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02.08.17 | 4:00 pm

Facebook’s Safety Check will now let you offer and receive food and shelter in an emergency

Facebook is expanding its Safety Check feature with an update dubbed Community Help, which is meant to enable and encourage people to help those who are affected by emergencies. That can mean offering aid in the form of food, transportation, or shelter. 

When users mark themselves safe, Facebook will direct them to the Safety Check page dedicated to the emergency, where they can ask for help or search for existing posts offering aid. The obvious question is: How will Facebook ensure that people using this service are trustworthy? For now, Facebook claims it will bar new accounts, or those it deems "suspicious," from accessing the Community Help section, according to TechCrunch. Facebook has also provided safety guidelines for users of the service—but those kind of precautions may not be very effective when people are in need during an emergency. As Steven Melendez reported last year, amid various missteps with the feature last year, the company has been tweaking Safety Check and learning how to play a growing role in humanitarian efforts.

06.22.17 | 3:58 pm

The OTC hearing aid market could boom in 2018—if Congress lets it

Forty-eight million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, but only a few get hearing aids—whether because of cost ($1,000-$6,000 per pair), denial of the problem, or stigma. Bypassing the trip to a doctor and making hearing aids available over the counter could get affordable products to more Americans, says the Consumer Technology Association.

How does it know? Because of the growth in a gray area of devices called personal sound amplification products. PSAPs don't have FDA approval as hearing aids, which means the makers aren't allowed to say that they help people with hearing loss, but obviously that's the intention and why people use them. PSAP sales have grown 40% since last year—to 1.5 units and $225 million, according to a new study CTA released today. It expects the market to grow another 50% in 2018.

Bipartisan legislation sailing through Congress may further help. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow PSAP makers to finally claim that they do, in fact, help people with both mild (barely noticeable) and moderate (somewhat debilitating) hearing loss. CTA has set standards and today announced a logo (see below) to designate PSAPs that actually work well and won't be harmful by over-amplifying sound. The standards might serve as a guideline for the FDA if Congress approves the Over The Counter Hearing Aid Act this summer. 

06.22.17 | 3:36 pm

After being blamed for division, Facebook’s new mission seeks to foster unity

On the surface, the new mission statement that social networking giant Facebook unveiled today, "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together," doesn't sound all that different than the old one, "To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." But Facebook is a giant business, and it's taken a lot of flak recently for being a medium that propagates divisiveness. Step by step, Mark Zuckerberg's company has tried to tackle that reputation, with Zuckerberg's manifesto, with lots of new tools for combating the spread of fake news, as well as new systems for trying to keep terrorists off the service.

Facebook doesn't make changes to things like its mission statement without lots of internal discussion. So it's clear that the new one is about making the case that it's about building unity rather than just being a place for people to share their ideas–no matter what those ideas may be. As Zuckerberg put it today, "We need to give people a voice to get a diversity of opinions out there, but we also need to build enough common ground so we can all make progress together. We need to stay connected with people we already know and care about, but we also need to meet new people with new perspectives. We need support from family and friends, but we also need to build communities to support us as well."

It's a very optimistic message, and Facebook is going to have to do a lot to convince skeptics that it can be a force for positive change in a world that desperately needs one. It won't be easy, and it won't happen immediately. But as the largest community of people the world has ever seen, with nearly 2 billion active users, Facebook has the potential to be that change agent. "Our lives are all connected. In the next generation, our greatest opportunities and challenges we can only take on together–ending poverty, curing diseases, stopping climate change, spreading freedom and tolerance, stopping violence," Zuck wrote. "No single group or even nation can do them alone."

06.22.17 | 2:13 pm

Maybe this is the reason why there aren’t more women founders in tech

A report by the Information today levied allegations of unwanted advances against Justin Caldbeck, a "well-connected" cofounder and partner at Silicon Valley VC firm Binary Capital. Six women who have previously consulted with Caldbeck in some capacity—be it for funding or advice while starting a business—told the Information he had behaved inappropriately with them. The women making the accusations include Google alum and former Minted CTO Niniane Wang and Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu, who cofounded travel concierge service Journy. From the story: 

Ms. Wang alleges Mr. Caldbeck, while informally trying to recruit her for a tech company job, tried to sleep with her. Ms. Ho said that Mr. Caldbeck, while discussing investing in their startup, sent her text messages in the middle of the night suggesting they meet up. Ms. Hsu says that Mr. Caldbeck groped her under a table at a Manhattan hotel bar.

The other women, who chose to remain anonymous, reportedly had similar accounts. Binary denied the allegations altogether: 

Binary issued a statement that said the notion Mr. Caldbeck had "engaged in improper behavior with female entrepreneurs" was "false." Binary said that while the Information had "found a few examples that show that Justin has in the past occasionally dated or flirted with women he met in a professional capacity, let's be clear: There is no evidence that Justin did anything illegal, and there is no evidence that any of his investing decisions were affected by his social interests.

If you've been paying attention, none of this—the allegations or Binary's flippant response—is remotely surprising. The Information spoke to a number of women in tech who said they had similar encounters with other VCs, and they felt it was part of the reason female founders were underrepresented in tech. What's worse is that sexual harassment laws meant to protect employees don't apply to the VC-founder relationship. Read the full report here

06.22.17 | 2:09 pm

Tech companies are poaching much-needed AI professors, says Microsoft researcher who poaches them

Computer science and now AI studies are booming at U.S. universities—in part because of the great job prospects that they offer to grads. But those same prospects are draining away AI and machine learning professors, who are lured by lucrative, challenging jobs in the private sector. That's happening even at top universities like Stanford, says Jennifer Chayes, a former UCLA mathematics professor who now heads Microsoft Research for New York City and New England. "I don't know if there are any—or there are very, very few—of the core [machine learning] faculty at Stanford left," she says. "I just hired one last year."

She talked about the issue at Bloomberg's Spotlight on Artificial Intelligence conference in San Francisco today. "Stanford can't begin to pay them enough," says Chayes. A bigger incentive, she thinks, is that working in the private sector is more intellectually appealing. Professors can focus on their research without having to teach hundreds of students. And they have access to better data from customers. "If you are a researcher in AI and ML, you need massive amounts of … interactive data," she says.

Many private-sector AI researchers teach at universities on the side, but Chayes says that's not a reliable fix. And while companies do train interns and employees—she says Microsoft has about 1,500 AI interns per year—this doesn't help with the basic research needed to develop new types of applications. "So I think it's a really bad trend," Chayes says. "[A]ll of us need to figure out a way to make it possible for AI and ML faculty to stay at universities and train the next generation."

06.22.17 | 1:21 pm

Baby come back: Uber employees are passing around a petition to keep Travis Kalanick

Some employees want to bring back ousted CEO Travis Kalanick. An email is reportedly circulating among Uber staff, asking them to sign a petition calling for Kalanick's return. According to Axios, more than 1,000 current employees have signed. It appears there is a disconnect between employees who see Kalanick as an important driver of Uber's business and the board members who feel he has become a liability. The internal turmoil over how to revamp Uber's corporate culture and goals indicates a long and difficult road ahead for the ride-hailing company as it attempts to refashion its image. 

06.22.17 | 12:28 pm

Beautycounter’s scientists invented a moisturizer that mimics your skin’s biology

Moisturizer is a tricky product. Our skin's moisture levels change throughout the day, and depending on the season, many products that feel good in the morning don't work by the afternoon or evening, when conditions change. The ideal product would adapt to your skin, identifying when it is drier or sweatier. 

Beautycounter, a brand that focuses on creating safer beauty products, has been working on a solution. The challenge was made harder by the fact that the brand has a list of 1,500 ingredients that it will never include in a product because they are known to cause harm. But a Beautycounter scientist has managed to create a bio-mimicking formula that deploys ingredients in green olives, beetroot, and green rice. The moisturizer is supposed to match the structure of your skin and adapt to its hydration levels throughout the day. In a clinical study, the product appeared to keep users' skin optimally hydrated for 26 hours. 

There's clearly a market for an adaptive moisturizer. Beautycounter sold out of the cream in 24 hours after it launched earlier this week. The brand is now feverishly working to make more to meet demand. 

(Image via Beautycounter)

06.22.17 | 11:25 am

John Oliver and HBO are getting sued by the coal industry after a “Last Week Tonight” segment

On Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver targeted the coal industry. Now they are striking back. In the episode, he pleaded with President Trump to "stop lying to coal miners" about his ability to revive the shrinking industry. Oliver also targeted Bob Murray, the notoriously litigious CEO of Murray Energy, even though he knew he was likely to be sued for doing so, as the company sent the show a cease-and-desist order before the episode even aired.

Murray runs the country's largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation, and has sued media companies in the past, including recently filing a libel suit against the New York Times. Despite that cautionary tale, on the June 18 episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver said Murray doesn't do enough to protect his miners' safety. He illustrated that point with a government report that concluded that the collapse of one of Murray's mines in Utah, which killed nine people, was due to unauthorized mining practices, while Murray claims the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake. 

A legal complaint filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, states that Oliver and his team "executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies,"  They called the segment a "callous, vicious, and false attack" that "childishly demeaned and disparaged" Murray, "a 77-year old citizen in ill health," which they claim caused "emotional and physical distress and damage." The complaint also says Murray's legal team tried to share studies with Oliver's staff that proved an earthquake was responsible for the mine collapse, but were ignored.

HBO, however, stands by Oliver and his team. "We have confidence in the staff of Last Week Tonight and do not believe anything in the show this week violated Mr. Murray's or Murray Energy's rights," HBO said in a statement to Fast Company.

 [Photo: Wikipedia]

06.22.17 | 11:15 am

Here’s the full text of the new health care bill that GOP senators have been hiding from us 

After weeks of closed-door meetings, Senate Republicans have finally unveiled their revamped health care bill, which is intended to kill the Affordable Care Act. 

The New York Times writes that the new 142-page bill would create a tax credit system enabling citizens to purchase their own insurance. It also, reports the Times, gets rid of many Obamacare benefits, including "maternity care, emergency services and mental health treatment." 

While it was initially touted as a complete rewrite of the House health care bill from last month, it looks to be quite similar. You can read the full text of the bill here.

06.22.17 | 10:55 am

Not even Rob Lowe can help KFC launch a chicken sandwich into space 

Extraterrestrials are going to have to wait a little longer to try KFC's spicy chicken sandwich. Back in April the company made Rob Lowe dress up like Colonel Sanders to help announce KFC's plan to launch a sandwich into space to prove it's out of this world or some other marketing malarkey. They weren't joking, though. KFC teamed up with World View to launch a high-altitude balloon/sandwich delivery system, which was supposed to reach the stars today, but has been delayed because of high wind conditions. "Due to weather, we won't be launching the Zinger today," KFC wrote on Facebook. "But technically mankind has waited all of eternity to launch a chicken sandwich into space, so a little longer probably won't hurt. Updated launch date to come."

As reported by, World View tweeted that the next interstellar sandwich delivery attempt could come as early as Saturday.

06.22.17 | 10:03 am

BuzzFeed’s NYC office may or may not be infested with bedbugs 

Well, this tweet from BuzzFeed's media reporter isn't disconcerting at all:

Bedbugs, while a disturbingly common problem in New York, are still the stuff of urban nightmares. Hopefully the issue is exterminated swiftly. My thoughts will be with all BuzzFeed—or BugzFeed (I'm so sorry)—staff who may or may not be carrying the insects. Good luck, but please stay away from my apartment. 

06.22.17 | 9:41 am

Farfetch is about to drastically amp up its China operations, which Recode describes as the "Amazon of China," has just invested nearly $400 million into the luxury e-commerce retailer Farfetch. founder and CEO Richard Liu will also join Farfetch's board. This will drastically amp up Farfetch's presence in China, which is already the world's largest luxury market. 

Farfetch is shaping up to be a powerful force in luxury e-commerce. Last week, Condé Nast International announced that it would be killing off its e-commerce site and, instead, investing $20 million in a partnership with Farfetch. 

[Photo: Igor Ovsyannkov]

06.22.17 | 9:33 am

Facebook gives Indian users more control over their profile pictures, citing safety concerns for women

Facebook is offering a new feature to its users in India aimed at curbing profile picture misuse. The new controls stops people from being able to download other people's profile pictures, or tag themselves or other people in them. Additionally, Facebook says it's going to try to prevent users from taking screenshots of profile pictures, when possible.

In a blog post, Facebook says many Indian women choose to not show their face on their profile picture because of potential misuse. These solutions, says the company, will help give them more control.

[Photo: Alejandro Photography]