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Most mental health apps lack any scientific backing

Most mental health apps lack any scientific backing
[Photo: Christian Gertenbach/Unsplash; denamazanik/iStock]

Apps and AI-enabled digital tools were hailed as the long-sought solution to the mental health crisis, but how do they actually measure up?

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A new study published in Nature Digital Medicine argues that modern tech alternatives might be overplaying their efficacy to consumers. In fact, most apps don’t have any scientific evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their promises.

Researchers identified 1,435 mental health apps in stores such as Google Play and iTunes. They then analyzed the claims on 73 mental health apps related to depression, self-harm, substance use, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Of those, 64% claimed effectiveness at diagnosing a mental health condition or improving symptoms or self-management. In 44% of cases, scientific language was most frequently used to support claims.

However, only 14% of the apps described a design or development involving real-world experience, and no apps referenced certification or accreditation processes. Just two apps offered “low-quality, primary evidence” from a study using the actual app. And only one app actually included a citation to published literature.

“Scientific language was the most frequently invoked form of support for use of mental health apps; however, high-quality evidence is not commonly described,” states the study. The researchers note that while there are plenty of reviews attesting to consumer mobile health apps’ success in helping individuals, the majority are simply not evidence-based and can, in fact, “contain harmful content.”

An unregulated industry

Silicon Valley has increasingly invested in mental health solutions over the past few years. The sector is flush with chatbots, AI-enhanced monitors, and even “robots” that aim to help people with a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They now even live in your Facebook messenger.

But as Fast Company has reported, there is concern that for all the supposed benefits of mental health and counseling bots, there has been little to no regulation. Currently, the FDA does not monitor their claims or results as they do with, say, medical devices.

Meanwhile, critics claim the field requires far more psychological research. Others wonder if apps are a poor replacement for human communication and face-to-face counseling, which is generally a more superior form of treatment.

As with many digital healthcare interventions, health apps raise privacy concerns, too. A study published last week in The BMJ found that 19 out of 24 popular medicine-related Android apps shared user data to third and potentially fourth parties, including medical conditions and even whether a user is a smoker or pregnant.


Related: Can talking to a bot help you feel better?


Supporters say new technology offers a more affordable option to those who can’t afford–or access– mental health professionals. Some companies such as Woebot see it as aiding mental health treatment, though not necessarily serving as a medical replacement.

Mental health certainly needs the sector’s support. There is still only one mental health professional per 1,000 individuals, reports the National Mental Health Association. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 Americans—43.8 million adults—experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance On Mental Health. However, only 41% ever receive mental health services or treatment. Of those struggling with a serious mental illness, 62.9% receive proper care.

It’s a costly issue: It’s estimated the country spends $2 billion a year on mental health treatment alone.

Still, some wonder, can an app ever really replace a human professional? The medical community is still largely apprehensive. Just as some patients are allergic or respond poorly to certain medications, healthcare experts are concerned that without enough data, we don’t know how certain individuals will respond to robotic therapy.

“The idea behind it certainly makes sense, but human behavior, human emotion, and people are complex,” Dr. John Torous, co-director of the Digital Psychiatry Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, previously told Fast Company. “How much can these conversational agents really understand? What can they really respond to? When do they work well, and when do they not work well?”

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  • 4:59 pm

Google wants to turn your emails into mini apps

Google wants to turn your emails into mini apps
[Animation: courtesy of Google]

Google is moving ahead with a plan to add interactive elements to email messages. The company’s new “AMP for Email” spec allows for things like buttons, check boxes, and image carousels within the message window. Pinterest, for instance, will let users browse and save ideas, while Doodle will let people vote on potential meeting times. AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is currently supported in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, and Mail.Ru, and it’s open to other email providers that want to add support.

The dynamic emails will begin rolling out to Gmail users on the web today, the company said, with mobile support coming soon.

One example of AMP for Email

Some of the new interactivity sounds pretty useful, but it’s not without downsides. As TechCrunch‘s Devin Coldewey wrote when Google first announced AMP for Email last year, the spec gives Google additional power over what has long been a reliable, interoperable standard, and become a new vector through which Google and advertisers can deliver more personalized ads and trackers.

AMP helps websites load faster, but it’s been controversial among some publishers who have wondered about its utility and cast it as a self-serving effort to extend the tech giant’s reach across the web. With AMP for Email, Google’s tentacles will reach even further.

It’s worth noting that in order to ensure security, any company wishing to generate dynamic emails must seek Google’s approval first. Whitelisting makes sense from a security perspective, but it also underscores the power grab at play here.

When the same interactivity is otherwise just a click away on the web, some users might wonder if the convenience of AMP for email will be worth the cost.

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  • 4:54 pm

The iPhone should be banned from sale in U.S., says trade judge

The iPhone should be banned from sale in U.S., says trade judge
[Photo: Mark Solarski/Unsplash]

An International Trade Commission (ITC) judge said Tuesday that Apple infringed on one of Qualcomm’s patents in the iPhone, and recommended that the phones be banned from sale in the United States.

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The patent in question covers power management in computing devices. Administrative law judge MaryJoan McNamara also said that Apple did not infringe on several other Qualcomm patents, ruling that other Qualcomm claims were invalid.

But that one infringement could have serious consequences: “I will be recommending that a limited exclusion order together with a cease and desist order, both with certification provisions, be issued against Apple,” the judge wrote in the preliminary ruling.

McNamara’s final recommendation in the matter will go before a panel of judges next. Ultimately the White House may be asked to consider the matter of a U.S. ban.

Another ITC judge in September found that Apple had infringed the Qualcomm patent but recommended against an iPhone ban, saying it went against the “statutory public interest.”

Courts in China and Germany have also found Apple guilty of infringing Qualcomm patents and recommended importation and sales of iPhones be stopped in those countries.

Qualcomm’s and Apple’s patent squabble started in 2017 when Apple sued the chip maker, claiming unfair patent licensing fees. Then Apple began asking its suppliers to stop paying royalties on Qualcomm patents. Qualcomm has long based its royalty rates on the entire value of the device using the technology. Apple says much of the iPhone’s value has nothing to do with Qualcomm’s technology.

Qualcomm’s patents cover a number of core technologies used in modern smartphones, most importantly related to network connectivity. A Qualcomm executive once remarked: “Without Qualcomm the iPhone is just an iPod.” A spokesperson for Apple did not return a request for comment.

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  • 4:07 pm

I can’t stop watching Pope Francis try to keep people from kissing his ring

I can’t stop watching Pope Francis try to keep people from kissing his ring

Because we’re not halfway through the week yet, I thought I’d give you all a gift. Here it is:

Here is a video of dozens of people walking up to Pope Francis and trying to kiss his ring. This, for some reason, is not something the pope wants to happen. And so the holy leader spends the whole time jerking back his hand, turning away, and other bizarre motions, while the people still try to bow down and kiss the piece of jewelry. The pope, as it turns out, is a master at greeting people and then artfully withdrawing his hand while they try to smooch his beloved digits.

The video is, in a word, entrancing. It’s like watching Steve Martin during ’70s era Saturday Night Live play a jerky germophobe priest. The holy leader had a vacant smile that’s overlaid with pure unadulterated annoyance. The people want to kiss his ring; he does not want the people to kiss his ring. And yet they still try. Alas, the life of a pope! Hilarity ensues.

So what exactly is going on here? It could be that he’s decided forgo one of the papal traditions–which is something he has done in the past. Or perhaps, he just wants the line of people to move more quickly (which is what the BBC thinks is going on). My own theory is that he just doesn’t want any more germs touching his ring. (Okay, that’s actually not my theory, but it did cross my mind.)


Related: The Pope’s guards are 3D printing their helmets now


Whatever the truth, the video will forever play in my head. Whenever his holy name is mentioned from now on, I will never not be able to associate it with his exasperated eyes and his quick, ringed hand. Thank you, Pope Francis, for this small blessing.

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  • 3:35 pm

McDonald’s is spending $300 million to be more like Amazon

McDonald’s is spending $300 million to be more like Amazon
[Photo: courtesy of McDonald’s]

Your Big Mac is about to get served with a side of artificial intelligence. McDonald’s has announced plans to serve itself a happy meal in the form of its acquisition of Dynamic Yield, an artificial intelligence company based in New York and Tel Aviv, for $300 million.

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The company’s artificial intelligence insights will let the fast food giant data determine which of its items are most popular with consumers, and allow it to offer a more “personal, customized” experience, it said. The burger-pushing franchise says it will use the technology to provide an “even more personalized customer experience” to drive-thru customers based on data points like “time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items.”

That means that if everyone around you is eating their Mueller report-fueled feelings in the form of chicken nuggets, Egg McMuffins, and shamrock shakes, the AI can pick up on the trend and suggest it to whoever is next in the drive thru. It also means that your fast food experience will start to look a lot more like a trip to Amazon or other digital retailers, which have long used personal data and algorithms to make shopping recommendations.

The purchase, which is yet to be completed, will be the largest McDonald’s deal since 1998, when it became an investor in Chipotle Mexican Grill. It fully divested its stake in the burrito chain by 2006.

As Wired notes, AI isn’t entirely new territory for McDonald’s, which started testing this technology in several U.S. restaurants in 2018 and will continue to roll it out through 2019. Plus, Mickey D’s already uses geofencing around its stores to know when one of the users of its mobile apps is approaching the restaurant so they can get their Filet-O-Fish out of the deep freeze and have it ready when they roll up.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook told Wired that the company has big plans for big data and smart tech, and could potentially use wireless beacons to detect your smartphone–or even cameras to scan your car’s license plate–in order to make more personalized menu suggestions.

While the eyebrows of privacy advocates may have creeped up into their hairline while reading about the company’s plans, many customers would probably be okay with all the data gathering if it could tell them which McDonald’s had a functioning ice cream machine.

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  • 2:15 pm

United Airlines accuses its own flight attendants of an elaborate scam

United Airlines accuses its own flight attendants of an elaborate scam
[Photo: Pascal Renet/Pexels]

In any career, there are good tasks and less good tasks. For example, some reporters get to talk to Rami Malek, while others get to write about the glamorous world of *checks notes* pharmaceutical bankruptcy. The same is true for flight attendants. There are the good routes like international trips to Singapore or Sydney, where passengers just watch movies until they pass out, and less good routes, like high-turnover, high-volume, short-hop trips where everyone is tired, demanding, and cranky.

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Flight attendants work hard to get assigned to the good routes, and those routes are usually given to those with seniority through a bidding process. The routes are so desirable that some flight attendants are willing to even pay to get assigned to them.

United Airlines recently issued a stern internal memo chiding flight attendants for a black market in which flight attendants serve as brokers, selling access to some of the better routes, the Chicago Business Journal reports.

While flight attendants can swap flights with each other to ensure coverage, selling routes is not allowed, and the fact that senior flight attendants were reportedly preying on newer employees makes the practice even more unsavory. Not only did flight attendants come forward to complain, but after investigating, the airline reportedly searched social media and unearthed an elaborate system of code words to further the kickback scheme. Now United is threatening to fire flight attendants accused of the practice.

“We have zero tolerance for this prohibited behavior,” P. Douglas McKeen, senior vice president for labor relations, wrote in an internal memo, according to Skift. “When we discover that it’s occurring, we will fully investigate and take appropriate action, up to and including discharge.” In a rare move, the flight attendants’ union agrees with corporate. In their own memo, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) said frustrated flight attendants have come forward to complain about the “egregious activity” of “illicit trip brokering,” and said they will not protect members who defraud other flight attendants.

In a separate case, more than 35 United employees were fired earlier this month after the airline discovered they were abusing employee travel perks by selling travel passes, which are intended for employees and their friends and family.


Related: United Airlines in damage control after revealing Apple spends $150 million on its flights every year


Illicit trip brokering isn’t limited to United. American Airlines rolled out new software last year to actively monitor its own internal flight bidding and trading systems after some senior flight attendants were found to be selling prime international flight assignments to junior flight attendants. The going price for trips varied depending on a trip’s desirability, the Business Journal reported at the time, but the average price hovered at around $200.

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  • 11:23 am

The Trump administration is going to court to scrap Obamacare entirely

The Trump administration is going to court to scrap Obamacare entirely
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

The Trump administration is going to court to fight to dismantle the Affordable Care Act entirely.

In a filing with a federal appeals court, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department said it agreed with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that invalidated the Obama-era healthcare law. Previously, the administration said it only wanted to throw out the law’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, but that the rest of the law could stay. That appears to have changed.

As the New York Times reports, the administration sent a letter to the court on Monday that makes it clear Trump wants to have the law thrown out. It’s a dramatic shift from what was promised in the lead-up to the midterm elections, when Trump and the administration repeatedly pledged to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions that make it hard or overwhelmingly expensive to get adequate healthcare coverage.

While most people agree that so-called Obamacare has some problems, overturning the law would have far-reaching consequences–including potentially interrupting coverage for those who buy their health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges, as well as making healthcare financially impossible for millions of people.

What’s more, the ACA helps senior citizens afford prescriptions, gives many Americans access to free healthcare services like cholesterol tests and mammograms, and allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26. If the Trump administration successfully dismantles the law, millions of lives could be at risk; people will likely have to increasingly turn to platforms like GoFundMe to afford medical necessities like insulin.

“This lawsuit . . . threatens the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans across the country, from California to Kentucky and all the way to Maine,” said California attorney general Xavier Becerra, who has led the fight to preserve the law. “For the last nine years, [the ACA] has ensured that seniors, young adults, women, children, and working families have access to high-quality affordable care. It has prevented insurance companies from discriminating against 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. Because no American should fear losing healthcare, we will defend the ACA every step of the way.”

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  • 10:50 am

WeWork reported nearly $2 billion in losses in 2018

WeWork reported nearly $2 billion in losses in 2018
[Photo: Eugene Kim/Wikimedia Commons]

In its latest earnings release, The We Company revealed it took $2 billion in losses last year. Revenues grew from $886 million in 2017 to $1.8 billion in 2018. The company also has $6.6 billion in cash.

Since launching eight years ago, the We Company has garnered 400,000 members in 100 cities across 27 countries. It’s is eager to show that it’s capable of shifting its business model away from rent arbitrage and towards higher margin products like office refurbishing and operation, which could be more resistant to market downturns. For the time being, membership to its coworking spaces is still generating the greatest revenue: $1.6 billion in revenue for 2018. A growing portion of revenues is coming from services: $84 million compared with $44.3 million in 2017. Its “other revenue” category, defined as “revenue associated with We Company Ventures businesses, which include PxWe, Meetup, Flatiron, Conductor, Creator Awards, and Strategic Events,” jumped from $19.6 million in 2017 to $128 million in 2018. And enterprise related revenues now comprise 32% of the company’s business.

International growth is also picking up. In Q4, international customers supplied 43% of revenues compared with 34% in Q4 2017. While new business seems to be moving along, 93% of revenues still come from membership. And, as the Wall Street Journal points out, WeWork’s occupancy rates have dropped:

WeWork said its occupancy rate at the end of last year fell to about 80% from 84% in the third quarter, while another metric watched closely by WeWork–the average revenue each member creates per year–continued a gradual fall to $6,360. It is now down 13.5% from the start of 2016.

The We Company also suffered a small set back earlier this year when Softbank backed out of a funding deal for as much as $20 billion. The two instead struck a deal for $2 billion at a $47 billion valuation. But some have been left wondering whether the incident indicates a dwindling interest in WeWork.

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  • 10:35 am

These are the best and worst airports for business travelers

These are the best and worst airports for business travelers
[Photo: Keith Chan/Unsplash]

Business travelers may want to route their flights through Atlanta. A new survey of the U.S.’s highest volume airports lists Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the top spot for road warriors. While the survey gives the number one spot to ATL–due to its impressive scheduling (82% of departures and 85% of arrivals were on time in 2018)–it’s undoubtedly the chance to test out Delta’s biometric terminal, as well as eat at One Flew South and pick up a fried pie at The Varsity outpost, that put it over the top.

The ranking, which comes from online loan marketplace Fundera, used various data points to rank 46 airports culled from those with the highest volumes of traffic, as determined by the Federal Aviation Administration–plus airports in Alaska and Hawaii. The ranking was based on several weighted factors, including flight delays/cancellations, flight traffic, airport lounges with Wi-Fi, proximity to downtown, parking rates, and average hotel rates.

Rounding out the survey’s top five best airports for business travelers were those in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, and, shockingly, LAX, an airport even Uber drivers recommend avoiding.

What airport should travelers avoid if they want to stay on schedule? Memphis International Airport, which came dead last in the survey. This poor showing was due in part to the fact that the Memphis airport is home to FedEx’s shipping hub; a number of FedEx planes share the runway, making it reportedly difficult for business travelers to snag direct flights from MEM. To make matters worse: There’s only one lounge with Wi-Fi in the entire airport, a productivity killer for anyone trying to get a little work done while waiting for their flight. Other airports to avoid include those in Anchorage, Albuquerque, Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, and Palm Beach International.

Updated to add that Memphis airport strongly disagrees with Fundera’s ranking. A spokesperson for the airport noted that “FedEx in no way inhibits passenger airline operations” and they “have free wifi throughout the airport” in addition to the Wi-Fi in the lounge.

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  • 9:51 am

World’s first all-female spacewalk canceled due to lack of spacesuits for women

World’s first all-female spacewalk canceled due to lack of spacesuits for women
NASA astronaut Anne McClain works on the International Space Station’s Port-4 truss structure during a six-hour, 39-minute spacewalk to upgrade the orbital complex’s power storage capacity. [Photo: courtesy of NASA]

Female astronauts were set to break a glass ceiling, but that particular final frontier was foiled by a fairly preventable problem–they didn’t bother bringing two space suits that fit female astronauts.

Earlier this month, NASA announced plans for the first all-female spacewalk. Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were originally scheduled for the trailblazing all-female mission outside the International Space Station, but now McClain will have to give up her place to a male colleague. Why? Because in all the careful planning and back-up planning and packing that goes into a space trip, NASA somehow overlooked the fact that they needed more than one spacesuit that would fit the women they have onboard. Mission managers have now “updated the assignments” for the spacewalk because they only have one medium-size spacesuit torso available on Friday, March 29, when the space walk is scheduled to take place.

“Anne trained in ‘M’ and ‘L’ and thought she could use a large but decided after [last] Friday’s spacewalk a medium fits better,” a NASA spokeswoman, Stephanie Schierholz, announced on Monday. “In this case, it’s easier (and faster!) to change space-walkers than reconfigure the spacesuit.” What should have been a giant leap for womankind is now nothing but further proof that sexism can space travel.

McClain is now “tentatively scheduled” to perform a spacewalk on April 8.

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  • 9:00 am

Hello Alfred’s personal assistants aren’t just for the wealthy anymore

Hello Alfred’s personal assistants aren’t just for the wealthy anymore
Marcela Sapone, CEO and cofounder of Hello Alfred. [Photo: US Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons]

Hello Alfred is the personal assistant you’ve perhaps dreamed of having. It provides someone who can pick up packages and groceries while you’re at work, someone who can tidy up your home when you’re too busy, etc. That luxury has largely been afforded to premium-priced high-rises in the 16 cities where Hello Alfred operates. With the launch of a new platform, its personal assistants are coming to a new income bracket.

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Residents at buildings that contract with Hello Alfred get a personal assistant as well as certain services for free: a “tidy up” (not a full house clean) as well as shopping (picking up groceries, dry cleaning, party supplies, etc.). Alfred will also coordinate other services for free, but the client will have to pay for the services it uses. CEO Marcela Sapone says her company negotiates discounted prices with vendors. For instance, in New York, cleaning a one-bedroom flat costs $110.

Its newest version of Hello Alfred, an offering called Powered By Alfred, is pared down for more midrange dwellings. Again, Sapone says her company negotiates individual deals with each building, but Powered By Alfred is a little more plug and play. It essentially gives a building a tech platform to handle maintenance requests, rent reminders, and a light human touch. For instance, an Alfred will help move a new tenant into a building and be there to receive deliveries, but anything else the tenant might want they’ll have to pay for à la carte. Where the full-service Alfred is like having a personal home manager who checks in regularly, residents using Powered By Alfred are communicating with their Alfred entirely via the app.

“It’s more of an Alfred in your pocket than an Alfred in your home,” says Sapone. “We have Alfreds who are available and can be sent to the building in one-off ways based off of what services you’re going to do.”

The launch puts Alfred into 150,000 residences. The expansion comes roughly nine months after Hello Alfred raised $40 million in funding and hired Uber’s former director of engineering, Chris Haseman, as its chief technology officer.

Hello Alfred started as a consumer app. In neighborhoods with enough demand, residents could download an app and hire an “Alfred” to perform a variety of tasks as well as coordinate the ones that were beyond their expertise. Alfreds can book dog walkers, personal trainers, home repair people—you name it. As it expanded, it started contracting with buildings rather than going neighborhood to neighborhood. In 2015, it struck a deal with Related Companies to provide Alfred services to a few of its buildings. Two years later, it expanded to all of the company’s buildings, catching a lot of attention in the real estate world.

The new platform comes as real estate developers are turning to technology and beefing up their services to better woo tenants. In recent years, upstarts like Airbnb have blended the division between home and hotel, forcing developers to expand their concept of amenities in an effort to figure out what tenants want.

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  • 7:28 am

Spotify adds to its podcasting portfolio by buying Parcast

Spotify adds to its podcasting portfolio by buying Parcast
[Photo: Devon Divine/Unsplash]

The music streaming giant has just announced it will snap up Parcast, a podcasting studio that focuses on creating stories about cults, true crimes, and unsolved mysteries. The L.A.-based Parcast was founded three years ago and produces podcasts including Serial KillersUnsolved Murders, and Female Criminals, reports the Hollywood Reporter. The studio’s first scripted series, Mind’s Eye, launched in December, and it currently has 20 new shows in development for this year.

While most people think of Spotify as a music streaming service, earlier this year the company showed it was embracing the world of podcasting in order to diversify its offerings. In February the company announced that it bought two of the largest podcasting producers in the world, Gimlet Media and Anchor. At the time, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said the acquisitions would allow the company “to become the leading platform for podcast creators around the world and the leading producer of podcasts.”

Clearly, with today’s announcement, Spotify doesn’t intend to slow down on those ambitions at all. It’s unknown how much Spotify will pay for Parcast, but the transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2019.

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  • 6:54 am

Read Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s email about the Careem acquisition

Read Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s email about the Careem acquisition
Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi [Photo: courtesy of Uber]

Yesterday it was rumored that Uber was about to scoop up its Middle Eastern ride-sharing rival, Careem, for a whopping $3.1 billion. Now Uber has officially confirmed those rumors were correct, and the two companies have reached a deal on the acquisition.

Careem was founded in 2012 and boasts 30 million users in 120 cities across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, reports CNBC. Uber’s acquisition of the service will give it a big leg up in cities from Dubai to Karachi, Pakistan. As part of the deal, Uber will pay $1.4 billion in cash, with the remaining $1.7 billion in convertible notes. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, however, so isn’t expected to officially close until early 2020.

Shortly before confirming the news publicly, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent out a companywide email, with the subject line “Accelerating in the Middle East,” confirming the news internally to Uber staff. You can read that email in full below:

Five years ago, Uber launched in the Middle East. It was the start of an incredible journey, with millions of riders and drivers finding new ways to move and work in a dynamic region that’s become so important to Uber. Now Pakistan is one of our fastest-growing markets in the world, women are driving with Uber across Saudi Arabia, and we chose Cairo to launch our first Uber Bus product late last year.

Today we are taking the next step in this journey—well, it’s more like a leap, and a big one: in a few minutes, we’ll announce that we’ve agreed to acquire Careem. Importantly, we intend to operate Careem independently, under the leadership of co-founder and current CEO Mudassir Sheikha. I’ve gotten to know both co-founders, Mudassir and Magnus Olsson, and what they have built is truly extraordinary. They are first-class entrepreneurs who share our platform vision and, like us, have launched a wide range of products—from digital payments to food delivery—to serve consumers.

I expect many of you will ask how we arrived at this structure, meaning allowing Careem to maintain an independent brand and operate separately. After careful consideration, we decided that this framework has the advantage of letting us build new products and try new ideas across not one, but two, strong brands, with strong operators within each. Over time, by integrating parts of our networks, we can operate more efficiently, achieve even lower wait times, expand new products like high-capacity vehicles and payments, and quicken the already remarkable pace of innovation in the region.

This acquisition is subject to regulatory approval in various countries, which we don’t expect before Q1 2020. Until then, nothing changes. And since both companies will continue to largely operate separately after the acquisition, very little will change in either teams’ day-to-day operations post-close.

Today’s news is a testament to the incredible business our team has worked so hard to build. It’s a great day for the Middle East, for the region’s thriving tech sector, for Careem, and for Uber.

Uber on, 
Dara

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White House sends note to TV producers: Don’t book these collusion accusers

White House sends note to TV producers: Don’t book these collusion accusers
[Photo: Flickr user The White House]

The Trump administration is reveling in its recent victory, but it isn’t about to forgive and forget just yet.

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On Monday, the White House reportedly sent a memo to TV producers noting guests who preemptively implicated Trump in collusion, followed by a plea to boycott future bookings.

In a memo titled, “Credibility of Guests,” Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for President Donald Trump, listed six notable individuals who made “outlandish, false claims.” This includes Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who stated during an MSNBC appearance, “The evidence is pretty clear there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CT), DNC Chairman Don Perez, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and former CIA Director John Brennan also made the cut.

The memo asked bookers to challenge these guests–and others proven wrong by Mueller’s report–to provide evidence that prompted such “wild claims in the first place.” Murtaugh then stated that the public has been bombarded with these false accusations for two years, and that “there must be introspection from the media who facilitated the reckless statements and a serious evaluation of how such guests are considered and handled in the future.”

Swalwell responded to the memo on Twitter, doubling down on his claim that Trump was lying about his involvement with Russia.

Many have criticized the mainstream media’s fixation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia collusion investigation. It ultimately did not find enough evidence to bring charges against the president. Murtaugh’s recent play, however, did not land well on social media, where journalists lambasted the White House for overstepping its boundaries.

The memo comes right after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lamented the media’s lack of accountability on Monday morning. “They literally accused the president of the United States of being an agent for a foreign government,” Sanders said in a TV interview. “That’s equivalent to treason.”

Sanders’s statements echoed those of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who called for Schiff to resign. During an appearance on Fox & Friends, Conway said, “[Schiff] has no right as somebody who has been peddling a lie day after day after day unchallenged. Unchallenged and not under oath. Somebody should have put him under oath and said, ‘You have evidence–where is it?'”

Fast Company reached out to the White House for a statement, but has yet to hear back.

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Don’t cry, but milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion last year

Don’t cry, but milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion last year
[Photo: Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay]

Our obsession with milk alternatives–nut, soy, oat, rice, etc.–is taking a toll on the real thing.

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The Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) announced that traditional milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion in 2018. Last year’s net sales totaled $13.6 billion, compared to $14.7 billion in 2017.

The cooperative’s president and chief executive officer Rick Smith noted it has been a “challenging” year for the American dairy farmer community. While the organization partially blames low milk prices, industry insiders point to another culprit: increased consumer interest in plant-based substitutes.

The market for plant-based foods and beverages has grown at a dizzying pace. The global dairy alternatives market size was estimated at $11.9 billion in 2017, and analysts believe the market will exceed $34 billion by 2024. Returns on soy, rice, and almond milk are roughly 6% higher than those on traditional milk products..

The booming sector inspired a host of food startups capitalizing on consumers’ desires for healthier, eco-friendly purchases. Nut milk maker Califia Farms, for example, secured over $115 million in funding and plans to build out its plant-based product lines. Then there’s Oatly, the beloved oat milk brand that couldn’t keep up with public demand.

In the retailer space, Whole Foods recently launched make-your-own almond milk machines in select locations.

The changing dairy landscape inspired some traditional brands to innovate, while others attempt to prevent plant-based beverages from using the word “milk.” It’s an ongoing battle as farms claim newcomers hijack their marketing language and confuse shoppers.

Non-dairy manufacturers have yet to comply. Molly Spence, a spokesperson for the Almond Board of California, previously told Fast Company, “To us, this attempt to legislate the word ‘milk’ as dairy-only comes a little late, and doesn’t make sense considering plant-based milks have been around not only for several years but for centuries.”

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The new Apple credit card will be able to read your cryptic receipts

The new Apple credit card will be able to read your cryptic receipts
[Screenshot: Apple]

Apple is doing its own take on the credit card, announcing a new card called Apple Card that is deeply integrated into its Apple Pay mobile payments app.

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The company said it’s learned a lot about credit cards since it has been offering the Apple Pay mobile payments app. It saw the need for a card with simpler application process, no fees, lower interest rates, clearer rewards programs, and strong privacy and security.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
The card includes a “Daily Cash” feature that gives the card user a reward of 2% for each purchase using the card wirelessly through Apple Pay. For direct-from-Apple purchases, the card offers 3% of the purchase price. The rewards go into a cash card that lives in the Wallet app on iOS devices.

The card is the result of partnership with Goldman Sachs and Mastercard. Apple says its partners will never share the card holder’s personal information with third parties.

For places that don’t yet accept Apple Pay, Apple is providing a physical credit card. The card is made of titanium and contains no card number, no security code, and no owner signature. The card holder gets a 1% reward for purchases made with the physical card.

Apple says Apple Card will have no late fees, no international fees, and no missed payment penalties.

The card includes a feature that makes sense of cryptic receipts using machine learning. It also provides analytics on purchases, like a neat bar graph showing spending habits.

Apple Card will be available this summer.

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Apple Arcade is a subscription service for paid games

Apple Arcade is a subscription service for paid games
[Screenshot: Apple]

Apple is working on an all-you-can-play game subscription service called Apple Arcade, which will offer more than 100 games–either new or exclusive to Apple on mobile–across iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and Mac. The service will launch this fall in more than 150 countries and regions, though Apple didn’t announce pricing.

Apple is pitching the service as an antidote to the free-to-play mechanics that have taken over App Store gaming. While Bloomberg has reported that Apple will pay developers based on play time, the company says it’s also backing the development of Apple Arcade games. Some of the titles Apple showed off include the coming-of-age puzzler Where Cards Fall and the survival strategy game Overland.

Although the service will launch with more than 100 games, Apple says it will add more over time. The company also made sure to mention that it won’t track players’ behavior without permission, and–in a nod to Google’s upcoming Stadia game streaming service–that its games won’t require an internet connection to play.

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Apple unveils “Apple News+” news and magazine subscription service

Apple unveils “Apple News+” news and magazine subscription service
[Screenshot: Apple]

Apple says its News app is already the category leader in the App Store, and today it announced a new subscription service called “News+” that includes 300 magazines, as well as the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
Notably missing from the service, however, are the New York Times, and the Washington Post. However, one analyst told me that there’s a good chance those publications will be added later.

The magazine section of the News+ service goes heavy on the art and photography. In the app, a Today tab contains curated recommendations for magazines and articles. The News+ contains a broader look at all the magazines available.

A Following tabs contains the user’s favorite magazines, and recent content from those titles. The magazine articles feature prominent cover art, with the full table of contents underneath.

The News+ subscription is available today inside the regular Apple News app via an update to the app. (Fast Company is one of the offerings in the Apple News newsstand.)

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Supreme Court rejects Amazon’s Zappos on data breach lawsuit

Supreme Court rejects Amazon’s Zappos on data breach lawsuit
[Photo: OhBillyBoy/Pixabay]

In 2012, 24 million Zappos customers found out that hackers had accessed their personal information. Since then, customers have fought to sue Zappos, Amazon’s online shoe retailer, over the data breach. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal, meaning they can move forward with a class-action lawsuit against the company for the breach that left them vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

Zappos was trying to appeal a ruling by a San Francisco-based appeals court that allowed the case to continue, even though there was little evidence of actual harm to consumers. As the Hill notes, in its appeal to the Supreme Court, Zappos argued that “a database holding customers’ personal information is accessed, but virtually no identity theft or fraud results–is an increasingly common one.” That said, even Zappos admitted that “around two dozen consumers said their data was misused following the breach.” Consumer advocates argue that due to the nature of the data accessed in such breaches, they are at risk of facing harm in the form of identity theft or fraud at any time, even years later, and long before the fraud is discovered.

The high court’s decision is a victory for consumers who had their personal data exposed on the site, but could be a cause for alarm to other companies that have been breached, including Equifax, Marriott, and Google.

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Hilton sets a goal to recycle one million bars of soap by Global Handwashing Day

Hilton sets a goal to recycle one million bars of soap by Global Handwashing Day
[Photo: courtesy of Hilton]

Hilton is cleaning up its act. The hotel group’s brands, including Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, and All Suites, are partnering with Clean the World to launch the Clean the World Challenge and recycle one million bars of soap before Global Handwashing Day on October 15.

If you have ever wondered what happened to those ridiculously small bars of soap that hotels use in their bathrooms, some end up with Clean the World, a nonprofit organization that works with hotels to recycle their toiletries, reducing waste and getting much-needed handwashing supplies to people around the world. While soap is given away for free in hotels around the world, it is a lifesaving tool in much of the world where the simple act of handwashing can save the lives of children.

To reach their goal, Hilton hotel employees will collect the soap left over by guests and ship it to Clean the World where the used bars are crushed, sanitized, and cut into new soap bars. They aim to collect enough bars of soap to create one million bars of new soap to help save the lives of children in communities in need.

While the goal is new, the partnership is not. Since Clean the World was founded in 2009, Hilton brands have collected more than 7.6 million bars of recycled soap, resulting in more than 2  million pounds of soap for use in handwashing–helping prevent diseases and reducing mortality rates around the world. As part of its goal to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030, Hilton has committed to send zero soap to landfill.

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