United States

UK U-turns on Huawei and 5G, giving operators until 2027 to rip out existing kit

Posted by | 5g, BT, China, Europe, huawei, Mobile, NEC, Samsung, Security, supply chain, telecommunications, UK government, United Kingdom, United States, zte | No Comments

The UK government has confirmed a widely expected U-turn related to “high risk” 5G vendors linked to the Chinese state — attributing the policy shift to the US recently imposing tighter sanctions on Huawei’s access to its technologies.

UK digital minister Oliver Dowden told parliament the new policy will bar telcos from buying 5G kit from Huawei and ZTE to install in new network builds from the end of this year. While any of their kit that’s already been installed in UK 5G networks must be removed by 2027.

Although legislation to enable the enforcement of the policy has still to be laid before parliament and could face challenges from MPs who want to seek a more rapid removal of Huawei kit.

Yesterday telco BT warned against any overly rapid rip-out of existing Huawei kit, suggesting it could cause mobile network outages, generate security risks and further delay upgrades to the country’s fiber broadband network which the government included in its manifesto. BT CEO Philip Jansen had suggested an ideal timeframe of seven years to remove existing Huawei 5G kit so the government appears to have served up its best case scenario, while still piling additional cost on next-gen network builds.

Dowden conceded that the new policy will also delay the rollout of UK 5G networks but claimed the government is prioritizing security over economic considerations.

“Clearly since January the situation has changed. On the 15th of May the US Department of Commerce announced that new sanctions had been imposed against Huawei through changes to the foreign direct product rules. This was a significant material change and one that we have to take into consideration,” he told parliament.

“These sanctions are not the first attempt by the US to restrict Huawei’s ability to supply equipment to 5G networks. They are, however, the first to have potentially severe impacts on Huawei’s ability to supply new equipment in the United Kingdom. The new US measures restrict Huawei’s abilities to produce important products using US technology or software.”

Dowden said the National Cyber Security Center had reviewed the new US sanctions and “significantly” changed their security assessment as a result — saying the government would publish a summary of the advice that had led to the policy U-turn when challenged on the U-turn by the shadow digital minister.

“Given the uncertainty this creates around Huawei’s supply chain the UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment affected by the change in US foreign direct product rules,” Dowden added.

A Telecoms Security Bill had been slated to be introduced before the summer recess but will now be delayed until autumn given the policy swerve.

In terms of costs and time associated with restricting and then ripping out Huawei kit from UK 5G networks, Dowden suggested it would add between two to three years more to 5G rollouts — and cost up to £2BN.

“We have not taken this decision lightly and I must be frank about the consequences for every constituency in this country,” he said. “This will delay our roll out of 5G. Our decisions in January had already set back that rollout by a year and cost up to a billion pounds. Today’s decision to ban the procurement of new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year will delay the rollout by a further year and will add up to half a billion pounds to costs.”

The additional set of requiring operators to rip out existing Huawei 5G kit by 2027 will entail “hundreds of millions of pounds” more to their costs.

“This will have real consequences for the connections on which all our connections relay,” he further cautioned, warning against that going any “faster and further” than the 2027 target — saying to do so would add “considerable and unnecessary” additional costs and delays.

“The shorter we make the timetable for removal the greater the risk of actual disruption to mobile networks,” he also said.

It’s a very significant change of government policy vs the package of restrictions announced in January when Boris Johnson’s government expressed confidence it could manage any risk associated with vendors with deep links to the Chinese state.

And Dowden faced a barrage of questions from opposition politicians about the “screeching U-turn” and the associated delays to the UK’s 5G network infrastructure from not having taken this decision six months earlier. 

Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said the government’s digital policy lay in tatters — and called for it to set up a multi-stakeholder taskforce to lead the infrastructure charge. “This entire saga has shown that the government cannot sort this mess out on their own,” she said. “We need a taskforce of industry representatives, academics, startups, regional government and regulators to develop a plan which delivers a UK [5G] network capability and security mobile network in the shortest possible timeframe.”

On government backbenches, Dowden’s statement was more broadly welcomed. Although Johnson has faced significant internal opposition from a group of rebel MPs in his own party to his earlier Huawei policy so it remains to be seen whether they can be convinced to back the new package. One rebel MP source, speaking to the Guardian, warned the fight is back on — saying they’ll table amendments to the telecoms security bill to further shrink the timeframe to rip out Huawei kit, including also for 3G and 4G, not just 5G.

On the issue of what’s to be done with kit from high risk vendors that’s in use in non-5G networks, the government sought to slip in another delay today — with Dowden telling parliament the issue “needs to be looked at”, and announcing a “technical consultation with operators to understand their supply chain alternatives”.

“Given there is only one other appropriate scale vendor for full fiber equipment we are going to embark on a short technical consultation with operators to understand their supply chain alternatives. So that we can avoid unnecessary delays to our Gigabit ambitions and prevent significant resilience risks,” he said.

The technical consultation will determine government policy toward Huawei outside 5G networks, Dowden added.

The government has said before it’s taking steps to increase diversification in the supply chain around 5G network infrastructure kit. Dowden reiterated that line today, saying the UK is working with Five Eyes partners to try to accelerate diversification, while tempering the ambition by couching it as a global problem.

Over the longer term he said the UK wants to encourage and support operators to use multiple vendors per network as standard, though again he cautioned that the development of such open RAN networks will take time.

In the nearer, medium term, he suggested other large scale vendors would be needed to step in — saying the government is already having technical discussions with alternative telecoms kit makers, including Samsung and NEC, about accessing the UK market to plug the gap opened up by the removal of Huawei equipment.

“We are already engaging extensively with operators and vendors and governments around the world about supporting and accelerating the process of diversification. We recognize that this is a global issue that requires international collaboration to deliver a lasting solution so we’re working with our Five Eyes partners and our friends around the world to bring together a coalition to deliver our shared goals,” he added.

We’ve reached out to Huawei for comment. Update: In a statement, Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK, told us:

This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.

Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.

We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain.

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Rapid Huawei rip-out could cause outages and security risks, warns UK telco

Posted by | 5g, broadband, BT, China, Europe, gchq, huawei, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, Security, telecommunications, telecoms infrastructure, UK government, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

The chief executive of UK incumbent telco BT has warned any government move to require a rapid rip-out of Huawei kit from existing mobile infrastructure could cause network outages for mobile users and generate its own set of security risks.

Huawei has been the focus of concern for Western governments including the US and its allies because of the scale of its role in supplying international networks and next-gen 5G, and its close ties to the Chinese government — leading to fears that relying on its equipment could expose nations to cybersecurity threats and weaken national security.

The UK government is widely expected to announce a policy shift tomorrow, following reports earlier this year that it would reverse course on so called “high risk” vendors and mandate a phase out of use of such kit in 5G networks by 2023.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program this morning, BT CEO Philip Jansen said he was not aware of the detail of any new government policy but warned too rapid a removal of Huawei equipment would carry its own risks.

“Security and safety in the short term could be put at risk. This is really critical — because if you’re not able to buy or transact with Huawei that would mean you wouldn’t be able to get software upgrades if you take it to that specificity,” he said.

“Over the next five years we’d expect 15-20 big software upgrades. If you don’t have those you’re running gaps in critical software that could have security implications far bigger than anything we’re talking about in terms of managing to a 35% cap in the access network of a mobile operator.”

“If we get a situation where things need to go very, very fast then you’re in a situation where potentially service for 24M BT Group mobile customers is put into question,” he added, warning that “outages would be possible”.

Back in January the government issued a much delayed policy announcement setting out an approach to what it dubbed “high risk” 5G vendors — detailing a package of restrictions it said were intended to mitigate any risk, including capping their involvement at 35% of the access network. Such vendors would also be entirely barred them from the sensitive “core” of 5G networks. However the UK has faced continued international and domestic opposition to the compromise policy, including from within its own political party.

Wider geopolitical developments — such as additional US sanctions on Huawei and China’s approach to Hong Kong, a former British colony — appear to have worked to shift the political weather in Number 10 Downing Street against allowing even a limited role for Huawei.

Asked about the feasibility of BT removing all Huawei kit, not just equipment used for 5G, Jansen suggested the company would need at least a decade to do so.

“It’s all about timing and balance,” he told the BBC. “If you wanted to have no Huawei in the whole telecoms infrastructure across the whole of the UK I think that’s impossible to do in under ten years.”

If the government policy is limited to only removing such kit from 5G networks Jansen said “ideally” BT would want seven years to carry out the work — though he conceded it “could probably do it in five”.

“The current policy announced in January was to cap the use of Huawei or any high risk vendor to 35% in the access network. We’re working towards that 35% cap by 2023 — which I think we can make although it has implications in terms of roll out costs,” he went on. “If the government makes a policy decision which effectively heralds a change from that announced in January then we just need to understand the potential implications and consequences of that.

“Again we always — at BT and in discussions with GCHQ — we always take the approach that security is absolutely paramount. It’s the number one priority. But we need to make sure that any change of direction doesn’t lead to more risk in the short term. That’s where the detail really matters.”

Jansen fired a further warning shot at Johnson’s government, which has made a major push to accelerate the roll out of fiber wired broadband across the country as part of a pledge to “upgrade” the UK, saying too tight a timeline to remove Huawei kit would jeopardize this “build out for the future”. Instead, he urged that “common sense” prevail.

“There is huge opportunity for the economy, for the country and for all of us from 5G and from full fiber to the home and if you accelerate the rip out obviously you’re not building either so we’ve got to understand all those implications and try and steer a course and find the right balance to managing this complicated issue.

“It’s really important that we very carefully weigh up all the different considerations and find the right way through this — depending on what the policy is and what’s driving the policy. BT will obviously and is talking directly with all parts of government, [the National] Cyber Security Center, GCHQ, to make sure that everybody understands all the information and a sensible decision is made. I’m confident that in the end common sense will prevail and we will head down the right direction.”

Asked whether it agrees there are security risks attached to an accelerated removal of Huawei kit, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre declined to comment. But a spokesperson for the NCSC pointed us to an earlier statement in which it said: “The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance. Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the U.K.’s networks.”

We’ve also reached out to DCMS for comment. Update: A government spokesperson said: “We are considering the impact the US’s additional sanctions against Huawei could have on UK networks. It is an ongoing process and we will update further in due course.”

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French court slaps down Google’s appeal against $57M GDPR fine

Posted by | Alphabet, Android, cnil, data controller, data processing, digital rights, Europe, european union, France, GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, Google, ireland, Max Schrems, privacy, United States | No Comments

France’s top court for administrative law has dismissed Google’s appeal against a $57M fine issued by the data watchdog last year for not making it clear enough to Android users how it processes their personal information.

The State Council issued the decision today, affirming the data watchdog CNIL’s earlier finding that Google did not provide “sufficiently clear” information to Android users — which in turn meant it had not legally obtained their consent to use their data for targeted ads.

“Google’s request has been rejected,” a spokesperson for the Conseil D’Etat confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

“The Council of State confirms the CNIL’s assessment that information relating to targeting advertising is not presented in a sufficiently clear and distinct manner for the consent of the user to be validly collected,” the court also writes in a press release [translated with Google Translate] on its website.

It found the size of the fine to be proportionate — given the severity and ongoing nature of the violations.

Importantly, the court also affirmed the jurisdiction of France’s national watchdog to regulate Google — at least on the date when this penalty was issued (January 2019).

The CNIL’s multimillion dollar fine against Google remains the largest to date against a tech giant under Europe’s flagship General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — lending the case a certain symbolic value, for those concerned about whether the regulation is functioning as intended vs platform power.

While the size of the fine is still relative peanuts vs Google’s parent entity Alphabet’s global revenue, changes the tech giant may have to make to how it harvests user data could be far more impactful to its ad-targeting bottom line. 

Under European law, for consent to be a valid legal basis for processing personal data it must be informed, specific and freely given. Or, to put it another way, consent cannot be strained.

In this case French judges concluded Google had not provided clear enough information for consent to be lawfully obtained — including objecting to a pre-ticked checkbox which the court affirmed does not meet the requirements of the GDPR.

So, tl;dr, the CNIL’s decision has been entirely vindicated.

Reached for comment on the court’s dismissal of its appeal, a Google spokeswoman sent us this statement:

People expect to understand and control how their data is used, and we’ve invested in industry-leading tools that help them do both. This case was not about whether consent is needed for personalised advertising, but about how exactly it should be obtained. In light of this decision, we will now review what changes we need to make.

GDPR came into force in 2018, updating long standing European data protection rules and opening up the possibility of supersized fines of up to 4% of global annual turnover.

However actions against big tech have largely stalled, with scores of complaints being funnelled through Ireland’s Data Protection Commission — on account of a one-stop-shop mechanism in the regulation — causing a major backlog of cases. The Irish DPC has yet to issue decisions on any cross border complaints, though it has said its first ones are imminent — on complaints involving Twitter and Facebook.

Ireland’s data watchdog is also continuing to investigate a number of complaints against Google, following a change Google announced to the legal jurisdiction of where it processes European users’ data — moving them to Google Ireland Limited, based in Dublin, which it said applied from January 22, 2019 — with ongoing investigations by the Irish DPC into a long running complaint related to how Google handles location data and another major probe of its adtech, to name two

On the GDPR one-stop shop mechanism — and, indirectly, the wider problematic issue of ‘forum shopping’ and European data protection regulation — the French State Council writes: “Google believed that the Irish data protection authority was solely competent to control its activities in the European Union, the control of data processing being the responsibility of the authority of the country where the main establishment of the data controller is located, according to a ‘one-stop-shop’ principle instituted by the GDPR. The Council of State notes however that at the date of the sanction, the Irish subsidiary of Google had no power of control over the other European subsidiaries nor any decision-making power over the data processing, the company Google LLC located in the United States with this power alone.”

In its own statement responding to the court’s decision, the CNIL notes the court’s view that GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism was not applicable in this case — writing: “It did so by applying the new European framework as interpreted by all the European authorities in the guidelines of the European Data Protection Committee.”

Privacy NGO noyb — one of the privacy campaign groups which lodged the original ‘forced consent’ complaint against Google, all the way back in May 2018 — welcomed the court’s decision on all fronts, including the jurisdiction point.

Commenting in a statement, noyb’s honorary chairman, Max Schrems, said: “It is very important that companies like Google cannot simply declare themselves to be ‘Irish’ to escape the oversight by the privacy regulators.”

A key question is whether CNIL — or another (non-Irish) EU DPA — will be found to be competent to sanction Google in future, following its shift to naming its Google Ireland subsidiary as the regional data processor. (Other tech giants use the same or a similar playbook, seeking out the EU’s more ‘business-friendly’ regulators.)

On the wider ruling, Schrems also said: “This decision requires substantial improvements by Google. Their privacy policy now really needs to make it crystal clear what they do with users’ data. Users must also get an option to agree to only some parts of what Google does with their data and refuse other things.”

French digital rights group, La Quadrature du Net — which had filed a related complaint against Google, feeding the CNIL’s investigation — also declared victory today, noting it’s the first sanction in a number of GDPR complaints it has lodged against tech giants on behalf of 12,000 citizens.

Nouvelle victoire !

Le @Conseil_Etat valide intégralement, en la reprenant à son compte, la sanction de 50 millions d’€ contre Google prononcée en janvier 2019 par la CNIL.https://t.co/6gJRL5ZM3r

— La Quadrature du Net (@laquadrature) June 19, 2020

“The rest of the complaints against Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are still under investigation in Ireland. In any case, this is what this authority promises us,” it added in another tweet.

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Why the Olympics should add esports

Posted by | astralis, baseball, Column, coronavirus, COVID-19, esports, Gaming, Goldman Sachs, international olympic committee, league of legends, Media, mlb, Olympic Games, olympics, Opinion, Sports, United States, video gaming | No Comments
Brandon Byrne
Contributor

Brandon Byrne is the CEO and co-founder of Opera Event, a technology platform that connects content creators, teams and sponsors to one another programmatically and at scale. He was previously the CFO of Team Liquid and VP of Finance and Administration at Curse.

I recently sat on a panel for gaming website Pocket Gamer that was focused on esports and the Olympics. We were debating whether esports were filling the gap in sporting events, including the Olympic games, which have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was an interesting conversation that started out like most esports panels. The only difference here is that instead of the typical question, “When will esports catch up to traditional sports?” it was, “Will esports become mainstream enough to make it into the Olympics?” A slightly different question, but the same sentiment: The international games are one of televised sports’ marquee events, and esports companies hope to earn a seat at the grown-up’s table.

In truth, the Olympics have been dropping in ratings relatively steadily in the U.S. for a long time. The only Olympic games that scored in the top five ratings going back to 1992 were the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, presumably because they were held in the United States. Overall, viewership has been declining in recent years and the games don’t hold the prestige they once did.

Additionally, audiences are slowly becoming worth less and less to advertisers because the age of the average viewer is rising rapidly, a trend we are seeing in almost all traditional sports.

I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that the average age of almost all traditional sports viewership skews older than esports’ audience. Even then, I think the actual data will be quite surprising. Only one professional sport (women’s tennis) actually saw its average viewers age come down in the last decade or so. Even in that context, the average age of a Women’s Tennis Association home spectator is 55 years old.

The average age of esports viewership looks to be around 26 years old. Think about that from a marketer’s perspective. Traditional sports are just missing young people, by a wide margin.

Where are the kids?

But there are more factors at play than just a lack of interest from millennials and Gen Z driving this trend: There’s also a question of access.

The IOC made the decision in recent years to stream the Olympics (the way most younger people consume content), but it capped the ability to watch online to 30 minutes if viewers didn’t sign in with their cable company (a relationship many millennials don’t have) to continue watching.

Additionally, the IOC made the laughable decision to “ban” GIFs with the press covering the event, which qualifies as one of the more stupid things a governing body has ever tried to do. First, it won’t work. Secondly, and more to the point, it demonstrates how out of touch the IOC is with the ways in which media has evolved in the last 20 years.

However, unlike the Olympics, where no corporation owns the rights to volleyball or the pole vault, all esports companies own the IP associated with the game itself. That means, by default, the IOC would not have carte blanche when making decisions about how to represent the games, programming, licensing rights and other factors it has enjoyed for a long time.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the IOC doesn’t like the idea of “violent” games being added to the Olympic roster. It would prefer to see current sports transformed into virtual competitions. But anyone who knows anything about esports understands that this isn’t how esports works. Before a game ascends to esports royalty, it needs to be a good game. If nobody plays it, it’s unlikely anyone will want to watch it.

Secondly, it has be digestible as a viewing experience. World of Warcraft Arena is a game that draws a lot of players, but it’s almost impossible to know what is going on unless you’re an expert at the game or you have a godly shoutcaster who can translate the on-screen action. You can’t make track and field an esport and hope audiences will want to watch.

The IOC Solution

The IOC has taken steps to try and stave off declining youth viewership trends by adopting sports considered “young” in the past few years. Five sports recently added to the Olympic games include:

  • Sport climbing
  • Surfing
  • Skateboarding
  • Karate
  • Baseball/softball

The baseball/softball addition notwithstanding, I think you would have to live under a rock if you thought that competitive sport climbing held a candle to Fortnite or League of Legends in terms of generating youth interest. Frankly, this seems like an idea that came from an old person trying to find a way to “get the kids back.”


To the IOC’s credit, it has begun to hold panels and conferences with esports experts and game publishers, but the deals that will come from these will look REALLY different than what they are used to. It seems to me that we have a long way to go here.

For my part of the panel, I argued that the Olympics need esports much more than esports need the Olympics. Media companies are only going to overpay for broadcasting rights for traditional sports for so long. At some point, someone is going to notice that the “inside the demo” group isn’t there and move on.

The thing that esports CAN get from the Olympics is understanding a better way to monetize its audience, something that the Olympics do well and esports doesn’t do well right now. A report from Goldman Sachs shows the audience size and monetization based on that audience, showing that esports dramatically underindex on monetization relative to their more established sports league equivalents. It is clear that esports is immature from a monetization perspective and, while the Olympics aren’t on this chart, I would assume that it punches WAY above its weight, much like MLB does, trading on its reputation more than on actual results these days.

The IOC should act fast, though. It won’t be long until esports figures this whole thing out and once they do, the Olympic games won’t have anything to offer this emerging media powerhouse.

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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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Apple and Google launch exposure notification API, enabling public health authorities to release apps

Posted by | Android, api, Apple, Apps, Bluetooth, computing, contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, Google, Health, iOS, mobile app, operating systems, smartphones, Software, TC, United States | No Comments

Apple and Google today made available the first public version of their exposure notification API, which was originally debuted as a joint contact-tracing software tool. The partners later renamed it the Exposure Notification system to more accurately reflect its functionality, which is designed to notify individuals of potential exposure to others who have confirmed cases of COVID-19, while preserving privacy around identifying info and location data.

The launch today means that public health agencies can now use the API in apps released to the general public. To date, Apple and Google have only released beta versions of the API to help with the development process.

To be clear, this launch means that developers working on behalf of public health agencies can now issue apps that make use of it — Apple and Google themselves are not creating an exposure-notification or contact-tracing app. The companies say that many U.S. states and 22 countries across five continents have already asked for, and been provided access to, the API to support their development efforts, and they anticipate more being added going forward. So far, Apple and Google say they have conducted more than 24 briefings and tech talks for public health officials, epidemiologists and app developers working on their behalf.

The exposure notification API works using a decentralized identifier system that uses randomly generated temporary keys created on a user’s device (but not tied to their specific identify or info). Apple and Google’s API allows public health agencies to define what constitutes potential exposure in terms of exposed time and distance, and they can tweak transmission risk and other factors according to their own standards.

Further, Apple and Google will allow apps to make use of a combination of the API and voluntarily submitted user data that they provide through individual apps to enable public health authorities to contact exposed users directly to make them aware of what steps they should take.

During the course of the API’s development, Apple and Google have made various improvements to ensure that privacy is an utmost consideration, including encrypting all Bluetooth metadata (like signal strength and specific transmitting power), as that could potentially be used to determine what type of device was used, which offers a slim possibility of associating an individual with a specific device and using that as one vector for identification.

The companies have also explicitly barred use of the API in any apps that also seek geolocation information permission from users — which means some apps being developed by public health authorities for contact tracing that use geolocation data won’t be able to access the exposure notification API. That has prompted some to reconsider their existing approach.

Apple and Google provided the following joint statement about the API and how it will support contact-tracing efforts undertaken by public health officials and agencies:

One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person. One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications: using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of the disease with a virus that can be spread asymptomatically.

To help, Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones. Over the last several weeks, our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance.

Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app — rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.

Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.

The companies previously announced plans to make Exposure Notification a system-level feature in a later update to both their respective mobile operating systems, to be released sometime later this year. That “Phase two” portion of the strategy might be under revision, however, as Google and Apple said they continue to be in conversation with public health authorities about what system-level features will be useful to them in development of their COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

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US video game sales have record quarter as consumers stay at home

Posted by | Animal Crossing, Companies, coronavirus, COVID-19, driver, Electronic Arts, entertainment software association, Gaming, Microsoft, new horizons, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, npd, Sony, United States, video game, Virtual reality | No Comments

New numbers from NPD confirm what we’ve known for a while: The first quarter of 2020 was a very good one for gaming companies. The new report notes that sales hit a record $10.86 billion in the States between January and March of this year, marking a 9% increase over a year prior; $9.58 billion of that figure was from video game content.

The primary driver is, you guessed it, COVID-19. As stay at home orders have been enacted on the federal and state levels, people are coping with the ongoing daily horror that is life in 2020 by playing video games. Lots and lots of video games.

Here’s NPD’s Mat Piscatella further confirming our suspicions: “Video Games have brought comfort and connection to millions during this challenging time. As people have stayed at home more, they’ve utilized gaming not only as a diversion and an escape, but also as a means of staying connected with family and friends. Whether it was on console or mobile, PC or virtual reality, gaming experienced play and sales growth during the first quarter.”

According to NPD’s Q1 2020 Games Market Dynamics: U.S. report, overall total industry consumer spending on #videogaming in the U.S. reached a record $10.86 billion in the first quarter of 2020 (Jan. – Mar.), an increase of 9 percent compared to the same time period last year.

— NPD Games (@npdgames) May 15, 2020

That last bit is, in part, key to many consumers’ choice of game titles. As already noted by the firm, Animal Crossing: New Horizons had its own record-setting first quarter. That, in turn, helped drive Switch sales, in spite of Nintendo’s well-documented supply issues. The title arrived just in the nick of time for stay at home orders in the U.S., delivering a kind of front-facing social experience that much of the competition lacks. Also, turnips.

Matter of fact, the Switch’s success actually helped supplement losses of other platforms. Microsoft and Sony will no doubt make up gains at the end of the year with their next-gen consoles. For now, however, many consumers are likely holding out until their holiday arrives to invest in Xbox or PlayStation hardware, in spite of the pandemic. The U.S.’s soaring unemployment rate no doubt also had an impact on the industry’s bottom line.

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

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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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Polestar’s first all-electric vehicle will start at $59,900 in the US

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Polestar, the electric performance brand spun out of Volvo, said the base price of its first all-electric vehicle will be $59,900 in the United States, lower than originally targeted.

The 2021 Polestar 2, an electric performance fastback, is the first EV to come out of a brand that was relaunched three years ago. Polestar, once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars, was recast as an electric performance brand in 2017. The aim was to produce exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since.

The company believes the vehicle is well-positioned for a successful entry into the U.S. market thanks to its lower pricing, tax incentives and the ability for customers to buy it online, said Gregor Hembrough, who heads up Polestar USA. The U.S. prices are also below incentive thresholds in a few critical markets such as California and New York.

Polestar has been trickling out announcements around the upcoming Polestar 2 for months now, including pricing for Europe, which starts at €58,800. On Thursday, the company revealed a few more pricing details for the various options customers can buy, including a $5,000 performance pack, a $4,000 upgrade of Nappa leather interior and $1,200 for 20-inch alloy wheels.

The Polestar 2 will likely be held up as a possible competitor to the Tesla Model 3. The pricing on the two vehicles don’t quite match up unless the $7,500 federal tax incentive, for which Polestar still qualifies, is considered. Tesla no longer qualifies for the federal tax credit because it has sold more than 200,000 electric vehicles.

Stripping out the incentives, the base price of the Polestar 2 is slightly more expensive than the performance version of the Model 3, which starts at $56,990.

Until the automaker begins delivery to the U.S., which is expected this summer, it won’t be clear how it stacks up against the Model 3.

Polestar is aiming to attract customers with tech and the performance specs of the fastback, which produces 408 horsepower, 487 pound feet of torque and has a 78 kWh battery pack that delivers an estimated range of 292 miles under Europe’s WLTP. Polestar hasn’t released the EPA estimates for the Polestar 2.

The interior of the Polestar 2, which features Google’s Android Automotive operating system.

The Polestar 2’s infotainment system will be powered by Android OS and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. This shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Polestar, which is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China, plans to open physical retail showrooms called Polestar Spaces once stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. The first of these locations will open on the West Coast of the United States and New
York in late summer 2020, the company said. The Polestar 2 will be available in all 50 states to buy or lease.

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Chinese startup Rokid pitches COVID-19 detection glasses in US

Posted by | ambient intelligence, america, artificial intelligence, california, China, COVID-19, data management, Director, e-commerce, Emerging-Technologies, facial recognition, Gadgets, Hangzhou, Internet of Things, IoT, Johns Hopkins University, Larry Liu, law enforcement, Liang Guan, Megvii, president, Qualcomm, rokid, SenseTime, smartglasses, Startups, surveillance, t1, TC, tech startups, TechCrunch, technology, trump, ubiquitous computing, United States, wearable devices, wearable technology, Weee!, White House, world health organization | No Comments

Thermal imaging wearables used in China to detect COVID-19 symptoms could soon be deployed in the U.S.

Hangzhou based AI startup Rokid is in talks with several companies to sell its T1 glasses in America, according to Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan.

Rokid is among a wave of Chinese companies creating technology to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. 

Per info Guan provided, Rokid’s T1 thermal glasses use an infrared sensor to detect the temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes from as far as three meters. The devices carry a Qualcomm CPU, 12 megapixel camera and offer augmented reality features — for hands free voice controls — to record live photos and videos.

The Chinese startup (with a San Francisco office) plans B2B sales of its wearable devices in the U.S. to assist businesses, hospitals and law enforcement with COVID-19 detection, according to Guan.

Rokid is also offering IoT and software solutions for facial recognition and data management, as part of its T1 packages.

Image Credits: Rokid

The company is working on deals with U.S. hospitals and local municipalities to deliver shipments of the smart glasses, but could not disclose names due to confidentiality agreements.

One commercial venture that could use the thermal imaging wearables is California based e-commerce company Weee!.

The online grocer is evaluating Rokid’s T1 glasses to monitor temperatures of its warehouse employees throughout the day, Weee! founder Larry Liu confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

On procedures, to manage those who exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms —  such as referring them for testing — that’s something for end-users to determine, according to Rokid. “The clients can do the follow-up action, such as giving them a mask or asking to work from home,” Guan said.

The T1 glasses connect via USB and can be set up for IoT capabilities for commercial clients to sync to their own platforms. The product could capture the attention of U.S. regulators, who have become increasingly wary of Chinese tech firms’ handling of American citizen data. Rokid says it doesn’t collect info from the T1 glasses directly.

“Regarding this module…we do not take any data to the cloud. For customers, privacy is very important to them. The data measurement is stored locally,” according to Guan.

Image Credits: Rokid

Founded in 2014 by Eric Wong and Mingming Zhu, Rokid raised $100 million at the Series B level in 2018. The business focuses primarily on developing AI and AR tech for applications from manufacturing to gaming, but developed the T1 glasses in response to China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The goal was to provide businesses and authorities a thermal imaging detection tool that is wearable, compact, mobile and more effective than the common options.

Large scanning stations, such as those used in airports, have drawbacks in not being easily portable and handheld devices — with infrared thermometers — pose risks.

“You have to point them to people’s foreheads…you need to be really close, it’s not wearable and you’re not practicing social distancing to use those,” Guang said.

Rokid pivoted to create the T1 glasses shortly after COVID-19 broke out in China in late 2019. Other Chinese tech startups that have joined the virus-fighting mission include face recognition giant SenseTime — which has installed thermal imaging systems at railway stations across China — and its close rival Megvii, which has set up similar thermal solutions in supermarkets.

On Rokid’s motivations, “At the time we thought something like this can really help the frontline people still working,” Guang said.

The startup’s engineering team developed the T1 product in just under two months. In China, Rokid’s smart glasses have been used by national parks staff, in schools and by national authorities to screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

Temperature detectors have their limitation, however, as research has shown that more than half of China’s COVID-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital.

Source: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center

The growth rate of China’s coronavirus cases — which peaked to 83,306 and led to 3,345 deaths — has declined and parts of the country have begun to reopen from lockdown. There is still debate, however, about the veracity of data coming out of China on COVID-19. That led to a row between the White House and World Health Organization, which ultimately saw President Trump halt U.S. contributions to the global body this week.

As COVID-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., technological innovation will become central to the health response and finding some new normal for personal mobility and economic activity. That will certainly bring fresh facets to the common tech conundrums — namely measuring efficacy and balancing benefits with personal privacy.

For its part, Rokid already has new features for its T1 thermal smart glasses in the works. The Chinese startup plans to upgrade the device to take multiple temperature readings simultaneously for up to four people at a time.

“That’s not on the market yet, but we will release this very soon as an update,” said Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan .

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