Internet Association outlines policy positions in a letter to the president-elect
A group of tech companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter has called on President-elect Donald Trump to protect encryption, reform immigration policy, and curtail surveillance during his administration. The Internet Association, whose members also include Uber, Amazon, and Netflix, outlined its policy positions in a letter published on Monday.
Tech executives have been wary and sometimes openly critical of Trump, in part due to the president-elect's divisive campaign rhetoric and positions on immigration and encryption. In June, more than 100 Silicon Valley leaders said in a letter that a Trump presidency would be a "disaster for innovation." The letter released Monday strikes a more optimistic tone.
"The internet industry looks forward to engaging in an open and productive dialogue," the letter reads.
"SUPPORT FOR STRONG ENCRYPTION MAKES AMERICA MORE SECURE."
During the Republican primary, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products after the company refused an FBI order to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. He dismissed the company's argument that unlocking the phone would threaten the privacy and security of all iPhone users, saying in a February interview: "Who do they think they are?" The Internet Association hopes he'll reconsider.
"Laws that require companies to engineer vulnerabilities into products and services harm personal privacy and endanger national security," the letter reads. "Support for strong encryption makes America more secure."
The letter also calls on Trump to support net neutrality and implement stronger reforms on government surveillance programs. Trump has been critical of net neutrality in the past, and his transition team includes two prominent defenders of the National Security Agency (NSA). But he may be more sympathetic to some of the Internet Association's other policy priorities, including its calls to ease regulation of the sharing economy and lower regulatory barriers in Europe.
On immigration, the Internet Association wants Trump to "expand and improve the green card program," and to create a green card system for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates. Trump built much of his candidacy around a hardline anti-immigration position, and although his position on expanding the H1-B visa program for skilled workers remains vague, there are concerns that the program could be curtailed under his administration.
On Tuesday, Google launched a new app called Photoscan that lets you easily digitize your old family photos and store them in the Google Photos app.
Google Photos uses artificial intelligence to take your photos to the next level. For instance, one person on Reddit, after seeing this video shared this story:
"On my kid's 3rd birthday, Google Photos presented me with a short video titled 'they grow up so fast' compiled of photos and video clips from her entire life, from birth until the day before, highlighting birthdays and whatnot. It just knows those pictures are birthday pictures, and it knows these pictures are all the same baby, from a newborn all the way to a 3 year old. It is amazing."
The Photos app is cool, and the PhotoScan app seems useful.
But the video explaining the app is one of the best we've seen. If you are in need of a bit of a laugh (and these days, who isn't?), do yourself a favor and spend 1:45 watching it.
CTO Zenon Hannick is looking to a future where micropayment donations are made within a VR experience
Comic relief wants consumers to watch its programmes and donate via virtual reality
Comic Relief is aiming for a future where its programmes are experienced in virtual reality and donations happen within the experience via micropayments.
Zenon Hannick, Comic Relief CTO, discussed the future of payment mechanisms with V3 recently, explaining that he is looking for new ways to engage with the next generation of consumers.
"Digital is obviously central to that. We need to provide easier ways to donate. So we're looking to create the next experience that fits with where the audiences are and how they like to pay," he said.
"There's something interesting about making immersive experiences with VR [virtual reality] and how you embed micropayments. When you provide an experience that's long-lived and provides a continuous engagement, can you have a micropayment strategy across that long-lived engagement?" he said.
Hannick explained that the challenge for Comic Relief is to provide an engagement that lasts throughout the year rather than simply over the course of the Red Nose and Sports Relief campaigns.
"You have to show the audience where the money has gone so they feel engaged. We as a charity fund other projects, so it's about telling their stories. There's a powerful story we can create about how the money we take can change people's lives, and VR can be a big part of telling that story," he added.
Hannick clearly sees VR as the future platform for Comic Relief, but he doesn't see wide-scale adoption of the technology until at least 2018.
"2017 will be the trough of disappointment for VR. There'll be some interesting story-telling experiences next year, but 2018 will be when it goes mass medium," he said.
Hannick concluded by stating that his organisation needs to "nail digital story-telling".
"In the linear TV world we've occupied, we show comedy followed by showing the need [for donations] and then allowing those donations, then showing where the money's gone. In the VR space it'll be much the same, but not so linear, so we're exploring those spaces," he said.
"Another area we're looking at is a payment mechanism around social. We're exploring that this year, so we're trying to see where that world is moving."
WhatsApp is rolling out video calling today to its billion-plus monthly users. That’s basically the entire story — if you’d like to use it, update the app, open a chat, and tap the familiar video camera icon in the top-right corner. The video chat results look like the video chatting you’ve done before on FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, or Google Duo: two faces, one in a smaller window, with a handful of small features for changing the position of the chat windows or turning the camera around.
That video calls took until November 2016 to arrive on WhatsApp reflects the app’s cautious — some might say glacial — approach to product development. WhatsApp launched in 2009, but group chats didn’t come until two years later, and voice calls didn’t come until four years after that.
That it took seven years for WhatsApp to add video calling likely reflects both the expense of doing so and the fact that many of its users around the world don’t have access to the high-bandwidth connections or data plans that would support it. And if version 1.0 looks basic, the company says it will evolve. “We will try to be the best video calling platform out there,” Manpreet Singh, WhatsApp’s lead mobile engineer, told me.
Last month at TheWall Street Journal’s tech conference I asked WhatsApp’s co-founders whether they felt pressure to make an app renowned for its simplicity more complex to allow for the features that make competitors like Snapchat more expressive. CEO Jan Koum told me he’s trying to strike a balance — but that lately the balance has tipped toward adding new avenues for expression. If nothing else, the arrival of video calling shows that those avenues are now under construction.
The Google logo adrons the entrance of Google Germany headquarters in Hamburg, Germany July 11, 2016. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen
Alphabet Inc's Google (GOOGL.O) and Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Monday announced measures aimed at halting the spread of "fake news" on the internet by targeting how some purveyors of phony content make money: advertising.
Google said it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies to spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news.
The shifts comes as Google, Facebook and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) face a backlash over the role they played in the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false and often malicious information that might have swayed voters toward Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The issue has provoked a fierce debate within Facebook especially, with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg insisting twice in recent days that the site had no role in influencing the election.
Facebook's steps are limited to its ad policies, and do not target fake news sites shared by users on their news feeds.
"We do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news," Facebook said in a statement, adding that it will continue to vet publishers to ensure compliance.
Google's move similarly does not address the issue of fake news or hoaxes appearing in Google search results. That happened in the last few days, when a search for 'final election count' for a time took users to a fake news story saying Trump won the popular vote. Votes are still being counted, with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton showing a slight lead.
Nor does Google suggest that the company has moved to a mechanism for rating the accuracy of particular articles.
Rather, the change is aimed at assuring that publishers on the network are legitimate and eliminating financial incentives that appear to have driven the production of much fake news.
"Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content, or the primary purpose of the web property," Google said in a statement.
The company did not detail how it would implement or enforce the new policy.
AdSense, which allows advertisers to place text ads on the millions of websites that are part of Google's network, is a major source of money for many publishers.
A report in BuzzFeed News last month showed how tiny publishers in Macedonia were creating websites with fake news - much of it denigrating Clinton - which were widely shared on Facebook.
That sharing in turn led people to click on links which brought them to the Macedonian websites, which could then make money on the traffic via Google's AdSense.
Facebook has been widely blamed for allowing the spread of online misinformation, most of it pro-Trump, but Zuckerberg has rejected the notion that Facebook influenced the outcome of the election or that fake news is a major problem on the service.
"Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic," he wrote in a blog post on Saturday. "Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes."
Google has long had rules for its AdSense program, barring ads from appearing next to pornography or violent content. Work on the policy update announced on Monday began before the election, a Google spokeswoman said.
The company uses a combination of humans and artificial intelligence to review sites that apply to be a part of AdSense, and sites continue to be monitored after they are accepted, a former Google employee who worked on ad systems said. Google's artificial intelligence systems learn from sites that have been removed from the program, speeding the removal of similar sites.
The issue of fake news is critical for Google from a business standpoint, as many advertisers do not want their brands to be touted alongside dubious content. Google must constantly hone its systems to try to stay one step ahead of unscrupulous publishers, the former employee said.
Google has not said whether it believes its search algorithms, or its separate system for ranking results in the Google News service, also need to be modified to cope with the fake news issue.
Fil Menczer, a professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University who has studied the spread of misinformation on social media, said Google's move with AdSense was a positive step.
"One of the incentives for a good portion of fake news is money," he said. "This could cut the income that creates the incentive to create the fake news sites."
However, he cautioned that detecting fake news sites was not easy. "What if it is a site with some real information and some fake news? It requires specialized knowledge and having humans (do it) doesn't scale," he said.
(Reporting by Julia Love and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Jonathan Weber, Bill Rigby and Edwina Gibbs)
Facebook has been told it must not use data gathered from UK WhatsApp users to target ads on its core social network.
The country's Information Commissioner said she did not believe the firm had obtained valid consent for the move and added that people must be given "ongoing control" over their data.
Elizabeth Denham said that Facebook had agreed to "pause" its rollout but had not met all her demands.
The firm said it was having "detailed conversations" with her office.
"We remain open to working collaboratively to address their questions," a Facebook spokeswoman said.
She added that the updates "comply with applicable law, and follow the latest guidance from the UK Information Commissioner's Office".
The California-based company bought WhatsApp in 2014 and pledged to keep the chat app independent.
"I had concerns that consumers weren't being properly protected, and it's fair to say the enquiries my team have made haven't changed that view," blogged Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner.
"I don't think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information.
"We've set out the law clearly to Facebook, and we're pleased that they've agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes."
Ms Denham said she now wanted Facebook and WhatsApp to:
offer customers' more details about how their data will be used
let WhatsApp members restrict access to their information beyond the existing 30-day cooling-off period
let users completely opt-out of the agreement at any time
Ms Denham said that Facebook had not agreed to these terms.
"If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, they may face enforcement action from my office," she warned.
Image captionAdobe has yet to say when it might release Voco to the public
A new application that promises to be the "Photoshop of speech" is raising ethical and security concerns.
Adobe unveiled Project Voco last week. The software makes it possible to take an audio recording and rapidly alter it to include words and phrases the original speaker never uttered, in what sounds like their voice.
One expert warned that the tech could further undermine trust in journalism.
Another said it could pose a security threat.
However, the US software firm says it is taking action to address such risks.
At a live demo in San Diego on Thursday, Adobe took a digitised recording of a man saying "and I kissed my dogs and my wife" and changed it to say "and I kissed Jordan three times".
The edit took seconds and simply involved the operator overtyping a transcript of the speech and then pressing a button to create the synthesised voice track.
Image captionThe operator edited the voice track via a text-based tool
"We have already revolutionised photo editing. Now it's time for us to do the audio stuff," said Adobe's Zeyu Jin, to the applause of his audience.
He added that to make the process possible, the software needed to be provided with about 20 minutes-worth of a person's speech.
Dr Eddy Borges Rey - a lecturer in media and technology at the University of Stirling - was horrified by the development.
"It seems that Adobe's programmers were swept along with the excitement of creating something as innovative as a voice manipulator, and ignored the ethical dilemmas brought up by its potential misuse," he told the BBC.
"Inadvertently, in its quest to create software to manipulate digital media, Adobe has [already] drastically changed the way we engage with evidential material such as photographs.
"This makes it hard for lawyers, journalists, and other professionals who use digital media as evidence.
"In the same way that Adobe's Photoshop has faced legal backlash after the continued misuse of the application by advertisers, Voco, if released commercially, will follow its predecessor with similar consequences."
The risks extend beyond people being fooled into thinking others said something they did not.
Banks and other businesses have started using voiceprint checks to verify customers are who they say they are when they phone in.
Image captionVoice biometic systems use the charactersistics of a person's speech to verify their identity
One cybersecurity researcher said the companies involved had long anticipated something like Adobe's invention.
"The technology is new but its underlying principles have been understood for some time," said Dr Steven Murdoch from University College London.
"Biometric companies say their products would not be tricked by this, because the things they are looking for are not the same things that humans look for when identifying people.
"But the only way to find out is to test them, and it will be some time before we know the answer."
Tesla will build its next Gigafactory in Europe and it will produce more than just batteries, CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday.
Musk said that Tesla plans to establish a combined vehicle and Gigafactory in Europe, where both batteries and vehicles can be produced on site. Tesla plans to eventually have at least one, if not multiple, battery and vehicles facilities in Europe, he said.
However, it will likely be awhile before this hybrid factory becomes a reality. The company will begin looking for locations for its second Gigafactory next year, Musk said. For now, though, the company remains focused on getting ready for Model 3 production, which is slated for the end of 2017.
Gigafactory 1, which is located in Sparks, Nevada, is still under construction, but it's where Tesla plans to build the battery cells that power its vehicles, including the Model 3, and its energy products. Once Gigafactory 1 is fully operational, it will produce more lithium-ion batteries a year than all other lithium-ion manufacturers combined created in 2013.
Tesla strengthened this resolve to automate production when it announced Tuesday that it plans to acquire Grohmann Engineering, a Germany-based engineering group that specializes in automated manufacturing methods. Tesla said the firm, which will be renamed Tesla Grohmann Automation, will help the electric car maker build "the most advanced factories in the world."
Advanced factories capable of high-volume production play a major role in helping Tesla achieve its goal of accelerating a sustainable energy future, the company said in a statement published on its website Tuesday. This is because these highly-efficient factories let Tesla build products with extreme economies of scale, which helps drives down the cost of its products.
For example, Tesla's Gigafactory 1 is using advanced manufacturing methods and economies of scale to significantly reduce the cost of its batteries. Once the factory is fully operational by 2020, Tesla estimates the factory will enable it to reduce its battery prices by about 30%, which will in turn help it build its vehicles for less money.
By combining battery production with car production for the first time in its future European Gigafactory, Tesla will likely be able to make its production process even more efficient, thus helping make its products more affordable for more people.
Firm halts online operations following 'suspicious transactions'
Tesco Bank has admitted suffering a breach that led to money being stolen from 20,000 customers' accounts.
The bank, which has more than seven million customers, confirmed on Saturday that around 40,000 accounts saw "suspicious transactions" over the weekend, of which half had money taken.
Benny Higgins, Tesco Bank CEO, said in a statement on the company's website: "Tesco Bank can confirm that, over the weekend, some of its customers’ current accounts have been subject to online criminal activity, in some cases resulting in money being withdrawn fraudulently."
Customers have reported that as much as £2,000 was siphoned from their accounts over the weekend. Many of those affected also complained that they were unable to get through to Tesco on the phone.
As well as suspending online transactions, Tesco Bank has blocked some customers' cards. The company said in a statement to the BBC that it hopes to refund customers within 24 hours.
"As a precautionary measure, we have taken the decision today to temporarily stop online transactions from current accounts. This will only affect current account customers," Higgins said.
"While online transactions will not be available, current account customers will still be able to use their cards for cash withdrawals, chip and PIN payments, and all existing bill payments and direct debits will continue as normal. We are working hard to resume normal service on current accounts as soon as possible."
However, the Financial Conduct Authority said that banks must refund unauthorised payments immediately, unless they have evidence that the customer was at fault or the payment was made more than 13 months ago.