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Natalia Vodianova: supermodel, mother… tech mogul?

Natalia Vodianova: supermodel, mother… tech mogul?
Natalia Vodianova: supermodel, mother… tech mogul?


It’s just another Thursday in the Vodianova-Arnault household in Paris, a palatial duplex a short stroll from the lush parklands of the Bois de Boulogne. Natalia Vodianova, the 39-year-old Russian supermodel, entrepreneur, investor and mother of five, is posing for our shoot in the sun-dappled back garden. Her husband, the LVMH scion, chairman of Loro Piana and chief executive of Berluti, Antoine Arnault, breezes in and out, while Vodianova’s 19-year-old son, Lucas Portman, from her first marriage to Justin Portman, shows me sneakers from his new fashion line, Fashion Baby.

Portman brandishes his iPhone to demonstrate how you can also try on a pair of his sneakers virtually using the augmented-reality-powered app Wanna Kicks. The app will superimpose onto your feet virtual 3D renders of the latest sneaker releases from various brands such as Nike, Gucci and Reebok (and now Fashion Baby); it’s the digital answer to try-before-you-buy. His joy is infectious. “The images are so good!” he says, aiming his phone towards the feet of anyone within reach.

Post-shoot Vodianova sits down with her business partner, Timon Afinsky, to discuss her own interest in trainers. She is not, as she describes her son, a “sneaker-head” but an angel investor in Wanna, the Moscow-, Minsk- and Vilnius-based augmented-reality startup behind the digital technology. She met founder Sergey Arkhangelskiy, a former engineer at Google, before she knew her son was using the app, but admits that Lucas’s approval sealed the deal. “I was like, OK great, we’re investing!” she says.

Vodianova at home in Paris, wearing a Chufy cotton Yon jumpsuit, $575
Vodianova at home in Paris, wearing a Chufy cotton Yon jumpsuit, $575 © Antoni Ciufo

Brought up in poverty in Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) in the Soviet Union, Vodianova enrolled in a model agency aged 15. By the time she was 17, she had joined Viva Models in Paris and went on to be one of the most successful models of her generation – with a score of contracts and campaigns for brands including Prada, Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Chanel and YSL among others, and a runway career that has seen her on a thousand catwalks, sometimes only weeks after giving birth. Aged 19, she married the property heir Justin Portman and had three children by the age of 25. Following her separation from Portman in 2011, she settled in Paris where, last year, she married Arnault in a tiny civil ceremony. A keen long-distance runner (she has been known to run a half marathon in the morning and hit the catwalk in the afternoon), she is also a passionate philanthropist: her Naked Heart Foundation – which she set up in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege in 2004 – has since raised more than €30m to create playgrounds and help children in her native home. Earnest, direct and utterly independent, Vodianova has always lived as though every day might be her last on earth. 

And right now, she’s all about technology.

Vodianova might have access to a whole clan of Gen-Zers through her children, but she has also spent several years sharpening her own business instincts for the potential of the startup space. Since 2015, she and Afinsky have built an investment portfolio of more than 20 tech businesses, including several success stories such as the go-to photo-editing app PicsArt, the period-tracking app Flo and the sleep-scape app Loóna (named 2020’s best app by Google Play Store). She has also invested in her son’s Fashion Baby, though she admits she did her due diligence before giving it the green light. “In my opinion, there are two things that are very important in fashion: one is to show something fresh and original that we haven’t seen before, and the second is to make it very personal.”

This maxim likely served her well in the curation of her portfolio, which began in 2015 with Elbi, a philanthropic social platform that allowed users to support various causes and make a donation with just the click of a button. “It was born from frustration with the current tech companies and looking at the next stage of the ‘Like’ button,” she says. Elbi has since merged into Locals.org, a neighbourhood network that encourages donating to charity, but its initial messaging at the time caught the attention of other young entrepreneurs. “We had a lot of founders come to us and say, ‘I have this startup and it’s doing well, but I still haven’t figured out what my mission is,’” she says. Afinsky adds, “Sometimes the tech is immaculate but they don’t know how to talk about it.”

Vodianova: ‘Two things are very important in fashion: one is to show something fresh and original – the second is to make it very personal’
Vodianova: ‘Two things are very important in fashion: one is to show something fresh and original – the second is to make it very personal’ © Antoni Ciufo

Despite her career as a model, Wanna is Vodianova’s first fashion investment. “Fashion is such a big contributor to environmental damage, so it wasn’t an area I was looking into,” she says of her investments, which lean towards sustainability. “But with this kind of technology, people will make better choices. Almost all the tech companies that we invest in are, in one way or another, bettering the world.”

Vodianova and Arkhangelskiy met at the Viva Technology fair in Paris in 2019, where Wanna was a finalist for the LVMH Innovation Award. Arkhangelskiy started Wanna in 2017 with Wanna Nails, an augmented-reality app that enabled you to try out different polishes; in 2019, he moved into sneakers with Wanna Kicks. The AR technology was well adapted to the footwear category (it works only on solid objects for now). At the same time, the market was flush with leagues of devoted “sneaker freaker” types, many of whom are digital natives eager to share their latest obsessions on platforms like Snapchat.

Sergey Arkhangelskiy, founder of augmented-reality platform Wanna
Sergey Arkhangelskiy, founder of augmented-reality platform Wanna © Courtesy of Wanna

Gucci was the first brand to license the Wanna software-development kit as part of its greater investment in try-on tech; footwear brand Lamoda, FarFetch and e-commerce sneaker giant Goat followed suit in 2019-20. (Products can then also be pushed through Wanna Kicks’ app, which works as a showcase for the tech software.) FarFetch has so far found that the product-share rate quadrupled for its 100-plus featured styles. “The experience of trying on sneakers in AR is engaging – you get it in one second, it works like magic,” says Arkhangelskiy over Zoom from Moscow.

So far, brands have reported a game-changing uptick in engagement, which is also trickling down to the “conversion rate” (actually buying the stuff). It’s clear, from early data, that the 3D realism offered by AR visuals increases purchasing confidence. In its “The State of Fashion 2021” report, the consulting firm McKinsey said that conversion rates on Shopify increased 250 per cent for products supported by try-on technology. It also likely reduces the rate of returns – the Achilles heel of the e-commerce industry – as well. “Around 30 per cent of returns is often related to visuals, so it’s a sizeable problem,” says Arkhangelskiy.

Vodianova and her son Lucas Portman playing chess, wearing Fashion Baby trainers (available on Wanna Kicks)
Vodianova and her son Lucas Portman playing chess, wearing Fashion Baby trainers (available on Wanna Kicks) © Antoni Ciufo

Before you even click to buy, AR brims with economic possibilities. Even if you can’t afford them, you can still try on the latest Rolex or the sell-out Dior Air Jordan 1 sneakers (currently retailing from £14,163 on FarFetch) purely for fun. “Brands are happy for younger customers to just browse because they might convert in a few years,” Arkhangelskiy says. In the future, he thinks the technology will have broader applications. Not dressed for your next Zoom call? You could one day super-impose the latest look from Gucci onto your body. “I think that in five to 10 years, a reasonable chunk of a fashion brand’s revenue will come from digital items,” he predicts. An early test case: in March, Gucci launched a neon-coloured, digital-only sneaker named the Gucci Virtual 25 with Wanna that costs around $9. Users can wear the trainers like a filter on social media, but they can also download the style for their digital avatars on the virtual-reality social platform VRChat and the online game Roblox. The gaming world opens up other possible revenue streams for AR — see former magazine editor Lucy Yeomans’ luxury fashion game, Drest, where you can shop from a digital wardrobe (FarFetch is a retail partner) and style a supermodel avatar of your choice.

Vodianova, who happens to be an avatar on Drest, first recognised AR’s potential when she invested in Voir, a make-up app that allows you to test a palette of products in real time. From that experience, she recognised that the technology holds great promise for the luxury fashion sector where, historically, the online experience pales in comparison to the service and atmosphere of a flagship boutique: “We understood from that machine that AR would be a direction that fashion will go – it gives online shopping much more premium and a much more personal experience.” For now, this is where Arkhangelskiy is focused: “At the moment, only around 12 per cent of luxury purchases happen online,” he says, adding that he feels the technology hasn’t evolved all that much in the past 25 years. “We want to disrupt that market, to create engaging 3D experiences, and fill that gap between online and offline.”

Lucas wears Fashion Baby cotton hoodie, Natalia wears Fashion Baby cotton T-shirt, both POA
Lucas wears Fashion Baby cotton hoodie, Natalia wears Fashion Baby cotton T-shirt, both POA © Antoni Ciufo. Hair, Kyris Eracleous at Balmain Hair Salon. Make-up, Thomas Lorenz at Home Agency using Guerlain. Photographer’s assistant, Edouard Malfettes

AR, for now, does not offer a perfect fit (this is separate AI technology, plugged in by the likes of Fit Analytics and True Fit) and it only works on certain items. “When we start looking at clothing or soft items and layering in true size and fit technology, it will start to become huge,” says Carol Hilsum, the senior director of product innovation at FarFetch. Anita Balchandani, a partner at McKinsey, agrees: “We’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the tech is being deployed, but the true power of AR will be ready-to-wear, which can incorporate movement.” 

Arkhangelskiy is confident the technology they dream of is already not so far off. His research team and engineers are looking at developing software that will superimpose a product on a photo of the client (after you upload it to a site), but he also says real-time try-on tech for ready-to-wear might be ready as early as 2022. “The technology and the power of phones is vast and advancing quite quickly,” he says. “The market is ready.”

Vodianova at her wedding to Antoine Arnault, Paris, 2020
Vodianova at her wedding to Antoine Arnault, Paris, 2020 © German Larkin

Serge Benhamou/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
With Lucas in Paris, 2003 © Serge Benhamou/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

At a Moscow school, opening an inclusive playground created by her Naked Heart Foundation, 2019
At a Moscow school, opening an inclusive playground created by her Naked Heart Foundation, 2019 © Vladimir Gerdo/Tass via Getty Images

Certainly, the timing has never seemed so urgent. The advent of the pandemic last year fuelled what McKinsey called a “digital sprint” for brands. “We learned that our store network could be shut down overnight, so how do we continue to deliver best-in-class luxury experiences online?” says Grégory Boutté, chief client and digital officer at luxury group Kering. “We have doubled down on those efforts.” Kering houses many of the luxury leaders in the digital space, including early adopters like Gucci and Balenciaga, who have long embraced an impressive digital arsenal that includes both AR and the more immersive virtual-reality experience. “3D, 360-degree views of products have the huge potential for luxury online experiences to recreate the kind of magic you get inside the store,” says Boutté.

For Arkhangelskiy, Vodianova has been a conduit into the world of high luxury. “I am not a fashionista and I don’t have any of those connections,” he says, adding that it was Vodianova who made the introductions to FarFetch. For each of her investments, she commits to a similar, hands-on approach, taking on a role that ranges from ambassadorial to advisory. She admits to reading most of the user reviews and Instagram comments on many of her apps – many of which she and her family use daily. Arnault is a fan of Loóna to get back to sleep. Vodianova is a disciple of another of her investments, Zenia, the world’s first AI-based virtual yoga assistant, which uses AI motion-tracking to provide posture feedback in real time.

And she and Afinsky have just launched another new business that has been oddly serendipitous. “In 2016, we were in a science museum in Tokyo in front of a display that showed the negative events in human history and a pattern of how an unknown virus comes into the world every six to seven years,” she explains. “We thought,” adds Afinsky, “‘Why wait for the next virus?’” 

Wearing a Masuku mask, £49, launched by Vodianova and her business partner Timon Afinsky
Wearing a Masuku mask, £49, launched by Vodianova and her business partner Timon Afinsky

The result of their intuition, and four years of development, is the Masuku face mask, a hardcover reusable mask fitted with a patented nano-fibre filter (compostable) that not only protects against airborne pathogens, allergens and pollution but allows for easy breathability too. Further, it offers a stylish solution to what Vodianova calls the current “plastic horror”, and fits on the face without crowding the mouth or nose. Arnault walks past. “Baby, do you want to testify how you keep forgetting about Masuku and try to drink coffee while it is on?” she asks him. “It’s true,” he says, a little sheepishly.

The plan is to add microchip technology that reads air quality to the masks. “I showed the prototype to Jony Ive, and he called it ‘the next wearable device’,” she says. As advances in tech continue to cut both ways, it seems that Vodianova has had a little fate on her side. “I wouldn’t call it lucky,” she says. “I believe that companies with a mission have more of a chance of being successful.”



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WhatsApp privacy policy update: No, you will not lose any functions, clarifies company

WhatsApp privacy policy update: No, you will not lose any functions, clarifies company
WhatsApp privacy policy update: No, you will not lose any functions, clarifies company


In January this year, WhatsApp announced an update to its privacy policy. The Facebook-owned company later announced a 15 May deadline to accept the policy. The company has assured that despite crossing the deadline, users will not lose any functions.

The company’s spokesperson told Mint, “WhatsApp continues to provide an important way for friends and family to stay in touch during this difficult time. While the majority of users have already approved our update, no one will lose functionality on May 15 if they haven’t yet and we’ll be sure to provide reminders at a later time.”

“We want everyone to know that this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages. We’re providing information about new options we are building to communicate with businesses that people may choose to use in the future. We’re grateful for the important role WhatsApp plays in people’s lives and we’ll take every opportunity to explain how we protect people’s personal messages and private information,” they added.

The clarification came after earlier reports that suggested that WhatsApp will start cutting down some critical features from the application for users who do not accept the new privacy update.

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Instagram may soon allow users to upload images, create posts through desktops

Instagram may soon allow users to upload images, create posts through desktops
Instagram may soon allow users to upload images, create posts through desktops


Until recently, Instagram did not allow users to access the picture sharing platform through the desktop. However, that changed and now, new features will bring the desktop version of the platform closer to its application counterpart.

A recent leak has suggested that Instagram might soon allow users to post pictures and videos through the desktop version of their platform. Leakster Alessandro Paluzzi has claimed that the social media platform is testing the new feature.

Paluzzi also shared screenshots of the new feature via his official Twitter handle. By the looks of the new feature, Instagram is planning to provide a user experience similar to the application.

The user can use images and video in the local computer storage to upload it to Instagram. Further, they will have the options to add filters, crop images before posting it. The desktop version will also allow the user to add a description and location, similar to the process on the application.

There is no certainty as to when this new feature will be rolled out. Currently, users can only view content via the desktop version.

Instagram has also started showing ads in the format of the reels. The picture-sharing platform will be showing advertisements within ‘Reels’ feature. The organisation has started testing advertisements in the feature in select nations like India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, showing them in the middle of regular content posted by users.

Advertisements in Instagram Reels can be as long as 30 seconds in length and will have a similar vertical and full-screen design as regular uploads on ‘Reels’. Earlier, the platform had implemented ads in their Story feature. However, unlike Instagram Story advertisements, the ads on Instagram Reels can be commented on, liked, saved and also shared.

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Airtel offers digital tools to support users affected by Covid-19

Airtel offers digital tools to support users affected by Covid-19
Airtel offers digital tools to support users affected by Covid-19


New Delhi: Airtel has rolled out new digital tools for its users to help those affected by Covid-19. Bharti Airtel has joined the list of other brands that are trying to provide information and tools to affected users amid the second wave of the pandemic.

The company is using Airtel Thanks application in order to segregate useful information regarding Covid-19. The details can be found in the app’s Explore section. To avail relevant resources, users would need to download the latest version of Airtel Thanks app (iOS, Android), go to the ‘Explore’ section and click on the Covid support banners.

“Covid SOS aggregates verified and updated contacts for important supplies such as medicines, oxygen, plasma donors, ambulance, hospital beds, and testing centres. With a few clicks, the platform connects users to these service providers/resources and tries to ensure that users do not have to waste precious time to access this data,” the statement said.

According to the company, the information available on ‘Covid SOS’ is verified by their teams. 

For help with vaccination, Airtel Thanks app will allow users to book slots as it has integrated CoWin platform API (Application Programming Interface). Users will be able to look into real-time information about available slots.

“Airtel Thanks users can also book a vaccination slot for themselves and their loved ones through the app,” the statement said.

Another feature allows businesses to create free helpline for employees with Airtel IQ. “Business of all sizes can set up free Covid Helpline for their employees within two minutes with Airtel IQ – a cloud communication platform. Airtel is giving 5,000 minutes with each Helpline account so that businesses can stay connected with their employees and organise their efforts,” it said.

This new feature is aimed at medium to small-sized companies that can set up a secure helpline instantly without any in-house telco infrastructure.

India in a day recorded 3,26,098 COVID-19 cases that took the tally to 2,43,72,907, while 3,890 new fatalities pushed the death toll to 2,66,207, according to Union health ministry data updated on Saturday.

A massive rise in infections during the second deadly wave of the pandemic has led to hospitals in several states reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen, beds, and other critical infrastructure.

With Inputs from PTI

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WhatsApp privacy policy goes live: What all changes if you don’t accept update

WhatsApp privacy policy goes live: What all changes if you don’t accept update
WhatsApp privacy policy goes live: What all changes if you don’t accept update


WhatsApp’s new privacy policy will be coming into effect on Saturday. The instant messaging platform had pushed the deadline to accept the new privacy policy to May 15 earlier this year after facing severe criticism from privacy advocates. With the deadline finally here, WhatsApp has revealed what exactly will happen to users who still don’t accept the privacy policy.

The Facebook-owned chat application had put out an official blog stating the changes that users will experience if they don’t accept the privacy policy, moving forward.

WhatsApp has confirmed that they won’t stop users from accessing the instant messaging platform completely on the previously mentioned deadline of 15 May. The company announced that no one will lose functionality of the application due to the privacy policy update. However, the services on the application may be limited.

The Facebook-owned application will continue to remind users to accept the new privacy policy. WhatsApp claims that after a period of several weeks, the reminder people receive will eventually become persistent.

Once users start receiving a persistent reminder, they will encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp until they accept the updates. However, WhatsApp claims that this will not happen to all users at the same time.

WhatsApp users won’t be able to access their chat list but users will still be able to answer incoming phone and video calls. If the user has notifications enabled, they can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call.

As a few more weeks pass, the user won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to their phone.

The user will be able to export their chat history on Android or iPhone, and download a report of their account. WhatsApp won’t delete their account if they don’t accept the update.

Deleting the account erases message history, removes the user from all of their WhatsApp groups, and deletes their WhatsApp backups.

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How traders might exploit quantum computing

How traders might exploit quantum computing
How traders might exploit quantum computing


If you had a sports almanac from the future as did Biff Tannen, the brutish bully of the time-travelling Back to the Future movie trilogy, how might you be inclined to take advantage of the foresight buried within it?

The obvious temptation would be to place sure bets in the market that make you rich. In Biff’s case, the wealth is then used to change the world into a dystopian reality in which he himself exists as “America’s greatest living hero”.

That sort of thing used to be considered fiction. But the dawn of so-called “supremacy” of quantum computing over conventional technology raises the possibility that one day soon someone might be able to effectively see into the future.

This is because quantum computers, when they become fully capable, are likely to be uniquely good at crunching probability scenarios. They are based on the mysterious world of quantum physics. Quantum bits or qubits are the basic units of information in quantum computers. Unlike the binary bits of traditional computing, which must be either zero or one, qubits can be both at the same time.

This gives quantum computers super powers that will allow them to solve probability-based tasks that would previously have been impossibly hard for conventional counterparts in realistic timeframes. If the problem at hand was a game of football, adding quantum computers to the mix is like allowing footballers to use their hands to get the ball into the net, say quantum experts.

It’s a prospect that poses an entire new set of challenges for market regulators and participants. If super quantum computers really can help institutions see into the future, the information advantage will be unprecedented.

It might also represent an entirely new type of front-running and market manipulation risk, one that regulators can’t necessarily even identify unless they too have a quantum computer at hand.

In Back to the Future, the almanac gave Biff a 60-year insight advantage over everyone else in his home 1955 timeline. With quantum computers, the edge might only be nanoseconds. But in the fast and furious world of high-frequency trading, that could be enough to sweep up.

The reassuring news — at least for now — is that we’re still at least five years away from quantum computers being powerful enough to compete with existing supercomputers on much simpler problems. Prediction might not even be their initial forte.

Goldman Sachs research recently noted, as and when quantum computers are rolled out, they are far more likely to be deployed on crunching options pricing conundrums or running Monte Carlo simulations that value existing portfolios than they are on predicting future movements of asset classes.

According to Tristan Fletcher, of artificial intelligence-forecasting start-up ChAI, that’s because prediction is ultimately about solving a very specific, deep problem by understanding the nuances of the data that matters.

“We are already at the limits of what any system that isn’t actually listening to Opec meetings and five-year plans is capable of,” he said. It’s not the complexity of the calculation that is the issue as much as the breadth of the data sample at hand. That means prediction wouldn’t necessarily get more accurate with quantum power.

The appeal to focus on “brute-force” problems such as optimising portfolio analysis or cracking cryptographic problems such as those that underpin bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, is far greater.

But this poses its own problems. If cryptographic systems can be broken, exceptionally sensitive data held across the financial system could be exposed and taken advantage of in unfair and market manipulative ways.

Rather than being able to better predict the market, the true pay off in the arms race might lie in achieving quantum-level encryption-breaking capability and using it subtly to seize the information that can get a trader ahead. Experts say the chances someone is already up to this, however, are low. If quantum supremacy had been achieved, the news of it would leak pretty quickly.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” said Jan Goetz, chief executive of IQM, a quantum computing builder. “But generally the community is very small so everyone knows what’s going on. The status quo is clear.”

Nonetheless, the financial sector seems to be waking up to this quantum computing issue. Many banks and institutions are introducing teams to think exclusively about how quantum computing will affect their business. How far ahead they are on making their systems quantum secure is harder to say. It’s a secretive issue. For now, most agree, the threat level is low, not least because — as the hacking of the Colonial pipeline shows — system security is low enough to ensure far cheaper and simpler ways to hijack digital systems.

izabella.kaminska@ft.com



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Elon Musk sees personal fortune crash by $20billion in six days following SNL appearance

Elon Musk sees personal fortune crash by billion in six days following SNL appearance
Elon Musk sees personal fortune crash by billion in six days following SNL appearance


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has seen his net worth nosedive more than $20 billion in the six days since his controversial appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Shares in the celebrity’s electric vehicles firm fell by 15% this week, shrinking Musk’s net worth from $166 billion to $145.5 billion, Forbes reported.

Musk remains the world’s third-richest man, just ahead of soon-to-be divorcee Bill Gates, whose net worth is $127.6 billion.

The collapse has been credited to widespread economic uncertainty and fears about rising inflation.

Hesitancy around US-China relations has also delayed Tesla’s plans to expand its Shanghai factory, further slashing shares’ value.



Singer and Musk's partner Grimes made a cameo appearance on SNL as Princess Peach.
caption: Elon Musk SNL

Musk’s haphazard appearance on ABC’s flagship comedy show last Saturday included a shoutout to cryptocurrencies, including Dogecoin.

But Tesla’s swift reversal on allowing its vehicles to be purchased using Bitcoin over climate change fears burst the crypto bubble and confused investors.

Gates took Tesla to task for its climate change contradictions, pointing out “Bitcoin uses more electricity per transaction than any other method known to mankind.”

The Microsoft founder added: “It’s not a great climate thing.”

Musk used his SNL hosting gig to show his lighter side, playing Wario in one skit and introducing his mum on Mother’s Day.



Musk revealed he has Asperger's
Musk_SNL

He also revealed he has Asperger’s and posed with singer Miley Cyrus.

Musk has a 21% share in Tesla plus a stake in spaceflight firm and passion project SpaceX.

Thanks to his unlocking of stock options, he is still more than $100 billion richer than at this time last year.





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