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Tag Archives: nyc

New law forces Airbnb to open its books to New York authorities

The New York City Council has voted in favor of a new law requiring Airbnb and similar home-share companies to share data on their users. The company has fought the law tooth and nail, but city authorities say it’s basically common sense for the local government to be informed of the number and nature of residents using the service. The law was characterized by the council as one that would “provide the City with an additional tool to enforce the laws against illegal short term rentals.” “This bill is about transparency and bringing accountability to billion-dollar companies who are not being good neighbors,” explained NYC Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. You can read the text here ; what it amounts to is that Airbnb is required to collect and present the following information monthly: Name, physical address, email, Airbnb profile URL, and phone number of hosts active that month Addresses and URLs of any properties a given host rents out, and whether it was a full-home or partial-home rental Total days the property was rented, rent/price paid, and any fees collected by Airbnb Failure to do so will result in a substantial fine: $1,500 or more per item, depending on the listing. Some of this data has already been provided voluntarily by Airbnb for a year and a half in monthly reports for its New York operations; here’s one it totally coincidentally issued today . It is however one thing to give statistics like average amount earned per month in this or that borough, and quite another to say Jane Jamison of 224 East 85th St. earned $3,712 from 12 nights at this address and 8 at her second place over in Brooklyn. The granularity of the data matters. In the first case, Airbnb is in a position of power, voluntarily granting data more or less of its own choosing, while also protecting the privacy of its users. But in the second case, hosts can be identified individually for all kinds of purposes: fines, taxes, licenses, inspections and so on. It’s not ideal for Airbnb or hosts, both of which will have their liberty curtailed considerably by the mere fact of their commerce being open for inspection by the city and potentially released publicly as part of studies, lawsuits and so on. But as with so many other new industries that have gotten ahead of regulation, this kind of clampdown was inevitable from the start; how long did Airbnb really think it could get away with its limited disclosure of data so obviously valuable to local government fighting skyrocketing rents, property scams, unscrupulous landlords and so on

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Real estate platform Nestio raises $4.5 million

Real estate platform Nestio is getting new funding as it continues to expand its footprint beyond New York City into other large U.S. markets. The startup’s software gives real estate owners and managers a hub to handle things like leasing and marketing. The round, which they announced today, was led by Camber Creek and Trinity Ventures, with participation from other real estate firms, including Rudin Ventures, Currency M, The Durst Organization, LeFrak Ventures and Torch Venture Capital. The startup has raised around $16 million to date. Nestio is building up its unit count in new markets, including Boston, Chicago, Houston and Dallas, and is seeking to expand operations with existing customers in NYC. The startup says that it’s grown the amount of units on its platform by 250 percent in the past 12 months. “We now have hundreds of thousands of listings on the platform that people are now managing,” Nestio CEO Caren Maio told TechCrunch. “Part of that growth is net new logos, but also expansion. So we’ve seen a lot of growth — particularly in New York — although I think the same behavior will replicate itself once we have some longevity in some of those other cities.” The company says they will use this new capital and strategic partnerships to “deliver advanced leasing and marketing solutions even faster.”

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Facebook’s AI researchers task ‘tourist bots’ with finding their way in NYC

Facebook is getting guide bots to help tourist bots explore Hell’s Kitchen in a virtual New York City. It’s not just for kicks either, a new research paper published today by FAIR is looking to examine how AI systems can orient themselves and communicate observed data better than humans can. The setup for Facebook’s “ Walk the Talk ” research experiment involves throwing a “tourist” bot onto a random street corner of NYC and getting a “guide” bot to direct them to a spot on a 2D map. This involved Facebook capturing 360 photos of a bunch of different street corners in random spots in NY and feeding them to the AI tourist bot who then had to peer around at the behest of the guide agent who would gain a sense of where the tourist was based and try to direct them through a text conversation. It’s indeed quite the novel experiment, which plays out like this in practice. Guide: Hello, what are you near? Tourist: Hello, in front of me is a Brooks Brothers Guide: Is that a shop or restaurant? Tourist: It is a clothing shop. Guide: You need to go to the intersection in the northwest corner of the map Tourist: There appears to be a bank behind me. Guide: Ok, turn left then go straight up that road ... Facebook isn’t doing all of this to give you a virtual guide in some unannounced mapping product, this is Facebook AI Research as opposed to their applied machine learning arm so this stuff really resides in the long-term, less product centric sphere. What this experiment is helping Facebook’s AI researchers approach is a concept called “Embodied AI.” Talk the Walk: AI "tourist" and "guide" demonstration Posted by Facebook Engineering on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 Embodied AI basically entails giving AI models the ability to learn while on-the-go gathering data that is present around them that can help them make sense of what they already do know. In “Talk the Walk,” the guide AI bot had all of this 2D map data and the tourist bot had all of this rich 360 visual data but it was only through communication with each other that they were able to carry out their directives. The real goal was to work on the two agents gathering information through natural language, but the researchers found that the bots did a better job of completing the task when they used “synthetic language” which relied more on them using more simplistic symbols to convey information and location. This less natural way of communicating data not only outperformed a more human-like chat, it also enable the bots to find their way more concisely than humans would in a natural language chat

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How backups, backups, backups protect NYC’s cellular infrastructure

The infrastructure that underpins our lives is not something we ever want to think about. Nothing good has come from suddenly needing to wonder “where does my water come from?” or “how does electricity connect into my home?” That pondering gets even more intense when we talk about cellular infrastructure, where a single dropped call or a choppy YouTube video can cause an expletive-laden tirade. Recently, I visited Verizon’s cellular switch for the New York City metro area (disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Oath, and Oath is part of Verizon). It’s a completely nondescript building in a nondescript suburb north of the city, so nondescript that it took Verizon’s representative about 15 minutes of circling around just to find it (frankly, the best security through obscurity I have seen in some time). This switch, along with its sister, powers all cellular service in New York City, including three million voice or voice over LTE (VoLTE) calls and 708 million data connections a day. High-reliability and redundancy is a must for the facility, where dropping even one in 100,000 connections would create more than 7,000 angry customers a day. As Christine Williams, the senior operations manager who oversees the facility, explained, “It doesn’t matter what percentage of dropped calls you have if you are that person.” As we walked through the server rows that processed those hundreds of millions of connections, I was surprised by just how little digital equipment was actually in the switch itself. “Software-defined networking” has taken full hold here, according to Michele White, who is Verizon’s Executive Director for Network Assurance in the U.S. northeast. As the team has replaced older equipment, the actual physical footprint has continued to downsize, even today. All of New York City’s traffic is run from a handful of feet of server racks. The key to network assurance is two-fold. First is multiple levels of redundancy at every level of the infrastructure. Inside the switch, independent server racks can take over from other servers that fail, providing redundancy at the machine level

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In a push into Europe, WeWork competitor Knotel acquires Ahoy!Berlin

Coworking and flexible office space has become a hot business in the last few years, as attested by the rise and rise of WeWork. Startups and entrepreneurs needed flexible working space that could flex up and down as their companies changed. The days of signing a 5-year lease were very, very over. But others have arrived in this office space arena. In the US, the company beginning to breathe down the neck of WeWork is Knotel , which last year raised a Series A round of $25 million, then another round of $70m, and then another $5m in debt (not previously announced). It now claims it has one million square feet in NYC versus WeWork’s four million, achieved in the last 2 years. It’s now pushing out internationally, with the acquisition today of Ahoy!Berlin , a workspace operator in Berlin, Germany. The deal follows Knotel’s expansion in Europe – first in London, in the first quarter of 2018. Amol Sarva, co-founder and CEO of Knotel said in a statement: “Many innovative CEOs have been making Berlin their HQ. Now they have the first of many agile offices to locate and achieve their ambitions.” Ahoy is in Berlin’s historic Mitte district and has clients such as Daimler-backed Fleetboard Innovation Hub, and Bringmeister, an online food and home delivery service. Ahoy was co-founded in 2012 by Nikita Roshkow and Nikolas Woischnik, who previously launched the entrepreneurship community TechBerlin. Woischnik also cofounded the 20,000 person tech event Tech Open Air Berlin , on this week. “We’re thrilled to join up with Knotel and expand deeper in Berlin and beyond,” said Roshkow. “What they’ve achieved in a short period, combined with our local expertise, is a signal for growth.”

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Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit  offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes. “I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas. Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off. The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice.

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Lemonade files lawsuit against wefox for IP infringement

Lemonade , the insurance platform based out of NYC, has filed a lawsuit against German company ONE Insurance, its parent company wefox, and founder Julian Teicke. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of NY, alleges that wefox reverse engineered Lemonade to create ONE, infringing Lemonade’s intellectual property, violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and breaching its contractual obligations to Lemonade not to “copy content… to provide any service that is competitive…or to…create derivative works.” In the filing, Lemonade alleges that Teicke repeatedly registered for insurance on Lemonade under various names and for various addresses, some of which do not exist. Teicke also allegedly filed claims in what appeared to be an attempt to assess and copy the arrangement of those flows. Lemonade’s counsel says Teicke started seven claims over the course of 20 days, prompting Lemonade to cancel his policy. Alongside Teicke, a number of other executives and members of leadership at wefox also filed fake claims, despite having opted in to Lemonade’s user agreement and taking an honesty pledge, which is required of all Lemonade users. This, according to Lemonade, violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse act. Lemonade also alleges that the ONE app infringes Lemonade’s IP, and that in assessing the Lemonade app and building a competitor, Teicke also violated Lemonade’s TOS. Lemonade has revolutionized the insurance business in two key ways: First, it made the process of actually buying insurance as easy as a few clicks on your smartphone. Digitizing the process makes the issue of getting home or renters insurance far less daunting and more approachable to consumers. Secondly, Lemonade rethought the business model of insurance. Normally, insurance providers charge you a certain monthly rate based on the value of the property/items looking to be insured. But at the end of the year, the money remaining in that policy becomes profit, putting the insurance company in direct opposition to the consumer any time a claim is filed. Lemonade takes its profit directly out of each payment, and if a file isn’t claimed, it sends the rest of the leftover money to the charity of your choice, ensuring that Lemonade and the consumer are on the same page when a claim is filed. In keeping with that thesis, any proceeds generated from this lawsuit will go directly to Code.org.

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Gett raises $80M led by VW at a $1.4B valuation, says it will be profitable by Q1 of next year

While Uber is growing its business with a net loss on its balance sheet , a smaller rival has confirmed a round of funding, and projects that it will be profitable by Q1 of next year. Gett , the transportation-on-demand startup that competes with the likes of Uber but also traditional taxi cabs, has raised $80 million led by existing investor VW with participation from other previous investors. Post-funding, Gett is now valued at around $1.4 billion, CEO and founder Dave Waiser told TechCrunch in an interview. This is the first time the company has officially disclosed its value. It may give Gett a claim to being a “unicorn,” but it is still a pale number when you compare Gett to Uber, which is doing a secondary round right now at a $62 billion valuation. but Gett is playing with another strong card in its hand: Waiser said the funding will be enough to get Gett — which operates in 120 cities globally — to profitability in all of its markets by Q1 of next year, and possibly earlier. The news comes on the heels of a report that Gett is looking to raise $350 million  — a figure that Waiser dismissed, but did not deny outright when I asked about Gett’s plans beyond profitability and this current investment: “For now, we’re laser focused on this important profitability milestone, and the funds we’ve raised to execute on that strategy,” he said, “but when you consider c ompetitive markets like New York and London, we will start thinking about what our next milestone should be, after we make money.” The company has now raised just under $700 million  with other investors including Access Industries, Baring Vostok and MCI (Russia’s S berbank and Kreos have previously provided debt). In the 120 cities where Gett is now active, Waiser said that New York, London and Moscow are its biggest markets, with half of the company’s volume coming from New York and London alone, on a revenue basis. Gett, he said, is currently at a $1 billion/year rate, meaning collectively those two cities account for $500,000. He declined to say what kind of margin the company is operating on now, or what it might be when the company is profitable. New York is Gett’s fastest growing market. It operates in the city as Juno after acquiring its competitor for $200 million a year ago , and it currently has more than 45,000 drivers on its books, or more than half of the 80,000 licensed cab drivers in the city. Uber has been aggressive in its efforts to expand rapidly across the globe, and to position itself as a provider of all things transportation to all people — with categories like food delivery, bikes, autonomous vehicles and flying cars all in Uber’s purview. To do this, it, along with a select few others like Didi in China and Lyft in the US, have raised billions of dollars in outside funding, effectively sucking up a large part of venture money and interest in the transportation-on-demand sector.

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Google’s Area 120 incubator aims to improve your NYC subway commute with Pigeon

There’s a new app coming out of Google’s Area 120 incubator that could help New York City subway commuters navigate the ever-growing number of delays . While the Pigeon app is already live on the Apple App store , it currently requires an invite code to access, so I wasn’t able to try it out myself. However, the Pigeon website describes it as a way for users save their favorite routes, then get recommendations on which route to take on a given day based on delays and crowds reported by other users. It’s almost like a transit-oriented version of Google-owned navigation app Waze. “After years of living in New York City and commuting on the subway, the Pigeon team knows first-hand that public transit can be frustratingly unpredictable,” the website says. “So when we started this project, we decided to create a product that lets subway riders help each other avoid delays, crowds, and incidents that make can make commuting so stressful.” As a New Yorker myself, I mostly rely on Google Maps for subway navigation — it does a reasonably good job of including arrival times and information about delays provided by the MTA, but there’s definitely room for more up-to-date and accurate data. Plus, I usually don’t check the app on my normal commute, which can mean I end up late to important meetings, or missing them entirely, due to an unexpected delay. Startups like Transit ( backed by Accel Partners ) and Moovit (backed by Sequoia and Intel Capital ) are also trying to offer better navigation for public transit commuters. When asked about the app, a Google spokesperson sent us the following statement: One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Pigeon, an iOS app that helps New York City subway goers find the best route with live alerts from other riders. Like other projects within Area 120, it’s a very early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now.

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FCTRY wants to be a new type of startup studio

Startup Studios are becoming more and more prevalent, with big name companies like Giphy and Girlboss coming from the studio model. The premise is strong: use venture on a small, concentrated number of ideas, fostered by experts and internal resources, to create strong businesses. But a new startup studio is prepping to launch in NYC with a different idea in mind. FCTRY , led by Jules Ehrhardt, doesn’t necessarily think that money is always the best way to help startups grow. Ehrhardt thinks of FCTRY as more of a Creative Capital Studio, wherein experts from various fields (with a particular focus on creative, design, and engineering) offer their insight and knowledge to help startups grow rather than venture capital. Of course, these startups would still trade equity in exchange for these services. Ehrhardt comes from UsTwo , the digital product studio that helped develop the wildly popular game Monument Valley. The focus of FCTRY won’t be the foundry model, where studios come up with their own ideas in conjunction with smart serial entrepreneurs and build them from scratch in house. Rather, FCTRY will help existing early-stage and mid-stage companies with their creative strategy, processes and culture. “The typical advisory system is broken,” said Ehrhardt. “Usually the advisory structure comes from a one to five percent equity pool and usually ends up in disappointment, where the advisor was supposed to make introductions or provide actionable insight that never comes through.” Ehrhardt says he wants to bring more charity to that, tapping into the same pool of expert advisors but with the proper structure in place for offering that expertise and delivering on the task. FCTRY will focus on three pillars of startup success: product, people, and growth. “Product” might sound a bit obvious and nebulous all at once, but FCTRY is particularly concerned with building a framework for delivering on product, helping set up the processes and organizational structure that allow companies to build great products.

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Lerer Hippeau raises a new $122M fund, plus $60M for follow-on investments

Lerer Hippeau has raised two new funds — $122 million for a sixth fund devoted to seed stage investments, as well as $60 million for a “Select Fund” focused on later-stage deals. Managing Partner Eric Hippeau said both funds will be used to continue the firm’s existing strategy: “We continue to be seed-first investors and New York-first investors. We’re big believers in New York.” And while Hippeau acknowledged that the New York ecosystem is still be waiting for the kind of massive exit that makes “a lot of people very rich, who will then leave and start their own companies,” he pointed to recent success stories like Oracle’s acquisition of Moat and Roche’s acquisition of Flatiron Health . (Lerer Hippeau invested in Moat but not Flatiron; both are New York-based.) “There’s a huge pipeline in New York of companies that have been valued in the hundreds of millions and in some cases billions of dollars — a lot of them are our companies, but not always,” Hippeau said. “That’s where the strength of New York is going to come from in the short term, all of these companies really popping to the surface and adding a few billion dollars of value, one at a time.” The firm announced its first follow-on fund last year . At the time, Hippeau said it had only raised $28 million so that the two funds could be “synced up,” which is what’s happening now. The first Select Fund was used to make follow-on investments in companies that Lerer Hippeau had already backed at the seed stage, like Allbirds and Casper. That will continue with the new fund, but Hippeau said it could also be used for Series A investments in startups that the firm didn’t back initially, and which might now seem like missed opportunities. Caitlin Strandberg Meanwhile, the Lerer Hippeau team has also been growing, with the recent hiring of Caitlin Strandberg (formerly vice president at FirstMark) as principal and Isabelle Phelps as associate, as well as Amanda Mulay as senior talent manager. “I couldn’t be more excited to join the most active early-stage firm in New York, just as it gets fresh capital,” Strandberg said in an emailed statement. “Lerer Hippeau has built a fantastic reputation as being a hands-on, accessible and helpful investor all while cultivating a powerful and engaged community. I’m looking forward to investing in the next great generation of startups, supporting our existing founders and teams, and continuing to build a great tech ecosystem here in NYC.” Lerer Hippeau now has around 20 people on the team . And while firms like Andreessen Horowitz (where Mulay used to work) have made their huge support staff a selling point, Hippeau said that at his firm, “We don’t really want to have dozens of people doing this. We want to be very precise and very selective about how can help.” Still, he said that “the service that’s most in-demand is help with recruiting,” so it made sense to bring on Mulay to help startups hire,  and also to help them “set up a proper HR function.” Lerer Hippeau’s investment team built its reputation in media — Hippeau was formerly CEO at The Huffington Post, Kenneth Lerer cofounded HuffPost and is now chairman at BuzzFeed and Ben Lerer is CEO at Group Nine Media

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Hustle rallies $30M for grassroots texting tool Republicans can’t use

Hustle 20X’d its annual revenue run rate in 15 months by denying clients that contradict its political views. It’s a curious, controversial, yet successful strategy for the startup whose app lets activists and marketers text thousands of potential supporters or customers one at a time. Compared to generic email blasts and robocalls, Hustle gets much higher conversion rates because people like connecting with a real human who can answer their follow-up questions. The whole business is built around those relationships, so campaigns, non-profits, and enterprises have to believe in Hustle’s brand. That’s why CEO Roddy Lindsay tells me “We don’t sell to republican candidates or committees. What it’s allowed us to do is build trust with the Democratic party and progressive organizations. We don’t have to worry about celebrating our clients’ success and offending other clients.” Hustle execs from left: COO Ysiad Ferreiras, CEO Roddy Lindsay, CTO Tyler Brock Investors agree. Tempted by Hustle’s remarkable growth to well over a $10 million run rate and 85 million conversations started, Insight Venture Partners has led a $30 million Series B for the startup that’s joined by Google’s GV and Salesforce Ventures. The round comes just 10 months after Hustle’s $8M Series A when it was only doing $3 million in revenue. Lindsay says he was impressed with Insight’s experience with communication utilities like Cvent and non-profit tools like Ministry Brands. Its managing director Hilary Gosher who specializes in growing sales teams will join Hustle’s board, which is a great fit since Hustle is hiring like crazy. Humanizing The Call To Action Founded in late 2014, Hustle’s app lets organizers write MadLibs-style text message scripts and import contact lists. Their staffers or volunteers send out the messages one by one, with the blanks automatically filled in to personalize the calls to action. Recipients can respond directly with the sender ready with answers to assuage their fears until they’re ready to donate, buy, attend, or help. Meanwhile, organizers can track their conversions, optimize scripts, and reallocate assignments so they can reach huge audiences with an empathetic touch

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Spotify beefs up its free tier

Today at the Gramercy Theater in NYC, Spotify’s Chief R&D Officer Gustav Söderström announced a brand new free version of the Spotify mobile app. By leveraging their investment in machine learning, Spotify’s new free tier recommends music to users on the fly. That said, the free tier has always limited users to shuffle. With the new version, users can listen on-demand to whatever song they want, as many times as they want, as long as those songs appear on one of the 15 personalized discovery playlists like Daily Mix, Discover Weekly, Release Radar or Today’s Top Hits. In total, that’s around 750 tracks (> 40 hours of music) that Spotify is serving up to users for on-demand listening. Spotify will also make recommendations in the free mobile version based on existing user-made playlists, from the songs on those playlists to the name of the playlist itself. The company is calling this “assisted playlisting,” which essentially means that each time you search for a song to add to a playlist, Spotify will make recommendations similar to it as well. Finally, Spotify has built in a low-data mode (called data saver) that cuts data consumption by up to 75 percent. In the past, Spotify didn’t allow offline listening for free, meaning that users were somewhat tethered to wifi if they needed to conserve data. With the new data consumption system, which caches music ahead of time to stream via 3G, users can actually listen to much more music with wireless data. Alongside utilizing 3G, Spotify is also optimizing the streaming itself as well as the app (including imagery and other UI elements) to save data and power

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NYC blasts broadband competition shortage as it pursues suit against Verizon

Enlarge / New York, USA - January 14, 2016: A Verizon worker on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan. (credit: Getty Images | 400tmax) More than two-thirds of New York City's 3.1 million households have just one or two broadband providers offering service to their homes, according to a new "Truth in Broadband " report issued by the city government. The report comes as NYC pursues a lawsuit against Verizon alleging that it hasn't met its broadband deployment obligations. There's only one ISP offering home broadband service at 13.54 percent of the city's 3,114,826 households, meaning that nearly 422,000 households have just one "choice." Another 55.44 percent of NYC households—nearly 1.73 million in all—have two broadband providers. The remaining 31.02 percent (more than 966,000 households) have at least three broadband providers. The report defines broadband as Internet service with at least 25Mbps download speeds and 3Mbps upload speeds, the same standard the Federal Communications Commission uses to evaluate broadband deployment progress nationwide. DSL offers some more choice, but the network technology "is not generally capable of delivering a 25Mbps download speed," the report said. The report's broadband deployment statistics are based on federal data as of December 2016. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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