Streaming video from Chrome to Chromecast is about to get a lot better

Why it matters to you

If you’re having trouble casting tabs from Chrome to your Chromecast, you’re not the only one. Luckily, there’s a fix.

Chromecast, Google’s affordable entertainment dongle, is one of the most versatile gizmos out there. It has Netflix and YouTube, of course, but also hundreds of apps, games, and integrations. Another nifty Chromecast trick is the ability to mirror videos from a Chrome browser tab, but historically, that feature hasn’t worked all that consistently — mirrored videos often lag and sometimes crash. Thankfully, though, a fix appears to be on the way.

On Wednesday, Google’s Francois Beaufort drew attention to a cast-related Chrome feature that vastly improves Chromecast tab stability. Before, videos mirrored from tabs had to pass through several encoding steps before they reached the target Chromecast — they had to be rendered, re-encoded, and then beamed over the network. The new system sends video to the Chromecast directly, trimming the overhead and improving performance.

You can test the improved tab casting now, if you aren’t afraid of a little elbow grease. Download and install the Chrome Developer channel, then type “chrome://flags/#media-remoting” (without quotes) in the address bar and hit enter. Hit the Enable button, and you’re golden.

Test it by navigating to any website with a built-in video player, like Vimeo, Ustream, Livestream, or Facebook. Play a video, and then click the Cast button in the Chrome Settings menu.

The new feature’s a boon for low-powered laptops and desktops, which often struggle to encode videos efficiently. And it’s good news for folks who use services unsupported by Chromecast, like Amazon’s Instant Video.

This move is all the more relevant in light of Chromecast’s continued expansion. This week, Nvidia’s Shield TV set-top box gained support for 4K casting from select apps. And last year, Google launched Chromecast built-in, an effort that saw casting capabilities being built natively into devices from Vizio, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, Philips, Polaroid, and Skyworth.

The experimental casting feature remains under development, and Beaufort didn’t provide a timeline. But here’s hoping it hits public airwaves sooner rather than later.

Can you be a real pro gamer if you don’t own a light-up mouse pad?

One of the more recent trends in gaming accessories is the addition of LED lights to everything. Keyboards? LEDs. Mice? Pass the glowy stuff. Headphones? Dang right they’ve got programmable colors. Cup holders? Yeah, that actually exists. (I’m as surprised as you are.)

And, of course, the subject of this post, the mouse pad. Gaming companies have been making custom mouse pads for gamers with ultra high-tech surfaces for years, and when Razer announced the Firefly mouse pad with LED lights, it felt like an inevitable progression. (Since then, we’ve also gotten illuminated pads from Corsair and Thermaltake as well.) But the Firefly is only really compatible with Razer’s Chroma color system. What if you’re a fan of SteelSeries’ gaming accessories? How would you be able to be the uber-elite pro gamer you were meant to be then?

Fortunately, your problem is solved, with the new QcK Prism mouse pad from SteelSeries. Like Razer’s Firefly, it features colorful and programmable lighting for giving a perfect illuminated touch to your gaming rig. And the new mouse pad is compatible with SteelSeries’ PrismSync system so all your gear will be able to light up in harmony.

Sure, it costs $59.99, which is a ludicrous price to pay for a mouse pad, even one with millions of possible colors and a double-sided surface that can flip between hard polymer and soft cloth options. And yes, you could buy six of SteelSeries’ regular QcK mouse pads for that price.

But they wouldn’t light up like the QcK Prism. And if you don’t have a light-up mouse pad, are you even a real pro gamer?

Google Home is upping your cooking game with 5 million new recipes

Google Home will help you stay on top of your culinary endeavors.
Google Home will help you stay on top of your culinary endeavors.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Forget your stack of dusty old cookbooks and your worries about gunking up your phone with messy hands while you struggle to follow directions in the kitchen. Google Home will help streamline your cooking experience with a major expansion of its ability to guide you through recipes.

Google announced in a blog post that Assistant will now give users access to step-by-step, voice-activated guides for more than 5 million dishes through the Home speaker. The new recipes come courtesy of partnerships with Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Food Network, and others.

You’ll still be able to get directions for dishes on the fly by telling Google that you’re ready to cook, but finding specific recipes is a bit more complicated. You’ll need to use Google to pick one out on your phone beforehand and send it to the device using the “Send to Google Home” button. 

Once you’re prepped to cook, prompt your Home with a command, like “OK, Google, start cooking,” or “OK, Google, start recipe.” As you’re cooking, you’ll be able to retrace your steps by asking Assistant to repeat directions.

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While you’re following Assistant’s directions, you’ll still be able to use your Home to do things like listen to music and set voice commands. 

The feature will roll out to Google Home owners starting this week. The update should make it easier to follow recipes than using old-school methods — but unfortunately, Home still can’t do much to keep you from burning your dessert.

WATCH: Someone rigged Amazon Echo and Google Home to talk to each other and it’s hilarious

Navdy’s aftermarket HUD proves a big in-car upgrade

In-car navigation and infotainment options now abound, and more vehicles are shipping with support for native vehicle smartphone software from Apple and Google. But these all still prove distracting, and take your eyes away from the roadway, if only for a few brief seconds. Navdy’s dash-mounted aftermarket head-up display (HUD) is a solution to that problem, and after a few months of continuous, in-depth use, the accessory’s appeal becomes even more apparent.

Design

It’s a bit of an expensive add-on, though Navdy recently dropped the price of its hardware to $499, which is far more reasonable than its introductory price of just under $800. The hardware feels premium, too, in case you were concerned about the build quality, with a substantial weight in the hand and excellent finishes, plus optical-quality glass for the actual display windows itself that provides perfect transparency when viewing through to your windshield and the road beyond.

What I like most about the Navdy hardware is that the mount is very easy to install, but even easier to use once it’s set up and you want to remove/re-attach the display and main body of the device itself. Very few people likely want to keep it visible on the dash at all times, since it’s likely to attract unwanted acquisitive attention. The magnetic base itself is fairly unassuming, however, and the display component snaps in with a satisfying click to let you know it’s properly attached.

The magnet mount also supplies power, which is routed through the base from a cable plugged into and OBD-II dongle you hook up wherever that port is located on your car (most likely under the steering column). This provides both the necessary juice to run the display, as well as data from your vehicle including speed, which is displayed on the HUD while it’s in use.

The bulk of the information shown on your Navdy comes from your smartphone, however, which you pair with the unit using Bluetooth. Once paired, Navdy easily connected to my iPhone every time I got in the car and snapped it into its base. Likewise, the manual steering-wheel mounted control dial, which also connects to the Navdy using Bluetooth, installs in seconds, and offers a satisfying tactile control option that’s much more intelligently designed than most native steering wheel controls created by automakers themselves.

Most importantly, the display is clear, crisp and bright, with multi-color maps and menus that make everything easy to distinguish in all lighting conditions, even though it’s being projected on a transparent glass surface. It’s hard to describe just how good the Navdy looks, and images don’t accurately convey it. Even passengers can’t see how well it renders graphics, since the angle is optimized for drivers viewing head on. Trust me – display quality isn’t an area where Navdy is lacking.

Software

The Navdy software is designed for simplicity of use while you’re doing something that requires your full attention, and in this capacity it mostly succeeds. There’s a lot going on in Navdy’s software, but all of its features are hidden relatively close to the surface in terms of menu depth, meaning you can pretty quickly use the on-device interface to call up directions to your stored locations, including your home address.

Incoming calls and notifications can be tuned to show you more or less (less by default), and these appear inline next to your maps or other on-screen car info while driving. They can also be set to provide you with more info – again, tweaked to show you less unless you manually change the default settings – and they give you clear indicators about when they’ll disappear with a little bar that gradually gets smaller.

This interface element also appears when you’re nearing the next leg of your trip while using turn-by-turn directions. It’s a very clever visual way to show you how close you are to your next turn, merge or routing event, which is more easily grasped than the ticking away of a number representing feet or miles. I found during my use that it made me much more comfortable and less stressed about anticipating the next step in a trip, especially when I was driving in unfamiliar settings.

Navdy’s most important software feature might be that it’s mostly extraneous, however; You can very easily use the display without ever touching the steering wheel control while on the road – using the Navdy app, you can queue up destinations and routes and have them sent to your display as soon as you get in your car, power up and connect to the Navdy hardware.

Summer 2019 will be a showdown for Hollywood’s biggest franchises

Yesterday, Disney announced that it was shuffling its release schedule to move Star Wars: Episode IX — the last film in the main “sequel trilogy” — from December 2019 up to May 24th, 2019.

Now, at first glance, this is pretty pedestrian news. Films get moved around all the time, whether that’s due to trying to avoid competitors, taking more time on editing or special effects, or just the realities of Hollywood politics. But this particular move is somewhat strange.

After all, between The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Disney and Lucasfilm have already shown that Star Wars films can break box office records in December, far away from the traditional summer movie season where genre films like these have tended to thrive in the past. The only other major sci-fi franchise that seemed to be gunning for the December release — James Cameron’s long-gestating Avatar sequels — was delayed again until 2020 days before Disney’s announcement, leaving December 2019 seemingly wide open for another Star Wars box office sweep. The only other major movie that has actually been announced for that month is the Wicked movie adaptation, which, even assuming that project doesn’t get delayed again, doesn’t seem to pose that much of a threat to Star Wars’ traditional sci-fi audience in the same way that Avatar might.

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The best theory I can come up with to remotely explain the move is that Disney and Lucasfilm are clearing December out for a second as-yet-unannounced Star Wars movie. Marvel has already proved to executives at the House of Mouse that multiple franchise entries in a cinematic universe can still draw audience with two superhero films per year since 2013, a success it looks to build on by upping that rate to three going forward. And what better way to continue to keep fans excited for new Star Wars stories after the conclusion to the current batch of “Episode” entries than by launching whatever comes next?

Because if there’s little reason to move Episode IX from where it was, the specific choice of May 2019 is even more confusing. Looking at the schedule, the fourth (currently untitled) Avengers movie — the one that’s expected to serve as a conclusion to the roughly 22-film story arc of the Infinity Stones that has comprised Marvel’s movie franchise so far — is set to come out just three weeks before Star Wars: Episode IX now. Two of Disney’s biggest films, possibly ever, are now stepping on each other’s toes.

But things get even more crowded for Disney in 2019. It’s not just Star Wars and Marvel releasing their biggest, arc-ending films in the span of a month. Because less than a month after Star Wars hits, Disney is releasing Toy Story 4 on June 21st, a sequel to Toy Story 3, which remains the single most lucrative Pixar film ever released. But you’ll have no time to catch your breath after that, because Disney wants you back in theaters on July 5th for a Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel, and then back again on July 19th for the live action The Lion King remake — which, if the live action Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book movies are anything to go by, will likely also be an insanely lucrative hit. Oh wait, I forget Captain Marvel — Marvel’s first female character-led film — which starts things off in March. And if that wasn’t quite enough, the company also has Frozen 2 — you remember Frozen, right? Biggest animated movie of all time? — coming out at the end of November. And that’s not counting a couple of other spots on the calendar that Disney has staked out but has yet to announce a film for.

Last year, I wrote about how Disney’s box office strategy can be exemplified by its success in five brands: Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation Studios, and live-action remakes of its classic films. But if that was true in 2016 with films like Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia, and The Jungle Book, 2019 is set to magnify the same strategy by releasing what could be the biggest possible film in each of those brands — most of them within a few weeks. That’s a frightening schedule if you work at a major film studio that isn’t Disney.

And yet Disney isn’t the only one going full-tilt in 2019. It seems that some madness has taken hold of the entire movie-making industry. I encourage you to peruse the full list, because it’s looking more and more like this will be the make-it-or-break-it year for our current cinematic marketplace of franchises and universes. To quickly break it down, here are some of the highlights:

Warner Bros has The Lego Movie Sequel in February, Godzilla: King of the Monsters in March, DC’s Shazam! for April 5th, two still unannounced DC movies on June 14th and November 1st, and a Minecraft movie set for May 24th (which will have to go head-to-head with Star Wars now).

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Universal? Fast and Furious 9, which hits on April 19th (just before Disney’s May onslaught), an entry in the Universal Monsters universe that the studio is trying to launch with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy for February 15th, How to Train Your Dragon 3 for March 1st, a Robert Downey Jr.-starring Doctor Dolitte remake for May 24th (again, good luck with Star Wars there), The Secret Life of Pets 2 on July 3rd, and the aforementioned Wicked adaptation in December.

Paramount doesn’t have as much on its docket yet, but what it does have — Transformers 6 on June 28th and The SpongeBob Movie 3 — both are major entries in popular franchises as well.

Now, obviously, 2019 is still incredibly far away. It’s virtually guaranteed that some — if not many — of these plans will get changed and films will be shifted around or canned entirely. But with what we have so far, it’s looking increasingly like the year is going to be a culmination of a moment, both for Disney specifically with its focus on building its individual properties up, and the entire motion picture industry in general, which seems to be committing full-force to franchises.

What happens when there’s the Fast and Furious, Star Wars, The Avengers, Transformers, DC, a Pixar movie, and Minecraft all vying for audiences at the same time? Can the movie industry sustain this many franchises? And where does major commercial cinema go from here?

I don’t have the answer to most of these questions. But one thing is for certain: the moviegoing world of 2020 will look very different in the aftermath.

FaceApp takes heat for ‘hotness’ filter that appears to favor lighter skin tones

Why it matters to you

As artificially intelligent beauty filters grow in popularity, the programs may be reflecting their programmers’ biases.

The neural network app that edits selfies is now taking a lot of heat for its “hot” filter — FaceApp recently apologized after users noticed the filter designed to make selfies look “hot” was actually lightening skin tones.

After apologizing to users, FaceApp changed the name of the filter to “spark,” and the app says a complete fix is currently in progress. The app uses artificial intelligence to edit selfies, with capabilities extending from turning frowns into smiles to making people look younger or even switching gender.

Yaroslav Goncharov, the app’s CEO and creator, told The Guardian that the skin lightening was a result of a training bias in the neural network and not an intended effect. Neural networks are trained by feeding the computer thousands of images. If those thousands of images tend to be almost all one race, the resulting artificial intelligence platform is biased towards that race.

FaceApp only launched earlier this year, with the iOS release in January and the Android following a month later, but it’s currently seeing a surge in popularity and adding around 700,000 users daily.

The FaceApp fiasco isn’t the first time AI has become embroiled in skin-tone issues — recent MIT research showed that facial recognition systems have trouble identifying dark-skinned faces, for example. The issue is also exemplified when software engineers use the same open-source training data set for their own apps, moving the bias further into more programs, the research suggests. While FaceApp does use some open-source AI, the AI behind the “hotness” filter was reportedly developed by the company, so the skin-tone favoritism is likely a result of the company itself failing to use diverse images to train the platform.

Other facial filters have also come under fire for favoring certain races and stereotyping others — last year Snapchat removed the “yellowface” filter that turned faces into Asian caricatures with squinting eyes. While many users like the ability to enhance their selfies, the effects are leaving some users asking, who’s supposed to define what “hotness” looks like anyway?

Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms have a newly discovered chemical to thank for their shine

You’re not tripping — these mushrooms really do glow. And now, we have a better idea how, thanks to a study published today in the journal Science Advances.

More than 100 years ago, a naturalist named George Gardner visited Brazil and saw children playing in the street with what he thought were giant fireflies. They turned out to not be insects, but big, glowing fungi that grow on rotting palm fronds. The species became known as Neonothopanus gardneri.

Recently, scientists discovered why the mushrooms glow. They planted faux-fungi lit by LEDs in the Brazilian Coconut Forest and saw that the nighttime luminescence attracts beetles, flies, wasps, and ants like, well, moths to a flame (sorry). These insects are key for spreading the mushroom’s spores so the mushroom can reproduce and colonize new food sources.

This photo composite shows Neonothopanus gardneri growing at the base of a tree. This photo composite shows Neonothopanus gardneri growing at the base of a tree.
This photo composite shows Neonothopanus gardneri growing at the base of a tree.
Photo by Cassius V. Stevani / Composite by James Bareham

At least 80 other species of fungi emit light. The phenomenon, called bioluminescence, has been documented in mushrooms since Aristotle reportedly described glowing, rotting treebark — called foxfire or cold fire.

But how exactly fungi like N. gardneri and foxfire luminesce has been somewhat of a mystery. Often, when a creature like a firefly glows, it’s because of a class of molecules called luciferins. (The name is derived from “lucifer,” which is Latin for “light-bringer.”) They react with oxygen and another reaction-speeding chemical to create a high-energy product that emits light. This light-emitting product is called an oxyluciferin.

This bucket of Neonothopanus gardneri glows when the lights turn outThis bucket of Neonothopanus gardneri glows when the lights turn out
This bucket of Neonothopanus gardneri glows when the lights turn out.
Image by Cassius V. Stevani

While scientists had recently figured out how luciferin is structured, they hadn’t yet discovered what the light-emitting products looked like. So the researchers collected samples of N. gardneri from the Brazilian Coconut Forest, pulverized them into a slurry rich in the fungus’s reaction-speeding enzyme.

Then, they used that slurry to produce the light-emitting oxyluciferin in the lab in large enough quantities that the scientists could sketch out the structure for it. Further experiments showed it was possible to create different versions of oxyluciferins that emitted different colors of light by tweaking the structure of the luciferin fuel.

Fluorescent molecules already play an outsized role in biological research: scientists use them to track cells and proteins. This new discovery could produce a new arsenal of luminescent molecules for research. Plus, they’re pretty to look at.

Then and Now

A few years ago, when Oracle was busy buying companies to fill out its front-office cloud offering, RightNow Technologies developed a “day in the life” video that has stuck with me. It was shown at RightNow’s last user meeting as an independent company. In fact, at the conference where it debuted, Oracle announced its acquisition of RightNow.

The video’s importance was as a harbinger of things to come in the customer service world. At that point in time, we were struggling with the idea of multichannel support, or the ability to provide service regardless of the channel — social, mobile, email, etc. — used to make a request. We got over that soon enough.

The Future of CX

The video takes a “day in the life approach” to showing someone using connected technologies to deal with a variety of service encounters — from making and confirming airline reservations to getting an appointment for an oil change.

In the process, some nifty technologies — like machine learning and natural language processing — came into play to make everything work. The video makes it look seamless and very plausible. It’s impressive.

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One person using a mobile device in the back seat of a car going to the airport does a lot.

Today, much of this has come into view. While only a few companies currently are taking advantage of the possibilities inherent in this technology, from what I see, it’s the next thing.

What Customers Want

To be sure, every business won’t need each capability, and it’s important to focus on the functions that add the most value to a business’ or brand’s outreach.

What’s beyond all this is even more exciting to me. With the advent of the Internet of Things, there’s been a tsunami of data that some businesses can collect and analyze to help them do more and better things for customers — things that customers actually want, as opposed to things that the businesses guess they want.

There’s also the idea of people helping people, which might not seem earthshaking, but by this I mean the ability to engage your best customers to offer assistance to their peers. It’s appealing, because it’s certainly cheap — but more fundamentally, because engaged customers have a focus on their expertise and a desire to be of service that’s hard to match with even the best employees.

Customers can tell other customers, “I get it because I’ve been there,” in ways that CSRs can only emulate.

Busy Week

This is a busy week. I’ve been to the CRM Evolution conference in Washington, D.C., and I am now attending the Oracle Modern Service Experience in Las Vegas.

Both shows have on display many cool, new, and futuristic solutions for the front office — and if past is prologue, the future will be the present before you can blink, so we need to pay attention.

All this travel can be a bear, but it’s the best way to get fresh insights. I’ll have more about all this soon.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at
denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.

FCC announces plan to reverse Title II net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission is cracking open the net neutrality debate again with a proposal to undo the 2015 rules that implemented net neutrality with Title II classification.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai called the rules “heavy handed” and said their implementation was “all about politics.” He argued that they hurt investment and said that small internet providers don’t have “the means or the margins” to withstand the regulatory onslaught.

“Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration,” Pai said today.

His proposal will do three things: first, it’ll reclassify internet providers as Title I information services; second, it’ll prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven’t thought up yet; and third, it’ll open questions about what to do with several key net neutrality rules — like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites — that were implemented in 2015.

Pai said the full text of his net neutrality proposal would be published tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be voted on by the FCC at a meeting on May 18th. From there, months of debate will follow as the item is opened up for public comment. The commission will then revise its rules based on the feedback it receives before taking a final vote to enact them.

Strong net neutrality rules were passed in 2015 and have been in place for about two years. Those rules reclassified internet providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which subject them to tough, utility-style regulation.

While the commission didn’t apply many of the traditional utility restrictions — like pricing regulations — the classification was meant to ensure that internet providers would be subject to careful oversight.

The commission mandated that internet providers follow a few key rules: no blocking of sites and apps, no throttling the speed of sites and apps, and no paid fast lanes. The rules applied to both wired and wireless internet providers and also gave the commission oversight of “interconnect” agreements between internet providers and big content companies like Netflix.

Internet providers have, of course, been unhappy about this, as they’d rather not have the FCC looking over their shoulder and limiting what they’re able to do with their network. They sued to overturn the rules, but so far the rules have been held up in court.

Republicans have also been unhappy with the rules, and it’s been clear since Trump was elected that they’d take a shot at reversing them. They view the existing net neutrality rules as heavy handed and believe they limit innovation from internet providers.

One issue they’ve pointed to in particular is investment in broadband networks. There was a slight dip in investment the year net neutrality rules were passed, and Republicans have pointed to that as evidence that these are damaging policies.

During his speech today, Pai claimed Title II classification hurt “low-income, rural, and urban neighborhoods” the most and had the effect of “accelerating the practice of digital redlining,” because these neighborhoods would be the first areas cut when internet providers cut back their spending.

While network investment is an important metric for the FCC to track — it’s responsible for improving access to broadband — it’s hardly the only metric to track how much impact the rules have had. At the end of the day, internet providers are still doing well and have seen their stock prices rise, which suggest investors aren’t as devastated by net neutrality as they let on.

The argument for net neutrality is that the limitations put on internet providers are worth the tradeoff for keeping the internet open. If internet providers have the ability to control or influence which websites you visit, that’ll hugely tip the scales in favor of their own services and the services of existing juggernauts that can pay for access. Netflix, for instance, may have struggled if it had to pay internet providers for fast streaming.

Republicans and internet providers continue to argue that they aren’t actually against net neutrality, they’re just against the Title II classification. While it’s possible to have net neutrality without Title II — common carrier rules are just a way to go about implementing them — the argument gets a lot less convincing when you actually look at what they’re proposing as an alternative.

Their alternative seems to be net neutrality rules that aren’t backed up by close regulatory oversight. That means internet providers have a lot more leeway to skirt the rules.

In his final speech as FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, who oversaw the passing of the 2015 rules, laid out a basic test by which he said we could tell if a net neutrality proposal offered true net neutrality. A proposal had to offer three things, he said: an agency with full authority to protect consumers, rules that can evolve to fit new devices and networks, and consistent guidelines that make it clear what behavior is and isn’t appropriate.

“Passing legislation or adopting regulations without these key provisions and calling it net neutrality would be false advertising,” Wheeler said at the time.

Democrats, activists, and web companies are already coming out in opposition to Pai’s plans. Senator Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement that “depriving the FCC of its ongoing, forward-looking oversight of the broadband industry amounts to a dereliction of duty at a time when guaranteeing an open internet is more critical than ever.”

The Internet Association, a group that represents more than 40 top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Netflix, said there was no reason to change the rules. “The current FCC net neutrality rules are working and these consumer protections should not be changed,” said the group’s CEO, Michael Beckerman. “Consumers pay for access to the entire internet free from blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.”

A group of 800 startups and investors, led by Y Combinator, also released a letter this morning directed to Pai, saying, “We’re deeply concerned with your intention to undo the existing legal framework.” While the ACLU and 170 other advocacy groups wrote Pai last month asking for him to preserve the 2015 rules.

Pai is well aware that he’s in for a fight, but it’s one he thinks is worth starting. “Make no mistake about it,” he said. “This is a fight that we intend to wage, and this is a fight that we are going to win.”

This gripping app lets you ‘walk a mile’ in a 16-year-old refugee girl’s shoes

Smartphones have become lifelines for refugees around the world. Now, a powerful new app will show you how crucial the technology is by taking over your phone’s operating system and transforming it into the phone of a 16-year-old refugee girl.

Finding Home,” which was launched on Tuesday by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and advertising firm Grey Malaysia, puts you in the shoes of Rohingya teenager Kathijah as she flees persecution in Myanmar and tries to make a new life in Malaysia. 

Kathijah, or “Kat” to friends and family, is fictional. But what you see in the app are very real struggles for Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that has faced discrimination and persecution in Myanmar for years. The app’s goal is to spread awareness, create empathy, and galvanize action around the global refugee crisis overall.

“The refugee story is often a deeply personal one and difficult for people to understand,” Richard Towle, UNHCR representative in Malaysia, said in a statement.

“We hope that this application will allow a viewer to walk a mile in a refugee’s shoes in order to understand what they go through every day in order to find safety,” he said.

[embedded content]

The “immersive mobile experience” simulates Kat’s phone, letting you swipe through photos, view videos, and receive texts and calls.

Early on in the simulation, someone named Rahim texts her via WhatsApp that their village is not safe. “We can’t stay,” he writes. You can then choose Kat’s reply: “Where can we go?” or “We have to run, now.” Regardless of your choice, her safety is in jeopardy, and she’s forced to leave Myanmar and find her way to Malaysia.

“It’s making a very important story accessible to a whole new audience.”

Kat’s journey jumps across days, weeks, and months. Her — and your — experiences range from extremely jarring to slightly more calm, whether it’s a harrowing video call from Kat’s brother as he runs from a raid through a jungle and the call cuts off abruptly, or a text conversation with another refugee friend about taking classes in English and Malay.

“By using the familiar functions your smartphone has as a storytelling device, the experience becomes uniquely personal and more impactful as a result,” said Graham Drew, executive creative director at Grey Malaysia. “[It’s] making a very important story accessible to a whole new audience.”

Image: Finding Home / UNHCR

Image: Finding Home / UNHCR

While much of “Finding Home” is disturbing, staying true to so many refugee experiences, there are moments of hope and humanity. Kat connects with several people along the way who befriend her, and help her get in touch with the UNHCR office.

The app naturally features some of the work UNHCR does in Malaysia. Throughout the app, you’ll find links to the UNHCR website to donate, volunteer, and learn more about the refugee crisis.

More than 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are currently registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, the majority of whom are from Myanmar. Of those, 58,000 refugees are Rohingya. Nearly 36,000 of refugees in Malaysia are children under 18, with stories similar to Kat’s.

A journalist tries the 'Finding Home' application at the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 25, 2017.

A journalist tries the ‘Finding Home’ application at the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 25, 2017.

Image: FAZRY ISMAIL / EPA / REX / Shutterstock

This isn’t UNHCR’s first time launching an app to depict the refugee experience for the wider public. In 2012, the agency launched “My Life as a Refugee,” which put users in positions that forced them to make life and death decisions.

“Finding Home” expands on that conversation. It’s available now on Android, with an iOS version coming soon.

WATCH: Ikea designed a refugee shelter and it lasts 6x longer than traditional emergency tents