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Fortnite for Android has also been kicked off the Google Play Store – The Verge

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Following its removal from the Apple App Store, Fortnite has also been kicked off of the Google Play Store for Android. Earlier today, Epic Games snuck in an update for both the iPhone and Android versions of the game that allowed users to pay Epic directly for in-app purchases instead of using the officially sanctioned system for both platforms.

What followed was a wild ride: Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store, then Epic sued Apple, and finally there was an in-game video parodying Apple’s own 1984 commercial, positioning Apple itself as the monopolist.

Now, Google is in the conversation. As with Apple, Google requires that games use the Google Play system for in-app purchases. Although the Play Store’s rules are somewhat more lax than Apple’s when it comes to in-app purchases, Google does draw the line at games. It’s quite clear-cut: “Developers offering products within a game downloaded on Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.” Google’s system takes a 30 percent cut, just as Apple’s does.

Epic’s update earlier today ran afoul of that rule, and while Google took longer to make a decision to ban Fortnite over it than Apple, both companies reached the same conclusion.

Google’s statement:

The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.

A Google spokesperson emphasized to The Verge that Android is an open ecosystem that allows multiple stores and that Google Play’s policies need to apply equally to all developers. It has no problem with those other stores existing nor with Epic distributing its game on them, the spokesperson said.

You can still install Fortnite on Android, however. Epic itself points visitors to its website, where they can either download Fortnite through the Epic Games app or via the Samsung Galaxy Store on Samsung devices. This is different from iPhone and iPad, where it’s now impossible to install the game if you hadn’t already done so.

Epic has a history of tussling with Google over this Play Store rule. In August 2018, Epic pulled Fortnite from the Google Play Store and began distributing it directly. That is only possible because Android allows installs from third-party sources, though it does make that process seem a bit dangerous because of the security warnings that appear when you do.

Eighteen months later, Epic capitulated and put Fortnite back into the Google Play Store, though not without some very angry rhetoric about it. Here’s Epic’s statement from April 2020:

Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.

An app as popular as Fortnite being installed via other means — specifically other stores — has the potential to lessen the centrality of the Google Play Store on Android — and maybe increase fragmentation. There are already competing stores — Samsung is pushing its own store heavily on its Android devices, for example. But in general, the Google Play Store has been the go-to software source for most people.

Epic is already actively encouraging users to also use the version that comes from Samsung’s store, telling users that they can get the discount that started this whole mess if they do: “You’ll find that V-Bucks and real-money offers are now discounted by up to 20% through the Epic Games app at epicgames.com and the Samsung Galaxy Store.”

If Epic can get users in the habit of using other stores, that could mean users will start to want to use other stores for other app installs. If you’ve used any recent Samsung Galaxy phone, you have seen it offer the option to handle the installs for some major apps. It could mean that Google may be able skirt a monopoly issue with its decision, it would argue that there is real competition for app stores on Android.

For just one other gaming-related example, look to Microsoft. Its upcoming Game Pass Ultimate streaming service (you know it as xCloud) will be available both on Google Play and on Samsung’s Galaxy Store. If you install it via Google Play, you won’t be able to purchase DLC content for Xbox games because of that 30 percent cut. If you happen to install it via Samsung’s store, however, you are able to make in-app purchases. Here’s Microsoft’s statement on the issue:

Our vision is to bring a complete, full-featured experience with in-app purchase capabilities to app stores. However, we are complying with all store policies and do not offer in-app purchases in some stores at this time. To access complete, in-app purchase capabilities, Samsung customers can download the Xbox Game Pass app from the Galaxy Store; SK Telecom customers can also get a complete experience through ONE Store.

(Meanwhile, Microsoft’s game streaming service isn’t allowed on the iPhone at all — and Microsoft isn’t happy about that, either.)

Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.

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Alexa is more vital than ever during coronavirus, and Amazon knows it – CNET

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Amazon event 2020 scho speaker

The new orbicular fourth-generation Echo smart speaker.


Amazon

Amazon’s Alexa is more relevant than it’s ever been because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The giant retailer’s hardware execs hammered that point over and over Thursday during Amazon’s fall product launch event, emphasizing the value of smart home features for those of us who are stuck at home. And they doubled down on gear and services to entertain us, help us connect and keep an eye on our homes.

“Nobody anticipated the pandemic, and we certainly didn’t plan for it,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s hardware chief, said in an interview after the event. “But I think our homes are now our offices, they’re our schools, they’re our movie theaters. A lot of our products became even more applicable in this environment.”

Obviously, Amazon is OK with this development because it keeps people hooked to its portfolio of services and products. Limp said video streams are way up and billions of hours are watched each month through Amazon’s Fire TV devices. The same goes for book reading on Kindle gadgets and listening to music on Echo speakers. Toss in all the stuff people are buying online on Amazon.com, and quarantine has worked out fairly well for the company.


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Some might say Alexa’s growing influence is a bad thing. It’s troubling that one of the biggest and wealthiest corporations on the planet has so many connections to our home life, giving it even more ability to collect plenty of data about us. There are a lot of security problems — such as an Amazon-brand Ring camera being hijacked by a hacker — to give consumers pause.

But there are reasons to be grateful too. These types of products won’t replace visiting loved ones in person, but they sure are helpful for communicating when we have to be remote.

Ultimately, consumers will decide how much or how little Alexa they want in their lives. If history provides any clues, they will want a lot more, especially as the pandemic prompts interest in videoconferencing, security systems and streaming services.

“The pandemic brought everything to Amazon’s business model,” Bret Kinsella, founder of voice tech site Voicebot.ai, said of Amazon’s new devices. “If you look at our times and you look at just responding to customer needs and interest, which is what Amazon focuses on first and foremost, I’d say they really nailed it.”

Life-from-home features

Amazon is banking on that happening. At its event, the company introduced plenty of new ideas that could work well during the altered reality the pandemic has caused. 

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The Echo Show 10.


Amazon

The company unveiled a new program called Care Hub, an Alexa feature that lets people watch over their family members from afar. After you and a family member agree to set up a Care Hub connection, you’ll be able to monitor that person’s activity feed with Echo devices. If your family member doesn’t make any Alexa queries by a certain time of day, you can get an alert. The family member can also set you up as an emergency contact and reach you by saying, “Alexa, call for help.”

“We can all relate to the idea that there’s a lot of family that we can’t see right now. Even if they were nearby, we wouldn’t be able to see them. I’m in that situation,” said Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president of smart home. He mentioned that he’s testing out the service now with his mom.

Alexa hardware executive Miriam Daniel said her team wanted to help with remote learning, so it created Reading Sidekick. The feature, which works with hundreds of books, allows Alexa to read along with children, encouraging them if they are doing well or offering support if they are struggling.

Amazon also worked to make its devices useful for video conferencing and communication, allowing video calling on your TV through a Fire TV Cube device and a Logitech webcam. The $250 Echo Show 10 smart display provides a 10-inch screen for video calls and is equipped with Skype and group calling. It’ll get Zoom later this fall.

A new set of Eero router devices should also help people get more reliable connections at home.

Surveillance tech

Because the pandemic has us spending more time at home, Amazon’s Ring unit was sure to get a prominent spot at the hardware event. Ring’s surveillance equipment and police partnerships are already a worry for privacy advocates. Their concerns are likely to get directed at the $250 Ring Always Home Cam, an autonomous drone that flies around inside your home to keep an eye on many rooms on a set flight path. The device, which is coming out next year, will even automatically fly somewhere in the home if it’s triggered by a suspicious motion.

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The Ring Always Home Cam.


Amazon

That concept may be too much for plenty of customers. But the $200 Ring Car Cam probably won’t be. The Car Cam flips the script on Ring’s relationships with the police. The dash-mounted camera will record your traffic stop if you say, “Alexa, I’m being pulled over.” That device could provide a valuable layer of transparency at a time when police brutality and excessive force have become a leading social concern. In June, Apple introduced a similar feature on its iPhone.

Privacy advocates have called out Amazon for creating a bevy of devices with cameras and microphones built into them. When asked about these concerns, Limp noted his team has done a lot to make its products more secure, including adding two-factor authentication and stronger passwords for Ring.

“We’re going to have to continue to invent in the privacy front and the security front,” he said. “You’re never done.”

With the holiday season and Prime Day coming up, Amazon will find out soon enough if customers agree with Limp’s sentiment. And they’ll decide how many of these new devices they want to bring into their quarantined lives.

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Facebook convinced Apple to drop App Store fee for paid events feature – Business Insider – Business Insider

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AP; Francois Mori/AP


  • Facebook said on Friday that businesses holding online paid events on the social platform will be able to avoid Apple’s 30% fee through the end of the year.
  • Previously, Facebook said it could not get Apple to budge on its policy, which stipulates that the iPhone maker takes up to a 30% cut on transactions made through the App Store.
  • Now, Apple will allow Facebook to use its own payment system called Facebook Pay, enabling businesses to avoid the commission rate.
  • Apple’s App Store fee has been at the center of antitrust concerns surrounding the tech giant.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Little more than a month after Facebook called out Apple for collecting its App Store fee on a new feature aimed at helping small businesses, the iPhone maker is changing course.

Facebook announced on Friday that businesses hosting paid events on the social platform will be able to keep all of their online event earnings through December 31.

Previously, small businesses holding paid events and classes on Facebook were subject to the commission Apple charges for transactions made through the App Store, which can reach up to 30%. That’s because Apple requires apps in the App Store to use its in-app payment system rather than their own.

But Apple’s App Store policies also stipulate that apps offering goods and services experienced outside of the app — like a class, for example — can offer other alternative payment methods besides Apple’s in-app purchase system.

However, many of these businesses have gone virtual during the pandemic, meaning this rule technically wouldn’t apply since the event is being experienced in the same app through which the access was purchased. Apple is giving Facebook, and other apps like ClassPass and Airbnb, until the end of the year to implement an in-app purchase system for businesses hosting online paid events through their platforms. 

Facebook acknowledged that it had approached Apple about reducing its commission or enabling Facebook to use Facebook Pay to absorb the costs back in August when it announced that businesses would be able to earn money from online events hosted on Facebook.

Facebook said at the time that Apple had dismissed its requests.

Now, however, Facebook says it will be permitted to process paid events using Facebook Pay rather than Apple’s payments system, meaning businesses will be able to avoid the 30% commission through the end of 2020.

Creators on Facebook Gaming, the company’s Twitch rival, however, and will still be subject to Apple’s usual rules.

“Apple’s decision to not collect its 30% tax on paid online events comes with a catch: gaming creators are excluded from using Facebook Pay in paid online events on iOS,” Vivek Sharma, vice president of Facebook Gaming, said in a statement. “We unfortunately had to make this concession to get the temporary reprieve for other businesses.”

Facebook has also said it will not collect any fees from paid online events until at least August 2021.  

Apple’s App Store policies, particularly its commission on in-app purchases, have been a point of contention for app developers and lawmakers who argue that the rule gives Apple an unfair advantage in the industry. Apple CEO Tim Cook testified on the topic alongside the CEOs of Facebook, Google parent Alphabet, and Amazon in July, where lawmakers grilled Cook on whether Apple treats all developers fairly.

Apple commissioned a report ahead of the hearing showing that its 30% commission on App Store transactions is standard for the industry, drawing comparisons to other online marketplaces. 

But part of those concerns center not only on the fee itself, but the ways in which Apple enforces them. Documents revealed during the House antitrust subcommittee’s investigation have shown that Apple offered Amazon a special deal that only charged a 15% fee on subscriptions, for example. 

Apple said in a statement to Business Insider that its App Store guidelines are “clear” and “consistent” and apply to all developers.

“The App Store provides a great business opportunity for all developers, who use it to reach half a billion visitors each week across 175 countries,” the company said. “To ensure every developer can create and grow a successful business, Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone.”

App makers have started to speak out about their concerns more prominently over the last year. After publicly accusing Apple of unfair treatment, companies like Spotify, Epic Games, Basecamp, and Tile among others have created an advocacy group called the Coalition for App Fairness.

“Fortnite” maker Epic Games has also been locked in a legal spat with Apple recently over the game’s removal from the App Store after it intentionally skirted Apple’s payment policy.

Facebook has also come under increased scrutiny when it comes to the size and scope of its business. Lawmakers’ concerns around Facebook have hinged on the reasoning behind its acquisitions of rivals like Instagram. 

The ability for small businesses to avoid Apple’s App Store commission is just one change to Apple’s policies that Facebook has been pressing for recently. Facebook is now pushing for Apple to enable Facebook Messenger to be a default messaging option on the iPhone, according to The Information. Facebook has also spoken out about how changes in Apple’s iOS 14 iPhone update could hurt its advertising business. 

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Amazon's new home drone is sparking surveillance dystopia fears – Business Insider – Business Insider

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The upcoming Ring Always Home Cam.

Ring


  • Amazon on Thursday unveiled a camera-mounted drone that can fly around inside your house, called the Ring Always Home Cam.
  • The drone can launch itself from its base and automatically patrol your house if it’s alerted to a disturbance by a paired Ring alarm.
  • The announcement prompted privacy fears around the increased incursion by big tech surveillance products into people’s homes.
  •  The tiny drone is arguably one of Amazon’s less invasive products.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon’s latest security wheeze — a miniature drone that flies around your home looking for burglars — has prompted horrified responses about the potential for increased Big Tech surveillance.

Amazon unveiled the Ring Always Home Cam on Thursday, a tiny drone that can fly around your home and check for disturbances.

The $250 device sits inside the home in a cradle, and will launch itself if triggered by a paired Ring alarm. Ring alarms are supposed to respond to a wide range of emergencies such as break-ins and fires. The drone will then fly around according to a preset pathway, and stream live footage of what’s happening to the user’s phone.

Imagery and footage of the drone launching itself from its base triggered some blowback online, both serious and tongue-in-cheek.

“The spy drone for your house run by megacorp is 100% from Black Mirror and also wasn’t supposed to be a fun product idea,” wrote one user.

The Internet of Shit Twitter account, which pokes fun at seemingly pointless connected devices, wrote: “An internet connected drone camera for your home, owned by Amazon. this definitely won’t be a privacy nightmare *at all*.”

And security expert and programmer Patricia Aas wrote simply: “Wtf is wrong with this industry?”

UK-based privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch described the drone as “arguably Amazon’s most chilling surveillance product yet.”

“It’s difficult to imagine why Amazon thinks anyone wants flying internet cameras linked up to a data-gathering company in the privacy of their own home,” said director Silkie Carlo in a statement. “It’s important to acknowledge the influence that Amazon’s product development is having on communities and the growing surveillance market.”

Amazon tried to allay privacy concerns about the drone following users round their houses by saying it was deliberately designed to be noisy so you can hear it coming — although it is only supposed to take off when its owner is out.

“Designed with privacy in mind, the motors even hum when in flight — it’s privacy you can hear,” Ring says on its website.

And as unnerving as an autonomous home camera drone undoubtedly is, another product unveiled on Thursday may be more troubling.

The new version of Amazon’s smart display screen, the Echo Show, can automatically swivel to follow its owners as they move around.

amazon echo show 10 2020

The new Echo Show can swivel to follow a user during a video call.

Amazon


Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight, said while the drone was “likely to be a magnet for privacy concerns”, it was better than devices like the Echo Show “which have a front-facing camera that is always exposed.”

Amazon’s current smart home devices also have the potential to snoop on unsuspecting users.

In 2019 Amazon and other big tech firms were found admitted to sending snippets of audio captured by smart assistants like Alexa back to human moderators for review.

As reported by Bloomberg, the Alexa recordings included sensitive and intimate moments. The discovery sparked outrage from consumers who didn’t know their private conversations could end up in the hands of human reviewers.

Amazon’s made it possible for users to opt out of having these snippets sent back, but having those recordings sent off is still the default setting.

Ring, which Amazon bought for $1 billion in 2018, is also already the subject of privacy concerns with or without the drone.

Ring has drawn public scrutiny both for its relationship with police departments and the overall security of its systems, which have been accessed by hackers.

In one instance a hacker took control of a camera in an 8-year-old girl’s bedroom and taunted her, saying he was Santa Claus.

Amazon addressed these concerns at its Thursday event, promising to strengthen Ring’s services with end-to-end encryption by the end of this year.

It’s also possible that worries about intrusive surveillance will be less of a concern for the Always Home Cam than the drone haplessly flying into things.

“Along with the usual privacy concerns, Amazon will also have to reassure users that the Always Home Cam won’t bump into things or people,” added CCS Insight’s Ben Wood. “The way you set it up, and the assumption that it will only operate when occupants are not in the home, will go a long way to address these concerns, but it will only be possible to really understand the device fully once you’ve had a chance to use it.”

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