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Apple Ditches Home Button, Adds Face ID to $1K iPhone X

As expected, Apple today unveiled its new iPhone 8 lineup, plus a new high-end iPhone X. For the first time, iPhone will support wireless charging, while the new $1,000 edge-to-edge OLED iPhone X incorporates a facial-recognition system, dubbed Face ID.

Apple iPhone XNotably, the iPhone X—pronounced iPhone 10—ditches the home button. To wake it up, you can raise to wake or tap on the screen. If it's locked, stare at the screen until it recognizes your face and swipe to enter. Face ID also works with Apple Pay—click the button on the side, stare at the phone, and hold it to the point-of-sale system—and within apps like Mint, OnePassword, or eTrade.

Unless you have an evil twin—or a normal twin, presumably—the chances of someone tricking your iPhone X are one in a million, according to Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, compared to one in 50,000 for Touch ID. The iPhone X will recognize you even if you change your appearance, like growing a beard, but if you're concerned, there is the option to use a passcode instead.

The new iPhones will work with any devices that support the Qi open wireless standard, including those from mophie and Belkin, which Apple will offer in its stores. "Words can't describe how much nicer it is when you can just pick [iPhone] up and down" to charge rather than plugging in, Schiller said.

But Apple will also sell a charging mat of its own, which will charge the iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods simultaneously.

Apple iPhone X wireless charging

As for specs, the 5.8-inch iPhone X runs the new A11 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture, an M11 motion coprocessor, and a neural engine for Face ID. It sports what Apple's calling a Super Retina HD display—2,436-by-1,125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi—with HDR. 3D Touch lives on.

The iPhone X sports 12MP dual cameras with optical zoom; digital zoom up to 10x. Apple tipped better low-light zoom and improved video stabilization. For selfie fans, Portrait mode is on the front camera with a depth-of-field effect.

For emoji fans, an Animoji feature will animate cartoon characters that speak voice messages you record over iMessage, all powered by a new A11 Bionic chip. For those worried about battery, the device will last two hours longer than iPhone 7, Schiller said.

This tenth anniversary iPhone X will cost you; it starts at $999 and comes in 64GB and 256GB versions and space gray or silver. It also doesn't arrive for another two months. Pre-orders begin on Oct. 27 and the phone launches Nov. 3.

Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

The iPhone X largely overshadowed the iPhone 8 lineup, which gets the usual upgrades. Like the iPhone 7 lineup, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are 4.7 and 5.5 inches, respectively—1,334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi on the iPhone 8 and 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi on the iPhone 8 Plus. They're also water- and dust-resistant like their predecessors.

The home button remains on iPhone 8, as does Touch ID. Both phones have the same A11 chip and M11 motion coprocessor as the X.

There is glass on the back and front of both devices; for those worried about cracks, the phones' "glass is the most durable ever in a smartphone," Schiller said.

The iPhone 8 starts at $699 and the Plus is $100 more. Pre-orders begin Sept. 15 and the phones arrive on Sept. 19. Both come in 64GB and 256GB flavors in space gray, silver, or a new gold finish.

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Does Google’s Duplex violate two-party consent laws?

Google’s Duplex, which calls businesses on your behalf and imitates a real human, ums and ahs included, has sparked a bit of controversy among privacy advocates. Doesn’t Google recording a person’s voice and sending it to a data center for analysis violate two-party consent law, which requires everyone in a conversation to agree to being recorded? The answer isn’t immediately clear, and Google’s silence isn’t helping. Let’s take California’s law as the example, since that’s the state where Google is based and where it used the system. Penal Code section 632 forbids recording any “confidential communication” (defined more or less as any non-public conversation) without the consent of all parties. (The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a good state-by-state guide to these laws.) Google has provided very little in the way of details about how Duplex actually works, so attempting to answer this question involves a certain amount of informed speculation. To begin with I’m going to consider all phone calls as “confidential” for the purposes of the law. What constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy is far from settled, and some will have it that you there isn’t such an expectation when making an appointment with a salon. But what about a doctor’s office, or if you need to give personal details over the phone? Though some edge cases may qualify as public, it’s simpler and safer (for us and for Google) to treat all phone conversations as confidential. What we know about Google’s Duplex demo so far As a second assumption, it seems clear that, like most Google services, Duplex’s work takes place in a data center somewhere, not locally on your device. So fundamentally there is a requirement in the system that the other party’s audio will be recorded and sent in some form to that data center for processing, at which point a response is formulated and spoken. On its face it sounds bad for Google. There’s no way the system is getting consent from whomever picks up the phone. That would spoil the whole interaction — “This call is being conducted by a Google system using speech recognition and synthesis; your voice will be analyzed at Google data centers. Press 1 or say ‘I consent’ to consent.” I would have hung up after about two words. The whole idea is to mask the fact that it’s an AI system at all, so getting consent that way won’t work. But there’s wiggle room as far as the consent requirement in how the audio is recorded, transmitted and stored. After all, there are systems out there that may have to temporarily store a recording of a person’s voice without their consent — think of a VoIP call that caches audio for a fraction of a second in case of packet loss. There’s even a specific cutout in the law for hearing aids, which if you think about it do in fact do “record” private conversations. Temporary copies produced as part of a legal, beneficial service aren’t the target of this law. This is partly because the law is about preventing eavesdropping and wiretapping, not preventing any recorded representation of conversation whatsoever that isn’t explicitly authorized. Legislative intent is important. “There’s a little legal uncertainty there, in the sense of what degree of permanence is required to constitute eavesdropping,” said Mason Kortz, of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “The big question is what is being sent to the data center and how is it being retained. If it’s retained in the condition that the original conversation is understandable, that’s a violation.” For instance, Google could conceivably keep a recording of the call, perhaps for AI training purposes, perhaps for quality assurance, perhaps for users’ own records (in case of time slot dispute at the salon, for example). They do retain other data along these lines. But it would be foolish. Google has an army of lawyers and consent would have been one of the first things they tackled in the deployment of Duplex. For the onstage demos it would be simple enough to collect proactive consent from the businesses they were going to contact. But for actual use by consumers the system needs to engineered with the law in mind. What would a functioning but legal Duplex look like? The conversation would likely have to be deconstructed and permanently discarded immediately after intake, the way audio is cached in a device like a hearing aid or a service like digital voice transmission. A closer example of this is Amazon, which might have found itself in violation of COPPA, a law protecting children’s data, whenever a kid asked an Echo to play a Raffi song or do long division. The FTC decided that as long as Amazon and companies in that position immediately turn the data into text and then delete it afterwards, no harm and, therefore, no violation. That’s not an exact analogue to Google’s system, but it is nonetheless instructive. “It may be possible with careful design to extract the features you need without keeping the original, in a way where it’s mathematically impossible to recreate the recording,” Kortz said. If that process is verifiable and there’s no possibility of eavesdropping — no chance any Google employee, law enforcement officer or hacker could get into the system and intercept or collect that data — then potentially Duplex could be deemed benign, transitory recording in the eye of the law. That assumes a lot, though. Frustratingly, Google could clear this up with a sentence or two. It’s suspicious that the company didn’t address this obvious question with even a single phrase, like Sundar Pichai adding during the presentation that “yes, we are compliant with recording consent laws.” Instead of people wondering if, they’d be wondering how. And of course we’d all still be wondering why. We’ve reached out to Google multiple times on various aspects of this story, but for a company with such talkative products, they sure clammed up fast.

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