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01.04.17 | 5:09 pm

Amazon says Alexa now has 7K “skills,” 7X what it had 7 months ago

So said Amazon's VP of Echo, Alexa, and app store, Mike George, while announcing an Alexa-enabled LG refrigerator at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday. Alexa is the voice-enabled AI brain behind Amazon's Echo home assistant device. 

The Alexa brain is finding its way into more and more devices as consumers get used to using voice commands for everything from music requests to cooking directions to hailing Uber rides. "We have a rich pipeline of Alexa voice service equipment that will be released over the coming months," George said.

Alexa has already made a big impact at CES this week, points out Geekwire. "Already, LG has announced the Alexa-enabled refrigerator, Lenovo debuted a voice-activated speaker that runs on Alexa, and Dish Network customers will soon be able to pair a Hopper DVR with an Alexa-powered speaker and control it using their voices," writes reporter Nat Levy.

07.27.17 | an hour ago

Twitter basically didn’t gain any new subscribers in the last quarter, but at least it didn’t lose any

Twitter's audience remained flat in Q2 at 328 million monthly active users. That's bad, but when compared to Q2 2016, it's a 5% increase. As you might recall, this follows the rather surprising news of 9 million new users last quarter, which Twitter attributed to resurrected users—particularly those seeking political news—and its burgeoning live content. 

During its Q2 earnings call today, Twitter noted, yet again, that its monthly active user metric had taken a backseat to "daily active users." In terms of the latter, Twitter saw 12% growth year over year, as compared to 14% last quarter, but it never disclosed the actual number of daily users, and whether or not an increase there is the result of live content is harder to parse. 

In Q2, Twitter logged more than 1,200 hours of live content and attracted 55 million unique viewers—which means it clocked an additional 400 hours of content and 10 million users this quarter. But it's hard not to be skeptical about whether live video has meaningfully impacted Twitter's bottom line; those unique viewers don't necessarily translate into users who will return to and engage with Twitter long term. 

Last quarter, Twitter also posited that its harassment policies may be responsible for bringing in new users, but the company's Q2 numbers almost seem to argue the opposite: Perhaps cracking down on abusive accounts has hampered its growth. 

[Photo: vivalapenler/iStock]

07.27.17 | 3 hours ago

Move over, Breathalyzer, here comes the “textalyzer”

Police in New York state might soon have a device which allows them to tell if the driver of a car crash had been texting while driving, reports the Associated Press. The aptly named "textalyzer" will enable a police officer to plug your smartphone into it to see if you've sent any texts, emails, were surfing the web, or otherwise using your phone in an unsafe manner while driving. Opponents of the device are skeptical it would only read a smartphone's usage patterns—such as only confirming a text was sent—and not be able to access personal communications on the device—such as who that text was sent to and what it said. Supporters of the tech, made by Israeli security company Cellebrite, assert that such information would be unable to be accessed using the textalyzer.

And then there is the issue of the textalyzer's seeming inability to tell who was using the device while the car was in motion. After all, just because the textalyzer shows the driver's phone was being used to send a text while the car was in motion, it doesn't necessarily mean the driver was the one using that phone if there were multiple occupants in the car.

[Photo: Flickr user kellybdc]

07.27.17 | 3 hours ago

Slack is raising another $250 million for a $5 billion valuation

The uber-popular business messaging service will get the additional $250 million in a funding round co-led by Japanese telco and internet giant SoftBank, reports Bloomberg. That ups Slack's valuation to over $5 billion–an over 20% increase from its $3.8 billion valuation just 15 months ago. In related news, Bloomberg is reporting that Amazon's interest in acquiring the company has cooled recently, with no acquisition expected in the near term.

07.27.17 | 3 hours ago

This Big Oil CEO’s next car will be electric

Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden is planning on hopping on the electric vehicle bandwagon, reports Bloomberg. Van Beurden told Bloomberg TV the next thing he is purchasing is a car and that car will be an electric vehicle. Speaking more broadly about the EV market in general, van Beurden said:

"The whole move to electrify the economy, electrify mobility in places like northwest Europe, in the U.S., even in China, is a good thing. We need to be at a much higher degree of electric vehicle penetration — or hydrogen vehicles or gas vehicles — if we want to stay within the 2-degrees Celsius outcome."

07.27.17 | 4 hours ago

Amazon is now in Singapore and taking no prisoners

The just launched there and is making aggressive plays for online shoppers who typically buy through Alibaba, reports Bloomberg. In order to woo these customers, Amazon is offering free Prime Now two-hour deliveries on any orders over S$40 ( about $29) when they shop through the Prime Now app. To make sure Amazon can meet the demand and speed the deliveries require, the company is operating out of an urban fulfillment center that is almost 100,000 square feet–their largest Prime Now-only fulfillment center in the world.

07.27.17 | 4 hours ago

PayPal just scored a big China win

The e-commerce platform has teamed up with China's biggest search engine, Baidu, to get access to its 100 million users, reports Mashable. Under the deal, the 100 million Baidu users will now be able to shop on PayPal's 17 million merchant sites using funds from their Baidu Wallet. The agreement could be a huge potential windfall for PayPal, as online sales in China reached $752 million in 2016.

07.27.17 | 5:41 am

Ebay is about to let you shop by AI-powered image search

This fall the company will roll out two new was of shopping via images, eBay said in a statement. Image Search will allow you to snap a pic of an item and eBay will show you listings of items that are similar to it. Find It On eBay lets you enter the URL of any social media post with a photo of an item and the site will show you items on eBay that match it. Both new kinds of search are powered by eBay's artificial intelligence and machine learning tech.

07.26.17 | 7:54 pm

Why Amazon is getting into AR

Patents don't necessarily mean products, but they can certainly give an indication of the direction a company is taking, or that it wants its customers and/or partners to take. So an Amazon patent published yesterday gives us a little insight into how the e-commerce behemoth thinks augmented reality could boost its business.

The patent, first filed in 2013, is titled "Augmented Reality Presentation," an entirely anodyne way of saying that Jeff Bezos's company–which, remember, just spent billions on Whole Foods so that it can build out its brick-and-mortar business–thinks customers could one day use AR to try on clothing or other accessories, like rings or watches. It "describes using product data from an e-commerce website to generate highly realistic augmented reality images of products, including jewelry, glasses, watches, and furniture," wrote CBInsights about the patent. "The shopper could 'try on' the products before buying, which the patent argues could reduce returns (a major expense for many online retailers) and reduce the 'logistical issues and corresponding costs' of 'maintaining a storefront.'"

07.26.17 | 6:19 pm

Demonstrators rally outside Times Square Army office to protest Trump’s transgender military ban tweet

It wasn't long ago that protesters swarmed the U.S. Army Recruitment Center in New York's Time Square to pressure President Obama to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which he did in 2011.

But this morning Trump tweeted that he's banning transgender Americans from serving in the military "in any capacity," and now activists are back on the scene, protesting a commander-in-chief who's proved far less receptive to LGBT rights than his predecessor. 

07.26.17 | 6:00 pm

45% of Republicans would be cool with closing media outlets for inaccurate or biased reporting: poll

It's an understatement to say that the United States is polarized politically and that there's animosity toward the media. A lot of this has to do with news slant and rampant claims of "fake news." Whatever the reason, a new poll from the Economist and YouGov illustrates with data that, yes, there is a lot of animosity toward the media.

As part of a much larger survey conducted over the web, one poll asked 1,500 Americans if they were for or against "permitting the courts to shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate." While 28% of the total respondents said they approved of this, 18% of Democrats and 45% of the self-identified Republicans were totally okay with the courts shutting down media organizations. 

A majority of Republicans, 55%, also said they support fines for media outlets that put out biased or inaccurate news reports, compared to just 12% who opposed the move. 

If you're looking for a good thermometer reading on the state of the news media—especially as it suffers regular attacks by Trump—look no further. Things are so polarized that nearly half of the Republicans asked said they'd be okay with the courts infringing on the right to free press. Somewhere, Peter Thiel is chuckling to himself

07.26.17 | 4:27 pm

Even as it runs out of space to show you ads, Facebook revenues surge 45% over last year

There had been some rumblings that Facebook's ad revenue growth was starting to slow (due to running out of places to put ads on your News Feed), and it may be. Still, Mark Zuckerberg's company continues to mint money, as its second-quarter earnings show. The company reported revenues of $9.32 billion, up 45% year-over-year, and ad revenues of $9.16 billion, up 47%. (That was more than twice the rate of Google's second quarter ad sales growth of 19 percent.) Facebook beat analysts' prediction of $1.13 a share, reporting EPS of $1.32.

The numbers also show that Facebook continues to be a mobile-first phenomenon for its 2.01 billion monthly users. It said 87% of its revenue came from mobile ads

07.26.17 | 4:00 pm

Car wash hack could be the first to cause the Internet of Things to “physically attack someone”

Amid widespread concerns about the security of connected devices, security researchers have demonstrated that internet-connected car washes can be hacked to trap drivers, soak them with water, or even attack them with the wash bay doors, Kim Zetter reports at Motherboard.

Researchers from WhiteScope and QED Secure Solutions found a way to hijack internet-enabled automated car washes and tested their tactic on an actual system, using their own vehicle. The machines, PDQ LaserWashes—increasingly popular in the U.S. in part because they don't rely upon attendants—run Windows CE and are connected to the internet so technicians can remotely service them. While they require a username and password, the default password is easily guessed, the researchers said. Once in through the web interface, they can take control of the whole system.

The car wash's software tracks where a carwash is in its cycle, making it easy to know when the wash is about to end and a vehicle to exit. An attacker can send an instantaneous command to close one or both doors to trap the vehicle inside, or open and close one door repeatedly to strike the vehicle a number of times as a driver tries to flee.

They plan to present the attack at this week's Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, but say they've already shared the details of the vulnerability with the system maker and the Department of Homeland Security. "We believe this to be the first exploit of a connected device that causes the device to physically attack someone," Billy Rios, the founder of Whitescope security, told Motherboard.