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  • 2:48 pm

Gucci put turbans on white models and explained it with cyborgs and Foucault

Gucci put turbans on white models and explained it with cyborgs and Foucault
[Photo: Flickr user TimothyJ]

There were a lot of weird things happening at Gucci’s show at Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday. For one thing, the room was designed to look like a terrifying hospital, with models strutting around two operating tables with harsh yellow light streaming down on them. Several models walked on stage carrying what appeared to be their severed heads. Others had third eyes on their foreheads. Several carried strange creatures, like snakes and baby dragons.

And then there was the headwear. There were babushka headscarves, a variety of tribal headdresses, plus hijabs and turbans. It was the latter that sparked the most outrage. British-Canadian actor Avan Jogia took to Twitter, saying that Gucci had crossed the line. He tweeted, “could you not find a brown model?” with an image of a white male model in a blue turban.

While Jogia himself is not a Sikh, he made the case that the turbans were appropriating a garment that is sacred to this religious community. Others joined the chorus, labeling calling the Italian fashion house “offensive” and “irresponsible.”

However, it appears as if Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, was fully aware of what he is doing by introducing all of these controversial components to his show. Gucci’s press release about the collection, distributed at the show, went into full-on existentialist mode. The statement, which links the new collection with the cyborg philosophy of Donna Haraway, begins with a nearly incomprehensible quote from the French philosopher Michel Foucault, about how identity is socially positioned within a binary system, forcing people to be categorized as normal or abnormal.

The show appears designed to be as “abnormal” as possible—which, in this case, apparently meant putting cultural symbols, like turbans, on people that would not ordinarily wear them.

It’s an argument that might work on a philosophy or literature student. But for the average customer—and especially for Sikhs—it was a massive turnoff. When I reached out to Gucci about the controversy, they declined to comment further.

ES

  • 1:24 pm

Japan is the safest country to give birth

Japan is the safest country to give birth
[Photo: Redd Angelo/Unsplash]

If you’re planning on having a child, you might want to book a ticket to Japan.

A UNICEF report released earlier this week looks at newborn mortality rates from 1990 to 2016; the country with the lowest newborn mortality rate was Japan, with only one death in every 1,111 births. If Japan’s too far, consider a trip to Iceland, which came in second–followed by Singapore and Finland.

Sadly, many countries—including the U.S.—fared far worse. Pakistan had the highest newborn mortality rate with about one in every 22 infants dying before turning one month old. As CNN reports, many of the countries with high infant mortality rates–for example, Afghanistan, Somalia, and South Sudan–had many factors working against them, including limited access to clean water, lack of healthcare, or simply that they were rebuilding infrastructure after wars or natural disasters.

That is not the case in the U.S., of course. Yet about one in 270 infants die before they turn one month old in our country. Last month, a separate study published in the journal Health Affairs compared the overall child mortality rate in the United States against 35 other developed nations–and the U.S. ranked dead last.ML

A new season of Invisibilia is here to save us all from winter boredom

A new season of Invisibilia is here to save us all from winter boredom
[Photo: Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann]

Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted a long winter, but the return of Invisibilia makes it feel like spring is on the horizon. The beloved NPR podcast is returning for a new season on March 9, and it promises to be full of stories about “spies, heists, publicly shaming harassers, and fighting terrorism with reality TV.”

Since the show’s cofounder Lulu Miller is still on book leave, this season will be reported by cofounder Alix Spiegel and author-turned-podcaster Hanna Rosin. The show focuses on stories about the invisible forces that affect us all; it blends psychology, sociology, cultural norms, and hard science–all wrapped into a beautiful and fun audio-rich package. This season will include looks into Russian hacking, reality television, and the #MeToo movement.

New to the series? Start with “How To Become Batman,” which is about a blind man who navigates his world through echo-location, and you’ll be hooked.

ML

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  • 12:36 pm

Billionaire Vinod Khosla wants SCOTUS to help get his private beach back

Billionaire Vinod Khosla wants SCOTUS to help get his private beach back
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Jennings/Tech Crunch]

Vinod Khosla, who owns 89 acres of beachfront property in California’s San Mateo county, just wants people to stay off his beach. To be clear, he’s referring to Martins Beach, which was public up until Khosla bought the surrounding property in 2008 and closed off access to the beach–which he did without obtaining a permit from the California Coastal Commission. Khosla is now taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court to contest a California court of appeals ruling in August, which forced him to open the beach to the public again.

Khosla has been mired in this legal battle for years. (Keep in mind this is a man whose net worth is reportedly $2.4 billion.) It’s entirely possible the Supreme Court won’t take up his case–the California Supreme Court declined to back in October. But if they do, it sets a precedent for the who’s who of Silicon Valley to follow in Khosla’s footsteps. Plus, the ruling could impact coastal protection laws in other states.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Khosla claims his case is a “textbook physical invasion of private property.” Sounds more like a billionaire trying to throw his weight around.PM

  • 12:26 pm

Charities are finally having a #TimesUp moment

Charities are finally having a #TimesUp moment
[Photo: Mario Azzi/Unsplash]

The ripple effect of Harvey Weinstein’s unmasking as a serial sexual harasser and predator has hit nearly every industry, as numerous groups work to expel sexual harassers whose behavior has been an open secret for too long. Now it appears that charity groups are having their own #TimesUp moment.

Here’s are some of the organizations facing a new reckoning:

  • Oxfam is currently cleaning house after allegations that employees hired prostitutes and funded “full-on Caligula orgies” with the survivors of the Haiti earthquake. Oxfam has denied covering up its employees’ misdeeds, both in Haiti, and in the African Republic of Chad, where similar accusations have been made.
  • UNICEF’s deputy executive director Justin Forsyth stepped down from his post after admitting he made “some personal mistakes” during his time at Save the ChildrenForsyth claims he is leaving UNICEF “because of the danger of damaging both Unicef and Save the Children” and not because of his alleged inappropriate conduct with three women that led him to be investigated in both 2011 and again in 2015.
  • Save the Children should perhaps improve its employee vetting process, as it hired an alleged sexual harasser who was let go from the American Red Cross with some “very positive references.” Beyond this one individual, Save the Children investigated 53 sexual misconduct allegations in 2016, and, according to Reutersfired 16 employees over sexual misconduct over the past year.
  • British charity The Presidents Club folded after an exposé detailed hostesses being groped and harassed at a recent all-male fundraising event.
  • Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S.,  resigned amid sexual harassment complaints and a backlash by major donors.
  • The deputy head of the United Nations’ agency for HIV/AIDS stepped down from his post following sexual harassment allegations. The U.N., however, says that his departure was not due to these harassment claims, according to Reuters. Sadly, there have been plenty of other well-substantiated cases within the organization. In its quarterly update, the U.N. reported that there were 40 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 54 victims–including 16 girls under the age of 18–made against U.N. peacekeeping missions, agencies, funds and programs. That was in the last three months of 2017 alone.

The problem is incredibly widespread. The U.K.’s charity regulator revealed that it receives over 1,000 incident reports of abuse every year. Save the Children UK has even warned that “predatory men” were seeking to use aid work as an opportunity for abuse.

While sexual harassers and abusers in any industry should be ousted, when it comes to the charity sector–which relies on trust and transparency–that change can’t come soon enough.ML

  • 11:50 am

Goop expands media empire with Gwyneth-hosted podcast

Goop expands media empire with Gwyneth-hosted podcast
[Photo: Flickr user Phillip Pessar]

Goop is expanding its media empire: The lifestyle brand announced a weekly podcast set for a spring release.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow said she will offer  a “deeper dive” into wellness categories. That means interviews with health experts, doctors, business leaders, and, most likely, a spiritual healer every now and then. Topics will include everything from work to travel, and listeners can submit questions via Goop’s social media channels. 

There are already quite a few health and wellness-related podcasts, but none with the same leverage and celebrity recognition as Goop. Paltrow admits she’s “not a podcast expert,” but she reportedly listens to many of them, including that of relationship expert Esther Perel. She’s also been a guest of several popular podcasts, including Girlboss Radio with Sophia Amoruso and Inside The Hive with Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton.

There’s also been talk of a Vice-like TV series, which Paltrow describes as her “going into the field and talking to any number of doctors, scientists, civilians, people in crisis in Flint, Michigan, where there is something to uncover and confront about wellness.”

Goop’s media expansion is just one sector of the brand’s ever-growing business. In the last year, the company opened a brick-and-mortar store, sold out conferences, launched a magazine, and revealed a host of new products, including supplements and bath soaks. You can expect something every quarter with Goop.RR

  • 11:03 am

Companies are beginning to break ties with the NRA

Companies are beginning to break ties with the NRA
[Photo: Rama/Wikimedia Commons]

The tides may be changing, and it’s looking worse and worse for businesses to be affiliated with the National Rifle Association. The massively powerful gun rights lobbying group has been in the crosshairs of public opinion after last week’s shooting in Parkland, FL. The organization’s spokesperson, Dana Loesch, even attended a televised town hall on CNN where the survivors of the massacre grilled her.

Now citizens are trying to do what the government can’t: make the NRA less powerful. Many are criticizing the companies that do business with the group, as well as calling for full-on boycotts. As I wrote yesterday, people have been taking to Twitter asking Amazon to stop streaming the organization’s channel, NRA TV. Though Amazon has yet to respond to this outrage, other businesses have.

For example, rental car companies Enterprise, National, and Alamo, have announced they will no longer give discounts for NRA members. Similarly, the First National Bank of Omaha said that it would no longer offer a Visa card with the group’s branding. There are many other companies that do business with the NRA, including Symantec, Hertz, Budget, and Avis, that have yet to make announcements. People are using the #BoycottNRA hashtag to make these businesses change their ways.

Will it make a real impact? Who knows. But even small change is good change.CGW

  • 9:48 am

The U.S. is no longer a nation of immigrants, apparently

The U.S. is no longer a nation of immigrants, apparently
[Photo: Ronile/Pixabay]

No one tell the Statue of Liberty—or Melania Trump’s parents—but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just cut the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement.

As first reported by The Intercept, the agency in charge of immigration services in this land of ours is instead emphasizing “safeguarding its integrity” and “securing the homeland” as its mission.

The new mission statement reads: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

According to CNN, the agency’s director, L. Francis Cissna, sent a letter to employees explaining the shifting mission on the grounds that the agency is responsible for ensuring “that people who are eligible for immigration benefits receive them and those who are not eligible—either because they don’t qualify or because they attempt to qualify by fraud—don’t receive them” and that “those who would do us harm are not granted immigration benefits.” Cissna also noted that  the agency will “answer to the American people.

When asked for clarification about cutting the phrase “nation of immigrants,” a spokesperson for the agency told The Intercept that the revised mission statement “speaks for itself.” And you know what? It really does. Hopefully France won’t repossess Lady Liberty.ML

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  • 9:24 am

Google Assistant is getting deeper links to your smartphone

Google Assistant is getting deeper links to your smartphone
[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Phone makers and wireless carriers will soon have an easier time tapping into Google’s AI powers. Google says it’s releasing new tools for integrating Google Assistant with smartphones, so that device makers can add their own voice-controlled features, ensure that hands-free voice commands work properly, and make use of hardware AI chips. Wireless carriers can also tie into Google Assistant so that customers can ask about data use, adjust their service plans, and request customer service.

It’s a response of sorts to Apple, which has allowed Siri to control iPhone settings for years, and now has a built-in “Bionic” chip that speeds up AI-related tasks by processing some of them on the iPhone itself. Essentially, Google is trying to give Android phone makers similar tools, and says we should expect new tie-ins soon from LG, Sony, and Xiaomi.

Google also announced that Assistant will be available in more than 30 languages by year-end, up from the current eight. The new languages include Danish, Dutch, Hindi, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai, and will allow Google Assistant to reach 95% of Android phones that can technically support this capability.JN

  • 9:00 am

New guild aims to tackle diversity in tech through roundtable discussions

New guild aims to tackle diversity in tech through roundtable discussions
[Photo: Startup Stock Photos]

We know that people of color are vastly underrepresented in the tech sector; one recent stat shows that the number of black women in the industry has declined 13% since 2007 despite diversity initiatives aimed at hiring more underrepresented minorities in tech.

The two-year-old nonprofit organization /dev/color, founded by former Pinterest engineer Makinde Adeagbo, has been working to change those numbers by providing mentors, networking, and help with setting goals. Now the organization is launching a guild that brings together workers from 14 tech companies including Airbnb, Asana, Capital One, Clover, GitHub, Google, Pinterest, Quip, Reddit, Remix, Sequoia, Square, Twitter, and Uber.

Members will meet regularly for roundtable discussions to share challenges and best practices on a variety of workplace issues, such as how engineering and diversity teams can work better together. Additionally, Adeagbo says that the guild will host dinners to bring together engineering leaders from these member companies along with senior members of /dev/color to work through the unique challenges that face black software engineers.LD

  • 6:57 am

Apple’s Elk Grove repair facility keeps accidentally dialing 911

Apple’s Elk Grove repair facility keeps accidentally dialing 911

Since October the repair facility has called 911 at least 1,600 times, reports CBS Sacramento. Thankfully, this isn’t a case of a true emergency (although accidental calls can divert the attention of first responders). The accidental calls–of which emergency services receive about 20 a day from the Apple facility–likely relates to the Emergency SOS feature unveiled with iOS 11.

The feature allows users to rapidly press the side button on an iPhone five times to automatically call 911. When a call is sent from Apple’s repair center, emergency operators frequently hear Apple employees in the background discussing repairs to devices, meaning they are most often unaware they’ve triggered an emergency phone call.

In a statement, Apple said, “We’re aware of 911 calls originating from our Elk Grove repair and refurbishment facility. We take this seriously and we are working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.”MG

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  • 6:30 am

Elon Musk disses Uber’s flying car goals

Elon Musk disses Uber’s flying car goals
[Photo: Paul Frenzel/Unsplash]

The Tesla CEO has responded after a journalist asked him on Twitter something Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had pondered: Why do you need to bore tunnels for things like the Hyperloop when you can just fly?

Musk didn’t take kindly to the dig, likening Uber’s proposed flying cars to oversize, noisy drones:

But Khosrowshahi wasn’t having any of that. He replied as if Musk’s tweet was a challenge, saying Uber’s flying cars will take to the air using smaller rotors that are less noisy and could be powered by battery advancements spurred by Musk’s companies. So if that’s the case, if Uber does actually unveil quiet, battery-efficient flying cars in the future, you have Musk to thank for that.

MG

  • 6:12 am

Former Comcast employees say sexual harassment is rampant

Former Comcast employees say sexual harassment is rampant
[Photo: courtesy of Comcast]

Several Comcast employees working at a variety of call centers allege that sexual harassment at the company is a common occurrence, reports Jezebel. Six former employees spoke with the site, which verified their stories with friends and former coworkers who witnessed some of the abuse. Just one alleged incident:

The new office was mostly full of men, and she could hear her coworkers talking. It wasn’t professional chitchat. “These guys [were] constantly talking to women walking by,” she said. “This one lady who had just come back from maternity leave, [they were] constantly asking her ‘got milk?’ and making squeezing gestures with their hands.” According to Rhodes, they made comments about women’s bodies—big asses, fat calves—and even grabbed their women coworkers.

And another:

A male coworker walked toward her cubicle one day as she sat at her desk, and she didn’t block him from entering. Then he “bends over to hug me, wraps his arms around my arms, his chin is kind of like on the top of my head,” she said. “As he releases, he grabs both of my breasts.” . . . A few weeks later, as she walked past his desk, he said to her, “I miss the girls,” referring to her breasts.

“And that one statement kind of broke me,” she said, her voice trembling. “In that little statement—’I miss the girls’—every ounce of any kind of power that I had was gone.”

Jezebel approached Comcast about the allegations made, but the company refused to speak about specific situations or events. As for Jezebel‘s report, it is well worth a read, though parts of it are hard to stomach. It also shows that the epidemic of sexual harassment spotlighted by the #MeToo movement isn’t only limited to Hollywood and media companies.MG

Evan Spiegel gave himself a $637M stock award

Evan Spiegel gave himself a $637M stock award
[Photo: TechCrunch/Wikimedia Commons]

Snap released its Form 10-K, detailing the company’s financials for 2017. There’s a bunch to digest in the lengthy document, but one thing certainly sticks out: CEO Evan Spiegel’s compensation.

According to the tax form, Spiegel’s total compensation was $637,790,892. This includes a salary of $98,078, “other” compensation of $1,079,925, as well as a one-time stock award of $636,612,889. Compare this to 2016, when Spiegel’s entire compensation was only $2,404,840. (It’s also interesting to note that Tim Cook was awarded $378 million in stock awards when he first took Apple’s reins in 2011, which is paltry compared to Spiegel’s hearty stock compensation.)

Spiegel currently has 48.4% of the voting power over Snap, while cofounder Robert Murphy holds 47.4%. That leaves only 4.2% for everyone else. Spiegel’s voting power, combined with his over $600 million in compensation, does feel like a bit much. I’m sure investors have a lot to say about this. (If you are an investor, I’d love to hear from you!)CGW

Now an ex-Googler critical of James Damore’s memo is suing Google for getting fired

Now an ex-Googler critical of James Damore’s memo is suing Google for getting fired
[Photo: courtesy of Google]

The culture war rages on at Google. James Damore, who penned the infamous anti-diversity memo, finally slapped Google with a lawsuit last month. Now, another former engineer, Tim Chevalier, is suing Google, accusing the tech giant of firing him for advocating for diversity efforts and criticizing Damore’s memo.

Chevalier, who identifies as queer and transgender, reportedly called the memo “misogynistic” on internal message boards and offered “politically liberal views to the ongoing political debates between Googlers.” In fact, many of Chevalier’s posts made appearances in Damore’s suit, wielded as evidence that Google discriminated against white men.

In Chevalier’s suit, he claims an HR worker at Google met with him in September to raise concerns over his internal posts; six weeks later, Chevalier was fired. One of the posts questioned by the HR representative was an internal Google+ post in which Chevalier criticized Republicans for “affiliating themselves” with the white supremacists at the Charlottesville protest. In another post, he criticized “white boys” for expecting privilege and was told that might be “perceived as a generalization about race and gender.”

“It is a cruel irony,” Chevalier said in a statement, “that Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers.” Google, of course, argued that while “lively debate” is important to the company, “that doesn’t mean anything goes.” Indeed.PM

Trading debt for dolphins? It seems to be working here

Trading debt for dolphins? It seems to be working here
[Photo: Talia Cohen/Unsplash]

The Nature Conservancy is playing “let’s make a deal” with the Seychelles government. The NGO helped the island nation trade debt for dolphins, according to the Guardian, in what is being hailed as the first-ever debt-swap deal for marine protection.

With help from a team of backers, the Nature Conservancy, back in 2016, helped the Seychelles convert $22 million in national debt owed to the U.K., France, Belgium, and Italy, raising money from donors to pay off part of the debt, and negotiating to cut the interest rate charged to the Seychelles government.

The deal freed up $12 million, which is now being used to help implement a new marine plan that protects an important dolphin habitat and the coral reef that surrounds the islands. The newly protected areas include two parks, which cover 15% of the oceans surrounding the Seychelles—a protected area the size of Britain. According to the Guardian, the government will double this by 2021, putting it far ahead of an international target of 10% by 2020.

While fisheries and oil companies don’t like the plans, the Seychelles debt-for-dolphins swap could be the way of conservation in the future. The Nature Conservancy expects to close a similar deal with Grenada this year. Islands like Mauritius, and U.S. territories Palau and the Marshall Islands, have also expressed interest, although President Trump has shelved the plans for the U.S. territories.ML

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Apple will pay up to $16 billion in back taxes within months, Ireland says

Apple will pay up to $16 billion in back taxes within months, Ireland says
[Photo: Flickr user Austin Community College]

Irish Revenue Commissioners chairman Niall Cody told a parliamentary committee his office will likely tally up a tax bill for Apple of around $16 billion, Reuters reports. “It’s in that ballpark,” Cody said.

“Over 95 percent of the calculations are completed and we have agreed with the Commission that all our calculations will be with them before the end of April,” he said.

Apple agreed to pay the record-setting tax bill in December after the European Union ordered Ireland to charge Apple $15.4 billion in back taxes. A multi-year investigation by the Brussels-based commission found that the tech company had used loopholes–in the form of Irish subsidiaries–to avoid paying taxes. This, the EU said, amounted to unfair state aid.

Both Ireland and Apple have appealed the EU order. Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the ruling “total political crap” in an interview with the Irish Independent last year.

In the meantime, the billions in back taxes will begin flowing into an escrow account within the next two months, said John Hogan, assistant secretary of the Tax Division of the Department of Finance, according to RTE. Officials also confirmed that no other countries have yet made a claim to any of the taxes.

The money will be released after the General Court of the European Union makes its final decision, according to a statement from the Irish Finance Ministry.

Meanwhile, Apple looks to profit handsomely from the newly passed U.S. tax law, with some analysts projecting that the company could repatriate about $200 billion of the roughly $252 billion it holds in overseas affiliates. That’s more overseas cash than any other tech company, as of December:

Military maps are about to get smarter with help from Esri

Military maps are about to get smarter with help from Esri

Spatial-analytics firm Esri is looking to supercharge its mapping capabilities. The company said today it has acquired location data-extration tools from ClearTerra, a company that specializes in geospatial software products. The tech, LocateXT, will allow users of Esri’s mapping platform to more easily extract geographic coordinates from “unstructured” textual data—like emails or intelligence briefings—and instantly generate maps with the information. Esri says the new capabilities will especially benefit organizations in defense, public safety, and intelligence, which tend to deal with large amounts of unstructured data.

Unstructured information typically presents a challenge for geographic information systems, because it is not organized in a pre-defined model.

Per the announcement:

“ClearTerra LocateXT technology allows analysts to rapidly scan through documents without having to spend hours reading, copying, pasting, and running spreadsheet formulas, placing the results instantly into geospatial features.”

Esri’s maps have many uses: I wrote recently about how Esri’s mapping software is helping families affected by the opioid crisis create digital memorials for loved ones who have passed away.

CZ

This company is using AI to make personalized skin care

This company is using AI to make personalized skin care

Proven, a Y Combinator-backed startup, wants to put artificial intelligence to work on something that everyone can agree is a worthy goal: good skin. The startup is using AI to help create custom skin care lines that adapt to the changing needs of their customers. Potential customers answer a brief quiz that is run through a database of some 100,000 products, made from 20,000 ingredients, and vetted by the testimony of 8 million women. At the end, the site spits out a regime of serums, creams, and toners tailored to the individual.

TechCrunch has a profile of the company and its founders, but it boils down to this: If AI is going to take over the world, we may as well get better skin out of it.ML

Soon your phone will be able to detect food poisoning

Soon your phone will be able to detect food poisoning
[Photo: Sweet Ice Cream Photography/Unsplash]

A night out at a questionable oyster shack will soon be less anxiety-inducing. NPR reports that food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found a way to combat food poisoning–a smartphone app.

At the moment, sourcing out the culprit–E. coli or salmonella–requires a sample for 24-hour testing via specialized equipment. But researchers developed a new $30 microscope attachment that simply hooks up to a phone (in tandem with an app).

The device comes with a chemically coated chip that binds to small traces of bacteria. You just rinse the contaminated food in water, then submerge the chip in the water. Within a half hour, the app spots the bacteria. You can then see the actual organisms on your smartphone screen.

Researchers told NPR they hope the product will be useful to food consumers as well as those who need safe drinking water after natural disasters. It’s still a few years away from being available, partially because the team is still tuning the product to more accurately distinguish “good” from “bad” bacteria.RR

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