Weta Digital Opens Virtual Production Service in New Zealand

Visual effects company Weta Digital — founded by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk — joined forces with production facility Avalon Studios and live event, production and broadcast specialist Streamliner Productions to develop an LED-stage virtual production service based in Wellington, New Zealand. That country has done a good job of controlling COVID-19, making it an appealing destination for new TV and film productions. Similar to ILM’s StageCraft platform, Weta Digital’s system is based on Epic Games’ real-time Unreal Engine. Continue reading Weta Digital Opens Virtual Production Service in New Zealand

Beta Testers Give Thumbs Up to New OpenAI Text Generator

OpenAI’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT), a general-purpose language algorithm for using machine learning to answer questions, translate text and predictively write it, is currently in its third version. GPT-3, first described in a research paper published in May, is now in a private beta with a select group of developers. The goal is to eventually launch it as a commercial cloud-based subscription service. Its predecessor, GPT-2, released last year, was able to create convincing text in several styles. Continue reading Beta Testers Give Thumbs Up to New OpenAI Text Generator

FTC Probe of Facebook Unlikely to Conclude by Election Time

About a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission chair Joseph Simons predicted that the antitrust probe of Facebook would be done before the presidential election, a goal that now seems unlikely. If it runs into next year, a new president could change the FTC’s priorities. For now, the Facebook investigation continues, with staff members prepping depositions of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and examining its purchase of Giphy, a search database for short videos. Continue reading FTC Probe of Facebook Unlikely to Conclude by Election Time

Facebook Targets E-Commerce with Updated Instagram Shop

Facebook debuted a major redesign of its Instagram Shop platform, which had already been accessible from a button in the Explore tab but now offers more functionality. The new version of Instagram Shop will first be available in the U.S., with a global rollout “in the coming weeks” said the company. In Shop, consumers will find special collections, a “Suggested for You” section and curated offerings from Instagram’s @Shop account. A double arrow symbol means the user can buy the product without leaving the app. The move is seen as Facebook’s stronger push into e-commerce. Continue reading Facebook Targets E-Commerce with Updated Instagram Shop

Google’s Area 120 Debuts Shoploop Video Shopping Platform

Google’s Shoploop, developed in its R&D unit Area 120, is a video shopping platform for consumers to discover, evaluate and purchase products within the app. Shoploop general manager Lax Poojary explained that the experience is “more interactive than just scrolling through images, titles and descriptions on a traditional e-commerce site.” The Shoploop videos, which are under 90 seconds, currently focus on beauty products. Consumers can save products or follow product creators for additional videos. Continue reading Google’s Area 120 Debuts Shoploop Video Shopping Platform

Netflix Names Sarandos Co-CEO, Subscriber Numbers Grow

Streaming giant Netflix announced that chief content officer Ted Sarandos is now co-chief executive officer with long-time chair & chief executive Reed Hastings. The move is largely seen as clearing the path for Sarandos to eventually succeed Hastings, who noted that the promotion “makes formal what was already informal — that Ted and I share the leadership of Netflix.” The company added 26+ million subscribers in the last two quarters as consumers began seeking more in-home entertainment while sheltering in place due to COVID-19. Continue reading Netflix Names Sarandos Co-CEO, Subscriber Numbers Grow

EU’s Antitrust Probe Expands to Include the Internet of Things

The European Union’s antitrust unit has broadened its focus of Big Tech companies to include voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa and the growing number of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager noted the threat of a big company pushing the market until “competition turns into monopoly.” With regard to IoT, she pinpointed voice assistants as the “center of it all,” but included any digital device that records consumer data from Apple Watch to an Internet-connected refrigerator. Continue reading EU’s Antitrust Probe Expands to Include the Internet of Things

Zoom Intros Its First Collaboration Device for the Home Office

The coronavirus pandemic will likely require people to continue to work remotely and Zoom Video Communications has responded with Zoom for Home, a new line of professional videoconferencing devices for those working from home. The first product, manufactured with DTEN and available next month, includes a 27-inch touchscreen with three wide-angle cameras and eight microphones, for improved video and audio. Zoom chief product officer Oded Gal noted that people on Zoom meetings all day long “prefer not to use a laptop for all these meetings.” Continue reading Zoom Intros Its First Collaboration Device for the Home Office

Privacy Shield: Top EU Court Strikes Down Data Transfer Pact

The European Union’s top court voided a transatlantic data-sharing pact this week, ruling that EU residents’ data, when moved to the U.S., are not sufficiently protected from that government’s surveillance. The legal battle began in 2013, when privacy activist Max Schrems complained to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, pointing to Edward Snowden’s leaks as proof that U.S. law did not protect against scrutiny. Countries outside of the European Union and companies that want to move EU data abroad must now meet strict EU data laws. Continue reading Privacy Shield: Top EU Court Strikes Down Data Transfer Pact

European Union Court Overturns 2016 Decision Against Apple

The European Union overturned a 2016 decision that ordered Apple to make good on $14.9 billion in unpaid taxes to Ireland. Apple selecting Ireland as its European base to avoid taxation was the genesis that eventually led to the decision. The European Commission’s top antitrust regulator Margrethe Vestager accused the arrangement of being an illegal subsidy not available to Apple’s rivals and demanded that Ireland recover 10 years of back taxes. Amazon and Google have pending court appeals to overturn similar EU decisions. Continue reading European Union Court Overturns 2016 Decision Against Apple

Prominent Twitter Accounts Hacked for Cryptocurrency Fraud

On Wednesday, scammers launched one of the most audacious attacks in recent memory, posting messages from the Twitter accounts of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kanye West, Bill Gates and Elon Musk that if people sent Bitcoin, the famous person would send back double the money. The first attack targeted high-profile cryptocurrency leaders and companies, but soon broadened to include a list of prominent U.S. politicians and entertainment and tech executives. It appears that an internal Twitter account was involved in the attacks, but it has yet to be determined whether an employee was willfully complicit. Continue reading Prominent Twitter Accounts Hacked for Cryptocurrency Fraud

Google Developing New Cloud Services During the Pandemic

According to Google Cloud chief executive Thomas Kurian, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the development of new cloud features. “Every week, there’s a new set of dimensions, and we have to adapt, keep people positive, and focus through it,” he said. A new security product that encrypts data while it’s being processed, for example, is aimed at luring businesses in highly regulated industries to adopt cloud services. Another cloud-computing product is Assured Workloads for Government, a new way to secure public sector deals. Continue reading Google Developing New Cloud Services During the Pandemic

Microsoft Introduces Teams Updates to Reduce User Fatigue

As COVID-19 keeps schools and businesses shut down, Microsoft has unveiled updates for its video communication platform Teams to help online meeting participants feel more connected. One such feature is Together Mode, which lets participants set the call to a shared background image so everyone feels a bit more like they’re sitting in the same room. The genesis of the feature came when Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson realized how fatiguing videoconferences could be, and contacted his friend, Microsoft Research scientist Jaron Lanier. Teams is also adding emoji, video filters, and integration of Tasks and Cortana. Continue reading Microsoft Introduces Teams Updates to Reduce User Fatigue

Amazon Debuts Smart Shopping Cart for Simplified Checkout

Amazon unveiled the Dash Cart this week, a “smart” grocery shopping cart fitted with a touchscreen that can automatically detect the items placed in it. The shopper can then take the Dash Cart through a special lane to digitally check out via a combination of computer vision algorithms and sensors. The Dash Cart is the result of Amazon’s aim to apply everything it’s learned in building its Alexa-enabled products to create more convenience in the brick-and-mortar world. The Dash Cart will first be deployed in Amazon’s grocery store in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb. Continue reading Amazon Debuts Smart Shopping Cart for Simplified Checkout

NBC Debuts Streamer Peacock With Free, Ad-Supported Tier

NBCUniversal’s streaming platform Peacock debuted today with three tiers: a free, ad-supported plan that features thousands of hours of content; a $4.99-per-month subscription that offers more than double the content of the base plan; and a $9.99 premium version without ads (both paid plans offer discounted annual subscriptions). Users of the free version can surf among 20 feeds, one featuring favorites like “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The King of Queens,” another with NBC’s morning program “Today,” and another dedicated to its late-night shows. By offering a free version, said Peacock chair Matt Strauss, NBCUniversal is betting that people are looking for “more affordable options.” Continue reading NBC Debuts Streamer Peacock With Free, Ad-Supported Tier

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