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FaceApp Responds to (Mostly Unfounded) Privacy Concerns

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Appearance-altering platform FaceApp has, once again, come under fire—this time from privacy advocates.

The AI-powered selfie editor from Russian company Wireless Lab uses neural network technology to generate highly realistic transformation of faces in photographs.

Launched in early 2017, FaceApp almost immediately faced criticism over its “ethnicity filters” and, later, the “hot” transformation feature that reportedly lightened skin color.

Both options have since been removed.

Curious about what you’d look like with a different hair or eye color? Want to virtually test out bangs before making the cut? Wonder what you’d look like as a Hollywood star or someone of the opposite gender?

The face-morphing app does it all.

It even bends time to reveal what you might look like in the future.

“Through we might not be able to influence your wisdom, we can certainly add some wrinkles to your face,” the FaceApp website said.

The new “time travel” filter has garnered attention around the world: Check out what the Jonas Brothers, Terry Crews, Sam Smith, Drake, and Zachary Levi look like as old fogies.

With great virality comes great responsibility, though. And some believe FaceApp isn’t taking that responsibility seriously.

Concerns have been raised about whether the application uploads users’ camera roll in the background (of which there is seemingly no evidence), and how it allows you to pick photos without allowing access.

“We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics,” the Russian startup told TechCrunch.

For starters, FaceApp performs “most” of its photo processing in the cloud (Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, specifically), uploading only those pictures selected by a user.

“We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud,” the statement said. “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”

FaceApp also claims that no user data is “transferred to Russia,” where its core R&D team is located.

“We don’t have access to any data that could identify a person [and] we don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties,” it added.

But that’s not enough for some U.S. policymakers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FBI and FTC to look into FaceApp’s data handling practices.

“I have serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the government agencies.

“In the age of facial recognition technology as both a surveillance and security use,” he continued, “it is essential that users have the information they need to ensure their personal and biometric data remains secure, including from hostile foreign nations.”

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Apple

Apple Card Launches for All U.S. iPhone Users

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Apple Card is now available to all U.S. iPhone owners.

Following an invite-only launch earlier this month, Cupertino on Tuesday announced expanded applications for its Goldman Sachs-backed MasterCard.

Compatible with most iPhones running iOS 12.4, the bank card is managed entirely via Apple Wallet; sign up by tapping the plus icon in the upper right corner of the app.

Users can also request a physical (titanium!) card—free of charge.

“We’re thrilled with the overwhelming interest in Apple Card and its positive reception,” Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay, said in a statement. “Customers have told us they love Apple Card’s simplicity and how it gives them a better view of their spending.”

That includes 24/7 support, weekly and monthly spending summaries, and a transaction history featuring full names of vendors and splash images matching the spending category.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about annual, late, international, or over-the-limit fees.

With no card number, CVV security code, expiration date, or signature on the card, Apple Card is more secure than any other physical credit card (via Apple)

The credit card also boasts a Daily Cash rewards program, which gives back a percentage of every purchase as cash:

  • 1 percent for purchases made with the titanium Apple Card
  • 2 percent for purchases made with Apple Card through Apple Pay
  • 3 percent for purchases made directly with Apple (in-store or online)

As an added bonus, Cupertino partnered with Uber to offer 3 percent cash back on all ridesharing and meal deliveries when using Apple Pay.

The firm will “continue to add more popular merchants and apps in the coming months,” according to a company announcement.

Despite ties with high-falutin bank Goldman Sachs—not exactly known as a friend of the lower classes—a majority of early-access users were accepted for the card.

Credit limits, however, range from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the applicant’s income, among other factors, Ars Technica reported.

Apple Card does not track where customers shop, what they buy, or how much they spend.

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General

Android Q is Android 10 In Brand Update

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Google has lost its sweet tooth: After 10 years of confections, Android OS is being rebranded.

This year’s Android Q—admittedly one of the alphabet’s hardest letters to associate with a snack food—is officially known as Android 10.

And that’s it.

No quince, quavers, or quarter-pounder. Just Android 10.

Which is a bit of a letdown, following a decade of candied updates—from Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich to Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, Nougat, Oreo, and Pie.

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Part of the Android experience, these nicknames—internal codes used by Google’s engineering team—were “a fun part of the release each year,” Sameer Samat, vice president of product management, wrote in a blog announcement.

“But we’ve heard feedback over the years that the names weren’t always understood by everyone in the global community,” he said.

The letters “L” and “R,” for instance, are indistinguishable in some languages, making it difficult to know that Lollipop referred to the version after KitKat.

And while sweet pies and fluffy marshmallows do make for a delicious treat, they are not particularly popular in many parts of the world.

Numbers, however, are globally recognized.

A refreshed look for the brand (via Google)

“This next release of Android will simply use the version number and be called Android 10,” Samat explained. “We think this change helps make release names simpler and more intuitive for our global community.

“And while there were many tempting ‘Q’ desserts out there,” he teased, “we think that at version 10 and 2.5 billion active devices, it was time to make this change.”

That’s not Android’s only transition, though: The platform has introduced a “more modern, accessible” brand aesthetic.

The design, rolling out soon with the final release of Android 10, draws inspiration from the company’s robot mascot, which “has long been a symbol of the fun and curiosity at the heart of Android,” Samat said.

New black font also makes the logo easier to read—especially for those with visual impairments.

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General

Try These Four Policies to Dismantle Online Hate Groups

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A first-of-its-kind mapping model tracks how hate spread and adapts online—providing what researchers hope is a blueprint for stopping it.

Analysts from the University of Miami and George Washington University developed a chart showing how “global hate highways” can bridge social networks, geographic borders, languages, and ideologies.

“Hate destroys lives,” GW physics professor Neil Johnson said in a statement. “Not only as we’ve seen in El Paso, Orlando, and New Zealand, but psychologically through online bullying and rhetoric.”

The team focused on global platform Facebook, as well as its European counterpart VKontakte—the most popular site in Russia.

Over a period of a few months, they mapped how clusters (groups or pages that build a community based on shared views, interests, or purposes) interconnect to spread narratives and attract recruits.

The results, published this week in the journal Nature, suggest a sort of Catch-22 for social media companies and their users.

While administrators are expected to aggressively eradicate hate content, banning trolls from one platform often compels them to move to another—simply shifting the resentment instead of eliminating it.

“It is essentially a whack-the-mole game,” senior study author Stefan Wuchty, an associate professor at UM, explained. “Once you whack one mole it will show up somewhere else.

“It is counter-intuitive, but pushing hate groups from social media platforms actually has the opposite effect,” he continued. “It creates a more concentrated assembly of those groups on a different platform.”

A researcher team mapped how clusters of hate interconnect to spread narratives and attract new recruits (via University of Miami/George Washington University)

At the core of the problem, Wuchty pointed out, is social media platforms’ reluctance to work together and unite their policies for change. Until then, hate groups will only continue to grow across the world wide web.

“The analogy is no matter how much weed killer you place in a yard, the problem will come back, potentially more aggressively,” according to Johnson.

“In the online world, all yards in the neighborhood are interconnected in a highly complex way—almost like wormholes,” he said. “This is why individual social media platforms like Facebook need new analysis such as ours to figure out new approaches to push them ahead of the curve.”

The team proposed four distinct policies that, if executed properly, could cut hate groups off at the knees:

Ban numerous small hate clusters rather than a few large ones. The idea is that abundant small groups are easier to locate, and eliminating them prevents the emergence of other large clusters.

Ban small numbers of users selected at random from online hate clusters. This random-targeting approach avoids potential violations of privacy regulations.

Promote the organization of anti-hate clusters. These groups could serve as a “human immune system” to fight and counteract haters.

Introduce an artificial group of users to encourage interactions between hate clusters with opposing views. Researchers hope the members will battle out their differences among themselves, instead of taking their anger out on the public.

The latter two would require little direct intervention by platform administrators.

Study authors are aware, however, that setting opposing clusters against each other “would require meticulous engineering.”

“We set out to get to the bottom of online hate by looking at why it is so resilient and how it can be better tackled,” Johnson said. “Instead of love being in the air, we found hate is in the ether.”

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