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04.07.16 | 2:08 pm

Here’s proof that digital health funding has gone nuts

I recently caught up with Brad Huerta, the CEO of a critical care center called Lost Rivers Medical Center in Arco, Idaho. Lost Rivers has 24 beds, but about 14 are typically occupied at any given time. Lost River is a very tiny hospital in the middle of Idaho. 

Huerta has a deep knowledge of startups. In the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act, he became to oversee various projects to modernize the technology, including switching to an electronic medical record system. You might think that rural Idaho is about as far as you can get from Silicon Valley, but Huerta keeps abreast of the latest in digital health. That's because he receives outreach emails "almost every day" from startups. In his own words:

"There must be a ton of money in it (digital health). We're being bombarded! There's no shortage of vendors out there."

According to Rock Health, the research and venture fund, an eye-popping $4.5 billion poured into the space in 2015 alone. Many of these startups are competing against each other to target hospitals and health systems — including the very tiny ones. 


06.23.17 | an hour ago

Here’s why it took Gmail 13 years to stop scanning your email to target ads

When Gmail debuted on April 1, 2004, one of its numerous innovations was the fact that it scanned the text of emails in order to target ads. Though that made the advertising more relevant, it also struck some people as an invasion of privacy, leading to lawsuits, snark from competitors, and a controversy that has dwindled but never quite disappeared.

But now Google is dropping the use of email scanning for ad-targeting purposes. As Bloomberg's Mark Bergen reports, the decision was driven by Google Cloud chief Diane Greene—an increasingly influential figure within the company—and addresses the concerns of business customers who aren't comfy with anyone (even a computer) nosing around in confidential communications.

The new policy also applies to the free consumer-oriented version of Gmail. But Google will still use what it knows about you to choose ads: It's just that it will make decisions based on your searches and YouTube habits rather than the contents of your inbox.

Here's the screen Google used to explain Gmail ads back in 2004: 


06.23.17 | 3 hours ago

Scientists think there’s a Mars-shaped object lurking in the solar system past Neptune

Scientists may have uncovered a planet lurking in the dark, all the way out past Neptune. Kathryn Volk and Renu Malhotra at the University of Arizona believe they have uncovered signs of a new possible planet with the mass of Mars. They believe its mass is warping the orbits of objects floating around in the Kuiper belt, according to New Scientist

Last year, Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown used a similar methodology to predict the existence of a ninth planet (no, not you Pluto) farther out in the solar system. Volk's and Malhotra's "Planet 10" would be closer to home. They will publish their study in The Astronomical Journal, showing how the wonky, warped orbits are best explained by a new planet. "The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass," Volk said in a statement. "According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured." She also told New Scientist that "it would have to be quite a fluke for this to not be a real effect." 

Of course, not every astronomer is jumping on board with Planet 10's existence quite yet. Batygin pointed out to Gizmodo that there's still one big problem with this theory: "It runs into the problem that it hasn't been observed yet." We'll be over here watching Ancient Aliens while the astronomers sort this one out. 

[Photo: NASA]

06.23.17 | 3 hours ago

PayPal cuts off French white nationalist group as era of political boycotts heats up

In the new era of booming political boycotts, left-leaning activists are targeting the funding sources that keep their right-wing opponents online and in business. They scored a recent victory in France when PayPal and two big European banks, France's Credit Mutuel and Austria's Sparkasse, dropped their service to the French white nationalist group Generation Identitaire (Generation Identity). Canadian activist group SumOfUs says it will now target banking services that support U.S. white nationalist and other extreme-right sites, a topic we investigated recently.

06.23.17 | 10:57 am

In a rare move, Google starts purging health records from its search results

[Photo: Brandon Morgan]

There are very few things Google will intentionally remove from its search results—in fact, it used to be only seven things. Now the company has updated the list of what it will take down, adding a new criteria: health records. The change, reported by Bloomberg, comes after reports that tens of thousands of medical documents were indexed onto Google's search engine late last year

Before the update, the list of delete-worthy content included revenge and child porn and personally identifiable information, including ID numbers, signatures, as well as bank and credit card numbers. Now Google has updated its policy to include "confidential, personal medical records of private people," Bloomberg reports.

06.23.17 | 10:50 am

Smells like green spirit: Lime Skittles fans have hounded Mars Inc. into submission

Back in 2013, Wrigley/Mars Inc. decided to ruin lives and break up families by swapping out lime-flavored Skittles for green apple ones. The change induced tears, weeping, and wailing, rending of clothes, wearing of sack cloth and ashes, and whatever other forms of grieving Skittles devotees could unearth from Sophocles. In other words, some people complained about it on the internet. 

Now fans of that "long lost" flavor have so aggravated Wrigley/Mars by flooding their social media channels with emoji-filled pleas (no emoji translator needed) that lime Skittles are coming back, albeit for a limited time. This summer Walmart (and only Walmart; take that Amazon!) will be selling "Long Lost Lime" packs of Skittles alongside packs of Skittles "Originals" (even, though, as purists will point out, lime was the original). It will tide us over until spicy Skittles are released.

Walmart seems to be making a push into the retro market since they were also the only outlet where '90s enthusiasts could find Oreo O's cereal and even Zima. It's a way for the company to compete in the sizzling grocery-store wars, especially because '90s kids and teens are now right in the target demographic.

[Photo: Skittles]

06.23.17 | 10:02 am

Facebook is building an army of U.K. users to fight extremism

As Facebook continues to try to deal with the rise of violent and extremist content posted to its platform, the company is implementing a new tactic: empower (or outsource) outside groups to be watchdogs. Its latest program, launched in the U.K., will fund and train local non-government groups to monitor and respond to extremist content, even giving them their own platform to communicate directly with the company, Reuters reports

Facebook—and other large tech companies like Alphabet—has been under fire lately from European governments over its inability to curb this sort of abusive content. The new program works alongside its artificial intelligence efforts, which aim to use technology to automatically take down flagged posts, as well as Facebook's army of outsourced content moderators around the globe. 

[Photo: Evan Kirby]

06.23.17 | 9:39 am

SpaceX live-stream: Watch the refurbished Falcon 9 rocket blast off here

Elon Musk's private space-flight operation is gearing up for a doubleheader this weekend with the launch of two rockets. The first is a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket, which will blast off today from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There's a two-hour launch window beginning at 2:10 p.m. ET. (A backup launch opportunity is scheduled for tomorrow at the same time.) If successful, the rocket will carry the first Bulgarian satellite into space. You can check it out via the live-stream below.

Another Falcon 9 launch is planned for Sunday. This one part of its Iridium mission and will blast off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. More to come!

06.23.17 | 6:57 am

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop $120 “Bio-Frequency Healing” sticker packs get shot down by NASA

Goop had claimed the costly "Body Vibes" stickers were "made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut's vitals during wear" and because of that were able to "target imbalances" of the human body's energy frequencies when they get thrown out of whack, reports Gizmodo. The thing is, NASA confirmed to Gizmodo that they "do not have any conductive carbon material lining the spacesuits" of astronauts.

But NASA didn't stop there. When told that the founder of the company that makes the "Body Vibes" stickers sold by Goop claimed he "found a way to tap into the human body's bio-frequency" but that "most of the research that has been collected is confidential and is held as company private information," a former chief scientist at NASA's human research division told Gizmodo: "Wow. What a load of BS this is." For its part, a Goop spokesperson now says the stickers were never formally endorsed by them and "based on the statement from NASA, we've gone back to the company to inquire about the claim and removed the claim from our site until we get additional verification."

This isn't the first time Goop has endorsed questionable claims, such as the claim that taking an Aleve is like "swallowing a hand-grenade."

06.23.17 | 6:04 am

Amazon’s drone “beehive” patent proves the company is full of mad scientists

The patent describes a multilevel fulfillment center where drones swarm to deliver packages in densely populated urban areas. As Business Insider points out, the beehive patent joins other Amazon patents for fulfillment and logistics including flying warehouses, mobile truck-based mini warehouses, and even underwater warehouses.

[Image: Amazon/USPTO]

06.23.17 | 5:53 am

Google now hides your private medical records from search results

The search giant added "confidential, personal medical records of private people" to the list of information it removes from search results, the company noted on its removal policies page. Though it's not common for medical practices or insurers to upload your medical records to the internet for all to see, sometimes records do get uploaded inadvertently or via hacks.

Today's move by Google should make it harder for people to browse your health history should the above have happened to you. Google's full list of information they now may remove from search results include:

• National identification numbers like U.S. social security numbers, Argentinean single tax identification numbers, Korean resident registration numbers, Chinese resident identity cards, etc.

• Bank account numbers

• Credit card numbers

• Images of signatures

• Nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded or shared without your consent

• Confidential, personal medical records of private people 

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 million 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 (somewhat 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."