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Work on ECB digital currency under way, progress possible next year

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Progress on the feasibility of a digital currency backed by the European Central Bank could be made in the coming months, senior officials said on Friday, cautioning that the project faced challenges and was for the long term.

Plans for a European public digital currency have begun emerging after social media giant Facebook announced in June its blueprint for Libra, a private digital currency, which spooked regulators who have since raised concerns and said Facebook’s project could be banned.

A public cryptocurrency would represent an alternative to Libra and other private projects, and could reduce costs of international transactions, which EU officials see as too high.

Acknowledging it would take time to develop a European public version of Libra, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told a news conference in Brussels: “The fact that it is for the long term does not prevent us from working and having results next year.”

An ECB official told Reuters the euro zone’s central bank was already working on the technical aspects of a digital currency and would present clarifications to European Union governments soon.

EU finance ministers discussed the issue at a meeting in Brussels on Friday and are set to adopt a joint statement welcoming the ECB’s work on the topic at their next gathering in December.

The EU’s finance commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said Libra was a “wake-up” call that showed there are gaps in the offer for cheap and fast cross-border payments in Europe.

The ECB official said several options were being studied. Under the most ambitious plan, users of the new digital coin could open bank accounts directly at the ECB. That would cut transaction costs but would make existing banks and payment services largely redundant.

Under a less radical option, banks could be given electronic cash or tokens by the ECB which they could then distribute to their clients, the official said, stressing that work was under way and that several technical and legal challenges remained.

The ECB’s policymaking Governing Council will meet next week for the first time under the presidency of Christine Lagarde, who replaced Mario Draghi at the beginning of this month.

The official said that meeting could address the issue of a public digital currency in a session dedicated to future challenges.

The debate is at this stage focused on whether a public cryptocurrency is feasible or desirable, the official cautioned.

DOOM LOOP

In separate comments, Le Maire backed proposals from Germany’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to link progress on a Europe-wide bank deposit guarantee scheme to banks’ reduction of their exposure to sovereign debt.

“It is not good that banks, be them German, Italian, French or Spanish, are too exposed to the sovereign debt of their country,” Le Maire said, stressing these holdings should fall before the EU could implement a joint insurance scheme for savers.

Existing national schemes in the 28 EU states cover deposits up to 100,000 euros ($110,310), but they may not be sufficient in the event of large banking crises.

Le Maire’s comments are likely to irk Italy, whose banks hold large chunk of the country’s huge public debt. Italian Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri made it clear on Thursday that Rome could not support Scholz’s proposals.

A French official said France had concerns about Scholz’s idea of giving a score to national debt holdings, which would make Italian or French debt more expensive for banks to keep on their balance sheets.

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China's top chip maker urges U.S. firms to help ease tensions

BEIJING (Reuters) – The head of China’s top state-run semiconductor maker, Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd, called on U.S. companies to “do better” in efforts to overcome China-U.S. tech tensions given they continue to profit from the Chinese market.

Semiconductors have been a major flash point in the ongoing trade war between the two countries, with U.S. officials criticizing what they say are state-subsidised efforts to undermine the U.S. chip industry.

In recent years China has invested billions of dollars in its semiconductor industry, including contributions to a high-end Tsinghua Unigroup memory chip plant said to be worth $24 billion. Link here

Tsinghua Unigroup chairman Zhao Weiguo said at a conference in Beijing on Friday that U.S. firms should “relax and sleep well”, urging them not to be threatened by China’s semiconductor ambitions, and to play a greater role in easing tensions.

“On the one hand, they’re earning lots of money here in China, and on the other hand, they’re making malicious remarks about China to the U.S. government behind the scenes.”

“U.S. companies can do better, especially technology giants. Some American companies do well, and some do not,” said Zhao.

Earlier this year, Tsinghua Unigroup said it had begun producing China’s first high-end 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips, a major competitive technology currently dominated by U.S. and South Korean firms. State media hailed the project as a “breakthrough” in the county’s efforts to shorten technological gaps with foreign countries.

China and the U.S. recently agreed to roll back tariffs as part of a pending “phase one” trade deal. Chinese negotiators have previously sought relief from 25% tariffs on a group of goods that include semiconductors.

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Chinese digital agency pushes on with $400 million U.S. IPO: sources

(Reuters) – KKR-backed digital advertising agency Cue Holdings is pursuing a New York listing, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, becoming the latest in a number of mainland technology firms to brush off U.S.-China trade tensions.

Cue has appointed Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) and Morgan Stanley (MS.N) to raise $300-$400 million as part of its initial public offering (IPO) due early next year, the sources said.

The company aims to have a market capitalization of up to $2 billion, they added.

The people could not be identified because the information has not yet been made public.

Cue is a digital agency that works with Chinese tech companies like ByteDance, Baidu (BIDU.O) and Tencent (0700.HK) to source advertising on their popular Chinese apps like WeChat, Douyin, Jinri Toutiao, and Kuaishou.

The Shanghai-based company was formed in March last year when four digital firms consisting of WIN, AnG, Wina Tech and Qixin were merged into a partnership and the business was backed by KKR (KKR.N) .

It carried out a private funding round in August which was led by Anchor Equity Partners, the South Korean firm, and Princeville, according to a company statement at the time.

Cue and KKR spokeswomen declined to comment on the company’s possible IPO, as did Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.

If the company presses ahead with a U.S listing, it will be the latest in a string of Chinese tech and cryptocurrency companies contemplating a New York IPO.

Investment banking sources have told Reuters the companies have not been dissuaded by the U.S.-China trade war and after Washington blacklisted some mainland tech companies like Megvii and Sensetime.

BitMain Technologies has lodged its prospectus confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to raise up to $500 million in a deal which could go ahead early next year.

Similarly, bitcoin miner Canaan Creative updated its U.S. filings with the SEC this week after it lodged its documents to raise up to $400 million. Canaan has appointed Citigroup (C.N) and Credit Suisse to work on the deal.

Canaan attempted a Chinese listing three years ago through a reverse merger by buying a Shandong-based electric equipment maker and then again filed for a Hong Kong float last year.

However, both IPO processes were put on hold after regulators expressed doubt about the company’s business model and future growth prospects.

36Kr, a Chinese tech startup, has more than halved the size of its current deal and will now raise just $24 million and the pricing of the deal is due to occur on Friday in New York.

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Amazon launches Hidden Gems sale offering five days of deals

Amazon has launched a ‘Hidden Gems’ sale offering customers five days of deals on ‘unique products from small businesses, top sellers and innovative start-ups’.

It starts at 00:01 on Friday 8th November and runs until 23:59 on Tuesday 12th November.

You can find all the bargains at www.amazon.co.uk/hiddengems.

Amazon wrote: ‘During the five day event, customers will have the opportunity to discover thousands of great deals from top sellers and independent businesses alike including Happy Socks, Levoit, Anker and Sand and Sky as well as a selection of items across all categories, from fitness trackers and fashion, to home improvement and electronics.

‘Customers will also have access to a variety of discount vouchers – digital coupons which offer savings when applied at checkout on a wide selection of products.’

There will be offers on AmazonBasics stuff such as up to 25% off on home, electronics, kitchen, luggage and office products as well as 20% off on home and kitchen products from Umi.

There will also be up to 25% off on Happy Belly grocery products, find. beauty and Amfit sports nutrition.

Amazon added: ‘During the sale event, there will be a range of new deals appearing every day. Additionally, ‘Lightning Deals’ – products available at a discount in limited quantities for a short period of time will be introduced throughout the sale.

‘Amazon Prime members, including customers enjoying a free Amazon Prime 30-day trial, will have an exclusive 30-minute early access period to all Lightning Deals. Customers can also shop deals using the Amazon App.

‘In the app, customers can set Watch-this-Deal alerts so they never miss a favourite deal and use camera search to quickly find the items they want by pointing and scanning an item or barcode.’

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Sony making first-party games for PlayStation 5 that will make or break console

With over a year to go before the PlayStation 5 is finally unveiled, Sony has remained fairly tight-lipped about the highly-anticipated console.

Sony has already confirmed the console’s name – PlayStation 5 – and a vague launch date of ‘Holiday 2020’, but hasn’t told us much more about the device.

Now, Jim Ryan, CEO at Sony, has finally revealed new details, during a new interview with GamesIndustry.biz.

He said: “As we move towards the next-generation in 2020, one of our [Sony's] tasks – probably our main task – is to take that community and transition it from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, and at a scale and pace that we've never delivered on before.”

Mr Ryan said that Sony is working on several first-party games that could ‘make or break’ the success of the PlayStation.

However, he added that Sony is already ‘hearing from developers and publishers [about] the ease in which they are able to get code running on PlayStation 5’, which is reportedly ‘way beyond any experience they've had on any other PlayStation platform.’

The added details come shortly after Sony finally confirmed the name and launch date for its next generation console.

As expected, the console is called the PlayStation 5 , and will launch in time for ‘Holiday 2020.’

In a blog about the news, Jim Ryan , President and CEO of SIE, said: “Since we originally unveiled our next-generation console in April, we know that there’s been a lot of excitement and interest in hearing more about what the future of games will bring.

“Today I’m proud to share that our next-generation console will be called PlayStation 5, and we’ll be launching in time for Holiday 2020.”

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Android alert: 1.5 billion users at risk from apps designed to keep your smartphone safe

It’s already been a rough month for Android users. Last week, smartphone and tablet owners were warned about dozens of apps that were capable of generating money for criminals behind-the-scenes using adware, while another was unearthed that could reinstall itself whenever users tried to delete the harmful app from their handset.

And now there’s more. Worse still, this latest strain plays upon Android users fears about infection, adware, and spyware to infiltrate your device.

Privacy and security research firm VPNpro has discovered 10 anti-virus solutions available in the Google Play Store that are riddled with dangerous access permissions, malware and spyware to quietly keep track on what you’re doing on your smartphone on tablet behind your back.

Worryingly, these harmful anti-virus apps are hugely popular, racking-up a total of 1.9 billion downloads worldwide.

According to VPNpro, the anti-virus solutions use the permissions granted during set-up to collect and sell personal data or spread malware. Some of these apps will even demand payment before you’re able to delete the nefarious software from your device – so you’ll be paying twice, first with your private information, and second with your credit card.

An additional five apps, originally included in the VPNpro research and discovered to have the same issues, have recently been removed from the Play Store. The downloads for these apps totalled more than 500 million, the security firm has confirmed.

When a person installs one of these free anti-virus solutions, they unwittingly grant access for the developer to use a number of key aspects of their smartphone’s technology.

These ‘dangerous access permissions’ range from secretly recording audio, to making phone calls, and recording location data. In total, VPNpro discovered eleven types of dangerous permission – with one app ‘Security Master’ having a ludicrous total of ten dangerous permissions to draw data from your device.

It’s believed the majority of these permissions are used to harvest and sell user data. The most profitable is location data, which was requested by 6 out of the 10 antivirus apps.

Mobile apps can send user location data every 2 seconds, and in some cases, more than 14,000 times per day to various companies. Paris-based data broker Teemo offers $4 per thousand users per month. If only 1% of Security Master’s 500 million users were active, it would earn $20,000 every month.

Here is the full list of the 15 free anti-virus apps unearthed by VPNpro with dangerous permission

• Security Master – Antivirus, VPN, AppLock, Booster | 500 million installs
• Virus Cleaner, Antivirus, Cleaner (MAX Security) | 50 million installs
• Antivirus Free 2019 – Scan & Remove Virus, Cleaner | 10 million installs
• 360 Security – Free Antivirus, Booster, Cleaner | 100 million installs
• Virus Cleaner 2019 – Antivirus, Cleaner & Booster | 50 million installs
• Super Phone Cleaner: Virus Cleaner, Phone Cleaner | 50 million installs
• 360 Security Lite – Booster, Cleaner, AppLock | 50 million installs
• Super Cleaner – Antivirus, Booster, Phone Cleaner | 100 million installs
• Clean Master – Antivirus, Applock & Cleaner | 1 billion installs
• Super Security – Antivirus, Booster & AppLock | 10 million installs
• Antivirus Free – Virus Cleaner | 50 million installs
• Antivirus Free 2019 – Virus Cleaner | 1 million installs
• Antivirus Android | 1 million installs
• Antivirus & Virus Cleaner | 10 million installs
• Antivirus Mobile – Cleaner, Phone Virus Scanner

It’s also worth noting that six of these apps are based in China, where the strict data protection laws found in the USA and especially in the European Union are nowhere to be found. In fact, they’re notoriously lax and government intervention into these kind of tech companies is commonplace.

Jan Youngren from VPNpro said, “These antivirus apps are requesting a large amount of dangerous permissions which is very suspicious – there is simply no legitimate reason for them to do so. Consumers must understand what these permissions actually do and exercise a lot of caution in granting them.

“In general, when selecting an antivirus app for your phone, consider these questions first; do I really need an antivirus app? For the most part, the answer is no. Is this app from a reputable developer? If it isn’t, you might want to choose a well-known brand. Does this app really need these dangerous permissions?

“For the most part, by denying certain permissions, the entire app may not work. At that point, consider a different antivirus app.”

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Death Stranding is a sublime achievement wrapped in a painful chore

With intensely interesting lore and characters, an awe-inspiring aesthetic and one of the most mind-crushingly dull gameplay loops I've ever experienced in a high-budget video game, Death Stranding is a flawed work of genius that demands more time and patience to appreciate than I would ordinarily be willing to tolerate.

In the far future, the worlds of the living and the dead have collided in an event called the death stranding, resulting in myriad terrifying and baffling dangers that survivors must navigate in order to survive. Most people live in isolated underground societies to avoid the ghosts that cause nuclear explosions if they eat you, and the rain that rapidly ages anything it touches.

The bizarre story is told by a solid cast, including Norman Reedus and (the likeness of) Guillermo del Toro.

In this ruined version of the United States, barren but for the occasional field of grass, practically the only humans aboveground are the delivery guys risking their lives to take supplies from place to place. Luckily our protagonist, Sam, who is on a mission to resurrect America by connecting the disparate communities to each other, is not only immortal but carries a tank containing a magical fetus stolen from a braindead mother which gives him insight into the world of the dead, allowing him to detect paranormal threats.

It all sounds patently ridiculous condensed like that, but presented in the overlong and dramatic non-interactive cinematics characteristic of director Hideo Kojima (known for the Metal Gear Solid series), it eventually makes a kind of internal sense and produces a surprisingly lucid — if bizarre — vision of the post-apocalypse unlike anything else.

But by contrast the gameplay is extremely bland. Almost all of the time you're not watching the game like a movie you're messing with convoluted menus or delivering stuff. You can accept various jobs, but they all boil down to walking back and forth across the country.

It's truly impressive how detailed the simulation of carrying heavy things across rocky terrain is — you need to distribute your cargo just so to ensure Sam doesn't tip over, you can press triggers to hold your pack straps for extra stability, and plotting a safe route is essentially a game unto itself — but everything from climbing rocks to being scored at the end of a mission is very slow, mathematical and boring. You eventually get all manner of upgrades to make your job easier, but it's never fun.

Even combat — against ghosts, terrorists and wild people who have become obsessed with the idea of stealing and delivering cargo — is exciting the first few times and then descends into tedium. Supernatural enemies can be legitimately scary and being caught by one results in a very impressive transformation of the world immediately around you, while the middle of the game specifically has some opportunities for fun sandboxy fighting against human opponents. But on the whole I avoided conflict wherever I could. Sam can lose or damage cargo if you walk down an incline too fast, let alone get hit by an electrified staff, and backtracking to start a mission again is a good way to waste hours of your time.

Tying in with the theme of connections, there is a passive multiplayer element to Death Stranding that brings objects created by other online players into your game. For example you'll use ladders and climbing ropes to get around, but you'll often find them already placed in the world and you can send their original owners "likes".

Equipment left by online players may be very useful, or may be a complete troll.

There's also a whole economy of shared item lockers and collaborative building, which I found ultimately too laborious (carting around hundreds of kilos of metal to help build a road was not high on my list of priorities), but could be more interesting now the game's out in the world and being explored by more concurrent players.

Though the game and its story is filled by expected Kojima weirdness like tactless product placement, a preoccupation with bodily fluids, weird names that describe each character's place in the story, a massive glossary of nonsense terms and some problematic positioning of its female characters, there really is a lot here that's intriguing when you're not being ground into the dirt by another delivery request.

MULEs are vicious hunters obsessed with stealing cargo, and are some of the only humans you’ll see in the flesh.

The weather systems and rainbows that herald the arrival of the killer rain and wretched souls makes for some beautiful vistas. The concept of using Sam's own blood as a weapon creates an interesting risk-reward system. The acting is solid, led by Norman Reedus as Sam, and the performance capture immaculate. The synth-pop soundtrack is haunting and punctuates many a lonely journey. The actual narrative, which I won't get into, has some great twists and turns.

This is a universe I desperately wanted to enjoy exploring. I wanted to learn more about the realities of life in a world that understands the terrible nature of death. I wanted to keep playing to discover the backstory of the mysterious courier kingpin Fragile, the motivations of her supernatural former friend and terrorist Higgs, the special relationship between the tank baby and Mads Mikkelsen, the horrible fate of Sam's family and what it all has to do with the death stranding.

Fragile runs America’s most prominent delivery service, and can help Sam teleport around the country.

But then I'd be constantly reminded that to "keep playing" meant arduous and repetitive slogs and inventory management that takes so much time and attention and gives very little back to the player. As time went on it became clear that the stories, like the gameplay, were being padded out interminably and would crescendo in a patented Kojima dump of information and exposition that plays out like a series of engaging but exhausting international film festival viewings.

Kojima has long since proven himself to be a master of manipulation and marketing; an unmatched peddler of hype, delight and bewilderment which all feed discussion of and interest in his games. But he can also deliver. Past games have shown his uncanny ability to predict and dissect emerging techno-social trends and issues, whether those are new kinds of weapons or the propaganda machine of social media.

And he delivers in Death Stranding too, with analogies to everything from the loss of reality and human contact in online information bubbles to the on-demand delivery economy and automation of the services industry. It's not subtle — Sam's smartphone-like device is literally a handcuff — but it works.

Yet while Death Stranding still contains that trademark Kojima mojo — entertaining and sometimes near-clairvoyant social commentary and satire wrapped in an uncanny and indecipherable world of otherworldly superheroes and cartoonish caricatures — but the game gates it all behind an excruciating drudge.

Between the endless dialogue and layers of intrigue, Metal Gear Solid was always fun to play. The life of a legendary super soldier is inherently more exciting and lends itself to interesting gameplay more than the life of a post-apocalyptic delivery guy. But more than that, Death Stranding bogs itself down in minutiae and totally unessecary bloat, while failing to capitalise on the aspects of gameplay that are legitimately engaging.

Like an art exhibition that asks you to walk 500 metres between each piece, there is worthwhile and moving stuff here and one could argue the drudgery and hard work is all part of the aesthetic experience. But that doesn't make it an easily recommended way to spend 50 hours of your time.

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Activision forecasts fourth-quarter adjusted revenue below estimates

(Reuters) – Activision Blizzard Inc (ATVI.O) forecast fourth-quarter adjusted revenue below estimates, as the video game publisher faces stiff competition from online, free-to-play games.

The company expects current-quarter adjusted revenue of $2.65 billion, missing analysts’ average estimate of $2.75 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company had previously labeled 2019 a “transition year”, cutting about 800 jobs and focusing on investing more in developing its game franchises like “Candy Crush” and “Overwatch” to boost its top and bottom line.

Traditional publishers of console-based, desktop games are facing stiff competition from the increasing popularity of online, free-to-play games like “PUBG”, Epic Games’s “Fortnite” and Electronic Arts’ (EA.O) “Apex Legends”.

The forecast overshadows a better-than-expected third quarter adjusted revenue, which was lifted by its recent launches “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Call of Duty: Mobile”.

The mobile version of “Call of Duty” launched on Oct. 1 racked up 100 million downloads worldwide in its first week, according to industry site Sensor Tower.

Activision, behind popular franchises such as “Diablo” and “World of Warcraft”, reported adjusted revenue of $1.21 billion for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $1.17 billion.

The company, which continues its e-sports push, is set to launch its “Call of Duty League” on Jan. 24 2020, following its highly successful “Overwatch” league.

The company’s net income fell to $204 million, or 26 cents per share, in the quarter, from $260 million, or 34 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 0.38 cents per share.

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‘If in doubt, say no’: why phone apps want permission to use your personal data

Smartphones are incredibly useful tools and entertainment devices.  They are also a gateway to a massive amount of our personal data. They can find out where we are, listen to us and see us, know who we talk to and what's on our schedule. And, through apps, as downloaded to your phone through Apple or Google's store, companies can leverage this information to provide us with services and them with valuable data.

Both Apple's iOS and Google's Android systems have evolved to contain very robust data permission regimes and, in general, apps ask your permission to access your data because they need it for one function or another.

But some apps do get out of hand, as was seen recently with a NSW government digital ID app that was supposed to replace plastic driver licences but instead appeared to ask for everything from location data to camera access.

It's easy to see how the constant, seemingly intrusive data requests can play into the general user's suspicions that their phone is spying on them.

So is it? How? And what can you do to outsmart it?

The NSW digital licence wanted access to lots of parts of your phone.Credit:AAP

How do I see which app gets what information?

When you install a new app, it's common for it to ask for certain permissions. In the past, apps asked for everything they might possibly need upfront, but in newer versions of iOS and Android things are more segmented so they might only ask when they need access. For example a music app might not need any permissions upfront, but might ask for storage access if you want to download songs, or location access if it suggests playlists based on your activity.

On iPhone it's very easy to see what categories of data you've allowed to be collected and by which apps, and you can revise your decisions with a tap. Just go to settings > privacy and then, for example, you could tap on "camera" to see all the apps that have ever asked for access to your camera.

Here's how it looks on an iPhone:

For non-Apple phones, a similarly streamlined "privacy" setting screen has been added in Android 10 but on all recent versions of Android (at least from 6.0 forwards) you can see which apps have access to what data by navigating to settings > apps & notifications > app permissions. Note that the exact headings may differ depending on your phone.

Here's how it looks on a non-Apple phone:

If there's one particular app you're worried about, on iPhone you can go to Settings and scroll down until you see a list of all your apps. Tap one to see what data it's getting and grant or revoke any permissions. On Android, you can just hold your finger on any app and tap "info".

You can let your phone use your camera if you want to take a pic using, say, Instagram. Credit:Getty

How do I know if an app is overreaching?

As with the initial version of the NSW ID app, some apps will ask permission to all sorts of data that might not seem necessary for the app to work. Android and iOS do a decent job at explaining what the permissions mean, but explaining exactly why an app wants your data and how it will be used is left up to the app developers. Many don't do a great job of this explanation, leaving it buried in privacy policies you have to seek out yourself.

A digital platforms report from the ACCC earlier this year found the current setup prevents users from making informed choices, or giving meaningful consent, when exchanging their personal data for access to services. Some of its recommendations to remedy this include the introduction of legislation that would bring Australia's Privacy Act closer in line with Europe’s General Data Protection Regime, which would force platform-holders such as Facebook to be clearer when asking for you permission.

Until then, you should pay attention when giving apps data permissions, and think about whether it's actually necessary. A good rule of thumb is that if you can't work out why an app needs a certain category of data, revoke its access. In other words, if in doubt, just say no. If it does end up needing access (say, if you revoked Facebook's access to your camera but then you wanted to take a photo of yourself with a dog filter), the app will prompt you to allow it.

Why do so many apps want access to my camera?

Camera access is one of the most commonly requested data permissions, and understandably makes some people wary. Do these apps want to surveil you without your knowledge? Most likely the answer is no. Realistically, this would be an expensive and dangerous exercise for any app and would provide little value.

So why ask for camera access? Usually the app has an element that lets you upload pictures (as with Instagram) or scan QR codes (those square black-and-white bar codes that only your phone can read). Unless it's an image-focused app, the feature that requires access to the camera is usually completely optional. For example, Google Maps uses it for a “Live View” feature that shows walking directions overlaid on the real world. So you can safely deny camera permissions for most apps.

iPhone apps including Twitter and Instagram. Credit:AP

Is Facebook listening to me for ad purposes?

Microphone access is another permission that gets people worried. Apple has included an OS-level feature that puts a bright red notification in the top left of the screen, specifically so you know if something's recording in the background.

But you'll most likely never see it unexpectedly because, again, the storage required to collect bulk audio data from your phone would be prohibitive for most apps. And, for Facebook specifically, it's also totally unnecessary. You provide Facebook with all the data it needs to effectively target you for ads just by having an account, adding friends, browsing the internet and volunteering information by liking, tagging and scrolling. If you are worried, you should check if Facebook has permission to access your microphone. It does ask for it if you want to record video through the app.

If in doubt, don't give an app permission.Credit:Getty

Why do apps want to track my physical movements?

Your phone is connected to the internet and has a built-in GPS, movement sensors, potentially also a compass, which all makes it great at knowing where you are and when you're moving. There are a huge number of applications for this data, from macro uses (Google Maps guiding you on a road trip) to micro (helping to calibrate a robot vacuum). Facebook wants to tie your posts to a specific location. Music and video streaming services want to know when you're on the move to tweak services and recommendations.

It can be very useful, but it's also information that people are extremely protective of. When it comes to location data, both Android and iOS allow you to grant permission "only while in use" so, for example, you can still have your location tagged when you post something on Twitter without letting the app monitor you all the time. Both systems also provide a switch you can use to completely turn on and off location services, and will remind you periodically if an app has been tracking you in the background.

As ever, apps are not obligated to tell you exactly what they do with the data in advance so if you can't find a satisfying answer in its privacy policy, consider revoking the permission.

Is there a reason I get so many requests for Bluetooth data?

Apple has made a change in iOS 13 that requires apps to ask permission to access your phone's Bluetooth capabilities. Some apps have a legitimate reason for this data – for example, Fitbit needs it to find and connect to your fitness tracker – but hundreds of others use it to track your physical location.

In particular, apps that sell you things or serve you ads have traditionally monitored Bluetooth to track when users are near certain beacons, which can tell them when you're near their store or some other landmark. Deny this permission unless the app gives you a good reason not to.

In fact, Bluetooth scanning is such an effective tracking tool that Android has required apps to request location data permissions in order to access Bluetooth since 2015. For this reason and others, it's a good idea to set most apps to "only while in use" when they ask for your location data if you decide to give it to them at all.

Are there any other permissions I should be aware of?

On Android, apps can request access to your phone calls, call logs and SMS messages. There are legitimate uses for this data, including identifying you to your telco or pausing certain actions when a call comes in; some games and fitness tracking apps do this. That said, you should allow this kind of access for apps only from companies you trust. There have been examples of dodgy free Android games collecting sensitive information through these permissions — including phone numbers and IMEIs (the unique number that identifies your device to phone towers) — and selling them to spammers, those entities that will call you and try to sell you stuff, or scammers who will try to defraud you.

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NUS team's AI system first from South-east Asia to enter ranks of world's top open-source software

SINGAPORE – An artificial intelligence (AI) engine built by a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has become the first software tool from South-east Asia to be ranked in the top 300 projects by the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), the largest open-source software community in the world.

The software, called Apache Singa, joined the ranks of other Apache Top-Level Projects in October.

It is a platform for deep learning, the branch of AI that attempts to most closely approach the workings of a human brain. This means the software can learn on its own and does not need to be fed all the answers by a human.

But deep learning is limited by its need for astronomical amounts of data and computing power. Apache Singa addresses part of this bottleneck by distributing the computing workload across a large number of regular computers without needing an expensive supercomputer, which is out of reach of most businesses and individuals.

The ASF is a non-profit organisation based in the United States. It incubates projects from its community of volunteer software developers, with projects that have demonstrated wide application and staying power graduating to Top-Level status.

Other such projects include the Apache HTTP Server, which is now used by the largest share of all active websites on the Internet. As of August, this was 30 per cent, or more than 55 million websites.

Open-source software refers to free software which has been made available for other developers to download and modify.

The NUS team, led by Professor Ooi Beng Chin from the School of Computing, started working on Singa in 2014 and officially released the AI software in October 2015.

“We saw an increasing demand for deep learning and machine learning platforms from 2012, but there was a lack of platforms which could distribute the computing workload efficiently,” said Prof Ooi on Thursday (Nov 7).

Apache Singa has already been deployed in a variety of uses. Five hospitals here are currently using it to power an image recognition function on their respective versions of a health app called Foodlg.

Foodlg is used to manage conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

The AI engine is able to match photos of common local dishes in its database with photos taken by users on their phones of the food they are eating, to advise users on their calorie intake.

The version rolled out by Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in January featured a database of over 200 local dishes including nasi padang, laksa and char siew rice.

The National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital are also tapping Apache Singa to analyse MRI and X-ray images to improve the identification of health problems.

The NUS team next wants to streamline Apache Singa’s interface so that it can be easily used by laymen lacking expertise in AI.

“(The ranking) is a mark of recognition for Apache Singa, but this is just the beginning,” said Prof Ooi.

“We hope that Apache Singa can make an impact on deep learning in the same way the Apache HTTP Server did for website servers.”

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21 Messages To Send Someone You Matched With Months Ago, To Reconnect

Sometimes, you match with a cutie, and before you can even overthink what you’re going to say, you drop a witty first line just to get the conversation rolling. Of course, other times, you match with a cutie, and as you’re drafting your opening message, your Postmates order arrives, your mom calls, and you completely forget to start the convo. You might even be too nervous to ever break the ice! Whatever the case, if you’re thinking about finally hitting up that online meet-cute, these messages to send someone you matched with months ago will make it feel like no time has passed at all.

Though digital messaging can make conversations lighting-fast, there’s nothing wrong with waiting a little while before sending the first message. Whether you weren’t sure what to say at the time or took a little break from the online dating game, reconnecting with an old match can be easier than you may think. From asking about their day to making a joke about meeting online, there are tons of funny and low-key ways to message a match from months ago.

And if you’re looking for some #inspo, here are 21 messages to send an old match to get some new conversations started.


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Black Friday 2019 – iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy prices slashed in early deal

ID Mobile has unveiled its deals for Black Friday 2019, and there are plenty of savings to be had for savvy shoppers before November 29, with the network promising their “lowest ever prices” for the sales event.

The highlight is a huge £339 off of the total contract cost of the iPhone 8 with 8GB of data, with the monthly cost reduced by £10 down to £32.99 per month and no upfront cost.

Customers looking for a great value SIM-only deal can get 2GB of data for just £7 per month, but there’s also 50GB for only £20 per month – £4 cheaper than EE’s price.

There’s a whole range of savings that will be released over the next few weeks, with big discounts on coveted Apple iPhones (including this year’s excellent iPhone 11), Samsung Galaxy devices, and a huge selection of SIM-only offers.

The best ID Mobile Black Friday 2019 Deals on Pay Monthly Plans

iPhone 11 with 50GB of data – £44.99 per month (£49.99 upfront cost) – Total cost £1129.75

iPhone 8 with 8GB of data – £32.99 per month (no upfront cost) – Total cost £791.76 (was £1031.76)

iPhone XR with 5GB of data – £34.99 per month (£29.99 upfront cost) – Total cost £869.75 (was £941.75)

iPhone 7 Plus with 2GB of data – £25.99 per month (£29.99 upfront cost) – Total cost £653.75 (was £707.75)

Samsung Galaxy A40 with 10GB of data – £22.99 per month (no upfront cost) – Total cost £551.76 (was £599.76)

Samsung Galaxy A20E with 15GB of data – £26.99 per month (no upfront cost) – Total cost £647.76 (was £695.76)

Samsung Galaxy A70 with 10GB of data – £28.99 (no upfront cost) – Total cost £695.76 (was £738.76). 

The best ID Mobile Black Friday 2019 Deals on SIM-only Plans

2GB of data – £7 per month

4GB of data – £9 per month

50 GB of data – £20 per month

Unlimited data – £25 per month

All SIM-free plans run for 30-days, and feature unlimited texts and minutes. Unlike other networks, there’s no commitment either – so you can cancel at any time.

Speaking about the launch of the deals Adam Dunlop, Managing Director, iD Mobile, says: “At iD Mobile, the Black Friday period is a great time for our customers to get the phone they want, at a price that works for them. The introduction of our ‘Big Data’ plans also let our customers stay connected to and enjoy the things they love, wherever they are. By running our Black Friday Event over four weeks, customers will be able to take advantage of our great offers, without feeling rushed amongst the hustle and bustle of Black Friday.”

“As one of the most affordable mobile networks on the market, we’re confident we have the right deal for everyone, and we’re committed to helping our customers find a handset and plan they can enjoy over the festive period and beyond.”

That means that whether you’re looking to upgrade, buy a phone for a loved one for Christmas, or grab a new SIM-only deal to your existing device, ID Mobile has plenty to offer.

When is Black Friday 2019?

The biggest shopping event of the year, kicks off on November 29. Many major online and high street retailers start discounting up to a week before, so keep your eyes peeled from November 22 onwards for sale offers to start being released. We’ll be updating our Black Friday page here, so be sure to check back to Express Online for all the latest deals.

This article contains affiliate links, we may receive a commission on any sales we generate from it. Learn more

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Netflix warning: Don’t fall victim to this shocking new email scam

There is a shocking new Netflix scam being sent to subscribers and it’s one every fan of the streaming service should be aware of.

This latest attack, which is being sent out via email, tells Netflix users that their account has been put “on hold.”

The message reads, “Hello, we’re having some trouble with your current billing information. We’ll try again, but in the meantime you may want to update your payment details.”

Users are then urged to update their account via a link embedded into the email. Once someone clicks on the link, they’re taken to a website that looks almost identical to the official Netflix sign-in page.

But instead of checking the username and password and signing you into Netflix like you’ll get with the official Login page, this one sends the details you’ve entered to the creators of the suspicious website.

It’s likely the attacker will then use this personal data to try and access other accounts and services.

If you receive this email that claims to be from Netflix, delete it immediately and whatever you do, do not follow the link or hand over your details.

Speaking about scams hitting its service, Netflix said: “We take the security of our members’ accounts seriously and Netflix employs numerous proactive measures to detect fraudulent activity to keep the Netflix service and our members’ accounts secure.

“Unfortunately, scams are common on the internet and target popular brands such as Netflix and other companies with large customer bases to lure users into giving out personal information.”

Cybersecurity firm Norton has published some helpful advice on how to avoid these attacks and here are some steps to take if you think you may be the target of a phishing scam.

• Confirm the sender: Click on the downward arrow next to the sender’s name. This will show the full details.

• Hover over links: This shows the full URLs. Check to see if they appear to be accurate.

• Go directly to your account: Don’t click on links. Go directly to your account on the legitimate website to review your personal information and make any changes.

• Use strong passwords: Passwords should use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Be sure not to reuse them on other websites. Change your passwords periodically.

•Watch out for pressure tactics: Be cautious towards any email message that urges you to act quickly.

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Bagged salad is full of diseased leaves which could be dangerous to human health

The bagged salads sold in supermarkets across the world is full of diseased leaves and could contain bugs which are dangerous to human health, scientists have warned.

Modern pre-packaged salads are often grown intensively in factory farms designed to churn out vast quantities of crops.,

They are also cultivated far away from their natural habitats in ‘foreign soils’ where they are exposed to ‘foreign’ pathogens (bacteria or other microorganisms which cause disease).

‘As this industry grows dynamically, so does the number of new diseases,’ the American Phytopathological Society warned in a statement.

‘There are many reasons for this increase.

‘First, these seasonal products are grown under high crop density in five to six cycles annually in the same specialized farms with a lack of adequate crop rotation and a shortage of applicable fungicides.

‘Additionally, international trade has moved crops away from their original environments to foreign soils, where they encounter new diseases.

‘In some cases, very low levels of seed contamination can lead to the rapid emergence of new diseases in new geographic areas, resulting in severe losses, disrupting the environment’s biological equilibrium, and sometimes launching a devastating epidemic.’

Climate change is also a threat because ‘rising temperatures also reduce plant resistance to pathogens’, whilst new bugs are ‘often characterized by a preference for high temperatures’.

In a paper published in the journal Plant Disease, a team of scientists said new diseases had been found in lettuce, wild and cultivated rocket, lamb’s lettuce, chicory, endive, basil, spinach, and Swiss chard.

Many of the diseases found in bagged salads are primarily an economic threat because the spread of disease could wipe out farmers’ crops and leave them out of pocket.

But some of the bugs should also ‘be considered a threat to humans’.

‘Leafy vegetables can be infested, if hygienic conditions are not fully respected, by food-borne pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Ready-to-eat products go through intensive control programs, according to national and international regulations, which define the presence and microbiological limits for E. coli [and other pathogens].

‘Despite these rules, human pathogens on ready-to-eat products have been detected worldwide.’

The bugs are transferred onto salad leaves through water, compost or even animal manure used to grow vegetables.

Health experts previously warned against eating bagged salads, but if the convenience appeals to you it’s important to try and eat the leaves as soon as possible because even a small number of bacteria can quickly multiply and pose a threat to your health.

Every year more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning are reported in the UK, according to the Food Standards Agency.

Poultry meat is the most common source of infection, but some 48,000 cases were linked to non-meat products.

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Elon Musk will reveal Tesla's 'cybertruck' on November 21

Elon Musk is drumming up as much hype as he can for Tesla’s forthcoming electric pickup truck.

The billionaire boss of Tesla has dubbed it the ‘cybertruck’ and suggested it looks like something straight out of Blade Runner.

Now he’s given us an official reveal date: November 21. Musk will unveil the new pickup at Tesla’s design studio in Los Angeles where we will all get to see its ‘heart-stopping design’.

The ‘cybertruck’ is part of a range of new vehicles the company is working on now that its mass-market Tesla Model 3 is up and running.

Alongside the pickup are plans for the Tesla Semi, which could eventually tackle long-range haulage, and a new version of the sporty Roadster.

In the past, Musk has suggested that the Tesla pickup truck will have a range of anything from 400 to 500 miles on a single charge.

‘Cybertruck doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen bouncing around the Internet,’ he told Twitter last month.

‘It’s closer to an armored personnel carrier from the future.’

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BYD, Toyota to set up research venture to develop electric vehicles

TOKYO/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese electric car maker BYD Co Ltd and Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday they planned to set up a joint venture to design and develop battery electric cars as they ramp up efforts to produce zero emissions vehicles.

The two companies said in a statement that they would each invest 50% of the capital needed to establish the company, which will be set up next year and be based in China. The companies did not disclose the value of the venture.

Widely considered a late comer in embracing battery EVs, compared with rivals including Nissan, Toyota had flagged in June that it aimed to get half of its global sales from EVs, including gasoline hybrids, by 2025, five years ahead of schedule.

The venture aims to develop vehicles that run solely on batteries, rather than plug-in hybrid or gasoline-electric vehicles which also have a combustion engine.

In July, the companies said they would develop battery-electric sedans and sport utility vehicles, which would then be sold under the Toyota brand in China before 2025.

Toyota also develops hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and plans to launch fuel-cell car models with its Chinese partners, Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) and FAW Group, in China, as the world’s largest auto market increases support for fuel-cell vehicles.

Shenzhen-based BYD, backed by Baffett, whose models include the Song series and the Qin plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, aims to move to completely electric-powered vehicles. However, its profits are expected to drop this year as China cuts subsidies on EV.

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Amazon Prime Down: Video streaming service offline for users around the world

Amazon Prime Video is suffering outages at the moment with hundreds of users reporting issues on Down Detector.

It appears that the TV and Film streaming video platform from one of the biggest companies in the world started experiencing issues around 10AM GMT this morning.

There are already been over 700 reports of the service being offline on independent outage monitor Down Detector.

The outage tracker monitors social mentions around certain topics to detect when services go down across the world.

82% of the reports claim that users they can't stream videos on the service, whilst 14% report they can't even log in.

So far, the company hasn't acknowledged the outage – but we've got our eyes on all the official Amazon accounts to make sure we catch it the second they offer an update to frustrated fans.

We'll keep you updated as soon as we here more.

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Amazon is blowing Black Friday apart with 8 solid days of deals

Amazon clearly takes Black Friday really seriously.

The online retailer can’t be accused of holding back – it’s announced that 2019’s Black Friday promotion will now stretch to a dizzying eight days of sales.

Black Friday itself is slated for November 29, but Amazon will be launching its reductions from 00.01 on November 22 and leaving them open all the way until 23.59 on the 29th.

The tech giant is promising ‘deals of the day’ for every day that week and will also continue its ‘lightning deals’. The latter are only available for a short amount of time, sometimes as little as a few hours, with new ones popping up every 10 minutes or so.

Over the course of the eight days, Amazon will literally be flogging tens of thousands of products to people all over the UK.

‘We know how important it is to help our customers save money where they can at this time of year, so we’re excited to be launching our tenth Black Friday Sale to UK customers in the lead-up to the festive season,’ said Doug Gurr, VP, UK Country Manager at Amazon.

‘With new deals announced every day across eight days, savvy shoppers will be able to discover great deals on a huge range of products and stock up on everything they need to make the most of their celebrations.’

Obviously we don’t know which brands are going to get the biggest discounts but gadget fans will usually be in for a treat as things like fitness trackers, drones and games consoles usually get heavily discounted.

And, naturally, there will be big sales on Amazon’s own brand of gadgetry – things like the Echo smart speakers and Fire TV Sticks – which are already competitively priced to begin with.

So if you haven’t bagged an Alexa speaker yet, you’ll have eight whole days to do so later this month.

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Rakuten third-quarter profit almost wiped out as Lyft stake value slides

TOKYO (Reuters) – Rakuten Inc’s quarterly operating profit was almost wiped out in the three months ended September as the value of its investment in ride-hailing firm Lyft slid.

The Japanese company’s operating profit came in at 1.1 billion yen ($10.12 million) in the third quarter, versus a profit of 43.9 billion yen a year earlier.

It was better than an average forecast for an operating loss of 2.5 billion yen from three analysts polled by Refinitiv.

Earlier this week, Rakuten said it would book a 103 billion yen writedown on its 11% stake in Lyft Inc.

Bets on the ride-hailing industry by Rakuten and its bigger rival SoftBank Group Corp, the largest shareholder in Uber Technologies, have soured amid a market sell-off of money-losing startups.

The writedown comes at an inopportune time for billionaire founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, who is also under pressure due to a delay in the firm’s entry into the mobile industry and tighter margins at its e-commerce business.

Rakuten says it has radically cut the cost of building its mobile network by using cloud-based software rather than expensive hardware.

But construction delays led to an embarrassing climbdown in September when Rakuten said it would offer free services to just 5,000 customers, with no concrete revised date for the launch, which had been due to take place in October.

The delay relieves potential downward price pressure on Rakuten’s larger telecommunications rivals NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank Corp.

Rakuten shares closed up 2% ahead of earnings, compared with a 0.1% rise in the benchmark index.

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DTM's Berger presents electric touring car series concept

LONDON (Reuters) – German Touring Car (DTM) boss Gerhard Berger unveiled on Thursday a proposed electric series with high-performance cars racing at Formula One speeds and with battery changes carried out by robots.

If the concept catches on with manufacturers, he said the series could run alongside the mostly European-focused DTM with cars powered by electricity from battery or hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Large industrial robots would be used to remove and replace the battery pack or hydrogen tank as well as all four wheels at pit stops.

Former F1 driver Berger, the chairman of DTM promoter ITR, said the cars would use largely standardized features and produce more than 1,000 brake horsepower (bhp) and hit more than 300kph (185mph).

“I think it’s clear that we have all got much more sensitive to support in a right way and to help improve the situation on our planet,” Berger told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“I thought for us as a racing platform, what could we really do?” added the Austrian.

With regard to a timeframe for the concept, he said that would depend on how fans, sponsors and manufacturers reacted and it would also be a financial and technical challenge.

Berger, a Formula One race winner with Benetton, Ferrari and McLaren, said manufacturers had different ideas about how future technologies and cars should look, and nobody really knew which would prevail.

So he had proposed electric and hydrogen, in a similar fashion to Formula One of old when normally aspirated petrol engines competed against turbochargers, to speed up technological advances.

Motorsport already has an all-electric series in Formula E, a city-based series whose single-seater cars can reach top speeds of 280kph with maximum power equivalent to 335bhp.

Formula One cars go more than 370kph at Italy’s Monza or on Baku’s long straight. The latest crop of DTM cars produce some 600bhp.

Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula One world champion, said this year that the DTM — which features Audi, BMW and Aston Martin after Mercedes withdrew — would have to embrace electric to survive as a manufacturer series.

“One day, when all manufacturers sell electric cars, the DTM must also be electric, that’s for sure,” the German, whose 1982 F1 champion father Keke runs the title-winning Audi Sport Team Rosberg, told motorsport.com in June.

For Berger, such a switch would be contrary to the DTM’s ‘core DNA.’

“Racing for me is 1,000 horsepower, racing for me is cars like a wild horse and showing who is the best driver who can handle it,” he said.

“When I see Formula E, as an example, it’s too slow. Formula E is Formula Three level… this is not what the hardcore of motorsport likes to see. So we came to the idea of this robot change for batteries that would solve our problem.

“It finally allows us to run 1,000 horsepower engines and I think fans are going to see spectacular racing as in the combustion engine series.”

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Baidu beats third-quarter estimates fueled by video streaming growth; shares up

(Reuters) – Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) reported better-than-expected third-quarter profit and revenue as more people signed up with the company’s video streaming platform iQIYI (IQ.O), sending the Chinese search engine company’s shares up 5% after market.

Baidu has been trying to cut its dependence on its core search business, which accounts for three-quarters of the company’s revenue. The company has had limited success so far with its cloud services and artificial intelligence businesses, but its listed subsidiary iQIYI, a Netflix-like video service, is popular with young people.

Third-quarter revenue from iQIYI, which competes with Alibaba-backed (BABA.N) Youku and Tencent Holdings’ (0700.HK) Tencent Video, rose nearly 7% from a year earlier to 7.4 billion yuan ($1.06 billion), as the service crossed 105.8 million subscribers in September. IQIYI’s shares rose 4% in extended trading.

A relatively new bet – offering mini-programmes within the Baidu App to boost traffic – is gathering steam as well. Traffic to the app surged 25% in the third quarter, the company said in a statement.

“The changes we initiated this year are paying off,” Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li said in an internal letter reviewed by Reuters.

But revenue from Baidu’s core business fell 3% in the quarter ended Sept. 30, weighing on overall sales that were flat from a year earlier at 28.08 billion yuan but ahead of the analyst estimate of 27.49 billion yuan, according to Refinitiv data.

Baidu reported a net loss of 6.37 billion yuan in the quarter mainly due to losses from the company’s equity investments, versus a profit of 12.40 billion yuan a year earlier.

Excluding these losses and other one-time items, Baidu earned 12.61 yuan per American depository share (ADS), beating estimates of 7.88 yuan per ADS.

Baidu, like other Chinese internet companies, is dealing with tightening regulation even as the overall economy slows.

These issues were for now weighing on Baidu’s revenue, Li said on a post-earnings call.

“These things, I think, will be temporary and we also think that the macro environment is stabilizing. We do think that eventually revenue will catch up with traffic,” he said.

Baidu, whose search engine dominates the market in China, forecast fourth-quarter revenue between 27.10 billion yuan and 28.70 billion yuan. Analysts expect 27.52 billion yuan.

The company’s ADS, which have lost nearly a third of their value this year, were up about 5% at $112.74 in extended trading.

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Netflix will kill off these Smart TV apps next month, so binge-watch while you still can

From next month, Netflix will pull the plug on a number of streaming apps for Samsung-branded Smart TVs. For those who own one of the affected models, you’ll have to resort to using another method to get Netflix onto your television if you want to continue watching.

The change, which will kick-in from December 1, 2019, was first announced in a notice posted on the Samsung website.

Samsung and Netflix claim those impacted sets will be typically older models, so anyone who has recently treated themselves to a new Samsung TV won’t find themselves left in a Stranger Things-less world quite yet. And even if your Samsung TV is one of the models set to lose its Netflix app, there are a whole host of affordable ways to continue streaming from the immensely-popular video service.

Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and more offer whole host of different products to access popular video on-demand services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, YouTube, and more. Not only that, but any games consoles you’ve got lying around the house will also be able to stream Netflix and a bevy of other video on-demand services.

“Although some of our older TV’s will no longer support Netflix directly beginning December 1st, 2019, many other devices you may have connected to your TV are still supported,” the note on the Samsung website reads.

“You can find a list from Netflix at netflix.com/compatible devices. As long as you have one of the supported devices, like a game console, streaming media player, or set-top box, you’ll still be able to watch Netflix on your TV.”

In response to the announcement, Mark Pocock, home comms expert at Broadband Choices commented: “Samsung is a big name brand when it comes to televisions, so this could potentially affect a lot of people in the UK who will not be happy about the prospect of losing their access to Netflix TV shows and movies.

“Individuals who don’t own an alternative device to stream the service through will no doubt be unhappy at the prospect of forking out money just to watch Netflix. Today’s news could mean a sharp increase in the number of customers either making the switch to other competitor streaming services or even investing in a brand of television that is compatible with all entertainment services.”

To be honest, the built-in Smart TV apps you’ll find pre-installed on your television are hardly ever the best way to enjoy a blockbuster new television season, or a movie night. These applications are rarely updated as quickly as Netflix apps on the iPhone, Android, or flagship games consoles.

Not only that, but the internals inside your TV are rarely as powerful as what you’ll find inside the likes of the Amazon Fire TV Cube, which has more RAM than an iPhone 6 and will be able to load-up Ultra HD streams much faster.

The news comes as Netflix has trialled a new feature to help you watch shows and movies at a faster speed than usual – skipping through boring scenes to race to the conclusion at the end of the season.

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Virgin Media is making a radical change and here’s how it will affect you

Virgin Media has just confirmed that it is making a dramatic change to its service.

The firm is now joining forces with Vodafone to supply its mobile service which brings to end its long-standing relationship with EE.

This five-year deal will run until 2026 with Virgin saying it will bring innovative new services, including 5G, to more than three million mobile customers and provide further flexibility to grow its mobile operation.

Virgin Media’s current agreement with BT Enterprise will come to an end in late 2021, at which point Virgin Media’s mobile offering will transition to Vodafone.

However, Virgin Mobile 5G services are set to launch on the Vodafone network before the transition takes place.

Speaking about the news Lutz Schüler, Virgin Media CEO, said: “This agreement with Vodafone will bring a host of fantastic benefits and experiences to our customers, including 5G services in the near future. Twenty years ago Virgin Mobile became the world’s first virtual operator and this new agreement builds on that heritage. It will open up a whole new world of opportunity for Virgin Media as we focus on becoming the most recommended brand for customers and bring our mobile and broadband connectivity closer together in one package for one price.”

“We’ve worked with BT to provide mobile services for many years and will continue to work together in a number of areas. We want our customers to have a limitless experience – it’s now the right time to take a leap forward with Vodafone to grow further and faster.”

If you are a Virgin Mobile customers there’s no need to panic as the switch should happen without you needing to do a thing.

The only change is that you’ll no longer be connected to EE’s network with all services arriving on your device via Vodafone’s coverage.

“Virgin Media’s decision to switch their mobile network from BT to rival Vodafone comes as a surprise, but the change offers major benefits for the firm’s three million customers,” said Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com.

“In theory, customers shouldn’t see any disruption when they are moved over from late 2021, and users won’t need to change their SIM cards.

“It will be interesting to see how far the new partnership crosses over, and whether Virgin Media customers will receive access to Vodafone’s rewards and their VeryMe platform.

“This joint venture also increases speculation that the two companies could work together in a more formal capacity in the future, potentially taking on the partnership of BT and EE.”

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Advance notice of R&D credit claims adds admin burden to stretched SMEs

Finance Bill 2019 has brought some welcome, and some not so welcome, changes to the research and development (R&D) tax credit regime in Ireland.

The headline positives include increasing the overall claimable amount for small and micro enterprises to 30pc, the introduction of an enhanced method to calculate the payable element of the R&D tax credit based on payroll liabilities, and the ability to claim R&D tax credits on pre-trading expenditure.

These new provisions should improve firms’ cashflow, which will provide support for small and micro companies at a stage when it is most needed.

However, the Finance Bill also brought with it an amendment that was unexpected, and which appears to be a highly impractical, burdensome, and an unfairly restrictive addition to the R&D tax credit regime in Ireland.

The amendment requires claimant companies to notify subcontractors in advance of every payment where they might be claiming the R&D tax credit on that payment.

This is problematic as, in many cases, it will be impossible to determine whether payments to subcontractors will actually form part of a company’s R&D tax credit claim at the time of the payment.

Where a company outsources R&D activities to a third-party company, either, but not both, of the companies can include the cost of the R&D activities in their R&D tax credit calculation. Historically, the mechanism to prevent both companies claiming credit for the same activities was a notification procedure, whereby it was necessary for the company that had outsourced activities to write to the subcontractor to indicate their intention to claim on the activities.

Where such notification was received, the subcontractor was then not allowed to make an R&D tax credit claim in relation to these activities. In the absence of receiving such notification, the subcontractor was free to claim for the costs of the activities in their R&D tax credit claim.

Earlier this year, the March 2019 guidelines advised that it was no longer a requirement to notify non-Irish subcontracted entities.

This was a welcome clarification that acted to prevent a number of needless notifications to companies who would not be in a position to make a similar R&D tax credit claim in Ireland.

Unfortunately, the administrative relief provided for in the March 2019 guidelines has been followed by the introduction of this administratively burdensome ‘advanced notification requirement’ in the current draft of the Finance Bill.

The complications presented by this new earlier notification process are two-fold.

Firstly, as referenced above, it places an additional administrative burden on companies, something which cannot be considered welcome in a regime that is often criticised for its heavy administration requirements.

Small and medium companies in particular can be deterred from making a claim, as they do not have the resources to undertake the administrative work that Revenue currently expects.

Additionally, as third-party subcontractor costs are restricted to 15pc of a company’s internal spend, the requirement to notify subcontractors upfront will likely lead to subcontractors needlessly being informed of a potential claim that is to be made by the other party – whereby at the end of the financial year, these amounts would be restricted to 15pc by the other party and thus not claimed at all.

Large companies are more likely to have the resources to plan this, leading to unnecessary limits being put on the ability of some SMEs to make claims they should be eligible to make.

This change could lead to a situation where factually incorrect statements are being submitted in writing from one claimant company to another – wherein a claimant (a subcontractor) has incorrectly been advised that another company has claimed R&D tax credits in respect of work the subcontractor company has carried out.

We at BDO believe that this new proposed subcontractor notification requirement will also lead to an unintentional restriction on the amount of R&D tax credits that are available to subcontracting R&D entities in Ireland.

We would strongly recommend that this proposed amendment be reconsidered and a consultation process be adopted to help avoid the unintentional pitfalls listed here.

An alternative suggestion is that where notification is received after the subcontractor has made a claim, the subcontractor must restrict any future claims to take account of this amount, so that Revenue can recoup the double payment.

This would act to minimise double-counting without adding a major administrative burden. The subcontractor would have the opportunity to liaise with the other claimant company to enquire as to how much of this amount has been included in that other company’s claim.

It would also ensure that subcontractors would not have to go back and amend claims, but rather make the adjustment in future claims.

It is clear that the Government is taking steps to make the R&D tax credit regime more attractive to small and micro companies.

However, consideration needs to be given to whether increasing the administrative burden placed on these companies, who are typically least equipped to devote resources to this, may act as too great a deterrent to claiming R&D tax credits, despite the additional benefits available.

Mark O’Sullivan is head of R&D technical services at BDO Ireland

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Brad reputation: Irish broadband slammed by Microsoft boss

Microsoft president Brad Smith reiterated his warning that Ireland faces a damaging future if it fails to fix rural broadband quickly.

A 70,000-strong Web Summit conference in Lisbon was told by Mr Smith that one million Irish people are without access to modern high-speed broadband, a state he said threatens the country’s progress.

The speech followed a Sunday Independent interview where Mr Smith warned that areas outside Dublin, Cork and other cities would face an “extraordinarily difficult” future for jobs and development without broadband access.

“It’s really important that Ireland gets the benefit of this,” he said. “With roughly a million people in those areas, it’s critical to close the gap. If a rural community doesn’t have access to broadband, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to attract new jobs.

“It even makes it difficult to sustain the jobs that are there. And it makes it impossible to take advantage of advances for everything from healthcare to education.”

Mr Smith’s warning comes as Government nears finalisation of a contract for broadband rollout with David McCourt’s National Broadband Ireland, is imminent.

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Google parent probing sexual harassment complaints: report

Alphabet’s board of directors has opened an investigation into how executives handled claims of sexual harassment, including Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, who has been accused of having relationships with employees, according to a new report.

The board has formed an independent subcommittee to look into complaints about Drummond and others — and has hired a law firm to contact alleged victims, CNBC reported.

Drummond was accused in August of routinely ignoring company rules regarding dalliances with underlings by Jennifer Blakely, who wrote about the affair with her married boss on blogging website Medium.

“David was well aware that our relationship was in violation of Google’s new policy which went from ‘discouraging’ direct-reporting-line relationships to outright banning them,” she wrote at the time.

At the time Drummond admitted “a difficult break-up” with Blakely, but said he takes “a very different view about what happened” and that he revealed the Blakely affair to “our employer at the time.”

He also denied having “started a relationship with anyone else who was working at Google or Alphabet.”

The following weekend Drummond quietly married another ex-subordinate identified as Corinne Dixon, who wasn’t reporting to Drummond at the time they married, but who worked in his department when she joined the company in 2006, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Drummond began dating Dixon when she worked at Pinterest between 2015 and 2018, after her initial, nine-year stint at Google, according to Axios.

Google has made headlines for eye-popping severance packages it has given to executives accused of sexual misconduct — including a $90 million golden parachute for Android creator Andy Rubin.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin also made waves when he got romantically involved with the marketing manager for Google Glass — a pet project of his.

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Retro games and the problems with PAL

Many of us have old video games and consoles tucked away from the glory days of the '80s and '90s and — as with vinyl records — the reproduction, restoration and playing of those games is only growing in popularity. But getting the best out of old games and consoles on modern TVs and equipment can be a challenge, and to make matters worse the specific design of Australian and European machines can put them out of step with retro solutions formulated for the US and Japanese markets.

An argument could be made that, in order to preserve the original artistic intention, old games should be played on an era-appropriate CRT TV with original cables or similar, but I suspect most people would prefer to do away with the fiddly tuning and smudgy picture of RF switches. There's a balance you'll need to strike between the issues of ancient TVs (tiny screens, aged wiring, deadly weight) and the compromises of modern ones (over-sharpening, inaccuracies, input delay). A relatively recent CRT TV is often a good compromise, but unless you have a room to spare you'll probably be looking to hook your console to your loungeroom's flat panel.

It’s possible to get a good image from a Nintendo 64 to a HD TV, but not if the 64 happens to be from Australia.Credit:Tim Biggs

Every old console has its own unique quirks and a different set of issues if you're looking for ideal image quality, with some natively outputting a clear RGB signal that modern equipment will love, and others stuck with a less-than-ideal picture unless you invest in pricey hardware modifications.

Yet even in the best case scenarios — such as the Sega Mega Drive which natively outputs relatively good resolution RGB video — Australian hardware has the added complication of having been designed for the old PAL TV standard, which is no longer used. Essentially the image is a different shape and runs at a different speed than modern TVs generally expect, which can make for some ugly artefacts.

And PAL gear was often deficient in other ways too. I've recently been testing the EON Super 64, a simple and ingenious device that allows a Nintendo 64 to output 480p directly into a TV or upscaler. The 64 is one of the most difficult game consoles to use in a modern context, so even though this adapter is expensive at $217, it's the only way I know to get a sharp, good-looking image from a 64 onto a HD TV without internal modifications. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, it doesn't work on Australian consoles. The video output works differently enough that anything beyond standard (horrible-looking) composite video needs to be specifically wired for PAL.

So if you've got old games or consoles lying around and would like to get them working on your modern TV, where should you start? If we're talking Mega Drive or Super Nintendo there are plenty of clone systems that make things convenient even if they remove the charm of original hardware. The best of the best are the Mega Sg and Super Nt, both from US-based Analogue.

If you're tinkering on the cheap and would prefer to connect your existing consoles to the TV you have, one of the most universal pieces of equipment you'll need (besides isopropyl alcohol and cotton swaps for getting grime off those old cartridge contacts) is a SCART transcoder or adapter. SCART plugs were common in Europe and you don't see them on the back of many Aussie TVs, but they're capable of carrying a diversity of different signals. If you can find a way to get your TV accepting SCART you're only a $10 cable away from having anything from a Sega Master System to a Nintendo GameCube displaying nicely.

You can get SCART transcoders that plug into your TV by component cables or HDMI. As with cables the prices start low and go very high, but expect to pay at least $30–$100 for a reliable transcoder or adapter.

There are even clever people on the internet that will wire up and sell you a SCART cable for your Australian Nintendo 64. Unfortunately, with limited s-video support and no chance of supporting an RGB output, not even the best quality cables will get PAL Mario 64 looking nice on your high definition TV.

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Digital wallets like Apple Cash can’t help if you’re scammed

NEW YORK – My desperation to see Ariana Grande in concert created the perfect trap.

Instead of seeing her sing about love and loss, I got sucked into an online ticket scheme that cost me $75 and a big chunk of my pride.

Con artists often get away with scams like these because digital payment services such as Venmo and Apple Cash don’t protect consumers the same way credit cards do. As a rule of thumb, the newer the service, the more likely con artists will target it.

“The regulations haven’t caught up with these technology capabilities,” said Krista Tedder, head of fraud management at the advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research.

With credit cards, a federal law caps your liability at $50 and most companies go further with zero-liability policies. Debit cards typically offer similar protections if you report the fraud immediately. In addition, banks go through a series of verifications before letting someone open an account.

But digital payment services work more like cash. When fraud occurs, it’s as though someone took off with your $20 bill.

Because such services aren’t bound by the same regulations as credit and debit cards, it’s up to individual companies to offer protections themselves.

Experts say Western Union, which has been offering money transfers long before smartphones, devotes a team to monitoring and validating transactions. Tedder said Western Union would even call a customer if something looks suspicious.

“They really treat every transaction as a potential risk,” Tedder said.

A more recent service, PayPal, offers reimbursements when merchants ship damaged or counterfeit items, but digital money transfers aren’t covered.

The newest ones, including Apple Cash, are still figuring out how to deal with fraud, experts say. Others, like Facebook’s proposed Libra currency, are on the horizon.

“These payment systems should carry a big red flag that says you’re not protected,” said Avivah Litan, a senior analyst at Gartner. “I never use them because I know of all the perils.”

Western Union and PayPal, which also owns Venmo, declined comment on their fraud-protection policies.

Apple also declined to comment, but offers online tips that warn, “If you’re not sure about their identity, don’t send the payment.”

To be fair, my phone warned me to use Apple Cash only with people I knew, but I ignored that in my desperation to get the tickets. I wrongly assumed that because Apple Cash was drawing money from my debit card account, I’d be protected if anything went wrong.

As I looked for tickets online for Grande’s sold-out show in September, some of the people I spoke to clearly were scammers: They wouldn’t send pictures of their tickets. Their social media account seemed too new to be real.

But one person had a plausible story about just wanting to get some money back for a show he couldn’t attend. We talked twice through a Facebook Messenger call, which I found comforting, though my partner later pointed out it was a false sense of security.

The biggest red flag I ignored was the scammer’s insistence on using Apple Cash, a payment method I was unfamiliar with. Launched in 2017, Apple Cash lets iPhone users send money to each other through Apple’s Messages app. Money you send comes out of your bank account. Money you get can be spent at merchants that take Apple Pay or moved back to a bank account.

Five minutes after I sent $75 through Apple Cash, the scammer’s Facebook account disappeared and so did all my ways of contacting him.

Since then, I’ve felt guilty and embarrassed that I fell for it, angry that companies aren’t protecting me and sad that I didn’t get to go to the concert.

“A lot of people have this happen to them and blame themselves and it’s not their fault,” Tedder said.

It’s not clear how widespread these scams are. The Department of Justice found only 15 percent of all fraud victims report it to law enforcement. The FBI says while it’s unclear why so few people report fraud, many of the complaints they do receive show victims were embarrassed or worried their family would be devastated.

Tedder said that if more people reported these scams, it could better inform government agencies tasked with tracking and in turn, creating solutions and policies for these types of crimes.

Experts also say consumers are typically unaware what is and isn’t protected. Litan said she believes the government should do more to educate people.

There are some hopeful developments. Apple has partnered with Goldman Sachs for an Apple-branded credit card, which some experts say may put pressure on Apple to get more serious about protecting its consumers on other services like Apple Cash.

But even newer services — and newer targets for scammers — are coming. Facebook is working on a digital currency called Libra, which the company says will allow for easier buying and selling across the internet. Facebook says when people spend libras through Facebook’s own wallet, Calibra, their identities will be verified to help guard against fraud. But well before the currency’s launch, scammers are already trying to sell fake libras.

In the words of Ariana Grande, I have “learned from the pain.” Fortunately, I’ll be able to see her sing that very line next week in New York, as she added more concert dates after I was scammed. I bought two tickets through Ticketmaster. Though fees get expensive, I now realize I’m paying for peace of mind.

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Baidu quarterly results beat on strong video streaming growth

(Reuters) – Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and revenue on Wednesday, helped by strong growth in its video streaming platform iQIYI, sending its shares up 5% in extended trading.

Revenue from iQIYI jumped nearly 7% to 7.4 billion yuan ($1.06 billion), as the service crossed 105.8 million subscribers in September this year. The streaming platform competes with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s (BABA.N) Youku.

Baidu has also been battling a slowing Chinese economy against the backdrop of the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, tighter ad regulations and rising competition from rivals like ByteDance’s TikTok.

Revenue from Baidu’s online marketing services business, which includes search, news feeds and a video app and which is a major contributor to overall sales, fell about 9% to 20.43 billion yuan.

The company, whose search engine dominates the market in China, forecast fourth-quarter revenue between 27.1 billion yuan and 28.7 billion yuan, while analysts had expected 27.52 billion yuan, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Net loss attributable to Baidu was 6.37 billion yuan in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a net income of 12.4 billion yuan a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 12.61 yuan per American depository share, beating estimates of 7.88 yuan per ADS.

Total revenue fell marginally to 28.08 billion yuan from 28.20 billion yuan. Analysts on average had expected 27.49 billion yuan.

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'Without rural broadband, it's difficult to attract new jobs' – Microsoft president warns Ireland

Microsoft president Brad Smith has reiterated his warning that Ireland faces a damaging future if it does fix rural broadband quickly.

Speaking to the 70,000-strong Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Mr Smith said that a million Irish people are left without access to modern high speed broadband, a state that threatens the country’s progress.

The speech followed a Sunday Independent interview where Mr Smith warned that areas outside Dublin, Cork and other cities would face an “extraordinarily difficult” future for jobs and development without broadband access.

“It’s really important that Ireland gets the benefit of this,“ he said.

“With roughly a million people in those areas, it’s critical to close the gap.

“If a rural community doesn’t have access to broadband, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to attract new jobs. It even makes it difficult to sustain the jobs that are there. And it makes it impossible to take advantage of advances for everything from healthcare to education.”

Mr Smith’s warning comes as the government nears the signing of a contract to begin the rollout of the National Broadband Plan, a state-subsidised program to connect half a million rural homes and businesses to high speed fibre broadband.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton has indicated that the contract, with David McCourt’s National Broadband Ireland, is imminent.

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