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03.10.17 | 7:15 am

Google targets Amazon’s Web Services with an improved “always-free tier” in Cloud 

Yesterday the company launched the improved always-free tier of Google Cloud in hopes of luring away customers from Amazon's AWS solutions. The improved always-free tier now gives users free usage of a small (f1-micro) instance in Compute Engine, Cloud Pub/Sub, Cloud Functions, and Google Cloud Storage, reports TechCrunch. The AWS free tier offers similar solutions, without Google Cloud's new benefit of a virtual machine.

06.27.17 | 3:36 pm

Expect more ransomware attacks, since victims keep paying

Another ransomware attack is disrupting systems in Europe, from computers at a British ad agency to radiation sensors at the Chernobyl power plant, the BBC reports. Computers at Danish shipping giant Maersk were also affected, the company said.

And security experts say the malware, which Symantec researchers report is using one of the same exploits as last month's massive WannaCry attack, likely won't be the last of its kind for the simple reason that ransomware victims really do pay to recover their files. An expert speaking to the BBC pointed to reports that a South Korean web hosting provider recently paid a ransom of about $1 million in bitcoin, and Symantec said in a report earlier this year that 64% of American victims, and 34% of victims worldwide, are willing to pay a ransomware bounty to recover their files. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that report also found the average ransom demand on the rise, up to more than $1,000 per victim.

06.27.17 | 3:08 pm

Washington Post employees’ social media accounts may begin dying in darkness 

As things currently stand, if a Washington Post reporter tweets something bad about Panda Express, and Panda Express happens to be a Post advertiser, then that reporter can get fired. That's according to the paper's new social media policy, which is currently being protested by its union. These rules went into effect on May 1, reports the Washingtonian

The policy says that employees cannot disparage products or services of the company's "advertisers, subscribers, competitors, business partners, or vendors." It also forbids workers from using social media on the job, unless it's part of their authorized role. 

Perhaps worst of all, the policy encourages employees to contact HR if they see someone in violation of the rules. Which is to say they are asking for snitches. 

Other older journalistic institutions have had run-ins with social media policy woes. The New York Times, for instance, has asked that its reporters not "editorialize" on social media. But this instance differs from most others because of how broad and clear the Post's new rules are. And I imagine they could have a chilling effect with the paper's current and future employees.

06.27.17 | 2:30 pm

Broadway has a wage-gap problem, too

For the first time ever, the Actors' Equity Association has released a diversity report. It details the salaries that theater workers have received for Broadway, Off Broadway, and nationally touring shows, as well as statistics about job demographics. The findings, unfortunately, keep with the broader labor narratives facing the United States. 

The big take-home: There are fewer job opportunities and lower salaries for women and people of color. The study showed that men "have higher contractual salaries in both principal in a musical and chorus contracts," writes Playbill. Similarly, white actors had higher contractual salaries than people of color. African-Americans, specifically, made 10% less than white people.

So while industries like tech that (rightfully) see headlines discussing poor diversity showings and wage gaps, it continues to be a problem virtually everywhere. 

[Photo: Hailey Kean]

06.27.17 | 1:40 pm

Amazing, but true: More than 25% of all humans use Facebook

As a tech journalist who writes frequently about Facebook, I've referred to the size of the service's user base in many ways over the years. Recently, I've been using "nearly 2 billion users." Well, as of today, neither I nor anyone else needs to use the word "nearly" anymore.

That's because, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted today, the service has crossed the 2 billion mark. Think about that. There's roughly 7.5 billion people on Earth. That means 26.6% of all the people in the world are active Facebook users. So how did the company reach that impressive number? My colleague Harry McCracken has the scoop on how the company used science and empathy to cross the 2 billion line

06.27.17 | 12:15 pm

Spotify is launching a world tour—no headphones required

Soon you'll be able to listen to your favorite Spotify playlist without a subscription or even earbuds. This summer, Spotify is launching "RapCaviar Live," a six-city tour in partnership with Live Nation, based on the popular playlist, the company announced on Tuesday.

The festivities will kick off August 12 in Atlanta with the self-anointed Trap God, Gucci Mane, along with uber-producer Mike WiLL Made It and a bunch of still-unannounced special guests. Tickets go on sale on Friday, June 30, at 10 a.m. ET. The tour will then move through Chicago, Houston, L.A., NYC, and Toronto, but artists for those shows have not been announced yet. (Hopefully they nail down hip-hop stars before Amazon moves into concert promotion, too.) 

"RapCaviar Live" is the latest way that Spotify is cashing in on its impressive cache of fan data to help book shows and connect artists with their fans; it's also flexing its muscles to help sell tickets. Read more about that here, while trying to guess how long it will take for Tidal to start booking tours, too. Just kidding! They already did.

06.27.17 | 10:58 am

Oscar Mayer now has a “Wienerdrone” because obviously that’s how you deliver hot dogs in the future 

Our weird future can be summed up in one word: Wienerdrone. Oscar Mayer's Wienermobile (aka the original wiener on wheels) has been a fixture hogging up parking places on the city streets for years, but as we move toward a future filled with flying cars and driving-flying drones, the Wienermobile is evolving, just like Darwin predicted. 

Oscar Mayer has just unveiled the Wienerdrone, the flying hot-dog shaped advertisement that is the perfect prediction/indictment of where we are heading as a society—with hot dogs!   

06.27.17 | 10:15 am

A pharma exec was sentenced to nine years in prison for profiting from a meningitis outbreak

A Massachusetts pharmacy executive at the center of a deadly meningitis outbreak was sentenced to nine years in prison on Monday for putting profits above safety.

A federal jury convicted Barry Cadden, the owner and head pharmacist of New England Compounding Center, of racketeering and fraud charges in connection with the outbreak, Reuters reports. Cadden was cleared of second-degree murder charges for the outbreak that killed 76 people in what the DOJ has called the largest public health crisis ever caused by a pharmaceutical product. The outbreak occurred when Cadden started to produce drugs in dangerously unsanitary conditions (moldy gloves! unlicensed pharmacist!) sending more than 17,000 vials of the steroid tainted across the country. The contaminated steroid, which was commonly prescribed for back pain, caused injury or death in some 778 people nationwide. According to the Washington Post, back in 2014, federal prosecutors filed a 131-count indictment against Cadden and 13 others, claiming they "operated more like a criminal enterprise than a pharmacy." 

06.27.17 | 9:22 am

CNN helpfully fact-checks Donald Trump’s tweet about its “way down” ratings

If textbook writers are looking for examples of irony, they would do well to include the latest tweet from Donald Trump—and a sharp rebuttal from CNN. Trump tweeted that "Fake News CNN" had its "Ratings way down!" which he said was due to the network being "caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories."

"Fake News CNN" quickly rebutted the president's claim, tweeting that in its reality (the fact that whose reality even needs to be specified is stupefying), the network had just posted its most-watched second quarter in history. Fake news indeed.

Yesterday, CNN said three journalists have left the network in the aftermath of a now-retracted Russia-related story. More on that bit of real news here.

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

06.27.17 | 9:13 am

Google responds to the EU fine with a “What about Amazon?” defense

Google was just fined a record $2.7 billion by the European Union over its promoted shopping search results. The commission alleges that Google, by cherry-picking the top results for online purchase queries, distorts the market. Google, however, would like to point out that it's not the only big player in town.

In a blog post published this morning, Google SVP and general counsel Kent Walker writes that the company is actually helping keep the market fair from other competitors. The digital ad juggernaut, you see, is just protecting us plebes from the other digital juggernauts also trying to distort the market. "Thousands of European merchants use these ads to compete with larger companies like Amazon and eBay," he writes. 

He goes on to say that Amazon's influence and growth has also had a big impact on smaller sites and sales. He explains, "As Amazon has grown, it's natural that some comparison services have proven less popular than others." What's next for Google? After shifting the blame to Amazon, it says it's considering appealing the EU's decision. 

[Photo: Kai Oberhauser]

06.27.17 | 8:59 am

This bed startup used a century of research to create a suite of products optimized for the perfect night’s sleep

Tucked away in a corner of Atlanta, Serta Simmons has a high-tech facility devoted to understanding what goes into a good night's sleep. The company has spent over a century conducting research about the optimal temperature and light conditions for sleep, as well as the kinds of materials that go into crafting the most supportive bed. It has channeled all of these insights into a new independent subsidiary called Tomorrow.

Today, the brand launches a full suite of products designed to give a person the most restful night of sleep possible. The first step is, of course, the bed, which is designed to give the right amount of support and help regulate your body temperature. But the full system also involves two different types of pillows, a temperature regulating mattress protector, 500-thread-count sheets, a comforter, blackout drapes, and a tracker that is able to continually record data for one or two sleepers. "Until now, the only way we've been able to measure sleep has been by calculating how much time you've been asleep," says Brian Murphy, founder and president of Tomorrow. 

While other brands have tried to tackle one piece of the sleep puzzle–the pillow, for instance, or the most comfortable sheets–Tomorrow's goal was to use all available information to create a comprehensive system. By taking a direct-to-consumer approach, Tomorrow is able to sell mattresses starting at $550 (which arrive in a box, Casper-style), and the full system of products starts at $1,300. 

06.27.17 | 7:21 am

Florida now allows unmanned delivery robots on sidewalks

The Sunshine State is the fourth state to allow automated delivery robots on sidewalks and crosswalks, reports Recode. There are a few caveats: The robots cannot weigh more than 80 lbs. or go faster than 10 miles per hour. Florida joins Virginia, Idaho, and Wisconsin in allowing robots on sidewalks. 

06.27.17 | 5:56 am

Google just got fined a record-breaking $2.7 billion by the EU for manipulating search results

The fine is well above the expected $1.2 billion dollars many were expecting and comes after a seven-year inquiry by the European Commission into whether Google broke anticompetitive regulations by favoring search results leading shoppers to Google's Shopping service instead of rival shopping comparison sites, reports Bloomberg. Google is expected to appeal, but, if it would lose, the company could be forced to tweak its algorithms to how it ranks sites in search results, potentially affecting the company's core business globally.