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The straight line from Google Maps to Clearview AI – The Verge



Few apps made by a Big Tech company have improved more over the years than Google Maps. When it launched in 2005, it was a moderately better alternative to AOL’s MapQuest. With the rise of smartphones, it became truly essential to the lives of millions — upending incumbents whose entire business had been selling expensive, subscription-based in-car navigation systems. And with each passing year it improves: offering advice about when to change lanes, rerouting you to avoid traffic, and even telling you which exit to take when climbing out of the New York subway. Today is its 15th birthday.

It’s a happy story in a relatively dark time for consumer tech, so it makes sense that Google would want to celebrate. The company marked the occasion with a lightly refreshed design, including a good-looking new pin-shaped logo. It also sat for a portrait in Wired, where Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai took a victory lap with Lauren Goode and Boone Ashworth:

“Overall, I think computing should work in a way where it’s much more intuitive to the way people live and not the other way around,” Pichai says. “AR and Maps is really in the sweet spot of that, because as humans we’re walking around the world, perceiving a lot, trying to understand a lot.” Pichai says he sees a future in which Maps users are walking around and an AR layer of information is popping up in Maps, showing them vegetarian menu options at nearby restaurants.

That doesn’t mean AR in Google Maps works like magic now—or will in the near future. “We talk about the double-edge sword of AR,” says Alex Komoroske, director of product management at Maps. “If you get it exactly right, it’s extremely intuitive. But if we get it wrong, it is actively confusing. It’s worse than showing nothing.”

People walking around and finding themselves subject to ubiquitous computing — whether they like it or not — is a subject that has been in the news constantly of late, as we debate the rise of for-profit facial recognition and tools like Clearview AI. It’s a story that, to my mind, starts with the rise of Google Maps.

But first, a bit of history.

“Worse than showing nothing” is what Google Maps was accused of a decade ago in Germany, where in the aftermath of the Nazi regime, privacy-conscious Germans objected to the latest feature added to the app in the name of progress: Street View, which took photos of everyone’s homes and allows anyone to browse them at their leisure. In response to criticism, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously suggested that people angry about the loss of privacy should simply move. (To where?!) Angry Germans sued, but ultimately lost. The courts ruled that, because the photos had been taken from a public road, and people could opt out of having their homes shown, their privacy had not been violated.

Of course, one reason that people object to these massive data-collection schemes is that they almost always gather more data than even their creators intend. Street View cars, for example, connected to unsecured Wi-Fi networks as they made their rounds between 2008 and 2010 — and when they did, slurped up “snippets of e-mails, photographs, passwords, chat messages, [and] postings on websites and social networks,” according to a 2012 story in the New York Times.

Google said it had all been a mistake and apologized, and Germany fined just shy of the maximum for a data privacy breach on that scale: a hilarious 145,000 euros. (I am not leaving out any zeroes on accident there.) In the intervening years, like most data privacy scandals, it has been more or less forgotten.

Still, the case feels freshly relevant in light of the past month’s news about Clearview AI. Like Google in 2008, Clearview slurps up public data — in this case, photos of people posted publicly on the internet — to build a for-profit tool without the permission of anyone involved.

In fact, much of the news in the past week has been companies (including Google!) leaping up to insist that Clearview does not have permission to build its Google-for-faces tool, which the company says it sells only to law enforcement. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Venmo have sent similar cease-and-desist letters.

No one seems terribly confident those letters will be effective, though. Last year, another for-profit company that LinkedIn sued for scraping its public content won its case. There are arguably some good reasons about that — the ability to scrape public sites is good for journalists and academics, for example.

Still, for all the reasons Kashmir Hill laid out in her initial profile of Clearview, the implications of a tool that immediately associates any face with a name are chilling to contemplate: stalking, blackmail, targeting protesters and dissidents, and so on. On Wednesday, BuzzFeed reported that the company is selling the technology to authoritarian regimes. (Even Schmidt, who had suggested that people move to avoid his fleet of Street View cars, said Google would never build a facial recognition database.)

The uses and potential misuses of Clearview’s technology strike me as plainly dangerous in a way that Street View never did. Google offered you a view of an address you could have visited yourself, and — critically — allowed homeowners to opt out of the program, blurring the view of their houses. Like other Google Maps features, it was conceived as a tool for helping people get around — not to empower the prison-industrial complex.

Still, for everything Google Maps did right — and I am a highly satisfied customer — it also heralded a new era in networked photography. You cannot make a previously unseen world visible without making it, at least in some ways, less secure. Look at the once-sleepy neighborhoods transformed into clogged wrecks the moment that Google Maps (through its acquisition of Waze) gained visibility into traffic patterns, and began rerouting the world in the name of efficiency. Once again, making something easier to see made a large group of people feel less safe.

On the whole, at least for me, I’d say it has been a good bargain. But as Maps turns 15, it seems worth noting that there’s a straight line from Street View to Clearview. We’re beginning to understand in America what Germans knew a decade ago — that whatever miracles technology can provide must always be weighed against the value of simply being left alone.

The Ratio

Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.

Trending up: Google has quietly been conducting a five-year study on how to get employees to eat healthier — and so far, it appears to be working. The strategies include making plates slightly smaller, putting vegetables first in the buffet line, and funding a new curriculum at the Culinary Institute of America focused on making vegetables taste better.


Trump’s re-election campaign plans to spend more than $1 billion to ensure he gets a second term. Helping to spread his message is a vast array of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in US history. Here’s McKay Coppins at The Atlantic:

After the 2016 election, much was made of the threats posed to American democracy by foreign disinformation. Stories of Russian troll farms and Macedonian fake-news mills loomed in the national imagination. But while these shadowy outside forces preoccupied politicians and journalists, Trump and his domestic allies were beginning to adopt the same tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.

Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.

Trump is the third president to be impeached, but he’s the first to go through the process in the social media era. This shift changed everything about how Americans understood the developments in the trial. (Cat Zakrzewski / The Washington Post)

Nevada’s Democratic Party is scrambling to figure out a better way to report results, after ditching plans to use an app like the cursed one that upended Iowa’s contest. The Nevada caucus is just about two weeks away. (Emily Glazer and Dustin Volz / The Wall Street Journal)

Vice’s Motherboard published the APK for The App that ruined the Iowa caucus. “Trust and transparency are core to the U.S. electoral process. That’s why Motherboard is publishing the app that malfunctioned in Iowa,” they said. (Jason Koebler / Vice)

Internet trolls deliberately disrupted the Iowa caucus hotline with numerous prank calls while officials were trying to report results. The prank callers included a number of Trump supporters. (Ben Collins, Maura Barrett and Vaughn Hillyard / NBC)

The Congressional investigation into Big Tech is putting pressure on the country’s top two antitrust enforcement agencies — the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice — which have historically been slow to act. Last summer, after Congress announced its probe, both agencies made similar announcements. (Jason Del Rey / Recode)

Child welfare advocates attacked Facebook’s plans to encrypt its messaging apps, saying it would allow child predators to operate with impunity on the company’s platforms. So far, the tech giant isn’t backing down. (Katie Benner and Mike Isaac / The New York Times)

The announcement of a second proposed California privacy law, the California Privacy Rights Act, set off a fresh wave of lobbying efforts from privacy advocates and executives at Google and Facebook. Many provisions within the new law are a direct result of these efforts. (Issie Lapowsky / Protocol)

European Union antitrust investigators are ramping up the investigation into Facebook’s data practices. They’re now looking for documents related to how the company allegedly leveraged access to user data to stifle competition. (Sam Schechner, Emily Glazer and Valentina Pop / The Wall Street Journal)


Two more content moderators — these ones working for Facebook through Cognizant — filed a class-action suit against the company on Wednesday. They worked at the Tampa site I profiled for The Verge last year. (Found out today that my piece on the Tampa site is a finalist for a National Magazine Award, by the way!) Here’s Kavitha Surana in the Tampa Bay Times:

The two filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook and Cognizant on Wednesday, alleging the companies made content moderators work under dangerous conditions that caused debilitating physical and psychological harm and did little to help them cope with the traumas they suffered as a result. Jeudy also has filed a discrimination charge against Cognizant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit says the two companies ignored the very safety standards they helped create. It also alleges that Facebook’s outsourcing relationship with Cognizant is a way for the social media giant to avoid accountability for the mental health issues that result from moderating graphic content on the platform.

A leaked document shows TikTok waited to report a livestreamed suicide on its app in order to get its PR strategy in place. The company’s goal was to make sure the video didn’t go viral. That’s … not terrible. But waiting three hours to call the police sure is. Paulo Victor Ribeiro at The Intercept reports:

In the statement for users, TikTok said that it was “extremely sad about this tragedy” and guaranteed that its top priority was to “foster a secure and positive environment on the application.” The company wrote, “We have measures in place to protect users from misusing the app, including simple mechanisms that allow you to report content that violates our terms of use.” Insofar as these mechanisms exist, however, they had clearly not worked as well as advertised. […]

According to the ByteDance source, TikTok’s chief of operations in Brazil and Latin America advised employees of the Brazilian office not to say anything about what had occurred. “Her orders were clear: ‘Don’t let it go viral,’” the source told me.

Twitter reported $1.01 billion in revenue for last quarter, thanks to strong advertising sales. It’s the first time the company’s revenue has broken the billion-dollar mark. Daily users were up, too, likely because of how good your tweets are. (Ingrid Lunden / TechCrunch)

Shoddy coronavirus studies keep going viral on social media. Some are coming from scientists who are rapidly posting findings about the outbreak without properly vetting the claims. Boo! (Stephanie M. Lee / BuzzFeed)

Pornhub hosts hundreds of explicit videos featuring footage of women who were not aware how the content will be used. The website’s solution to stop these videos from spreading is to fingerprint the videos after someone requests that they be taken down. This investigation shows how often this system fails. (Samantha Cole and Emanuel Maiberg / Vice)

And finally…

‘Emoji jacket’ can help cyclists communicate their never-ending rage to drivers

Cycling is dangerous, but emoji are cute. So naturally:

Here comes Ford with a novel solution: an emoji jacket. As part of its “Share the Road” campaign to improve cycling safety, the automaker’s European division designed a cycling jacket with an LED display on the back that lights up with various emoji to convey the cyclist’s mood. A smiley face indicates a happy cyclist, a frowny face a less happy one, and so on. There are also directional symbols for when a cyclist intends to make a turn and a hazard symbol when they may be experiencing a flat tire.

I want one and I don’t even bike!

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What satellite navigation systems does the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 support? – XDA Developers



After months of heavy leaks, Samsung’s next foldable phone — Galaxy Z Fold 4 — is finally official. While not a massive upgrade over its predecessor Galaxy Z Fold 3, the new model does bring several notable improvements, making the Galaxy Z Fold 4 Samsung’s most refined foldable yet. The hinge is more compact, ergonomics have improved, cameras and chipset have been upgraded, and there are some new software updates to improve the multitasking experience. In addition, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 also boasts support for all global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), enabling precise location tracking no matter where you are.

GPS support on the Galaxy Z Fold 4

In particular, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 supports four navigation systems, namely, GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, and BeiDou. GPS is short for Global Positioning System, and it’s owned by the United States. GLONASS is a Russian navigation system, while Galileo is operated by European Union Agency. Finally, BeiDou is a Chinese satellite navigation system.

Support for multiple navigation systems means the Galaxy Z Fold 4 can access more satellite signals to calculate its positioning. This translates to increased location accuracy and a faster fix. You can use an app like GPSTest to see in real-time which Global Navigation satellite systems are being used by your phone for positioning. As a consumer, you probably don’t need to worry about any of these details. Just know that your Galaxy Z Fold 4 has everything to offer a smooth navigation experience when using Google Maps, booking an Uber, or any app that relies on precise location tracking.

    The Galaxy Z Fold 4 supports four global navigation systems, including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou.

Location services are notorious battery hogs, so be sure to keep tabs on apps with location access. Ideally, you only want to grant full location access to critical apps — Google Maps and ride apps, for example. In other cases, take advantage of Android’s one-time permission to only grant temporary location access to an app.

Check out the best Galaxy Z Fold 4 deals if you’re on the fence about getting one. You can save money and score freebies. And don’t forget to pick up a case and a fast charger for your expensive purchase.

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Apple Is About To Launch A Bold New Ads Strategy, Leak Suggests – Forbes



Apple is about to embark on a bold new strategy that will see it displaying adverts on preloaded iPhone apps, according to a new report. As it looks to make more money from services, the iPhone maker is aiming to triple the revenue of its ads business, according to Apple commentator Mark Gurman’s Power On newsletter.

According to Gurman, Apple’s VP of advertising platforms Todd Teresi has been asked to bolster annual revenue into “double digits” from about $4 billion today. The iPhone maker has been testing search ads in maps already, which could show up with places to eat, for example, when you search in the app.

Apple could also be planning ads in other apps including Podcasts and Books, and even on Apple TV via a subscription model that would include an ad supported tier in exchange for a cheaper monthly fee, Gurman predicts.

Expansion of Apple’s ads business

This would be an expansion of Apple’s current ads business, which is limited to the App Store—where developers pay to have their app boosted when certain search queries are entered—and its Stocks and News apps. Apple started asking people last year if they wanted to enable personalized ads on these apps, and you can turn this off in your iPhone Privacy settings.

Gurman also reiterated predictions that Apple is planning to include ads on its Today Tab—as I wrote previously.

It marks a major change in Apple’s strategy, which had previously focused on hardware to boost revenue. Over the last couple of years, the iPhone maker’s focus has shifted towards its services business, and this latest move is an extension of that.

The new Apple strategy comes after its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) features introduced in iOS 14.5 crippled Facebook’s ad business by limiting its ability to track people on the iPhone.

Gurman calls this “the elephant in the room,” saying:

“Before even talking about how Apple Inc. could expand its advertising business, I need to address the elephant in the room: how the company’s privacy efforts have stymied third-party advertising on its platform.”

He goes on to talk about how ATT is “perfectly reasonable,” adding that people should be able to choose whether they want to be tracked. However: “There’s no denying that ATT has created some collateral damage: a major revenue hit for companies big and small.

“You may not feel too bad for social media giants like Meta Platforms Inc. and Snap Inc. that have claimed to have lost billions of dollars as a result of Apple’s changes, but smaller developers also say the feature has upended their businesses,” Gurman adds.

Taking this into account, Gurman calls Apple’s decision to expand its ads business “ironic.”

This is especially true since Apple’s own way of personalizing ads is based on the data you produce by using its other services. “That doesn’t feel like a privacy-first policy,” says Gurman.

Gurman makes a very good point—and while you can switch Personalization off, the iPhone maker can still gather data including your carrier, device type and what you read.

Apple has been heavily promoting its privacy credentials for some time, so hopefully it will still be easy for people to opt out of personalization in their settings. However, in the interest of transparency, the iPhone maker will need to ensure it’s clear about the data it collects about you and keep with its own ATT rules.

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Microsoft Office to support Apple Pencil’s handwriting-to-text feature – The Siasat Daily



San Francisco: Tech giant Microsoft has released a new beta version of its Office app for iPad with support for the Apple Pencil’s handwriting-to-text feature Scribble.

The feature allows you to insert and edit the text in a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or Excel spreadsheet using the Apple Pencil, with handwriting automatically converted into typed text, reports AppleInsider.

After enabling the Scribble feature in Settings and then Apple Pencil, the feature can be used by tapping the Scribble Pen button under the Draw tab in version 2.64 of the Office app.

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The feature can be tested now by members of the Office Insider programme via TestFlight, and the update will likely be released on the App Store for all users in the coming weeks.

Scribble was added in iPadOS 14 for any iPad that supports the original or second-generation Apple Pencil, including any iPad Pro, the third-generation iPad Air and newer, the fifth-generation iPad mini and newer, and the sixth-generation iPad and newer.

Microsoft’s unified Office app with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel gained iPad compatibility in February 2021 and is also available for the iPhone.

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