State Attorneys General Team Up to Investigate Tech Firms

After several states began pursuing an antitrust probe of the big technology companies, sources reported that representatives of several state attorneys general met with top Justice Department officials to air their concerns about the lack of competition in the technology sector. Now, according to sources, a bipartisan group of states plans to initiate a joint antitrust investigation, to be launched as soon as next month. Sources say the investigation will focus on whether dominant platforms stifle competition. Continue reading State Attorneys General Team Up to Investigate Tech Firms

SoftBank to Lend Employees $20B to Invest in Vision Fund

SoftBank Group plans to lend up to $20 billion to its 400 employees to buy stakes in its second Vision Fund, following the first fund launched in 2017. That first $100 billion fund, which debuted in 2017, made big investments in Uber Technologies, WeWork, and Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing Technology, driving up their valuations. For the second Vision Fund, SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son may invest as much as $15 billion, and SoftBank could put in $38 billion, more than is typical for a fund sponsor. Continue reading SoftBank to Lend Employees $20B to Invest in Vision Fund

Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

In Loup Ventures’ 2019 Digital Assistant IQ Test, comprised of 800 questions, Google Assistant came in first, understanding 100 percent of the questions and answering 92.9 percent of them accurately. Last year, Google Assistant, also top-ranked, answered 85.5 percent correctly. Apple’s Siri also improved, understanding 99.8 percent of the questions (versus 2018’s 99 percent) and correctly answering 83.1 percent of the time (versus 2018’s 78.5 percent). Amazon’s Alexa came in third. Continue reading Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

A bipartisan group of Congress members castigated Facebook for hiring contractors to transcribe audio clips and urged regulation to prevent it in the future. The transcriptions were made to help Facebook improve its artificial intelligence-enabled speech recognition, and are part of a move to improve the capabilities of voice assistants (Amazon, Apple and Google are among companies that have taken similar approaches). Last year, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) circulated a draft law that would impose steep fines and even prison for executives who failed to protect users’ personal data. Continue reading Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

Spotify Rolls Out Data Analytics Dashboard For Podcasters

In October, 100,000 podcasts signed up for the beta of Spotify for Podcasters, which provides data on listeners’ age, gender, location, music taste and how long they listened to an episode. When they sign up for an account, Spotify users provide basic demographic information. Now, Spotify is offering the data analytics tool to the 450,000+ shows accessible on its platform. Spotify for Podcasters, now available worldwide but currently only in English, offers much more detailed information than Apple’s podcast data. Continue reading Spotify Rolls Out Data Analytics Dashboard For Podcasters

CBS and Viacom Reunite With a Focus on Streaming Video

After a split of more than 10 years, CBS and Viacom finalized a deal yesterday to recombine. The new company, to be called ViacomCBS Inc. with a market value of about $30 billion, will bring Viacom brands such as BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures together with CBS, Showtime and the new CBS All Access streaming service. The merger follows several high-profile media deals, including Disney’s purchase of Fox’s movie and TV assets in March and AT&T’s 2018 acquisition of Time Warner, as media companies face significant changes involving pay TV and streaming services. Continue reading CBS and Viacom Reunite With a Focus on Streaming Video

Google Search Updates Plan to Improve Podcast Discovery

Google now makes it easier for users to find individual podcasts in search results, showing potential episodes that fit search terms and playing back those podcasts. Users will have to ask Google or Google Assistant for podcasts about that particular topic — that is, “find a podcast on golden retrievers” — which will then open in Google Podcasts’ web app. Google, which houses a 2+ million podcast index, said it will eventually support third-party playback and drop the “podcast” search term requirement. Continue reading Google Search Updates Plan to Improve Podcast Discovery

Adobe Develops AR Software, Mixed Reality Display Tech

Adobe plans to release three apps — Aero, Fresco and Photoshop for the iPad — that focus on mixing physical elements with digital ones. The apps will allow users to switch back and forth easily between mobile and desktop devices and are cloud-native, enabling easy collaboration. The company’s chief technology officer Abhay Parasnis also recently showcased Project Glasswing, a mixed reality display prototype that will bring all the apps’ features as Photoshop or After Effects layers on a transparent screen in front of real 3D objects. Continue reading Adobe Develops AR Software, Mixed Reality Display Tech

How Apple and Huawei Compare in Manufacturing Devices

Huawei Technologies unveiled its anticipated in-house software it hopes will replace Google’s Android. The new Harmony operating system (formerly code-named “Ark,” Chinese name “Hongmeng”) is evidence of Huawei’s move towards self-reliance in the face of U.S. sanctions against the sale of U.S. components to the company and the escalating trade war between the two countries. In fact, Huawei’s new emphasis on autonomy is similar to that of Apple, which bought Intel’s modem manufacturing unit and also attempts to bulletproof its pipeline in an uncertain economic environment. Continue reading How Apple and Huawei Compare in Manufacturing Devices

Facebook Plans to Test Selling VOD Subs Directly to Users

Facebook will launch a small-scale test in the U.S. over the coming weeks to sell video subscriptions directly to its users for BritBox from BBC Studios and ITV, Dropout by CollegeHumor, Motor Trend On Demand and Tastemade Plus. Facebook will initially test the waters with these four smaller services. While no major streaming video services are scheduled to be part of the test, Facebook has contacted networks such as HBO and Showtime about selling their OTT services on the social platform and has reportedly talked with Disney, Hulu and Netflix about offering their streaming services via a new TV chat device rumored to be launching this fall. Continue reading Facebook Plans to Test Selling VOD Subs Directly to Users

Apple Card Debuts With 70 Percent of U.S. Retail On Board

This month, Apple will officially launch Apple Card, a credit card for iPhone users, according to chief executive Tim Cook. The credit card, which will be situated in Apple’s Wallet app, allows contactless payments and includes no fees, lower interest and cash rewards. According to the Silicon Valley company, Apple Pay has 70 percent “retail acceptance” in the U.S. and 90 percent in Australia. It can be used wherever Apple Pay is available and is expected to be in 40 countries by the end of the year. Continue reading Apple Card Debuts With 70 Percent of U.S. Retail On Board

Streaming Bundle to Feature Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu

Starting November 12, Disney plans to offer consumers a $12.99-per-month streaming bundle that includes Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu’s ad-supported tier. November 12 will mark the U.S. debut of the anticipated Disney Plus service. Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the bundle during the company’s most recent earnings call with Wall Street. According to Iger, Disney is in discussions with Amazon, Apple and Google to offer Disney Plus via additional platforms. “We think it’s important to achieve scale relatively quickly and they’ll be an important part of that,” he said. Continue reading Streaming Bundle to Feature Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu

Google Stops Human Review of Assistant Voice Clips in EU

Google is pausing Google Assistant voice transcriptions in the European Union for at least three months. In mid-July, it admitted that about 1,000 private communications were made available to human contractors evaluating Assistant’s speech recognition accuracy, revealing personal and private information. A Google spokesperson reported that the company ceased voice transcription involving human moderators after learning of additional leaks in the Netherlands. Amazon will allow Alexa users to opt out of the human review of recordings and Apple has halted its program allowing human contractors to listen in on Siri recordings. Continue reading Google Stops Human Review of Assistant Voice Clips in EU

Apple Ends Practice of Humans Monitoring Siri Recordings

Apple will no longer allow human contractors to listen in on users’ Siri recordings to “grade” them, and will not resume the program until it has completed a “thorough review.” The company also stated that, as part of a future update, users will be able to opt out of the quality assurance program. Apple told users that Siri data might be used to improve their experience, but not that humans would be listening to it. Most of the compromised confidential information was recorded via an accidental trigger of Siri. Continue reading Apple Ends Practice of Humans Monitoring Siri Recordings

Spotify Reaches 108M Subs, But Revenue Per User Drops

Top streaming music service Spotify announced that it added 8 million subscribers during the most recent quarter ending in June, bringing its total to 108 million paying subscribers and 232 million monthly active users (paying and non-paying). The subscriber tally includes those who signed up for Spotify’s 30-day free trial. The company also recently launched its biannual campaign that offers the premium service for only $1. As a result, its average revenue per user dropped to $5.42, which is a 1 percent reduction compared to the previous quarter. Continue reading Spotify Reaches 108M Subs, But Revenue Per User Drops

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