Amazon Forms Coalition for Voice Assistant Interoperability

Amazon created the Voice Interoperability Initiative to achieve software compatibility among digital voice assistants, encouraging its widespread adoption. Although 36 companies have joined the initiative, Apple and Google have not. Their absence is a significant impediment to the initiative’s goals, since Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant software are installed by default in most of today’s smartphones. Amazon’s Alexa, meanwhile, has no presence on smartphones, although its Echo speakers are a hit with consumers. Continue reading Amazon Forms Coalition for Voice Assistant Interoperability

Microsoft Develops Data Dignity Project to Empower Users

Microsoft’s CTO office is reportedly creating a Data Dignity team to find ways to give users more control over their personal information — including the possibility of buying and selling it to third-parties. To set itself apart from other tech behemoths, Microsoft has been asserting its efforts for consumer privacy. But the company has faced its own privacy faux pas such as collecting data for Windows 10 and using human workers to transcribe Skype conversations. Data Dignity could help burnish its image. Continue reading Microsoft Develops Data Dignity Project to Empower Users

Google Tech Contractors Vote to Join Steelworkers’ Union

In Pittsburgh, a group of about 80 HCL Technologies contractors working at Google has voted to unionize with the United Steelworkers. Although the group represents only a small number of the many contractors employed by Google, it represents one of the first groups of tech workers to unionize in the U.S., according to United Steelworkers. At Google’s Bakery Square offices, contractors work side-by-side full-time Google employees but are paid less and receive fewer benefits, leading to the push to organize. Continue reading Google Tech Contractors Vote to Join Steelworkers’ Union

Facebook Unveils Three New Ad Units: Polls, Playable, AR

Facebook announced plans to release three new ad units under the banner Advertising You Can Play With: polls, playable ads (both in the mobile News Feed), and, last, AR ads that will debut in beta in the fall. Playable ads, first shown at the ChinaJoy gaming conference in August 2018, allow users to install and try apps before buying them. AR ads have been in a test phase, with select advertisers, since Facebook revealed them at its F8 developer conference in 2018. All three products emphasize interactivity. Continue reading Facebook Unveils Three New Ad Units: Polls, Playable, AR

Pinterest Becomes a Visual Discovery Engine for Shopping

Pinterest is now promoting itself as a “visual discovery engine,” where its 300 million global monthly active users can not only browse billions of images but also purchase the items they find there. For most of its users, Pinterest is a go-to place for home décor, gardening and personal style, allowing users to “pin” or post photos to create inspiration boards. According to Pinterest, its AI technology can accurately pinpoint 2.5+ billion objects in photos, millions of which can be purchased by clicking on the item. Continue reading Pinterest Becomes a Visual Discovery Engine for Shopping

Google Debuts Game Sub Service Similar to Apple Arcade

This week, Google began rolling out a video game and app subscription service, Play Pass, with 350 games and apps, priced at $4.99 per month. The service first debuted on Android devices in the U.S. and will be unveiled in additional countries over the next few months. Google is also readying Stadia, a streaming video game service for big-budget titles. Play Pass arrives just a few days after Apple unveiled Apple Arcade, with over 100 games — most of them exclusives — at the same monthly price. Continue reading Google Debuts Game Sub Service Similar to Apple Arcade

Google Claims Quantum Supremacy in Briefly Posted Paper

In a paper briefly posted to the NASA website, Google stated that it conducted an experimental demonstration that proved the supremacy of a quantum computer, dubbed Sycamore, over a traditional one. Although the quantum computer is “unproven,” it offers the possibility of solving “formerly ungraspable mathematical problems.” A Google source hinted that NASA published the paper before it could be vetted via scientific peer review. Since the article was pulled off the site, Google has not acknowledged its existence. Continue reading Google Claims Quantum Supremacy in Briefly Posted Paper

Facebook Freezes 69,000 Apps for Collecting Personal Data

Last Friday, Facebook suspended 69,000 apps, stating that they had harvested users’ personal data. The investigation began in March 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, leading to the suspensions of those apps, associated with 400 developers. The Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey investigated and found that 10,000 of the 69,000 apps were found to have “potentially misappropriated” personal data, often as a way to add new users. The Justice Department and the FBI are still investigating Cambridge Analytica. Continue reading Facebook Freezes 69,000 Apps for Collecting Personal Data

With IPO on Hold, WeWork Investors Consider CEO’s Future

When WeWork, the office-space startup renamed We Company, was valued at $47 billion, skeptics expressed concern that, in 2018, it lost $1.6 billion on revenues of $1.82 billion. Still, many stuck with co-founder/chief executive Adam Neumann. But when We Company faced its IPO, more concerns were voiced about its business model and profit potential. After mulling over reducing its valuation by half, WeWork postponed the IPO. Now, said sources, some board members and investors are discussing the ouster of Neumann. Continue reading With IPO on Hold, WeWork Investors Consider CEO’s Future

Facebook Announces Three New AI-Powered Portal Devices

Facebook is introducing three Portal models, starting at $129, a more competitive price than previous models. Two offer a smart display with screen, camera and microphone, and the third can turn a TV into a venue for video chat. The first Portal offered AI-enabled tracking that kept all the participants in the frame and could follow a single person. The AI has been upgraded to provide more accuracy. Although the company “paused” human review of audio, it will resume the practice for some Portal audio. Continue reading Facebook Announces Three New AI-Powered Portal Devices

Researchers Find Fire TV, Roku Channels Are Tracking Data

Princeton University and University of Chicago researchers studied over 2,000 channels on streaming devices Amazon Fire TV and Roku — and found that 89 percent of the Fire TV channels and 69 percent of Roku channels included trackers. Those trackers collect data on viewing habits and preferences, device serial numbers and IDs, Wi-Fi network names and MAC (media access control) addresses, which are network interface identifiers. Some channels had 64+ different tracks. Users have no tools to examine the traffic or block ads. Continue reading Researchers Find Fire TV, Roku Channels Are Tracking Data

Japan’s Virtual YouTube Celebrities Test the Waters in China

Japan’s most popular YouTube star is Kizuna AI, a virtual teenager with thigh-high socks and a pink hair ribbon, brought to life by an off-screen actress. Millions of fans follow Kizuna, the brainchild of Activ8, a Tokyo-based company. According to Activ8 founder Takeshi Osaka, what sets such so-called virtual YouTubers (or VTubers) apart is that “you can believe they actually exist.” To create Kizuna, Activ8 uses motion capture gear to create skits, music videos and game streams for its over four million subscribers. Continue reading Japan’s Virtual YouTube Celebrities Test the Waters in China

Latest Google Feature Provides Shortcut to Video Highlights

Google introduced Key Moments, a feature that enables users to find shortcuts to video highlights. A search for a how-to video, for example, will bring up links that creators have time-stamped. According to Google, the feature will also make video easier to find for people using screen-reading software to navigate the Internet. Key Moments will first appear in English for YouTube videos time-stamped by the creators. It is limited to a small number of creators but those interested can sign up for early access. Continue reading Latest Google Feature Provides Shortcut to Video Highlights

Amazon Music to Introduce HD Service for CD-Quality Sound

Amazon is debuting an HD version of its music service, which means its digital sound quality will henceforth be on a par with that found on CDs. Music executives, some who have pushed for different tiers of subscription beyond Apple Music and Spotify’s typical $9.99-per-month, said Amazon’s move is “a sign of the music-streaming market’s maturation.” Although Tidal offers an HD sound service, Amazon Music, at the No. 3 spot by subscription numbers, will be the first major service to offer comparable quality audio. Continue reading Amazon Music to Introduce HD Service for CD-Quality Sound

Gig Economy Companies Responding to New California Law

On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a law that will classify some independent contractors as employees and takes effect January 1. Companies such as Lyft and Uber Technologies, whose employees are among those that might be reclassified, redoubled both their resistance to the law and plans to negotiate again with relevant labor unions. At the same time, these companies are making noise about initiating a ballot-measure campaign to rewrite the standards for independent contractors. Continue reading Gig Economy Companies Responding to New California Law

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