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Instacart workers go on strike after rejecting mild concessions

The service did say it had sourced hand sanitizer that would ship next week, but workers saw this as indicative of Instacart dragging its heels. Shoppers said they had been asking for sanitizer for "many, many weeks," but the company was only now conceding to this demand.

We've asked Instacart for comment on the decision to continue with the strike.

It's not certain how many workers are participating in the measure, but it might have a tangible impact. Instacart is already struggling to cope with the surge in demand from customers determined to avoid grocery store trips that could increase the risk of virus infections, and losing even some of those workers to a strike could exacerbate the situation. The question is whether or not the impact will prompt further changes, especially when Instacart has upward of 300,000 new workers on the way.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/instacart-workers-go-on-strike-despite-concessions/

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Online grocery deliveries are facing an unprecedented stress test

One of the biggest problems is that delivery time slots are seemingly impossible to come by. After filling out their carts, customers would attempt to check out, only to find that all of the delivery options are suddenly unavailable. We spoke to a few shoppers, who told us of the various issues they encountered.

Mark Gerolimatos, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he's been unable to order groceries from Amazon Fresh for three to four days. "I found that using Fresh has become 'reFresh constantly,' not unlike trying to get tickets to some stupid concert," he said. After constant reloading, he was able to get a delivery time slot, but by then the cart was empty, as all the goods were gone. He also tried the Safeway app, but all slots were reserved as well.

Keenan from Los Angeles reported similar issues. "I've literally been trying to order Amazon Fresh for the past week or longer," he said. "I kept on top of it, and just kept trying day after day, multiple times per day and hour, which was exhausting to say the least [...] If you go through that entire process over and over as items continue to sell out, let me tell you that isn't fun." After trying for over a week, Keenan did eventually chance upon an open window for delivery and had his groceries delivered.

Both Keenan and Gerolimatos were not frequent users of online groceries prior to the coronavirus lockdown, as they are both able-bodied enough to shop for them in-person. But for many others, like the elderly or the disabled, online groceries are a valuable alternative to in-store shopping. Yasmin, a San Antonio attorney with AMC (Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita), a disorder that restricts her movements, was a frequent user of Instacart, Favor (a delivery service for HEB, a Texas-based grocery chain) as well as Amazon Fresh. But the coronavirus has changed that.

"I haven't been able to order anything," she said of both Amazon Fresh and HEB. "Every time I attempt to order groceries, I'm told that there aren't any slots and the earliest anything can be delivered is late next week." Yasmin does have a care provider, but she hasn't been able to go to the store for her as often as she'd like due to the size of the lines and the risk involved. In the meantime, Yasmin has a stockpile of toilet paper and food, but she's concerned that it'll run out. "I haven't been able to get any paper towels, and my care provider has had to go to many stores just to find milk," she said. "I can't tell you how anxious this has made me." Yasmin said she is lucky to even have a care provider and is worried about what would happen without her. "I would probably be in a much more dire situation than I am now."

Then there are those ordering groceries for their elderly parents. Angie from Seattle was trying to do so from Walmart but said there were no delivery slots for a whole week (though she was able to order successfully from Wegmans, another grocery store chain). Corey B. from Virginia was trying to use Instacart to deliver to his grandmother who's based in rural Massachusetts, but couldn't. "Instacart allowed me to select a delivery slot [...] then told me they couldn't make the delivery and I should reschedule (though they have no slots available at all)," he said. "My grandma is 96 and lives alone 500 miles away and was counting on this food to get by."

Several of these companies have provided statements that they're trying their best to meet demand. "We've seen an increase in people shopping online for groceries and are working around the clock to continue to deliver grocery orders to customers as quickly as possible," said an Amazon spokesperson. Amazon also limited the purchase quantities of high-demand items like toilet paper and stopped taking orders for non-essentials in France and Italy.

Instacart gave a similar statement: "As consumer demand continues to climb, our teams are working around the clock to ensure we can reliably serve the millions of customers turning to Instacart as an essential service provider. Over the last three weeks, Instacart has seen the highest customer demand in company history with billions of dollars of groceries being sold on our platform." As for the delivery window issue, the company said that they are "specific to individual store volume and shopper availability." It also announced plans to hire 300,000 additional Instacart shoppers over the next three months.

The reality is, prior to the coronavirus-fueled demand, online grocery deliveries have been a relatively tough sell in the US. Even though the idea has been around for several years now -- Peapod, arguably the country's first-ever internet grocery store was founded in 1989 -- it has never really caught on stateside.

A Kantar Consulting study in 2018 reported that while only 4.4 percent of grocery sales in the US are done online, that number is significantly higher in South Korea, where it's 19.1 percent. It's also higher in the UK and Japan, at 7.2 and 7.7 percent respectively. Much of that could be because the US is just so spread out compared to these other countries, plus there could also be a cultural component where Americans simply prefer to buy groceries in person. That's partly why so many online grocery services like Webvan and Kozmo failed. The only company to survive those early years is the aforementioned Peapod, which has so far focused on denser cities like New York City and Chicago, and has been far wiser with its money.

In recent years, however, it seems like online groceries have been on the rise. Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger have all made investments in the space. Amazon in particular has been aggressive in rolling out its Fresh grocery delivery service, which expanded to 18 cities last fall. Most of these companies also rely on independent contractors to deliver their groceries, which theoretically makes delivery cheaper to implement.

But the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the gig-economy too. Laurice Wardini, an Instacart shopper, tells CNBC that she tried to shop for groceries only to find that the store is out of stock of certain items, and has had to cancel the order as a result. Austen Risolvato, who was visiting her parents in Los Angeles from London, encountered a particularly troublesome Instacart experience that went beyond just deliveries.

"Our shopper was a really lovely woman that was great in a bad situation," Risolvato told Engadget. According to her, the shopper had a problem where the card issued to her by Instacart wasn't working in the store. After some back-and-forth, the shopper simply decided to use her own credit card to pay for it, and Risolvato would pay her back. Unfortunately, this resulted in the shopper having her account suspended, because she had accidentally used her mother's credit card instead of her own, and was subsequently accused of fraud.

"She's a single mom and this is her job," said Risolvato. "She's uploaded the receipts they requested to show that it wasn't improper use of the card. Their customer service has been insanely bad." Most recently, Instacart workers have also lobbied to go on strike over the lack of COVID-19 protections.

So far, it seems that the best way to be well-stocked with groceries is to plan ahead and make your order before you're out of supplies. Most of the major retailers like Amazon and Walmart simply recommend refreshing the page or checking back until there is a delivery slot (which, as we warned above, can take several days). You could try other smaller online delivery services such as Mercato that work directly with smaller high-end grocers. Alternatively, consider local resources like organizations that deliver CSA (community-supported agriculture) boxes of produce directly to your door. Some local farms, butchers and smaller grocers might also have their own delivery or pickup options.

That said, online deliveries might not be so difficult to come by in the future. As we mentioned, companies like Amazon and Instacart are investing in more resources and hiring more workers to meet the demand. Plus, panic-shopping should die down over time.

At first glance, it might seem like big companies like these would be able to handle online deliveries on a large scale; after all, these are huge multimillion-dollar corporations. Plus, there's the fact that companies like Amazon have spent years building a reputation of bold promises like same-day deliveries, two-hour delivery windows and being the one-stop-shop of your everyday life. Clearly, however, even with such a wealth of resources, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be too much to handle.

Of course, the extent of the coronavirus pandemic hasn't affected just online grocery deliveries; every aspect of the economy has been hit hard. The fact that online grocery deliveries have failed to keep up with the increased demand due to the coronavirus is not surprising. But you can't blame consumers from feeling disappointed when, after all those grand promises, the service fails them when they need it most.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/coronavirus-online-grocery-delivery/

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Microsoft’s Edge browser will add vertical tabs and tracking prevention

Edge -- which is built on Google's open-source Chromium -- allows adventurous users to test out new features in its Insider program. Microsoft hopes to enable vertical tabs for its testing community in the next few months. The feature will provide an uncluttered view of the tabs the user has open, allowing for more intuitive switching. The screenshot provided by Microsoft makes it look like a user will be able to scroll through a list that shows the favicon and name of each open website. This will hopefully prevent the common headache of closing the wrong tab.

One unique feature that Edge currently offers on desktop is called Collections. Users can drag articles they're researching into the Collections area, and Edge will organize the information into a visually pleasing arrangement, ready for quick reference or for printing. Microsoft says that the workflow is coming soon to the mobile version of Edge. This might be useful for doing light research on-the-go and then hunkering down when a user is back on their laptop or desktop.

Some more minor updates will be coming to Edge, as well. Tracking prevention lets a user choose from three presets of security measures to fit their preferences, while Password Monitor will let a user know if their credentials have been exposed on the dark web. Finally, Immersive Reader provides a distraction-free mode so users can concentrate on reading an article.

These updates show that Microsoft is serious about contending with Google and Mozilla. Hopefully the competition will bring some innovation to web browsers, which haven't seen a major revolution in some time.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/edge-browser-vertical-tabs-tracking-prevention/

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FCC outlines $200 million COVID-19 telehealth plan

The COVID-19 Telehealth Program would use funds allocated for the FCC in the CARES Act. If approved, it would provide select applicants with full funding for eligible telehealth services and devices. Pai also presented plans for a longer-term Connected Care Pilot Program, which would make $100 million available over three years to help health care providers implement telehealth services, with an emphasis on serving low-income Americans and veterans.

The FCC also said that, during the pandemic, it won't kick users out of its Lifeline program, which provides monthly discounts on broadband and voice services to low-income customers. Lifeline providers are normally required to de-enroll subscribers who they believe are no longer eligible, but the FCC says it will suspend that requirement until at least May 29th.

The Pai-era FCC is notorious for cracking down on alleged Lifeline abuse. In November, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the FCC's aggressive stance may be hurting low-income households more than it helps. Since 2017, enrollment has dropped by 2.3 million people. In the District of Columbia, 49 percent of Lifeline users lost their subsidies between March 2018 and June 2019, and Mississippi, Wyoming and Puerto Rico saw similarly drastic drops.

"Our priority right now is keeping Americans connected to broadband and phone service when they need it most. These proactive measures will go a long way in minimizing the risk that a low-income consumer might lose service during the COVID-19 crisis," Pai said in a press release.

US wireless carriers have already pledged to suspend cancellations during the COVID-19 outbreak, and ATT, Comcast, Sprint and T-Mobile have taken additional steps to keep subscribers connected.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/fcc-covid-19-telehealth-funding-lifeline/

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Riot’s competitive hero shooter ‘Valorant’ enters closed beta next week

To enter the closed beta, you'll need to sign up for a Riot account, link it to Twitch and then watch people stream the game for a chance to get an invite. At the moment, the game is a PC exclusive. But with modest requirements across the board, don't let that discourage you from trying to get into the closed beta if you're interested.

To play Valorant at 30 frames per second, Riot says you'll want a computer with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor and an integrated HD 3000 graphics card. Basically, almost any PC made in the last decade or so should be able to run the game. Playing the game at 60 and 144 frames per second won't require cutting edge hardware either. At the top end, Riot says a computer with an Intel Core i5 4460 processor, GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU and 4GB of RAM will do the trick. That said, even something like a seven-year-old GeForce GT 730 will get you to 60 frames per second.

The closed beta should be a good opportunity for people to see what Valorant is all about and whether it stands out in a crowded field that includes behemoths like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six Siege.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/valorant-closed-beta-april-7th/

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Apple brings ProRes RAW support to Windows video editors

Transcoding media -- especially big files like those that use RAW codecs -- can take a lot of time and resources. When a videographer shoots in one format, but the editor has to convert the footage to another, the workflow screeches to a halt. Apple's new software will hopefully provide a fast track for teams that use both Macs and PCs. That said, pros -- who work on short deadlines and are thus rather cautious about changing their workflows -- may shy away from using it until it's proven to be reliable.

Cinema cameras typically provide several RAW codec options, including first-party options. For example, Canon cameras like the C-300 Mark II work with both Apple ProRes RAW and Canon's own RAW formats. Many external recorders -- which grab a signal via the host camera's HDMI output -- are also capable of capturing ProRes RAW footage. These files are then sent to a color corrector or editor for refinements and assembly.

ProRes RAW was off to a rough start when it launched a few years ago. It wasn't supported by many cameras, capture devices or editing suites. However, that seems to be changing slowly. Canon, Blackmagic, Arri, Red and many other manufacturers now provide the ability to shoot in Apple's format. By bringing Creative Cloud editors who use PCs into the fold, adoption could increase -- though more and more pro editors are moving from Premiere Pro to Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/apple-prores-raw-support-windows/

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Facebook makes it easier to see how much it knows about you

On Facebook, Download Your Information will also show you some of the inferences Facebook makes about you. For instance, it might show you that it's recommending football-related content because you shared an article about football with a friend. And on Instagram, you'll be able to see categories assigned to some accounts -- like sports or fashion -- that are used to suggest content in the Explore tab.

You probably won't do much with this data, but it could be interesting to see how Facebook and Instagram are keeping tabs on you and why they're recommending certain content. Last year, Facebook also increased transparency about ads, sharing details about why you were matched with specific advertising. While it may seem like this is a noble step for Facebook, it's driven, at least in part, by regulation like the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act. As we've said before, Facebook only cares about privacy because it has to.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/facebook-instagram-download-your-data/

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Niantic is doing more to help ‘Pokémon Go’ gamers play at home

Niantic isn't done making it easier to play its location-based games while you're staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The developer has outlined some of its future plans for titles like Pokémon Go, Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it's quite clear that you won't have to step outside to make progress during the outbreak. Adventure Sync will better support indoor activities (say, running on a treadmill). Pokémon Go Raid Battles will be playable at home. Social features will help you keep in touch with players you can't see in person, and there are even plans to help you "virtually visit" real-world locations.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/niantic-play-at-home-efforts/

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Steam limits game auto-updates to manage peak demand

Like Microsoft, Sony and others, Valve is grappling with a surge in game service use now that the pandemic has many people staying at home. This move might irk you if there are games that you play at sparse but regular intervals (say, once-a-week strategy game sessions), but it could be helpful if it keeps downloads speedy and prevents other Steam services from buckling at peak periods.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/steam-limits-game-auto-updates/

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Apple Music’s Come Together space puts its upbeat playlists in one place

For instance, the Isolation Icebreakers playlist embedded below features songs from RB artists like Daniel Caesar and Snoh Aalegra. The Home-School-Strumentals mix, meanwhile, will appeal to lo-fi fans with tunes from Kaytranada, J-Dilla, Nujabes and more. Some of the other artists who make appearances across the space include the Jonas Brothers, Drake and Kanye West, so there should be something for every musical taste. And with clever titles like Social Distancing Social Club, some you may end up checking out most based on their names alone.

Apple says all the new playlists are available to listen to in the US starting today, and will be available in other countries by the end of the week. As with the Get Up! Mix, Apple plans to update the playlists over time to add new material to keep them fresh. Besides the new playlists, the company has, for the most part, tried to keep things business as usual at Apple Music. The platform's Beats 1 station continues to broadcast, even if the hosts are doing so from home.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2020/03/30/apple-music-come-together/

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