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Uber to allow sexual assault and harassment victims to sue company | Technology

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Uber’s ride-hailing service will give its US passengers and drivers more leeway to pursue claims of sexual misconduct, its latest attempt to reverse its reputation for brushing aside bad behaviour.

The shift announced on Tuesday will allow riders and drivers to file allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment in courts and mediation instead of being locked into an arbitration hearing.

The San Francisco company is also scrapping a policy requiring all settlements of sexual misconduct to be kept confidential, giving victims the choice of whether they want to make their experience public.

The new rules mark a conciliatory step made by the Uber chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi. He was hired last August amid a wave of revelations and allegations about rampant sexual harassment in its workforce, a cover-up of a massive data breach, dirty tricks and stolen trade secrets.

Khosrowshahi has launched a campaign to “do the right thing” to repair the damage left by Uber’s previous regime and lure back alienated riders who defected to rivals such as Lyft.

The changes governing sexual misconduct come a month after Uber announced it will do criminal background checks on its US drivers annually and add a 911 button for summoning help in emergencies. They are an effort to reassure its riders and address concerns that it had not done enough to keep criminals from using its service to prey on potential victims.

Giving victims of sexual assault or perceived sexual harassment more options sends an important message that Uber is taking the issue more seriously, said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for Raliance, a coalition of groups working with Uber to prevent sexual abuse on its service.

It may also spur more complaints. Houser said riders may now be more emboldened to report inappropriate behaviour, such as when a driver asks them out for a date.

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“You want people to report lower-level infractions so you can nip them in the bud before they become bigger problems,” she said.

By the end of the year, Uber will also start to publicly report incidents of alleged sexual misconduct in hopes of establishing more transparency about the issue throughout the ride-hailing and traditional taxi industries.

“We think the numbers are going to be disturbing,” said Tony West, a former government prosecutor during the Obama administration who became Uber’s chief legal officer after Khosrowshahi took over.



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‘We’re waiting for answers’: Facebook, Brexit and 40 questions | Technology

‘We’re waiting for answers’: Facebook, Brexit and 40 questions | Technology


Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, was the second executive Facebook offered up to answer questions from parliament’s select committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

He took his place in the hot seat in the wake of the first attendee, Simon Milner, Facebook’s (now ex-) head of policy for Europe, who answered a series of questions about Cambridge Analytica’s non-use of Facebook data that came back to haunt the company in the furore that followed the Observer and New York Times revelations from Christopher Wylie.

Schroepfer is Facebook’s nerd-in-chief. He was the tech guy sent to answer a series of questions from MPs about how his platform had facilitated what appeared to be a wholesale assault on Britain’s democracy, and though there was much he couldn’t answer, when he was asked about spending by Russian entities directed at British voters before the referendum, he spoke confidently: “We did look several times at the connections between the IRA [the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency] … and the EU referendum and we found $1 of spend. We found almost nothing.”

But new evidence released by the United States Congress suggests adverts were targeted at UK Facebook users, and paid for in roubles, in the months preceding the short 10-week period “regulated” by the Electoral Commission but when the long campaigns were already under way.

This is the latest episode in a series of miscommunications between the company and British legislators, which has come to a head in the week the Electoral Commission finally published the findings of its investigation into the Leave.EU campaign.

Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee, said: “We asked them to look for evidence of Russian influence and they came back and told us something we now know appears misleading. And we’re still waiting for answers to 40 questions that Mike Schroepfer was unable to answer, including if they have any record of any dark ads.

“It could be that these adverts are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just so hard getting any sort of information out of them, and then not knowing if that information is complete.”



Leave.EU supporters celebrate the Leave vote in Sunderland after polling stations closed in the Brexit referendum. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Preliminary research undertaken by Twitter user Brexitshambles suggests anti-immigrant adverts were targeted at Facebook users in the UK and the US.

One – headlined “You’re not the only one to despise immigration”, which cost 4,884 roubles (£58) and received 4,055 views – was placed in January 2016. Another, which accused immigrants of stealing jobs, cost 5,514 roubles and received 14,396 impressions. Organic reach can mean such adverts are seen by a wider audience.

Facebook says that it only looked for adverts shown during the officially regulated campaign period. A spokesperson said: “The release of the set of IRA adverts confirms the position we shared with the Electoral Commission and DCMS committee. We did not find evidence of any significant, coordinated activity by the IRA operatives directed towards the Brexit referendum.

“This is supported by the release of this data set which shows a significant amount of activity by the IRA with only a handful of their ads listing the UK as a possible audience.”

Collins said that the committee was becoming increasingly frustrated by Facebook’s reluctance to answer questions and by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing refusal to come to the UK to testify.

Milner told the committee in February that Cambridge Analytica had no Facebook data and could not have got data from Facebook.

The news reinforces MPs’ frustrations with a system that last week many of them were describing as “broken”. On Friday, 15 months after the first Observer article that triggered the Electoral Commission’s investigation into Leave.EU was published, it found the campaign – funded by Arron Banks and endorsed by Nigel Farage – guilty of multiple breaches of electoral law and referred the “responsible person” – its chief executive, Liz Bilney – to the police.

Banks described the commission’s report as a “politically motivated attack on Brexit”.

Leading academics and MPs called the delay in referring the matter to the police “catastrophic”, with others saying British democracy had failed. Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow digital minister, described the current situation as “akin to the situation with rotten boroughs” in the 19th century. “It’s at that level. What we’re seeing is a wholesale failure of the entire system. We have 20th-century bodies fighting a 21st-century challenge to our democracy. It’s totally lamentable.”

Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, said it was unacceptable that the Electoral Commission had still not referred the evidence about Vote Leave from Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni – published in the Observer and submitted to the Electoral Commission – to the police. He said: “What they seem to have done, and are continuing to do, is to kick this into the long grass. There seems to be political pressure to kick this down the road until Britain has exited the EU.”

He accused the commission of ignoring what he considered key evidence, including about Cambridge Analytica. The commission had found Leave.EU guilty of not declaring work done by its referendum strategist, Goddard Gunster, but said it had found no evidence of work done by Cambridge Analytica.

“The whole thing stinks,” Kinnock said. “I wrote to the commission with evidence that the value of work carried out by Cambridge Analytica was around £800,000. The glib way it dismissed the multiple pieces of evidence about the company was extraordinary. I just think it is absolutely not fit for purpose.”

Gavin Millar QC, a leading expert in electoral law at Matrix Chambers, said: “Our entire democratic system is vulnerable and wide open to attack. If we allow this kind of money into campaigning on national basis – and the referendum was the paradigm for this – you have to have an organisation with teeth to police it.”

Damian Tambini, director of research in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, described the whole system as broken and said there was not a single investigatory body that seemed capable of uncovering the truth. “The DCMS Select Committee has found itself in this extraordinary position of, in effect, leading this investigation because it at least has the power to compel witnesses and evidence – something the Electoral Commission can’t do. It’s the classic British solution of muddling through.

“The big picture here is it’s possible for an individual or group with lots of money and some expertise to change the course of history and buy an election outcome. And with our regulatory system, we’ll never know if it’s happened.”

This article was amended on 13 May 2018 to clarify that a remark from Damian Tambini referred to the DCMS Select Committee.





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After books and vinyl, board games make a comeback | Life and style

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Forget Candy Crush, Fifa and Call of Duty – millennials are putting down their Xbox controllers and smartphones and picking up their dice as they embrace games their parents and grandparents used to love.

More and more people are exchanging marathon gaming sessions alone in a darkened room for the social fun of board games. With bars and cafes such as Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, and Draughts in London having a library of more than 800 games catering for the “cocktails and Cluedo” set, board games – as with colouring books – are no longer just Christmas presents for children.

Early next month tens of thousands of enthusiasts will descend on Birmingham NEC for the UK Games Expo, the third-largest hobby and games convention in the world. The event, in its 12th year, caters for all aspects of tabletop gaming, from classic board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo to Warhammer and trading card games.

Tony Hyams, director of UK Games Expo, says: “The event started in 2007, right in the teeth of the financial meltdown. We assumed it would struggle and were prepared for it to just a be a little local show. The first year we had 1,200 attendees over the two days. This year we are expecting closer to 40,000 over three days.

“We knew that people didn’t have much money, and we just wanted a great weekend. We kept prices as low as we could and packed as much fun in as possible. This seems to be a winning formula for everyone.”

He adds: “We have seen a real growth of interest in board games over the past 10 years.

“While the internet is a great thing, sitting down and playing with friends and family is becoming increasingly important. Having time away from our phones and computers where we can talk, play and enjoy time together is something board games let us do.”

Purchasing a tabletop game, as Hymas notes, “makes good financial sense”. Computer gaming on games consoles or even mobile phones is no longer a “pay-once” situation. In comparison with in-app or in-game purchases, self-contained board games with no extras required seem more appealing. Makers of electronic games have faced outrage from fans over their reliance on in-game purchases for titles such as Fifa 18 or Star Wars Battlefront II, which can take the already high cost of the games to an astronomical level.

This is one of the reasons why an increasing number of games are moving from the console to the table top. The post-second world war “atompunk” role-playing game Fallout 4 generated $750m in the first 24 hours after its launch but now there has been enough appetite to make it into a board game alongside classic video games such as Doom.

They are part of a trend – from books to vinyl, there is evidence of growing interest in the “real thing” rather than the digital versions. It is also an interest that can be shared across generations.

Elsa Tarring, 17, says: “In our house, we only have two remote controls for the Wii, so you can’t play with a big group of people, whereas with a board game you can. And adults are often useless with technology, so you can play a board game with them and no one is excluded.”

The tabletop gaming industry looked to be on the wane in 2015, when companies such as Games Workshop, which makes Warhammer fantasy models, were struggling financially. However, profits have since increased as more people move away from screens and towards human interaction in gaming.

Jonathan Berkowitz, of Hasbro Gaming, says: “The gaming industry is doing very well right now. We’re continuing to see popularity grow for all types of face-to-face games. With classic favourites such as Monopoly and Game of Life and new, social games such as Chow Crown and Don’t Lose Your Cool we are confident this momentum will continue.”



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Electric dreams of Philip K Dickleburgh | Brief letters | Books

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No criticism of Georgina Chapman (‘I was so humiliated and so broken’, 11 May), but of the Guardian. Again you show an unhealthy interest in fashonista celebrity and weight loss – “the British fashion designer describes how she lost 10lbs in five days”, with an accompanying “Photograph: Annie Liebovitz for Vogue”. British or American? I’m sure your readers are desperate to know; and will you do an article on trauma weight loss?
Tim Davies
Batheaston, Somerset

Nicola Grove can rest assured that In the Night Garden is widely watched (Letters, 8 May). As a grandfather to three under-fours, it was already my regular viewing.
Don Chroston
Sunderland

I suppose a Google programme could write a fletter (Letters, 11 May). However, Flett is a rare name in the UK (except in the Orkneys) so in my experience the computer would invariably have signed it Fleet, Flatt or Flott, which might rather give the game away.
Keith Flett
London

Wouldn’t a Smart Compose letter to the Guardian nowadays be more likely signed off by a member of the House of Lords or someone on the Shropshire Union canal?
Ron Brewer
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

With a sense of the ridiculous that the great man himself would have enjoyed, predictive text once completed Philip K Dick for me as Philip Kingdom Dickleburgh.
Paul Simpson
Southsea, Hampshire

I would appreciate it if you could mark the suguru as easy, hard etc in the way you do the sudoku. I could then better plan my day.
Ruth Garrod
Twickenham, Middlesex

Join the debate – email [email protected]

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters



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No death and an enhanced life: Is the future transhuman? | Technology

No death and an enhanced life: Is the future transhuman? | Technology


The aims of the transhumanist movement are summed up by Mark O’Connell in his book To Be a Machine, which last week won the Wellcome Book prize. “It is their belief that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”

The idea of technologically enhancing our bodies is not new. But the extent to which transhumanists take the concept is. In the past, we made devices such as wooden legs, hearing aids, spectacles and false teeth. In future, we might use implants to augment our senses so we can detect infrared or ultraviolet radiation directly or boost our cognitive processes by connecting ourselves to memory chips. Ultimately, by merging man and machine, science will produce humans who have vastly increased intelligence, strength, and lifespans; a near embodiment of gods.

Is that a desirable goal? Advocates of transhumanism believe there are spectacular rewards to be reaped from going beyond the natural barriers and limitations that constitute an ordinary human being. But to do so would raise a host of ethical problems and dilemmas. As O’Connell’s book indicates, the ambitions of transhumanism are now rising up our intellectual agenda. But this is a debate that is only just beginning.

There is no doubt that human enhancement is becoming more and more sophisticated – as will be demonstrated at the exhibition The Future Starts Here which opens at the V&A museum in London this week. Items on display will include “powered clothing” made by the US company Seismic. Worn under regular clothes, these suits mimic the biomechanics of the human body and give users – typically older people – discrete strength when getting out of a chair or climbing stairs, or standing for long periods.

In many cases these technological or medical advances are made to help the injured, sick or elderly but are then adopted by the healthy or young to boost their lifestyle or performance. The drug erythropoietin (EPO) increases red blood cell production in patients with severe anaemia but has also been taken up as an illicit performance booster by some athletes to improve their bloodstream’s ability to carry oxygen to their muscles.

And that is just the start, say experts. “We are now approaching the time when, for some kinds of track sports such as the 100-metre sprint, athletes who run on carbon-fibre blades will be able outperform those who run on natural legs,” says Blay Whitby, an artificial intelligence expert at Sussex University.

The question is: when the technology reaches this level, will it be ethical to allow surgeons to replace someone’s limbs with carbon-fibre blades just so they can win gold medals? Whitby is sure many athletes will seek such surgery. “However, if such an operation came before any ethics committee that I was involved with, I would have none of it. It is a repulsive idea – to remove a healthy limb for transient gain.”



Scientists think there will come a point when athletes with carbon blades will be able to out-run able-bodied rivals. Photograph: Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images

Not everyone in the field agrees with this view, however. Cybernetics expert Kevin Warwick, of Coventry University, sees no problem in approving the removal of natural limbs and their replacement with artificial blades. “What is wrong with replacing imperfect bits of your body with artificial parts that will allow you to perform better – or which might allow you to live longer?” he says.

Warwick is a cybernetics enthusiast who, over the years, has had several different electronic devices implanted into his body. “One allowed me to experience ultrasonic inputs. It gave me a bat sense, as it were. I also interfaced my nervous system with my computer so that I could control a robot hand and experience what it was touching. I did that when I was in New York, but the hand was in a lab in England.”

Such interventions enhance the human condition, Warwick insists, and indicate the kind of future humans might have when technology augments performance and the senses. Some might consider this unethical. But even doubters such as Whitby acknowledge the issues are complex. “Is it ethical to take two girls under the age of five and train them to play tennis every day of their lives until they have the musculature and skeletons of world champions?” he asks. From this perspective the use of implants or drugs to achieve the same goal does not look so deplorable.

This last point is a particular issue for those concerned with the transhumanist movement. They believe that modern technology ultimately offers humans the chance to live for aeons, unshackled – as they would be – from the frailties of the human body. Failing organs would be replaced by longer-lasting high-tech versions just as carbon-fibre blades could replace the flesh, blood and bone of natural limbs. Thus we would end humanity’s reliance on “our frail version 1.0 human bodies into a far more durable and capable 2.0 counterpart,” as one group has put it.

However, the technology needed to achieve these goals relies on as yet unrealised developments in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and many other sciences and may take many decades to reach fruition. As a result, many advocates – such as the US inventor and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler and PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel have backed the idea of having their bodies stored in liquid nitrogen and cryogenically preserved until medical science has reached the stage when they can be revived and their resurrected bodies augmented and enhanced.

Four such cryogenic facilities have now been constructed: three in the US and one in Russia. The largest is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona whose refrigerators store more than 100 bodies (nevertheless referred to as “patients” by staff) in the hope of their subsequent thawing and physiological resurrection. It is “a place built to house the corpses of optimists”, as O’Connell says in To Be a Machine.

The Alcor Life Extension Foundation where ‘patients’ are cryogenically stored in the hope of future revival.



The Alcor Life Extension Foundation where ‘patients’ are cryogenically stored in the hope of future revival. Photograph: Alamy

Not everyone is convinced about the feasibility of such technology or about its desirability. “I was once interviewed by a group of cryonic enthusiasts – based in California – called the society for the abolition of involuntary death,” recalls the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. “I told them I’d rather end my days in an English churchyard than a Californian refrigerator. They derided me as a deathist – really old-fashioned.”

For his part, Rees believes that those who choose to freeze themselves in the hope of being eventually thawed out would be burdening future generations expected to care for these newly defrosted individuals. “It is not clear how much consideration they would deserve,” Rees adds.

Ultimately, adherents of transhumanism envisage a day when humans will free themselves of all corporeal restraints. Kurzweil and his followers believe this turning point will be reached around the year 2030, when biotechnology will enable a union between humans and genuinely intelligent computers and AI systems. The resulting human-machine mind will become free to roam a universe of its own creation, uploading itself at will on to a “suitably powerful computational substrate”. We will become gods, or more likely “star children” similar to the one at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

These are remote and, for many people, very fanciful goals. And the fact that much of the impetus for establishing such extreme forms of transhuman technology comes from California and Silicon Valley is not lost on critics. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who wants to send the human race to Mars, also believes that to avoid becoming redundant in the face of the development of artificial intelligence, humans must merge with machines to enhance our own intellect.

This is a part of the world where the culture of youth is followed with fanatical intensity and where ageing is feared more acutely than anywhere else on the planet. Hence the overpowering urge to try to use technology to overcome its effects.

It is also one of the world’s richest regions, and many of those who question the values of the transhuman movement warn it risks creating technologies that will only create deeper gulfs in an already divided society where only some people will be able to afford to become enhanced while many other lose out.

The position is summed up by Whitby. “History is littered with the evil consequences of one group of humans believing they are superior to another group of humans,” he said. “Unfortunately in the case of enhanced humans they will be genuinely superior. We need to think about the implications before it is too late.”

For their part, transhumanists argue that the costs of enhancement will inevitably plummet and point to the example of the mobile phone, which was once so expensive only the very richest could afford one, but which today is a universal gadget owned by virtually every member of society. Such ubiquity will become a feature of technologies for augmenting men and women, advocates insist.

Many of these issues seem remote, but experts warn that the implications involved need to be debated as a matter of urgency. An example is provided by the artificial hand being developed by Newcastle University. Current prosthetic limbs are limited by their speed of response. But project leader Kianoush Nazarpour believes it will soon be possible to create bionic hands that can assess an object and instantly decide what kind of grip it should adopt.

“It will be of enormous benefit, but its use raises all sorts of issues. Who will own it: the wearer or the NHS? And if it is used to carry a crime, who ultimately will be responsible for its control? We are not thinking about these concerns and that is a worry.”

The position is summed up by bioethicist professor Andy Miah of Salford University.

“Transhumanism is valuable and interesting philosophically because it gets us to think differently about the range of things that humans might be able to do – but also because it gets us to think critically about some of those limitations that we think are there but can in fact be overcome,” he says. “We are talking about the future of our species, after all.”

Body count

Limbs
The artificial limbs of Luke Skywalker and the Six Million Dollar Man are works of fiction. In reality, bionic limbs have suffered from multiple problems: becoming rigid mid-action, for example. But new generations of sensors are now making it possible for artificial legs and arms to behave in much more complex, human-like ways.

Senses
The light that is visible to humans excludes both infrared and ultra-violet radiation. However, researchers are working on ways of extending the wavelengths of radiation that we can detect, allowing us to see more of the world – and in a different light. Ideas like these are particularly popular with military researchers trying to create cyborg soldiers.

Power
Powered suits or exoskeletons are wearable mobile machines that allow people to move their limbs with increased strength and endurance. Several versions are being developed by the US army, while medical researchers are working on easy-to-wear versions that would be able to help people with severe medical conditions or who have lost limbs to move about naturally.

Brains
Transhumanists envisage the day when memory chips and neural pathways are actually embedded into people’s brains, thus bypassing the need to use external devices such as computers in order to access data and to make complicated calculations. The line between humanity and machines will become increasingly blurred.

Robotic exoskeletons such as this one can help people who have suffered spinal injuries.



Robotic exoskeletons such as this one can help people who have suffered spinal injuries. Photograph: Alamy



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A new reality: could VR revive the amusement arcade? | Business

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The rise of the gaming console has left its mark on living rooms and bedrooms around Britain – but it has also hit the high street. There were around 1,000 amusement arcades in the UK in the 1980s, but that number had halved by 2011, according to the amusements industry trade body, Bacta.

Now, the next generation of gaming – virtual reality – is once again making the arcade the prime venue for playing cutting-edge games.

Back at the inception of gaming, fans went to video-game arcades. Japanese coin-operated games like Out Run and Street Fighter managed to draw in players once Pac-Man and Donkey Kong fell away, but they could not beat increasingly impressive home consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation, which came along in the mid-90s, and Microsoft’s Xbox at the turn of the century.

Seaside arcades have clung on as “family entertainment centres” or “mixed entertainment facilities”, full of games aimed at small children alongside rides and attractions.

However, VR Star in Bristol is one of several hundred virtual reality arcades around the UK that are persuading gamers to quit their homes for the high street. They mirror a global trend for dedicated “VRcades” springing up in the US, Japan, South Korea and China. With 380 such dedicated venues now operating around the world, could VR offer the arcade a route back in the shape of so-called “destination gaming”?

While it’s possible to buy budget technology, good quality VR is expensive. HTC’s Vive headset is available for around £599 in the UK, but to function effectively it requires a computer with serious processing power and a high quality graphics card, raising the bar to thousands of pounds. Even then you’re not tapping the full potential of VR gaming.

The driving simulators and shoot-em-ups in VR Star Bristol are further brought to life with motion sensors and high-quality sound, taking the experience to another level. The 360-degree visuals and depth of field take on another dimension when paired with hydraulics and tilting floors. LA-based Dreamscape Immersive’s Alien Zoo experience even uses wind machines to add to the sensation of movement.

“To get the full experience, VR needs what we call SiSoMo: sight, sound and motion,” says Martin Higginson, the executive chairman of British developer Immotion, which owns VR Star. “If you want a truly immersive experience you need high-end components, and for that reason VR will be an out-of-home experience for some years. I’ve spent most of my life in digital media and it is the most exciting thing yet.”

Situated in a modest space in Cabot Circus shopping centre, VR Star was launched to test the waters in mid-December. By the beginning of March, it had admitted 4,000 customers, paying £30 an hour.

The enthusiastic response has encouraged the company to open four more venues in Swindon, Cardiff, Manchester and Leeds. A total of 60 VR Stars are planned around the country, along with units in existing arcades and custom-made rides for brands such as Legoland. Just before Christmas, Immotion announced a £1.3m investment to launch its platforms in Europe and the US.

The units in VR Star play games from a Chinese developer but Immotion intends to run its own titles following last year’s acquisition of Studio Liddell, a Manchester-based animation producer.

“What you see and experience currently is like the early days of computer gaming,” says Higginson. “It’s going to improve rapidly. Those games are 2K [screen resolution] but very soon we will be running 4K with faster processing and better rendering. We will take you on Jurassic rides or helicopter you over the Serengeti and it will blow you away.”

Experts say VR has come at the right time for the arcade business. “Arcades have always had lifecycles reflecting changing innovation,” says Devi Kolli, the head of VR equipment firm AiSolve. “They can’t survive the way they are without reinventing themselves with cutting-edge technology, and we are part of that. The response to VR so far suggests the market is hungry for good products.”

If they are prepared to invest in the new generation of VR, existing arcades could enjoy a return to prominence as gaming destinations, though they will have to compete with dedicated spaces like VR Star.

Jeremy Dalton, a VR consultant at PwC, is more positive. He says the complexity of setting up VR experiences offers an ideal chance for arcades. “The set-up issues with VR provides a perfect opportunity for third parties … and that’s gaming arcades. You just hand over your money and enjoy the ride.”



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No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology

No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology


Imagine the intellectual and social pressure of a pub quiz, then multiply it by more than 2 million people.

Every day, at 3pm and 9pm sharp, an army of teenagers, students, pensioners and office workers stop what they are doing, whip out their smartphones and fire up an app to take part in a new online craze called HQ Trivia, the pub quiz brought kicking and screaming into the smartphone era.

As many as 2 million people in the US and about 200,000 playing the UK version at the same appointed hours watch a live quizmaster broadcasting from a New York studio surrounded by colourful graphics bursting from the screen.

The host asks players a series of increasingly difficult questions in a15-minute version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire crossed with the Hunger Games.

There’s no forgetting the game times. Players, called HQties, are reminded by a phone notification. Anyone and everyone can play for free all at the same time, eliminated with one wrong answer.

The prize pot ranges from £500 to £200,000 or more, to be shared among the winners. Answer 12 heart-pounding multiple-choice questions right and the money is yours.

Few are going to get rich playing. In Thursday night’s UK game more than 160,000 people started playing, and 51 answered all of the questions correctly. With a prize pot of just £550, they banked £11 each.

The catch is that players have to answer each question within 10 seconds, which is barely enough time to figure out what’s being asked, let alone answer with any real thought.



Sharon Carpenter presents a recent round of HQ Trivia quiz in the UK. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The 10 second slot means the answers can’t be Googled, because by the time contestants brains have assessed the three possible responses the time has run out. There are also distractions – a constant stream of inane chat from the app’s hundreds of thousands of viewers which streams across the bottom of the screen and “shout-outs” – birthday wishes and other mentions blurted out by the host between questions.

The game, which is available for Android and the iPhone, is the brainchild of Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll , the co-founders of Vine, the six-second video-sharing app bought by Twitter for $30m (£22m) and since closed down.

It is currently burning through $15m of capital venture money provided by Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early investor in Snapchat, and an investment fund set up by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel. .

The app launched in the US in August 2017 and is hosted by the New York standup Scott Rogowsky, who has quickly gained cult status as the “quiz daddy”..

The UK version is hosted by British-born, New York-based Sharon Carpenter. It was launched in January and is following a similar trajectory to its US sibling. Carpenter answers in her couldn’t-be-more-British daytime TV manner and delivers snippets of extra trivia between questions.

HQ Trivia questions



HQ Trivia questions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Thousands are eliminated as the rounds go by. In particularly gruelling “savage” questions tens of thousands can be ruled out. Once a week there’s even a special edition of the game in which remaining players continue to answer questions until only one is left holding the whole cash prize. It can be quite riveting.

The popularity of the app has not gone unnoticed. Celebrities and brands have queued up to appear as guest hosts in the US or to sponsor the games. Sting, Shaggy, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Robert De Niro and Ryan Seacrest have all made appearances. Nike gave away Air Max trainers on one $100,000 game and the movie Ready Player One pumped the prize up to $250,000 for another.

The hope for the investors ploughing their money into the game and financing the prize pots is that at some point down the line HQ Trivia will be able to take advertising, offer more sponsored games and product giveaways or pivot users away from the quizzes into more direct-to-smartphone live interactive entertainment.

The app has faced its fair share of controversies already, primarily about its founders and investors, and apps such as The Q and QuizBiz are lining up with similar combinations of cash prizes and celebrity hosts.

Right now though the live-stream quiz crown is HQ’s to lose.

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12 questions

Here are the dozen questions, in order, played at Thursday 3 May at 3pm (BST). Correct answers in bold:

1 What did the “N” stand for in the SNES gaming console?

Non-denominational

Nothing

Nintendo

2 In computing, the abbreviation “WWW” stands for which of the following?

Weird wired wellies

Wonderful Welsh weather

World wide web

3 What does the Queen listen to every day at 9am when she is at Balmoral?

Bagpipes

Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw

Changing the Guard

4 In science, which of these is regarded as the opposite of the Big Bang?

Big Crunch

Big Contraction

Big Squeeze

5 Which of these characters was NOT a member of staff in “Downton Abbey”?

Mr Carson

Mr Hudson

Mrs Patmore

6 Which of these US states has the longest coastline?

Florida

Texas

California

7 In the latest Times overall “World University Rankings” list, which is the only Asian country to make the top 25?

South Korea

Singapore

India

8 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window inspired which of these horror movies from the noughties?

Paranormal Activity

Let the Right One In

Disturbia

9 Which of these seas creatures does NOT eat lobster?

Eel

Swordfish

Flounder

10 Which of these celebrities has starred in a Duran Duran video?

Davina McCall

Claudia Winkleman

Tess Daly

11 After Marita Koch, who was the next female athlete to win three gold medals at the same World Athletics Championships?

Merlene Ottey

Allyson Felix

Marion Jones

12 What codename did Jason Bourne use when he was originally deployed in south-east Asia?

Alpha One

Delta One

Bravo One



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Cambridge AnalyticaFacebookMediaPrivacySocial networkingTechnologyUK newsUS newsWorld news

Cambridge Analytica closing after Facebook data harvesting scandal | News

Cambridge Analytica closing after Facebook data harvesting scandal | News


Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the centre of this year’s Facebook privacy row, is closing and starting insolvency proceedings.

The company has been plagued by scandal since the Observer reported that the personal data of about 50 million Americans and at least a million Britons had been harvested from Facebook and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing, but says that the negative media coverage has left it with no clients and mounting legal fees.


What is the Cambridge Analytica scandal? – video explainer

“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers,” said the company in a statement, which also revealed that SCL Elections Ltd, the UK entity affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, would also close and start insolvency proceedings.

“As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the company into administration.”

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, the company has started insolvency proceedings in the US and UK. At Cambridge Analytica’s New York offices on an upmarket block on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, it appeared all the staff had already left the premises.

The Guardian rang the doorbell to the company’s seventh-floor office and was met by a woman who would not give her name but said she did not work for the company.



The Cambridge Analytica office in New York. Photograph: Oliver Laughland for the Guardian

Asked if anyone from Cambridge Analytica or SCL was still inside, she said: “They used to be. But they all left today.”

The scandal centres around data collected from Facebook users via a personality app developed by the Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan. The data was collected via Facebook’s permissive “Graph API”, the interface through which third parties could interact with Facebook’s platform. This allowed Kogan to pull data about users and their friends, including likes, activities, check-ins, location, photos, religion, politics and relationship details. He passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, in breach of Facebook’s platform policies.

Christopher Wylie, the original Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, told the Observer that the data Kogan obtained was used to influence the outcome of the US presidential election and Brexit. According to Wylie the data was fed into software that profiles voters and tries to target them with personalised political advertisements. Cambridge Analytica insists it never incorporated the Kogan data.

Kogan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was being used as a scapegoat.

He said: “My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Honestly, we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately. We thought we were doing something that was really normal.”

Cambridge Analytica said it had been “vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas”.

The CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was suspended in late March after Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast secret recordings in which he claimed credit for the election of Donald Trump.

He told an undercover reporter: “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”

He also revealed that the company used a self-destruct email server to erase its digital history.

“No one knows we have it, and secondly we set our … emails with a self-destruct timer … So you send them and after they’ve been read, two hours later, they disappear. There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”

Although Cambridge Analytica might be dead, the team behind it has already set up a mysterious new company called Emerdata. According to Companies House data, Alexander Nix is listed as a director along with other executives from SCL Group. The daughters of the billionaire Robert Mercer are also listed as directors.

Damian Collins, chair of the British parliamentary committee looking into data breaches, expressed concern that Cambridge Analytica’s closure might hinder the investigation into the firm.

“Cambridge Analytica and SCL group cannot be allowed to delete their data history by closing. The investigations into their work are vital,” he wrote on Twitter.

The episode has shone a spotlight on the way that Facebook data is collected, shared and used to target people with advertising.

The social network initially scrambled to blame rogue third parties for “platform abuse” – “the entire company is outraged we were deceived,” the company said – before it unveiled sweeping changes to its privacy settings and data sharing practices.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post. “But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”

Facebook first discovered that Kogan had shared data with Cambridge Analytica when a Guardian journalist contacted the company about it at the end of 2015. It asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data and revoked Kogan’s apps’ API access. However, Facebook relied on Cambridge Analytica’s word that it had done so.

After it was revealed that the data hadn’t been deleted, Facebook revoked Cambridge Analytica’s access to its platform and launched an investigation of “thousands” of apps that had similar access and made several changes to restrict how much third-party developers can access from people’s profiles.

The company also pledged to verify the identities of administrators of popular Facebook pages and advertisers buying political “issue” ads on “debated topics of national legislative importance” such as education, immigration and abortion.





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Brighton and Hove council turns down Uber licence renewal | Technology

no thumb


Brighton and Hove has become the third British city to reject Uber, after the council decided not to renew the firm’s licence to operate private hire cars.

A licensing panel announced on Monday that Uber was not a fit and proper company to continue operating in Brighton. Uber will appeal against the ruling.

The panel cited concerns over a data breach in which Uber customers’ personal details were leaked, and the number of Uber drivers who were not licensed in Brighton but were operating in the city.

The decision, made unanimously at a hearing on 23 April, echoes that of Transport for London, which turned down Uber’s application to renew its licence in the capital last September. York also rejected Uber’s licence application last December.

The chair of the licensing panel, Jackie O’Quinn, said: “Our priority is the safety of residents and visitors and, due to the data breach and the lack of commitment to using drivers licensed here, we were not satisfied that Uber Britannia Ltd are a fit and proper person to hold an operator’s licence in the city.”

An Uber spokesperson said: “This is a disappointing decision for the thousands of passengers and drivers who rely on our app in Brighton and Hove. We intend to appeal so we can continue serving the city.”

As in London, Uber will be able to continue to operate in Brighton until the outcome of its appeal.

The firm says it complies with all national private hire legislation, which allows drivers to work across England and Wales if they, their vehicle and operator are all licensed by the same authority. However, such “cross-border” working has become a growing issue with ride-hailing services such as Uber.

Brighton said out-of-town drivers posed a risk to public safety, with regulations elsewhere failing to meet its own standards, including safety aspects such as CCTV in cabs. The council also pointed to a rush of licence applications in nearby Lewes, after a comparison page was publicised on Uber’s website.

It said it expected that the majority of those applying – 130 in a month – would attempt to work in Brighton, and it accused Uber of “breaching the spirit” of its commitment to use local drivers, as well as misleading the authority.

Uber is licensed to operate in 80 areas across the UK, having succeeded with 35 applications in the last year. The firm has complied with various initiatives in London to improve safety, and its appeal is due to be heard in the high court in June.

Fresh concerns over Uber have emerged since TfL’s decison, including the disclosure of an attempted cover-up of a data breach in 2016 in which 57 million users’ details were leaked.

Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, has said he “will not make excuses for it [or] erase the past” and would change the way the firm operated, “putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers”.



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MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News

MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News


MPs have threatened to issue Mark Zuckerberg with a formal summons to appear in front of parliament when he next enters the UK, unless he voluntarily agrees to answer questions about the activities of his social network and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee that is investigating online disinformation, said he was unhappy with the information the company had provided and now wanted to hear evidence from the Facebook chief executive before parliament went into recess on 24 May.

Saturday 17 March

The Observer publishes online its first story on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, written by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie reveals how the firm used personal information taken in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters.

The data was collected through an app, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University, through his company Global Science Research (GSR).

Sunday 18 March

As the Observer publishes its full interview with Wylie in the print edition, the fallout begins. US congressional investigators call for Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix to testify again before their committee.

Monday 19 March

Channel 4 News airs the findings of an undercover investigation where Cambridge Analytica executives ​boast of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns.

Tuesday 20 March

​A former Facebook employee claims​ hundreds of millions of Facebook users may have had their private information harvested by companies in similar methods.

Wednesday 21 March

UK MPs summon Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a select committee investigating fake news, and accuse Facebook of misleading them at a previous hearing. 

Thursday 22 March

It emerges Facebook had previously provided Kogan with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Zuckerberg breaks his silence to call the misuse of data a ‘breach of trust’.

Friday 23 March

Brittany Kaiser, formerly Cambridge Analytica’s business development director, reveals the blueprint for how CA claimed to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Photograph: Antonio Olmos

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country,” Collins wrote in a public letter to Facebook. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but, if not, the committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins referred to an unconfirmed report by Politico that Zuckerberg planned to appear in front of the European parliament this month, suggesting it would be simple for the Facebook chief to extend his trip to attend a hearing in the UK.

The committee has repeatedly invited Zuckerberg to give evidence but Facebook has sent more junior executives to answer questions from MPs.

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a formal summons. In theory, Zuckerberg could be found in contempt of parliament if he refuses one.

When Rupert Murdoch and his son James resisted appearing in front of a select committee in 2011 it was speculated that potential punishments could include “fines and imprisonment”. In reality it is likely that, at worst, the punishment for ignoring such a summons would include an arcane process resulting in little more than a formal warning.

Collins said last week’s five-hour evidence session by Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, was unsatisfactory and his answers “lacked many of the important details” needed.

Collins’ committee formally issued a list of 39 supplementary questions they wanted answered following Schroepfer’s session, in which Facebook was labelled a “morality-free zone”.

Zuckerberg did make time to appear in front of the US Congress, where politicians were allocated five minutes each to ask questions. British select committee hearings allow politicians more time to ask follow-up questions, potentially making it a more testing experience.



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