Qualcomm invites us to see its new Wear OS chip on September 10th


Qualcomm

Even as wearable devices have become more popular, the hardware backing many Wear OS (formerly known as Android Wear) devices hasn’t seen an update since Qualcomm’s 2100 SOC arrived in 2016. Now, as promised, a new chip will be unveiled later this year, and this afternoon Qualcomm invited journalists to a reveal event scheduled for September 10th. The invite only had a small smartwatch diagram and the words “It’s Time,” but Wareable’s interview with exec Pankaj Kedia already gave us some ideas about what to expect.

The new hardware will be built from the ground up for a wearable device, instead of trying to shrink smartphone technology, and should improve battery life. Plus, it will allow for smaller devices so that everyone can enjoy more stylish options. The big question, of course, is if we’ll see the first smartwatches packing Qualcomm’s new hardware at the event, like perhaps a Pixel Watch from Google?

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Be flung across a valley by a human slingshot, if you're into that

The Nevis Catapult will fling you across a ravine.
The Nevis Catapult will fling you across a ravine.
Image: James Morgan

If you’re one of those freaks who don’t think bungee jumping is enough excitement, perhaps being flung across a valley is more your jam.

The Nevis Catapult hurls willing participants 150 metres (164 yards) across the Nevis Valley near Queenstown, New Zealand, which you might know for its fair share of extreme sports.

If you’re up for it, you can experience up to 3g of force, and fly at speeds of almost 100 kilometres per hour (62 miles per hour) in 1.5 seconds. While these are impressive numbers, the video of the whole thing speaks for itself. 

Henry van Asch, co-founder of AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand, revealed the Nevis Catapult on Wednesday after “years of playing around with the idea.”

“It’s a pretty unique feeling, surprising even. There’s nothing else quite like it,” he added. 

The Nevis Catapult was a specially built design, then tested out-of-sight in Christchurch over the last nine months. Testing began with weighted barrels, before moving on to a test dummy phase, and then finally, brave humans.

Fun!

Fun!

Image: James Morgan

Getting yourself launched at those speeds isn’t cheap. The Nevis Catapult costs NZ$255 (US$176), and you’ll need to be at least 13 years old to participate, plus weigh between 45 to 127 kilograms (99 to 279 lbs). 

Oh, and make sure that you won’t be chickening out.

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Seahawks and Mariners fans can buy concessions with their fingerprints


Otto Greule Jr via Getty Images

Sports fans in Seattle now have the option of using the biometric services offered by Clear to enter stadiums, buy concessions and verify their age for alcohol purchases. Seahawks and Sounders FC fans will be able to use their fingerprints to get through security lines and to make purchases at certain concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Additionally, while Clear already allowed Mariners fans to use their fingerprints at Safeco Field’s security checkpoints, game attendees can now also use Clear at select concession spots. The Seahawks are the first NFL team to partner with Clear. This also marks the first time in the US that biometric data has been approved to replace both IDs for age verification and credit cards for purchases.

“Having an excellent and safe fan experience is paramount in everything we do, so we are excited to introduce Clear’s innovative security lanes and biometric payment and age verification to fans at CenturyLink Field,” David Young, the general manager of operations at CenturyLink Field, said in a statement.

Clear is available in 38 airports and stadiums across the US and last month, it announced a new partnership with Major League Baseball and Tickets.com that will give fans the option of using biometric ticketing at certain ballparks. Last year, Delta launched a pilot program powered by Clear that let passengers use their fingerprints to board in lieu of a boarding pass.

In July, Clear said that it was working on incorporating facial recognition into its Clear Lanes.

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Salesforce promotes COO Keith Block to co-CEO alongside founder Marc Benioff

Salesforce is moving to a two CEO model after it promoted executive Keith Block, who was most recently COO, to the position of co-CEO. Block will work alongside Salesforce’s flamboyant founder, chairman and CEO (now co-CEO) Marc Benioff, with both reporting directly to the company’s board.

Block joined Salesforce five years ago after spending 25 years at Oracle, which is where he first met Benioff, who has called him “the best sales executive the enterprise software industry has ever seen.”

News of the promotion was not expected, but in many ways it is just a more formalized continuation of the working relationship that the two executives have developed.

Block’s focus is on leading global sales, alliances and channels, industry strategy, customer success and consulting services, while he also oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. Benioff, meanwhile, heads of product, technology and culture. The latter is a major piece for Salesforce — for example, it has spent Salesforce has spent over $8 million since 2015 to address the wage gaps pertaining to race and gender, while the company has led the tech industry in pushing LGBT rights and more.

“Keith has been my trusted partner in running Salesforce for the past five years, and I’m thrilled to welcome him as co-CEO,” said Benioff in a statement. “Keith has outstanding operational expertise and corporate leadership experience, and I could not be happier for his promotion and this next level of our partnership.”

This clear division of responsibility from the start may enable Salesforce to smoothly transition to this new management structure, whilst helping it continue its incredible business growth. Revenue for the most recent quarter surpassed $3 billion for the first time, jumping 25 percent year-on-year while its share price is up 60 percent over the last twelve months.

When Block became COO in 2016, Benioff backed him to take the company past $10 billion in revenue and that feat was accomplished last November. Benioff enjoys setting targets and he’s been vocal about reaching $60 billion revenue by 2034, but in the medium term he is looking at reaching $23 billion by 2020 and the co-CEO strategy is very much a part of that growth target.

“We’ve said we’ll do $23 billion in fiscal year 2022 and we can now just see tremendous trajectory beyond that. Cementing Keith and I together as the leadership is really the key to accelerating future growth,” he told Fortune in an interview.

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Twitter defends its decision to keep the Alex Jones conspiracy factory around

[Heavy sigh]

Twitter is doing that thing again. That thing where it stands by an incoherent policy choice that is only consistent with its long historical record of inconsistency.

Late Tuesday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey took to the platform to defend his company’s choice to keep manic conspiracy theorist and hatemonger Alex Jones and his Infowars empire alive and tweeting.

Last week, that choice wouldn’t have turned heads, but after a kind of sudden and inexplicable sea change from all of the other major social platforms over the weekend, Twitter stands alone. To be fair, those social platforms didn’t really assert their own decisions to oust Jones — Apple led the pack, kicking him out of its Podcasts app, and the rest — Facebook, Spotify and YouTube, most notably — meekly followed suit.

Prior to its new statements, Twitter justified its decision to not ban Jones first by telling journalists like us that Jones didn’t actually violate Twitter’s terms of service because most of his abuse and hateful conduct, two violations that might get him banished, live one click away, outside the platform.

The same could be said for most of the hateful drivel that came from the infamous account of the now-banned Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was eventually booted from Twitter for violating the platform’s periodically enforced prohibition against “the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Jones is known for commanding a similarly hateful online loser army, though in his case they mostly spend their time harassing the parents of Sandy Hook victims rather than black actresses. Twitter’s point is that this kind of harassment needs to actually take place on its platform to get a user kicked off, which in a world in which Twitter policy was uniformly enforced (i.e. a world in which Twitter dedicated sufficient resources to the problem) that would at least be a consistent policy.

Instead of articulating that policy in a clear, decisive way, Twitter said some unnecessarily defensive things that kind of miss the point via an @jack tweetstorm and a tepid blog post touting the company’s vague new commitment to “healthy public conversation.”

If you didn’t read either, you’re not missing anything. Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

“Our policies and enforcement options evolve continuously to address emerging behaviors online and we sometimes come across instances where someone is reported for an incident that took place prior to that behavior being prohibited. In those instances, we will generally require the individual to delete the Tweet that violates the new rules but we won’t generally take other enforcement action against them (e.g. suspension). This is reflective of the fact that the Twitter Rules are a living document. We continue to expand and update both them and our enforcement options to respond to the changing contours of online conversation. This is how we make Twitter better for everyone.”

Great, crystal clear. Right? If it isn’t here’s a taste of Dorsey’s new tweetstorm:

Here’s the gist:

Alex Jones and Infowars didn’t break any of Twitter’s rules. Twitter is very bad at explaining its choices and trying to get better, maybe. Twitter won’t follow other platforms for policy enforcement decisions like this because it thinks that sets a bad precedent. Twitter doesn’t want to become a platform “constructed by [its creators’] personal views” (this delusion of neutrality bit is where he really started losing us).

Dorsey finishes with a fairly infuriating assertion that journalists should shoulder all of the work of addressing hatespeech and generally horrific content that leads to real-life harassment, it’s not really Twitter’s problem. Believe us, we’re working on it!!

“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”

To the bit about journalists, all we can say is: Twitter, just own your shit.

Even for those of us concerned about the precedents set by some of tech’s occasional lopsided gestures toward limiting the myriad horrors on the extremely totally neutral platforms that definitely in no way make tech companies publishers, Dorsey’s comments suck. Sure, the whole thing about staying consistent sounds okay at first, but Twitter is the platform most infamous for its totally uneven enforcement around harassment and hate speech and the one that leaves its users most vulnerable. If the company is truly making an effort to be less terrible at explaining its decisions — and we’re skeptical about that too — this is pretty inauspicious start.

Added to this, former Twitter VP of comms Emily Horne responded to Dorsey with some notable points, including a claim that Twitter has already begun taking into account user behavior offline. That makes the lack of action against Jones all the more baffling.

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Slack is raising $400M+ with a post-money valuation of $7B or more

Slack — the app that lets coworkers and others in professional circles chat with each other and call in data from hundreds of integrated apps in the name of getting more work done (or at least procrastinating in an entertaining way) — has been on a growth tear in the last few years, most recently passing 8 million daily active users, 3 million of them paying. Now, the company is planning to capitalise on that with some more funding.

TechCrunch has learned that Slack is raising another round, this time in the region of $400 million or possibly more, with a post-money valuation of at least $7 billion — adding a whopping $2 billion on top of the company’s last valuation in September 2017, when SoftBank led a $250 million round at a $5.1 billion valuation.

We’ve heard from multiple sources that a new investor, General Atlantic, is leading this round, with possibly another new backer, Dragoneer, also in the mix. It’s not clear which other investors might be involved; the company counts no less than 41 other backers on its cap table already, according to PitchBook. (You might even say Several People Are Funding…) We also don’t know whether this round has closed.

At $400 million, this would make it Slack’s biggest round to date. That size underscores a few different things.

First, it points to the existing opportunity in enterprise messaging. Consumerisation has taken hold, and apps that let users easily start and carry on a mix of serious and diverting conversations, infused with GIFs or whatever data they might need from other applications, are vying to replace other ways that people communicate in the workplace, such as email, phone conferences and in-person chats, even when people are in the same vicinity as each other. With consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp topping 1.5 billion users, there’s plenty of room for enterprise messaging to grow.

Second, the round and valuation emphasize Slack’s position as a leader in this area. While there were other enterprise social networking apps in existence before Slack first launched in 2013 — Yammer, Hipchat and Socialcast among them — nothing had struck a chord quite as Slack did. “Things have been going crazy”, was how co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield described it to me when Slack exited beta: teams trialling it were seeing usage from “every single team member, every day.”

That growth pace has continued. Today, the company counts 70,000 paid teams including Capital One, eBay, IBM, 21st Century Fox, and 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies among its bigger users; and with customers in 100 countries, half of its DAUs are outside North America (UK, Japan, Germany, France and India are its biggest international markets).

But thirdly — and this could be key when considering how this funding will be used — Slack is not the only game in town.

Software giant Microsoft has launched Teams, and social networking behemoth Facebook has Workplace. Using their respective dominance in enterprise software and social mechanics, these two have stolen a march on picking up some key customer wins among businesses that have opted for products that are more natural fits with what their employees were already using. Microsoft reported 200,000 paying organizations earlier this year, and Facebook has snagged some very large customers like Walmart.

Slack’s bottom-up distribution strategy could give it an edge against these larger companies and their broader but more complex products. The lightweight nature of Slack’s messaging-first approach allows it more easily be inserted into a company’s office stack. Nearly every type of employee needs office messaging, creating potential for Slack to serve as an identity layer for enterprise software. It’s own Slack Fund invests in potential companies that plug in, as the company hopes to build an ecosystem of partners that can fill in missing functionality.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 15: Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack speaks onstage at ‘Stewart Butterfield in Conversation with Farhad Manjoo’ during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mindy Best/Getty Images for SXSW)

Alongside dozens of other, smaller rivals offering comparative mixes of tools, it’s no surprise that last month Slack tightened up its bootlaces to take on the role of consolidator, snapping up IP and shutting down Hipchat and Stride from Atlassian, with the latter taking a stake in Slack as part of the deal.

Slack, which has a relatively modest 1,000+ employees, has ruled out an IPO this year, so this latest round will help it shore up cash in the meantime to continue growing, and competing.

Contacted for this story, Slack said that it does not comment on rumors or speculation.

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Twitter's CEO tries to explain not suspending Alex Jones


Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over the last few days, platforms like Apple Podcasts, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify decided they’d had enough of Alex Jones and InfoWars and pulled his access. Twitter was not among them, saying that InfoWars is not “currently violating our policies.”

Tonight its CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted a thread trying to clarify things, as he occasionally has when explaining changes in its policy or stating once again why some bad actor will be allowed to remain on the platform. The Twitter Safety account also provided information on the company’s policy, explaining that while “We prohibit targeted behavior that harasses, threatens, or uses fear to silence others and take action when they violate our policies…If individuals are not targeted (e.g. @ mention, tagged in a photo, etc.), we allow a wide range of content as long as it doesn’t cross the line into threatening violence.” This may explain why Jones’ exhortations about parents of children killed in school shootings aren’t enough to get him banned, simply because he did not @ mention them.

About InfoWars, Dorsey said: “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.” He closed by saying “it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions.”

So while journalists do the work of refuting misinformation that Dorsey’s service participates in spreading, he linked to a blog post about “The Twitter Rules: A Living Document” that explained whenever it adds new rules someone might be asked to delete a tweet that’s now in violation, but they wouldn’t face further enforcement.

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Inside Google’s plan to stalk your social media accounts

Google, once again, is excited about social media. But not in the ways you might think; this isn’t about another in a failed string of chat apps, or the knockout success that never was in Google Plus. Instead, it’s an entirely new way of recognizing human faces, and one made possible by — you guessed it — creeping on your social media profiles.

In a recently approved patent, Google detailed a system of “Facial Recognition with Social Network Aiding.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, an attempt to parse social connections as a way to better identify your mug.

Reverse Image Search works by attempting to match visual cues in photos with other, similar photos. It works mostly as intended, with some results being dead-on, and others complete misses. But as long as the photo is well-lit, and is of a high enough resolution, Google usually nails it.

Nailed it

Its a system that works, but could use improvement. Sometimes the results are only semi-relevant, and for those who don’t have as much data to pull from, it often overlooks matches entirely. Grab your friend Katie from middle school’s Facebook photo, for example. Chances are it only returns the Facebook account using the photo.

But the new system envisions a world where artificial intelligence would identify faces using not only visual cues, but various forms of data from personal communications, social networks, collaborative apps, and even your calendar.

It’s like this

Users enter a “visual query” in the form of a photo, screenshot or scanned image. The system would then analyze the image and look — using advanced image recognition — for others that are both visually similar, and a potential match using the data sources mentioned above.

Rather than just matching based on visual cues — Google‘s current system — the software would take additional steps to build further confidence in the person’s identity. Pulling from a number of data sources, including your hometown, age, occupation, and various others, Google would strive to be absolutely sure it returns images relevant to your query, based partially on the data it pulled from your social accounts and other collaborative apps.

Let’s attempt to wrap our head around this with a real example. Inputting an image of Amanda, from accounting, for example, should lead to relevant results with the new software due to a number of connections between you, the searcher, and her, the subject of your search. You’re connected by your employer, you’re friends on Facebook, and she routinely retweets you on Twitter. To Google, these all build confidence that Amanda’s image is indeed the one you’re looking for.

Or maybe you’d search for a childhood friend, Jeff. The same reasoning follows: you’re connected by your hometown, your high school, and an approximate age range.

Where the patent falls short is in detailing exactly how Google would use the technology. We can be fairly sure that Reverse Image Search and Google Photos would benefit. The latter, due to some wording that describes automatically sharing a group photo and tagging everyone in it.

But it’s other, less obvious use cases that could be worrisome. If Google were to bring back Glass, for example. Or if it were to reverse course and continue to provide artificial intelligence to the military. If you’re looking for a tinfoil hat example, that exists too; Google could begin feeding this data to law enforcement, like Amazon.

Rekognition, Amazon‘s feature-rich AI, provides real-time facial recognition to a handful of police departments in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon. It’s not difficult to envision a competing product from Google.

The patent does note that in certain scenarios — scenarios Google fails to define — a person would have to opt-in to have their identify appear in these results. For now, it appears that we’re in the clear. But since this is only a patent, and not working software — to the best of our knowledge — things could change quickly.

It’s something to keep an eye on, but we certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. At least not yet.

Read next:

All-female Saudi team reigns supreme at world’s largest hackathon

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Apple’s response to Congressional privacy inquiry is mercifully free of horrifying revelations

It’s not infrequent these days if you’re a big tech company to receive a brusquely worded letter from a group of Senators or Representatives asking you to explain yourself on some topic or another. One recent such letter sent to Apple and Alphabet asks specifically about practices meant to track users or their interactions with the phone without their knowledge or consent. Luckily Apple has much to be proud of on that front.

“Apple’s philosophy and approach to customer data differs from many other companies on these important issue,” preened Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal government affairs, in the company’s response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s questions.

“We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data,” he goes on. “The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertisers.”

To whom could Powderly be referring?

The Committee’s questions were perhaps spurred by reports of unwanted collection of audio data from the likes of Amazon Echos and other devices that listen eagerly for the magic words that set them to work. So the actual queries were along the lines of: when a phone has no SIM card, what kind of location data is collected; whom does that data go to and for what purpose; does the device listen when it has not been “invoked”; and so on.

Apple’s responses, which you can read here (thanks CNET), are blessedly free of the kind of half-answers that usually indicate some kind of shenanigans.

The answers to most questions are that users who have Location Services enabled on the phone will collect data depending on what wireless options are selected, and that data is sent to Apple in anonymous and encrypted form… and “this anonymous data is not used to target advertising to the user.”

iPhones only listen in with a short buffer for the “Hey Siri” wake-up call, and queries to the virtual assistant are not shared with third parties.

“Unlike other similar services, which associate and store historical voice utterances in identifiable form,” the answer goes on, throwing shade all the while, “Siri utterances, which include the audio trigger and the remainder of the Siri command, are tied to a random device identifier, not a user’s Apple ID.” This identifier can be reset at any time (turn Siri and Dictation off and on again) and any data associated with it will disappear as well.

Apple has its flaws, but its privacy settings are thankfully not among them. It’s true what it says: it’s not a data-monger like Google or Facebook, and has no need to personally profile its users the way Amazon does. It may sell increasingly iffy hardware at truly eye-popping prices, and it may have lost its design edge (been a while now), but at least it isn’t, in this sense at least, evil by nature.

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Why Elon Musk can get away with tweeting about Tesla's business plans

Tesla CEO Elon Musk does things a bit differently.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk does things a bit differently.
Image: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

It certainly felt like a whim or marijuana-infused trolling, but Elon Musk’s tweet Tuesday morning about taking his now-publicly traded electric car company private is just how the Tesla CEO operates.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has a social media policy in place to make sure companies don’t mess with stocks or use social platforms to post information that can only be seen by a select few, like a private Facebook group or DM. But Elon Musk will always be Elon Musk — meaning he does what he wants. And even though Musk’s tweet was unprecedented, it didn’t technically break the rules.

“This is something different that we’re not used to seeing,” University of Pennsylvania Law School professor of business law Jill Fisch said in a phone call. Using Twitter to share information is pretty much like issuing a press release with the same information, she reasoned. Sure it affects the customer-investor feedback loop with its rapid-fire and nearly real-time pace, but “it’s something markets have to get used to,” Fisch said.

The tweet isn’t a formal announcement about buying out shareholders; it’s more like a public sharing-session mulling possibilities about the company’s future. But as we saw, that tweet affected the price of Tesla’s stock and led to a brief trading halt. This afternoon Tesla was up to $379, or 11 percent.

It’s hard to find other companies that toy with the Twitter megaphone to the degree Tesla does through Musk’s fingertips. Sure, Twitter used Twitter to announce its IPO, but couched its post in an SEC-friendly way. It wasn’t fanning the flames.

Compare that to Musk’s blunt tweet. He did away with legalities or formalities, while seriously hedging his word choice: considering. As a letter to employees later explained, this is a possibility, not something final.

Only if Musk is straight-up lying about his plans does this become problematic, Fisch said. The SEC will still probably look into this just to make sure everything is kosher. But if this was all an elaborate ploy, we’ll know soon enough.

Business consultant Alex Vorobieff sees the tweet as a piece of a long-building plan to throw off Tesla’s short traders. Musk has been very vocal about his disdain for those shorting his company. He brought it up in today’s email to employees and back in May to justify his strange behavior on an earnings call. 

Vorobieff also noted how Twitter is becoming a platform known to affect markets. Look at Donald Trump and his effect on companies‘ stocks just from tweeting about them. Fisch spotlighted Trump as well to show how Twitter is “an evolving area” for how leaders communicate. 

Eric Schiffer, CEO and chairman of The Patriarch Organization and Reputation Management Consultants, said in a call that to him Musk’s online behavior shows why Tesla should go private. “In doing these grossly unorthodox behaviors it’s painful for investors that are looking for a steward that is careful and rational in their communication,” he said. He echoed Fisch and noted the tweet is “highly unusual” but allowed. 

Schiffer sees Musk as a big-picture, or “marathon,” leader and he’s not used to “running a sprint” for a publicly traded company. Going private is not as surprising as it seems since it’s better suited to Musk’s style. 

Like Fisch, Schiffer said there has to be some legitimacy to what Musk said about securing funding and taking Tesla private — even if it’s thin and exaggerated. 

So Musk may be seriously considering privatization, but he’s taking a new approach to broadcasting his plans and running a business. Guess we should’ve seen that coming.

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