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Tech News

Ridesharing livestreams on Twitch raise privacy worries

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When you step into a ridesharing car, you probably assume that whatever you do inside the vehicle won’t be recorded for posterity. But what if it turned out that you were not only on camera, but live on the internet? Like it or not, that’s happening — and not always with permission. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has cited the example of Jason Gargac, an Uber and Lyft driver who has been broadcasting “hundreds” of trips on Twitch without explicitly obtaining consent. While Gargac has taken steps to protect passengers (such as muting addresses and moderating lewd chat comments), at least some of these customers said they wouldn’t have entered the car had they known they were in a livestream — and it was possible to identify some of them through details in archived videos.

Gargac has asserted that his streams are legal, since Missouri allows one-party recording of conversations. However, it doesn’t appear that he’s entirely forthright with passengers about what’s happening. A sticker on the car tells passengers that they consent to being recorded if they enter the vehicle, but it describes the camera as “for security.” There’s no mention of the internet stream. And in a sense, it’s taking advantage of customers who either aren’t aware of the sticker or don’t have much choice. If you’re entering the car at night or are in a hurry, are you going to give much heed to a sticker as you hop in?

There might not be much the ridesharing companies can do, at least not without changes to their policies. Both Uber and Lyft have responded with statements that drivers are required to obey local laws, which technically puts drivers like Gargac in the clear. Uber has offered passengers credit and promised not to pair affected riders with the driver. We’ve asked Twitch for comment as well. Gargac has taken care to avoid at least some terms-of-service violations, but it’s not certain whether these are enough.

Regardless of the legality, streams like this raise plenty of questions about the nature of recording laws in the livestreaming era, not to mention the policies of the companies involved. Although Gargac argues that his car is a public space and thus doesn’t have an expectation of privacy, that’s clearly not how some passengers see it. They’re often holding deeply personal conversations or conducting themselves in less-than-flattering ways, and certainly aren’t expecting to have their behavior broadcast online. Stricter policies could ensure that passengers both offer genuine consent and know that their privacy will be protected if they do agree to a livestream.

Tech News

Recommended Reading: The accent struggle for Alexa and Google Assistant

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

The accent gap
Drew Harwell,
The Washington Post

Smart speakers (and the virtual assistants they house) offer voice control for so many connected devices it’s hard to keep count. Those audio gadgets can also assist with a range of questions — that is, if they can understand you. The Washington Post took a close look at the performance of Alexa and Google Assistant when it comes to understanding people with strong accents. The results show that while these devices are certainly handy and increasingly popular, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Zuckerberg: The Recode interview
Kara Swisher,
Recode

The Facebook CEO covered a range of topics, including its evolving approach to fake news and a comment about Holocaust deniers that warranted a clarification afterwards.

For one last night, make it a Blockbuster night
Justin Heckert,
The Ringer

News of the one remaining Blockbuster store in the US circulated late last week, and The Ringer examined the end of an era.

The gospel according to Pusha T
Josie Duffy Rice,
The Atlantic

An interesting profile on the Kanye West protégé following the release of his latest album Daytona.

My search for the spirit of Prime Day at an Ariana Grande concert in a giant Amazon box
Hudson Hongo,
Gizmodo

Just trust me on this one.

Gaming News

How to Notice and Avoid Dark Patterns Online

July 20, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Have you ever noticed how online accounts are incredibly easy to sign up for, but can be hair-pullingly difficult to close? Sometimes the Close Account option is right where you’d think it would be, but other times you have to hunt it down, clicking through menu after menu until you finally find out that you can’t close it online, you actually have to call.

There’s a name for this phenomenon—dark patterns. And it’s not just hidden account-deletion options, either. Dark patterns are design tricks a website uses, on purpose, to get you to sign up, make a purchase, subscribe, or change your mind about leaving—basically, to do what the company in question wants you to do. It’s the dark side of UX.

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This video by The Nerdwriter helpfully explains dark patterns and gives some classic examples of different types you’ll encounter around the web. It can also be viewed at darkpatterns.org, a site conceived by UX researcher Harry Brignull. The site also includes a Hall of Shame of examples collected on Twitter, and deeper dives into the different types of dark pattern.

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For example, one common dark pattern is called the roach motel because it’s easy to get into but hard to get out of. This technique is hard at work on Amazon.com, which hides its Close Account option deep in layered contextual menus. If you ever do find it, it turns out you have to start a chat and ask Amazon to close your account for you—which, of course, gives them one more chance to talk you out of it.

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Another example in the video is ads shown on touchscreen devices that make it look like there’s a speck of dust clinging to your screen. When you go to wipe it off, you’re likely to accidentally tap the ad. Isn’t that mean?

Luckily, dark patterns have something in common with bad kerning and unnecessary quotation marks: Once you begin to notice them, you’ll start to see them everywhere. Not an hour after I’d watched the video embedded above, I saw this tweet about Google hoping to confuse would-be searchers looking for DuckDuckGo. That’s a dark pattern.

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And of course we saw a lot of dark patterns in play when sites that collect and sell data from users suddenly had to disclose that and let people opt-out, after the GDRP regulations went into effect this May. Remember this UX nightmare from Tumblr? By leaving off an “uncheck all” button, the designers were clearly hoping you’d give up.

Being able to spot dark patterns is the key to avoiding them. And the more you see, the less likely you are to trust companies who pull these tricks on their customers.

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When you see dark patterns in use in the wild, grab a screenshot and tweet it out with the hashtag #darkpatterns. Mention the company behind it to shame them a little, and retweet other #darkpatterns tweets you see. Hopefully if companies can see that people consider this unethical, they’ll consider adopting more honest design patterns.

The good companies will, anyway. The bad ones will come up with something even more nefarious… which we’ll have to call “even darker patterns.”

Tech News

Amazon's Part Finder helps you find those weird screws you need

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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mihalec via Getty Images

If you have a home hardware part you can’t really identify but need more of, you might find that the camera in Amazon’s iPhone app is a bit more useful after a low-key recent update. The new Part Finder tool uses computer vision to determine the type of screw, nut, bolt or other fastener you have, and points you to where you can buy more in its store.

Amazon added the feature to its iOS app a couple of weeks back, it confirmed to TechCrunch, but didn’t announce Part Finder or even mention it in the App Store release notes. There’s no sign of an Android release as yet.

To use the feature, you’ll need to place the part on a white surface next to a penny (likely for scale). The app will tell you how to line up the camera, and once it has scanned the item, Amazon will display some results. The following screen will ask you for more details to narrow down the suggestions, including whether a screw has a flat or round head, as well as with the type of screwdriver it needs (which you’d assume the algorithm would be able to determine).

It’s certainly a useful feature, especially if you’re not much of a home hardware type and need some guidance on which parts you need. Part Finder can currently identify more than 100 types of fasteners, which “represents thousands, if not millions of parts,” Amazon says. If it can help us locate the parts we need for flat-pack furniture but never seem to have enough of (so we don’t have to make follow-up IKEA trips), so much the better.

Tech News

Voice assistants still have problems understanding strong accents

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Devindra Hardawar/AOL

Cultural biases in tech aren’t just limited to facial recognition — they crop up in voice assistants as well. The Washington Post has partnered with research groups on studies showing that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant aren’t as accurate understanding people with strong accents, no matter how fluent their English might be. People with Indian accents were at a relatively mild disadvantage in one study, but the overall accuracy went down by at least 2.6 percent for those with Chinese accents, and by as much as 4.2 percent for Spanish accents. The gap was particularly acute in media playback, where a Spanish accent might net a 79.9 accuracy rate versus 91.8 percent from an Eastern US accent.

A second study showed how voice assistants would frequently mangle interpretations when people read news headlines out loud. American accents wouldn’t always get it right, but even the slightest whiff of a non-American accent (say, British) would lead to bizarre reconstructions of what people said.

The companies are aware of these issues, but promised in statements that they were improving. Amazon noted that Alexa was improving the more it heard “certain speech patterns” and “certain accents.” Google, meanwhile, said it would “continue to improve” voice recognition as its database gets larger.

Problems with accents and voice recognition are far from new — they’re the stuff of comedy routines. And it’s important to stress that the tests didn’t cover a full range of accents, or other assistants like Siri, Bixby and Cortana. The formal studies help quantify the problem with accents, though, and also suggest that a lack of diversity is a serious problem in voice assistant testing. That drop in accuracy for pronounced accents could effectively rule out smart speakers and other voice-aware devices for many people whose only ‘mistake’ was not growing up in the States (or even a particular region of the States). If voice assistants are going to become ubiquitous, they can’t just account for different languages — they have to account for different backgrounds.

Tech News

Get Amazon gift cards just for renting a car from Avis

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Avis just found a way to sweeten the deal for frequent travelers: give them breaks on their internet shopping. The firm now gives US car renters an Amazon gift card worth 10 percent of their rental price just for being an Amazon customer — no, you don’t even need Prime. The gift card doubles to 20 percent of the rental price if you book your vehicle through Avis’ Alexa skill. If you’re the jetsetting sort who needs rental cars on a regular basis, this could easily lead to a few Amazon freebies.

The company isn’t shy about the motivations behind the offer: it wants you to try its “new offerings,” including that Alexa booking option. Not that Amazon is about to object to being used as a dangling carrot. The promo theoretically creates a virtuous circle where Avis renters are more likely to be Amazon customers (and vice versa), and might remind Echo owners that they can do more than just check the weather and play music.

Tech News

Hyundai offers virtual showroom on Amazon

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Amazon

If you have any cash left over from Prime Day, you might be considering a new car. Hyundai and Amazon have teamed up to offer a virtual showroom of the car maker’s automobiles in the Amazon Vehicles section. You won’t be able to order an Elantra with Alexa just yet, however. The new section only provides details for a variety of automobile models, with links to find local dealers.

Just like other consumer items on Amazon, you can see prices and options for each model of Hyundai, click on different colors to see it applied to photos of the cars and even add aa specific auto to your Wishlist. When you’re ready to buy, however, you’ll be taken to the Hyundai.com page for that specific model. You can look at a Kona, Ioniq, Sonata, Elantra, Accent, Santa Fe Sport or Tucson in more detail via Amazon’s site. You can also request a test drive in your own driveway and search inventory available in your area. There’s also a lease/buy calculator and another “locate a dealer” link at the bottom of the Hyundai gallery on Amazon.

“This collaboration with Amazon provides customers with the ability to learn about Hyundai vehicles in a way that matches their expectations for nearly every other type of purchase,” said the car maker’s Tim Maxwell. “Hyundai and its dealers are modernizing the car buying process, so it made sense for us to be the first car company with its own digital showroom.”

Tech News

Wirecutter's best Prime Day deals (that you can still buy)

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commissions. that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of Prime Day deals here.

Epson 5040UB

Street price: $2,700; deal price: $2,300

A new low and huge drop in price on our upgrade pick for best home theater projector and also budget pick for best 4K projector.

Chris Heinonen wrote, “if you want better image quality, along with support for wide color gamut (WCG) Ultra HD sources (although not at 4K resolution), even easier setup, and support for automation integration with complex home theaters, the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB is our upgrade pick.”

Fujifilm INSTAX SHARE SP-2 Smart Phone Printer

Street price: $145; deal price: $130

We’ve only posted one sale on our runner-up pick for printing smartphone photo pics, the Instax SP-2, when we saw it briefly drop during the holiday season, so while this isn’t a huge drop, it’s a nice savings that you can use on more film.

Erin Lodi wrote, “you don’t need an instant camera to get old-school instant prints: The Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 can print your smartphone pics to Instax film in seconds.”

Philips Hue White A19 4-Pack 60W

Street price: $50; deal price: $40

For those of you that want a set of smart LED light bulbs but don’t want or need the added price for color, this is an excellent deal matching the previous lowest price on the white variant of our top pick in our guide to the best smart LED light bulbs.

Grant Clauser wrote, “Philips Hue is not just a smart bulb; it’s a whole smart system. Multiple app options and device compatibility make it the best overall choice.”

ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet

Street price: $190; deal price: $150

Make sure to the code AMUZISNW to get this price. While we used to see a fair few deals on the Chargetech, our runner-up in our portable AC power pack guide, it’s stuck around the $190 point for a long time. This current sale is only $18 more than our top pick but with 30% more mAh/charge.

Mark Smirniotis wrote, “the ChargeTech Portable Power Outlet is about the size of a hardcover book and fits well alongside books and laptops in a bag or backpack. It has the same 85 W output as our top pick, and should easily charge laptops, run fans, or power lights.”

ChefSteps Joule

Street price: $180; deal price: $130

A nice deal on the ChefSteps Joule, our runner-up pick in our guide to the best sous vide machine and gear.

Tim Barribeau and Nick Guy wrote, “in our tests, it heated water a full five minutes faster than the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi, raising the temperature from 69 °F to 135 °F in only 15 minutes. And despite the higher wattage, it used less

Tech News

Amazon's Prime Day still broke records, despite glitches

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Amazon’s Prime Day this year may have been riddled with errors and sad 404 dogs. However, the company is touting record sales, calling it “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history” as compared to other 36-hour periods, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and last year’s Prime Day.

The company’s own products were the real Prime Day winners. The best sellers were the Fire TV stick and the Amazon Echo Dot. Additionally, Amazon recorded the most single-day sign-ups in history for its Prime service on June 16th. However, in characteristic Amazon fashion, we don’t have any concrete numbers on how many sign-ups the company netted or how many of their own products they sold.

Some of the bestsellers by country include the six-quart Instant Pot (in both the US and Canada). The 23andMe DNA test was also incredibly popular in the US, apparently because no one learned anything about DNA sharing from the Golden State Killer case. Other winners from around the world include SanDisk memory cards, Philips Hue light bulbs ad the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter.

Tech News

DeepMind, Elon Musk and more pledge not to make autonomous AI weapons

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Joshua Lott via Getty Images

Today during the Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the Future of Life Institute announced that more than 2,400 individuals and 160 companies and organizations have signed a pledge, declaring that they will “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade or use of lethal autonomous weapons.” The signatories, representing 90 countries, also call on governments to pass laws against such weapons. Google DeepMind and the Xprize Foundation are among the groups who’ve signed on while Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founders Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman have made the pledge as well.

The pledge comes as a handful of companies are facing backlash over their technologies and how they’re providing them to government agencies and law enforcement groups. Google has come under fire for its Project Maven Pentagon contract, which is providing AI technology to the military in order to help them flag drone images that require additional human review. Similarly, Amazon is facing criticism for sharing its facial recognition technology with law enforcement agencies while Microsoft has been called out for providing services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Thousands of AI researchers agree that by removing the risk, attributability and difficulty of taking human lives, lethal autonomous weapons could become powerful instruments of violence and oppression, especially when linked to surveillance and data systems,” says the pledge. It adds that those who sign agree that “the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine.”

“I’m excited to see AI leaders shifting from talk to action, implementing a policy that politicians have thus far failed to put into effect,” Future of Life Institute President Max Tegmark said in a statement. “AI has huge potential to help the world — if we stigmatize and prevent its abuse. AI weapons that autonomously decide to kill people are as disgusting and destabilizing as bioweapons, and should be dealt with in the same way.”

Google has already released its own set of principles, the purpose of which is guide the company’s ethics on AI technology. Its policy states that it won’t design or deploy AI for use in weapons, surveillance or technology “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” Microsoft has stated that its work with ICE is limited to email, calendar, messaging and document management, and doesn’t include any facial recognition technology. The company is also working on a set of guiding principles for its facial recognition work.

In 2015, Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute for a research program focused on ensuring AI will be beneficial to humanity. And last year, Musk, Hassabis and Suleyman signed a Future of Life Institute letter sent to the UN that sought regulation of autonomous weapons systems.