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  • 5:50 pm

Report: YouTube is under FTC investigation for child privacy concerns

Report: YouTube is under FTC investigation for child privacy concerns
[Photo: Caleb Woods/Unsplash]

The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating YouTube for improperly collecting data from children.

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The probe follows a written complaint addressed to the FTC from various consumer advocacy groups, which claimed that the Google-owned video streaming giant violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

The Washington Post, which first broke the story, said four anonymous people close to the matter had come forward with the news of the investigation, which could lead to fines against YouTube.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

In addition to data collection concerns, the complaint letter said that inappropriate content appeared in searches for children’s videos. YouTube’s recommendation engines have come under intense scrutiny over the last few weeks and months, in part because of their tendency to steer users toward unsuitable videos.

While registered younger users are directed straight to YouTube Kids—a curated collection of videos for preteens and tots—unregistered users can still access the main site. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the video service was considering a plan to move all its kids’ content to YouTube Kids, a tough feat simply for the sheer volume of videos.

Effective since 2000, COPPA deals with the collection of personal information of children under the age of 13. Its six-step compliance plan, detailed on the FTC’s website, states that online companies that collect data from children under 13 must post a privacy policy, and must also gain parental consent before collecting data from young users.

The complaint, launched jointly by several groups including Parents Across America and the Center for Media Justice, says that YouTube does not have an appropriate privacy policy. It also says that YouTube gets around the “age gate” by not permitting children under 13 to sign up to post videos, but then letting them watch videos on the main site without registering.

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  • 5:20 pm

Congrats to Bill de Blasio, the most searched 2020 Democrat in Luce County, Michigan

Congrats to Bill de Blasio, the most searched 2020 Democrat in Luce County, Michigan

California loves Kamala. Texas is Beto country. Maine is lousy with Bernie bros.

Those are some of the insights one might glean from a cool new interactive map from Google Trends, which visualizes search interest in the 20-plus Democrats who are vying for their chance to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

The map, courtesy of Google data journalist Simon Rogers, offers a color-coded look at each county in the contiguous United States, showing which candidate generated the most search interest from January through May 2019. The finished product reveals some patterns we might expect. For instance, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the most searched candidate throughout much of Indiana, his home state.

Perhaps equally unsurprising is that Mayor Bill de Blasio is not the most searched candidate in four out of the five boroughs in his hometown of New York City. That honor goes to Joe Biden in Manhattan and Staten Island, Kamala Harris in the Bronx, and Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn. Only Queens County favored searching for de Blasio over other candidates.

Zooming out to Upstate New York, and you can see that Biden and Sanders dominate there, too. In fact, you have to squint pretty hard to find any U.S. counties where de Blasio gets top search interest. Luce County, Michigan; and Crockett County, Texas, are a few exceptions.

Of course, raw search interest without context doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but the map is a lot of fun to look through. It’s also searchable, which means you can plug in your own county and see who’s dominating there. Check out the full map while you strain your eyes trying to find a single county searching for Eric Swalwell.

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  • 3:32 pm

Why pot legalization just failed again in one of the U.S.’s most liberal states

Why pot legalization just failed again in one of the U.S.’s most liberal states
[Photo: Matthew Brodeur/Unsplash]

What a difference a day makes. On Tuesday, it seemed like there was still a chance. Today, after a legislative battle that dragged on for months, New York State lawmakers shot down a measure that would have legalized marijuana.

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Given New York’s progressive bona fides and tolerant history—strong support for gay rights, generous social policies, Wigstock, Woodstock—it seems to defy logic. Why not pot?

The answer is simple—and likely the reason why most good and simple things don’t come to pass: politics.

This latest effort tried to bridge myriad political views to bring in enough lawmakers who would vote in favor of legalization, according to a recent Vox report. Already a heavy lift, that effort wasn’t helped by the governor’s flip-flopping. Only two years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo described pot as a gateway drug; during last year’s Democratic primary he moved distinctly to the left and pledged support for legalization in 2018. This year, however, he’s gone back to his old ways and described recent legalization attempts as not “feasible.”

While most politicians seem to agree on the overriding belief that marijuana criminalization has led to millions of unnecessary arrests—predominantly impacting poor people of color—there’s lot of disagreement about how to implement the legal fix. One of the biggest impasses, the Buffalo News reports, is how revenues from marijuana sales would be allocated; “Lawmakers want a specific target for how much of that money would go to low-income, minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests over the decades,” the newspaper writes. “Cuomo has said he agrees with that goal, but that funding decisions should be a part of the annual budget process at the Capitol.”

It seems that Cuomo had essentially given up working on this effort. Despite the fact that he has claimed to attend meetings with lawmakers to work out a passable version of the law, New York State Assembly members told the Buffalo News that the governor did not participate in the most recent attempt to amend the bill.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who worked to pass the legalization bill, admitted today that the law is not going to pass during this session. “This is only a delay, but that delay means countless lives will continue to be upended by unnecessary enforcement,” she wrote in a tweet.

The question remains: Will New York State will ever be able to pass such a sweeping bill? Over the last week, the state has passed two progressive pieces of legislation—one that gave tenants many more rights, another that will let undocumented immigrants get drivers licenses. With this impressive progressive streak, it seems like the state should easily be able to pass a marijuana law. Yet Cuomo and other lawmakers are unhappy with the specifics, wanting more control over the market if the plant were to become legal. And so, millions of New Yorkers unfairly penalized by the state’s retrograde laws will have to wait some more.

In the interim, some state lawmakers are considering putting forth other plans that would focus on more extreme decriminalization or expunging past records of marijuana-related legal offenses. We’ll see if Cuomo is amenable to any of those. If not, we may need to call Cynthia Nixon (remember her?).

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  • 2:10 pm

“Alexa, am I having a heart attack?” Scientists create cardiac monitoring smart speaker system

“Alexa, am I having a heart attack?” Scientists create cardiac monitoring smart speaker system
[Photo: Sarah McQuate/University of Washington]

Almost 500,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrest, but now an unlikely new tool may help cut that number. Researchers at the University of Washington have figured out how to turn a smart speaker into a cardiac monitoring system. That’s right, in the not-too-distant future you may be able to ask Siri if you’re having a heart attack—even if you’re not touching the device.

Because smart speakers are always passively listening, anticipating being called into action with a “Hey Google” or “Alexa!” they are the perfect device for listening for changes in breathing. So if someone starts gasping and making so-called “agonal breathing” (add that to your Scrabble repertoire) the smart speaker can call for help. Agonal breathing is described by co-author Dr. Jacob Sunshine as “a sort of a guttural gasping noise” that is so unique to cardiac arrest that it makes “a good audio biomarker.” According to a press release, about 50% of people who experience cardiac arrest have agonal breathing and since Alexa and Google are always listening, they can be taught to monitor for its distinctive sound.

On average, the proof-of-concept tool detected agonal breathing events 97% of the time from up to 20 feet (or 6 meters) away. The findings were published today in npj Digital Medicine. Why is it so good at detecting agonal breathing? Because the team created it using a dataset of agonal breathing captured from real 911 calls.

“A lot of people have smart speakers in their homes, and these devices have amazing capabilities that we can take advantage of,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota. “We envision a contactless system that works by continuously and passively monitoring the bedroom for an agonal breathing event, and alerts anyone nearby to come provide CPR. And then if there’s no response, the device can automatically call 911.”

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  • 1:37 pm

Five New York anchorwomen sue for age and gender discrimination

Five New York anchorwomen sue for age and gender discrimination
[Photo: maxcam2008/iStock]

If you live in New York City, NY1 is the 24-hour local channel where you get your news. The on-air anchors tell viewers about local politics, weather and traffic, real estate development, and whatever the main stories of the day happen to be.

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Today, five longtime NY1 anchorwomen were the main story. At Manhattan federal court, they’ve filed a lawsuit accusing the station of age and gender discrimination, saying they were marginalized by management in favor of younger, less qualified female colleagues.

The women involved in the suit are well-known to NY1 watchers: Kristen Shaughnessy, Jeanine Ramirez, Vivian Lee, Amanda Farinacci, and Roma Torre, who was NY1′s first on-air hire, way back in 1992. She told the New York Times that the women feel like they “are being railroaded out of the place” and that “women have an expiration date.”

The age and gender discrimination allegedly worsened after cable giant Charter-Spectrum took over NY1’s parent company, Time Warner Cable, in 2016, and went on what the New York Daily News characterized as a “bloodbath,” axing over a dozen longtime staffers. According to the Times, “the revamp extended to sweeping out older women among the on-air talent.”

After the Charter takeover, the women found their on-air time and anchoring spots cut, kept out of promotional campaigns, and when they complained, their concerns were consistently ignored, the women allege. New Yorkers may find it particularly shocking to learn that, according to the lawsuit, Torre’s salary is “less than half that of [Pat] Kiernan,” the well-known NY1 morning anchor. In May, when Torre won a local Emmy Award for her work, NY1’s Twitter account posted a photograph of her accepting the prize—with Kiernan in front of her. Per the suit, the tweet was a “blatant” example of “NY1’s favoritism toward Mr. Kiernan at Ms. Torre’s expense.”

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for NY1 gave Fast Company the following statement:

“We take these allegations seriously and as we complete our thorough review, we have not found any merit to them. NY1 is a respectful and fair workplace and we’re committed to providing a work environment in which all our employees are valued and empowered.”

According to a statement from the women’s attorney, it was made clear to the women that “their careers are over, as NY1 seems to believe that younger faces, when it comes to women, are a ‘better look’ for the bottom line.” It all brings to mind the Amy Schumer sketch about how Hollywood favors younger women.

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  • 12:40 pm

Here’s a short history of Facebook flops

Here’s a short history of Facebook flops
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels]

Yesterday was Facebook’s big blockchain day. It finally went public with its plans to upend the global payments industry by introducing a new program called Libra, which would be both its own digital currency and a financial platform. Users will supposedly be able to pay for things with Libra, store the coin in their own digital wallets, and transfer money to anyone else—wherever they are. It’s certainly an ambitious plan.

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But Facebook has many hurdles to overcome. For one, there’s the adoption element; the company needs to convince people to, well, actually use Libra. It also needs real industry support. Yes, some names like Mastercard and Paypal have signed on as “founding members,” but no bank has tied its name to Libra nor has any other big tech platform like Apple and Amazon. Libra has the distinct possibility of failing before it catches on.

Which is why it may be helpful to look at recent history to contextualize this latest launch. Many think of Facebook as some sort of unstoppable force—the sometimes nefarious platform used by nearly everyone in the world. True, Facebook is quite ubiquitous, with over 2.38 billion monthly users worldwide, but that doesn’t mean everything it’s launched has stuck. The company has had many flops during its digital tenure. Here are a few of its biggest failures:

Poke

In 2012, Facebook launched the “Poke” app as an attempt to mimic Snapchat. Historically, Facebook’s strategic playbook has been to either buy or copy the competitors. In this case, it didn’t work. After two years, the company took Poke off the App Store and went back to the drawing board with how it could overtake its social media nemesis.

Slingshot

Despite its first misstep, Facebook tried to persevere. It launched another ephemeral messaging app aimed directly at Snapchat, this one called Slingshot. But this one didn’t take off either. A year later, Facebook killed the stand-alone Slingshot app—along with other projects called Room and Riff which, unsurprisingly, didn’t take off either.

Messenger Payments

This may be the feature most similar to what Libra is trying to achieve. Since 2015, Facebook has tried to facilitate digital cash payments through its Messenger app. The idea was that people already chatting on Messenger could also send money, similar to Venmo. Facebook, however, ran into government approval issues. While it was able to roll it out in the U.S. (and users in the country still can send cash to each other), the service never took off in Europe. Ultimately, Facebook announced its plans to sunset Messenger payments to users in the U.K. and France earlier this year. Libra, it seems, is a way for Facebook to still tackle this problem using the blockchain as a loophole to circumvent financial regulation.

Deals

In 2011, Facebook decided it needed to compete with Groupon. And so it launched Deals, a service that looked a heckovalot like the once-popular Groupon. Deals rolled out to many U.S. cities over a few months, and then Facebook decided to kill the project only four months after it launched.

Places

This is another now-dead service that launched a little bit before Deals. Places was very clearly aimed at Foursquare, which was rising in popularity at the time (2010). It let users check in to physical places and tag friends in a nearly identical fashion to its then competitor. Then, a year later, Facebook decided to stop offering the Places function on its own and instead integrate checking in to its overall platform. It was a clear sign that the project didn’t go according to plan.

Instant Articles

Another Facebook ambition that it spoke about with great bombast was the platform’s plans to transform journalism. Yes, Facebook (along with Google) was increasingly taking up the digital advertising revenue—which meant that publishers had to reallocate funds to cater to the growing duopoly. But Facebook also really wanted news organizations to think that it had their best interests in mind. One way it approached that was with Instant Articles, a fast-loading format for news articles that was native to Facebook. Publishers tried out Instant Articles because, well, their hands were tied. Facebook essentially told them that the best way to gain eyeballs was to make content using this new platform. Many publishers, however, were very unhappy with the results, and many have since abandoned it. Instant Articles is not dead, per se, but it’s clear that it hasn’t become the default distribution platform Facebook intended.

Trending Topics

Here’s another journalism-adjacent feature, one that has a different death tale than the rest. Trending Topics didn’t get killed because no one took to it. Quite the opposite: Trending Topics was introduced as a way to add a social spin to news stories that people were talking about. If something was “trending,” that is, being highly shared on Facebook, it would gain a place at the top of users’ news feeds. Issues quickly arose over what was considered “trending,” and some right-wing critics claimed that the social network’s algorithm had a liberal bias. Ultimately, Facebook decided to kill Trending Topics. While it said it was because of waning interest, the feature was also an example of vague concept that saw negative results.

More to come?

There are many more Facebook products that launched with much fanfare and were ultimately killed. Off the top of my head, I can think of Paper, Gifts, and its attempt to kill email.

Of course, any successful company throws things against the wall to see what sticks, so it’s not surprising that Facebook has had many hits and misses. But when discussing Libra, an ambitious project that will require dozens of moving parts to facilitate success, it’s useful to keep in mind that many of Mark Zuckerberg’s best laid plans have gone awry.

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  • 11:54 am

Whoopi Goldberg blames Bella Thorne for her own nude photo hack

Whoopi Goldberg blames Bella Thorne for her own nude photo hack
Bella Thorne (left) and Whoopi Goldberg (right). [Photos: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images (Thorne); Heidi Gutman/ABC (Goldberg)]

Actress Bella Thorne says she was hacked and had nude photos swiped. When the hacker blackmailed her, threatening to release the intimate photos to the public unless she paid, Thorne beat the hacker to it, sharing the photos on Twitter on Saturday along with a note saying she is taking her power back.

Thorne’s bold move ended up being discussed on the talk show The View, where co-host Whoopi Goldberg seemed to blame Thorne for her own computer hack, implying that Thorne should have known the hackers would be able to gain access to the pictures.

“Once you take that picture it goes into the cloud and it’s available to any hacker who wants them,” Goldberg said on the show. “And if you don’t know that in 2019 that this is an issue, I’m sorry, your age does not—you don’t get to do that.” Goldberg continued, “If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are, you don’t take nude pictures of yourself.”

Thorne and many others across the internet were not interested in hearing Goldberg’s victim-blaming stance that seems to imply hackers have some sort of right to nude pictures of celebrities who dare to take them on their own phones. “Shame on you,” Thorne responded on her Instagram Story on Tuesday, blasting Goldberg for “saying if you take a sexy photo, then it basically deserves to get leaked like don’t be surprised at all and don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

Thorne is just the latest celebrity to have her photos hacked. Back in 2014, an iCloud hack resulted in private photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Upton, and more being shared online.

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  • 11:26 am

This high-tech soccer jersey changes colors so fans of rival teams don’t beat you up

This high-tech soccer jersey changes colors so fans of rival teams don’t beat you up

When it comes to soccer, the fans at the Women’s World Cup are pretty civil. But head to, for instance, Argentina, and it’s a different story, as the intense rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate has erupted into violence on multiple occasions. They aren’t alone in their ardent support for their team: The Flamengo v. Fluminense game in Rio de Janeiro is known for zealous passion; Liverpool fans love to hate Manchester United; and let’s just say you would not want to be caught in a Roma jersey in Lazio territory when those two Italian teams face off.

Luckily, technology can help make life a little easier for soccer fans. The Brazilian branch of the Leo Burnett creative agency has developed a jersey that has a creative way of keeping fans safe: Thanks to a high-tech combination of fabric, pigments, and GPS, the jersey goes from a neutral design to team colors. It lets fans walk into the stadium in peace and only flash their true fan colors when they’re safely in the stadium. The total transformation of the jersey takes around one minute.

The creative minds at the agency devised the jersey because Brazil has a fierce and occasionally violent soccer culture, leading to the world’s highest rate of football-related deaths. Over the course of 2018’s 38-week soccer season, there were 144 violent fights around the stadiums that lead to 19 deaths. To help curb the violence, Leo Burnett developed the Camouflage Jersey.

“The main idea behind the jersey is to bring awareness about how serious the problem of violence among supporters has become,” Wilson Mateos, VP Creative/ECD at Leo Burnett Brazil, said in an email. “The jersey is an icon of this situation, intending to spark a reflection like ‘Would we let the situation comes this far?'”

The jersey was developed in the official colors of Esporte Clube Bahia, who put the jersey in their stadium’s store. It is currently sold as a collectible item, a very limited edition, with the profits going to finance anti-violence initiatives.

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  • 7:07 am

Adult performers and models will protest over account removals at Instagram’s HQ today

Adult performers and models will protest over account removals at Instagram’s HQ today
[Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash]

If you go past Instagram’s headquarters in Silicon Valley today, you’ll probably notice a large crowd of people outside protesting the company. Those people will likely be dozens of adult performers and models who are angry at what they say is Instagram’s confusing guidelines about nudity on the platform, reports the Guardian.

The protesters say they aren’t complaining that Instagram has nudity guidelines, but that those guidelines are opaque and accounts removals for breaking Instagram’s nudity guidelines aren’t uniform. Two accounts might have the same type of nudity in them, but Instagram often only suspends or terminates one of the accounts, they say.

And that discrepancy is for the accounts that openly display nudity. But adult professionals claim they are having their Instagram accounts banned even when their accounts contain no nude photographs. As James Felton, the Adult Performers Actors Guild legal counsel, told the Guardian:

[Out of more than 1,000 adult performer removals in 2019], in the large majority of instances, there was no nudity shown in the pictures. However, it appears that the accounts were terminated merely because of their status as an adult performer. Efforts to learn the reasons behind the termination have been futile.

This lack of communication on exactly why an account has been banned even when it’s not apparent how it violates Instagram’s nudity guidelines means those affected have little understanding of what they can do to get their accounts reinstated. And affected account holders say attempts to contact the company are usually in vain. As the Guardian notes:

When [feminist visual artist Betty Tompkins] asked Instagram why her account was gone, she received an automated response. Others who have had their accounts disabled say in emails with Instagram they were prompted to take a photo of themselves holding a handwritten sign showing a username, to verify their identities. Most say they were given little or no clear direction on how to return to the app. Instagram declined to provide further context about account restoration.

This lack of clarity on how to get their accounts reinstated—or understanding of why their accounts were removed in the first place—can have severe financial repercussions for adult performers, models, and artists who are influencers on the platform and rely on their Instagram following to get jobs or promote their work.

One model, Rachel Clugston, who had her account terminated without warning says she lost thousands of dollars’ worth of work in the 20 days it took her to get Instagram to reinstate her profile. “I learned through this experience Instagram has so much control over my life and my well-being and how I earn a living,” she told the Guardian. “I literally would have been homeless if I did not get my Instagram back. I don’t know what I would have done for work.”

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  • 6:18 am

Twitter disables precise location tagging in tweets

Twitter disables precise location tagging in tweets
[Photo: Alex Ware/Unsplash]

For years Twitter has given users the option of tagging their precise location, down to the exact latitude and longitude, in a tweet so their followers could know exactly where they were when they tweeted. Soon, that feature will be no more.

Twitter Support has announced that the feature is being killed off due to lack of use. In a tweet, the company said, “Most people don’t tag their precise location in Tweets, so we’re removing this ability to simplify your Tweeting experience.”

Although hardcore Twitter users may be bummed, the ability to share precise locations in tweets is going away—and from a privacy standpoint, it’s probably a good thing. Some users who had the feature enabled could have been unaware that they were broadcasting their exact location to the world with each tweet, leaving them vulnerable. After all, when you share your precise location on social media, not only does it tell strangers where you are, it tells them where you aren’t.

The good news for fans of precise location is the feature isn’t going away entirely. Users will still be able to tag a photo they share in a tweet with a precise location if they so choose. To disable this feature entirely, make sure that the “Tweet with a location” setting is unchecked in your Twitter account’s privacy and safety settings.

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These are the top 100 CEOs in 2019, according to actual employees

These are the top 100 CEOs in 2019, according to actual employees
[Photo: rawpixel.com/Pexels]

Horrible bosses get a lot more attention than good bosses, which isn’t fair. After all, it’s a lot easier to be a horrible boss than a good one. All you have to do is pay yourself 1,424 times what your average employee makes, steal your employees’ ideas and pretend they’re your own, foster a culture of competition and strife, belittle your underlings as often as possible, get handsy at the holiday party, blame people for your own bad decisions, and give yourself a raise and a bonus while cutting costs everywhere else.

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Being a good boss, though, is much more difficult, and good bosses rarely get movies written about them, as evidenced by Horrible Bosses, 9 to 5, and Office Space, just to name a few.

Luckily, there’s Glassdoor, which lists the 100 Top CEOs each year, the bosses at the top of the corporate ladder who are doing right by their employees. The list for 2019 features CEOs across a diverse group of industries, including technology, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, retail, and more, selected by their own employees. This year the top spot of the good boss list goes to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, who has a 99% approval rating and jumped up from No. 78.

Joining Gelsinger at the top of the list are HEB’s Charles Butt, In-N-Out Burger’s Lynsi Snyder, and T-Mobile’s John Legere. Newcomers to the list include Salesforce’s co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Keith Block, coming in at No. 17 (96% approval), PayPal’s Dan Schulman (No. 34), Visa Inc.’s Alfred F. Kelly Jr. (No. 90) and Trader Joe’s’ Dan Bane (No. 93). Two CEOs have made the list all 7 years: Apple’s Tim Cook (No. 69) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (No. 55), down 39 spots from No. 16 in 2018. While they are all good, only one CEO managed to make the best CEO list in four separate countries—SAP’s Bill McDermott, who is recognized in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany.

Just seven women are among the top 100 CEOs this year, including In-N-Out Burger’s Lynsi Snyder (coming in at No. 3 with a 99% approval), Deloitte’s Cathy Engelbert (No. 15), Wegmans Food Markets’ Colleen Wegman (No. 54), and KPMG’s Lynne Doughtie (No. 72, 92% approval).

The top 10 CEOs in 2019 in the U.S. are:

  1. VMware’s Pat Gelsinger (99% approval)
  2. HEB’s Charles C. Butt (99% approval)
  3. In-N-Out Burger’s Lynsi Snyder (99% approval)
  4. T-Mobile’s John Legere (99% approval)
  5. Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen (98% approval)
  6. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella (98% approval)
  7. McKinsey & Company’s Kevin Sneader (98% approval)
  8. LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner (97% approval)
  9. Intuitive Surgical’s Gary S. Guthart (97% approval)
  10. Best Buy’s Hubert Joly (97% approval)

The top CEOs at Small & Medium Companies in 2019 in the U.S. are:

  1. Health Catalyst’s Dan Burton (99% approval)
  2. Digital Prospectors’ Jessica Catino (99% approval)
  3. Oscar Health’s Mario T. Schlosser (99% approval)
  4. Weave’s Brandon Rodman (99% approval)
  5. South Carolina Federal Credit Union’s Scott Woods (99% approval)

Check out the full list here.

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Dream summer job alert: Get paid $10,000 to travel the country and swim in hotel pools

Dream summer job alert: Get paid $10,000 to travel the country and swim in hotel pools
[Photo: Anna Demianenko/Unsplash]

Working in an office can be a major summer bummer. (Uh, no offense, boss.) While summer Fridays are nice and all, when the sun comes out, sometimes you just want to spend all day outside, ideally perched in a cabana next to the pool with a cocktail in hand and far, far from a cubicle.

If that sounds appealing (because you’re not dead inside), Hotels.com has just the job for you. The hotel review site is hiring a “Poolhop” to travel across the country and test the waters at six different hotels, including establishments in Hawaii, Florida, Vegas, L.A., New York, and the non-beach town of Colorado Springs.

The job itself is simple: Lounge by the pool, sip on fruity drinks, snap some Insta-worthy poolside photos, and report your findings to the eager fans jealously following your adventures at their desks. The Poolhop’s FOMO-inducing pics will be featured on Hotels.com and social channels to hopefully inspire other travelers to break out of their own cubicles and throw their own pool parties.

Since cocktails and selfies don’t pay the rent (not talking to you, influencers), Hotels.com is giving its Poolhop a salary of $10,000, as well as travel and lodging, which makes this pretty much the most ultimate summer job ever.

Want to apply? Well, get in line, because you have until June 25 to apply here. And, boss? You never saw this.

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Facebook’s Libra could win the crypto game without Facebook winning back our trust

Facebook’s Libra could win the crypto game without Facebook winning back our trust
[Photo: Kim Gorga/Unsplash]

Facebook has announced some details of its planned cryptocurrency project Libra, slated for launch next year with launch partners including Uber, Lyft, Spotify, PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa. Proponents hope the new digital coin will make it easier to send money online, including internationally.

But some critics and skeptics have already expressed worries about the plan.

Among their concerns:

  • Trust issues: Facebook’s repeated controversies regarding user privacy have many worried about integrating the social media platform with their financial lives. Facebook has said that while users will be able to send the currency, called Libra, using its messaging apps, it won’t integrate Libra and Facebook data. The currency will be managed by a Switzerland-based association made up of Facebook and the other partner organizations.
  • Regulation issues: The currency will likely have to get regulatory approval around the world. Transmitting money is regulated in many countries and states, and some regulators have expressed skepticism about the already-powerful Facebook moving into this new area.
  • Volatility issues: While Facebook says the association members will contribute funds to back the currency and keep it at a stable price, their ability to do so is yet unproven. A steady value, something that has proven elusive for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is likely necessary to get merchants and many everyday users to work with the currency without worrying that price fluctuations will erode their holdings.
  • Commitment issues: The currency may struggle without the support of banks, and there are none on the list of launch partners, though payment processors like Stripe and PayPal, and cryptocurrency firms like Coinbase and Xapo, are represented. Libra will likely need traditional financial institutions to store the funds association members contribute, and it will need banks to allow their customers to send traditional funds to buy the currency.

Despite these concerns, it’s not necessarily a given that consumer wariness of Facebook will harm the currency. Many people are already critical of banks, credit card companies, and money transfer services, but still use them because they’re the easiest way to send and store money. If Libra turns out to be widely accepted and user-friendly, it’s very likely that even some Facebook skeptics will grit their teeth and start using the currency. Convenience, after all, has a tendency to win out in the end.

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Orlando Sentinel is the first paper to make a 2020 presidential endorsement. Guess who it isn’t?

Orlando Sentinel is the first paper to make a 2020 presidential endorsement. Guess who it isn’t?
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Donald Trump is in Orlando, Florida, to kick off his re-election campaign today. While the 2020 presidential election is still a ways off, and the Democrats haven’t selected his opponent yet, the Orlando Sentinel decided to use the president’s proximity to be the first newspaper in the nation to give its editorial board’s presidential endorsement for 2020.

Their choice? Not Donald Trump.

“After 2½ years we’ve seen enough,” the editorial board wrote. “Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies.” According to a Washington Post database, the president has tallied more than 10,000 lies since he took office, and that is too much for the paper (and most other people, too). “Trump’s successful assault on truth is the great casualty of this presidency, followed closely by his war on decency,” they wrote.

The anti-endorsement continues with a laundry list of Trump’s love of North Korea, his secret meeting with Vladimir Putin, ignoring American intelligence, his impact on the national debt and the U.S.’s standing in the world, the alienation of allies, his attacks on U.S. citizens and companies, and the fact that he would “accept dirt on an opponent from Russia or China” and more.

While the paper’s editors are coming out against another four years for Trump, they are not “defaulting to whomever the Democrats choose” and would happily assess an independent candidate, or a Republican who decided to run, or even Trump if he changed his tune. “The nation must endure another 1½ years of Trump,” they wrote. “But it needn’t suffer another four beyond that.”

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Flesh-eating bacteria cases are on the rise, and climate change may be to blame

Flesh-eating bacteria cases are on the rise, and climate change may be to blame
[Photo: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash]

The 1995 film Waterworld offers a glimpse of a future Earth that is addled by climate change, a place where the polar ice caps have melted and the only hope for a ragtag group of survivors is . . . Kevin Costner. That’s a pretty dire portrait of global warming’s effects, but if the filmmakers wanted to be more dire—and more realistic—perhaps they should have included flesh-eating bacteria.

According to a letter published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, climate change may be behind an increase in infections from the flesh-eating Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which is reportedly flourishing thanks to rising water temperatures and climate change.

Normally, Vibrio bacteria infections are rare. While Vibrio is endemic along the southeastern U.S. coast, before 2017, the letter’s authors had only seen one case at the hospital where they work in the previous eight years, according to USA Today, which first reported the alarming letter. Between 2017 and 2018, there were five cases in Southern New Jersey alone. Researchers speculated the recent increase in cases could be related to rising water temperatures and climate change that keep the water in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays warm and brackish, just the way the Vibrio bacteria likes it.

It’s not just flesh-eating bacteria that will become more common due to climate change. According to researchers at Stanford, as the globe warms, mosquitoes will become more common and more wide-ranging, meaning diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, and West Nile virus will become more common, too. The World Health Organization agrees, noting that “changes in infectious disease transmission patterns are a likely major consequence of climate change,” so get ready for more Lyme disease, more hantavirus, more cholera, and still no universal health insurance to help you pay for treatment. Maybe Kevin Costner will save us?

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Interview nerves getting the best of you? LinkedIn’s latest tools may help

Interview nerves getting the best of you? LinkedIn’s latest tools may help
[Photo: Rawpixel/Pexels]

Sweaty palms and nervous stomachs are apparently par for the course when interviewing for a job you really want, according to new LinkedIn data.

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More than a third (37%) of millennials surveyed would rather spend an entire weekend cleaning than meet with a hiring manager, and 15% feel nervous enough to vomit before every interview. Their anxiety appears to well founded. The majority (80%) of millennials admit to being stumped by an interview question.

LinkedIn is coming to the rescue by rolling out a suite of tools to help practice and prepare for a variety of situations.

Starting next week in English-speaking countries, LinkedIn’s mobile app and desktop site will offer members tips, answers to the most asked interview questions, the ability to practice responses, and expert advice on how to approach each conversation.

For instance, job seekers who are stressing about answering some of the more common interview questions can watch short videos that dish up expert advice from veteran recruiters. They can also practice answering them on the platform privately and evaluate their performance by playing back their recorded replies. Premium members get an added bonus of exclusive access to examples of expert-approved sample interview answers. All this can be accessed through their applied jobs dashboard.

LinkedIn says that later this summer it will launch an additional tool that allows members to privately share their recordings with trusted connections to get feedback, coaching, and advice.

No excuse for nerves now.

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Western Union stock tanks after Facebook unveils Libra cryptocurrency

Western Union stock tanks after Facebook unveils Libra cryptocurrency
[Photo: Mark Finn/Unsplash]

This morning, Facebook finally went public with its big blockchain plans. Its new project, called Libra, is absolutely ambitious and, like all things Facebook, has the distinct possibility of taking a dark turn. But never mind all that because cryptocurrency enthusiasts are likely thrilled; one of the most powerful tech companies in the world is partnering with dozens (potentially hundreds) of other business titans to create a digital currency built atop the blockchain.

Libra positions itself as doing what bitcoin said it was always supposed to do. It’s a borderless financial system intended to let anyone (with a government ID) have a simulacrum of a bank account. They would supposedly be able to make purchases at stores, buy items online, and transfer money to family and friends.

That last part may be affecting others in the industry. Shares of Western Union this morning dropped over 3% from their closing price last night. (They’ve since gone up a little, but are still down over 2%.) The Libra news is just one of many industry updates that could create more competition for players like Western Union. Yesterday, Ripple—another cryptocurrency company—announced it was buying a $50 million stake in MoneyGram. Put together, Western Union is seeing multiple layers of pressure in the cross-border payments space, and investors may be worrying.

At the same time, it’s still extremely early to divine how Facebook’s Libra will play out. The company has launched many a program met with fanfare that ultimately sputtered and died. While Facebook does have a few big names at its side for this launch—including PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Uber, Spotify, and others—there are a few notable omissions that could prove to be huge hurdles. Apple, Amazon, and Google are not listed as “founding members” in Libra’s white paper, for example. Neither are any banks. As FT Alphaville points out:

Don’t presume the presence of the more successful payment incumbents necessarily means their interests are aligned with those of Facebook. $10m isn’t too hefty a price tag for insider information about what Facebook is planning and/or a vote at the table when the time comes to sabotage the system. Everyone else of any note is either a loss-leading company yet to make a profit, a VC, a blockchain company, or an actual non-profit.

Which is to say that we should treat this update with a lot of skepticism, even if it is already having a market impact. We’ll be keeping an eye out to see how others respond, too.

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Yahoo View and its free Hulu videos are being ‘decommissioned’

Yahoo View and its free Hulu videos are being ‘decommissioned’
[Photo: Martin Castro/Unsplash]

After Hulu shut down the free version of its website in 2016, many of its videos moved over to Yahoo View, which continued to stream recent episodes of network TV shows for free. Now, Yahoo’s website also appears to be shutting down. A message at the top of the Yahoo View homepage says it will be “decommissioned” on June 30.

[Screenshot: Yahoo View]
We’ve reached out to both Yahoo and Hulu (whose branding appears throughout the Yahoo View site) for comment and will update if we hear back. In the meantime, we can speculate as to why Yahoo View might be shutting down: Verizon, which acquired Yahoo for $4.48 billion in 2017, is backing away from the digital media business to focus on wireless service. Meanwhile, Hulu has grown to more than 28 million subscribers, with a healthy ad business to boot, and is a key part of Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming strategy. Yahoo View never got much attention to begin with, and neither Verizon nor Hulu have good reasons to keep it alive now.

As for whoever was using Yahoo View, they’ll likely have to make do with visiting the individual sites and apps for ABC, NBC, and Fox, where many of the same recent episodes remain available for free.

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Lululemon’s first skincare products get you from workout to work without a shower

Lululemon’s first skincare products get you from workout to work without a shower
[Photo: courtesy of Lululemon]

Let’s face it: Post-gym showers ruin everything. You plan your day, trying to squeeze in a run or spin class during your lunch break. But you worry you won’t have enough time to clean up and make yourself presentable for your afternoon meetings.

Lululemon doesn’t want this to get in the way of your workout. Today, the brand officially launches a skincare line called Self Care that is carefully designed to get you from the gym to the office without actually having a shower. The brand has been teasing the collection for months, piloting the products in key cities like Toronto and Chicago, but starting today, the products will be available on Lululemon’s website and stores, Sephora’s website, and select studios.

Moving into the skincare category is a big move for the activewear giant that is famous for launching the athleisure trend, which involved creating clothes—particularly yoga pants—that you want to wear out of the gym and into your everyday life.

[Photo: courtesy of Lululemon]
The new line consists of only four products, all designed to help you freshen up quickly so you can get on with your life. There’s a $34 dry shampoo that promises to clean sweat, dirt, and oil from your hair without any white residue, a common complaint with dry shampoos on the market. There’s a $48 face moisturizer that will help reduce the flushing and redness on your face after a workout, while also cleaning, calming, and hydrating your skin. There’s a $12 anti-stink spray deodorant that comes in two scents (aloe lotus and black pepper sandalwood), and a $14 lip balm that will restore moisture to your lips after a big sweat.

As with everything else Lululemon creates, the company spent years conducting research and product testing to develop this line. During the prototyping phase, Lululemon worked with more than 100 ambassadors throughout North America from many disciplines—including yoga, spin, and running instructors—to make sure that the products actually met a need and performed as promised. Even the packaging is carefully designed to meet the needs of gym-goers, with bottles with special seals and lock-tops to prevent leakage in gym bags and soft coating so they don’t clink.

There’s been a growing awareness among consumers that the beauty industry in the United States is unregulated and many beauty products contain ingredients that are unsafe. Lululemon was hyper-conscious about this as it created this line: The products are formulated without known irritants like aluminum, parabens, and sulfates. In fact, this line has been deemed safe to be certified “Clean at Sephora,” the retailer’s standard that helps consumers avoid products with questionable or toxic ingredients.

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Why Gloria Vanderbilt didn’t believe in leaving an inheritance

Why Gloria Vanderbilt didn’t believe in leaving an inheritance
[Photo: Jack Robinson/Getty]

“Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. What an incredible woman.”

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So said Anderson Cooper, the most well known of his famous mother’s children, in his eulogy.

Vanderbilt was extraordinary. Although she was a scion of a great fortune and inherited a trust fund that was worth $5 million in 1925 (the equivalent of $73 million today), she established herself as an artist and fashion entrepreneur in her own right and was reportedly worth around $200 million at the time of her death from stomach cancer. But Cooper won’t be getting a penny of it, although his siblings (half brothers Stan and Chris Stokowski) may get some.

In a radio interview with Howard Stern in 2014, Cooper said, “My mom’s made clear to me that there’s no trust fund. There’s none of that.” He went on to call inheritance a curse and posited that he might not have had the incentive to work if he’d been cushioned by family finances.

His mother was of the same mind. By the time she was 10 years old, a custody battle between her mother and aunt generated headlines that called her the “poor little rich girl,” a nickname that “bothered me enormously,” Vanderbilt told the Associated Press in 2016. “I didn’t see any of the press—the newspapers were kept from me. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t feel poor and I didn’t feel rich. It really did influence me enormously to make something of my life when I realized what it meant.”

Vanderbilt’s will has not been made public yet, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about where her fortune might go. A 2018 article from WealthAdvisor.com suggests that neither of Cooper’s siblings would benefit from an inheritance, either, as one is estranged and the other has kept a very low profile. They did note that it might also be unlikely that Vanderbilt’s money would go to charity.

“[She’s not known for her passionate support of any particular cause. Like Anderson Cooper, her advocacy is a lot more diffuse, so it’s anybody’s guess what charity or charities she would favor in her estate plan. We know, however, that she hasn’t signed Warren Buffett’s “giving pledge” and so is not under any public commitment to give her money away instead of leaving the bulk of it to relatives or other people she may like.”

The only certainty is that both Vanderbilt and Cooper viewed her wealth as a barrier to hard work and achievement. If that belief holds, perhaps someone truly needy will be the beneficiary of her vast fortune.

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