College admissions tracking students before they apply

Admissions officers at the University of Wisconsin-Stout revealed their not well known but increasingly common practice technique to learn more about prospective students: installing tracking software on their school website.

When a student visits the site, the software automatically recognizes who they are based on a cookie it placed on their computer during a prior visit. The software sends an alert to the school’s assistant director of admissions containing the student’s name, contact information and details about her life and activities on the site. In this example, the email said this student was a senior at a Wisconsin high school who applied to UW-Stout. The email also includes a link to a private profile of the student, listing all 27 pages that she viewed on the school’s website and how long she spent on each one. A map shows her geographical location and an “affinity index” estimates her level of interest in the school. Her score was a 91/100, predicting that she is highly likely to accept an admission offer from UW-Stout.

Colleges are collecting more data about prospective students than ever before in an effort to make better predictions about which students are most likely to apply, accept an offer and enroll. The Washington Post says that at least 44 public and private universities in the US work with outside consulting companies to collect and analyze data on prospective students, by tracking their web activity or formulating predictive scores to measure each student’s likelihood of enrolling. 

Scoring and tracking are popular at cash-strapped colleges who need to attract students who can afford to pay tuition. But these practices raise a hidden barrier to college education for underprivileged students. The practice of building profiles on individual students helps them quickly determine whether they have enough income to meet the school’s revenue goals.

A predictive formula may also be adjusted to favor the types of people a college wants more of, such as ethnic minorities or students of financial means. Mississippi State University, for example, uses socioeconomic data in its admissions algorithm to recruit more high-income students from outside the state because those students pay higher tuition. Administrators filter data from a large number of potential applicants down to a select pool of recruits who are a good fit for the school’s academic programs and do not need much financial aid.

The majority of universities do not tell students that the school is collecting their information. Privacy experts say colleges’ failure to disclose the full extent of how they share data with outside consultants may violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Why it’s hot: This is an interesting example of the same technologies that companies use to track users and serve them targeted ads applied to college admissions, an industry we rarely think of as relevant in this area. It’s also an important note to the school’s failure to disclose their privacy policies to potential students. But even if the universities were completely transparent, would students who choose not to allow their data to be tracked be automatically ruled out for future consideration into these schools? If so, what real choice do students have here?


Meet Mattel’s New Gender-Neutral Dolls

Mattel released the new Creatable World doll this week, the world’s first gender-neutral dolls designed to “keep labels out and everyone in.” The dolls are designed for children who identify as transgender, gender-fluid or nonbinary.

Mattel is hoping to redefine who gets to play with a toy traditionally deemed taboo for half the world’s kids. The dolls are designed to look like kids with makeup-free faces and can be a boy, a girl, neither or both. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a 7-year-old with short hair, and comes with optional wigs and a gender-neutral wardrobe.

The company is betting on where it thinks the country is going, even if it means alienating a substantial portion of the population. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2017 showed that while 76% of the public supports parents’ steering girls to toys and activities traditionally associated with boys, only 64% endorse steering boys toward toys and activities associated with girls.

Mattel tested the doll with 250 families across seven states, including 15 children who identify as trans, gender-nonbinary or gender-fluid and rarely see themselves reflected in the media, let alone their playthings. Mattel sees an even broader potential for Creatable World beyond gender-creative kids. In testing, children chafed at labels and mandates no matter their gender identity: They didn’t want to be told whom a toy was designed for or how to play with it. They were delighted with a doll that had no name and could transform and adapt according to their whims.

Scientists have debunked the idea that boys are simply born wanting to play with trucks and girls wanting to nurture dolls. And yet creating a doll to appeal to all kids, regardless of gender, remains risky. But Mattel has taken risks in this area before. In 2016, it added three new body types to the Barbie; tall, petite and purvey.

“This is a rallying cry of this generation,” says Jess Weiner, a cultural consultant for large companies looking to tap into modern-day markets and navigate issues of gender. “Companies in this day and age have to evolve or else they die, they go away … And part of that evolving is trying to understand things they didn’t prior.”

Why it’s hot: This launch is an exciting advancement in the more traditional industry of children’s toys that have been late to adapt with the times. I’m curious to see how sales will be for these dolls because although millennial parents have advocated for less gender-specific children’s toys for years, not all parents agree or are comfortable with the idea of their sons “playing with dolls.”


Arming Police with a New Weapon: Virtual Reality

A few weeks ago I wrote about how VR and AR technology is being used to help doctors and surgeons prep for procedures. We’re seeing more and more industries adopt the technology for virtual training purposes. Even corporate giants like Walmart are getting their hands on the technology. Now Axon, the tech company known for pushing the adoption of police body cameras, is the latest firm to adopt VR for the police force. Their main goal is to teach police officers empathy. 

According to a study from the Washing Post, 19% of Americans that were fatally shot by police this year had a mental illness. 992 Americans have been shot and killed by police in 2018. Axon’s “empathy development training” is meant to condition police officers to ask the right questions (in the right tone) to better assess high-pressure situations before pulling their weapons.

A few months ago, Axon unveiled a virtual program in Chicago — using Oculus Go VR headsets — to train first responders in scenarios involving citizens with autism and schizophrenia. The company’s latest rollout is focused on preparing officers to better assist in suicide prevention. Here’s a video preview of what it looks like.

Axon’s new training program seeks to put its trainees on both sides of the coin: the officer, and the person in need. Experts believe the future of virtual reality in law enforcement holds major promise by providing immersive views of body-cam evidence, assisting in recruitment, or one day being utilized as therapy for officers experiencing PTSD.

Why it’s hot: An interesting use of VR/AR technology that could have significant results in law enforcement training and could potentially help end unnecessary police shootings.



Mei AI Scans Your Texts for True Love

A new group of apps are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to offer relationship advice.

The app called Mei is branded as a “relationship assistant.”  The Android app reads your text conversations and estimates the compatibility and personality of an individual you’re chatting with. Then you are given a probability, on a 100 point scale, that the contact is romantically interested. Mei scores along five traits: openness, emotional control, extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

It costs $9 to buy 100 Mei credits, which is the amount required to analyze a single conversation. Right now, the app can only analyze conversations from WhatsApp, which conveniently lets a user export a chat log. Once a conversation is whizzed over to Mei’s servers, it’s crunched through a series of algorithms that search for clues. The problem is, Mei needs at least 1,000 words to perform its diagnostics, which disqualifies many conversations.

Mei’s creator, Es Lee, also created an app called Crushh as a “texting relationship analyzer.” It offered a romantic interest score on a scale of zero to five, as well as insights on the power dynamics in a conversation (i.e., who likes who more). It also prompted users to say a little about each repartee: How old were the people in the conversation, what were their genders? Was the contact a colleague? A spouse? A crush?

Lee says the app processed “hundreds of thousands” of these conversations, many of them self-labeled with those context clues. That provided a hefty data set of what real text conversations looked like, across various demographics and in different types of relationships. Some of the patterns were obvious—a person who says “I miss you” early in a conversation likely has the feels—but others were more Delphian. “Based on the data, people who have romantic intent use the words ‘night’ and ‘dream’ a lot more,” says Lee.

The obvious problem here is that all of these apps are invading user’s privacy (and non-users!) by reading their intimate conversations. Lee says Mei anonymizes all of its conversational data, and allows users to scrub their uploads from the company’s servers.

But my question is: what about the person who’s conversation you’re sending?

Why it’s hot: With technology becoming more influential in dating and relationships, it’s no surprise that people will pay for AI advice when it comes to their dating/texting life. But I can’t help but think that if AI technology is curating the entire experience by matching you with compatible candidates and crafting your text conversations with them, we lose true human interaction from the process entirely and prevent people from experiencing their relationship themselves and in the real world.


Magic Leap transitions into healthcare AR

Augmented reality company Magic Leap, famous for putting elephant in the palm of your hand, has just signed an exclusive deal with Brain Lab, which supplies visualization and training software to surgeons. Through the partnership, Magic Leap will be able to render brain scans into 3D objects, which surgeons can interact with through its signature goggles. This can help surgeons physically simulate a surgery in order to ‘rehearse’ prior.

Health and wellness is one of five key areas that Magic Leap is targeting for its technology, along with mobility, entertainment, energy and water, and communications. 

Their goal is to integrate with a variety of health tech companies, so it can combine a spectrum of health data and render a full picture of a patient’s health based on bodily factors as well as social determinants. Using its AR technology, it could provide doctors with a dashboard-like experience that shows a record of a patient’s physical health as well as related social and environmental factors.

Currently, health companies are leveraging Magic Leap as a way of visualizing data, running simulations, and training professionals. One of their products, for example, measures brain health using a wearable device that tracks eye movement. Doctors using SyncThink can already review the results remotely, but the company uses Magic Leap’s platform to visualize findings, effectively allowing a faraway patient to appear right in front of a doctor.

At Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, teachers are already using the Magic Leap platform to simulate medical training. The company is also developing digital humans, avatars that look and behave like us. One day, these characters could be built into the platform to serve as educators or even medical cadavers.

Why it’s hot: For a company that was initially focused on utilizing AR and spatial computing to transform entertainment, it’s fascinating (and refreshing) to see companies like this applying their technology to the healthcare industry.


Pinterest adds stress relief to your feed

Compared to the increasingly polarizing internet, Pinterest is commonly known as a collection of personalized happiness filled with wedding inspiration, street fashion, expertly styled living rooms, and tips for taking care of your plants. 

The company noticed their users were searching “vegan lasagna” and “hair ideas,” but increasingly they were also searching for pins related to “anxiety” and “stress.” These searches resulted in a perfectly nice collection of platitudes, but Pinterest’s product team thought they could do better. 

Today, they’re introducing an entirely new experience designed around emotional wellbeing, called “Compassionate search.” This is Pinterest’s attempt to offer its users a dose of comfort without veering too far from its core product.

How it works: When you type in an anxiety-related query—something like “work anxiety,” or “dealing with stress”—Pinterest will now display a box above the stream of pins that says “If you’re feeling sad or stressed, here are some resources that may help improve your mood.” 

If you click in the box, you’ll find a dozen exercises created in collaboration with Brainstorm, a mental health innovation lab at Stanford’s School of Medicine, and two other mental health organizations. A grid shows options for exercises like “refocus your attention” and “recognize your strengths.” Some, like “relax,” are guided meditations with audio. 

While Pinterest doesn’t see itself as a player in the mental health space, it says that it’s trying to recognize and respond to its users’ needs. 

In the past, Pinterest has approached emotional well-being by focusing on mitigating risk. “For a number of years, we’ve worked with emotional health experts to address pinners in distress,” says Ta. If someone searches for terms related to suicide, the platform nudges them toward the appropriate resources, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Those and other terms, like “self harm” and “cutting” or “bulimia” and “thinspiration,” won’t display pins at all. Pinterest blacklisted those queries several years ago and instead surfaces a message encouraging pinners to get help.

The new exercises are modeled after clinical research from Stanford, which focused on short sessions to improve someone’s mood or reduce stress levels. The “micro treatments” are designed to work in any context, whether you’re on the subway or at the office, and completely for free.

Why it’s hot: This simple solution addresses a problem identified directly from its users. And while there are thousands of mental health-focused apps out there, deciding to download one can be a barrier in getting help in and of itself. Pinterest has an opportunity to serve people who need a pick-me-up, but aren’t ready to pay $60 a year for a subscription to Calm. Meanwhile, the new feature brings Pinterest even closer to its ultimate goal: being the place on the internet you go to find happiness.


Uber Launches “Quiet Mode”

Yesterday, Uber launched a new tier of rides called “Uber Comfort.” The new service offers nicer vehicles, more highly rated drivers, and temperature and conversation preferences in exchange for a 20% to 40% premium over standard UberX fares.

When calling their car, users can request “quiet preferred” or “happy to chat” in their conversation preference, as well as warmer or colder temperatures. This isn’t Uber’s first primary feature. In fact, Uber now has 7 tiers — Express Pool, Pool, X, X Diamond, Comfort, Select, and Black. These increase in tiers allows Uber to charge more for slightly better vehicles, highly rated drivers or drivers that are willing to talk less and crank the AC.

Reactions to the launch of “Quiet Rides” have been mixed. Some people argue that forcing Uber drivers to bite their tongues is another example of Uber imposing harsh working conditions on its drivers. Critics consider the quiet option an affront to the dignity of the drivers, making them act like robots (in a job that will soon be threatened by self-driving cars). But other riders appreciate the consistency and control they have over their travel, especially business travelers, who say that they are able to be more productive en route to the airport or meetings. Supporters also point out that the new Comfort Mode allows drivers to earn an extra 20% for rides of the same duration and distance, making the silent treatment well worth their while.

Why it’s hot: Enabling these rider preferences could help Uber differentiate itself from competitors like Lyft and squeeze more cash out of passengers by training them to use its upgraded tiers. But on a more human level, this feature feels like a Black Mirror-esque development in technology that prevents us learning and using basic social skills.


How Spotify Uses Emotional Surveillance for Profit

We all know Spotify’s curated mood-based playlists ranging from “Happy Hits” and “Mood Booster” to “Rage Beats” and “Life Sucks.” But what users may not know though, is that Spotify has been selling access to that listening data to multinational corporations.

Spotify is the world’s biggest streaming subscription service, with 207 million users in 79 different countries. And as Spotify has grown, its advertising machine has exploded. Of those 207 million users, it claims 111 million users are not paying subscribers, meaning they rely on the ad-supported version.

Spotify’s enormous access to mood-based data presents a major value to brands and advertisers, allowing them to target ads on Spotify by moods and emotions. And since 2016, Spotify has shared this mood data directly with the world’s biggest marketing and advertising firms. As of May 2015, advertisers were given the ability to target ads to users of the free ad-supported service based on activities and moods. For example, Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ campaign would play when people are listening to mood-boosting music.

In Spotify’s world, listening data has become the oil that fuels a monetizable metrics machine, pumping the numbers that lure advertisers to the platform. In a data-driven listening environment, the commodity is no longer music, the commodity is user’s moods and listening habits as behavioral data. Today, marketers want mood-related data more than ever, to fuel automated, personalized ad targeting. In 2016, WPP struck a multi-year partnership with Spotify, giving the conglomerate unprecedented access to Spotify’s mood data specifically.

Why it’s hot: Music streaming platforms are in a unique position as they hold tons of data related to our emotional states, moods and feelings. As the largest streaming subscription service, Spotify and their mood playlists have become the data-collecting solution for brands struggling to reach skeptical millennials. On the Spotify for Brands blog, the streaming giant explains that its research shows millennials are weary of most social media and news platforms, feeling that these mediums affect them negatively. Spotify is a solution for brands, it explains, because it is a platform where people go to feel good.


Mood-forecasting tech could help stop bad moods, and even suicides, before they occur

Wearable devices that could identify when an at-risk individual that might experience suicidal thoughts a day in advance and alert the person and their trusted contacts, might soon be a reality.

Fitness trackers and other electronic devices already monitor our physical activity, and scientists say similar technology can be used to track our psychological health in ways never before possible. New apps and wearables could soon help preserve our mental well-being by spotting early signs of emotional distress.

Psychiatrists rely on patients to tell doctors how they feel as the main input for their decisions. Mood forecasting technology could give doctors more reliable information.

Research shows that changes in our mental state, including sadness or anxiety, affects our bodies in discernible ways. Mood forecasting exploits the connection between the mind and the body. Heart rate, pulse, perspiration and skin temperature are all affected by emotional arousal. Additionally, the pace at which we text, call and post on social media all change with our moods.

Academic researchers and private companies are working to develop devices and programs that not only detect and interpret our biomarkers but also respond with helpful advice. For example, a mood-forecasting device or app might urge someone to call a friend when they have cut back on texting, or take a walk when the device hasn’t registered motion for several hours. Alternatively, shifting biomarkers or digital behavior could be communicated directly to an individual’s doctor, who could then intervene as necessary.

Why it’s hot: Mood forecasting could prevent bad moods, emotional suffering and potentially dangerous situations before they occur. Although there is some apprehension around the idea of collecting and transmitting such intimate personal data, the positive effects of such technology could be monumental.


Medical Tech Wants to Help You When Doctors Can’t

Although you pay for health care every month, there are gaps in the system that are not always covered. A wave of medical start-ups want to fill in those gaps. According to Forbes, more than $2.8 billion worth of venture capital was invested in health care start-ups in September 2018 alone. An increase of 70 percent over the previous year. It’s not hard to understand why. Especially in the United States, the health care you get from your insurance provider is hardly as comprehensive as it could be. Especially when it comes to day-to-day health problems.

For example, in the United States, hearing aids are rarely covered by health insurance. While 48 million people in the country suffer from some form of hearing loss, insurance providers do not consider it a vital issue unless it occurs at a young age. If you do decide to get one, you also have to go through a lengthy process of seeing your general practitioner, a specialist, etc. Then, once prescribed, the average cost for a pair of hearing aids is $4,700, or about $2,350 per ear.

Eargo, a new company that walks the line between medical firm and tech start-up, wants to make the process easier. Eargo sells a pair of hearing aids for $1,450. You can buy them directly from the company’s website and they offer a 45-day trial period to see if Eargo works for you. Unlike other over-the-counter personal sound amplifiers — which legally can’t be labeled hearing aids — the Eargo models are certified as Class 1 medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of light to moderate hearing loss.

Modern Fertility is another company aiming to fill in a crack in our modern health care system. For $159, the company offers a fertility test that can help women who are trying to get pregnant, or may want to in the future, find out more about their fertility and plan ahead. After your test is analyzed, Modern Fertility will pair you with an infertility nurse for a one-on-one consultation that the company employs, as part of its package so you can get a breakdown of what your test means.

Why it’s hot: the gaps in the American healthcare system has provided ample opportunity for medical technology entrepreneurs to address and solve. Although not ideal, these tech companies aim to fill the gaps between you, your doctor and your health insurance.


Calm: the mindfulness unicorn

Calm announced it raised $88m in a Series B funding round at a $1B valuation. The sleep, meditation, and relaxation app has grown rapidly to over 40m downloads worldwide, which equates to a new user joining every second.

US meditation has more than tripled from 2012 to 2017, according to the CDC. Companies like Calm and Headspace have become major players in the $4T health and wellness industry. When Calm was created 7 years ago, the company struggled to see adoption until about 18 months ago as people were finally becoming more open about mental health. By the end of 2017, Calm relaxed into a comfortable lead, increasing revenue 4x in 2018 and becoming the largest mindfulness app on the market.

What sets Calm apart from the deluge of mindfulness apps is primarily their beautiful design as well as their variety of bonus features in addition to meditation. They offer Sleep Stories, Music for focus, relaxation and sleep plus the options to meditate with just nature sounds for a set time period. They also have lectures by experts in the areas of emotions and meditations etc.

Why it’s hot: the company has its sights set on becoming the “Nike of the health and wellness industry” which will without doubt introduce a huge influx of similar apps and services to address health and wellness.


Who’s Your Dadi?

As the D2C space continues to grow into an infinite amount of categories and brands, we can add men’s fertility to that list. Dadi, a new men’s health startup dedicated to fertility and sperm storage, believes the time is ripe for men to bypass the stuffy doctor’s office and deposit sperm into an FDA-licensed, yet patent pending, fertility and sperm storage kit from the comforts of their home.

According to a study in health journal Andrology, one in six couples has fertility issues, with little research or emphasis on how men factor into the equation. The CEO asserts that the industry hasn’t evolved in 30 to 40 years and neither has the way men approach reproductive health. They want to change that.

The founders at Dadi believe that infertility isn’t a women’s issue; it’s both a men’s and women’s issue. And they are hoping that this kit will encourage men to contribute to family planning conversations and become more aware of their reproductive health.

A typical men’s fertility program, which can include a reproductive kit, storage and lab fees, can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Dadi offers significantly lower pricing options at either $9.99 a month or $99 a year to store the sperm at the New England Cryogenic Center (NECC).

The entire process is fairly innocuous, as it includes no branding. Men can deposit their sperm into it, tap a button to mix in a preservative located in the cap to keep it stable and then use a FedEx prepaid label to ship back to Dadi’s lab facility at NECC. In 24 hours, consumers can expect results about their fertility as well as a video of their sperm. During the whole process, consumers can chat with the Dadi team either through email or text.

Why it’s hot: With the introduction of D2C brands like Hims and Roman, many companies are tackling sensitive male issues with tech-enabled solutions to age-old issues in an almost anonymous setting. Regardless of the benefits, there are many challenging regulations that come with sperm storage, not to mention getting men to care about fertility which will be the toughest challenge to overcome. These startups will need to go beyond education and brand building and really find a way to change the way we think about fertility as a society. 



Say Hello to Roo!

Roo, Planned Parenthood’s new chatbot, officially launched yesterday with hopes to help answer teenagers’ questions about sexual health that they may not want to ask their parents.

Planned Parenthood worked with digital shop Work & Co on the strategy, branding, design and development of the chatbot. Work & Co actually worked with teenagers from a high school in Brooklyn while developing the app to learn what kind of questions they have, how they search for answers and what they’d want in a chatbot. Because teens prefer to communicate through text message, a chatbot was an ideal platform to provide personalized, destigmatized answers. Plus, a 2014 study found that people tend to feel more comfortable disclosing personal information to a chatbot than a person.

Since many young people are nervous or embarrassed to ask questions about sexual health, they often turn to online resources that might not be entirely reliable. The AI powered bot is meant to give fast answers in a judgment-free, anonymous setting in a manner that’s comfortable for the audience — instead of kids going to unchecked online sources or YouTube for important information. The app is designed for 13-17 year olds and intends to answer more questions as more people use it. Users can find information about anything from puberty, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy to crushes and masturbation.

Teens can access Roo their mobile phones and if Roo can’t find what the user is looking for, it can connect them to live educators via Planned Parenthood’s chat/text program. Initiatives like this one are meant to help Planned Parenthood give information to hard-to-reach audiences like teenagers who don’t receive sex education or are receiving abstinence-only education.

Why it’s hot: Roo is a great example of well-designed chatbot functionality as well as access to experts in a category often overlooked. One feature in particular that works so well is the fact that you can just browse questions without having to ask anything yourself. Additionally, if you want to know more on a specific topic, sometimes the chatbot will take you to a page on Planned Parenthood’s website, a great way to drive to content on the site.


Giant Robots in Giant Supermarkets

The supermarket chain Giant Food Stores is starting to roll out an 6’3” autonomous robot named Marty whose mission is to keep stores safe. Marty is the result of a partnership between parent company Ahold Delhaize, the Dutch food retailer, and autonomous robot company Badger Technologies. This marks the largest front-of-store deployment of robots in a retail environment.

Marty has a laser-based detection system to guide him through the store. His sole purpose is to identify in-store hazards like spills and trip hazards, so employees can take action faster. While rolling down the aisles, he can also identify out-of-stock items and do price checks. Potential applications for Marty in the future include identifying food that is nearing its expiration date, continuously monitor inventory to forecast supply chain issues and reduce waste, and giving executive teams more in-store visibility to improve operations.

A message on the back of the robot reads, “This store is monitored by Marty for your safety. Marty is an autonomous robot that uses image capturing technology to report spills, debris and other potential hazards to store employees to improve your shopping experience.”

Giant says customers been more excited than freaked out by Marty. Many are even taking selfies with him as he is beginning to be identified as a brand ambassador for the supermarket. Giant has stated the Marty improves in-store efficiencies and free employees to better serve their customers. Giant plans to bring him to all 172 stores across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia this year.

Why it’s hot: Although I don’t think Marty would fit in so well in a crowded New York City Trader Joe’s, it will be interesting to see how this technology continues to improve in-store experiences and automate worker tasks. As cashiers are continuously replaced with self-checkout options, Marty will fuel even more automation and replacement of jobs in the retail space.



Amazon’s Free Sample Ad Strategy

Amazon is testing a program that partners with brands like Maybelline and Folgers to send free samples to potential buyers through Amazon’s delivery service – all based on what they know you’re likely to buy. 

While most of Amazon’s $5 billion ad revenue comes through targeted ads online, the company believes combining the free sample approach with customer data will provide “a higher conversion than display ads.” Analysts also predict the samples will create opportunities for Amazon to sell more of its own packaged goods and products.

How it works: the program uses machine learning based on Amazon’s customer data, samples of new products are selected and sent to certain customers. It will allow brands to put their products in the hands of the right customers and drive product awareness and conversion.

While some test subjects were perplexed after receiving targeted samples, a recent survey of 1.5k individuals found that only 33% were wary of their data being shared with 3rd parties. And with more than 100M Prime services subscribers, analysts believe this is a major breakthrough in its efforts to take on Google and Facebook’s ad dominance.

Why it’s hot: Free samples will become the new targeted ads which only strengthens Amazon’s position as a trusted delivery service. Amazon has the data and infrastructure to offer samples which could be even more effective than display ads on Facebook or search ads on Google. This in turn could result in increased revenue for Amazon and increased awareness and conversion for brands.


I’m Just Here For the WiFi

The New York Times reports that hotels are evolving past outdated ‘business centers’ and are moving to create more co-working spaces in the lobbies. Various hotel chains are revamping their lobbies and featuring free wi-fi and bathrooms in order to appeal to a more dynamic, digital clientele.

Hotels are starting to create lobbies and common spaces that are a designation for not only guests, but also locals. The hotel lobbies act as community gathering spaces with long tables, snacks and coffee from noon to 4am. Marriott has 80 locations in the works for its hotel brand created in 2013, Moxy, which features larger common spaces and “cozier” guest rooms. They don’t have a front desk, and require you to check in at the bar for your key & complimentary drink. Sheraton has also invested in overhauling 450 of its current lobbies to include “productivity tables,” equipped with outlets, USB ports, and drawers that users can rent and lock. They will also feature private phone booths and meeting rooms available for rent.

This trend is in part a response to the rise of co-working spaces like WeWork. WeWork is trying to catch up and capitalize on the trend with WeLive, a line of fully furnished short-term apartments in NYC and DC, available for short-term basis rentals.

One Amsterdam hotel founder calls the category a hybrid between a home and office with hotel services – almost like a mix between Airbnb and WeWork. The benefit for hotels is that the more locals they attract, the more genuine and authentic experiences will feel.

Why it’s hot: For freelancers and people working remote, this emerging hotel trend means there will be a larger, trendier selection of free co-working spaces available. For travelers, it means more options that working in a quiet hotel room or renting a cold conference room for collaborative work sessions. For hotels, it means more revenue as locals stream in for coffee or lunch. Win-win-win.


Getting Travelers In & Out of the Airport as Quickly as Possible

Hertz announced that it will team up with biometric kiosk maker Clear to cut down on the painstaking amount of time it takes to pick up a rental car. Hertz and Clear are calling the test program “Fast Lane” and launching at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

With the addition of Clear, members will be able to drive cars right off the lot by showing their faces to one of the facial-recognition kiosks upon exit. Hertz claims that the process will take about 30 seconds to complete, an estimate 75% faster than it takes now. The Clear cameras are said the be able to take measurements and identify minute differences in facial features.

Clear is most known for getting members through airport security more quickly but the company is beginning to broaden their horizons to other forms of travel. They are currently teaming with Seattle sports stadiums to utilize state-of-the-art biometric payment method for concessions. If “Fast Lane” takes off, Hertz and Clear plan to expand to over 40 additional locations, including LAX, JFK, and SFO by next year.

Why it’s hot: This is the first time Clear will be identifying members based on facial recognition rather than their iris or fingerprints and could influence an entire new way to pay, check in, and validate your identity in various settings.


Voice Fraud Prevention

Voice is becoming a major interface for consumers to communicate with machines, fueled by the rise of artificial intelligence and the explosion of new voice assistant devices in the space. As a result, a new area of opportunity has emerged for malicious hackers in the area of voice fraud. A security startup called Pindrop is building software to protect our vocal identities. Security Magazine asserts that the rate of voice fraud grew 350% from 2013 to 2017 with no signs of slowing. Voice fraud increased by 47% between 2016 and 2017 alone. As we continue to use phones and voice assistants to do more complex tasks (disable home security systems, open a new credit card), hackers have more opportunities to infiltrate our private info.

Pindrop just raised a $90M Series D to develop voice “fingerprinting” tech that analyzes “1,400 acoustic attributes” to verify a call or a voice command. This platform claims to be able to  identify even the most sophisticated impersonations and hacking attempts. Not only is this going to keep kids from ordering toys and candy from their parents’ Alexas, but more importantly, it will stop hackers from order stuff on Amazon or even commanding your smart home to unlock your front door. The funding is going to help Pindrop expand from customer service scenarios — the vast majority of its business today — into any applications that use voice interfaces; connected car platforms, home security devices, smart offices and smart home speakers. Pindrop works with call centers in eight of the top ten US banks to identify phone scams using unique audio characteristics and signifiers like type of device, carrier, and location to identify repeat callers and repeat scammers.

Why it’s hot: This type of ‘trend adjacent’ technology will ultimately allow us to use our voices instead of passwords and fingerprints (or having to remember your first pet’s name or favorite high school teacher security questions).



Nebraska: “Honestly. It’s Not For Everyone.”

The state of Nebraska is attempting to work its way out of its dead last position on the list of states that tourists are interested in considering for vacation through a new campaign which was revealed yesterday.

The Denver agency Vladimir Jones is giving the state a self-deprecating Midwestern spin with it’s new campaign; “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” Nebraska is often overlooked as a fun and interesting place to visit but the campaign is hoping to point out plenty of those offerings in some of the creative. The state’s farmland, rivers, festivals and geologic parks are all featured in it’s quippy executions.

It’s a major shift from the previous slogan, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” The agency took a major risk as the approach could either be marketing genius or continue to solidify Nebraska’s built-in perceptions further. Reactions were mixed. Some shook their heads at the campaign while others felt it captured the state’s essence well.

Why it’s hot: Regardless of how well the campaign is received, it will turn heads and grab the attention of an audience that might have never considered the state.

Bose Creates First FDA-Approved Self-Fitting Hearing Aid

37.5 million adults report hearing issues without an aid. As the elderly population rises, this business is only going to grow. According to Markets Insider, the audio-aid market is expected to reach $9.78B by 2022, up from $6.9B in 2017.

Last week, the FDA approved the marketing of a new device, the Bose Hearing Aid, which can be used without assistance from a doctor. The Bose Hearing Aid is intended to amplify sounds for individuals 18 years or older with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment (hearing loss).

The Bose Hearing Aid is controlled by a smartphone app, enabling patients to use, fit, and program hearing aid settings themselves — making it the first DIY hearing aid authorized for marketing by the FDA.

Why It’s Hot: The approval sent shares of traditional hearing-aid makers like William Demant, GN Store Nord, and Sonova tumbling 10%. Additionally, when one major company looks to diversify, its competitors usually follow. Meaning traditional brands could have an even tougher time cutting through the noise if other audio giants were to get in on the action.

Kosher Bacon?

Rabbi Gavriel Price  is in charge of figuring out how the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certifying organization in the world, should deal with what is known as clean meat. Clean meat is grown in laboratories from animal cells. This could mean a possibility for Jewish cuisine that had previously seemed impossible: kosher bacon.

Clean meat, also known as “cell-based agriculture,” begins with cells taken from an animal, often stem cells that are put into a solution that mimics blood and encourages the cells to replicate.

Mission Barns is the start-up in Berkeley focused on creating animal fat (where the distinctive flavor of meat comes from). They have created duck sausages, but duck breast or steak is expected to take much longer.

Why It’s Hot: Both environmentalists and animal activists are proponents of the technology because it could product the flavor of meat without animal suffering and greenhouse gases. Jewish authorities hope it will make kosher meat more affordable and reliable. Clean meat is not available in stores yet, but start-ups are currently working on it and say it could be available by next year. And when it is, they want a kosher stamp on their product, which indicates it adheres to quality and preparation standards and follows a set of biblical laws.

Netflix’s Binge Interruption

Many would argue that the primary benefit Netflix provides is the ability to binge multiple hours of a show or movies without interruption.

But recently, subscribers have been hit with a major disruption: 10-20 second promotional videos recommending other Netflix titles. They appear between episodes, reminding viewers not to miss a different show on Netflix. Sound familiar?

In response to the outlash Smita Saran, a company spokeswoman, stated “These video promos are actually personalized recommendations for titles we think a member may enjoy watching. In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

But the people have spoken. Top complaints surround not being able to mute or skip the videos, as well as the fact that they literally pay to not have to watch commercials.

Why It’s Hot: Netflix reported adding only 674,000 subscribers last month when it forecasted it would add 1.2 million. This lack of progress could be prompting Netflix to try new ways to sponsor their content but on the other hand, could push subscribers away with such disruptive features.


Anti-Open-Concept Rooms

Today, about 70% of all US offices are “open concept” meaning no cubicles, no partitions, no private offices. This type of work environment is meant to encourage interaction, collaboration, and equality. But a recent study by Harvard Business School found that face-to-face interaction actually decreased by 72% in open offices, and workers become far less productive. Other results of open-concept offices:

  • An average 15% decline in productivity
  • A 50% increase in the likelihood of getting sick
  • An increase in the number of distractions per hour
  • 60% of employees who work in open floor plan spaces report being dissatisfied with them.

A startup called ROOM is joining the ant-open-office movement by creating easy to assemble rooms within your open concept office. The ROOM One is a $3.5k soundproof booth, scientifically constructed with power outlets and ventilation. Other companies like Wall Box, TalkBox and Zenbooth have announced their similar products. ROOM has already locked in close to 200 clients, including Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan, and a $10m revenue run rate.

Why It’s Hot:

The concept could actually save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, and be flexible enough for fast-growing companies. BUT open office spaces are reportedly cheaper than traditional office spaces which is partly why they’ve been implemented in the first place. So who is going to pay for your $4,000 phone booth?

Girl Scouts Launch 30 New STEM Badges

Girl Scouts is launching 30 new STEM-related badges including space exploration, cyber security, mechanical engineering & robotics.

The badge rollout announced Tuesday comes at a tense time for Girl Scouts: Boy Scouts of America started accepting girls into its programs last year in a shift toward inclusivity, which the Girl Scouts outwardly opposed.

The new programs, which include programs for multiple age groups, are designed to address a growing science and technology workforce and help girls fill a leadership gap, especially in STEM fields. For girls in 11th and 12th grades, some programs are designed to tackle the college admissions and financial aid application process.

Additionally, Leadership Journeys titled “Think Like a Programmer” and “Think Like an Engineer,” allow girls to pursue their own projects in their communities based on skills they’ve learned. One troop in Colorado developed an app, Daily Daisies, that sends positive messages to high school students’ phones each morning to encourage positive self-esteem during what can be a stressful time of life.

Girl Scouts are learning how to proactively address some of the foremost challenges of today while also building skills that will set them up for a lifetime of leadership.

Why it’s Hot: These new Girl Scout programming will build skills and encourage interest in STEM areas that young girls are not typically encouraged to explore outside Girl Scouting. Sparking interest in these areas from a young age can lead young girls to pursue STEM classes and careers and potentially reduce the gender gap in the most prominent, emerging fields.


Hinge employs Nobel prize winning algorithm to find your perfect match

Hinge, the dating app that sets up friends of friends, unveiled a new feature called “Most Compatible” that utilizes a Nobel Prize-winning algorithm.

The algorithm ranks Hinge members by their preferences, pairing each member off with the member they would theoretically prefer most. The ‘Most Compatible’ recommendations appear simultaneously for both parties and disappear after 24 hours. To make these pairings, the app learns a user’s preferences through their liking and passing activity and uses that to pair them with a match whose preferences best align.

The method utilizes the Gale-Shapley algorithm, which was developed 56 years ago to solve ‘the stable marriage problem.’ The algorithm traditionally has individuals rank potential partners by level of preference and cycle through proposals and rejections until each individual is with the partner they prefer most (who isn’t already engaged). In the Hinge app, the algorithm is used to avoid endless browsing and increase success. And it seems to work: the new feature is 8x more likely to result in dates and the company saw a 400% increase in user activity after eliminating the standard ‘swipe’ feature.

Why It’s Hot: Although some users are nervous that their discovery will be limited, this introduction of most compatible matches will only make the process more seamless for users and could possibly become the new standard for dating apps and replace the classic swipe method.


Uber’s Beer Goggles Patent

One of the great things about Uber Pool is that it offers people who have had a few too many drinks on a Saturday night a safe and cheap alternative to driving home drunk. On the other hand, a sober ride sharer has to deal with a belligerent passenger who can create an uncomfortable situation for everyone.

Enter Uber’s plan to detect drunken behavior before users get into a Pool. They have applied for a patent for a keystroke system that tracks how a user normally uses the Uber app through AI; how often they make typos, how precisely they click on buttons, how often they drop their phone, their normal walking speed, etc. The algorithm will track changes in these factors along with where and when the ride was requested which then may result in notifying the driver that the passenger may have been drinking. Depending on their level of intoxication, they may be prevented from joining a Pool or could match with drivers trained to handle people in this state.

Why it’s Hot: There’s two obvious issues that could result. 1.) This technology will motivate drivers who don’t want their car ruined to decline drunk passengers, possibly resulting in people driving home drunk instead. 2.) Another, more disturbing possibility, are drivers who would use this information as a draw rather than a deterrent. A common theme in many of Uber driver’s past assault cases have been the passengers level of inebriation. This feature could essentially allow drivers to scan neighborhoods for passengers in a drunken state for this exact purpose.


Ikea: People and Planet Positive

In attempts to reduce their carbon footprint, Ikea has announced it will no longer use plastic bags, straws or other single-use plastics, with a goal of phasing these items out completely by 2020. The move is part of an initiative by the furniture giant to become “people and planet positive by 2030,” which will also involve the introduction of affordable home solar products.

Ikea said plastic straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, bin bags, and plastic-coated paper plates and cups would all be phased out and where possible replaced by alternatives. It has invested in a plastics recycling plant to help push the plan forward.

Ikea’s sustainability manager is aiming to design all products “from the very beginning to be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold and recycled.” They also plan to implement more plant-based food options in its eatery, like a vegetarian hot dog, which will be available starting in August. They will be offering products such as a tap nozzle that could save more than 90% of water used and solar panels in 29 markets.

Why it’s Hot:

Ikea’s decision to remove single-use plastic products from all stores is a major step towards influencer big retailers and corporations to follow suit and reduce the amount of throwaway plastic on their shelves. Other brands like Adidas, Dell and Nestle have launched similar movements to combat plastic waste and promote sustainability. Adidas has released a line of shoes made from upcycled plastic waste intercepted before reaching the ocean. Dell is repurposing plastic ocean waste for electronic packaging. And Nestle plans to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. The EU has even proposed banning plastic products altogether and although come US cities have taken action on plastic, the effort has been less impressive in the US.



If you’ve been by Lafayette and Houston in the past few weeks, you may have noticeda shipping container with glowing purple LED lights parked on the sidewalk. That shipping container, it turns out, contains a hydroponic farming system capable of producing between two to four tons of produce each year.

Freight Farms calls this a Leafy Green Machine, which “is capable of growing lettuces, herbs, and hearty greens at commercial scale in any climate or location.” Produce can be grown year-round, using less than five gallons of water a day. Plants are grown in liquid nutrients rather than in soil and leftover water gets recirculated resulting in lower water usage. LED lamps provide the plants with the right amount of light and can even affect how the plant looks and tastes. Even more, the produce is more nutrient dense than fruits and vegetables delivered from another location which can lose up to 45 percent of its nutritional value during transport.

Freight Farms is one of many companies beginning to sell farms-in-a-box to hopeful growers. Local Roots, Modular Farms, and Growtainer are a few of the other major players in the space. Their buyers are not just from urban environments like NYC, a farmer in Montana purchased one so she could grow fresh food year round despite the harsh winters. Also in the Arctic, these farming systems are providing fresh produce in frigid climates while avoiding shipments from far away.

The problem is that these farms are quite an expensive investment which doesn’t always pay off. Viraj Puri, CEO of Brooklyn based urban farming company, predicts that these shipping container farms would be more of a complement to traditional farms rather than a replacement since not all fruits and veggies can easily grow in shipping container system.


Why it’s Hot: Freight Farms says these innovations “could also be applied to other industries in need of a stable food supply, such as disaster relief, military bases, mining, and offshore industries.” And with a projected 2.4 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, this alternative source of fresh produce is a compelling prospect.



Freshman Dropout Predictions

Have you ever wondered if spending more time in the library actually equates to better academic performance? The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students’ ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out.

The new ID card tracking system keeps a record of how often students interact in social settings on campus (like use the campus rec center), what they buy to eat, and their academic performance. According to the University, the data allows them to predict within a freshman’s first 4 weeks if they will return as a sophomore and eventually graduate.

Based on the data, the university identifies a list of freshman in danger of dropping out and shares it with the students’ advisors every quarter, who do their best to intervene. According to the article, students with shrinking social circles and a lack of a routine might be more likely to drop out.

The efforts have been pretty successful so far. After three years of collecting freshman data, their predictions have been 73% accurate. Last year, the school’s retention rate rose to 86.5% (almost 10% above the national average).

“We think by doing these interventions by the 12th week, which is when students make up their mind, you’re sort of doing what Amazon does—delivering items you didn’t order but will be ordering in the future,” says Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative.

Like any predictive technology, some major ethical concerns about privacy arose. It could be argued that this level of analyzing students’ social interaction data, which includes timestamps and locations, potentially violates students’ privacy. Still, algorithms can sometimes be wrong and biased. Ram admits, “We live in an era where you shouldn’t be generalizing about ‘groups of people. You should be personalizing solutions at the individual level.” She calls the data she’s analyzed “just a signal.”

Why It’s Hot: This initiative is using predictive technology in a much more meaningful way than say, suggesting what products you might also like to buy on Amazon. If this machine learning tool can identify behaviors that may lead a student to drop out, who’s to say it couldn’t be developed further to signify behaviors that lead students to attempt suicide or fall into depression? If possible, many students could receive help from advisors or family members who were prompted by the system.


Apple Watch Data Could Solve a Murder

A woman in Australia has been charged with the murder of her mother-in-law after data collected from the victim’s Apple Watch proved her depiction of the events wrong. The watch outlined a timeline of the victim’s demise, giving prosecutors a look into the woman’s last moments.

Caroline Nilsson told authorities that a group of men invaded her home, tied her up, and killed her mother-in-law. She claimed the act took a total of 20 minutes. The watch’s heart rate data showed a spike in activity followed by an abrupt slowdown on the day of the murder, limiting the timing of the events to a 7-minute window, meaning Caroline is either lying, or terrible at telling time.

The trial is set to continue in June, when it will be decided if the Apple Watch data will be accepted as evidence. Caroline has continued to deny the allegations.

Why It’s Hot:

This is actually the second instance this year where Apple Health data was used as evidence in a murder trial. In Germany, a third-party company examined the data to re-create the murderous activities the accused man had participated in through his movements. As more situations like these occur, the debate over ethical surveillance data is bound to heat up. The creators and distributors of software will face a complex question of when and where they should have to hand over their data.