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Foxconn says it remains committed to Wisconsin investment project
Taiwan's Foxconn said on Friday it remains committed to its contract to build a display plant and tech research facilities in Wisconsin, days after the U.S. state's governor said he wanted to renegotiate the deal.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 19 Apr 2019 | 4:11 am

Qualcomm's joint venture with Chinese province to shut down: The Information
A joint venture between U.S. smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm Inc and China's Guizhou province will shut down by the end of the month, The Information reported on Friday, citing employees at the venture.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 19 Apr 2019 | 2:15 am

Robot dogs pull truck and other tech news
BBC Click's Jen Copestake looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 19 Apr 2019 | 12:20 am

Nintendo shares jump 17 percent after Tencent wins key China Switch sales approval
Nintendo Co Ltd shares jumped 17 percent in morning Tokyo trade on Friday, a day after China's Tencent Holdings Ltd won a key approval to begin selling Nintendo's Switch console in the world's largest video games market.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 10:33 pm

Uber's self-driving unit valued at $7.25 billion in new investment
Uber's autonomous vehicle unit has raised $1 billion from a consortium of investors including SoftBank Group Corp, giving the company a much-needed funding boost for its pricey self-driving ambitions on the eve of its public stock offering.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 9:49 pm

Intelsat says satellite made by Boeing fails
Satellite operator Intelsat S.A. said on Thursday one of its satellites made by Boeing Co has failed due to an anomaly related to its propulsion system.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 5:08 pm

Pinterest, Zoom shares surge in market debuts after IPOs
Shares of Pinterest Inc surged almost 30 percent in their stock market debut on Thursday, valuing the online scrapbook company at around $16 billion and signaling investor appetite for new tech listings.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 5:05 pm

Facebook Quietly Admitted Millions More Instagram Users’ Passwords Were at Risk

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Millions more Instagram users were affected by a password security lapse than parent company Facebook acknowledged nearly four weeks ago.

The social media giant said in late March that it had inadvertently stored passwords in plain text, making it possible for its thousands of employees to search them. It said the passwords were stored on internal company servers, where no outsiders could access them.

Facebook said in a blog post Thursday that it now estimates that “millions” of Instagram users were affected by the lapse, instead of the “tens of thousands” it had originally reported. It had also said in March that the issue affected “hundreds of millions” of Facebook Lite users and millions of Facebook users. Facebook Lite is designed for people with older phones or slow internet connections.

Source: Tech – TIME | 18 Apr 2019 | 4:59 pm

Automakers invest heavily in electric vehicles despite still-low demand
Demand for electric vehicles remains low in the U.S. market, but industry executives at the New York auto show this week said they are pushing ahead with billions of dollars in investments even while preaching patience.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 3:23 pm

Samsung gets reports of Galaxy Fold screen problems, raising specter of Note 7 fiasco
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said it has received "a few" reports of damage to the displays of samples of its upcoming foldable smartphone, raising the prospect of a less-then-smooth entry for the splashy $1,980 handset.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 2:14 pm

Zoom starts trading at $65 per share, 80 percent above IPO price
Video conferencing company Zoom Video Communications opened at $65 per share on Thursday, 80.6 percent above its initial public offering price, in its debut on the Nasdaq.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 1:45 pm

Explainer: Betting on the past? Europe decides on connected car standards
The European Commission's push to implement a Wi-Fi standard for connected cars has won the support of lawmakers in a victory for Germany's Volkswagen, although competitor BMW and other backers of a rival technology still hope to overturn the decision.

Source: Reuters: Technology News | 18 Apr 2019 | 1:19 pm

Robot news presenter causes a stir on Russian TV
The humanoid, named Alex, causes a stir as he makes his debut on state news channel Rossiya 24.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 18 Apr 2019 | 12:32 pm

Elon Musk swaps shots with Museum of English Rural Life
The Museum of English Rural Life now appears as Elon Musk on Twitter after he used their sheep picture.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 18 Apr 2019 | 7:45 am

Facebook bans UK far right groups and leaders
A dozen named groups and individuals will be purged from the social network, it said.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 18 Apr 2019 | 7:00 am

Facebook copied email contacts of 1.5 million users
The social network was grabbing email contacts of some new users for almost three years, it says.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 18 Apr 2019 | 4:13 am

Samsung's folding phone breaks for reviewers
Several outlets reviewing Samsung's ground-breaking new folding smartphone have reported major problems with its screen.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 18 Apr 2019 | 12:38 am

TED 2019: The online campaign that ended a beard ban
The woman aiming to build "a labour movement for the 21st Century" shares her plan at TED.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 17 Apr 2019 | 6:59 pm

Samsung’s Ambitious Galaxy Fold Smartphone Is Already Breaking, Reviewers Say

The hotly anticipated and futuristic Samsung Galaxy Fold is set to hit shelves before April’s end. But a handful of journalists reviewing the foldable smartphone have highlighted some potentially major hardware issues after only days of use.

The multitude of issues, as described by various reporters, are likely due to the titular folding mechanic, as well as the screen’s unorthodox construction. Samsung did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

The Verge’s Dieter Bohn encountered a mysterious bulge protruding from beneath the Galaxy Fold’s creased screen. “It’s a distressing thing to discover just two days after receiving my review unit,” wrote Bohn, who sent the device back to Samsung for analysis. “More distressing is that the bulge eventually pressed sharply enough into the screen to break it.”

Other reviewers, like Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, ran into issues after removing what appeared to be a plastic screen protector film from the Galaxy Fold’s screen. The plastic film is in fact what Samsung calls a “polymer layer,” designed to keep the display intact and touch-friendly. “I removed it, not knowing you’re not supposed to (consumers won’t know either),” said Gurman in a tweet. “It appeared removable in the left corner, so I took it off.”

Not every Galaxy Fold is kicking the bucket, however. Both Quartz’s Mike Murphy and The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler shared more positive experiences with the Galaxy Fold. “I tried folding and unfolding it 100 times in a single sprint, but did not spot any problems,” tweeted Fowler, who shared a time-lapse image of himself opening and closing the device repeatedly.

In March, Samsung released a video depicting the durability tests applied to the Galaxy Fold’s mechanical hinge, folding the smartphone 200,000 times to simulate five years of use.

This isn’t the first time Samsung’s ambitious smartphone ideas have put a dent in the electronics giant’s reputation. As recently as 2016, the company’s stylus-equipped Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was recalled due to widespread battery issues responsible for multiple fires, prompting Samsung to discontinue and recall the smartphone.

Source: Tech – TIME | 17 Apr 2019 | 3:22 pm

Notre-Dame fire: Assassin's Creed's maker pledges aid
Ubisoft is to donate money and offer use of its digital reconstruction of the cathedral.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 17 Apr 2019 | 1:06 pm

'Why I write fake online reviews'
Two people explain why they post made-up reviews, while psychologists deconstruct the power of the review.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 17 Apr 2019 | 11:09 am

TED 2019: Prize to online classes project causes controversy
Plans to give millions of dollars to a program for online learning for pre-schoolers has been criticised.

Source: BBC News - Technology | 17 Apr 2019 | 11:01 am

Apple and Qualcomm Have Settled Their Bitter Dispute Over iPhone Technology

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Apple and mobile chip maker Qualcomm have settled a bitter financial dispute centered on some of the technology that enables iPhones to connect to the internet.

The surprise truce announced Tuesday came just as the former allies turned antagonists were facing off in a federal court trial that was supposed to unfold over the next month in San Diego. The resolution abruptly ended that trial, which also involved Apple’s key iPhone suppliers.

The deal requires Apple to pay Qualcomm an undisclosed amount. It also includes a six-year licensing agreement that likely involves recurring payments to the mobile chip maker.

Investors reacted as if it were a resounding victory for Qualcomm. The San Diego company’s stock soared 23% to close Tuesday at $70.45. Apple shares edged up 2 cents to $199.25.

Neither Apple nor Qualcomm would comment beyond a brief statement announcing they had resolved their differences. Details about how much Apple and its iPhone suppliers will be paying Qualcomm could emerge in court documents or when the companies announce their latest financial results. Apple is due to report its quarterly results on April 30 while Qualcomm is scheduled to release its numbers on May 1.

Apple had been seeking at least $1 billion for money that Qualcomm was supposed to rebate as part of an earlier licensing agreement. Apple had begun to have misgivings about that deal as it added more features to its increasingly popular line-up of iPhones.

Qualcomm was seeking $7 billion for unpaid royalties it contended it was owed for its patented technology in the iPhone. Apple’s iPhone suppliers, including Foxconn and Pegatron, wanted another $27 billion from Qualcomm.

The dispute was clearly beginning to hurt all parties involved, motivating them to settle, said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

“Both Apple and Qualcomm got deeper into this than they wanted to,” Moorhead said.

Qualcomm also held another bargaining chip: It makes the modem chips needed for future smartphones to work with the next generation of high-speed wireless networks known as “5G.” Two of Apple’s biggest rivals, Samsung and Huawei, are already getting ready to introduce 5G models. The iPhone would have been at a disadvantage if it didn’t have a pipeline to Qualcomm’s chips.

Falling behind the competition isn’t something Apple can afford with its iPhone sales already falling .

“Ultimately, Apple realized this was more about two kids fighting in the sandbox and they have bigger issues ahead with 5G and iPhone softness versus battling Qualcomm in court,” Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in Tuesday research note.

Apple had already lost an earlier battle with Qualcomm last month when a federal court jury in San Diego decided the iPhone maker owed Qualcomm $31 million for infringing on three of its patents.

Qualcomm still faces other potential fallout from its demands to be paid royalties in addition to the fees it charges for its mobile chips. The Federal Trade Commission has accused the company of using its royalty system to stifle competition in the mobile chip market in another case in which Apple played a central role.

A trial about the FTC’s lawsuit wrapped up in a San Jose, California, court in January, but the judge still hasn’t issued a ruling.

Source: Tech – TIME | 17 Apr 2019 | 2:00 am

‘Venezuelans Are Starving for Information.’ The Battle to Get News in a Country in Chaos

The world’s media has rarely paid as much attention to Venezuela as it has in 2019. If you’re reading this and want to know more about the country’s crisis, a wealth of information is likely at your fingertips. Each new low in Venezuela’s economic collapse, which has left 9 out of 10 people unable to afford food, and each new twist of its political drama — as two men continue to claim to be president — has been documented and analyzed in painstaking detail across magazines, newspapers and TV screens.

But for Venezuelans inside the country, just finding out what’s going on around them has become a struggle.

As Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian government has overseen Venezuela’s collapse into unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis since 2014, it has tried to restrict citizens’ access to information. Most television is state-run, and authorities ban the few independent TV and radio stations from covering Venezuela’s crisis as it unfolds: in widespread power outages, food and medicine shortages, and protests led by the opposition. Unable to afford the paper to print on, newspapers and magazines have all but disappeared.

As a result, the Internet is the last place Venezuelans can turn for non-government sanctioned information. It’s also the opposition’s only way to organize — and that means it has become a key battleground in the fight for control of Venezuela. Authorities regularly block news outlets and social media or arrest critics who speak out online, while underfunded web infrastructure has slowed connection speeds to near unusable levels. But a network of activists and former journalists are fighting back. Creating underground news services on WhatsApp, and teaching the less tech-savvy to navigate restrictions, they are keeping information flowing around the country. “Most Venezuelans are in the dark, starving for information,” says Andrés Azpúrua, director of Internet freedom watchdog VE Sin Filtro (Venezuela Without Filter). “People are working really hard to get [it] to them.”

Luis Robayo– AFP/Getty ImagesVenezuela’s National Assembly head and self-proclaimed “acting president” Juan Guaido (C) speaks to the press after attending a mass in honour to the fallen in the fight for freedom, political prisoners and the exiled, at the San Jose church in Caracas on January 27, 2019.

Venezuela’s Internet freedom has been weakening for several years, with the country finally dropping from “partly free” to “not free” in annual reports by global democracy monitor Freedom House in 2017 – the year widespread protests broke out amid worsening living conditions caused by a drop in the global oil price and economic mismanagement.

But Azpúrua says censorship has “accelerated rapidly” since January this year, when Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-held parliament, staked a claim on the presidency. Guaidó argued that Maduro’s second term, won in rigged elections in 2018, was invalid, and that the constitution mandated he take charge temporarily. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans rallied in the streets to show support for his claim, while the U.S. and 50 other mostly Western countries have recognized Guaidó as president. Maduro retains the backing of key allies Russia, China and Turkey and, crucially, of the Venezuelan military.

Venezuela is now subject to frequent information blackouts — periods of prolonged and widespread censorship that tend to occur precisely when the eyes of the world’s media are drawn to Venezuela. On the weekend of February 22, for example, as Guaidó supporters faced off with the military in an attempt to bring aid into Venezuela from Colombia, the dominant state-run internet service provider blocked Youtube and other streaming websites along with a number of domestic and foreign news outlets, according to VE Sin Filtro. Several online-only news broadcasters, which became a popular alternative to heavily censored television news during the 2017 protests, were blocked during the border face-off and have been inaccessible on most Internet service providers since.

Almost every time Guaidó livestreams a speech on Instagram, Youtube or Periscope, the site will go down precisely when he starts, Azpúrua says. Authorities used to block sites with simple DNS (Domain Name System) blocking; under orders from the government, Internet service providers stopped connecting users to requested sites. As more and more people began to use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to encrypt web traffic and stop it being intercepted, the government got more sophisticated, Azpúrua says, and started blocking VPN services too. “They haven’t won the war. But they’re definitely gaining ground.”

Ronaldo Schemidt –AFP/Getty ImagesVenezuelan Naky Soto, wife of journalist and human rights activist Luis Carlos Díaz

The most visible face of the movement fighting back against censorship is Caracas-based Luis Carlos Díaz. A tech journalist, radio host and self-described “child of the Internet,” Díaz has become known for advising his large online following on how to use alternative services or proxy servers, and what to do during information blackouts. In March, state television claimed one of his videos on information blackouts — released a few weeks before an actual electrical blackout cut power across Venezuela for several days — proved he was involved in a U.S.-backed cyber attack to bring down the electric grid. (Maduro has offered no evidence of U.S. involvement and experts at the Central University of Venezuela’s electrical engineering department have blamed a bush fire for triggering the collapse of the chronically underfunded grid.)

On March 11, four days into the blackout, intelligence agents stopped Díaz as he was cycling home and placed a hood over his head before bundling him into a car. He was taken to the Helicoide, a space-age building in south-central Caracas that over the last five years has become a notorious holding center for political prisoners. Intelligence agents detained him for 30 hours, while refusing to tell his wife and fellow journalist Naky Soto, who is suffering from cancer, if they had him in custody. Media and human rights organizations around the world, including U.N. human rights commissioner and former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, demanded answers. Some thirty hours later, agents set free Díaz free, with orders to report back every eight days and not to talk about his case.

Venezuelan authorities regularly detain journalists, claiming that they have entered the country illegally or breached “security zones”, or citing a vaguely worded “law against hatred” passed in 2017. But journalists are not the only target. Last April, intelligence agents arrested three teenagers who used Facebook to invite friends to a protest, according to Human Rights Watch. In May, Pedro Jaimes Criollo, who runs a Twitter account tracking weather and aviation data, disappeared for 33 days after he shared the route that the presidential plane was taking in a post about how few aircraft were flying. (The president’s route was already publicly available on air traffic sites.) Local media said in February that Jaimes Criollo was still in the Helicoide awaiting trial on national security-related charges.

By detaining social media users, even ones without apparently political motives, Díaz says officials are trying to prove their loyalty to those higher up the chain of command. “Everyone has their kind of quota of people to detain and then show to the regime, like a trophy,” he tells TIME, speaking over the phone from Caracas. “They can say “I have caught this conspirator, this terrorist.” It doesn’t matter to them if it’s true.”

Journalists are facing these kinds of risks for pitiful salaries. While a foreign correspondent working in Caracas for U.S. media may be making hundreds or thousands of dollars each month, Díaz says the average Venezuelan journalist earns just $5 or $10 working for an independent outlet. “It might not seem important, but it makes it really hard to do your job when you’re hungry all the time, or you can’t afford to buy medicine for your family,” Díaz says.

Still, many are determined to get information out there. “People are thinking outside the box to deliver the news to different communities,” Azpúrua says. One of the most eye-catching methods has been Bus TV, in which journalists stand on public buses, reading out headlines, holding a TV-like frame around their faces. The idea is partly to inform the public, and partly to protest censorship.

More practically, activists and journalists, some working in exile, have set up services like Información Pública to produce short audio news bulletins, distributed as WhatsApp voice notes or on SoundCloud. Other upstart news services, like ¿Qué está pasando? (What’s Going On?), share images of text that people can save to their phones for when the internet cuts out. These underground news bulletins are shared on “huge distribution lists,” Azpúrua says. “People who have signed up receive [the bulletins] and share them with their friends, and so on, so it goes viral.”

But, as in other countries where social media has become a source of news, it’s hard to prevent the spread of disinformation. According to Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, false stories have gone viral online about the military conscripting minors and about Russian troops arriving in Venezuela, praying on people’s fears over where the political crisis could go next. The widespread use of large WhatsApp groups to share news stories has facilitated this trend, analysts say, because the app’s encrypted and privately-shared messages don’t allow journalists or fact-checkers to see them and question inaccuracies. It also makes people more likely to read news stories on their phone, where it is harder to spot the signs of an illegitimate source. A similar phenomenon has taken place in India and Brazil, where WhatsApp is also commonly used to share news.

It’s not clear who is behind the false stories. Some of them may be created by opposition groups, while others, Díaz says, come from the regime. “The government has created its own teams, parallels of [offline pro-government gangs] the colectivos, for sharing false stories,” he says. The aim isn’t only to manipulate people with pro-government stories, but also to generally discredit the few remaining news outlets that claim to be credible. “It muddies the waters. It’s a very sophisticated strategy.”

The cumulative impact, Díaz says, is a population in the dark – a boon for the regime. “If people can’t access information, it makes them feel isolated, like all their problems are just individual. That makes them less likely to protest,” he tells TIME, adding that the smaller and more localized the unrest is, the easier it is for the regime to contain it, and resist demands for change. “It’s a terrible setback for our democracy.”

Source: Tech – TIME | 16 Apr 2019 | 10:21 am

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp Are Back Up After Reported Outages Worldwide
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were temporarily down early Sunday.

All three social media platforms, including Facebook Messenger, were affected by the outage.

Downdetector.com, a site that monitors site outages, shows Facebook had been down since 6:30 a.m. EST in much of the world, with thousands of reported outages concentrated in the northeastern U.S., Europe and the Philippines.

It appeared to be back up and running for most users by 9 a.m. EST.

An email requesting comment about what caused the outage was sent to Facebook.

#FacebookDown, #instagramdown and #whatsappdown were all trending on Twitter globally.

Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

There are more than 1.52 billion daily active Facebook users, according to the social media network’s website.

Source: Tech – TIME | 14 Apr 2019 | 9:26 am

Disney’s Streaming Service, Disney Plus, Launches This Year. Here’s What It’ll Have

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Disney raised the curtain on a hotly anticipated video steaming service that’s aiming to topple industry pioneer Netflix, once a valuable ally of the Magic Kingdom.

The service, called Disney Plus, has been in the works for more than year, but Thursday marked the first time that the longtime entertainment powerhouse has laid out plans for its attack on Netflix and a formidable cast of competitors, including Amazon, HBO Go and Showtime Anytime.

Disney Plus will roll out in the U.S. on November 12 at a price of $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year. That’s well below the $13 monthly fee Netflix charges for its most popular streaming plan, signaling Disney’s determination to woo subscribers as it vies to become a major player in a field that has turned “binge watching” into a common ritual.

Like Netflix, Disney Plus will be free of ads. Subscribers will be able to download all of the shows and movies on Disney’s service to watch offline.

Netflix will still have a far deeper video programming lineup after spending tens of billions of dollars during the past six years on original shows such as “House of Cards,” ”Stranger Things” and “The Crown.”

But Disney Plus will be able to draw upon a library of revered films dating back several decades while it also forges into original programming. Its animated classics, including “Aladdin” and “The Jungle Book” will be available on the service when it launches.

New shows already on tap include “The Mandalorian,” the first live action “Star Wars” series, created by Jon Favreau; a prequel to the “Star Wars” film “Rogue One,” starring Diego Luna; a series about the Marvel character Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston; a rebooted “High School Musical” series; and a new documentary series focused on Disney.

Disney is approaching the streaming industry from a “position of strength, confidence and unbridled optimism,” CEO Bob Iger said Thursday. Iger has led the company since 2005 and expects to step down when his contract ends in 2021.

The service’s entire lineup will cover five categories: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.

Although Disney has an enviable track record of producing shows and films that attract huge audiences, its attempt to build its own Netflix is risky. To make the leap, Disney ended a lucrative licensing relationship with Netflix, which had become the video streaming home for its latest films after their theatrical release, as well as many of its TV series and classic movies.

But now movies that came out in 2019, and going forward, will be streamed only on Disney Plus. That includes “Captain Marvel,” which came out earlier this year; “Avengers: Endgame,” which debuts in late April; and the upcoming “Toy Story 4,” live-action movies “The Lion King” and “Aladdin;” and “Star Wars Episode IX.”

In many ways, it’s hard to compare Netflix with Disney because of the widely different types of shows each offers, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna.

“The interesting thing is both companies have ended up in the same place, but they’ve come to it from vastly different backgrounds,” he said.

Disney will also contend with a new streaming service from Apple, which is expected to be released in the fall. Apple has not yet said how much its service will cost or when exactly it will launch.

Last month, Disney completed its biggest deal yet with its $71 billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment business. The first 30 seasons of “The Simpsons” will now stream exclusively on Disney Plus.

The Fox takeover helps Disney tighten its control over TV shows and movies from start to finish — from creating the programs to distributing them though television channels, movie theaters, streaming services and other avenues. Disney will also get valuable data on customers and their entertainment-viewing habits, which it can then use to sell advertising.

The Fox deal also gave Disney a controlling stake in Hulu. Iger has said Hulu will continue to offer general entertainment programming while Disney Plus will be focused on family fare.

Along with its strong brand, Disney has the advantage of having a clear strategy for each of its streaming services, Verna said, including Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus. Disney executives hinted the company would “likely” bundle the three at a discounted price, but declined to give more details.

Terminating its deal with Netflix will cost Disney about $150 million in licensing revenue alone during its current fiscal year ending in September.

Disney is betting its new service will quickly offset that. By dangling a mix of familiar franchises and beloved animated classics, along with original programming, it figures the new service will be irresistible to families, even if they already subscribe to other services. It expects Disney Plus to be profitable during its 2024 fiscal year.

The plunge into video streaming is likely to confront Disney with new challenges. One of the biggest dilemmas will center on how long Disney waits after a new film’s theatrical release to make it available on its new streaming service.

Disney said movies would become available on its streaming service only after the traditional theatrical release period and home movie debut, which includes DVDs and purchasing streaming videos. That puts its schedule behind that of some competitors. Netflix films such as the award-winning “Roma” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” have either become available for streaming on the same day or just a few days after their short runs in theaters.

With nearly 140 million worldwide subscribers, Netflix already has proven its mettle while warding off one competitive threat after another in the 12 years since it pivoted from DVD-by-mail rentals to video streaming.

Now, Netflix is locking horns with a company that has been steadily expanding upon its Disney franchise during a shopping spree that has seen it snap up other major studios.

Source: Tech – TIME | 12 Apr 2019 | 11:27 am

Uber’s IPO Filing Reveals Billion-Dollar Revenue Overshadowed by Losses

Source: Tech – TIME | 11 Apr 2019 | 4:47 pm

Thousands of Amazon Workers Listen to Alexa Users’ Conversations

(Bloomberg) — Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening.

Sometimes, someone is.

Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.

The Alexa voice review process, described by seven people who have worked on the program, highlights the often-overlooked human role in training software algorithms. In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching.

The team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania, according to the people, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program. They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, according to two workers based at Amazon’s Bucharest office, which takes up the top three floors of the Globalworth building in the Romanian capital’s up-and-coming Pipera district. The modern facility stands out amid the crumbling infrastructure and bears no exterior sign advertising Amazon’s presence.

The work is mostly mundane. One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as “Taylor Swift” and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist. Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.

Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” an Amazon spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.

“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.”

Amazon, in its marketing and privacy policy materials, doesn’t explicitly say humans are listening to recordings of some conversations picked up by Alexa. “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” the company says in a list of frequently asked questions.

In Alexa’s privacy settings, Amazon gives users the option of disabling the use of their voice recordings for the development of new features. The company says people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process. A screenshot reviewed by Bloomberg shows that the recordings sent to the Alexa reviewers don’t provide a user’s full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user’s first name and the device’s serial number.

The Intercept reported earlier this year that employees of Amazon-owned Ring manually identify vehicles and people in videos captured by the company’s doorbell cameras, an effort to better train the software to do that work itself.

“You don’t necessarily think of another human listening to what you’re telling your smart speaker in the intimacy of your home,” said Florian Schaub, a professor at the University of Michigan who has researched privacy issues related to smart speakers. “I think we’ve been conditioned to the [assumption] that these machines are just doing magic machine learning. But the fact is there is still manual processing involved.”

“Whether that’s a privacy concern or not depends on how cautious Amazon and other companies are in what type of information they have manually annotated, and how they present that information to someone,” he added.

When the Echo debuted in 2014, Amazon’s cylindrical smart speaker quickly popularized the use of voice software in the home. Before long, Alphabet Inc. launched its own version, called Google Home, followed by Apple Inc.’s HomePod. Various companies also sell their own devices in China. Globally, consumers bought 78 million smart speakers last year, according to researcher Canalys. Millions more use voice software to interact with digital assistants on their smartphones.

Alexa software is designed to continuously record snatches of audio, listening for a wake word. That’s “Alexa” by default, but people can change it to “Echo” or “computer.” When the wake word is detected, the light ring at the top of the Echo turns blue, indicating the device is recording and beaming a command to Amazon servers.

Most modern speech-recognition systems rely on neural networks patterned on the human brain. The software learns as it goes, by spotting patterns amid vast amounts of data. The algorithms powering the Echo and other smart speakers use models of probability to make educated guesses. If someone asks Alexa if there’s a Greek place nearby, the algorithms know the user is probably looking for a restaurant, not a church or community center.

But sometimes Alexa gets it wrong—especially when grappling with new slang, regional colloquialisms or languages other than English. In French, avec sa, “with his” or “with her,” can confuse the software into thinking someone is using the Alexa wake word. Hecho, Spanish for a fact or deed, is sometimes misinterpreted as Echo. And so on. That’s why Amazon recruited human helpers to fill in the gaps missed by the algorithms.

Apple’s Siri also has human helpers, who work to gauge whether the digital assistant’s interpretation of requests lines up with what the person said. The recordings they review lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier, according to an Apple security white paper. After that, the data is stripped of its random identification information but may be stored for longer periods to improve Siri’s voice recognition.

At Google, some reviewers can access some audio snippets from its Assistant to help train and improve the product, but it’s not associated with any personally identifiable information and the audio is distorted, the company says.

A recent Amazon job posting, seeking a quality assurance manager for Alexa Data Services in Bucharest, describes the role humans play: “Every day she [Alexa] listens to thousands of people talking to her about different topics and different languages, and she needs our help to make sense of it all.” The want ad continues: “This is big data handling like you’ve never seen it. We’re creating, labeling, curating and analyzing vast quantities of speech on a daily basis.”

Amazon’s review process for speech data begins when Alexa pulls a random, small sampling of customer voice recordings and sends the audio files to the far-flung employees and contractors, according to a person familiar with the program’s design.

Some Alexa reviewers are tasked with transcribing users’ commands, comparing the recordings to Alexa’s automated transcript, say, or annotating the interaction between user and machine. What did the person ask? Did Alexa provide an effective response?

Others note everything the speaker picks up, including background conversations—even when children are speaking. Sometimes listeners hear users discussing private details such as names or bank details; in such cases, they’re supposed to tick a dialog box denoting “critical data.” They then move on to the next audio file.

According to Amazon’s website, no audio is stored unless Echo detects the wake word or is activated by pressing a button. But sometimes Alexa appears to begin recording without any prompt at all, and the audio files start with a blaring television or unintelligible noise. Whether or not the activation is mistaken, the reviewers are required to transcribe it. One of the people said the auditors each transcribe as many as 100 recordings a day when Alexa receives no wake command or is triggered by accident.

In homes around the world, Echo owners frequently speculate about who might be listening, according to two of the reviewers. “Do you work for the NSA?” they ask. “Alexa, is someone else listening to us?”

Source: Tech – TIME | 11 Apr 2019 | 2:04 pm

Want to Change Your PlayStation Username for Free? Here’s How

Keeping a promise it made last year, Sony is finally providing PlayStation 4 players the option to change their username — meaning you can finally ditch the scourge that is “L33TMoocher420,” or whatever else you thought was funny in high school.

Sadly, changing your PlayStation username is not as simple as typing in a new name and getting back to your favorite game. Thanks to some software issues, it gets a bit more complicated depending on the games you still play.

You’ll need either your PlayStation 4 console or access to a web browser in order to change your PlayStation Network ID, also known as a PSN ID — or more generally, your PlayStation handle.

From your PlayStation 4, go to Settings -> Account Management -> Account Information -> Profile -> Online ID. You’ll be able to make the change there. Alternatively, on the web, sign in to your PlayStation Network account, select your profile in the menu bar, and hit the Edit button.

There are a few other things to know about changing your PlayStation username:

Not every game supports PSN ID changes

Sony notes that, while a majority of popular PlayStation games support changing your username, not every title will play nice with your revised handle.

According to Sony, games released after April 1, 2018 are capable of handling your new identity. “However, since they have not all been specifically tested with the feature, we cannot guarantee that they will support it,” Sony said in its announcement of the update.

Since not every game is supported, that could spell the end of your time spent playing your favorite title. Luckily, Sony has a list of tested games to peruse. If your game of choice is one of the titles with critical issues, Sony recommends you not change your username if you want to continue enjoying it.

The first change is free

Sony is giving every user one PlayStation username change on the house. But should you want to make yet another tweak to your PSN ID, it’ll cost you $9.99. If you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, that drops to $4.99.

You can always go back

Hate your new name? Don’t worry. As long as your name doesn’t violate Sony’s rules (nothing profane, racist, or insensitive, among other restrictions) you can always revert back by contacting Sony’s customer service department.

Source: Tech – TIME | 10 Apr 2019 | 4:58 pm

5 Video Games You’ve Never Heard of But You Should Be Playing

Big-ticket games like The Division 2 and Sekiro are great, but sometimes you might be in the mood for something a little different — and maybe a little cheaper, too. Thankfully, we’re living in the golden age of indie video games that you can download right to your console or PC for a pittance.

Here are five great indie games worth playing right now:

Baba Is You

Puzzle games are more fun when you get to break the rules. Baba Is You developer Hempuli Oy understands that, because Baba Is You is all about changing the rules of the game in your favor to win.

The setup is simple—players take control of Baba, a cute little 2D animal, and try to reach to a flag. If Baba touches the flag, the player wins the game. In doing so, Baba has to navigate around walls, push rocks, avoid drowning in water, and dodge jellyfish.

What sets Baba Is You apart is players’ ability to change the rules of every puzzle. Scattered around the maps are simple noun and adjective statements such as, well, “Baba Is You,” “Flag Is Victory,” and “Wall Is Stop.” Like the rocks Baba can push around the map, Baba can move these noun and adjective statements around and change everything on the game map.

In one map, an impenetrable wall circled the flag I needed to grab for victory. I moved the sentence fragments around to create “Wall Is You.” Suddenly, I had full control over every wall on the map. I scooted the wall to the side, collected the flag, and won the game. On another map, I changed the win condition to read “Baba Is You and Victory” and instantly won the map.

Players navigate a Super Mario World-style overworld of 200 different puzzles in Baba Is You. As the game progresses, it adds more complications and elements for the player to manipulate, until, at the end, I was juggling a dozen different noun and adjective statements, desperately trying to figure out the best way to break the world and achieve victory.

Available on Steam, itch.io, and the Nintendo Switch.

Risk of Rain 2

Few good things in life come without a little risk. That’s one of the principles behind Risk of Rain 2, a 3D sequel to the classic 2D role-playing game from 2013. In Risk of Rain 2, players land on a hostile alien world and set off to master it. Each planet is procedurally generated, and the longer a player survives, the harder the game gets.

Like Dead Cells or Dark Souls, players will die a lot in Risk of Rain 2. But every death reveals something new about the world. The longer a player survives and the more they explore, the more they’ll unlock new character classes, weapons, abilities, and information. The game world resets with every death, but unlocked character classes stick around between runs — so even when you die, you’re always progressing.

Mercifully, players don’t have to take on the game alone. Risk of Rain 2 comes with a multiplayer mode in which up to four players can team up. A meditative soundtrack, tough but fair challenge, and low price come together to make this indie darling easy to recommend.

Risk of Rain 2 is in early access on Steam, and is set for console release in 2020.

Hypnospace Outlaw

Do you miss the old internet? You know the one I’m talking about—that pre-millennium cyberspace where every other website was a hamster dancing to MIDI music, GeoCities and Angelfire ruled the day, and every site was “under construction.” Hypnospace Outlaw asks you to return to those wild and innocent days of the internet and police them.

It’s 1999 and everyone surfs the ‘net while they’re asleep using tech called a Hypnoband. You’re a content cop — a volunteer who browses the mean screens of the Hypnospace looking for infractions. On the surface, things are sublime, but the darkest corners of Hypnospace hold strange secrets.

Hypnospace Outlaw is a brilliant parody of both 1999 internet culture and modern day paranoia. I interacted with Hypnospace through a fake desktop, complete with an email app, garbage box, and Winamp-style music player. My first case was simple: track down images that infringed the copyright of a cartoon fish owned by a Disney-like megacorporation. I felt bad when I shut down a fan site, but I was rewarded for the task with a new skin for my music player.

As Hypnospace Outlaw progressed, I found myself taking on stranger tasks and uncovering grotesque mysteries just below the surface of its idyllic cyber utopia. Who, exactly, is spreading shock imagery like a virus? What is cool punk and why is its music so catchy? Where can I find a recipe for Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream? To answer these and other mysteries, enter the world of Hypnospace Outlaw.

Available on PC and Mac via Steam.

Detention

A horror game from Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games, Detention is set in the 1960s amid Taiwan’s “White Terror,” a nearly four-decade period of martial law during which nearly 4,000 people were executed. Students Wei and Ray fall asleep at their high school, and wake up to find that everyone has evacuated the building to avoid an incoming tsunami. Finding the exits blocked, Wei and Ray decide to wait out the storm. Then things get creepy.

Detention is a side scrolling adventure game in the Monkey Island tradition. You’ll wander the school’s halls, click on objects, work puzzles, and avoid spooky monsters as you uncover the mystery of the haunted building. What sets Detention apart is the way it mixes traditional Chinese mythology, buddhism, and the horror of history to tell a heartbreaking and terrifying tale.

Available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

Ape Out

Apes, ultra-violence, and jazz make Ape Out special. The story is simple: you play as an ape attempting to escape captivity. Each level begins with a bright orange ape busting out of a cage and ends in carnage and blood for the ape’s captors. The goal is also simple: smash and grab (the game’s only two buttons) your way through guards to escape the randomly generated levels.

The ape is fragile, but strong. He can only take one or two shots from his human tormentors before he’s dead and the level starts all over. But strength and smarts will keep clever players alive. Human guards are as fragile as the ape, who can punch his victims into bloody goo or rip them limb from limb. The ape can even grab hold of guards to use as human shields before hurling the bullet-riddled body into still more enemies.

Ape Out is a simple game with a striking art style and music that elevates the experience. The player’s view is isometric and 2-D—you’re always staring down at your ape as if you’re helping him navigate a foosball table. The colors are simple and muted. The ape is a large orange outline, the guards vibrant white, and the blood garrish pools of crimson. Over this chaotic gore, a jazz soundtrack drums and thrums in response to the players actions. Cymbals and drums mix up the music, reacting as the ape slaughters his captors, giving each level a unique rhythm and a soundtrack that’s different every time.

Available on PC and the Nintendo Switch.

Source: Tech – TIME | 10 Apr 2019 | 12:44 pm

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