Archive for August, 2018

Falling off Segway’s self-balancing skates

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Segway’s self-balancing e-skates prove a challenge

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Amazon’s first serve

Serena Williams serves at the US Open Amazon's first serve Amazon's first serve 8d92ef4290Image copyrightGetty Images

There have been grumbles from UK-based tennis fans this week about the quality and ease of watching Amazon’s groundbreaking coverage of the US Open.

As the final Grand Slam of the year approaches its climax next week there have been a plethora of complaints about the live action on Prime Video, covering everything from picture and sound quality, to camera angles, ease of navigation around the service, restricted match choice, and the short duration of highlights.

User feedback on Amazon’s own website has been critical, giving its coverage from Flushing Meadows, New York, just one-and-a-half stars out of five.

Remarks such as “At the moment the move to Prime Video for tennis fans in the UK is a backward step and very disappointing to put it mildly” and “this is just terrible – tennis fans in the UK are in shock about this ‘service'” give a flavour of the disgruntlement.

Image copyrightAmazon
Image caption The US Open rights in the UK were won by Amazon earlier this year

After spending a reported $40m (£31m) to secure the tournament rights, the US online retail giant will need to sell a lot of Prime subscriptions – which cost £79-a-time in the UK – to recoup its outlay.

Hence its pledge to tennis fans that it is “working with customers to address specific issues” and listening “to all customer feedback”.

Over-the-top

Despite those viewer criticisms, within the sports rights industry the coverage is seen as a landmark moment because it is the first time Amazon has shown live action from a major global sporting event.

In doing so, it is moving into territory that has been the preserve of traditional broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV, or cable firms such as Sky and BT.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Amazon is challenging traditional sports broadcasters

The move sees tennis move away from traditional TV to an “over-the-top” (OTT) offering, selling directly to consumers via the internet – and bypassing traditional telecommunications, cable or broadcast television service providers.

Premier League football

Over the past few years online platforms have invested heavily in content as they battle with those more-established formats for supremacy and customer viewing. Amazon has been among the most aggressive as it seeks to grow its subscriber base but has until now mainly focused on comedy, drama and film.

The firm made its UK sporting debut this summer, when it provided live coverage of the pre-Wimbledon Queen’s tennis tournament in London.

And its gatecrashing of the tennis world has seen it also go for year-round content, after it secured ATP men’s global tour rights for four years at a reported cost of £50m.

It means Amazon Prime members in the UK and Republic of Ireland will have access to 37 ATP World Tour events.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Amazon will show 20 top flight English games per year

But it has not stopped there. After months of speculation Amazon announced it would bid for top flight Premier League football rights in England. In June, a deal was announced that Amazon was to livestream exclusive coverage of 20 matches a season online.

The online giant will show 10 matches over one Bank Holiday and the same number during one midweek fixture programme, for three seasons from 2019.

It should be available to UK Prime Video members at no extra cost to their existing subscription.

‘Teething problems’

Someone who has been taking a close look at what Amazon has been doing in both the worlds of tennis and football is Robin Jellis, editor of specialist broadcasting publication TV Sports Markets.

“People have been saying the US Open coverage has not been without its glitches,” he says. “But generally, with any streaming service, it will have some problems at launch.”

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption La Liga games are now streamed in the UK

He says that Eleven Sports, a firm that streams matches from Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga in the UK, has also had problems setting up its coverage.

“Any over-the-top provider has teething problems when they launch, and I don’t think everyone expects it to go totally smoothly,” he says.

“I don’t think Amazon went into this thinking everything would be 100% perfect. It is practically impossible to launch something like this and have everyone happy with it.”

‘Better service’

Amazon’s coverage of the ATP men’s tennis circuit begins in January next year and runs until the end of 2023.

“The US Open is almost a test event for them to see what they can and cannot do,” says Mr Jellis.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The US Open coverage is a forerunner of Amazon’s ATP coverage from 2019

“Maybe this came a bit too early for them, they will want to add new features down the line. By next January they will hope to have smoothed out any problems and have a better service for customers.

“And they will certainly want to have everything right by the time they start their Premier League coverage in the 2019-20 season.”

Meanwhile, tennis fans will be hoping for a more smooth Amazon Prime viewing experience from the Big Apple this coming week as the Open heads towards its climax.

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Bitcoin wallet Bitfi withdraws ‘unhackable’ claim

John McAfee Bitcoin wallet Bitfi withdraws 'unhackable' claim Bitcoin wallet Bitfi withdraws 'unhackable' claim 134a485b22Image copyrightGetty Images

Bitfi, a cryptocurrency wallet backed by anti-virus software entrepreneur John McAfee, has issued a statement saying it will no longer describe its service as “unhackable”.

The announcement followed the release of evidence by a group of security researchers showing the wallet being compromised.

However, Mr McAfee maintains that the claim stands.

Bitfi had offered a $250,000 (£190,000) reward to anyone who hacked the wallet.

But it stated that the Bitcoin inside must be removed from the wallet – which was controversial among the cybersecurity community as often weaknesses are identified but not acted upon.

The group claimed to have hacked the wallet once before but Bitfi and Mr McAfee refused to accept their evidence.

They said it didn’t qualify for the reward – known as a bug bounty – because none of the digital currency was actually removed.

Skip Twitter post by @Bitfi6

Important announcement from Bitfi: pic.twitter.com/SD4ZCJxvLn

— Bitfi (@Bitfi6) August 30, 2018

End of Twitter post by @Bitfi6

Security researchers had argued that the terms of the bug bounty programme were too specific.

“Effective immediately, we are closing the current bug bounty programs which have caused understandable anger and frustration among researchers,” the firm wrote in a statement.

It said it planned a bigger announcement in the coming days.

John McAfee, however, maintained on Twitter that the $120 wallet, which is designed to hold any form of crypto currency, is “clearly unhackable” in response to a question from a follower.

Skip Twitter post by @officialmcafee

Its selling like hotcakes. And, still, no one has been able to hack it and get the coins. Since the purpose of the wallet is to store coins, every claimed “hack” has been https://t.co/c3su0N4ibt is clearly unhackable.

— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) August 31, 2018

End of Twitter post by @officialmcafee

The group of security researchers who carried out the hack included Prof Alan Woodward, cybersecurity expert at Surrey University.

“Security can be complex and the wider public rely upon vendors telling the truth,” he said.

“However, there are certain signals that should immediately ring alarm bells. The worst is if a vendor claims something is unhackable as Bitfi did: nothing is unhackable.”

The wallet works by creating a virtual key based on two pieces of information – a made-up phrase – on the website it suggests something like “10 Scary Things My Doctor Is Not Telling Me” and a second piece of data such as a phone number or email address to ensure that each combination of the two – the private key – is unique.

Bitfi says that this key is not stored anywhere, including on the device itself, but this was disputed by the security researchers who say they were able to find it, using what is known as a cold boot attack, where electronic information can be recovered from memory long after it has been entered.

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Cuddle buddy robot wants to spoon

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Somnox robot aims to put owners to sleep

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Online trolls and fake accounts poison Arab social media

A collage of fake Twitter accounts Online trolls and fake accounts poison Arab social media Online trolls and fake accounts poison Arab social media c736bb1143Image copyrightTwitter
Image caption Thousands of fake Twitter accounts are said to be artificially driving online reputation to boost false narratives

Social media fraud continues to fuel a plague of disinformation in the Arab world.

Despite Twitter’s recent announcement that it had suspended over 70 million fake accounts, networks of suspicious accounts have been used to manipulate discussions to favour specific agendas.

Conventional signs of social media popularity – such as trending topics and numbers of followers – have been exploited and marred by suspicious accounts seeking to control narratives in disputes across the region.

Amid ongoing political and social conflicts in the Arab world, it appears that concerted efforts are being made to poison online discourse, particularly in the year-long spat between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours.

‘Fake’ followers

Trolls engaging in the propaganda war between Qatar and its neighbours rely on fake accounts to increase their followers to project credibility and lure genuine users to follow them.

Some of these trolls, which often have patriotic names, have tens of thousands of followers and focus their activities on retweeting derogatory remarks against opponents

However, a BBC investigation found out that a noticeable number of their followers were fake, and their sole purpose appeared to be boosting the credibility of larger accounts.

For example, the Saudi-based account @m6mp3, which identifies itself as a media platform seeking to expose Qatar’s “support for terrorism and corruption”, has over 41,000 followers. After the BBC examined 1,000 random followers of the account, it was discovered that around 350 of them had never posted a tweet, nor have profile pictures.

Similarly, anti-Doha @qatarileaks, has over 55,000 followers, but a sample of 1,000 followers showed 23% were inactive.

Similar activity has also been noted on pro-Qatar accounts.

Image copyrightTwitter
Image caption QatariLeaks has over 50,000 followers, but follows no-one

Promoting hashtags

Fake accounts have also contributed to the promotion of trending Twitter hashtags.

Often they will post a hashtag in a series of consecutive tweets over a short period of time to give it the boost needed to be recognised by Twitter’s algorithms.

After media reports of a meeting between Qatari and Israeli officials in Cyprus, anti-Qatari trolls launched the hashtag “Cyprus meeting exposes Qatar and Israel”, with many comments critical of the “conspiracy” against Arabs and Palestinians. The hashtag appeared in more than 7,000 tweets and trended in Qatar and the UAE last week.

Some “fake” accounts tweeted the hashtag many times in just a few minutes in order to give it a boost. One account retweeted the hashtag four times over the course of just four minutes on 24 August. Those tweets were deleted the next day.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Are fake likes boosting the Egyptian president’s online reputation?

Fake likes

Fake accounts have also been part of a trend to increase the number of likes on a post in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

Posts by the official Twitter account of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in August attracted an average of 2,000 to 3,000 likes each. However, after checking the accounts that liked the posts, suspicious accounts appeared in the mix.

Most of these accounts have never tweeted, nor have profile pictures, but their activities appeared only to promote pro-Sisi posts.

One user liked eight posts, six of which were from President Sisi’s account.

Another liked 10 posts, including five by Sisi’s account and two by the official account of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior. But it’s not possible to tell who controls these accounts, and to what purpose.

Image copyrightAFP
Image caption The crash of Emirates Flight 521 in August 2016 was presented as a successful missile attack in a fake video

Planting disinformation

With every breaking news or announcement in the Arab world, trolls step in to plant and spread disinformation online.

After Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed on 27 August that they attacked Dubai International Airport with a drone, fake visuals flooded discussions on social media.

YouTube channel Shasha 24 posted a video, branded with the channel’s name, showed smoke filling the sky at Dubai airport, fuelling rumours that it had been attacked.

Shasha 24, which has only 13 subscribers, was founded in 2013 and has only 11 videos on its channel – all pro-Houthi videos, and all posted over the past two weeks.

Eventually, the faked video was shared by pro-Houthi Twitter users, which increased the video’s reach by sending it out to their thousands of followers.

The video proved to be dramatic footage of an Emirati flight that crash-landed at the Dubai airport in 2016, in which all on board survived.

The fake footage was already being spread on social media long before it was debunked, illustrating the challenge facing those tasked with fighting disinformation.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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Google and Mastercard in credit card data deal

person paying with credit card Google and Mastercard in credit card data deal Google and Mastercard in credit card data deal 86f584af36Image copyrightGetty Images

Google has reportedly bought Mastercard credit card data in the US to help it track users’ offline spending in stores.

The two firms had not made the deal public but it was discovered by Bloomberg.

Mastercard denied suggestions that its data could be used to identify exact purchases.

The Open Rights Group told the BBC the confidential nature of the deal raised privacy issues.

“This raises serious concerns regarding the use of private financial data,” said legal director Myles Jackman.

“Will Mastercard be compensating their clients for the data they have given away to Google for their own financial gain?”

Google says all the data is anonymised and that users can opt out of ad tracking by switching off the web and app activity control.

It is testing a service for ad buyers in the US that shows how digital ads influence in-store spending.

On its website, the firm claims that advertisers who qualify to use its “store sales management” service can see whether an ad click or video view results in an in-store purchase within 30 days.

Google said the service was a test product in the US and only available to certain ad buyers.

It launched the ad tool in 2017.

“Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information,” the firm said in a statement.

“We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners.”

Mastercard told the BBC it offers its own “media measurement services” to retailers, in which the merchant provides advertising campaign details and it supplies spending data for the duration of the campaign.

“We only provide merchants and their designated service providers trends based on aggregated and anonymised data, such as the merchant’s average ticket size and sales volumes,” said a spokesman.

“We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.”

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Abusive tweets to MPs ‘more than double’ between elections

Fil picture of Twitter logo Abusive tweets to MPs 'more than double' between elections Abusive tweets to MPs 'more than double' between elections 170044caa6Image copyrightReuters

The number of abusive tweets about politicians more than doubled between 2015 and 2017, according to analysis of more than one million tweets.

Twitter insults targeting politicians rose from about 10,000 during the 2015 general election to just under 25,000 in the snap election two years later.

The best-known politicians got a lot of tweets and abuse – but less well-known MPs got proportionally more abuse.

Sheffield University’s computer science department carried out the research.

Project leader Kalina Bontcheva said the increase in abuse towards public figures was “shocking”.

The study suggests both the volume and proportion of Twitter abuse increased between the two elections.

The research showed abusive tweets made up:

  • 6.6% of Boris Johnson’s Twitter timeline in 2015 – and 9.3% in 2017
  • 4.6% of Jeremy Hunt’s timeline in 2015, rising to 8.6%
  • 2.5% of Diane Abbott’s timeline in 2015, rising to 3.4%

Abusive tweets to Ed Miliband dropped from 5.6% when he was Labour leader in 2015 to 3.3% when he returned to the back benches.

Nearly 600 of the UK’s 650 MPs have a Twitter account, which they use to promote their work in their constituencies, show their support for local causes and engage in debate.

But MPs have been warning for several years that the level of abuse they receive has got out of control, with female MPs in particular being targeted, and threats of violence becoming common.

In July, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said colleagues were being advised to “close down” their accounts by Parliament’s Health and Wellbeing Service.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has spoken about the offensive sexist and racist messages and “mindless abuse” she and her staff had to endure every day on social media, not just at election time.

Skip Twitter post by @SDoughtyMP

If you wonder why @facebook@twitter etc are increasingly becoming difficult places (as @wesstreeting has pointed out) here’s another example of abuse we get + the response of the social media companies – who think we deserve a different threshold of abuse “to allow discourse”. pic.twitter.com/b5p4XfDRki

— Stephen Doughty MP / AS (@SDoughtyMP) August 29, 2018

End of Twitter post by @SDoughtyMP

Labour’s Paula Sheriff has said the 2017 election had been the “most brutal” to date.

On Thursday, Labour MP Stephen Doughty tweeted an example of an abusive tweet he had reported – and Twitter’s response that it did not violate its policies.

He said: “If you wonder why Facebook, Twitter etc are increasingly becoming difficult places, here’s another example of abuse we get and the response of the social media companies – who think we deserve a different threshold of abuse ‘to allow discourse’.”

Responding to the research, Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said: “It is vital that we prevent the rising intimidation of people in public office and those who want to stand for election.

“That is why this government is consulting on new measures that will protect candidates and campaigners standing for public service. We can’t let intimidation of people in public life continue unchecked.”

Last year a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life said an “intensely hostile online environment” had been created and warned people would be put off from entering politics because of the abuse.

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Viagogo taken to High Court by competition regulator

Reading festival crowd Viagogo taken to High Court by competition regulator Viagogo taken to High Court by competition regulator 6cc9e8294cImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Music fans enjoy last weekend’s Reading festival

Ticket reseller Viagogo is being taken to court by the competition watchdog over concerns it is breaking consumer protection law.

The Competition and Markets Authority took action against the big four secondary ticket sites last November.

StubHub, Get Me In and Seatwave promised to change their business model but Viagogo has failed to make changes required by the CMA.

That failure has resulted in the High Court legal action announced on Friday.

Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive, said consumers who look for tickets on resellers must be told what seat they will get and whether they risk being denied entry to a venue.

“This applies to Viagogo as much as it does to any other secondary ticketing website. Unfortunately, while other businesses have agreed to overhaul their sites to ensure they respect the law, Viagogo has not,” he said.

“We will now be pursuing action through the courts to ensure that they comply with the law.”

The CMA is also seeking an interim enforcement order from the court that would put a stop to some of Viagogo’s practices until a full trial takes place.

Sharon Hodgson, the MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, said the CMA’s legal action against Viagogo was long overdue.

“For too long fans have been exposed to the risk of ending up with a ticket that did not get them into an event when buying through Viagogo.

“Perhaps Viagogo will now realise that consumer protection legislation passed by Parliament is not a minor inconvenience to be ignored and that they can be held accountable through the courts.”

Adam Webb, campaign manager of the FanFair Alliance, said it welcomed the move to tackle Viagogo: “Hopefully it spells the endgame to this site’s misleading and abhorrent practices.”

The Alliance said Viagogo could be legally prevented from reselling tickets in the UK because it had an office in Fenchurch Street, in the City of London.

In May, digital industries minister Margot James told fans “don’t choose Viagogo – they are the worst”.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The Arctic Monkeys’ manager has called for Viagogo to be shut down

The CMA’s year-long investigation found some ticket resellers could be breaking the law by failing to tell consumers about restrictions on the tickets they bought.

Many in the music industry have criticised resellers. In April the manager of the Arctic Monkeys, Ian McAndrew, called on the government to shut down Viagogo after tickets for the band’s upcoming UK tour appeared on the site for as much as £2,200.

Viagogo is run by American Eric Baker, who founded StubHub with university classmate Jeff Fluhr. They sold the company to eBay in 2007 for $304m.

Mr Baker then moved to London to set up Viagogo, which is owned by his Delaware-based venture called Pugnacious Endeavors.

Earlier this month Ticketmaster said it will close down Seatwave and Get Me In in October.

Buyers will then be allowed to put unwanted tickets up for sale directly on Ticketmaster’s site. The firm has vowed to be transparent about the difference between “new” and resold tickets.

Viagogo did not respond to a request for comment.

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