posted about 7 hours ago on re/code
You’re welcome. It’s Sunday. Do you have a spare minute to watch a $21 billion corporation get swamped by Twitter? Here you go. This morning, Twitter user Shannon Watts reported that girls that were supposed to be on a Denver to Minneapolis flight weren’t allowed to board until they changed out of spandex leggings. Some of the girls changed their clothes, and others never got on the flight, Watts said: 1) A @united gate agent isn't letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 2) She's forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can't board. Since when does @united police women's clothing?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 3) Gate agent for flt 215 at 7:55. Said she doesn't make the rules, just follows them. I guess @united not letting women wear athletic wear?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 .@united They just boarded after being forced to change or put dresses on over the top of their clothing. Is this your policy?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 A 10-year-old girl in gray leggings. She looked normal and appropriate. Apparently @united is policing the clothing of women and girls. https://t.co/RKsIFoE8pq— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 .@united Two other girls were not allowed on flight.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 Watts isn’t just an average Twitter user. She’s the founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun-control group formed after the Sandy Hook shootings. She doesn’t have a Kanye-sized following, but she definitely has an audience. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg follows her. So does Clara Jeffery, the editor-in-chief of Mother Jones. I first saw her tweets picked by Certified Media Influencer (and Code Media speaker) Felix Salmon. Sometimes, this is the part of the story where a Bigco’s social media team leaps into action to defuse the situation. Something along the lines of “Thanks for your note, we’ll look into it.” But this is a different version of the tale. United’s Twitter doubled down, telling Watts the company had the right to enforce a dress code: @shannonrwatts In our Contract of Carriage, Rule 21, we do have the right to refuse transport for passengers who ... https://t.co/52kRVgaCyb— United (@united) March 26, 2017 They also repeated the argument to other Twitter users who had picked up on Watts’ story: @baddestmamajama United shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage. ^FS— United (@united) March 26, 2017 Here are some screenshots in case United ever rethinks this approach: .@united's tone-deaf response to ppl complaining re a Denver gate agent policing girls' clothing says a lot about how far @united has fallen pic.twitter.com/qT0qWWBsR0— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) March 26, 2017 Some important caveats to consider at this point. For the time being, we’ve only heard a single version of this tale, from Watts. We also don’t know if United’s Twitter response represents the entire company or a single member of United’s Twitter team; most of the United responses seem to come from a single rep, using the initials “FS.” But now, it doesn’t matter. It’s a thing, on Twitter. It’s also a thing on Twitter on a Sunday, where Donald Trump seems to have been relatively restrained (just a single blast), so we have time. Oh, also: It’s about airline travel. So now we’re off. Here’s a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where it qualifies as local news. The Strib has presumably sent reporters to interview passengers once they land, so we can assume there will be a second story. Or at least an update. But the great thing about a Twitter story is that everyone can share a Twitter story. Twitter wants you to share it: That’s why they’ve made this stuff embeddable. So here are People, New York Magazine, and the Washington Post. The Daily Mail is built for this. Note that most of the stories don’t use hedge words like “allegedly” or “reportedly” in the headline. Hedge words make for boring headlines! Here is a good headline, from the Washington Post: “Two girls barred from United flight for wearing leggings.” Democracy dies in darkness but we can’t keep the lights on without #content. And you and me, reader, we’re all in this together: I made a story about a Twitter story, and you’re here, reading my Twitter story. Maybe you’ll share it. (Please share it!) This one will keep going for a while. In the time that it took me to get this post ready for publication, Shannon Watts has started up her feed again, and she’s using it to tangle with both United and other Twitter users: 3) As the mother of 4 daughters who live and travel in yoga pants, I'd like to know how many boys @United has penalized for the same reason.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 Thanks for mansplaining how I should feel about this Ben. I'll take your advice into account. https://t.co/87VTaH2L3q— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017 I’ve asked United for comment, of course. If they provide one, maybe I’ll get a second post out of it.

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posted about 12 hours ago on re/code
The messaging service was reportedly used by the man who killed four people last week A top U.K. official is targeting WhatsApp, after reports that the terrorist who killed four people used the Facebook-owned messaging app before launching his attack in London this week. Home Secretary Amber Rudd complained that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption system offered terrorists a safe way to communicate, and said government agencies need to be able to peer inside the messaging app. “We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” Rudd told the BBC. "It used to be that people would steam open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warranty,” she said “But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp." In an op-ed published in the U.K.’s Telegraph, Rudd also said the U.K. would need assistance combatting terror from other internet companies and services, including Google, Twitter, and, surprisingly, blogging platform WordPress. We’ve asked Facebook for comment. Rudd’s critique echoes the fight between U.S. law enforcement and Apple after the 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California, when the FBI wanted Apple’s help unlocking an iPhone involved in the case. Asked about Apple during the BBC interview, Rudd said that company also had a responsibility to help government officials look into apps employed by its iPhone owners. “If I was talking to Tim Cook, I would say to him that this is something completely different,” she said, referring to Apple CEO. “We’re not saying ‘open up,’ we don’t want to ‘go into the cloud,’ we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that,” she added. “But we do want them to recognize that they have a responsibility to engage with governments, and engage with law enforcement agencies when there is a terrorist situation. We would do it all through the carefully thought-through, legally covered arrangements. But they cannot get away with saying we are a different situation. They are not.”

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posted 1 day ago on re/code
There are few details about the incident so far but Uber says the car was in autonomous mode and no one involved was seriously hurt. On Friday night, a self-driving Uber vehicle was involved in a collision with a human driven car in Tempe, Arizona that caused the semi-autonomous vehicle to flip on its side. Uber’s car was being driven in autonomous mode but there were no passengers in the vehicle at the time of the crash, according to an Uber spokesperson, just a safety driver. The company has since grounded all its self-driving vehicles in Arizona while it conducts an investigation into the accident. "We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle,” the spokesperson said. No one involved in the crash has been seriously hurt, according to Uber. Tempe Police: Self-driving Uber vehicle involved in rollover. https://t.co/JszHhBYeqI #abc15 pic.twitter.com/I77hc7m5Ys— ABC15 Arizona (@abc15) March 25, 2017 Local Tempe TV stations have reported, citing Tempe police, that it wasn’t the Uber car that was at fault. According to those reports, local authorities said the driver in the other car failed to yield to Uber’s semi-autonomous Volvo. Recode has reached out to Tempe police and will update when we hear back. It’s too early to determine whether this was a system failure on the part of the robot car. The police reports indicate that it may not be. But, as we first reported, the company’s self-driving arm has seen little progress in the overall reliability of its autonomous systems. As of the beginning of March, safety drivers had to take back control an average of once per .8 miles. Uber shipped its semi-autonomous cars to Arizona after coming up against the Califorina DMV in December. The company only began picking up passengers in its self-driving cars in Arizona last month. Incidents like this do have the potential to set the self-driving industry back as consumers grow increasingly wary of trusting robot-driven vehicles.

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posted 1 day ago on re/code
An AI startup called Post Intelligence hopes it can. I‘ve tweeted nearly 5,000 times in my life, which certainly feels like a lot. But last week I did something on Twitter I’ve never done before: I used artificial intelligence to help me decide what to tweet. More specifically, I used a service called Post Intelligence, which recommended links and photos to post, suggested the time of day I should post to get the best engagement, and even estimated the popularity of my tweets before I sent them based on the language I used in the tweet. To do this, Post Intelligence, which used to be called MyLikes and has raised $11 million from Khosla Ventures, uses algorithms similar to those Twitter and Facebook use to determine what you see in your feed. The company analyzed my Twitter account to determine the topics I tweet about most and calculated which of those topics also perform well with my followers. Then the AI went out and found tweets about those topics that were performing well on Twitter and suggested I share them, too. The results: The AI-suggested tweets performed better than my normal ones. Kinda. Post Intelligence A week of suggested tweet times from Post Intelligence I sent 24 tweets over a span of 9 days, 12 that included media suggested to me by Post Intelligence and 12 that including content I found on my own. (This excludes a lot of replies to tweets that I sent, and the three times I tweeted my own stories from Recode.) The AI-powered tweets received an average of 7.2 favorites and 2.2 retweets apiece. My “original” tweets received 5.0 faves and 1.5 retweets, on average. On the surface, the AI appeared to be a noticeable help. I also added 70 new followers in the 9-day stretch; I had averaged just 118 new followers per month in the six months prior. But the engagement data is skewed: The AI suggestions led to my most popular tweet of the period, this gem about BBC girl and how she would be a badass reporter (or badass anything, from the looks of it), which generated a whopping 33 favorites and 11 retweets. BBC kid looks like she would be a badass reporter https://t.co/RIlXvlD6NC— Kurt Wagner (@KurtWagner8) March 16, 2017 Without that outlier, my AI-suggested tweets averaged 4.8 faves and 1.4 retweets, on average, almost exactly the same as the tweets I sourced on my own. I have a theory for why the AI didn’t significantly improve my tweeting: The stuff the AI recommended to me was the same type of stuff I already see and share on Twitter. Post Intelligence was using an algorithm to personalize content for me; Twitter does this, too. So while I certainly came across specific items I might not usually see in my feed, they were the same kind of items I am used to. There are still ways the AI could have helped, though it’s impossible to know if it did. For example, I tweaked the language on a number of my tweets to try and make them more popular based on Post Intelligence’s prediction score. I have no idea how those tweets would have performed had I simply stuck with my original language. Same thing goes for posting tweets at certain times recommended to me by the algorithm; it’s impossible to know how they would have done had I posted them when I wrote them instead of scheduling them for later. But it does seem clear that there are certain things a computer just can’t know, like offline social dynamics. Here’s an example: This tweet poking fun at my colleague, Jason Del Rey, performed the same as this other tweet about Donald Trump golfing, even though the Trump tweet was predicted to perform better. Post Intelligence This didn’t surprise me. I know that my colleagues love to tease each other online, and mentioning Jason in a tweet was bound to generate at least a few faves. Golfing, on the other hand? Not really a sport my followers tend to care about, especially if Trump is involved. Eventually, I imagine the AI will learn these kinds of nuances, though it obviously hasn’t figured it out just yet. And in defense of Post Intelligence, my sample size here is probably much too small. These algorithms learn over time. Nine days and just 24 tweets is not really sufficient. I still believe that AI can improve our tweeting, though it feels early. There seems to be an obvious opportunity to build a tool like this inside of Facebook or Twitter, especially for new users. When you create a profile for the first time, these services try and help you connect with or follow others you may know. But getting people to take that plunge and actually post something is still a challenge. Post Intelligence CEO Bindu Reddy agrees. “[It’s better] for people who don’t know what to say,” she explained. If social networks could encourage people to post by using AI predictions to help them craft something successful, it might help alleviate some of the fear of hitting that publish button. I want to keep using Post Intelligence to see if a larger sample size changes my performance (or my mind). You can try it here as well. If I learn anything fun, I’ll be back to share it with you all.

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posted 1 day ago on re/code
A new study from PwC estimates that 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be lost to automation in the next 15 years. Nearly 40 percent of jobs in the U.S. may be vulnerable to replacement by robots in the next fifteen years, according to a new study by the research firm PwC. Other major advanced economies have fewer jobs at risk. The study estimates that 30 percent of jobs in the United Kingdom could be threatened by technical advancements in automation from AI and robotics, compared to 35 percent in Germany and 21 percent in Japan. The U.S. has a higher percentage of jobs under threat by automation because more workers in the U.S. are employed in positions that require routinized tasks, like filling out paperwork. Jobs most at risk of being done by new technologies are in industries related to transportation, manufacturing and retail. To arrive at these estimates, PwC broke down the types of tasks of various jobs in different industries. The researchers then applied an algorithm that took into account the “automatability” of those tasks and characteristics of the workers employed to do them. One example of how jobs in the U.S. may be more susceptible to automation than jobs in the U.K., according to the study, is in the financial services sector. Although both countries have similarly service-dominated economies, financial services jobs in the U.S. are more retail oriented and routinized. Jobs in financial services in the U.K., however, are mostly occupied by professionals working in international banking, whose jobs are harder to automate and require more education. More of Germany’s workforce is employed in manufacturing than the U.K., which are the types of jobs that could one day be done by robots, according to the report, accounting for its higher percentage of jobs that may potentially be automated. In Japan, the low percentage of jobs at risk to automation compared to the other major economies examined in the study may, in part, have to do with the fact that jobs that are highly “automatable” in other countries are historically less so in Japan. Retail, for example, requires more training and skills in Japan, where workers have more management and organizing tasks, than similar jobs in the other countries studied, the report notes. (Japan also already utilizes a significant amount of automation, such as vending machines at fast-food restaurants that often handle the job of a cashier.) The researchers point to a few policy interventions that might be explored to address the effects of broad job loss due to automation, like workforce re-training programs or universal basic income schemes. But new policies require government action, and in the U.S. — where job loss to automation may reach 38 percent by the 2030s, according to the study — the Trump administration doesn’t seem immediately concerned. At an event with Axios Friday morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that job loss to technical advancements in AI and robotics “isn’t even on their radar screen” and that he imagines these changes are more like “50 to 100 more years away.”

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
A nonprofit sued the restaurant chain for allegedly being inaccessible to visually impaired customers. Eatsa, a restaurant chain startup known for its nearly human-free ordering and pickup experience, says it’s surprised by a federal class action lawsuit filed against it yesterday accusing the new restaurant chain of being inaccessible to blind and low vision customers. “We are strong supporters of the rights of the visually impaired and have served many visually impaired customers since we opened our first Eatsa in 2015,” the company said in a statement shared with Recode. It notes that each of its locations is staffed with human hosts that can help customers, and that all of its technology “is designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features.” “We truly think there is some error in their understanding of the Eatsa technology and service and look forward to working through this amicably so we can continue providing a great service to all of our customers,” Eatsa said. The lawsuit, filed by a nonprofit, Disability Rights Advocates, alleges that the iPad touchscreens used to order food at Eatsa, as well as the restaurant’s automated cubby hole pick-up wall and mobile app, all lack accessibility features and thus disenfranchise visually impaired customers. DRA says that accessibility technology for blind and low vision customers has long been available, but that Eatsa failed to include it in its design. Eatsa was founded in 2015 by Scott Drummond and Tim Young. Since opening its first location in San Francisco, the restaurant concept has received plenty of press attention for setting a pioneering example of how technology can alter the future of food service. Here’s Eatsa’s full statement on the lawsuit: We are surprised by this action by DRA. We are strong supporters of the rights of the visually impaired and have served many visually impaired customers since we opened our first Eatsa in 2015. In fact, every Eatsa location is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers, should they desire additional assistance, and all of our technology is designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features. We regret that the DRA did not spend time with Eatsa's staff before taking legal action and hope to bring them satisfaction through a more detailed demonstration and understanding of our service. We truly think there is some error in their understanding of the Eatsa technology and service and look forward to working through this amicably so we can continue providing a great service to all of our customers.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
The aircraft delivered a box of sunscreen at a conference. Amazon completed its first public demonstration of a Prime Air drone delivery in the U.S. earlier this week, ferrying sunscreen to attendees at an Amazon hosted conference in Palm Springs, Calif. The drone delivery was filmed by an attendee of the invite-only MARS 2017 conference (MARS stands for machine learning, automation, robotics and space exploration). It marks the first time one of the online retailer’s autonomous aircraft was flown for the public in the U.S. outside of Amazon’s private property. In the video, a quadcopter glides through the air carrying a box filled with sunscreen — weighing a little over four pounds — under its center body. The drone then touches down on a small landing pad in a field, where it releases the payload before vertically taking off. The flight was completed fully autonomously with Amazon’s own software. Amazon has been working on its drone project for years, but it wasn’t until last December that the company showed off footage of its first successful delivery completed entirely by a drone. That trial was in the small rural town in the Cambridge area of England — not in the U.S. In order for Amazon to make drone delivery available broadly in the U.S., the company will have to wait for the Federal Aviation Administration to craft rules about how to fly over populated areas and beyond the line of sight of the operator. And that could take years. The demo this week was completed “with the assistance of the FAA,” said Gur Kimchi, the vice president of Amazon’s Prime Air division, in a statement shared with Recode.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
Just a reminder! Google wants to reassure users about the warnings it issues about government-backed hackers. The company hasn’t changed anything about its policies or its practices, but Google wanted to remind its users in a blog post how the warnings work. Some context: Since the presidential election, journalists have reported receiving messages from Google notifying them that “government-backed hackers may be trying to steal your password.” The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe and Vox’s Ezra Klein, both political journalists, reported receiving the message in November. Another batch of folks, many of them journalists, raised concerns on Twitter this week. The timing coincides with an investigation into possible links between the campaign of President Donald Trump and the Russian government. From Russia With Love pic.twitter.com/wHjQeGEgpd— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) March 23, 2017 Has anyone written up yesterday's (as far as I can tell very broad) attack on progressive targets? (It's not just high profile media types) https://t.co/DgT4E2pF8j— Colin Cookman (@colincookman) March 24, 2017 .@GlennKesslerWP seems like a lot of people did. See here: https://t.co/jwtYDWgHml— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) March 24, 2017 That sounds bad pic.twitter.com/EUkdITonVG— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) March 24, 2017 Google started its practice of warning users of government-backed hackers in 2012. “An extremely small fraction of users will ever see one of these warnings, but if you receive this warning from us, it's important to take action on it,” the company wrote in Friday’s blog post, which links to security resources for users. Don’t get hacked!

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
Polygon’s Nick Robinson joins in with his opinions on the new hardware and software. On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode are joined by Polygon’s Nick Robinson to answer listener questions about Nintendo’s latest game console, the Switch. You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation. If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn or Stitcher. Lauren Goode: I missed you last week. Kara Swisher: Yeah. Where were you? I was in Big Sky, Montana. Oh. How was that? It was amazing. Was it big? Was there sky? I also went to Yellowstone National Park one day. I was reminded of the beauty of our national park system. I am incredibly uninterested, but go ahead. I started skiing and then I realized that I couldn’t ... Oh God, she’s continuing. I realized that I couldn’t handle the mountains. When someone tells you they’re incredibly uninterested, you just keep talking. Is that the plan? Yeah. That’s what I do. Really? I snowshoed across Montana. I was up to my eyeballs in getting Uber executives fired. That’s what I was doing last week. You know, I couldn’t avoid the techies because while I was there, I’m not going to say who, but there was a very exclusive club that was up the mountain. Yeah. For rich dudes. Where I was not. I was not staying there. I was out snowshoeing. There were some techies at a venture capital event there. Oh. Well, there you have it. You can’t escape tech. You can’t. You can’t. You go to the mountains and you’re like, “I’m gonna get away for a week and escape technology, and tweets, and news.” You can’t escape. I’m going to escape completely. Honestly, I’m like up to my earballs in — whatever, my ears — in tech people. You are. By the way, you look fabulous today. Thank you. I have a lot of makeup on. You guys can’t see Kara because you’re in a podcast, but she’s got this jacket that I love. It’s black with this leather piping. Yeah. She’s got her CNBC makeup on. She’s ready to go. Yeah. I’m ready to go. Yeah, I am. You ready to talk about something I’m really excited about? Yes. As long as it’s not Uber. I’m like wriggling in my seat. I’ve just been doing TV all day, talking about Uber. It’s not Uber. All right. It’s about something that I think will bring joy to the hearts of many, unlike Uber. All right. Joy would be nice. What are we talking about? Well, we’re talking about the Nintendo Switch. The new game console. This is Nintendo’s latest game console. Yeah. My kids want it. They do. Are you going to get it for them? No. Why not? Because they’ve got enough stuff. They have enough stuff. They have phones and games and hoverboards ... In this case it’s true, yes, absolutely. I don’t play Nintendo games. My kids do. They love them. Did you play Nintendo games back in the ’80s, or any games? I don’t play any games. I don’t play games. I’m not a game player. You just play real-life games? Real life. “Game of Thrones.” No. I don’t play games there, either. I just go right to the chase. I’ve never been a game player. It’s interesting. I don’t know why. It’s just one of these things. I just never got interested in it, seemed like a waste of time to me, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I think games can be a real art form. All right. I have a appreciation for it as this giant multi-billion dollar industry, which is the true art form. I am not saying it’s not a business. I don’t smoke cigarettes either, and that’s a multi-billion dollar business. It seems addictive. My kids play them all the time and I find I don’t understand why they’re doing it when they can be doing 90 other things. Well, so I agree with that aspect of it, because I would rather be outdoors or doing something active. In Montana. That’s just me. Big Sky country with the techies. It’s interesting because if you talk to certain people who are really into games, and you explain listing those hours that you’re spending playing games, I’d rather be doing something active or outdoors. It’s the same idea. You’re talking about multi-billion dollar big businesses, legit hobbies and activities that people have, but oftentimes both sides don’t understand the other. Right. That said, I love Nintendo. I got an original Nintendo for Christmas this year. Okay. All right. All right, all right. She wants to move on. She’s so over this. Yeah. I want to move on. Okay. Let’s have someone who’s an expert at this. Yes. Okay. We did have some Verge reviews up on our website this week of the Switch. There was a preliminary review because some of the software wasn’t ready, and then there’s an updated one, but our sister site, Polygon, also has been all over the Switch. Yeah. All over. So I’m really excited to welcome Nick Robinson onto the show. Nick is a video producer at our sister site, Polygon. He’s also the co-host. Hey, that’s not our brother site. Well, because we have Women’s Day coming up. That’s true. So we’re going to call it a sister site, damn it. All right. Sister site. He’s also the co-host of the Poly ... Sister women. That’s right, sister. Let’s just call each other sister all week next week at South By. No. Let’s not. Let’s not. Sister women, we’d be related by marriage to the same man, but let’s move on. I’m not going to ... I thought that was ... what? Sister women. Yeah. Oh gosh. Don’t you watch any of those Mormon shows, marriage shows? On HBO. Seems like a whole other podcast. What was the Mormon marriage one? Oh. “Big Love.” Sister women. Yeah. But, our sister site, Polygon, has also been all over the Switch, and I’m very excited to welcome Nick Robinson onto the show. Nick is a video producer at Polygon, and he’s also the co-host of the Polygon podcast CoolGames Inc, and the hit YouTube series, Car Boys. Wow. Nick, welcome to Too Embarrassed to Ask for the first time. KS: Cool Games and Car Boys. Wow. Nick Robinson: Thank you so much. The hit YouTube series, Car Boys. That’s very generous. KS: The hit. Is it a hit YouTube series? What is a hit? It depends on ... KS: Like more than three people watch it? What’s the ... And by that standard, then yeah, we have a mega hit on our hands, because it’ll be six people who watched it. KS: All right. I don’t know that anything we do on Polygon by YouTuber’s standards is like a super ... I guess it’s unfair to compare yourselves to the PewDiePies and Markipliers of the world. KS: Let’s not compare ourselves ever to cutie pie, PewDiePie, or whatever the fuck his name is, that guy. We are a drop in the bucket. But the people who do watch our shows are really, really nice about it and draw all sorts of beautiful, sometimes very flattering fan art, where we’re all like 89 percent hotter than we are in real life, which is always fun. KS: So, Car Boys, what’s Car Boys about? Okay. Let me figure out how to describe it. KS: Briefly. Briefly. Oh man. The one-sentence version of what Car Boys is, is it’s a vehicular body horror show hosted by two people who don’t really care about cars at all. KS: Sounds very millennial. We found this weird, sort of European car crash simulating game and really quickly it got out of hand. It was supposed to be a one-off video, and then after three episodes people wanted us to keep doing it, so we went back and re-branded it as a show. KS: Oh. But that was absolutely not our vision for it. KS: I see. All right, that’s enough explanation. Yeah. I knew that’s ... KS: You’ve bored me already. All right. Nick, welcome to Too Embarrassed to Ask. Thank you. KS: We want to know about the Nintendo Switch, which also bores me. So interest me in some fact. Okay. LG: Yeah. How is it different from Nintendo’s previous consoles? KS: How is it different? That’s a great question. I think I can do this. I can sell the Nintendo Switch to you. KS: Oh. All right. Good. I think that the interesting and exciting thing about it, compared to Nintendo’s past stuff, is rather than choosing between like a Game Boy, or a hand-held, or a Nintendo DS-type thing, or a console that plugs into your TV, this thing is simultaneously both things at once. It’s got a screen. It’s got controls on that screen, but you can also plug it into your TV at any time, kind of weirdly seamlessly, and then sit on your couch and play on the full screen. That’s kind of the promise of the Nintendo Switch. That’s the gimmick. It really works. It does exactly the thing you want it to do. I got mine on Friday. I preordered one. It shipped out to most people, not everyone, we had people on Polygon staff who ... just, Amazon didn’t bother to send theirs, it happened to a lot of people over the weekend, but mine arrived on time. I’m grateful for that. So, I’ve had a few days with it, and yeah, I am very fond of it so far. KS: So it’s different that you can detach yourself and move around the room? Yeah, totally. I love that because there’s always been this weird tension of like, sometimes I would sit on my couch and play DS or Game Boy games when I’ve got this huge TV in front of me, and that always seemed silly. And conversely, having to leave a game behind or play a pared-down, crappy, portable version when I leave my house was never really ideal either. This is kind of Nintendo’s stab, and I think pretty much the industry’s first stab at basically accepting that technology has made it to the point where you can have something that fits in your hands and is the size of an iPad mini, that is also powerful enough to drive really good-looking games on your television. LG: And it’s $300, correct? Yes. That’s right. LG: How does that compare to Nintendo’s previous console releases? It’s about on par. I think the original Nintendo Wii kind of ... I think a big part of why that system blew up and was so popular was because it was $249. I think a lot of people had their fingers crossed that this was gonna be $250, and then it came out at $300 and doesn’t have a free, included game. So, it’s a little slightly pricier than I think we wanted. KS: But it sold out, right? It sold out. It’s apparently not pricey. Yeah. They are hard to get right now. KS: Yeah. Especially like some of the controllers that Nintendo made limited supplies of. Something I’ve learned kind of late in life, something I’ve only realized in the past four or five years, is that I have a ton of affection for Nintendo, like a lot, and I will probably just follow them to the ends of the earth no matter how many irritating, frustrating missteps and mistakes they make, so I preordered this thing for that reason, and I have been really pleasantly surprised so far. LG: I am right there with you, Nick. I’ve loved Nintendo growing up. I had the Duck Hunt gun, I had the Power Pad. Yeah. LG: I had all the different consoles. Now my niece and nephew are at the age where they have a Wii U, and whenever I say, “What do you guys want for your birthdays?” They say, “Oh, this game.” I get this weird sense of pleasure ordering a Nintendo game for them. Right. LG: Just remembering that I was doing the same thing years ago. It’s really incredible that they still have the same place in the industry that they did all those years ago. LG: Yeah. People respect you. Where they were just making things that are so advanced and so polished that they’re indistinguishable from magic. That’s the Nintendo thing that no one else does. KS: What’s the game, there’s like Mario, but what’s the other one? Zena, or? LG: Zelda. KS: Zelda. Zelda. KS: Right. Zelda. Right? LG: And so Zelda, actually let’s talk about the games for the Switch. KS: Well, yeah. There’s not that many, right? LG: What games can you get for now? Right. LG: And it’s shipped with Zelda. KS: It’s like one. Like one game. Yeah. Right now in North America, if you count all of the miniature downloadable games and stuff, there’s nine launch games total. KS: Wow. All right. Okay. I think there’s a little bit more in the Japanese e-shop. KS: That’s not very many. So you can register an account there if you wanted to. But nine is the launch lineup right now. It’s a little thin. I actually think Nintendo would be in a really rough position with this system if it weren’t for them making the calculated risk that this Zelda game was going to be huge. And it turns out, this Zelda game is the fourth-best reviewed video game of all time. It’s universally praised. It’s very, very weird, and ambitious, and risky. I spent a lot of time with it this weekend. It’s legitimately something really special. LG: So in you your experience, I mean let’s say that you’ve been playing Zelda for 15 hours on your couch, and then you decide to go out with the Switch in your hands, and maybe you’re on the bus, or wherever you might be, and you’re playing it, does the game actually transfer well from a large screen to a small screen? Yeah, it does. Interestingly, there have been some people out there, Digital Foundry has done some really cool tests, they do a lot of great hardware and software analysis stuff, and they’ve actually demonstrated that Zelda runs better in portable mode than in TV mode. So if you take Zelda and put it on the little tiny screen, because it’s rendering at 720 natively and not like 900p, there are areas in the game where the game slows down less when it’s in your hands versus on your TV. KS: Right. Which is kind of unintuitive because it draws a little bit more power when it’s docked to the TV, so you’d think it would run better, but I think it’s just a resolution thing. I will say there’s two questions, right? Do the games run as well in portable mode? So far they all do. And is the content well suited to being portable? Personally, Zelda is such a big game, and it’s a 3-D game, and there’s a lot of small interface and HUD stuff to keep track of, and a lot of little details that I actually, Zelda I haven’t been playing in portable mode as much because I just don’t ... It’s not ... KS: You want more screen. Totally. Like when I go into portable mode with this thing, I tend to switch over to their games, like this racing game called Fast Remix, or multiplayer games like Snipperclips, and Shovel Knight, which is like sort of 8-bit, retro, NES-type game. That stuff, to me, is a great fit in portable mode, where Zelda is almost like it’s so expansive, and so big, and so beautiful that I feel like I should save it for when I’m in front of my TV. KS: So, who is this for? Because I suspect my kids will use it in portable mode almost all of the time. They have a giant TV and they watch everything on their phones, which is really interesting. And they have the smaller iPhone. Even though you think they would do it, I think they’ll probably use it more portable than anything else. So who’s it aimed at? Kids, or adults, or who? That’s a great question. I think a lot of people who are in the games industry probably ask themselves the same thing when they sell it because a lot of us are probably pretty detached from what young people are playing on their iPads and how comfortable they are with portable screens and stuff. I think the answer is that Nintendo’s intent was to make something for everyone. One factor is if you look at the marketing of this thing. The marketing for the Wii and the Wii U has always had a ton of kids in it, and it’s very goofy, and silly, and child friendly. There’s something strikingly adult in all the Nintendo ads for this thing. It’s always a bunch of people who ostensibly grew up playing Nintendo games, going to rooftop parties and bringing their Switch there and playing games together in kind of weird places. LG: Kara will kick you out of her house if you ever do that, by the way. I actually tried it this weekend. I went to a party and I was like, “You know, just so I can talk about it on the podcast, I should probably take the Switch to a party and see if there’s any validity to bringing this thing to an event like that.” LG: And what did people say? People liked it. I busted out this game called Snipperclips, which is a Nintendo developed and published game where two players are cutting their ... I don’t know how to describe it. You have these two little gumdrop shaped people, and you can cut off pieces of each other’s bodies to turn each other into an arrow, or a letter T, and you’re just solving these puzzles. Like, how do we get this ball from one end to the other? Maybe if you cut a cup in my head, and I catch it in my head, and slam dunk it in the hoop. It’s a very, very multiplayer driven game. I brought it, and I set it up on the counter, and snapped the controllers apart and handed it to two people who had never used the thing before. I took a lot of photos at that party that wound up looking like weird Nintendo promotional photos because it was just people standing around this weird little screen having a great time and handing it off. I think the controllers are something else we should talk about because it’s pretty wild, what they’ve done. LG: Yeah. They’re motion-sensing controllers, but they also give a kind of haptic feedback as you’re using them, right? Yes. KS: Oh. There’s something called HD rumble, which is ... LG: Kara is so not impressed right now. She’s not psyched. KS: At My Team Media, like 25 years ago, they were doing haptic response. Kara, what if I told you that you could hold the controller and tell how many ice cubes were in a virtual cup just from feeling it, would that change your mind? KS: No. Okay. KS: Because I have this thing called real life. LG: What if you played a game like you were eating a hamburger? KS: Here’s what I want. I want a game that literally just immerses me totally. I want the holo deck or some other ... Just screw it with this shit. We’re not too far from that. An interesting thing about this system ... KS: Oh. It hums at me. Yeah. There’s an interesting patent that Nintendo filed, a little while back, that seems to indicate that they’re gonna try at some point to put out a headset that you slide the Nintendo Switch into the front of and use as a VR thing. KS: But they’re not a big VR company. No. KS: Others have really jumped in. Samsung and Google. Everyone else has jumped into the VR thing. Facebook and others. Yeah. Nintendo really hasn’t. KS: But not Nintendo. Nintendo has stayed just fun Nintendo, right? Is that correct? It’s completely right. I kind of would love to see what their take on VR would be because if there’s any company’s game worlds that I would want to inhabit in real life, it would probably be Nintendo’s because they just make the most pleasant, positive stuff in all of video games by a landslide. KS: Right. But maybe they don’t want to do that in VR because of that. Right? I guess we’ll see. So the interesting thing about the controllers, besides the haptic feedback, is that the controllers that snap on to the side of the screen, when you snap them off, you can actually turn them on their side and use them as two separate controllers. For the game Snipperclips that we were playing at this party, I just took the controllers off the side of the screen, handed it to two people who wanted to play, and all of a sudden they had pretty surprisingly functional video game controllers that they could use to play this game. You kind of always are ready for multiplayer, if you want to do that, which is a pretty neat idea. KS: Yeah. So you ruined the party completely, right? Yeah. It was awful. I decimated it. I ruined it because ... LG: It actually sounds like you were the life of the party. KS: You cannot come to my parties. Nobody gets to bring haptic anything. Unless it’s fun haptic. What if I promise not to bring the Switch with me? KS: Yeah. You’re not coming to my party. LG: I bet it was a real novelty though. Not many people have this yet, so Nick show up at a party with a Switch. Part of that is probably beholden to the fact that the type of party I would go to is the type of party that would have people that are excited by the Switch and know what it is. LG: Yeah. He’s like, all of their email addresses end with theverge.com and polygon.com. KS: Actually, I had a party recently, which Lauren was not invited to. LG: Did you have that ladies party? KS: Yes. Lesbian and Sujack had a big event. LG: Oh, that one. KS: And I invited 50 people and 200 lesbians came over and ate all my food, and drank all my drinks, and then left the place a mess. They would have enjoyed it because they were geeky lesbians. LG: Thanks a lot, Kara. It’s okay. They would have loved it. KS: They would have loved it. It would have been great. KS: Sorry. They wrecked the place. LG: There’s another dinner you told me about recently. KS: They would have kidnapped you. It would have been bad for you. This group was a little bit crazy. You would have never heard or seen Lauren ever since. So the last console, the Wii U, was a flop. I don’t think we bought it for our kids. We didn’t. So is this a comeback thing? What do you think about this? That’s definitely their intention. KS: Talk about the Classic, too. The Classic, which people like, too. Right, right. I think the intent of this is very much to correct some of the choices they made on the Wii U. There are some things about this that are similar and that it allows you to play games on a smaller screen when you want to. That was always the promise of the Wii U that wasn’t that relevant that often because you couldn’t get too far from your TV. But yeah, I think their intent is to kind of combine their development teams because Nintendo has historically had people making handheld games and people making TV console games. KS: Right. The idea here is that ... KS: Marry them. By putting all their eggs in one basket, they can just make games and then they’ll be TV games and handheld games. They won’t have to split their resources anymore. LG: Right. Because the company was so protective of their IP on mobile for so long. Right. LG: Like when Mr. Iwata was running things. I had at least a couple interviews with him where I would say, "”Well, what about your mobile strategy?” And he would say, “We have the DS,” like that was their mobile strategy. Right. Yeah, yeah. LG: That the idea of actually porting games to other mobile devices was ... KS: No. I think the failure of the Wii U put them on their heels in a way that has made them make really interesting choices, like the fact that they’ve put out three iPhone games, two of which are worthwhile, in the past year. It’s made them make something like the Switch, which is like a very concentrated effort to make a system that is for everyone and it’s just the thing you buy that has the Nintendo stuff on it. It’s a really shrewd thing and a really kind of lovely piece of technology that I actually enjoy using a little bit more than I thought I would. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. LG: Were you able to get an NES Classic, Nick? Here’s my dark shame, I was born in 1990, and I grew up with the Sega Genesis, and so I don’t have a ton of affection for old Nintendo the way a lot of my peers do. LG: Oh. And so it might have been one of those things where if I could have done it as an impulse buy I would have done it, but the fact that it was just perpetually sold out throughout Christmas meant that I never had the opportunity to be tempted to buy one. It never came up, honestly. You said you got one for Christmas? LG: I did, actually. I had tasked my boyfriend with getting me the NES Classic. I was basically like, “You have one job, and it’s the NES Classic.” And he couldn’t get it because it’s impossible to get, and then he went above and beyond and found this old video game store in San Jose that was selling an original NES. Oh. LG: And I got that. Even better. LG: But I tend to be a little obsessed with the original NES. You mentioned Sega. I was in Osaka, Japan a few years ago and had read about this place on TripAdvisor called the Space Station Bar, and it was run by an ex-pat who just ... I’ve been there. LG: You’ve been there? I’ve been to that bar, yeah. LG: How amazing is that bar? It was so cool. LG: That was honestly my favorite part of my entire trip to Japan that year. Did you go in the bathroom while you were there? LG: I probably did, at some point. Because the really amazing thing about, at least the bathroom I went in to. KS: At some point. It’s tiled. There’s tiles all over the bathroom walls. On every other tile is a screenshot of a bathroom depicted in a video game. There’s like 50 different bathrooms from 50 different games. LG: Why do I not remember that? Just all over the walls. KS: You don’t remember? LG: I don’t remember seeing that. Yeah. It was kind of surreal though, to be somewhere in Osaka where everybody in the room was speaking English. They were showing Skate 3 glitch videos on the TV behind the bar. It was a very surreal experience. LG: Yes. I’ll make this short because Kara’s really ... KS: Yeah. Let’s move along. LG: Her eyes are rolling in the back of her head. It’s super boring. LG: We had this magical experience with this Space Station Bar in Japan. KS: It’s all right. LG: In Osaka, where we were trying to find it for probably an hour or so, and the language barrier there, I don’t speak Japanese, and so I was having a hard time finding it. All the signs were in Japanese. I had just about given up when I saw a guy across the street who looked like he might potentially speak English, so I said, “Let me try and ask.” So I went up and I said, “Hey, I’m looking for this bar that has original Nintendos and I’m lost. Would you happen to know where it is?” And he said, “I’m the bartender there, and I’m on my way to my shift.” And I was like, “Oh my God, it’s meant to be.” Wow. KS: Meant to be. LG: I’m meant to go to this Nintendo bar. It was pretty cool. KS: Okay. You’re in amazing Japan, and you go to a Nintendo bar? LG: I had a lot of great food and did other cool stuff, too. KS: All right. All right, whatever. I’d go to the temple. LG: Let me just say ... Okay. Would you buy this? Say you bought this thing yourself, but do you think the average person should buy this? This is a good thing to get? Here’s the thing. Here’s the big asterisk I’ll put on it. If we did not talk about the fact that it’s having weird controller disconnect issues, we would be remiss because there are a lot of kind of expected, I guess, first-wave hardware issues. KS: No, it’s not expected. They just do this in tech because they don’t mind taking their betas out on you. LG: Right. Learning by shipping. Right. I am one of those people. I’ve reached the point, I think, in my career where I’m just perfectly happy to suffer on the first wave of hardware launches for something. The big problem with the Switch is one, hey a lot of people are having issues where the controller just kind of can’t stay connected when the console is far away from the couch. So the way that manifests itself, it’ll kind of cut off for a second and your controls will just get ... LG: And you die. You die in the game. And you die. I got hit during a boss battle in Shovel Knight a few days ago for kind of no reason. I was like, “Oh, this is kind of crappy.” The other big bummer that I’m suffering from, so it’s a bigger deal to me, is that is had probably the worst Wi-Fi reception of any home electronic I’ve ever had in my life. KS: Well, that’s critically important. LG: That’s terrible. That’s terrible. It’s really bad. KS: What’s the point? LG: That’s the whole point, right? It has to have great Wi-Fi. Nintendo games are a little bit less online play oriented than other peoples’, but it is really bad. LG: That’s terrible. For example, I tried standing right in front of my Nighthawk router, about six or seven feet away from it, I could probably have touched it with my foot if I tried, and it still got between one and two bars of connection. KS: See? This is ridiculous. That should work 100 percent. I’m not buying it. Totally. It’s baffling. KS: Baffling. That’s not baffling, it’s they didn’t do a good job. All right. We’re gonna get some questions from you, and I’m sure that’s among them, but first we need to read and make some money. In a minute we’re gonna answer those questions about the Nintendo Switch, but Lauren? A word from our sponsor, ka-ching! LG: I’m glad we’re taking a little break because Kara, she was falling asleep here at the table. She’s going, “Oh, well …” KS: No. I was hitting my head against the table. That’s what was happening. [ad] KS: Very nice. Well done. You’re getting really good at that, Lauren, I’ve got to tell you. LG: I don’t want to get too good at reading ads. KS: Now Nick, you ready to answer tech questions for our readers and listeners? I am. I have one more lap left in this race. KS: All right. One more. You can do it. We have a lot of questions, and we got to hurry. We’ve got things to do. I did it. First place. KS: All right. So, here’s the questions. The first question shall be asked by Lauren the Good. LG: Okay. This is from Paul, he’s @ThirdScrivener on Twitter. “Am I going to end up paying $360 just to play Zelda, or does this have the support it needs from developers and Nintendo?” KS: Yes. Is there more games? LG: And one more question from [Ab Dee McHabed 00:26:19]. “Had Wii U and love all first-party games, but had dreadful third-party support. Will Switch be different?” KS: Yeah. LG: Everyone wants to have other games. KS: The developer questions. The developer games question. Those are both good questions. Historically, looking at Nintendo, I think the safe bet would be no. Nintendo has a history of getting very little to no third-party support with maybe the exception of the month the system comes out. I will say, there’s a real chance that things might be different on the Switch because it’s a much, much easier system to develop for than past Nintendo consoles. It’s got a lot of hooks in it for developer environments Unity, and Unreal Engine 4, and it can run all of them perfectly well. My understanding from talking to developers is that it’s just much less of a pain in the butt to make games for this thing, or get an existing game onto the hardware. I’m personally pretty excited for third-party stuff on Switch, even though I wouldn’t normally be because I went to an event during GDC where they had a bunch of Indie games on display and it kind of hammered home this idea for me of, if I can get a game on the PlayStation 4, or on the Switch, why would I not get the Switch version if it’s the same game, but also I can play it in bed. Right? To me, that value proposition is kind of being underestimated right now. As long as the games all run well and actually come out on the thing, I think there’s a real chance that it’ll be better supported than those systems. As for the Zelda question, this person is right. It is right now a $360 Zelda machine. That Zelda game is available on the Wii U. And my understanding is that version of the game is perfectly serviceable, so if you have a Wii U already, I don’t think you need to buy this thing for Zelda. Unless you’re me, because I have Wii already and I did exactly that, so I guess I’m the last person you should trust on this issue. LG: And you want to take it to parties. Yeah. You can’t take it to parties on the Wii U. LG: This is the next question. KS: Here we go. Well, I’m going to jump to another question and Lauren can ask the one above. Ash, I’m not going to say his name. @PukingJesus. I’m not saying his name. Sehaptic, that’s what I’ll say. “Would it make sense for me to go in on the Switch with roommates, or should we all get our own?” Which sounds like a nightmare. It’s a nightmare. She’s laughing because the name is Ash’saDildo, okay? That was the name? KS: Yeah. LG: No. I’m laughing because it’s a question about ... I mean you’re eventually all going to split up. KS: Whatever. LG: And someone’s going to have to claim the Switch. Yeah. Someone has to take custody. KS: Should everyone have a Switch or should everyone have a separate Switch? One Switch or separate Switch? I love this question. My gut answer is to just get one because it’s kind of designed to have multiple user profiles on it with separate save data. I think the warning I would caution this person with is that currently, there is no way to back up or transfer your saves on the Switch at all. So, if you decide you want to get your own Switch and you want to take your Zelda save with you, currently you’re completely screwed. KS: Oh. Okay. There’s no solution. Nintendo, historically, has launched systems without the ability to transfer saves and stuff, and then eventually patched that in later. I think the Nintendo 3DS was an example of a system that eventually got the ability to do system transfers, but right now there’s no way to do it, which is a little scary if you’re sharing it with another person. I think for now, considering there’s basically one video game on it that is of note to most people, just get one and share it. KS: Come on. You’ll be fine. LG: Okay. Next question is from Louis, he’s @Louis581 on Twitter. “Can you connect the Switch to a TV with a USBC to HDMI connector and HDMI cable, or is the dock mandatory?” KS: It sounds like a Best Buy pro question. Its interesting because the bottom of the Switch is a USBC port, right? So you would think that you could do that, and certainly you can charge your Switch using that USBC port on the bottom, but for reasons that I don’t totally understand, you can’t do USBC to HDMI right now. It has to be in the dock. There’s some sort of, I think a proprietary connector on the bottom of the Switch that is somehow checking to see if it’s actually docked or not, and that’s how it determines if it’ll output to the TV. Right now, nobody’s figured out how to capture off of it without using a dock. It’s kind of baffling. If someone knows the answer, I would love to hear it because right now I’m still operating on a pre-Switch teardown universe where people have started disassembling them and maybe someone has cracked that mystery, but for now, no. You need the dock. LG: You need the dock. Yeah. They’re kind of expensive. They’re like $90 bucks. KS: Oh. Okay. So, next question. I’m going to skip another one. “How high does the brightness go?” From @Scratchy. “Sometimes I play games when walking down the street.” I want to address this: Scratchy, you need to not play games while walking down the street, all right? Let me just stop you and say you need to stop. This is what I’ve been doing in San Francisco, and I did it today on the elevator, again on the way up. People hate me at this building. LG: Wait, in the elevator? KS: Well, they do it. When I walk down the street now, I get behind people and they’re always on their phone. I don’t actually use my phone walking down the street. I put it in my pocket and walk along. Now I’m going up behind people when they’re looking and go, “Hey!” Really loud. And they jump. It’s fantastic. It feels good. So, today in the elevator, I did the same thing. LG: But, if someone’s in the elevator, they’re okay. They’re not walking into traffic. KS: No, they’re not okay. I don’t like it. LG: They just pressed a button and they’re waiting for 17 floors. KS: It’s like literally, they could look at each other and say hello. I don’t like it. LG: You’d rather make small talk. KS: Whatever. Literally, everyone’s staring at their phone and I went, “Hey!” Like that. LG: And then how did people react? KS: Wah. Oh, ha ha ha, I’m looking at my phone. LG: I cannot wait until I’m in an elevator with you next, and you are on the phone the whole time going ... KS: No. A phone call is a different thing than just staring at the thing. LG: Okay. KS: And then not knowing your floor. Anyway, let’s answer this question. How high does the brightness go for this loser who has to play games while walking down the street? I’ll tell you this. KS: Can you walk down the street and play it? It think the brightness is impressive when you turn it up all the way. KS: I see. I have not played it outside. Because I’m an adult, but I don’t know. It seems like it would be a pretty glarey screen. KS: Totally out of your experience. You don’t want to play it. you want to play it in a dark little cave where all gamers go? That’s exactly right. KS: Right? That’s what I do. KS: Or in your room. LG: Here’s another question from [email protected] “Would you feel safe putting it in a backpack for on-the-go stuff, i.e. on an airplane?” KS: What does that mean? LG: Why would you feel unsafe? I don’t know. KS: Unsafe. LG: Exploding batteries? KS: How big is it? Well, I think the concern would be the screen getting scratched, since the screen is bolted onto the console ... KS: How big is it? You kind of just have the one. If anything horrible happens to it, you’re in trouble, especially since you can’t move your saves. So, when I went to this party, I threw it in a bag in my backpack that didn’t have ... a section of my backpack that had nothing else in it, because I was extremely scared of that. There are carrying cases and sleeves you can do. Stephen Totilo, the editor in chief of Kotaku, is a big proponent of just taking a sock and stretching it around it. KS: Oh. Which, I guess, is one solution you could do. KS: How about a Baby Bjorn or something like that? I’ve watched drop tests of it too, and seems like a pretty sturdy piece of hardware. I just watched a dude on YouTube last night, before I went to bed, drop it like seven times in a row. KS: And? What happened? Did they put it in a mixer? LG: I don’t think they put things in mixers. No. There was no Will It Blend component to this video. KS: Is that guy around? He’s got to do that one, don’t you think? He should. KS: The blend it guy. Yeah. That’s crazy. The thing seems to take a beating. KS: Yeah? More than you might expect. I would say if you’re super cautious and the type of person who a single scratch is going to just ruin your life, throw a case on it. Before you put it in your backpack. KS: Nick, did you ever have to carry around an egg as a kid? You remember that exercise? No? No. KS: Oh. You didn’t do the egg? No. I’ve heard about it. Apocryphal tales of it from my parents. KS: Yeah. Yeah. But they phased that out for me. KS: I probably would be your parent and make you carry an egg around. That’s what it’s like. Anyway, Lauren, next question. The one at the top is kind of good. LG: The next question from Christopher Phelps. “So, secretly Android or not? Plus, do we expect a web browser and apps in the future?” KS: That’s an interesting question. I’m so detached from the hardware side of things. I know that inside it’s like an Nvidia Integra chip. The speculation was that it would be an Android thing because of other, similar hardware before the Switch used that. I have no idea what they’re doing or how proprietary it is. Sorry, what was the second half of the question? LG: And will we see web browsers ... KS: And apps. LG: A web browser and apps in the future? Yeah. It’s weird because there’s kind of a dearth of anything other than games right now. There’s no Netflix, there’s no YouTube, there’s no web browser. There is kind of like a secret web kit web browser that pops up if you are trying to connect at Starbucks or whatever and you need to go through their portal. But there’s not really any user-facing web browser. So, nothing yet, and Nintendo hasn’t said on where they are. The thing really feels, in a lot of ways, like it came it extremely hot, like it kind of launched before they were totally ready. KS: Yeah. I think we’ll see that stuff down the line. LG: Yeah. I think we will inevitably see Netflix and see a web browser. KS: Well, they say that, is it even worth the money? This is from @GilbertJaramelioJr. “Is it worth the money seeing as you can’t watch Netflix, play many games, I would love it to be an iPad replacement.” It’s a cool idea. The screen is really nice, so I get that instinct. I have enough Netflix devices, at this point in my life, that I’m not terribly heartbroken. KS: There’s plenty of Netflix. And also, the screen is big, but it’s not that big. I’d have to hold it up next to my iPad mini, but I think it’s slightly smaller, or at least it feels smaller. Using it as a makeshift movie-watching device, to me, would be kind of my last resort. KS: Yeah. I’m telling you, my kids watch things on their phones all the time. They don’t care. A lot of kids don’t care. We’re too old for this. Yeah. That’s a good point. I think they’ll get to that point with this system eventually too. KS: Yeah. All right. LG: Okay. We have one more question and we have to ask it because you’re going to explain the weirdness around putting this thing in your mouth. This question is from AJ [Constramastre 00:35:35], that one guy on Twitter. “We know how the cartridges taste, what about the Switch itself? The joy cons, the Switch pro controller?” KS: I don’t even understand that. LG: Why are people putting these cartridges in their mouth, Nick? Tell us how this started. Let’s explain this to everyone. LG: Yes. KS: I don’t even want to know this. Okay. It came to light earlier this month, or I guess maybe last month at this point, that if you taste a Nintendo Switch cartridge, it has this really awful, disgusting, bitter taste. And eventually, people discovered that it was because Nintendo had deliberately coated it in a very, very bitter substance designed to keep kids from eating it because the cartridges are so small. I have not tasted it. I will probably never taste it for a few reasons. One of which is I just buy my games digitally, so I’m not really going to have Switch cartridges lying around, unless Nintendo sends me some. LG: Oh. That’s unfortunate. You should really just try it. As for the rest of the components, I again, haven’t put my mouth to it yet, probably never will. I’m assuming it just tastes like, and I guess I could do it right now. KS: What is wrong with you people? Just pick a corner of it. LG: Kara, you’ve never licked a new product? KS: Never. Not once. Yeah. I haven’t either. LG: Well, I actually haven’t either. KS: Food, yes. LG: I’ve smelled them. There’s a certain ... KS: You smell your cartridge? LG: No. Not cartridges, but when you open a new Apple laptop, there’s a certain smell. Yeah. KS: You smell it? LG: There’s a candle named Apple Mac, or Apple laptop, or something like that. KS: I’ve never seen that. There is. LG: But I’ve never licked them. KS: All right. If you say so. I’m currently battling a post-GDC flu of some kind. So I’m realizing now that if I’ve licked this thing ... KS: Don’t. Nick, please don’t lick it. I may inadvertently hand the controller to one of my roommates and then they’ll get my illness, so I’m going to say no to licking for now. KS: I feel like you’ve done a good job reviewing it. You don’t need to lick it, okay? Thank you. I appreciate it. LG: Unless you wanted to lick it live right now, for this podcast. KS: No. Please don’t. LG: And just give us an off-the-cuff reaction. KS: There’s actually one more question. Perfect metaphor for that angel and the devil on the shoulder right now of like, is this good content? Should I be licking it for the podcast? Or do I just avoid it? KS: Content, content. Do it and Eli will like that for ... or, no. Polygon. Chris will like it for Polygon if you lick something. That will be nice for you, a lot of page views. LG: You’re seeing the soft side of Kara right now. You really are, because normally she would be like, “Oh God, lick it. Why haven’t you licked it already? Write about it, damn it. Why is it not on the site already?” KS: Put it on the site. LG: And then she’s actually concerned for your well-being. KS: Yes I am. LG: At the moment. KS: I just think that’s gross too. I appreciate that. KS: It’s okay. One more quick question and answer very quickly. This is from M, I don’t know, @10ML. “What’s the best title to have launched with the Switch right now?” Zelda. KS: Zelda. Hands down. KS: That’s what I thought. It’s the weirdest, riskiest, most bizarre game that only Nintendo has the resources to pour seven years into making something this bonkers. It’s really spectacular. KS: Number two? Number two, I’m going to say Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. KS: What? It’s this throwback, retro, NES, 8-bit game and it’s just really, really lovingly crafted. KS: You like that. And those people deserve attention and money. KS: Right. LG: You had to have seen Kara’s face right now when you just said that. KS: Nick has been super helpful. You’ve been very nice to play along with us. Thank you. KS: This is really nice. Thank you for putting up with the 30 minutes of video game talk. KS: No. It’s fine. LG: Kara loves 8-bit, retro games. KS: I know. LG: Don’t listen to anything she says. KS: At least the instant. When you start plugging into HDMI cables, I was like, “Mm-hmm, okay.” You love USBC talk. KS: Yeah, I do. I love it. It’s so exciting. LG: She has a collection. She collects USBC like some people collect ... I don’t know what. KS: I’m going to have my sons watch Car Boys and see if they like it, and then I will give you a grade. There is some cussing. There is some foul language. I don’t know where you land on that. KS: Please. Are you kidding? I took my kids to see “Deadpool,” for goodness sake. Oops. I shouldn’t have said that out loud. Okay. We are the “Deadpool” of YouTube, so that’s perfect. LG: “Deadpool” was good. KS: I took my kids to one movie I should not have taken them to. LG: Which one? KS: “Sausage Party.” That was a mistake. LG: Oh. Oh man. KS: Like right then, both he and I knew I was a bad parent. It was really bad. We were both like, “Oh, this is bad parenting, Kara.” I was like, “I know.” There was nothing to be done. We just stayed and watched it. You could always just claim like you thought it was a Pixar movie. KS: No. It was so bad on ... we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives. It was a very bad parenting moment. That’s okay. That’s a good family memory. KS: Yeah. In any case, I will have them watch your show. And this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Nick, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. LG: Yes. It’s been great having you on, Nick. We’ll have to compare notes on Space Station when Kara’s not around. KS: Yeah. LG: So she doesn’t make fun of you. Yes. LG: Yeah. Fall asleep on us.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
The company’s self-driving division is in a “mini civil war,” according to insiders. For Uber, the embattled ride-hail juggernaut now valued at $70 billion, much of the company’s future is resting on what happens this week. But it’s not just the meetings that CEO Travis Kalanick is having with potential candidates to become its first chief operating officer — an appointment focused on fixing the massive controversies that have washed over the ride-hailing company around its dysfunctional management. He’s also gathered leaders from Uber’s self-driving division in Pittsburgh and its counterpart in San Francisco for a critical summit that started on Monday. While this isn’t the first meeting between the leaders of its kind, sources say this one has been aimed at hashing out issues of leadership, the entity’s technological progress and questions about what the priority should be for the Advanced Technology Group (ATG), the name of Uber’s self-driving unit. The list of attendees at this self-driving summit has included engineers both old and new — many of whom were either poached from Carnegie Mellon or joined in August of last year when Uber acquired self-driving trucking startup Otto. David Stager, a Carnegie Mellon alum and top dog at the Pittsburgh facilities, has been joined by Otto co-founders Don Burnette and Lior Ron and at least 50 others. Uber’s future depends greatly on solving self-driving. It’s what will keep the ride-hail company relevant as more automakers produce their own autonomous vehicles. But taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day. But the company’s autonomous efforts are in turmoil. According to extensive interviews Recode conducted with former and current employees at the self-driving effort, many think it is at a technological standstill and plagued by significant internal tension, especially among its executive leadership. The issues have included a wave of key talent departures and problematic demos. At least 20 of the company’s engineers have quit since November. One source says a “mini civil war” has broken out between those who joined Otto in search of the independence of a startup, and those who joined Uber’s ATG with ambitions to solidify the company’s place in the future of transportation. Many of those issues and the resulting questions can be traced back to when Uber acquired Otto, several sources said. As part of the acquisition, Kalanick put its founder and CEO Anthony Levandowski in charge of all of its autonomous efforts. Uber says that it’s normal for an entity that was founded two years ago as of January 2017 to see this level of attrition, particularly as the company recently paid out its employee bonuses. However, the departures began as early as November 2016. Additionally, a company spokesperson said Uber’s ATG has seen fewer departures than the overall company and has hired more people than have left since the start of the year. Now, Levandowski is at the center of a major lawsuit his former employer Alphabet has filed against Uber alleging he stole key intellectual property when he left to create Otto. The lawsuit, which claims Levandowski had a long relationship with Uber before leaving Alphabet, could severely handicap the company’s autonomous efforts if a judge rules against Uber. It’s unlikely all these issues will be remedied within a week, particularly since Kalanick’s focus is divided between the company’s autonomous efforts and its recent public scandals. But sources said the controversial CEO has repeatedly held meetings with the company’s human resources representatives, Levandowski and Eric Meyhofer, a top engineer who joined the Pittsburgh team more than two years ago, just in the first two days of the week. A ‘brother from another mother’ arrives Still, coming up with a solution that would make all stakeholders satisfied won’t be easy, particularly since the circumstances around the Otto acquisition itself are in question. Around the same time Otto was formed in February 2016, Uber hired Levandowski as a consultant for its self-driving efforts, Recode first reported. The timing is unusual, given that Levandowski was starting his own self-driving company. Originally, the ATG was working toward getting its cars on public roads by August 2016. In the months leading up to that deadline, Kalanick determined that the team, mostly comprised of Carnegie Mellon roboticists and engineers, wouldn’t be able to come through on their promise, because the technology was just not ready. So, Kalanick turned to Levandowski — who, according to reports, he met in 2012. Per Levandowski’s advice, the deadline was shifted to September 2016. But while the ATG ramped up its self-driving efforts, so too did Levandowski and his co-founders Ron, Burnette and Claire Delaunay — but they were working on trucks. Otto launched out of stealth in May, about four months after Levandowski formed the company and began consulting for Uber, at which point the company’s autonomous trucks were already being tested on public highways. It’s not entirely clear why someone starting his own self-driving company would help advise another company’s self-driving efforts. But Levandowski’s long relationship with Kalanick might have something to do with it. TED According to one report, Kalanick and Levandowski first met at a Ted Talk in 2012, where Kalanick apparently first broached the idea of using some of Google’s technology. It wasn’t until the spring of 2016, however, that the duo began discussing merging Otto into Uber. By the time Uber had decided to publicly announce its decision to purchase Otto in August, Kalanick said he felt Levandowski was “like a brother from another mother.” However, if allegations in Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber are true, those acquisition conversations may have actually begun as early as the summer of 2015 — approximately six months before Levandowski even left Alphabet. “Mr. Levandowski had previously told me, in or around the summer of 2015, that he had talked with Brian McClendon, an Uber executive involved with their self-driving car project,” a sworn testimony from Waymo engineer Pier-Yvez Droz reads. “He told me that it would be nice to create a new self-driving car startup and that Uber would be interested in buying the team responsible for the LiDAR we were developing at Google.” Those conversations continued into early 2016. “Waymo is informed and believes that Mr. Levandowski attended meetings with high-level executives at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco on January 14, 2016,” the complaint reads. That lawsuit came just eight months after the acquisition of Otto, adding to the growing malaise among rank and file engineers at the ATG. In its complaint, Waymo — now the name for Alphabet’s self-driving efforts — alleges Levandowski stole the design of its laser radars, known as lidars. They’re used to spot and measure distances to other objects so cars can avoid collisions. To prove to employees that the claims are, as an Uber spokesperson said, baseless, Kalanick and Levandowski addressed the ATG at an all-hands meeting the day after the complaint was filed. The laser team took apart the system to show how it was built in an effort to stave off concern. But it was unclear how employees who didn’t work at Google would know whether it looked like Google’s design. No one knows how the company will move forward in the face of separate allegations of sexual harassment and stealing trade secrets. Though the lawsuit is only one in a series of issues at Uber’s self-driving unit, it’s the one that could bring the entity to its knees. A talent exodus begins It’s not clear precisely when Uber executives began discussing buying Otto, but what happened shortly after after was worrying. Within months of the company acquiring Levandowki’s startup, a wave of the group’s top engineers — many of whom had been poached from Carnegie Mellon University’s famed robotics institute — left. The exodus included Peter Rander, who has since started his own autonomous startup called Argo.ai; Brett Browning, who has joined Rander’s startup as the vice president of robotics; and Drew Bagnell, the head of computer vision at Uber who has now joined former Google self-driving CTO Chris Urmson’s new autonomous startup, Aurora. A few months later, Raffi Krikorian — the former vice president of engineering at Twitter who was hired by Uber in 2015 to lead its self-driving division— also left the company. In addition to four of the top engineers departing, there are at least 15 others who have left, Recode has confirmed. Many of those who’ve stepped down from their roles at the company have joined Rander and Browning at Argo. That includes the ATG’s former director of finance Daniel Beaven and a slew of engineers that worked on Uber’s mapping team: Randy Warner, Dale Lord, Tyler Krampe, Al Costa, Robert Keelan and X Xinjilefu. At least six others have joined Urmson and Bagnell at Aurora, according to sources. The departures have continued this month. On March 3, the security expert Charlie Miller — famed for hacking into a Jeep remotely — announced he was leaving the company to join Didi’s self-driving effort. And, only a day into the self-driving summit at Uber’s headquarters this week, the company’s longtime technical program manager Pam Cardona also quit. High turnover is not in and of itself uncommon at startups, but it is obviously a major warning sign here. More importantly, retaining talent is crucial for Uber as it attempts the difficult task of being a leader in the ever-competitive market for on-demand, self-driving cars. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthony-levandowski-8164291/ Anthony Levandowski, Otto co-founder and Uber’s head of self-driving. There are only so many engineers who have any expertise in this area and now, more than ever, demand for these highly skilled engineers has sky-rocketed. Traditional automakers, big tech giants and small, well-funded startups are scooping up all the talent they can through acquisitions and mergers. So what accounts for the troublesome exodus of top talent at Uber’s ATG? For one, adding to confusion about the chronology of events around the merger, higher-ups who were keyed in and informed about the impending acquisition of Otto were not told that Levandowski would effectively become their boss until shortly before it went through. Since then, there has been a substantial shift in ATG’s management structure — much of which was done without any consultation from the department’s original leadership — that put a number of Otto’s team at the top of the hierarchy, with demotions for some of those who started with ATG. For instance, Stager, who has been with ATG since its inception, works alongside Otto co-founder Don Burnette as the autonomy tech lead, according to an email Recode obtained. And John Bares, a CMU roboticist who was once the director of and an instrumental part of the ATG, has been demoted to the head of test operations. Without warning, the company also sent Paw Anderson, formerly the head of business infrastructure services at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, to be the ATG’s senior director of engineering. ATG staffers weren’t told by Levandowski or Kalanick that Anderson would be joining the self-driving arm and did not become aware of it until he showed up at the company’s Pittsburgh facilities one day, according to sources. The Pittsburgh team is expected to assert their leadership at this week’s summit in San Francisco. Whatever the outcome of the series of meetings the company’s self-driving arm will be having this week, it’s clear something needs to be done and fast. With mounting competition from established and new players — like Rander’s Argo, which Ford has now acquired a majority stake in — Uber can’t afford this level of attrition. That’s to say, with every engineer that defects, Uber is feeding the fire of its competitors, which are growing by the day, both big and small. Running red lights For many of those engineers that left, there was growing concern around Uber prioritizing demonstrating its self-driving car progress in public, rather than more quietly developing and perfecting that technology until it is completely ready for debut. The shift to show off Uber’s progress to the world has come from Levandowski, insiders say. Rather than dedicating the unit’s resources to meeting long-term goals, many said he prefers putting on public demonstrations to convince people that Uber is ahead of its competitors. An Uber spokesperson said that real world tests are critical to the success of the technology and the company has always had plans to launch pilots. But sources say that laser-focus on public demonstrations led to the rushed launch of Uber’s self-driving pilot in San Francisco, as well as a haphazard demo of Otto’s autonomous trucks performing a beer delivery in Colorado. Both are examples of the problems plaguing the unit. Otto After the September launch of semi-autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh — which was already part of the original plan — Levandowski rushed another demonstration a month later. One of Otto’s trucks drove itself 120 miles down a public highway in Colorado to deliver 45,000 beers as part of a deal with Anheuser-Busch. This took place only eight months after Otto was founded, so it came as a surprise to many that the company was able to show off its technology so early in its existence. According to an Uber spokesperson the Otto team worked closely with Colorado officials and ran extensive tests with the trucks before meeting an internally set safety criteria and launching the demo. Indeed, as BuzzFeed News reported, the company completed five tests without human intervention. However, the team was able to put on a show because they cobbled together unfinished systems that were “thrown together,” according to a source. To be fair, it’s not exactly uncommon for an early-stage startup to demo technology when it’s not yet fully formed. When investors looked at virtual reality headset Oculus, for instance, it was still duct-taped together. Even Cruise — a self-driving startup acquired by General Motors — demoed unfinished technology to potential investors. But the stakes are higher when it comes to self-driving vehicles, which have the potential to cause fatal accidents. Even though Otto’s truck was driving itself on a public highway alongside other human drivers, the computers were crashing every few hours, these people said. “A huge amount of luck went into that demo,” one said. Fortunately, the truck was accompanied by a motorcade of state troopers during its demo. But for some of Uber’s top engineers, luck was simply not good enough. Sources say that after the Otto demo, some ATG staffers became concerned about the ethics of fielding unsafe systems and rolling them out onto public roads. Shortly after the October demo, Rander, Browning and Bagnell left the company. Those departures came at a critical time for the company. Just two weeks after the engineers left, Uber began its second commercial test of its autonomous cars — this time in San Francisco. Even to the public, it was clear the rollout of these Volvos was a logistical disaster. On December 14, or the first day of Uber’s commercial test, one of the cars ran a red light. While Uber maintains it was due to human error, a damning New York Times report revealed the internal logs showed the system failed to recognize the traffic light, a significant technological issue to say the least. But with nascent semi-autonomous technology — which means it’s not supposed to completely drive itself — safety drivers have to be at the ready to take over at a moment’s notice. A skilled and trained safety driver would’ve prevented this, several people contend. But, “we don’t have those [types of] drivers in San Francisco,” one source familiar with the matter said. That wasn’t the only hole in the company’s plans to roll out its cars in its hometown. The scene ahead of the launch was just as messy, sources say. As early as September, Levandowski began emailing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, arguing that the company didn’t need to obtain the $150 permit required of all autonomous vehicle companies to operate semi-autonomous cars on public roads. The DMV argued that it did, but Levandowski informed the department Uber would continue with its plans anyway. By late October, it became clear the operations team in San Francisco was struggling to prepare for the public launch of the company’s on-demand autonomous cars, according to insiders. It was then that a number of software engineers and safety drivers from the Pittsburgh arm of the ATG were sent to California to help the San Francisco team, which had problems performing certain critical tasks, according to sources. It’s not unusual for cross-functional teams to help out on getting pilots up and running, an Uber spokesperson contended. This was also the case when the company demonstrated its technology in Arizona recently. For the San Francisco pilot, the engineers were sent to help with tasks such as determining what data was missing — like where traffic lights are located — and what the vehicle was not seeing, as well as things like how to onboard new code. Part of the reason the California launch wasn’t as seamless as the Pittsburgh launch was because Uber had originally charted out parts of Arizona with plans to begin its second self-driving test in the state by the winter of 2016, according to several sources. After the red-light disaster, the California DMV put its foot down and revoked the company’s licenses, forcing Uber to ship its vehicles to Arizona, the site of Uber’s original testing plan. Levandowski had insisted on moving it to San Francisco since Arizona wasn’t flashy enough, sources said. Uber, no stranger to local regulatory battles, has since applied for and received the proper permits to operate in California. In the coming weeks, the company expects to roll out a number of its self-driving Volvos in San Francisco, according to internal documents Recode obtained. The progress of the technology is “not great” The concerns of these engineers, many of whom have departed, have some merit, according to other internal documents Recode obtained. While Uber’s self-driving cars are putting on more autonomous miles every week, the technology has not improved as steadily. In the months since these top engineers have left, the 43 self-driving cars Uber had on the roads as of March 8 saw little progress when it came to decreasing the frequency of disengagements — or how many times a safety driver would have to take back control of the system. Uber’s cars had driven more than 20,300 miles in autonomous mode in just that seven-day period ending on March 8, according to the documents. That’s a big increase from earlier in the year, which reflected the increase in the number of autonomous cars on the road. But, while the cars saw some minimal improvement week over week, they weren’t getting increasingly safer at a steady pace and drivers were still having to take back control an average of 10 times for every eight miles driven. (function() { var l = function() { new pym.Parent( 'recode-recode__graphic', 'https://apps.voxmedia.com/at/recode-recode/'); }; if(typeof(pym) === 'undefined') { var h = document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0], s = document.createElement('script'); s.type = 'text/javascript'; s.src = 'https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/pym/0.4.5/pym.js'; s.onload = l; h.appendChild(s); } else { l(); } })(); That’s also true of what the company calls “bad experiences,” or how many times the robot car abruptly decelerated, braked or jerked around. For example, the cars had more “bad experiences” during the week ending on March 8 than in January. The miles driven between instances the car did something it wasn’t supposed to do has dropped from more than four miles in January to less than two miles as of last week. In other words, cars only went an average of two miles without some sort of sudden movement or otherwise bad experience. These incidents have less to do with safety and more to do with the total rider experience and how smoothly the car is able to drive itself. (function() { var l = function() { new pym.Parent( 'recode-recode-chart-2__graphic', 'https://apps.voxmedia.com/at/recode-recode-chart-2/'); }; if(typeof(pym) === 'undefined') { var h = document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0], s = document.createElement('script'); s.type = 'text/javascript'; s.src = 'https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/pym/0.4.5/pym.js'; s.onload = l; h.appendChild(s); } else { l(); } })(); In an email to staffers at the ATG, the company describes the total rider experience — which is measured by a combination of how many times the safety driver had to take over and how many bad experiences the car encountered — on one route in Arizona as “not great.” The big caveat here is that Uber just started testing its autonomous cars in Arizona and had a better track record around Arizona State University, which the company mapped out as early as 2015. Even in Pittsburgh, where Uber’s autonomous cars have a few months on those in Arizona, the company’s progress is unsteady. “The slightly sore spot is Pittsburgh’s routes,” a weekly email on internal metrics ATG staffers received read. “They showed lower than average [miles per harmful event.]” An Uber spokesperson says the ATG team takes great care to ensure the software the cars are running is safe and in fact has set up a protocol to ground all cars if questions about the stability of the system arise — which Uber claims is uncommon in the industry. Truck versus car Along with these test mishaps and the slow progress of the technology, there has also been a clear tension between the ATG team, which is focused on cars, and the Otto team, which is focused on trucks. The two sides have argued over which group should be the business priority. That’s partly because Kalanick hasn’t given clear direction. Sources say they hope that will become clear after this week’s summit. According to a spokesperson, however, Uber sees both cars and trucks as a critical part of its mission to provide reliable transportation. Engineers on both the Otto and the Pittsburgh teams feel the acquisition has stunted their development, according to sources. Otto employees, many of whom joined after leaving larger companies like Google and Apple in search of the freedom of a startup, were promised they would remain independent and would continue working on the trucks. But that hasn’t been the case. With much of Otto’s leadership focusing on the development of the autonomous car technology and heading up all of the company’s autonomous efforts, the trucks have become a secondary focus. “The Otto team really doesn’t like the setup and feels like [Levandowski] pulled one on them,” one source said. For the Pittsburgh team, Levandowski’s focus on public demos — which require both time and resources — has set the team back in its pursuit of launching a network of driverless cars, insiders say. There has, however, been commercial progress on both fronts. Already, the team focused on Uber’s marketplace for cargo shipments — called UberFreight — has approached potential customers. On the car front, the company has struck a second self-driving car partnership with Mercedes Benz after buying 100 Volvos to outfit with its own tech. Lack of Kalanick Notably, the all hands meeting discussing the Waymo lawsuit was on of the rare times Kalanick has addressed the entire ATG team, much to the dismay of its top engineers. It wasn’t until December, when top staffers began to leave, that Kalanick spent significant time with the whole ATG team in Pittsburgh. That may change, given Kalanick’s hands-on approach to this week’s meetings. While self-driving technology won’t solve Uber’s financial woes in the immediate term, it will be key to Uber’s relevance in the next decade or so. If so, Kalanick can finally deliver on the points he made in August. “The minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car],” he said, referring to Google, in an interview. “Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business.”

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
They want data. As far as advertisers are concerned, there are really only two ways to place ads online: the “open web” where you can track the ads, and “walled gardens” where you can’t. Google falls into the second bucket. That means marketers have had to trust Google to make sure their ads are doing what they’re supposed to do, including appearing in the correct places. But after they discovered last week their ads were funding YouTube videos containing hate speech and extremist messages, they suspended their business. Here’s where it could get interesting. Advertisers now have some leverage to try to get what they really want: More data. Google did announce this week it would give advertisers more control over where their content goes and do more to police which YouTube videos would be eligible for ads. Still, the details of what Google is willing to give is still being hammered out, sources say. Despite Google’s pronouncement on Monday, yet more advertisers halted spending on YouTube, including two of the biggest ad spenders around: Verizon and AT&T. As of Thursday, Johnson & Johnson and J.P, Morgan said they also stopped their YouTube advertising, according to Reuters. Then Friday, PepsiCo, Walmart, Dish, Starbucks, General Motors and FX Networks stopped spending on YouTube, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Transparency and trust have always been fundamental to Google’s measurement offerings which is why we have a long history of partnership with the [Media Rating Council] for accreditation and audits through Ernst and Young,” a Google spokesperson told Recode. “If the standards are understood and the methodologies verified, there is less friction for marketers and we can compete on the merits of the platforms and offerings themselves.” But Google is probably not talking about giving marketers the kind of control that the marketers say will be more helpful and which goes beyond just making sure their ads don’t appear in videos promoting terrorism. What advertisers really want from YouTube is what they already get on the open web: tracking how many times an ad has been shown to a particular anonymized user; where it’s happening; and how people are interacting with the ad. Right now, when someone leaves a site like Expedia or CNN and goes to YouTube, the advertiser doesn’t know if it’s showing that person the same ad they showed before. Same goes for Snapchat and Amazon, also walled gardens. Advertisers have an easier time predicting how a product will sell if they know how often someone saw an ad for that product. Google (and Facebook) already offer some data to advertisers, but it’s different enough from what they get from other web publishers that it makes it harder to incorporate into a buying strategy. For a deeper look at how this is currently playing out, this Wall Street Journal article is very helpful. Google is unlikely to give the level of information advertisers have long requested. The company has been known to cite the need to protect their users’ privacy and ensure paged load quickly. But the bigger reason is that their audience’s data is what makes them so valuable — they’re not about to give that up. YouTube’s current ad problem, however, bolsters the advertisers’ longstanding argument for better data. “If we can track the ads on publisher sites (if they let us) we can detect worrisome content and block ads from appearing adjacent to the inappropriate content,” said John Montgomery, the global executive vice president in charge of brand safety for GroupM, the largest media buying firm in the world. Five of GroupM’s clients announced they had suspended ads on YouTube in the U.K. last week. The company said it would revisit the suspensions at a later date, which means those companies aren’t back on board with YouTube just yet. Despite the fact that Google’s policy changes likely won’t meet all the desires of advertisers, their agencies say there’s some progress. Joe Barone, managing partner of digital operations for GroupM called Google’s latest moves “very encouraging,” but added, “they haven’t changed the basic premise, which is ‘trust us.’” He cited YouTube’s recent move to expand auditing of YouTube’s ad metrics as an example of how it was giving advertisers more transparency. But having that data wouldn’t necessarily ensure protection of brand safety, and now that advertisers have pulled out, they could theoretically ask for more concessions. And for Verizon, there’s another incentive to play hardball with Google. The telecom giant has grown more competitive in the digital advertising space in recent years, expanding its own ad networks by purchasing Yahoo and AOL. Verizon is now expected to beat out Microsoft to the place of third-largest digital advertiser after Google and Facebook in the run-up to its $4.8 billion purchase of Yahoo last year, according to Bloomberg. It’s important to remember that issues with proper ad placement on YouTube reflect problems with digital advertising generally. Digital ads are often bought programmatically, meaning they’re placed using automated software. Car rental company Enterprise, for example, also stopped buying with YouTube, pinning its concerns to programmatic ads. “It appears that technology has gotten ahead of the advertising industry’s checks-and-balances,” the company said in a statement. But ultimately, there’s only so much of an impact these boycotts can have on Google’s core ads business. Google, Facebook and other digital advertising platforms rely more on small businesses than big brands for their revenue. Small- to mid-size companies are responsible for 70 percent of digital ad spending, according to GroupM data cited by MoffettNathanson Research. Also of note: Advertisers that have bailed on YouTube and Google display ads are continuing to advertise with Google search. And search is where the money is for Google. The company brought in an estimated $24.6 billion in search ad revenue in 2016, compared with $4.83 billion in display ad revenue that year according to eMarketer. Still, the recent controversy’s impact on Google isn’t a hit to revenue, but a hit to reputation, as reflected in a recent drop in parent company Alphabet’s stock. And the other important factor here that still potentially gives the big advertisers some leverage is Google has long wanted the more valuable brand advertising that typically goes to television, which nabbed $54 billion in ad sales last year, compared with $53 billion that was spent online, according to data compiled by MoffettNathanson. Google and Facebook have argued for a while that advertisers should shift more of their dollars away from TV and to digital since everyone is online. But that thesis is being tested right now.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
In an eye-popping interview, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says mass changes from AI are quite far away. Labor experts fear that artificial intelligence could reshape entire industries as algorithms and robots replace humans — and leave untold numbers of U.S. workers without jobs. So is the Trump administration fearful of such change? “I’m not worried at all,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin when asked Friday morning at an event hosted by Axios about the short-term effects of AI on the U.S. economy. Trump built a winning electoral coalition by promising to revitalize American manufacturing, which is ripe for great disruption amid the arrival of automation. Yet Mnuchin said that AI is “not even on our radar screen,” before noting that it’s “50-100 more years away.” Contrast that with President Barack Obama’s administration. In the final months of the now-former White House, Obama’s top aides commissioned a report on the effects of artificial intelligence. While they found in October that AI wouldn’t exceed humans in the next 20 years, they said the nascent industry could replace some low-wage jobs, “potentially increasing economic inequality.” In his final interview as president, Obama himself highlighted the potential risks. “We, I think, probably have to be more creative about anticipating what’s coming down the pike,” he said. “Automation is relentless and it’s going to accelerate.” “You saw just what happened to retail store sales this past Christmas,” Obama added. “Amazon and online sales is killing traditional retail, and what’s true there is going to be true throughout our economy.”

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This time it's Charter, which shared its hiring plans before the election. President Donald Trump took credit on Friday after Charter Communications pledged to invest $25 billion in the United States and hire 20,000 workers over the next four years — even though the telecom giant already made similar pledges before Trump took office. Flanked by the chief executive of Charter Communications, Tom Rutledge, Trump praised the company for hiring more American workers, specifically citing it as another example of a company focusing on the U.S. economy “following my election victory.” Some of Charter’s announcements, though, aren’t new. As it sought the government’s approval to buy Time Warner Cable last year, Charter Communications had said it planned to hire 20,000 employees. Charter further noted Friday that it planned to relocate all of its call center jobs back to the United States. But that process also began after its Time Warner merger: It announced in October, for example, its plans to expand in Texas, including 200 new jobs for a call center in San Antonio. It’s hardly the first time a company has sought an audience with Trump and attributed its prior investment plans to his presidency. The chief example is SoftBank, whose leader, Masayoshi Son, paid a visit to Trump Tower then pledged to invest $50 billion in the United States. But SoftBank began eyeing such an investment fund well before Trump won the White House. In giving Trump credit, however, Son sought to win the new administration’s good graces — a perk that could help SoftBank if it seeks to merge Sprint, which it owns, with T-Mobile, which Son has coveted for years. Charter’s motivations, though, might be different. Verizon reportedly is in talks to purchase the company, which would require approval by the Trump administration. And Rutledge himself, speaking after Trump on Friday, specifically noted the company’s interest in upcoming tax and infrastructure reforms.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
After big U.S. and U.K. brands pull advertising, Google needs to reconsider programmatic advertising. A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry. Last week, U.K. advertisers — including the government, the Guardian newspaper and various others — began boycotting Google’s ad products, including YouTube, over the fact their ads were appearing next to troublesome content, ranging from videos promoting hate to those advocating terrorism. Unsurprisingly, given that the exact same issues exist here in the U.S., the boycott began to spread to Google’s home turf this week, with several of the largest U.S. advertisers pulling their ads from some or all of Google’s platforms. The challenge facing Google is that this problem has no easy fix — with two of three possible scenarios, either creators or advertisers will be unhappy, while Google is probably hoping a third scenario is the one that actually pans out. The problem The main focus of the complaints has been YouTube, although the same problem has, to some extent, affected Google’s ads on third-party sites, as well. On YouTube, the root of the problem is that the site has 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, making it impossible for anything but an army of human beings to view all the new content being put onto the site continuously. As such, Google uses a combination of algorithmic detection, user flagging and human quality-checking to find videos advertisers wouldn’t want their ads to appear in, and those systems are far from perfect. Terrorist videos, videos promoting anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, content advocating self-harm and eating disorders and more have slipped through the cracks and ended up with what some perceive as an endorsement from major brands. Those brands, of course, aren’t happy with that. Following some investigations by the U.K. press, several have now pulled their ads either from YouTube specifically or from Google platforms in general until Google fixes the problem. U.S. brands like AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise, GSK and others are starting to follow suit. No perfect fix From Google’s perspective, the big challenge is that its existing systems aren’t working, and there’s no easy way to fix that. Only one reasonable solution suggests itself, and it’s far from ideal: Restrict ads to only those videos that appear on channels with long histories of good behavior and lots of subscribers. That would likely weed out any unidentified terrorists, hatemongers and scam artists without having to explicitly identify them. Problem solved! Except that, of course, the very long tail of YouTube content and creators would be effectively blacklisted even as this much smaller list of content and creators are whitelisted. That, in turn, would be unpalatable to those creators, even if advertisers might be pacified. Of course, it would have a significant effect on YouTube’s revenue, too. Brands generally like advertising on Google, which has massive reach and — through YouTube — a unique venue for video advertising that reaches generations increasingly disengaged from traditional TV. Given that some creators are already unhappy with what they see as the arbitrary way YouTube determines which videos are and aren’t appropriate for advertising, going further down that route seems dangerous, and will create problems of its own. But, given the current backlash against YouTube and Google more broadly over this issue, it can’t exactly keep things as they are either, because many advertisers will continue to boycott the platform, and there’s likely to be a snowball effect, as no brand wants to be seen as the one that’s okay with its ads appearing next to hate speech, even if others aren’t. So we have two scenarios, neither of them palatable. One would be essentially unacceptable to the long tail of creators, and would likely significantly impact YouTube’s revenue, while the other would continue to be unacceptable to major advertisers, and also would significantly impact YouTube’s revenue. To return to a point I made at the beginning, this actually is broader than YouTube to programmatic advertising in general, including Google’s ads on third-party sites. Alphabet’s management has cited programmatic advertising — where humans are taken out of the picture and computers make the decisions subject to policies set by site owners and advertisers — as a major revenue driver in at least its last four earnings calls, mentioning it in that context at least 17 times during that period. To the extent that the programmatic method of buying is a major source of the content problem at YouTube specifically and Google broadly, that’s particularly problematic for its financial picture going forward. There was already something of a backlash over programmatic advertising toward the end of last year, when brand advertising was appearing on sites associated with racism and fake news, but this YouTube issue has taken it to the next level. Hope of a third scenario Alongside these two unappealing scenarios, there’s a third. Google must be hoping this one is what actually pans out. This third scenario would see Google making more subtle changes to both its ad and content policies than the ones I suggested above, and eventually getting advertisers back on board. That approach banks on the fact that brands generally like advertising on Google, which has massive reach and — through YouTube — a unique venue for video advertising that reaches generations increasingly disengaged from traditional TV. So I’d argue that advertisers don’t actually want to shun Google entirely for any length of time, and mostly want to use the current fuss to extract concessions from the company both on this specific issue and on the broader issue of data on their ads and where they show up. Google’s initial response to the problem, both in a quick blog post on its European site last week and in a slightly longer and more detailed post on its global site this week, has been along these lines. It has accepted responsibility for some of its past mistakes, identified some specific ways in which it plans to make changes, and announced some first steps to fixing problems. However, the fact that several big U.S. brands pulled their advertising after these steps were announced suggests that Google hasn’t yet done enough. It’s still possible that advertisers will come around once they see Google roll out all of its proposed fixes (some of which were only vaguely described this week) and perhaps after some additional concessions. That would be the best-case scenario here. Some of the statements from advertisers this week indicate that they’re considering their options and reviewing their own policies, suggesting they may be open to reconsidering. But these current problems still highlight broader issues with programmatic advertising in general, on which advertisers won’t be placated so easily. I could easily see the present backlash turn into a broader one against programmatics in general, which could slow its growth considerably, with impacts both on Google and the broader advertising and ad tech industries. I would think Google/Alphabet would be extremely lucky to emerge from all this with minimal financial impact, and I think it’s far more likely that it sees both a short-term dent in its revenues and profits from the spreading boycotts and possibly a longer-term impact as brands reconsider their commitments to programmatic advertising in general. Jan Dawson is founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw, a technology research and consulting firm focused on the confluence of consumer devices, software, services and connectivity. During his 13 years as a technology analyst, Dawson has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Dawson worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as chief telecoms analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally. Reach him @jandawson.

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
Plus, Republicans vote on internet privacy and Alexa gets spooky. President Trump told holdout Republicans to get on board and pass a vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — or else he would keep Obamacare in place. The vote had been postponed from Thursday, leading to another day of threats and cheerleading on Capitol Hill. [The New York Times] Senate Republicans voted today to kill federal privacy rules, voting 50-48 to repeal Obama-era regulations requiring that ISPs ask before sharing customer data. The vote paves the way for a big win for the country’s telecom giants. [Tony Romm / Recode] Trump has a new tech whisperer in the White House: Republican digital expert Matt Lira will serve as a special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives; he joins the Trump administration from the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., where Lira helped advance an entire initiative focused on tech policy issues. [Tony Romm / Recode] The NFL is selling the rights to stream its “Thursday Night Football” games next season, and Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have all submitted proposals in the hope of streaming the games. These streams are the highest-profile sports rights currently on the market. [Kurt Wagner / Recode] The laptop ban officially starts on Saturday, but reports of passengers facing enhanced security and early enforcement of the electronics ban have reached social media. CNN looks into what the ban is going to cost you in fees, rescheduled flights and stress. [CNN.com] Scott Adams, the millionaire creator of the office-humor comic strip Dilbert, was watching the Republican primary debates at home when he realized that Trump might be a kindred spirit — a fellow “Master Wizard,” Adams’s term for fellow experts in hypnosis and persuasion. In a flow of blog posts and livestreaming analysis, Adams made the case that even the most erratic Trump moments were tactically brilliant.[Caroline Winter / Bloomberg] Ride-sharing juggernaut Uber has had a bad month, recently enduring boycotts, lawsuits, public outcry and the resignations of several top executives. On the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan traces how Uber got to this point of crisis and what comes next. [Eric Johnson / Recode] Top stories from Recode SoundCloud gets a $70 million lifeline. A new debt round. Instacart will pay $4.6 million to settle a class action lawsuit with its workers. The startup also has to change how it describes a controversial service fee. Eatsa is being sued for not making its automated self-serve kiosks accessible to blind customers. The new restaurant chain makes it possible to order fresh-made food without ever having to interact with a human. There’s going to be a Howard University campus at Google. But the company won’t cover all of the students’ costs. Millions of Americans still play Pokémon Go every day. The game's popularity peaked last July, but its long tail is still going. This is cool Don’t look Alexa in the eyes. A tech geek turned his Amazon Echo into an animated talking skull that is the stuff of nightmares. [via The Huffington Post]

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Six Black Tux showrooms will open in the next six weeks. Nordstrom is turning to a modern competitor to Men’s Wearhouse to lure young customers into its full-price stores. Over the next six weeks, Nordstrom is unveiling showrooms for the tux rental startup The Black Tux in six stores starting with its Mission Viejo, Calif. location. If the initial rollout goes well, the partnership could expand more widely. None of the stores are located in cities where The Black Tux has, or has immediate plans to open, its own showrooms. The Black Tux was founded in 2013 in Santa Monica by friends Andrew Blackmon and Patrick Coyne. The venture-backed startup makes its own modern-cut tuxedos and suits that it rents for prices starting at $95. The higher quality and ability to order online is meant to appeal to younger shoppers not interested in relying on an outdated option like Men’s Wearhouse. Shoppers who visit one of the six Nordstrom locations can get measured and try on a selection of Black Tux tuxedos, and then place rental orders for delivery to their homes. The showrooms will carry limited inventory so you won’t be able to walk out with the goods. But Nordstrom obviously hopes some Black Tux customers will purchase other pieces for an outfit — perhaps shoes or a shirt — while there. The partnership is the latest example of a department store chain turning to a digital-first startup to lure new, younger shoppers into its stores; the average Black Tux customer is just 29 years old. In November, Neiman Marcus partnered with the women’s dress rental service Rent the Runway to open the first of several stores within its own stores. “We hope customers want to visit our stores because we always have something new,” Nordstrom spokesperson Kendall Ault said in an email. “Our partnership with The Black Tux is just one of many ways we’re working to bring an exciting element of innovation to our stores and hope our customers enjoy the experience along with some of the best product the market has to offer.” Same-store sales fell 6.8% in the most recent quarter at Nordstrom's full-price stores — the sixth such decline in a row. The $7 billion retailer has seen its stock price fall about 30 percent from this time last year and 50 percent from two years ago. In November, Nordstrom took a $197 million write-down on Trunk Club, the personal-styling startup it purchased for $350 million back in 2014. The Black Tux co-CEO Andrew Blackmon declined to comment on the terms of the deal but, in similar arrangements, department store chains have been known to charge rent plus a percentage of sales. Four-year-old Black Tux generates around 90 percent of its revenue from orders placed on its website. But it also operates three brick-and-mortar showrooms and has plans to open two new ones in San Francisco and New York City soon. Over time, it expects a much more even ratio of online to in-store orders — with Nordstrom’s help. “They’re the ideal partner because what we’re really trying to change is the customer experience of tux rentals and they are hyper-focused on the customer experience,” Blackmon said.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
For the ride-sharing juggernaut, this is a “What kind of month has it been?” sort of month. The first three months of 2017 have been rough for Uber: Some customers have boycotted it; Alphabet has sued it; and, most notably, former employees have alleged rampant sexism at the company, leading to the resignations of several top executives over the past month. On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s senior transportation editor Johana Bhuiyan joined Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode to explain what is going on. “Uber’s notorious, aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to its internal culture and external relationships is coming to a head in a way that Uber has never seen before,” Bhuiyan said. “The company has had public scandals before, but unlike those, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has not been able to manage his way out of it this time.” You can listen to the new podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Uber is currently searching for a COO to serve as Kalanick’s right-hand man as the company tries to fix that internal culture. The search is being led by board members Bill Gurley and Arianna Huffington, and Bhuiyan said the way they’re describing it is significant. “They keep throwing out this word, ‘partner, partner, partner,’ which is a weird word to throw out in relation to Travis,” Bhuiyan said. “He’s known to be incredibly combative. He likes to be really involved in a lot of the company’s operations and decision-making and he doesn’t like to share.” She said it’s extremely unlikely that Kalanick would be pushed out as CEO any time soon because of how many allies he has on the board. “What could change that is is Arianna Huffington — who’s really smart about her image, really good at managing her PR — if it becomes too toxic to be on Travis’ side, if she flipped,” she said. “Up until now, she’s defended him really staunchly, has said he’s evolving. She’s seen change in him.” And although there is a lot of angry noise directed at Uber right now, the business itself isn’t in any imminent danger, either. The #deleteuber campaign earlier this year led to about 200,000 deleted accounts — which is about the same number of accounts Uber gains every week. “All of this is happening at a time where there’s this sort of newfound sense of activism among people in the Trump era, so that’s adding to Uber’s current issues,” Bhuiyan said. “But the bottom line is, Uber is as popular as it is because the technology is good. It’s efficient, it’s better than all of its competitors and it completely turned the transportation industry on its head.” Have questions about Uber that we didn’t answer in this episode? Or have another tech topic on your mind? You can tweet any questions, comments and complaints to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. You can also email your questions to [email protected], if Twitter isn’t your thing. Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic. If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts: Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcherand SoundCloud. And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
These streams are the highest-profile sports rights currently on the market. The NFL is selling the rights to stream its “Thursday Night Football” games next season, and at least four big tech companies are interested. Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have all submitted proposals to the NFL in the hope of streaming the games, according to two sources familiar with the process. All four companies also talked to the NFL last year about the same deal, which Twitter won with a $10 million bid for the right to stream 10 games. (CBS and NBC pay a lot more for the rights to broadcast the games on television.) It’s possible others have also submitted proposals. The league is likely to make a decision within the next month, and could provide some kind of update to league owners at the NFL’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix next week. Spokespeople for Amazon, Facebook and Twitter declined to comment, as did Alex Riethmiller, a spokesperson for the NFL. YouTube did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Just like TV networks, tech companies are interested in live sports right now. Facebook and Twitter are cutting deals for virtually any live sports they can get their hands on, and Amazon is also interested in live sports deals and has been buying movie rights, too. Live sports rights are expensive and tough to come by, though; traditional TV rights for major sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB are already locked up for years. That makes these Thursday night streams the highest-profile package on the market right now. But while the NFL deal is high profile, it’s tough to tell how valuable it actually is. Twitter didn’t report a meaningful spike in user growth or revenue as a result of last year’s games, for instance. Twitter claims 3.5 million people watched each game, on average, but the average audience at any given time, which is how traditional TV ratings are calculated, was just a couple hundred thousand viewers per game. CBS averaged closer to 15 million viewers per “Thursday Night Football” game last season. That smaller audience is one of the reasons these games sold for just $10 million last year, a fraction of what the NFL makes on TV rights. These streams are not exclusive; viewers can also watch the games on NBC or CBS, NFL Network and Verizon, which has mobile distribution rights. Plus, Twitter was only allowed to sell a small percentage of the game’s overall ad inventory. In other words, this is an interesting deal, but not a huge one, especially by NFL standards. Here’s a closer look at each of the NFL’s potential streaming partners. Twitter The NFL knows what to expect from Twitter, which helps here. Twitter pushed its NFL deal very aggressively with the media and its users last fall and was able to sell all of the ad inventory the NFL offered up, according to multiple sources. The network also has a worldwide audience, which is appealing to the league. Twitter also offers a social element: A way to talk about the game with other fans while watching it on the same screen. But there are downsides. While Twitter didn’t require viewers to have an account to watch the streams last year, it has a significantly smaller audience than Facebook and YouTube. There’s also a potential brand issue. In the 12 months since the NFL announced it was partnering with Twitter, the company has explored a sale, cut staff and lost a number of key executives. The NFL is incredibly brand-sensitive and may not want to associate with a company going through the kind of troubles Twitter is dealing with. Facebook Facebook probably makes the most sense here. The company has all the same benefits of Twitter — a global audience, a social component, the ability to court advertisers — but on a much, much bigger scale. Plus, Facebook isn’t dealing with the business drama that Twitter is. But the NFL and Facebook clearly weren’t willing to meet on deal terms a year ago, so something prevented the two from working together, and Facebook is just now starting to tinker with mid-stream video ads. That doesn’t mean Facebook can’t sell and deliver TV commercial-style video ads, just that it hasn’t in the past. Amazon Amazon was one of the companies that offered more money for these streams than Twitter did last year. But Twitter made a better pitch around distributing the games internationally than Amazon did, and there were also some concerns over Amazon’s ability to sell the ad inventory, according to a source familiar with the pitch. But Amazon’s ads business is expanding, and the company created a new sports group to help facilitate deals like these. It’s possible that Amazon would want these NFL streams offered as part of its Amazon Prime subscription package, though the NFL is hesitant to limit its distribution, which includes putting games behind a paywall. (Amazon has at least 66 million Prime members.) Last year, Amazon offered to show the games to anyone, not just Prime members, and it’s likely that would be a stipulation this year if the NFL cut a deal. YouTube YouTube has over a billion users, many of them young people, and has a large international audience. Google and the NFL are also already working together on a virtual reality video series. But while YouTube has lots of video advertisers, the company is going through a bit of an advertiser crisis at the moment, with numerous big-name marketers pulling ad dollars out of fear their ads will run next to offensive content. It’s certainly poor timing for YouTube, and the kind of brand association the NFL would like to avoid. What’s also unclear is whether or not YouTube will try and put the livestreams behind its YouTube Red paywall. That probably wouldn’t fly with the NFL.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
The new restaurant chain makes it possible to order fresh-made food without ever having to interact with a human. Eatsa, a fast-food chain startup known for its nearly human-free, automated self-service technology, is being sued by disability rights advocates for not including accessibility features for the blind in its customer interfaces. The federal class action lawsuit, which was filed in New York today with the American Council of the Blind as a leading plaintiff, alleges that the tech-centered restaurant chain’s inaccessible kiosk and automated serving technology is a violation of civil rights law. Eatsa is a small chain based in San Francisco with only seven locations and a limited menu of mostly quinoa bowls. But the company has made headlines over the past year for its pioneering use of touchscreens and automated pickup technology that all but eliminate the need to interact with a person. At Eatsa, customers order food on a tablet that’s mounted to a stand — if they haven’t already preordered via mobile app. Customers pay electronically or with a card, and when their food is ready, a screen at the front of the store displays the customer’s name. Customers retrieve food from cubbyholes, which require tapping on their doors to open them. The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, claims that although the technology to make touchscreens and self-service food pick-up usable for blind and low-vision customers is available, the restaurant chain has neglected to add these features. Eatsa, for example, uses iPads for its in-store kiosks, according to its website. And Apple has for years included screen-reading accessibility technology — which can dictate on-screen items to blind people — in its iOS devices, and has made those tools available to developers. But “Eatsa has configured its systems so that the [screen reader capability] is not usable on the iPad,” said Rebecca Serbin, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. “So the technology to make Eatsa accessible exists, but Eatsa just didn’t care enough to include that in their design.” Adding things like a tactile keypad with braille, or making the iPad’s headphone jack accessible — currently obstructed by the frame it’s mounted on — would allow customers with vision impairment to still use Eatsa’s ordering system, according to the complaint. Though it’s possible for customers at the restaurant to never interact with a human worker, each location does have a staff person or two in the front to assist customers if needed. But the suit further points out that the way customers can request help from one of these employees is also via a button on the iPad, which is not accessible to blind and low-vision customers. Even the cubbyholes where food is served have no way to opt for audible cues. The whole process is silent, thus making it inaccessible, the lawsuit claims. Eatsa is still new and, for a fast-food chain, relatively small. The restaurant was founded in 2015 by branding and software pros Scott Drummond and Tim Young. And it perceives itself as a tech company as much as a budding restaurant chain. On the fundraising platform AngelList, its profile includes the tags: “software” “robotics” “food tech” and “industrial automation.” “The folks that founded and funded Eatsa are not new to the world of business and should have known that there are obligations under federal law to comply with civil rights laws,” said Serbin. Eatsa has embraced press attention in the last year lauding the chain as being an example of what food service of the future will look like. And to be sure, other chain restaurants, like Wendy’s and Panera, have also started using touchscreen kiosks to allow customers to place orders. If this trend pans out and the future of customer service really does entail less human interaction, whether it’s for shopping or retrieving packages, those designing the new user interfaces will need to think about how to serve customers who may have accessibility challenges. It’s also worth noting that Eatsa’s stores are all currently closed for some sort of “rebooting” process. “Big changes are coming!” the company wrote in an email to customers earlier this week, promising a “whole new” Eatsa. We don’t know if that includes any changes to the ordering process, which could include accessibility features. Eatsa did not immediately respond to Recode’s request for comment.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
The startup also has to change how it describes a controversial service fee. The grocery delivery startup Instacart has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit for $4.6 million and to make changes to how it explains its fees to customers. As part of the suit, independent contractors who pick out and deliver groceries for Instacart claimed 18 violations, including improper tip pooling and failure to reimburse workers for business expenses. Instacart still denies all the claims against it. The settlement is a drop in the bucket for Instacart, which just closed a new $400 million investment that values the startup at around $3 billion. The company has now raised nearly $700 million from venture capital firms and strategic partners like Whole Foods. No one is getting rich from the deal either — three of the workers actively involved in the lawsuit will receive $5,000 each, while others named in the suit will get either $1,000 or $500 a piece. Instacart workers who aren’t named in the lawsuit will receive, at best, a couple hundred dollars. But the settlement agreement also requires the startup to alter the way it describes a new service fee that has led to outrage among Instacart workers because many customers incorrectly assume the fee is a tip. Recode recently called out Instacart for how it introduced this fee, how hard it has made it for customers to find the tipping option and how it describes tips. “Instacart will modify the existing user interfaces related to the Service fee to provide additional information to customers regarding the nature of the Service fee and the differences between the Service fee and tip,” the agreement reads. “We have settled a nationwide class action lawsuit, primarily over the classification of our shoppers as independent contractors,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “This is a positive, early resolution for the company, and we look forward to finalizing the settlement.” Other companies in the burgeoning “on-demand” economy like Uber and Lyft have also settled class action suits against them. All of these companies rely on a network of independent contractors to carry out their core services. Instacart previously converted some of its in-store shoppers from contractors to part-time employees. The settlement also requires Instacart to create a formal policy that explains under what circumstances a worker can be deactivated from the Instacart system — essentially, being fired — and a process for disputing deactivation.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
“One of the great strengths of HuffPost is that it’s still a destination.” This week’s Recode Media with Peter Kafka featured Lydia Polgreen, who broke with journalistic tradition and left her post at the New York Times to take over as editor in chief at the Huffington Post. On the podcast, she discusses her reasons for the change, her background as an expat and a foreign correspondent, and her vision for the future of HuffPost. You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation. If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. It’s powered by Digital Media, a real company with an awkward name. I’m here with Lydia Polgreen, who is already laughing. Hi, Lydia. How are you? Lydia Polgreen: I’m doing great, Peter. How are you? Good. You have a newish title. You are the editor in chief of the Huffington Post. It’s true. Thanks for coming. I know you’re busy. Pleasure. Up until late last year, you were working with the New York Times. That is correct. I spent almost 15 years at the New York Times. We’ll talk about why you left and what you were doing, but let’s talk about your current job first of all. You are running the thing that has someone else’s name on it. It’s Arianna Huffington’s company, but she’s no longer there. You took over, what, late December? Yeah. I officially started on January 9th. My first official decision was that I wasn’t going to call it the Polgreen Post. Probably not as much SEO value in the Polgreen Post. Yes, exactly. You’ve done a lot of panels, and you’ve been sort of vocal in public. I don’t think you’ve made any significant changes to the site. Is that right? Am I missing anything? No. I’m in the process of thinking through a fairly significant reorganization of the editorial staff and thinking about the best way to organize what is a pretty robust newsroom to chase what I think our mission should be. Let’s start there. You have alluded to reorgs. Something’s coming. What’s that going to look like? What do you want to change? I think that the mandate of HuffPost traditionally has been a little bit ... It’s shifted over the years. It started out as kind of an answer to the Drudge Report, kind of a lefty aggregation site. And also a salon for Arianna Huffington and her famous friends. Absolutely, and the blogging platform was a way to bring a lot of excitement and lots of different voices to the site. I think that the landscape has changed so much since then. It used to be a unique thing to be able to publish on the Huffington Post and say I’ve been published on the Huffington Post, but now you have Medium. You have people publishing on LinkedIn, Forbes. There are lots of people in that space. Right, so for a while then, HuffPo moved to really heavily leaning on unpaid contributors. That was rightfully controversial. There were lawsuits involved and people not getting paid. Peeled back from that a bit. Yeah, although it’s kind of funny to think of all of the fights over paying contributors. I mean, we are all uploading our most private information into Facebook every day, and they’re making ... Well, that’s because we’re waiting to sue Mark Zuckerberg. Good luck, but they’re making billions and billions of dollars and their whole business model is essentially that. I think part of it, right, like you said, like the idea of you contributing something to someone else’s platform, everyone sort of gets the rules of the road at this point. Yeah, no, so that’s been a real kind of substantive change in the nature of the landscape. You know, HuffPo definitely has had a tradition of having really strong original reporting. They won a Pulitzer Prize and have won ... We just won an Ellie this year for a big piece that ran on the High Line. That’s the Oscars for magazines. It’s the Oscars for magazines, exactly. Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, you pick the award. The Ellie is an elephant. The Ellie is an elephant. There’s now an elephant sitting in the Vox Media cafeteria for Eater. It’s very cool. Yeah, yeah, it’s a very magazine-y award, and it’s also quite awkward and takes up a lot of space. It’s copper, so as you’d expect for a magazine award, it’s very design-y. Anyway, so we’ve always done original reporting, and we’ve always tried to be really impactful with that original reporting. But it’s not known for that. It has not been known for that as much as I think it should be known for that, actually, because I think that they’ve had a really ... You know, we’ve had a really strong record of doing original reporting, but it has not been the reputation for whatever reason despite winning all these awards. Well, in part because they did tons of aggregation, right? So that was one of the things they were fighting against. There was a significant amount of aggregation, yeah. Then also there was a period where the Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed went through this as well, in order to signal that they were very serious, would hire someone from the New York Times or some other august publication. That person would then leave a year later. Sometimes they did good work in between. Sure. Yeah. I think one of those people won a Pulitzer, like you said. But he’s still there. He’s still there? Okay, my mistake. But a lot of those folks would come in from sort of old media, established media, and for whatever reason, they did not stick around. Yeah. As you know, that’s a pretty common pattern at a lot of publications, right? People come in. Digital media companies make hires, make prestige hires. They stay for a while. Then people move on. I feel like the days ... My career feels very atypical for someone of my age. I’m 41. I stayed at the same place for 41 years. Most of the people who are my peers have worked at three or four or five news organizations over that period of time. 15 years, right? Yeah, 15 years. Yeah, almost. I just fact-checked you. Yeah. On air. What did I say? 41. We’ll keep in there. It’s part of the record. Yeah, exactly. It sounds like what you’re leading into, I keep interrupting you, is you want more original reporting. What do you want to focus on? That presumably means you’re going to spend less time on something else. Yeah, I think we want to do more original reporting. I think that for us, that sort of branches in two different directions. One is, I’m really fascinated by power. To me, that’s the big story right now, and who has it and who doesn’t have it. At the moment, the powers that be, whether they’re in Washington, in the White House, or the Democrats, or big corporations, our primary job needs to be to hold those powerful institutions to account. I think you’re going to see an increased emphasis on investigative reporting, maybe not on the most obvious targets. You’re going to see obviously the Washington Post, the New York Times. They all have big staffs that are going after the biggest and richest targets, and so we’re going to pick our shots a little carefully and figure out where are the places where we think we can get the most bang for our buck. I think you’re going to see a significant premium on that. The other piece of it is the people who don’t have power and figuring out ways to listen to and tell their stories. I think traditionally when we’ve thought of the powerless, we’ve thought of minorities, or we’ve thought of people who feel voiceless. I think there’s actually a much larger group of people who feel kind of voiceless right now, and it includes significant numbers of people who voted for Donald Trump. I think part of why they voted for Donald Trump is that they felt that there was this kind of elite establishment that didn’t really hear them or represent their concerns. I’d like to think that the Huffington Post can be an important place for them to tell their stories and get their concerns heard. This is one of the themes you heard post-Trump election from the Times, from the Post, from people who pay attention to these publications, saying, “They’re too elite. It’s the Acela corridor. This is why they couldn’t understand what was going on in the election.” A lot of them, I think with good intent, have said, “We’re going to go out into America, and we’re going to find Trump voters or people who look like Trump voters, and we’re going to report on them,” like they’re going out into the bush. The Times is the one I follow the most. They’ve done these stories. Here’s a woman in Niles, Michigan who did not go to the Women’s March, and here’s what she thinks. I think those are super useful. It still feels a little weird to send someone into America as if it’s a foreign country, which you’ve done a lot. Do you think that’s the model that works for you guys, or it’s something else? I think that there’s basic reporting, which I think you need to do, which is going out into places and figuring ... We just dispatched a reporter to take a deep dive into what happened in Kansas with the shooting of this Indian engineer. I think that’s an important part of it. I’m really looking to find other ways to tell stories and be a listening post. I don’t want to say too much, because we’re still developing some of these ideas, but I think we need to have an even more radical approach to getting out into communities and listening to people. So not just having a Kansas bureau or someone, a Trump reporter, or a ... I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking a lot about, are there ways that HuffPost can collaborate very closely with local reporting organizations? Whether they’re newsrooms, it could be a Christian radio station in a small town. I’d love to find ways for us to take our really big platform and connect it to local communities in ways that feel more indigenous and authentic. I mean, I think the difference between the HuffPost approach to covering the people who, as I think of it, feel left out by the political and economic power arrangements is that it’s less of a question of the topics and the subjects than it is a question of who you think the audience is. Fundamentally, I think a lot of news organizations are going out and trying to explain the Trump voter to the elite back at home. Yeah. Or, by the way, a good half the country that can’t understand a Trump voter, right? It’s not just people in New York and Washington. No, absolutely, but I think that a lot of these organizations feel that they’re trying to explain to their readers what’s going on in this part of this country that they don’t really have access to and aren’t exposed to. What I’d love for the Huffington Post to do is figure out ways to tell the story of those people for those people rather than thinking of them as subjects to be reported on for somebody else. We have a media ecosystem that, like so many other institutions, there’s been this extraordinary drift between the haves and the have-nots, you know? Yup. If you can afford to subscribe to the New York Times or the Washington Post, if you are a person who has access to these really rich media sources or seeks them out, then you can be a very well-informed person. But if you’re not, and if you’re not a news junkie, if you’re someone who’s just kind of living your life and catching news on the fly, there are lots of products that are designed to plug right into what your most passionate interests are. The problem is that they tend to be manipulative. It’s talk radio. It’s Fox News. It’s Breitbart, fake news that floats up on your Facebook feed. Or you get just a very, very, very thin diet of other stuff. Yeah. The DNA of the Huffington Post is very much a kind of like tabloid DNA, and tabloid in the best sense, tabloid like the Daily News in the 1970s. I would like to really double down on that DNA, but bring even more original reporting to it and bring it to the day-to-day lived concerns of people who feel like their stories don’t often get told. The DNA of the HuffPo is also very left, liberal, progressive, pick your term. That’s from Kenny Lerer. That’s from Arianna Huffington. It’s an audience that I think traditionally has sort of seen it as like, “This is our version of MSNBC or our version of Fox News, our version of Drudge before there was Breitbart.” How do you think that audience is going to respond to these changes? Do you feel like they’re going to feel like you’re undermining them or undercutting them? I hope not. Because you want to expand it, right? What you’re saying is you want a bigger audience. I think we want to expand it. I would love for HuffPost to be a platform that makes it possible for people to see what they have in common with people who don’t share their political beliefs. I think that creating the conditions under which solidarity can occur is one of my big goals. Well, that’s a biggest goal ever, right? Yeah. I mean, it would be a gigantic, idealistic reach in any era. It seems like particularly now, both because of the division and also because you can see now clearly what that world ... I think a lot of folks like myself have started sort of dipping into Breitbart, or we make sure to dip into some weird corner of Facebook we wouldn’t normally ever go to. Right. It’s black and white, right? We don’t share any common ground. Half of Trump voters think that Pizzagate might have happened, on down the line. It seems like there really is no way to reconcile those two groups. There is. I think that there is a kind of hard nut of support for Donald Trump that includes some unsavory types of people who probably are never going to be readers of the Huffington Post. “Deplorables.” You don’t want to say that. We can use that term. With a quote around it. With a quote around it. But I think that it represents fundamentally a pretty small group of people. Don’t forget, Trump did not win the popular vote, right? There’s a significant number of people who voted for Trump who, four years earlier, had voted for Barack Obama. I actually think that the divides are serious and meaningful, but I think they’re actually not ideological. I think they’re really much more about how people live their lives and the fears and concerns that they have. That’s why I talk about creating a platform in which solidarity becomes possible, telling stories in a way that allows people to see what they have in common rather than what divides them. You took this job post-election, so obviously you knew what you were getting into. That said, did you know what you were getting into? Did you know that you were going to be doing daily Trump? Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. Yeah, and actually I think a lot about Trump fatigue, because I think that I look at our homepage or our app, our Twitter feeds and our Facebook, and I worry that people are eventually going to kind of burn out and say, “Ugh, give me something else.” I think we’re trying to mix it up. We’re six weeks into the Trump presidency. We’re six weeks in, but from a traffic perspective, the audience doesn’t seem to be burning out. Maybe that’s just me projecting, but look, I knew coming in that — and in fact, it was a big driver of me taking this job — the fact that Trump was going to be president. It felt like a moment where, I don’t know, I felt almost possessed by this idea that somebody had to take this extraordinary platform and do something really big with it. I’d already been talking to HuffPost obviously before the election result came down, but it certainly added a sense of urgency and increased the appeal. This sounds grandiose, but I feel a deep sense of civic mission in trying to make this platform into something that speaks to a very, very broad swath of America and frankly the world, because it is a global media company. I don’t think it’s grandiose. I think you have this cool opportunity, which a lot of people in journalism don’t have, which is the election happened. What am I doing? Why does whatever I’m writing about make any sense to write about? What is my purpose in life? You’ve got this chance to say, “Oh, my purpose is I’m running this big new platform. It’s been kind of drifting, and I get to steer it in a direction and affect a lot of people.” That’s pretty cool. I think for me, that was very much the motivation. You know, look, HuffPost is an extraordinary thing, because I worked at the New York Times for almost 15 years. See, I got it right that time. For the last three years of my time at the Times, I’d been working on this global expansion effort. I’d go all around the world and talk to people about media brands. Who do you read? Who do you trust? What do you like? What are you looking for in an international media brand? Of course, it’s not surprising that the New York Times, given its huge sort of popular culture resonance and how long it’s been around, is almost universally recognized by anyone who’s a consumer of the news in the world. But right there with it was HuffPost, which has only been around for 11 years and change. The idea that this news organization had created that kind of brand resonance in such a short time was just absolutely mind-blowing to me. I want to talk to you about how you actually got the job and what you were doing before that and a million other things, but we pay some of our bills here through advertising, so we’re going to hear from a fine sponsor. We’ll come right back. [ad] I’m back here with Lydia Polgreen, formerly of the New York Times, currently editor in chief of the Huffington Post. Talk a minute about how you got that job. I’m assuming someone came to you. Or did you raise your hand and say,”"I want to edit this thing”? No. Jared Grusd, the CEO of Huffington Post, got in touch with me. We had a series of conversations. He’s an AOL executive. Yes. Basically his job is to run the Huffington Post and some other content sites under that. Says, “I’d like you to ...” Arianna Huffington has left. Yes. Or had she left already? She had left already. She had left. She had been gone for quite a while. This is last summer. Yeah. What do you think? What is your reaction when someone comes to you and says, “What about running the Huffington Post?” By the way, you had one of the cool gigs at the New York Times. The global editor job. I really thought that I was a lifer at the New York Times. It’s one of those rare institutions where people very, very rarely leave. I was on a great trajectory there. It’s an institution whose mission I feel incredibly passionate about. I felt fairly certain that this wasn’t going to go anywhere, and partly out of just curiosity, I ... So you take the meeting to take the meeting. I’ll take the meeting just to learn what’s out there in the universe. But what are you thinking about when you think “Huffington Post” in the summer of 2016? It was a loaded question, because a lot of people don’t think much of it. Yeah, it was more like the fall. I think like most people, I had kind of a mixed opinion of the Huffington Post. Stuff would kind of come to me from HuffPost, some of it fun, some of it funny. I had always been a big fan of the HuffPost splash. I felt like it had this wonderful ... which is the big headline and photo at the top of the homepage. The front on the homepage. Yeah, the homepage. Which some people still look at. A lot of people still look at it. I mean, that’s actually one of the great strengths of HuffPost is that it’s still a destination, and so we have this power to set the agenda. I liked its sense of fun, that it didn’t take itself too seriously, but I didn’t have a strong feeling or opinion one way or the other. When I started having these conversations with Jared, who I found incredibly impressive, he had been an executive at Spotify, at Google, and it was really a personal connection with him and feeling like, if I’m going to jump in and do something crazy that’s not staying on the path that I’m on, this would be the kind of person that I’d want to do it with. Once I felt that I had this really strong personal bond with the CEO of the company, then it became much more thinkable. I thought, “Well, this actually is a really compelling opportunity, and the fact that HuffPost is interested in hiring someone like me with all of my kind of stodgy newspaper background and old-fashioned reporting bona fides seemed like a good sign.” As the conversations progressed and got more serious, I was like, “Wow, I’m actually really thinking about doing this.” Were you part of the ... Because there was, for a while, and maybe this is just old ancient history now, but there were a lot of people at the New York Times and traditional media places that for years, in 2007-2008, were really angry about the Huffington Post. It’s that you’re taking our work. You’re making money from it. You’re not citing us. You’re lifting it whole cloth, back and forth and back and forth. Were you part of that crew that was upset with the HuffPo? I wasn’t. I mean, I’ve always been a pro-future person. I grew up in Kenya and in Ghana in a very kind of information-starved environment where we had very, very few sources of news. I was going to ask you about this later, but why did you grow up in Kenya and Ghana? My parents were working there. My dad did development work. They were also Baha’i missionaries. They were there. It was kind of a dual purpose thing. You’d get a job working somewhere else, and you’d spread the faith. Then also you work and live there. I spent most of my grade school years in Kenya and then most of my high school years in Ghana. From that experience, I just ... People romanticize being disconnected, and I find it impossible to romanticize being disconnected, because I’ve actually experienced it for long stretches of time. I mean, I didn’t have a home phone as a high school kid. Forget about a cellphone, I didn’t have a home phone. Anyways, so no, I wasn’t among those who railed against the Huffington Post, although it’s interesting to note that HuffPost got more traffic by aggregating my coverage of Nelson Mandela’s funeral than the New York Times did. Mm-hmm. And their argument would be, “Well, we’re doing you a favor, because we’re going to point people to …” There was a lot of back and forth. That has sort of settled, but I think there was an argument that had real teeth to it that said, “You’re taking our work, and you’re not compensating for it.” And you’re not compensating for it. I think that again the technology and the sort of the platforms have changed so much. I mean, the great thing about the New York Times business model right now is that when we aggregate their stories, it just burnishes their brand and gets it out there and exposes it to more and more people. But in fact, we don’t even really do aggregation in the way that we used to. We do much more of just linking out and frankly just doing our own reporting. Right. I was looking this morning, and your main two stories on the homepage, if you click on either one of them, were not Huffington Post stories. They just sent you to Politico or the Washington Post. Exactly. And that’s intentional on your part, saying, “Look, here’s the best version of that story. It’s someone else’s.” Yeah, no, absolutely. I think we do a mix of that and then also if someone has a scoop, just like the New York Times. When the Washington Post broke the story about Jeff Sessions’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, the New York Times didn’t link to the Washington Post. They chased it, and they wrote up their own version of it. Right, they matched it. They matched it, and it cited the Washington Post as having broken it first. I mean, everybody does this now, and it’s just become part of the way that we all spread information on the internet. Back to you thinking through this job in the fall, you don’t have that HuffPost stigma. It is owned by AOL, which in turn is now owned by Verizon, which is trying to buy Yahoo. If all goes well, you’re going to be part of this giant media conglomerate which is part of a giant telco. How do you think through and how did you think through what life working for Verizon was going to be like? Yeah, I think for me it was part of the attraction, in part because I am, like a lot of people who work in journalism, obsessed with where media’s going. The New York Times is an independent company, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small company. I think that they’ve worked out a fantastic business model that’s going to sustain and grow their journalism. I think that that’s fantastic, but I think that where media is going is to this greater consolidation. You’re going to see more and more of the telco companies, the dumb pipe companies, getting into the content business. How all that plays out is something that I think all of us are obsessed with and fascinated by. What better way to understand it than to get right into the belly of the beast? To be in the middle of it. See it up close and personal. One of the potential downsides here is that this is a cyclical thing, that right now everyone wants to marry content and distribution, so you’ve got AT&T buying Time Warner, and Verizon buying Yahoo and AOL, but especially Verizon. Their core business is still selling phone service, right, and will be that for a long time? Yeah, of course. If they’re extraordinarily successful with AOL and Yahoo, it’ll be just sort of marginally. Absolutely. At the margins for them. Yes. It’s very easy for them to walk away from this as well and go, “Eh, we’re not in the content business.” Yes. Right. Turns out it’s difficult. There’s all kinds of issues with privacy and ad targeting. I guess I’m just telling you that you know this, right? Because you’re a smart person. Well, yeah, I think that there’s always a chance of that. I think what you’re seeing is a trend towards ... Especially if net neutrality is dead, right? It’s dead. Well, I mean, we’ll see. It could always come back, right? It could come back, zombie-like. You could put a stake through it. The content offerings that any particular carrier can offer free of charge with no data charges, things like that, I think actually could become a really important differentiating factor. I mean, why does Amazon pay Jill Soloway to make “Transparent”? Ultimately, it’s to push people to be Prime subscribers, so they’ll buy more paper towels. Are they ultimately going to say, “Eh, the content business is not worth it”? They might. They might. They might. It’s possible, but I think that it is a shrewd way to get people bought in to your service and committed to your service in a deeper way and in a non-commodity way. That’s the issue, right? Is that ultimately if your service is a commodity, the only thing you compete on is price. Right, although if I’m an AT&T customer, I’m still going to be able to get to HuffPo. Of course, but I think the broader content strategy is, it’s not just HuffPost, right? Yeah. It’s a lot of other things as well. $85 billion is a lot of money to pay for Time Warner, so assuming it goes through, I think that AT&T must have some big plans there. Yeah, well, that’s probably a different podcast, but one more thing about AOL and Verizon versus the Times. The Times is moving more and more toward a subscription business model. They’ll still make most of their money from ads ... Maybe it’s split. Nope. Nope, they don’t. You know this. It’s more than 50 percent. They’ve already tipped over. They said this is our future is we’re going to be Spotify. We’re going to be Netflix. You’re going to pay for us. That’s how it’s going to work. Verizon is very much moving toward advertising, targeted ads, video. Obviously you were comfortable in that business model, I guess, since that’s where you joined, but it’s a big switch. I think it’s a big switch mentally, but I think that again this goes back to my slight discomfort at the time, this was post-election, was, “Wow, as we become a subscription-first organization, we get much better at figuring out who our subscribers are, and the product ultimately has to fit with that market,” right? If you’re talking about people who can pay, if you’re talking about people who are going to lean forward and become subscribers to the Times, you’re talking about a fairly narrow band of society. Big but narrow. Big but narrow, right? Yeah. Like I said, I think it’s amazing that you’ve seen this huge boom in people wanting to subscribe to the Times, but it can’t be the only option out there. There’s got to be other things. Look, there are major problems with the ad-supported model. Believe me. I live it every day. I think that there needs to be much, much more innovation in this space. I think that’s whether it’s ad tech or whether it’s different kinds of subscription models that are much lower cost or bundling, there’s all kinds of things that are out there that people are talking about that could possibly be solutions to this problem. Look, the New York Times exists as a kind of public service. The Washington Post also, right? Right, owned by a billionaire, owned by a very rich family. Well, yeah. No, it’s true. I think Jeff Bezos is a lot richer than the Sulzbergers. They’re very different. Yes. I think that when you talk about the conversation about aggregation, the New York Times and the Washington Post have always set the agenda for the nightly news broadcast, for example. All the way back to Walter Cronkite, to Lester Holt, whoever’s doing it today, they read the Times and they essentially aggregate from it to make up their broadcast. Now they have to read Breitbart and Twitter because the president does. They do. They do. It’s interesting. I have long been a fan of Breitbart, fan meaning in the Facebook sense, on Facebook. I follow them on Twitter and a bunch of other right-wing sites, just because I like to ... This is pre-Trump? Sure. Yeah, I just like to know what else is going on out there in the information landscape. Of course, Breitbart enjoys a very close kinship with HuffPost. They took your playbook. We basically are kind of separated-at-birth twins on the other side, which then they did take our playbook and I think have done very well with it. A bunch of different places, but I want to ask about the Times and your career there. You were there for 15 years, we’ve got that right now. I think of you mostly as a foreign correspondent. Yeah, that’s right. Africa and India. Yeah, so I started out as a metro reporter. I went through all the paces. I was hired into the kind of trainee reporter program. I was pretty young. I was 26 at the time. How do you get to the Times at 26? I had worked at the ... I’d gone to Columbia Journalism School. My first job in journalism was at the Washington Monthly. I was an unpaid intern, I waited tables at night. Then I went to journalism school at Columbia and was very lucky, I got a scholarship. Then while I was at Columbia, I met a woman named Nancy Sharkey who used to run this trainee reporter program. She was an editor at the Times. She met me at Columbia and said, “Oh, you seem like someone I should keep an eye on, who, you know, maybe 10 years down the line could be a ...” That’s a program where the Times specifically wants people of color. Yeah, or just people who don’t have the kind of resume that would ... One of the problems I think the Times has is that you tend to get people later in their careers, and you don’t necessarily grow your own talent. It’s good to have a mix. It’s not specifically designed for diversity purposes, but obviously I think that’s one of the very important goals. Like any news organization, I think the Times is very keenly aware of the need to diversify its staff in many different ways. I got hired into that program. No, sorry, I was at the Albany Times Union right out of journalism school, covering a few small towns there. Then I worked briefly at the Orlando Sentinel, and then got hired into this special program at the Times. Traditionally, the Times track is, or the old track was, you’re going to go do metro and national, and you’re going to go to Russia at some point and deal with the various stations of the cross. That’s how you ascend the masthead. I didn’t look that carefully, but it seems like you spent a lot of time overseas, which must have meant you liked it or you wanted to be there. Yeah, no, I did. I came in as a young metro reporter, and they sort of put me through the paces. I spent some time at One Police Plaza in the shack, as most reporters do, which was a great kind of formative experience. Explain to people who don’t spend all their days in newspapers what the shack is. The shack is this disgusting warren of closet-sized offices attached to the brutalest building that is the New York City Police Department’s headquarters down at the southern tip of Manhattan. You go there and get basically verbally abused all day every day. And your job is to go in and say, “What do you got?” You go in and you say, “What do you got?” What’s the weirdest crime? Everybody is looking over their shoulder at who’s got what, right? I mean, the Post guys are super focused on whatever salacious crime. High-minded New York Times reporters, of course, are looking for stories of police corruption. I got to work there with Willie Rashbaum, who’s like a legendary New York City reporter, still works at the Times. He’s the guy that broke the Eliot Spitzer with prostitutes story. I was very well-taught the ins and outs of police reporting. Then I got shipped up to the Westchester bureau back when we had one, but all in all, I was really only in New York for about two years. Then again, on a very compressed time frame, the West Africa bureau came open rather suddenly, because the West Africa bureau chief at the time, her husband got a job in New Delhi, and so she wanted to go to New Delhi. They transferred her there. I said, “I actually would love to go to West Africa.” You raised your hand. I raised my hand. You know, I’d already had a couple of breaks. They had sent me to Haiti during the bicentennial crisis, and then Jean-Bertrand Aristide ended up being pushed out of the country, so I covered that. I think they had a sense that I had a passion for this. Actually, during the whole Jayson Blair debacle, they had started posting all of the jobs that were open at the time, because one of the things that happened during all of that was a sense that people were getting opportunities that didn’t necessarily deserve them or weren’t necessarily the right people, because these were being handled in a very secretive way. One of the things that happened after the Jayson Blair debacle was they started ... The bulletin board says we’re hiring for this slot. Yeah, basically they started posting all the jobs. They posted that they were hiring a Johannesburg bureau chief. I was, I don’t know, 27, 28 at the time. I had been with the paper like maybe a year and a half. I had the temerity to put my hand up for it. Roger Cohen, who is now an opinion columnist but at the time was the foreign editor, sort of gamely met with me and was sufficiently impressed that he sent me down. He basically said, “There’s no chance I’m giving you this job. This is a very prestigious posting.” Two former executive editors of the New York Times had been Johannesburg bureau chief, Joe Lelyveld and Bill Keller. He said, “I’m not giving you this job, but I do need someone to fill in until I can find an actual grownup to do the job.” He sent me down there for about six weeks, which was an absolutely thrilling experience. But I kind of proved ... That you could do it. So when you said, “I want to do this. I want to go to West Africa,” was your thought, “This is what I want to do for my career,” or, “This is something I’ll do and then I’ll come back and I’ll keep moving up the ladder”? I didn’t really think that far in advance. I mean, I was really young. I was so passionate about being a foreign correspondent. I loved the work. I loved being in the field. I loved covering conflict. I loved covering development. To me, I’d grown up as a kid watching these extraordinary events unfold. I lived through my first coup attempt when I was like 6 years old in Kenya. I’d seen a transition from military rule to democracy in Ghana when I was in high school. I thought this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and I really, really loved it. But the truth is, after 10 years, I realized that I didn’t want to be an expat anymore. I had grown up as an expat kid, and I think that there is a kind of ... I think that long-term expatriate life has the potential to deform your character if you’re not careful. In what way? Well, you lose your ties. For me, it was very clear that the friends who’d been super excited to come visit my wife and I in Senegal or in India when they were in their 20s and early 30s suddenly had like 2- and 3-year-old kids and were like, “We’re not coming to India to visit you.” We’re done. We’re done, and so if we wanted to keep up those ... That included my brothers, by the way, who I’m very close with. I realized that if I wanted to keep those ties up, that I ... You had to come back. I needed to come back. That was very important to me. You also, I think, realize that over time, you do want to do different things and you do want to have different kinds of experiences. I had this very strong interest in technology and media. I was one of the first people to use Twitter at the Times. I was one of the first people to use Twitter as a foreign correspondent, and I remember ... When you used Twitter as a foreign correspondent at the Times, especially when you did it, what does that entail? Well, just meaning that I had an account and that I was tweeting, right? Right, because there was this back and forth, and I think there’s no longer a debate about it, people just say if you have something, if you have a thought, put it up on Twitter. Don’t worry about saving it for the Times. I think at some organizations, still to this day, there’s, “We’re not paying you to publish on Twitter. It needs to go on the wire.” This was even before that debate, right? Right, so they didn’t even just know what Twitter was. I think nobody really knew what Twitter was, except for a few geeky people back in New York. The culture at the Times was so self-effacing, I mean publicly self-effacing. Of course, there are huge egos all over the place, right? And tremendously insecure. Works both ways. Always. Journalists are insecure overachievers, right? But the Times has a really weird mix of, “We’re the New York Times,” and “We’re the New York Times. Do you think we’re going to die?” Right. At first, when I joined Twitter, it had this weird kind of sheen of self-promotion about it. I didn’t want anybody to know about it. I thought, “Oh, this is a really interesting thing that I want to play with, but I don’t want anybody to know that I’m actually doing it.” I joined Twitter just as I was leaving West Africa and going to India. In India, Twitter was huge. It was the way that you tapped into the important elite media conversations and powerful political circles and things like that. I had gotten very, very interested in technological change in media, how information travels and things like that, and sort of through that, I think the folks back in New York knew that this was an interest of mine and eventually they asked me to come back and be a deputy editor on the international desk, in part because I think they were trying to ... This was before the Innovation Report came out. They were trying to really bring in people who had traditional media backgrounds but had ... But also knew how a computer worked or how Twitter worked. Well, that had an aptitude and an interest in sort of digital transformation. The Innovation Report you referenced, we were talking about this on a different podcast a couple weeks ago, that this was the initial thing that came out a few years ago. It was supposed to be internal, but it leaked. It said, among other things, “Hey, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed are reaching a lot of people, oftentimes with our work, better than we are. We should figure out how to do this.” Exactly. Yeah. That’s sort of what you tapped into. Yeah, so when I came back, it was not long after that that they released the Innovation Report. It was clear that there was this strong need at the Times for great journalists to start really engaging with the fundamental problems of our industry. Back to Twitter for a second, my perception of you, and maybe other people feel the same way, was you were someone I knew through Twitter more so than even your work. I’m an ugly American. I probably didn’t read that many international bylines. I knew you, and it was solely through Twitter. Were you aware, sort of consciously, that you were creating space for you and your personal brand through Twitter, or was it just a byproduct of being on Twitter? I guess. I don’t know. I just think that one of the interesting byproducts of being a foreign correspondent is that you spend a lot of time alone. The great thing about Twitter is you’re never alone, and there are always people to talk to. To me, if it was sort of brand-making in that way, it was a symptom of being an extrovert in an introvert’s job. Back to your resume, you were at the Times. You were moving up and up and up. You were everything the New York Times says they want to have. You were digitally savvy. You were smart. You had done international reporting. You’re a woman of color. You’re a lesbian. Not that they say they want those things, but they want a more diverse newsroom. It seems like you could go very, very high up the masthead if you wanted to. I mean, I think, look, those are your words, not mine. I felt like the Times was a great place for me to work, and that it was definitely clear to me that the only limits to my ambition were what I wanted to do and living up to the promise that other people felt that I had. I felt like I was on a great trajectory at the Times and that they had made an extraordinary effort to keep giving me really interesting challenges. There’s a public editor column out this week saying there is a real problem with women at the Times. There aren’t enough of them. There aren’t enough of them in real power. There aren’t enough of them in reporting. Now that you’re outside the paper for a couple months, does your perspective on that change at all? No. Look, they’ve just appointed three very senior editors, female editors, to the masthead, which I think is great, but look, the facts don’t lie. One of the greatest lines in that piece was about how Maggie Haberman alone got 141 million page views. I was like, “That’s extraordinary.” And she’s covering Trump, right, to be fair? She’s covering Trump. And she’s awesome at it. She’s amazing at it. She does these very dishy stories. There are days when without anybody really thinking about it, you’ll have a front page that’s all male bylines. You’ll have a homepage that’s all male bylines. It’s clearly a continuing problem at the Times, and these things are deep. There was this great line in the book about the lawsuit against the Times called “The Girls in the Balcony,” and it’s right at the end where Arthur Sulzberger, the current publisher, is speaking to a group and says, “I hope that the newspaper that my son inherits is better than the one that I did.” I’m paraphrasing here: In an aside, one of the women says to the other, “I hope Arthur remembers that he has a daughter.” By the way, his son’s going to run the paper. Well, he’s the deputy publisher, but I think that it’s ... There have been powerful women in the Sulzberger family, definitely, but this time around, the three competing for the top spot were all male. How important is it for you to have a diverse masthead and newsroom at HuffPo, and do you feel like you’ve got more ability to create that change there than you would have ... that the Times has? It’s absolutely essential to me, and like a lot of people, I think about diversity in a very kind of broad and complex way. I feel like I’m very wedded to economic and class diversity. That seems extremely important in this moment right now. I think that ethnic diversity is always important. Are we doing as well as we could? Absolutely not. Can we do better? Absolutely yes, and I work on it every day. I’m super interested in religious diversity. I feel like it would be great to have more reporters who themselves are people of faith or who grew up at least in environments of faith. Seems like the class and religion part of it is almost harder for at least a publication that’s based in New York City. Your offices are in Manhattan, right? You’re excluding a lot of people who cannot afford to live in or near Manhattan. Right, but we also have people based all around the country. Sure. One of the things that I’ve been trying to do is make it much easier for people to be based in lots of different places and still be full contributors to and staff, or staff members, of HuffPost, because I think that’s an absolutely essential part of it, not saying like, “If you want to work at HuffPost, you have to come to our office on Astor Place.” What’s your relationship like with Arianna Huffington? It’s very warm, friendly. We’ve met twice. Because I saw you once right before you went to see her for the first time, right? Yes, so I met her once right before my appointment was announced. Then she and I had dinner a couple of weeks ago. She’s been incredibly generous. She’s given me lots of advice. So you met her once before the job was announced, but you already had the job? Yes. So you weren’t going there to get her blessing. Oh, no, no, no. In fact, we didn’t really talk about it because it wasn’t public at that time. It was very closely held. She knew you had the job. I actually don’t know if she knew that I had the job. I think she had some inkling, but we didn’t ... This was a Kara Swisher thing. Kara said, “You should talk to Lydia.” Yeah, yeah. I mean, I assume that she had some inkling that that’s what was the context, but I was under strict orders to keep it a secret and so I did. You went and met her, and then you had dinner and ... Then she and I had dinner a few weeks ago. She’s been incredibly generous and welcoming. I think she knows that she built this extraordinary thing, and I think she’s very happy to have another woman carrying it forward. I think that was something that was pretty important to her. I think she wants to see HuffPost thrive and grow, now that she’s moved on. You joked about it at the beginning. You said it’s not going to be Polgreen Post, but it very much ... A lot of that publication’s success in the beginning and for a long time was tied to her personality. She decided they wanted to go on a protest of ... fill up a bus full of people and go protest in Washington. She went and did it. She decided that sleep was very important, so there was a sleep beat. What do you think of that model, sort of saying this is specifically my thing and I’m going to imprint my personality on it, versus this thing has its own DNA and I’m going to sort of steer it? Well, I mean, I think a lot of news organizations kind of start out that way, right? I mean, they’re a vehicle ... I’m talking ancient history now. They’re a vehicle for a founder and a owner who has a particular point of view, an ideology, or interests. The Chandler family running the LA Times until the good Chandler finally came along. I think this has been the history of media for a very long time. Ultimately, I think the ones that succeed find a way to marry the identity of the founder to something that outlives the founder and kind of extends that basic DNA into something much broader. I think that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m incredibly proud of what Arianna built, and I see myself as very much standing on her shoulders and extending it. When is it a good time to check back with you? Because you say you’ve got these reorgs, and you want to start shifting focus a bit. When’s a good time to come back and say, “Here’s what I’ve done”? Do you give yourself a year? Or two years? Yeah. I hope that in a year, you’re going to see a pretty different Huffington Post, both in terms of how it looks and feels, the kinds of stories that we’re doing. I think some things are going to feel very familiar. The splash will always be at the core of our identity. That’s the homepage, if you weren’t paying attention the first time. Yeah, but it’s not just the homepage but the top of the homepage where we have the big headline and the big photo that gives you a snapshot of the HuffPost take of whatever the event of the day is. There’s a great picture right now of Trump’s tie billowing over his head. It’s great. Yeah. I can’t let you leave without one more Trump question. You were one of the several publications that was banned from the press conference with Trump? That is correct, yes. Has that kept going? I see Spicer is continuing to have these gaggles that are now off camera. Have you been let back into the fold? As far as I know, our reporters have been able to get access. It seems that that was a one-time thing. We’re watching that with very, very great concern. I think it’s extremely important that reporters be allowed to do their jobs. That said, HuffPost is not looking for stories in a briefing room. Right, so I keep going back in my head around and around on this question, right? On the one hand, it’s bad for Trump to only speak to a handful of outlets and to cut people off. On the other hand, I think even in the best of circumstances, you’re all going to get the same information. We’ve seen over and over now that the things that Trump’s spokespeople say are often untrue. Yes. Right? Yup. So literally writing what Sean Spicer has said doesn’t help anyone. Yeah. I do think it’s important that a number of journalists, and ideally as many as are accredited to the White House, are able to put questions to the administration. Even if it’s just theater. Even if it’s just a brick wall or worse. Even if it’s just theater, I think it’s important, like for the record, that these questions be asked and that they be confronted. But if the response is going to be, “He is not retiring. He is not recusing himself,” any number of things ... And then 30 seconds later, he recuses himself. Right. It seems like that’s actually a damaging thing, to actually go ahead and say, “Sean Spicer said this,” because what’s the point? No, but I think that again for the record, it’s important to have a full document of the madness of these times. I think that having journalists ask those questions, even if they’re getting absurd answers ... Even if it’s entirely kabuki. Yeah, even if it’s entirely kabuki. If that’s all you do, you’re not doing your job. I think this is one of those places where HuffPost can make judicious choices and say, “You know what? We’re just not going to go to the briefing anymore,” because there’s ... Or Jay Rosen had this great line, “Send the interns,” because if you’re basically just going to be taking down what this person says and that nothing that they say is actually useful or important, then yeah, send the interns. It’s a tough line though, right? HuffPo tried this during the primaries and said, “Trump’s a joke. He’s entertainment. We’re going to cover him as such. He’s not a serious person,” and eventually had to track back because it turns out he’s the president of the United States. Yes. Yeah. I mean, look, I wasn’t there at the time. It’s not what I would have done. I actually think that our job is to report — report, I would say, passionately. I wouldn’t say dispassionately. I think that we should write our stories and let readers make their own conclusions about whether Trump is a joke, whether he’s a misogynist. I wasn’t there at the time. It wasn’t my choice. But I mean, as you think about maybe we’re not going to send anyone to the gaggle, maybe we’ll send the intern to the gaggle, that’s kind of the same decision, right? No, I don’t think that’s the same decision. Because at some point maybe something important happens there. I don’t think that’s the same decision at all, because these are televised events. You can monitor them in a million ways. If something of import is said, you’ll know about it. Absolutely. I think that we will cover Trump aggressively. If we can free up more reporters to cover his administration aggressively or cover the Democrats or cover whoever by not sending someone to the briefing, so be it. You’ve got a pretty cool job. Thanks for telling us about it. Thank you. Thanks for your time, Lydia Polgreen.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
A new debt round. After looking for an investor or a buyer, SoundCloud has settled for a lender: The music service has raised a $70 million debt round. The new funding comes after SoundCloud has spent many months looking to raise $100 million or more, or sell the company. Business Insider first reported the round. Glass half-empty spin: It would have been a more promising sign for the company if they could have found an equity investor. Glass half-full: New investors think there’s at least enough value there to cover their loan. They’ll get paid first if SoundCloud sells. Here’s the comment from a SoundCloud rep: “We are pleased to have secured a flexible $70 million credit line from Ares Capital, Kreos Capital and Davidson Technology that is ideally structured for a company with our strong credit rating and in our stage of growth. This new funding will enable SoundCloud to strategically grow our technology and personnel resources to fuel our expected 2.5 times year-over-year growth in 2017, while building a financially sustainable platform on which our connected community of creators, listeners and curators can thrive for years to come.” And for more on the pros and cons of debt deals, read this post from Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, an early SoundCloud backer. As wise Gabe Rivera notes, Wilson wrote this one shortly after SoundCloud’s debt deal.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
The vote paves the way for a big win for the country’s telecom giants. Republicans in Congress took the first step Thursday toward rolling back federal privacy rules imposed last year on internet providers like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon. In a major win for the telecom industry, the Senate voted — largely along party lines — to scrap the protections put in place by the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission, which had required internet providers to obtain customers’ permission before sharing their personal data with third parties, like advertisers. Officially, the rules remain on the books: The House still has to vote on its version of the measure, called a resolution of disapproval. But Republicans are expected to prevail when they bring their proposal to the chamber’s floor — an inevitability that left consumer-protection groups, along with their Democratic allies in Congress, seething on Thursday. “With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in a statement. “The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them. We should not have to forgo our fundamental right to privacy just because our homes and phones are connected to the internet.”

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
Popularity peaked last July, but its long tail is still going. Remember Pokémon Go? That game you downloaded last summer? You might be surprised, or maybe even impressed, to find out that millions of Americans are still using the app every day, according to comScore’s latest mega data report. Pokémon Go’s incredible rise last July attracted a massive number of players, peaking at 28.5 million daily unique visitors in the U.S. on July 13, 2016, per comScore — about a week after it launched. (For context, that’s about 15 percent of the number of Americans with smartphones.) comScore The rise and fall of Pokémon Go Interest faded quickly, and probably won’t recover. But in this case, the long tail has still been pretty solid — consistently around five million daily unique visitors late last year, according to comScore’s chart.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
But the company won’t cover all of the students’ costs. Google announced today that Howard University will open a campus at the Googleplex in Mountain View this summer, where computer science students from the historically black university will have the option of studying for three months at a time. This is a networking opportunity for students, whose instructors will include Google engineers in addition to Howard faculty. Students will also have access to amenities including the famed employee cafeterias at Google’s corporate headquarters. What this is not: An internship, or a job. Google is not paying the students. A company spokesperson said the university will provide students with a stipend to cover housing and other costs. Students will receive academic credit. By comparison, internships at Google come with a salary of $6,600 a month, plus a monthly housing stipend of $3,000, according to a poll conducted by a Purdue University undergraduate. Rent out here is steep! (Asked to confirm numbers, Google said it doesn’t release compensation data.) Google has stated a commitment to hiring more diverse candidates, announcing in 2015 it would spend $150 million on outside organizations and internal programs aimed at making the company more inclusive. Google is still overwhelmingly white. Black employees account for only 2 percent of its workforce, compared with 59 percent for white and 32 percent Asian, according to Google’s latest diversity report. The new program with Howard University is expected to start with 25-30 students this summer with plans to expand eventually to include 750 students from a longer list of historically black colleges and universities. It’s not clear whether the program will offer students formal special access to job or internship opportunities with Google. In a blog post about the new campus, Google’s head of global partnerships Bonita Stewart said the new campus “is now the centerpiece of Google’s effort to recruit more black software engineers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities — and to make them feel right at home here in Mountain View.”

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