Overwatch League events expand beyond LA in 2019


Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

To date, Overwatch League matches have taken place in Blizzard’s own venue in Los Angeles. It’s a special experience, but likely off-limits if you live on the other side of the continent or another country. For the 2019 season, though, you might not have to travel quite so far… or travel at all. Blizzard has announced that the new season will include home games in the form of Homestand Weekend series. Atlanta Reign, Dallas Fuel and LA Valiant fans can watch their teams play as part of a series of matches in two-day events.

The events start with Dallas on April 27th and 28th, followed by Atlanta on July 6th and 7th. Despite the proximity to the Blizzard Arena, the LA Valiant series will take place at The Novo by Microsoft on August 24th and August 25th. Blizzard is promising further details and tickets “at a later date.”

The 2019 season itself kicks off February 14th with a four-day series of matches, including a rematch between Grand Finals competitors London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion.

This likely won’t please you if you live outside the US, although there have been exhibition matches in other countries. Even so, it’s a start. It also reflects Blizzard’s long-term esports ambitions. It effectivley wants the Overwatch League to behave more like a conventional sports league, complete with home games that foster connections to specific teams.

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Facebook makes an even bigger deal of your 'Life Events'


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Big milestones deserve big announcements, which is why Facebook is giving its Life Events feature a revamp. Previously, when you added a Life Event such as an engagement, new job or birth of a child (or anything you deem noteworthy enough), you could choose an icon to represent the significance of your update. Now, you can include photos and videos, too. Don’t have a photo? Facebook will let you include animated art instead, or the profile photos of people and pages involved in the post.

And you can be sure your friends won’t miss your news, either, as Facebook will send them notifications about certain events, such as changes to your current city, work, education or relationship status (although you can turn these off if you don’t want your news broadcast to everyone).

Finally, Life Events are now highlighted in a dedicated section on profiles, which is handy for not only learning more about your friends, but for jogging your memory over the life events you really shouldn’t have forgotten about (kids’ birthdays, anniversaries and so on). But if you’d rather keep some things quiet, you can hide Life Events with a single tap. Make sure you have the latest version of Facebook installed to try it out.

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Twitter’s Jack Dorsey: ‘I don’t know enough’ about Myanmar


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Twitter chief Jack Dorsey came under fire earlier this week when he posted a series of tone deaf tweets celebrating his recent birthday retreat in Myanmar, a country ravaged by political violence and whose government is accused of widespread genocide and ethnic cleansing. Now, he’s responded to criticism of his tweets — where he encouraged people to visit Myanmar to experience the people who were “full of joy” — claiming that he didn’t mean to undermine the “human rights atrocities and suffering” in the country.

Dorsey claims that he visited the country with the “singular objective of working on myself,” and while he says he is “aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar,” he says he doesn’t “view visiting, practicing, or talking with the people, as endorsement.” Then in a not-apology apology, he adds, “[I] could have acknowledged that I don’t know enough and need to learn more.” He’s also careful to point out that Twitter was “actively” working in Myanmar to ensure it was not used as a platform for “violent extremism and hateful conduct.”

The political situation in Myanmar has proven challenging for social media companies all around. Facebook has been accused of helping to spread hate speech within the country, and independent reports have confirmed that while the social network wasn’t the root cause of rising tensions, it played a role in amplifying calls to violence. Given the headlines surrounding Facebook’s cluelessness, many would be surprised that Dorsey could make such an insensitive blunder. However, given Twitter’s inconsistent attitude towards hate speech, some would say it’s quite an apt reflection of the company.

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Office 365 for Mac now supports Dark Mode

As promised, Office 365 is ready to wring more out of macOS Mojave. Microsoft has updated the Mac version of its subscription productivity suite with several helpful features, two of which are tied to Apple’s latest software. The obvious one is Dark Mode support — you won’t strain your eyes quite so badly if you’re writing a school essay at night. And if you need to quickly add a photo to your presentation, PowerPoint now supports Mojave’s Continuity Camera feature to let you directly import pictures from your iPhone or iPad.

Not every feature is tied to Mojave. PowerPoint can make grammar and writing style suggestions on top of pointing out spelling errors. Word can embed fonts to preserve the look of your text across devices. And if you use Outlook for email, you can share your calendar, show multiple time zones, use Teams to connect to meetings, see meeting attendees and even prevent forwarding for meeting invitations. In short: this might be a vital upgrade even if you’re not in a rush to adopt the latest macOS release.

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Shocking deaths top Google's trending searches in 2018


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As is the annual tradition, Google has released its list of top trending searches for the year. If 2018 was dominated by anything, it was untimely and unexpected celebrity deaths. The top 10 trending searches included DJ and musician Avicii, rapper Mac Miller, legendary comics creator Stan Lee, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, controversial rapper XXXTentacion, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and fashion designer Kate Spade — all of whom passed away during the year.

The way Google calculates its top trends isn’t by volume of total searches but rather by the increase in interest from 2017 to 2018 in a specific topic. As a result, most of the top results are big stories and events that came out of nowhere or only happen every few years. The 2018 World Cup in Russia was the top trending search overall, proving the event doesn’t count on the US to generate interest. Other one-time occurrences — Hurricane Florence and Michael, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — were all present in the top 10 for the year’s trending events.

One sure-fire way to get on the end of the year trending searches list: be surrounded by controversy. Justice Kavanaugh and Stormy Daniels were among the trendiest people overall, and the top search getters in any given category typically had some sort of strife in their lives this year. Rapper and walking felony charge 6ix9ine was among the most popular musicians of the year and Logan Paul was the top-trending actor (an interesting categorization choice by Google for the YouTuber). Tristan Thompson, an otherwise forgettable NBA player on a massive contract, managed to be the top trending athlete not because of his prowess on the court but for cheating on Khloe Kardashian — who also happened to be one of the most trendy searches of the year.

You can view Google’s full list of trends for 2018 here. There are plenty of other year in reviews to check out as well, from Twitter to Pornhub.

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NSA official: China is preparing for possible high-profile hacks


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NSA official Rob Joyce told guests at a Wall Street Journal security conference that hacking-related Chinese activity had been climbing in recent months. He was concerned the country was “prepositioning” itself to attack “critical infrastructure” such as energy, health care, finance and transportation. China’s hacking as of late has revolved around spying and swiping trade secrets, so this would be out of the norm.

It’s not certain exactly what would prompt an escalation, although there are multiple possible factors. China and the US have been engaged in a trade war in recent months. And while it happened too recently to play into Joyce’s remarks, the arrest of Huawei’s CFO hasn’t exactly helped diplomatic relations.

While hard facts supporting the charges are hard to find, that’s not slowing down the rhetoric. Reuters sources said American prosecutors are close to charging Chinese residents for participating in a digital spying campaign that targeted tech providers and their customers. Tonight the New York Times reported that preliminary results of an investigation into the Marriott/Starwood hacking incident suggests it was part of a Chinese intelligence operation. China has routinely denied conducting any hacking attempts, and Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said to the NYT that: “China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law.”

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Congress grills Google CEO over Chinese search engine plans


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If you were hoping that Google chief Sundar Pichai would shed more light on his company’s potential censored search engine for China… well, you’ll mostly be disappointed. Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline grilled Pichai on the recently acknowledged Dragonfly project and mostly encountered attempts to downplay the significance of the engine. The Google exec stressed there were “no plans” to launch a search engine for China, and that Dragonfly was an “internal effort” and “limited” in scope.

Pichai added that Google was “currently not in discussions” with Chinese officials. He also provided a non-committal answer when asked if Google would promise not to create a tool enabling Chinese surveillance. “It’s in our duty to explore possibilities, to give users access to information,” he said.

The responses aren’t completely surprising. Pichai had previously characterized Dragonfly as an exploratory project, and that he thought it was important to take a “longer-term view” that considered the value of deeper and more accurate information for Chinese internet users. His testimony is consistent with that perspective and gives the company the freedom to either rollout Dragonfly or quietly shelve it if the backlash is too strong to ignore.

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US border officers don't always delete collected traveler data


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Privacy advocates aren’t just concerned about warrantless device searches at the border because of the potential for deliberate abuse — it’s that the officials might be reckless. And unfortunately, there’s evidence this is the case in the US. Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General has released audit findings showing that Customs and Border Protection officers didn’t properly follow data handling procedures in numerous instances, increasing the chances for data leaks and hurting accountability.

Most notably, border officers conducting advanced searches (that is, where they transfer data for analysis) didn’t always delete traveler information after they’d moved it to CBP servers. There were USB thumb drives with old search data at three out of five ports of entry studied, the Inspector General’s Office said. There also didn’t appear to be a written policy for scrubbing data despite trainers telling officers to delete everything.

The study also showed that agents didn’t always disable networking on devices to ensure they were only accessing local data. Moreover, out of 194 electronic media search reports auditors studied, 67 percent (130) had one or more problems. Officers would write vague or inaccurate descriptions, for instance. The CBP division governing field officers also didn’t renew search tool licenses on time, and didn’t have a way to measure the effectiveness of its advanced search pilot program.

The Inspector General’s Office unsurprisingly recommended fixes for all these issues, and CBP estimated that it would have solutions (including tighter monitoring and performance tracking) by June 30th, 2019 in most cases. Overseers said they wouldn’t be happy until there was evidence CBP had mended its ways, but the plan to change is a start — if also long overdue when device searches are on the rise.

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Walmart opens its first online store in Japan


Wakako Iguchi/Nikkei

Walmart has opened its first online store in Japan with the help of local e-commerce giant Rakuten. Over 1,200 items will be available to Japanese customers on the “Walmart Rakuten Ichiba Store,” including clothing, outdoor items and toys from US brands. It marks the latest step in the duo’s strategic alliance, announced in January, which also spans an online grocery delivery service in Japan and the sale of e-readers, audiobooks and e-books from Rakuten-owned Kobo in the US.

The new store is hosted on the Rakuten Ichiba digital “shopping mall” — the country’s largest e-commerce site. Walmart will fulfil orders in the US and ship them directly to customers in Japan, with shipping, duties, and taxes bundled into the product price. It’s also tapping its subsidiary Seiyu GK, a local supermarket chain that also handles its online grocery service, to provide customer support.

The move is clearly Walmart’s latest play to capture more of the Japanese e-commerce market, which is estimated to be worth 16.5 trillion yen ($148 billion) per year. While rival Amazon has found success in the country, Walmart still appears to be floundering. In July, Japan’s Nikkei reported it was scouting buyers for Seiyu as it looked to shift its international business with investments in China and India. Walmart refused to comment on the rumors.

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