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Sept. 3 2015 4:23 PM

Online Lingerie Store Zivame Is Burning Through Bra Sales

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Zivame, a 4-year-old startup based in Bangalore, India, just raised more than $40 million to change the way women buy underwear online. So far, the strategy seems to be working; Zivame says it's selling one bra per minute. 

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Investors include Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Zodius Technology Fund, a fund owner by the Malaysian government, according to TechCrunch. "We offer a shopping experience that's both private and convenient so even men can shop [for women] with ease," CEO and cofounder Richa Karthe wrote on Zivame's site.

In India, a lot of lingerie stores are staffed by men, which can make shopping for bras and underwear feel awkward. “We want to empower women to shop for their most intimate wear in the most intimate environment—their mobiles,” Karthe told Tech in Asia. Zivame currently receives more than 60 percent of its traffic from mobile devices.

Zivame’s website boasts more 600 lingeries styles to choose from. Since launching, the company has also expanded to selling swimsuits, nightwear, and sports attire. Right now, Zivame only operates online; it has no physical stores. But Karthe expects that to change soon.

Karthe told TechCrunch that the company could soon debut real "experience stores." Like Victoria's Secret, women may soon be able to request consultation and bra fittings. Zivame expects to open 100 of these kinds of shops in India's top cities.

A number of lingerie startups have begun to go after Victoria's Secret. Adore Me is a U.S.-based company with a similar strategy that's generating more than $16 million in revenue annually.

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Sept. 2 2015 3:42 PM

Apple’s Supersized iPad Might Finally Come Out Next Week

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

If you've been waiting patiently for a supersized iPad, Sept. 9 may be your lucky day. Apple is reportedly planning to take the wraps off its much-rumored iPad Pro that day alongside its new iPhone, new Apple TV, and a slew of other products, according to 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman.

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The iPad Pro, along with a new iPad Mini, are both expected to hit stores in November. Although the report says we'll see both of these new iPads on Sept. 9, Gurman also notes that there's a possibility Apple will hold the announcement until October since it's closer to the products' ship date.

The iPad Pro is expected to provide a step up from the standard iPad's 9.7-inch screen, by featuring a screen measuring around 12 inches diagonally. And it will reportedly support stylus input. Gurman says the stylus will be used for Force Touch, which lines up with what KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reported in the past.

The refreshed iPad mini is said to be thinner than its predecessor and will come with Apple's A8 processor, which will allow it to support the split-screen multitasking features Apple introduced in iOS 9.

Apple has been testing its larger iPad and stylus for years, and there's a chance we may finally see those products come to market next week. Prototypes of a giant iPad with a screen larger than 12 inches in size have existed since 2012, as we reported back in July. Apple has also tested at least three different types of styluses designed specifically for the iPad, which we also reported in August. 

Sept. 1 2015 4:42 PM

Allow Yourself to Be Guided by Stephen Colbert

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Starting Tuesday, Stephen Colbert will direct you to your destination on Waze, the community-based traffic and navigation app owned by Google.

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“For years, I navigated the roadways using a compass, a sextant and the guidance offered by the stars,” said Colbert in a statement from CBS. “But now I can just listen to my own dulcet tones instructing me on Waze.”

Colbert debuts on the Late Show on Sept. 8.

Until Sept. 22, users will have the option of choosing Colbert to dictate driving instructions.

Or, if you prefer the voice of Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots or Neil Patrick Harris, they will also be available to guide you while on the road. 

This is not the first time Waze has partnered with celebrities to serve as the voice of Waze. Earlier this summer, the app teamed up with KFC's Colonel Sanders and then Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote the reboot of the Terminator series.

Aug. 28 2015 4:21 PM

In Praise of Aerogel, Spongelike Industrial Wonder

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Aerogel is about as perfect a contradiction as you could imagine. It holds the record as the lightest solid ever created, yet is durable enough to support the weight of a car or survive the vacuum of space. Because of these seemingly magical qualities, researchers have woven the material into capacitors, lasers, spacecraft, and nuclear weapons.

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Aerogel hasn't languished inside laboratories, though. You can find it inside modern carpets, cosmetics, paints, pipes, wetsuits, and roofs, to name just a few products. And today inventors are creating new recipes and manufacturing techniques for aerogel, leading to novel applications that include thin yet incredibly warm (and stylish) jackets and oil spill-cleanup kits.

Without Samuel Stephens Kistler's fortuitous discovery of aerogel in the early 1900s, however, we might still be dreaming about the existence of this incredible, cloud-like substance. Here's what aerogel is, where it came from, and how it's increasingly working its way into everyday life.

People often describe aerogel as feeling like Styrofoam or that flaky, green foam that serves as potting for fake plants. That's because of aerogel's internal sponge-like structure; the material is so dehydrated that it's about 99 percent air. "The first thing most people do when they touch a piece of silica aerogel for the first time is shatter it into a million pieces," says the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website on silica aerogels.

Despite this fragility, aerogel is very strong. It can support up to 4,000 times its weight. Scientists have created recipes for more than a dozen different types of aerogel, but they all share a similar process: mix chemicals together, let them settle into a wet gel, and then suck all of the liquid out. (You can make aerogel yourself if you're patient, determined, and have about about $1,000 sitting around.)

It's actually a pretty complex process and material, so it helps to think of aerogel as similar to Jell-O. The gelatin powder in Jell-O forms a flexible, liquid solution when mixed with warm water. As it cools, the liquid solution sets into shape by forming a stiff, tangled network. Under a powerful microscope it looks like an unruly ball of yarn. But if you heated up the set Jell-O, it would dry out and you'd be left with a lump of Jell-O powder once again.

Aerogel, on the other hand, isn't made of gelatin but one of a variety of substances, depending upon its intended use. Chemists most often make it from silica—the most abundant mineral in Earth's crust. Unlike the process of simply leaving Jell-O to set, however, they cycle wet aerogel through multiple phases of cooling and heating under pressure, which retains the silica network's shape even after completely drying out.

The resulting aerogel is almost entirely air, making it the most lightweight solid we know of. And because air is pretty terrible at conducting heat, so is aerogel.

The details surrounding Kistler's discovery of this incredible material are disappointingly murky. In fact, no one knows exactly when or where the revelation happened. We also don't know if Kistler coined the term "aerogel" or pillaged the name from someone else. (It's even hard to find a good photo of Kistler.)

Still, most historians agree the magical moment happened at some point between 1929 and 1930, when Kistler taught undergraduate courses at College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. The apocryphal tale goes that he and colleague Charles Learned were in a friendly competition: to see who could replace the liquid in a jar of jam with a gas, but leave the structure and shape of the jam in tact. (Every teacher's favorite after-class game.)

Kistler won the bet, and ended up discovering aerogel as a fortuitous bonus. He went on to publish his first study about aerogels in the journal Nature in 1931, then patented the method of producing aerogel on Sept. 21, 1937. In the early 1940s, Kistler signed a contract with Monsanto Company—today an agricultural company known for developing and selling genetically modified plants.

A Monsanto plant in Massachusetts manufactured the first silica-based aerogel products under the trade names Santocel, Santocel-C, Santocel-54, and Santocel-Z. Their first application: a lightweight thickening agent for paints, makeup, and napalm. Aerogel even made its way into cigarette filters and freezer insulation. A 1951 Monsanto annual report boasted its exceptional applications:

Significant and unusual applications for Santocel, outside the flatting and insulation fields, were developed for civilian and military use. Among these were the Department of Agriculture's approval of Santocel as a thickening agent for screwworm salves for sheep, and its use as a thickening agent in the jelly of the fiery Napalm bomb. Santocel also has become an essential ingredient in the manufacture of silicone rubber.

But Monsanto reportedly discontinued the line in 1970. It was expensive to manufacture, and competition from other, newer, and well-marketed products pushed aerogel to the bottom of their business priorities. Kistler died in 1975—just a few years before his supermaterial really took off. 

In the late 1970s, researchers in France developed a novel method of producing aerogel in just a few hours instead of weeks. Then, in the early 1980s, scientists in Germany realized its potential use in particle physics applications, according to aerogel.org. This would pave the way for Aerogel's bright future.

As Kistler neared retirement, he self-published a collection of writings on non-scientific topics called "Memorabilia.” In one excerpt from 1955, he wrote, "We are finite beings in the midst of an infinite universe ... as far as we can perceive, space is limitless in all directions ... the farther we probe into the structure of matter ... the more we discover that in generations to come will have bearing upon the everyday activities of people."

His musings on space turned out to be apt, because in the late 90s, NASA scientists fashioned silica-based aerogel onto a massive, tennis-racket-shaped collector that sat outside its Stardust spacecraft to collect pristine pieces of the infant solar system. During NASA's Stardust mission, aerogel proved essential fragile particle fragments trailing behind the Comet Wild 2.

It was the perfect choice because the material's tangled structure acted as microscopic baseball gloves to capture fast-moving comet particles without damaging them. It's relative transparency also helped scientists back on Earth easily find and extract the comet dust for analysis.

Today, the world is taking advantage of its many properties for use in modern-day products. It lines the walls of buildings in the form of insulation. Clothing companies use it to create super light-weight and warm ski jackets. It's even inside some tennis rackets.

Researchers are also looking to the energy-absorbing properties of silica aerogels for novel uses, such as shock-absorbers in cars, cradling aircraft flight data recorders, and protecting fragile electronics such as laptop computer hard drives. They're even testing cellulose-based aerogels for cleaning up oil spills, and are mixing up new types of aerogels that are stronger and more resilient than the silica aerogels of days past.

Then there are polymer-based aerogels, which are essentially made from plastics and make excellent insulators for refrigerators and clothing. They're more robust than the flaky silica-based aerogels, yet just as light.

Mary Ann Meador, a senior research scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center, told Tech Insider that the only challenge now is manufacturing aerogels at a higher scale and lower cost, which she hopes will happen within the next one or two years.

"We’ve demonstrated a lot of properties of these materials and they're useful now, but we can only make things on a pilot scale or less," Meador told Tech Insider. "As more products come online, I think that they have the potential to revolutionize the field."

Aug. 26 2015 5:14 PM

Merriam-Webster Doesn't Think the Definition of Success Should Mention Happiness. This College Disagrees.

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

According to Merriam-Webster, success is "the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame." However, a 2014 survey from Herndon, Virginia-based Strayer University found that the dictionary's definition may be a bit outdated and in need of a revision.

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The survey, which was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Strayer, found that a whopping 90 percent of the 2,011 Americans ages 18 and up who participated believed that success is more about happiness than power, possessions, or prestige.

In total, 67 percent said they associate success with achieving personal goals; 66 percent defined success as having "good relationships with friends and family"; and 60 percent said it's about "loving what you do for a living." Only one in five respondents cited monetary wealth.

When the study findings were released in October 2014, Business Insider spoke with Dr. Michael Plater, then-president of Strayer University, who said: "This indicates a clear change in the way Americans are thinking about their personal journey. It's no longer about the car or the house. Instead, people are focused on leading a fulfilling life, whether that means finding a better career, achieving personal goals, or spending more time with their families."

Given the shift, which Plater attributed to economic, social, and cultural changes in the U.S., Strayer is now attempting to officially revise Merriam-Webster's definition of success with the support of business executives, athletes, and social influencers through an initiative called "Readdress Success." The goal is to expand the dictionary's definition to: "Happiness derived from good relationships and the attainment of personal goals."

A spokesperson for Merriam-Webster told Business Insider that they "appreciate Strayer University's interest in our definition of 'success.'"

"Today's official definition of success doesn't reflect the reality of how Americans think about, discuss and ultimately pursue success," said Brian W. Jones, president of Strayer University, in a press release.

"If we take it literally, it would mean people who love their jobs, have happy families, or help their communities aren't successful. This is a dangerous notion as it can lead people to believe they are unsuccessful because they haven't amassed a certain amount of wealth or fame. Our belief is that there are many definitions of and paths to success and that all journeys to success are unique and should be celebrated. We believe the official definition of success should reflect that," he said.

Strayer has launched a petition through Change.org that aims to "draw as much attention from Merriam-Webster to the initiative as possible," and has promised to donate $0.50 for every signature collected to Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organization that promotes "the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools to help them thrive in work and life," according to its site.

Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, Inc., said in a press release that Strayer's intention of conducting the "Success Project Survey" last year was "never to change the definition of success, but rather to inspire people to turn inward and think about what success means to them personally.

"But the more we talk with our working adult students and become a part of their lives, and the more we delve into this ongoing movement, we have discovered that a critical and real change needs to happen in the way we talk about success. Certainly Americans are feeling it and thinking about it in these broadened ways and Strayer University … wants to be part of that dialogue," he concluded. 

Aug. 25 2015 3:31 PM

If the U.S. Economy Nosedived, Which Tech Companies Would Suffer?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Every boom has its bust. But every bust looks different.

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Thanks to the memories of the dot-com era, a lot of investors assume that the next bust will look the same—a bunch of overfunded, overvalued tech companies that are burning too much cash and not generating enough revenue will go up in smoke. All those unicorns will turn out to have been mere horses, or worse.

But as optimists including Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans have pointed out, some things are different this time. For example: In 2000, less than half a billion people were online, and there were no smartphones. Now, the online population is around 3 billion, with 2 billion smartphones, and both of those numbers will reach 4 billion by 2020.

So imagine that this week's stock market downturn becomes a broader recession. As consumers and businesses tighten their wallets, what will happen? Who will be hurt? Perhaps, instead of the tech startups vaporizing, the old inefficient businesses they've started to replace will finally topple over and die.

For instance:

  • Taxi rides are generally more expensive than hailing an Uber X. So as people look to save money, overall ride volume will go down. But the already ailing cab industry will then have an even harder time competing with cheaper, more efficient service from Uber.
  • Hotels are generally more expensive than AirBnb. As price-conscious consumers look to save money on vacations, they're more likely to book an AirBnb than drop hundreds of dollars a night on a hotel.
  • At least some goods in some retail stores—think consumer electronics—are more expensive than the same goods on Amazon and other e-commerce stores.
  • Going to the movies is a lot more expensive than just staying home and renting via Netflix.

And so on.

On the B2B or enterprise side:

  • It's generally a lot cheaper for companies to rent computing infrastructure and software delivered over the internet—think cloud services such as Amazon Web Services or Workday—than it is to buy and maintain the hardware and software yourself.
  • There are lots of other new enterprise trends that help customers squeeze more cost out of their IT infrastructure—for example, by having in-house developers double up on operations. (DevOps.)

As companies look to cut costs, they're more likely to give these newfangled services a serious look. Sure, there are different break-even points depending on the size of the company and how much it has already dropped into its existing infrastructure. But for the typical mid-size business that never wanted to be in the technology business in the first place, running your own data center seldom makes sense over the long haul.

Yes, a serious recession will kill a lot of pretenders. Companies that are burning tons of cash and can't raise another round to cover their burn will definitely vaporize. Companies that are spending like mad on customer acquisition and hoping to make it up on lifetime value per customer may not get the chance to turn that corner.

But if you believe even for a second that some of the current tech darlings are actually disrupting older industries, why would that disruption suddenly stop just because the economy turns down?

Remember: Google and Salesforce emerged out of the dot-com bust. Facebook emerged out of the financial crisis of 2008. That same downturn helped kill Blockbuster, while Netflix grew stronger than ever.

There will be some big winners next time, too.

Aug. 24 2015 1:42 PM

Google Maps Will Now Accommodate Your Obsession With Photographing Your Food

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The business of taking photos of your food is so large that there's even a catchy term to describe it—"foodography."

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Google tried to tap into the foodography trend earlier this year with an experimental service attached to Google+ called Tablescape. The food-focused social network only got to the testing phase and was shuttered before an official launch.

Now Google is testing a new Google Maps feature that lets you tie certain photos to the place where they were taken, Android Police reports. The feature will alert users when Maps has found a new photo taken at a public place that might interest other users. It will then offer to attach that photo to the location so other users can see it.

Right now Google is rolling out the feature to its "Local Guides"—people who write reviews of the places where they eat, drink or shop for Google. Android Police picked up an email sent out to guides who have contributed more than 50 reviews to the Local Guides program. The email mentions notifications that "show up after you've taken a photo in public places that Google thinks are interesting to other people, like restaurants and bars."

It doesn't actually specify that only photos of food will be flagged up, so the unnamed feature might attach other snaps to Maps too. It does call for guides to upload photos of their "epic meals" though, so it's safe to say that if it ever goes live the feature will be fairly food-focused.

Aug. 21 2015 5:23 PM

Meet the Hotels That Want to Look Like Airbnb Rentals

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Extended stay hotels are often synonymous with barren rooms and tiny kitchenettes stranded out in the suburbs. These hotels have long attracted business travelers hoping to save money on a long term trip.

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But that's changing. A whole new crop of long term hotels are popping up, and they're setting their sights on competing with rental sites like Airbnb. 

Part of Airbnb's appeal is that it offers alternative housing options in big cities and it lets guests feel like they're at home, since they're actually staying in someone else's home. Now, extended stay hotels are opening in hip, urban locations with more amenities, like chic designer decor and in-house gyms with personal trainers, in the hopes of attracting a younger group of travelers.

That's just some of what's available at the new ROOST Apartment Hotel, which recently opened in the heart of Philadelphia. Billing itself as a trendier alternative to more traditional corporate long term hotels, ROOST wants its accommodations to feel more like residences rather than hotel suites. 

The studios—which were designed by the same architects responsible for the Wythe Hotel—come fully furnished with Bonavita coffee makers, complimentary La Colombe coffee, bath products, Apple TV, and Bosch washers and dryers. Besides that, there's a bike share program, fitness center, and a 24-hour front desk, and it's pet-friendly. There's a second ROOST property set to open in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of the city soon. A studio suite starts at $175 per night, and a one-bedroom starts at $191.

AKA is another brand that caters to the long term traveler by combining the hospitality you would receive at a hotel with the comfort you would experience at a luxury condominium. There are services that you would find in an apartment building such as a doorman and maintenance services, but then there's also more hotel-oriented services such as in-suite dining and valet laundering. 

AKA even partnered with places such as New York City's Museum of Modern Art, and the wine store Acker Merrall & Condit in order to help guests immerse themselves in the culture of their temporary home. Besides New York, AKA has hotels in multiple other major US cities (LA, Washington, and Philadelphia), as well as one location in London.

AKA's rates vary greatly depending on location—in Washington DC, suites start at $194, at Central Park they start at $305, and in Beverly Hills they start at $395. Guests also have the option of purchasing and owning a condominium at three of AKA's NYC locations. 

The Redbury is a trendy version of the extended stay boutique hotel with locations in Hollywood, California, and South Beach, Florida. Guests have the choice of staying long term or short term. The hotel is made up of all suites—57 at the Hollywood location and 69 in South Beach—that are described as warm, Bohemian, and old-world. The suites' kitchens have gas burners, the bathrooms have walk-in rain showers, and there are even vinyl collections curated by Capitol Records. In South Beach, there's a rooftop pool. Suites at the LA location starts at $252 per night, and $239 at the South Beach location.

The concept of cool luxury extended stay hotels is making waves in Europe as well. The London-based Living Rooms has four locations in hip neighborhoods throughout the city. Like its name suggests, this "hotel alternative" aims to make travelers feel like they are staying in a private space that's their own. A little pricier than some of its other long term competitors, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment at Living Rooms costs $703 per night.

Zoku—which is Japanese for family, tribe, or clan—is set to open this fall in Amsterdam. It offers a "flexible home/office hybrid" where guests can live, work, socialize, and relax with other guests. The hotel offers a living room, working space, kitchen / dining area, game room, meeting spaces, and a 24-hour store. Most of the rooms are loft spaces—meaning that unlike most other hotel rooms, the bed is not the focal point of the room—which guests can decorate and make their own.

The trend isn't limited to boutique hotels, though. Marriott's Residence Inn is set to open this fall in downtown Chicago, and according to Conde Nast Traveler, Element by Starwood has over 20 hotels set to open in the U.S. and Canada by 2018 that will feature modern interiors, pantries stocked with gourmet options, and a lobby that doubles as a work space and bar.

Aug. 20 2015 4:44 PM

If You Bought Twitter Shares When It Went Public, You've Officially Lost Money

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Investors who bought Twitter's public debut are officially underwater. 

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On Thursday, shares of Twitter fell below $26—the level where Twitter shares priced for the November 2013 IPO—for the first time ever. 

This means even the earliest Twitter buyers are now losing money and that Twitter is officially in the red for the entirety of its life as a public company. On Thursday alone, shares of Twitter were off more than 5.5 percent to as low as $25.97 per share. 

On its first day of trading as a public company, Twitter shares opened for trading on November 7, 2013 at $45.10 and eventually closed at $44.90, a ~70 percent gain in their first day of trading. 

During the summer, and particularly following Twitter's disastrous second quarter earnings call, the stock has been making new lows and creeping up on the magic $26 per share number. And now, that has been breached. 

Here's the brutal chart:

TwitterChart_08202015

Googlel Finance/Business Insider

Aug. 20 2015 3:08 PM

San Francisco Is Suing Uber for Allegedly Hiring a Convicted Murderer as a Driver

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Because of flaws in Uber's background-checking system, 25 drivers with criminal records—including murder, child abuse, and assault—were allowed to drive for the ride-hailing service in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according a complaint filed Wednesday by the San Francisco District Attorney's office.

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One of the drivers in question is a convicted murderer who spent 26 years in prison before being released on parole in Los Angeles in 2008, the complaint shows. This driver joined Uber in 2014, and the company's background check failed to turn up his criminal record, largely because he gave a fake name when he signed up. He's given 1,168 rides with Uber, the complaint says.

In another case cited by the complaint, a driver had been convicted of the felony of "committing lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 14," which didn't turn up on the background check. He's given "5,697 rides to Uber passengers, including unaccompanied children," says the complaint.

Another driver was convicted of felony kidnapping for ransom with a firearm. The complaint listed other incidents in this driver's criminal history, including felony robbery with a firearm, selling cocaine, and DUIs in southern California.

In fact, several of the drivers listed in the complaint have DUIs. 

Most of the rest are convicted of less severe, nonviolent crimes, including "filing a forged power of attorney and filing a forged real estate grant deed," the complaint says. One driver received a citation at Los Angeles International Airport for driving with an expired license, and the driver "stated that he was leasing his car from someone else and using their Uber account," according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, Uber has long maintained that its background-check system is comprehensive and keeps consumers safe. It used to say that it was "industry-leading," but doesn't anymore.

“A lot of the information that Uber has presented to consumers has been false and misleading," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said in a press conference, per an SFGate report.

Last December, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco filed a joint civil suit saying that the ride-hailing service was misleading consumers with its claims of in-depth driver vetting. The service's background checks go back only seven years (as do competitor Lyft's), and simply aren't in-depth enough to catch everybody's histories, says the complaint.

The city of San Francisco is urging Uber and its ilk to use Livescan, a fingerprint-based method, but Uber is resisting.

In a statement Uber said:

While we agree with the district attorneys that safety is a priority, we disagree that the Livescan process used by taxi companies is an inherently better system for screening drivers than our background checks.  The reality is that neither is 100% foolproof—as we discovered last year when putting hundreds of people through our checks who identified themselves as taxi drivers.  That process uncovered convictions for DUI, rape, attempted murder, child abuse and violence. In addition, Livescan includes people who have been arrested but not always charged or convicted, which can discriminate against minorities. 

Uber has also defended its hiring practices in a recent blog post, explaining that there's a seven-year limit on many tracking tools that look at past criminal records, and that "the California State Legislature decided—after a healthy debate—that seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves."

Not long ago, Lyft had to pay $250,000 in fines for a similar court finding, but didn't change anything about its background-check processes.

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