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EU privacy ruling the latest legal blow for Google

5:23AM | Monday, 19 May

Last week’s ruling by the European Union (EU) Court of Justice that citizens have a right to request search engines remove information about them from their search results is already causing chaos in Google’s operations with the new flood of requests.   What is the actual ruling?   The EU Court of Justice ruling immediately affects 500 million citizens from 28 European countries. It means that an individual can ask Google or other internet search services to remove information and links to web pages that are published by third parties, such as newspapers, containing information relating to them. Failure by the search service to remove the links can result in fines. However, it does not mean the publisher or website is required to alter or remove the actual article.   The EU is defending the ruling by stating that in cases where the public interest case is more important and vital than the individual’s privacy rights, the links should not be taken down.   What does this mean for an individual?   This means that a person can remove some of their ugly past from Google and the public internet reach even if the facts are true. An individual can demand that a search engine take down certain information and results that they say infringes their privacy or is no longer relevant. If the search engine chooses not to remove the link, the person has a right to request a court order.   What does this mean for Google?   The ruling has significant implications for Google. Prior to this judgment, Google was receiving approximately 5.3 million removal requests per week for copyright infringement alone.   With this new take-down requirement, Google will potentially have to hire an army of experts just to manage, assess merits of each request and remove any controversial links.   One of the main issues with this court decision is that the criteria for determining which take-down requests are legitimate is not clear, particularly where public figures are involved and public interest may be argued. With the right of individuals to seek a court order to enforce their request, this means search engines are likely to act on the side of caution and remove more links than necessary to avoid liability.   The other issue that may prove difficult is that the search engine will have to be able to authenticate the request, to ensure the person asking for the link’s removal is actually the person they claim to be.   And the third issue is the most disturbing. Many of the recent requests since this judgment include those from convicted criminals: a man convicted of possessing child pornography; a man convicted of trying to kill his family; and a man convicted of running a tax scam are all among those requesting links and articles about their convictions be wiped.   The BBC reportedly learned that more than half the requests from UK individuals sent to Google after the ruling involved convicted criminals.   If Google refuses or ignores an individual’s takedown demand, Google could potentially face substantial litigation costs as well as fines. Not only is this a large compliance burden for Google but it means any search results compiled for analysis or general information purposes will be affected. This is a huge setback for Google and there is no appeal process for this decision.   Does this affect the rest of the world?   It is not year clear how this ruling affects countries outside of Europe.   Currently, it means that if you are in the US and do the same search on Google for something in the EU that has deleted links, you still may be able to access and find the articles and references which were removed from the EU search engine.   However, the court specifically stated that companies cannot get out of complying with the judgment by stating that their servers are outside of Europe. As it’s not yet clear to Google how far reaching this ruling will be applied, so we may see the implications of this in the US, Australia and the rest of the world at some point.   It seems there is a direct conflict between the right to be forgotten and a right to know. One wonders if this is not a case of wide-sweeping censorship.

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stands aside after criticisms of his opposition to same-sex marriage

4:49AM | Friday, 4 April

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich has resigned as chief executive of the Firefox maker, following a backlash from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community over his opposition to same-sex marriage.   In a statement, fellow Mozilla co-founder and executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced the resignation while apologising to staff and users for failing to listen and engage.   “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.   “Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community.”   Baker says Mozilla supports equality “regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views”, with the organisation also supporting the free speech of its staff.   “What’s next for Mozilla’s leadership is still being discussed. We want to be open about where we are in deciding the future of the organisation and will have more information next week. However, our mission will always be to make the web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just: that’s what it means to protect the open web.   “We will emerge from this with a renewed understanding and humility — our large, global, and diverse community is what makes Mozilla special, and what will help us fulfil our mission. We are stronger with you involved.”   As an employee of Netscape during the 1990s, Eich was instrumental in the development of the Javascript programming language. He later co-founded Mozilla, serving as its chief technical officer since August 2005.   According to the LA Times, in 2008, Eich made a donation $1000 to a campaign urging people to vote in favour of Proposition 8, a law banning same-sex marriage in California.   While the law eventually passed, it was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 2013.   Following the resignation of former chief executive Jay Sullivan on March 24, Mozilla announced a shake-up of its executive leadership, which saw Eich appointed as Sullivan’s replacement.   At the time, Baker hailed the reshuffle as a return to Mozilla’s founders.   “Brendan has been an absolutely foundational element of Mozilla and our success for the past 15 years. The parallels between Mozilla’s history and our future are very strong, and I am very happy with this combination of continuity and change to help us continue to fulfill our mission, as Mozilla has big ambitions: providing a rich, exciting online experience that puts people at the center of digital life.”   However, within days of the appointment, Eich’s previous opposition to marriage equality became public. The critics included Mozilla’s head of education, Christie Koehler, who wrote a public blog post on the matter.   “I am not sure I can definitively determine Brendan’s suitability. I can, however, give insight as to what I experience at Mozilla as a queer woman and how I feel about the appointment.   “I was disappointed when I found out that Brendan had donated to the anti-marriage equality Prop. 8 campaign in California … It frustrates me when people use their economic power to further enshrine and institutionalise discrimination.”   Eich responded to the criticisms with a post on his personal blog on March 26, committing to work with the LGBT community on making Mozilla inclusive.   “I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you. More important, I want to lay them to rest by actions and results.”   Three days later on March 29, Mozilla issued a statement clarifying it supports equality.   “Over the past few days we have been asked a number of questions about Brendan Eich’s appointment as CEO. This post is to clarify Mozilla’s official support of equality and inclusion for LGBT people.   “Mozilla’s mission is to make the web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples.”   Despite the comments, the backlash continued. According to the BBC, dating website OkCupid blocked users from accessing its website.   “Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples.   "We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid.”   The move comes at a crucial time for Mozilla, which recently announced a partnership with Panasonic that will see a version of its Firefox OS operating system software power smart TVs.   Aside from its Firefox web browser, Mozilla is using its web-based operating system software to power a range of low-end devices, including low-end PCs, tablets and smartphones.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

The dark side of vertical integration

1:26AM | Tuesday, 21 January

Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies.   But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are.   Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain.   It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre.   Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road.   In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua.   On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display.   And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers?   It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet.   No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore.   A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64.   When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price.   Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.”   So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you?   Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple.   In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store.   Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product.   Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk.   Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do?   Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them!   Get it done – today!

New app heralds the next generation of radio: socially attuned and completely customisable

10:23PM | Monday, 7 October

Omny, an app allowing users to combine news clips, emails, social media updates and articles via voice-to-text software, launches today after over 20 months in development.   Created by 121Cast, the app allows people to create their own customised audio channel. The app also includes a recommendation algorithm to suggest content.   121Cast co-founder and chief operations officer Ed Hooper told StartupSmart they were excited to see it finally launch.   “Seeing how it can change people and their behaviour is really exciting, as is the opportunity make that commute period really productive all over the world,” Hooper says. “We’ve all been doing this for so long and everyone knows about it, so how this goes is tied to our personal brands, what we stand for, and our credibility.”   Co-founders Long Zheng and Hooper began exploring the idea for the app in 2011. They had previously worked on an international award winning start-up involving farm irrigation automation software.   “But it was the GFC and we were still students, so for a whole lot of factors it didn’t work out but it was an amazing journey,” Hooper says, who gave up studying at Stanford to return to Australia to work in the Groupon team just as coupon sales were taking off.   He was working at Groupon when Zheng got in touch to talk about how to turn the issue of commute productivity into a business opportunity.   “I was constantly looking for a good opportunity, but I didn’t want to jump on something unless it was awesome, because you want to put everything into it. When Long called me up and we started talking about an audio solution that read you your emails and updates, I realised this was it. I literally could not stop thinking about it,” Hooper says.   Omny sources content from over 30 providers, from music apps such as Spotify, to news groups such as the ABC and BBC, to Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Hooper says all the early conversations were focused on the difficulties of developing such an app, rather than building a business around it.   “Whenever we’ve spoken to potential partners or investors, the assumption is always if we can make the app work, the money stuff will be fine,” Hooper says. “The feedback we got was the idea was there and it could definitely be a business, but also that it was going to be really hard to build and we’d need significant expertise.”   They brought on third co-founder and chief technology officer Andrew Armstrong in February 2012. They’ve gone on to hire a front-end developer and a data scientist as well.   To guide the development, the 121Cast team launched a test app, SoundGecko, in mid-2012.   “We realised we didn’t have a clear idea of what we were creating and needed some real data. We tried surveys and interviews, but it didn’t really get us there. So we took a small fraction of this app, and bundled it as a standalone,” Hooper says.   SoundGecko, an app which read websites and PDF documents for users, has almost 50,000 active monthly users. It allowed 121Cast the opportunity to test the reception of voice-to-text, and also the data requirements for sending audio to thousands of users across the world.   Over 210,000 people have downloaded SoundGecko on iOS, Android and Microsoft phones.   “We found that managing all three platforms was quite hard. As soon as we’d launch a version, we’d see things we needed to change and there were always things we should have done on the first one,” Hooper says. “For the resources we have, it just isn’t feasible to be updating the app on all three platforms. So we’re fine tuning the iOS one while we do the core Android development.”   Omny is currently a free app. 121Cast will introduce ads and affiliate marketing in the coming months, and are exploring a premium subscription for launch later next year.   “SoundGecko definitely validated that people would pay for the premium features, such as more voices, and the Omny premium subscription will probably not include ads,” Hooper says.   Hooper adds financial opportunities will emerge from the user data over time.   In order to fund the development, the 121Cast team used their own capital and raised a series of seed investments.   “We burnt our own savings and lived off them for quite a while. We decided we were going to do this regardless, and between us we could go for about a year without raising funds. Let’s just build this because we have to do it,” Hooper says.   They went on to raise $250,000 from Adventure Capital and the SingTel Optus Innov8 program in November 2012; $20,000 from the University of Melbourne Accelerator program in late 2012, and just over $250,000 from Commercialisation Australia in July 2013.   “With the investment, if we knew we need to do something in the future, we started building the relationship as early as possible and find out what’s important to our potential partners and match them on multiple data points,” Hooper says.   Hooper says they’re focused on Australia at this stage, but will be looking to expand to the US, United Kingdom and other English speaking markets in the next few years.

All the smartphone questions you’ve pondered but never bothered to ask

9:28PM | Wednesday, 25 September

When it comes to smartphones, there’s a whole heap of jargon. Quad-core processors? AMOLED displays? Android or iOS?   If you’re not a techie, it can be tough to make sense of it all. So here’s a layman’s guide to some of the mobile mumbo jumbo you’ve always wondered about, but been too afraid to ask.   (Before we get started a note to the techie uber-geeks reading this. Old Taskmaster is completely aware some of these points are gross oversimplifications, that your early-90s BeBox had more than one processor or that I didn’t bother to mention MeeGo. No need for snarky comments. This is intended as a layman’s guide, so sue me!)   What exactly do iOS, Android and Windows Phone do?   A good, simple way of thinking about your mobile phone is as a pocket-sized computer that can also make calls.   On most computers, there’s a piece of system software, called an operating system that basically manages the relationship between a computer’s hardware and the programs that run on it. In the computer world, most PCs use Windows or Linux, while Apple Macs use Mac OSX.   Operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows Phone basically do the same thing, except they’re designed to work on a smartphone.   If you run an iPhone, you run Apple’s iOS. If you run a recent Nokia, it almost certainly uses Windows Phone. Pretty much everything else – most notably Samsung Galaxy smartphones – use Android.   So why do Androids come in Cupcake, Ice Cream Sandwich or JellyBean?   Each major version of Android is code-named after a dessert. The first letter of each dessert goes up in alphabetical order. So you’ve had Android Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean.   Why? Basically, because Google thinks ‘Android Gingerbread’ sounds cuter than ‘Android Build G’.   What are the most recent versions of the major smartphone operating systems?   The current version of Android is 4.2/4.3 Jellybean, although Google has announced Android 4.4 KitKat is coming soon.   As fairly well publicised by their recent announcement, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is iOS 7.   Windows is up to Windows Phone 8, although 8.1 is just around the corner.   Finally, BlackBerry is up to BlackBerry 10.2. Given their current business status, Old Taskmaster wouldn’t bet on 10.3.   LCD or AMOLED?   LCD (of various descriptions) and AMOLED are the two common technologies you’ll find powering smartphone screens.   An LCD (liquid crystal display) display is made up of thousands of tiny liquid crystals that modulate light to achieve a desired colour. The light itself is either provided through backlights or through a reflective back panel on the display.   AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are made of a thin film of organic material that lights up when charged by an electric current. The charge that makes different parts of the screen light up is provided by a thin-film transistor that sits behind the organic material.   Which is better?   LCD is the more mature technology of the two. Generally speaking, LCD will be clearer at different viewing angles and produce more realistic colours, but is less good at contrast.   AMOLED colours are brighter, have better contrast and (because they don’t need to be backlit) generally use less power. Traditionally, they are less viewable in direct sunlight.   What’s this resolution business?   Whether your display is LCD or AMOLED, the number of pixels or dots of colour per square inch of screen size determine how clear your image is. In the past, Windows PCs used 96 points per inch, while Apple Macs used 72. The usual standard for the printing industry is 300 dots per inch. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 displays 441 pixels per inch.   Dual-core? Quad-core? Octo-core? What-the-core?   Historically, most computers were built around a single processor – called the CPU (central processing unit) – that computer programs ran on. One processor core, one chip, one computer.   These days, most smartphones have more than one of these processor cores on a single physical computer chip, and these are known as multi-core processors. In effect, it’s like having two or four computer CPUs on your phone, except they’ve been shrunk down to fit on a single piece of silicon.   Most current smartphones use a quad-core processor, although some older ones use a dual-core processor, while octo-core processors are beginning to be offered on some newer models.   How is the processor in my smartphone different to the one in my computer?   If you open up your PC or Mac, you’ll probably find it’s built around an Intel processor. The ancestor of this chip was the 8088 and 8086 chips in the very first IBM PCs.   Over the past couple of decades, the design of these chips has been optimised for maximise performance, often at the expense of using more power.   In contrast, the processor in your smartphone is most likely an ARM chip. Its great ancestor first appeared in a 1985 accelerator card add-on for the BBC Micro B. (Yes, the BBC Micro B is a distant relative of your smartphone!) Acorn’s Archimedes and Apple’s Newtons used this series of chips, too.   Because they’ve spent most of the past 20 years being used in mobile devices, they’ve been optimised for battery life as well as performance.   But my smartphone processor is built by Qualcomm/Nvidia/Samsung?   ARM comes up with the basic designs for its processors. It then licenses them to a range of other chip companies, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and Apple.   In turn, these companies don’t usually make chips, they just market them. The chips themselves are manufactured by companies with chip manufacturing plants (foundries), including TSMC and Samsung.   SNS integration?   It stands for Social Network Service. It’s a fancy, jargony way of saying this phone has an app or hub that pulls your social media messages into one place.   Over to you   Are there any other bits of smartphone jargon you’ve heard but have been too afraid to ask about? If so, leave your question in the comments below!   Mobile and mobile commerce is an increasingly critical part of every business. If there’s some piece of mobile mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, make sure you get it cleared up!   Get it done – today!

Aussie tech start-ups invited to become million pound poms

5:08PM | Sunday, 26 May

Australian start-ups are being encouraged to enter a global competition called the Million Pound Startup, which will award £1 million ($1.55 million) to a technology company willing to relocate to London.   The Million Pound Startup, facilitated by UK-based not-for-profit Digital Shoreditch, is designed to encourage young tech companies to set up operations in London in return for £1 million.   The winner will not only receive £1 million but will also receive support and assistance from competition partners including the Tech City Investment Organisation, and Schools for Startups.   Competition entrants will need to demonstrate they have the capability of using the £1 million equity investment to build a £100 million company based in London.   Entrant turnover must be less than £1 million per year and the company must have been trading for less than 10 years. The competition is open until August 29, with the final in December.   The £1 million is being sourced through a combination of angel funding, institutional capital and equity crowdfunding.   The investment process will be managed by Seedrs, a UK-based crowdfunding platform regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.   The competition partners and judges will work together to ensure the winning company is not only of a high calibre but successfully completes due diligence.   The competition also offers a small equity stake to the company or individual who promotes the winner. Promoters are required to pre-register on the Million Pound Startup website.   If there is a specific promoter registered to the winner of the competition, they will receive a 1% equity stake in the company.   According to Mayor of London Boris Johnson, London is a “terrific home” for tech start-ups and a world leader in the sector.   “This competition is an aptly innovative approach, which I hope will unleash even more of the entrepreneurial talent for which this city is renowned,” Johnson said in a statement.   Similarly, TCIO deputy chief executive Benjamin Southworth said in a statement the competition “perfectly demonstrates how London and the UK are open for business”.   “Entrepreneurs based here can benefit from the world’s most ambitious package of policies, businesses incentives, tax and visa support as well as the diverse and vibrant start-up ecosystem in Tech City,” he said.   This isn’t the UK’s first attempt to lure start-ups from other countries.   In January last year, 300 tech start-ups from around the world were invited to the StartUp Games, held at the same time as the London 2012 Paralympics, in a bid to attract young companies to London.   The UK government is also keen to boost entrepreneurship in its own ranks, particularly among young people.   In March last year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the StartUp Loans scheme for budding entrepreneurs aged 18-24, who will receive loans of around £2,500.   Cameron said he hoped the initiative will lead to 30,000 additional start-ups.   Cameron told the BBC he wants young people to have the confidence and support to turn “that spark of an idea into the next global brand”.   The UK also saw the launch of StartUp Britain in March 2011. StartUp Britain, which is built around an online portal, delivers support and advice to start-ups.

THE NEWS WRAP: BHP Billiton calls for executive pay disclosure reform

3:15AM | Monday, 11 March

Mining giant BHP Billiton has called on the Gillard government to overhaul current executive pay disclosure laws.

Improve the way you share files

11:06AM | Thursday, 15 November

When it comes to sharing files between computers at work, Old Taskmaster still remembers the days of the old ‘sneakernet’.

TV mogul Simon Cowell to launch X Factor-style series for start-ups

3:01AM | Tuesday, 12 March

A prominent Australian entrepreneur has called for a domestic television series on start-ups, following TV mogul Simon Cowell’s launch of an X Factor-inspired show for tech entrepreneurs in the UK.

Start-up gathering TiECON Sydney launches “25 words or less” comp

9:54AM | Monday, 24 September

Entrepreneurial convention TiECon Sydney has launched a “25 words or less” competition, offering the winner a two-hour timeslot at its conference, as Australian start-ups vie for prizes in increasingly unusual ways.

THE NEWS WRAP: Business Council of Australia chief calls for major reforms and cuts to public service

9:16PM | Thursday, 20 September

The head of the Business Council of Australia has called for government bureaucracy to be radically reformed, claiming that Australian firms are unable to plan for the long term because they are “second guessed” by public servants.

Four brilliant uses of video by start-ups

8:11AM | Friday, 10 August

Trying to sell a new product or service isn’t easy.

10 essential entrepreneurial videos

1:13AM | Tuesday, 8 January

This article first appeared June 15th, 2012.   There’s nothing quite like seeing entrepreneurship in action. A business’ facts and figures may catch the eye, but it’s not until you see the founder talk about their idea that it truly comes to life and fires the imagination.

UK launches StartUp Loans scheme – here’s how local schemes measure up

5:07AM | Tuesday, 29 May

A loan scheme worth more than £80 million ($127 million) has been launched in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister David Cameron, designed to give young entrepreneurs a much-needed leg-up.

Tiger Pistol plans Asian rollout following $1.15 million angel round

5:09PM | Monday, 21 May

Melbourne-based start-up Tiger Pistol has launched a social marketing platform specifically for SMEs, after raising $1.15 million in an angel round led by Australian investor David Solomon.

THE NEWS WRAP: Murdoch to “hit back” over sabotage allegations

3:19PM | Thursday, 29 March

News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch has indicated he is preparing to “hit back” at what he describes as the “lies” directed towards his business.

Sticking to your start-up pitching script

3:03AM | Monday, 11 March

As anyone who has watched top-notch BBC series Dragon’s Den will know, there are some definite no-nos when it comes to pitching your start-up idea.

Start-up exporting woe

5:30AM | Wednesday, 2 May

Australian start-ups may be regularly told that they are playing in an increasingly global marketplace, but the view beyond our shores currently isn’t very enticing.

Google Maps to charge for heavy usage

11:54AM | Tuesday, 1 November

Developers that use Google Map links for their websites will be charged for heavy usage of the service as of next year, although the search giant claims the new fees are designed to protect small developers.

THE NEWS WRAP: Tony Abbott backs away from supporting plain cigarette packaging

5:42PM | Tuesday, 17 May

Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott has backed away from supporting plain cigarette packaging, saying that that the Government’s proposals could prove “counterproductive.”

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