Displaying items by tag: app

US tech giants roll out controversial new app

Written on Tuesday, 04 December 2018 07:26

Google has plans to roll out a controversial new app in which AI will make phone calls on behalf of users to arrange appointments, book tables and order food. Duplex will run through Google Assistant, and is described as “a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out ‘real world’ tasks over the phone.”

At a conference in May, CEO Sundar Pichai played two recordings of Google Assistant running Duplex, arranging a hairdressing appointment and booking a table. The assistant understood the context and responded appropriately, even when the conversation didn’t go as expected.  

In both phone calls, the receiver did not suspect they were talking to a robot; the bot speaks with realistic sounding human inflections and pauses. The next-generation voice assistant has raised some ethical questions as to whether humans should be told they are speaking to a robot and be clear that the conversation is recorded.

“It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that,” Says Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer at Google.

“We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.” 

Currently, only Pixel owners in selected US cities can run the app, and are, for now, limited to making restaurant reservations.

“We hope that these technology advances will ultimately contribute to a meaningful improvement in people’s experience in day-to-day interactions with computers.”

Published in Apps

Google workers condemn controversial Dragonfly App

Written on Thursday, 29 November 2018 12:23

An open letter condemning Google’s ‘Project Dragonfly’, has garnered the support of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. Written by staff at Google, 407 of its workforce have already signed the petition, which has called upon the internet giant to end plans to provide a censored search engine for China.   

To comply with strict laws, a search application would be designed with the Chinese government to filter out censored content from results. In 2010, Google shut down its search engine after it would not capitulate to Beijing’s censorship demands. However, last month Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said it was “important to explore the options for China,” and would be able to serve over 99 percent of the search queries.

The signatures believe such a search engine would enable “state surveillance” and make it easy for the government to monitor user’s searches. It also would deny users to access politically sensitive information like the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.  The letter says it would “make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses” and believes it is at odds with the company’s values, whose motto ‘don’t be evil’ is used within their code of conduct.

Amnesty International is calling upon other members of Google’s 88,000 workforce to sign the petition.

“This is a watershed moment for Google. As the world’s number one search engine, it should be fighting for an internet where information is freely accessible to everyone, not backing the Chinese government’s dystopian alternative,” said Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Technology and Human Rights.

Google said there were no plans to launch a search engine in China, and it was merely at exploratory stages. 

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Uber vows to stop using diesel cars in London by 2019

Written on Sunday, 17 September 2017 11:45

Global ride-hailing incumbent Uber has announced that it will cease using diesel cars in London by the end of 2019. City officials in the English capital are aggressively pursuing initiatives and programs aimed at reducing the number of diesel vehicles being driven in and around the city, with London recording alarming levels of pollution.

Uber have shown their support for this movement by vowing that they will be using no diesel cars for their services by 2019, with a spokesman for the firm claiming that by that stage the vast majority of rides will be in either hybrid or electric vehicles.

Uber says currently almost half of its fleet that embark on journeys in London are undertaken in greener vehicles on the company’s standard low-cost Uber-X service, which enables users to book their journeys on their smartphone device.

A number of leading car manufacturers has announced plans to electrify a large proportion of their new cars. The most notably automaker was Swedish giants Volvo, who earlier this year became the first manufacturer to set a date on when it was phasing out vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine.

The UK has followed the lead of France and cities such as Mexico City, Athens and Madrid by declaring that it will prohibit the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Uber, which has around 40,000 drivers based in London, has indicated that they will only offer hybrid or electric vehicles on Uber-X by the turn of the decade – but plans to roll-out the program on a nationwide basis by 2022.

Uber’s Head of UK Cities, Fred Jones said Uber shared the concerns expressed by city officials in London in relation to growing problem of air pollution, and said the US-based ride-hailing service was keen to its part.

Jones said: “Air pollution is a growing problem and we’re determined to play our part in tackling it with this bold plan. Londoners already know many cars on our app are hybrids, but we want to go much further and go all electric in the capital.

Uber has endured a difficult number of months with the firm being at the center of a number of salacious scandals ranging from sexual harassment to allegation of bullying, investor pressure eventually led to controversial and high-profile resignation of Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

However, Uber has also faced stinging criticism in London, and has been locked in legal rows with trade unions, lawmakers and traditional black cab drivers over working conditions and the legality of its operations. It has also been reported that Uber intend to appeal a decision by a British judge which ruled that the tech company should treat two of its drivers as employees and pay them the minimum wage and holiday pay.

In addition to this, Uber is also waiting on the decision by the capital’s transport regulator who will determine later this month how much the ride-hailing app will need to pay in order to renew its new license.

In Uber’s statement in relation to its phasing out of diesel cars, it also announced its plan to help drivers switch from diesel cars to greener cars with a £150 million-pound fund, which would pay up to 5,000 pounds per upgrade from a petrol or diesel vehicle. Uber will generate the funds for this initiative by taxing an each fare with an additional 35p in London.

Published in Apps

Uber reports bookings increase and revenue jump

Written on Sunday, 03 September 2017 06:00

Uber reported an increase in bookings and revenue jump on August 23. The California-based ride-sharing company reduced its losses by 14 percent in Q2 compared to the same period the previous year. The company posted a net loss of $645 million on revenue of $1.75 billion, compared to revenue of $800 million the same period last year.  

Global trips increased 150 percent from the previous year, the company said, while gross bookings reached $8.7 billion, up 17 percent which is twice the amount of bookings for the same period in 2016. The company said it had $6.6 billion on hand at the end of Q2, down from $7.1 billion at the end of Q1.

Internally, Uber’s stability has been rocked by the sensational resignation former chief executive, Travis Kalanick. The co-founder stepped down in late June under increased pressure from investors who raised concerns about his leadership. A growing momentum of voices demanded changes at the helm, and it was the call from investors that ultimately forced Kalanick to concede that his position was untenable. 

Uber also stiff competition abroad - the need to keep both drivers and customers satisfied has driven up expenses for the company. Cuts are being made to Uber’s US car-leasing business, for instance, amid costs that were thousands of dollars more than expected for each vehicle.

In July, Uber and Russian search engine company Yandex agreed to combine their ride-hailing services to create a joint entity in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan. The combined company, controlled by Yandex, will be valued at $3.725 billion, with both Uber and Yandex investing hundreds of millions of dollars, CNBC reported.

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Russian messaging service Telegram has declared it will block terrorist-related channels after Indonesia’s government threatened to completely block the service expressing concerns that the app had become a breeding ground for terrorist content sharing.

Telegram’s web version was blocked by the Ministry of Communication and IT on July 14. The Ministry threatened to completely block access to Telegram’s app as well if it didn’t do more to combat terror groups. The app has been used to promote radicalism, Jakarta claimed, and used for giving instructions for carrying out attacks, due to messages being encrypted.

Indonesia’s concern comes amid increasing influence of so-called Islamic State in Southeast Asia. The island nation experienced a string of attacks this year by the terror group, as has the Philippines which has fought battles against IS at Marawi, on the island of Mindanao.

The founder of Telegram, Russian national Pavel Durov, said he was “upset” by situation, and told his Telegram followers his firm had now removed all terrorist-related public channels reported by the Indonesian government. He said the firm is forming a team of moderators with knowledge of Indonesian language and culture to stamp out all terrorist-related channels faster.

“Telegram is heavily encrypted and privacy-oriented, but we’re no friends of terrorists,” said Mr. Durov, “in fact, every month we block thousands of ISIS-related public channels.”

Telegram has garnered a reputation for playing a central role in Islamic State’s communication strategy, particularly because of a channel feature that allows users to broadcast to an unlimited number of users. Telegram is active in shutting down these channels, but IS operatives often create replica channels, which repeat or mirror the same content.

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Apple recently launched a new app development curriculum designed for students who want to pursue careers in the fast-growing app economy. The curriculum is available as a free download from Apple’s iBooks Store.

App Development with Swift is a full-year course designed by Apple engineers and educators to teach students elements of app design using Swift, one of the world’s most popular programming languages. Students will learn to code and design fully functional apps, gaining critical job skills in software development and information technology.

Starting this fall, six community college systems serving nearly 500,000 students across the United States will be among the first to offer the innovative curriculum. At many campuses, local businesses will also offer students mentoring and internships.

“We’ve seen firsthand the impact that coding has on individuals and the US economy as a whole. The app economy and software development are among the fastest-growing job sectors in America and we’re thrilled to be providing educators and students with the tools to learn coding,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

“Community colleges play a critical role in helping students achieve their dreams, and we hope these courses will open doors for people of all ages and backgrounds to pursue what they love.”

The curriculum will be offered by the Alabama Community College System, Columbus State Community College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Houston Community College, Mesa Community College and San Mateo Community College District, among others. Select high schools across the country will also be teaching the App Development with Swift curriculum starting this fall. Houston Community College is opening an iOS Coding and Design School that will teach Apple’s new curriculum.

“The world calls Houston a knowledge capital because of the incredible concentration of ideas and innovation in our great city,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Apple’s investment in our community with the launch of the app development curriculum will tap into the creativity of our students, inspire new possibilities and foster our culture of technological transformation.”

“We are focused on preparing our students for life in a global and technological society, and in 2017 that means making sure our students have access to a state-of-the-art coding curriculum,” said Houston Community College Chancellor Cesar Maldonado.

“We are thrilled Apple is offering this incredible opportunity to advance student learning, which will especially help us bridge the gap in computer science training for minorities and women. We can’t wait to see what these students will do and already have local businesses offering mentoring and internship opportunities.”

App Development with Swift is an extension of Apple’s existing K-12 Everyone Can Code curricula which offer everyone the power to learn, write and teach coding. Swift is Apple’s powerful and intuitive programming language that gives developers the freedom and capabilities they need to create the next generation of cutting-edge software.

Popular apps including Airbnb, KAYAK, TripAdvisor, Venmo and Yelp are all created with Swift. In addition to over 1 million downloads of Swift Playgrounds, there have been over 430,000 downloads of the additional Everyone Can Code materials and over 1,000 schools across the US plan to teach with Everyone Can Code materials in the fall.

Earlier in the month, Apple announced the creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Fund focused on creating jobs in the US throughout our supply chain, with an initial investment of $1 billion. The new Swift coding curriculum is another example of Apple’s commitment to economic development and will help create even more career opportunities for students across the country. Apple now supports 2 million jobs across all 50 states, including more than 1.5 million jobs attributable to Apple’s app economy.

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Instant messaging application Snapchat's parent company Snap Inc. debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on March 2, and it surged more than 40 percent from the level set in the initial offering the night before. The company soared as its IPO raised $3.2 billion with a price of $17 a share.

Snap Inc. was up about 45.4 percent to $24.72 near 16:30 GMT, shortly after logging its first trades. It was the largest public offering of a US tech firm since the debut of Facebook in 2012. Snap's arrival has been seen by some supporters as an opportunity similar to that of Facebook and its continued success.

The company boasts over 158 million daily active users who create 2.5 billion "snaps" a day in 20 different languages, generating an expected $936 million in revenues in 2017, according to a report by venture equity firm Goodwater Capital. The report reads, "Snapchat is well-positioned to scale rapidly and take market share in the $652 billion global advertising market."

However, some aren't so enthusiastic about Snapchat's potential, referencing Twitter, which has struggled to grow its user-base since its 2013 IPO, and now trades well below its offering price.

There are concerns that Snapchat's user engagement has peaked and could become stale, according to Lou Kerner, manager of the Social Internet Fund and a partner in the venture investment firm Flight VC.

"We know all products have life cycles – you can look at Twitter for a lesson," he said. It isn't a good sign that Snap's IPO didn't include details about historical trends for user metrics, he added.

Published in Finance

 Social networking platform Twitter announced details of a new initiative which has been specifically designed to crackdown on online harassment and ‘abusive accounts’. Twitter, like other social media platforms have struggled to manage the issue of online abuse from anonymous accounts.

Twitter vice president Ed Ho said they have introduced new measures aimed at identifying individuals who have been suspended from creating new accounts. In a statement issued to the press, Ho said: “We're taking steps to identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts. This focuses more effectively on some of the most prevalent and damaging forms of behavior, particularly accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others."

Twitter is hugely popular due to its ability to allow healthy exchanges on public issues, but the social network has also been utilized as a tool to harass and ‘troll’ people – celebrities and those in the public eye particularly come in for some vile abuse. Twitter suspends these users - but until now has been unable to prohibit them from creating a new account.

Former chief executive, Dick Costolo attributes Twitter’s issues in dealing with the problems as one of the primary reasons it has affected its efforts to grow.

Present chief executive added in his statement that Twitter will no longer tolerate ‘trolls’ from stifling users engaging with the platform. He said: “Making Twitter a safer place is our primary focus. We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That's put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices. We won't tolerate it and we're launching new efforts to stop it."

Part of these efforts includes a new application Twitter added last week which enabled users to use a ‘safe search’ option. This removes tweets that ‘contain potentially sensitive content’ from appearing on their accounts.

In addition to this, the Twitter chief executive reiterated that his engineers will continue to work on identifying ‘abusive and low-quality replies so the most relevant conversations are brought forward.’

The changes are expected to be rolled-out on the social networking platform in the next coming weeks.

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Digital analysts have expressed their surprise at the explosion in popularity of video and messaging app Snapchat in the Middle East region. A global study by a leading research consultancy firm established that the proportion of internet users in the UAE who use Snapchat increased from 15% in 2014 to 53% this year.

These statistics significantly outpace the global trend of growth for Snapchat which has risen from 12% to 23% during the same timeframe. Analysts claim that Snapchat, an app which enables users to capture and share video and photo content which is only available to view for 24 hours before it is deleted, ties into the growing youth population in the Middle East which is searching for new ways to express themselves and be creative.

Some felt that restrictions imposed on Snapchat by the UAE government would have a detrimental effect on its popularity, but that hasn’t transpired which has caught many digital experts by surprise.

Bhomik Chanda, Head of Media and Digital Solutions for the Mena region attributed the success of Snapchat to the fact that it was specifically designed for smartphone devices, unlike some other popular social media outlets. In addition to this, he claimed that the younger population in the Middle East is looking for spontaneity which the popular platform provides in abundance.

He said: “Snapchat has an appeal among the 13-34-year-old age groups, and that’s why it is picking up really fast in the region. Especially in Saudi Arabia, given the fewer forms of entertainment there, Snapchat, unlike some other social media platforms before it, was made for your smartphone. And it’s about being instant. So for instance, you’re walking on the beach and you spot something fun, click it and at that very moment you can broadcast it instantly to your snapchat followers. That is the type of spontaneous and instantaneous platform young people want and Snapchat provides it for them.”

Snapchat was developed by Stanford University students Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy in 2011, and they incredibly turned down an offer of $3billion from Facebook to buy them out. Facebook have taken inspiration from Snapchat and have tried to challenge them by developing a special effects camera option on Facebook Messenger which it launched recently. Other attempts to replicate Snapchat’s success from other outlets have ultimately failed as it goes from strength-to-strength, particularly in this region.

Perhaps the biggest factor in its success was Snapchat’s decision to focus on events in the region with its ‘Live Story’ feature last year. Thousands of smartphone users joined the #mecca live story, posting their experiences from Mecca during Ramadan. Businesses are now looking at ways to utilize Snapchat for their benefit commercially, with marketing guru’s declaring that using Snapchat is a smart way to attract attention to as brand and product. It looks inevitable that the Snapchat success will continue to expand in the Middle East.

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Technology giants Apple and Google Play have rejected an app which would enable women to upload nude photos on social networking service Instagram. Model Melina Di-Marco has accused the online photo-sharing platform of double standards. Instagram currently allows men to post topless photos, but prohibits women from doing so. However, both the App store and Google Play Store say her app promotes explicit content.

Instagram's policy on nude photos has come under fire in recent years, and high-profile stars such as Scout Willis and Rihanna staged public protests against its stance on the censorship of female photography. Di-Marco’s app is designed to provide simple illustrated "lady parts" to post over your own, to get round the sites rules on nudity.

Instagram’s policy states that they ban ‘violent, nude, partially nude, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos. In practice, this means men can post topless pictures, but women can’t. Despite the high-profile and sustained protests aimed at Instagram in relation to their stance, the company has not changed its policy, insisting that it’s priority is to make the social networking platform a ‘safer place’.

Melina Di-Marco, who's a model in the US, has come up with what she calls a ‘temporary solution’. She's created an application called Nood.

She said: "It's a photo editing app where you can upload a photo and put illustrated nipples over your nipples and an illustrated vagina over your vagina. As a woman and as a model I don't quite understand why my male counterpart can post freely on social media, but I cannot. Nipples are nipples, there's no difference. Female nipples, male nipples, they're all the same."

Melina thinks the current options available for women to censor their photos aren't good enough." I get very frustrated when I see X’s and bars and cutesy stickers on the female body. To me that promotes the over sexualisation of the female form."

But Apple claims the app "includes content that many users would find objectionable and offensive", while Google says: "we don't allow apps that contain or promote sexually explicit content."

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