Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today outlined several steps the company has taken and plans to take to protect users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In 2013, an app developer created a personality quiz that was used by 300,000 people. The app had access to those peoples' data, and also the data of their friends, which numbered in the millions. The developer later shared that data with Cambridge Analytica, a firm that put the data to use in creating profiles of U.S. voters ahead of the 2016 election. "This was a breach of trust between [the developer], Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that," said Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg contends that in 2014 Facebook put in place measures that prevent apps from soliciting large amounts of data from users. Moving forward, it intends to audit all the apps that had access to large amounts of data before 2014. The company will audit any developers or apps that show suspicious activity, which may result in bans from the Facebook platform. If it finds abuse, Facebook will alert the impacted people as quickly as it can. Zuckerberg says the company will further restrict apps' access to user data, and will remove developer access altogether once a person hasn't used an app in three months. It will reduce the amount of data required for sign-ins to just a name, photo, and email address. Developers that want more information than that will have to obtain approval from Facebook. Last, the company plans to install a tool at the top of the News Feed that shows people which apps they've used, as well as give them an easy way to revoke those apps' permissions. Facebook suggests people review the apps that have access to their data and delete any they don't want to keep connected to their account. "We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you," said Zuckerberg. Facebook didn't say anything about what the social network itself does with user data.
Instagram today made it possible for people to add links to hashtags or other profiles in their own bio section. Inserting the links is easy. Users simply enter the "#" or "@" symbol and Instagram will recommend popular hashtags or profiles as users type. The photo-sharing social network calls the new tool another way for people to express themselves and highlight the things they care about. Users will be alerted if another person links to their profile and can approve or disapprove the link if they wish. The new linking feature is rolling out to users in the latest mobile apps for Android and iOS.
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Apple today revealed its Spring collection of bands for the Apple Watch, which include a variety of new colors and styles. Apple updated the Woven Nylon band with stripes and colors. The Sport band now comes in Denim Blue, Lemonade, and Red Raspberry; the Sport Loop comes in Flash Light, Hot Pink, Marine Green and Tahoe Blue; and the Classic Buckle comes in Spring Yellow, Electric Blue, and Soft Pink. The Nike Sport is being sold separately for the first time and comes in Barely Rose/Pearl Pink, Black/White, and Cargo Khaki/Black. The Nike Sport Loop is available in Black/Pure Platinum, Bright Crimson/Black, Cargo Khaki, Midnight Fog, and Pearl Pink. Last, Apple is offering new variations of the Hermes loop in Indigo and Blanc with painted edges. Apple says the refreshed bands will reach its stores, carrier stores, and other resellers later this month.
People in the U.S. who own the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ can expect to see Android 8 Oreo reach their phone over the coming days. Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and not AT&T are all pushing the system upgrade to their customers. Oreo includes notification dots, picture-in-picture, and autofill. The update brings the S8/S8+ in line with the user experience seen on the newer S9/S9+, which includes updated emoji. It also packs the February 2018 security patch from Google. The update weighs in at a little over 1.5 GB and can be downloaded over WiFi. Samsung has not yet said when it will update the unlocked model of the S8/S8+ to Oreo.
Facebook today expanded the tools people can use to manage large group chats in Messenger. Administrator privileges allow people to approve new members before they can join a group chat, as well as remove members and promote/demote another user to/from the role of admin. The admin position is off by default, but can be turned on any time to control a group chat if needed. Moving forward, any member of a group chat can add other members by sending a custom invite link. People who tap the link can be added automatically or with admin approval. Facebook Messenger supports group chats with up to 250 participants, though real-time voice and video chats are limited to groups with up to 50 participants. The new tools are rolling out to Messenger over the next few days.
Qualcomm today announced a new software development kit for the Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Platform. Qualcomm believes this new SDK will give developers the power they need to create next-generation virtual reality experiences. The new SDK does several important things. First, it supports room-scale six degrees of freedom with inside-out simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). This will let developers more easily create worlds that give people the freedom to move around within an actual room. Second, the platform supports real-time eye tracking. Qualcomm says it worked with Tobii AM to create the algorithms needed to track user gaze. Third, the platform supports what Qualcomm calls Adreno Foveation. While tracking users' eyes, the new SDK lets developers take advantage of foveated rendering (sharp detail in the area the eye us focusing on) in order to improve virtual worlds and also optimize power use. Last, the SDK supports a new boundary system that lets developers create real-world constraints that limit what people can do in any given space while they wander through virtual worlds. Qualcomm claims these and other tools will help content creators expand what they can do with their virtual worlds while ensuring people safely interact with the real world in front of them. The Snapdragon 845 Virtual Reality Development Kit is expected to be available later this year.
Google today announced Subscribe with Google, an easy way for people to subscribe to and pay for select news sources. Google has worked with a number of publishers over the last six months to develop the service. People can discover news sources online and use Subscribe with Google tool to take advantage of their existing Google credentials and stored credit card information to generate a subscription. Google says it will generate logins and passwords, making it simple for people to access the news they want online and within mobile apps. Some of the early participants include the Financial Times, Gannett, The New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Washington Post. In addition to easing the process of subscribing to news sources, Subscribe with Google will also impact search results, giving priority to the news sources to which people already subscribe. Google hopes more news sources and publishers will take advantage of the service over the coming months. At the same time, Google said it is making a renewed commitment to verified news sources. The Google News Initiative will examine the credibility of news organizations and give higher ranks to verified sources while also down-ranking sources known to publish fraudulent or incorrect information. Google is investing some $300 million in the effort.
Google today highlighted some of the initial augmented reality apps to reach the Play Store that take advantage of ARCore 1.0. Google says some 60 apps are now available for dozens of smartphone models. For example, games such as My Tamagochi Forever, Walking Dead Our World, and TendAR overlay gameplay with real-world objects. A bevy of shopping apps, such as offerings from Pottery Barn, Wayfair, Sotheby’s, and eBay, allow people to preview goods in their homes. Another app, called Just a Line, allows people to make simple drawings on top of live video/photos. All these and other ARCore-based apps are available in the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry Mobile today kicked off the BlackBerry Fan League, a way for BlackBerry smartphone enthusiasts to connect with the brand. BlackBerry says participants will have the opportunity to win prizes, including smartphones, as well as participate in surveys and beta programs, and interface directly with the BlackBerry Mobile team. Members can earn points by re-sharing official BlackBerry social media posts, creating their own BlackBerry-themed content, and recruiting new members. Points are what allow members to enter drawings for the weekly prizes. The BlackBerry Smartphone Fan League is available to all BlackBerry owners in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. BlackBerry Mobile handsets are designed and sold by TCL.
T-Mobile is offering customers a chance to access MLB.tv free for a third year in a row. T-Mobile announced that baseball fans will be able to watch every regular season Major League Baseball game on their smartphones through 2018. T-Mobile has partnered with MLB and is providing customers with a free year of MLB.tv and MLB At Bat Premium. T-Mobile customers can stream every out-of-market regular season game to their Apple or Google smartphone and tablet via the MLB.tv app. At Bat Premium is a mobile sports app for watching home and away broadcasts, and it also includes player stats, highlights, and other information. T-Mobile One customers don't need to worry about streaming on their plan thanks to unlimited data. T-Mobile says games will be streamed in standard definition by default, but can be viewed in HD if customers wish. T-Mobile customers will need to redeem the free subscription via the T-Mobile Tuesdays application between March 27 and April 2, and then sign up for MLB.tv Premium no later than April 2. On March 27, T-Mobile Tuesdays is also offering 25% off purchases made at MLBShop.com and 10 cents off per gallon of gas at Shell stations. T-Mobile has made similar offerings to customers the last two years.
BlackBerry and Microsoft announced a new partnership that will see the two deliver mobile software and services to businesses customers. A new solution, called BlackBerry Bridge, lets business users access Microsoft mobile apps from within BackBerry Dynamics. This means corporate employees will have the same experience opening, editing, and saving Microsoft Office documents on any Android or iOS device. It gives mobile workers a secure way to access their files that are immediately backed up in Microsoft's cloud. Microsoft says the partnership also brings new powers to the IT department, which will better be able to secure company data and maintain privacy while remaining compliant with regulatory statutes. In order to make this work, the companies have integrated BlackBerry UEM Cloud, Workspaces, Dynamics, and AtHoc into the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Microsoft and BlackBerry didn't specify how quickly these new services will be available to their customers.
BlackBerry's hope to squash a lawsuit has been dashed by a U.S. judge who says the legal proceedings can move forward. Plaintiffs allege BlackBerry "inflated its stock price and defrauded shareholders" by suggesting sales of BlackBerry 10 handsets were much better than they really were. The case was originally dismissed in March 2015, but new evidence suggests there's merit to the accusations. A retailer called Wireless Zone compiled data that showed a high return rate for BlackBerry 10 handsets. James Dunham, former CEO of Wireless Zone, sold that data to Detwiler Fenton, which generated a report detailing consumers' general dissatisfaction with BlackBerry 10 phones. BlackBerry's executives publicly said at the time that Blackberry 10 owners were in fact "satisfied" and the company insisted that return rates for Blackberry 10 handsets were “at or below our forecasts and right in line with the industry." It is these statements, in light of evidence to the contrary, that the plaintiffs say misled investors and eventually led to shareholder losses when BlackBerry 10 collapsed. BlackBerry did not comment on the matter, which now heads to trial.
Google today announced its Shopping Actions program, a way for retailers to surface their products in search results and ensure those products are easy to purchase. Google is bringing Shopping Actions to Google Assistant and Google Search, which will include a universal shopping cart on mobile devices, desktops, and Google Home products. The program is for retailers and lets them surface their products in Google Assistant with voice shopping. For example, customers can say, "OK Google, buy Up & Up laundry detergent," and Google will find the item and then ask if it should added to the user's shopping cart. People can save their checkout and shipping credentials for use across retailers online. Google says the platform offers improved loyalty programs to retailers, which can take advantage of one-click reordering, personalized recommendations, and basket-building. Google has partnered with Target, Ulta, and 1-800 Flowers, which have been testing the service for some time. Google claims early tests have been positive with these initial partners. Businesses interested in participating in Shopping Actions can register with Google online. Mobile device users can expect to see Shopping Actions appear within Google Assistant and Google Search over time.
Google today announced several changes to the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps that should entice Android device owners to check out the latest games. A new feature called Google Instant Play lets people tap and try games directly in the Google Play Store and Google Play Games app without first downloading the game. Google first introduced Instant Apps in the Play Store last year. Play Instant marks the tool's expansion to gaming. Google says it is starting with a few sample games today and will post more Instant Play games over the course of the year. Google is also making games more visible in order to appear to game developers. The Google Play Games app now includes an "Arcade" tab that lets people view game trailers or take advantage of new tags to browse through game categories. Last, the Google Play Games app will include YouTube videos related to users' favorite games, such as tutorials, to help them boost their skills and/or interest in the game. Google says these new features are hitting the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps for most Android handsets.
Google today said its Google Pay app can now serve as a transit ticket on the Las Vegas monorail system. People visiting Las Vegas will be able to use Google Pay to purchase their monorail ticket online and add it to the app. The service includes prepaid, single-use, or other types of passes. Once purchased, people will be able to use their phone as the ticket at monorail stations. Google says the system is powered by NXP's MIFARE contactless system, which relies on NFC for authentication at gates. Travelers will need to hold their phone to a reader at the gate in order to enter the monorail. Las Vegas monorail passes in Google Pay include data such as recent transactions, trips, and the location of monorail stops. The most recent version of Google Pay is free to download from the Google Play Store. Google says support for more transit systems in more cities in on the way.
LG today made an open version of the webOS platform available to developers and the public. Anyone can download webOS Open Source Edition from LG's web site and use the the code for whatever they wish. WebOS was originally developed by Palm for smartphones and later cultivated by HP before being purchased by LG. LG chiefly uses the platform to power its connected devices, such as television sets and refrigerators. LG said developers can grab the source code as well as tools and guides. Forums are available online to help developers become more familiar with webOS and all its capabilities. The platform is based on Linux and supports open web standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, so it should be fairly easy to work with. Further, LG is working with the Korean government to encourage entrepreneurs and startups to make use of the operating system. LG will solicit webOS-based business proposals and provide logistical and technical support to help startups commercialize webOS products. "As we move from an app-based environment to a web-based one, we believe the true potential of webOS has yet to be seen," concluded LG.
LG's Tribute Dynasty is a sub-$100 handset sold by Boost Mobile and Sprint. This low-cost Android handset features a simple design, average build, and entry-level capabilities. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.
Apple has made available iOS 11.3 Beta 6 to both developers and public testers. iOS 11.3 Beta 6 tweaks performance and includes the battery health meter for certain devices. The tool is meant to help people balance the battery life and performance of older iPhones. iOS 11.3 also introduces four more animoji for the iPhone X, business chat, AirPlay 2, and more personalized recommendations in News. Registered developers and public testers can download iOS 11.3 Beta 6 over the air. Apple said the final version of iOS 11.3 will be available to all consumers this spring. Spring kicks off March 20, and Apple has scheduled an event for March 27. It's possible Apple will provide the final version of iOS 11.3 in the next couple of weeks.