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Let’s stop pretending Facebook cares

For the past seven days the internet has exploded in anger, betrayal, and disgust over the actions of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a data-dealing propaganda firm that wins elections for paying clients and helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Actions that, despite Facebook's pearl-clutching in press, are starting to look more and more in concert.

To be clear, Facebook knew what Cambridge Analytica did, but only (partly) acted on it when press made it public knowledge. That was three years ago -- December 2015 -- when The Guardian published its first report about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data to target US voters. Facebook didn't suspend them until last Friday. Cambridge Analytica maintained its access for years, while one of its chief officers worked at Facebook -- and while Facebook employees were embedded in the Trump campaign's digital media operation.

Keep in mind that Trump won by well-placed Electoral College votes: 77,744 to be precise. Before Cambridge Analytica came along, Trump had "no unifying data, digital and tech strategy," according to leaks made public today by The Guardian. With its Facebook data, they ran Facebook ads disguised as news stories, linked to fake news sites, and targeted Facebook users they deemed especially susceptible. Then Cambridge Analytica tracked those Facebook users across the internet, and re-targeted them. Russia's trolls did the rest, providing all the confirmation and social proof needed.

When the The Guardian's 2015 article came out, Facebook pretended to care.

"And then," former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie told The Observer, "all they did was write a letter."

"But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it," says Wylie. "Facebook made zero effort to get the data back."

Over the weekend, press characterized Wylie as a whistleblower. Which I suppose is easy to do if we're going to forget where all of this data dealing and vote-influencing has led -- the indisputable rise of hate groups in the US since the 2016 election, Facebook's churning cauldron of racist communities and deadly Nazi rallies, among others. Writer Joseph Guthrie tweeted, "If I ever meet Chris Wylie, there will be no pleasantries. This isn't something you can apologise for and we all just move on. The price paid is too great a cost to ignore and again: assuming he's a queer man like I am, his involvement in this thing is a catastrophic betrayal."

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie

It wasn't until the NYT and The Observer prepared to publish their articles last Friday that Facebook decided to suspend Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie from the platform -- in a weak attempt to get ahead of the story. Even then, it was after Facebook made legal threats on both NYT and The Observer in an effort to silence both publications.

So it was well-known internally at Facebook years ago that Cambridge Analytica extracted a lot of seriously sensitive user data through Facebook APIs, then used it for precision ad targeting (which Facebook could've vetted). It speaks volumes about Facebook -- and all its efforts to distract from this issue -- that it allowed a huge amount of sensitive data to get into the hands of unauthorized third parties ... and took years to take any action other than pinky swears.

It almost goes without saying that this whole sickening affair is more proof we didn't need that Facebook only cares when it is forced to. When the company decides it has a reputation problem. Which is the only problem they actually care about fixing. Other than that, it's all about creating more data dealer WMD's, like Facebook's impending patent to determine social class, which we can all assume will be abused until press who can afford to stand up to Facebook write an article about it.

But when you're Facebook, victimhood is performative.

A Facebook spokesperson released a statement Tuesday saying "the entire company is outraged we were deceived." Obviously. They were so paralyzed by rage that they couldn't even bring themselves to do anything about it for over two years. During which time they rolled out several "upgrades" to their privacy systems and terms, and rolled out "enhanced" features to improve the experience. They were so mad they even hired the Global Science Research officer that sold Cambridge Analytica's users' data.

Bogglingly, the official Facebook response on Wednesday began with the sentence, "Protecting people's information is the most important thing we do at Facebook. What happened with Cambridge Analytica was a breach of Facebook's trust."

Wednesday was also the day of Mark Zuckerberg's carefully-crafted mea culpa press tour. It was an afternoon masterclass on softball interviews. No questions about knowingly hiring Cambridge Analytica's Joseph Chancellor. No queries about threatening to sue The Observer to prevent the information from getting out. You know, the whole reason he's sitting there being interviewed. It was almost like everyone at CNN, WIRED, Re/Code and NYT wanted Zuckerberg to feel safe. Comfortable. Far away from accepting anything like liability. Giving him a voice with which to explain his feelings of betrayal and all about his determination to do better while effectively changing nothing.

When the only thing that actually changed is people found out about it.

I particularly loved WIRED's feel of a chat over coffee, asking Zuckerberg what "philosophical changes" have been going through his mind lately. He got to say how, gosh, he really wishes he didn't have to deal with making decisions about content that promotes opposition of gender and racial equality. Which he shamelessly believes is a diverse and underserved point of view. As if fairness means incorporating, if not humoring and tolerating, ruinous disinformation campaigns, the beliefs of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and fascists working for the most disastrous president in US history.

"A lot of the most sensitive issues that we face today are conflicts between real values, right? Freedom of speech, and hate speech and offensive content. Where is the line?" he said to Re/Code. "What I would really like to do is find a way to get our policies set in a way that reflects the values of the community so I am not the one making those decisions."

Yep. While his company is the world leader in content censorship of art, human sexuality, and black activists, Mark Zuckerberg literally never imagined he'd someday be in the position to do the right thing about hate speech. And wishes he didn't have to.

That Facebook only pretends to care -- in the ways least affecting its business model -- isn't new. Nor is that the company is having yet another (temporary) "come to Jesus" moment about honesty when its hand is forced. Apology tours are its speciality.

Look, Zuckerberg did say sorry -- that they "let the community down." It felt just as real as all of Facebook's regular apologies over the past ten years or so. I can't wait for the next one.

Zuckerberg also shored up his assurances to press this week by stating that Facebook would be beefing up its security team. He said, "We're going to have 20,000 people working on security and content review in this company by the end of this year."

Facebook can hire all the security it wants. It won't do anything to protect us from Facebook.

Images: Jack Taylor/Getty Images (Chris Wylie / Cambridge Analytica); David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Zuckerberg)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/let-s-stop-pretending-facebook-cares/

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The story of the Duke, the Xbox pad that existed because it had to

Rather than starting from scratch, Chaudhari had to work from Xbox creative director Horace Luke's concept sketches. They'd already been approved from up top, and a third-party supplier had built circuit boards based on those early drawings. Instead of coming up with the shape and ergonomics first and figuring out how to fit the device's internals into the shell after, Chaudhari needed to work backward.

She got to work, sculpting physical models with a wood-like modeling material called RenShape. You can see the legacy of Chaudhari's work in every Xbox gamepad that followed. Its A, B, X, Y face button layout and button style remain today, for starters. But it's the thumbstick placement that has made the most lasting impression on controller design. While the DualShock had parallel sticks at the bottom of the controller, the Duke's were offset, with the left sitting higher than the right by about two inches.

It wasn't until her conversations with Xbox architect Seamus Blackley, J Allard (the "father" of the console's follow-up, the Xbox 360) and her now ex-husband Rob Wyatt that Chaudhari realized the hand she'd been dealt: The circuit boards, already manufactured and ready to go, were comically oversized.

A large circuit board does two things. For one, it costs more to make. It also occupies more physical space. Looking over photos of the circuit board, longtime hardware hacker Ben Heck estimated that even in 2000, the board could've "easily" been a third smaller. He theorized that the circuit board's size was a necessity given the Duke's expansion slots for memory cards and an Xbox Live chat headset (also designed by Chaudhari).

"We were up against a wall," Chaudhari said. "The best thing we could do was create a case that was ergonomically comfortable. If it's gonna have to be that big, then it can at least feel good, right?" Case in point, the Duke's analog sticks are offset rather than parallel, positioned where your thumbs naturally rest.

"It was no secret to us that it was big."

According to Blackley, that decision was the result of a few Tony Hawk Pro Skater players on the team who thought it'd make virtual skateboarding more fun. Combined with developer Bungie's Halo: Combat Evolved as a launch title, the placement also helped make first-person shooters feel like a natural fit for a console, which was laughable up to that point.

Chaudhari spent most of her days working with electrical engineers, negotiating button layouts and placements, and generally doing whatever possible to shrink the gargantuan gamepad down to size, millimeters at a time. Blackley would come into her office almost daily to check her progress on the new prototypes. Each time, his reaction was the same: The controller wasn't small enough. Her immediate response never changed. She wanted to know how it felt in his hands. "And Seamus would say, 'It feels great, but it's huge,'" she recalled. "It was no secret to us that it was big." The final product was nearly three times larger than the PlayStation's DualShock controller.

At one point, the design team met with electronics supplier Mitsumi, which made the circuit boards for the DualShock. One of the reasons Sony's gamepads were so much smaller was because they used a two-part board that connected via a ribbon cable. The separate pieces of silicon sat perpendicular to one another and allowed for a more modest design overall. When Chaudhari asked Mitsumi if Xbox could have a similar-style board, she was flat-out refused, presumably because of Japan's nationalistic culture. "The takeaway was kind of like, 'Sony is a Japanese company; Mitsumi is a Japanese company. Xbox is an American company, and you don't get what you get because you want it, even if you're willing to pay for it,'" she said.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/xbox-controller-retrospective-hyperkin-duke-gamepad/

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What to expect from Apple’s education-themed ‘Field Trip’ event

A touch of ClassKit

iOS 11.3 is still in the works, but one fascinating tidbit appeared in the latest beta release. There are references in the code ClassKit, a framework tailor-made to help developers create apps for schools. Sounds like the perfect thing to discuss at length inside a high school, no? While Apple is surely courting developers, we've already heard a few things about one of Apple's own ClassKit-powered apps. According to 9to5Mac, teachers will be able to assign work to students through an app called Classwork, which kids can also use to log their progress. More broadly, apps built on top of ClassKit can be used to evaluate students and issue tests, not to mention lock down the iPad into a sort of "kiosk" mode to prevent kids from jumping into Safari and Googling for quiz answers.

A less expensive MacBook Air?

Right now, the cheapest new Mac you can buy is a $999 MacBook Air, and it's not exactly cutting edge. It received a spec bump last summer, but still uses a relatively old processor and lower-res display. Reports from famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and elsewhere, however, point to the possibility of a MacBook Air with a "lower price tag" to launch sometime in the spring. A subsequent report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman confirmed Apple is indeed working on an Air sequel priced under $1,000. It's not hard to see how a machine like that might help Apple move more laptops into classrooms, but the price gap between a cheap Macbook and a Chromebook is still pretty huge. Word is the new Air won't be ready in time for an official reveal at next week's event, but it would make for a fantastic One More Thing. (Hear that, Apple?)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/what-to-expect-apple-education-event-march-27/

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Atari shows its non-functional ‘VCS’ console prototype at GDC 2018

Unfortunately, we still don't know all that much about the console itself as the company has remained tight-lipped about its prototype product. Atari promised that the VCS will retail for around $300, will play both classic Atari games as well as modern content, and that pre-orders for the console will begin in April 2018.

Luckily, thanks to a brief hands-on opportunity on Thursday at GDC 2018, we can infer a few more details about the console's potential capabilities. As you can see in the gallery below, the VCS will offer ethernet connectivity, HDMI video output and support up to four USB connections. Given that the VCS' Xbox-style "Modern Controller" is cordless, we can safely assume that the console itself will offer some form of wireless capability too.

Beyond that, who knows? We've yet to hear of any confirmed titles coming to the system, nor have there been any announcements of partnerships with developer studios. What's more, the company previously touted a Spring 2018 release date, but that was before they ran into development problems back in December, so its arrival date remains unconfirmed as well. I suppose we'll simply have to wait for the pre-order window to open next month for more details.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/atari-vcs-ataribox-hands-on/

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Catan VR gets closer to the real thing than any app

But at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, I was ready to reacquaint myself with an old friend. That's because the makers of Catan have partnered with publisher Asmodee Digital and developer Experiment 7 to create, you guessed it, a VR version of the popular board game, and release it at the show. It was even set up in a special area in the Oculus booth, complete with a giant mural of the Catan board on a wall and a fake board game table set in the middle. To be honest, I was skeptical that Catan in VR could capture the feeling of playing a real board game, but I was willing to give it a shot.

The Catan demo in the Oculus booth was set around the aforementioned fake board game table, with an Oculus headset set up in each of the four sides. One of the upsides of Catan VR is that it's compatible with all Oculus systems -- it's playable on Samsung's Gear VR, the Rift and the upcoming Go. You can play the same game across the different headsets.

I was set up to play the game with two other journalists as well as an Oculus spokesperson, with me on one of the Go headsets. Once I strapped it on my head, I was transported to what appeared to be a large room, with the iconic Catan sunset appearing in the distance. In the middle of that room was the four of us, sitting around a virtual table, with a virtual Catan board laid out in front of us. Yes, we were all playing Catan, while also apparently being on the island of Catan. How meta. If you don't like the setting, there's also an option to swap out to a Japanese-inspired environment complete with shoji screens. You can even change the artwork on the walls if you like.

The board, by the way, looks great. I love the tiny little details like the trees in the forest, the sheep in the meadows and even a mine cart in the ore-filled mountains.

Each of us were represented by different floating avatars. I was a viking helmet, while the other players were a cat, a wizard (represented by a wizard hat) and a masquerade mask. The players with the Rift had two hands (to represent their two controllers), while those with the Go only had one hand. The avatars and hands floated and moved around as the people gestured and talked.

In a single-player environment, all of your opponents would instead be represented by AI personalities that you might recognize from previous Catan games (Candamir, Lin, Mary Anne and Nassir). An Asmodee Digital representative told me that Klaus Teuber, the inventor of Catan, actually provided substantial notes and input on how each AI personality should behave and play -- some might be more expansionist, while others might stay closer to one side of the island.

The first thing you're tasked to do is to basically set up the board, whereby players take turns to decide where to place their first two settlements at the intersections of the game's hexagon tiles. If an intersection is available and represents a legal move, it will light up in white. More desirable locations -- usually an intersection with a higher probability of getting goods -- will be marked in green. So, as you might expect, the green locations are snapped up pretty quickly, and you have to be strategic enough to get a good spot while they're available.

Once you decide where to put a settlement, a house will then be built before your eyes, as well as the accompanying road. All of the player controls are housed in a little movable tableau area, which should be familiar to anyone who's played Catan before. On it, you can see how many resources you have, as well as icons for rolling dice, building houses or roads and, of course, trading, which is the heart and soul of any Catan game.

When trading, you simply select which goods you're willing to trade, and then which goods you want in return. Your opponents can then make their own trading offers, which are represented by floating speech bubbles next to their avatars. To accept, hit the green check mark, or if you don't like any of them, hit the red x to cancel. From there, well, the game goes on, with people building roads and cities, dealing with the occasional robber, until somebody gets the requisite number of 10 points and is then declared the Lord of Catan.

On the whole, playing Catan in VR feels a little bit like a hybrid of playing the game in real life and playing the app version. I do think the artwork is a little silly, and playing a board game in VR does sound a little weird, but in practice, it actually works surprisingly well. It's automated just like the app, but you get to experience the "feel" of playing with other people thanks to animated gestures and talking with the other players. A spokesperson tells me that you can choose to play with your friends of course, but you can also be matched up online with random strangers. I would personally feel a little weird about doing that, but to each their own.

Amusingly, I was told by Asmodee that Teuber has actually used the VR game to play Catan with his two sons, who both live in different countries. And that social aspect is where I think a game like Catan VR really shines. One of the reasons I love board games so much, is that it's often a backdrop for social interaction, where people can come together, laugh, and joke around, while playing a game. A strict app-only experience, while still enjoyable, does away with the social part.

But in VR, suddenly that social aspect is back. Now, like Teuber, I can play Catan with friends and family who live across the globe, and still capture that same feeling of camaraderie that I would have when playing the game in person. I look forward to the day when more and more board games can be played this way.

Catan VR is now on the Oculus Store for $14.99 and on the Gear VR store for $9.99. Once Oculus decides on a release date for the Go, we should get some clarity on when that version will be available.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from GDC 2018!

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/catan-vr-hands-on/

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Hands-on with coming-of-age puzzle game ‘Where Cards Fall’

The game's main mechanic involves building houses of cards to create pathways around the landscapes, though figuring out where and how to craft these buildings is easier said than done. The cards are human-sized and generally rest on the ground in black-and-white piles, with shapes on the top indicating which type of structure they'll create, from sloped roofs to flat-tops. Drag out a pile and it expands to fill the space; let go and a building instantly pops up, changing depending on how big you decide to make it.

You can create cafes, record stores, houses, newsstands and all manner of spaces -- and not only are they used as rooftop platforms, but you can actually enter the buildings and mess around with whatever (and whoever) is inside. Take a break and listen to some vinyl or pop into the coffee shop for a latte. The interactivity offered by these interiors brings the entire game alive -- you're not just making pathways to race to the end of each level. You're actually building a living world, complete with neighbors, friends, strangers and enemies.

Not that there are discrete levels in Where Cards Fall. There are no loading screens and no cuts during gameplay whatsoever. It's a single-shot game, another subtle design choice that lends the entire project a dreamy, floaty feel.

Building the card houses is simple enough, but actually figuring out the platforming puzzles is another beast altogether. The cards respond to the physics of the world, meaning you can't simply pick up a deck and plop it anywhere you'd like -- the pile has to be dragged up and down hills and across platforms, just like the main character. This means setting up two-, three- and four-step architecture plans, using one deck to transport additional piles to the appropriate spots, and then leaping on top of them from there.

Spatial puzzles are the heart of Where Cards Fall's gameplay, but its story is deeper than physics alone. This is a coming-of-age narrative featuring an androgynous protagonist navigating life as a high schooler and beyond. There's no way to die while playing, which means players get to focus on the puzzles and the story that's taking shape around them (literally, at times).

Indie studio The Game Band is collaborating with Alto's Odyssey house Snowman to develop Where Cards Fall and they're trying to finish it this year. Whenever it comes out, it'll be on iOS, Steam and Apple TV.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from GDC 2018!

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/where-cards-fall-hands-on-puzzle-gdc-game-band-snowman/

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Apple won’t livestream its March 27th education event

Apple's education event next week is a break in tradition in more ways than one. Not only will it take place in Chicago instead of the company's usual homestead in Northern California, it will also not be livestreamed. Instead, the video will only be available on the site after it's over. It's unclear just what Apple hopes to show off at this mysterious "field trip," though signs seem to indicate that it plans to unveil computing devices aimed at students. You can read more about what to expect at the event in our preview, and since there isn't an official livestream, we highly encourage you to bookmark our liveblog link and check back on March 27th.

Catch up on all of the news from Apple's education event right here!

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/apple-wont-livestream-its-march-27th-education-event/

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OnePlus is done selling its flagship 5T in North America

For those keeping track, the 5T was only on the market in North America for about four months. While leaving would-be fans to wait for their chance to buy the OnePlus sequel doesn't sound great, Kiang says the circumstances that brought the company to this point were much more positive. Last year, OnePlus doubled its global revenue to $1.4 billion and saw 139 percent growth in North America — it's gotten to the point where North America accounts for about 25 percent of all the company's online sales.

For Kiang, these numbers are validation for a production and marketing philosophy that often seem unorthodox. Remember: when it comes to smartphone production, OnePlus is a little unorthodox. It only builds one flagship model at a time, and it ceases production once it hits a target number forecasted in advance. And since OnePlus has recently gotten into the habit of pushing out two smartphones a year, that means each of those devices is only really on sale for a handful of months. It's a weird system, but it seems to be working. OnePlus also relies heavily on word of mouth rather than mass marketing to drive growth, and while that prevents the company from rapidly expanding its reach, Kiang is fine with the progress made so far.

"In a category where no one is growing, we're growing," Kiang said.

Growth is certainly good, but since the company hasn't announced a follow-up yet, it'll be a while yet before the company's growing North American fanbase gets to buy a new phone. Right now, OnePlus's tentative plan is get another device out the door in late Q2 — that's right around May or June. When asked why OnePlus couldn't divert supply from other markets to help meet demand in the US and Canada, a spokesperson said the issue of swapping out AC adapters would've been too cumbersome. That's especially true since the 5T supply ran dry by weeks instead of months — an indication that the phone's days were numbered anyway. In any case, the OnePlus 5T may have had a short run, but it was a fine flagship that stacked up well against the competition — here's hoping the wait for a sequel doesn't take too long.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/oneplus-5t-done-in-north-america/

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A ‘Warhammer’ AR fantasy card game is coming to PC this year

Gamers may know Games Workshop's popular tabletop game Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (the fantasy counterpart to Warhammer 40,000) is getting its own card game for PC later this year -- and it'll benefit from augmented reality. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Champions, as it's called, includes physical cards, a digital game and an augmented reality engine to animate the former.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/a-warhammer-ar-fantasy-card-game-is-coming-to-pc-this-year/

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Uber’s self-driving policies, tech face questions after fatal crash

Its report also confirms what Jalopnik found: that unlike every other companies testing self-driving car technology, it's only using a single driver for both safety and performance monitoring. Toyota, Nissan and Ford all confirmed the use of two operators as their policy, while Waymo said that since 2015 it has a single driver when using "validated" hardware and software, but adds a second tester when any of that changes, or for new drivers, cities and types of roads.

The NYT report also notes that unlike California's publicly available reports, Arizona has no such requirement, and Uber's test in California haven't been going on long enough for it to issue one there. Additionally, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is said to have considered shutting down the program.

Another major question is when and if the car's sensors picked up the victim, Elaine Herzberg. Velodyne Lidar makes the sensors that self-driving cars use to "see" their surroundings in addition to cameras, and its president wrote to Bloomberg about that. In an email after video of the crash was released, Thoma Hall said "Certainly, our Lidar is capable of clearly imaging Elaine and her bicycle in this situation. However, our Lidar doesn't make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way...The problem lies elsewhere." As part of the transparency that could help make or break public trust of autonomous tech after an incident like this, Uber will need to explain more about what systems were active during the incident, and what they responded to.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/23/ubers-self-driving-policies-tech-face-questions-after-fatal-cr/

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