The recent strikes by the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, but their impact extends far beyond Hollywood.

The strikes began on 14 July 2023 as the actors’ union and AMPTP (the representative body for film and television studios) could not settle on a new contract. This strike also coincided with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, and so Hollywood was at a standstill until a deal was finalised on 9 November. The actors were fighting for multiple changes throughout the industry, with a key issue being consent over artificial intelligence and increased residuals. AI was also a key sticking point in the WGA strike negotiations, with the eventual deal stating that it cannot be used to rewrite scripts.

But the influence of the strikes extends far beyond bigger pay checks for actors. The strikes, driven by concerns over fair compensation and working conditions, have highlighted broader issues surrounding the relationship between technology (AI in particular) and labour.

Companies across various sectors have been exploring AI applications for efficiency, cost savings, and innovation. However there’s a growing awareness of how the use of AI might be influenced by the evolving dynamics between workers and employers. Fear of job displacement and concerns over worker welfare have created a complex narrative across all industries.

The strikes, and the subsequent deal between all parties, highlight a crucial perspective: the role of AI should be collaborative, working in tandem with human capabilities rather than replacing them. Companies may find it necessary to invest in programmes that equip employees with the skills to collaborate with AI systems, ensuring that technology enhances their productivity. Different industries should use this moment to foster cross-sector collaboration. Sharing insights and best practices on AI adoption, ethical considerations, and workforce integration can lead to a more harmonious and responsible approach to technological advancement.

The ethical use of AI is a growing concern for both the public and industry leaders. These strikes further stress the importance of aligning AI adoption with social responsibility. Companies may now be more inclined to evaluate the impact of AI on their employees and society at large, taking steps to mitigate negative consequences.

The SAG-AFTRA strikes, while rooted in the entertainment industry, reverberate across sectors and countries as a reminder of the complex relationship between technology, labour, and societal values.

How many times have we uttered these words in defeat during the festive season? After hours of trying to decrypt the magic combination of ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ in a chatbot window while online shopping, desperately trying to reach the inbox of a human employee.

Well, if you believe the AI industry’s announcements, come the new year, that will soon be a struggle of the past.

Yes, chatbots are undergoing a rebrand. No longer are they the cryptic gatekeepers to the human behind the screen; companies are working on making virtual assistants more humanised. Take bank NatWest’s new AI-powered chatbot, ‘Cora’ for example. Human name aside, it has been developed with the goal of being more personable by being able to provide information to the user in a friendly conversational style.

The humanising of chatbots comes at a time when we are living a strange duality of both fearing AI’s scope and embracing it as one of us. At the same time world leaders met at Bletchley Park to discuss next steps around regulation for AI, we were asking Alexa for quick dinner recipes.

And while identified by some as “one of the biggest threats to humanity”, we are calling it the names of our friends and family. This isn’t a new phenomenon. One of the first chatbots was called ELIZA and was developed in 1966. In fact, you can still chat to ‘her’ today. But more confusingly in the past year, celebrities like Kendall Jenner sold their images to Meta to create chatbots who look and speak like them.  

The effectiveness of using a celebrity image in humanising chatbots is questionable. When speaking to Billie (Jenner’s AI counterpart), watchers of The Kardashians are transferring their parasocial relationship they have with Jenner from the show to Billie – adapting quickly to using and trusting the bot.

Further to the way chatbots are looking and speaking to us, we are unconsciously accepting the personalisation of the software. Using language for human actions is increasing anthropomorphism of AI in our everyday conversations. Terms like ‘hallucinating’ – for describing when a chatbot AI programme produces false information – has become Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year, cementing it in the 2023 zeitgeist.

Many of us, especially the older generation, are resistant to the chatbot, preferring to pick up the phone and have a real person handle our queries about returning gifts or logging into our banking apps. But a study at the Technical University of Berlin found that working alongside robots causes us to slack off in the same way we would with human colleagues. Is this a crack in the wall between humans and machines?

Perhaps as 2024 continues, and AI’s rebrand becomes more streamlined, the lines will blur between how we treat other humans and how we speak to chatbots.

Which begs the question – how long will it be before we are asking “Can I just speak to a chatbot, please?”.

Recently, I was drawn to a story about Google’s antitrust lawsuit. Earlier this month, a trial began that accused Google of monopolising internet search engines, eliminating the ability of rivals to compete.  To put it simply, the US Justice Department has accused Google of abusing its power as the most popular search engine – this was done by making deals with wireless carriers to ensure its search engine is the exclusive or dominant option on the devices of millions of consumers.

With search engine optimisation (SEO) serving as a key method for marketing and communications professionals to reach their audiences, this news made me wonder – how much power do search engines actually wield to control how we think about certain organisations and products? And, are there any other ways that communications professionals can hope to compete with companies that simply have deeper pockets?

Are search engines controlling how we think?

There is evidence from as far back as 2015 indicating that search engines have the power to subtly control thinking and behaviour – this is known as the search engine manipulation effect. Internet search rankings have a significant impact on choices, not only on the products we buy but also the decisions we make. This is because users tend to trust products and organisations that are ranked higher on Google than those that they need to scroll further down on the results page to view. Therefore, companies that have larger budgets to dedicate towards boosting their ranking naturally come out on top in the race for website traffic, and therefore the attention of consumers.

The state of SEO for comms professionals

SEO has become the bread and butter for comms professionals as they seek to boost the reputation of their brand, creating a larger target audience by positioning their company’s website at the top of search engine rankings through a variety of methods. In recent years, it has become one of the most important tools for brand awareness, as it ensures that the right people are being driven towards the products and services that are being offered.

In light of the Google antitrust lawsuit, communications professionals might begin to wonder if this will impact them in the coming years. The good news is, many of the techniques involved in SEO actually contribute to building a strong reputation over time – and this will hold true no matter what the future holds for search engines like Google or Bing.  

SEO actually has a critical role to play in reputation management. In order to boost rankings, organisations need to ensure the content on their website is optimised so that it reflects key themes that their target audience is looking for – incorporating SEO keywords into the content of the website itself. This could be in written blogs, headers, internal links and URLS. This is common practice for SEO professionals – tailoring your content more closely to what your target audience is searching for can help ensure that those who come across your organisation’s website trust that they will find what they are looking for, and quickly.

The practice of fine-tuning your website’s on-page SEO will not only improve search engine rankings, it also builds confidence in your brand at little cost – and this is only skimming the surface.

Even though it is clear that search engines like Google do hold a vast amount of power in controlling how we perceive certain brands, this does not necessarily mean organisations with the deepest pockets always come out on top. The process of tailoring your website, social media channels and digital footprint to what your audience is searching for will over time have a critical role to play in building and boosting the reputation of your organisation for the long haul.

Interested in hearing more on this topic? Take a look at Firefly’s PR meets SEO: Digital Reputation Management Guide.

There were always parallels that could be drawn between Elon Musk and Tony Stark – a controversial and eccentric billionaire living in a remote part of the world conjuring up futuristic technologies to spread to the masses. However, it seems that Elon Musk has decided to go down the path of the X-Men instead.

With very little prior warning, Twitter announced last weekend that it would be rebranding to ‘X’ with immediate effect. The website changed, a huge ‘X’ was projected on to its HQ in San Francisco and Musk himself released the logo on his own, erm…X feed?

Whatever your feelings as to the madhouse that the company has been since Musk took over, no one can say it has been uneventful. This is just the latest in a string of high-profile and somewhat hard-to-follow announcements in the past year, however this feels much bigger than ones that have preceded it such as the hiring of a new CEO, or charging people for a blue tick.

A rebrand of a company is an enormous undertaking and usually reserved for a very specific reason, often in reaction to something negative that has damaged the company’s reputation, something transformative that has happened such as the launching of a new product or service, or post-acquisition to bring people together. So, what is the thinking behind it, and where will the circus roll on to next?

The marketing point of view

I think it’s fair to say, that Musk and Twitter have not been totally aligned, either before or after his acquisition. Therefore, his desire to rebrand and move away from the old Twitter in many ways is understandable. Couple this with legacy reputational issues that Twitter has faced throughout its history, around content moderation and political bias, and changing the brand to distance himself from that makes sense.

However, when the launch was announced much of the response was scathing including calls of it being ‘marketing suicide’. Twitter’s name and associated brand was recently valued at £4.4bn by Brand Finance last year, so many understandably questioned how smart it was to abandon that overnight, particularly for a company struggling with revenue. Furthermore, changing from an instantly recognisable name and logo that has been ever present in society for the past two decades, to a letter of the alphabet, especially the letter X, has also been met with derision.

Firstly, the letter X could be argued as not having the best connotations. On our phones it signifies deleting things, but also it could remind us of that former girlfriend or boyfriend we would rather forget. On top of this, is the issue of copyright. Many firms have come out saying they already have a claim on the letter, including of all people, Meta, and this could lead to months, or even years, of untold misery for Musk’s lawyers – who, let’s face it, were probably already overworked.

Reason to be Xcited?

But is this missing something? Musk has long spoken of his desire to create an ‘everything app’, and this rebrand opens up the opportunity for the company to go in a totally new direction. These apps bring everything into one place combining communications, banking, retail and more. Much like when Mark Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to Meta, this is the biggest signal yet that he sees this as the future.

The everything app concept is not a new one worldwide. WeChat, China’s version of this, boasts one billion monthly users and is absolutely ubiquitous throughout society – even stalls selling fruit and veg in the streets may not accept any other form of payment. It is therefore surprising that it has not caught on yet in the West. If implemented it would completely revolutionise life and the way we communicate, as we know it. As such, for such a groundbreaking and monumental effort, perhaps a rebrand was the only way to go.

Taking back the initiative

Also curious is the timing of the announcement. The reputational rivalry between both Musk and Zuckerberg personally, but also between Twitter and the newly launched Threads as platforms, has been steadily gaining intensity in recent months. Since Threads was launched, many people have started suggesting that Twitter’s days are numbered, and Threads would get the upper hand. However, Threads’ momentum has seemed to tail off a little as sign-up rates dropped. So, with this announcement, at least for the moment, it seems like Musk has wrestled back control of the narrative and taken the edge in the communications battle.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Many things will play a role in the outcome, perhaps even the litigation mentioned previously. However imperative to this effort will be the ability for X to market itself in a positive way, and how Musk will foster both his personal and the company’s overall reputation.

Either way, it won’t be boring. 

Generative AI, and more specifically ChatGPT, has dominated headlines since late last year. For months, the world and his wife has weighed in with views, concerns and predictions around the technology. But what about the tech companies whose bread and butter isn’t generative AI?

It can be tough when your point of view doesn’t slot into the current news cycle. Periods of less coverage and less contact with the press can feel like a step back. But, instead of feeling frustrated or panicked, this period of time should be seen as one filled with opportunity.

Here’s a couple things non-generative-AI tech companies, and their PR partners should consider at times like this…

You don’t need to join every conversation

This is something that most companies and PRs already innately know. If something isn’t relevant to your offering or market share, don’t weigh in. But when something like ChatGPT comes along and sweeps every journalist, publication and broadcast house off their feet for months on end, confidence in remaining quiet can wane. A ‘let the storm pass’ mentally can quickly shift to a ‘what can we say about this?’ panic.

But it’s important to remember that not every conversation is relevant to your company or brand. A company needs to focus on its own product, service and value offering, and not get distracted by hype that isn’t relevant to where they are positioned in the market. 

Don’t rush a POV

Joining conversations is a key part of PR. But it needs to be done effectively, with thought and strategy to back statements. The last thing a company needs is to rush messaging without properly interrogating how they match up with what they do and who they are – their offering, ethos and purpose.

Clumsy messaging runs the risk of getting sniffed out. If you’re lucky, coverage will be small and under the radar – or even non-existent. If you’re unlucky, the pickup could be huge only to bring with it questions and scrutiny. Backpedalling from statements is a headache which can be so easily avoided.

Quiet time can be valuable, use it

So, rushing to have your voice heard isn’t always the right approach at times like this. Equally, doing nothing with the time is a missed opportunity. Instead, use this period of quiet from press relations as a chance to turn your attention elsewhere. This could be towards improving internal comms, boosting employee relationships and thereby your own reputation as a business. It could be through building up the website, through new content like blogs or a bit of a makeover. It could be a chance to strengthen customer relationships, leading to case studies that could in turn find their way onto the site or even as hooks for press interviews later down the line. It could be revamping social media presence, company messaging, media training for spokespeople and so much more. Rather use this time to focus on your wider PR and reputation strategy.  

In short, don’t be afraid to sit some conversations out. Just use your time on the bench wisely, leaning on your PR partners for guidance and support.

Since its big reveal in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has dominated headlines all across the world. It is being touted as a technology with the potential to change our lives – for better, or worse. Across the internet, we’ve seen examples of how the AI-powered language model can complete tasks faster, and in some cases better, than humans. Tasks ranged from writing emails, to composing song lyrics, drafting academic essays and everything in between. 

AI that can create new content, also known as generative AI, has faced its share of ethical concerns over the past months. If a chatbot can write articles and generate images in a matter of seconds, what will that mean for the humans who rely on these skills to earn a living? However, it needn’t be all doom and gloom. This technology holds the potentially to enable people to do their jobs better, faster and with greater ease.

In the B2B tech PR and communications industry, there are several ways that generative AI could revolutionise how we work. As an experiment, I asked ChatGPT: ‘’What are the top four ways that generative AI will change the PR and communications industry for the better?’’ This is what it said:

1. Media monitoring and outreach

One key area ChatGPT said it could help comms professionals is in monitoring and analysing media coverage more efficiently. It answered, ‘’Generative AI can quickly scan and categorise articles, tweets, and other social media posts, enabling PR teams to stay on top of the news and respond to emerging trends and issues.’’

The chatbot identified media outreach as another way to support PR teams, assisting them in ‘’identifying relevant journalists and influencers, quickly scanning databases of journalists and their previous articles, enabling PR teams to tailor their pitches to specific reporters and outlets.’’

2. Reputation management

Reputation management is another area of specialisation for PR professionals, which ChatGPT said it could enable them to do with greater ease. It stated, ‘’Generative AI can help PR teams manage their clients’ online reputation by monitoring social media and other online channels for mentions of the brand or key executives. This technology can quickly flag negative comments or reviews and provide insights into sentiment and key topics.’’

3. Crisis management

In a similar vein to the points above, ChatGPT said that its ability to quickly scan and monitor media trends can support comms professionals with managing a crisis. ’By monitoring social media and news sources, generative AI can assist PR teams in identifying emerging issues and responding proactively to mitigate damage to the brand’s reputation,’’ it wrote.

4. Content creation

Generative AI also has the ability to support with content creation by ‘’quickly generating press releases, blog posts, and social media updates, freeing up PR teams to focus on higher-level strategy and relationship-building activities.’’

Interestingly, ChatGPT revealed that, on its own, generative AI cannot replace the valuable time and effort communications professionals spend on strategy, planning, pitching and relationship building.  Additionally, while it can create content quickly, the content is not necessarily better in quality than what would be produced by an experienced comms professional.

This technology has the potential to enable teams to do their jobs faster and more effectively by drawing on data that already exists to help reduce manual processes. It’s clear that there is still much more on the horizon for generative AI and how it will change daily operations. For now, it appears that it will be an innovative way to help teams go above and beyond for clients, allowing them to focus the majority of their time on the aspects of our jobs that are most valuable – devising new and creative campaigns, as well as producing original, thought-provoking content that makes an impact.   

When we think of sport we think of athletes. Athletes that are at the top of their physical game, with abilities that simply defy the laws of gravity. Basketball fans have long admired Michael Jordan’s hang time, and the game of football has never been able to understand Cristiano Ronaldo’s headers which seem to stop time entirely. As we witness various industries digitally transform, the world of sport has not been left behind.

There has been a huge shift in technological advancement which has made it easier for athletes to optimise their performance and improve the experience for spectators at sporting events. Looking 10 years ahead, we can only imagine where the world of technology will take us in sport, but for now, we can marvel at the newest innovations of today which continue to change the pace of the game.

Team Jumbo Visma tearing up Tour de France – 2022

This year, Team Jumbo-Visma led the way, charging ahead of their components for the majority of the races. Jonas Vingegaard won the men’s race, and Marianne Vos claimed the green jersey for most points. Both riders were among the favourites for their respective titles, but one stark difference was the men’s team adopted the use of simulation to fully capitalise on the talent of Vingegaard, and winning the La Grande Boucle.

How does simulation play into this you ask? Fighting air resistance represents up to 90% of the energy spent by the athletes. Team Jumbo-Visma works with some of the best athletic aerodynamics experts in the world, using digital simulation to optimise performance through better aerodynamics. It consisted of solving vast, complex systems of equations with millions of unknowns to improve their performance. Simulation proved to be a pivotal cog in the winning machine!

Data driving football analysis and spectator engagement

Major Spanish football league, LaLiga has looked to its data architecture to better understand its players performance and importantly create a better more personalised experience for its fans. This is all being done through a lakehouse data architecture.

By combining the best attributes of a data lake and a data warehouse, the lakehouse is able to deliver better data management and performance through low-cost, flexible object stores. LaLiga has created a world where data informs almost every aspect of how sports are played and experienced. The data team at LaLiga uses data and AI for match statistics and in-play analysis, based on data from cameras in each club’s stadium. It allows data scientists at the clubs to perform pre- and post-match analysis and predict player injuries before they occur.

The future of technology in sport

There are many more advancements in tech which are changing the world of sport, but the best is likely yet to come. We’re on the cusp of a sports technology revolution with the global sports technology market being currently valued at US $17.9 billion and expectations to reach US $40.2 billion by 2026. However, some avid football fans would agree that VAR technology needs some work – depending on which side of a team you’re on!

As September approaches, the summer holiday season is almost over. It’s been great to get back to jetting off to exciting new destinations after a difficult few years for the travel industry. Yet as climate change dominates the headlines, many of us may be thinking more about the environmental impacts of travel than in previous years. Personally, I’ve been pondering whether travel tech could be the solution – let’s think this through together.

Climate concerns are soaring

Air travel is far from the most sustainable way to get from A to B for our summer holidays. Aviation represents 14% of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the EU. This may seem like a small figure, but when considering that rail only represents a 0.4% share, it’s easy to understand why planes are getting a bad rep.

The easy answer to this problem would be to encourage Europeans to take trains as a greener holiday transport method. A myriad of reasons blocks us from doing so at present, including a lack of continental standard for train manufacturing and an almost total absence of operators running trains across European borders. In short, pointing travellers to rail travel isn’t yet a viable option.

Whilst the EU continues its long and arduous journey to liberalising continental rail travel, climate change rages on. Record temperatures of 40.3°C were confirmed by the Met Office in July; an alarming development for all. Travel tech companies have responded with greener operations, leveraging the latest technology to ensure that people can still enjoy a summer break.

Travel tech in the airline industry

Whilst the UK’s beaches offer beautiful surroundings, if you do want to go abroad, chances are that you will be taking a plane. Thankfully, airlines are already making progress towards net-zero emissions goals, and innovations in travel tech are here to make flights even greener.

For example, Alaska Airlines implemented an AI-powered route optimisation tool. The software uses machine learning to assess a range of factors that affect the efficiency of a journey, such as air turbulence and weather conditions. If the AI finds a greener route, flight dispatchers are notified, and they make a final decision on if the recommended route should be followed. As such, safety is maintained at the same time as a more fuel-efficient route is created. It doesn’t get better than that!

Let’s go to the beach, beach, let’s go get away

Once you have arrived at your destination, you will need a place to stay. At present, accommodation accounts for around one fifth of tourism emissions. This may not sound like a lot, but if these emissions were wiped out, the industry would become 20% greener. That would certainly reduce the guilt burden for travellers.

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance asks hotels to reduce their carbon emissions by 90% – how can travel tech support this endeavour? We can look to IoT devices for the answer. Smart hotel technologies, such as motion sensors for lights and occupancy sensors for air conditioning, can drastically reduce energy consumption. For example, a 2020 study found that implementing an IoT-enabled air conditioning system reduced daily energy usage by 20% during peak summer heat. Considering that this makes life easier for the user too, it’s a no-brainer.

Making travelling that little bit more guilt-free

While the industry still has a long way to go, travel tech is making strides when it comes to making our summer holidays more sustainable. If you’re a travel tech organisation that wants to shout about your commitment to a greener travel industry, get in touch!

Whilst June flew by in a flash of bunting, cakes and picnics in the park, it didn’t fall short on delivering yet more weird and wonderful tech news stories for us to sink our teeth into. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

Giving tech the human touch

Having children sound like too much responsibility? According to Catriona Campbell, babies that exist in the metaverse will be indistinct from those in the real world in 50 years’ time. Parents will be able to subscribe to a digital child that resembles them physically but exists entirely in a digital realm. These ‘Tamagotchi babies’ will be able to interact with their parents and have minimal cost and environmental impact. Will make nappy changes less daunting too I imagine!

From turning real life into tech to turning tech into real life, scientists have developed an artificial skin that gives robots the ability to have a sense of touch. This will enable them to ‘feel’ objects, as well as sense specific chemicals such as explosives.

Speeding towards a tech-driven future

If we move into the transport sector, a new fleet of driverless taxis have been given the go-ahead in San Francisco. With top speeds of 30mph you may not get to your destination in record-breaking speed, but this is certainly a huge step towards autonomous vehicles becoming the norm.

From cars to planes, NASA is nearing the test flight of its first all-electric aeroplane, which is due to take place next month. Instead of being powered by aviation gasoline, aircrafts would run on lithium-ion batteries. If all goes to plan, this could mark the beginning of a greener, cleaner and quieter aviation industry.

Rapid recoveries

Tech is also helping to treat people with life-changing injuries. Rehab centres all over the world are using computer games to aid in the recovery of serious illness. These games are designed to get patients to move instinctively by mimicking real-life scenarios, such as reaching for something in a kitchen cupboard.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to health tech news this month. A woman who was born with a birth defect became the first person in the world to receive a 3D-printed ear made from her own cells. Moving forward, scientists believe that 3D printing could be used to remedy other conditions involving cartilage for nose or knee injuries as examples.

A final farewell

And to conclude , I think it’s only right that we bid farewell to our dear old friend, Internet Explorer. It’s been a wild ride, and we wish you all the best in your retirement.

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May has been a month of innovation and continued regulatory shifts in the tech sector. It can be difficult to keep up with the endless waves of change (Elon Musk’s continual indecision over purchasing Twitter spring to mind for anyone?), but the Firefly team always havs our finger on the pulse. Here’s our lowdown on what you might have missed.

Artificial intelligence reaches new heights

It’s no secret that supply chain issues and the candidate crisis have plagued businesses significantly recently. But what if AI innovation could offer the solution?

A growing number of startups are applying AI technology alongside established logistics firms to help businesses ease supply concerns.  In the recruitment arena, AI is becoming an increasingly effective tool for hiring strong candidates. Google has even gone as far to develop almost human-level intelligence. Increasing efficiencies is always beneficial; we will certainly be tracking these developments closely.

Dialling back the power of big tech

As the power of AI innovation grows, so do the legal restrictions within the technology sector. The UK Government is set to introduce new competition rules for large tech companies, paving the way for innovation among smaller businesses.

When it comes to user safety, the discussion on the Online Safety Bill continues. Campaigners argue the current provisions do not sufficiently address violence against women and girls, showing that greater protections are needed. We’re also seeing a crackdown on Big Tech’s data collection, with the global central bank calling for individuals to be given more control.

These moves highlight greater oversight is needed over the sector to ensure that everyone can engage with technology safely and freely.

As virtual reality thrives, cryptocurrencies take a nosedive

June has been a less than ideal month for the crypto world, as several stablecoins crashed in a historic market collapse. Though, if anyone fancies a trip to Gucci’s US-based stores, rest assured you can use bitcoin to complete your purchase there, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Finally, let’s not forget about the ever-expanding possibilities of VR innovation. Everyone’s favourite music streaming service is now on board, and even the sunny seaside city of Portsmouth has recently launched a VR centre, so that we can all get our fix whilst on our summer holidays.

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