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Tag Archives: datemodified

ClassPass is headed to Asia via an imminent launch in Singapore

U.S fitness startup ClassPass is headed to Asia after it announced plans to go live in Singapore, its first city in the continent. Four-year-old ClassPass allows its users to book fitness classes and packages across a multitude of gyms. The company claims to work with more than 10,000 fitness partners across over 50 cities globally. That’s mostly in the U.S. but it has also forayed into Canada, the UK and Australia and now it is seeking out additional growth opportunities. The move into Asia has been expected for some time after ClassPass hired a head of international in May . The company told TechCrunch at the time that it would soon arrive in three countries in Asia and Singapore, which has many similarities to the West in terms of economics and culture, is a logical pick as the starting point. Added to that, the country’s sovereign fund, Temasek, led ClassPass’s $70 million Series C funding round last year so you could say that is an extra factor. The identity of the other two cities remains unclear at this point, but you’d imagine that Hong Kong will be one of them. ClassPass hasn’t given a specific date for its launch other than it will come to Singapore “in the lead-up to National Day” — that’s August 9.

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Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase shared big news Monday that federal regulators are allowing the popular cryptocurrency exchange to proceed with plans to sell cryptocurrency tokens that are deemed securities. Last month, Coinbase acquired  Keystone Capital , a California-based FINRA-registered broker-dealer that operates as an alternative trading system. With the announcement, the SF-based cryptocurrency exchange disclosed that it would still need to get regulatory approval to operate under the Keystone licenses. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority gave Coinbase just that, Bloomberg reported, approving that deal alongside the acquisitions of Venovate Marketplace and Digital Wealth. Today’s news opens up the scope of Coinbase’s ambitions to the billions of dollars that have been raised in initial coin offerings over the past several months. With permission to trade tokenized securities, Coinbase users could soon have the ability to move beyond the limited cryptocurrency options currently available to be traded on the site’s central exchange which currently just lists Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin. The company announced last week that it was exploring adding five new tokens to its exchange, including Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x. In a blog post, the company specified that the announcement did not necessarily deem that these tokens were not securities and that classification might vary by jurisdiction.

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This fan-made Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion proves video game movies don’t have to be awful

It’s not exactly a controversial statement: Movies based on video games are, generally, bad. See  Assassins Creed . Or that weird mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation . Or that Super Mario movie where Bowser (renamed “President Koopa” for some reason) was basically just a dude with bad hair for half the movie. Turns out, as this live action fan film based on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted suggests, they can be done right. This fan-made short is about as unofficial as can be, as noted by a disclaimer that pops up on screen right off the bat. And yet, it does a better job of capturing the feel of its source material than pretty much any game-based movie before it. And it stars Nathan Fillion! Captain friggin’ Reynolds himself! Fans have been saying for ages that Nathan Fillion would make for one helluva Nathan Drake, and it seems like the hive mind really nailed that casting. Is it silly? Sure. Will people who’ve never played the Uncharted series understand what’s going on? Maybe not.

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Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light. As  The Wall Street Journal reports , Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since. The EEOC declined to provide details to TechCrunch due to “confidentiality provisions,” adding that details of an EEOC investigation “become public only when the EEOC files a lawsuit, which is typically a last resort.” An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high-quality feedback, putting out diversity and inclusion reports and involving more employees in diversity trainings. Uber put out its first diversity and inclusion report in March 2017 and in April of this year updated those numbers , which demonstrate some movement in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. In the latest report, the company noted it had increased the percentage of women in its workforce from 36.1 to 38 percent, which isn’t exactly progress to write home about. With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is hoping to rewrite its own story, but the company continues to be embroiled in leadership turbulence, like last week’s departure of Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey after an internal investigation into race-based discrimination and last month’s departure of Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John . It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t being singled out by the EEOC, which has also launched recent investigations into age discrimination at Intel and gendered pay discrepancies at Google . Still, for Uber, no news would be good news — even just for a little while.

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Lyft outlines bike and scooter plans

On the heels of Lyft’s acquisition of bike-share company Motivate , the company is gearing up to fully integrate bicycle and scooter sharing into the app. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely this will happen soon. Lyft is also investing $1 million to advance transportation equity to people in underserved communities. As part of its commitment, Lyft will work with non-profit organizations like TransForm to develop programs that support people with low incomes. “Soon you will be able to get real-time transit information, plan a multi-modal trip, and use Lyft Bikes and Scooters to connect to a local transit stop or shared ride pickup location,” Lyft wrote in a blog post. In June, Lyft revamped its rider app to encourage shared rides . Currently, 35 percent of Lyft rides are shared, but the goal is to reach 50 percent shared rides by 2020, Lyft VP of Government Relations Joseph Okpaku told TechCrunch last month. With scooters and bikes offered via the app, Lyft envisions being better equipped to “bridge the first and last-mile gap.” By the end of 2019, Lyft says it aims to take one million cars off the road. Last year, Lyft says 250,000 of its community members gave up their personal cars. This comes shortly after Uber invested in part of Lime’s $335 million round . Uber’s plan is to put its logo on Lime’s scooters, Bloomberg previously reported.

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Apple emoji will soon include people with curly hair, white hair and superpowers

In honor of World Emoji Day (yes, that’s a thing), Apple is previewing some of its upcoming emoji. Later this year, Apple’s emoji set will feature people with a variety of hairstyles and colors, including curly hair, red hair and white hair. What you’re about to see are simply Apple’s take on emoji that were previously approved by the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee . Folks with curly hair, rejoice! Let’s hear it for the redheads   Like white on rice   No hair? No problem Other fun emoji include a freezing face, peacock, mango, lobster, nazar amulet, superheroes and kangaroo. Back in March, Apple proposed new emojis to represent people with disabilities  in Unicode’s next batch of emoji. Then in May, Unicode announced some of the draft candidates for its next emoji release in Q1 2019  to include some of Apple’s proposed emoji, which featured a guide dog, an ear with a hearing aid and more. If you want to hear more about what goes into emoji approval, be sure to check out this interview with Jeremy Burge, vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee.  

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Google Cloud’s LA region goes online

Google Cloud’s new region in Los Angeles is now online, the company announced today. This isn’t exactly a surprise, given that Google had previously announced a July launch for the region, but it’s a big step for Google, which now boasts five cloud regions in the United States. It was only three years ago that Google opened its second U.S. region and, while it was slow to expand its physical cloud footprint, the company now features 17 regions around the world. When it first announced this new region, Google positioned it as the ideal region for the entertainment industry. And while that’s surely true, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of other companies use this new region, which features three availability zones, to augment their existing deployments in Google’s other West Coast region in Oregon or as part of their overall global cloud strategy. The new region is launching with all the core Google Cloud compute services, like App Engine, Compute Engine and Kubernetes Engine, as well as all of Google’s standard database and file storage tools, including the recently launched NAS-like  Cloud Filestore service. For businesses that have a physical presence close to L.A., Google also offers two dedicated interconnects to Equinix’s and CoreSite’s local LA1 data centers. It’s worth nothing that Microsoft, which has long favored a strategy of quickly launching as many regions as possible, already offered its users a region in Southern California. AWS doesn’t currently have a presence in the area, though, unlike Google, AWS does offer a region in Northern California.

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When In Rome is the first Alexa-powered board game

Years ago, in the heyday of home video, I played a boardgames that used VHS tapes and electronic parts to help spur the action along. From Candy Land VCR to Captain Power , game makers were doing the best they could with a new technology. Now, thanks to Alexa, they can try something even cooler – board games that talk back. The first company to try this is Sensible Object . Their new game, When In Rome, is a family board game that pits two teams against each other in a race to travel the world. The game itself consists of a board and a few colored pieces and the real magic comes from Alexa. You start the game by enabling the When In Rome skill and then you start the game. Alexa then prompts you with questions as you tool around the board. The rules are simple because Alexa does most of the work. The game describes how to set up the board and gets you started and then you just trigger with your voice it as you play. The company’s first game, Beasts of Balance , was another clever hybrid of AR and real life board game action. Both games are a bit gimmicky and a bit high tech – you won’t be able to play these in a cozy beach house without Internet, for example – but it’s a fun departure from the norm. Like the VCR games of yore, When In Rome depends on a new technology to find a new way to have fun.

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Skype 8.0 launches on desktop with HD video, and soon encryption & call recording

Skype’s redesign launched last year was met with mixed reviews, but the company is forging ahead by rolling out a number of its new features to other platforms, including the desktop . Microsoft today is launching Skype version 8.0 that will replace version 7.0 (aka Skype classic), the latter which will no longer function after September 1, 2018. The new release introduces a variety of features, including HD video and screen-sharing in calls, support for @mentions in chats, a chat media gallery, file and media sharing up to 300 MB, and more. It will also add several more features this summer, including most notably, supported for encrypted audio calls, texts, and file sharing as well as built-in call recording. The 8.0 release follows on the update to Skype desktop that rolled out last fall,  largely focusing on upgrading the visual elements of new design, like the color-coding in chat messages and “reaction” emojis. This release also included the chat media gallery and file sharing support, which are touted as new today, but may have already hit your desktop. Although Skype still has some 300 million monthly users , it no longer appears to be growing. While once a must-have app for communication, Skype has faced increased competition over the years from the likes of Apple’s FaceTime, and other apps for texting and calls, like Messenger and WhatsApp, among others, plus new communication apps for business, like Slack. To better compete, Microsoft gave Skype a facelift starting last year, which introduced a number of social features seemingly aimed at a younger user base, including its own take on Stories. Today’s desktop release focuses again on consumer-friendly features, with the added support of HD (1080px video) video calls which can include up to 24 people, as well as the Twitter-inspired @mentions. Later this summer, Microsoft says Skype will add support for profile invites (to invite friends to join you on Skype), read receipts for messages, group links for chats and calls, and other features. The most significant of the forthcoming additions includes an end-to-end encrypted experience where Skype audio calls, text messages, and shared files like images, audio and video, and secured with the industry standard Signal Protocol. Messages and notifications in these conversations will also be hidden in the chat list to keep the communication private. And, at long last, Skype is adding built-in call recording. Many Skype users today use third-party add-ons in order to record calls – something that should have prompted Skype to react years ago by making this a native option.

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Netflix experiments with promoting its shows on the login screen

Netflix is testing a new way to promote its original shows – right on the login screen. A company spokesperson confirmed the streaming service is currently experimenting with a different login screen experience which replaces the black background behind users’ names and profile thumbnails with full-screen photos promoting a Netflix Original series or special, like “BoJack Horseman,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Dark,” “My Next Guest…”, “13 Reasons Why,” and several others. We first noticed the change on a TV connected to a Roku media player and on a Fire TV, but Netflix says the test is running “for TV,” which means those on other TV platforms may see the promoted shows as well. (Our Roku TV, however, had the same black background on the login screen, we should note.) The promoted shows aren’t necessarily those Netflix thinks you’d like – it’s just a rotating selection of popular originals. Every time you return to the Netflix login screen, it will have refreshed the photo that’s displayed. After cycling in and out of the Netflix app several times on our TV, we found the image selection to be fairly random – sometimes the promoted show would repeat a couple of times before a new show hopped in to take its place. Netflix will likely decide whether or not to move forward with the change to the login screen based on how well this new promotional effort works to actually increases viewership of its originals. While it makes sense to better utilize this space, I’m not sold on having ads for adult-oriented shows appearing on the same login screen that’s used by a child. The ads themselves (so far) have not been inappropriate, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit for multi-person households and families. For example, I now have to explain to a school-ager why they can’t watch that funny-looking cartoon, “BoJack Horseman.” Meanwhile, when I was logging in to watch more grown-up fare, I saw an ad for the new “Trolls” kids’ show. Uh, okay.  That said, this is still a much less intrusive way to advertise Netflix shows, compared with putting promos at the beginning of a show, like HBO does.

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Kodak-branded KashMiner Bitcoin mining rig for rent wasn’t — and won’t be

Write off another piece of crypto craziness: A Kodak-branded Bitcoin-mining rig that was on show at CES in January , where it generated much headshaking and skepticism that it could ever deliver the claimed returns, has evaporated into the ideas ether from whence it came. The BBC reports that the plan to rent access to Kodak-branded KashMiner devices for the chance to earn Bitcoin returns has collapsed. Spotlite USA, the company that had shown off the rig at CES, was also never officially licensed to use Kodak’s brand for the mining rig, according to the report (although the company does seemingly license Kodak’s brand for use on LED lighting products which nonetheless have nothing at all to do with Bitcoin mining so…). Nor had it installed multiple KashMiner devices at Kodak’s offices, as it had claimed. Speaking to the BBC, Spotlite CEO Halston Mikail said the US Securities and Exchange Commission prevented the scheme from going ahead. Instead of renting Bitcoin mining capacity to consumers the company now plans to run a mining operation privately, with equipment installed in Iceland — apparently without pausing to examine the logic of joining the existing pool of professional Bitcoin miners all chasing diminishing returns. Iceland has been a popular spot for setting up crypto mining ops for a while, owning to low average annual temperatures which help keep cooling costs down, plus the availability of (relatively) cheap electricity, including generated from clean geothermal energy, which can offset concerns about the environmental impact of crypto mining. Which is presumably why Spotlite has settled on Iceland for the next stage of its crypto adventure. Meanwhile, Eastman Kodak, the 130-year-old camera company whose brand was not, as it turns out, licensed by Spotlite USA for Bitocin mining, did reveal a  bona fide  brand licensing plans to get involved with cryptocurrencies and blockchain (also) in January  — announcing an imminent ICO for a photo-centric cryptocurrency (called KodakCoin), via a brand licensee (called Wenn Digital), with the mooted blockchain platform set to focus on image rights management. So at least there’s a less than entirely tenuous connection in that crypto instance.

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Amazon puts its own devices on sale early for Prime Day

Amazon is kicking off today’s Prime Day a bit early. Although its annual sale technically begins at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET this afternoon, it put its own devices on sale 12 hours early. The company is marking down its Alexa-enabled products like Echo, Fire TV, and Fire tablets, as well as its home security products like the Cloud Cam and more recently acquired Ring Video Doorbell. The retailer has also released a list of Prime Day deals, which encompasses other Amazon product discounts, as well as those from other manufacturers. This year’s Prime Day promises to be the largest yet, both in terms of the number of deals and the length of the sale itself, which has been stretched to 36 hours. Prime members will be able to shop over 1 million deals worldwide in an expanded number of international markets outside the U.S. That’s up from over 100,000 deals just two years ago, the retailer noted. The Amazon devices on sale now include the following: Save $20 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, only $19.99 Save $110 on Toshiba 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition, only $289.99 Save $30 on Echo Spot, only $99.99 Save $30 on Echo (Second Generation), only $69.99 Save $20 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, only $59.99 Save $100 on Echo Look, only $99.99 Save $60 on Amazon Cloud Cam, only $59.99 Save $75 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, only $174 Save $30 on Fire HD8 tablet with Alexa, only $49.99 Save $30 on Fire HD 8 tablet and new Show Mode Charging Dock bundle, only $79.99 Eligible Prime members get 10% back on select Amazon devices, including Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle, when they shop on Prime Day using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card or Amazon Prime Store Card Prime members new to Amazon Music Unlimited can six months free of the premium music streaming service with purchase of select Amazon Echo devices during Prime Day Amazon heavily discounts its own devices on Prime Day, so you can be sure these are pretty good deals. For example, the lowest price on the Fire TV Stick before today was $24.99 – now it’s $19.99. The Fire TV (Pendant) is also $10 less than it was during its biggest price drop. And even the brand-new Fire TV Cube has been marked down from $119.99 to $89.99. If you bundle it with a Cloud Cam, you can save $90 off both. Though oddly not in Amazon’s advertised list above, the Echo Dot is on sale, too. The smaller Echo speaker was last year’s best seller on Prime Day, and Amazon is clearly hoping to repeat history by marking down the Dot again. Last year, it was $34.99 on Prime Day, now it’s $29.99  – and one of the better deals to be found

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Roku unveils $200 wireless speakers made for Roku TV

Roku is getting into the speaker business with today’s announcement of Roku TV Wireless Speakers. Mark Ely, the company’s vice president of product management, said Roku is trying to address a growing consumer problem — the fact that as TVs get thinner, you end up buying “this beautiful TV, but it sounds bad.” To address this, you may end up purchasing a soundbar or creating a more elaborate home theater setup, but Ely argued that many consumers find this process confusing and intimidating. So as the name suggests, Roku has created wireless speakers specifically for Roku TVs , the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Ely described them as speakers that deliver “really premium sound in a really compact package,” and at an affordable price. (They’re about seven inches tall and weigh four pounds each, he said.) Roku says it should be easy to pair these speakers wirelessly with a Roku TV using Roku Connect, and since the company controls both the video and audio experience, it can ensure that they’re sync’d up perfectly, without lag. To minimize those moments when you’re frantically reaching for the remote to adjust the volume, the speakers also come with Automatic Volume Leveling to lower the sound in particularly loud scenes and boost the sounds when it gets too quiet. Ely said the product takes advantage of Roku’s acquisition last year of Danish audio startup Dynastrom : “The goal has been to have audio be a real center of excellence for the company.” “Our fundamental belief here is that by delivering a better sound experience, you get a better entertainment streaming experience,” he added. The speakers will also come with a new remote called the Roku Touch, which is designed to emphasize voice controls without fully giving up the benefits of a regular remote — you can press-and-hold to deliver voice commands, but it still has buttons for playback control and others that you can preset. Smart speakers from big tech companies like Apple and Amazon are seen as one main ways to get into the voice-powered home assistant market. Roku has its own voice assistant (which it’s  making available to manufacturing partners ), but Ely and Director of Consumer PR Seana Norvell said it’s really focused on understanding your entertainment needs — rather than, say, telling you the weather or helping you order products online. While Roku says the speakers will ship in late October at a price of $199.99, they’re available for pre-order now, with pricing at $149.99 until July 23, and then $179.99 until October 15. Ely said the company is only selling the speakers from the Roku website , at least initially, because that allows it to “market directly to Roku TV customers” while ensuring that other Roku customers (namely, those who have a Roku streaming device but not a Roku TV) don’t end up buying these speakers, which won’t work for them.

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WeWork’s biggest rival in China is on an acquisition spree

WeWork may have combined forces with its fiercest rival in China, Naked Hub, in a recent merger , but its new enemy numero uno in the country is also building up a roster of friends through aggressive M&A. Ucommune may not be spending the kind of cash WeWork China did — it reportedly spent $400 million to get Naked Hub — but it is quietly picking up smaller rivals via acquisitions. Last week, it completed its fourth piece of M&A of the past year with a deal to buy  Workingdom for 300 million RMB, or roughly $45 million. Two-year-old Workingdom offers working spaces in Shanghai, and online services that help SMEs and multinationals growth their businesses. An acquisition spree from Ucommune — which was forced to rebrand from UrWork following a lawsuit from WeWork — has seen it snap up lesser but strategic players  Wedo , Woo Space  and New Space  to boost its presence and rival WeWork. All told, and thanks to these deals, Ucommune claims to operate 60 offices in Beijing, 20 more in Shanghai and a significant presence in Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong. In comparison, Naked Hub says it has 10,000 members across its 24 office locations while WeWork says it has 10,000 members in 13 locations in Greater China. The U.S. firm plans to grow its reach to 40 offices by the end of this year, a move that it says will quadruple its membership numbers in China to 40,000. Those numbers explain why the acquisition deals aren’t likely to stop any time soon for Ucommune. The Chinese he company said in its latest announcement that it will “continue to acquire more co-working companies to grow its global footprint.” Currently, its presence outside of China includes New York and Singapore, but it is clearly exploiting the bursting of the co-working bubble which initially attracted a huge number of companies to the space, particularly in China. Inside a Ucommune space Ucommune last raised money when it closed a $17 million round at a valuation of 9 billion RMB ($1.4 billion) in February 2018.

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Hong Kong’s GoGoVan raises $250M from investors including Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary

Logistics on-demand service GoGoVan became Hong Kong’s first billion-dollar startup via a merger last year, and now is doubling down on growth after raising $250 million in new capital. The new round was led by InnoVision Capital, with participation from the Russia-China Investment Fund, Hongrun Capital and Qianhai Fund of Funds. Two other notable investors include Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics subsidiary — Alibaba is already an investor via its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund — and 58 Daojia Group, the parent of the ’58 Suyun’ business that merged with GoGoVan. There’s more capital coming soon it seems, with GoGoVan saying in an announcement that the $250 million is “the first phase of its new round of funding.” Despite reaching unicorn status via the merger, GoGoVan didn’t disclose a valuation for this new round. The company plans to use the money to expand its business into new markets, and in particular India and Southeast Asia, having focused on China primarily to date. Together with 58 Suyun, GoGoVan claims to cover 300 cities with some eight million registered users and 2,000 staff. The service itself is anchored around short distance logistics and trips, but GoGoVan CEO Steven Lam explained that the company plans to soon introduce a door-to-door option and other offerings that “simplify logistics and delivery services.” GoGoVan’s main rival is Lalamove, a fellow Hong Kong-based logistics startup.  Lalamove raised $100 million last year  at a valuation of nearly $1 billion. While GoGoVan’s exit was its merger, Lalamove is looking to remain independent and it has begun thinking about an IPO, which could take place in Hong Kong, its head of international Blake Larson told TechCrunch. GoGoVan and Lalamove are two of the last that remain standing from what was once a very cluttered field as the rise of Uber saw dozens of companies sprout up as an ‘Uber for logistics’ services. The secret to their survival? Getting deep into the Chinese market is one crucial factor, but from talking to the two companies over the years, both cast  the ‘Uber for X’ buzzword aside and concentrated on working with SMEs and repeat business customers rather than the shallow (and fickle) consumer market. Uber’s Cargo service , for example, offered on-demand logistics in Hong Kong but it didn’t live long before being shuttered .

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