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The United States Supreme Court called a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks constitutional on Friday, overturning the country’s founding abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court also upheld that there cannot be any restriction on how far into a pregnancy abortion can be banned.
When Politico first broke the news months before SCOTUS’s final ruling, a slew of bills entered Congress to protect data privacy and prevent the sale of data, which can be triangulated to see if a person has had an abortion or if they are seeking an abortion and have historically been used by antiabortion individuals who would collect this information during their free time.
Democratic lawmakers led by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called on Google to stop collecting location data. The chair of the Federal Trade Commission has long voiced plans for the agency to prevent data collection. A week after the news, California Assembly passed A.B. 2091, a law that would prevent insurance companies and medical providers from sharing information in abortion-related cases (the state Senate is scheduled to deliberate on it in five days).
These scattered bills attempt to do what health privacy laws do not. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was established in 1996 when the Internet was still young and most people carried flip phones. The act declared health institutions were not allowed to share or disclose patients’ health information. Google, Apple and a slew of fertility and health apps are not covered under HIPAA, and fertility app data can be subpoenaed by law enforcement.
California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (or CMIA), goes further than HIPAA by encompassing apps that store medical information under the broader umbrella of health institutions that include insurance companies and medical providers. And several how-tos on protecting data privacy during Roe v. Wade have been published in the hours of the announcement.
But reproductive rights organizations say data privacy alone cannot fix the problem. According to reproductive health policy think tank Guttmacher Institute, the closest state with abortion access to 1.3 million out-of-state women of reproductive age is California. One report from the UCLA Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy estimates as many as 9,400 people will travel to Los Angeles County every year to get abortions, and that number will grow as more states criminalize abortions.
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It’s no secret that venture capital funding to mental health startups soared during the pandemic, as in-person appointments shuttered and a wave of tech-enabled therapy platforms sprouted. So if you’re a teletherapy startup that’s launching in 2022, how would you differentiate yourself from the BetterHelps and TalkSpaces of the world?
Mindfuli, an Orange County-based therapy platform that launched in California today, is going after what researchers call “therapeutic alliance,” where both the therapist and the patient work collaboratively to achieve the treatment’s goals. It requires both an understanding of what those goals are and how to achieve them, as well as a trusting, respective human bond between the two sides. It’s a significant predictor of good treatment outcomes, yet often not an easy thing to achieve—especially if you’re a patient desperately looking for an in-network therapist who doesn’t have a months-long waitlist. And it’s important because people who don’t get along with their therapist often don’t even try to find a new one—they just stop seeking treatment altogether, instead.
To that end, Mindfuli has both patients and therapists take a TIPI personality test and matches them based on that information, as well as the care provider's expertise and the careseeker’s background and needs.
“You’re not going to say ‘Holy crap, this is advanced technology,’” Christof Meyer, Mindfuli’s chief revenue officer and head of strategy, told me. “It’s 10 questions.”
Over time, Mindfuli—which is currently running on a FEMA grant and hasn’t yet raised venture funding—wants to compile a reservoir of behavioral data and deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze what kinds of questions and interactions make for a good therapeutic alliance. That, in turn, would better allow it to match patients and providers in the future.
I asked Meyer if it’s weird, or even ethically questionable, to use AI to try to determine how well two human beings will interact. His answer was no, because Mindfuli only wants to use it to match care professionals with patients and hopefully increase patient retention. But I’m not so sure about some of these applications. Companies like Santa Monica’s Headspace Health are leveraging data points from intake forms, therapy sessions and chat sessions to suggest acute treatments like sleep exercise or meditation. Apple, meanwhile, is working with UCLA to triangulate data like visual and audible cues to determine how a person feels. Where else does this data go?
Then there’s Boston-based Wysa, which just received FDA Breakthrough Device Designation last month for its AI-based “digital companion.” Wysa’s technology uses behavioral data points to refine how well its conversational therapy chatbots perform when “talking” to patients. Meyer insists that is not Mindfuli’s goal.
“A lot of money is going into [AI therapy technology] and that’s f—ing annoying to me,” Meyer noted, “because that’s dehumanizing the problem at the moment [patients are] screaming for help.” —Keerthi Vedantam
Text message marketing startup Voyage SMS has laid off more than 10% of its staff, including its chief operating officer, dot.LA has learned.
The technology sounds a lot like the autonomous wheeled robots that delivery startups are increasingly using to deliver food—equipped with cameras and proximity sensors that will help it move about crowded parks without running into ankles.
The Santa Monica-based social media firm will pay 25 selected applicants $10,000 per month for one year. The creators will get to beta-test new features and receive mentorship to help them succeed on the Snapchat platform.
Three months after opening its new headquarters in Santa Monica, micromobility startup Veo is expanding its fleet and its footprint. Riders are now able to cross the municipal boundary between Santa Monica and L.A. and take trips north to Will Rogers State Beach, south to Marina Del Rey and east to Mar Vista.
Netflix has imposed its second round of layoffs in less than a month, amounting to roughly 3% of Netflix’s workforce and impacting a number of different teams located mostly in the U.S.
The creator economy is the bedrock of this week’s VidCon convention, which is drawing creators, companies, investors and fans alike to Anaheim to discuss the rapidly growing realm of digital content and entertainment.
On this episode of Behind Her Empire, the serial entrepreneur behind CamilleStyles.com talks about how she learned to take risks, dealing with burnout and gaining the confidence to pursue her passions.
What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
- Netflix confirms it's in talks with potential partners for its ad-supported service.
- TikTok is now available on some Vizio smart TVs.
- Blockchain-based Mythical Games debuts in Epic Games' store.
- L.A.-based ecommerce startup Scalefast is acquired by ESW.
Move over, WALL-E: Guests at Walt Disney’s parks could soon use robotic lockers that follow them around the venue to carry their belongings.
The so-called “robotic Sherpas” are being developed by Disney, which filed a patent for the technology this week, according to the Orlando Business Journal. The technology sounds a lot like autonomous wheeled robots that delivery startups are increasingly using to deliver food – equipped with cameras and proximity sensors that will help it move about crowded parks like Disneyland in Anaheim without running into everyone’s ankles.
The patent filed June 14 said the eventual plan is for guests to be able to summon the robot to zoom back to their location – or anywhere else in the park – from a distance by using a mobile app. Disney is also planning to let staff remotely pilot the robots, the patent said.
An image from the patent filing obtained by local Orlando station Fox 25 showed a drawing of a woman with a baby who could use the robot locker to store her items.
The overall goal is to make retrieving and storing items more convenient for guests. One side goal of the project could be to encourage people to spend more in retail stores – the patent noted people are less likely to buy from gift shops at Disney if they’re already carrying a lot of gear.
“As Imagineers, we're always pushing technology and innovation and testing new applications for possible future opportunities,” Walt Disney spokesperson Diego Parras told OBJ this week. “At this point, we simply are exploring potential uses for this technology and have no plans for specific implementation.”
The patent lists a few items that could be stored in the lockers, including umbrellas or packed lunches. In addition to several locking mechanisms, the robot Sherpas will also have a removable storage compartment so the storage containers can be interchanged.
Lockers already exist at the theme parks, but a mobile locker that could reach guests anywhere would certainly command a premium for the convenience of saving themselves the trek across the park.
Although its parks across the globe reopened beginning in May 2020, Disney took a hit during the pandemic when it had to close down its attractions and lucrative cruises at the beginning of the year. In its second quarter earnings report CEO Bob Chapek said domestic parks are operating basically as normal, but international parks and cruise ships are still impacted by coronavirus restrictions. While people definitely won’t go to parks just to see the eventual robot Sherpas at work, if the tech can encourage guests to spend more while there, it would be a boost to Disney’s bottom line.
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