Virtual Skinny: Friday Alert!


Good to Know: The U.S. FAA just hit the red alert button on Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones. Don’t even think about turning it on during a flight on account of its explosive batteries.  Exhibit A.    



When You Make the Effort …

AirBnB is stepping its anti-discrimination policy game all the way up.  

When You’ve Been Exposed …

In Dec. 2015, Harvard University hosted its very own #ExposeParty when it dropped a bombshell of a report calling out some exclusionary behavior taking place on AirBnB.  The paper said that users with ‘African-American- sounding names’ had a hard time simply booking reservations. It’s the ole “we’re booked for those dates” excuse. #AirbnbWhileBlack

When You’ve Gotta Move Quick …

Can you say damage control? AirBnB brought in heavy-hitters like former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former director of American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office Laura W. Murphy to give their two cents on what it can do to reduce discrimination on its platform.

When You Want to Hear Solutions …

Murphy put together the 32-page report with some practical fixes. Starting Nov. 1, users must agree to treat others on the platform fairly and sans bias. Other things will happen like ‘instant booking’ so people can make reservations without first getting approval from the host. And, AirBnB plans to focus less on users’ photos and more on objective information on people’s profiles.

When You’ll Wait and See…

Verdict is still out on whether these changes will actually work. Mixed reviews from advocacy groups and even from founders of competing startups targeting people of color. But, it all raises a bigger question of Internet companies’ role in changing social attitudes and perceptions.


Out with the Old, In with the New …

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to make your cable TV watching a little easier. This week, the agency put out its final proposal on those expensive cable boxes. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler doesn’t want your cable provider (think: Comcast) to force you to rent pricey cable boxes. He’d much rather the provider offer an app for people to stream content on their device of choice (Apple TV, Roku, etc.). Wheeler says the change would be good innovation. The agency is set to vote on the proposal later this month (Sept. 29). Who knows? The cable industry may finally catch up to 2016. #SorryNotSorry

Trying to Stop A Moving Train …

Fun Fact: For many years, the U.S. oversaw the basic operations of the Internet. But like most good things, that is coming to an end. The U.S. plans to transition its oversight duties to ICANN. Formally, known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The nonprofit group deals with the Internet’s daily operations. The transition is supposed to go down October 1st, but some Republicans aren’t having it. Four top Republicans just sent a letter to the Obama Administration basically saying that the switch won’t be going down on their watch. Reason for the opposition? They don’t want the U.S. to “giv[e] up control” of the Interwebs. The Internet and broader tech community says that’s not the case. The community sees it as a positive for the Internet’s global support. Republicans probably don’t have the votes to stop the transition, but it’ll at least make for good political drama heading into election season this fall.


The 90s comeback game is so strong. Super Mario is coming to the iPhone. mario

Alphabet (formerly known as Google) is teaming up with Chipotle to deliver burritos via drone. Virginia Tech will be the first test-site because it’s FAA approved. 

You can now hail a ride from Lyft or Gett directly from Google Maps

Norway is calling out Facebook for removing its Prime Minister’s post of the Pulitzer-prize winning ‘napalm girl’ photo during the Vietnam war.

Snapchat just hired Morgan Stanley to take out a new line of credit. The Information is reporting that the company’s gearing up for an IPO. Maybe, maybe not … 


While we’re on Snapchat, the company just hired former White House strategic communications advisor Rachel Racusen. Racusen is Snapchat’s new Director of Communications . 


IPO: Known as ‘initial public offering.’  The first time when a private company releases stock to the public. Reasons for an IPO vary (e.g., to raise money to grow the company more or to allow the company’s owners and employees to make money off of their company stock).

Virtual Skinny: “Dislike” Would’ve Been Just Fine…


Good to Know: You can now react in more ways to your friend’s Facebook updates. FB globally released its reactions feature so people can express themselves in more ways than just “liking” stuff.  But, some people feel like FB did the most, when a “dislike” button would’ve done the trick: 

dislike button


Where Do We Start?

Remember how the U.S. government asked Apple to unlock the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists? A ton’s happened since last week.

Oh Please…

The U.S. government said “BYE Apple” and dismissed its messaging as a mere marketing ploy – nothing more, nothing less. It just wants Apple’s help to get to the bottom of this specific instance by helping crack the phone’s passcode.  Apple stayed on message and said this whole thing is about protecting people’s civil liberties. The company refuses to create a special software to give the government access to its devices.

Where’s that “dislike” button when you need it? 

The government eventually found a way to reset one of the terrorist’s (Syed Rizwan Farook) iCloud password, which allowed investigators to see the dude’s backed-up data. Apple said wait a minute (or as the kids say “wayment”) and claimed that resetting the password only made it virtually impossible to get data straight from the phone. Now, there’s chatter that Apple’s been working on creating new security measures that would prevent any workarounds from being used to break into iPhone devices. Experts says if and when Apple creates these new measures, it’s pretty much game over unless Congress amends existing law to require companies like Apple and Google to make their data available to law enforcement.

When People Go Off-Script…

Silicon Valley regulars have rallied behind Apple but not everyone. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates added his two-cents, and he isn’t buying what Apple is selling.  Gates says what the government is asking the company to do is possible without compromising people’s general privacy and safety.

What Next?

Well, in the short-term, Apple still has to respond to the court order issued by a federal judge last week that set all of this into motion. The order requests that Apple give the government special access to the phone in question. The deadline is tomorrow.


Getting the Band Back Together …

Calling all for entertainment firms, tech companies, community organizations, social media companies! On Feb. 24, the White House invited a select few for an hours-long pow-wow. Why? Terrorists, of course. Apparently, they stay recruiting peeps online. The U.S. government isn’t afraid to admit that it’s out of its league on this one. So, it’s calling on the private sector for back-up. The goal? “[To] help communities and young people amplify their own messages.” Looks like a joint effort between Facebook and government agencies to fund a peer-to-peer college course to teach kids how to craft their very own anti-militant messaging could do the trick. A FB rep says we’ll know if its working by monitoring the number of shared messages and how people interact with them.

Watch What You Say on the Interwebs …

At least if you’re applying for a U.S. visa or seeking asylum in the country.  While the government is working with the private sector to help implement programs to curb terrorists’ online recruitment, it’s taking to social media itself to screen visa applications. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) isn’t messing around and plans to build tools so it can dig deep into applicants’ social media profiles for any red flags. Legislation has also been popping up in the U.S. Congress that would require DHS to screen pretty much anyone trying to make their way to the U.S. Those bills haven’t seen traction yet though.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater …

Immigration advocacy groups feel like all of this social media talk to screen out potential immigrants could leave some people out who don’t deserve to be. Besides, a new study shows that innovators in the U.S. are actually well-educated immigrants and not necessarily young college dropouts. The study found that more than 1/3 of U.S. innovators were born outside the U.S.


Alphabet, formerly known as Google, wants you to meet Atlas, its 5’9”, 180 lbs, battery run humanoid robot.

Not sure where to go for your next vacation? Travel site Expedia is knee-deep in user-experience research to make sure your trip planning is as easy, efficient, and enjoyable as possible.  Happy Planning!

Grocer Whole Foods wants in on grocery delivery startup Instacart. Both companies also plan to partner up for at least the next 5 years.

Online personal styling startup Stitch Fix is getting into the men’s wear game.

Are the 80s making a comeback? Amazon’s working on a new show called Jean-Claude Van Johnson and starring Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. It’s being described as a “comedy-thriller.” Oh and the e-commerce company turned content company also forked over $15 million for Woody Allen’s new movie.

First Paypal, now LinkedIn … The social platform is set to air its first ever TV commercial during the Oscars on Sunday. It’s space-themed and the message? LinkedIn believes in you. The platform is often described as “the FB for professionals.” But, the company wants people to know that it’s much more than that through a large-scale marketing campaign.  We’re sensing a trend here …

Virtual Skinny: Read Up!


Good to Know: Turns out that if you’ve got a case of imposter syndrome (when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing), it may actually be a good indicator that you’re on the right track. 


Taking Over For the ’16? 

Alphabet, Inc., aka Google, just bumped Apple from the #1 spot.  It’s now considered the world’s most valuable company. The company pulled in US $ 21.3 billion in the last quarter of 2015.

Playing by the Rules … 

Google was never one for Wall Street, but now Alphabet is following the rules and doing things like letting investors in on just how it’s main advertising business is doing. This is turning out to be a good move seeing as Alphabet’s stock price went up by 43% from just a year ago.

No Growing Pains Here … 

Alphabet is still growing thanks to advertising including things like search advertising, YouTube, the Google Play Store, and Google’s mobile app store. While it’s bringing in the cash, it’s still shelling out a bunch of it for projects that are in the works (e.g., self-driving cars).  These projects known as moonshots are costing the company about US $3.6 billion per year. But, as long as it let’s people know exactly what’s profitable and what’s not, Wall Street should be pretty forgiving. 


When Things Aren’t Look So Rosy …

While Alphabet is killing it on Wall Street, Yahoo is doing quite the opposite. CEO Marissa Mayer is still struggling to get the company back on track. Rumor has it that she’ll be making even more employee cuts – 15% of employees or 1600 people are ’bout to get pink slips. In addition to cuts, we’re expected to learn Yahoo’s latest plan to get itself on track when the company puts out its earnings report for Q4 2015. Will it sell its main Internet business or not? Looks like we’ll find out sooner rather than later …

Game Over … 

The U.S. and European Union (EU) had until the end of January 2016 to reach an agreement on how American companies would transfer European citizens’ personal information in a way that protects people’s privacys.  They gave it the good ol’ college try but came up empty.  They just couldn’t agree on certain things, namely how the U.S. government would keep its nose out of Europeans’ personal biz. The U.S. said it was willing to do things like appoint a government official to be a contact for Europeans on data misuse issues. But, the EU wasn’t impressed.  Not sure whether both sides will meet somewhere in the middle. But, in the meantime, the EU’s making an outline of its proposal public. 


Is Uber the Walmart of rides? The ride hailing company just royally ticked off its New York City drivers. The company reduced its UberX rates by 15%. The company says lower rates will increase demands and decrease wait times between trips. Drivers beg to differ. Some want out of the service all together but can’t because they’ve taken on car loans via Uber. Oy!

Welcome to the club. WhatsApp, messaging app owned by Facebook, just reached the billion users club. Now, it’s trying to figure out how to make money while staying true to its roots (i.e., no ads, please).  Sidenote: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville are not the same country, but WhatsApp seems to think so. 

Speaking of the billion users club, Gmail is officially in too.

Popular e-mail app Airmail is now available for iPhones.

The Virtual Skinny: Go Time …


Good to Know: ‘Tis the season for giving. Turn to Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to avoid being scammed by an online charity this holiday season. 


Re-Thinking Your Approach … 

U.S. company Shotspotter wants to use its technology to help cities around the globe better respond to terrorist attacks like the ones we’ve seen in Paris, Beirut, Mali, Mumbai, Kenya, etc.

What Does It Do? 

The technology, which is currently deployed in 90 cities around the world, relies on Internet-enabled microphones to hone in on specific areas where there’s gunfire or explosions. In a matter of 30-45 seconds, authorities are alerted of a potential attack. The company wants to expand beyond 90 cities so its teamed up with General Electric.  Both companies think that incorporating the technology into street lamps is the best way to go for full coverage of entire cities. Understandable … GE’s been on its “smart cities” mission for a while and already has “smart” streetlights.

Why Not Cover the Entire Globe? 

David Bray, an executive in residence at Harvard University, wants to see a Shotspotter-style system created worldwide. Bray thinks including Shotspotter-type microphones in devices like cellphones would do the trick. But, for that idea to work, governments need to partner with private companies like Google.  The Internet company declined to comment. We’re thinking this raises all sorts of red flags for people’s privacy. Also, it probably isn’t a good look for government surveillance, which isn’t a fan favorite for Internet and tech companies.


When You Make Light of a Pretty Serious Situation …

Brussels is on a high terrorist alert and issued a city-wide lockdown over the weekend. After the Paris terrorist attacks, authorities are still on the hunt for suspects in Belgium. Yesterday evening, Belgian police asked citizens to step away from the Twitter-verse to avoid tipping off suspects about their armed operations. Belgian citizens didn’t exactly follow orders. They turned fear into humor by kicking off a tweet-storm about their pet cats with the hashtag #BrusselsLockDown. On a serious note, Belgian police carried out 22 raids and ultimately arrested 16 people.  Police are still unsure of suspected gunman Salah Abdeslam’s whereabouts.

Decisions, Decisions … 

Austrian student Max Schrems will keep going after Facebook (FB).  Schrems is partly responsible for the European Court of Justice recently throwing out the US-EU Safe Harbor, a longstanding data transfer agreement between the U.S. and European Union. Schrems has got major problems with FB’s privacy policy.  An Austrian court has already let him file a personal suit against FB because of it. But now, he’s looking to team up with 25,000+ people for a class action against the social media company.  He just needs the go ahead from the court. Meanwhile, FB says it’s done nothing wrong.

When Someone’s Got Your Back … 

Ever tried watching a video on YouTube but can’t? You’ve probably seen some variation of the following: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by [insert media company, network, artist, etc. here].” Under U.S. copyright law (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act specifically), sometimes a video take-down (like what you see on YouTube) is legit; but other times, it’s not. The law isn’t exactly intuitive, and regular folks, who aren’t well-versed in the law, can be intimidated by the process.  They often choose not to fight back against take down requests by rightsholders such as music labels, media companies, networks, etc. Google is sick and tired of YouTube content creators being unfairly targeted under the law so it wants to help out.  The company wants a select few to fight back and is prepared to financially support their legal woes up to US $1 million.


Does our pact mean nothing to you? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer asked her execs to take a pledge to stand by the struggling company for three to five years.  It may not be working. Rob Barrett, Yahoo’s head of media strategy and operations, turned in his walking papers, making him the latest employee to dip out on the company.

What do you do when your daily deals company is on a financial decline? Pen a blog post comparing your company to a drug, of course. Andrew Mason, Co-founder and former CEO of Groupon, says “Groupon is powerful like morphine is powerful … If you use it too much, you’ll overdose and die. But take it in moderation and it can do wonders.” Interesting …

Google backed out of China five years ago after refusing to keep up with the country’s self-censorship policies. But, a lot can change in five years. China’s a pretty big market for Internet companies, and Google wants back in.  The company plans to launch a country-specific version of Google Play in China.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is placing big bets on Nest – one of its acquisitions worth $3.2 billion.  With devices and products such as “smart” thermometers and smoke detectors, Nest is the company’s way into the smart home market.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will soon welcome their first child, a daughter.  The Zuck is taking two months of paid paternity leave. We care because gender norms is a hot topic in the tech industry.