Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

China’s trade surplus with US swells in June

July 13, 2018

China’s surplus with the US swelled in June, data showed Friday, likely stoking tensions with Donald Trump, who has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods citing unfair trade practices.

The increase came as total trade between the world’s top two economies rose 13.1 percent for the first half of the year, despite the face-off, which has seen tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods and warnings of more to come.

China’s surplus with the US rose to $133.8 billion in January-June, and a record $28.97 billion last month.

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP | The trade imbalance is heart of Donald Trump’s anger at what he describes as Beijing’s unfair trade practices that are hurting American companies

The imbalance is at the heart of Trump’s anger at what he describes as Beijing’s unfair trade practices that are hurting American companies and destroying jobs.

But on Thursday, China blamed those problems on the US, saying the trade imbalance was “overestimated” and caused by “domestic structural problems” in the United States, in a statement from the commerce ministry.

Bilateral trade between China and the US was booming last month during the exchange of trade threats between Beijing and Washington, Chinese official customs data showed. China exported US$217.7 billion of goods to the US in the first half of 2018, up 13.6 per cent year-on-year. Photo: Bloomberg

“This trade dispute will definitely have an impact on China-US trade and will have a very negative impact on global trade,” said customs administration spokesman Huang Songping at a briefing Friday.

With the wider world, China’s exports rose 11.3 percent on-year in June, beating a Bloomberg News forecast of 9.5 percent, while imports increased 14.1 percent, below the forecast 21.3 percent.


See also:

China reports record surplus with US and exports growth before July 6 tariffs kick in

See also:

China makes $8.46 from an iPhone. That’s why a U.S. trade war is futile



Facebook: Court to rule on grieving parents’ right to digital data

July 12, 2018

Facebook refused to grant parents access to their daughter’s data after her suspected suicide in 2012. Germany’s highest court will now rule on whether the right to inherit wins out against the right to data privacy.

Facebook logo reflected in the screen of a smartphone (picture-alliance/PA Wire/D. Lipinski)

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) was expected on Thursday to make a landmark ruling on whether relatives of people who have died have a right to access their digital data.

The case involves parents of a 15-year-old girl who asked Facebook to give them access to her data and messages after she was killed by an underground train in 2012.

Read more: What happens to your Facebook account after you die?

The social media giant denied the request despite the parents’ saying they wanted the information to decipher whether their daughter had died in an accident or committed suicide and, based on that, whether the train driver was entitled to compensation.

Contradictory lower-level rulings

A lower-level court ruled in favor of the parents in 2015, supporting their claim that Facebook data is legally equivalent to private correspondence covered by Germany’s inheritance law. Parents also had a right to know about their child’s communication if they were minors, according to the court.

But an appeals court overturned the decision in 2017, ruling in favor of Facebook’s claim that the German constitution, or Basic Law, entitles a person a right to data privacy even after their death.

Facebook only allows relatives of a deceased user to either convert their page into a “memorial” site or delete the page entirely.

The legal questions surrounding a person’s “digital legacy” have previously arisen in the United States, where Apple refused a law enforcement request to unlock an iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California.

amp/rc (AFP)

China eager to defuse trade pressures — But “Won’t Give an Inch”?

June 28, 2018

The Chinese government has once again defended its trade surplus with other major economies. It insisted that the nation’s rapid growth had brought lucrative opportunities to partners all over the world.

Chinese solar industry workers (picture alliance/Zumapress)

China’s leadership on Thursday launched yet another attempt to ease US and European pressure over market access and technology policy.

A government report repeated promises to cut tariffs and open more industries to foreign investment.

“China’s growth has brought great opportunities to trading partners all over the world,” Deputy Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said at a news conference.

The fresh report highlighted the clash between Beijing’s insistence it had honored market-opening pledges made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and arguments by the US and the European Union that China improperly hampered access to emerging industries and pressured foreign companies to hand over technology.

US President Donald Trump’s threat of tariff hikes on up to $450 billion (€389 billion) of Chinese products reflected fears in the White House that Beijing’s industrial policy was a threat to American technological leadership and prosperity.

On which side of the fence is Europe?

China has tried to recruit Europe as an ally in the dispute, but faces complaints by Germany and others that it bars purchases of Chinese assets while its own companies are on a global shopping spree.

Asked about possible US plans to restrict Chinese investment in tech industries, the commerce minister said he hoped that the countries concerned “would do the right thing and adopt policies that support free trade and investment.”

The United States and other trading partners argue China’s emergence as a competitor in smartphone technology, solar panels and other goods means it no longer qualifies for the special protections it was granted as a developing nation when it joined the WTO.

Earlier this week, Beijing and Brussels announced they would form a group to work on modernizing WTO rules to keep pace with recent developments in the global economy.

hg/mm (AP, dpa)

Google braced for Brussels penalty over abuse of market dominance

June 7, 2018

EU expected to make regulatory intervention against Google’s business model

EU’s Vestager to escalate battle with tech group by ruling Android device maker terms illegal

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

Rochelle Toplensky in Brussels

Brussels is preparing to hit Google next month for abusing its dominance through the Android mobile operating system, concluding the most important of a trio of EU antitrust investigations into the company.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is poised to announce the negative finding within weeks, according to people familiar with the case, marking the most significant regulatory intervention made against Google’s business model.

A penalty is expected in the Android case, but its size is unclear. The commission is empowered to impose fines of up to $11bn — which is 10 per cent of the global turnover of Google’s parent company Alphabet — but typically decisions are at the lower end of the range.

The decision will mark an escalation of the commission’s battle with Google, which began eight years ago with an investigation into comparison shopping, then only a narrow part of online commerce. Though that case concluded with a €2.4bn fine, it has not led to significant changes to Google’s business.

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A third investigation is under way into whether the company unfairly banned competitors from websites that used its search bar and adverts.

Android is the operating system used in more than 80 per cent of the world’s smartphones and is vital to the group’s future revenues as more users search on their mobile gadgets.

The European Commission investigation concluded that the US group imposed illegal terms on Android device makers, which harmed competition and cut consumer choice.

By contrast with the comparison shopping case, the Android case takes aim at a core part of Google’s strategy over the past decade: using its mobile operating system as a platform to push smartphone adoption of its search engine and smartphone app store.

Google denies wrongdoing but has seen no sign of the commission dropping its concerns or seeking a settlement to the case.

The Android case is the most commercially sensitive of all its battles with the commission, since it touches on business practices that have helped cement its position in the mobile search and advertising market.

When it unveiled its charge sheet against Google in 2016, the commission alleged that Google imposed licensing conditions for Android that favoured Google products and apps, such as Chrome and Google Play.

Phonemakers were also prevented from running competing operating systems based on the Android open-source code, and the company offered financial incentives for exclusively pre-installing Google Search on phones.

The commission argued the behaviour consolidated Google’s dominance in general search, hampered the ability of rival mobile browsers to compete with Chrome and hindered the development of other operating systems, which it worried would reduce consumer choice and stifle innovation.

When she announced the charges in 2016, Ms Vestager said: “We believe that Google’s behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules.”

In November 2016, the company replied to the accusations and argued that Brussels had misunderstood the market when it did not include Apple as a rival to Android.

“The commission’s case is based on the idea that Android doesn’t compete with Apple’s iOS,” Google said in a statement by Kent Walker, its general counsel. “We don’t see it that way. We don’t think Apple does either. Or phonemakers. Or developers. Or users.”

EU enforcers excluded Apple as a competitor because its iOS operating system is not available to be licensed on rivals’ smartphones.

Google dismissed regulators’ concern that pre-installed and bundled Google apps — such as search and Chrome — lock out rivals, arguing that competition is only a download away. It also said it must control the software and provide basic apps to ensure Android works smoothly on different phones and tablets.

The company unveiled Android in 2007 as an open system to challenge closed systems including iPhone, BlackBerry and Nokia as a way to ensure Google’s services and ads did not lose out as internet use went mobile.

The European Commission and Google declined to comment.

Brussels is considering if the changes made to Google Shopping are sufficient to fix its concerns.

Additional reporting by Richard Waters

Twitter is as addictive and destructive as a drug

May 31, 2018

Why does anyone, anywhere, still tweet?

In a span of seconds, Roseanne Barr blew up her life this week, rage-tweeting racist and bigoted commentary.

Just one day later, the Philadelphia 76ers announced they were investigating their team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo amid allegations he operated five secret Twitter accounts to gossip about and gaslight his own players.

In April, leading NFL prospect Josh Allen’s entire future was imperiled hours before the draft when racist tweets he’d posted in high school resurfaced. (After hasty damage control, the Buffalo Bills picked Allen.)

If Instagram is the platform for presenting your fake enviable life and Facebook the hub of virtual friendship, Twitter is the repository of the id — the childish, brutal, needy, raw, unmediated id. It somehow brings out the worst of human nature, yet celebrities, athletes, politicians and journalists still use it.

People who already have public platforms somehow do not find this enough, somehow convinced by Twitter that every thought they have must be so brilliant, so original, it must be shared with the world.

By Maureen Callahan

May 31, 2018
New York Post

It’s usually not. Just ask Kanye, or his alter-ego Donald Trump.

“I was hacked,” said Anthony Weiner in 2011, denying — before admitting — that he’d tweeted a lewd photo of himself to a 21-year-old college student.

Weiner is now in federal prison for sexting with a 15-year-old girl.

“When a friend found [those posts] in December and sent them to me, I was stunned,” said MSNBC host Joy Reid in April, after homophobic statements on her Twitter feed surfaced. “Frankly, I couldn’t imagine where they’d come from or whose voice that was.”


It tells you something when Silicon Valley execs stay off the social media platforms they’ve engineered to manipulate and addict the rest of us. Steve Jobs famously limited screen time for his own children. Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, has denied his kids iPads in favor of books. Bill Gates limited screen time for his children and didn’t allow them cell phones until they turned 14.

Twitter itself is only 12 years old. We haven’t even begun to understand the ways in which it’s changing us individually, politically, socially, morally, neurologically. That even the wealthy and powerful can be decimated by one digital utterance should alarm us all.

A 2012 study at Chicago University’s Booth Business School found that Twitter is more addictive than cigarettes, alcohol or caffeine. Participants reported the greatest “self-control failure rates” when it came to checking or posting tweets. In 2014, a study by market research company Neuro Insight found that Twitter users reported that they felt a high degree of “personal relevance” when tweeting — 51 percent, higher than with other social media platforms.

When ABC announced the “Roseanne” reboot in January, Barr herself said she couldn’t be trusted with her own Twitter account and that she’d turned it over to her adult children.

“I didn’t want it to overshadow the show,” she said.

Now Barr has lost millions of dollars: Her critically-acclaimed reboot canceled, re-runs dropped everywhere. Barr is a pariah, someone even Charlie Sheen feels comfortable criticizing — where else? — on Twitter.

“I apologize,” Barr tweeted at 7:28 am on May 29. “I am now leaving Twitter.”

Later that day, she was right back, blaming Ambien. That wasn’t the drug to blame.

FILED UNDER          

How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

Trump’s cellphones reportedly lack ‘sophisticated security features’

May 22, 2018

President Trump reportedly uses cellphones that are not equipped with “sophisticated security features,” which could make them vulnerable to hacking.

Trump uses two iPhones — one for calls and another for tweeting — and has rebuffed efforts to make them more secure because he claims it is “too inconvenient,” Politico reported on Monday.


Aides have attempted to convince Trump to swap out his phones — a process President Obama took part in every 30 days — but the president has resisted, the paper said.

Trump’s phone for tweeting has not been swapped out in more than five months, while it is unclear how long he has had his call-capable phone, according to Politico.

In response, a White House official told the paper that the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis.”

However, the official said that the Twitter phone “does not necessitate regular change-out.”

Also at issue appears to be the existence of both a camera and a microphone on the Trump call-capable iPhone — which could make it susceptible to hacking.

In response to the accusation that those devices were prone to hacking, the White House official told the paper that the phone was “more secure than any Obama era devices” because of advances in technology.

Trump ran a significant part of his 2016 presidential campaign by asserting that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state made her vulnerable to hacking and thereby unfit to serve in the Oval Office.


‘Transparency’ is the Mother of Fake News — Opinion

May 7, 2018

For some time now everyone has been worrying about “fake news” or the world of “alternative fact” and wondering just how and why this unhappy phenomenon has flourished. My take on this question is simple, although I hope not simple-minded: Fake news is in large part a product of the enthusiasm — not to say rage — for transparency and absolutely free speech.

By Stanley Fish

Mr. Fish is a legal scholar and author.

Credit Mike Clarke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I know that this is a counterintuitive proposition. I would like to begin my defense of it with an anecdote.

In November 2016, Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, informed the university community of the first meeting of a presidential advisory group charged with recommending free speech policies for the campus. Titsworth reported that the group’s first action was to affirm transparency as one of its “core values”; the second action was to decide (unanimously) that its meetings would not be open to the public, but held in private.

As you can imagine, it was easy to make fun of the obvious contradiction, but the contradiction is not so glaring once we understand that two notions of what “free” means are in play here. The group wants (understandably) to be free of the pressures that would be felt if the proceedings were conducted under public scrutiny; at every moment members would be tempted to tailor what they said to the responses and criticisms of an imagined audience. In short, they would not be speaking freely but under a shadow if the meaning of “freely” in force were “entirely without filters, gatekeepers and boundaries.”

That sense of “freely” is championed by techno-utopians whose mantra is “information wants to be free” and who believe that the promised land predicted by the authors of every technological advance — the printing press, newspapers, the telegraph, the railroad, radio, television, the digital computer, the internet — is just around the corner. It is a land in which democracy’s potential is finally realized in a communication community where all voices are recognized and none marginalized, with no one hoarding information or controlling access or deciding who speaks and who doesn’t.

What Titsworth and his fellow committee members see is that this more ambitious and abstract sense of “freely” is antithetical to the successful completion of their task: Not speaking freely in front of everyone is a condition of speaking freely — without anxiety and mental reservation — on the way to exploring the complexities and difficulties of their charge.

The moral (provisionally, and perhaps prematurely, drawn) is that transparency is not unambiguously a good thing. (I pass over for the moment the prior question of whether it is a possible thing.) And if that is right, then the proliferation of speech may not be a good thing either; silence and the withholding and sequestering of speech may be useful and even necessary in some contexts, like the preparing of a report or maintaining of a marriage. I say this aware that many free speech advocates believe that the more free speech there is the better the human condition will be, and who believe, too, that it is the business of our institutions, including our legislatures and courts, to increase the amount of speech available.

At first glance the bias in favor of unlimited speech and information seems perfectly reasonable and even unassailable. What arguments could be brought against it? An answer to that question has been offered in recent years by a small, but growing, number of critics.

In a 2009 essay in The New Republic titled “Against Transparency,” the law professor Lawrence Lessig (known as an apostle of openness), asked, as I just have, “How could anyone be against transparency?” Lessig responds to his own question by quoting a trio of authors who in their book “Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency” observe that by itself information doesn’t do anything; its effects depend on the motives of those who make use of it, and raw information (that is, data) cannot distinguish between benign and malign appropriations of itself. Misunderstanding and manipulation are always more than possible, and there is no way to assure that “new information is used to further public objectives.”

Another way to put this is to say that information, data and the unbounded flow of more and more speech can be politicized — it can, that is, be woven into a narrative that constricts rather than expands the area of free, rational choice. When that happens — and it will happen often — transparency and the unbounded flow of speech become instruments in the production of the very inequalities (economic, political, educational) that the gospel of openness promises to remove. And the more this gospel is preached and believed, the more that the answer to everything is assumed to be data uncorrupted by interests and motives, the easier it will be for interest and motives to operate under transparency’s cover.

This is so because speech and data presented as if they were independent of any mechanism of selectivity will float free of the standards of judgment that are always the content of such mechanisms. Removing or denying the existence of gatekeeping procedures will result not in a fair and open field of transparency but in a field where manipulation and deception find no obstacles. Because it is an article of their faith that politics are bad and the unmediated encounter with data is good, internet prophets will fail to see the political implications of what they are trying to do, for in their eyes political implications are what they are doing away with.

Indeed, their deepest claim — so deep that they are largely unaware of it — is that politics can be eliminated. They don’t regard politics as an unavoidable feature of mortal life but as an unhappy consequence of the secular equivalent of the Tower of Babel: too many languages, too many points of view. Politics (faction and difference) will just wither away when the defect that generates it (distorted communication) has been eliminated by unmodified data circulated freely among free and equal consumers; everyone will be on the same page, reading from the same script and apprehending the same universal meanings. Back to Eden!

This utopian fantasy rests on a positive, vaguely perfectionist view of human nature: Rather than being doomed by original sin to conflict, prejudice, hatred and an insatiable will to power, men and women are by nature communitarian, inclined to fellowship and the seeking of common ground. These good instincts, we are told, have been blocked by linguistic differences that can now be transcended by the digital revolution.

A memorable Facebook news release written by Mark Zuckerberg a few years back, cited by Evgeny Morozov in his book “To Save EverythingClick Here” tells the happy and optimistic story: “By enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share their ideas, we can decrease world conflict in the short and long run.” The idea, Morozov explains, is that factions and conflict “are simply the unfortunate result of an imperfect communication infrastructure.” If we perfect that infrastructure by devising a language of data algorithms and instantaneous electronic interaction that bypasses intervening and distorting institutions like the state, then communication would be perfect and undistorted, and society would be set on the right path without any further political efforts required. Talk about magical thinking!

In the alternative and true story rehearsed by many, human difference is irreducible, and there is no “neutral observation language” (a term of the philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) that can bridge, soften, blur and even erase the differences. When people from opposing constituencies clash there is no common language to which they can refer their differences for mechanical resolution; there are only political negotiations that would involve not truth telling but propaganda, threats, insults, deceptions, exaggerations, insinuations, bluffs, posturings — all the forms of verbal manipulation that will supposedly disappear in the internet nirvana.

They won’t. Indeed, they will proliferate because the politically angled speech that is supposedly the source of our problems is in fact the only possible route to their (no doubt temporary) solution. Speech proceeding from a point of view can at least be recognized as such and then countered. You say, “I know where those guys are coming from, and here are my reasons for believing that we should be coming from some place else” — and dialogue begins. It is dialogue inflected by interests and agendas, but dialogue still. But when speech (or information or data) is just sitting there inert, unattached to any perspective, when there are no guidelines, monitors, gatekeepers or filters, what you have are innumerable bits (like Lego) available for assimilation into any project a clever verbal engineer might imagine; and what you don’t have is any mechanism that can stop or challenge the construction project or even assess it. What you have, in short, are the perfect conditions for the unchecked proliferation of what has come to be called “fake news.”

The rise of fake news has been attributed by some to the emergence of postmodern thought. Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote in 2017 that fake news can be “traced back to the campus,” specifically to “academic postmodernism,” which Hanson says, “derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations.”

That’s not quite right. The insistence on the primacy of narratives and interpretations does not involve a deriding of facts but an alternative story of their emergence. Postmodernism sets itself against the notion of facts just lying there discrete and independent, and waiting to be described. Instead it argues that fact is the achievement of argument and debate, not a pre-existing entity by whose measure argument can be assessed. Arguments come first; when they are successful, facts follow — at least for a while, until a new round of arguments replaces them with a new set of facts.

This is far from the picture of Nietzschean nihilism that Hanson and others paint. Friction, not free invention, is the heart of the process: You commit yourself to the standards of evidence long in place in the conversation you enter, and then you maneuver as best you can within the guidelines of those standards. Thus, for example, a judge who issues a decision cannot simply decide which side he favors and then generate an opinion; he must first pass through and negotiate the authorized routes for getting there. Sometimes the effort at negotiation will fail and he will say that despite his interpretive desires, “This opinion just won’t write.”

Any opinion will write if there are no routes to be negotiated or no standards to hew to, if nothing but your own interpretive desire prevents you from assembling or reassembling bits of unmoored data lying around in the world into a story that serves your purposes. It is not postmodernism that licenses this irresponsibility; it is the doctrine that freedom of information and transparency are all we need.

Those who proclaim this theology can in good faith ignore or bypass all the usual routes of validation because their religion tells them that those routes are corrupt and that only the nonmethod of having no routes, no boundaries, no categories, no silos can bring us to the River Jordan and beyond.

In many versions of Protestantism, parishioners are urged to reject merely human authority in any form and go directly to the pure word of God. For the technophiles the pure word of God is to be found in data. In fact, what is found in a landscape where data detached from any context abounds is the fracturing of the word into ever proliferating pieces of discourse, all existing side by side, indifferently approved, and without any way of distinguishing among them, of telling which of them are true or at least have a claim to be true and which are made up out of whole cloth.

That is the world of fake news. It is created by the undermining of trust in the traditional vehicles of authority and legitimation — major newspapers, professional associations, credentialed academics, standard encyclopedias, government bureaus, federal courts, prime-time nightly news anchors.

When Walter Cronkite was the longtime anchor at CBS, he was known as the most trusted man in America; and when he signed off by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” everyone believed him. In the brave new world of the internet, where authority is evenly distributed to everyone with a voice or a podcast, no one believes anybody, or (it is the same thing) everyone believes anybody.

This wholesale distrust of authoritative mechanisms leads to the bizarre conclusion that an assertion of fact is more credible if it lacks an institutional source. In this way of thinking, a piece of news originating in a blog maintained by a teenager in a basement in Idaho would be more reliable than a piece of news announced by the anchor of a major network. And, again, what has brought us to this sorry pass is not the writings of Derrida or Foucault or any postmodern guru but the twin mantras of more free speech and absolute transparency.

Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University and a visiting professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is the author of many books and is currently at work on a book about free speech in America.

Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

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NYT, May 7, 2018

Facebook is winning the augmented reality war — Zuck’s family of apps

May 4, 2018

Over 2 billion users is a big head start.

If it weren’t for data privacyfake news and hate speech taking up so much air time, this year’s Facebook conference would’ve probably centered around a far less controversial topic: augmented reality. It’s one of a few unifying themes that’s spread across most of Facebook’s product announcements this week. Now that AR is in Facebook’s News Feed, Instagram and Messenger, the company is poised to have the biggest AR platform on the planet.

It’s all based on the Camera Effects Platform that CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled at F8 last year. The idea is simple: Use your Facebook camera to interact with digital items laid over the real world. The obvious example is selfie filters — imagine bunny ears or a crown floating above your head — but it can also do tricks like fill a room with liquid or add virtual steam to a real cup of coffee.

While it all started with Facebook’s own Camera, third-party AR filters are finally rolling out to the rest of Zuck’s family of apps — including Instagram and Messenger. At F8’s keynote earlier this week, Facebook showed a “floating heart” selfie filter. The hearts featured a headshot of Jiffpom, a cute Pomeranian pup with the unique distinction of being the most famous animal on Instagram.

If that sounds very different from anything on Facebook’s own camera app, that’s on purpose. While the underlying tools and platform are the same, the filters are not. “We could’ve just brought over the AR filters from Facebook to Instagram, but we recognize that the two networks are very different,” said Ficus Kirkpatrick, an engineering director in charge of Facebook’s AR projects. While Facebook is more for friends and family, Instagram has a greater emphasis on brands and personalities. “In the end, we want to increase the diversity of AR. The same tools produce fairly different results depending on who’s using them.”

A more obvious example is with the AR implementation on Messenger, which is far more commerce-oriented. Head of Messenger David Marcus showed how Nike would use Messenger and AR to debut a pair of limited edition sneakers. Just strike up a conversation with the SNKRS bot, answer some questions and you’ll unlock that exclusive pair of kicks. You’ll then get a full 360-degree close-up look at a virtual render of the shoe before purchasing it. Other brand-related implementations include trying on virtual makeup with Sephora and customizing a Kia hatchback.

At the heart of Facebook’s plans for AR domination is AR Studio, an in-house tool Facebook updated this year with even more ways to create and distribute AR content. It’s so easy to use that you can drag and drop elements without having to write any code. “We’re aspiring to have the easiest to use creation tools,” said Kirkpatrick. “You don’t have to know code to use this. Artists and creators who just want to make art can play with it too.”

This is one important difference between Facebook’s approach to AR versus Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Developers who use the latter two are usually building purpose-built apps, for arranging furniture on IKEA or building blocks with Lego Studio for example. Facebook, on the other hand, is making it more accessible. “We’re more focused on tighter, simpler, shorter experiences,” said Kirkpatrick. “We want to add on to something you’re currently using.”

Of course, Facebook is definitely not the first to incorporate AR in this way. Snapchat and Pokemon Go have implemented AR to varying degrees of success. But Pokemon Go is waning in popularity and Snapchat is suffering a drop in user growth. With more than 2 billion users on Facebook, more than 800 million on Instagram and over 1.3 billion on Messenger, Facebook is as popular as ever despite constant controversy.

With Facebook’s AR platform, people can play around with AR in the app they already have. That, combined with the variety of AR effects, is how Facebook wants to differentiate itself from the pack. “This is why we’re not doing all of it ourselves,” explains Kirkpatrick on why Facebook opened up its AR platform to developers. “We need a lot of ideas for AR to succeed […] Having more types of situations for more people to have other experiences is a big first step in.”

Still, it’s hard to take some of this seriously. After all, most of the AR use cases tend to be trivial (remember those bunny ears?). Yet, Kirkpatrick doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “A lot of the apps for the iPhone when that first came out felt trivial too,” he said, pointing out that there were a plethora of fart apps in the beginning. “Often things that turn out to be profound look like toys.”

In the end, he’s confident that face masks and selfie filters aren’t the be-all and end-all for AR. At F8, head of VR Rachel Franklin showed a way that you could incorporate a 3D object into a Facebook news post in the form of a virtual gift. Earlier this month, Facebook also debuted a “target tracking” feature that lets you connect images, logos and signs — like in movie posters — with augmented content. Which could mean a future in which virtual ads are as commonplace as physical billboards.

“What we’re trying to do is take the first steps toward the first generation of computing that’s more immersive, and more visual, than ever before,” said Kirkpatrick. With its clout and its reach, Facebook might very well accomplish its AR goals. That is, if it can deal with the harsh realities of scandal and controversy at the same time. There’s no AR filter that’ll make that go away.

By Nicole Lee@nicole

Click here to catch up on the latest news from F8 2018!

Apple’s iPhone Gravy Train

May 2, 2018

Apple Inc.’s fortunes are still tethered to a single slow-growing product, fellow Gadfly columnist Shira Ovide wrote after the iPhone maker’s March earnings report Tuesday.

Suppliers are cheering. What’s even better news than sales surpassing expectations is the fact Cupertino is putting more into the supply chain than ever before.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and night

Quarterly sales didn’t hit a new high, but on a trailing 12-month basis they climbed to a record $247 billion, and so did the line item known as cost of goods sold (COGS), which touched $153 billion.

Hey, Big Spender

Apple’s revenue and expenditure on product components both rose, with the proportion that’s going into the supply chain touching the highest level in four years

Source: Bloomberg

This metric isn’t a perfect measure of how much Apple spends on components and assembly, but it’s a pretty good approximation. When we divide COGS by revenue, essentially the reverse of gross margin, we can see that Apple’s spending rate climbed to 61.7 percent, the highest since the March quarter of 2014.

This may not be wonderful news for Apple shareholders, but it’s a good sign for the hundreds of suppliers that feed off the gravy train that is iPhone.

It means their big client isn’t squeezing them too much, even amid the new reality that supercycles are dead. And that’s something to sing from the mountains.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google

April 22, 2018

Google gathers more personal data than Facebook does, by almost every measure—so why aren’t we talking about it?

Amid rising alarm about the personal data companies might be collecting without our knowledge, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, with an office in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, might be as much, if not more, of a concern as Facebook.
Amid rising alarm about the personal data companies might be collecting without our knowledge, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, with an office in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, might be as much, if not more, of a concern as Facebook. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Recent controversy over Facebook Inc.’s hunger for personal data has surfaced the notion that the online advertising industry could be hazardous to our privacy and well-being.

As justifiable as the focus on Facebook has been, though, it isn’t  the full picture. If the concern is that companies may be collecting some personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, Alphabet Inc.’s Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend…

As justifiable as the focus on Facebook has been, though, it isn’t  the full picture. If the concern is that companies may be collecting some personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGL -1.11% Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.

New regulations, particularly in Europe, are driving Google and others to disclose more and seek more permissions from users. And given the choice, many people might even be fine with the trade-off of personal data for services. Still, to date few of us realize the extent to which our data is being collected and used.

“There is a systemic problem and it’s not limited to Facebook,” says Arvind Narayanan, a computer scientist and assistant professor at Princeton University. The larger problem, he argues, is that the very business model of these companies is geared to privacy violation. We need to understand Google’s role in this.

How Google harvests data

Lawmakers and others have asked Facebook about “shadow profiles”—data the company gathers on people without Facebook accounts. The company doesn’t use the term but does track non-users.

It’s likely that Google has shadow profiles on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft.

If lawmakers really want to understand online advertising and data harvesting, they might want to speak with Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google Inc., who was a speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.
If lawmakers really want to understand online advertising and data harvesting, they might want to speak with Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google Inc., who was a speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. PHOTO: JASON ALDEN/BLOOMBERG

Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data.

Google Analytics is far and away the web’s most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in.

Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we’ve installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we’ve shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn’t use information from “sensitive categories” such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they’re on.

This is why Google and Facebook are dominant in online advertising. By pouring huge amounts of our personal data into the latest artificial-intelligence tech, they can determine who—and where—we really are, whether or not we reveal ourselves voluntarily.

Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn’t—whether we’re pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information.

Google is the biggest enabler of data harvesting on mobile devices, through the world’s two billion active Android devices. Shown, the Android pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February.
Google is the biggest enabler of data harvesting on mobile devices, through the world’s two billion active Android devices. Shown, the Android pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February. PHOTO: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG

While data brokers can sell this information to insurers, employers and anyone else who might be interested, many of their customers are marketers who need another component: Google’s AI, which delivers “look-alike” audiences—people similar to the ones found in the brokers’ data.

Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world’s two billion active Android mobile devices.

Since Google’s Android OS helps companies gather data on us, then Google is also partly to blame when huge troves of that data are later used improperly, says Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University.

A good example of this is the way Facebook has continuously harvested Android users’ call and text history. Facebook never got this level of access from Apple ’s iPhone, whose operating system is designed to permit less under-the-hood data collection. Android OS often allows apps to request rich data from users without accompanying warnings about how the data might be used.

To be listed in Google’s Android app store, developers must agree to request only the information they need. But that doesn’t stop them from using “needed” data for additional purposes.

Designers call the ways marketers and developers cajole and mislead us into giving up our data “dark patterns,” tactics that exploit flaws and limits in our cognition.

Google bans what it calls deceptive requests for user data, such as obscuring opt-out buttons. At issue is whether Google goes far enough. But Google itself uses what are arguably dark patterns to get people to switch to its own apps for things like email and web browsing.

Android users of the Gmail app will be asked to enable access to the device’s camera and microphone again and again until they say yes. Similarly, on Android, Google Maps asks users to turn on location services—justifiable, sure, but this enables geo-targeted ads.

All of this is ostensibly done with your permission. But it’s hard to understand how even an expert could give meaningful informed consent to the average request for data, says Dr. Narayanan.

New EU privacy rules are forcing companies to make comprehensible to mere mortals what data they gather and how they use it. But in many cases, Google is pushing responsibility for obtaining data-gathering permissions to advertisers.

Will Google take responsibility?

It’s not as if Google is unaware of the issues inherent in its business model. The company opposes the California Consumer Privacy Act, a November ballot measure, on the grounds that it is vague and unworkable. It would grant consumers three basic protections: “the right to tell a business not to share or sell your personal information, the right to know where and to whom your data is being sold or shared, and the right to know that your service providers are protecting your information.” Even Facebook dropped its opposition to this act.

The solution may be simple: build better tools to give us a clear understanding of what we’re opting into. If given clear choices, many people might be fine with their data being collected. But it’s just as likely they would refuse, in ways that could affect Google’s bottom line.

Write to Christopher Mims at