American Airlines and United Airlines Flight Attendants Just Made a Very Controversial Announcement. Not Everyone's Happy to Hear It

Does everything have to be political? When it comes to big U.S. airlines, I’m beginning to think so.

Most companies in other industries seem to try hard not to get pulled into political disputes. Our country is as divided as we’ve been in decades, and they don’t want to take stands unnecessarily that will turn off big portions of their customer base.

But with airlines, either they or their employees keep getting involved. Is it admirable bravery or unnecessary alienation of customers? 

Or the two American Airlines flight attendants who led the movement to get airlines to denounce the federal government’s practice of separating parents from children at border crossings.

Now, through their unions, United and American flight attendants are adding a new one: coming out swinging against President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

From the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 27,000 American Airlines employees:

And, from the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 24,000 United flight attendants:

Kavanaugh has ruled against workers’ access to the courts, owed monetary benefits, and failed to hold employers accountable who evade collective bargaining and discriminate against union members.

I get that these are the statements of the flight attendants’ unions, not the airlines themselves. And I understand that they have the right to free speech, of course.

But I wondered how the airlines and the rank and file employees themselves felt.

Kavanaugh is almost certainly going to be confirmed, since Republicans hold a majority in the U.S. Senate. So the upside of coming out swinging like this isn’t clear to me.

The downside is clear however: the fact that a sizable plurality of both airlines’ customers, at least, support the president and likely don’t want their airline to weigh in on their politics.

I’m thinking of what happened recently when Walmart allowed a third party vendor to market “Impeach 45” baseball jerseys online, and people on Twitter started talking about a boycott. It didn’t take long for Walmart to boot the jerseys from its platform.

So I asked American Airlines and United Airlines employees on Facebook for their take. And the ones I heard from don’t seem too pleased to have the unions weighing in.

Funimation Picks Up The Classic Anime Series 'Zillion' For Western Release

One of the most interesting anime series of the late 80s, Red Photon Zillion, has now been picked up for a Western release and its gaming lineage is also pretty interesting.

Zillion is a curious anime on various counts. From it being the start of Production I.G as a spin-off studio from Tatsunoko Production to the amazing mecha design by Ammonite but the really fascinating part about the series is how it tied into the Sega Master System.

Two games were spawned from the anime, Zillion and Zillion II. There was also a laser-tag type toy sold in Japan and Brazil. However, the anime also introduced Opa-Opa from the arcade game Fantasy Zone as a recurring mascot.

Set on Mars, the anime deals with the alien invasion of the Nohzas, that want to wipe out humanity. The name “Zillion” refers to the special gun the main characters carry that is very powerful and almost impossible to mass produce.

‘Zillion’ is finally getting a Western release.Credit: Funimation, Tatsunoko Production

A few years back, Japan received an amazingly nice remastered Blu-ray version of this anime and I had hoped that at some point it would come Westward.

After checking in with Funimation, it seems that this Blu-ray release is the one they have picked up and that the Western version will also have English subtitles.

What’s more, this release will also include the OVA as well as the whole TV series. The SRP will also be $64.98 for the set.

While we don’t have details on when Zillion will be released, the fact this classic anime is finally getting a proper release outside of Japan is great news.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I also manage Mecha Damashii and do toy reviews over at hobbylink.tv.

Read my Forbes blog here.

Messaging For Customer Service: Bozeman Startup Quiq Brings Its Tech To Office Depot, Overstock.com

Things have been looking up for customers of Office Depot since last year, when the commercial-messaging startup, Quiq, came to their rescue. According to Mike Myer, Quiq’s founder and CEO, Office Depot customers no longer have to call or fill out an online inquiry form to find out, say, what a particular location has in stock or the status of an existing order. Today, that customer can send a text and have it answered by a helpful Office Depot employee almost immediately. (The first text reply generally gets to the customer within a minute, and the entire back-and-forth is usually completed in less than ten).

Office Depot (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Skiers in Jackson Hole are in luck as well, says Myer, who spoke to me from Quiq’s offices, located in the improbably booming tech hub of Bozeman, MT. Wondering about snow conditions or tram hours? All that’s needed is to text the resort for an immediate and up-to-the-minute response. For the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Company, whose entire customer base is a certifiably mobile-only whenever they’re on or headed toward the slopes, this makes a lot more sense, Myer tells me, than a desktop- and email-based support approach.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Gondola. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Overstock.com has also recently implemented Quiq’s solution and is now providing up-to-the minute order information via text. According to Overstock, the most quantifiable “aha” they’ve enjoyed from the new approach is the open rate: 98% for text messages as opposed to “in the single digits” for email.

Micah Solomon, Forbes.com: Tell me what Quiq is and what makes it special.

Mike Meyer, CEO and Founder, Quiq: Quiq is a company in Bozeman Montana that’s focused on making people’s lives easier. You, me and nearly all the consumers out there lead a digital-first lifestyle, where we are always connected. People love text messaging (SMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Web chat, etc.) because it’s convenient and fits in with the crazy pace of our lives. By bringing text to business communication, Quiq makes it as easy to talk with companies as it is with friends.

No one likes to make phone calls (let alone to customer service!) and waiting for an email response is like waiting for paint to dry. Messaging is also more efficient for companies since one agent can serve multiple customers concurrently, unlike phone calls, and there’s no seemingly endless back and forth with to solve even a single issue, like there can be with email.

Who are some of Quiq’s marquee clients?

Pier 1, Brink’s Home Security, Tailored Brands (Men’s Wearhouse, Joseph A. Bank), Overstock, Office Depot, Tile, Insikt, and about 80 other great companies.

If my readers want to see your technology in action, where can they look?

Here’s an example they can see for themselves. Go to http://officedepot.com on your mobile phone, you’ll see a Text Us link right next to the phone number at the bottom of the page, which is powered by Quiq. If you were to have a question about a product or order with Office Depot, all you have to do is use that link to get assistance.

There’s a lot of excitement (and apprehension) about AI and chatbots. Your solution takes a different tack. Is this a philosophical choice on your part, a practical one, or both? Tell me your thoughts here. 

The hype curve for AI and chatbots is nearing the apex. But I wouldn’t say that these technologies are much help by themselves to true customer service at the moment. Most consumers (me included) can’t point to a satisfying interaction they’ve had with a chatbot that has solved a true, actual customer service issue. Getting the weather from Alexa is perfectly suited for a chatbot. Checking payment status or getting account info is harder, but within chatbot capabilities. Getting an actual customer service issue that requires troubleshooting resolved is orders of magnitude harder.

Quiq is in a great place at a great time because our success isn’t dependent upon how fast AI research is able to solve the chatbot problem. There is a ton of ROI and customer satisfaction to be gained from just adding messaging into existing contact centers with human agents serving customers via text messaging.

This doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to AI and chatbots, when properly deployed  I think where they excite me most is in the realm of “bot fusion”: the fusion of chatbots and human agents. A lot of people think about chatbots as first handling the conversation and then passing it to a human if the bot can’t handle it. But we think that agents and bots can work together. There may be a specific dialog that a bot can handle during a conversation between the agent and customer. For instance, identity verification or return address confirmation. If the bot gets confused in its task, it can tap the agent for help. The fusion is the seamless transition of the conversation back and forth between the human agent and their bot assistant without the customer’s awareness.

What role will telephone and email support have in the contact center of the future?

In the future, I believe the majority of interactions in the contact center will be messaging, rather than phone or email. Frankly, I don’t see a need for email to continue to be offered for much longer as a channel in the contact center, since it is so prone to laggy, circular conversations. The phone will still have a place but only in a minority of interactions, and even these will likely start with messaging. Why will the phone still have value? Because there are, and will continue to be, situations in which the consumer wants to be solely focused on troubleshooting a problem. In these cases, speaking is likely to continue to be more efficient than typing. But, the voice conversation will be multimedia, meaning that the agent and customer will be able to text back and forth and view images and video at the same time that they’re on the phone call.

Any advice  you can share for other entrepreneurs?   

The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is finding and hiring the right people who can stand side-by-side to build a business from the ground up. It isn’t easy work. My advice for entrepreneurs is 1) find a great market opportunity, 2) hire amazing people, and 3) set the direction. Then, get out of the way and let the magic happen!

What about working with investors and partners?

When working with investors and partners, you need to make sure you keep your focus. While investors and partners are important, they’re not building your product and they are not the ones buying it, so be sure to allocate focus to them in the appropriate proportion.

What is the competitive landscape for Quiq?

We think about our competitive landscape in three broad buckets: 1) legacy chat vendors, 2) CRM vendors with a messaging option, and 3) social vendors adding messaging. Quiq is the first messaging platform built from scratch for asynchronous messaging, as opposed to adding messaging onto their synchronous systems.

[Author’s Note: LivePerson’s messaging solution, LiveEngage, was also built from the ground up for asynchronous communications, to the best of my knowledge. Read about LiveEngage in my previous article.]

Our goal isn’t to displace existing CRM or customer support systems.  Quiq integrates seamlessly with Salesforce, Zendesk, Oracle and internal systems.  So, we’re only competing against other messaging solutions, not the incumbent systems.

Live Content: Keynote Speaker Micah Solomon on Customer Service, Customer Experience, Company CultureMicah Solomon

Elon Musk's Flint Water Plan Misses the Point

Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of his belated effort to rescue a youth soccer team from a Thai cave with a tiny submarine, Elon Musk promised to fix another seemingly intractable problem. “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels,” Musk wrote in a tweet. “No kidding.”

You can nitpick pieces of this—the EPA, not the FDA, determines how many parts per billion of lead is safe in drinking water—or dismiss it as just another manifestation of Musk’s itinerant savior complex. But know that Flint, at least, welcomes Musk’s help. Just maybe not the version that’s on offer.

Which, in fairness, continues to evolve. Musk went on to invite residents to tweet their water quality test results to him—no takers yet, it seems—and said he would send someone over to install a water filter. When a reporter suggested that many Flint houses have safe water already, Musk pivoted to organizing “a weekend in Flint to add filters” to the remaining houses that lack them.

Flint does need help, but filters are one thing it already has plenty of; the city distributes those and water testing kits, for free, at City Hall, and will continue to until Flint’s remaining 14,000 damaged lead and galvanized water service pipes have been fully replaced. And even then, slapping a filter on a kitchen faucet doesn’t address the deep-seated problems still felt by the Flint community four years after its crisis began.

“We had a lot of things damaged as a result of the corrosive water,” says Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who offered in a tweet Wednesday to talk through her city’s “specific needs” with Musk. “This is about reestablishing trust, and rebuilding trust. While filters have been helpful, we still need access to bottled water. People need to see all new pipes going in. That’s how you’re going to reestablish trust. And we know that’s what the residents deserve.”

Musk took her up on it, suggesting he’d call on Friday. Weaver says her office and Musk’s are still sorting out schedules, but preliminary conversations have been promising.

Filtering Down

It’s worth spending more time talking about those filters, not because they demonstrate Musk’s lack of familiarity with Flint’s current situation, but because they underscore the city’s deeper challenges.

First, it’s important to note that Flint’s drinking water has met federal standards for contaminants for at least a year. “From every objective measure that is out there, Flint’s water is like any other US city with old lead pipes,” says Siddhartha Roy, who works on the Virginia Tech research team that helped shed light on the Flint water crisis and has tracked it ever since. Water from old lead pipes still isn’t ideal, obviously, and makes filters a necessity. But even then, Flint residents remain understandably wary.

“There are many people in Flint, I think it’s safe to say, who are never going to trust tap water again under any circumstances,” says Benjamin Pauli, a social scientist at Flint’s Kettering University, who has been involved in clean water activism efforts. “It’s true that the filters solve a lead problem at point of use, but there are lots of other issues with the filters.”

Not all residents know how to install and maintain them, for one. A March survey of 2,000 residents by Flint News showed that 15 percent of respondents didn’t have a filter, while over a third weren’t confident in their ability to change the filter at the appropriate time.

And then there’s what Roy calls the “big trust gap” that makes Flint activists and residents suspicious of even working filters. That’s because they effectively get lead out of the water at a specific tap, but don’t clear away bacteria. For a city that suffered a deadly spike in Legionnaires’ disease in 2016, which has been linked to corrosive water from the Flint River, that causes understandable unease. But Roy notes that the current bacteria found in Flint’s filters has not been shown to be harmful. And anyone who does have concerns can follow a few simple steps to minimize bacterial buildup.

“We do have concerns about filter use, and maintenance, and education around the filters. Everybody is not comfortable with that. Seniors are especially not comfortable with the filters,” says Weaver, who notes that the city does have Community Outreach and Resident Education that visits homes to help remediate any filter issues that arise.

Which again should sound familiar to anyone who read Musk’s tweets. What he proposes to accomplish in a barnstorming weekend has been an available resource for years. Better, then, to focus on what Flint really needs.

Bottle It Up

In April, the state of Michigan stopped providing free bottled water to Flint. For a city that still doesn’t trust its taps, the impact can’t be overstated.

“The bottled water is necessary as a short-term intervention for a long-term, structural water system problem,” says Pastor Monica Villarreal, who has helped organize community-based efforts to provide clean water resources in Flint. “The water crisis is going to affect this city from generation to generation. And when you look at it from that perspective, two, three, maybe even four years of bottled water is not much.”

Community aid stations that were once open daily to distribute bottled water now operate just three times a week. And in the absence of state support, Flint increasingly has to rely on private donors; Weaver says the Detroit Police Department recently brought in a fresh supply.

So if Elon Musk—or anyone else—wants to help Flint, start with bottled water, which residents will continue to depend on until every last lead and galvanized line gets replaced. “Bottled water is really the life and death issue,” Villarreal says.

And if you want to think bigger, plenty of options remain. “One issue that residents have been raising from very early on is that corrosive water from the river didn’t just damage service lines and water mains, it also damaged the plumbing within people’s homes,” says Kettering’s Pauli. “And not just pipes but fixtures, and also appliances that use water. That would include washing machines, and dishwashers, and hot water heaters.”

Scale it up again, to billionaire proportions. “We want to look at the bigger infrastructure issues in the city as well,” Weaver says. “It’s about reestablishing trust. You have to be confident in the water again.” One way to accomplish that? Get more contractors on the ground replacing service lines; get a three-year replacement plan finished by the end of 2018. And then, Weaver says, look at investment in the community. Instead of—or in addition to—giving people water, how can you help get them back to work?

Those are the types of questions Elon Musk can expect on his call with the mayor. But no matter what comes of it, even expressing interest in the first place has accomplished something invaluable: Reminding people that Flint still exists, and still needs help.

“We’re glad to have the attention. That was one of the fears of the residents, that attention would go away, and we have not been made whole,” Weaver says. “We want everybody watching, because what happened to Flint should never happen to any place again.”


More Great WIRED Stories

Medicare May Soon Pay Doctors For Diagnosis Via Text Message

Shutterstock

Medicare may soon pay physicians for evaluating patient illness and ailments via text and other digital means, the Trump administration announced Thursday.

In an effort to reduce paperwork and “increase the amount of time that doctors and other clinicians spend with their patients,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed new rules to improve quality and lower costs by allowing doctors to be paid when communicating with patients via more modern technologies.

“CMS is committed to modernizing the Medicare program by leveraging technologies, such as audio/video applications or patient-facing health portals, that will help beneficiaries access high-quality services in a convenient manner,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said.

As part of the newly proposed 2019 physician fee schedule, the Trump administration is proposing to advance “virtual care” as many other commercial insurers have already done, allowing doctors to bill for texts and telehealth consultations. Commercial insurers Aetna, Anthem, UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross plans are already working with telehealth companies including Teladoc, American Well and MDLive so reimbursement for treatment via digital health has taken off in the private health insurance sector.

By allowing doctors to bill Medicare for a text, it could cut down on an unnecessary and more expensive trip to a hospital emergency room or help a patient save time and money by making an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office for something that can be treated or evaluated remotely. In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Verma cited the use of Skype as one example where a physician could be paid for evaluating and consulting with a patient.

The following provisions are proposed in the 2019 physician fee schedule that would allow Medicare to:

Before the proposal can be implemented, it is open for public comment. But Verma believes it will go over well among physicians and their patients.  “Physicians tell us they continue to struggle with excessive regulatory requirements and unnecessary paperwork that steal time from patient care,” Verma said.

Public comments on the proposed rules are due by September 10, CMS said.

Apple’s Airplay 2 May Be the Boost Sonos Needs for Its IPO

It’s not often that a simple software upgrade can improve the prospects of an imminent tech IPO, but that could happen with Sonos, which announced support for Apple’s Airplay 2 technology Wednesday.

Unlike lo-fi bluetooth connections, Sonos speakers need a proprietary app to connect the hardware with streaming music sources and users’ libraries. While some users found the Sonos app’s user-interface challenging, everyone generally conceded it was the trade-off required for enjoying Sonos speakers’ superb sound quality.

Over time, Sonos let music services like Pandora and Spotify control the output on their speakers by allowing users to use the streaming apps for selecting songs and playlists. Sonos also ported Amazon’s voice-powered Alexa technology to its speakers last fall. But while the company became the first third-party hardware manufacturer to integrate Apple Music, Sonos owners who streamed from Apple still needed to make their musical selections through that clunky app.

With support for Airplay 2, Sonos speakers will be able to play songs on multiple speakers from the Apple Music app—and from any other iOS app that is compatible with Airplay 2. The Airplay integration is available on most Sonos speakers, including the Sonos One, Beam, Playbase, and the second generation Play:5. Supported speakers will also be able to use Siri to control Apple Music by voice.

The upgrade has been expected. Last fall, when Sonos added Alexa voice control to its speakers, it said support for Airplay would come sometime in 2018. Still, the timing of the news works well for Sonos, which filed to go public last week. Sonos is expected to be valued between $2.5 billion and $3 billion following the IPO.

Sonos’ brand-name recognition could help its debut, as well as the success of last fall’s successful IPO of Roku, another gadget manufacturer. But Sonos posted a net loss of $14.2 million last year and its revenue grew by only 10%, so it could use an extra boost as it approaches the public stock market.

The Apple Airplay integration could help investor confidence in the company’s future. The lack of a user-friendly interface has put off some Sonos owners from buying more speakers for their house or caused people to buy instead lower-fidelity but easier-to-use speakers like the Echo. Sonos’ big-sound-in-small-speakers design has won praise, along with loyalty of some users who install them in multiple rooms.

Perhaps more importantly, Sonos is strengthening its prospects by branching out beyond its reliance on Amazon’s Alexa. Sonos warned in its IPO prospectus that it could be hurt if Amazon ever disabled Alexa on the devices, noting it could do so at any time. With Airplay integration, Sonos adds Siri to its voice assistant mix. The company has also said support for Google Assistant is coming this year, although it’s still yet to happen.

Finally, Airplay integration will make Sonos speakers more attractive to people with iPhones. Amazon is estimated to have sold between 20 million and 30 million Echos. But Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts, the best gauge of how many people actively use their iPhones and iPads. Sonos’ Airplay integration will mean that, for most of those iPhone users, its speakers should be much easier to use now—and at less than half the cost of Apple’s HomePod.

Why We Decided to Start A Kickstarter For College

You don’t wake up one day and choose to be an entrepreneur. You don’t choose to embark on a journey full of anxiety and stress, with an inkling of hope and unforeseeable returns. It chooses you. For me, it started when my cofounder, Chisa Egbelu, talked to his best friend and roommate who was so passionate about music that he decided to hone his craft by attempting to transfer from Rutgers to the Berkelee College of Music. Little did he know, this choice would become a crippling financial decision that would inspire us to re-think how education is funded. And it all boiled down to a draw-dropping question: “Why isn’t there something like Kickstarter for college?”

That’s how Chisa and I started PeduL, which is a platform that helps students raise money for college. Right now, we accomplish this through crowdfunding. It is the only crowdfunding platform online that protects sponsors by sending all of the money students raise directly to their institution. At first, it seemed too perfect to be true. Chisa was curious why this kind of platform didn’t already exist. Once he determined there was no established competition in the space, he began recruiting teammates to join his journey. Since we both majored in Journalism & Media Studies and had a ton of classes together, he knew I was the queen of the humble brag—and more importantly, already had some experience building and selling a business before graduating high school. But when he pitched me the concept, I wasn’t fully convinced.

We sat for hours and discussed the core reasons he wanted to pursue this idea. I knew why I would. I turned down five Division 1 golf scholarships to attend my dream school only to find out I would be $40,000 in debt per year if I went. I was stripped of an opportunitynot because I didn’t deserve it—but because I couldn’t afford it. But relating to this problem wasn’t enough to pursue a Kickstarter for college. Through countless conversations with students—our potential customers—and our team of five, at the time, we pinpointed the heart of crowdfunding’s greatest downfall: access. Crowdfunding, whether you want to admit it or not, is innately elitist because it almost always requires the fundraiser to have access to a well-endowed network. Not everyone enjoys the luxury of knowing people with money. We can’t control what family we’re born into or the economic bracket we’re in. But what we can do is fight for and create equal access to academic and professional opportunities.

With this realization, we decided to brainstorm ways to provide students with capital beyond their personal networks. We reflected on the large companies and organizations that we’ve received scholarships from, and we decided that we would try to partner with corporations, influencers and foundations that would award scholarships directly to our competitive talent pool of entrepreneurial-minded students running crowdfunding campaigns.

This was in January 2016. We didn’t know where to start or how to begin pitching enterprise clients, so we stuck with what we knew. We put our corporate model on the back burner, and pursued crowdfunding full-force. We started meeting every Sunday in the Red Lion Café on the College Ave campus to research the competition, construct experiments to prove our concept, write our business plan, develop our minimum viable product (MVP), iron out our operational systems and processes, and figure out how to monetize this idea. We eventually decided to match industry standards, but tweak it based on focus group research. We would make the platform free to students, and encourage sponsors to “tip” PeduL between 5% and 20% of their contribution. When we realized we could disseminate scholarships by partnering with corporations, influencers and other scholarship providers, we knew we could pursue a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model as a reliable revenue source. Licensing software on a subscription basis has been on the rise since the beginning of the new millennium, and we believed it was our time to cash in on the trend. By categorizing students on PeduL as “talent,” we could essentially “sell” them as “potential recruits” to these large corporations—in exchange for a finder’s fee, of course. In other words, it’s our job to source qualified students for corporations who have the budget to disseminate scholarships and provide training, internships and professional development opportunities. Statistics show that highly-engaged employees with training opportunities increase productivity and bottom lines. By investing in millennials earlier—who will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025—corporations can cultivate a workforce of skilled labor who are prepared to hit the ground running from day one. PeduL could help enable corporations to pave the next generation of leaders by funding their education upfront, which could ultimately boost their bottom lines. We believed, early on, that this would be the path to escape velocity and venture scale. We were suddenly a business-to-consumer (B2C) and a business-to-business (B2B) company, which broadened our horizons and maximized our potential, especially as a minority-owned and operated company.

During this time, we were lucky enough to get a feature in an online publication that was known as Startup Panel. The staff writer for that story is a Rutgers-Newark student who was starting a business called Ramenworks, a network of undergraduate students dedicated to connecting student founders with the capital and resources necessary to build and grow their startups. We unknowingly became Ramenworks’s MVP. They were shopping us out to venture capitalists and angel investors in the tri-state area, and one stuck: IDT. An international telecommunications company headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, bought into our vision. Although the check we received was smaller than most venture deals, it provided us with the office space, outsourcing development company, financial and human capital necessary to build and launch our platform.

Our real vision is to become the one-stop shop for education financing through our common application for scholarships. Imagine filling out a single application to apply to thousands of scholarships at one time for both higher education and alternative education programming like coding bootcamps or trade-specific academies. We know what you’re thinking…we wish we had this back when we were in school too. This is the idea that allows us to truly close the gap of access to education while sidestepping legislation and inevitably bureaucratic government engagement. Although our idea has evolved, we know it’s something worth fighting to create.

By the time I graduated college in May 2017, PeduL had become my mission, my livelihood, my greatest source of anxiety and stress, and most importantly, my greatest source of fulfillment and purpose. PeduL finally went live to the public on January 1, 2018. Over 2,500 students have raised a little over $25,000 and we’re growing each day. But this journey comes with challenges, from fundraising to building a team, all of which I look forward to sharing in detail week after week. I intend to use this column as an outlet of expression and transparency. I encourage you to follow our story because we’re in for an unpredictable and eventful ride. Each week, you’ll get a glimpse into every step of this journey. The ups. The downs. And everything in between. I’ll share what’s worked for us and what hasn’t. I’ll call on you for advice and I’ll open up my heart and mind to hearing your first-hand experience. Consider this my diary and open letter to each and everyone one of you with a dream and a will, so that one day we may all look back and say, “together, we did it.”

Every Wednesday at 3PM/EST, I will host a chat to a weekly question on Twitter & Instagram @iamkaylamichele. Tweet & DM me with your answer! – “How did you gain the courage to start you business?”

British regulator to fine Facebook over data protection breaches

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s information regulator said on Wednesday she intends to fine Facebook (FB.O) for breaches of data protection law as her office investigates how millions of users’ data was improperly accessed by consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced questioning by U.S. and EU lawmakers over how Cambridge Analytica improperly got hold of the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher.

Updating on her investigation into the use of data analytics by political campaigns, Britain’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she intended to fine Facebook 500,000 pounds ($663,850), a small figure for a company with a market value of $590 billion, but the maximum amount allowed.

Denham said that Facebook had broken the law by failing to safeguard people’s information and had not been transparent about how data was harvested by others on its platform.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law,” she said in a statement.

Facebook can respond to the commissioner before a final decision is made, and said it was reviewing the report and would respond soon.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, said in a statement.

“We have been working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries.”

British lawmakers have launched an inquiry into “fake news” and its effect on election campaigns, and have increasingly focused on Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump in 2016, has denied its work on the U.S. president’s successful election campaign made use of data.

It has also said that, while it pitched for work with campaign group Leave.EU ahead of the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016, it did not end up doing any work on the campaign.

However, the Information Commissioner’s report said other regulatory action would include a criminal prosecution against Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm, SCL Elections, for failing to deal with the regulator’s enforcement notice.

It also said it would send warning letters to 11 political parties to compel them to audit their data protection practices.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison

YouTube Invests $25 Million to Promote ‘Authoritative’ News Ahead of U.S. Midterm Elections

Facebook and Twitter may have gotten the bulk of the blame for promoting fake news ahead of the 2016 presidential election — and as a result, they’ve lost a bit of confidence from users. But YouTube, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has also endured criticism for its algorithms that promote conspiracy theorist and extremist videos. And now the video sharing service is dropping $25 million to promote what it calls “authoritative” news videos, according to the Financial Times.

The decision comes ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, a time when other social media sites are under scrutiny for potentially impacting political outcomes fueled by false information.

In the coming weeks, YouTube will unveil the new features that will promote high-quality content, though the company won’t necessarily delete problematic content outright. “We want users to make decisions for themselves,” YouTube’s chief product officer Neal Mohan said at a press conference. But during breaking news events, for example, YouTube will insert text article links into user feeds in addition to videos, as a way to accommodate how long it can take to produce video content versus text articles.

Improving its news coverage isn’t the only thing YouTube is hard at work on. The video streaming site has also been working on a revamped music streaming service this year, with help from hip-hop star Cardi B.

Snap and Amazon Are Reportedly Working on a Visual Search Feature for Snapchat

Snap appears to be laying the groundwork for a partnership with e-commerce giant Amazon.

According to TechCrunch, a version of Snapchat being developed for Android phones includes code for a new feature called “Visual Search” that can use Snapchat’s camera to send images of a product or a barcode scan to Amazon, which then display search results.

TechCrunch spotted source code in the Snapchat app that included pop-up text reading, “Press and hold to identify an object, song, barcode, and more! This works by sending data to Amazon, Shazam, and other partners.”

Snap already has a similar partnership with Shazam, in which songs captured through Snapchat’s camera can be relayed to Shazam’s music database. The feature allows users to discover artists through Shazam and then follow them on Snapchat.

Visual and barcode search is not new for mobile apps. Amazon’s own app includes a barcode scanning feature. In early 2017, Pinterest introduced its Lens feature, which uses artificial intelligence to identify objects and bring up images of similar or related items. Last fall, Pinterest announced an advertising agreement with Target and its Lens feature.

Snap has been struggling to boost its revenue following its 2017 IPO. In its most recent quarter, Snap’s revenue of $150 million fell short of Wall Street’s expectations. Snap’s stock closed at $13.65 a share Monday, below its $17 a share offering price.

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