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Microsoft Moves into the Legal Cannabis Business

Microsoft-Cannabis

America’s burgeoning weed industry just seems to be climbing higher. Tech giant Microsoft announced Thursday it is partnering with a cannabis industry-focused software company called Kind Financial. The company provides “seed to sale” services for cannabis growers, allowing them to track inventory, navigate laws and handle transactions all through Kind’s software systems. The partnership marks the first major tech company to attach its name to the burgeoning industry of legal marijuana.

While most big tech companies have been shy to get involved, tech start-ups have been flocking to the up-and-coming pot trade, which is fully legal for both recreational and medical purposes in five states. The marijuana industry’s specific needs for data tracking to optimize plant growth and other logistics, as well as its booming market potential, make it well-suited for tech partnerships. “Nobody has really come out of the closet, if you will,” said Matthew A. Karnes, the founder of marijuana data company Green Wave Advisors, to The New York Times. “It’s very telling that a company of this caliber is taking the risk of coming out and engaging with a company that is focused on the cannabis business.”

This hesitancy comes from the still murky legal status of marijuana in most of the country. Marijuana is still illegal nationwide, and the risk of crackdowns where federal and state laws contradict have discouraged many banks from working with marijuana businesses. There are also risks in taking a weed business across state lines where it could have a different legal standing. And there’s always the danger that a change in government leadership, say with a changing presidential administration, could result in a backtracking of relaxed marijuana laws.

Then there is the potentially negative association. “[My company] has stayed away from investing in the cannabis industry because it’s like investing in the porn industry,” said Zach Bogue, a venture capital investor. “I’m sure there's a lot of money to be made, but it’s just not something we want to invest in.”

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), sees marijuana software and Microsoft as a natural pairing. “If you are trying to go big macro strategy at a company like Microsoft, and you want a super diverse portfolio, and you’re located largely in a place where you can visibly see the marijuana commerce happening, and of course maybe your employees and others are engaged in that commerce, why wouldn’t the company invest in it?” he said.

He adds that he believes that Microsoft’s association with legal marijuana will ultimately be helpful in the legalization effort. (Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is in a state that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.) The legitimacy it lends will make it easier for marijuana producers to do business, citing growers who see their ad dollars refused by corporations that don’t want to be associated with the substance. “Having a brand name like Microsoft will definitely catch people’s attentions,” he said.

He also thinks the partnership could affect legislation. “Microsoft has a leviathan [lobbying] effort up here in Washington [D.C.],” he said. “One of the things that has been really interesting to see is how the focus is becoming not so much about legalization per say, that’s almost become a bugaboo word up on the Hill, but just focusing in on these commerce reforms, for example to allow banks to handle this trade ... they lobby hard for that stuff on the Hill right now and to have a Microsoft weigh in saying, we want to be part of that commerce, can only buoy those efforts.”

St. Pierre notes that Kind Financial, which is never directly involved in growing, testing, or selling marijuana, is typical for the kind of companies cropping up around lobbying efforts and gaining financial traction. These ancillary companies that provide services around the actual moving of product are legally much easier to handle.

“The fact that one is engaged in their minds in quite legal commerce, one where lawyers are saying, sure you can set up software to track it, you can set up a web page that shows pretty pictures of marijuana and rate it, or get coupon discounts, etc.,” he said. “Compared to the other side of the issue, where you’re growing it, transporting it, you’re selling it, and you’re actually touching it, the lawyering they get is ... more schizophrenic.” These actual producers, he adds, are the most legally vulnerable.

Still, St. Pierre is thrilled at the partnership. “Ten years ago, 20 years ago, if you were saying, I have a software and I’m hoping to track marijuana sale, you and I would be in a RICO conspiracy. So that speaks to how much has changed, and how today what’s heralded in a newswire as a big partnership, years ago would have put you in federal prison,” he said.

Read Article (Karen Turner | washingtonpost.com | 06/16/2016)

Internet availability and access is important without a doubt, but knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Why Smart Homes Are Still a Dumb Idea

Smart-Homes

In the wake of the resignation of Tony Faddell, the founder of smart thermostat maker Nest, the future is looking cloudy not only for the smart thermostat maker, but the broader smart home business as well.

Nest, after all, was supposed to be the trailblazer that led us to the smart home revolution. When Google put down $3.2 billion to buy it in 2014, it appeared to make sense -- Google was already running much of our online lives, and this would give the company a way to run our offline lives as well. (Or, I suppose more accurately, make our offline lives become part of our online lives.) The charismatic Fadell seemed to be the right pioneer, given his product experience at Apple, which he could apply to Google’s more open computing vision.

But Nest proved to be a less-than-ideal poster child.

It was slow to put out products. When it did, it wasn’t always a success. The company’s Nest Protect smoke alarm hit early problems that required the company to disable its most innovative feature -- the ability to wave your hand under the detector to stop the alarm. (It was a particularly attractive feature for bad or at least smoke-heavy cooks.)

The company also fielded very public complaints about faulty software that, as the New York Times reported, literally left people in the cold. Then, earlier this year, Nest announced that it would stop supporting the Revolv, a smart home hub that it acquired along with a smart appliance firm of the same name in 2014.

All of these developments served, in some capacity, to highlight problems consumers are having with the smart home market. It sounds pretty great to have thermostats, light bulbs, ovens and security systems that anticipate our every move. The reality has been something less wonderful -- a fractured market of occasionally buggy appliances that work with some, but not all, of the systems out there.

And, perhaps most tellingly, despite the public problems Nest was facing, no single company has positioned itself as an alternative.

So beyond the early adopters, consumers right now are having some trouble getting aboard the smart home express. For people who don’t have the time to sort out whether their light bulb will talk to their smart speaker -- and to come up with passwords for all those accounts -- the smart home still seems to be part of a fictional "Jetsons"-esque future.

A survey from the consulting firm Accenture found early this year that some people had actually abandoned their smart home appliances. Many said they were worried about what implications having smart devices held for their privacy and security. They added they were particularly worried about getting hacked -- an understandable concern if you’re trusting, say, a smart security camera with your safety.

Others had a much more prosaic, but no less troubling concern: they found the set-up process too complicated. For most people, having to find out if your lightbulb will work when you hit your digital switch is too much of a hassle -- particularly when you have a reliable low-tech alternative. Add in the worry that any device you bought could become a paperweight two years later because the company’s no longer supporting it? That makes it seem hardly worth it to invest in the system at all.

The smart home market is certainly still promising -- but that, by definition, means it’s an area with its fullest potential ahead of it. Amazon’s Echo, the forthcoming Google Home, and the rumored “Siri-in-a-box” are all appealing because of what they could do down the line -- act as the personal concierge that can follow you from your home to your car to your workplace.

But right now, these home hubs feel like a novelty rather than an essential part of our lives. And without firms such as Nest pushing those developments, hubs lose a great deal of appeal. Even the greatest hub needs spokes.

That’s particularly true if the intelligent voice assistants that power those hubs make their way into our smartphones. If Siri-in-a-box can do everything Siri-in-my-smartphone can do, there’s no real reason to buy it. Sure, maybe Google Home can buy me movie tickets, but I’m not going to buy a separate appliance if my smartphone -- which is also sitting on my kitchen counter -- can do the same. The added appeal of the home hub, at least for me, is as a way to set up and control my appliances and not have to clutter my phone up with an app for every single appliance.

Nest and Google had a shared vision of making not just an innovative product, but an innovative network that could support a number of appliances to make our lives better. That’s an appealing vision. But, right now, it’s one in need of a new banner carrier.

Read Article (Hayley Tsukayama | domain | 06/06/2016)

Unfortunately, visions of the Smart Home that media has shown us seems to be great in theory but not so much in reality. At least not for the near future.

But that does not mean society shouldn’t prepare for it. Less than half our population is tech savvy enough to benefit from such a home. But that time is coming and we should help one-another gain the skills to benefit from new technology. Please support our efforts to do just that.

Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Why a Current Online Presence Matters?

Current-Online-Presence

Why does Sunrise Senior Living have a blog?  Actually, it appears to have been updated today.  You might think that a company in the residential senior care business wouldn’t.  And further, Brookdale can be followed on Twitter.   So can JoAnn Jenkins of AARP – that makes great sense – AARP is a content/media company.  So what’s up when you can’t find any reasonably current content, or worse, the site offers up a suggestion to meet up in…2015? Or when the last tweet from a company that is still in business and is doing quite well – but their last Tweet was in 2012?

Online presence builds confidence – especially for new connections.  So let’s say that Mr. Offline Consultant is well-liked among prospective clients, has many repeat engagements based on someone he knows. What if a client replaces his last senior contact with someone new?  It happens – there’s a new sheriff in town, so to speak (as with the Philips-to-IBM-move example).  So Mr. Offline finishes up his get-acquainted meeting, leaves the building, and the new executive searches the web. But finds…nothing new from the past 6 months.  Should confidence in Mr. Offline be shaken? And why?

No online presence signals market disinterest or worse -- out-of-business.   Perhaps your files are filled with material from departed companies.  For their time, perhaps they were great ideas, service offerings or products.  Perhaps these firms thought they could market without channel partners or perhaps they picked the wrong partners. Perhaps they led with a poorly-thought out product description.  Whatever the reason for their exit, future prospects have the right to know that they are gone. Consider Emeritus Senior Living -- online now as part of Brookdale but also immortalized on Wikipedia and elsewhere.  Does it matter that Brookdale tweets?  Of course it does -- it shows that they are still around and view Twitter as the searched environment that it is – that they want their website to be found.  And the redirect from the search for Emeritus?  Ditto.

All market segments depend on search. Whether through Twitter or Google, if in business, firms want and need to be found – and with good and reasonably recent content.  Some that disappear without a trace leave the consumer wondering – what happened?  Remember the Floh Club and Florence Henderson?  Probably not, but that one, unlike Emeritus, quietly evaporated, leaving behind only head-scratching.  But as that article just showed, you can be gone but the Internet never forgets. And if you really want to be remembered right now for your current offerings, fix the site, the tweets, aging marketing, and why not…follow lots of people and offer up a few Tweets.

Read Article (Laurie Orlov | ageinplacetech.com | 06/08/2016)

In this digital era, having a current online presence can also extend to individuals as they job hunt and seek to extend their career. An outdated or missing online presence can project a negative impression even if the company doesn’t require a high level of digital skills. This seems to just be the trend in today’s job market.

This is another niche where our service can benefit many individuals in a very convenient way. We really need your support to bring this vital service to the masses. #socialcitynet

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Facebook Outreach Blatantly Ignores “Black Lives Matter”

Outreach-Blatantly-Ignores

When Facebook launched a new system in January to help news outlets and other groups target posts to particular audiences, a representative of the New York Times said it had the potential to kindle “vibrant discussions” within “niche Facebook communities” that might otherwise get lost amid the social network’s 1.6 billion users. And indeed, in the system’s first several months, software algorithms have generated hundreds of thousands of special tags for connecting to even the most obscure groups, including 7,800 Facebook users who are interested in “Water motorsports at the 1908 Summer Olympics.”

But there’s one set of people who can’t be reached via Facebook’s system: those interested in Black Lives Matter, the nationwide grassroots movement protesting police violence against black people.

Facebook’s targeting mechanism, designed to route articles and videos from Facebook Pages into users’ news feeds, will gladly help reach other protest communities. For example, publishers can target people interested in the conservative Tea Party or in its largely forgotten liberal response, the “Coffee Party,” as well as those enthusiastic about the “Fight for $15” labor movement and the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement” around Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, all by attaching to their posts selectors known as Preferred Audience interest tags.

That there’s no such tag for Black Lives Matter is particularly baffling given that BLM began on Facebook in 2013 and has dominated headlines ever since.

Facebook tells The Intercept that the omission does not reflect its own stance toward the movement and blamed the lack of a Black Lives Matter targeting tag on the software that automatically generates the tags.

But BLM’s absence from Facebook’s targeting program looks all the more stark in the wake of high-profile revelations from a Facebook news curator who told Gizmodo that he and his colleagues had to “inject” Black Lives Matter into Facebook’s “Trending News” section because it was having a difficult time gaining traction.

It also hearkens back to a controversial moment in 2014, when protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of Michael Brown blanketed Twitter feeds. Facebook feeds were instead saturated with posts about the “ice bucket challenge,” a boisterous viral campaign to raise awareness for the brain disease ALS. The success of that effort, which according to the ALS Association raised $115 million — nearly six times the group’s annual budget — shows what a favorable algorithm ranking can do for a campaign.

On the other hand, algorithms can also have a potentially crushing effect on social and political movements, which increasingly rely on social media and journalism to grow and sustain their support bases. By providing a tag to target a particular group, Facebook encourages the production of content for that group. And good reporting strengthens political movements and shapes public discourse.

Social media teams, including ours at The Intercept, use interest tags to promote their journalism and expand their reach. If said journalism isn’t reaching its intended audience — and if a publication’s traffic reflects that — outlets are disincentivized from investing limited resources into covering the movement and the issues its followers care about.

According to Christian Sandvig, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who studies the cultural consequences of algorithmic systems, groups like Black Lives Matter may be missing from the system because Facebook’s programmers wrote a “machine-learning” algorithm — based on artificial intelligence — that produces results even Facebook does not understand.

“Machine learning writes its own software. [It] writes its own rules,” he said. “The reason that a particular item or content is selected or not selected may not be recoverable.”

Lending credence to this theory, Facebook said there is no way to know with any certainty why any specific interest tag is included or missing from its list. “We’re committed to and working on improving our system to generate a more comprehensive list of interests that are relevant for people and useful for publishers,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

Companies that write software like the Preferred Audience system often act like “there’s no human intervention — as though writing software wasn’t human,” said Sandvig. “If you ran a business that did something like that you wouldn’t necessarily have this defense.”

Part of the problem may actually be that Facebook is eager to create pleasant user experiences. Its News Feed algorithm brings people content they’re expected to like and hides content that might make them unhappy. So if a lot of users block or hide posts related to Black Lives Matter because they find the violent or controversial nature of the issue objectionable, that can affect how visible other Black Lives Matter content is.

“Because we learn about the world through the social media algorithm, in the future we might be learning about a new kind of world,” said Sandvig. “One that reflects certain decisions — made by internet platforms — about what kind of mood they want us to be in or what feeling they want us to have while using them.”

“The computer and the user coproduce relevance,” said Sandvig. “You’re training the algorithm and it’s training you.”

Read Article (Travis Mannon | theintercept.com | 06/09/2016)

When software engineers are contracted to develop and algorithm, this is done from a standpoint that provides “Plausible Denial” for the entity issuing the contract.

Just as businesses are well aware of any finger-pointing that may arise from their projects in the digital era, all consumers should hone their digital skills as much as possible. We are striving to help individuals in this endeavor. #socialcitynet

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Facebook & Google Battle Latest FBI Challenge

Latest-FBI-Attempt

Now the FBI wants access to your web browsing history as they continue efforts to expand surveillance. The FBI and Silicon Valley are in a fight over whether web browsing records are the same as telephone bill records.

The latest surveillance battle gripping the technology industry is focused on a rewrite of US surveillance law that would mean the justice department would be able to access a citizen’s web browsing history, location data and some email records without approval from a judge using a so-called “national security letters” (NSLs).

The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records.

Director James Comey now is lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent.

Late on Monday, major technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo sent a letter warning Congress that they would oppose any efforts to rewrite law in the FBI’s favor.

“This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a ‘typo’ in the law,” the companies wrote. “In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without court oversight.”

It marks another battle over a small clause in federal law that could dramatically affect how the US conducts terrorism investigations. For years, the bureau has relied on the controversial national security letters to obtain certain types of data quickly from technology companies. These letters don’t require a warrant and often come with a gag order prohibiting the recipients from discussing them. Technology companies complain the FBI has become too reliant on them, but the FBI complains that cases are getting slowed down because some companies have stopped cooperating.

It’s not so much that technology companies don’t want to give any user data to the government. Rather, their legal teams have problems with the growth of national security letters because the accompanying gag orders prevent companies from telling users much about how they help the government. This can create mistrust and, as happened after the Edward Snowden leaks, eventual embarrassment if the details are disclosed.

Companies also argue NSLs are problematic because of the lack of judicial oversight. They give too much power to one branch of government, they argue, and make it hard to predict what the government may ask for next.

Comey has said expanding NSL rules is one of his agencies top legislative priorities. US senators are exploring multiple ways to pass the law tweak this year.

Technology and legal experts also dispute Comey’s argument that he effectively is asking Congress to correct a typo. In 2008, the justice department’s office of legal counsel said explicitly that the agency can only issue national security letters for “name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records”.

At the time, the government had asked DoJ’s lawyer if those four types of data are “exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request and a provider may turn over”.

To which the office of legal counsel responded: “We conclude that the list ... is exhaustive.”

Read Article (Danny Yadron | theguardian.com | 06/07/2016)

How important is your browsing history to the law? Federal Prosecutors have Claimed that Clearing Browser History is an Obstruction of Justice. Negligent Mom’s Browser History Admissible in court.

Knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important as Internet access if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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