This powerful off-the-shelf phone-hacking tool is spreading

This powerful off-the-shelf phone-hacking tool is spreading
With a single text message, NSO Group’s “lawful intercept” tool Pegasus can hack into most smartphones. [Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash]

Researchers at internet watchdog Citizen Lab have found that a sophisticated piece of spyware designed to break into most commercially available smartphones is now in use in 45 countries. Pegasus, designed by Israeli security firm NSO Group, has been pitched as a so-called “lawful intercept” tool for governments with highly questionable human rights records like Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.


Now, says Citizen Lab, it’s infecting smartphones in countries like the U.S., Canada, and France.

Pegasus, which is considered the most sophisticated commercial spyware to be made public, has for several years been implicated in efforts to surveil activists, journalists, and lawyers in Mexico, Panama, and many countries. Last year, Citizen Lab senior researcher John Scott-Railton told Fast Company that once downloaded onto a phone (via a website link in a text message or email), the software can do anything that users can do, including read text messages, turn on the camera and microphone, add and remove files, and manipulate data.

Citizen Lab tracked suspected Pegasus infections in 45 countries [see a larger version]

According to a 2016 price list, NSO charges customers $650,000 to hack 10 devices, on top of a $500,000 installation fee.

Coming only a few months after Pegasus was named in an attempt to hack an Amnesty International staffer’s phone, and weeks after the New York Times reported that NSO Group was hacking journalists to impress clients, Citizen Lab’s new report describes a broader reach than previously thought.

Over the last two years, Toronto-based Citizen Lab scanned the internet for servers associated with Pegasus. They found 1,091 IP addresses that matched, and 1,014 domain names that pointed to the company. To do this, the group’s researchers developed and used a new technique that clusters some of their matches into 36 distinct Pegasus systems. Each Pegasus system appears to be run by a distinct operator.

Through a process they describe in their report, Citizen Lab then generated a list of countries with possible infections associated with each operator, after assessing whether there were political themes in the domains registered to each IP address used by the operator.

“Factors such as the use of VPNs [to shield actual IP addresses] and satellite internet connections may skew our geolocation results,” Citizen Lab writes in the report. “Thus, the country mapping should serve as a guide for further investigation, rather than ironclad evidence of monitoring.”

Citizen Lab also noted that DNS servers could defeat Citizen Lab’s filtering techniques and introduce false positives, but that they worked to reduce the false positive rate to zero before scanning for Pegasus servers. The watchdog group cautioned that they were “not sure what percentage of DNS queries are observable” by their method, while also noting that “the percentage could vary greatly across different countries and ISPs.” Which means, there could be even more Pegasus servers that haven’t yet been identified.

SMS text messages received by UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor (English: “New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons”). The sender’s phone numbers are spoofed. [Photo: Mansoor / Citizen Lab]

NSO claims report has “problems”

Despite Citizen Lab’s persistent research, NSO Group appears to operate as though it is business as usual. Given the chance to respond to Citizen Lab’s report prior to its release, NSO Group cofounder Shalev Hulio insisted Pegasus is “licensed to government and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror,” and that the business complies with “applicable export control laws.”

On Tuesday, the Herzliya, Israel-based company issued another statement, citing “multiple problems” with Citizen Lab’s report. “Most significantly, the list of countries in which NSO is alleged to sell or where our customers presumably operate the products is simply inaccurate. NSO does not sell its products in many of the countries listed. The product is only licensed to operate in countries approved under our Business Ethics Framework, and the product will not operate outside of approved countries. As an example, the product is specifically designed to not operate in the U.S.”

Citizen Lab disputed that account. “Citizen Lab research does not speak to what statements NSO may make during marketing, sales, or export compliance,” the watchdog group responded. “However, our research continues to demonstrate some highly concerning real-world examples of the abuse of NSO Group technology in practice. These uses have included apparent government customers of NSO Group abusing Pegasus spyware to target civil society groups, human rights defenders, lawyers, politicians, and journalists.”

“While some NSO customers may be using Pegasus spyware as part of ‘lawful’ criminal or national security investigations investigations, at least six countries with significant Pegasus operations have a public history of abusing spyware to target civil society,” Citizen Lab noted.

As for NSO’s assertion that the spyware is not designed to operate in the U.S., Citizen Lab noted that cross-border targeting with Pegasus is “relatively common.”

“We have identified several possible Pegasus customers not linked to the United States, but with infections in U.S. IP space,” Citizen Lab reports. “While some of these infections may reflect usage of out-of-country VPN or satellite Internet service by targets, it is possible that several countries may be actively violating United States law by penetrating devices located within the U.S.”

Also notable is that at least one Pegasus deployment in the United Arab Emirates remains operational. UAE-based human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was targeted by Pegasus before contacting Citizen Lab in 2016, which made him the focus of their report, “The Million Dollar Dissident,” a reference to the reported cost of the spyware’s installation.

Last year, Mansoor was detained by authorities on charges of “cybercrimes” and using social media to “publish false information that harm national unity and damage the country’s reputation,” and “portray[ing] the UAE as a lawless land.” In May he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Last year, the Blackstone Group was reportedly in talks to buy NSO in a deal that would have valued the firm at as much as $1 billion. Findings by Citizen Lab were said to have helped end those talks. In July, another attempt by NSO Group to sell the company was scuttled when the firm’s negotiations with Verint Systems, a New York-based security and surveillance company, fell apart. Francisco Partners, the San Francisco private equity firm that retains a 60% stake in NSO Group, supported the deal.

Last year it was revealed that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, was paid about $140,000 to advise Francisco Partners in 2016 during his tenure at the Trump campaign. As part of his consulting work, Flynn, who pled guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian government, was also appointed to the advisory board of OSY Technologies, an NSO Group offshoot based in Luxembourg.


Would you let your kid play with an Alexa-powered rubber ducky?

Would you let your kid play with an Alexa-powered rubber ducky?
[Photo: JOSHUA COLEMAN/Unsplash]

Next time you sing “Rubber Ducky” in the bathtub, it might be able to sing back.

Amazon is now partnering with toymakers such as Hasbro and Tomy International on building Alexa voice interactions into their products. The idea is to have toys that can respond to voice commands with sounds, lights, or movements. And we weren’t kidding about the rubber ducky: One company by the name of BabyPlus is working on a “Smart Duck.”

This is all part of a broader initiative called Alexa Gadgets, which gives Amazon’s voice assistant deeper ties to real-world objects. For instance, users might be able to set a medication reminder with Alexa and have it trigger lights and sounds on a nearby pill box. Amazon is now opening up some developer tools for creating these Gadgets, and a kid-specific version is coming later this year.

Mixing children’s toys and internet features hasn’t always gone well, though. Last year, researchers discovered a vulnerability in Spiral Toys’ CloudPets that allowed easy access to more than 2 million private voice messages. In 2015, Mattel and voice software maker ToyTalk had to patch an internet-connected Barbie doll after researchers discovered a way to access recordings of children. A breach of toy maker VTech that same year exposed children’s photos and chat logs.

While Amazon arguably has stronger security chops than your average toymaker, the company still stores voice recordings in the cloud, even for the Kids’ Edition of its Echo Dot speaker. And while Amazon says it doesn’t serve interest-based ads when Alexa’s being used on a child profile, it’s unclear if the same policies will apply to Alexa Gadgets for Kids, and what other data toymakers might get to access.

We’ve reached out to Amazon for clarification and will update if we hear back.


YouTube’s right-wing influencers are more organized than you think

YouTube’s right-wing influencers are more organized than you think
[Photos: Scott Webb/Unsplash; StockSnap/Pixabay]

YouTube is home to a right-wing “alternative influence network” that can drive viewers to extremist positions on race, gender, and other topics, according to a new report from the Data & Society Research Institute.


Network members, who range from libertarians to overt white nationalists, appear on each other’s channels and promote one another in a way that can expose YouTube’s youthful viewers to increasingly right-wing positions, writes Data & Society researcher Rebecca Lewis.

[Image: courtesy of Data & Society]
“By connecting to and interacting with one another through YouTube videos, influencers with mainstream audiences lend their credibility to openly white nationalist and other extremist content creators,” she writes. On YouTube, she writes, “Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”

Many members of the network promote themselves as part of a countercultural movement that rejects liberal and progressive ideas. Like many other online broadcasters, they generally push personal authenticity and relatability rather than traditional media-style objectivity, and invite reactions and participation from viewers, according to the report. The broadcasters’ countercultural image conflicts with their conservative approach, Lewis argues.

“Indeed, the entire countercultural positioning is misleading: These influencers are adopting identity signals affiliated with previous countercultures, but the actual content of their arguments seeks to reinforce dominant cultural racial and gendered hierarchies,” writes Lewis. “Their reactionary politics and connections to traditional modes of power show that what they are most often fighting for is actually the status quo—a return to traditional gender and racial norms, or a belief in the individual over an understanding of group oppression.”

Many of the conservative YouTubers are adept at search engine optimization, including using traditionally progressive terms like “intersectionality” to reach a wide range of viewers. YouTube’s popularity metrics can also reward broadcasters with more viewers and income when they promote more extremist ideas, according to the report.

“For many of the political influencers in the AIN, the more extremist content they make, the more of an extremist and dedicated audience they build,” she writes. “Such audiences can, in turn, drive political influencers to deliver ever more extreme content.”

The video site’s recommendation system has also been widely criticized recently for driving viewers to more extremist political content.

In a statement to Fast Company, a YouTube spokesperson said the service has taken steps to root out hate speech:

YouTube is an open platform where anyone can choose to post videos to a global audience, subject to our Community Guidelines, which we enforce rigorously. Additionally, we’ve made updates over the past year to tighten our monetization policies and improve our enforcement against hate speech. Since this research concluded in April 2018, we’ve made more updates to which channels have access to monetization features and deployed advanced machine learning technology to tackle more hate speech in comment features. We continue to expand this work and appreciate input from all researchers.


More Elon Musk Twitter fallout: Tesla stock sinks on DOJ reports

More Elon Musk Twitter fallout: Tesla stock sinks on DOJ reports
[Photo: Flickr user Jakob Härter]

What’s the opposite of a gift that keeps on giving?

More than a month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was considering taking the company private, the fallout continues. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is now investigating Musk’s statements, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. According to Bloomberg, the “criminal probe” is in its early stages in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of California.

Musk’s initial declaration of “funding secured” sent Tesla’s stock on an upswing, but some questioned whether it was an official statement about the company’s direction, or the random musing of a prolific tweeter. Plans to take Tesla private were later abandoned.

Shares of Tesla cratered today on news of the DOJ probe, falling almost 4% in midday trading. Reached for comment, a Tesla spokesperson offered the following statement:

Last month, following Elon’s announcement that he was considering taking the company private, Tesla received a voluntary request for documents from the DOJ and has been cooperative in responding to it. We have not received a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process. We respect the DOJ’s desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.


SeaWorld and its former CEO are still paying dearly for “Blackfish”

SeaWorld and its former CEO are still paying dearly for “Blackfish”
[Photo: Michael Lowin/Wikimedia Commons]

It’s hard to think of another instance where a single movie had more of an impact on a company’s reputation and market value than Blackfish had on SeaWorld. The 2013 documentary, which purported to reveal systemic mistreatment of orca whales at the resort, sparked a nationwide debate about the ethics of keeping the majestic animals in captivity.


After its release on CNN the following year, SeaWorld Entertainment’s stock plummeted, and that continued for years. It was only recently that the company has started to recover—shares have roughly doubled in the last six months.

That doesn’t mean that SeaWorld isn’t still paying a price. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said today that the company and its former CEO, James Atchison, have agreed to pay $5 million to settle charges that they misled investors about the impact the movie was having on its reputation and business.

The agreement stems from anti-fraud charges filed by the SEC in federal court in New York that allege that SeaWorld and Atchison made “untrue and misleading statements or omissions” in SEC filings, earnings releases, and statements to the press. The company’s former VP of communications has also agreed to settle a charge concerning his role in the alleged fraud.

“This case underscores the need for a company to provide investors with timely and accurate information that has an adverse impact on its business,” said Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, in a statement. “SeaWorld described its reputation as one of its ‘most important assets,’ but it failed to evaluate and disclose the adverse impact Blackfish had on its business in a timely manner.”

Atchison left SeaWorld in 2014. He and SeaWorld neither admitted to nor denied the SEC’s charges, but agreed to pay $1 million and $4 million, respectively.

A spokesperson for SeaWorld provided Fast Company with the following statement:

The company is pleased to have resolved this matter and to continue to focus on delivering superior guest experiences, world-class animal care, and rescuing animals in need. The company cooperated with the Commission throughout the process, and the Commission approved the settlement on September 18, 2018.


McDonald’s strikes: Workers in these 10 cities take a stand against harassment

McDonald’s strikes: Workers in these 10 cities take a stand against harassment
[Photo: Pexels/Pixabay]

McDonald’s workers across the country are taking a stand today against on-the-job harassment and sexual misconduct in a one-day strike that will include employees in the following cities:

  • Chicago
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Milwaukee
  • New Orleans
  • Orlando, Florida
  • San Francisco
  • St. Louis

Not all employees in the above cities will take part, however. Per the Associated Press, the strike action is meant to pressure the burger chain to improve its procedures for reporting harassment and better train its managers and employees. The strike is being organized in collaboration with members of the Fight for $15 fair-pay movement. The group called it the first-ever nationwide strike against sexual harassment by McDonald’s workers.

A McDonald’s spokesperson sent me the following statement:

“We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment. To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response including, RAINN, to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day.”


ACLU slaps Facebook with gender discrimination complaint over job ads

ACLU slaps Facebook with gender discrimination complaint over job ads
[Photos: pixel2013/Pixabay; Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

In late 2016, ProPublica found that Facebook’s advertising platform allowed employers to discriminate on the basis of race and exclude certain groups from seeing their ads. Facebook said it would take action, but a year later ProPublica tested the platform again and got the same results. Yet again, Facebook pledged to act within 90 days.

That period isn’t up yet. But in the meantime, the ACLU is slapping Facebook with a new complaint: The nonprofit is filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that Facebook’s ad platform permits gender discrimination. The charges–which were filed on behalf of two women and the Communications Workers of America, a labor union that represents 700,000 workers–also takes aim at 10 employers that have reportedly excluded women and non-binary applicants from seeing their job ads on Facebook.

Sex-segregated job advertising has historically been used to shut women out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities,” Galen Sherwin, a senior attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement. “We can’t let gender-based ad targeting online give new life to a form of discrimination that should have been eradicated long ago.”

I reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if I hear back.

The ads in question were largely for jobs that tend to be male-dominated–auto repair, for example, or moving services–and in this context, Facebook effectively acts as a recruiter that sanctions and delivers gender-based ad targeting, according to the ACLU. In April, Facebook claimed it had already made changes that would restrict advertisers from excluding groups on the basis of “potentially sensitive personal attributes, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion.”


Telemedicine startup Roman just raised $88M to help you quit smoking

Telemedicine startup Roman just raised $88M to help you quit smoking
[Photo: courtesy of Roman]

Roman, a telemedicine startup founded just last year, has raised $88 million in series A funding to expand from men’s health into smoking cessation and other healthcare verticals, the company announced today. By going direct-to-consumer, Roman—which today shortens its name to Ro—sidesteps many of the complexities of the healthcare industry. The New York-based company had previously raised $3.1 million in seed funding.


Ro launched as Roman in 2017 with a singular focus: treating erectile dysfunction. For $15, customers could meet with a doctor via online chat or video, and obtain a prescription for Viagra, Cialis, or a generic drug. Despite not accepting insurance, the company was able to quickly rack up over a million patient-physician interactions. According to cofounder and CEO Zachariah Reitano, the company is on track to earn “tens of millions” in revenue by the end of the year. Ro will continue to serve patients seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction under the Roman brand.

[Photo: courtesy of Ro]
With this new funding, Ro is now looking to tackle other healthcare needs. First up is smoking cessation, under a new brand dubbed “Zero.” Using the same back-end technology as Roman, Zero will connect smokers looking to quit with licensed physicians. Treatment will combine a prescription for bupropion, packs of nicotine gum, and a behavioral app designed to encourage patients as they progress. (Research suggests that combining all three approaches is far more effective than attempting to quit cold turkey, which has a success rate of just 3% to 5%.)

For now, Zero patients will have to pay out-of-pocket for the online consultation with a physician (again, $15), as well as $129 per month for the prescription, gum, and app. “More and more people are paying for things out-of-pocket, and what happens is they can actually vote with their feet now and demand a better experience,” Reitano says. In the near future, he adds, the company hopes to be able to accept FSA cards as payment.

Going forward, Reitano envisions launching additional men’s health offerings under Roman, and additional addiction treatments under Zero. He also plans to develop other brands—women’s health, for example, is a top priority.

[Photo: courtesy of Ro]
Telemedicine has seen an explosion in funding over the last several years, with startups raising over $1.2 billion since 2013, according to CB Insights. Many established telemedicine companies, however, have focused on serving health plans and employers, rather than consumers directly. Accolade, for example, which dubs itself an “on-demand health concierge,” has raised over $200 million and boasts customers like Comcast and Lowe’s. As for Ro, Reitano says he is “absolutely open to partnering with insurance companies.”

FirstMark Capital led Ro’s series A round, with investors including Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital, SignalFire, General Catalyst, Slow Ventures, Sinai Ventures, Torch Capital, BoxGroup, and Tusk Ventures also participating. As part of the investment, Ohanian and FirstMark managing director Rick Heitzmann will join Ro’s board of directors.


Whew! Apple Watch ECG was a heartbeat away from missing FDA nod

Whew! Apple Watch ECG was a heartbeat away from missing FDA nod
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

Some on the Apple Watch team may have felt their hearts pounding in the days leading up to the big Apple Watch 4 unveiling in Cupertino last week. The new watch’s marquee health feature–an electrocardiogram–had not received a Food and Drug Administration clearance until within 24 hours of the device’s big coming-out.


I overheard an Apple employee talking about the near-miss in exasperated tones outside the Steve Jobs Theater just after the press event. I understood the man’s anxiety better when I saw that the FDA’s classification letters to Apple were dated September 11. Apple’s event was September 12.

During the presentation, Apple COO Jeff Williams proudly announced that the Watch 4’s ECG tech had received a de novo clearance from the FDA. “This is the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers,” he said. He wouldn’t have been able to say any of that had the FDA’s letter not come in. (And, for the record, Apple’s ECG isn’t the first–that honor goes to AliveCor.)

Asked why the letter came in at the last minute, Apple offered no comment.

About ECG

Earlier Apple Watches had an optical sensor (called photoplethysmogram, or PPG) that watches the blood flow in the wrist to derive a heart rate. An electrocardiogram is very different–it measures the electrical signals that cause the chambers of the heart to contract in the carefully orchestrated sequence that circulates the blood. An ECG can also detect all kinds of arrhythmias, which can be serious business, hence the involvement of the FDA.

According to copies of the letters sent to Apple, which are available at the FDA’s website, the agency actually reviewed a notification feature and an app, not the watch’s ECG hardware itself.

The first app, called the “Irregular Rhythm Notification Feature,” looks at the Apple Watch wearer’s heartbeat rhythm and can send a notification if it detects patterns reminiscent of atrial fibrillation or some other arrhythmia.

The second app, which the FDA calls electrocardiograph software for over-the-counter use, creates an electrocardiograph and provides analysis on whether it shows signs of cardiac arrhythmias. “This device is not intended to provide a diagnosis,” the letter states.

The FDA also puts some clear limitations on how the app should be used.

“The ECG data displayed by the ECG app is intended for informational use only. The user is not intended to interpret or take clinical action based on the device output without consultation of a qualified healthcare professional . . . The ECG app is not intended for use by people under 22 years old.”

Some in the medical community have already expressed concerns that Apple Watch wearers might draw false positives from the app, leading to unnecessary doctor calls or visits, or even trips to the ER.

Some of those same worries have been expressed by caregivers about AliveCor’s Kardia Band, which was also reviewed by the FDA and came to market in 2016. AliveCor also has a Kardia Band for Apple Watch, which creates an ECG after the band wearer rests a finger on a sensor pad built into the watch band.

The new Apple Watch 4 will not ship with the ECG app when it goes on sale September 21. That will be added in an over-the-air update sometime later this year. The FDA classification, at least, allowed Apple to begin marketing the product.


65% of Amazon Prime members would bank with the company

65% of Amazon Prime members would bank with the company
[Photo: Mirza Babic/Unsplash]

A Bain survey of 6,000 people has produced results that should make traditional banks worry. A full 65% of Amazon Prime customers would be willing to try a free online bank account offered by Amazon. And even 37% of people who don’t shop on Amazon would be willing to try banking services from them. The news should worry traditional banks as Amazon has shown it’s not scared of entering new markets–just look at Whole Foods. As the report states:

Our survey suggests that Amazon can count on significant demand for basic banking services. Among Amazon Prime respondents (who pay an annual fee for such perks as free two-day shipping), 65% say they would try a free online bank account offered by Amazon, with 2% cash back on Amazon purchases, similar to the company’s cobranded credit card. Of Amazon customers who aren’t Prime members, 43% would try such an account. Even among people who don’t use Amazon for e-commerce purchases today, 37% would try it.

The survey’s results come after it was reported in March that Amazon is looking to partner with banks, including Capital One or JPMorgan Chase and to create a checking account-like product. If it does so–or if it becomes a bank in and of itself–traditional banks could see a hit. Bain’s survey also found that consumers give Amazon a Net Promoter Score of 47, which is much higher than the average score of 31 for regional banks and the average score of 18 for national banks.


Gates Foundation: Progress in fighting poverty and disease could soon reverse

Gates Foundation: Progress in fighting poverty and disease could soon reverse
[Photo: Flickr user BorsheimsJewelry]

That’s the stark warning from the latest Gates Foundation report. Despite the fact that more than 1 billion people have lifted themselves out of poverty since 2000, the second annual Goalkeepers Data Report warns that, due to more people being born in the world’s poorest countries, that trend could stall–or even reverse itself. As the report warns:

“Rapid population growth in the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, puts future progress at risk. If current trends continue, the number of extremely poor people in the world could stop its two-decade decline–and could even rise.”

Other findings revealed in the report:

  • By 2050, more than 40% of extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
  • By 2050 Africa’s population of 1.1 billion today is expected to double to 2.2 billion.
  • By 2100, Africa will be home to 4 billion people.

The rapid rise in population growth on the continent–and thus an increase of people born into extreme poverty–could be lessened if women in sub-Saharan Africa could control their fertility, the report says and recommends those women gain access to “modern tools of contraception.” The report also stresses the importance of supporting education in Africa. A staggering 60% of the continent’s people are age 25 or younger, compared with 27% of Europeans, and the median age in Africa is only 18, compared to 35 in North America. If the number of young people who receive an education could rise, Africa could become a “human capital” powerhouse that could boost the entire economy.


Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi will use Google’s Android for their infotainment systems

Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi will use Google’s Android for their infotainment systems
[Photo: Paweł Czerwiński/Unsplash]

The trio of carmakers announced on Tuesday that they will use the Android operating system in future vehicles, reports Reuters. The choice of Android as the OS to power their cars is a major coup for Google, which wants to expand its presence in in-car infotainment systems. Last year Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi had combined sales of 10.6 million vehicles.

The alliance with Google is something other luxury carmakers have been apprehensive to do, wary of giving the U.S. tech giant too much control of their customer’s relationship and data. Instead, those carmakers have chosen to invest in their own operating systems and to support Android phones via mirroring to their displays.

The deal with Google will see Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi vehicles be integrated with Google Maps and Google Assistant, as well as other Google apps and services. Thousands of built-for-car apps will also be available on the Google-powered OS.


What you need to know about the first tourist that SpaceX is taking around the moon

What you need to know about the first tourist that SpaceX is taking around the moon
[Photo: Flickr user Official SpaceX Photos]

Yusaku Maezawa, 42, is a Japanese billionaire who founded the online retailers Start Today and Zozotown, where he made his fortune. On Tuesday Maezawa joined Elon Musk at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to announce he will be the first tourist to be taken around the moon on SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which is expected to launch in 2023. Maezawa did not reveal how much he paid for the upcoming flight, but Musk confirmed Maezawa is “paying a very significant amount of money.”

So just who is this eccentric billionaire risking his life to be SpaceX’s first space tourist? Some facts about him:

  • He never went to college, instead choosing to move to California to play in a rock band.
  • He then built a shopping website called Zozotown, which made him rich.
  • His current net worth is about $2.3 billion.
  • He is a self-proclaimed art lover and made waves in the art world when in 2017 he bought a single Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at a Sotheby’s auction for $110.5 million–a then-record for an American artist’s work.
  • In 2016 he sold $250 million worth of stock so he could buy more art.
  • He intends to take six to eight people with him on his lunar trip, including a combination of painters, musicians, dancers, photographers, film directors, fashion designers, and architects, reports Bloomberg.
  • He wants the artists he brings with him to create new works of art inspired by their trip to the moon when they return to Earth.


Michael Che’s “Reparations Emmys” gives black TV legends their due

Michael Che’s “Reparations Emmys” gives black TV legends their due
[Photo: courtesy of Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC]

The Emmys opened with a jaunty number giving false praise to the TV industry for “fixing” that nagging diversity problem. Co-host Micheal Che doubled-down on the show’s theme of diversity–i.e., the industry’s lack thereof–with a skit honoring the black TV legends who never won an Emmy. Che swooped in to give props to the likes of Jaleel White for being the “O.G. black nerd” as Steven Urkel on Family Matters who paved the way for Donald Glover’s character on Atlanta; and Kadeem Hardison from A Different World for inspiring young black men to go to college.

Enjoy your Reparations Emmys, legends.

Marla Gibbs – The Jeffersons

Jimmy Walker – Good Times

Kadeem Hardison – A Different World

Jaleel White – Family Matters

John Witherspoon – The Wayans Bros.


Did Prince’s song in a Capital One commercial just feel . . . wrong?

Did Prince’s song in a Capital One commercial just feel . . . wrong?
[Photo: ABC/Image Group LA/Flickr]

Some Emmy watchers found themselves more concerned with a commercial than with the prestigious awards show. On Monday evening’s broadcast, Capital One ran a commercial that featured Prince’s beloved “Let’s Go Crazy.” The clip (which was not meant as a tribute to the late icon) irritated fans who strongly believe The Purple One would have never signed off on his 1984 hit being licensed for . . . a credit card.


It was called “disgusting,” “lame,” “appalling,” and “nauseating,” among other disparaging remarks.

“I’m glad you didn’t have to see that, Your Highness,” wrote Marcel Walker on Twitter. “The beautiful ones always seem to lose out to the greed of commercial America.”

Others took it as a reminder to always put your affairs in order. As Chic Pope wrote: “Remember to leave a will, musical geniuses!”

There seems to have been no goodwill toward Capital One’s latest ad. Only one fan was able to slightly try to see it in a positive light:

Need a palate cleanser? Watch Prince’s original video for “Let’s Go Crazy” below:


Michael Che and Colin Jost’s best jokes from their Emmy Awards monologue

Michael Che and Colin Jost’s best jokes from their Emmy Awards monologue
[Photo: courtesy of Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC]

Michael Che and Colin Jost took their Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” schtick to the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards as the night’s co-hosts. And in their opening monologue, they tackled the disastrous political landscape, the #MeToo movement, and the crumbling state of the TV industry. Here are some of their best zingers.


“It is an honor to be here sharing this night with the many, many talented and creative people in Hollywood who haven’t been caught yet.” — Michael Che

“This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats–hope you’re excited about that. Yeah, because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is people losing their inhibitions at a work function.” — Colin Jost

“I don’t know if you know this, but the first Emmys were held back in 1949. Things were very different back then. Gas was 17 cents a gallon. A new home cost $7,000. And we all agreed that Nazis were bad.” — Colin Jost

“Our network, NBC, has the most nominations of any broadcast network, which is kinda like being the sexiest person on life support.” — Michael Che

“Netflix, of course, has the most nominations tonight. And if you’re a network executive that’s the scariest thing you can possible hear–except maybe, ‘Sir, Ronan Farrow is on line one.'” — Colin Jost

Roseanne was cancelled by herself but picked up by white nationalists. — Colin Jost

“By the way, congratulations to Laurie Metcalf. That’s incredible. You know how great an actress you have to be to be nominated for Roseanne now? That’s like nominating a cop for a BET Award–doesn’t happen.” — Michael Che

“How is Netflix getting all that money? It’s like $9 a month and everyone I know is sharing the same account. Netflix is like the Instagram model that’s always in Dubai. And you’re like, ‘Yeah, but what do you really do?'” — Michael Che


Amazon might put Alexa in a microwave oven

Amazon might put Alexa in a microwave oven
[Photo: HomePixel/istock]

Amazon may launch a wave of new Alexa-powered gadgets this year, including a microwave, an in-car device, and several new audio products, CNBC’s Eugene Kim reports, citing internal documents. Details are scarce, but some of those devices may debut at an event later this month.

In January, Amazon announced developer tools that would let appliance makers add Alexa controls to their smart ovens and microwaves, and some companies, including GE, have since added that support to their products. Several gadget makers, including Garmin and Anker, have also launched Alexa devices for the car. CNBC’s report suggests that Amazon now wants to release similar products on its own, along with an audio amplifier, receiver, and subwoofer.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

This wouldn’t be the first time Amazon has launched products that compete with its own Alexa hardware partners. Last year, the company released the Echo Show, a touch-screen Alexa device with video chat features, after investing in a startup called Nucleus that offered its own Alexa-enabled intercom. That product is no longer available.


Was the Emmys ode to Hollywood diversity . . . not diverse enough?

Was the Emmys ode to Hollywood diversity . . . not diverse enough?
[Photo: courtesy of NBC Universal]

The primetime Emmys dove headfirst into Hollywood’s cesspool of issues. In the show’s opening on Monday evening, SNL stars Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson burst into a musical number aptly titled “We Solved It,” which listed the many ways in which the industry has handled sexism, diversity, and lack of Asian representation. It was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek take on what is very much still a flawed system and white-dominated industry.


“Diversity it not a problem in Hollywood anymore?” the duo sing. “Nope, we solved it!”

As the SNL actors reference the #MeToo movement and other timely topics, they are joined by Sterling K. Brown, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell, RuPaul, Andy Samberg, and, randomly Ricky Martin. The latter rushes onstage to rebuke the chorus of voices: “You haven’t solved it,” he says. “This song is too white!” Shortly thereafter, “One of each”–i.e, a dancer of every background, joins the musical.

Audience reception was mixed. Some on social media applauded the show for addressing the myriad of Hollywood’s problems, albeit in a jazzy song and dance. Others called out the inherent irony that some–such as women of color–were not represented in the group onstage.

The show did, in its defense, give one woman of color her due credit: At one point, the singers conceded diversity progress was “mostly Shonda Rhimes.”


Emmy Awards 2018: Here’s a list of the winners and nominees

Emmy Awards 2018: Here’s a list of the winners and nominees
[Image: courtesy of Television Academy]

The 70th Emmy Awards have already created some historic moments. In the lead up to tonight’s main show, several Emmys were awarded–most notably to John Legend as part of Jesus Christ Superstar‘s win for Outstanding Variety Special (Live), which made him the first African-American male to score an EGOT. Also, Tiffany Haddish (Saturday Night Live), Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale), Katt Williams (Atlanta), and Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) swept all the guest actor and actress categories–the first time African-Americans have done so in Emmy history.


Below are the nominees and winners in the main categories of the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

Game of Thrones (HBO) – WINNER
Stranger Things (Netflix)
The Americans (FX)
The Crown (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
This Is Us (NBC)
Westworld (HBO)

Outstanding Comedy Series

Atlanta (FX)
Barry (HBO)
Black-ish (ABC)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
GLOW (Netflix)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) – WINNER
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Outstanding Limited Series

The Alienist (TNT)
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX) – WINNER
Genius: Picasso (National Geographic)
Godless (Netflix)
Patrick Melrose (Showtime)

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Sandra Oh – Killing Eve (BBC)
Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black (BBC)
Keri Russell – The Americans (FX)
Claire Foy – The Crown (Netflix) – WINNER
Elisabeth Moss – The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Evan Rachel Wood – Westworld (HBO)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman – Ozark (Netflix)
Matthew Rhys – The Americans (FX) – WINNER
Milo Ventimiglia – This Is Us (NBC)
Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)
Jeffrey Wright – Westworld (HBO)
Ed Harris – Westworld (HBO)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Pamela Adlon – Better Things (FX)
Tracee Ellis Ross – Black-ish (ABC)
Lily Tomlin – Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Issa Rae – Insecure (HBO)
Allison Janney – Mom (CBS)
Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Ms. Maisel (Amazon) – WINNER

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Donald Glover – Atlanta (FX)
Bill Hader – Barry (HBO) – WINNER
Anthony Anderson – Black-ish (ABC)
Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
William H. Macy – Shameless (Showtime)
Ted Danson – The Good Place (NBC)

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Cult (FX)
Michelle Dockery – Godless (Netflix)
Edie Falco – Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (NBC)
Regina King – Seven Seconds (Netflix) – WINNER
Jessica Biel – The Sinner (USA)
Laura Dern – The Tale (HBO)

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Antonio Banderas – Genius: Picasso (National Geographic)
John Legend – Jesus Christ Superstar (NBC)
Benedict Cumberbatch – Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
Darren Criss – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX) – WINNER
Jeff Daniels – The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Jesse Plemons – Black Mirror: “USS Callister” (Netflix)

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Lena Headey – Game of Thrones (HBO)
Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things (Netflix)
Vanessa Kirby – The Crown (Netflix)
Ann Dowd – The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Yvonne Strahovski – The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Alexis Bledel – The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Thandie Newton – Westworld (HBO) – WINNER

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Game of Thrones (HBO)
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones (HBO) – WINNER
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland (Showtime)
David Harbour – Stranger Things (Netflix)
Matt Smith – The Crown (Netflix)
Joseph Fiennes – The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Zazie Beetz – Atlanta (FX)
Laurie Metcalf – Roseanne (ABC)
Betty Gilpin – GLOW (Netflix)
Aidy Bryant – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Leslie Jones – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Alex Borstein – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) – WINNER
Megan Mullally – Will & Grace (NBC)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Brian Tyree Henry – Atlanta (FX)
Henry Winkler – Barry (HBO) – WINNER
Louie Anderson – Baskets (FX)
Alec Baldwin – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Kenan Thompson – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Tony Shalhoub – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Tituss Burgess – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Sara Bareilles – Jesus Christ Superstar (NBC)
Penélope Cruz – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Judith Light – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Adina Porter – American Horror Story: Cult (FX)
Merritt Wever – Godless (Netflix) – WINNER
Letitia Wright – Black Mirror: “Black Museum” (Netflix)

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Ricky Martin – The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Edgar Ramírez – The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Finn Wittrock – The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Jeff Daniels – Godless (Netflix) – WINNER
Brandon Victor Dixon – Jesus Christ Superstar (NBC)
Michael Stuhlbarg – The Looming Tower (Hulu)
John Leguizamo – Waco (Paramount Network)

Outstanding Reality Competition Series

The Amazing Race (CBS)
American Ninja Warrior (NBC)
Project Runway (Lifetime)
RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1) – WINNER
Top Chef (Bravo)
The Voice (NBC)

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

At Home With Amy Sedaris (TruTV)
Drunk History (Comedy Central)
I Love You America with Sarah Silverman (Hulu)
Portlandia (IFC)
Saturday Night Live (NBC) – WINNER
Tracey Ullman’s Show (HBO)

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – WINNER
The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS)
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)

Outstanding Television Movie

Fahrenheit 451 (HBO)
Flint (Lifetime)
Paterno (HBO)
The Tale (HBO)
Black Mirror: “USS Callister” (Netflix) – WINNER

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Atlanta – “Barbershop” (FX)
Atlanta – “Alligator Man” (FX)
Barry – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark” (HBO)
Barry – “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going” (HBO)
Silicon Valley – “Fifty-One Percent” (HBO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Pilot” (Amazon) – WINNER

Outstanding Directing For a Comedy Series

Atlanta – “FUBU” (FX)
Atlanta – “Teddy Perkins” (FX)
Barry – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark” (HBO)
GLOW – “Pilot” (Netflix)
Silicon Valley – “Initial Coin Offering” (HBO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Pilot” (Amazon) – WINNER
The Big Bang Theory – “The Bow Tie Symmetry” (CBS)

Outstanding Directing For a Variety Series

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee: “Episode 2061” (TBS)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: “Episode 421” (HBO)
Portlandia: “Riot Spray” (IFC)
Saturday Night Live: “Host: Donald Glover” (NBC) – WINNER
The Late Late Show With James Corden: “Episode 0416” (CBS)
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert: “Episode 438” (CBS)

Outstanding Directing For a Drama Series

Game of Thrones: “Beyond The Wall” (HBO)
Game of Thrones: “The Dragon And The Wolf” (HBO)
Ozark: “The Toll” (Netflix)
Ozark: “Tonight We Improvise” (Netflix)
Stranger Things: “Chapter Nine: The Gate” (Netflix)
The Crown: “Paterfamilias” (Netflix) – WINNER
The Handmaid’s Tale: “After” (Hulu)

Outstanding Directing For a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special

Godless (Netflix)
Jesus Christ Superstar (NBC)
Paterno (HBO)
Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” (FX) – WINNER
The Looming Tower: “9/11” (Hulu)
Twin Peaks (Showtime)

Outstanding Directing For a Variety Special

Dave Chappelle: Equanimity (Netflix)
Jerry Seinfeld: Jerry Before Seinfeld (Netflix)
Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life (Netflix)
Super Bowl LII Halftime Show Starring Justin Timberlake (NBC)
The Oscars (ABC) – WINNER

Outstanding Directing For a Reality Program

American Ninja Warrior: “Daytona Beach Qualifiers” (NBC)
RuPaul’s Drag Race: “10s Across The Board” (VH1) – WINNER
Shark Tank, “Episode 903” (ABC)
The Amazing Race: “It’s Just A Million Dollars, No Pressure” (CBS)
The Voice: “Live Top 11 Performances” (NBC)

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Atlanta: “Barbershop” (FX)
Atlanta: “Alligator Man” (FX)
Barry: “Chapter One: Make Your Mark” (HBO)
Barry: “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going” (HBO)
Silicon Valley: “Fifty-One Percent” (HBO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “Pilot” (Amazon) – WINNER

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Game of Thrones: “The Dragon and the Wolf” (HBO)
Killing Eve: “Nice Face” (BBC America)
Stranger Things: “Chapter Nine: The Gate” (Netflix)
The Americans: “Start” (FX) – WINNER
The Crown: “Mystery Man” (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale: “June” (Hulu)

Outstanding Writing For a Limited Series

American Vandal: “Clean Up” (Netflix)
Godless (Netflix)
Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “House By the Lake” (FX)
Twin Peaks – (Showtime)
Black Mirror: “USS Callister” (Netflix) – WINNER

Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO) – WINNER
Late Night With Seth Meyers (NBC)
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (CBS)

Outstanding Writing for Variety Special

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee: The Great American* Puerto Rico (*It’s Complicated) (TBS)
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous At Radio City (Netflix) – WINNER
Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady (HBO)
Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (Netflix)
Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life (Netflix)


Julia Louis-Dreyfus signs letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford

Julia Louis-Dreyfus signs letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

By going public with her allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, law professor Christine Blasey Ford has ignited a fiery public debate that may ultimately delay the confirmation process. While President Trump announced on Monday that he still stands behind Kavanaugh, Ford got a vote of support from someone who plays a former U.S. president on TV.

A group of women who went to Holton-Arms–the private girls’ school in Bethesda that Christine Blasey Ford attended–have put together a letter of support for Ford. The list of women who signed the letter spans several decades’ worth alumni, and apparently includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of Veep and Seinfeld fame.

This letter appears to be a response to the letter that emerged on Friday signed by 65 women who attended high school with Kavanaugh during the period of time he’s alleged to have sexually assaulted Ford, and vouched for his upstanding character. (Considering how quickly the letter appeared after news broke about the accusation, it must have been in the works for a while.)

More than 200 women had signed the new letter supporting Ford as of Monday morning. According to HuffPo, some of the women agree that Ford’s claim “is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.”


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