Boeing requests FAA ground the 737 as the President pushes an emergency order

After consulting with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and airlines, Boeing is throwing its support behind a decision to ground its 737 Max planes.

“Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft,” the company said in a statement.

Boeing’s statement comes amid mounting pressure for the FAA to ground Boeing’s planes and belies the company’s reported efforts behind the scenes to keep its planes aloft — at least in the United States.

The company’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, reportedly called from Chicago to assure President Trump about the safety of the planes, which have been involved in crashes on flights operated by Nigerian and Indonesian airline carriers, according to a report in The New York Times

According to the Times report, the call had been planned since Monday, but came after the President had called the safety of passenger airlines into question — blaming an overabundance of technology for the recent spate of accidents.

Indeed, Boeing’s acquiescence arrives even as President Donald Trump was readying  an emergency order that would ground the planes.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry,” according to a statement from Boeing. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

And the Federal Aviation Administration has now grounded the planes.

Here’s the statement from the FAA

The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory. The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.

The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident. The agency will continue to investigate.

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Hulu teams up with that world record Instagram egg to raise awareness of mental health

Remember that egg that became Instagram’s most-liked post? It used its recently-acquired fame to shed light on mental health and the pressures of social media.

The account now has 10 million followers — its record photo has over 52 million likes — and it put that audience to use with a 30-second video that aired on Hulu around the Super Bowl. The account had teased a major revealed in recent weeks, and it proved to be the short spot with Hulu that promotes mental health awareness, particularly around the context of using social media.

“Recently I’ve started to crack… the pressure of social media is getting to me,” the video reads as the egg’s shell begins to crack before breaking into pieces.

“If you’re struggling too, talk to someone,” the egg says before it is resurrected with a full shell once again.

The video closes with a link to the Mental Health America website.

The video received praise from Mental Health America and many others on Twitter, but plenty of its Instagram followers expected more or don’t have a Hulu account, according to comments.

At the same time, the creators of the account — three advertising executives in South London — revealed background on the project, the egg is called “Eugene,” in an interview with the New York Times.

The trio — Chris Godfrey, Alissa Khan-Whelan and C.J. Brown — explained that they had been approached by Hulu, which had paid to develop the video which aims to take advantage of the hype and online chatter around the Super Bowl to raise its message. Given that the account is followed by a large number of children, as its creators acknowledged in the interview, a positive message like this rather than a commercial sell-out is a pleasant surprise, particularly when it is estimated that brand deals could fetch $10 million.

Hulu is the first to get a crack at the egg, but it remains to be seen if its appeal to brands will endure and whether its future messaging and partners will also be health-related.

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President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

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The NYT gets into voice with 5 new Alexa skills, including a daily briefing, quiz and more

The New York Times is expanding its efforts around audio programming and voice assistants, the company announced today. The NYT says it’s launching a daily flash briefing for Alexa devices, as well as an interactive news quiz, and — in an interesting twist — it will be introducing “enhanced coverage” in its Sunday paper that prompts readers to launch dedicated Alexa skills to learn more about the stories they’re reading.

On weekdays, the Times will offer a short news briefing for Alexa devices that’s hosted by Michael Barbaro of The NYT’s popular podcast, “The Daily.” Listeners can enable the Alexa skill, then ask to hear the top stories by saying “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing,” or “Alexa, what’s in the news?,” for example.

For now, the flash briefing consists of the last portion of “The Daily,” where Barbaro says “Here’s what else you need to know today.” Over time, the company plans to expand upon that with new stories and sound bites.

Also new today is a daily news quiz, created by “The Daily’s” producers. This will be available on Fridays, and is triggered by saying “Alexa, play The New York Times News Quiz.”

The quiz will ask questions that listeners answer to then be told if they are right or wrong. The skill will provide additional context, as well.

While daily briefing skills and quizzes are among the most popular types of Alexa skills today, the way the paper is experimenting with its Sunday paper contest is interesting.

Skill discovery is still a huge challenge on voice assistants. And even when you enable a skill, you may forget to use it or not remember what it’s called, if it’s not something you launch regularly.

The NYT’s solution is to add Alexa prompts to its printed edition of the Sunday paper, for select sections including travel, music and books.

Starting this weekend, a special section will feature Travel’s annual list of 52 Places to Go. Readers can choose to listen to the Times’s new “Traveler” writer Sebastian Modak, as he visits all the places on the list, by saying, “Alexa, open the 52 Places Traveler.”

In addition, a command to “open The Pop Music Roundup” will offer a voice round-up from Times pop music editor Caryn Ganz, while saying “Alexa, get book recommendations from The New York Times” will trigger Alexa to tell you what the paper’s book critics are reading and recommend.

All three of these Alexa skills will continue beyond this weekend and will include fresh content.

“We’ve only just begun to explore the ways that voice technology can bring Times journalism to our audience, where and how they want it,” said Monica Drake, assistant managing editor, The New York Times, in a statement about the Alexa skills. “This project is a great starting point in this effort as we begin to experiment the ways voice can work in conjunction with stayed mediums like print while also exploring native Times experiences like the flash briefing and interactive news quiz, built specifically for voice services,” she added.

The NYT already offered some of its news through Alexa and other voice assistants prior to today, as its podcast “The Daily” has been available across platforms. But this is the first time it has rolled out dedicated Alexa skills like this.

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Lime claims it didn’t know controversial PR firm Definers would sling mud at rivals

Scooter startup Lime has confirmed it hired Definers but claimed it didn’t know the controversial PR firm would try to smear its rivals. The company was speaking during an on stage interview here at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Definers was recently revealed to have carried out so-called ‘opposition research’ on entities critical of Facebook . Including by leveraging anti-semitic conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros, according to the New York Times, which broke the story earlier this month.

At the same time it emerged that other tech firms had also been using Definers — Lime being one of them.

And, as we reported earlier, the PR firm pitched us a suggestive email seeking to throw mud on scooter rival Bird.

“I read your piece on Bird’s custom scooter and delivery. Just wanted to flag that Bird’s numbers seem off based on what they have listed on their website. They’ve taken a bunch off the list. Seems odd since they just announced 100 cities two weeks ago. Thought you’d find this interesting,” Definers wrote us on October 5.

Asked about its business relationship with the PR firm, Lime’s VP of global expansion Caen Contee, claimed it had not known how Definers operated.

He also said Lime has since terminated its program with the firm.

“First off we do not support that,” he said, of the Soros smears. “We do not believe that this is the space that should be used for anything [like that]. We used them to work on our Lime green and our carbon free programs. As soon as we understood they were doing some of these things we parted ways and finished our program with them.”

Contee claimed Lime had engaged Definers to try to understand “what were the levers of opportunity for us to really create the messaging and also to do our own research; understanding the life-cycle; all the pieces that are in a very complex business”.

“As soon as we found out they were engaged in bad practices that were not beneficial and obviously not creating a good image… we decided to move on,” he said, adding that Definers had been “recommended by top providers all the way around”.

Pressed by TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet on why it had sent an email on Lime’s behalf seeking to smear Bird, Contee continued the flat-denial — now in the first person.

“Okay I don’t know anything about that. Honestly,” he said.

“Aren’t you suppose to know who you’re working with?” rejoined Dillet.

“Of course we know who we’re working with. As to knowing exactly the tactics I don’t know your tactics but I’m here talking to you,” replied Contee, misleadingly comparing a commercial business relationship with an unpaid appearance at a technology conference.

The whole episode sits uneasily with other comments the Lime VP made during the interview, as he sought to paint a picture of a collaboratively minded company.

He claimed Lime wants to not just partner with the cities (he called them “city stakeholders”) it obviously needs on side in order to seed its on-demand electric vehicles but also with other players in the multi-modal urban mobility space — to build momentum and drive adoption of a new and disruptive mobility tech.

Changing behaviour will be key to expanding the urban mobility opportunity, he suggested, adding: “We need to really address and change the behavior. And if multiple companies are enabling that then we’re all for it.”

“Our methodology is working side by side with cities,” he also said. “And the ability to do so is based on showing demand. What you’re seeing now is that cities have long wanted to support urban mobility lanes, and recreate the urban infrastructure. But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem.

“We provide a supply, the demand is there and I think what you’ll see is that as we create more infrastructure and we encourage more of this behaviour cities will encourage also to see more and more of these types of companies to really serve their citizens.”

Lime has previously taken investment from Uber — and Contee couched that multi-modal rival as “both” an investor and partner.

“I think the reality is that we want to see cities transform and we welcome anyone who wants to find a way to help us do that alongside of us — as part of more of a partner-based company,” he said, when asked about Lime’s relationship with Uber . “Where we’ve got long-term relationships and collaborating than we are about trying to create things between people.”

“Ultimately this is proving the viability of the space, enabling the transformation that we see. The fact that globally we have less than 5-10% for what is ultra-mobility, in terms of the number of trips that are happening in the community… that’s the real thing we need to be doing,” he added.

The pitch for fellow urban mobility innovators to work with Lime to collectively open up a nascent market makes it all the more puzzling that it engaged an oppo research firm which tried to sling mud at a rival.

Unless, well, Lime actually views rival scooter startups as a barrier to grabbing greater marketshare (and thus scaling the value of its company faster — perhaps to shoot for an early exit).

And therefore as better ridden over or pushed out of the road as it pulls to go full throttle.

Contee said otherwise today. But the Definers pitch stands as a contraction. So not doing proper due diligence there looks like a major misstep.

One thing is clear: Lime has been accelerating very rapidly over the past 18 months.

Contee confirmed today that it’s operating in 130 cities globally, with now a full 20 million rides under its belt — and a staggering $467M raised.

While, as VP of global expansion, he said he’s only home for three to four days a month on account of all the work travel required to set up local teams, adding — without obvious irony — “I live on a plane.”

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