07 Jul 2017

Facebook is building a Houseparty clone for live group video chat

Facebook is building a standalone app that incorporates ideas from Houseparty, the group video chat app that rose from the ashes of Meerkat. The app, which has the working name Bonfire, was recently demonstrated for employees. It is being targeted for a fall release, according to a person familiar with the matter. “We don’t have anything to share at this time,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Facebook’s move comes two years after Life On Air, which had helped usher in a new era of live broadcasting with its app Meerkat, pivoted to group video chat. The company’s founder, Ben Rubin, observed that most people never broadcasted more than a handful of times — whether on Meerkat or its eventual competitors, Facebook Live and Twitter-owned Periscope. And so Rubin and his team built Houseparty, which notifies a user’s friends whenever they have the app open, inviting them to hang out virtually on their smartphones.

Houseparty users spent 20 million minutes a day using it

The app took off among teenagers, and by November 2016 it had 1.2 million users spending 20 million minutes a day using it. For Facebook, few competitive threats are as worrisome as a new social network growing quickly among teenagers. It’s why the company first tried to acquire Snapchat, and, once rebuffed, invested heavily in cloning its most distinctive features. Houseparty’s continued growth — it is currently a top 200 app in Apple’s US App Store, according to market research firm App Annie — all but guaranteed Facebook would explore copying it.

Details about how Bonfire works could not be learned, though one person described it as essentially a clone of Houseparty. If that’s the case, the launch of Bonfire could pose a significant challenge for Rubin’s team. Should it overtake Houseparty, it would represent the second time in as many years that a Life On Air innovation is squashed by larger competitors. (Houseparty declined to comment.)

At the same time, Facebook’s track record with cloned products has been mixed. Slingshot and Bolt, two earlier Facebook apps designed to blunt Snapchat’s momentum, died quick deaths. And while the company appears to have struck gold with Instagram stories, its refined take on Snapchat’s ephemeral public posts, similar products in the main Facebook app and in Facebook Messenger have generated little enthusiasm among users.

Encroaching on Facebook’s new mission statement

But Houseparty’s core function — bringing close groups of friends together — encroaches on Facebook’s newly restated mission statement, which focuses on building tight-knit communities. That Houseparty employs video, the current obsession of the tech-media industrial complex, only gives Facebook more reason to study it.

Bonfire is not the only standalone video app Facebook is pursuing, sources said. Employees were also recently shown an app called Talk. While details were scarce, one source said the app is designed to encourage younger people to communicate with their grandparents using video chat.

Credits:  Casey Newton at theverge.com

 

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26 Jun 2017

CEO Zuckerberg tweaks Facebook mission to focus on groups

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Alumni Exercises following the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg revised the world’s largest online social network’s mission statement on Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg revised the world’s largest online social network’s mission statement on Thursday to emphasize support for hobby clubs, civil society organizations and other community groups.
The move comes as Facebook faces pressure from smaller rivals such as Nextdoor and Meetup, whose online networks bring together neighbors and people in the same area with shared interests.

Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page that his company’s new mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
The previous mission was “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Facebook’s pursuit of that mission has been criticized in the past 12 months after the network became one of the main distribution points for so-called fake news, which many think influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Zuckerberg said in February he wanted to boost the number of Facebook users who are members of what they called “very meaningful” groups. Only about 5 percent were members of such groups, he said then.
The head of Facebook, with 1.9 billion users and $27.6 billion in revenue last year, was in Chicago on Thursday to meet people who run group pages on Facebook.
“If what you’re trying to do is run a group that has thousands of people, you need tools to help manage that,” he told CNN in an interview. Facebook wants to build those tools, he said.
Alphabet Inc’s Google also hosts community groups, as do Nextdoor and Meetup. Nextdoor, a site for neighbors to meet one another and share news and advice, said on Monday it was expanding into Germany after rapid growth elsewhere.
Zuckerberg told CNN that supporting organizations built around neighbors, churches, pets and the like has a larger purpose.
“Once people are coming together in these smaller groups, that actually grows and it ends up with much bigger changes in the world,” he said.

Credits: David Ingram;  Bill Rigby

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26 Jun 2017

You Need To Stop Reusing Passwords And Start Googling Yourself

 

People are jeopardizing their private information because they use the same password for different social media accounts, a recent survey by consumer finance site NextAdvisor suggests.

The survey was conducted April 25-26 on 500 men and women at least 18 years of age. Participants were asked about their social media habits, like how they chose and secured their passwords, as well as privacy settings they use when posting on platforms.

Reusing Passwords

The survey found 67 percent of respondents used the same password for at least two of their social media accounts, now or in the past. One in three of the respondents (31 percent) said they never changed their social media passwords.

“It can be easy to grow complacent when it comes to your passwords, especially if you have a lot of them to remember,” NextAdvisor’s Jocelyn Baird told International Business Times.

She said reusing passwords and picking easy passwords, like “123456” or “princess,” can put your information at risk. Baird recommends using strong passwords and to take advantage of password managers like Dashlane and 1Password. Baird reminds people any account that is linked to another, or allows you to reset passwords to accounts, should be strongly protected, since “it puts your entire online life in jeopardy.”

A reason why people are careless with their social media password could be because they don’t see them as vital as other accounts they might possess. When comparing passwords for sites, 32 percent of respondents viewed their passwords for social media profiles as less important than their email or banking accounts.

“Social media doesn’t seem like something that needs strong protection, but you might be surprised at how valuable a social media account can be,” Baird said. “While you should obviously take the protection of your financial accounts seriously, social media should be viewed as equally important, too.”

Sharing Passwords With Spouse

Sharing passwords with others, like spouses, isn’t frowned upon, especially among younger users.

The survey found a quarter of respondents are currently sharing their passwords with someone else while an additional 34 percent said they would consider it under the right circumstances. Among those less than 40 years of age, 26 percent said they currently share their passwords with others, compared to 24 percent among those more than 40. Although sharing passwords is a personal choice, it might not end in a pleasant way.

“As much as we all want to trust the people in our lives, the sad truth is that sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who do the most damage,” said Baird, pointing to familiar fraud, when a person close to you engages in identity theft.

“Even if the person you share a password with is completely trustworthy, sharing vulnerable information makes it harder to ensure that it won’t be lost or stolen, since you can’t control what another person does or says,” Baird said, pointing to mistakes, like writing a password down and leaving it in plain view.

“It’s best not to share passwords, to prevent mishaps or malicious actions,” Baird added.

Privacy Settings and Why You Should Google Yourself

The survey did have some good news: 92 percent of respondents ages 40 and younger and 72 percent of those older than 41 said they knew how to check their social media privacy settings.

If you like to Google yourself, you shouldn’t feel a bit of shame. The survey found 51 percent of respondents don’t Google themselves, which is something they should be doing. Looking yourself up on Google can allow you to see what information about you is out on the internet for everyone to see, like your home address, telephone number and social media posts, if they’re not private. Besides Googling your name, you should also Google your email address, phone number and usernames you have used in the past to see what other information about you comes up, Baird recommends. Checking the image results is helpful, since photos can sometimes pinpoint your exact location through geotagging

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19 Jun 2017

Google tightens measures to remove extremist content on YouTube

Alphabet Inc’s Google will implement more measures to identify and remove terrorist or violent extremist content on its video sharing platform YouTube, the company said in a blog post on Sunday.

Google said it would take a tougher position on videos containing supremacist or inflammatory religious content by issuing a warning and not monetizing or recommending them for user endorsements, even if they do not clearly violate its policies.

The company will also employ more engineering resources and increase its use of technology to help identify extremist videos, in addition to training new content classifiers to quickly identify and remove such content.

“While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now,” said Google’s general counsel Kent Walker.

Google will expand its collaboration with counter-extremist groups to identify content that may be used to radicalize and recruit extremists, it said.

The company will also reach potential Islamic State recruits through targeted online advertising and redirect them towards anti-terrorist videos in a bid to change their minds about joining.

Germany, France and Britain, countries where civilians have been killed and wounded in bombings and shootings by Islamist militants in recent years, have pressed Facebook and other providers of social media such as Google and Twitter to do more to remove militant content and hate speech.

Facebook on Thursday offered additional insight on its efforts to remove terrorism content, a response to political pressure in Europe to militant groups using the social network for propaganda and recruiting.

Facebook has ramped up use of artificial intelligence such as image matching and language understanding to identify and remove content quickly, the company said in a blog post.

Credits: Abinaya Vijayaraghavan; Gopakumar Warrier

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15 Jun 2017

Google Drive will soon be able to automatically back up your hard drive

 

While Google Drive is already a decent cloud storage tool, it’s about to get a lot more useful:  the service will let you back up entire folders from your hard drive, and keep them in sync with your account.You’ll need to first download the Backup and Sync tool for your PC or Mac when it launches; once you’ve signed in, you’ll be able to choose which folders on your desktop you want to keep backed up, and access them through Drive across your devices. That sounds handy for people who already use Drive extensively – it’d certainly be nice to have a powerful search function for backed up files. However, unless Google comes up with new pricing plans to support this feature, Drive’s backup will cost you a fair bit more than other services, as it only comes with 15GB of space for free. 1TB of space will set you back by $100 a year, while most rivals like Backblaze charge about half that price: Backblaze’s unlimited storage and syncing costs $50 annually, and Carbonite as well as small business-focused Crashplan come in at $59 a year.Credits: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

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02 Jun 2017

Meet a new Digital Notepad that mimics the feel of paper, and it’s good enough to fool you

Most tablets make terrible notepad stand-ins, but the ReMarkable’s E Ink display makes it feel like you’re writing on paper.

A stylus and tablet make pretty poor stand-ins for pencil and paper. The smooth, friction-less glass feels unnatural against your palm; the bright screens can strain your eyes over time; and incessant notifications compete for your attention. But as good as paper feels, it’s not a convenient way to collaborate.

Those shortcomings are what ReMarkable, the startup behind an E Ink drawing tablet, set out to reconcile more than five years ago.

“We wanted a gadget that felt like the pen and paper we used through school,” Magnus Wanber, ReMarkable’s chief executive officer, told Digital Trends. “We fell in love with the idea of a paper experience.”

The team settled on a one-two punch of a solution: An E Ink with a pencil-like stylus.

E Ink screens, unlike the color LCD screen in Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, are made up of millions of microscopic capsules that contain positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles. When a positive or negative electric field is applied, the corresponding particles move to the screen’s surface, making it appear as though they’ve been printed.

But the product isn’t quite finished — the team’s testing the seventh generation prototype, with plans to ship the tablet in August. The design has been finalized, and the hardware’s fully functional. It’s lightweight and thin, with a 10.3-inch 226ppi (pixels per inch) touchscreen and physical buttons that handle navigation. It’s dust resistant and durable — Wanberg said it can withstand drops without cracking.

The ReMarkable’s stylus is just as impressive. It supports more than 2,000 levels of pressure and tilt detection, and uses electromagnetic resonance to register taps and touches on the tablet’s surface. Unlike most drawing styluses, it’s passive — it doesn’t require batteries or need to be recharged.

 

There’s more to the stylus than meets the eye. The tip — a combination of felt and plastic that took the team nine months to formulate — approximates the feel of notebook paper. Just like graphite in a pencil, the stylus’ material wears down after a while — about nine months. You’ll have to buy replacements for the tip, though no price has been announced yet.

The ReMarkable team’s paid no less attention to the tablet’s software. An extensive brush library boasts includes a tilt-sensitive pencil tool that broadens your strokes as the stylus is laid flat against the tablet’s screen. A background editor lets you upload and switch between graphs, lined notepaper, and even staff paper.

Saved sketches sync to ReMarkable’s suite of smartphone and desktop apps, and a “digital whiteboard” option lets collaborators see (and contribute) changes in real time.

Eventually, the ReMarkable team plans to add optical character recognition (OCR) in a future software update — it converts handwriting to text. Wanberg said it’s already up and running on internal prototypes, but the team wants to ensure it’ll work in “all drawing scenerios.” The team’s also planning on integrating Microsoft’s OneNote, Dropbox, Evernote, and other cloud storage platforms down the line.

“We’re very open,” Wanberg said. “Whatever the users want, we’ll try to add it.”

The ReMarkable tablet, which ships with a stylus and protective folio cover, will start at $530 when it goes on sale later this year.

Credits: Kyle Wiggers

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02 Jun 2017

The Essential Phone is the Android founder’s new baby

Creating Android wasn’t enough for Andy Rubin. He needed the right phone to go with it.

That’s why, on Tuesday, he brought us the Essential Phone. It’s a high-end Android device that could keep alive the hopes for modular phones — an idea that failed to take off with Google’s Project Ara and has yet to really click into high gear with various Motorola projects.

It could also help Rubin become a force in hardware the same way he swept across the world of mobile software. Around the globe, more than 2 billion devices run on Android.

The specs

Starting at $699, the Essential Phone boasts 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage and a Snapdragon 835 chip. The 5.71′-inch display spreads across the entire screen, even seeping into where the front facing camera is placed, with a 2,560×1,312-pixel resolution.

Both its front and back cameras can shoot in 4K video, with a 13-megapixel dual camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel camera on the screen. The Essential Phone also comes with Bluetooth 5.0, and there’s no headphone jack. It will be able to run on all major carriers.

Its most prominent feature might be the magnetic connector on the back of the phone, near the camera. The connector allows for modular attachments to the Essential Phone, using wireless data transfers on the port. All accessories will be able to snap magnetically onto the phone, according to Essential.

The company showed off this feature with a snap-on 360-degree camera that works with the magnetic connector. The add-on comes for an additional $50, with dual 12-megapixel fish-eye lens.

Essential also released a phone dock that takes advantage of the magnetic connector, allowing the device to charge wirelessly.

The Essential Phone comes with a titanium build, which the company said makes it more durable than the majority of high-end phones. It will come in black, gray, white and blue, without any logos showing.

“Unlike aluminum, which is what most phones are made of, titanium doesn’t scratch, dent, or bend,” the company wrote. “That’s why you won’t find an area for phone cases on our site.”

Samsung’s and Apple’s phones are made from aluminum, if you needed the context behind the shade Essential’s throwing there.

Home coming

Essential isn’t just launching with a phone.

Rubin is also releasing a home assistant, a field where Amazon and Google have been doing battle. While both companies have made their voice assistant programs open-sourced, leading to many clones, Essential is moving with its own Ambient operating system. The Essential home assistant is a small circle with a screen, that can be activated by voice, touch or look, the company said.

It will be able to play music, set timers, answer questions and control your smart home — most features a voice assistant already offers, but with the additional touch screen.

When and why

The Essential Phone will be the first to launch, and only in the US, for now. It is expected to release in the next few months, but a specific launch date has not been set. There’s no details on when the Home will be available.

Rubin had been teasing Essential’s launch for the last five days, with a photo hiding the phone tweeted on May 25.

On Tuesday, he explained that he disliked the lack of choices in technology’s current state, unnecessary features and products that didn’t work with each other. Don’t worry, he takes the blame for that, too.

“Just when I was about drop another criticism it hit me: I am partly responsible for all of this,” Rubin wrote. “For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives.”

Rubin said he was frustrated with current technology, and vowed to create a simple phone that wouldn’t have forced bloatware, become outdated or live in a closed ecosystem.

Credits: CNET

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01 Jun 2017

What Not to Post on Facebook While You’re on Vacation: Don’t come home to an empty house

Is there anything people love more than going on a nice vacation? Whether it’s heading to a tropical island where they serve you drinks with fancy little umbrellas in them, or perhaps a family trip to Disney World that you’ve been saving up for months for, whatever the case may be, we all love vacations.

We also like to share our vacation experiences with others via social media sites such as Facebook.

Do we want to make our friends jealous that they are toiling away at work while we’re eating a fancy meal at a 5-star restaurant? Of course, we do, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and if you’re not careful, you could come back from your vacation and find your home devoid of valuables.

Here are some tips to help you share your vacation experiences on Facebook without adding undue risk to you and your family’s personal safety:

1. Don’t Post Any Status Updates About Your Vacation While You’re Still on Vacation

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is posting anything about your vacation while you are still on it. A thief trolling social media or perhaps a friend with a delinquent brother who happens to see your vacation post will be able to put two and two together and infer that you are not at home since you are posting while on vacation.

They will realize that, given the fact above, they have ample time to rob your house since you aren’t going to be back anytime soon.

Never assume that your status post is going out to ‘friends only’ as your friend may have left their Facebook account logged into a computer at the local library, allowing complete strangers to view your status posts.

Bottom line: If you wouldn’t share your vacation details with a room full of strangers, don’t share it on Facebook until you have safely returned home.

2. Don’t Post Pictures While You’re on Vacation

Did you just snap and post a picture of the decadent dessert that you are about to enjoy while at that fancy restaurant on your vacation?

By doing so you may, depending on your privacy settings, have just given away your present location in the GPS-based geotag information that gets embedded in the metadata of the picture when you took it. This geotag information can allow Facebook to know where the picture was taken, which again, depending on your privacy settings, could provide both friends and strangers with your current location.

3. Don’t Tag Fellow Vacationers While You and They Are Still on Vacation

Vacationing with friends or family? You should probably not tag them in pictures or status updates while you are all still on vacation because doing so will indicate their current location as well. They likely don’t want this information revealed about themselves for the same reasons mentioned above.

Wait until everyone is safely at home and then tag them later if they want to be tagged.

Afraid of being tagged by someone else? Enable the Facebook Tag Review privacy feature to prevent being tagged by someone else without your permission.

4. Don’t Post Upcoming Travel Plans

Posting upcoming travel plans and itineraries on Facebook can also be very dangerous.

If you post that you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time and place then criminals could be there waiting for you, or it could help them know how much time they have to rob your house before you return home.

Your family and your employer should be the only people that need to know specifics about your travel plans, don’t post the information on Facebook.

 

Credits: Andy O’Donnell

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01 Jun 2017

These subtle smart gloves turn sign language into words

A startup that spun out of Taiwan’s University of Science is working on gloves that can translate sign language gestures into text. Such a concept isn’t new by any means, but the elegance of Yingmi Tech’s hardware deserves some special attention.

The company was actually founded by a team looking to build a more elegant way to control objects inside virtual reality. But it transpired that the same hardware was sophisticated enough to identify the motion of the hands as well as bends in the fingers.

Compared to other sign language gloves that we’ve seen, Yingmi’s are some of the sleekest and most elegant. The box that houses the gyroscope and batteries is pretty small, and yet each hand has enough power to run for up to eight hours at a time.

There are, however, problems, such as the complexity and size of the Chinese language compared to others. I’m told that most smartphones aren’t capacious enough to hold all of the gesture data to encompass natural signed speech.

In the demonstration, a user can instead speak in broken sentences, like the phrase “You want Coffee? Milk?” rather than anything more florid. As a consequence, Yingmi is looking into building a cloud-based translation platform to lessen the burden on the local device.

There is, right now, no word on when such gloves will become commercially available, but the hope is that a pair will retail for less than $200.

Credits: Engadget

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01 Jun 2017

Apple’s wireless Airpod headphones: Big move or Big flop?

Consumers are perplexed by Apple’s new iPhone 7 AirPods because of one obvious oversight: that string is there so they don’t get lost

Apple’s new wireless AirPods, introduced today at the launch of the iPhone 7, deliver a “magical experience,” the senior vice-president of marketing, Phil Schiller, promised.

Apple launched a new iPhone that comes with improved processor, cameras and no headphone jack, along with a new Apple Watch Super Mario Run to launch with new iPhone Apple Watch series 2: GPS and waterproofing Apple unveils new iPhone without headphone jack

 

They will disappear before your very eyes.

The AirPods look exactly like Apple’s traditional earbuds, minus the cord. The cost of making your headphones five times more likely to fall irretrievably into a grate is a more than five times increase in price, to $159.

Apple is rolling out the AirPods alongside its new, headphone jack-free iPhone 7. In a presentation that denigrated the trusty (and conveniently universal) headphone jack as “ancient” technology, Schiller declared that the change was about something bigger than naked commercialism.

“The reason to move on, it really comes down to one word: courage,” he said. “The courage to move on to do something that betters all of us.”

The phones will come with wired earbuds that connect through the Lightning connector, a change that will unhelpfully preclude users from charging their phones at the same time they talk on the phone or listen to music.

(Schiller boasted that there are now more than 900m Lightning-adapted devices in the world today, which may be less a testament to the cord’s popularity than its tendency to fall apart after a few month’s use.)

But wired headphones are for those who lack the courage (and cash) to go wireless, right?

“It makes no sense to tether ourselves with cables to our mobile devices,” Schiller said, apparently forgetting the meaning of the word mobile.

The AirPods will come with a little charging case (they only work for five hours before needing a charge), and have sensors that detect when they are in your ear. They include a microphone that beams toward your mouth so you can still talk on the phone. And they respond to touch, so you can tap on your ear to pick up or hang up the phone.

But the real problem with the AirPods is the obvious problem with the AirPods: they are simply asking to be lost.

The beauty of the headphone cable is not its tendency to get tangled up or its antiquated technology. It does not add anything to the primary function of the device.

So are they a flop or not? Only time will tell. Time and distinguished Apple users.

Credits: The Guardian

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