Mozilla ranks dozens of popular ‘smart’ gift ideas on creepiness and security

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Mozilla, Security | No Comments

If you’re planning on picking up some cool new smart device for a loved one this holiday season, it might be worth your while to check whether it’s one of the good ones or not. Not just in the quality of the camera or step tracking, but the security and privacy practices of the companies that will collect (and sell) the data it produces. Mozilla has produced a handy resource ranking 70 of the latest items, from Amazon Echos to smart teddy bears.

Each of the dozens of toys and devices is graded on a number of measures: what data does it collect? Is that data encrypted when it is transmitted? Who is it shared with? Are you required to change the default password? And what’s the worst-case scenario if something went wrong?

Some of the security risks are inherent to the product — for example, security cameras can potentially see things you’d rather they didn’t — but others are oversights on the part of the company. Security practices like respecting account deletion, not sharing data with third parties, and so on.

At the top of the list are items getting most of it right — this Mycroft smart speaker, for instance, uses open-source software and the company that makes it makes all the right choices. Their privacy policy is even easy to read! Lots of gadgets seem just fine, really. This list doesn’t just trash everything.

On the other hand, you have something like this Dobby drone. They don’t seem to even have a privacy policy — bad news when you’re installing an app that records your location, HD footage and other stuff! Similarly, this Fredi baby monitor comes with a bad password you don’t have to change, and has no automatic security updates. Are you kidding me? Stay far, far away.

Altogether, 33 of the products met Mozilla’s recently proposed “minimum security standards” for smart devices (and got a nice badge); 7 failed; and the rest fell somewhere in-between. In addition to these official measures there’s a crowdsourced (hopefully not to be gamed) “creep-o-meter” where prospective buyers can indicate how creepy they find a device. But why is BB-8 creepy? I’d take that particular metric with a grain of salt.

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Self-flying camera drone Hover 2 hits Kickstarter

Posted by | camera drone, drone, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, zero zero robotics | No Comments

Two years after launching the original Hover, Zero Zero Robotics has returned for the sequel. In spite of landing a $25 million Series A back in 2016, the startup is going to the crowdfunding well on this one, launching a $100K Kickstarter campaign to launch the latest version of the self-flying drone.

Hover 2, which the company expects to arrive in April 2019, will feature updated obstacle avoidance, improved visual tracking and some updated internals, including a new Snapdragon processor on-board.

There’s a two-axis gimbal with electronic image stabilization for smoother shots that houses a camera capable of capturing 4K video and 12-megapixel photos. There are a number of different shot models on-board as well, including movie-inspired filters and music and a battery that’s capable of going 23 minutes on a charge.

Of course, Hover’s chief competition, the DJI Mavic line, has made some pretty massive leaps and bounds in practically all of those categories since launching the first Pro back in 2016, so the company’s got some stiff competition. Even Parrot has gotten more serious about their videography-focused Anafi line.

At $399 for early-bird pledgers, the Hover 2 is priced around the same as the handheld DJI Spark. That price includes a small handheld remote.

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Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, loyalty program, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

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Tencent returns to profit growth despite concern around games

Posted by | Earnings, Gaming, TC, Tencent | No Comments

Chinese internet giant Tencent bounced back from a disappointing previous quarter, but for once the company didn’t have its gaming business to thank.

Tencent may be best known for conjuring up WeChat, China’s most popular messaging platform, but its revenue is driven by its gaming business, which includes top smartphone titles and a thriving PC unit. Its Q3 results, announced today, however, saw its gaming income slacken and other units, including a booming advertising business, step up.

The firm posted a net profit of RMB 23.3 billion ($3.4 billion) on total revenue of RMB 80.6 billion ($11.7 billion), up 30 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Profit growth was back on track, mainly thanks to increased net gains from investments, including a blockbuster IPO of Meituan in September.

Advertising increased by 47 percent and generated 20 percent of total revenues, marking the first time that the segment has reached that mark. The jump is in part a result of strong ad revenue growth on Tencent’s two main chat apps, WeChat and QQ.

These changes are a sign that Tencent has begun to aggressively monetize its massive network of social networking users. As of September, Tencent had 1.08 billion monthly active users on WeChat worldwide, though the app’s spectacular growth has slowed to 2.3 percent quarter-to-quarter.

Tencent underwent an internal reorganization in October that saw it merge several business groups, which have resulted in a more unified system of advertising sales platforms, the company explained in today’s report.

“Our advertising, digital content, payment and cloud services sustained robust activity and revenue growth, and now account for the majority of our revenue,” chairman and CEO Pony Ma said in a statement.

In contrast, games, which have been Tencent’s major revenue driver for years, slid four percent this quarter due to a prolonged freeze on gaming licenses in China. The firm claims it has 15 games with monetization approval in its pipeline, which means that gaming revenues could rebound when it publishes those titles, although it said the same in the previous quarter, so a lack of progress is fairly ominous.

The firm also pointed out that while mobile games continued to fuel revenue growth, PC games suffered a decline.

When asked about the situation with gaming licenses on a call with investors, Tencent President Martin Lau said the company is “waiting for the government to start the approval process.”

Tencent appears to have found a potential interim solution, which involves allowing third-party publishers who secured a license before the freeze to publish games through its platform, but of course, that has limited use.

While games are the hot topic, Tencent was keen to push the story of its cloud computing business, which it said is a key to widening its focus into IOT and other areas.

Emboldened by the reorganization in October, which seemed aimed at shifting Tencent from a consumer-facing internet company into one that’s increasing serving industries, the firm said its cloud business more than doubled its revenue year-on-year. There was no raw revenue figure released for the quarter, but the company did disclose that the cloud unit has brought in more than RMB 6 billion, $860 million, over the last three quarters.

Furthermore, cloud computing and payment-related services helped its “Others” business increase its revenue 69 percent year-on-year to reach RMB 20.3 billion, $2.92 billion, for the quarter.

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Google Assistant picks up a few new tricks

Posted by | Android, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, TC | No Comments

Google Assistant, the voice-driven AI that sits inside Google Home (plus Android phones, newer Nest cameras and a bunch of other devices) and awaits your “Hey, Google” commands, is already pretty clever. That doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks.

In a quick press briefing this week, Google told us a couple of new abilities Assistant will pick up in the coming weeks.

First, and perhaps most interestingly: routines can now be set to trigger the moment you dismiss an alarm on your phone. Routines are basically Google Assistant combo moves; you build them to trigger multiple actions at once. You can build a “Hey Google, I’m going to bed” command, for example, that turns off your smart lights, shuts down the TV and locks your smart locks. For a while now, you’ve been able to have routines triggered at specific times; now you can have them triggered by alarm dismissal.

The difference? If you snooze the alarm on your phone, the routine won’t go off just yet. So you can build a routine, for example, that turns on the lights and starts reading the news — but now it can go off when you’re really getting out of bed, roughly two snooze-buttons after when you probably should’ve gotten up. You’ll find this one hiding in Android’s Clock app.

Another feature, meanwhile, is getting an upgrade: broadcasts. If you’ve got multiple Google Home devices around your house, you can already “broadcast” to all of them to make house-wide announcements like “Dinner’s ready!” or “help I need toilet paper downstairs” (THE FUTURE!). Now you can broadcast messages back to your home while out and about via Google Assistant on your phone, and people inside the home can respond. You can say, “Hey Google, broadcast ‘Do we need milk?’” and anyone inside your house can say “Hey Google, reply ‘no but please get eggnog, come on, please, it’s basically December, you said we could get eggnog in December.’ ”

Broadcast replies will be sent back to your phone as a voice message and a transcription.

Google is also starting to introduce “character alarms” — which are, as the name implies, alarms voiced by popular characters. Right now they’re adding the heroes in a half shell from Nickelodeon’s “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and a bunch of LEGO animated series characters (alas, no LEGO Batman.) They’ll presumably expand this with more licenses if it proves popular.

And if you listen to podcasts or audiobooks on your Google Assistant devices, you can now adjust the playback speed by saying “Hey Google, play at 1.5x” or “1.8x” or whatever you want up to twice the speed. “Play faster” or “Play slower” also works if you’re not feeling specific.

Oh, and for good measure: Google Assistant can now silence all the phones in your house (or, at least, the Android phones tied to your Google account) with a quick “Hey Google, silence the phones” command.

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Jam City signs mobile game development deal with Disney

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, jam city, Mobile, Startups, the walt disney company | No Comments

Mobile gaming company Jam City is announcing a multi-year deal to create mobile games based on Pixar and Walt Disney Animation characters and films.

As part of the agreement, Jam City is taking over development of the match-three puzzle game Disney Emoji Blitz, which launched in 2016. Jam City says that everyone at Disney’s Glendale game studio who’s affected by this will be offered new jobs at the company to continue working on the title.

The first new game, meanwhile, will be based on the upcoming sequel to “Frozen” (that’s right, there’s going to be a “Frozen 2”), though the companies aren’t revealing any details, like the type of gameplay or the release date.

“While our licensing business for Disney Animation and Pixar games has grown over the last year and we have several top developers creating Disney games, this deal with Jam City represents a significant long-term opportunity for our games business and for the future slate of Disney and Pixar games,” said Kyle Laughlin, Disney’s senior vice president of games and interactive experiences, in a statement.

Jam City was founded in 2009 by Chris DeWolfe (who previously cofounded and served as CEO of MySpace) and former Fox executive Josh Ygaudo. It was initially focused on social games and was known as MindJolt before becoming the Social Gaming Network (named after a company it acquired) and then rebranding again two years ago as Jam City.

While Jam City has created its own games like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop, it’s also been releasing titles based on well-known franchises and intellectual property, such as “Snoopy Pop” and “Marvel Avengers Academy.” Earlier this year, it launched “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery,” a game that allows players to enroll in J.K. Rowling’s famous school for wizards and features the voices of several actors from the films.

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Prolific swatter and bomb hoaxer who broke up FCC’s net neutrality vote pleads guilty

Posted by | Gaming, Government, swatting | No Comments

It was a dramatic moment during the FCC’s net neutrality proceedings last December when the Commission’s public meeting was abruptly evacuated and bomb squads moved in — all while thousands watched on the live stream. The person who called in that threat has just entered a guilty plea to that and numerous other crimes, including a SWAT hoax that killed a man last December.

Tyler Barriss is a Kansas resident who has racked up dozens of charges of swatting, calling in bomb threats and other “pranks” that have proven to be anything but.

Swatting is the practice of calling the police and convincing them a dangerous armed person is at a given address in order to provoke an aggressive response by police or SWAT officers — a response that can be disastrous or fatal.

The latter was the result of one particular call Barriss made in December of 2017. He had done it like he’d done many others, for a favor or for money — this time sending the police to the former home of an acquaintance’s Call of Duty rival. The officers shot and killed the current resident of that home, and Barriss — who made no secret of his involvement — was arrested shortly afterwards. It had only been about a year since he was released from prison for similar crimes.

Today Barriss, who was 25 when he was arrested in January, pleaded guilty to a number of charges that had been filed under a variety of jurisdictions. Among them was the bomb threat called in to the FCC, but the sheer variety of schools, malls and homes he threatened, as documented in an indictment, is disturbing.

In simultaneously depressing and haunting Twitter conversations disclosed during the trial, Barriss and his target are seen exchanging direct messages, sparring over each other’s cred and making light of the swatting attempt.

Barriss had in fact called the cops, and convinced them to show up to the address Gaskill had given.

And Gaskill soon found out that his attempt to troll Barriss had resulted in a man’s death:

All three were charged with various crimes, but Barriss with his long, well-documented history of swatting and bomb threats, was the clear priority. The terms of his guilty plea aren’t documented yet but it would be hard to get away from significant time in prison even if he managed to dodge half of the charges he faced.

It’s a sad story from start to finish, but at least the bad guy didn’t get away.

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This $199 PS4 and ‘Spider-Man’ Black Friday bundle has my bargain-sense tingling

Posted by | black friday, Gadgets, Gaming, PlayStation 4, PS4, Sony | No Comments

I’m calling it — this is the best deal of this year’s Black Friday season, for gamers anyway. It’s amazing. It’s spectacular. Sony is selling a PlayStation 4 Slim with the new Spider-Man game for $199. That’s way too little money.

The 1TB PS4 slim currently retails for $300, and that used to be the cost of the 500 GB one. So a $199 price for the improved, terabyte-capacity console would already be a great deal. But throwing Spider-Man in there? I’m not usually one to call out individual details for Black Friday (we’ll have a roundup), but this is ridiculous.

That game came out just the other day, and has garnered absolute rave reviews; plenty of TechCrunch staff have lost dozens of hours to it, and expansions are on the way to suck even more time. It’s still going for full price most places, so that’s worth $50 or $60 right there.

I own a PS4 already and I’m going to do this. The Slim update didn’t change a lot, but it’s quieter, easier to use (no more invisible buttons!), and of course considerably smaller. Getting it for $139 is a no-brainer. Comes with a controller too, obviously. Then I trade in the old one and pick up Tetris Effect on store credit!

For comparison, both Microsoft and Nintendo are offering their basic consoles with a popular game bundled in for $299. Obviously Sony is looking to eat their lunch.

Sure, you could also save your money for a PS4 Pro. But the benefits there, while I wouldn’t call them dubious by any means, aren’t really must-haves for most gamers. Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t going to look that much better unless you’ve also got a 4K HDR setup and all that jazz. If you’re super into the AAA games and best possible graphics, by all means go for it, but for the rest of us who’d rather buy another 4 or 5 games with the money we saved? Slim it is.

There’s also a PSVR bundle for $200 and controllers are cheaper too. But the Slim is obviously the centerpiece here. You’ll have to go to “participating retailers” and probably fight people like me to get the deal, which goes live on November 18 like all the others.

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Facebook Lasso app lead Brady Voss leaves for Netflix right after launch

Posted by | Apps, Brady Voss, Facebook, Mobile, Netflix, Personnel, Social, Talent, TC, tiktok, Video | No Comments

Facebook Lasso has a steep uphill climb ahead as it hopes to chase the musical video app it cloned, China’s TikTok (which merged with Musically). Lasso lets you overlay popular songs on 15-second clips of you lip syncing, dancing or just being silly — kind of like Vine with a soundtrack. It’s off to a slow start since launching Friday, having failed to reach the overall app download charts as it falls from No. 169 to No. 217 on the U.S. iOS Photo and Video App chart, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower estimates Lasso has been downloaded fewer than 10,000 times across both iOS and Android.

Forme Facebook Lead Product Designer Brady Voss

And now one of the Lasso team’s bosses, Brady Voss, is leaving Facebook for a job at Netflix. He’d spent five years as a lead product designer at Facebook working on standalone apps like Hello and major feature launches like Watch, Live, 360 video and the social network’s smart TV app. He previously designed products for TiVo and Microsoft’s Xbox.

“After five life-changing years at Facebook, my last day will be this Friday, 11/16,” Voss wrote on Facebook. “Following our launch of our new app, Lasso, a project I’ve been working on for a while now, the timing works well to explore what’s coming next…. As for what’s next? I have accepted a position at Netflix in Los Gatos, California.” A Facebook spokesperson responded that “Yes, I can confirm that Brady is leaving Facebook.”

Voss added some color about joining Facebook, noting, “There was actually a discussion about whether or not I’d be a great culture fit because I wore a tie to my interviews–which is funny because we don’t believe dressing like that is what enables people to bring their best everyday. Thankfully, they saw past the common clichés–because suits and ties are not me.” As for Facebook’s troubles, he wrote that “I was even there for the big freak out moments along the way–we’ll keep them unnamed 🙃”, which could refer to his work on Facebook Live that spawned big problems with real-time broadcasts of violence and self-harm.

While it’s reasonable for anyone to want a change of pace after five years, especially after the brutal year Facebook’s had in the press, his departure just a week after Lasso’s launch doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the app’s trajectory. It might have been a sensible stopping point haven gotten the app out the door, but you’d also think that if Lasso had a real shot at popularity, he’d have wanted to stick around to oversee that growth.

Lasso’s first rodeo

TechCrunch first broke the news last month that Lasso was in development, citing Voss as one of the team’s heads. But in the meantime, the world’s highest valued private startup ByteDance managed to push its TikTok app past Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube on the download charts. It’s now at No. 5 on the U.S. iOS overall charts and No. 1 in Photo and Video. Facebook seems to have shooed Lasso out a little prematurely before losing more ground, given it lacks many of the augmented reality features and filters found in Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok .

Facebook Lasso

TechCrunch asked the company for some more details about the Lasso roadmap. A spokesperson told me that Facebook will be evolving Lasso and adding new features with time, and may test a feature for uploading videos instead of being restricted to shooting them in-app right now. Voss’ departure post includes a “Made With Lasso” video featuring an augmented reality effect with him conjuring Facebook Like thumbs-ups out of his hand. [Update: He tells me he added this in AfterEffects, but it shows that Facebookers think AR should be part of Lasso.]

As for monetization, Facebook tells me there are no plans to show ads right now. Typically, Facebook tries to build products to have hundreds of millions of users before it potentially endangers growth by layering in revenue generators. I asked if users might be able to pay their favorite video creators with tips, and the company says that while that’s not currently available, it hopes to explore ways to allow creators to earn money in the future. Instagram said the same thing about IGTV when it launched in June, and we still haven’t heard anything on that front. Facebook likely won’t be able to lure creators to new platforms with smaller audiences than their main channels unless it’s going to let them earn money there.

If Facebook is truly serious about challenging TikTok, it may need to build closer ties between Lasso and Instagram. Facebook left its previous standalone video apps like Slingshot and Poke out to dry, eventually shuttering them after providing little cross-promotion. Given the teen audience Lasso craves is already on Instagram, it will be fascinating to see if former VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, who’s now running Instagram, will insert some links to Lasso. A Facebook spokesperson says that Facebook may investigate promoting Lasso on its other apps down the line.

And one final concern regarding Lasso is that Facebook isn’t doing much to prevent underage kids below 13 from getting on the app. Tweens flocked to Musically, leading to some worrisome content. Ten-year-old girls in revealing clothing singing along to the scandalous lyrics of pop songs frequently populated the Musically leaderboard. That prompted me to question Musically CEO Alex Zhu onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 about whether his app violated the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that prohibits online services from collecting photos or videos of kids under 13. He denied wrongdoing with flimsy excuses, claiming parents were always aware of what kids were doing, and stormed out of the backstage area after our talk.

So I asked Facebook how it would prevent such issues on Lasso, where all content is public and adults can follow children. A spokesperson told me that you need a Facebook or Instagram account to sign up for Lasso, and those services require people to be 13 older. But “require” isn’t exactly the right word. It asks people to state they’re of age, but doesn’t do anything to confirm that. Lasso does have a report button for flagging inappropriate content, and the company claims to be taking privacy and safety seriously.

But if the tech giants are going to build apps purposefully designed for young audiences, asking for kids to merely promise they’re old enough to join may not be sufficient.

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Google’s Project Fi gets an improved VPN service

Posted by | Android, Google, Mobile, project fi, Security, virtual private networks, vpn, wi-fi, wireless, wireless service | No Comments

Google’s Project Fi wireless service is getting a major update today that introduces an optional always-on VPN service and a smarter way to switch between Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

By default, Fi already uses a VPN service to protect users when they connect to the roughly two million supported Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, Google is expanding this to cellular connections, as well. “When you enable our enhanced network, all of your mobile and Wi-Fi traffic will be encrypted and securely sent through our virtual private network (VPN) on every network you connect to, so you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that others can’t see your online activity,” the team writes in today’s announcement.

Google notes that the VPN also shields all of your traffic from Google itself and that it isn’t tied to your Google account or phone number.

The VPN is part of what Google calls its “enhanced network” and the second part of this announcement is that this network now also allows for a faster switch between Wi-Fi and mobile networks. When you enable this — and both of these features are currently in beta and only available on Fi-compatible phones that run Android Pie — your phone will automatically detect when your Wi-Fi connection gets weaker and fill in those gaps with cellular data. The company says that in its testing, this new system reduces a user’s time without a working connection by up to 40 percent.

These new features will start rolling out to Fi users later this week. They are off by default, so you’ll have to head to the Fi Network Tools in the Project Fi app and turn them on to get started. One thing to keep in mind here: Google says your data usage will likely increase by about 10 percent when you use the VPN.

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