Businesses

Google, Apple, Amazon Hit Record Lobbying Highs (axios.com) 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: The last three months brought record-high lobbying spending from four major tech companies: Google spent $5.93 million, Apple spent $2.2 million, Amazon spent $3.21 million, Uber spent $430,000. Facebook spent $2.38 million this quarter, up from the same period last year but far from a record. Microsoft's bill for the quarter was just over $2 million.
Youtube

YouTube Will Now Redirect Searches For Extremist Videos To Anti-Terrorist Playlists (tubefilter.com) 118

YouTube will return anti-terrorist playlists when users search for hateful content on the site using certain keywords pertaining to terrorism. Tubefilter.com reports: The new feature, dubbed The Redirect Method, is part of a four-prong strategy announced by Google last month to quash extremist ideologies across its platforms. The Redirect Method was developed by Jigsaw -- an Alphabet subsidiary whose mission is to counter extremism, censorship, and cyber attacks -- alongside another tech company called Moonshot CVE (which stands for "Countering Violent Extremism"). Jigsaw and Moonshot CVE developed the tech after studying, over several years, how terrorist factions like ISIS leverage technology to spread their messaging and recruit new followers. In coming weeks, YouTube says it intends to incorporate The Redirect Method into a wider set of search queries in languages beyond English, use machine learning to dynamically update search terms, work with partner NGOs to develop new anti-extremist content, and roll out the Method to Europe.
Chrome

Chromium To Get Support For MP3 (browsernative.com) 52

An anonymous reader shares a post: Chromium, the open source project behind Google Chrome, Opera and several other browsers, is going to support MP3. This would enable users and websites to play MP3 files in Chromium browser. A Chromium contributor informed about this, "We have approval from legal to go ahead and move MP3 into non-proprietary codecs list." The MP3 support in Chromium is targeted for version 62.
Google

Google To Add 'News Feed' To Website and App (bbc.com) 48

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google is adding a personalised Facebook-style news feed to its homepage -- Google.com -- to show users content they may be interested in before they search. It will display news stories, features, videos and music chosen on the basis of previous searches by the same user. Users will also be able to click a "follow" button on search results to add topics of interest to their feed. One analyst said the move would help Google compete with rivals. "Google has a strong incentive to make search as useful as possible," said Mattia Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis. "Facebook's news feed is one of its main rivals. It is competing with other ways of accessing content."
Microsoft

Apple, Google and Microsoft Are Hoarding $464 Billion In Cash (cnn.com) 252

Apple, Google and Microsoft are sitting on a mountain of cash -- and most of it is stashed far away from the taxman. Those three tech behemoths held a total of $464 billion in cash at the end of last year, according to a Moody's report published this week. From a report: Apple alone had a stunning quarter-trillion dollars of cash thanks to years of gigantic profits and few major acquisitions. That's enough money to buy Netflix three times. It's also more cash than what's sitting on the balance sheet of every major industry except tech and health care. All told, non-financial U.S. companies studied by Moody's hoarded $1.84 trillion of cash at the end of last year. That's up 11% from 2015 and nearly two and a half times the 2008 level. Roughly $1.3 trillion -- 70% of the total -- is being held overseas, where the money isn't subject to U.S. taxes. Apple, Google owner Alphabet, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle hold 88% of their cash overseas. Moody's said the tower of money stashed abroad reflects the "negative tax consequences of permanently repatriating money to the U.S."
Android

Samsung's 'Bixby' Voice Assistant Finally Launches In US (theverge.com) 40

After 3 months, Samsung announced that the voice capabilities of its digital assistant are now rolling out to U.S. Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners. Now, if you happen to own a Galaxy S8 or S8+, the physical Bixby button on the lefthand side of your phone will be able to actually do something somewhat useful. The Verge reports: Bixby's voice capabilities have been available in the US as part of an opt-in beta test, and Samsung says that feedback has led to faster response times, improved comprehension of varied phrasing around the same question, better hands-free operation, and more. Over 100,000 users of the flagship devices have enrolled in the early access program and issued over 4 million voice commands. Also, Samsung says Bixby can now read aloud your latest SMS messages and emails -- if you use its stock apps on the Galaxy S8. Bixby can be activated with a push of the dedicated Bixby button located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, or by saying "hi Bixby." Like Siri and Google Assistant, Bixby can handle alarms, send texts, and so on, but its real power lies in the ability to access granular phone settings or -- in supported apps -- automatically move through several menu screens to perform commands that Google Assistant simply can't do. Samsung says that deep learning should allow Bixby to improve over time as it begins to recognize users' preferences and ways of speaking. Here's a video showing some of the voice commands Bixby can respond to.
Facebook

Facebook Is Looking Into Allowing Paywall For Selected Media Stories (techcrunch.com) 35

New submitter sarbonn writes: Facebook is testing whether or not it can start charging for stories by placing a paywall that appears after ten stories have been viewed from one of its media sources. An interesting takeaway is that Facebook would like to do this by avoiding the mandatory 30 percent cut that Apple and Google get from their stores by going around their app stores. This is being targeted for around October. The news comes from Campbell Brown, who heads Facebook's new partnerships business. "We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook. As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs," Brown told TechCrunch in a statement via a spokesperson.
EU

EU Court to Rule On 'Right to Be Forgotten' Outside Europe (wsj.com) 180

The European Union's top court is set to decide whether the bloc's "right to be forgotten" policy stretches beyond Europe's borders, a test of how far national laws can -- or should -- stretch when regulating cyberspace. From a report: The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on Wednesday asked the EU's Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France's privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names. At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc's strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe's position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet -- from political debate to online commerce. France's regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights -- like personal privacy -- is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.
Social Networks

Nearly 90,000 Sex Bots Invaded Twitter in 'One of the Largest Malicious Campaigns Ever Recorded on a Social Network' (gizmodo.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last week, Twitter's security team purged nearly 90,000 fake accounts after outside researchers discovered a massive botnet peddling links to fake "dating" and "romance" services. The accounts had already generated more than 8.5 million posts aimed at driving users to a variety of subscription-based scam websites with promises of -- you guessed it -- hot internet sex. The accounts were first identified by ZeroFOX, a Baltimore-based security firm that specializes in social-media threat detection. The researchers dubbed the botnet "SIREN" after sea-nymphs described in Greek mythology as half-bird half-woman creatures whose sweet songs often lured horny, drunken sailors to their rocky deaths. ZeroFOX's research into SIREN offers a rare glimpse into how efficient scammers have become at bypassing Twitter's anti-spam techniques. Further, it demonstrates how effective these types of botnets can be: The since-deleted accounts collectively generated upwards of 30 million clicks -- easily trackable since the links all used Google's URL shortening service.
Google

Google Bolsters Security To Prevent Another Google Docs Phishing Attack (zdnet.com) 25

Google is adding a set of features to its security roster to prevent a second run of last month's massive phishing attack. From a report: The company is adding warnings and interstitial screens to warn users that an app they are about to use is unverified and could put their account data at risk. This so-called "unverified app" screen will land on all new web apps that connect to Google user accounts to prevent a malicious app from appearing legitimate. Any Google Chrome user landing on a hacked or malicious website will recognize the prompt as the red warning screen. Some existing apps will also have to go through the same verification process as new apps, Google said. Google also said it will add those warnings to its Apps Scripts, which let Google use custom macros and add-ons for its productivity apps, like Google Docs.
Businesses

Apple's Risky Balancing Act With the Next iPhone (macworld.com) 135

Long time columnist Jason Snell: As there always are at this time of year, there are lots of rumors out there about what the next iPhone will be. This year we're hearing that Apple is going to release a high-priced, next-generation phone in addition to the expected iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus models. [...] By most accounts, Apple's next-generation iPhone will offer a similar design. But also, by many accounts, Apple is struggling to create that product -- and when it arrives, it may be expensive, late to ship, and supply constrained. This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can't include any technology or source any part if it can't be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can't be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast. Contrast that to Apple's competition. On the smaller end, former Android chief Andy Rubin announced the Essential phone, but even Rubin admitted that he'd only be able to sell in thousands, not millions. Same for the RED Hydrogen One -- groundbreaking phone, hardly likely to sell in any volume. The Google Pixel looks like it's in the one million range. Apple's biggest competitor, Samsung, has to deal with a scale more similar to Apple's -- but it's still only expected to sell 50 or 60 million units of the flagship Galaxy S8.
Google

Google Glass Makes an Official Return (cnbc.com) 106

Alphabet's Google has officially launched the "Enterprise Edition" of its smart glasses hardware, which is now available to a network of Google partners. From a report: The company's developer partners range from logistics and manufacturing to patient care. These apps have long-been involved with Glass through the business-focused "Glass at Work" program. In a blog post Tuesday, Google Glass project leader Jay Kothari said partners such as GE Aviation, AGCO, DHL, Dignity Health, NSF International, Sutter Health, Boeing and Volkswagen have been using Glass over the past several years, and make up just a sampling of 50 companies using the wearable. Wired said several of these companies found the original Google Glass to be very useful in factories and other enterprise environments. Google discovered this and began work on a product built by a team dedicated to building a new version of Glass for the enterprise. According to Kothari, the Google Glass Enterprise Edition glasses are lighter and more "comfortable for long term wear." They also offer more power and longer battery life and, offer support for folks with prescription lenses, Wired said. The glasses, too, are stronger and do double duty as safety glasses. Further reading: Google Glass 2.0 Is a Startling Second Act.
Google

Google Fiber Is Losing Its Second CEO in Less Than a Year (businessinsider.com) 71

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google Fiber, the high-speed internet service operated by Alphabet, has lost its second CEO in less than a year. Gregory McCray is stepping down from the CEO job of Access, the Alphabet subsidiary that houses the Fiber unit, Google confirmed to Business Insider on Monday. The change is the latest shake-up at Access, which announced in October that it would stop rolling out its 1 gigabit per second wired broadband networks to new cities and focus on newer, wireless options, such as the Webpass wireless service it acquired last year. The Access group also had layoffs towards the end of 2016 and shifted hundreds of other employees to different units within Google earlier this year. Alphabet CEO Larry Page said in an emailed statement to Business Insider on Monday that the company is "committed to the success of Google Fiber" and was looking for new leader for the business.
Communications

Amazon May Unveil Its Own Messaging App (engadget.com) 87

The messaging app field is as hot as ever with Apple, Facebook and Google (among others) slugging it out... and Amazon appears to want in on the action. From a report: AFTVnews claims to have customer survey info revealing that Amazon is working on Anytime, a messaging app for Android, iOS and the desktop that promises a few twists on the usual formula. It has mainstays like message encryption, video, voice and (of course) stickers, but it reportedly has a few hooks that would make it easy to sign up and participate in group chats. You would only need a name to reach out to someone, for one thing -- no WhatsApp-style dependence on phone numbers here. You only have to use Twitter-style @ mentions to bring people into conversations or share photos, and you can color-code chats to identify the most important ones. Naturally, there are app-like functions (such as group music listening and food ordering) and promises of chatting with businesses for shopping or customer service.
AI

Facebook's AI Keeps Inventing Languages That Humans Can't Understand (fastcodesign.com) 170

"Researchers at Facebook realized their bots were chattering in a new language," writes Fast Company's Co.Design. "Then they stopped it." An anonymous reader summarizes their report: Facebook -- as well as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple -- said they were more interested in AI's that could talk to humans. But when two of Facebook's AI bots negotiated with each other "There was no reward to sticking to English language," says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). Co.Design writes that the AI software simply, "learned, and evolved," adding that the creation of new languages is a phenomenon Facebook "has observed again, and again, and again". And this, of course, is problematic.

"Should we allow AI to evolve its dialects for specific tasks that involve speaking to other AIs? To essentially gossip out of our earshot? Maybe; it offers us the possibility of a more interoperable world, a more perfect place where iPhones talk to refrigerators that talk to your car without a second thought. The tradeoff is that we, as humanity, would have no clue what those machines were actually saying to one another."

One of the researchers believes that that's definitely going in the wrong direction. "We already don't generally understand how complex AIs think because we can't really see inside their thought process. Adding AI-to-AI conversations to this scenario would only make that problem worse."
Music

EU Sides With RIAA, Says YouTube Underpays For Music Streaming (mercurynews.com) 82

Profits from both CD sales and digital downloads are declining, while online streaming now accounts for the majority of the $7.7 billion U.S. music market, according to a new article. And the music industry's newest complaint is that 25% of music streaming is happening on YouTube, which they believe is paying them too little. An anonymous reader quotes the San Jose Mercury News: Now, the battle is heating up as the European Union is expected to release new rules later this year for how services such as YouTube handle music, potentially upending some of the copyright protections that undergird the Internet... The E.U. has formally recognized that there is a "value gap" between song royalties and what user-upload services such as YouTube earn from selling ads while playing music... How such a law would address the gap is still being decided, but the E.U. has indicated it plans to focus on ensuring copyright holders are "properly remunerated." Even the value gap's existence is disputed.

A recent economic study commissioned by YouTube found no value gap -- in fact, the report said YouTube promotes the music industry, and if YouTube stopped playing music, 85 percent of users would flock to services that offered lower or no royalties. A different study by an independent consulting group pegged the YouTube value gap at more than $650 million in the United States alone. "YouTube is viewed as a giant obstacle in the path to success for the streaming marketplace," said Mitch Glazier, president of the Recording Industry Association of America... YouTube pays an estimated $1 per 1,000 plays on average, while Spotify and Apple music pay a rate closer to $7... The music industry claims YouTube has avoided paying a fair-market rate by hiding behind broad legal protections. In the United States, that's the "safe harbor" provision, which essentially says YouTube is not to blame if someone uploads a copy-protected song -- unless the copyright holder complains.

YouTube argues that its automatic Content ID system recognizes 98% of all copyright-infringing uploads -- and that each year they're already paying the music industry $1 billion in royalties.
Google

Google's Life Sciences Unit Is Releasing 20 Million Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes in Fresno (techcrunch.com) 115

Earlier this week, a white Mercedes Sprinter van began a delivery route along the streets of Fancher Creek, a residential neighborhood on the southeastern edge of Fresno, California. Its cargo? 100,000 live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. As it crisscrossed Fancher Creek's 200 acres, it released its payload, piping out swarms of sterile Aedes aegypti into the air. It'll do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, from now until the end of December. From a report: Verily, the life science's arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, has hatched a plan to release about 20 million lab-made, bacteria-infected mosquitoes upon Fresno, California -- and that's a good thing! You see, the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is prevalent in the area. Earlier this year, a woman contracted the first confirmed case of Zika in Fresno through sexual contact with a partner who had been traveling. Now there's the fear of the inevitable mosquito-meets-patient if we don't do something about it. Verily's plan, called the Debug Project, hopes to now wipe out this potential Zika-carrying mosquito population to prevent further infections.
Google

Google To Replace SMS Codes With Mobile Prompts in 2-Step-Verification Procedure (bleepingcomputer.com) 181

Starting next week Google will overhaul its two-step verification (2SV) procedure and replace one-time codes sent via SMS with prompts shown on the user's smartphone. From a report: This change in the Google 2SV scheme comes after an increase in SS7 telephony protocol attacks that have allowed hackers to take over people's mobile phone numbers to receive one-time codes via SMS and break into user accounts. The rollout process for this feature is scheduled to start next week when Google will invite users to try mobile prompts instead of receiving a one-time code via SMS. Users need an Internet-connected smartphone to use this feature. Every time users will try to log in, Google will show a prompt on their phone asking the account owner to approve the login request. There's no one-time code that users have to fill in, and users can authorize a login request with the tap of a button.
Chrome

Popular Chrome Extension Sold To New Dev Who Immediately Turns It Into Adware (bleepingcomputer.com) 187

An anonymous reader writes: A company is going around buying abandoned Chrome extensions from their original developers and converting these add-ons into adware. The latest case is the Particle for YouTube Chrome extension, a simple tool that allows users to change the UI and behavior of some of YouTube's standard features. Because Google was planning major changes to YouTube's UI, the extension's original author decided to retire it and create a new one. This is when the a mysterious company approached the original author and offered to buy the extension from him for a price of his choosing. The original dev says he gave them a high price, but the company agreed to pay right away, but only after the dev signed an non-disclosure agreement preventing him from talking about the company or the transaction. Soon after the sale, the company issued an update that included code for injecting rogue ads on websites such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, eBay, and Booking.com. Users also found other Chrome extensions that were also bought by the same company and had also been turned into adware, such as "Typewriter Sounds" and "Twitch Mini Player." According to some other Chrome extension devs, there are many companies willing to pay large sums of money for taking over legitimate Chrome extensions.
Businesses

Work From Home People Earn More, Quit Less, and Are Happier Than Their Office-bound Counterparts (qz.com) 217

An anonymous reader shares a report: Working from home gets a bad rap. Google the phrase and examine the results -- you'll see scams or low-level jobs, followed by links calling out "legitimate" virtual jobs. But Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Nicholas Bloom says requiring employees to be in the office is an outdated work tradition, set up during the Industrial Revolution. Such inflexibility ignores today's sophisticated communications methods and long commutes, and actually hurts firms and employees. "Working from home is a future-looking technology," Bloom told an audience during a conference, which took place in April. "I think it has enormous potential." To test his claim, Bloom studied China's largest travel agency, Ctrip. Headquartered in Shanghai, the company has 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of about $20 billion. The company's leaders -- conscious of how expensive real estate is in Shanghai -- were interested in the impact of working from home. Could they continue to grow while avoiding exorbitant office space costs? They solicited worker volunteers for a study in which half worked from home for nine months, coming into the office one day a week, and half worked only from the office. Bloom tracked these two groups for about two years. The results? "We found massive, massive improvement in performance -- a 13% improvement in performance from people working at home," Bloom says.

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