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NBC To Host Daily News Show On Snapchat

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Comcast Corp’s NBC News plans to offer a twice-per-day news show on Snapchat, the company said on Wednesday, part of its push to attract younger viewers who tend to watch TV on mobile devices.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal invested $500 million in Snapchat owner Snap Inc  during its initial public offering as it seeks to boost its digital offering.

Broadcast news outlets like NBC News face an aging audience. The median age of NBC Nightly News, for example, is 64 years old, according to the Nielsen ratings agency. That is much older than the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that advertisers covet.

Last month, NBC News launched a digital video service, called “NBC Left Field” featuring short documentaries to appeal to social media users.

“This is a concerted effort that is crucial to our future,” said Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News.

“Stay Tuned” will focus on issues of the day and will air at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. EDT on weekdays and 1 p.m. EDT on weekends. The show will also air for specific breaking news events.

The launch of the daily news show comes amid increasing investor skepticism about Snap’s ability to grow and compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Will WhatsApp Face Competition From Amazon

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Just when you thought the messaging app market couldn’t get any more crowded, along come the rumors that Amazon wants a piece of the action.

According to AFTV News, Amazon has begun surveying customers about the new messaging service to gauge which features are most important them.

Called Anytime, the rumored app will apparently be a one-stop-shop focused on voice and video calls, alongside a photo sharing feature with @mentions, as well as some highly-original real-time filters for photos and video with “special effects and masks.”

So yes, that will almost definitely mean more basic dog-eared AR seflies *eyeroll emoji*.

If the rumors are true, the service would also keep chats private and allows users to “encrypt important messages like bank account details”, allowing them to converse with businesses, make reservations, and – in true Amazon style – virtually shop until they drop.

“Based on the images I’ve been provided, Anytime by Amazon seems to be an all-in-one feature rich service that could even rival social networks,” the AFTV report stated. “[It] will also provide tasks that can be done in groups, like playing games, listening to music, and ordering food.”

There’s no word on how long the app will take to get into the phone-wielding hands of the masses, but a customer said the survey implied it was “a ready product”.

Are you surprised that Amazon is making a move on the messaging app market? We’re certainly not. The firm is desperate to get in on any kind of action these days in its plan to take over the world and be the go-to for everything.

Don’t be shocked when the company launches its own dating service, where we would expect you could get a dinner date with Alexa as part of a Black Friday deal.

Password Sharing A Revenue Nuisance For TV Streaming Services

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Streaming TV services grapple with password sharing. More than one-fifth of young adults who stream shows like “Game of Thrones” or “Stranger Things” borrow passwords from people who do not live with them, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, a finding that suggests media companies are missing out on significant revenue as digital viewership explodes.

Twenty-one percent of streaming viewers ages 18 to 24 said they had accessed at least one digital video service such as Netflix Inc, HBO Now or Hulu by using log-in credentials from someone outside their household at some time. Overall, 12 percent of adults said they did the same thing.

 Subscription revenue is likely to come under scrutiny starting next week when TV industry players begin reporting quarterly earnings. Netflix, the dominant streaming service, releases its results on Monday.

Up to now, Netflix and other streaming networks have accepted some password-sharing, but they may face pressure from investors to change course if new sign-ups slow substantially, Wall Street analysts said. Revenue growth at Netflix is projected to drop from 31 percent in this year’s second quarter to 19 percent in the second quarter of next year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“If Netflix goes from a 30 percent revenue growth story to a 10 percent story, there is absolutely going to be more focus on their leaving money on the table,” said Justin Patterson, an analyst with Raymond James.

Facebook Has Plans To Build Housing In Silicon Valley

July 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The housing crunch in California’s Silicon Valley has gotten so bad that Facebook Inc has proposed taking homebuilding into its own hands for the first time with a plan to construct 1,500 units near its headquarters.

The growth of Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and other tech companies has strained neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay area that were not prepared for an influx of tens of thousands of workers during the past decade. Home prices and commute times have risen.

Tech companies have responded with measures such as internet-equipped buses for employees with long commutes. Facebook has offered at least $10,000 in incentives to workers who move closer to its offices.

Those steps, though, have not reduced complaints that tech companies are making communities unaffordable, and they have mostly failed to address the area’s housing shortage.

“The problem with Silicon Valley is you don’t have enough supply to keep up with the demand,” said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at real estate research firm CoreLogic.

With Facebook’s construction plan, the company said it wanted to invest in Menlo Park, the city some 45 miles (72 km) south of San Francisco where it moved in 2011.

The company said it wants to build a “village” that will also have 1.75 million square feet of office space and 125,000 square feet of retail space.

“Part of our vision is to create a neighborhood center that provides long-needed community services,” John Tenanes, Facebook’s vice president for global facilities, said in a statement.

The 1,500 Facebook housing units would be open to anyone, not just employees, and 15 percent of them would be offered at below market rates, the company said.

Facebook said it expects the review process to take two years.

Alphabet has taken a smaller step, buying 300 modular apartment units for short-term employee housing, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith said in an interview that there were concerns about whether the Facebook plan would increase traffic, a subject the city’s planning department would study.

She said, though, that Facebook’s plan fits with the city’s own long-term plan for development, and that the city was excited about the additional housing.

Facebook’s Tenanes said the density of the proposed development could also entice spending on transit projects.

“The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay,” he said.

Google News Redesigned, Focuses On Fact-checking

June 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google News debuted a new designed site this week that’s more about facts than fonts.

As with any redesign, the aim is to present a cleaner, uncluttered page that makes content easier to find and digest. The desktop News page has adopted a card format intended to help you browse for stories, which will generally be labeled with publisher names and tags such as Local Source, Most Referenced or Opinion to provide more context about the issues represented.

One of those labels is Fact Check, which Google has been using for some time in search results. The label gets attached to stories from a credible fact-checking source like PolitiFact or Snopes when they pop up in searches. It’s now being extended to Google News’ Headlines section, showing a dedicated block of the most fact-checked stories recently published.

“Facts are at the heart of a story’s credibility,” Google said Wednesday in an introduction to the redesign.

The spread of misinformation has been a high-profile problem for the world’s biggest tech companies. After Donald Trump was elected president in November, some of his detractors argued that misinformation on Facebook helped him win. Facebook has since tried to curb fake news by adding fact check labels of its own. Both Facebook and Google also amended their advertising policies to try to ensure fake news stories don’t make money.

Google’s news page also includes a column on the left side that you can customize with topics of particular interest to you.

The changes are expected to roll out globally in the next couple of days.

Twitter Detects Crime Faster Than Police, Says Researchers

June 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Social media may be a useful tool in helping law enforcement maintain peace and order.

Twitter can identify riots and other violent activities minutes or even over an hour before the police are notified, according to a study released Tuesday by Cardiff University.

Researchers at Cardiff University analysed 1.6 million tweets relevant to the 2011 London riots. In the town of Enfield, police received reports of disorder an hour and 23 minutes after computer systems could have picked up the same information from Twitter, according to the study.

“In this research, we show that online social media are becoming the go-to place to report observations of everyday occurrences — including social disorder and terrestrial criminal activity,” said co-author of the study, Dr Pete Burnap.

He added that, while the study demonstrates that new technologies can be leveraged to support “more established policing methods,” social media will “never” replace traditional resources.

Social media has increasingly been used by the police in crime fighting efforts. In 2013, police turned to social media and called for the public to submit information about the Boston Marathon Bombing to aid in investigation. More recently, in Thailand, the Immigration Bureau received a tip-off from the Line messaging app in May, which led to the arrest of two Vietnamese suspected of overstaying their visas. In New Hampshire, a video posted to Facebook by the police earned them “dozens of tips” that helped identify a suspect in a crime, it was reported last week.

Facebook Hits Two Billion Users Milestone

June 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc announced this week that 2 billion people are regularly using its flagship service, marching past another milestone in its growth from a college curiosity in the United States to the world’s largest social media network.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg disclosed the number to his followers in a Facebook post. “It’s an honor to be on this journey with you,” he wrote.

The user base is bigger than the population of any single country, and of six of the seven continents. It represents more than a quarter of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Facebook defines a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through its website or a mobile device, or used its Messenger app, in the past 30 days. It does not include people who use the Instagram or WhatsApp networks but not Facebook.

The company said in May that duplicate accounts, according to an estimate from last year, may have represented some 6 percent of its worldwide user base.

The social network’s user population dwarfs that of similar companies. Twitter Inc  reported in April monthly active users of 328 million, while Snap Inc’s Snapchat had 166 million daily users at the end of the first quarter.

WeChat, a unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd and a widely used service in China, said in May that it had 938 million monthly active users in the first quarter.

Facebook had 1.94 billion people using its service monthly as of March 31, an increase of 17 percent from a year earlier. It reached 1 billion in October 2012.

The company, which Zuckerberg started in 2004 in his college dorm room, uses its huge size advantage to lure advertisers, offering them highly targeted marketing capabilities based on its data about users.

The number of advertisers topped 5 million in April, the company said.

Facebook’s growth has increasingly come from outside the United States, Canada and Europe. Three years ago, those regions accounted for some 38 percent of users, compared with about 30 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Australia Wants More Access To Encrypted Messages

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Australia has announce that it will seek greater powers to tackle the use of encrypted messaging services used by terrorists and criminals at an upcoming meeting of ministers from the “Five Eyes” intelligence network.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, will meet in the Canadian city of Ottawa next week, where they will discuss tactics to combat terrorism and border protection, two senior Australian ministers said.

Australia has made it clear it wants tech companies to do much more to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies access to encrypted communications.

“I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption,” Australian Attorney General Senator Brandis said in a joint statement.

“These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”

Tech firms such as Apple and Facebook, which owns encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, have been criticized in the United Kingdom and United States for not doing enough to crackdown on so-called dark spaces where extremists can communicate.

Industry involvement in thwarting the encryption of terrorist messaging will be a priority for Australia at the gathering, Senator Brandis said.

Facebook Teach Chatbots To Negotiate

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Chatbots are being taught how to drive a hard bargain in a new AI experiment carried out by Facebook’s Labs.

According to New Scientist, the research could lead to more effective personal assistants able to negotiate on our behalf, sorting out calendar clashes and the like.

French website Julie Desk is already offering this kind of AI diary management, but now Facebook has jumped on the bandwagon, looking at perhaps getting you a good deal on your next holiday, according to Mike Lewis from the social network’s boffin division.

The team trained bots on a database of over 5,000 text conversations between people playing a game where they had to divvy up an inventory of “things”. Each “thing” was assigned a value, with the values unique to each player and each item. So, for example, a ball might be worth four to one player, but only two to another.

The object of the game, as in most games, is to score the most points, by acquiring the most objects with the highest personal value.

After learning, the bots were further trained with more matches, some against each other, some against humans. Working in natural language often led to a crappy deal. Working in totally selfish terms often led to a great deal, but often one made in utter gobbledegook.

The trick, therefore, was to find a way of combining techniques to produce something that would allow the bots to communicate with humans in a real world scenario. The result was a good (but not brilliant) negotiator who can work with humans on their terms.

Beyond doing work for you, a bot might be able to give you useful tips when doing a deal that perhaps you don’t want to hand over. Say you’re negotiating a house price, it could be able to tell you how much of your hand to play and what not to say.

Oliver Lemon at Heriot-Watt University explained that the use of natural language was essential as a user would need to be able to go back to a deal and work out why it did what it did – in other words, justification is important when you’re a bot.

Late last year we reported on UCLA students who had created a Judge Rinderbot.


YouTube Introduces New Steps To Fight Extremists Videos

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google has committed to introducing more measures to identify and remove terrorist or violent extremist content on its video sharing platform YouTube, the company said in a blog post.

Google said it would take a tougher position on videos containing supremacist or inflammatory religious content by issuing a warning and not monetizing or recommending them for user endorsements, even if they do not clearly violate its policies.

The company will also employ more engineering resources and increase its use of technology to help identify extremist videos, in addition to training new content classifiers to quickly identify and remove such content.

“While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now,” said Google’s general counsel Kent Walker.

Google will expand its collaboration with counter-extremist groups to identify content that may be used to radicalize and recruit extremists, it said.

The company will also reach potential Islamic State recruits through targeted online advertising and redirect them towards anti-terrorist videos in a bid to change their minds about joining.

Germany, France and Britain, countries where civilians have been killed and wounded in bombings and shootings by Islamist militants in recent years, have pressed Facebook and other providers of social media such as Google and Twitter to do more to remove militant content and hate speech.

Facebook on Thursday offered additional insight on its efforts to remove terrorism content, a response to political pressure in Europe to militant groups using the social network for propaganda and recruiting.

Facebook has ramped up use of artificial intelligence such as image matching and language understanding to identify and remove content quickly, the company said in a blog post.

After Acquiring Whole Foods Is Slack The Next Amazon Target?

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Online retail giant Amazon is said t be interested in snapping up collaboration firm Slack Technologies — a possibility that could give Amazon a more direct entry into the enterprise.

“Bottom line: this could be a good move for Amazon in terms of upping their game in the enterprise collaboration market, but the devil is in the details of staying power and execution versus competitors like Google, Microsoft and Facebook,” said Forrester analyst Art Schoeller.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Amazon is considering the move in a deal that could be valued at $9 billion.

A Slack official declined to comment on the report. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Slack has more than 5 million daily users, and has seen widespread adoption since its inception three years ago. More recently, Microsoft was thought to be eyeing the company, but backed away from a deal when it determined the price — possibly as much as $8 billion — was too high, Schoeller said.

Microsoft eventually shifted tactics and formed Microsoft Teams, which launched in November 2016.

The Amazon interest in Slack is noteworthy, given that in February it released a video and audio conference service named Amazon Chime. Schoeller also noted that Amazon’s WorkMail offering has not put much of dent in the popularity of Microsoft’s well-established Exchange/Outlook combo or Google Gmail.

Acquiring Slack would help boost Amazon’s market position, Schoeller said, but it would need to follow through with more investment after any purchase if it hopes to take on the major collaboration rivals. He also noted there could be spillover effects on Amazon’s cloud operations.

“If Amazon continues to add business applications on top of Amazon Web Services, it will give other partners pause because they would now operate on a competitor’s platform,” Schoeller said.

Although Amazon Chime already has a Chat Room capability, Schoeller expects Slack would displace that as instant messaging gives way to similar team messaging apps.

ARM Dives Into The A.I. Market With The Cortex A75 And A55

June 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

ARM has taken to Computex to unveil the Cortex-A75 and A55 CPUs, which it claims are its most powerful to date.

The flagship Cortex-A75, which is based on ARM’s flexible and scalable Dymaniq microarchitecture and destined for high-end smartphones, offers a 22 per cent improvement in single-threaded performance compared to its Cortex-A73 predecessor and up to 50 per cent more performance in multithreaded use cases. What’s more, according to ARM, the CPU can use just 2W of power and offer a 30 per cent increase in performance on large-screened devices.

A timely leak suggests that Qualcomm’s as-yet-unannounced Snapdragon 845, set to debut inside the Galaxy S9, will be powered by Cortex-A75 cores.

Nandan Nayampally, VP and general manager of ARM’s CPU group, remarked: “I have been at ARM for over a dozen years and can’t remember being this excited about a product delivering such a boost to single-threaded performance without compromising our efficiency leadership.

“The Cortex-A75 delivers a massive 50 percent uplift in performance and greater multicore capabilities, enabling our partners to address multiple high-performance use cases including laptops, networking and servers, all within a smartphone power profile.”

The Cortex-A55 is described by ARM as its “most versatile high-efficiency processor”, and claims the new CPU offers 15 percent more power efficiency compared to its predecessor, in addition to 10 times more scalability, and two times the memory efficiency. 

As well as touting performance upgrades, ARM is – unsurprisingly – touting its new CPUs as optimised for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Both the Cortex-A75 and A55 put ARM feature dedicated instructions for AI performance tasks and set ARM, it claims, on a trajectory to deliver “50x AI performance increases over the next three to five years.”

ARM also on Monday launched the Mali-G72 GPU, which it claims further optimises its SoCs for AI and machine learning tasks. Touting it as its “most efficient yet”, the G72 claims a 1.4 times performance if the Mali-G71 before it and a 25 per cent boost in efficiency.

ARM expects that the first implementations of its new CPU and GPU technologies to appear either in Q4 2017 or Q1 2018. 


Veritas Acquires Emergency Messaging Company Send Word Now

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Emergency Communications Network (ECN), whose product CodeRED can reach millions of people in minutes during an emergency, has acquired competitor Send Word Now, according to announcements by both companies.

Large corporations and government agencies are increasingly looking for faster ways to get the word out about emergencies, so they can minimize the danger to their employees when an active shooter, terrorism or a natural disaster strike.

Veritas Capital, which bought ECN in 2015, has merged the two firms to create a new company, OnSolve, that will aim to take on publicly traded market leader Everbridge Inc.

Everbridge went public last fall and has forecast $100 million in annual revenue this year.

OnSolve chief executive Wain Kellum said in an interview that his company is targeting $250 million in annual revenue in the next four to five years.

Kellum said that the company’s software, which provides real time emergency notifications designed to allow people to confirm they received the messages and respond, “can mean the difference between life and death”, and reduces costs and damages to its customers.

The Emergency Mass Notification Services (EMNS) market was $2.2 billion at the end of 2015 and is expected to expand to $4.9 billion by 2020, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Terms of the transaction were undisclosed. A source familiar with the matter who could not be named because the details of the deal were private, said that New Jersey-based Send Word Now was valued in the “low hundreds of millions” and the deal about doubles the size of ECN.

Facebook Shareholders Press Company To Fix Its Fake News Problem

June 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Fake news is still a real problem for Facebook, and now shareholders are demanding action to combat it.

At the social networking giant’s annual shareholder meeting, the topic of misinformation spreading on the site came up multiple times.

There was a proposal, which was denied, from two institutional investors asking Facebook to publish a report on “public policy issues associated with managing fake news.” Then there was an admonishment from the Rev. Jesse Jackson saying “fake news and lies is about to destroy us.”

In Zuckerberg’s prepared remarks, he brought up the topic too. “Making sure people have access to good information is a really important part of what we care about,” Zuckerberg said. Creating an informed community, he said, is “a theme I know a lot of us are thinking about.”

Facebook has been under fire for fake news since before the US election, and some of President Donald Trump’s detractors blamed the phenomenon for tipping the scales in his favor. Zuckerberg at first shrugged off the accusation, saying the idea that fake news swayed the election was “pretty crazy.”

Since then, the company has taken more responsibility. The social network in December introduced a way to flag fake stories and partnered with third-party fact checkers to help curb the problem. The company also changed its advertising policies to try to make sure content creators didn’t profit from putting fake articles on the site.

“A lot of the folks that spread hoaxes and false news aren’t actually doing it for an ideological reason,” Zuckerberg said Thursday. “They’re doing it because they’re basically spammers who are trying to make money.”

Facebook’s meeting came one day after former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized social media sites such as Facebook for fake news at Recode’s Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. She called the situation “unprecedented.”

At the annual meeting on Thursday, one shareholder asked Facebook’s executives to respond to Clinton’s criticism. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, said she heard about Clinton speaking at the conference, but hadn’t had a chance to read the transcript. “I can’t react to the specific comment,” she said. Sandberg did speak more generally about Facebook wanting to fix the problem of fake news.

“People want accurate news on Facebook. That’s what we want on Facebook,” she said. “It is going to be a long term process.”

Aside from fake news, Zuckerberg also addressed a few other topics from shareholders.

He said in the “long term,” Facebook is exploring an entry into mainland China, but there are a number of regulatory questions the company has to figure out first. “This is something we need to think about if we’re going to connect the entire world.”

China Defends Controversial New Cyber Security Law

June 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

China’s top cyber authority is pushing back on claims that it is targeting foreign firms with a controversial national cyber law set to come into effect today.

More than 50 overseas companies and business groups have lobbied against the law, which includes stringent data storage and surveillance requirements.

“The purpose is to safeguard [China’s] national cyberspace sovereignty and national security… rather than to restrict foreign enterprises,” the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement on its website.

The law, which was passed by China’s rubber-stamp parliament in November, requires local and overseas firms to submit to security checks and store user data within the country. Business groups argue the regulations are vague, and leave foreign firms vulnerable to abstract interpretations of the law.

Earlier this month Reuters reported that the CAC met foreign business groups in a closed-door meeting to try to allay fears over the law and discuss an 18-month phase-in of the regulations, according to attendees.

The notice on Wednesday made no mention of a phase-in period. It added that the law is not designed to hinder international trade or the flow of data across the Chinese border.

Mandatory reviews of outbound data have been a particular point of contention for foreign groups, which say the rules are more restrictive than regulations in other markets.

China maintains a strict censorship regime, banning access to foreign news outlets, search engines and social media including Google and Facebook.

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