Apple says Siri will no longer retain audio by default, one-upping Amazon and Google on privacy

Apple says Siri will no longer retain audio by default, one-upping Amazon and Google on privacy

5:08am, 3rd September, 2019
Photo by from Siri won’t be so sneaky about snooping anymore. That’s the gist of from Apple this morning. It’s a move that could pressure its fellow tech giants Amazon and Google to follow suit. Apple says it will no longer retain audio recordings of users interacting with its Siri voice assistant unless they opt in. And when they do, only Apple’s own employees, not contractors, will review the audio samples as part of the company’s efforts to monitor and improve the quality of Siri’s responses. The announcement follows assigning teams of people, in some cases contractors and not direct employees, to review audio clips of their users interacting with their voice assistants, unbeknownst to those users. The resulting outcry over the privacy invasions led each company to reconsider their policies. Both Apple and Google have put their practices of human review on hold pending reviews. by giving users the ability to opt out of voice recording and “manual review” of their interactions with its Alexa voice assistant, while still subtly discouraging users from taking that step by warning them that “voice recognition and new features may not work well” for them if they take that step. Apple, with this morning’s announcement, goes further by saying it will no longer retain audio recordings by default, instead requiring users to opt in if they want to participate. Here is Apple’s summary of the changes it’s planning to make. As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize. As we previously announced, we halted the Siri grading program. We plan to resume later this fall when software updates are released to our users — but only after making the following changes: First, by default, we will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve. Second, users will be able to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests. We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place. Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time. Third, when customers opt in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions. Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri. Apple is committed to putting the customer at the center of everything we do, which includes protecting their privacy. We created Siri to help them get things done, faster and easier, without compromising their right to privacy. We are grateful to our users for their passion for Siri, and for pushing us to constantly improve. Apple suspended the program after that contractors reviewing Siri recordings for quality control regularly heard “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”
Waiting for Elizabeth Warren: Why breaking up big tech hasn’t become a big campaign issue

Waiting for Elizabeth Warren: Why breaking up big tech hasn’t become a big campaign issue

5:08am, 3rd September, 2019
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren appeared in Seattle on Sunday, a few blocks from Amazon’s headquarters, and given the Democratic presidential candidate’s call to break up the online retail giant as part of a larger crackdown on big tech companies, we were anticipating fireworks. It didn’t happen. In fact, , Warren didn’t specifically mention Amazon in her public remarks when commenting on the need for stronger antitrust enforcement. On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we tell the behind-the-scenes story of , outlasting the four-hour line of people who waited to take selfies with the candidate after her appearance. When we finally did speak with her, Warren pulled no punches in discussing Amazon. “I think it’s time to break ’em up — enforce the antitrust laws, and we’ve got to look at the antitrust laws in terms of the world we have today,” Warren said. She added, “This online platform really creates an opportunity that Amazon has taken advantage of and it’s hurt a lot of little tiny businesses and startup businesses and small businesses and medium size businesses that can’t compete with a giant like Amazon that is sucking information out of every transaction. Information is today’s comparative advantage and Amazon shouldn’t be able to suck it all up and then dominate every single marketplace in America.” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) So why didn’t she take on Amazon directly in Amazon’s backyard? “I was here to talk about why I’m running for president. … I at least had the passing reference to the fact that we’ve got to break up the big companies. We’ve got to enforce our antitrust laws.” However, she added, there’s “a lot of stuff we’ve gotta do.” And that last comment explains a lot. found that a majority of Americans aren’t interested in tougher regulations for big tech companies. Although Amazon and big tech companies , there are a lot of topics on the minds of voters and candidates, as well-known open-source technology leader Miguel de Icaza pointed out in his reaction to our coverage of Warren’s appearance. Yes, just not the top issue. I wasn’t there but wouldn’t be surprised that she didn’t even hit half this (already outdated) list of top proposals. — Miguel de Icaza (@migueldeicaza) In the end, my only regret was that I didn’t think to take a selfie with Warren myself. Also on this episode, GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser and Taylor Soper join me to discuss the new , what ; and, of course, the latest on .
Dark Mode coming to Microsoft Outlook on Android and iOS as part of broader rollout of popular feature

Dark Mode coming to Microsoft Outlook on Android and iOS as part of broader rollout of popular feature

5:08am, 3rd September, 2019
Dark Mode on iOS. (Microsoft Photo) Microsoft is doubling down on Dark Mode, bringing the popular option to switch from a white background to a black or grey one to more of its core services. The company says it plans to bring Dark Mode to its entire Microsoft 365 product suite — a combination of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security. The push begins with an initial rollout today of Dark Mode on Outlook for iOS and Android, as well as Office.com. When the latest update of iOS launches, Microsoft will roll out Dark Mode for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneDrive, Planner, and To-Do on mobile. The addition of Dark Mode across more of the company’s products is all about choice, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Research & Design Jon Friedman wrote in a blog post. “It’s an apt metaphor for why we love Dark Mode: human needs unfold across an equally broad spectrum,” Friedman wrote. “Whether you want to reduce eye strain, improve battery life, or it just has aesthetic appeal, Dark Mode exemplifies our ability to craft simple and powerful Microsoft 365 experiences that give you choice and flexibility.” Welcome to the dark side. in is here. Learn more: — Microsoft 365 (@Microsoft365) Microsoft says it first introduced darker backgrounds back in 2010. It has steadily added Dark Mode to more programs, including major services such as Windows 10, Edge and Office. Jon Friendman. (Microsoft Photo) Dark backgrounds have become popular in recent years, with tech giants promoting the mode as an of new releases. The black backgrounds often look sleeker, and experts have touted health benefits of the setting as well. It’s become common knowledge that . For people who put in late hours, using a dark background instead of a light one reduces the amount of blue light they’re exposed to, leading to a better sleep after work is done, , a partially-sighted computer scientist at Cambridge University in the U.K. There are disadvantages too. It can be tough to see the backgrounds in well-lit rooms or when light reflects off the screen. In the blog post, Microsoft’s Friedman pointed to the 24/7 nature of work and the spread of productivity tools to everyday life as reasons dark backgrounds have become popular. People aren’t just using Microsoft products on their desktop from 9 to 5 anymore. “Our tools are used to keep up to speed on everything from work communication, to personal events that include friends and family, to changes in shared documents,” Friedman wrote. “This often means viewing email, calendars, or files in places where the default white mode may be less suitable, like darkened airplanes, movie theaters, or in bed at night.”
Earmuffs, Alexa! Amazon to let users opt out of human review of voice recordings, amid scrutiny

Earmuffs, Alexa! Amazon to let users opt out of human review of voice recordings, amid scrutiny

10:44pm, 2nd August, 2019
(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Amazon became the latest tech giant to let users of its voice assistant opt out of human review of their voice recordings, after similar announcements from Apple and Google. The move Friday afternoon about an Amazon team consisting of thousands of people who listen to Alexa voice recordings as part of a program designed to improve the company’s voice assistant. It’s the latest sign of growing public awareness of the listening and recording capabilities of Amazon Echo speakers and smart home devices from other tech companies. Amazon rolled out the change Friday in the settings of the Alexa app. Previously, users were able to change a privacy setting to prevent the company from using voice recordings to help develop new Alexa features. Now, that same opt-out also lets users prevent humans from listening to the recordings to improve existing Alexa features. Here’s the company’s statement on the issue. “We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures. For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt-out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features. The voice recordings from customers who use this opt-out are also excluded from our supervised learning workflows that involve manual review of an extremely small sample of Alexa requests. We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.” The opt-out is accessible by going to the privacy settings under the menu in the Alexa app, then selecting “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.” Here’s what the setting looks like, including the new language about opting out of “manual review,” aka people listening to what you say. Amazon didn’t address a question about whether it has been contacted by regulators regarding human review of voice recordings. The changes come amid heightened government scrutiny of tech giants, by the U.S. Justice Department and others, over issues including privacy and competition. Apple after the Guardian reported that contractors reviewing Siri recordings for quality control “regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.” Apple says it’s working on a feature to let Siri users opt out of the human review, and says it has . Along the same lines, Google said it “paused” human review of Google Assistant recordings after
Earmuffs, Alexa! Amazon to let users opt out of human review of voice recordings, amid scrutiny

Earmuffs, Alexa! Amazon to let users opt out of human review of voice recordings, amid scrutiny

10:44pm, 2nd August, 2019
(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Amazon became the latest tech giant to let users of its voice assistant opt out of human review of their voice recordings, after similar announcements from Apple and Google. The move Friday afternoon about an Amazon team consisting of thousands of people who listen to Alexa voice recordings as part of a program designed to improve the company’s voice assistant. It’s the latest sign of growing public awareness of the listening and recording capabilities of Amazon Echo speakers and smart home devices from other tech companies. Amazon rolled out the change Friday in the settings of the Alexa app. Previously, users were able to change a privacy setting to prevent the company from using voice recordings to help develop new Alexa features. Now, that same opt-out also lets users prevent humans from listening to the recordings to improve existing Alexa features. Here’s the company’s statement on the issue. “We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures. For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt-out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features. The voice recordings from customers who use this opt-out are also excluded from our supervised learning workflows that involve manual review of an extremely small sample of Alexa requests. We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.” The opt-out is accessible by going to the privacy settings under the menu in the Alexa app, then selecting “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.” Here’s what the setting looks like, including the new language about opting out of “manual review,” aka people listening to what you say. Amazon didn’t address a question about whether it has been contacted by regulators regarding human review of voice recordings. The changes come amid heightened government scrutiny of tech giants, by the U.S. Justice Department and others, over issues including privacy and competition. Apple after the Guardian reported that contractors reviewing Siri recordings for quality control “regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.” Apple says it’s working on a feature to let Siri users opt out of the human review, and says it has . Along the same lines, Google said it “paused” human review of Google Assistant recordings after
Windows no longer a ‘cornerstone’ for Microsoft, as company changes how it describes its business

Windows no longer a ‘cornerstone’ for Microsoft, as company changes how it describes its business

11:53am, 2nd August, 2019
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks about Windows 10 in Redmond. (GeekWire File Photo) Microsoft marked a major shift in its business with a subtle but significant change in the way it describes one of its most important goals. The company’s 2019 Form 10-K report, made public Thursday in , removes a longstanding reference that described Windows 10 as “the cornerstone” of its ambition to make computing more personal. It’s the latest signal that Microsoft has evolved beyond the flagship operating system that transformed the company into a tech juggernaut and fueled the rise of the personal computer industry. Windows remains one of Microsoft’s biggest products, used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, but more than five years into Satya Nadella’s tenure as CEO, it’s no longer the company’s primary growth engine. Numbers reported elsewhere in the annual filing make this point clear. The filing includes a breakdown of Microsoft revenue by major product lines, which is different from the broader divisional results in the company’s quarterly earnings results. This alternative view of the numbers shows that Windows is growing at a slower pace than any of the company’s other big businesses. Windows posted revenue gain of 4 percent in 2019, to $20.4 billion for the year. That compares to double-digit percentage growth in many past years. By comparison, the company’s booming server and cloud services business grew by 24 percent to $32 billion, surpassing Office to become Microsoft’s largest product line by revenue for the first time. This confirms a milestone that was also reflected . This ability to find a new source of growth is one of the main reasons Microsoft has climbed back to the top as the most valuable company in the world. Appropriately enough, GeekWire identified the change in the boilerplate 10-K language using the “Compare Docs” feature in Microsoft Office, automatically highlighting language that has changed between different versions of documents. (This is also how we discovered last year that .) This is the key sentence that was included in the 10-K for the past several years in some form: “Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition, providing a foundation for the secure, modern workplace, and designed to foster innovation through rich and consistent experiences across the range of existing devices and entirely new device categories.” That strong endorsement of the operating system was replaced with language that puts Windows in the context of a larger strategy. Here’s the section as it reads now. We strive to make computing more personal by putting users at the core of the experience, enabling them to interact with technology in more intuitive, engaging, and dynamic ways. In support of this, we are bringing Office, Windows, and devices together for an enhanced and more cohesive customer experience. Windows 10 continues to gain traction in the enterprise as the most secure and productive operating system. It empowers people with AI-first interfaces ranging from voice-activated commands through Cortana, inking, immersive 3D content storytelling, and mixed reality experiences. Windows also plays a critical role in fueling our cloud business and Microsoft 365 strategy, and it powers the growing range of devices on the “intelligent edge.” Our ambition for Windows 10 monetization opportunities includes gaming, services, subscriptions, and search advertising. Microsoft didn’t provide a comment in response to a GeekWire inquiry. Last year, Microsoft embarked on a of its engineering teams that put Windows on the back burner somewhat by splitting it among two major groups, putting a greater emphasis on cloud computing. The move also coincided with the Microsoft had huge hopes for Windows 10, predicting in 2015 that the operating system would be on within a couple years. That didn’t end up happening, and Microsoft revised its goals downward. However, to keep things in perspective, Windows 10 is still on , per the company’s latest update in March.
Goodbye, Dash: Amazon will end support for geeky shopping gadgets

Goodbye, Dash: Amazon will end support for geeky shopping gadgets

6:21pm, 1st August, 2019
(GeekWire File Photo) Amazon Dash, an IoT attempt by the tech giant to help customers quickly restock household items, is officially going bye-bye. Review: reported Thursday that Amazon will turn off capabilities for Dash buttons on Aug. 31. This comes after Amazon’s to end Dash sales earlier this year. First released in 2015, the Dash buttons were meant to be placed inside the kitchen, laundry rooms, and other areas of the home. The internet-connected buttons, sold at $4.99 each, would automatically order more detergent or paper towels with a simple push. Brands such as Tide and Gillette got involved, creating their own branded buttons. Amazon still operates the for connected appliances that automatically reorder items when supplies are low. The company also created a virtual version of the on its website. In addition, Amazon has built out voice shopping capabilities for Alexa, the digital brain that powers Echo devices. Here’s a statement from Amazon: “Amazon is constantly evaluating our product and service offerings to best serve customers. Since sales of Dash Button devices ceased earlier this year, we have seen continued growth of other shopping options to meet customer needs, including Virtual Dash Button, Dash Replenishment, Alexa Shopping, and Subscribe & Save. With this is mind, starting August 31, 2019, customers will no longer be able to place orders through Dash Button devices globally. Customers can continue reordering products using their free on the Amazon.com website and mobile app, which are available for the same great brands customers love from Dash Button devices. Customers will see that virtual Dash Buttons have already been created to replace current physical Dash Button devices.”
eBay accuses Amazon of illegal scheme to poach e-commerce sellers in new lawsuit

eBay accuses Amazon of illegal scheme to poach e-commerce sellers in new lawsuit

1:42pm, 1st August, 2019
eBay’s Berlin office. (Photo via eBay) E-commerce heavyweight eBay is suing rival Amazon, alleging that managers at the Seattle tech giant conspired to poach e-commerce sellers through eBay’s own messaging platform. This is the against Amazon in the last year over alleged seller poaching. The previous suit, which was filed in October and has since been moved to arbitration, contained similar allegations. However, the previous lawsuit only named Amazon as a defendant. The new suit names three Amazon managers, accusing them of participating in a scheme to train and encourage dozens of the company’s sales reps to poach eBay sellers. “Amazon managers and others at Amazon directed dozens of Amazon sales representatives in the U.S. and overseas to set up and use eBay member accounts to access eBay’s “M2M” email system to solicit many hundreds of eBay sellers to sell on Amazon’s platform,” according to the new lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Northern District of California. Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuit. Amazon reps allegedly went to great lengths to skirt eBay policies on the messaging platform, a sign that the tech giant knew what it was doing was wrong, according to the suit. The Defendants and other Amazon managers, as well as the representatives they directed, knew that the scheme was wrong, as evidenced by systematic efforts used to avoid detection. eBay, like many websites, has automated programs designed to detect and prevent unauthorized use of its M2M system. The Defendants and other Amazon managers trained sales representatives about eBay detection techniques and how to avoid them, and Amazon representatives were diligent students, observing that (in the words of one such representative) “eBay monitors their messages pretty well for contact info,” that “eBay doesn’t allow phone numbers in these messages,” and that “ebay will not allow the exchange of email addresses in these messages[.]” Based on training provided by the Defendants and other Amazon managers, the sales representatives used various anti-detection techniques. The representatives changed the presentation of Amazon email addresses, for example: “You can write me at jdoe AT amazon DOT com,” “DoeJohn at Amazon dot com,” and “JDoe at amazon dot com.” 2 They also provided unconventional phone number formats, again, solely for the purpose of evading detection – telling eBay sellers, for example, that “you can write down 2.0.6. – 5.5.5. – 5.5.5.5. and then delete this message if you so choose.” In the lawsuit, eBay accuses the Amazon managers of racketeering, fraud, interfering in contractual relations and more. The suit is asking a federal judge to bar Amazon from poaching eBay sellers and for damages. The situation first came to light last year after an eBay seller came forward to report alleged poaching efforts by Amazon. eBay then to the tech giant, demanding Amazon knock off its alleged seller poaching efforts. At the time, Amazon said in a statement “we are conducting a thorough investigation of these allegations.” Amazon and eBay are both major players in the e-commerce industry. Though the tech giants differ slightly — Amazon directly sells products, while eBay does not — they both run huge marketplace businesses that rely on third-party sellers. eBay CEO Devin Wieng he doesn’t want to compete with Amazon directly, though he acknowledged the companies do often jockey for buyers and sellers on their platform. The e-commerce world is big enough for a number of players, including both Amazon and eBay, and Wenig wants his company to develop its own identity. “I don’t want to compete with Amazon; I want to get as far away from Amazon as I can,” Wenig said last year. “I want us to stand for something fundamentally different. I want eBay to be a winner in discovery-based shopping. I want it to be a place where people think of first for the things they love, not just the things they need.” Here is the full suit: by on Scribd
eBay accuses Amazon managers of illegal scheme to poach e-commerce sellers in new lawsuit

eBay accuses Amazon managers of illegal scheme to poach e-commerce sellers in new lawsuit

12:40pm, 1st August, 2019
eBay’s Berlin office. (Photo via eBay) E-commerce heavyweight eBay is suing rival Amazon, alleging that managers at the Seattle tech giant conspired to poach e-commerce sellers through eBay’s own messaging platform. This is the against Amazon in the last year over alleged seller poaching. The previous suit, which was filed in October and has since been moved to arbitration, contained similar allegations. However, the previous lawsuit only named Amazon as a defendant. The new suit names three Amazon managers, accusing them of participating in a scheme to train and encourage dozens of the company’s sales reps to poach eBay sellers. “Amazon managers and others at Amazon directed dozens of Amazon sales representatives in the U.S. and overseas to set up and use eBay member accounts to access eBay’s “M2M” email system to solicit many hundreds of eBay sellers to sell on Amazon’s platform,” according to the new lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Northern District of California. Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuit. Amazon reps allegedly went to great lengths to skirt eBay policies on the messaging platform, a sign that the tech giant knew what it was doing was wrong, according to the suit. The Defendants and other Amazon managers, as well as the representatives they directed, knew that the scheme was wrong, as evidenced by systematic efforts used to avoid detection. eBay, like many websites, has automated programs designed to detect and prevent unauthorized use of its M2M system. The Defendants and other Amazon managers trained sales representatives about eBay detection techniques and how to avoid them, and Amazon representatives were diligent students, observing that (in the words of one such representative) “eBay monitors their messages pretty well for contact info,” that “eBay doesn’t allow phone numbers in these messages,” and that “ebay will not allow the exchange of email addresses in these messages[.]” Based on training provided by the Defendants and other Amazon managers, the sales representatives used various anti-detection techniques. The representatives changed the presentation of Amazon email addresses, for example: “You can write me at jdoe AT amazon DOT com,” “DoeJohn at Amazon dot com,” and “JDoe at amazon dot com.” 2 They also provided unconventional phone number formats, again, solely for the purpose of evading detection – telling eBay sellers, for example, that “you can write down 2.0.6. – 5.5.5. – 5.5.5.5. and then delete this message if you so choose.” In the lawsuit, eBay accuses the Amazon managers of racketeering, fraud, interfering in contractual relations and more. The suit is asking a federal judge to bar Amazon from poaching eBay sellers and for damages. The situation first came to light last year after an eBay seller came forward to report alleged poaching efforts by Amazon. eBay then to the tech giant, demanding Amazon knock off its alleged seller poaching efforts. At the time, Amazon said in a statement “we are conducting a thorough investigation of these allegations.” Amazon and eBay are both major players in the e-commerce industry. Though the tech giants differ slightly — Amazon directly sells products, while eBay does not — they both run huge marketplace businesses that rely on third-party sellers. eBay CEO Devin Wieng he doesn’t want to compete with Amazon directly, though he acknowledged the companies do often jockey for buyers and sellers on their platform. The e-commerce world is big enough for a number of players, including both Amazon and eBay, and Wenig wants his company to develop its own identity. “I don’t want to compete with Amazon; I want to get as far away from Amazon as I can,” Wenig said last year. “I want us to stand for something fundamentally different. I want eBay to be a winner in discovery-based shopping. I want it to be a place where people think of first for the things they love, not just the things they need.” Here is the full suit: by on Scribd
Esports star Ninja ditches Amazon’s Twitch, inks exclusive streaming deal with Microsoft’s Mixer

Esports star Ninja ditches Amazon’s Twitch, inks exclusive streaming deal with Microsoft’s Mixer

12:09pm, 1st August, 2019
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. (Amazon Photo) It’s a huge day for Microsoft’s Mixer streaming platform. Esports star Tyler Blevins, a.k.a. “Ninja,” announced Thursday that he will stream exclusively on Mixer. Blevins had previously streamed on Twitch, the most popular streaming platform that Amazon acquired in 2014. The next chapter, — Ninja (@Ninja) Story developing…