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Facebook Live and Amazon Prime Video are coming to Portal

Facebook says Story Time is one of the most popular features on Portal video calls. It's bringing a standalone Story Time app to Portal so you can use it when you're not on a call, and it's adding three more children's book series this summer: Llama Llama, Pete the Cat and Otto.

Using the Portal mobile app, you'll be able to add photos directly to Superframe, in addition to identifying your favorite contacts for calls. Facebook Live integration is also coming to Portal, which makes a lot of sense. You might opt to start streaming your cooking exploits or family get-togethers.

More Alexa skills are on the way to Portal too, including flash briefings for news updates along with some smart home options. Later this year, you'll be able to watch shows and movies from Amazon Prime Video through the device.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/facebook-portal-ar-games-story-time-facebook-live-alexa/

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Hey Alexa: How can we escape surveillance capitalism?

This quandary worsened with a new story describing how Amazon Alexa has its "training" done by humans who listen to audio from users' homes and offices without their knowledge. No one using the devices knew this.

It's fair to assume that no one knows all the home assistants do this. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung all have humans reviewing audio recorded through these devices. A new report from Microsoft examining consumer adoption of voice and digital assistants shows that four out of 10 people are stressing out about digital assistant privacy and security. Yet it's pretty clear now that people with these microphones in their homes aren't aware they're being used -- as microphones, by companies -- to do things outside user control.

Relying on information from Amazon Alexa-training team members, given on condition of anonymity, it was reported that the team members listen to "as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift," and "use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word — or come across an amusing recording." Like, "a woman singing badly off-key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help," the report said.

"We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system," an Amazon spokesperson told press. "Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow."

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people were not thrilled to hear that a device they joked about spying on them might actually be doing some spying. Amazon told us that recordings were only captured after hearing its "wake word." But there was a pretty emotional reaction to the very visceral, invasive-feeling knowledge that a person (any person) could be listening to them at any time. And maybe making fun of them, or possibly could've helped in an emergency.

To harm or to help is the double-edged sword of the surveillance conversation of course. Yet in this case the emotional conflict comes with a kick, in that we invited these devices into our homes or were given them as gifts, knowing full well what a microphone in the house actually means.

Anyway, it gets worse. This week the Alexa-Echo bombshell report had a follow-up saying the "team auditing Alexa users' commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer's home address, according to five employees familiar with the program." The report further claimed:

"In a demonstration seen by Bloomberg, an Amazon team member pasted a user's coordinates, stored in the system as latitude and longitude, into Google Maps. In less than a minute, the employee had jumped from a recording of a person's Alexa command to what appeared to be an image of their house and corresponding address."

Amazon quickly responded with a statement.

"Access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions," the company told Bloomberg. "Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible."

It's difficult to believe that anyone smart enough to use a voice assistant wouldn't think that any of this is possible. After all, it's a microphone, they've got to train it somehow, and all that data, including location, is part of your account.

And I kind of believe Amazon when it doubles-down on how it controls and secures data, and even that they audit and are super-intense about company policy. I mean, compare Amazon's (known) breach record with er, other data and surveillance capitalists. There was one in 2018 exposing names and email addresses, and a password reset in 2015.

I don't know about you, but my willingness to accept a statement about a tech company's internal rules is in the "yeah, we'll see" stage after literally every Facebook statement over the past ten years relying on the "it's against the rules" excuse to avoid accountability. We have all absolutely soured on data-mongers and their intrusions, and asking us to trust that those companies' rules will protect us. Data and surveillance capitalism has become a multi-billion dollar industry based on the 'take first, ask permission later' principle of canoodling with consumers. We're not stupid: we're just stuck in it.

And then there's the other thing that can't be trusted with power and access to our lives: People.

Where there are jobs, there are creeps who get hired to do them. The fear of someone abusing Alexa (or Siri, or Google Assistant) has precedent. Last year, a Facebook employee was caught, then fired, for using information he accessed within the company to stalk women (Facebook said what he did was against the rules). After that hit the headlines, other Facebook workers told Motherboard that "multiple people had been terminated for abusing access to user data, including for stalking exes," and of three additional instances "where people were fired because they mishandled data, one of which included stalking." Google has also fired employees for accessing user data and stalking them. The stalking of exes and celebs from Uber employees is so well-documented, however, that the ride-sharing company won this horrible little unpopularity contest long ago.

Alright already, you say: We get it. I think we've all adjusted to the current state of things. The conveniences of these sci-fi innovations are pretty great, helpful, maybe life-saving. We can practically set our smartwatches to reading reports about privacy abuses and security terribleness from the companies making them (and worse by opportunistic or ambivalent companies trying to turn our DNA into dollars).

Clinical psychologist Brock Chisholm told Motherboard in an interview about our surveilled lives, "The reaction from the mental health community has been similar to society at large, which is that we've given up on trying to protect ourselves."

But it seems like the mental health community would be especially invested in the effects of tech surveillance and personal self-defense. Like my question about where you go when you want to feel like you're not being watched. Chisholm said, "The impact these different forms of surveillance has on any of us depends on a couple of things: how aware we are that we're being watched, and what we think the motivation is for surveillance."

The effects are "as mentally taxing as mental disorders like depression, and can even cause symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder." That PTSD is what's called "flash-forwards PTSD" — basically, when you think through the worst outcome of being watched all the time.

I have reported on hacking and infosec for over ten years. I've focused on the perspective of the hackers and the people who are at the end of the line in those attacks, the people most at-risk and least protected by anyone. I've learned a lot. One thing I've learned is that nothing makes people feel more alone than any corporation's concept of community. Another is that when it comes to life under surveillance, common sense prevails.

I don't have a smart assistant in my old, rent-controlled Edwardian apartment here in San Francisco. The city around me saturates in money and the shining promises of technology, but I worry about my freedoms, my sanity, and my friends. I keep all cameras covered or unplugged, microphones too, and I'm not trusting anything or anyone until after they've earned it.

Image: Warner Bros. via Getty Images

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/hey-alexa-how-can-we-escape-surveillance-capitalism/

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The Obamas’ production company unveils its first Netflix projects

The initial centerpiece, American Factory touches on the tensions when a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in what's left of an abandoned GM plant -- something almost too relevant. Bloom, meanwhile, highlights the challenges for women and people of color in New York's post-World War II fashion industry. A movie adaptation of David Blight's biography of social reformer Frederick Douglass is also in the works. The non-fiction series from The Big Short author Michael Lewis, Fifth Risk, covers the work of "everyday heroes" in government and the military, while Crip Camp shows how a summer camp for disabled teens helped start the disability rights movement.

Two of the shows aren't quite so weighty but reflect a similar spirit. Overlooked is an anthology series based on the New York Times column telling the stories of "remarkable" people whose deaths might otherwise go unreported. The pre-school crowd, meanwhile, can watch Listen to Your Vegetables Eat Your Parents to see stories about food around the world.

It's not certain when the first shows will arrive, although two of these productions (American Factory and Crip Camp) are acquisitions that stand a better chance of arriving first. However things shake out, it's clear that Netflix is committed to this alliance for the long haul.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/obamas-production-company-netflix-shows/

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The anime adaptation of mobile game ‘Ingress’ is now on Netflix

More than a year ago, we were told Niantic, Inc. was working on an Ingress: The Animation streaming series. Today, the anime show, a sci-fi adventure thriller, is available on Netflix, and you can watch the trailer below.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/niantic-ingress-the-animation-netflix/

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Google employees will sit-in to protest retaliation culture

Last week, employees held a town hall meeting to share stories of retaliation and strategize next steps. The unrest stems from large-scale walkouts in November, in which 20,000 employees demanded that Google change the way it handles sexual misconduct. Leaders of that protest say they've since faced retaliation and that they're not alone. Two major employee protests in a six-month period isn't an especially good look for Google. We'll see how the company responds.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/google-employees-sit-in-protest-retaliation/

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ACLU: border agents regularly perform ‘warrantless’ device searches

Agency policies let officers search devices for generic law enforcement purposes like investigating bankruptcies and consumer portection laws, the ACLU said. Officers can also search devices to collect data about someone else, such as a friend that might be an illegal immigrant or the foreign sources for a journalist. CBP and ICE can also seize devices to produce "risk assessments" or push existing cases forward, and they'll consider requests for data from other US agencies.

Agents for the two can not only keep information taken from devices, but share it with other government bodies in the US and abroad, the ACLU added.

The ACLU's motion for judgment argues that the searches violate Fourth Amendment rights preventing unreasonable searches and seizures. However, it added that these searches effectively stomped on the First Amendment as well, as people would "self-censor and avoid expressing dissent" if they knew that border agents would sift through their data. The plaintiffs in the case include both a journalist seemingly targeted for his reporting as well as another whose phone included attorney-client privileged content.

CBP told Engadget that it was "unable to comment on matters under litigation." However, the ACLU didn't mince words. It saw authorities using the border as a pretense for an "end run around the Constitution," and hoped a judgment would force border agents to get warrants for future searches. There's no guarantee the ACLU will succeed in obtaining a judgment or winning if it has to go to trial. Should it win, though, border officials may have to dramatically limit the scope of their searches.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/aclu-says-border-agents-unfettered-in-device-searches/

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The best affordable mirrorless cameras

Often, the best affordable camera isn’t a purpose-built “budget” model, but an older shooter. The Fujifilm X-T20 is a generation behind the company’s latest and greatest, but at its current price, more than holds its own. It includes the company's superb 24-megapixel "X-Trans III" sensor, a solid 3-inch high-res tilting display, and an OLED viewfinder. You also get access to the same high-quality lenses as any X-Series camera. The downside to dropping back a generation is a slight degradation in autofocus performance, and less-robust video options compared to the X-T30 that replaces it. If you’re on a tight budget, the hundreds of dollars you’ll save make the trade-offs worth it.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/the-best-affordable-mirrorless-cameras/

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Apple’s services are making more money than ever

Over the past three months, Apple raked in just north of $31 billion thanks to iPhone sales, compared to $37.6 billion this time in 2018. As you might expect, that had a pretty significant effect on Apple's overall business: last year's March quarter was its best ever, but this time, the company only pulled in a total of $58 billion in revenue. That's a noticeable dip to be sure, but it was apparently still enough to appease Wall Street: Apple beat analyst expectations across the board, prompting the company's stock price to surge nearly 5 percent (at time of writing) in after-hours trading.

As important as hardware is to Apple's bottom line, the company is keenly aware that its biggest growth opportunity lies elsewhere: services. Mainstays like iCloud and Apple Music are nothing new, but the company launched its News+ subscriptions back in March, and aims to get its Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade services live sometime this year. It'll be a while before we see what kind of impact exclusive shows and games will have on Apple's bottom line, but for now, Apple's non-hardware business is surprisingly strong: Cook says over the past three months, the company's services set "an all-time record." Put another way, Apple saw its services business surge to $11.5 billion this quarter.

Let's put that number in context: Cook didn't laud the iPhone in today's release, but he did point out that the iPad had a "blockbuster quarter," resulting in $4.87 billion in revenue. Mac sales dipped slightly year-over-year to $5.51 billion, which was largely offset by dramatically increased sales of Apple's wearables. (For those keeping count, Cook said growth in that segment was around 50 percent.) Aside from iPhones, Apple actually had a solid three months of hardware sales. But. If you lump all the revenue Apple generated from its non-iPhone hardware, that number still comes up short compared to its services revenue.

And again, that doesn't include any of the new stuff Apple has waiting in the wings -- the only new service Apple launched to the public last month was its $9.99/month News+, but since everyone who signed up got a free month, none of that money made it into this quarter's release. It might not be long before Apple's subscription money starts to overshadow its non-iPhone hardware entirely.

While Apple has a few reasons to feel good about this quarter, there's at least one number in this release that feels troubling: Greater China revenue. Around this time last year, Tim Cook declared in that Apple saw "over 20% growth in Greater China," a figure that absolutely contributed to the company's best March quarter ever. It didn't take too long after that, though, for the China situation to grow dire, culminating in an unheard-of investor update about weak iPhone sales and dramatic dip in first-quarter revenue -- the last time that happened was in the winter of 2000.

In Europe, Japan, Asia Pacific and the Americas, Apple more-or-less saw steady sales compared to last year. Not so in Greater China: there, the company saw its revenue drop by 30 percent since this time in 2018. Cook said on the customary earnings call that Apple's relationship with China is improving and that he feels "positive" about the company's trajectory. That may be true, but Apple's days of counting on China as a major growth engine seem to be over -- if the company is seriously lucky, the gains it makes off of services like Apple TV+ and News+ will be enough to help it break through the trillion-dollar barrier again.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/apples-services-are-making-more-money-than-ever/

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All the important stuff from Facebook’s F8 keynote

Even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed "I believe the future is private," and privacy was mentioned numerous times as each new update or feature rolled out, it's hard to ignore that the company has built its business model on people sharing as much as possible. Facebook in 2019 will have access to more user data than ever before -- from our shopping behavior to dating and more. Even though Facebook is working on making Messenger completely end-to-end encrypted, we don't have a date yet for when this will happen.

Meanwhile, Facebook has announced a variety of updates to its family of apps and services. Those include a new desktop version of Messenger, new VR headsets, changes that will make it easier to shop on Instagram and more. Here's a rundown of all the major announcements unveiled today.

Facebook's Messenger app gets a major facelift

  • Facebook Messenger users will be able to communicate directly with Whatsapp and Instagram users within the app -- whether in messages or video calls.
  • Facebook Messenger is getting lighter and faster.
  • Facebook is working on making all communications to be made end-to-end encrypted by default on Messenger, though it's unclear when this change will take place.
  • Facebook Messenger's "Meet New Friends" feature is an opt-in tool that will help users make new friends from shared communities, such as the city you live in or school you attended.
  • A redesigned Groups tab will enable users to see Groups activity front and center, and to share content directly to your groups.
  • A new Events tab will make it easier for users to find out what's happening around them and get recommendations for things to do.
  • Facebook Messenger will get a desktop version for Mac and Windows that will roll out in a few months. The app will include audio calls, group video calls, emoji and many of the other features users are familiar with from the mobile app.

Facebook is doubling down on VR

  • Two new virtual-reality headsets, the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S, will go on sale on May 21st.
  • The Quest is completely wireless and independent. It's a good choice for those willing to trade power for freedom of movement.
  • The Rift S is PC-dependent. It has higher-resolution displays and a better field of view than the original Rift.
  • Both the Quest and the Rift S are $399 each; with an option for more storage with the Quest (128GB, rather than 64GB) for $499.
  • You can read our review of the Quest here and our preview of the Rift S here.

Facebook Portal will support Whatsapp calls and Amazon Prime Video

  • Facebook's video chat device will support Whatsapp calls, and all calls will have end-to-end encryption.
  • Facebook's Portal and Portal+ will be available outside of the US, starting with Canada this June and a European expansion this fall.
  • Multiplayer augmented reality games, Instant Games and a standalone StoryTime app will also be coming to Portal.
  • You'll be able to watch shows and movies from Amazon Prime Video later this year.
  • Facebook Live is coming to Portal as well.

Facebook Dating Secret Crush and more countries

  • Want to connect to your secret crush? Facebook's Dating app can help.
  • The opt-in dating app that Facebook has been testing in a select few countries is launching in 14 more: Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Suriname.
  • Facebook Dating will be available in the US later this year.

Facebook Marketplace lets users ship across the continental US

  • Sellers will be able to ship items anywhere in the continental US and select from a variety of carriers.
  • Buyers will be able to purchase items directly from Facebook Marketplace.

Instagram is testing several features to combat bullying

  • Instagram is testing some features to combat bullying; though it's unclear when or even if they'll be implemented permanently."Some of these may never see the light of day," Instagram's Adam Mosseri explained.
  • Users who take it too far with a comment will receive a "nudge" from Instagram.
  • Profiles will put less emphasis on the number of followers.
  • An "away" feature on Instagram will help users achieve some distance from the app if they're in the middle of a breakup, a change of cities or some other life event.

Instagram will make it easier to shop and donate to your favorite causes

  • Buying the clothes that your favorite influencer is sporting will get a lot easier. You'll soon be able to shop on Instagram without leaving the app. Over the next few weeks, Instagram will test a feature that lets you buy directly from the app with select influencers and brands.
  • New donation stickers in the US will make it easier to raise money for charity on Instagram.
  • A new camera design will be launched in the next couple of weeks that gives Instagram users quick access to effects and interactive stickers, including the Donation Sticker.
  • Instagram will start hiding "like" counts in Canada as a test.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/facebook-f8-keynote-announcements/

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YouTube wants more YouTubers in its ‘Trending’ feed

The executive also promised to tackle more serious issues, although she didn't go into many details. YouTube would "do more" to discourage "growing" harassment from fellow creators, Wojcicki said. The site was likewise looking into improvements to prevent abuse of manual copyright claims for short bursts of music, such as a radio that happens to be playing in the background.

Beyond this, Wojcicki justified some of the company's more contentious attempts to keep a lid on extreme content. She acknowledged that the choice to shut down comments on videos of young kids affected innocent uploaders, but believed that it was a worthwhile "trade-off" to protect children. Likewise, the CEO said that YouTube's rush to pull Christchurch shooting footage inadvertently booted innocent news and commentary videos but was a "necessary" compromise given the "stakes" involved.

The responses didn't touch on some of YouTube's glaring concerns, including a tendency for trending videos to include misinformation. All the same, they show that YouTube is at least aware of what its creators are saying -- even if it can't provide more than vague promises to solve some issues.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/30/youtube-trending-copyright-harassment-changes/

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