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  • 11:28 am

Southwest Airlines employees accused of having a “whites only” break room in lawsuit

Southwest Airlines employees accused of having a “whites only” break room in lawsuit
[Photo: Flickr user Ken Lund]

Southwest Airlines employees created a “whites-only” break room at Houston’s Hobby Airport, according to a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee who was fired from Southwest in 2017.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court Wednesday, Jamel Parker alleged that the break room—called the “WB” according to USA Today—was used by Southwest employees for years until an airport renovation turned it into a supervisor’s office. Parker also claims a noose made of bungee cords was hung by a Southwest gate at the airport and that the airline subjected black employees to “extreme race discrimination.

In addition to the horrifying throwback break room, Parker claims that the airline treated people differently based on their race. He alleges that he was fired after failing to report an incident involving running over a power cord, while white employees were merely disciplined for similar infractions.

This isn’t the first time that the airline has been accused of discrimination. CNN has a good rundown, although it’s usually passengers complaining that the flight crew is treating them unjustly.

Reached for comment, the airline said it won’t discuss matters related to litigation, but it sent over the following statement:

“[We] work relentlessly to foster an environment that is diverse and inclusive. We do not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind, and we cultivate a workplace that mirrors the Customers we serve. [We] welcome the opportunity to emphasize that Southwest is and always has been a Company that puts its People first.”

A pretrial and scheduling conference is set for January 25 in Houston.

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  • 11:14 am

Facebook’s new home gadget might have a creepy camera as its main feature

Facebook’s new home gadget might have a creepy camera as its main feature
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels]

After calling off the launch of a smart display device earlier this year, Facebook is reportedly planning to announce it next week. Here are the details from Cheddar’s Alex Heath, who cites unnamed sources:

  • The main feature will be video chat, and Facebook will use facial recognition to tag users and follow them around the room. (Amazon’s Echo Show and Google-powered smart displays don’t identify users’ faces, though some security cameras do.)
  • The device will have a privacy shutter to disable the camera tracking, but amazingly, Facebook may have only thought to include this in response to its own recent privacy scandals.
  • While the device was once rumored to rely a homegrown voice assistant to handle basic commands, Portal may instead lean on Amazon’s Alexa for things like music, recipes, and news briefings.
  • Portal could come in small and large sizes for $300 and $400, respectively.

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

Recent polls have shown that a majority Americans don’t trust Facebook to protect their personal information. For the most part, this doesn’t appear to have stopped people from using the social network, but buying a Facebook-powered, always-on video camera is a much bigger ask than habitually opening an app. We’ll see how the company pitches it to the public soon enough.

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  • 9:29 am

That sexy “Handmaid” costume was pulled for some reason

That sexy “Handmaid” costume was pulled for some reason
[Photo: TitiNicola/Wikimedia Commons]

Yesterday the internet was smitten with a sexy handmaiden costume; today it’s gone.

Yandy.com has pulled the controversial costume that turned the red-clad, bonnet-wearing handmaidens from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel-turned-TV show into a sexy-enough-to-make-your-ex-jealous-of-your-breeding-capabilities Halloween costume.

Yandy tweeted out a statement today explaining its decision to pull the item, noting that its “Brave Red Maiden” costume unfortunately wasn’t being seen as the bold statement of female empowerment that it had envisioned. Some folks apparently just didn’t get that being forced to become a breeder in a seemingly not-too-unbelievable future can also be empowering, just like how the sleepwear company Lunya announced The Handmaid’s Tale-inspired lingerie with one item alluringly named “The Offred.”

In its defense, Yandy explained that the company was struck by the appearance of handmaidens at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings and wanted to make it like that, but sexier. Now that Yandy has removed the item, you might have to pull out your sexy Ruth Bader Ginsburg costume again this year.

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  • 8:35 am

We can’t have smart guns but we could get smart vapes

We can’t have smart guns but we could get smart vapes
[Photo: Martin Saelebakke/Unsplash]

The Food and Drug Administration wants to see e-cigarette makers limit vaping among kids, and the agency is considering fast-tracking reviews of features that would make the devices harder for underage fans to use, CNBC reports.

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Some of those features reportedly could include Bluetooth capabilities that would effectively fence schools as no-vaping zones and biometric e-cigarettes locked to particular users so kids can’t, for instance, “borrow” their parents’ vaporizers.

If such features become widespread, it could soon be harder to light up an e-cig in a school than to fire a gun. Efforts to produce so-called smart guns with fingerprint locks or other authentication mechanisms have largely been stymied by firearm users concerned that the technology may be dangerously unreliable in an emergency and that traditional guns might be eliminated once smart weapons are available. In a SEC filing this month, American gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson said it does not invest in researching smart gun technology because it doesn’t believe consumers want it, Bloomberg reported.

The FDA last week told vape giants Juul, Vuse (owned by British American Tobacco), MarkTen (owned by Philip Morris USA parent Altria), Blu E-cigs (from British tobacco giant Imperial Brands), and Logic (a unit of Japan Tobacco) to outline plans within 60 days to keep kids and teens from using their products.

“No youth should be using any nicotine-containing product, and the trends underway are more than a small amount of casual experimentation among kids,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement. “They are evidence of a significant swath of a generation of kids becoming regular users of nicotine.”

The FDA plans to advertise to kids online, warning of the dangers of vaping, and distribute anti-vaping posters to high schools. It has also warned and fined retailers that sold e-cigs to underage users and warned manufacturers they might be required to pull some kid-friendly flavors from the market.

Juul, said to be among the most popular brands for underage users, has always said its e-cigs are designed to help adult smokers quit using traditional cigarettes. The company has announced plans for Bluetooth-enabled devices that could help users track how much nicotine they’re consuming and potentially require users to periodically verify their ages to continue vaping.

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  • 7:35 am

“We’d be breaching precedent”: Leaked emails show Google workers discussing search tweaks

“We’d be breaching precedent”: Leaked emails show Google workers discussing search tweaks
[Photo: Paweł Czerwiński/Unsplash]

In an email thread obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Google employees discussed ways that they could tweak search functions to affect results related to President Trump’s controversial 2017 travel ban. The employees, at least one of whom worked in search product marketing, sought to leverage Google search to highlight pro-immigration organizations and links to donate to, for instance, the ACLU. The thread contained a number of competing ideas and also some cautionary notes from employees who seemed uncomfortable with the notion of highlighting some groups over others.

“To the extent of my knowledge, we’d be breaching precedent if we only gave Highlights access to organizations that support a certain view of the world in a time of political conflict,” one email said, according to WSJ.

In a statement, Google called the emails a “brainstorm,” and said the ideas were never implemented.

“These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented. Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology—not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”

Not surprisingly, the report is riling up right-leaning news outlets, where there is already plenty of anger about perceived anti-conservative political bias within the ranks of the world’s largest search engine. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson did a segment on the WSJ report last night.

You can read the full report here.

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  • 12:01 am

Mr. Rogers’s Google Doodle is the neighborly animation we need right now

Mr. Rogers’s Google Doodle is the neighborly animation we need right now
[Image: courtesy of Google]

When Fred Rogers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in February of 1999, he said that fame was “a four-letter word like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love.” What ultimately matters, he said, is what we do with it.

Mr. Rogers, as he was best known, used his fame to spread kindness, generosity of spirit, and caring for neighbors wherever they live in the world. Now, the man who entertained and educated children on his beloved television show (and taught them the beauty of changing into cardigans and slippers when they came into the house) is being honored with a Google Doodle.

The Google Doodle is timed to mark the 51st anniversary of the first filming of the first episode of the beloved television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the show’s premiere in 1968. Rogers was both a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development and an ordained Presbyterian minister who used the media as his pulpit. His calming presence was a fixture on TV until August 21, 2001, when the final episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired.

To honor the world’s most famous neighbor, the site launched a charming stop-motion animated video that takes viewers back to the Land of Make Believe. In the video, a familiar passenger in a cardigan rides a little red trolley through a small town, warming the hearts of everyone he meets. The video was created in collaboration with some of those who knew him best—the Fred Rogers Center, Fred Rogers Productions, and BixPix Entertainment.

In addition to the Doodle, Google will launch a behind-the-scenes video exploring the making of the Doodle as well as a Mister Rogers exhibit on Google Arts & Culture.

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Amazon Go is an “existential threat” to millions of jobs, supermarket workers warn

Amazon Go is an “existential threat” to millions of jobs, supermarket workers warn
[Photo: PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock]

When reports emerged earlier this week that Amazon is planning to open up to 3,000 cashierless Amazon Go stores by 2021, supermarket and grocery workers around the country held their breath. After all, developing thousands of new stores that lack human employees will undoubtedly pressure competitors like 7-Eleven, Walmart, and Safeway to cut back on their labor costs by adopting similar technology.

Today, the United Food and Commercial Food Workers International Union, representing over 1.2 million supermarket and retail workers in the U.S., struck back at Amazon with a statement, attacking the company as an “existential threat” that is opening the cashierless stores out of greed.

Here’s the full text of the statement:

It is time for America’s elected leaders to wake up to the economic threat Amazon poses to our economy.

Make no mistake, opening cashierless stores is not about convenience; rather, it is about greed.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon and deploying a business model that poses an existential threat to millions of American jobs, and it is time we are honest about the devastating impact this will have on our nation and tens of millions of hard-working American families.

A rep for Amazon did not return a request for comment.

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Layoffs loom at Under Armor as 400 workers face job cuts

Layoffs loom at Under Armor as 400 workers face job cuts
[Photo: Guillaume de Germain/Unslpash; Kalel2007/Wikimedia Commons]

https://unsplash.com/photos/i65Foix4Aa4Embattled apparel brand Under Armor said today it will lay off 3% of its global workforce, about 400 people, in a restructuring bid aimed at streamlining its operations. The Baltimore-based company also updated its 2018 outlook, saying it now expects losses of $60 million, compared to the previously estimated range of $50 million to $60 million.

“In our relentless pursuit of running a more operationally excellent company, we continue to make difficult decisions to ensure we are best positioned to succeed,” Under Armour CFO David Bergman said in a statement laden with vague corporate speak. “This redesign will help simplify the organization for smarter, faster execution, capture additional cost efficiencies, and shift resources to drive greater operating leverage as we move into 2019 and beyond.”

Under Armor has struggled over the last year or so in the face of stiffer competition from Nike and a general decline among sporting-goods retailers like Foot Locker and Dick’s. In its announcement today, the company did not say who or which departments would be affected by the cuts.

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Here’s everything Amazon announced at its big Alexa event in Seattle

Here’s everything Amazon announced at its big Alexa event in Seattle
[Photo: www.quotecatalog.com]

Amazon is clearly having fun with its Alexa digital assistant. The Seattle company has now put it in a microwave, a wall clock, potentially millions of cars, and in a bunch of new speakers.

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Starting with Alexa itself, Amazon says it’s made the assistant more opinionated (has favorites, not political opinions), more sensitive (you can tell it to be quiet, as when a baby is sleeping), more conversational (it can carry on extended conversations without repeated wake words), more approachable (as with Alexa captions for the hearing impaired), and more natural (it goes into the right skills triggered by context, without a rigid instructions).

Here’s a rundown of everything Amazon announced at its pre-holiday event in Seattle today:

New stuff for the connected home

The new Echo Dot. [Photo: courtesy of Amazon]
A new Echo Dot. Amazon says it has sold more Dots than any other Echo device. The devices, which look like oversized hockey pucks, are little wireless vehicles for Alexa that can also connect via Bluetooth or cable to bigger sound systems. Now there’s a new Echo Dot with a larger 1.6-inch speaker (the old one had a 1-inch speaker). Amazon says it’s 70% louder. The new Dot has a better, softer design, too. It’ll sell for $49.99 starting next month.

Echo Input. Since the Dot has such a small speaker, many people connect them with a larger audio system via Bluetooth or cable. The new Echo Input is essentially a Dot without a speaker, and it’s much smaller—the same shape as a coaster and not much bigger. It’s basically a connecter between Alexa and your stereo system. It will sell for $34.99 starting later this year.

Echo Sub. Amazon says lots of Echo owners like to put two of them together in a stereo pair. The Echo Sub allows people to add a large base speaker to the mix. Actually, it can be used to add base to just one Echo, too, in a 1.1 configuration. The new speaker will sell for $129.99 and will start shipping later this monthly.

The Echo Link Amp and the Echo Link. [Photo: Mark Sullivan]
Echo Link Amp and Echo Link. Instead of just stereo-connected components already in the home, Amazon is also starting to sell some of its own stereo components. The $200 Echo Link is a small black box with a volume knob that acts as an intermediary between Alexa and your home stereo system. The $300 Echo Link Amp goes a step further by adding amplification (60 watts per channel X 2) to the mix, and a good selection of audio connection options on the back of the device. Both devices are available later this year.

A third Echo, the Echo Plus. Amazon announced a new Echo Plus, the third iteration on the Echo device, which pioneered the smart speaker space. The new model has more powerful bass and clearer sound. There’s also a smart home hub built in, so it can be used to add and control automated home devices like plugs and lights. It also adds a temperature sensor to test its particular place in the home. A new feature called Local Voice Control takes the most basic parts of Alexa’s brain and makes them available offline in case the broadband service to the home goes out. The new Echo will cost $149.99 and will go on sale next month.

Making it easier to connect

Amazon believes that many people have avoided putting smart devices in their homes because it’s too complicated and labor-intensive to set up. Now the company is pushing on a new initiative called “Simple Setup.” 

The Echo Smart Plug [Photo: courtesy of Amazon]
For example, a new product called the Amazon Smart Plug uses a new connected home plug and a new set-up protocol in which you can talk through the set-up process with the Alexa assistant. And instead of having to enter all your credentials in an app, the device can access your credentials from a secure place in the cloud–that is, if you’ve already set up a device of the same brand in the past. When the Smart Plug is plugged in, it automatically starts looking around for a Simple Setup Wi-Fi network to connect with. Once recognized, the user’s credentials can be sent to the new device, and the thing is connected and controllable through Alexa. The plug will go for $24.99 when it starts shipping next month.

Stuff for the kitchen

Amazon Basics Microwave. Yes, Amazon has now put Alexa into a microwave. And, come to think of it, it’s a good idea. The era of punching numbers into the archaic pad on the front of microwaves may be coming to an end. With the Alexa microwave, you can just say “one potato” and the microwave will know what to do. The device becomes available later this year for $59.99.

Amazon’s Alexa Wall Clock. [Photo: Mark Sullivan]
Alexa Wall Clock. The new Alexa-powered wall clock can accept commands to set alarms. During the demo here in Seattle, the clock kept track of four different alarms of varying lengths. The timers, and their progress, are represented by LED lights around the outside edge of the clock. The clock will become available later this year for $29.99.

In the car

The Echo Auto [Photo: Mark Sullivan]
The Echo Auto. Amazon has worked with certain automakers to put the Alexa assistant in cars. But there are still millions of cars on the road with no such integration. The Echo Auto is a small dash-top device containing Alexa and also an eight-microphone array, allowing it to hear the driver’s voice over road noise, entertainment, the air conditioner, etc. The device connects to the user’s phone via a Bluetooth to get internet access. It can also connect through the car’s audio auxiliary jack, Amazon says. So the driver can do things like get audio directions to a coffee shop or gas station nearby without having to pick up a device. Amazon is doing a sort of beta program where a user pay $24.99 for the device to help the company learn from real use. When the device goes to general availability (not sure when), it’ll cost $49.99.

New video gadgets

The new Echo Show has both Amazon Silk and Mozilla Firefox browsers.

A new Echo Show. Amazon’s Echo Show, the company says, has been completely redesigned with a larger 10-inch display, a larger speaker inside, and a larger space in back of the device where the speaker radiates for deeper bass. Amazon says it now has “room-filling” sound. The Show also has a smart home hub built in, so it can be used to set up and control other connected home devices. Importantly, through a new integration with Microsoft, people who use Skype can now do their calling and video chat through the Show. The new device will go on sale next month for $229.99.

Fire TV Recast DVR. Amazon has a new DVR that can record four shows at a time and stream video to multiple devices. It offers a programming guide that helps organize video using a graphic display of what’s on cable now, shows already recorded to the DVR, and shows available on subscription services like Amazon Prime Video or Netflix. The DVR will be available before the holidays starting at $229.99.

Setting up the Fire TV Recast DVR. [Photo: courtesy of Amazon]
Compared to last year’s pre-Christmas Alexa product unveiling event, this one was very good. The products Amazon announced this year represented the branching out of Alexa into new places where it can be truly useful, as in the car. Not too long ago, personal assistants like Alexa were pretty much confined to smart speakers. Amazon proved today that that’s changing fast.

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E. coli ground beef outbreak: 11 products to avoid after recall

E. coli ground beef outbreak: 11 products to avoid after recall
[Photo: Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr]

Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling some 132,606 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with Escherichia coli O26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday. The recall comes after an investigation revealed one death and 17 illnesses linked to the meat in July.

Cargill is based in Fort Morgan, Colorado, but it ships meats to retail outlets all around the country. The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 86R,” inside the USDA mark of inspection. People exposed to E. coli toxins typically get sick within three to four days, with symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting.

Here’s a full list of affected products:

  • 3-lb. chubs of “OUR CERTIFIED 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a USE OR FREEZE BY JUL/11/18 and case code 00228749002653.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749089098.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749002751.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 81/19 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749003536.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749003568.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749402773.
  • 20-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 81/19 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF COMBO” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749073935.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “Sterling Silver CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749702416.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749802405.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 with case code 00228749802413.
  • 10-lb. chubs of “Fire River Farms CLASSIC GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a USE/FREEZE BY: 07/11/2018 with case code 90734730297241.

If you have any of these products in your freezer, do not eat them—throw them away or return them to their original place of purchase for a refund. You can view images of all the product labels on the USDA website here.

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Say cheese! Delta says the first all-biometric airline terminal is coming this year

Say cheese! Delta says the first all-biometric airline terminal is coming this year
[Photo: courtesy of Delta]

By the end of this year, some international passengers flying from Atlanta will be able to leave their passports in their bags as they travel through the airport.

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Delta Air Lines is working with the Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration to let passengers at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s Terminal F check in, drop bags, pass through TSA checkpoints, and board their flights—all using facial recognition systems powered by in-terminal cameras to verify their identity. Delta says it will be the first all-biometric terminal in the U.S., though passengers will still be able to check in the old-fashioned way if they prefer.

“Launching the first biometric terminal in the U.S. at the world’s busiest airport means we’re bringing the future of flying to customers traveling around the globe,” said Delta COO Gil West in a statement. “Customers have an expectation that experiences along their journey are easy and happen seamlessly–that’s what we’re aiming for by launching this technology across airport touch points.”

The airline estimates passengers could save nine minutes per flight with the new technology and says not handling mundane ID checks and similar operations could help its employees provide better service. The new system will also be available to passengers on Aeromexico, Air France-KLM, and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Both U.S. and foreign nationals will be able to upload their passport information when they check in online or at the terminal, then look at facial recognition cameras at each point in the airport to verify who they are.

Delta and CBP began testing biometric boarding at the Atlanta airport in 2016 and later expanded biometric tests to other airports, including Detroit Metropolitan and John F. Kennedy International. The airline also offers optional fingerprint check-in for its Delta Sky Club lounges.

Biometric airport processes are often touted as offering speedier boarding and tightened security.

“The expansion of biometrics and facial recognition throughout the airport environment represents the next generation of security identification technology,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a statement about the Atlanta program.

Civil liberties groups and other skeptics have generally called for regulation on what happens to the images once people pass through the airport. There’s also a risk, they’ve warned, that once these programs become more commonplace, travelers who opt out may face delays or inconvenience.

But for now, according to Delta, passengers who’d prefer not to smile for the facial recognition cameras can simply show their passports as they’ve always done.

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Google says app developers can still scan Gmail with opt-in

Google says app developers can still scan Gmail with opt-in
[Photo: Jay Wennington/Unsplash]

Google told U.S. senators it still allows third-party app developers who work with Gmail and build software to scan user inboxes, even though it has stopped processing Gmail messages to target ads, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Developers can also share data with third parties as long as they are “transparent with the users about how they are using the data,” and the company reviews apps to make sure privacy policies are “easily accessible to users,” wrote Susan Molinari, the company’s vice president for public policy and government affairs for the Americas, in a letter to senators amid congressional concerns about online privacy.

Gmail-integrated apps provide a variety of benefits to users, from assisting them in getting refunds after a product’s price drops online to helping them craft basic email replies. Those tasks naturally require some automated processing of people’s emails, but the Wall Street Journal previously reported that many email service companies have humans read emails to train and debug their algorithms. Some app makers share data with third-party companies for largely unrelated marketing data collection purposes, at times without clear consent from users, according to the previous report.

While email has always relied on third-party applications—software not made by email account providers was essentially the only way to send and receive messages until the rise of web platforms like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft’s Hotmail—lawmakers and privacy advocates have taken a closer look lately at complex online data-sharing arrangements. Facebook, in particular, has come under criticism for allowing apps like those built by Cambridge Analytica before the 2016 election to access wide swaths of data about users and their friends.

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All hail the GIF! Your Instagram DMs just got better

All hail the GIF! Your Instagram DMs just got better
[Animation: courtesy of Instagram]

Texting is for your most intimate friends. WhatsApp is for international folks. Facebook Messenger is for groups and people you don’t know very well. And Instagram DM–that’s a place to hang with your besties and keep in contact with all those acquaintances who randomly feel the need to comment on your beach day pics.

Today, Instagram DM gets even better. The social media platform has partnered with Giphy, the undisputed king of the GIF, to let you send GIFs directly through DM without ever leaving the app.

It works like this: While inside of a message thread, tap the new GIF button that will appear next to the photos icon. From there, you can browse and search for GIFs to send, just like you might via iMessage. The update also has a feature that lets users see who created the GIFs they’re using, providing an opportunity to discover GIF creators if you’re really into a particular GIF aesthetic.

The partnership smartly doubles down on Instagram’s continued growth as a messaging platform, giving its DMs more functionality so that people stay on the app rather than switching to another one. Plus, who couldn’t use more GIFs in their life?

GIFs are now available on the latest version of Instagram, both on iOS and Android.

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Spotify starts letting indie artists upload their own music

Spotify starts letting indie artists upload their own music
[Photo: Alexandre St-Louis/Unsplash]

Spotify is giving indie artists a way to upload their own songs to the service, without having to go through a third-party distributor. It’s a new feature of Spotify for Artists, which lets musicians track users’ listening stats and submit tracks for playlist consideration.

This doesn’t mean anyone can upload their basement recordings to Spotify now. The upload feature is currently invite-only for “eligible U.S. artists,” and while Spotify says it will invite more artists over time, it’s unclear what the criteria for eligibility will be.

Still, uploads represent another way for musicians and Spotify to cut out middlemen. As Billboard notes, indie artists previously had to work with digital distributors such as CD Baby or DistroKid. Those services aren’t necessarily expensive–DistroKid, for instance, charges $20 per year for unlimited uploads to streaming services and takes no royalty cut–but direct uploads could give artists more control, especially over release timing.

At the same time, Spotify has started cutting direct licensing deals with indie artists, allowing them to bypass labels and collect a greater share of revenue. Combined with direct uploads, this would allow artists to keep every penny after Spotify’s 50% cut. While Spotify insists that it’s not becoming a record label–mainly because it’s steering clear of copyright ownership–for indie artists, it’s gradually handling more of the duties that labels once took care of.

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How to do a free credit freeze with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

How to do a free credit freeze with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
[Photo: AKuptsova/Pixabay]

Despite the fact that most of us have never asked a credit bureau to collect, store, and profit off our sensitive financial information, these data-sucking leeches have long had the gall to charge a fee to consumers who wanted to put a freeze on such activity.

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That ends now, thanks to a new federal law mandating that the three national bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—let consumers freeze and unfreeze their credit at no charge. The law, which takes effect on Friday, comes a little over a year after Equifax revealed a massive breach that exposed the sensitive information of more than 143 million American consumers.

Needless to say, consumer advocates are thrilled. “It’s about time the credit bureaus stopped charging us for the right to control our own information,” said Mike Litt, campaign director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in a statement.

Putting a freeze on your credit comes in handy if you think you may have been the victim of identity theft or another type of cybercrime, or if you just want peace of mind. It effectively prevents anyone from opening up a new account in your name. Because creditors may run credit checks with any one of the three major bureaus, consumer groups recommend that you freeze your credit with all three.

You can find the links here:

The bureaus are supposed to give you personal PIN numbers with each freeze, which you can use to unfreeze your account if you want to apply for credit. The new law also allows parents or guardians to freeze accounts belonging to minors.

You can find more information here.

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Job interviewers: These 5 things really frustrate your candidates

Job interviewers: These 5 things really frustrate your candidates
[Photo: Tim Gouw/Pexels]

Glassdoor, the platform that lets employees post anonymous reviews about their employers and interview experiences, released the results of a new survey this week that looked into elements of the recruitment process that job seekers find the most frustrating.

Per the survey, these were the top five things job seekers find most annoying during the interview process:

  • Not giving enough information about the total compensation package, including pay and benefits (50%)
  • Canceling or postponing interviews (50%)
  • Not responding in a timely manner (47%)
  • Not giving enough info about the job responsibilities (46%)
  • Not giving enough info about career opportunities/room for advancement (35%)

The online survey of 1,100 U.S. adults was conducted for Glassdoor by the Harris Poll in May. It reveals that potential employees care a lot about transparency, but they also really don’t like when recruiters waste their time.

“The good news is that this and the top five frustrations that job seekers have with the recruitment process can all be improved by any employer of any size,” said Julie Coucoules, Glassdoor’s global head of talent acquisition, in a statement. “Recruiters that want to create an informative and organized process can use this feedback to make their interview process more effective and positive.”

You can read the full release here.

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Kiss “End of the Road” tour–how to get the dates and cities

Kiss “End of the Road” tour–how to get the dates and cities
[Photo: John Pratt/Unsplash]

Kiss is one of those bands that seems to be perennially contemplating their final tour, but this time they apparently mean it. On Instagram Wednesday, the makeup-wearing rockers announced their “End of the Road” world tour, promising to go out with a bang after some 45 years of performing. “It has been an amazing journey with you all,” singer and bassist Gene Simmons wrote. “We couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

The tour dates and cities haven’t been announced yet, but the band promised to announce them shortly. To stay updated, visit the Kiss website and click “Be The First To Know” to sign up for the band’s newsletter. You can also create an account for presales access here.

Or just buy a ticket to Detroit and hang around. I’m sure they’ll show up eventually.

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Walmart and Kroger stocks sink on wild Amazon Go report

Walmart and Kroger stocks sink on wild Amazon Go report
[Photo: Brianc333a/Wikimedia Commons]

Amazon could be planning to open as many as 3,000 cashier-free Amazon Go stores over the next few years, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Such a move would mark a significant ramping up of a concept that Amazon opened to the public only this year. To overstate the obvious, it could also spell doom for traditional grocers, convenience store operators, and corner bodegas.

Shares of Walmart and Kroger both dropped on news of Bloomberg‘s report, which cited anonymous sources. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.

Per the report, Amazon is experimenting with various concepts, such as a store that sells prepared foods and quick lunchtime bites. At Amazon’s existing Go stores, shoppers grab the items they want and pay with a smartphone app without needing to check out at a cash register. A proliferation of cashier-free lunch spots could prove too appealing to pass up for time-strapped consumers, even those who decried efforts last year by a company called Bodega that aimed to make corner stores obsolete. Amazon Go could be like Bodega on steroids, albeit without the tone-deaf name.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon is planning to have at least 50 locations by the end of next year and as many as 3,000 by 2021.

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Jeff Bezos may meet his match in Margrethe Vestager

Jeff Bezos may meet his match in Margrethe Vestager
[Photo: Flickr user Wonderlane]

Amazon has faced some raucous critics in recent months—Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump among them—but somehow their bark always seems worse than their bite. Not so with Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, who has taken on the likes of Google and Apple with ceaseless intensity, single-minded in her assertion that the reining in of American tech giants is long overdue.

Today Vestager said she has set her sights on Amazon, and Jeff Bezos should probably start worrying now. While the EU has not formerly opened a case against the Seattle e-commerce behemoth, Vestager said at a news conference that her office is in the early stages of gathering information, CNN reported.

EU regulators are concerned that large online retailers may be using data from smaller rivals to give themselves a competitive advantage. “Do you then also use this data to do your own calculations, as to what is the new big thing, what is it that people want, what kind of offers do they like to receive, what makes them buy things?” Vestager said.

Nowhere is that concern more salient than with Amazon, which not only sells its own products but also hosts a thriving ecosystem for third-party sellers—a quarter of which reside outside the United States.

Amazon declined to comment.

EU regulators have been far less kind to American tech giants than those at home. Google was recently hit with a steep fine of $5 billion over accusations that its Android device strategy gave it an unfair advantage.

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There’s a GoFundMe raising $100K to keep Christine Blasey Ford safe

There’s a GoFundMe raising $100K to keep Christine Blasey Ford safe
[Photo: RyanMcGuire/Pixabay]

Not that we needed more evidence of the immense risk that women take when they speak out against powerful men, but the California professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when the two were in high school is now facing a bombardment of death threats–and that will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Yesterday, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford were hesitant to commit to a public hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee that would subject her to more trauma and raise her profile even higher with critics who would seek to do her harm. Instead, they said an FBI investigation should be the first step.

In the meantime, a GoFundMe campaign has been launched in an effort to pay for Ford’s inevitable security costs, and it’s raising money fast. In just 15 hours, the campaign has brought in more than $68,000 from 2,125 people. The fundraising goal is set at $100,000, but at this rate, it could end up a lot higher.

The campaign’s creator, Heidi Feldman, tells me that she’s been in touch with Ford’s representatives, and that they’re “very appreciative” of the assistance. She said she was moved to create the campaign out of a desire to help Ford tell her story without her having to fear for her physical safety. “I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the level of threats that someone in this position can face,” Feldman said.

I’ve reached out to Ford’s lawyers and will update if I hear back.

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