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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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Google’s ‘deceitful’ AI assistant to identify itself as a robot during calls | Technology

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Google’s AI assistant will identify itself as a robot when calling up businesses on behalf of human users, the company has confirmed, following accusations that the technology was deceitful and unethical.

The feature, called Google Duplex, was demonstrated at the company’s I/O developers’ conference on Tuesday. It is not yet a finished product, but in the two demos played for the assembled crowd, it still managed to be eerily lifelike as it made bookings at a hair salon and a restaurant.

But the demonstrations sparked concern that the company was misleading those on the other end of the conversation into thinking they were dealing with another human, not a machine. The generated voice not only sounds extremely natural, but also inserts lifelike pauses, um-ing and ah-ing, and even responding with a wordless “mmm-hmm” when asked by the salon worker to “give me one second”.

Social media theorist Zeynep Tufekci was one of many concerned by the demo. She tweeted:

zeynep tufekci
(@zeynep)

Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it’s a bot, but adding “ummm” and “aaah” to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it… horrifying. Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing.


May 9, 2018

In its initial blogpost announcing the tech, Google said: “It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”

In a statement to the Verge, the company has confirmed that that will include explicitly letting people know they’re interacting with a machine: “We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex — as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important,” a Google spokesperson said. “We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product.”

Google’s hope with Duplex is that it will enable a range of interactions with businesses that only have a phone connection, where this was previously limited to those with more hi-tech set-ups. The company envisages being able to call businesses to ask about opening hours then posting the information on Google; allowing users to make a reservation even when a business is closed, scheduling the Duplex call for when doors open; and solving accessibility problems by, for instance, letting hearing-impared users book over the phone, or enabling phone bookings across a language barrier.

The company said it would begin testing Duplex more widely “this summer … to help users make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours over the phone”.





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Fake terror attacks: why are the frightening pranks going viral? | Technology

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It sounds like another terrifying story of insurgent terrorism in the Middle East: on Tuesday, men dressed in the black garb of the Islamic State stormed through a mall in Iran, brandishing swords and guns, shouting “Allahu Akbar”. Shoppers reportedly fled the scene in fear.

It was reminiscent of the 2017 Tehran Isis attacks in which 17 people were killed. Except that the mall “attack” was actually a Punk’d style prank. The weapons were fake, and the presumed terrorists were actually actors. The whole incident was a piece of viral marketing for a film called Damascus Time about an Iranian father and son who are kidnapped by Isis. Some shoppers worked out what was going in and filmed the stunt on camera phones, but others can be heard screaming in terror.

The film’s director has since apologised – he said he had not been expecting one of the actors to arrive on horseback – but he is far from the first person to pull this kind of stunt. He was just following a tradition of prank terror plots begun by American teenagers.

There are so many videos of fake terrorist atrocities that you can watch entire compilations of unsuspecting members of the public, running, screaming and vomiting in fear. Most of them have been created by young western YouTube stars, many with millions of subscribers. They tend to involve someone dressed in stereotypical Arabic clothing, dropping a package at the feet of some strangers and running away. In one clip, people drinking on a boat all jump into the sea after a bag is thrown aboard. In another, laughing emojis flash on the screen when a man urinates on himself in fear after being surprised in a public restroom.

A “prank” video of terror attacks by Joey Salads has been viewed 3.3m times.

Joey Salads, a YouTuber with 2 million subscribers, has become notorious for these kinds of pranks. He tries to couch his videos as a “social experiments”, claiming to compare reactions between a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” when he drops a steel box on the floor with that of a man in western dress saying “praise Jesus”. Unsurprisingly, people are more distressed by the former prank, but the videos say less about Islamophobia than they do about the wild west of YouTube content, where pranksters seem to be able to get away with almost anything, with little interference from the site.

Last year, the British YouTuber Arya Mosallah, who had 650,000 subscribers, apologised after he made prank videos in which he approached strangers for a conversation and then threw liquid in their faces and ran away, leading them to believe they were victims of an acid attack, common in Britain at the time. Re-uploaded versions of the video can still be viewed on YouTube.

Some of these pranks seem too horrifying to be real, and in some cases they aren’t. Sam Pepper, a YouTuber with 2.3 million subscribers, apologised for faking a prank in which he appeared to kill someone’s best friend in front of him – admitting everyone in the video knew what was happening. In his apology, he said the pressure in the pranking community to make new videos led him to fake some of his content – a very odd version of peer pressure.

YouTube has said videos like Pepper’s do not violate its community guidelines and the site rarely removes prank videos. In most cases it’s more likely that the police will get involved than online moderators. Australian pranksters the Jalal Brothers were arrested by anti-terror police after they faked a series of terror attacks, including aiming a fake AK-47 at a small child. They later admitted that that video was entirely staged, but the police had not been not aware.

Despite the dangers and clear distress involved, new videos are emerging all the time. At this point, many people are more likely to be caught up in a faked YouTube prank than an actual terror attack.



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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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Santa Clarita Principles could help tech firms with self-regulation | Technology

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Social networks should publish the number of posts they remove, provide detailed information for users whose content is deleted about why, and offer the chance to appeal against enforcement efforts, according to a groundbreaking effort to provide a set of principles for large-scale moderation of online content.

The Santa Clarita Principles, agreed at a conference in the Californian town this week, were proposed by a group of academics and non-profit organisations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

They are intended to provide a guiding light for tech companies keen on self-regulation, akin to similar sets of principles established by other industries – most famously the Asilomar principles, drawn up in 1975 to regulate genetic engineering.

The principles are made up of three key recommendations: Numbers, Notice, and Appeal. “Companies should publish the numbers of posts removed and accounts permanently or temporarily suspended due to violations of their content guidelines,” the first principle advises.

Currently, only YouTube provides such a report, of the major content sites, and in less detail than the principle recommends: it calls for information including the number of posts and accounts flagged and suspended, broken down by category of rule violated, format of content, and locations, among other things. YouTube’s content moderation transparency report revealed the company removed 8.3m videos in the first quarter of 2018.

The second principle, Notice, recommends that “companies should provide notice to each user whose content is taken down or account is suspended about the reason for the removal or suspension.

“In general, companies should provide detailed guidance to the community about what content is prohibited, including examples of permissible and impermissible content and the guidelines used by reviewers.” Many companies keep such detailed guidelines secret, arguing that explaining the law lets users find loopholes they can abuse.

In 2017, the Guardian published Facebook’s community moderation guidelines, revealing some examples of how the company draws the line on sex, violence and hate speech. Last month, almost a year later, Facebook finally decided to publish the documents itself. Mark Zuckerberg said the publication was a step towards his goal “to develop a more democratic and independent system for determining Facebook’s community standards”.

Finally, the principles call for a right to appeal. “Companies should provide a meaningful opportunity for timely appeal of any content removal or account suspension.” Most companies allow for some sort of appeal, in principle, although many users report little success in overturning incorrect decisions in practice.

Instead, observers have noted that the press has increasingly become an independent ombudsman for large content companies, with many of the most flagrant mistakes only being overturned when journalists highlight them. Twitter, for example, “is slow or unresponsive to harassment reports until they’re picked up by the media,” according to Buzzfeed writer Charlie Warzel.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg has said he wants a more explicit appeals process. “Over the long term, what I’d really like to get to is an independent appeal,” he said, in an interview with Vox. “So maybe folks at Facebook make the first decision based on the community standards that are outlined, and then people can get a second opinion.

“You can imagine some sort of structure, almost like a supreme court, that is made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook, who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.”

Neither Facebook, Google nor Twitter commented for this article.



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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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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 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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Xiaomi to sell smartphones in UK through Three | Technology

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The Smartphone maker Xiaomi will begin selling its smartphones in the UK under a partnership with Hutchinson’s Three as “China’s Apple” turns its attention to the west.

The news came as the firm announced its IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange seeking to raise at least $10bn (£7.3bn), in what could be the largest offering since Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba’s $25bn listing in New York in 2014.

Xiaomi, the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker, has made a name for itself selling high-end phones at rock-bottom prices but has been limited to China and other developing markets, such as India.

It made its first move into western Europe by debuting in Spain in November last year. The partnership with Hutchinson will lead to Xiaomi phones being sold through Three stores in the UK and Ireland, as well as Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong and Sweden.

“We have been watching Xiaomi’s success from afar and are impressed with the huge range of connected devices that they currently offer,” Three UK’s chief digital officer, Tom Malleschitz, said and added that it opens the door to Xiaomi’s other connected devices such as smart home appliances.

Xiaomi’s $10bn fundraising could value the company at up to $100bn, making it the third largest Chinese tech firm by value behind so-called “national champions” Tencent and Alibaba.

Xiaomi is the top-selling smartphone brand in India ahead of Samsung and the fourth globally in the first quarter of 2018 behind Samsung, Apple and Huawei, according to the analysts IDC. However, the firm made a a loss of $6.9bn last year.

The eight-year-old company first cultivated a following in China by selling imitations of Apple’s iPhone at half the price of the real products, which resulted in it being hit with threats of patent infringement that were seen as keeping Xiaomi out of the west.

Xiaomi describes itself as the “triathlete” of Chinese tech firms. Most of its revenue come from smartphone sales, sold at a low-profit margin. The rest comes from selling smart household gadgets – Xiaomi rice cookers, scooters or air conditioners – and online services such as entertainment and financial service apps.

In an open letter included in the filing, the 48-year-old founder, Lei Jun, acknowledged the company’s struggles in 2016 when phone sales declined as competitors churned out cheaper options.

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“It was clear to us that because we grew so quickly in our early years, we did not have an adequately strong foundation to face all the challenges in front of us at the time,” Lei wrote.

The company invested in businesses involved in lifestyle and internet of things products, and Lei asked his co-founder to step aside so he could take over as the supply chain chief. Between 2015 and 2017, sales increased by 70% to 114.6bn yuan ($17.9bn), according to the filing.

Xiaomi still depends on China for the majority of its revenues, a challenge given that that market is nearing saturation. For the first time in five years, smartphone shipments dipped below 100m in the first quarter of this year. Xiaomi phones are popular with first-time buyers but shoppers often upgrade to Apple’s iPhone or other phones in later purchases.



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Shares in Snapchat owner plummet as redesign hits results | Technology

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Shares in Snapchat’s parent company have hit a record low after its results revealed the cost of a backlash against a redesign of the social messaging app.

Snap’s share price fell 22% to $10.96 (£8.05) in early trading as investors reacted to ongoing concerns over its struggle to compete with Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram.

Snapchat started its first major redesign late last year and by February more than 1.2 million users had signed a petition calling for it to reverse the “annoying” changes. It capped a bad start to 2018 after a tweet from Kylie Jenner asking her 24 million followers “does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?” proved a stock market kiss of death, wiping $1.3bn off the company’s value.

On Tuesday, the user backlash against Snapchat, known for its disappearing messages and photograph filters, affected the company’s first quarter results, which missed targets. The service managed to add just 4 million new users in the first quarter, just over half the number forecast.

Snapchat also issued a growth warning saying the redesign fallout would mean a substantial slowdown in revenue in the current quarter. Snapchat’s 27-year old founder, Evan Spiegel, attempted to brush off the disaster, saying the redesign was necessary to broaden the app’s popularity with users and advertisers. Even taking Wednesday’s share slump into account, Snap is worth $17.6bn (£13bn).

However, analysts were not impressed. “It is not clear to us why the app redesign – the first product Snap ever tested at scale – was rolled out broadly, and we are even less clear on why it hasn’t been more aggressively rolled back already,” said Lloyd Walmsley, a Deutsche Bank analyst.

Snapchat reported 191 million daily active users in the first quarter, missing expectations of 194.15 million. Revenue came in at $230.7m, an increase of more than 50% year on year but below the $244.5m forecast.

Snapchat, which launched in 2011, has proved hugely popular with younger users, many of whom have defected from older social media platforms such as Facebook, and in the UK it is forecast to make more in ad revenue than Twitter next year.

However, Snapchat’s biggest threat is Facebook and its Instagram service, with Mark Zuckerberg’s social platforms frequently aping Snapchat’s innovations.

Analysts believe that for Snapchat to succeed against Facebook and Instagram it must appeal to a much wider range of users beyond its core youth fanbase.

“While the user base continues to be dominated by younger age groups, Snapchat’s full revenue potential will remain somewhat restricted,” said Bill Fisher, an analyst at eMarketer. “And with the financial muscle of Facebook behind Snapchat’s close competitor, Instagram, the company is going to have to work ever harder for those ad dollars.”



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