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28
Apr

The devastation of nuclear war is VR’s latest reality check


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Whether it’s a face-to-face encounter with a shark or being in a Syrian city during an air raid, VR is bringing us experiences that we might otherwise never have. One such example is the burned-out shell of a dome that was right under the atomic bomb that America dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. In The Day the World Changed, not only are you placed in this bombed-out structure, you’re also invited to interact with ghostly floating artifacts that were recovered from the site. The idea is that by witnessing the effects of such devastation, you’ll at least learn something, if not be so moved that you join a campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.

Premiering at Tribeca Film Festival 2018, The Day the World Changed is a collaboration between startup studio Tomorrow Never Knows, ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) and the Nobel Media group. It’s a moody, somber experience that questions the world’s military powers and their obsession with nuclear weaponry. “We want this to be an unwavering, uncomfortable experience for people,” said Saschka Unseld, the project’s co-creator.

Fellow creator Gabo Arora said, “We are living in a time when our Commander-in-Chief and leaders of other nations are openly calling for more nuclear weapons, taunting each other over their capabilities.”

But it’s not just about calling for an end to the nuclear arms race — it’s also about the people affected by the bombs in 1945. “Our intention with this work is to give voice to those victims of nuclear war asking the world to face this shared history and to recognize the true horror of these weapons,” Arora said.

As I looked around the skeleton of the building, ashes fluttered by, settling on the debris-covered ground. Two other festival attendees were in the simulation with me, and in the virtual dome, all I could see of them were silhouettes that were eerily reminiscent of nuclear shadows. Through the ominous background music, I heard a disembodied voice to my right, and turned to see that it was coming from a floating satchel. One of the other participants and I walked over to it and, using the pair of controllers we held, swiped at the bag to get it to move. It didn’t do much other than spin in mid-air, and the closer I got to it, the louder the voice grew as it narrated the origin of the item. I won’t spoil it for you, but it belonged to someone killed the day the bomb fell.

After awhile, the objects faded away, and an orb appeared in the middle of the room, showing a man as he recounted his harrowing story. This was the strongest part of the whole experience. His account of how him and his classmates were trapped waiting for rescue is haunting and heartbreaking and reminds viewers of the terribly high cost of such destruction.

In this version of The Day the World Changed, there were only three artifacts available, but the team wants to keep adding more items and stories. Unseld told Engadget that the goal is to have a more-permanent experience outside the context of a festival, where his team can integrate more objects and participants. Tomorrow Never Knows worked with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum in Japan to obtain these artifacts and their origins, and there are dozens more items to consider for inclusion. “It’s about finding the right stories,” Unseld said. If the team is able to add more concurrent viewers in larger scale fixed installations in future, Unseld hopes it will create a sort of communal learning experience.

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Tomorrow Never Knows

In the end, The Day the World Changed theorizes what could happen if the current race doesn’t end, hoping to impress on its audience that they have the power to prevent a gruesome outcome. Unseld recommends people go to the ICAN website to find out how to support local chapters and keep up on news about upcoming bills and other projects.

“It’s important to remember that the amount of nuclear weapons that the world has is based on this original moment of fear,” Unseld said, “And that we still live in the shadow of that fear.”

Even if it makes no impact on the campaign to abolish nuclear warfare, The Day the World Changed will still leave a legacy as an immersive record of what happened. “Especially now, as the last survivors of Hiroshima are passing away, I think it’s more important than ever to keep these stories alive so that we can learn from them,” Unseld said.

Click here to read all the news from Tribeca Film Festival 2018!

28
Apr

When will your phone charge wirelessly in your pocket? We asked an expert


A main limitation of smartphones is battery life. Despite some improvements in charging speeds and power efficiency over the last couple of years, longer battery life still tops the wish list for most smartphone owners, according to a YouGov poll. Having to plug in and charge our phones every day or two is a real annoyance.

Wireless charging, as we currently know it — through wireless charging pads employing the Qi standard — definitely reduces the friction. It dispenses the need to fumble with wires, but it still requires contact. What we really picture when we hear wireless charging is the prospect of our smartphones charging up in our pockets or bags, with power sent wirelessly across distance.

The technology to achieve wireless charging over distance has been around for a few years. The science is sound. While there are some companies working to increase the range of magnetic induction, which is what Qi is based on, most wireless charging over distance technologies employ radiofrequency (RF) signals. A transmitter sends out the RF signals, much like a Wi-Fi router does, and a small antenna on the device being charged picks it up and channels it into the wireless power receiver.

It definitely works

We have seen several demonstrations of wireless power over distance technology over the last few years from companies like Energous, Ossia, and TechNovator, and it definitely works. But there are some caveats. Qi wireless charging pads take longer to charge our phones than wired connections, and wireless charging over distance is even slower.

The most impressive demo we’ve seen yet came from Ossia with its Cota technology. The transmitters were in two large tiles, a couple of feet across, and they were able to deliver power to a Galaxy S7 (with a receiver embedded) continuously as it moved around the room up to distances of around 10 feet away.

“As you get further and further away you get less power,” Ossia’s Chief Technology Officer, Hatem Zeine, told Digital Trends.

“What you can see is a phone charging at distance as I’m walking around,” he said. “No one else can show you this demo.”

The maximum range is somewhere around 30 feet, but at that distance you can only receive a very small amount of power. Within 6 feet of the transmitter, you’ll get somewhere around 1 watt from the 10 watts being transmitted. At longer distances, you might expect 100 or perhaps 200 milliwatts, which isn’t enough to charge up a smartphone, though it can slow down the discharge.

“I wasn’t trying to do wireless power when I came up with this 16 years ago, I was trying to optimize Wi-Fi,” said Zeine, who is also chief scientist, founder, and chairman of the board of Ossia. “Wi-Fi signals really sucked back then; dead spots in the house and slow speeds were common. As a physicist, I knew using more antennas could improve that.”

Zeine continued to add more and more antennas and found that it not only improved the Wi-Fi signal quite dramatically, but it also had the potential to deliver a useful amount of power. The tiles used in the demo contain 256 antennas each. By adding multiple tiles, it’s possible to boost the distance and the potential power delivery.

He moved freely around the room and the phone continued to charge. It also continued to charge when he placed the receiver in his pocket, because clothes don’t block radiofrequencies.

“What you can see is a phone charging at distance as I’m walking around,” he said. “No one else can show you this demo.”

That’s true, but the first question everyone asks about technology like this is inevitably: “Is it safe?” They want to know that they’re not being washed in dangerous radiation.

So, is it safe?

With Ossia’s Cota technology the receiving device sends a beacon signal to the transmitter which then captures the shape of the incoming wave, and plays it back to deliver power.

This technology achieves the same level of safety as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there is no issue with exposing people.”

“You have to spend power to get power,” Zeine said.

This enables it to bounce RF signals off the walls or ceiling, but also to avoid firing them directly at people. Since our bodies block the beacon signal, which is sent out 100 times per second, the transmitter shouldn’t ever be hitting us directly. But clothes, plastic and rubber don’t block RF, so the technology should work fine when phones are in cases, pockets or bags.

“We have established that this technology achieves the same level of safety as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there is no issue with exposing people,” Zeine said.

You’d be forgiven for not taking his word for it.

“We are working with the FCC very closely, hopefully soon we’ll be able to announce something.”

The path to FCC approval

While Ossia’s demo is more impressive, one of its biggest competitors, Energous, appears to be closer to getting certified as a safe product on the market. The FCC approved the WattUp Mid Field transmitter in December. It’s capable of delivering power to devices up to three feet away.

“What we got in December is FCC approval for Part 18,” Gordon Bell, vice president of marketing for Energous, told Digital Trends.

Energous

While Part 15, designed for telecommunications devices, limits power transmission to 1 watt, Part 18 has no limitations on power or distance, provided it can be delivered safely. This means adhering to guidelines regarding things like SAR (specific absorption rate), which measures the rate at which energy is absorbed by the human body when exposed to radio frequencies.

“The amount of power we’re sending out is very small,” Bell said. “It’s much smaller than a lot of things that are already present in your life. When we’re charging a fitness band, we’re charging it at 100 milliwatts maybe 200 milliwatts, while you’re walking.”

There are limitations to what you can safely do, and this is perhaps the biggest stumbling block.

There are limitations to what you can safely do, and this is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for wireless charging over distance technology today. While there are many competitors emerging, winning approval can be tough.

“If they’re going to be on the market, they need to go through the regulatory process,” Bell said. “We’re the only company that does wireless charging at distance that’s public and we’re the only company that vetted the technology through a third-party.”

The only other company that currently has FCC approval is Powercast, which has a range of up to 80 feet.

Other devices will come before phones

Because these technologies are currently delivering a very small amount of power, the companies behind them are not focusing on smartphones. Instead they’re looking at devices like game controllers, remote controls, fitness bands, hearing aids, and headphones.

“The transmitter is not like a Wi-Fi router that blasts Wi-Fi 24/7,” Bell said. “When it’s plugged in, there’s no power coming out of it. What it does is see the different devices within Bluetooth range, sees which ones are close enough to be charged, and checks if they’re authorized on the network.”

Ossia Cota charging chip Android Authority

The technology can determine a charging schedule automatically, topping up your wireless keyboard and mouse at work, for example, on a Saturday at 4 a.m. when it knows no one is around. The Bluetooth handshake establishes all the details and allows the transmitter to track and target the device. That means you can specify precisely which transmitters should charge which devices, when, and how much.

Energous’ December approval was followed this month by certification for its near field charging, which is a lot like the Qi charging we’re used to, but with a few important advantages.

Foreign object detection can be a problem for Qi. If you have a coin or the metal kickstand of a case between your phone and the charging pad it will heat up and disrupt the charging process. Qi wireless charging is also based on coils which must be aligned, and sometimes your phone is not perfectly placed or slides off the sweet spot. Though this issue has been alleviated somewhat by pads with multiple coils, it still presents design limitations.

“We can get very small,” Bell said. “You see the big coils in Qi, which is not adopted in a lot of different products as it’s too big in some circumstances and needs a flat surface.”

Energous can also put antennas in flexible material like around the watch strap, while the receiver is in the body of the watch.

“Every battery costs 5000x more than the equivalent power coming from the wall socket.”

“With an Apple Watch you have to take it off to charge,” Bell said. “But with the antenna around the strap it could charge up while you’re wearing it and typing at your computer.”

Energous continues to work towards increasing the safe range of its technology, but acknowledges that, at least for now, wireless charging at distance is going to be a trickle charge, not something that can refill your smartphone battery. It might charge up your mouse, headphones, or even your smartwatch at a distance, but for now you’ll want to put your smartphone on, or right next to, the transmitter much like you would with a Qi pad, though you don’t have to be quite as precise.

Ossia is also in talks with phone manufacturers and chip makers, but its first product is likely going to be the Forever Battery. It’s a smart retrofit solution that could allow us to keep our remote controls, toys, and smoke detectors working without ever having to swap batteries. This product also combats one of the main criticisms of wireless power over distance, which is its massive inefficiency.

Ossia Chief Technology Officer, Hatem Zeine Steven Jennings/Getty Images

“A single disposable battery gives you 1-watt hour and costs 50 cents,” Zeine said. “1 kilo watt hour from the wall socket costs 10 cents. Every battery costs 5000x more than the equivalent power coming from the wall socket.”

Even with the power loss over distance, a Cota transmitter powering a battery would still be more efficient than a disposable battery. It’s easy to see how this argument could extend to IoT sensors and other devices with modest power needs.

Ossia is working with Motherson Innovations to build transmitters into car dashboards to power sensors and smart mirrors that currently need to be wired. It’s also in talks with retailers about electronic price tags.

When do we get wireless charging over distance then?

Energous showed us various concepts, suggesting that transmitter antennas might be embedded in things like TV bezels, lighting, smart speakers, or sound bars.

“We see our technology coming into the home embedded into devices you already have,” he said.

To that end, the company has partnered with Dialog Semiconductors to integrate the technology into a chipset that device manufacturers can buy off the shelf. Though we know Energous has been working with a big phone manufacturer that will license their technology – there were rumors it’s Apple – there’s no telling when they’ll deem it ready for primetime.

"Proof that Apple is working with Energous on wireless charging is hidden in plain sight" https://t.co/OlaBhxejMU pic.twitter.com/21YARj0K3i

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) September 15, 2016

“When you’re introducing a brand-new technology into an emerging market, you get a bunch of people who want to be super secretive about what they’re doing because they think they’ve got an edge to help them differentiate their product,” Mark Hopgood, senior director of Strategic Marketing & Corporate Strategy at Dialog Semiconductor, explained to Digital Trends.

Big companies are happy to let smaller players be first to market with new technologies like this, because they represent some serious risk.

“Very few tier ones are risk takers,” Hopgood said.

“This year is the year that we’ll see products from partners and 2019 will see a broader launch.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the first product announced that will use Energous’ WattUp charging was Myant’s Skiin fitness tracking underwear. Bell assures us more will follow.

“This year is the year that we’ll see products from partners and 2019 will see a broader launch.”

Make no mistake, wireless charging over distance is coming, but it’s going to start small. Once the technology has won regulatory approval worldwide and some smaller manufacturers have proven its effectiveness in niche devices, we may finally see a major player step in and integrate it into their next flagship phone.


28
Apr

Technology makes our lives easier, but is it at the cost of our humanity?


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Technology has completely taken over our lives and, for the most part, we’ve let it.

It’s hard to argue that the world today is worse off than it was. For years I lived an ocean away from my family and many of my friends, yet they rarely felt out of reach. Asking my dad for cooking advice from five-thousand miles away was even easier than asking my neighbor to borrow salt. Around the world more pressing problems, like totalitarian regimes, have been challenged and sometimes toppled by protestors who organized revolutions over social media. And I know at least two people who’ve said they “can’t live without Alexa.”

How many phone numbers do you know? What would happen if all suddenly GPS went offline? Losing your smartphone is now akin to losing a part of your brain.

But just as technology makes things easier it has the potential to handicap our connection with the world around us. How many telephone numbers do you know? What would happen if suddenly all GPS went offline? How many people would struggle to find their way home from a cafe just a few blocks away? Losing your smartphone is now akin to losing a part of your brain.

In a new book called Re-Engineer Humanity, Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Brett Frischmann, professor of law at Villanova University, argue that technology is causing humans to behave like mere machines. By taking over what were once fundamental functions, they say algorithms, robots, and consumer devices have begun to be dissociate us from our own humanity. The text isn’t a luddite-like rejection of technological progress. Rather, it’s a careful consideration and caution of the way we let tech into our lives.

We spoke to Selinger about the book, his views on our problematic relationship with technology, and how he suggests we fix it. The solution, he said, won’t take just individual digital detoxes, but a complete societal shift. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Evan Selinger

Digital Trends: The book revolves around the concept of humanity’s ”techno-social dilemma.” Can you explain what that is?


Evan Selinger: Sure, not long ago, a lot of tech coverage was very enthusiastic about the latest product reviews. There was a kind of “gee whizz” feeling about it. But…suddenly things have gotten really dark. Zuckerberg appears before congress to talk about data privacy problems and political propaganda, and this is on the back of things like the backlash against companies making addictive smartphones. There’s this turning point that seems to be happening. There’s suddenly this wide spread reflection on the dark side of technology.

A lot has been made about how little the politicians who were talking to Zuckerberg knew about how tech works. I totally understand why people are responding this way. They’re concerned about how we could even have decent regulation if regulators don’t even understand what’s going on. But the problems that cause things like humanity’s techno-social dilemma are so much more complicated than making politicians more tech-literate and social media-savvy.

“The problems that cause things like humanity’s techno-social dilemma are so much more complicated than making politicians more tech-literate and social media-savvy.”

In the book, Brett Frischmann and I had to do something like an interdisciplinary full-court press. We had to put together philosophy and law, economics, sociology, history, computer science, and cognitive science into hundreds of pages just to get a sense of what is really going on. What are the real deep problems?

One of the framings we came up with is “humanity’s techno-social dilemma,” which we think gets at the underlying stuff as a way to connect all the dots and begin to look at what technology is doing to us.

The fact is, there are tech companies with their own ambitions…but people have their own agendas too. We have this love-hate relationship with technology now where we’re clamoring for the latest iPhone and update, but then all of a sudden wonder where all our privacy went. We end up getting surprised because things ramp up to the extent that, once a certain amount of buy-in happens, we move to the next level and suddenly everyone is involved.

It sounds like you’re referring to the concept of “creep,” or that by gradually broadening the scope of technology, something radical can suddenly feel normal. You worry about this in the book. Can you give a real world example of creep?

I have an example from just the other day. I live in New York and got a mail to renew my state driver’s license. The paperwork recommended I get real ID rather than just a driver’s license, because it said you’d need that real ID to travel in a few years. I told my father-in-law about this and he said maybe we should just start putting microchips in citizens. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about the next level of IDs. Traveling would be seamless.

That is the logic of techno-social engineering creep right there! Not too long ago people would have thought the idea of a chip implant is dystopian. Now we’re so used to being surveyed with devices like our phones that it’s become a new normal.

Not too long ago people would have thought the idea of a chip implant is dystopian. Now we’re so used to being surveyed with devices like our phones that it’s become a new normal.

Techno-social engineering creep refers to how, through practices and getting accustomed to things, our expectations and sense of comfort with things shift. Sometimes our preferences even shift and get engineered.

You pose the question early on of whether techno-social engineering is turning people into simple machines. How do you see that happening?

Technology affects our humanity because it impacts our senses and our thoughts. It impacts our decisions, including our judgement, attention, and desires. It impacts our ability to be citizens, what were informed about and how we stay informed. It impacts our relationships, and advance in A.I. will even substitute our engagements with people. It even impacts our fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, who we are and what we should strive to become.

Buy it now at: Amazon Brett Frischmann

Our point is that our very humanity is being reshaped and reconfigured by technology. As the desire to have everything be “smart” increases, one of our concerns is that…these environments will end up monitoring what we do and end up slicing and dicing us in all kinds of powerful ways. We wonder if this super smart world will result in us going with some kind of pre-programmed flow and whether that flow is optimized so that to understand what it means to be human we will feel pressured to see ourselves as optimizable technology.

Many people are focused on the rise of A.I., with the concern that our robotic overlords will enslave us once ‘the singularity’ occurs. Our concern is that we are going to be programmed to want be placed in environments that are so diminishing of our agency…that we outsource our emotions and capacities for connection. How much could we give up, dumb ourselves down, to fit in to these smart environments?

You state that one of the attractions of smart environments is that they offer “cheap bliss.” Do I sense a double meaning there?

I’m curious what you think the double meaning is?

The idea that bliss is made cheap, as in easy to attain, but also cheap, as in not very rewarding.

I think you’re putting your finger on it.

“One of the trends
that’s occurring across consumer tech … is the idea of creating an ever more frictionless world, where effort is seen as a bug, not a feature.”

When we talk about cheap bliss, we want to figure out what world we’re building and what values are being prioritized by the very design of that world. And we want to find out what human beings are being nudged to value. One of the trends that’s occurring across consumer tech and overlapping with governmental projects like smart cities, is the idea of creating an ever more frictionless world, where effort is seen as a bug, not a feature. The idea is that humans are inefficient but technology can be very efficient.

When you design technology to disburden us of efforts, your changing the moral calculus in a way that will work very well for people who value a kind of basic hedonism, who think that the highest value in life is pleasure and the more pleasure we can have the better. This is what that world seems to be optimized for.

In the book we’re trying to offer these alternative values for human flourishing.

You also seem to take a stab at how technology enables us to outsource responsibilities, and take issue with parental outsourcing in particular. You refer to it as “drone parenting.”

Just to be clear, we are absolutely not doing any finger pointing. If I were, I’d be indicting myself.

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It’s very hard being a parent right now. We can have all the insight into tech addiction and too much screen time, and yet there’s nonetheless the reality that my middle school daughter’s friends are all on their phones, on Snapchat and Instagram, reporting on social events. There’s a whole lot of social pressure. I’m super sympathetic to the numerous complexities and tradeoffs involved with being a parent.

But tech offers the possibility to take over more and more parental functions. All these technologies make it easier to be a parent. Think about parents at restaurants, where the easiest way to keep their kids from being disruptive is to give them a tablet.

We talk about the quantified self and the quantified baby devices, which can help monitor your children. Those things can be appealing. New parents want to make sure they’re not making any mistakes. They want to make sure the baby is breathing, for example, or if the baby wakes up that they’re attentive to that. But the more and more a baby’s vital functions are being monitored by these technologies and the easier these reports get sent to us, there is a question to be raised about the trade off.

It’s very hard being a parent right now. We can have all the insight into tech addiction and too much screen time, and yet there’s nonetheless the reality that my middle school daughter’s friends are all on their phones, on Snapchat and Instagram, reporting on social events.

A consequence of adopting these technologies is whether or not we want to develop our own sense of attunement, which requires skill, effort, and a desire to be present.

So what’s next? How do you suggest we solve the dilemma?

Simple techno-fixes are not what we’re prescribing. You know, people say turn your notifications off so you’re pinged less or start using a greyscale version of your phone because it’s less enticing than the color screen. That advice exists but these micro-solutions often are a lot less consequential than the people who are proposing them make them out to appear.

Two quick things that I’ll say:

People have pointed out that our online contract system is broken. They’re engineered in such a way that you can pack the maximum amount of boilerplate in. There’s no point in reading them. Not only can you not understand it, but you realize no one else can so you’re incentivized to put deliberation on hold and immediately click “I Agree” as fast as possible to get the service. This leaves consumers without full knowledge about what they’re doing and gives companies full power.

But think about how common contracts are. They seem to be increasing because they’re so easy and we’re conditioned to not think about them at all. This is a simple machine part. We’re being optimized to consider not meetings of the minds, but just basically autopilot resignation. It’s take it or leave it. There’s no bargaining. We ask whether the practice is helping signal that deliberation doesn’t really matter when it comes to dealing with tech. Just get into a habit accepting what they provide until some sort of disaster happens and then hope that regulators or someone else takes care of it.

The other thing we want to point out is that, in being a human, it’s important to have some capacity for breathing room, to sort of step back and examine all of the social pressures and all of the social programming that’s going on. The ability to step away from being observed by others, by technology companies, that is disappearing. It’s becoming harder to find spaces to have breathing room.

We’re wondering how to find this breathing room in this world. You can’t get it simply by carving out your little niche because that will only go so far. This might mean clamoring for different regulations for when companies can reach you.

We’re seeing something like that in Europe but it certainly isn’t a popular idea here in the U.S.


28
Apr

Add some color to your home with these $40 Philips Hue bulbs


16 million color options.

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Right now you can pick up the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance smart bulbs for just $39.99 each. This is a savings of $10 from the regular price on these bulbs, and outside of a brief Black Friday sale, the best price they’ve sold for in a year. Each bulb has more than 16 million color options that can be controlled by the app or even via Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, or Siri.

In order for the lights to work, you will need the Philips Hue Smart Bridge, which is down to $52 from $60 today. For $15 more, you can get the 2-bulb starter kit, which comes with the Bridge and two white bulbs that you can use in your home as well.

See at Amazon

28
Apr

Should I be concerned that my kids’ school uses Google Chromebooks?


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What does Google collect when a student uses a Chromebook and what does it do with it afterwards?

There are millions of Chromebooks being used to educate our children and questions about student privacy in the Google ecosystem are natural. Google’s core business is collecting user data in order to target relevant advertisements and using a Chromebook almost requires one to have a Google account as do Google’s apps and services. Knowing what Google is doing when our children are online or doing homework through a Google account is important.

More:Chromebooks in education: Everything you need to know

Google has come under fire from the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) several times since the company began a Chromebooks in the classroom program. Most notably in December 2015 when the EFF petitioned the FTC to act against Google for violating the K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy (known as the Student Privacy Pledge), a public and legally enforceable policy described by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software and Information Industry Association, endorsed by the President of the United States, and signed by more than 300 companies (including Google).

Google was found to be compliant with the Student Privacy Pledge by the organizations that wrote it.

This petition claimed that Google was collecting user data from students using Chromebooks through the Chrome Sync Service and using it for more than connecting a student with their online account tools and documents from any computer. This claim was found to have no merit, and both the FPF and SIIA — the authors of the Student Privacy Pledge — criticized the EFF’s position and complaint.

It’s good that the EFF hounds Google over how it treats students and their privacy. Organizations like the EFF exist to be our voice against organizations with corporate interests in mind and they perform an invaluable service by keeping tabs on what companies like Google are doing with our personal data. When a company like Google is found to be treating our data inappropriately the correct steps are taken to fix it, and when they are found to not be doing so we can be relieved.

But it’s good to know how Google treats a thing as important as the privacy of a child. Just because they were found to be compliant with a policy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask these questions, so let’s look at Google’s policy towards educational products.

G Suite for Education

Google has a separate product with its own team when it comes to the G Suite for Education. It’s a conglomeration of core services consisting of Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Contacts, Drive, Docs, Forms, Groups, Inbox, Sheets, Sites, Slides, Talk/Hangouts and Vault. These services work mostly the same way as the commercial versions that we use daily, the differences being centered around group policy and management. Schools can use these services with full COPPA and FERPA compliance, as the G Suite for Education versions contain no ads and no data collection for advertisement purposes is done.

The Chromebooks that a school might issue to students is the same as a Chromebook you can buy at Amazon as far as features and functionality go. There may be an extra application installed like Google Classroom, but the things you see and how it’s used are no different from any other Chromebook on the market. But there are differences when a Chromebook is used under the G Suite for Education program that you can’t see.

Google apps for students may look the same on the outside, but there are very different data collection policies in play.

The G Suite for Education allows Chromebooks to be administered the same way a Fortune 500 IT department administers employee laptops. Policies about what can be installed, who can login, where and how it can be used and more can be created so that the Chromebook is part of a structured computing environment designed for education and not just a toy.

Additionally, when a Chromebook is used in a G Suite for Education environment Google extends the no data collection rules to the Chrome Browser Sync service and explicitly states that any data collected by Chrome Sync is only used by a students own account so that they can use any Chromebook and have access to their online tools and documents.

It’s important to remember two other things here:

  • Administrators can enable or disable any settings on a Chromebook under the G Suite for Education program. Browser history, cookies, online spelling tools or any other services are under the school administrators control.
  • If used for anything outside the scope of the G Suite for Education, standard data collection practices may apply and Google makes no claims of COPPA or FERPA compliance. That’s left to the teacher, the parent and the student to evaluate.

We hope that Google, as well as organizations like the EFF, continue to evaluate and refine these policies as more schools adopt Chromebooks and Google’s services.

Chromebooks

  • The best Chromebooks
  • Should you buy a Chromebook?
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  • Acer Chromebook 14 review
  • Join our Chromebook forums

28
Apr

How to get the perfect PlayStation VR room setup


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Making the most of your space isn’t as difficult as you might think.

So you’ve just picked dup that shiny new PlayStation VR, and you’re dying to open it up and get it set up, but you have a few questions. Between all of the cords, the way that the PlayStation camera needs to be set up, questions about light calibration, and finding the right amount of space to play, things can get a little bit overwhelming.

That’s where we’re here to help. We’ve got everything you need to set up your PlayStation VR so that it works fantastically, along with answers about space, lighting, and even where to set up your system in an already cramped apartment!

Get set up

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The first thing that you need to do before you even consider moving furniture, or rearranging your house, is figuring out where you plan on playing PlayStation VR. You’ll need the space to set up your console, television and PlayStation Camera, along with having enough space to move around without crashing into anything fragile or breakable.

If you already have your PlayStation 4 set up in a decent area, then all you’ll need to do is plug the new additions from your PlayStation VR. This includes adjusting HDMI cords, plugging in the processor unit, and making sure everything has a snug connection. There are a lot of cords to take in, but they’re all numbered in an attempt to make it easier on you.

Read more: How to set up your PlayStation VR

How much room do I need?

The second thing you need to take into mind when you are initially getting set up is how much room you’ll need to play. While PlayStation VR does run off of your PlayStation 4 console, you’re gonna need quite a bit of room to get the best experience possible. Sony recommends a playspace of about 10 feet long, by 6 feet wide but you can shave that down just a little bit if you’re playing in cramped quarters.

With 6 feet of space you’ll have the room to move forward and backwards.

Even so, you’re going to need a minimum of 6 feet by 6 feet if you want to enjoy your new VR system. This is primarily because there is a 2 foot ‘dead zone’ directly in front of the camera where it won’t properly read you while standing. With 6 feet of space, you’ll have enough room to move forward and backward, without the camera losing you on its sensors. When you first start up PlayStation VR should show you what the PlayStation camera is seeing.

This means you’ll be able to see where it can read you, as well as anything in the room that might trip you up once you’ve put your headset on.

Light calibration matters

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Unlike some other VR systems, PlayStation 4 uses light calibration in order to see you while you are playing in VR, so keeping an eye on the lights near where you plan to play is pretty key. This is specifically because bright lights like LED monitors in the background, or morning light streaming through a window can actually throw everything off.

This is why you’ll want to take a look around the room that you plan to play in, and ensure there isn’t anything that is going to distract your PlayStation Camera. PlayStation VR works best in a dim room, where the lights from your headset, and the lights on your PlayStation Move controllers are bright and easy to see.

Read more: How to get the best light calibration for your PlayStation 4

Adjust your space

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Depending on your living situation and where your PlayStation VR is set up, you might be having issues finding six feet of uninterrupted space. This is especially true for the folks playing in apartments, weirdly shaped rooms, or homes with roommates. While it will take a little bit of wiggle work, there are a few things you can do to help.

When you set up your camera for the PlayStation VR, make sure it’s placed in a way that gives you access to as much free space possible. This might mean placing the camera on top of or to the side of your TV. By making sure that the camera is facing towards the largest amount of open space, you can avoid having to rearrange your living room to make it more amenable to VR.

It’s also worth it to remember that while it might seem counter intuitive to have the PlayStation camera pointing in a weird direction, the only thing that really matters is that it can read your movements. You won’t have to keep an eye on the TV, which may open up options for where to point that camera to score 6 feet of space for VR.

Even in a small or narrow room, you can usually clear out enough space to play.

There is, of course, always the option to go ahead and permanently rearrange your furniture. By doing this you will ensure that you don’t need to move things out of the way every time you want to turn on your PlayStation VR. This might mean ensuring that all couches are against the wall, or completely removing your coffee table from the middle of the room.

The third option is to just move things out of the way when you are getting ready to play. Even in a small or narrow room, you can usually clear out enough room to play without running into anything. This may make life more difficult for anyone else who is in your home at the same time, but it will get you the room you need to play safely.

No matter how you adjust your space, you’ll want to make sure that no animals or people are going to be running into your playspace. Make sure that roomies know you can’t see or hear anything going on in the real world when you are playing. Likewise, if your pet likes to curl up at your feet when you are playing video games, you may want to put up some kind of barrier. That way you won’t accidentally step on the dog’s tail when you are trying to score a goal in Sparc. The same goes for toddlers, minus the carrier and tail part — just make sure they won’t crawl over into the area where you play.

Take advantage of PlayStation VR games that let you sit

There is a final option for making sure that you have enough room to use your PlayStation VR. Many of the games that are available will allow you to play sitting down. As long as you are playing a game that allows you to sit down, you won’t need quite as much space to play.

This won’t be possible with every game since some of them do require you to stand, but If you’re in seriously cramped conditions, this can ensure that you don’t lose out on using VR entirely. You’ll just need enough space to reach your arms out while sitting on a chair or stool.

If this is the route you decide to go, we suggest investing in a decent swivel chair. This way it’s easy to turn, or look behind you while in VR.

Use a spare room

Your best option is to have a room that is dedicated to VR. For most people, though, this isn’t really feasible. After all, if you live in a place, it’s doubtful there is an entirely empty room just lying around waiting for you to fill it up with your brand new VR adventures.

Your best option is to have a room that is dedicated to VR.

If you’ve just had a roommate move out, or you’re in the process of moving into a new place, you may well have a spare room; you’re looking at the best case scenario. This way you can easily set up your PlayStation VR, PlayStation 4, and television without having to worry about moving or rearranging the room.

What kind of room do you have?

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Whether you have access to an entire room, or you’re just sitting at the edge of your bed, there are plenty of ways to jump into a VR experience. Have you had to rearrange your room? Did you have issues finding enough space for PlayStation VR? Be sure to drop us a comment below, or pop into our forums to talk about it!

PlayStation 4

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  • PS4 vs. PS4 Slim vs. PS4 Pro: Which should you buy?
  • PlayStation VR Review
  • Playing PS4 games through your phone is awesome

Amazon

28
Apr

Best T-Mobile Phones in 2018


  • Best overall
  • Best for productivity
  • Best for video
  • Best battery life

Best overall

Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+

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See Galaxy S9 at T-Mobile

Every carrier has to offer the latest Galaxy, and for good reason: this is the top-end phone everyone knows and lusts after, right alongside Apple’s latest iPhone. T-Mobile, of course, offers both the Galaxy S9 and larger S9+, but which size you want is purely personal preference — the experience is ultimately the same on both.

Inside you obviously get all of the latest specs, including Samsung’s go-to features like wireless charging, waterproofing, and an industry-leading display. It’s expensive, but you just can’t skip over considering the latest Galaxy when shopping for a flagship phone.

Bottom line: The S9 and S9+ are as top-of-the-line as it gets, packed with every feature under sun.

One more thing: Neither phone has stellar battery life, but each should be enough to last you through the day — even if just by a hair.

Why the Galaxy S9 is the best

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There’s no better marriage of form and function than the Galaxy S9 and larger S9+. The curved edges on both sides of the phones are engineering marvels, and feel sleek in the hand. The 18.5:9 displays fill almost the entire front of each phone without having to bother with controversial notches, and the dual aperture cameras take phenomenal photos.

On top of that, there’s no shortage of hardware features, both new and old, on the Galaxy S9. You want wireless charging? You’ve got it. Water resistance? Check. MicroSD expandability, flexible mobile payments, and a headphone jack? All present. There’s even a blood pressure monitor. You may not use every single feature on the Galaxy S9, but it’s always better to have too many features than not enough.

Best for productivity

Samsung Note 8

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See at T-Mobile

After the unprecedented recall of the Note 7 due to battery issues, all eyes were on Samsung to deliver something spectacular with the Galaxy Note 8. They delivered. Building on the Galaxy S8 design, the Note 8 is a refinement in all the right places with a large, almost bezel-less display in a package that still fits comfortably in your hand.

The beautiful look is complemented by powerful specs and features. A whopping 6 GB of RAM, dual 12MP cameras, and Samsung’s impressive S Pen technology make the Note 8 the phone to buy if you need the best entertainment or productivity tool.

Bottom line: The Galaxy Note 8 is large and in charge with ultra high-end specs and productivity features galore.

One more thing: If the Note 8 is too big for you or you don’t care for the S Pen, you’re probably better off buying the Galaxy S9 or S9+.

Best for video

LG V30

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See at T-Mobile

A multimedia powerhouse — both for consuming and creating — the V30 brings LG’s superb 120-degree wide field-of-view dual-camera design into a package that offers LG Cine Log mode capture for video results that rival professional techniques. And unlike other manufacturers that are discarding the 3.5 mm headphone jack, LG is embracing it and offers a high-quality quad-DAC package to play your music the way it deserves to be heard.

Of course, everything you expect from any premium LG phone is on-board. Wireless charging, IP68 water-resistance and a great OLED display are standard with the V30. It’s also the first phone available that has support for T-Mobile’s 600MHz network expansion.

Bottom line: With so many options for video capture, the V30 is a content creator’s dream — and a great phone for the rest of us, too.

One more thing: Some people have noticed contrast issues with the display at darker brightness levels.

Best battery life

Galaxy S8 Active

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See at T-Mobile

While it may not be as new and fancy as the Galaxy S9, last year’s S8 Active is still the longest-lasting phones in T-Mobile’s lineup, with a whopping 4000mAh battery to keep it going all day and into the next. It’s also the only flat screened model in Samsung’s flagship lineup, meaning curved edge critics can rejoice.

Aside from a larger battery and flatter, more industrial design, the S8 Active offers an identical experience to the standard Galaxy S8. The 12MP camera is still an absolutely terrific shooter, and the S8 Active is backed with water resistance, wireless charging, and plenty of other hardware amenities.

Bottom line: If battery life is your top priority, the S8 Active might even be a better buy than the newer Galaxy S9.

One more thing: The S8 Active is a bit harder sell when you consider that it still costs a whopping $850.

Update, April 2018: The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are T-Mobile’s new champions, and we’ve added the S8 Active to the list for its battery performance.

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28
Apr

B&O Beoplay H8i and H9i headphones review: Diminishing returns


B&O is a name that typically evokes an image of premium audio gear. Of course, those high-end materials and typically solid sound quality almost always come with a steep price, even if the device is part of the more consumer-friendly B&O Play line. Back at CES, the company announced updated versions of its high-end wireless headphones, the on-ear H8i and the over-ear H9i, with a handful of new features. The new additions are certainly improvements, but the total package here isn’t more compelling than the best Bose, Sony and others have to offer.

Both sets

There are a number of things that haven’t changed from the previous-generation versions, the H8 and H9. First, the same mix of leather and aluminum is back to create the sophisticated look that has been B&O’s signature since the wired H6. Sure, it might be good to see a different aesthetic on new models, but I really like what B&O has here. Both the H8i and H9i are available in a “Natural” (gray/tan) color scheme or all black. For me, the combination of premium materials is a nice break from the plastic shells I’m used to seeing on other headphones, but it does require a bigger investment.

There are three key changes on both models for which I have to applaud B&O. First, the company switched the charging port from micro USB to USB-C. It’s a small tweak, but it means that the pricey headphones you’re about to invest in will have the latest connector (for now, at least), and likely the same cable as your next phone. Second, there’s now a proximity sensor in the H8i and H9i. This means that when you take the headphones off, the music automatically pauses. A number of other headphones also do this, but it’s a worthy addition nonetheless. Last, and most important, B&O significantly increased the battery life across the board.

When it comes to overall sound quality, the H8i and H9i are a mixed bag. There’s a crisp and clear quality to the sound — a trademark of B&O’s audio profile I’ve liked since I used the H6. It creates enjoyable listening sessions well-suited for a range of genres, not just selections like jazz or bluegrass. There’s also a decent amount of bass on both units, but it’s carefully harnessed so that it never becomes overbearing, even in the midst of a driving hip-hop or electronic beat. However, the H8i lacks the volume to really do that stellar clarity justice. Instead, I found myself reaching for the much louder H9i.

Both models also work with B&O’s Beoplay app, from which you can use a feature called ToneTouch to choose various EQ presets or use the swipe-based interface to come up with your own. ToneTouch uses terms like warm, excited, relaxed and bright instead of treble, bass and mids — either way, the actual changes to the audio are hard to spot on both models. Ditto for the presets. I could detect a change, but ultimately it doesn’t make enough of a difference that you’d want to bother.

H8i

The $399 H8i is the on-ear model in this duo. While it’s the cheaper of the two at $399, there are some decisions you’ll have to make in addition to wear style. The H8i still features active noise-cancellation, but it lacks the touch controls offered on the H9i. Instead, the H8i’s onboard controls take the form of physical buttons. On the right side, there’s a trio of keys: The outside two control volume, while the one in the center handles play/pause, Bluetooth pairing and summoning a virtual assistant. On the left, a three-way toggle switch doubles as the power control and a way of enabling either noise-cancellation or Transparency Mode.

The other big difference is battery life. With the H8i, B&O says you can expect up to 30 hours of audio with both active noise-cancellation and Bluetooth turned on. Indeed, I got about a week of use out of these headphones before I needed to charge, using them a few hours each day. That 30-hour rating is also on par with my current favorite over-ear pair, Sony’s WH-1000XM2. It sucks to have to pause your music to charge or employ a cable to keep the beats going, so longevity like this is a big plus. However, unlike the H9i, which has significantly less battery life, the battery itself on the H8i isn’t removable. This won’t be a dealbreaker for most people, but it’s something to keep in mind.

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Billy Steele/Engadget

I’m not usually a fan of the on-ear style, but my time with the H8i reminded me to keep an open mind. These headphones are relatively lightweight, while soft ear cushions kept me comfy during long listening sessions. It’s still not my first choice, but B&O has done well here to create a pair of on-ear headphones that doesn’t suffer from that dreaded pinching feeling.

My main issue with the H8i is that it’s simply not loud enough. From my MacBook Air, things are slightly better, but from my iPhone (where I listen most often) there isn’t nearly enough volume. I admit I probably like my music a bit louder than most, but the highest volume on the H8i is noticeably less than what I’ve heard on the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM2 and Bose QC35 II — and even the H9i. And yes, this is partially attributable to the over-ear design, but there should be some compensation for that with extra oomph. The modest volume hampers what are otherwise great headphones. Despite the stunning clarity, listening to things like the driving metal riffs on TesseracT’s Sonder and the booming beats on Big Boi’s Boomiverse isn’t nearly as enjoyable. For me, the lack of volume translates to a lack of energy in the music.

In terms of on-ear alternatives, there are many, but you’ll likely have to sacrifice design and materials to save yourself some cash. For example, both the Klipsch Reference and the AKG N60NC are worthy competitors, and you can nab either for $300 or less. And that’s a big issue with B&O: Unless you’re smitten with the whole package, you can save money elsewhere without a big hit to sound quality. If you insist on a refined design, though, the Master & Dynamic MW50 is another option, but it’s $50 more than the H8i.

H9i

Let me be clear from the jump: The over-ear $499 H9i is one of the comfiest sets of headphones I’ve tested. Sure, it owes a lot of that to the design brought over from the H6, but it’s an over-ear style that is very comfortable to wear, especially when you need to keep them on for hours at a time. As on the H8i, the earpads here are soft and there’s not so much tension in the headband that it feels like the H9i is pinching your head. The H9i isn’t quite as comfy at the Bose QC35 II, mostly due to the fact that they’re slightly heavier, but it’s pretty damn close.

The H9i has touch controls similar to what I’ve seen on other models from other companies, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sure, those gesture-based controls are handy for adjusting the volume, skipping tracks and flipping between ANC and Transparency Mode, but they can be frustrating to use. All headphones are different, and you should expect a learning curve when getting to know a new pair, but most of the time I wasn’t able to hit what I wanted on my first try.

For example, you swipe down to disable ANC and swipe down again to turn it back on. This sounds fine in theory, but in practice, it can be a bit frustrating. Often a swipe would turn something off and immediately back on if I didn’t move my finger away quickly enough. Same goes for the front and back horizontal swipes for skipping tracks, although those gestures were generally more reliable. The circular motion for adjust volume also worked well, as did the single tap for play/pause. I really only ever had issues with the vertical and sometimes the horizontal swipes.

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Billy Steele/Engadget

Thankfully, the H9i does offer more volume than the H8i. I could use even a smidge more, but what the headphones offer is adequate and noticeably louder than what the H8i is capable of. Again, that’s partially due to wear style. That crisp, clear sound is much better served with the extra volume. The noise-cancellation isn’t quite on par with the best Sony and Bose have to offer, but it’s still very good. Ditto for the overall sound quality. The H9i sounds great, but for me, it falls just short of the WH-1000XM2 and QC35 II.

You won’t hear any shade from me if you decide you can’t bring yourself to spend $499 on headphones. The market for noise-canceling over-ear headphones is stacked, so you have a lot of options to choose from. The Sony WH-1000XM2 and Bose QC35 II are at the top of my list thanks to their mix of comfort, sound and great noise-cancellation. Beats’ Studio3 is also a favorite, and all three pairs are priced at $350. In fact, some retailers have the Studio3 for $239-$299 right now (depending on color), which makes that set an even more attractive alternative. I can think of a lot of things I could do with that extra $150. Again, if design and premium materials are what you’re after, Master & Dynamic is probably your best option. Just remember that it’s even more expensive than the B&O H9i at $549.

Wrap-up

B&O continues its run of well-designed headphones with the H8i and H9i, and for the most part, the audio is up to par. The volume issue with the H8i is a big sticking point for me, especially when you consider how steep the investment is there. The H9i is a more well-rounded set and the audio is great, but again, better options can be had for significantly less money. B&O has proved it can nail the details time and time again, but it also remains a luxury audio brand that many will pass on — no matter how good the gear looks or how good it sounds.

28
Apr

Twitter’s timeline will highlight news links your friends tweet


Twitter released quite a few news-related features over the past years in an effort to become your go-to source for the latest in current events. It introduced a dedicated News tab in 2015, for instance, though that one didn’t work out as planned. Last month, it also started testing an algorithm that puts trending tweets from news organizations at the top of your timeline when something big happens. Now, the platform has rolled out a feature that highlights news links tweeted by the people you Follow right in your Home timeline, according to BuzzFeed News. Underneath the highlighted story, you’ll see all the tweets from your network that mention that particular link.

I haven’t come across the behavior yet, but Twitter has confirmed its rollout to the publication, which said that it’s now out for all users across iOS, Android and the web. We’ve also reached out to Twitter to clarify whether it’s truly a public worldwide rollout or merely a limited test.

[Image credit: BuzzFeed News]

Twitter started grouping together tweets about ongoing events back when it launched “Happening Now.” It only applied to sports topics in the beginning, but this new feature and the one that pushes trending tweets by news organizations to the top of your feed are probably part of its expansion.

Source: BuzzFeed News

28
Apr

Parents can now limit their kids’ access to the Facebook Messenger Kids app


Facebook wants to make it easier for parents to ensure their kids aren’t spending all day, every day on their phones. In that spirit, the company has launched a new feature in the Messenger Kids app that allows parents to set times when their kids aren’t allowed to use the app. The new feature is called Sleep Mode, and it’s rolling out now.

Messenger Kids, which was launched late last year, is meant to be installed on a child’s device, but is linked to their parents account, allowing the parents to monitor their child’s online activity. The app has been a little controversial given growing concerns about the impact of social media in children, and some have called on Facebook to scrap the app altogether. The ability to limit the app’s usage seems like Facebook’s answer to those concerns — though perhaps not the answer everyone was looking for.

Using Sleep Mode is pretty easy. Parents simply need to go into the control center in their account, where they can see their kids’ accounts and adjust the settings for those accounts. There they can specify when kids aren’t allowed to use the app. There are preset options, like “during the week,” or parents can set specific hours. From the control panel, you can also completely delete your child’s account, if you so choose.

Messenger Kids is a little different than the standard Facebook Messenger. It doesn’t require the child to create an account, and it puts a heavier emphasis on colorful filters and GIFs. Parents can control things like the child’s contact list, and can see the messages that kids are sending — which can’t be hidden and don’t disappear.

Facebook says it has gone a long way to ensure that the app is safe for kids to use — and that it’s compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act. There are no ads in Facebook Messenger Kids, and Facebook says it won’t collect any information from kids to be used for advertising. Not only that, but the app is also free and does not have any in-app purchases — so kids can’t accidentally buy things within the app.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is now available for Android devices
  • Amazon gets kid-friendly with Echo Dot Kids Edition, FreeTime Unlimited
  • Conspiracy theories surface on YouTube Kids
  • Fitbit Ace is a basic fitness tracker to keep your kids active
  • The new version of YouTube Kids lets parents pick videos for their children


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