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March 23, 2019
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Google

What latency feels like on Google’s Stadia cloud gaming platform

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After peppering Google employees with questions regarding Stadia’s latency, pricing and supported devices, to mostly no avail, I got my hands on one of their new controllers and pressed play on the Doom 2016 gameplay they were showing off on a big-screen TV.

Things started off pretty ugly. The frame rate dropped to a fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, the resolution dipped between 4K crispness and indecipherable blurriness and latency seemed to be as much as a half-second. As the Google employees looked nervously at each other, someone grabbed the controller from me and restarted the system.

After a system restart, things moved along much, much more smoothly. But what the situation sums up is that when it comes to game streaming, things can be unpredictable. To give Google credit, they stress-tested their system by running Stadia on hotel Wi-Fi rather than taking me down to Mountain View and letting me play with Stadia under much more controlled conditions.

Stadia is Google’s cloud game-streaming service and, while there’s a lot we don’t know, the basic tenants are clear. It moves console-level gaming online into your Chrome browser and lets you access it from devices like smartphones that wouldn’t be able to handle the GPU-load initially.

Despite the initial hiccup, my experience with Stadia was largely positive. Doom 2016 was in crisp 4K and I was able to focus on the game without thinking about the service I was playing it on, which is ultimately the best endorsement of a new platform like this.

This will likely be a great service for more casual gamers, but might not be the best fit for the most hardcore users playing multi-player titles. While you may be launching this service directly from YouTube feeds of esports gamers, this is something they probably wouldn’t use. That’s because the latency between input and something being displayed onscreen isn’t imperceptible, though it’s probably good enough for the vast majority of users (myself included), which is still a worthy prize for the company’s efforts to take on the massive gaming market.

Google Stadia VP Phil Harrison wouldn’t give me a proper range of where exactly latency fell, but he did say it was less than the time it took for a human to perceive something and react — which another Google employee then told me differed person-to-person, but was generally 70ms-130ms — so I suppose the most official number we’ll get is that the latency is probably somewhere less than 70ms.

There is no hard truth here, though, because latency will really depend on your geographic proximity to the data center. Being in San Francisco, I connected to a data center roughly 50 miles away in San Jose. Google confirmed to me that not all rural users in supported countries will be able to signup for the service at launch because of this.

Other interesting things to note:

  • Google said they’d confirm devices later, but when asked about iOS support at launch they highlighted that they were focused on Pixel devices at launch.
  • It doesn’t sound like you’ll be able to restore purchases of games you’ve previously gotten; you’ll unsurprisingly have to buy all of your Stadia titles on the platform.
  • You’ll be able to access games from YouTube streams, but there will also be an online hub for all your content and you can access games via links.
  • The controller was nice and probably felt most similar to the design of Sony’s DualShock controller.

We’ll probably be hearing a lot more at Google I/O this summer, but with my first hands-on demo, the service certainly works and it certainly feels console-quality. The big freaking question is how Google prices this, because that pricing is going to determine whether it’s a service for casual gamers or hardcore gamers, and that will determine whether it’s a success.

Update: We were playing a level from Doom 2016, not Doom Eternal

News Source = techcrunch.com

Huawei has built an Android alternative in case US tensions increase

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Tensions between the U.S. and Huawei show no sign of easing. Last week, the electronics giant announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the government over an “unconstitutional” ban on its products. Meanwhile, earlier this week, the U.S. threatened German intelligence over the country’s use of Huawei 5G products.

The company has understandably been prepping for a further downturn in relations by building its own in-house alternative to Android. The backup was noted by Huawei mobile head Richard Yu, following a year of rumors around the mobile OS.

“We have prepared our own operating system; if it turns out we can no longer use [Android], we will be ready and have our plan B,” the exec said.

Huawei began building the software in earnest after a U.S. ban on ZTE. The use of software and hardware from U.S. companies like Google and Qualcomm in Chinese smartphones has led to increasing tariffs on both sides.

In addition to concerns over ties to the Chinese government, Huawei has also been hit over its alleged skirting of Iranian tariffs. That landed the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in a Canadian jail. Of course, all of this hasn’t slowed Huawei’s global growth. The company saw a 50 percent jump in revenue in spite of mounting concerns.

We’ve reached out to Huawei for further confirmation.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google removed 2.3B bad ads, 1.5M bad apps and 28M bad pages, plans new Policy Manager this year

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Google is a tech powerhouse in many categories, including advertising. Today, as part of its efforts to improve how that ad business works, it provided an annual update that details the progress it’s made to shut down some of the more nefarious aspects of it.

Using both manual reviews and machine learning, in 2018, Google said removed 2.3 billion “bad ads” that violated its policies, which at their most general forbid ads that mislead or exploit vulnerable people. Along with that, Google has been tackling the other side of the “bad ads” conundrum: pinpointing and shutting down sites that violate policies and also profit from using its ad network: Google said it removed 1.5 million apps and nearly 28 million pages that violated publisher policies.

On the more proactive side, the company said today that it is introducing a new Ad Policy Manager in April to give tips to publishers to avoid listing non-compliant ads in the first place.

Google’s ad machine makes billions for the company — more than $32 billion in the previous quarter, accounting for 83 percent of all Google’s revenues. Those revenues underpin a variety of wildly popular, free services such as Gmail, YouTube, Android and of course its search engine — but there is undoubtedly a dark side, too: bad ads that slip past the algorithms and mislead or exploit vulnerable people, and sites that exploit Google’s ad network by using it to fund the spread of misleading information.

Notably, Google’s 2.3 billion figure is nearly 1 billion less ads than it removed last year for policy violations. The lower numbers might be attributed to two things. First, while the ad business continues to grow, that growth has been slowing just a little in competition with other players like Facebook and Amazon. Second — and this one gives the benefit of the doubt to Google — you could argue that it has improved its ability to track and stop these ads before they make their way to its network. (The more cynical question is whether Google removed less to improve its bottom line.)

Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, highlighted ads removed from several specific categories this year: there were nearly 207,000 ads for ticket resellers, 531,000 ads for bail bonds and 58.8 million phishing ads taken out of the network.

Part of this was based on the company identifying and going after some of these areas, either on its own steam or because of public pressure. In one case, for ads for drug rehab clinics, the company removed all ads for these after an expose, before reintroducing them again a year later. Some 31 new policies were added in the last year to cover more categories of suspicious ads, Spencer said. One of these included cryptocurrencies: it will be interesting to see how and if this one becomes a more prominent part of the mix in the years ahead. 

Because ads are like the proverbial trees falling in the forest — you have to be there to hear the sound — Google is also continuing its efforts to identify bad apps and sites that are hosting ads from its network (both the good and bad).

On the website front, it also created 330 “detection classifiers” to seek out specific pages that are violating policies. Google’s focus on page granularity is part of a bigger effort it has made to add more granular tools overall to its network — it also introduced page-level “auto-ads” last year — so this is about better housekeeping as it works on ways to expand its advertising business. The efforts to use this to ID “badness” at page level led Google to shutting down 734,000 publishers and app developers, removing ads from 1.5 million apps and 28 million pages that violated policies.

Fake news also continues to get a name check in Google’s efforts. The focus for both Google and Facebook in the last year has been around how its networks are used to manipulate democratic processes. No surprise there: this is an area where they have been heavily scrutinised by governments. The risk is that, if they do not demonstrate that they are not lazily allowing dodgy political ads on their network — because after all they still represent ad revenues — they might find themselves in regulatory hot water, with more policies being enforced from the outside to curb their operations.

This past year, Google said that it verified 143,000 election ads in the US — it didn’t note how many it banned — and started to provide new data to people about who is really behind these ads. The same will be launched in the EU and India this year ahead of elections in those regions.

The new policies it’s introducing to improve the range of sites it indexes and helps people find are also taking shape. Some 1.2 million pages, 22,000 apps and 15,000 sites were removed from its ad network for violating policies as misrepresentative, hateful or other low-quality content. These included 74,000 pages and 190,000 ads that violated its “dangerous or derogatory” content policy.

Looking ahead, the tool that Google announced it would be launching next month is a self-help tool for advertisers: using machine learning, Google will scan ads before they are uploaded to the network to determine whether they violate any policies. It will at launch look at ads, keywords and extensions across a publisher’s account (not just the ad itself).

Over time, Google said, it will also give tips to the publishers in real time to help fix them if there are problems, along with a history of appeals and certifications.

This sounds like a great idea for ad publishers who are not in the market for peddling iffy content: more communication and quick responses are what they want so that if they do have issues, they can fix them and get the ads out the door. (And that, of course, will also help Google by ushering in more inventory, faster and with less human involvement.)

More worrying is how this might get misused by bad actors. As malicious hacking has show us, creating screens sometimes also creates a way for malicious people to figure out loopholes for bypassing them.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The “splinternet” is already here

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There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Flight-hailing startup BlackBird raises $10 million to replace driving with flying

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The origin story of BlackBird, a startup that links travelers to planes and commercial pilots through an app, didn’t begin with air travel. It was prompted by car sickness.

BlackBird CEO and founder Rudd Davis, who was getting his pilot’s license at the time, asked his flight instructor if he would fly his family to Tahoe because his son gets terribly sick every time they traveled by car. What Rudd discovered was an incredible experience that was far more affordable than he realized. 

Davis launched the company in 2016 and has spent the past two years honing in on the business model as well as adding commercial pilots and members. Now, with fresh capital from New Enterprise Associates, BlackBird is ready to spread its wings. 

The company announced Tuesday it has raised $10 million in a Series A round led by NEA. NEA partner Jonathan Golden, who previously worked at Airbnb, has joined the BlackBird board of directors alongside Francoise Brougher of Pinterest, Square and Google, and Andrew Swain, who also is from Airbnb.

BlackBird has also hired Brian Hsu, who spent a decade at eBay and most recently was vice president of supply at Lyft, as chief operating officer. Davis is counting on Hsu, who has experience scaling marketplaces, to help BlackBird expand its membership and reach.

 

The company will use its new injection of capital to scale up, in terms of users, pilots and employees.

BlackBird currently has more than 700 commercial pilots who fly passengers between 50 and 500 miles from and within California. For now, Davis said this is a self-imposed geographic restriction.

“We’re trying to build up density and build up the network and optimize it before we start replicating it to other geographies,” Davis said.

It does face challenges. BlackBird has to find that price-per-seat sweet spot, which is largely driven by how many users and pilots are on the platform. Seats can be around $80 or upwards of $900, depending on the route, pilot availability and demand. And BlackBird must fight misconceptions of what and who the platform is designed for.

“A lot of people have looked at this space before, and really have kind of come up empty handed,” said Golden, who was a seed investor in BlackBird before joining NEA.

What makes BlackBird so compelling, Golden added, is that it’s not about luxury travel, but instead about how to actually replace driving through flights, which is really compelling.

“When most people think about kind of flying non-commercially, they think about huge jets with couches and for billionaires,” Davis said.And that is not the entirety of general aviation; there’s a huge aspect of aviation that is flying in smaller planes. It just hasn’t really been as accessible.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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