While the company doesn’t list a price, we highly doubt you’ll nab one for the $60,000 originally promised; the motorized TV-in-a-box went on sale in South Korea last October for 100 million won, or over $89,000 in today’s US dollars. We also wouldn’t be surprised if you have to pay for more than just the TV itself, seeing how we reached the voicemail of a “custom integration specialist” when we called the provided number.
While the rollable TV will be quite the conversation piece, you should also know it’s a couple years behind the times when it comes to certain specs and image processing. Then again, if you’re the kind of person who can afford one, you can probably retire to the bedroom when you crave more power, where your 98-inch 8K set is no doubt ready to embrace you with every one of its 33 million pixels.
Spotify’s desktop app refresh seems to be rolling out to users, and it brings with it a very handy feature: album downloads. The app has supported downloading playlists to your computer for quite a while. The update should make it easier to keep your library managed if you want to keep the music going even when you’re offline. It is worth noting that this feature is limited to Premium subscribers — according to Spotify’s documentation, free users are only able to download podcasts.
Downloading an album works similarly to downloading a playlist: just navigate to the album’s page and press the download button. It should then be available the next time you go into Offline mode. This should make it easier to manage your offline library if you’re the type of person who’s very particular about what you want to listen to. (For example, I had a carefully curated playlist called “Downloads” that I would dump songs and albums into as a workaround to not being able to save individual things for offline listening.)
The update also features tweaks to the look of the desktop and web player, as well as how playlist management works. It appears to be currently rolling out — some Verge staff got it yesterday, others today. So if you’re not seeing it, just hang tight. You should see a screen letting you know that you’ve got the update.
Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine remains paused in the United States as officials gather more information about the rare clots reported in six people who got the shot. An independent advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it didn’t have enough information yet to say which groups might be at risk of the clots or to recommend who should get this vaccine.
“I don’t think we have enough information today,” said Grace Lee, associate chief medical officer for practice innovation at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California, during the committee’s meeting on Wednesday. The group will reconvene as rapidly as possible — likely next week — after gathering more data and evaluating that information.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Tuesday morning that the US pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in light of six reports of unusual blood clots in people who got the shot. Although there is no proven relationship between the clots and the vaccine, and the events are probably rare, the agencies wanted time to investigate the reports and give doctors information on how to treat the condition. The agencies said Tuesday that they hoped to resolve the pause as quickly as possible.
Underserved communities in the US are most affected by a Johnson & Johnson pause. The easy-to-store, one-shot vaccine was being used for homebound seniors, at pop-up clinics in rural areas, and for people experiencing homelessness. The effect of this pause on those groups was a serious topic of conversation during the meeting today. “This one and done vaccine that didn’t require the cold chain is a significant loss,” said Camille Kotton, the clinical director of transplant and immunocompromised host infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. That group, though, might have the most challenges getting treatment for a clot if they do develop one, noted Helen Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
The CDC received the six reports between March 19th and April 12th through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Unusually, all six patients had cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (a type of blood clot in the brain) in combination with low levels of platelets, a type of blood cell involved in clotting.
The CDC was keeping a special eye out for reports of these clots because of the issues seen with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and the United Kingdom, Tom Shimabukuro, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, said during the committee meeting. “This is a really good example of how robust the US vaccine safety monitoring system is and how in this case, during a large-scale national mass vaccination program, the system worked in various functions exactly as planned,” he said.
The COVID-19 working group at the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met earlier this week to go over the reports. The six people who had clots were all young women. Even though they were rare, they occurred at a higher-than-expected rate in that group.
Sara Oliver, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC, said during today’s meeting that the working group noted how much we still don’t know about these clots. It’s not clear how often the combination of both the clots and low platelets would normally appear in the general population, which makes it difficult to say how far above the norm these reports are. We also don’t have a good sense of the risk factors for developing this condition. There also could still be more reports — nearly 4 million people received doses in the past two weeks, and those people are still in a window where a clot may occur.
The group also noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn’t the only shot available in the US. Officials aren’t seeing the same problems in people who got the Pfizer / BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Only around 5 percent of vaccines given in the US so far were the Johnson & Johnson shot.
“We are very fortunate because we have multiple other alternatives in the US to end the health pandemic,” Talbot said. “We’re in a different position and can be more cautious.”
Windows 10 is officially losing its once-ambitious Timeline feature, Microsoft announced today. Timeline, first launched in 2017, was designed to make it easier for users to swap between multiple devices — transitioning seamlessly from a Windows 10 PC to an Android or iOS phone and back again.
It’s no surprise that Timeline is getting deprecated: it was a feature that heavily relied on Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, which would prompt users to resume tasks from device to device. Cortana was a particularly important part of building out the Timeline experience on iOS and Android devices, where Microsoft (obviously) had less control.
If you have your activity history synced across your devices through your Microsoft account (MSA), you’ll no longer have the option to upload new activity in Timeline. AAD-connected accounts won’t be impacted. To view web history, Edge and other browsers have the option to look back at recent web activities. You can also view recently used files using OneDrive and Office.
Insider build users should already see the changes once they’ve installed the new update, while users on the standard update track should see the removal of Timeline in the coming weeks.
Amazon, Apple, Google parent company Alphabet, and Facebook have joined hundreds of corporations, executives, and celebrities in signing a public letter today supporting voting rights and condemning legislation that would “restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot,” The New York Times reports.
The public letter appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times and The Washington Post on Wednesday and was organized by former American Express credit card company executive Kenneth Chenault, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, and the Black Economic Alliance. You can see an image of the ad, shared by NYT reporter David Gelles, below:
The text reads:
WE STAND FOR DEMOCRACY
A Government of the people, by the people. A beautifully American ideal, but a reality denied to many for much of this nation’s history. As Americans we know that in our democracy we should not expect to agree on everything. However, regardless of our political affiliations, we believe the very foundation of our electoral process rests upon the ability of each of us to cast our ballots for the candidate of our choice. For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us. We should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot. Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans.
Supporting voting rights is an unfortunately evergreen issue in the US, but this letter is particularly timely because of Georgia’s recently passed SB 202. Georgia’s new bill puts more power over voter eligibility in the hands of Republican state officials and requires voters to provide personal ID when using absentee ballots, among other restrictions. The bill has been heavily criticized by activists, law experts, and other companies like Microsoft, which signed onto today’s letter.
Other companies, like Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, Walmart, and JP Morgan Chase declined to sign the letter, NYT writes. Both Coca-Cola and Delta spoke out against the Georgia law after being threatened with boycotts online.
Statements like these are all fine and good, but when it comes down to it, saying you support voting rights with a national ad is the mega corporation equivalent of reposting a social justice slideshow on your Instagram story. It can raise awareness and give people an idea of where a person or company stands, but it’s only committing to words and beliefs rather than actions. Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and every other business signing this letter “vote” with their money. And history has shown that they’re either not willing to spend much — in the case of supporting racial justice — or have reportedly opposed stronger voter protection bills at the federal level.
Several of the companies that signed today’s letter (including Microsoft) are also members of the US Chamber of Congress, the trade association that recently urged senators to vote down a federal voting rights bill that passed in the House of Representatives, writes Sludge (part of the Brick House journalism cooperative). The bill, called the For The People Act or S.1/H.R. 1, aims to guarantee voter protections like automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots, even in states like Georgia with their own restrictive voting limitations.
The nice thing about Coinbase going public today is that if you want to get involved with cryptocurrency without ever leaving the almighty dollar, now you can.
On Tuesday, Nasdaq set $250 as a reference price for Coinbase, though no one necessarily bought at that price because this is a direct listing. Coinbase closed trading today at $328.28, giving it a market cap of $85.8 billion, more than that of the company behind the Nasdaq exchange. It’s yet another marker for how normal cryptocurrency has become — and how much easier it is for normies to get involved.
Recall, if you can, the early 2000s: banking crisis, panicked market, excited cypherpunks. The idea behind bitcoin was relatively simple: it emerged from a specific distrust of financial institutions. That early ethos evaporated some time ago, obviously — and now, the likes of Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk shill for bitcoin and have gotten their respective companies (Square, Tesla) to invest in it.
Coinbase is part of the story, too. It’s one of the easiest ways to go from the dollar to cryptocurrency, and it’s now the largest bitcoin exchange in the US. If you were hesitant to deal with cryptocurrency itself — maybe because you were worried you’d put a wallet on a hard drive and lose the hard drive or forget the password or something else — investing in Coinbase is a less risky way to get in on the trend.
Maybe that’s the point. Because in theory, rather than going public on the stock market, Coinbase could have done an initial coin offering. You can productively think of an ICO as a cryptocurrency version of offering securities — the Securities and Exchange Commission often does. Had Coinbase done this, it would have offered a token that investors could have bought on cryptocurrency exchanges. That token could, in theory, substitute for stock.
But the fact that I’m writing about an IPO tells you this didn’t happen. It’s possible that Coinbase’s investors wanted to go public rather than deal with an ICO because it’s more predictable. Maybe there were other considerations! Whatever the reason, this choice has given Coinbase a remarkable opportunity. Investors who don’t want to get involved in cryptocurrency directly but see upside potential can use their dollars to buy into Coinbase.
Using Coinbase as a proxy investment might also explain the valuation, which critics have suggested is too high. Some people have suggested that, as cryptocurrency matures, there will be less need for Coinbase’s services. Some say Coinbase’s fees may scare customers into using other services. But if Coinbase is a proxy investment, then the underlying business isn’t all that’s going into the valuation. You might not make as much money investing in Coinbase as you could investing in bitcoin — but it might be less risky.
After a public break with Facebook and Twitter, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell is getting close to the launch of a new conservative-focused social network, giving more detail on the project in a video posted online this week. Called simply “Frank,” the social network plans to open its doors to a limited set of users on April 16th.
Developed in the months since the 2020 election, Lindell has described the project as a combination of “print, radio, and TV,” offering both text posts and live stream capability. Perhaps the strangest promise is that conservative personalities will have significantly more followers on the fledgling network.
In the more recent video, Lindell explained that the new network would still moderate against profanity and threats of violence — setting it apart from previous right-wing platforms like Parler and Gab, which prided themselves on their refusal to censor offensive speech.
“You don’t get to use the four swear words: the c-word, the n-word, the f-word, or God’s name in vain,” Lindell says in the video. Instituting that policy will present a significant challenge to conventional automated moderation programs, which are adept at identifying specific strings of text but have no system to distinguish between devout and profane invocations of God.
To avoid deplatforming efforts from app stores, the Frank social network is formatted as a web app and accessed by navigating to the site from a mobile browser. This means it doesn’t have to comply with Apple and Google store guidelines, but it also severely limits the app’s functionality. The Frank site gives detailed instructions for how users can set up the Frank web app as a direct icon link (similar to an installed app) on mobile devices under both Android and iOS.
Lindell first announced the project on Bannon’s podcast in March, out of frustration with the mass deplatforming of claims that the 2020 election had been somehow stolen from Donald Trump. The new platform would avoid restrictions put in place by app stores, instead promoting “voices of free speech,” Lindell said.
Despite extensive and well-funded investigations, advocates have produced no credible evidence of mass voter fraud in the 2020 election. Lindell is currently facing a $1.3 billion defamation case from Dominion Voting Systems as a result of his claims about the election.
A city in France has had a real rollercoaster of a week, after its Facebook page was accidentally deleted for violating the terms and conditions of the site. Of course, the city of Bitche, France (in the Moselle department in northeastern France) hadn’t done anything in particular to violate any of Facebook’s rules — it just sounded a whole lot like it did.
According to a report from Radio Mélodie (via Politico), Bitche’s troubles first began on March 19th, when the city’s official page — titled “Ville de Bitche,” which translates to the perfectly normal “City of Bitche” — was suddenly removed. Valérie Degouy, the city’s communication manager, attempted to contact Facebook to try to appeal the decision but was unsuccessful, and she eventually just made a new page titled “Mairie 57230,” after Bitche’s postal code.
“I tried to reach out to Facebook in every possible way, through different forms, but there’s nothing [I could] do,” Degouy said, explaining that she had already run into similar issues with the social media company when creating the page back in 2016.
Following the viral coverage of the confusion, Facebook quickly reinstated the page on Tuesday, telling CNN that it was “removed in error.”
This kind of content moderation mix-up has been an issue on the internet for about as long as spam and profanity filters have been around. It even has a name: the Scunthorpe problem, after a similar incident in 1996 that saw AOL censor the name of the British town of Scunthrope due to filters confused over an unintentional profanity found within the name.
And while, yes, this is objectively funny, there are larger implications here. Another town in the region — Rohrbach-lès-Bitche — has preemptively changed the name of its Facebook page to ensure that it won’t be accidentally caught up in Facebook’s profanity filter. A Facebook page to be able to communicate with residents and tourists is too important of a thing to not have in 2021, but due to Facebook’s broken content filters, towns are forced to change their digital identity to simply stay online.
Towns are renaming themselves online to stop their Facebook pages from getting taken down. The entire world will one day be governed by Facebook’s content moderation standards.
For its part, the city leadership seems to be taking the removal in good stride. A statement posted by Benoît Kieffer, the mayor of Bitche, to both the reinstated Facebook page and Bitche’s official website acknowledges the difficulties of content moderation and points out the importance of using human moderators to help differentiate between false positives (like Bitche) and more serious offenders.
Kieffer goes on to ask Facebook to be more transparent and fair in how it makes these decisions, in addition to extending an invitation to both the head of Facebook’s French business as well as to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to visit Bitche for themselves.
The phone at the center of the fight was seized after its owner, Syed Rizwan Farook, perpetrated an attack that killed 14 people. The FBI attempted to get into the phone but was unable to due to the iOS 9 feature that would erase the phone after a certain number of failed password attempts. Apple attempted to help the FBI in other ways but refused to build a passcode bypass system for the bureau, saying that such a backdoor would permanently decrease the security of its phones.
After the FBI announced that it had gained access to the phone, there were concerns that Apple’s security could have been deeply compromised. But according to The Washington Post, the exploit was simple: Azimuth basically found a way to guess the passcode as many times as it wanted without erasing the phone, allowing the bureau to get into the phone in a matter of hours.
The technical details of how the auto-erase feature was bypassed are fascinating. The actual hacking was reportedly done by two Azimuth employees who gained access to the phone by exploiting a vulnerability in an upstream software module written by Mozilla. That code was reportedly used by Apple in iPhones to enable the use of accessories with the Lightning port. Once the hackers gained initial access, they were able to chain together two more exploits, which gave them full control over the main processor, allowing them to run their own code.
After they had this power, they were able to write and test software that guessed every passcode combination, ignoring any other systems that would lock out or erase the phone. The exploit chain, from Lightning port to processor control, was named Condor. As with many exploits, though, it didn’t last long. Mozilla reportedly fixed the Lightning port exploit a month or two later as part of a standard update, which was then adopted by the companies using the code, including Apple.
Like many of his colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency, Justin Chen says he wanted “a job with a purpose.” So in 2015, Chen left his post as an environmental engineer for a consulting firm to take on a similar role at the EPA. “I always wanted to see what it was like to be on the regulatory side, as opposed to working on behalf of the people that were regulated,” Chen says.
He also looked forward to what he thought would be a stable, unionized job. But Donald Trump’s administration was about to upend things at the EPA, making vulnerabilities that the agency was already facing even worse. Trump’s election a little over a year after Chen started at the EPA ushered in a period of dramatic environmental rollbacks and an exodus of scientists from the agency.
Even though Trump’s term is over, the “brain drain” that the EPA has suffered for years could still pose real harm to the environment and people the agency is tasked with protecting. And after years of tumult at the agency, potential recruits might not see the well-oiled government machine Chen expected to join.
But under new leadership, the agency is attempting to rebrand and rebuild. It’s selling itself as a workplace with a revitalized mission. It’s tackling perhaps the most existential environmental threat the agency has ever faced: climate change. The agency’s leadership has also homed in on environmental justice as a new focus for the agency, a quest to end the unequal burden of pollution on marginalized communities.
“You’re going to hit the ground running in this startup, EPA,” says Betsy Southerland, former director of science and technology at the EPA Office of Water. “And you’re either going to be assigned to do damage repair, from all the damage the Trump administration did, or you’re going to be assigned brand-new initiatives on climate change and environmental justice. Now how exciting is that?”
Southerland and other experts talked about what it might take to “rebrand” federal science agencies during a recent House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight hearing in March on the “brain drain” across the entire federal scientific workforce.
“Recruiting and hiring top tier STEM talent begins with the fact that the federal brand itself has been damaged,” Max Stier, president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, said in the hearing. “Government shutdowns, hiring freezes, negative rhetoric, political interference in science have all tarnished that brand.”
“Much of the expertise of the federal bureaucracy has fled in horror, taken early retirement, or taken other jobs. And a lot of new talent that ordinarily would have gone into federal service decided not to,” Michael Gerrard, founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told The Verge last year.
By 2020, the EPA’s workforce had fallen to its lowest level since 1987. But compared to the 1980s, agency staff now have more complicated regulations to enforce on more complex industries, plus a bigger population to protect, says Chen. “People are getting burned out. This is something tenuous that can’t last forever,” says Chen, who also serves as the president of the local union representing EPA workers in the south central US.
Low levels of staffing come with costs to people outside of the EPA, too, says Southerland. Environmental regulations don’t get enforced and outdated rules don’t get updated. And there aren’t enough people to conduct inspections and oversee the cleanup of the nation’s most toxic sites. “You’ve got a quality control issue and you’ve got a timeliness issue,” Southerland says. “In the meantime, the communities are sitting there living in this.”
Some communities in particular have been suffering more than others. “Communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous populations are still struggling to receive equal protections before the law,” former head of environmental justice efforts at the EPA, Mustafa Santiago Ali, wrote in his 2017 resignation letter from the agency. He wrote that people in those communities “live in areas with toxic levels of air pollution, crumbling or non-existent water and sewer infrastructure, [and] lead in their drinking water,” along with other exposures to pollutants.
While things came to a head during the Trump administration, there were nagging problems before he stepped into office. The EPA’s budget has essentially flatlined over the past decade, which has taken a toll on its workforce. The EPA offered buyouts to staff to walk away or retire early under both the Barack Obama and the Trump administrations. Budget constraints also led to more reliance on temporary, contracted workers rather than on full-time employees. “While that in some cases can be efficient and it might be short term cost effective, it actually doesn’t help build the strength of an agency to do the long term work,” Andrew Rosenberg, a director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said during the House subcommittee hearing.
Higher pay outside of federal service has also made the private sector an attractive option for scientists, panelists said during the House Subcommittee meeting. Improving federal pay was one recommendation highlighted in a report on how to strengthen the federal science workforce that was released last month by the watchdog Government Accountability Office.
Unless the agency quickly replaces talent that it’s lost, its “brain drain” could get even worse. The EPA in particular has a good chunk of older employees — some of whom have been with the agency for decades. The EPA in 2018 had a larger proportion of employees eligible to retire than any other federal agency except for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Government Executive reported. More than 20 percent of EPA employees were eligible to retire that year, a figure that’s expected to jump to more than 42 percent by 2023. As retiring scientists hang up their lab coats, the EPA will lose even more institutional knowledge.
Making over the EPA
The urgency isn’t lost on newly appointed administrator Michael Regan. “It’s our job to make sure we have a work environment that promotes science, data, integrity and transparency. We’re going to have to walk that walk — demonstrate we are a worthy place of employment. I believe lots of people are already getting that message,″ Regan told the Associated Press in a March interview.
Since last year, the EPA has developed relationships with schools, including historically Black colleges and universities, participated in career fairs, and hosted webinars “in an effort to increase awareness of the agency’s hiring efforts and to attract a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates,” a spokesperson for the EPA said in an email to The Verge.
In some cases, starting over has also meant cleaning house. Since stepping into office, President Joe Biden has called for the creation of a task force to identify attacks on scientific integrity during the Trump administration. There’s also an effort within the EPA to determine how political interests might have undermined science at the agency.
In a big shakeup last month, Regan removed 40 people who’d been appointed during the Trump administration to serve on two important scientific advisory committees. The previous administration had restricted qualified scientists from joining the committees and allowed more people from the industries the agency regulates to join. Regan called his move a “reset” that would restore “scientific integrity” at the agency in an interview with the Associated Press.
The agency looks as if it’s resetting in a lot of ways. It recently brought back the EPA webpage on climate change that had disappeared during the previous administration and recommitted itself to tackling a global crisis that Trump had called a “hoax.”
Regan also committed the EPA to tackling the ways pollution and climate change disproportionately affect communities based on race and class. “We will put environmental justice where it belongs: at the heart of our plan to tackle climate change,” Regan said in a video on the new climate webpage.
Biden also sought to increase the EPA’s budget by more than 20 percent in a proposal released last week, although Congress would ultimately decide how much money the agency is allocated. Looser purse strings could go a long way toward bringing more people on board at the agency by giving it more money to hire and offer competitive salaries.
A clean slate at the EPA could be another pull for younger hires, Southerland says. Because of the void left behind by those who’ve stepped away, there’s more room to grow and quickly step into more responsibility within the agency. “The big thing that the EPA recruitment team could use is this whole idea that, ‘If you come to us now, you’re going to be on the ground floor of building back an agency that’s really been damaged,” Southerland says. “To be on the ground floor of any new effort like that is a lot more exciting than when you’re coming into a well staffed, fully functioning bureaucracy.”
The EPA might be undergoing a makeover of sorts now that it’s under new leadership and is tackling climate change and environmental justice with more gusto. But people inside the agency say its most effective selling point is still the mission at the core of its work. “The people at EPA joined this agency for a specific reason. They believe in the mission. They believe in public service, and they want to protect public health and the environment,” Regan told the AP.
That’s clear in Chen’s decision to stay at the EPA despite its ups and downs. He works on protecting air quality, a charge he says he’s got a personal stake in because he has a brother with asthma. They grew up in Southern California, a region where the air cleaned up dramatically after the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 — the same year the EPA was founded.
“Where else can you get your hands dirty on actually doing rule enforcement? The NGOs can only go so far with their lawsuits. Ultimately, they have to be enforced by the [EPA] itself and by the state,” Chen says. “I never really thought of leaving because quite frankly it’s like, if I can’t do this work here, no one else is going to do this work.”