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Google pulls Element’s Android chat app over content it doesn’t control (updated)

We’ve asked Google for comment.

While the option of sideloading the app softens the blow, this won’t exactly thrill the community. Multiple governments (including the US, UK, France and Germany) use Element and the Matrix network alongside universities and businesses — losing easy access to the app could be a significant hassle.

The move comes as tech giants have become increasingly sensitive to the content in apps they provide or host. Apple and Google both cracked down on Parler following the US Capitol riot, for instance. If Google pulled Element for content that wasn’t on the app maker’s servers, however, that would be problematic — it would effectively ask the team to screen an entire online platform, not just the section it can moderate.

Update 1/31 10AM ET: Element has returned to the Play Store. A Google VP contacted the company and indicated that there had been “extremely abusive” material on a Matrix.org server. Element had already taken action. It’s not certain why Google hadn’t provided more help before, but the crisis is over for Matrix users.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/google-pulls-element-chat-app-from-play-store-230902288.html

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‘Fortnite’ gets a ‘GI Joe’ character with a matching action figure

It’s no longer rare to see action figures for video game characters, but an action figure designed to accompany the character is relatively rare — and Epic Games wants to give it a try. The developer has released a Fortnite outfit for GI Joe’s Snake Eyes alongside an upcoming Hasbro action figure based on that skin. You’ll have to spend $40 to pre-order that real-world figure and wait until January 2022 to receive it, but it could be appealing if you like the mysterious ninja enough to want a physical memento.

Snake Eyes will rotate out of Fortnite’s shop at an unspecified point.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/fortnite-gi-joe-snake-eyes-character-outfit-161349413.html

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India will propose a law banning private cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin

A formal ban would be a long time in coming. India rejected cryptocurrency as legal tender in 2018 and recommended banning existing digital cash with prison sentences up to 10 years for violators. The Reserve Bank argued the currency wasn’t real as it had no physical counterpart and hadn’t been stamped. The country’s Supreme Court sided with objectors and allowed trading in 2020, but that wasn’t expected to have a lasting effect.

It wouldn’t be hard to see why India would want to ban private crypto in favor of a government solution. An official currency would give the country more control that limits foreign influence, but it would also provide the kind of stability associated with conventional money. Prices for Bitcoin and similar currencies still tend to fluctuate wildly, and they’re more prone to manipulation. In theory, India can embrace digital-only currency without some of the pitfalls.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/india-proposed-law-bans-private-cryptocurrencies-181519169.html

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Chromebook demand more than doubled in 2020 due to the pandemic

The spike in demand was a matter of necessity, Canalys said. With the second COVID-19 wave prompting new lockdowns and more remote education, schools and students often didn’t have much choice but to issue or require laptops. Chromebooks are both inexpensive and relatively easy to maintain, making them easier choices than conventional laptops for many schools and some businesses.

Tablets also enjoyed a spike in demand, if not nearly as large. Shipments grew a brisk 28 percent in 2020, with Apple, Samsung and Lenovo seeing some of the largest demand. Here, the explanation is more complicated. While education and work played large roles, pure content consumption also played a large role. If you’re stuck at home, you’re more likely to want a device that can help you get through a TV marathon or some couch-based web surfing.

Canalys also noted that tablet gains were modest in part because the market was already so large. About 160.6 million tablets shipped in 2020, or five times the volume of Chromebooks. Google’s platform might be very important for some audiences, but it’s tablets that have the greatest number of eyeballs.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/chromebook-shipments-double-due-to-pandemic-193424657.html

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Amazon’s Ring has teamed up with over 2,000 police and fire departments

Ring’s police collaborations didn’t slow down in 2020 despite controversies — if anything, they ramped up. The Financial Times reports that the Amazon-owned smart home security brand now has 2,014 police and fire department partnerships in the US, with 1,189 of them added in 2020. Montana and Wyoming are the only two states where Ring doesn’t have some kind of alliance.

Those departments are making use of the team-ups, too. Ring said that departments requested videos for over 22,335 incidents in 2020. There wasn’t comparable 2019 data, but some first responders were busier than others. Milwaukee police, for instance, requested videos for 431 incidents just in the second half of 2020 due to a high level of homicides.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/amazon-ring-2000-police-fire-departments-213301374.html

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WhatsApp uses Stories to try and assuage users’ privacy fears

WhatsApp really, really wants to keep you from jumping to a rival chat service over its controversial new privacy policy, and it’s using some of its built-in features to get the message across. The Verge has learned that WhatsApp is now using Status messages (aka Stories) to underscore its “commitment to your privacy” in the US and UK. A similar campaign has been running in India for a while (see above), but it’s now reaching a more global audience.

A spokesperson said the company would use Statuses to convey updates directly “going forward,” reiterating the company’s belief there was “misinformation and confusion” surrounding its privacy policy change.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/whatsapp-status-messsage-stories-on-privacy-222012479.html

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Google pulls Element’s Android chat app over content it doesn’t control

We’ve asked Google for comment.

While the option of sideloading the app softens the blow, this won’t exactly thrill the community. Multiple governments (including the US, UK, France and Germany) use Element and the Matrix network alongside universities and businesses — losing easy access to the app could be a significant hassle.

The move comes as tech giants have become increasingly sensitive to the content in apps they provide or host. Apple and Google both cracked down on Parler following the US Capitol riot, for instance. If Google pulled Element for content that wasn’t on the app maker’s servers, however, that would be problematic — it would effectively ask the team to screen an entire online platform, not just the section it can moderate.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/google-pulls-element-chat-app-from-play-store-230902288.html

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The Morning After: ASUS makes a second attempt at a dual-screen laptop

No Friday night news dumps today, but we do have the return of some early 00s favorites. First, G4 is back. Ahead of its official relaunch with X-Play and Attack of the Show this summer, the gaming channel is streaming some content on Twitch and YouTube to garner feedback on what works in 2021.

The Matrix

Another franchise that won’t stay away is The Matrix. A Friday night leak points to a name for the fourth movie in the series, Matrix Resurrections. Whatever name it ends up with, the movie will have a lot of work to do to live up to the original when it starts streaming on HBO Max this December.

-- Richard Lawler

The best deals we found this week: $100 off Apple's Magic Keyboard for iPad and more

And the best TV deals available ahead of the Super Bowl.


Not only is the Magic Keyboard for iPad discounted by $100, but you can also save on AirPods Pro, the latest 27-inch iMac and the M1 Mac mini. We also found a few good deals on Sony headphones and, for those looking for a new TV ahead of the big game next weekend, we picked out the best Super Bowl TV deals we could find across the web. Here are the best deals from this week that you can still get today.
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The Engadget Podcast

How Reddit day traders blew up GameStop's stock

Engadget podcast logo

This week, Cherlynn and Devindra chat with Mike Futter, author of the GameDev Business Handbook and co-host of the Virtual Economy Podcast, to make sense of this surprising story. Are the online traders just doing it for the LOLs? Or are they trying to teach the financial industry a lesson? And isn’t this just another example of online memes bleeding into reality, leading to potentially disastrous consequences? We also get a bit of context from an anonymous member from the infamous R/WallStreetBets subreddit.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts or Stitcher
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ASUS ZenBook Duo review (2021): A better dual-screen notebook for less

ASUS makes a stronger case for why you would want a laptop with two screens.

ZenBook Duo

With the Zenbook Duo, ASUS brings its intriguing dual-screen design to a much cheaper laptop, and according to Devindra Hardawar, “it makes all the difference.” Another change is that the second screen can tilt up now, and while Windows lacks native support for the setup, the ASUS dual-screen software is also improved. While our $1,300 review unit only had 8GB of RAM, Devindra recommends choosing the $1,500 model with 16GB of RAM and an MX450.
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‘Babylon 5 Remastered’ is available to buy or stream on HBO Max

The new version is available only in 4:3 aspect ratio.

Babylon 5 on HBO Max

Nearly 30 years after its first broadcast and close to 20 since its troubled DVD release, Babylon 5 is finally getting a polish. Warner Bros. is launching Babylon 5 Remastered both as a digital download (from iTunes and Amazon where available) and on HBO Max

Speaking to Engadget, a Warner Bros. spokesperson explained how they scanned the original Babylon 5 Remastered camera negative then transferred the film sequences into 4K before they downscaled it to HD, with a dirt and scratch clean-up as well as color correction. The show’s CGI and composite sequences, meanwhile, were digitally upscaled to HD with only some minor tweaks where absolutely necessary.

Engadget has extensively covered the interesting and tortured journey that Babylon 5 took to reach home video. Rather than repeat ourselves here, we’d recommend you read this report from 2018 explaining the story in-depth.
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Article source: https://www.engadget.com/asus-zenbook-duo-tma-153708492.html

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Hitting the Books: The continuing controversies surrounding e-cig safety

In the spring of 2019, young people, mostly young men in Illinois and Wisconsin, began to fall sick with a strange lung disease. They coughed, struggled to catch their breath, and some ended up on ventilators inside intensive care units. By August, a young man died of the lung disease in Illinois. Another died from the same condition in Oregon. A boy died in New York in October, becoming the first teenager to die from the mysterious disease.

Public health experts interviewed the cluster of sick men and the families of those who had died and discovered they had something in common: they smoked cigarettes. By November 2019, 2,290 people had fallen sick with the lung disease, and nearly fifty people had died across twenty-five states and the District of Columbia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled the condition EVALI, or e-cigarette or vaping product use–associated lung injury.

Investigators seeking clues found that ingredients in the liquids that were being smoked in e-cigarettes could be the culprit. But this discovery sparked a massive debate. Around the world, medical experts have been in disagreement over the safety of e-cigarettes. Some doctors hail them as the best tool to help smokers give up cigarettes, while some health agencies have declared e-cigarettes responsible for creating a new generation of nicotine addicts. England’s leading public health agency, Public Health England, recommends that doctors should be allowed to prescribe e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. Some British politicians have called for e-cigarette laws to be relaxed.

The World Health Organization has argued that too little is known about the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes, that the nicotine in them is addictive, and that some flavorings in e-cigarettes can cause irritation and inflammation of the airways. In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to ban the sale of e-cigarettes, with city officials declaring an “abdication of responsibility” by the Food and Drug Administration in regulating the products. In September of 2019, as the outbreak of EVALI continued to grow, the FDA conducted its own investigation and found vitamin E acetate in the cannabis vaping products of nearly every person sick with EVALI in New York. Vitamin E is safe to ingest or apply to the skin and is found in food and lotions, but it is not safe to inhale. The FDA said it was being added as a thickening agent and to possibly increase levels of THC, the main psychogenic compound in cannabis. Two months after the FDA’s discovery, the CDC announced a breakthrough. It found vitamin E acetate in the lungs of twenty-nine people with EVALI.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, also known as vaporizers and vape pens, are battery-powered smoking devices that contain a vaporizer, which heats up the liquid in a cartridge. That liquid usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other additives. The heating element in most e-cigarettes is activated by inhaling, while others have a manual switch.

There are two main types of e-cigarettes, open system or open tanks and closed system or closed tanks. In an open tank, the liquid that is vaporized can be manually refilled, and there’s usually a removable mouthpiece. In a closed tank e-cigarette, ready-made refills are screwed directly onto the battery. Open tank e-cigarettes are the most popular type of e-cigarette.

In the United States, the FDA says there’s an “epidemic” of vaping among teenagers and e-cigarette manufacturers aren’t doing enough to combat underage use of their products. Some public health experts in the United States have called e-cigarettes an emerging public health threat, quickly undoing decades of antismoking campaigning.

Why can’t everyone agree? For one, e-cigarettes have only been around since 2003, when the first commercially successful e-cigarette was created by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and smoker. It’s said that Lik invented the electronic cigarette after his father—a heavy smoker, like Lik—died from lung cancer. Lik may have been inspired by Herbert Gilbert, who patented a “smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette” four decades earlier in 1965.

While the number of cigarette consumers is steadily decreasing—down from 1.14 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion people globally, according to market research group, Euromonitor—the use of e-cigarettes is rising dramatically.

The number of e-cigarette smokers has increased fivefold in a five-year period, going up from 7 million in 2011 to 35 million in 2016, according to Euromonitor. The company predicts that 55 million people will be smoking e-cigarettes by 2021.

The industry was worth an estimated $22.6 billion globally in 2018, compared to $4.2 billion in 2013, with the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States establishing themselves as the biggest markets for vaping products. In these three countries, e-cigarette users spent more than $16 billion on vaping products in 2016.

E-cigarettes have overtaken regular cigarettes to become the most popular tobacco product for American teenagers. One in five 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States has used an e-cigarette, according to the CDC.

Cigarettes contain thousands of compounds, at least seventy of which are known carcinogens. They also contain carbon monoxide, arsenic, and other poisons. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, contain far fewer compounds overall, perhaps hundreds of chemicals instead of the thousands found in cigarettes. The main ingredients of vaping fluid are glycerol and propylene glycol, which many say are harmless when inhaled. But employees of theaters and movie sets who use these chemicals to create mist and fog special effects, have reported breathing problems, perhaps linked to long-term exposure of propylene glycol.

In studies, some e-cigarette vapor has been found to contain very low levels of nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer. Other studies have shown that the vapor contains toxic chemicals, including acetaldehyde and formaldehyde and some flavorings, especially cinnamon, butter, and vanilla, contain free radicals, which can damage DNA. The relative novelty of e-cigarettes means a lack of long-term safety data. For this reason, some scientists have called out politicians and public health agencies advocating for the expanded use of e-cigarettes.

In a 2018 report, Public Health England said it was plausible that e-cigarettes were responsible for the highest ever rate of people who had successfully given up smoking cigarettes in England. But there’s conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation.

In the same report, Public Health England goes on to say that of seven meta-analyses of smoking cessation, two found a positive effect of e-cigarettes on quitting smoking, four were inconclusive, and one found a negative effect. In a 2018 study of more than 6,000 smokers, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found e-cigarettes were not useful in helping cigarette smokers kick the habit. (Cash incentives were.)

There’s a widespread belief among e-cigarette users that vaping is safe and can help with quitting regular cigarettes. In a 2016 report by Ernst Young, with Nicoventures, a start-up of British American Tobacco, research conducted in seven European and Asian countries showed the most common reason for smoking e-cigarettes was that they were considered “less harmful than regular cigarettes.” Almost half of all regular users said they were using e-cigarettes to give up smoking cigarettes.

But in the United States, where e-cigarette use has increased 900 percent since 2011 among high schoolers and where nearly 6 percent of middle school students say they have smoked an e-cigarette in the last year, public health officials say vaping is introducing more young people to the idea of smoking and could lead to cigarette use.

In a 2016 report, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, said young people are at highest risk of becoming addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes. Nicotine impacts brain development, which continues until people are in their mid-twenties. Nicotine can affect the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is the last to mature. Studies have shown that exposure to nicotine during the teenage years increases a person’s risk of developing psychiatric illnesses and attention deficit disorders.

Some scientists are worried that teens who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to smoke regular cigarettes. Scientists at the University of Hawaii found e-cigarettes promoted cigarette smoking among young people. The researchers interviewed more than 2,000 high school students in 2013 and again a year later. About a third of those students said they had tried an e-cigarette by the time they were first interviewed. A year later, students who had previously smoked e-cigarettes were about three times more likely to have tried a regular cigarette, compared with those who had not used e-cigarettes.

In Britain, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) says smokers should be given e-cigarettes to help them give up smoking regular cigarettes. In a report published in 2016, the United Kingdom’s leading medical body said e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking and should be used as a smoking cessation aid.

In 2014, a study in Britain found that those who used e-cigarettes were 60 percent more likely to be successful in giving up cigarettes than those who went cold turkey or used nicotine patches and gum. But some experts say it’s too soon to tell if e-cigarettes help people quit smoking, although the evidence so far has swayed the RCP and Public Health England. E-cigarettes have now outpaced nicotine gum and patches to become the most popular tool for smoking cessation in Britain.

The FDA has not licensed e-cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation. In fact, the agency offers a warning about the risks posed by e-cigarettes. In 2009, the FDA analyzed the liquid contents in two leading brands of e-cigarettes. It found them to contain chemicals that can cause cancer, including nitrosamines, and a toxic chemical found in antifreeze.

In 2018, the FDA found prescription medications inside vaping fluid. Erectile dysfunction drugs, Viagra and Cialis, which should be available only with a prescription, were discovered inside e-cigarette liquids made by the Chinese e-cigarette maker, HelloCig Electronic Technology. The medicines could dangerously lower blood pressure, the agency said.

There’s also a threat of injury when the battery inside an e-cigarette overheats. More than two dozen people were injured by exploding e-cigarettes from 2009 to 2014, according to the US Fire Administration. Doctors say those injured suffer flame burns, chemical burns, and blast injuries.

Public health experts continue to disagree about the safety of e-cigarettes, leaving the more than 35 million people who use them in the middle of a heated debate. They may be healthier than smoking cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they are harmless.

By February 2020, the outbreak of EVALI had spread to every state in the United States, and the CDC said it would officially count only those people who were sick enough to be hospitalized with EVALI or die from the disease. By that count, the CDC reported nearly 3,000 people who had been hospitalized and sixty-eight deaths. But federal authorities have been slow to regulate the products; in fact it was only in 2016 that the FDA was given regulatory powers over e-cigarettes. In the absence of federal leadership, the United States has a patchwork of vaping regulations that vary massively by state, leaving individual consumers to figure out what is safe and what is not.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/hitting-the-books-viral-bs-seema-yasmin-johns-hopkins-university-press-163004594.html

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SpaceX Starship launch reportedly violated an FAA license

Elon Musk clearly isn’t happy with the FAA, whatever the issue. The SpaceX founder recently accused the FAA of having a “fundamentally broken” approach to regulating spaceflight that was meant for a small number of non-reusable launches from government pads. In other words, he suggested that SpaceX’s goals for rapid, privately-launched reusable rockets were ahead of an outdated FAA approach.

SpaceX is no stranger to confronting the US government. It sued the US in 2014 for the right to compete for military launches, and sued again in 2019 over “wrongly awarded” rocket contracts. The company hasn’t hinted at a court battle over Starship, but it’s evident Musk and crew are determined to keep their next-generation rocket on track.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/spacex-starship-launch-faa-license-violation-164508358.html

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