Europe

Kabuto is building smart suitcases for geeks

Posted by | Europe, Gadgets, kabuto, Startups | No Comments

French company Kabuto is launching a Kickstarter campaign today for the second generation of its smart carry-on suitcase. The company was previously known as Xtend.

If you think about smart suitcases, chances are you picture a suitcase with a battery pack in it and that’s it. In other words, they are not that smart. Kabuto is packing a bunch of electronics to add some more features.

At the top of the suitcase, you’ll find a fingerprint reader. You can unlock the suitcase with your fingerprint or use a key in case your suitcase battery is dead — yes, a smart suitcase means you have one more thing to charge in your life.

The suitcase comes with a 10,000 mAh battery that you plug to various USB-A and USB-C cables. This way, you can charge a device using a USB-A or USB-C cable from the top of the suitcase.

The pocket at the back of the suitcase is removable. For instance, you can store a laptop and a book in it in order to take it with you on a flight. The company uses a magnetic connection between the pocket and the suitcase, which means that you can plug the included USB-C cable to your laptop and then attach the pocket to the suitcase to charge your laptop when you’re not using it.

charging connection

The suitcase features an expandable structure, four wheels with metallic bearings and tires and a strap to attach another bag to the large handle on top of your suitcase. It costs $435 on Kickstarter and it will cost $595 after the Kickstarter campaign.

People who like to pack things exactly the right way will think the Kabuto suitcase offers a lot of options. It’s not a suitcase for everyone, but it’s an interesting take. The company promises to ship all suitcases by the end of the year. The startup has previously raised $1 million (€900,000) from Frédéric Mazzella, Michel & Augustin, Bpifrance, Fabien Pierlot and others.

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Germany says it won’t ban Huawei or any 5G supplier up front

Posted by | 5g, 5g security, angela merkel, China, Europe, european union, Germany, huawei, Mobile, mobile technology, Security, telecommunications | No Comments

Germany is resisting US pressure to shut out Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G networks — saying it will not ban any supplier for the next-gen mobile networks on an up front basis, per Reuters.

“Essentially our approach is as follows: We are not taking a pre-emptive decision to ban any actor, or any company,” government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told a news conference in Berlin yesterday.

The country’s Federal Network Agency is slated to be publishing detailed security guidance on the technical and governance criteria for 5G networks in the next few days.

The next-gen mobile technology delivers faster speeds and lower latency than current-gen cellular technologies, as well as supporting many more connections per cell site. So it’s being viewed as the enabling foundation for a raft of futuristic technologies — from connected and autonomous vehicles to real-time telesurgery.

But increased network capabilities that support many more critical functions means rising security risk. The complexity of 5G networks — marketed by operators as “intelligent connectivity” — also increases the surface area for attacks. So future network security is now a major geopolitical concern.

German business newspaper Handelsblatt, which says it has reviewed a draft of the incoming 5G security requirements, reports that chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to intervene to exclude a clause which would have blocked Huawei’s market access — fearing a rift with China if the tech giant is shut out.

Earlier this year it says the federal government pledged the highest possible security standards for regulating next-gen mobile networks, saying also that systems should only be sourced from “trusted suppliers”. But those commitments have now been watered down by economic considerations at the top of the German government.

The decision not to block Huawei’s access has attracted criticism within Germany, and flies in the face of continued US pressure on allies to ban the Chinese tech giant over security and espionage risks.

The US imposed its own export controls on Huawei in May.

A key concern attached to Huawei is that back in 2017 China’s Communist Party passed a national intelligence law which gives the state swingeing powers to compel assistance from companies and individuals to gather foreign and domestic intelligence.

For network operators outside China the problem is Huawei has the lead as a global 5G supplier — meaning any ban on it as a supplier would translate into delays to network rollouts. Years of delay and billions of dollars of cost to 5G launches, according to warnings by German operators.

Another issue is that Huawei’s 5G technology has also been criticized on security grounds.

A report this spring by a UK oversight body set up to assess the company’s approach to security was damning — finding “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence.

Though a leak shortly afterwards from the UK government suggested it would allow Huawei partial access — to supply non-core elements of networks.

An official UK government decision on Huawei has been delayed, causing ongoing uncertainty for local carriers. In the meanwhile a government review of the telecoms supply chain this summer called for tougher security standards and updated regulations — with major fines for failure. So it’s possible that stringent UK regulations might sum to a de facto ban if Huawei’s approach to security isn’t seen to take major steps forward soon.

According to Handelsblatt’s report, Germany’s incoming guidance for 5G network operators will require carriers identify critical areas of network architecture and apply an increased level of security. (Although it’s worth pointing out there’s ongoing debate about how to define critical/core network areas in 5G networks.)

The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) will be responsible for carrying out security inspections of networks.

Last week a pan-EU security threat assessment of 5G technology highlighted risks from “non-EU state or state-backed actors” — in a coded jab at Huawei.

The report also flagged increased security challenges attached to 5G vs current gen networks on account of the expanded role of software in the networks and apps running on 5G. And warned of too much dependence on individual 5G suppliers, and of operators relying overly on a single supplier.

Shortly afterwards the WSJ obtained a private risk assessment by EU governments — which appears to dial up regional concerns over Huawei, focusing on threats linked to 5G providers in countries with “no democratic and legal restrictions in place”.

Among the discussed risks in this non-public report are the insertion of concealed hardware, software or flaws into 5G networks; and the risk of uncontrolled software updates, backdoors or undocumented testing features left in the production version of networking products.

“These vulnerabilities are not ones which can be remedied by making small technical changes, but are strategic and lasting in nature,” a source familiar with the discussions told the WSJ — which implies that short term economic considerations risk translating into major strategic vulnerabilities down the line.

5G alternatives are in short supply, though.

US Senator Mark Warner recently floated the idea of creating a consortium of ‘Five Eyes’ allies — aka the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK — to finance and build “a Western open-democracy type equivalent” to Huawei.

But any such move would clearly take time, even as Huawei continues selling services around the world and embedding its 5G kit into next-gen networks.

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Foodvisor automatically tracks what you eat using deep learning

Posted by | Apps, Europe, Foodvisor, France Newsletter, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

Meet Foodvisor, a startup that has built a mobile app that helps you log everything you eat in order to lose weight, follow a diet or get healthier. You can add data by capturing a photo of your plate before you eat.

“We’ve spent a little over two years doing research and development before we launched the app in 2018 in France,” co-founder and CMO Aurore Tran told me. Foodvisor has raised $1.5 million so far (€1.4 million).

The company is using deep learning to enable image recognition to detect what you’re about to eat. In addition to identifying the type of food, the app tries to estimate the weight of each item.

Foodvisor tries to evaluate the distance between your plate and your phone using camera autofocus data. It then calculates the area of each food item. The company then tries to extrapolate the volume of each item depending on the type of food.

And of course, if Foodvisor got something wrong, you can manually correct it before you log your meal. Many people give up on nutrition trackers because it’s too demanding. Foodvisor’s technology is all about making the data entry process as seamless as possible.

After that, you get a list of nutrition facts about what you just ate — calories, proteins, carbs, fats, fibers, etc. You can then set a goal, log activities and monitor your progress over time.

The startup has managed to attract 1.8 million app downloads already. It is available on iOS and Android in French, English, German and Spanish. “We have adjusted our product, we’ve enriched our database to better target the American market,” Tran said.

It offers a premium subscription for $5 to $10 per month. In addition to more analysis and diet plans, the main feature of the premium plan is that you can chat with a registered dietitian/nutritionist directly in the app. It turns out that artificial intelligence can’t replace real human nutritionists altogether.

Foodvisor Team

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European risk report flags 5G security challenges

Posted by | 5g, 5g security, Europe, european union, Internet of Things, Mobile, mobile networks, risk management, Security, telecommunications, United Kingdom | No Comments

European Union Member States have published a joint risk assessment report into 5G technology which highlights increased security risks that will require a new approach to securing telecoms infrastructure.

The EU has so far resisted pressure from the U.S. to boycott Chinese tech giant Huawei as a 5G supplier on national security grounds, with individual Member States such as the UK also taking their time to chew over the issue.

But the report flags risks to 5G from what it couches as “non-EU state or state-backed actors” — which can be read as diplomatic code for Huawei. Though, as some industry watchers have been quick to point out, the label could be applied rather closer to home in the near future, should Brexit comes to pass…

Some parts of the 5G report on risk of non-EU cyberattacks may accidentally gain a new unexpected meaning after #Brexit (https://t.co/o7gyV0hqCv) https://t.co/VgU30kRz4p

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) October 9, 2019

Back in March, as European telecom industry concern swirled about how to respond to US pressure to block Huawei, the Commission stepped in to issue a series of recommendations — urging Member States to step up individual and collective attention to mitigate potential security risks as they roll out 5G networks.

Today’s risk assessment report follows on from that.

It identifies a number of “security challenges” that the report suggests are “likely to appear or become more prominent in 5G networks” vs current mobile networks — linked to the expanded use of software to run 5G networks; and software and apps that will be enabled by and run on the next-gen networks.

The role of suppliers in building and operating 5G networks is also noted as a security challenge, with the report warning of a “degree of dependency on individual suppliers”, and also of too many eggs being placed in the basket of a single 5G supplier.

Summing up the effects expected to follow 5G rollouts, per the report, it predicts:

  • An increased exposure to attacks and more potential entry points for attackers: With 5G networks increasingly based on software, risks related to major security flaws, such as those deriving from poor software development processes within suppliers are gaining in importance. They could also make it easier for threat actors to maliciously insert backdoors into products and make them harder to detect.
  • Due to new characteristics of the 5G network architecture and new functionalities, certain pieces of network equipment or functions are becoming more sensitive, such as base stations or key technical management functions of the networks.
  • An increased exposure to risks related to the reliance of mobile network operators on suppliers. This will also lead to a higher number of attacks paths that might be exploited by threat actors and increase the potential severity of the impact of such attacks. Among the various potential actors, non-EU States or State-backed are considered as the most serious ones and the most likely to target 5G networks.
  • In this context of increased exposure to attacks facilitated by suppliers, the risk profile of individual suppliers will become particularly important, including the likelihood of the supplier being subject to interference from a non-EU country.
  • Increased risks from major dependencies on suppliers: a major dependency on a single supplier increases the exposure to a potential supply interruption, resulting for instance from a commercial failure, and its consequences. It also aggravates the potential impact of weaknesses or vulnerabilities, and of their possible exploitation by threat actors, in particular where the dependency concerns a supplier presenting a high degree of risk.
  • Threats to availability and integrity of networks will become major security concerns: in addition to confidentiality and privacy threats, with 5G networks expected to become the backbone of many critical IT applications, the integrity and availability of those networks will become major national security concerns and a major security challenge from an EU perspective.

The high level report is a compilation of Member States’ national risk assessments, working with the Commission and the European Agency for Cybersecurity. It’s couched as just a first step in developing a European response to securing 5G networks.

“It highlights the elements that are of particular strategic relevance for the EU,” the report says in self-summary. “As such, it does not aim at presenting an exhaustive analysis of all relevant aspects or types of individual cybersecurity risks related to 5G networks.”

The next step will be the development, by December 31, of a toolbox of mitigating measures, agreed by the Network and Information Systems Cooperation Group, which will be aimed at addressing identified risks at national and Union level.

“By 1 October 2020, Member States – in cooperation with the Commission – should assess the effects of the Recommendation in order to determine whether there is a need for further action. This assessment should take into account the outcome of the coordinated European risk assessment and of the effectiveness of the measures,” the Commission adds.

For the toolbox a variety of measures are likely to be considered, per the report — consisting of existing security requirements for previous generations of mobile networks with “contingency approaches” that have been defined through standardisation by the mobile telephony standards body, 3GPP, especially for core and access levels of 5G networks.

But it also warns that “fundamental differences in how 5G operates also means that the current security measures as deployed on 4G networks might not be wholly effective or sufficiently comprehensive to mitigate the identified security risks”, adding that: “Furthermore, the nature and characteristics of some of these risks makes it necessary to determine if they may be addressed through technical measures alone.

“The assessment of these measures will be undertaken in the subsequent phase of the implementation of the Commission Recommendation. This will lead to the identification of a toolbox of appropriate, effective and proportionate possible risk management measures to mitigate cybersecurity risks identified by Member States within this process.”

The report concludes with a final line saying that “consideration should also be given to the development of the European industrial capacity in terms of software development, equipment manufacturing, laboratory testing, conformity evaluation, etc” — packing an awful lot into a single sentence.

The implication is that the business of 5G security will need to get commensurately large to scale to meet the multi-dimensional security challenge that goes hand in glove with the next-gen tech. Just banning a single supplier isn’t going to cut it.

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Tencent to take 29% stake in multiplayer games maker Funcom

Posted by | Asia, China, dune, Europe, Funcom, Gaming, online games, Oslo, supercell, Tencent, video gaming | No Comments

Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent is taking a 29% stake to become the largest shareholder in Oslo-based Funcom.

The indie games developer is responsible for multiple adaptations involving the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, such as “Age of Conan” and “Conan Exiles,” as well as a number of other multiplayer titles — including a forthcoming open world sandbox game that will be set in the “Dune” sci-fi universe.

The news that Tencent has entered into a share purchase agreement to acquire almost a third of the company was announced in a press release today. The Chinese giant has agreed to acquire all the shares belonging to the Norway-based KGJ Capital AS, which is currently the largest shareholder in Funcom.

Commenting in a statement, Funcom CEO Rui Casais said: “Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games. The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

Tencent, which has a substantial games operation of its own, also holds stakes in a number of other major games makers — including Riot Games, Epic, Supercell, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip.

A prolonged games licensing freeze in China dented Tencent’s profits last year. And earlier this year, while it reported record profits in its Q1, it also recorded its slowest revenue growth since going public.

Regulatory risk at home is one reason for Tencent to expand its stakes in overseas games developers and tap into a global audience to stoke growth.

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Amazon introduces new $99 Eero mesh Wi-Fi routers

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Hardware Event 2019, api, asus, computing, Eero, Europe, Gadgets, google onhub, hardware, linksys, Router, TC, telecommunications, tp-link, United States, wifi, wireless networking | No Comments

Amazon is launching a new generation of Eero router, the first new iteration of Eero hardware since it acquired the company earlier this year. The new router is $99 for one, or available in a three-pack for $249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

Alongside the new hardware, Amazon has added even more specific voice commands for its routers, including the ability to turn on and off guest Wi-Fi via voice, as well as pause Wi-Fi access for specific devices on the network (Amazon showed off turning off the PlayStation Wi-Fi as one example). These features go above and beyond what’s currently available for third-party devices, but Amazon says it’s also making an API available and that routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linksys and Arris will able to take advantage, as well.
Image from iOS 5

Amazon’s intent with the revised Eero and Alexa commands is to make the whole process of setting up and managing a secure Wi-Fi network super easy for everyone.

Amazon’s updated Eero three-pack will cover a home up to 5,000 square feet in size, the company says, and provide speeds of up to 350 Mbps with dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with 2 Ethernet ports per device for wired connections. They also include Bluetooth LE 5.0, which is used for simple setup via your smartphone.

The price point on the new Eero is certainly attractive, and more competitive than the previous version, which started at $149 for just a beacon alone, and $199 for the hub.

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This game uses troll tactics to teach critical thinking

Posted by | cambridge university, deception, Europe, fake news, finland, Gaming, internet troll, Media, media literacy, online disinformation, social media, social media platforms, TC, Twitter, YLE | No Comments

The best medicine against online disinformation is an informed society that’s thinking critically. The problem is there are no shortcuts to universal education.

Enter Finnish Public Broadcasting Company, Yle, which is hoping to harness the engagement power of gamification to accelerate awareness and understanding of troll tactics and help more people spot malicious internet fakes. It has put together an online game, called Troll Factory, that lets you play at being, well, a hateful troll. Literally.

The game begins with a trigger warning that it uses “authentic social media content” that viewers may find disturbing. If you continue to play you’ll see examples of Islamophobic slogans and memes that have actually been spread on social media. So the trigger warning is definitely merited.

The game itself takes the form of a messaging app style conversation on a virtual smartphone in which you are tasked by the troll factory boss to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment. You do this by making choices about which messages to post online and the methods used to amplify distribution.

Online disinformation tactics intended to polarize public discourse which are depicted in the game include the seeding of conspiracy theory memes on social media; the exploitation of real news events to spread fake claims; microtargeting of hateful content at different demographics and platforms; and the use of paid bots to amplify propaganda so that hateful views appear more widely held than they really are.

After completing an inaugural week’s work in the troll factory, the game displays a rating and shows how many shares and follows your dis-ops garnered. This is followed by contextual information on the influencing methods demonstrated — putting the activity you’ve just participated in into wider context.

Yle, which is a not-for-profit public service broadcaster with a remit to educate and inform, released a Finnish version of the troll factory game back in May but decided to follow up with this international version (in English) after the game got such a strong local reception, including being picked up by people in natsec and education to use as an educational resource, according to Jarno Koponen, head of AI & personalization, at Yle Uutiset News Lab.

“The initial response in Finland was so encouraging: Something like this is needed,” he told us. “Something that makes information operations tangible and visible. We believe that it’s our duty as a public broadcasting company to promote methods, in Finland and abroad, that help citizen’s to better understand our everyday digital environments from their own standing point.

“We want simultaneously to collect more feedback on what’s working in the game-like storytelling, in order to use those findings to develop better products in the future, and to share those finding with for example with other public broadcasting companies in the world.”

Koponen said the team also wanted to test a specific hypotheses about the power of games to debunk junk — after a recent Cambridge University study showed gamified methods work in fighting fake news.

“Based on our data, news articles or more traditional social media analysis doesn’t reach and thus have effect on people en masse,” he said, when asked why Yle chose a game wrapper for its anti-disinformation message, rather than a more traditional educational format such as a documentary film.

“Social media is in your pocket and goes wherever you go. The means to educate you about social media need to be in your pocket too. Especially young people are a hard audience to reach. Thus we need to actively develop new storytelling methods to provide for them nonpartisan information and insight about the world around us. We experimented with different forms from data visualisations to interactive simulations and found game-like experience being the most effectual and engaging.”

“We’ve so far collected direct feedback from our users in social media (from Twitter to Reddit) and on our website,” he added. “Some of the descriptive comments were: ‘This is horrible, but thanks for making us aware of this’ or ‘Scary but illuminating’. It was picked up in social media especially by people and organisations working with younger people from teachers to public libraries, as well as information security and national security professionals.”

Asked whether he thinks social media platforms should be doing more to clear bots and inauthentic content off their platforms, Koponen called for increased transparency from platforms but added that media literacy remains key to influencing how tech giants behave too.

We believe that more transparency is needed on behalf of the social media platforms. However, the more aware the citizen is, the better equipped she’s to decide on her own behalf what works and what doesn’t. We believe that promoting media literacy is key in having meaningful impact on the practices and policies of social media platforms.”

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UK police arrest a number of climate activists planning Heathrow drone protest

Posted by | climate change, drone regulations, drones, Europe, Gadgets, Heathrow, robotics, social media, United Kingdom | No Comments

U.K. police have arrested a number of environmental activists affiliated with a group which announced  last month that it would use drones to try to ground flights at the country’s busiest airport.

The group, which calls itself Heathrow Pause, is protesting against the government decision to green-light a third runway at the airport.

In a press release published today about an operation at Heathrow Airport, London’s Met Police said it has arrested nine people since yesterday in relation to the planned drone protest, which had been due to commence early this morning.

Heathrow Pause suggested it had up to 200 people willing to volunteer to fly toy drones a few feet off the ground within a 5km drone “no fly” zone around the airport — an act that would technically be in breach of U.K. laws on drone flights, although the group said it would only use small drones, flown at head height and not within flight paths. It also clearly communicated its intentions to the police and airport well in advance of the protest.

“Three women and six men aged between their 20s and the 60s have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance,” the Met Police said today.

“Four of the men and the three women were arrested yesterday, Thursday, 12 September, in Bethnal Green, Haringey and Wandsworth, in response to proposed plans for illegal drone use near Heathrow Airport.

“They were taken into custody at a London police station.”

The statement says a further two men were arrested this morning within the perimeter of Heathrow Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance — though it’s not clear whether they are affiliated with Heathrow Pause.

Videos of confirmed members of the group being arrested by police prior to the planned Heathrow Pause action have been circulating on social media.

Roger Hallem , our brave drone pilot being arrested preemptively . We will not give up and we urge all right minded people to rise up with us . Don’t sleep walk into oblivion . Protect your children as if their lives depended on it . It does @ExtinctionR @GretaThunberg pic.twitter.com/10gpVtVVEF

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 12, 2019

In an update on its Twitter feed this morning Heathrow Pause says there have been 10 arrests so far.

It also claims to have made one successful flight, and says two earlier drone flight attempts were thwarted by signal jamming technology.

More flights are planned today, it adds.

UPDATE: 3 attempted flights, at least one successful. 10 arrests so far. More flights planned today.

James, having completed his flight, is about to hand himself into police. Currently in Heathrow Terminal 2 Departures for interviews/photos.

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

Heathrow using signal jamming to frustrate early flights 💚🌲🌍🌲💚#HeathrowPause #ClimateBreakdown #ActNow https://t.co/F4b8NvcLj1

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

Thank you James Brown for your courage. @HeathrowAirport when will you adhere by your own rules and close the airport? https://t.co/fJFlLx2dGb

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

A spokeswoman for Heathrow told us there has been no disruption to flights so far today.

In a statement the airport said: “Heathrow’s runways and taxiways remain open and fully operational despite attempts to disrupt the airport through the illegal use of drones in protest nearby. We will continue to work with the authorities to carry out dynamic risk assessment programmes and keep our passengers flying safely on their journeys today.”

“We agree with the need for climate change action but illegal protest activity designed with the intention of disrupting thousands of people, is not the answer. The answer to climate change is in constructive engagement and working together to address the issue, something that Heathrow remains strongly committed to do,” it added.

We’ve asked the airport to confirm whether signal jamming counter-drone technology is being used to try to prevent the protest.

The Met Police said a dispersal order under Section 34 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has been implemented in the area surrounding Heathrow Airport today.

“It will be in place for approximately 48 hours, commencing at 04:30hrs on Friday, 13 September,” it writes. “The order has been implemented to prevent criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport.”

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Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs

Posted by | Damian Collins, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, entertainment software association, epic games, Europe, fifa, game design, Gaming, gaming disorder, instagram, Jagex, loot box, nancy pelosi, online games, online platforms, Snapchat, social media platforms, UK government, United Kingdom, world health organization | No Comments

UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.

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Zyl raises $1.1 million to resurface old memories from your photos

Posted by | Apps, Comet, Europe, France Newsletter, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, photo, Recent Funding, Startups, Zyl | No Comments

French startup Zyl has raised $1 million (€1 million) in a round led by OneRagtime. The company has developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to find the most interesting photos and videos in your photo library.

Now that smartphones have been around for a while, many people have thousands of unsorted photos on their iPhone or Android device. And chances are you don’t often scroll back to look at past vacations and important life events.

Zyl is well aware of that. That’s why the company does the heavy lifting for you. The app scans your photo library to find important memories and photos you may have forgotten. It has even registered patents for some of its algorithms.

But identifying photos and videos is just one thing. In order to turn that process into a fun, nostalgia-powered experience, the app sends you a notification every day to tell you that Zyl has identified a new memory — they call it a Zyl. When you tap on it, the app reveals that memory and you can share it with your friends and family.

You then have to wait another 24 hours to unlock another Zyl. That slow-paced approach is key as you spend more time looking at Zyls and sharing them with loved ones.

mockup 3.1

It’s also worth noting that Zyl processes your photo library on your iPhone or Android device directly. Photos aren’t sent to the company’s server.

Up next, Zyl plans to enrich your collection of Zyls with more photos and videos from your friends and family. You could imagine a way to seamlessly share photos of the same life event with your loved ones, even if they are currently spread out over multiple smartphones.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve the app and reach millions of users. Zyl already has impressive retention rates, with 38% of users opening the app regularly during five weeks or more.

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