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Carwow, a UK startup that helps you buy a new car, raises $39M Series C


Carwow, a platform that helps you buy a new car, has closed $39 million in Series C funding. The round was led by new investor Vitruvian Partners, with existing investors Accel Partners and Balderton Capital also participating. At today’s exchange rate it brings total funding to approximately $62.6 million.

Founded in late 2010, Carwow originally launched as a car review aggregator before pivoting to become a site that claims to improve the experience of buying a new car. It allows consumers to compare offers online and buy directly from ‘trusted’ dealers that are registered with the platform, specifically avoiding the arduous but otherwise necessary requirement to haggle over price and in a way that potentially introduces a lot more transparency.

Specifically, through Carwow, you can research, select and configure new cars before receiving up-front, no-haggle offers
from U.K. franchised dealers. The idea is that you can then make an informed decision on the offers based on price,
location, dealer ratings and delivery time, before buying directly from the dealer.

On the supply side, the startup says that more than a third of U.K. new car dealers use Carwow as a route to reaching online-savvy buyers. This has seem more than £2 billion of new cars purchased through Carwow since it re-launched in 2013, and the company claims around 5 per cent of all consumer new car purchases in the UK this year have been facilitated by the site. Last year, Carwow, which employs 140 people at its head office in Holborn, central London, expanded beyond U.K. to enter the German market. The startup will use some of today’s new funding for further international expansion.

Meanwhile, new investor Vitruvian Partners is talking the popularity of Cawow with dealers, who, Vitruvian Partner Thomas Studd says, are drawn to Carwow’s highly qualified leads, noting that a third of all calls from Carwow users end in the sale of a car.

As I’ve noted before, once a customer has gone through the site’s funnel they not only have a much better idea of the car they want to purchase and any extras but their ‘intent’ to purchase is absolutely beyond doubt. In turn, Carwow charges dealers based on the volume of cars they sell through the site. Nice business if you can get it.



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iRobot’s CEO says the company never planned to sell Roomba home mapping data


This was not the conversation iRobot CEO Colin Angle expected to have this week. In the past few days, iRobot posted excellent Q2 earnings, thanks to brisk Prime Day Roomba sales, and acquired its largest European distributor in a $141 million deal. Yet the CEO and the company he founded were suddenly at the center of home privacy concerns over a report that he was looking to sell Roomba home mapping information to the highest bidder.

Angle and iRobot have been in damage control for a few days now. When we reached out earlier in the week, the executive answered noncommittally that “iRobot has not formed any plans to sell the data.” But a new statement issued to ZDNET earlier today gets more to the heart of the matter, stating that “iRobot will never [emphasis his] sell your data.”

It’s the kind of definitive statement the company should have issued immediately, rather than letting the story live for a few more days. For his part, Angle is adamant that he never said the company was planning to sell information to a third party. The original report, meanwhile, has been adjusted to clarify that maps could be shared “for free with customer consent.”

It’s understandable that the news raised red flags. Every new device and app we introduce into our lives represents another potential erosion of privacy — and those concerns are even more pronounced when it comes to bringing connected, data-collecting products into our homes. Of course, iRobot has been upfront with its plans to collect mapping info with Roomba — we’ve spoken to the company about the subject several times.

The company is also open about the fact that it’s been talking to other smart home vendors about its plans to use the Roomba’s mapping in order to create a clearer layout of users’ homes. “We’ve had initial conversations around rooms and spatial context, but it’s relatively early,” says Angle. “I don’t want to overstate the depth of the conversations that we’ve been having, but we’re certainly on a collision course with others in the home because there’s an increasingly recognized need for spatial context.”

In spite of the initial pushback, iRobot is planning to continue to push into the smart home space. Though maintaining trust with consumers as it does so will require continued transparency. “Our relationship with the customer and our vision for the smart home is based on developing a trusting relationship about what the data is going to be used for,” says Angle.

That means, in part, ensuring that all mapping is completely opt-in and that it will be equally simple to opt out if the user gets cold feet. It will also require that the company makes it perfectly clear what users are opting into, rather than stashing that information in the small print of a Terms and Conditions agreement — all of which the company tells us it plans to do moving forward. 



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Gas pump card skimmer now phones home


In an unsurprising move by credit card thieves, police have found a new credit card skimmer that sends stolen data via SMS. By tearing apart cheap phones, crooks are able to send credit card information to their location instantly without having to access the skimmer physically or rely on an open Bluetooth connection.

Brian Krebs received images of the skimmer from an unnamed source. They were found at a gas station in the Northeast.

This skimmer connected to the internals of the pump and received power from the pump itself, meaning there was no need to worry about the battery failing. It’s unclear how this model worked but most likely it intercepts the credit card data as it’s being swiped. There’s still hope, however, because gas stations are trying to fight back.

“Many filling stations are upgrading their pumps to include more physical security — such as custom locks and security cameras. In addition, newer pumps can accommodate more secure chip-based payment cards that are already in use by all other G20 nations,” wrote Krebs.

He also recommends not using debit cards at all at gas stations and, obviously, protecting your PIN from prying eyes or cameras.



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Using eye smiles to predict the state of your whole face in VR


They say you can tell a real smile because it reaches the eyes. Of course, that just means we all have to learn to fake that kind of smile, too. But the subtle expressiveness of our eyeball area has a fringe benefit: VR researchers can use it to guess at what the rest of your face is doing.

Google Research just published a fun little project that attempts to track expressions solely by looking at your eyes inside the headset. Between the shape of the exposed eye, direction of gaze, eyebrows, wrinkles (for those of us expressive enough to have them) and so on, there’s actually quite a bit of information there.

Enough, anyway, that a deep learning system can figure out a few basic expressions and degrees thereof with decent accuracy. “Happiness” and “surprise” are there, but the data isn’t rich enough to detect “schadenfreude” or “mischief.”

The idea is that with minimal monitoring tools — eye tracking cameras inside headsets, which seem inevitable — you can get at least a bare-bones feel for what a user’s face is doing in real time.

They’ve put it all in a paper, of course, which you can read now or check out soon at SIGGRAPH.



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N26 partners with Auxmoney to offer credit to more customers


Fintech startup N26 is trying to build the bank of the future. It is slowly but surely adding features to provide everything you’d expect from a bank. N26 already offers consumer credit loans in Germany if you’re a creditworthy employee.

And starting today, N26 users who are self-employed, freelancers, students and more can also request a loan thanks to Auxmoney.

If you’re not familiar with Auxmoney, the startup matches individual lenders with individual borrowers. It’s a credit marketplace like LendingClub, Younited Credit and more. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re an unusual borrower, Auxmoney can help you.

Now, if you go to the Credit tab in the N26 app, you’ll be asked how much money you want, the duration of the repayment and your current situation. Depending on your status, N26 will automatically suggests the best credit feature for you.

So if you’re a regular employee with a steady income, N26 will either give you money itself or match you with a third-party bank behind the scene. If you’re a freelancer, N26 will suggest lending money through Auxmoney.

Both products let you borrow between €1,000 and €25,000 at a duration of 1 to 5 years. It’s hard to tell you about interest rates as it’ll greatly vary depending on how much money you’re asking for and your situation.

This is a good addition as anyone can now open a credit line using N26’s app. You don’t need to open another bank account or sign up to a third-party — it’s a seamless integration.

Once again, this feature is limited to Germany. While it’s great to see that German customers can now invest, save and borrow money using N26, I hope that the startup is going to launch similar features in other markets as well. That’s how you build a truly European bank.



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Putin passes law that will ban VPNs in Russia


Russia has banned VPNs and other technology that allows users to gain anonymous access to websites.

The new law (link via Google Translate), signed today by President Vladimir Putin, goes into effect on Nov. 1 and represents another major blow to an open Internet. This weekend, news broke that Apple has removed most major VPN apps from the App Store in China to comply with regulations passed earlier this year that require VPN apps to be explicitly licensed by the Chinese government.

According to state-run news agency RIA (link via Google Translate), Leonid Levin, chairman of the Duma’s committee on information policy and technology, has said that the law is not targeted at “introducing new bans for law-abiding citizens.” Instead, he claims it is to prohibit access to illegal content. The scope of what is considered “illegal content” in Russia, however, has widened considerably during Putin’s third term as president, with the government exerting more control over what people access or post online. As Freedom House notes, “anti-extremism laws are widely used as a pretext to block political content, often without judicial oversight.”

Russia’s attempts to limit access to online information are concurrent with legislation that may put the privacy of users at risk. In 2015, the government passed legislation that requires all user data from Russian citizens to be stored in Russian-based servers, and last year it passed another law that requires telecoms and Internet service providers to retain traffic data for up to a year, a move that prompted VPN provider Private Internet Access to discontinue its Russian gateways.

Featured Image: Ivan Osipov / EyeEm/Getty Images


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Revolut’s $5.3 million crowdfunding campaign is oversubscribed


Fintech startup Revolut just raised a ton of money. But grabbing $66 million from respected VC firms wasn’t enough (£50 million). For the second time, Revolut asked its user base to invest in the startup.

Revolut was looking for $5.3 million on Seedrs (£4 million), but 40,000 customers said that they were interested in the investment opportunity. If Revolut took all the money, it would represent $22.3 million (£17 million). But the company will limit its equity crowdfunding campaign to its initial goal.

The $5.3 million target was reached in less than 24 hours, which is quite impressive as equity crowdfunding ins’t as popular as other investment products. Revolut even says that there has never been an equity crowdfunding campaign with so many pre-registered investors.

Revolut expects to attract 4,000 to 10,000 investors as people can invest $1,300 at most (£1,000). At first, the first 5,000 Revolut users who signed up to Revolut Premium will get invited to the Seedrs page and will be able to invest twice as much as regular investors.

Then, Revolut will gradually invite random users who pre-registered on the Seedrs page. Oh, and tennis player Andy Murray also said that he wants to invest, so Revolut is going to invite him to the round straight away.

For context, there are now 750,000 Revolut users. Revolut is a digital wallet that lets you receive, exchange and send money in dozens of currencies. When you sign up, you can create virtual cards and receive a good old plastic MasterCard. You can top up your account using another card or a bank transfer.

Over time, Revolut has been adding new features, such as personal IBANs, a credit feature, business accounts and travel insurance. With this funding round, Revolut plans to add support for cryptocurrencies, stocks and bonds. The company is also going to expand to North America and Asia.



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A history of video game console failures



The history of console gaming is littered with high-profile flops, middling also-rans and vaporware never-weres. In fact, the stories of console failures are perhaps even more compelling than the tales of those companies that crossed the finish line. Thankfully, for every Nintendo Switch, there are countless Virtual Boys.

So what, precisely, constitutes a console failure? Is a product really a flop if it brought users hours of joy? It’s important to note that “failure” is a relative concept. Both the Nintendo Wii U and the Gizmondo made the list, but one sold 13 million units and the other 24,000 and involved the Swedish mafia.

So join us as we celebrate some of the most colorful and fascinating console failures of the last three decades.

 



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This Bogus Cancer Cure From The 1970s Is Finding New Life Online


John Richardson thought he’d found a cure for cancer.

The San Francisco Bay Area doctor had been giving patients a therapy that is essentially a chemical compound found in apricot kernels and known by several names — laetrile, amygdalin, vitamin B17. Richardson had been told it could attack tumors, naturally and precisely. It can also convert into potentially poisonous amounts of cyanide when eaten. But Richardson was a true believer.

“Yes, the evidence that Vitamin B17 is nature’s control for cancer is quite overwhelming,” he wrote in his book. “So the next time you hear an official spokesman for orthodox medicine proclaim that there is none, you might tell him that such a statement is a ‘self-evident absurdity’ and suggest that he do his homework before posing as an expert.”

Less convinced were the police who, on June 2, 1972, barged into Richardson’s clinic and jailed him on charges of medical quackery. He eventually lost his medical license and was charged with smuggling laetrile, an illegal drug, into the country.

Now, three decades after Richardson’s death, his son, John Richardson Jr., is no stranger to apricot seeds. Through Apricot Power, his thriving e-commerce store, he sells bitter seeds ($32.99 for 1,500), seed extract-based tablets (up to $97.99 a bottle), and B17-infused anti-aging cream ($49.99). Recipes for apricot-seed pesto, egg nog, and marzipan offer a “delicious and easy” way to work the supposed superfood into your diet, and videos explain why the site’s mission is to “get B17 into every body!” Though Richardson Jr. won’t reveal revenue numbers, he says his family operation of around 10 employees has served “thousands” of customers all over the world since it launched in 1999.

But there’s a key difference between his business and his father’s, Richardson Jr. told me: “We don’t mention the C-word in our company.” Cancer, that is. If a customer review on Apricot Power’s website even mentions the term, the company leaves a comment pointing out that it doesn’t make any disease or illness-related claims about its products. Legally, it can’t: The FDA prohibits companies from selling laetrile, under any name, as a cancer treatment, because studies have found it to be at best ineffective, and at worst toxic.

Of course, that doesn’t stop dozens of internet entrepreneurs from exploiting regulatory loopholes to sell apricot seeds and B17 tablets, no claims attached — and profiting off the efforts of believers who spread the “truth” about them far and wide. In laetrile’s heyday in 1981, a doctor called it “the slickest, most sophisticated, and certainly the most remunerative cancer quack promotion in medical history.” Three decades later, the internet has only spread the gospel, creating an unstoppable, hydra-headed ecosystem of buyers and sellers.

BuzzFeed News

A variety of apricot seed products available online.

If you’ve never heard that apricot kernels kill and prevent cancer, that’s because the government doesn’t want you to, proponents say. Cancer, according to them, arises from the lack of a nutrient they call vitamin B17, so it follows that ingesting that nutrient would fight the disease. But regulators, pharmaceutical companies, and doctors can’t patent and profit from a natural substance. So they keep it off the market and peddle toxic, invasive, costly, and unnatural chemotherapy and drugs at patients’ expense.

The internet has created an unstoppable, hydra-headed ecosystem of B17 buyers and sellers.

Or so the theory goes. “Vitamin B17 Is Banned Because It Treats Cancer!” a post on the site Healthy Food House proclaims; it has been liked, commented on, and shared on Facebook more than 47,000 times since September, according to the social media–tracking tool CrowdTangle. A post about “the real story of laetrile,” published on a site called The Truth About Cancer, has gotten more than 44,000 likes, comments, and shares since June 2015.

Yin Ling Woo, a gynecological oncologist, recently had to decline when three cancer patients asked her to inject them with liquid B17 vials. “They buy it off the internet, it arrives, they have to get someone to administer it,” said Woo, who works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Over the last year and a half, public health agencies in the European Union, Canada, and Dubai have issued warnings about apricot kernels and kernel-derived supplements. Since Australia and New Zealand outright blocked the sale of raw kernels in late 2015, retailers have been fined for continuing to sell them. In April, the FDA fired off warning letters to the sellers of more than 65 illegal cancer treatments, including whole apricots and vitamin B17. All the regulators cite the internet as the main source of the problem. “Due to the nature of online marketing, some companies attempting to avoid compliance with FDA law simply start new websites and rename fraudulent products,” an FDA spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in an email.

In other words, the FDA lacks the power to systematically fix the underlying issue. It can go after apricot kernels advertised as a cancer cure. But it can’t crack down when they’re advertised as supplements or plain old seeds. Nor can it control the Facebook posts, YouTube videos, blogs, and tweets that perpetuate the myth.

And when the FDA calls out problematic claims, all a company has to do to escape scrutiny is stop using the phrases in question. “But the misimpression that their product is an effective cancer cure will remain out there, uncorrected, in the public eye,” said Patti Zettler, an associate professor at Georgia State University’s law school and a former associate chief counsel at the FDA.

It’s no coincidence that B17 is enjoying a second life online, at this moment in time. The internet is rife with misinformation about science and health, and the nutritional supplements business — as part of the larger “wellness” industry — is worth billions. Meanwhile, cancer remains a little understood disease that causes nearly 1 in 6 deaths worldwide. So in a way, it’s comforting and intuitive to blame a fixable vitamin deficiency. It’s also wrong.

Felicity Corbin-Wheeler of Jersey, an island south of England, credits B17 injections and a strict diet with shrinking her pancreatic cancer in 2003. She refused chemotherapy, which aligns with her belief that the “Western diet has been so hijacked by processed foods, sugars, fats, and salts.”

“I’m all for the natural things,” she said, “that we get back to a simple life.”

Sakuma / AP Photo

Ernst T. Krebs Jr., seen in San Francisco in 1980, was an early promoter of laetrile as a cancer treatment.

A successful salesperson must buy into what they’re selling, and Richardson Jr. is all in. Growing up in the Bay Area suburb of Orinda, he and his seven siblings weren’t fed sugar or processed wheat, an abstention he keeps up to this day. He says he started eating apricot seeds for his health at age 5. Now 52, he’s up to 40 a day.

The seeds contain amygdalin, a compound also found in apple seeds and almonds. In the 1950s, Ernst T. Krebs Jr., a self-described doctor and biochemist with no medical degree, patented a purified form of amygdalin that he called “laetrile.” He also promoted it as “vitamin B17,” although it’s not an officially recognized vitamin.

In 1971, Krebs Jr. shared with the elder Richardson his theory of how this nutrient could stop cancer growth. As Richardson later summarized: “[N]ature’s mechanism will not work if one fails to eat the foods that contain this necessary vitamin, which is exactly what has happened to modern man, whose food supply has become further and further removed from the natural state.”

In Richardson’s day, “laetrilists” were just as controversial as the anti-vaccine movement is today. In the 1960s, the FDA banned laetrile and reported that there was no evidence it treated cancer. But over the next decade, more than 70,000 Americans took it anyway. Many of them crossed into Mexico for injections denied by their stateside doctors. Actor Steve McQueen secretly traveled to Baja in 1980 to receive laetrile, among other alternative remedies, for an advanced lung cancer. He died months later. In the mid-’70s, a scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center performed experiments that he said showed laetrile helped reduce tumors in mice. A media relations staffer then leaked the data, claiming that hospital executives had sought to cover up and discredit it. He’s been making that claim ever since, including in the 2014 documentary Second Opinion (“for the conspiracy-minded only,” the Los Angeles Times wrote), and now charges cancer patients $500 for hourlong phone consultations.

In the mid-'70s, “laetrilists” were just as controversial as the anti-vaccine movement is today.

When the elder Richardson was arrested in 1972 (on charges that were dropped), it prompted his fellow members of the John Birch Society, the far-right conspiracist group of the era, to start a lobbying group to legalize laetrile. Later, Richardson was fined $20,000 and placed on probation on charges of conspiracy to smuggle laetrile from Mexico to the US. Indictments against him and 18 other accused promoters noted that he had deposited $2.5 million in his bank account over two years.

Even so, Richardson Jr. remembers his father, who died in 1988, as “very principled, very honest, and very moral,” and keeps a picture of him over his desk. “There’s still people that contact me and tell me what a wonderful man he was and what a wonderful doctor he was,” he said.

After long legal battles, the FDA’s laetrile ban ultimately took effect in 1987. In 1999, Richardson Jr. started Apricot Power as an online-only store, but it’s branched out to health food shops over the last five years to meet customer demand. The company sources apricots from its farm and others in California, removes the flesh, air-dries the pits at the center, cracks them open, and sells the seeds inside.

“A lot of the foods, the amygdalin’s been cooked out of it,” said Richardson Jr., who also operates a real estate firm and a restaurant. “And my dad believed a normal, healthy person should have 100 milligrams a day of amygdalin. That’s been our company motto since the beginning, is just getting amygdalin back into every body.”

It took me no more than a few seconds to find apricot seeds online. A Google search led me to Amazon, where a European vendor was selling a 1-pound bag for $19.99 with this caveat: “We do not ‘treat’, or aim to ‘cure’ any disease.” Still, its customers leave reviews like “Raw Apricot Kernels help to stop Cancer in its tracks” and “I expect no miracles, but I don’t want to die from chemotherapy.” The seeds turned out to be chewy and tongue-curlingly bitter, with a long and unpleasant aftertaste.

Amazon’s algorithm recommended that I also buy the book that’s the bible of this movement: World Without Cancer: The Story of Vitamin B17. First published in 1974 and now in its 24th printing, it’s by G. Edward Griffin, who has no scientific training, denies HIV, and pushes Sept. 11 conspiracy theories.

I tried to interview more than 35 e-commerce shops that sell seeds or supplements labeled as laetrile, amygdalin, or B17. Many declined to talk or never got back to me. A man at Raw Foods and Vitamins turned me down, explaining, “The FDA and the government agencies have gone wild, there’s so much money in Big Pharma. … As soon as there’s a little publicity, they’ll be all over you.” He did, however, text me pro-laetrile books and websites to look up.

Others were more open. Danny Hesman, who runs B17 USA full-time out of Los Angeles, said he has 5,000 repeat customers. “I do tell people it’s not a magic pill,” he said. But like some other vendors, he’s had a personal experience with cancer — in his case, a friend who died from it. “I got a front-row seat to the suffering he went through with modern medicine,” he said. “I know these oncologists, I spoke to their team, they did everything. It’s almost career suicide for professionals to even consider alternative therapies, which leaves [B17] in that fringe zone you see when you google ‘vitamin B17.’ I wish there were some more professionals that would really work on that.”

Many vendors, especially those in the US, repeatedly emphasized that they weren’t claiming to cure, treat, or prevent anything, as if the FDA were listening over the phone. But Our Father’s Farm in Ontario, Canada, sells kernels that “may help with cancer prevention and symptoms.” Vision B Seventeen in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, claims to have “been successfully treating cancer and other degenerative diseases for more than 12 years now.”

Regulators have tried to squash these kinds of vendors. Jason Vale, a professional arm wrestler in New York City, sold seeds as a cure on his website, Apricots From God, because he believed they’d healed his kidney cancer. He also spammed people with millions of email ads. But in 2003, Vale was sentenced to five years in prison for criminal contempt of a court injunction sought by the FDA to stop him selling.

“Laetrile (i.e. Vitamin B17) therapy is one of the most popular and best known alternative cancer treatments.”

B17 merchants may have been deterred by his conviction, but not defeated. Until recently, Oxygen Health Systems allegedly told customers, “Laetrile (i.e. Vitamin B17) therapy is one of the most popular and best known alternative cancer treatments.” This spring, the FDA slammed Oxygen with a warning letter for making that and other unsupported health claims. According to the agency, which sent similar warnings to 13 other businesses, Oxygen had also illegally described vitamin C, the fruit graviola, and flax seed oil as cancer therapies.

Owner Michael Carroll said by phone that many of his products personally helped him fight off non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He scrubbed the language targeted by the FDA. But he didn’t seem too worried that his business would take a hit, or that his promises could have harmed someone.

“We’re continuing to work to make the best corrections to make our website as blah as possible, so consumers remain uneducated,” said Carroll, who lives near Chicago. When we spoke in early May, Oxygen was still selling B17 bottles for up to $97; they’ve since been taken down.

But you can still get them from Amygdalin Supply. Call to place an order and you might chat, as I did, with customer service rep Carlos Olguin in Guadalajara, Mexico. I asked him if, in his opinion, what he was selling could really treat cancer. His customers, he replied, were all the proof he needed.

“If you go to a store and buy a product and the product doesn’t work for you, would you buy again?” he asked. “Of course not, because the product does not work. That’s the thing I see. The same people who buy are the same people who are going to buy next and next and next.”

Sandi Rog, a novelist outside Denver, Colorado, says that B17 saved her and can save others, too. She spreads the message on her blog, I Beat Cancer with Vitamin B17, and in three YouTube videos with a total of more than 956,000 views.

When Rog was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma in late 2010, doctors put her through chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant in an attempt to reinvigorate her immune system, she said. But tumors kept popping up. After a naturopathic doctor gave her dozens of supplements, she eventually narrowed them down to a regimen of juicing, pancreatic enzymes, and B17, which she began reading about and ordering online. She also stopped taking her prescribed immunosuppressant drugs. By the end of 2012, she said, the tumors were gone and she was in remission.

“It makes me so angry, because people are being ripped off. "

“All I know is I’m cancer-free,” she said, “and it’s because of this.”

Catherine Fox found Rog’s videos “very impressive” when she started researching B17 as a preventative measure against cancer. Her parents, five aunts, and three uncles have all died of various cancers, she says. Then, about three years ago, she felt a lump in her breast — the moment she’d been dreading. So she started taking kernels. That’s likely why, she thinks, the lump ended up being harmless.

“It seemed to just go down and go away,” said Fox, who lives in Kells, Ireland, and, just to be safe, still eats two seeds every morning.

But Liz Beggs says that these stories offer a sense of false hope that harms people like her late niece, Charlene Campbell.

Campbell had a daughter who, not long after she was born, developed a rare, aggressive brain cancer and died. More than five years later, Campbell developed cancer, too, in her breast. Having watched her daughter undergo chemotherapy and radiation, she was determined to avoid them herself. So she started juicing, eating an all-vegetarian diet, and ordering cannabis oil and apricot seeds online. “She said, ‘This is my journey, it’s my body, I have to do it on my own,’” recalled Beggs, who lives in Northern Ireland. “‘You’re either with me or against me.’”

Beggs understood why Campbell distrusted conventional therapies, but “at the same time, we were so fearful,” she said. Campbell’s tumor kept growing until she finally agreed to have a mastectomy. Then new tumors sprouted in her liver and spine.

Campbell died in October 2015, soon after her 33rd birthday. By the end, she was up to 40 apricot kernels a day, her aunt said.

“It makes me so angry because people are being ripped off,” Beggs said. “That fear that engulfs a person when they’re diagnosed with cancer, they want to hold on to something that’s positive, not the medical route. They want to hold on to this sick holistic path of believing in kernel seeds and whatever else across the internet.”

Promoters of this all-natural cure can’t agree on one name for it — amygdalin, laetrile, Laetrile with a capital L, B17? Nor do they agree on how much to take and how often. Nor is there a way to ensure that the many seeds, pills, powders, and liquids in which it can take form are chemically consistent. All these variables make it hard to study its supposedly wondrous effects.

A 2015 review looked at the available studies of laetrile and amygdalin in humans and found “no reliable evidence” that they could cure cancer. On the whole, it concluded, the chances of bad side effects made the risks “unambiguously negative.”

In 1982, the Mayo Clinic put 178 cancer patients on laetrile, enzymes, vitamins, and a restricted diet, a regimen based on several laetrile doctors’ recommendations. When it came to getting cured, seeing their symptoms improve or disease stabilize, or living longer, they didn’t substantially improve. On average, they survived less than five months after starting treatment.

“I do remember some of the patients wanting it to be continued, believing it was working even though their tumor had clearly grown, they had gotten weaker and clearly more sick,” said Gregory Sarna, a study co-author who was a UCLA oncologist at the time. “That did not dissuade some of them from their belief that it was working.”

Several patients also showed signs of poisoning, like nausea and vomiting, and blood levels of cyanide known to be fatal.

It doesn’t take much. More than three small kernels, or less than half a large one, can be unsafe for adults, according to a report for the European Food Safety Authority. Even one small kernel can be toxic for toddlers. From 2000 to 2004, there were reports of 260 children poisoned by kernels in Turkey, where they are a common snack. One 2-year-old girl was severely poisoned and died after she ate 10 seeds. Laetrile fans, however, tend to promote much higher doses: One blogger cites World Without Cancer’s recommendation of 3 to 5 seeds per waking hour to treat cancer, and 7 to 10 a day to prevent it.

None of these contradictions faze consumers, who say scientists and doctors design studies to fail. They question whether people have really gotten sick or died from apricot kernels — and if they did, they probably took way too much. (“I never had a bad experience,” said Elif Ercanli, who grew up eating seeds in Istanbul, Turkey.) The most they’ll admit to is a bad side effect here or there. Rog said she once took nine in a 12-hour span and “my blood pressure crashed so low, I was in bed, I had tingling in my fingers and toes.”

When I asked people to explain how amygdalin works, they paraphrased, or told me to look up, World Without Cancer. According to Griffin, when amygdalin dissolves in body fluids and produces hydrogen cyanide, the cyanide only goes after cancer cells because of a special enzyme they contain that’s vulnerable to attack.

That explanation doesn’t make sense to Sarna, who is now an oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He points out that cancer cells differ even within a single tumor — which is usually why when a treatment destroys some cells, others remain untouched. “To say [one enzyme] is a general characteristic of cancer would need a study of hundreds of thousands of fresh cancers, all different cancers,” he said. “I’ve never seen that done.”

“There’s no doctor in the world who doesn’t want to help their patient get better. I never quite understood why there’s this conspiracy theory that doctors or pharmaceutical companies would have an interest in suppressing something that works."

Even if there were one magical mechanism that unlocked the cure to cancer, Wendy Chen, a breast oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, takes offense at the notion that physicians would cover it up.

“There’s no doctor in the world who doesn’t want to help their patient get better,” she said. “I never quite understood why there’s this common conspiracy theory that doctors or pharmaceutical companies would have an interest in hiding or suppressing something that works.”

Nevertheless, Griffin’s theories still light up Facebook groups like “Cancer! Is B17 the cure?” Brandon Clark, who says apricot seeds and B17 tablets got rid of a skin cancer on his nose, moderates the 3,000-person group. When he started contributing, he read B17 books and talked to B17-prescribing doctors “to make sure people had the best information possible.” Clark, who lives near Tacoma, Washington, prefers to share that research on Facebook because it’s “much more popular than Twitter and Myspace and anything else,” he said. “I felt like I could reach more people.”

He’s not wrong.

“They’re preying on people who are vulnerable and ill,” Beggs said of people like Clark. “It’s just so not right. It makes me angry. They’re being brainwashed. Charlene’s proof of that.”

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The bottom of Apricot Power's Ground SuperFood Mix.


Apricot kernel devotees are fond of a certain Bible verse, Genesis 1:29: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” There is an intuitive appeal to this implicit idea, that a higher force designed a natural substance to fight off a devastating and inexplicable disease.

Cancer kills 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women in the US. And surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can sound frightening on their own, since they involve cutting open the body and flooding it with drugs and X-rays. The side effects range from unpleasant to downright unbearable.

“They’re preying on people who are vulnerable and ill. It’s just so not right. It makes me angry. They’re being brainwashed."

So there has always been an appetite, to some degree, for alternative therapies. And because of the enormous power of placebos, people often do feel better after taking them. In 1979, when the Supreme Court ruled that terminally ill cancer patients did not have the right to access laetrile, it noted that entrepreneurs had long hawked cancer cures like “liniments of turpentine, mustard, oil, eggs, and ammonia; peat moss; arrangements of colored floodlamps; pastes made from glycerin and limburger cheese; mineral tablets; and ‘Fountain of Youth’ mixtures of spices, oil, and suet.”

But in 2017, once-fringe “natural” remedies are no longer distinct from the mainstream obsession with wellness, now a $3.7 trillion industry spanning organic food, yoga, meditation apps, anti-aging lotions — and dietary supplements. Lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow and alt-right fearmonger Alex Jones peddle silver nanoparticles and obscure mushrooms. In addition to being taken by 150 million people in the US, supplements are barely regulated, can contain anything, aren’t proven to help health, and send at least 20,000 Americans to the emergency room annually.

“The fact there is a resurgence of interest in selling and utilization of what is essentially an ineffective treatment is concerning, and it points to general problems with the supplement market,” said Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, of B17. “The amount of money being spent out there in supplements is huge. You would think that it should be more well-regulated than it is.”

The wellness industrial complex is built upon vague pronouncements and falsehoods about how nutrition and bodies work, like the (unsupported) myth that genetically modified food is unsafe to eat. But if you buy into that, then perhaps it’s not so crazy to also believe that, say, the Hunza, an indigenous group in northern Pakistan, are cancer-free thanks to their apricot-heavy diet. (According to anthropologists, there are no credible studies to support the claim, which is central to the B17 ideology.)

“The fact there is a resurgence of interest in selling and utilization of what is essentially an ineffective treatment is concerning, and it points to general problems with the supplement market.”

As the internet breathes new life into health myths, it complicates the relationship between patients and doctors. No longer are physicians the main or exclusive source of medical information when people can Google a remedy, buy it on Amazon, and tell their Facebook friends about it.

So when cancer patients get excited about laetrile, or any other alternative therapy, doctors must balance the evidence, or lack thereof, with the desperation of people often on the verge of death. “People need control over something that they cannot control, and that is very, very frustrating, and I sense it with every person I treat,” said Don Dizon, clinical co-director of gynecologic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and a spokesperson for the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“Natural,” though, does not mean “safe.” Toxins, cyanide included, abound in the natural world. “All that matters is what are the benefits and harms, what is known for certain and what is merely unknown,” said Vinay Prasad, a hematologist-oncologist at Oregon Health and Science University, by email.

One patient of Prasad’s wanted to try high doses of vitamin C, but resisted radiation therapy because it seemed “unnatural.” “Of course,” Prasad noted, “both vitamin C and radiation are naturally occurring, and both high dose [vitamin C] and a radiation machine are a human manipulation of something natural, so I wasn’t sure there is a difference.”

Dizon isn’t always confident that chemotherapy will work, particularly in people whose cancer has returned, so he encourages some of them to push back. He’s even seen some tumors shrink after patients have taken natural remedies — and he’s accepted that he can’t explain why. Sometimes, doctors say, a person may not actually have cancer in the first place, due to an incorrect diagnosis or misinterpreted biopsy. Or tumors can shrink due to other therapies that a patient has forgotten about or hasn’t revealed.

Regardless, a couple moving anecdotes aren’t license to recommend an unproven remedy. “That would be wrong, because that’s not data,” Dizon said. “That’s not the same thing as saying, ‘Your mom has ovarian cancer. If she’s taking treatment, she has a 30% chance of cure and an 80% chance of going quite some time, even maybe years, before her cancer comes back.’”

With alternative therapies, the success stories that people cling to tend to be more isolated than they think. “You’re not hearing the other side of that — the patients who took it and died within weeks or whose cancers really grew,” he said.

Vitamin B17, by any name, will never disappear. Its story by now has taken on mythical proportions that cannot be censored.

New advances in cancer treatment may one day make apricot seeds obsolete. But until — even if — all these therapies become the new and highly successful standard of care, some segment of laetrile believers will continue to buy in.

At Apricot Power, Richardson Jr. is busy rolling out products such as chocolate bars with chopped-up apricot seeds. (“What a tasty way to get natural B17 in your diet!” the website proclaims.)

What would his father think of all this? He’d be happy, Richardson Jr. answered, because he predicted that someday “people would discover that nutrition was the answer to healthy living.” He added, “Lots of people believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ●


Stephanie Lee is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Stephanie M. Lee at stephanie.lee@buzzfeed.com.

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The “attention economy” created by Silicon Valley is bankrupting us



Another week, another political crisis. We’ve had yet another few days of outrageous tweets from President Trump all designed, it seems, to monopolize the national conversation.

It’s all so predictably unpredictable — and what Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the nonprofit group Time Well Spent, calls a world dominated by the race for attention. According to Harris, an ex-design ethicist at Google who the Atlantic described as “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”, we all “live in a city called the attention economy.” That’s what is shaping everything about contemporary life, Harris says, particularly our increasingly surreal politics.

Harris — an acclaimed speaker at the main TED event this year who has also recently appeared on 60 Minutes and the Bill Maher Show — suggests that Trump might be our first “Attention President”.

For Harris, Trump is a symptom of a far larger malady. The real problem with the global, digital community that we all live in, Harris says, is that it’s dominated by three companies: Google, Facebook and Apple.

These platforms “aren’t neutral”, Harris insists.  Instead, Harris – a tech design guru who worked at Google for almost three years as their Product Philosopher – believes that they are “exploiting” what he calls “our lower level vulnerabilities”. Many of us no longer know our own minds, he warns. And so our new community, whose medium of exchange Harris dubs the attention economy is increasingly dominated by technological addiction (particularly our smartphone use).

So what to do? How to make this new community more habitable?

According to Harris, there are two critical strategies for fixing these problems. The first is for all of us to recognize that we are all vulnerable and for us to all “curate our own lives”.

And the second is for the platform companies to recognize that their users have “vulnerable minds” and for them to make a conscious effort to avoid feeding our “lizard brains”, Harris says.

Neither, in themselves, are complete solutions. To fix the problem requires a joint effort both from all of us and from these platform superpowers of Silicon Valley.

Featured Image: TED Talk/TED Talk Screenshot


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Apple issues statement regarding removal of unlicensed VPN apps in China


Apple has issued a statement regarding last night’s removal of ‘most major’ VPN apps from the App Store in China. Unsurprisingly, Apple says that it is complying with regulations put in place by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology earlier this year that require VPN apps to be licensed by the government.

VPN apps and services currently represent one of the only ways that a person living in China can bypass state censorship controls that prevent access to many websites and services based on their content or potential content. In January, the MIIT issued new regulations that required VPN apps to be explicitly licensed by the government in China. Currently there are some big state-owned companies that provide licensed VPNs, but this sweep removes most of the well-known and well-used VPNs from the store, making it harder for the average citizen to bypass monitoring and censorship.

Apple’s full statement is as follows:

Earlier this year China’s MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government.  We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.

You can read more on the ban and the recent history of China’s censorship efforts here.

Featured Image: August_0802/Shutterstock


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A disappointed Pokémon GO Fest attendee has proposed class-action lawsuit against Niantic


For many, Pokémon GO is so summer 2016. But at least 20,000 people are still die-hard fans of the game, as proven by their participation in Pokémon GO Fest in Chicago’s Grant Park last week.

Unfortunately, the event was a disappointment to many attendees, who could not get data service and ended up waiting on long lines without the AR-based game to keep them entertained. And beyond the cell networks having gone down, the game itself was also struggling.

Our own Greg Kumparak, a world-class trainer in his own right, went to the event, and described it like this:

Tapping a monster to catch it would result in nothing but an error screen — a particular punch in the gut to many a player who traveled far in hopes of completing their Pokedex, as the park was set to spawn some of the game’s rarest monsters. You’d tap an Unown or a Heracross (usually only available in very specific regions, and certainly not in the middle of Chicago), and the game would crash.

While Niantic has offered refunds on admission (plus $100 of in-game currency) to attendees of Pokemon GO Fest, at least one man is not satisfied.

Jonathan Norton has proposed a class action lawsuit against Niantic for unspecified damages, saying that the festival didn’t live up to what Niantic had promised, according to Ars Technica.

While tickets only cost around $25, including fees, many folks traveled from outside of Chicago to capture the rarest Pokémon in the game and enjoy a day with their peers. Instead, many felt their investment in the Fest was wasted due to crashed servers, non-existent cell service, and long lines to simply exit the park.

You can check out the complaint below:

We reached out to Niantic and we haven’t heard back yet. We’ll update if/when we do.



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Facebook Stories unlocks public sharing


Facebook could jumpstart its Snapchat clone by letting social media stars and public figures post Stories publicly. When Facebook Stories launched globally in March, you could only share to all their friends or a subset of them. Now if you allow public followers, you can post your Story publicly so anyone can watch.

Social media researcher Carlos Gil first pointed out the privacy feature, and now a Facebook spokesperson confirms to TechCrunch that “This is something we rolled out a few weeks ago. The Public setting allows your Followers to see your story, in addition to your Friends.” As for if or when Pages will be able to post Stories, Facebook tells me “For Pages – no specific timing to share there quite yet.”

How to share Facebook Stories publicly

Public sharing gives Facebook Stories the potential to mint or popularize internet celebrities the same way Snapchat and Instagram Stories can. My initial experience with posting publicly saw over 1000 of my 60,000 followers watch my Facebook Story in 12 hours. That’s much more engagement than I get when I publicly share on the News Feed, indicating that Facebook might be prominently showing Stories from public figures in the horizontal scrolling section above the feed, or that most people just don’t have any friends posting Stories so anything that appears there stands out.

To make a Facebook Story public, first tap on the Add To Story button on the homescreen, and post a photo or video. Then view your own Story and tap the three dots ‘more’ button in the top right. Open “Edit Story Settings” and change from “Friends” to “Public”. All your existing Facebook Stories from the last 24 hours plus any you share from then on will be publicly visible to anyone. You can tap on the viewer count to see the names of friends who’ve viewed your Story, and a count of all the additional followers who saw it without their names.

Facebook has proudly shared the rapid traction of Instagram Stories, both of which have over 250 million daily users. That makes them bigger than Snapchat, which has 166 million daily users for its whole app and has seen growth slow down since the Facebook-owned competitors launched. But Facebook hasn’t announced anything about Messenger Day or Facebook Stories usage, and many people say that few friends post on either. The fact that it took several weeks for people to spot the public sharing feature is a testatament to its slow traction.

Changing your Facebook Stories privacy setting

While Instagram was built for visual sharing and WhatsApp Status is popular in developing countries where Snapchat isn’t, Stories feels a bit obtrusive on Messenger and redundant on Facebook. You already have so many other ways to share on Facebook, and if you care about sharing your day to day life, you’re probably already on Instagram Stories.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the privacy options available on different Stories products:

    • Snapchat Stories: Everyone, My Friends, Custom
    • Instagram Stories: Everyone for public accounts, approved followers for private accounts, plus hiding from specific people
    • WhatsApp Status: My Contacts, My Contacts Except…, Custom
    • Messenger Day: Everyone with permission to message you, Custom
  • Facebook Stories: Public, Friends, Custom

The addition of public Stories could open a whole different class of content creators to the photo/video slideshow format. Journalists who have big followings for their articles on Facebook could now use Stories for raw and immersive looks at the news, combining monologues, screenshots, and interviews.

If Facebook isn’t careful about how it ranks Stories from public figures and web celebs, these self-promoters could overrun Stories. But if it fills the often empty space with content, it could teach people to use Stories. That important to Facebook since it sees the feature is the home of its expanding augmented reality strategy.



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When Snowden mattered | TechCrunch


Four years ago, the deep state was the enemy. Edward Snowden had just revealed its machinations. The head of the NSA was angrily catcalled during his Black Hat keynote. “We”–hackers, individualists, and/or everyone in tech who hopes we’re building a better future–readied for a battle against surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state. How hopelessly wrong we were.

Four years later, the deep state seems much more like the enemy of our enemy. The cultural and political battle which has actually arisen is one against — bizarrely, surreally — 19th-century style ethno-nationalism; against people who want to forcibly deport millions from their homes, people who want to oppress minorities of all kinds, and, not least, outright white nationalists. It seems that angry, scared, insecure men and women worldwide have responded to ever-increasing complexity and interconnectedness by resorting to the old-fashioned simplicities of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate.

And, uh, I’m sorry to say this, but while I know that in our heart of hearts we all imagine ourselves as the true iconoclastic rebel heroes boldy and bravely standing up to The Man, courtesy of years of Hollywood … in this battle, the other side thinks of themselves in exactly the same way. There is no shortage of hackers / iconoclasts / individualists among the white supremacists. Consider Weev, once quasi-respected for his trolling skills, once a semi-hero/martyr in the hacker world for his (admittedly bullshit) conviction for the crime of incrementing a URL, now an outright neo-Nazi. Consider Curtis Yarvin. Consider former tech journalist Milo Yiannopolous.

“We,” or at least too many of us, are still operating with the same, wrong, mindset. That old battle against The (Surveillance) Man won’t help much if we lose this new battle first. Strong crypto is not an especially good defense against street police brutality, immigration bans, bans on military service, and ethnic cleansing in the form of mass deportations. This isn’t so much a battle against Authority as it is a battle of ideas. (So let’s keep in mind that it looks really really bad, in the arena of ideas, when “we” appear to be opposed to free speech — even when the speech in question is despicable.)

This new confrontation is still a very technical one. You only need to scan the headlines from the last year to realize that this is in large part a battle of hacks and leaks, ranging across the spectrum from personal to nation-state, and a battle of “information operations.” Check out this remarkable slide from this year’s Black Hat keynote, courtesy of Facebook CSO Alex Stamos:

So maybe we need to stop trying to adopt the Snowden-era mindset, that of cyberpunks sticking it to evil governments and corporations, to this age of Trump and Brexit. His battle is not today’s battle. Maybe we need to think a little less about crypto, 0-days, and surveillance, and a little more about epistemology, information ops, and winning hearts & minds. Most controversially of all, maybe we need to stop being so reflexively anti-government / anti-megacorp, and take a more nuanced view of massive organizations and their many tentacles and subdivisions. They might become tomorrow’s enemies of freedom, as ever more power accrues to them; but today’s enemies are an entirely different, and far more dangerous, popular movement.



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Balkan startups offer free housing service after football price-gouging row


Football (or soccer) fans wanting to attend UEFA Super Cup 2017 in Skopje last week found that many of their hotel rooms were cancelled and rebooked at astronomical rates – sometimes 500 to 900 GBP for a hotel room that was originally a fraction of that.

In order to fight back against a tarnished global image (and because they are cool people), a group in Skopje, WeTalkIT, created a free booking system that lets football fans stay at local homes.

“Motivated by the recent booking scandal in Skopje, the WeTalkIT community decided to prove that this town can be hospitable as well. This is a website created to offer free tourist accommodation in Skopje for the upcoming UEFA Super Cup 2017,” the group wrote.

You can try the service here if you’re so inclined and I’d love to see other cities use these tools during times of crisis.



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Game of Thrones script and other HBO episodes reportedly leak online following hack


An upcoming Game of Thrones script and two unreleased episodes of Ballers and Room 104 have leaked online after an apparent security breach at HBO, Entertainment Weekly reports. The GoT script is reportedly from the episode scheduled to air next week.

The hackers apparently claim to have 1.5 terabytes of data stolen from HBO. EW reports that the hackers sent an email to several reporters on Sunday night that contained information about the leak. The email reportedly said “HBO is falling,” and promised that more leaks would be coming soon.

HBO has struggled with Game of Thrones leaks in the past. In 2015, the first four episodes of season 5 leaked online. HBO eventually confirmed that they came from advance screeners usually given to an approved group, like members of the press. In 2016, HBO Nordic, which is available in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, accidentally released a season 6 episode a full day early.

For season 7, HBO decided not to send out any advance screeners, and asked the GoT cast to take extra security measures, like two-factoring their email accounts, to keep their scripts safe.

“The problem before us is unfortunately all too familiar in the world we now find ourselves a part of,” HBO CEO Richard Plepler wrote in an email to staff obtained by EW. “As has been the case with any challenge we have ever faced, I have absolutely no doubt that we will navigate our way through this successfully.”

The Verge has reached out to HBO for comment and will update with any new information.



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Cord cutting pressures lead to Discovery Communications’ acquisition of Scripps Networks for $14.6B


Discovery Communications’ $14.6 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, announced today, combines two of cable TV’s bigger brands in an era where cord cutting has hit impacted all the major players across the board. The telcos are scrambling to offer live TV streaming bundles in an effort to shore up pay TV subscriber losses, while the networks that had once relied on pay TV distribution to reach viewers are now having to negotiate new packages with the streaming services like Sling TV, Hulu, Sony’s Vue, YouTube TV and others.

This Discovery-Scripps tie-up means the company will be able to better negotiate with both advertisers and distributors going forward, as the new entity will become home to a much larger portfolio of channels. Discovery brings to the table networks like its flagship Discovery Channel as well as Animal Planet and TLC while Scripps offers top cable channels like HGTV, Cooking Channel, and Food Network.

The channels account for 13.2 percent of cable viewership but only 7 percent of monthly cable fees, reports The WSJ.

The combined company will have nearly 20 percent of ad-supported pay TV viewership in the U.S., and will become home to five of the top female networks in ad-supported pay TV with an over 20 percent of women who watch primetime TV in the U.S., the companies said. Nielsen’s data cited by The WSJ, however, puts TLC, HGTV, Discovery ID, and Food Network at the top, along with Disney, as the most female-skewing cable channels across the top 20 networks in the U.S.

The ability to target female viewers will increase demand among advertisers, in turn increasing ad rates.

But the companies also tout their now increased ability to craft short-form video for mobile and social consumption – a necessity in today’s age where people are watching less traditional TV in favor of time spent online, which includes time spent viewing web videos. As noted in the official announcement, the new company will deliver 7 billion monthly short-form streams and will bring together Scripps’ expertise in short-form with Discovery’s Group Nine Media to craft more of these types of videos for social media.

The deal will also allow the companies to seek out new digital distribution partners for their content, they said, including on mobile, over-the-top, and direct-to-consumer offerings. Discovery said it would be able to bring Scripps channels to more overseas markets, as well.

And, though not announced today, the combined companies could choose to launch their own subscription TV service aimed at cord cutters.

The acquisition could also lead to further consolidation among on other players in the market, including Viacom which had also been in talks to acquire Scripps. Prior to this deal, Viacom, AMC and Discovery had also been eyeing an online TV service bundle that would be priced lower than competitors by not including sports.

On the pay TV side of things, the deal will make it more difficult for cable and satellite to drop the combined network’s channels; but cord cutters may benefit, too, as it could increase the distribution of the Scripps and Discovery channels across internet TV services.

The combination is expected to create cost savings of $350 million, the companies also said.

The deal is expected to close next year, following regular and shareholder approval.



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HomePod firmware reveals iPhone 8 design and facial recognition


Last week, Apple released the firmware of its upcoming smart speaker, the HomePod. It sounds like it was pushed out a bit earlier than expected as it isn’t supposed to come out until later this year. Steve Troughton-Smith took advantage of that to find out that the next iPhone is going to feature facial recognition and a brand new “bezel-less” design.

Patents and previous rumors already hinted at facial recognition for the iPhone 8. Rumor has it that Apple could either replace or complement the Touch ID fingerprint sensor with a brand new facial recognition technology.

While facial recognition isn’t new, Steve Troughton-Smith found references to infra-red face unlock in BiometricKit, the framework behind Touch ID. Codenamed Pearl ID, the feature should let you unlock your iPhone in the dark, even if you’re looking at your phone from a weird angle with your face partially blocked.

If all of this is true, this should be quite a neat replacement for Touch ID. If Apple wants to replace Touch ID with something else, it has to be at least as accurate and fast as Touch ID. The main concern with facial recognition is that you have to hold your phone in front of your face in a brightly lit room.

It sounds like Apple is aware of that. Now let’s hope that it only takes a fraction of a second to unlock your phone as the current Touch ID sensor is incredibly fast. Rumor has it that Apple tried to embed the Touch ID sensor in the display itself. But it might not be ready for prime time just yet as Apple has to produce tens of millions of devices per year with this technology.

As for the design of the next iPhone, many reports, leaks and dummy devices indicate that Apple is working on a more powerful iPhone 7s as well as a brand new super premium phone. This rumored “iPhone 8” is going to feature a taller screen that is going to completely fill the front of the device, except for the speaker, camera and sensors at the top:

Guilherme Rambo‏ found an icon representing the upcoming iPhone in the HomePod firmware. The new phone is currently codenamed D22, and you can find this icon in the Apple Pay framework. It confirms previous leaks and the cutout at the top, but this time it’s coming straight from Apple’s servers.

You may remember that the MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar also leaked in the Apple Pay framework for macOS. If Apple follows its usual pattern, the company should reveal new iPhone models in early September.



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Flipkart’s on-off-on-off-on-off deal to acquire Snapdeal is now officially dead


What a difference a week makes. Less than seven days after Flipkart’s much-rumored acquisition of Snapdeal appeared to be nearing completion after months of speculation, the deal has officially died.

All that stood between a reported $900-$950 million acquisition was the approval of Snapdeal’s board, but now talks are over and Snapdeal will continue on as an independent company. Rumors of a coming-together began in April.

“Snapdeal has been exploring strategic options over the last several months. The company has now decided to pursue an independent path and is terminating all strategic discussions as a result,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The company will not shop itself to rival Flipkart — which is seeking a boost in its efforts to battle Amazon — but it has agreed to trade its Freecharge payment business, bought for just shy of $500 million in 2015, to Axis Bank for a bargain price of $60 million. Snapdeal, which was valued as high as $6.5 billion in 2015, said in a statement that the sale and other cost-cutting measures will make the company “financially self-sustainable” again.

“Snapdeal’s vision has always been to create life-changing experiences for millions of buyers and sellers across India. We have a new and compelling direction — Snapdeal 2.0 — that uniquely furthers this vision, and have made significant progress towards the ability to execute this by achieving a gross profit this month,” it added.

The death of the deal appears to have been down to opposite early Snapdeal investors Kalaari Capital and Nexus Venture Partners, according to a Reuters report. According to the publication, roadblocks put up by Snapdeal killed negotiations. Founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal ultimately opted to remain independent and, with the backing of the two investors, are looking running a “stripped down” version of the service. That’s likely to mean more layoffs for Snapdeal’s 1,000-plus staff. The company let 500-600 employees go in a cost-cutting move made in February.

SoftBank and Tiger Global, two major Snapdeal backers, were reportedly particularly keen on the Flipkart-Snapdeal alignment as it would get them equity in Flipkart, which has emerged as Amazon’s biggest e-commerce competitor. Flipkart, which has battled slowing growth and C-level changes over the past few years, appointed new CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy in January and then went on to raise $1.4 billion in funding from eBay, Microsoft and Tencent in April at a valuation of $11.6 billion.

Featured Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonrussell/35451056184/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE


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SAIF Partners closes new $350M fund for India’s resurgent tech startup scene


SAIF Partners, one of India’s most active tech investment firms, has returned with a new fund of $350 million, its sixth to date.

Unlike other firms, SAIF opted to keep its newest fund at the same size as its previous one because it allows it to be selective on deals, a number of partners told TechCrunch in an interview. SAIF has more than $4 billion in assets under management. Its portfolio includes U.S. IPO exits from Make My Trip and Just Dial and stakes in promising private firms like Paytm, Alibaba’s India proxy, and food delivery service Swiggy.

The fund is unlikely to be put into action for another three to four months, that’s the time when the firm anticipates that it will have finished deploying capital from its current fund.

As for the focus, that’s really much the same as before, SAIF Partners managing director Alok Goel told TechCrunch. In particular logistics, fintech and content are primary areas of interest, while Goel said that enterprise Saas businesses and hardware/internet-of-things are segements where the firm would like to “do more” with the new fund.

SAIF Partners plans to deploy the fund across a range of stages, including seed deals, Series A and later growth rounds, too, as it has done with past funds.

The firm is optimistic that a funding lull that struck India in 2015 and 2016 has been replaced by an environment in which strong companies, at early and late stages of development, have emerged.

“Late stage funding in the county had become stark in 2016, but more encouraging signs now this year,” Goel said. “Clear category leaders have emerged and justified or gone beyond valuations — that’s another encouraging trend. The number of new company deal flow had gone down in 2016, but we’re seeing that the trend is moving in terms of the quality of companies we are meeting.”

Supply of cash is also opening up in India, too, even if larger investors like Tiger Global and SoftBank have pulled back somewhat after massive spending sprees over the past two years.

Accel raised a new $450 million India fund last November, while Sequoia quietly closed $4 billion in fresh funds part of which is set to be mobilized in India. Some new additions include the Fundamentum Partnership, a $100 million growth fund co-founded by billionaire former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, and Japan’s GREE, which has expanded its investment focus into India.



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