Netflix Says It Won't Pull Controversial Footage of Actual Deadly Incident From Bird Box

Image: Bird Box (Netflix)

After streaming giant Netflix came under fire for including footage of a real-life, deadly incident that occurred in Canada in its breakout monster movie Bird Box, the company said Thursday it will not pull that imagery from the film.

Reached for comment about the controversy, a Netflix spokesperson told the Associated Press said that it “will keep the clip in the movie.” The clip in question depicts actual footage from the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013 that left 47 people dead and which has since been cemented as one of the worst rail incidents in Canadian history. The imagery appears in an early scene in the Susanne Bier-directed horror movie during a news broadcast about a mysterious phenomenon leading to mass deaths (which, as we all by now surely know, occur by suicide).

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“We find that it’s really a lack of respect, to use these images as fiction and entertainment,” Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin told the Canadian Press in a report published Tuesday. “It’s hard enough for our citizens to see these images when they are used normally and respectfully on the news.”

Image: Bird Box (Netflix)

The imagery was sourced from stock footage supplier Pond5, which says that its millions of video clips include news coverage and archival footage. A spokesperson for the company told Gizmodo in a statement by email on Thursday that footage of the Lac-Mégantic rail incident was “was taken out of context” and added that “it’s very rare that something like this occurs.”

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“We deeply regret that this happened and sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended, especially the victims and their families,” the company said.

Footage of the incident also surfaced in the third season of the sci-fi series Travelers, another Netflix joint from Toronto-based production company Peacock Alley Entertainment, which also sourced the footage from Pond5, according to the Canadian Press. Carrie Mudd, a spokesperson for the company, told the outlet by email that it was “already working to replace the footage in the show” as of earlier this week.

Netflix told the Associated Press on Thursday it would be exploring ways to avoid a repeat of the incident in the future—which seems wise considering this isn’t the first time.

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Despite this whole mess, Bird Boxdamned divisive as it may be—is presently the company’s golden child. Netflix said in a letter to its shareholders on Thursday that it estimated the film will be viewed by more than 80 million member households in its first four weeks on the platform.

[Associated Press]

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AR startup Meta’s assets sold to a mystery ‘known name’ that will support existing headsets

Augmented reality technology enables us to see things in places where they may not actually exist. And sometimes, that paradigm might also apply to augmented reality startups themselves. Meta, the AR startup that was incubated at Y-Combinator and became the first to ship a set of “end-to-end” AR glasses (including hardware, software, direct tracking optics and SDK) to the market, raising a lot of money and high hopes in the process — only to crash, in recent weeks, into insolvency as it ran both out of money to fund the costly business of building hardware and options to raise more. Now, it looks like there is another chapter.

Meron Gribetz, Meta’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier today that the company’s assets have been acquired by a mystery buyer. The buyer’s name and even its industry are not being disclosed, said Gribetz, except he did hint that it is a “known name” that might be revealed soon.

(We’ve asked a number of investors in the company if they know more and it seems none so far do. Even the lead at the agency that has been handling Meta’s PR — Spiralgroup, which specialises in crisis communications and other tricky situations — described the buyer’s name as a “black box”, no information whatsoever.)

There is only one firm detail on the future that Gribetz said he could share. The new buyer, he said, has already committed to supporting hardware that is already out on the market, but with little specific information on what will come next. “Our assets have a good future, and I’m encouraged by that fact,” he said. He added that about 85-90 percent of the company’s inventory of its latest (last) model, the Meta 2, had sold.

Otherwise, all Gribetz could say was that it was an asset sale, for “less than the bank was owed”, in reference to the company’s debts.

Among the other details that are unclear are whether Meta talent will be joining the new owner. It sounds like that, at least, is still under negotiation for some of them — Gribetz included — which implies that there are plans for using the IP and other assets the buyer has acquired, either on their own or in combination with other IP. (Notably, one of the assets that was acquired was the Meta brand, although that could easily have been also to protect it from being used by others.)

These latest developments cap off a hectic several months for Meta.

After a scrappy start — I first met the company at CES in Las Vegas years ago, when five engineers and Gribetz all slept in one hotel room that was also where they showed off product demos — the company landed in the elite Y Combinator incubator and started to attract the attention of big investors, and eventually became the first company to ship a complete AR solution, including hardware and software to make it work. That led to more investment and ambitions to target China.

But the Meta 2, the second version of its eyewear, was to be its last. The Silicon Valley startup fell onto hard times in September 2018 after a fundraise of $20 million, critical to its survival, which it had secured from an unnamed Chinese investor, was blocked by China over trade tensions between it and the US. Around that time, the company laid off a number of staff and those remaining were furloughed in hopes of better times ahead.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. Gribetz told TechCrunch that in subsequent months, he’d received small investments from individuals to help temporarily pay some of the employees who were still with the company, but “no one stepped in” to definitely close the funding gap. “Maybe it was the furlough that scared them off,” he said.

In the meantime, things got even tougher. Meta was served with patent suits — which may still follow the IP wherever it goes, although it’s not clear at all yet whether the suits are legit or without merit. And that seemed to be the final straw that led to the insolvency and subsequent asset sale.

There is a lot of potential speculation about who might be interested in Meta’s assets, and why the buyer is keeping quiet.

If it’s a big company, that makes it an obvious target for a patent litigation chaser. If it’s a company from a country like China, it could raise questions and cause problems given the current climate and trade tensions. If it’s interested in AR in a public way, it doesn’t want to reveal its hand. If it’s trying to prepare an entry into the market, it wouldn’t want to be known, either. If it’s a completely new entrant to AR, it may not want anyone to pre-judge based on Meta’s failure.

Meta had raised nearly $83 million reaching a valuation of as much as $300 million, with investors including strategics like hardware giant Lenovo, internet giant Tencent, Dolby, Comcast, alongside some 24 others, a mix of VCs and individuals. Those strategics also might be considered buyers — although so far we’ve confirmed that at least one, Lenovo, is not it.

Whoever has made the purchase, two words of advice: caveat emptor.

Although AR and VR startups reached a high watermark of $3 billion in funding in 2017, and for all the promise of various companies in the field, the bigger picture for AR and its sister technology, virtual reality, has not been as bright in more recent times.

Gribetz said he believes that one day every company will be an AR company, but for now, we are far from that. Headsets and glasses — a primary component of many services — are still clunky, we haven’t seen the “killer app” yet that will bring a mass market running to buy products, and it’s not even clear that there may ever be. If you think of how much of the AR content you get already comes by way of your smartphone, then it may turn out just to be an additional feature, not a major step change after all.

All of that is leading to many AR and VR efforts feeling the pinch. Some, like ODG and Blippar, have collapsed entirely. Others like Magic Leap have failed to live up to their impossible hype. And others are rethinking their strategies for the longer haul, shelving some of their ambitions in the process.

In that context, Gribetz is even a little sanguine about Meta’s crash landing.

“It’s a bittersweet happiness,” he said when asked about how he feels about the sale. “This is not the way I would have wanted things to precipitate, obviously. On the other hand, when I look at the competitive landscape and the companies that are completely flaming out — and there are a lot — and their products disappear from the world never to be seen again, I can only express my personal hopes, because Meta is now inside of a new home — and it’s a good home — I can only express my hopes that these products have a future.”

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10 things in tech you need to know today

Tim CookApple CEO Tim Cook called for government to rein in the “shadow economy.”AP

Good morning! This is the tech news you need to know this Friday.

  1. Netflix’s stock fell after a slight Q4 revenue miss and solid subscriber-growth numbers. The results came just days after Netflix unleashed its biggest price hike ever, which increased its most popular plan from $11 per month to $13 per month.
  2. Facebook is restructuring its augmented reality glasses division as it inches closer to launch. Facebook is moving hundreds of employees to a new product-focused augmented reality group as it continues to quietly develop AR glasses.
  3. Apple CEO Tim Cook blasted the invisible “shadow economy” that profits off people’s information in a Time op-ed. Cook set his sights on data brokers, saying that they need to be reined in.
  4. Ad data broker giant Acxiom came out in favor of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s quest to bring GDPR-like regulation to the United States. The company said that it is “actively participating in discussions with US lawmakers” around the issue.
  5. Amazon investors are cranking up the pressure on Jeff Bezos to stop selling facial recognition tech to government agencies. Amazon shareholders with shares worth $1.32 billion have filed a resolution, which could be voted on at the firm’s annual investor meeting.
  6. Instagram influencers are so overwhelmed by hackers, they’re hiring hackers of their own to get their accounts back. Hacked influencers told VICE’s Motherboard that Instagram has been slow to give them back their accounts, even after creators followed necessary steps for account recovery.
  7. Nearly 773 million email accounts were exposed in a massive data breach known as Collection #1. It appears the data didn’t come from a single source, site, or company but is an aggregation that includes cracked passwords.
  8. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave an interview to the Huffington Post, and was asked what Twitter would do if US President Donald Trump ordered his followers to murder a journalist. Dorsey said, “we’d certainly talk about it” but he didn’t want to discuss “particulars.”
  9. Microsoft announced it will spend $500 million on building affordable housing in Seattle. In cities like Seattle and San Francisco, the arrival of tech giants has been linked with skyrocketing house prices.
  10. Gaming startups Unity and Improbable have ended their feud peacefully after a very public battle that involved the creator of “Fortnite.” Unity updated its terms of services on Wednesday to put in writing that Improbable, and any other developer, can continue using the Unity platform without restriction.

Have an Amazon Alexa device? Now you can hear 10 Things in Tech each morning. Just search for “Business Insider” in your Alexa’s flash briefing settings.

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Verizon will give subscribers free access to anti-robocall tools


SIPA USA/PA Images

Verizon will give all its subscribers free access to its spam alert and call blocking tools, so long as their phones can support the features. The carrier originally rolled out those tools over a year ago as part of its $3-per-month Call Filter add-on. But starting in March, subscribers with compatible smartphones (including iPhone and Android devices) will be able fend off unwanted robocalls without having to pay extra. Verizon says it will release more info on how to sign up for the free tools near their launch date.

The company also says that it has committed to supporting the new STIR/SHAKEN technology that can authenticate a call’s origin and can alert subscribers if it’s a spoofed call. As you know, robocallers use spoofing to mask their real numbers to, say, make it appear as if the call is coming from the recipient’s location. That increases the chances of the recipient picking up the phone and falling prey to their schemes.

In late 2018, the FCC asked voice providers to adopt the STIR/SHAKEN framework to combat illegal robocalls, and it looks like Verizon followed the commission’s orders. In addition to rolling out anti-spam tools to the public, the carrier said it has implemented programs that will prevent robocallers from using its network. It’s also throwing its weight behind the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act or TRACED, which will give the FCC broader authority to penalize robocallers.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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Here’s what Google says search results will look like when EU copyright laws kick in

The European Union is inching closer to enacting sweeping copyright legislation that would require platforms like Google, Facebook to pay publishers for the privilege of displaying their content to users, as well as monitoring copyright infringement by users on the sites and services they manage.

That’s set to open a Pandora’s Box of problems that could completely derail your internet experience, because it’d essentially disallow platforms from displaying content from other sources. In a screenshot shared with Search Engine Land, Google illustrated how this might play out in its search results for news articles:

An example of what Google's search results for news might look like if the EU goes ahead with its copyright directive
Credit: Google / Search Engine Land
An example of what Google’s search results for news might look like if the EU goes ahead with its copyright directive

As you can see, the page looks empty, because it’s been stripped of all copyrighted content – headlines, summaries and images from articles from various publishers.

Google almost certainly won’t display unusable results like these, but it will probably only feature content from publishers it’s cut deals with (and it’s safe to assume that’s easier for larger companies than small ones).

That would reduce the number of sources of information you’ll be able to discover through the search engine, and it’ll likely lead to a drop in traffic for media outlets. It’s a lose-lose situation, and it’s baffling that EU lawmakers don’t see this as a problem – possibly because they’re fixated on how this ‘solution’ could theoretically benefit content creators and copyright holders by ruling that they must be paid for their output.

It isn’t yet clear when the new copyright directive will come into play – there are numerous processes involved that could take until 2021 before it’s implemented in EU countries’ national laws. Hopefully, the union’s legislators will see sense well before that and put a stop to this madness.

Update: We’ve clarified in our headline that this is Google’s opinion of how its search service will be affected by the upcoming EU copyright directive; it isn’t yet clear how it will eventually be implemented.

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