Call for smart home devices to bake in privacy safeguards for kids

A new research report has raised concerns about how in-home smart devices such as AI virtual voice assistants, smart appliances, and security and monitoring technologies could be gathering and sharing children’s data. It calls for new privacy measures to safeguard kids and make sure age appropriate design code is included with home automation technologies. The report, entitled Home Life Data and Children’s Privacy, is the work of Dr Veronica Barassi of Goldsmiths, University of London, who leads a research project at the university investigating the impact of big data and AI on family life. Barassi wants the UK’s data protection agency to launch a review of what she terms “home life data” — meaning the information harvested by smart in-home devices that can end up messily mixing adult data with kids’ information — to consider its impact on children’s privacy, and “put this concept at the heart of future
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Facebook named in suit alleging job ads on its platform unlawfully discriminated against women

Facebook’s ad platform is facing charges that it has enabled gender-based discrimination against millions of women in a class action suit filed on behalf of three female workers and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The legal action also names ten employers who are alleged to have used the social media giant’s platform to exclusively and unlawfully target job adverts at male Facebook users, thereby excluding women and non-binary users from receiving the ads. The ACLU, law firm Outten & Golden LLP, and the Communications Workers of America have filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The ten employers and employment agency advertisers named in the suit, which the charges allege ran discriminatory jobs in “mostly” male-dominated fields, include a police department, multiple retailers, a software development firm and various installation, repair and remodelling companies. (All ten named in the suit are listed in the ACLU’s press release.
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Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues. AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause. Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a
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Natural Cycles contraception app told to clarify pregnancy risks

A multi-month investigation by Sweden’s Medical Products Agency into a number of unwanted pregnancies among users of ‘digital contraception’ app Natural Cycles has been closed after the startup agreed to clarify the risk of the product failing. But, on the self-reported data front, the agency said it was satisfied the number of unwanted pregnancies is in line with Natural Cycles’ own clinical evaluations which are included in the certification documentation for the product. In its marketing and on its website Natural Cycles describes the app-based system as “93% effective under typical use” — a finding that’s based on a clinical study it conducted of more than 22,000 of its users. The investigation by Sweden’s MPA began around eight months ago, after a number of users in Natural Cycle’s home market had reported unwanted pregnancies to a local hospital — which then reported the app to the regulator. The Natural Cycles
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Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities. In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:
… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our
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The iPhone XR shows Apple admitting 3D Touch is a failure

Remember 3D Touch? Unless you’re a power iOS user you probably don’t. Or, well, you’d rather not. It’s been clear for some time now that the technology Apple lauded at its 2015 unveiling as the “next generation of multi-touch” most certainly wasn’t. For the mainstream iPhone user it’s just that annoying thing that gets in the way of what you’re actually trying to do. What Apple actually made with 3D Touch is the keyboard shortcut of multi-touch. Aka a secret weapon for nerds only. Pro geeks might be endlessly delighted about being able to learn the secrets of its hidden depths, and shave all-important microseconds off of their highly nuanced workflows. But everyone else ignores it. Or at least tries to ignore it — until, in the middle of trying to do something important they accidentally trigger it and get confused and annoyed about what their phone
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Uber drivers in Denmark could face fines for every ride they offered

The Danish Supreme Court has upheld large fines issued to several Uber drivers for operating without a taxi license, at a time when the ride-hailing giant was still running its non-licensed p2p driver UberPop service in the market. The decision could mean more than a thousand additional Uber drivers who sold rides in Denmark could also be faced with a big bill. The four drivers had appealed fines issues by the national court — of between DKK 40,000 (~$6,270) and DKK 486,500 (~$76,200) — but the Supreme Court judged the amounts to be appropriate. The level of fines is based on the number of Uber rides each driver carried out. In the case of the largest fine the unnamed individual had apparently run up 5,427 Uber rides. Uber drivers in Denmark have also faced demands for unpaid taxes this year, after Danish tax authorities found tax avoidance among almost all
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UK’s mass surveillance regime violated human rights law, finds ECHR

In another blow to the UK government’s record on bulk data handling for intelligence purposes the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that state surveillance practices violated human rights law. Arguments against the UK intelligence agencies’ bulk collection and data sharing practices were heard by the court in November last year. In today’s ruling the ECHR has ruled that only some aspects of the UK’s surveillance regime violate human rights law. So it’s not all bad news for the government — which has faced a barrage of legal actions (and quite a few black marks against its spying practices in recent years) ever since its love affair with mass surveillance was revealed and denounced by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, back in 2013. The judgement reinforces a sense that the government has been seeking to push as close to the legal line as possible on surveillance, and sometimes stepping
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Kano’s latest computer kit for kids doubles down on touch

Learn-to-code startup Kano, whose products aim to turn kids into digital makers, has taken the wraps off the latest incarnation of its build-it-yourself computer kit. With the new flagship Kano is doubling down on touch interactions — urging kids to “make your own tablet”. The Computer Kit Touch packs a 10.1″ HD touchscreen, along with Kano’s now familiar bright orange wireless keyboard which comes with a built in trackpad. While touch is becoming increasingly central to its products, Kano says the keyboard remains an important component of the product — supporting text-based coding apps which its platform also provides access to, as well as the more approachable drag-and-drop block-based coding systems that do really benefit from having a touchscreen to hand. The kit, which Kano says is generally (but not exclusively) aimed at the 6-13 age range, is on sale from today, priced at $279.99 — via its website
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So long then, iPhone home button…

… it was nice pressing you. Well, at least some of the thousands and thousands of times. Apple has finally abandoned a feature that’s been a staple of its smartphones since the very start, over a decade ago: A physical home button. The trio of almost-all-screen iPhones unboxed today at its Cupertino HQ go all in on looks and swipes, with nothing but a sensor-housing notch up top to detract from their smoothly shining faces.  Last year Apple only ditched the button on its premium iPhone X handset, retaining physical home buttons on cheaper iPhones. But this year it’s a clean sweep, with buttons dropped across the board. If you want to go home on the new iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max or iPhone Xr (as the trio of new iPhones are confusingly named) well, there’s a gesture for that: An up swipe from the bottom edge
more iPhone Event 2018 coverage
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Google gets more RCS messaging support from Samsung

Google has secured a bit more buy in from Samsung for a next generation text messaging standard it’s long been promoting. The Android OS maker’s hope for Rich Communication Services (RCS), which upgrades what SMS can offer to support richer comms and content swapping, can provide its fragmented Android ecosystem with a way to offer comparably rich native messaging — a la Apple’s iMessage on iOS. But it’s a major, major task given how many Android devices are out there. And Google needs the entire industry to step with it to support RCS (not just device makers but carriers too) if it’s going to achieve anything more than fiddling around the edges. Zooming out for a moment, the even bigger problem is the messaging ship has sailed, with massively popular platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram having already offloaded billions of users into their respective walled gardens, pulling the center of
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Job Today gets a $16M top up as it preps for Brexit bump

Accel-backed mobile-first jobs app Job Today has pulled in another $16M — an expansion to its November 2016 $20M Series B round. It raised a $10M Series A in January of the same year. The 2015 founded startup offers a mobile app for job seekers that does away with the need for a CV. Instead job seekers create a profile in the app and can apply to relevant jobs. Employers can then triage potential applicants via the app and chat to any they like the look of via its messaging platform. The approach has been especially popular with fast turnover jobs in the service industry, such as hospitality and retail. Job Today says it has more than five million job seekers registered on its platform, and claims to have delivered more than 100 million candidate applications to the 400,000+ predominantly small businesses posting jobs via the app to date (with
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European parliament gives thumbs up to controversial copyright reforms

The European Parliament has just voted to back controversial proposals to reform online copyright — including supporting an extension to cover snippets of publishers content (Article 11), and to make platforms that hold significant amounts of content liable for copyright violations by their users (Article 13).

Today’s plenary vote in the European parliament was on amended proposals that had been rejected by MEPs in a vote in July with parliamentarians arguing for a fuller debate and more balanced measures. The vote is a major victory for MEP Axel Voss who has been driving the copyright reform. MEPs largely backed Voss’ amended proposals today which had narrowed the scope of the rejected text, such as, in the case of Article 11,

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Integrate.ai pulls in $30M to help businesses make better customer-centric decisions

Helping businesses bring more firepower to the fight against AI-fuelled disruptors is the name of the game for Integrate.ai, a Canadian startup that’s announcing a $30M Series A today. The round is led by Portag3 Ventures . Other VCs include Georgian Partners, Real Ventures, plus other (unnamed) individual investors also participating. The funding will be used for a big push in the U.S. market. Integrate.ai’s early focus has been on retail banking, retail and telcos, says founder Steve Irvine, along with some startups which have data but aren’t necessarily awash with AI expertise to throw at it. (Not least because tech giants continue to hoover up talent.) Its SaaS platform targets consumer-centric businesses — offering to plug paying customers into a range of AI technologies and techniques to optimize their decision-making so they can respond more savvily to their customers. Aka turning “high volume consumer funnels”
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Europe to push for one-hour takedown law for terrorist content

The European Union’s executive body is doubling down on its push for platforms to pre-filter the Internet, publishing a proposal today for all websites to monitor uploads in order to be able to quickly remove terrorist uploads. The Commission handed platforms an informal one-hour rule for removing terrorist content back in March. It’s now proposing turning that into a law to prevent such content spreading its violent propaganda over the Internet. For now the ‘rule of thumb’ regime continues to apply. But it’s putting meat on the bones of its thinking, fleshing out a more expansive proposal for a regulation aimed at “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. As per usual EU processes, the Commission’s proposal would need to gain the backing of Member States and the EU parliament before it could be cemented into law. One major point to note here is that existing EU law does not
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Google back in court arguing against a global ‘right to be forgotten’

Google’s lawyers are in Europe’s top court today arguing against applying the region’s so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling globally domains, rather only geo-limiting delistings to European sub-domains (as it does now). The original rtbf ruling was also a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision. Back in 2014 the court ruled search engines must respect Europeans’ privacy rights, and — on request — remove erroneous, irrelevant and/or outdated information about a private citizen. Google was not at all happy with the judgement, and kicked off a major lobbying effort against it — enlisting help from free speech champions like Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales. But it also complied with the ruling, after a fashion (after all, it is EU law) — applying delistings on local domains but not across Google.com. Which means there’s a trivial workaround for circumventing EU law. That has displeased European data protection agencies — who say Google
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What you need to know ahead of the EU copyright vote

European Union lawmakers are facing a major vote on digital copyright reform proposals on Wednesday — a process that has set the Internet’s hair fully on fire. Here’s a run down of the issues and what’s at stake…

Article 13

The most controversial component of the proposals concerns user-generated content platforms such as YouTube, and the idea they should be made liable for copyright infringements committed by their users — instead of the current regime of takedowns after the fact (which locks rights holders into having to constantly monitor and report violations — y’know, at the same time as Alphabet’s ad business continues to roll around in dollars and eyeballs). Critics of the proposal argue that shifting the burden of rights liability onto platforms will flip them from champions to chillers of free speech, making them reconfigure their systems to accommodate the new level of business risk. More specifically they suggest
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Verizon declines to comment on WSJ report saying Tim Armstrong is in talks to leave Oath

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Tim Armstrong is in talks to leave Verizon as soon as next month. Armstrong heads up the carrier giant’s digital and advertising division, Oath (formerly AOL, prior to the Yahoo acquisition and the subsequent merger of the two units). Oath also happens to be TechCrunch’s parent, of course. We reached out to our corporate overlords for a confirm or deny on the newspaper report. A Verizon spokesperson told us: “We don’t comment on speculation and have no announcements to make.” The WSJ cites “people familiar with the matter” telling it Armstrong is in talks to leave, which would mean he’s set to step away from an ongoing process of combining the two business units into a digital content and ad tech giant. Though he has presided over several rounds of job cuts already, as part of that process. Verizon acquired Armstrong when
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Kry expands its telehealth service to France — under new brand, Livi

Swedish telehealth startup Kry, which bagged a $66M Series B in June for market expansion, is executing on that plan — announcing today it will launch into the French market on September 15. This will be the fourth market for the 2014 founded European startup, after its home market of Sweden, along with Norway and Spain. When we spoke to Kry in June it also said it was eyeing a UK launch, and it says now the country is “coming up next” on its launch map. Kry’s boast for its service is it lets patients ‘see’ a healthcare professional within 15 minutes — via a remote video consultation on their smartphone or tablet. It recruits doctors locally, in each market where it operates. The French launch introduces a new brand name for the service, which will be called Livi in the market. Livi will also be Kry’s brand for all markets
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ProtonMail names one of the attackers behind a major DDoS this summer

End-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail has named one of the attackers behind a sustained distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) it suffered earlier this summer. The attack took its email service offline for up to several minute long stretches at a time, even with mitigation measures in place. It says the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested the teenager, George Duke-Cohan, who was a member of a criminal group called Apophis Squad, late last month. “Earlier this week, the British National Crime Agency announced the arrest of George Duke-Cohan, also known by his aliases“7R1D3N7,”“DoubleParallax,” and, more recently, “optcz1,” it writes in a blog post published today. “At ProtonMail, we unfortunately have to face off against cyberattacks on a daily basis. Over the course of this summer, no fewer than five separate groups have been conducting attacks against ProtonMail. Duke-Cohan was a key member of Apophis Squad, a criminal group which
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