Europe may harmonize how internet companies fight hate speech

 

Internet companies are already taking action against hate speech, but it’s no secret that they don’t always tackle it in the same way. One may delete the hostile material immediately, while the other might spend days reviewing it before taking action. That wildly inconsistent approach might not fly in European Union countries before long. Reuters says it has obtained a draft European Commission document proposing that the EU implement measures that harmonize how online firms remove hate speech, child porn and other illegal content. Just how they’d take material down isn’t clear, but Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have already agreed to an EU code of conduct that requires takedowns within 24 hours — this would dictate how they pull the offensive content.

The draft is quick to acknowledge that a common rule set wouldn’t be easy. There are “justified” differences depending on the type of content, for instance. However, it believes that consistent takedown guidelines would lead to a “more transparent and predictable environment” where internet companies would be more willing to curb hate speech.

A paper like this doesn’t guarantee action. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see the tech industry being uneasy with mandates. What if the rules are too rigid and don’t account for differences between sites and services? What are the chances of inadvertently pulling innocuous material? And would a harmonized process be quick enough that 24 hours is a realistic time frame for the vast majority of removals? If the idea goes forward, the EU will have to be careful to set realistic rules that are acceptable for both companies and the public.

Google Photos for iOS beams images to your TV with AirPlay

Google has been improving its Photos app for a while now, adding features like automatic white balance, compensation for wobbly video, social photo editing tools and even improving Apple’s own Live Photos. The one thing it’s been missing, however, is the ability to send your photos and videos to an Apple TV right from the app using AirPlay. That’s been remedied, though, with a new update that’s available to download right now from the App Store.

The Google Photos service and app came out in May 2015. Why it’s taken this long to be able to get those photos and videos to our big screen is beyond us. Sharing vacation videos and photos with a group of buddies is a ton of fun with AirPlay, and now you don’t have to leave the Google app to do so. If you’ve been waiting to go all-in with Google’s system for your visual media, it just might be time to do so.

Spotify lets thousands of indie labels limit free streaming

With an IPO looming, streaming music leader Spotify has been inking a number of new deals with record labels to ensure it has the content it needs to keep growing. The latest deal comes with Merlin, an agency that represents a swath of various independent record label around the world. In a press release today, Spotify noted that this new multi-year deal would keep ensure that Merlin’s music stayed available on Spotify, something it’ll certainly need going forward. All told, Merlin is the fourth-biggest music provider that Spotify works with, behind the three massive major labels.

But the biggest news from this new deal is that Merlin will also get to restrict new releases from Spotify’s free tier for up to two weeks. Spotify has historically fought long and hard against splitting up its catalog between free and paid users, but it finally relented when signing a new deal with Universal Music a few weeks ago. (Some would say it didn’t have a real choice in the matter anymore.) Now, it seems that two-week window is going to become the standard when new music hits Spotify.

With new deals set for Universal and Merlin, it’s likely we’ll see Sony Music and Warner Music Group also ink new contracts in the coming months. Given that Merlin is able to take advantage of what Spotify sneakily calls its “flexible release policy,” it’s likely that Sony and Warner will also get on board here — which means that basically all notable new releases won’t be immediately available to free users.

Labels represented by Merlin include electronic-focused Armada, Beggars Group (whose sub-labels feature notable artists like Adele, Alabama Shakes, The National, Pavement, Beck, The Strokes and many more), the legendary Seattle-based Sub Pop and the punk-focused Epitaph. If you’re a fan of those labels but aren’t paying for Spotify, be aware you’ll now have to be patient when looking for new releases

Sony made a gigantic PS4 controller no one can use

Sony has eSports-tailored PlayStation 4 controllers, but aside from that, the gaming juggernaut hasn’t made any major changes to the gamepad that shipped with the PS4. But as a Japanese promo for the recent Parappa the Rapper re-issue, the company made a gigantic version of its best controller in years. We’re talking perfect-for-Wun-Weg-the-giant from Game of Throne.

As Japanese publication Gigazine notes, not all of the buttons are functional. Only the D-pad and square, triangle, circle, cross and shoulder buttons L1 and R1 work. Analog sticks and the L2 and R2 triggers are for show only, and we’d suspect the touchpad is as well.

If you think the bigger controller would make playing Parappa easier, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Gigazine said that pressing the oversized face buttons in rhythm with the action actually amps up the difficulty versus using a standard DualShock 4. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to test that theory out for ourselves at E3 — similar to how we played catch with a life-sized Trico at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show.

The size might be a problem for you and me, sure, but if Wun Weg can pound trees (and White Walkers) into the ground with a single fist, he’d probably own the competition with this controller. It’s too bad then that the 7-foot 7-inch tall Neil Fingleton who played the giant passed back in February. Standing him next to this giant piece of plastic would’ve probably given a better idea of its scale than the mere mortals in the video below.

Sure Sony isn’t the first here, as we’ve seen coffee-table-sized NES controllers a number of times previously, but that doesn’t make the gargantuan gamepad any less cool.

Apple has hired two people with intriguing backgrounds in the field of satellite technology: John Fenwick, the former head of Google’s spacecraft business, and Michael Trela, the ex-lead of Google’s satellite engineering group. Bloomberg reports the hires, citing people familiar with the matter.

Fenwick and Trela are apparently joining a team led by Dropcam founder Greg Duffy, though there’s no concrete information about their assignments at Apple. However, there’s precedent for a nascent satellite program: Technology industry giants including Facebook, SpaceX and Google are designing drones and satellites to deliver internet to rural regions of the world.

It wouldn’t be surprising for Apple to dive into this industry, too. After all, more internet users means more potential consumers. Of course, satellite technology can also be used in imaging, another area of interest for Apple as it expands its Maps service and starts dabbling with autonomous cars.

A robot-delivery startup helped write state laws that are locking out competition

Two U.S. states — Virginia and Idaho — have now passed laws to allow delivery robots to operate statewide.

The new laws, both of which were passed this year, were written with the help of Starship Technologies, a delivery-robot company based in Estonia that was founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the co-founders of Skype.

While Starship isn’t currently working in Virginia or Idaho, the company can now legally operate its robot in those states — without a person controlling it — on sidewalks and crosswalks. Starship’s 40-pound robots are designed to deliver things like meals, groceries and other on-demand goods. Similar legislation is now being proposed in Wisconsin.

But other robot-delivery companies might not be able to take advantage of the new laws.

That’s because the policies that Starship has helped to champion only permit robots under a certain weight to operate autonomously in each state — and Starship’s potential competitors don’t all make the cut. In Virginia, the law states that ground robots have to weigh under 50 pounds to operate legally. In Idaho, the weight limit is 80 pounds.

But Marble, a robot-delivery company that started bringing people take-out in San Francisco earlier this month, uses a rover that weighs more than 80 pounds. (The company wouldn’t specify the exact weight of its robot.) Another ground robot — the Gita rover from the makers of Vespa — is designed to follow a person around to carry their bags, and weighs 70 pounds. Though Gita isn’t necessarily for making deliveries, it is supposed to be able to rove autonomously and carry things in areas it has already mapped.

“Marble’s robots are built around the form factor of modern-day electric mobility scooters,” CEO Matt Delaney said in a statement to Recode. Delaney said he doesn’t think the weight limits that are being written in the new statewide robot laws are reasonable. Marble is currently in talks with the San Francisco City Council around future robot-delivery regulations in the city, according to a company spokesperson.

Starship says it didn’t intend to push for laws that keep competitors out, even if that is what’s happening now.

“When we launched our first public affairs efforts, our competitors were still in stealth mode. We still do not know their operational parameters,” Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer, said in an email.

Martinson says that the weight limits are “not random but based on safety estimates.”

“The 50-pound limit came about in discussion about what would be the most approachable and safest route that a pedestrian would feel safe with this robot traveling next to them,” said Rep. Ron Villanueva from Virginia, one of the lawmakers who championed the state’s new robot policy.

In Wisconsin, a bill about legal operation of autonomous ground-delivery robots is now in committee discussions, and currently proposes an 80-pound weight limit.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Chris Kapenga, one of the sponsors of the Wisconsin bill that’s making its way through the state legislature, said that they arrived at the 80-pound weight limit by doubling the weight of Starship’s robot.

Both the Virginia and Idaho laws, as well as the Wisconsin bill, have provisions that allow for municipalities to change the law to meet their local needs, like if the robot isn’t allowed on the sidewalks during certain times of the day, or if a city wants to change the weight limit.

 

But creating a local exception would require city officials to make that decision, and that could be a whole process itself.

Starship is not currently operating in any of the states where it has worked to pass the robot laws. But a spokesperson from Senator Kapenga’s office told Recode that he couldn’t see why the company would be coming to Wisconsin if it didn’t expect to eventually bring its technology to the state.

None of the states that have so far passed laws permitting the use of autonomous robots are major population centers. But if Starship continues to try to pass more laws in more states across the country — like the bill that was filed in Florida with a 50-pound weight limit — Starship’s competitors might want to start pushing back.

Microsoft has a plan to beat Chromebooks at their own game

Microsoft is holding an education-focused event on May 2nd, and speculation has indicated that we might see Windows 10 Cloud for the first time. The software is pegged as a low-resource platform that could compete with Google’s Chrome OS, which has been making big inroads in EDU markets recently. The latest indication of Microsoft’s plan to take Chromebooks on comes from Windows Central, which published a leaked spec sheet showing Windows 10 Cloud minimum specs and performance requirements as compared to Chromebooks.

Assuming this chart is accurate, it gives us a good idea of what sort of hardware we’ll be seeing from Windows 10 Cloud devices. The relatively modest specs include 4GB of RAM, a quad-core Celeron (or better) processor and either 32GB or 64GB of storage — that all sounds a lot like you’ll find in a Chromebook. Microsoft is looking to achieve “all-day” battery life for “most students” and super-short boot and wake from sleep times, as well.

What we’ve seen from Windows 10 Cloud suggests that machines running this new software will only work with Universal Windows Platform apps you get from the Microsoft Store — traditional Windows software will be out. But for a lot of students, that plus the many web-based apps and services out there will be enough to get a lot of work done. In any event, it looks like we’ll know more in less than two weeks, and we’ll be at Microsoft’s event to cover all the news.