Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it

Verizon is cutting off access to its mobile customers’ real-time locations to two third-party data brokers “to prevent misuse of that information going forward.” The company announced the decision in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who along with others helped reveal improper usage and poor security at these location brokers. It is not, however, getting out of the location-sharing business altogether. Verizon sold bulk access to its customers’ locations to the brokers in question, LocationSmart and Zumigo, which then turned around and resold that data to dozens of other companies. This isn’t necessarily bad — there are tons of times when location is necessary to provide a service the customer asks for, and supposedly that customer would have to okay the sharing of that data. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch. This does not affect our coverage.) That doesn’t seem to have
Continue reading "Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it"

Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it

Verizon is cutting off access to its mobile customers’ real-time locations to two third-party data brokers “to prevent misuse of that information going forward.” The company announced the decision in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who along with others helped reveal improper usage and poor security at these location brokers. It is not, however, getting out of the location-sharing business altogether. Verizon sold bulk access to its customers’ locations to the brokers in question, LocationSmart and Zumigo, which then turned around and resold that data to dozens of other companies. This isn’t necessarily bad — there are tons of times when location is necessary to provide a service the customer asks for, and supposedly that customer would have to okay the sharing of that data. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch. This does not affect our coverage.) That doesn’t seem to have
Continue reading "Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it"

What’s under those clothes? This system tracks body shapes in real time

With augmented reality coming in hot and depth tracking cameras due to arrive on flagship phones, the time is right to improve how computers track the motions of people they see — even if that means virtually stripping them of their clothes. A new computer vision system that does just that may sound a little creepy, but it definitely has its uses. The basic problem is that if you’re going to capture a human being in motion, say for a movie or for an augmented reality game, there’s a frustrating vagueness to them caused by clothes. Why do you think motion capture actors have to wear those skintight suits? Because their JNCO jeans make it hard for the system to tell exactly where their legs are. Leave them in the trailer. Same for anyone wearing a dress, a backpack, a jacket — pretty much anything other than the bare minimum
Continue reading "What’s under those clothes? This system tracks body shapes in real time"

SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation

There’s a great deal of activity in the fields of speech recognition and the “Internet of Things,” but one natural application of the two has gone relatively unpursued: helping the deaf and hard of hearing take part in everyday conversations. SpeakSee aims to do this (after crowdfunding, naturally) with a clever hardware design that minimizes setup friction and lets everyone communicate naturally. It’s meant to be used in situations where someone hard of hearing needs to talk with a handful of others — a meeting, a chat at dinner, asking directions and so on. There are speech-to-text apps out there that can transcribe what someone is saying, but they’re not really suited to the purpose. “Many deaf people experienced a huge barrier in asking people to download the app and hold the phone close to their mouth. These limitations in the interface meant no one kept using it,” explained
Continue reading "SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation"

Facebook’s new AI research is a real eye-opener

There are plenty of ways to manipulate photos to make you look better, remove red eye or lens flare, and so on. But so far the blink has proven a tenacious opponent of good snapshots. That may change with research from Facebook that replaces closed eyes with open ones in a remarkably convincing manner. It’s far from the only example of intelligent “in-painting,” as the technique is called when a program fills in a space with what it thinks belongs there. Adobe in particular has made good use of it with its “context-aware fill,” allowing users to seamlessly replace undesired features, for example a protruding branch or a cloud, with a pretty good guess at what would be there if it weren’t. But some features are beyond the tools’ capacity to replace, one of which is eyes. Their detailed and highly variable nature make it particularly difficult for a system
Continue reading "Facebook’s new AI research is a real eye-opener"

Elizabeth Holmes reportedly steps down at Theranos after criminal indictment

Elizabeth Holmes has left her role as CEO of Theranos and has been charged with wire fraud, CNBC and others report. The company’s former president, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, was also indicted today by a grand jury. These criminal charges are separate from the civil ones filed in March by the SEC and already settled. Theranos’s general counsel, David Taylor, has been appointed CEO. What duty the position actually entails in the crumbling enterprise is unclear. Holmes, meanwhile, remains chairman of the board.

The FBI Special Agent in Charge of the case against Theranos, John Bennett, said the company engaged in “a corporate conspiracy to defraud financial investors,” and “misled doctors and patients about the reliability of medical tests that endangered health and lives.” This story is developing. I’ve asked Theranos for comment and will

Continue reading "Elizabeth Holmes reportedly steps down at Theranos after criminal indictment"

Judge says ‘literal but nonsensical’ Google translation isn’t consent for police search

Machine translation of foreign languages is undoubtedly a very useful thing, but if you’re going for anything more than directions or recommendations for lunch, its shallowness is a real barrier. And when it comes to the law and constitutional rights, a “good enough” translation doesn’t cut it, a judge has ruled. The ruling (PDF) is not hugely consequential, but it is indicative of the evolving place in which translation apps find themselves in our lives and legal system. We are fortunate to live in a multilingual society, but for the present and foreseeable future it seems humans are still needed to bridge language gaps. The case in question involved a Mexican man named Omar Cruz-Zamora, who was pulled over by cops in Kansas. When they searched his car, with his consent, they found quite a stash of meth and cocaine, which naturally led to his arrest. But there’s a catch:
Continue reading "Judge says ‘literal but nonsensical’ Google translation isn’t consent for police search"

Machines learn language better by using a deep understanding of words

Computer systems are getting quite good at understanding what people say, but they also have some major weak spots. Among them is the fact that they have trouble with words that have multiple or complex meanings. A new system called ELMo adds this critical context to words, producing better understanding across the board. To illustrate the problem, think of the word “queen.” When you and I are talking and I say that word, you know from context whether I’m talking about Queen Elizabeth, or the chess piece, or the matriarch of a hive, or RuPaul’s Drag Race. This ability of words to have multiple meanings is called polysemy. And really, it’s the rule rather than the exception. Which meaning it is can usually be reliably determined by the phrasing — “God save the queen!” versus “I saved my queen!” — and of course all this informs the
Continue reading "Machines learn language better by using a deep understanding of words"

AI edges closer to understanding 3D space the way we do

If I show you single picture of a room, you can tell me right away that there’s a table with a chair in front of it, they’re probably about the same size, about this far from each other, with the walls this far away — enough to draw a rough map of the room. Computer vision systems don’t have this intuitive understanding of space, but the latest research from DeepMind brings them closer than ever before. The new paper from the Google -owned research outfit was published today in the journal Science (complete with news item). It details a system whereby a neural network, knowing practically nothing, can look at one or two static 2D images of a scene and reconstruct a reasonably accurate 3D representation of it. We’re not talking about going from snapshots to full 3D images (Facebook’s working on that) but rather replicating the intuitive and
Continue reading "AI edges closer to understanding 3D space the way we do"

Feast your eyes on these uniquely beautiful indie games from E3

The AAA games on display at E3 this year have, as usual, an amazing array of beautiful, nearly photorealistic graphics — and while they’re amazing in their own way, I always find it fun to highlight a few games that take a totally different approach to their art. Here are a few that caught my eye this time around. Sable is a “coming-of-age tale of discovery” set in an open world that you can explore at your own pace. The overall look of the place is rather Journey-esque, but there’s also a shade of Hyper Light Drifter in the environments. Most interesting of all, however, is the visual effect that makes the whole thing look rather like a comic book by Moebius. The effect is a bit hit or miss — some details can end up warping or looking odd — but overall it’s extremely arresting and definitely set the
Continue reading "Feast your eyes on these uniquely beautiful indie games from E3"

Seattle reverses controversial tax Amazon opposed, just a month after approving it

In an embarrassing and mystifying about-face, the Seattle City Council has repealed a tax it passed unanimously just a month ago that would require large companies to pay a fixed amount per employee; the money would have been used to combat homelessness. Amazon was the most high-profile opponent of the tax, but not the only one by far, and apparently the Council decided that fighting the business community was “not a winnable battle.” The situation was in some ways a microcosm for government and grassroots efforts to wrangle with the extremely complex relationship between the growth of tech and various housing crises. I won’t attempt to characterize it here, but Seattle had come to the conclusion that if your company had more than $20 million in receipts, it could afford to pay $275 (down from a proposed $500) per employee per year. That would have been some $11 million
Continue reading "Seattle reverses controversial tax Amazon opposed, just a month after approving it"

Luminar rolls out its development platform and scores Volvo partnership and investment

The wizards in lidar tech at Luminar are doubling down on the practical side of autonomous car deployment with a partnership with and investment from Volvo, as well as a new “perception development platform” that helps squeeze every last drop out of its laser-based imagery. Volvo Cars has been one of the big investors in autonomous vehicles, and while they have produced some cars equipped for driverless operation, the company seems to understand that this is a very long game it’s playing. There’s more to it than just slapping some sensors on a production vehicle and sending it on its way. Part of that long game is picking winners in the industry, as well, and Volvo seems to be confident that Luminar, whose lidar tech is in many ways leaps and bounds beyond the competition, will be among them. Volvo’s recently established Tech Fund has made an investment in Luminar
Continue reading "Luminar rolls out its development platform and scores Volvo partnership and investment"

Valve sets sights on Discord with updates to Steam Chat

Discord has risen among the ranks of gamers as the most common choice for game-related communications. And it’s easy to see why: it works well and the competition is pretty dismal. But Valve is looking to keep users in-house with an overhaul of the chat options on its game platform Steam . It’s a welcome change, one of many that Steam’s users have surely been asking for — the platform, while convenient in many ways, is also incredibly outdated in others. The friend and communications options may as well be ICQ, and let’s not get started on the browser. Today’s news suggests that Valve has not failed to hear gamers’ cries. The revamped chat is very Discord-like, with text and voice channels listed separately, in-game details like map and game type listed next to friends and a useful quick list for your go-to gaming partners. There’s also a robust web client.
Continue reading "Valve sets sights on Discord with updates to Steam Chat"

Gaming leans into diversity at E3, but not hard

To say the gaming community is not known for its friendliness to women and minority groups is something of an understatement. But we’re starting to see developers abandon the usual excuses of tradition, demographics and, the most absurd of all, “realism,” in favor of making gaming more inclusive. Kind of. This has been an ongoing theme for years, of course. But it feels like this year it was a little less self-congratulatory and a little more self-motivated. The fun started early, well ahead of E3, with the apparently devastatingly diverse front lines in Battlefield V, which takes place during World War II. The predictable objections as to “historical accuracy” appeared — unironic, despite the utter lack of historical accuracy in pretty much any of these games. The way the war was fought, the locations and situations, the weapons and vehicles have all been liberally massaged to turn the worst thing
Continue reading "Gaming leans into diversity at E3, but not hard"

Facebook says it gave ‘identical support’ to Trump and Clinton campaigns

Facebook’s hundreds of pages of follow-ups to Senators make for decidedly uninteresting reading. Give lawyers a couple months and they will always find a way to respond non-substantively to the most penetrating questions. One section may at least help put a few rumors to rest about Facebook’s role in the 2016 Presidential campaigns, though of course much is still left to the imagination. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), whose dogged questioning managed to put Mark Zuckerberg on his back foot during the questioning, had several pages of questions sent over afterwards. Among the many topics was that of the 2016 campaign and reports that Facebook employees were “embedded” in the Trump campaign specifically, as claimed by the person who ran the digital side of that campaign. This has raised questions as to whether Facebook was offering some kind of premium service to one candidate or another, or whether one candidate got
Continue reading "Facebook says it gave ‘identical support’ to Trump and Clinton campaigns"

The messy, musical process behind the web’s new security standard

The web is a big place, and changing the way it works isn’t a simple process. But it has to happen somehow or we’d all still be using Mosaic and transmitting our private data in cleartext. A new security standard called TLS 1.3 is the latest big change to how our browsers communicate, but the process by which it was created is a little weirder and less structured than you might think. “Anyone can participate from anywhere. There’s no cost — you can just send your stuff in,” said Sean Turner of the Internet Engineers Task Force, an official sort of collective that evaluates new standards for the web and decrees them best practices. Turner and Joe Salowey, whom I spoke with after the standard was approved, are co-chairs of the Working Group that put together TLS 1.3 that upends years of security practices — all for the
Continue reading "The messy, musical process behind the web’s new security standard"

LifeDoor crowdfunds the production version of its fire-thwarting door-closer

At CES in January I was pleasantly surprised by the LifeDoor, a smart home gadget that’s actually worth having. These little boxes automatically close doors when smoke detectors go off, inhibiting the spread of fire and smoke. The company is heading to KickStarter to fund the production version of the device, which has several improvements over the prototype I saw. The simplicity and practicality of the device made it a standout at a show flooded with useless junk; the small team essentially made a gadget that automatically does what firefighters all insist you do: close the door in case of fire. That can be hard to remember to do or enforce, but the LifeDoor makes it so you don’t have to do either. Installation, on any standard door hinge, shouldn’t take longer than a minute or two. It doesn’t detect smoke or heat, but rather lets your smoke detectors
Continue reading "LifeDoor crowdfunds the production version of its fire-thwarting door-closer"

What to expect now that net neutrality is finally dead: A whole lot of nothing

Today is the day that, after months of delays, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality finally takes effect. But if you’re expecting broadband providers to suddenly feast on their customers and institute every now-legal impediment they can on free expression, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. What comes next isn’t internet hell but legal purgatory. First, the technical aspect of things: Restoring Internet Freedom, the FCC rule that officially does away with 2015’s Open Internet Order, was proposed last April, finalized in November, passed in December, entered into the Federal Register in February, approved by the Office of Management and Budget in May — and today, finally takes effect. Chairman Ajit Pai put a cap on it with an opinion piece retreading the same tired arguments from the last two years. But the official rulemaking process is only part of the story. It’s worth noting that basically
Continue reading "What to expect now that net neutrality is finally dead: A whole lot of nothing"

This box sucks pure water out of dry desert air

For many of us, clean, drinkable water comes right out of the tap. But for billions it’s not that simple, and all over the world researchers are looking into ways to fix that. Today brings work from Berkeley, where a team is working on a water-harvesting apparatus that requires no power and can produce water even in the dry air of the desert. Hey, if a cactus can do it, why can’t we? While there are numerous methods for collecting water from the air, many require power or parts that need to be replaced; what professor Omar Yaghi has developed needs neither. The secret isn’t some clever solar concentrator or low-friction fan — it’s all about the materials. Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water. It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in
Continue reading "This box sucks pure water out of dry desert air"

Zoetrope effect could render Hyperloop tubes transparent to riders

An optical illusion popular in the 19th century could make trips on the Hyperloop appear to take place in a transparent tube. Regularly spaced, narrow windows wouldn’t offer much of a view individually, but if dozens of them pass by every second an effect would be created like that of a zoetrope, allowing passengers to effectively see right through the walls. It’s an official concept from Virgin Hyperloop One and design house Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and in fact was teased back in 2016. Now the companies have shared a video showing how it would work and what it would look like for passengers — though there’s no indication it would actually be put in place in the first tracks. A zoetrope is a simple apparatus consisting of a cylinder with slits on the sides and a series of sequential or looping images printed on the inside. When the
Continue reading "Zoetrope effect could render Hyperloop tubes transparent to riders"