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Amazon stock explodes again after another blockbuster earnings report

Amazon stock explodes again after another blockbuster earnings report
[Photo: Lorenzo Cafaro/Pexels]

It looks like the president’s anti-Amazon tweets weren’t enough to doom the company’s financials. Sad!

Amazon just reported its first-quarter 2018 earnings, easily beating analyst estimates on revenue and profits. We’ve been eagerly waiting to see if political tumult and angry rhetoric from President Trump would have any impact on the company’s business. Now that the results are in, here are some of the standouts:

  • Revenue: The company hit $51.04 billion in revenue, compared to Thomson Reuters’ expectations of $49.78 billion.
  • EPS: Earnings per share clocked in at $3.27, far above an estimate of $1.26.
  • AWS: Amazon’s cloud program revenue hit $5.44 billion, compared to $5.25 billion expectations.

Shares were up almost 7% in after-hours trading, according to CNBC. Amazon executives will discuss the results on a conference call later this afternoon. We’ll be looking out for any other standout news.

Report: Victoria’s Secret is a suffering brand in the #MeToo era

Report: Victoria’s Secret is a suffering brand in the #MeToo era
[Photo: WestportWiki/Wikimedia Commons]

In a world where Bill Cosby is convicted of sexual assault and Harvey Weinstein is universally shunned, how does a brand like Victoria’s Secret–which hinges on flaunting women’s sexuality–play with consumers?

Not well, according to new research by YouGov.

Data from YouGov’s BrandIndex shows that Victoria’s Secret’s brand has not been doing well within its target demographic of women aged 18 to 49. The company tracks whether consumers are hearing positive or negative things about a brand through news, advertising, and friends and family. In 2016, it had a score of 31, but today, this figure has gone down to 23. Fewer women from this demographic say they are buying from the brand now, compared to five years ago. And this is consistent with the latest earnings report from Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, L Brands, which shows declining sales.

All of this makes sense. Victoria’s Secret’s imagery continues to feature supermodels wearing racy lingerie and smiling coyly at the camera. The brand’s biggest event of the year is its fashion show where models–known as angels–wear blinged-out bras and enormous wings on the catwalk in front of an audience of men and women. As much as Victoria’s Secret and various participating models have tried to rebrand the show as empowering to women, tomes have been written about how anti-feminist it is, and how it nudges women into feeling like being sexy to men is important.

Even as the brand’s sales decline, many underwear startups are hitting the market with a very different message. Brands like Lively, MeUndies, ThirdLove, and Evelyn & Bobbie have focused on comfort and innovation, rather than sexiness. Younger consumers, in particular, seem more excited by the idea of feeling good in their own skin than looking sexy in a rigid push-up bra.

We reached out to Victoria’s Secret for a comment and will update if we hear back.

It’s not looking good for the MAGA rights movement

It’s not looking good for the MAGA rights movement
[Photo: Flickr user Johnny Silvercloud]

A New York court has ruled that it’s okay for a bar to kick out a man wearing a MAGA hat. Greg Piatek claims he was refused service and then eventually kicked out of New York City bar The Happiest Hour in January 2017 for donning the bright red symbol of Trump support. He then filed a lawsuit against the establishment claiming discrimination.

The First Amendment, of course, protects speech from infringement by the government, but not from bar owners who don’t want Trump supporters drinking in their establishments. As for Piatek’s discrimination argument, state, federal, and city laws protect religious beliefs, but not political ones, and as the bar’s lawyer noted, “supporting Trump is not a religion,” the New York Post reported.

However, the idea of arguing in the courts that conservatives are being discriminated against is not likely to go away. Yesterday’s New York court ruling comes in the wake of an NLRB complaint on the other side of the country by former Google employee James Damore, who says the search giant violated his right to participate in protected activity–namely addressing workplace concerns–when it fired him over a 10-page memo arguing that women are not as suited for coding as men. The NLRB memo disagreed with Damore’s complaint, and recommended dismissing it, if it was not withdrawn.

But Damore has filed a lawsuit arguing that Google discriminates against conservative white men.

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Bill Cosby found guilty in sexual assault trial

Bill Cosby found guilty in sexual assault trial
[Photo: Flickr user Montgomery County Planning Commission]

Bill Cosby was found guilty of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand.

This was the second jury to hear the Cosby case, the first having reached a deadlocked decision last summer, which ended in the judge ruling it a mistrial.

Constand’s claim against Cosby stems from a 2004 incident in which she says she was urged by Cosby to take three pills and was later “jolted awake” to find him sexually assaulting her.

Cosby has been charged on three felony counts, each carrying a standard sentencing of five to 10 years in prison.

Royal baby births are pricey, but they have nothing on U.S. births

Royal baby births are pricey, but they have nothing on U.S. births
[Photo: Piron Guillaume/Unsplash]

When Kate Middleton went into labor, she and HRH Prince William rushed to the Lindo Wing at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, a private maternity ward that is the top pick for London’s royals. According to a woman who gave birth there, it’s akin to “a five-star hotel,” albeit a five-star hotel filled with miserable women forcing other humans out of their bodies. The rooms come with “spacious ensuite bathrooms, lavish menus–including a wine and champagne list–and celebratory post-labour afternoon tea” plus top-notch medical care and low maternal and infant mortality rates, all for the  price of £10,000, or $13,987.

While that is a jaw-dropping sum, as The Economist recently pointed out, that figure is actually less than what women in the U.S. typically pay to give birth in regular old hospitals, which offer no celebratory tea or champagne and have higher infant and maternal mortality rates. (Citing studies, the magazine pegged the average delivery cost at $10,808, plus another $3,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare costs before and after pregnancy.) Check out the chart that The Economist put together showing that the U.S. reigns supreme—at least when it comes to paying for births.

Nintendo’s stellar year—profits soar, Switch sales skyrocket

Nintendo’s stellar year—profits soar, Switch sales skyrocket
[Photo: Mikes Photos/Pexels]

Nintendo is reaping the rewards as its Nintendo Switch console sets sales records. The company’s profits jumped 505% to 178 billion yen (roughly $1.6 billion) in the 2017 fiscal year, thanks largely to 15 million Switch sales. To date, Nintendo has sold 17.7 million Switch units (the console went on sale in March 2017, a month before Nintendo’s fiscal year began), and the company expects to sell another 20 million units in the current fiscal year. Nintendo also sold 5 million units of its Super Nintendo Classic consoles.

In March, Nintendo said the Switch had become the fastest-selling home game console in the United States, outpacing its own Nintendo Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 4 in first-year sales. (Worldwide, the systems are neck-and-neck in sales since launch, Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad notes.) Nintendo will look to build on that success in 2018 with a Switch version of Super Smash Bros., a possible Pokemon game, and its wild new Labo DIY toys.

Science says one of your tastiest habits might be good for you

Science says one of your tastiest habits might be good for you
[Photo: jackmac34/Pixabay]

The next time you find yourself stressed out, try shoving a whole bunch of dark chocolate into your mouth. It’s not just the most magically delicious form of self-care, but it’s scientifically proven to lower stress levels.

Not one, but two new studies out of Loma Linda University presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 conference show what stress eaters may already know: Scarfing down dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immunity. The higher the concentration of cacao, the greater the benefit. The flavonoids found in cacao are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

Need more convincing? Try it in science speak: One study found that cacao consumption “up-regulates multiple intracellular signaling pathways involved in T-cell activation, cellular immune response and genes involved in neural signaling and sensory perception – the latter potentially associated with the phenomena of brain hyperplasticity.” The other showed that foods with “70 percent cacao [enhance] neuroplasticity for behavioral and brain health benefits.”

You can wait for more research if you want, but we’ll just be over here stress-eating dark chocolate for medicinal purposes.

The teacher strikes finally reach a blue state: Colorado

The teacher strikes finally reach a blue state: Colorado
[Photo: Flickr user Tom Tziros]

What started as a statewide protest in West Virginia over low salaries and decimated benefits has turned into a movement: Since February, teachers have walked out of classrooms not only in West Virginia, but also in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona. Their demands have been largely similar. They are born out of a dissatisfaction with traditionally conservative policies of offering tax cuts to large companies, which, in turn, results in lower salaries for public employees like teachers.

Now, Colorado has joined the movement. While geographically, it’s a short step from states like Arizona and Oklahoma, politically, it’s a leap: Colorado is the first blue state in which teachers have walked out. The state is led by a Democratic governor, and while its state senate falls under Republican control, Democrats have the house, and its labor laws favor unions.

But still, the Colorado teachers’ union president tells The New York Times that the state has leeched $6.6 billion from its education system since 2009; many teachers work multiple jobs, and some rural districts have reduced their school week down to four days in response to the budget cuts, while raising fees on students. The state’s education system is currently short 3,000 staffers. While Colorado ranks 31st in the nation in terms of actual teacher salaries (they earn, on average, just under $52,000, compared to West Virginia teachers, who earn just over $45,000), the schools themselves are abysmally underfunded, falling $2,700 below the national average in per-pupil funding.

Schools in more than 20 districts across the state are expected to close today as teachers call for more tax dollars to fund education, and for a freeze on corporate tax breaks until the per-pupil funding levels up with the national average. This is all taking place despite the fact that two Republican lawmakers in the state have introduced a bill that would punish striking teachers with fines or jail time.

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Hey cable companies, maybe this is why cord-cutting is a thing

Hey cable companies, maybe this is why cord-cutting is a thing
[Photo: rawpixel]

From the department of obvious conclusions: Research firm Kagan reports that people are cutting the cord because cable TV is far less affordable than it used to be. Since 2000, the average cable, satellite, and telco TV bill is up 74%, from just under $60 per month then to nearly $100 per month now. Meanwhile, median wages have remained more or less flat. This has created a larger “affordability gap” between consumer income and the cost of cable TV.

“The eroding legacy multichannel affordability partly explains the popularity of over-the-top services such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video,” Kagan said.

Last year, the top pay TV providers lost a combined 1.5 million subscribers according to Leichtman Research Group. Those that are betting heavily on streaming video, such as AT&T, are making up for those losses with online alternatives, but streaming bundles are cheaper and less profitable than cable and satellite TV. It turns out that when there’s lots of competition in the pay TV business, the “affordability gap” magically shrinks.

Leo DiCaprio’s latest investment: off-grid solar for rural communities

Leo DiCaprio’s latest investment: off-grid solar for rural communities
[Photo: Rebecca Roth/Goddard/NASA]

He’s best known as an actor but for the last 20 years Leonardo DiCaprio has established himself as a sustainability advocate, and one of the strongest celebrity supporters for any environmental cause. He sits on the board of the World Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, and today he’s joining Kingo–a Guatemala-based off-grid solar company–as an investor and a board member.

For the 1.2 billion people across the world who lack access to energy in their homes, Kingo offers prepaid solar energy plans that cost less than candles and diesel. The involvement makes sense for DiCaprio: Solar energy aligns with his work around climate change and the environment. But it’s also a smart investment. Kingo’s gone from a 500-home pilot in January 2015 to powering 60,000 homes, and is installing new systems at a rate of 7,000 each month.

BMW will use LiDAR from Innoviz for its self-driving cars

BMW will use LiDAR from Innoviz for its self-driving cars
[Photo: Free-Photos/Pixabay]

The German automaker has chosen to go with solid-state LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors from Innoviz for the self-driving vehicles it hopes to put on the streets by 2021, reports TechCrunch. LiDAR sensors use lasers to help a car “see” its surroundings and thus know where to navigate. Traditionally LiDAR sensors have been bulky contraptions that need to constantly spin around on the roof of a car, but Innoviz’s LiDAR tech is both smaller than traditional sensors and doesn’t need to constantly spin (thus their “solid-state” nomenclature). This makes them much more ideal for commercial vehicles where looks matter.

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Counter extremism advisor: YouTube is “least receptive” to prioritize safety over growth

Counter extremism advisor: YouTube is “least receptive” to prioritize safety over growth
[Photo: Hello I’m Nik/Unsplash]

Bloomberg has an interesting long-form article about the horrible year YouTube has had when it comes to cleaning up content–including extremist videos and pornography–on its platform. The entire article is worth a read, but perhaps the best gem is a quote from Hany Farid, senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project. The project works with tech companies to help eliminate child pornography and terrorist messaging on their platforms. But when it comes to YouTube owner Google, Farid says the search giant is the “least receptive” to prioritize safety over growth. Farid says no matter how many safety mishaps the company has, it acts freshly shocked:

“It’s like a Las Vegas casino saying, ‘Wow, we can’t believe people are spending 36 hours in a casino.’ It’s designed like that.”

Of course, Google probably sees things differently. Regardless, tech companies of all stripes are increasingly coming under pressure from governments around the world to get a grip on the dangerous content that is shared by users of its platforms.

Snap will stop tracking under-16s on Snap Maps in Europe

Snap will stop tracking under-16s on Snap Maps in Europe
[Photo: Omar Lopez/Unsplash]

The company has announced that due to the EU’s new data protection rules, which come into effect in May, it is changing the way the Snap Maps feature of its Snapchat app processes user data for those under 16, reports the Financial Times. The new laws require companies to obtain permission from the parent or legal guardian of anyone who is under 16 in order to process certain types of their data. Instead of going through those steps, Snap has opted to stop processing any data that might require parental consent–this includes retaining a user’s geodata such as location history, the data that powers Snap Maps. Snap Maps has previously come under criticism for being too precise when showing a user’s location–something that raised safety concerns over the children using it.

Unskippable video ads are coming to Snapchat in May

Unskippable video ads are coming to Snapchat in May
[Photo: rawpixel]

But there is some good news: The unskippable ads will only show in select shows produced by Snap’s publishing partners like Viacom, reports DigiDay. The ads will not appear in user-generated content like Stories and magazine-style Discover editions, though those will still continue to feature skippable ads.

The unskippable ads, which Snap rightly calls “commercials,” will act just like regular television commercials you see when watching a show. They’ll appear at the end of one segment of a show, run for six seconds, and then the show will resume. A source with knowledge of Snap’s plans said the company is “aware people will have to get used to it. That said, so much of the Snapchat generation has gotten accustomed to watching ads to get content.”

Tesla’s Autopilot VP and chip expert has left the company

Tesla’s Autopilot VP and chip expert has left the company
[Photo: Cameron Osborn/Unsplash]

Jim Keller’s last day with the company was this week, reports Electrek. Keller, somewhat of a legend in the chip architecture field, was hired by Tesla from AMD in 2015 and began working on a custom AI chip at the automaker. Later he was also put in charge of Tesla’s Autopilot program. A Tesla spokesperson confirmed Keller’s departure:

“Today is Jim Keller’s last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software, and infotainment. Prior to joining Tesla, Jim’s core passion was microprocessor engineering and he’s now joining a company where he’ll be able to once again focus on this exclusively. We appreciate his contributions to Tesla and wish him the best.”

Pete Bannon, a former Apple chip engineer, will be taking over Keller’s role. Bannon helped design Apple’s A5–A9 chips and, despite Keller’s departure, Tesla says its commitment to developing its own chipsets hasn’t slowed:

“Tesla is deeply committed to developing the most advanced silicon in the world and we plan to dramatically increase our investment in that area while building on the world-class leadership team we have in place.”

Intel To Supply 70% Of iPhone Modems This Year, 100% In 2019

Intel To Supply 70% Of iPhone Modems This Year, 100% In 2019
[Photo: Tyler Lastovich/Unsplash]

Apple is expecting Intel to supply 70% of the modem chips inside the new iPhone models, which will debut this fall, and–if all goes well–plans to rely on the company for 100% of the modems in next year’s iPhones, a source with knowledge of Apple’s plans says.

The chip giant got its foot in the door with Apple when it provided some of the modems in Apple’s iPhone 7 line. Until then, Qualcomm had provided all the modems in Apple’s phones since 2011. However, Apple’s relationship with Qualcomm has become increasingly contentious during the past two years amid a legal dispute over the patent licensing fees paid to Qualcomm by Apple suppliers. And the iPhone maker seems poised to get Qualcomm modems out of its phones completely.

Intel had hoped to provide an even higher percentage of the modems in this fall’s new iPhones, and some reports speculated it would get all of the business. But 2018 is the first year Intel will be fabricating its own modem chips using its 14 nanometer process.

Given that technological transition, Apple is apparently waiting to see how well Intel fulfills this year’s order. If Intel underdelivers, Qualcomm will make up the balance on top of the 30% it’s already planning to provide. There’s also a chance that if Intel can produce enough chips on time and on budget it could get more than the planned 70%, our source says.

As of now, our source says, the modem-chip yield rates are not what Intel expected. Only just more than half of the chips being produced are keepers. The Intel engineers are confident they can work the bugs out and push up the yield rates before production ramps into high gear in June and July.

Until this year, TSMC had fabricated Intel’s modem chips (using its 28 nanometer process). Intel originally acquired its modem-chip business when it bought Infineon in 2010. TSMC had been Infineon’s fabricator, and Intel kept the arrangement going after it acquired the modem.

Until that acquisition, Infineon had provided the modems in iPhones dating back to the very first one in 2007. But Apple dropped the modem from its phones when Intel acquired it. Later, in 2014 or 2015, Apple and Intel engineers began working together again, and soon Intel had thousands of employees working hard to get the company’s modem back into the iPhone. This occured with the iPhone 7 line in September 2016, and Intel has won more of the modem business with Apple–at the expense of Qualcomm–in each phone cycle since then.

In the past Apple had used Intel modems in phones for AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 3G GSM networks, and Qualcomm modems for Verizon and Sprint’s CDMA networks. But Intel’s 7560 modem supports both CDMA and GSM. And 3G networks are on the way out anyway, as carriers convert their networks to full LTE. Verizon no longer requires CDMA support, but Sprint, U.S. Cellular, KDDI in Japan, China Telecom, and a few small operators still do.

And the next generation of wireless, 5G, is on the way. As we reported earlier, Intel is expected to provide all of the modems in future iPhones based on 5G technology–due in the fall of 2019 at the earliest–at the exclusion of Qualcomm.

For Intel, the Apple modem business is valuable because the volumes are very high. Intel has a keen interest in keeping its fab (which probably cost in the neighborhood of $20 billion) as busy as possible.

We reached out to Apple, Intel, and Qualcomm late Wednesday afternoon for comment, but so far none have responded. We will update the story with statements as they come in.

Update: Qualcomm apparently has removed any projection of future Apple revenues from its Q1 earnings report. This is not intended to mean Qualcomm will do no business with Apple in the coming quarters. It is a suggestion that analysts not include revenue from Apple in their models.

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A Kickstarter exec is accusing Indiegogo of fudging its numbers

A Kickstarter exec is accusing Indiegogo of fudging its numbers
[Image: courtesy of Kickstarter]

A new shot has been fired in the war of the crowdfunding platforms.

Today Kickstarter executive Julio Terra published a Medium post, “Indiegogo’s Odd Numbers,” that essentially accuses the rival platform of taking credit for campaigns that began on Kickstarter, before the campaign owners transferred them to Indiegogo.

Terra, who is Kickstarter’s head of technology and design community, provided an example of a campaign where the vast majority of the money had been raised on Kickstarter, not Indiegogo, but that fact is only revealed if you hover your mouse over a question mark icon next to the “total funds raised” number on the Indiegogo page. (Terra claims to speak on behalf of himself, not Kickstarter; but Kickstarter’s PR rep sent me the link to the essay.)

What’s going on here? It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to jump platforms, and, as I reported recently, Indiegogo positions itself as a place where startups can raise additional funding after they’ve completed a discrete campaign on Kickstarter. (The figures I quoted in that article are for sums raised solely on Indiegogo.)

Terra offers the example of San Francisco-based backpack maker Peak Design, whose Indiegogo page reports $7,232,484 raised since September 8, 2016. But $6,565,782 was raised on the company’s Kickstarter campaign, a fact only revealed in a pop-up footnote, explaining that the amount was originally raised “on another platform.” Along with Peak Design’s bag, three other projects (BauBax jacket, ZeTime smartwatch, and Taga 2.0 Family Bike) that Indiegogo lists in its Top 10 funded list raised the majority of their money, between about 50% and 90%, on Kickstarter.

An Indiegogo spokesperson told Fast Company that the hover-over mechanism makes “pretty clear” how the funding breaks down between Indiegogo and other sites. The spokesperson said Indiegogo has not received any complaints from backers or entrepreneurs about the practice.

Facebook says platform changes are reducing passive video consumption

Facebook says platform changes are reducing passive video consumption
[Photo: rawpixel]

Last quarter, Facebook said it was focusing its platform going forward on more meaningful interactions, changes that would reduce the time users spend on the service. Today, during its first-quarter earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said changes that emphasize those kinds of connections have resulted in a decline of passive consumption of video.

“We’ve observed increases in some types of [content] sharing,” Zuckerberg said. “Overall, these changes are doing what we expected they’d do: helping people connect more and increasing meaningful connections. We think that this is going in the direction of building a stronger community.”

However, when pressed on the question, Facebook executives wouldn’t reveal any usage or engagement numbers, or data about users’ time spent on the platform.

A report issued yesterday suggested that user engagement has increased in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but concluded that most of the increase was likely due to users reviewing their privacy and security settings.

Today, Facebook reported its first-quarter earnings, saying it had brought in $11.97 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $1.69, both of which handily beat expectations.

Jordan Peele jokes that Kanye’s tweets just inspired “Get Out 2”

Jordan Peele jokes that Kanye’s tweets just inspired “Get Out 2”
[Screenshot: courtesy of Universal Pictures]

It’s been an emotional roller-coaster of a day for fans of Kanye West. Roller-coasters usually start off low to the ground and then plunge straight down into the Earth’s core, yes?

Picking up where he left off over the weekend, the freewheeling artist began the day tweeting his second of three eventual references to “the sunken place,” a complicated racial metaphor invented by Jordan Peele for his Oscar-winning film, Get Out.

From there, things quickly escalated, with West tweeting about his love for Donald Trump and acknowledging that his opinion was not popular–as though he were just announcing that he was a fan of the Cleveland Browns in Cincinnati. Further tweets followed, including a light scolding from his wife, Kim Kardashian West, who later went on to defend him.

Whether the musician was tweeting with the sole purpose of getting attention, because he felt the need to express himself, or because he’s somehow involved in one of those ’80s body-switching movie situations, the MAGA-fueled tweetstorm eventually caught the attention of President Trump himself–who, it should be noted, was not sufficiently moved to tweet any support for Waffle House shooting hero James Shaw Jr.

So much for not seeking the approval of celebrities! The lone positive thing to come out of Kanye West’s wild day on Twitter is that Donald Trump wasn’t the only public figure to respond to West’s tweets. In the aftermath of the presidential back-and-forth, Jordan Peele quote-tweeted one of Kanye’s tweets mentioning the sunken place–and suggested the entire incident has inspired a Get Out sequel.

Obviously, he’s joking. And yet, the mind reels at the possibilities…

Would a phone case made of mangled car metal make you stop texting and driving?

Would a phone case made of mangled car metal make you stop texting and driving?
[Photo: courtesy of Volkswagen]

Volkswagen, with the help of an ad agency, made a batch of phone cases made from the crumpled metal of crashed cars.

“We believe a phone case made by damaged vehicles will make you think twice before you pick up your phone [in the car],” says Johan Karlson, brand manager at Volkswagen Stockholm. Well, maybe, or maybe not, but it’s the thought that counts: The new cases and accompanying PR campaign might help raise the public consciousness about a problem that’s still killing a lot of people. Volkswagen points out that you are 23 times more likely to crash if you’re texting while driving. 

The automaker says it has produced 153 of the handmade cases–one for each serious accident that has occurred in Sweden since February 2018 when a new law against phoning and driving was in effect. Proceeds from the (online) sale of the cases will be donated to Swedish “Trafikskadefonden,” an org that helps rehabilitate people who’ve been in traffic accidents. The cases cost 599 Swedish crowns (about $70 U.S.).

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