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Is Europe closing in on an antitrust repair for surveillance technologists?

Raghav Jain

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The German Federal Cartel Workplace’s choice to order Fb to vary the way it processes customers’ private knowledge this week is an indication the antitrust tide might finally be turning towards platform energy.

One European Fee supply we spoke to, who was commenting in a private capability, described it as “clearly pioneering” and “an enormous deal”, even with out Fb being fined a dime.

The FCO’s determination as an alternative bans the social community from linking consumer knowledge throughout totally different platforms it owns, until it good points individuals’s consent (nor can it make use of its providers contingent on such consent). Fb can also be prohibited from gathering and linking knowledge on customers from third social gathering web sites, similar to by way of its monitoring pixels and social plugins.

The order just isn’t but in drive, and Fb is interesting, however ought to it come into drive the social community faces being de facto shrunk by having its platforms siloed on the knowledge degree.

To adjust to the order Fb must ask customers to freely consent to being knowledge-mined — which the corporate doesn’t do at current.

Sure, Fb might nonetheless manipulate the result it needs from customers however doing so would open it to additional problem underneath EU knowledge safety regulation, as its present strategy to consent is already being challenged.

The EU’s up to date privateness framework, GDPR, requires consent to be particular, knowledgeable and freely given. That commonplace helps challenges to Fb’s (nonetheless fastened) entry ‘worth’ to its social providers. To play you continue to should agree handy over your private knowledge so it will possibly promote your consideration to advertisers. However authorized specialists contend that’s neither privateness by design nor default.

The one ‘various’ Fb presents is to inform customers they will delete their account. Not that doing so would cease the corporate from monitoring you round the remainder of the mainstream net anyway. Fb’s monitoring infrastructure can also be embedded throughout the broader Web so it profiles non-customers too.

EU knowledge safety regulators are nonetheless investigating a really giant variety of consent-associated GDPR complaints.

However the German FCO, which stated it liaised with privateness authorities throughout its investigation of Fb’s knowledge-gathering, has dubbed any such conduct “exploitative abuse”, having additionally deemed the social service to carry a monopoly place within the German market.

So there at the moment are two strains of authorized assault — antitrust and privateness regulation — threatening Fb (and certainly different adtech corporations’) surveillance-based mostly enterprise mannequin throughout Europe.

A yr in the past the German antitrust authority additionally introduced a probe of the internet advertising sector, responding to considerations a few lack of transparency within the market. Its work right here is not at all carried out.

Knowledge limits

The shortage of an enormous flashy high quality hooked up to the German FCO’s order towards Fb makes this week’s story much less of a serious headline than current European Fee antitrust fines handed to Google — such because the report-breaking $5BN penalty issued final summer time for anticompetitive behaviour linked to the Android cellular platform.

However the determination is arguably simply as, if not extra, vital, due to the structural cures being ordered upon Fb. These cures have been likened to an inner break-up of the corporate — with enforced inner separation of its a number of platform merchandise on the knowledge degree.

This in fact runs counter to (advert) platform giants’ most popular trajectory, which has lengthy been to tear modesty partitions down; pool consumer knowledge from a number of inner (and certainly exterior sources), in defiance of the notion of knowledgeable consent; and mine all that private (and delicate) stuff to construct id-linked profiles to coach algorithms that predict (and, some contend, manipulate) particular person conduct.

As a result of should you can predict what an individual goes to do you possibly can select which advert to serve to extend the prospect they’ll click on. (Or as Mark Zuckerberg places it: ‘Senator, we run advertisements.’)

Because of this a regulatory intervention that interferes with an advert tech big’s potential to pool and course of private knowledge begins to look actually fascinating. As a result of a Fb that may’t be a part of knowledge dots throughout its sprawling social empire — or certainly throughout the mainstream net — wouldn’t be such an enormous big when it comes to knowledge insights. And nor, subsequently, surveillance oversight.

Every of its platforms can be pressured to be a extra discrete (and, nicely, discreet) sort of enterprise.

Competing towards knowledge-siloed platforms with a standard proprietor — as an alternative of a single interlinked mega-surveillance-community — additionally begins to sound virtually attainable. It suggests a enjoying area that’s reset, if not completely levelled.

(Whereas, within the case of Android, the European Fee didn’t order any particular cures — permitting Google to provide you with ‘fixes’ itself; and so to form probably the most self-serving ‘repair’ it might consider.)

In the meantime, simply take a look at the place Fb is now aiming to get to: A technical unification of the backend of its totally different social merchandise.

Such a merger would collapse much more partitions and absolutely enmesh platforms that began life as totally separate merchandise earlier than have been folded into Fb’s empire (additionally, let’s not overlook, by way of surveillance-knowledgeable acquisitions).

Fb’s plan to unify its merchandise on a single backend platform seems very very similar to an try and throw up technical obstacles to antitrust hammers. It’s no less than more durable to think about breaking apart an organization if its a number of, separate merchandise are merged onto one unified backend which features to cross and mix knowledge streams.

Set towards Fb’s sudden want to technically unify its full-flush of dominant social networks (Fb Messenger; Instagram; WhatsApp) is a rising drum-beat of requires competitors-based mostly scrutiny of tech giants.

This has been constructing for years, because the market energy — and even democracy-denting potential — of surveillance capitalism’s knowledge giants has telescoped into view.

Calls to interrupt up tech giants not carry a suggestive punch. Regulators are routinely requested whether or not it’s time. Because the European Fee’s competitors chief, Margrethe Vestager, was when she handed down Google’s newest large antitrust high quality final summer time.

Her response then was that she wasn’t positive breaking Google up is the appropriate reply — preferring to attempt cures which may permit rivals to have a go, whereas additionally emphasizing the significance of legislating to make sure “transparency and equity within the enterprise to platform relationship”.

However it’s fascinating that the thought of breaking apart tech giants now performs so properly as political theatre, suggesting that wildly profitable shopper know-how corporations — which have lengthy dined out on shiny comfort-based mostly advertising claims, made ever so saccharine candy by way of the lure of ‘free’ providers — have misplaced an enormous chunk of their populist pull, dogged as they’ve been by so many scandals.

From terrorist content material and hate speech, to election interference, baby exploitation, bullying, abuse. There’s additionally the matter of how they organize their tax affairs.

The general public notion of tech giants has matured because the ‘prices’ of their ‘free’ providers have scaled into view. The upstarts have additionally develop into the institution. Individuals see not a brand new era of ‘cuddly capitalists’ however one other bunch of multinationals; extremely polished however distant cash-making machines that take slightly greater than they provide again to the societies they feed off.

Google’s trick of naming every Android iteration after a unique candy deal with makes for an fascinating parallel to the (additionally now shifting) public perceptions round sugar, following nearer consideration to well being considerations. What does its sickly sweetness masks? And after the sugar tax, we now have politicians calling for a social media levy.

Simply this week the deputy chief of the primary opposition celebration within the UK referred to as for establishing a standalone Web regulatory with the facility to interrupt up tech monopolies.

Speaking about breaking apart nicely-oiled, wealth-focus machines is being seen as a populist vote winner. And corporations that political leaders used to flatter and hunt down for PR alternatives discover themselves handled as political punchbags; Referred to as to attend awkward grilling by arduous-grafting committees, or taken to vicious process verbally on the highest profile public podia. (Although some non-democratic heads of state are nonetheless eager to press tech big flesh.)

In Europe, Fb’s repeat snubs of the UK parliament’s requests final yr for Zuckerberg to face policymakers’ questions definitely didn’t go unnoticed.

Zuckerberg’s empty chair on the DCMS committee has turn out to be each a logo of the corporate’s failure to simply accept wider societal duty for its merchandise, and a sign of market failure; the CEO so highly effective he doesn’t really feel answerable to anybody; neither his most weak customers nor their elected representatives. Therefore UK politicians on each side of the aisle making political capital by speaking about slicing tech giants right down to measurement.

The political fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal seems removed from completed.

Fairly how a UK regulator might efficiently swing a regulatory hammer to interrupt up a worldwide Web big akin to Fb which is headquartered within the U.S. is one other matter. However policymakers have already crossed the rubicon of public opinion and are relishing speaking up having a go.

That represents a sea-change vs the neoliberal consensus that allowed competitors regulators to take a seat on their palms for greater than a decade as know-how upstarts quietly hoovered up individuals’s knowledge and bagged rivals, and principally went about reworking themselves from extremely scalable startups into market-distorting giants with Web-scale knowledge-nets to snag customers and purchase or block competing concepts.

The political spirit seems to be prepared to go there, and now the mechanism for breaking platforms’ distorting maintain on markets can also be shaping up.

The normal antitrust treatment of breaking an organization alongside its enterprise strains nonetheless seems unwieldy when confronted with the blistering tempo of digital know-how. The issue is delivering such a repair quick sufficient that the enterprise hasn’t already reconfigured to route across the reset. 

Fee antitrust selections on the tech beat have stepped up impressively in tempo on Vestager’s watch. But it nonetheless seems like watching paper pushers wading via treacle to attempt to catch a sprinter. (And Europe hasn’t gone as far as making an attempt to impose a platform break up.) 

However the German FCO choice towards Fb hints at an alternate means ahead for regulating the dominance of digital monopolies: Structural cures that target controlling entry to knowledge which could be comparatively swiftly configured and utilized.

Vestager, whose time period as EC competitors chief could also be coming to its finish this yr (even when different Fee roles stay in potential and tantalizing rivalry), has championed this concept herself.

In an interview on BBC Radio four’s At this time program in December she poured chilly water on the inventory query about breaking tech giants up — saying as an alternative the Fee might take a look at how bigger companies acquired entry to knowledge and assets as a way of limiting their energy. Which is strictly what the German FCO has accomplished in its order to Fb. 

On the similar time, Europe’s up to date knowledge safety framework has gained probably the most consideration for the dimensions of the monetary penalties that may be issued for main compliance breaches. However the regulation additionally provides knowledge watchdogs the facility to restrict or ban processing. And that energy might equally be used to reshape a rights-eroding enterprise mannequin or snuff out such enterprise solely.

The merging of privateness and antitrust considerations is admittedly only a reflection of the complexity of the problem regulators now face making an attempt to rein in digital monopolies. However they’re tooling as much as meet that problem.

Talking in an interview with TechCrunch final fall, Europe’s knowledge safety supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, advised us the bloc’s privateness regulators are shifting in the direction of extra joint working with antitrust businesses to answer platform energy. “Europe want to converse with one voice, not solely inside knowledge safety however by approaching this difficulty of digital dividend, monopolies in a greater approach — not per sectors,” he stated. “However first joint enforcement and higher co-operation is vital.”

The German FCO’s choice represents tangible proof of the type of regulatory co-operation that would — lastly — crack down on tech giants.

Running a blog in help of the choice this week, Buttarelli asserted: “It isn’t vital for competitors authorities to implement different areas of regulation; quite they want merely to id the place probably the most highly effective undertakings are setting a nasty instance and damaging the pursuits of shoppers.  Knowledge safety authorities are capable of help on this evaluation.”

He additionally had a prediction of his personal for surveillance technologists, warning: “This case is the tip of the iceberg — all corporations within the digital info ecosystem that depend on monitoring, profiling and concentrating on ought to be on discover.”

So maybe, in the end, the regulators have found out learn how to transfer quick and break issues.

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Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Spotify’s podcasting app Anchor now helps you make trailers

Raghav Jain

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Spotify’s simple podcasting suite, Anchor, is today introducing a new feature designed to help creators promote their podcast: trailers. On the Anchor app for iOS and Android, podcasters will now be able to create a dedicated trailer for their podcast that combines an introduction and some background music, then turns it into an animated video that can be shared across social media and the wider web.

The trailer will also be made available within the podcast’s RSS feed, where it’s marked with the “trailer” episode type.

Anchor had already offered a way for users to mark episodes of their podcast as a trailer within the app, but the new feature makes it simpler to create a trailer through a more integrated experience.

For example, when you push the button to record, you have one minute to introduce your podcast — and a warning will flash when that minute is about to be up. When you’re satisfied with the recording, you can then browse through Anchor free library of background music, which is organized by mood — like adventurous, calm, dramatic, cheerful, energetic, funky, chill, etc. Or you can opt to go without music, if you prefer.

And if you already have a voice recording saved elsewhere, you can import it into Anchor to use as your trailer.

There are other options today for creating podcast trailers, like those from services like Wavve, Headliner, or Audiogram, for example. But Anchor’s goal is to be the one-stop-shop for everything a new podcaster needs to get started, and that includes promotional tools like this.

However, many professional podcasters still view Anchor as a sort of entry-level product and turn to more advanced audio editing suites to craft their shows. But over time, these extra, handy features could help Anchor to earn a place in podcaster’s workflow, even if it’s not their end-to-end solution.

Podcasting has become an important vertical for Anchor’s parent company Spotify, which led to it acquiring both Anchor and Gimlet earlier this year for $340 million. And its investments in podcasts, which have also included the acquisition of podcast network Parcast, have been starting to pay off.

The company reported in July its podcast audience had doubled in size since last year. In October, it said the number of podcast listeners on its service grew 40% from the prior quarter, and it now had 500,000 titles hosted on its platform.

Spotify can monetize podcasts in two ways, as with music — through ads and by pushing people into premium subscriptions. It now has 113 million paying customers and 248 million monthly actives. And once Spotify’s users are subscribed to a number of podcast shows, they’re more likely to stay with the service. In addition, podcasts don’t come with the licensing costs associated with record label deals, which Spotify also surely likes.

Anchor’s new trailers feature is live now on both iOS and Android .

 

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Ghost wants to retrofit your car so it can drive itself on highways in 2020

Raghav Jain

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A new autonomous vehicle company is on the streets — and unbeknownst to most, has been since 2017. Unlike the majority in this burgeoning industry, this new entrant isn’t trying to launch a robotaxi service or sell a self-driving system to suppliers and automakers. It’s not aiming for autonomous delivery, either.

Ghost Locomotion, which emerged Thursday from stealth with $63.7 million in investment from Keith Rabois at Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures and Mike Speiser at Sutter Hill Ventures, is targeting your vehicle.

Ghost is developing a kit that will allow privately owned passenger vehicles to drive autonomously on highways. And the company says it will deliver in 2020. A price has not been set, but the company says it will be less than what Tesla charges for its Autopilot package that includes “full self-driving” or FSD. FSD currently costs $7,000.

This kit isn’t going to give a vehicle a superior advanced driving assistance system. The kit will let human drivers hand control of their vehicle over to a computer, allowing them to do other activities such as look at their phone or even doze off.

The idea might sound similar to what Comma.ai is working on, Tesla hopes to achieve or even the early business model of Cruise. Ghost CEO and co-founder John Hayes says what they’re doing is different.

A different approach

The biggest players in the industry — companies like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and Argo AI — are trying to solve a really hard problem, which is driving in urban areas, Hayes told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was actually trying to solve driving on the highways,” said Hayes, who previously founded Pure Storage in 2009. “At the time, we were told that this is so easy that surely the automakers will solve this any day now. And that really hasn’t happened.”

Hayes noted that automakers have continued to make progress in advanced driver assistance systems. The more advanced versions of these systems provide what the SAE describes as Level 2 automation, which means two primary control functions are automated. Tesla’s Autopilot system is a good example of this; when engaged, it automatically steers and has traffic-aware cruise control, which maintains the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic. But like all Level 2 systems, the driver is still in the loop.

Ghost wants to take the human out of the loop when they’re driving on highways.

“We’re taking, in some ways, a classic startup attitude to this, which is ‘what is the simplest product that we can perfect, that will put self driving in the hands of ordinary consumers?’ ” Hayes said. “And so we take people’s existing cars and we make them self-driving cars.”

The kit

Ghost is tackling that challenge with software and hardware.

The kit involves hardware like sensors and a computer that is installed in the trunk and connected to the controller area network (CAN) of the vehicle. The CAN bus is essentially the nervous system of the car and allows various parts to communicate with each other.

Vehicles must have a CAN bus and electronic steering to be able to use the kit.

The camera sensors are distributed throughout the vehicle. Cameras are integrated into what looks like a license plate holder at the back of the vehicle, as well as another set that are embedded behind the rearview mirror.

A third device with cameras is attached to the frame around the window of the door (see below).

Initially, this kit will be an aftermarket product; the company is starting with the 20 most popular car brands and will expand from there.

Ghost intends to set up retail spaces where a car owner can see the product and have it installed. But eventually, Hayes said, he believes the kit will become part of the vehicle itself, much like GPS or satellite radio has evolved.

While hardware is the most visible piece of Ghost, the company’s 75 employees have dedicated much of their time on the driving algorithm. It’s here, Hayes says, where Ghost stands apart.

How Ghost is building a driver

Ghost is not testing its self-driving system on public roads, an approach nearly every other AV company has taken. There are 63 companies in California that have received permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicle technology (always with a human safety driver behind the wheel) on public roads.

Ghost’s entire approach is based on an axiom that the human driver is fundamentally correct. It begins by collecting mass amounts of video data from kits that are installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers. Ghost then uses models to figure out what’s going on in the scene and combines that with other data, including how the person is driving by measuring the actions they take.

It doesn’t take long or much data to model ordinary driving, actions like staying in a lane, braking and changing lanes on a highway. But that doesn’t “solve” self-driving on highways because the hard part is how to build a driver that can handle the odd occurrences, such as swerving, or correct for those bad behaviors.

Ghost’s system uses machine learning to find more interesting scenarios in the reams of data it collects and builds training models based on them.

The company’s kits are already installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers like Uber and Lyft drivers and commuters. Ghost has recruited dozens of drivers and plans to have its kits in hundreds of cars by the end of the year. By next year, Hayes says the kits will be in thousands of cars, all for the purpose of collecting data.

The background of the executive team, including co-founder and CTO Volkmar Uhlig, as well as the rest of their employees, provides some hints as to how they’re approaching the software and its integration with hardware.

Employees are data scientists and engineers, not roboticists. A dive into their resumes on LinkedIn and not one comes from another autonomous vehicle company, which is unusual in this era of talent poaching.

For instance, Uhlig, who started his career at IBM Watson Research, co-founded Adello and was the architect behind the company’s programmatic media trading platform. Before that, he built Teza Technologies, a high-frequency trading platform. While earning his PhD in computer science he was part of a team that architected the L4 Pistachio microkernel, which is commercially deployed in more than 3 billion mobile Apple and Android devices.

If Ghost is able to validate its system — which Hayes says is baked into its entire approach — privately owned self-driving cars could be on the highways by next year. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could potentially step in, Ghost’s approach, like Tesla, hits a sweet spot of non-regulation. It’s a space, that Hayes notes, where the government has not yet chosen to regulate.

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Google will now pay up to $1.5 million for very specific Android exploits

Raghav Jain

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When Google first introduced its bug bounty program for Android, the biggest reward you could get for finding and reporting a potential exploit was $38,000.

The cap grew over time, as Android grew in popularity, more security researchers got on board and more vulnerabilities were unearthed. This morning, Google is bumping up its top reward to $1.5 million dollars.

They’re not going to pay out a million+ for just any bug, of course.

For this new reward category, Google is looking for “full chain remote code execution exploit with persistence which compromises the Titan M secure element on Pixel devices.” In other words, they’re looking for an exploit that, without the attacker having physical access to the device, can execute code even after a device is reset and breaks into the dedicated security chip built into the Pixels.

Reporting an exploit that fits that bill will get researchers up to $1 million. If they can do it on “specific developer preview versions” of Android, meanwhile, there’s a 50% bonus reward, bumping up the maximum prize up to $1.5 million.

Google first introduced the Titan M security chip with the Pixel 3. As Google outlines here, the chip’s job is essentially to supervise; it double-checks boot conditions, verifies firmware signatures, handles lock screen passcodes and tries to keep malicious apps from forcing your device to roll back to “older, potentially vulnerable” builds of Android. The same chip can be found in the Pixel 4 lineup.

Indeed, $1.5 million for a single exploit sounds like a lot… and it is. It’s roughly what Google paid out for all bug bounties in the last 12 months. The top reward this year, the company says, was $161,337 for a “1-click remote code execution exploit chain on the Pixel 3 device.” The average payout, meanwhile, was about $3,800 per finding. Given the potential severity of persistently busting through the security chip on what’s meant to be the flagship form of Android, though, a wild payout makes sense.

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