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We try out Facebook’s new video chat TV set top box and smaller smart screens
Social media giant Facebook has announced plans to create a new oversight panel by the end of the year, something they dub its own "Supreme Court." BBC News Silicon Valley reporter Dave Lee joins CBSN to explain.
Palo Alto Networks is a much smaller company, but its cybersecurity business is in demand with corporate customers increasingly at risk of breaches.
The launch comes as Facebook is trying to pivot toward more private forms of communication, after years of slowing user growth, data-sharing scandals and calls for change to its hands-off approach to content moderation. It is keeping the focus of its new Portal line on video calling, adding the capability for WhatsApp calls along with improvements to a wide-angle camera that keeps users in focus as they move about a room. Facebook is also expanding Portal sales into countries including the UK, France and Australia, while lowering prices to more closely compete with industry-leading smart speakers from Amazon and Google that sell for under $100.
Facebook is preparing to challenge Roku in the video streaming device market as the social media giant looks to a future beyond advertising.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. on Wednesday upgraded its Portal video chat devices, with a new model for TVs and lower prices. It also said users can opt out of the company accessing voice recordings collected by the hardware.With the new products, called Portal TV, Portal, and Portal Mini, Facebook is trying to break into the crowded smart speaker and connected living room markets.The Portal TV, which goes on sale for $149 in October, can be connected to a TV set with standard HDMI cable and has a camera and several microphones to enable video calling via Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp services.The device supports Spotify, along with Amazon’s Prime Video service, Ring cameras and Alexa voice assistant. But it lacks content from Netflix Inc. and some other popular video-streaming services. That may make it difficult to compete without the range of video and apps offered by rival streaming devices from Roku Inc., Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth emphasized in a demonstration that the device’s primary purpose is video calling. That’s the company’s unique sales proposition and people will likely use additional devices for content that they can’t get via the Portal TV, he said.Facebook’s new Portal smart display devices, coming later in October, will sell for $129 and $179, down from the previous $199 starting price. The devices still come in two sizes, 8-inch and 10-inch variations. The new versions have improved speakers and a physical shutter that can either disable both the camera and microphone or just the camera.Facebook said it will transcribe some audio clips collected by the Portal devices, but users will be able to opt out.Facebook first launched its video-calling hardware in 2018, following a series of privacy scandals. The company doesn’t report Portal sales, but it slashed the price in half earlier this year. Bosworth said sales and consumer reception of the device were “warmer” than expected, but he declined to provide specific figures.To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at email@example.com;Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Alistair Barr, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., which last month said it stopped using humans to review and transcribe users’ voice messages, will resume that practice for some audio collected from its Portal video-calling device.Facebook “paused human review of audio” around August. Bloomberg reported at the time the company hired contractors to transcribe private voice messages sent via its Messenger app. In that case, users had not been alerted to the possibility that their communications might be subject to human review. It was also unclear at the time that some of the clips Facebook had been collecting were coming from Portal.Facebook confirmed Wednesday that it was indeed collecting audio from Portal users who make a request from the device using the command “Hey Portal.” By default, those commands were recorded and stored on Facebook servers, and some of them were transcribed by contractors working with the company to improve the software algorithms used to understand the commands, according to Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of hardware. That practice was paused last month at the same time Messenger stopped using humans to transcribe messages.Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Users’ Audio Chats“We paused human review of the ‘Hey Portal’ voice interactions last month while we worked on a plan that gave people more transparency and control, including a way to turn it off,” Bosworth said in a statement.Portal is now reinstating human audio transcriptions but will offer consumers an option to turn off that service in a new version of its Portal software, which will be distributed to existing devices and its updated Portal lineup shipping in October.The Messenger transcriptions are separate, Boswell added, and that program is still on pause.“The reason they’re separate isn’t because the back-end systems are separate, it’s because the data is coming in from a different place,” he told Bloomberg in an interview Tuesday. “And therefore you have a different kind of user expectation.”Apple Suspends Listening to Siri Queries Amid Privacy OutcryThe controversial practice of transcribing user audio clips has gotten a lot of attention in recent months because of privacy concerns. Apple Inc. and Google have both suspended similar human transcription programs, and Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon.com Inc. was transcribing some commands from its Alexa voice assistant without people’s knowledge. Amazon now lets users opt out of that human review.Facebook decided to reinstate this practice because it’s important for training the company’s software programs to accurately understand requests, Bosworth says. He’s also aware that the idea of having humans review user audio is unsettling to many people.“The consumer reaction the last several months to these practices, not just at Facebook but other companies, gave us insight into the fact that this was something people weren’t entirely comfortable with or weren’t sure about,” he said when explaining the new privacy setting.Facebook will still collect and transcribe “Hey Portal” commands if users don’t change the default settings. Portal’s data usage policy states that the company does collect “voice queries and commands” after a user wakes the device with “Hey Portal.” The policy does not say that those audio clips may be reviewed by third-party contractors.Facebook Quizzed by Watchdog for Listening to Users’ ChatsThe importance of audio transcriptions and recordings has increased alongside the rise of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Tech companies improve the accuracy of their software by transcribing millions of clips, which help the machines learn language and speech patterns. The practice has, however, served up a new privacy trade-off: users want the help of smart assistants but not the threat that strangers might be listening to their private conversations or messages.Facebook does not yet have an advanced standalone audio assistant to compete with the other tech giants, though its Portal device can carry out some basic commands after users wake it by saying “Hey Portal.” For more complicated requests, Portal also comes equipped with Amazon’s Alexa software.Bosworth says that while Facebook is working to improve and further develop its “Hey Portal” software, it doesn’t have any plans to completely replace Alexa on Portal devices with its own proprietary software, and Alexa is indeed present on Facebook’s newly announced set of devices.The new Facebook Portal and Portal Mini will open Facebook’s distribution of the video-calling platform beyond the U.S. and into Europe, where higher privacy standards have already saddled the social media giant with increased regulator scrutiny.\--With assistance from Sarah Frier.To contact the reporters on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org;Mark Gurman in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vlad Savov, Edwin ChanFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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U.S. stock futures fall modestly in cautious trading as investors focus on the Federal Reserve's interest rates decision expected later Wednesday; FedEx sinks after fiscal first-quarter earnings at the shipping giant miss analysts' forecasts and the company lowers its outlook for fiscal 2020; Adobe falls on weak fourth-quarter guidance; Facebook reportedly is working with Ray-Ban to develop augmented reality glasses.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Apple Inc. is squaring up with tech’s European bete noire, Margrethe Vestager, over its historical tax arrangements in Ireland at a court hearing this week. If the iPhone maker wins, Vestager may be able to use the defeat to her benefit. Back in 2016, EU Competition Commissioner Vestager imposed a 13 billion-euro ($14.4 billion) bill on Apple for unpaid taxes in Ireland, alleging illegal state aid. That case has now reached the EU General Court in Luxembourg. The losing side will be able to appeal one level higher to the European Court of Justice.Though a ruling will still take some months, either outcome could potentially play into Vestager’s hands. If the court decides in her favor, then all well and good: Apple has already placed the funds in escrow, Ireland enjoys a nice boost to its coffers and her efforts to end so-called sweetheart tax deals are rubberstamped.QuicktakeHow Europe’s ‘Digital Tax’ Plans Will Hit U.S. Tech CompaniesIf the court concludes that the arrangement was in fact above board, of course it would prove a blow to the Commission’s ability to use state aid rules to punish countries using tax breaks to prop up certain industries. But if Ireland is able to get away with taxing Apple at such a tiny rate – the Commission says it was as low as 0.005% - then the question becomes: How was this permissible under the global tax system?It could prove a useful political tool for Vestager, who in her new mandate as executive vice president in charge of digital policy will also be responsible for European efforts to change the way technology firms are taxed. It may also help pile pressure on the G-20 to finally agree an overhaul of global tax rules. Moves to change the tax framework are reaching a climax. Back in 2013, the G-20 tasked the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) with developing a solution to the problem known as base erosion and profit shifting, where companies are able to book profits in countries with more favorable tax regimes. The aim was to come up with a common framework that plugged some tax loopholes. The EU has already made some progress to tackle profit shifting by multinational corporations. But G-20 finance ministers will once again consider a more comprehensive multilateral plan when they meet on the sidelines of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings next month in Washington, D.C. The hope is that the proposals will then be formally adopted by the G-20 at its meeting in Riyadh next year.The bone of contention now is essentially over whether to tax revenue or profit. Traditionally, taxes have been levied on profit, but the nature of digital services means companies can more readily shift around where exactly that profit is booked. Take Facebook Inc., for instance. Is the value being generated in the country where a user clicks on an ad? Or is it in Menlo Park, California, where Facebook has its headquarters and where an engineer might have written the code to serve up that ad?In the absence of a broader agreement to combat profit shifting, the U.K. and France are pushing for digital taxes that would target the former, while the U.S. errs in favor of the latter – understandably, since that boosts its own tax revenue. The existing approach has made it easier to claim residency in lower tax regimes such as Ireland. Efforts to come up with a comprehensive European solution to take on the tech giants have so far failed, prompting France and the U.K. to advance with their own taxes on digital companies’ revenue.The OECD is looking favorably on measures that assess whether a firm has a significant economic presence in a country – a combination of its footprint and sales. It’s also likely to take into account factors such as local user contribution (for example, videos uploaded) and where the product was developed. If the OECD’s proposals aren’t adopted by the G-20, then Vestager has to find a way of convincing European member states to agree on a solution. Countries like Sweden and Luxembourg have so far stood in the way of a consensus.Whether at the G-20 or EU level, a victory for Apple would serve as the primary example of why tax reform is needed.To contact the author of this story: Alex Webb at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Baker at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
The smart TVs in our homes are leaking sensitive user data to companies including Netflix, Google and Facebook even when some devices are idle, according to two large-scale analyses. Researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that a number of smart TVs, including those made by Samsung and LG, and the streaming dongles Roku and Amazon’s FireTV were sending out data such as location and IP address to Netflix and third-party advertisers. The data were being sent whether or not the user had a Netflix account.
Amazon (AMZN) has underperformed the market in 2019 and has gained just over 18% year-to-date. Comparatively, the S&P; 500 Index is up 20% this year.
Facebook says it expects to name the first members of a quasi-independent oversight board by year-end. The board will rule on thorny content issues, such as when a Facebook or Instagram post constitutes hate speech.
(Bloomberg) -- Kizuna Ai, the most popular streamer in Japan, is an anatomically exaggerated, perpetually adolescent girl in frilly thigh-high socks and a pink hair ribbon. She’s also an entirely virtual character, given life by the actions and voice of an invisible actress.In the home of anime and “Ghost in the Shell” futurism, millions now follow Kizuna Ai online, and that success has spawned thousands of copycat acts and a cottage industry catering to so-called virtual YouTubers, or VTubers. Defying the Western streamer blueprint of young male gamers like PewDiePie and Ninja, Japan has invented a new class of streaming star that’s equal parts digital avatar and interactive anime.“What separates VTubers from regular anime characters is that you can believe they actually exist,” said Takeshi Osaka, founder of Activ8 Inc., the Tokyo-based company behind Kizuna Ai. “That presence is an important part of what makes them so appealing.”Sidestepping the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of traditional animation -- ill-suited to the fast-paced world of YouTube content -- Activ8 uses Hollywood-grade motion capture equipment to crank out music videos, skits and game streams just about every day for more than 4 million subscribers.The technology allows Kizuna to interact with fans in real time at exhibitions, give interviews on live TV and perform in concerts. It’s a virtual influencer that can patronize real-world events.While Activ8 doesn’t disclose technical details, its product is an almost seamless combination of lifelike movements, gestures and facial expressions, all of which contribute to the suspension of disbelief.“The innovation here is in how they combine real-time 3D computer graphics, motion capture and video streaming sites like YouTube to create two-way interactions with audiences,” said Eiji Araki, a senior vice president at Gree Inc. who heads a division specializing in VTubers.Kizuna Ai debuted on YouTube in December 2016 and was responsible for coining the term “VTuber.” The technology that opened the door for its many imitators arrived that same year, in the form of the first commercial virtual reality goggles. Designed to do precise head and hand tracking, the VR kits from Facebook Inc.’s Oculus and HTC Corp.’s Vive turned out to be perfect animation rigs for VTuber aspirants on a budget. With free-to-use animation engines and 3-D models from the likes of Unity Technologies, anyone could create a virtual puppet studio for cheap in their living room.Virtual Beings Get Real With First Emmy From HollywoodIt’s no accident that VTubers found fertile ground in Japan. The country has a long history of user-generated content centered on anime, and performances by virtual idols like Hatsune Miku have drawn real-world crowds for more than a decade. While international audiences may prefer more photorealistic characters -- which are more difficult to create and animate -- their Japanese counterparts raised on comic book heroes have no problem with cartoonish looks.The VTuber phenomenon has so far been almost exclusively Japanese, however its underlying technology and formula of combining popular culture with increased interactivity -- and thus believability -- are universal. And Activ8 already has ambitions to expand its VTuber portfolio beyond Japan.While Japan’s global tech leadership may have faded since the days of the Walkman, its trendsetting habits remain strong in the gaming realm. Three out of four gaming consoles sold in the world today are made by Nintendo Co. and Sony Corp., while free-to-play mobile games are taking over the globe with monetization techniques pioneered by Japanese companies. And then there are globally beloved game series like Super Mario, Zelda, Monster Hunter and Pokémon. Anime, another major Japanese cultural export, is a $20 billion industry whose products range from Oscar-winning high-brow works by Hayao Miyazaki to action-packed light entertainment like “Battle Angel Alita,” which recently got a Hollywood remake. VTubers are a cross between these two Japanese pastimes.Market researcher User Local Inc. estimates there are now over 9,000 VTuber channels. The most popular ones are produced by a handful of professional studios like Activ8, each managing dozens of characters. In the space of less than three years, virtual streamers have morphed from an obscure subculture to a big business. Kizuna Ai can now be found in ads for instant cup noodles and eye drops, appearing at local carrier SoftBank Corp.’s launch event and helping the Japan National Tourism Organization’s promo campaigns.“There is no doubt that this will change the future of entertainment,” said Hironao Kunimitsu, the founder of Gumi Inc., an early investor in Activ8 and about 70 other VR startups. He cautions, however, that “for this type of content to resonate outside of Japan, it will have to be adapted to local tastes and sensibilities.”For now, Japanese VTubers are taking the path of least resistance and exporting their characters to China’s large and underserved anime market. Activ8 earlier this year introduced a Chinese version of Kizuna Ai, changing its dress and voice, and now it has close to 820,000 followers on the country’s Bilibili video-sharing service.Ultimate success for Activ8’s chief means making it into Hollywood, which is already a well-trodden path for Japanese gaming franchises like Resident Evil, Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog. Given the world’s appetite for Japanese culture, VTubers might not even have to dilute their product very much.“I started this virtual entertainer business because I believe it can be done worldwide,” Osaka said. “Our goal is to become the next-generation Disney.”To contact the reporters on this story: Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo at email@example.com;Yuki Furukawa in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at email@example.com, Vlad Savov, Colum MurphyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Facebook needs more training data for its AI systems, which failed to detect the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Officials from the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission may provide more information on Tuesday afternoon about their antitrust probes that are targeting Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Facebook Inc will allow a new outside oversight board to make final decisions on whether individual pieces of content can be displayed on the social media site, but the group won't be able to make policy changes, the company said on Tuesday. The board is meant as a type of appeals body through which users can challenge company decisions on controversial content. "The board's decision will be binding, even if I or anyone at Facebook disagrees with it," Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement, referring to calls on specific content, such as photos and videos.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., ahead of a congressional hearing on violent content, revealed the charter for an independent oversight board that will make irreversible decisions about what posts stay up and come down, even if the company disagrees.The board, which Facebook started talking about in January and which will begin to hear cases early next year, represents the first real check on Facebook’s power to decide who gets a voice on its site. Its members -- at least 11 people at any given time and fully staffed at 40 -- will be the final word on controversial cases that affect Facebook’s 2.7 billion users. The board’s charter outlines a vision that is easier said than done.The members will “exhibit a broad range of knowledge, competencies, diversity and expertise” with no “actual or perceived” conflicts of interest that would affect their decisions on user content, according to the charter revealed Tuesday. They will “collaborate in decision-making to foster an environment of collegiality, and issue principled decisions and policy recommendations using clearly articulated reasoning.” The committee deciding on cases will include one member from the region of the post in dispute.Facebook spent months deliberating with outside experts to ensure the board acts independently, even though members are paid indirectly by the tech giant. Funding is channeled through a trust and the trustees can’t fire board members if they make bad content decisions, only if their conduct is poor. At stake is the trust of Facebook’s users, who sometimes don’t understand why posts are removed, or why questionable content they report remains online.The company is also dealing with increasingly damaging types of content -- like posts to recruit terrorists or influence elections. On Wednesday, executives from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Google will testify before a Senate committee on violent content and extremism, after a string of mass shootings, some of which were broadcast live on social media.Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John’s University Law School, has been embedded at Facebook to observe the oversight board’s creation, including sitting in on meetings with staff. She described a notable update: The board can provide feedback on Facebook policies, and the company will review that and write a public statement explaining why it did or did not change a policy as a result.“That’s actually kind of a huge deal,” Klonick said. “That’s probably the most accountable we’ve ever seen Facebook.”There are still elements that are unclear, according to Klonick. The charter references “bylaws” -- the “operational procedures of the board” -- and a Code of Conduct outlining the “norms, procedures, and proper practices” expected of board members. Neither exists right now, but both will be important to start the board off in the right direction with the right set of principles, she said.To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah Frier in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org;Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Alistair Barr, Molly SchuetzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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