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Execs tell Congress how they've been burned by tech giants in a rare public rebuke – CNBC

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On Friday, executives from four companies aired their grievances about the Big Tech giants to Congress without the protection of a closed door.

While criticisms of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are far from uncommon these days among academics and politicians, as well as privately by developers and advertisers, it’s more rare to see these concerns raised publicly by companies that still rely on Big Tech’s services.

But witnesses at Friday’s testimony to the House Antitrust Subcommittee at the University of Colorado said they felt they were in a position to speak out despite potential risks to their businesses. Sonos CEO Patrick Spence, PopSockets CEO David Barnett, Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson and Tile General Counsel Kirsten Daru took the stand.

Spence said his company is “in the fortunate position where I think we’re strong enough financially” to speak out, though he said he is still “taking a risk.” Sonos filed suit against Google for patent infringement last week and alleges Amazon behaved similarly but that it does not have the capacity to sue both simultaneously.

“I feel that this is a big enough issue that people need to speak out,” Spence told lawmakers. “We have a responsibility to speak for those that can’t.”

The witnesses described some of the tactics that could make smaller players who rely on the large tech firms’ services wary of coming forward. Barnett accused Amazon of what he called “bullying with a smile,” for example. He claimed Amazon executives would call to pressure the company to lower prices on the platform or risk Amazon sourcing PopSocket products from third-party sellers. PopSockets ultimately ended their relationship with Amazon, but Barnett said they continued to have trouble communicating with the company after that about resolving their balance.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement, “We sought to continue working with Popsockets as a vendor to ensure that we could provide competitive prices, availability, broad selection and fast delivery for those products to our customers. Like any brand, however, PopSockets is free to choose which retailers it supplies and chose to stop selling directly through Amazon. Even so, we’ve continued to work with PopSockets to address our shared concerns about counterfeit, and continue to have a relationship with PopSockets through Merch by Amazon, which enables other sellers to create customized PopSockets for sale.”

Spence said companies like Google and Amazon use their dominance to both subsidize products in new markets they are entering and impose restrictions on third-parties to maintain their dominance. In his opening remarks, Spence accused Google of refusing to let Sonos integrate Google Assistant into its products if it implemented a feature that lets users host multiple voice assistants at the same time. As a result, Spence said, Sonos customers must choose a single voice assistant on their devices through an app (he said Amazon, which lets Sonos users access Alexa, did not place similar restrictions on that feature).

“There’s such a dominant power that exists with these companies that when Google or companies like that are asking for these things, you really, even for a company of our size, feel that you have no choice but to provide them,” Spence said.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement that Sonos has made misleading statements about our history of working together. Our technology and devices were designed independently. We deny their claims vigorously, and will be defending against them.”

Hansson, the Basecamp CTO, blasted Facebook and Google’s advertising models, focusing in particular on Google’s search advertising, which he called a “shakedown.” Despite working to build a good reputation online for 20 years to show up in the first page of search results, Hansson said, “the only thing that matters is whether you buy the advertisement” at the top of the results.

“For trademarked terms like the name of a business, our policy balances the interest of both users and advertisers,” a Google spokeperson told CNBC is response to Hansson’s statements. “Like other platforms, we allow competitors to bid on trademarked terms because it offers users more choice when they are searching. However, if a trademark owner files a complaint, we will block competitors from using their business name in the actual ad text.”

Facebook declined to comment comment on the hearing.

Daru, of Tile, lodged her complaints against Apple for its restrictions on its App Store and for creating a product similar to Tile’s item-finding technology. Daru said the competition in itself isn’t the problem, but unlike a third-party app like Tile, Apple’s own “Find My” apps ship by default on Apple devices. Daru also said Apple’s new requirements for developers, which it touts as privacy advancements, further entrench its own technology instead.

Competing with Apple is like “playing a soccer game,” said Daru. “You might be the best team in the league, but you’re playing against a team that owns the field, the ball, the stadium and the entire league and they can change the rules of the game … at any time.”

In a statement, Apple said, “In regard to third-party apps, we created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. We continually work with developers and take their feedback on how to help protect user privacy while also providing the tools developers need to make the best app experiences.”

Lawmakers wrapped up the hearing by asking what they could do to alleviate the stress the witnesses have felt from Big Tech firms.

“These dominant companies can infringe the intellectual property and invention of other companies and they do it calculating the fact that if they have to pay down the road, if that’s enforced later on, they’ll pay the fee and by that point the competition will be out of it and they’ll be so dominant that it’s a rounding error at the end of the day,” Spence said. “So swift action on that front and material action is something that I think would help.”

“We don’t have the resources to fight Amazon. We didn’t sue Amazon. We never will sue Amazon,” Barnett said. “We could use some help.”

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Huawei P40 Pro rumors: Release date, specs, 5G support, colors and 10x optical zoom – CNET

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This is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro released last year, the company is scheduled to launch the P40 Pro in March.


Ian Knighton/CNET

Huawei isn’t letting the last-minute cancellation of Mobile World Congress stand in the way of its 2020 launch plans. Amid the extraordinary circumstances stemming from the novel coronavirus now dubbed COVID-19, Chinese telecom giant Huawei is pushing forward with plans for its latest generation of flagship phones, the Huawei P40 and P40 Pro, which will be unveiled in Paris on March 26 with an expected release date soon after. Just like its predecessor the P30 series, the upcoming premium phones won’t feature Google’s suite of services (which includes Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and so on) nor will it have the full might of Google’s Android operating system behind it due to the ongoing trade ban with the US. Instead, the phones are expected to operate yet again on Android’s generic open-source operating system and consumers will have to download apps via Huawei’s App Gallery as a substitute for the Google Play Store, which isn’t the case for fellow Chinese phone makers such as Realme.

It is worth noting however that Huawei seems to have a plan to wean the company off its reliance on Google. According to Reuters, Huawei has banded up with Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo to build a challenger to the Google Play Store known as the Global Developer Service Alliance  — and it too will reportedly launch in March.

The launch of the P40 handsets will mark Huawei’s second and latest flagship launch since the US slapped the Chinese telecom giant with an export ban last May. But until official announcements are made in the coming weeks, we leave you the with the most credible rumors of the much-awaited Huawei P40 and Huawei P40 Pro

The P40 Pro may come with a 10x optical zoom camera

Although Huawei’s software (or more specifically its glaring lack of Google apps) may prove to be a dealbreaker for many outside China, it looks likely the Chinese phone maker will continue to push the envelope as far as cameras are concerned. Images shared on Twitter by widely followed leaker Evan Blass purport to show the P40 Pro equipped with a rectangular camera module containing what appears to be five sensors on the back. 

huawei-p40-prohuawei-p40-pro

Leaked images of the Huawei P40 Pro in a black and white color scheme.


Evan Blass/via Twitter

According to known Apple leaker Ming Chi Kuo, a 10x optical zoom camera could be included as one of the sensors in the P40 Pros camera system, making it the world’s first phones to achieve such a feat. The Mate 30 Pro featured a quad-camera set-up, and included a 50x digital zoom and a 5x optical zoom, which catapulted it into the mobile hall of fame. 

Optical zoom is achieved by switching from a wide-angle camera to a telephoto camera. The magnification number is a reflection of the difference of those two lens lengths. Using the telephoto camera without “pinching in” results in a higher-quality image instead of using digital zoom which is what happens when you pinch the screen of your phone while using the main camera — or when you try to zoom in beyond the telephoto camera’s capabilities.

P40 Pro may be equipped with 52mp Sony camera sensor 

According to GizChina, the P40 Pro’s rear camera will come with a 52-megapixel Sony IMX700 sensor, which is 10 megapixels higher than  P30 Pro’s rear camera. The 52-megapixel sensor is significantly lower in terms of resolution than Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra 108-megapixel sensor, but reports suggest this new sensor can bring bigger pixels and better low-light image quality.  

P40 will support 5G networks

Huawei has all but confirmed that both of its next flagship phones will support 5G, although in 2019 the vanilla P30 model couldn’t support the next-generation network. Two recent listings of what is understood be the P40 and the P40 Pro on TENAA’s certification website (China’s regulatory body for mobile tech) show the devices possessing 5G compatibility, according to MySmartPrice. Although 5G ran into hiccups last year, including patchy coverage, it’s expected to improve this year as coverage expands into new locations among other reasons.

P40 series could come in 5 colors, including blush gold 

The P40 series is understood to be available in five different colors: Black, Ice White, Deep Sea Blue, Silver Frost and Blush Gold, according to 91Mobiles. The blush gold in particular reminds me of the champagne-like color palette used in the iPhone’s newer models. It also comes after the Motorola Razr announced blush gold as its second color for the new Razr, which will be available from this spring.

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Xbox Series X Will Have A New Feature Called Smart Delivery, But How Does It Work? – GameSpot

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As part of a bundle of new details about the upcoming Xbox Series X, Microsoft has unveiled a brand-new feature called “Smart Delivery.” The feature is designed to make sure that players are downloading the version of the game that corresponds to their Xbox in order to have the best possible experience.

Microsoft says that it’s committed to using this feature on all its first-party games, including the upcoming Halo Infinite, which is also coming to Game Pass. This means that players will only have to purchase a given game once in order to play what Microsoft terms the “best available version” for the Xbox console they choose to play on–even if they upgrade to newer hardware later.

Smart Delivery will be available for all developers and publishers on the Xbox platform. The technology is intended for games that will release on Xbox One first and come to the upcoming Xbox Series X later.

It’s unclear if publishers will have the option to decline to use Smart Delivery in lieu of selling two different copies of the same game for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. CD Projekt Red has already announced that it will use Smart Delivery for their hotly-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077. We’ll see if other publishers will follow suit.

The blog post included details on all sorts of new features that the upcoming platform will have, including ray-tracing and Quick Resume, as well as its specific hardware specs. It also confirmed more details about Xbox Series X backwards compatibility.

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EA bans ‘abusive’ FIFA player Kurt0411 from all its games and services – Polygon

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In November 2019, FIFA competitor and streamer Kurt0411 was banned from playing in FIFA 20 events by publisher Electronic Arts. Now, EA has banned the player from its entire portfolio of games and services.

In a statement released today, EA said Kurt Fenech (aka Kurt0411) is “banned from playing our games and accessing our services” due to “serious and repeated violations.”

The statement, released on Twitter, explained that Fenech had initially been banned from FIFA competitions and live events after he “threatened employees and other players.” In the days following that ban, various EA employees’ Twitter accounts were hacked, displaying rogue messages supporting Fenech. Support staff on FIFA reported significant levels of personal abuse.

Fenech is highly critical of EA on his YouTube channel and his Twitter account, which has 93.9K followers, accusing the company of “tyranny” and “bullshit.” In the past, he has been vocally critical of certain aspects of the latest FIFA game, recently stating that EA has “done everything this year but look at themselves and admit they fucked it. They killed their game and their ‘esport’.”

He responded to Monday’s ban with a series of tweets alleging a conspiracy. “I have never said anything I shouldn’t have,” he wrote. “This is just deeper than anyone thinks. They didn’t want me competing at events cos they were scared I’d win them.”

In its statement, EA said that Fenech has “continued to post abusive and threatening messages and videos about EA employees and competitive players on social media, and he has encouraged others to do the same. His messages have crossed a line of decency into very personal attacks.” The company added that it is “open to feedback and constructive criticism.”

We’ve contacted Electronic Arts for more information and will update this story.

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