ViaHero lets locals plan your trips abroad

Perhaps you’d like to visit an out of the way restaurant or smoke a unique cigar. Perhaps you’d like to take part in native dances or infiltrate a foreign government at a classy cocktail party. ViaHero, a new app that lets locals help plan your trips abroad, can help.

The founders, Greg Buzulencia and Ben Preston, have raised $210,000 from investors and Pittsburgh’s AlphaLab accelerator and they have 205 paying customers. Their customers have requested cool trip recommendations from multiple spots around the world so far and the company offers “a more comprehensive experience through end-to-end trip planning and a flexible, yet robust trip guide.”

“We give you everything you need for your trip, not bits and pieces you need to patch together with your own research,” said Buzulencia.

“Greg was planning a trip to Mongolia in 2015, spending countless hours trying to connect with locals to help him plan the off-the-beaten-path experiences he was looking for. He eventually found a local, a man named Canat, who helped him arrange everything he needed for his trip. He was an invaluable resource for planning out the trip, providing personal recommendations, arranging transportation, lodging and answering all of Greg’s questions,” he said. After returning, his co-founder realized that real recommendations from real people is the answer to the problem of finding cool stuff to see and do abroad.

The service finds a local to help you with your planning and can organize cool things to see and do, including offering opportunities to go horseback riding and infiltrate the secret police. Their first customer, Hadassa, used the service to plan a classic convertible ride in downtown Cuba, a lifelong dream. Just think about what sort of fun or rear-door embassy access you could get up to with a local’s help!

Google faces a potentially massive fine for breaking antitrust rules in the EU

Why it matters to you

Along with the financial penalty, this ruling against Google could force changes in the way the company presents search results to users.

For over a year, Google has been the subject of an investigation by the European Commission relating to accusations of anti-competitive practices. Now, there’s word that the company is about to be hit with a likely hefty fine as the Commission prepares to share its findings and administer sanctions.

Companies found to have breached antitrust rules in the European Union can be made to pay a penalty equal to 10 percent of its global turnover, according to a report from Reuters. As a result, Google could in theory be required to pay as much as $9 billion based on its financial performance in 2016.

The European Commission has been looking into this matter for seven years. The investigation was prompted by complaints from rival search engines in the U.S. and Europe, who claimed that Google distorts its search results to give an unfair advantage to its own shopping services.

As well as the fine, it’s likely that the Commission will force Google to modify its practices, although it’s not entirely clear how this action will play out. It’s possible that best practices could be laid out in broad strokes, but there’s also a chance that specific directions could be put in place for the company to adhere to.

Google has previously made three attempts to settle the matter, all of which were unsuccessful. At this point, it seems that the writing is on the wall, and a final ruling is set to be made public before the European Commission’s summer recess, which is scheduled to begin in August.

If Google is found to be guilty of wrongdoing, the decision could have an impact on two other accusations of anti-competitive practices. The company is also being investigated for pursuing an unfair monopoly in relation to both its Android operating system and its AdSense advertising program.

Apple reportedly turning to freelancers to help improve Maps results

Why it matters to you

Apple Maps has long been criticized for its inadequacies compared to Google’s solution, but this program aims to close that gap.

Apple wants to make Maps better — but it needs your help. The company is expected to unveil a program which permits freelance workers to be compensated for verifying and correcting Apple Maps results, according to a report from French blog iGeneration by way of 9to5Mac.

The program is called TryRating, and thanks to the interface Apple has developed, it’s fairly simple to use. Workers type in a search query, and are presented with a series of Maps results. They then must analyze the results, answering questions about the accuracy of the names, addresses, pin locations, and other details.

From there, Apple aggregates the results of many individuals interpreting the same query, drawing a consensus on how to update the location. And, not surprisingly, the company is very clear on how workers should judge every listing, supplying them with a 200-page book of guidelines.

Workers will reportedly be paid 54 cents for completing a single task, though they are limited to performing up to 600 a week. The system is not totally unlike Amazon’s Mechanical Turk model, which connects clients with a network of freelance workers to handle a variety of what it calls Human Intelligence Tasks.

Apple Maps may have stalled as it came out of the gate in 2012, but the service has made strides in its first five years. However, it still pales in usage when compared to Google Maps, which may explain this initiative. While Google relies on millions of users to crowdsource improvements, Apple is employing just hundreds of independent contractors. And, ironically, the company is directing them to verify these results by any method available — even if that means using Google’s Street View.

While Apple could and likely does employ artificial intelligence to enhance the Maps experience, there are certain judgment calls that only real people can make. The iGeneration report provides the example of French users searching “Brest,” and Apple Maps returning a result for the city in Belarus, rather than the French port city. Apple later corrected that issue in an update. In such cases, artificial intelligence alone can’t determine relevancy. Human input is required to some degree, meaning the TryRating program should ultimately make Apple Maps a much more dependable navigation resource.

Google’s new Wonder Woman project teaches young girls the superpower of coding

After an exciting build up, Warner Brothers’ new Wonder Woman movie finally debuted in theaters on Friday. But Wonder Woman isn’t only taking over the big screen.

In anticipation of the new film, Google Play and Made with Code teamed up with Warner Brothers to create a new Wonder Woman themed-coding tutorial to give young women everywhere the superpower of coding. 

With the interactive project, programmers use introductory programming principles to help Wonder Woman combat obstacles in three unique scenes from the Wonder Woman film. Each of the three levels teach different concepts like variables, basic logic and sequences.

Image: wonder woman 

The project was designed with teen girls in mind, and is similar to many of the other Made With Code projects. These projects are designed to expose young women to interesting and less talked about applications of coding, like fashion or filmmaking.

With the new coding project, the company hopes that Wonder Woman‘s message of empowerment inspires teens girls and women to pursue careers in computer science, engineering and gaming.

You can try tutorial here.

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Microsoft transforms Skype to take on Instagram, Snapchat with a full redesign

Why it matters to you

A slew of new social features will bring the longtime video-calling app up to modern standards.

Skype, as you knew it, is no more. The once ubiquitous video-calling app that pioneered the category has pulled a page from Snapchat and Instagram with a complete redesign that puts your phone’s camera front and center.

What’s so different about it? Well, besides the new hip user interface, the Microsoft-owned app’s big new feature is Highlights — a play on Stories, as found in those other well-known social platforms. With Highlights you can take pictures and video, dress them up as you like with sketches, stickers, and text, and blast them out to your followers.

One of the main things that sets Highlights apart from competing features found in other apps is the length of time they’re made available — one week, versus 24 hours. You also have more granular control over who you can share your Highlights with, be it specific contacts or groups.

The changes don’t end there. Skype is also putting a greater emphasis on chat. The entire messaging experience has been given a fresh coat of paint, with lots of vibrant colors and gradients. Users can now react to individual messages with emojis — and those reactions extend to video calls as well.

Speaking of video calls, they haven’t been left behind. Callers can now participate with fun, real-time animations that take up their entire share of the user’s screen. And Microsoft has big plans for Skype’s signature feature going forward, too. In the future, callers will be able to play games and watch streaming services together, according to TechCrunch.

Finally, Skype hasn’t missed the craze surrounding bots, and much like Facebook Messenger, it’s adding its own AI-powered companions. Of course you can expect Cortana to play a big role, but down the line Skype should support a variety of services and brands through its Find panel.

Microsoft says Find makes Skype “infinitely searchable.” Users can access anything from GIFs to baseball tickets through the app’s search bar, and seamlessly integrate those results into their conversations.

The new Skype will launch first on Android, rolling out over the coming weeks, and then iOS support will follow. Finally, Windows and Mac PCs should receive an update in a few months’ time.

Is Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone the iPhone killer we’ve been waiting for?

Image: essential, mashable composite

Android inventor Andy Rubin finally took the wraps off his newest toy: the Essential Phone.

Yes, it’s an Android phone in an extremely saturated smartphone market and it’s wildly different from the second you look at its futuristic display. But can it dethrone the iPhone?

This week’s MashTalk is hosted by Mashable Senior Tech Correspondent Raymond Wong and Chief Correspondent Lance Ulanoff.

If there’s anyone who can make you care about yet another rectangular slab, it’s Rubin. His new phone, the Essential Phone, is unequivocally designed for the future.

It’s got an insane-looking edge-to-edge display (just look at that cutout around the selfie camera). There’s a magnetic connector on the rear for connecting accessories like a 360-degree camera. And it’s got all of the latest specs you’d expect from a flagship Android phone, including dual cameras on the backside.

It’s got everything to kill the iPhone, but will it? Probably not. It’s expensive at $700 (unlocked) and it’s unproven. Still, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a great phone. Plus, it could give us some clues as to what future iPhones will look like.

Rubin also introduced its own digital assistant, the Essential Home. Details are scant, but Rubin says it’ll be the most open digital assistant and work with Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s an interesting idea (one voice assistant to rule the home) but until we see it work, it’s just vaporware.

Next, Tech Editor Pete Pachal phones in from Los Angeles to give us the highlights from Recode’s Code Conference

He got a look at Steve Ballmer’s new AI-powered basketball broadcast, saw the Essential Phone, and took a brief stroll down memory lane with retiring tech journalist and Code Conference co-host Walt Mossberg.

Our fearless tech editor asking Clinton the hard question.

Our fearless tech editor asking Clinton the hard question.

Image: mashable screen grab gif

But his most defining moment was when he battled his way to ask Hillary Clinton the million-dollar question: Is Twitter good or bad for our national discourse? Clinton spared no expense slamming Twitter and Facebook their broken platforms that cost her the election.

Lastly, Apps Reporter Karissa Bell dials in to tell us what to expect from next week’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Apple uses WWDC to show off new software versions for its various platforms — we’re expecting iOS 11, macOS 10.13, watchOS 4, a new version of tvOS, and maybe an update for CarPlay. 

We’re also hearing lots of buzz about a refreshed MacBook and updates to the MacBook Pros. The long-rumored Siri Speaker might make its big debut, and maybe even the rumored 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

WWDC isn’t usually a stage for new hardware, but it’s not without precedent. Apple announced the first MacBook Pro with Retina Display at WWDC back in 2012.

As always, don’t forget to leave your questions and comments by tweeting @Mash_Talk with the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback. 

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Facebook may be developing an app for teens that parents won’t freak out over

Why it matters to you

While Snapchat has taken over as the predominant social media app of choice for young users, Facebook may just have a plan to win them back.

While Facebook may have started out as the dominant social media platform for teens and young adults, over the last several years, the social media platform has seen its user base begin to age. Snapchat, Instagram, and other messaging apps have taken over as the platforms of choice for teens and younger users, but Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has a plan to win these all-important users back. It’s called “Talk,” and it’s rumored to be an as-of-yet unreleased messaging app geared specifically toward teenagers.

As first reported by The Information, “Code inside the main Facebook app points to an unreleased messaging app aimed at young teens called ‘Talk.’” Perhaps most intriguing about the alleged project is its nod towards parents. “The code reveals signs of new parental controls that would set the app apart from Facebook’s existing Messenger app,” The Information continues.

It seems as though Talk will require users to be at least 13 years old, but they won’t have to have a Facebook profile to use the app. And relatedly, teens who opt to use Talk to communicate won’t be publicly searchable, which could help assuage parents’ fears about their children’s otherwise easily accessible online presences.

Apparently, Talk will also allow users (or perhaps users’ parents) to “fully control the contacts,” ensuring that youngsters are only talking to people they ought to be talking to. And another recently discovered line of code suggests other features that are teen-specific. One comment in the code reads, “Kids love using the creative tools in “Talk” to play games and share fun masks with family and friends.”

So watch out, Snapchat. You may have the teen market cornered for now, but if Facebook has its way, the social media giant will soon be giving you a run for your money.

Rheo, a personalized video app from ex-Apple product vets, launches on iOS and the web

On YouTube, you have to either know what it is you watch to watch and seek it out, or you can click through the site’s suggestions of popular or trending content. A startup called Rheo, founded by ex-Apple product veterans, has a different take on video discovery. Instead of browsing by genre, publisher or chart position, viewers can browse by mood. That is, you can seek out videos to make you laugh, those that inform you, those that instruct or teach, those for times you want to chill, and more.

Previously available as an Apple TV application, Rheo this week expanded to both iOS and the web.

Rheo was created by Alan Cannistraro, an Apple product development veteran who previously spent 12 years at Apple working on apps like Remote, iBooks, and Podcasts. He later joined Facebook, where he worked on News Feed, Facebook’s iOS autoplay video feature, and Facebook’s Creative Labs, which built experimental apps like Slingshot, Rooms, and Riff.

Co-founder Charles Migos, meanwhile, worked at Apple for over a decade, where he created Apple News, as well as Microsoft, where he designed the company’s home media experience. Migos joined Rheo in the first half of 2016.

“This idea has been churning in my head for years,” explains Cannistraro, describing how he came up with Rheo. “I’ve picked up pieces along the way: learning how we interact with video from my time on Final Cut; thinking about how entertainment, mobile devices, and the home all fit together from when I built the first iOS app: Remote; understanding the attraction that people have to moving images over text, from my time building autoplay video at Facebook,” he says.

This all solidified for Cannistraro one night in 2015 when he was traveling, he says. Exhausted, he checked into his hotel room and turned on the TV, hoping to relax. But instead of being able to just wind down, Cannistraro realized that the television’s interface forces you to browse through a massive grid of content first – and this interface has carried over to today’s online video services, as well.

“Two days later, I quit my job and knew what I had to do,” says Cannistraro.

On Rheo, you pick a channel to watch based on what type of mood you’re in – in terms of what you want to watch, that is – and the app then personalizes the content to you using a variety of other factors.

For example, Rheo’s “Laugh” channel is for comedy; “Inform” offers news coverage; “Spark” features creative content from artists, designers and musicians; “Learn” is for educational content; “Chill” is music; and “Move” offers action sports.

These short-form videos are played in a stream that’s further customized by things like what time of day it is, your interests, what’s trending on Rheo, as well as your own behavior – meaning, what you’ve previously watched, skipped, boosted (a vote up type mechanism), and shared to social networks.

The promise is that the more you watch on Rheo, the more personalized your video streams will become as the service adapts to your input and actions.

In addition, the new Rheo iOS app introduces a social networking component. You can record your reactions to videos you watch, and these reactions will then appear in your friends’ streams. These personal videos are also saved to your “Reel” in Rheo. Friends who visit your profile can view your video channel with all your shared reactions.

The content on Rheo comes from public sources, like Facebook and Twitter (via API), as well as formal partnerships, like Vimeo and Refinery 29.

The nine-person, San Francisco-based startup isn’t currently focused on revenue generation, they tell us, but they previously raised $2.3 million in seed funding last year.

While Rheo will be challenged to attract users in a world where larger video platforms, like YouTube already exist, Cannistraro believes its curation element fills a void in the market – much like how Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist of personalized content helped give it the edge.

“The long-term vision of Rheo goes far beyond being a video player. Instead, we think about media as an integral part of our environment,” Cannistraro adds. “Navigating apps, menus, channels, titles, etc, takes effort and attention,” he says. “The next few years will see us move towards media being available ambiently, as effortlessly accessible as a glance at your microwave or alarm clock to tell the time, and contextually tailored to you.”

After bomb threats, FCC proposes letting police unveil anonymous callers

Police should be allowed to unmask anonymous callers who have made serious threats over the phone, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed.

The proposal would allow law enforcement, and potentially the person who’s been called, to learn the phone number of an anonymous caller if they receive a “serious and imminent” threat that poses “substantial risk to property, life, safety, or health.”

Specifics are still up in the air. The FCC is asking, for instance, whether unveiled caller ID information should only be provided to law enforcement officials investigating a threat, to ensure that this exemption isn’t abused.

The proposal is meant to solve a problem that popped up earlier this year when Jewish Community Centers across the country received a series of anonymous bomb threats that went on for weeks. The FCC granted a temporary exemption to law enforcement at the time, allowing investigators to find out the numbers these anonymous calls came from

But that waiver only applied to the JCC threats. With this proposal, the commission is now hoping to extend it to many future threats that are made over the phone.

At the same time, the commission is also considering another exception to the rules: it might allow private emergency services, like an ambulance company, to unmask anonymous calls so that they can provide help. A similar exemption already exists for public emergency services.

The proposal is still in its early stages. An initial vote will come later this month, after which there’ll be several months for the public to weigh in with comments. The FCC will then finalize its proposal based on that feedback and vote again to enact the rules.

FCC proposals always start out as a series of questions, and in this case, it has quite a few to answer. The commission will have to strike a balance between ensuring the privacy of legitimate anonymous callers and ensuring that law enforcement can access the phone numbers of people who truly are delivering threats.

“Threatening callers do not have a legitimate privacy interest in having blocked caller ID protected from disclosure,” the commission writes. It also notes that this proposal must recognize “the privacy interests of legitimate callers who may have valid reasons to block their telephone numbers.”

While being able to uncover the number behind an anonymous call will certainly be a help for law enforcement, it won’t entirely solve the problem of masked callers. Hackers have been able to hijack phone systems and use those to place calls, meaning the phone number wouldn’t actually link back to them.

Researchers are testing color-changing tattoos that track your health

Traditional tattoo ink is replaced with different biosensors that can change color according to changes in body chemistry, like changes in blood sugar or sodium.

The ink, a collaboration between MIT and Harvard University, is undergoing preliminary tests and still awaits human trials.