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03.27.17 | 3:23 pm

Angry about politics? Facebook wants to connect you to your representatives

One thing that has become clear over the last couple of months is that political activism really does work. Just since President Trump's inauguration, there have already been numerous examples of massive phone-calling campaigns actually convincing politicians to take (or not take) positions on issues. Those range from axing a plan to sell off public lands, to scuttling repeal of Obamacare, to convincing Congressional Republicans to slow down the pace of cabinet confirmation hearings.

There are lots of new tools that have launched in order to aid people connecting with their representatives. And now Facebook wants to get in on the action. Today, it launched Town Hall, which locates representatives based on where a user is located and provides a contact button, as well as a button to follow them. However, rather than actually facilitating the contact, the tool simply provides the politician's phone number and address. In this, Town Hall is not as sophisticated as some other systems out there, but for those just starting to think about getting involved, it's certainly better than nothing.

07.21.17 | a few seconds ago

Go inside Sephora’s first-ever boutique shop on Boston classiest street

Sephora has worked hard to make its stores fun, exciting places to shop, which is why it has done so well with its brick-and-mortar stores, while so many other brands have struggled over the last year. But Sephora is thinking about the future since customers are increasingly choosing to shop at small, neighborhood boutiques closer to home, rather than go to big shopping centers. 

The brand is launching its first ever small-format store in Boston's historic Newbury Street. I got a sneak peak yesterday, before its grand opening today. Read my story here

07.21.17 | an hour ago

Sprint is trolling Verizon with a fake store where you can’t actually buy things

Sprint is pushing a PR stunt today in which it opened a pop-up shop called "Twice the Price" in Queens. The hook is that the mock store is right next to a Verizon store and even uses a similar red-and-white color scheme. According to Sprint, the store is only open today and it's just for browsing, so you can't actually buy things. The idea, Sprint says, it to call attention to Verizon "hooking wireless customers across the country into paying double for four to five lines of unlimited data." 

Verizon is the bigger company, so this an example of "punching up," as they say in comedy. Still, these things can backfire. I wrote recently about a social media survey that found the majority of consumers find it annoying when brands make fun of the competition. Either way, good luck with this, Sprint.

[Image: Sprint]

07.21.17 | 3 hours ago

YouTube now redirects terrorism-related searches to anti-extremist content

Google's video-sharing platform has begun redirecting users who enter specific terror- and hate-related keywords to a playlist of videos "debunking violent extremist recruiting narratives," reports Variety. YouTube is using technology developed by Jigsaw, a think tank incubator in Google's parent company, Alphabet. Right now YouTube has confirmed that a small number of specific hate- and terror-related queries will trigger the redirects, but over the next several weeks the breadth of those queries will expand to include more and in additional languages. YouTube is also using machine learning to dynamically update related search query terms.

07.21.17 | 3 hours ago

An experiment in blowing up a plane prompted the U.S.’s laptop fears

New government scrutiny on the security of laptops—including a just-completed ban on laptops on flights from airports in North African and Middle Eastern countries to the U.S.—were prompted in part after a similar explosive "destroyed" an aircraft in a test near Washington, D.C.

Now that the airports have updated their screening measures, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ban is over, but as Homeland Security chief John Kelly told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, the threat remains. When it went into effect in March, a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News that the ban was initiated after an intelligence report described a terrorist plot seeking to destroy a commercial flight using explosives hidden in a laptop in a way that would be undetectable to some airport screeners. 

Intelligence officials received a wake-up call in February 2016, when an operative from Yemen-based Al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab detonated a bomb on a Daallo Airlines flight from Mogadishu, Somalia, to Djibouti. Investigators said the explosives were hidden in a part of the laptop where the DVD drive would normally be, and airport workers helped smuggle the bomb on the plane after it passed through an X-ray machine. 

In that case, however, the explosion only claimed one victim—the bomber was blown out of the airplane—and the plane was able to make an emergency landing. But if the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, the damage could have been catastrophic. 

[Photo: Unsplash user Jen Wennington]

07.21.17 | 4 hours ago

Look out, Facebook, Snap just bought a startup that makes it harder to copy software

Snap has acquired the Swiss startup Strong.Codes, Bloomberg reports. Strong.Codes makes software tools that obscure code so competitors find it harder to reverse-engineer it. Snap's Snapchat app has seen strong competition from Facebook's Instagram, which has copied many of its most popular features in the past year.

07.21.17 | 5:55 am

Delta now lets you use your fingerprints as your boarding pass

The airline has rolled out its biometric boarding pass program at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). To be eligible to use just your digits to board, you must be enrolled in Delta's SkyMiles program and also be a member of a biometric airport security program that costs $179 a year. In a press release Delta says that it's also currently working on expanding its biometric processes to DCA ticket counter workstations for bag drops.

[Image: Delta]

07.21.17 | 5:44 am

Jeff Bezos’s first Instagram post is the humblebrag to beat all humblebrags

The Amazon founder's first Instagram post is a video drone flyover of Blue Origin's new rocket factory. The drone then takes a hard turn and begins to zoom in on the roof of the massive facility where we find Bezos's chilling in a foldable chair and holding a sign that reads "Rocket Factory Coming Soon." Kinda makes all your #epic Instagram posts look trifling now, doesn't it?

[Screenshot: Instagram/Jeff Bezos]

07.20.17 | 5:06 pm

The Amazon-Whole Foods merger is raising concerns about pricing and grocery access

Now that the dust has settled from last month's news that Amazon wants to buy Whole Foods, concerns about the proposed $13.7 billion merger are growing. And though I'm sure Jeff Bezos would love the acquisition to be a walk in the park, it may not be that simple. Regulators are more intensely scrutinizing Amazon's pricing tactics in light of its deal with the high-end grocer.

Reuters reports that, as part of its review of the Whole Foods deal, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into claims that Amazon misled customers about certain discounts. The probe comes after an advocacy group looked into whether Amazon's reference prices (or list prices) were accurate. It found them to be repeatedly misleading, Reuters reports.

The FTC isn't the only one with questions. In an interview with Recode, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey expressed concerns about how the merger would affect access to groceries in poorer neighborhoods. "We're having a hard enough time getting supermarkets to move into urban communities, to give people choice, to give people price competitiveness, so that actually they're paying for affordable groceries," he said. Booker said he is writing a letter with the Congressional Black Caucus that asks for greater scrutiny of the merger.

With all this, Amazon has more than a few hurdles to overcome before the deal is complete. 

07.20.17 | 4:19 pm

Why did the Trump administration yank climate experts from Zuckerberg’s national park tour?

As part of this year's personal challenge, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been touring the country, seeking to visit every state, and getting to know real people along the way. Last Saturday, reports the Washington Post, Zuck flew to Montana, where he planned to check out the ways that climate change has ravaged the glaciers at that state's fabulous Glacier National Park.

The Post also writes that just days before Zuck's arrival, the Trump administration decided to remove some of the experts on climate change that were originally supposed to take him around the park. "Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift made it clear that she did not want Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow involved in the tour," the Post wrote, "according to three people with knowledge of the decision." So what were they afraid of? Could it be that the park officials would acknowledge climate change was real, something that would likely scare members of the Trump administration, which has demonstrated that it is skeptical of the entire concept? You can decide for yourself.

07.20.17 | 3:10 pm

Breathless coverage of Elon Musk is exactly how fake news begins

Today was just a normal ol' day in the news cycle, at least in terms of 2017. And then Elon Musk decided to tweet something. 

"What does 'verbal govt approval' mean?" you might ask. "A good question!" says I. And the answer is: We have no freaking idea. For all we know, Musk had coffee with a few municipal officials who thought the idea was a fun way to jazz things up. 

Still, news organizations pounced immediately—or took the bait. Among the sweeping headline pronouncements: 

 • NBC New York: "NY to DC in 29 Minutes: Musk Gets Go-Ahead for Hyperloop." (It has since been changed to "Elon Musk Says He Has Approval to Build NY-DC Hyperloop." Facebook, however is still showing the first.)

 • The Independent: "Elon Musk 'given approval' to build 760mph Hyperloop between New York and D.C."

 • SlashGear: "Elon Musk Hyperloop for 29 min NY-DC ride given go-ahead." 

Numerous others have similar formations. At worst, these headlines promote something that has yet to be proven, and, at best, take Musk at his word. Musk [whom, I confess, is on the cover of our most recent issue] is known to hyperbolize and sometimes cause minor forms of hysteria; look at how he talks about artificial intelligence, for example. 

In a world where social media is a primary mode of news consumption, seeing a simple headline that says Musk received verbal approval likely begins a fake news cycle about how a newfangled high speed transportation is in place. But that's not true! We have no idea who gave the approval. We have no idea who Musk was talking to. Thanks to some rigorous investigative reporting by Jalopnik (ie, emailing spokespeople at transit authorities for comments), what we do know is that most official organizations have no idea what Musk is talking about.

As he (like some other people with a lot of Twitter followers) manage to suck up all the air in the room (in the hot subway car?), there are actual everyday concerns to address, like how to support the aging transit infrastructure of cities like New York, which real people depend upon right now and for the foreseeable future. 

After receiving a little push-back—remember, Musk's Boring Company is still just experimenting with this idea on a test track in Los Angeles—Musk tweeted that there's "still a lot of work needed" to receive actual formal approval. I hope headline writers heed that warning too.

[Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images]

07.20.17 | 2:45 pm

How a Hotmail address gave away the web’s largest drug market

AlphaBay and Hansa, two of the largest illegal drug markets on the so-called dark web, were raided and shut down by international police operations, the BBC reports.

Alleged AlphaBay founder Alexandre Cazes was arrested in Thailand earlier this month, found with a laptop open and logged in to the site, enabling authorities to access the site's servers and records, according to the New York Times. A researcher who spoke to Motherboard estimated that AlphaBay—launched in December 2013 after the demise of the Silk Road—was pulling in a revenue of between $600,000 and $800,000 a day in 2017.

Last week, Cazes, 25, was found dead in his jail cell in Bangkok, reported to have hanged himself, on the same day he was scheduled to meet with a lawyer about extradition to the U.S. A Canadian citizen listed on LinkedIn as a "freelance software designer," Cazes was identified, the government says, because he welcomed users to the site with a message that included a personal email address, "Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com." It was the use of a personal email address that also helped lead authorities to Ross Ulbright, the founder of the Silk Road, in 2013. 

After AlphaBay shut down last month, users flocked to other marketplaces only accessible through the encrypted Tor service, including Dream Market, which launched in 2013 (current listings include 57,000 for drugs and 4,000 for opioids), and Hansa. After the arrest of two Hansa staff members in Germany, Dutch police seized the site in June, monitoring traffic there—and some "10,000 foreign addresses of buyers"—ever since. "Critics will say, as we shut one site, another site emerges," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press event led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "And they may be right, but that is the nature of criminal work: It never goes away, you have to constantly keep at it, and you've got to use every tool in your toolbox."

Just two days ago, Hansa announced it was banning the sale of fentanyl, which has been blamed for a surge in opioid deaths in the U.S. But as I reported last year, acquiring the synthetic drug and others like it doesn't always require Tor: For years, Chinese labs have openly sold "research chemicals" on the open web

[Photo: WaltiGoehner via Pixabay]

07.20.17 | 2:31 pm

New moms rejoice: Thirdlove created a nursing bra that actually fits and isn’t super scratchy

I'm a new mom, so I'm fairly familiar with the nursing bra market. In short, it's not a pretty picture: Most come with little clasps where the strap meets the front of the bra to make it easy unbuckle when you're trying to feed your baby or pump. But since it's such a specialized product, the bras themselves don't tend to come in many sizes or fit very comfortably. Many I've tried only come in small, medium, or large, which means they don't generally provide much support. 

Thirdlove has been working for months on a more comfortable solution. They've launched two $72 nursing bras today, one with an underwire and another without, both with the quick release clasp on the front. The best thing about them is that they come in every single size the brand makes, including its signature half-sizes to ensure the perfect fit. They're also made from super soft cotton modal and the closure is at the front, rather than the back, to ensure there is as little friction against the skin as possible.