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Facebook scientists say they can tell where deepfakes come from


An example of a deepfake created by CNBC

Kyle Walsh

Artificial intelligence researchers at Facebook and Michigan State University say they have developed a new piece of software that can reveal where so-called deepfakes have come from.

Deepfakes are videos that have been digitally altered in some way with AI. They’ve become increasingly realistic in recent years, making it harder for humans to determine what’s real on the internet, and indeed Facebook, and what’s not.

The Facebook researchers claim that their AI software — announced on Wednesday — can be trained to establish if a piece of media is a deepfake or not from a still image or a single video frame. Not only that, they say the software can also identify the AI that was used to create the deepfake in the first place, no matter how novel the technique.

Tal Hassner, an applied research lead at Facebook, told CNBC that it’s possible to train AI software “to look at the photo and tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy what is the design of the AI model that generated that photo.”

The research comes after MSU realized last year that it’s possible to determine what model of camera was used to take a specific photo — Hassner said that Facebook’s work with MSU builds on this.

‘Cat and mouse game’

Deepfakes are bad news for Facebook, which is constantly battling to keep fake content off of its main platform, as well as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. The company banned deepfakes in Jan. 2020 but it struggles to swiftly remove all of them from its platform.

Hassner said that detecting deepfakes is a “cat and mouse game,” adding that they’re becoming easier to produce and harder to detect.

One of the main applications of deepfakes so far has been in pornography where a person’s face is swapped onto someone else’s body, but they’ve also been used to make celebrities appear as though they’re doing or saying something they’re not.

Indeed, a set of hyper realistic and bizarre Tom Cruise deepfakes on TikTok have now been watched over 50 million times, with many struggling to see how they’re not real.

Today, it’s possible for anyone to make their own deepfakes using free apps like FakeApp or Faceswap.

Deepfake expert Nina Schick, who has advised U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, said at the CogX AI conference on Monday that detecting deepfakes isn’t easy.

In a follow up email she told CNBC that Facebook and MSU’s work “looks like a pretty big deal in terms of detection” but stressed that it’s important to find out how well deepfake detection models actually work in the wild.

“It’s all well and good testing it on a set of training data in a controlled environment,” she said, adding that “one of the big challenges seems that there are easy ways to fool detection models — i.e. by compressing an image or a video.”

Tassner admitted that it might be possible for a bad actor to get around the detector. “Would it be able to defeat our system? I assume that it would,” he said.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of deepfakes. Those that are wholly generated by AI, such as the fake human faces on www.thispersondoesnotexist.com, and others that use elements of AI to manipulate authentic media.

Schick questioned whether Facebook’s tool would work on the latter, adding that “there can never be a one size fits all detector.” But Xiaoming Liu, Facebook’s collaborator at Michigan State, said the work has “been evaluated and validated on both cases of deepfakes.” Liu added that the “performance might be lower” in cases where the manipulation only happens in a very small area.

Chris Ume, the synthetic media artist behind the Tom Cruise deepfakes, said at CogX on Monday that deepfake technology is moving rapidly.

“There are a lot of different AI tools and for the Tom Cruise, for example, I’m combining a lot of different tools to get the quality that you see on my channel,” he said.

It’s unclear how or indeed if Facebook will look to apply Tassner’s software to its platforms. “We’re not at the point of even having a discussion on products,” said Tassner, adding that there’s several potential use cases including spotting coordinated deepfake attacks.

“If someone wanted to abuse them (generative models) and conduct a coordinated attack by uploading things from different sources, we can actually spot that just by saying all of these came from the same mold we’ve never seen before but it has these specific properties, specific attributes,” he said.

As part of the work, Facebook said it has collected and catalogued 100 different deepfake models that are in existence.



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Twitter verification process open for first time since 2017


Twitter CEO and Co Founder, Jack Dorsey addresses students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), on November 12, 2018 in New Delhi, India.

Amal KS | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Twitter on Thursday reopened its verification application process to the public for the first time since putting it on pause in November 2017.

The company is rolling out a new process to apply for verification, which adds a checkmark to an account’s Twitter profile that signals the authenticity of an account to other users.

To apply for verification, an account must have a profile that includes a picture and a confirmed email address or phone number. The user must have been active on the service within the last six months with a record of adhering to the company’s rules.

Additionally, accounts must fall into one of six categories Twitter will consider for verification. Those categories are:

  • Government
  • Companies, brands and organizations
  • News organizations and journalists
  • Entertainment
  • Sports and gaming
  • Activists, organizers and other influential individuals

The company said it will add more categories, like scientists, academics and religious leaders, later this year.

The verification application will roll out gradually to users over the next few weeks. It will exist within the account settings tab of the service.

Users who are approved will see the verification icon automatically. Those who are rejected can reapply 30 days after receiving Twitter’s decision.

The new application process comes after the company paused verifications in November 2017 after receiving criticism for its decision to verify Jason Kessler. He was one of the organizers behind the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of one woman.



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Google and Apple scare us, app makers tell Congress


Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks at the 2019 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Some app makers who rely on mobile distribution from Apple and Google are scared of how much power the tech giants have over their businesses, according to congressional testimony delivered Wednesday.

“We’re all afraid,” Match Group Chief Legal Officer Jared Sine told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, at a hearing.

The hearing brought together representatives from Apple and Google and several of their most outspoken critics, including Match Group, which owns dating site Tinder; Tile, which makes devices that help users find lost objects and faces new competition from Apple’s AirTag technology, and streaming music service Spotify.

The hearing comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working on updates to the antitrust laws that could better account for the power a few tech giants hold over many digital markets. That includes the ability of platforms such as Apple and Google to manage the main distribution platform for apps while increasingly hawking their own competing products.

Throughout the hearing, the app makers expressed fear over how easily either company could undercut their businesses by making small changes to their app store rules. They also complained of high fees for in-app purchases and unclear enforcement of standards.

Allegations of threats

Multiple executives accused Apple and Google of threatening their businesses.

Sine said Google called Match Group on Tuesday night after his testimony became public to ask why his testimony differed from the company’s comments in their latest earnings call.

On the earnings call, Match executives had said they believed they were having productive conversations about Google’s 30% in-app payment fee through its Google Play store. But in testimony, Match complained that Google had made “false pretenses of an open platform” and complained about its “monopoly power.”

Wilson White, Google’s senior director of public policy and government relations, said it sounded like employees working in Google’s business development team reached out to ask an “honest question.” White said he didn’t view it as a threat “and we would never threaten our partners” because Google needs app developers to use its app store in order for it to be successful.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the call was “potentially actionable.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the January 6th insurrection, in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 2, 2021.

Graeme Jennings | Pool via Reuters

Klobuchar said she planned to look into the matter further.

Spotify Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez said he could think of “at least four clear examples of threats and retaliation” from Apple after Spotify decided to speak out about alleged anticompetitive behavior and Apple’s fees for developers on digital products purchased through its platform. That included threats of removing Spotify’s app, refusing to promote it, or waiting for months for minor app updates to be approved, he said.

“They’ve basically thrown the book at us in order to make it hard for us to continue to sustain our decision to speak up,” he said.

Fees and rival products

Many app makers have complained about the fees gatekeepers charge for in-app purchases for digital services.

Gutierrez complained of what he called Apple’s “gag order” over how Spotify can communicate with its own users about how to upgrade to its paid version.

For instance, Spotify allows customers to upgrade only outside of its iOS app in order to avoid Apple’s 15% to 30% commission fee on digital services purchased through its platform. But because Spotify doesn’t sell the paid service through its iOS app, Apple also doesn’t let the app maker talk about upgrades with customers through the app — instead, users have to upgrade through a web browser on a PC or another method.

At the same time, Apple operates a competing service, Apple Music, which has no such restrictions. Gutierrez said this gives Apple’s version an unfair advantage.

Representatives from Apple and Google both told lawmakers that their fees for developers are meant to cover the costs that go into distributing apps through their platforms and securing them appropriately. Apple Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer compared the services offered on the App Store today to the cumbersome and expensive process app makers had to pursue to distribute their apps before the App Store existed.

White cast the group as a set of “small but vocal” representatives of “primarily large companies.” He said he worried that in trying to satisfy their complaints, “we damage the very foundation that has allowed the Android open source ecosystem to work so well for a much larger set of small and medium-sized businesses.”

In addition to complaints about fees, developers worried that Apple’s own rival products incentivized it to make unfavorable decisions toward them.

For example, Tile General Counsel Kirsten Daru said the company had asked Apple for permission to use ultra-wideband technology on iPhones to make its item-tracking technology more precise than it can be using only Bluetooth. She said Apple had refused the request, then reserved the technology for its own competitive AirTags, which it announced Tuesday.

While Apple is rolling out a way for third-party developers to build on the more precise location data, Daru said that in order to access that, “we have to give Apple unprecedented control over our business and direct customers to the Find My app to find their lost items.”

Apple’s Andeer argued AirTags is a separate product from Tile, which currently has the majority of the market share for the space, and that opening tools to more third-party developers will encourage competition.

Unclear standards

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the FBI investigation into links between Donald Trump associates and Russian officials during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Reuters

Lee asked Andeer to differentiate between why a paid service through Tinder might incur a commission while one for Uber would not. Andeer explained an Uber customer is paying for a non-digital service — a car to show up to their house — while they don’t expect the same return from Tinder, saying that would be a different service, in what appeared to be an insinuation of sex work.

The app makers emphasized their reliance on the app stores because of their unprecedented access to consumers. But, they argued, it’s not the symbiotic relationship that Apple and Google like to paint.

“We are not successful because of what Apple has done, we have been successful despite Apple’s interference,” Gutierrez said. “And we would have been much more successful but for their anticompetitive behavior.”

WATCH: Here’s why some experts are calling for a breakup of Big Tech after the House antitrust report



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Gadgets

TV company focusing on ads over devices


An employee arranges a display of Vizio Inc. high-definition televisions at a Best Buy Inc. store in Paramus, New Jersey.

Mark Kauziarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Vizio emerged as a top-selling TV company in the U.S. about 15 years ago by securing deals with big box stores like Costco and Best Buy and selling high-definition TVs at cut-rate prices.

The company now sells over 7 million TVs a year and generates close to $2 billion in revenue from those devices.

But that’s not the story Vizio is selling to investors as it prepares to go public on the New York Stock Exchange next week.

“One of the primary addressable markets that we’re focused on for our future growth is, of course, television adverting,” said Vizio CFO Adam Townsend in the company’s online roadshow promoting its IPO. “The shift in viewers from linear to ad-supported streaming is significant and we know the ad dollars will follow viewers more and more.”

While Vizio competes with Samsung, Sony, LG and TCL in getting its big screens into American households, the competition that matters most is now from streaming providers Roku, Amazon and Google. Almost all of the growth in the TV industry is in subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, and from advertisers who want to reach the millions of people switching to over-the-top viewing from traditional cable.

Vizio needs people to buy its TVs, even at a small profit margin, so it can make real money through its homegrown operating system, SmartCast. Like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google TV, SmartCast provides access to most major streaming services (though not HBO Max) along with a host of free and paid channels.

Vizio generates revenue from advertising on its home screen and within some free content, and it gets a cut of subscription sales to Netflix and other services when people sign up on their SmartCast TVs. SmartCast accounts jumped 61% last year to 12.2 million.

Paul Erickson, an analyst at research firm Parks Associates, said Vizio’s biggest advantage in trying to lure advertisers is that it’s a popular brand with a big footprint in retail and a major in presence in American homes. In a market that Samsung dominates by units sold, Vizio is consistently a top three vendor.

“If you’re trying to reach a TV manufacturer that reaches a lot of the market in the U.S., certainly they are very present,” he said.

The growth is in streaming

Vizio was founded in Los Angeles 19 years ago by William Wang, a Taiwanese immigrant who famously survived the crash of Singapore Airlines Flight 006 in 2000. By 2007, Wang had turned Vizio into the top-selling flat-panel TV maker. In a video for potential IPO investors, Wang said he was selling Vizio’s first plasma TVs at Costco for under $2,000 when rival products were running at over $10,000.

In 2016, Vizio introduced SmartCast to run its popular TVs with its own software.

“Many brands are out there fighting for the limited space at retail,” Wang said in the video. “To stay competitive, we knew we needed to find a way to gain recurring revenue from the deployed TVs, which would enable us to keep the costs of TVs low for our retailers and consumers.”

Vizio took its first shot of going public in 2015, when it was actually bigger by revenue than it is today due to higher TV prices. The company pulled its IPO in 2016 after China’s LeEco offered to buy it for $2 billion. The deal fell apart the following year because of regulatory complexities, and in 2018 Vizio sold stakes to Taiwanese manufacturing partners Foxconn and Innolux.

A quick glance at Vizio’s financials makes it readily apparent why the company’s future hinges on streaming.

Device revenue in 2020 rose 7% to $1.9 billion, but remains below the total from 2010. That’s because the price of TVs has been dropping every year, offsetting increased shipments. Meanwhile, Vizio’s streaming business, or what it calls “Platform+,” saw growth of 133% last year to $147.2 million.

While the platform business accounted for just 7.2% of total sales, it generated 38% of Vizio’s gross profit, enabling the company to quadruple its net income for the year.

Chief Revenue Officer Michael O’Donnell said in the investor presentation that the company launched its ads direct sales team a little over a year ago. Brands including Campbell Soup, Guinness, Fitbit, AT&T and Progressive are spending money to reach SmartCast users in a targeted way, similar to how they find relevant audiences online.

Vizio is also making its debut at top ad industry events. In May, the company is participating in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s NewFronts, where online publishers and platforms show off their programming, audience data and tools to media buyers. Amazon, Snap, Twitter and Google’s YouTube will also be there.

An ad for FireTV on TeaTV.

Megan Graham

Investors will need a lot of convincing if they’re to ever value Vizio as something other than a consumer hardware vendor. In its updated prospectus on Tuesday, Vizio said it expects to sell shares in its IPO at $21 to $23 piece, which would value the company at $4.2 billion at the top of the range.

At about 2.1 times 2021 revenue, that would make Vizio trade closer to old stodgy hardware companies like Samsung and Sony than it would to Roku, which currently commands a price-to-sales multiple of 26. The particular challenge for Vizio is that it needs consumers to first choose to buy its TVs and then opt to use its operating system rather than plugging in a Roku, Google or Amazon device.

“To the extent consumers who purchase a Vizio Smart TV do not engage with our SmartCast operating system and instead use their Smart TV with one of our competitors’ solutions or for other purposes, our ability to generate Platform+ net revenue may be harmed,” the company acknowledges in its prospectus.

VIZIO CEO William Wang at LeEco and VIZIO Press Conference in Hollywood where it was announced that LeEco had acquired VIZIO for $2 billion, Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Jeff Lewis | AP

Voice is the future

Vizio’s streaming business remains in its early stages. One area where it’s investing is voice control to make it easier for consumers to navigate, buy things, and work with other smart home products. Between 2018 and 2019, Vizio’s SmartCast integrated with Amazon Alexa, as well as offerings from Google and Apple, “thus enabling our Smart TVs to work with all three major voice assistants.”

Vijay Balasubramaniyan is keeping close tabs on the development of voice controls in smart TVs. He’s the CEO of Pindrop, which develops security software for voice communications and partnered with TiVo earlier this year to power its voice controls after TiVo abandoned Alexa.

While he hasn’t had discussions with Vizio, Balasubramaniyan said the whole industry is experimenting with how to make voice not just a feature for turning on the TV and moving between apps and shows but a useful way for improving monetization.

“Between being able to provide better advertising to being able to do voice commerce on TV, those are two increasingly important areas that each of these Smart TV manufacturers are looking aggressively in,” Balasubramaniyan said.

WATCH: Netflix remains important selling point for smart TVs



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Encrypted messaging app Signal appears to be blocked in China


The Signal Messenger app is displayed on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China.

Roy Liu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Encrypted messaging app Signal has stopped working in China and is now only accessible via a virtual private network (VPN).

China blocks many foreign apps and services including those from Facebook and Google. But Signal had previously not been barred by the so-called Great Firewall.

Signal claims to be end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company itself nor any outsiders can view the contents of messages between a sender and the intended recipient. This also means authorities cannot snoop on messages.

CNBC tested Signal on three different devices and messages did not go through, suggesting it has been blocked by authorities. The app was still available for download via Apple’s China App Store.

Signal was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The messaging app, however, still worked when used with a VPN. A VPN or virtual private network allows users to protect privacy and circumvent internet restrictions by connecting to servers around the world.

Signal being blocked in China highlights the increasing internet censorship in the world’s second-largest economy.

Downloads of Signal surged earlier in the year after rival WhatsApp changed its terms of service to allow the sharing of some data with its parent company Facebook.

Signal is relatively small in China with 510,000 downloads to date from Apple’s App Store, according to Sensor Tower. But the app provided a rare avenue for sending encrypted messages through a foreign platform without a VPN.

Still, the dominant messaging app in China remains Tencent-owned WeChat with over a billion users.



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Future

Opinion: How to invest in the future — here’s an idea for a ‘Spacebook’ fund


Two years ago I was so bullish on Tesla that I basically wanted to become “the Tesla Fund.” Tesla was trading around $50 a share. It closed at $563 on March 8.

That was two years ago. I thought the setup was perfect for Tesla
TSLA,
-5.84%

and the pending electric-vehicle onslaught. Fast forward to today and Tesla is up more than 10-fold since we bought it, even after dropping more than 30% from its $900 high. The EV revolution is here and most of the stocks of the companies in that revolution have risen to bubblicious levels.

I am scouring the globe and even the universe to find the next revolutionary industries to get in front of, and I keep coming back to what I call The Space Revolution and The Virtual Reality Revolution.

So here’s what I’ve come up with as the best risk/reward for my hedge fund and perhaps for individual investors as well. I’m calling it “Spacebook,” which means being overweighted in space stocks and Facebook
FB,
-3.39%
.

Big bargain

Let’s start with Facebook. Holy cow, Facebook’s valuation is cheap. The shares trade for 22 times the consensus earnings estimate for the next 12 months among analysts polled by FactSet. This is for a company whose sales are expected to increase 25% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, following 22% in 2020. (You can see the consensus sales estimates for Facebook and other big tech stocks here.)

That valuation is only slightly ahead of a forward price-to-earnings estimate of 21.7 for the S&P 500 Index
SPX,
-0.54%
.
For the index, sale per share are expected to increase 9% in 2021 and 7% in 2022, after a 3.5% decline in 2020.

Facebook’s consistently high double-digit revenue growth is a lot for a company that did $86 billion in revenue last year. What’s most exciting about the growth numbers is that they don’t include any of the upside that Facebook is about to achieve in the burgeoning virtual reality market provided by the Oculus platform. As I wrote in January, the VR market is coming, and it’s coming soon. Facebook is going to be one of the biggest winners in that market, if not the biggest.

As I type this about Facebook, I can’t help but think back to two years ago (and 1,000% ago) as I wrote to you about Tesla. I’m getting the same exact feelings about valuations and revolutions.

To be clear, it’s not this current generation of Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset that is going to go mainstream, but it’s the next, lighter, even more advanced one and the versions thereafter. Facebook has a critical mass of developers as well as apps and games being created for its platform already. The first version of Oculus was like a late-version iPod.

Space revolution

Now, how many times do I need to talk about the Space Revolution? The technology has gotten advanced and cheap enough that the whole thing is literally taking off. This is a private company’s dream come true. We are starting to see private space companies come public just as I was saying they would be two years ago.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, there are so many applications that can come to fruition. Space factories, space tourism, space hotels, asteroid mining, supersonic transportation, new colonies — the list goes on. If your time horizon is the next two to three years, I don’t know what to tell you. It might not happen in that period.

But if you are like me and thinking about the next 10,000 days, then we have to get in front of this revolution. I started two years ago when I bought Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the private market for my hedge fund and followed up a year and a half ago when we got into Virgin Galactic Holdings
SPCE,
-2.78%
.

A lot of public technology companies are bubbled up right now, space players included. We are probably paying two to three times what these companies are really worth right now as they come public.

VC-like investments

However, we are making venture-capital-like investments in these with the potential to see 50 to 100 times our investment over the next 10 to 20 years. I’m OK paying up a little for that kind of opportunity. If we compare this sector to the bubbled-up electric-vehicle revolution that is already here, I like the risk/reward of the coming Space Revolution much more. The EV market has already had its huge run.

So how do we continue to invest in the Space Revolution? SpaceX is clearly the best company right now. If you’re wealthy enough, with a little work, you can find a way to make a private investment in the company. I’ve done that in my hedge fund.

But if you don’t have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to throw at SpaceX, I think Rocket Lab
VACQ,
-4.00%

is the best way to invest in the space revolution right now. You can read more about Rocket Lab and Vector Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that is expected to take it public, here.

I have begun to take a position in both the hedge fund and my personal account. It has come down some (like most space stocks and high growth tech over the last week) since my initial report and I have continued to add to the position. Virgin Galactic remains another favorite public space company to invest in. We first got into that name in November 2019 at around $8 per share.

Virgin Galactic, just like the other space companies, is probably a little overvalued at the moment. Especially with no revenue and not being able to get its test flights successfully into orbit. But again, we are looking up to 30 years down the road and this is currently my third-favorite way to invest in the space revolution.

I’m researching four or five other space companies that have recently come public. I’ve also made Facebook one of my largest positions again for the first time in a while.

As always when making an investment, I suggest that you give yourself room to add to the position if it falls. Over the next six months to two years, I think we’ll have the opportunity to buy most small-cap tech stocks at lower prices. On the flipside, I can’t guarantee that those positions will drop, which is why I have begun to build my positions in the space and virtual reality revolutions, and why I will continue to add to them if given the chance at lower prices.

That’s why I am basically becoming “the Spacebook Fund.”

Cody Willard is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor of the Revolution Investing newsletter. Willard or his investment firm may own, or plan to own, securities mentioned in this column.



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Future

After President Trump’s Online Ouster, What Is The Future Of Social Media? – WCCO


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last week, Facebook and Instagram blocked President Donald Trump; Snapchat indefinitely locked his account; and Twitter permanently suspended him from its site.

Amazon, Apple and Google pulled its technical support for Parler, a social media site favored by the far-right.

So, what might this tell us about the future of social media? WCCO spoke with Jane Kirtley, professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota.

“Well, it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it,” Kirtley said. “Because if we believe that there are too few people controlling social media, you can see that there actually is a threat in the future that those social media companies could control a lot of the information and lot of the opinions the public has access to.”

Private sector organizations like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google aren’t beholden to the protections of speech afforded by First Amendment like the United States government. They create user rules for themselves.

(credit: CBS)

“Do we trust these social media companies? Do we trust them to make those decisions?” Kirtley said. “I think that’s where the real questions are going to rise as we move throughout this year.”

Some experts say part of the reason the tech companies waited until now to limit President Trump is due to a fear of regulation from the government.

Josh Pasek, a professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan, says what’s ahead for these companies is a big unknown.

“They’re thinking they’d rather get ahead of some of that by policing the extreme stuff themselves,” Pasek said.

Lawmakers could repeal or reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That says tech companies can’t be held liable for content created by someone else, and gives the companies themselves discretion on what to allow.

Kirtley said lawmakers could also try to break up what they see as monopolies.

“It is far more likely that a future justice department will go after them on anti-trust grounds,” Kirtley said. “They are vulnerable on that. They know they are, and they’re already being faced with lawsuits about that.”

Kirtley said what happens to the future of these social media sites is hard to know, and could be left up to the incoming Biden administration.

“I do not know, but I would anticipate that we will see new players in this field,” she said. “There’s going to be seen as basically a gap that needs to be filled, whether I come from the right or the left on the political spectrum.”



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Apple App Store customers spent record $540 million on New Year’s Day


A customer exits after picking up Apple’s new 5G iPhone 12 that went on sale, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, at an Apple Store in Brooklyn, New York, October 23, 2020.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Apple‘s App Store customers spent a record $540 million on New Year’s Day alone, marking a 40% increase from last year, the company said Wednesday in its annual services report.

On top of that, Apple announced it generated $1.8 billion in App Store sales of digital good in the week between Christmas eve and now has 90 million monthly active users for its Apple Books app.

But the report didn’t provide updates on subscribers for its suite of newer subscription products like Apple TV+ (video streaming), Apple Music and Apple Fitness+ (a Peloton competitor). In the fall, Apple began bundling many of its subscription services together as part of its Apple One program. The Services category is a key growth area Apple has focused on in recent years as hardware sales growth has fallen.

Apple’s App Store update also comes as tensions continue to rise over Apple’s control over its App Store policies. Several app developers, most notably Facebook and Fortnite maker Epic Games, have publicly criticized Apple for taking a 30% cut of App Store sales from developers and for enforcing a new policy designed to disclose which apps track your data for targeted advertising. Apple recently altered its policies to take a 15% cut from companies that generate less than $1 million in App Store sales, which the company said was a move to help small businesses.

Overall, Apple’s Services generated revenue of $53.8 billion in the company’s last fiscal year, which ended in September 2021. Apple is expected to report its fiscal first quarter earnings in a few weeks.

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Reviews

Review: Geisha Sushi Bar is back on a roll | Dining


Vo worked at Flying Fish before taking over the restaurant about five years ago, renaming it Geisha Sushi Bar.

“A friend of mine worked at Flying Fish, and he recommended me for a job,” Vo said. “And I just fell in love with making sushi. I love the whole process — combining ingredients, creating the presentation.”

While Geisha Sushi Bar continues to offer in-house dining, my cohort for this review — who was quite eager to try what this Geisha had to offer — was less than eager to spend any amount of time in an enclosed space that was not home. So I opted for takeaway (the service rating reflects the convenience and efficiency of this process).

We each selected two rolls and one appetizer from Geisha’s lengthy menu, which includes a variety of sushi preparations, from nigiri to makimono, salads, sashimi and soups, as well as a few classic Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

For the appetizers, we chose the egg rolls ($7.95) and the shrimp shumai ($7.95). The house-made egg rolls would be hard to improve. The filling, a mix of finely chopped chicken, cabbage and carrots generously seasoned with black pepper, was densely packed into thin wrappers that fried up light and crisp. While they came with a sweet chili sauce, these egg rolls were tasty enough on their own.

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The shrimp shumai were more problematic. The six pieces in our order appeared to have been deep fried, rather than steamed, and the result was an odd flavor and texture. We had also ordered a bowl of miso soup ($2.50), which was not amongst the bags and boxes I carried away.



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Pixel 5, OnePlus 8T, Galaxy FE


Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G

Google

Apple‘s new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are excellent phones, but some people prefer Android devices.

There are three really good Android phones that recently launched that you should know about, in case you’re looking to upgrade but don’t want the iPhone 12. They all include 5G, like the new iPhones, so you’re future-proofing yourself if you plan to hold on to your phone for the next couple of years. They also have solid cameras. And they’re all cheaper than the standard iPhone 12, which starts at $799.

Samsung Galaxy FE 5G

Samsung’s Galaxy FE was released earlier this month. It offers lots of features found in Samsung’s more expensive flagship phones, but starts at $699 instead of $999 like the Galaxy S20 phones. It’s made out of aluminum and plastic — that’s one place Samsung cut costs — but still has a high-end Qualcomm 865 processor, a sharp and colorful screen and is water resistant. And, like the iPhone 12, it’s available in a bunch of colors, such as red, blue, purple and green.

It’s also got a couple of features the iPhone 12 doesn’t have. It’s equipped with a high-refresh display, for example, which is smoother than the one on the iPhone 12 for things like scrolling through websites or Twitter. It also has a fingerprint reader under the screen, which is useful for unlocking your phone while wearing a mask (which makes facial recognition unlocking, like Apple’s FaceID, harder). I like that it has a microSD card so I can expand storage to download more movies and games.

Google Pixel 5

The Google Pixel 5 costs $699 and is a good pick if you want a phone that’s not too big and is easy to use with one hand. I really like the colorful screen, great camera and long battery life. It also feels really fast, despite a mid-range Qualcomm processor.

That’s because Google put a lot of work into optimizing the software. It has a fingerprint reader on the back — again, useful if you’re wearing a mask — and can do some of the things an iPhone 12 can, like night-mode portrait shots. I also really like the soft-touch aluminum body, which doesn’t get smudged up with fingerprints, and the unique green color Google sells.

Finally, the Pixel 5 comes with a few Google-exclusive features I love that aren’t on other Android phones. The voice recorder app automatically transcribes interviews to text, for example. It can detect if you were in a car crash and automatically dial 911. It has excellent spam call screening features, too.

OnePlus 8T

OnePlus made its name as a company selling affordable phones with flagship-level specs. Its prices had started creeping up in recent years, but the OnePlus 8T reverts to the original model, offering high-end specs in a phone that starts at only $749.

OnePlus phones are also known to be super speedy, and the OnePlus 8T keeps that promise.

It has a colorful and premium metal and glass design, like the iPhone 12. Plus it has one unique feature I really dig: It can fully charge in 39 minutes, faster than any other phone I’ve tested — the iPhone 12 charges to 50% in about a half hour. But, you don’t get wireless charging or any certified water resistance rating, two things I like to have.

Like the Galaxy FE, it has a fingerprint reader that works well and is hidden in the screen. The cameras are good enough, but I prefer the pictures from the Pixel 5 and Galaxy FE. But, you still get wide-angle, ultrawide-angle and a macro lens for lots of different types of photos, from pictures of landscapes to really close-up shots.



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