Impossible Foods goes to White Castle

Impossible Foods is taking another bite out of the meat supply chain, with the announcement that its meatless burger substitute is coming to America’s first fast-food burger chain — White Castle.

That’s right, now stoned vegan hippies can join stoned slackers in their quest for cheap, delicious burger-y goodness.

The “Impossible Slider,” which is made from Impossible Foods’ vegetable-based ground beef substitute, will now be available for $1.99, or as part of a combo meal.

It’s hard to understate the importance of this as Impossible Foods now makes the jump from higher-end, fast-casual restaurants to a truly mass consumer, fast-food chain.

If the company’s mission to be a viable competitor to ground beef — and ultimately replace it — Impossible Foods was going to have to make the jump from Umami Burger to “Impossible Slider” at some point.

As we wrote recently, the company has been beefing up its balance sheet to make just such a move — raising nearly $300 million in funding to take its burgers to Asia, and across America.

As part of the deal, the Impossible Slider will be available at 140 locations in the New York-New Jersey corridor and around Chicago and its suburbs.

“White Castle’s model has been often imitated but never duplicated — an impressive feat in the hyper-competitive fast-food sector,” said Impossible Foods’ founder and chief executive Patrick Brown in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with White Castle, and together learning how to popularize plant-based meat with mainstream burger lovers.”

Zuckerberg urges privacy carve outs to compete with China

Facebook’s founder said last month that the company is open to being regulated. But today he got asked by the US senate what sort of legislative changes he would (and wouldn’t) like to see as a fix for the problems that the Cambridge Analytica data scandal has revealed.

Zuckerberg’s response on this — and on another question about his view on European privacy regulations — showed in the greatest detail yet how he’s hoping data handling and privacy rules evolve in the US, including a direct call for regulatory carve outs to — as he couched it — avoid the US falling behind Chinese competitors.

Laying out “a few principles” that he said he believes would be “useful to discuss and potentially codify into law”, Zuckerberg first advocated for having “a simple and practical set of ways that you explain what you’re doing with data”, revealing an appetite to offload the problem of tricky privacy disclosures via a handy universal standard that can apply to all players.

“It’s hard to say that people fully understand something when it’s only written out in a long legal document,” he added. “This stuff needs to be implemented in a way where people can actually understand it.”

He then talked up the notion of “giving people complete control” over the content they share — claiming this is “the most important principle for Facebook”.

“Every piece of content that you share on Facebook, you own and you have complete control over who sees it and how you share it — and you can remove it at any time,” he said, without mentioning how far from that principle the company has been at earlier times in its history.

“I think that that control is something that’s important — and I think should apply to every service,” he continued, making a not-so-subtle plea for no other platforms to be able to leak data like Facebook’s platform historically has (and thus to close any competitive loopholes that might open up as a result of Facebook tightening the screw on developer access to data now in the face of a major scandal).

His final and most controversial point in response to the legislative changes question was about what he dubbed “enabling innovation”.

“Some of these use cases that are very sensitive, like face recognition for example,” he said carefully. “And I think that there’s a balance that’s extremely important to strike here where you obtain special consent for sensitive features like facial recognition. But don’t — but that we still need to make it so that American companies can innovate in those areas.

“Or else we’re going to fall behind Chinese competitors and others around the world who have different regimes for different, new features like that.”

Zuckerberg did not say which Chinese competitors he was thinking of specifically. But earlier this week ecommerce giant Alibaba announced another major investment in a facial recognition software business, leading a $600M Series C round in Hong Kong-based SenseTime — as one possible rival example.

A little later in the session, Zuckerberg was also directly asked whether European privacy regulations should be applied in the US. And here again he showed more of his hand — once again refusing to confirm if Facebook will implement “the exact same regulation” for North American users, as some consumer groups have been calling for it to.

“Regardless of whether we implement the exact same regulation — I would guess it would be somewhat different because we have somewhat different sensibilities in the US, as do other countries — we’re committed to rolling out the controls and the affirmative consent, and the special controls around sensitive types of technologies like face recognition that are required in GDPR, we’re doing that around the world,” he reiterated.

“So I think it’s certainly worth discussing whether we should have something similar in the US but what I would like to say today is that we’re going to go forward and implement that [the same controls and affirmative consent] regardless of what the regulatory outcome is.”

Given that’s now the third refusal by Facebook to confirm GDPR will apply universally, it looks pretty clear that users in North American will get some degree of second tier privacy vs international users — unless or until US lawmakers forcibly raise standards on the company and the industry as a whole.

That is perhaps to be expected. But it’s still a tricky PR message for Facebook to be having to deliver in the midst of a major data scandal — hence Zuckerberg’s attempt to reframe it as a matter of domestic vs foreign “sensibilities”.

Whether North American Facebook users buy into his repackaging of coach class privacy standards vs the rest of the world as just a little local flavor remains to be seen.

In Senate hearing, Zuckerberg faces blame over violence in Myanmar

While the recent Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal is the main focus for American lawmakers questioning Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg today, the company’s record beyond the U.S. raises even more alarms.

During the hearing, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy brought up the company’s role in the ongoing ethnic violence in Myanmar, citing one incident where death threats against a Muslim journalist did not violate the platform’s rules. In Myanmar, journalists are regularly arrested and even killed for reporting on the government’s activities.

“Six months ago I asked your general counsel about Facebook’s role as a breeding ground for hate speech against Rohingya refugees,” Leahy said. “Recently, U.N. investigators blamed Facebook for playing a role in inciting the possible genocide in Myanmar, and there has been genocide there.”

Using screenshots mounted on a poster, the Senator cited a specific threat calling for the death of Muslim journalists in the country:

That threat went straight through your detection systems. It spread very quickly and it took attempt after attempt after attempt and the involvement of civil society groups to get you to remove it. Why couldn’t it be removed within 24 hours?

Screenshot from C-Span

Leahy interrupted Zuckerberg when he began to opine about the country’s tragedy. “We all agree it’s terrible,” Leahy said, pressing the Facebook founder for substantive answers.

Zuckerberg cited the language barrier as one of the main obstacles to proper moderation of hate speech and calls for violence.

“Hate speech is very language specific. It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically,” Zuckerberg said.

He mentioned the company’s plan to hire “dozens” of Burmese language content reviewers as the first part of a three-pronged approach in Myanmar, also noting a partnership with civil society groups to identify hate figures in the country rather than focusing on removing individual pieces of content.

Third, Zuckerberg stated that Facebook is “standing up a product team to do specific product changes in Myanmar” and other countries with similar situations, though he did not delve into the specifics of those changes.

Leahy’s line of questioning about Facebook’s influence in Myanmar is not speculative. In March, United Nations investigators concluded that disinformation campaigns facilitated by Facebook have played a “determining role” in inciting violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority ethnic group.

As Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, stated those findings:

[Social media] has …substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.

On April 5, a group of six NGOs working in the country addressed a critical letter to Zuckerberg, citing “issues that have been rife on Facebook in Myanmar for more than four years now,” criticizing the company for crediting its own systems with catching violent messages when in fact it had been these organizations doing the moderation work. When Zuckerberg responded to that letter just a day before he appeared before Congress, the NGO group dismissed his apology as “grossly insufficient.” It’s unlikely that they’ll be pleased with his lackluster testimony on the issue.

Last October, Facebook told TechCrunch that it works with NGOs and the local community in Myanmar to communicate its policies there, though its efforts seemed fairly toothless. At the time, the focus of that initiative was to “empower people in Myanmar to share positive messages online,” and one component offered local education on fake news. But by October of last year, incitements to violence on Facebook were already being connected to real-world acts against the country’s Rohingya population — a group facing systemic violence that’s widely regarded as a genocide.

For Facebook users in Myanmar, a country in which the platform is synonymous with the internet itself, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the NGOs Facebook relies on in the Southeast Asian country deeply dissatisfied, it’s clear that words alone will no longer suffice.

Google Home and Google Home Mini smart speakers go on sale in India

Google’s two smart speaker products — the Google Home and Google Home Mini — and its Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones are now available in India following a launch event in the country.

The devices are priced at Rs 9,999 ($154), and Rs 4,499 ($69), respectively, and Google confirmed that they are available for purchase online via Flipkart and offline through over 750 retailer stores, including Reliance Digital, Croma and Bajaj Electronics.

The Google smart speakers don’t cater to India’s multitude of local languages at this point, but the U.S. company said that they do understand “distinctly” India voices and “will respond to you with uniquely Indian contexts,” such as answering questions about local sport, cooking or TV shows.

For a limited time, Google is incentivizing early customers who will get six months of Google Play Music alongside offers for local streaming services Saavn and Gaana when they buy the Home or Home Mini.

Google Home and Home Mini were first announced at Google I/O in 2016. The company said recently that it has sold “tens of millions” of speakers, with more than seven million sales between October 2017 and January 18.

Still, it’s been a long time coming to India, which has allowed others to get into the market first. Amazon, which is pouring considerable resources into its India-based business to battle Flipkart, brought its rival Echo smart devices to India last October.