The European Commission is accusing Facebook of providing incorrect or misleading information during the Commission’s investigation into its merger with WhatsApp back in 2014. It centers around the fact that Facebook told the Commission that it would be unable to reliably automate matching between separate accounts on the messaging app and the social network. (The EU even surveyed WhatsApp’s rivals over the deal.) Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of EU competition policy, said: “Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations.”
“In this specific case, the Commission’s preliminary view is that Facebook gave us incorrect or misleading information during the investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook now has the opportunity to respond.”
Earlier this year, when WhatsApp offered the option of linking its users’ phone numbers with Facebook user identities, the messaging service said that this would help improve friend suggestions (and displaying more relevant ads) on linked Facebook accounts.
The Commission says this technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook users’ IDs with WhatsApp users’ IDs already existed in 2014, and thus the company had misled the EU during its merger investigations.
This is the latest in an aggressive series of legal decisions against tech companies. The Commission is currently pursuing tax bills from Apple in Ireland, as well as pointing the finger at companies like Twitter and Microsoft that are not reacting quickly enough to online hate speech. Recent privacy group complaints forced Facebook to halt data sharing between WhatsApp and the network in Europe just last month.
Facebook has until January 31st 2017 to respond — making it a cheery festive season for Zuckerberg et al. If the accusations are confirmed, the European Commission could fine up to one percent of Facebook’s turnover. A spokesperson said it will “respect the Commission’s process and are confident that a full review of the facts will confirm Facebook has acted in good faith.”
Are you tired of that boring black and white text on Facebook? Do you long for the days of MySpace where you could throw caution to the wind and just paint your profile page neon green? Well, you can’t quite do that, but Facebook has introduced a new feature that could let you do the next best thing: adding background color to your posts.
To do so, tap the “What’s on your mind” question (also known as the the empty text field) and start writing. You’ll immediately see a color palette option below. Tap your favorite hue and, voila, your Facebook post will be bathed in color as in the image above. Right now, the feature is only available to Android users, but anyone on Facebook should be able to see those stylized posts. It’s rolling out to the world starting this week, so get ready for your timeline to be way more colorful, whether you like it or not.
Fake news and hate speech are sadly unavoidable on social media, but that might change soon… in Germany, anyway. Late last week, Thomas Oppermann — chairman of the German Social Democratic Party — proposed a stringent law meant to hold companies like Facebook responsible when fake news makes the rounds. As reported by Der Spiegel (and translated by Deusche Well), Oppermann’s plan would require Facebook to actively combat fake news all day, everyday. Here’s the fascinating bit: if a fake news item pops up and Facebook can’t address it within 24 hours, it would be subject to a €500,000 (or $522,575) for each post left untouched.
Oh, it gets better. Facebook and other “market-dominating platforms” would be required to to have teams in Germany dedicated to fielding reports of fake news and hate-filled posts. Fortunately for Oppermann — and German web users, most likely — the push to penalize companies for letting false, misleading or malicious content run wild has received plenty of support from the other major party in German politics, too. The country’s Christian Democratic Union hates all of that stuff just as much, prompting one senior party member to promise definitive action “at the beginning of next year.” The CDU has also proposed legislation (with backing from Chancellor Angela Merkel, no less) that would make it illegal to post fake news entirely.
For what it’s worth, Facebook has already announced plans to address the rise of fake news in the US. Here, it’s all about self-policing with the help of a handful of media organizations: users will be able to report fake news posts when they pop up in their news feeds, while algorithms work in the background to flag fake stories that could go viral. Then, if third-party (i.e. human) fact-checkers confirm a post is fake, it gets labeled spiked from the flow of news. Is that enough? Is it inherently biased? We’ll have to see.
Anyway, it’s no surprise the German government is considering such decisive moves. The country is set to hold its federal elections next year, where 598 people will assume seats in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. What’s more, Angela Merkel will be running what will probably be her toughest campaign yet for a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor. With the jury’s still out on whether fake news did or didn’t play a role in outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, Germany’s ruling parties are understandably concerned with keeping the electorate well-informed. That said, there is concern (which TechDirt’s Mike Masnick sums up nicely) that giving a company or government power over what people can and can’t say is basically begging for eventual censorship.
One thing seems clear, though. The controversy is too young, and the line between proper oversight and censorship is too blurry for any definitively brilliant answers to have emerged yet.
Via: Ars Technica
Source: Deusche Welle
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg revealed his intention to create his own AI helper, some questions have loomed large: just how would he go about it? And can one man write an effective artificial intelligence when it frequently requires whole teams? At last, the Facebook CEO has provided some answers. The Zuckerberg has written a lengthy piece explaining not only how he created the Jarvis AI that’s running his home, but the inherent challenges in making an assistant that works the way you’d expect.
Some parts of the process were easier than expected. He created a Facebook Messenger chat bot to start with instead of writing a dedicated app (an always-listening voice app came later), and took advantage of Facebook’s facial recognition for his door-facing cameras. He even managed to get the AI to thrive on relatively “open-ended” requests where it learns what works. Zuck can tell Jarvis whether or not songs are “light,” for example, and teach it to play mood-appropriate music without having to request specific tracks.
At the same time, Zuckerberg ran into numerous headaches. Despite loads of smart household equipment (such as Crestron home automation, Sonos audio and a Nest Cam), the executive found himself reverse-engineering code and even jury-rigging appliances to get things online. He also discovered that context is a problem: if you ask to turn on the air conditioning in “my office,” does the AI know whose office it is? Voice recognition systems are very geared toward structured commands, Zuckerberg says, and aren’t very good at understanding conversational speech.
Jarvis is one of Zuckerberg’s yearly personal challenges, and isn’t likely to see extensive work after this. However, the tech mogul isn’t dropping everything after this. He wants to write an Android app (the listening client is iOS-only), string more listening stations around his home and connect more appliances. He’d also like to give the AI more independence: he wants it to learn skills on its own, and would like to make his technology available if he can abstract it. The software is currently built around the Zuckerberg’s specific needs, so he can’t just release it as-is. Whatever happens, don’t be surprised if the effort behind Jarvis influences Facebook’s larger AI strategy.
Source: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
In case you haven’t noticed, Facebook has spent a lot of time making video a priority this year, and its latest initiative involves the Messenger app. Today, Facebook is launching group video chat in Messenger for both iOS and Android. The app has had video calling for a good year and a half now, but it was only one-on-one — but now the app can compete directly with services like Facetime and Skype, both of which offer video calls with multiple participants.
Facebook says its group video chat supports up to six participants — but you can include up to 50 more participants who can listen in, speak up via voice chat and send a variety of stickers, emoji, GIFs and other foolishness into the conversation. To kick things off, just start a group text chat as you would normally; you’ll now see a button in the top corner that lets you ring the participants for a video chat.
Given how Messenger is quickly becoming one of the most dominant communication platforms out there, it makes perfect sense for Facebook to add this feature in — it’s a little surprising it took this long, to be honest. But keeping all these features in one app rather than splitting them up seems to be a smart move. Google split feature apart with its new Allo and Duo text and video chat apps, and both haven’t exactly found a ton of traction yet. If you want to try out Facebook’s vision for group video chat, the app update is rolling out for iOS and Android today.
This was supposed to be the year of virtual reality, but barely had 2016 started when Microsoft threw a spanner in the works with the announcement of HoloLens. Rather than taking us to a virtual world, Microsoft’s headset pulls virtual objects into our own. Microsoft calls these objects Holograms, much to the chagrin of hologram enthusiasts, but most people know them as tenets of mixed, or augmented, reality. It’s already being touted as the next next big thing.
Of course, 2016 was full of VR. With spring came the retail launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Valve-endorsed Vive. Both require two things: a lot of cash and a lot of power. The Rift costs $599 while the Vive is $799 (including controllers and tracking accoutrements). But then you need to factor in the price of a PC that can support the high-fidelity, high-speed visuals VR requires. A typical all-in price started from $1,500, putting it out of the range of all but the most ardent of gamers. That price has dropped and will continue to drop as cheaper, better graphics cards are released.
There are no firm figures for how many VR kits have been sold. Steam statistics suggest that just 0.34 percent of its users in November had a headset. Even counting gamers who don’t use Steam, that would likely put the total figure sold across both Vive and Oculus at well under a million. That estimation is in line with VR analytics group SuperData Research, which projected around 450,000 HTC Vive sales and 355,000 Oculus Rift sales for 2016.
Just as Oculus and HTC should’ve been dominating the news cycle, Magic Leap, the secretive Google-backed mixed reality (MR) startup, finally broke cover with a Wired feature. Magic Leap is basically promising to do the same things as HoloLens, but better.
Details are scant, but rather than projecting images onto a portion of a giant helmet (like Microsoft’s headset), Magic Leap will beam light into your eyes, using a system called Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal to give these objects depth and solidity. The company has yet to show off any hardware or software or even suggest a year when its tech will be ready, but it’s nonetheless one of the best-funded startups around. Wired’s Magic Leap feature came in April, within weeks of the Vive and Rift launches. The timing was obvious, and the message was clear: There’s something better around the corner.
In the meantime, an ex-Google startup with a couple dozen employees was preparing to steal everyone’s attention with a mobile game. I’m talking about Niantic, of course, and Pokémon Go, which was undoubtedly the hit game of the summer, if not the year.
Somewhat erroneously referred to as an augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go is better described as a location-based game, like geocaching, with a pervasive layer on top. Definitions aside, there can be no doubt that AR has been a big part of its huge success. When catching Pokémon, players are shown a live feed from their device’s camera with a monster overlaid. Hundreds of thousands of people shared these images on social media, helping spread intrigue about the game.
Before long, packs of Pokémon hunters were roaming New York, London, Paris and other locations around the world, searching for new monsters and using an AR system to help catch them. Unlike Niantic’s last game, Ingress, this wasn’t just geeks and gamers. I can count on one hand the number of Ingress players I know. With Pokémon Go, I can count on one hand the people I know who didn’t play it. My 64-year-old mom played. My 10-year-old son played. It felt like, at one point, almost everyone gave it a shot. By the time Niantic announced an Apple Watch app for Pokémon Go, the game had already been downloaded 500 million times. That’s a ridiculous number.
Of course, crazes rise and fall, and it’s safe to say that Pokémon Go is, if not gone, seemingly on its way out of the public’s imagination. But its impact remains. My colleague Kris Naudus referred to Pokémon Go as AR’s aha moment, and I agree. For a fleeting minute, the game brought a little Pokémon magic into our world. It’s one of the most basic implementations of AR around, but we found it compelling. That should be encouraging for Microsoft, Magic Leap and any other company that’s planning a mixed or augmented reality product.
So where does that leave virtual reality? Well, there are still plenty of headsets out there, and VR is not going away anytime soon. Sony launched the PlayStation VR just a month ago, and it’s expected to equal Vive and Rift sales combined by the year’s end. It’s not that PSVR offers a better experience than its PC-based cousins. It’s just a lot cheaper — $399 to $499, depending on your needs — and has a way bigger reach. Steam stats suggest little over 10 percent of PC gamers have a VR-ready computer. Every PlayStation 4 owner can plug in a PSVR and get started. That gives Sony somewhere between two and four times the potential audience.
And even PSVR’s prospective audience is dwarfed by the potential market for smartphone VR. Google has sold cheap Cardboard viewers for a couple of years, but this year the company announced Daydream, a new initiative to bring a more premium VR experience to mobile users. Daydream View is a $79, comfortable headset sold with a bundled motion controller. At present, only Google’s Pixel and the updated Moto Z are Daydream-certified — a side effect of the high standard of experience that Google is hoping to maintain — but you can bet that many Android phones will support the standard in 2017.
VR, AR, MR and every other “R” need to coexist for a while. For now virtual reality is the easiest to pull off — software and hardware makers have the fewest things to keep track of and complete control of the virtual environment — and also the most developed. It’s fairly easy for a developer to build a VR app or for a manufacturer to make a VR-ready phone. Mixed reality is clearly harder.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is effectively a wearable computer, making thousands of calculations every second just to understand its environment. And its limitations, such as field of view, are way more apparent than those of a VR headset. The virtual objects of HoloLens have to be small enough — or faraway enough — to fit into a small square in the middle of the headset. You simply can’t see the whole illusion. Perhaps Magic Leap already has the answer to that problem, but given how many years it’s been in development — and how little it’s shown so far — it’s likely not a simple thing to figure out.
In 2017, Microsoft’s partners will release a handful of $300 VR headsets for Windows. Rather than competing with existing VR products, these headsets are more like a diet HoloLens. You’ll get the same experience, interface and apps as HoloLens, but your entire environment will be virtual. Think of it like a gateway drug for mixed reality. In one swoop, it’s getting both developers and users ready for MR, without the tribulations of dealing with first-generation, hyper-expensive headsets.
At the same time, Google is currently working on a device that uses cameras and algorithms to display mixed reality inside a virtual reality headset. It’s essentially going to be a combination of VR and Google’s Tango computer vision efforts, with a lot of extra smarts added on top. Again, the project seems almost like a stepping-stone toward a more complete mixed reality experience. The device has yet to be announced, but sources familiar with the matter say it’s of great importance to the company.
The dark horse in all of this is Apple. As is tradition, there’s been a lot of speculation and questions asked about the company’s plans for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. CEO Tim Cook has said that AR is more interesting than VR, as it’s less closed off and more social. The company has already acquired an AR company, and it has experts in the field within its ranks. Its iPhones clearly have the power and sensors to pull off a Daydream-like VR experience immediately, but it’s obviously waiting to offer something more compelling to its users.
There can be no doubt that ‘virtual reality’ headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stopgap until mixed reality is ready.
There can be no doubt that “virtual reality” headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stop-gap until mixed reality is ready. That probably sounds like a bold statement, but it’s easy to justify. Mixed reality headsets will, at some point make virtual objects appear solid. HoloLens isn’t there yet, sure, but Magic Leap claims to be, and you can be sure Microsoft is working on it.
Once these headsets are able to display opaque objects and cover our entire field of view, developers and creatives will have total control over what we see. They can decide to mix or augment our surroundings, like we’ve already seen with Magic Leap and HoloLens, or completely scrap that environment and put us in a virtual space, like with a VR headset. It should only take a few taps to send us to an augmented reality, a virtual one and back to our own.
This year showed millions of people how fun it can be to see a digital creation entering their world. And maybe 2017 won’t be the year, but as technology catches up to its aspirations, we might soon be able to see how fun it is to have millions of digital creations do the same.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
2016 was an interesting one, that’s for sure. To celebrate its quickly approaching end, we’re going to spend the next two weeks looking back at the most important story lines of the year — starting with the biggest winners of 2016. (Don’t worry, next week we’ll be taking shots at the biggest losers.)
Over the next six days Engadget will take stock of who is entering 2017 in a much better position than in 2016. Facebook for one, has started to really pull away its social media competitors, despite its struggles with fake news. And, after years of being promised that VR or AR would go mainstream, 2016 finally seems to have delivered. Oh, and we also saw emoji evolve from a bunch of silly pictures to a full-fledged language of its own — one that represents the diversity of our society.
So stay tuned through December 31st as we run down the biggest winners and losers of 2016.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
It looks like Facebook is considering the possibility of making group voice calling available on desktop. According to TechCrunch, the social network has given a small number of users access to the feature to test it out — if you want to know if you’ve been chosen, open one of your group chats and look for a phone icon near the top right of the messaging box. You only need to click that icon if you want to invite your friends to a multi-person call.
Facebook officially launched the feature for its Messenger apps back in April, but making it available on computers will make it less likely to leave out some friends in your group convos. While there’s Skype and other apps with the feature, it will be easier to coordinate large calls with family and friends on a platform a lot of people already use. Since this is just an experimental feature, we can’t say if you’ll be able to organize 50-person call parties like you can on Messenger, or if it’ll ever make its way to your account.
[Image credit: TechCrunch]
Targeted ads can be annoying, but they’re much worse when they’re insensitive to tragedies in your life. If you lose a child, seeing ads for children’s products is understandably traumatic. Facebook wants to change this. It’s testing a feature that lets you hide potentially upsetting ads. The option is currently restricted to blocking ads for alcohol and parenting products, but the social network tells Ad Age that it may add other topics if users report concerns.
It’s part of a larger change to ad preferences that should make them easier to use than before. They’re both more visual and remain consistent whether you view them from your settings or the ad itself.
This is just a test, and a broader rollout will likely depend on its success. Even so, it’s a big shift for Facebook. The company has been willing to let you skew the type of ads you see, but it hasn’t given you the option of completely wiping out certain ads. It’s an admission that short-term ad money isn’t everything — there’s not much point to showing you an ad if it’s so insensitive that it leads you to quit Facebook.
Source: Ad Age
Facebook celebrated the first full test flight of its solar-powered internet drone, Aquila, in July, but things didn’t go as smoothly as they could have. The drone completed a 96-minute flight in Yuma, Arizona, but it ended up crash-landing because of a structural failure in the right wing, according to today’s report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB announced in November that it would investigate the accident.
Aquila’s only landing mode is “autoland,” meaning the aircraft senses things like wind speeds and temperature, and adjusts for the smoothest landing possible. During its debut test flight, operators expected wind speeds of 7 knots. However, as Aquila came in to land, winds picked up to 18 knots and the autopilot responded by dipping the drone’s nose, increasing airspeed above the normal 25 miles per hour and twisting the right wing. The drone was less than 20 feet above the ground, traveling at less than 30 miles per hour, Facebook says in a blog post.
“The autopilot was unable to track both the airspeed and glidepath simultaneously, and gave too much priority to tracking the glidepath at the expense of not limiting the airspeed,” Facebook says.
To address this issue, Facebook intends to tweak the Aquila’s design and software. First, it will add a drag device, such as a spoiler or airbrake, allowing the autopilot to steepen its descent without picking up speed. Second, the autopilot will be told to prioritize maintaining a safe airspeed over altitude tracking. “This could mean a less accurate landing, or a go around if the airplane deviates too far above the glidepath,” Facebook says.
Researchers are already working on a second generation of the Aquila. The company eventually hopes to fly the Aquila over internet-less regions of the world, connecting a brand new market to the World Wide Web — and Facebook, of course.