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Who exactly is reading your Emails?

So last year, Google said it would stop scanning your emails for ad targeting. But did they? According to the WSJ, when Gmail users sign up for third-party services that monitor their inboxes – such as e-commerce price trackers and travel management tools — some employees of those companies have reportedly been able to read customer emails to help train their software.

Google even confirmed that anyone who has linked the apps to their accounts may have unknowingly allowed the developers to read the private emails. Companies like Edison Software confirmed that they read emails so as to improve their services. Google said the practice is not against its policies, its more than 1.4bn users around the globe were caught by surprise in terms of what they signed up for when agreeing to the usage terms and conditions for such third-party applications. Google’s Gmail privacy gaffe shows why tech needs to make clear to users what the tradeoff is for free services. Developers blaming you for not knowing about data collection is why it’s so hard to trust tech right now.

Google issued a clarification after the story broke of how this practice worked. The internet giant said: “The practice of automatic processing has caused some to speculate mistakenly that Google ‘reads’ your emails.” In the statement, they said it vets third-party applications to ensure they only request “relevant data” and “accurately represent themselves”. The statement continues – “To be absolutely clear: no one at Google reads your Gmail, except in very specific cases where you ask us to and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse.” The search giant pointed to its robust privacy and data control settings and encouraged readers to review their permissions thoroughly before allowing access for any non-Google application. Privacy advocates have said that it is unfair for Google and other tech firms to expect users to know and keep track of how their data is being used in all instances as it cannot be assumed all users have the same level of digital literacy.

If you’re still worried, head over to Google’s Security Checkup dashboard to see which apps have access to your data. The dashboard explains how your account could be more secure and shows when new devices have logged in. You can also review app passwords and turn on two-factor authentication. And yes, you should turn it on. It is quite commendable that after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal the public and the media are starting to set the bar higher on privacy practices by some of the world’s biggest internet companies. And that’s a very good thing.

You can now relax and stop being paranoid about Facebook secretly listening on you

We’ve all been there – you are on a call talking about some random stuff and then when the call ends, you open up Instagram or Facebook Messenger. Boom, you see an advertisement of the random stuff you were talking about on the phone with your friend. Sounds creepy, right?

Facebook allegedly eavesdropping on you is the smartphone conspiracy theory that just won’t go away and so some computer science academics at Northeastern University decided to do a rigorous study to tackle it. They ran an experiment involving more than 17,000 of the most popular apps on Android to find out whether any of them were secretly using the phone’s mic to capture audio. The apps included those belonging to Facebook, as well as over 8,000 apps that send information to Facebook. Sorry, conspiracy theorists: They found no evidence of an app unexpectedly activating the microphone or sending audio out when not prompted to do so. [Read More]

If you’re still having paranoia, we suggest deleting Facebook’s apps from your phone altogether and stick to only using their desktop versions.

Long live the meme

The EU parliament this past week voted down a controversial copyright bill that would have required every internet upload to be checked for copyright violations. Online pioneers like World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales had warned that the Copyright Directive would have destroyed the internet as we know it, becoming “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.” The rejection marks a defeat for certain media groups and recording labels, which had hoped that tougher copyright rules would strengthen their hand in negotiations with the platforms, wring more revenue from online content and empower creatives online.

The vote was close, with 278 in favour, 318 against and 31 abstentions. The anti-copyright camp won this round, but the war is not over. Lobbying is set to intensify once again, as debates resume on one of Europe’s most intensely watched legislative files. [Read More]

Here are other tech stories you might have missed

Other Facebook Stories

  • Facebook’s year of privacy mishaps continues — this time with a new software bug that ‘unblocked’ people. The bug affected 800,000 people and could have had serious safety implications. The bug also meant that the person who had been blocked may have been able to reach out via Messenger to the person who blocked them, Facebook said in a blog post. There are lots of reasons people block others on Facebook, and some of them have to do with serious privacy or safety concerns. Blocking a user also unfriends them, and Egan, the company’s chief privacy officer, said that the bug that unblocked some users did not restore those Facebook friendships. It did, however, allow the formerly-blocked user to view content posted by the person. Facebook has started notifying people if they were impacted by this bug. [Details]
  • Facebook is shuttering tbh, the anonymous messaging app it acquired in October, along with two others apps, Hello and Moves, due to low usage. Within 90 days, the company plans to delete all user data from all three apps. “We need to prioritise our work so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. And it’s only by trial and error that we’ll create great social experiences for people,” Facebook said in a statement.
  • The social network also announced a further tightening of the ways developers could access user information on Monday as it continues to try to address privacy concerns. [Facebook]
  • Instagram’s not giving us a chronological feed, but at least we’ve got this. Instagram’s newest feature tells you when you’ve seen every new post from the past two days. The platform now notifies you when you’ve scrolled back far enough to have seen everything posted by the people you follow in the past two days. Once you’ve seen all the posts, you’ll see a green check mark in your feed alerting you that “you’re all caught up.”

Samsung

  • The Verge reported that some Samsung phones (the S9 and S9+ among other devices) are sending photos to random contacts in the devices’ address books. Users are complaining on Reddit and the company’s official forums speculating that this issue has to do with the push of RCS messaging updates. The messages are sent via Samsung’s default texting app – Samsung Messages. Users are not even notified that files have been sent until the recipient responds. A Samsung spokesperson said that its technical teams are “looking into it.”  For now, Samsung owners can revoke Samsung Message’s permissions to access storage to avoid the bug from sending their files out in the wild. [Read More]

  • Samsung posted their financials last week and things are not looking good. The company would have liked to see better performance from the Galaxy S9. According to the company’s guidance numbers, Samsung will post 14.8 trillion won ($13.2 billion) in operating profit off 58 trillion won ($51.8 billion) in revenue for Q2, which would represent a 0.7% decline in sales and an 11% increase in profit year on year. Compared to just last quarter, where Samsung made 15.64 trillion won in profit from revenue of 60.56 trillion won, this latest quarter can be seen as a misstep. [Read More]

The S9 sales are so poor that it’s reportedly the lowest of any flagship Samsung phone since the Galaxy S3. The S7 was the company’s most popular.

  • Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 could be Bixby-free, according to a new leak. The tablet will have fairly thin bezels but will not follow the trend of edge-to-edge screens. Rumours suggest that Samsung will be trying to compete directly with the iPad Pro by shipping their newest tablet with a 10.5in display. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but we’re hoping for at least an OLED screen. What the renders don’t show, however, is a dedicated button for everyone’s favourite AI assistant – Bixby. The renders haven’t yet been made official, so we suggest that you take all of this with a pinch of salt. As for launch date, pricing, and availability, the new Galaxy tablet may be announced before the end of summer–most probably at the IFA 2018 in Berlin. We’re looking at August 9 together with the Galaxy Note9 at the Unpacked 2018 event or maybe even earlier. [Read More]

Apple

  • Apple remembered colours exist just in time for its 2018 iPhone lineup. This year’s iPhones may give you a few new colour options to choose from, according to a report by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Apple is rather fickle about colours preferring to stick with staid shades of grey and gold, so it’s nice to see it return to its roots some. [Read More]

  • No, it’s not Intel’s 5G chip Apple is ditching – it’s the Sunny Peak Bluetooth, Wi-Fi part. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. On July 4, Israeli financial daily Calcalist published on its tech blog details of leaked internal Intel documents that stated Apple was passing over Intel’s 5G cellular modem chips for 2020 iPhones. That sent shockwaves through the industry. Calcalist has now updated its article to say Intel’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chip had been dropped due to a lack of interest from Apple, and not necessarily its 5G modem chipsets. This might imply Apple may still use the processor giant’s 5G cellular modems in future iPhones and other gadgets – just not its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth offering. [Read More]
  • Apple will use LG for some iPhone OLEDs, limiting reliance on Samsung. This would be a win for Android devices as well, as it would mean price drops for OLEDs industry-wide resulting in more smartphones with OLEDs at lower prices. According to the source, LG will not supply all the OLEDs for the new iPhones but start with at least 2 – 4 million displays. LG reportedly wanted to be the sole supplier, but couldn’t ramp up production in time to meet Apple’s needs. [Read More]

Twitter

Twitter is sweeping out fake accounts like never before, putting user growth at risk. Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June and the pace has continued in July. The extent of account suspensions, which has not previously been reported, is one of several recent moves by Twitter to limit the influence of people it says are abusing its platform. The aggressive removal of unwanted accounts may result in a rare decline in the number of monthly users in the second quarter, which ended last week. While Twitter is stepping up its fight against fake accounts — deleting ~1M per day, Facebook said in May it was deleting ~7M per day. Fake accounts are clearly still a huge problem for both platforms. [Read More]

Microsoft

  • Microsoft teased a new Outlook.com dark mode. While the software giant introduced a temporary dark mode for Halloween last year, Microsoft has been working on a new dark mode for Outlook.com for the past few months. Microsoft has started teasing that the new dark mode will be available soon. A dark mode for Outlook.com is one of the most highly requested features for Microsoft’s webmail service, according to listings on the Outlook.com feedback site. [Read More]
  • Microsoft Andromeda folding iPad competitor possibly killed off. Don’t expect to see the rumoured folding Windows computer any time soon. In fact, Microsoft might have cancelled the device code-named Andromeda. Whether it’s cancelled or just delayed, don’t expect the Microsoft Andromeda to be released this year, despite earlier rumours.

That could leave Samsung the first to get a folding computer on the market. The Galaxy X is supposedly coming in the first half of 2019. Apple’s foldable iPhone isn’t expected until 2020 at the earliest. [Read More]

  • Microsoft may be making a Movies & TV app for iOS and Android. Last October, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 mobile was effectively dead, and began making versions of its best Windows 10 apps for iOS and Android. If the app were to arrive on iOS and Android, it could compete against the likes of iTunes, Google Play Movies & TV and other platforms. Still, the sources told Window Central not to expect the iOS app and Android app version of Movies & TV anytime soon, as work is supposedly still in progress.[Read More]

Streaming Services

Spotify

  • Spotify quietly released a new app that won’t burn through your monthly data caps. Spotify Lite is Spotify’s slimmed-down version designed for emerging markets. The regular Spotify app takes up about 100MB while Spotify Lite only takes up around 15MB. It is currently only available on Android in Brazil. [Read More]
  • Spotify users are requesting refunds after over-the-top Drake promotion. Spotify placed Drake’s Scorpion prominently on its playlists, effectively allowing the artist to “take over” the music service over the weekend. While Drake fans were likely pleased, others weren’t exactly thrilled about this turn of events. Some premium subscribers even went as far to demand refunds from Spotify for the service’s placement of advertisements on accounts that are supposed to be ad-free. The question is whether it’s appropriate for the service to introduce this kind of blatant marketing into its playlists, allowing the promotion to override users’ preferences. [Read More]

Apple Music

Spotify’s years-long dominance of the streaming music industry may finally be over. Apple Music now has more subscribers than Spotify, Tidal and Sirius XM, according to a Digital Music News report citing confidential data from a private source. While it declined to share numbers in order to protect that source, the site reveals that both Apple Music and Spotify have over 20 million subscribers each in the U.S. [Read More]

Netflix

Would you pay $17 per month for Netflix in 4K and HDR? Well, they are testing a new, pricier ‘Ultra’ subscription tier. This option will offer up to four simultaneous 4K streams at one time, which eagle-eyed Netflix users will note is already offered on the cheaper, Premium plan. If you’re committed to getting the absolute most out of your Netflix subscription, you might want to prepare to start paying a bit more for it in the near future. [Read More]

Sony

Sony accidentally posted a whole movie (Khali The Killer) instead of its trailer. We know trailers are always better than the films anyway. Reddit, being Reddit, went nuts for the mistake in the limited time the film was left online. One pointed out that the trailer spoiled the whole movie. Others speculated that the whole thing was an elaborate PR exercise for an unlikely hit. [Read More]

Other Interesting Reads

Our attachment to phones

  • Millennials are becoming so reliant on their smartphones that many would be willing to make huge sacrifices for their device. A new survey by Tappable has revealed that 23 per cent of millennials would rather lose one of their five senses than give up their smartphone and worryingly, one in ten said they’d even sacrifice a finger for their phone. [Read More]
  • Ever wondered why even though you spend most of your adult life on your smartphone, they never appear in your dreams? The reason is that our dreams are an evolved defence mechanism, we tend to dream more often about fears and concerns that were relevant to our ancestors — so, less about, say, hacking, and more about running from wild animals.

But after analyzing data from more than 16,000 dream reports, researchers have shown that cell phones appear in 3.55 percent of women’s dreams (and 2.69 percent of men’s) — not a huge number, but it’s higher than the frequency with which movies (3.18 percent), computers (1.2 percent), and airplanes (1.49 percent) appear in our dreams. [Read More]

  • The New Yorker profiled Paul Denino, a.k.a. Ice Poseidon (a professional weird person), whose edgy livestreams generate an impressive amount of drama. “Denino has lived in Los Angeles for a year and a half, and during that time he has been kicked out of six apartments.” The life of a streamer seems like the worst life imaginable [Read More]

  • If that didn’t scare you, here’s another story of Max Hawkins. The Google software engineer let an algorithm pick where he lives, what he does — even what tattoo to get. Is he onto something?

  • The Unicode consortium may grant approval to emoji but it’s up to individual designers like Daniel to interpret those images accordingly. She tells CNBC that she looks to peers at Apple to help reduce confusion over how emoji looks from one platform to the next as she masterminds Android’s emoji. Read more about Android’s Chief Emoji Director here.
  • A team of scientists at the California Institute of Technology have successfully created a DNA-based neural network capable of performing pattern recognition. Then they ate it. This might be the most jaw-dropping thing we’ve seen since scientists spliced an animated GIF into live bacteria last year. [Read More]
  • People are still pronouncing memes the wrong way, take a listen:

Trending

If you are a Twitter addict like us you might have seen the viral #PlaneBae which you can check out here. But there was also a lot of backlash about live-tweeting strangers.

The two strangers met on a plane and the internet ruined it giving proof that not even delight, not even coincidence, not even love — is safe from the gravitational forces of commodification. Read Taylor’s full story here.

Parting Shot

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