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Technology

Are Phone Numbers Doomed To Die? (fortune.com) 289

HughPickens.com writes: Valentina Zarya writes at Fortune Magazine that the top 2016 prediction for David Marcus, Facebook's vice president of messaging products, is the disappearance of the phone number and its replacement by applications like Facebook's Messenger. " You can make video and voice calls while at the same time not needing to know someone's phone number," writes Marcus. "You don't need to have a Facebook account to use Messenger anymore, and it's also a cross platform experience – so you can pick up where you left off whether you're on a desktop computer, a tablet, or your phone." Jonah Berger, Wharton professor and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" agrees. "For most of us, I think it's really hard to actually remember what someone's phone number actually is. We use our phones so often or we click on a button that has it. But if there was a test where you had to say, do you remember your best friends number or could you type in your best friend's number I think most of us would fail."

But not everyone agrees that Marcus' predictions are objective and disinterested. "It's all very well the company wanting to be the de facto Internet — especially in places like India. But drier minds and eyes might wonder whether the wish to eradicate phone numbers has something to do with not everyone having yet given Facebook their phone numbers," says Chris Matyszczyk. "It may well be that phone numbers will disappear. Some, though, might wonder how making their disappearance a company theme squares with what Marcus claims is the ultimate goal: 'It's all about delight.' This one's easy. It's all about delighting Facebook."

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Are Phone Numbers Doomed To Die?

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  • I can see this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:09PM (#51295963)
    But I hope the "database" isn't Facebook. I would hope it would be something like DNS/Bind in the IP world....
    • Re:I can see this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:24PM (#51296107)

      Facebook boss says people will flock to Facebook. Who'd thunk it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They're ramping up their Facebook advertising in order to help offset the huge flop that Oculus Rift will be.

      • Re:I can see this (Score:5, Insightful)

        by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:47PM (#51297927)
        Plenty of people - even people w/ computers and phones - have stayed away from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, et al. Why would any of THOSE be a universal contact mechanism?
    • Re:I can see this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:32PM (#51296179) Homepage

      I would love it to be ip addresses, but I want cellphones to be forced to allow me to do address blocks and wildcard blocking.

      The fact that I cant on my cellphone put in 1800* to block every single 800 number from calling my phone is stupid. the phones can do it, why the hell doesnt google bake this into the damn os?

      • Re:I can see this (Score:5, Informative)

        by JonahsDad ( 1332091 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:50PM (#51296333)

        The fact that I cant on my cellphone put in 1800* to block every single 800 number from calling my phone is stupid. the phones can do it, why the hell doesnt google bake this into the damn os?

        Cyanogenmod. Enable wildcards.
        1800.*

      • Re:I can see this (Score:4, Informative)

        by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @06:45PM (#51296741) Journal

        why the hell doesnt google bake this into the damn os?

        Because Google is an advertising company, and denying access to their partners would be like cutting their nose off.

        Since I remember numbers better than names, I say lets abolish naming your kid, and just buy him/her a SIM card.

        • Because Google is an advertising company, and denying access to their partners would be like cutting their nose off.

          That makes no sense. Google is not making money from spam calls. The spammers are bypassing Google, so it would be to Google's advantage to help block them.

      • Grandcentral R.I.P.

        http://www.lylebackenroth.com/... [lylebackenroth.com]

        Google acquired them and has done next to no improvements. Off the top of my head, the only change I can think of is that they removed the ability to record calls placed by you while notifying both parties.

    • nonsense. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @06:07PM (#51296477) Homepage Journal

      "phone numbers" are how the switching -- and billing -- are done for landlines, cell phones, and for many data services like DSL.

      they are not going away. he can hide his, but he can't change everybody elses.

    • Re:I can see this (Score:4, Insightful)

      by darkain ( 749283 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @06:24PM (#51296601) Homepage

      Exactly this! Plus, I'm wondering what the "Facebook" form of calling my local bank would be, or the pizza place down the street to order some dinner, or how about the equivalent of 911? A big part of phone numbers is the decentralized yet cross-compatible networks. Instant messaging services where starting to go this way a decade ago with Jabber, then Facebook and Google decided all of a sudden that this was somehow a BAD idea?

      • I'm wondering what the "Facebook" form of [...] the pizza place down the street to order some dinner

        Probably something like Domino's Tweetzza [techcrunch.com].

        Instant messaging services where starting to go this way a decade ago with Jabber, then Facebook and Google decided all of a sudden that this was somehow a BAD idea?

        Because spam. WhatsApp, for example, is built on the same protocol as Jabber but has deliberate incompatibilities to discourage spammers.

    • Re:I can see this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @07:31PM (#51297033)

      Worse.

      "Ok... I got facebook, skype and AIM. You got any of those?"
      "Wow, you're old. Nope, don't use those. I got Whatsapp and telegraph. You good for any of those?"
      "Nope. Hang on... how about kik? Not used that in a while."
      "Kik, no. Really, you should just up... oh, hang on. I think I have ICQ from back in the day. Don't know if it still works, got that one?"
      "Not any more. Look, how about we just swap phone numbers?"

  • Wishful thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:12PM (#51295999)

    I bet Facebook would think twice about wanting to replace phone numbers with Facebook IDs when they see the regulations common carriers operate under.

    • let me laugh harder. Regulations are for old tech. New tech (like Facebook, Uber, the sharing economy) is free to innovate without those pesky little things.
  • Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:14PM (#51296023)

    Quite a few people are not on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It would also be _hugely_ unprofessional to do any job-related communication over such a venue.

    This is just the usual bullshit from people that get starry-eyes when fantasizing how the future will be, but have no clue how reality actually works. Basically the only old global communication channel that has vanished is the telegram. And there are services in many countries that will print out an email and deliver it to the target address for a fee. So, really, complete nonsense.

    • by Mitreya ( 579078 )

      This is just the usual bullshit from people that get starry-eyes when fantasizing how the future will be, but have no clue how reality actually works.

      Oh, I don't think so. It's not starry-eye people at all

      Facebook is hoping you would replace your phone with a Facebook (TM) app. And Windows is surely hoping that your Windows Live (TM) login would serve the same function (after you login to your Windows account on your desktop/laptop/phone/car, your calls should just carry over via Skype, right?)

      Other venues are hoping for the same thing, but don't have the penetration to seriously expect this.

  • Please, someone reply with something hopeful, like "On the whole, overhyping topics is actually on the decrease"....

  • by Teun ( 17872 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:16PM (#51296045) Homepage
    Did IP numbers disappear?

    Behind the comms there will still be numbers or codes to lead to the address.
    I'd be damned to use Facebook's spying services when I don't even have to log in or go to a specific site or app to press a pre-set button and make a call.
    Or simply scan through my address book, click on the name and talk.
  • by j2.718ff ( 2441884 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:18PM (#51296059)

    Telephone service is a public utility, and as such has a variety of regulations, including on how pricing works, and where service is provided. If it is to be replaced, we need some other sort of public utility that can be used for communications.

    • iDunno how it works in the states but most countries in EU have full number portability. So a number that used to belong to the state monopolist can now sit (indirectly) behind some guy's Asterisk server. It is a bit indirect in that the state monopolist agrees to let some other large company take over the traffic from that number and in turn forwards it to the guy's Asterisk server but there is nothing technically stopping them from cutting out the large company middleman and putting a non-profit organisat
    • "Telephone service is a public utility, and as such has a variety of regulations, including on how pricing works, and where service is provided."

      And emails and messaging is already cheaper and available in more locations. I can send an email for free, telephone service costs like 60 dollars a month minimum (and that is not factoring the billions of dollars of public money they suck up). And whole swaths of the world that have no access to any other communication form have email and Facebook.

      Based on your me

      • telephone service costs like 60 dollars a month minimum

        I don't know where you're getting that figure, as I get telephone service from Virgin Mobile USA for $90 per year.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        I have to pay the phone company an extra $40 a month for email capability on top of the $20 a month for the phone line.
        Costs 15 cents to send a message on my cell phone though I could pay $40 a month for unlimited messaging.
        For $5 + the $20 a month to the phone company I have unlimited calling anywhere in N. America, and that's without shopping around.

      • And emails and messaging is already cheaper and available in more locations. I can send an email for free, telephone service costs like 60 dollars a month minimum

        Really? I've known people who live in very rural areas. In such areas, the options for internet access are generally limited to satellite and dial-up. However, as long as there's electricity, phone service is available too.

        Also, I have no idea where you get your pricing figures. I pay $30/month for my cell phone service. I don't have a landline, but I imagine if I wanted to get one, it would be a similar price. $60/month sounds more on-par with what I pay for cable internet service.

    • At the end of the day, people don't want this sort of regulatory protection even if it genuinely is done entirely for the benefit of consumers.

      Here in the UK we went through a great deal of regulatory pain over the last 30 years to go from a single state run monopoly in the shape of Post Office Telephones (yes, I am old enough to remember them), who wouldn't even let you buy your physical telephone from anyone else, let alone the telephone service, to the current state where although British Telecom run
    • Telephone service is a public utility, and as such has a variety of regulations, including on how pricing works, and where service is provided. If it is to be replaced, we need some other sort of public utility that can be used for communications.

      And most importantly who can listen in on your communications. As much as govt shits me, as least we can vote them out, what happens when a corporation has that power?

  • Phone Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:21PM (#51296083)

    - Universally Ubiquitous
    - Nationalized
    - Lowest Common Denominator
    - (for POTS anyway) Pretty damn rock solid in most of the world

    Did Facebook kill Email? No.
    Did Google kill the address bar? No.
    Did Apple kill the PC? No.
    Did solar panels (insert any other energy technology) kill the grid? No.
    Will Facebook messenger (or any company-centric IM system) kill telephones? No.

    Next flamebait topic please.

    • by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:23PM (#51296091)

      - Universally Ubiquitous
      - Nationalized
      - Lowest Common Denominator
      - (for POTS anyway) Pretty damn rock solid in most of the world

      Did Facebook kill Email? No.
      Did Google kill the address bar? No.
      Did Apple kill the PC? No.
      Did solar panels (insert any other energy technology) kill the grid? No.
      Will Facebook messenger (or any company-centric IM system) kill telephones? No.

      Next flamebait topic please.

      Yes, but video killed the radio star....

    • Next flamebait topic please.

      Did video kill the radio star?

    • by Mitreya ( 579078 )

      Did Google kill the address bar? No.

      Google did kill most of the market for "catchy" domain names and reduced the market share of "mistyped" URLs.

  • by Koreantoast ( 527520 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:26PM (#51296119)
    Phone numbers are the defacto, common and relatively stable identifier that most people possess today. Yes, it may be archaic, but most people are comfortable with it, a global, relatively neutral means of communication. It's neutrality is protected by a patchwork of government regulations worldwide, and until one single company, alliance of companies, or single open standard becomes globally adopted at the same level as the phone number, Facebook or anyone else isn't going to replace it. While I'm sure Facebook dreams of usurping that role, their penetration isn't nearly global enough to provide the scale to challenge it. Now, if they created alliances with the Tencents of the world for a unified standard, maybe, but we're a long, long way from that.
    • Phone numbers are the defacto, common and relatively stable identifier that most people possess today.

      Which, ironically, is exactly why Facebook wants to know yours.

    • My phone number changes every time I move house, but my email address etc remain the same.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      Phone numbers are the defacto, common and relatively stable identifier that most people possess today. Yes, it may be archaic, but most people are comfortable with it, a global, relatively neutral means of communication.

      Not to mention globally unique within a nation. Imagine trying to do that with names.

      Frank: Hey John, what's your ID?
      John: John.smith.
      Frank: I've got 2239 John Smiths.
      John: John Smith from Idaho.
      Frank: That's narrowed it down to 147.
      John: Try John F Smith.
      v Frank: Still got 32.
      John: OK, let me try to message you... There's 243 Frank Blogs in this state alone, which one are you.

      Isn't it much easier to say.

      Frank: Hey John, what's your number
      John: Give me a moment to look it up, I c

  • Possible reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:26PM (#51296121) Journal

    There is a need for a universal identifier standard for recipients and communication of some kind. A proprietary one is not acceptable, in the least because tech companies come and go like pop stars.

    A new standard would only replace phone numbers if it offers something significantly better. Standards are rarely displaced by something just a little bit better. It's why QWERTY keyboards and SQL (as a language) are still common.

    A communication ID standard that offers letters and longer identifiers may be competitive, but there's nobody pushing such in a non-proprietary way. (Phone numbers can also spell out short mnemonics, but in an awkward way.)

    The phone system could morph into such because an existing phone number could still be a valid identifier within the new standard, somewhat like how UNICODE still contains ASCII.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Whatever new standard we had would end with the rough equivalent of a machine-generated Google mail address. BobMa1283.

      You could possibly use a scheme like base-36 instead of just numbers. 212-555-1212 shortens up to Z5HXT9, but I'm not sure that's necessarily easier to remember. I can easily see some kind neuropsychologist explaining that a longer all-digit number is actually easier to remember because it has fewer symbols.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        rough equivalent of a machine-generated Google mail address. BobMa1283.

        Unlike email addresses, because one would have to pay to keep them*, they should not have bloated name-spaces.

        For example, I estimate there are roughly 500 Martha Stewart's in the world. If you don't pay to keep your ID, then it expires and can be used by another Martha Stewart after a grace period.

        Thus, you may see many ID's similar to MarthaStewart473, but there should not be many like MarthaStewart473807. Plus, many may opt to use a

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          I can only guess that if there was a new schema for phone numbers (er, maybe "communications identifiers") one of two things would happen.

          The geeks would win, and the identifiers would be obnoxiously long because some committee decided it needed to scale out to pan-galactic levels, include a cryptographic signature and be directly transliterable across every language, including Klingon, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and the language of a tribe in the Amazon basin that only uses clicks and whistles and writ

    • It's already pretty much happened (proprietary concerns notwithstanding) with email addresses.

      Email addresses have largely become a defacto standard for login usernames.

      It's pretty easy to envision a near future where someone "calls your email", and it transparently maps to the phone # you have registered for that address. In fact that's already essentially how it works in certain applications (eg, Skype and iMessage).

      And to your point, an email address certainly isn't guaranteed to be "lifetime permanent"

  • "You don't need to have a Facebook account to use Messenger anymore"

    Doesn't it bind by phone number if you don't want to create a FB account?

    I can't see phone numbers disappearing, but I can see the possibility of shorter numbers being created for accounts that can only handle SMS and data.
  • Seven years ago, I met my wife (we were not yet married at the time, I can assure you), and we exchanged phone numbers. That the last time I think I ever looked at or thought about her phone number. I don't call numbers, I call contacts. The number in this case is like an initial handshake; once I have it I don't use it anymore. The phone number can go away quite easily because our mental schema is already prepared for it.

    • No we're not because I bet you have your mobile number memorised. Whenever you meet someone and want to exchange contact details you give them your number. The fact that they may load it into a contacts system which obfuscates the number doesn't change that the number was what you exchanged. Also when you have a lower quality sound connection, ie every time you use a phone, numbers are much easier to understand than letters. Zero, four, three, zero, two, nine is much easier to get correct than Esss, Eff

      • Zero, four, three, zero, two, nine is much easier to get correct than Esss, Eff, Bee, Pee.

        That's why schools need to teach the long names of letters [wikipedia.org]. "Sierra foxtrot bravo papa" should carry just as well as "zero four three zero two niner" over any given voice channel.

        • This is fine for native english speakers as it's just memorising a couple of extra words. For anyone who is already struggling with the language this will make life hell.

          • I don't see how the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet would cause a problem to speakers of English as a second language. In fact, it might clear up confusion. Case in point: G is called J in French, and J is called G. But the long names are "Golf" and "Juliett", which eliminates the problem.

      • by halivar ( 535827 )

        The last time someone asked me for my phone number, I FB-friended them instead. We did it by name, and suddenly we were in each-other's iPhone contacts list. Obviously you don't do that for just anyone, but that fact that it's possible is an indicator that phone numbers are no longer as essential, as far as information goes, as they used to be.

  • Removing phone numbers will cost the American public a lot of money. I mean, with all the bucks spent on monitoring them and all.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:31PM (#51296169)

    I hereby predict that Facebook will disappear before phone numbers.

    Let's come back in 20 years and compare my track record with David Marcus's.

  • In the present, everyone Googles everything through some sort of Chrome/Firefox awesome bar and nobody types in a domain anymore (except me and a few die-hard fellow type-in-traffic generators). Therefore in years to come Google will be just a collection of IPv6 addresses. Google will hardcode a bunch of them into chrome

    As a replacement, Google will eventually implement a new system based on HTTP requests to some RESTful API they designed that returns an IPv6 address when queried with a human-readable na
  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:36PM (#51296209)
    Getting rid of phone numbers could get rid of bullshit phone sales people or so-called telemarketers, nonsense charities, and bill collectors. Since I uusally get several annoying such calls, every day, I think getting rid of phone numbers is a great idea.
  • but there are actually a few phone numbers that I remember, and can type on a telephone keypad (or the numbers-only widget on a smartphone) quicker than I can look them up (even with type-ahead on the person's name). They're also harder make data-entry errors with than a written-out e-mail address, or, worse, someone's Facebook or Google+ name.

  • >> "I think it's really hard to actually remember what someone's phone number actually is."

    That's not how phone numbers are used. Today, they are one-time use IDs that we use to contact someone else, then both people's phones remember the number forever. In a way, it's like how Skype works: you type in the other person's ID (once) and you're forever connected.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @05:37PM (#51296223)
    I would say you heard it here first, but I would be surprised if it weren't posted already. :)
  • You still need some id over the mobile network. Ad of 4G it is an MSISDN.
    • Yeah but it can be just like an IP address. You don't remember it or use it directly. It can also change from time to time, and you can have more than one.
      I want to contact a person, not a phone. I don't care if that person answers from a phone on a 4G cellular network, or computer on a wired network. Therefore, I couldn't care less about the MSISDN.

      The best identifier right now is the email address. It is unique, cross-platform, standardized, free and vendor-neutral. Unlike phone numbers and Facebook.

    • You still need some id over the mobile network. Ad of 4G it is an MSISDN.

      That threw me for a moment. How can 4G be modern if it uses Microsoft and ISDN?

  • Phone numbers may very well disappear, but there will still be some sort of "number" that ties you to whatever communications device you are using, even though it may be hidden. Just like right now on your Smartphone when you hit the "Call Mom" button. You may not even know the phone number, but it's still used. Call it another name if you like, like a userid, but it will still be there in one form or another.

  • Phone numbers are going to die. But Facebook isn't the answer. Any proprietary solution isn't the answer.

    • Re:Not Facebook (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rasmusbr ( 2186518 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @06:11PM (#51296507)

      Phone numbers are going to die. But Facebook isn't the answer. Any proprietary solution isn't the answer.

      It's especially not going to happen outside of the US. Imagine the president of Russia ordering military maneuvers using Facebook Messenger. Not going to happen.

      It would be extremely complicated to switch away from phone numbers and phone numbers in and of themselves do not have considerable drawbacks, so phone numbers will probably be around for the foreseeable future. We humans will no doubt see the actual number less often as our software gets more intelligent, but the number will still exist, much like the ip address of a server.

  • Imagine if you called Marcus ... and got Mercus instead.

    • by genner ( 694963 )

      Imagine if you called Marcus ... and got Mercus instead.

      I'm sorry you've got the wrong number, this is 912.

  • "Reports of the phone number's death have been greatly exaggerated."

    (If nothing else, there will always be "867-5309.")

  • ...they will never go away. They will only be patched over and worked around.
  • In the past 15 years, I've been through over a dozen phone numbers in 5 different area codes, but have had a single email address (using my own domain).

    Why would I count on an particular vendor's IM service to be my "phone number"? If I'm going to trust something to be a permanent identifier to reach me, I'm not going to use a company that's only been a public company for 4 years.

  • Does it matter if it's not a "phone number" anymore, whatever it will be (certainly not an Facebook account), will function pretty much the same way, just with less oversight and more government and corporate snooping involved.

  • This will have to be more universal, with one provider seamlessly connecting with another. I don't want to keep 1 account per service and only having 1 account might limit who I could speak with. Imagine if email would have caught on if you had to have a gmail account in order to send an email to someone on gmail.

    XMPP chat did most of what would be required, but it seems it's not catching on.

    • This will have to be more universal, with one provider seamlessly connecting with another. I don't want to keep 1 account per service and only having 1 account might limit who I could speak with. Imagine if email would have caught on if you had to have a gmail account in order to send an email to someone on gmail.

      This is the one single thing that pisses me off about all these messaging services. Well, that and needing accounts on all of them.

      • Re:Universal (Score:5, Informative)

        by caseih ( 160668 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @08:33PM (#51297323)

        And that's what XMPP was supposed to have fixed. XMPP was really about decentralization and federation. You simply didn't need an account with Google or any particular company to participate. Then Google decided to cut off federation with gmail, making what could have been a great, widely-used protocol, into something incredibly broken. It was this breaking of XMPP by Google (after years of promoting XMPP) that marked the beginning of the change from "don't be evil" into what it has become today.

        I used to run my own Jabber server with my own domain, communicating with gmail users and others, and it worked lovely until Google decided to cut off access to their users. Suddenly my own server became nearly useless with all my non-techy friends suddenly unable to communicate. Sure I could have granted them all accounts on my server, but most of them had just used the google chat program, and switching them to something more open would be difficult for them, to say nothing of *their* friends who are on gmail anyway.

        So XMPP is essentially dead, thanks to google and we are not better off for it, no matter what they want us to believe about Hangouts.

  • The answer is "no", you ignorant web-obsessed dipsticks.

    Phone numbers will be around for a long, long time, so stop babbling this nonsensical bullshit.

    Obviously it's "Whackjob Wednesady" at slashdot, where the dumbest "news" article gets posted to the front page while real news is buried where it will never see the light of day.

  • Anybody that has ever tried to look up a friend on Facebook or Skype knows how stupid this is. Apparently there are dozens of people in the world with the same exact name as the person I'm trying to contact... who knew? I was even surprised, when googling myself, to discover that there is a band out there that goes by my exact name, first name AND last name! (I'm thinking of suing them for trademark infringement, but they have yet to reply to my emails.)
  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2016 @10:30PM (#51297849)

    I can see the phone number giving way to an IPV6 addess eventually, but it's not going to transform into some messenger app.

  • by ebusinessmedia1 ( 561777 ) on Thursday January 14, 2016 @03:42AM (#51298591)
    The LAST thing I want is Facebook acting as a platform for ANY of my essential communications. They have repeatedly lied - over and over - about privacy. No way!

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