Apple Homepod Review: Locked In ( 73

On Tuesday, the review embargo lifted for full reviews of Apple's new HomePod smart speaker. The Verge's Niley Patel shared his thoughts on Apple's new HomePod in video and written form. Patel found that while it offers best-in-class sound for the price, Siri is frustratingly limited and the voice controls only work with Apple Music. Furthermore, Siri can't tell different voices apart, therefore raising some privacy concerns as anyone can come up to the speaker and ask Siri to send and read text messages and other private information aloud. Here's an excerpt from the report: The HomePod, whether Apple likes it or not, is the company's answer to the wildly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Apple is very insistent that the $349 HomePod has been in development for the past six years and that it's entirely focused on sound quality, but it's entering a market where Amazon is advertising Alexa as a lovable and well-known character during the Super Bowl instead of promoting its actual features. Our shared expectations about smart speakers are beginning to settle in, and outside of engineering labs and controlled listening tests, the HomePod has to measure up. And while it's true that the HomePod sounds incredible -- it sounds far better than any other speaker in its price range -- it also demands that you live entirely inside Apple's ecosystem in a way that even Apple's other products do not. The question is: is beautiful sound quality worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden? As for technical specifications, the HomePod comes in at 6.8 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and weights 5.5 pounds. It features a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier, six-microphone array, internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming, and transparent studio-level dynamic processing.

Facebook is Talking About Expanding Its TV-like Service, Watch, Into a Rival To YouTube ( 33

Facebook is talking about expanding its TV-like service, Watch, into a rival to Google's YouTube by opening the platform to more individual creators, CNBC reports citing people familiar with the plans. From the report: This would increase the amount of long-form video content that Facebook can sell ads against, and could reverse a decline in the time users are spending on the site. Facebook wants to allow more people to create their own shows on Watch, according to three media agencies who asked they remain anonymous because the conversations are private. Instead of buying rights to these shows, however, Facebook wants to create a system where creators can upload their shows for free, then earn a cut of the revenue from ads placed on that content -- similar to how YouTube pays its online creators. Another source with knowledge of the situation said Facebook's ultimate goal is to create a sustainable ad-supported video platform, where it won't have to pay for the majority of content.

YouTube Kids App Still Showing Disturbing Videos ( 169

YouTube says it is "very sorry" after more disturbing videos were found on the YouTube Kids app. From a report: BBC's Newsround found several videos not suitable for children, including one showing how to sharpen knives. Another had characters from children's cartoon Paw Patrol on a burning plane. YouTube has been criticised for using algorithms rather than human curators to decide what appears on YouTube Kids. In 2015, two child safety groups complained after disturbing videos were found on the YouTube Kids app. YouTube said it needed to "do more" to tackle inappropriate videos being seen by children. Newsround had arranged for five children to meet Google's Katie O'Donovan. They spoke about distressing videos they had seen on the main YouTube website and app. The videos included images of clowns with blood on them, scary advertisements and messages telling them someone was at their door.

Senator Warns YouTube Algorithm May Be Open To Manipulation By 'Bad Actors' ( 179

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee has warned that YouTube's powerful recommendation algorithm may be "optimizing for outrageous, salacious and often fraudulent content" or susceptible to "manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities." Senator Mark Warner, of Virginia, made the stark warning after an investigation by the Guardian found that the Google-owned video platform was systematically promoting divisive and conspiratorial videos that were damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

"Companies like YouTube have immense power and influence in shaping the media and content that users see," Warner said. "I've been increasingly concerned that the recommendation engine algorithms behind platforms like YouTube are, at best, intrinsically flawed in optimizing for outrageous, salacious and often fraudulent content." He added: "At worst, they can be highly susceptible to gaming and manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities."
YouTube's algorithm determines which videos to promote in the "Up next" column beside the video player. The Guardian found that "the algorithm was six times more likely to recommend videos that was damaging to Clinton than Trump, and also tended to amplify wild conspiracy theories about the former secretary of state."

Gates On a Plane: Alaska Airlines Inflight Entertainment Stars Bill Gates ( 50

theodp writes: On Tuesday, it was announced that Alaska Airlines will make a new series of six short videos starring Microsoft's Bill Gates on How Computers Work available as inflight entertainment. "Because students and adults alike can learn from these videos," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi, "we are pleased to announce Khan Academy and Alaska Airlines will make them available beyond classrooms."
The original submission notes that Gates (and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) have contributed millions to both educational groups, but Alaska Airlines calls the videos "entertaining and approachable," and says they'll start appearing on their flights in April.

But the videos are also available online, and besides Gates also feature appearances by former Apple designer May Li Khoe and Nat Brown, one of the creators of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system.

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question ( 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

The Internet

Bicyclist Protests Net Neutrality By Slowing Traffic Outside the FCC Building ( 181

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: A protester opposed to the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) net neutrality repeal slowed traffic to a crawl outside the FCC Monday as a demonstration against the repeal. A video released Monday shows Rob Bliss, video director for the website Seriously.TV, setting up traffic cones to block all but one lane for cars, then riding a bike slowly in the lane. Bliss wore a sign encouraging drivers to upgrade to "priority access membership" for $5 a month, which would allow them to drive at normal speeds. The protest was meant to mimic what critics say will be the effect of the net neutrality repeal, which will allow internet service providers to favor certain content or require content providers to pay for faster speeds.

YouTube Will Put Disclaimers On State-Funded Broadcasts To Fight Propaganda ( 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: YouTube's latest strategy to fight the spread of misinformation involves putting a disclaimer on videos from certain news sources. The online video website announced it will start labeling videos posted by state-funded broadcasters to alert viewers that the content is, in some part, funded by a government source. YouTube will begin labeling videos today, and the policy extends to outlets including the US's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the Russian government broadcaster RT. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, PBS videos will now have the label "publicly funded American broadcaster," while RT will have this disclaimer: "RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government." The new policy is YouTube's way of informing viewers about where the content they're watching is coming from, a piece of information often hidden or left unsought by the viewers themselves. "The principle here is to provide more information to our users, and let our users make the judgment themselves, as opposed to us being in the business of providing any sort of editorial judgment on any of these things ourselves," YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan told the WSJ.

YouTube Warns of 'Consequences' For Creators Who Misbehave ( 174

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has announced that creators whose actions impact negatively on its community will face "consequences." From a report: Wojcicki said the video-sharing platform is developing new policies that "would lead to consequences" if a content creator "does something egregious" that reflects unfavorably on other YouTube creators. YouTube's CEO made the comments in a blog post that detailed a list of the Google-owned firm's priorities for creators in 2018. In January, one of the service's most popular content creators, Logan Paul, published a video that showed the dead body of a man hanging from a tree. Wojcicki did not refer to the Logan Paul incident directly, but said that the misbehavior of some creators could put the broader YouTube community in a negative light. "While these instances are rare, they can damage the reputation and revenue of your fellow creators, so we want to make sure we have policies in place that allow us to respond appropriately," she said.

How DIY Rebels Are Working To Replace Tech Giants ( 115

mspohr shares an excerpt from an "interesting article about groups working to make a safer internet": Balkan and Kalbag form one small part of a fragmented rebellion whose prime movers tend to be located a long way from Silicon Valley. These people often talk in withering terms about Big Tech titans such as Mark Zuckerberg, and pay glowing tribute to Edward Snowden. Their politics vary, but they all have a deep dislike of large concentrations of power and a belief in the kind of egalitarian, pluralistic ideas they say the internet initially embodied. What they are doing could be seen as the online world's equivalent of punk rock: a scattered revolt against an industry that many now think has grown greedy, intrusive and arrogant -- as well as governments whose surveillance programs have fueled the same anxieties. As concerns grow about an online realm dominated by a few huge corporations, everyone involved shares one common goal: a comprehensively decentralized internet. Balkan energetically travels the world, delivering TED-esque talks with such titles as "Free is a Lie" and "Avoiding Digital Feudalism."

[David Irvine, computer engineer and founder of MaidSafe, has devised an alternative to the "modern internet" he calls the Safe network]: the acronym stands for "Safe Access for Everyone." In this model, rather than being stored on distant servers, people's data -- files, documents, social-media interactions -- will be broken into fragments, encrypted and scattered around other people's computers and smartphones, meaning that hacking and data theft will become impossible. Thanks to a system of self-authentication in which a Safe user's encrypted information would only be put back together and unlocked on their own devices, there will be no centrally held passwords. No one will leave data trails, so there will be nothing for big online companies to harvest. The financial lubricant, Irvine says, will be a cryptocurrency called Safecoin: users will pay to store data on the network, and also be rewarded for storing other people's (encrypted) information on their devices. Software developers, meanwhile, will be rewarded with Safecoin according to the popularity of their apps. There is a community of around 7,000 interested people already working on services that will work on the Safe network, including alternatives to platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.


Ford Patents Driverless Police Car That Ambushes Lawbreakers Using AI ( 126

Ford has developed a patent for a police car that issues tickets without even pulling you over. The same car could also use artificial intelligence to find good hiding spots to catch traffic violators (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) and identify drivers by scanning license plates, tapping into surveillance cameras and wirelessly accessing government records. The Washington Post reports: The details may sound far-fetched, as if they belong in the science-fiction action flick "Demolition Man" or a new dystopian novel inspired by Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," but these scenarios are grounded in a potential reality. They come from a patent developed by Ford and being reviewed by the U.S. government to create autonomous police cars. Ford's patent application was published this month. Although experts claim autonomous vehicles will make driving safer and more rule-bound, Ford argues in its application that in the future, traffic violations will never disappear entirely. "While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time," the patent's application says. "When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic."

The patent application says that autonomous police vehicles don't necessarily replace the need for human police officers for catching traffic scofflaws. Some "routine tasks," such as issuing tickets for failure to stop at a stop sign, can be automated, the patent says, but other tasks that can't be automated will be left to people. The application, which was filed in July 2016 and includes elaborate diagrams depicting the autonomous police car interacting with its environment, says officers could be inside the vehicle at all times and reclaim control of the car when necessary. But the application also shows how an autonomous police vehicle could be able to carry out many tasks we associate with human officers.


Streaming Services Must Hike Songwriter Payments Nearly 50%, Court Rules ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Songwriters will get a larger cut of revenue from streaming services after a court handed technology companies a big defeat. The Copyright Royalty Board ruled that songwriters will get at least a 15.1 percent share of streaming revenues over the next five years, from a previous 10.5 percent. That's the largest rate increase in CRB history, according to a statement from the National Music Publishers' Association. The decision is a major victory for songwriters, who have long complained they are insufficiently uncompensated by on-demand music services like Spotify and YouTube.
"The ratio of what labels are paid by the services versus what publishers are paid has significantly improved," argues the NMPA, "resulting in the most favorable balance in the history of the industry.

"While an effective ratio of 3.82 to 1 is still not a fair split that we might achieve in a free market, it is the best songwriters have ever had under the compulsory license... The decision represents two years of advocacy regarding how unfairly songwriters are treated under current law and how crucial their contributions are to streaming services."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has introduced a bipartisan "Music Modernization Act" to overhaul the rate court, and to create a new governing agency to issue blanket licenses to streaming services and then collect and distribute the resulting roylaties.

Now Even YouTube Serves Ads With CPU-draining Cryptocurrency Miners ( 187

YouTube was recently caught displaying ads that covertly leach off visitors' CPUs and electricity to generate digital currency on behalf of anonymous attackers, it was widely reported. From a report: Word of the abusive ads started no later than Tuesday, as people took to social media sites to complain their antivirus programs were detecting cryptocurrency mining code when they visited YouTube. The warnings came even when people changed the browser they were using, and the warnings seemed to be limited to times when users were on YouTube. On Friday, researchers with antivirus provider Trend Micro said the ads helped drive a more than three-fold spike in Web miner detections. They said the attackers behind the ads were abusing Google's DoubleClick ad platform to display them to YouTube visitors in select countries, including Japan, France, Taiwan, Italy, and Spain. The ads contain JavaScript that mines the digital coin known as Monero.

Burger King Makes the Case For Net Neutrality ( 246

An anonymous reader writes: By now you've probably seen Burger King's spoof ad on the decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality. In the ad, Burger King customers are informed that there are now three "lanes" for ordering Whoppers -- each with substantially different prices and waiting times. The ad has already generated over a million views on Youtube and is lighting up Twitter. One thing I missed the first time is that while the Burger King "counter service" is clearly in on the act, the customers are apparently real; they learn of the cockamamie scheme at the counter in the style of the old TV show Candid Camera. Variety notes that the video "ends with an apparent dig at FCC Chairman Ajit Pai [...] as the Burger King character is shown drinking from an oversized Reese's coffee mug. That is the type of coffee mug that Pai uses at FCC meetings."

CNN Shutters Casey Neistat's Video Company Beme, Which It Bought 14 Months Ago For $25 Million ( 62

In late November 2016, CNN purchased YouTube star Casey Neistat's video-sharing app Beme for $25 million. The news network purchased the app in a bid to harness Neistat's (at the time) 6 million subscribers, with the hopes of turning the company into an independently operated daily online news show and a core part of CNN's offerings that would appeal to a younger demographic. Today, CNN has shut down Beme because Neistat was unable to figure out a viable strategy due to creative differences and sluggish process. He will be departing from CNN. The Verge reports: "I couldn't find answers. I would sort of disappear, and I would hide, and I would make YouTube videos for my channel because at least I would be able to yield something," Neistat told Buzzfeed News. "I don't think I'm giving CNN what I want to give them, and I don't think they're getting value from me." When CNN bought Beme, it said Neistat's company would focus on "timely and topical video and empowering content creators to use technology to find their voice." Beme currently employs 22 people, and CNN said it would re-employ most of the team, though some would lose their jobs. CNN plans to continue developing tech products developed by Beme, including an unreleased live-news app called Wire.

Apple's 'What's a Computer?' Ad is Annoying People: Business Insider ( 594

Can an iPad replace your computer? It has been the topic of debate for years, with plenty of people advising against it. Apple sure begs to differ. It has been running a commercial in which it predicts a world where a computer is extinct and a child with an iPad doesn't even know what the word "computer" means. Business Insider reports that plenty of people are finding that commercial annoying. From the report: "Does this commercial tick anybody else off?" writes one commenter on a snippet of the commercial that was posted to Facebook. "I want to smack this kid. What's a computer? You know what a computer is you disrespectful smarta--!!" Plenty of other social media posts, some with thousands of retweets, have made the same observation.

Tim Cook: Coding Languages Were 'Too Geeky' For Students Until We Invented Swift ( 335

theodp writes: Speaking to a class of Grade 7 students taking coding lessons at the Apple Store in Eaton Centre, the Toronto Star reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook told the kids that most students would shun programming because coding languages were 'too geeky' until Apple introduced Swift. "Swift came out of the fundamental recognition that coding languages were too geeky. Most students would look at them and say, 'that's not for me,'" Cook said as the preteens participated in an Apple-designed 'Everyone Can Code' workshop. "That's not our view. Our view is that coding is a horizontal skill like your native languages or mathematics, so we wanted to design a programming language that is as easy to learn as our products are to use."

YouTube's Support for Musicians Comes With a Catch ( 41

YouTube has asked musicians to agree not to disparage the streaming-video service in exchange for promotional support, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: In recent months, YouTube has given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards, part of a larger campaign to improve the site's relationship with the music industry. Yet such support comes with a catch, with some musicians required to promise the won't say negative things about YouTube, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private business transactions. Non-disparagement agreements are common in business, but YouTube's biggest direct competitors in music don't require them, the people said.

Google Just Broke Amazon's Workaround For YouTube On Fire TV ( 264

Google has cracked down on Fire TV users once again. Today, the technology company blocked Silk and Firefox browsers from displaying the interface usually shown on large screens. Cord Cutters News reports: Now if you try to access on a Fire TV through the Firefox or Silk browser you will be redirected to the desktop version of the site. According to Elias Saba from AFTVnews, "By blocking access to the version of YouTube made for television browsers, Google has deliberately made browsing their website an unusable experience on Amazon Fire TVs, Fire TV Sticks, and Fire TV Edition televisions." This fight over YouTube and Amazon has been going on for some time. The standoff heated up in early December as Google announced plans to pull the YouTube app from the Fire TV on January 1st 2018. Amazon responded by adding a browser to allow access to the web version on the Fire TV. Now Google has countered by blocking the Fire TV's browsers from accessing the made-for-TV edition of Back on December 15th, The Verge reported that Google and Amazon are in talks to keep YouTube on the Fire TV, but as of today it looks like nothing has come from these talks.

Can A New Open Photo File Format Replace JPEGs? ( 271

Got lossless compression? An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Google, Mozilla and others in a group called the Alliance for Open Media are working on a rival photo technology. In testing so far, the images are 15 percent smaller than Apple's HEIC photo format, said Tim Terriberry, a Mozilla principal research engineer working on the project. But smaller sizes are just the beginning... it's got a strong list of allies, an affinity for web publishing and modern features that could make it the best contender yet for overcoming JPEG's 1990s-era shortcomings... JPEG isn't just limited by needlessly large file sizes. It's also weak when it comes to supporting a wider range of bright and dark tones, a broader spectrum of colors, and graphic elements like text and logos...

The HEIC's new rival is from the Alliance for Open Media, a group whose top priority is a video compression technology called AV1 that's free of patent licensing requirements. It's got heavy hitters on board, including top browser makers Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and the most recent new member, Apple -- though Apple's plans haven't been made public. And it's got major streaming-video companies, too: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Facebook, videoconferencing powerhouse Intel and Google's YouTube. And with the support of chip designers Intel, Nvidia and Arm, AV1 should get the hardware acceleration that's crucial to making video easy on our laptop and phone batteries.

To use Apple's HEIC, "makers of software, processors and phones must jump through a lot of hoops to license patents," which CNET predicts "means HEIC will have trouble succeeding on the web: patent barriers are antithetical to the web's open nature."

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