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A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg – TechCrunch

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TechCrunch: Hey Portal, dial Mark

Portal: Do you mean Mark Zuckerberg?

TC: Yes

Portal: Dialling Mark…


TC: Hi Mark! Nice choice of grey t-shirt.

MZ: Uh, new phone who dis? — oh, hi, er, TechCrunch…

TC: Thanks for agreeing to this entirely fictional interview, Mark!

MZ: Sure — anytime. But you don’t mind if I tape over the camera do you? You see I’m a bit concerned about my privacy here at, like, home

TC: We feel you, go ahead.

As you can see, we already took the precaution of wearing this large rubber face mask of, well, of yourself Mark. And covering the contents of our bedroom with these paint-splattered decorator sheets.

MZ: Yeah, I saw that. It’s a bit creepy tbh

TC: Go on and get all taped up. We’ll wait.

[sound of Mark calling Priscilla to bring the tape dispenser]

[Portal’s camera jumps out to assimilate Priscilla Chan into the domestic scene, showing a generous vista of the Zuckerbergs’ living room, complete with kids playing in the corner. Priscilla, clad in an oversized dressing gown and with her hair wrapped in a big fluffy towel, can be seen gesticulating at the camera. She is also coughing]

Priscilla to Mark: I already told you — there’s a camera cover built into into Portal. You don’t need to use tape now

MZ: Oh, right, right!

Okay, going dark! Wow, that feels better already

[sound of knuckles cracking]

TC: So, Mark, let’s talk hardware! What’s your favorite Amazon Echo?

MZ: Uh, well…

TC: We’d guess one with all the bells & whistles, right? There’s definitely something more than a little Echo Show-y about Portal

MZ: Sure, I mean. We think Alexa is a great product

TC: Mhmm. Do you remember when digital photo frames first came out? They were this shiny new thing about, like, a decade ago? One of those gadgets your parents buy you around Thanksgiving, which ends up stuck in a drawer forever?

MZ: Yeah! I think someone gave me one once with a photo of me playing beer pong on it. We had it hanging in the downstairs rest room for the longest time. But then we got an Android tablet with a Wi-Fi connection for in there, so…

TC: Now here we are a decade or so later with Portal advancing the vision of what digital photo frames can be!

MZ: Yeah! I mean, you don’t even have to pick the pictures! It’s pretty awesome. This one here — oh, right you can’t see me but let me describe it for you — this one here is of a Halloween party I went to one year. Someone was dressed as SpongeBob. I think they might have been called Bob, actually… And this is, like, some other Facebook friends doing some other fun stuff. Pretty amazing.

You can also look at album art

TC: But not YouTube, right? But let’s talk about video calling

MZ: It’s an amazing technology

TC: It sure is. Skype, FaceTime… live filters, effects, animoji…

MZ: We’re building on a truly great technology foundation. Portal autozooming means you don’t even have to think about watching the person you’re talking to! You can just be doing stuff in your room and the camera will always be adjusting to capture everything you’re doing! Pretty amazing.

TC: Doing what Mark? Actually, let’s not go there

MZ: Portal will even suggest people for you to call! We think this will be a huge help for our mission to promote Being Well — uh, I mean Time Well Spent because our expert machine learning algorithms will be nudging you to talk to people you should really be talking to

TC: Like my therapist?

MZ: Uh, well, it depends. But our AI can suggest personalized meaningful interactions by suggesting Messenger contacts to call up

TC: It’s not going to suggest I videchat my ex is it?

MZ: Haha! Hopefully not. But maybe your mom? Or your grandma?

TC: Sounds incredibly useful. Well, assuming they didn’t already #deletefacebook.

But let’s talk about kids

MZ: Kids! Yeah we love them. Portal is going to be amazing for kids

TC: You have this storybook thing going on, right? Absent grandparents using Portal to read kids bedtime stories and what not…

MZ: Right! We think kids are going to love it. And grandparents! We’ve got these animal masks if you get bored of looking at your actual family members. It’s good, clean, innovative fun for all the family!

TC: Yeah, although, I mean, nothing beats reading from an actual kid’s book, right?

MZ: Well…

TC: If you do want to involve a device in your kid’s bedtime there are quite a lot of digital ebook apps for that already. Apple has a whole iBooks library of the things with read-aloud narration, for example.

And, maybe you missed this — but quite a few years ago there was a big bunch of indie apps and services all having a good go at selling the same sort of idea of ‘interactive remote reading experiences’ for families with kids. Though not many appear to have gone the distance. Which does sort of suggest there isn’t a huge unmet need for extra stuff beyond, well, actual children’s books and videochat apps like Skype and FaceTime.

Also, I mean, children’s story reading apps and interactive kids’ e-books are pretty much as old as the hills in Internet terms at this point. So, er, you’re not really moving fast and breaking things are you!?

MZ: Actually we’re more focused on stable infrastructure these days

TC: And hardware too, apparently. Which is a pretty radical departure for Facebook. All those years everyone thought you were going to do a Facebook phone but you left it to Amazon to flop into that pit… Who needs hardware when you can put apps and tracker pixels on everything, right?!

But here you are now, kinda working with Amazon for Portal — while also competing with Alexa hardware by selling your own countertop device… Aren’t you at all nervous about screwing this up? Hardware IS hard. And homes have curtains for a reason…

MZ: We’re definitely confident kids aren’t going to try swivelling around on the Portal Plus like it’s a climbing frame, if that’s what you mean. Well, hopefully not anyway

TC: But about you, Facebook Inc, putting an all-seeing-eye-cum-Internet-connected-listening-post into people’s living rooms and kids’ bedrooms…

MZ: What about it?

[MZ speaking to someone else in the room] Does the speaker have an off switch? How do I mute this thing?

TC: Hello? Mark?

[silence]

[sound comes back on briefly and a snatch of conversation can be heard between Mark and Priscilla about the need to buy more diapers. Mark is then heard shouting across the room that his Shake Shack order of a triple cheeseburger and fries plus butterscotch malt is late again]

[silence] 

[crackle and a congested throat clearing sound. A child is heard in the background asking for Legos]

MZ: Not now okay honey. Okay hon-, uh, hello — what were you saying?

TC: Will you be putting a Portal in Max’s room?

MZ: Haha! She’d probably prefer Legos

TC: August?

MZ: She’s only just turned one

TC: Okay, let’s try a more direct question. Do you at all think that you, Facebook Inc,

might have a problem selling a $200+ piece of Internet-connected hardware when your company is known for creeping on people to sell ads?

MZ: Oh no, no! — we’ve, like, totally thought of that!

Let me read you what marketing came up with. Hang on, it’s around here somewhere…

[sound of paper rustling]

Here we go [reading]:

Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal.’ You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Pretty cool, huh!

TC: Just to return to your stable infrastructure point for a second, Mark — did you mean Facebook is focused on security too? Because, well, your company keeps leaking personal data like a sieve holds water…

MZ: We think of infrastructure as a more holistic concept. And, uh, as a word that sounds reassuring

TC: Okay, so of course you can’t 100% guarantee Portal against hacking risks, though you’re taking precautions by encrypting calls. But Portal might also ‘accidentally’ record stuff adults and kids say in the home — i.e. if its ‘Hey Portal’ local listening function gets triggered when it shouldn’t. And it will then be 100% up to a responsible adult to find their way through Facebook’s labyrinthine settings and delete those wiretaps, won’t it?

MZ: You can control all your information, yes

TC: The marketing bumpf also doesn’t spell out what Facebook does with ‘Hey Portal’ voice recordings, or the personal insights your company is able to glean from them, but Facebook is in the business of profiling people for ad targeting purposes so we must assume that any and all voice commands and interactions, with the sole exception of the contents of videocalls, will go into feeding that beast.

So the metadata of who you talk to via Portal, what you listen to and look at (minus any Alexa-related interactions that you’ve agreed to hand off to Amazon for its own product targeting purposes), and potentially much more besides is all there for Facebook’s taking — given the kinds of things that an always-on listening device located in a domestic setting could be accidentally privy to.

Then, as more services get added to Portal, more personal behavioral data will be generated and can be processed by Facebook for selling ads.

MZ: Well, I mean, like I told that Senator we do sell ads

TC: And smart home hardware too now, apparently.

One more thing, Mark: In Europe, Facebook didn’t used to have face recognition technology switched on did it?

MZ: We had it on pause for a while

TC: But you switched it back on earlier this year right?

MZ: Facebook users in Europe can choose to use it, yes

TC: And who’s in charge of framing that choice?

MZ: Uh, well we are obviously

TC: We’d like you to tap on the Portal screen now, Mark. Tap on the face you can see to make the camera zoom right in on this mask of your own visage. Can you do that for us?

MZ: Uh, sure

[sound of a finger thudding against glass]

MZ: Are you seeing this? It really is pretty creepy!

Or — I mean — it would be if it wasn’t so, like, familiar…

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

[sound of a child crying]

Priscilla to Mark: Eeeew! Turn that thing off!

TC: Thanks Mark. We’ll leave you guys to it.

Enjoy your Shake Shack. Again.


Portal: Thanks for calling Mark, TechCrunch! Did you enjoy your Time Well Spent?

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LG says it might quit the smartphone market

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As usual, things are not looking good for LG’s phone division. As reported by The Korea Herald, LG Electronics CEO Kwon Bong-Seok sent out a staff-wide memo that the company was considering making major changes to its smartphone division, including possibly quitting the smartphone business.

Last week, Korean news outlet TheElec also wrote about this memo in a now-deleted post. The post was deleted because LG brutally debunked the report, calling it “completely false and without merit.” This week, LG is confirming basically the same memo report from the Korea Herald, complete with comments from LG. The Verge also got a thumbs-up from LG about the report.

“Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about time for LG to make a cold judgment and the best choice,” an LG official told the Korea Herald. “The company is considering all possible measures, including sale, withdrawal, and downsizing of the smartphone business.”

LG’s smartphone business has been suffering for a while. As the report points out, LG’s smartphone division lost about 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) over the past five years. The official earnings count has the division at 22 consecutive money-losing quarters. Today you won’t find LG on a “Global smartphone market share” chart; instead, it will be buried down in the “other” category. In the US, Counterpoint has LG at 13 percent of the market, due mostly to pre-paid sales.

LG Electronics’ CEO only landed the position 13 months ago and has undoubtedly been evaluating LG’s only money-losing division over the past year. In an interview in January 2020, shortly after being appointed CEO, Kwon promised “LG Electronics’ mobile business is going to be profitable by 2021.” It’s still not clear if that’s considered a reasonable goal for the company.

TheElec’s original scoop is backed up and translated here. You should definitely take it with a grain of salt since the outlet deleted the post and isn’t standing behind it, but so far, it seems to be correct. It contains an interesting tidbit that’s not in the other report: that LG will announce a direction for its mobile unit on January 26. TheElec also claimed that LG sent out a directive to “stop all developments except for the i project,” with “i project” being a code name for LG’s flexible-display LG Rollable smartphone. The last bit of the report sounds very plausible in raising the possibility that the LG brand will never truly leave the smartphone market and will instead farm out the logo to various white-label ODM companies.

Why would anyone buy an LG phone?

LG has never had a solid sales pitch for the smartphone wars. At the high end of the market, LG has always seemed to be overshadowed by its bigger Korean rival, Samsung. It shipped high-spec phones with heavy Android skins and a bad update plan, and when Samsung offers the same thing with bigger brand recognition, why would anyone pick LG? At the low end of the market, especially in the US, the company has reliably shoveled cheap, anonymous phones into carrier stores and the pre-paid market. This is something that needs to be done, but again, there’s nothing here that would make LG stand out from the crowd.

If anything, LG has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to building smartphones. The company’s phones are known for dying early and going into “boot looping,” an unusable Android failure state where the phone reboots repeatedly due to bad flash memory. LG was sued over boot loops in 2017, with the lawsuit naming every high-profile LG device released in 2015 and 2016. LG ended up settling. I know I’ve personally laid four LG-made Google Nexus 5Xs to rest over boot loop issues.

When the company wasn’t occupying the same lane as Samsung, it was trotting out ridiculous gimmicks that would be forgotten a year or two later: there was the LG G5 with its modular accessories, like a clip-on camera grip; the inexplicably banana-shaped LG G Flex; and an obsession with various “dual screen” designs like the LG V10’s notification display, the LG V50’s clip-on second screen, and the LG Wing’s “T” shaped design. You can see the company trying to do something different to stand out, but none of these ideas was good, or at least they weren’t a hit with consumers.

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CBS All Access is dead, long live Paramount+: “New” streaming service launches March 4

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Enlarge / Star Trek: Picard will be offered on the new/old streaming service.

It’s time for yet another streaming service—sort of. ViacomCBS has announced that Paramount+ will launch on March 4, but it’s more of an evolution than a wholly new service, as it replaces and expands upon the company’s previous service, CBS All Access.

The move to replace CBS All Access was announced several months ago. It’s in large part a result of the completion of the merger between CBS and Viacom, as CBS All Access launched before that merger, but the merger greatly increased the content library that could be put on a streaming service run by the company.

In addition to shows associated with the CBS TV network, Paramount+ will include content from properties Viacom brought to the mix, including MTV, BET, Comedy Central, VH1, and Nickelodeon, as well as theatrically released films from Paramount Pictures.

Beyond the myriad Star Trek shows that CBS All Access has already offered, planned original series for Paramount+ include a series based on The Godfather as well as a revival of VH1’s Behind the Music.

The sizzle trailer for Paramount+.

March 4 is the planned launch day in the US and Latin America, and a launch is planned in Nordic countries on March 25, as well as Australia around the middle of the year. Canada will also receive the service sometime this year, but a date has not been named—however, CBS All Access will be rebranded to Paramount+ right away in that country even before new content is introduced.

Before this point, CBS All Access was arguably best known for its various Star Trek programs; it included all the Star Trek TV series that aired on broadcast TV in the past, plus new Trek series like DiscoveryPicard, and Lower Decks. It did not, however, have the Star Trek movies at first, as those were owned by Paramount. The merger brought all Star Trek TV and movie content under one corporate roof.

CBS All Access also aired live TV, sports programming, and some additional shows like the critically acclaimed The Good Fight. Those will continue under Paramount+.

The past year and a half has seen numerous new streaming networks launch, including Peacock (NBC Universal), Disney+, and HBO Max, among others.

The onslaught has disappointed those who expected a service like Netflix or Hulu to offer virtually all content for a flat $10-per-month fee, but that was never going to be economically viable, especially as production costs for TV series have risen in recent years as viewers have responded to more lavishly produced shows—something the industry refers to as “prestige TV.”

The new normal for TV appears to be similar in some respects to cable, with each media company delivering a channel that primarily consists of the company’s own content, plus small amounts of licensed content.

Still, there are some significant differences in the new normal as compared to how TV used to work, even beyond the fact that the content is now delivered over the Internet. For example, the services aren’t bundled, so viewers can pick and choose which channels to pay for, and there are far fewer (and in some cases, no) commercials.

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CentOS is gone—but RHEL is now free for up to 16 production servers

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Enlarge / CentOS used to be the preferred way to get RHEL compatibility at no cost. CentOS is gone now—but Red Hat is extending no-cost options for RHEL further than ever before.

Last month, Red Hat caused a lot of consternation in the enthusiast and small business Linux world when it announced the discontinuation of CentOS Linux.

Long-standing tradition—and ambiguity in Red Hat’s posted terms—led users to believe that CentOS 8 would be available until 2029, just like the RHEL 8 it was based on. Red Hat’s early termination of CentOS 8 in 2021 cut eight of those 10 years away, leaving thousands of users stranded.

CentOS Stream

Red Hat’s December announcement of CentOS Stream—which it initially billed as a “replacement” for CentOS Linux—left many users confused about its role in the updated Red Hat ecosystem. This week, Red Hat clarifies the broad strokes as follows:

To summarize: we’re making CentOS Stream the collaboration hub for RHEL, with the landscape looking like this:

  • Fedora Linux is the place for major new operating system innovations, thoughts, and ideas—essentially, this is where the next major version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is
    born.
  • CentOS Stream is the continuously delivered platform that becomes the next minor version of RHEL.
  • RHEL is the intelligent operating system for production workloads, used in nearly every industry in the world, from cloud-scale deployments in mission-critical data centers and localized server rooms to public clouds and out to far-flung edges of enterprise networks.

Although CentOS Stream could be considered appropriate and perfectly adequate for enthusiasts and home-labbers, the lack of a long, well-defined life cycle made it inappropriate for most production use and, especially, production use by shops that chose a RHEL-compatible distribution in the first place.

New no-cost, low-cost, and simplified RHEL access

As of February 1, 2021, Red Hat will make RHEL available at no cost for small-production workloads—with “small” defined as 16 systems or fewer. This access to no-cost production RHEL is by way of the newly expanded Red Hat Developer Subscription program, and it comes with no strings—in Red Hat’s words, “this isn’t a sales program, and no sales representative will follow up.”

Red Hat is also expanding the availability of developer subscriptions to teams, as well as individual users. Moving forward, subscribing RHEL customers can add entire dev teams to the developer subscription program at no cost. This allows the entire team to use Red Hat Cloud Access for simplified deployment and maintenance of RHEL on well-known cloud providers, including AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

Considering the previous public outrage about CentOS 8’s early demise, we reached out to Red Hat for clarification regarding availability guarantees—specifically, whether any guarantee was given that the terms of the free small-production use will stay valid for the length of general support for the RHEL version they cover. After some deliberation, this was the official answer:

A Red Hat subscription gives you access to all available versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux except for those in extended support. This access ends when the subscription ends, as does access to all related documentation, support, services, patches, etc., so it’s important to think about the subscription separately from the platform.

The Red Hat Developer program isn’t a fly-by-night or quickly-produced program; it has existed since early 2015 with multi-system deployments supported from 2018. The big change today is that now a small number of production systems can now be included under the subscription for individuals, but the program itself is tried and true. We’ve never removed anything from the program, only added to it, highlighted by today’s announcement.

The Individual Developer subscription is currently set up as a one year subscription. Renewals will be a simple process as close to “clicking a button” as possible. We have no intent to end this program and we’ve set it up to be sustainable—we want to keep giving the users that want to use RHEL access to it. The primary reason we need a subscription term is because it is legally difficult to offer unlimited terms globally and as new laws come into effect, for example GDPR, we need to be able to update the terms and conditions. This is similar to how our customers buy Red Hat subscriptions for fixed terms, not in perpetuity.

Our intent is to keep small-production use cases as a key part of the Red Hat Developer program and the Individual Developer subscription to help bring enterprise-grade Linux to more users.

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