Sorry, but I feel kinda weird about ‘Snap Map’

It’s a curious thing being able to see the location of many of your friends, colleagues, lovers and even family members on a virtual map. But, that’s precisely what Snapchat’s new feature Snap Maps is offering up. And, honestly, this new feature released just a day ago has already turned me into a creepy lurker.

Your Snap Map is essentially a virtual map populated by your friends who are represented in Bitmoji. The map, accessible by pinching your fingers in the app’s camera, updates users’ locations whenever the app is in use. While the feature doesn’t track your location while you’re off the app, if you’re a heavy Snapchat user, the map can give a reliable idea to friends as to your whereabouts.

Snap Map is off by default and users have to opt in if they want to make themselves visible on the map. And, you can also choose who sees that location be all your friends, a select group of friends, or just you.

Image: snap

From the moment I started using the feature I felt privy to the kind of information I knew I shouldn’t have access to. Like, where one of my esteemed colleagues was sleeping? In fact, the Snap Map’s level of accuracy gave me the actual cross street of her address. When I asked her if that was her address, she confirmed that she lives on that very street. This level of accuracy when it comes to location data is no accident. The map intends to make it easy for friends in crowded parks and festivals.

Once I’d established the reliability of the map, that’s when I really began to explore. I saw what my teenage cousin was getting up to throughout the day. I could see she was at home; her Bitmoji hovering on her lane in a rural village in Devon, UK. Naturally, as a protective older cousin, I don’t exactly relish the idea of anyone let alone myself being able to track a young person’s location throughout a day.

My worries didn’t end there, though. What if one evening, when perusing the map, I learn that all my friends are hanging out without me? Instagram and Snapchat Stories already give me heaps of FOMO. I’m not sure I can handle anymore. I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, lots of people have taken to social media to say the map is yet another FOMO-inducing feature:

What if the map informs me that an ex-boyfriend starts occasionally sleeping in a location different to his own address? Social media is already ripe with opportunities for lurking on exes, crushes and even current partners. And, sometimes that lurking leads to unpleasant discoveries.

The app’s Ghost Mode also makes it possible to lurk in a clandestine fashion. You can be entirely invisible on the map while still seeing where your pals are. When you activate Ghost Mode your previously-broadcast location clears in seconds, much like donning an invisibility cloak. Creepy much?

The actual idea behind the new feature is to encourage Snapchatters to use the app to facilitate their social life. And, the revelation of intimate location data is symptomatic of that.

The feature is, of course, great when you’re actively using it to socialise with people, but heavy users will need to take the data with a pinch of salt lest they fall into dangerous and unhealthy habits. Don’t get sucked in by the map’s revelatory nature, and don’t read too much into people’s locations. After all, it only updates when people are actually using the app. So, while you’re panicking about your boyfriend’s sleeping location, he could very well be tucked up in his own bed with a hot water bottle.

Proceed with caution, friends.

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Facebook expands its hate-fighting counterspeech initiative in Europe

Facebook has launched a third counterspeech initiative in Europe, partnering with the not-for-profit Institute for Strategic Dialoguefor the launch of theOnline Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), which is aimed at tackling online extremism and hate speech.

COO Sheryl Sandberg launched the initiative in London this morning along with Sasha Havlicek, CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and with the UK founding partners for the initiative who are:

  • Brendan Cox, Jo Cox Foundation an organization named after a UK MP who was murdered by a right-wing extremist last year
  • Mark Gardner, Community Security Trust an organization that works to combat antisemitism
  • Fiyaz Mughal, Tell MAMA a support organization for victims of anti-Muslim hate
  • Shaukat Warraich, Imams Online an online information portal that aims to showcase positive Islamic content

The OCCI will commit financial and marketing support to UK NGOs working to counter online extremism, including the four listed above.

Facebook said the aim is to bring together experts to develop best practice and tools for people to engage in counter speech.

The move follows similar initiatives launched by the company in Germany in January 2016 and in France in March 2017. At the initial launch in Germany Facebook pledged more than 1 million in funding for NGOs under the OCCI program.

Its not clear if Facebook has since expanded its funding commitment for the program weve asked and will update this post with any response.

In the UK the OCCI will provide:

  • Training for NGOs to help them to monitor and respond to extremist content, and a dedicated support desk so they can communicate directly with Facebook
  • Marketing support for NGOs to undertake counterspeech campaigns through Facebooks creative shop and Facebook advertising credits
  • Best practice sharing with NGOs, government and other online services
  • Financial support for academic research on online and offline patterns of extremism and what makes an effective response

Overall, the initiative aims to enable a community of local organisations and activists to share campaigns, experiences, advice and challenges using Facebooks own Groups feature as their networking media.

To date, Facebook says OCCI across Europe has engaged in direct training at OCCI Counterspeech Labs and workshops with more than 100 anti-hate and anti-extremism organisations, reaching some 3.5 million people online via you guessed it its Facebook page.

The company has previously talked about how counterspeech training is a part of its strategy to tackle online extremism, noting this in its first Hard Questions post which focused on what its doing to counter terrorism.

Hard Questions is a series of policy discussions the company announced and initiated last week, soliciting feedback from users on a variety of questions and concerns from countering the spread of extremist content to considering whether social media is generally good for democracy?

And given Facebooks staggering size with the platform now having amassed nearly two billion users globally the company has clearly reached a tipping point in terms of realizing it must at very least be seen to be acknowledging it has a responsibility to consider the wider impacts of its platform.

The days of Zuckerberg just being able to shrug his shoulders at concerns by claiming Facebook is just a technology platform are well and truly behind it.

Yet it remains to be seen what practical measures and changes to how Facebook does business will flow from this series of grown up public discussions. And cynical voices might say Facebook is seeking to turn criticism of its platform into increased engagement on its platform.

The company has certainly been facingincreased attacks in recent times, including from politicians seeking to scapegoat tech platforms for not doing enough to counter extremism.

And more broadly for not taking their social responsibilities seriously enough.

A UK parliamentary committee recently slammed tech giants including Facebook for taking a laissez-faire attitude to content moderation, for example and suggested the government should look at implementing fines for failures on this front. Something it has said it is considering.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a legislative proposal that includes fines of up to50M for social media firms failing to promptly remove illegal hate speech after a complaint has gained government backing.

Perhaps we therefore should not be surprised that Facebook revealed a new mission statement yesterday saying it now wants to: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.

Its certainly a slogan that better aligns with current political priorities in a world thats sounding increasingly divided and divisive.

And one that Facebook will surely be hoping not merely takes the heat away from its platform, but via the likes of this expanded counterspeech initiative works to rechannel the negative energy being directed at its platform and turn it into increase engagement on its platform.

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Green light for UK driverless car road trials – BBC News

Image copyright PA
Image caption Connected cars will alert the driver if an emergency vehicle is nearby

A demonstration of driverless cars in Nuneaton will be followed later this year by trials on public roads.

Autodrive – a collaboration between Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors – showed off how autonomous cars can talk to each other.

It included warning drivers when an emergency vehicle was approaching and offering real-time traffic information.

The first set of public road trials are due to take place in Milton Keynes and Coventry by the end of the year.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Cars that talk to each other are part of the driverless revolution but currently a human must still be at the wheel

A fleet of up to 40 self-driving pavement-based ‘pods’ will also be introduced in pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes.

Another aspect of the demo showed how connected cars can detect the presence of other connected cars on the approach to a junction and warn drivers if there is a high probability of a collision.

“The successful completion of the proving ground trials marks a significant milestone for the project team, and we are now looking forward to demonstrating the benefits of these exciting new technologies in the real-world settings of Milton Keynes and Coventry,” said Tim Armitage, UK Autodrive project director.

“Once the technology becomes widely available, we anticipate huge potential benefits in terms of road safety, improved traffic flow and general access to transport, so we’re really excited about being able to demonstrate this on real roads.”

Image copyright LUTZ Pathfinder
Image caption Driverless pods will be available in pedestrian areas of Milton Keynes

There are similar trials going on around the UK, including in Greenwich which is using similar pods to those planned for Milton Keynes.

A consortium of British companies known as Driven are planning to test driverless cars on motorways in 2019.

The UK government has paved the way for driverless cars, laying out a legislative framework in the Queen’s Speech which included plans to update car insurance so that driverless vehicles would be subject to the same rules as normal ones.

The technology that allows cars to become more autonomous has been increasing in recent years with all the main manufacturers now offering some element of driverless technology, including self-parking features and cruise control on motorways.

UK government research suggests that the market for automated vehicles in the UK will be worth 28bn by 2035.

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Trump tells tech CEOs that Washington needs to ‘catch up with the revolution’

At a meeting with top tech leaders Trump promised a transformation of outdated federal technology, which astonishingly still includes floppy disks

Donald Trump called for sweeping transformation of the federal governments technology during the first meeting of the American Technology Council, established by executive order last month.

Eighteen of Americas leading technology executives including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet convened at the White House Monday for the summit.

Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution, said Trump. America should be the global leader in government technology just as we are in every other aspect, and we are going to start our big edge again in technology such an important industry.

The tech leaders spent four hours meeting officials including vice-president Mike Pence, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross before meeting with the president. Ivanka Trump, the presidents daughter, was also present.

They discussed modernizing the governments technological infrastructure, cutting fraud and government costs and improving services for taxpayers. The White House believes these measures could save up to $1tn over 10 years.

Together we will unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before, said White House senior adviser and Trumps son-in-law Jared Kushner, before the sessions started.

Kushner highlighted some astonishing examples of outdated federal IT infrastructure, including the fact that the defense department still uses 8-inch floppy disks on some of its legacy systems. He also mentioned that civilian agencies maintain more than 1.6m email addresses per month using on-premise servers at an average cost of $20-per-user per month. Switching to cloud-based email services could reduce these costs down to $3-per-user per month, he said.

Our goal here is simple: we are here to improve the day to day lives of the average citizen. Thats a core promise and we are keeping it, said Kushner.

We will foster a new set of start ups focused on gov-tech and be a global leader in the field making government more transparent and responsive to citizens needs.

Ivanka Trump sits beside Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, at the roundtable in the state dining room of the White House. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

The tech CEOs were also pushing their own agendas, according to Recode. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, called on the government to take advantage of the type of commercial technology that Amazon sells. Palantir CEO Alex Karp said that big data analysis, the kind Palantir offers, could help stop fraudulent federal spending. Apples Tim Cook wanted coding to be made a requirement in schools.

This was the first meeting of the American Technology Council since the president announced its creation in an executive order signed on 11 May.

Within the order, which builds on plans laid out by the Obama administration, Trump announced the creation of the council, whose mission is to coordinate the vision strategy and direction for the federal governments use of information technology and the delivery of services through information technology.

The council was given 90 days to come up with a plan to transition antiquated, fragmented systems across government to either one or more consolidated network architectures or shared IT services, including email, cloud and cybersecurity services.

Other members of the council include: Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard; Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle; Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir; Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel; Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM; and Peter Thiel.

The council is led by Chris Liddell, a top aide to Trump and the former chief financial officer of Microsoft.

Notably absent from the meeting was Facebook neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Sheryl Sandberg were able to attend due to scheduling conflicts. It was the only one out of the top-five most valuable companies in the US to not have a representative at the meeting.

The meeting comes at a time when a number of people in the tech world have chosen to distance themselves from Trump after he withdrew from the Paris climate accord. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and Space X, announced on Twitter: Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.

June 1, 2017

Before that Ubers embattled CEO Travis Kalanick left Trumps business advisory council after the company faced criticism for working closely with the Trump administration and for its response to the White Houses travel ban affecting people from seven Muslim majority countries.

In January, the social media meme #DeleteUber exploded online after the ride-sharing company was accused of exploiting the travel ban for commercial gain. In protest at the travel ban the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called on its members to avoid JFK airport. However, Uber flouted the strike although removed surge pricing from journeys to and from the airport. It was far from Ubers most egregious undertakings, but enough to give arch rival Lyft a 7% boost in users.

Uber NYC (@Uber_NYC)

Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient.

January 29, 2017

Uber apologized for the misunderstanding and Kalanick sent a memo to all of Ubers staff.

There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration, but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that, he said.

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The German national team will use VR to train, and it could change soccer

The NFL has become a proponent of training in virtual realityeverybody from the Dallas Cowboys, who began using the technology in 2015, to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has embraced the idea of practicing in this 3D space. So have the NBAs Washington Wizards, the NHLs Chicago Blackhawks, and, most recently, Walmartassociates.

Now STRIVRthe self-proclaimed world leader in training athletes by using virtual realityis expanding to European soccer, and the German Football Association (DFB) is the first to take a giant step into this brave new world.

Considering Germany is the defending World Cup champion, and has a reputation for forward thinkingwhen it comes to using technology to better the national team, it seems like the perfect match.

Were new to virtual reality. Its still a white space when it comes to soccer, but we want to be the first mover, Nicolas Jungkind, the head of technology lab with DFB, told the Daily Dot. On the academy side, our biggest focus for 2017 and going into 2018 is cognition. Virtual reality hits the sweet spot of what were trying to achieve.

The DFB is beginning with a specific purpose. As Jungkind said, the DFB wants to start small and think big. He understands there will be plenty of trial and error, because when it comes to using VR technology, American football is vastly different than soccer.

Thats because each play on the football field starts from a stop. One team sets up on one side of the line of scrimmage. The opponent lines up on the other. Then, the ball is snapped, and the play begins. That kind of static starting and stopping makes it easier to train a quarterback on VR, because theres a clear beginning and end point.

But soccer is continuously moving, making it a completely different experience and one that’s potentially harder to capture with VR.

Its very fluid, said Derek Belch, the CEO and co-founder of STRIVR. Theres a lot of space between people. There are a lot of challenges associated with that. Its about reaction time. Its about cognition. Right now, they know there are eight different things a center midfielder can see over a year. How do we put that into VR? How do we make that second nature?

For now, the DFB is using VR to think about how goalkeepers can improve their play, particularly when it comes to set pieces. Think of it this way: A goalie can use VR to analyze how an opponent will take a penalty kick. How many steps does the player take from his starting point to when he actually strikes the ball? How fluid is his approach? Does he start and stop, or does he make his attempt in one motion? Does he open his body before he makes contact? Does he show a tell before kicking the ball in one direction or the other?

Its also about visualization and repetition. A player whos taking a free kick can watch himself in VR shoot the ball around the defensive wall and under the crossbar for an amazing goal time after time. He can bend it like Beckham perfectly on every single attempt. To the German national team, theres real value in that.

What are those isolated decision-making moments? Belch said. It comes down to a fraction of a second. What are the things we can put into VR at various points to help a player make the best decision when it shows up in the game so that they just react and so that theres no thinking involved?

But not unlike some of the barriers STRIVR ran into when it was pitching NFL teams on why they should use VR, there is a bit of an old-school mentality that surrounds soccer that might sour on this kind of new technology.

We have those old-school coaches in soccer, no question, Jungkind said. But now that were experiencing a lot of younger coaches making their way to the highest level, were already seeing a shift toward being open to technology and doing things differently. We want to be that first mover in these kinds of strategic areas. That is our ambition.

Not just with the German national team that competes in international tournaments and will look to defend its World Cup title next yearin Russia. The DFB also wants to continuously improve the club teams in the Bundesliga, the German pro league thats one of the best circuits in the world.

For now, though, the DFB isnt focused so much on the senior national team or the top squads in Bundesliga. Instead, its starting with the national youth teams, and the DFB recently introduced the idea of VR training when the under-21 national team and the senior national team met up in Frankfurt.

loved it; they absolutely did, Jungkind said. There are so many positive things. All they want to do is become better. If they realize we make an effort to make them betterthat were thinking outside the boxtheyll appreciate that. Twenty years ago, youd be sitting in a room for two hours and watching 2D film.

Compare that passive experience to what Jungkind and Belch are striving for in soccera fully immersive, 360-degree VRexperience that allows you to see an opponents tendencies from every angle possible while envisioning yourself succeeding at the highest level.

We are completely disrupting the way organizations go about training, Belch said, Its just really exciting.

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YouTube is upping its VR video toolsand it wants to know what holds your attention

YouTube will allow creators of 360-degree video to see which parts of the visual field their viewers eyes are tracking, according to a post on the companys official Creator Blog. Its part of a set of new analytics the company is releasing to help improve the toolset for makers of 360-degree, virtual reality videos.

The basic idea is pretty simple: YouTubers who produce 360-degree videos will be able to view them with a heat map visual overlay, showing on a hot/cold color scale which parts of the video are holding viewers attentions and for how long. YouTubes heat map is far from the first time such technology has been used to try to improve virtual reality video-making, but it is the first time this tool will be native to YouTube.

According to the blog, however, it’ll only be available for videos with more than 1,000 views, meaning it’ll likely be restricted to people with at least a modest following.


This may help creators of intensive and inventive 360-degreevideos learn which areas of the screen most easilygrab and hold people’s attentions, as well as what kinds of visuals are most stimulating and engrossing. The most immersive way to watch a 360-degree video is undoubtedly with a VR headset, but people who lack those devices can still look around videos while watching on their web browsers.

In short, YouTube seems intent on boosting up 360-degree video as the next big thing, both through new tools and new initiatives. The company isalso now taking applications for its VR Creator Lab, a three-month program kicking off in August that will award a handful of creators to workshop with VRexperts, as well as between $30,000-$40,000 to finance their productions. Creators who meet the prerequisiteshaving uploaded at least two 360-degree videos, having at least 10,000 followers, and being over the age of 18 among themcan submit an applicationwith the window to apply closing on June 21.

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Facebook teaches machines to negotiate with humans

Though Facebook is rarely mentioned alongside Apple, Microsoft and Amazon in discussions about conversational AI, the company has published a hoard of papers that underscore a deep interest in dialog systems. As has become clear with Siri, Cortana and Alexa, dialog is hard it requires more than just good speech recognition to deliver a killer experience to users. From the sidelines Facebook has been tinkering with big challenges like natural language understanding and text generation. And today the Facebook AI Research team added to its portfolio with a paper bringingnegotiation into the conversation (all puns intended).

Facebooks team smashed game theory together with deep learning to equip machines to negotiate with humans. By applying rollout techniques more commonly used in game-playing AIs to a dialog scenario, Facebook was able to create machines capable of complex bargaining.

To start, Facebook dreamed up an imaginary negotiation scenario. Humans on Amazons Mechanical Turk were given an explicit value function and told to negotiate in natural language to maximize reward by splitting up a pot of random objects fivebooks, three hats and two balls. The game was capped at ten rounds of dialog, the rules stated that nobody would receive any reward if that limit was exceeded.

Because each agent had distinct hidden preferences, the two had to engage in dialog to sort out which objects should be given to which agent. Over the course of the interactions, machines naturally adopted many common negotiation tactics like placing false emphasis on a low-value item in an attempt to use it as a more valuable bargaining chip later.

Under the hood, Facebooks rollout technique takes the form of a decision tree. Decision trees are a critical component of many intelligent systems. They allow us to model future states from the present to make decisions. Imagine a game of tic-tac-toe, at any given point of the game, there is a finite option set (places you can place your X on the board.

In that scenario, each move has an expected value. Humans dont usually consider this value in an explicit way but if you decompose your decision process when playing the game, you are effectively short-handing this math in your head.

Games like Tic Tac Toe are simple enough that they can be completely solved in a decision tree. More complex games like Go and Chess require strategies and heuristics to reduce the total number of states (its an almost unimaginable number of possible states). But even Chess and Go are relatively simple compared to dialog.

Dialog doesnt draw from a finite set of outcomes. This means that for any question, there is an infinite number of possible human responses. To model a conversation, researchers have to take extra effort to bound the uncertainty problem into a reasonable size and scope. Opting to model a negotiation scheme makes this possible. The language itself can exist in an infinite number of states but its intent generally clusters around simple outcomes (Ill take the deal or reject it).

But even in a bounded world, its still difficult to get machines to interact with humans in a believable way. To this avail, Facebook trained its models on negotiations between pairs of people. Once this was done, the machines were set up to negotiate with each other using reinforcement learning. At the end of each round of conversation, agents received rewards to guide improvement.

FAIR researchersMichael Lewis andDhruv Batra explained to me that their algorithms were better at preventing individuals from making bad decisions than ensuring individuals made the best decisions. This is still important the team told me to imagine a calendar application that doesnt try to schedule meetings for the best time for everyone but instead tries to just ensure the meeting actually happens.

As with a lot of research, the application of this technology isnt necessarily as explicit as the scenario simulated for the paper. Engineers often employ adversarial relationships between machines to improve outcomes think using generative adversarial networks to generate training data by having a machine generate data looking to fool another gatekeeper machine.

Semi-cooperative, semi adversarial relationships, like the relationship between a coach and an athlete, could be an interesting next frontier further connecting game theory and machine learning.

Facebook has open sourced its code from this research project. If youre interested, you can read additional details about the work in the full paper here.

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Instagram is testing a new way for celebrities and influencers to identify their sponsored posts

Instagram is creating a standardized format that should make it clearer to everyone when a post has been paid for by an advertiser.

These arent for ads that businesses buy directly from Instagram, but rather for influencer marketing, where brands pay celebrities and other users with a significant online following to promote their products. Its an area that every big tech and media company seems interested in,but its also creating questions around disclosure and transparency.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission recently sent letters to more than 90 influencers reminding them that they need to clearly and conspicuously disclose when their posts are sponsored. That means they shouldnt hide the disclosure under the more button, or use ambiguous language like Thanks, [Sponsor Name Here]!

Instagrams Creative Programs Director Charles Porch told me that most influencers and advertisers are looking for a clear, straightforward way to make these disclosures.

People are building amazing businesses on Instagram all over the world, at all sorts of scale, Porch said. And those users are looking for ways to be super transparent with their followers when they have a partnership.

So with this new feature, influencers tag a brand as the sponsor for their post, which accomplishes two things.

First, it means the post will include a Paid partnership with notification at the very top. (These disclosures can also show up on Instagram Stories.)Its not exactly a giant banner warning users that the post is an ad, but the language is straightforward and the placement will make it hard to miss. At the same time, the tag also means the advertiser will automatically get access to the same data as the influencer around a posts reach and engagement and that data will show up in the same Facebook dashboard as the rest of their advertising data.

Instagram is currently testing this new tool out with select users, including BuzzFeed and Aimee Song. Butwill the company eventually require everyone to use with these tags when they run sponsored content?

Right now, were still in phase one, Porch said. The goal is to one, educate people and two, get a ton of feedback There will be enforcement, but first we want to get feedback on how everyone reacts.

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Ex-Twitter CEO says meeting Trump is like ‘waterboarding yourself’

Don't expect Dick Costolo at Trump's next meeting with Silicon Valley leaders.
Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Let’s just say former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo had a really unpleasant visit with President Donald Trump.

Costolo dramatically likened Trump’s meetings with Silicon Valley leaders to alcohol poisoning and extreme water torture.

“If you don’t get invited to this meeting and want to know what it was like, just drink a bottle of gin and then waterboard yourself,” Costolo tweeted.

Costolo, who ran Twitter from 2010 to 2015, issued this hyperbolic tweet in response to a BuzzFeed report that Trump will meet soon with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to discuss emerging technology, such as drones and the Internet of Things.

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is organizing the technology meeting, which is slated for June 22. The event arrives three days after Trump is expected to meet with tech executives including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz to discuss topics like immigration and modernizing government operations, according to BuzzFeed.

Silicon Valley leaders have had an uneasy relationship with the Trump administration so far.

Donald Trump, then president-elect, with Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and Apple CEO Tim Cook during a meeting at Trump Tower, Dec. 14, 2016 in New York City.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Executives are facing rising public pressure to break ties to the White House or risk appearing to condone Trump’s controversial policies, including travel bans that target immigrants from majority Muslim countries, or calls for a wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border. Tech leaders maintain that without access to the White House, they can’t be a moderating voice in the president’s ear.

Some execs, however, appear to have reached their limit.

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said he intends to leave Trump’s economic advisory council after the president announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

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Banking with your personal assistant will be the future, whether you like it or not

Image: ambar del moral/mashable

It appears that asking your phone assistant for your bank account will soon be a reality.

Samsung recently partnered with three of South Korea’s largest banks to make voice command banking a reality for South Korean users.

Bixby which is shipped with the Samsung Galaxy S8 can make financial transactions by voice command via Samsung Pay and Samsung Pass, Samsung’s answer to Touch ID.

It’s a concept that’s similar to the partnership Amazon made with Virginia-based Capital One where Capital One customers could be able to check their account balances, recent transactions, and even pay bills just by speaking to Alexa.

The prevalence of personal and home assistants mean that banks can find a cheaper and better option by piggy-backing on Alexa, Siri or Bixby, since the technology to support voice-activated banking is already built into smartphones.

“It is in the bank’s interests to push the service as it helps cut back on manpower and costs,” Chia Tek Yew, head of Financial Services Advisory at KPMG Singapore, told Mashable.

“And at home, it will be a convenient channel of choice given the prevalence of home assistants Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod,” Chia added. “[People] will be drawn to shop and transact via voice.”

A customer sets the Touch ID of his new iPhone 7 at an Apple Store in Madrid, Spain.

Image: Getty Images

Regulators are also unlikely to push back regarding voice-activated banking, said Michael Yeo, a Singapore-based research manager at marketing research firm IDC.

“We will continue to witness developments which should push the edge on what can be done with voice,” Yeo told Mashable. “We have already seen examples in China and Singapore where voice commands can issue payments.”

Voice-activated banking hasn’t been explicitly barred, said Chia, adding that in some countries, banks have already used voice assistants to perform banking transactions. Spain-based Santander, for one, is offering voice command banking in their mobile app.

Your face or your thumbprint will be part of this

If recent developments are of any clue, biometric scanning could be a major part of voice-activated banking.

Since Apple’s Touch ID made fingerprint scanning a must-have with smartphones, biometric authentication has been a mainstay. It’s likely that iris scanning will take off, with the iPhone 8 rumoured to have a front-facing 3D camera system that could unlock the phone based on detailed iris or facial recognition, similar to the S8’s iris scanner.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Bixby’s integration with South Korean banks could mean that South Korean users could say good-bye to their clunky banking dongles, for one.

That’s definitely more secure than Amazon’s integration with Capital One, where users are only asked to add a PIN number.

“Iris scanners and fingerprint recognition technology are generally beyond many existing methods, such as passwords, which are used by the majority of banks out there,” Yeo said.

Antony Eldridge, a financial services and fintech leader at PwC Singapore, said that iris and fingerprint scanners are more secure as they are “much more difficult to fake.”

“These appear more acceptable to both [the] public and authorities,” Eldridge said.

Still, most banking security standards written by regulatory bodies like the European Banking Authority and the FFIEC have required multi-factor authentication for bank transactions.

Multi-factor authentication depends on more than one of three things what you are, like your fingerprint or iris pattern; what you have, like a physical token, an ATM card or your phone; and what you know, like a password.

So while banks could integrate biometrics into a two-factor authentication framework, the whole aspect of having another method like your banking dongle or password isn’t likely to change, said Yeo.

“[The] whole essence of two-factor authentication [is that it] requires confirmation by other means,” he added.

But if your identity is tied to your phone like in Samsung Pass, where each device can only be programmed to recognise one set of irises it could still be, in the eyes of regulators, considered two-factor identification, said Chia.

While the industry has made moves to integrate banking with personal and home assistants, updates are coming slowly. Amazon’s partnership with Capital One came in March 2016, and there has yet to be anything like it since.

Whether voice-activated banking will take off would depend on how ubiquitous personal assistants are. It’s likely to remain an option, but just that, as some will never use this feature at all, Yeo said.

“Many still find it awkward to use Siri or Google Assistant on their smartphones,” Yeo said.

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Skype retires older apps for Windows and more as it pushes new features

Thenewest versionof the Skype app takes a big hat-tip from social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebooks Messenger with its newest features, adding a Stories-like feature called Highlights, a big selection of bots to add into chats and a longer plan to upgrade group conversations with more features. Now, as part of the effort to get people to use the new Skype more, the company is also doubling down on something else: Skype is trying to get users off of older versions of Skype.

As part of that push, the Microsoft-owned company has sent out messages to users this week noting that it will be retiring a host of older iterations on July 1. Those who are still using them after that day will likely no longer be able to sign on.

We at TechCrunch have had two versions of the notes, one listing apps for Windows Phone 8, Windows Phone 8.1, Messaging app for Windows 10 Mobile, Windows RT and TV; and one more generic note. You can read them in full at the bottom of this post.

Weve asked, and a spokesperson has supplied us with the full list of apps that have been and are getting axed, as well as platforms being affected 14 in all, including several of Skypes efforts to build apps with carriers and its own phones; its TV app; older versions of Windows (including Windows Phone), Android, BlackBerry, Mac and iOS:

  • Android 4.0.2 and lower
  • BlackBerry OS 7.1 and lower
  • iOS 7 and lower
  • Linux (Linux users must upgrade toSkype for Linux Beta)
  • Mac OS X 10.8 and lower
  • Symbian OS
  • Skype mobile for Verizon
  • Skype on 3
  • Skype on Telkomsel
  • Skype on TV
  • Skype phones: All Skype phones
    Note:Skype phones may still be available to purchase through third-party retailers, but are no longer supported
  • Windows 10 task-based app
  • Windows Phone 8.1 and lower
  • Windows RT

Note that this is something of a comprehensive list; some of these apps were discontinued quite a while ago, others a little more recently. However, it appears that if you had a device with one of these older apps installed, it would still work. Now, that no longer will be the case, it seems.

Because we want everyone to experience the best Skype has to offer, its sometimes necessary to retire older versions of Skype, and Skype-enabled devices, a Microsoft spokesperson said. Unsupported Skype-enabled devices and platforms may experience problems with calls and chats, lost or dropped calls and instant messages, or could stop working completely.

Skype, founded back in 2003, was a trailblazer for a subsequently huge onslaught of mobile apps that let people message and phone each other on mobile phones, bypassing carrier networks and their costly charges. Eventually, it was also one of the first of the disruptors that carriers started to work with, developing co-marketing plans and bundles to pick up more mobile subscriptions.

But the growing field of competition from the likes of WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber, WeChat, Snapchat, Kik and more has produced an ever-crowded market. Skypes features were leapfrogged, and the platform itself also became a hotbed for spam and contacts you might prefer not to have. So while Skype has a long and popular legacy, many have moved on from using it as their default messaging and phoning app of choice.

We asked, but Skype did not provide us with updated user numbers let alone any data about what platforms they are using, and thus just how many people might be affected by this latest spate of spring cleaning.

What we do know is that Skype is regularly one of the most popular free apps on iOS and Android, and Skype itself tells us there have been 2 trillion minutes of free Skype video calls since 2006, with 3 billion minutes of calls being made each day, and total Skype downloads now at over 1 billion.

A recent article in Wired about the new app update, featuring an interview with Microsofts corporate VP of SkypeAmritansh Raghav, notes 300 million users a figure weve seen quoted elsewhere and appears to be from last year. As a point of comparison, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger each have 1.2 billion users.

The two notes follow below:

Weve noticed that you are, or previously were, using an older version of Skype that will be permanently retired. As a result, after July1,2017, you will no longer be able to sign in to these older versions of Skype. Recently updated or started using Skype on another device? Great, you can ignore thisemail.

To keep talking with your family and friends, please update Skype to the latest version. It only takes a few minutes and all your contacts and conversations will be right there when you signin.

If you are unable to update, check our support site to see if Skype still supports your device and operating system. If it is no longer supported, you can still stay in touch with friends and family using Skype on other devices. The latest versions of Skype for all supported devices are available at You can sign in using the same Skypeaccount.


Weve noticed that you are, or previously were, using Skype on Windows Phone 8, Windows Phone 8.1, Messaging app for Windows 10 Mobile, Windows RT or a TV. Were sorry to inform you that we will be permanently retiring these versions of Skype. As a result, after July 1, 2017, you will no longer be able to sign in to these versions of Skype.

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Pinterest raises $150M at a $12.3B valuation as it makes a full press into visual search

Pinterest said today that the company has raised $150 million in additional capital at a valuation of $12.3 billion as it makes a further full-court press on its visual recognition and search pitch to investors and advertisers and perhaps one day Wall Street.

Pinterest last raised $367 million in additional financing at an $11 billion valuation in 2015. In recent years, the company has started to tout its image recognition technology and products built on top of that like Lens, its visual search engine built into your camera. All this is a pitch to advertisers that Pinterest can get products in front of users in different ways than Facebook and Google and eventually convert them to buyers. For example, Pinterest said its ads would soon be powered by its visual search technologyat TechCrunch Disrupt New York earlier this year.

So, where is this smaller-than-you-might-expect bump for a company with 175 million users coming from? It may come from some reset expectations from the round that set Pinterests valuation originally at 2015 and the predictions that were baked into that. According to leaked documents circulated around that time, Pinterest may have missed some earlier leaked projections from around that time on user growth and revenue growth. Those targets were very ambitious, but that Pinterests valuation hasnt fallen south is also a sign that investors arent entirely displeased with the companys performance.

A Pinterest representative said the valuation is based onincreased shares from current investors. But that doesnt necessarily mean the company is on a downward trajectory, as its user base is still growing and hit 175 million monthly active users earlier this year. A network with that many users and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue is far from a dead network, though its pitch may have altered over time as it starts to push more on its specialization in image recognition and visual search.

Pinterest also has to work to expand internationally, which sometimes means figuring out the different kinds of cultural quirks and behavior that come with new markets. The company says 60% of its users are outside the U.S. It also earlier today said it launched its first ad campaign in the U.S. as it looks to continue to expand its user base which means dipping into markets and communities that might not just discover the service on their own or through typical channels.

For advertisers, Pinterest represents a unique spot on the Internet where users come to intentionally flip through products and discover new ideas. Pinterest is able to catch users at the very moment that they discover something new like a pair of shoes and follow them (and potentially push them) through the whole buying life cycle. It can help advertisers reach them when they have some kind of intent and are searching for products, saving them, and eventually acting on them through something like a purchase or a download.

Google, too, recently built an image recognition tool for smartphone cameras (also called Lens, believe it or not) that it unveiled last month. Many companies are making a big push into image recognition in an effort to collapse that distance between reality and discovery on the web, which may eventually help push a user to eventually act on some kind of idea like a recipe or buy a product.

Snap, too, may have provided a sort of check-in on the new advertising ecosystem. The company missed its first earnings expectations, which temporarily sent the stock off a cliff. Snap is still well above its original IPO price, but it means that over time investors are still tuning their expectations for these kinds of advertising purchases outside of Facebook and Google which advertisers have come to rely on for their digital spend outside of traditional media.

But that kind of full-stack visibility into user behavior, and the opportunity to get well ahead of a customers potential final purchase, is something that the company is hoping will attract advertisers beyond just simple curiosity or experimental budgets. While brands can devote the majority of their spend to Facebook or Google, companies like Pinterest and Snap have had to show that they are able to have some kind of a different ad product to make that jump to a billion dollars in revenue or more like Facebook was able to do.

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Sherpa turns Instagrams best photos into a travel guide

There are a number of places to find travel inspiration Pinterest, Google Destinations, travel blogs or media sites like Cond Nasts Traveler, among others. But a new application called Sherpa launching this week believes that some of the best travel ideas can be found on Instagram. The iOS application curates photos from top Instagram photographers and turns them into visual travel guides that are augmented with data from other services, like Foursquare and Wikipedia.

Sherpa co-founder and CEO Paul Aaron previously founded NYC-based design studio Modern Assembly, which worked with brands like Coca-Cola, UNICEF, Droga5, The Climate Reality Project and even The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). He also spent several years heading digital at Silver + Partners, and previously Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Sherpa came about when the digital design and development studio I founded, Modern Assembly, was asked to pitch ideas for a leading travel review website, explains Aaron. As I dug into their business, it became apparent to me that the review system itself was creating an experience that was cumbersome, difficult to contribute to, and prone to fraud.

The idea for Sherpa was to use the photos we already share everyday to create a travel planning experience that is more authentic, emotionally resonant, and easy to contribute to, says Aaron.

The startup is currently working with more than 2,000 Instagram photographers or, as it calls them, micro-influencers across 90 countries. This includes names likeAndrew Kearns, Roman Koenigshofer, Marianne Hope, Sean Byrne, Kirsten Alana, Irina, Patrick Florian and Lukas Elias Winkler, among others.

Sherpa takes their content and turns it into guides that appeal to a variety of types of travelers ranging from backpackers to adventurers to luxury travelers and more. At launch, more than 500,000 geotagged photos have been organized into 15,000 travel guides that are presented in the app as albums.

To use the app, you first have to provide your email, connect with Instagram and tell Sherpa your home base (where you live). You can also optionally tell the app where youve been by allowing it to organize your own Instagram photos by location. (Id skip this if you have a private Instagram account, however, as your photos become public in the app.)

You can then browse through Sherpas travel guides either by typing in a specific destination in the search box or by scrolling through its selection of trending locations. While the Wikipedia content helps you get a basic understanding of the locale, Sherpas real purpose is to help you get inspired through travel photography.

As you browse the app, you can save to your suitcase photos of places you want to go, and, by doing so, Sherpa will begin to boost destinations related to those photos to personalize the content to your interests.

Because this is largely a visual browsing app, its not one thats best for actually planning the details involved with your travels, such as finding flights, booking lodging and tours or mapping out your route.

However, that could change in time.

Eventually, every photo you see on Sherpa will be bookable, and youll be able to search for trending hotels, or book the amazing off-the-beaten path trip that a travel photographer you follow has gone on, notes Aaron. As the platform grows, well monetize these bookings just like an online travel agency does.

But today, with its minimalistic design and beautiful imagery, its still a good first stop for figuring out where it is you might want to go.

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Brooklyn-based Sherpa is a three-person team, including co-foundersAdam Gettings and Tom Hadley. It has raised a small amount of angel funding.

The app was previously available as an invite-only beta for the past six months, while it built out it location-specific guides and community.

The app is a free download on the Apple App Store.

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Want a U.S. visa? Please list your social media handles from the last 5 years.

Image: Semansky/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Those seeking a visa to enter the United States will now have to air out their dirty social media laundry, which could bring the approval process to an agonizingly slow pace.

The Trump administration recently released a lengthy new questionnaire for visa applicants that goes above and beyond all previous such measures, according to a Reuters report. After a contentious public comment period, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the expansive questionnaire on May 23.

Among the new fields is a section dedicated solely to social media, in which applicants are asked to provide their “unique user name” for any online service used to “create or share content” over the past five years.

Consular officials can also now ask applicants for all prior passport numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, and 15 years of biographical information under the new protocol, making the application process much more burdensome for those looking to enter the United States.

Completing all fields of the questionnaire is voluntary but the language at the bottom of the form clearly states that failure to provide the information “may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.”

The strict new questionnaire doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. The State Department first proposed the new application parameters early last month as part of its initiative to follow through on the president’s promise for “extreme vetting” of those entering the United States.

The new application isn’t as visible as the failed travel bans that the president has attempted to push through via executive orders but they could affect even more people.

Reuters reports that State Department officials said they will request the additional information of applicants when it’s decided that extra steps are needed to “confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting,” a condition that essentially gives official carte blanche to conduct the searches on whomever they please, for any reason.

That’s a shift from what was originally described when the initiative was first announcedthen, only visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities” were said to be facing the additional scrutiny. The State Department estimated only 0.5 percent of the annual applicant pool, or about 65,000 people, would be under the additional scrutiny.

The social media field in the visa questionnaire.

Image: screenshot/US State Dept

The application isn’t so intrusive that it asks for access to those social media accounts requests like that are more likely to come from border officials on the spot, after all but the barrier for entry into the country is now raised.

Think about the various profiles and online accounts you’ve set up over the years. Can you recall every single one of them?

The same goes for the 15-year window required for the biographical information, which could also be used to catch applicants making innocent mistakes and give officials an excuse to keep them out of the country.

It’s just another step to make it easier for the administration to block anyone they want from entering the U.S. whether they’re a true threat to national security or not.

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Hubble, a digital platform to help businesses find flexible office space, raises 1.2M

Hubble, a London-headquartered a startup founded in 2014 to ride the coattails of the trend towards flexible office space, has picked up 1.2 million in new funding. Leading the round is Firestartr, with participation by 500 Startups, Maxfield Capital, and Concrete. The latter is a proptech fund backed by Seedcamp and Starwood Capital and for which Hubble is its first tech investment.

Founded by Tushar Agarwal (CEO), Tom Watson (CTO) and Rohan Silva (founder of Second Home, and former advisor to ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron), the company began life helping startups find spare office space. However, it has since expanded its platform to also serve the needs of traditional SMEs and larger corporates and, Im told, is seeing a huge uptick in companies wanting more flexibility since the result of the Brexit referendum.

More broadly, Agarwal tells me, Hubbles growth is a reflection of how the commercial property market is shifting away from lengthy, multi-year office space leases to short term rentals with out of the box features, and therefore less commitment or costs up front.

Its also a change, he argues, that traditional property letting agents arent well-positioned to cope with and where technology is the only way to scale because of the increase in the sheer number of transactions, which also typically carry a lower basket price.

To that end, as it stands, Hubble operates an online marketplace that matches companies needing flexible office space with landlords and commercial space providers, such as the WeWorks of this world.

With todays new capital, however and to better serve its growing client base the startup is building out its platform to act more like a digital commercial property advisor that will better use the data Hubble has and is accumulating to automate the office space search process in a more personal or bespoke way.

Adds Agarwal in a statement: Hubble is the driving force behind a trend that is seeing traditional commercial property agents quickly becoming obsolete. As technology has enabled the number of freelancers and SMEs in the world to grow at an unprecedented rate, they are rapidly displacing Fortune 500 companies from the physical real estate they traditionally occupy the bread and butter of traditional agents. The economics of the labour intensive model of property agents just dont stack up with the future of work.

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