All posts in “Amazon”

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s reelection spells more frustration for US tech giants

The re-election of Modi will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, the local play of Silicon Valley companies, and future of India’s internet

Amazon and Walmart’s problems in India look set to continue after Narendra Modi, the biggest force to embrace the country’s politics in decades, led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to a historic landslide re-election on Thursday, reaffirming his popularity in the eyes of world’s largest democracy.

The re-election, which gives Modi’s government another five years in power, will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, and the local play of Silicon Valley companies that have grown increasingly wary of recent policy changes.

At stake is also the future of India’s internet, the second largest in the world. With more than 550 million internet users in India, the nation has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for Silicon Valley companies. Google, Facebook, and Amazon count India as one of their largest and fastest growing markets. And until late 2016, they enjoyed great dynamics with the Indian government.

But in recent years, New Delhi has ordered more internet shutdowns than ever before; and puzzled many over crackdowns on sometimes legitimate websites. To top that, the government recently proposed a law that would require any intermediary — telecom operators, messaging apps, and social media services among others — with more than 5 million users to introduce a number of changes to how they operate in the nation. More on this shortly.

Growing tension

Amazon is reportedly making a wearable device meant to read your emotions

Amazon is at the forefront of selling speakers that listen to people’s conversations. However, this rumored development reaches a whole new level of creepy.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the e-commerce giant is developing a device to be worn on the wrist that would recognize its users emotional state through their voice commands. The report is based on internal documents Bloomberg acquired as well as Amazon patent filings from recent years that line up with the device’s supposed feature set.

Internally called Dylan, the wearable will supposedly work with a smartphone app to analyze your voice and figure out how you’re feeling. From there, it could do all sorts of things, such as recommend a specific meal or product. Bloomberg’s report also suggested the device could help wearers get better at interacting with others, but it’s unclear how exactly that would work.

To be clear, this thing may never see the light of day. Companies develop and scrap ideas without publicly revealing them all the time. When contacted by Mashable, Amazon declined to comment. 

Still, this fits into Amazon’s larger plan to be a part of customers’ lives as much as possible. The former online bookstore now has a line of voice-activated speakers with their own privacy controversies, as well as a growing brick-and-mortar retail operation. It’s even rumored to be working on an AirPods competitor.

Emotional analysis might seem a little over-the-top for Amazon, but the company has been active when it comes facial recognition and body scanning tech.

Google had to reconfigure Glass for business purposes partly because it was creepy.

Google had to reconfigure Glass for business purposes partly because it was creepy.

Image: Robert Couto Photography/google

If it does get a public release, it will be fascinating to see how it’s received by consumers. Google Glass had to be converted into an enterprise product partially because people found it creepy. Have things changed enough since 2015 for an emotion-reading wearable to succeed?

Regardless, we might be doomed if we need a watch to tell us how to talk to other people.

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LG to add Alexa support to its 2019 ThinQ TVs

LG’s line of AI-enhanced, ThinQ television sets will get Amazon Alexa support soon, the company announced Thursday. 

The new feature will roll out to customers in North America this month, with Europe and Asia getting it “in the weeks to come.”

Not all LG TVs will get the upgrade — only the company’s 2019 models featuring artificial intelligence (i.e. those with the ThinQ moniker). These include LG UHD TVs, NanoCell TVs and OLED TVs. The update will be implemented through the Alexa app on these models. 

Note that Alexa was available on some LG TVs through the use of an external device; now, no such device will be needed. 

The full list of countries that will get this feature is as follows: Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, United Kingdom and United States.

With Alexa support, users will be able to control their smart home products, ask their TV questions and access over 90,000 Alexa Skills. LG’s ThinQ TVs already have Google Assistant support (since 2018), but it’s nice to have the Alexa option as well if you prefer Amazon’s smart assistant. 

LG's ThinQ TVs now support both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

LG’s ThinQ TVs now support both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

LG also announced its 2019 OLED and NanoCell TVs will receive AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support “via a mid-year update.”

LG claims its ThinQ technology allows its TVs to handle requests of greater complexity and understand “hundreds of voice commands.” The company has been heavily promoting its products AI capabilities in the past couple of years, adding the ThinQ moniker to smartphones and other products in its lineup. 

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Congress agrees: it’s time to regulate facial recognition technology

The first in a series of congressional hearings on facial recognition technology took place on Wednesday, and it brought about a rare occurrence in Washington: agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

The House Oversight Committee’s hearing was focused on the impact facial recognition has had on civil rights and liberties from its use among law enforcement. A panel of experts, including face recognition researchers, legal professionals, and former law enforcement, spoke of the threat of mass surveillance. The panel was nearly in full agreement that the use of facial recognition technology in the field must be halted immediately.

“At a minimum, Congress should pass a moratorium on the police use of facial recognition as the capacity for abuse, lack of oversight, and technical immaturity poses great risk, especially for marginalized communities,” said Joy Buolamwini, an algorithmic bias researcher at MIT and  founder of the Algorithmic Justice League.

“Face recognition gives law enforcement a power that they’ve never had before,” explained Clare Garvie, a senior associate at Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy & Technology. 

Garvie pointed out to the committee that one of the issues with facial recognition isn’t just the advances in the technology alone. “Garbage data,” as she called it, is often submitted into facial recognition systems by law enforcement because there’s no oversight or regulation on the use of the technology. 

An outrageously absurd use case was submitted as an example of such garbage data. The NYPD recently used a photo of Woody Harrelson along with facial recognition software to find a lookalike accused of stealing beer.

Buolamwini, along with the former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Dr. Cedric Alexander, backed how the misuse of the data negates even the most advanced breakthroughs in facial recognition technology.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan outright floated the idea of hitting “pause” on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology.

Amazon was frequently mentioned by the panel during the hearing. The company has its own facial recognition product, called Rekognition, which has been intensely criticized. The Seattle-based ecommerce giant has already sold its facial recognition technology to local law enforcement around the country as well as to the FBI

During the hearing, Neema Singh Guliani of the ACLU specifically brought up the organization’s testing of Amazon Rekognition where it had misidentified 28 Congresspeople, including members of the Oversight Committee.

Interestingly, a vote was held among Amazon shareholders on the facial recognition technology as the congressional hearing took place. The proposals, which sought to regulate the sale of Rekognition and investigate its use, failed. 

“That just means that it’s more important that Congress acts,” said Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez in response to the Amazon shareholder vote.

“Congress must act now to regulate facial recognition technologies because fourth amendment litigation is inadequate to address the rapidly changing world of mass surveillance,” urged Professor Andrew Ferguson of the University of the District of Columbia. “The fourth amendment will not save us.” 

“I don’t want to see an authoritarian surveillance state whether it’s run by a government or whether it’s run by five corporations,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in reference to Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Europe’s GDPR was brought up during the hearing as an example of effective regulation that could be seen in the states. For example, Facebook now makes facial recognition opt-in for users in the EU due to privacy laws.

Some local politicians are taking facial recognition matters into their own hands. Last week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a citywide ban on governmental use of the technology for surveillance.

“You’ve hit the sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together,” said Republican Rep. Mark Meadows to those at the hearing. “When you have a diverse group on this committee, as diverse as you might see on the polar ends, I’m here to tell you we’re serious about this, and let’s get together and work on legislation.”

“The time is now before it gets out of control,” urged Rep. Meadows.

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Amazon shareholders shut down proposal to limit facial recognition sales

I love your face, alive girl.
I love your face, alive girl.

Image: SAUL LOEB / getty 

Amazon will sell its facial-recognition technology to whomever it damn well pleases thank you very much. 

That message was loud and clear Wednesday morning at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, where two proposals meant to regulate the sale and investigate the use of Amazon’s Rekognition technology were opposed by the company and voted down by shareholders. The failed effort to limit the sale of its controversial product to law enforcement comes at a time when Rekognition is increasingly being criticized for biases and false positives

Amazon confirmed to Mashable via email that both proposals failed. Our questions regarding the specific vote tallies on each, as well as the company’s response to criticism over Rekognition, were not answered.  

The first of the two proposals, if passed, would have at least temporarily stopped the sale of Rekognition to governments around the world. 

“[Shareholders] request that the Board of Directors prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights,” it read.

The second measure requested an “independent study” of Rekognition and a subsequent report to shareholders detailing, among other things, “[the] extent to which such technology may endanger, threaten, or violate privacy and or civil rights, and unfairly or disproportionately target or surveil people of color, immigrants and activists in the United States[.]”

Amazon, which in January of this year was very publicly criticized for selling Rekognition to the feds, flat out rejected both. 

On Wednesday morning, before the vote, the ACLU urged Amazon to change its surveillance tech policies. 

“We’re at @Amazon’s shareholder meeting today urging shareholders to take action in response to the company’s failure to address the civil rights impacts of its face surveillance technology,” tweeted the civil liberties organization.

Some, but as of yet not a voting majority, of the company’s shareholders are clearly receptive to that message. 

And so with the calls for reform coming from both inside and outside its house, Amazon won’t be able to put the issue of Rekognition behind it anytime soon — even with its victory today. But hey, moral and ethical headwinds have never stopped Amazon’s continuous march toward dominance before. 

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