Tim Cook hits Facebook again over privacy concerns

Tim Cook took a break from criticizing Facebook on Tuesday to present the next step in Apple’s big education plans. But the CEO is back at it. Sitting down with MSNBC and Recode at a town hall event, Cook was once again asked about consumer privacy in the wake of fallout over Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica quagmire.

Cook interviews that while he believed self-regulation is best in the case of these tech giants, “I think we’re beyond that.” Asked what he would do, were he in Zuckerberg’s position, he added, simply, “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

The executive has never shied away from criticizing Facebook, of course. In 2015, he indirectly criticized the approach of internet companies like Google and Facebook, stating “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Just this weekend, he echoed that statement, with a more direct jab at Facebook, following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, telling the audience at a conference in China, “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

Cook echoed those statements onstage this week, adding, “The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.”

The company reflected that sentiment in an updated privacy policy posted back in January, explaining that,

Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right, so every Apple product is designed to:

  • Use on-device processing wherever possible
  • Limit the collection and use of data
  • Provide transparency and control over your information
  • Build on a strong foundation of security

Source: Tech Crunch

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop raises another $50 million

Actress-turned-entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow is getting more capital to accelerate her startup’s growth.

Goop, the lifestyle brand which she founded ten years ago, is announcing a $50 million Series C round from NEA, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Felix Capital. It brings the total outside investment to $82 million. A source close to the situation tells us that the latest round is being done at about a $250 million post-money valuation, although the company denies it. Pitchbook has separately reported Goop’s post-money valuation to be $250 million.

Paltrow is more than just a celebrity attached to the company. She also runs it as creative director and CEO and has become nearly as well-known for her unusual diet and beauty rituals as for her Oscar-winning acting.

Goop, meanwhile, is growing. Not only does its digital property feature content about fashion, travel, and beauty, but it increasingly sells relevant products, something the company calls “contextual commerce.” These include categories like apparel, skincare, vitamins and bath products.

Some of the more unusual items the company promotes are gem-infused water bottles that are said to promote positive energy. Such claims have landed Goop in hot water; a handful of the wellness products have been accused of false advertising.

Consumers may be less interested in the controversies, however. The startup says it has tripled its revenue each of the past two years. (Goop didn’t share specific sales numbers, however.)

We’re also told that a large portion of the company’s 2018 growth will come from continued international expansion. Goop’s commerce business recently launched in Canada, and it expects to ship to Europe by the end of the year.

Goop says that new product lines like home furnishings may also be on the horizon.


Source: Tech Crunch

NASA’s beautiful snowflake simulations could help predict inclement weather

There’s a lot about snow we don’t know. Where does it come from? Where does it go? What does it taste like? Admittedly there are tentative answers to these questions. But there are yet more complex ones like how exactly, on a microscopic level, snow melts in mid-air. That’s the focus of one project at NASA, the results of which are both practical and beautiful.

Snow is a critical part of the weather system (did you know there’s a whole “cryosphere”), and the ways in which it forms and melts can help meteorologists predict, for example, the likelihood or severity of a storm. But it’s not enough to catch a flake in your hand and look closely. Like anything else, you need a mathematical model of a phenomenon in order to understand it properly.

Jussi Leinonen has been working on this problem for years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“I got interested in modeling melting snow because of the way it affects our observations with remote sensing instruments,” he said in a news release. As you can imagine, it’s rather important for a rocket science lab to be able to understand and predict weather patterns.

Leinonen’s contribution has been an exact model of how and why snowflakes melt — which types of flakes, at what temperatures, in what ways, and so on. The basic version is this: water collects in concave regions of snowflakes where it can stay liquid. Those little lakes expand, eventually covering the whole ice crystal and encasing the core, which also eventually melts.

Sounds straightforward, but Leinonen’s model shows how this happens at an extremely detailed level with arbitrarily shaped snowflakes and clumps thereof. The 3D visualization of this process is remarkably beautiful, and more importantly seems to be correct.

With an accurate model meteorologists can profile different snow and rain types, see how they perform in various conditions, and produce relevant details like how those differences would affect a radar image.

No word on when we can get a screensaver of snowflakes melting with high precision. Leinonen published his research in the journal Geophysical Research.

Source: Tech Crunch

HBO’s new trailer for Westworld season 2 showcases robot-induced chaos

As HBO prepares itself for the end of Game of Thrones, it’s apparent that they’re putting weight on Westworld to take over as the network’s dominant fantasy epic. A new trailer dropped today for the show’s second season and it’s clear that the robot uprising is going to take the brutal, violent spirit of the season-one finale and pour it over the existential questions that are the backbone of the show.

Things are going to get even darker very quickly, it looks like.

The new trailer captures all of the actions and struggles of Dolores, Teddy, Bernard, Maeve and the Man in Black with an orchestral cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” playing in the background. While the end of the last season suggested that a new Shogunworld destination would play a major role in season two, our peeks at the destination have been pretty limited in the first pair of trailers.

We’re still seeing the show’s central characters traverse through the desolation of the old West and the high-tech opulence of the world behind it.

Westworld’s second season begins April 22 on HBO.

Source: Tech Crunch

The CW goes live on Hulu with Live TV

Hulu has added the live, linear version of the CW to its Hulu with Live TV platform.

Hulu has had a deal with the CW to offer streaming on-demand content from the network, but this is the first time that the CW will be available live on Hulu.

The company first launched Hulu with Live TV in the summer of 2017, offering more than 50 channels for $39.99/month, complete with access to Hulu’s on-demand content library and 50 hours of DVR storage.

The service launched with some competition from YouTube, which launched a similar offering called YouTube TV in April 2017.

According to a report from January, Hulu with Live TV has around 450,000 subscribers, while YouTube TV has 300,000 subscribers.

Live CW on Hulu is not available everywhere, but will be on Hulu with Live TV in the following markets: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tampa, Detroit, Seattle, Sacramento, Pittsburgh. The company says it’s rolling out live CW to more markets soon.

Source: Tech Crunch

Security flaw in Grindr exposed locations to third-party service

Users of Grindr, the popular dating app for gay men, may have been broadcasting their location despite having disabled that particular feature. Two security flaws allowed for discovery of location data against a user’s will, though they take a bit of doing.

The first of the flaws, which were discovered by Trever Faden and reported first by NBC News, allowed users to see a variety of data not available normally: who had blocked them, deleted photos, locations of people who had chosen not to share that data, and more.

The catch is that if you wanted to find out about this, you had to hand over your username and password to Faden’s purpose-built website, C*ckblocked (asterisk original), which would then scour your Grindr account for this hidden metadata.

Of course it’s a bad idea to surrender your credentials to any third party whatsoever, but regardless of that, this particular third party was able to find data that a user should not have access to in the first place.

The second flaw involved location data being sent unencrypted, meaning a traffic snooper might be able to detect it.

It may not sound too serious to have someone watching a wi-fi network know a person’s location — they’re there on the network, obviously, which narrows it down considerably. But users of a gay dating app are members of a minority often targeted by bigots and governments, and having their phone essentially send out a public signal saying “I’m here and I’m gay” without their knowledge is a serious problem.

I’ve asked Grindr for comment and confirmation; the company told NBC News that it had changed how data was handled in order to prevent the C*ckblocked exploit (the site has since been shut down), but did not address the second issue.

Source: Tech Crunch

Cruise’s CTO, a former Uber manager, is out

General Motors’ self-driving car unit, Cruise Automation, is parting ways with CTO A.G. Gangadhar, Bloomberg first reported. This comes after public complaints pertaining to his role in fostering an alleged unsafe work environment for women.

“After serious consideration, Cruise and AG have elected to part ways,” a Cruise spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement. “We wish him the best in all future endeavors.”

Before Cruise, Gangadhar had most recently worked at Uber, where he led the company’s storage, machine learning and infrastructure groups. Gandadhar, who left Uber in July, was reportedly a director former Uber engineer Susan Fowler referenced in her blog post about mismanagement, sexual harassment and other issues at Uber. His departure, however, was reportedly unrelated to Fowler’s claims.

Source: Tech Crunch

Hide 3D paintings anywhere with AR app Artopia

Public places may soon be filled with secret pieces of art unlocked by looking through the lens of AR, if Artopia’s cheerily creative app catches on. It essentially lets you geocache your 3D scribbles so anyone else can find, appreciate, and share them.

Artopia, currently in beta for Android and iOS, is a straightforward combination of AR painting and real world discovery. You make your art by selecting brushes, colors, and so on and moving your phone as you would the brush. Grab objects and move them around, attach them, etc.

When you’re done, save it and its precise location is saved to Artopia’s service. Now anyone passing by will be able to see it (a map shows nearby creations) and who made it, give it a like, and maybe draw some complementary work nearby.

It’s simple (in concept, not in execution), but also a thoroughly pleasant and natural combo. Of course, there will also be a report button in case someone draws a fence of phalluses around your house (for example), and the usual caveats of crowd-sourced content and moderation apply.

Artopia was created by Kuwaiti developer Omar Khalil, so the density of art might be a bit higher around the American University of Kuwait. But if this sounds like something you’re into, apply to get into the beta and start filling the parks and streets around your neighborhood with color and shape.

Source: Tech Crunch

Scotty Labs raises $6 million for remote-controlled autonomous car platform

Scotty Labs, a tele-operations company that is working on technology to enable people to remotely control self-driving cars, has raised a $6 million seed round from Gradient Ventures with participation from Horizon Ventures and Hemi Ventures. Gradient Ventures is an early-stage venture fund housed within Google.

“Usman and I founded Scotty on the belief that human intelligence is critical to solving the autonomous driving problem,” Scotty co-founder and CEO Tobenna Arodiogbu wrote in blog post. “The company exists to answer the fundamental questions — what role do humans play in the future of robotics and automation, and how do we leverage human and machine intelligence to build a better future?”

That’s what led to the creation of the company’s first product, a tele-operations platform that lets humans virtually control cars. The idea, Arodiogbu wrote, is this type of human intervention will help “solve some of the hardest edge cases of driving, while allowing AV companies and their teams to focus on what they do best — building and improving their autonomous driving technology.”

If something goes wrong, a human could theoretically intervene from the safety of their home, rather than from the car itself. Scotty Labs’ first partner is Voyage, an Udacity spin-out that’s aiming to build a fully self-driving taxi platform. In October, Voyage began testing its self-driving vehicles in retirement communities.

“We decided to work with Voyage as a partner because we are excited by and fundamentally believe in the work they are doing,” Arodiogbu wrote. “We believe it is critical to provide autonomy to the communities that need it the most. We also both share a belief that human intelligence will be needed to achieve level 4 autonomy, and we share a deep and uncompromising focus on safety above speed in the deployment of fully autonomous systems. We will continue to support Voyage in the coming months and years as they achieve their goal of building a level 4 autonomous fleet.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Microsoft can ban you for using offensive language

A report by CSOOnline presented the possibility that Microsoft would be able to ban “offensive language” from Skype, Xbox, and, inexplicably, Office. The post, which cites Microsoft’s new terms of use, said that the company would not allow users to “publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity)” and that you could lose your Xbox Live Membership if you curse out a kid Overwatch.

“We are committed to providing our customers with safe and secure experiences while using our services. The recent changes to the Microsoft Service Agreement’s Code of Conduct provide transparency on how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. The company notes that “Microsoft Agents” do not watch Skype calls and that they can only respond to complaints with clear evidence of abuse. The changes, which go into effect May 1, allows Microsoft to ban you from it services if you’re found passing “inappropriate content” or using “offensive language.”

These new rules give Microsoft more power over abusive users and it seems like Microsoft is cracking down on bad behavior on its platforms. This is good news for victims of abuse in private communications channels on Microsoft products and may give trolls pause before they yell something about your mother on Xbox. We can only dare to dream.

Source: Tech Crunch