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Apple, Microsoft and Uber test drones approved but Amazon left out in cold | Technology

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Apple, Intel, Microsoft and Uber will soon start flying drones for a range of tasks including food and package delivery, digital mapping and conducting surveillance as part of 10 pilot programmes approved Wednesday by the US government.

The drone-testing projects have been given waivers for regulations that currently ban their use in the US and will be used to help the Federal Aviation Authority draw up suitable laws to govern the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for myriad tasks.

“The enthusiastic response to our request for applications demonstrated the many innovative technological and operational solutions already on the horizon,” said US transportation secretary Elaine Chao.

Apple will be using drones to capture images of North Carolina with the state’s Department of Transportation. Uber is working on air-taxi technology and will deliver food by drone in San Diego, California, because “we need flying burgers” said the company’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

Others including startup Flirtey, which successfully made the first drone delivery in the US in 2015 test, will be using UAVs to deliver medical supplies to heart attack victims in Nevada , track mosquitoes in Florida and develop other new uses.

FedEx will use drones to inspect aircraft at its Tennessee hub and for some package deliveries between the airport and other Memphis locations. Virginia Tech said that it would explore emergency management, package delivery and infrastructure inspection by drone, partnering with Alphabet’s Project Wing, AT&T, Intel, Airbus and Dominion Energy.

Notable absentees from the approved list of 10 pilots were Amazon, which applied for a project to deliver goods within New York City, and the world’s largest non-military drone manufacturer, DJI.

Chao said dozens more projects could be approved in coming months, either with new waivers or under existing rules. A rigorous process was cited in conjunction with Amazon’s rejection, but deputy transportation secretary Jeff Rosen said there were “no losers”.

Amazon said the fate of its applications was unfortunate, but it was focused on developing safe operations for drones. The company has worked with the FAA on policy before, and has tested its drone technology around the world, including the UK.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program was launched last year by President Trump after the US fell behind in drone experimentation.

A total of149 bids were drawn from locales looking to host flights at night, flights over people and other drone operations that are currently prohibited under US regulations. The winners are expected to gain a head start at the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs the young industry expects to create.

Flying taxis are the most high profile of the current drone development projects, with Google co-founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk unveiling its designs in March and Uber holding a conference for its Elevate programme this week. But drones are being tested by a broad range of companies for purposes ranging from package delivery to crop inspection.

The current legislation lags behind the technology in many countries, including the US and the UK, with most novel uses ruled out by regulations that prohibit the flying of drones over people and out of the line of sight.

The FAA is seeking to allow drones to fly over people and to remotely identify and track unmanned aerial vehicles while they are in flight, with two new regulations awaiting formal proposal and approval by the Trump administration – a process that could take months.

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Why Silicon Valley can’t fix itself | News

Why Silicon Valley can’t fix itself | News

Big Tech is sorry. After decades of rarely apologising for anything, Silicon Valley suddenly seems to be apologising for everything. They are sorry about the trolls. They are sorry about the bots. They are sorry about the fake news and the Russians, and the cartoons that are terrifying your kids on YouTube. But they are especially sorry about our brains.

Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook – who was played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network – has publicly lamented the “unintended consequences” of the platform he helped create: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” Justin Rosenstein, an engineer who helped build Facebook’s “like” button and Gchat, regrets having contributed to technology that he now considers psychologically damaging, too. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

Ever since the internet became widely used by the public in the 1990s, users have heard warnings that it is bad for us. In the early years, many commentators described cyberspace as a parallel universe that could swallow enthusiasts whole. The media fretted about kids talking to strangers and finding porn. A prominent 1998 study from Carnegie Mellon University claimed that spending time online made you lonely, depressed and antisocial.

In the mid-2000s, as the internet moved on to mobile devices, physical and virtual life began to merge. Bullish pundits celebrated the “cognitive surplus” unlocked by crowdsourcing and the tech-savvy campaigns of Barack Obama, the “internet president”. But, alongside these optimistic voices, darker warnings persisted. Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (2010) argued that search engines were making people stupid, while Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (2011) claimed algorithms made us insular by showing us only what we wanted to see. In Alone, Together (2011) and Reclaiming Conversation (2015), Sherry Turkle warned that constant connectivity was making meaningful interaction impossible.

Still, inside the industry, techno-utopianism prevailed. Silicon Valley seemed to assume that the tools they were building were always forces for good – and that anyone who questioned them was a crank or a luddite. In the face of an anti-tech backlash that has surged since the 2016 election, however, this faith appears to be faltering. Prominent people in the industry are beginning to acknowledge that their products may have harmful effects.

Internet anxiety isn’t new. But never before have so many notable figures within the industry seemed so anxious about the world they have made. Parker, Rosenstein and the other insiders now talking about the harms of smartphones and social media belong to an informal yet influential current of tech critics emerging within Silicon Valley. You could call them the “tech humanists”. Amid rising public concern about the power of the industry, they argue that the primary problem with its products is that they threaten our health and our humanity.

It is clear that these products are designed to be maximally addictive, in order to harvest as much of our attention as they can. Tech humanists say this business model is both unhealthy and inhumane – that it damages our psychological well-being and conditions us to behave in ways that diminish our humanity. The main solution that they propose is better design. By redesigning technology to be less addictive and less manipulative, they believe we can make it healthier – we can realign technology with our humanity and build products that don’t “hijack” our minds.

The hub of the new tech humanism is the Center for Humane Technology in San Francisco. Founded earlier this year, the nonprofit has assembled an impressive roster of advisers, including investor Roger McNamee, Lyft president John Zimmer, and Rosenstein. But its most prominent spokesman is executive director Tristan Harris, a former “design ethicist” at Google who has been hailed by the Atlantic magazine as “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”. Harris has spent years trying to persuade the industry of the dangers of tech addiction. In February, Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, launched a related initiative: the Tech and Society Solutions Lab, which aims to “maximise the tech industry’s contributions to a healthy society”.

As suspicion of Silicon Valley grows, the tech humanists are making a bid to become tech’s loyal opposition. They are using their insider credentials to promote a particular diagnosis of where tech went wrong and of how to get it back on track. For this, they have been getting a lot of attention. As the backlash against tech has grown, so too has the appeal of techies repenting for their sins. The Center for Humane Technology has been profiled – and praised by – the New York Times, the Atlantic, Wired and others.

But tech humanism’s influence cannot be measured solely by the positive media coverage it has received. The real reason tech humanism matters is because some of the most powerful people in the industry are starting to speak its idiom. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel has warned about social media’s role in encouraging “mindless scrambles for friends or unworthy distractions”, and Twitter boss Jack Dorsey recently claimed he wants to improve the platform’s “conversational health”.

Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology. Photograph: Robert Gumpert for the Guardian

Even Mark Zuckerberg, famous for encouraging his engineers to “move fast and break things”, seems to be taking a tech humanist turn. In January, he announced that Facebook had a new priority: maximising “time well spent” on the platform, rather than total time spent. By “time well spent”, Zuckerberg means time spent interacting with “friends” rather than businesses, brands or media sources. He said the News Feed algorithm was already prioritising these “more meaningful” activities.

Zuckerberg’s choice of words is significant: Time Well Spent is the name of the advocacy group that Harris led before co-founding the Center for Humane Technology. In April, Zuckerberg brought the phrase to Capitol Hill. When a photographer snapped a picture of the notes Zuckerberg used while testifying before the Senate, they included a discussion of Facebook’s new emphasis on “time well spent”, under the heading “wellbeing”.

This new concern for “wellbeing” may strike some observers as a welcome development. After years of ignoring their critics, industry leaders are finally acknowledging that problems exist. Tech humanists deserve credit for drawing attention to one of those problems – the manipulative design decisions made by Silicon Valley.

But these decisions are only symptoms of a larger issue: the fact that the digital infrastructures that increasingly shape our personal, social and civic lives are owned and controlled by a few billionaires. Because it ignores the question of power, the tech-humanist diagnosis is incomplete – and could even help the industry evade meaningful reform. Taken up by leaders such as Zuckerberg, tech humanism is likely to result in only superficial changes. These changes may soothe some of the popular anger directed towards the tech industry, but they will not address the origin of that anger. If anything, they will make Silicon Valley even more powerful.

The Center for Humane Technology argues that technology must be “aligned” with humanity – and that the best way to accomplish this is through better design. Their website features a section entitled The Way Forward. A familiar evolutionary image shows the silhouettes of several simians, rising from their crouches to become a man, who then turns back to contemplate his history.

“In the future, we will look back at today as a turning point towards humane design,” the header reads. To the litany of problems caused by “technology that extracts attention and erodes society”, the text asserts that “humane design is the solution”. Drawing on the rhetoric of the “design thinking” philosophy that has long suffused Silicon Valley, the website explains that humane design “starts by understanding our most vulnerable human instincts so we can design compassionately”.

There is a good reason why the language of tech humanism is penetrating the upper echelons of the tech industry so easily: this language is not foreign to Silicon Valley. On the contrary, “humanising” technology has long been its central ambition and the source of its power. It was precisely by developing a “humanised” form of computing that entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs brought computing into millions of users’ everyday lives. Their success turned the Bay Area tech industry into a global powerhouse – and produced the digitised world that today’s tech humanists now lament.

The story begins in the 1960s, when Silicon Valley was still a handful of electronics firms clustered among fruit orchards. Computers came in the form of mainframes then. These machines were big, expensive and difficult to use. Only corporations, universities and government agencies could afford them, and they were reserved for specialised tasks, such as calculating missile trajectories or credit scores.

Computing was industrial, in other words, not personal, and Silicon Valley remained dependent on a small number of big institutional clients. The practical danger that this dependency posed became clear in the early 1960s, when the US Department of Defense, by far the single biggest buyer of digital components, began cutting back on its purchases. But the fall in military procurement wasn’t the only mid-century crisis around computing.

Computers also had an image problem. The inaccessibility of mainframes made them easy to demonise. In these whirring hulks of digital machinery, many observers saw something inhuman, even evil. To antiwar activists, computers were weapons of the war machine that was killing thousands in Vietnam. To highbrow commentators such as the social critic Lewis Mumford, computers were instruments of a creeping technocracy that threatened to extinguish personal freedom.

But during the course of the 1960s and 70s, a series of experiments in northern California helped solve both problems. These experiments yielded breakthrough innovations like the graphical user interface, the mouse and the microprocessor. Computers became smaller, more usable and more interactive, reducing Silicon Valley’s reliance on a few large customers while giving digital technology a friendlier face.

Apple founder Steve Jobs ‘got the notion of tools for human use’.

Apple founder Steve Jobs ‘got the notion of tools for human use’. Photograph: Ted Thai/Polaris / eyevine

The pioneers who led this transformation believed they were making computing more human. They drew deeply from the counterculture of the period, and its fixation on developing “human” modes of living. They wanted their machines to be “extensions of man”, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, and to unlock “human potential” rather than repress it. At the centre of this ecosystem of hobbyists, hackers, hippies and professional engineers was Stewart Brand, famed entrepreneur of the counterculture and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. In a famous 1972 article for Rolling Stone, Brand called for a new model of computing that “served human interest, not machine”.

Brand’s disciples answered this call by developing the technical innovations that transformed computers into the form we recognise today. They also promoted a new way of thinking about computers – not as impersonal slabs of machinery, but as tools for unleashing “human potential”.

No single figure contributed more to this transformation of computing than Steve Jobs, who was a fan of Brand and a reader of the Whole Earth Catalog. Jobs fulfilled Brand’s vision on a global scale, launching the mass personal computing era with the Macintosh in the mid-80s, and the mass smartphone era with the iPhone two decades later. Brand later acknowledged that Jobs embodied the Whole Earth Catalog ethos. “He got the notion of tools for human use,” Brand told Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson.

Building those “tools for human use” turned out to be great for business. The impulse to humanise computing enabled Silicon Valley to enter every crevice of our lives. From phones to tablets to laptops, we are surrounded by devices that have fulfilled the demands of the counterculture for digital connectivity, interactivity and self-expression. Your iPhone responds to the slightest touch; you can look at photos of anyone you have ever known, and broadcast anything you want to all of them, at any moment.

In short, the effort to humanise computing produced the very situation that the tech humanists now consider dehumanising: a wilderness of screens where digital devices chase every last instant of our attention. To guide us out of that wilderness, tech humanists say we need more humanising. They believe we can use better design to make technology serve human nature rather than exploit and corrupt it. But this idea is drawn from the same tradition that created the world that tech humanists believe is distracting and damaging us.

Tech humanists say they want to align humanity and technology. But this project is based on a deep misunderstanding of the relationship between humanity and technology: namely, the fantasy that these two entities could ever exist in separation.

It is difficult to imagine human beings without technology. The story of our species began when we began to make tools. Homo habilis, the first members of our genus, left sharpened stones scattered across Africa. Their successors hit rocks against each other to make sparks, and thus fire. With fire you could cook meat and clear land for planting; with ash you could fertilise the soil; with smoke you could make signals. In flickering light, our ancestors painted animals on cave walls. The ancient tragedian Aeschylus recalled this era mythically: Prometheus, in stealing fire from the gods, “founded all the arts of men.”

All of which is to say: humanity and technology are not only entangled, they constantly change together. This is not just a metaphor. Recent research suggests that the human hand evolved to manipulate the stone tools that our ancestors used. The evolutionary scientist Mary Marzke shows that we developed “a unique pattern of muscle architecture and joint surface form and functions” for this purpose.

The ways our bodies and brains change in conjunction with the tools we make have long inspired anxieties that “we” are losing some essential qualities. For millennia, people have feared that new media were eroding the very powers that they promised to extend. In The Phaedrus, Socrates warned that writing on wax tablets would make people forgetful. If you could jot something down, you wouldn’t have to remember it. In the late middle ages, as a culture of copying manuscripts gave way to printed books, teachers warned that pupils would become careless, since they no longer had to transcribe what their teachers said.

Yet as we lose certain capacities, we gain new ones. People who used to navigate the seas by following stars can now program computers to steer container ships from afar. Your grandmother probably has better handwriting than you do – but you probably type faster.

The nature of human nature is that it changes. It can not, therefore, serve as a stable basis for evaluating the impact of technology. Yet the assumption that it doesn’t change serves a useful purpose. Treating human nature as something static, pure and essential elevates the speaker into a position of power. Claiming to tell us who we are, they tell us how we should be.

Intentionally or not, this is what tech humanists are doing when they talk about technology as threatening human nature – as if human nature had stayed the same from the paleolithic era until the rollout of the iPhone. Holding humanity and technology separate clears the way for a small group of humans to determine the proper alignment between them. And while the tech humanists may believe they are acting in the common good, they themselves acknowledge they are doing so from above, as elites. “We have a moral responsibility to steer people’s thoughts ethically,” Tristan Harris has declared.

Harris and his fellow tech humanists also frequently invoke the language of public health. The Center for Humane Technology’s Roger McNamee has gone so far as to call public health “the root of the whole thing”, and Harris has compared using Snapchat to smoking cigarettes. The public-health framing casts the tech humanists in a paternalistic role. Resolving a public health crisis requires public health expertise. It also precludes the possibility of democratic debate. You don’t put the question of how to treat a disease up for a vote – you call a doctor.

This paternalism produces a central irony of tech humanism: the language that they use to describe users is often dehumanising. “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger,” says McNamee. Harris echoes this sentiment: “Imagine you had an input cable,” he has said. “You’re trying to jack it into a human being. Do you want to jack it into their reptilian brain, or do you want to jack it into their more reflective self?”

The Center for Humane Technology’s website offers tips on how to build a more reflective and less reptilian relationship to your smartphone: “going greyscale” by setting your screen to black-and-white, turning off app notifications and charging your device outside your bedroom. It has also announced two major initiatives: a national campaign to raise awareness about technology’s harmful effects on young people’s “digital health and well-being”; and a “Ledger of Harms” – a website that will compile information about the health effects of different technologies in order to guide engineers in building “healthier” products.

These initiatives may help some people reduce their smartphone use – a reasonable personal goal. But there are some humans who may not share this goal, and there need not be anything unhealthy about that. Many people rely on the internet for solace and solidarity, especially those who feel marginalised. The kid with autism may stare at his screen when surrounded by people, because it lets him tolerate being surrounded by people. For him, constant use of technology may not be destructive at all, but in fact life-saving.

Pathologising certain potentially beneficial behaviours as “sick” isn’t the only problem with the Center for Humane Technology’s proposals. They also remain confined to the personal level, aiming to redesign how the individual user interacts with technology rather than tackling the industry’s structural failures. Tech humanism fails to address the root cause of the tech backlash: the fact that a small handful of corporations own our digital lives and strip-mine them for profit. This is a fundamentally political and collective issue. But by framing the problem in terms of health and humanity, and the solution in terms of design, the tech humanists personalise and depoliticise it.

This may be why their approach is so appealing to the tech industry. There is no reason to doubt the good intentions of tech humanists, who may genuinely want to address the problems fuelling the tech backlash. But they are handing the firms that caused those problems a valuable weapon. Far from challenging Silicon Valley, tech humanism offers Silicon Valley a useful way to pacify public concerns without surrendering any of its enormous wealth and power. By channelling popular anger at Big Tech into concerns about health and humanity, tech humanism gives corporate giants such as Facebook a way to avoid real democratic control. In a moment of danger, it may even help them protect their profits.

One can easily imagine a version of Facebook that embraces the principles of tech humanism while remaining a profitable and powerful monopoly. In fact, these principles could make Facebook even more profitable and powerful, by opening up new business opportunities. That seems to be exactly what Facebook has planned.

When Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would prioritise “time well spent” over total time spent, it came a couple weeks before the company released their 2017 Q4 earnings. These reported that total time spent on the platform had dropped by around 5%, or about 50m hours per day. But, Zuckerberg said, this was by design: in particular, it was in response to tweaks to the News Feed that prioritised “meaningful” interactions with “friends” rather than consuming “public content” like video and news. This would ensure that “Facebook isn’t just fun, but also good for people’s well-being”.

Zuckerberg said he expected those changes would continue to decrease total time spent – but “the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable”. This may describe what users find valuable – but it also refers to what Facebook finds valuable. In a recent interview, he said: “Over the long term, even if time spent goes down, if people are spending more time on Facebook actually building relationships with people they care about, then that’s going to build a stronger community and build a stronger business, regardless of what Wall Street thinks about it in the near term.”

Sheryl Sandberg has also stressed that the shift will create “more monetisation opportunities”. How? Everyone knows data is the lifeblood of Facebook – but not all data is created equal. One of the most valuable sources of data to Facebook is used to inform a metric called “coefficient”. This measures the strength of a connection between two users – Zuckerberg once called it “an index for each relationship”. Facebook records every interaction you have with another user – from liking a friend’s post or viewing their profile, to sending them a message. These activities provide Facebook with a sense of how close you are to another person, and different activities are weighted differently. Messaging, for instance, is considered the strongest signal. It’s reasonable to assume that you’re closer to somebody you exchange messages with than somebody whose post you once liked.

Why is coefficient so valuable? Because Facebook uses it to create a Facebook they think you will like: it guides algorithmic decisions about what content you see and the order in which you see it. It also helps improve ad targeting, by showing you ads for things liked by friends with whom you often interact. Advertisers can target the closest friends of the users who already like a product, on the assumption that close friends tend to like the same things.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee earlier this year.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the US Senate last month. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

So when Zuckerberg talks about wanting to increase “meaningful” interactions and building relationships, he is not succumbing to pressure to take better care of his users. Rather, emphasising time well spent means creating a Facebook that prioritises data-rich personal interactions that Facebook can use to make a more engaging platform. Rather than spending a lot of time doing things that Facebook doesn’t find valuable – such as watching viral videos – you can spend a bit less time, but spend it doing things that Facebook does find valuable.

In other words, “time well spent” means Facebook can monetise more efficiently. It can prioritise the intensity of data extraction over its extensiveness. This is a wise business move, disguised as a concession to critics. Shifting to this model not only sidesteps concerns about tech addiction – it also acknowledges certain basic limits to Facebook’s current growth model. There are only so many hours in the day. Facebook can’t keep prioritising total time spent – it has to extract more value from less time.

In many ways, this process recalls an earlier stage in the evolution of capitalism. In the 19th century, factory owners in England discovered they could only make so much money by extending the length of the working day. At some point, workers would die of exhaustion, or they would revolt, or they would push parliament to pass laws that limited their working hours. So industrialists had to find ways to make the time of the worker more valuable – to extract more money from each moment rather than adding more moments. They did this by making industrial production more efficient: developing new technologies and techniques that squeezed more value out of the worker and stretched that value further than ever before.

A similar situation confronts Facebook today. They have to make the attention of the user more valuable – and the language and concepts of tech humanism can help them do it. So far, it seems to be working. Despite the reported drop in total time spent, Facebook recently announced huge 2018 Q1 earnings of $11.97bn (£8.7bn), smashing Wall Street estimates by nearly $600m.

Today’s tech humanists come from a tradition with deep roots in Silicon Valley. Like their predecessors, they believe that technology and humanity are distinct, but can be harmonised. This belief guided the generations who built the “humanised” machines that became the basis for the industry’s enormous power. Today it may provide Silicon Valley with a way to protect that power from a growing public backlash – and even deepen it by uncovering new opportunities for profit-making.

Fortunately, there is another way of thinking about how to live with technology – one that is both truer to the history of our species and useful for building a more democratic future. This tradition does not address “humanity” in the abstract, but as distinct human beings, whose capacities are shaped by the tools they use. It sees us as hybrids of animal and machine – as “cyborgs”, to quote the biologist and philosopher of science Donna Haraway.

To say that we’re all cyborgs is not to say that all technologies are good for us, or that we should embrace every new invention. But it does suggest that living well with technology can’t be a matter of making technology more “human”. This goal isn’t just impossible – it’s also dangerous, because it puts us at the mercy of experts who tell us how to be human. It cedes control of our technological future to those who believe they know what’s best for us because they understand the essential truths about our species.

The cyborg way of thinking, by contrast, tells us that our species is essentially technological. We change as we change our tools, and our tools change us. But even though our continuous co-evolution with our machines is inevitable, the way it unfolds is not. Rather, it is determined by who owns and runs those machines. It is a question of power.

Today, that power is wielded by corporations, which own our technology and run it for profit. The various scandals that have stoked the tech backlash all share a single source. Surveillance, fake news and the miserable working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses are profitable. If they were not, they would not exist. They are symptoms of a profound democratic deficit inflicted by a system that prioritises the wealth of the few over the needs and desires of the many.

There is an alternative. If being technological is a feature of being human, then the power to shape how we live with technology should be a fundamental human right. The decisions that most affect our technological lives are far too important to be left to Mark Zuckerberg, rich investors or a handful of “humane designers”. They should be made by everyone, together.

Rather than trying to humanise technology, then, we should be trying to democratise it. We should be demanding that society as a whole gets to decide how we live with technology – rather than the small group of people who have captured society’s wealth.

What does this mean in practice? First, it requires limiting and eroding Silicon Valley’s power. Antitrust laws and tax policy offer useful ways to claw back the fortunes Big Tech has built on common resources. After all, Silicon Valley wouldn’t exist without billions of dollars of public funding, not to mention the vast quantities of information that we all provide for free. Facebook’s market capitalisation is $500bn with 2.2 billion users – do the math to estimate how much the time you spend on Facebook is worth. You could apply the same logic to Google. There is no escape: whether or not you have an account, both platforms track you around the internet.

In addition to taxing and shrinking tech firms, democratic governments should be making rules about how those firms are allowed to behave – rules that restrict how they can collect and use our personal data, for instance, like the General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect in the European Union later this month. But more robust regulation of Silicon Valley isn’t enough. We also need to pry the ownership of our digital infrastructure away from private firms.

This means developing publicly and co-operatively owned alternatives that empower workers, users and citizens to determine how they are run. These democratic digital structures can focus on serving personal and social needs rather than piling up profits for investors. One inspiring example is municipal broadband: a successful experiment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has shown that publicly owned internet service providers can supply better service at lower cost than private firms. Other models of digital democracy might include a worker-owned Uber, a user-owned Facebook or a socially owned “smart city” of the kind being developed in Barcelona. Alternatively, we might demand that tech firms pay for the privilege of extracting our data, so that we can collectively benefit from a resource we collectively create.

More experimentation is needed, but democracy should be our guiding principle. The stakes are high. Never before have so many people been thinking about the problems produced by the tech industry and how to solve them. The tech backlash is an enormous opportunity – and one that may not come again for a long time.

The old techno-utopianism is crumbling. What will replace it? Silicon Valley says it wants to make the world a better place. Fulfilling this promise may require a new kind of disruption.

Main illustration by Lee Martin/Guardian Design

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Apple delivers best-ever second quarter despite sales worries | Technology

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Apple on Tuesday shook off worries that its $1,000 iPhone had failed to live up to the hype – but sales of the world’s most valuable company’s most valuable product are slowing, and Apple has announced a plan to buy its way out of trouble.

Releasing its latest quarterly report, Apple announced it had sold 52.2m iPhones in the quarter ending 31 March, at an average price of $728.54. Sales were up 3% compared to last year and slightly lower than analysts had expected, but numbers beat the gloomiest forecasts and were enough to deliver Apple its best second quarter ever, with revenues of over $61bn. That beat the record of $58bn set in 2015.

“We’re thrilled to report our best March quarter ever, with strong revenue growth in iPhone, services and wearables,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer. “We are very bullish on Apple’s future,” Cook told analysts after the news broke.

Apple sold 9.11m iPads and 4.08m Macs over the quarter.

Analysts had worried that the high-priced iPhone X would dent sales. The results came after Apple suppliers including AMS and Taiwan Semiconductors have reported slowing revenues in a sign seen by analysts as proof of shaky demand for iPhone X.

The company announced it would be adding $100bn to its stock buyback programme, plus a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend. Taking advantage of the Trump administration’s new tax laws, Apple is in the process of repatriating the majority of the $252bn in profits it currently holds overseas.

The buyback helped Apple’s shares rise over 5% in after-hours trading. The company’s stock has risen by about 80% in the past two years, setting it on course to battle Amazon to become the first company to be valued at $1tn. But Apple’s share price has stumbled recently as fears about slowing iPhone sales took their toll.

The iPhone remains Apple’s biggest product, even as sales of services and other items, including the Apple Watch, have grown. Services – from the Apple Store, iCloud, Apple Pay and others – generated $9bn over the quarter. But the 11-year-old mobile device accounts for the majority Apple’s revenues and contributed $100bn over the quarter. Despite the better-than-expected results, however, sales are slowing.

Thomas Husson, principal analyst at Forrester, said the results did not mean innovation in the high-end smartphone is dead.

Husson said: “However, it indicates Apple will have to smartly manage its iPhone product portfolio and pricing, especially in Asia, where some countries still witness smartphone growth Apple has proven over the past few years that it masters the art and science of managing its product portfolio.”

Yet Husson believes 2018 represents a tipping point for Apple. “It has no choice but to demonstrate it can reduce its dependency on iPhone sales and enter new adjacent markets and territories,” he said. “Because it’s a human-centered and ideas-driven marketing company, Apple is still the most valuable brand worldwide and it would be a mistake to make too early a call based on this quarterly financial earnings.”

On a call with analysts Cook was once again critical of tech rivals, including Facebook, that have been rocked by privacy scandals. “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right,” he said.

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Apple poised to move further into media amid Wall Street ‘panic’ | Technology

Apple poised to move further into media amid Wall Street ‘panic’ | Technology

Last Monday at New York’s Beacon Theatre, Apple unveiled a product it hopes can help the world’s most valuable company maintain its cutting edge: the 71-year-old rock god Patti Smith.

Smith and her band took to the stage after a screening of an Apple Music documentary about her classic 1975 album Horses.

To a packed house, and under the watchful eye of the outgoing Apple Music executive (and Patti Smith producer) Jimmy Iovine, Smith’s performance – joined by Bruce Springsteen for two numbers – appeared as a foretelling of Apple’s remedial strategy and future direction.

The world’s most valuable public company releases its latest results on Tuesday and has no doubt, once again, sold billions of dollars worth of iPhones. But as the iPhone ages, it’s increasingly clear that Apple is looking for new sources of revenue, and Smith is part of that effort.

Big tech is moving into content production and distribution. For three years, the company has been hiring from the design and luxury industries – including top executives like Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, and Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry.

It hired or consulted with Iovine, Dr Dre and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor after Apple acquired Beats By Dre in a $1bn acquisition and briefly repurposed them for the launch of Apple Music, which has now gained 36 million subscribers and is poised to overtake its music streaming rival Spotify in the US.

Rumors have even circulated that Apple is looking to buy parts or all of the troubled magazine publisher Condé Nast, a move that would further its push, initiated with the Apple Watch, to become a luxury fashion accessory, lifestyle and content brand.

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith perform after a screening of Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band at the Beacon Theatre on 23 April. Photograph: Brad Barket/Invision/AP

Can Apple buy its way out of trouble? On the surface that seems a ridiculous question for a company that made $61bn last year and is expected to have sold 54m iPhones in the last three months.

But no matter its size, Apple still faces a big test on Tuesday. As the tech giant releases its first-quarter numbers, analysts worry they could expose further weakness in consumer demand for the company’s top-line products.

Based on reports from Apple’s Asian supply chain partners, the company could be about to lower production targets for its iPhone X, the $1,000 model that has failed to meet sales expectations.

In mid-March, Apple stock peaked at $182; its stock price fell to about $162 last week, dropping over five straight Wall Street trading sessions.

“The street has gone into ‘full panic mode’,” the GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives said in a client report.

Ives said that bad news from Asian suppliers correlated with “softer demand and $1,000 sticker-shock price points on iPhone X”. The big question, he added, was what demand for Apple’s iPhone range would look like after the company launched its 12th-generation model in September.

Patti Smith is a small part of Apple’s plan B. Gene Munster, a longtime Apple watcher and Loup Ventures analyst, estimates the company will ramp up its spending on original content in video, music and publishing to $4.2bn by 2022 from $1bn this year and $500m in 2017.

“Historically, Apple has been a platform for distributing content but increasingly they want to create their own content and that changes their whole profile,” said Munster.

Apple, he reasons, is in a similar position to Amazon in that it doesn’t want to make a ton of money from content but views it as a means to growth.

“We think that content is always king and the tech companies are starting to understand how king content can drive their businesses. In Apple’s case that’s selling iPhones, in Google’s case it’s advertising, and in Amazon’s that’s selling Amazon Prime memberships.”

The Condé Nast rumors may stem from Apple’s acquisition last month of Texture, a digital magazine subscription service part-owned by Condé Nast. Senior Apple executives said they were “committed to quality journalism”.

Analysts think an acquisition unlikely. “It’s a well-traveled road of rumors of Apple buying content companies, typically a studio,” said Munster. Sadly for Condé, and others, people are less interested in paying for written content than video and music, he said. “It’s within the scheme of them paying for more content, but I think Apple has their sights set on video and music more than the written word.”

Apple’s increased spending on content still leaves it short of the subscription darling Netflix ($6.8bn), or the surging Amazon, which is expected to increase its spending on original content from $4.5bn to $8.3bn.

“Over the next five years, we think there’s going to be one single offering for video, music and print content. These essentially vertical subscriptions are focused on one type of content – music, video (Netflix or HBO) or print. So the concept is to create all-in-one offerings for different types of media,” said Munster.

Apple’s acquisition of Condé Nast, whose US operation is believed to be losing $100m a year while its foreign operation is marginally profitable on similar revenues of around $1bn, would doubtless be a headline-grabbing move.

But while media is a growing business for Apple, and it is reported to want to acquire and produce as many as 10 television shows, it has yet to register an original video content hit.

Apple’s Planet of the Apps, a reality show about app developers, and Carpool Karaoke, a spin-off of James Corden’s hit late night segment that features celebrities singing in a car together, have not gained traction with audiences. Apple also purchased the rights for a TV project from Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning writer and director of La La Land, and a Reese Witherspoon-produced comedy show.

“While the reviews have so far been dismal, they have launched their own original content,” said Munster.

In music, too, Apple has missed a beat. Its success with Apple Music comes after five years of struggle that led it to rebrand Beats Music as Apple Music and follow Spotify and others as consumers showed more willingness to pay for music on a subscription basis than by the track.

A future in which Apple offers video, music and publishing content at $15 a month is probable, Munster says. Like Amazon – or Netflix – Apple sees rich sources of future revenue from subscriptions to content in the cloud.

At the Beacon on Monday, Apple learned – as it did when it automatically inserted a free U2 album into customers’ iTunes libraries – that not everyone is grateful for its sponsorship.

When Smith thanked Apple during her performance, her gratitude was met with boos. The singer deftly sidestepped the issue, retorting that maybe one of the hecklers needed the bathroom.

“I normally just piss in a can or dig a hole,” she added before launching into her Radio Ethiopia track “Pissing in a River”.

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Google puts gun emoji back in holster with switch to water pistol | Technology

Google puts gun emoji back in holster with switch to water pistol | Technology

Google has become the latest firm to change its gun emoji to resemble a water pistol, falling in line with most other platforms, including Apple, Samsung, WhatsApp and Twitter.

Amid a particularly fervent period in the US anti-gun movement, led by the Floridian students of Stoneman Douglas high school caught up in a mass shooting earlier this year, users of Google-owned products and services will soon see the gun emoji rendered as a bright orange water pistol. That includes smartphones updated to the upcoming Android 9.0 “P” due for release in May.

Apple first transformed its gun emoji from a realistic looking silver revolver into a green water pistol in 2016 after a succession of high-profile US shootings and pressure from activists, to a mostly positive response (“not political correctness gone mad; smart”, was one Guardian writer’s opinion).

However, users also pointed out that the unilateral change could cause problematic confusion when Apple’s iOS users sent a water-pistol emoji, which when viewed by other mobile users would still appear as a lifelike gun. The problem was exacerbated when, at the same time as Apple’s water pistol was introduced, Microsoft moved in the opposite direction, changing its zap-gun style into a realistic revolver. At the time the company said: “Our intent with every glyph is to align with the global Unicode standard, and the previous design did not map to industry designs or our customers’ expectations of the emoji definition.”

Speaking on the Emoji Wrap podcast in 2016, Google’s product manager Agustin Fonts was also hesitant about shifting to a water pistol to remain “as compatible with other systems as possible”.

All platforms’ gun emoji designs and how they have changed. Photograph: Emojipedia / Jeremy Burge

Emojis are approved by the Unicode Consortium, the industry body which oversees software standards and developments, but tech platforms are at liberty to introduce their own designs of approved glyphs.

Apple’s standalone shift has become less problematic however, with WhatsApp following its lead in 2017 and swapping the gun for a toy rendition, and Samsung and Twitter making the change in 2018. Facebook has announced that it will also make the switch across the remainder of its products soon.

In 2016, a hunting rifle emoji proposed by the Unicode Consortium as part of an Olympic Games set was shot down, with efforts led by Apple and Microsoft. Unicode Consortium president Mark Davis said that “there was consensus to remove them”, while a Gun Control Network spokesperson said: “All those who have been traumatised by gun threats and gun violence will be grateful for this significant gesture of respect and support.”

Despite its opposition to the rifle emoji however, Microsoft remains the most prominent mainstream tech company to have not changed the revolver to a water-pistol emoji, nor commented on any plans to.

A bomb, knife and swords remain part of current emoji sets.

‘I’m sitting next to a weirdo on the bus’ and other true meanings of emoji

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Australian bill to create back door into encrypted apps in ‘advanced stages’ | Technology

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The Australian government is pushing ahead with controversial legislation it says will create “back doors” into encrypted communication services – but still can’t say when it will introduce the bill.

After originally aiming to have the legislation before parliament in the first quarter of this year, the government has delayed its introduction. A spokesman for the acting attorney general, Marise Payne, would only say it was in “the advanced stages of development”.

“The government is continuing to consult with key stakeholders,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The former attorney general George Brandis first floated the idea mid last year, in response to law enforcement frustrations that encrypted communication services, which include popular apps such as Whatsapp, Wickr, iMessage and even Snapchat, remained out of their reach.

The legislation had been planned for November last year, before it was pushed to the first quarter of this year. It has once again been delayed.

Typically, messages and data sent within these services, which senior government ministers themselves have admitted to using, disappear after being read or remain impervious to decryption efforts by third parties.

The government’s efforts to legislate to allow access, through what it has previously termed a “back door” for its authorities and agencies, have been frustrated by the companies’ reluctance to allow government interference.

Labor, which has typically supported the government in matters of national security, remains sceptical additional legislation of this nature is practical.

“Labor will continue to work with the government to put in place practical national security measures, that are fit for purpose and effectively protect Australia and our community,” acting shadow attorney general Brendan O’Connor said.

“It was clear, however, when this idea was first floated last year that the government had significant work to do in making any proposed legislation in this area workable,” he said.

“If it is to proceed, Labor calls on the government to release an exposure draft of this legislation, to allow for proper consultation. This is important given the complexities around this novel area of lawmaking.”

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John said the whole concept was laughable.

“Once the government has a back door into encrypted devices and platforms, everybody has a back door into encrypted devices and platforms,” he said.

“That has been proven over and over again. Once it is created, somebody gets in. I wouldn’t trust a government that can’t keep Medicare information protected to be inserting a back door into a tin shed.

“So I certainly wouldn’t be trusting them to do something as serious as this.”

In July last year, Australian federal police deputy commissioner Mike Phelan said “the vast majority” of investigations now involved some sort of encryption, but the “legislation has not yet kept pace with technology”.

In 2016, then-US president Barack Obama withheld White House support for legislation that would have allowed courts to force encryption companies, which include Apple and Google, to allow access.

The UK government is also examining ways it can force access to encrypted services, as part of its own wider national security push.

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iOS 11.3 update breaks iPhone 8 devices with third party-repaired screens | Technology

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Apple’s latest iOS 11.3 software update is causing iPhone 8 devices with third-party repaired screens to stop working.

Users who have had a screen repair performed by a third party, rather than with Apple, on their iPhone 8 smartphones found that the iOS 11.3 update stopped the touchscreen from working, reports Motherboard. The update was pushed out on 29 March, introducing Apple’s promised iPhone battery health information, as well as the ability to turn off the slowing down of smartphones related to the battery following the scandal in December.

The screens continue to display the homescreen once updated to iOS 11.3 but cannot be interacted with, effectively rendering the affected iPhone 8 device unusable without warning from Apple.

“This has caused my company over 2,000 reshipments,” Aakshay Kripalani, chief executive of repair shop Injured Gadgets told Motherboard. “Customers are annoyed and it seems like Apple is doing this to prevent customers from doing third-party repair.”

There is little affected users can do for their £700-plus smartphones other than have the screen replaced again, hopefully with one that will work regardless of the iOS 11.3 update. But this is not the first time a software update from Apple has caused serious problems for those opting to repair their broken smartphones at third-party shops rather than sending them to the manufacturer.

A similar thing happened for the iPhone 7 last year. An iOS update prevented the touchscreens from working on iPhone 7s with third-party repaired screens. Apple then released a follow-up software update that made them work again, resolving the issue.

That followed the storm caused by the so-called Error 53, which rendered iPhones useless if they had had their home button replaced by third-party repair shops after a software update. The problem was related to the Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded within the home button. Apple later apologised and issued a fix for the Error 53 issue.

The consequence is that at any stage Apple may break iPhones that have been repaired by third parties via software updates, effectively making its in-store service the only viable option. Apple charges £156.44 to repair the screen of an iPhone 6S, 7 or 8, £176.44 for the larger iPhone 6S Plus, 7 Plus or 8 Plus or £286.44 for the top-of-the-line iPhone X.

Repairing “other damage” costs between £306.44 and £556.44 for an iPhone 6 or newer. Apple also offers an optional insurance, called AppleCare+, which costs £129 for two years for an iPhone 8 and then charges users £25 to repair the screen or £79 for other damage – but users can only claim for two incidents.

Third-party repair shops, which are popular in the era of glass phones and frequently smashed screens, often undercut Apple and offer services Apple does not. Unless they are an authorised-by-Apple repair provider, however, they can only obtain “after-market” parts, not parts directly from the iPhone manufacturer.

Apple did not immediately comment.

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Apple poaches Google’s AI chief in push to save Siri | Technology

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Apple has poached Google’s AI chief, John Giannandrea, to run its machine learning and AI operations, in the clearest sign yet that the iPhone creator is attempting to fix the problems that saw its early lead in the field crumble.

Scottish-born Giannandrea, who joined Google in 2010 after his startup, Metaweb, was acquired, has led the search firm’s push to become market leader in AI and machine learning. Under his command, Google Brain, the company’s main AI research team, has rebuilt the technology that underpins some of Google’s landmark products, including search, translation and voice recognition.

He also led Google into its position today, where it battles with Amazon for technological supremacy in the field of voice controlled assistants. That role was once held by Apple, whose Siri technology introduced the feature to many, but which failed to capitalise on the lead.

In March, technology site The Information detailed seven years of infighting within the Siri team at Apple, with multiple attempts to reorganise the basic technology that underpins the feature falling prey to internal politics which limited attempts to improve the overall product.

Siri’s problems came to a head in February, when the HomePod – Apple’s attempt to compete with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers – received reviews which praised it for its audio quality even as they damned it for its poor AI.

In recent weeks, however, Apple has accelerated hiring for Siri, peaking with 161 openings posted in one day in March – and now Giannandrea’s hiring, first reported by the New York Times.

Beyond talent, though, the company has another issue to overcome: persuading customers that it can build an acceptable set of services without taking the same data-heavy approach favoured by Amazon and Google.

Where major technology firms have increased their acquisition of customer data in recent years, arguing that large datasets are crucial for training effective personalised AI, Apple has moved in the opposite direction, altering its technologies to gather less personal data about users than it used to.

It believes its users understand the value of privacy, and will accept a certain amount of friction in exchange for keeping their secrets secret. And the differing approach has offered chief executive Tim Cook the chance to hit out at competitors. Speaking last week, he said: “We could make a ton of money if we monetised our customers, if our customers were our product … We’ve elected not to do that. We’re not going to traffic in your personal life. Privacy to us is a human right, a civil liberty.”

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Chips are down: Apple to stop using Intel processors in Macs, reports say | Technology

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Apple is reportedly planning to drop Intel chips from its Mac computers as early as 2020, replacing them with processors designed in-house in the same way the company manufactures iPhones and iPads.

The plan, reported by Bloomberg, has been rumoured for several years, as Apple has taken on more chip design for devices. The company’s A-series of processors, currently capped by the A11 Bionic chips used in the iPhones 8, 8 Plus and X, are all designed by the company for specific purposes, and based on an architecture licensed from British firm ARM.

Rumours of the switch contributed to a 6% drop in Intel’s share price over the course of Monday, adding specific pain to a general collapse in tech stocks caused by fears of oncoming regulation in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal at Facebook.

Bloomberg reports that the initiative “is still in early developmental stages”, but is intended to bring Macs into the same unified architecture that allows all of Apple’s other devices to work together “seamlessly”.

Apple announced its switch to Intel processors in 2005, after years spent building computers on IBM’s powerPC architecture. The change, which arrived in homes with 2006’s MacBook Pro, saw the company take advantage of the huge economies of scale that Intel could offer, with its x86 architecture by far the most popular across the computing industry at the time.

That change required a multi-year switchover program, with Apple developers needing to fully rewrite many programs, and the company shipping an emulator – Rosetta – that could run older code at reduced speeds. The same would likely be required if it again decided to switch to an ARM-based architecture.

As Apple has grown into the largest company in the world, it has been able to unlock economies of scale that are not reliant on third-parties. The A series of chips, which tend to debut on iPhones, are reused with minor tweaks on other devices. The iPhone 7’s A10 is now used in the 2018 iPad and 2017 Apple TV, while the iPhone 6’s A8 chip is used in the HomePod.

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Apple launches iOS 11.3 with raft of privacy features | Technology

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Apple is launching a major privacy push, with software updates across all its devices to introduce new data privacy information immediately, with an updated website offering new privacy management tools to follow in May.

Thursday’s updates (macOS 10.13.4, iOS11.3 and tvOS 11.3) are prompted by the enormous new European data protection regulation GDPR, and have been in the works since at least January. But they come at a good time for the company, whose head Tim Cook has been merrily capitalising on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, publicly rebuking Mark Zuckerberg over the social network’s business model.

The European Union’s new stronger, unified data protection laws, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will come into force on 25 May 2018, after more than six years in the making.

GDPR will replace the current patchwork of national data protection laws, give data regulators greater powers to fine, make it easier for companies with a “one-stop-shop” for operating across the whole of the EU, and create a new pan-European data regulator called the European Data Protection Board.

The new laws govern the processing and storage of EU citizens’ data, both that given to and observed by companies about people, whether or not the company has operations in the EU. They state that data protection should be both by design and default in any operation.

GDPR will refine and enshrine the “right to be forgotten” laws as the “right to erasure”, and give EU citizens the right to data portability, meaning they can take data from one organisation and give it to another. It will also bolster the requirement for explicit and informed consent before data is processed, and ensure that it can be withdrawn at any time.

To ensure companies comply, GDPR also gives data regulators the power to fine up to €20m or 4% of annual global turnover, which is several orders of magnitude larger than previous possible fines. Data breaches must be reported within 72 hours to a data regulator, and affected individuals must be notified unless the data stolen is unreadable, ie strongly encrypted.

For users of the company’s devices, the biggest change will be the introduction of a unified data privacy iconography, which now shows up alongside detailed information about how Apple uses personal data for its various first-party services. “Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right,” the company will tell every user the first time they turn on their devices after the update, “so every Apple product is designed to minimise the collection and use of your data, use on-device processing whenever possible, and provide transparency and control over your information”.

Although the new features are prompted by GDPR, they are rolling out to users worldwide, and the company proudly notes that it has not had to change any of its software to comply with the new regulations. Unlike competitors such as Google, who operate on the principle that large scale data collection bestows an advantage in areas such as machine learning and transport planning, Apple has repeatedly argued that it has a responsibility to minimise data collection.

Speaking on Wednesday, Cook said “We could make a ton of money if we monetised our customers, if our customers were our product … We’ve elected not to do that. We’re not going to traffic in your personal life. Privacy to us is a human right, a civil liberty.”

In May, shortly before GDPR takes effect, Apple will also update its website to make it easier for users to exercise four key rights granted by the regulation: getting a copy of their data; requesting a correction to their data; deactivating their accounts; and deleting their accounts.

The company sees an opportunity to distinguish from competitors there too: deactivation, in particular, is a much stronger implementation than in other platforms. It removes the user’s information from all aggregated data stores, isolating their accounts but stopping short of deleting them.

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