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Finland To Try Scanning Snail Mail 152

Posted by Soulskill
from the neither-rain-nor-sleet-nor-wicked-lag dept.
will_die writes "In an effort to cut carbon emissions and reduce costs, Finland's postal company, Itella, has begun a pilot program wherein snail-mail letters are converted into PDFs and made viewable online by their addressees, instead or in advance of physical delivery. The effort is volunteer only — a little over 100 people and around 20 business as of last month — but it has already sparked concerns in Finland about privacy and government overreach. The volunteers will have images of all their letters viewable on a computer or phone. The postman will still arrive twice a week to deliver the scanned letters, as well as any packages or attachments. Additionally, the postal service will filter out junk mail."
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Finland To Try Scanning Snail Mail

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:03PM (#31709900)

    ... but no one cares. (since it's too long to title as such.)

    This seems like Zumbox on crack.

    While the idea of receiving mail digitally has some appeal to me, forcing everyone to receive mail originally sent in a non-digital format as a set of 1s and 0s is... not quite the best idea.

    I wouldn't mind receiving my electric, water, and cable bill as a digital sending each month (and I already do via email), but certain things (bills from collections agencies come to mind) are things that I, and ONLY I need to see.

    Now, with something like this, if the ability to respond electronically to the mail were there and available to us, even if there's some sort of digital postage (at a reduced cost, preferably, if we choose to not send a dead tree copy of the same letter) that was needed, maybe it would start to appeal to more.

    Best case for that would be when my doctor sends me paperwork to fill out before I come in. If I can log into a secure server, receive the forms, type in the data (memo: we need to have something other than Adobe for forms, ffs. Plain old HTML forms should be fine), and submit that electronically...
    If the doctor needs a dead tree version at that point, they can print it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by datapharmer (1099455)
      In other words, avoiding the mail system altogether, which shows that the postal system is slowly becoming antiquated. This program is just a dying industry trying to remain relevant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I believe you are amazingly shortsighted that you think postal systems are irrelevant. Can you think of any other completely effective way to physically deliver large quantities of physical items to households covering a large geographical area, without the expense of storefronts etc?

        I quite disagree that postal systems are dieing - I believe that in this day of internet shopping postal systems are becoming far more widely utilized than ever.

        • There is a difference between a postal system and a package delivery system. Postal delivery is dying, but package delivery is another story. FedEx and UPS don't do postal delivery. IIRC, it is technically illegal for them to handle mail. That is protected for the subsidized USPS. They will still send a single sheet of paper if you want (like resumes/legal paperwork that has to be there by 4pm the next day) but they handle it as a package and charge way more than USPS would.
          • by retchdog (1319261)

            The USPS is completely self-sustaining and has been since the 1980s (although back then, yes, it was a money hole). It receives no funding from taxes.

            I would say USPS is not subsidized, except that you are right about the monopoly on letter post. The law itself is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_Express_Statutes [wikipedia.org]

            From my experience and tales from others, USPS is far superior to Canada's privatized post, so I am suspicious about the social value of privatizing the mail.

        • by guruevi (827432)

          UPS/FedEx? That's their business. The USPS (and a lot of other postal systems throughout the world) has been putting more emphasis on their 'added services' like package shipping and money transfers to adjust for the diminishing returns of snail mail delivery. I actually get mad when people send me snail mail letters on dead tree - it's bad for the environment and e-mail is a lot simpler and easier.

      • Obligatory quote: I think you're severely underestimating the bandwidth of a 747 full of BluRay discs.

        Other than that, I like to receive some mail in pre-printed, signed and ready-to-archive-forever version. Preferably when larger sums of money is involved.

        And I like the peace of mind knowing that no ECHELON or whatever read my mail. GPG-encrypted email would work, but I can't even get my coworkers to use that, let alone mom and grandma.

        Until Big Government is cut back far enough to actually respect email p

    • by hab136 (30884)

      It's actually like Earth Class Mail [earthclassmail.com], which scans your mail, and has a government postal service outsource program. Notably, they do this for Swiss Post [arstechnica.com].

      After reading Zumbox's site, I'm still trying to figure out why I would open an account there. It seems not only do I have to sign up for it, all my service providers do too. If my electric company is too dumb to offer e-bills, why would they offer this?

  • ORLY? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    april fools...

  • Why not? What comes in by snail mail today?

    1. Bills from companies that don't handle online billing.
    2. Junk mail.

    And they're filtering out the junk mail!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rotide (1015173)

      And if you get a birthday card with money in it? Who is to say you didn't get two 20's in that letter. The postal service was only able to locate one of those!

      Or, say it's a private letter about financial information and now they have all your account information, oh and all your other personally identifiable information was in other letters that week so your identity is safe with you, and the person that opened all your mail.

      It's just not a good idea in the long run. Maybe as an opt-in service for those

      • by AuMatar (183847)

        I've gotten one piece of non-junk mail in the last year. I'll happily tell people not to send money in exchange for cutting off the junk. Who the hell mails cash instead of a check anyway?

        • by Zephiris (788562)

          Grandmothers. Grandpas. Aunts. Uncles. The people who aren't close enough to you to care, and not with-it enough to do robust things like check, credit transfer, or god-forbid, an actual thoughtful gift. ^^;

          • by AuMatar (183847)

            Oh I think money is plenty thoughtful- they're thoughtful enough to let me get something I want, rather than guessing wrong. But hasn't the post office warned people for decades not to send cash by mail?

      • Who is to say you didn't get two 20's in that letter.

        Don't everyone's grandparents put steganographic checksums for enclosed money in the text of their letter? :P

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)

          Who is to say you didn't get two 20's in that letter.

          Don't everyone's grandparents put steganographic checksums for enclosed money in the text of their letter? :P

          Who's your Grandfather? Alan Turing?

          Oh wait...

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Its no more likely to happen with it being done this way than it currently is.

        Its really not hard to open an envelope, fuck with the contents, and reseal it without anyone noticing after the fact.

        The fact that the places that are going to be doing this are most certainly monitored to all hell and back like most postal sorting facilities already are.

        You are being paranoid about a problem that would already exist if it were actually going to be a problem.

        Like it or not, this is the way things are going. The

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        And if you get a birthday card with money in it? Who is to say you didn't get two 20's in that letter. The postal service was only able to locate one of those!

        RTFA. It says the system is voluntary. If you send money in your birthday card (and it is never a good idea to send cash in the mail), then don't volunteer to have that piece of mail scanned!

        • by dcollins (135727)

          "RTFA. It says the system is voluntary. If you send money in your birthday card (and it is never a good idea to send cash in the mail), then don't volunteer to have that piece of mail scanned!"

          RTFA yourself. The system is currently voluntary for the recipient, for whom all of their mail will be scanned. It's neither (1) optable by the sender, nor (2) optable per piece of mail. On top of all that, this is a test for a universal (presumably non-optable) rollout.

          • by BitterOak (537666)

            RTFA yourself. The system is currently voluntary for the recipient, for whom all of their mail will be scanned.

            Well, it's the recipient who would be out the twenty bucks, so I think my point still stands.

      • by weicco (645927)

        You are not supposed to send money over mail in Finland. Post's own web pages says that it is forbidden. There's no law about it though (in Finland we have laws about almost everything!)

    • How are they going to transmit those crappy Discover credit card offers with the fake and completely unshreddable plastic credit card in it?! Oh noes!!
      • and completely unshreddable plastic credit card in it

        You need a better shredder. And no, no business grade. $40 at OfficeMax, and it eats cred cards, CD's, anything. I don't even open the junk mail..just shove the whole envelope in.
    • by Itninja (937614)
      3. Letters from Grandparents
      4. Checks
      5. Legally binding documents (i.e titles, deeds, contracts)
    • Bills from companies that you don't trust to handle online billing.

      FTFY.

      Bills in the mail aren't exclusively from companies that don't handle online billing. Some of us choose to continue with paper versions of bills because we do not trust putting our credit card and/or bank account information into commonly used, high profile websites on a monthly basis.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mattack2 (1165421)
        Btw, you can still pay these paper bills online for free. I pay the small part of my dentist bill that insurance doesn't pay (have gone there forever, should find in network dentist) online. Plus, anybody you mail a check to has all of the info to get money out of your account.
      • Some of us choose to continue with paper versions of bills because we do not trust putting our credit card and/or bank account information into commonly used, high profile websites on a monthly basis.

        Yet you choose to send paper checks through the mail that have your name, address, and bank routing/account number on them and are handled by god knows who many people along the way (postal employees, customer service reps accepting the payment at the destination, etc). Interesting. I think I'll stick to trusting the online method.

  • With the exception of contracts and suchlike (which would obviously be outside this scheme), I can't think of anything sensitive that I receive by snail mail these days.

    Everything I really care about the security of (bank statements, personal messages etc) comes over the web, via TLS.
    • I can't think of anything sensitive that I receive by snail mail these days.

      Dear So-and-so,
      The results of your AIDS/STD tests are in.
      Please contact us for a follow-up appointment ASAP.
      Sincerely,
      Your Doctor.

  • Posted 1 day ago, is this a late april fools joke?
    • by Orbijx (1208864) *

      Doesn't seem so. Following a few links through the article, they genuinely appear to have a site set up for receiving digital mail.

      Requires either a user/pass set, or a (government issued? possibly as part of the ID?) smartcard read by the site to get logged in.

      I'm nowhere near there, so I lack a user/pass or ID for login, but it seems to be legit.

      • by Orbijx (1208864) *

        A derp-a-derp-derp.
        Would help if I actually linked what I discovered.

        From TFA, I followed a link over to a blog at the Telegraph [telegraph.co.uk] that contained links to the Netposti [netposti.fi] interface (link set to english. På svenska [netposti.fi], Suomeksi [netposti.fi] are options for .fi, .se).

        What shows up after logging in, I have to leave to someone who actually has a login for the service. It'd be an expensive, expensive trip overseas just for me to get an answer (passport, plane, time off from work, sedatives, rental vehicle, ...), so I'll leave i

        • AFAIK this scanning thing is a trial only for a small community. At least for now. But it's not April Fools, that's for sure.

          Finnish postal service already provides a service for companies, institutions, etc. to send mail electronically to the postal service, who print out the stuff and deliver the snail mail to the end clients. This probably does save a bunch of CO2, and makes life easier for said companies.

          NetPosti you refer to is an interface for receiving such mail electronically, opting out of the

  • If I could get my actual mail scanned and delivered by e-mail that would be awesome. There are some bills I have that don't have online pay functions yet, and regardless of privacy (since I already sold it to google a while back) this would actually be more private and secure then actually having it delivered. My mail gets stolen from time to time. (yes, I RTFA and I know they still deliver the scanned messages too)
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:09PM (#31709974)

    Finland is really a very small country population-wise, but decently sized in landmass. Under 6M people in the 8th largest country in Europe. This has to make mail distribution very expensive. Add in the weather (I've been to northern Finland in February- well below 0 with snow banks over your head) and I can see why they'd want to minimize or eliminate physical delivery. Its barely economical in the US, I can't see how it could be there.

    • by EvilIdler (21087)

      How does Norway manage 6 days of delivery then? The mountains in the middle certainly haven't impacted the postal service.

      • Probably the same way Sweden deals with it. With a series of tube... I mean, with a truck. There used to be a train going from north to south and back again all day long but it turned out that having trucks was more profitable. Strange.
      • by drolli (522659)
        Because Norway if fucking rich by selling their gas/oil.
    • 8th largest country in Europe

      Well okay but thats not very big by world standards.

      • 8th largest country in Europe

        Well okay but thats not very big by world standards.

        A greater land area than Malaysia or the Philippines and nearly as big as Japan or the Congo is small by world standards.

        Its not "very big" by world of Europeans standards, the point is that it has a small population relative to its size. Its population density is similar to that of New Zealand or Sudan. There are very few European or Asian countries with lower population densities, and its population density is much lower than India, or China or almost all other big countries (apart from Russia), so it is

  • I call bull on the "effort to cut carbon emissions" - this is purely about the costs and the carbon emissions are a byproduct (gas costs money). When I send a letter, I mean to send a letter. Not an electronic document. Now, this does not happen very often, so usually, I do communicate via email. I don't need the post office tampering with the mail. Furthermore:

    "This (secure digital mailbox) is totally different from e-mail. It is comparable to web banking," said Tommi Tikka, development director at state-owned Itella, which runs the Nordic country's postal system.

    So people's mail is stored on some server, probably totally unencrypted and requiring only a login to get in. Cue the hacking and government abuse -

  • Junk Mail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Itninja (937614) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:16PM (#31710050) Homepage
    Political Dissident: Hey, I sent out my anti-government newsletter to 1000 people. But only a few got it. What gives?
    Government: I guess it was mis-tagged as junk mail. Our bad. Sorry it's already been deleted. No, we don't back up junk mail.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by blair1q (305137)

      The government doesn't interfere with such things.

      They just log them, copy them, pass the copy along to the analysts, and deliver the mail, so as not to arouse the suspicions of people who are already paranoid.

      (Kids, if you think there's any reason in the world for the US Government to be running a delivery service, other than that it simplifies intelligence gathering immensely, then you probably didn't go to business school.)

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      First way to tell if its junk mail: does it say 'resident' (or whatever your language happens to be) in the addressee? Yes? Its junk.

      No? Maybe junk, maybe not.

      If you just throw out the ones with the wrong addressee name for the address or ones that say 'current resident' or variations on that then you've already cut down on 99.9% of the problem with junk mail.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Actually, the real problem with junk mail (in the US at least) is that it's the largest source of revenue for the USPS (over 50% of volume!) So it's actually in their interest to keep allowing the horribly wasteful and inefficient practice.

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      In the US "junk mail" PAYS FOR THE POST OFFICE DAMMIT. It pays. It pays. It damn well fucking pays. It is one of the few reasons rural post offices can remain open.

      Couple that with the BTU's that marketers send and it is a double economic whammy!

      In one months time I get enough 'junk mail' that is safely burnable to lower my heating bill about $30. Eh carbon schmarben.

      Some of it is perfect for the masking needed for electrolytic etching of brass and the masking needed for other metals.

      What is not safely burn

  • by Duradin (1261418) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:18PM (#31710068)

    Old idea, new implementation.

    PDFs instead of film negatives.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Yea, except the general public can actually do something with PDFs, where as film negatives are really a pain in the ass to deal with for this purpose.

      True, old idea, new implementation, but its definitely an improvement over the last one.

      • Yea, except the general public can actually do something with PDFs, where as film negatives are really a pain in the ass to deal with for this purpose.

        Especially if you want them to be really private.

        • Especially if you want them to be really private.

          There was no privacy in V-Mail, of course. It was wartime, and you were writing to troops in the field (or they were writing to you). Every V-Mail was read and censored before being microfilmed; everybody was very aware this was the case.

      • film negatives are really a pain in the ass to deal with for this purpose.

        Not so bad when you're set up to process it in bulk. The recipient never got the microfilm negative, of course; he got a print of the image produced by the V-Mail facility. The size was still reduced by 60%, though.

      • Yea, except the general public can actually do something with PDFs, where as film negatives are really a pain in the ass to deal with for this purpose. True, old idea, new implementation, but its definitely an improvement over the last one.

        The public never saw v-mail films. Film was just the transocean transport media. V-mail was printed on lightweight paper once it got to the U.S. The letter was also folded up to be its own envelope. Or at least thats how the single sheet v-mail based letters my grandmother received were. IIRC it looked like the original letter was written on a special v-mail form not on general purpose paper. Perhaps that made for automated processing. Other letters my grandmother received that were on regular paper

  • I thought the postal service MADE money from junk mail?
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Depends on how many assholes like me you have to deal with.

      I have a stack of printed 'return to sender' labels laying next to my door. When I get junk mail I put it back in my mailbox with the RTS label on it.

      While thats a little nutty I admit, its better than my original plan which was to shove it down the post mans throat before lighting it on fire. At least I don't got to jail this way, and I'm pretty sure it eats into any profit they might have.

  • Filtering.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by hallucinogen (1263152) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:21PM (#31710086)
    I'm a Finn. I've already got a filter for spam snail mail. I wrote "Ei mainoksia, kiitos" (no adds, please) to a sticker and placed it on top of my mail slot. The only post I get is postcards from friends and relatives twice a decade or so. Everything else is already digital..
    • You're a lucky man, Here in the UK it's part of the national post service's business model to accept money from spammers to deliver junk mail. So we get loads of junk mail whether we like it or not. The postal workers recently went on strike because they didn't want to deliver junk mail to people but they got told by the employers they have to, and so have had to back down and accept they must deliver it if they want to keep their jobs.

    • Couldn't do that in the US. A carrier could be fired or even criminally prosecuted if he deliberately failed to deliver a piece of mail legally posted to you. It's called "interfering with the mail" and it's a Federal felony.

      • We have the same law(s) in all of Scandinavia (as well as non-Scandinavian Finland).

        It extends to e-mail as well, you are not allowed to spam consumers by phone, SMS, email or mail unless you already have a direct relationship with them (i.e. they're already customers).

        My government provides a website where you can register your reservation against any form of commercial solicitation. It does however not include charities. All businesses have to update their registers every three months to filter out any n

    • That’s the wrong way around! I have “Kein Einwurf, ausser:” (“No (mail) droping, except:”) on my mailbox. With a list of exceptions below. Which is: Only normal letters, addressed to me personally. Packets have to be handed over to me personally, since they don’t fit in. Everything else (giving them to neighbors) counts as “not delivered”, and assistance of theft by the mail man.

      I hope to completely remove the mailbox in the future, and put a sign there, sayin

    • by weicco (645927)

      But now after the ParkCom trial you could change your sign to read "Mainoksista laskutetaan 50 euroa kappaleelta. Toimittamalla mainoksen hyväksyt sopimuksen." (Adds will be charged 50 euros/add. By delivering the add you have accepted this aggreement.) and start making money by receiving adds \o/

  • Swiss Post and other Post Companies have been providing these types of services to corporate customers for quite a while now. It's all part of Business Process Outsourcing or adding value to your customers.
    • You're missing the point, this is meant to replace postal delivery to all consumers and corporate customers.

      That's very different from your "outsourcing" scenario which I doubt very many buy into. This would be the standard service for all, not some extra service you buy.

  • Don't know about Finland, but I mostly use the mail system for packages and magazines. Wouldn't be very happy if service on those items was cut back to a couple of times per week.

    • by spatley (191233)
      Really? I would happily wait 2 more days for Architectural Digest or the Economist in effort to reduce government spending and national fuel consumption. What possibly are you receiving by regular post that is day-critical?
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Really, because you get packages and magazines every day of the week? You must be fast, I don't think I could read 20 or so magazines every single month. You really can't wait up to ... 4 days ... to get something that comes ones a month? Would you have a embolism if the publish just shifted the mailing date back by 4 days?

      And you're sending important things you need to get right away via standard mail rather than FedEx or its equivalent? Really?

      $20 says if no one told you, you'd not notice for months.

    • Don't know about Finland, but I mostly use the mail system for packages and magazines.

      There's parody on this [www.hs.fi] in Finland's main paper today. "The organically grown lamb you ordered arrived as an attachment."

  • This kind of service is already implemented by the national post office in Portugal for a long time.

    It's called ViaCTT [viactt.pt].

    • That's very innovative of Portugal, but the Finns want to use it by default. That's very different from just offering it as an optional service. The Finns want everyone to use it.

      It's actually very logical that the postal services of the world would want to stop wasting time and money on delivering mere documents. It's the box/parcel/package delivery that is profitable and important today.

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:30PM (#31710144)
    How are emissions cut when the letters are still delivered? Wouldn't this actually cost more energy since they have to both hand deliver the original mail and use up power scanning and posting the copies? Not to mention the added labor hours required to do so. That looks like a cost increase, not a decrease. And, if they have enough spare employees to where they can actually spend time doing this, would it not be more efficient cost-wise to either just reduce those employees' hours(or move them to part-time) or lay them off altogether?
    • Fewer deliveries, fewer vehicle miles.
       

    • by blair1q (305137)

      If the mail is scanned at the receiving mail sorting facility, it will reduce aggregate tonnage of mail transferred to and from central sorting facilities by a lot. It won't reduce trips by much, but it should reduce fuel usage per trip, and thus reduce emission poundage. The next logical step, once the practice is dominant and hardcopy flow becomes a trickle, will be to aggregate mail from slow days, thus reducing trips, too.

      And it makes sense. I only check my mailbox once a week, sometimes twice a mont

    • Did you miss that the mailman would only have to go to all those remote locations twice a week instead of 6 times?

  • Hey, if you want a guaranteed private mail service then you should be willing to pay more for it. If there really is that demand out there then the free market will set the price and folks who care will voluntarily comply.
    • "Welcome to DHL, how may I help you today?"

      "Hello, I'm a lawyer, I need these documents delivered to my client in person."

      On a related note this is Europe, we're mostly socialists here, the "free market" is not that interesting to us. We're more interested in social services, and the postal service is not a profitable operation in most countries. It's a basic service required and paid for by the government. Reducing the cost, without reducing the service level is more important.

  • by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:36PM (#31710180)

    We pay all our bills on line - barely any incoming bills, no outgoing checks - I have written maybe 3 checks in the last 5 years. e-mail has replaced most of our correspondence. The only thing that shows up in my mailbox is adverts and the magazines I subscribe to, and very occasionally stuff like property tax assessments and 1099s etc.

    How about the postal service let me opt out of getting junk mail delivered? I keep the garbage bin by the mailbox for a reason - only about 5% of what shows up in my mailbox actually survives the walk up the driveway to the house...

  • ....I'll scan it myself and send a PDF. Volunteer only tends to turn into the way it's done very quickly if costs can be cut at all. Glad I'm not Finnish. Tell your postmaster to stop smoking weed.

  • Some full-service private mailbox facilities will do this for you to - they scan all the snail mail that arrives for you and then email the scans to you. Convenient for maintaining a mailing address if you are on the road a lot or are otherwise far away from your mailing address.

    • You're missing the point, the Finns want to use it by default for everyone. That is a whole lot more innovative than offering it as an optional service.

      It would reduce the frequency of physical postal delivery, saving on delivery costs while maintaining service levels.

      We all know how to scan and email documents, the Postal services of the world aren't blind. Lots of countries offer this as a service, it just doesn't reduce the cost structure of the Postal service.

      • You're missing the point, the Finns want to use it by default for everyone.

        Lol, thanks for repeating the article summary for me. I don't know how I ever read it and didn't read it at the same time. If we all just stuck to the exact contents of the article summary there would be no posts here.

        I'm pretty sure you can't name a private mailbox facility that does scan and email without seriously googling for it. The point of my post being that most people are unaware that they can get the personal benefits of that service themselves without involving a government agency. Oh look -

  • birthday cards, valentines, ...
  • "Heeeey!!! I just figured out how we can get PAID to read Playboys all day!"

  • The volunteers will have images of all their letters viewable on a computer or phone.

    Wow, I think phones here work differently than those in Finland.

  • .. from a company called Earth Class Mail. They receive your mail, send you an image of the envelope, and let you tell them what to do with it: shred it, recycle it, open and scan contents and send PDF, deposit check, etc. The company was the subject of a sort-of documentary last year.

  • There was a Seinfeld episode where Kramer went into the post office to stop sending him mail - got me thinking. Why do we have to receive all this crap in a box in our front yard? I pay my bills online or schedule checks from my bank each month. There are few items that I actually open up every month, most go straight into the trash. The items I do open I end up scanning into PDF anyway as invoices or paystubs.

    I actually pay for a service like this: Earth Class Mail [earthclassmail.com], there are few others like this too. They

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