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Apple makes a rare apology, Nintendo tries to reinvent its invention – TechCrunch

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Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about Google’s Android naming switch-up.


The big story

Like clockwork, sources have been revealing to publications that Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Facebook M aren’t just digital assistants, they are portals into the AI workflows of Silicon Valley. Oh, and “AI workflows” means lots of contractors putting in quite a bit of manual work to understand what we want when we ask them questions.

This week, Apple announced that it’s completely changing how it handles reviewing audio from user Siri requests to ensure that users know exactly what they’re getting into privacy-wise.

The big change is that third-party contractors won’t have access to any of the clips for a process called “grading” and there is an explicit opt-in process for users. The company also gave a pretty explicit apology, which is pretty rare for an entity that seems to think its MacBook keyboards are still completely fine.

This whole situation is important for a couple reasons. One, Apple really sets the tone for consumer privacy among the tech giants so making notable changes here is positive and might push others to make similar updates. Two, Apple has the worst consumer-facing digital assistant. Like, Siri is just unquestionably worse than Alexa and Google Assistant so they arguably have the most to lose here and this is a decision that means less data for the company to hone its tech on.

Together, all of these gaffes really weren’t egregious, they were dealing with data that wasn’t nominally connected to users, but audio files should definitely be treated with a little more respect than anonymous crash reports. The journalism from publications like The Guardian pushing on “common” industry practices seemed to surface some positive change here.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Nintendo Switch Lite

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Nintendo’s portable gets more portable
    The Nintendo Switch has been a huge success for the company, but in a new hardware update, the giant is doubling down on portability and simplicity in what might be a bid to capture some of the market it’s left behind from the DS line. Read more about it here.
  • Former Google engineer gets indicted
    Autonomous tech guru Anthony Levandowski who was as the center of the contentious Waymo-Uber lawsuit is back in the spotlight after he was handed a federal indictment with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets. Read more here.
  • Apple’s next hardware event is on its way
    The company just sent out invites to reporters for its iPhone event this month. Read more here.
  • Jack gets hacked
    Twitter like to dream about its impact and influence in ways that feel less realistic to the average user scrolling through spam and insults, but CEO Jack Dorsey got a taste of the seedy underbelly of the site when his Twitter account was hacked Friday and bomb threats and racial slurs were sent out. Read more here.

youtube

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. YouTube’s conspiracy theory devolution:
    [YouTube to reduce conspiracy theory recommendations]
  2. Facebook brings in some long overdue political advertising oversight:
    [Facebook will require political advertisers provide further credentials or have their ads paused]
An Amazon logo seen outside a building in Toronto

Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. We published a roadmap for entrepreneurs looking to leverage Amazon and other ad platforms to create a direct-to-consumer startup.

“…This article focuses on customer acquisition, particularly Amazon and online advertising, for the direct-to-consumer (D2C) CPG venture. Selling on Amazon, specifically third-party (3P), has become an increasingly important component of the D2C playbook. About 46% of product searches start on Amazon, which makes it a compelling source of sales even for early-stage ventures….” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published some analysis on the latest VMware deal and also looked at how startups should integrate customer success solutions early-on.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.



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Ring Car Cam leaks: This could be Amazon’s Alexa dash-cam

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Details and what appears to be an image of Ring’s upcoming Car Cam have leaked, with the connected dash cam expected to add security both when the vehicle is parked and while it’s on the move. The newest addition to Ring’s line-up was actually announced in September 2020 as part of Amazon’s big device launch, though at the time no pictures of the Car Cam hardware itself were shared.

Still, Ring’s description painted a fairly comprehensive picture of what it was intended to do. As well as tracking bumps and attempted break-ins, and notifying owners via the Ring smartphone app, it can also be used to record journeys and summon emergency services in the case of an accident being detected.

If you’re being pulled over by the police, meanwhile, saying “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” will automatically begin video and audio recording. At the same time as that’s being uploaded to the cloud, the system will send a notification to pre-selected family members to let them know the stop has taken place. Ring said there would be a physical privacy shutter, too, and a choice of WiFi or LTE connectivity. The whole thing would be $199.99, though cellular plans would be on top of that.

Since then, we’ve not heard anything more about the new dash camera. A leak on The Tape Drive, though, has revealed what it could look like, and it’s certainly an unusual design.

The camera assembly looks to be mounted on some sort of bracket, either to be positioned above the dashboard or potentially hung from above the rearview mirror. There’s presumably a fish-eye camera on both sides – only visible from one side in the render – to capture footage both inside and outside of the car.

As for functionality, ZatzNotFunny spotted a seemingly prematurely-published Ring Car Cam information document on the company’s support site. It reconfirms some of the details which Ring told us late last year, but also adds a few extra tidbits.

For example, the camera will connect via the vehicle’s data port, not just hook up to a USB or 12V outlet for power. “Ring Car Cam easily installs directly to the OBD-II port in your vehicle, located behind your steering wheel in most cars,” Ring explains. “It securely attaches to the windshield and dashboard of the car, and the cable can be neatly tucked away and out of sight.”

It’s unclear what extra data Ring might be gathering by using that approach. The OBD-II port typically grants access to various driving metrics, and though originally intended as a way for vehicle technicians to diagnose faults and issues in increasingly computerized models, has also gained traction as a way for third-party devices to tap that same stream of information. Amazon had also announced Ring Car Alarm, a cellularly-connected dongle that plugs into the ODB-II port.

The Ring Car Cam itself won’t require a subscription, though you won’t get all of the features in that case. “You can access video stored locally on the device via the Ring app when the car is within range of wifi,” the company explains. “With an optional Ring connectivity plan, you can access video from anywhere via LTE as well as advanced features like Emergency Crash Assist.”

The connectivity plan for Ring Car Cam will also unlock features like real-time tracking, to help locate a stolen vehicle.

What remains to be seen is how Ring Car Cam will fit into Ring’s existing sharing policies with police departments. The Amazon-owned company has found itself mired in controversy in recent years, after inking deals with law enforcement that saw many requests for footage from connected security cameras and video doorbells. Ring had been accused of fueling privacy infringement and supporting racial profiling.

Earlier this month, the company announced a new policy around sharing with public safety and law enforcement agencies. Moving forward, such agencies will ahem to request information or video from communities through a publicly-viewable category on Ring’s Neighbors app. This new section, “Request for Assistance,” will allow communities to see just what sort of data is being shared, Ring says.

“All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile,” Ring explains. “This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

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YouTube on iOS PiP makes it much easier to watch videos while multitasking

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YouTube is now rolling out the ability for all users to watch videos with picture-in-picture mode, which reduces the video players to a small floating screen on one’s phone or tablet. This feature won’t be limited to only premium customers as some had previously speculated, though those premium customers will get access to the PiP support first.

Android users have had access to YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode for a while; it has become increasingly useful as devices get larger, higher-resolution displays, leaving ample room for using more than one app at a time. With PiP, someone can watch a video in a small corner of their device’s display while doing something else, such as browsing social media, messaging, or playing games.

There have been concerns over recent months that YouTube wouldn’t only make its picture-in-picture mode available to paying Premium subscribers on iOS, but that’s not the case, according to confirmation given to MacRumors.

The feature is now rolling out to all iOS users in the United States, with Premium customers getting it first followed by free users ‘soon.’ Some iOS users have already had access to the YouTube picture-in-picture feature, though its availability has been touch and go with it working only sometimes.

The official support will eliminate the need to deal with difficult workarounds and buggy Safari streaming, though you may need to remain patient if you’re not a Premium user. The feature will be most useful on larger iPhone models where there’s enough screen space to watch a video in the mini player and engage in a second activity.

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Researchers say they’ve found the ideal strategy to pay off student loans

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When many people near college graduation, they begin to contemplate how they’ll deal with the student loans they’ve racked up over the past few years. The burden — which grows more substantial with every generation — can result in stress and, if not managed properly, may throw one’s life plans off track for several years. Mathematicians with the University of Colorado at Boulder may have a solution, explaining that they developed a mathematical model to explore the ideal repayment strategy.

Generally speaking, college graduates get a brief grace period after graduation during which time they aren’t required to make payments on their loans. Two different options are available once payments start: an income-based repayment strategy that involves paying a certain amount monthly based on one’s salary or simply throwing as much money at the loan as possible to pay it off in a shorter period of time.

In many cases, graduates are often advised to pay the loans off as quickly as possible if the funding amount is on the smaller side. On the flip side, graduates are typically told to take the income-based repayment option if they’ve taken out a substantial amount of funds in the form of student loans. The new study suggests a hybrid approach may be more ideal.

The mathematical model takes into account things like compounding interest rates, the income tax that may need to be paid, and more. The findings indicate that some graduates may benefit from a hybrid-style repayment approach that involves paying off as much as possible for the first several years, then switching over to an income-based repayment plan for the remainder of the balance.

The team of researchers hasn’t made their work available as a calculator for the public, but they do plan to improve it and potentially make it available to existing repayment calculators that may integrate the model. The ideal repayment method will ultimately depend on personal factors that must be accounted for, including things like anticipated salary and more.

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