Amazon Echo speakers now play friendly with Apple Music

Amazon recently said Apple Music would find its way onto Amazon Echo devices sometime soon — and sure enough, it appears to be rolling out now.

To make Alexa work with Apple’s streaming service, you should just have to jump into the newly updated iOS/Android Alexa app and link up your account. You can find the option under Settings > Music.

Once done, commands like “Alexa, play music by Halsey on Apple Music” should work. Or, if you don’t want to have to say the “… on Apple Music” bit every time, you can just set Apple Music as the default service. If you don’t have a specific artist in mind, you an also request playlists or genres.

One catch: as 9to5mac points out, it appears this currently only works with Amazon Echo speakers, and not yet with third party speakers (like the Sonos ONE or Polk’s Audio Command sounder) that happen to have Alexa-support built in.

Not a fan of Apple’s offering? Alexa also works with Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon’s own Music service.

Using Google devices, rather than Amazon’s? Alas, still no word on if/when proper Apple Music support might come to Google Home.

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‘Donald’ debuts at No. 23 on worst passwords of 2018 list

Almost 10 percent of people on the interwebs used at least one of the 25 worst passwords on SplashData’s annual list, which was released this week. And nearly three percent of you are still using “123456,” the worst password of the entire ranking.

The eighth annual list of worst passwords of the year is based on SplashData’s evaluation of more than 5 million passwords leaked on the Internet. Most of the leaked passwords evaluated for the 2018 list were held by users in North America and Western Europe. Passwords leaked from hacks of adult websites were not included in the report, according to SplashData, which provides password management applications TeamsID, Gpass, and SplashID.

This year revealed the same takeaway as previous ones: computer users continue to use the same predictable, easily guessable passwords. For instance, 2018 was the fifth consecutive year that “123456” and “password” retained their top two spots on the list. The following five top passwords on the list are simply numerical strings, the company said.

There were a few newcomers on the list. President Donald Trump debuted on this year’s list with “donald” showing up as the 23rd most frequently used password.

“Hackers have great success using celebrity names, terms from pop culture and sports, and simple keyboard patterns to break into accounts online because they know so many people are using those easy-to- remember combinations,” according to Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData.

SplashData does offer some tips to protect your data, including the use of passphrases of 12 characters or more with mixed types of characters, using different passwords for each login, and protecting assets and personal identity by using a password manager to organize passwords, generate secure random passwords, and automatically log into websites.

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Google agrees not to sell facial recognition tech, citing abuse potential

In recent months, pressure has been mounting for major tech firms to develop strong policies regarding facial recognition. Microsoft has helped lead the way on that front, promising to put in place stricter policies, calling for greater regulation and asking fellow companies to follow suit.

Hidden toward the end of a blog post about using artificial intelligence to benefit health clinics in Asia, Google SVP Kent Walker affirmed the company’s commitment not to sell facial recognition APIs. The executive cites concerns over how the technology could be abused.

“[F]acial recognition technology has benefits in areas like new assistive technologies and tools to help find missing persons, with more promising applications on the horizon,” Walker writes. “However, like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes. We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions.”

In an interview this week, CEO Sundar Pichai address similar growing concerns around AI ethics. “I think tech has to realize it just can’t build it and then fix it,” he told The Washington Post. “I think that doesn’t work,” adding that artifical intelligence could ultimately prove “far more dangerous than nukes.”

The ACLU, which has offered sharp criticism over privacy and racial profiling concerns, lauded the statement. In the next paragraph, however, the company promised to continue to apply pressure on these large orgs.

“We will continue to put Google’s feet to the fire to make sure it doesn’t build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights,” ACLU tech director Nicole Ozer said in a statement. “We also renew our call on Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government. Companies have a responsibility to make sure their products can’t be used to attack communities and harm civil rights and liberties — it’s past time all companies own up to that responsibility.”

The organization has offered particularly sharp criticism against Amazon for its Rekognition software. This week, it also called out the company’s patent application for a smart doorbell that uses facial recognition to identify “suspicious” visitors.

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Lime continues to battle San Francisco’s electric scooter decision

Electric scooter and bike-share company Lime is not giving up on San Francisco. This afternoon, Lime plans to protest on the steps of SF City Hall to petition the city’s scooter selection process.

“We are calling the SFMTA to expand equitable transportation options throughout the City by allowing more choice and greater options, by requiring a scalable low-income program that ensures equal access to scooters and other mobility options, and by working with experienced operators with a proven track record of success,” Lime wrote in its petition. “The SFMTA scooter selection process resulted in an extremely small service area as well as an absence of robust equity options. If you are as frustrated as we are, come let your voice be heard.”

The SFMTA has previously said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency selected Skip and Scoot as the only two electric scooter companies permitted to operate in the city, competitor Lime took legal steps to attempt to prevent Skip and Scoot from deploying. A San Francisco judge, however, promptly denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Meanwhile, Lime had officially appealed the SFMTA’s decision. Other companies, including Spin and Uber’s JUMP, have also appealed the scooter selection process.

Earlier today, the SFMTA heard Lime’s case. It’s not clear how it went, but I’ve reached out to Lime and the SFMTA to learn more. Based on Lime’s actions, it seems as if it didn’t work out very well for the company.

 

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Disney invests $15M in educational gaming app Kahoot at a $360M valuation

When Kahoot, the startup that operates a popular platform for user-generated educational gaming, raised $15 million in October of this year, we mentioned that Disney might take a larger stake in the company, beyond the small investment it took after Kahoot passed through the Disney Accelerator.

Now with some 60 million games on its platform, today Kahoot announced that this has come to pass: Disney has backed Kahoot to the tune of $15 million — working out to a four percent stake in the startup at a $360 million valuation, based on the current share price of 28 Norwegian kroner (shares of Kahoot are traded on the Norway OTC as an unlisted stock).

Kahoot declined to comment for this story beyond the investment announcement posted on the exchange, but for some context, this is a nice bump up in Kahoot’s valuation from October, when it was at $300 million. Other sizeable and notable investors in the company include Microsoft and Nordic investor Northzone (which has backed Spotify and other significant startups out of the region).

On the part of Disney, it’s not clear yet whether its Kahoot stake will lead to more Disney content on the platform, or if this is more of an arm’s length financial backing. The entertainment giant has made nearly 50 investments by way of its accelerator program. In some cases it increases those to more significant holdinga, as it has in the case of HQ Trivia, SpheroEpic Games, the company behind Fortnite (a very different take on gaming compared to Kahoot), Samba TV and more.

Disney has been dabbling in both gaming and education as vehicles to market its many brands, and also as salient businesses of their own — no surprise, given that one primary focus for it has been on younger consumers and their needs and interests.

In some cases, it seems it may use strategic investments to do this, for example with Disney-themed nights on HQ Trivia. Interestingly, although it doesn’t appear that Disney invests in Byju’s — which itself just raised $300 million — the educational app, which has been described as “Disneyesque”, teamed up with Disney in October to develop co-branded educational content, another sign of Disney’s interest in the field.

Kahoot has been around since 2006 but has seen a sharp rise in users in the last few years on the back of strong growth in the US — benefitting from a wider trend of educators creating content on mediums and platforms that they know students already use and love.

Kahoot’s last reported user numbers come from January, when it said it had 70 million registrations, but its CEO and co-founder Åsmund Furuseth told TechCrunch in October that it was on track to pass 100 million by this month. Kahoot didn’t release updated figures today, but my guess is that Kahoot has hit its target (maybe even passed it), and that is one reason why Disney decided to exercise its investment option.

Kahoot is not your average gaming company: some games are created in-house, but the majority of them are user-generated — “Kahoots” in the company’s parlance — created by the people setting the learning tasks or those trying to create a more entertaining way of remembering or learning something. These, in turn, become games that potentially anyone can use to learn something (hence the name).

There have been about 60 million of these games created to date, a pretty massive amount considering this is educational content at the end of the day.

Kahoot has developed its business along two avenues, with games for K-12 students and games for business users, building training and other professional development in a wrapper of gamification to engage workers more in the content. 

In practice, about half the games in Kahoot’s catalogue are available to the public and half are private, with the split roughly following the company’s business model: games made for corporate purposes tend to be kept private, while the educational ones tend to  be made publicly available. The business model also follows that split, with Kahoot’s business users accounting for the majority of its revenue, too.

We have contacted Disney for comment too and will update this post as we learn more.

 

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