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Is it safer to fly or drive during the pandemic? Here’s what the experts say.




(CNN) — People are undoubtedly moving around more as vacation season heats up and patience for sheltering at home wears thin.

Many travelers are sticking closer to home with short driving trips, but air travel is on the rise.

More than 500,000 people crossed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at US airports on June 11, the first time numbers have climbed above that mark since the coronavirus pandemic brought travel to a near standstill in March.

Anyone contemplating a trip has probably asked: Is it safer to fly or drive during the pandemic?

As with most things coronavirus, there’s no perfect answer. It depends on the trip, on your behavior and your risk tolerance.

“The risks of travel are usually more dependent on the personal choices of the traveler rather than the means of transport,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Medical Center.

Stops to eat, drink, use the bathroom and sleep on long car trips add risk.

Air travel presents its own challenges.

“Although the air in planes is filtered, the mask usage and hygiene of your fellow passengers may be less than ideal,” Griffin said.

Driving offers travelers more control of their interactions with others.

Driving offers travelers more control of their interactions with others.

George Frey/Getty Images North America

The benefits of driving

Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, believes driving has a leg up on safety.

“When you drive, you have much greater control of your own environment and the people around you and so I would think it’s safer to drive in the present time,” Schaffner said.

Even with restroom and fast food drive-thru stops, “you can control your environment regarding the interaction with other people to a much greater extent than you can traveling on an airliner. And of course whatever time you spend on the plane, you’re in a very enclosed environment with other people, all of whom may not be wearing masks,” he said.

But Schaffner also said if he needed to travel across country, as CNN Travel reader James Armstrong did, he would fly.

Fly or drive: A case study

Armstrong, a single dad in San Diego, California, recently wrestled with the fly-or-drive question for a trip to move his daughter’s belongings out of her dorm at West Virginia University.

“Is it safer to take four flights … lasting 7 hours each way with up to 200 other passengers or is it safer to stay in at least three different hotels in three different states, plus all the restaurant/grocery store stops along the way?,” Armstrong wrote.

Ultimately, he and his daughter and two of his younger children flew across country.

Taking two weeks off work for a cross-country road trip wasn’t viable for Armstrong, who is self employed. He also wasn’t convinced that all the interactions it would take to lodge and feed his family on the cross-country trip would be any safer than flying.

“We looked at it, we weighed it, we looked at the time, we looked at the kids’ school obligations … and we just said, ‘We’re gonna bite the bullet. We’ll wear our masks, we’ll bring little swabs to clean things if we need to … And we’ll wait it out for 14 days hoping nothing happens.”

They’ve been back for a little over two weeks now, and they’re all symptom-free, Armstrong said.

The family saw little enforcement of face covering requirements in airports or during their flights. One flight skipped food and beverage service for safety concerns, but the return flight offered that service.

One flight was less full, but passengers were clustered closer to the front, Armstrong said.

Bottom line: Social distancing and mask compliance on planes and in airports is uneven.

Precautions to take, whether you fly or drive

Either way, wearing a mask when you’re close to other people helps reduce risk.

That includes covering your face when you go through a drive-thru on a road trip and keeping your mask on during a flight.

Eating and drinking on a plane presents its own challenges when fliers aren’t able to sit six feet from passengers outside their cohort.

“The more you’re around unmasked people, the riskier it gets. So maybe you keep your mask on and forgo the drink. But you don’t want to get dehydrated,” said Schaffner.

Griffin agrees that eating or drinking in flight carries risk.

“When people eat on planes, they tend to touch their masks, uncover their nose and mouth and potentially expose themselves and others,” he said.

Keep interactions with other people to a minimum. Using electronic check-in apps and packing your own food helps reduce face-to-face contact.

Wash or sanitize your hands frequently and sanitize surfaces that others may have touched.

But perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re OK with the level of risk you’re taking.

For the Armstrongs, air travel is worth the risk.

“It’s like riding a roller coaster for the first time. You’re pretty scared, but honestly, after that you’re like, ‘OK,’ ” said James Armstrong.

OK enough for another flight? Yes. Armstrong’s daughter flew cross-country again this week.

Her Southwest flight was overbooked for social distancing and the airline repeatedly called to see if she would change her flight, Armstrong said.

She didn’t. But it’s another sign that there’s no guarantee for social distancing on planes.

“You can’t anticipate exactly what’s going to happen,” said Schaffner. “So it’s very much your own sense of risk tolerance.”



Google Assistant’s driving mode for Android is nearly ready, one year later




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Google Assistant driving mode on Android

Google promised an Assistant driving mode for phones would arrive in mid-2019, but that clearly didn’t happen — over a year passed without any sign of it. It appears to be ready, though. XDA-Developers has discovered (via Android Police) that Google Assistant’s driving mode is at least partially enabled for Android users. The interface has changed considerably from the I/O 2019 demo you see above, but the concept remains the same with large buttons and text that let you chat, message and play music while keeping your driving distractions to a minimum.

The rollout appears to be server-side, and might be part of a test. It’s not attached to any particular versions of Google’s Maps or search apps, and also works on a variety of devices. Your access might depend on your account.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

It’s rare for Google to have Android feature delays this long, and it’s not certain what prompted the extended wait. However, the redesign suggests that Google wasn’t completely satisfied with the Assistant driving mode it showed at I/O. Whatever the reasoning, this gives you one more way to handle common tasks during your trips.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.







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Cloud leak exposed sensitive data from over 200,000 voicemails




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Close-up of two IT technician talking and looking at their digital tablets while examining servers.
vm via Getty Images

Some data leaks contain more sensitive info than most. Security researcher Bob Diachenko and Comparitech discovered (via Threatpost) that Broadvoice, a cloud VoIP provider for businesses, left over 350 million records exposed online in an unprotected cluster, including 2 million voicemail records with 200,000 transcripts. Many of those transcripts included sensitive data, and not just common elements like names and phone numbers — medical conditions, mortgages and insurance policies were all left open.

The largest general data collection, 275 million records, typically included full names, phone numbers, and cities.

The company told Comparitech that the data had been stored on September 28th and was locked down October 2nd, a day after Diachenko notified Broadvoice. There hasn’t been evidence of “misuse” so far, the company said. Marketing VP Rebecca Rosen told Threatpost that it believed “less than 10,000” businesses were impacted, although that doesn’t say how many of those companies’ customers were at risk.

The practical damage appears to have been limited as a result. Even so, this illustrates the dangers of insecure data. The wrong decision can expose vast amounts of info, and it can only take a subset of that data to create serious problems.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.







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VCs reload ahead of the election as unicorns power ahead




This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

It was an active week in the technology world broadly, with big news from Facebook and Twitter and Apple. But past the headline-grabbing noise, there was a steady drumbeat of bullish news for unicorns, or private companies worth $1 billion or more.

A bullish week for unicorns

The Exchange spent a good chunk of the week looking into different stories from unicorns, or companies that will soon fit the bill, and it’s surprising to see how much positive financial news there was on tap even past what we got to write about.

Databricks, for example, disclosed a grip of financial data to TechCrunch ahead of regular publication, including the fact that it grew its annual run rate (not ARR) to $350 million by the end of Q3 2020, up from $200 million in Q2 2019. It’s essentially IPO ready, but is not hurrying to the public markets.

Sticking to our theme, Calm wants more money for a huge new valuation, perhaps as high as $2.2 billion which is not a surprise. That’s more good unicorn news. As was the report that “India’s Razorpay [became a] unicorn after its new $100 million funding round” that came out this week.

Razorpay is only one of a number of Indian startups that have become unicorns during COVID-19. (And here’s another digest out this week concerning a half-dozen startups that became unicorns “amidst the pandemic.”)

There was enough good unicorn news lately that we’ve lost track of it all. Things like Seismic raising $92 million, pushing its valuation up to $1.6 billion from a few weeks ago. How did that get lost in the mix?

All this matters because while the IPO market has captured much attention in the last quarter or so, the unicorn world has not sat still. Indeed, it feels that unicorn VC activity is the highest we’ve seen since 2019.

And, as we’ll see in just a moment, the grist for the unicorn mill is getting refilled as we speak. So, expect more of the same until something material breaks our current investing and exit pattern.

Market Notes

What do unicorns eat? Cash. And many, many VCs raised cash in the last seven days.

A partial list follows. It could be that investors are looking to lock in new funds before the election and whatever chaos may ensue. So, in no particular order, here’s who is newly flush:

All that capital needs to go to work, which means lots more rounds for many, many startups. The Exchange also caught up with a somewhat new firm this week: Race Capital. Helmed by Alfred Chuang, formerly or BEA who is an angel investor now in charge of his own fund, the firm has $50 million to invest.

Sticking to private investments into startups for the moment, quite a lot happened this week that we need to know more about. Like API-powered Argyle raising $20 million from Bain Capital Ventures for what FinLedger calls “unlocking and democratizing access to employment records.” TechCrunch is currently tracking the progress of API-led startups.

On the fintech side of things, M1 Finance raised $45 million for its consumer fintech platform in a Series C, while another roboadvisor, Wealthsimple, raised $87 million, becoming a unicorn at the same time. And while we’re in the fintech bucket, Stripe dropped $200 million this week for Nigerian startup Paystack. We need to pay more attention to the African startup scene. On the smaller end of fintech, Alpaca raised $10 million more to help other companies become Robinhood.

A few other notes before we change tack. Kahoot raised $215 million due to a boom in remote education, another trend that is inescapable in 2020 as part of the larger edtech boom (our own Natasha Mascarenhas has more).

Turning from the private market to the public, we have to touch on SPACs for just a moment. The Exchange got on the phone this week with Toby Russell from Shift, which is now a public company, trading after it merged with a SPAC, namely Insurance Acquisition Corp. Early trading is only going so well, but the CEO outlined for us precisely why he pursued a SPAC, which was actually interesting:

  • Shift could have gone public via an IPO, Russell said, but prioritized a SPAC-led debut because his firm wanted to optimize for a capital raise to keep the company growing.
  • How so? The private investment in public equity (PIPE) that the SPAC option came with ensured that Shift would have hundreds of millions in cash.
  • Shift also wanted to minimize what the CEO described as market risk. A SPAC deal could happen regardless of what the broader markets were up to. And as the company made the choice to debut via a SPAC in April, some caution, we reckon, may have made some sense.

So now Shift is public and newly capitalized. Let’s see what happens to its shares as it gets into the groove of reporting quarterly. (Obviously, if it flounders, it’s a bad mark for SPACs, but, conversely, successful trading could lead to a bit more momentum to SPAC-mageddon.)

A few more things and we’re done. Unicorn exits had a good week. First, Datto’s IPO continues to move forward. It set an initial price this week, which could value it above $4 billion. Also this week, Roblox announced that it has filed to go public, albeit privately. It’s worth billions as well. And finally, DoubleVerify is looking to go public for as much as $5 billion early next year.

Not all liquidity comes via the public markets, as we saw this week’s Twilio purchase of Segment, a deal that The Exchange dug into to find out if it was well-priced or not.

Various and Sundry

We’re running long naturally, so here are just a few quick things to add to your weekend mental tea-and-coffee reading!

Next week we are digging more deeply into Q3 venture capital data, a foretaste of which you can find here, regarding female founders, a topic that we returned to Friday in more depth.



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