|From: Ron||9/30/2020 10:27:20 AM|
|Amazon rolls out palm-recognition technology which allows contact-free transactions |
Amazon has introduced new palm recognition technology in a pair of Seattle stores and sees a broader potential audience in stadiums, offices and other gated or secured locations.
Customers at the stores near Amazon’s campus in Washington can flash a palm for entry into secured areas and buy goods.
The company chose palm recognition, according to Dilip Kumar, vice president of Physical Retail & Technology, because it’s more private than other biometric technology, and a person would be required to purposefully flash a palm at the Amazon One device to engage.
“And it’s contactless, which we think customers will appreciate, especially in current times,” Kumar wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
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|From: Sr K||10/2/2020 11:49:40 AM|
Amazon Teams Up With Universal Music, Warner Music to Upgrade Songs to Ultra High Definition
The songs will have an improved digital streaming audio quality and will be delivered in 24 bit and 96 kilohertz or 192 kilohertz, Amazon
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/4/2020 2:59:09 PM|
|Amazon’s palm reading starts at the grocery store, but it could be so much bigger|
Amazon One is about identity, not payments
By James Vincent
Oct 1, 2020, 12:56pm EDT
Earlier this week, Amazon unveiled Amazon One: new technology for its Amazon Go stores that lets shoppers pay for their groceries by scanning the palm of their hand. By analyzing the shape of your hand and the unique configuration of veins under your skin, Amazon says its technology can verify your identity the same way facial recognition does.
Although Amazon One will initially be used for payments only, it’s clear the tech giant has much bigger ambitions for this hardware. In the future, it says, Amazon One could not only be used for shopping but as a replacement for tickets at music and sporting events, and as an alternative to your office keycard, letting you scan in with a swipe of your hand. In other words, Amazon One isn’t a payment technology. It’s an identity technology, and one that could give Amazon more reach into your life than ever before.
Understandably, some experts are skeptical about Amazon’s claims of convenience, and worry about a company with a spotty track record on privacy becoming the controller of a new identity standard. Whether it’s Amazon’s use of biased facial recognition algorithms or its ambitions to grow a network of home surveillance cameras, this is an organization that has proved many times that individual privacy is not always its biggest concern. Is it a good idea if Amazon knows exactly who you are from the palm of your hand?
HOW THE TECHNOLOGY WORKS
Let’s start by looking at the technology itself, which is blessedly straightforward. Palm scanning has been around for years, and although Amazon isn’t offering many details on its own implementation, it looks to be similar to examples of the tech we’ve seen before.
PALM RECOGNITION IS THOUGHT TO BE MORE SECURE THAN OTHER BIOMETRIC METHODS
As the company explains on its FAQ page, the Amazon One hardware verifies a user’s identity by looking at “the minute characteristics of your palm — both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns.” Usually, vein scanning is done using infrared light that penetrates the surface layers of skin, though Amazon doesn’t mention this technology specifically. It says anyone can sign up to Amazon One by inserting a credit card into one of its scanners and registering one or both of their palms. The scanners can then identify someone “in seconds” without skin contact. (A bonus during a pandemic, but no cleaner or quicker than using many contactless credit cards.)
From a security point of view, palm scanning has some key advantages over other biometrics. First, the information being used to identify you is not easily observable, unlike your face or ear print. Even fingerprints can be picked up from touched objects or photographed from a distance. It’s much harder, by comparison, to snap a picture of someone’s hand and use that to spoof their vein patterns.
“All the other biometrics that are becoming commonplace — face, fingerprints, iris — are all quite observable and visible from the outside,” Elizabeth Renieris, a law and policy researcher who focuses on data governance and human rights issues, told The Verge. “There’s definitely something to say for the advanced security [of palm scanning].”
Similarly, the information collected during a palm scan makes it easier to incorporate a liveness test: to check that you have a real, living person in front of you. For these reasons, it’s sometimes claimed that palm or vein recognition is the most accurate and secure of all common biometrics, though the stats depend on how the tech is implemented. It’s also worth noting that palm scanning is certainly not foolproof, and hackers have shown in the past they can create fake hands that can trick some scanners.
DO YOU WANT YOUR PALM STORED IN THE CLOUD?
There’s one other big difference between Amazon One and other biometric systems you might be used to, and that’s that Amazon will be keeping its palm data in the cloud. People have long worried about this sort of personal data collection, but it’s striking that it’s Amazon that is now trying to make it happen.
As Reuben Binns, an associate professor focusing on data protection at the University of Oxford, explained to The Verge, cloud storage is inherent in the system Amazon is building. “For this kind of use case it’s difficult to do anything other than have [that data] in the cloud,” he says. “Whether that’s a good idea or not is another question.”
From Amazon’s point of view, it will mean it has to be particularly careful about how it stores and collects the data. Biometric information is protected in a way other data is not, by the EU’s GDPR regulations and by some state-level laws in the US. It’s unclear, for example, how Amazon One will work with regulation like Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which requires that companies get informed consent before collecting biometric data. (Amazon seems to recognize this in its copy for its palm scanning tech and says that presenting your palm to a scanner “requires an intentional action” by the customer.)
Binns contrasts Amazon One with technology like Apple’s Face ID, which uses facial recognition data to unlock your phone and verify payments but keeps the biometric data on your device. By keeping data in the cloud, you’re exposing it to hackers as well as potentially making it more accessible to interested third parties, like governments.
But Binns stresses that Amazon One also makes the same basic trade-off as any biometric system of authentication: do you want to create a password that’s part of your body?
“IT SEEMS TO ME LIKE THE WRONG TRADE OFF”
“The advantage is that it’s on you all the time, this isn’t something you can lose, but that’s also a disadvantage because you can never change it,” says Binns. “You can never change your palm like you change your password or other identification tokens.” And while this might be acceptable for high-stakes scenarios — like using facial recognition to verify who you are with a country’s government at the border — Binns says it seems inappropriate for something like shopping, especially when equally convenient alternatives already exist.
“It seems to me like the wrong trade off between persistence [of data] and the level of assurance you actually need for some of these use cases,” he says.
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|From: Sr K||10/5/2020 10:29:53 AM|
|Kicking off Oct 8, |
10:00 AM ET 10/05/2020
A new, interactive replay experience for X-Ray on Prime Video puts fans in the broadcaster’s seat, letting them re-watch top plays throughout the game in real-time.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/6/2020 9:40:58 PM|
|House Democrats say Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, Apple enjoy ‘monopoly power’ and recommend big changes|
PUBLISHED TUE, OCT 6 20204:06 PM EDT
UPDATED 36 MIN AGO
Lauren Feiner @LAUREN_FEINER
-- After a 16-month investigation into competitive practices at Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust has released its findings and recommendations on how to reform laws to fit the digital age.
-- The report concludes that the four Big Tech companies enjoy monopoly power and suggests Congress take up changes to antitrust laws that could result in parts of their businesses being separated.
-- Republicans have voiced objections to some of the bolder proposals in the report, such as imposing structural separations.
A Democratic congressional staff report recommends changes to antitrust laws and enforcement that could result in major changes for Big Tech companies, such as spinning off or separating parts of their businesses or making it harder to buy smaller companies.
The staff found, after a 16-month investigation into competitive practices at Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, that the four businesses enjoy monopoly power that needs to be reined in by Congress and enforcers.
In a nearly 450-page report, the Democratic majority staff laid out their takeaways from hearings, interviews and the 1.3 million documents they scoured throughout the investigation.
You can read the full report here.
The recommendations from Democratic staff include:
-- Imposing structural separations and prohibiting dominant platforms from entering adjacent lines of business. This means that the Democratic staff recommends solutions including forcing tech companies to be broken up or imposing business structures that make different lines of business functionally separate from the parent company. For example, this could include a scenario such as forcing Google to divest and separate from YouTube, or Facebook doing the same with Instagram and WhatsApp. Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., has previously referred to this method as a type of “Glass-Steagall” law for the internet, referring to the 1930s law that separated commercial from investment banking.
-- Instructing antitrust agencies to presume mergers by dominant platforms to be anticompetitive, shifting the burden onto the merging parties to prove their deal would not harm competition, rather than making enforcers prove it would.
-- Preventing dominant platforms from preferencing their own services, instead, making them offer “equal terms for equal products and services.”
-- Requiring dominant firms to make their services compatible with competitors and allow users to transfer their data.
-- Overriding “problematic precedents” in antitrust case law.
-- Requiring the Federal Trade Commission to regularly collect data on concentration.
-- Increasing budgets for the FTC and Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
-- Strengthening private enforcement by eliminating forced-arbitration clauses and limits on class-action lawsuits.
Republicans have voiced objections to some of the bolder proposals in the report, such as imposing structural separations. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a key ally of the subcommittee majority who has been in favor of antitrust reform, has prepared his own response to the report outlining areas of “common ground” and “non-starters,” according to a draft version obtained by CNBC.
Following the majority report’s release, Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, put out his own response about allegations of platforms’ bias against conservatives, which the companies have repeatedly denied. Four other Republicans signed onto the report, including Buck and former Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia, and subcommittee members Reps. Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida.
Buck stressed in his own response, however, that he is supportive of the investigation and its findings and continues to push for bipartisan antitrust reform.
Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said in a statement that while he does not approve of sweeping changes to the antitrust laws, “There actually is a lot that we agree on, including the lack of sufficient scrutiny on past activity by these companies.”
He expressed support for greater funding of antitrust enforcers but said he was skeptical of the Glass-Steagall type of approach, presumptive bans on merger activity and mandates for data interoperability, fearing it would stifle innovation.
The Democratic report found that the four tech companies enjoy monopoly power in their respective domains. Below are some of the key findings the staff laid out in the report for each company:
Facebook enjoys monopoly power in the online advertising and social networking markets, according to the report.
One surprising finding in the course of the investigation had to do with Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, according to a counsel for the antitrust subcommittee who spoke with reporters Tuesday. According to the counsel, documents outlining Instagram’s projected growth just before its $1 billion acquisition by Facebook in 2012 painted the picture of a fast-growing company, rather than a weak competitor that might have floundered without Facebook’s help. While there is no way to reverse engineer what would have happened to Instagram were it to remain independent, the question of whether Facebook bought Instagram to squander a growing competitor has been a recurring one for many antitrust observers.
Recommendations by the Democratic majority staff would address the concern that dominant companies may be able to engage in “killer acquisitions” of competitors by shifting the burden onto those companies to prove their deals won’t harm competition.
The report also discusses what it calls the “Cunningham memo,” a document produced in 2018 by a senior Facebook data scientist named Tom Cunningham that was first reported by The Information in 2019. According to the report, it was prepared for senior executives including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In an interview with the subcommittee staff, a former senior employee at Instagram who sat in on meetings as the memo was being prepared said the document was meant to answer how the company could “position Facebook and Instagram to not compete with each other,” according to the report. The former employee told the staff in an interview cited with Friday’s date that then-Instagram chief Kevin Systrom “wanted Instagram to grow naturally and as widely as possible. But Mark was clearly saying ‘do not compete with us.’ ... It was collusion, but within an internal monopoly.”
CNBC previously reported that new information on the Facebook-Instagram deal from a whistleblower had prompted the report’s first delay, according to a source.
“Facebook is an American success story. We compete with a wide variety of services with millions, even billions, of people using them,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Acquisitions are part of every industry, and just one way we innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people. Instagram and WhatsApp have reached new heights of success because Facebook has invested billions in those businesses. A strongly competitive landscape existed at the time of both acquisitions and exists today. Regulators thoroughly reviewed each deal and rightly did not see any reason to stop them at the time.”
Amazon has monopoly power over most of its third-party sellers and many of its suppliers, the majority staff alleges.
Amazon’s market share of U.S. online retail sales is “likely understated” at 40%, according to the report, which says “more credible” estimates place it around 50% or more.
The staff claim “Amazon’s market power is at its height” when it comes to its relationship with third-party sellers on its platform.
“Amazon has engaged in extensive anticompetitive conduct in its treatment of third-party sellers,” the report’s authors write. “Publicly, Amazon describes third-party sellers as ‘partners.’ But internal documents show that, behind closed doors, the company refers to them as ‘internal competitors.’”
Amazon has argued in written statements and testimony that it relies on its third-party sellers to fuel its platform and that it would not be in its interest to work against them. The staff argues, however, “Amazon’s dual role as an operator of its marketplace that hosts third-party sellers, and a seller in that same marketplace, creates an inherent conflict of interest. This conflict incentivizes Amazon to exploit its access to competing sellers’ data and information, among other anticompetitive conduct.”
The authors also claim Amazon reached its dominance partly through acquiring competing sites such as Diapers.com and Zappos as well as adjacent businesses to add customer data and “shor[e] up its competitive moats.”
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said: “All large organizations attract the attention of regulators, and we welcome that scrutiny. But large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong. And yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, those fallacies are at the core of this regulatory spit-balling on antitrust. This flawed thinking would have the primary effect of forcing millions of independent retailers out of online stores, thereby depriving these small businesses of one of the fastest and most profitable ways available to reach customers. For consumers, the result would be less choice and higher prices. Far from enhancing competition, these uninformed notions would instead reduce it.”
Apple’s monopoly power exists in the market for software app distribution on iOS devices, according to the Democratic staff.
The report says Apple’s mobile ecosystem has provided “significant benefits” to both consumers and app developers. Even so, the report alleges Apple uses its control of its operating system and app store “to create and enforce barriers to competition and discriminate against and exclude rivals while preferencing its own offerings.”
The staff also alleges Apple uses its market power “to exploit app developers through misappropriation of competitively sensitive information and to charge app developers supra-competitive prices within the App Store.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook pressed on whether App Store treats all developers equally
In the past year, Apple has faced a growing number of app developers complaining about its rules and commission in exchange for placement on its App Store. Most recently, Apple faces a lawsuit from Epic Games over such complaints.
“In the absence of competition, Apple’s monopoly power over software distribution to iOS devices has resulted in harms to competitors and competition, reducing quality and innovation among app developers, and increasing prices and reducing choices for consumers,” the staff wrote.
In a statement, Apple said, “The App Store has enabled new markets, new services and new products that were unimaginable a dozen years ago, and developers have been primary beneficiaries of this ecosystem. Last year in the United States alone, the App Store facilitated $138 billion in commerce with over 85% of that amount accruing solely to third-party developers. Apple’s commission rates are firmly in the mainstream of those charged by other app stores and gaming marketplaces. Competition drives innovation, and innovation has always defined us at Apple. We work tirelessly to deliver the best products to our customers, with safety and privacy at their core, and we will continue to do so.”
Google has a monopoly of the online general search and search advertising markets, the majority staff concluded.
It described Google’s dominance as operating “as an ecosystem of interlocking monopolies.” By linking together various services with extensive user data, Google is able to reinforce its dominance, the report alleges.
Based on internal communications from Google, the staff wrote, “Google exploits information asymmetries and closely tracks real-time data across markets, which—given Google’s scale—provide it with near-perfect market intelligence. In certain instances, Google has covertly set up programs to more closely track its potential and actual competitors, including through projects like Android Lockbox.”
Google has been able to maintain its dominance with high barriers to entry, including the default position it’s secured in many browsers and devices, according to the staff. It’s also maintained its monopoly in search “through a series of anticompetitive practices,” according to the report.
Google allegedly boosted its own vertical offerings by misappropriating content from third parties, the staff said, based on documents it reviewed. Competitors such as Yelp have previously complained of such conduct, and Google agreed in a 2012 FTC settlement not to scrape content from third parties.
The staff wrote that Google has been “blurring the distinction between paid ads and organic results” since capturing its monopoly in general search while stacking its results page with ads.
“As a result of these tactics, Google appears to be siphoning off traffic from the rest of the web, while entities seeking to reach users must pay Google steadily increasing sums for ads,” according to the report. “Numerous market participants analogized Google to a gatekeeper that is extorting users for access to its critical distribution channel, even as its search page shows users less relevant results.”
The report also alleges Google used “anticompetitive contracts” to maintain its monopoly power in search. For example, it would require smartphone manufacturers to pre-install Google apps and give them default status, according to documents reviewed by the subcommittee staff. The authors claim such status harmed competitors in search and app markets. Google may once again be looking to maintain its monopoly as mobile voice becomes more popular for search, the staff alleged, based on interviews with third parties.
“Google’s free products like Search, Maps and Gmail help millions of Americans and we’ve invested billions of dollars in research and development to build and improve them,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We compete fairly in a fast-moving and highly competitive industry. We disagree with today’s reports, which feature outdated and inaccurate allegations from commercial rivals about Search and other services.”
The spokesperson said Google supports Congress working to clarify laws in certain areas mentioned in the report, such as data portability and interoperability.
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|From: Julius Wong||10/8/2020 4:31:32 PM|
|Rivian's Amazon Delivery Van Finally Hits the Road in New Video|
Rivian has a lot on its plate right now, partnering with Ford on a Lincoln-badged electric SUV and preparing its own R1S SUV and R1T pickup truck to enter production late this year. In its free time, seemingly, the upstart electric carmaker has plans to build 100,000 delivery vans for Amazon. From what we can tell in a newly released video, the first Rivian-built van has finally been delivered, and there is a ton of neat features you might not expect to find find on a delivery vehicle.
© Motor Trend Staff Amazon Rivian Delivery VanThere are a host a new safety features included with the van, too. A 360-degree view camera, various driver assistance aids, and a strengthened driver's side door all make the van a more safe place for delivery drivers while giving them a better idea of what's around the van. There are also bright tail lights that surround the rear of the truck, making it easier for other motorists to see. There is also what Amazon is calling a "dancefloor" in the cabin, making it easier for the driver to move around inside.
© Motor Trend StaffAn older video gave us insight into how Amazon's project was coming along, and it was interesting to get a sneak peak at the van that will likely become a mainstay on American roads. It reveals several tantalizing nuggets about the adorably wide-eyed Amazon van, which is shaping up to resemble the Baby Yoda of delivery vehicles. One older design sketch hints at a removable bumper, which is made in three separate sections that are easy to replace. Another depicts cargo bins fitted with magnets to help keep them upright.
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|From: J.F. Sebastian||10/8/2020 9:57:42 PM|
| Amazon Wants to ‘Win at Games.’ So Why Hasn’t It?|
After brute-forcing its way to dominance in so many industries, the tech leviathan may finally have met its match.
THREE YEARS AGO, on a drab, chilly summer day in the Dutch port of Den Helder, Amazon made an extravagant pitch for its first-ever big-budget video game, Breakaway. The event, streamed live on Twitch, was an esports tournament with a twist: It would take place on a 355-foot-long naval patrol ship, the kind that hunts down pirates and drug smugglers in the Caribbean.
On the upper decks, sailors stood taut as the camera ogled the vessel’s 76mm cannon. Then a pair of emcees from Amazon Game Studios, occasionally shouting over the thrum of passing helicopters, introduced the competitors. They were down below, huddled around high-end monitors—headsets on, knees jiggling anxiously, cans of Red Bull cracked open.
On paper, Breakaway was a delicious amalgamation of features from two of the most popular contemporary games, Rocket League and League of Legends. Players would gather in mythical arenas like El Dorado and Atlantis, competing to dunk a ball in the opposing team’s goal. To succeed, they would need galaxy-brain strategy, impeccable spatial reasoning, and split-second reactions.
Amazon had no doubt that Twitch viewers would line up to watch the matches unfold and, later, join the game’s beta release. All told, the company spent at least a quarter of a million dollars setting up what it called the Battle on the High Seas, according to a source with knowledge of the event. Still, for a tech leviathan, this was peanuts, the modest cost of entry to an estimated $100 billion industry.
There was just one problem: Breakaway wasn’t fun. It was stressful, actually—too onerous a combination of fast and thinky—and just unfamiliar enough to put people off. “The core gameplay was confusing,” one former Amazon Game Studios employee recalled. “It was hard to track what was happening.” YouTube videos of the esports matches were viewed, on average, just north of 100 times. Amazon couldn’t even find enough people to beta test the game for free. Within nine months of the Battle on the High Seas, Breakaway had been canceled. The company announced the news on Reddit, in a post that elicited 34 comments. The game died with barely a whimper.
More at: wired.com
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|From: Glenn Petersen||10/9/2020 9:48:14 AM|
Amazon's IMDb-TV set to expand internationally
October 8. 2020
Amazon is looking to expand its free video streaming service, IMDb TV, into additional markets in the coming months, two sources familiar with the company's plans told me. Some of the initial markets targeted by Amazon include Mexico and the U.K., which could function as stepping stones into Latin America and Europe, respectively, according to one source.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
IMDb TV first launched under the name IMDb Freedive in early 2019. Amazon rebranded the service in May of that year, and at the time also announced that IMDb TV would come to Europe by the end of 2019. That ultimately didn't happen, and IMDb TV remains a U.S.-only service. But according to one of the sources, the company could finally be making the jump to additional territories before the end of this year.
Prime Video, Amazon's ad-free streaming service for Prime subscribers, is available in over 200 countries and territories. The company has long hinted at plans to similarly make IMDb TV available in many more countries. Just last week, it posted a job listing for a "product manager, international expansion." "Our mission is to build earth's most customer-centric ad-supported premium free video service and make it convenient for hundreds of millions of customers to enjoy," the listing reads in part.
Free, ad-supported video services have gained momentum in recent months, especially as economic pressure forces consumers to revisit recurring expenses. Reelgood, a service that helps people find streaming content across a number of platforms, reported this week that ad-supported services had a market share of more than 30% among its users, compared to 25% in Q2.
IMDb TV could also help Amazon gain streaming market share in countries where the company doesn't maintain an ecommerce business yet, including much of Latin America. Amazon has 150 million Prime members around the globe, and is operating locally in 16 markets.
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