computing

Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Posted by | Apple, computing, digital media, digital rights, Facebook, hardware, human rights, identity management, iPhone, law, Mobile, privacy, TC, terms of service, Tim Cook, United States | No Comments

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.

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Gaming clips service Medal has bought Donate Bot for direct donations and payments

Posted by | api, bot, computing, discord, e-commerce, freeware, Gaming, M&A, operating systems, Patreon, PayPal, Shopify, social media platforms, Software, Steam, subscription services, TC, Twitter | No Comments

The Los Angeles-based video gaming clipping service Medal has made its first acquisition as it rolls out new features to its user base.

The company has acquired the Discord -based donations and payments service Donate Bot to enable direct payments and other types of transactions directly on its site.

Now, the company is rolling out a service to any Medal user with more than 100 followers, allowing them to accept donations, subscriptions and payments directly from their clips on mobile, web, desktop and through embedded clips, according to a blog post from company founder Pim De Witte.

For now, and for at least the next year, the service will be free to Medal users — meaning the company won’t take a dime of any users’ revenue made through payments on the platform.

For users who already have a storefront up with Patreon, Shopify, Paypal.me, Streamlabs or ko-fi, Medal won’t wreck the channel — integrating with those and other payment processing systems.

Through the Donate Bot service any user with a discord server can generate a donation link, which can be customized to become more of a customer acquisition funnel for teams or gamers that sell their own merchandise.

Webhooks API gives users a way to add donors to various list or subscription services or stream overlays, and the Donate Bot is directly linked with Discord Bot List and Discord Server List as well, so you can accept donations without having to set up a website.

In addition, the company updated its social features, so clips made on Medal can ultimately be shared on social media platforms like Twitter and Discord — and the company is also integrated with Discord, Twitter and Steam in a way to encourage easier signups.

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Google will bring its Assistant to Android Messages

Posted by | allo, Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Assistant, computing, Google, Google Allo, machine learning, messaging apps, Mobile, mobile software, mwc 2018, operating system, Software, technology | No Comments

It’s only been a few weeks since Google brought the Assistant to Google Maps to help you reply to messages, play music and more. This feature first launched in English and will soon start rolling out to all Assistant phone languages. In addition, Google also today announced that the Assistant will come to Android Messages, the standard text messaging app on Google’s mobile operating system, in the coming months.

If you remember Allo, Google’s last failed messaging app, then a lot of this will sound familiar. For Allo, after all, Assistant support was one of the marquee features. The different, though, is that for the time being, Google is mostly using the Assistant as an additional layer of smarts in Messages while in Allo, you could have full conversations with a special Assistant bot.

In Messages, the Assistant will automatically pop up suggestion chips when you are having conversations with somebody about movies, restaurants and the weather. That’s a pretty limited feature set for now, though Google tells us that it plans to expand it over time.

What’s important here is that the suggestions are generated on your phone (and that may be why the machine learning model is limited, too, since it has to run locally). Google is clearly aware that people don’t want the company to get any information about their private text chats. Once you tap on one of the Assistant suggestions, though, Google obviously knows that you were talking about a specific topic, even though the content of the conversation itself is never sent to Google’s servers. The person you are chatting with will only see the additional information when you push it to them.

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Medal.tv’s clipping service allows gamers to share the moments of their digital lives

Posted by | api, Casual Game, computing, fortnite, gamer, Gaming, Initial Capital, instagram, makers fund, medal.tv, Netherlands, online gaming, Recent Funding, Ridge Ventures, Roblox, satellite imagery, serial entrepreneur, Startups, TC, Twitch, WhatsApp | No Comments

As online gaming becomes the new social forum for living out virtual lives, a new startup called Medal.tv has raised $3.5 million for its in-game clipping service to capture and share the Kodak moments and digital memories that are increasingly happening in places like Fortnite or Apex Legends.

Digital worlds like Fortnite are now far more than just a massively multiplayer gaming space. They’re places where communities form, where social conversations happen and where, increasingly, people are spending the bulk of their time online. They even host concerts — like the one from EDM artist Marshmello, which drew (according to the DJ himself) roughly 10 million players onto the platform.

While several services exist to provide clips of live streams from gamers who broadcast on platforms like Twitch, Medal.tv bills itself as the first to offer clipping services for the private games that more casual gamers play among friends and far-flung strangers around the world.

“Essentially the next generation is spending the same time inside games that we used to playing sports outside and things like that,” says Medal.tv’s co-founder and chief executive, Pim DeWitte. “It’s not possible to tell how far it will go. People will capture as many if not more moments for the reason that it’s simpler.”

The company marks a return to the world of gaming for DeWitte, a serial entrepreneur who first started coding when he was 13 years old.

Hailing from a small town in the Netherlands called Nijmegen, DeWitte first reaped the rewards of startup success with a gaming company called SoulSplit. Built on the back of his popular YouTube channel, the SoulSplit game was launched with DeWitte’s childhood friend, Iggy Harmsen, and a fellow online gamer, Josh Lipson, who came on board as SoulSplit’s chief technology officer.

At its height, SoulSplit was bringing in $1 million in revenue and employed roughly 30 people, according to interviews with DeWitte.

The company shut down in 2015 and the co-founders split up to pursue other projects. For DeWitte that meant a stint working with Doctors Without Borders on an app called MapSwipe that would use satellite imagery to better locate people in the event of a humanitarian crisis. He also helped the nonprofit develop a tablet that could be used by doctors deployed to treat Ebola outbreaks.

Then in 2017, as social gaming was becoming more popular on games like Fortnite, DeWitte and his co-founders returned to the industry to launch Medal.tv.

It initially started as a marketing tool to get people interested in playing the games that DeWitte and his co-founders were hoping to develop. But as the clipping service took off, DeWitte and co. realized they potentially had a more interesting social service on their hands.

“We were going to build a mobile app and were going to load a bunch of videos of people playing games and then we we’re going to load videos of our games,” DeWitte says. 

The service allows users to capture the last 15 seconds of gameplay using different recording mechanisms based on game type. Medal.tv captures gameplay on a device and users can opt-in to record sound as well.

It is programmed so that it only records the game,” DeWitte says. “There is no inbound connection. It only calls for the API [and] all of the things that would be somewhat dangerous from a privacy perspective are all opt-in.”

There are roughly 30,000 users on the platform every week and around 15,000 daily active users, according to DeWitte. Launched last May, the company has been growing between 5 percent and 10 percent weekly, according to DeWitte. Typically, users are sharing clips through Discord, WhatsApp and Instagram direct messages, DeWitte said.

In addition to the consumer-facing clipping service, Medal also offers a data collection service that aggregates information about the clips that are shared by Medal’s users so game developers and streamers can get a sense of how clips are being shared across which platform.

“We look at clips as a form of communication and in most activity that we see, that’s how it’s being used,” says DeWitte.

But that information is also valuable to esports organizations to determine where they need to allocate new resources.

“Medal.tv Metrics is spectacular,” said Peter Levin, chairman of the Immortals esports organization, in a statement. “With it, any gaming organization gains clear, actionable insights into the organic reach of their content, and can build a roadmap to increase it in a measurable way.”

The activity that Medal was seeing was impressive enough to attract the attention of investors led by Backed VC and Initial Capital. Ridge Ventures, Makers Fund and Social Starts participated in the company’s $3.5 million round as well, with Alex Brunicki, a founding partner at Backed, and Matteo Vallone, principal at Initial, joining the company’s board.

“Emerging generations are experiencing moments inside games the same way we used to with sports and festivals growing up. Digital and physical identity are merging and the technology for gamers hasn’t evolved to support that,” said Brunicki in a statement.

Medal’s platform works with games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and Oldschool Runescape (where DeWitte first cut his teeth in gaming).

“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming,” said Vallone, who previously headed up games for Google Play Europe, and now sits on the Medal board. 

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Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

Posted by | AirPods, computing, Gadgets, galaxy, Samsung, samsung galaxy, smartwatch, TC, technology, ubiquitous computing, wearable devices, wearable technology, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Samsung’s newest product launch happens next week, but already the Korean tech giant has revealed its entire upcoming range of wearable devices that will seemingly be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10.

That’s because the company’s Galaxy Wearable’s app was uploaded today with support for a range of unreleased products, which include wireless earbuds, a sports-focused smartwatch and a new fitness band.

First reported by The Verge — and originally noticed by @SamCentralTech on Twitter — the new wearables include a Galaxy Sport smartwatch, fitness bands Galaxy Fit and Galaxy Fit e and Galaxy Buds, Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirPods. The devices have all been teased in various leaks in recent weeks, but this confirmation from the Samsung app, deliberate or inadvertent, appears to all but confirm their impending arrival.

That said, we really can’t tell too much about the respective devices based on the app, which just shows basic renders of each device.

Still, that might just be enough of a tease to general a little more interest in what promises to be Samsung’s biggest consumer launch event of the year.

The Samsung unveiling comes days before Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s biggest event of the year — so expect to see new product launches coming thick and fast over the coming weeks.

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Lenovo Watch X was riddled with security bugs, researcher says

Posted by | api, Bluetooth, China, computer security, computing, encryption, Gadgets, lenovo, Password, smartwatches, spokesperson, Wearables, web server, Zhongguancun | No Comments

Lenovo’s Watch X was widely panned as “absolutely terrible.” As it turns out, so was its security.

The low-end $50 smartwatch was one of Lenovo’s cheapest smartwatches. Available only for the China market, anyone who wants one has to buy one directly from the mainland. Lucky for Erez Yalon, head of security research at Checkmarx, an application security testing company, he was given one from a friend. But it didn’t take him long to find several vulnerabilities that allowed him to change user’s passwords, hijack accounts and spoof phone calls.

Because the smartwatch wasn’t using any encryption to send data from the app to the server, Yalon said he was able to see his registered email address and password sent in plain text, as well as data about how he was using the watch, like how many steps he was taking.

“The entire API was unencrypted,” said Yalon in an email to TechCrunch. “All data was transferred in plain-text.”

The API that helps power the watch was easily abused, he found, allowing him to reset anyone’s password simply by knowing a person’s username. That could’ve given him access to anyone’s account, he said.

Not only that, he found that the watch was sharing his precise geolocation with a server in China. Given the watch’s exclusivity to China, it might not be a red flag to natives. But Yalon said the watch had “already pinpointed my location” before he had even registered his account.

Yalon’s research wasn’t just limited to the leaky API. He found that the Bluetooth-enabled smartwatch could also be manipulated from nearby, by sending crafted Bluetooth requests. Using a small script, he demonstrated how easy it was to spoof a phone call on the watch.

Using a similar malicious Bluetooth command, he could also set the alarm to go off — again and again. “The function allows adding multiple alarms, as often as every minute,” he said.

Lenovo didn’t have much to say about the vulnerabilities, besides confirming their existence.

“The Watch X was designed for the China market and is only available from Lenovo to limited sales channels in China,” said spokesperson Andrew Barron. “Our [security team] team has been working with the [original device manufacturer] that makes the watch to address the vulnerabilities identified by a researcher and all fixes are due to be completed this week.”

Yalon said that encrypting the traffic between the watch, the Android app and its web server would prevent snooping and help reduce manipulation.

“Fixing the API permissions eliminates the ability of malicious users to send commands to the watch, spoof calls, and set alarms,” he said.

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Opera adds a free VPN to its Android browser app

Posted by | Ad blocking, america, Android, Apps, Asia, computing, Europe, freeware, Opera, search engines, Software, vpn, Web browsers | No Comments

Opera became the first browser-maker to bundle a VPN with its service, and now that effort is expanding to mobile.

The company announced today that its Android browser app will begin offering a free VPN. The feature will be rolled out to beta users on a gradual basis. The VPN is free and unlimited, and it can be set to locations in America, Europe and Asia as well as an “optimal” setting that hooks up the fastest available connection. Switching on the VPN means that user traffic data isn’t collected by Opera, while it makes it harder for websites to track location and user data.

There are granular settings too, which include limiting VPN usage to private tabs and switching it off for search engines to get more local results.

Opera previously offered a free VPN app for Android and iOS, but that project was closed last year. The new strategy, it seems, was to bake that technology directly into the browser to give it a more competitive advantage and use the tech to bring more users into the Opera ecosystem. There’s no word on an iOS launch.

“The reason why we are including this built-in VPN in our Android browser is because it gives you that extra layer of protection that you are searching for in your daily mobile browsing,” the company — which listed on the Nasdaq last year — said in a blog post.

The VPN — which is powered by a 2015 acquisition — is one of a number of privacy features that Opera offers. Others include cookie dialog box blocking, cryptojacking and ad blocking. The company has also offered support for crypto with the addition of a crypto wallet, support for Web 3 apps and — as of this week — a feature that lets users buy crypto from inside their browser.

Besides its core apps, Opera also offers a “Touch” browser that is optimized for devices that don’t have a home button. It launched on Android and expanded to iOS late last year.

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Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, clock, computing, Gadgets, microwave, Publishing, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.

The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”

“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.

The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the “Show” video screen, a subwoofer and more.

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Video game revenue tops $43 billion in 2018, an 18% jump from 2017

Posted by | america, computing, Earnings, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, entertainment software association, esa, fortnite battle royale, Gaming, HBO, Netflix, Reed Hastings, sensor tower, streaming services, TC, video game, YouTube | No Comments

Video game revenue in 2018 reached a new peak of $43.8 billion, up 18 percent from the previous years, surpassing the projected total global box office for the film industry, according to new data released by the Entertainment Software Association and The NPD Group.

Preliminary indicators for global box office revenues published at the end of last year indicated that revenue from ticket sales at box offices around the world would hit $41.7 billion, according to comScore data reported by Deadline Hollywood.

The $43.8 billion tally also surpasses numbers for streaming services, which are estimated to rake in somewhere around $28.8 billion for the year, according to a report in Multichannel News.

Video games and related content have become the new source of entertainment for a generation — and it’s something that has new media moguls like Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings concerned. In the company’s most recent shareholder letter, Netflix said that Fortnite was more of a threat to its business than TimeWarner’s HBO.

“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the company’s shareholder letter stated. “When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time…There are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers and low barriers to entry for those with great experiences.”

“The impressive economic growth of the industry announced today parallels the growth of the industry in mainstream American culture,” said acting ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis, in a statement. “Across the nation, we count people of all backgrounds and stages of life among our most passionate video game players and fans. Interactive entertainment stands today as the most influential form of entertainment in America.”

Gains came from across the spectrum of the gaming industry. Console and personal computing, mobile gaming, all saw significant growth, according to Mat Piscatella, a video games industry analyst for The NPD Group.

According to the report, hardware and peripherals and software revenue increased from physical and digital sales, in-game purchases and subscriptions.

U.S. Video Game Industry Revenue 2018 2017 Growth Percentage
Hardware, including peripherals $7.5 billion $6.5 billion 15%
Software, including in-game purchases and subscriptions  

$35.8 billion

 

$30.4 billion

18%
Total: $43.3 billion $36.9 billion 18%

Source: The NPD Group, Sensor Tower

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Google starts pulling unvetted Android apps that access call logs and SMS messages

Posted by | Android, Apps, computing, Google, Google Play, google search, Mobile, privacy, product management, Security, smartphones, SMS | No Comments

Google is removing apps from Google Play that request permission to access call logs and SMS text message data but haven’t been manually vetted by Google staff.

The search and mobile giant said it is part of a move to cut down on apps that have access to sensitive calling and texting data.

Google said in October that Android apps will no longer be allowed to use the legacy permissions as part of a wider push for developers to use newer, more secure and privacy minded APIs. Many apps request access to call logs and texting data to verify two-factor authentication codes, for social sharing, or to replace the phone dialer. But Google acknowledged that this level of access can and has been abused by developers who misuse the permissions to gather sensitive data — or mishandle it altogether.

“Our new policy is designed to ensure that apps asking for these permissions need full and ongoing access to the sensitive data in order to accomplish the app’s primary use case, and that users will understand why this data would be required for the app to function,” wrote Paul Bankhead, Google’s director of product management for Google Play.

Any developer wanting to retain the ability to ask a user’s permission for calling and texting data has to fill out a permissions declaration.

Google will review the app and why it needs to retain access, and will weigh in several considerations, including why the developer is requesting access, the user benefit of the feature that’s requesting access and the risks associated with having access to call and texting data.

Bankhead conceded that under the new policy, some use cases will “no longer be allowed,” rendering some apps obsolete.

So far, tens of thousands of developers have already submitted new versions of their apps either removing the need to access call and texting permissions, Google said, or have submitted a permissions declaration.

Developers with a submitted declaration have until March 9 to receive approval or remove the permissions. In the meantime, Google has a full list of permitted use cases for the call log and text message permissions, as well as alternatives.

The last two years alone has seen several high-profile cases of Android apps or other services leaking or exposing call and text data. In late 2017, popular Android keyboard ai.type exposed a massive database of 31 million users, including 374 million phone numbers.

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