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Next Up at Amazon-Run Whole Foods: Half-Priced Halibut Steaks

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SEATTLE — Amazon Prime is the kitchen sink of membership programs. The internet retailer keeps cramming new benefits into it — music and video streaming, fast shipping and online photo storage.

Next up: ridiculously inexpensive halibut steaks from Whole Foods.

On Wednesday, the company will unveil the next stage of its step-by-step makeover of Whole Foods Markets, the grocery chain it acquired last year, with a collection of store discounts aimed at Prime members. Whole Foods customers who are also Prime members will get 10 percent off hundreds of sale items in stores, including tilapia, organic baby kale and chicken breasts.

Amazon is rolling out the discounts in Whole Foods stores in Florida on Wednesday and will expand them to across the country starting this summer. It’s also offering Prime members much deeper discounts on a handful of items that will change weekly, some of which are eye-catching.

For instance, this week in Florida, wild-caught halibut steaks will be $9.99 a pound, about half the regular price. One pound of organic strawberries will be $2.99, or $2 less than usual. Customers who buy one 12-pack of 365 Everyday Value sparkling water will get a second one for free.

“I think this is one of the most important launches we’ve had for Prime since Prime Video,” Cem Sibay, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in an interview.

Amazon has already fiddled with prices at Whole Foods to refashion its image as wallet-busting seller of healthy foods. It has made seasonal and permanent discounts on some items for all customers, not just those who subscribe to Prime. Prime members who use an Amazon-branded Visa card get 5 percent cash back on all their Whole Foods purchases, while also getting two-hour home delivery of Whole Foods groceries through the company’s Prime Now service.

Amazon has more than 100 million Prime customers worldwide and recently announced that it would increase the membership fee for the service, to $119 a year from $99, to pay for all the new benefits it is adding to it.

Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the discounts were likely to hurt the profit margins at Whole Foods — but that was besides the point if the move strengthens Prime, a major focus of Amazon these days.

“I don’t know that it will be great from a profitability standpoint, but I don’t know that they really care,” she said. “It’s more customer engagement and customer satisfaction. Maybe it gets them more Prime customers, more Whole Foods usage and more units per cart.”

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Few Rules Govern Police Use of Facial-Recognition Technology

4 min read

They call Amazon the everything store—and Tuesday, the world learned about one of its lesser-known but provocative products. Police departments pay the company to use facial-recognition technology Amazon says can “identify persons of interest against a collection of millions of faces in real-time.”

More than two dozen nonprofits wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to ask that he stop selling the technology to police, after the ACLU of Northern California revealed documents to shine light on the sales. The letter argues that the technology will inevitably be misused, accusing the company of providing “a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.”

The revelation highlights a key question: What laws or regulations govern police use of the facial-recognition technology? The answer: more or less none.

State and federal laws generally leave police departments free to do things like search video or images collected from public cameras for particular faces, for example. Cities and local departments can set their own policies and guidelines, but even some early adopters of the technology haven’t done so.

Documents released by the ACLU show that the city of Orlando, Florida worked with Amazon to build a system that detects “persons of interest” in real-time using eight public-security cameras. “Since this is a pilot program, a policy has not been written,” a city spokesperson said, when asked whether there are formal guidelines around the system’s use.

“This is a perfect example of technology outpacing the law,” says Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There are no rules.”

Amazon is not the only company operating in this wide open space. Massachusetts based MorphoTrust provides facial-recognition technology to the FBI, and also markets it to police departments. Detroit police bought similar technology from South Carolina’s Data Works Plus, for a project that looks for violent offenders in footage from gas stations.

The documents released Tuesday provide details about how Orlando, and the sheriff’s department of Oregon’s Washington County use Amazon’s facial recognition technology. Both had previously provided testimonials about the technology for the company’s cloud division.

Orlando got free consulting from Amazon to build out its project, the documents show. In a prior testimonial, Orlando’s chief of police John Mina said that the system could improve public safety and “offer operational efficiency opportunities.” However a city spokesperson told WIRED that “this is very early on and we don’t have data to support that it does or does not work.” The system hasn’t yet been used in investigations, or on imagery of members of the public.

Washington County uses Amazon’s technology to help officers search a database of 300,000 mugshots, using either a desktop computer or a specially built mobile application. Documents obtained by the ACLU also show county employees raising concerns about the security of placing mugshots into Amazon’s cloud storage, and the project being perceived as “the government getting in bed with big data.”

There’s no mention of big data in the US Constitution. It doesn’t provide much protection against facial recognition either, says Jane Bambauer, a law professor at the University of Arizona. Surveillance technology like wiretaps are covered by the Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, but most police interest in facial recognition is in applying it to imagery gathered lawfully in public, or to mugshots.

State laws don’t generally have much to say about police use of facial recognition, either. Illinois and Texas are unusual in having biometric privacy laws that can require companies to obtain permission before collecting and sharing data such as fingerprints and facial data, but make exceptions for law enforcement. Lynch of EFF says hearings by the House Oversight Committee last year showed some bipartisan interest in setting limits on law enforcement use of the technology, but the energy dissipated after committee chair Jason Chaffetz resigned last May.

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director at the ACLU of Northern California, says the best hope for regulating facial recognition for now is pressuring companies like Amazon, police departments, and local communities to set their own limits on use of the technology. “The law moves slowly, but a lot needs to happen here now that this dangerous surveillance is being rolled out,” she says. She says Amazon should stop providing the technology to law enforcement altogether. Police departments should set firm rules in consultation with their communities, she says. In a statement, Amazon said all its customers are bound by terms requiring they comply with the law and “be responsible.” The company does not have a specific terms of service for law enforcement customers.

Some cities have moved to limit use of surveillance. Berkeley, California, recently approved an ordinance requiring certain transparency and consultation steps when procuring or using surveillance technology, including facial recognition. The neighboring city of Oakland recently passed its own law to place oversight on local use of surveillance technology.

Washington County has drawn up guidelines for its use of facial recognition, which the department provided to WIRED. They include a requirement that officers obtain a person’s permission before taking a photo to check their identity, and that officers receive training on appropriate use of the technology before getting access to it. The guidelines also state that facial recognition may be used as investigative tool on “suspects caught on camera.” Jeff Talbot, the deputy spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said the department is not using the system for “public surveillance, mass surveillance, or for real-time surveillance.”

Ozer and others would like to see more detailed rules and disclosures. They’re worried about evidence that facial recognition and analysis algorithms have been found to be less accurate for non-white faces, and not accurate at all in law enforcement situations. The FBI disclosed in 2017 that its chosen facial-recognition system only had an 85 percent chance of identifying a person within its 50 best guesses from a larger database. A system tested by South Wales Police in the UK during a soccer match last year was only 8 percent accurate.

Lynch of EFF says she believes police departments should disclose accuracy figures for their facial recognition systems, including how they perform on different ethnic groups. She also says that despite the technology’s largely unexamined adoption by local police forces, there’s reason to believe today’s free for all won’t last.

Consider the Stingray devices that many police departments began to quietly use to collect data from cellphones. Amid pressure from citizens, civic society groups, and judges, the Department of Justice and many local departments changed their policies. Some states, such as California, passed laws to protect location information. Lynch believes there could soon be a similar pushback on facial recognition. “I think there is hope,” she says.

Louise Matsakis contributed to this article.


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Luminaries from across Israel’s tech ecosystem are joining us onstage in Tel Aviv – TechCrunch

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Tickets are going fast for our inaugural Tel Aviv event and no one should miss out on the opportunity to see some the nation’s rising stars discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for mobility technologies.

Hear from some of the architects and creators of Israel’s latest technology marvels like Orit Nissan Messing, the co-founder and Chief Architect of Iguazio. And government officials like Anat Lea Bonshtien, the chairman and director of the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office, who are driving mobility technologies forward.

Fiona Darmon, the Chief Operating Officer of one of Israel’s pre-eminent venture funds, JVP, will join us alongside Natalie Refuah, a partner with the growth capital investment firm Viola Growth, to discuss how businesses can scale and make the right moves as they navigate their inevitable international expansion.

They’re all part of a stellar line up that we’ve put together to take the pulse of one of the hottest trends in tech and one that’s increasingly reliant on Israeli technology companies to fulfill the promise of its potential.

These phenomenal speakers will be sharing insights that no one would want to miss, and they’ll be exclusively available to our audience in Tel Aviv.

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Sleep Tight pits kids against monsters from under the bed on July 26

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When the creepy-crawlies come out from under the bed, some kids might pull the covers over their heads. But not the ones in Sleep Tight. In this twin-stick shooter, you fight back against the bogeyman by building forts and arming yourself with an arsenal of toy weapons. It’s developer We Are Fuzzy’s debut game, and it launches July 26 on PC and Nintendo Switch.

To fight off waves of nighttime monsters, players can choose from a roster of 12 kids, each of whom has their own special perk. For instance, Lynn sports a star-studded astronaut outfit. She just came back from space camp, and she researches new skills faster than others. Wyatt, on the other hand, takes his inspiration from cowboys on the range, and he starts with a buckshot to fend off enemies. Players who prefer to beef up defense can select Rosie the engineer, whose perk enables her to build tougher pillow fort walls.

The new indie studio has triple-A roots, and its team has individually worked on games like Far Cry 5 and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. It also recruited Disney illustrator Dylan Ekren, who contributed to Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. The veteran talent shows in Sleep Tight’s new trailer, which is brimming with character and polish.

Sleep Tight seems to feature a lot of strategic gameplay and fast-paced shooting, and it’s neat that it has gone for a colorful, Pixar-like aesthetic rather than something gritty or blood-splattered.



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