Google says it feels responsible for protecting “facts and objective truth”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki say their companies feel a sense of responsibility for the misinformation and hate that flourished online during the 2016 election and are making changes.

The company says it’s hiring 10,000 people to locate bad content on Google’s platforms, including fake news or hate videos on YouTube. And Pichai and Wojcicki say machines are just as important.

“It’s become more about using AI to find those videos and have people review them,” Wojcicki said. “We are ramping up the machine learning as well as all the people.”

Wojcicki said 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, so combing through it all is a huge undertaking. “We are able to remove half of that violent extremism within two hours with machine learning,” Wojcicki said. “If it were just human beings we wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Pachai and Wojcicki were interviewed in San Francisco by Recode‘s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Ari Melber for the taping of a new tech show called Revolution.

Swisher pressed Pichai on Google’s responsibility for providing a platform for toxic and fake content in 2016. Pichai said his company feels a sense of responsibility for what happened, and hasn’t made a secret of it.

“One of the things I like is that we’re very accountable,” Pichai said. “When we make a mistake it’s on the news everywhere.”

And Google says it’s doing a lot to make sure it doesn’t host videos or other content that might subvert the democratic process.

“We spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what we can do better, and in 2017 we have laid a lot of foundation to that,” Wojcicki said.

For example, YouTube will require that all state-sponsored news bear a label identifying the sponsor.

MSNBC’s Ari Melber asked Pichai if he believes Google has a responsibility to protect “facts and objective truth.” Pachai responded in the affirmative, but added, “There are many areas where people don’t agree what the right information is.” He also pointed out that Google is only one part of the “giant system” that disseminates news and information.

“I would like to provide a platform to foster understanding and learning and seeing new points of view,” Wojcicki said. “If we can do that, I think we’ll have a good year.”

Revolution will air on MSNBC on Friday, January 26th at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.

Can we trust Facebook’s users to decide what news we should trust?

Can we trust Facebook’s users to decide what news we should trust?
[Photo: Flickr user Marcus Quigmire]

Facebook really, really wants people to stop thinking of it as a forum for the spread of fake news. So it’s been making changes, like those earlier this month to the News Feed algorithms that will prioritize posts from friends and family and downplay those from brands.

Now, Mark Zuckerberg’s company says it’s going to start leaning more on its 2 billion-plus users to determine which news sources are, in fact, trustworthy. In a post today [embedded below], Zuck wrote that:

The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division. We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you — the community — and have your feedback determine the ranking.

We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook will ask users if they’re familiar with specific news sources, and if so, if they consider them trustworthy. “The idea is that some news organizations are only trusted by their readers or watchers, and others are broadly trusted across society even by those who don’t follow them directly.”

Sounds fine. Except, can we really trust Facebook’s own users to make that kind of determination? Look no further than the fake news story from earlier this week alleging that the Center for Disease Control had said that this year’s flu shots were potentially deadly that spread like wildfire, gaining more than 176,000 engagements.

In general, you would think that the wisdom of the crowds would mean that the cream will rise to the top. But it’s also worth questioning the wisdom of crowds that have already proven to be far too credulous when it comes to fake, and often truly damaging, content. After all, would people really share content that they don’t trust? If the answer is yes, we have a serious problem. If the answer is no, then it’s evident people are trusting too many untrustworthy sources.

Read moreWhat Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Got Wrong (And Right) 


“I don’t regret it at all”: Top Google execs on firing James Damore

“I don’t regret it at all”: Top Google execs on firing James Damore
[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Last summer, Google fired James Damore for violating its code of conduct after the engineer circulated a memo arguing that women may perform less well in technical jobs than men because of biological differences between the sexes. After his termination, Damore became a hero to some conservatives who see Silicon Valley as an echo chamber; this month, he joined a proposed class-action lawsuit against the company.

Both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcikci addressed the incident during the taping of an MSNBC town hall, which will air next Friday. Pichai says that he’s sorry that “it played out in a polarized way” and that some people thought Google sacked Damore as a political statement. As for the actual firing, “I don’t regret it at all.”

Wojcikci, who wrote about the controversy for Fortune, said that the most difficult part of the experience was the conversation it prompted with her kids. “They reality surprised me, because the first thing they asked is, ‘Is it true that women are less likely to be successful in the tech industry because of biology?,” said the mother of five.

Read more: James Damore’s Legal Case Against Google Isn’t So ClearHM


Google CEO: AI is a bigger deal than fire or electricity

Google CEO: AI is a bigger deal than fire or electricity
[Photo: courtesy of Google]

During the taping of an MSNBC town hall on jobs with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in San Francisco–it’ll air next Friday-hosts Kara Swisher and Ari Melber introduced a segment on artificial intelligence with a clip of HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey’s scary-smart computer, and a topical question: In 2018, should people be scared of AI getting out of control and endangering jobs or even humanity?

Pichai prefaced his response by cheerfully pointing out that people are already using AI every day when they translate languages with Google tools or search Google Photos for images of people hugging. But then he turned serious. “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on,” Pichai said. It’s more profound than electricity or fire.”

“It’s fair to be worried about AI,” he continued. “We don’t want to just be optimistic about it. We want to be thoughtful about it.” But opting out of shaping the future of the technology isn’t an option for U.S. companies, he said: “History shows that countries that pull back don’t do well with the change. You have to harness the change.”

Though both Pichai and Wojcicki were quick to acknowledge that concerns about AI’s downsides are legitimate, Wojcicki said that the more people know about the technology, the less likely they are to fear it. “I’m not personally scared, just to get that out there,” she explained. “…and I think it’s because I have a better understanding of what AI is.”

MSNBC town hall

Read moreThe AI Guru Behind Amazon, Uber, and Unity Explains What AI Really Is and How To Stop Worrying And Love The Great AI War Of 2018HM

Google execs: Silicon Valley shouldn’t make immigration an us-versus-them issue

Google’s Sundar Pichai and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki spoke in unison on the subject of immigration today in San Francisco, saying that most regular folks, and even politicians, could agree to a fair approach.

The tech industry relies heavily on talent from foreign countries, and uses a variety of visa types–like the H1B visa–to relocate talent to the U.S. Half of the Fortune 500 was founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I think most politicians, if you talked to them in private, would tell you they want to handle this issue … they want to handle this in a reasonable way,” Pichai said.

Photo: Mark Sullivan/Fast Company

Pichai says Google is active in Washington, D.C., talking to politicians on both sides of the aisle about various immigration bills that have been introduced. He added that it’s important that tech companies don’t make immigration a “Silicon Valley versus the rest of the country” issue.

The two spoke at the taping of the new Kara Swisher/MSNBC show Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World. 

The taping took place as the hours count down to a partial government shutdown in the capital, with immigration as the main sticking point. President Trump further raised the temperature on the issue when he used an expletive to refer to two countries he sees as undesirable sources of new citizens.

Why does our political system make it so difficult to solve something that most people agree on?” Wojcicki asked. 

Pichai points out that the whole issue of immigration has been magnified by the political environment. “There 300 million people in the country, and we’re talking about a few hundred thousand people,” he said. 

Hopefully, calmer voices will prevail,” Pichai said. “After we work through all the noise, I think the situation will get better.”

The show will air on MSNBC Friday, January 26th at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.MS

Is hot yoga full of hot air? Study suggests little benefit to heat

Is hot yoga full of hot air? Study suggests little benefit to heat
[Photo: Form /Unsplash]

Is hot yoga–the practice of holding poses under hot and humid conditions–better for you than normal, non-sweat-inducing yoga?

A new study published in Experimental Physiology suggests the increased temperature (also known as Bikram) might be wholly unecessary.

“The addition of the heated environment did not produce additional beneficial adaptations,” reads the study, published Thursday. “These results lend further insight into the health benefits of Bikram yoga that have previously been purported but had not been fully explored.”

This doesn’t mean that hot yoga isn’t good for you, just that the 105-degree temperature likely doesn’t do much to enhance the practice. This new research resembles a 2014 study conducted by Colorado State University in which a team measured experienced yogis’ heart rates, body temperatures, and energy expenditures during a typical 90-minute Bikram session, for 24 sessions over the course of eight weeks. They ultimately found that their metabolic rates (i.e, amount of calories burned) were roughly equivalent to those of people who went on a walk.

But while the sticky heat’s advantages might be hard to prove, there is, for many, the psychological benefits of working up a sweat. Many Bikram enthusiasts swear by it specifically because of how they feel while perspiring; intense heated conditions gives one the idea that they’re working their body, which, in turn, potentially inspires them to keep coming back.

“I think the heat and the difficulty of the postures combine to alter your perception of the intensity of the exercise,” Brian L. Tracy, an exercise scientist at Colorado State University, told Time magazine.

Some express concern over hot yoga’s dehydrating conditions, but there have been few incidents, with most experts agreeing it a safe exercise regimen with mild risks.

At the end of the day, it comes down to how individuals prefer their yoga: some like it hot, some like it with spiritual inspiration, while others prefer it to the sounds of hip-hop. Whatever gets you moving.RR

Eaze has a plan to diversify the Bay Area’s way-too-white weed industry

A few months ago, MarketWatch reported that marijuana delivery startup Eaze was burning through $1 million a month. That isn’t uncommon for a startup frequently lining its coffers with venture capital money. (Eaze just secured another $27 million in funding.) But it does highlight the disparity between a company like Eaze and the countless cannabis startups led by people of color that receive little to no funding.

It seems appropriate, then, that over the next three years, Eaze is putting $1 million toward “social equity efforts in the Bay Area cannabis industry.” The first step of that is partnering with the Hood Incubator, an Oakland-based nonprofit that offers resources and support to entrepreneurs of color in cannabis. Together, they will identify and try to address the most pressing issues facing black and Latinx communities in the Bay Area. From the sound of it, this partnership is also intended to help the Hood Incubator—which has 2,000 members about a year after launch—grow and go national.

Read more about the diversity issues facing the cannabis industry here.PM

A dangerous fake news story about flu shots spread like a virus on Facebook

A dangerous fake news story about flu shots spread like a virus on Facebook
[Photo: Flickr user: Mike MacKenzie]

With recent moves like changing its News Feed algorithm to better surface posts from users’ friends and family, Facebook is paying lip service to the idea that it wants to crack down on the spread of fake news. And it might well work over time. But according to Media Matters for America, a recent false news story about the deadly flu epidemic has been spreading like wildfire on the social network.

The story, posted earlier this week by YourNewsWire, suggested that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had determined that this year’s flu shot was responsible for many flu-related deaths. In fact, the CDC has said nothing of the kind, and is encouraging people to get a flu shot. Snopes debunked the post soon after it went live.

But the YourNewsWire story resonated with a lot of nervous people on Facebook, generating more than 176,000 engagements there, Media Matters wrote, citing data from BuzzSumo. Facebook may have unverified one of the hoax publication’s two pages, but it clearly hasn’t been able to stop people from sharing the fake news site’s stories. And in a case like this one, where some people may have read the story and chosen not to get a flu shot, clickbait articles can put people’s lives at risk.DT


Playboy is going the Quentin Tarantino route with a lawsuit over linking

Playboy is going the Quentin Tarantino route with a lawsuit over linking
[Photo: Les Anderson /Unsplash]

Remember when Quentin Tarantino sued Gawker for linking to his Hateful Eight script and the case was dismissed because linking is not copyright infringement? Well, Playboy wants to try it again for good measure.

The magazine is suing Boing Boing for a February 2016 post titled “Every Playboy Playmate Centerfold Ever,” which links to an Imgur post that archived every single one of Playboy‘s centerfold pictures. The site also reportedly embedded a YouTube video that contained the same 746 images. Boing Boing did not create the YouTube video or the Imgur archive. It simply linked to it and commented on it, which is akin to saying, “Hey, look at this hedgehog camping!”

Playboy may have a perfectly legitimate copyright claim against whoever uploaded all of the images to Imgur, but it’s hard to imagine that a court would agree that Boing Boing infringed its copyright by simply writing about the collection. Playboy may be feeling emboldened, though, because of a recent decision in the European Union that did prevent news sites from linking to Playboy material.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a brief supporting Boing Boing. It said the suit is “groundless and should be thrown out,” citing the many, many times that courts have tossed out similar cases on the grounds that linking is simply not copyright infringement. At least not yet, anyway.ML

Coca-Cola plans to go green by 2030, but not everyone’s buying it

Coca-Cola plans to go green by 2030, but not everyone’s buying it
[Photo: Jordan Whitfield /Unsplash]

Coca-Cola has just announced its New Year’s resolution—it’s going to try to alleviate some of its environmental impact. The soft drink giant says it is planning to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging by 2030, which seems like a nod to the fact that it would be nearly impossible to collect and recycle every single plastic bottle it sends out into the world. Instead, the company is planning to collect an equivalent amount of the waste that it sends into the world, including collecting packaging from other companies, which is kind of like flying all over the world and then buying carbon offsets but, hey, we’ll take it.

The news comes in the wake of Evian announcing plans to makes its bottles out of 100% recycled plastic and McDonald’s pledging to bring recycling to all its restaurants.

Coca-Cola also plans to unveil packaging that is at least 50% recycled material by 2030, which dovetails with a previously announced plan to make all of its consumer packaging 100% recyclable by 2025. While Coca-Cola does use paper, glass, and aluminum in its products, it’s focusing its current efforts on reducing its plastic footstep. The world uses some 500 billion plastic bottles every year, so every chance to recycle plastic and remove the chance that it will end up in the ocean is a good one.

Greenpeace, though, isn’t buying it: “A litter free world is possible – but only if big companies like Coke stop producing ever growing quantities of plastic litter,” said Tisha Brown, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, in a statement. Greenpeace estimates that Coke has increased its number of single-use plastic bottles by nearly a third (31%) since 2008 and that they now account for almost 70% of Coke’s packaging globally.ML

Designer diapers are now a thing, thanks to Aden and Anais

Designer diapers are now a thing, thanks to Aden and Anais
[Photo: courtesy of Aden and Anais]

Designer diapers, you say? For your baby to poop in? Yup, that’s right.

Aden and Anais is a brand that many new parents are familiar with thanks to its muslin swaddles, which are perfect for newborns. The brand has now launched a line of extra-soft disposable diapers that have beautiful patterns on them and are meant to coordinate with the swaddles. A box of diapers costs $24.99, which is about double the price of Huggies or Pampers, but about on par with other higher-end brands like Honest Co.

For some parents, the brand’s commitment to sustainability will warrant the higher price: The diapers are made from 100% certified sustainable resources and the brand plants a tree with every pack sold. But others will be attracted to the cute patterns. Most mainstream diaper brands plaster their diapers with Disney characters, so for those with the disposable income to spare and an eye for design, these pretty diapers with hand-drawn images of giraffes, stars, or flowers might offer some relief from the relentless bombardment of Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh.ES


Snap threatened leakers in an internal memo, so of course the memo was leaked

Snap threatened leakers in an internal memo, so of course the memo was leaked
[Photo: Bank Phrom /Unsplash]

After news broke last night that Snap was laying off around two dozen employees, the company is now trying to clamp down on leakers. In a memo obtained by Cheddar, Snap’s lawyer wrote that it has a “zero-tolerance policy for those who leak Snap Inc. confidential information.”

The memo goes on:

If you leak Snap Inc. information, you will lose your job and we will pursue any and all legal remedies against you. And that’s just the start. You can face personal financial liability even if you yourself did not benefit from the leaked information. The government, our investors, and other third parties can also seek their own remedies against you for what you disclosed. The government can even put you in jail.

Seems like Snap is feeling defensive. And of course the anti-leaking memo gets leaked.

You can read the full memo here.CGW

25 million people are totally cool with giving Foursquare “always on” location data

Today, Foursquare’s CEO, Jeff Glueck, published a Medium post describing the company’s strides over the last year. The discovery app seems to be having a resurgence after a few bumpy years. According to Glueck, the company has seen revenue grow 50% or more over the last three year consecutive years. Two years ago, the company announced a new path toward profitability. This announcement, however, doesn’t mention that evil “profit” word.

Its growing user base is another business boon for Foursquare. “We now see over 3 billion visits a month around the globe, thanks to a panel of more than 25 million people who have opted into always-on location sharing,” writes Glueck, which is adds is more than double what it was last year.

With 25 million people opting to share their location data at all times, this could mean that Foursquare is becoming more of an advertising powerhouse. The post pointed to its advertising services seeing an increase in customers, as well as some of its services seeing revenue more than double.

Still, at least in the U.S., it isn’t the most popular app. According to AppAnnie, the app has only ranked in the top 1,000 overall U.S. iPhone apps three times in the last 365 days. 

Glueck says that the company is planning to expand with a new engeineering office in Chicago. He adds that the company plans to grow the team by 30% in the coming year.

You can read his full blog post here.

Read more: How—And Why—Apple, Google, And Facebook Follow You Around In Real Life and Even This Data Guru Is Creeped Out By What Anonymous Location Data Reveals About Us 


Amazon price hikes are coming for Prime members who pay monthly

Amazon price hikes are coming for Prime members who pay monthly
[Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

Get ready to pay more for your Amazon Prime monthly membership, because the company is  raising its prices by nearly 20%. According to Recode, the company is announcing that it will raise the price on monthly Amazon Prime fees from $10.99 to $12.99 in the U.S., or almost $156 a year, an increase of 18%. Amazon’s student Prime membership is also jumping 18%—from $5.49 to $6.49. The changes go into effect today for new customers, while existing customers will see the increase on their February bill.

So if you want to make the most of Amazon’s free two-day shipping, Amazon Video (minus One Mississippi, or course), Amazon Music, or get a discount at Whole Foods, you’re going to have to fork over more of your paycheck each month to Jeff Bezos, who is already the richest person in the world.

The company is mostly likely increasing the price of its monthly Prime membership to make signing up for Prime’s annual subscription—which is still priced at $99 (or $49 for students)—look like a much better deal. The annual subscription gives Amazon a more guaranteed revenue stream, and that fancy new second headquarters isn’t going to pay for itself.ML

Flu symptoms? Walgreens is using 2018 prescription data to track activity with this map

Flu symptoms? Walgreens is using 2018 prescription data to track activity with this map
[Photo: elizabeth lies /Unsplash]

As we wrote earlier this week, this year’s flu season is the worst since the CDC began keeping track in the early 2000s, but the CDC isn’t the only one with a handy map to monitor flu activity. The folks at Walgreens have figured out a pretty interesting way to map out which areas in the United States are being hit the hardest week to week. Tapping into its vast network of retail pharmacies across the country, the company is compiling prescription data for antiviral medications used to treat influenza.

From there, the data is inputed into an interactive map powered by the spatial analytics firm Esri. The data is updated weekly and includes a list of the most heavily affected metro areas and states. For the week ended January 13, the top five hardest-hit states were Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Nebraska. Texas was hit especially hard, with nine out of 10 of the most affected metro areas in the Lone Star state. You can see the full list here on the Walgreens Flu Index.

Walgreens has been doing this for a few years now, but the data is especially helpful this year. The CDC says it recorded 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States for the first week in January. Be careful out there.


NASA has successfully tested a nuclear power system for Mars surface missions

NASA has successfully tested a nuclear power system for Mars surface missions
[Photo: NASA/Unsplash]

The nuclear fission system was developed under NASA’s Kilopower project and aims to be a long-term, reliable way to power both missions to and on the surface of Mars, reports Reuters. The prototype system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of your average paper towel roll. The ultimate goal is for the power system to be able to provide the 40 to 50 kilowatts of power that could keep habitats and life-support systems running on the surface of the red planet. A full power test of the system is scheduled to happen sometime in March.MG


WhatsApp launches its new Business messenger app

WhatsApp launches its new Business messenger app
[courtesy of WhatsApp Business]

WhatsApp Business is a free Android app the company released today that aims to make it easier for businesses to connect with customers, WhatsApp announced in a blog post. The app will allow businesses to create profiles where customers can find out more about them, offer quick replies to customer questions, view messaging statistics, and offer Confirmed (aka verified) Accounts. WhatsApp Business is available for download today in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the U.K., and the U.S., with the app rolling out to other markets in the coming weeks.MG

Google and China’s Tencent agree to share patents

The American search giant and Chinese social media giant have come to an agreement to share patents so it’s easier for the companies to introduce their products in markets around the world without the risk of litigation, reports Reuters. Google and Tencent have not revealed which patents they’ve agreed to share, or how much Google (or Tencent) is paying for the agreement. The only semi-specific thing Google said about the patent-sharing agreement was that it covered a broad range of patents. The move will likely see Google make a little more headway into China, where Tencent dominates with a number of its products, including WeChat, an app store, and live-streaming platforms.MG

Panera petitions the U.S. to finally define “egg”

Panera petitions the U.S. to finally define “egg”
[Photo: Leti Kugler /Unsplash]

On Thursday, Panera petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to more precisely define what constitutes an egg.

“They actually define a bunch of related terms like dried egg whites, freeze dried egg yolks, all these other related terms, but they state in the code of federal regulations that, ‘we will not define the word egg.’ It’s very unusual,” says Sara Burnett, director of food policy and wellness at Panera, as she sips a green juice.

The reason for Panera’s sudden interest in eggs isn’t merely philosophical: The company is launching a new breakfast sandwich featuring cheese, bacon, and a slightly runny over-easy egg. When Panera executives were coming up with ways to market the sandwich, they realized that their competitors’ sammies (think Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Chick-fil-A) are made with components of eggs and additives like citric acid, modified food starch, and medium chain triglycerides.

“What we think of as an egg we’re not seeing in competitors’ menus and they’re calling them eggs,” Panera CEO Blaine Hurst tells Fast Company, referring to the kind of puck-like eggs that appear in between two often wilting buns at many fast food joints. The petition asks for the term “egg” to be defined as “a food made from a cracked shell egg without addition of additives or further processing (other than pasteurization).” The FDA may not define “egg” explicitly, but it does define “fresh eggs” as seen here.

Regardless of whether the petition gains traction with the FDA, Panera is hoping it will appeal to consumers who care about food transparency.

“We’re not going to tell you about what you should be eating, we just want you to be informed,” Hurst says slyly. Another piece of information he wants customers to know: The chain’s new egg sandwiches launch today.RR

“Right to Repair” legislation has now been introduced in 17 states

“Right to Repair” legislation has now been introduced in 17 states
[Photo: Vadim Sherbakov /Unsplash]

Hawaii and Oklahoma are the most recent states to introduce laws that would give consumers an alternative to manufacturer service departments when something breaks, says a report by advocacy group In general, the proposed Right To Repair laws to be debated in 17 states would require device makers like Apple and Samsung to make the tools, parts, and manuals needed for repairs available to independent repair shops.

Apple, Toyota, John Deere and others have lobbied against the laws, saying that letting third parties crack the shell on consumer devices opens the door to hackers and device counterfeiters. The Right To Repair people say manufacturers are simply trying to keep their monopoly on the lucrative business of repairing their own stuff.

A handful of Right to Repair bills were introduced in state houses last year, but the momentum behind passing the law has picked up considerably. And the recent revelations that Apple secretly slowed down older iPhones to conserve their aging batteries (which can be replaced only by Apple) seems to have moved the issue higher on the agendas of the states.

States with laws pending include: Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.

A Minnesota state Senate committee will debate the issue tomorrow morning. New Hampshire will hold a hearing February 13.MS

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