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07.01.16 | 12:02 pm

Police: Tesla driver in fatal crash was watching a video

Joshua D. Brown, a tech company owner, who was killed on May 7 when his Tesla Model S sedan hit a tractor trailer, was watching a Harry Potter movie when he became the first person to die in a crash involving a vehicle in self-driving mode. As reported by the Associated Press, his car's cameras failed to distinguish the white side of the truck, which was turning, from a brightly lit sky and didn't activate its brakes as a result.

Just a month earlier, Brown had praised the Autopilot feature for helping him avoid a crash on a highway in Florida.

03.24.17 | 5:54 pm

The YouTube ad revolt continues with Pepsi, Starbucks, Walmart, GM, and others joining the exodus

More blue-chip advertisers are pulling out of YouTube as the backlash over ads appearing on extremist videos continues. Per the Wall Street Journal: PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks, GM, and Dish Network have all suspended their campaigns—despite Google vowing to do better. The companies join other big-name brands, including AT&T and Verizon, which suspended their campaigns earlier this week. The ad industry wants Google to be able to guarantee that ads won't be placed near videos promoting extremist views like those that condone white nationalism or terrorism. 

Earlier today, Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, released the following statement: 

"We join the ecosystem in calling upon all digital advertising platforms to take the necessary steps to guarantee the safety and reputations of our brands. Brands choose those platforms to work hard for them to achieve all of their business and brand building objectives. But the most important of those priorities is 'to do no harm.'"

[Photo: Flickr user Rego Korosi]

03.24.17 | 4:52 pm

Obamacare may still be alive, but it’s on life support

Today's massive defeat for President Trump and Paul Ryan, who were forced to pull the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in the face of lackluster support for the bill, has Democrats gloating for the first time in many months. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," said Ryan amid plenty of commentary about how embarrassing the debacle was for Republicans and the administration.

But all those GIFs of Obama laughing on Twitter don't change the fact that his signature achievement is still in trouble. Here are four ways that the GOP is slowly starving Obamacare:

•  Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is using all the regulatory means at his disposal to cripple Obamacare, proposing to tighten its special enrollment periods, adding extra verification requirements, and changing the plans' "actuarial value" in a way that makes it more costly for patients.

• The administration slashed Obamacare's marketing budget soon after the inauguration, clawing back millions of dollars in pre-paid TV ads during the 2017 sign-up period, causing enrollment to dip for the first time in more than two years.

• Due to uncertainty over the fate of the law, more insurers like Humana have pulled out of the exchanges. 

• And the administration and Republican leaders in Congress are intent on removing Obamacare's contraception coverage requirement and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood.

[Flickr user: Jeff Kubina]

03.24.17 | 4:40 pm

People at Uber couldn’t see their own diversity data

Unlike many large tech companies, Uber doesn't release its diversity data. In fact, the company apparently doesn't even track it, according to a report from Bloomberg. This revelation isn't entirely surprising. In a conversation with Fast Company earlier this year, Uber's head of human resources, Liane Hornsey, said she's never seen diversity reports have any measurable effect on a company's diversity:

"I haven't seen it move the numbers. I haven't seen anyone who's done it say it's made any difference for them. I reserve to right to really think about that over time. But it hasn't worked for anyone, so why would I?"

It is true that tracking and releasing diversity stats have not led to fast-paced diversification at major tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook. What is has done and how it works is by 1) keeping the conversation going about workplace diversity 2) providing transparency for prospective employees. "It's important to know that [as a minority] I'm not going to represent a token for you or I'm not going to be in charge of making your team diverse when you haven't made it a priority in the past," Jewelbots founder Sara Chipps told me recently. Workplace culture shouldn't be an afterthought, and it seems Uber may finally be learning that. After much pressure, the company said it will be releasing a diversity report next week.

03.24.17 | 4:00 pm

Trump’s “art of the deal” skills couldn’t save the GOP healthcare bill

House Republicans pulled their healthcare bill from the floor today after it became apparent that the would-be Obamacare replacement didn't have the votes to pass. The move is a big legislative setback for President Trump who campaigned on his dealmaking abilities. Here are a few of the more interesting tweets going around at the moment:

Photo: Unsplash user Emmad Mazhari

03.24.17 | 1:45 pm

Uber’s test for job applicants sounds like a violation of the Geneva convention or a frat hazing ritual

The secrets of Uber's job recruiting procedure are revealed in a new Bloomberg story that includes plenty of fascinating details. Last year, the company hosted an event for job candidates that involved an exercise called Colourblind that tests how they handle chaotic situations, but sounds more like torture: "Candidates were instructed to pluck sateen blindfolds from a cardboard box and silently arrange puzzle pieces into molded shapes. The Uber staff hosting the event set a timer to seven minutes, while they clapped vigorously and blasted pop music from a stereo."

In addition, the company's lackluster approach to diversity was spotlighted. When staffers pushed CEO Travis Kalanick to invest more in such recruiting efforts, he'd reply with a typical Uber-ism: "Let's keep jamming on this" but any decisions would be repeatedly postponed, reports Bloomberg. In addition, at least six recruiters involved in diversity initiatives have reportedly left the company in the last 18 months. Next week, Uber will release a diversity report and an HR executive told Bloomberg: "We're spending a good deal of time reflecting on what will lead to true diversity and inclusion."

Read the full story here.

03.24.17 | 12:44 pm

Do customers want virtual makeup try-on tools? Smashbox has some data

If you're shopping for makeup online, with no way to test if a product works, buying is always a risk. Makeup companies are now trying to mitigate these risks with virtual try-on tools. But are customers into it?

Two weeks ago, Smashbox launched a program that allows customers to upload a picture of themselves to see how every single product they sell–lipstick, foundation, blush, eyeliner–will look on their face. Smashbox makes the platform available directly on the website so customers don't have to worry about downloading an app. The brand worked with ModiFace, a face visualization company, to create the platform. Ginny Chien, the brand's executive director of global digital and consumer marketing, says they picked this company because it most accurately represented colors on the face, which was crucial to the tool's effectiveness.

Smashbox's customers, which largely consists of millennials, have quickly adopted the technology. In the first two weeks of launching, the tool was used more than 20,000 times, and a significant percentage of customers visiting Smashbox's homepage gave it a go. 

03.24.17 | 11:35 am

Amazon adds more discounted phones—if you can handle the ads

Amazon Prime members can now get a couple more unlocked Android phones at a discount, provided they're willing to endure lots of advertising. The new handsets in Amazon's "Prime Exclusive" range include the Moto G5 Plus for $185 (a $45 discount) and the Alcatel A30 for $60 (a $40 discount). Both phones put ads or special offers on the lock screen, and come pre-loaded with various Amazon apps and widgets.

Although the discounts are significant, the barrage of lock-screen ads can get mentally exhausting, as I discovered while reviewing the first two Prime Exclusive phones last year. People check their phones dozens of times a day, and when an ad is the first thing you see, it has a way of searing itself into your brain, which of course is the point. At least Amazon lets users pay off the subsidy to stop the ads once they've had enough.

03.24.17 | 11:13 am

Google Hangouts will probably lose standard text messaging soon

Google is reportedly stripping SMS message support from Hangouts for Android as the app pivots toward enterprise use. According to a GSuite user on Reddit, SMS supprt in Hangouts will go away on May 22, and all users will start getting notified of the impending change in a few days. (Google has not yet confirmed the news.)

Removing SMS from Hangouts would leave Google without an app that unifies standard texts and internet-based messages, akin to Apple's iMessage. The company is instead pushing users toward the default Android Messages app, while asking the industry to adopt RCS, a more feature-rich text messaging standard that Google already supports. Yet Google also expects consumers to use Allo, its virtual assistant-infused messaging app, and is positioning Hangouts as a workplace collaboration tool. Choose wisely.

03.24.17 | 10:45 am

Watch an Amazon Prime drone make its first delivery in the U.S.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, the drone is seen delivering a small box containing a few bottles of sunscreen in southern California on Monday, where the MARS 2017 conference was taking place. Last year, Amazon made some drone deliveries in the U.K.

03.24.17 | 10:37 am

Comcast’s new plan for cord cutters is taking shape

For the legacy cable business, there are two ways to address cord-cutting: Try to win customers back with sweeter pay-TV packages or let them cut the cord and offer them your own streaming service. Comcast's strategy for option B appears to be taking shape, as Bloomberg reported this week. The Philly cable giant has negotiated key streaming deals with cable TV owners to offer their networks across the country. Conceivably, that could mean a Comcast-run streaming service that rivals Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. For now, there don't seem to be any immediate plans to release a product, but I wouldn't be surprised if we heard rumblings of one soon. Read more from Bloomberg

03.24.17 | 9:10 am

Here’s the State Department’s announcement authorizing the Keystone XL Pipeline

The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project got the go-ahead from the State Department this morning with a permit allowing TransCanada to "construct, connect, operate, and maintain pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Canadian border in Phillips County, Montana, for the importation of crude oil." The move comes after a 60-day review period that began with an order from President Trump during his first week in office. It reverses a decision from former President Obama, who rejected the permit in 2015

It's not over yet, though. As we wrote this morning, the project is still facing the harsh economics of the oil industry, with lower production forecasts and oil and shipping firms wary of a potential border tax. Read the State Department's announcement here.

Photo: Flickr user Shannon Ramos

03.24.17 | 7:35 am

This is the world’s earliest known video game Easter egg

The Easter egg can be found in the 1977 game Starship 1 and was uncovered by ex-Microsoft exec Ed Fries, who played a big role in creating the original Xbox. Fries details his journey in discovering the earliest video game Easter egg in an amusing blog post. Using a special sequence of input commands, the Easter egg makes the phrase "Hi Ron!" appear on-screen. The message is a reference to Atari game programmer Ron Milner, who coded Starship 1.