Science Says People Are Getting Smarter. Here's Why Communication Has to Get Dumber.

I hate the expression, “dumb it down,” which originated in 1933 as movie-business slang used by screenplay writers, meaning “[to] revise so as to appeal to those of little education or intelligence.” 

But I love the fact that people everywhere are getting more intelligent. As Peter R. Orszag writes in Bloomberg, “Average intelligence levels, as measured by standardized intelligence tests, have been rising since at least the early 20th century. A recent meta analysis included more than 4 million people in 31 countries found an average gain of about three IQ points per decade, or roughly 10 points per generation.”

Okay; here’s the tricky part: All those smart people need communication to be simpler than ever. And not because they can’t understand complex sentences and big words–because they’re inundated with information and need shortcuts to manage it all. This isn’t about “dumbing it down,” it’s about making everything intelligently simple.

So to communicate effectively, you need to take the advice of one of the smartest people ever: Albert Einstein, who said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

What I love about this that the responsibility is on you, the communicator: You have to be work hard to truly understand the topic, so you can convey it simply.

What else can you do to communicate so simply that even the smartest people get your message? Here are 5 ways:

  1. Never forget that you’re a real person communicating with other people. Unfortunately, people these days spend so much time feeling like a tiny cog in the wheel, lost in a high-tech maze, reduced to nothing more than a number and a password. So we crave the human touch. We love walking into the local hardware store and knowing the shopkeeper, who gives us advice not based on guiding us to the most expensive solution, but what’s best for us (“This 45-cent bolt should do the trick.”). Your communication needs to be that personal and helpful.
  2. Write for your audience, not for clients/stakeholders/senior leaders. This may seem so fundamental that you may wonder why I even mention it. But I find that this is where a lot of content goes wrong. The scientists (or engineers or IT experts or finance geeks) want to include all that technical stuff. (After all, it makes them sound important.) So you load up the piece with arcane details. That means you lost sight of the fact that audience members don’t care about the fancy stuff; they want content to be simple, understandable and relevant.
  3. Don’t lecture; converse. Lose that imperious, from-on-high tone and replace it with a friendly, conversational voice. You know what I mean: Write the way you’d speak to a colleague or even a friend. Friends don’t let friends use words like core competency, synergy and strategic imperatives.
  4. Be tangible, not conceptual. Here I quote business analyst and author Christopher Locke, who writes, “business. . . seems to assume we know what they mean when they sling around terms like value, brand and positioning and equate the resulting blur of vague ideas to something we might actually care about.” Instead of “slinging” concepts around, make them very concrete. Everyone will understand that we need to cut costs by 10%. Or because we lose two out of five customers a year, we need to increase customer retention (and keep one of those that now leave us).
  5. Reduce your reading grade level. The best defense against Corporate Speak is analyzing your writing using a test like the Flesch Reading Ease Score or the Flesch-Kindaid Grade Level Score, which are conveniently built into Microsoft platforms. Remember that the average American reads at the ninth grade level. And that most marketing content is created at the seventh grade level. So when your content is coming in at the 13thgrade, you’ve got a problem. Time to cut out the big words. Make your sentences shorter and clearer.

The more accessible you make communication, the faster you cut through the clutter. It’s just that simple.

Published on: Mar 31, 2019

*The Matrix* Is Nothing Without Its Sequels—Nothing!

You’re talking about The Matrix at a dinner party, and that’s fine. As the founding document of our present hypermodern unreality, it’ll always be, 20 years after its release or 200, fair game for chat. Over medium-rare steaks that may or may not be 1s and 0s, guests happily quote the Oracle (“Take a cookie”), defend Keanu’s acting, quote Agent Smith (“It’s the smell!”), rehash Baudrillardian basics, and convince each other that there is no soup spoon (but pass the soup).

Then the inevitable moment comes, and it is not fine. Some dweeby gasbag in attendance—picture him now; he may very well be you—gathers up the requisite oxygen to declare, with huffing sense of purpose and in sweaty anticipation of back slaps and applause: “Those sequels sure did suck, though!” Dammit, there goes the buzz. If only someone could unplug this phony soul, this over-baked noodle, this robotic amalgamation of parts—spare him the shame of looking the undignified fool.

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The fact is, the Matrix sequels do not—forgive his barbarism—suck, and to claim that they do, to side with the dweeb and the cultural majority he somehow represents, is simply to lend further credence to the Wachowskis’ vision of a world where thought is all but pre-scripted, emotion manufactured by machine. So uh, do you take your blue pills in the morning or before bed?

Fine, maybe that’s unfair. Maybe the dinner guest—the dinner guest who might also be you—isn’t entirely to blame. Now that science fiction has been, as they say, mainstreamed, there’s social pressure to prove nerd cred. Cute, I suppose, but what this looks like in practice is a bunch of fakers bashing the acceptable properties. The Star Wars prequels stink so hard! You know what embarrasses me is Big Bang Theory! The Matrix sequels suck!

Pathetic. Then there’s the idea that there might be merit to the whole anti-sequel stance. The first Matrix changed our perception of reality, so the second should have done likewise, and the third again. Inarguably, they did no such thing. Yeah, well, as Morpheus might as well have said: The mind cannot be blown the same way twice.

No, there really are no excuses, just kids who felt mind-unblown by the second and third Matrices, validated in turn by the selfsame judgments of fellow unthinkers, and content to swill blue pills until today, when one of them ends up at a dinner party and proceeds to spoil the mood. The worst part is, other people at the table will probably nod. Yep, computer gobbledygook and white ghost things with dreads and didn’t they have to replace the Oracle? Haha, so dumb. People are expert at enabling this type of weakness.

Here’s the truth: The Matrix is nothing without its sequels, and you’d know that if you watched them. Actually watched them. Not judged them because the first one made you cream yourself and then the second one had worse CGI and more fights (which it did) so boo to all that. Have you even seen them recently? They’re on Amazon now. Free your mind of expectations and boot them up. Consider the story the Wachowskis are telling, not the potential for intro-to-philosophy mindfuckery. Then you’ll see that The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions are inversions, complexifications, mystifications of the original—a breaking out (of the Matrix) undone by a breaking in (to Zion) that finally leads to a breaking through (to a hard-won peace).

OK, I’ll spoil some of the revelations you’ll have. Reloaded begins with a scene that should feel very familiar: Trinity running running running and then diving through the air, turning around to point a gun at a foe. Image by image, it echoes the sequence that opens the original. There’s one difference: This time, Trinity is fatally shot by the pursuing agent. The Wachowskis are savvy, obsessive filmmakers—they’re not just throwing sequel money at the big screen. Here they’re telling us: Reloaded will invert what came before it. (Even the name, Reloaded, which you might call cheeseball, plays up a sense of pullback, redoing.)

From there, they don’t let up. You spend as much time in Zion, the last human city, as the original spent in the Matrix. Your impression of the Oracle flips, from folksy black grandma to computer program who chooses to present that way (and has secret motives). You meet the Architect, her foil: an old white guy who talks like a snob. Nearer the end, Trinity indeed dies, only to have Neo resurrect her, hand literally around her heart. You’ll remember that, at the end of The Matrix, Trinity resurrected Neo with a kiss. At the end of that movie, Neo soars away, Superman in a trench, empowered by his defeat of Smith. At the end of Reloaded, Neo’s locked in a coma, enfeebled by his encounter with a machine. The opposite image.

The third and final movie, Revolutions, is synthesis. The realms blur and shade into one other. Neo is trapped in a train station, blindingly white, between realities. Eventually, he is blinded. He meets the machine-gods. He dies. So does Trinity. Neither can save the other; both accept that you get one resurrection.

Just before that, Neo stages his last fight with Smith, a final-boss battle complete with epic choral chants, crashing buildings, and gushing rain. In the first movie, Neo fights Smith one-on-one. In the second, he fights a never-ending stream of Smiths, the program having propagated itself through the Matrix. In Revolutions, he’s back to fighting a single Smith—while millions, billions, of identical Smiths watch. The main Smith has the eyes of the Oracle. Even identities have blurred. Everything comes to a point.

Why go on? There’s so much more to say, but our dinner guest doesn’t care about any of it. He has one aim: to win favor. He’s not interested in joy, in originality, in storytelling, only pooh-poohing for easy points. He’s not interested, in short, in loving something, which is and always will be the true preoccupation of the genuinely weird and wonderful. He’s a fraud, and in his insecurity he spreads his fraudulence, his deception, his blandness to weak-willed others. He is Agent Smith, the inevitability of a sick simulation.

Had our dinner guest only sat with these movies in unselfish contemplation, he—you—might’ve seen that they were a beautifully told warning. A warning against conformity, a vision of a software-eaten world of perfect, catastrophic sameness. Neo sacrificed himself to destroy the likes of that—to destroy the likes of you.


Check out all of our 20th anniversary coverage of The Matrix. If you want to revisit it, The Matrix trilogy is free on Amazon Prime.

(Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our product reviews, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.)

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The Aha! Moment That Transformed My Business Model

Tim Vogel is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in South Florida where he serves as Chair for the chapter’s EO Accelerator program, which empowers entrepreneurs with the tools, community and accountability necessary to aggressively grow and master their businesses. Tim is founder and CEO of Scenthound, a membership-based dog grooming and wellness company. We asked Tim how his experience in a business accelerator program helped pinpoint the unique business model that is disrupting the pet care industry. Here’s what he shared:

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

After we got married, my wife, Jessica, wanted a dog. Oddly, I was against the idea because of the extra responsibility. Long story short: We got a puppy, and I fell instantly in love with our new family member. Over the years, I learned a lot about the pet industry―and grooming in particular. So having a dog ultimately inspired us to start a business in the pet space.

How did you learn about the business accelerator program?

At the time, I owned a mobile pet grooming business and had just opened our first brick-and-mortar grooming salon. I knew about EO from a previous employer who was a member. While struggling to solve issues around scaling the business, I reached out to the local EO chapter and learned about the Accelerator program. I was excited to find a community of motivated entrepreneurs who understood the challenges I was facing.

What is a Learning Day, and which day provided you with the most significant benefit?

The Accelerator program has four quarterly Learning Days focused on the business fundamentals of strategy, execution, people and cash. In the morning, your coach explains the topic and offers insights, and then since everyone in the room is an entrepreneur trying to grow their company, a lively discussion ensues. In the afternoon, speakers from successful businesses share practical knowledge, and you ask questions and try to absorb as much as possible to benefit your company.

Strategy Day changed my business! I remember the moment very clearly. The lesson had to do with your biggest barrier being the path to success. If you can solve for that bottleneck, then you can solve your scaling problem. My most significant barrier by far was finding and keeping qualified groomers. My Aha! moment was realizing that we needed to get rid of groomers.

This led to an additional realization: Only two of the top ten dog breeds owned in the US need haircuts, but all dogs need preventive care―and the entire grooming industry focuses on haircuts rather than health. From there, I changed the business model to focus on making preventive care fast, easy and affordable. Especially for the 80 percent of dogs that don’t need haircuts.

That insight transformed the business model. I changed the name from Pet Groomerie to Scenthound―SCENT stands for skin, coat, ears, nails and teeth. We replaced breed-standard haircuts with a one-length overall “puppy cut.” This simplified training and execution so we could scale.

The second massive improvement came after Cash Day when I implemented Labor Efficiency Ratio to increase gross margin with the same labor dollar output, which added 15 percent to the bottom line.

What was the overall impact of your business accelerator participation?

I completely changed the company’s brand position, service offering―even the name. I also learned to measure key performance indicators better, lead more effectively and hire based on core values.

During four years in Accelerator, we achieved 185 percent growth in revenue. I spent the first two years trying to scale my former business model and grew roughly 25 percent each year. After my year three Aha! moment, I changed the business to be both wellness-focused and membership-based. We doubled the business in the last two years.

What’s next for your company?

In 2018, we built the franchise foundation and are now actively selling franchises. Because we made the service so process-oriented, it’s much more scalable. As the only wellness-focused grooming business in the country, we decided franchising was the path to rapid growth. Our goal is to sell 10 franchises this year, 30 next year and 60 the following.

As Accelerator program chair, you now help startup entrepreneurs learn to grow and scale. What’s it like being on the other side?

I love the energy of the Accelerator program. It’s done much more than just help me learn the systems and processes to create a scalable business. That was how it started, but once I graduated from the program and became an EO member and Accelerator coach, I found an amazing opportunity to become a better leader, coach and mentor. As program chair, I am learning how to be a leader of leaders. Eight years after initially joining, Accelerator is still teaching valuable skills that benefit me in more ways than I would ever have expected. Who knew?

Lyft Kicks Off Highly-Anticipated ‘Year of the IPO’

Lyft’s initial public offering on Thursday is the first of a series of highly-anticipated debuts by tech companies in public markets. And so far, Lyft is proving that it’s the right time to make the leap.

“With what we’re seeing with the excitement and feedback from the investment community, this IPO market could end up being historic,” said Barrett Daniels, national IPO services leader at Deloitte & Touche.

Lyft, which will begin trading on Nasdaq on Friday, was one of several big tech companies expected to go public this year. In the IPO, the company priced its shares at $72, at the high range of what it had initially anticipated.

“This IPO is a ‘watershed’ event for the tech sector as well as the ridesharing industry that in our opinion has become one of the most transformational growth sectors of the U.S. consumer market over the past five years,” analysts at Wedbush Securities wrote in a note following Lyft’s IPO.

Meanwhile, Pinterest, which filed its public paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 22, is expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange in April. Lyft rival Uber, also expected to go public in April on the NYSE after filing confidentially, could have a valuation of up to $120 billion and become one of the largest IPOs in history. Postmates, Zoom, Slack, and Airbnb, also are anticipating debut later this year.

Investors’ appetites are strong for these “decacorns,” or companies with valuations larger than $10 billion, Daniels said. Lyft’s IPO was oversubscribed a week before it went public, signaling the heavy demand for its shares that helped send its market value to $24.3 billion, higher than the $23 billion valuation it had initially expected. Meanwhile, Airbnb was privately valued at more than $30 billion during the last two years, while Pinterest was most recently valued at $12 billion.

“These are not your Boomer-generation IPOs,” said Duncan Davidson, general partner at venture firm Bullpen Capital. “We killed the small IPO after 2000.”

That’s because for years, the venture capital market has bet big on newer ventures, allowing companies to stay private and well-funded for longer periods of time. But generally, investors expect a return on their investment. So this year, those heavily venture-capital-backed companies are finally making the big move, in an effort to take advantage of the current strong market conditions.

The excitement for Lyft will likely spill over into Uber’s expected initial public offering, Davidson said. But that doesn’t mean that all tech IPOs will get the same reception because some companies don’t have a clear path to profitability.

“It won’t be … the tide that lifts all boats,” Davidson said. “The market will still be selective.”

What excites investors most about these large tech companies, most of which are unprofitable, is revenue growth, according to Deloitte’s Daniels. Lyft’s revenue in 2018 doubled to $2.2 billion while it lost $911 million, 32% more than the year before.

“A lot of these startups made a conscious decision early in their lives to grow and grow quickly,” Daniels said. “It would appear they’re going to be rewarded for it.”

Daniels says most companies that have been considering IPOs are speeding up the process to ensure they debut this year. Though a couple of companies may opt for a direct listing, a process that foregoes underwriters, he expects this to be the year of the IPO.

“It feels like it’s going to be real exciting here for the next couple of months” and continuing into the year, Daniels said. “It’s going to be a historic year.”

Facebook charged with racial discrimination in targeted housing ads

The Facebook logo is reflected on a woman’s glasses in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook Inc on Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the company’s targeted advertising discriminated on the basis of race and color.

HUD said Facebook also restricted who could see housing- related ads based on national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability.

Facebook said it was surprised by the decision and has been working with HUD to address its concerns and has taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination across its platforms.

The social media giant said last week it would create a new advertising portal for ads linked to housing and employment that would limit targeting options for advertisers.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and related services, which includes online advertisements, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

Reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

Data Sheet—Why Twitch Pivoted to Video Games, and Why It Worked

Upgraded. Remember that meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the Pentagon? It seems it turned into more of an Oval Office affair, as President Trump tweeted about talking with the tech exec, too. Pichai “stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military,” Trump wrote. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. LGBTQ group, withdrew its positive corporate rating of Google over an app in Google’s Play store promoting conversion therapy.

Third class. After three generations of failure, Apple is finally apologizing for its terrible butterfly keyboard design–sort of. Wall Street Journal columnist Joanna Stern mocked the design in a piece titled “Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm,” prompting the company to issue a statement saying the problem was limited to a small number of users “and for that we are sorry.” Hopefully, the laptop maker comes up with a new design soon instead of an apology. (I am also not a fan, as you may have read.)

Caught in the act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Thursday it is charging Facebook with violating housing discrimination laws over the company’s advertising targeting features. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. No immediate response from the company, which has already moved to end the practice.

Challenging times. Four former IBM employees filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the company on Wednesday. All four were age 55 or older when IBM let them go in 2016. The suit also attacked IBM’s requirement that departing employees waive their right to collective legal action in order to obtain severance. “We are confident that our arbitration clauses are legal and appropriate,” the company told the San Jose Mercury News.

Nailed. Federal regulators uncovered one of those bogus tech support scams that relied on phony alerts generated by supposed PC cybersecurity apps. The bad guy? Retail chain Office Depot, which agreed to pay $25 million to settle the charges.

Burley Encore X Review: A Fun but Flawed Bike Trailer

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” my spouse scolded, as my 1-year-old and 4-year-old shrieked at the top of their lungs. You would’ve thought they were being roasted alive, instead of merely strapped into the Burley Encore X as their parents gingerly hauled it down a small, steep hill to the beach.

For a minute, the stroller was poised over a three-foot drop. I held the roll bar from the top and lowered it to my spouse as I braced my feet on a tree root and thought, “Hey, I might start shrieking, too.” You can’t blame toddlers for tantruming when the tantrum makes perfect sense.

Our kids are used to this. Ever since my son has been big enough to hold his head up on his own, we’ve been hauling them around in the active parents’ bike trailer of choice, a Thule Chariot. The Chariot has different iterations at different price points, but each iteration can be modified for jogging, biking, or cross-country skiing.

This year, Burley released a series of new, rugged child bike trailers. While the the Eugene, Oregon-based company is known for super-safe designs, it’s hoping that the new Cub X, D’Lite X, and Encore X will get more Burley trailers off the streets and onto the sand, snow, and dirt.

I opted to test the Encore X performance sport stroller-trailer. It has suspension, in comparison to the more affordable Encore, but fewer of the luxury features of the D’Lite model. After a few weeks of testing, I still prefer our Chariot. But Burley’s many fans will find plenty of reasons to love the Encore X.

And It Was All Yellow

Burley

The Encore X is easy to assemble and use. Like Burley’s jogging stroller, the Solstice, the manipulable parts are set off in bright yellow plastic, so you know exactly which parts you are supposed to wrestle with and which ones you should leave alone.

At 31 inches across, it’s narrow enough to fit through our front door—just barely—and at 24.7 pounds, it’s lighter than our Chariot Cheetah, which weighs 26.5 pounds. It comfortably fits my two kids, but it’s worth noting that its total capacity is only 100 pounds. I’m probably only going to be able to carry both children in it for another year or so.

I might be able to use it for a little longer if I can resist packing it full of stuff. The Encore X has an awe-inspiring cargo capacity. It’s hard not to start tossing random things into the 60-liter cargo bin, like picnic blankets, tennis rackets, or dog food. You can also remove the seats to convert it to a cargo trailer.

It also comes with a one-wheel stroller conversion kit. To use it, screw the Burley hitch on your rear axle. When you want to bike, hook up the trailer hitch with by sliding in the pin and locking it; flip small front wheel up and you’re ready to go. When you want to convert it to a stroller, unhook the pin and flip the front wheel down. The transition is quick and easy, and unlike the Chariot, you don’t have to worry about finding a way to carry or store the hitch bar. Some convertible strollers, like the Thule Chariot, do have a sturdier ball-and-socket attachment in addition to a pin.

Finally, the Encore X comes with all the standard features that help make the company’s trailers so beloved among biking baby-havers: it comes with a skid guard to protect the bottom of the trailer, and the wheels have guards and are easy to switch out with the pop of a big, yellow button.

And the suspension works! I biked two kids and all their stuff on everything from dirt trails, to sand and gravel paths, and no one protested or cried (except for that one time).

Not so Burly

Burley

As a bike trailer, the Encore X is nearly perfect. For two weeks, I towed my children to and from school. A sunshade and UV-protective panels protected my kids from the sun, and the big storage container meant that I didn’t have to attach panniers to my bike rack to carry all their backpacks and jackets. I could throw in a friend’s skateboard in the back when he wanted to walk with us, or a basketball to play at the park.

When I took it on more adventurous excursions, cracks began to show. The Encore X meets ASTM F1975-09 safety standards and survived extensive drop- and crush-testing thanks to its heat-treated aluminum roll frame, but I have some concerns with its durability.

The first flaw is that the trailer’s handlebar doesn’t lock into place. When I picked up the bike trailer an inch or two to pull it around a gate or over a curb, the handlebar popped out, rotated, and plonked my children on the ground. When we had to lift the trailer over a log on the trail, my spouse and I picked the stroller up by its frame and ignored the handlebar altogether; it was just easier.

Burley assured me that you can tighten the clamp to lock the handlebar in place. However, in order to do so, you need to pop out the barrel nut that holds the handlebar in place. And if you tighten it too much, you might snap the handlebar’s cinch lever. As I pondered this conundrum, I couldn’t help but think that a sport trailer should be a little hardier than this.

I also wonder how long the Encore X will hold together. The fabric is made from tough 600-dernier polyester, but after a mere two weeks of being folded up and shoved in the back of my car, it has already started to wear through. The damage isn’t covered by the three-year warranty. Burley suggests a little Tenacious Tape might do the trick, but I’ve owned the Thule Chariot for three years and put it through similar paces, and its only signs of wear are fading from the sun.

The Thule Chariot’s accessories also just make more sense. For example, the Chariot’s two-wheel stroller kit is included in the base price, whereas with the Burley, the two wheel stroller kit is an add-on. The one-wheel stroller conversion kit might be more convenient in some ways, but I missed having two wheels. They make the stroller smaller and easier to maneuver, and I wouldn’t want to pay extra for them.

I was excited to test Burley’s sand- and gravel-riding kit, but I found that the big, fat, 16-inch tires were unnecessary. If you want to bike to the beach and push the stroller through sand, you have to buy the $149 jogger kit on top of the $199 fat tires. Without the jogger kit, the puny front tire sunk into the sand, tipping the stroller forward.

If you pick the Encore X, my advice is to skip the sand kit and stick with the ski kit for snow. Opt for the jogger kit if you want to go on sand or trails, or the two-wheel kit if you live in a city.

Encore Ready

If you want a one-and-done bike trailer that you can also hoist over a tree root without your children screaming, my vote would still be for one of the Thule Chariots like the one I recommended in our Best Strollers guide. Still, I found it to be a surprisingly difficult decision.

The Encore X has many admirable qualities, especially if you don’t go off-roading very much. It’s lighter and narrower, with much better storage options. With a few refinements to improve its durability, and a little Tenacious Tape, I might see a lot more of these on the roads and trails this summer.

Auto1 may consider IPO in future but no need for cash now: CEO

BERLIN (Reuters) – German used-car dealing platform Auto1 said it could seek a public offering in future but a 2018 cash infusion from Japan’s Softbank means it has no immediate need for extra funding of its European growth plans.

FILE PHOTO: A worker loads a second hand car on a car transporter truck at the Auto1.com company grounds in Zoerbig, Germany January 28, 2017.REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch /File Photo

Last year’s Softbank’s deal valued Berlin-based Auto1 at 2.9 billion euros ($3.27 billion), making it one of Germany’s top so-called tech unicorns.

It is virtually unknown to consumers except through its used car buying arm Wir Kaufen dein Auto (We Buy Your Car) in Germany and similar names elsewhere. It operates from Finland to Romania to Portugal, 30 countries in all.

Revenues rose by 32 percent to 2.9 billion euros last year, and although it is profitable in Germany, investments in other markets have led to a loss on group level.

“Currently, an initial public offering is not a topic for us,” Auto1 co-founder Christian Bertermann told Reuters, adding this could change in future.

Auto1 buys cars using its vehicle pricing database to calculate an offer within minutes and then sells the vehicles on to one of its roughly 35,000 dealerships for a commission.

Its platforms helped 540,000 vehicles change hands in 2018.

The company will now also start a retail platform to compete with Scout24’s Autoscout unit or Ebay’s Mobile.de offering, Bertermann said.

He confirmed a Reuters report about Auto1’s talks with Scout24 about an acquisition of Autoscout, adding that these would not lead to a takeover.

Scout24 in February agreed to be acquired by buyout groups Hellman & Friedman and Blackstone.

Auto1 was set up in Berlin by entrepreneur Christian Bertermann after having trouble selling two old cars owned by his grandmother, along with Koc, who previously worked at Rocket Internet-backed firms Zalando and Home24.

Reporting by Nadine Schimroszik,; Writing by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Google's new gaming service will let game makers use rival clouds, executive says

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A Google executive offered new details on Wednesday about the company’s upcoming video game streaming service, telling Reuters that game makers may use competing cloud providers and must avoid some inappropriate content.

Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison speaks during a Google keynote address announcing a new video gaming streaming service named Stadia that attempts to capitalize on the company’s cloud technology and global network of data centers, at the Gaming Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, unveiled Stadia on Tuesday, saying the service launching this year would make playing high-quality video games in an internet browser as easy as watching a movie on its YouTube service.

The game would operate on Google’s servers, receiving commands from a user’s controller and sending video streams to their screen. Player settings, leaderboards, matchmaking tools and other data related to the game would “not necessarily” have to reside on Google’s servers, Phil Harrison, a Google vice president, said in an interview.

Hosting the data elsewhere, however, could lead to slower loading times or less crisp streaming quality, he said.

“Obviously, we would want and incentivize the publisher to bring as much of their backend as possible” to Google servers, he said. “But Stadia can reach out to other public and private cloud services.”

The approach could limit Google’s revenue from Stadia. It has declined to comment on the business model for the new service, but attracting new customers to Google’s paid cloud computing program is one of Stadia’s aims.

If a game publisher was using Amazon for some tools, “the first thing I would do is introduce you to the Google Cloud team,” Harrison said.

In addition, Stadia will require games to follow content guidelines that build upon the system of Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory body, he said.

“We absolutely will not have A-O content,” Harrison said, referring to the ESRB’s moniker for the rare designation of a game as adult-only because of intense violence, pornography or real-money gambling.

He said Stadia’s guidelines would not be public.

Asked about growing public concerns about game addiction, Harrison said Stadia would empower parents with controls on “what you play, when you play and who you play with.”

Google views Stadia as connecting its various efforts in gaming, including selling them on its mobile app store, Harrison said. But game streaming, he said, is an opportunity to tackle among the most complex technical challenges around and potentially apply breakthroughs to other industries.

“We think we can grow a very significant games market vertical,” he said. “And by getting this right we can advance the state of the art of computing.”

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler

Samsung Electronics sees tough 2019 for component business: CEO

Kim Ki-nam, president and co-chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics Co.¡¯s semiconductor division, speaks during the company’s annual general meeting at a company’s office building in Seoul, South Korea, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year due to global trade tensions, slowing economic growth and softer demand for memory chips from data center companies, the firm’s co-chief executive said on Wednesday.

The world’s biggest memory chipmaker reiterated its forecast of a weak 2019 as shareholders gathered for its annual general meeting in Seoul, citing a slowdown in demand for memory chips.

“We are expecting many difficulties this year such as slowing growth in major economies and risks over global trade conflicts,” Co-Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam told the meeting.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

Shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates

Samsung Electronics sees tough 2019 for component business: CEO

Kim Ki-nam, president and co-chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics Co.¡¯s semiconductor division, speaks during the company’s annual general meeting at a company’s office building in Seoul, South Korea, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year due to global trade tensions, slowing economic growth and softer demand for memory chips from data center companies, the firm’s co-chief executive said on Wednesday.

The world’s biggest memory chipmaker reiterated its forecast of a weak 2019 as shareholders gathered for its annual general meeting in Seoul, citing a slowdown in demand for memory chips.

“We are expecting many difficulties this year such as slowing growth in major economies and risks over global trade conflicts,” Co-Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam told the meeting.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

Shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates

Samsung Elec sees tough year with trade risks, slow growth: co-CEO

Kim Ki-nam, president and co-chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics Co.¡¯s semiconductor division, speaks during the company’s annual general meeting at a company’s office building in Seoul, South Korea, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year due to global trade tensions, slowing economic growth and softer demand for memory chips from data center companies, the firm’s co-chief executive said on Wednesday.

The world’s biggest memory chipmaker reiterated its forecast of a weak 2019 as shareholders gathered for its annual general meeting in Seoul, citing a slowdown in demand for memory chips.

“We are expecting many difficulties this year such as slowing growth in major economies and risks over global trade conflicts,” Co-Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam told the meeting.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

Shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates

Samsung Elec sees tough year with trade risks, slow growth: co-CEO

Kim Ki-nam, president and co-chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics Co.¡¯s semiconductor division, speaks during the company’s annual general meeting at a company’s office building in Seoul, South Korea, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year due to global trade tensions, slowing economic growth and softer demand for memory chips from data center companies, the firm’s co-chief executive said on Wednesday.

The world’s biggest memory chipmaker reiterated its forecast of a weak 2019 as shareholders gathered for its annual general meeting in Seoul, citing a slowdown in demand for memory chips.

“We are expecting many difficulties this year such as slowing growth in major economies and risks over global trade conflicts,” Co-Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam told the meeting.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

Shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates

Amazon's second headquarters clears blocks in Virginia funding vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s planned second headquarters in northern Virginia cleared a key test on Saturday when local officials approved a proposed financial package worth an estimated $51 million amid a small but vocal opposition.

People move about in front of the rostrum before a news conference about the announcement that Crystal City has been selected as home to Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Amazon in November picked National Landing, a site jointly owned by Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, just outside Washington, along with New York City for its so-called HQ2 or second headquarters. That followed a year-long search in which hundreds of municipalities, ranging from Newark, New Jersey, to Indianapolis, competed for the coveted tax-dollars and high-wage jobs the project promises.

Amazon in February abruptly scrapped plans to build part of its second headquarters in the New York borough of Queens after opposition from local leaders angered by incentives promised by state and city politicians.

The five-member Arlington County Board voted 5-0 in favor of Amazon receiving the financial package after a seven-hour meeting held in a room filled with up to about 150 citizens and representatives from local unions and minority advocacy groups.

There was strong opposition from some residents and labor groups, many of whom chanted “shame” and waved signs with slogans including “Don’t be the opposite of Robinhood,” “Amazon overworks and underpays,” and “Advocate for us and not Amazon.” One protester was escorted out of the meeting by police.

A few dozen protesters outside the county office chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.”

Danny Candejas, an organizer for the coalition “For Us, Not Amazon,” which opposes the company’s move into the area, said: “We are fighting to make sure people who live here are not priced out by wealthy people.”

Some supporters in the meeting held up signs saying ‘vote yes’ and ‘Amazon is prime for Arlington’.

One hundred and twelve people were registered to speak, an unusually high number for a local county meeting, forcing board chair Christian Dorsey to cut the talking minutes to two minutes, from three, for every regular speaker, and to four minutes, from five, for representatives of organizations.

Many speakers who were opposed to the Amazon headquarters especially opposed direct incentives, citing rising housing costs, the likely displacement of low-income families, accelerated wage theft for construction workers, and lack of investment guarantees in affordable housing funds.

“Speculators are already driving up home prices, landlords are raising rents and general contractors are raising their quotes for home improvement projects,” said one resident, Hunter Tamarro.

Unions including the AFL-CIO objected to Amazon not signing a project labor agreement with wage and benefit safeguards for workers hired to construct the new buildings.

But supporters such as resident June O’Connell said Amazon’s presence would ensure Arlington is allocated state funds for investments in transportation and higher education. “I want that money from the state,” O’Connell said. “Without Amazon, we wouldn’t get a penny of it.”

Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s worldwide head of economic development, spoke briefly and said the company will invest approximately $2.5 billion, create more than 25,000 jobs with an average wage of over $150,000, which will generate more than $3.2 billion in tax revenue.

“Regarding incentives, Amazon is only eligible for the financial incentive after we make our investments and occupy office space in the community,” she said.

Dorsey, the board chair, had said before the vote that he expected the measure to pass. He said that rejecting Amazon would not solve the community’s problems and concerns, and that this was the first deal the county has struck where new revenue growth will be used to fund it.

To be sure, the vote approved an estimated $51 million, a fraction of the $481 million promised by the county. Only 5 percent of the incentives are direct. Also, Amazon has been offered a $750 million package by the state that the Virginia General Assembly approved with little opposition.

The $51 million includes a controversial direct financial incentive or cash grant of $23 million to Amazon over 15 years, which will be collected from taxes on Arlington hotel rooms. The grant is contingent upon Amazon occupying six million square feet of office space over the first 16 years.

Arlington has also offered to invest about $28 million over 10 years of future property tax revenue in onsite infrastructure and open space at the headquarters site.

A filing on the county board’s website says the $23 million grant and the $28 million in strategic public infrastructure investments were “instrumental in Amazon choosing Arlington for its headquarters.”

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Richard Chang and Daniel Wallis

New Apple TV Ad on Privacy Hits Facebook and Google Where It Hurts—Without Mentioning Them

Apple is taking another swipe at its fellow tech giants for their privacy policies, this time in a new commercial that touts Apple’s stated focus on protecting user privacy. Without naming the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, the TV ad invokes what many consider to be their lax privacy stances.

“If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on,” the ad says, jumping among a few dozen images of people wanting privacy, including slamming doors, hushed diner conversations, windows locking, padlocks clicking shut, and one visitor to the men’s restroom nervously seeking out the most private urinal.

[embedded content]

Under CEO Tim Cook, Apple has promoted its efforts to protect user privacy on its devices. Unlike Facebook, Google and, increasingly, Amazon, Apple doesn’t rely much on advertising revenue, making money instead from sales of devices and service subscriptions.

At times, Apple has gone to great lengths to protect user privacy. The company, for example, has built most of its A.I. technology on Apple devices themselves, rather than storing personal data in the cloud, as most tech giants do. That decision has led some to argue that Apple is lagging Google and Facebook in the race to develop A.I. products.

But Apple has had its own privacy lapses, including a security flaw in its FaceTime app (which the company fixed last month) that potentially allowed people to listen in on users’ conversations. So far, though, the company has escaped the brunt of criticism that Facebook in particular has received for how it has managed and secured the personal data of its users. Facebook has been attempting to retool its products to focus more on privacy.

Cook has publicly slammed his tech rivals’ privacy policies several times. Last June, he chided them for not using humans to filter out fake news. A few months later, Cook called out the “data-industrial complex” that has “weaponized” personal data. And in January, he wrote a piece in Time calling for a federal privacy law. “It’s time to stand up for the right to privacy—yours, mine, all of ours,” Cook wrote.

The 45-second commercial began airing on U.S. television on Thursday, including during broadcasts of the highly rated National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March basketball tournament.

PagerDuty Joins A Flurry Of Silicon Valley Companies Planning To Go Public This Year

POWERFUL WOMEN

Jennifer Tejada, chief executive officer of PagerDuty Inc., speaks during the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women conference in Dana Point, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The conference brings together leading women in business, government,© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

PagerDuty took the next step forward to a planned IPO, joining a windfall of startups expected to go public this year. But the cloud-based software company’s debut will be an exception among the tech IPO wave—it’s one of the few enterprise companies run by a woman, CEO Jennifer Tejada.

Founded in 2009, San Francisco-based PagerDuty acts as a watchdog for technical issues. The operations management software identifies problems in real time and directs engineers to the root of the problem, an alert system that’s attracted 10,800 customers in 90 countries.

In 2018, PagerDuty scored unicorn status after a $90 million round led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management. Its first nine months of revenue last year rose 48% from the period to $84 million. However, the company took a $34.5 million loss during that time,up $4.7 million from 2017. It didn’t reveal data on the full year.

The company’s institutional investors own more than half of its shares, including early investor, Andreessen Horowitz, which owns the largest share of the company at 18.4%, followed by Accel and Bessemer Venture Partners. PagerDuty’s cofounders, Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon, each hold 7.1%.

PagerDuty landed a spot in the top 50 on the Forbes Cloud 100 list in 2017, just a year after Tejada took over as CEO. “It was a neat brand, even though it’s a small company,” Tejada told Forbes back in July 2016. Tejada owns over four million shares of the company.

LIVE: Tesla Debuts the Model Y, Its Baby SUV

It’s been a weird few weeks for Tesla. Stores opened and stores closed, a $35,000 Model 3 appeared, the SEC asked a federal judge to charge CEO Elon Musk with contempt of court. But drown it all out, folks, because tonight is about that old school Musk magic. Expect him to walk onstage around 8 pm PDT to unveil Tesla’s latest, greatest offering, the Model Y, its first baby SUV.

If the Model 3 was the EV for the masses, the Model Y is the EV for the masses that the masses really want. The US loves big cars: SUV and crossover sales are currently up 13 percent year-over-year, and just short of half of all light vehicles sold in 2018 slot neatly into those categories. And Tesla certainly believes it has a hit on its hands. “The demand for Model Y will be maybe 50 percent higher than Model 3. Could be even double,” Musk said during a January earnings call.

As the hour of the unveil draws near, though, we have plenty of questions. Musk told investors that the Model Y would share about 75 percent of its part with the Model 3—but how different will it look? How much will it cost? Will it have gullwing doors like its more expensive predecessor, the Model X? How about a third row of seats? When will it be available? And how does Tesla—the company that went through “production hell” to create the Model 3—intend to pull it all off?

Tune in with us as we watch the show go down, and check back below for our latest, live updates.


9:00 pm PDT

And we’re done! Elon seemed to have a lot of fun with the audience during this unveil, cracking lots of jokes and giggling at the outbursts from (adoring) hecklers. But the whole thing was pretty short—just about 30 minutes—and the Tesla CEO spent most of his time reviewing how far his little-electric-vehicle-company-that-could had come. We have so many more questions! Stay tuned to wired.com for what we know so far about the Model Y.

8:57 pm PDT

A big surprise: The Model Y will have seven seats! But it won’t have gullwing doors. Here’s my big question: What becomes of the Model X now?

8:55 pm PDT

And we have some pricing information! Tesla says the Performance Model Y will show up in fall 2020, with a 280 mile range, a 150 mph top speed, a 0 to 60 time of 3.5 seconds, and a $60,000 price tag. The Dual Motor AWD is also slated for fall 2020, with a 280 mile range, a 135 mph top speed, a 0 to 60 sprint of 4.8 seconds, and a $51,000 price tag. Next up in fall 2020: the Long Range Model Y, topping out at 300 miles of range, for $47,000. Finally: The standard range Model Y is set to be released in spring 2021 with a 230 mile range, for a cool $39,000.

8:50 pm PDT

At last, it’s here! Dressed in blue, the Model Y comes on stage. It’s a bit bigger than the Model 3, with a higher roof and a third row, so it seats seven. Musk starts off talking about safety, and a bit on performance, saying it’ll be as functional as an SUV, but as fun to drive as a sports car. The big battery pack in the floor helps keep the center of gravity low, and the motor will provide a 3.5 second 0 to 60 mph time. Range: 300 miles.

8:48 pm PDT

We’ve got an update on Tesla infrastructure: 1,400 supercharger stations and 12,000+ superchargers in 36+ countries. The Canadians in the audience express discontent, and quoth Elon: “I’ve specifically asked about a Saskatchewan supercharger and I’m told it’s under construction.” (Musk’s grandfather is from the Canadian province.) He also promises a station in Kazakhstan, great news for Kazakh Tesla owners. And it feels like he’s about run out of things to say that aren’t about the Model Y. We hope…

8:45 pm PDT

Elon is on to the factory portion of his presentation, talking the Nevada Gigafactory and the one in production in Shanghai, which he says should be finished by the end of the year. I would not call this a “tight five”, but the audience seems to be eating this up.

8:30 pm PDT

Play the hits, Musk: the Roadster, the Model S, the Model X, the Model 3. (Elon confirms that “S” stands for “sedan”, not “saloon”.) The company’s tale, according to Elon, is a lot of “They couldn’t say we could do it…and then we did!” Which, fair enough! He notes that he would have called the Model 3 the Model E—to spell S-E-X—but that Ford holds the “Model E” trademark. “Ford killed sex.”

8:25 pm PDT

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is onstage—black shirt, black jacket, black pants, custom Tesla-branded Nike sneakers—and is starting off talking history. “There was a time when electric cars seemed very stupid,” he says. He’s rolling out past Tesla models, starting with the Roadster. “It’s a bit small,” he says. Next we’ll see the Model S sedan, Model X SUV, and Model 3 sedan.

8:22 pm PDT

It’s beginning! Discover how to tune in right here.

8:00 pm PDT

We’ve reached official show time, but like any rock star, Elon Musk tends to take the stage a little bit late. In the meantime, we’ll remind you that the Model Y is not just an overall big deal for Tesla, it completes something of a quartet, so Tesla’s current lineup includes the Model S, Model X, and Model 3. Get it? S3XY. (Ford holds the trademark to “Model E”.)


More Great WIRED Stories

Tesla unveils Model Y SUV as electric vehicle competition heats up

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Tesla Inc unveiled its Model Y electric sports utility vehicle on Thursday evening in California, promising a much-awaited crossover that will face competition from European car makers rolling out their own electric rivals.

Tesla Inc’s Model Y electric sports utility vehicle is pictured in this undated handout photo released on March 14, 2019. Tesla Motors/Handout via Reuters

Chief Executive Elon Musk said the compact SUV, built on the same platform as the Model 3, would first debut in a long-range version with a range of 300 miles priced at about $47,000.

A standard version, to be available sometime in 2021, would cost about $39,000, he said.

Musk unveiled the car at a small event at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, outside Los Angeles, that was streamed online. (www.tesla.com/modely)

Small SUVs are the fastest-growing segment in both the United States and China, the world’s largest auto market, where Tesla is building a factory, making the Model Y well positioned to tap demand.

Tesla has enjoyed little competition thus far for its sedans, but competition for electric SUVs is heating up as Tesla tries to master a new set of economics from the luxury line that made its reputation.

On Thursday, ratings company Fitch warned that, despite Tesla’s early lead, “incumbent carmakers have the ability to catch up … thanks to their capacity to invest and their robust record in product management.”

Tesla’s targeted volume production date of late 2020 would put it behind electric SUV offerings from Volkswagen AG’s Audi, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Shares of Tesla are down 24 percent from an August high of $379.57, when Musk tweeted that he was taking Tesla private.

That plan – later scrapped – ushered in a period of turmoil at the company, from Musk’s public battles with regulators, a flurry of securities lawsuits, cost cutting and layoffs.

Tesla, two weeks ago, said it would close most stores and use savings to cut the price of most cars by 6 percent. But last week, Tesla reversed course and said it would leave many stores open and raised prices back by about 3 percent.

Musk has promised an easier production ramp of the Model Y, since it shares about three-quarters of its parts with the Model 3 and would need only half the capital expenditures of the sedan.

The risk is “quite low” Musk told analysts in January. Tesla would “most likely” build the Model Y at Tesla’s battery factory in Nevada, he said.

Still, the Model Y, like all Tesla’s models, has already seen pre-production delays. Suppliers were originally told that production would start in November 2019, sources told Reuters last year.

In October, Musk said “significant progress” had been made on the Model Y and that he had approved the prototype for production in 2020. In January, he said Tesla had ordered the tooling needed to build the car.

Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Peter Henderson, Greg Mitchell and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Himani Sarkar

SoftBank, Toyota in talks to invest $1 billion in Uber's self-driving unit: sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of investors led by SoftBank Group Corp and Toyota Motor Corp is in talks to invest $1 billion or more into Uber Technologies Inc’s self-driving vehicle unit, which would value the unit at $5 billion to $10 billion, said two people familiar with the talks.

FILE PHOTO: Uber’s logo is displayed on a mobile phone, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo

The investment would provide a cash injection for Uber’s self-driving program that is costing the money-losing startup hundreds of millions of dollars without generating revenue.

It could also help underscore Uber’s value as the ride-hailing firm prepares for a stock market debut in which its value could top $100 billion.

Uber and SoftBank declined to comment. A Toyota spokesman said the automaker “constantly reviews and considers various options for investment” but does not have anything to announce.

News of investment talks was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which said a deal could be reached next month. SoftBank Group shares rose 4 percent in morning Tokyo trade whereas Toyota’s stock was flat.

Japan’s largest automaker Toyota injected $500 million into Uber last year to work on self-driving cars, where both companies are seen as lagging rivals like Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit Waymo.

Uber, which last year lost about $3.3 billion, is betting on a transition to self-driving cars to eliminate the need to pay drivers.

The nascent technology came under greater scrutiny last year after one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona last year. Prosecutors last week declined to pursue criminal charges.

The challenge of developing the technology is leading to previously unlikely alliances, with SoftBank and Toyota partnering up in Japan. SoftBank has invested $2.25 billion in General Motors Co’s self-driving unit Cruise, which has also received funds from Honda Motor Co Ltd.

For a graphic on ties between automakers, ride-hailing firms and technology companies, click here tmsnrt.rs/2TOUqV9.

Reporting by Liana Baker; Additional reporting by Katie Paul in SAN FRANCISCO, Rama Venkat in BENGALURU and Sam Nussey in TOKYO; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Christopher Cushing

How the FAA Decides When to Ground a Jet Like Boeing’s 737 MAX 8

When an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday morning, killing all 157 people aboard, observers quickly noted that the circumstances resembled those of another flight. In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 181 passengers and eight crew. Both flights plummeted a few minutes after takeoff, in good weather. And both were on 737 MAX 8 jets, the plane Boeing started delivering in 2017 to replace the outgoing 737 as the workhorse of the skies. Since 2017, Boeing has delivered 387 MAX 8s and 9s. It has taken orders for 4,400 more, from more than 100 customers.

As of Tuesday evening, various foreign aviation regulators and airlines had decided that after the two crashes, the plane shouldn’t be in the air. Officials in the European Union, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates have all grounded the planes. Of the 59 operators that fly the new 737, at least 30 have parked it.

In the US, though, Boeing’s plane is free to fly. American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines are still putting their 737 MAX jets—74 in total—in the air. (So is Air Canada.) And the Federal Aviation Administration—the agency that oversees American airspace—says that’s just fine.

Which might seem strange, since the FAA is notoriously safety-conscious. Planes in search of an airworthiness certificate must meet stringent standards; the certification process usually takes years. And it gets results: Just one person has died in American airspace on a commercial airplane since 2009. But, it seems, the agency has not yet found reason to ground the new 737.

In a statement Tuesday, acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell said the agency is looking at all the available data from 737 operators around the world, and that the review “thus far shows no systematic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding aircraft.” Elwell said the FAA “would take immediate appropriate action” should such problems be identified. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board both have teams at the crash site outside Addis Ababa to investigate and collect data.

The agency did note in a directive published Monday that it would probably mandate flight control system enhancements that Boeing is already working on, come April. And after the Lion Air crash, the FAA made a Boeing safety warning mandatory for US airlines.

“We have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX,” Boeing said in its own statement Tuesday. “Based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

A number of senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Dianne Feinstein of California, have called for the US to ground the aircraft. But it’s the FAA chief who has final say. (Elwell has been the acting administrator since January 2018, though Politico reports that the Trump Administration is close to nominating Delta Air Lines executive Steve Dickson as administrator.) He doesn’t make that decision alone, says Clint Balog, a flight test pilot and human factors expert with the College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle University. Any grounding goes through a “semi-formal” process, full of discussions with experts on the specific aircraft and crash situation, both in- and outside the federal government.

“The FAA looks at all of this information and decides, ‘OK, if it’s just likely that there’s a significant problem here, it doesn’t matter what the cost to the traveling public is—we have to put safety first and ground this aircraft,’” Balog says. “However, if they look and say, ‘Well, jeez, grounding this aircraft is going to be a monumental cost to the world and we simply don’t have enough information to know what the risk really is with this aircraft, do we really want to ground it at this point in time?’”

The FAA has grounded aircraft before. In 1979, the FAA grounded all McDonnell Douglas DC-10s (and forbid the aircraft from US airspace) after a crash in Chicago killed 273 people. An investigation found the problem was maintenance issues, not the aircraft design, the FAA lifted the prohibition just over a month later.

In early 2013, the FAA grounded Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, after two lithium ion-battery related fires in the aircraft. “We are issuing this [directive] because we evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design,” the FAA wrote in its emergency airworthiness directive. It didn’t let the jet take to the sky again until Boeing found and corrected its design issues. (That happened in April.)

So far, though, we have little concrete information on whatever might be going on with the 737 MAX. The investigation into the Ethiopia crash is in its earliest stages. Indonesia’s civil aviation authority has released a preliminary report on the Lion Air crash, but has not issued any findings on what caused it.

Based on its directives, the FAA hasn’t “seen any red flags that are significant enough” to ground the aircraft, Balog says. So he’d have no problem getting on a 737 MAX-8. “More importantly, I would have no problem having my family get on a 737 MAX-8 at this point.”


More Great WIRED Stories

Facebook Will Crack Down on Anti-Vaccine Content

As Clark County, Washington, combats an ongoing measles outbreak, Facebook announced Thursday that it’s diminishing the reach of anti-vaccine information on its platform. It will no longer allow it to be promoted through ads or recommendations, and will make it less prominent in search results. The social network will not take down anti-vaccine posts entirely, however. The company also said it was exploring ways to give users more context about vaccines from “expert organizations.”

The decision was widely anticipated: Facebook, along with YouTube and Amazon, has faced criticism from journalists and lawmakers in recent weeks for allowing vaccine misinformation to flourish on their sites. Facebook also told media outlets in February that it was looking into how it should address anti-vaccination content.

Last month, Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative from California, sent letters to the CEOs of YouTube and Facebook demanding they answer questions about the spread of anti-vaccine information on their company’s platforms. He followed up with a similar letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last week. On Wednesday, an 18-year-old from Ohio testified before the Senate that his mother primarily read misinformation about vaccines on Facebook and opted not to inoculate him. (A major study released Monday found no link between the MMR vaccine—which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella—and autism.)

In a blog post written by Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, Facebook said it will begin rejecting ads that include false information about vaccinations. The company also removed targeting categories such as “vaccine controversies” from its advertising tools. Last month, the Daily Beast reported that more than 150 anti-vaccine ads had been bought on Facebook, which often targeted women over 25. Some of the ads were shown to users “interested in pregnancy.” In total, they were viewed at least 1.6 million times. YouTube similarly announced last month that it would begin preventing ads from running on videos featuring anti-vaccine content.

Facebook will also reduce the ranking of pages and groups that spread misinformation about vaccines in search results and in its News Feed. In February, The Guardian found that anti-vaccination propaganda often ranked higher and outperformed accurate information from more reliable sources on Facebook.

The social network’s effort to fight vaccine disinformation extends to Instagram, where the company says it will stop recommending content that includes vaccine misinformation on the app’s Explore page. Instagram will also stop displaying vaccination misinformation in hashtag search results. It’s not clear how long these new controls will take to roll out: An Instagram search for #vaccine Thursday afternoon surfaced the hashtag #vaccineskill as the number one result, for instance. Last month, Pinterest received praise for its decision to stop displaying search results for vaccines entirely, even if they are medically accurate. (In 2017, Pinterest previously banned “anti-vaccination advice” from its platform.)

As The Atlantic has pointed out, the majority of anti-vaccination content on Facebook appears to originate from only a handful of fringe sources. It likely won’t require a herculean effort for Facebook to tackle this strain of misinformation. The question is why the company waited until it became the subject of media reports and criticism from lawmakers to finally act.

Facebook increased its efforts to fight false information more broadly on the platform in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, including with initiatives like third-party fact-checking. The company admits it won’t catch everything, and demonstrably fake stories still do go viral. While there is little public data about user behavior on Facebook, researchers have found signs that the reach of fake news declined between 2016 and 2018 midterm elections. (Though they also say there remains plenty to be concerned about when it comes to misinformation.)

It’s not yet clear whether the proliferation of anti-vaccination content online has led to a significant decrease in vaccination rates in the United States. Unscientific information about vaccines has been circulating on- and offline for well over a decade. But as Slate has pointed out, the number of children under 3 who have received their first dose of the MMR vaccination has remained steady for years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of its “ten threats to global health in 2019,” but cites “complacency and inconvenience in accessing vaccines” as two of the key reasons why people choose not to vaccinate, in addition to “lack of confidence.”

There’s still little doubt that social media platforms like Facebook, but also YouTube and Amazon, have indeed made anti-vaccination talking points more accessible to wider audiences. Its proponents were aided by recommendation and search ranking algorithms, which often promoted anti-vax content to the top of the pile. Facebook’s announcement today is further acknowledgment of its role in that ecosystem, and the idea that free speech is not the same as free reach.


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An Email Marketing Company Left 809 Million Records Exposed Online

By this point, you’ve hopefully gotten the message that your personal data can end up exposed in all sorts of unexpected internet backwaters. But increased awareness hasn’t slowed the problem. In fact, it’s only grown bigger—and more confounding.

Last week, security researchers Bob Diachenko and Vinny Troia discovered an unprotected, publicly accessible MongoDB database containing 150 gigabytes-worth of detailed, plaintext marketing data—including 763 million unique email addresses. The pair are going public with their findings today. The trove is not only massive but also unusual; it contains data about individual consumers as well as what appears to be “business intelligence data,” like employee and revenue figures from various companies. This diversity may stem from the information’s source. The database, owned by the “email validation” firm Verifications.io, was taken offline the same day Diachenko reported it to the company.

While you’ve likely never heard of them, validators play a crucial role in the email marketing industry. They don’t send out marketing emails on their own behalf, or facilitate automated mass email campaigns. Instead, they vet a customer’s mailing list to ensure that the email addresses in it are valid and won’t bounce back. Some email marketing firms offer this mechanism in-house. But fully verifying that an email address works involves sending a message to the address and confirming that it was delivered—essentially spamming people. That means evading protections of internet service providers and platforms like Gmail. (There are less invasive ways to validate email addresses, but they have a tradeoff of false positives.) Mainstream email marketing firms often outsource this work rather than take on the risk of having their infrastructure blacklisted by spam filters, or lowering their online reputation scores.

“Companies have email lists and want to start emailing them, but they’re not sure how valid they are,” says Troia, who founded the firm Night Lion Security. “So they go to a company that will essentially send out spam.” Troia speculates, but has not confirmed, that the database may be so large and varied because it comprises all of Verification.io’s customers’ data. WIRED was unable over the course of several days to contact the company or CEO Vlad Strelkov. On Monday, the entire Verifications.io website went offline and has not been restored since.

Record Setter

In general, the 809 million total records in the Verifications.io trove include standard information like names, email addresses, phone numbers, and physical addresses. But many also include things like gender, date of birth, personal mortgage amount, interest rate, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts associated with email addresses, and characterizations of people’s credit scores (like average, above average, and so on). Meanwhile, other records in the collection seem related to generating sales leads at businesses, including company names, annual revenue figures, fax numbers, company websites, and industry identifiers for categorizing companies called “SIC” and “NAIC” codes.

The data doesn’t contain Social Security numbers or credit card numbers, and the only passwords in the database are for Verifications.io’s own infrastructure. Overall, most of the data is publicly available from various sources, but when criminals can get their hands on troves of aggregated data, it makes it much easier for them to run new social engineering scams, or expand their target pool.

In the exposed database, the researchers also found some of what appear to be Verifications.io’s own internal tools like test email accounts, hundreds of SMTP (email sending) servers, the text of emails, anti-spam evasion infrastructure, keywords to avoid, and IP addresses to blacklist. Diachenko suggests that in the Verifications.io work flow, customers would upload an Excel spreadsheet listing the email addresses to validate, and then Verifications.io would run their tests and return lists of clean addresses and ones that bounced back. It’s possible, given the piecemeal nature of the data and evidence that it was imported from numerous different Excel files, that Verifications.io also retained some or all of the data it received from customers after concluding its email address checks.

The researchers validated samples of the data with companies listed as Verifications.io customers. Troia says his own information appears in the database. WIRED spoke to the proprietor of an email marketing firm who confirmed the validity of a segment of the data. WIRED also checked for four individuals, but did not find them listed. Diachenko and Troia also note that they have no way to know whether anyone discovered and downloaded the Verifications.io data while it was publicly available and fully exposed.

“I have no idea if anyone else accessed this besides us,” Troia says. “But it was definitely out there for anyone to grab.”

‘Another Day on the Internet’

Much remains unknown about the database and Verifications.io, because the company is difficult to track. When the researchers initially contacted the company through a messaging portal on its site to disclose the database exposure, someone responded with an unsigned note. “Thank you for reporting the issue. We appreciate you reaching out and informing us,” the reply said. “This is our company database built with public information, not client data. We were able to quickly secure the database. Goes to show, even with 12 years of experience you can’t let your guard down.”

Much of the data in the database is publicly available, though it’s not clear that all of it is. When the researchers asked in the portal for the name of the owner of the company and the legal name of the company, someone wrote back declining to answer.

It is also unclear where Verifications.io is based. Most of its materials list Boca Raton, Florida, but some of its web assets are registered in California and Delaware. The Verifications.io website lists addresses in Estonia, but some of those matched up with what appear to be a museum and a government building.

Security researcher Troy Hunt is adding the Verifications.io data to his service HaveIBeenPwned, which helps people check whether their data has been compromised in data exposures and breaches. He says that 35 percent of the trove’s 763 million email addresses are new to the HaveIBeenPwned database. The Verifications.io data dump is also the second-largest ever added to HaveIBeenPwned in terms of number of email addresses, after the 773 million in the repository known as Collection 1, which was added earlier this year. Hunt says some of his own information is included in the Verifications.io exposure.

“The main takeaway for me is that this is just another case where someone has my data, and hundreds of millions of other people’s data, and I’ve absolutely no idea how they got it,” Hunt says. “I’d never heard of the company until now and I certainly can’t ever recall consenting to their use of my data. Of course, it’s entirely possible that buried in some other service’s terms and conditions it says they’re allowed to pass my data around in this fashion, but that’s not really consistent with my expectations of how my data should be used.”

As with recent data exposures from the business data aggregator Apollo and the marketing firm Exactis, there’s not a lot you can do to individually protect yourself when vast repositories of data compiled from both public and private sources leak. Check HaveIBeenPwned to see if your data was in the Verifications.io exposure, and continue your general vigilance about using strong, unique passwords, monitoring your financial statements, and giving out your Social Security number as infrequently as possible. But also know that none of those measures provide a full solution to this society-scale problem.

The disjointed nature of the exposed Verifications.io data speaks to the chaotic state of the data industry overall. People’s personal information is shared by massive companies like Facebook, bought and sold by shady marketers, or stolen from data giants and doomed to circulate endlessly in the purgatory of criminal forums. The churn makes it difficult for consumers to control who has their data and where it ends up. As Hunt puts it, “Sadly, it’s just another day on the internet.”


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Amazon to close U.S. pop-up stores, focus on opening more book stores

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc will close all of its U.S. pop-up stores and focus instead on opening more book stores, a company spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The company’s shares closed down 1.4 percent, while shares of bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc ended 8.9 percent lower.

Amazon’s 87 pop-up stores in the United States are expected to close by the end of April, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Wednesday, citing some of the employees at the stores.

The news underscores how the online retailer is still working out its brick-and-mortar strategy.

Pop-up stores for years helped Amazon showcase novel products like its voice-controlled Echo speakers, but the company is now able to market those products and more at its larger chain of Whole Foods stores, acquired in 2017, and cashierless Amazon Go stores, which opened to the public last year.

The online retail giant will also open more “4-star stores” – stores that sell items rated 4-stars or higher by Amazon customers, the spokesperson added.

“After much review, we came to the decision to discontinue our pop-up kiosk program, and are instead expanding Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star, where we provide a more comprehensive customer experience and broader selection.”

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

Tencent, Kakao among shortlisted bidders for South Korean gaming firm Nexon: Korea Economic Daily

FILE PHOTO: A sign of Tencent is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 3, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese tech giant Tencent and South Korea’s biggest chat operator Kakao Corp are among five bidders shortlisted to buy South Korean gaming firm Nexon, the Korea Economic Daily newspaper reported on Monday.

The newspaper said NXC Corp, the holding firm which controls Nexon, also had shortlisted private equity firms Bain Capital and MBK Partners, as well as an unidentified private equity firm.

South Korean publisher Netmarble Corp was not offered to join the preliminary bidding, but formed a consortium with MBK Partners to bid for Nexon, according to the report which cited investment banking sources.

The deal could worth as much as 15 trillion won ($13.3 billion) and the formal bid process was set to take place in early April, it added.

Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju has been exploring a sale of a 98.64 percent stake in NXC Corp that is held by him and related parties including his wife.

MBK Partners declined to comment on the report while Tencent, Kakao, Netmarble and Bain Capital were not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Stephen Coates