telecommunications

In-game app-development platform Overwolf acquires CurseForge assets from Twitch to get into mods

Posted by | computing, CurseForge, gamer, Gaming, Intel, Intel Capital, Liberty-Media, M&A, Minecraft mods, mod, Overwolf, Roblox, TC, telecommunications, Twitch, twitch tv, video games, video gaming, video hosting, Wikia | No Comments

Overwolf, the in-game app-development toolkit and marketplace, has acquired Twitch’s CurseForge assets to provide a marketplace for modifications to complement its app development business.

Since its launch in 2009, developers have used Overwolf to build in-game applications for things like highlight clips, game-performance monitoring and metrics, and strategic analysis. Some of these developers have managed to earn anywhere between $100,000 and $1 million per year off revenue from app sales.

“CurseForge is the embodiment of how fostering a community of creators around games generates value for both players and game developers,” said Uri Marchand, Overwolf’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “As we move to onboard mods onto our platform, we’re positioning Overwolf as the industry standard for building in-game creations.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of the company as the Roblox for applications for gamers, and now it’s moving deeper into the gaming world with the acquisition of CurseForge. As the company makes its pitch to current CurseForge users — hoping that the mod developers will stick with the marketplace, they’re offering to increase by 50% the revenue those developers will make.

Overwolf said it has around 30,000 developers who have built 90,000 mods and apps, on its platform already.

As a result of the acquisition, the CurseForge mod manager will move from being a Twitch client and become a standalone desktop app included in Overwolf’s suite of app offerings, and the acquisition won’t have any effect on existing tools and services.

“We’ve been deeply impressed by the level of passion and collaboration in the CurseForge modding community,” said Tim Aldridge, director of Engineering, Gaming Communities at Twitch. “CurseForge is an incredible asset for both creators and gamers. We are confident that the CurseForge community will thrive under Overwolf’s leadership, thanks to their commitment to empowering developers.”

The acquisition comes two years after Overwolf raised $16 million in a round of financing from Intel Capital, which had also partnered with the company on a $7 million fund to invest in app and mod developers for popular games.

“Overwolf’s position as a platform that serves millions of gamers, coupled with its partnership with top developers, means that Intel’s investment will convert into more value for PC gamers worldwide,” said John Bonini, VP and GM of VR, Esports and Gaming at Intel, in a statement at the time. “Intel has always prioritized gamers with high performance, industry-leading hardware. This round of investment in Overwolf advances Intel’s vision to deliver a holistic PC experience that will enhance the ways people interact with their favorite games on the software side as well.”

Other investors in the company include Liberty Technology Venture Capital, the investment arm of the media and telecommunications company, Liberty Media.

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After merger, T-Mobile lays off hundreds of Sprint employees

Posted by | conference call, john legere, Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile, telecommunications | No Comments

In a conference call on Monday lasting under six minutes, T-Mobile vice president James Kirby told hundreds of Sprint employees that their services were no longer needed. He declined to answer his employees’ questions, citing the “personal” nature of employee feedback, and ended the call.

TechCrunch obtained leaked audio of that call, which was said to be one of several calls held by T-Mobile leadership throughout the day to lay off staff across the organization. The layoffs come just two months after its contested $26 billion Sprint merger was finally completed.

On the call, Kirby said T-Mobile was eliminating Sprint’s inside sales unit (BISO), a sales division that focuses on small businesses across the United States. The executive didn’t say exactly how many staff were laid off. Almost 400 people were in the phone meeting, a person on the call told TechCrunch.

Kirby is heard saying that the division’s layoffs would make way for 200 new positions, and encouraged employees to apply for one of the new positions using T-Mobile’s external careers page, spelling out the web address on the call twice. Some impacted employees may be able to shift to new roles, though the carriers don’t appear to have done much to facilitate the moves beyond encouraging staff to apply.

The employees who were laid off Monday will keep their jobs for another two months until August 13, said Kirby. A person on the call told TechCrunch that the severance packages amount to two weeks pay for every year on the job, but some employees may get more.

Employers are required to give two months notice in advance of mass layoffs under the WARN Act.

T-Mobile leadership held several conference calls with employees to announce layoffs across various Sprint divisions on Monday on both the business and consumer sides, according to the person on the call. The person said that they were unaware of any T-Mobile employees affected by the layoffs.

“They cut people from every division, but BISO seems to have been hit the hardest,” the person said.

One employee described their frustration. “I just feel the company needs to acknowledge the pain they are putting people through during a pandemic — severance package or not.”

When reached, a T-Mobile spokesperson did not comment by our deadline.

T-Mobile closed the Sprint merger on April 1. The deal found the nation’s third- and fourth-largest carriers merged in a manner they insisted would keep them more competitive with the No. 1 and No. 2 services — AT&T and Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) — which have long dominated the category.

The merger was, understandably, subject to intense regulatory scrutiny in the months leading up to its final approval, as it would effectively reduce the country’s key carriers to three down from four. Among T-Mobile’s chief selling points were the claim that — in addition to increased competition — a merger would create more jobs.

“In total, New T-Mobile will have more than 11,000 additional employees on our payroll by 2024 compared to what the combined standalone companies would have,” then-chief executive John Legere claimed in an open letter last April.

The exact effect the merger has had on employee headcount isn’t entirely clear, but last month The Communications Workers of America estimated that it would impact some 30,000 jobs due to the consolidation of retail stores and corporate roles.

“T-Mobile has made no written, verifiable commitments to the FCC to protect jobs,” the union wrote. “While T-Mobile has tried to muddy the waters with vague loophole-ridden pledges to maintain jobs for current T-Mobile and Sprint employees, three-quarters of current employees selling the companies’ services work for authorized dealers and are not covered by the jobs pledge — 88,000 workers in total.”

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US Commerce Dept. amends Huawei ban to allow for development of 5G standards

Posted by | 5g, Android, Google, Government, hardware, huawei, iran, Policy, smartphone, technology, telecommunications, U.S. Department of Commerce, United States, wireless technology | No Comments

The United States Department of Commerce today issued a change to its sweeping Huawei ban. Proponents of the move note that the change in policy ought not be regarded as a softening on the government’s stance toward the embattled hardware maker, but instead is an attempt to develop more streamlined standards for 5G, along with the company, which has been one of the primary forces in its development 

According to the Department:

This action is meant to ensure Huawei’s placement on the Entity List in May 2019 does not prevent American companies from contributing to important standards-developing activities despite Huawei’s pervasive participation in standards-development organizations.

The change is designed to allow Huawei and U.S. to both play a role in hashing out the parameters for the next-generation wireless technology. “The United States will not cede leadership in global innovation. This action recognizes the importance of harnessing American ingenuity to advance and protect our economic and national security,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “The Department is committed to protecting U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by encouraging U.S. industry to fully engage and advocate for U.S. technologies to become international standards.”

The new  Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) rule essentially allows companies to share information about technologies in order to develop a joint standard without requiring an export license. Beyond that, however, the DOC has no stated plans to ease up after placing Huawei on its entities list last year.

The Chinese smartphone maker was included in the blacklist over a litany of ongoing complaints, including its ties to national government, concerns over spying and alleged sanction violations with Iran. The move has had a profound impact on the company, including a severing of its ties to Google, which formed the software backbone of its mobile line through Android and a suit of included apps. Subsequent handsets, including the recently released P40 Pro+, have been shipped without the software on board.

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Huawei admits uncertainty following new US chip curbs

Posted by | Android, Asia, huawei, integrated circuits, operating system, Qwant, semiconductor, shenzhen, smartphones, telecommunications, TomTom, TSMC, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. government | No Comments

Following the U.S. government’s announcement that would further thwart Huawei’s chip-making capability, the Chinese telecoms equipment giant condemned the new ruling for being “arbitrary and pernicious.”

“Huawei categorically opposes the amendments made by the U.S. Department of Commerce to its foreign direct product rule that target Huawei specifically,” said Huawei Monday at its annual analyst summit in Shenzhen.

The new curbs, which dropped on Friday, would ban Huawei from using U.S. software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. This will affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

Earlier on Monday, the Nikkei Asian Review reported citing sources that Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract semiconductor that powers many of Huawei’s high-end phones, has stopped taking new orders from Huawei, one of its largest clients. Huawei declined to comment while TSMC said the report was “purely market rumor”.

Decisions from TSMC point to its attempt to strengthen bonds with the U.S. though, as it’s planning a new $12 billion advanced chip factory in Arizona with support from the state and the U.S. federal government.

At the Monday conference, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei stated the latest U.S. ban would not only affect its own business in over 170 countries, where it has spent “hundreds of billions of dollars,” but also the wider ecosystem around the world.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

Huawei has announced a raft of contingency measures ever since the Trump administration began slapping technology sanctions on it, including one that had cut it off certain Android services from Google.

Huawei said at the summit that it had doubled down on investment in overseas developers in an effort to lure them to its operating system. Some 1.4 million developers have joined Huawei Mobile Services or HMS, a 150% jump from 2019. For comparison, iOS in 2018 counted 20 million registered developers, who collectively made about $100 billion in revenues. The question for Huawei is how much money app makers can generate from its ecosystem.

In its search to identify alternatives to Google’s app suite in Europe, it has partnered up with navigation services TomTom and Here, search engine Qwant and news app News UK. 

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How to create the best at-home videoconferencing setup, for every budget

Posted by | Amazon, articles, Bluetooth, driver, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, Laptop, Logitech, microphone, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating system, operating systems, Philips, RØDE, smartphones, Sony, TC, technology, telecommunications, Teleconferencing, usb, video conferencing, webcam, wi-fi, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Your life probably involves a lot more videoconferencing now than it did a few weeks ago – even if it already did involve a lot. That’s not likely going to change anytime soon, so why not make the most of it? The average MacBook webcam can technically get the job done, but it’s far from impressive. There are a number of ways to up your game, however – by spending either just a little or a whole lot. Whether you’re just looking to improve your daily virtual stand-up, gearing up for presenting at a virtual conference, or planning a new video podcast, here’s some advice about what to do to make the most of what you’ve got, or what to get if you really want to maximize your video and audio quality.

Level 0

Turn on a light and put it in the right place

One of the easiest things you can do to improve the look of your video is to simply turn on any light you have handy and position it behind the camera shining on your face. That might mean moving a lamp, or moving your computer if all your available lights are in a fixed position, but it can make a dramatic difference. Check out these examples below, screen grabbed from my Microsoft Surface Book 2 (which actually has a pretty good built-in video camera, as far as built-in video cameras go).

The image above is without any light beyond the room’s ceiling lights on, and the image below is turning on a lamp and positioning it directed on my face from above and behind the Surface Book. It’s enough of a change to make it look less like I got caught by surprise with my video on, and more like I actually am attending a meeting I’m supposed to take part in.

Be aware of what’s behind you

It’s definitely too much to ask to set dress your surroundings for every video call you jump on, but it is worth taking a second to spot check what’s visible in the frame. Ideally, you can find a spot where the background is fairly minimal, with some organized decor visible. Close doors that are in frame, and try not to film in front of an uncovered window. And if you’re living in a pandemic-induced mess of clutter, just shovel the clutter until it’s out of frame.

Know your system sound settings

Get to know where the input volume settings are for your device and operating system. It’s not usually much of an issue, because most apps and systems set pretty sensible defaults, but if you’re also doing something unusual like sitting further away from your laptop to try to fit a second person in frame, then you might want to turn up the input audio slider to make sure anyone listening can actually hear what you have to say.

It’s probably controllable directly in whatever app you’re using, but on Macs, also try going to System Preferences > Sound > Input to check if the level is directly controllable for the device you’re using, and if tweaking that produces the result you’re looking for.

Level 1

Get an external webcam

The built-in webcam on most notebooks and all-in-ones isn’t going to be great, and you can almost always improve things by buying a dedicated webcam instead. Right now, it might be hard to find them in stock, since a lot of people have the same need for a boost in videoconferencing quality all at the same time. But if you can get your hands on even a budget upgrade option like the Logitech C922 Pro Stream 1080p webcam I used for the clip below, it should help with sharpness, low light performance, color and more.

Get a basic USB mic

Dedicated external mics are another way to quickly give your setup a big boost for relatively low cost. In the clip above, I used the popular Samson Meteor USB mic, which has built-in legs and dedicated volume/mute controls. This mic includes everything you need, and should work instantly when you plug it in via USB, and it produces great sound that’s ideal for vocals.

Get some headphones

Headphones of any kind will make your video calls and conferences better, since it minimizes the chance of echo from your mic picking up the audio from your own speakers. Big over ears models are good for sound quality, while earbuds make for less obvious headwear in your actual video image.

Level 2

Use a dedicated camera and an HDMI-to-USB interface

If you already have a standalone camera, including just about any consumer pocket camera with HDMI out capabilities, then it’s worth looking into picking up an HDMI-to-USB video capture interface in order to convert it into a much higher quality webcam. In the clip below I’m using the Sony RX100 VII, which is definitely at the high end of the consumer pocket camera market, but there are a range of options that should give you nearly the same level of quality, including the older RX100 models from Sony .

When looking for an HDMI interface, make sure that they advertise that it works with videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Hangouts and Skype on Mac and Windows without any software required: This means that they likely have UVC capabilities, which means those operating systems will recognize them as webcams without any driver downloads or special apps required out of the box. These are also in higher demand due to COVID-19, so the Elgato Cam Link 4K I used here probably isn’t in ready stock anywhere. Instead, look to alternatives like the IOGear Video Capture Adapter or the Magewell USB 3.0 Capture device, or potentially consider upgrading to a dedicated live broadcast deck like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini I’ll talk more about below.

Get a wired lav mic

A simple wired lavalier (lav) microphone is a great way to upgrade your audio game, and it doesn’t even need to cost that much. You can get a wired lav that performs decently well for as little as $20 on Amazon, and you can use a USB version for connecting directly to your computer even if you don’t have a 3.5mm input port. Rode’s Lavalier GO is a great mid-range option that also works well with the Wireless GO transmitter and receiver kit I mention in the next section. The main limitation of this is that depending on cord length, you could be pretty limited in terms of your range of motion while using one.

Get multiple lights and position them effectively

Lighting is a rabbit hole that ends up going very deep, but getting a couple of lights that you can move to where you need them most is a good, inexpensive way to get started. Amazon offers a wide range of lighting kits that fit the bill, or you can even do pretty well with just a couple of Philips Hue lights in gooseneck lamps positioned correctly and adjusted to the right temperature and brightness.

Level 3

Use an interchangeable lens camera and a fast lens

The next step up from a decent compact camera is one that features interchangeable lenses. This allows you to add a nice, fast prime lens with a high maximum aperture (aka a low ‘f’ number’) to get that defocused background look. This provides natural-looking separation of you, the subject, from whatever is behind you, and provides a cinematic feel that will wow colleagues in your monthly all-hands.

Get a wireless lav mic

A lav mic is great, but a wireless lav mic is even better. It means you don’t need to worry about hitting the end of your cable, or getting it tangled in other cables in your workspace, and it can provide more flexibility in terms of what audio interfaces you use to actually get your sound into the computer, too. A great option here is the RODE Wireless GO, which can work on its own or in tandem with a mic like the RODE Lavalier GO for great, flexible sound.

Use in-ear monitors

You still want to be using headphones at this stage, but the best kind to use really are in-ear monitors that do their best to disappear out of sight. You can get some dedicated broadcast-style monitors like those Shure makes, or you can spring for a really good pair of Bluetooth headphones with low latency and the latest version of Bluetooth. Apple’s AirPods Pro is a great option, as are the Bang & Olfusen E8 fully wireless earbuds, which I’ve used extensively without any noticeable lag.

Use 3-point lighting

At this stage, it’s really time to just go ahead and get serious about lighting. The best balance in terms of optimizing specifically for streaming, videoconferencing and anything else your’e doing from your desk, basically, is to pick up at least two of Elgato’s Key Lights or Key Light Airs.

These are LED panel lights with built-in diffusers that don’t have a steep learning curve, and that come with very sturdy articulating tube mounts with desk clamps, and that connect to Wi-Fi for control via smartphones or desktop applications. You can adjust their temperature, meaning you can make them either more ‘blue’ or more ‘orange’ depending on your needs, as well as tweak their brightness.

Using three of these, you can set up a standard 3-point lighting setup which are ideal for interviews or people speaking directly into a camera – aka just about every virtual conference/meeting/event/webinar use you can think of.

Level 4

Get an HDMI broadcast switcher deck

HDMI-USB capture devices do a fine job turning most cameras into webcams, but if you really want to give yourself a range of options, you can upgrade to a broadcast switching interface like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini. Released last year, the ATEM Mini packs in a lot of features that previously were basically only available to video pros, and provides them in an easy-to-use form factor with a price that’s actually astounding given how much this thing can really do.

On its own paired with a good camera, the ATEM Mini can add a lot to your video capabilities, including allowing you to tee up still graphics, and switch to computer input to show videos, work live in graphics apps, demonstrate code or run a presentation. You can set up picture-in-picture views, put up lower thirds and even fade-to-black using a hardware button dedicated to that purpose.

But if you really want to make the most of the ATEM Mini, you can add a second or even a third and fourth camera to the mix. For most uses, this is probably way too much camera – there are only so many angles one can get of a single person talking, in the end. But if you get creative with camera placement and subjects, it’s a fun and interesting way to break up a stream, especially if you’re doing something longer like giving a speech or extended presentation. The newer ATEM Mini Pro is just starting to ship, and offers built-in recording and streaming as well.

Use a broadcast-quality shotgun mic

The ATEM Mini has two dedicated audio inputs that really give you a lot of flexibility on that front, too. Attaching one to the output on an iPod touch, for instance, could let you use that device as a handy soundboard for cueing up intro and title music, plus sound effects. And this also means you can route sound from a high-quality mic, provided you have the right interface.

For top level streaming quality, with minimal sacrifices required in terms of video, I recommend going to a good, broadcast-quality shotgun mic. The Rode VideoMic NTG is a good entry-level option that has flexibility when it comes to also being mountable on-camera, but something like the Rode NTG3m mounted to a boom arm and placed out of frame with the mic end angled down towards your mouth, is going to provide the best possible results.

Add accent lighting

You’ve got your 3-point lighting – but as I said, lighting is a nearly endless rabbit hole. Accent lighting can really help push the professionalism of your video even further, and it’s also pretty easy and to set up using readily available equipment. Philips Hue is probably my favorite way to add a little more vitality to any scene, and if you’re already a Hue user you can make do with just about any of their color bulbs. Recent releases from Philips like the Hue Play Smart LED Light Bars are essentially tailor made for this use, and you can daisy chain up to three on one power adapter to create awesome accent wall lighting effects.

All of this is, of course, not at all necessary for basic video conferencing, virtual hangouts and meetings. But if you think that remote video is going to be a bigger part of our lives going forward, even as we return to some kind of normalcy in the wake of COVID-19, then it’s worth considering what elements of your system to upgrade based on your budget and needs, and hopefully this article provides some guidance.

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China’s smartphone shipments are reportedly up for April, following COVID-19-fueled decline

Posted by | Apple, articles, Asia, China, coronavirus, COVID-19, Europe, hardware, huawei, Mobile, north america, pandemic, smartphone, telecommunications, United States | No Comments

Smartphone shipments are reportedly beginning to see signs of life in China, after a sizable dip from the COVID-19 pandemic. New numbers from China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (a government-connected agency) point to a 17% rise in shipments for April, pointing to some recovery for the market.

The figure, from the China state-supported group, is virtually a mirror reflection of the 18% dip Canalys reported for Q1. COVID-19 was the primary culprit for those figures, through a combination of decreased spending among China’s phone-buying public and sizable supply chain constraints, as many Asian nations were on lockdown to slow the spread.

Both Huawei and Apple benefited from the rebound, though Reuters notes that the firm opted not to include an OS breakdown for the first time in a while, making it more difficult to parse market share.

Smartphone shipments have suffered across the board, along with countless other industries. A rebound for China’s market could be a bellwether for positive numbers for the industry moving forward — especially given the country’s close ties to the global supply chain. In spite of being the first country hit, China’s official figures for COVID-19 deaths have remained low, compared to countries in Europe and North America.

That’s likely due in part to some draconian measures used to stop the spread. Other countries (the U.S. in particular) may not be so likely to rebound from the pandemic, leading to a more protracted impact on the global market. 

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Google’s Duo video chat app gets a family mode with doodles and masks

Posted by | Android, Apps, conversations, Google, Google Duo, Google Hangouts, Mobile, Mothers Day, operating systems, TC, telecommunications, web conferencing | No Comments

Google today launched an update to its Duo video chat app (which you definitely shouldn’t confuse with Hangouts or Google Meet, Google’s other video, audio and text chat apps).

There are plenty of jokes to be made about Google’s plethora of chat options, but Duo is trying to be a bit different from Hangouts and Meet in that it’s mobile-first and putting the emphasis on personal conversations. In its early days, it was very much only about one-on-one conversations (hence its name), but that has obviously changed (hence why Google will surely change its name sooner or later). This update shows this emphasis with the addition of what the company calls a “family mode.”

Once you activate this mode, you can start doodling on the screen, activate a number of new effects and virtually dress up with new masks. These effects and masks are now also available for one-on-one calls.

For Mother’s Day, Google is rolling out a special new effect that is sufficiently disturbing to make sure your mother will never want to use Duo again and immediately make her want to switch to Google Meet instead.

Only last month, Duo increased the maximum number of chat participants to 12 on Android and iOS. In the next few weeks, it’s also bringing this feature to the browser, where it will work for anyone with a Google account.

Google also launched a new ad for Duo. It’s what happens when marketers work from home.

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Rode’s new white Wireless GO and accessories extend the flexibility of the most versatile creator mic

Posted by | electronics, Gadgets, hardware, instagram, microphones, Reviews, RØDE, TC, telecommunications, usb, USB-C, wireless, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Sound industry leader Rode has done an amazing job keeping up with the needs of the fast-moving creator industry, supporting YouTubers, podcasters and Instagram and Tik Tok media mavens with a host of new products at impressive price points. The Rode Wireless GO mic system might be the most impressive of these, taking the quality you’d expect from a more expensive wireless mic pack system formerly reserved for broadcast pros and bringing it to the masses at a very compelling price point, with easy setup and use. Now, Rode has introduced a new white version of the Rode Wireless GO, along with new accessories that increase the flexibility of the already very flexible audio device.

I’ve been a fan of the Wireless GO since its launch, and previously used the original black version in a number of different capacities. The white version doesn’t mess with anything that was great about the original — it just gives you a light-colored option that is more suitable for use with light clothes when you’re shooting video. If you’re not already familiar with the Wireless GO, what you get in the box is a transmitter and a receiver (with built-in clips on the back for attachment to clothing), each of which charges via USB-C, along with wind filters, charging cables, a 3.5mm audio cable and a carrying case.

Out of the box, the receiver and transmitter are synced, so all you need to do is power them on to get started. The transmitter comes with a mic built-in, so you can immediately clip it to your collar to get started transmitting sound. The receiver pack can easily slide right into the cold shoe mount on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and the included standard audio cable can connect from it to the camera’s mic input for direct recording.

The Rode Wireless GO’s USB-C port acts as an audio output, too, so you can use either a USB-C headset or a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter to get direct audio monitoring from the pack, too. On the transmitter side, there’s a 3.5mm input so you can connect a lavalier (or any other) mic to up your audio game even further. Speaking of lavs, Rode also introduced a new white version of its own Lavalier GO lapel mic, which is also a fantastic, affordable option that produces very high-quality results. Below, you can hear both the sound direct from the GO itself, and a sample using the Lavalier GO attached to the transmitter.

The versatility of the Wireless GO means that they’re incredibly useful for a wide range of uses. For instance, I have them connected into a USB audio interface on my main work Mac for use during video calls — I just power them up when it comes time to conference, and no one has to deal with muffled or low-quality audio from my end in terms of clarity and ease of understanding. On the road, the Wireless GO is also a great option for podcasting, providing much better sound than what you can get out of wireless earbuds or built-in device mics. And they’re extremely portable, unlike most USB mics that would also provide a good alternative.

Rode has also debuted a couple of accessories alongside this launch that make them great for even more use cases. The Interview GO adapter, for instance, allows you to mount the transmitter on a handheld mic grip, turning it into a stick mic complete with foam filter to reduce wind sounds and plosives. That means one less mic to carry around when you’re doing on-camera interviews with passersby, or participating in a media scrum.

There’s also a new magnetic clip attachment that means you can easily adapt the Rode Wireless GO transmitter pack to clip anywhere on a subject’s clothing, rather than requiring that it clip to a collar or exposed seam. This is huge for placement flexibility with any outfit, and can help with hiding the pack, too, if you’re looking to get a clean video shot.

Rode’s Wireless GO can also perform some neat tricks that could help with other audio applications, including being able to act as a latency-free wireless converter for any set of headphones. You can connect any input to the 3.5mm port on the transmitter, and then connect a set of headphones to the receiver and get that input piped to you directly.

It’s hard to find any mic system that’s truly a jack-of-all-trades without also having to deal with significant trade-offs in one department or another, but the Rode Wireless GO is pretty near perfect for a range of use at a price point that’s hard to beat. The GO itself costs $199, while the Lavalier GO is $79. The MagClip magnet clip for the transmitter is $19, and the Interview GO handheld mic adapter is $29.

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Players Ntwrk launches celebrity gaming channel backed by WME, Daylight and Stratton Sclavos

Posted by | digital media, Endeavor, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, HBO, Internet, lebron james, Netflix, Players Ntwrk, producer, sacramento kings, Spotify, TC, telecommunications, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, wme | No Comments

Emerging from the smoldering wreckage of Echo Fox and Vision Venture Partners, the investor Stratton Sclavos is rising again to launch a new esports-related venture — a gaming-focused digital network also backed by the WME talent agency and Daylight Holdings.

Tapping Daylight and WME’s roster of talent, Sclavos has created Players Ntwrk, a new gaming-focused production company that will look to compete with other upstarts angling to tap into esports and competitive gaming’s newly dominant place in the entertainment firmament.

Players Ntwrk will feature original programming, unscripted series, celebrity gameplay and live events tapping talent from music, traditional pro-sports and the esports gaming world.

Sclavos and the multifaceted talent manager and president of Daylight Holdings, Ben Curtis, dreamed up Players Ntwrk as a way to tie together disparate groups of athletes and entertainers around their shared love of gaming and entertainment. The network will initially leverage relationships with WME and Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’ longtime manager, Rich Paul, to find talent for programming.

The network will launch on Tuesday at 5:00 pm Pacific for two hours of gameplay featuring the New Orleans Pelicans Guard/Forward Josh Hart and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox on the Players Ntwrk Twitch channel. Additional live streams will be broadcast Friday and Saturday, the company said.

Over the next 12 weeks the network will add live programming featuring all of its “First Squad” talent and experimenting with different gaming and unscripted formats. Ultimately, the network will produce between 12 and 15 hours of original programming per week by the end of the second quarter and will ramp up to 20 to 24 hours of programming per-week by the end of the year.

Initial programming is going to be devoted to charity fundraising, with proceeds going to designated charities based on direct audience donations, the company said.

Players Ntwrk’s First Squad talent roster includes:

  • Professional athletes: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Josh Hart (New Orleans Pelicans), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
  • Music and Entertainment: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Murda Beatz, producer Boi-1da, actor/former athlete Donovan Carter (Ballers)
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Players Ntwrk joins companies like Venn, which are angling to gain a slice of the roughly 37.5 million monthly viewers that are expected to watch live streams on Twitch by the end of 2020, according to research done by eMarketer.

“The number of viewers and subscribers consuming gaming entertainment across YouTube and Twitch tops other entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO, Spotify and ESPN combined,” said Sclavos, in a statement. “Entertainment spectacle is trumping hardcore gaming competition. That kind of engagement makes it clear; gaming entertainment is the next pop culture phenomena. PLAYERS NTWRK is the only platform embracing and executing this new reality by creating original content with the most influential people who also happen to be fans themselves.”

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Telco metadata grab is for modelling COVID-19 spread, not tracking citizens, says EC

Posted by | Andrus Ansip, coronavirus, COVID-19, data protection, deutsche telekom, digital rights, ePrivacy Directive, eu commission, Europe, european commission, european union, GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, gsma, Health, Mobile, mobile phone, National Health Service, Palantir, privacy, Privacy International, telecommunications, thierry-breton | No Comments

As part of its response to the public health emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has been leaning on Europe’s telcos to share aggregate location data on their users.

The Commission kick-started a discussion with mobile phone operators about the provision of aggregated and anonymised mobile phone location data,” it said today.

“The idea is to analyse mobility patterns including the impact of confinement measures on the intensity of contacts, and hence the risks of contamination. This would be an important — and proportionate — input for tools that are modelling the spread of the virus, and would also allow to assess the current measures adopted to contain the pandemic.”

“We want to work with one operator per Member State to have a representative sample,” it added. “Having one operator per Member State also means the aggregated and anonymised data could not be used to track individual citizens, that is also not at all the intention. Simply because not all have the same operator.

“The data will only be kept as long as the crisis is ongoing. We will of course ensure the respect of the ePrivacy Directive and the GDPR.”

Earlier this week Politico reported that commissioner Thierry Breton held a conference with carriers, including Deutsche Telekom and Orange, asking for them to share data to help predict the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Europe has become a secondary hub for the disease, with high rates of infection in countries including Italy and Spain — where there have been thousands of deaths apiece.

The European Union’s executive is understandably keen to bolster national efforts to combat the virus. Although, it’s less clear exactly how aggregated mobile location data can help — especially as more EU citizens are confined to their homes under national quarantine orders. (While police patrols and CCTV offer an existing means of confirming whether or not people are generally moving around.)

Nonetheless, EU telcos have already been sharing aggregate data with national governments.

Orange in France is sharing “aggregated and anonymized” mobile phone geolocation data with Inserm, a local health-focused research institute — to enable them to “better anticipate and better manage the spread of the epidemic,” as a spokeswoman put it.

“The idea is simply to identify where the populations are concentrated and how they move before and after the confinement in order to be able to verify that the emergency services and the health system are as well armed as possible, where necessary,” she added. “For instance, at the time of confinement, more than 1 million people left the Paris region and at the same time the population of Ile de Ré increased by 30%.

“Other uses of this data are possible and we are currently in discussions with the State on all of these points. But, it must be clear, we are extremely vigilant with regards to concerns and respect for privacy. Moreover, we are in contact with the CNIL [France’s data protection watchdog]… to verify that all of these points are addressed.”

Germany’s Deutsche Telekom is also providing to national health authorities what a spokesperson dubbed “anonymized swarm data” to combat the corona virus.

“European mobile operators are also to make such anonymized mass data available to the EU Commission at its request,” the spokesperson told us. “In fact, we will first provide the EU Commission with a description of data we have sent to German health authorities.”

It’s not entirely clear whether the Commission’s intention is to pool data from such existing local efforts — or whether it’s asking EU carriers for a different, universal data-set to be shared with it during the COVID-19 emergency.

When we asked about this it did not provide an answer. Although we understand discussions are ongoing with operators — and that it’s the Commission’s aim to work with one operator per Member State.

The Commission has said the metadata will be used for modelling the spread of the virus and for looking at mobility patterns to analyze and assess the impact of quarantine measures.

A spokesman emphasized that individual-level tracking of EU citizens is not on the cards.

“The Commission is in discussions with mobile operators’ associations about the provision of aggregated and anonymised mobile phone location data,” the spokesman for Breton told us.

“These data permit to analyse mobility patterns including the impact of confinement measures on the intensity of contacts and hence the risks of contamination. They are therefore an important and proportionate tool to feed modelling tools for the spread of the virus and also assess the current measures adopted to contain the Coronavrius pandemic are effective.”

“These data do not enable tracking of individual users,” he added. “The Commission is in close contact with the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) to ensure the respect of the ePrivacy Directive and the GDPR.”

At this point there’s no set date for the system to be up and running — although we understand the aim is to get data flowing asap. The intention is also to use data sets that go back to the start of the epidemic, with data-sharing ongoing until the pandemic is over — at which point we’re told the data will be deleted.

Breton hasn’t had to lean very hard on EU telcos to share data for a crisis cause.

Earlier this week Mats Granryd, director general of operator association the GSMA, tweeted that its members are “committed to working with the European Commission, national authorities and international groups to use data in the fight against COVID-19 crisis.”

Although, he added an important qualifier: “while complying with European privacy standards.”

The @GSMA and our members are committed to working with the @EU_Commission, national authorities and international groups to use data in the fight against COVID-19 crisis, while complying with European privacy standards. https://t.co/f1hBYT5Lqx

— Mats Granryd (@MatsGranryd) March 24, 2020

Europe’s data protection framework means there are limits on how people’s personal data can be used — even during a public health emergency. And while the legal frameworks do quite rightly bake in flexibility for a pressing public purpose, like the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not mean individuals’ privacy rights automatically go out the window.

Individual tracking of mobile users for contact tracing — such as Israel’s government is doing — is unimaginable at the pan-EU level. Certainly unless the regional situation deteriorates drastically.

One privacy lawyer we spoke to last week suggested such a level of tracking and monitoring across Europe would be akin to a “last resort.” Though individual EU countries are choosing to respond differently to the crisis — such as, for example, Poland giving quarantined people a choice between regular police check ups or uploading geotagged selfies to prove they’re not breaking lockdown.

While former EU Member the U.K. has reportedly chosen to invite in the controversial U.S. surveillance-as-a-service tech firm Palantir to carry out resource tracking for its National Health Service during the coronavirus crisis.

Under pan-EU law (which the U.K. remains subject to, until the end of the Brexit transition period), the rule of thumb is that extraordinary data-sharing — such as the Commission asking telcos to share user location data during a pandemic — must be “temporary, necessary and proportionate,” as digital rights group Privacy International recently noted.

This explains why Breton’s request is for “anonymous and aggregated” location data. And why, in background comments to reporters, the claim is that any shared data sets will be deleted at the end of the pandemic.

Not every EU lawmaker appears entirely aware of all the legal limits, however.

Today the bloc’s lead privacy regulator, data protection supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski, could be seen tweeting cautionary advice at one former commissioner, Andrus Ansip (now an MEP) — after the latter publicly eyed up a Bluetooth-powered contacts tracing app deployed in Singapore.

“Please be cautious comparing Singapore examples with European situation. Remember Singapore has a very specific legal regime on identification of device holder,” wrote Wiewiórowski.

So it remains to be seen whether pressure will mount for more privacy-intrusive surveillance of EU citizens if regional rates of infection continue to grow.

Dear Mr. Commissioner, please be cautious comparing Singapoore examples with European situation. Remember Singapore has a very specific legal regime on identification of device holder.

— Wojtek Wiewiorowski (@W_Wiewiorowski) March 27, 2020

As we reported earlier this week, governments or EU institutions seeking to make use of mobile phone data to help with the response to the coronavirus must comply with the EU’s ePrivacy Directive — which covers the processing of mobile location data.

The ePrivacy Directive allows for Member States to restrict the scope of the rights and obligations related to location metadata privacy, and retain such data for a limited time — when such restriction constitutes “a necessary, appropriate and proportionate measure within a democratic society to safeguard national security (i.e. State security), defence, public security, and the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences or of unauthorised use of the electronic communication system” — and a pandemic seems a clear example of a public security issue.

Thing is, the ePrivacy Directive is an old framework. The previous college of commissioners had intended to replace it alongside an update to the EU’s broader personal data protection framework — the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — but failed to reach agreement.

This means there’s some potential mismatch. For example the ePrivacy Directive does not include the same level of transparency requirements as the GDPR.

Perhaps understandably, then, since news of the Commission’s call for carrier metadata emerged concerns have been raised about the scope and limits of the data sharing. Earlier this week, for example, MEP Sophie in’t Veld wrote to Breton asking for more information on the data grab — including querying exactly how the data will be anonymized.

Fighting the #coronavirus with technology: sure! But always with protection of our privacy. Read my letter to @ThierryBreton 👇 about @EU_Commission’s plans to call on telecoms to hand over data from people’s mobile phones in order to track&trace how the virus is spreading. pic.twitter.com/55kZo9bMhN

— Sophie in ‘t Veld (@SophieintVeld) March 25, 2020

The EDPS confirmed to us that the Commission consulted it on the proposed use of telco metadata.

A spokesman for the regulator pointed to a letter sent by Wiewiórowski to the Commission, following the latter’s request for guidance on monitoring the “spread” of COVID-19.

In the letter the EDPS impresses on the Commission the importance of “effective” data anonymization — which means it’s in effect saying a technique that does genuinely block re-identification of the data must be used. (There are plenty of examples of “anonymized” data being shown by researchers to be trivially easy to reidentify; while location data typically includes many easily identified individual tells, such as a home address and workplace address.)

“Effective anonymisation requires more than simply removing obvious identifiers such as phone numbers and IMEI numbers,” warns the EDPS, adding too that aggregated data “can provide an additional safeguard.”

We also asked the Commission for more details on how the data will be anonymized and the level of aggregation that would be used — but it told us it could not provide further information at this stage. 

So far we understand that the anonymization and aggregation process will be undertaken before data is transferred by operators to a Commission science and research advisory body, called the Joint Research Centre (JRC) — which will perform the data analytics and modelling.

The results — in the form of predictions of propagation and so on — will then be shared by the Commission with EU Member States authorities. The datasets feeding the models will be stored on secure JRC servers.

The EDPS is equally clear on the Commission’s commitments vis-a-vis securing the data.

“Information security obligations under Commission Decision 2017/464 still apply [to anonymized data], as do confidentiality obligations under the Staff Regulations for any Commission staff processing the information. Should the Commission rely on third parties to process the information, these third parties have to apply equivalent security measures and be bound by strict confidentiality obligations and prohibitions on further use as well,” writes Wiewiórowski.

“I would also like to stress the importance of applying adequate measures to ensure the secure transmission of data from the telecom providers. It would also be preferable to limit access to the data to authorised experts in spatial epidemiology, data protection and data science.”

Data retention — or rather the need for prompt destruction of data sets after the emergency is over — is another key piece of the guidance.

“I also welcome that the data obtained from mobile operators would be deleted as soon as the current emergency comes to an end,” writes Wiewiórowski. “It should be also clear that these special services are deployed because of this specific crisis and are of temporary character. The EDPS often stresses that such developments usually do not contain the possibility to step back when the emergency is gone. I would like to stress that such solution should be still recognised as extraordinary.”

teresting to note the EDPS is very clear on “full transparency” also being a requirement, both of purpose and “procedure.” So we should expect more details to be released about how the data is being effectively rendered unidentifiable.

“Allow me to recall the importance of full transparency to the public on the purpose and procedure of the measures to be enacted,” writes Wiewiórowski. “I would also encourage you to keep your Data Protection Officer involved throughout the entire process to provide assurance that the data processed had indeed been effectively anonymised.”

The EDPS has also requested to see a copy of the data model. At the time of writing the spokesman told us it’s still waiting to receive that.

“The Commission should clearly define the dataset it wants to obtain and ensure transparency towards the public, to avoid any possible misunderstandings,” Wiewiórowski added in the letter.

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