Glass graduates from Google X as it scores new hardware update

Google’s head-worn smart display, Google Glass, in finally ready to move the tassel.

After defining the company’s far-flung connected dreams when it was first announced in 2013, the enterprise-refocused headset is graduating from the X moonshot factory with a new hardware update that aims to make it more approachable for companies.

After a soft consumer tease that was buzz-worthy if not laughably pre-mature, Google Glass Enterprise Edition was announced two years ago and the dedicated group has been plugging along since then courting businesses to hop on board.

The design of Glass Enterprise Edition 2 doesn’t appear to be radically different from its predecessor, but under the hood there are some noteworthy changes, namely the platform now runs on Android and Android Enterprise Mobile Device Management. Those changes alone are probably enough for enterprise customers to move from the non-starter camp to giving it a first look.

The software upgrades are made possible by the headset’s transition to Qualcomm’s AR/VR-focused XR1 chipset. The company also says the new headset has “improved camera performance and quality” as well as USB-C connectivity.

Compared to something like Microsoft’s HoloLens, the Glass Enterprise Edition 2 is much more limited in capabilities but focuses on giving users easy hands-free access to information in their periphery.

The Glass team joins Google’s AR/VR team and marks another key point in the company’s gradual pivot away from driving to the consumer hoop. In the past year, Google has minimized product updates to its consumer VR platform, while shuttering some groups focused on creative content production and refocusing efforts on enterprise and consumer products more heavily leveraging machine learning.

With its move from X, the Glass team joins projects like Waymo, Wing and Loon that also proved worthy of moving deeper inside Google.

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On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.

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China overtakes U.S. in smart speaker market share

The U.S. no longer leads the smart speaker market, according to new data from Canalys out this morning, which found China’s smart speaker shipments grew by 500 percent in Q1 2019 to overtake the U.S. and achieve a 51 percent market share.

The firm said shipments in China reached 10.6 million units which was driven by “festive promotions.”

More specifically, Baidu had a huge quarter thanks to an exclusive sponsorship deal with China’s national TV channel, CCTV, on its New Year’s Gala on Chinese New Year’s Eve — one of the biggest entertainment shows in terms of viewer numbers. This promotion prompted users to download the Baidu app, which distributed over 100 million coupons to an audience of 1.2 billion during the show, and drove awareness around the brand’s smart speakers, Canalys says.

In Q1, Baidu shipped 3.3 million speakers — putting it in third place behind Amazon’s 4.6 million and Google’s 3.5 million. Alibaba and Xiaomi followed, each with 3.2 million shipments, also driven by Chinese New Year promotions.

“The lightning fast development in China is largely driven by vendors pouring in large amount of capital to achieve dominant share quickly,” noted Nicole Peng, VP of Mobility at Canalys, in a statement. “This strategy is favoured by internet service providers like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent who are used to spending billions on traffic acquisition and know how to reach critical installed base fast.”

Other brands, combined, accounted for a further 2.9 million shipments. That includes Apple’s HomePod, whose market share was so small it got wrapped into this “Other” section instead of being broken out on its own.

With 10.6 million units, China topped the U.S. 5 million units shipped and brought its market share up to 51 percent, while the U.S. dropped from 44 percent in Q4 2018 to 24 percent in Q1 2019.

Overall, the global smart speaker market returned to triple digit annual growth of 131 percent in the quarter, reaching 20.7 million total Q1 shipments — up from just 9 million in the first quarter of 2018.

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Google's next-gen Glass eyewear lasts longer and runs on Android

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The third generation of Google Glass has arrived for tech-savvy workers. Google has introduced Glass Enterprise Edition 2 eyewear that largely sticks to the familiar formula on the outside, but should be far more powerful both in hardware and software. For one, it’s “built on Android” — it should be easier for developers to write Glass-friendly apps, and you can even enroll it in Android’s enterprise device management to help IT maintain control. Creators might want to write apps for it, too, since there are some big changes under the hood.

The new version is running on Qualcomm’s headset-oriented Snapdragon XR1 processor. That brings faster performance, particularly for AI, but it also promises “significant power savings” that lead to longer battery life — important when you might need Glass for hours at a time. Google also touts “improved” camera quality for video streaming and collaboration. True to earlier reports, there’s also a USB-C port that can charge faster.

Warehouse workers and others in dangerous situations will also be happy to hear that Google has teamed with Smith Optics to create Glass-ready safety frames (shown above) for a range of work conditions.

Google hasn’t mentioned pricing, although that’s more likely to depend on companies. You’re not about to buy one for personal use. The Android switch and upgraded hardware could do wonders for adoption, though. Earlier models relied on a custom platform and old hardware that might have put off companies faced with the challenge of writing (or rewriting) apps. Now, the experience should be closer to writing an app for a phone. You still aren’t going to see these on the street, but you may see more uptake from corporate customers who want smart eyepieces without splurging on a mixed reality headset like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2.

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GDPR adtech complaints keep stacking up in Europe

It’s a year since Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force and leaky adtech is now facing privacy complaints in four more European Union markets. This ups the tally to seven markets where data protection authorities have been urged to investigate a core function of behavioral advertising.

The latest clutch of GDPR complaints aimed at the real-time bidding (RTB) system have been filed in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.

All the complaints argue that RTB entails “wide-scale and systemic” breaches of Europe’s data protection regime, as personal date harvested to profile Internet users for ad-targeting purposes is broadcast widely to bidders in the adtech chain. The complaints have implications for key adtech players, Google and the Internet Advertising Bureau, which set RTB standards used by other in the online adverting pipeline.

We’ve reached out to Google and IAB Europe for comment on the latest complaints. (The latter’s original response statement to the complaint can be found here, behind its cookie wall.)

The first RTB complaints were filed in the UK and Ireland, last fall, by Dr Johnny Ryan of private browser Brave; Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group; and Michael Veale, a data and policy researcher at University College London.

A third complaint went in to Poland’s DPA in January, filed by anti-surveillance NGO, the Panoptykon Foundation.

The latest four complaints have been lodged in Spain by Gemma Galdon Clavell (Eticas Foundation) and Diego Fanjul (Finch); David Korteweg (Bits of Freedom) in the Netherlands; Jef Ausloos (University of Amsterdam) and Pierre Dewitte (University of Leuven) in Belgium; and Jose Belo (Exigo Luxembourg).

Earlier this year a lawyer working with the complainants said they’re expecting “a cascade of complaints” across Europe — and “fully expect an EU-wide regulatory response” give that the adtech in question is applied region-wide.

Commenting in a statement, Galdon Cavell, the CEO of Eticas, said: “We hope that this complaint sends a strong message to Google and those using Ad Tech solutions in their websites and products. Data protection is a legal requirement must be translated into practices and technical specifications.”

A ‘bug’ disclosed last week by Twitter illustrates the potential privacy risks around adtech, with the social networking platform revealing it had inadvertently shared some iOS users’ location data with an ad partner during the RTB process. (Less clear is who else might Twitter’s “trusted advertising partner” have passed people’s information to?)

The core argument underpinning the complaints is that RTB’s data processing is not secure — given the design of the system entails the broadcasting of (what can be sensitive and intimate) personal data of Internet users to all sorts of third parties in order to generate bids for ad space.

Whereas GDPR bakes in a requirement for personal data to be processed “in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data”. So, uh, spot the disconnect.

The latest RTB complaints assert personal data is broadcast via bid requests “hundreds of billions of times” per day — which it describes as “the most massive leakage of personal data recorded so far”.

While the complaints focus on security risks attached by default to leaky adtech, such a long chain of third parties being passed people’s data also raises plenty of questions over the validity of any claimed ‘consents’ for passing Internet users’ data down the adtech chain. (Related: A decision by the French CNIL last fall against a small local adtech player which it decided was unlawfully processing personal data obtained via RTB.)

This week will mark a year since GDPR came into force across the EU. And it’s fair to say that privacy complaints have been piling up, while enforcement actions — such as a $57M fine for Google from the French CNIL related to Android consent — remain far rarer.

One complexity with the RTB complaints is that the technology systems in question are both applied across EU borders and involve multiple entities (Google and the IAB). This means multiple privacy watchdogs need to work together to determine which of them is legally competent to address linked complaints that touch EU citizens in multiple countries.

Who leads can depend on where an entity has its main establishment in the EU and/or who is the data controller. If this is not clearly established it’s possible that various national actions could flow from the complaints, given the cross-border nature of the adtech — as in the CNIL decision against Android, for example. (Though Google made a policy change as of January 22, shifting its legal base for EU law enforcement to Google Ireland which looks intended to funnel all GDPR risk via the Irish DPC.)

The IAB Europe, meanwhile, has an office in Belgium but it’s not clear whether that’s the data controller in this case. Ausloos tells us that the Belgian DPA has already declared itself competent regarding the complaint filed against the IAB by the Panoptykon Foundation, while noting another possibility — that the IAB claims the data controller is IAB Tech Lab, based in New York — “in which case any and all DPAs across the EU would be competent”.

Veale also says different DPAs could argue that different parts of the IAB are in their jurisdiction. “We don’t know how the IAB structure really works, it’s very opaque,” he tells us.

The Irish DPC, which Google has sought to designate the lead watchdog for its European business, has said it will prioritize scrutiny of the adtech sector in 2019, referencing the RTB complaints in its annual report earlier this year — where it warned the industry: “the protection of personal data is a prerequisite to the processing of any personal data within this ecosystem and ultimately the sector must comply with the standards set down by the GDPR”.

There’s no update on how the UK’s ICO is tackling the RTB complaint filed in the UK as yet — but Veale notes they have a call today. (And we’ve reached out to the ICO for comment.)

So far the same RTB complaints have not been filed in France and Germany — jurisdictions with privacy watchdogs that can have a reputation for some of the most muscular action enforcing data protection in Europe.

Although the Belgian DPA’s recently elected new president is making muscular noises about GDPR enforcement, according to Ausloos — who cites a speech he made, post-election, saying the ‘time of sit back and relax’ is over. They made sure to reference these comments in the RTB complaint, he adds.

Veale suggests the biggest blocker to resolving the RTB complaints is that all the various EU watchdogs “need a vision of what the world looks like after they take a given action”.

In the meanwhile, the adtech complaints keep stacking up.

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