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05.16.16 | 2:33 pm

Tech fund bros get into vicious feud amid accusations of “bullying” and hidden cameras

It sounds like a scene straight out HBO's Silicon Valley but this ugly lawsuit involving the cofounders of Xfund, a venture capital firm that has invested in startups like 23andMe, is all too real. Hugo Van Vuuren filed a complaint against former partner Patrick S. Chung and the fund on Friday in Santa Clara Superior Court, full of accusations of bullying, schoolyard tactics, use of a hidden camera to surreptitiously record meetings, and spreading false rumors of drug use. A spokesperson for the fund told the New York Times that the allegations are "bewildering," adding that Van Vuuren was a "signed counterparty to all the fund formation documents."

These are just some of Chung's alleged putdowns delivered in emails to Van Vuuren, according to the complaint:

 • "Spiteful moron"

• "Worth more to [Chung] dead than alive once we key-man insurance."

• "You are a moron"

• You are "unworthy and shame" Harvard [which they both attended]

• "It is like working with a retarded person"

• "I will go with full-on hate"

Here is the relevant portion of the complaint:

07.21.17 | 38 minutes ago

Report: Sean Spicer says bye-bye to the White House

A lot of internal White House intrigue is happening today. Yesterday, it was reported that Wall Street insider Anthony Scaramucci was being tapped by President Trump's administration to lead communications. Today that was confirmed

It appears not everyone is happy about it: Press Secretary Sean Spicer has quit his post, reports the New York Times. Why did Spicer quit? It's not completely clear right now, but I'm guessing some anonymous sources will fill out the narrative as today rolls on. 

07.21.17 | an hour ago

Facebook tells us how great video is after forcing everyone to pivot to it

We're in the middle of a media bloodbath. News companies, begging for any new digital ad revenue and solid monetization footing, are cutting editorial teams in the name of a "video pivot." Why? One reason is that video is hot right now and advertisers love to spend money on new things. Another reason is that Facebook and Google, which dictate media consumption, want to emphasize video.

But while media organizations flail, Facebook wants to let marketers know that video really is the future. A new report from Facebook explains that more people are watching videos on the platform, and more people are expecting to watch video.

At first glance, this seems like a normal internal research sort of project. Upon further examination, it's a bit odd. For one, instead of focusing on how video is paying off for publishers, the report talks about how more Facebook and Instagram users are emotionally engaging with video. Which, in a sense, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Facebook has been shoving video down everyone's throats—video is everywhere on our news feeds. So it shouldn't be shocking that people are watching more video and expect to watch more of it. 

According to Facebook, people like video because it's more personal and engaging. Take this statistic:

"Those surveyed were also 1.8x more likely to say they feel inspired by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV, and 1.5x more likely to say they feel excited by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV."

This is all a way for Facebook to sell to marketers that video is the future, without really showing ROI. People feel "inspired" watching Facebook videos. Great! Look at how we force it upon our billions of users and then they watch it.

[Image: Facebook]

07.21.17 | 2 hours ago

Excited about Disney’s immersive “Star Wars” hotel? Thank a cord-cutter

Disney's plans for an immersive Westworld-style hotel and resort that puts you inside the Star Wars universe is generating galactic buzz. The project was teased at last week's D23 Expo and will be part of a massive Star Wars-themed area set to open at Disney World. In fact, Disney has been investing like crazy in its theme parks, with large-scale projects based on Toy Story, Marvel, Tron, and others in the works. 

A few trends in Disney's business help explain why. First, its largest and most profitable segment has long been Media Networks, with raked in $7.6 billion in operating income last year. But growth is slowing in that area thanks mostly to changes in the way people watch TV. Cord-cutting is a real and growing problem for Disney-owned networks like ESPN and ABC.  

How to make up the difference? Enter Parks & Resorts, a smaller segment but increasingly vital to Disney's future. Theme-park operating income has more than doubled since 2010, even as TV profits have leveled off. So expect to see an even greater emphasis on theme parks in the years to come. The takeaway? Fire up your lightsaber and do your Star Wars cosplay with abandon. Disney needs it.  

07.21.17 | 2 hours ago

It’s official: Sean Hannity is no William F. Buckley

Sean Hannity was scheduled to receive the William F. Buckley Award for Media Excellence from the Media Research Center this coming September. Now, it seems, that's no longer the case, according to CNN

The official word is that the Fox News personality is unable to receive the award because of a scheduling conflict. CNN's sources, however, have a different story. The award is named for the founder of the conservative magazine the National Review, and when Buckley's family heard Hannity was to receive the award they were reportedly aghast. His son, Christopher Buckley, was specifically shocked by the decision; the younger Buckley believes Hannity "has spent a great deal of time insulting conservative intellectuals on Twitter, particularly since he became a strong supporter of Donald Trump," CNN reports. 

For now, the official line is still that Hannity simply has a scheduling conflict. And any reports otherwise will likely be chalked up to "fake news." 

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

07.21.17 | 2 hours ago

Go inside Sephora’s first-ever boutique shop on Boston’s 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 peek yesterday, before its grand opening today. Read my story here

07.21.17 | 4 hours 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 | 7:17 am

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 | 7:05 am

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 | 6:58 am

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.