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  • 5:45 pm

Tesla earnings: Oof

Tesla earnings: Oof
[Photo: Alex Iby/Unsplash]

Tesla just got hit with a big loss for its most recent quarter: $2.90 per share on revenue of $4.54 billion. Analysts estimated a loss of $0.69 per share on revenue of $5.33 billion. The company ended its first quarter with $2.2 billion of cash and cash equivalents.

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Tesla paid off a $920 million convertible bond in March, which was largely responsible for the reduction. Another $180 million related to Solar City is due in April.

The company still expects to deliver 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles in 2019. “If our Gigafactory Shanghai is able to reach volume production early in Q4 this year, we may be able to produce as many as 500,000 vehicles globally in 2019,” Tesla noted in its earnings letter, adding that it should be able to produce 500,000 vehicles globally between July 2019 and July 2020. Tesla plans to deliver between 90,000 and 100,000 vehicles next quarter.

The company is behind on production goals. It produced 77,100 total vehicles, of which 62,975 were Model 3 and 14,163 were Model S and X. Both production and delivery of Model S and X vehicles were down over 43% from the same time last year. Meanwhile, the Model 3 is up significantly on all fronts.

On its earnings call, the company said the production problems were an organizational issue. “Half of all deliveries occurred in the final 10 days of Q1,” CEO Elon Musk said. Part of this was related to making upgrades to Model S and X vehicles. There was also a logistical snafu with Tesla’s production process. Musk explained the company was building cars in batches—for example, making all of the orders out of China in the first half of the quarter and all of the orders out of North America in the second quarter. He said the company will be “rebalancing vehicle build” across its global factories to produce in a way that’s more tethered to regional demand.

Earlier this quarter, Tesla said it would be closing some stores, laying off corresponding employees, and moving all of its sales online in an effort to make room in the budget for the $35,000 Model 3. Though Tesla said it would begin selling the $35,000 version of the Model 3 in February, the vehicle has yet to materialize.

Despite looming concerns from investors, Musk has been pushing for a focus on the future. During the call, he announced it would launch its own car insurance product next month. On Monday, he hosted an event to announce a coming autonomous robotaxi fleet, slated for 2020. He promised to have a million self-driving vehicles on roads next year, but many weren’t convinced: Between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Tesla’s stock dropped. No company has been able to debut a self-driving car that is past the pilot stage, and autonomous technology is a costly investment.

Tesla’s technological infrastructure for self-driving relies on computer vision and does not use lidar, which uses laser light pulses to detect objects and their distance. Though a truer version of artificial intelligence in the sense that the car will have to process images in real time to make decisions, it may prove a more difficult path to chart.

On that note, Musk has changed his perspective on raising capital: “I think there is some merit to raising capital,” he told an investor on the call. “This is probably the right timing.” Last year, he said he did not want to do an equity raise.

Tesla also has yet to close a deal to buy Maxwell Technologies, which makes ultra capacitors and battery parts, for $218 million. On the call, general counsel Jonathan Chang said that the deal would come through in mid-May.

In after-hours trading, Tesla’s stock is ever so slightly up.

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  • 4:41 pm

Facebook earnings stained by possible $5 billion FTC fine; stock skyrockets anyway

Facebook earnings stained by possible $5 billion FTC fine; stock skyrockets anyway
[Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash]

Facebook’s first-quarter earnings are highlighted by an accounting allowance for a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fine that could be as large as $5 billion. The company violated a consent decree with the FTC in 2012, and the agency is just now getting around to levying the fine.

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Facebook said in a filing that it “recorded an accrual of $3 billion in connection with the ongoing inquiry of the FTC,” and that the “range of loss is between $3 billion and $5 billion.” A fine of $5 billion would represent less than 9% of the company’s 2018 revenue.

Despite the fine, Facebook’s advertising business continued humming away in the quarter.

Earnings highlights:

  • Revenue: $15.08 billion (analysts expected $15 billion)
  • Daily active users: 1.56 billion (in line with analyst expectations)
  • Monthly active users: 2.38 billion (roughly in line with analyst expectations)
  • Average revenue per user: $6.42 (analysts expected $6.39)

Facebook and Google hold the best data for targeting ads at consumers. Smaller advertising platforms can’t aggregate the breadth and depth of social and demographic data that the two giants possess, so the duopoly persists and grows. Facebook’s 2018 annual revenue grew 37.35% over 2017 to $55.83 billion.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had this to say:

We had a good quarter and our business and community continue to grow. We are focused on building out our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking, and working collaboratively to address important issues around the internet.

Despite Zuckerberg announcing that his company is moving toward “private, encrypted services,” Facebook stock is up 4.65% in after-hours trading. Privacy is privacy, but business is business.

On a conference call with analysts Wednesday afternoon, Zuckerberg again welcomed a federal privacy law that uses Europe’s GDPR as a model. He also said one company can’t be expected to set the norms for what constitutes hate speech, and that the government should play a role in balancing free speech and safety on online platforms. The CEO said he believed new regulations might hurt Facebook’s business in the short term, but would provide a measure of regulatory certainty that would be beneficial in the long term.

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  • 3:01 pm

Amazon lets some Alexa workers see exactly where you are

Amazon lets some Alexa workers see exactly where you are
[Photo: Ryan Mercier/Unsplash]

After reporting a couple of weeks ago on how Amazon lets some workers listen to Alexa voice recordings, Bloomberg is back with a follow-up that says those workers can access users’ locations as well. In some cases, the Alexa audit team can see precise geographic coordinates, which they could easily look up in an app like Google Maps to determine someone’s whereabouts. Two sources apparently blew the whistle after concluding that Amazon was giving its workers overly broad access to personal data.

In response, Amazon told Bloomberg that “access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions.” The company added that it regularly audits this access and has a “zero-tolerance” abuse policy. (Bloomberg didn’t find any evidence that workers had abused their access to customers’ data.)

For Amazon, listening to recordings from an Echo speaker or other Alexa device does serve a legitimate purpose, as it allows the company to improve speech recognition when something goes wrong. With location data in particular, the Alexa team uses that information to improve local search results. (Also worth reiterating: Amazon only collects audio samples when someone says “Alexa,” rather than constantly sending audio to its servers.) Still, Amazon doesn’t fully spell out the implications of this data collection, and says nothing about location data on the page where users can opt out.

To prevent Alexa workers from listening in, you can head to this page while signed into your Amazon account, select “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa,” and disable “Help Develop New Features.”

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  • 2:41 pm

There’s a giant potato for rent on Airbnb and it’s surprisingly chic

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission, the organization behind the What Kind of Potato Are You? quiz created a giant potato (as one does) and sent it packing on the back of a truck for a potato promotional tour across America. After six years, though, potatoes were well promoted, and so the commission brought the tater home.

Once it was back in Idaho, though, they had a problem: What the heck do you do with a 28-foot-long, 12-foot-wide, and 11.5-foot-tall potato? The answer was obvious (at least to tiny house developer Kristie Wolfe): Turn it into an Airbnb rental. After all, who doesn’t want to sleep in an overgrown potato? It’s like James and the Giant Peach but with more carbs.

[Photo: courtesy of Linda Whittig]
Now the six-ton Boise-based Big Idaho Potato Hotel has been listed on Airbnb. The oversize spud, made up of steel, plaster, and concrete, has all the amenities you would expect in a potato-themed hotel. It sleeps two in a queen bed, and there’s a small bathroom, a fireplace, air-conditioning, and a beverage cooler. Bring your own potato chips just in case you find yourself with a hankering for potatoes for some reason.

While The Atlantic may have declared that the Instagram aesthetic is dead, the potato didn’t get the memo. Instead of potato-themed decorations, it has opted for a surprisingly chic, Instagram-ready interior complete with millennial-pink accents, elk antler chandelier, cute house plants, and views of South Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains.

It costs $200 a night, plus a $31 service fee and $16 in occupancy taxes and fees, bringing the total price of a one-night stay to $247. Just be aware that there’s no TV or Wi-Fi inside the potato, because it is a potato. Maybe spend the night writing potato fanfic instead.

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  • 1:34 pm

McDonald’s wants to fill 250,000 jobs with older workers

McDonald’s wants to fill 250,000 jobs with older workers
[Photo: Simon Ray/Unsplash]

With younger workers less eager to take minimum-wage positions, McDonald’s has been left with roughly 250,000 jobs to fill this summer, which it plans to do by hiring older workers.

To bolster its workforce and help older workers find gainful employment, Mickey D’s will be posting open positions on AARP’s online job board. As USA Today notes, this isn’t the first time that McDonald’s has launched a campaign to hire older workers. However, this is the biggest and most concerted effort yet to fill those thousands of jobs. McDonald’s is also working with the AARP Foundation to launch a pilot program in five states that will help match lower-income older Americans with potential jobs.

“For the first time ever, five generations are now working together under the Arches,” said Melissa KerseyMcDonald’s U.S. chief people officer. Her statement is both an encouraging sign of workplace age diversity and a devastating indictment of the economy and the value placed on caring for older members of society.

While teenagers are the stereotypical fast food employee, restaurants are increasingly turning to older people who are eager to remain in the workforce. According to a 2018 Bloomberg story, recruiters love older workers as they tend to be punctual, experienced, friendly, and usually have a stronger work ethic than many of their younger cohorts.

The number of working Americans aged 65 to 74 is expected to grow 4.5% between 2014 and 2024 as people live longer. Ageism is, of course, alive and well, and full retirement is harder to achieve as savings dwindle. Plus, Americans are simply working longer than ever before in order to supplement what insufficient retirement savings they have. Either way, it seems as though retiring to a beach in Boca is increasingly becoming a pipe dream.

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  • 12:19 pm

Amazon gets in a Twitter spat with Elizabeth Warren and doesn’t do itself any favors

Amazon gets in a Twitter spat with Elizabeth Warren and doesn’t do itself any favors
[Photo: Flickr user Lorie Shaull]

Amazon got in a rare public Twitter spat yesterday, responding to a claim made by Senator Elizabeth Warren during a New Hampshire Town Hall as part of her campaign to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Warren was asked about her plan to break up Big Tech and used Amazon as an example.

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She accused the retail giant of collecting “information on every buyer and seller” and using the data to see which products are popular and then creating its own competing private label products, knocking back the original in the site’s search results.

“The consequence is that Amazon, because of its superior information, can come in and knock out all of the competition,” Warren said. “Giant tech companies have too much power,” Warren tweeted. “My plan to #BreakUpBigTech prevents corporations like Amazon from knocking out the rest of the competition. You can be an umpire, or you can be a player—but you can’t be both.”

Amazon publicly waded into the foray on Twitter. In its tweet, it said, “We don’t use individual sellers’ data to launch private label products (which account for only about 1% of sales). And sellers aren’t being ‘knocked out’ — they’re seeing record sales every year.”

The senator wasn’t having it. She fired back at Amazon on Twitter, citing several news stories that support her points, including ones on Amazon’s use of data to copy successful products as well as pointing out the company’s profits from its private-label products, which compete with its own retailers and are projected to reach $25 billion by 2022. In its tweet, Amazon also claimed it makes up “less than 4% of U.S. retail,” but Warren’s point was that it makes up 49.1% of online retail sales, which Warren noted, was “an odd thing to deliberately misconstrue.”

Warren, who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a U.S. government agency that protects consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices by companies—isn’t backing down in her fight against what she sees as unfair business practices on the part of big technology companies.

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  • 11:52 am

Nancy Pelosi on her newfound leadership swagger: “It’s for the women”

Nancy Pelosi on her newfound leadership swagger: “It’s for the women”
[Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images]

This is not Nancy Pelosi’s first rodeo, but the rodeo certainly looks different this time around.

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At the Time 100 Summit in New York yesterday, the House speaker said she is feeling more “liberated” during her second stint in the role, in part because she is now leading the most diverse U.S. House of Representatives in history—including 115 people of color, eight openly LGBTQ members, and 102 women.

Pelosi said people close to her have even remarked that she’s “uncharacteristically boastful” of the work that Congress is accomplishing in the new term.

“It’s not for me—it’s for the women,” Pelosi said of her newfound swagger. “I want women to have all the confidence in the world. They should not be inhibited to sing their own praises or take credit for what they have done.”

Pelosi made the remarks during a discussion with Time magazine’s Molly Ball. She cited a number of recent Congressional wins, including the passage of a gun safety bill that enhanced background checks on firearm purchases and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

She also noted that a high number of recently elected representatives serve as chairs of House subcommittees. “Eighteen members of this freshman class have a gavel. That’s a very, very big deal,” she said. She compared this to the class of 1974—the “Watergate Babies”—which she said was viewed as a historically transformative group. “Not one of them, in their first year, was a chair on a subcommittee,” she said, indicating the progress made over the decades.

She told the summit she was proud that Democrats were bringing up the female average, with 89 Democratic and 13 Republican women in the House. Still, 102 women of 435 total House members represents less than a quarter of the legislative body. Pelosi acknowledged that there’s a long way to go to achieve ideal levels of participation by women.

“Nothing is more wholesome for America than the increased participation of women in government,” she said.

Many of the newly elected women identify with what’s come to be known as a more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, a faction whose scale Pelosi recently downplayed in an interview with 60 Minutes. “That’s like five people,” she said of the group, while also admitting her preference to take a more centrist path.

One reason for the friction is a discord over impeachment, which Pelosi has approached with caution. She warned the summit of the division that impeachment would bring, and encouraged her colleagues to study the facts of the Mueller report before making any decisions. “All of us in public office have a duty to the American people to keep us together,” she said.

Going forward, Pelosi’s goals are to work on bipartisan terms with the Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump on “kitchen table concerns,” such as lowering the costs of healthcare and improving infrastructure, two areas where she said the president has shown interest.

In the meantime, she expressed her delight in how women across the country mobilized by partaking in the various women’s marches. “It wasn’t political. It was organic and spontaneous,” she said.

On the long-term goal of continuing to boost the role of women in politics, she acknowledged that the conditions need to be more favorable for them to partake.

“I guarantee you this,” she said, “If we reduce the role of money and increase the role of civility in politics, we’ll have many, many more women.”

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  • 11:16 am

Here’s how much James Holzhauer has to win to beat Jeopardy’s biggest winner

Here’s how much James Holzhauer has to win to beat Jeopardy’s biggest winner

James Holzhauer is making Jeopardy history, and after 14 consecutive wins, he’s on track to break the show’s biggest record.

The professional sports gambler broke the show’s record for single-day cash winnings and then broke his own record, a streak that CNBC notes is probably wreaking havoc on the game show’s budget.

The show’s hall of fame now features Holzhauer in the top seven spots. While Holzhauer knows a shocking amount of trivia, he credits his success in part to his use of a controversial method known as the “Forrest Bounce,” named for former Jeopardy champion Chuck Forrest, who jumped from category to category choosing tiles seemingly at random in order to throw off his opponents. (For more on that, check out this Atlantic article on Jeopardy game theory.)

While not a record-breaking number, Holzhauer won $118,816 in the game that aired Tuesday night, bringing his total earnings to a whopping $1,061,554. According to CNN, he’s now the second person in the show’s history to earn more than $1 million in the regular season.

The only other contestant to win more than $1 million in regular-season games is Ken Jennings, who earned $2,520,700, but over the course of 74 games, while Holzhauer took only 14 games to earn nearly half that amount. Holzhauer’s accomplishments are impressive, but if my math is correct (no promises), he still needs to win $1,459,146 to beat the record set by Jennings.

Holzhauer will continue his effort tonight.

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  • 10:50 am

Burrow now delivers $3,000 leather couches by mail to your doorstep

If you think furniture-in-a-box companies only create products that are lower in quality than the furniture you might buy in a brick-and-mortar store, think again.

[Photo: courtesy of Burrow]
This week, the sofa-in-a-box brand Burrow just launched a new collection of luxurious leather sofas in its signature midcentury design. With prices ranging from $895 for a club chair to $2,795 for a sectional, these leather pieces are cheaper than what you might pay at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, but still pricey.

This is a signal that Burrow is moving beyond its first market of millennial professionals who are just purchasing their first real pieces of furniture and are drawn to the convenience of having a sofa delivered by mail, in boxes that arrive at their doorstep. The modular nature of the Burrow furniture means that customers can expand their sofa if their family grows, or if they move into a bigger home. Burrow’s original collection, which comes in fabric, costs about half the price of the leather pieces. So this new leather line will appeal to consumers who are looking for investment pieces.

Burrow is betting that people are increasingly comfortable with having expensive items delivered by mail. Casper made a similar calculation when it launched the higher-end Wave mattress, which costs $2,295 for a queen-sized bed, and also arrives in a box. In other words, as millennials get older and accrue more wealth, there’s a good chance they’ll want to upgrade their furniture and expect to have their products delivered in the same convenient way they did when they were furnishing their very first apartment.

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  • 10:45 am

Is quality time the next killer app?

Is quality time the next killer app?
[Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash]

Serial entrepreneur and former Mozilla creative lead Aza Raskin reminds me that he invented the infinite scroll–not boastfully, but a tad sheepishly. That’s because the technology, which enables the next article to automatically load as you scroll to the end of the current one (as you experience on Fast Company), can be harmful to your psychological health.

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Online content that goes on and on, effortlessly–like Facebook and Twitter feeds or Netflix autoplays–nudge us to spend more time connected to a narrow virtual world and less to a full, real one. This “extraction of human attention” is one of the great threats to humanity, say Raskin and former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris–comparable to climate change. In 2018, the pair formed the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology, with the goal of changing a tech culture that sucks up our attention, pulls us into polarized niches, and hooks us on the chase for virtual popularity.

On Tuesday at San Francisco’s SFJAZZ Center, the two offered an erudite presentation on how tech exploits human nature–a coming-out party for the group before a crowd of journalists and luminaries ranging from Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak to actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a compelling talk, but the actions they announce seem prosaic: a new podcast, a conference in 2020, and a worksheet for designers.

So I push for specifics. That’s how we get to infinite scroll, and Raskin’s ideas to undermine it. “We know as a field that retention, how engaging something is, is directly proportional to how fast it loads,” he says, proposing a solution: “The more you scroll on social media, the slower things should load, with some random delay.”

Raskin doesn’t expect Facebook to go for this. But his old employer, Firefox browser maker Mozilla, just might. So could a company like Apple, which controls everything that runs on its platforms. Apple has attacked distractions in the past by blocking annoying popups in its browsers. Lately, it’s made privacy a selling feature–taking on Facebook and the whole humanity-monetizing tech industry.

Rivals like Samsung and Android-maker Google might follow, he claims. But I’m skeptical, given Samsung’s penchant for loading phones with bloatware apps and Google’s obsession with analyzing people and making decisions for them.

Beyond throwing a wrench in dangerous tech, Raskin proposes positive innovations. “Where is there an interface on my phone for you and I to hang out more?” he asks.

“Imagine if I said, ‘Hey Siri, I want to spend more time with Sean’…And behind the scenes, it goes out to Facebook, it goes out to Yelp, it goes out to all these different service providers that are now competing to offer up suggestions,” he says. The end product might be something like an alert telling us that four dinners have been scheduled for the coming year.

The analogy is an apt one. Raskin and I met at a conference about a decade ago, exchanged contact info, and promised to keep in touch. This is the first time we’ve seen each other since then.

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  • 9:46 am

After 737 Max crashes, Boeing profits drop more than 20%

After 737 Max crashes, Boeing profits drop more than 20%
[Photo: nickyhardinguk/Pixabay]

After two deadly crashes due to software issues on its 737 Max jets, Boeing’s business is flailing.

Wednesday morning the company reported its quarterly earnings, and profits fell by about 21%, compared to the same quarter the previous year. And despite the fact that analysts revised their revenue expectations, Boeing still wasn’t able to even hit that mark.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Boeing’s quarterly revenue hit $22.92 billion this past quarter, compared to the $22.98 billion expected.
  • The company saw $3.16 earnings per share, missing the $3.25 EPS expectation.
  • Profits fell to $1.98 billion, compared to the $2.51 billion Boeing made in Q1 of 2018.

Meanwhile, the company itself isn’t sure it’s going to make a full recovery this year. Boeing announced to investors that it is pausing share buybacks as well as withdrawing its forecast for the rest of the year. The company said it will release guidance at a “future date,” since the company is still mired in uncertainty due to the grounding of the 737 Max planes.

Orders are lagging, too, with its backlog down by a significant chunk of what it was last quarter. Business Insider reports that Boeing has received no new orders for the 737 Max jet, which analysts believe would have represented about a third of its revenue over the next five years.

Boeing’s stock has been topsy-turvy all morning, and is currently up by a little more than 1%.

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  • 7:25 am

Netflix wins Oscar battle to win Oscars in the future

Netflix wins Oscar battle to win Oscars in the future
[Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive]

The Academy of Motion Picture and Arts and Sciences has ruled that films from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime will still be eligible to win Academy Awards. The Academy had considered changing Rule Two, which allowed any film to be eligible for an Academy Award as long as it had a seven-day run in a Los Angeles theater.

With the rise of streaming video services, in the last several years many in the film industry wanted that rule changed to say films up for Oscars needed to have longer theatrical runs. One such proponent of this is Steven Spielberg, who said that movies that are shown primarily on television should be up for Emmys, not Oscars.

But upon announcing the rules for the 92nd Academy Awards today, the Academy announced Rule Two would stay as it is:

The Academy’s Board of Governors voted to maintain Rule Two, Eligibility for the 92nd Oscars. The rule states that to be eligible for awards consideration, a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission. Motion pictures released in nontheatrical media on or after the first day of their Los Angeles County theatrical qualifying run remain eligible.

Last February, the Netflix movie Roma won three Oscars after a very limited theatrical debut. Announcing that Rule Two would not be changed, Academy president John Bailey said:

“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions. Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.”

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  • 6:51 am

Tim Cook: “If you’re looking at a phone more than someone’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing”

Tim Cook: “If you’re looking at a phone more than someone’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing”
[Photo: Flickr user Austin Community College]

Apple’s CEO attended the Time 100 Summit in New York yesterday where he addressed a number of topics, from tech’s effect on society to political action committees (PACs). In the wide-ranging interview, Cook dropped a number of insights into Apple and how he sees technology’s role in the world.

One of the most interesting insights was Cook explaining that he doesn’t want people to be glued to their iPhones, telling former Time editor in chief Nancy Gibbs, “If you’re looking at a phone more than someone’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing.” Cook explained:

“Apple never wanted to maximize user time. We’ve never been about that. We’re not motivated to do that from a business point of view, and we’re certainly not motivated from a values point of view.”

It may sound weird to hear a CEO of a tech company say that he doesn’t want their most popular product to be used more often by people—and some may not even believe his sincerity of the statement. However, last year Apple did introduce a new feature in iOS devices called ScreenTime that is designed to help minimize the amount of time people spend on their iPhones and iPads. And that same feature is rumored to be coming to Macs this year.

Besides talking about limiting time spent on Apple devices, Cook also addressed the following:

  • On regulation of tech companies: “We all have to be intellectually honest, and we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.”
  • On money in politics: “We focus on policies, not politics. Apple doesn’t have a PAC . . . I refuse to have one because it shouldn’t exist.”
  • On the company’s new emphasis on health-related technology: “I do think that there will be the day that we will look back and say, ‘Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind was in healthcare.'”
  • On avoiding controversy: “I try not to get wrapped up in a pretzel about who we upset. At the end of the day we’ll be judged more on, ‘Did we stand up for what we believed in?’ not necessarily, ‘Do they agree with it?'”
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  • 6:25 am

Trump met with Jack Dorsey to discuss his number of Twitter followers

Trump met with Jack Dorsey to discuss his number of Twitter followers
[Photo: Tia Dufour/Official White House Photo/Flickr]

The president met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey yesterday after ranting about the company on Twitter earlier that morning, reports the Washington Post. Trump had taken to the platform earlier in the day to accuse Twitter of not treating him well “as a Republican” and making references to his number of followers.

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The Post says that when Trump met with Dorsey in the White House that afternoon, a “significant portion” of the conversation centered around Trump complaining about his number of Twitter followers. Per the Post:

A significant portion of the meeting focused on Trump’s concerns that Twitter quietly, and deliberately, had removed some of his followers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation who requested anonymity because it was private. Trump said he had heard from fellow conservatives who had lost followers as well.

The Post reports that Dorsey explained to the president that users can remove followers as Twitter ramps up efforts to remove spam and bot accounts from the platform. Dorsey even stressed that he himself had “lost followers as part of Twitter’s work to enforce its policies.”

In a statement, Twitter said the meeting was initiated by the president and focused on “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis.” As for the president, after the meeting ended, he tweeted a photo of the event saying, “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general.”

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Sesame Street tackles iPhone addiction, and Cookie Monster can’t control himself

Sesame Street tackles iPhone addiction, and Cookie Monster can’t control himself
[Photo: Brian Killian/WireImage/Getty Images]

The Sesame Street crew–Big Bird, Grover, Elmo, even Oscar the Grouch–have a simple yet powerful message for America: Put your damn phone away.

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In honor of the show’s 50th anniversary, Sesame Street collaborated with Common Sense Media for a PSA series “Device Free Dinner.” In the new clip, the usual suspects are seen tucking their tech away as they prepare to sit down for a communal dinner. Big Bird shelves a wooden-framed iPad; Snuffaluffagus closes a laptop with his trunk; while Elmo unloads himself of multiple devices (including a pager) that suggest he moonlights in some shady stuff.

“Elmo will play with you later,” Elmo mutters to an oversized smartphone.

Alas, as the group gathers around the table, there’s one holdout: Cookie Monster. The dessert fiend is called out for his tech addiction–and what happens next is classic Cookie Monster:

This isn’t the first time Sesame Street has tackled the timely parenting topic. In 2017, the show broached the issue with the character Leela, whose constant texting annoyed the resident puppets. The episode showed Abby Cadabby requesting Leela read her a story, only to be forced to wait as the human repeatedly communicated with her brother. It is, coincidentally, how Abby finally learns the word of the day: “frustrated.”

Abby and her puppet pal Zoe ultimately conspire to steal Leela’s phone, which is less than PSA-friendly.

The “Device Free Dinner” campaign has run for several years now. In the past, Common Sense–an advocacy organization for kids in the digital age–partnered with Funny Or Die for a clip featuring comedian Will Ferrell. The Sesame Street edition will be distributed on a variety of networks including NBC, Fox, Xfinity, Comcast, Charter, Cox, National Geographic, PBS, Univision, and Telemundo.

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Walgreens, publicly shamed by the FDA, raises the tobacco age to 21

Walgreens, publicly shamed by the FDA, raises the tobacco age to 21
[Photo: Ali Yahya/Unsplash]

Walgreens is finally trying to do more to ensure that teens don’t pick up a bad habit. On Tuesday, the retailer announced that, starting September 1, buyers will have to be 21 to purchase tobacco products in its stores.

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“We’ve seen positive results from other recent efforts to strengthen our policies related to tobacco sales, and believe this next step can be even more impactful to reduce its use among teens and young adults,” Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations, said in a press statement.

Last October, Walgreens targeted underage smoking by implementing a “Card All” policy, which required verification regardless of age on all tobacco sales. The company says it also offers a “comprehensive suite of digital information and support tools” to those customers who want to quit smoking.

While a seemingly commendable move, analysts believe Walgreens’s newest policy is in direct response to pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In February, the FDA initiated enforcement action against Walgreens for repeated violations of selling tobacco products to minors.

Walgreens wasn’t the only retailer outed for its shady practices. Retailers such as Kroger, 7-Eleven, and Walmart were also named, as were gas station chains like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil. Walgreens, however, was named “the top violator” among pharmacies. The FDA noted that 22% of Walgreens stores inspected illegally sold tobacco products to underage consumers.

An estimated 4.9 million middle and high school students reported current (within 30 days) use of tobacco last year, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he will introduce legislation to raise the legal tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21.

“We have an epidemic of nicotine consumption either through cigarettes or through vaping in high schools and even middle schools, not only in our state but around the . . . country,” said McConnell.

Already, another popular retailer has taken significant steps to curtail teen smoking. In 2014, CVS Health became the first national retail pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products in all stores, saying such sales conflicted with its company mission. At the time, CVS Health noted that since cigarette purchases are often spontaneous, it made sense to remove itself as a convenient location to buy cigarettes. By stripping access, the company reasoned, it could decrease overall tobacco consumption.

In 2017, CVS Health analyzed how the restriction of sales affected local communities. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that CVS customers who previously relied on the retailer for tobacco were 38% more likely to stop buying cigarettes.

“When we removed tobacco from our shelves, a significant number of our customers simply stopped buying and hopefully smoking cigarettes altogether instead of just altering their cigarette purchasing habits,” Dr. Troyen Brennan, CVS Health chief medical officer, said in a 2017 statement. “This research proves that our decision had a powerful public health impact by disrupting access to cigarettes and helping more of our customers on their path to better health.”

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Thanks to user bump, Snap stock is spiking after earnings beat

Thanks to user bump, Snap stock is spiking after earnings beat
[Photo: Adam Birkett/Unsplash]

Even though Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., is still operating at a loss, its stock is seeing a big after-hours jump. This is because it delivered a solid earnings beat this past quarter. Here are some of the big takeaways:

  • Loss-per-share was 10¢, compared to an expected 12¢.
  • Revenue this past quarter hit $320 million, exceeding analyst expectations of $306 million.
  • Daily active users went up to 190 million, up from 186 million last quarter, but still down from the 191 million reported this quarter last year. FactSet estimated the company’s DAUs would hit 187.22 million.

On all three counts, this is a big beat. And Snap stock is responding. Shares spiked as much as 10% in after-hours trading. Currently, they’re up about 7% at $12.82.

This beat follows a recent high-profile analyst upgrade. BTIG’s Rich Greenfield deemed the stock a “buy,” and gave it a price target of $15. He reasoned that advertising seemed to be surging on the platform and that its Discover feature is doing better than before. This quarter’s results show that Greenfield may have been onto something.

In prepared remarks for the earnings call, chief business officer Jeremi Gorman pointed to Snap’s burgeoning ad business as its growth engine. She said the company is seeing more brand partnerships–as well increased use by advertisers while the company builds out more ad products. It is, however, still unclear how long it will be until the social network app is able to turn a profit.

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Mayhem at The Markup: Staffers resign en masse at highly anticipated tech news outlet

Mayhem at The Markup: Staffers resign en masse at highly anticipated tech news outlet
[Photo: Mike Chai/Pexels]

Jeff Larson and Sue Gardner likely didn’t anticipate this blowback. The two media executives are at the helm of the Markup–a still-in-development investigative news publication that was slated to launch in July–along with ProPublica veteran Julia Angwin. Today, however, Angwin announced that she was being let go from her position as editor-in-chief, due to alleged differences with Gardner. Larson will be taking over as editor-in-chief. And now reporters are resigning.

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When it was first announced, the Markup was pitched as a publication that would look at technology and its underlying effects on society. With a $23 million cash infusion in part from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the team of around 20 journalists would sift through public records, analyze data, and then write deep reports about the tectonic changes happening before our very eyes. This followed closely with Angwin’s past reporting at ProPublica, a nonprofit news outlet that often publishes investigations on big companies like Facebook.

However, in a letter to Newmark on Monday, Angwin accused Gardner of refocusing the outlet’s mission. “Executive Director Sue Gardner is now seeking to change the mission of the newsroom to one based on advocacy against the tech companies,” she wrote.

She went on to say that Gardner began to ask candidates during interviews for their “take” on tech companies, and then reportedly rated them based on their antipathy toward these businesses. “This approach is a direct repudiation of our promise to . . . you and our other donors,” she wrote.

Gardner disputed this characterization to the New York Times. Employees, however, feel blindsided. Many found out about the decision to oust Angwin only yesterday, but still don’t quite understand what happened. Some described Larson’s and Gardner’s complaints about Angwin as petty grievances. While there may have been some brewing disagreements at the top for some time, employees say they were generally quite happy with the atmosphere of the newsroom. They were working on stories, attending meetings, and collaborating cohesively, sources tell me.

The move to let Angwin go, one source says, looked very much like a “power grab.” Angwin was one of the founders of this organization, and the other two, for an unknown reason, weren’t on the same page as her. The two allegedly complained about Angwin’s management style, yet those managed by her disagreed. “It’s Jeff and Sue versus Julia,” one source says.

Now multiple staffers are leaving the Markup. So far, five editors and writers have taken to Twitter to announce their departure from the publication in light of Angwin’s ouster. For each individual Twitter announcement, Angwin has tweeted in response that they “can’t afford to do this. This is heartbreaking.”

In a Twitter thread, Larson announced his new position as editor-in-chief, but didn’t discuss the specifics of Angwin’s departure. “As I said when we launched, as a news outlet, the Markup intends to hold the powerful to account, raise the cost of bad behavior, and spur reforms. That hasn’t changed, and we are excited to move forward on this path,” he wrote.

I reached out to Newmark, Larson, and Angwin for comment. The Markup‘s communications team provided me with a statement from Gardner, which I’ve pasted below. It does not discuss the employee departures. Gardner has a past history of management missteps, including being a target of Gawker’s Valleywag blog back in 2008.

For now, we wait to see if more employees depart or if Newmark steps in to right the ship.

Here is the statement from Sue Gardner:

The Markup has appointed cofounder and managing editor Jeff Larson as editor-in-chief. Jeff will be taking over the role from cofounder Julia Angwin. Jeff is a highly skilled technologist and widely recognized pioneer in data-driven investigative journalism. He has won multiple awards for his work, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and was part of the team of journalists from the New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica that reported on the Snowden documents.

We are not going to speak to the specific details of Julia’s departure. As a matter of practice, we don’t talk about internal HR issues. This was, simply, a personnel matter about leadership and management, and while we have worked for months together to try to find another role for Julia that is commensurate with her experience and stature as a journalist, unfortunately, Ms. Angwin refused to consider any title or role other than editor-in-chief. We appreciate her role in cofounding and helping to guide the initial phase of the Markup‘s development.

The Markup was founded in 2018 to produce data-driven, rigorously fact-checked reporting about the effects of technology on society. We said when the Markup was first announced that we intended to “hold the powerful to account, raise the cost of bad behavior, and spur reforms.” That mission has not changed. Our goals, purpose, and focus have not shifted. Our reporting priorities haven’t changed, and won’t. Any assertion that we have shifted our mission is simply not the case. The mission of the Markup was never solely one person’s vision–it is a vision that all three cofounders and a growing staff share.

We are looking forward to launching later in 2019.

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Google spinoff Wing earns first FAA approval for drone delivery

Google spinoff Wing earns first FAA approval for drone delivery
[Photo: courtesy of Wing]

An offshoot of Alphabet Inc, aka Google’s parent company, is officially the first drone operator to receive FAA approval to start flying as an airline. While that doesn’t mean humans will be flying in drones anytime soon, it is an important step to giving the company the legal authority it needs to start delivering products to customers.

With its new FAA certification in hand, the Alphabet subsidiary, Wing, reportedly plans to begin routine deliveries of small consumer items in two rural communities in Virginia within months, the company said. Wing has been testing its delivery drone delivery system with runs in Australia after beginning testing way back in 2014.

As Bloomberg reports, while plenty of companies have been granted FAA waivers to demonstrate their drones or to make deliveries over short distances, Wing is the first company to be approved as a small craft airline, akin to what smaller airlines receive from the FAA and the Department of Transportation. That means it can start charging customers to make deliveries in the Virginia area and work to expand the service.

The FAA approval process reportedly took months, requiring the company to write “extensive manuals, training routines and a safety hierarchy” just like a traditional airplane manufacturer would have to do. Now that Wing has blazed the trail and made its way to the front of the pack, the FAA approval process for drones should move more quickly, meaning your next burrito or Glossier package or life-saving medicine could be delivered by drone.

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Elon Musk thinks Tesla can build 1M “robotaxis” in the next year

Elon Musk thinks Tesla can build 1M “robotaxis” in the next year
Interior of a Tesla autonomous vehicle. [Photo: courtesy of Tesla]

The latest Tesla moonshot is a doozy. On Monday, Elon Musk told an audience that Tesla plans to launch a large fleet of “autonomous robotaxis” in 2020. And not just a few: The Tesla CEO said the company planned to have a million of the self-driving vehicles on the road next year.

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Musk, however, did provide some caveats. For one, he said the robotaxis wouldn’t be everywhere. CNBC reports that he said “we won’t have regulatory approval everywhere.” As for the ambitious timeline, he explained that “sometimes I am not on time, but I get it done.” But he still repeated the 1 million robotaxi target for some time next year.

As the Financial Times (paywalled) points out, this big autonomous technology push is a necessity for the company; Musk now believes that the only way for Tesla to achieve sustained profitability is by having a growing fleet of robotaxis boosting the bottom line.

Musk, of course, is optimistic about his big self-driving plans. Others aren’t. “The Tesla Network robotaxi plans seemed half-baked, with the company appearing to either not have answers to or not even considered pretty basic question on the pricing, insurance liability, or regulatory and legal requirements,” said Cowen’s analyst Jeffrey Osborne in a new note. And though Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas was impressed with Tesla’s presentation—noting that its ability to feed its neural network with a massive real-world dataset sets it apart from competitors—he cautioned that removing the safety driver will “take many years (if not decades) to achieve at high scale.”

[Photo: courtesy of Tesla]
This endeavor’s success relies on Tesla’s software. At the event Monday, the company’s engineering lead and former Apple veteran Peter Bannon highlighted the company’s new chips–and added that new and even better hardware is on the horizon. Yet showing off new homemade chips is not the same as implementing extremely complicated and never-before-seen software that will be able to analyze and respond to reams of real-time data within nanoseconds to avoid on-road accidents and deaths. Companies like Uber, Google, and others have been investing in this technology–put on the road in their own fleets–and the technology is still nowhere near perfect. Even Tesla’s past autopilot technology has been behind a few driver fatalities.

To avoid these accidents, Tesla needs to improve its software at an astonishing clip. Cornell computer science professor Bart Selman told Quartz that Tesla may be getting ahead of itself: “In Tesla’s case, a significant reliance on computer vision introduces an extra level of difficulty … It is well known that current computer vision systems can fail in quite unpredictable ways. Having multiple sensors, ideally, including lidar, are therefore critical.”

In other words, Tesla’s updated autonomous driving software needs to iterate and develop to better take into account all of these extraneous inputs. The company, therefore, has a twofold challenge: Not only have the man power and workflow to achieve its ambitious robotaxi goal, but also be sure that the computing powering in it won’t kill people. If the company does launch a million vehicles on the road next year, let’s hope they are all really ready for prime time.

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