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Facebook plans June 18th cryptocurrency debut. Here’s what we know – TechCrunch

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Facebook is finally ready to reveal details about its cryptocurrency codenamed Libra. It’s currently scheduled for a June 18th release of a white paper explaining its cryptocurrency’s basics, according to a source who says multiple investors briefed on the project by Facebook were told that date.

Meanwhile, the company’s Head of Financial Services & Payment Partnerships for Northern Europe Laura McCracken told German magazine WirtschaftsWoche‘s Sebastian Kirsch that the white paper would debut June 18th, and that the cryptocurrency would indeed be pegged to a basket of currencies rather than a single one like the US dollar to prevent price fluctuations. Kirsch tells me “I met Laura at Money2020 Europe in Amsterdam on Tuesday” after she watched fellow Facebook payments exec Paulette Rowe’s talk. “She told me that she wasn’t involved in what David Marcus’ [Facebook Blockchain] team was doing. But that I’d have to wait until June 18th when a whitepaper was supposed to be published to get more details.” She told him she thought the date was already a publicly known fact, which it wasn’t.

Then, yesterday TechCrunch received a request for a June 18th news embargo from one of the communications managers for Facebook’s blockchain team. The Information’s Alex Heath and Jon Victor also reported yesterday that Facebook’s cryptocurrency project would launch later this month.

Facebook declined to comment on any news regarding its cryptocurrency project. There is always a chance that the announcement date could fluctuate if snafus with partners or governments arise. One source says Facebook is targeting a 2020 formal launch of the cryptocurrency

The debut of Libra or whatever Facebook decides to call it could unlock a new era of commerce and payments for the social network. It could be used to offer low or no-fee payments between friends or remittance of earnings to familys from migrant workers abroad who are often gouged by money transfer services.

Sidestepping credit card transaction fees could also allow Facebook’s cryptocurrency to offer a cheaper way to pay merchants for traditional ecommerce, or facilitate microtransactions for a la carte news articles or tipping of content creators. And a better understanding of who buys what or which brands or popular could aid Facebook in ad measurement, ranking, and targeting to amplify its core business.

How Facebook’s cryptocurrency works

Here’s what we know about Facebook’s blockchain project:

Name: Facebook will likely use the Libra codename as the public facing name for its cryptocurrency, which The Information reports won’t be called GlobalCoin as the BBC had claimed. Facebook has registed a company called Libra Networks in Switzerland for financial services, Reuters reported. Libra could be a play on the word LIBOR, an abbreviation for the London Inter-bank Offered Rate that’s used as a benchmark interest rate for borrowing between banks. LIBOR is for banks, while Libra is meant to be for the people.

Token: The cryptocurrency will be a stablecoin — a token designed to have a stable price to prevent discrepancies and complications due to price fluctuations during a payment or negotiation process. Facebook has spoken with financial institutions regarding contributing capital to form a $1 billion basket of multiple international fiat currencies and low-risk securities that will serve as collateral to stabilize the price of the coin, The Information reports. Facebook is working with various countries to pre-approve the rollout of the stablecoin.

The head of Facebook’s Blockchain team David Marcus (left) speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt 2016

Usage: Facebook’s cryptocurrency will be transferrable with zero fees via Facebook products including Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook is working with merchants to accept the token as payment, and may offer sign-up bonuses. The Information also reports Facebook also wants to roll out physical devices for ATMs so users can exchange traditional assets for the cryptocurrency.

Team: Facebook’s blockchain project is overseen by former PayPal President and VP of Facebook Messenger David Marcus. His team includes former Instagram VP of product Kevin Weil, Facebook’s former corporate head of treasury operations Sunita Parasuraman who The Information reports will oversee the token’s treasury, and many elite engineers cherrypicked from Facebook’s ranks. They’ve been working in a dedicated part of Facebook’s headquarters off-limits to other employees to boost secrecy, though the nature of the partnerships needed for launch have led to many leaks.

Governance: Facebook is in talks to create an independent foundation to oversee its cryptocurrency, The Information reports. It’s asking companies to pay $10 million to operate a node that can validate transactions made with its cryptocurrency in exchange for a say in governance of the token. It’s possible that node operators could benefit financially too. By introducing a level of decentralization to the governance of the project, Facebook may be able to avoid regulation related to it holding too much power over a global currency.

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Google introduces Pixel Pass, an all-in-one subscription combining phones and premium services – TechCrunch

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Alongside the launch of the new Google Pixel 6 smartphones, the company also introduced a new way to purchase them: Pixel Pass. This all-in-one subscription service allows consumers to purchase a Pixel phone for a low monthly price, rather than paying for it all upfront. The service is available at $45 per month for the Pixel 6 and $55 per month for the Pixel 6 Pro — but it doesn’t just provide access to the phones themselves. Also included with the subscription are Google’s services, like storage, music, YouTube Premium and free apps and games.

Specifically, subscribers will have access to ad-free YouTube, aka YouTube Premium, typically $11.99 per month. This includes YouTube Music Premium, the company’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music, and its replacement for Google Play Music, which was wound down.

Pixel Pass subscribers will also get 200 GB of cloud storage with Google One, Google Store discounts and Google Play Pass — the otherwise $4.99 USD per month or $29.99 per year subscription, which offers a free selection of apps and games without in-app purchase or ads, similar to Apple Arcade.

The subscription additionally includes insurance, with Preferred Care coverage for hassle-free repairs and “life’s little accidents,” says Google. This is Google’s version of something like AppleCare for Apple devices.

The Pixel devices that ship with Pixel Pass are unlocked so they work with all major carriers.

Consumers can buy the service through the Google Store or with a phone plan on Google Fi, the company’s own cell service, Google says.

By paying for Pixel Pass as a subscription, device owners would save up to $294 over the course of two years, Google notes. But if they purchase through Google Fi, you’ll also save an additional $4 off your monthly Fi plan, equaling $414 in savings over the two years.

The subscription is designed for regular updaters who like to always carry the latest devices, but also want access to premium services. It’s clearly aimed to be the Google alternative to Apple’s own iPhone subscription plan, via the iPhone Upgrade Program. But while Apple offers its own set of subscription services separately through its newer Apple One subscription plans, the Pixel Pass bundles them in.

The new Pixel Pass with Pixel 6 is available for preorder today in the U.S. starting at $45 per month on the Google Store or via Google Fi.

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Google’s brand new Android 12 operating system launches today – TechCrunch

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With Android 12, the world’s most-used mobile operating system continues its steady march of carving out its unique selling points and finding differentiators from Apple’s iOS. Available for Pixel 3 and beyond, the new OS beefs up some of the strengths in the operating system, while adding some new features along the way.

When everyone has a phone that looks essentially like every other smartphone ever made, personalization becomes more important. That’s why Google brings the Material You feature to the OS – when you change your wallpaper, the entire Android 12 experience changes to match its colors. The OS includes color extraction algorithms which helps everything looks integrated and slick. Everything is personalizable, including the lockscreen, notifications, settings, widgets and even apps. Material You comes to Pixel first, and will be rolled out to devices from other device makers further down the line.

Fully customizable OS makes your phone look more… you.

Security and privacy are other themes across the OS. For example, Android 12 enables you to keep your precise location private from apps that, strictly, only need an approximate location to work their magic. You can also see when an app is using your mic or camera, with a new status-bar indicator. And if you want to turn off your camera and mic across the entire OS, you can turn them off in the Quick Settings with a pair of new toggles. The OS also adds additional features to lock down apps you’ve forgotten about, by automatically revoking permissions from apps after several months of lack of use.

The OS also finally divorces the connection between location and Bluetooth. As Google puts it: “While your wireless headphones need to connect to your phone, they probably don’t need to know where you are.” Android 12 makes that possible at long last.

Google introduced a ton of new Android features for Google Lens in previous releases of the OS – you can do optical character recognition on any screen shot, for example. Android 12 adds additional extensions to that functionality, such as ‘scrolling screen shots.” Just because you reach the end of your screen doesn’t mean you need to reach the end of your screenshot. New scrolling screenshots will allow you to capture all the content on the page in one image. Clever!

The new features extend beyond functionality; Android 12 also brings power-saving and better accessibility features. The company is also rolling out hot-updates, so you can keep using an app even while an update for the very same app is downloading and installing in the background. God forbid you’d have to put down Pokemon Go for a couple of minutes.

Google’s Android 12 operating system is rolling out to supported phones starting today.

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Google’s Pixel 6 camera smartens up snapshots with AI tools – TechCrunch

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Google’s latest flagship phones have an impressive set of automated, AI-powered tools to help make your photos look better, with smart blurs, object removal, and skin tone exposure. While we’ll have to test them out to see if they work as advertised, they could be useful for everyone from pixel peepers to casual snapshot takers.

The new cameras themselves are pretty impressive to start with. The main rear camera, shared by the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, is a 50-megapixel beast with decent-sized pixel wells and an F/1.85 equivalent aperture (no, it doesn’t capture as much light as an F/1.8 on a DSLR, but it’s still good). The ultrawide one, also shared, is 12 megapixels and f/2.2 on a smaller sensor, so don’t expect mind-blowing image quality. The 6 Pro gets a 48-megapixel telephoto with less low light capability but a 4x equivalent zoom. They’re all stabilized and have laser-assisted autofocus.

Basically if you want the best quality in any situation, stick to the main camera, but if you’re sure about your light go ahead and fire up the wide or zoom. It sounds like all the new camera features work on all the cameras, but generally speaking the better the shot to start with, the better the final result.

The simplest tool to use is probably “face deblur.” How many times have you gotten the perfect shot but it’s not quite sharp? The Pixel Camera will automatically always capture multiple exposures (it’s part of the ordinary process of taking a picture now), and combines the main shot from one camera with a clear shot of the face captured with another. To do it, you just tap on a shot in your gallery that isn’t quite sharp and if there’s a “face deblur” option: boom.

Image Credits: Google

OK, it’s definitely kind of weird to have only the face sharp in a blurry photo, as you can see in the sample, but look: do you want the picture or not? Thought so.

Also in the blur department are two new “motion modes.” One is an “action pan” that assists in capturing a moving subject like a passing car clearly, while blurring the background “creatively.” That means it applies a directed zoom blur instead of the handheld blur it would normally have, so it looks a little ‘shoppy, if you will, but it’s a fun option. The other one is a long exposure helper that adds blur to moving subjects while keeping the background clear. Helpful for doing something like headlight streaks without a tripod. These will be found in their own motion mode area in the camera app.

An image on the beach before using 'magic eraser' and after, with background people removed.

Image Credits: Google

“Magic Eraser” is the most obviously “AI” thing here. If you take a picture and it’s great except someone just walked into the background or there’s a car parked in the scenic vista, it’ll help you zap those pesky real-world objects so you can forget they ever existed. Tap the tool and it’ll automatically highlight things you might want to remove, like distant people, cars, and according to the example they provided, even unsightly logs and other random features. Driftwood, though, on the beach…really? Fortunately you can pick which to throw in the memory hole, no pressure, or circle unrecognized objects and it will do its best to dispose of them.

“Speech Enhancement” isn’t for images, obviously, but when you’re in front camera mode you can opt to have the device tone down the ambient noise and focus on your voice. Basically Krisp by Google. If it works anywhere near as well you will probably want to use it all the time.

“Real Tone” is an interesting but potentially fraught feature that we’ll be looking into in more detail soon. Here’s how Google describes it: “We worked with a diverse set of expert image makers and photographers to tune our AWB [auto white balance], AE [auto exposure], and stray light algorithms to ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for everyone, of every skin tone.”

Photo of a family with dark skin sitting on the beach.

They look great, sure… but they’re models.

Basically they wanted to make sure that their “smart” camera’s core features don’t work better or look better on certain skin tones than others. This has happened many, many times before and it’s an insult and embarrassment when billion-dollar companies blow it over and over. Hopefully Real Tone works, but even if it does there is the fundamental question of whether it amounts to lightening or darkening someone’s skin in the photo — a sensitive matter for many people. “This feature cannot be turned off nor disabled,” Google says, so they must be confident. We’ll be testing this and talking with developers and photographers about the feature, so look for a deeper dive into this interesting but complex corner of the field.

It’s not entirely clear how many of these features will be available beyond the Pixel line of phones or when, but we’ll let you know what we find out.

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