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Data breach exposes trade secrets of carmakers GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota

Data breach exposes trade secrets of carmakers GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota Security researcher UpGuard Cyber Risk disclosed Friday that sensitive documents from more than 100 manufacturing companies, including GM, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, ThyssenKrupp, and VW...

How to recover deleted iPhone contacts

How to recover deleted iPhone contacts If you've lost an important contact from your iPhone, there's no need to worry just yet. We show you a few ways to recover it from iCloud, iTunes, or a third-party app How to recover deleted iPhone contacts Source: Mac World How...

How to free up memory on a Mac

How to free up memory on a Mac If your Mac has slowed down it's possible that your RAM is being used to the max. Here's how to clean your Mac memory, including ways to reduce Mac memory usage so you can clear your RAM without restarting How to free up memory on a Mac...

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation In a bid to cut down on the spread of false information and spam, WhatsApp recently added labels that indicate when a message has been forwarded. Now the company is sharpening that strategy by...

Alibaba boosts its offline reach with $2B+ investment in outdoor digital marketing firm

Alibaba boosts its offline reach with B+ investment in outdoor digital marketing firm Alibaba is investing big bucks into offline distribution. The Chinese e-commerce giant has forked out $2.23 billion in exchange for a sizeable piece of Focus Media, a Shanghai-based...

How to edit PDFs on Mac

How to edit PDFs on Mac Thanks to Preview, a free app that comes with macOS you can edit PDFs easily. We show you how it's done, plus some alternatives that let you finess the finished product a bit How to edit PDFs on Mac Source: Mac World How...

EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming…

EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming… A decision in a long running EU antitrust probe of Google’s Android OS is due to land shortly. European Commission officials are trailing a press conference with competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager — to announce...

How to sign a PDF or document on Mac

How to sign a PDF or document on Mac It's quick and easy to create a digital signature on your Mac and then add it to PDFs, images and documents with one click How to sign a PDF or document on Mac Source: Mac World How...

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

In a bid to cut down on the spread of false information and spam, WhatsApp recently added labels that indicate when a message has been forwarded. Now the company is sharpening that strategy by imposing limits on how many groups a message can be sent on to.

Originally, users could forward messages on to multiple groups, but a new trial will see that forwarding limited to 20 groups worldwide. In India, however, which is WhatsApp’s largest market with 200 million users, the limit will be just five. In addition, a ‘quick forward’ option that allowed users to pass on images and videos to others rapidly is being removed from India.

“We believe that these changes — which we’ll continue to evaluate — will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app,” the company said in a blog post.

The changes are designed to help reduce the amount of information that goes viral on the service, although clearly this isn’t a move that will end the problem altogether.

The change is in direct response to a series of incidents in India. The BBC recently wrote about an incident which saw one man dead and two others severely beaten after rumors of their efforts to abduct children from a village spread on WhatsApp. Reportedly 17 other people have been killed in the past year under similar circumstances, with police saying false rumors had spread via WhatsApp.

In response, WhatsApp — which is of course owned by Facebook has bought full-page newspaper ads to warn about false information on its service.

Beyond concern about firing up vigilantes, the saga may also spill into India’s upcoming national general election next year. Times Internet today reports that Facebook and WhatsApp plan to introduce a fake news verification system that it used recently in Mexico to help combat spam messages and the spreading of incorrect news and information. The paper said that the companies have already held talks with India’s Election Commission.

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation
Source: TechCrunch

Alibaba boosts its offline reach with $2B+ investment in outdoor digital marketing firm

Alibaba boosts its offline reach with B+ investment in outdoor digital marketing firm

Alibaba is investing big bucks into offline distribution. The Chinese e-commerce giant has forked out $2.23 billion in exchange for a sizeable piece of Focus Media, a Shanghai-based company that operates outdoor digital advertising screens across China, Singapore and Hong Kong, according to a U.S. filing.

The deal itself is broken up into a few pieces. Alibaba itself is paying $1.43 billion for a 6.62 percent share of Focus Media, which is listed in Shanghai, It is also spending $504.7 million to buy 10 percent of an entity (managed by Focus Media founder and chairman Jason Nanchun Jiang) which controls 23.34 percent of Focus Media.

In addition, an Alibaba-aligned fund called ‘New Retail Strategic Opportunities’ is buying 1.37 percent of Focus Media, while Alibaba itself is planning to exercise an option to buy five percent more of the business over the next twelve months. That additional transaction will add another $1 billion or so to the total investment, dependent, of course, on Focus Media’s stock price.

That’s quite a mouthful but the objective of the deal is simpler to grok: Alibaba already has a formidable online channel to interact with consumers and now it is expanding what it can do offline.

Focus Media currently claims to reach 200 million middle-class consumers across 300 Chinese cities via its outdoor advertising platform, which includes digital screens in streets, in subways and in elevators. The company plans to grow that to 500 million people across 500 cities, and that ties into Alibaba’s online-to-offline strategy, which it also calls ‘New Retail.’

That has seen the company buy up expensive stakes in offline retail businesses with the goal of marrying the benefits of online shopping — such as quick delivery, easy to find products and easy payment — with the customer experience of brick and mortar stores, like in-person customer service and try-before-you-buy.

It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which a consumer sees a product advertised via Focus Media with the option to buy it, or arrange to see it in a store, simply by scanning a QR code. (Lest you forgot, QR codes are huge in China and a very key component in online/offline shopping.)

Beyond the New Retail push, the distribution provided by Focus Media offers sellers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform an alternative avenue through which to reach potential customers, particularly within China’s growing middle class.

Will people reject being bombarded with ads on their commute or downtime, especially when they could just open an app on their phone? Alibaba likely isn’t keen to take the risk, and given the vast amount of cash it is sitting on this deal isn’t going to be a huge risk.

Alibaba boosts its offline reach with B+ investment in outdoor digital marketing firm
Source: TechCrunch

EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming…

EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming…

A decision in a long running EU antitrust probe of Google’s Android OS is due to land shortly.

European Commission officials are trailing a press conference with competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager — to announce an “antitrust decision” at 1pm CET, with a link to watch the event streamed live.

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Bloomberg is reporting the EU’s fine for Android will be in the region of $5BN — which would be the largest ever antitrust penalty handed down by the Commission.

The case focuses on whether Google has abused its market dominance and crowded out rivals by taking steps to ensure its own-brand apps and services are pre-loaded on Android devices.

In April, Reuters reported on a 2016 document it had reviewed which said the Commission planned to levy a large fine against Google and would also order the company to stop giving revenue-sharing payments to smartphone makers to pre-install only Google Search. Reuters also reported then that Google would be ordered to stop requiring its own Chrome browser and other apps to be installed alongside Google’s Play store.

The Commission will confirm the full details of its Android decision in the next few hours.

Stay tuned for more as we get it… 

EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming…
Source: TechCrunch

Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises $7M led by Eight Roads Ventures

Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises M led by Eight Roads Ventures

Mention Me, the London-headquartered referral marketing platform, has raised $7 million in further funding. The round is led by Eight Roads Ventures and is the first time the five and a half year old company has raised venture capital, having only ever done a small angel round in 2015.

That’s noteworthy given the company’s two founders: Andy Cockburn and Tim Boughton, who met at Homeaway where they were U.K. MD and European CTO respectively before its $3 million IPO on the Nasdaq.

Counting over 300 customers — including FarFetch, Ovo Energy, Ted Baker and ZipCar — Mention Me offers a marketing platform to make it easy and effective for companies to conduct referral marketing. The platform supports referral programs in 16 languages, but its biggest draw is the ability to A/B test, iterate and measure campaigns so that they work best for the cohort they target.

Another feature that stands out is Mention Me’s refer by name functionality. This sees the marketing platform let you refer customers simply by having enter your full name into the referral box instead of relying on a unique referral code or URL. This, Mention Me co-founder Cockburn says, is designed to mimic the way referrals are naturally made in conversation with friends i.e. ‘go to this store and mention my name’.

“Most businesses are sitting on a huge asset: the trust and good will of their customers,” he says. “If those customers are out telling their friends about the brand and how they feel about it, it should become the most valuable marketing channel the business has. A channel that brings in the best friends of your best customers is close to the holy grail of marketing. And some of the biggest successes of recent years – Uber, AirbnB, Dropbox – have realised this to great effect”.

However, the challenge, argues Cockburn, is that it’s not as easy as just putting a share button on a site. That’s because human psychology kicks in.

“When a brand asks us to share we start to evaluate the impact of that action on our friendships? Will I look good in front of my friend for sharing it? Will they judge me negatively for sharing? The way we solve this problem is by putting all of our resources – our technology and team – to focussing on solving the psychological challenge”.

This includes understanding that people aren’t all the same, hence Mention Me offers segmentation and A/B testing by cohort so that brands can work out which offers and messaging resonate with different customer groups.

“We let people share in the most natural way, in real world conversations, by telling friends to just go to the site and give their name, to make sharing feel natural. And we have a team of referral experts that actively works in partnership with clients to help them solve this challenge,” says Cockburn.

That partnership is reflected in Mention Me’s revenue model, too. Instead of charging a monthly subscription as most SaaS do, after an initial set-up fee, the company gets paid by referral, in the form of commission on a new customer’s first order. This makes it similar to affiliate marketing in the sense that the interests of Mention Me and its customers are aligned.

Meanwhile, the Mention Me founder believes that as marketing continues to evolve over the next five years, trust will be at the heart of its evolution. And when you get trust right, all of the dynamics of a business become easier.

“Customers come to you without you needing to sell to them, they’re generally happier and they stick around longer,” he says. “Over the next couple of years we’ll be building out a Trust Marketing platform to help businesses grow, manage, measure and harness trust. Our ultimate goal is to change how the world does marketing”.

Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises M led by Eight Roads Ventures
Source: TechCrunch

Restaurant booking startup Eatigo chows down ~$10M more from TripAdvisor

Restaurant booking startup Eatigo chows down ~M more from TripAdvisor

Eatigo, a Southeast Asia-based dining service that describes itself as an ‘anti-Groupon’ for restaurants, had a busy 2017 that saw it expand into a number of markets including India. Now it is primed to continue that growth further still after it gobbled down a fresh serving of capital from TripAdvisor, the travel giant that it already counts as an investor.

Ok, no more food jokes, I promise…

The funding is undisclosed but Eatigo CEO and co-founder Michael Cluzel told TechCrunch it is ‘eight-digits.’ We do know that it takes Eatigo to over $25 million raised to date which, given that the startup had raised more than $15 million following the completion of its previous round, suggests that the amount is around the $10 million mark.

Eatigo was founded in Bangkok in 2013 and it is designed to help restaurants fill unused inventory by offering deals to customers at certain times of the day. The appeal to eaters is deals, but unlike group buying services such as Groupon, Eatigo encourages restaurants to manage their inventory and time so that they are filling their quiet hours for additional revenue not ramming people into restaurants for the sake of it. The latter scenario, of course, puts pressure on staff, reduces service quality and is generally not conducive to a good dining experience. It is also questionable whether discounts drive long-time loyalty, a cornerstone the Groupon of old was built on, but I digress.

The Eatigo service is present in six countries where it claims four million registered users and over 4,000 restaurants. That latter number ranges from high-end affairs, such as upscale hotel restaurants, to chain outlets and — my own personal favorite — street food outlets.

The important part here, besides the money, is that this new deal appears to signal a closer relationship between Eatigo and TripAdvisor, and particularly TripAdvisor’s The Fork subsidiary and its TripAdvisor Restaurants service.

The Fork, which the company got via a 2014 acquisition, is TripAdvisor’s expansion into food, allowing users to find information on availability and bookings on restaurants and in cities. Like Eatigo, it allows for advanced bookings at a discount but the service is squarely focused on Europe, having initially been founded in France. In that respect, it makes sense for the duo to collaborate.

“As we look to further our presence in the Asia Pacific region, we believe our latest strategic investment in Eatigo will continue to support a great business and strong management team. TripAdvisor’s continued partnership with Eatigo will help us both better serve millions of diners and restaurant owners who are increasingly turning to online channels,” said Bertrand Jelensperger, whos is senior VP of TripAdvisor Restaurants and the founder of TheFork, in a statement.

Cluzel, the Eatigo CEO, told TechCrunch that his company is looking to expand in Southeast Asia and the wider Asian market but, on the product side, it is preparing a new service that will “move beyond our original scope of doing just time-based discounts.”

What exactly that is — and how/whether it is tied to TripAdvisor or The Fork — he wouldn’t say at this point.

Restaurant booking startup Eatigo chows down ~M more from TripAdvisor
Source: TechCrunch

3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?

3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?

On Tuesday, July 10, the DOJ announced a landmark settlement with Austin-based Defense Distributed, a controversial startup led by a young, charismatic anarchist whom Wired once named one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world.

Hyper-loquacious and media-savvy, Cody Wilson is fond of telling any reporter who’ll listen that Defense Distributed’s main product, a gun fabricator called the Ghost Gunner, represents the endgame for gun control, not just in the US but everywhere in the world. With nothing but the Ghost Gunner, an internet connection, and some raw materials, anyone, anywhere can make an unmarked, untraceable gun in their home or garage. Even if Wilson is wrong that the gun control wars are effectively over (and I believe he is), Tuesday’s ruling has fundamentally changed them.

At about the time the settlement announcement was going out over the wires, I was pulling into the parking lot of LMT Defense in Milan, IL.

LMT Defense, formerly known as Lewis Machine & Tool, is as much the opposite of Defense Distributed as its quiet, publicity-shy founder, Karl Lewis, is the opposite of Cody Wilson. But LMT Defense’s story can be usefully placed alongside that of Defense Distributed, because together they can reveal much about the past, present, and future of the tools and technologies that we humans use for the age-old practice of making war.

The legacy machine

Karl Lewis got started in gunmaking back in the 1970’s at Springfield Armory in Geneseo, IL, just a few exits up I-80 from the current LMT Defense headquarters. Lewis, who has a high school education but who now knows as much about the engineering behind firearms manufacturing as almost anyone alive, was working on the Springfield Armory shop floor when he hit upon a better way to make a critical and failure-prone part of the AR-15, the bolt. He first took his idea to Springfield Armory management, but they took a pass, so he rented out a small corner in a local auto repair ship in Milan, bought some equipment, and began making the bolts, himself.

Lewis worked in his rented space on nights and weekends, bringing the newly fabricated bolts home for heat treatment in his kitchen oven. Not long after he made his first batch, he landed a small contract with the US military to supply some of the bolts for the M4 carbine. On the back of this initial success with M4 bolts, Lewis Machine & Tool expanded its offerings to include complete guns. Over the course of the next three decades, LMT grew into one of the world’s top makers of AR-15-pattern rifles for the world’s militaries, and it’s now in a very small club of gunmakers, alongside a few old-world arms powerhouses like Germany’s Heckler & Koch and Belgium’s FN Herstal, that supplies rifles to US SOCOM’s most elite units.

The offices of LMT Defense, in Milan, Ill. (Image courtesy Jon Stokes)

LMT’s gun business is built on high-profile relationships, hard-to-win government contracts, and deep, almost monk-like know-how. The company lives or dies by the skill of its machinists and by the stuff of process engineering — tolerances and measurements and paper trails. Political connections are also key, as the largest weapons contracts require congressional approval and months of waiting for political winds to blow in this or that direction, as countries to fall in and out of favor with each other, and paperwork that was delayed due to a political spat over some unrelated point of trade or security finally gets put through so that funds can be transfered and production can begin.

Selling these guns is as old-school a process as making them is. Success in LMT’s world isn’t about media buys and PR hits, but about dinners in foreign capitals, range sessions with the world’s top special forces units, booths at trade shows most of us have never heard of, and secret delegations of high-ranking officials to a machine shop in a small town surrounded by corn fields on the western border of Illinois.

The civilian gun market, with all of its politics- and event-driven gyrations of supply and demand, is woven into this stable core of the global military small arms market the way vines weave through a trellis. Innovations in gunmaking flow in both directions, though nowadays they more often flow from the civilian market into the military and law enforcement markets than vice versa. For the most part, civilians buy guns that come off the same production lines that feed the government and law enforcement markets.

All of this is how small arms get made and sold in the present world, and anyone who lived through the heyday of IBM and Oracle, before the PC, the cloud, and the smartphone tore through and upended everything, will recognize every detail of the above picture, down to the clean-cut guys in polos with the company logo and fat purchase orders bearing signatures and stamps and big numbers.

The author with LMT Defense hardware.

Guns, drugs, and a million Karl Lewises

This is the part of the story where I build on the IBM PC analogy I hinted at above, and tell you that Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner, along with its inevitable clones and successors, will kill dinosaurs like LMT Defense the way the PC and the cloud laid waste to the mainframe and microcomputer businesses of yesteryear.

Except this isn’t what will happen.

Defense Distributed isn’t going to destroy gun control, and it’s certainly not going to decimate the gun industry. All of the legacy gun industry apparatus described above will still be there in the decades to come, mainly because governments will still buy their arms from established makers like LMT. But surrounding the government and civilian arms markets will be a brand new, homebrew, underground gun market where enthusiasts swap files on the dark web and test new firearms in their back yards.

The homebrew gun revolution won’t create a million untraceable guns so much as it’ll create a hundreds of thousands of Karl Lewises — solitary geniuses who had a good idea, prototyped it, began making it and selling it in small batches, and ended up supplying a global arms market with new technology and products.

In this respect, the future of guns looks a lot like the present of drugs. The dark web hasn’t hurt Big Pharma, much less destroyed it. Rather, it has expanded the reach of hobbyist drugmakers and small labs, and enabled a shadow world of pharmaceutical R&D that feeds transnational black and gray markets for everything from penis enlargement pills to synthetic opioids.

Gun control efforts in this new reality will initially focus more on ammunition. Background checks for ammo purchases will move to more states, as policy makers try to limit civilian access to weapons in a world where controlling the guns themselves is impossible.

Ammunition has long been the crack in the rampart that Wilson is building. Bullets and casings are easy to fabricate and will always be easy to obtain or manufacture in bulk, but powder and primers are another story. Gunpowder and primers are the explosive chemical components of modern ammo, and they are difficult and dangerous to make at home. So gun controllers will seize on this and attempt to pivot to “bullet control” in the near-term.

Ammunition control is unlikely to work, mainly because rounds of ammunition are fungible, and there are untold billions of rounds already in civilian hands.

In addition to controls on ammunition, some governments will also make an effort at trying to force the manufacturers of 3D printers and desktop milling machines (the Ghost Gunner is the latter) to refuse to print files for gun parts.

This will be impossible to enforce, for two reasons. First, it will be hard for these machines to reliably tell what’s a gun-related file and what isn’t, especially if distributors of these files keep changing them to defeat any sort of detection. But the bigger problem will be that open-source firmware will quickly become available for the most popular printing and milling machines, so that determined users can “jailbreak” them and use them however they like. This already happens with products like routers and even cars, so it will definitely happen with home fabrication machines should the need arise.

Ammo control and fabrication device restrictions having failed, governments will over the longer term employ a two-pronged approach that consists of possession permits and digital censorship.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Jeremy Saltzer / EyeEm

First, governments will look to gun control schemes that treat guns like controlled substances (i.e. drugs and alchohol). The focus will shift to vetting and permits for simple possession, much like the gun owner licensing scheme I outlined in Politico. We’ll give up on trying to trace guns and ammunition, and focus more on authorizing people to possess guns, and on catching and prosecuting unauthorized possession. You’ll get the firearm equivalent of a marijuana card from the state, and then it won’t matter if you bought your gun from an authorized dealer or made it yourself at home.

The second component of future gun control regimes will be online suppression, of the type that’s already taking place on most major tech platforms across the developed world. I don’t think DefCad.com is long for the open web, and it will ultimately have as hard a time staying online as extremist sites like stormfront.org.

Gun CAD files will join child porn and pirated movies on the list of content it’s nearly impossible to find on big tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. If you want to trade these files, you’ll find yourself on sites with really intrusive advertising, where you worry a lot about viruses. Or, you’ll end up on the dark web, where you may end up paying for a hot new gun design with a cryptocurrency. This may be an ancap dream, but won’t be mainstream or user-friendly in any respect.

As for what comes after that, this is the same question as the question of what comes next for politically disfavored speech online. The gun control wars have now become a subset of the online free speech wars, so whatever happens with online speech in places like the US, UK, or China will happen with guns.

3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?
Source: TechCrunch

Disney tech smooths out bad CG hair days

Disney tech smooths out bad CG hair days

Disney is unequivocally the world’s leader in 3D simulations of hair — something of a niche talent in a way, but useful if you make movies like Tangled, where hair is basically the main character. A new bit of research from the company makes it easier for animators to have hair follow their artistic intent while also moving realistically.

The problem Disney Research aimed to solve was a compromise that animators have had to make when making the hair on characters do what the scene requires. While the hair will ultimately be rendered in glorious high-definition and with detailed physics, it’s too computationally expensive to do that while composing the scene.

Should a young warrior in her tent be wearing her hair up or down? Should it fly out when she turns her head quickly to draw attention to the movement, or stay weighed down so the audience isn’t distracted? Trying various combinations of these things can eat up hours of rendering time. So, like any smart artist, they rough it out first:

“Artists typically resort to lower-resolution simulations, where iterations are faster and manual edits possible,” reads the paper describing the new system. “But unfortunately, the parameter values determined in this way can only serve as an initial guess for the full-resolution simulation, which often behaves very different from its coarse counterpart when the same parameters are used.”

The solution proposed by the researchers is basically to use that “initial guess” to inform a high-resolution simulation of just a handful of hairs. These “guide” hairs act as feedback for the original simulation, bringing a much better idea of how the rest will act when fully rendered.

The guide hairs will cause hair to clump as in the upper right, while faded affinities or an outline-based guide (below, left and right) would allow for more natural motion if desired.

And because there are only a couple of them, their finer simulated characteristics can be tweaked and re-tweaked with minimal time. So an artist can fine-tune a flick of the ponytail or a puff of air on the bangs to create the desired effect, and not have to trust to chance that it’ll look like that in the final product.

This isn’t a trivial thing to engineer, of course, and much of the paper describes the schemes the team created to make sure that no weirdness occurs because of the interactions of the high-def and low-def hair systems.

It’s still very early: it isn’t meant to simulate more complex hair motions like twisting, and they want to add better ways of spreading out the affinity of the bulk hair with the special guide hairs (as seen at right). But no doubt there are animators out there who can’t wait to get their hands on this once it gets where it’s going.

Disney tech smooths out bad CG hair days
Source: TechCrunch