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  • 1:37 pm

“Drunk” Nancy Pelosi video provokes starkly different reactions from Facebook and YouTube

“Drunk” Nancy Pelosi video provokes starkly different reactions from Facebook and YouTube
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Facebook has apparently decided to permit the posting of an altered video making House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear drunk or otherwise impaired, while YouTube has taken the video down from its platform.

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The video, used by some conservatives to call Pelosi’s competence into question amid feuds with President Trump, was apparently edited to make Pelosi’s facial movements appear bizarre and her voice sound slurred, the Washington Post reported.

The video was taken down by YouTube, which CNBC reported found it violated the service’s policies.

Facebook, on the other hand, hasn’t removed the video. The company points out that it does not require that information posted be true. The video has been reviewed by a Facebook third-party fact-checking partner, which found it to be false, meaning it won’t appear as frequently in user news feeds and will be accompanied by additional information from the fact checker. Facebook declined to offer further comment.

The video is also still available on Twitter, and Trump himself tweeted another altered video of Pelosi—making her appear to stutter and stammer her way through a recent press conference. (Twitter declined to comment on the record.)

It’s unclear how many viewers of the videos understood them to be altered caricatures, but the footage is getting plenty of traction. One video had at least 2.4 million views on Facebook as of earlier today.

The issue highlights what will likely be a continuing tension between free speech and the desire to keep social media free of misleading footage. The next election cycle is heating up, and video manipulation technology is only going to get more sophisticated.

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  • 12:45 pm

Hey Google, bring me a chalupa! Hangry people can now order food without a separate app

Hey Google, bring me a chalupa! Hangry people can now order food without a separate app
[Photo: Brenna Huff/Unsplash]

Hey Google, what’s for dinner?

Google has incorporated food ordering features into its mobile apps, so iOS and Android users can order up chicken wings, Cheetos, hum bow, and vegan poke bowls with extra kale, straight from local restaurants without having to install an app or open up 14 menu PDFs.

Now thanks to the clever folks at Google, hangry people everywhere can order food delivery directly from Google Search, Maps, and Google Assistant. That doesn’t mean that a Google intern is going to show up at your door with your White Castle Crave Case or pineapple pizza. Instead the tech giant is partnering with companies that are already in the delivery game—like DoorDash, Postmates, Delivery.com, Slice, ChowNow, and more on the way.

To make Google bring you tacos, head to Google Search or Google Maps and search for your favorite guacamole purveyor. It will work if you search for either a specific restaurant or a cuisine. I typed “bring me sushi” and it took me to a map of friendly neighborhood tech-savvy restaurants. From there, simply click on the new “Order Online” button, choose between delivery (duh) or pickup (ugh, why?), type in your address if necessary, and select which service you want to order your food through (some are free, some are not). Then, just start your over-ordering. If the restaurant supports it, you can order your food through Google’s interface and dole out your virtual dollars through Google Pay.

To make the Google Assistant order you a chalupa, simply ask, “Hey Google, order food.” And the Assistant will take it from there. If you order a lot of chalupas, you can ask the Assistant to repeat a previous order and save yourself the decision fatigue of thinking of something else to eat. That said, Google’s blog post didn’t mention whether this feature is going to be available through its smart speakers or smart displays, but presumably Google’s engineers will get hangry again some day and make it happen.

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  • 11:37 am

Memorial Day weekend traffic: These are the most dangerous U.S. cities for driving

Memorial Day weekend traffic: These are the most dangerous U.S. cities for driving
[Photo: Lance Asper/Unsplash]

Nearly 43 million Americans are heading over the river, through the woods, and along every interstate that heads anywhere near a beach for the three-day Memorial Day weekend, reports AAA.

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Despite rising national gas prices (nearing $3 a gallon), the holiday weekend is set to have the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000, with 1.5 million more people traveling this year than last. According to AAA, approximately 88% of those holiday travelers will drive to their beaches and barbecues. That means a lot of people on the road, staring at their GPS, trying to avoid traffic jams, or maybe after a cold beer, or driving while hollering at kids who have only been singing long enough to get to “67 bottles of beer on the wall.” Add in some wild weather, frustrated drivers, and it’s a recipe for a lot of potential accidents.

Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), an analytics firm that works with insurance companies to to reduce crash risk, just released a study on driving behaviors during Memorial Day weekend. After analyzing a bunch of instances of crashes, hard braking, speeding, and distractions, the firm managed to pinpoint the most dangerous driving spots in America during the busiest travel weekend of the year.

The top danger zones: Miami; Nashville; Charleston, South Carolina; Atlanta; and Indianapolis; with New York’s the Hamptons in the top spot all weekend long.

While Waze may tell you to get off the freeway, according to CMT’s data analysis, local roadways are more dangerous than highways because everyone takes the opportunity to speed. It’s particularly problematic in Atlanta, the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Chicago, and Indianapolis (where everyone apparently thinks they’re auditioning for the Indy 500).

Here are some other not-so-fun facts about how we’re all endangering each other when we get behind the wheel:

  • Connecticut is the most dangerous state for driving over the long weekend, with Friday being the worst day to drive through the Nutmeg State.
  • Speeding occurred in over half of trips in the Hamptons, Portland, Jacksonville, and Las Vegas.
  • Distracted driving occurred during 43-45% of trips in Miami, Charleston, Charlotte, Memphis and Raleigh.
  • Denver is the worst place to travel between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m, due to the highest level of distracted driving.
  • Miami has the highest amount of distraction events per 100 miles and seconds of distraction per mile, with 63.63% of drivers distracted on at least half of their trips.
  • The Hamptons had the highest % of trips with speeding (54.86%).
  • Los Angeles had the highest % of trips with braking (34.31%).
  • Nashville had the highest % of speeding on local roads (71.69%).
  • San Francisco had the highest % distraction on trips between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. (29.29%).
  • Austin had the highest % of distraction events that occur between 70-80mph (13.59%).

Want to avoid accidents? Leave early: Distracted driving occurs significantly less between 5:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. than between 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., when distraction increases from 19% to 22% and hard braking increases from 23% to 25%. Stay safe out there!

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  • 10:56 am

Summer is here! These extreme weather events could ruin it

Summer is here! These extreme weather events could ruin it
[Photo: Mourad Saadi/Unsplash]

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, but it may not mark the beginning of summer weather for much of the United States. Thanks to the global climate emergency, we live in the age of extreme weather and shifting climates.

Here’s how summer weather predictions are shaping up for regions around the country:

  • Midwest: This region has already been hammered by heavy storms and tornadoes, including a deadly one that tore through Jefferson City, Missouri, on Wednesday. And the wild weather is not expected to stop this weekend or this summer. AccuWeather says severe weather will disrupt the barbecue-and-beach plans of millions of Americans traveling for Memorial Day. According to NOAA, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are expected in the Plains, while the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest should prepare for powerful thunderstorms during part of the holiday weekend.
  • West: According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this summer should be a hot one for the western half of the country, with hotter-than-normal and drier-than-normal summer temperatures up and down the Pacific Coast. Weather.com and AccuWeather agree with this prediction, saying the Northwest and the Rockies will have a warmer-than-normal season. That is bad news for the communities still trying to recover from the wildfires that devastated the West (and the world) last year. Adding to the warmer-than-average weather, El Niño, a factor used to determine the summer outlook, has a 65% chance of continuing through the summer months.
  • South: Across the South, including popular summer destinations like Florida beaches and the Carolina coast, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts more rain and cooler temperatures. That said, Weather.com says it will be hotter-than-average there, so do your best shrug emoji while you wait and see. The Deep South, though, should prepare for potential flooding after a rainier than average season.
  • Northeast: Weather.com, the Farmer’s Almanac, and Accuweather agree that the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Lakes should brace themselves for above-average temperatures. Expect many 90- degree-and-above days leading to minor drought conditions.
  • Alaska and Hawaii: Finally, if there are any climate change skeptics left in your house, perhaps point out that summer temperatures in Alaska are expected to be warmer and drier than normal, while Hawaii is likely to be cooler and wetter.

In other news, NOAA predicts a “near normal” hurricane season this year, with only “a 70% chance of nine to 15 named storms” during the season, which officially stretches from June 1 to November 30. As to what “normal” is these days, that’s still TBD, because, according to a study reported by The New York Times, it takes just two to eight years for extreme weather to feel completely normal.

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  • 7:42 am

Who will replace Theresa May? 11 possible prime minster candidates, including Boris Johnson

Who will replace Theresa May? 11 possible prime minster candidates, including Boris Johnson
Theresa May [Photo: Arno Mikkor/EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/Flickr]

British Prime Minister Theresa May said this morning that she will step down after failing to win Parliament’s approval for her latest Brexit deal. The Conservative politician had tried for almost three years to negotiate the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, but ended up making almost no one happy. May announced her resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London. Her last day will be June 7.

With May’s departure, members of the Conservative Party will begin the process of finding her replacement, whom they hope will be in place before the Conservative Party Conference in September. Boris Johnson, the controversial pro-Brexit MP and former mayor of London, is considered the favorite to replace May, but he’s not the only likely candidate.

Here’s a list of 11 possible politicians who will vie for the top job, according to Metro UK:

Read the full analysis here.

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  • 7:24 am

Report: Facebook will launch “GlobalCoin” cryptocurrency in 2020

Report: Facebook will launch “GlobalCoin” cryptocurrency in 2020
[Photo: Dmitry Moraine/Unsplash]

Facebook is on the verge of launching its cryptocurrency next year, reports the BBC. Internally the currency is known as “GlobalCoin,” and the project itself is known as “Project Libra.” However, it’s not known if either of these names will be used as the currency’s name when it debuts to the public (hint: probably not).

Facebook seems to be in advanced stages of planning the cryptocurrency, as the BBC reports that Mark Zuckerberg himself met with the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney to discuss the opportunities and risks of launching a cryptocurrency. Facebook has also sought advice on regulatory and operational issues from the U.S. Treasury Department, suggesting the company’s cryptocurrency plans are in the end stages.

Facebook is also reportedly in talks with money transfer firms like Western Union, as it hopes to find cheaper and faster ways for people without bank accounts to send money abroad. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is also already in talks with some online merchants to accept the currency as a valid form of payment when it launches.

Of course, anyone who follows cryptocurrencies will know that virtually anyone can launch their own coin–it doesn’t take a company with the power or money of Facebook to do so. But they’ll also know that cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile. The coins can be riding high one day, and crashing the next. The BBC says Facebook is hoping to get around this volatility with its cryptocurrency by pegging it to a basket of established currencies, including the Japanese yen, the euro, and the U.S. dollar.

The end game for Facebook in the cryptocurrency wars is to elevate its coin above all others and make it the de facto leader among cryptocurrencies that people turn to–and, of course, to elevate the use of cryptocurrencies as a whole. Despite all their attention, cryptocurrencies only have about 30 million users worldwide. That seems like a lot until you compare it with Facebook’s user base of 2.4 billion people. If Facebook could get even 10% of those users to begin using its cryptocurrency, it could be a true watershed moment in the history of cryptocurrencies.

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  • 6:33 am

Would you let Amazon 3D-scan your body for a $25 gift card?

Would you let Amazon 3D-scan your body for a $25 gift card?
[Photos: Daniil Kuželev/Unsplash; Daniel Chen/Unsplash]

Amazon has already amassed a staggering amount of data about its customers. But this is a tech giant, so it should be no surprise the company wants to know even more about you. As Mashable notes, Amazon is now running a study that is looking for volunteers who will allow their bodies to be 3D-scanned. Amazon says the study is “to learn about diversity among body shapes.”

Volunteers will go to Amazon’s Union Square office in New York City where they will be weighed and have their height measured. 3D scans, photos, and videos will then be taken of them in their everyday clothing. Next, Amazon will give them form-fitting clothing to wear (women, you’ll get a bikini or form-fitting shorts and sports bra to wear), and another set of 3D scans, photos, and videos will be taken.

For all this, one of the richest companies in the history of the world will give participants a $25 Amazon.com gift card. The study is run by Amazon Body Labs, which creates detailed 3D models for gaming and shopping. Amazon doesn’t say what the data it collects from volunteers will be used for specifically, only that it will be “exclusively for internal product research and not for marketing purposes.” It is possible, the data will be used to improve the capabilities of Amazon’s “style assistant” camera, the Echo Look. People interested in volunteering for Amazon’s study have until June 30 to take part. Full details can be found on the study’s website.

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  • 6:06 am

Scooter on over! Lime cofounders swap roles as CEO

Scooter on over! Lime cofounders swap roles as CEO
[Photo: courtesy of Lime]

There are lots of C-suite changes going on at the hot scooter startup Lime, reports Forbes. Lime cofounder Brad Bao is stepping up to become the new CEO of the company. Bao is taking over the role from his Lime cofounder Toby Sun. Sun had been CEO of Lime since January 2017. He’ll now be focusing on future research and development at Lime and reporting to Bao.

As Sun told Forbes: “Having Brad focusing on the now and me focusing on the future is something I feel really, really excited about. Brad was my mentor and my trusted business partner for a long time, so I feel confidence in having him lead the day-to-day.”

The CEO shuffles aren’t the only changes at Lime. The company is also promoting its COO Joe Kraus to president, which was Bao’s old position. Kraus will now take over the overseeing of Lime’s day-to-day operations as well as look after its city relationships.

Since its founding in January 2017, Lime has already hit 50 million scooter rides taken and now employs more than 700 people in 25 countries. The company is currently valued at $2.4 billion.

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Michelle Pfeiffer is fighting to make your beauty products safer

Michelle Pfeiffer is fighting to make your beauty products safer
[Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images]

Your beauty products may be harming you, and Michelle Pfeiffer, the actress and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in 2019, is fighting to make sure the government does a better job of regulating the products you slather on your body.

What many Americans don’t realize is that the beauty industry is not regulated. While products you ingest are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the chemicals and ingredients that you put on your skin–your body’s largest organ–are not vetted by the government in any way. Compare this to the European Union, where more than 1,400 ingredients have been banned in personal care products because they are either known to cause harm or questionable.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins have put together a bipartisan bill called the Personal Care Product Safety Act, which would empower the FDA to regulate beauty products. A consortium of clean beauty brands have shown support for this bill, including Beautycounter and California Baby. But Pfeiffer is also lending her support to the movement. The actress met with federal lawmakers today and urged them to support the bill, according to a release from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization that campaigns for safer products and has a database that allows you to look up the ingredients in cosmetics.

This burst of activism doesn’t come out of nowhere. Pfeiffer has been concerned about the ingredients in beauty products for years, and was particularly worried about perfumes that are known to contain high levels of chemicals known to cause harm. She’s now a board member of EWG.

She also just launched her own direct-to-consumer perfume company called Henry Rose that is highly selective when it comes to what chemicals it includes in its formula. While perfumers generally choose from a menu of 3,000 ingredients, she says Henry Rose limits these options to 250.

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Read the new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Read the new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
[Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images]

Federal prosecutors in Virginia unveiled new charges Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including some related to publishing classified information received from former soldier Chelsea Manning.

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Those included files with the names of “human sources” who themselves provided information to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, prosecutors said in a new indictment.

You can read the full indictment here.

“According to the superseding indictment, Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention,” prosecutors said in releasing the new charges.

Charging a leader of a media organization, even an unorthodox one like WikiLeaks, over publishing classified information is unusual and will likely lead to challenges under the First Amendment if Assange is successfully extradited from the United Kingdom. Pursuing charges against officials who leak to news organizations under the World War I-era Espionage Act has become more common in recent years, but reporters and editors usually aren’t themselves charged for publishing the leaked information.

Assange is currently in custody in the U.K. after being convicted of violating his bail conditions when he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. He entered the embassy while facing a separate extradition request from Sweden, where he faced sexual assault allegations, expressing fear that he’d ultimately be sent to the United States.

Once a formal U.S. extradition request is filed, as is expected to happen next month, prosecutors can’t add additional charges against Assange, The Washington Post reports.

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Snapchat employees spied on users with an internal tool called SnapLion: report

Snapchat employees spied on users with an internal tool called SnapLion: report
[Photo: Bernard Hermant/Unsplash]

Snap employees reportedly snooped on Snapchat users without their knowledge, according to a new story from Motherboard. The workers had access to an internal tool that let them access certain user data–including phone numbers, email addresses, and photos that were thought to be deleted.

This tool, allegedly called SnapLion, was supposedly built to make law enforcement requests easier. Multiple teams have access to SnapLion–including the security group and spam and abuse. Motherboard, citing anonymous sources who either work or have worked at Snap, says there were multiple occurrences of employees abusing their access to the internal search tool. It’s unclear what data these employees accessed.

I reached out to the company for additional comment and will update if I hear back (Update: see below).

Most tech companies have programs that give at least some employees access to user data. Occurrences like these show how easy it is for this information to be abused and compromised. It seems the occurrences reported happened a while ago, yet it still raises concerns about what compromising data tech employees can easily access.

You can read the full report here.

Update: A Snap spokesperson provided me with the following statement:

Any perception that employees might be spying on our community is highly troubling, and wholly inaccurate. Protecting privacy is paramount at Snap. We keep very little user data, and we have robust policies and controls to limit internal access to the data we do have, including data within tools designed to support law enforcement. Unauthorized access of any kind is a clear violation of the company’s standards of business conduct and, if detected, results in immediate termination.

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Facebook catches 3 billion fake accounts, but the ones it misses are the real problem

Facebook catches 3 billion fake accounts, but the ones it misses are the real problem
[Photo: Ilya Pavlov/Unsplash; Robert Haverly/Unsplash]

Facebook held a press call today to report to the world that it has removed 3 billion fake accounts during the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. This is a wildly high number given that the social network reports only 2.39 billion monthly active users.

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And the kicker may be that Facebook’s “VP of Integrity,” Guy Rosen, said during the Q&A section of the call that Facebook probably caught only “most of” the fake accounts. He says bad actors are systematically creating batches of fake accounts to spread harmful content or to perpetrate some sort of fraud.

So the question is this: If Facebook is catching only “most of” the fake accounts, how many accounts have made it through Facebook’s AI or human filters and become “real” accounts? How many are counted in Facebook’s all-important metric of monthly active users? Remember, that MAU number is the measure of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “domination” of the social networking space, the measure of how much of the world he’s connected. It’s the number that Facebook touts in its earnings report every quarter to prove to investors that the company is still thriving. It’s a number whose accuracy matters.

Facebook has just published the third edition of its Community Standards Enforcement Report, which shows the company’s progress in dealing with fake, harmful, and toxic content on the platform. New to the report are Facebook’s efforts to combat sales of drugs and firearms on the social network.

Zuckerberg said on the call today that Facebook is now spending more to eliminate harmful content and accounts than the total amount of revenue the company brought in during the year before it went public in 2012. He also said the company is spending more on harmful content than Twitter made last year.

Facebook is indeed in the middle of a firestorm. Consumers have lost trust in the company, and regulators want to impose regulations guaranteeing that Facebook will not abuse the personal data it harvests from the accounts of its users.

Others–including cofounder Chris Hughes–believe the company should be broken up. In many of the markets where Facebook operates, it is part of an increasingly powerful duopoly with Google when it comes to selling and targeting interactive ads. In the U.K., for instance, the two companies are expected to command 63.3% of the digital ad market by the end of this year, according to a recent report from eMarketer.

Asked on the call about calls to break up his company, Zuckerberg stated that people use “seven or eight” different social networks to communicate, not just Facebook. He also said that his company controls “less than 10%” of the global ad market, and “less than 20%” of the global interactive ad market. He did not cite the source of those numbers.

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Qantas Airways is hiding $20 first-class seats in Airbnb listings

Qantas Airways is hiding $20 first-class seats in Airbnb listings
[Photo: Ken Fielding/Wikimedia Commons]

Qantas has just revealed the details of its latest frequent-flyer perk, and it’s a headline-grabbing treasure hunt: The airline is hiding first-class seats on Airbnb, disguising them as a $20 “cabins in the sky.” There’s just one, big, heart-breaking catch–the fun is just for people who are frequent flyers on the Australia-based airline. [Sad Trombone.]

[Image: courtesy of Qantas]
If you happen to be a frequent flyer on Qantas, keep your eyes peeled for the listings posted by the Qantas Frequent Flyer Team masquerading as Airbnb hosts. Savvy frequent flyers (aka those mysterious beings who fly business class to Hong Kong on points) who manage to track down the listings on Airbnb will be able to access seriously discounted first-class seats, which can only be booked using points.

To get in on the fun, search the Airbnb website for … something. They are secret listings, so just give it a whirl. If you’re lucky enough to find one, click on request to book. From there a Qantas Frequent Flyer team representative will get in touch, confirm your Frequent Flyer number, and make sure you have the necessary points to book. Once the information is verified, your bargain flights will be booked.

[Image: courtesy of Qantas]
If you don’t have Qantas Points, but have, say, Amex points or Chase Sapphire points or points in the OneWorld Alliance (United, Finnair, Cathay Pacific), it might be worth figuring out if you can turn them into Qantas Points, because the deals are incredible.

For instance, there are two first-class seats from Melbourne to L.A. for a mere 50,000 Qantas Points, when they are normally 144,000 per seat. Similarly, if you have 50,000 Qantas Points floating around, you can get two business class seats from Sydney to London, normally 128,000 per seat. Qantas says it’ll be hiding dozens of flights to destinations including London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Santiago, with listings in pairs and groups of four so the whole family can take advantage of your frequent flyer prowess.

The secret discount listings are the latest incarnation of Qantas’s partnership with Airbnb. Since 2016, frequent flyers have bene able to earn points by booking or hosting on Airbnb. The partnership makes sense, and while I have never flown first or business or Qantas, their suites look nicer than most Airbnbs I’ve stayed at, complete with comfortable beds, streaming movies, and experienced friendly hosts who bring you food.

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Report: Mario Batali will face criminal assault charges in Boston

Report: Mario Batali will face criminal assault charges in Boston
Mario Batali [Photo: Awny2017/Shutterstock]

One-time celebrity chef Mario Batali is expected to be arraigned on an indecent assault and battery charge in Boston on Friday, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement to NBC Boston.

The charges stem from an alleged incident that took place at a Boston restaurant on March 31, 2017, when a woman tried to snap a selfie of the former TV star. According to The Boston Globe, Batali allegedly spotted the woman trying to subtly take a photo of him, offered to take a selfie with her, and then kissed her, grabbed her chest, and touched her without consent. After she pulled away, Batali allegedly kept “pulling on her face” and then asked if she wanted to go to his hotel room, which she declined, according to the newspaper.

While the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office did not release the accuser’s name, the facts match up with a civil lawsuit filed in 2018 by a Boston-area woman that CNN previously reported. Through his lawyers, Batali denied the allegations, with an attorney telling CNN that “he intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali.”

The alleged charges in Boston come after Batali was investigated by the NYPD and forced away from his restaurant and Eataly empire after Eater published a detailed exposé describing alleged sexual misconduct that went back decades.

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Here’s how to win the Australian Uber submarine ride of your deep-sea dreams

Here’s how to win the Australian Uber submarine ride of your deep-sea dreams

The next time you take an Uber, it may not be a run-of-the-mill ride to work, or a shlep back home after a night on the town. It may be in a submarine, touring the largest and longest coral reef in the world.

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In partnership with Queensland’s tourism board, Uber Australia yesterday announced its scUber project, the world’s first “rideshare submarine experience,” which will give a few fauna enthusiasts the chance to go on an underwater journey along the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia’s marine wildlife haven stretches for 1,429 miles and is bigger in area than the U.K., the Netherlands, and Switzerland combined. The idyllic biodiversity sanctuary is home to 3,000 separate reefs and 1,500 species of fish–including the “Great Eight” collection of species, which includes sharks, whales, clownfish, and giant clams.

Uber users in each of six participating countries, including the U.S., can enter the scUber competition by describing, in 25 words or less, why they should win the experience. (One from each country will be chosen, valid for two people.) The lucky duos will be transported to the reef for free in June, and treated to five nights’ accommodation and perks including a rainforest tour and UberEats credit.

But for residents of Queensland, the sign-up is more surreal. Aussies in cities like Cairns and Port Douglas can log into the Uber app bright and early at 7:30 a.m. and type in “Great Barrier Reef” as their destination. If chosen, winners will leave at 9 a.m. in a car, then transfer to a helicopter to reach the Reef–and then explore the world wonder in the ride-share submarine.

The company stated that it would donate AUS$100,000 ($54,000 U.S.) to the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, in support of conservation programs. “Uber is committed to harnessing the power of technology for good,” said Susan Anderson, regional general manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand, in a press release. “We are proud to partner with Queensland to help showcase the reef to the world with the launch of scUber.”

It’s unclear as to whether scUber riders will be able to access typical Uber options like connecting their Spotify playlists, but we assume that uncertainty won’t prove much of a turnoff.

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Watch a plastic water bottle decompose over 450 years in the longest live stream ever

Watch a plastic water bottle decompose over 450 years in the longest live stream ever

It’s pretty clear that humans cannot handle plastic water bottles responsibly. If they’re not leaving them in the finale of Game of Thrones, they’re leaving them in the bottom of the ocean, rivers, streams, and littered along the beaches waiting for some hardy plogger to pick up. Our attachment to plastic water bottles is obviously taking a toll on the planet.

To draw attention to our troubling relationship with plastic, World Wildlife Fund, aka the environmental group that beat Vince McMahon to the WWF trademark, has launched a new project–a live stream built to last 450 years.

The project, designed by Lisbon-based creative agency NOSSA for WWF, is meant to show the real-time decomposition of a plastic bottle. Since plastic doesn’t really decompose at all, the result could end up being the longest live stream ever. The live stream was launched in Lisbon on March 30, but if you missed it you can watch here sometime over the next 449 years.

In addition to raising awareness of about the plastic pollution littering our only habitat, WWF also wanted to gather 400,000 signatures for a petition that will be presented to key global leaders at the United Nations meeting on the environment. It has already exceeded that goal by some 80,000 signatures, but sign anyway before you go buy a reusable water bottle.

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Harry Potter’s magical moving portraits could become a reality thanks to Samsung’s AI

Harry Potter’s magical moving portraits could become a reality thanks to Samsung’s AI

When Harry Potter first comes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he is stunned to see the portraits that line the school’s storied stone walls move and talk. Thanks to artificial intelligence, that just might be a reality some day.

A new project from Samsung is helping bring portraits to life, animating the features on Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe, and that Einstein poster you probably had on your wall during freshman year. The machine learning specialists at Samsung used so-called facial landmarks to pair up an image of a target face (Einstein, Jennifer Lopez, etc.) with the face of an IRL human source and make the target face do what the source face does. So if you have that dorm-room picture of Einstein and pair it with the face of a human who lives in the dorm room, you can create lifelike motion thanks to machine learning. If the person yawns, Einstein could yawn, too.

As TechCrunch points out, making one face do what another is doing isn’t a huge leap in the machine learning world. However, in the past it has required a lot of data to analyze and perfect. As documented in a paper published by Samsung AI Center, which you can read here, Samsung’s researchers can produce similarly eerie results based on single image of a person’s face. They can then take that one image and transform it into a video of that face yawning, smiling, presumably eyerolling, mouthing along to Jennifer Lopez songs, or whatever facial expressions real humans make.

It’s not flawless, but it’s certainly one step closer to making your Einstein poster talk back without the use of (legal!) marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms (hey, Colorado!).

Watch the video below and thank the muggles who made it possible:

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Tesla’s market cap plummeted by over $30B in 9 months: Here’s what’s happening

Tesla’s market cap plummeted by over $30B in 9 months: Here’s what’s happening
[Photo: Alex Iby/Unsplash]

Tesla’s stock has been in a free fall for the last week. While shares opened up slightly higher than their previous close today, the overall trend over the last seven days has pointed downward. Last Friday, its price hit $222.24; today the stock hovers around $196.

That decline is even worse when you look at where the stock was only nine months ago.

Last August, Tesla hit a high of $387.46 per share, which is nearly double what the stock is today. Then, the company’s market capitalization was around $64.75 billion. Tesla’s market cap today is $35.51 billion, meaning the company has lost more than $30 billion in value in less than a year.

As always with Tesla, myriad factors are at play. Its most recent earnings report disclosed huge losses. As a result, analysts have lowered their expectations, institutional investors have been selling it off, and Elon Musk warned employees that the company–at its current burn rate–has about 10 months to break even. And, of course, there’s also the fact that Musk’s behavior, known to be erratic, certainly doesn’t assuage Wall Street concerns. Put together, things look messy if not dire.

Tesla and Musk have, of course, faced difficult financial times before, and they’ve managed to steer through. At the same time, $30 billion is a lot of value to lose, so the company will have to work extra hard to reignite Wall Street’s trust. Add to that a looming trade war—which makes for an unstable financial landscape—and you can see why now is not the best time for Tesla to be experiencing bumps in the road.

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Avon, struggling in the Glossier era, sells to a Brazilian beauty conglomerate

Avon, struggling in the Glossier era, sells to a Brazilian beauty conglomerate
[Photo: Raphael Lovaski/Unsplash]

Natura Cosmeticos, a Brazilian beauty conglomerate, just purchased Avon, the iconic British company best known for its vast network of saleswomen known as “Avon ladies,” who sell products door-to-door. The terms of the deal were not made public. In 2017, Natura bought The Body Shop, another British beauty company, from L’Oreal.

Avon, which was founded in 1886, had been struggling financially and losing salespeople. However, it is still the fifth largest beauty company in the world, with a salesforce of 6.4 million reps worldwide, and generating $5.5 billion globally in 2018.

Part of Avon’s woes had to do with the fact that the company had not kept up with changing consumer behavior. There have also been many beauty startups vying for Avon’s customer. Glossier, for instance, launched in 2014 targeting millennials with a strong social media presence. It creates product based on the vast amounts of customer data it gathers. It is now worth $1 billion. Beautycounter, launched in 2013, creates products free of 1,300 known toxins or questionable ingredients. It is currently valued at around $400 million.

In the hands of Natura, Avon products could be sold throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia using the company’s vast distribution channels, which include a global footprint of 3,200 stores. In a release, Natura says it expects to generate annual gross revenues of more than $10 billion across 100 countries.

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Yelp fights to combat an anti-Yelp documentary with Google ads and a domain name

Yelp fights to combat an anti-Yelp documentary with Google ads and a domain name
[Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images]

Yelp is still hoping to avoid a Blackfish-style takedown after the recent release of a long-gestating documentary in which business owners take aim at the review platform for what they say is an extortion scheme.

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The company purchased the domain BillionDollarBully.com and bought Google ads for the search term “Billion Dollar Bully,” the movie’s title, which redirects to a page on Yelp’s website explaining that Yelp does not, in fact, extort local businesses or manipulate review ratings.

[Screenshot via Google]
The documentary, by San Francisco filmmaker Kaylie Milliken, was first announced in 2015, and it had Yelp on the defense almost from the beginning, with the company even sending a communications executive to spar with Milliken on CNBC. But Billion Dollar Bully seemed to fall off the radar for a few years, drawing questions and speculation from some of its original Kickstarter backers who wondered if it would ever see the light of day.

I asked the filmmakers about the delay, and a rep for the project told me some of the people involved were concerned about litigation from Yelp. Either way, the movie was just made available on Amazon and iTunes this month, and now Yelp is once again on the defense with a Google ad campaign—ironic, seeing how Yelp is famously no fan of Google. The movie’s PR team have called the ads “more mafia-like tactics.”

Reached for comment, a Yelp spokesperson said the company is just trying to educate the public, noting that courts have repeatedly dismissed claims of extortion by the company.

“We’ve had a page on our website to educate people about these false claims for some time now,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve taken the actions you mention simply to help people find the facts about the misinformation in the film, including people who may be hearing about these false claims for the first time, since this film was announced several years ago.”

It’s fair to wonder what a company Yelp’s size stands to gain by further engaging with a low-budget movie that clearly has an agenda, but then some of the stories in Billion Dollar Bully are pretty compelling, irrespective of the movie’s extortion claims. Business owners describe aggressive tactics from Yelp sales people, hateful rants that clearly violate Yelp’s content guidelines, and endless frustration with Yelp’s mysterious recommendation system, in which some reviews are automatically filtered out of a business’s Yelp profile.

Then there’s one of the most common complaints of all about Yelp—that there’s no way to opt out of it. Had that option been available to some of these Yelp critics, the movie would probably have been over before it started.

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