Android users can now message from the web

Messages, Google’s more recent focus for its scattered messaging efforts following its decision to “pause” work on Allo, is now available for web users. The company announced that it would begin rolling out Messages for web starting today, with the full rollout completing over the next week. The feature, along with others including GIF search, smart replies, and more, is part of an updated messaging experience for Android users that aims to be Google’s response to iMessage. The company earlier this year moved its Allo team to work on Android Messages, Google’s app that utilizes the RCS messaging standard. The standard, adopted by numerous mobile operators worldwide, offers more feature parity with iMessage, thanks to its support for things like read receipts, typing indicators, high-res photo sharing, better group chat, and other features. Now, Messages is gaining another feature to better compete with iMessage: web support. Today, Apple users can access iMessage conversations on their Mac using a dedicated app. Google’s Messages for web is similar in the sense that it also offers cross-platform access to messages – that is, it lets Android users view and respond to chats when they’re not on their phone. However, the implementation of Messages for web is more like WhatsApp for the desktop, right down to how you scan a code on the Message website to sync things up with your phone. Google says Messages for web will support sending stickers, emoji and image attachments, as well as text, at launch. The company also announced a few other features that will come to the Messages app over the next week, including built-in GIF search; Smart Replies, which suggest English language text responses and emoji for now; preview web links in conversations; and the ability to copy one-time passwords with a tap. This last feature is also similar to a new addition coming to iMessage in iOS 12. When you’re logging into a site or app that requires a one-time password sent over text message, iOS 12 will let you paste that into the necessary field with one tap. Google’s system looks like it requires two taps – both the copy and the paste functions – but it’s still a lot easier than before. To try out the new features, Android users will need to be on the latest version of the Messages app from Google Play.

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LIV is Kickstarting a beefy and bold chronograph for race lovers

LIV Watches is a crowdfunding darling with a number of Kickstarted watches under its belt. Now it’s offering a unique set of watches to backers, including the Liv Genesis GX-AC, an automatic chronograph with date. The watch runs a Sellita Caliber SW500, visible through the see-through back, and features a screw down crown and massive metal pushers. The company prides itself on the size of its watches and this piece is no exception. The GX-AC isn’t wildly big – at 46mm it’s just a bit bigger than most Android Wear watches – and it fits nicely thanks to a rounded rubber band that hugs the top and bottom of the case. There is a small running seconds hand at nine-o’clock and registers for minutes and hours at noon and six. [gallery ids="1654222,1654220,1654219,1654218,1654217"] If you’ve seen automatic chronographs before you know what you’re in for – a standard movement encased in a special steel case that is designed to appeal to a certain demographic. LIV is also Kickstarting a number of other watches, including a Day-Date chronograph that is flight-inspired and a diver, so check them out. However, if you’re into this piece then you’re in for a treat. It starts at $790, far below most mechanical chronographs I’ve seen, and the workmanship and quality of this piece is quite nice. I wore it a little over the past few weeks and found it very comfortable and easy to read. The running seconds hand is a bit small and the lume is limited to the pips and hands but as a fashion/everyday wear piece it’s excellent. If you particularly like the style – F1 racing meets Kylo Ren – then you’re probably going to like this thing and since they’ve already surpassed their goal and hit $602,000 you can expect delivery of your perk. Again, watches like this one require a specific style and taste. The LIV is reminiscent of Alpina and Tissot in its case style and decoration and it pays homage to racing and speed. Grabbing a Swiss made watch for under $1,000 is a treat and this is a good example of the species and well worth a look.

Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over ‘forced consent’

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four complaints relating to (certain) companies’ ‘take it or leave it’ stance when it comes to consent. The complaints have been filed on behalf of (unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android. Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service. (And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting.) “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Schrems writes in a statement. “Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent,” he adds. “In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process.” We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. Update: Facebook has now sent the following statement, attributed to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan: “We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR. We have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. Our work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25th. For example, we’re building Clear History: a way for everyone to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, clear this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward.” Schrems most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb (aka ‘none of your business’). As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation allowing for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights in an important one, with the potential to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organizations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights. That said, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member States can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection agencies in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record defending privacy rights. Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection agency will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation for defending data protection rights. But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint concerns and where a service crosses borders — so noyb’s action looks intended to test this element of the new framework too. Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract fines as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, implies they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue. That said, given how freshly fixed in place the rules are, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards. However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud. “We probably will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally violated the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR,” writes Schrems. Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new consent flow. “We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the vast majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads,” said Zuckerberg. He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new consent flow Facebook revealed ahead of GDPR only offers the ‘choice’ of quitting Facebook entirely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a choice given how powerful the network is. (Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data.) Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change — “because giving people control of how their data is used has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning”. “The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past,” he claimed. “I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to put a bunch of work into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things. “In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build committee a lot of philosophy that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve thought about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and implement but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive departure in how we’ve thought about this stuff.” Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail. So EU regulators are essentially facing a first test of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image. Privacy laws are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard. Schrems also makes the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm ‘take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to use to extract consent on account of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s a competition concern that GDPR should also help to redress. “The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent,” he writes. “This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small businesses.” Image credit: noyb.eu

Google quits selling tablets

Google has quietly crept out of the tablet business, removing the “tablets” heading from its Android page. Perhaps it hoped that no one would notice on a Friday and by Monday it would be old news, but Android Police caught them in the act. It was there yesterday, but it’s gone today. We (well, Romain) called tablets dead in 2016, which was probably a little premature, since over 160 million of them shipped last year — but even so, it’s not much of a life they’re living. Google in particular has struggled to make Android a convincing alternative to iOS in the tablet realm, and with this move has clearly indicated its preference for the Chrome OS side of things, where it has inherited the questionable (but lucrative) legacy of netbooks. They’ve also been working on broadening Android compatibility with that OS. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that the company is bowing out. Sales have dropped considerably, since few people see any reason to upgrade a device that was originally sold for its simplicity and ease of use, not its specs. I, for one, have been using the 3rd-gen (1st Retina) iPad since its release approximately 500 years ago and have never felt any compulsion whatsoever to get a new one. What happened to tablet sales? Cheap Kindle tablets from Amazon have proliferated somewhat, presumably as distractions for kids who would otherwise get fingerprints all over mom’s new phone, or for ultra-compact time-wasting on airplanes. Google’s exit doesn’t mean Android tablets are done for, of course. They’ll still get made, primarily by Samsung, Amazon, and a couple others, and there will probably even be some nice ones. But if Google isn’t selling them, it probably isn’t prioritizing them as far as features and support. Fortunately tablets aren’t subject to quite the same feature mania as smartphones, so it won’t really matter if your new Galaxy Tab or what have you doesn’t do all the cool new Google Assistant things. It plays a few games, stores your Pocket articles, and lets you watch Netflix in coach. Something cheap along those lines will always be available, but Google’s done with that whole scene. I’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update if I hear back.

PUBG juggernaut hits 400 million users, and for a limited time, players can get...

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the progenitor and once-reigning champion of last-player-standing battle royale gaming that’s swept the video game world by storm, has hit over 400 million players globally across all platforms. As a perk and potential sop to bring new players to its personal computing platform, PUBG is offering the full version of its full throttle game for $19.99 — a 33.33% cut from the game’s regular price. The offer includes classic maps Erangel and Miramar and the all-new Sanhok, launching on June 22, according to a statement from the company. PUBG has already moved 50 million units of its game across PC and Xbox One consoles and has hit 87 million daily players. Roughly 227 million players engage in PUBG’s particular murder-death-kill competition every month. “We are genuinely humbled by the ongoing success and growth of PUBG,” said CH Kim, CEO, PUBG Corp. “We are not resting on our laurels though, as we continue to focus on performance and content updates for current players to enjoy, and look to our future as we aspire to deliver the signature PUBG experience to fans worldwide.” While PUBG’s rise has been swift, hitting the 400 million figure in a little over six months since its worldwide release (and over 15 months since its early access release), the game’s publisher has been beset with competitors nipping at its heels. Already, the game has been toppled from the top slot by the new player on the battle royale block — Fortnite. In April alone, Fortnite pulled in $296 million for its own last-avatar-standing game — and the game’s popularity likely will only grow once the title takes its bow on the Android gaming platform later this month. PUBG, the company, and its parent company, Bluehole, aren’t taking the competition lying down. They’ve taken Fortnite’s creators to court, filing a suit against Epic Games over copyright infringement concerns. As we reported earlier, the South Korean suit, noted by The Korea Times, takes particular issue with Fortnite’s battle royale mode. PUBG leadership declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over “forced consent”

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four complaints relating to (certain) companies’ ‘take it or leave it’ stance when it comes to consent. The complaints have been filed on behalf of (unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android. Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service. (And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting.) “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Schrems writes in a statement. “Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent,” he adds. “In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process.” We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. The European privacy campaigner most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb (aka ‘none of your business’). As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation allowing for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights in an important one, with the potential to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organizations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights. That said, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member States can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection agencies in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record defending privacy rights. Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection agency will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation for defending data protection rights. But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint concerns and where a service crosses borders — so noyb’s action looks intended to test this element of the new framework too. Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract fines as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, implies they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue. That said, given how freshly fixed in place the rules are, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards. However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud. “We probably will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally violated the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR,” writes Schrems. Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new consent flow. “We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the vast majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads,” said Zuckerberg. He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new consent flow Facebook revealed ahead of GDPR only offers the ‘choice’ of quitting Facebook entirely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a choice given how powerful the network is. (Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data.) Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change — “because giving people control of how their data is used has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning”. “The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past,” he claimed. “I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to put a bunch of work into into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things. “In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build committee a lot of philosophy that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve thought about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and implement but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive departure in how we’ve thought about this stuff.” Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail. So EU regulators are essentially facing a first test of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image. Privacy laws are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard. Schrems also makes the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm ‘take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to use to extract consent on account of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s a competition concern that GDPR should also help to redress. “The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent,” he writes. “This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small businesses.” Image credit: noyb.eu

Samsung’s Wemogee App Uses Emoji as Speech Therapy

You might think of emojis as a fun gimmick, but speech therapists see their potential to help patients who suffer from a neurological disorder called aphasia.

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Using the internet on your Android phone isn't as secure or private as you might hope. Fortunately, you can protect your mobile communications with a secure virtual private network (or VPN) app.

Tencent leads $50M investment in NewsDog, an app vying to be India’s Toutiao

The growth of China’s Bytedance, an ambitious $30 billion tech firm, and its highly-addictive Toutiao news aggregator app has set off a search for services with similar growth potential across the world. India, second in population only to China with rapidly-growing internet access, is an obvious place to look, and would-be pretender to the Toutiao crown has been found in the shape of NewsDog, a Chinese company that stumbled on success in India. Today, NewsDog announced a $50 million Series C round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent. Toutiao is a phenomenon in China. The app has around 200 million daily users, and it is one of the few new tech products to emerge in a China where Tencent and Alibaba dominate the consumer app landscape. Point in case, it is so mainstream now that it has even run into issues with China’s internet censors. Toutiao is essentially a news aggregation service that lets consumers catch their daily reads and discover stories with an experience tailored to their habits and likes. That’s very much the style of NewsDog, which claims over 50 million users. The service has branched out to cover 10 of Indians many languages, while it recently established a platform — ‘WeMedia’ — that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, too. This round is a major milestone for the company. In a competitive environment, it is the largest fundraising round from a news app company in India while it more obviously brings Tencent, the $500 billion tech giant, on board with its experience and support. Other investors include Chinese VCs Danhua Capital (DHVC) and Legend Capital as well as Chinese mobile app firm DotC United. NewsDog’s competition includes Dailyhunt — which is backed by Toutiao-owner Bytedance — Inshorts, which counts Tiger Global among its investors, and NewsPoint, which is owned by media firm Times Internet. One other competition is UC News, a service from Alibaba-owned UC Web, which, like NewsDog, is Chinese. NewsDog was launched in 2016 by CEO Forrest Chen Yukun, a computer science graduate from Tsinghua University graduate, and Yi Ma, who holds a PhD from Princeton University and previously worked at Baidu and Goldman Sachs . Data from App Annie shows that NewsDog is the top news app in the Google Play Store in India — Android is the country’s dominant operating system — ahead of Dailyhunt and NewsPoint in second and third, respectively. NewsDog plans to use this new funding to pull further ahead of the competition by focusing on adding more languages and deepening its content library. The company said it is already using machine learning to help produce an experience that is customized to users — the experience that Toutiao pioneered in China — and it plans to double down on that. “Poly culture and multiple languages make content matching an incredibly hard problem,” Chen said in a statement. “So far, we have made good initial progress but content business is like an endless journey. There is no finish line, you have to just keep running.” NewsDog is aiming to reach 100 million users as its next milestone as India’s internet population surges. The country is tipped to reach 500 million internet users by June 2018, according to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Kantar IMRB. That’s up from 481 million six months prior, but internet penetration in rural areas is at just 20 percent compared with 65 percent in urban India which indicates even more growth potential. For Tencent, meanwhile, this investment is another upping of its pace in India. Initially, the company was slow to put money to work in India, where Alibaba entered early to buy stakes in the likes of Paytm, but gradually Tencent has got its checkbook out. Its most notable India-based deals include WhatsApp challenger Hike, healthcare platform Practo, and music service Gaana. This year, it is reportedly focusing on finding promising early-stage startups where it can invest $5-15 million. In NewsDog, Tencent will hope to jump on the news aggregator train that it missed in China, giving Bytedance an opportunity to become a major Chinese consumer brand.

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