DeepMind hands off role as health app provider to parent Google

DeepMind’s recent foray into providing software as a service to U.K. hospitals has reached the end of its run.

The Google -owned AI division has just announced it will be stepping back from providing a clinical alerts and task management healthcare app to focus on research — handing off the team doing the day to day delivery of the Streams to its parent, Google. 

Announcing the move in a blog post entitled “Scaling Streams with Google,” DeepMind’s co-founders write: “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere — combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed

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Google’s Project Fi gets an improved VPN service

Google’s Project Fi wireless service is getting a major update today that introduces an optional always-on VPN service and a smarter way to switch between Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

By default, Fi already uses a VPN service to protect users when they connect to the roughly two million supported Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, Google is expanding this to cellular connections, as well. “When you enable our enhanced network, all of your mobile and Wi-Fi traffic will be encrypted and securely sent through our virtual private network (VPN) on every network you connect to, so you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that others can’t see your online activity,” the team writes in today’s announcement. Google notes that the VPN also shields all of your traffic from Google itself and that it isn’t tied to your Google account or phone number. The VPN is part of what Google calls its
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Poynt raises $100M for its smart payment terminal

Elavon, a U.S. Bank-owned payment processing company, and National Australia Bank have participated in the $100 million Series C for Poynt, a developer of smart payment terminals and an open operating system that powers any payment terminal worldwide.

Palo Alto-based Poynt was launched in 2014 by Osama Bedier, the former vice president of Wallet and Payments at Google. Prior to joining Google in 2011, Bedier had been the head of platform, mobile and new ventures at PayPal. In four years, Poynt has brought in a total of $133 million from backers such as Google Ventures, Matrix Partners, Oak HC/FT, Webb Investment Network and Nyca Partners. In the last 16 months, it has shipped some 150,000 terminals. The company says total payment volume will exceed $25 billion in the next year. “Our vision is to transform retail by becoming that innovation platform for payment terminals everywhere,” Bedier wrote in a statement. “We
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YouTube VR finally lands on the Oculus Go

Today, Google’s YouTube VR app arrives on the $199 Oculus Go, bringing the largest library of VR content on the web to Facebook’s entry-level VR device.

YouTube brings plenty of content in conventional and more immersive video types. It’s undoubtedly the biggest single hub of 360 content and native formats like VR180, though offering access to the library at large is probably far more important to the Oculus platform. One of the interesting things about Oculus’s strategy with the Go headset is that gaming turned out to be the minority use case following media consumption. If you find it hard to believe that so many people are out there binging on 360 videos it’s because they probably aren’t. Users have kind of co-opted the device’s capabilities to make it a conventional movie and TV viewing device, there are apps from Netflix and Hulu while Facebook has also built Oculus
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Airbnb ends forced arbitration days after Google, Facebook did the same

The Google employee walkout on Nov. 1 is leaving a lasting impact on the tech industry.

In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, which saw thousands of Googlers across the globe protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and misconduct claims, the search giant said it would put an end to its policy of forced arbitration for employees claiming workplace harassment. Facebook followed suit, announcing the next day that it would allow its employees to pursue claims of sexual harassment in court. Today, Airbnb and eBay confirmed to TechCrunch they too would no longer require sexual harassment claims to be settled through private arbitration. Their announcements follow a BuzzFeed News article exploring which tech companies were updating their policies in light of the Google protest.

Thousands of Google employees protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment & misconduct allegations on Nov. 1.

“We are a company who believes that in
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Facebook Portal needs more. At least it just added YouTube

To offset the creepiness of having Facebook’s camera and microphone in your house, its new Portal video chat gadget needs best-in-class software.  Its hardware is remarkably well done, plus Messenger and the photo frame feature work great. But its third-party app platform was pretty skimpy when the device launched this week.

Facebook is increasingly relying on its smart display competitors to boost Portal’s capabilities. It already comes with Amazon Alexa inside. And now, Google’s YouTube is part of the Portal app platform. “Yes, YouTube.com is available through an optional install in the ‘Portal Apps’ catalog” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. You can open it with a “Hey Portal” command, but there currently seems to be no way to queue up specific videos or control playback via voice.

The addition gives Portal much greater flexibility when it comes to video. Previously it could only play videos from Facebook Watch,
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Google walkout organizers aren’t satisfied with CEO’s response

Organizers of the massive walkouts at Google last week are — rightfully so — not letting up on their demands. Earlier this morning, Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded to some of their demands, outlining how Google is getting rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more.

While Google did make some changes, the company did not address all of the organizers’ demands. For example, Google failed to elevate its chief diversity officer to report directly to Pichai and also ignored the organizers’ request to add an employee representative to the board of directors. In the Medium post today, the organizers commended Google’s process while also noting how Pichai’s response did not address many of the core demands. In the post, they write:
However, the response ignored several of the core demands — like elevating the diversity officer and employee representation on
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Chrome adds new security features to stop mobile subscription scams

Google today announced that Chrome will soon get a new feature that aims to stop mobile subscription scams. Those are the kind of sites that ask you for your phone number and that then, unbeknownst to you, sign you up for a mobile subscription that’s billed through your carrier. Starting with the launch of Chrome 71 in December, Google will pop up a prominent warning when a site doesn’t make it clear that users are signing up for a mobile subscription.

To make sure that developers who are legitimately using this flow to offer users a subscription don’t get caught up in this new system, Google also published a set of best practices for mobile billing today. Generally, developers are expected to make their billing information visible and obvious to users, display the actual cost and have a simple and straightforward fee structure. If that information is not available, Google
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Google CEO highlights corporate changes following walkouts

This time last week, Google employees held massive walkouts across the country to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment in the wake of a damning New York Times piece. This morning, CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees about the events that was also shared via the company’s blog.

“We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” the executive says in the letter. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.” The memo follows another recent letter, in which Pichai noted the termination of 48 employees for sexual harassment over the past two years.

This latest letter also makes note of a private “action plan.” While not spelled out in its entirety, Pichai breaks down a  handful of policy changes,

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Google is adding Android support for foldable screens

Big day for developer events. As Samsung was onstage getting ready to talk about its upcoming foldable phone, Google spilled the beans a bit at its own Android Developer Summit. The company briefly detailed plans to bake support for folding phones into the mobile operating system.

Support for the nascent technology is going to be tough, given what’s expected to be a variety of different form factors, so Google’s been working with hardware partners. Its first, naturally, is Samsung. The two companies have been working closely on a device it plans to launch “early next year,” according to Google. That device is expected to debut moments from now on Samsung’s own stage.

Google is referring to the category as “Foldables.”

Android developers can now force users to update their apps

At its Android Dev Summit, Google today announced a number of new tools and features for developers that write apps for its mobile operating system. Some of those are no surprise, including support for the latest release of the Kotlin language, which is becoming increasingly popular in the Android developer ecosystem, as well as new features for the Android Jetpack tools and APIs, as well as the Android Studio IDE. The biggest surprise, though, is likely the launch of the In-app Updates API.

While the name doesn’t exactly make it sound like a break-through feature, it’s actually a big deal. With this new API, developers now get two new ways to push users to update their app. “This is something that developers have asked us for a long time is — say you own an app and you want to make sure the user is running the latest version,”
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Alibaba rival JD.com plays the long-game on technology investment

China’s JD.com  has made it clear recently that it’s venturing into artificial intelligence and automation. Every few months over the past year, the online retailer – China’s second-largest by transactions after Alibaba – has unveiled new products based on cutting-edge technology: for example drone delivery, self-driving trucks, fully automated warehouses, to name a few.

Most of these technologies are still in their testing phase and JD’s ever expanding technology investment is already eating into its profitability. In the second quarter, the retail titan’s technology expenses were up over 70 percent year-over-year for the third consecutive quarter, costing the company 2.8 billion yuan, or $400 million. Net income slipped more than 50 percent to 478 million yuan, versus 977 million yuan last year. By comparison, marketing and fulfilment, which traditionally make up the bulk of JD’s overall operating expenses, grew at less than 30 percent over the same period.
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GV partner Joe Kraus named Lime’s first COO

Lime announced more big hiring news this morning with the appointment of Joe Kraus, a general partner at Alphabet’s venture arm GV and an existing member of the bike- and scooter-sharing startup’s board of directors, as its first chief operating officer.

Kraus joined GV 12 years ago from the Google -acquired software startup JotSpot, where he served as the chief executive officer from 2003 to 2006. Before that, he co-founded Excite, an early internet search engine. Earlier this year, Kraus helped lead GV’s first investment in Lime. In joining the company’s c-suite, Kraus will relinquish his board seat to another GV partner, as well as his GP title at the firm. He will stay on as a venture partner and will keep his existing board seats, per Bloomberg. Kraus is also on the board of Peerspace, a marketplace for booking space for events, and fintech startup Spruce Finance, among
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Facebook’s GraphQL gets its own open source foundation

GraphQL, the Facebook -incubated data query language, is moving into its own open source foundation. Like so many other similar open source foundation, the aptly named GraphQL Foundation will be hosted by the Linux Foundation.

Facebook announced GraphQL back in 2012 and open sourced it in 2015. Today, it’s being used by companies that range from Airbnb to Audi, Github, Nextifx, Shopify, Twitter and the New York Times. At Facebook itself, the GraphQL API powers billions of API calls every day. At its core, GraphQL is basically a language for querying databases from client-side applications and a set of specifications for how the API on the backend should present this data to the client. It presents an alternative to REST-based APIs and promises to offer developers more flexibility and the ability to write faster and more secure applications. Virtually every major programming language now supports it through a variety of
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Google’s Doodle commands you to Go Vote

I know, you’re cool. You don’t do anything the corporate overlords command. But maybe, just this once, make an exception. Today’s Google Doodle mixes up the ole’ rainbow color logo with a very simple message: Go Vote.

I mean, you were going to do it anyway, right? “Most important midterm election during our lifetimes” or whatever and all that good stuff.

Clicking on the Doodle, which is available both at Google.com and as a new Chrome tab, brings up the results for the query, “Where do I vote #ElectionDay.” From there you enter your address to find your hashtag polling place.

Also, Taylor H. put together a handy list of resources to find out more before heading to your local polling place. And if you’ve already voted, congratulations, you’ve participating in the fundamental underpinnings of the democratic process. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Here’s a map

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New York Times & Digital Double Standards

The New York Times has been a pointy edge of the coverage on Facebook, Google and Big Tech domination of our daily lives. They have often presented (relentless) wonderful reporting only to counterbalance it with hyperbolic opinions. As a subscriber, who is (happily and) willingly paying for his digital subscription, I am at liberty to ignore those hysterical opinion writers, ignore the Times biases and instead focus on the reporting — which is the only reason I am delighted to pay for Times. (I am one of the four million digital subscribers.) However, the Times is hypocritical, to put it mildly. While it talks about a surveillance advertising technology ecosystem, the company itself is a willing participant — its web pages and apps are jam-packed with advertising and tracking scripts. It complains about Facebook ads in the news stream, and yet it blasts large ads in your face on Continue reading "New York Times & Digital Double Standards"

Daily Digest: Technology and tyranny, lying to ourselves, and Spotify’s $1b repurchase

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Harari on technology and tyranny

Yuval Noah Harari, the noted author and historian famed for his work Sapiens, wrote a lengthy piece in The Atlantic entitled “Why Technology Favors Tyranny” that is quite interesting. I don’t want to address the whole piece (today), but I do want to discuss his views that humans are increasingly eliminating their agency in favor of algorithms who make decisions for them. Harari writes in his last section:
Even if some societies remain ostensibly democratic, the increasing efficiency of algorithms will
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Pinterest taps former Athleta exec as first CMO

Andréa Mallard, the former chief marketing officer of the Gap -owned line of athleisure clothing Athleta, has joined Pinterest as its first-ever CMO.

Overseeing Pinterest’s global marketing and creative teams, Mallard will report to the visual search company’s chief operating officer Francoise Brougher, who joined in February from payments company Square. Mallard previously spent four years as CMO of digital health company Omada Health and eight years with IDEO, where she led the company’s global brand strategy practice. Pinterest has finally finished staffing its c-suite as it gears up for a potential 2019 initial public offering. In late 2016, the company hired former Twitter executive Todd Morgenfeld as its first chief financial officer. Earlier this year, the former Google computer vision research lead Chuck Rosenberg joined Pinterest as its head of computer vision. Founded in 2010, San Francisco-based Pinterest is led by co-founder and chief executive officer Ben Silbermann . The company
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