News Roundup: Should robots come with 'Black boxes' to record their decision making?

A roundup of the week’s technology news including Amazon expansions, WhatsApp censoring, and john McAfee vs Google.

Amazon continues to expand

Another week, and three more business areas threatened by the arrival of Amazon. The first is social media: Amazon has launched an Instagram-like service called Spark; essentially a photo feed of products. The company has also expanded its food footprint with Amazon Meal Kits; essentially boxes of ingredients to prepare a full meal. Blue Apron, which offers a similar service, saw its shares take a nosedive on the revelation.

And finally, the rumour mill is suggesting Amazon is about to move into the world of messaging apps with a new service called Anytime. AFT news found evidence of a survey – admittedly there’s no guarantee its real – quizzing people on their appetite for a new app which promises all the usual features you expect from a WhatsApp/WeChat-like service. Amazon themselves are yet to comment.

 

Privacy blues

Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and WordPress are the companies that best protect your privacy, according to the EFF. The seventh annual Who Has Your Back privacy report, which rates companies on whether they follow privacy best practice, inform users about government data requests, and selling user information, gave a full five stars to those nine companies, while AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon were the worst performers. Amazon and WhatsApp also performed poorly.

China has moved to censor WhatsApp, preventing any videos or pictures being sent via the app in the country. Indonesia, meanwhile, is cracking down on Telegram due to concerns about terrorism. There’s also spyware been found that uses Telegram’s Bot API to steal personal data.

 

M&A

Amazon has reportedly acquired Graphiq, Uber has acqui-hired Swipe Labs, John Sculley’s Zeta has bought Boomtrain, Avast has snapped up Piriform, private equity firm BC Partners has taken over Go Daddy’s PlusServer business.

Kickstarter success story Jide has announced it is killing off its Remix OS, offering refunds to backers and pivoting away from the commercial market into the enterprise instead. Intel is leaving the wearables space and will no longer work on smartwatches or fitness trackers. GoDaddy is closing down its Cloud offering.

 

Hear me now (aka voice news)

In voice-related news. Samsung’s Bixby is finally available to customers in the US, but the Korean giant has reportedly cooled any interest in developing a smart speaker to compete with the likes of Alexa and Google Home. 

“Samsung currently does not view Al speakers as marketable, as the global market is already dominated by unbeatable Amazon and the Korean market is too small to make profits,” an anonymous source told The Korea Herald.

Meanwhile Microsoft has partnered with Johnson Controls to build a Cortana-powered thermostat called the GLAS. Given their lead in the market, it will be interesting to see if it can upend the likes of Nest or EcoBee.

Mozilla wants to make it easier for anyone to make voice apps. To this end, the foundation has launched the Common Voice project, which aims to collect 10,000 hours of audio for speech recognition training. You can go and add your own sentences or validate previously submitted ones, all of which will be released later in the year.

 

John McAfee vs. Google (and his own penis)

Apart from saying he was developing an eponymous smartphone and suing over the use of his name, John McAfee had been somewhat quiet of late. He was back on form this week however after announcing that he would ‘eat his own dick on national television’ if the value of Bitcoin didn’t hit over $500,000 within three years, he also took pot shots at Google.

“I love Google from one standpoint, that it has opened up the world to information beyond comprehension,” he said in an interview on RT. “But if you believe that Google is not harmful, then you must believe that the total loss of our privacy and human dignity is not harmful.”

While plugging his own Sentinel product which could stop Google’s snooping, he added the company has “taken the mantle of corporate conscience, and sacrificed it on the altar of mammon”.

“We are not numbers. I'm not a statistic, I'm not a collection of attitudes and desires, I'm a human being with my own dreams and hopes and problems, and by making me a number, you've removed my dignity.”