Samsung Electronics Forecasts Profits Jump Despite Virus

Samsung Electronics forecast a 23-percent rise in second-quarter operating profit Tuesday, with strong demand for memory chips and displays overcoming the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on smartphone sales.

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Africans are concerned about ills of social media but oppose government restrictions

Julia Sudnitskaya/Shutterstock

By Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University

When it comes to fighting COVID-19 in Africa, the internet and social media have been a double-edged sword. Governments and public health officials have used Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media to reach large numbers of people, quickly and efficiently, with information on how to stay healthy and limit the virus’s spread. And digital networks have allowed people to stay in touch, and some businesses to operate, in the face of lockdowns and social-distancing guidelines.

Yet these technologies have also facilitated the spread of misinformation. Messages disseminated on WhatsApp claimed that people could self-test by holding their breath for more than 10 seconds, that “African blood and black skin prevent COVID-19” and that inhaling steam or drinking alcohol could kill the virus.

Misinformation can be dangerous, as evidenced by hydroxychloroquine poisonings in Nigeria. And in the longer term, it undermines public confidence in guidelines and treatment information supported by robust scientific evidence. Misinformation, in other words, poisons the well.

Concerns extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis. In Africa, where messaging was often centralised and speech freedoms were limited in the first decades after independence, the internet and social media provide individuals and organisations with new opportunities to share points of view and information that holds governments to account. On the other hand, they have been widely abused as political weapons.

One study found that political misinformation is pervasive in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Foreign actors, including some from Russia, have been increasingly involved in attempts to influence African politics using disinformation in social media.

What do Africans think of the promises and perils of the digital age? Preliminary data from Afrobarometer, which is a non-partisan research institution, suggest that many have mixed feelings.

They see the value of social media and use it extensively. They are also wary of its negative effects, but don’t want curbs put in place.

Digital sources of information increasing

It’s important to recognise that digital media remain beyond many Africans’ reach. According to newly available data from the eighth round of the survey, in 2019, nearly half (48%) of Africans used radio daily for their news, while about a third (35%) used television. Only 19% and 22%, respectively, used the internet or social media that frequently.

And there is a pronounced digital divide. Younger, better-educated, wealthier, male and urban-dwelling Africans are much more likely to access social media and the internet.

Nevertheless, the use of digital sources is increasing across eight countries for which both Round 7 (2016-18) and Round 8 (2019) survey data is available.

Daily use of the internet is up five percentage points, while daily use of social media is up seven. Most countries saw substantial increases; in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, everyday use of digital media roughly tripled during this brief period. One of the exceptions is Uganda, where a “social media tax” launched in July 2019 may have served as a barrier to digital access.

While more people are using the internet and social media, they aren’t entirely happy with what they see. On the positive side, most respondents who are aware of social media say it “makes people more informed about current events” (87% on average across nine countries surveyed in 2019) and “helps people have more impact on political processes” (72%). On the negative side of the ledger, however, strong majorities say social media usage “makes people more likely to believe false news” (74%) and “makes people more intolerant” (60%).

A majority (54%) of those aware of social media say that the overall effect of social media usage is positive. The exception is Botswana, where only 35% see social media as positive.

Conundrums

If “false news” is a problem, who do people think is responsible for spreading it? Two-thirds (66%) of respondents blame politicians and political parties. A staggering 83% in Kenya blame this group, but in every country except Angola (36%), majorities point the finger at political figures. Still, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Six in 10 respondents (61%) attribute misinformation to “social media users” in general, while substantial portions blame government officials (53%), the news media and journalists (50%), and activists and interest groups (44%).

For all their potential dangers, respondents are generally opposed to government restrictions on access to the internet and social media. Across the nine countries, only 34% agree that “information shared on the internet and social media is dividing (our country), so access should be regulated by government”, while 51% endorse unrestricted access. Support for open access is strongest in Côte d’Ivoire (63%), while only minorities support it in Ghana (48%), Kenya (44%) and Malawi (40%).

Support for open access is particularly strong among people who use the internet every day (67%), youth (56%), urban residents (55%), men (54%) and respondents with post-secondary education (65%).

A complicated problem

These findings highlight the ambivalence that many people – not just in Africa – feel about the emerging digital era. People want broad access to the tools they have used to gather information and keep in touch with family and friends. Internet and social media shutdowns of the types that have hit almost half of the continent’s countries since 2015 are likely not popular. These tools have become even more crucial because of “social distancing” and lockdowns.

On the other hand, unfettered internet and social media have a dark underside, with messages designed to misinform, discriminate and polarise. When fears are heightened, at election times or during pandemics, these threats are magnified. Fact-checking and “digital literacy” initiatives will go only so far, and calls for government censorship will likely grow. The danger is that governments will use these very real concerns as excuses to target their opponents selectively, in ways that stifle opposition, fair elections and accountability.

This article was co-authored with Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny. She is Afrobarometer regional communications coordinator for anglophone West Africa, based at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Governance. Email: jappiah@afrobarometer.org

Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz, Associate Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You can still throw a birthday party, on Zoom, during lockdown

In a strange twist, a pandemic birthday party might actually be the easiest party you ever throw.

A birthday party under normal circumstances takes hours of preparation: cooking and cleaning, decorating and primping. This year, you only have to get dressed from the waist up and tidy the corner of your home that people can see on video chat. Honestly, bonus.

You can also take advantage of the new format to include far-flung family and friends who might not have been able to join in-person gathering.

A socially distant birthday does, however, call for a dash of corniness and a pinch of magical thinking (and remember, if you are not up for it, it’s fine to sit this one out). But you can, for sure, make it feel real.

This is the least fun but the most important part: Make sure people have clear instructions on how they can attend.

Zoom works, but you’ll be limited to a 40-minute trial if you do it for free. You could also try a Google Hangout, which is free and unlimited, although maybe slightly glitchier. If you download an extension from the Chrome website you can make your screen into a grid of everyone’s face.

On the invitation, put the start time (with your time zone, if you’re inviting people from different regions), as well as detailed instructions for how to join the call.

If you’re inviting relatives who are not so savvy with tech, you could try to set up a call beforehand, so they have a trial run. Review steps like muting and un-muting. It will take a few minutes, but it will help with connecting during the party.

Also, make it easy for guests to gracefully and honestly decline your invitation, as some people just may not be in the party mood.

At the end, take a picture, even if it’s a screen grab.

As host, call on people. It admittedly might feel a little forced. But organic group conversation over video chat is almost impossible, and everyone will be glad to have a chance to speak.

One strategy is to ask everyone to prepare a memory, a roast or their Dad-est joke. You could also ask everyone to say something they’re thankful for, or looking forward to. Helping your friends find joy in their lives right now might be the best gift you can give back to them.

You could, also, ask them to get dressed .

“If you don’t tell them, they’re going to show up in their pajamas,” said Seri Kertzner, the owner and founder of Little Miss Party Planner, a New York City event planning, styling and content creation company. “It just gives a reason to celebrate. It makes it more fun.”

If your friends have a flair for the dramatic, try a theme. It’ll be entertaining, if nothing else, to see how people make do with what they have in their homes. For adults, a decade theme or maybe a color palette. For children, maybe trot out their Halloween costumes. Why not? This is a pandemic. There are no rules.

Or, ask people to spend some time primping, maybe even put on their fanciest clothing. It might feel silly sitting in front of a laptop in a ball gown or bow tie, but it might also give everyone an opportunity to play dress-up.

If you are comfortable, and if your local government permits it, you could get together while staying apart. Some suburban revelers have been doing drive-by gatherings, a procession of SUVs there to wave.

You could, also, ask your friends to tailgate at a distance. Have everyone bring a lawn chair, a snack and a drink. Set up outside — either in your own driveway or backyard, or in a parking lot or park. Be extra, extra careful. But if you stay far apart, you should not endanger each other.

Even though you might be looking at the screen, you do still have a body and you do still exist in a three-dimensional space. (This can be tough to remember right now.)

So make sure there’s something sweet. A whole birthday cake might be depressing, but desserts can be good for one person, too.

If you want to relax, call a local small bakery. They could use a boost and will appreciate the business.

If you want to make something, you easily can. Margaux Laskey adapted a recipe for a delicious Chocolate Mug Cake, which is one of the quickest and simplest things to make on NYT Cooking. There’s also Tejal Rao’s Blender Chocolate Mousse, which tastes better than most restaurant offerings. If you’re hosting a children’s party, you could try to make something with your kids. Editors at NYT Cooking have compiled 53 recipes you could do as a family.

You could also ask all your guests to make the same thing. Send out a recipe at least a week in advance, so they can stock up on their grocery run. If you’re of age, you could add a cocktail to your snack.

You should try to set up a party, even if you’re the only one in the room. Clean up a corner of your space, and pull out some colorful decorations for yourself.

If you are a guest, maybe give decorations as a present. Ms. Kertzner has an online shop , Little Miss Party in a Box, which ships curated party boxes and supplies in various themes.Parents are buying baby shower boxes for their children. Children are buying birthday party boxes for their parents. The boxes start at $39, plus tax and shipping and Ms. Kertzner donates 10 percent of her profits to the Food Bank for NYC. . “This has exploded,” she said. “I can’t keep inventory in stock.”

If you are feeling a little more extravagant (or have deeper pockets), The Kiki Kit, a virtual party-planning service, has a birthday option for $75, which includes party supplies for two, or a customizable box that starts at $250. (The company donates 10 percent of its profits to Feeding America.)

Take the initiative and set up the party for them. Work out the logistics, so they do not have to think about it.

As for presents, for an older relative, you could record a virtual scrapbook. Ask family and friends to record videos of themselves in advance, so you can compile a series of greetings for them to play a few times during the day.

You could also throw them a surprise birthday party. Ask them to video conference with you, and then surprise them with a gallery view that includes the whole family.

Milestones matter. They’re what makes life feel sweet, and life could use some extra sugar these days.

Start by talking to them about how this year is going to be different. This can be an adventure, something to look forward to, even if they can’t see their friends in person. You can build a fort at home together, or try for an ambitious craft project. Try some funky baking project, or give them “magic powers” for the day.

For the party, keep it short and sweet. One hour is probably the maximum amount of time, so make sure you give your guests both a start time and end time. The other parents on the call will appreciate it.

Consider hiring entertainment. There are still music classes and faerie entertainers, magicians and clowns, and they offer virtual shows. (The website Mommy Poppins has a good list.) A Connecticut-based music school, Jumpin’ Jams, has started livestreaming birthday parties for babies and toddlers from the owners’ living room. The wheels on the bus can, in fact, go ’round and ’round.

Or, send every house a kit for a craft project. Be kind to other parents — think of age-appropriate and not messy endeavors. Maybe try for a Lego kit, or have everyone draw their favorite animal. After a few minutes, ask the children to show their projects.

Just do.

Huawei MateBook X Pro review: Windows 10’s MacBook Pro rival

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Slim and powerful laptop with excellent keyboard and trackpad is hindered by a few small flaws

The MateBook X Pro is a good, powerful laptop held back by a few small niggles from being really great. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 2020 MateBook X Pro takes a winning design and upgrades the chips to Intel’s latest for a powerful and surprisingly good-value machine.

The new MateBook X Pro starts at £1,299, and fits a pretty large 13.9in screen in the size of a laptop body that would traditionally fit only a 13in screen.

The design is exactly the same as its 2018 predecessor down to the millimetre and gram, which is just fine, as it was an excellent machine two years ago.

The 14.6mm-thick wedge is all aluminium, weighing 1.33kg, with a block-cap Huawei logo emblazoned on the lid. The 13.9in touchscreen is super crisp and bright, filling the entire of the inside of the lid with slim bezels all the way around.

The keyboard and trackpad are excellent, apart from a small amount of play in the trackpad’s button.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The deck of the machine has a large, smooth and accurate trackpad, which clicks towards the bottom. It works great but this one has a slight rattle in the trackpad, which was a common problem with the previous generation model. The keyboard is excellent: backlit with well-spaced, solid-feeling keys and enough travel for a satisfying typing experience.

The function row hides a one-megapixel webcam in a pop-up key between F6 and F7, which is an excellent way of hiding it away when not in use. Unfortunately, it is not the best and doesn’t provide the most flattering of angles for our new video-chat heavy environment.

The power button in the top right doubles as an excellent fingerprint scanner, which can turn on the machine and log you straight into Windows in one press. Besides the keyboard are grilles for the good and loud quad speakers.

Putting the webcam under a pop-up key was a great idea pre-pandemic but now video calling usage has exploded, having the camera that low and only one-megapixel in resolution has proven less than ideal. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screen: 13.9in LTPS 3000 x 2000 (260 ppi)
  • Processor: 10th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • RAM: 16GB
  • Storage: 512GB or 1TB
  • Graphics: Intel UHD + Nvidia GeForce MX250 (2GB)
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Camera: 1MP pop-up webcam
  • Connectivity: Wifi ac, Bluetooth 5, 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, headphones
  • Dimensions: 217 x 304 x 14.6mm
  • Weight: 1.33kg

Hot hardware

The MateBook X Pro still has a single USB-A port, which makes using legacy cables and hardware possible without reaching for a USB-C adapter. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 2020 MateBook X Pro is available in two configurations, both with the latest 10-generation Intel Core processors and 16GB of RAM. The cheaper one has a Core i5 with 512GB of storage and the top model has a Core i7 and 1TB of storage – as tested here.

Both machines come with a generous amount of RAM and storage compared with chief rivals. And they also come with Nvidia’s entry-level laptop graphics card, the GeForce MX250, which is positioned somewhere between the common integrated graphics and a gaming graphics card.

Performance all round was excellent, the machine handling complex image editing jobs without issue, as you’d expect. The combination of the latest Intel chips, plus the GeForce MX250 graphics card won’t set any gaming records, handling most at low settings only, but will make it more capable for video editing and running high-powered design and art packages.

Both USB-C ports are also Thunderbolt 3 ports, and can be used to charge the laptop. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The laptop suffers from one irritating problem: heat. When used as a laptop on battery power it is a cool and quiet machine, regardless of power settings, with the fans only audible at a low pace, even when pushed hard. But when plugged into power it’s a different animal. The machine heats up, particularly the strip between the keyboard and the screen, while the fans are loud and audible almost all the time, even at idle.

It appears Huawei has a problem with charging that generates heat unrelated to the work that the laptop is currently doing or the charge level in the batteries. The same thing has been reported by users of previous generationsof the MateBook X Pro, so it appears to be a design flaw.

The laptop’s battery life is similar to rivals with similar levels of performance, lasting a work day between charges but not much more than that. The MateBook X Pro will manage just under eight hours of general work, including using Chrome with up to 10 tabs open, various chat apps, Typora text editor, Affinity Photo, Windows Mail and a few other bits.Advertisement

The MateBook X Pro took one hour, 45 minutes to fully charge while off, and significantly longer during use, likely because the heat generated when connected to power was throttling the charging rate.

Sustainability

The MateBook X Pro is generally repairable by authorised service providers. While the RAM and graphics chips are not replaceable, the SSD storage is but it must be replaced by an authorised service provider or it may void the computer’s warranty, the company warns.

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10 Home comes as standard and works great, apart from the lack of disk encryption on the MateBook X Pro. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The MateBook X Pro ships with a standard version of Windows 10 Home, and updates through Windows Update like any other similar PC. Microsoft was granted licence to work with Huawei by the US government, unlike Google with Huawei’s smartphones.

It ships with Huawei’s PC Manager software, which takes care of driver updates as well as running diagnostics on the machine’s hardware if needed.

One thing that is missing is disk encryption, which is built into Windows 10 Home but is not supported by the MateBook X Pro despite it having the prerequisite TPM security chip. Upgrading to Windows 10 Pro (£119.99) enables the full BitLocker system for encrypting your data, which given this is a portable computer that is easily stolen, is wholly recommended.

Observations

The big power button is also a fingerprint scanner that can turn on the laptop and unlock Windows in one press.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • There are no pause or track skip media buttons in the F-keys
  • If you have a Huawei or Honor phone there is an NFC spot just below the keyboard on the MateBook X Pro that triggers Huawei Share for mirroring your phone’s screen on the laptop and transferring files, photos, the clipboard and other bits
  • The auto-brightness adjustment for the screen was consistently too dim, so I turned it off

Price

The Huawei MateBook X Pro comes in two versions: the Intel Core i5 with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for £1,299.99 or the Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for £1,599.99.

For comparison, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 starts at an RRP of £999, Dell’s XPS 13 starts at £1,399 and the 13in MacBook Pro starts at £1,299.

Verdict

The 2020 MateBook X Pro is a few refinements short of one of the very best Windows 10 laptops available.

It is light, looks good and has a great keyboard and trackpad. It has lots of power on tap with 10th-generation Intel processors and the Nvidia MX250 graphics card, plus it ships with lots of RAM and very generous storage options. It even lasts long enough to get a work day done and the screen is big, pin-sharp and all-round great.

But for every good bit there’s a small niggle. The auto-brightness control was irritatingly dim. There’s a little play in the trackpad. It doesn’t ship with full disk encryption enabled on Windows 10 Home and it gets really hot and loud when connected to power.

The MateBook X Pro is therefore a really great laptop held back from top marks by a bunch of small but irritating things that you could learn to live with. Whether you should is another matter.

Pros: great screen, slim and compact, excellent keyboard, great trackpad, USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, USB-A, fingerprint scanner, Nvidia MX250

Cons: gets hot when on power, no disk encryption out of the box, trackpad rattle, battery life not class-leading, no SD card slot, pop-up webcam has an up-nose angle

The smooth aluminium lid has a Huawei logo in the centre. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

I can’t be the only one who is bewildered by TikTok

Bryony is having trouble getting to grips with TikTok CREDIT: Isabelle Maroger

here comes a point in everyone’s life when they have to accept that they have become middle-aged. For some it might be realising that most popular music sounds like a racket, while for others it might be failing to understand youth slang such as… well, now I come to think about it, I don’t actually know any youth slang. Hmm. Anyway, for me, it has been the slow realisation that there is an entire social-media platform out there that I am completely incapable of comprehending. And that is TikTok.

I’ve tried – I’ve tried hard. I have downloaded the app to my phone, and scrolled through enough viral videos of strange lockdown challenges to make my eyes and ears bleed. One evening, I spent three hours trying to navigate this platform that is used by squillions of young people, this platform that keeps popping up on my Instagram feed as I peruse gentle pictures of sunsets and cups of coffee… but I only understand it less. I imagine that the way it makes me feel is similar to the way learning Mandarin or Arabic might feel, though I am beginning to think that I would master both of those languages faster than TikTok. It leaves me bewildered, confused and slightly distressed. I thought, approaching 40, that I finally understood the world, or at the very least knew the geography of it. But now it turns out there is a whole new world within the world, and I don’t seem to have the right passport to get in.

I shall try to explain TikTok to you, though this may be a case of the blind leading the blind. It’s a video-sharing platform, basically, that allows you to make mini clips of yourself, and most people tend to use it to take part in viral dance challenges, or to lip sync along to popular hits. Then again, I may be wrong. It might be best to ask a teenager.

It is so popular that there are people on there I have never heard of who have billions of followers. (Do you remember when Ashton Kutcher became the first Twitter user to get over a million followers, and everyone thought this was MIND-BLOWING? How quaint that seems now.) I swear, if a TikTok star passed me in the street I would not have a clue who they were.

And while I can see that it is tremendously fun, I cannot get to grips with creating my own video, let alone learning a dance routine for it. Where are these people finding the time, not to mention the coordination? How do they all manage to be so slick and impressive? And why does everyone on TikTok find it so easy to do handstands?

Still, TikTok fills me with hope for the future, if only because all the young folk using it are so very creative. It’s like coming across a population of mini film directors, who also happen to be tremendously fit and very good at dancing. Watching it makes me realise that I don’t have to understand TikTok: it is not for me. And so I can pass into middle age happily, safe in the knowledge that I am now officially exempt from silly dancing, or standing on my head while trying to put a T-shirt on. Who knew middle age would be so lovely?

Phones aren’t giving girls more power in their lives after all

Women’s agency is still mired within wider structures of patriarchy and chronic poverty.
Nebiyu.s/Wikimedia Commons

By Gina Porter, Durham University

Over the past decade mobile phones have often been credited with the potential to improve the lives of poor people in low-income countries. Phones are seen as a tool to use in contexts like health, micro-enterprise and education. A common thread is that they should be able to improve the lives of women and girls.

Mobile technologies put a world of information in a woman’s hand, the reasoning goes. And with information comes the power to learn, make informed choices, connect to the broader world and earn a living.

GSMA, which represents mobile operators worldwide, reported in 2019 that by the end of 2018, there were 456 million unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa: 44% of the population. Mobile technologies and services were estimated to generate 8.6% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and support almost 3.5 million
jobs (directly and indirectly). But these estimates don’t shed much light on young women’s access to phones or the impact that phones have on their lives. And most of the academic studies of the subject have focused on adult women.

We wanted to know more about girls and women aged 9-25. These are the years when the direction of young lives is so often shaped by the presence or absence of opportunities to access social, economic and less tangible assets. We carried out our research in a variety of settings in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa. These three countries offer very diverse contexts but all feature gender inequality. South Africa ranked 113th of 159 countries on UNDP’s 2018 gender equality index, Ghana 142nd and Malawi 172nd.

Our research looked at several aspects of the way young people use phones: how usage shapes their interactions with older people; livelihoods; education; and health advice. One theme emerged strongly: gender. Interviews with girls indicated that access to phones has done little to empower them. Instead, it has often reinforced existing inequalities.

Better understanding of the role of mobile phones in young lives is highly pertinent to addressing Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Researching phone stories

We conducted research from 2012 to 2015 in 24 sites across Ghana, Malawi and South Africa. They included poor, high-density urban, peri-urban and rural locations, some with services and others remote. We conducted in-depth interviews with more than 1,600 people, and surveyed 4,500 young people – all face-to-face. We also drew on our earlier research with a smaller group of children aged nine to 18 in the same sites in 2006-2010, to learn about change over time.

Our surveys show dramatic expansion in ownership of phones in our study sites. For example, 0.4% of girls in Malawi had a phone in the first survey but 6.2% had a phone in the follow-up survey. In South Africa, more than half of the girls surveyed had a phone in 2015, up from less than a quarter. In most but not all categories, boys had greater to access to phones than girls did.

Most were still basic phones in 2013/14 though internet-enabled smartphone ownership was expanding rapidly in urban sites.

A phone vendor at her shop. FischerFotos/Wikimedia Commons

Phone use among young girls was already starting to raise concerns among parents and teachers in 2006-2010. Many suspected that if a girl had a phone, it might have been received as payment for sex. This remained a concern in the second study.

We found that girls and boys regularly take their phone to school, whether the school allows this or not. Our data suggest that the educational benefits are mostly limited to calculator use and occasional information searches. There can be many negative impacts, though, including bullying. Both boys and girls reported negative impacts. But girls also frequently face propositioning from male teachers by phone. And widespread phone circulation of pornography (mostly by boys) makes many girls highly uncomfortable.

Phones are regularly promoted as tools for female entrepreneurship. In Ghana, in particular, we found young women entrepreneurs using phones, especially in urban areas. Direct employment of females in phone-related businesses is usually restricted to areas such as airtime sales, where competition is high. Better-resourced males are able to set up higher-value enterprises to sell, repair and charge phones.

The precariousness of many women’s businesses is also evident from comments about sacrifices required to “feed” the phone. Overall, our data suggest that while many women now perceive the phone as an essential tool for promoting work opportunities, it has not transformed their livelihoods.


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Phones, romance and sexual relationships

Most young people we interviewed, in all three countries, from their early teens onwards, referred to the part that phones play in romantic and sexual relationships. Having a phone is key.

I am going to have a new phone tomorrow (and then) girls will easily agree to have an affair with me (14-year-old, South Africa)

Etiquettes of calling and airtime purchase come into play. Women expect to have their communication funded so that they can respond to boyfriends’ calls. But that can put them under surveillance too. Men often feel justified in controlling phone contact lists and calls.

Once they buy you things they start to think that they own you. (Woman, 24 years, South Africa).

Our findings point to the importance of girls’ and women’s relationships with men in shaping whether and how they use phones and to what effect. Any expansion of female autonomy, whether through a business venture, education or a health decision, can be seen to pose a threat by husbands and boyfriends who expect total control in the relationship.

Use of the phone as a “digital leash” to check women’s whereabouts appears to be a growing feature of many relationships and conflicts. The phone is also used as a lure.

When mobile phones are socially and culturally embedded in patriarchal sexual relationships, it complicates the potential for female empowerment. Phones offer both opportunities and hazards.

Gina Porter, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Computers already learn from us. But Can they teach themselves?

This article is part of our latest Artificial Intelligence special report, which focuses on how the technology continues to evolve and affect our lives.

Artificial intelligence seems to be everywhere, but what we are really witnessing is a supervised-learning revolution: We teach computers to see patterns, much as we teach children to read. But the future of A.I. depends on computer systems that learn on their own, without supervision, researchers say.

When a mother points to a dog and tells her baby, “Look at the doggy,” the child learns what to call the furry four-legged friends. That is supervised learning. But when that baby stands and stumbles, again and again, until she can walk, that is something else.

Computers are the same. Just as humans learn mostly through observation or trial and error, computers will have to go beyond supervised learning to reach the holy grail of human-level intelligence.

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“We want to move from systems that require lots of human knowledge and human hand engineering” toward “increasingly more and more autonomous systems,” said David Cox, IBM Director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. Even if a supervised learning system read all the books in the world, he noted, it would still lack human-level intelligence because so much of our knowledge is never written down.

Supervised learning depends on annotated data: images, audio or text that is painstakingly labeled by hordes of workers. They circle people or outline bicycles on pictures of street traffic. The labeled data is fed to computer algorithms, teaching the algorithms what to look for. After ingesting millions of labeled images, the algorithms become expert at recognizing what they have been taught to see.

But supervised learning is constrained to relatively narrow domains defined largely by the training data.

“There is a limit to what you can apply supervised learning to today due to the fact that you need a lot of labeled data,” said Yann LeCun, one of the founders of the current artificial-intelligence revolution and a recipient of the Turing Award, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in computer science, in 2018. He is vice president and chief A.I. scientist at Facebook.

Yann LeCun, vice president and chief A.I. scientist at Facebook.
Yann LeCun, vice president and chief A.I. scientist at Facebook.Credit…Facebook, via Associated Press

Methods that do not rely on such precise human-provided supervision, while much less explored, have been eclipsed by the success of supervised learning and its many practical applications — from self-driving cars to language translation. But supervised learning still cannot do many things that are simple even for toddlers.

“It’s not going to be enough for human-level A.I.,” said Yoshua Bengio, who founded Mila, the Quebec AI Institute, and shared the Turing Award with Dr. LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton. “Humans don’t need that much supervision.”

Now, scientists at the forefront of artificial intelligence research have turned their attention back to less-supervised methods. “There’s self-supervised and other related ideas, like reconstructing the input after forcing the model to a compact representation, predicting the future of a video or masking part of the input and trying to reconstruct it,” said Samy Bengio, Yoshua’s brother and a research scientist at Google.

There is also reinforcement learning, with very limited supervision that does not rely on training data. Reinforcement learning in computer science, pioneered by Richard Sutton, now at the University of Alberta in Canada, is modeled after reward-driven learning in the brain: Think of a rat learning to push a lever to receive a pellet of food. The strategy has been developed to teach computer systems to take actions.

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Set a goal, and a reinforcement learning system will work toward that goal through trial and error until it is consistently receiving a reward. Humans do this all the time. “Reinforcement is an obvious idea if you study psychology,” Dr. Sutton said.

A more inclusive term for the future of A.I., he said, is “predictive learning,” meaning systems thatnot only recognize patterns but also predict outcomes and choose a course of action. “Everybody agrees we need predictive learning, but we disagree about how to get there,” Dr. Sutton said. “Some people think we get there with extensions of supervised learning ideas; others think we get there with extensions of reinforcement learning ideas.”

Pieter Abbeel, who runs the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab in California, uses reinforcement-learning systems that compete against themselves to learn faster in a method called self-play. Identical simulated robots, for example, sumo wrestle each other and initially are not very good, but they quickly improve. “By playing against your own level or against yourself, you can see what variations help and gradually build up skill,” he said.

Yoshua Bengio, who founded Mila, the Quebec AI Institute, and shared a Turing Award with Dr. LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton.
Yoshua Bengio, who founded Mila, the Quebec AI Institute, and shared a Turing Award with Dr. LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

As powerful as reinforcement learning is, Dr. LeCun says he believes that other forms of machine learning are more critical to general intelligence.

“My money is on self-supervised learning,” he said, referring to computer systems that ingest huge amounts of unlabeled data and make sense of it all without supervision or reward. He is working on models that learn by observation, accumulating enough background knowledge that some sort of common sense can emerge.

“Imagine that you give the machine a piece of input, a video clip, for example, and ask it to predict what happens next,” Dr. LeCun said in his office at New York University, decorated with stills from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “For the machine to train itself to do this, it has to develop some representation of the data. It has to understand that there are objects that are animate and others that are inanimate. The inanimate objects have predictable trajectories, the other ones don’t.”


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After a self-supervised computer system “watches” millions of YouTube videos, he said, it will distill some representation of the world from them. Then, when the system is asked to perform a particular task, it can draw on that representation — in other words, it can teach itself.

Dr. Cox at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab is working similarly, but combining more traditional forms of artificial intelligence with deep networks in what his lab calls neuro-symbolic A.I. The goal, he says, is to build A.I. systems that can acquire a baseline level of common-sense knowledge similar to that of humans.

“A huge fraction of what we do in our day-to-day jobs is constantly refining our mental models of the world and then using those mental models to solve problems,” he said. “That encapsulates an awful lot of what we’d like A.I. to do.”

Pieter Abbeel, who runs the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab in California.
Pieter Abbeel, who runs the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab in California.Credit…Robert Rieger for The New York Times

Many people hope robots will eventually embody artificial intelligence and act freely in the world. But it will take more than supervised learning to get them there. Currently, robots can operate only in well-defined environments with little variation.

“Our working assumption is that if we build sufficiently general algorithms, then all we really have to do, once that’s done, is to put them in robots that are out there in the real world doing real things,” said Sergey Levine, an assistant professor at Berkeley, who runs the university’s Robotic A.I. & Learning Lab.

He is using a form of self-supervised learning in which robots explore their environment and build up the base knowledge that Dr. LeCun and Dr. Cox are talking about.

“They just play with their environment and learn,” Dr. Levine said of the lab’s robots. “The robot essentially imagines something that might happen and then tries to figure out how to make that happen.”

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By doing so, the robots build up a body of knowledge that they can use in a new setting. Eventually, robots could be networked so that they share the knowledge that each acquires.

“A robot spends a few hours playing with a door, moving it this way and that, and it can open that one door,” Dr. Levine said. “We have six different robots, so if we have all of them playing with different kinds of doors, maybe then when we give one a new door, it will actually generalize to that new door because it has seen enough variety.”

Dr. Abbeel, a founder of Covariant, a company that builds A.I. robotics for industrial automation, said that eventually all of these methods were likely to be combined.

Could we build machines at some point that will be as intelligent as humans? “Of course; there’s no question,” Dr. LeCun said. “It’s a matter of time.”

Craig S. Smith is a former correspondent for The Times and hosts the podcast “Eye on A.I.

Nigeria can equip every child with basic digital skills if it takes three simple steps

Nigeria has to include digital literacy in its primary school curriculum.
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By David Mba, De Montfort University

There is a saying in Nigeria, “Little by little the bird builds its nest”. In just the same way, Nigeria needs to embed digital literacy in its primary school curriculum. As with all countries, Nigeria needs to ensure that it is technologically prepared for the 21st century and that its technological dependency on the global North doesn’t increase.

Countries like Nigeria need to give pupils the skills needed as a foundation for mastering breakthroughs offered by, for example, artificial intelligence. Being able to develop the intelligence of machines can bring significant benefits to African countries across several sectors. There are numerous examples in health and agriculture.

These technologies will require a workforce that understands, develops and adapts them. Joining the industrial revolution starts in the classroom with – as McKinsey Global Institute has identified – the critical elements of digital skills like programming or coding.

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Of course, many would argue that this can’t be done without additional funding – and Nigeria has historically been timid and ungenerous in its funding of education.

But I would argue that Nigeria can embed digital learning in primary schools in a way that would require relatively small financial investment. It would, however, require big changes to education provision.

I have identified a three-pronged approach that would help Nigeria to start developing a digitally literate generation and ultimately become a contributor to the digital economy.

What’s wrong

Nigeria’s education system is in dire straits. For example, only half of its children complete primary school or reach the reach the minimum international benchmarks of learning. This is according to estimates on education in middle-income countries like Nigeria by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

In 2018, Nigeria’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu, blamed the country’s historical poor funding of education as the root cause of its poor outcomes in education.


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Further concerns were noted in Nigeria’s Ministerial Strategic Plan (2018-2022). The plan reveals that besides inadequate funding, Nigeria grapples with poor quality teachers, dilapidated and inadequate classrooms, dearth of textbooks and weak monitoring systems.

This shows Nigeria’s education sector requires big changes. But, in my view, introducing coding, robotics and artificial intelligence skills would require relatively small financial investment.

A simple three-pronged approach, I believe, could deliver the right outcome.

Firstly, the Nigeria Certificate in Education curriculum, the minimum qualification for teaching at the basic education levels in Nigeria, should be revised to include digital literacy, in particular coding.

The certificate is obtained after a three-year course of study at one of Nigeria’s 150 colleges of education. So the pipeline of new “digital teachers” will take three years, at best, to start trickling into Nigeria’s education system.

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The second step would be to revise the framework for teacher registration in the country. Jacob Sule, the founder of a non-profit initiative called iRead to Live, has written about the “deplorable state of primary education in Nigeria”. He says there is a need to revise the institutional framework of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, the organisation that oversees the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools.

Sule says the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria needs to be much more proactive in validating teaching licences, providing instructional materials and supporting professional development. Such actions can facilitate the introduction of coding at primary schools.

Thirdly, the curriculum needs revision to include digital literacy.

More immediate work also needs to be done beyond these three basic changes.

To survive and thrive in the 21st century, Nigeria must teach digital literacy without breaking the bank. Entrepreneurial and even playful thinking is needed here. Which brings us to “digital buses”.

The idea is similar to the mobile health clinics already operating in Nigeria. Trained teachers can visit schools with portable equipment for skills development in digital literacy.

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The visits can be used to train existing school teachers and specific year levels. They would give teachers and children a basic understanding of coding, as applied to technology such as robotics and apps. They could also visit community spaces, so children can continue to learn outside school hours.

The mobile approach has been used with success in other parts of the world. In Pakistan, for example, thousands of children have been introduced to digital technology through a mobile van.

In London, The Fab Bus is a bus fitted out with computers, 3D printers, vinyl laser cutters and other machines. It connects schools and teachers to digital “maker” tools and the experts that understand them.

The Nigerian government could start its own “digital buses”, funded by a small increase in the federal education budget or a new tax. Each bus would be another twig to the nest.

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It would be a start. Otherwise digital literacy, so vital to a rounded modern education, will be a branch of knowledge that the average Nigerian child may never understand.

David Mba, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Computing, Engineering and Media, De Montfort University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet the billionaire who want to take over Twitter from Jack Dorsey

Billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management has taken a ‘sizable state’ and intends to ‘push for changes’, reports Bloomberg News.

Jack Dorsey on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on 5 September 2018. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

A major Republican donor has purchased a stake in Twitter and is reportedly seeking to oust its chief executive, Jack Dorsey.

Bloomberg News first reported that Elliott Management has taken a “sizable stake” and “and plans to push for changes at the social media company, including replacing Dorsey”.

Paul Singer, the billionaire founder of Elliott Management, is a Republican mega-donor who opposed Donald Trump during the real-estate magnate’s run for the presidential nomination but has since come onside.

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After a White House visit in February 2017, Trump said Singer “was very much involved with the anti-Trump or, as they say, ‘Never Trump’, and Paul just left, and he’s given us his total support and it’s all about unification”.

Trump famously communicates with the public largely through Twitter, at the expense of traditional media strategy.

Twitter made headlines in October when it announced a ban on political advertising. Its use and potential manipulation by politicians of all stripes, from Trump to Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg, remains a source of fierce contention.


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Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, is also chief executive of Square, an online payment company. In November, he announced a plan to live and work in Africa for part of each year.

It was reported that those moves were motivations for Singer’s desire to push Dorsey out. Other stakeholders have voiced concern about Dorsey’s leadership and Twitter has seen its share price struggle, although it recently reported quarterly revenue above $1bn for the first time.

News of the Elliott stake saw Twitter’s share price rise on Friday, during general market slides in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Elliott Management is an activist investor, which means it regularly pushes for change in companies in which it buys shares.

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Singer has even taken on whole countries: in 2016, after a relentless campaign, he secured a partial repayment of debts by Argentina, arising from its financial collapse in the early 2000s.

Neither Elliott nor Twitter immediately offered comment.

Glenn Harvey

Do we really want foldable phones?

Your next smartphone may flip open to reveal its screen and fold up when you are ready to put it away — just like the old-school clamshell phones from the 1990s.

Glenn Harvey
Glenn Harvey

The question is: Is that something we even want anymore?

Tech companies like Samsung, Motorola and Huawei sure hope so. Many of us realized a few years ago that the smartphones we had were already very good — and their successors were only slightly better — so we have been holding on to our phones longer and longer before upgrading. That hurts those companies’ bottom lines.

So in an effort to come up with something new and exciting that will make us spend our dollars, phone makers are bombarding us with so-called foldables. They include Samsung’s $1,380 Galaxy Z Flip, which was unveiled on Tuesday, and Lenovo’s $1,500 Motorola Razr, which was released last week.

There’s something off about all of this. For years, tech companies experimented with new phone designs driven partly by consumer surveys, which brought us handsets with bigger screens, longer battery life and sharper cameras — things we really wanted. But folding phones are not something most of us have asked for.

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And unlike past bleeding-edge innovations, the few foldables unveiled so far have had major problems. Samsung’s first foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, which it released last year, broke within days of use by tech reviewers. According to early reviews, the new Motorola Razr suffers from poor battery life and a fussy hinge.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” said Paolo Pescatore, a technology analyst for PP Foresight. “That’s my worry for a lot of these technologies that are fast-tracked into people’s hands. There’s no demand, so why rush it?”

So are foldables a passing fad or here to stay?

Folding screen technology is certainly fascinating and worth keeping an eye on. But the consensus among consumer technology experts I talked to was that you and I should probably wait for the devices to mature before even considering buying one. Here’s why.


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Review units of Samsung’s $1,980 Galaxy Fold, which debuted last year, broke in critics’ hands.
Review units of Samsung’s $1,980 Galaxy Fold, which debuted last year, broke in critics’ hands.Credit…David Becker/Getty Images

The new foldables are arriving in many different shapes and forms.

Some devices, like the Galaxy Fold and Huawei’s Mate X, have two screens. When you unfold them, you get a tablet with a roomy screen. Once it’s shut, you have a second outer touch screen to type away at.

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Other devices, like Samsung’s Z Flip and Lenovo’s Motorola Razr, open to reveal a standard-size touch screen. When the phone is folded up, a miniature screen in the outer shell shows notifications or app previews.

Samsung’s new $1,380 Galaxy Z Flip has a tiny screen on the outer shell that lets you see notifications and previews of selfies.
Samsung’s new $1,380 Galaxy Z Flip has a tiny screen on the outer shell that lets you see notifications and previews of selfies.Credit…Samsung

Larger bendable devices are also coming, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, which is set for release this year. It has a bigger bendable screen so it can function as a tablet computer that folds up like a book. The Lenovo device measures 13.3 inches unfolded.

All of these gadgets rely on a hinge, which introduces a moving part to a smartphone. It’s another component, other than the screen, that could break.

Motorola’s new Razr phone has a clamshell design. 
Motorola’s new Razr phone has a clamshell design. Credit…Motorola, via Associated Press

The main benefit of a foldable phone is that you can enjoy a big screen that takes up less space in your pocket.

Um, that’s about it.

Foldables come with many downsides.

Foldable gadgets rely on flexible OLED, a display technology that is much thinner than traditional screen panels. Gadget makers have used flexible OLED for years to make our phones and smart watches slimmer. The Apple Watch, for example, uses a flexible display, but it is not bendable because it is covered by robust sapphire crystal.

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To make gadgets bend, you have to sacrifice some hardness. The flexible displays of foldables are generally covered by a plastic layer, which can be scratched up or penetrated more easily than the tough glass protecting traditional phone displays. (Samsung said its Z Flip uses an ultrathin, foldable glass that would let you fold and unfold your phone 200,000 times.)

“If you take a ballpoint pen and you push really hard on the iPhone screen, it’ll be fine,” said Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, a company that provides instructions and parts to repair gadgets. “If you do the same thing on the foldable displays, you’ll kill it.”

In theory, the clamshell designs of the Z Flip and the Razr offer a partial solution to the durability problem. That’s because the main screens are not exposed when folded up. Yet if you drop the phones while using them — say, when you are walking and texting and trip over something — you will have a problem.

“There’s no protecting the foldable display in a real-world environment the way that consumers treat their smartphones,” said Raymond Soneira, the founder of DisplayMate, who advises tech companies on screen technology.

Foldables also have a design flaw. In general, when they are unfolded, the screen has a visible crease — an eyesore compared with the seamless displays on our smartphones and tablets.

Last but not least, it remains to be seen whether the mechanical hinges of folding phones will survive the test of time. There are early reports of potential problems with the hinge on the Razr: Some reviewers said the hinge is extremely tight, making it cumbersome to fold and flip open the phone. CNET, the tech reviews site, said the hinge of its Razr test unit broke after 27,000 cycles using a robot.

Motorola said in a statement that it was confident in the durability of Razr, adding that CNET’s test method put undue stress on the hinge.

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Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst for Creative Strategies, wasn’t convinced by this defense. “At the end of the day, you’re not going to go out to every user and say, ‘This is how you fold it,’” she said.

The biggest downside of foldables may have nothing to do with the technology: the price. The devices range from about $1,400 to more than $2,400.

For most people, that’s a dealbreaker: You can get a zippy smartphone with a great camera, like Google’s Pixel 3A, for about $400.

It’s too early to tell whether foldable phones will succeed. In a few years, the technology will probably become cheaper and more robust.

At that point, will you want one?

The concept sounds attractive to Mr. Wiens, despite the early hiccups.

“Everybody clearly wants huge displays, but I hate how big my phone is in my pocket,” he said. “I think you can make an argument this is something that people want.”

Mr. Soneira of DisplayMate said a foldable screen made more sense for a gadget that we already treat more delicately: a computer. Imagine enjoying a jumbo screen to watch movies on an airplane, then folding it up to fit inside your carry-on luggage.

“If a manufacturer comes out with a nice foldable laptop, I’m in,” he said.

Meet the guy taking away Instagram likes

On a recent afternoon, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, assembled members of his staff to discuss the secret details of a critical project: the elimination of public “likes.” You’ll be able to see how many hearts your posts get, dear user, but not other people’s tallies. The effort is referred to internally as “Project Daisy” — as in “Does she love me? Or love me not?”

Photograph by Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times; illustration by Alvaro Dominguez

Likes are the social media currency undergirding an entire influencer economy, inspiring a million Kardashian wannabes and giving many of us regular people daily endorphin hits. But lately, Mr. Mosseri has been concerned about the unanticipated consequences of Instagram as approval arbiter.

He kept thinking about an episode of “Black Mirror,” the British dystopian anthology series, in which the characters rate everyone they interact with on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. (It doesn’t end well.)

Mr. Mosseri knows something about dealing with dystopian tech fallout. He came to Instagram in October 2018 after years overseeing the Facebook News Feed, an unwitting engine of fake news, inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation. He wants to avoid similar pitfalls at Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

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But making likes private will be a major shift for Instagram’s more than 1 billion users, for whom daily assessment of one another’s popularity has become like breathing.

And so the company is carefully considering how this will happen, for months “dog-fooding” (internal Insta-talk for testing) different variations of the new format. A post’s achievement of “thousands of likes” or “tens of thousands of likes” might still be public. Users might be still be able to find others’ likes with a little more digging in the app. But the average teenager under pressure to be popular won’t need to suffer the indignity of only his mom liking his skateboarding post.

Mr. Mosseri sees Project Daisy, which the company intends to introduce early this year, as a signal to the world that he has learned from Facebook’s mistakes and is thinking about the larger, potentially corrosive impact of social media.

“We should have started to more proactively think about how Instagram and Facebook could be abused and mitigate those risks,” he said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

In the meeting, he asked his team: “How do we depressurize the app?” Brands would still need to count likes for their advertising, so what would that look like? Nobody wanted to break up the “BeyHive” (Beyoncé’s 138 million followers) or upset a major influencer like Selena Gomez (166 million), but does that mean the average popular teenager with 1,000 followers will see a similar display? How would users outside the United States respond? At one point, Mr. Mosseri stopped a designer and asked, “But how would that look in other languages?”

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Then, he exhaled, stretched his arms behind his head and said, “I just don’t want to piss anyone off.”

By then, I had spent several afternoons with Mr. Mosseri, and his concern struck me as the best encapsulation of his fascinating, sometimes fraught tenure at Instagram. The man who is working to mostly eliminate likes really wants to be liked.

Mr. Mosseri is a close confidant of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and he knows that his installment at Instagram was met with widespread skepticism among its staff, seen as evidence that the blue, squaresville platform had officially swallowed the chic rainbow-colored one.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, announced in 2013 that its photo-sharing subsidiary, Instagram, would allow users to take and share videos.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For years, Instagram had tried to maintain at least the appearance of independence from Facebook, which acquired it for $1 billion in 2012. Then Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg, and departed.

Dozens of employees also left. Two separately functioning teams of engineers and product managers were combined. Instagram had even changed its name to “Instagram from Facebook” — appalling many of the influencers who wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook, which for them had become the realm of cantankerous uncles venting about politics and random high school friends posting reunion photos.

When Mr. Mosseri was introduced as Instagram’s new leader at a question-and-answer session with employees, someone asked, in effect, “Why are you making the head of Instagram someone who failed at Facebook’s News Feed?” according to a person who attended the meeting.

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“It was a huge emotional event when Kevin and Mike left. So there was definitely skepticism about me stepping into the role,” Mr. Mosseri told me.

Concerns spread beyond Instagram’s corporate walls to its most obsessive users. Would the relationship with Facebook taint the app that had transformed the way we take pictures and turned an entire generation into selfie-taking machines?

This past fall, Mr. Zuckerberg, two days after he was grilled by Congress about Facebook’s handling of user data, political advertising, disinformation and child pornography, stopped by Instagram’s offices. Mr. Mosseri posted a selfie with his arm around him. “Mark stopped by Instagram!” Instagram users weighed in: “Instagram has lost its way” and “Instagram is dead” and “Make Instagram great again.”

But while Mr. Zuckerberg has been cast by critics as defensive and closed off to criticism and the news media, Mr. Mosseri, 36, projects the opposite. He’s affable and easygoing, exuding the laid-back intensity of a Bay Area tech executive who was born in the East Village. He is accessible to the news media, and unafraid of the occasional Twitter war with the acerbic tech columnist Kara Swisher (a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times). He posts an endless stream of relatable photos of his young sons (#DadLife). And he does regular “ask me anything” sessions.

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This charm offensive, combined with Mr. Mosseri’s efforts to stop bullying, remove photos of self-harm and other safety and integrity measures that Facebook may have been late to, has won him respect. But it has not quieted the larger concerns about the mother ship.

“There’s more anxiety now just about, ‘What is our place within the broader company? How do we relate to Facebook? How do we relate to WhatsApp?’ It’s less anxiety around me,” Mr. Mosseri said. Then he added, “But I just want to be careful about blind spots here, because if there was a lot of anxiety about me, maybe they wouldn’t tell me.”

Instagram has revolutionized shopping, dealt a near-death blow to women’s magazines, taken celebrities from TV and movie screens to our fingertips and made Shih Tzus and personal trainers household names. (At least in some households.) To discuss the photo-sharing app’s future, Mr. Mosseri and I sat, among other places, in the sunny food court in its New York headquarters, in a building that once housed a Wanamaker’s department store and also includes the Facebook offices.

Designed to share everything, the company makes certain that visitors to its base of operations don’t share anything, asking most members of the news media who are granted access to sign nondisclosure agreements. (Mine was waived.) The white loft-like space is a sort of Willy Wonka chocolate factory of social media, with selfie-ready backdrops at every turn. There is an iridescent beehive-like installation, a complimentary gelato and biscotti bar, and a rotating wall of posts from @shop, Instagram’s latest effort to bring in small businesses.

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Instagram’s worldwide staff totals more than 1,000, and even as Mr. Mosseri tried to convince them that he is not just a “Facebook guy,” he must also convince Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook that his decisions will benefit the parent company.

The way Facebook executives see it, Instagram would not have become so ubiquitous and beloved if it had not siphoned users and support from Facebook. Now, with Mr. Mosseri leading the charge, it is time for Instagram, the company’s fastest-growing asset, to give back.

Vishal Shah, left, Instagram’s head of product, and Justin Osofsky, its chief operating officer, at the Instagram office in San Francisco.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

“There is this misperception about the journey that Instagram has been on since Facebook acquired it,” said Justin Osofsky, a longtime senior Facebook executive who is now the chief operating officer of Instagram. “There was this narrative that it was a team of 13 people and the start-up journey led to an inevitable outcome for Instagram, when I believe Facebook played an incredibly important role in its growth.”

In an email, Mr. Zuckerberg said Instagram’s founders had “created something special, and the team has taken that and helped build it into something that people around the world love.” But, he added, “we still have a lot to do to make the experience even better and make sure we’re living up to what people expect from us.”

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This delicate balance — keeping both Facebook and Instagram happy and facing animosity in both camps — reminded Mr. Mosseri of his father, an Israeli-American psychotherapistwho speaks Hebrew with an American accent and English with an Israeli accent.

“I feel like I speak two languages and neither is perfect,” Mr. Mosseri said. “It’s like, either place you go you get, ‘Where are you from?’”

Mr. Mosseri’s story began like those of many tech executives: in college. He was a freshman at N.Y.U. when he started designing websites, mostly to help pay the rent on the windowless room in the one-bathroom apartment that he shared with five roommates. He started a small web-design firm with a partner, Sidney Blank, who described it as “two guys with a couple employees futzing around.”

Mr. Mosseri’s firm got a couple of commissions from Brown University and the Architectural League of New York (his mother is an architect), including one to create an interactive rendering of what a redesigned World Trade Center might look like. In 2005, he opened a West Coast office, following a couple of friends to pursue start-up riches in San Francisco.

There, he created Boombox, a music-sharing app. Before he received a cease-and-desist order from the Recording Industry Association of America, the app caught Facebook’s eye. Mr. Mosseri’s wife, Monica, was working at Facebook in operations; Mr. Mosseri had applied there several times but never got an interview. Now, as the company eyed music sharing, he had an in.

In 2008, Mr. Mosseri joined Facebook’s design team, committing so completely that he’d sometimes crash on a sofa in Silicon Valley with other early Facebook executives rather than go home. Thinking like a designer but coding like an engineer, he embodied the work-hard-play-hard ethos that Facebook looked for in its employees at the time, said Soleio Cuervo, a former product designer at Facebook.

“Facebook has this stigma of being traditional Silicon Valley nerds,” Mr. Cuervo said. “But I actually think it’s a very social culture. Adam played on our co-ed soccer team.”

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Like many other early Facebook employees, Mr. Mosseri got close to Mr. Zuckerberg. They occupy similar social circles, they have children who are about the same age and they occasionally go on morning runs together. Mr. Zuckerberg eventually entrusted Mr. Mosseri with overseeing the News Feed, the stream of links, photos and miscellaneous rants that Facebook’s more than two billion users post in more than 100 languages.

Revelations that Russian trolls had meddled to help elect President Trump in 2016, and that the News Feed had been used to spread disinformation during the campaign, set off a series of congressional investigations into Facebook’s practices. Social media, which had been designed to bring us together, had become the ultimate tool for tearing us apart.

Mr. Mosseri at the Instagram office in New York.Credit…Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times

Publicly, the blowback landed on Mr. Zuckerberg, but internally it was Mr. Mosseri who had to provide many of the answers. He spent the months after the 2016 election fielding questions about how this happened and how he could make sure it would not happen again.

“I was going around the world, talking to a lot of very harsh critics of us, trying to sift through all the noise and find the signal and figure out how to address these issues and help steer the ship,” Mr. Mosseri said.

Even as criticism of Facebook reverberated and younger users in the United States, in particular, abandoned it, Instagram maintained its image as a safe space to share photos of first birthdays and avocado toast.

Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, when it had 30 million users, and treated it largely as a side project, albeit a profitable one. But Instagram grew faster than anyone had expected. It shrewdly mimicked its rival, Snapchat, introducing the widely popular video-sharing Stories feature, whose private tallying of “watches” has informed Project Daisy.

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Users who may have felt their privacy was compromised on Facebook used Instagram to exchange direct messages and share personal moments. In 2018, Instagram’s net advertising revenue in the United States reached nearly $6 billion, a 70 percent increase from the previous year, according to eMarketer, a social media research company.

No longer the quirky stepchild with bunny-ear filters, Instagram has become the future of Facebook in the United States, according to industry analysts who estimate that it is Facebook’s most lucrative asset and arguably one of the best acquisitions in tech history.

“There is this role reversal in Instagram’s metamorphosis from this tiny thing on the side to being the core platform,” said Venky Ganesan, a managing director at Menlo Ventures, a venture capital firm. “The actual Facebook that we know and love — or know and no longer love — is becoming a relic of the past.”

Mr. Zuckerberg began looking at the overall picture of Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, or what he calls the “family of apps.” Facebook could seem like a jealous sibling: removing the Instagram logo from its bookmarks menu, for instance, and cutting the traffic that flowed from its platform to Instagram. Instagram users also had an option to cross-post Stories on Facebook, like sharing graham crackers.

Months before Instagram’s founders left, Jan Koum resigned from WhatsApp, the messaging app he co-founded, and from Facebook’s board, amid debates about the amount of user data Facebook had collected from its users.

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Mr. Zuckerberg installed Mr. Mosseri as head of product at Instagram, a move that further convinced its founders, Mr. Systrom and Mr. Krieger, that the app they created was increasingly under Mr. Zuckerberg’s control. Not long after, they announced they would depart, leaving tumult in their wake. “No one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome,” Mr. Systrom told Recode.

Mr. Mosseri had to assemble an almost entirely new leadership team at Instagram, installing several Facebook executives in senior roles. He encouraged previously disparate teams that worked on well-being and integrity to collaborate more closely, overseeing, among other things, efforts to make sure harmful posts were promptly taken down.

“We were doing too much on our own and not enough leveraging of all the work that comes from the much larger team at Facebook,” Mr. Mosseri said.

The Instagram executive team, from left, Karina Newton, Charles Porch, Tamar Shapiro and Eva Chen.Credit…Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times

Though Instagram was largely insulated from criticism after the 2016 election, two reports, prepared by independent groups and released last year by the Senate Intelligence Committee, found that Instagram had since become a favored tool of Russian internet trolls who sought to sow distrust in the American political system. Their tactics included the creation of fake accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers that targeted African-Americans, anti-immigration activists and gun-rights supporters, among others. The app could prove ripe for further interference ahead of the 2020 election.

“From my experiences on the Facebook side, I could try to mitigate some of those risks,” Mr. Mosseri said. Always quick to break the tension, he jokes about the heated conversations he has had with his liberal East Coast relatives about Facebook’s role in Mr. Trump’s victory, but it’s also cause for introspection. “I try to step back and look at things as effectively as we can and be honest about where we made mistakes,” he said. “I’ve asked myself so many times, if I could go back to 2015 or 2016 and give myself a bunch of advice, what advice would I give myself?”

He also echoed the wider thinking within Facebook that Mr. Trumphad simply used the platform more effectively than the competition. “Trump used Facebook really well as an advertiser, so I am sure that helped,” he said.

Mr. Mosseri likes to say that “technology isn’t good or bad, it just is.” But how could he be so sure? No one really knows what the long-term sociological impact of Instagram will be; it’s too new. “Social media, I think, often serves as a great amplifier of good and bad,” Mr. Mosseri said.

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In other words, social media is sometimes a cesspool because humanity is sometimes a cesspool. And yet it is Mr. Mosseri’s job to make sure the slime doesn’t overtake the subway (to invoke “Ghostbusters”). Instagram is still widely beloved in the United States, but users in Britain largely turned on the platform following reports that graphic images of self-harm on its app might have influenced a 14-year-old girl to commit suicide.

Mr. Mosseri quickly banned such images and ordered the development of additional tools to help users to avoid bullying. As I was writing this article, Mr. Mosseri emailed to say that he wanted to prioritize “well-being focus areas” for Instagram’s teenage users, “including problematic use and loneliness.”

Indeed, the most obvious dark forces — pornography, self-harm, disinformation — seem almost simple compared to the largely unknown long-term impact of a platform that has turned every vacation, every dinner party, every parental milestone into an online performance. Instagram has so incentivized the distortion of reality that it lured moneyed millennials to the doomed Fyre music festival on an impoverished island; a couple fell to their deathswhile trying to snap the perfect cliff-side selfie, and a woman vented that her 6-year-old son wasn’t as popular as his siblings because images of him received fewer likes.

Talk to the hand: An employee taking a picture at the Instagram office in San Francisco.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Eva Chen, the director of fashion at Instagram, stressed that the app is an accessory for the majority of its users and not the main event. “So much of the advice I give to young people is not even within the confines or constructs of Instagram,” she said. “Living a life to someone else’s standards of what cool is is not a good way to live.”

But what happens when a technology puts the idea of cool in the palm of our hand, tantalizing and taunting us at all hours?

“There are plenty of well-documented reasons to distrust Instagram — the platform where one is never not branding, never not making Facebook money, never not giving Facebook one’s data,” Tavi Gevinson, who became one of the earliest influencers after starting a popular style blog when she was 12, wrote in New York magazine. “But most unnerving are the ways in which it has led me to distrust myself.”

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Mr. Osofsky, Instagram’s chief operating officer, pointed to Project Daisy as one example of how seriously the company’s leaders take the app’s unintended consequences. “We are willing to question and analyze some of the most core aspects of the service when you think about the next decade of Instagram,” he said.

Mr. Mosseri got more philosophical.

“Can I get a little nerdy on you for a second?” I said yes, without reminding him that we’d already talked extensively about “variants” and “ad hoc qualitative research.”

“With a new medium, it starts with euphoria and then goes to hysteria and then hopefully you get some kind of balance,” he said. “It happened with the radio. This happened with TV. There was a huge amount of skepticism about reading Plato because he was writing and no one could argue versus yelling into a public square.”

That means that if Instagram were a Model T Ford, Mr. Mosseri is overseeing a period when he will have to start installing seatbelts and airbags and other safety features.

“It’s very natural for there to be strong skepticism,” he said. “But I do think we create a lot of good in the world.”


Amy Chozick is a New York-based writer at large, covering the personalities and power struggles in business, politics and media. She is a former national political reporter and the author of “Chasing Hillary.” @amychozick • Facebook

Glenn Harvey

All you need to know about 5G in 2020

After years of hype, carriers like AT&T and Verizon are giving consumers clarity on what their next-generation cellular networks will realistically do.

Glenn Harvey
Glenn Harvey

Like many consumers, Kathryn Schipper, an attorney in Seattle, doesn’t have a landline. She relies on her smartphone for calls and videoconferencing, but reception is spotty.

So she is excited about the arrival of 5G, the fifth-generation wireless network that has been the subject of breathless speculation over the last few years. The new cellular standard, carriers have said, will reduce network congestion and pump out data so fast that smartphone users could download all the “Avengers” movies in a few minutes. It might even eventually help cars drive themselves.

“5G seems like orders-of-magnitude improvement,” Ms. Schipper said. “I’ve also heard it’s much more reliable, so that matters to me.”

Yet the shift to 5G feels like a tech revolution happening in slow motion. In 2019, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest American carriers, lit up their 5G networks in a small number of cities. Handset makers released only a handful of phones compatible with the new standard. The overwhelming majority of us saw no meaningful improvement to our cellular networks.

At CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this week, the carriers are insisting that 2020 will be a turning point for 5G. AT&T and Verizon say they expect their 5G networks to be accessible nationwide this year. In addition, the carriers say at least 15 smartphones will be 5G compatible this year, more than triple the number last year.

“2020 is pivotal because you’ve got a good foundation built, and the ecosystem starts to form,” said Kevin Petersen, a marketing executive for AT&T.

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So what does that even mean? A major technology shift is underway, which may have an impact on your personal technology in the coming years. And unlike its predecessors, 5G is complex and more confusing.

Here’s what you need to know:

In the simplest terms, 5G is a new cellular standard. Phone carriers have jumped to a new wireless standard roughly every decade. About 10 years ago, 4G, the fourth-generation network, arrived with significantly faster speeds and stronger reliability than 3G. About a decade before that, 3G arrived and was much faster and more robust than 2G. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, 5G is more complicated. There are a few flavors of 5G described with deeply technical jargon.

To make 5G easier to swallow, let’s rename the jargon into ice cream flavors:

  • The much-hyped, ultrafast variant of 5G is known as “millimeter wave,” but let’s call it rocky road. It lets carriers transmit data at incredibly fast speeds — the kind that would let you download an entire movie in a few seconds.The problem with rocky road is that its signals travel shorter distances, covering a park in New York but not a broad swath of the city, for example. It also has trouble penetrating obstacles like walls. So Verizon and AT&T have focused deployment of rocky road in large spaces like sports stadiums and outdoor amphitheaters.Because of the technical limitations of rocky road, we are unlikely to see it deployed nationwide anytime soon (if ever), meaning we won’t be getting these incredible speeds in the vast majority of places.
  • Instead, this year our cellular networks will broadly shift to a version of 5G that is less exciting. Let’s call this vanilla 5G.Vanilla 5G will have speeds that are only slightly faster than current 4G networks. The main benefit will be a reduction of lag known as latency. For example, when you do a web search on your phone, the results usually won’t load immediately; the lag can often last hundreds of milliseconds. In theory, 5G technology will shave this latency down to a few milliseconds. (To be clear, rocky road offers low-latency benefits, too.)AT&T and Verizon say their 5G networks, which will be made up of mostly vanilla 5G and small scoops of rocky road, should be activated nationwide this year. T-Mobile, which put a priority on deploying vanilla 5G over rocky road, said its 5G network was available nationwide last year.In short, the broad shift to 5G won’t be mind blowing, but you will probably notice a marked improvement.

In some cases, yes. While Wi-Fi is also very fast, it pulls data from a broadband connection, which is susceptible to degraded performance when others nearby are using it. By design, 5G transmits high amounts of data more efficiently, so it is expected to significantly mitigate network congestion. There is a high likelihood that you will get a consistently strong, faster connection on 5G.

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Yes. You will have to buy a new phone with a 5G modem to connect with the new network technologies.

Most current 5G-compatible phones are expensive: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, for example, costs $1,300. But as the technology becomes more common in the next few years, prices should drop.

The carriers are still tinkering with pricing.

Verizon’s earliest 5G plans charged an extra $10 a month for people with compatible smartphones to gain access to 5G. (It is currently waiving that fee as it builds out its 5G network.) However, Ronan Dunne, a Verizon executive, said the carrier was planning different types of packages. Some with access to both vanilla 5G and rocky road 5G could be priced higher, while plans with only vanilla 5G might be priced lower. (He declined to share specific prices.)

“Here’s a plan which says this plan comes with ultralow latency, and it’s part of a gamers’ package, or it might be part of a movie and entertainment package,” Mr. Dunne said. “Because of this ability to separate components of the network, you can see an evolution of a new type of pricing and plan model.”

AT&T’s so-called unlimited extra plan, which includes 5G access, costs $75 a month for an individual line.

T-Mobile said access to its 5G network was available to its subscribers at no additional cost.

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AT&T, unfortunately, made 5G extra confusing for its customers. In late 2018, it rebranded parts of its existing 4G network as “5GE.” So AT&T customers with older 4G-compatible phones started seeing a “5GE” status icon on their screens.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore 5GE altogether. It’s not real 5G.

AT&T’s vanilla version of 5G is branded 5G, and its rocky-road version is labeled 5G Plus.

It depends on where you go. (Some countries still lack thorough 4G coverage.) China is poised to have the largest 5G network in the world, and 5G is well underway in Japan and South Korea. The European Union’s goal is to release 5G in at least one major city in each member state this year, according to a study conducted for the European Commission.

The benefits will probably feel subtle and significant.

Lower latency is crucial to future mobile applications. It could make virtual reality work more smoothly — like if you were watching a virtual-reality broadcast of a live sports game and wanted to look around the stadium.

Reduced lag may also improve gaming: If you were playing a shooting game with friends online, there would be less delay between button presses and your actions in the game.

A reduction in latency will also help internet-connected devices talk to one another immediately. That is why technologists are looking to 5G deployment as a crucial step toward a world of autonomous cars. If one car is 5G equipped and so is the other, they can tell each other when they are braking. Or if the vehicle is signaling to turn right, it can communicate the turn to cars behind it so they can slow down or switch lanes.

“You can see why that’s not very relevant today but very useful tomorrow,” said Frank Gillett, a technology analyst for Forrester Research.

Facebook says it will continue to allow political lies ads

The company was under intense pressure to adjust its policies. But in this presidential election year, no big changes are planned.

Facebook had been under pressure to change its hands-off rules for political ads.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

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Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

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Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

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Ms. Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Trump’s campaign that attacked Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Mr. Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit microtargeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

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“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.

“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fund-raising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a nonprofit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Mr. Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Ms. Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the re-election of Mr. Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

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Criticism seemed to stiffen Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Mr. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Mr. Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

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On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook pagethat, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Mr. Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

How Google’s founders slowly left their company

Larry Page and Sergey Brin became billionaires thanks to the success of Google. But toward the end, they appeared happy to let someone else run it.

Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page in 2003 at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.Credit…MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

By Jack NicasConor Dougherty and Daisuke Wakabayashi

About a month after Donald J. Trump was elected president in 2016, Larry Page, the Google co-founder, was summoned along with other prominent tech executives to a meeting at Trump Tower.

It was a rare public appearance for Mr. Page. He sported a tan suit and shifted in his seat as he introduced himself and noted (incorrectly) that his company was probably the youngest in the room. “Really glad to be here,” said Mr. Page, who did not look glad to be there.

By the time he was again summoned in 2018 — this time to testify to Congress on tech’s various problems — Mr. Page had all but abandoned the roles typically associated with leading one of the world’s richest and most powerful companies. He didn’t show, and senators placed an empty chair and his placard alongside the other speakers.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Page and Sergey Brin, his Google co-founder, said they were stepping down from day-to-day executive roles at Alphabet, Google’s parent company. While the move seemed sudden, it was the culmination of a yearslong separation between two of Silicon Valley’s most prominent founders and the company they began 21 years ago.

For some time, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin have drawn down their daily involvement in the company, ceding managerial tasks to deputies so they could focus on a variety of projects, including self-driving cars, robotics and life-extension technology. They left the often messy business of running Google itself to Sundar Pichai, a trusted deputy who became Google’s chief executive in 2015.

Tuesday was the capstone of that split. The founders named Mr. Pichai as the chief of both Google and Alphabet, while they will remain on Alphabet’s board of directors. Mr. Page and Mr. Brin still hold 51 percent of Alphabet’s voting shares, giving them effective control over the company — and Mr. Pichai, if they wish.Image

Sundar Pichai, who already runs Google, will replace Mr. Page as Alphabet’s chief executive.Credit...Erik Tanner for The New York Times
Sundar Pichai, who already runs Google, will replace Mr. Page as Alphabet’s chief executive.Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times

In a letter announcing the change, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin compared their 21 years at Google to raising a child, saying now was the “time to assume the role of proud parents.”

Mr. Page and Mr. Brin helped unleash the modern internet and Silicon Valley as cultural and business phenomena. Over the past two decades, they oversaw a company that was central to one of the most consequential periods in the history of business.

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Now, as society and government begin to reckon with the fallout of changes wrought by the internet, the two men are walking away, most likely to pursue other projects, funded by the billions of dollars they made at Google and driven by a belief that technology can solve the planet’s problems.

Google faces legal and regulatory challenges on several continents. It is fighting with its own employees. And it is trying to reverse sinking public opinion of its brand. But Mr. Pichai, not the founders, will be tasked with leading Google through the most difficult period in its history.

“It’s an impossible job now,” said Shane Greenstein, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied Google and its founders. Mr. Page and Mr. Brin are cerebral, technical thinkers, and the issues facing the company “are not merely technical problems or scientific problems,” he said. The problems “are very much corporate lawyerly types of policy issues, for which historically they have not been enthusiastic.”

Founded 21 years ago, Google has become one of the most valuable companies in the world.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Mr. Page and Mr. Brin met as graduate students at Stanford University, and in 1996, they came up with a better way of ranking internet search results. It was, at the time, a school project. After they developed their internet search engine, they tried to sell it, but couldn’t find any takers. So they started a company.

That singular innovation gave rise to a company and product that functions as an effective tax on the internet. Billions of people navigate the web through Google’s search box, and it charges a toll in the form of tracked and targeted advertising.


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Google has grown to be dominant in several markets. Its search engine handles nine out of 10 internet searches, and the company’s Android software powers roughly three-quarters of the world’s smartphones. And for a generation of young people, YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006, has all but supplanted television.

But to some observers, the more powerful Google became, the less interested its founders appeared to be in running it.

“They’re accidental entrepreneurs,” Mr. Greenstein said. “Given their origins, it’s not surprising. They probably still harbor a desire to be a professor with a lab.”

After Mr. Page and Mr. Brin formally founded Google in September 1998, they turned out to be skilled businessmen. Still, investors worried that they were not ready to run what many rightly believed could become one of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.

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By 2001, Google’s board pushed the founders to bring on an experienced executive to lead the company. Mr. Page and Mr. Brin picked Eric Schmidt, a former chief executive of the software company Novell, as Google’s new chief executive, in part because the three had bonded at Burning Man, the arts festival in the Nevada desert.

Eric Schmidt was brought in to be Google’s chief executive before its 2004 public offering.Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

While the founders were initially wary of having a boss, they quickly warmed to Mr. Schmidt. One of the benefits of no longer being chief executive, colleagues told Mr. Page, was that he would no longer have to perform tasks like talking to advertisers and investors, according to “In the Plex,” a book about Google’s beginnings by Steve Levy.

Instead, the founders sought out new efforts, such as mapping the world, digitizing books, developing artificial intelligence and creating new smartphone software to rival Apple’s iPhone.

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In 2005, Mr. Page attended the Darpa Grand Challenge, a race for self-driving cars in the California desert. There he met Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and leading developer of autonomous vehicles, which were then in their infancy.

“I was flabbergasted that a founder of a search engine company would attend a robot race,” Mr. Thrun said in an interview on Tuesday. “It wasn’t long before Larry pushed me to start the Chauffeur team.”

Chauffeur was Google’s secret self-driving car project, which Mr. Thrun began in 2009 under close coordination with Mr. Page and Mr. Brin. Today, a number of big tech companies are experimenting in transportation, but when news of the project broke in 2010, it was unprecedented for an internet company to be building a car.

A Google self-driving car near the company’s Silicon Valley campus in 2014.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

“I didn’t think of Google as a transportation company,” Mr. Thrun said. “But Larry thought of Google as a company that pushed innovation in any area.”

Mr. Thrun led Chauffeur under Google X, the so-called moonshot lab where engineers were encouraged to build science-fiction projects they thought might never work. Many of their projects did fail, like space elevators, jet packs and teleportation, but others are still in development, like delivery drones, energy-producing kites and internet-beaming balloons.

Like most of the futuristic projects at Google, the lab was the brainchild of the founders. Mr. Brin particularly wanted something to work on because he was getting bored in management, said Michael Jones, a co-founder of Google Earth, who spent 11 years at the company.

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“He was always frustrated in what to do; you can’t engineer from the top,” Mr. Jones said. “He wanted to go build things.”

Mr. Brin moved his desk to Google X and began experimenting with computer-embedded glasses, delivery drones and barges in San Francisco Bay that could possibly house data centers.

Mr. Brin championed Google Glass, a wearable computing device that looked like eyeglasses.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In 2011, Mr. Page retook the chief executive job atop Google, getting something of a hero’s welcome. Yet the pattern — wanting to be in charge but not wanting to deal with the day-to-day job — would quickly repeat itself.

He seemed no more interested in the menial aspects of the job. He was frustrated by having to deal with things like executive infighting and turf wars that are an unavoidable part of corporate life, according to three former executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Even then, well before the recent employee uprisings, he had grown disillusioned with what he saw as entitled behavior from Google engineers, said two other executives who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. He also started to experience health problems, most notably paralysis of his vocal cords. Executives who met with Mr. Page, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he sometimes used an electronic speaker to amplify his strained voice.

“Larry is like a professor who’s a business star. I don’t think he has any appreciation or love or desire to run a company actually,” said Mr. Jones, the former Google executive. “The thing he cares about is pushing toward innovation.”

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In 2013, when stock analysts asked Mr. Page about how much money the company was spending on far-off research projects that might never generate revenue, he chided them for short-term thinking and said they should be asking him to spend more. It was the last earnings call for Mr. Page.

“I know you would all love to have me on, but you’re also depending on me to ruthlessly prioritize my time for the benefit of the business,” he told analysts.

Mr. Page did have time for side projects. For years, Mr. Page and Mr. Thrun had been discussing a new kind of vehicle: electric personal aircraft. But rather than try to build one at Google, they pursued a project independently, funded by Mr. Page’s personal wealth.

“We felt flying was too far out for Google and for their shareholders,” Mr. Thrun said.

Mr. Thrun now runs Kitty Hawk, which makes three kinds of electric aircraft. Mr. Page is the primary funder, and he has been visiting a few times a month, Mr. Thrun said. (Mr. Page has had three flying-car start-ups.)

Mr. Page during one of his last public interviews, in 2015.Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Mr. Page has also invested in an asteroid-mining company. Mr. Brin bankrolled space-travel and synthetic-beef companies. Both helped fund Tesla. And Mr. Brin is building an airship in a hangar near Google’s headquarters.

Some Google employees say the founders have been ceding the spotlight to other executives for years. At a Fortune conference in 2015, in one of Mr. Page’s last public interviews, he was asked about Google’s interest in China, a country the company had mostly exited years earlier.

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“I’ve also delegated this question to Sundar,” Mr. Page responded. “I help him think about it. But I don’t have to answer this question now.” He smiled, and the crowd laughed.

This story was originally published by NYTimes with the title: How Google’s Founders Slowly Stepped Away From Their Company.

Facebook want to help you move your photos to rival sites

The company, accused by the E.U. of stifling competition, is trying a tool in Ireland that would allow users to move photos and videos to Google.

Facebook is trying to make it easier for users to move photos from the social network to rival online services, reacting to European privacy laws and criticism from regulators that its size and control over data hinders competition.

On Monday, Facebook said it would begin testing a “data portability” tool in Ireland that would allow users there to move photos and videos from Facebook to Google Photos. Critics immediately said the initiative did not go far enough.

Facebook’s control over personal data has been central to ongoing antitrust investigations in Washington and Europe. Authorities say Facebook holds so much information about its users, data it uses to fuel its digital advertising business and improve its services, that it creates a competitive imbalance that rivals can’t match.

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The company has long benefited from so-called network effects, where the value of its services increases as more people join. But many users have felt they can’t leave Facebook because transferring photos and videos elsewhere was too difficult. To foster more competition, officials have debated how to make companies let users take their content and data to other services.

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acebook is starting the project in Ireland with Google, hardly a small upstart, but said that it would expand it to other photo services and other parts of the world by June.

Facebook said the photo-moving service came after discussions with officials in countries including Brazil, Britain, Germany and Singapore.

“We’ve learned from our conversations with policymakers, regulators, academics, advocates and others that real-world use cases and tools will help drive policy discussions forward,” the company said in a blog post.

A Google spokesman said that the company had offered data portability tools since 2007, and also pointed to the company’s founding role in the Data Transfer Project, which enables direct platform-to-platform portability.

Critics responded quickly, saying more must be done to crimp Facebook’s power. The European Union’s privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, already requires Facebook and other companies to make data portable to other services.

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Michael Veale, lecturer in digital rights and regulation at the University College London, said a better way to encourage competition would be to allow non-Facebook users to interact with those who are on the social network, for actions like messaging and organizing events. “Being able to port your data does not threaten Facebook,” said Mr. Veale, who has filed a privacy complaint against Facebook in Europe for not giving him access to data that the network holds about him.

Martin Husovec, an assistant professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands who has written about data portability, said authorities were debating whether to require Facebook to make more of its real-time data available to competitors. In Britain, regulators now require banks to provide access to certain financial data, allowing smaller companies to offer digital banking services that are becoming popular with customers.



“Data gives companies power, that’s why it becomes an important resource,” Mr. Husovec said. “If you force a company to share the information perhaps you reduce the competitive advantage and level the playing field.”

Agustín Reyna, the chief competition officer for the European Consumer Organization, a consumer-rights group, said Facebook’s announcement was a “halfway solution.”

“The market of social networks is far too concentrated partly because of the strong network effects which lock in consumers within Facebook’s ecosystem,” he said. “The fact that you might be able to transfer your pictures to another service will not change that situation.”


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Control of data has become a central issue in the ongoing antitrust debate about the power of the world’s largest technology platforms. Authorities in the United States and Europe have been exploring whether companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google use data to box out competitors.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s top antitrust regulator, said last week that the use of data could provide many benefits, “but not if that data is monopolized by a few companies, and used to drive out competition.”

Adam Satariano is a technology reporter based in London. @satariano

Twitter to remove inactive accounts

Company has been criticized for handling of move it says will reduce risk from hacking.

Twitter has announced it is to clear out inactive accounts, freeing up dormant usernames and reducing the risk of old accounts being hacked.

But the company is facing criticism for the way it has handled the announcement, with many concerned that the accounts of people who have died over the past decade will be removed with no way of saving their Twitter legacies.

In an email to users, Twitter revealed that it would be deleting older accounts that had not been logged into in the past six months, unless users logged in before 11 December. The move would free up usernames that had been registered years ago but are not in use, including potentially desirable handles, such as @hern.

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In a statement, Twitter said: “As part of our commitment to serve the public conversation, we’re working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter.

“Part of this effort is encouraging people to actively log in and use Twitter when they register an account, as stated in our inactive accounts policy. We have begun proactive outreach to many accounts who have not logged into Twitter in over six months to inform them that their accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.”


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But the move has alarmed many for whom dormant Twitter accounts are a treasured legacy of someone who has died. Unlike Facebook, Twitter has no process for memorialising the accounts of dead users and the site initially suggested it would be unable to distinguish between a dormant account and a legacy account.

“It seems very shortsighted and not particularly considered,” said Elaine O’Neill, whose partner died in 2013. “As well as erasing history and furthering the idea that all our work in the internet age is increasingly temporal, it’s going to mean the loss of the accounts of friends, family members, partners, who we’ve loved and lost.

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“When so much of our communication and self-expression is online, these accounts and our conversations with them can be some of the few remaining ties we have to them, and Twitter is going to remove them without chance of preservation.

“Being able to [access freed-up usernames] is not worth having my late partner taken from me again, no longer being able to look at their account when I miss them, no longer being able to send them tweets that help me feel like they’re still there. It’s going to be traumatic for so many people.”

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A Twitter insider said the company was aware of the possible problem and that it was thinking about ways to introduce memorialisation for accounts. In the meantime, Jason Scott, an archivist at the Internet Archive, has led an effort to archive accounts off-site. Users can fill in a form to preserve the digital memories of their loved ones.

Best wireless earbuds of 2019

Our updated list of great bluetooth truly wireless earbuds – at the best prices right now.

It wasn’t long ago that true wireless earbuds, those that don’t need any wires even between the earphones, weren’t very good. Solid connectivity was a challenge, dropouts were infuriatingly common and battery life was woeful.

But they all offered that taste of freedom from wires that is like a ratchet – once you’ve experienced tangle-free listening, you’ll never go back.

Now there are loads of truly wireless earbuds on the market offering all sorts of features, designs and sound. None of them are bargain basement, and it’s difficult to know which ones are worth buying. So here’s a guide to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This Guardian buyer’s guide to true wireless earbuds was last updated on 26 September, and represents the best available models at the time. As new models are released and tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right earbuds for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds sound good, have rock-solid connectivity, good controls, a compact case and good battery life. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Nailing the combination of connectivity, sound, in-ear comfort, controls and case size has proved far more difficult for truly wireless earbuds than you might expect. Thankfully Samsung has managed it on the third try.

The Galaxy Buds are small, light and comfortable earbuds, with a traditional silicone tip on one end and a small body that sits within your concha, even if you have fairly small ears, allowing you to completely forget about them. They come with a series of soft stabilising wings if you need them, but stay put perfectly fine without them.

A touchpad on the outside takes care of controls. Tap to pause or play, double and triple-tap to skip track. A touch and hold gesture can be switched between turning on or temporarily piping ambient sound into the earbuds, triggering your voice assistant or to change the volume (left to go down, right to turn it up). Take both earbuds out and the music automatically pauses. It all works very well, although I wish you could trigger ambient sound on pause.

The Galaxy Buds sound pretty good too, with reasonable sound isolation and a well-rounded tone most will like. They’re fairly balanced, not overly dominated by bass or treble, with good separation and punch where needed. The buds are capable of uncomfortable volume levels when cranked right up and there’s a limited EQ available in the Galaxy Wearable app. Audiophiles might turn their noses up, but they sound good compared with the competition at this price.


Bluetooth connectivity between the buds and to the phone is rock solid, regardless of whether you’re using a Samsung or other phone. They can be used as a stereo pair, individually and hot-swapped between left and right in mono without skipping a beat, even when on a call – something only Apple’s AirPods have been capable of until now. The Galaxy Buds support AAC and Samsung’s proprietary scalable codec for high-quality music, with no noticeable lipsync issues even when connected to a non-Samsung device. Call quality is good, but a little distant similar to when you’re on speaker phone.

Why should I buy them?

The Galaxy Buds offer the best combination of sound, connectivity, size, comfort case and price, making them the ones to buy for Android unless you don’t like canal-buds.

Buy if: you want a simple set of truly wireless earbuds that just work

Don’t buy if: you only use iOS or don’t like canal-buds


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Brilliant sound, excellent noise cancelling and solid battery life make for a cracking set of true wireless earbuds. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Third time’s the charm for Sony. The WF-1000XM3 finally live up to the Sony heritage with not only effective noise cancelling but truly great sound too.

The M3 part of the name aligns them with Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 headphones, which have class-leading sound and noise cancelling. The true wireless earbud version inherits the same noise cancelling chip and are almost as effective, reducing or eliminating train, road and plane noise, leaving you free to listen to your music at lower, more comfortable volumes.

The sound sparkles with detail, energy and clarity, while punchy bass produces a lovely full sound, just edging out the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.

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Bluetooth 5 means connectivity is strong and lipsync issues have been eliminated. While the design is attractive, particularly in the black and copper colour, the earbuds are massive and took a bit of trial and error to get the fit right with the correct earbud tip (seven pairs are included). Controls are good, but lack volume on the earbud. Touch and hold one to activate ambient passthrough to listen out for announcements.

Battery life is solid too, lasting up to six hours with noise cancelling active or eight with it off, and up to 32 hours with trips in the case. Like the earbuds the case is also fairly large and difficult to pocket. They’re not cheap, but if you want genuinely great sound, the WF-1000XM3 are the ones to buy.

Why should you buy them?

Brilliant sound, excellent noise cancelling and solid connectivity, complemented by solid battery life and an attractive design, the WF-1000XM3 are the best-sounding true wireless earbuds yet.

Buy if: you want the best sound and great noise cancelling

Don’t but if: you want something smaller and more pocket-friendly


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Apple’s AirPods are some of the most popular wireless earbuds and for good reason. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you don’t like blocking out the world, or can’t get on with canal-bud style earphones that enter your ear, look no further than Apple’s AirPods, now in their second generation.

They gently rest in your ear with little white stalks sticking down, projecting the sound down your ear holes rather than sitting directly in them. As a consequence you can hear everything happening around you meaning you won’t be able to hear your music on something as loud as the tube in London, and if cranked up to maximum they bleed sound, although not as badly as Apple’s non-wireless EarPods. They sound pretty good considering the lack of isolation, with reasonable bass and clarity.

The AirPods work best with Apple gear, automatically syncing pairing across any Apple devices you might have, but can also be paired with Android or other devices. Connectivity is rock solid with an iPhone and recent Android devices and PCs.

Where they fall down is on-board controls – there’s basically just one, a double tap. When connected to a non-iPhone it pauses or plays music. Hooked up to an iOS device you have the option to trigger Siri, pause or skip track on each earbud, which means one can summon Siri while the other pauses. There’s no volume control. Take them out and it pauses the music.

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With the second generation AirPods you can also just say “Hey Siri” at any time without having to tap anything to activate Apple’s voice assistant. After having to re-teach Siri to recognise my voice, it generally worked well, even with music blasting out. But Siri can be a little slow, particularly when you have poor connectivity on your smartphone. You also get odd looks doing so on public transport.

The AirPods’ other strengths are that you can use either of the earbuds in mono, call quality is pretty good, and the charging case is the best in the business. The AirPods last about five hours of music and can be fully charged around five times by the case, which itself is charged via a Lightning cable. They are also available with a new wireless charging case (£40/$40 extra) for powering up on Qi-compatible chargers.

Why should I buy them?

Seamless connectivity with Apple products is key, but they sound pretty good, have an excellent case and are a decent alternative to canal-buds, even for Android users

Buy if: you use Apple products and don’t need sound isolation

Don’t buy if: you want to block out the sounds outside world


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Earin’s second-generation truly wireless earbuds are tiny, with solid sound and connectivity. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you want the smallest, most discreet wireless earbuds available, the Earin M-2 deliver. These tiny earbuds sit within your ear with only a flat touch-sensitive surface visible.

Available in black or white, they’re light and easy to forget you’re wearing them. They produce a balanced, relatively flat sound with good treble and fairly crisp highs. Those looking for pumping bass or truly sparkling audio will have to look elsewhere, but they make a good go of most music genres.

An Android or iOS app sorts updates, and tweaks transparency settings, but there are no equaliser settings.

Noise isolation is good but not great. The M-2s can feed ambient sound in when the music pauses, but it sounds like you’re listening to the world down an old phone line – fine for listening to an announcement but it takes some getting used to.

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Unusually, there’s no left or right earbud. They can be inserted in either ear with the buds working out which way round they are, and either can be used on its own for mono listening. They support AAC and aptX, and maintain a stable connection to your phone and between the earbuds, which communicate via magnetic induction, not Bluetooth. The result is lag and lipsync issue-free audio. Call quality is good, but a little quiet, meaning you’ll have to speak up, and there’s no sidetone, so it’s difficult to know how loud you’re talking.

Tap once to pause, twice to skip track or tap and hold to invoke Google Assistant or Siri on either bud. The controls work well, but there’s no volume control at all, so you’ll have to reach for your phone for that.

They last a good three hours of constant playback and charge about three times in the cylindrical aluminium case, which slides open and shut with a satisfying clunk.

Why should you buy them?

If you want your truly wireless earbuds to be as small as possible, but still have good sound, great connectivity and a good case, the Earin M-2 are it.

Buy if: you want the the smallest of truly wireless earbuds

Don’t buy if: you want a smaller case or better sound


5. Best for sport: Beats PowerBeats Pro

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Unshakeable attachment to your ear, good sound, long battery life, excellent connectivity and proper volume controls make these Beats a winner. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you wish Apple’s AirPods had better isolation and gripped on to your ear like a vice, look no further than the Beats PowerBeats Pro.

Like the AirPods the PowerBeats Pro have great connectivity with an iPhone, which courtesy of the Beats app even extends to Android. Rock solid connectivity in all conditions is paired with excellent controls. Both earbuds have proper volume rocker controls, plus a multifunction button for controlling playback, skipping tracks or activating Siri or Google Assistant.

The flexible ear hook loops over the back of your ear and with a bit of adjustment holds them firmly in place on your head – no amount of jumping, giggling or pounding the tarmac is going to shake these free. They’re also sweat resistant so will be fine in the rain or hard workout; just don’t run them under a tap.

The silicone earbud tip offers some isolation from the world around you. The forward, energetic sound is ideal for powering through a run or gym session, while also doing a good job with most music genres, banishing the all-bass Beats sound profile to the history books.

Call quality is excellent too, while battery life is a class-leading eight hours with another 1.5 charges in the case.

The enormous case is the worst thing about them. It’s robust and works just fine, but you’re not going to be able to fit it in a pocket. They’re also pricy, so if you just want basic buds for the gym, these aren’t for you.

Why should you buy them?

You want the AirPod-like convenience of connectivity and features with an iPhone (or Android with app), with class-leading battery, good sound, excellent controls including a real volume rocker, plus an ear hook design that’s unshakeable.

Buy if: you want rock-solid all-rounders that won’t come off no matter what you do

Don’t but if: you want something smaller and cheaper


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Good sound, long battery life and solid connection make the Creative Outlier Air great for the money. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Creative, known for PC soundcards and MP3 players from the 90s and 2000s and now gaming headsets and headphones, produces some of the best value true wireless earbuds around.

The Creative Outlier Air (also available in a more expensive “gold” variant) manage to tick almost every box. They’re light and comfortable to wear for extended periods, with a kidney shape that keeps most of the hard plastic body away from the fleshy bits of your ears. A traditional silicone earbud tip holds it in place fairly well, but only two sets are included in the box, meaning you might need to buy some extra ones if it doesn’t make a good enough seal.

They have excellent connectivity with Bluetooth 5, SBC, AAC and aptX support, can be used independently and best of all last up to 10 hours between trips in the case, which is about double the average battery life of most true wireless earbuds.

The case is fairly big, but is light, just about pocketable and holds two full charges of the earbuds, making up to 30 hours before needing to be topped up by USB-C.

The Outlier Air sound surprisingly good for the money too, producing well-rounded audio with punch in the bass (once you get a good seal at least) and good clarity in the mids and highs. They won’t touch the best-sounding, but they are a cut above the competition at this price and will even give the likes of the Galaxy Buds and AirPods a run for their money.

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A button on either bud takes care of playback and volume control, which is a bit stiff, requiring you to grip the bud with your index finger and press the button with your thumb. Press once to pause/play, twice on the left to skip back or on the right to skip forward. Pressing and holding on the left turns the volume down or on the right turns the volume up.

Call quality is surprisingly good, with only a little bit of background noise audible by the recipient while speaking. The earbuds are also IPX5 sweat-proof so fine for a run or similar. Small niggles include poor selection of earbud tips, a slight hiss on pause and hints of lipsync issues with Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.

Why should you buy them?

Great sound, connectivity and long battery life, plus solid controls including volume, combine with an OK case to make some excellent value true wireless earbuds.

Buy if: you want great-sounding truly wireless earbuds on a budget

Don’t buy if: you want a small case (buy the Anker Liberty Air instead)

Smart devices to protect your home while you’re away

Take these steps to protect your home from mishaps and intruders when you leave for vacation.

It was at our mortgage closing, when the seller received an eye-popping $900 final water bill, that I first developed FOGA: The Fear of Going Away. Apparently, when they vacated the house, a couple of running toilets and a leaky faucet had gone undetected, draining more than 47,000 gallons in a single month — about eight times more than normal. As with the wisdom about liberty, it seemed the price of homeownership would be eternal vigilance.

The lesson was reaffirmed that winter. Shortly after arriving for a Presidents’ Day weekend ski vacation in the Poconos, I received The Call: Our renter had pulled the battery from the chirping smoke alarm that connected to the boiler and water heater, causing them to shut down. It was 27 degrees out, and I was a three-hour drive away. My FOGA levels surged.

Such unwelcome discoveries became the norm. During various trips away from home over the next year or so, there were visits from porch pirates, who twice nabbed packages we hadn’t been expecting. Oh, and a bike thief. A puddle under the dishwasher. And the discovery that the cellar door had been left open to the elements for a rainy week.

Then one day I finally got smart. And later, when a frantic call came from guests who couldn’t get our door to unlock, I hung up the phone, held it aloft, and commanded Siri to trigger the smart lock I had recently installed. Siri did it instantly, I was a hero, and it was glorious.

I’ve since outfitted our home with a range of smart devices that have all but eliminated my FOGA. Some devices keep an eye on our place and send me an alert if something is amiss. Others automate things and make it less evident we’re away. And I like being able to remotely drop in from anywhere to control some devices — a lock, lights, the thermostat — to make sure all is well.

Besides convenience, there is a more practical value to installing smart devices: The Insurance Institute says that 98 percent of annual claims are from property damage, and although fires account for the highest costs, one in 50 homes suffers water damage — with an average claim over $10,000. What I find particularly appealing is that I can pick and choose the devices that work best for my needs, and that I’m not on the hook for yet another monthly fee. Here are several ways you can protect your home while you’re away, from the quick and cheap to the more involved and more costly.

Before breaking out tools and tech, the first step in vacation-proofing is to check off the basics. Deputy inspector Jessica Corey, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Crime Prevention Division, said that you have to minimize the appearance that no one is home. “Don’t leave a note on the door for the letter carrier or deliveries — stop your mail or get someone to pick it up. And if your drapery isn’t normally closed, it shouldn’t be while you’re away either.”

For stretches longer than a week, hire someone to mow the yard and put out and collect your garbage cans on schedule. Turn off the water-supply valves to the clothes washer and dishwasher, and even the toilets. Above all, ask a neighbor with a set of spare keys to check on things, including for your cars. As a fail-safe, I place a set of keys in a combination lockbox that hangs from a doorknob — in an emergency, anyone with the combination can get in.

For $25, a smart plug can turn on and off a lamp on a set or varied schedule. Better yet, get a three-pack and turn on their Away mode, and your lights will randomly turn on and off in set periods to better simulate an occupied home. (Wirecutter recommends several in our guide to plug-in smart switches.)

A smoke alarm is useful only if someone is there to hear it. For our rental unit I installed a Roost battery: If the alarm goes off, I get a notification on my phone, and I can set it to ping a neighbor or family friend, too. (You can find more info in Wirecutter’s guide to smart smoke alarms.)

Conspicuously mounted outdoor cameras, such as the Nest Cam Outdoor, do a great job of dissuading potential burglars (you can read about them in our guide to outdoor security cameras). I have one set under our front stoop that sends a notification and a video clip if someone approaches the basement door. Mounted on your house, a camera also lets you check on your property after inclement weather, a huge help if you have large trees or suffer from flooding. And Ms. Corey strongly advises against mounting fake cameras: “If you’re going to mount a camera get a real one — dummy cameras give you a false sense of security.”

You can install a low-cost motion-sensing camera — you can see our favorite models in our full guide to indoor security cameras — inside your home as well, and it’ll send word whenever anyone — a house sitter, dogwalker, repairperson, or potential burglar — crosses its path. It also lets you see live video and even communicate walkie-talkie style if need be.

Along with wind and hail, water is one of the most common sources of damage for homeowners. Tiny battery-powered moisture detectors such as the iHome Control Dual Leak Sensor, placed near a water heater or sewer drain, connect to your home’s Wi-Fi and send an alert to your phone if they sense a leak or flood. For more, we have a whole guide to smart leak detectors, and how to buy a good one.

Ms. Corey recommends using lighting timers, as long as you “make sure the lights and televisions and other items come on at different times, not always on the same schedule.” I’ve found that smart bulbs, such as Philips Hue or LIFX bulbs, are far easier to program and have “scenes” to trigger randomly. They can also trigger in connection with a motion sensor or another smart device like a lock, an additional burglar-busting feature.

“I strongly suggest having motion-sensor-activated lighting around the outside of the house — it’s one of the cheapest forms of security you can have,” Ms. Corey said.

I installed a smart lock, the Yale Assure SL Connected by August, our pick for the best smart lock, because it eliminates the need to copy physical keys and keep track of them. I use an app to create a code anytime someone needs to come by — the house sitter, an Airbnb guest, the flooring person — and get a notification when they come and go. And I can disable access when I get home without needing to collect keys. I also set it to auto-lock if someone forgets. It’s low-profile and attractive, unlike many keypad locks.

A doorbell camera pings my phone whenever someone is at the door, which is great as I can speak to them as if I were home or ignore them while still knowing who is visiting my front step. The model I installed, the Nest Hello, sends alerts if it sees motion. (For information on other models, see Wirecutter’s guide to smart doorbells.) It does double-duty as a security camera since it records video 24/7, which I view on my phone. That way I can consult the video if something bad actually does happen, or if I just need to catch the jerk who keeps letting his dog poop on my sidewalk.

To avoid frozen pipes in winter and scorched plants or pets in the summer, a smart thermostat like the Ecobee3 Lite adjusts the temperature in preferred ranges while using the outdoor temperature as reference (extreme temperature swings prematurely age your house as well.) It also can pair with tiny sensors you place on a shelf to turn things off when people are gone.

My next smart device will be a water-shutoff valve, like the Flo by Moen (I haven’t tested it yet.) It attaches to your water supply and uses AI to detect a leak as slight as a dripping faucet and sends you a notification. In the event of a catastrophic leak such as a burst pipe, it automatically shuts off your water. You can turn the water back on with the app or manually with a wrench. Some insurance companies discount your premium by a few percent if you have such a device, but for me it’s worth the expense just for peace of mind.

As an alternative to a whole-home, professionally installed security system, DIY versions such as SimpliSafe and Abode let you mix and match compatible security sensors — motion, door/window, water — with some popular smart devices like many mentioned here, but without an ongoing service contract. To learn more, see Wirecutter’s full guide to home security systems. You can get alerts on your phone when you’re home, and when you go away you can pay a modest fee of $15 or $20 for professional monitoring, so you get the best of both worlds.


The freedom that comes with disabling your read receipts

Last year a good friend sent me a WhatsApp message asking where I wanted to meet for coffee. I sent her a message back with the time and place. Three hours later, I arrived at the coffee shop, a few minutes early. I checked the WhatsApp thread and noticed that the double checkmark had not yet turned blue. I switched to my iPhone’s dialer app and was about to call her to make sure she knew where we were meeting when she suddenly walked through the front door.

After greeting her I said that it looked like she hadn’t gotten my message, so I was surprised she knew where to meet (although it was our normal hangout). She said she had meant to confirm the meeting but got caught up at work and then she added something which fundamentally changed the way I view my digital privacy. “I’ve just disabled my WhatsApp read receipts, by the way.”

I asked why. “Why should people have a right to know when I have or haven’t read something?” she replied.

And like that, I realized that when we talk about digital privacy, we’re usually only talking about one side of the coin: our right to keep our digital activity private from tech companies and data brokers. But the reality is that because of all the digital tools we use–especially messaging apps–we frequently give up our right to privacy from our friends and coworkers, too.

From that day forward I decided to follow in my friend’s footsteps. I began disabling read receipts on all the messaging apps I used. In doing so, I at first only noticed what I had lost. When you disable read receipts in most messaging apps, it’s a reciprocal thing–you can limit someone from seeing when you’ve read a message, but then you also don’t get to see when they’ve read your message. For a few days, this caused some anxiety in me. Had my friends actually received the message? Should I send another message asking them for confirmation?

But after a few days, this pointless uncertainty receded. It’s highly unlikely that any message you send via a modern messaging app won’t be delivered, after all. And by the end of the first week of disabling read receipts, I noticed a fundamental change come over me when it came to the messages I received.

After reading a message, I no longer felt that anxiety or guilt compelling me to reply right away. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. After all, how many times have you gotten a read receipt confirmation that a friend has read your message and been annoyed or even hurt that they didn’t reply right away? By disabling read receipts so my friends and coworkers could no longer see when I’ve read a message, I felt like I had more time to reply to them on my terms and in my own time. This meant my replies could be more thoughtful and detailed, instead of a haphazard shoot-from-the-hip response.

Most importantly, by disabling read receipts I discovered a glorious freedom I’d never had before: the freedom to not have everyone knowing what I’ve seen or done, in an age when technology is designed to encourage us to do the opposite.

Disabling read receipts is nothing short of liberating, breaking us from our digital chains to others. Not only does it alleviate the guilt and anxiety to instantaneously reply, but it also helps set boundaries and manage expectations between me and my friends: I will reply to you, but when I have the time.

One friend even confided in me that she has learned not to take a lack of an instant reply personally. She has also disabled read receipts in her apps and finds it liberating. “It helps quickly jettison the bullshit expectation that you’re due an immediate reply to every message you send,” she told me.

HOW TO DISABLE READ RECEIPTS ON FACEBOOK MESSENGER, APPLE MESSAGES, WHATSAPP, AND TWITTER DMS

Trust me, disabling read receipts will feel odd at first–but once you do it, you will not miss them. Matter of fact, you’ll quickly feel lighter and less burdened. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to disable read receipts in most major messaging apps (easier to disable than in emails, anyway). Here’s how:

Facebook Messenger: Just joking. Facebook doesn’t allow anyone to disable read receipts, even though people tell Facebook they want this feature. Facebook no doubt frames this inability to disable read receipts as a good thing: It allows your friends to know when their messages are received. But truth be told, Facebook–shocker–isn’t working for the common good here. An engineer on their Messages team recently told me that Facebook could implement the option to toggle read receipts on or off in a weekend. They said the social media giant won’t do that, however, because read receipts in Messenger guilt people into replying right away. This anxiety to reply because you know your Facebook friend has seen that you’ve read their message keeps you engaged with their Messaging platform. In other words, you don’t control Facebook, Facebook controls you.

So since you can’t disable read receipts on Facebook Messenger (both its app and web versions) what are you to do? Simple: just stop using the messaging portion of the service.

Unlike every other major messaging service, your Facebook messages aren’t even encrypted anyway, so there’s already little reason to use Facebook Messenger as your messaging app of choice. But what if people keep messaging you through there? Here’s a trick: While you can’t disable Messenger as long as you have a Facebook account, you can block every single Facebook friend you have from sending you a message on the platform. Until Facebook allows its users to reclaim their personal privacy by disabling read receipts, block your friends on Messenger and tell them to contact you through a more egalitarian messaging service.

Apple Messages: Apple’s Messages app gives you the most control over read receipts. You can enable or disable read receipts for all users in iOS’s Settings > Messages, or enable or disable read receipts on a per-person basis by tapping the “Info” button in a message thread and then toggling your preference on the next screen.

WhatsApp: Thankfully, Facebook-owned WhatsApp gives you control over whether or not you and others can view read receipts. Unlike Apple’s Messages, however, disabling read receipts in WhatsApp is an all-or-nothing option. Either everyone (including you) can see read receipts, or no one can. In WhatsApp’s in-app settings, go to Account > Privacy and toggle read receipts on or off. One bummer: read receipts are always enabled for group chats.

Twitter DMs: While I don’t use Twitter’s direct messaging feature much, I know plenty of people who do. Thankfully, Twitter is one social media platform that allows you to disable read receipts. Simply go to your Twitter account settings and tap “Privacy and safety.” Under “Direct Messages” you’ll see the read receipt toggle to disable or enabled them. Again, this is an all-or-nothing approach. If you disable read receipts, you won’t be able to see when someone has read your DMs. A fair trade-off.

There are of course other messaging services than those on this list. Most of them will also provide users with the ability to disable read receipts. And if they don’t, it’s time to trade up to a different messenger app that gives you more control over your digital privacy, no matter if that’s from the app maker or from your friends.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter represented worldwide by Marjacq Scripts Ltd
. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. Contact his agent at Marjacq Scripts Ltd
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Huawei is stepping up the phone Camera wars with its P30 Pro’s 5x optical zoom

The Huawei P30 Pro is the first smartphone to have a 5x periscope-like optical zoom and four cameras on the back.

Stepping up the smartphone camera wars another notch, the latest flagship smartphone from the Chinese firm at the centre of a political storm looks to raise the bar not only for camera quality but also flexibility.

The previous Huawei P20 Pro had three cameras on the back with a 3x optical zoom. The £899 P30 Pro adds an extra depth-sensing time-of-flight (TOF) camera for improved portrait and augmented reality modes, joining the main 40-megapixel camera and a 20-megapixel ultrawide angle camera. The company says its new SuperSpectrum camera is capable of absorbing significantly more light for dramatically improved low-light performance, an area of smartphone photography the company dominates alongside Google.

But it is the new eight-megapixel SuperZoom camera, which like a periscope uses a prism to reflect light down the inside of the width of the phone to make room for the required series of lenses for a 5x optical zoom, that is the most interesting.

We’re going to completely rewrite the rules of smartphone photography, and we can do this because we own the complete ecosystem within the smartphone. All the little elements, not just the camera,” said Peter Gauden, the company’s global senior product marketing manager, talking about the use of Huawei-made processors and other chips.

Huawei says its resulting 5x optical zoom beats the digital zooms of competitors using only 2x optical zoom cameras, and that its additional 10x hybrid zoom and up to 50x digital zoom, which use data from multiple cameras to increase detail, is the best in the business.

Huawei says it has improved the speed and accuracy of its optical in-screen fingerprint scanner.

Ben Wood, chief of research at market analysis firm CCS Insight, said: “Huawei’s new 5x optical zoom is an interesting addition, but it will be tough to get people to upgrade from last year’s P20 Pro, which is still on sale and more of a bargain than ever. There’s no question, however, that particularly in smartphone photography, Huawei has some real momentum at the moment.”

The P30 Pro also has a giant 6.47in OLED screen with a small teardrop notch containing a 32-megapixel selfie camera at the top. Huawei has eschewed the 3D face recognition system it introduced on the Mate 20 Pro for an improved optical in-screen fingerprint scanner located towards the bottom of the screen. It has also removed the phone’s earpiece speaker, replacing it with what the company calls “electromagnetic levitation”, which vibrates the screen itself, turning it into a speaker.

The rest of the phone resembles last year’s Mate 20 Pro with curved glass front and back, a range of pearlescent and interesting colours, a fairly large-capacity battery and both 40W wired and 15W wireless charging. It can also reverse wirelessly charge another phone or device, a trick introduced with the company’s other phones last year.

Alongside the P30 Pro, which costs £899 with 128GB of storage or £1,099 with 512GB of storage, Huawei also unveiled the slightly cheaper and smaller £699 P30, which has a 6.1in OLED screen, the same in-screen fingerprint scanner, 128GB of storage and premium design. It has a triple camera system on the back but only 3x optical zoom, and has a traditional flat glass front and back, rather than curved.

The Zimbabwean government recently shutdown the internet by ordering mobile companies to withhold mobile data.

Governments continue to shut down the internet – even though it doesn’t work

As the internet continues to gain considerable power and agency around the world, many governments have moved to regulate it. And where regulation fails, some states resort to internet shutdowns or deliberate disruptions.

The Zimbabwean government recently shutdown the internet by ordering mobile companies to withhold mobile data.
The Zimbabwean government recently shutdown the internet by ordering mobile companies to withhold mobile data. EPA-EFE/STF

The statistics are staggering. In India alone, there were 154 internet shutdowns between January 2016 and May 2018. This is the most of any country in the world.

But similar shutdowns are becoming common on the African continent. Already in 2019 there have been shutdowns in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Last year there were 21 such shutdowns on the continent. This was the case in Togo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.

The justifications for such shutdowns are usually relatively predictable. Governments often claim that internet access is blocked in the interest of public security and order. In some instances, however, their reasoning borders on the curious if not downright absurd, like the case of Ethiopia in 2017 and Algeria in 2018 when the internet was shut down apparently to curb cheating in national examinations.

Whatever their reasons, governments have three general approaches to controlling citzens’ access to the web.

How they do it

Internet shutdowns or disruptions usually take three forms. The first and probably the most serious is where the state completely blocks access to the internet on all platforms. It’s arguably the most punitive, with significant socialeconomic and political costs.

The financial costs can run into millions of dollars for each day the internet is blocked. A Deloitte report on the issue estimates that a country with average connectivity could lose at least 1.9% of its daily GDP for each day all internet services are shut down.

For countries with average to medium level connectivity the loss is 1% of daily GDP, and for countries with average to low connectivity it’s 0.4%. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, for example, could lose up to US$500,000 a day whenever there is a shutdown. These shutdowns, then, damage businesses, discourage investments, and hinder economic growth.

The second way that governments restrict internet access is by applying content blocking techniques. They restrict access to particular sites or applications. This is the most common strategy and it’s usually targeted at social media platforms. The idea is to stop or limit conversations on these platforms.

Online spaces have become the platform for various forms of political expression that many states especially those with authoritarian leanings consider subversive. Governments argue, for example, that social media platforms encourage the spread of rumours which can trigger public unrest.

This was the case in 2016 in Uganda during the country’s presidential elections. The government restricted access to social media, describing the shutdown as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results”.

In Zimbabwe, the government blocked social media following demonstrations over an increase in fuel prices. It argued that the January 2019 ban was because the platforms were being “used to coordinate the violence”.

The third strategy, done almost by stealth, is the use of what is generally known as “bandwidth throttling”. In this case telecom operators or internet service providers are forced to lower the quality of their cell signals or internet speed. This makes the internet too slow to use. “Throttling” can also target particular online destinations such as social media sites.

What drives governments

In most cases the desire to control the internet is rooted in governments’ determination to control the political narrative. Many see the internet as an existential threat that must be contained, no matter what consequences it will have on other sectors.

The internet is seen as a threat because it disrupts older forms of government political control, particularly the control of information. The stranglehold on the production and dissemination of informationhas always been an invaluable political tool for many African governments.

The loss of this control, at a time when the media has brought politics closer to the people, presents governments with a distinctly unsettling reality. Social media, for example, inherently encourages political indiscipline and engenders the production and circulation of alternative political narratives.

In addition, because it is a networked platform, users are simultaneously and instantaneously local and international and are engaged in an information carnival that is difficult to police. Quite often the narratives therein are at variance with the self-preserving and carefully constructed ideologies of the state.

The shutdown trend

The irony, however, is that as these shutdowns continue, even proliferate, there is scant evidence they actually work. Instead, they seem to animate dissent and encourage precisely the kind of responses considered subversive by many governments This has been the case in Burkina Faso and Uganda, for example, where such bans have simply increased the profile of the causes being agitated.

Internet shutdowns don’t stop demonstrations. Nor do they hinder the production and circulation of rumours: they encourage them instead. Many people are also circumventing the shutdowns through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). These are networks that redirect internet activity to a computer in a different geographical location thus enabling access to sites blocked in one’s own country. VPNS are now par for the course in countries like Zimbabwe.

The future of unfettered internet access in Africa looks precarious should governments continue on this trajectory. The absence in many African countries of enforceable constitutional guarantees that protect the public’s right to information means there are few opportunities for legal redress. This makes the development of legislative regimes that recognise and protect access to the internet both urgent and necessary.

SOURCE: The Conversation

Federal government may shutdown internet: here are ways to still stay online

For digital rights activists, an important milestone came in 2016 with the adoption of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on promoting and protecting the freedom of users online. Yet, 51 intentional disruptions of the internet and electronic communications took place in the first 10 months of 2016 in countries across the world. For Africans, 2016 shaped up to be “the year of internet shutdowns,” as at least 11 governments interfered with the internet during elections or protests.

In 2017, the threat of internet blackouts, besides surveillance and monitoring of online activities, still looms large. Deji Olukotun, the senior global advocacy manager with Access Now says that there are significant challenges facing internet freedom. These include, he says, “the increasing sophistication of internet shutdowns to target smaller groups of people and locations” besides the deployment of technologies “that don’t truly provide new users with access to the full, open internet.”

Governments usually direct telecommunication companies to block certain websites or completely shut down the telephone and internet network. The next time that happens, here are a few things you can do to avoid the blackouts.

Ahead of the 2019 presidential elections, The Federal Government may be planning to shutdown the internet for 24 hours. Here are ways you can still remain online.

1. Learn which circumvention tools or proxies to use

There are numerous circumvention tools that can be used to evade censorship and to access the internet anonymously. These include Psiphon, an open source web proxy that helps users skirt content-filtering systems. There is also Tor, which essentially prevents people from tracing your location or spying on your browsing habits. Tor is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.

The Guardian Project also has a number of apps like Orbot that can help you browse the internet anonymously, send messages and encrypt your internet traffic. Tails is an operating system that enables you to start on any computer, allowing you to bypass censorship, and uses cryptographic tools to encrypt files and email messages.

Lantern uses peer-to-peer networks to get people in uncensored areas to share their Internet connection and servers with those without the same unfiltered level of access. Peer networking is also used with FireChat, an off-the-grid messaging app that allowed users to chat using Bluetooth or wireless during blackouts in Iraq, Iran, and Hong Kong.

But beware: governments can sometimes use sophisticated technology to block these same sites or introduce jail terms for using them. A 2016 Amnesty International report showed that the Ethiopian government blocked both Tor and Psiphon during anti-government protests there last year.

2. Ensure the safety of your VPN

Many people use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to get secure access to a remote computer over the internet. For instance, VPNs constituted the top 12 apps downloaded during Uganda’s elections last February. VPNs can, however, differ from region to region, and it is important to know the safety and security of each specific networks before use. Access Now recommends That One Privacy Site as a source that compares different virtual networks.

Amama Mbabazi, a presidential candidate in Uganda’s 2016 elections referred his followers to the Tunnelbear VPN.

3. Remember to protect yourself

Trying to circumvent an official shutdown to get online is weighty task—but it all starts with the simple stuff. For instance, ensure that all the sites you are using are delivered over HTTPS. This allows you to access the original site and not an altered version of it. Quartz recently switched to HTTPS to make it secure for readers to browse our journalism. You can install the HTTPS Everywhere extension in your browser courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project.

Another important thing to have is anti-virus software, so as to detect and remove malicious software from your laptop. “Something as simple and as basic as having an anti-virus is a key thing. People don’t know much about this,” Ephraim Muchemi, who conducts training in digital security with the US-based non-profit International Research and Exchange Board.

4. Seek help from the experts

For journalists and writers who are engaged in reporting sensitive information, it is important to know where to seek help before blackouts. Access Now, for example, runs a 24-Hour Digital Security Helpline, which can advise users even during emergencies. Reading their Digital Security Booklet can be a key place to start.


This story was first published in Quartz Africa. All rights reserved.

Facebook is 15: Do you still enjoy the app?

In february 4th 2004 a young website with a baby-blue banner was born.

Founded in a dormitory at Harvard, TheFacebook.com tapped into people’s instinctive desire to see and be seen. Few guessed how successful it would become. In 2008 Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who had bought the social-networking rival MySpace, called Facebook the “flavour of the month”; the following year this newspaper warned in an article about Facebook that it is “awfully easy for one ‘next big thing’ to be overtaken by the next.”

Instead Facebook has stayed on top by spreading wildly across America and the world and buying competitors, including the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging firm WhatsApp. Around two-thirds of American adults use its original social network. At its peak, the average user spent nearly an hour a day on Facebook’s platforms. Few companies have exerted such a strong influence on society, changing people’s communication habits, reuniting lost contacts, shaping their perception of world events and redefining the meaning of the word “friend”. “Every once in a while, changes in technology come along which are so profound, that there is a before and an after. Facebook is one of those,” says Roger McNamee, author of a forthcoming book called “Zucked”.

Birthdays are an occasion for reflection. In the 15 years since its founding, Facebook has altered America in three notable ways. First, it has shaped what it means and feels like to be young. The company has done this twice: once with its flagship social network, which became the pastime and addiction of college students and high schoolers in the mid-2000s, and again with Instagram, which is the digital drug of choice for their successors today, along with the rival app Snapchat.

The company has fostered a virtual “me-conomy”, where people (over)share their feelings, photos and comments. Some blame Facebook for fanning teenage narcissism and for short attention spans. Others say it has caused anxiety, depression and insecurity. Researchers have shown that people who spend more time on Facebook are more likely to think other people have it better than they do and that life is unfair.

The lasting effects of social media, and Facebook in particular, on young people’s psyches will not be fully understood for years, but it is clear that Facebook has changed human interaction. At the safe remove of a screen, bullying on social media has become painfully common; some 59% of American teenagers say they have been bullied or harassed online. Facebook has cultivated far-flung, online friendships, but it has changed the nature of offline ones, too. According to research by Common Sense Media, a non-profit, in 2012 around half of 13- to 17-year-olds said their favourite way to communicate with friends was in person. Today only 32% feel that way, with 35% preferring texting.

Second, Facebook has changed attitudes to privacy. The social network thrives through trust. After Facebook was launched, for the first time people felt comfortable sharing intimate details online, including their phone number, relationship status, likes and dislikes, location and more, because they felt they could control who had access to them. Users were vaguely aware that Facebook was starting to make a fortune mining this data and selling advertisers access to specific types of users, but they mostly did not object.

Opinions about privacy may be shifting again at Facebook’s hands, this time in reverse. Public scandals about outside firms getting access to Facebook users’ data, including last year’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, have shone a light on the firms’ massive data collection. Around half of American adult users are not comfortable with Facebook compiling such detailed information about them, according to a survey by Pew Research Centre. Concerns about privacy and lax oversight probably played into the beating that Facebook’s reputation took last year. According to the Reputation Institute, a consultancy, Facebook’s standing among Americans fell sharply in 2018, and its score ranks significantly below other technology companies, including Google. A fresh scandal over Facebook spying on users’ online activities in the name of research may further dent the company’s image.

Third, Facebook has left a lasting mark on politics. The social-networking firm has become an invaluable tool for politicians seeking office, both through paid advertisements to reach voters and free content that spreads on the social network. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a politician who’s been elected in the last ten years who didn’t use Facebook,” says David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect”, a history of the social network. Two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, won election in no small part thanks to Facebook. In Mr Obama’s case, Facebook helped him fundraise and drum up support. In 2016 Facebook’s role was more controversial: false news spread wildly and Russians meddled with messages on social media, which may have helped Mr Trump gain an edge.

The rise of fake news and spread of filter bubbles, where people see their pre-conceptions reinforced online, have probably disillusioned many voters. Facebook has had a hand in spreading misinformation, terrorism and ethnic violence around the world. But it has also spurred civil engagement. Black Lives Matter, a campaign against police violence, began with a Facebook post and quickly spread through the social network. Much of the grassroots opposition to Mr Trump, from the women’s marches to groups like Indivisible, use the platform to organise themselves. Many other campaigns and movements have attracted members through Facebook and Twitter. “They give ordinary people a voice. That’s a net positive for society,” says Mr Kirkpatrick.

Can the social-media giant stay as influential in the next 15 years as it has already been? At the risk of being wrong about Facebook again, that seems unlikely. This is partly because its impact has already been so extensive. But it is also because of growing unease with the platform. As with all new technologies, from the printed book to the telegraph, social media can be used both for good and bad. Critics of Facebook are increasingly vocal about the harms, pointing out that Facebook is addictive, harmful for democracy and too powerful in making decisions about what content people see. “Big tobacco” is what the bosses of several top tech companies have started calling the social network, and politicians are speaking openly about regulation.

Though it has just posted record quarterly profits, it seems unlikely that Americans are going to increase the time they spend on Facebook proper. Time on its core social network is declining, probably because users are questioning whether it is as enjoyable as it used to be. Adults in America spent 11.5% of their online time on Facebook’s main platform, a fifth less than two years earlier, according to Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research. Instagram use is rising, but not enough to make up for the core social network’s decline. As more people question whether social media are good for them, Facebook could loosen its grip on America. The relationship with Facebook continues, but the love affair is over.

Fun apart, let’s look deeper into Facebook’s 10 year challenge

If you use social media, you’ve probably noticed a trend across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter of people posting their then-and-now profile pictures, mostly from 10 years ago and this year.

Instead of joining in, I posted the following semi-sarcastic tweet

My flippant tweet began to pick up traction. My intent wasn’t to claim that the meme is inherently dangerous. But I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It’s worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations.

Of those who were critical of my thesis, many argued that the pictures were already available anyway. The most common rebuttal was: “That data is already available. Facebook’s already got all the profile pictures.”

Of course they do. In various versions of the meme, people were instructed to post their first profile picture alongside their current profile picture, or a picture from 10 years ago alongside their current profile picture. So, yes: these profile pictures exist, they’ve got upload time stamps, many people have a lot of them, and for the most part they’re publicly accessible.

But let’s play out this idea.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics, and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g. how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.

In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully-labeled set of then-and-now photos.

What’s more, for the profile pictures on Facebook, the photo posting date wouldn’t necessarily match the date that the picture was taken. Even the EXIF metadata on the photo wouldn’t always be reliable for assessing that date.

Why? People could have scanned offline photos. They might have uploaded pictures multiple times over years. Some people resort to uploading screenshots of pictures found elsewhere online. Some platforms strip EXIF data for privacy.

Through the Facebook meme, most people have been helpfully adding that context back in (e.g. “me in 2008, and me in 2018”), as well as further info, in many cases, about where and how the pic was taken (e.g. “2008 at University of Whatever, taken by Joe; 2018 visiting New City for this year’s such-and-such event”).

In other words, thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

Of course, not all the dismissive comments in my Twitter mentions were about the pictures being already available; some critics noted that there was too much crap data to be usable. But data researchers and scientists know how to account for this. As with hashtags that go viral, you can generally place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in the trend or campaign— before people begin to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes.

As for bogus pictures, image recognition algorithms are plenty sophisticated enough to pick out a human face. If you uploaded an image of a cat 10 years ago and now—as one of my friends did, adorably—that particular sample would be easy to throw out.

What’s more, even if this particular meme isn’t a case of social engineering, the past few years have been rife with examples of social games and memes designed to extract and collect data. Just think of the mass data extraction of more than 70 million American Facebook users performed by Cambridge Analytica.

Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi, India reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

Facial recognition’s potential is mostly mundane: age recognition is probably most useful for targeted advertising. Ad displays that incorporate cameras or sensors and can adapt their messaging for age-group demographics (as well as other visually recognizable characteristics and discernible contexts) will likely be commonplace before very long. That application isn’t very exciting, but stands to make advertising more relevant. But as that data flows downstream and becomes enmeshed with our location tracking, response and purchase behavior, and other signals, it could bring about some genuinely creepy interactions.

Like most emerging technology, there’s a chance of fraught consequences. Age progression could someday factor into insurance assessment and healthcare. For example, if you seem to be aging faster than your cohorts, perhaps you’re not a very good insurance risk. You may pay more or be denied coverage.

After Amazon introduced real-time facial recognition services in late 2016, they began selling those services to law enforcement and government agencies, such as the police departments in Orlando and Washington County, Oregon. But the technology raises major privacy concerns; the police could use the technology not only to track people who are suspected of having committed crimes, but also people who are not committing crimes, such as protestors and others whom the police deem a nuisance.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked Amazon to stop selling this service. So did a portion of Amazon’s shareholders and employees, who asked Amazon to halt the service, citing concerns for the company’s valuation and reputation.

It’s tough to overstate the fullness of how technology stands to impact humanity. The opportunity exists for us to make it better, but to do that, we also must to recognize some of the ways in which it can get worse. Once we understand the issues, it’s up to all of us to weigh in.

So is this such a big deal? Are bad things going to happen because you posted some already-public profile pictures to your wall? Is it dangerous to train facial recognition algorithms for age progression and age recognition? Not exactly.

Regardless of the origin or intent behind this meme, we must all become savvier about the data we create and share, the access we grant to it, and the implications for its use. If the context was a game that explicitly stated that it was collecting pairs of then-and-now photos for age progression research, you could choose to participate with an awareness of who was supposed to have access to the photos and for what purpose.

The broader message, removed from the specifics of any one meme or even any one social platform, is that humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world. We should know this, and proceed with due diligence and sophistication.

Humans are the connective link between the physical and digital worlds. Human interactions are the majority of what makes the Internet of Things interesting. Our data is the fuel that makes businesses smarter and more profitable.

We should demand that businesses treat our data with due respect, by all means. But we also need to treat our own data with respect.


Kate O’Neill is the founder of KO Insights and the author of Tech Humanist and Pixels and Place: Connecting Human Experience Across Physical and Digital Spaces.

Over 10 Million Mobile Users hit by SIM fraud

Over 25 percent of Kenya’s 43 million mobile users have been victims of SIM swap fraud, either as targets or victims, according to a survey by Myriad Connect.

French startup Moodstocks has developed technology that helps smartphones recognize whatever they are aimed at

The survey also reveals that 90 percent of Kenyan banking leaders see SIM swap fraud as a serious threat in the sector in what is becoming one of the rising global crimes involving mobile phones.

The most recent high-profile case is where US entrepreneur Michael Terpin who is suing AT&T over an alleged SIM swap that resulted in millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency tokens being stolen from his account

While in South Africa, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) reported recently that the incidence of SIM swap fraud has more than doubled in the past year.

“A SIM swap is when criminals manage to get a replacement SIM for a mobile number that does not belong to them, allowing the new SIM to supersede the existing one, and give criminals access to the legitimate user’s information and accounts,” says Willie Kanyeki, Myriad Connect Director Business Development – Africa.

Kanyeki adds that in addition to financial losses, SIM swap presents the risk of reputational damage and the exposure of sensitive data, and once fraudsters control a user’s accounts, “regaining control of them can be complex.”

In the past, the market’s response to the threat of digital transaction fraud has been to introduce authentication measures to protect transactions, often in the form of a one-time-password (OTP) over SMS.

Recent research among leading financial services CIOs in Kenya found that 87pc of financial services providers deploy OTP via SMS to protect transactions, and consumer research indicates that 71pc of consumers have used services that use OTP via SMS to authenticate financial service transactions.

“However, OTP via SMS has long been considered a vulnerable channel for authenticating financial services transactions, as it does not meet strict security standards,” says Kanyeki.

In 2016 the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US identified that SMS is a risk and that OTP via SMS is not fit to secure financial services as it can be vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks such as SIM swap.

The American administration’s top diplomat for African affairs, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor P Nagy, Jr, will soon… Read more »

Can Sonos beat back the tech giants?

An American maker of high-end wireless speakers battles Google and Amazon

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Hardware is hard. The electronics-industry adage applies not only to making ever more complex devices but also to selling them at a good price. Even inventive firms fail to ward off commoditisation. Will Sonos, a maker of wireless speakers that went public in August at a value of just under $1.5bn, escape this fate? It is a test case of whether smaller firms can still compete with the giants.

Founded 16 years ago in Santa Barbara, five hours’ drive south of Silicon Valley, the firm’s elegant devices have attracted a loyal following of over 7m households. Many of them still use the speakers they bought years ago and buy new ones on top (nearly two-fifths of buyers already own a Sonos). Yet their most appealing feature is neither design nor longevity, but software. Sonos was the first to make wireless speakers that are easy to set up, even across multiple rooms. And it often upgrades its products with new features over the internet.

For years Sonos had the market largely to itself, until the rise of smart speakers—wireless audio devices complete with a digital assistant that obeys voice commands. Nearly 100m of these have been sold, mostly by Amazon and Google. They are often no match for Sonos on sound quality but they do compete on service and price, says Ben Wood of ccs Insight, a market-research firm. Amazon’s Echo Dot or Google’s Home Mini start at $39.99 and $49 respectively, compared with $150 for Sonos’s cheapest speaker. And the tech giants’ products are getting better. Amazon now offers a wireless amplifier that powers conventional high-end speakers. As for Apple, its HomePod already competes directly with Sonos.

Sonos could react by selling cheaper speakers. But Amazon and Google can easily beat it at this game. They could offer their devices at or even below cost, since these are principally vehicles to spread digital assistants, which will eventually help the two firms earn more from their main e-commerce and advertising businesses. Sonos has instead opted to build on its existing strengths, says Patrick Spence, its boss.

One of these is high-end hardware. The firm has already developed devices in new forms, such as a sound bar and a television sound system. It is working with ikea, a big furniture chain, on ways to integrate speakers into its products.

But Sonos’s bigger goal is to turn its software into a platform—a “Switzerland for audio services”, in the words of Mr Spence. Its products are equipped with a direct link to 60 music-streaming services, including Deezer and Spotify. It aims to repeat the trick by incorporating digital assistants: Amazon’s Alexa is already listening; Google’s Assistant is soon to come; others could follow. The firm may even introduce its own virtual butler, which would specialise in music-related commands. Outside developers can now write programs for Sonos’s platform—connecting it to a wireless doorbell or other smart-home devices, for example.

Investors are not yet persuaded. Sonos’s shares have fallen by 13% since its listing. The competition is fierce: Amazon is particularly aggressive on price. According to Mr Wood, Sonos will need to show that it can deal with the programming complexity that comes with being a platform without being able to tap a talent pool like Silicon Valley’s. One test of success will be if it can grow at least as fast as music-streaming, which Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, predicts will expand by more than a third over the next three years.

Sonos does have one big advantage. As a pioneer of wireless speakers, it has amassed a lot of patents. Its website lists nearly 700, including ones for how music can be streamed to speakers and how these can be tuned to the acoustics of the room they are in. IEEE Spectrum, a magazine, has ranked the portfolio the second strongest in the electronics industry, behind Apple’s. Sonos has already won an infringement case against Denon Electronics, another maker of wireless speakers. It has reportedly allowed Google to use its intellectual property in return for making Assistant available on its devices. Such behaviour recalls some of the tech giants’ own tactics, using one asset to gain an edge for others. With such huge rivals closing in, Sonos is wise to copy a few of their tricks.

Google’s new products are better than leaked versions

You might have known a bit, but you hadn’t seen it all.

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At an event in downtown Manhattan today (Oct. 9), Google hosted its now-annual hardware event, unveiling a slew of new gadgets intended to compete with the likes of Apple and Microsoft. There were an usually high number of leaks ahead of the event (the company’s new phone was reportedly stolen and then leaked months ago), which Google acknowledged in a video at the beginning of the event. Still, there were a few surprises at today’s show.

Here’s a quick rundown of everything that was announced:

Pixel 3 and 3 XL

Although we knew what the Pixel 3 looked like before today, we didn’t know much about the devices. The new phones, which respectively feature 5.5-inch and 6.3-inch displays, retain much of the design language of Google’s last two phones. The larger phone, the XL, joins the growing design trend kicked off by Apple last year of wrapping the display around the cameras to create a “notch.” Both phones feature 12.2-megapixel rear-facing cameras, wireless charging capability, 4 GB of memory, water-resistance, as well as 40% louder speakers. They come with six months free of YouTube Music, the company’s music-video streaming service.

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The Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL.

Many of the updates focused around the camera’s software. The Pixel’s new “Top Shot” software will use machine learning to help users automatically get the best version of their shots. If your timing is a bit off, it’ll take shots before and after yours, and suggest a better one if possible. Another new mode is called “Super Res Zoom,” which combines the cameras on the phone and software to take higher quality zoomed-in photos, which will be useful for anyone trying to take photos from the back of the concert venue or up in the stadium stands. There’s also another software mode called Night Sight that uses technology to brighten nighttime photos without the need for flash. This will be coming to all Pixel phones soon.

The Pixel 3 will also feature a second front-facing camera that’s intended just for group selfies. According to Google, it features ”184% more of the shot” than Apple’s recently launched iPhone Xs.

Google is also trying to make its phones feel a little less anxiety inducing. It introduced Call Screen, a new software that will use AI to answer calls that the phone thinks are spam, and a function called “flip to shush,” which turns off phone notifications when it’s flipped over so the screen faces down.

Google also released a new wireless charging dock for the Pixels. When a Pixel 3 is placed in the dock, it turns into an a pseudo-smart hub, acting as an alarm, music player, voice assistant, and photo frame. It’s supposed to act like a mini version of the new Google Home Hub (more on that in a second).

The Pixel 3 starts at $799, and the dock will run you $79. The new phones will be available from Verizon and Google on Oct. 18. The phones will come in black, white, and light pink.

Google Home Hub

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Building on the successful Google Home smart speakers first released at the same event two years ago, the Hub is a voice-controlled speaker with a 7-inch touchscreen display, much like competing devices from AmazonLenovo, and Facebook, albeit a fair bit smaller. Like these devices, it can control internet-connected gadgets around the home, answer search queries, display photos, and play videos from the web. But unlike these devices, Google decided not to include a camera in its hub. Perhaps the world’s largest internet company, which makes its money by tracking all of us online and in the physical world to sell ads, was being sensitive to privacy concerns.

The Hub is available from Google’s website for preorder today, and will cost $149. (That’s about $80 less than Amazon’s offering.) It comes in white, black, “aqua” (turquoise), and “sand” (pink).

Pixel Slate tablet

Google started offering a version of its Chrome operating system for tablets earlier this year, but the new Pixel tablet is the company’s first stab at building one itself. Leaks gave us a pretty clear view of Google’s new tablet before today, but the company showed off a bit more of what it can do.

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The Pixel Slate.

The tablet has a high-resolution display, and two front-facing speakers, so you can effectively binge-watch Netflix in bed. It comes with a three-month subscription to YouTube TV, Google’s cord-cutting answer to live TV. Unlike the Hub, it features a wide-angle front-facing camera, in case you want to take selfies with your tablet.

The tablet is not just a blown-up Android device, Google claims, instead running its Chrome operating system, redesigned specifically for its tablet. The user experience is meant to feel tablet-like, but uses Google’s AI to show the apps it believes you need at any given moment, and runs full versions of Chrome apps. But, like other Chrome devices, Google expects users will spend most of their time in the Chrome web browser, adding that you can “open as many tabs as you need.”

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The Slate with its sliding keyboard case.

Google also introduced a keyboard cover with an adjustable folio design that’s meant to let you type with the screen at any angle, unlike most other tablet keyboard cases, which tend to just lock in at one angle. The case attaches to the back of the tablet’s metal back with magnets, which allows it to slide up and down into different positions.

The device comes in “midnight blue,” and costs $599. The keyboard cover will set you back another $199, and a compatible stylus will run you $99, making this a nearly $900 device, all-in. It will launch later this year in the US and Canada.

New Chromecast

Google didn’t announce this at the event (even though it’s already in stores!), but a new version of its Chromecast streaming device also launched today. Perhaps it was skipped from today’s proceedings because other than a slight design update, nothing really changed from the last model released in 2015. It still streams 1080p video, and still costs $35.

Give your friends a feel: make a mini-movie of your beautiful vacation

Showing all of the videos from your travels can be cumbersome. Instead, stitch them together into a short highlight reel.

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Let’s be honest, no one wants to see all of your little vacation video clips one at a time on your phone.

Sure, grabbing a quick video instead of snapping a photo is second nature now to many travelers — a slow pan around that medieval castle or that gorgeous ocean sunset. It’s a dynamic way to preserve those memories for yourself.

But the videos — and photos — add up quickly and showing them all off is cumbersome. Rest assured, everyone else just wants to see a highlight reel.

Never edited a movie before? Not to worry, as there’s a wide variety of beginner-friendly video apps that will stitch your snippets into share-worthy vacation “trailers” with just a few taps or clicks on your part. And here’s the best news of all: Making a video can take less than an hour. Here’s how to do it.

You’ll want an app that does everything you want to do in your movie, like the ability to add photos or audio, but not so complicated that it is tough to use.

You may even have one already. Good options include Microsoft’s Movie Maker 10 for Windows, Cyberlink ActionDirector for Android, Apple’s iMovie for macOS and iOS, Adobe Premiere Clip for Android and iOS — or any of the dozens of video apps in the Google Play and iOS App Store. Read the reviews or dabble around until you find one you like.

While the design of these apps vary, most work the same way — once you add clips to your project, you put them in the order you want to see them by dragging them around a visual timeline. (But if that sounds like too much work, look for an app like Magisto that automatically combines a batch of clips to crank out an instant movie.)

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Dozens of video-making apps are available for mobile and desktop systems, and most of them work the same way, with a timeline for arranging your clips. Photo: J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

If you’re working on the smartphone you used to film your scenes, this is easy. Just open your video-editing app, create a new project or movie, look for an Import or Create button and select the clips you want to use.

If you’d rather do your editing on a tablet or desktop system because it’s easier to see what you’re doing, it’ll take another step or two because you’ll need pull in the clips there from your camera or smartphone. You can do this in several ways: connecting the devices by USB cable; wirelessly slinging them with Apple’s AirDropAndroid Beam or Bluetooth; or transferring them via cloud drive.

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To get started, open your chosen editing app, create a new project or movie and then select clips from your phone or computer video library. Photo: J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

The timeline or storyboard area in a video-editing app shows the sequence of the separate scenes in your movie. Once you add the clips to the timeline, you can drag them into a different order, trim off the boring parts and the beginning and end, or split one clip into two.

As you move the different parts around, think of the narrative you want to show your audience as each scene passes by. Do you want to go in chronological order or mix it up? And keep in mind, long scenes where not much happens can be boring for the viewer. (Vimeo has a blog full of tips for video newbies.)

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On your app’s timeline, drag the clips into the order you want to see them. In many apps, tap a clip to get an editing tool for trimming the dull beginnings or ends of scenes. Photo: J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

Video-editing apps like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker include text tools so you can insert title cards and add identifying captions. Some can apply Hollywood-style transitions (like wipes, fades and dissolves) to glide between scenes, too.

To add a title or transition between scenes, look in your app’s toolbar for the appropriate element and drag the icon for a title or transition you want onto the timeline between scenes. Click a clip with the text tool to add a caption. Got a gorgeous photograph you want to add to the video tour? If your app supports photos, add it to your timeline and set it to linger for a few seconds to vary the video’s pace.

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When you get your clips in order, add title cards, captions and scene transitions from the program’s toolbox. Your app’s on-screen manual can guide you. PhotoJ.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

KineMaster for Android and iOS and iMovie are among the apps that let you record your own documentary-style narration.

Look for a menu item or button to add an audio track along your timeline. For better audio quality, consider getting a USB microphone. You can also add a song as a soundtrack, but be mindful of copyright when using someone else’s music.

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Some programs allow you to make a soundtrack from music on your device, but you can also record your own documentary-style narration. Just look for a microphone icon. The audio track is displayed along the timeline under the video clips. Photo: J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

Once you get all the elements in order, preview your creation within the program and make any last-minute adjustments before you finalize the project. When you’re satisfied, save the video and select an output size if asked. Just a few minutes of high-definition or 4K video can make for a hefty file, but you can pick a smaller output size for sharing or streaming.

When the app pops out your finished masterpiece, share away. And now you can start planning for your next vacation.

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When you finish editing your video, save it, export it or post it to your favorite sharing site so friends and family can see your vacation in action. Photo: J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times


J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer

A version of this article appeared on the New York with the headline: Spare Your Friends: Make a Mini-Movie of Your Fabulous Vacation.

Amazing fun and useful things to do with amazon Echo or Google home

Smart home devices will tell you the weather and answer trivia questions, sure, but they can do so much more. Try these tips to streamline your day, relax a little or just have some fun.


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The Amazon Echo Dot, above, is capable of more than just telling you the weather and answering trivia questions. Some of its best functions can help you de-stress, or even get things done. Photo: Mike Stewart/Associated Press

If you’re an Amazon Echo or Google Home owner, you may only ask your device for the weather or to play music. That’s O.K., but these devices can do so much more — and they can offer more than a few useful tricks to make you feel as if you’re living in the future.

Some of these can make your mornings a little brighter, while others can make your evenings more relaxing. To get the most of these Alexa commands, you’ll need to enable the skills from the Alexa Skills storefirst, and the Google Home commands and settings have to be enabled in your Google Home mobile app.

Both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa offer a “routines” skill, which automates certain tasks based on a single command. For example, you can ask your Amazon Echo or Google Home to tell you the weather and what’s on your calendar for the day, after saying “Alexa, start my day” or “Hey Google, good morning.” With this particular routine, there are nine actions the Google Home can perform, including reading the day’s top stories or local news, and then transition into six other actions like playing your favorite music or a preferred podcast to finish up your “morning.” On the Echo, there are four basic options, but you can add eight more to lengthen the routine.

The Google Home has six ready-to-go routines that you can customize in the Google Home app, and the Amazon Echo has one. You can also create completely custom routines on both devices.

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Parents, this one might be a lifesaver — for your voice: Both products let you broadcast an announcement across other devices in your home. So, if you have an Echo in the kitchen, living room and a child’s bedroom, you can say, “Alexa, announce that dinner is ready,” and Alexa will repeat the message on each device in your voice — no skill necessary.

[Read Wirecutter’s review to learn more about whether Google Home or Amazon Alexa is right for you.]

With the Google Home and Google Home Mini, you can do a similar command: “Hey Google, tell everyone it’s time to go.” If you’re an iOS user and want to do this but you’re away from home, you’ll have to separately download the Google Assistant app (Android users already have the Assistant enabled if they have the latest version of the operating system).

You might’ve heard of this but were dubious whether hands-free calling was actually possible, or easy. The good news: It is. The so-so news: There are a few steps you need to take before your hands-free calling dreams come true.

On Amazon Echo devices, you first have to sync your contacts in the Alexa app. Then, simply ask Alexa to call any of these people. A bonus feature on Echo devices is that you can call a friend or family member on their Echo device, like an Echo Spot or any device with Alexa installed. To enable this, both you and the person you’re trying to contact must have Alexa Calling and Messaging turned on. Then, you can call anyone from your mobile contacts. If that person has signed up, he or she will get a phone call on the Echo device or in the Amazon Alexa app.

With the Google Home, first link your Google account to your Google Home, turn on “personal results” and then sync your contacts. You’re ready to go, and you can ask Google to call anyone in your contacts list. You can also set hands-free calling to reveal your number when you call, so people can know it’s you and not an unfamiliar proxy number used to connect the call. (The Echo offers the same capability.)

For now, both devices don’t support calling emergency services, so no “Alexa, call 911” for you. Hands-free calling with Alexa works only in the United States, Canada and Mexico and only in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. for the Google Home.

You may already know you can add items to a shopping list with both the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, then pull it up to review when you go shopping later. What you may not know is you can shop directly from both devices. They work with takeout restaurants like Pizza Hut and Dominos and traditional retailers like Target and Walmart.

On the Google Home, you can order through Google Express, which works with retailers like Walmart and Target. Just say something like “O.K. Google, add brownie mix to my cart” and the Google Assistant will respond and let you know what’s been added and from which retailer (so you know exactly where it’s coming from if you want to change it later). You can edit your list via the app.

On the Amazon Echo, predictably you can shop only at Amazon. Also, while anyone with an Amazon account can shop by voice and add items to the Amazon cart, Amazon Prime Members get a special benefit. They can ask the smart assistant, “Alexa, what are your deals?” to hear exclusive deals just for them — and deals that are available only through voice shopping year-round.

If you’re learning a new language, or just encounter a word you’d love to translate into another language, both devices can help.

Currently, Google Home works with 28 languages, including Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Russian. It can translate by voice if you ask “Hey Google, what’s the word for (word) in (language),” and if you prefer to immerse yourself in a language, you can tell Google Home to communicate with you only in the language of your choosing. If you’re not ready for immersion, you can add multiple languages to Google Home so it will work with any one it hears.

The Amazon Echo, for its part, can translate words and phrases from English to more than 30 languages with the Translated skill. After enabling it, say, “Alexa, open Translated,” and then follow it up by asking how to say a word or phrase in a different language.

Need a moment to yourself? Try meditating or relaxing with both devices with a few free, guided meditations from Headspace. On Google, you can say, “Hey Google, talk to Headspace”; on Alexa, request “Alexa, open Headspace.” If you’re a subscriber, you can continue a meditation from your phone onto your device. If you want general meditation content, you can say something along the lines of “Alexa, help me relax,” or “O.K. Google, help me meditate.”

Both devices can also help you calm down with commands like “O.K. Google, help me relax,” and sounds like rain falling will play — or white noise if you’re using it to go to sleep. The Echo is similar, but you can pick and choose what types of sounds you want to hear from the skills store. Google can also play “sleep sounds,” which are really lullabies meant for children, while the Echo offers white or ambient noise. Just say “Alexa, help me sleep” for options.

Sure, these devices can play music and add items to your cart, but it’s a little annoying to start every single request with “Alexa” or “O.K. Google.” Thankfully, Amazon and Google realized this. On the Google Home, the “Continued Conversation” feature allows you to ask your device a question, and the microphone stays on for eight additional seconds to see if you’ll ask a follow-up. (You do need to enable this in the settings of the Google Home app, as the feature is turned off by default.) The Amazon Echo also has the feature, except Amazon calls it “Follow-up mode” and you also have to turn it on in the app before using it.

Once it’s on, you can ask questions like “Who sang ‘In My Feelings?,’” and once your device responds with “Drake,” you can ask “How old is he?” and the device will not only know who “he” refers to but also answer without missing a beat. (Spoiler: Drake is 31.)

This feature has also paved the way to ask the device to do multiple things in one command. For example, with “multiple actions” on Google Home devices, you can say something like “Hey Google, turn up the thermostat and tell me the weather.” On the Echo, you can’t do it in a single sentence, but with follow-up mode you can just ask the two different commands one after the other.

Google’s later start in the smart home arena wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The extra time allowed it to come up with some truly useful exclusive features. For example, if you download and use the Google Assistant app in addition to Google Home, you can ask Google to remind you to do something at a certain location. So, if you need to buy milk at the grocery store, you can say “Hey Google, remind me to buy milk at the grocery store,” and as soon as you’re near your preferred store (which Google will ask you to specify), your phone will let you know what you need.

And if you’re in the mood for a nice story at the end of a long workday, just say “Hey Google, tell me something good,” and Google Assistant will read some “feel-good” stories.

Amazon’s focus in the smart home space has long been less about automation or routines and more about who you are as a person. For example, the seven-minute workout skill will walk you through a quick, high-intensity workout just by saying, “Start seven-minute workout.” If you have an Echo Show or Spot, both of which have LCD displays, you’ll also see images walking you through some exercises.

Another example is “Alexa Donations,” where with an easy “Alexa, I want to make a donation,” you can donate $5 to $5,000 to the charity or cause of your choice. At the moment, 154 nonprofits work with Amazon and Alexa Donations to make it possible.

With these new commands, you and your home should be on the way to becoming smarter — and more useful. Sure, these devices can play music and set timers, but these tips can help you get even more of your money’s worth.

What to expect from Apple’s iPhone 2018 launch

Company expected to launch new ‘iPhone XS’ smartphone, Apple Watch and iPad Pro this week, according to reports.

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Apple’s yearly iPhone launch is scheduled for Wednesday evening, with expectations high for not just one new smartphone but a fleet of new iPhone X-inspired phones, a new smartwatch and maybe even new iPads.

The headline announcement is expected to be a new iteration of the iPhone X with a 5.8in screen, possibly called “iPhone XS” according to reports. Since the “X” stands for 10, rather than the letter in Apple’s official naming, an XS would mirror similar “S” phones such as the iPhone 4S, 5S and 6S, rather than standing for iPhone “extra small” or “excess”.

In the past such “S” iPhones have typically had improved internal components, but maintained a similar design and feature set to the iPhone model they replaced. The iPhone 4S introduced Siri, the iPhone 5S introduced Touch ID and the iPhone 6S 3D touch.

The new iPhone X iteration is also expected to be joined by a larger version, possibly called the iPhone XS Max rather than “Plus”, “Pro” or other monikers as used in previous bigger versions such last year’s iPhone 8 Plus. The new larger iPhone X-like phone is expected to be more expensive than the starting price of £999 of 2017’s iPhone X, further stretching the expense of top-end smartphones.

According to reports, Apple will also launch a cheaper version of the iPhone X design, unifying the entire 2018 iPhone line with the notched screen and Face ID facial recognition, dropping the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and home button.

Apple has not launched a cheaper version of its iPhone since 2013’s iPhone 5C, which took the guts of the previous generation iPhone 5 and placed them in a coloured plastic body.

Apple Watch

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Customers are seen under a picture of new Apple Watch Series 3 after it goes on sale at the Apple Store in Tokyo’s Omotesando shopping district, Japan, September 2017. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Alongside the new iPhones, Apple is also expected to launch a new iteration of its smartwatch. The new Apple Watch is expected to have a similar design to the current Apple Watch 3, but potentially with a slightly larger screen squeezed into the same size body, according to reports.

The Apple Watch has been a slow burn for the company, but has steadily grown in sales becoming a small but important part of Apple’s sales shipping 3.5m devices in Q2 2018 according to data from Canalys, but still dwarfed by the 41m iPhones shipped in the same time period.

iPad

Although less likely, Apple may also launch new versions of its iPad Pro range. The company recently released a cheaper version of the iPad in March for £319, and before that a refreshed second-generation version of iPad Pro in June last year.

But Apple’s tablets have struggled to convince buyers to upgrade in significant numbers, leaving the line to plateaux around the 9-13m units shipped a quarter over the last two years, down from the heady highs of 26m in the first quarter of 2014.

Any new iPad Pro is expected to reflect the change in design language introduced with the iPhone X last year, dumping the long-standing home button and Touch ID for gestures and Face ID.

The iPad has long had gestures that could in most cases replace the need for the home button, in switching between apps and getting to the home screen, so the full adoption of gestures over buttons seems logical. What remains to be seen is whether facial recognition can work as well on a tablet with its multiple orientations as it does on the iPhone X, which is primarily used when held in portrait orientation in the hand.


  • Join us on Wednesday 12 September at 6pm UK time (10am PDT) for live coverage of Apple’s iPhone launch event

Cover photo: The rumour is Apple will also launch a cheaper version of the iPhone X, which was first launched in 2017. Photo: LogicLounge

How everyday devices make you vulnerable to cyber attack – and what to do about it

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If you run a business, you’re probably concerned about IT security. Maybe you invest in antivirus software, firewalls and regular system updates.

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Unfortunately, these measures might not protect you from malicious attacks that enter your systems through everyday devices.

On the evening of Friday the 24th of October 2008 Richard C. Schaeffer Jr, the NSA’s top computer systems protection officer was in a briefing with US President George W. Bush when an aide passed him a note. The note was brief and to the point. They had been hacked.

How did it happen? The culprit was a simple USB.


USB supply chain attacks

The attack was unexpected because classified military systems are not connected to outside networks. The source was isolated to a worm loaded onto a USB key that had been carefully set up and left in large numbers to be purchased from a local internet kiosk.

This is an example of a supply chain attack, which focuses on the least secure elements in an organisation’s supply chain.

The US military immediately moved to ban USB drives in the field. Some years later, the US would use the same tactic to breach and disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attack that has now been dubbed Stuxnet.

The Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran is thought to have been infected with a malicious computer worm known as Stuxnet in 2010. ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/AAP

The lesson is clear: if you are plugging USB drives into your systems, you need to be very sure where they came from and what’s on them.

If a supplier can get a secret payload onto a USB stick, then there is no safe period in which a USB is a good choice. For example, you can currently buy a USB stick that is secretly a small computer, and it will, on insertion, open up a window on your machine and play the Death Star march.

This is just one kind of supply chain attack. What are the other kinds?

Network supply chain attacks

Computer users have an increasing tendency to store all their information on a network, concentrating their assets in one place. In this scenario, if one computer is compromised then the entire system is open to an attacker.

Consider a conference phone used in your organisation. Suppose this network-enabled phone had a built in fault that would allow attackers to listen in on any conversations in the vicinity. This was the reality in 2012 when more than 16 versions of Cisco’s popular IP phone were affected. Cisco released a patch for their phones, which could be installed by most companies’ IT security departments.

The basic model of a network supply chain attack shows how vulnerable interconnected systems are within an organisation. Author Supplied

In 2017, a similar issue arose when a brand of hospital grade dishwasher was affected by a built-in insecure web server. In the case of a hospital, there is a great deal of private data and specialist equipment that could be compromised by such a vulnerability. While a patch was eventually released, it required a specialised service technician to upload it.


Supply chain attacks have recently been implicated in the disastrous failure rate of the North Korean missile program. David Kennedy, in a video for The Insider, discusses how the US has previously disrupted nuclear programs using cyber. If they still possess this capability, it’s possible they would wish to keep it covert. Should this be the case, it’s conceivable one of the numerous North Korean failures could have been a test of such a cyber weapon.

Five ways companies can protect themselves

To protect yourself against all of this you need to set up basic cyber hygiene processes that can help keep your business free from infection.

  1. Purchase and install good anti-virus software and run it in protective mode, where it scans everything on your machine. Yes, even Macs get viruses
  2. monitor who is on your network, avoid using untrusted devices such as USBs and have your administrators block autorun as a system-wide policy
  3. segregate your networks. Have critical plant infrastructure? Don’t have it on the same network as your day to day, public-facing or guest access networks
  4. update regularly. Don’t worry about the latest and greatest issues, patch the known vulnerabilities in your systems – especially that one from 1980
  5. pay for your software and labour. If you’re not paying for the product, then someone is paying for you as the product.

    By separating your critical infrastructure from the internet facing and supplier available networks it is possible to provide a level of protection. However, some attacks are able to bridge this ‘air gap’. Author Provided

     

Cyber awareness is crucial

Finally, you can maximise cyber resilience by training everyone in your organisation to learn new skills. But it’s vital to test whether your training is working. Use actual exercises – in conjunction with security professionals – to examine your organisation, practice those skills, and work out where you need to make improvements.


The price of any connection to the internet is that it’s vulnerable to attack. But as we’ve shown, not even standalone systems are safe. Deliberate practice and thoughtful approaches to security can increase the protection of your business or workplace.


Cover photo: Out of hundreds of USB sticks left in public places, 17% were plugged in, with even more risky behavior to come. Photo: Naked Security.

Disclosure statement

Richard Matthews is an elected member of Council at The University of Adelaide. He is a member of the South Australian branch of the Labor Party and a Graduate Member of the Institute of Engineers Australia.

Nick Falkner receives funding from The University of Adelaide as an Associate Professor of Computer Science and as the Director of the Australian Smart Cities Consortium. He is or has been named on grants in security related areas from the Australian Research Council.

Your phone is listening to you, and it’s not funny

By Sam Nichols


Here’s how I got to bottom of the ads-coinciding-with-conversations mystery.


A couple years ago, something strange happened. A friend and I were sitting at a bar, iPhones in pockets, discussing our recent trips in Japan and how we’d like to go back. The very next day, we both received pop-up ads on Facebook about cheap return flights to Tokyo. It seemed like just a spooky coincidence, but then everyone seems to have a story about their smartphone listening to them. So is this just paranoia, or are our smartphones actually listening?

According to Dr. Peter Henway—The senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterix, and former lecturer and researcher at Edith Cowan University—the short answer is yes, but perhaps in a way that’s not as diabolical as it sounds.

For your smartphone to actually pay attention and record your conversation, there needs to be a trigger, such as when you say “hey Siri” or “okay Google.” In the absence of these triggers, any data you provide is only processed within your own phone. This might not seem a cause for alarm, but any third party applications you have on your phone—like Facebook for example—still have access to this “non-triggered” data. And whether or not they use this data is really up to them.

“From time to time, snippets of audio do go back to [other apps like Facebook’s] servers but there’s no official understanding what the triggers for that are,” explains Peter. “Whether it’s timing or location-based or usage of certain functions, [apps] are certainly pulling those microphone permissions and using those periodically. All the internals of the applications send this data in encrypted form, so it’s very difficult to define the exact trigger.”

He goes on to explain that apps like Facebook or Instagram could have thousands of triggers. An ordinary conversation with a friend about needing a new pair of jeans could be enough to activate it. Although, the key word here is “could,” because although the technology is there, companies like Facebook vehemently deny listening to our conversations.

“Seeing Google are open about it, I would personally assume the other companies are doing the same.” Peter tells me. “Really, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be. It makes good sense from a marketing standpoint, and their end-use agreements and the law both allow it, so I would assume they’re doing it, but there’s no way to be sure.”

With this in mind, I decided to try an experiment. Twice a day for five days, I tried saying a bunch of phrases that could theoretically be used as triggers. Phrases like I’m thinking about going back to uni and I need some cheap shirts for work. Then I carefully monitored the sponsored posts on Facebook for any changes.

The changes came literally overnight. Suddenly I was being told mid-semester courses at various universities, and how certain brands were offering cheap clothing. A private conversation with a friend about how I’d run out of data led to an ad about cheap 20 GB data plans. And although they were all good deals, the whole thing was eye-opening and utterly terrifying.

Peter told me that although no data is guaranteed to be safe for perpetuity, he assured me that in 2018 no company is selling their data directly to advertisers. But as we all know, advertisers don’t need our data for us to see their ads.

“Rather than saying here’s a list of people who followed your demographic, they say Why don’t you give me some money, and I’ll make that demographic or those who are interested in this will see it. If they let that information out into the wild, they’ll lose that exclusive access to it, so they’re going to try to keep it as secret as possible.

Peter went on to say that just because tech companies value our data, it doesn’t keep it safe from governmental agencies. As most tech companies are based in the US, the NSA or perhaps the CIA can potentially have your information disclosed to them, whether it’s legal in your home country or not.

So yes, our phones are listening to us and anything we say around our phones could potentially be used against us. But, according to Peter at least, it’s not something most people should be scared of.

Because unless you’re a journalist, a lawyer, or have some kind of role with sensitive information, the access of your data is only really going to advertisers. If you’re like everyone else, living a really normal life, and talking to your friends about flying to Japan, then it’s really not that different to advertisers looking at your browsing history.

“It’s just an extension from what advertising used to be on television,” says Peter. Only instead of prime time audiences, they’re now tracking web-browsing habits. It’s not ideal, but I don’t think it poses an immediate threat to most people.”


This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

How can I store my photos for ever?

Arunima wonders if one external hard drive will keep cherished pictures safely available for decades, but it’s not that simple.

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‘Yesterday, I transferred my pictures to an external hard drive. Is this enough to ensure the safety and availability of my pics for ever? Photo: Alamy Stock Photo


I read your article from June 2016 on What’s the best way to organise and store my digital photos? Is it not sufficient to save my pictures on one external hard drive? Must I save them on two? Also, for how many years will an external hard drive keep the pictures safe?

I have an Apple iMac and until now all my pictures were stored in Photos. Yesterday, I transferred them to an external hard drive and emptied Photos. Is this not enough to ensure the safety and availability of my pics for ever? Arunima

Nothing lasts for ever, and digital images can disappear in seconds. People lose their most important photos every day when hard drives fail, when smartphones and laptops are stolen, when online services shut down, and when natural disasters strike. Fires, floods and earthquakes can also destroy digital records.

To be really safe, you should have more than one copy of each photo, stored in more than one way in more than one place.

Digital data is a particular problem because storage formats change all the time. I still have data on 8in, 5.25in and 3.5in floppy disks, Iomega Zip disks and quarter-inch tapes. The photos might be safe but I won’t know unless I buy something that can read them.

Operating systems, software and file formats also keep changing, so being able to see a file doesn’t mean you can load it. Happily, the standard .jpg/jpeg picture file format developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group may well last “for ever” despite efforts to replace it with JPEG 2000, PNG (Portable Network Graphics), SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), SPIFF (Still Picture Interchange File Format), BPG (Better Portable Graphics), FLIF (Free Lossless Image Format), HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format, aka HEIC in Apple’s iOS 11), and Google’s WebP, among others.

Making digital documents last for ever therefore involves two processes. First, you have to keep moving the data to new storage systems before the old one fails or becomes unreadable. Second, you may have to keep converting documents to whichever file format becomes dominant before the old one is abandoned.

Disk drives

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In simpler times we had photos developed and printed on a regular basis – but they were still vulnerable to irreparable damage. Photo: Barry Mason / Alamy/Alamy

The one thing we know about hard drives is that most of them fail sooner rather than later. Recently, I had a 1TB PC hard drive fail after four years, and a 2TB external USB hard drive failed after seven years. Some drives fail after a few months while others work for a decade or more. There is no way of knowing. However, it’s a good rule of thumb that a drive is increasingly likely to fail after five years or 50,000 hours of use. If you want to keep photos for 50 years, you might have to store them on roughly 10 hard drives in all.

Because a hard drive can fail at any time, it’s not enough to store your photos on a single drive. Two hard drives is a usable minimum, but I have my photos on at least three: my desktop PC, the external USB hard drive that backs up my PC, and an 8TB drive that backs up three external hard drives.
Hard drives are good for storing photos because they are cheap, they provide fast access to data, and it’s very easy to copy a whole hard drive to another hard drive – especially if you have USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connections.

However, backup drives have their limitations. First, your data is vulnerable both to human error and to malicious software. Second, your data is at risk of being stolen or destroyed by fire, flood or some other disaster.

If your external hard drive is always plugged into your PC, then you can delete whole folders by accident, or by making errors when copying files. If your PC is infected by malware such as ransomware, it will usually encrypt files on external hard drives as well. If a burglar steals your PC, they may take the backup drive as well, and if your house burns down, you’ll also lose both.

You should therefore keep a backup “off site” in the office, or at a friend or relative’s house, or perhaps sealed in a moisture-proof box in a garage or shed.

Optical discs

Because of the risks to hard drives, it’s a good idea to keep backups on removable storage media as well. The current options include CD-R, DVD and Blu-ray optical discs. With optical drives, you should use high-quality discs and store them in a cool, dark and dry place.

Photos on write-once optical discs cannot be deleted by accident, cannot be encrypted or infected by malware, and are unlikely to be stolen. Because they are portable, you can easily store copies off-site.

Unfortunately, a CD only stores 702MB of data, which is great for 100K texts but not so good for 5MB image files. A DVD can store 4.7GB, which is practical for many projects but isn’t big enough for a significant photo collection. For example, you can probably fit all the photos from a wedding or a holiday on one DVD, but maybe not a whole year.

Blu-ray discs can store a lot of data: 25GB on single-layer discs and 50GB on the dual-layer discs used to distribute movies. (Triple- and quad-layer discs are also available.) You can probably fit your whole photo collection on a few dual-layer Blu-ray discs, and 20 will hold a terabyte.

Best of all, you can buy Panasonic Archival Grade or Century Archival Grade Blu-ray discs that are claimed to last for 50+ or 100+ years respectively. These avoid the need to keep copying data to new media, though it’s hard to say how many people will still be using Blu-ray drives in 2120.

USB thumbdrives and SD memory cards are not suitable for long-term archival storage because the charge decays over long periods. Ideally, they should be refreshed every four or five years. You can do that by running the Windows checkdisk command.

Cloud storage

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It is important to remember that data in the cloud is not safe and not under your control. Photo: Chris Clor/Getty Images/Blend Images RM

Storing photos “in the cloud” – basically, on someone else’s collection of hard drives – solves all the problems of using local hard drives and of transferring data to new physical media. But it is important to remember that data in the cloud is not safe and not under your control.

The biggest risks with cloud storage are being locked out of your account, being hacked by someone who deletes all your stuff, and by your account being closed if you don’t pay any charges required. Of course, online storage services may also shut down or go bust, and in one case – Megaupload – the servers were seized by the US Justice Department.

Many large companies offer photo storage services including Amazon, Google, Microsoft (OneDrive), and Apple (iCloud). However, these can be expensive if you need a lot of storage, and your photos will not be as accessible as they are on a local hard drive. Before you commit to making some large uploads, check how easy it is to download files, and whether file-names, sizes and Exif data are preserved.
Flickr offers a terabyte of free photo storage space, with adverts, though it is not as attractive as it used to be. SmugMug is a good alternative and provides unlimited storage for $47.88 a year, after a 14-day free trial period. Microsoft offers a terabyte per user with Office 365, with Personal (one user) priced at £59.99 a year and Home (five users) at £79.99. Amazon offers unlimited photo storage if you pay £79 a year for Prime membership.

Be careful of services that don’t preserve your original photos exactly as you uploaded them. Google charges £7.99/$9.99 per month to store a terabyte of photos at their original quality, but will store them free at a reduced (16MP) resolution that it, correctly, calls High Quality. Facebook’s photo storage is free but it reduces images from printable quality to web-viewing quality.

There are many alternatives, but the largest players – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – are most likely to be around in the long term. Of course, prices and terms may change, and if you store photos for 50 or 100 years, the cost adds up.

MIT’s AlterEgo headset can ‘hear’ internalised voices and speak to the user through a bone-conduction system. Photograph: Lorrie Lejeune/MIT

Researchers develop device that can ‘hear’ your inner voice

New headset can listen to internal vocalisation and speak to the wearer while appearing silent to the outside world.

MIT’s AlterEgo headset can ‘hear’ internalised voices and speak to the user through a bone-conduction system. Photograph: Lorrie Lejeune/MIT
MIT’s AlterEgo headset can ‘hear’ internalised voices and speak to the user through a bone-conduction system. Photograph: Lorrie Lejeune/MIT


Researchers have created a wearable device that can read people’s minds when they use an internal voice, allowing them to control devices and ask queries without speaking.

The device, called AlterEgo, can transcribe words that wearers verbalise internally but do not say out loud, using electrodes attached to the skin.

“Our idea was: could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?” said Arnav Kapur, who led the development of the system at MIT’s Media Lab.

Kapur describes the headset as an “intelligence-augmentation” or IA device, and was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Intelligent User Interface conference in Tokyo. It is worn around the jaw and chin, clipped over the top of the ear to hold it in place. Four electrodes under the white plastic device make contact with the skin and pick up the subtle neuromuscular signals that are triggered when a person verbalises internally. When someone says words inside their head, artificial intelligence within the device can match particular signals to particular words, feeding them into a computer.

The computer can then respond through the device using a bone conduction speaker that plays sound into the ear without the need for an earphone to be inserted, leaving the wearer free to hear the rest of the world at the same time. The idea is to create a outwardly silent computer interface that only the wearer of the AlterEgo device can speak to and hear.

“We basically can’t live without our cellphones, our digital devices. But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive,” said Pattie Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT. “If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself.”

Maes and her students, including Kapur, have been experimenting with new form factors and interfaces to provide the knowledge and services of smartphones without the intrusive disruption they currently cause to daily life.

The AlterEgo device managed an average of 92% transcription accuracy in a 10-person trial with about 15 minutes of customising to each person. That’s several percentage points below the 95%-plus accuracy rate that Google’s voice transcription service is capable of using a traditional microphone, but Kapur says the system will improve in accuracy over time. The human threshold for voice word accuracy is thought to be around 95%.

Kapur and team are currently working on collecting data to improve recognition and widen the number of words AlterEgo can detect. It can already be used to control a basic user interface such as the Roku streaming system, moving and selecting content, and can recognise numbers, play chess and perform other basic tasks.

The eventual goal is to make interfacing with AI assistants such as Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri less embarrassing and more intimate, allowing people to communicate with them in a manner that appears to be silent to the outside world – a system that sounds like science fiction but appears entirely possible.

The only downside is that users will have to wear a device strapped to their face, a barrier smart glasses such as Google Glass failed to overcome. But experts think the technology has much potential, not only in the consumer space for activities such as dictation but also in industry.

“Wouldn’t it be great to communicate with voice in an environment where you normally wouldn’t be able to?” said Thad Starner, a computing professor at Georgia Tech. “You can imagine all these situations where you have a high-noise environment, like the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, or even places with a lot of machinery, like a power plant or a printing press.”

Starner also sees application in the military and for those with conditions that inhibit normal speech.

Facebook apologises for saving draft videos users thought they had deleted

Facebook says ‘bug’ resulted in videos being kept, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg hits back at Apple chief Tim Cook’s ‘extremely glib’ attack.


Facebook

Facebook continues to deal with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica files, announcing policy changes and bug fixes aimed at undoing some of the company’s more controversial data collection features.

On Monday, Facebook apologised for storing draft videos which users had filmed and then deleted, saying a “bug” resulted in them being indefinitely stored instead.

The bug was first reported last week after users discovered videos they had never posted were being stored by the company. The storage was only uncovered when those users attempted to download all the data the company had on them, and were startled to find that Facebook had stored unused draft videos for years.

Videos filmed using the company’s desktop web camera tool, popular in the late 00s and early 10s before Facebook fully embraced mobile, were stored even when users thought they had deleted them. The company apologised, telling TechCrunch that was a mistake: “We discovered a bug that prevented draft videos from being deleted. We are deleting them and apologise for the inconvenience.”

The company is also changing another feature, part of its ad ecosystem that allows third-parties to upload contact lists to target customers on Facebook, in order to better preserve user privacy.

The feature, Custom Audiences, is intended to allow companies who have customer lists offline to advertise to those same customers on Facebook – by, for example, uploading a list of emails and matching them to Facebook profiles. Now, Facebook will be requiring companies to certify that they obtained user consent to use the information in that specific way, according to a leaked email seen by TechCrunch.

A new tool will instead require advertisers to actively certify that they have permission. “We’ve always had terms in place to ensure that advertisers have consent for data they use but we’re going to make that much more prominent and educate advertisers on the way they can use the data,” Facebook told the tech news site.

Finally, in a wide-ranging interview with the website Vox on Monday, Mark Zuckerberg hit back at Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who had attacked Facebook’s business model for inevitably leading to the sort of data-based scandals the company is now tackling. “I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth,” Zuckerberg said.

“The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people.”

 

Facebook users bigger than Africa's population

Facebook releases privacy tools to ‘give people control’ over data

Corporation suggests changes are response to Cambridge Analytica scandal, with EU set to toughen data protection rules in May.

Facebook users bigger than Africa's population
The company said in May that duplicate accounts, according to an estimate from last year, may have represented some 6 per cent of its worldwide user base.

Facebook is launching a range of new tools in an effort to “put people in more control over their privacy” in the buildup to new EU regulations that tighten up data protection.

The changes come after a troubling two weeks for the company, which is battling with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica files. At least one of the new features, a unified privacy dashboard, was previously discussed by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, back in January.

Facebook is not committing to making it any easier for users to delete their accounts wholesale

“The last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies, and to help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data,” two Facebook executives wrote in a blogpost announcing the changes. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, and Ashlie Beringer, its deputy general counsel, continued: “Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance.” The features will be available to all users, not just those in countries covered by the EU general data protection regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May.

On mobile devices, Facebook users will now be able to find all their settings in a single place, rather than spread across “nearly 20 different screens” as they were before. They will also be able to find a separate item, the “privacy shortcuts” menu, which provides a clearing house for options about data protection, ad personalisation and on-platform privacy.

The site is also complying with rules about access to stored personal data with a new “access your information” tool, that allows people to find, download and delete Facebook data.

But Facebook is not committing to making it any easier for users to delete their accounts wholesale. The option to permanently delete an account is currently buried in a help menu, deprioritised in favour of the non-destructive option to “deactivate” a user account, which leaves all the data on Facebook’s servers and accessible to the company’s data-mining tools.

Facebook says that further changes will come in response to user feedback, including updates to the terms of service and data policies. “These updates are about transparency,” Egan and Beringer write, “not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data.”

How you can use your laptop to create a home office

Gareth sometimes works at home with his MacBook Pro and wants to use it with a separate keyboard and screen.

airia

I’m a contract project manager. I work at a mix of client sites and at home, where I run a new MacBook Pro and Synology NAS. I would like to set up a small home office. I’ll need basic items like a monitor, keyboard, mouse and printer, but floor space is limited, so any creative desk solutions would also be appreciated. Gareth

I’ve set up home offices in four different houses now, so I’m familiar with the problems. However, I’ve not used any of the desks that are currently available, so my advice will have to be somewhat general. Readers who have bought desks recently may be able to offer more specific recommendations.

Either way, I know that you should start with a retractable, lockable tape measure, or similar device. Examples include the Stanley STA030696 and the Rolson 50565. Pretty much everything depends on measurements, and guesswork usually comes out wrong.

It’s certainly possible to work with a laptop on a kitchen table or an old-fashioned writing desk and pretend you have a “home office”. This is the sort of nonsense that you usually see in lifestyle magazines and on websites like Pinterest. The problem is that it’s hazardous to your health. Bad workstation ergonomics put you at long term risk of physical strains and injuries that, in my experience, need expensive physiotherapy to alleviate.

It’s far better to set up a home office that will both make you more productive and help you to stay healthy.

Of course, there are areas where not everyone agrees on the best approach. Still, try to get as close to the ideal posture as possible, while being prepared to vary things later as necessary.

Keyboard trays

To get the right posture, your feet should be flat on the floor, with your thighs and arms parallel to the floor, at something close to a 90-degree angle. (Some people prefer a very slight downward angle.) The tops of the keys should be at elbow height. Measurements will tell you how far above the floor your keyboard and the seat of your chair need to be.

You may well find that the top of your keyboard needs to be 60cm or 65cm high, while a typical desk height might be 75cm. For decades, the industry answer to this problem has been the keyboard tray.

Keyboard trays are usually retractable and slide in and out from under the surface of the desk. You can buy mounts to fit trays to most ordinary desks and tables.

The best keyboard trays may allow for variable height and positioning, and sometimes a backward keyboard tilt. Examples include the Kensington Modular Keyboard Platform with SmartFit (K60718US) and the KT1 and KT2 Ergonomic trays. Some DIY skills required.

If the keyboard is too high, you will have to raise the chair seat – an essential feature even in cheap office chairs – and add a foot rest to raise your feet.

Watch out for narrow keyboard trays as you will need enough space to move a mouse around. I haven’t found this a problem with compact keyboards, but a full keyboard with a numeric keypad could cramp your mouse space. If you move the keyboard to the left to compensate, you must also move your chair and your screen to the left as well.

Screen choice

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Avoid hunched over laptop syndrome (Hols) by making sure your screen is the right height. Photo: Blend Images/Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

The other key measurement is the height of your eyes when you are sitting in an upright, typing position. This fixes the height of the screen.

The top of the LCD screen (not the bezel) should be roughly level with your eyebrows. This may feel slightly uncomfortable at first, but it will discourage the slumping that leads to hunched over laptop syndrome (Hols).

This shouldn’t be a problem if the screen height is adjustable. If not, the traditional solution is to stick a couple of books under the stand.

When it comes to picking a monitor, you face a difficult choice of screen resolution. The industry has moved to 16:9 panels, so the standard for high-resolution screens is 2560 x 1440 pixels. If your MacBook Pro’s resolution is 2560 x 1600 (16:10) then you would have to pay silly money to match it. I’d go for a 24in Dell S2417DG or 27in Dell S2718D – both Quad HD, and also available from PC World – rather than, say, a 30in Dell U3014. If you are happy to drop to a 1080p screen, the 24in Dell U2417HG is a bargain at £129.95.

But shop around. Asus, Samsung and AOC are among the companies that provide good monitors at reasonable prices, and the 24in Asus VS248HR is well worth a look at £119.97.

Keyboard types

Laptop keyboards are not ergonomic because you have to twist your wrists to align your fingers to the keys. Using a separate keyboard allows you to choose an ergonomic version: either a one-piece “comfort” model or a properly split keyboard. Using a Mac restricts your choice of ergonomic keyboards, and even when they work, they may have limited functionality.

However, the Microsoft Natural 4000 is a cheap, conservative option that is easy to adopt. The Sculpt is a better keyboard, slightly more of a challenge, and can be configured for the Mac using Karabiner Elements.

Your options for split keyboards include the Black Goldtouch V2 and Matias’s USA Ergo Pro Low Force Mac. I use a Kinesis Freestyle 2, but you may have trouble getting a Mac version in the UK.

You can start with the two keyboard halves as close together as you like, and increase the separation gradually as your typing adapts.

Keyboard tray desks

There is a vast selection of desks and keyboard tray desks on Amazon and at suppliers such as Wayfair.co.uk, which is an American company I’d never heard of. (They turned up in my searches. Their product range is wide but their servicemay be variable.)

Most people can probably manage with a simple trolley. These take up little space, and castors make them easy to move (handy if you need to fiddle with wires round the back).

However, you need space for two screens – assuming you use the MacBook Pro as a second screen – and a printer. If you have the space, an L-shaped corner desk might suit you best. The Songmics looks like a good choice, though HLC offers a cheaper option.

Of course, if you fancy a sitting/standing riser like the Songmics or 1homemodels, a simple (but not a high) table will do. These devices sit on top of a desk or table, so the keyboard may be too high for use when sitting down. If so, you will need to raise your chair, again, and perhaps add a foot rest.

Clearly, Amazon has a plethora of choice. Happily, you can filter your search results by material, so you may want to choose wood, metal, glass or whatever, to suit the rest of your furniture. You can also filter by supplier, in which case SongmicsPiranha Trading and SixBros have plenty of options.

Quick exits

Your home office setup will involve plugging various things into your MacBook Pro, and unplugging them when you want to take it somewhere. The obvious solution is to buy a Thunderbolt docking station. Plug everything into the dock and you will only have to remove one Thunderbolt cable when you need to make a quick exit.

Docking stations provide a mixture of DisplayPort, HDMI, Ethernet and headphone connections. Most also have several USB ports that you can use for external hard drives as well as for mice, keyboards and printers. It’s an extra cost, but you will appreciate the convenience.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

More than 800,000 angry users sign petition to change Snapchat redesign

More than 800,000 angry users sign petition to change Snapchat redesign

In backlash against latest update, Snapchat users call on Snap Inc to change back to original design.

More than 800,000 angry users sign petition to change Snapchat redesign
A petition calling for Snapchat to revert its update to the original design has attracted more than 800,000 signatures. Photo: Sascha Steinbach/EPA


More than 800,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Snapchat to revert its update back to the original design.

The app’s latest redesign, which was released last week, focused on separating “media content” from that of “friends” among an array of other interface changes.

Snapchat Stories, which are videos and photos shared among users that vanish after 24 hours, also now appear with individual Snaps and direct messages.

The “Remove the new Snapchat update” petition, which is hosted on Change.org, was authored by Australian user Nic Rumsey.

“Many users have found that it has not made the app easier to use but has in fact made many features more difficult,” the petition reads.

“There is a general level of annoyance among users and many have decided to use a VPN app to go back to the old Snapchat, as that’s how annoying this new update has become.

“This petition aims to help convince Snap Inc to change the app back to the basics, before this new 2018 update”.

The update has outraged millennials and celebrities alike, with many protesting that the new interface is cluttered and difficult to use.

Under the comment section of the petition one signatory wrote, “I am signing because Snapchat is my favourite app, me and my friends use it all the time. I find this update confusing and childish-looking and I am considering no longer using it as long as the update stays.”

Tech review: Apple HomePod review – Siri lets down best sounding smart speaker

It’s the wifi speaker to beat in terms of audio but being locked in to Apple services is frustrating and its voice assistant is lacking.


After much anticipation, and speculation that Apple has missed the boat and handed victory to Amazon’s champion Echo, the HomePod smart speaker is finally here. But is it actually any good? And why exactly does it cost four times as much as an Echo?

The HomePod is a voice-controlled speaker that listens out for its wakeword “Hey, Siri” and then starts streaming what you say to Apple to interpret your commands and play whatever it is you wish. The fabric-covered cylinder stands an iPhone X-and-a-bit tall (172mm) with a diameter of an iPhone X (142mm), weighing 2.5kg (14.4 times the iPhone X).

It’s quite a lot bigger than Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home, and bigger still than the Sonos One, but it’s also the least assuming. Available in black or white, it has a small gloss touch-sensitive disc on top with light-up plus and minus buttons and a hidden centre display that flashes colour when Siri is listening for you. The rest of the visible surface is wrapped in mesh fabric, with a hidden rubber foot on the bottom.

It looks at home on a book shelf, the top of an AV unit or on the kitchen table, but also doesn’t stand out, until you start playing music.

Hey, Siri

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Siri’s spot on the top of the HomePod shows it’s listening, but it is still some way behind Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Photo: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The HomePod may technically be a smart speaker, but really it’s all about the music and less about the utility of a voice assistant. That’s partly because Apple’s Siri is some way behind Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, both in form and function.

Siri is the only smart assistant that offers a choice of male or female voices, which is a nice change, but is an odd mix of well prepared set pieces of personality intermixed with clumsy text-to-speech smashes the illusion of being anything other than a dumb robot. But you don’t have to take my word for it – Siri is the same on the HomePod as it is on an iPhone.

On the HomePod Siri can set one timer, but not multiple or named timers like Alexa and the rest can; it can control some smart home devices as long as they’re hooked up to Apple’s HomeKit system; it can answer some relatively limited questions and do the usual unit conversions and calculations. You can also set it up so that Siri can send text messages, create notes and reminders, using the iPhone and account of the person who set up the HomePod when it is on the same wifi network. But that means anyone with access to the speaker could send messages pretending to be its owner – there is no multi-user support at all.

Siri is also meant to be able to send messages through WhatsApp and a handful of others, but I couldn’t get it to work – Siri kept saying “WhatsApp couldn’t find” my contact, despite me holding a text conversation using WhatsApp on my phone just fine. Finally, the HomePod can also acts as a giant speakerphone for calls made by an iPhone, which works surprisingly well, but the speaker made a very loud buzzing noise for five seconds at the end of a call and I couldn’t figure out why.

Siri can hear you on the HomePod as well as Alexa on an Echo, even over music and noise such as a cooker hood going full blast. Sometimes it heard me even when I thought it didn’t, because the screen on top is difficult to see from distance, prompting Siri to follow up with an “uh huh?” when I remained silent. I often found that Siri was too loud, though, booming out of the HomePod when quietly listening to music. Its volume is linked to that of the music, but at 20% volume or less Siri was too loud and there was no way to make it quieter.

Playing Christina Milian instead of Arctic Monkeys

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The HomePod’s rubber foot comes with a familiar logo. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Siri’s natural language interpretation still lags behind the competition too, particularly Google’s Assistant. Generally Siri is right about 70% of the time, with some amusing accidents when requesting music, such as asking for AM by Arctic Monkeys and getting AM to PM by Christina Milian or, more bafflingly, getting Eye of the Tiger when asking for “Fauna – Original Mix”.

I asked for “Glaciers by Blue Sky Black Death” and got Glass by Incubus, while it took three goes to get Siri to play Euphoric Tape II by the same band, forcing me to listen to snippets of random songs in the process. Once it finally managed to play Euphoric Tape II, it then refused to play either Euphoric Tape I or Euphoric Tape III, always defaulting to the second of the group’s three albums.

Siri normally got there in the end after multiple attempts, but it was certainly frustrating. You can control the HomePod with the Music app on an iOS device, which I resorted to for all but generic requests for genre, playlists or artists, but confusingly there are two ways to send music to the HomePod in the same app.

The HomePod doesn’t support Bluetooth streaming and doesn’t have an analogue line-in, but does support Apple’s AirPlay. You can send audio from apps, including Spotify, that implement AirPlay but you lose any advanced audio control through Siri, limited to volume, pause and skip. Your iPhone or iPad needs to remain on and connected to the same wifi network too, as it is the conduit through which the audio flows.

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To send music to the HomePod from the Music app on the iPhone you have to select AirPlay, tap on the bottom bubble, then slide the now playing pane down so you can select the music you want. Photo: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

With the Music app, however, you can also instruct the HomePod to go directly to iTunes or Apple Music to play tracks, which works more like Spotify Connect – your phone doesn’t have to be on all the time for it to continue playing. The trouble is the way you do that isn’t immediately obvious. You have to open the now playing dialogue, tap on the AirPlay button and then wait for the HomePod to show up as a separate bubble below the now playing bubble, which also lists the HomePod as an output but via AirPlay.

The biggest drawback of the HomePod is how locked down it is to Apple’s devices and services. You have to have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad running iOS 11.2.5 to set it up. It will only play music natively from Apple Music, iTunes purchases or iTunes Match, meaning no radio other than Beats One, and it can only be controlled from an iOS 11.2.5 device. You can AirPlay audio to it from an Apple TV, a Mac or iTunes on a Windows PC, or from apps on an iOS device, including from Spotify or similar, but that’s no good to anyone with an Android device – an issue for any household that isn’t homogeneously Apple.

Expansive, beautiful sound

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The combination of seven tweeters and a woofer makes it a genuinely fantastic listening experience. Photo: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images

While Siri may not be the quite up to scratch compared to its rivals, and getting non-Apple Music to it is more difficult, one thing Apple has nailed is the HomePod’s sound. The HomePod sounds genuinely fantastic for anything from hip-hop and EDM to rock and classical. There’s no adjusting the music to your taste – it’s Apple’s way or the high way – but the sound is deep without being overburdened with muddy bass, light without being shrill and with great separation, meaning you can pick out individual voices, instruments or notes easily. Nothing gets lost, while everything remains rich, full of energy and ambience. It even sounds brilliantly full range at volumes as low as 5%, which is something most competitors fail to do.

Apple says its combination of seven tweeters and a woofer, all controlled by its A8 processor, continually adapt to the position of the speaker in the room and the music it is playing. The result is a surprisingly wide and enveloping soundscape from a mono speaker that puts the competition to shame. It sounds just as good against a wall as it does in the middle of the kitchen table. But it’s worth noting that because the sound is less direct, it carries further in directions you might not want it to, which might annoy the neighbours.

Observations

  • The volume buttons on the top change the level by 5%, but voice requests for volume changes alter the level in 10% increments – you can specify a certain percentage, with decimals rounded up, so “volume level 12.5%” became 13%
  • HomePod works just fine with iTunes Match, including music you have uploaded that isn’t in the Apple Music library, meaning you don’t need an Apple Music subscription if all you want to listen to is your own music library
  • Setup is simple – place the unlocked iOS device with Bluetooth and wifi on near the HomePod, wait for the setup dialogue box to pop up and after a couple of taps it’s ready to go (although it failed at the wifi setup the first time I tried)
  • Siri was pretty loud out of the box, so make sure you don’t set it up at night or be ready with a finger on the volume down button
  • Apple’s promising an update for AirPlay 2 and stereo pairing of two HomePods together for later in the year through a software update
  • You can mute the always-listening mics, but there’s no visible indicator that Siri is no longer listening

Price

The Apple HomePod comes in two colours, white or space grey (black) for £319.

For comparison, the second-generation Amazon Echo costs £90, the Echo Plus costs £140, the Google Home costs £129 and the Alexa-integrated Sonos One costs £199.

Verdict

As a simple wireless speaker the HomePod sounds truly brilliant, knocking the socks off most of the competition, including systems costing more. But because it is locked down to Apple-only devices and services it might not be as easy to fit into your existing setup as competitors such as Sonos. Missing true Spotify support will be a deal killer for many, as will the inability to play radio stations and the lack of multi-user support.

As a smart speaker, the HomePod is let down by Siri, which simply isn’t up to the standards set by rivals, but the fundamentals are there. The microphones work, so Siri can hear you, and responses are fast, just limited, meaning it could be fixed. Whether Apple is able to catch up to the capability and quality of Alexa and Google Assistant, remains to be seen. It certainly hasn’t managed to on the iPhone for the last couple of years.

So as it is now, the HomePod is an Apple-lover’s dream speaker; if you treat it more as a voice-controlled wireless music blaster than a Amazon Echo or Google Home competitor then you’ll love it.

But if you want the ability to play Spotify natively, to control more than just the limited number of HomeKit devices, or to simply deliver that advanced voice assistant experience, the HomePod isn’t there yet.

Pros: brilliant sound, can hear you very well, full production at low volumes, choice of male or female voice

Cons: Siri not up to scratch, no Bluetooth or analogue audio in, no native Spotify or radio, no Android or Windows support

SOURCE: The Guardian

whatsapp and facebook

I deleted my WhatsApp for a year and here’s what I learned

An initial flurry of real calls and more time to read turned into losing contacts, missing out on groups and upsetting my wife.

WhatsApp 2

At the end of 2016, I sent a message to all my contacts: “After 31 December, I will not use WhatsApp any more. Instead, I will use Threema and Signal.”

On New Year’s Eve, I closed my WhatsApp account and deleted the app from my phone. A few clicks later, I’d left all my family, friend and work groups, the school groups of my children and all my individual contacts.

During the first minutes of 2017, I saw my friends typing on their phones while mine remained unusually silent. Suddenly I was not available anymore. It felt strange, uncomfortable, daring and good.

My initial reasoning for such a drastic step had little to do with mindfulness or the want of being disconnected. I had installed WhatsApp in 2012 only because all my friends had it. By the end of 2016, the ubiquitous chat app started to send me annoying periodical reminders that it would stop working because the operating system of my beloved Nokia phone was no longer supported.

The notifications made me wonder whether I should be using non-Facebook-owned alternatives and stop spending so much time on convenient but seldom meaningful chats.

My defiance turned into a social experiment: I bought a smarter phone but uninstalled the application that, Facebook says, “one billion people around the world use … every day to stay in touch with their family and friends.”

App-stinence

My app-stinence had a promising start. Good friends sent text messages during New Years Day, called or responded to my calls. Instead of typing and recording messages, I returned to having actual conversations on the phone. My family and closest friends even installed one of the new non-Facebook messaging apps I had suggested, but suddenly I went from having 70 contacts to just 11 on my list.

At the beginning, I often felt isolated and as if I had abandoned friends. Some contacts ebbed away, while I had to withstand the odd awkward look of disbelief and discontent from others when I explained that I did not use WhatsApp.

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I checked my phone less – which meant I missed out on what was happening in my kids’ school groups. Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA

After a few weeks, I noticed that I checked my phone less, did not scroll through my contact list to look for updated profile photos or send messages to people low on the conversation list just to say hello. I began to read more. But I also learned what it meant to miss out and not to be part of groups anymore.

When I met friends, I needed to be updated about earlier group exchanges. I had to continually ask my wife about discussions in our kids’ school groups. She became understandably annoyed when forced to scroll through 94 new messages about the next birthday party or unexpected drama in the kindergarden of our two toddlers.

No alternative

In the ensuing discussions over the past year, it became more difficult than I thought to defend my step in terms of privacy and data stinginess. Those sympathetic with my decision often said that for work and social reasons they had no alternative.

A colleague pointed out that he had no Facebook account, so the matching between accounts for advertising purposes was not possible. I knew that in Europe Facebook had been asked to “pause” the data sharing from WhatsApp. “But what happens with the data of up to one billion people that has been matched and shared already?” I asked.

Facebook has not been obliged to delete this data. That we do not know precisely how this data is used to nudge and influence us without us noticing, worried me. “Anyways, I have nothing to hide,” several friends told me, hardly concealing their annoyance. The main question that I started to ask then was: why do we trust private companies more than we trust our governments?

Our default position is to mistrust strangers and governments, but we trust convenient services without really knowing anything about them. We trust that private companies use our data to “improve our lives”, but we hardly reflect on where our lives are taken. Facebook paid $19bn for a company that has encrypted the contents of messages since 2016 and does not advertise.

Clearly there is value in information about our habits and contacts, not just the content of our conversations. Companies create personal profiles with our data, but these profiles are about who we are, not about who we want to be.

During the last year I realised how little we know and how little we care. We do not regard our data as a scarce and valuable commodity. Data seems like time; we just assume it is there.

Over coffee I asked a friend: “If you had only one piece of personal data left to spend, how would you spend it?” He laughed, paused and then his phone whistled.


SOURCE: The Guarian, UK

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – what digital money means for our future

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – what digital money means for our future

What is a cryptocurrency? Is it like bitcoin?
In a word, yes. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and is still the biggest, but in the eight years since it was created pretenders to the throne have come along.

All of them have the same basic underpinnings: they use a “blockchain”, a shared public record of transactions, to create and track a new type of digital token – one that can only be made and shared according to the agreed-upon rules of the network, whatever they may be. But the flourishing ecosystem has provided a huge amount of variation on top of that.

Some cryptocurrencies, such as Litecoin or Dogecoin, fulfil the same purpose as bitcoin – building a new digital currency – with tweaks to some of the details (making transactions faster, for instance, or ensuring a basic level of inflation).

Others, such as Ethereum or Bat, take the same principle but apply it to a specific purpose: cloud computing or digital advertising in the case of those two.

What exactly is a bitcoin? Can I hold one?
A bitcoin doesn’t really exist as a concrete physical – or even digital – object. If I have 0.5 bitcoins sitting in my digital wallet, that doesn’t mean there is a corresponding other half sitting somewhere else.

What you really have when you own a bitcoin is the collective agreement of every other computer on the bitcoin network that your bitcoin was legitimately created by a bitcoin “miner”, and then passed on to you through a series of legitimate transactions. If you want to actually own some bitcoin, there are exactly two options: either become a miner (which involves investing a lot of money in computers and electricity bills – probably more than the value of the bitcoin you’ll actually make, unless you’re very smart), or simply buy some bitcoin from someone else using conventional money, typically through a bitcoin exchange such as Coinbase or Bitfinex.

A lot of the quirks of the currency come down to the collective agreement about what constitutes “legitimacy”. For instance, since the first bitcoin was created in 2009, the total number in existence has been growing slowly, at a declining rate, ensuring that at some point around 2140, the 21 millionth bitcoin will be mined, and no more will ever be created.

If you disagree with that collective agreement, well, there’s nothing stopping you from splitting with the wider network and creating your own version of bitcoin. This is what’s known as a “fork”, and it’s already happened multiple times in the past (that’s what competitors such as Litecoin and Dogecoin are). The difficulty is persuading other people to follow you. A currency used by just one person isn’t much of a currency.

What can I actually do with cryptocurrencies?
In theory, almost anything that can be done with a computer could, in some way, be rebuilt on a cryptocurrency-based platform. Building a cryptocurrency involves turning a worldwide network of computers into a decentralised platform for data storage and processing – in effect, a giant hive-mind PC (that this no longer sounds like it has much to do with “currencies” is part of the reason some instead suggest the name “decentralised apps” to cover this sector).

We’ve already seen proposals for YouTube clones, collectible card games and digital advertising exchanges built on top of cryptocurrencies: “x but on the blockchain” is the new startup pitch du jour, now that “Uber for x” and “x but on the iPhone” are passé. There’s already Dentacoin (Yelp for Dentists but on the blockchain), Matchpool (Tinder but on the blockchain) and even Cryptokitties(Tamagotchis but on the blockchain).

In practice, however, the available uses are rather more limited. Bitcoin can be used as a payment system for a few online transactions, and even fewer real-world ones, while other cryptocurrencies are even more juvenile than that. The excitement about the field is focused more on what it could become than what it actually is.

An illustrated example of how digital currency works

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – what digital money means for our future
Guardian graphic

Why does it matter that it’s decentralised?

At their heart, cryptocurrencies are basically just fancy databases. Bitcoin, for instance, is a big database of who owns what bitcoin, and what transactions were made between those owners.

In its own way, that’s little different from a conventional bank, which is basically just a big database of who owns what pounds, and what transactions were made between those owners.

But the distinction with bitcoin is that no central authority runs that big fancy database. Your bank can unilaterally edit its database to change the amount of money it thinks you have, and it does so often. Sometimes that’s to your advantage (if your debit card gets stolen and used, for instance, your bank will just return the money) and sometimes it’s not (if your bank thinks you’re money laundering, it will freeze your account, potentially crippling your business).

With bitcoin, no one can do either of those things. The only authority on the network is whatever the majority of bitcoin users agree on, and in practice that means nothing more than the basic rules of the network are ever enforced.

Is this all about crime?
It is … a lot about crime. The flip side of cryptocurrencies being decentralised databases is that for most people, most of the time, there’s no downside to a centralised database. If you trust the financial system to store your funds, or Dropbox to store your files, or YouTube to host your videos, then you don’t need to use less efficient decentralised versions of those services.

But if you are planning to commit financial crime, store illegal downloads, or host pirated videos a decentralised version of those services becomes much more appealing. That’s why bitcoin, for instance, has become the currency of choice for online drug dealers and cybercriminals demanding ransoms to restore hacked data.

“Crime” is a broad term, though. In many countries, having a political opinion contrary to that of the ruling regime is considered broadly criminal; many more limit the freedom of their citizens in ways that citizens of liberal democraciesmight view as unethical and inhumane. If cryptocurrencies allow those limitations to be overcome, it may technically be promoting crime, but not in the way most cryptocurrency critics mean.

You keep saying “blockchain”. What does that actually mean?
The concept of the blockchain lies at the heart of all cryptocurrencies. It is the decentralised historical record of changes in the ownership of the asset, be it simply spending a bitcoin or executing a complex “smart contract” in one of the second-generation cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum. Whenever a cryptocurrency transaction occurs, its details are broadcast throughout the entire network by the spending party, ensuring that everyone has an up-to-date record of ownership. Periodically, all the recent changes get bundled together into one “block”, and added to the historical record. And so the “blockchain” – a linked list of all the previous blocks – serves as the full and complete record of who owns what on the network.

So what do miners actually do?
They build the blockchain. How precisely they do that varies from cryptocurrency to cryptocurrency, but bitcoin is a good example: every 10 minutes or so, one miner is semi-randomly selected to do the work of taking all the transactions they’ve heard about, declaring them confirmed and bundling them up into one block of transactions, which they then add to the chain. In return for doing the work, the winning miner is also allowed to “print” some new bitcoin to pay themselves a reward in bitcoin, currently worth about $140,000.

Anyone can be a miner – all you have to do is run the bitcoin software in mining mode. The tricky part is being a profitable miner. The actual work of bundling the transactions together is easy, but the real expense comes from the way the winner is selected. Think of it as a raffle, where buying a ticket involves using your computer to solve a very complex, but ultimately useless, arithmetic problem. To be in with the most chance of getting that $140,000 reward, you need to solve those problems thousands or millions of times a second to enter the raffle with as many tickets as possible, and that means building specialised computers, negotiating cheaper sources of electricity, or just hacking innocent people and using their hardware for nothing instead.

How are people making so much money?
That’s the $190bn question – the value of all the bitcoin in the world at the time this article was published. The short answer is “buying low, and selling high”: the value of one bitcoin has increased from essentially nothing eight years ago, to $1,200 eight months ago, to a high of almost $20,000 in December and settling at $11,000 now. Anyone who got hold of enough bitcoin early enough is now really quite wealthy – on paper, at least.

The real question is why one bitcoin is worth $11,000 (and why Ethereum is worth $1,040, and why one particular Cryptokitty is worth $100,000). There, you can find two answers. The sympathetic one is that all these cryptocurrencies are, by their nature, scarce assets – only a certain amount exist in the world. If they are to be widely adopted for real-world use, then people will need to buy those scarce assets, and so their value will necessarily be higher than they are today. The current price, in that story, simply reflects the probability that any particular cryptocurrency will actually be widely used.

Is there trouble ahead?
There is if you take the more hostile, second answer to be correct: that collective greed has fuelled a speculative bubble that will eventually come crashing down. As people hear stories of others making money from cryptocurrencies, they buy their own – which inflates the price, creating more stories of wealth and more investment. The cycle continues until eventually the price of the underlying asset is out of kilter with reality. Eventually, the bubble bursts, and a lot of people look around to find they’ve lost everything.

What next?

Takeoff
Cryptocurrencies could achieve their ambitions, and become a widely used facet of daily life. A few people will become very rich as a result, but not really more so than early investors in other foundational technologies such as computing or the internet.

Hard landing
Or this speculative bubble could end with a crash so severe that it destroys faith in the entire sector, driving the investors out, bankrupting the miners who’ve spent thousands or millions on single-purpose hardware that requires a high bitcoin price to turn a profit, and leaving cryptocurrencies as a technological dead-end alongside cold fusion and jetpacks.

Cruising altitude
But maybe things will continue as they have done for the past five years. Cryptocurrencies’ actual use stays stable, mostly illegal, largely underground, and completely disconnected from a market price that fluctuates wildly based on the whims of a class of financial speculators with little link to the ground truth. Instability, it turns out, is an oddly stable and predictable state of affairs.


Since you are here

We want to make Africa a better, fairer place. We want to keep the powerful honest. And we believe that doing so means keeping society informed by producing quality, independent and all round journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth from all sides.

But it’s difficult and expensive work. While more people want to read Bloomgist and get informed with the latest around them, it is difficult reaching them due to financial challenges to advertise and send stories to more people.

So if you read us, if you like us, if you value our perspective – then become a Supporter and help make our future more secure.
 
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SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Apple HomePod finally available to buy, three years after announcing it

Apple HomePod finally available to buy, three years after announcing it

Apple’s delayed £319 HomePod smart speaker will finally be available to buy on Friday in the UK, US and Australia.

Apple HomePod finally available to buy, three years after announcing it
The HomePod was announced in June to ship before the end of 2017, but Apple was forced to delay shipping in November as the product needed more work. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The 17.8cm tall HomePod is pitched as a music-first wireless speaker that can be controlled by voice using Apple’s Siri assistant, which can also set timers, reminders, check the weather and control smart home devices.

“It brings advanced audio technologies like beam-forming tweeters, a high-excursion woofer and automatic spatial awareness, together with the entire Apple Music catalogue and the latest Siri intelligence, in a simple, beautiful design that is so much fun to use,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

The HomePod was announced in June to ship before the end of 2017, but Apple was forced to delay shipping in November as the product needed more work. Apple could only watch as Amazon got an over three-year head start with the Echo – while Google’s Home is 14 months old – and it now has some catching up to do.

Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said: “This is a critically important device for Apple given the significant head start Amazon and Google have in this area.

“HomePod needs to quickly be much more than a high-end audio speaker and the hub for Apple’s smart home ambitions with HomeKit.”

The HomePod supports Apple’s Music streaming service and a user’s iTunes library, but support for market-leader Spotify or other competing music services remains in doubt. Similar to competitors, Apple says two HomePods can be used in a stereo configuration, while multiple HomePods can be used for multi-room audio playback, but only after an update due later this year.

Mirroring Amazon and Google’s offerings, the HomePod will listen out for the “Hey, Siri” wake word, before streaming voice queries to Apple for action. It will be able to control smart home devices that support Apple’s HomeKit system, pull headlines from BBC, Sky News and LBC, as well as be used as a speakerphone with the iPhone.

Siri will also be able to send messages via third-party apps such as WhatsApp, and take notes in apps such as Evernote. But doubts remain over how well Apple’s voice assistant will function, as it is widely seen as lagging far behind Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant in both voice recognition and capability.

The HomePod will be available in store on 9 February in white or space grey. Apple says the HomePod will work with devices running iOS 11.2.5 or later, ruling out the iPhone 5 or older devices.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK/Sky News

Welcome to the new look for the Bloomgist

Welcome to the new look for the Bloomgist

Welcome to the new look for the Bloomgist

Due to the growth and demand to have Bloomgist on even smaller devices, we decided to redesign the Bloomgist for our global readership online – to create a responsive and beautiful new design that works for readers across mobile, apps and desktop. It’s been an exhilarating period of creativity, imagination and focus, and we’re thrilled with the result. We hope you like it.

Bloomgist have a special relationship with our readers. This relationship is not just about the news; it’s about a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to understand and illuminate our times. We feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility to our readers to honour the trust you place in us.

We have grounded our new editions in the qualities readers value most in Bloomgist publications: simplicity, in a world where facts should be sacred but are too often overlooked; imagination, in an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are.

Let us know what you think.

Mike Ikenwa

Publisher

 You can share any feedback or queries about the new design by emailing us at infobloomgist@gmail.com

Facebook users bigger than Africa's population

Why Facebook’s news feed is changing | how it will affect you

The social media site wants its users to ‘have more meaningful interactions’, but what does that mean in practice?

Facebook users bigger than Africa's population
FILE PHOTO: Today, most people’s news feeds are dominated by professionally made content from brands, businesses and the news media.

What has Facebook announced?

The company is altering the algorithm that runs the news feed, which displays a computer-curated selection of posts from other users and Facebook pages. No longer will it prioritise “helping you find relevant content”, says the site’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg. The new goal is to help you “have more meaningful interactions”.

What will change?

Today, most people’s news feeds are dominated by professionally made content from brands, businesses and the news media. Zuckerberg says Facebook wants to change that balance, so your feed will instead be dominated by posts from friends and family, as well as Facebook groups you are a member of.

The change is not yet in effect, so it is hard to know how different this approach will be. At its most extreme, it could be similar to the “experiment” Facebook ran in six smaller countries, where it removed wholesale any post from professional publishers and put them in a second feed, the “explore” feed.

But if Facebook wants to take a light-touch approach, the effect could be more like other tweaks to the news feed algorithm, which subtly alter the balance of content, changing the types of posts which have the most success but not removing them entirely.

Why is it doing this?

Zuckerberg says Facebook has studied academic research and concluded that social media is only good for users’ wellbeing if they use it to “connect with people we care about”. In November, the company published a post that claimed “passive” social media use could be harmful, arguing instead for a more active and communal approach to the site.

As a result, Zuckerberg says, Facebook wants to promote the sorts of posts that encourage those interactions, while demoting those its data shows encourage only surface interactions – likes and shares but little else.

The change will bring Facebook other benefits. By diminishing the influence of news media, it may be able to avoid a repeat of the bad press it received during the 2016 US election when it became a breeding ground for “fake news”, helping spread stories that misled millions.

And the company has long displayed concern over the decline in “organic sharing” – users posting content about their own lives, rather than simply sharing links to the wider web or professionally produced videos and photos. Users are more likely to share details about their own lives if they see others doing the same, and so promoting organic content begets more organic content.

What are the wider ramifications?

Some publishers and civil society groups have reacted with alarm. In Guatemala, one of the countries where the explore feed experiment took place, some journalists reported readership halving overnight as a result of them disappearing from most social media feeds. A similar change worldwide would wreak havoc on the media ecosystem, as well as the ability of activists and campaigners to have a voice with the wider public.

But the pain will not be shared equally. Past experience suggests the organisations that will be most damaged will be those who rely most on Facebook to generate traffic; organisations with a dedicated base and control of their own platforms will find it easier to ride out the change.

Has Facebook done something like this before?

In December 2013, Facebook changed its algorithm to promote “high-quality articles” over “a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook”. In the process, it also took aim at publishers who produced content that was too appealing. The social news site Upworthy saw its traffic halve in the month after the algorithm change, a decline it has never quite recovered from.

Similar changes have happened over the years as Facebook decided to focus on promoting “instant articles”, a type of Facebook native content; to pivot to promoting video; to pivot from video to live video; and to pivot from live video to Facebook groups, the company’s most recent attempt to build a stronger sense of community.

What other troubles is Facebook dealing with?

The company has been fighting a pair of awkward court cases in Ireland and Austria. In the former, it has been accused of negligence in a revenge porn caseinvolving a 14-year-old girl; in the latter, it has been ordered to remove hate speech.

What’s happened in Ireland?

The girl in question had been the target of a “shame page” for almost two years on the site, with a naked photograph of her repeatedly posted between November 2014 and January 2016. On Tuesday, Facebook agreed to an out-of-court settlement, a rare act for a company that typically argues it has diminished responsibility for content posted on its site by others. The girl’s lawyer, Pearse MacDermott, said the settlement “now puts the onus on the provider to look at how they respond to indecent, abusive and other such images put on their platform. Whenever an image is put up that is clearly objectionable they should be able to stop that ever going up again.”

And in Austria?

Hate speech targeting the former head of the Austrian Green party is at issue, and the question is again whether Facebook has a responsibility to act more broadly when it takes content down, including whether it should actively search for reposts of the content and delete them without being asked. The case has been referred upwards to the European court of justice, whose ruling could have a global impact.


SOURCE: The Guardian UK

Welcome to the 'Generation of idiots'

Welcome to the ‘Generation of idiots’

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Albert Einstein.

Welcome to the 'Generation of idiots'

The above quote, credited to the great Physicist, Albert Einstein, says a lot about the current world in which we live. There has been a debate about whether Einstein actually said this or not. Some argue that this quote first appeared on the internet around 2012, a clear 57 years after Einstein’s death. It may just be that he did not say that, just like Robert Mugabe is credited with numerous quips and pithy statements, but there are a few other things Einstein said that confirm his worry about modern technology and how it impacted negatively on human behaviour and relationships. For instance, in a letter to his friend, Otto Juliusburger, seven years before his death, Einstein wrote, “I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanization and depersonalization of our lives; a disastrous byproduct of science and technology”. Since Einstein wrote this, it follows, therefore, that even if there is no proof that the earlier quote was his, he had sufficient concern about the impact of science and technology on human interaction and relationships.

Before I go further into the issue for today, let me confess that I am one of the culprits of the impact of technology on efficient allocation of time. I have several mobile devices that ensure I am ever busy on one or the other. I have a laptop, an iPad, an iPod, and two smart phones each with dual sim. So, I am sufficiently wired and connected. Therefore, as I speak to readers, I also speak to myself.

Before the advent of the GSM technology in Nigeria in 2001, telephony was a preserve of the rich. NITEL had a monopoly with a capacity of about 700,000 lines, out of which less than half of that capacity were working at any point in time. Readers who are old enough will remember the experience of chasing after NITEL technicians who moved around with ladders to fix faulty lines. The day that mother luck smiled at you and they agreed to attend to you, that may well be the only thing you would achieve for that day. Then entered the cellular phones of the 1990s. The ones that were referred to as ‘nought nine nought’ (090). Some of the handsets those days looked more like weapons of mass destruction and the handset market was dominated by Nokia and Motorola. The phones were so expensive that they were affordable only by the rich. In fact, the then Minister of Communications, who is now a Distinguished Senator, had to warn that “telephone was not meant for the poor”.

The introduction of the GSM technology democratized the use of telephones by Nigerians. Its uniqueness was not just its ubiquity, the ‘Pay As You Go’ package made calls more affordable. The technology was soon to change the lifestyle of the people and engender a new set of behavior while moving most activities onto handheld devices. People could read books, play music and watch movies on the go. They could buy virtually everything online, do their banking transactions on their devices and communicate through different platforms, on their phones. Handheld devices became the most important possession of a lot of people, especially the youth and the young at heart. The companies providing these services, particularly those that were being properly run exploded with the returns that they were making from us. I remember an international company that made a wrong prediction of the GSM market in Nigeria in 2001. The CEO had many unkind words about the Nigerian market and decided to stay away from the country. Its closest competitor that took advantage of the opportunity was soon to leapfrog competition to become the largest telecommunications company in the continent. Ever since then, the company which declined the earlier opportunity has been making attempts to enter the GSM market in Nigeria, to no avail.

To dimension this market properly, it would not be out of place to look at a current report published by Jumia. As per the report, Nigeria has about 150m subscribers, out of which about 97.2m are internet subscribers. These show penetration rates of 81% and 53% respectively. Nigeria, therefore has the largest number of mobile and internet users in Africa which collectively has about 960m mobile subscribers and 216m internet users. We are followed by Egypt and Kenya. Our rapid adoption is traceable to cheaper and better phones, particularly in the smartphone category, whose number has now crossed the 15million mark. There is also a lot of improvement in network quality and services as driven by the regulator, the National Communications Commission, NCC, and also data saving devices that have reduced usage cost.

Today, a lot of us spend an inordinate amount of time on one handheld device or the other. Just look around you and you would notice that most people are glued to their mobile devices. The traditional function of the phone- making and receiving calls-has waned even as telephone operators’ income from calls has dropped significantly. Beyond the reduction in calls, several options now exist through which calls are made cheaply or even free of charge. These would include calling cards, internet calls, and video calls. So, what do most people do with their phones and other devices today? They spend time on what is now called, “social media”. It is not unusual to see people hitting away on their keyboards and touch pads chatting for hours. These social media platforms would include Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Wechat, Viber, iMessage, FaceTime, and loads of others that we may not be able to mention here. All these have rendered the traditional short message services (SMS), almost redundant and obsolete. One of the most active users of Twitter is the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. All through his electioneering campaign till date, he has been active on Twitter. Because of what he does in the social media space, some people have accused him of “digital provocation or bullying”. Back home, some leaders and politicians have also embraced the Twitter platform as a veritable medium to reach their audience.

Our concern today, however, is the abuse of those phones and the distraction that they have become for a lot of people. Many users have become so addicted to their telephones that sleeping has become a luxury as they wake up to check their phones. Studies have shown that people who use smartphones check their phones every 6 minutes. If this is correct, it means that such users are on their phones about 240 times in a day. The effect on productivity and human behaviour cannot be overemphasized. As we fiddle with the phone, something must give.

As I was concluding this column, I received an article from Dr. Tommy Weir, a CEO Coach and Author, titled “Put down That Phone”. In that article, Dr. Weir argued that even students do less learning with their phones or other mobile devices keeping them company. If you are a parent you may have had the kind of encounter I had with my children about taking notes electronically versus manually. Their argument is that they learn more with electronic than manual note-taking. The more I tried to argue otherwise, the more they reminded me that it was in my generation and that things have changed. The article in question disagrees. Hear Dr. Weir, “there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that we learn less when using computers or tablets during lectures. Specifically, research shows that university students who use their computers or tablets in the classroom earn worse grades; laptops distract from learning, both for users and those around them”.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pens and paper for note-taking at a lecture. After the class, researchers found that those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not”. In addition to the fact that writing notes manually help students in following the lectures and taking better notes, there is also the issue of those devices distracting the users. Sometimes, people beat their chests about their prowess in multitasking. Yes, you may be better than your neighbour in multitasking, but you may also be more distracted than him. The same article states that the “dependence on smartphones extends beyond their functionality. The touchscreen has made it possible to constantly multi-task and escape into another world. Constant checking cannibalizes your productive time. More than 90% of people multi-task during meetings. 42% admit to reading and responding to email in the bathroom. 70% of us check e-mail while watching TV. We make more mistakes, learn less and take longer to complete tasks”.

The devices also pose challenges to our health and well-being. While not delving into the unsettled debate about the radioactivity of mobile devices, there have been a lot of recorded cases of people dying or being maimed by accidents occasioned by the distraction of mobile devices while driving. Dr. Weir also talks about a study done in Korea which established health hazards of mobile devices. “Researchers from Korea University have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of people addicted to smartphones. When they pried their subjects away from their smartphones long enough to study them with MRS machines to measure the brain’s chemical composition, they found a significant increase in gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate-glutamine (Glx). The chemical GABA is the neurotransmitter that slows down brain signals and Glx is the neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become more excited. The side effects include depression and anxiety–conditions that addicted test subjects had significantly higher scores in, along with insomnia and impulsivity”.

The major concern is that the addiction can be noticed increasingly in a lot of users. They may be in the bathroom, out for a dinner with friends, riding a bike, working out in the gym or driving and be chatting on their phones at the same time. Addicted users divide their attention between important tasks and chatting on their devices. Just imagine a dinner date that is terribly interrupted by the telephone. There are also sit