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16
Jan

Smashy Road: Arena can be madcap driving fun (review)


There’s a fairly new car-based game out; it combines simple gameplay, smooth visuals, customization, and lots of wild action. It’s called “Smashy Road: Arena”. It’s a follow-up to the title “Smashy Road: WANTED” by the developer BearBit Studios.
It’s a free game that’s family-friendly, and can be played as either single or multi-player.

Setup

Setting up the game is very simple. Just download from the Play Store to your device, and fire it up. It does tie to Google Play Games but if you’re not new to this (presuming you’re not) then off you’ll go.

screenshot_20170106-225846Once started, you really are thrown right into a single play starting screen, where you begin by tapping on a control. Before doing so, though, there’s also an “Online” button that you can press; this takes you out of single-player and puts you into a four-player death match game, where three other players are on the same track as you.

Also, if you do tap to play the single-player game, once in you’ll find a settings/gear screenshot_20170106-231055 button to press. In here you can customize your vehicle. In the game there are 30 possible vehicles, 30 different paint schemes, and 10 weapons to choose from. As is common, you start out with only 1 option for each (the others are available for purchase, if you’re the truly impatient type). The others can become available as you accumulate time (and points) screenshot_20170106-231136playing the game.

Gameplay

The controls couldn’t be simpler: you tap the left side of the screen to go left, and right to go right. That’s it. No accelerator, brakes, shifting, drifting or other driving control to worry about. There is one other control, and that’s weapon launch; but we’ll get to that shortly.
Once you tap and are going, your car is quickly brought to full acceleration. Your objective is to outrun and evade various police, SWAT, and military pursuit vehicles, all while trying to pick up cash and usable items, and also avoiding dead ends, corners, and sudden drop-offs.

screenshot_20170106-225934The pick-up items you can acquire can be cash (for future upgrading), fuel, health points, and assorted other accessories that can help you stay alive a little longer. You also have a weapon on top of your vehicle. You can’t just use it willy-nilly, though; if a pursuing vehicle stays within close range long enough (either by you keeping it close or it just out-driving you), screenshot_2017-01-02-14-39-11then a “fire” button will appear and you can blast the vehicle away, accumulating points and giving you some breathing room.
The more successful you are at staying alive and free, the more and more powerful the vehicles decide to join the chase; until it becomes extremely challenging to stay away.

The environment or ‘track’ you find yourself on (there are eight environments available) is generally a large square, made of a combination of city and country landscapes. The square has a definite edge to it, either by way of mountainside or sheer cliff. The mountain you’ll just bounce off of, going going over the cliff means instant death and “game over”.
There’s also quite a few cliffs on the interior of a given track, so you really have to watch where you’re going. If you’re not heading towards a cliff, there’s plenty of other obstacles to clear: houses, trees, buildings, railroad tracks, bridges, rocks, traffic flotsam, other vehicles….the list goes on.

Your game ends in one of four ways:screenshot_20170106-225656

You drive off a cliff (this will happen a lot).
You run out of gas.
Your health points run out (by accumulating too much damage).
You are cornered by the pursuing vehicles, and are arrested.

Visuals & Audio

Smashy Road: Arena uses the now very popular graphic look of what I dub “8-bit 3D”. If you’re familiar with the game “Crossy Road” (similar name, but different developer), then you know what I’m talking about.

screenshot_20170106-225701Colors are very saturated; and the 8-bit look doesn’t lose its charm here. It kind of gives the feel of playing an old-style game, but in a 3D world. The graphics are very fluid in their movement; I couldn’t detect a single slowdown or hiccup.  Very smooth.

One part of the game display I didn’t like is that the ‘zoom’ of the game seems kind of close-up. Once your car is at speed, it can be difficult to see upcoming railroad tracks, buildings, or cliffs. I died more often by driving straight off a mid-environment cliff than by being caught by police.
This gets better the more you play, but one has to play quite a bit (at least I did) to start getting comfortable with this. I’m sure it’s part of the gameplay strategy by the developer…zooming your view out farther would probably make it too easy. But still just a little farther would have upped the replay-ability, in my opinion.

Audio is great, though simple (again, likely by design). And it’s not the 8-bit synth you may expect, but rather realistic in nature. Music plays in the background, while assorted sound effects pop up right on time to the on-screen action.

Conclusion

I have to recommend Smashy Road: Arena. It’s a pretty fun car escape game that is definitely hair-raising to play, but not too complicated to scare people away. I do with the player’s view was a bit more zoomed out, but all-in-all it’s a quality title worthy of at least a download to give it a try.

 

Download Smashy Road: Arena from the Play Store here.

 

 

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16
Jan

Common Amazon Echo problems and how to fix them


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What to do when your Amazon Echo isn’t working right?

The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are the best voice-controlled smart home speakers you can buy. They work with many different smart home products and services, and there’s a bunch of really cool stuff you can do with them.

But as we all know, it’s not always sunshine and roses with technology. Things fall out of sync or stop connecting and when they do it can be very frustrating. Fortunately, we’re here to help with some sound advice for common problems you might run into with Alexa and your Amazon Echo.

See at Amazon

Echo speaker frequently disconnects from the wireless network

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It’s the number one issue you’re likely to face when setting up any wireless device in your home. If you find your Amazon Echo is suddenly struggling to stay connected to your wireless network, you’re best to power-cycle everything — that means your modem and/or router, and the Amazon Echo speakers that are experiencing connectivity problems.

If you’re still running into issues, you may need to move your Echo speaker closer to the wireless router, or alternatively it might be an issue with other devices in your house, such as your microwave, causing interference on the 2.4GHz network. If you have a dual-band router with 2.4GHz and 5GHz, you should go into your Alexa app and set the Amazon Echo to connect to the 5GHz signal from your wireless signal — as long as it’s close enough to get a good signal.

Alexa is triggered by TV shows or news casts

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If you’re in love with your Amazon Echo and using Alexa, chances are you’re going to be interested in watching shows or newscasts about your home AI assistant. But this may inadvertently lead to Alexa being triggered by the magic wake word and a command from a TV show character or news reporter — which you may have experience first hand if you live in San Diego.

If this is a reoccurring issue for you, there are a couple quick fix options you can consider. First, consider moving your Alexa away from the TV or speakers so that it won’t be as actively listening for wake words from the things you’re watching. Ideally, Amazon recommends placing it at least eight inches away from a wall, in as central and open a location as you can find. If you’re having issues, you can change the wake word from Alexa to either “Amazon” or “Echo” from the Alexa app settings. Unfortunately, custom wake words are not yet available.

If you want to make sure Alexa can understand your voice, you can always go into the Alexa app settings and redo the voice training session.

Alexa won’t connect to other devices

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One of the best parts about owning an Amazon Echo is using it as the access point to all the other smart devices you may have throughout your home. But as easy as things are to set up and use, occasionally you may find that things have fallen out of sync.

There’s a number of smart lights and other products available that work with Alexa, so the first step of determining where the problem will be to figure out how the device is connected to Alexa. Some products work directly with Alexa, while other smart home products must first be connected to their own hub, which is what Alexa communicates with. As mentioned above in the section on Wi-Fi connectivity, your first step should always be to power-cycle everything that isn’t connecting and see if they connect once power is back up.

If that doesn’t help, you’ll want to go into the Alexa app on your phone and check in on the devices’ status, or search for your product in the skills section. Alternatively, some products can only work with Alexa via an IFTTT recipe. If you’ve power cycled everything and you’re still having a problem with a device or service connected via a Skill or IFTTT Applet, then you’ll want to go through the process of setting up the device from scratch again.

How to reset and start from scratch

If all else fails and your Amazon Echo speaker is still acting funny, then it might be time for a hard reset on the speaker itself. If you have an Amazon Echo or first generation Echo Dot, you’ll need a paperclip to press the hard reset button on the underside of the speaker’s base. If you’ve got a second generation Dot, press and hold the Microphone Mute and Volume Down buttons together until the ring turns orange, usually around 20 seconds or so. The ring will then turn blue.

Once you’ve reset your Amazon Echo, you’ll need to go through the setup process again, starting with connecting it to Wi-Fi and configuring your Amazon account.

How has your experience been?

Have you run into any of the problems we’ve outlined above? Got any new problems or (even better) some solutions to share? Drop a comment below!

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16
Jan

Google announces Top 20 finalists for Google Play Indie Games Contest


Shining a spotlight on some of the best indie games for Android!

Back in November, Google put out a call to indie game developers from 15 different European countries to submit their best game of 2016 for consideration in the Google Play Indie Games Contest.

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After receiving nearly 1,000 entries, the field has been narrowed down to just 20 finalists. Most of these games are available to play from the Google Play Store, though a couple have yet to be released. Among the list are a couple of our favorite games from the past year, including Reigns and PinOut.

Here’s the full list of finalist, with Google Play Store links where applicable:

  • Blind Drive by Lo-Fi People
  • Casualty by Loju
  • Crap! I’m Broke: Out of Pocket by Arcane Circus
  • egz by Lonely Woof
  • Ellipsis by Salmi GmbH
  • Gladiabots by GFX47
  • Happy Hop: Kawaii Jump By Platonic Games
  • Hidden Folks by Adriann de Jongh
  • Lichtspeer by Lichtund
  • Lost in Harmony by Digixart Entertainment
  • Mr Future Ninja by Huijaus Studios
  • Paper Wings by Fil Games
  • PinOut by Mediocre
  • Power Hover by Oddrok
  • Reigns by DevolverDigital
  • Rusty Lake: Roots by Rusty Lake
  • Samorost 3 by Amanita Design
  • The Battle of Polytopia by Midjiwan AB
  • twofold inc. by grapefrukt games
  • Unworded by Bento Studio

Each finalist will receive billboard promotion of their game in London for a month, tickets to attend an exclusive event for the top apps and games developers on Google Play, and a Pixel XL smartphone. Developers will also have the opportunity to showcase their creations to the public before the field is narrowed down to the top 10 before the winners are determined by a panel of industry experts.

If you happen to live in the London area and want a say in narrowing the finalists down to the top 10, the public is invited to attend the final event on Thursday, February 16 at the Saatchi Gallery. If you and your friends are interested in this, you’ll want to pre-register in advance so that you don’t get turned away at the door.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some games to play!

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16
Jan

How to fix a broken Galaxy S7 screen


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Here’s everything you need to know if you cracked the screen on your Galaxy S7.

Broken screens happen. Mix a big piece of thin glass (no matter how many Gorillas were involved) and something that will be dropped and bumped and otherwise gently abused and the outcome is broken displays. If this happens to your Galaxy S7, you’ll probably want to get it repaired or replaced. There are several different things that can be done depending on how broken your screen is. Let’s take a look at what to do to get your Galaxy S7 back in action.

Get a good screen protector

If the display is badly scratched or has hairline cracks but still works, you can usually get away with covering the whole screen with a good glass screen protector. Think of this as a way to delay the inevitable worsening of cracks in the glass or damage to the actual display. Over time the cracks will get bigger and those dark pixels will expand, but a glass screen protector will really slow things down and gives you a smooth surface while you’re waiting.

It’s important that you get a real glass one. They are stronger and hold the pieces in place. A more flexible screen protector isn’t going to do much to help. If you’re reading this before your screen breaks, a glass screen protector goes a long way in keeping your display from getting broken in the first place! After looking at a few and asking folks what they have and how they like it, I think the aFilm Bye-Bye Bubble tempered glass screen protector is the one to buy.

See at Amazon

Getting it repaired

This is the route that most of us will take. Having people who know what they’re doing when it comes to taking expensive phones apart is generally a wise decision. But finding the right people to do the repair can be a little tricky.

If anyone besides Samsung fixes your phone you’ll lose your warranty, and water resistance.

The first thing to do is take it back to the place you bought it from and see what they have to say. For most of us in North America, that means a carrier store. No matter the carrier, they will be able to help get the phone repaired or replaced under insurance or a warranty. They can start the official repair process, and even if they need you to call Samsung yourself it’s smart to have a record of talking to the folks whose name is on the device first. Be sure to mention any warranty from your credit card or third party program, and let them know if you or purchased the Samsung Protection Plus package.

If you bought your phone outright, you’re going to be mostly on your own here. Don’t worry, that’s not a big deal in this case. Get things started by starting a repair ticket at Samsung.com or calling Samsung customer service at 1-800-SAMSUNG (726-7864). They’ll get the paperwork started and tell you where and how to send your phone to them, give you an estimate of the cost and let you know approximately how long it’s going to take. Generally, it costs about $200 and takes 14 days. The web is full of folks with horror stories, but those aren’t the rule and you likely won’t have any surprises if you send it off to Samsung.

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There are also plenty of other places that repair Samsung screens, and there’s a good chance you even have one within driving distance. There are also some good nationwide options for people in the United States, and we can recommend two:

  • UBREAKIFIX is a well-known company that has both walk-in and mail-in service. Visit their website to see if you have a local store or your options for sending it in. This is also the company Google uses for their Pixel repairs for Project Fi insured phones.
  • Office Depot has a lot of locations that do phone repairs for Samsung phones. Their work has a full one-year warranty and they offer a price match guarantee with same-day service in many cases. They don’t handle mail-in repairs, but it’s worth a look to see if you have one of their repair centers in driving distance.

If you decide to go local, ask around and see which service the local phone reps at your carrier store use. Also, make sure you get a confirmation of any guarantee and warranty up front and in writing from any place that’s going to take your phone apart. Most local “fix it” centers for cell phones have a person or two who is pretty good at doing things like fixing screens, but it’s always better to be sure of everything in advance.

Do it yourself

If you’ve got the know-how and the patience, you can repair the screen on your GS7 yourself. Like most newer phones, the Galaxy S7 isn’t very repair-friendly but the display can be worked free of the adhesive.

We’re not saying it’s easy. There’s always the chance you’ll break something else taking a phone apart or that you won’t be able to get it back together again. You’ll need to start from the back and disassemble everything between the back cover and the display, including removing the mainboard itself.

There are plenty of in-depth tutorials about changing your GS7 screen on YouTube. You should start with Jerry Rig Everything’s video where he repairs the screen and charging port.

You can pick up a kit that includes the complete digitizer and screen assembly and the tools to do the repair for about $150 so you’re not saving very much money. But you will save time versus mailing your phone off to a repair center.

See at Amazon

Have questions?

Do you have questions about getting your screen repaired? Or if you know of a good repair option in your neck of the woods, or can tell us how your repair went we’d love to hear it!

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16
Jan

Samsung to state obvious: Batteries were the main cause behind Note 7 fires


Closing the final chapter of the hottest story of 2016.

A source familiar with Samsung’s investigation into the exploding Note 7 issue says the South Korean tech giant has concluded that batteries were to blame for the spontaneous combustions that led to two recalls and the ultimate demise of the flagship device, Reuters reports. In other news, grass is green and the sky still appears to be blue.

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Joking aside, this news reaffirms what everyone already already assumed: catastrophic battery failure was the leading cause behind the Note 7 fires. While we wait on an official response from Samsung — which the source says should come in the days before the company releases its fourth quarter numbers — we would like to see the final report address what specific issues caused the Note 7 batteries to spontaneously combust.

As you’ll recall (pun not intended) when the Note 7s first started to explode, Samsung was quick to offer a solution in the form of a different battery supplier, assuring the public the issue was with those particular cells. Given that the problems persisted despite the new batteries, it will be very interesting if Samsung concludes that it was solely a supply chain issue and not with the Note 7 itself.

And it’s going to be imperative for Samsung to not leave any lingering questions in the air with the Galaxy S8 launch expected in the first half of 2017, as I’m sure we’d all like to put the Note 7 saga behind us once and for all.

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16
Jan

LeEco starts selling its phones and TVs on Amazon


When you need to sell consumer electronics, it’s hard to ignore Amazon.

Just a week after expanding its U.S. sales to include Target’s online store, LeEco is now selling its latest phones and TVs on Amazon. To kick it off LeEco is selling its higher-end Le Pro3 and Le S3 in two colors, as well as its 43-inch, 55-inch and 65-inch 4K TVs at a nice $100 off discount as of the time of writing.

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Whether this recent decision to expand sales beyond its own LeMall store is related to its financial troubles or not, this is a great move for LeEco. At this point you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle trying to get people to come to your store specifically to buy your products. When you’re selling phones and smart TVs, you’ve got to go where the customers (and all of your competition) are — and in many cases that’s Amazon.

Getting customers to be interested in the products themselves is another fight entirely, but at the very least getting your latest in front of a huge audience where they’re already shopping is a big (and easy) stepping stone.

See LeEco at Amazon

16
Jan

‘Halo’ developer hints it could revive a scrapped Mega Bloks game


Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz around footage PtoPOnline posted of a scrapped, Mega Bloks-themed Halo action game. Why did it get the axe when its mix of shooting and construction looks like a blast to play? You’re not about to get that exact title, but you might see something like it in the future. In a news update acknowledging the leaked game (known internally as Project Haggar), current Halo developer 343 Industries has said that there may be a game “along these lines” as a result of all the “positive support and feedback” from fans watching the Mega Bloks clip.

That’s far from a guarantee, but 343 founder Bonnie Ross is quick to acknowledge that Haggar included plenty of “fun ideas and invention.” The company also continues “exploring” projects beyond its main game development, she adds.

PtoP speculates that the Mega Bloks game was likely a victim of bad timing. The team (N-Space) prototyped the title on the Xbox 360 in 2013 — you know, the same year the Xbox One arrived. Microsoft and 343 might not have cared enough about the project to carry it over to the newer console. That’s a shame (especially given the popularity of Lego games), but the reaction to the leak suggests that the development time wasn’t spent completely in vain.

Via: GameSpot, PC Gamer

Source: Halo Waypoint, PtoPOnline (YouTube)

16
Jan

11 ways to make the most of your cracked phone screen


The humble smartphone might be able to do a million and one tasks allow you to do everything from call your mum to tweet your best friend, but drop it on the floor and it has the potential to become a shattered mess.

While we would recommend getting it fixed as soon as possible, from someone like iCracked.com, you can actually turn your misfortune into something rather cool while you wait by changing your phone’s wallpaper to highlight your phone’s new found damage.

Here are some examples we’ve found where phone users have done just that, turning a disaster into something we are even tempted to smash up our phone for ourselves.  

Enjoy! 

Bruce Lee can cover up any crack in your screen with a quick kick 

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But wait, so can comic book heroes 

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With super powers

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and bandanas 

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Of course you can’t beat Ken from Street Fighter

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Or Ryu 

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But it’s not just Street Fighter covering up your smashed up phones, Axel does too…

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and if it’s not video games, it’s real people, like Iron Man

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and Chuck Norris

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and Miley Cyrus 

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But in the end you’ll probably want to get it fixed, and just Let it go…

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16
Jan

Nest is now available in four more European countries


Purveyor of connected home products Nest will be saying hallo, servus, ciao and hola to new customers after it announced it is expanding into four European countries. Customers in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain will now be able to buy the Nest 3.0 learning thermostat, the Protect smoke alarm and the indoor and outdoor cameras. Nest says the expansion means its products will now be available in double the number of homes in Europe.

  • Nest Cam review: The next level in home security?

Nest products are currently only sold in seven countries around the world, but people in over 190 countries have them installed after travelling around the world to pick them up.

Matt Rogers, co-founder and chief product officer at Nest said: “This expansion brings us closer to achieving our goal of helping people around the world save energy, stay safe, and feel secure in their homes.”

Lionel Paillet, general manager of Europe for Nest added: “To date, Nest’s hardware, software and services have been available for purchase in just seven markets, yet they’re used by millions of people in more than 190 countries”.

“There’s clearly organic interest in the benefits our products offer, and with our expansion into Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain, we’re doubling our footprint in Europe and allowing our customers – including thousands of existing customers – to enjoy Nest products in their local languages”.

Nest products in the four new European countries will be available from 15 February, but can be pre-ordered now from Amazon, local retailers and select energy suppliers. Nest has said it will be expanding into more countries in the future.

16
Jan

Why do Instagram and Twitter want me to buy fake Yeezys?


It’s not rare for me to come across ads for counterfeit goods, particularly as I’m browsing Instagram or Twitter. And although I don’t have a Facebook account, I live with someone who does and know that’s an issue there as well. Targeted advertising, the kind that knows exactly what brand of sneakers and streetwear I’m into, is the least of my worries here. My problem is the fact that Twitter and Facebook (which owns Instagram) are approving sponsored posts from retailers selling counterfeits. I know better, but there are many who may fall victim to these sorts of scams.

Both Facebook and Twitter are part of the Ads Integrity Alliance and have policies in place to keep out sketchy advertisers, but that’s clearly not keeping some from slipping through the cracks. Without much oversight from the social networks themselves, exercising common sense is key; if an ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In my case, for example, I know if I’m seeing an ad for a pair of Yeezys that cost less than their retail value, there’s no way those shoes are the real deal. Not only that, but the name of the account advertising them — something like “Adidas Yeezy 350 $119” — is a telltale sign that the products are unauthorized.

An ad for fake Adidas Yeezys on Instagram.

According to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global trade of counterfeit and pirated goods amounts to nearly half a trillion dollars per year, and the industry is now trying to expand to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which are home to a combined hundreds of millions of users. In 2015, the US Department of Justice said it would crack down on counterfeits sold online. Outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch said back then that her plan was to work with tech companies such as eBay on providing them with “the right analytical tools” to fight intellectual property violations on their sites.

Amazon has been grappling with this issue as well, especially as more brands find counterfeits of their products being sold there — remember those Apple chargers? To alleviate this, Amazon recently started asking merchants for proof of legitimacy, and a one-time $1,000-$1,500 listing fee, before selling products from Adidas, Asics, Hasbro, Nike and Samsung. In theory, this should filter out the bad apples, but the initiative will eventually have to cover more brands (not just the major ones) if it wants to truly succeed. But, until that happens, Amazon is going to keep getting sued by people who think the company is benefitting from sales of infringing products.

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While Facebook and Twitter don’t sell fake products directly to people, they should be held accountable for allowing them to be promoted on their sites. After all, even if the approval of these ads is unintentional, social networks are still making money off of them. Twitter declined to comment for this story, with a company spokesperson instead pointing toward Twitter’s counterfeit goods policy, which is as clear as it gets. “Twitter prohibits the sale or promotion of sale of counterfeit goods on the Twitter platform,” the rule reads.

Facebook, for its part, told Engadget there are “millions” of ads that get reviewed each week, sometimes manually and others by an automated service. With counterfeits cloning almost every detail of the original product, and sellers setting up landing pages resembling established retailers or brands, it’s easy to see how an algorithm (or even a human) could miss a fishy advertisement. In those cases, Facebook relies on ads being flagged by users, which are then taken down if they violate the company’s advertising policies.

“We do not allow counterfeit goods to be sold on Facebook or Instagram,” a spokesperson said. “When we catch this type of activity, we move quickly to stop it and remove the violating account.” Still, compared to the actions the company’s taken against images it deemed improper for the masses, the approach to ads promoting counterfeits seems to be much less proactive. Why not act to remove them with the same sense of urgency?

For Facebook and Twitter, this is yet another issue that needs to be taken more seriously. It may not be as crucial as stopping online harassment, but they should be trying harder to protect their users from getting scammed. Because as it stands, it seems to be another case of “blame it on the algorithm, not us.”

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