Monthly Archives February 2016

Microsoft acquires SwiftKey

SwiftKey-LogoTech giant Microsoft has officially confirmed its $250 million purchase of London-based SwiftKey, a company that creates predictive keyboards for mobile devices. In the last six months of 2015, Microsoft has made a series acquisitions, averaging at around $65 million. That makes SwiftKey one of the company’s largest recent purchases.

SwiftKey uses algorithms to accurately understand what users are typing. It is already used by more than 300 million Android and iOS devices, says Harry Shum, a Microsoft executive vice president of technology and research. This is just one of the reasons SwiftKey is a very valuable asset to Microsoft, in addition to bringing the company a new set of artificial intelligence tools.

Shum hinted in a blog post that SwiftKey is an important part of Microsoft’s move to innovate technology that better anticipates people’s needs. You might notice Microsoft’s efforts in this area with the recent release of Cortana and other artificial intelligence pursuits.

*Source: Seattle Times

Facebook Launches Reactions

Facebook Launches ReactionsFacebook users have historically been dissatisfied with the option to only “like” their friends’ statuses. The age-old battle over whether to add a “dislike” feature has caused concerns about cyber-bullying, and generally not gained much traction. However, a useful alternative is here. Now, alongside the “like” button, will be a “love,” “haha,” “Yay!,” “Wow,” “Sad” and “Angry” option, each possessing a emoticon representation.

Facebook began testing the alternative reactions in countries including Ireland, Japan, and Spain. It officially released them worldwide yesterday. In order to express your feeling about a person’s post, you need only hover your cursor over the traditional “like” button, where a ribbon of features will appear. This new option is called Reactions.

Product design director Julie Zhuo says Facebook chose this specific range of Reactions to give users “greater control over their expressivity.” It decided by going through people’s comments and collecting data on the most common phrases and stickers utilized. Now instead of having to choose from the plethora of emoticons and stickers, these six basic options will make communication a bit simpler.

*Source: CBC

2015 Was a Big Year for the Internet

earth2015 was a big year for the Internet. Reports show that the number of people online rose 6.7 percent, to 3.2 billion humans with Internet access. That is roughly 200 million in 2015 alone. While this number seems like a lot, 4.1 billion people or 57 percent of the world population is still not connected.

Companies like Facebook are pushing to increase connectivity worldwide. It has called governments, corporations and non-profits to action, encouraging them to increase connectivity in rural communities, developing nations and impoverished regions. However, the question remains of whether or not this goal is even possible to accomplish. Can we all be connected?

According to the same report, 1 billion people across the globe lack basic literacy skills and more than 66 percent of people living in countries without Internet connectivity have no grasp of what the Internet is or how it can change their lives.

Similarly, the Internet only covers about 55 languages with relevant content. That means, 55 languages have at least 100,000 Wikipedia articles. These apply to about 67 percent of the total population, who speak at least one as a first or second language. However, BBC said about 7,000 languages exist, and only 150 to 200 of them are used by over one million people. Knowing that, it seems hard to imagine that everyone would be able to use the Internet in their preferred tongue.

*Source: Information Week

ISPs Won’t Get Chance to Offer Discounted Wireless

Schooley Mitchell complaintsA recent Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) ruling likely means high cellphone bills are here to stay in Canada. Last week, the CRTC ruled against a coalition of small ISPs interested in offering steeply discounted wireless services.

The ISPs – known as the Canadian Network Operators Consortium – hoped to rent the networks of the big Canadian telcos, allowing them to offer alternative, inexpensive services. However, the CRTC says such a move wouldn’t be fair to the companies that have invested in their own networks, such as Bell, Rogers and Telus.

One thing is clear: it’s unlikely Canadians will benefit from a wave of new competition in the wireless industry anytime soon. According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch Report, Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the developed world, an average of $46 US per month. It’s not a coincidence Canadian carriers are also making some of the biggest profits in the world.

*Source: CBC

Google Computers Could Be Legal Drivers

Google driverless carSelf-driving cars took a big step forward this month, as the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it will update its rules classifying the computers as drivers. This process could take some time, but is looking positive for companies like Google that are investing in this technology.

“If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving,” wrote Paul A. Hemmersbaugh, chief counsel to the NHTSA, in a letter to Google.

The current federal rule states the driver of a motor vehicle must be seated immediately behind the steering control system and, obviously, only applies to humans. Now self-driving systems (SDSs) may be included in this definition, including vehicles that aren’t equipped with steering wheels or pedal brakes.

Google’s specific model is a “Level 4 – Full Self-Driving Automation.” It does not contain the typical steering and control features of vehicle, because Google was nervous about letting a human passenger override the decisions of the computer, which are in theory flawless.

The United States plans to spend $4 billion in the next decade on pilot projects for autonomous vehicles, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

*Source: Computerworld

LG’s New Phone Will Be ‘Always On’

LG always onSmartphone companies are always trying to add the most innovative feature to the newest model of their devices. LG is trying a new tactic with the release of its next Android product, the G5 phone. According to LG’s Facebook page, its new smartphone will be “always on.”

The screen on the G5 will be permanently switched on, which is the only definitive information given about the device so far. You might be wondering why a permanently “on” screen would actually be useful. Well, it would make it easier to check notifications or time without having to unlock your device or press any buttons. This seems small, but would be quite the time saver. However, it sounds like a major battery drainer. And it could be. LG has some more explaining to do on that front.

LG’s phones have had similar features in the past. Its older models, the G Flex 2 and the G4, have a feature called ‘Glance View,” which is activated by a gesture rather than buttons. LG’s biggest Android competitor, Samsung, is also on board. They recently trademarked the term “always on display” and is expected to incorporate it into some of its upcoming devices, possibly to Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

*Source: CNET

Twitter Creates Abuse Coalition

Twitter_logo_png-5Social media’s third biggest name is taking online safety very seriously. Twitter has recently formed the Trust & Safety Council, comprised of more than 40 groups including advocacy organizations, researchers and safety experts who will help shape the company’s products and policies in an attempt to prevent abuse and attract more users.

“With hundreds of millions of Tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking the truth,” said Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s head of global policy outreach, in the announcement blog post.

Twitter has a history of caring about user safety and preventing abuse. In 2014 it introduced a new series of tools making it easier to block abusive accounts. In December, Twitter updated its privacy policy, adding more regulations to what constitutes as “hateful conduct.”

CEO Jack Dorset tweeted on Tuesday that “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power and empowering dialogue.”

Groups participating in the Trust & Safety Council include Anti-Bullying Pro, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Family Online Safety Institute, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

*Source: USA Today

Hackers Attempt to Rip-Off Hospital

rip-offWho says fax is a thing of the past? It’s what staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center is using to communicate after hackers took control of its computer systems over a week ago.

The cyber crooks have demanded $3.6 million in Bitcoin to restore the hospital’s access to its email system and confidential patient records. Both the LA Police Department and FBI have stepped in to help, but until the perpetrators can be found, the hospital is unable to access or share diagnostic test results or patient history. Everything is now being charted on paper and the majority of patients have been shipped off to other hospitals.

“Alan Stefanek, the CEO and president of Hollywood Presbyterian, told NBC reporters that the cyberattack on his hospital was ‘random’ and not malicious,” states an article published by The Atlantic. “If that’s the case, then it’s possible someone at the facility clicked on an infected link in an email or a pop-up ad and introduced a virus onto the hospital network.”

This situation just reinforces the need to be vigilant and ensure staff is properly trained when it comes to malware and phishing schemes. If a hospital of this size is vulnerable, it’s easy to see how just about any business could fall victim.

Instagram Introduces Account Switching

Instagram_Icon_LargeYou might have an Instagram account for work and a personal one for your friends and family. Who knows, you might even have an Instagram account for your cat. Well Instagram is now saying you can have up to five accounts at once and switch between them as you please.

After enough pleading by dedicated users, Instagram is rolling out the ability to switch accounts for iOS and Android users. After beta testing for both operating systems, the feature is now officially available. You can save up to five accounts on your profile at once and switch between the easily with a tap on your smartphone. Instagram will always display the profile picture of the account you’re using, so there will be little confusion over which account is active at what time. Push notifications will work the same way, with the photo indicating which account has a like, follow, or comment.

Account switching is available as a part of Instagram version 7.15, so if you are interested in this feature make sure you check the App Store or Google Play to get the update.

*Source: PC Mag

New App Notarizes Documents Online

notarizeThe State of Virginia passed a law in 2012 allowing for documents to be notarized in the state via live video. Now, in 2016, an app called Notarize has finally been released for that very purpose. And it’s available on iTunes.

It can be time consuming and expensive to see a notary public every time you need a contract signed, a power of attorney designated, or many other reasons notarization might be required. Although this common practice might not be the exciting service that draws you to an app, it’s perfect for a modern day makeover. In the United States alone, approximately one billion documents are notarized each year.

“We are bringing this business into the 21st century and solving a real need,” Pat Kinsel, CEO of the Notarize start-up, was quoted as saying.

In order to use the app, customers must first scan their government issued photo ID, which is then authenticated. Next, the user is connected with a notary public officer via live video chat. The officer signs and stamps the document for a fee of $25. The service is available through the public app 24/7.