Tech, they are unwilling or unable to stop using those services. That’s where it starts to sound a lot like addiction.

Not that it’s a simple issue. The services rendered by tech companies would, for many of us, be hard to live without. Facebook does connect grandmas with faraway grandkids. Google Docs is great for always having easy access to work. What’s missing is a plainspoken and honest explanation from the start of the terms of the bargain we strike with Big Tech–a clear explanation of the my-data-for-your-service quid pro quo.

“When it comes to privacy in the digital age, many Americans are concerned, confused and not fully convinced that the current systems of tracking and monitoring them bring more benefits than risk,” said Pew research director Lee Rainie in a statement with the survey results. “They fear their information is not as safe now as it used to be and they worry how data about them is being used. At the same time, some can conceive of circumstances where data use can be helpful, especially for achieving some broad societal benefits. As always, Americans’ views about privacy are complex and varied.”

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