Twitter reportedly suspended users that steal memes and force viral tweets

Image: roy scott/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Friday went poorly for a select group of Twitter users that have earned a reputation for their expertise  at gaming the system.

The social media company moved to suspend a number of popular accounts with millions of followers between them, Buzzfeed reports. Their offense? Stealing people’s tweets without credit and conspiring as a group to share tweets — their own, and those of paying customers — with the intent of forcing them to go viral.

Many of the suspended accounts — a list that includes @Dory, @GirlPosts, @SoDamnTrue, @reiatabie, @commonwhitegiri, @teenagernotes, @finah, @holyfag, and @memeprovider — are known as “tweetdeckers.” These users are so named because they gather in private Tweetdeck groups to plot out their plans to manufacture virality (a practice that Buzzfeed has documented extensively).

This sort of behavior goes against Twitter’s rules, which clearly state: “You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of spamming anyone.” The platform’s spam policy covers many different types of bad behavior, including the posting of “duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts” or “[attempting] to artificially inflate account interactions.”

Tweetdeckers engage in both of those activities to make a post go viral, and some accept payment to perform the task for third-party interests — another Twitter no-no.

Recently, the company has purged bots (though there are reasons it may not go further), tweaked rules, and banned face-swap videos, many of which fall under the category of pornography.

There are still plenty of problem areas to be addressed on Twitter, but Friday’s move to suspend known tweetdeckers is just one more action in a recent string of them. It’s all part of the company’s ongoing struggle to clean up its platform, a process that has also come to include looking for outside assistance.

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Annoyed by unwanted phone calls? Here’s how to block a number in Android

Look I'm on the phone

If you’re tired of calls from strangers or telemarketers at the most inopportune times, you may want to learn how to block a number in Android. While blocking calls on an iPhone is simple, there are many different ways to block calls on Android smartphones, depending on the manufacturer. While some manufacturers bury blacklist features deep in the settings panel, older devices may not have a native call blocking feature at all.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of ways to block calls on your Android device. Here, we’ll take a look at how to do it with your phone’s native features, and we’ll suggest a couple of Android apps that are worth considering.  If neither of these options are working, fear not — we’ve also provided information on how to block numbers through your carrier.

Blocking calls on an Android smartphone

The methods for doing this will vary slightly according to your specific device and the version of Android that you are using. Many tutorials exist for every Android device imaginable. Take a gander on  YouTube or the XDA Developers Forum to find an option for your specific phone.

There is no universal path for blocking contacts on Android smartphones, and it’s a feature that older versions of Android oddly omit. Thankfully, for people with phones like the Google Pixel 2 or Google Pixel 2 XL, which run a stock version of Android later than 6.0 Marshmallow, you can easily block a call directly from the Phone app.

Blocking calls on a Pixel or Pixel 2

From the Google phone app

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When in the Phone app, tap the More options icon (three dots stacked vertically) next to the microphone. Then, select Settings > Call Blocking and add the number you want to block. You can also go to Call history or Recent calls and tap the number you want to block, then select Block. Here, you can also Report call as spam.

From the Android Messages app

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Long press a contact within the Messages app and tap the Block icon (circle with a line through it) in the upper-right corner. You can also tap the More options icon (three dots stacked vertically) next to the magnifying glass, select Settings > Call blocking, and add the number you want to block.

Blocking calls on other stock Android phones

From the call log

From the call log, you can disable incoming calls from specific numbers. Select the number you want to block, then hit More or the 3-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner and choose Add to reject list. This will disable incoming calls from specific numbers.

From your contacts list

If there’s a particularly persistent relative, friend, or ex whose number you’ve saved, blocking them’s a cinch. Just pull up your contacts, select the person you’d like to block, and hit the little button in the right-hand corner that looks like a pencil. Then tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner and check the box next to All Calls to Voicemail. That contact’s calls will now be directed to your carrier’s voice inbox.

From the settings menu

One of the most common options is to pull up your contact list by selecting the phone icon from your home screen. Then tap the three-dot menu and choose Settings > Call > Call Rejection > Auto Reject List > Create. At this point, Android phones will have a search box that’ll appear. Insert the phone number or name of the person you want to block, and presto, that name will be added to the Auto Reject List.

Blocking calls on a Samsung phone

If you have a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus or another Samsung phone, it’s easy to block unwanted callers. Select the Phone icon on your home screen, tap the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner, and then tap Settings. You’ll find Block numbers listed here — you can also use this menu to manage the numbers on your Block list. If you wish to automatically block unknown callers, simply toggle on the option for Block anonymous calls.

You can also block numbers from your call log. To do so, open up Phone > Recents and tap a number or contact. You can then tap Details > Menu (three dots in the upper-right corner) > Block number, which will give you the option to block the number in question.

Blocking calls on an HTC phone

HTC, much like Samsung, has integrated call blocking. To use it, open the Phone app on your home screen and navigate to Call history. Long press on the number you’d like to block and tap the option to Block Contact or Block caller. You can review blocked contacts in the Phone app by tapping the menu icon at the top right (three vertical dots).

Blocking calls on an LG phone

LG has made it relatively simple to block numbers on its handsets, including the LG V30. To start, open the Phone app and navigate to the Call logs tab. Tap the number you want to block and then tap the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner. Select Block number from the drop-down menu.

You can also review, add, or remove numbers from your list by opening the Phone app, navigating to the Call logs tab, and tapping the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner. Select Call blocking & Decline with message > Blocked numbers.

Blocking calls with an Android app

If none of the other options suits you, or you just want a more user-friendly way of blocking calls on your phone, a third-party app may be your best bet. Here are a few solid options.

Should I Answer?

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Should I Answer is not your average call blocker. It’s able to block specific numbers or all phone numbers except those in your contact list, sure, but the real hook is its extensive database of known telemarketer, scammer, and premium rate numbers. When you get a phone call, Should I Answer shows a brief description and user reviews of the incoming number, plus the option to leave a rating of your own or add the number to a private block list. Should I Answer also features some of the most robust call-blocking features of any app in its category. It can automatically filter calls from hidden numbers, premium numbers, foreign countries, and numbers below a certain review threshold. Perhaps best of all, all of the aforementioned features work offline — the app saves a small copy of the ratings database locally.

Download now for:

Android

Safest Call Blocker

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Safest Call Blocker features the usual array of call-blocking toggles — you can block all numbers from a custom blacklist, for example, and block all numbers that aren’t in your contacts — but you can also block a range of numbers using wild cards. Can’t stand the incessant 800 number offers for “free” Hawaiian vacations? Add 1-800-###-#### to the block list and you won’t hear one ever again. Safest Call Blocker also notifies you when it blocks calls, and automatically keeps blocked numbers out of your call log.

Download now for:

Android

Mr. Number

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This app bills itself as a free alternative text and calling app, with free messaging between members and real-time updates about when your messages have been read. It also happens to be a powerful call- and text-blocking app for Android. You can block specific numbers or you can block entire area codes. Thanks to user-submitted info on telemarketers and other spam, it’s easy to create a block list that will protect you from cold calls.

Download now for:

Android

Call Control

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Here’s another Android call blocker with a big list of user-submitted spam numbers that you can automatically block. This one also ties in with the Federal Communications Commission’s Do Not Call registry. You can decide which calls get blocked and exactly how they are handled with this versatile app. You get a free 14-day trial of the full app before it reverts to a limited “Lite” version unless you cough up $8 dollars.

Download now for:

Android

Contacting your carrier

Most major carriers can block calls to your device. Verizon offers this service for free, as does Sprint. There are a few limitations — for instance, Verizon only allows you to block up to five lines. You’ll also have to reblock lines every 90 days. If you want AT&T to block unwanted numbers, you’ll need to cough up $5 a month. T-Mobile doesn’t offer a service for blocking calls or texts at all,  but you may have some success calling the T-Mobile service center.

Other options for blocking calls

There are a ton of other Android apps designed specifically for blocking calls, but take time to read reviews carefully and do your homework before opting for an alternative. Many of these apps conflict with antivirus apps, if not one another. Speaking of Android security apps, if you have Avast Mobile Security already installed, there’s an option for filtering calls and SMS messages that allows you to block specific contacts.

Editors’ Recommendations

The Painfully Persistent B2B Sales and Marketing Divide

The historical sales and marketing team divide has been getting worse, suggests a B2B report InsideView released this week.

A disconnect between sales and marketing can have a direct impact on companies’ top and bottom lines.

The 995 United States-based sales and marketing professionals who responded to the InsideView survey came from a cross-section of industries throughout the country.

Fifty percent of the respondents were in sales and 40 percent were in marketing, with the remaining 10 percent classified as “other.”

They represented a range of company sizes, from small businesses to large enterprises:

  • 33 percent from companies with fewer than 500 employees
  • 41 percent from companies with 501-4,999 employees
  • 26 percent from companies with 5,000-plus employees

They cited a host of challenges to alignment:

  • Communication issues – 49 percent
  • Broken or flawed processes – 42 percent
  • Different metrics used by sales and marketing – 40 percent
  • Lack of accurate data on target accounts – 39 percent
  • Reporting challenges – 27 percent
  • Lack of common prospects and customer data – 27 percent
  • Lack of accountability on both sides – 26 percent

Communication issues include the way leads are converted, as well as issues that might affect performance and close rates.

Things sales professionals wanted marketing departments to improve:

  • Lead quality – 55 percent
  • Lead quantity – 44 percent
  • Competitive information – 39 percent
  • Brand awareness – 37 percent
  • Lead nurturing – 37 percent

Improvements marketers wanted from sales:

  • Better lead follow-up – 34 percent
  • Consistent use of systems – 32 percent

It’s the People, Not the Tech

Closing the sales-marketing divide has been a long, slow process, “because alignment is hard and is something that needs continuous attention,” noted InsideView CMO Tracy Eiler.

Sales and marketing departments increasingly have been digitizing, and software vendors have been moving toward adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning, she told CRM Buyer, but “it’s not just a software problem. It’s a people, process and technology problem.”

AI and machine learning “will help tremendously, but they’re not a silver bullet. These are just tools in the greater context of a coordinated and aligned go-to-market strategy across marketing and sales,” Eiler remarked.

“The problem lies with siloed departments and lack of communication,” suggested Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

The challenge is data quality, she told CRM Buyer. “If the data quality is poor, then the insights will be wrong.”

Process and Collaboration Issues

“Technology helps with activity tracking, coordination and reporting, but what’s broken is process and communication,” Zhou said.

The lack of defined and workable business processes, specifically those tied directly to the lead funnel, has become a problem because pipeline is key, InsideView noted. Absence of agreement on key factors — such as lead flow, what makes a qualified lead, and the process to examine the pipeline — has led to misalignment.

Foundational conversations about pipeline either have not been happening or have not delivered equal value for both departments, the survey found.

Collaboration is another issue. While 63 percent of sales executives said they did not collaborate with marketing on lead scoring, 57 percent of marketers indicated they met with sales weekly to discuss lead scoring.

“Marketers should take the initiative and include sales in discussions about [target] accounts,” Zhou recommended. “Remember, the goal is the same — to drive revenue.”

Sales and marketing often have different focuses, InsideView found.

Traditional sales focuses:

  • Quota attainment
  • Accounts, titles and names
  • Closing deals
  • Velocity through the sales cycle

Traditional marketing focuses:

  • The top of the lead funnel
  • Segments
  • Campaign metrics
  • Brand awareness

Further, sales people have been incentivized on quota attainment, while marketers have been incentivized on lead volume, InsideView’s Eiler noted.

Successful companies focus on lead quality, and they discuss pipeline twice as frequently as unsuccessful ones. They work on lead scoring together five times as often, and they place an increased priority on database quality and enrichment, the survey found.

Going forward, essential strategies for sales and marketing departments likely will include the adoption of common measurements and consistent communication practices, the report suggests, as well as a stronger focus on lead and data quality and buyer insights.



Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Climb-On Maps changes the climbing game by getting you there faster and safer

Climb-on

Finding climbing routes can be a frustrating process for even the most seasoned of climbers — be it dealing with dangerous walk-offs or fumbling with large guidebooks. After years of not only experiencing this but also hearing from their peers, married couple and avid climbers Rick Momsen and Stefani Dawn decided to create Climb-On Maps.

Their idea was to have it pick up where guidebooks and sites like Mountain Project leave off, offering users clear route types, grades, and count per crag. In its physical iteration, it also provides water- and tear-proof, highly detailed maps of approaches and (non-rappel) walk-offs for some of the United States’ most popular climbing areas.

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Of course, there are other climbing apps like SloperClimbing, Rakkup, and ClimbingWeather built to assist climbers with weather conditions, planning routes, and even GPS navigation. But what about what satellite images can’t see and differing GPS systems? These issues limit climbing apps and could spell the difference between life and death.

Boots-on-the-ground map work by professionals like Momsen and Dawn is so important

This is why boots-on-the-ground map work by professionals like Momsen and Dawn is so important. The couple took their passion for rock climbing — and Momsen’s 20 years of GIS (Geographic Information System) experience — and compiled it with route data from Mountain Project and published guidebooks for an area to assemble comprehensive at-a-glance charts. With Red Rock Canyon and Smith Rock State Park already available, the duo decided to launch a map of Joshua Tree National Park on Kickstarter. They hit their campaign goal in just 36 hours.

Demonstrating complete dedication to the climbing community, climbing safety, and to the protection of the environment, the team personally walked thousands of miles, took thousands of photos, wrote copious field notes, and GPS-tracked every trail to create each map. Digital Trends spoke with Stefani Dawn to find out more about the intense preparation and financial resources that went into creating these navigational maps, as well as the lessons learned using Kickstarter to raise money and why all GPS systems and technology are not created equal.

Digital Trends:  Why did Rick and you create Climb-On Maps?

Stefani Dawn: When we were working full-time in other jobs, climbing trips happened on weekends and over limited vacation time. We would go to big areas, like Red Rock Canyon, Nevada and Joshua Tree, California and we’d usually encounter two things: Busy walls in easy-to-access areas or we’d get lost trying to find a climb. Both circumstances took away from our goal of the trip. It was incredibly frustrating. With our love of climbing and experience navigating and mapping the outdoors, we decided to start Climb-On Maps. There are two main challenges with large, complex rock climbing areas that we felt could be addressed with very detailed, climbing-specific maps.

First, there are navigation challenges. Rock climbing guidebooks are primarily designed to focus on information about individual routes. Our maps pick up where guidebooks leave off, providing detailed directions for how to get to a climb. People can also visit less frequented climbing areas, so they don’t have to wait in line.

Next are planning challenges. Climb On provide color-coded, at-a-glance crag summaries that show important information about each wall in an area like the number of climbs, distribution of grades, and specific climbs. This allows climbers to quickly scan the map, see if a wall meets their needs, how difficult it is to get there, and where walls are relative to each other.

Climb on maps elements

Why did you use Kickstarter to fund your latest map and what were the benefits and challenges of turning to crowdfunding?

Until this point, we primarily used our life’s savings or borrowed money to fund the business. We purchased professional GPS units, software licenses, a vehicle to live out, a large-scale plotter, and also had to pay for traveling and living expenses for about a year and a half. It took us almost two years, full-time, to collect data for our first four maps — and that was a period of no income. We turned to Kickstarter because, as a new business, we needed the exposure and a financial boost to print the Joshua Tree map. Our stretch goals help off-set printing for the fourth map, City of Rocks, Idaho.

This current Kickstarter campaign has been a great success and, now that we have products released and people are using them, we’re starting to get great reviews and coverage. It took a lot of work to get here, however, and that’s where the challenge conversation comes in. This is actually our second Kickstarter. Our first attempt we canceled because it was clear it wasn’t going to fund. The reality was if nobody knows about you, Kickstarter is not going to work.

Anyone with business savvy would say, “Well, of course. People need to know about you, why they need your product, and you have to prove yourself first.” But, many new business owners, including us, don’t know exactly what it takes to reach that point.  The learning curve for social media, advertising, promotion, branding, retail, wholesale, and even basic business practices, is significant. Then, as we have learned, Kickstarter has its own unique learning curve. We even hired a company to help educate us on a few things.

Climb on map detail

How are Climb-On Maps a better product, or more comprehensive, than other phone maps and GPS units? 

The maps for phone apps and GPS units are created with publicly available data, mainly because it’s time-consuming and labor intensive to collect data at a very fine scale. The scale most commonly used in other professional maps is 1:24,000 (i.e., 1 inch = 24,000 inches/.4 miles) because that’s the scale the U.S. Geologic Survey typically uses and the USGS data is the historical source for much of the publicly available data. Depending on the map area, our maps go down to a scale of around 1:1200. That’s 20 times more detailed than other maps.

When we zoom down to the level of our maps, which are in natural areas where publicly available data all but disappears, the only solution is to create our own data at a scale that’s useful. We collect data by using high quality, professional GPS units and walk every inch of the trails we map. We take detailed notes, collect trail attribute data, and take thousands of photos.

The reason we need to go down to such a fine scale is due to the complexity of the terrain. For our map to be useful in the conditions climbers face, we need to be able to inform the climber of the exact way to go under a big boulder, or crawl up a chimney and walk along a ledge. To be meaningful and useful, this all needs to be conveyed topographically, symbolically, and via photos on the map.

Climb on app

Lady Lockoff

What GPS technology does Rick use in gathering information for the maps? How does this tech add to the accuracy of Climb-On Maps? 

The GPS units used by Climb-on Maps are the Trimble T1 GNSS units and we utilize the SBAS differential correction, which corrects signal anomalies. The acronym GPS refers only to the United States’ constellation of positioning satellites, while GNSS refers to all global navigation satellites managed by other countries (Russia, Europe, and China). Being able to access positions from all GNSS constellations — a total of 91 satellites — allows reliable and continuous positioning even while deep in tall canyons or right up against climbing walls.

Map Tiers

You don’t use satellite imagery as the background for the maps, but use it in processing the maps — why? How do you define the boundary of a climbing wall?

We avoid satellite imagery because the quality is inconsistent. Problems with satellite imagery include dark shadows, poor resolution, confusing angles, and sometimes unusable distortion — especially with tall cliffs. Rick uses four different satellite imagery sources, aerial photos, and infrared or elevation to digitize and edit background data. When there’s an error, he switches to a different source for a separate perspective. This allows us to be accurate at the scales we’re working with. A printed map is not able to switch imagery sources and we believe that publishing any one source could be dangerous in the problematic areas.

To define the boundary of a climbing wall, we use our GPS points. While out collecting trail and wall data, we make sure to collect bounding routes of the wall (i.e. the first and last climbs on the wall) and then connect the points along the rock formation to show the span of walls that contain the climbs. Since our GPS data is accurate, it’s used as a reference for everything else. We can make detailed navigation notations when building the map because we’ve been there.

Climb on app

Lady Lockoff

What are your thoughts on climbing apps?

Most climbing apps are digital versions of hardcopy guidebooks. Because they’re essentially digital guidebooks, the maps and directions portion of apps are similar to what you would find in these regular books.

Providing GPS coordinates are helpful to let you know if you’re at the right location but they don’t tell you how to get there. This results in the climber making a straight line towards the coordinate — very likely a bushwhack, which is more difficult and far more environmentally destructive than providing a fine-scale map. In large, complex areas, like Joshua Tree or Red Rock Canyon, climbers are often met with the same problem of being confused and wandering lost.

We love digital technology but sometimes the analog product is the way to go

We’ve seen attempts at trying to use GPS guided maps in some of the climbing apps but there are plenty of limitations — the scale of available data, satellite background imagery, quality of GPS units used, and even the GPS units in cell phones. It’s a difficult combination of factors to make right in certain terrain. Let’s say the underlying data is accurate, the quality of a smartphone GPS unit is still a major limitation, especially in dangerous areas. Even with accurate data, a user’s cell phone could be over 100 feet off obstructions.

With a paper map, users are forced to find their location using visual cues and surrounding terrain features. A map can also help you rapidly triangulate your position. That’s very difficult to do with a smartphone — you have to expand and contract the screen over and over again. We love digital technology and rely on it heavily to make maps but sometimes the old school, analog product is the way to go.

Have Rick or you ever had a close-call while researching a location?

Considering the number of miles we’ve covered (over 1,800 miles and counting), we’ve been lucky to come out unharmed. But, we have had several close calls. If you look at any one of our maps, you’ll see a lot of red triangles. Those indicate exposure. We also have an icon in the triangles telling you the level of danger with that exposure should you fall — bone breaking, major damage, or rest in peace. We know the exposure level because we were there, so we’re constantly facing that risk.

There’s one time I would categorize as terrifying. It occurred while I was mapping alone in Joshua Tree and was very isolated. I came across a dangerous boulder field with crumbling rock and 20- to 40-foot pits between boulders. A fall would result in injury and becoming trapped beneath the boulders — there would be no way to be found.

What’s in the pipeline for Climb-On Maps?

Our most immediate plans are to publish the climber’s maps for Joshua Tree and City of Rocks and to promote them. While on the road, there are other climbing areas we plan to explore to see if they’d be a good fit.

We’re also looking to expand into a unique hiking map product, called Choose Your Adventure which is hand-selected, off-the-beaten-path hikes in spectacular areas. The hikes vary for certain adventure styles, from hard-core adventure to a child-friendly map. Each map is based on detailed trail data, so they’ll be accurate and quite different from standard hiking maps.

Editors’ Recommendations

Some hard truths about Twitter’s health crisis


It’s a testament to quite how control freaky and hermetically sealed to criticism the tech industry is that Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey went unscripted in front of his own brand livestreaming service this week, inviting users to lob awkward questions at him for the first time ever.

It’s also a testament to how much trouble social media is in. As I’ve written before, ‘fake news’ is an existential crisis for platforms whose business model requires them to fence vast quantities of unverified content uploaded by, at best, poorly verified users.

No content, no dice, as it were. But things get a whole lot more complicated when you have to consider what the content actually is; who wrote it; whether it’s genuine or not; and what its messaging might be doing to your users, to others and to society at large.

As a major MIT study looking at a decade’s worth of tweets — and also published this week — underlines: Information does not spread equally.

More specifically, fact-checked information that has been rated true seems to be less sharable than fact-checked information that has been rated false. Or to put it more plainly: Novel/outrageous content is more viral.

This is entirely unsurprising. As Jonathan Swift put it all the way back in the 1700s: “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” New research, old truth.

What’s also true is that as social media’s major platforms have scaled, so too have the problems blasted through their megaphones zoomed into mainstream view.

Concerns have ballooned. We’re now at a structural level, debating societal fundamentals like cohesion, civility, democracy. Even, you could argue, confronting humanity itself. Platform as a term has always had a dehumanizing ring. Perhaps that’s their underlying truth too.

Dorsey says the “health” of conversations on his platform is now the company’s “number one priority” — more than a decade after he typed that vapid first tweet, “just setting up my twttr”, when he presumably had zero idea of all the horrible things humans would end up using his technology for.

But it’s also at least half a decade after warnings that trolls and bots were running rampant on Twitter’s platform.

Turns out the future comes at you eventually. Even if you stubbornly refuse to listen as alarm after alarm are being sounded. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,” wrote John Donne, meditating on society and the individual, back in 1624.

A #280 assessment of what a buzzcut, bearded and careworn Dorsey now says he sees as Twitter’s main problem and thus priority boils down to something like this…

We know our platform is being used negatively, people are hurting and public conversation is being damaged. But we don’t know how to fix it because we don’t understand how to measure the individual and societal impacts of our technology. We think more tech can help. Pls help us.

What Twitter’s crisis tells us is that tech companies are terrible listeners. Although those of us outside the engineering room knew that already.

It’s hardly a surprise that techies suck at listening when they sit inside their hermetically sealed pods thinking it’s both their special gift and libertarian right to control levers that remotely affect other people’s lives while channelling the spice and dollars their way.

So it is a good sign, albeit horribly overdue, to see a nervous and contrite-seeming Dorsey stand in front of the firehose of user opinion — for 50 or so raw, unedited minutes.

Hopefully this performance — which he said would be repeated regularly, from here on in — signals an absolute conversion to reformation. A realization that social media platforms can’t engineer around societal responsibility. That listening and understanding is absolutely their day job.

Head-in-the-sand-ism will catch up with you eventually. Just as playing fast and loose finally overtook Uber’s founder and landed his company in all sorts of legal hot water.

So how did Dorsey and select members of his safety ‘A-team’ do in their first ‘awkward questions’ Periscope?

Fair to middling, is my assessment. It’s clear they still don’t really know how to fix the mess they are in. Hence Twitter soliciting proposals from the public. But admitting they don’t know what to do and reaching out for help is a big and important step.

To put it colloquially, they’ve realized the shit they’re in. And the shit that’s at stake. Hashtag #changeforreal

Dorsey seemed visibly uncomfortable with the Periscope process, which again is testament to how closed a box and operating shop Twitter has been. He hasn’t always been CEO but he is a founder so he’s absolutely on the hook for that.

And Twitter’s bunker mentality has clearly compounded its problems in identifying and responding to content issues that first flared on its platform and then raged. Unpicking that won’t be easy.

Indeed, he said several times that the changes he wants to happen “won’t happen overnight”. That changing Twitter will require a lot of work.

He also admitted the company has “a lot of historical divisions” and said it has not always been as collaborative as it could have. tl;dr inside Twitter there’s a bunch of other bunkers — which truly sounds like a culture nightmare.

So when he talked about the hard work coming I don’t think Dorsey just meant reengineering lots of systems and cranking out lots more user surveys. Because changing an ingrained culture and its processes is a beast. Which is why it’s much better to start from a place of enlightenment. But hey, silver lining, here Twitter finally, finally is, admitting it screwed up and wanting to start over.

At least it’s now saying it wants its product to have a holistic and healthy impact on the world. That it wants to try and reset the coarsening of public discourse that social media has wrought. Certainly it’s a more evolved mission statement than its previous one — which was basically: ‘Eat our free speech.’

That said, Dorsey’s focus on a new type of measurement — this idea of a ‘health metric’ — as the solution for toxic content seems to me problematic. Almost, you could say, like the trigger response of an engineer confronting an ethics textbook for the first time.

Because Twitter’s content problems really boil down to Twitter failing to enforce the community standards it already has. Which in turn is a failure of leadership, as I have previously argued.

A good current example is that it has an ads policy that bans “misleading and deceptive” ads. Yet it continues to accept advertising money from unregulated entities pushing dubiously obscure crypto exchanges and flogging wildly risky token sales.

Twitter really doesn’t need to wait for a new metric to understand that the right thing to do here is to take crypto/ICO ads off its platform right now.

Shucks, even Facebook has done this.

Yet Dorsey and his team omitted to mention ads when he was asked about crypto scams during the Periscope. They just talked about what they’re doing to tackle Twitter users trying to tweet-scam others into sending a bit of crypto.

Continuing to accept ad money attached to what’s still an essentially unregulated space, when there are so many visible and public concerns because scams really are part of the furniture, really is indefensible. Banning these ads is both common sense and just the right thing to do.

And so if Twitter needs to wait for someone else to invent some kind of holistic wellness metric in order to make that low-hanging Satoshi drop then, well, its culture change is going to be much harder and much more painful than Dorsey imagines.

Obsession with measurement and the search for a universal problem-solving metric — to try to quantify the “health, openness and civility of public conversation”, as Twitter puts it — also looks very much like a strategy to buy time.

It may ultimately turn out to be misdirection too; an attempt to deflect blame and divert criticism via solutioneering.

By outsourcing a challenge, and seeking to co-opt the energy and ideas of third parties, Twitter is also reframing what’s broken in a way that starts to spread responsibility for the problems its platform is causing. (Maybe it’s taken a leaf out of Facebook’s playbook on that.)

Content moderation is certainly a hard problem if you understaff it. But if you employ enough machine-aided humans to properly enforce your community standards then it’s quite possible to shrink a toxic content problem.

Throw enough resources in and content problems can become vanishingly small, even insignificant. This is known as community management.

Yes there are counter risks. Especially if, like Twitter, you’ve historically advertised yourself as the free speech wing of the free speech party.

But if you’re having trouble drawing service red lines around, for example, known neo nazis, for whom hate speech and agitating for violence is a way of life, then setting out on a long and winding quest to deconstruct the anatomy of society in the hopes of eventually being able to build algorithms that do a better job of keeping toxic content off your platform, well, that probably isn’t the fundamental fix you should be searching for.

The problem right now is that Twitter doesn’t have the courage — or, heck, the imagination — to enforce its own community guidelines.

Though the hard truth may well be that it just cannot afford to. That the business model never did stack up. Not if you have to factor in the cost of staffing up to properly moderate all the shit that’s being uploaded and thrown about.

Meanwhile the costs of toxic, hate inciting messages blitzkrieging public conversation via the amplifying megaphone of social media keep on rising…

In his Periscope plea for help, Dorsey also said he wants Twitter to be “one of the most trusted services in the world”. But if he thinks he can build a for-all-technotopia where liberals co-exist peacefully alongside neo nazis — thanks to a shiny new set of augmented reality controls that fade view from counter view — he’s still thinking fatally inside the tech industry black box.

Social media has always bled offline. Its wounds, like its users, are human. Its shaping impacts are felt by people and across society.

Another old truth: You can’t please all of the people, all of the time. So if Dorsey thinks he can find a technology fix for that age-old challenge he’s going to waste a whole lot more money and a whole lot more time — while the rest of us bleed.

Featured Image: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Essential really wants to solve the screen notch problem


In a way, Essential is something of a pioneer. Before the iPhone X helped the world reluctantly embrace the screen notch, the company proudly displayed one atop its first flagship. Since then, of course, it’s become a feature, not a bug, with a long list of companies rushing to embrace it on their latest flagship.

But Essential’s clearly hoping to solve the issue with a number of patents looking to stick a camera directly behind the display. The Andy Rubin-founded company has been on quite a patent run in recent months — but the ones pertaining to a “camera integrated into a display” are the most compelling of the lot. And if it comes to fruition, it could breathe new life into the company’s upcoming handsets after an admittedly slow start.

The patent describes a multi-layered display with camera in which a “substantially transparent region allows light from outside to reach the camera to record an image.” The patent points to a potential application in which the camera is mounted behind the LCD. 

In the imagery accompanying the post, the camera is positioned in its customary spot up top — you know, where the notch should be. In another iteration of the same idea, the camera is located behind the screen’s color layer and “records the light from the outside colored by the color filter layer.”

A separate patent has “an irregularly shaped electronic display, including a hollowed out display within which a sensor, such as a camera, can be placed. The manufacturing techniques enable the creation of the hollow anytime during the manufacturing process. The resulting electronic display occupies the full side of the mobile device, with the sensors placed within and surrounded by the display.”

There are a ton of Essential patents revolving around the idea, and as Rubin recently pointed out on Twitter, the company also holds a two-year-old patent describing a camera that pops out of the top of the phone — a concept that began showing up on actual devices last month at MWC, along with Huawei’s new nose-view keyboard camera.

Both patents include a fun little addition, wherein the camera is located behind a camera icon. Tapping the icon would activate the icon. Of course, depending on how all of this is implemented, you probably don’t want to put a camera in a spot that is going to accumulate a substantial amount of your disgusting finger grease.

“The integrated camera serves two purposes: to record pictures,” the patent reads, “and to act as a camera icon, that when selected activates the camera. By removing the camera from the front side of the mobile device, or by integrating the camera into the display screen of the mobile device, the size of the mobile device display screen can be increased.”

Of course, the standard patent disclaimers apply here — there’s no guarantee the company plans to (or is even able to) implement the technologies outlined in these forms. Such patents are often pie in the sky ideas or just IP grabs. We reached out to Essential and the company declined to comment any further on the patents.

The VR Experience: Challenges for a Growing Market

Virtual reality devices, including headsets and peripherals, offer consumers and businesses new ways to experience and share immersive content for entertainment, educational, social and other purposes.

VR’s unique capability to promote user interaction through highly immersive content provides untapped potential in terms of storytelling, advertising, the practice of medicine, business, travel and much more. Virtual reality headsets are now available at increasingly attainable prices, and many consumers have computing hardware capable of supporting the demands of VR software.

Compared with other consumer technology products, VR headset adoption, purchase, and purchase intention rates remain extremely low.

Slow Start

Only 7 percent of U.S. broadband households surveyed owned at least one virtual reality headset as of Q3 2017. Three percent reported having purchased a headset in the year prior, and 14 percent reported their intent to purchase one in the coming year. Those rates reflect a very young market.

The rate of year-over-year increase was substantial, though. Both the adoption and purchase rates tripled between early 2016 and Q3 2017. The percentage of broadband households indicating their intention to buy one or more VR headsets in the year ahead nearly tripled in the same18-month period.

Many companies anticipate strong growth for the VR market as both headsets and content become increasingly available and accessible.

The major companies that drove the early push for consumer VR — Facebook, Valve/HTC, Sony, Samsung and Google — continue to lead the market today. Microsoft joined them with the release of its Windows Mixed Reality headsets at the end of 2017. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift still dominate the premium PC-based space, while Samsung and Google continue to rule the mobile VR market.

Pricing remains a constraint, particularly for mid-tier and premium head-mounted displays. The industry must address several factors before VR will achieve a stronger mainstream presence.

Lack of Familiarity

Less than one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers surveyed were familiar or very familiar with virtual reality, and even fewer reported familiarity with specific VR headsets.

Because the value of VR is best understood when experienced, headset demos are key to VR adoption. As of Q1 2017, fewer than 13 percent of consumers had experienced VR — a statistic that must change for VR to achieve mass market adoption.

Technology Fragmentation

VR market players have been experimenting with a variety of tracking, input and content technologies, with no common standards followed by the entire industry. As a result, much of the content produced remains constrained to particular headset hardware, and conversion to alternative hardware often is costly.

This fragmentation makes content development expensive and limits content distribution. With no dominant VR headset maker and little prospect of near-term consensus, the lack of standardization will remain an issue for the next few years.

User Experience Issues

The various VR technology approaches present unique user experience issues that current-generation VR headsets have yet to solve.

Feedback on the user experience from those who own or have tried VR headsets has been mixed, based on Parks Associates data. While the majority of survey respondents said they would like to be able to experience VR in their own homes, more than half also reported that they did not think the experience would be worth the extra expense of buying a headset. Most indicated that the experience exceeded their expectations, but one-fifth said it did not. One-third found the VR experience disorienting or uncomfortable.

Lack of a Concise Value Proposition

Virtual Reality describes a way of experiencing content rather than promoting the type, purpose, or value of the content itself. Potential use cases are wide-ranging, and this diversity of purposes makes the technology an attractive investment. It eventually could become so widespread as to be indispensable in some industries.

Yet fragmentation in uses cases may slow initial traction. While gaming, streaming 360-degree video, and virtual travel all provide compelling use cases, there are no ecosystems sufficiently developed to drive headset sales on their own.

Despite slow initial uptake, virtual reality has the potential to breathe life into a consumer electronics market at risk of languishing. Its last round of innovative, disruptive devices — smartphones and tablets — have been reaching maturity rapidly.

More than 77 million households will own VR devices by 2021, Parks Associates has forecast. That’s 2.3 times more than the number that owned a device in 2017.

The VR market’s growth will continue to be driven primarily by gamers and enthusiasts, though VR live broadcasts of Olympic games, sports, and other live events by companies such as NBC and NextVR have become increasingly popular over the past two years.

Market players and watchers should continue to pay close attention, as the VR market has the potential to change drastically over the next two to three years.


Hunter Sappington is a research analyst at
Parks Associates.

Hackers could seize robots with ransomware, costing companies millions

hackers could use ransomware seize robots business img1

Security consultants IOActive recently created a proof-of-concept attack that uses ransomware to disrupt big corporations. The attack didn’t land on corporate PCs to encrypt files for ransom. Instead, the researchers attacked robots, which are vital in many markets such as automobile manufacturing, healthcare, and more. Disrupting these robot-powered environments can cost businesses money every second they are offline. 

One attack vector relies on how robots deal with data. Although they typically include internal storage, most of the data handled by robots remains “in transit,” meaning robots receive data, process the data, and then send the data back to be stored at the source. That data could contain high-definition video, captured audio, payments received by customers, instructions on how to perform the current task, and so on. 

“Instead of encrypting data, an attacker could target key robot software components to make the robot non-operational until the ransom is paid,” the researchers state. 

To prove their theory, the researchers focused their attack on NAO, a highly used robot in the research and education fields with a roster of 10,000 units in active duty across the globe. It has “nearly the same” operating system and vulnerabilities as SoftBank’s Pepper, a business-oriented robot with a massive roster of 20,000 units deployed in 2,000 businesses. Even Sprint is using Pepper to assist customers in its retail stores. 

The attack starts off by exploiting an undocumented function that allows anyone to remotely execute commands. After that, they could disable administration features, change the robot’s default functions, and route all video and audio feeds to a remote server on the internet. Others steps include elevating user privileges, disrupting the factory reset mechanism, and infect all behavior files. In other words, they can make the robot very unpleasant, even physically harmful.

By hijacking robots, hackers could interrupt service altogether, causing corporations to lose money with each passing moment. They could even force the robots to show explicit porn to customers, curse at customers during one-on-one interaction, or perform violent movements. The only way to reverse the behavior is to succumb to hackers because, ultimately, paying the ransom could be cheaper than repairs. 

That scenario even applies to sex robots given the privacy and intimacy aspects. Users will likely shell out money to hackers rather than call technical support, deal with customer care, and arrange for someone to get the unit for “repairs.” At least sex robots don’t have any moving parts … or rather, not yet. 

“They aren’t cheap,” the report states. “It’s not easy to factory reset them or fix software and hardware problems. Usually, when a robot malfunctions, you have to return it to the factory or employ a technician to fix it. Either way, you may wait weeks for its return to operational status.” 

The researchers compare disrupting robots in corporate environments to halting cryptocurrency mining farms. Interrupt those PCs with ransomware and miners lose money every second those devices aren’t online digging for digital coins. 

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Less is more: How to pack your gadgets for travel, quickly and easily

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Vacations are fun, but packing for them isn’t. There’s nothing worse than stressing over what to take before you hop on a plane, train, automobile, or ship. And, if you’re a geek like us, we like to bring our gadgets along. Or, should we?

As much as we want to bring our cameras, tablets, computers, gaming consoles, portable batteries, and what not, you should restrict the amount of things in your bag to match the type of vacation you’re having and your mode of transportation. Unless you plan to work, do you really need to bring a laptop? If you plan on participating in extreme activities, does it make sense to bring the DSLR? Take some time to plan, and your vacation or work trip could be stress-free before you arrive at the destination. Our guide will help you decide what you should pack to avoid unessential gear.

Determine your mode of transportation

Every mode of public transportation has instructions for what you can — and cannot — bring onboard. This includes planes, trains, cruise ships, buses, etc. There are the obvious prohibitions: ammunition, firearms, explosives, and other hazardous items. But there are also innocuous things like a bottle of water or a portable USB charger. Check the service provider’s homepage for rules and regulations — even experienced travelers may be surprised by one or two. The Transportation Security Administration and Amtrak have detailed rules on their websites.

Pick your most essential gears

Keep in mind the golden rule of packing: pack light. The duration of a trip will dictate what you need, but whether it’s a long or short sojourn, it’s best to practice some minimalism. Do you really need 10 charging cables, when two would suffice? Is that hair dryer or steam iron necessary when you plan to stay at a hotel, where they generally come standard? And are you so into a game that you need to bring a gaming console (if yes, you might want to cancel your trip and stay home to play).

Essential gadgets are exactly what those words mean: Enough chargers and cables to juice up your devices, portable battery, headphones, phone, and anything that offers benefits during the trip or is required (say, your work laptop for a business meeting or an adapter for international travel). For everything else, imagine what your trip would look like without the item, and then decide if you need it. Ultimately, what you bring is up to you — only you will know what’s essential — but less is likely more.

Use a small carry-on bag

The bigger the bag, the more likely you will fill it with unnecessary things. If you’re not a savvy packer, consider using a smaller bag — like a backpack or a specialty bag — to restrict the amount of gear you take. Another benefit is that it’s easier to carry and can fit underneath the seat in front of you, making it easier to access. Consider using a bag with dedicated pockets and compartments, or something like the Osprey Farpoint 55, which has a removable daypack for your gadgets and accessories (or as a bag for walking around town), laptop compartment, and lots of room for clothes.

Osprey Farpoint 55

Osprey Farpoint 55

Check international voltage and plug information

Different parts of the world use different voltages and plug types, so if you’re traveling internationally you will need to bring along an adapter or two. An item that’s certified for use in the U.S. may have a higher or lower voltage requirement than what’s supported, which could blow whatever it is you’re plugging into.

Voltage information can be found in the imprint or label under most battery packs or power supply. American appliances run on 110 volts while Europe and Asia supply 220 to 240 volts of electricity. If your gear is labeled “110-240 V,” consider yourself good to go; newer appliances are made to be dual-voltage, so you won’t need a voltage converter but just a regular travel adapter. If this isn’t the case, get yourself a voltage converter designed for travel, like the Bestek Travel Converter with 4 USB. Some come with surge protection as well.

Bestek Travel Converter with 4 USB

Bestek Travel Converter with 4 USB

The travel adapter lets you plug your device into various socket types. (Remember: As mentioned, not all travel adapters support voltage conversion, so make sure it has that function if you need it). Electronics made for use in the U.S. run on either the two flat prongs (Type A) or three prongs (Type B: two flat, one circular), but unless you visit a country that uses the same standard, like Canada or Mexico, neither will fit the outlets in other countries (although Japan uses the same type of plug and outlet as the U.S., the voltage is different). Check out our list of best travel adapters to find the right one.

If you travel in a big group with a lot of gadgets that all need juicing nightly, consider bringing a portable outlet as well.

Pack neatly and efficiently

The airport and cruise ship terminals are places where your bags will get scrutinized and screened before you are allowed to board (although there may be random inspections at train stations, bus depots, and elsewhere). In case your bag gets singled out for a closer inspection, make sure the inside is neatly organized. Instead of tossing everything into a bag, layer the items neatly so security personnel can clearly see what each item is supposed to be, without needing to pull everything out.

To keep wires neat, simply roll them up neatly and tie with a rubber band or twist-tie. You could also use clear plastic bags, as you would with your toiletries. Alternatively, you could use an organizer with separate compartments, like the Pull Apart from Porte Play or the AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case.

Porte Play Pull Apart

Porte Play Pull Apart

Laptops and other large electronics may need to be screened separately. Either use a bag with a dedicated laptop compartment for easy access (or a laptop sleeve), or, if you’re using just one bag for your entire trip, pack your clothes at the bottom and the gear at the top (just remember not to load anything on top of your bag). You also don’t want the gadgets to shift in the bag, so be sure to pack tightly or organize them into a small bag that you can easily pull out.

A number of luggage items have a front compartment where you can put additional items, like shirts, sweaters, socks, and other soft items to add extra cushion to the gears that are sitting right under the front surface of the bag. Also, take advantage of bubble wrap. When you’re done packing, weigh your bag or suitcase to make sure it doesn’t go above the weight limit.

When in doubt, just make sure the things you place at the bottom are items that are the least susceptible to scrutiny. Don’t bury weirdly shaped electronics that a security agent has to dig through your other things to reach, messing up your belongings in the process.

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Here is everything you need to know about the Fitbit Versa

fitbit teases new smartwatch newfitbit3

Fitbit has another smartwatch in development, according to the latest leaks and rumors. It may be named the Fitbit Versa, and either succeed or complement the Fitbit Blaze and Ionic smartwatches upon release. The fitness wearable company has always split opinion with its designs, so will the Versa, or whatever it’s finally named, be any different? Here’s everything you need to know about Fitbit’s next smartwatch.

Name, price, and release

Several reports over the last year hinted at what was next in Fitbit’s innovation cycle, with names like the Charge 3 and Blaze 2 among the most popular rumors. However, the next wearable to come may be named the Fitbit Versa, according to a leak from well-known mobile leaker Evan Blass. Revealed in a tweet, an image of the same watch previously leaked is shown — in gray with a silicone strap — alongside the possible name. While the source is credible, we don’t know if this name is final, and it may change before any release.

Though the company only just released the Fitbit Ionic in 2017 — its first genuine smartwatch — that device (along with the original Blaze) failed to garner widespread popularity, achieving rather minimal sales. According to an investor call, the Versa will possess “mass appeal,” and may be cheaper than the Ionic. This would help drive sales, and in turn help the device achieve enhanced popularity among developers.

It’s not known when the Versa will be officially announced, but Fitbit has confirmed the next generation of its smartwatch-slash-fitness-tracker line will come in the spring.

Design and features

Fitbit’s wearable designs are never conventional. How will the Versa look? If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, it may see Apple patting itself on the back. Following confirmation of the device’s future release during an investor call, Wareable also managed to obtain a few leaked photos of the upcoming watch, which looks strangely similar to the Apple Watch 3.

fitbit teases new smartwatch newfitbit5

Outside of the investor call, someone in the know regarding Fitbit’s plans told Wareable that the company wants the new release “to be something that will appeal to a larger, more general smartwatch audience.” When pressed further, the source said Fitbit feels the Ionic features a “large, unattractive design,” pointing to the fact that it comes in only one size as another possible hindrance. It also appears as though Fitbit has designed a smaller smartwatch and intends for it to cater more to a female audience.

The same report also confirmed the new watch would feature water-resistance up to 50 meters, boast the same SpO2 sensor as the Ionic (meaning it will track sleep patterns), and will be available in four different colors — silver, black, charcoal, and rose gold. Based on the leaked images, there also appear to be a number of different strap options to choose from. Perhaps its most glaring omission is that it apparently won’t feature any sort of GPS.

Despite the leaked images and investor call insight, Wareable’s attempt at a comment from Fitbit yielded a short response that simply stated the company had “no news to share at this point.” However, we’ll keep you updated with news and rumors on the Versa right here.

Updated on March 9, 2018: Added in leak potentially revealing the Fitbit watch’s name

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