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A look at the intimate details Amazon knows about us

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As a Virginia lawmaker, Ibraheem Samirah has studied internet privacy issues and debated how to regulate tech firms’ collection of personal data. Still, he was stunned to learn the full details of the information Amazon.com Inc has collected on him.

The e-commerce giant had more than 1,000 contacts from his phone. It had records of exactly which part of the Quran that Samirah, who was raised as a Muslim, had listened to on Dec. 17 of last year. The company knew every search he had made on its platform, including one for books on “progressive community organizing” and other sensitive health-related inquiries he thought were private.

“Are they selling products, or are they spying on everyday people?” asked Samirah, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Samirah was among the few Virginia legislators who opposed an industry-friendly, Amazon-drafted state privacy bill that passed earlier this year. At Reuters’ request, Samirah asked Amazon to disclose the data it collected on him as a consumer.

The company gathers a vast array of information on its U.S. customers, and it started making that data available to all upon request early last year, after trying and failing to defeat a 2018 California measure requiring such disclosures. (U.S. Amazon customers can obtain their data by filling out a form on Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GXPU3YPMBZQRWZK2)

Seven Reuters reporters also obtained their Amazon files. The data reveals the company’s ability to amass strikingly intimate portraits of individual consumers.

Amazon collects data on consumers through its Alexa voice assistant, its e-commerce marketplace, Kindle e-readers, Audible audiobooks, its video and music platforms, home-security cameras and fitness trackers. Alexa-enabled devices make recordings inside people’s homes, and Ring security cameras capture every visitor.

Such information can reveal a person’s height, weight and health; their ethnicity (via clues contained in voice data) and political leanings; their reading and buying habits; their whereabouts on any given day, and sometimes whom they have met.

One reporter’s dossier revealed that Amazon had collected more than 90,000 Alexa recordings of family members between December 2017 and June 2021 – averaging about 70 daily. The recordings included details such as the names of the reporter’s young children and their favorite songs.

Amazon captured the children asking how they could convince their parents to let them “play,” and getting detailed instructions from Alexa on how to convince their parents to buy them video games. Be fully prepared, Alexa advised the kids, to refute common parent arguments such as “too violent,” “too expensive” and “you’re not doing well enough in school.” The information came from a third-party program used by Alexa called “wikiHow” that provides how-to advice from more than 180,000 articles, according to Amazon’s website.

Amazon said it does not own wikiHow, but that Alexa sometimes responds to requests with information from websites.

Some recordings involved conversations between family members using Alexa devices to communicate across different parts of the house. Several recordings captured children apologizing to their parents after being disciplined. Others picked up the children, ages 7, 9 and 12, asking Alexa questions about terms like “pansexual.”

In one recording, a child asks: “Alexa, what is a vagina?” In another: “Alexa, what does bondage mean?”

The reporter did not realize Amazon was storing the recordings before the company disclosed the data it tracked on the family.

Amazon says its Alexa products are designed to record as little as possible, starting with the trigger word, “[,” and stopping when the user’s command ends. The recordings of the reporter’s family, however, sometimes captured longer conversations.

In a statement, Amazon said it has scientists and engineers working to improve the technology and avoid false triggers that prompt recording. The company said it alerts customers that recordings are stored when they set up Alexa accounts.

Amazon said it collects personal data to improve products and services and customize them to individuals. Asked about the records of Samirah listening to the Quran on Amazon’s audiobooks service, Amazon said such data allows customers to pick up where they left off from a prior session.

The only way for customers to delete much of this personal data is to close their account, Amazon said. The company said it retains some information, such as purchase history, after account closure to comply with legal obligations.

Amazon said it allows customers to adjust their settings on voice assistants and other services to limit the amount of data collected. Alexa users, for instance, can stop Amazon from saving their recordings or have them automatically deleted periodically. And they can disconnect their contacts or calendars from their smart-speaker devices if they don’t want to use Alexa’s calling or scheduling functions.

A customer can opt out of having their Alexa recordings examined, but they must navigate a series of menus and two warnings that say: “If you turn this off, voice recognition and new features may not work well for you.” Asked about the warnings, Amazon said consumers who limit data collection may not be able to personalize some features, such as music playback.

Samirah, 30, got an Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speaker during last year’s holiday season. He said he only used it for three days before returning it after realizing it was collecting recordings. “It really sketched me out,” he said.

The device had already gathered all of his phone contacts, part of a feature that allows users to make calls through the device. Amazon said Alexa users must give permission for the company to access phone contacts. Customers must disable access to phone contacts, not just delete the Alexa app, in order to delete the records from their Amazon account.

Samirah said he was also unnerved that Amazon had detailed records of his audiobook and Kindle reading sessions. Finding information about his listening to the Quran disclosed in his Amazon file, he said, made Samirah think about the history of U.S. police and intelligence agencies surveilling Muslims for suspected terrorist links after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Why do they need to know that?” he asked. Samirah’s term ends in January, after he lost a bid for re-election earlier this year.

At times, law-enforcement agencies seek data on customers from technology companies. Amazon discloses that it complies with search warrants and other lawful court orders seeking data the company keeps on an account, while objecting to “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate requests.”

Amazon data for the three years ending in June 2020, the latest available, show the company complied at least partially with 75% of subpoenas, search warrants and other court orders seeking data on U.S. customers. The company fully complied with 38% of those requests.

Amazon stopped disclosing how often it complies with such requests last year. Asked why, Amazon said it expanded the scope of the U.S. report to make it global, and “streamlined” the information from each country on law enforcement inquiries.

The company said it is obligated to comply with “valid and binding orders,” but that its goal is to release “the minimum” required by law.

Amazon’s 3,500-word privacy policy, which links to more than 20 other pages related to privacy and user settings, gives the company wide latitude to collect data. Amazon said the policy describes its collection, use and sharing of data “in a way that is easy for consumers to understand.”

That information can get quite personal. Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, for instance, precisely track a user’s reading habits, another reporter’s Amazon data file showed. The disclosure included records of more than 3,700 reading sessions since 2017, including timestamped logs – to the millisecond – of books read. Amazon also tracks words highlighted or looked up, pages turned and promotions seen.

It showed, for instance, that a family member read “The Mitchell Sisters: A Complete Romance Series” on Aug. 8, 2020, from 4:52 p.m. until 7:36 p.m., flipping 428 pages.

Florian Schaub, a privacy researcher at the University of Michigan, said businesses are not always transparent about what they’re doing with users’ data. “We have to rely on Amazon doing the right thing,” he said, “rather than being confident the data can’t be misused.”

 

(Reporting by Chris Kirkham and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Peter Hirschberg and Brian Thevenot)

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DAZN named Apple TV App of the Year in 2021 App Store Awards – DAZN News US

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DAZN has been named the Apple TV App of the Year in the tech giant’s 2021 App Store Awards, which recognises the 15 best apps and games across Apple’s various devices this year.

This year’s best apps and games offered extraordinary experiences across Apple devices, and DAZN joins apps such as Craft, LumaFusion and Toca Life World in receiving distinction in this year’s awards.

“The developers who won App Store Awards in 2021 harnessed their own drive and vision to deliver the best apps and games of the year — sparking the creativity and passion of millions of users around the world,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. 

“From self-taught indie coders to inspiring leaders building global businesses, these standout developers innovated with Apple technology, with many helping to foster the profound sense of togetherness we needed this year.”

For more than a decade, Apple has honored the best apps and games at the end of each year. To acknowledge the impact of the winning developer teams, last year, Apple designers began a tradition of celebration through meticulous craftsmanship with physical App Store awards for each winner. 

Inspired by the signature blue App Store icon, each award reveals the App Store logo set into the 100 percent recycled aluminium used to make Apple products, with the name of the winner engraved on the other side.

“To have been selected as the best app in the world in a year where so many of the world’s leading media and technology companies have been launching their OTT video services and apps for the first time is an incredible testament to the innovation and skill of our product, technology, operations and partnership teams,” said Ben King, DAZN’s Chief Subscription Officer.

Apple 2021 App Store awards – winners

Apps

  • Apple TV App of the Year: DAZN, from DAZN Group
  • iPhone App of the Year: Toca Life World, from Toca Boca
  • iPad App of the Year: LumaFusion, from LumaTouch
  • Mac App of the Year: Craft, from Luki Labs Limited
  • Apple Watch App of the Year: Carrot Weather, from Grailr

Games

  • iPhone Game of the Year: “League of Legends: Wild Rift,” from Riot Games
  • iPad Game of the Year: “MARVEL Future Revolution,” from Netmarble Corporation
  • Mac Game of the Year: “Myst,” from Cyan
  • Apple TV Game of the Year: “Space Marshals 3,” from Pixelbite
  • Apple Arcade Game of the Year: “Fantasian,” from Mistwalker
  • Trend of the Year: Connection (Among Us!” From Innersloth; Bumble, from Bumble Inc.; Canva, from Canva; EatOkra, from Anthony Edwards Jr. and Janique Edwards; Peanut, from Peanut App Limited)

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Saving the dinosaurs: Startups drive to electrify fossil-fuel cars

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You can save your prized Aston Martin DB6, Porsche 911 or Mustang from the museum of combustion engine history. Or your Fiat 500 and Renault Clio, for that matter.

That’s the message from a growing cohort of European and American startups seeking to carve out roles in the auto transition by converting the roaring dinosaurs of the fossil-fuel age into clean electric vehicles (EVs).

At the high end, companies like Britain’s Lunaz sell a “remanufactured” Aston Martin DB6 for 1 million pounds ($1.3 million), or Dutch firm Voitures Extravert, which sells a reengineered 1960s Porsche 911 for 300,000 euros ($337,000).

At the lower end, startups like France’s Transition-One have developed no-frills kits designed to electrify mass-market models like the Fiat 500 and Renault Clio in a few hours for about 8,000 euros. They are betting they can provide drivers with a cheaper and greener road to zero emissions than scrapping their car and buying a new one.

EV conversion is a cottage industry that’s emerged over the past five years, and been turbo-charged by advances in battery technology and electric motors in the past two. The market is largely untested, and several industry players interviewed by Reuters described an exciting, if precarious, scene.

“It’s pretty revolutionary at the moment,” said Mark Roberts, a 30-year McLaren veteran who is now chief creative officer at British startup Charge Cars. “Almost every month there are new companies popping up and you don’t know who’ll fade away after a year or so or who’ll be there for the duration.”

Next year Charge Cars will launch production of 499 electric versions of 1960s Mustangs, built from the ground up using car bodies produced under license from Ford and starting at 300,000 pounds apiece. The company, which initially set out to convert classic cars, has spent five years developing an electric replica model instead.

“Traditional manufacturers like Porsche can afford to screw up,” says CEO Vadim Shageleev. “We’re a startup, so we can’t.”

Established startups like his have attracted attention from traditional auto suppliers and manufacturers seeking technical input as they transition to electric – Michelin, for instance, has partnered with Charge Cars to test new technologies.

But there may be little room for error as a host of new EV conversion startups strive for scale to help them weather the increasing regulatory standards and costs that have begun to be introduced in countries like France.

“New regulations will wipe out a lot of smaller players because they won’t be in position to meet the standards,” said Chris Hazell, founder of Britain’s Zero EV, another startup working on mass-producing conversion kits for Porsche 964s and other classic models. His company will expand to the United States next year.

CLASSIC TO GARBAGE

There are various proposed routes to scale.

Lunaz, for example, sees classic cars like the Aston Martin DB6 as a good start.

The three-year-old company and its competitors at this end of the EV conversion industry aim to capitalise on the world’s large population of classic vehicles, with an estimated 5 million in the United States alone.

Lunaz typically buys a classic car on the open market or takes a customer’s existing vehicle, strips it down to the bare metal, rebuilds it, gives it a fresh paint job, new interior and an electric drive system and software with a range of about 250 miles.

But Lunaz sees its future in commercial vehicles, and is building a new factory at Silverstone in central England, home to the British Grand Prix, to convert more than 1,000 diesel garbage trucks a year into upgraded electric models.

“Classic cars were the lightning rod to get us to market,” founder David Lorenz said. “But if you want to have a real impact, you’ve got to have scale.”

Lorenz told Reuters the company was scoping out sites for a U.S. plant and one in continental Europe, and was considering going public within a few years.

‘THROW THESE CARS AWAY?’

In France, by comparison, the race is heating up among mass-market converters who spy an opportunity in the country’s anti-road pollution plans, which outpace much of Europe.

All diesels older than 2011 will be banned in large cities from the start of 2025, affecting millions of car owners. Paris wants to go faster and implement the ban from 2024.

New vehicle retrofitting laws introduced in the country last year, which startups say require government testing of about 100,000 euros per generic model to be converted, have intensified the need for scale.

Orleans-based converter Transition-One plans to start selling conversion kits for six models including the popular Fiat 500 and Renault Clio for those diesel owners who cannot afford a new EV. The kits consist of battery, electric motor, power electronics, and new instrument cluster, and typically have a range of about 140 km.

The cost to customers could be close to 5,000 euros including government subsidies, said CEO Aymeric Libeau, who said he aimed to produce kits “at scale” next year, having waited for the retrofitting laws to materialise, with the gear to be installed by independent mechanics certified by Transition-One.

Arnaud Pigounides, CEO of Paris-based REV Mobilities, estimates converting a car to electric cuts emissions 60% versus scrapping an old vehicle and producing a new one, in a country home to around 40 million passenger cars.

Pigounides said his company, which offers to convert a range of cars and commercial vans for around half the price of a new vehicle, has orders to convert 370 cars and 1,500 vans.

“The big question is: do we throw all those cars away or do we convert them?” he added.

‘HOW DO WE DO 10,000?’

Chris Pateman-Jones, CEO of British vehicle charging company Connected Kerb, said only “mass market” options in the EV conversion industry could make a real difference to the environment, rather than classic cars.

“The cost of producing a new car is huge, so if you can reuse what’s there it’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “But the challenge is doing it at sufficient scale to actually have a meaningful impact.”

For four-year-old startup Electrogenic, based down the road from Lunaz, the plan to reach significant size is to tap into rural Britain’s four-wheel drive market, specifically the Land Rover Defenders popular among farmers.

Co-founder Steve Drummond said the company was developing a kit for old Land Rover Defenders for 20,000 pounds that local mechanics can install. He added that Britain’s 36,000 farms need four-wheel drive EVs but there are no equivalent new models on the market.

Across the world in California, meanwhile, Zero Labs is aware of the limits of its current business performing electric “restomods” to rebuild classic Ford Broncos and Land Rovers.

The company’s vehicles start at $350,000, but it can only convert around 50 a year – so it is developing electric platforms that licensed auto shops can use to convert classic cars.

“We asked ourselves how do we do 10,000 a year?” CEO Adam Roe said. “Our platforms are going to be our scale product.”

 

(Reporting By Nick Carey; Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Apple tells suppliers demand for iPhone 13 lineup has weakened – Bloomberg News

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Apple Inc has told its component suppliers that demand for the iPhone 13 lineup has slowed, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter, signaling that some consumers have decided against trying to get the hard-to-find item.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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