Walmart to stop selling handgun ammunition

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NEW YORK — Walmart says it will discontinue the sale of handgun ammunition and publicly request that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in stores even though state laws may allow it.

The announcement comes just days after a mass shooting claimed seven lives in Odessa, Texas, and follows two other back-to-back shootings last month, one of them at a Walmart store.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter said on Tuesday that it will stop selling short-barrel and handgun ammunition, including .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style weapons, after it runs out of its current inventory. It will also discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, marking its complete exit from handguns and allowing it to focus on hunting rifles and ammunition for those rifles only.

“We have a long heritage as a company of serving responsible hunters and sportsmen and women, and we’re going to continue doing so,” according to a memo by Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon that will be circulated to employees Tuesday afternoon.

Walmart is further requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its stores unless they are law enforcement officers. Last month, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people using an AK-style firearm. Walmart already bans the sale of those firearms. Texas became an open carry state in 2016, allowing people to openly carry firearms in public.

Walmart’s latest move will reduce its market share of ammunition from about 20 percent to about 6 percent to 9 percent, according to the company memo. About half of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores sell firearms.

The nation’s largest retailer has been facing increasing pressure to change its gun policies by gun control activists, employees and politicians after the El Paso shooting and a second unrelated shooting in Dayton, Ohio, in which nine people were killed. A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.

In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Walmart ordered workers to remove video game signs and displays that depict violence from stores nationwide. But that fell well short of demands for the retailer to stop selling firearms entirely. Critics have also urged Walmart to stop supporting politicians backed by the National Rifle Association.

The retailer has long found itself in an awkward spot with its customers and gun enthusiasts. Many of its stores are located in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart to get their equipment. Walmart is trying to walk a fine line by trying to embrace its hunting heritage while being a more responsible retailer.

With its new policy on open carry, McMillon noted in his memo that individuals have tried to make a statement by carrying weapons into its stores just to frighten workers and customers. But there are well-intentioned customers acting lawfully who have also inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.

He said Walmart will continue to treat “law-abiding customers with respect” and it will have a “non-confrontational approach.”

Walmart said it hopes to use its weight to help other retailers by sharing its best practices like software that it uses for background checks. And the company, which in 2015 stopped selling assault rifles like the AR-rifles used in several mass shootings, urged more debate on the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban. McMillon said Walmart will send letters to the White House and congressional leadership that calls for action on these “common sense” measures.

“In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again,” McMillon wrote in his memo. “The status quo is unacceptable.”

Over the past 15 years, Walmart had expanded beyond its hunting and fishing roots, carrying items like assault rifles in response to increasing demand. But particularly since 2015, often coinciding with major public mass shootings, the company has made moves to curb the sale of ammunition and guns.

Walmart announced in February 2018 that it would no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21 and also removed items resembling assault-style rifles from its website. Those moves were prompted by the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.

In 2015, Walmart stopped selling semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 style rifle, the type used in the Dayton shooting. The retailer also doesn’t sell large-capacity magazines, handguns (except in Alaska) or bump stocks, nor the AK-style firearm that was used by the El Paso shooter.

In the mid-1990s, Walmart stopped selling handguns except in Alaska.

Via politico.com

Panera is losing nearly 100% of its workers every year as fast-food turnover crisis worsens

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By Eric Rosenbaum

If you think it sounds like a mathematical impossibility for a company to lose more than 100% of its workers every year, you’ve never worked in the fast-food industry. At fast-food restaurants, losing 100% of employees — and then losing still more of the employees hired to replace those workers — is a common, and worsening, labor problem.

The case of Panera Bread shows just how deep the employee turnover issue is for restaurant companies. Panera loses close to 100% of workers every year, and by fast-food industry standards that’s considered good.

“In the restaurant industry, turnover is 130%, turning over more than a full workforce every year,” said Panera bread CFO Michael Bufano at CNBC’s @Work Human Capital + Finance conference in July. “We are a little under 100%, but still a huge number.”

The official Bureau of Labor Statistics turnover rate for the restaurant sector was 81.9% for the 2015–2017 period, but industry estimates are much higher, reaching 150%, and the problem has gotten worse in recent years. “It’s definitely been going up,” said Rosemary Battchair of HR Studies and International & Comparative Labor at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations.

Batt said decades of fast-food industry efforts to standardize and “routinize” jobs — take the skill out of them — has been intended to create turnover-proof jobs. “If you lose someone, it is not a real cost, because they are so easily replaceable. ... The industry has thrived on this HR model of turnover-proof jobs for many years, because they could get away with it,” she said, through a slack labor market or absorbing the cost of high turnover. But that model is being stretched.

“Now turnover is absolutely excessive, and some chains are beginning to put numbers on the cost of turnover. I know some chains that are focused on it,” Batt said. “Because turnover is getting so serious and because chains have the ability to do the HR analytics, they can begin to cost out turnover and say, ‘This is not a cost we have taken seriously, because historically we were counting on high turnover model as acceptable.’”

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work: People + Machines Summit in San Francisco on Nov. 4. Leaders from Dropbox, Sas, McKinsey and more will teach us how to balance the needs of today with the possibilities of tomorrow, and the winning strategies to compete.

The cost of turnover

How much does turnover cost? According to Batt, the rule of thumb in estimating the expense can be broken down into a few simple parts: the time it takes a manager to hire a worker, the time it takes to train a worker, and the time it takes for them to become proficient on a job — in fast food, that is measured in one to two months, and during that period of time, half of the pay should be considered a loss. And there are less tangible costs: organizational disruption and team disruption.

“If people get beyond 90 days, turnover really drops, and so that’s why we make investments in technology and training in those first 90 days. It has a huge return,” the Panera CFO said at the CNBC event in Chicago. “Turnover and recruiting costs you money and is felt in the guest experience.”

Robin B. DiPietro, director of the International Institute for Foodservice Research and Education at the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, says that six years ago, when she was in touch with Burger King, the average cost of turnover was about $600 per employee.

Cornell’s Batt said a survey of restaurants she helped conduct in 2013 put the cost of fast-food turnover at $1,600 per worker, and that was at a time when turnover was significantly lower.

The turnover cost estimates have kept going up.

The cost per employee now is estimated by the National Restaurant Association at $2,000 per employee. Those figures will vary by restaurant type as fast-food employees are still less expensive to turn over than those in upscale dining. Restaurant research firm TDn2K calculated replacement costs at $2,100 to $2,800. But all operators feel the pinch of the deepening turnover crisis, especially with a higher minimum wage, and higher recurring business costs.

“This is an industry issue across the board, and it’s getting worse with the labor market tighter,” said David Portalatin, NPD Group vice president and food industry advisor. “Restaurants will increasingly look to technology to solve the problem. Both technology to train and automate.”

The rise of the automated order

As far back as 2003, McDonald’s tested kiosks to place orders.

Much has changed in the industry since then, but some basic economics remain unchanged: Restaurants are pressured by rising costs and the ability to pass that on to consumers. The average cost of a restaurant meal increased 2.4% in the last 12 months, according to NPD data, more than the rate of inflation and cost of a grocery basket, and the rising cost puts pressure on restaurant operators. “The economics dictate you can only pay so much and today’s labor market makes it even harder to staff restaurants.”

Making customer interactions “frictionless” and automating repetitive tasks in the kitchen would theoretically allow restaurants to be more efficient with labor.

“In China they’re way ahead of us in automation in the back of the house and front of house,” Portalatin said, referring to the food industry terms for kitchen and customer-facing positions.

Portalatin said there has been a dramatic increase in digital ordering, especially consumers placing orders from mobile phones. Total customer traffic has been flat over the past year, but there has been “a monumental shift” to digital ordering, and NPD Group expects digital orders to increase 23% a year over the next half-decade. Restaurants have an economic incentive to make sure this shift continues to accelerate. Average ticket size from a digital order is higher than a traditional order, which NPD Group attributes, at least in part, to the ability of an app or kiosk to upsell customers and “suggestively sell” based on data collected through digital order histories.

Panera just announced deals with Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub for mobile order delivery. On Wednesday, McDonald’s announced the expansion of a deal with DoorDash to reach a total of 10,000 restaurants, which comes at a time when it estimates 2019 delivery revenue will reach $4 billion. McDonald’s has a total of over 14,000 U.S. locations.

“Turnover is the biggest problem in the industry,” said Jordan Boesch, founder and CEO of 7Shifts, who grew up working in Quiznos locations run by his father. The self-described “quick-service kid” started 7Shifts to provide on-demand staffing andrestaurant shift scheduling to restaurants. A survey of workers using its system found that more than half wanted to grow their careers outside the food industry. Only 25% were looking for a promotion in the restaurant space, and that was heavily tilted to cooks.

Some experts believe the rise of the gig economy is hurting restaurants’ ability to recruit and retain staff, saying it is harder for any worker to justify punching a clock at a fast food restaurant offering little to no benefits.

But Batt says the gig economy, while a fascinating and growing trend, represents half of 1% of the labor force and is not a primary reason for the fast-food sector’s struggle. In fact, 7Shifts is one of many start-ups rushing into the restaurant space as a way to solve staffing woes through on-demand worker networks.

Panera is betting that better training can help. “All training had been in back of kitchen; now it is all on iPhones, and I can see it going to goggles — employees see it right in front of them, training them in a fun and interactive way,” Panera CFO Bufano said.

Panera declined to offer any additional details on its plans to reduce employee turnover beyond what its CFO said at the CNBC event. A spokesman said there was reticence to “share details on more of the secret sauce and statistical success.”

The job no one really wants

Experts who have studied the restaurant business for decades and work with national chains are divided over the extent to which fast-food jobs can be made better. Some do not believe there is no formula combining pay, benefits, training and culture that can save the human worker in this sector.

Abraham Pizam, chair in tourism management and the founding dean of Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, says his position is not popular among academic peers, but he is convinced the fast-food industry is on a path to be the first to fully automate.


No one who thinks of a job as temporary is motivated.

-Abraham Pizam, FOUNDING DEAN OF ROSEN COLLEGE OF HOSPITALITY MANAGEMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA

Low wages, lack of career paths and an overwhelming belief among the working public that fast-food jobs should only ever be temporary all contribute to the worsening turnover issues. “You talk to an employee here in the U.S. and it is nothing to be proud of,” he said. “It’s a job until I graduate or until I’m back on my feet,” he said. “No one who thinks of a job as temporary is motivated.”

There are no other job segments in the U.S. that have higher turnover than the fast-food and fast-casual segments of the restaurant industry, according to DiPietro at the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. “Not even retail.”

She said that’s due to the reputation of the restaurant industry. Many people consider these lower jobs than retail due to hours, job responsibilities and uniforms that typically have to be worn. “Even though the pay may be equal, the perception of restaurants is lower than in retail.”

It’s a devil’s bargain for the companies to accept the status quo in turnover, Pizam said, with lower wages justified by their limited ability to pass along price increases to consumers, but in turn, restaurant operators paying the price through the expense of training and retraining of personnel multiple times a year.

“Sooner or later these jobs will disappear. There is no reason a robot can’t serve,” Pizam said. “In the future, whether 20, 30 or 50 years, only the very top of the restaurant industry will have human beings. Prepared or not, we will see it.”

Pizam is not making a short-term bet on full automation. Public acceptance of a humanless food-service experience will take time, as will the redesign of an entire industry so that minimal human contact is a cost-saver — the initial capital expenditures to overhaul operations, not even including the costs of the robots, will be large.

“The counterargument made is that people like to be served by people and there is no substitute to that. You can’t flatter a robot. But for the fast-food industry, there is no human contact that is personal at this point, anyway.”

“CEOs of these companies understand where we are going. The ultimate solution is robotics. In the long-run it’s menial work and they will admit they can’t satisfy employees and it costs too much in terms of the turnover cycle. Once trained, a robot, if done right — that is years of high productivity. But if they admit that, then it is like saying we failed and no one wants to say that.”

“I don’t think training can be a game-changer,” Boesch of 7Shifts said. “The bigger determining factor for someone to stay with you is if they see a future there.”

Boesch said the big food chains are overly confident: They think they are better at training than they actually are, and as a result, they recruit and hire the wrong people. Citing Jim Sullivan, a well-known restaurant consultant, Boesch said hiring is 90% of the equation and training only 10%. “There is no way to develop the wrong person.”

For the customer-facing positions that are most at risk, Boesch said the best chance of retaining staff is by doing more than just offering competitive wages and hiring people who have personalities that are conducive to service. These personality types want to be engaged and work as part of teams, and they want shift hours that suit their lives outside of work. “The No. 1 thing is interest in the people. ... Pay is important, but would you go across the street to get 50 cents more if it’s a toxic culture?”

“I think it is going to happen for quick service first for sure, full automation,” Boesch said. “To me it is not a matter of if, it is when. These QSRs [quick-service restaurants] are almost going to become like 7-Eleven, a giant vending machine. I don’t know when, but for QSR I feel like it is not astronomically far, but it is not close, either,” he said, with the biggest uncertainty not being the pace of innovation but whether automated systems can meet food safety and regulation requirements. “With the introduction of more ordering kiosks, it feels like the writing is on the wall a little bit,” Boesch said.

Reasons for robot skepticism

Cornell labor expert Batt is skeptical of the robot argument. “I totally disagree with the future being 100% robot. It will take decades to get to a place where kiosks will have such a major effect.”

Batt said that the fast-food industry, which faces steep price competition, is handicapped by the inability to raise wages much, as well as its limited career advancement opportunities. It also has little history of offering competitive benefits. Only 14% of all fast-food restaurants offer sick leave, and only 16% offer paid time off.

An increase in wages mandated by a higher federal minimum wage could lead restaurants to invest more in training, a trend already playing out in many states. “When companies are faced with that kind of hard increase in cost, they have to look for ways to retain workers more in order to justify the wage increase, how to get more effort or better quality, service, and productivity, and that leads them to invest more in training.”

She said the labor problems can be solved by methods other than robots, such as chains putting more effort into hiring better managers and treating workers with more respect. That requires companies being willing to give workers more hours and more predictable scheduling. “That is not very costly for HR to invest in. It just takes managers to be frankly more competent and pay more attention to the issue. ... Maybe they won’t optimize labor costs to the extent they want to, but it will pay off in lower turnover and more satisfies workers and better operations. That should not be hard problem to fix.”

Another potential solution used in other countries is the development of relationships with higher-end companies in the same sector, or what she referred to as a “cross-establishment career ladder.”

“That way workers do have an incentive to stay and shows qualifications that can move them up. ... If McDonald’s would get a worker to stay for year that would be a huge improvement, ” Batt said.

McDonald’s said no executive was available to comment, but a company spokeswoman pointed to several initiatives it has undertaken to confront staffing issues, including a workplace preparedness studyyouth employment program, and educational assistance opportunities for employees.

A major decline in teenagers and college students working in the U.S. and in fast food specifically are factors. Recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that in 1950, the labor force participation rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 52.5%. It reached a high of 58.9% in 1978, dropped to 52% in 2000 and hovered at 34% between 2010 and 2018. The median age of the restaurant worker between 2005 and 2017 was 29, meaning that one-half of all workers in the sector were older than that, with many families raising children on restaurant incomes and benefits. During this same period, teen employment in restaurants plummeted to 17.8%.

The first US robot restaurant already shuttered

The first, fully automated restaurant in the U.S. already exists — or at least, it did.

Eatsa, a quinoa-bowl automat chain that started in San Francisco in 2015 and expanded to New York, shuttered its locations and has since transitioned to a new business model and been renamed Brightloom. The restaurant tech company focuses on helping other restaurants improve operations through use of technology.

Adam Brotman, a former Starbucks executive who in April took over the CEO reins at Brightloom, said although the automated restaurant run preceded his tenure, it was not a failure — some press accounts pegged it as one.

Brotman said the reasoning for the business pivot was a recognition by the company and its backers that all of the money being invested in order management and menu-management technology, and digitization of the customer experience — both out of store and in-store — would lead to a better return on investment as a technology company rather than restaurant operator.

Brotman said that for the first time next year, orders placed off-premise may equal in-store orders. “It’s an amazing stat. Half of the restaurant food consumed.”

McDonalds’ largest acquisition in 20 years was made in March when it acquired Dynamic Yield, which creates personalization and decision logic technology, to help with digital drive-through order optimization. The fast-food giant also is spending $1 billion this year to upgrade 2,000 locations with kiosks and other technology.

But Brotman said the increasing use of technology does not lead him to conclude that restaurant best practice will be “all one or the other.”

“Kiosks are great to break up the line and help drive larger sales. They upsell better and they allow you to deploy labor to optimal throughout. Really what we are seeing is a combination of front-of-the-house automation with traditional human customer experience at the point-of-sales or handoff lane, counter. That combination is ideal for quite a while.”

In order to keep the Big Mac price below $10, they will need to add technology to the restaurants and decrease the number of employees in order to ensure that they can continue to open each day.

-Robin DiPietro, DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR FOODSERVICE RESEARCH AND EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Batt said the Paneras of the food sector can lead the way.

“Many, even in the fast-food arena are looking for ways to upscale a little, as in the Paneras of the world, and that segment of QSR does have more wiggle room, looking to compete more on quality and service, and it pays for them to be looking into better HR practices. If the industry starts there and they set a model, then we will see others follow suit.”

Danny Meyer of Union Hospitality Group has been experimenting with many ways to retain employees at restaurants he owned, which include Shake Shack, from a four-day workweek to a hiring model for customer service positions that focuses on personality assessments.

At Panera all executives complete a short tour of duty working a frontline job in a restaurant location. “Everyone who sits on corporate side works in cafe for a few weeks. I was a terrible barista but good salad maker,” Bufano said.

University of South Carolina restaurant sector expert DiPietro, who worked in fast food for 20 years and started her professional career making drinks before moving up to restaurant manager and district manager, said technology has been talked about in fast food since she entered the field in 1980. “They said that robots were going to take our jobs even then; they did not.”

“In order to keep the Big Mac price below $10, they will need to add technology to the restaurants, and decrease the number of employees in order to ensure that they can continue to open each day. Drink stations that are automated, ordering kiosks (similar to airports), automated fryers and broilers will help, but they cannot take the people fully out of the restaurant.”

Labor academics like Batt and DiPietro say for restaurants to fully address the turnover issues, they need to focus on people, plus robots.

“Look at the hours of the restaurant. Do we need to have 24-hour McDonald’s? If we do, can we have robots run the night shift? Turning the industry around may be as simple as having more restaurants providing tuition reimbursement for employees, employee-designed uniforms, pay differential for nights and weekends, robots doing the menial, non-guest contact tasks,” Batt said.

Brightloom’s Brotman, who comes from the Howard Schultz school of employee management, said Starbucks may be an outlier in offering healthcare, stock options and free online college education to employees, but it should also be an inspiration.

“I don’t think there is a single answer on how everyone should do it. Automation can help with the issue, but I talk about digital tools to allow people to spend their time connecting with customers rather than doing menial tasks. People you have doing the job they want to do, which is ultimately the best use of time. ... I don’t think the restaurant business is thinking about it as ‘we just need to replace people with technology.’”

It might also help if more respect for the fast food worker came from the dining public, according to the most-vehement prognosticators of the inevitable rise of the robot in the kitchen and at the counter. “I’ve been in thousands of fast food restaurants but never seen someone say to a manager, ‘I want to report that this worker was fantastic.’ Especially the counter,” Pizam said.

Via CNBC.com

Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance reach

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By Drew Harwell

The doorbell-camera company Ring has quietly forged video-sharing partnerships with more than 400 police forces across the United States, granting them access to homeowners' camera footage and a powerful role in what the company calls America's "new neighborhood watch."

The partnerships let police automatically request the video recorded by homeowners' cameras within a specific time and area, helping officers see footage from the company's millions of Internet-connected cameras installed nationwide, the company said. Officers don't receive ongoing or live-video access, and homeowners can decline the requests, which are sent via emails that thank them for "making your neighborhood a safer place."

The number of police deals, which has not previously been reported, will likely fuel broader questions about privacy, surveillance and the expanding reach of tech giants and local police. The rapid growth of the program, which launched last spring, surprised some civil-liberties advocates, who believed fewer than 300 agencies had signed on.

Ring is owned by Amazon, which bought the firm last year for more than $800 million, financial filings show. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.

Ring officials and law-enforcement partners portray the vast camera network as an irrepressible shield for American neighborhoods, saying it can assist police investigators and protect homes from criminals, intruders and thieves.

"The mission has always been making the neighborhood safer," said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of Neighbors, Ring's crime-focused companion app. "We've had a lot of success in terms of deterring crime and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly."

But legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm over the company's eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police, saying the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as "suspicious," to greater surveillance and potential risk.

"If the police demanded every citizen put a camera at their door and give officers access to it, we might all recoil," said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor and author of "The Rise of Big Data Policing."

By tapping into "a perceived need for more self-surveillance and by playing on consumer fears about crime and security," he added, Ring has found "a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government."

Launched in 2013 as a line of internet-connected "smart doorbells," Ring has grown into one of the nation's biggest household names in home security. The Santa Monica, California-based company sells a line of alarm systems, floodlight cameras and motion-detecting doorbell cameras starting at $99, as well as monthly "Ring Protect" subscriptions allowing homeowners to save the videos or have their systems professionally monitored around the clock.

Ring users are alerted when the doorbell chimes or the camera senses motion, and they can view their camera's live feed from afar using a mobile app. Users also have the option of sharing footage to Ring's public social network, Neighbors, which allows people to report local crimes, discuss suspicious events and share videos from their Ring cameras, cellphones and other devices.

The Neighbors feed operates like an endless stream of local suspicion, combining official police reports compiled by Neighbors' "News Team" with what Ring calls "hyperlocal" posts from nearby homeowners reporting stolen packages, mysterious noises, questionable visitors and missing cats. Roughly a third of Neighbors posts are for "suspicious activity" or "unknown visitors," the company said. (About a quarter of posts are crime-related; a fifth are for lost pets.)

Users, which the company calls "neighbors," are anonymous on the app, but the public video does not obscure faces or voices from anyone caught on camera. Participating police officers can chat directly with users on the Neighbors feed and get alerts when a homeowner posts a message from inside their watched jurisdiction. The Neighbors app also alerts users when a new police force partners up, saying, "Your Ring Neighborhood just got a whole lot stronger."

To seek out Ring video that has not yet been publicly shared, officers can use a special "Neighbors Portal" map interface to designate a time range and local area, up to half a square mile wide, and get Ring to send an automated email to all users within that range, alongside a case number and message from police.

The user can click to share their Ring videos, review them before sharing or, at the bottom of the email, unsubscribe from future footage-sharing requests. "If you would like to take direct action to make your neighborhood safer, this is a great opportunity," an email supplied by Ring states.

Ring says police officers don't have access to live video feeds and aren't told which homes use Ring cameras unless the user consents. Officers could previously access a "heat map" showing the general density of where Ring devices were in use, but the company said it has removed that feature from the video-request process due to privacy concerns.

Ring said it would not provide user video footage in response to a subpoena, but would comply if company officials were presented with a search warrant or felt they had a legal obligation to produce the content.

Ring users consent to the company giving recorded video to "law enforcement authorities, government officials and/or third parties" if the company believes it's necessary to comply with "legal process or reasonable government request," its terms of service state. The company says it can also store footage deleted by the user to comply with legal obligations.

The high-resolution cameras can provide detailed images of not just a front doorstep but also neighboring homes across the street and down the block. Ring users have further expanded their home monitoring by installing the always-on cameras along driveways, decks and rooftops.

Some officers said they now look for Ring doorbells, notable for their glowing circular buttons, when investigating crimes or canvassing neighborhoods, in case they need to pursue legal maneuvers later to obtain the video.

Ring users have shared videos of package thieves, burglars and carjackers in hopes of naming and shaming the perpetrators, but they've also done so for people - possibly salespeople, petitioners or strangers in need of help - who knock on the door and leave without incident. (Other recorded visitors include lizards, deer, mantises, snakes and snooping raccoons.)

Ring users' ability to report people as suspicious has been criticized for its potential to contribute to racial profiling and heightened community distrust. Last Halloween in southern Maryland, a Ring user living near a middle school posted a video of two boys ringing their doorbell with the title: "Early trick or treat, or are they up to no good?"

The video, which has been viewed in the Neighbors app more than 5,700 times, inspired a rash of comments: Some questioned the children's motives, while others said they looked like harmless kids. "Those cuties? You're joking, right?" one commenter said.

After The Post shared this video with Ring, the company removed it, saying it no longer fits the service's community guidelines because "there is no objective reason stated that would put their behavior in question."

Since formally launching its Neighbors police partnerships with officers in Greenfield, Wisconsin, last March, Ring has extended the program to 401 police departments and sheriff's offices across the country, from northwest Washington state to Key West, Florida, company data show.

The partnerships cover vast expanses of major states - with 31 agencies in California, 57 in Texas and 67 in Florida - and blanket entire regions beneath Ring's camera network, including roughly a dozen agencies each in the metropolitan areas surrounding Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Kansas City, Missouri.

Sgt. William Pickering, an officer with the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia, which is working with Ring, compared the system's expansion to the onset of DNA evidence in criminal cases - a momentous capability, unlocked by new technology, that helps police gain the upper hand.

"We have so many photojournalists out there, and they're right there when things happen, and they're able to take photos and videos all the time. As a law-enforcement agency, that is of great value to us," Pickering said.

"When a neighbor posts a suspicious individual who walked across their front lawn, that allows them at that very moment to share that in real-time with anyone who's been watching. Now we have everybody in the community being alerted to a suspicious person."

(A Ring spokeswoman later said this example would be removed from Neighbors because it does not pass the service's community guidelines, which require "an attempted criminal activity or unusual behavior that is cause for concern.")

Ring has pushed aggressively to secure new police allies. Some police officials said they first met with Ring at a law-enforcement conference, after which the company flew representatives to police headquarters to walk officers through the technology and help them prepare for real-world deployment.

The company has urged police officials to use social media to encourage homeowners to use Neighbors, and Pickering said the Norfolk department had posted a special code to its Facebook page to encourage residents to sign on.

Ring has offered discounts to cities and community groups that spend public or taxpayer-supported funding on the cameras. The firm has also given free cameras to police departments that they can then distribute to local homeowners. The company said it began phasing out the giveaway program for new partners earlier this year.

Pickering said his agency is currently working with its city attorney to classify the roughly 40 cameras Ring gave them as a legal donation. But some officers said they were uncomfortable with the gift, because it could be construed as the police extending an official seal of approval to a private company.

"We don't want to push a particular product," said Radd Rotello, an officer with the Frisco Police Department in Texas, which has partnered with Ring. "We as the police department are not doing that. That's not our place."

Ring has for months sought to keep key details of its police-partnership program confidential, but public records from agencies across the country have revealed glimpses of the company's close work with local police. In a June email to a New Jersey police officer first reported by Motherboard, a Ring representative suggested ways officers could improve their "opt-in rate" for video requests, including greater interaction with users on the Neighbors app.

"The more users you have the more useful information you can collect," the representative wrote. Ring says it offers training and education materials to its police partners so they can accurately represent the service's work.

Ring officials have stepped up their sharing of video from monitored doorsteps to help portray the devices as theft deterrents and friendly home companions. In one recent example, a father in Massachusetts can be seen using his Ring Video Doorbell's speakers to talk with his daughter's date while he was at work, saying, "I still get to see your face, but you don't get to see mine."

The company is also pushing to market itself as a potent defense for community peace of mind, saying its cameras offer "proactive home and neighborhood security in a way no other company has before." The company is hiring video producers and on-camera hosts to develop videos marketing the brand, with a job listing stating that applicants should deliver ideas with an "approachable yet authoritative tone."

Rotello, who runs his department's neighborhood-watch program, said Ring's local growth has had an interesting side effect: People now believe "crime is rampant in Frisco," now that they see it all mapped and detailed in a mobile app. He has had to inform people, he said, that "the crime has always been there; you're just now starting to figure it out."

He added, however, that the technology has become a potent awareness tool for crime prevention, and he said he appreciated how the technology had inspired in residents a newfound vigilance.

"Would you rather live in an 'ignorance is bliss' type of world?" he said. "Or would you rather know what's going on?"

That hyper-awareness of murky and sometimes-distant criminal threats has been widely criticized by privacy advocates, who argue that Ring has sought to turn police officers into surveillance-system salespeople and capitalize on neighborhood fears.

"It's a business model based in paranoia," said Evan Greer, deputy director for the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future. "They're doing what Uber did for taxis, but for surveillance cameras, by making them more user-friendly. . . . It's a privately run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they're marketing it as just another product, just another app."

Ring's expansion has also led some to question its future plans. The company last year applied for a facial-recognition patent that could alert when a person designated as "suspicious" was caught on camera. The cameras do not currently use facial-recognition software, and a spokeswoman said the application was designed only to explore future possibilities.

Amazon, Ring's parent company, has developed facial-recognition software, called Rekognition, that is currently used by police across the country. The technology is improving all the time: Earlier this month, Amazon's Web Services arm announced it had upgraded the face-scanning system's accuracy at estimating a person's emotion and was even perceptive enough to track "a new emotion: 'Fear.'"

For now, the Ring systems' police expansion is earning early community support. Mike Diaz, a member of the city council for Chula Vista, Calif., where police have partnered with Ring, said the cameras could be an important safeguard for some local neighborhoods where residents are tired of dealing with crime. He's not bothered, he added, by the concerns he's heard about how the company is partnering with police in hopes of selling more cameras.

"That's America, right?" Diaz said. "Who doesn't want to put bad guys away?"

Via washingtonpost.com

Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system

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AP/imagechina

By Mike Elgan

In China, scoring citizens’ behavior is official government policy. U.S. companies are increasingly doing something similar, outside the law.

Have you heard about China’s social credit system? It’s a technology-enabled, surveillance-based nationwide program designed to nudge citizens toward better behavior. The ultimate goal is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to the Chinese government.

In place since 2014, the social credit system is a work in progress that could evolve by next year into a single, nationwide point system for all Chinese citizens, akin to a financial credit score. It aims to punish for transgressions that can include membership in or support for the Falun Gong or Tibetan Buddhism, failure to pay debts, excessive video gaming, criticizing the government, late payments, failing to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking, and other actions deemed illegal or unacceptable by the Chinese government.

It can also award points for charitable donations or even taking one’s own parents to the doctor.

Punishments can be harsh, including bans on leaving the country, using public transportation, checking into hotels, hiring for high-visibility jobs, or acceptance of children to private schools. It can also result in slower internet connections and social stigmatization in the form of registration on a public blacklist.

China’s social credit system has been characterized in one pithy tweet as “authoritarianism, gamified.”

At present, some parts of the social credit system are in force nationwide and others are local and limited (there are 40 or so pilot projects operated by local governments and at least six run by tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent).

Beijing maintains two nationwide lists, called the blacklist and the red list—the former consisting of people who have transgressed, and the latter people who have stayed out of trouble (a “red list” is the Communist version of a white list.) These lists are publicly searchable on a government website called China Credit.

The Chinese government also shares lists with technology platforms. So, for example, if someone criticizes the government on Weibo, their kids might be ineligible for acceptance to an elite school.

Public shaming is also part of China’s social credit system. Pictures of blacklisted people in one city were shown between videos on TikTok in a trial, and the addresses of blacklisted citizens were shown on a map on WeChat.

Some Western press reports imply that the Chinese populace is suffocating in a nationwide Skinner box of oppressive behavioral modification. But some Chinese are unaware that it even exists. And many others actually like the idea. One survey found that 80% of Chinese citizens surveyed either somewhat or strongly approve of social credit system.

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE

Many Westerners are disturbed by what they read about China’s social credit system. But such systems, it turns out, are not unique to China. A parallel system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology-industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies.

Here are some of the elements of America’s growing social credit system.

INSURANCE COMPANIES

The New York State Department of Financial Services announced earlier this year that life insurance companies can base premiums on what they find in your social media posts. That Instagram pic showing you teasing a grizzly bear at Yellowstone with a martini in one hand, a bucket of cheese fries in the other, and a cigarette in your mouth, could cost you. On the other hand, a Facebook post showing you doing yoga might save you money. (Insurance companies have to demonstrate that social media evidence points to risk, and not be based on discrimination of any kind—they can’t use social posts to alter premiums based on race or disability, for example.)

The use of social media is an extension of the lifestyle questions typically asked when applying for life insurance, such as questions about whether you engage in rock climbing or other adventure sports. Saying “no,” but then posting pictures of yourself free-soloing El Capitan, could count as a “yes.”

PATRONSCAN

A company called PatronScan sells three products—kiosk, desktop, and handheld systems—designed to help bar and restaurant owners manage customers. PatronScan is a subsidiary of the Canadian software company Servall Biometrics, and its products are now on sale in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

PatronScan helps spot fake IDs—and troublemakers. When customers arrive at a PatronScan-using bar, their ID is scanned. The company maintains a list of objectionable customers designed to protect venues from people previously removed for “fighting, sexual assault, drugs, theft, and other bad behavior,” according to its website. A “public” list is shared among all PatronScan customers. So someone who’s banned by one bar in the U.S. is potentially banned by all the bars in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada that use the PatronScan system for up to a year. (PatronScan Australia keeps a separate system.)

Judgment about what kind of behavior qualifies for inclusion on a PatronScan list is up to the bar owners and managers. Individual bar owners can ignore the ban, if they like. Data on non-offending customers is deleted in 90 days or less. Also: PatronScan enables bars to keep a “private” list that is not shared with other bars, but on which bad customers can be kept for up to five years.

PatronScan does have an “appeals” process, but it’s up to the company to grant or deny those appeals.

UBER AND AIRBNB

Thanks to the sharing economy, the options for travel have been extended far beyond taxis and hotels. Uber and Airbnb are leaders in providing transportation and accommodation for travelers. But there are many similar ride-sharing and peer-to-peer accommodations companies providing similar services.

Airbnb—a major provider of travel accommodation and tourist activities—bragged in March that it now has more than 6 million listings in its system. That’s why a ban from Airbnb can limit travel options.

Airbnb can disable your account for life for any reason it chooses, and it reserves the right to not tell you the reason. The company’s canned message includes the assertion that “This decision is irreversible and will affect any duplicated or future accounts. Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account.” The ban can be based on something the host privately tells Airbnb about something they believe you did while staying at their property. Airbnb’s competitors have similar policies.

It’s now easy to get banned by Uber, too. Whenever you get out of the car after an Uber ride, the app invites you to rate the driver. What many passengers don’t know is that the driver now also gets an invitation to rate you. Under a new policy announced in May: If your average rating is “significantly below average,” Uber will ban you from the service.

WHATSAPP

You can be banned from communications apps, too. For example, you can be banned on WhatsApp if too many other users block you. You can also get banned for sending spam, threatening messages, trying to hack or reverse-engineer the WhatsApp app, or using the service with an unauthorized app.

WhatsApp is small potatoes in the United States. But in much of the world, it’s the main form of electronic communication. Not being allowed to use WhatsApp in some countries is as punishing as not being allowed to use the telephone system in America.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH SOCIAL CREDIT, ANYWAY?

Nobody likes antisocial, violent, rude, unhealthy, reckless, selfish, or deadbeat behavior. What’s wrong with using new technology to encourage everyone to behave?

The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extralegal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights.

Social credit systems are an end-run around the pesky complications of the legal system. Unlike China’s government policy, the social credit system emerging in the U.S. is enforced by private companies. If the public objects to how these laws are enforced, it can’t elect new rule-makers.

An increasing number of societal “privileges” related to transportation, accommodations, communications, and the rates we pay for services (like insurance) are either controlled by technology companies or affected by how we use technology services. And Silicon Valley’s rules for being allowed to use their services are getting stricter.

If current trends hold, it’s possible that in the future a majority of misdemeanors and even some felonies will be punished not by Washington, D.C., but by Silicon Valley. It’s a slippery slope away from democracy and toward corporatocracy.

In other words, in the future, law enforcement may be determined less by the Constitution and legal code, and more by end-user license agreements.

Via fastcompany.com

The Phony Patriots of Silicon Valley

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Kevin Roose writes:

Top tech companies are rallying around the flag. How opportunistic of them.
Not long ago, many leading technologists considered themselves too lofty and idealistic to concern themselves with the petty affairs of government. John Perry Barlow, a lion of the early internet, addressed his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” to the “governments of the industrial world,” saying that for him and his fellow netizens, these creaky institutions had “no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”

But that was before privacy scandals, antitrust investigations, Congressional hearings, Chinese tariffs, presidential tweets and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Now, as they try to fend off regulation and avoid being broken up, some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley are tripping over their Allbirds in a race to cozy up to the United States government. These companies’ motives vary — some are vying for lucrative public-sector contracts, while others are lobbying against regulation by painting China as a red menace that must be defeated for the good of the country.

Either way, the game is the same: salute the flag, save our bacon.

The latest example of Silicon Valley’s patriotic playacting comes courtesy of Peter Thiel, the Trump-backing venture capitalist. In an op-ed in The New York Times this month, Mr. Thiel took Google to task for opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing while canceling a controversial Pentagon contract, accusing the company of trying to “evade responsibility for the good of the country.”

Mr. Thiel’s obvious conflicts of interest aside (he is on the board of Facebook, Google’s rival, and is the chairman of the technology firm Palantir, which has lucrative government contracts of its own), seeing him lecture anyone on patriotism is rich. He was among the first major supporters of the Seasteading movement — a group of libertarians who wanted to flee the United States and build a floating city in international waters — and in 2011, he became a New Zealand citizen after buying up property there. (“It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am a New Zealand citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country,” Mr. Thiel wrote in his citizenship application.)

But Mr. Thiel, who did not respond to a request for comment, is far from the only tech titan trading in his hoodie for a flag pin.

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief, has also been warning that if the social network — the proud, American social network, that is — is broken up or harshly regulated, it will only be a matter of time before China takes over the global tech industry.

In an interview last year, Mr. Zuckerberg said that if Facebook were broken up by American regulators, “the alternative, frankly, is going to be the Chinese companies.”

David Marcus, one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s lieutenants and the executive in charge of Facebook’s digital currency project, called Libra, echoed that point while testifying before Congress last month.

“I believe that if America does not lead innovation in the digital currency and payments area, others will,” Mr. Marcus said. “If we fail to act, we could soon see a digital currency controlled by others whose values are dramatically different.”

Mr. Zuckerberg, who speaks Mandarin, is an odd choice to lead the charge against China. He has spent much of the last decade trying desperately to curry favor with the Chinese government in hopes of getting Facebook’s apps — which are banned there — permission to operate in one of the world’s most lucrative markets. Mr. Zuckerberg even reportedly offered to let Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, name his second child. (Mr. Xi declined.)

Google, too, is rallying around the flag. The company’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, went to the White House to visit with President Trump in March, to discuss government contracts and reassure the president that Google does not discriminate against conservatives. This month, in a series of tweets attacking Mr. Pichai and Google, President Trump recalled that meeting, which he described as “Mr. Pichai working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China’s military, that they didn’t help Crooked Hillary over me in the 2016 Election.”

Like Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Pichai was a China booster before he began distancing himself from the country. Last year, Mr. Pichai had a large team of Google engineers building a prototype search engine, called Dragonfly, that was designed to be compatible with China’s censorship regime. The project was dropped amid heated internal dissent from Google employees. But it reportedly would have blocked sites like Wikipedia, as well as other material considered objectionable by Chinese authorities.

Amazon and Apple, two tech giants that love America so much that they have gone to elaborate lengths to avoid paying taxes to its Treasury, are also promoting themselves as national champions. After President Trump criticized Apple’s plans to do some of the assembly of its Mac Pro in China, the company reiterated its desire to keep much of the computer’s assembly in the United States. And Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has knocked rival firms for insufficient patriotism, saying that “if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.”

Representatives for Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple all declined to comment.

Conspicuous patriotism is not a new tactic for companies accused of bad behavior. In the 1980s and 1990s, defenders of American tech giants like IBM and Microsoft argued that those companies’ monopolistic behaviors were necessary to stave off competition from Japanese rivals. During World War II, Hollywood movie studios delayed a federal antitrust crackdown, in part by agreeing to help the military in the war effort.

Meredith Whittaker, a co-founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University and a former Google employee, characterized the tech industry’s scaremongering about China as a tactical move meant to deflect criticism.

“It’s a really convenient narrative,” Ms. Whittaker said. “It evokes nationalism and a red scare trope that has worked in the past. And it implies that regulation, accountability, and taking a pause to consider ethics would be counter to ‘winning.’”

Patriotic posturing may be a cynical tactic, but it could also be a smart one. Today’s big tech companies are in a better negotiating position than most industries under fire. The meteoric growth of companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon has bolstered the American stock market and made Silicon Valley a global innovation hub. Even if the motives of the tech giants are questionable, the importance of technologies like 5G connectivity and artificial intelligence to the country’s competitive position isn’t lost on lawmakers.

Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat who represents parts of Silicon Valley in Congress, has called for greater regulation of tech companies. But in an interview this month, he told me that the risk of losing ground to China worried him.

“There is a risk that we could see a Berlin digital wall,” Mr. Khanna said. “The question is, are the values of liberty, privacy and freedom of speech going to be embedded in technology platforms? China’s platforms do not have many of the values that liberal democracies believe in.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with the belief that America’s values are superior to those found in Shanghai and Shenzhen, or that American tech companies should act in the country’s best interest. But lawmakers should be appropriately wary of Silicon Valley’s charm campaign, and they should avoid conflating what’s good for Facebook, Google and other tech companies with what’s good for the nation. Tech executives might be whistling “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” but they really just want to be left alone.

Via nytimes.com

Take A Break: Working Long Hours Linked To Increased Stroke Risk

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John Anderer writes:

PARIS — Despite billionaire CEOs like Jeff Bezos or Jack Ma preaching that 10-12 hour work days should be the norm for their employees, a recent study conducted in Paris finds that working long hours may lead to an increased chance of stroke. This is especially true if someone works long days regularly for 10 or more years.

Interestingly, the study also found that people under the age of 50 who had already worked long hours for at least a decade were at an even higher risk of suffering a stroke.

Long work hours were defined as working a minimum of 10 hours daily for at least 50 days per year.

To come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed data collected as part of a French population-based study in 2012. A total 143,592 individuals were surveyed, all between the ages of 18-69. Each person was asked about their work schedules, gender, and smoking habits. Medical histories were also referenced in regards to any cardiovascular risk factors or previous stroke episodes.

Of all surveyed participants, 42,542 (42%) reported working long hours, and 14,481 (10%) reported working long hours for 10 years or more. A total of 1,224 of the participants actually suffered a stroke.

After crunching the numbers, researchers say that those working long days had a 29% greater chance of suffering a stroke, while those who worked long hours for over 10 years had a 45% greater chance of a stroke.

“The association between 10 years of long work hours and stroke seemed stronger for people under the age of 50,” says study author Dr. Alexis Descatha, a researcher at Paris Hospital, Versailles and Angers University and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, in a statement. “This was unexpected. Further research is needed to explore this finding.”

Descatha also mentioned that many healthcare providers typically work very long hours, often well beyond 10-12 hours. With this in mind, Descatha believes many medical professionals are likely at a high risk of suffering a stroke.

Prior studies have indicated that long work days have less adverse health effects on individuals in more managerial positions such as CEOs or executives, but researchers speculate this is because people in authoritative roles typically have the ability to set their own hours and work at their own pace.

The study is published in the scientific journal Stroke.

Via studyfinds.org

Markets Right Now: Stocks sink after Trump raises tariffs

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NEW YORK (AP) — The latest on developments in financial markets (all times local):

4 p.m.

Stocks took a nosedive and bond prices spiked after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would raise tariffs on more Chinese goods, increasing the stakes in an ongoing trade battle.

The market had been on track for its biggest gain in nearly two months Thursday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up nearly 300 points but plunged as much as 315.

Retailers and technology companies, which do a lot of business with China, took heavy losses.

Best Buy sank 10.8% and Micron lost 2.9%.

The S&P 500 fell 26 points, or 0.9%, to 2,953.

The Dow lost 280 points, or 1%, to 26,583. The Nasdaq gave up 64 points, or 0.8%, to 8,111.

Bond prices soared. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.89%, the lowest since November 2016.

___

1:37 p.m.

Stocks dropped sharply on Wall Street and investors snapped up bonds after President Donald Trump escalated his trade battle with China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went from a gain of more than 250 to a loss of 179.

Trump said in a tweet that the U.S. would place a 10% tariff on $300 billion in Chinese imports as of September 1 following the conclusion of the latest round of slow-moving trade talks.

Companies that rely heavily on sales to China took the brunt of the selling. Apple quickly went from a gain of 1.4% to a loss of 1.4%.

Bond prices spiked as traders sought safety. The yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped to 1.88%, the lowest it’s been since the 2016 election.

___

11:45 a.m.

Stocks are moving steadily higher as General Motors and other big-name companies report solid earnings.

GM rose 3.1% Thursday after its profits came in far better than analysts were expecting. The automaker said higher prices for pickup trucks and SUVs helped overcome slowing sales.

The gains came a day after markets were spooked by comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell indicating the Fed was not embarking on a long cycle of lower interest rates.

The S&P 500 rose 30 points, or 1%, to 3,010.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 275 points, or 1%, to 27,137. The Nasdaq climbed 123 points, or 1.5%, to 8,298.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury fell to 1.96%, the first time it’s been below 2% since July 3.

___

9:35 a.m.

Stocks are edging higher in early trading as investors are reassured by solid earnings reports from several big-name companies.

General Motors added 2% early Thursday after reporting earnings that were far higher than analysts were expecting. The automaker said higher prices for pickup trucks and SUVs helped overcome slowing sales.

The early gains came a day after markets were spooked by comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell indicating the Fed was not embarking on a long cycle of lower interest rates.

The S&P 500 index rose 7 points, or 0.2%, to 2,987.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 50 points, or 0.2%, to 26,915. The Nasdaq rose 53 points, or 0.6%, to 8,227.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to just under 2%.

Via apnews.com

US Awards Patent for Blockchain-Based Firearm Data Recording System

Max Boddy writes:

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Two American inventors have won a patent for a blockchain-based recording system for ballistic data. 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded two inventors — Jason Palazzolo and Kevin Barnes — a patent for a “firearm environmental recording apparatus and system” on July 23.

This apparently could include multiple recording devices, including a camera, microphone, and spatial sensor module that can record velocity, spatial measurements and acceleration data. 

The filing states that a blockchain database or network could be used to store or be associated with any of the data gathered by the mechanisms.

Justifire and evidence for self-defense

According to LinkedIn, Jason Palazzolo is the founder and CEO of a company called Justifire. On its website, Justifire advertises a product called a “blackbox for your firearm.” The featured device attaches to the barrel of a pistol and contains the same features mentioned in the patent — video, audio and spatial recording and data gathering.

The website claims that the purpose of this technology is to provide proof of self-defense, saying, “This valuable data could be used by its owner as evidence of an event where lethal action was required.” Justfire additionally claims that only it will be able to access the encrypted information, by default:

“Data and video footage that involves a violent action taken against another human will be automatically recognized by the device and instantly encrypted, becoming un-accessible to all parties except Justifire Technologies LLC. Data will be provided to the owner of the device only through specific legal request, preventing any party from submitting the public to graphic illegal actions.”

Blockchain-based gun monitoring

As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Missouri State Representative Nicholas Schroer proposed a bill in 2017 to make blockchain-based gun monitoring illegal. The bill, which was entitled “Imposes Restrictions on the Use of Firearm Tracking Technology” stated:

"It shall be unlawful to require a person to use or be subject to electronic firearm tracking technology or to disclose any identifiable information about the person or the person's firearm for the purpose of using electronic firearm tracking technology."

However, the bill did include exceptions to this policy, specifically for law enforcement officials, merchants using distributed ledgers to report sales and firearm owners who have expressly issued a written authorization for monitoring their weapons.

Via Cointelegraph.com

Dunkin’ Joins Meatless Rush with Beyond Patty

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Heather Haddon reports:

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. DNKN +1.24% is diving into the meat-replacement craze.

The chain said Wednesday that it had added a breakfast sandwich made with Beyond Meat Inc.’s vegetarian “sausage” patty to the menu at 163 Dunkin’ stores Manhattan, and that it would soon serve them nationwide.

That makes Dunkin’ the latest of more than a dozen big restaurant chains that have added meat substitutes made by Beyond and rival Impossible Foods Inc. since 2017. Executives at those companies say they don’t want to miss out on consumer curiosity and demand for products that are marketed as more healthful and environmentally friendly than beef and pork.

“We are all about democratizing trends,” Dunkin’ Chief Executive Dave Hoffmann said in an interview.

Sales of plant-based meats in retail are up 10% in the past year to about $800 million annually, according to figures released by trade groups last week, and serving of plant-based burgers at fast-food chains have also climbed 10% from a year ago as more restaurants have added them to menus.

But Beyond and Impossible products have also faced shortages recently as demand and the number of new restaurants where they are on offer have outstripped production capacity. Some of the biggest restaurant chains including McDonald’s Corp. have said they are watching to see whether customers make eating the patties a habit.

Beyond co-founder and Chief Executive Ethan Brown said Wednesday that the company is addressing supply constraints, including by expanding production at new facilities.

“We were surprised in the interest consumers were showing in our products, and that it turned on very quickly,” Mr. Brown said.

Investors eager to jump in on the meat-replacement trend have pushed Beyond’s shares to $200 since they debuted at $25 in May. Beyond’s shares rose more than 4% Wednesday, and Dunkin’s stock was up 1%.

Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons, part of Restaurant Brands International Inc., started offering breakfast sandwiches using a Beyond sausage patty at close to 4,000 locations in Canada in June. Beyond, based in El Segundo, Calif., since 2017 has struck deals to sell its burger and sausage alternatives at chains including TGI Friday’s,Del Taco Restaurants Inc. TACO 0.36% and Carl’s Jr., the burger chain operated by CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc.

Rival Impossible Foods Inc. has its own fake-meat patties in “Impossible Whoppers” at Burger King, and replacement sausage toppings at Little Caesars Pizza.

Dunkin’, based in Canton., Mass., said it would suggest its franchisees sell the Beyond sausage sandwich for $4.29, around the same as many of its other Dunkin’ breakfast sandwiches. Dunkin’ franchisees set their own prices. Mr. Hoffmann said the sandwich will be profitable for franchisees at that price.

The meatless offering is the latest move Dunkin’ has made to push its image beyond drip coffee and doughnuts. The company recently reintroduced espresso and dropped “Donuts” from its name to appeal to customers looking for quick, affordable coffee and food.

“It’s all about transforming our brand and making it more relevant,” Mr. Hoffmann said.

Via wsj.com

Bitcoin Startup Brings Lightning Network Payments to Amazon, Whole Foods

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Marie Huillet reports:

United States-based payments startup Fold has made Lightning Network (LN) payments possible at Amazon, Starbucks, Uber and other big name retailers. The news was revealed in an official blog post published on July 10.

As previously reported, the Bitcoin (BTC) Lightning Network is a second-layer solution to bitcoin’s scalability limitations, opening payment channels between users that keep the majority of transactions off-chain, turning to the underlying blockchain only to record the net results.

In its announcement, Fold reveals that participating selected retailers will settle users’ LN payments — denominated in satoshis, or one hundred millionth of one Bitcoin — via their prepaid access programs in a currency of their choice. 

LN payments are thus processed via the Fold site, where users can select a retailer and pay the relevant invoice using their Lightning wallet. Once paid, this provides them with a gift card — at a maximum value of $25 — that is redeemable either in-store using a barcode or online via alphanumeric code. 

Beyond the evident scalability and accessibility benefits of providing LN support at major retailers, Fold underscores that its services more broadly aim to keep faith with the cornerstone principles of crypto: meaning no Know-Your-Customer (KYC) checks, a non-custodial system and — in an outburst of Bitcoin maximalism — no support for altcoins.

Beyond the aforementioned Amazon, Starbucks, and Uber, Fold’s Lightning payment service is also available for REI, Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, Target, AMC, Whole Foods and others. 

Fold follows other third-party crypto payment processors aiming to provide ways for users to use Lightning at major e-commerce and retail locations. 

This April, fellow startup Moon launched a web browser extension allowing online shoppers to use their Lightning wallets for purchases on Amazon and similar sites. As Fold, Moon serves as an intermediary — meaning that household names like Amazon are for now still not handling or processing the crypto directly.

As reported, Fold had rolled out its Bitcoin payments service — this time explicitly designed as a gift card — that was available for use at retailers such as Starbucks as early as 2015.

This March, blockchain development firm Lightning Labs announced the initial release of the Lightning offramp Lightning Loop, providing a non-custodial way to receive funds via the network.

Via Cointelegraph.com

Chia Releases Green Paper Detailing Eco-Friendly Means of Crypto Mining

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San Francisco-based tech firm Chia Network has released a green paper that describes an eco-friendly means of mining cryptocurrencies.

The green paper provides a description of how proof of space and proof of time create a "Nakamoto-style" consensus algorithm for Chia’s blockchain. Specifically, Chia proposes to “farm” rather than mine to verify blockchains that issue cryptocurrencies, wherein proof of space and proof of time take the place of the proof of work (PoW) principle used for mining of Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH). The paper further explains: 

“Instead of using proofs of work, Chia alternates proofs of space with verifiable delay functions. This results in a chain than in many aspects is similar to Bitcoin, in particular, as in Bitcoin no synchronisation is needed and we can prove rigorous security guarantees assuming a sufficient fraction of the resource (space in Chia, computation in Bitcoin) is controlled by honest parties.”

Initially, Chia’s CEO Bram Cohen debuted his solution to Bitcoin in late 2017, which he said resolves “centralization problems” with the virtual currency by employing the concept of proof-of-time. Cohen said “the idea is to make a better Bitcoin, to fix the centralization problems,” relying on a two-step block authentication method.

As reported in June, the carbon emissions generated by Bitcoin are comparable to the whole of Kansas City, and even a small country, according to a study published in the Joule journal. With annual emissions of CO2 estimated at between 22 and 22.9 megatons, Bitcoin sits somewhere between Jordan and Sri Lanka in terms of output. The study suggested that this level would double if every other cryptocurrency was also taken into account.

According to a March study by a blockchain specialist at Big Four auditing firm PwC, renewable energy would not be enough to solve bitcoin’s sustainability problem. The carbon footprint of a Bitcoin transaction reportedly outpaces that of a traditional non-cash banking transaction.


Via Cointelegraph.com

Ross Perot, self-made billionaire, patriot and philanthropist, dies at 89

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Cheryl Hall writes:

Ross Perot, self-made billionaire, renowned patriot and two-time independent candidate for U.S. president, has died after a five-month battle with leukemia.

He was 89.

The pioneer of the computer services industry, who founded Electronic Data Systems Corp. in 1962 and Perot Systems Corp. 26 years later, was just 5-foot-6, but his presence filled a room.

"Describe my father?" Ross Perot Jr., his only son and CEO of the Perot Group, asked rhetorically in an interview. "Obviously a great family man, wonderful father. But at the end of the day, he was a wonderful humanitarian.

"Every day he came to work trying to figure out how he could help somebody."

Perot was diagnosed with leukemia in February. A massive secondary infection the next month nearly killed him, according to the family.

In true Perot fashion, he fought back, showing up at the office most days in his dark suit with the omnipresent American flag on his lapel.

Perot entertained a steady stream of well-wishers at Perot headquarters on Turtle Creek Boulevard and spent Easter with his family at their compound in Bermuda.

He celebrated his 89th birthday in June with a family lunch at his office and a dinner at the home of his daughter, Carolyn Perot Rathjen.

One of his recent visitors was Morton H. Meyerson, the former EDS and Perot Systems president and CEO. Perot named Dallas' symphony hall after Meyerson when Perot donated $10 million toward its construction in 1984.

"Ross was the unusual combination of his father, who was a powerful, big, burly cotton trader — a hard-ass, practical, cut-deals person — and a mother who was a little-bitty woman who was sweet, warm, wonderful," Meyerson said. "Ross was tough, smart, practical, loved to negotiate. But he had a warm and kind heart, too."

In recent years, Perot Sr.'s memory was dimming, but he and Margot, his wife of more than 60 years, maintained a steady social calendar.

Nancy Perot said there was a private, tender side to her father that was often eclipsed by his bolder-than-life public persona. 

No matter how busy Perot was, family dinners were sacrosanct when the children were growing up. The only time he wasn't at the head of the table to say grace was when he was out of town.

"I want people to know about Dad's twinkle in his eyes," she said. "He always gave us the biggest hugs. We never doubted that we were the most important things in his life."

Strong roots

Family influence and an East Texas upbringing molded Perot.

The third child of Lulu May Ray and Gabriel Ross Perot was born in Texarkana in 1930.

He was named Henry Ray, after his maternal grandfather. But Perot changed his middle name in his early teens to honor his beloved father. His older brother, Gabriel Ross Jr., died as a toddler.

When Perot was 25, he dug his father's grave with a shovel and filled it as a final tribute to him.

Perot started throwing the Texarkana Gazette as an 8-year-old. He later credited his newspaper experience with shaping his entrepreneurial ways.

Perot attended Texarkana College before entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949.

He met Margot on a blind date when he was a midshipman and she was at Goucher College in Baltimore.

In his autobiography, Ross Perot: My Life & the Principles for Success, Perot reflected on getting several pairs of shoes and a dozen sets of underwear after being sworn into the academy on his 19th birthday. 

He had never had more than one pair of shoes and three or four sets of underwear at a time in his life.

"This was possibly my first example of government waste," he wrote.

Bill Gates of the '60s

As of July, Forbesestimated Perot's wealth at $4.1 billion, making him the 478th-richest person in world. That didn't include the riches he bestowed on his family and community.

Forbes ranked Perot's self-made quotient as a full-fledged 10. That's because he started his empire on his 32nd birthday as a one-man operation financed with $1,000 borrowed from Margot.

Perot came up with the name Electronic Data Systems while attending Sunday service at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, where he and Margot have been members since moving to Dallas in 1957. He scribbled it down on the back of a pledge envelope.

Perot became a multimillionaire when he took EDS public in 1968.

In a 2018 interview, Perot Jr. described the family's dinner the night before the company's IPO. "Dad said, 'Now tomorrow, we're going to take EDS public, and a lot of people are going to write about the money that we have. But remember, none of this is important. The only thing that's important is our family and how we take care and respect our family.'

"That's the first time we ever had a money conversation in the family.

"Then we watched Dad become the Bill Gates of the '60s. As I tell the children, Fortune said he was 'the fastest, richest Texan ever.' "

Fortune added the "H." to Perot's name when it put him on its cover after EDS went public. "The media took to it, and it stuck," said Perot Jr.

Perot became a billionaire in 1984 when General Motors Corp. bought EDS for nearly $2.6 billion.

But the marriage of titans was short-lived, with Perot and GM chairman Roger Smith at loggerheads over such things as GM's two underfunded employee pension plans while top management's retirement plan had no such deficit.

In 1986, the automaker shelled out $750 million to buy back Perot's stock. Perot agreed to sever all ties with GM and EDS and end his public haranguing of Smith.

Unfortunately for EDS, GM didn't get a noncompete agreement.

In 1988, Perot, Perot Jr. and a handful of former EDS loyalists launched Perot Systems in Plano. The information technology services company grew to more than 23,000 employees and had an annual revenue of $2.8 billion when Dell Inc. acquired it in 2009 for $3.9 billion.

Father and son pocketed another $1 billion in that deal.

"Ross had an uncanny ability to think about six moves ahead," said former EDS executive Tom Meurer, trustee of the Perot Family Trust. "He saw things that most people didn't. It was a sixth sense."

Continue reading via dallasnews.com

Facebook Releases Cryptocurrency White Paper for Libra Currency

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Aaron Wood reports:

Social media giant Facebook has released the white paper for its long-awaited cryptocurrency and blockchain-based financial infrastructure project today, June 18.

According to the paper, Facebook’s global stablecoin, dubbed “libra,” will operate on the native and scalable Libra blockchain, and be backed by a reserve of assets ostensibly “designed to give it intrinsic value” and mitigate volatility fluctuations.  

These assets consist of a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities that will be held in the Libra Reserve for every Libra that is issued.

The website for the digital asset, calibra.com, was briefly down around 5AM EST, about when it went live.

The new cryptocurrency will be governed by a not-for-profit, Switzerland-based consortium — the “Libra Association” — which counts MastercardPayPalVisa, Stripe, eBay, Coinbase, Andreessen Horowitz and Uber among its founding members.

Facebook ostensibly plans to expand the association to around 100 members by the time of Libra’s launch in the first half of 2020. The white paper notes that:

“While final decision-making authority rests with the association, Facebook is expected to maintain a leadership role through 2019. Facebook created Calibra, a regulated subsidiary, to ensure separation between social and financial data and to build and operate services on its behalf on top of the Libra network.”

The Libra Association is itself governed by the Libra Association Council. The council’s members initially are the founding members, each of which runs a validator node on the network and was notably required to make a minimum investment of $10 million to seal the position. Each $10 million investment secures an entity one vote on the council, per Facebook.

Facebook has also revealed the release of the Libra Investment Token — distinct from its global user-oriented cryptocurrency libra — which can be purchased or distributed as dividends to the association’s founding members and accredited investors.

As libra is not technically pegged to any given national fiat currency, the white paper states that users will not always be able to redeem the token for a fixed amount of fiat, although Facebook claims that the reserve assets have been chosen so as to minimize volatility.

While the reserve assets are ostensibly held by “a geographically distributed network of custodians” in order to secure decentralization, the reserve is managed by the association itself, which is the only party able to mint and destroy the coin.

New libra are minted once authorized resellers have purchased the coins from the association with enough fiat to fully back their value, and burned when authorized resellers sell the token back to the association in exchange for the underlying assets. Moreover, the white paper states:

“Since authorized resellers will always be able to sell Libra coins to the reserve at a price equal to the value of the basket, the Libra Reserve acts as a ‘buyer of last resort.’”

Facebook further notes that the software that implements the Libra blockchain is open source in order to create an interoperable ecosystem of financial services and broaden inclusion.

Previous reports had indicated that the coin will facilitate payments across Facebook’s various platforms including WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, giving the new coin potential exposure to a combined 2.7 billion users each month.

Via cointelegraph.com

Samsung to Seek Collaboration With Platform Firms on Blockchain Innovation and 6G

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Marie Huillet reports:

The vice chairman of South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung says the firm will seek to collaborate with platform companies on the development of blockchain, artificial intelligence and sixth-generation mobile networks. The news was reported by Bloomberg on June 16.

The vice chairman, Jay Y. Lee — who reportedly serves as the firm’s de facto leader — held discussions with Samsung executives to discuss the potential collaborations last week, according to a company statement cited by Bloomberg. A platform company is an initial acquisition by a private equity firm for the purpose of making further acquisitions within a certain sector.

Per Bloomberg, the move to pursue bleeding-edge technologies such as blockchain and 6G comes amid a rapidly changing business climate and structural changes in the technology industry, which ostensibly presents new challenges for major firms. In the statement, Lee noted:

“We should challenge ourselves with a resolution to make new foundations, moving beyond the scope of protecting our past achievements.”

As reported this May, Samsung’s forthcoming budget smartphones will allegedly include cryptocurrency and blockchain features.

Crypto and blockchain-related functionality already confirmed for the Samsung S10 will thus ostensibly be included in other Galaxy smartphone models.

At the end of April, an anonymous source had claimed that Samsung could eventually develop a public-private blockchain complete with its own token.

A Cointelegraph analysis published earlier this month covered the burgeoning trend among South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, Naver and NHN to pursue blockchain innovation, despite the government’s tough stance toward decentralized cryptocurrencies.

Via Cointelegraph.com

The Day the Music Burned

JODY ROSEN - The fire that swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday, June 1, 2008, began early that morning, in New England. At 4:43 a.m., a security guard at the movie studio and theme park saw flames rising from a rooftop on the set known as New England Street, a stretch of quaint Colonial-style buildings where small-town scenes were filmed for motion pictures and television shows. That night, maintenance workers had repaired the roof of a building on the set, using blowtorches to heat asphalt shingles. They finished the job at 3 a.m. and, following protocol, kept watch over the site for another hour to ensure that the shingles had cooled. But the roof remained hot, and some 40 minutes after the workers left, one of the hot spots flared up.

The fire moved quickly. It engulfed the backlot’s famous New York City streetscape. It burned two sides of Courthouse Square, a set featured in “Back to the Future.” It spread south to a cavernous shed housing the King Kong Encounter, an animatronic attraction for theme-park visitors. Hundreds of firefighters responded, including Universal Studios’ on-site brigade. But the fire crews were hindered by low water pressure and damaged sprinkler systems and by intense radiant heat gusting between combustible structures.

Eventually the flames reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse that sat near the King Kong Encounter. The warehouse was nondescript, a hulking edifice of corrugated metal, but it was one of the most important buildings on the 400-acre lot. Its official name was Building 6197. To backlot workers, it was known as the video vault.

Shortly after the fire broke out, a 50-year-old man named Randy Aronson was awakened by a ringing phone at his home in Canyon Country, Calif., about 30 miles north of Universal City, the unincorporated area of the San Fernando Valley where the studio sits. Aronson had worked on the Universal lot for 25 years. His title was senior director of vault operations at Universal Music Group (UMG). In practice, this meant he spent his days overseeing an archive housed in the video vault. The term “video vault” was in fact a misnomer, or a partial misnomer. About two-thirds of the building was used to store videotapes and film reels, a library controlled by Universal Studios’s parent company, NBCUniversal. But Aronson’s domain was a separate space, a fenced-off area of 2,400 square feet in the southwest corner of the building, lined with 18-foot-high storage shelves. It was a sound-recordings library, the repository of some of the most historically significant material owned by UMG, the world’s largest record company.

Read on at nytimes.com →

Walmart service to deliver groceries inside customers' homes

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Annie D’innocenzio writes:

NEW YORK (AP) - The online delivery wars are heating up inside shoppers' homes.

Walmart is now offering to have one of its employees deliver fresh groceries and put them in your refrigerator when you're not home.

The nation's largest grocer said Friday that it will be offering the service this fall for more than one million customers in three cities: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Missouri, and Vero Beach, Florida. Later this year, the service, called InHome Delivery, will also accept returns for items purchased on Walmart.com.

Two years ago, Walmart tested a similar service in the Silicon Valley area but teamed up with delivery startup Deliv and worked with August Home, makers of smart locks and smart home accessories. That test has since been stopped.

The new service is part of Walmart's drive to expand its shopping options that include curbside pickup and online grocery delivery.

Amazon offers a similar service in certain cities, dropping off packages inside homes, garages or car trunks. But the service is not for groceries.

With Walmart's new service, customers place a grocery delivery order online and then select InHome Delivery and a delivery day at checkout.

Walmart workers will use smart entry technology and a proprietary wearable camera to access the customer's home. That allows shoppers to control access into their home and give them the ability to watch the delivery remotely.

Walmart said that the workers will go through an extensive training program that would prepare them for things like how to select the freshest groceries and how best to organize the refrigerator. Walmart declined to give specifics on the technology. It said it will share the fee details ahead of the fall launch.

"Now, we can serve customers not in just the last mile, but in the last 15 feet," wrote Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce division, in a corporate blog post.

With Amazon's service, customers need to be an Amazon Prime member and they have to buy a camera and a Wi-Fi-connected lock from the Seattle-based company that starts at $250. Shoppers will then be able to select in-home delivery on the Amazon app. When the delivery person shows up, he or she will knock first and scan the package, then Amazon will make sure the delivery person is at the right home and unlock the door. No codes are needed and the indoor camera will record the in-home delivery.

Via fox5ny.com

Electronic Medical Records Fail Again, as 12 Million Patient Records at Quest Diagnostics Get Hacked

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Ethan Huff reports:

Another major data breach has once again demonstrated that the widespread adoption of digital records storage systems has made patient privacy more vulnerable than ever before.

This time it involves patients who have gotten blood tests through Quest Diagnostics, where nearly 12 million patient records were recently hacked, according to reports.

One of the nation’s largest providers of blood tests, Quest Diagnostics says that both financial and medical information may have been breached in the hack, which the company is blaming on “an issue” with one of its vendors.

A filing with securities regulators reveals that, between August 1, 2018, and March 30, 2019, someone gained unauthorized access to the computer systems of AMCA, a billing collections vendor contracted by Quest.

In the filing, Quest admitted that the affected information in AMCA’s systems includes “financial information (eg, credit card numbers and bank account information), medical information and other personal information (eg, Social Security Numbers).”

What was not affected, according to Quest, were patient lab results, which the company claims are not stored or accessed by AMCA.

As of May 31, 2019, the data of some 11.9 million Quest patients has reportedly been affected, though Quest claims that it has yet to receive “detailed or complete” information about the full extent of the damage that has been done.

“Quest Diagnostics takes this matter very seriously and is committed to the privacy and security of patients’ personal, medical and financial information,” reads more of the Quest filing with securities regulators.

For more related news about how data stored digitally is constantly at risk of being hacked, be sure to check out CyberAttack.news.

The federal government has been “hacking” patient data for years

In response, a firm working with AMCA to investigate this “data incident” announced that after it conducted an “internal review,” it “took down our web payments page.”

“We hired a third-party external forensics firm to investigate any potential security breach in our systems, migrated our web payments portal services to a third-party vendor, and retained additional experts to advise on, and implement, steps to increase our systems’ security,” a statement from this firm added.

“We have also advised law enforcement of this incident. We remain committed to our system’s security, data privacy, and the protection of personal information.”

This situation with Quest Diagnostics and AMCA is just one example among many as to why storing patients’ medical records, financial data, and other personal information electronically is generally a bad idea – and something we have been warning against for years.

Back in 2016, for instance, we reported about how the push towards Electronic Health Records (EHR) would create a backdoor for government agencies to pry into the personal and private health data of Americans.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) openly announced at the time that part of its Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020 involved the “collection, sharing, and use of electronic health information to improve health care, individual and community health, and research.”

In other words, by converting patients’ medical records from paper to computer, Big Brother has successfully gained much easier access to what used to be private medical information – and hackers are apparently gaining access to it as well.

“The dark side of the data age rears its ugly head once again,” wrote one commenter at NBCNewYork.com. “Because companies insist on mandatory drug tests and Quest is a major vendor of these drug tests … who will be compensating those of us who have been compromised?”

“This is ridiculous. Quest should be shut down for such a brazen act of stupidity and negligence. Quest is trying deflect responsibility away from itself to blame its vendor. How narcissistic and stupid is that? Quest is responsible for this.”

Via informationtechnology.news