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Digital rights groups speak out against EU plan to scan online content

For the past few years, the European Union has been developing reforms that would turn Europe into a Digital Single Market. Under such a structure, anyone in Europe would be able to buy goods and services online from any of the EU member states, not just where they currently happen to be, and services like Netflix would be the same in each country, though that piece would be quite a bit harder to implement. However, there’s another part of this conversation that has drawn a fair amount of backlash and this week led major rights groups to pen an opposition letter to the EU.

The stipulation in question, reports TorrentFreak, is Article 13 of the current Digital Single Market proposals, which would require online service providers like YouTube and Facebook to constantly scan uploaded content to make sure it doesn’t infringe on any copyrights. This would largely replace the current model wherein once a copyright violation is reported, that content is removed. While groups like entertainment companies support such a measure, others have spoken out against it. In an open letter to the EU, dozens of international rights groups — such as Human Rights Watch, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters without Borders — helmed by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe and European Digital Rights requested Article 13 be removed from the proposals.

In the letter, the groups say, “Article 13 of the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market include obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.” They continue, “In particular, the requirement to filter content in this way would violate the freedom of expression set out in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If internet companies are required to apply filtering mechanisms in order to avoid possible liability, they will. This will lead to excessive filtering and deletion of content and limit the freedom to impart information on the one hand, and the freedom to receive information on the other.” The groups also make a practical argument, pointing out that similar mandates have been rejected by the Court of Justice twice before and Article 13 would likely be thrown out as well.

Whether such a response will have any impact on the EU’s decision will remain to be seen, but it looks like it’s going to have a fight on its hands if it decides to go forward.

Via: TorrentFreak

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, European Commission


Researchers use AI to banish choppy streaming videos

Nobody likes it when their binge watching is disrupted by a buffering video. While streaming sites like Netflix have offered workarounds for connectivity problems (including offline viewing and quality controls), researchers are tackling the issue head on. In August, a team from MIT CSAIL unveiled its solution: A neural network that can pick the ideal algorithms to ensure a smooth stream at the best possible quality. But, they’re not alone in their quest to banish video stutters. The folks at France’s EPFL university are also tapping into machine learning as part of their own method. The researchers claim their program can boost the user experience by 37 percent, while also reducing power loads by almost 20 percent.

The likes of YouTube and Netflix rely on systems that are “inefficient,” claims post-doctoral researcher Marina Zapater Sanch. “They store either one copy of a video in the highest-quality format possible, or dozens of copies in different formats.” This can result in slow and choppy streaming, or a crippling server storage load, according to Sanch.

Like CSAIL before them, her team taught their program to learn from experience. Specifically, the AI monitored 1,000 people playing a video across an exhaustive range of devices. The system then memorized the series of actions that led to better quality streams. The project is still in its infancy, which may explain why the researchers aren’t elaborating on its details. Still, it could have real world applications for video platforms in the future. But, first the team want to modify it for real-time streaming: A system where just one copy of a video can be optimized for each particular user.

Source: EPFL


Google Calendar for web gets a much-needed makeover

Google Calendar on the web has finally caught up to its sleeker, more visually appealing sibling for mobile. The big G has given the G Suite member a much-needed visual refresh, updating its color palette to look more like the mobile app’s and even giving it an interface that automatically adjusts itself to look its best no matter what your screen size is. You can now switch views using a drop-down menu on the top right of the screen and, if you’re on Day View mode, it can display several calendars side-by-side.

Google has also infused the redesigned calendar with new features, though they mostly target enterprise users. You can use rich text and hyperlinks in entry descriptions, so you can create bulleted lists and format text to make entries easy to understand. If you use Calendar at work, you might now notice more conference room details, such as how large it is or what kind of equipment it contains, when booking a room. To see these new features, your G Suite admin has to activate the new Calendar first. But if you’re just an individual user, check the upper right-hand corner of the interface — you’ll see the “Use the new Calendar” option soon, if you haven’t yet.

Source: G Suite


Snapchat has cute AR foam fingers for you to wave at NBA games

With its 2017-2018 season getting ready to tip off tomorrow, the NBA’s been quite busy making tech announcements ahead of it. Not only did it reveal an augmented reality app for the iPhone yesterday, but now it’s teaming up with Snap Inc. on a brand new Lens experience for Snapchat. Fans who are at or near an NBA arena this coming year will get access to special Lenses, which let you place a digital foam finger in a physical area around you. As you can see above, the cute character wears team jerseys and can show different emotions that you can share when you send snaps to your friends.

The Lens partnership with the NBA is similar to what Snapchat showed earlier this month, when it collaborated with artist Jeff Koons on giant augmented-reality installations. That said, this is the first time the company has opened geo-specific world Lenses to a sports league; Snap said it could not comment on whether we can expect others to take advantage of the feature later on. For now, it looks like NBA fans have dibs on the jersey-clad AR foam fingers.


Dropbox targets freelancing workers with new ‘Professional’ tier

It’s been a year and a half since Dropbox first showed off “Smart Sync” (then known as Project Infinite), a feature that would let everything stored in your Dropbox account show up on your computer, whether the file was located on your hard drive or up in the cloud. It launched for the enterprise-level Dropbox Business users in January, but today Smart Sync will be available for all of Dropbox users as part of a brand-new service tier.

It’s called Dropbox Professional, and Dropbox group product manager Vinod Valloppillil says that it’s a way for the company to get back to the users it originally focused on. That includes “creative” users who used Dropbox to back up all their important files, whether for personal usage or people who were freelance designers, musicians, writers and so on — people who didn’t really differentiate much between their work or personal files. “70 percent of all Dropbox Basic [free] and Plus [$99/year for 1TB of storage space] usage is actually for business,” Valloppillil said. “This segment of the economy, people who aren’t on enterprise teams but want something more significant than you get out of consumer product, was a big opportunity.”

The $200/year (or $20/month) Dropbox Professional product includes 1TB of storage, the Smart Sync feature and something entirely new: Showcase. Previously, sharing files in Dropbox meant the recipients got a link to a website that basically looked like a file system — not exactly the most inspiring presentation. Showcase lets users arrange a set of different files to share in a much more engaging, visual way, as you can see in the image above.

The top of a Dropbox Showcase is customizable — you can add a cover image and title as well as a message to the recipients. Dropbox envisions this feature as an easy way for people to share their portfolios or pieces of a project with clients. There’s no doubt it’s more attractive than a list of files, and Dropbox also believes that recipients will be more likely to actually go through all documents, images and videos shared in a Showcase. As someone who’s received many shared Dropbox folders over the years, I do feel like I’d be more likely to engage with something presented in a Showcase vs. a list of files and folders. At the very least, it’s easier to get a quick overview of what’s being shared.

Dropbox added more in-depth analytics capabilities to the new Professional tier, as well. Users will be able to see how many times shared files have been viewed or downloaded, along with how many comments have been left. There are also options for setting sharing passwords so that your files don’t get spread around without your approval and set links to expire, as well. Professional gives you 120-day version history, up from the 30 you get in the free and Plus tiers. And Professional users will also get “priority” chat support. That isn’t something I would have expected would be a big deal, but Valloppillil said that “we field a lot of self-service and email support requests — direct priority chat makes getting help a lot faster.”

The basic Dropbox experience hasn’t substantially changed for most users in a long time, though the company has had the basics of file sharing and cloud backup covered for years now. All of the focus on large corporations has helped it build a sustainable business, but the basic product for individuals hasn’t evolved much lately. The new Professional tier represents a way for Dropbox to offer a plan that costs more than the basic $10 / month for 1TB of storage option.

Most average consumers aren’t going to need what Professional offers, but Dropbox knows a lot about how its customers use its product and believes that there’s a substantial population who’ll find Professional worth the cash. But many of these professionals have likely found solutions to the problem Dropbox is trying to solve with Professional already. Heavy Dropbox users will likely find this appealing, but for others it might just be another solution that requires changing up an already-functional workflow. But at the very least, it’s good to see Dropbox bring new features to the individuals users the company first targeted when it launched nine years ago.


Twitter is the latest to fill your feed with auto-playing video ads

Your Twitter feed is going to get even busier thanks to the microblogging service unlocking auto-playing video ads for advertisers. Starting today Video Website Cards are available to every ad-buyer. In limited beta tests (like the one embedded below; videos don’t seem to work with embeds), Twitter has found them pretty successful, with a 200 percent higher clickthrough rate compared to the leading standard. So yeah, expect to see an awful lot more of these coming soon. Just wait until #brands start combining these with 280-character tweets. Suddenly, paying for Tweetbot doesn’t seem like a horrible idea.

Beauty in bold. #FTYPE

— Jaguar USA (@JaguarUSA) June 26, 2017

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Twitter


GM aims to be the first to test self-driving cars in New York City

It looks like New York City will be hosting its first test of fully autonomous vehicles very soon and surprisingly, they’re not from Waymo or Uber. Instead, General Motors and Cruise Automation have submitted the first application for sustained testing and are aiming to do so in Manhattan.

New York state only recently opened its roads up to self-driving vehicles, joining California, Arizona and Pennsylvania in allowing tests of the technology. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in May that the DMV had begun taking applications for said tests on New York’s roads and GM is the first in line. In order to be approved, companies like GM will have to cover each vehicle with a $5 million insurance policy, reimburse state police for any costs that come with overseeing the tests and keep a person in the driver’s seat at all times. There are also some limitations on where the tests can take place — they can’t be conducted near a school or a construction zone, for example.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement, “New York is the ultimate proving ground for autonomous vehicle technology. We have a streetscape that is unrivaled in its scale and complexity, and so it’s fitting that General Motors and Cruise Automation are finally bringing this technology here for testing and development.”

GM’s and Cruise Automation’s tests will be performed with an engineer behind the wheel and a second person in the passenger seat in a geofenced area of Manhattan. They’re expected to begin in early 2018.

Source: Governor Cuomo


Snap and NBC form a studio just for mobile-only TV shows

Snap, which is Snapchat’s parent company, has been having a little bit of trouble attracting new users to its service. That may be why the company is teaming up with NBCUniversal to produce content for entertainment specifically on apps. The new as-yet-unnamed studio, owned half by Snap and half by NBCUniversal, signed independent filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass as its first creative partner.

Snap’s head of content, Sean Mills, explained to Variety, “We fundamentally believe that mobile is a new medium.” Both companies adhere to the idea that entertainment for mobile platforms needs to be produced differently than for traditional venues. “Because that creative process is so unique, we felt there was a need for a fully dedicated entity focused on that,” Mills continued. Laura Andersen, NBC Entertainment’s senior VP of current programming, will be the chief content officer for the studio, working with Mills and Maggie Suniewick, the president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises.

NBCUniversal cites the engagement of Snapchat’s existing audience, with its 173 million active daily users, as the reason it chose to move forward with the deal. It’s unclear how many series the studio will produce, but Mark Duplass told Variety they have about six different TV show ideas across genres. The first series is set to debut in 2018, with 8–10 minutes per episode.

Source: Variety


Roku Express will be available in Canada in November

Canada is getting a new version of the Roku Express, the company announced today. The tiny device, which is aimed at consumers new to streaming, is five times more powerful than its predecessor. It was unveiled on October 2nd as a part of Roku’s refreshed lineup. It will retail for $40 and will be available starting in November.

Roku is also making its debut in Latin America, bringing its streaming platform to all the countries in Central America, as well as Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru in South America. Content publishers in these countries will have the ability to develop custom channels for their consumers. Roku’s hardware will be available to these consumers in the next few weeks.

Back in October, Roku unveiled their new lineup of streaming devices, including the rumored Streaming Stick+, which was their first stick to be compatible with 4K and HDR. Clearly, they’re intent on continuing to expand after their successful IPO with expansion into these two markets, and likely more to come.

Source: Business Wire (1), Business Wire (2)


Microsoft Says Its New Surface Book 2 is Twice as Powerful as Latest MacBook Pro

Microsoft today introduced the Surface Book 2, the second generation of its high-end notebook and tablet hybrid.

The new Surface Book 2 is equipped with Intel’s latest eighth-generation Core processors, up to NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 17 hours of battery life based on video playback.

Microsoft says those tech specs make the Surface Book 2 up to five times more powerful than the original Surface Book, and twice as powerful as the latest MacBook Pro, but it didn’t specify which configurations.

Microsoft’s comparisons to its primary competitor didn’t end there. On its website, it said the Surface Book 2 has 70 percent more battery life than the latest MacBook Pro, which lasts up to 10 hours on a single charge.

The new Surface Book 2 is available with a 13.5-inch or 15-inch display that can be detached from the keyboard and used as a tablet. The display can also be folded or reattached in Studio Mode or View Mode.

Microsoft added that the Surface Book 2 has 45 percent more pixels than the latest MacBook Pro. The 15-inch model has a resolution of 3240×2160 pixels, good for 267 PPI, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro is 2880×1800 and 220 PPI.

The notebook is equipped with two USB 3.1 ports, one USB-C port, a full-size SD card slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It also has a proprietary SurfaceConnect port that allows a Surface Dock to be connected.

Surface Dock, available separately for $199, has two Mini DisplayPorts, one Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports, and one audio out port.

As a Windows PC, the Surface Book 2 will be compatible with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update released today.

Surface Book 2 starts at $1,499 for the 13.5-inch model with a Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. More powerful 13.5-inch configurations are available for up to $2,999.

The 15-inch model starts at $2,499 with a Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. More powerful 15-inch configurations are available for up to $3,299.

Surface Book 2 pre-orders begin November 9 on Microsoft’s website and at its retail stores in the United States and select other countries. Deliveries will begin when the device launches November 16.

Related Roundup: MacBook ProTags: Microsoft, Surface BookBuyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Neutral)
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